Sunday, July 29, 2012

Justice Scalia, the Insane Literalist

On a Sunday morning show, in response to questioning on which weapons are protected by the Second Amendment, Justice Scalia said this: "Obviously the Amendment does not apply to arms that cannot be hand-carried — it’s to keep and “bear,” so it doesn’t apply to cannons — but I suppose here are hand-held rocket launchers that can bring down airplanes, that will have to be decided."

You have to hand it to Justice Scalia: A literal interpretation of the Second Amendment would indeed seem to allow grant the People the right to carry a hand-held rocket launcher, grenades, and M-16s. And a suitcase nuke too, since it has the benefit of meeting both the definition of "arms" and of "hand-carried" (I have carried a suitcase before, two in fact, haven't you?). And since the Founding Fathers were prophets and Justice Scalia hears their voices every day...

And now, let us pray... Dear Founding Fathers, Hallowed by Thy Name...

The Fantasy of A Revolution

Dante Atkins at the Daily Kos wrote a spot-on post titled The Second Amendment and the fantasy of a revolution. And that's what an armed insurrection against the government of the United States in the third millenium is: a fantasy. Too bad that it's a useful idiocy for the useful idiots (and hobbyists) that the NRA co-opts in support of a deadly serious cause (more deadly than serious actually).

I'll highlight a couple of passages from the post, but please do follow the link above and read the whole, merciless analysis of the whole rationale of the advocacy of insurrection:
When the Second Amendment was written in the late 18th century, the main weapons of war consisted of muskets and flintlock pistols. There are two very worthwhile things to note about this period in weaponry: First, it would have been very difficult for any individual to walk into a crowded theater and commit a massacre with one of these weapons, mainly because by the time the shooter had managed to reload the weapon, everyone could have already run out of the theater, or even escaped at a leisurely stroll [...]
and this:
But previous history has taught us that perhaps the most effective insurgency weapon is the Improvised Explosive Device. If we are serious about defending American liberty against our own military, it's clear that we need our patriotic bomb-makers to have the freedoms they need to defend our country. As long as our government is monitoring and regulating purchases of fertilizers and other nitrates that could be used to make the explosives we need for self-defense, it's quite clear we can't have the freedoms we deserve to defend ourselves against tyranny.

Romney, The Serial Flip-Flopper and Constant Liar

It should work this way: when a candidate lies, the media should point it out. Period. Instead, the media bend over backwards in order to avoid calling out a lie. They call lies "stretching the truth", "factual inaccuracies", and other euphemisms that fall short of using the word lie, and treat that custom as a venerable act of moderation. The only places where lies are called lies is in the blogosphere, and we know bloggers are not worth the keyboards that they type on. At least that's what "respectable" media figures and pundits like Mark Halperin, one of the most offensive regurgitators of political common wisdom, would have you believe. Never mind that, increasingly, the words "respectable" and "media" clash like a polka dot shirt and a pin-stripe suit. (There are exceptions, of course.)

As I was doing a bit of research on the matter of why it has become okay to let lies slide, I found an interesting piece on The Atlantic's website. It contains the following passage, which in my view is symptomatic of the trouble that plagues mainstream media (emphasis added):
I think this point is just absurd and ridiculous. This is a big thing among folks calling it "moral equivalence" (Fallows, Ornstein) and others calling it the "cult of balance" (Krugman). It's just stupid. If you want someone to tell you that Republicans stink, read opinion pages. Read blogs. Also, the underlying sentiment on the left is that this is the real reason why things went wrong in 2010: That the mainstream media is to blame. Sorry, I think that's the sorta head-in-sand outlook that leads to longer term problems for a movement.
The quote is by Paul Kane, a Washington Post reporter. I'd suggest that Mr. Kane listen to BBC Radio interviews, in which interviewers, armed with their British sense that journalism is a public service (go figure!) can often be heard saying to the interviewee "But that is simply not true." Yes, I know, there is a difference between radio and newspapers and between an interview and a news article. Or is there? More importantly, should there be one? I don't think so. Just as I don't think that someone writing on a blog has less journalistic integrity than his newspaper "equivalent".

Luckily for us, Hunter at the Daily Kos is a disrespectable blogger, so he has no qualms about calling Mitt Romney a liar. Romney lies very often, and he seems to be possessed with complete disregard for the truth and for the positions he had in the past, seemingly oblivious of the fact that we are long past the days of the VCR. DVRs and the World Wide Web are horrible things to have around, for people like him.

This Bears Repeating, Until Election Day

During my local news tonight, I saw at least 6-8 commercials very critical of "Barack Obama" (that's that Republicans and their Super-PACs call the President, to reinforce the idea among racist voters that he is a freedom-hating, un-American foreigner) because of "his" deficits, and stimulus money he gave to friends and family (a lie, and a reference to the now bankrupt Solyndra, but who's keeping track?). So this bears repeating, until election day, in hopes that it will reach a few ears: the smallest government spender since Eisenhower is... "BARACK OBAMA!'

Incidentally, over the half hour of local news, there was only one ad for President Obama, which featured the President himself, calmly and quite civilly explaining that in the next election the choice couldn't be starker between himself and--wait for it--"Gov. Romney". The contrast between the angry, accusatory, and--quite frankly--borderline racist ads ran by or for the Republican candidate and the civil ad running for President Obama couldn't be clearer.

I know that Democrats and their Super-PACs have run negative ads against Gov. Romney, but they were generally, by today's standards of political conduct, factual and respectful: They asked tough questions about facts, and about the obvious weakness of Gov. Romney: that there is not one issue on which he hasn't taken diametrically opposed positions if it helped earn him the favor of a political constituency. The same cannot be said for Republican ads, which have very little to do with facts and a lot to do with painting President Obama as the prime practitioner of crony politics and reckless spending, which is particularly astounding coming from the party of a truly crony and reckless spender, who all but bankrupted the nation: George W. Bush.

After half an hour of negative ads, I was so disgusted by the tone of the rhetoric that I started wondering: What kind of person responds POSITIVELY to that kind of commercial? What does it say, about our politics and about us, that political organizations and candidates confidently spend hundreds of millions of dollars each election seasons to influence the opinion of a few million people whose mind is not made up yet, and whose votes the election basically revolves around? And what does it mean that many of the voters who are targeted by those ads do accept, and in fact end up basing their voting preference, on narratives so false and so offensive that they would want most of us turn our TV sets off?

If I were an undecided voter I like to think that I would end up voting against the candidate who runs such ads because the commercials say so much more about him than about his opponents. I find their viciousness and their use of lies repulsive, and I would hope that I am not the exception among voters. But even if my views reflect the views of a plurality of voters, the fact is that in such a closely divided electorate a small minority can make a destructive difference for the outcome of an election, and the lives of millions of Americans.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The USA: 1776-2012?

Just an observation that I posted for my Facebook friends on a post that started out being about gun control and ended with a reaction by a couple of "guests" in the U.S. to how the country has changed (for the worse).

When I moved to the U.S. almost 20 years ago it was a place where work was abundant, fairly well-compensated, and where I felt at home.

Over the years, though, I realized that at least half of the country:
  1. has an insufferable and unjustified sense of superiority over the rest of the world, mostly driven by ignorance of how the rest of the world works.
  2. values freedom as long as it consists of the following:
    • The freedom to call itself a Christian nation without actually following Christ's teachings (wasn't it Christ who said "If someone slaps you on your right cheek, waste him with a semi-automatic rifle and a hundred bullets?")
    • The freedom to tell those who disagree with them that they are terrorists, communists, socialists, that they are little fucking stupid robots who jump to the orders of the liberal elites.
    • The freedom to tell the sick and dying that they are sick and dying because they are irresponsible leeches who expect the government to take care of them (and why didn't they just go spend a thousand dollars a month on private health insurance and pay 20% or 50% of all medical expenses after they also paid their monthly premium.), and the freedom of the insurance company to tell them that their coverage is denied because the failed to check a box on their insurance application.
    • The freedom to be shot and killed at dinner by a civilian armed like a Navy Seal.
    • The freedom to tell everybody else that it's all Obama's and the liberals' fault.
May I add that real unemployment has reached (and in some cases passed) European levels, that the jobs that haven't been offshored are undercompensated (unless you compare them with the pay of Chinese prisoners, who work for free), and that I feel like a stranger in a strange land. Not sure if I had made that clear.

I think I know what happened: Globalization has made Americans feel less safe about their jobs, and with reason. Globalization is a race to the bottom, at least in the relatively short term, and one that disadvantages those who had everything before globalization started spreading. Consequently, Americans have reacted as people react all over the world when things are taken away from them: Deceived by the oligarchs and plutocrats of globalization, they have taken to blaming all the wrong people (mostly immigrants, unions, and liberals) for what they've had to endure.

This would explain why many Americans hate new immigrants, mostly from Mexico and poor countries: They feel that had immigrants not shown up and taken their jobs, they'd still be fine. But that is not true. Well paid jobs have been offshored, and the people who lost those jobs have less money in their pockets. Had immigrants arrived to take farm jobs, cleaning jobs, and many of the lowlier and humbler jobs, those who have seen a reduction in pay in better-paid fields (like IT, manufacturing, and others that have suffered comparably with the advent of globalization) their reduction in pay would have felt even worse. Had Americans continued to do the jobs that are now done by lowly-paid immigrants, the price of life's basics necessities would have risen, and life would have gotten even more unaffordable than it already is for a lot of people.

I am not saying that we should all be happy about all the immigrant labor that has arrived to the USA in the last 30 years. Immigrant labor is good to have when the economy is booming, but when the economy is in a recessionary cycle the immediate effect of more immigration is to further depress wages (it's the law of supply and demand.) This is not a time to have more immigration. But, as usual, the ire is misdirected: it should go against employers who knowingly hire workers illegally, not against the workers themselves, who are desperate and who are only doing anything they can to improve their situation, as anyone in their place would.

Even then, we should understand that a war against illegal employment would have inflationary effects on the rest of us, because prices of the things we can't do without in life would almost certainly rise as a result of a tougher stance against immigration, unless offshoring is also curbed and criminal prosecutions of foreign tax havens become the norm.

As far as unions go, membership has dropped to the lowest level in decades. The problem with this trend is that weaker unions result in fewer rights and safeguards in the workplace and in lower wages, for everybody--not just for union workers. But again, it's another example of people directing their anger at the wrong target. Why wouldn't most Americans understand this simple truth: While it's true that unions have caused at least some of their problems themselves, it is a fact that many of the largest U.S. companies have reaped some of the largest booties in their history at the expense of workers. An example that may seem extreme at first, but which has become quite common, is how Caterpillar is handling an ongoing labor dispute with the workers of a unionized plant in Illinois. The company is asking workers to accept a freeze in pay and benefits for the next 6 years (which actually would result in a net loss of pay, measured against rising inflation) even has it has just announced the largest profits in its history and an 60% increase in the pay of its CEO (to $17 million annually).

Now some have seen what is happening all along, and many have started to take notice. Most vocal among public voices to decry the wrongs that the middle-class and poor have suffered in recent years have been Bill Moyers, Robert Reich, Rachel Maddow, Ed Schulz, and Paul Krugman, to name but a few. The Occupy Wall Street movement has risen to unusual numbers of participants for American political life, and "99 percent" has now become a common term in political discourse.

The third target of popular anger is liberalism. This is honestly an absurdity that only ignorant people would tolerate. Aside from the fact that the Republican policies of the last 30 years (think Reaganism and what followed, and continued even under centrist Democrats like Bill Clinton) have wreaked more havoc on the health of the American economy, and on the middle-class and the poor of America, than anything liberals have done (or not done), this country has not followed truly liberal, progressive policies since the days of the Great Society and, before that, the New Deal.

Conservatives in this country, aided by the deceitful megaphones of Fox News and by the predominance of their ideas on talk radio and in think tanks, are intent on destroying or undoing every progressive conquest of the 20th century and on returning us to the era of robber barons. They have apparently done a fantastic job at it, as the USA remains the only supposedly-civilized country without a universal and affordable health-care system, with an ever weakening safety net, and with more widespread contempt for liberal policies that any other country.

It is a country on the way to ruin, not just financial but moral ruin; not because of the increasing popularity of gay marriages or legal pot, as the Right would have you believe, but because it treats everything and everyone, including its own citizens, as expendable and replaceable resources. It has devised policies which, in effect, result in a new type of slavery, based not on the forceful exploitation and ownership of human beings, but on their enchainment to the lords of financial globalization.

Even with all of this, you can be sure that Americans will keep chanting as they have always done, even as the ship goes down: USA: Number One! That, more than anything, is proof of the failure of the great American experiment in democracy.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Could Mitt Romney Actually Be A Dumber President Than Dubya?

Let's hope we never find out, but this isn't promising.

Loved Prime Minister Cameron's response, by the way: "We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world. Of course it's easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere [Salt Lake City]."

Oh, Hunter!

You know, if the world were a fair place, Hunter at the Daily Kos would have a show called "Crush the Hacks" or something like it, and it would be watched by 200 million Americans every day, including weekends and holidays. As luck would have it, he has landed at Daily Kos a while ago and he has yet to write anything duller than spectacularly spot on and clever. And his latest post demolishes the spin, hackery, and incompetence of the Wall Street Journal's Gordon Crovitz (and of the rag that published the article). Oh, and by the way, let me quote this stunningly funny remark which I found via one of the links in Hunter's post (go find it), which comes from an interview with Vint Cerf:
Interviewer: Crovitz also writes approvingly of this blogger's quote (from 1999): "The Internet, in fact, reaffirms the basic free market critique of large government. Here for 30 years the government had an immensely useful protocol for transferring information, TCP/IP, but it languished...In less than a decade, private concerns have taken that protocol and created one of the most important technological revolutions of the millennia." Since you developed the TCP/IP protocol, I'd like to know your reaction.

Cerf: I would happily fertilize my tomatoes with Crovitz' assertion. "
But please click on all the links that Hunter provides that debunk Crovitz's asinine contention, particularly the last one, which ends with the following undeniable truth: "It's now so important for conservatives to claim that nothing good has ever come out of the federal government that they're literally willing to say anything. After all, how many of Crovitz's readers will ever read Hiltzik's response? One percent of them? Mission accomplished."

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

They'd Better Tell Scalia

The National Right to Life Committee is an organization devoted to saving the lives of the unborn (or so they claim, and I'll give them the benefit of the doubt). They are so committed to saving the lives of the unborn that they have no regard for facts. Take this example, from one of their communiques in which they attack President Obama for supposedly seeking to stifle their First Amendment rights:
[...] the U.S. Constitution recognizes a virtually unlimited right to freedom of political speech for both individuals and groups of individuals. Without this, it wouldn’t be the America we know. But Barack Obama isn’t satisfied with that expression of our rights. He offended some by openly criticizing the Supreme Court ruling in his 2010 State of the Union message. He challenged Congress to find a way to overcome the Supreme Court’s broad protection of free speech in the Citizens United case. So now Obama supports the “DISCLOSE Act,” which used a different tack to limit the free speech rights of Americans. Unable to directly ban certain kinds of political speech, the “DISCLOSE Act” uses the strategy of punishing those who want to participate with groups of fellow-minded Americans and help their groups spread a political message. It does this by going after the donors and members of groups, subjecting them to disclosure requirements others are allowed to ignore.
That's how freely the NRLC plays with fact. I emphasized a couple of sentences that I find particularly offensive, and which I will stop short of openly calling lies because it might be that Carol Tobias, NRLC President, might simply be ignorant or too lazy to check the facts.

That the Citizens United ruling is one that upholds freedom of speech is only accepted by those who equate free speech with money. Many Constitutional experts vehemently disagreed with the ruling, and many intellectual, politicians, concerned citizens were appalled by the Court's decision, which was actually a rather disgraceful example of what Conservatives love to decry as judicial activism because the Court's majority expanded the ruling well beyond the limited question before the Court (as noted in Justice Stevens's 90-pages long dissent.), to establish previously non-existent rights.

But that is not the point of my distaste for the NRLC's letter. The origin of the distaste lies in the two sentences I emphasized above.

The purpose of the DISCLOSE Act is not, as the NRLC maintains, "to limit the free speech rights of Americans", nor to punish "those who want to participate with groups of fellow-minded Americans". The DISCLOSE Act would simply require that the names of the corporations, organizations, and individuals who make political contributions in excess of the limits established by the Act should be public. The rationale of the Act in setting these monetary limits is that if the American public could know which moneyed and powerful interests are behind a certain group, Super PAC, etc., it would be in a better position to evaluate the agendas that might drive a commercial, a message, an op-ed, and so on.

The idea that the identity of donors to political and legislative causes should be public is not exclusively a progressive cause. In a recent appearance on CNN's Piers Morgan show, Justice Scalia defended both the Citizens United ruling AND the basic ideas behind the DISCLOSE act (even though he did not specifically mention the Act itself.) And this is what Mother Jones magazine points out in an article about Scalia's dissent with Republicans on the issue of disclosure:
Scalia has expressed similar sentiments before, most notably in a 2010 case where anti-gay rights advocates in Washington State were attempting to block disclosure of signatories to a petition on the grounds that compelling them to do so violated their First Amendment rights. The Supreme Court disagreed, and in a concurring opinion Scalia wrote that "There are laws against threats and intimidation; and harsh criticism, short of unlawful action, is a price our people have traditionally been willing to pay for self-governance." Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed. For my part, I do not look forward to a society which, thanks to the Supreme Court, campaigns anonymously and even exercises the direct democracy of initiative and referendum hidden from public scrutiny and protected from the accountability of criticism. This does not resemble the Home of the Brave.
So there, Carol Tobias, President of the NRLC, and those who--like her--think that President Obama's support of the DISCLOSE Act is an act of intimidation intended to stifle the voice of organizations like the NRLC: Your right of free speech is protected so extensively that it extends to the right to misinform your members and the American Public. Those who support it {DISCLOSE) only wish that the people who fund your distasteful spin had the cojones to identify themselves.

The Saddest Thing I've Read Today

In a CNN article about the Aurora shootings, I've found this passage:
[...] Caleb Medley, who was shot in the head, lost an eye and sustained from [sic] brain damage. "The surgeon came and talked to us and said he'd be in ICU at least a week," said Medley's friend, Michael West, who set up a website to help take care of medical bills and the needs of Medley's family."
Medley, as it happens, was uninsured at the time of the shooting.

In what country, I ask you, do the friends or the family of a shooting victim have to set up a website to raise the money needed to pay the victim's medical bills? Only in truly sick, twisted country that has it values upside down; one in which people with guns will show up at a rally to protest the advent of quasi-universal health care. In sum: only in America.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

May Bill Moyers Live Forever

May Bill Moyers's tongue keep vehemently lashing the high, mighty, and heartless with the truth.

And as many pointed out today, it's harder to get Sudafed at your grocery store's pharmacy than to get ammunition and guns online.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Funny TV

Every day I watch MSNBC's The Cycle just to enjoy the looks of annoyed disbelief and ill-concealed contempt that Toure sends over to Conservative pundit S.E. Cupps every time she opens her mouth. Just like he did when she said that there is a voter fraud problem in the United States because, after last election, 73 cases of voter fraud (or some such other incredibly low number) were prosecuted. It's truly funny TV.

Ezra Klein on Gun Violence.

A picture is worth one thousand words. Ezra Klein gives you 5,000 words of wisdom in Six facts about guns, violence, and gun control.

The Olympic Spirit

Who said this: "You didn't get here solely on your own." President Obama, the Socialist, right? Wrong. Someone needs to teach that guy how to be an American. ;-)

The Importance of Good Writing

I never understood how to read the Second Amendment because, grammatically, it makes little sense, because of an extra comma:

"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."

And apparently I am not the only one to be confused. Some states, for example, ratified a version of the Second Amendment that had only two commas in it.

In my opinion the Second Amendment makes much more sense if you read it this way, with only one comma:

"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."

Whatever your opinion on the use of commas in English (they are overused, as every non-mother-tongue English writer will tell you), I highly recommend that you read this article by Adam Freedman. And if you are still not convinced about the importance of placing commas in the right spot, consider this famous Latin sentence, which an ancient oracle used as a response for soldiers who wanted to know what their fate would be in war:

"ibis redibis non morieris in bello"

Now play with commas:

1) "ibis, redibis, non morieris in bello" (You will go, you will return, you will not die in war.)

2) "ibis, redibis non, morieris in bello" (You will go, you will not return, you will die in war.

I always wondered if the Founding Fathers were playing tricks on us.

The Constitution? Just Parchment.

The latest gem by David Michael Green, inspired by the recent Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, has arrived. Here is an excerpt:
"Our current system of jurisprudence – which is often really our current system of legislation – is wrong on all sorts of levels. It was, to begin with, a bad idea for these justices to be deciding health care policy in America. And it was an even worse idea for them to be doing so on the basis of attempting (or pretending to be attempting) to decipher the Founders’ thoughts about the provision of health care to the public, more than a century before governments anywhere ever contemplated providing such services, and two centuries before it became the norm in developed countries."
Enjoy and learn.

And, if you would, please go and peruse my thoughts on the US Constitution, which I wrote about in 2008.

A Nation Of Skilled Crime-Stoppers

At The American Prospect, Paul Waldman writes about the Aurora shootings:
This horrifying event demonstrates, as though we needed any demonstration, how removed from reality so many gun advocates are. When they push laws to allow gun owners to take their weapons anywhere and everywhere, they often paint a picture of a nation of skilled crime-stoppers, ready at a moment's notice to cut down that psychopath before he has a chance to draw his weapon. But this is an absurd fantasy. Colorado is a state with lots and lots of gun owners, and it has a concealed-carry law that allows you to get a permit without too much trouble. We don't know if anyone else in the theater had a gun on them, but even if they had, it probably wouldn't have mattered. Lots of gun owners imagine themselves to be some kind of Jack Bauer figure, who will see an event play out in slow motion while he calmly draws his weapon and delivers one perfectly aimed shot to save all the civilians. But that's not how things work in real life. A mass shooting like this one is chaos. Things don't happen in slow motion, and a few hours at the shooting range don't turn you into Jack Bauer.
Click the link for the rest of the article.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

You Want A Rationale For Banning Assault Weapons? Here's One.

From a NYT article on the Aurora shootings:
"A law enforcement official who requested anonimity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the issue said that local investigators in Aurora believed that the gunman's semiautomatic rifle jammed as we was spraying the theater with bullets, forcing him to switch to a slower weapon. Had the gun not jammed, the official said, many more could have been killed."
And there it is, in one paragraph, the FACT that advocates of unlimited gun rights have to answer and fail miserably at doing: slower weapons kill fewer people (because people have the time to react, flee, take down the assailant, etc.) It's a fairly obvious fact that has no rebuttal.

So I am asking them a simple question: How much value do you place on the lives of each one of the victims of Aurora, Columbine, Virgina Tech? Is their value so negligible that it pales in comparison to your right to enjoy unlimited rights? (And in Colorado your rights are pretty much unlimited when it comes to guns.) Are those lives, and life in general, so worthless in comparison to your ability to own a large capacity magazine (a large capacity drum magazine like the one used in Aurora) and thousands of rounds of ammunition that no ban, no check, no safeguard against your rights is justified?

You know, of course, that the argument about criminals getting guns in defiance of all regulation does not stand in this case,nor in many other cases, because the killer got his guns legally. So, once again, I ask you: What value do you place on the life of those that guns killed? What concessions are you ready to make? Any?

One last thing: You always hear from "responsible gun owners" that one armed, responsible gun owner in the midst of a crime scene like the one in Aurora could prevent much bloodshed: Where was that responsible gun owner on Friday night, I ask you? Or where is he ever, for that matter. We have concealed carry laws in Colorado. What are the "good" guys waiting for? Unless everyone starts carrying, or unless those who carry are also blessed with foresight, that's a flimsy argument that does not stand up to reasonable scrutiny.

I am done, for now.

Tired of the Hypocrisy? I am.

To all the politicians who are shedding tears, expressing condolences, vouching support to the victims of gun violence, I will say this: Your game's up. We've heard it before, and we know you have taken us for a bunch of fools. Perhaps it's because so many of us act like fools that you have learned to take advantage of our gullibility, or our idiocy, but that does not make you right: it just makes you callous.

Tomorrow, the same politicians who have shed their tears, crocodile or sincere it makes no difference, will go back to work and do... nothing. Or perhaps something, but still too little to change things, nothing bold. When they looked the survivors in the eye, and told them that they will not be forgotten, they were lying. When they were calling out to the dead, to tell them that they will not have died in vain, they were lying.

And it's not just politicians. All gun owners who steadfastly reject the idea that we need new laws, because all we have to do is enforce the ones on the books are deluded (and because they are armed, they are doubly dangerous): The perpetrator of the Aurora shooting legally bought all his guns, all the ammunition, the tear gas, the body armor, the explosive materials. No red flags raised. So obviously the laws on the books do not suffice.

Should we then ban all guns outright? Ideally, we would live in a society that would not feel the need to arm itself, but that's not the case. Also ideally, we would live in a society where people would understand that human nature is not good or evil, altruistic or selfish: it's just human nature. Which means that some people are perfectly capable of behaving responsibly towards others all of the time; some are capable of doing it most of the time; some are jerks, and some are idiots. And some are good people who snap. So putting weapons in anyone's hands is a dangerous thing to do, and that's just realism, not statism.

Realistically, though, we cannot ban death by violence. People intent on killing can do it with supplies from the grocery store. Brutes can do it with their hands. People who snap can stab someone to death or run someone over with a car, and that's no reason for banning kitchen utensils or driving. But, once again, no one says that we have to make it easy for good people who snap, or plainly evil people, to take as many lives as they can in less than 60 seconds.

We can never prevent a scorned lover from killing his scorning love, as well as all children, parents, and grandparents, with a gun. But why be complicit in mass murder by allowing him (I'd say her, but female mass murderers are quite rare) to go on a rampage at a food court filled with innocent strangers, armed with an AK47 and hundreds of rounds of ammunition? Why not set up a system that makes it possible for "responsible citizens" to shoot their AK47 or other mass murdering weapon for fun at a shooting range, and ask them to lock their gun in a secure locker at the range before they leave? (That's just an example, of course, of things that could easily be done.)

No one needs an Uzi for personal defense, or 33 rounds in a Glock. If you do, then you are not a responsible citizen, but rather a drug lord or a bank robber.

And in the Die Hard series Bruce Willis starts off by killing bad guys with a pistol, then steals their assault weapons from them to finish the rest off. Surely, you can do the same if it ever happens to you that you need to save the world.

But if you do not recognize the fact that this country has a gun problem, that the odds that you will ever need a gun in self defense are one in several millions, lower than those of being killed in a random shooting, and that restrictions on the sale--and use--of guns, ammunition, and other murder weapons are necessary, then at least be frank: Tell the victims in Aurora, in Tuscaloosa, in Littleton, at Virginia Tech, and in all the shootings that occur in the country every year, that it's not a matter of the Second Amendment; it's not a matter of self-defense. It's not even a matter of freedom, because you have already given up your "right" to weaponize your car (certainly for most people drinking is as much of a pleasure as shooting guns, but we have accepted the removal of our freedom to drink and drive).

Tell the truth: You love your guns and the pleasure you get from owning them and shooting with them. You love it so much that you will rationalize any death for the privilege of being able to continue to own them and shoot with them.

Tell the innocent victims of all these mass murders and shootings, their friends, and their families that their death is but the price society has to pay so you can continue to enjoy your pleasure. That would be honest. Shedding tears for them while refusing to sacrifice some of your incredibly expansive rights is not, so don't cry for them. Not in my sight. Not in theirs.

Defense of "Freedom" Trumps Defense of Existing Life

Interestingly, none of the ubiquitous and cacophonous Evangelical voices that rant incessantly against abortions can be heard in support of strengthening gun control laws in the wake of the Aurora shootings*. Seems to me that would send a pretty strong message in defense of life. You know, the kind of life that religious megaphones seem to care little about: walking and talking, independently breathing life.

I guess that when money walks into the picture, support for the freedom of the NRA and the gun industry to continue on its deadly tack trumps belief in God, huh?

*Since misunderstandings are guaranteed, let me clarify: I am not saying that there many evangelical pastors did not eulogize the victims, or that there is a small numbers of "mavericky" evangelical pastors who want stricter gun laws. I am saying that I have not seen a post, read an article, or heard a comment on the mainstream media of one such pastor coming out in opposition to the unfettered freedom of the gun lobby to screw with the legislative process in our country. Misunderstanding? Poof!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

America Must Come Together, Law-Abiding Citizens, and Other American Bullshit

No disrespect America, but a little tough love is in order: I am tired of your bullshit.

In the wake of just the latest, not the last, shooting spree against a bunch of innocent people, America's reaction has been predictable: "The people of Aurora are in our thoughts and prayers", "We need to come together as a nation and abandon our divisions", and the quite irritating "There is nothing we can do to stop these things from happening (so let's do nothing about it)."

It's true that we cannot do anything to prevent crazy people from doing crazy things, I wrote it myself yesterday on this blog. But, if memory does not fail me, after Oklahoma City we have made it harder for farmers to get fertilizers; and in the wake of 9/11 and then the failed shoe-bomber guy we have made it impossible for 90 year-old ladies to walk through security with their shoes on. So I refuse to accept the common bullshit (let's not call it wisdom, at least) that we cannot do anything to prevent senseless mass murders from happening. Sure, we cannot prevent all of them, so how about we just make it harder?

Someone needs to explain to me how the Second Amendment grants common citizens, and not members of an army, the right to buy and carry AR-15s, AK47s, and other weapons normally reserved for war, not for hunting deer or buffalo. For god's sake: the natives used to kill buffalo with arrows, can't we just shoot deer with a bolt-action rifle?

And someone also needs to explain to me why, in order to defend our family from assault by criminals, we need large-capacity magazines, capable of holding 33 rounds? (And by the way: in 19 years in America I have not encountered one person who was a victim of a home invasion.) These are a couple of the things we can start banning if we want to start making a difference

It is true that we cannot possibly stop a determined killer intent on killing, but why should we make it easy for him to kill as many innocents as possible? Why is it okay for anyone but law enforcement and the military to order 6,000 rounds of ammunition without someone knocking on his door and checking up on him? Because of the Second Amendment? So let's gut the sucker. Since when was the Second Amendment the unchangeable word of God?

And, truly, the Second Amendment and the well-regulated militias thing... Rachel Maddow had a spot-on take down of that logic a few months ago, which I wrote a post about, which you can find here.

If the President, Congress, the two shitty parties we have, and the people of America in general truly want to honor the thousands of people who die from gun violence every year in this nation, not just the Aurora victims, let us all have an honest discussion about how to change the law, and the constitution, to make life harder for criminals and a bit better for so-called "law-abiding" citizens.

And by the way, seems to me James Holmes was a pretty law-abiding citizen to all effects and purposes. Until Friday morning, that is.

Guns Don't Kill People. And Jesus Was Born of A Virgin.

So let's see... Since I have moved to the United States of America, land of the free to own guns but not to demand reasonable gun control, the killings are piling up. In no particular order:

  • Virginia Tech: 33 dead, including gunman; 23 injured.
  • Columbine High School, Colorado: 15 dead, including 2 gunmen); 21 injured.
  • Lancaster County Killings, Pennsylvania, Amish school: 6 dead, including gunman; 5 injured.
  • Fort Hood, Texas: 13 dead; 30 injured, including gunman.
  • Westroads Malls, Nebraska: 9 dead, including gunman; 4 injured.
  • Tucson shooting, Arizona (attempted murder of Congresswoman Giffords): 6 dead; 14 injured (13 gunshot victims).
  • Platt Canyon High School, Colorado: 2 dead, including gunman.
  • Jonesboro, Arkansas, middle school shooting: 5 dead; 10 injured.
  • Tuscaloosa, Alabama, bar shooting: 17 injured.

This is obviously an incomplete list, and it's one that I have compiled from memory. It does not include shootings at postal facilities, fast food restaurants, offices, even churches where multiple victims were killed or injured by a supposedly deranged gunman. If you are interested, here is a list of notable shootings since 2005, compiled by the Brady Campaign for the Prevention of Gun Violence. It is 62 pages long, and not comprehensive.

But that list is just an emotional trick I played on you. Consider instead the following incontrovertible data, courtesy of the aforementioned Brady Campaign:

  • Every year there are only about 200 legally justified self-defense homicides by private citizens (FBI, Expanded Homicide Data, Table 15) compared with over 12,000 murders (NCIPC).
  • Among 23 populous, high-income countries, 80% of all firearm deaths occurred in the United States

Get it? The USA is indeed the number one country in the world, when it comes to deaths and injuries by gunshot among Western countries.

Remarkably, every time such events happen, there are many who instinctively retreat against any and all attempts to impose stricter gun controls or bans at the state or federal level. "Guns don't kill people, people kill people", goes their mantra. Except, as British comic Eddie Izzard deftly points out, they make it much easier.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Where Are The Red Flags?

I understand that there are reasonable (and constitutional) limits to how much intrusion from law enforcement agencies an individual will tolerate, but I have to wonder:
Colorado shooting suspect James Holmes purchased 6,000 rounds of ammunition, along with four guns, online in the weeks leading up to the tragic event that claimed numerous lives and left dozens injured at a movie theater outside Denver. (Source: Huffington Post)
If someone purchases as many bullets as James Holmes did, in just a few weeks, including some 3,000 rounds for an AR-15, and also buys enough body armor to look like a member of the SWAT team without actually being one, shouldn't that raise some red flags that law enforcement should be able to pick up? What about the much-maligned ATF? Is it maligned for good reasons, one has to wonder...

Funkagenda: Word.

This is from one of my favorite DJs, Funkagenda:

"The only countries with higher gun related death percentages than the USA are at war."

In an attempt to reach out to gun-loving Americans, I'll paraphrase the biggest shill and luckiest b-movie actor the world ever saw: "Guns are not the solution, guns are the problem." Let's see if that changes a few minds. I doubt it.

You Can't Defend Against Violent Sociopaths

When James Egan Holmes carried out his deadly, sick, evil plan in a nearby theater early this morning, we were all reminded that there is no defending against those determined to do evil.

I do not know if there is an answer, if there is a way to prevent or minimize the damage that armed sociopaths can do, but I doubt that the answer is to arm ourselves to the teeth. According to reports I heard on local radio, one of the moviegoers was carrying a concealed weapon, was in the theater and failed to respond to Holmes's fire. Even if he had responded with his own gun, what could he have done against a shooter clad in body armor from head to toe, in a dark, smoke-filled theater, surrounded by a frightened crowd?

No amount of bloodshed can convince those who defend Second Amendment rights as the sacred cornerstone of freedom that a big reason why these things happen more in the U.S. than elsewhere is the wide and almost unrestricted availability of people to get armed. When faced with tragedies like last night's, their conditioned response is to advocate for easier availability of weapons, so people can defend themselves against the crazies out there: There is no defending against crazies. You can't stop them, you can't limit them, you can't anticipate them. You can only hope to disarm them. But the cost of disarming them is disarming the rest of "law-abiding citizens", and that--in America--we are not willing to do.

The gaping hole in the "let's-all-get-weapons-to-defend-ourselves" argument is that it does not work. Colorado has very relaxed gun-laws compared to most states, including concealed carry laws, and it has now been the scene of two of the most memorable killing scenes in the last twenty year: last night's in Aurora, and the Columbine shootings. So where are our concealed-carry defenders when you need them?

Another argument is that the Second Amendment guarantees all law-abiding citizens the ability to keep guns, as many as they want, to defend themselves and their families. Aside from the fact that guns kept in one's home are more rarely used in acts of self-defense than in acts of violence, and that there is no proven deterrence value in having a gun in one's home, I have little trouble with allowing people to have guns in their home, to defend themselves against criminals. But then why not agree that you should not be allowed to keep particularly lethal weapons, semi-automatic guns with large magazines, and that need to keep your guns at home, and that if you are stopped outside your home with a gun or guns, without prior permission and justification, your guns can be confiscated and your license can be revoked, forever?

In Italy, where I was born and lived most of my life, people who have guns can only carry them on predefined routes if local law-enforcement is notified in advance and if the gun holder has a legitimate reason; for example, going on a hunting trip, or going from one's shop to the bank 24-hour deposit while carrying large amounts of cash. If a person is found carrying a weapon off an agreed route or outside of permitted hours, their gun-carrying privileges can be revoked. (It is possible, but I am not aware of it, that the law might have changes since I moved to the USA.)

Would such measures stop all gun violence? Hardly; as I already said, I don't think you can stop crazy. But it would definitely draw a crystal clear line between those who are law-abiding citizens and those who are intent on evil-doing, and it might make the job of law enforcement officers easier. (Of course it would require the ability for the police to do random checks, another infringement of individual, constitutional rights that the people might find hard to accept; but is it worth giving it a try?)

For now, my thoughts are with the family and friends of the victims of this senseless act of violence, but this is a discussion to be resumed.

America, The Crazy

If you haven't heard, there was a shooting at an Aurora Movie Theater that I have patronized in the past. Needless to say, it was at the premier of the new Batman, the perfect background for a deranged shooter (who is now in custody, according to newscasts). There is no other civilized country in the world where the reaction to a shooting with multiple killings is that the freaks come out and say that the solution is for all citizens to walk around with weapons. Be prepared for a barrage of right-wing nutjobs to say that gun laws need to be relaxed. (The death toll is at 14 right now, and there were 50 injured, which means that semi-automatic weapons must have been involved. Should we all start walking around with AK-47?)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Here's An "Interesting" Thought...

Did you know that companies that offshore plants and jobs are eligible for a tax break to offset the cost of moving their plants and jobs abroad?!? Google it up, if you don't believe me.

In other words, through the taxes they pay, the workers who get laid off end up subsidizing the closing of their plants and their jobs going to people outside the great (?) U.S. of A.

Oh, by the way, Republicans repeatedly voted in block (assisted by a few Democrats deserving of our vilest contempt) to preserve this tax break. If you lost a job to offshoring and vote Republican, you are a moron*. Sorry, but that's a fact. *Particularly if you blame President Obama for being a Kenyan-born fraud who is hell-bent on ruining America, the country where he was unlawfully elected president, but which in fact he hates.

In Some Parts of America, This Passes For Genius

Stumbled upon this quote, prominently featured on a curmudgeonly blog:
‎"Profits may be the most misconceived subject in economics...To many people, even today, high profits are often attributed to high prices charged by those motivated by 'greed.' In reality, most of the great fortunes in American history have resulted from someone's figuring out how to reduce costs, so as to be able to charge lower prices and gain a mass market for the product." - Thomas Sowell, Basic Economics
I am not an economist, and not an entrepreneur, but it takes a pretty special economist to imagine that "high profits are often attributed to high prices" that stem from greed, as if it were a commonly accepted piece of knowledge.

There are obviously different ways of making a fortune: you can mass produce and mass market a product or service so that you can extract the highest possible price (even if it's fairly low in absolute terms) that most people can afford to spend for it; or you can design, produce, and market an exclusive product, for an exclusive and small crowd of people for whom money is no object. Or perhaps you are a corporation (or a person, as Mitt Romney would say) run by the kind or people Thomas Sowell would extol for their hard work, creativity, and success, and you decide to buy yourself a government and to overcharge it for the goods and services that you produce or render (and sometimes even for things that never see the light of day).

In any case, no one would deny that good business sense and greed can coexist, as they seem to do more and more these days all over the globe, just as no one would deny that they can live on never-intersecting planes.

It should go without saying, and it shouldn't take a professor or two to figure it out, that there are various motivating factors behind the success of many rich entrepreneurs, and that not everybody who ever made anything that was popular and made them a lot of money was motivated by greed. Some people actually achieved great success while in pursuit of a higher goal, of a positive change for society. (In words that Sowell can understand, not everybody is a lying, cheating, and greedy banker or hedge fund manager.)

That's why I find Sowell's quote, and the prominence it was given on the particular blog where I found it, quite puzzling. I wonder what kind of person it takes to read such trifling thoughts and see great and profound wisdom in them. Bah.

Monday, July 16, 2012

A Brilliant Takedown of Dinesh D'Souza's Views On President Obama

I stumbled across this beautiful, spirited, and witty analysis of Dinesh D'Souza's "The Roots of Obama's Rage", one of the many insanity-filled screeds against the current President of the USA. Read it, and pass it along to your sanity-deprived conservative friends.

Rush Limbaugh, Brilliant Political Analyst

"Rush Limbaugh is a brilliant political analyst. I say this after years of study and listening to him."

This hilarious quote can be attributed without fear of denial to a person with a much higher opinion of his cleverness than his sane readers will ever grant him. I wonder if he still stands by his assessment of the brilliant political analyst whose work he studied and listened to after said analyst said this:

"[Obama] hates this country."

[Insane] opinion stated as fact: just what you would expect from a big fat lying idiot and the Christian philosophers who follow him ardently.

Bill Keller's Five Myths About Obamacare

Bill Keller, NYT's editor,on Obamacare.

Read, educate, and pass on to your friends.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Next President of the United States...

A lot of Americans live under the delusion that President Obama will win re-election in November. I beg to differ.

Yes, the changing demographics lean Democrats, and that trend is poised to increase in the future. Think Republicans don't know that? They do, and they are doing something about it. They have launched the greatest disenfranchisement campaign since the Voting Rights Act was passed. They have already purged hundreds of thousands of voters of the rolls in swing states, and their state legislatures have passed laws which are little but poll taxes in disguise. Their shenanigans include counting NRA member cards as valid proof of ID, but most forms of student IDs as invalid. Octogenerians who have never had trouble voting, and who live in Democratic-leaning precincts have received letters informing them that they needed to produce proof of citizenship lest they should be removed from voter rolls (this includes veterans who served in World War II).

Daily Kos and many national outlets reported that Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) bragged that the Voter ID law passed by the Pennsylvania state legislature was designed to deliver the state to Gov. Romney in November:
House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) suggested that the House’s end game in passing the Voter ID law was to benefit the GOP politically. “We are focused on making sure that we meet our obligations that we’ve talked about for years,” said Turzai in a speech to [Republican State Committee] members Saturday. He mentioned the law among a laundry list of accomplishments made by the GOP-run legislature. “Pro-Second Amendment? The Castle Doctrine, it’s done. First pro-life legislation – abortion facility regulations – in 22 years, done. Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.” 
Last I checked, there is still no requirements in federal law that verifiable voting machines should be used in federal elections. This means that each state is vulnerable to the shenanigans of partisans secretaries of state and the voting machine manufacturers who can connive to make sure that the candidate of their choice wins the election, no matter what voters want.

Add to that the widespread perception, which is reality-based, that President Obama has governed more to appease moderates, independents, and zombie-centrist, than the base he was so good at energizing in 2008, and there is a justified fear that many of those who voted for him in 2008 will sit the election out in November.

Add to all of that the fact that Romney's fundraising is thrashing Obama's with the help of Super PACs with a virtually unlimited supply of money, a fact which will become decisive as election day approaches and the airwaves will be flooded with negative and frightening ads about the current president and what his re-election would mean.

Finally, add to all of the above the fact that vast numbers of  American electors are so apathetic, so gullible, so uninformed, that they believe the following:

  • that taxes have gone up under President Obama 
  • that the Affordable Care Act--a law designed to appease the American Medical Association, AHIP, and the medical/pharmaceutical industrial complex--is the equivalent of communism (a myth that the AMA started inculcating in the minds of Americans in the 50's with then corporate shill and B-movie actor Ronald Reagan as their spokesman)
  • that Operation Fast and Furious was designed by the Obama administration as a Trojan Horse to deprive law-abiding Americans of their Second Amendment Rights
  • that President Obama is a Kenyan Manchurian president whose goal is to replace Christianity with Islam

and I could go on... Why should anyone believe, let alone hope, that a Romney presidency is out of the realm of possibility? It is not only possible, it is likely and almost completely unavoidable at this point.

There is no hope for progressives. Not even secession. California replaced a semi-inept governor with the Terminator, and it wasn't even the first time that Californians chose a bad actor as their first citizen. The people of Massachusetts elected Mitt Romney as their governor. This proves that even supposed Democratic strongholds are not above making ludicrously asinine choices, and that there is no safe haven for progressives (with the possible exception of Vermont), a state too small for even the relatively small number of Americans with both a brain and a heart and the will to make things better rather than irrevocably worse.

Tell me why I should see the glass half full, if you dare.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

No Surprise, Continued

Isn'it perfectly fitting that the day after Doug Groothuis endorses Rush Limbaugh's radio show on one of his many blogs, Rush Limbaugh makes this unsurprising statement: "When women got the right to vote is when it all went down hill".

Really, Rush Limbaugh and Dougie Groothuis are a match made in heaven: one gives human beings a bad name, the other one does the same for Christianity and philosophy.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

No Surprise

If great minds think alike, what's this?

"I have wanted to say this for a long time: Despite his sometimes caustic humor, Rush Limbaugh is a brilliant political analyst. I say this after years of study and listening to him. He cuts through the garbage and gets to the root issues. Listen to this man."

(No link, because I don't want to advertise the post's author, but the post's label says it all.)

Yes, that's exactly what I think on those occasions when I subject myself to the rants of Rush Lintball. A brilliant political analyst who cuts through the garbage and gets to the root issues. Thruthful, too. And poised. A philosopher, really. Which puts him in appropriate company.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

David Michael Green's Outlook on The State Of Our Union

I could have written pretty much the same stuff, if I had the knack that David Michael Green has for painting a merciless view of the reality we are mired in, but I don't. He does though, and you can read his latest rant here.
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