Category Archives: FUD

America gets a real-time IQ test

cmb-gift

I’m going to assume that some moderate percentage of the US population could either describe an oligarchy or identify one if they saw one. I don’t think it is anywhere near 50%, but let’s say it is greater than 25%. (But read the Wiki. It’s a good primer on what tipping-point we just crossed)

Now what percentage of them could identify an emerging oligarchy? It would be like saying you can ID an oak tree, but not an oak sapling. Lots of people fall into that category.

What just happened in the US is that an oligarchy sapling just broke through the forest floor, is getting lots of nutrients and sunlight, and before you know it, son, you got yourself a mature oligarchy growing right there in the front lawn. And the bigger it gets the harder it will be to get rid of. How do we know if we have a real oligarchy, and not just a playboy-type with delusions of grandeur? The dichotomous key to political systems will get you close:

You have a billionaire as president-elect. He became a billionaire by extracting moderate sums of money from thousands of people at a time, and then doing it again, and again. What billionaires care about it not whether the Dallas Cowboys are looking good (That’s Jerry Jones’ issue, and he is “special”), or whether their bills are getting paid. They mainly care about other billionaires, their money, and how they stack up against them. So we can check that box. They play “Fantasy Billionaire” the way Joe Six Pack plays Fantasy Football. But with piles of other people’s money. No other billionaires have been elected to the presidency of the US. That is a big bragging point right there. That goes over real big when he gets on the phone with other billionaires AND with other heads-of-state. It’s a win-win. And don’t he know it? It’s Trump, Putin, and a few guys in the UAE. That, as they say, is the list of billionaire heads-of-state. Don’t go looking for their free press or their sterling record on human rights.

And in the case of our current president-elect, Donald Trump, he is demonstrating his incuriosity, thin skin, and sub-par intellect at every damn turn. We don’t have a super-genius billionaire, or even a really smart billionaire. We have a whiny douche from Queens who inherited more money from his daddy than the average American makes in a lifetime. He is accustomed to outsourcing virtually everything. He hires “the best”. (More on that, and how he only hires the best for himself and hires the worst when it comes to protecting the American citizenry, later.) How does a guy like this plan to run a country?

Glad I asked! First, you put military lifers in positions where you want chain-of-command respected, not a bunch of smart-ass sass-back. You only want to hear “how high?” when you yell “Jump”. So you stock Defense, Homeland Security, and Intel with guys who will throw their mother in front of the L-train in the name of chain-of-command. It helps if you have conspiracy theorists with itchy trigger-fingers and an axe to grind. Less motivational work and coercion to waste Trump’s time.

Next, you recruit fellow billionaires who you know will put other billionaires (like the president-elect. just sayin’) first, and pretty much fuck the little guy all day long. That is how they got there. When you find anyone who ever called Rex Tillerson “human rights champion” please let me know. Trump himself has *never* gone on the record regarding human rights (I looked, and if you find something I am all ears). It is safe to say he has never though about the concept other than as a way to tar a “loser” who put humanity over making a dollar. Go find the country that Rex Tillerson has staked out where you have a thriving middle class, lots of manufacturing jobs, cheap top-flight health care… Good luck. If that model was successful they would be like Johnny Appleseed, as opposed to Joey Goebbels.

And Trump has Bannon, who jerks off to photos of Goebbels, so another base covered. This guy is a “strategist” in only the broadest way. He seems to be the worst kind of political apparatchik. The kind who will never be seen in public, or grant interviews, or take any real responsibility. He has his hand up Trump’s ass and it looks like Trump is talking, but you are really hearing Bannon throwing his voice. THAT is this dude’s “strategy”. And as usual, when “strategy” is next separated from “propaganda” it will be the first time.

Next, Lackeys. You cannot have a functioning oligarchy without lackeys. You need dopes who are so far over their skis that they will take whatever direction they get because what the fuck does Rick “Dancing with the Stars” Perry know about nuclear warheads? Nothing. And he ain’t gonna learn anytime soon. The steady stream of agency heads who are incompetent or outright hostile to the charters of the agencies they are being tapped to head is not a coincidence. You want a nice mix of incompetence and hostility. Both is nice.

Like an exterminator examining the mud casings in the footings of your democracy, I hate to tell you this, friend: you got a colony of oligarchs, military stooges and lackeys setting up shop in your house. The fix is to get at it early and maybe in short order you’ll have a problem you can fix with a can of RAID. But for now you gotta be ready to do the hard work to knock this oligarch colony down to size.

 

Advertisements

On Gun Laws: It’s the DATA, stupid.

Paul Krugman wrote an interesting op-ed this week exploring the GOP’s makers-v-takers meme, and how it just might be complete bullshit. Yes, Bobby Jindal looked sassy while he spouted a sound bite about the GOP being the party of stupid, but wink-wink he is pushing to eliminate his state’s income tax and increase sales tax to make up the difference.  Who might that benefit? So Bobby has a point. He will be a lot better off if voters are stupid enough to think that his tax plan is a good thing.  Certainly his millionaire friends think it is.

As humorous as the hijinks of the Republican party are, I couldn’t help thinking that their playbook seems to have more traction than any playbook built on stupidity should rightly have.  Whether it is selling regressive tax plans that shift tax burdens from the haves to the have-nots, or talking about enforcing existing gun laws while handcuffing the government in their efforts to enforce those laws, there is a common thread: Good Data is the work of the debbil.

See, basing your decisions on facts, non-partisan data, or as some call it, reality… that is the way “they” trick ya! See, you know you need your AR-15 to defend yourself against some revenuer aimin’ to take your AR-15 away!  You need your gun to protect your right to guns, and so on, and the fact that the GOP has stonewalled the effort to name a head of the BATFE, or that they have backed and passed legislation preventing the BATFE and the FBI from collecting, analyzing, and publishing gun-crime data?  Well, that is just a distraction from the proven fact that President Blackula wants to suck your freedom out of your goddam neck. Lernin’ is for losers, son.

And of course it is easy to make fun of the current situation, and mock the people that rely on stupidity while claiming to decry stupidity.  But the real fact of the matter in my own life is that while I am not anti-gun, I am pro-reality. In the real world there is a proven reality that bad decisions spring from bad information. In government you can equally show that bad legislation springs forth from bad data, lack of data, or just outright misinformation.  So while I think it is great that our nation is having a long overdue conversation about access to guns, it is taking place on a tissue-thin membrane of bad information. No matter how well intentioned the action, it will be based on crappy data and what is essentially folklore. While there is force behind the current “gun-control” movement, driven by an urge to strike while the iron is hot, the result will not live up to the intention of its authors.

In short, the best first step would be to get the BATFE under solid leadership with a full-time Director, with sufficient staffing and funding, and repeal the barriers to its effective operation. What we have now is an abundance of emotion and a paucity of information.  Balance needs to be restored in that equation before any truly effective legislation, or even an effective change in public attitudes, can happen.

I will let Jon Stewart drop some knowledge on this topic, while again noting that a show on Comedy Central continues to be a better source of news and analysis than any of the many networks without the word “comedy” in their name.

There is a good summary here, and this excerpt goes right to the issue:

Since 1986, federal law has prohibited a database containing gun registration information or gun permit holders from being maintained. There’s a provision in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) appropriations bill that keeps the agency from spending any money on such a thing.  The Washington Post reported that the National Rifle Association, one of the nation’s most powerful special interest and single issue groups, not only co-wrote the 1986 legislation that first made maintaining records about gun ownership illegal, but also considers a national database of gun registrations a violation of the constitution.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I bailed on the NRA not because they are pro-gun, but because they are desperately anti-science. I have read a ton of their legislative action literature and it is consistently emotionally charged fear-mongering, relying heavily on the concept that firearms are “exceptional” in the world of manufactured objects.

Of the many things I find offensive as a citizen, gun owner, and scientist:

Tiahrt Amendment

Tiahrt is the author of the Tiahrt Amendment, which prohibits the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) from releasing information from its firearms trace database to anyone other than a law enforcement agency or prosecutor in connection with a criminal investigation. Additionally, any data so released is inadmissible in a civil lawsuit.[5] Some groups, including the Mayors Against Illegal Guns Coalition, believe that having further access to the ATF database would help municipal police departments track down sellers of illegal guns and curb crime. These groups are trying to undo the Tiahrt Amendment.[6] Numerous police organizations oppose the Tiahrt Amendment, such as the Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCCA) and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP).[7] Conversely, the Tiahrt Amendment is supported by the National Rifle Association [8], and the Fraternal Order of Police (although it allows municipal police departments only limited access to ATF trace data in any criminal investigation).

If you want to see more, a simple Google query on “atf appropriations nra” nets some excellent resources. It is not just dumb luck that the automobile, the airplane, TNT, nuclear weapons, the steam engine, etc… were not available for the founding fathers to cogitate on. The NRA demands that GUNS are exceptional and their availability must not be restrained. Firearms technology is so sacred that we can’t even collect data on its manufacture, usage, safety, storage, ownership, or sale. That would be wrong. As a result we have a self-reinforcing system where we have bad laws with minimal or no enforcement, laws prohibiting better information on which to base policy, yielding more bad laws, etc… I have been trying to find an equivalent and am currently at a loss. I am not at a loss to feel dishonored that in the land of “freedom” we have a prohibition on the collection and publication of firearms data. Who does that protect? And, from what?

What I am continuing to explore is how, and why, and by whom, we are being deprived of publicly available information on which to base public policy. I remain a strong advocate for constitutional rights. I remain sick to the pit of my soul over the number and variety of gun-related deaths in my country. And I look to many chapters in our Nation’s history where the public has felt compelled to action and came away better informed, better able to direct their desire for sound public policy, and better people for their effort.

Meta-spam! It’s shelf-stable!

If you want to know what NRA talking points were circulated after Newtown, just look at the comments in any forum like Facebook, or Huffpo, or NYT, or a “gunner” forum.  A few examples:

An AR-15 isn’t an assault weapon because it isn’t full-auto!  Yes, Virginia, it is an assault weapon.  If it makes you feel better to split hairs, sleep tight.  But the real deal is that a military-spec weapon designed to inflict maximum carnage is an assault weapon.  If you think it is the same thing as a 3-shot fixed mag hunting rifle, then why don’t law enforcement officials carry those to defend against AR-15s?

The real problem is that we have a “mental health crisis”!  Tell me more!  Please hand over a list of dates where the NRA gave testimony on mental health issues to anyone, ever.  Who is their lead lobbyist on mental health issues?  Credentials?  Produce a single mention of “mental health crisis” from an NRA publication prior to 12/14/12.  I spent the past 12 years receiving American Rifleman, so please keep the photoshopped crap in your mom’s basement where you made it.

The last assault weapons ban was a failure!  Really!  That is shocking since the NRA spent considerable funds and effort gutting it and ensuring that it would be toothless and counterproductive.

And that is my “top 3” from the meta-spam crystal ball.  You might not believe it but I have a great deal of sympathy for gun owners and gun retailers.  The shift in attitudes on gun ownership is happening, and it will be accompanied by a shift in public policy.  Ever try to register an ATV for road use?  A Caterham?  How about a road-legal race car?  If you have, have you been able to insure it, as required by law?  See, you can drive an Ariel Atom, legally, but there are rules and a cost and some of those costs are dictated by accident data and actuarial tables.  That’s why you don’t just wobble on down to the Cessna dealer and take off in a small plane.  That’s why you see a lot of golden-agers driving supercars and M5-class sedans, but not so many 19 year-olds.  Regulation happens.  Cars.  Airplanes.  Alcohol.  Tobacco.  Firearms.  Explosives.

Extra Credit: The focus of the NRA on the concept of a “ban” is a red herring.  A “ban” is a non-starter, but keeping the narrative on a “ban” means that bandwidth is being stolen from productive dialogue.  When you hear “ban” it might help to picture Wayne LaPierre with his fingers in his ears, shouting “NANANANANANA I CAN’T HEAR YOU!!!!!!!”

Gimme that old time religion…

I’ll give you the link up front:

Garry Wills at NY Review of Books drops some knowledge on us

Very Required Reading, that.

And speaking of required reading…

big-books

My own checkered religious past, not to mention my present, allows me to nod in agreement and soak Garry Wills’ analogy in with ease.  I was raised catholic, and made the mistake of actually reading the bible as a kid, and then attending four years of catholic high school.  I would have been better off and better received as a student if I had chose a path of shooting dope, or in the case of the current pope, being a nazi.  That kind of stuff is easily forgiven.  Reading the bible without close supervision on the other hand, is unforgivable.  Catholics hate nothing more than the complete text of their holy bible.  What they like are the 52 biblical sound-bites that make up their annual liturgy.  Everything else is marked with a huge “Here Be Dragons” sign.  The bulk of the bible is either contradicting their soundbites, or simply not to be trusted.  And if it is in the old testament, well, there is always the “other guys” wink, wink.  I know this firsthand because I faced a seemingly endless course of discipline for asking honest questions about the bible in a catholic high school.  It wasn’t completely in vain… I did, however, become adept at a catholic variation of the “jedi mind trick”.  Nuff Said.

The past 60 hours or so have been a roller-coaster of tears, choked=back-tears, disbelief, gratitude, and reflection.  I have been through the gamut from crystalline rationalization to emotional white-out.  I don’t want to get any deeper into this subject for a while.  I am sure that there will be plenty of fodder for my snark-assault weapon of a blog in the weeks and months to come.  But the article above is the closest thing I have seen to scalar context.  The American Gun Control argument is a religious argument.  And in a country based on religious freedom, no matter how badly applied, the gun mob has leveraged that spirit as cover for their gun worship.

As the world at large watches: please have mercy and pity on us because it is very likely that we as a nation will fuck this up very badly.  Kirk Out.

The “cliff” matters, but for other reasons

Really great post by Robert Reich on FB today:

I can think of at least three cliffs that pose larger dangers to America than the fiscal one:

(1) The child poverty cliff. Between 2007 and 2011, the percentage of American school-age children living in poor households grew from 17 to 21%. Unless we focus on better schools, better health, and improved conditions for these poor kids and their families, we’ll have a significant population of undereducated and desperate adults.

(2) The baby-boomer healthcare cliff. Healthcare costs are already 18% of GDP, and between now and 2030, when 76 million boomers join the ranks of the elderly, those costs will soar unless we adopt a single-payer system that focuses on healthy outcomes rather than fee-for-services.

(3) The environmental cliff. Carbon levels in the atmosphere are increasing at a rate of 3 percent this year. Unless we adopt a carbon tax and/or cap and trade system (and get China and India to join us) we’ll be very soon at the point of no-return when ice caps irretrievably melt, sea-levels rise, and amount of available cropland in the world becomes dangerously small.

I think we should stop obsessing about the fiscal cliff and get working on these others. Do you agree?

I agree, and it also frames my distaste for the current brand of “cliffonomics” that plagues the major media coverage we are inundated with.  The biggest problem I see with the “fiscal cliff” drama is that the failure of Congress to find a solution to this issue is a bad omen for actually fixing anything of significance over the next four years. It seems that the GOP has figured that they can kick the can for another four years if they have to. That would include everything from health care and immigration to infrastructure and manufacturing.

There are much bigger issues in play than revenue and spending.  Basically the current argument is a marginal debate over which revenue and spending measures each party finds acceptable.  The debate takes place over the status-quo chessboard (maybe checkers is more apt… yep… checkers), whereas the real game should be played is in fixing the system to eliminate the source of the problem.  Massive public costs of healthcare due to a broken system are the number one savings vector, and they are being discussed in terms of weakening the already shaky net of healthcare options.  That is, to be blunt, insane.

Both sides in this dreadfully boring and childish “cliff” exercise are playing a game based on vote grubbing and base-preservation, which in the end will succeed at neither.  It is arguable that both conservative and liberal leadership have marginalized the center, and I believe it is because the center in America is rapidly asking “why can’t we have a better system, not just a rule change?” and neither party is willing to take that gamble.  What you have in Medicare and Medicaid is a proven revenue stream and a broken service delivery system.  The appropriations don’t need more than a tweak, but the delivery need a major upgrade.  That could involve means-testing, sliding scale reimbursement, cost controls, and possibly a subsidy/education system where you could get a break on say med school if you agreed to a commitment to serve.  That is tried and true policy strategy that has worked in the military for ages.  My fear is that a simple and rational pkan like that would be laughed off the table on day one because it doesn’t offer a clear political advantage.  The public benefit will never get to the discussion phase, because here in America, the public is well and truly fucked.

To close, a short list of major undertakings that have the potential to deliver jobs, GDP growth, straightline economic growth, and economic benefit:

  • Transportation infrastructure improvement project – WPA scale, bridges, roads, rail, and multi-user
  • Carbon Reduction Act with a jobs-based mechanism in addition or lieu of penalties/tax
  • Outright disincentives for offshoring capital and jobs.  Currently there is none, and we are paying the price on a national basis.
  • Dip toes into consumption-based tax, gaining a lever on the imbalance between profit and pure profit-taking that is ripping fuel out of our economy at an alarming rate.
  • STFU about immigration half-measures and put a true “move the line” system whereby immigrants can attain citizenship through normal means of work, paying taxes, lack of criminal activity, etc…

And so on.  Those issues have bigger up-front paybacks and yield larger benefits over the long haul than making seniors gap-fill for even more years before getting access to Medicaid or some other scenario where the least-able are punished for the inability of the wealthy to act responsibly.

In the words of the great Bootsy Collins: “Kirk Out”

Call it what it is

Everybody having fun with yet another round of fiscal shenanigans? I love nothing more than watching millionaires throw themselves in front of a bus to save billionaires.

First, the GOP: They are ever so thankful that their bullshit about “job creators” hasn’t been completely debunked. What they are protecting is actually “wealth extractors” but that doesn’t sound quite so defensible. See, in a fair system you would tax progressively more as income rose, possibly with a slightly different rate for investment income vs. salary income. That would create incentive for the wealthiest to keep their wealth active and circulating, you know… creating the jobs and GDP growth that the GOP can’t wrap their minds around…. as opposed to hoarding it, which is what they are doing with it now. The current argument from the GOP is between the current state of unbelievably unfair taxation, and a system that ever so slightly levels the system. And they like it that way. They likes it just fine, thanks you very much.

Next, Everyone Else: The President, Pelosi, Reed, and so on…. they are making a major mistake by engaging on the GOP’s terms. Good job on trying to cull out Social Security, since it is outside of the current scope of revenue/spending. Bad job on getting all squishy on Medicare and Medicaid when everyone knows that it is income qualification not age qualification that needs to be adjusted (just like Soc Sec). That said, they are doing a better job of giving coherent answers on their positions, while they still refuse to commit publicly on specifics. There is a reason: Just as in the presidential race, the GOP has created an unbalanced game board, where they are asking for concrete cuts to programs that they percieve as helpful to people that vote Democrat, while offering a hazy promise about maybe asking something from what they percieve as their base in return. In a reasonable world they could be ignored, but we don’t live in one of those. But call it what it is: The GOP pushing all the remaining chips from their failed policies and campaign planks to the center of the table.

In other News:
If you listen to NPR you may have caught a few whoppers last night (11/28/12): One GOP nitwit wondered aloud why they should support citizenship for people that are unlikely to vote Republican… which I applaud for at least being honest about their vote grubbing and bigotry; And another mentalist stated that “this is a bad time to be wealthy”… then joked that it is never a bad time to be wealthy, but Obama wants the rich to pay their share and that is a problem. Whew… when you start from the sub basement, you have a long way to go just to reach the sidewalk. Apparently there are people being taken seriously for thinking that the lowest tax rates in modern American history are bad for millionaires because they aren’t being given an even better deal without any debate, and that it is beyond comprehension that people you demonize won’t vote for you and additionally that stopping whipping their ass in public is out of the question. I actually wish NPR would go back to their old classical music and fact-based journalism format.

At least the guy knows how to start a conversation….

Mitt “Mittens” Romney, that is.  I know, the statement made to those $50,000/plate donors last May is being dissected like it was the long lost second Zapruder film.  And rightly so.  I tried to find some kind of thread of sanity to Mitt’s little rampage on half the Nation as teat-sucking layabouts.  Really, I did.

Fot those of you under a rock, or in China, where this news may not have sufficiently penetrated your child-protection filter:

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…

“Our message of low taxes doesn’t connect…so my job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives. What I have to do is convince the five to 10 percent in the center that are independents, that are thoughtful….”

And yes, it turns out that those freeloading Social Security recipients, active duty soldiers, working poor, low income families with children… all those freeloading yobbos who spend every last fucking red cent on food, clothing, housing and transportation and maybe have enough to spend something on education, but certainly aren’t stashing wads of Benjamins in their mattress… THEY are the problem.  Got that?

If you see one of the myriad copies of the fundraiser video, notice how vociferously the pillars of finance and industry shout down poor uninformed Mittens the Clown!  They can’t sit still while he runs an ideological bulldozer over their lives! NOT.  This is a high priest of “trickle down” preaching to the choir.

While Mitt scoffs at “redistribution” as a code for calling Obama a “socialist”, what exactly would Mitt be doing with the taxes received from those 47% of the Nation? Obama voters or not, wouldn’t those taxes be, by definition, redistributed?  Most likely upward, by my calculation.

I’ll stop trying to make sense of this Möbius Strip of Fuckwit VooDoo.  Someone else did a better job that i could ever do…

As is becoming disturbingly regular (and hilarious) John Stewart beat me to the more obvious points in this, the most awesome video EVER:

Chaos on Bullshit Mountain

It hits on a lot of the things that struck me as particularly baffling:

  • What about corporations that pay no taxes *at all*?  Freeloaders, failing to take “corporate person” responsibility?
  • Since when does paying income tax = personal responsibility for anyone?
  • Don’t most/all of those fine ladies and gentlemen paying $50,000/plate (to listen to Mittens put a boot in the ass of the poor) put a lot of effort into paying as little income as possible?
  • Does Mittens himself not enjoy a massive dose of tax relief by virtue of living off investment income?
  • Does this douchebag really think that the only people who vote for Obama are completely dependent on Government assistance and take no responsibility for themselves at all, ergo, all Romney voters must be paying income tax whether they owe it or not and refuse any assistance from the U.S. Government, on principle?

And this is really just the tip of the iceberg.  Dissecting the words of this captain on industry is bound to become a cottage industry, and I am sure there is someone breaking down a transcript *right now* and you will see that book on Amazon before November 2012.

The sad part of this is that it is completely predictable.  I put a lot of weight on what people say when they are riding high.  After winning the Iowa caucus, Mittens flew directly to New Hampshire to gloat and cement his stature as frontrunner.  When asked about “profiteering” Mitt didn’t even blink, mainly because he thinks profiting and profiteering are a singularity.  He went on to praise “profit” as the driver of the little people’s 401K’s and pensions… proving that he has never even glanced at a 401k or pension because both of those instruments got raped as a result of the exact kind of market de-reg that Mitt thinks will “make America great again”.  Who runs this guy’s campaign?  Monty Burns?