Category Archives: politics

Can Politics ever really reach Bottom?

As the results trickle in from Connecticut’s 2014 midterm election I can’t help but wonder if the process can get any worse. It was impossible to find substantive discussion on either side. Republican candidate Tom Foley apparently spent the past four years in cryogenic suspension because he was less informed about every issue that he was when he ran four years ago. He either refused to answer questions about actual state policies, or admitted ignorance but made references to his problem solving skills, and gave no example of them but trust him they are impressive. Incumbent Democrat Dannel Malloy fell into a trap of taking the bait on nonsense issues. His record might not be the kind of thing that voters are thrilled about (sheparding a state back from a global economic meltdown without making things worse) but it is his record. His approach has worked, but it required state tax increases and a slower pace of deficit reduction in exchange for shielding the state’s 169 towns and cities from funding cuts. Since all property taxes are assessed locally this means that the citizens of Connecticut were spared mil rate increases that impact the poor and working poor especially hard.

Asleep yet? I wouldn’t be surprised. Malloy has stayed true to his “good government” blue collar roots. In return he has been largely tuned out by the electorate.

Foley had one pitch: “that stuff you don’t like, I wouldn’t have done that”. See. Easy to digest. No policy angle. You can go on with your day unencumbered by facts, figures, data, policy details, or anything else that can vaguely be pulled under the heading of “reality”. His track record is either sketchy, hazy, or negative. Six months heading the Provisional Authority in Iraq, where U.S. lucre was hauled away by the wheelbarrow load by… well, nobody knows who. But billions of dollars were unaccounted for. This was also over a decade ago, and the entire venture was largely undocumented. And he is a corporate guy. A business guy. All we really know about his corporate ventures is that he made millions upon millions of dollars and played hardball with labor.

But they had debates.That should have proved edutaining! Errrrr, No. The debates were like mud wrestling without the charm, and the voters found out nothing the really needed to know to make an informed decision. Nobody seemed to care. They were too busy staking out some imaginary high ground. There is no high ground. There is only swamp land.

So you have a showdown between a sitting Governor who was not that able to frame his policies in a way that appeals to voters, and a guy who has never held any elected office and who couldn’t remember his running mate’s name with three weeks to go before election day. Surprised that the election will be a nail-biter?

Good Night. Good Luck. Good Grief.

Advertisements

Long Time, No Blog…

I have been very busy doing things, hence I have not been blogulating or otherwise documenting things. Since this is site is relatively solipsistic, I don”t think it has caused a problem with the public at large…

First, a follow-up on the ACA bruhaha that has been percolating since my last post in October: Anti-ACA folks in government, industry, major media, etc… have one thing in common. They all have or seem to have no worries about the availability or cost of their own healthcare. I’m sure it isn’t 100% but I am also sure that Rush Limbaugh is not paying $1300/mo for shit coverage, or getting denied coverage for his many pre-existing conditions. On the far far far far right (I hope) are the people who think that ACA is “government-run healthcare”, is “worse than hitler, stalin and pol pot”, or is somehow making things “worse”. No. Just like Medicare and Medicad solved actual problems for the poor and old, this solves problems for everyone else. I feel like any further attempt at rationality is futile here, so I’ll just leave it at that.

Item 2: The simplest explanation for the rapid climate change the planet is currently experiencing is proving to be more likely each day. Take all that carbon that the geologic cycle had the good sense to “sequester” under the ground, pump it back into the atmosphere at a supernatural rate, and bingo: climate change. Unfortunately for us humans, the climate may very well be changing back to pre-human conditions. Bad news, meatbags.

Item the Third: Dear Hartford, Connecticut. City Hall will never make your city better. You have to do that yourself. Once you start doing that, City Hall can give you a push. Look around at cities that are fighting their way back an winning. They have active communities, taking pride in them, and working to solve problems. While that happens in Hartford, I think the residents have to give up on any tangible help from their city government. It is a snake pit, and is in no danger of getting any less snakier any time soon.

More hot blog action to come. Maybe something not filled with so much snark, but filled with a little more subtlety.

Obligatory Trayvon Martin blog entry

…obligatory in both the sense that everyone seems to have an opinion, is sharing that opinion, and why should I not throw two cents into the e-fountain?

1013185_10201008814055448_233145891_n

First, my deepest condolences to not only the Martin family, but the families of all the victims of gun violence. It is easy to be blinded by the media circus and forget that kids are dying at gunpoint every day in staggering numbers. The fact that certain state jurisdictions have made it legal is the subject of this brief personal opinion piece:

When I first heard about the death of Trayvon Martin I was thinking I must have gotten some bad info. Wait? It isn’t until 45 days after the shooting when they charge the shooter? What is the language behind this “Stand Your Ground” law (SYG) in Florida? Did this guy really have 911 on speed dial, as well as the police dispatcher? The shooter had domestic violence priors, yet maintained his carry permit? His daddy is/was a judge? That is pretty fucked up. Cop wannabe’s are everywhere, but they typically refrain from pursuing people based on their gait and wardrobe and starting shit. (Maybe they don’t refrain from that, come to think of it) Well, they might refrain from starting shit unless their daddy is a judge and they had some professional training on SYG from a law enforcement training program. George Zimmerman had both.

…and the details that came out as the public side of the matter unfolded didn’t help me make any sense of it. But I did some reading on the SYG language, and that really freaked me out. It is so broad, and leaves so much latitude in both terms of defining engagement and terms of legal interpretation that I can’t believe that these things aren’t happening several times each week. (it turns out, by one counting, that I am being optimistic) It looked to me like you could basically kill anyone you want, and if you stuck to your story that you felt your life was threatened you would never be held accountable. It STILL looks that way to me. More so.

And not just me… HERE is a recent piece from The Atlantic. Ta-Nehisi Coates sums up what I had been understanding from my own reading on the matter:

Effectively, I can bait you into a fight and if I start losing I can can legally kill you, provided I “believe” myself to be subject to “great bodily harm.” It is then the state’s job to prove — beyond a reasonable doubt — that I either did not actually fear for my life, or my fear was unreasonable.

Proving that the shooter acted one way, or felt another way, is an impossibility. Not only was there no way that George Zimmerman was ever going to be held responsible, there is no way that anyone in Florida will ever be held responsible. Open. Season. Pure and simple as that.

I was near enough to a television on Saturday the 13th to watch some serious gloating and immediate revisionist history by Zimmerman’s defense team. When asked if they thought that the outcome would have been different if the races of the two men were reversed, the answer from attorney Mark O’Mara was “Things would have been different for George Zimmerman if he was black for this reason: he would never have been charged with a crime,”  Which means that in the fantasy land that attorney Mark O’Mara lives in, young black men are discharging firearms and causing deaths of unarmed civilians without legal repercussions. That seems to be the whole George Zimmerman strategy: Hire your legal representatives from a parallel universe.

And that is where I believe the racial issue comes in to play. Would Trayvon Martin have been assumed innocent for 45 days by the Sanford PD? Would he have been given the broad benefit of the doubt if he had pulled the trigger? And I don’t belive so. Aside from the delusional (at the least “delusional for pay”) Mark O’Mara, nobody believes that Trayvon would have been given such gracious treatment.

I won’t belabor the point, but I will say that when the easy reader version of Stand Your Ground comes out in Florida, there will be some serious bloodshed. The use of deadly force has been reduced to a “he said, he’s dead” proposition. As a good friend of mine once said about self defense in the home: “Only one of us will be making any statements”

That approach served Zimmerman very well.

The Only Thing Changing is the Climate

Bold move by President Obama this week, getting all kind of stabby on greenhouse gas emissions and “carbon”. I will bow to BikeSnobNYC and tell you that “crabon emissions” are what I have on enchilada night…

In a major way, I am not imprressed. Not because the ideas aren’t good, or because they are rehashed, or because they have zero chance of being implemented… but it is that the reason they have zero chance of happening is because the United States is still a wholly owned subsidiary of the petrochemical industry. And don’t you forget it. Setting prices of gasoline, uh, that is their turf. If you want to play that game they will double down on your pathetic carbon tax with $150/bbl crude faster than you can say “gouge me”. The public won’t care who did it, they will pillory the guy who they believe caused gas to top $5/gal. If they wanted that shit they would move to Europe and pay $6/gal, and get healthcare for the troubles.

I’ve probably related this before but here goes: on my first full day in a job dealing with climate and energy policy I joked “fix gasoline at $5 and we can declare victory tomorrow”. And then it happened. Gas hit $5 in almost all major markets in 2007 and the top blew off. SUV sales cratered, economy cars were flying out of showrooms, people were carpooling, public transit saw a ridership spike (even the bad systems)… and you can go check the math with the EIA, gasoline sales and deliveries took a major hit. BUT, that was due to wehat I believe to be massive futures manipulation in energy markets, facilitated by a lenient SEC under the Bush II administration. If there had been a carbon tax driving that pricing you would have the social changes, the consumer changes, and the tax revenue to start building real next-gen infrastructure. Throw in the income tax swap and you would have more money in consumer’s pockets and a nice economic boost in all the other sectors. But instead all we got were record-breaking profits over at Big Oil.

The problem is that every climate scientist, economist, back bencher, tree hugger, knows or should know that carbon tax policy is sound policy. You can swap it against income tax, and it is a win-win. Even nutjob supply-siders on the right nod in agreement. The trick is to make sure you are spending the revenue on leveling the playing field for competing technologies. And doncha know that Daddy Petrobucks hates that shit all day long. It isn’t enough for him to get Billions of USD in free money at the taxpayer expense, and have a captive market, and legalized pice fixing… no, he certainly will not allow sales of his product to fund his competition.

So enjoy the show, but feel free to leave early because… SPOILER AlERT!  The Bad Guy Wins in the End.

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!!!!!!!”

Don’t blame the messenger

I want to say this up front: I often find filmmaker Michael Moore to be a pain in the ass and I also find his opinions cringeworthy at times.  But he is also taking on issues that border on taboo and that can mean having to cringe occasionally.  If there were more like him we might be more open and less cringey about things.

Here is a great example:  Celebrating the Prince of Peace in the Land of Guns

I have been nibbling at these issues for a while, but Moore does a great job at bringing them into a cohesive narrative.  Small excerpt:

I’m not saying it’s perfect anywhere else, but I have noticed, in my travels, that other civilized countries see a national benefit to taking care of each other. Free medical care, free or low-cost college, mental health help. And I wonder — why can’t we do that? I think it’s because in many other countries people see each other not as separate and alone but rather together, on the path of life, with each person existing as an integral part of the whole. And you help them when they’re in need, not punish them because they’ve had some misfortune or bad break. I have to believe one of the reasons gun murders in other countries are so rare is because there’s less of the lone wolf mentality amongst their citizens. Most are raised with a sense of connection, if not outright solidarity. And that makes it harder to kill one another.