Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Bill Gates Didn't Say That

Cross-posted at AtheistHobos.com

Over the past few days I've seen the revival of a quote attributed to Bill Gates giving a commencement speech to a high school.  It seems that this trope has been going around the intertubes for over a decade, originally as part of an email chain.  Here's what's been making the rounds on Facebook (including the pic):




Bill Gates recently gave a Commencement speech at a High School about 11 things they did not and will not learn in school. He talks about how feel-good, politically correct teachings created a generation of kids with no concept of reality and how this concept set them up for failure in the real world.

Rule 1: Life is not fair - get used to it!

Monday, November 12, 2012

On Pragmatism and Hope: Wingnuts Losing their Nuts?

 Cross-posted at AtheistHobos.com


With President Obama's re-election, the hard wall of reality has met the Republican party ideology head on as GOP leaders are rethinking their strategy in alienating huge constituencies (hispanics, women, the middle class) in order to satisfy what essentially amounts to the old white guy voting block.  It is quite striking to see a party, for which the immediate reaction to Obama's first term election was to make a hard right in order to oppose all items on the White House agenda, even if it had been on the GOP agenda in some form (cap and trade vis a vis global warming or healthcare reform), moderate even a little on core issues.  With the rise of the Tea Party in the mid-term elections, this apparent shift in the wake of Obama's re-election is not what I had expected.

For example, take Sean Hannity, Fox News arch-conservative pundit, who has done a virtual 180 on the issue of immigration.  Within two days of Obama's re-election, Hannity said "...if some people have criminal records you can send them home, but if people are here, law-abiding, participating for years, their kids are born here, you know, it’s first secure the border, pathway to citizenship, done, whatever little penalties you want to put in there, if you want, and it’s done."

Even Speaker of the House, John Boehner, who has lived in constant fear of the Tea Party wing over the last two years has taken a softer stance on immigration saying, "A comprehensive approach is long overdue, and I’m confident that the president, myself and others can find the common ground to take care of this issue once and for all."

Today, former Bush adviser Linda Hughes laid the smack down hard on old white guys pontificating on rape:
[I]f another Republican man says anything about rape other than it is a horrific, violent crime, I want to personally cut out his tongue. The college-age daughters of many of my friends voted for Obama because they were completely turned off by Neanderthal comments like the suggestion of ‘legitimate rape.’”
Sing it sister.

And yesterday, influential conservative pundit Bill Kristol went on "Fox News Sunday" and said something that is anathema to the Grover Norquist era-GOP: raise taxes on the rich.
It won’t kill the country if we raise taxes a little bit on millionaires … It really won’t, I don’t think. I don’t really understand why Republicans don’t take Obama’s offer
and
Really? The Republican Party is going to fall on its sword to defend a bunch of millionaires, half of whom voted Democratic and half of whom live in Hollywood and are hostile?
 We will see how this plays out when the new Congress convenes in January.  Will this break from party orthodoxy have a ripple effect on other pragmatic party leaders that are truly interested in solving the debt crisis, or will Grover Norquist and the Tea Party caucus assert its clout and kill a debt solution that includes tax increases to for the wealthy?

One of the provisions of the Bush tax cuts that will expire if Congress does nothing by the end of the year, is the capital gains tax rate of 15%.  If Congress extends the tax cuts, the long-term capital gains tax will increase to 20%.

One of the arguments for a lower long-term capital gains tax compared to regular income is that it discourages 'locking-in' gains.  That is, if you don't get any benefit from holding on to an asset for a while, you'll be more likely to sell it when it has appreciated in value to the point where the upside risk is lower than the downside risk (i.e. you believe it will fall in value before it rises value).  For example, if you buy one share of ABC stock at $10 and it runs up to $100 in the next three months, you will probably be inclined to sell and lock-in your $90 profit.  Yet, you will taxed at the short-term capital gains rate, which is whatever rate your normal income is taxed at.  So it may be more than twice the long-term rate.  In the example above, other investors are probably thinking of selling as well.  So if everyone starts selling to lock-in their gains, without the incentive of a lower tax rate for holding, there may be increased volatility in the market. (Of course, in this example, even with the lower tax rate, you may well be inclined to take the higher tax rate anyway.)

Assuming that reduction in volatility is a desirable outcome (and I think it generally is, although I can think of some counter-arguments), I agree with the principle of providing an incentive to hold assets for some pre-defined duration; one year seems reasonable.


Source: Congressional Research Service
But I think a better way to approach this would be to provide a dis-incentive to short term trading of assets that would be subject to capital gains tax.  Of course, the current structure was proposed and passed by the wealthy for the wealthy.  Why?  Because a) those in power are much wealthier than their constituents and b) wealthy people benefit most from favorable long-term capital gains treatment.  But why should the m(b)illionaire's source of income be taxed at a lower rate than the rest of us?

Another common trope to justify a lower long-term capital gains tax rate is that it leads to increased productivity, saving and investment.  This is the central tenant of supply-side economics, that when the rich do well, the mana trickles down to the rest of us in the form of higher employment.  Yet, the data does not support this hypothesis.  Instead, in a 2012 report, the non-partisan Congressional Research Service concluded that
The results of the analysis suggest that changes over the past 65 years in the top marginal tax rate and the top capital gains tax rate do not appear correlated with economic growth. The reduction in the top tax rates appears to be uncorrelated with saving, investment, and productivity growth. The top tax rates appear to have little or no relation to the size of the economic pie.
Source: Congressional Research Service
So if lower taxes for the uber-wealthy doesn't have a measurable effect on economic output, and given the fiscal crisis facing the nation, the solution to maintaining the incentive to hold assets seems apparent.  Tax long-term capital gains at the same rate as normal income (which, btw, also needs to be reformed), and tax short-term capital gains at a higher rate to discourage speculative investments that lack a the fundamental financial merits to be held past one year.

But while that may discourage speculative investments by the wealthy, a flat, say, 50% for all income brackets would stunt the growth of those in the bottom brackets that may otherwise be on trajectory to enter higher brackets.  And yet, we want to maintain the dis-incentive to hold assets for the short term. Perhaps one way to deal with this is to peg the dis-incentive to the normal income rate.  That is, if your marginal tax rate is 20% and the dis-incentive is 50%, the tax rate on your short-term gains would be .2*1.5 = .3.  You would pay 30% on short-term gains.  Alternatively, if your marginal tax rate is 40%, a 50% increase would set your short-term tax rate at 60%.

I have little hope that my proposal or anything close to it would be adopted any time soon, but the shift in rhetoric and policy stance by conservative leaders gives me some hope that incremental progress is achievable.






Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Keep Your Politics to Yourself: A Guide to Facebook

Cross-posted at AtheistHobos.com

You know what kills me?  When people put up political talk on Facebook.  Seriously, what makes you think I'm interested in your political views?  Here's a clue.  I'm NOT.  I don't care if you're the goddamned President of the Fucking Universe, I don't want to hear about your politics on Facebook.  Go hold a rally somewhere in he middle of central bumblefuck with all your glossy-eyed acolytes and get your rocks off.

But not on Facebook.  Facebook is for faces...as in pictures.  And don't get all cute with me and start posting pictures that express a political opinion.

Listen.  I know you think you have important things to talk about like 'global warming' or 'traditional marriage', but the truth is, I couldn't give a shit less if the ocean swallows up Florida or if gay marriage makes you want to get a divorce.

Monday, November 5, 2012

An Endorsement (if not a vote) for Jill Stein

Cross-posted at AtheistHobos.com 

I know, the title is bound to annoy people, but I'm still not sure who I will be voting for.  Of course, it won't be Romney, but I have been swayed over the past week or so to the possibility of voting for Green Party candidate, Jill Stein.

But that slightly mischaracterizes the choice.  A vote for Jill Stein isn't really a vote for "Jill Stein".  Its a protest vote.  Its a message to the democratic party that progressives aren't buying the President's assault on civil liberties, his passiveness on climate change, his indifference to the growing economic inequalities, or his slightly less bad foreign policy of endless war that may or may not involve attacking Iran ('may not' isn't an option for Romney).  Its a vote for the long haul and a tacit acceptance that the situation may worsen considerably in the interim.  In fact, for some, that may be precisely the strategy: to hope for an epic backlash once the effects of the GOP's regressive policies begin to be felt.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Debate Reform: iPads

Cross posted at AtheistHobos.com

[Update: Gawker has a story about debate conspiracy theories of covert communications, including one about Romney pulling out a cheat-sheet.  My only objection to this is that it should be specifically sanctioned and both candidates should be able to communicate with their staffs. Bring it out in the open and level the playing field.]

I didn't watch the Presidential Debate Wednesday night, but from the accounts I've read, Romney lied his ass off, and Obama sat there and took it, failing to challenge or counter Romney's claims.

We've kind of seen this disregard for facts in GOP VP candidate Paul Ryan's convention speech.  It was so blatantly false that former Bush political strategist, Michael Dowd, was compelled to comment that "At some point, the truth should matter".

Monday, October 1, 2012

Free Speech & Blasphemy

Non-violent Free Speech. You're doing it right.
Cross-posted at AtheistHobos.com

My last post was about the appropriate response to terrorist attacks.  Appropriate in the sense that the response would yield the most productive outcome for society.

In this post, I'm interested in discussing the free speech facet of the whole story.  

Needless to say, when content of mere images and video cause so much angst and agitation that you can only respond with random (or non-random) violence and destruction, you are seriously fucked up.  There's really no other way to put it, you may need to seek professional help.  Because you are a menace to society.  

And yet, people will still lay the blame at the feet of those exercising their free speech (however disgusting and incorrect it may be) by saying 'you should have known that people would die as a consequence of your words'.  Which is really an admission that those committing the violence are out of control lunatics.  Free speech does not, and society should not, submit to the irrationality of lunatics. 

Non-violent Free Speech? You're doing it wrong.
When thousands of people riot and 50+ people are killed because the mob objects to the content of whatever medium, there is something wrong with their whole worldview.  It is categorically insane.

And then you have those in power that want to place arbitrary limits on free speech in order to prevent such outbursts in the first place, instead of placing responsibility for such monstrous acts upon those that commit them.  PZ Myers highlighted just a few instances where this is currently happening and it is truly scary how those in power are so eager to take control over what constitutes Acceptable Free Speech:
Consider the young Greek man who has been arrested for mocking a cleric; Alexander Aan, arrested in Indonesia for denying the existence of god; Alber Saber, arrested in Egypt for linking to a stupid movie that mocked Mohammed; Rimsah Masih, accused of desecrating the Quran and facing hateful death threats; Asia Bibi, sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan; and too many others to list. Consider that the European Union has just called for “full respect of religion” and “the importance of respecting all prophets” — blasphemy laws are spreading.
"Full respect of religion"?  How am I supposed to respect a religion that willfully shelters child rapists?  How am I supposed to respect a religion whose adherents to go into a murder rampage at the sight of a cartoon?

What the fuck is there to respect?

Certainly not the religion itself.  Though I do, if nothing else, respect the right to non-violently practice whatever wacky bullshit you want.

And I can't go without mentioning the logical absurdity of blasphemy laws.  Really, just think about it.  So now we're going to give everyone the right not to be offended?  What happens when one group's mere existence and its associated ideology is deemed to be offensive by an Approved Religion (right? so there's gotta be a way to filter out all the bullshit that 6 billion people might be offended by.  So you'd have to have approved organizations - religions - that would get to file suit against a party to ensure that the alleged violation is actually offensive to a sufficiently large group of constituents... you can see how absurd this is getting already).

Oh, like how the existence of Isreal seems to be rather offensive to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as he is quoted as saying Israel should be "wiped off the map".  So who wins there?  Israel and its right to merely exist or theocratic Iran, which finds Israel's existence offensive?

This really can all be summed up in two words: Heckler's Veto.  
You have the right – if you disagree with me – to go outside and perform your protest. But you don’t get the right to come in when I’m talking and shout me down. Otherwise people can always silence a speaker by heckler’s veto, and Babel results.
I am heartened and dismayed at this response by a moderate Muslim on Facebook.  Credit is certainly due for calling out this person's fellow Muslims, but they get it quite wrong trying to play the false equivalence of blame when addressing the issue of free speech.
So apparently there is a film produced that shows the Prophet (PBUH) in a manner that is undignified and completely wrong...and as a result, the Muslim world is up in arms, destroying their respective countries, the personal properties of their fellow Muslims, and killing innocent people. This raises a few questions to think about first for my fellow Muslims and second to the people making this f
ilm:

To Muslims:
1.) Can these violent outbursts undo this film?
2.) Does the existence of this film and is wrongful portrayal change your view on the Prophet (PBUH)?
3.) Have you not, by your violence alone, given a film that would have otherwise disappeared into the black hole, more prominence, where more people have seen it and perhaps bought into the propaganda?
4.) What have you gained from these violent protests? Have you with such violence and disregard for human life not shamed the work and life of the Prophet (PBUH)?
5.) Have you really done justice to your religion? To the teachings of your Prophet (PBUH)? To your fellow Muslims who have to live with your actions? To the fellow Muslims and innocent people you are killing?
6.) Would your time not be better spent, living your life in the true image of the Prophet (PBUH)? Would that not be the best way to negate all of these wrongful portrayals? How does living to the very stereotype you are objecting help protect the name of the Prophet (PBUH)?

To the producers of this film:
1.) Really??! I mean REALLY??!!!
2.) I get that freedom of speech is important..but it's important in America, and perhaps should exist in the rest of the world...but who are you to force feed your "freedom" down the throats of others? Are you not infringing on their rights in someway?
3.) You knew the kind of reaction this would have, and you did it anyway, so aren't just as responsible for the many people that have lost their lives as a result? Shouldn't your willful disregard for human life be punishable? Especially in a time where wars are being fought and lives are at stake, and emotions are high?
4.) Shouldn't freedom of speech be practiced with common sense and a regard for repercussions especially when your practice endangers not your life but the lives of others?

All of this is a poor example of basic human decency.



Saturday, September 15, 2012

Libyan Attacks - Let's Fight Violence with Science

Cross posted at AtheistHobos.com

By now, you've probably heard about the terrorist attacks on the US consulate in Libya where four Americans were killed in protest of an anti-Muslim film that was recently released.

There are many facets of this development that merit discussion, but this comment from Obama caught my attention:
As we mourn their loss, we must also send a clear and resolute message to the world: those who attack our people will find no escape from justice. We will not waver in their pursuit. And we will never allow anyone to shake the resolve of the United States of America
The sentiment, that the US will do whatever is needed, where ever it is needed, as long as it is needed to bring those who committed these senseless acts to justice, is understandable.  It represents a respect and to the families of those that were murdered and a commitment to Justice.

Yet, I can't help but feel that this is a misguided approach, if it is truly intended to be implemented as Obama's remarks make it sound.  Is there no cost too high?  Its a tough line to walk: on the one hand terrorism should not be tolerated and society seemingly should deter terrorism through the pursuit of justice; on the other hand, resources are finite and the problems that face our country and the world are nearly infinite.

So here's my half-baked, semi-thawed, top-of-the-morning idea that probably makes no political or foreign policy sense to anyone that knows that a consulate isn't an embassy:
Instead of spending millions billions to bring the terrorists to justice for the non-trivial lives of 4 individuals, let us spend billions - as a direct response to these attacks - on research to cure cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. 
These three diseases accounted for 1,200,000 deaths in 2010.  So finding a cure for any of them would obviously be a huge benefit to society.

Sure it sounds ridiculous and non-sequitir.  But that's kinda the point.  Instead of responding to hateful, anti-free speech violence fueled by religious zealotry with imperialistic,  ineffectual (in that it seems to just fuel hatred and spur terrorist recruiting) violence fueled by the unfortunate combination of revenge-lust and a well-funded military industrial complex, let's try something radically different:

Instead of responding to violence with violence.  Let's fight violence with science.

What could be more devastating to those that hate America than to refuse to capitulate to their dream of pervasive violence, social instability, and hate?

Wouldn't finding a cure for the most costly, debilitating, and deadly diseases (and all the scientific and technological discoveries and applications that result) benefit society more than avenging the injustice of those murdered at the Libyan consulate?

There's a shocking disparity between our priorities and the things that threaten us.  So why not defiantly fight violence with science?






Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Repost - Waving The Flag ≠ Patriotism


Re-posted from 2011 and cross-posted at AtheistHobos.com

Hanging a multicolored piece of fabric is not patriotism.  If you think it is, you're a pretentious rube. When you consider the impact 9/11 had on this country, such a trivial gesture seems terribly inadequate.  Instead of having a meaningful and reflective conversation on the impact that 9/11 had on the country's foreign and domestic policies, politics, culture, media, etc., there seems to be  a race to be the most outwardly pious patriot possible.

Saying nice sounding things does not "honor" the soldiers or "respect" the victims or their families.  To the contrary, I would argue, such meaningless platitudes trivialize the sacrifices of those protecting us and the victims of 9/11.  But to express dissent from the fragile and air-headed sensibilities of the masses, is to call upon the masses to demonize one's self.

Just looking at my facebook feed is depressing how facile and prentious the 9/11 comments are: "God bless the USA" or "The families of 9/11 in our prayers" or "Never forget".    I would like to ask, what purpose does posting "God bless America" serve?  Setting aside the fact that no evidence exists for a god, what makes you think by saying this that he would 'bless' the USA?  Is it necessary to say this in order to prevent another terrorist attack?  Was it god's will for 9/11 to occur and for thousands to lose their lives?  If so, why are you trying to countermand god's will, and if it wasn't god's will, what makes you think he has the ability to prevent another such attack?  And why are you asking for blessing only for America?  Wouldn't world peace be more desirable?  I'll save my rhetorical (though I would be happy to hear responses) questions on the other two common sentiments since they're just as vacuous and serve only to flaunt the posters' faux patriotism.

I say "faux patriotism" because one would never hear these people take any substantive interest in any of the negative outcomes 9/11 had on society.  You wouldn't hear them take issue with the fact that we have essentially capitulated to the terrorists' goals of weakening our democratic principles.  Instead, if informed of the systematic undermining of the Constitution by their own government in the name of counter-terrorism, post hoc rationalizations are made along the lines of "well, if it increases our security, then I'll trust the experts."  Never is there a discussion of how to balance the inherent tradeoffs between of security and liberty.  Instead security is the only goal, and those that are concerned with the erosion of civil liberties are un-Patriotic

Take for example, the Patriot Act.  What a brilliant work of propaganda to attach the very attribute to which average Americans aspire to the piece of legislation that anyone that has a passing knowledge of the Bill of Rights would recognize as, at the very least, a threat to the 4th Amendment and 1st Amendments. 

This past week, the ACLU released a report as Glenn Greenwald puts it, "to comprehensively survey the severe erosion of civil liberties justified in the name of that event, an erosion that -- as it documents -- continues unabated, indeed often in accelerated form, under the Obama administration."  Reading Greenwald's analysis of the report is quite sobering:


Last week, the top lawyer and 34-year-veteran of the CIA, John Rizzo, explained to PBS' Frontline that Obama has "changed virtually nothing" from Bush policies in these areas, and this week, the ACLU explains that "most [Bush] policies remain core elements of our national security strategy today."  At some point very soon, this basic truth will be impossible to deny with a straight face even for the most hardened loyalists of both parties, each of whom have been eager, for their own reasons, to deny it.

Here are a couple snippets from the report:

This last point I think is the most important.  The continued torturerendition, warrantless wiretaps, indefinite detention, and the targeted assassination of a US citizen are disgusting violations of civil liberties, but, in my opinion, are far less of a threat to a functioning democracy than surveillance for the purposes of silencing political dissent under the pretext of security.  A government so obsessed with security as ours is becoming (or has become) is one that loses any sembalence of Democracy.  When political dissent is considered a threat to Democracy, you no longer have Democracy; you have an authoritarian regime.  And perhaps an authoritarian regime that capitalizes on the fear that terror attacks fuel.

While few would be so stupid as to publicly wish for more terror attacks, one Arkansas Republican probably spoke for many when he said in 2007, "all we need is some attacks on American soil like we had on [Sept. 11, 2001] and the naysayers will come around very quickly to appreciate not only the commitment for President Bush, but the sacrifice that has been made by men and women to protect this country."

But any thoughtful discussion of the important issues that affect society will by and large not take place on Facebook.  Instead you will see meaningless pablum from those that want to display their Patriot Feathers.  Or just as any good propaganda machine would love, you'll see vitriolic attacks on anyone that says anything (like questioning the multifarious impact that government policies have had on the country) that can be construed as not "supporting the troops" or "honoring the fallen".


So it is.  (and the hash tag is quite telling: I'm going to yell and curse at you until you agree with me or shut up.  And if you don't capitulate to my opinion, I'm not going to even try to refute your argument.  Go ahead, de-friend me.  Or we can have a civil discussion on the issues on their merits)

Monday, September 10, 2012

The 9/11 Memorial, Revisited

Cross-posted at AtheistHobos.com

Last December I wrote about my visit to the 9/11 Memorial in NYC and noted that the Security Theater on display was a perfect, though unintentional, symbol of how our country has responded to the 9/11 attacks: endless security and paranoia.
This manifests itself in several different ways:
  1. Security guards or cops ever 10 yards or so
  2. NYPD security cameras every 10 yards or so
  3. An airport-like security checkpoint.  Once you go past several dozen security cameras, you get to this checkpoint where you go inside and put your coat, belt, and any electronics into bins to be x-rayed (though not your shoes).  Like the airport you go through the metal detector and collect your belongings.  I was able to get a picture of the scene from outside the building, though once inside you see signs telling you not to take pictures. 
As we approach our annual arms race for our nation's true patriots to identify themselves through cheap signaling rather than substantive or thoughtful discussion of our countries direction, a number of reports have been in the news citing the construction and maintenance costs of the 9/11 memorial, coming in at $700m and $60m respectively, with $300m coming from the federal government.

When I wrote the post about my visit to the memorial, I wondered if the over-the-top security (including the airport-like screening) was a temporary measure or permanent.  Based on this yahoo article, it seems they are permanent.
The foundation plans to spend at least a fifth of its operating budget, or around $12 million per year, on private security because of terrorism fears. Visitors to the memorial plaza pass through airport-like security, and armed guards patrol the grounds.
What an epic waste of money.  What a sad commentary on our collective lack of self awareness that we voluntarily resign ourselves to self oppression in order to make ourselves more 'secure' and preserve 'liberty' and 'freedom'.  Security is often at odds with liberty and freedom, but for some reason adding checkpoints, heavily armed guards, and warrentless civilian surveillance makes people think their freedoms and liberties are being preserved.  

Even putting all that aside, as I noted last December:
I'm really curious as to why all this security is needed, the memorials themselves are quite striking, but they really don't seem to warrant the excessive security leading up to them.  It seems to me that the purpose of such security should be to protect human life or valuable assets.  In this respect, the memorials don't pose a potential threat to human life any greater than any other part of the city [would it be so surprising to start seeing checkpoints throughout the city in the not-too-distant-future? Does it take anything but the gradual conditioning to the erosion of civil liberties?], and while I'm sure the memorials cost a good amount of money, there are certainly just as many valuable assets in other parts of the city that don't have this level of security.  For example, the Guggenheim had precisely zero security.  No guards, no metal detectors, no paranoia.  Yet the building itself, as a historic landmark alone, I'm sure is quite valuable.  But there it is right on the corner of 5th and E88th for anyone to walk up to.








Monday, August 27, 2012

Former GOP FL Gov Charlie Crist Endorses Obama - GOP Freaks Out at How Insignificant He Is

Charlie Crist: sold-out his native
wingnuttia to a moderate (i.e. socialist)
Cross-posted at AtheistHobos.com

This morning former Republican governor of Florida, Charlie Crist, endorsed the Obama campaign, explaining:
[A]n element of their party has pitched so far to the extreme right on issues important to women, immigrants, seniors and students that they've proven incapable of governing for the people. Look no further than the inclusion of the Akin amendment in the Republican Party platform, which bans abortion, even for rape victims.
 This is the kind of sentiment that one can only wish more Republicans were expressing.  Yet, as you may notice, Crist referred to the GOP as "their party".  Back in 2009, Crist decided not to run for re-election as Governor; instead, he initiated a run for a seat in the US Senate as a Republican.  However, after falling behind eventual winner and more conservative Marco Rubio, Crist ended his affiliation with the GOP to run as an independent.

In retrospect, given the intense backlash of the Tea Party in response to Obama's election, it isn't surprising that Crist has deemed the GOP to be too extreme for his tastes (and that the GOP finds Crist too liberal centrist).  Let's be clear, based on some of his positions as governor, Christ is no great ally of progressives; he signed a provision to prevent employers from stopping their employees from bringing guns to work, he supported efforts to ban same-sex marriage and adoption in Florida (though he later softened).  Yet, credit where its due, Crist did support stricter air-pollution standards, opposed offshore drilling (though later softened), and expanded land conservation efforts.

Its quite clear that Crist wasn't the type of Republican that would scream 'SOCIALIST!!!!!' whenever Obama opened his mouth.  Indeed, Crist tried to steer the GOP away from what would become the Tea Party mentality by what he apparently saw as a shift in American sensibilities upon the election of the US' first black President.  Speaking to the Republican Governor's Association the week after Obama was elected, he said:
This party can no longer hope to reach HispanicsAfrican Americans and other minority groups – we need to just do it. Embracing cultures and lifestyles will make us a better party and better leaders. This desire for inclusiveness is near and dear to my heart.... Last week, the American people made a choice and this week, if we choose to call ourselves leaders, if we truly endeavor to serve with a servant's heart for the people who count on us, then we too must work together, listen to one another and learn from the leaders who made the kind of history the American people deserve.
 Unfortunately, that's not the path the GOP took.  An NBC/Wall St Journal poll just came out last week indicating that 94% of black voters support Obama and 6% are undecided.  0% support Romney.  Considering that McCain was able to get 4% and Bush got 11% in 2004, the trend seems unmistakable.  

I bring up Crist's history because, not surprisingly, the GOP leaders are going out of their way to marginalize the significance of Crist's endorsement of Obama.  Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell said today, "Governor Crist's endorsement adds one more vote in Florida and that's it."  Of course, that's silly since its in the news that a former Republican Governor (who enjoyed strong approval ratings) is endorsing a Democrat for President.  If anything, McDonnell is amplifying that message, which in and of itself may not decide an election, but will likely contribute to the background narrative of the GOP in the minds of independents as a party of that can't be dealt with reasonably, even for Republicans.


Finally, I can't help but mention Florida GOP Chair Lenny Curry's par-for-the course lack of self-awareness.
Today we have seen a repugnant display from a self-centered, career politician. While the people of Florida, and thousands of visitors who've traveled here, are facing an emergency, Charlie Crist has demonstrated, yet again, that his political ambition will always come first.
Apparently, as long as anyone anywhere is suffering, politicians can't endorse someone running for office.  But fine, do you really want to play that game Lenny?  Cause if I'm not mistaken, you're a key player in the Republican National Circle Jerk, the embodiment of political ambition (which produces meaningless pablum on par with Mitt's ready-made for SNL quote "I believe in an America where millions of Americans believe in an America that’s the America millions of Americans believe in. That’s the America I love.").... and which is taking place right smack in the path of hurricane Isaac at a time when thousands of visitors who've traveled there are facing an emergency.  


And how ironic that Curry accuses Crist of playing politics during a hurricane, when the GOP House budget, that Paul Ryan himself authored would require that federal funds for disaster relief would have to be offset by other reductions, thus ensuring a highly politicized batted whenever disaster relief funds are needed, and a likely outcome of minimal and insufficient funds would actually be authorized.

But if the hurricane does cause damage to the Tampa area surrounding the GOP convention, and the convention is cancelled, maybe they can re-purpose the $50 million in Federal funds that were intended to militarize enhance security for the city during the convention.







Friday, August 17, 2012

Random Bible Verse of the Day: Romans 8:28

Remember, I gave you cancer because I love you :)
Cross-posted at AtheistHobos.com

As we continue our journey through the most popular bible verses on biblegateway.com, we come to Romans 8:28, which once again presents a superficially positive message.  But, as is often the case with the bible, once you start to think about the implications of the verse, while assuming god's benevolence and omnipotence, you realize that either a) god doesn't exist or b) god is a capricious asshole that doesn't deserve a flaming bag of cat shit on a hot day.

But let's take a look before we get too far ahead of ourselves:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Those first three words really chap my ass; of course none of the preceding or subsequent verses give any indication on how this purported truth was discovered. ...But I can guess at what a Good Christian might say: "We know God works for the good of those who love him because he gave his only son to the world", which is basically just a re-phrasing of John 3:16.  Besides the silliness of that verse, the logic is patently stupid.  Once you strip the bible-babble from it, it would sound like this "Good things will happen to me because a guy died two thousand years ago."  Absurd, unless you're willing to accept fantasy as reality.

And what about the glaring contradictions that are evident in the news so frequently?

Joplin, Missouri.  May 22, 2011.  158 dead, 1000 injured.  Estimated $2 billion in damages.

Joplin is right in the heart of the bible belt of America.  I count over 20 churches within a 1-mile radius of downtown.  The 7th Congressional District of Missouri, which includes Joplin, MO elected Tea Party upstart Jimmy Long in 2010, who has been a busy little bastard in his efforts to curtail eliminate women's rights, which as we all know is a signal to constituents that you're a bible-thumping moron (just like them).

I think it is safe to say that if any town loves gawd, its Joplin.  Certainly, no one could accuse it of being infested with atheists.

So then, as I said before, we are presented with a dilemma where the reality in Joplin seems to contradict Romans 8:28.  Either a) god doesn't work for the good of those who love him (in which case, what is the point in "loving" him) or b) the people of Joplin didn't really love god the right way (maybe they should have tried the reverse cow-god).

But let us not fall for the false dichotomy.  Perhaps a third option exists.  Perhaps god's love is manifested by his near-total destruction of this god-fearing town.  Perhaps the tornado that caused so much pain and suffering should actually be celebrated!  Praise the lawd-ah!


There must be some way we can exploit this woman's tragedy
 for our own gain, while giving her something utterly useless!
The woman pictured here is a survivor of the Joplin tornado.  Her house was destroyed, yet she seems to embody this third interpretation of Romans 8:28: “I am living proof of God’s love because he saved and protected me from an EF-5 tornado.”

How arrogant and un-compasisonate to your fellow Joplin citizens that were killed or injured by your god's love.  But that's not what's going through her mind.  She's apparently more focused on signaling her own faith, which as I've discussed before is widely received as a proxy for one's morality.

“It just has kind of opened my eyes more to realizing that God is there for me and has always been there.”

The picture above is actually a radio (K-LOVE) contest entry for a trip to Lubbock, TX to hear Christian author Beth Moore speak.  The contest judges apparently loved her message and she was named a winner and receiving a trip for four to the speaking engagement.

This reeks of exploitation of disaster survivors in an effort to gin up a good PR story that benefits the radio station and author but provides no tangible assistance to a woman whose life has undoubtedly been turned upside-down. 

These kinds of people dominate American culture and society, but hopefully by continually pointing out the obvious contradictions and ridiculous implications we can bring this realization to people that may have latent doubts about religion.  

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Callous Disregard - A Penn State Football Story

Unless you're living in an alternate universe, you've probably heard about the Sandusky/Penn State scandal/cover-up.  Sandusky was convicted in June and will likely die in prison for raping numerous children that were in his child-advocacy program.  He was truly a sick fuck.

But on top of all that, the Freeh report was released a couple of weeks ago, which was commisioned by the Penn State Board of Trustees to investigate what Penn State administrators and those in the football program did or didn't know and do.

Turns out top administrators, including the university President, Graham Spanier, and legendary football coach, Joe Paterno, knew as early as 1998 that Sandusky was, at the very least, endangering young children:
...in order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at Penn State University – Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley – repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse from the authorities, the Board of Trustees, Penn State community, and the public at large.
and
Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley also failed to alert the Board of Trustees about the 1998 investigation or take any further action against Mr. Sandusky. None of them even spoke to Sandusky about his conduct. In short, nothing was done and Sandusky was allowed to continue with impunity.
As a result of the findings of the Freeh Report, the NCAA, with the agreement of the PSU Board of Trustees, took a number of corrective and punitive measures:
  • A $60 million fine, the proceeds of which were to go toward an endowment for preventing child abuse. According to the NCAA, this was the equivalent of a typical year's gross revenue from the football program.
  • A four-year postseason ban.
  • Five years' probation.
  • Vacating of all wins from 1998 to 2011--112 wins in all. This had the effect of stripping the Nittany Lions of their shared Big Ten titles in 2005 and 2008. It also removed 111 wins from Paterno's record, dropping him from first to 12th on the NCAA's all-time wins list.
  • Loss of a total of 40 initial scholarships from 2013 to 2017. During the same period, Penn State is limited to 65 total scholarships--only two more than a Division I FCS (formerly I-AA) school is allowed.
  • Penn State was required to adopt all recommendations for reform delineated in the Freeh report.
  • Penn State must enter into an "athletics integrity agreement" with the NCAA and Big Ten, appoint a university-wide athletic compliance officer and compliance council, and accept an NCAA-appointed athletic integrity monitor for the duration of its probation.
In light of what the Freeh Report characterized as "callous and shocking disregard for child victims" by the university's top football, athletic and administration officials, these sanctions seem to me to be utterly appropriate.  If anything, they don't go far enough.

It is beyond dispute that Division I football and basketball are, by virtue of the insane amount of revenue they produce, a driving force for academic programs, scholarships, non-renvenue generating athletics.  These are all good things.  And by virtue of their place in our culture, they also drive the school brand, campus unity, school pride. Again, not necessarily a bad thing.  Until you get in a situation like Penn State, where winning and the reputation of the program and brand is deemed to be more important than protecting those who can't protect themselves: children. 

The reaction by many in the Penn State community to the firing of Paterno, the Freeh Report (considering it finds Paterno among those who exhibited "callous and shocking disregard for child victims), and the NCAA sanctions is an utterly disgusting display of denialism, tribalism and martyrdom.  I suspect that it is because Penn State has been so incredibly successful in inculcating its sense of school pride and identity to its students, which up until the scandal broke, was well-deserved.  I'm not a psychologist, but my hypothesis is that to those whose identity is so closely linked to that of Penn State, to admit wrongdoing by a man who quite literally was the face of that identity and the institution behind it, is tantamount to admitting personal wrongdoing.  Indeed it seems that this mindset has parallels to the religious zealout that will not honestly consider (much less accept) the evidence for evolution - it would demolish their entire worldview.  Breaking through our mind's devices to minimize cognitive dissonance is truly a difficult feat. 

I would posit that, despite many Penn Stater's claims, they are no different from many other universities.  If this scandal were to happen to any other university with a highly prominent football or basketball program of similar degree as Penn State (i.e. Ohio State, Michigan, Texas, USC, Alabama, LSU, Duke, UNC, or any of probably several dozen others) the reaction would be largely the same.  This is the kind of reaction and behavior that atheists and skeptics should and do try to highlight as barriers to rational discourse and decision making.

While, I think many other groups would likely react similarly, that doesn't give those Penn Staters exhibiting such shameful behavior a pass.  They deserve to be and should be called out on their disgusting behavior.

These have to be (I really hope) the lowest of the bottom feeders' reaction to the NCAA sanctions:




No comment needed, I hope.

Here's a slightly less ridiculous reaction, but brimming with martyrdom by @tommy4s:

You hate us, and base your opinion on every one of us off of 5 people. [No, its your reaction to what they did; essentially dismissing it and continuing to defend your demi-god Paterno even after the facts reveal his callous disregard for the child victims.  Speak out against the cover-up and society will judge you as noble.] You called for the statue, it was removed. You called for the death penalty, but instead received murder. [ORLY?  Is that really what you want to equate the sanctions to?  Do you have no sense of the pain and suffering those boys went through at the hands of Sandusky and enabled by Penn State administrators and Paterno?  ...And you're going to equate a fine and probation to murder?  Have you no perspective?  How are the sanctions more severe than the death penalty?  Penn State football will still be played this fall and the next.  You can still go tailgate your face off.  You can still wear your blue and white t-shirts and hoodies.  You will still get to scream your lungs out how You Are...Penn State.  And so we will know you.]  You have spent 8 months dragging our name through the mud, so desperately needing blood to be spilled and our entire university to be burned at the stake. [Again with the overheated rhetoric.  Call it what it is: accountability.  When shit hits the fan, those responsible should and did suffer the consequences.] You could care less about responsibility and punishing those who deserve it. [You clearly don't understand how accountability works.] You reiterate every single time that this is about the victims, about those who were truly at loss during these heinous crimes, yet what have you done to actually help them? [Red herrings are a great for distracting attention from the appropriate target of attention, unless people recognize it.  Let's be clear: this is about accountability for the callous disregard for the child victims exhibited by university administrators and Paterno.  Sandusky was rightfully convicted of his heinous crimes.  But stop acting like it does or should stop there.]

WE responded. WE were 10,000 strong at Old Main that Thursday. WE traded our white shirts for our blue ones against Nebraska. [What a fucking sacrifice.] WE wore ribbons for weeks [What a fucking sacrifice.  Anyone that thinks wearing or displaying a ribbon has does anything is a smug, deluded fool.], and cried because we wish we could have done more. WE donated over $500,000 to RAINN, and continue to advocate prevention and awareness. [Great!  I genuinely applaud that effort.] WE investigated ourselves in search of the truth, to make improvements, and to ensure this never happens again in any capacity. [Yet it seems that many - if not yourself - tried their damndest to discredit the findings and their implications.] WE held the necessary people responsible, even when it hurt to do so. [So if you support holding those accountable, what the hell are you so mad about?  This is what the rest of society is looking for - once again: ACCOUNTABILITY.]
So what now? Will you make good on your promise of caring for the victims, spreading awareness, and seeking prevention? Will you donate to RAINN or SCAN; have you done so already? Will you actually step up and prove that you do care? Or will you readjust your grip on your pitchforks, and head to the next town that so desperately does not need an angry mob…[Antagonistic condescension;what a way to encourage people to donate to a good cause.  This is not a good way to get people think you and the rest of your tribe aren't bitter jerks.]
Those three paragraphs embody such self-victimization over sanctions that have virtually no impact on the football fan, its remarkable how little perspective the author, and indeed so many other Penn Stater's have on the situation.

And finally, lest you think the angst and outrage is confined to the young and immature, let Tom Price of Factoryville (w/ video) disillusion you:
It was our 9/11 Today. I just saw planes crashing into towers.
 I'm sure there are reasonable Penn Staters out there who are sickened not only by the crimes committed by Sandusky, but also by the callous disregard for the child victims as exhibited by Paterno and top administrators.  But they are not vocal enough.  Let them denounce the overheated rhetoric of their fellow Penn Staters.  That would be a good start to restoring the community's respectability within civilized society.








Saturday, July 28, 2012

"Mitt the Twit"

Don't tell anyone, but I don't actually pay ANY taxes!
Fuck you, Uncle Sam!
Cross-posted at AtheistHobos.com

Mitt Romney, who is aspiring for the position of head diplomat of the US, has been in the news lately for saying some rather undiplomatic things during his visit to  England Britain the UK.  And the media are giving him a hell of a time.  My favorite headline is the Sun's with Mitt the Twit as it reports him saying he had looked out of “the backside of Number 10".  Which roughly translates from UK to American as 'he was looking down the ass of the administration's spokesperson.'  Gotta love the lulz Mittens brings to the international table.

Anyway, that's not the real point of this post.  Instead, today I'm interested in Mitt's tax returns and his motives for not releasing more than the past two years worth.  This story has been getting a lot of press and Mitt himself has received quite a bit of pressure even from his conservative allies.   As Salon's Joan Walsh notes, conservative stalwart George Will believes "[Romney] must have calculated that there are higher costs in releasing them [than to continue their concealment]."  The hypothesis is that while the tax records that Romney has released, 2010 and 2011, indicate an effective tax rate of 14%, prior records could reveal an effective tax rate that is significantly below that mark.

Of course, at this point it is pure speculation, but plausible speculation nonetheless.  At this point, what else could motivate Mitt to continue to hide?  We already know about his multiple offshore accounts.  It doesn't seem likely that having possibly more offshore accounts prior to 2010 would be much more politically damaging.

[And just an aside on the offshore accounts, if I may.  I don't particularly care - on a certain level - if people legally utilize offshore accounts, while saying nothing of whether it should be legal.  But it seems, how shall we say... inapropriate as an aspiring presidential candidate.  Why?  Because the President of the United States is a servant of the people; the President should never put his personal interests over those of the people he is serving.  And yet, by shielding his bank accounts from Uncle Sam, that is exactly what Mitt Romney is doing: further enriching himself at the expense of the budget shortfalls and deficit that he and his party are so eager to use as justification for cutting support for those most in need. In short, Mitt Romney is part of the problem.]

...back to my original point.  So his tax rate might be below the 14% that it was in 2010 and 2011.  So what? you say.  I think a lot of Americans, considering that someone earning 40k would pay a higher effective tax rate than a certain person making $20 million, as Romney did in 2010, would find this to be fundamentally unfair.  I think we all assume Mitt's paying a rate at least as low in his prior records; a significantly lower rate would only make the contrast more apparent.  And the more apparent this fundamental injustice becomes, the more media coverage it gets, and the more pressure that is put on elected leaders to correct this injustice by enacting policy through statute (ideally).

That's why Mitt's taxes matter.  Its one thing to say 'I agree with the Republican platform that favors rich people and stacks the deck against the poor.'  That's a value judgement - albeit a callously inhumane one, IMO.  But to say the information contained in his tax returns doesn't matter is incorrect. 

I've noticed that some people like to pull the dismissive cop-out of saying 'its all just politics'.  Yes...and?  I think everyone finds politics to be repugnant, especially when its in the service of protecting individual politicians (exhibit A).  But the fact of the matter is that politics serve as the conduit to the passage of policy.  Good public policy is the ultimate goal.  But without political support from other leaders and the electorate (e.g. 'politics') no policy will be passed.

Essentially, to eschew the political process is to mute oneself and their self interests.  If you're not willing to advocate for your position, its guaranteed that someone that has an opposing interest is willing to advocate for theirs.  If you ignore politics, you're going to lose.