Sunday, December 30, 2012

Speaking of violent societies...

The gang rape of an Indian woman, the violent protests following the incident, and her recent death raise some disquieting questions relevant to our own national debate on firearms and violence.

I agreed earlier with cassandra of Delawareliberal that we--Americans--are a violent society.  The graph she used compared us to other OECD nations, and we didn't look very good.  It did not occur to me at the time, however, to compare the US to the world's largest democratic nation:  India.

When I did, there were some disquieting discoveries:

India is an exceptionally violent place, especially against women:
Domestic violence in India is endemic and widespread predominantly against women.[1] Around 70% of women in India are victims to domestic violence according to Renuka Chowdhury junior minister for women and child development. National Crime Records Bureau reveal that a crime against a women is committed every three minutes, a women is raped every 29 minutes, a dowry death occurs every 77 minutes and one case of cruelty committed by either the husband or relative of the victim.[2]
A very good discussion of Why India is So Damn Violent suggests, among other things, the influence of media in a society already dealing with a long tradition of patriarchy and misogyny [apologies for the bizarre spacing; could not get rid of it]:   

Take something as ubiquitous in Indian life as Bollywood cinema.
As pointed out by economist Swaminathan Aiyar, Bollywood films are replete with scenes characterized by the harassment of women and even of rape. As he writes, one particular well-known screen villain did about 100 rape scenes “with the audience almost cheering him on.”
Mr. Aiyar notes that in the film “Hum,” icon Amitabh Bachchan played a role in which he, watched by a large group of men, forces his unwanted attention on the film’s heroine, who eventually relents and gives him the kiss that he’s been looking for.
Mr. Aiyar concludes that the message of such scenes to the audience is that “if only you harass a woman enough, no matter how often she says no, she’ll ultimately say yes.”
Apart from a few notable exceptions such as the actor Farhan Akhtar who have called out the misogyny in Bollywood cinema, the silence on the role that Bollywood itself may play in perpetuating gender stereotypes is deafening.
Of course, as with the correlation between the sex ratio and violent crime, it’s difficult — if not impossible — to prove that a casual relationship exists between the depiction of misogyny in popular culture and the incidence of violence against women.
It could also be that popular culture reflects values and mores as much as it shapes them. Still, in a celebrity obsessed culture such as India’s, in which people follow every tiny move of their favorite film star, we shouldn’t underestimate the power of cinema and other forms of popular culture to be an agent of social change.

 Note the similarity here in the tendency to see media depictions as either causal or reflective of societal trends toward violence.  In our own discussions, a number of commenters (again at DL) have suggested that media should not be considered a prime culprit because (I'm paraphrasing rather than hunting down the original comment) Europeans and Canadians watch the same violent movies and play the same violent video games but do not have the same level of gun violence as we do in our society.

India doesn't have that level of gun violence, either, because in India owning a gun (like owning property) is not a right but a privilege, and guns are--by American standards--very carefully controlled.

The link is too comprehensive to really excerpt effectively, so if you are not in the mood for clicking through, try this:

Gun ownership in India is a privilege under the Arms Act of 1959.[74] The Arms Act of 1959 and the Arms Rules of 1962 were derived from the text of the Indian Arms Act of 1876 created by the British Rulers in view of the 1857 rebellion against the East India company.[75] 
To obtain a license to own a firearm, a person has to prove that there exists "threat to life."[citation needed] Once a license is obtained, there are several restrictions on caliber (9mm.303 British .45 ACP are prohibited along with several other calibers) and types of firearms (semiautomatic rifles, short barrel shotguns, and automatic weapons are not allowed for civilians).[citation needed] A license is limited to three firearms under section 3 of the Arms Act 1959.[75]Under the wake of terror the government is considering making the rules even more stringent.

Yet these restrictions have not, apparently, made India a less violent place--and not just in terms of women:
A report published by the National Crime Records Bureau compared crime rate from 1953 to 2006. The report noted that burglary declined over a period of 53 years by 38% (from 147,379 in 1953 to 91,666 in 2006), whereas murder has increased by 231% (from 9,803 in 1953 to 32,481 in 2006).[2] Kidnapping has increased by 356% (from 5,261 in 1953 to 23,991 in 2006), robbery by 120% (from 8,407 in 1953 to 18,456 in 2006) and riots by 176% (from 20,529 in 1953 to 56,641 in 2006).[2]
Certainly there will be objections to comparing India to the US as opposed to Europe, Canada, or Australia, but I think there is some validity in doing so.  The two primary objections I can think of are that India is far more racked with religious conflicts than America, and that India is not necessarily considered an industrialized nation.  Both arguments have some validity, but I do not think that they should blind us to the fact that in the world's largest democracy strong gun controls have NOT resulted in a decrease in violent crime when women are getting gang-raped to death in the streets and tens of thousands of people are being kidnapped or murdered each year.

What does it all mean for our national discussion of gun rights and gun control?

I'm not sure, other than to say that we all need to get beyond the usual talking points and engage in some serious research and reflection.

Don't dare forget that you paid for this to happen, and that your silence supports it happening again

From Foreign Policy:
SANAA, Yemen — The villagers who rushed to the road, cutting through rocky fields in central Yemen, found the dead strewn around a burning sport utility vehicle. The bodies were dusted with white powder -- flour and sugar, the witnesses said -- that the victims were bringing home from market when the aircraft attacked. A torched woman clutched her daughter in a lifeless embrace. Four severed heads littered the pavement.
"The bodies were charred like coal. I could not recognize the faces," said Ahmed al-Sabooli, 22, a farmer whose parents and 10-year-old sister were among the dead. "Then I recognized my mother because she was still holding my sister in her lap. That is when I cried."
Quoting unnamed Yemeni officials, local and international mediainitially described the victims of the Sept. 2 airstrike in al-Bayda governorate as al Qaeda militants. After relatives of the victims threatened to bring the charred bodies to the president, Yemen's official news agency issued a brief statement admitting the awful truth: The strike was an "accident" that killed 12 civilians. Three were children.

The Libertarian personality?

Recently I ran across this piece:  Climate Disruption Denial:  A Natural By-Product of Libertarian Values.

The post struck me as utter crap.  Essentially, the author argues, because Libertarians are focused exclusively on the value of personal liberty, they are incapable of recognizing the scientific consensus about industrial climate change, and employ all sorts of (conscious and unconscious) mental gymnastics to get around accept it.

Here are are few relevant snippets (very few, because this piece is not actually the focus of my post):
The problem for libertarians is that accepting human responsibility for climate disruption creates a threat to their values. The Iyer et al paper detailed in Part One of this series found that libertarians are fundamentally driven by a single moral good, specifically the liberty to be left alone to do as they pleased. Industrial climate disruption challenges both the primacy of personal liberty and, as a result, libertarians are highly motivated to reject the reality of industrial climate disruption.--snip--According to Iyer et al, libertarians essentially have a single moral good – liberty. Specifically, they value the idea of “negative” liberty, which is defined as the right to do with your life and possessions whatever you please so long as you don’t infringe upon the right of others to do the same. Iyer et al also found that libertarians very strongly valued self-direction (the right of individuals to make their own choices in life) and achievement, more so than either conservatives or liberals.--snip--From a libertarian’s perspective, if industrial climate disruption is real, then his property rights are likely to be limited “for the greater good.” But there is no such thing as a “greater good” to a libertarian than individual rights, so right away this entire approach would be unacceptable to a libertarians [sic]. 
There's more, but you get the idea.  Libertarians are so hung up on their ideology and their lack of any morals except liberty that they are completely incapable of dealing with scientific data that might conflict with their world view.

I've heard this argument before, and even seen references to the same paper, so I decided to track down this recently published paper:
Iyer R, Koleva S, Graham J, Ditto P, Haidt J (2012) Understanding Libertarian Morality: The Psychological Dispositions of Self-Identified Libertarians. PLoS ONE 7(8): e42366. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0042366
The rest of this admittedly long post is my best attempt to grapple with this research, a topic that will probably only interest diehard Libertarians, Dana Garrett, and (perhaps) pandora, so I will put the break here....

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Glenn Greenwald nails the hypocrisy of Barack Obama and the disgusting politics of Diane Feinstein ...

... but does anybody really care?

Greenwald points out that President Obama has (a) repeatedly violated his own promises with respect to warrantless wiretapping, and (b) depends for its renewal on the very hardline conservative GOP politicians he routinely attacks, while ...

Feinstein is channeling her inner Dick Cheney by accusing anybody who wants to even debate transparency of furthering the ends of terrorism (and, yes, kavips, I DO think she wants to run for President in 2016).

If Americans actually understood that part of what the administration demanded in the power to keep even court rulings and specific laws secret, then Democrats would be thinking about drafting Senator Ron Wyden for the nomination.  Senator Wyden had the best quote of the day:
"secret law is inconsistent with democratic governance"
But the reality is that most Americans have become so numbed to the loss of civil liberties and constitutional guarantees that it doesn't really matter any more.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Senator Diane Feinstein is one of the foremost enemies of civil liberties in America

Proving that the destruction of
civil liberties is a fully bipartisan
sport:  Feinstein (D) with Chambliss
and Rogers (both R) stand tall in
the saddle to protect the State's
right to spy on you for your
it's own good.
You know it is bad when even Salon agrees with me.

From coverage of Feinstein's intellectually indefensible activities with respect to FISA re-authorization:  

The worst offender during the debate was Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who repeatedly argued that requiring even minor disclosure of NSA activities would definitely lead to More Terrorism Everywhere. Feinstein worries that more public oversight of the NSA’s massive spying authority could have a chilling effect on their spying. She claimed that many arrests of “terrorists” on U.S. soil have been linked to information obtained by the NSA’s domestic spying, which is a pretty handy indication that they’re engaged in a whole lot of domestic spying. (It’s also wholly unverifiable and likely bullshit.)
Feinstein then pulled the classic awful senator trick of claiming to support a measure currently up for debate, but explaining that she would still vote against it, because of timing:
In addition to Wyden, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) has offered an amendment that would require the government to declassify the FISA Court’s opinions on surveillance requests. Feinstein said she supported that aim and offered to add his amendment to the intelligence reauthorization bill next year, rather than have it considered in the FISA measure.
“The problem is we have four days and this particular part of the law expires,” she said. “I think this is a reasonable request … we will do another intelligence authorization bill next year and that can be certainly added to that bill.”
There’s simply no time to vote for this thing I ostensibly support! The Merkley amendment failed. Feinstein pulled a similar obnoxious Senate move with Patrick Leahy’s amendment to renew the FISA Amendments for only three years instead of five, initially supporting the measure in committee and then voting against the amendment on the floor — where it, too, failed. Rand Paul’s amendment, which would have required individual warrants for all government requests for electronic records and communications, never had a chance in hell.

Another potential benefit of Highmark in Delaware: almost no physical therapy or chiropractic treatment

Watching the future get ready to happen to us:  Highmark is delaying [not stopping, merely delaying with what they call "soft implementation"] a new policy that would limit its customers to no more than eight physical therapy or chiropractic visits per YEAR without specific insurance company authorization.

I love the rhetoric:
“Highmark believes strongly that this program will ensure more effective care for Highmark members. Highmark wants to make certain the member is getting the right care at the right time and in the right setting.”
The reason that Highmark can do this in PA is exactly the same reason that Highmark will eventually be able to implement this in Delaware:  an artificially regulated market that prohibits competition, and is overseen by an Insurance Commissioner's Office that appears to have more interest in staying in the good graces of corporate leaders than in advocating for our citizens. But, hey, you can trust the government...

Watching freedom evaporate

No, this is NOT a post about gun control--it's about the constant wars on American civil liberties (with a brief nod toward China).

Here are the quick hits in our losing battle for human freedom.

1.  Congress doesn't have the time or the intestinal fortitude to avoid the fiscal cliff, but it apparently has plenty of time and feral willingness to hold nearly secret floor debates on re-authorizing FISA and unconstitutional warrantless wiretaps. [h/t kavips and NCSDad]  UPDATE:  the Senate has defeated Senator Rand Paul's amendment to equate emails with telephone calls in terms of privacy protection 79-12, as well as another amendment [based on that useless old Bill of Rights] to require the Attorney General to report periodically on certain types of surveillance decisions, 54-37.  Unsurprisingly, the ferocious defender of the state's right to know EVERYTHING is Senator Diane Feinstein--the same lawmaker who is introducing legislation to make virtually all semi-automatic pistols illegal and to require Federal registration of damn near all legally acquired weapons in the US.

2.  According to Reporters without Borders, the US has now slipped down from 35th to 47th place in terms of freedom of the press.  We are now behind such free societies as Uruguay, Niger, Botswana, and El Salvador.  But the good news is that we're still tied with Romania in terms of press freedoms!  We're number 47!  We're number 47! [h/t to Homesick Billy]

3.  A possible glimpse of our future from China (#174 on the press freedoms list--if we keep trying, we'll get there!):  the Chinese government is now moving to force all internet users to log their real names as a condition of access.  Of course, you can trust the government when it tells you that this is all about protecting you from spam.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Senator Feinstein and Governor Cuomo: we don't need a conversation about guns, we just need to ban, register or confiscate them

Talking can come later.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has already gone on record as saying,
“Confiscation could be an option. Mandatory sale to the state could be an option. Permitting could be an option — keep your gun but permit it.”
Senator Diane Feinstein's proposed new "assault weapons ban" would also ban almost every pistol in the US that has a "detachable magazine" and would require retroactive registration and background checks for every single gun owner in America who legally purchase any weapon on her list. 

So much for the folks who wanted soul-searching and a serious national discussion.

22 dead school children is a massacre; 16 dead Yemenis is merely collateral damage ...

The US allowed Yemeni government stories that American officials KNEW were false to stand for nearly FOUR MONTHS before finally admitting that our drones had killed 16 Yemenis with no known connection to Al Qaeda.

This is a primary example of two things:

1) Despite any and all rhetoric to the contrary the lives of human beings who don't happen to be Americans are not really important.

2) It is apparently moral [or at least legal] for the Obama administration to engage in killing civilians in another country with which we are not at war, in support of a repressive government, and then to lie about it by omission.

Jeane Kirkpatrick would be pleased that the current President is such a devoted follower of the Reagan doctrine.

Here's a quick quiz for those of you who think the Federal Assault Weapons ban was good law

Which of the weapons below was legally defined as an assault weapon, and which wasn't?

This one?

Or this one?
The difference consumes about two pixels in the photos.

This is what I mean when I say that people who are serious about having a conversation about gun rights, gun legislation, or gun control [take your pick], are going to have to learn the details before they participate in any meaningful fashion.

The future for Delaware health care when Highmark squares off against Christiana?

Have no doubt that this kind of conflict is coming here.

Guest post by a Democrat gun-owner

A respected military veteran (and long-time friend of mine) Colonel Hank Foresman talks about what has to happen next in gun rights debates:

I am not a libertarian; nor am I conservative or liberal; in fact I guess I am a moderate whose views are shaped by the ideologies of libertarianism, conservatism, and liberalism.
Today I find myself torn between the three competing ideologies that influence me on the question of gun ownership and regulation.  As a libertarian the notion that the government should infringe upon the rights of individuals enshrined in the constitution is abhorrent; as a Burkean conservative I understand that at times the rights of individuals must be tempered in order to provide for the commonweal of the larger community; and as a liberal I believe that the government has a role in regulating the lives of the people for the betterment of society.
I find myself torn over the question of gun ownership.  I do not know what the right answer is?  But what I do know it is a discussion that I and other responsible gun owners along with every citizen in the nation must have.  We must be willing to listen to those with other views, but they also must listen to our views.  This is a discussion that must be based on fact not emotion, it must rational and without rancor, for each sides view must ultimately shape the answer. 
If this is not handled properly, if like the healthcare debate, the elites ram down a solution on the masses of law abiding gun owners I fear mass civil disobedience and possible revolution; if nothing else there will be wedge firmly driven between the educated east and west coast elites and the great mass who view themselves as the common man.  As a gun owning Democrat I generally reject the view of those who believe the Democratic Party wishes to confiscate guns, but given the rhetoric of the last week I am not so sure.
While the left can be accused of a tin ear when it comes to theSecond Amendment and what the common man wants; it can be said that the National Rifle Association, Gun Owners of American etc that they live in a fantasy world.  Proposals such as arming teachers and putting police in every school are bound to be dead upon arrival in the minds of parents those attending public school.  There are many Americas who believe the NRA and Gun Owners of America are nothing more than shills for the gun industry and should be considered terrorists organizations.  On the first count they are guilty as charged; on the second count it is a fanciful charge.
Read the rest here. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

What does the 2nd Amendment mean?

Knowing better than to believe that anything I write on this (or any other) subject would be perceived as the last word, it is nonetheless important to realize that there is little serious debate among historians about what the Second Amendment means, or what it guarantees, or how that meaning has been changed by constitutional amendment and/or judicial action.

You really only have to understand four things; but first, here is the required restating of the Amendment's text for the one or two people who may have been living in a cave in Borneo whilst all the faux debates were going on:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
OK, here's what you need to know:

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Congress doubles down on the indefinite detention of American citizens

. . . by removing even the weak Feinstein provision from the NDAA.

And I think:  who actually cares what the Second Amendment says, since the First, Fourth, and Fifth have now been completely gutted by those twin defenders of Newspeak George W. Bush and Barack Obama. . . .

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I sometimes wonder if astronomers actually talk to each other

Several years ago I came across the "Principle of Mediocrity" in a book by astrophysicist Alexander Valenkin, who argued that even when we have only one example of a case we should assume that this case is generally not exceptional, based on the principle of mediocrity.

Here is his premise as he states in an article for Edge:
If we randomly picked observers in the universe, their observed values of X would be in the predicted interval 95% of the time. Unfortunately, we cannot perform this experiment, because all regions with different values of X are beyond our horizon. We can only measure X in our local region. What we can do, though, is to think of ourselves as having been randomly picked. We are just one in the multitude of civilizations scattered throughout the universe. We have no reason to believe a priori that the value of X in our region is very large or small, or otherwise very special compared with the values measured by other observers. Hence, we can predict, at 95% confidence level, that our measurement will yield a value in the specified range. The assumption of being unexceptional is important in this approach; I called it "the principle of mediocrity". 
If you (like me) would like that in a bit more digestible form, try the explanation from Wikipedia, which dumbs it down sufficiently to be comprehensible even after a beer:
The mediocrity principle is the philosophical notion that "if an item is drawn at random from one of several sets or categories, it's likelier to come from the most numerous category than from any one of the less numerous categories" (Kukla 2009). The principle has been taken to suggest that there is nothing very unusual about the evolution of our solar system, the Earth, humans, or any one nation. It is a heuristic in the vein of the Copernican principle, and is sometimes used as a philosophical statement about the place of humanity. The idea is to assume mediocrity, rather than starting with the assumption that a phenomenon is special, privileged or exceptional. 
Notice that section I put in bold--the mediocrity principle predicts that "there is nothing very unusual about the evolution of our solar system."

This has always bothered me as a working intellectual tool, because it is effectively the equivalent of suggesting that you can know the direction of a line when you only have one point.

And now one member of the team that just found a potentially habitable Earthlike planet orbiting Tau Ceti more or less blows the mediocrity principle out of the water:
Over 800 planets have been discovered orbiting other worlds, but planets in orbit around the nearest Sun-like stars are particularly valuable. Steve Vogt from University of California Santa Cruz said: "This discovery is in keeping with our emerging view that virtually every star has planets, and that the galaxy must have many such potentially habitable Earth-sized planets. They are everywhere, even right next door! We are now beginning to understand that Nature seems to overwhelmingly prefer systems that have a multiple planets with orbits of less than one hundred days. This is quite unlike our own solar system where there is nothing with an orbit inside that of Mercury. So our solar system is, in some sense, a bit of a freak and not the most typical kind of system that Nature cooks up."
So while I am very aware of Dr. Valenkin's accomplishments and his erudition, we now have one major case in which his principle of mediocrity has apparently been proven to be entirely incorrect.  This should call into question the viability of assuming that other "island universes" will be governed by similar physical laws, but it probably won't.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Guns and me

I grew up around guns.

I can remember having toy guns, and playing war from almost the time I could walk.  I saved up my allowance for the Johnny Seven One-Man Army, which actually fired plastic grenades and plastic bullets.

It was Christmas when I had just turned 8 that I got my first BB-gun.  My older brother showed me how it worked (my Dad's vision was too poor to be able to handle such a task) and promised to beat my  ass (and possibly shove said weapon into the same location) if he caught me using it unsafely.  At age ten I had saved up enough money to visit the local Western Auto and "trade up" to a better model.  I carried it down the street of Waynesboro, Virginia, past bunches of adults who didn't give it a second glance, because it was carried correctly with the muzzle down.  My parents were not required to be there for me to make the purchase.

Yes, it's time to have a thoughtful discussion about guns . . .

. . . but idiocy like this is why we won't have one.

(Keep remembering:  the First Amendment protects your right to say stupid stuff, the First Amendment protects your right to say stupid stuff, the First Amendment . . . )

So much for the fiscal cliff . . .

CNN reports that President Barack Obama, often portrayed as holding all the cards in his negotiations with the Republicans, has begun blinking big-time: 

The White House proposal would leave lower tax rates in place for everyone except those earning $400,000 or more a year. Republican leaders had asked for a higher limit but the offer suggests there is a narrowing in the gap between the two sides.
A person familiar with the talks also said Mr Obama was no longer seeking a permanent mechanism to increase the US debt limit, but would settle for a two-year increase in America's borrowing authority. In a further concession to Republicans, Mr Obama agreed to apply a less generous measure of inflation to government calculation, which would result in lower benefits in the Social Security pension scheme over time, the person added.
I'm wondering just why my progressive friends thought he was going to hang tough . . . this time.

Charlie Brown.  Lucy.  Football.

... but the deaths of 64 Pakistani children by US drones are just us "mowing the grass"...

This. Must. Stop. Now.

Only who is paying attention?

The Obama administration still refuses to confirm or deny analysis that suggests that during its first three years in office drone strikes in Pakistan killed between 297-569 civilians, of whom at least 69 were children.

One administration adviser likens the process to mowing the grass:
"You've got to mow the lawn all the time. The minute you stop mowing, the grass is going to grow back."
The Guardian makes the point that child murder is child murder is child murder: 

The wider effects on the children of the region have been devastating. Many have been withdrawn from school because of fears that large gatherings of any kind are being targeted. There have been several strikes on schools since Bush launched the drone programme that Obama has expanded so enthusiastically: one of Bush's blunders killed 69 children.
The study reports that children scream in terror when they hear the sound of a drone. A local psychologist says that their fear and the horrors they witness is causing permanent mental scarring. Children wounded in drone attacks told the researchers that they are too traumatised to go back to school and have abandoned hopes of the careers they might have had. Their dreams as well as their bodies have been broken.
 I could make it simpler:

Don't you dare forget that 69 Pakistani children are dead because we do nothing to stop the slaughter.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Yes, we are a violent nation

Two interesting posts regarding guns and violence today at Delawareliberal (one by pandora, one by cassandra) prompt this post in response, because I think that both of them highlight a similar issue, yet do not come to grips with it in historical context.

pandora argues that we have to start from the position of remembering twenty young lives snuffed out:

My heart is breaking.  And all I can think is This Has Got To Stop.  What The Hell Is Wrong With Us?  Because this is bigger than Adam Lanza and Jared Loughner and James Holmes.  This is about how we’ve come to accept these events; how we almost take them in stride, because, you know… Freedom. 
I’m so sick of that lame response.  I’m sick of hearing about the freedom to arm yourself to the teeth because, you know… Government.  I’m sick of hearing about how someone needs to 30 rounds per second because someone is trying to get you.  I’m sick of responsible gun owners being in bed with with these paranoid, fantasy driven freaks who need to live, and act out, their delusions.  And I’m sick of the body count.
pandora focuses on what she sees as a new, different breed of gun owner:
Most of the gun owners I know are responsible, and most are not defined by their guns.  But there’s a new breed of gun owner out there – a breed that wallows in tactical lingo and lives in a fantasy world where they’re the last defense against the loss of freedom.  Let’s just start saying it:  They are a paranoid group who shouldn’t own guns. 
cassandra focuses on the tendency to associate such massacres as Newtown with mental illness, but rightly points out that mental illness cannot alone describe (or, perhaps, explain) the comparative extreme levels of violence in American society:
But focusing on mental health as the symptom, we get to gloss over the fact that we won’t be eliminating dangerous people — if anything, because a fair number of them are quite sane. 
This graph clearly shows how violent a place the United States is. (From the blog’s discussion of this graph: The following figures are from the OECD for deaths due to assault per 100,000 population from 1960 to the present. As before, the most striking features of the data are (1) how much more violent the U.S. is than other OECD countries (except possibly Estonia and Mexico, not shown here), and (2) the degree of change—and recently, decline—there has been in the U.S. time series considered by itself.) This time series documents deaths by assaults of all kinds, not just guns, but this should break the heart of every citizen. How can this be us? And while these deaths are on a decline, we are still a clear outlier — we are still subject to an entire industry fronted by their political arm hellbent on scaring us in to the false security of guns that will save us from the ever growing hordes. But go back and look at that graph. That isn’t a story of mental illness. 
Pointing out (accurately) that even massacres don't force us into national discussions about guns, violence (or even mental illness), cassandra ends with the same notion that pandora emphasizes:
Yet massacre after massacre, death after death, our response is the same. Nothing. Or I should say, the usual handwringing, the usual political suspects trying to make it difficult to discuss the danger that guns (or certain ones of them) present to all of us, and the idiotic “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”
 Let's start with a couple of observations about the graph that cassandra uses:

1.  It is difficult to link this trend with any political ideology or party being in control of the government or the country.  The line rockets up during the administrations of JFK (D), LBJ (D), Nixon (R), and Ford (R) to peak with Carter (D).  Then the line begins a steady decline through Reagan (R), Bush (R), Clinton (D), Bush (II) (R), and Obama (D).

2.  It is likewise difficult to link this trend with specific events.  Sure, you could argue that the 1960s were tumultuous, full of civil rights, Black Power, war protests, and riots--but the 1970s that followed were arguably FAR more violent than the 1960s had been.  And what events could you cite to see the violence peak and start to descend (every so slightly) during the Carter administration.  It also points out that--at least at this scale--the Federal Assault Weapons ban (1994-2004) seems not to have impacted anything.  Violence was on the decline before, during, and after that law was in force.

These two observations suggest (in language that cassandra and pandora both like to use on occasion) that violence in America is "not a bug, but a feature."

(A footnote:  contrarian economist Steven Leavitt would argue that there is one historical event you can statistically associate with this decline--Roe v Wade and the free availability of abortion since 1973.  The argument is worth examining, but be careful not to make the infamous Bill Bennett mistake.)

Hey, let's own that:  we are, and always have been, a violent society.  Historian Geoffrey Perret calls the US "A Country Made by War."  Forget our citizenry (deranged or otherwise) for a moment:  The problem with the call that "This. Has. To. Stop." is that much of the underlying culture of violence has been perpetuated by the government--especially for the past forty years--and that asking for solutions from the government when violence is the problem is, well, problematic.

We are killing other people's kids around the world every day in Pakistan, in Yemen, in Honduras.  There's an important if unlovely and uncomfortable point to be reinforced here:  dead Pakistani school children at the hands of US drones no less constitute young lives pointlessly snuffed out, with grieving parents who have emptiness in their souls than the children who will never come back to their bedrooms in Connecticut.

We are the world's largest exporter of weapons.  We spend more on weapons for our "defense" than the rest of the world combined.  That, "They are coming to get us" mentality within the US is exactly the mentality that politicians of all parties use with reference to the rest of the world, so why should you be surprised to see it echoed internally.  It's fractal, I think.

Violence in America is in part so prevalent because, despite our mantra of freedom, the power of the State is as pre-conditioned to the use of violence as those paranoid nuts that pandora believes should not own guns.    And while the far-gone tactical gun nuts pandora discusses are out there (but I don't honestly know in what numbers), there are also folks like DelDem who just characterized everybody who disagreed with him as an "enemy of the United States" [in comment that he has now unceremoniously removed from the thread over there], or the people (including many, many on the left) who demonized Tipper Gore over music lyrics, or the liberals who only come out when there is a school shooting of white school children and haven't been pushing the issue as gang violence related deaths in our cities have started to climb back up at an alarming rate since 2006.  

I don't see those folks examining their investment portfolios to divest themselves of the gun manufacturers who also happen to be defense contractors, and whose profits are underwriting their retirement funds.

There is a naive assumption that if we ban "assault" weapons, limit magazines, pass stringent laws on mentally ill people being near guns, tax ammunition, outlaw certain kinds of ammunition, install waiting periods and close gun show loopholes that it will actually address the underlying, society-wide condoning of violence.  I don't think it will.

The counter argument is, of course, that those things won't solve the overall problem but will at least make things relatively safer while we move toward the right end.

Except that there is never a serious acknowledgement that we have to do something about the State as a main purveyor of violence because, you know, we are the State to a large extent these days.  Police officers have killed 531 American citizens so far this year (we've still got two weeks to go), including mistaken and/or completely unnecessary shootings.  

We don't even know how to count how many civilian bystanders we've killed around the world in the past year, in part because our government either claims not to keep count, or that the total is a matter of national security.  Take your pick.

The difficulty is this:  we will not mediate or end America's social culture toward less violence unless and until that is tied to mediating and/or ending violence on the part of our government.  And that doesn't just mean paying lip service, "Oh, I'm against state-sponsored violence as well"  It means linking the two--a genuine discussion about how to reduce gun violence in the US with an equally genuine discussion about how to scale back the warfare/police state we've been growing on steroids for the past decade.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Most stringent gun control laws in the West=89% rise in gun violence over a decade

If we are going to have this discussion, we need to consider this:

The latest Government figures show that the total number of firearm offences in England and Wales has increased from 5,209 in 1998/99 to 9,865 last year  -  a rise of 89 per cent.
In some parts of the country, the number of offences has increased more than five-fold. 
In eighteen police areas, gun crime at least doubled.  
The statistic will fuel fears that the police are struggling to contain gang-related violence, in which the carrying of a firearm has become increasingly common place. 
One wonders where all these firearms come from in a country that had large-scale gun confiscation as a government policy.

Oh, yes, I forgot:  the government can only confiscate legal guns, because it generally cannot find the illegal ones.

Friday, December 14, 2012

More intrepid than I am intelligent: now IS the time to have a discussion about guns in America

Yes, I am quite aware of what's happening in Newtown CT right now, but no, I don't subscribe to the idea that we should wait for things to calm down before we discuss the role of guns in America.

Doing so, however, requires some intellectual honesty if you intend to participate.

(Side note:  this is not an exceptionally high-traffic blog at the moment, so, hey, this could be a giant fizzle.)

So there is buy-in and then there are two rules:

To participate, you need to answer the following questions in your first comment:

1.  What, ultimately, is your preferred end situation with regard to guns in America?  (In other words, who should have them, what should be allowed, etc. etc.  You don't have to give an in-depth plan--unless you want to--but people having the conversation have a legitimate interest in knowing your end goal.  As much as possible, no hidden agendas.)

2.  In getting from here to there (with there being your answer to question number one), how do you intend to deal with the (literally) hundreds of millions of firearms already in circulation, legally and illegally, in the US today?

3.  What do you actually think the 2nd Amendment means?

4.  (Maybe this should have been a higher number, I don't know)  What do you consider to be the legitimate uses for civilian-owned firearms in our society?

So, answer those questions (you will find my answers in the first comment) and you can play.

Here are the rules (because for this thread alone I am using different rules than this blog normally uses):

1.  Make your points about positions, not about the other commenters as much as possible, and avoid the generalization "people like you."  You can call each other names if you want, but if you offend my sensibilities, which change unpredictably, I will either edit or erase your comments.  Nope, I'm not answerable to anybody on that.  (On the other hand, if you are thin-skinned, you probably should not play.)

2.  Everyone is welcome to their own opinions, but not their own facts.  If you make a "factual" assertion without a specific link or reference, be prepared to back it up if challenged, or it reverts to the "opinion" category.

OK, unless you are reading this within the first two minutes after I post it, my own answers are in the comment section below.

President Obama on marijuana in Colorado and Washington: another subtle shift toward an authoritarian state

I can recall that back in 2008 then-candidate Barack Obama said that the US had higher priorities than sending the DEA to raid medical marijuana dispensaries in states where such was legal.

And then, of course, his administration had the highest recorded rate of such raids in American history over the next four years.

Now President Obama is saying much the same thing about recent votes to legalize marijuana in Colorado and Washington:
“It would not make sense for us to see a top priority as going after recreational users in states that have determined that it’s legal,” he said.
Parse this carefully, please.

He's not saying, "We will respect the laws passed by the citizens of these states."

He's not saying, "We won't arrest people using marijuana in these states."

He's not saying, "These states have the right to regulate their own social affairs."

What he is saying is that right now, as I speak, I don't see it as real important just today, but the Federal government still possesses the power to completely ignore the wishes of American citizens within these states, we can change our mind any time we want to, and your so-called "rights" as a citizen depend wholly and completely on our sufferance, not any constitutional, legal, or judicial limitations.

In other words, right now it is politically expedient to lie low, but later we will continue to do whatever the hell we want, regardless of the law.

Much like President Obama's successful assertion that he can order even American citizens killed abroad without judicial process, that his administration can ignore court orders with respect to Gitmo detainees, and (most recently) that the government can maintain extensive files on all citizens forever just because, you know, they are the government . . . .

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

In the spirit of peace and harmony, join Delaware Liberal bloggers and friends for their Holiday Extravaganza

. . . because even jason is far more personable in the flesh than on the keyboard . . .

. . . because bloggers are even more intriguingly peculiar in person . . .

. . . and because the Food Bank of Delaware is always a good cause . . .

The details:

In keeping with tradition, please bring food for the Food Bank of Delaware.  We will be collecting the goodies and necessities and then delivering them the Food Bank.  Let’s make someone’s season bright!

Date:  Friday, December 14th
Place:  Timothy's (Riverfront)
Time:  7:00p.m.

Once again, Reps. Jaques and Kowalko mislead the public about single-payer healthcare in Delaware

You'd think that somebody, somewhere, would actually call the Bobbsey Twins on this.  Every time that they sit down to talk about their flawed, recycled, Floyd-McDowell-authored single-payer bill (last years' HB 392) they use the same demonstrably inaccurate talking points as always.

Today's editorial in the WNJ is no exception.

Here are the tendentious statements from the article, and the simple truth about them:

It is not socialized medicine. It is guaranteed access to health care. You get a health care card and you can go to any doctor or hospital in the U.S.
Truth:  In point of fact, the Jaques/Kowalko bill does NOT guarantee access to health care outside the State of Delaware.  The state board that they create will set allowable prices for all health care services, even those you receive out of state.  Written into their bill, however, is the proviso that the out-of-state service provider MUST accept Delaware's fee as 100% payment (you are not allowed to make supplementary payments).

This is not only de facto rationing, it is forced selection of doctors.  There are a number of medical services/procedures that you CANNOT have done in Delaware (organ transplants are a good example), and for which a politically appointed board will set the prices.  Nothing compels doctors or hospitals in other parts of the US to accept these state-mandated prices, and if you want to use Delaware single-payer for any of these, you are completely limited to choosing those who do, regardless of their expertise or qualifications.

Moreover, despite the claim that Delaware single-payer "is not socialized medicine" the bill introduced by Jaques and Kowalko OUTLAWS even supplemental health insurance, something that virtually none of our European neighbors with single-payer plans do.

I guess they tell the truth, however, in the sense that  you can "go" to any doctor or hospital in the nation--you just may not be able to afford their services.

In fact, currently, private health insurance companies ration care is based on cost and if you don’t have health insurance, you don’t get care. 

Currently, even without health insurance you are guaranteed to receive treatment at any emergency room.  I don't like that system any more than they do, but you can't ignore the fact that their statement is simply, factually wrong.

Drugs will be cheaper under single payer because of the advantage of bulk purchasing. The system will provide a buying power advantage similar to the health care provided veterans which includes a 40 percent discount on pharmaceuticals. 
Truth:  Only as long as you stick to the formulary created by the politically appointed state board.  If the state board decides that some new cancer drug is too expensive, they simply omit it from the formulary and you cannot get it unless you pay full price on your own.  And since they would make supplementary insurance illegal . . . .

Single payer will mean a vast improvement in access to health care for a majority of Delawareans. All medically necessary care would be funded including all doctor visits, hospital care, prescriptions, mental health services, nursing home care, rehab, home care, eye care and dental with no more bills, deductibles or co-pays.
Truth:  This is an open admission that single-payer health care would reduce the standard of care available to some Delawareans.  "All medically necessary care" is a euphemism for "all types of care approved by our politically appointed state board."  There is no oversight to this state board; it has far more power than Medicare, because it can virtually eliminate coverage of ALL "elective" care just through the act of defining what is "medically necessary."

Under our proposed single-payer funding mechanism, we believe a majority of individuals and companies will save money. We have checked the numbers that are contained in our previous HB 392 and had those figures verified by the Secretary of Finance office. 
Truth:  Their funding mechanism is crap.  Despite repeated requests for them to show the numbers provided in the supposed Secretary of Finance report, Reps. Jaques and Kowalko have refused to do so.  Moreover, in response to my FOIA request earlier this year the Secretary of Finance office never located such a study.  The reality is that their funding mechanism raises taxes on almost everybody in the state and is incapable of funding their single-payer system.  State income taxes alone will go up 4.5-7%.  But once it is passed, they know that the state will have no option but to find tax dollars from your wallet to support this ridiculous white elephant.

This bill is so bad that the endorsed Democratic candidate for Insurance Commissioner, Mitch Crane, not only dropped his support for it, but scrubbed his website of any evidence that he had ever supported it.  Incumbent Karin Weldin Stewart campaigned on it in 2008 (primarily to win Kowalko's support) and then dropped it like a hot potato when she came into office.

Want substantiation of all these criticisms?

Here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Ending the credit hour: for colleges a great solution that will never happen

This thoughtful essay by Kevin Carey in NYT questions one of the more sacrosanct sacred cows in academia:  why we don't award degrees based on skills and demonstrated proficiencies, but rely on an antiquated "credit hour" system that essentially awards course credit and degrees based on professorial whim.

(Yes, I am quite aware that I am one of those whimsical professorials.)

(Which is why I can tell you, authoritatively, that the system will have to collapse before anybody reforms it.)

Anyway, here's a representative snippet:
Much attention has been paid to for-profit colleges that offer degrees online while exploiting federal student-loan programs and saddling ill-prepared students with debt. But nearly all of the institutions caught up in the 10-day credit dodge exposed by The Chronicle were public, nonprofit institutions. And both the credit-givers, like Western Oklahoma, and the sports machines at the other end of the transaction, like Florida State University, were doing nothing illegal.---snip---The lack of meaningful academic standards in higher education drags down the entire system. Grade inflation, even (or especially) at the most elite institutions, is rampant. A landmark book published last year, “Academically Adrift,” found that many students at traditional colleges showed no improvement in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing, and spent their time socializing, working or wasting time instead of studying. (And that’s not even considering the problem of low graduation rates.)

If Charter Schools in Delaware are not public schools . . .

. . . then neither is the University of Delaware.

To quote the Princeton Review:
Founded in 1743, the University of Delaware is one of very few institutions who are both public and private (state-assisted with private charter).
Strangely enough, this privately chartered university is the recipient of tens of millions of dollars of unquestioned state support every year, while using entrance procedures that produce a racially identifiable student population (72.6% white; 4.9% African-American).

When it is time to belly up to the General Assembly trough (wherein a high percentage of lawmakers are UD grads), the University is Delaware's "flagship" public university.

When the Governor was mooting pay cuts due to budget exigencies a few years back, however, UD employees were NOT state employees (even though people who come to them out of the state system can opt to keep their state-back retirement plans).

And, better than the conduit capital funding that charter schools in Delaware often dream about, the University of Delaware has in its charter the ability (usually limited to governments) to exercise eminent domain to take away land it wants from private landowners:
Whenever the Board of Trustees of the University cannot agree with the owner or owners for the purchase of any land, with the improvements thereon, in New Castle County, deemed by the Board necessary for the purpose of erecting any building or buildings to be used by and in connection with the University, or for the enlargement of its grounds, or for any other purpose in connection with the University, or the agricultural experiment station connected therewith, to better carry out the purposes of the University and agricultural experiment station, the University, in the exercise of the power of eminent domain, may acquire the land and improvements by condemnation by proceedings in accordance with Chapter 61 of Title 10.
And even if you don't like that--you can't change it:
The General Assembly of Delaware, by Chapter 117 of 27 Laws of Delaware, did grant to the University of Delaware a perpetual charter which contains no reserve power in the General Assembly to amend the charter thus granted. . . .
All changes to the charter since then were made at the request of UD, and cannot be imposed on UD by the General Assembly without its consent.

So for all those folks who tell me that charter schools are not public schools, please explain to me how the University of Delaware is, and why it is not subject to the same criticisms.