Friday, August 28, 2015

We Need Fewer Thinkers Like Damon Linker on Guns.

This is a first grade class and teacher. Now think of them all shot dead brutally.
Then, think just like Damon Linker and say, "There's nothing we can do about it."

If Damon Linker is right, and there's nothing we in America can do to significantly reduce gun violence, then I suggest we all just buy one and shoot ourselves in the head. There, an American solution!

Or, as I wanted when I was twenty-two, we could move to the Netherlands. They don't want us there now, so it's too late. Anyway, I'm sixty-six, not twenty-two, and my wife doesn't want to move. Oh, well.

Here's brilliant cynic Damon Linker:
[...] I would personally love to wake up tomorrow and find myself in such an America [one that would ban guns].
But there is no chance of it happening. Zero.
Why? Because the Supreme Court has declared that the Constitution forbids it. Because a sizable chunk of the country strongly opposes it. Because America's democratic culture would never allow the mass confiscation of property by the government. When that property is a weapon that could be trained on the person attempting the confiscation, things get trickier still.
There is simply no realistic path that gets us from the country we have to the country gun-control advocates want.
Should we try to pass more laws regulating guns? Absolutely. If your city is motivated to ban high-capacity gun magazines, by all means do so. The same with local, state, or federal laws encouraging the development of childproof guns and public-health efforts to persuade people to buy them. The same with increasing waiting periods, deepening background checks for gun purchases, and closing the gun-show loophole. Go ahead and do every well-intentioned thing in Nicholas Kristof's indignant column on the Roanoke shooting.
But understand that in the end the improvements will only be marginal. Yes, some indeterminate number of lives will be saved, which is why we should keep trying. Something is always better than nothing. But there will still be hundreds of millions of guns out there in circulation, and countless ways to purchase new ones, which means there will be ample opportunities for a would-be mass murderer to secure the means of attaining his goal. That's why Kristof's analogy to lives saved by automobile regulations is bogus. The vast majority of people killed while driving die by accident. The vast majority of people killed by guns die by intent. Firearms are deadly weapons, we have an awful lot of them lying around, and unfortunately we have a disturbingly large number of people who want to use them to kill human beings.
This doesn't make me happy. It makes me ill. It means that, in this respect at least, America is broken.
No, Damon Linker, your cynicism isn't helpful. We, those of us smart -- yes, smart -- enough to know that statistics say guns make us less safe, should work as hard as we can to alter gun laws to make us more safe. First, start locally: your town, your county, your state. And vote only for those who are brave enough to state openly that they're for tougher gun laws.

Then boycott any business that supports guns in any way, shape or form. For example, if Walmart sells guns, don't shop there (I stopped shopping there fifteen years ago for other reasons).

Move to a state -- mostly blue -- that have stricter gun laws and are therefore safer. Let everyone know that you moved from Alaska and Louisiana to Hawaii or New Jersey because you feel safer.

Then keep talking. Guns kill people. American guns kill more people than all the terrorism in history. Don't tell me we can't ever be as safe as Australia and the U.K. and the rest of the civilized world. And think of that first grade class in the picture.

America Is Exceptional, All Right. We Have an Exceptional Number of Gun Deaths.

Do any of these make you feel safe? Statistics say they make you less safe.

I've read study after study that the presence of a gun in the home makes that home less safe. The countervailing theory is that I've got a gun, and if I'm threatened, I'll get that gun and shoot the threat. The problem is that you're more likely to get drunk, mad, and decide to shoot a friend or a relative than you are to pull out the gun, Rambo-style, and put a cap in a home invader. Also, you may go for your gun and before you get there, grab it, and shoot someone, that someone grabs it and shoots you. Happens more than you know.

Or your four-year-old finds it and accidentally shoots his sister to death. There are dozens of scenarios where things go wrong for every one that might go right.

But we have a problem: Most Americans don't believe the statistics, if they've even been exposed to the statistics. And, unfortunately, there is a statistically significant number of people who are incapable of accepting that a gun is, far from empowering, actually a ticket to disaster more often than a ticket to glory. Here's the truth:
Moving from state-level analysis to the household or individual, the risks for gun owners become even more apparent. A recent meta-analysis of 16 studies examined the relationship between firearms and gun deaths. Gun ownership doubled the risk of homicide and tripled the risk of suicide. This research is bolstered by a national survey that found that a gun in the home was far more likely to be used to threaten a family member or intimate partner than to be used in self-defense.
An important article came out today in the Washington Post entitled "American exceptionalism and the ‘exceptionally American’ problem of mass shootings." In it, we find, as we always seem to do, that statistics overwhelmingly prove that America has an overwhelming lead over all the other countries of the world for gun violence. Second place, Yemen, that's right, Yemen, has a considerable lower gun death rate than the U.S. Impress you? It should depress you. It depresses me. Says WaPo:
The United States, according to Lankford’s analysis, is home to just 5 percent of the world’s people but 31 percent of its public mass shooters. Even more stunning, between 1966 and 2012, 62 percent of all school and workplace shooters were American. At 90 mass shooters in less than 50 years, the U.S. has five times as many as the next highest country on the list (the Philippines).
Yeah, we're exceptional, all right. zeroes in on how we compare to other countries:
Wednesday's Virginia shooting, like so many shootings before it, seems likely to raise a debate we've had many times before: Why does the US have such a high rate of gun murders, by far the highest in the developed world? Is it because of guns, or is there something else going on? Maybe America is just more prone to crime, say, because of income inequality or cultural differences?
A landmark 1999 study actually tried to answer this question. Its findings — which scholars say still hold up — are that America doesn't really have a significantly higher rate of crime compared to similar countries. But that crime is much likelier to be lethal: American criminals just kill more people than do their counterparts in other developed countries. And guns appear to be a big part of what makes this difference.

Okay, I get it. Can we go home now? No, because there's more that we need to accept as fact, before we take action. We need to accept that guns kill people.
Why does this [violent crime] happen? It's not because, as you might think, American violent criminals are just more likely to kill people. "Only a minority of Los Angeles homicides grow out of criminal encounters like robbery and rape," they find (there's no reason to believe the pattern would differ in other cities). So even if it could be shown that American robbery and rape rates are across-the-board higher than those in similar countries (which doesn't appear true today), that still wouldn't explain why America has so many more homicides than other countries.
Again, Zimring and Hawkins's LA data was revealing. "A far greater proportion of Los Angeles homicides grow out of arguments and other social encounters between acquaintances [than robbery or rape]," they find.
This is where guns enter the story. The mere presence of firearms, according to Zimring and Hawkins, makes a merely tense situation more likely to turn deadly. When a gang member argues with another gang member, or a robber sticks up a liquor store, there's always a risk that the situation can escalate to some kind of violence. But when people have a handheld tool that is specially engineered for violently killing, escalation to murder becomes much, much more likely.
Guns kill people. The mere presence of all these guns in America lead to their being used. And statistics, again, prove it.

That's your correlation right there. Now what do we do? Despair, knowing that the NRA will never let us deal rationally with out obvious problem with an obvious solution? Maybe. I suggest we act locally, you know, town, then county, then state. Move to a state with stronger gun control laws (these states have lower gun death rates). Boycott companies that foster guns. At least act, daily if possible.

Thanks to for liberal use of their material. Go there to read the entire, well-researched report.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Another Senseless Shooting: Rush Limbaugh's Answer? Arm Journalists.

I knew that "the solution to gun violence is more guns"
was coming. Just didn't know how fast.

I also know that Rush Limbaugh's career is no longer on the ascendancy, but nonetheless his comment so soon after the senseless live-TV assassination of a cameraman and a journalist -- and wounding of the subject of their interview -- is repulsive, if not totally expected.

You can bet après Rush, le déluge, as in watch the NRA, et al, line up calling for more guns. Sheesh.

(Thanks to Media Matters)

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Is the GOP Flying Off the Rails? Oh My, Yes...

The sanest moment in the GOP campaign so far? Not many since the Fox debate.

Of course we all remember the GOP "autopsy" shortly after the party lost the 2012 election by an unthinkable margin. In fact, there were some who were staggered on election night that they lost at all, so thorough was the seal on their information bubble.

Anyway, Jindal said that they had to stop being the party of the stupid, and just about every sensible Republican leader said that the party absolutely had to reach out to women, minorities, even to the GLBTQ community. A number of potential candidates ran a few policy proposals in speeches, testing the impact the rhetoric might have.

There was even a burgeoning reformicon movement, trying to pivot the GOP back to being the "party of ideas," and not so radical ones at that.

Then came the ascendancy of Donald Trump, and everything since has become unglued, as candidate after candidate tries to attract attention in a race where it seems The Donald has all the oxygen.

Bob Cesca of Salon pitches his take on the madness:
So, the far-right is mainstreaming slavery; it’s pushing for women and even young girls to die from complicated pregnancies or to birth the children of rapists; it’s planning to strip the citizenship clause from an amendment that was ratified 150 years ago; it’s embracing racist colloquialisms; and it’s acting upon videos that are proven hoaxes. The Republican race for the presidency is all about who’s better at blurting ridiculous non-sequiturs — all of it following the lead of their reality-show frontrunner.
If there is one place where the GOP may have crashed for good, it's with the immigration issue. Trump, in the speech announcing his candidacy, blew the lid off. Picking on the Mexicans -- but angering immigrants of all stripes -- he has since that speech doubled, tripled, and quadrupled down, saying build a wall all the way across the Mexican border (making Mexico pay for it?!) and while you at it, gather up every last singe "illegal" immigrant and deport them, all 11 or 12 million of them.

Thoughts on how they'll do with minorities? Anyone? Bueller?

 And how about the womenfolk? When Politico can't find a silver lining (well, they do, among married, non-college-graduate women), you know the Republicans are in trouble:
A detailed report commissioned by two major Republican groups — including one backed by Karl Rove — paints a dismal picture for Republicans, concluding female voters view the party as “intolerant,” “lacking in compassion” and “stuck in the past.”
Women are “barely receptive” to Republicans’ policies, and the party does “especially poorly” with women in the Northeast and Midwest, according to an internal Crossroads GPS and American Action Network report obtained by POLITICO. It was presented to a small number of senior aides this month on Capitol Hill, according to multiple sources.

Even on fiscal matters — traditionally the party’s strongest issue set — Republicans hold only slight advantages that do not come close to outweighing their negative attributes. The GOP holds a 3 percent advantage over Democrats when female voters are asked who has “good ideas to grow the economy and create jobs,” and the same advantage on who is “fiscally responsible and can be trusted with our tax dollars.”
When female voters are asked who “wants to make health care more affordable,” Democrats have a 39 percent advantage, and a 40 percent advantage on who “looks out for the interests of women.” Democrats have a 39 percent advantage when it comes to who “is tolerant of other people’s lifestyles.”
Female voters who care about the top four issues — the economy, health care, education and jobs — vote overwhelmingly for Democrats. Most striking, Democrats hold a 35-point advantage with female voters who care about jobs and a 26 percent advantage when asked which party is willing to compromise. House Republicans say jobs and the economy are their top priorities.
Obviously, I'm deliriously happy about these developments, since as a Democrat I'm secure in the knowledge that not only do Democrats have clear policy positions on women's issues, jobs, education, and immigration, they've had the good common sense to latch on to the most popular ones. This is no accident but the happy result of having voices like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in the race. No longer frightened of their shadows, the Democrats might, driven by these popular issues, secure a significant victory at the polls in 2016.

Heaven knows the Republicans are doing their best to lose. Let's not get in their way.

Who's the biggest prick among the GOP field? Nowadays, it's pick 'em.

Ronald Reagan's Liberal Legacy (That's Right, Liberal)

The iconic Reagan photo: a liberal lion?

I used to look at the photo above and almost wretch at the undeserved legacy Ronald Reagan had accrued. The conservative movement wanted a hero and quite nearly manufactured one. For me, there was no decent legacy to speak of. Much of his history was either made-up or distorted, and it bothered me that conservatives, to this day, make much of the slim pickings any realist would call the Reagan legacy.

There was so much not to like about Reagan -- his anti-unionism, his war on drugs, his antipathy toward Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, his supple-side economics that truly was "voodoo" as his competitor-turned-vice-president called it, his massive defense buildup and subsequent growing deficits, his invasion of Grenada (why again?), and certainly his siding with some of the worst right-wing elements in Central America in an effort to counter leftist guerrillas. Plenty enough death and murder came out of those adventures.

There was plenty not to like. But there were the successes -- both in domestic politics as well as foreign policy, especially with the Soviet Union -- which were hard to dismiss. When I saw Reagan make his famous "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" speech, I begrudged him a truly remarkable visual, at least, accomplishment. He looked tough, he was tough, and you couldn't dismiss it as Hollywood bluster. He stood tall right then, and it was real, and it had an impact.

So, it's with, to some extent, true glee that I embrace a viewpoint I discovered while googling Reagan's accomplishments to refresh my memory of the Reagan years: Joshua Green, writing in Washington Monthly back in 2003, took a novel look at Reagan in terms of his liberal -- yes, liberal -- accomplishments. All of a sudden, my grudging acceptance of good things Reagan accomplished made sense. They were accomplishments, from my ideological vantage, I could only applaud. Now I could, knowing why I liked them: They were liberal, quite simply. Says Green:
Many of Reagan's actions that wound up furthering liberal ends were to some extent the result of the normal compromises of political office. The fact that his conservative biographers don't see fit to acknowledge these deviations is a clue that their aim is something besides an accurate depiction of the life and achievements of the 40th president. When conservatives mythologize the Reagan presidency as the golden era of conservatism, it's not Reagan that they're mythologizing, but conservatism.
The great success of Reagan's 1980 campaign was that it united the disparate strands of the conservative movement: supply-siders, libertarians, religious conservatives, foreign policy hawks, and big business. The fact that Reagan's presidency didn't accomplish anything approaching its seismic promise--the size of government grew, abortion remained legal, and entitlements still abounded--is one that his partisan biographers elide by focusing on what Reagan believed and said rather than on what he actually did. The imaginary Reagan who inhabits these books embodies the ideas on which all these groups can agree. His shining example helps maintain the coalition while putting pressure on current GOP politicians to hew to the hard-right ideal.
The real Reagan, on the other hand, would bring discord to the current conservative agenda. If you believe, as conservatives now do, that raising taxes is always wrong, then it's hard to admit that Reagan himself did so repeatedly. If you argue that the relative tax burden on low-income workers is too light, as the Bush administration does, then it does not pay to dwell on the fact that Reagan himself helped lighten that burden. If you insist, as many hardliners now do, that America is dangerously soft on communist China, then it is best to ignore Reagan's own softening toward the Soviet Union.
The whole of the Joshua Green article is stuffed with irony. Reagan raised taxes, saved Social Security by raising the payroll taxes, expanded government and the government payroll, tripled the national debt, and made nuclear peace treaties and other agreements that would make today's neocons shudder (as they did back then, as well).

We on the left who resist letting Reagan have his (manufactured) conservative legacy do so while giving short shrift to his liberal legacy. Maybe we can essentially speak of Reagan as bad, conservative Reagan and good, liberal Reagan. It's not made up of whole cloth, it is the remarkable truth of Ronald Reagan. Most of his conservative accomplishments were mostly talk, and many of his undeniable worthy accomplishments were carry-overs, perhaps, from the more liberal leanings of his younger years.

We get the Reagan each of us want, I suppose.

Kennedy had his Cuban Missile Crisis, Nixon his China card, and
Reagan his summits with Mikhail. Credit where great is due.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Is the Ashley Madison Data Dump Fair to the Cheaters? (Josh Duggar Edition)

Updated below!

I can't wait for Ashley Madison: the Movie. Okay, I guess I can.

It seems quite the violation of privacy to get outed for using a website that helps you arrange marital infidelities -- even if it's sort of wimpy to use a service to arrange such things. Whatever happened to putting in the time and actually "earning" your dalliances by finding them yourself? But, oh well.

Amanda Marcotte -- a feminist writer who gets to weigh in on so many aspects of the push-pull between and among the sexes and does an admirable and nuanced job of it -- gives us permission to express glee at at least one outed philanderer: wouldn't you know it, Josh Duggar.
It’s not like domestic violence or rape, which are often kept quiet but are, in fact, the business of everyone else in the larger community because violence is a violation of the social contract. Or even just creepy or harassing behavior. When you harass someone, you really don’t deserve a modicum of privacy. These behaviors are about maintaining basic order and setting a standard for how we treat people, regardless of who they are. It’s about ensuring that we all have a right to safety that other people can’t violate.
But cheating is about violating a deeply personal agreement between two people. If the person you’re with doesn’t care if you sleep with other people, it’s not cheating. It’s all about an agreement that you decide between yourselves, and like all such agreements, the only people who should care what you do are people who your behavior directly affects. It’s not the business of the world at large.
Unless you’re Josh Duggar, of course. Or anyone else who fights publicly to use government interference to mess with the private sexual choices of consenting adults. If you fight for the government to limit or ban gay people’s marriages or women’s reproductive choices, then your sex life is our business. If only there were a way to do a targeted search of Ashley Madison data for that, while leaving everyone else alone.
When the Jimmy Swaggarts, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakers, Ted Haggards and, yes, Josh Duggars of this world are brought low, schadenfreude is called for. Loudly. Read the Gawker on young Josh. What are his turn-ons? I was reading, gleefully, then had to turn away. It was that much of a trainwreck. Maybe you'll feel differently. But, seriously, ROTFLMFAO.

Family Research Council, I got your research right here.

Not in support of infidelity here. Just lovin' me some justice.

Update.  Josh Duggar, like all good Christians, is getting all confessional on us. If he were a preacher he'd be on stage crying his eyes out and declaring what a sinner he is. Ha. Ha.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Jeb! on Torture: I Wish I Knew How to Quit You!

Wish I knew how to quit talking about your war and your torture is more like it.

Nobody told Jeb Bush it was going to be easy living down his oldest brother's Iraq legacy, but someone might have told him to keep quiet about it as much as possible.

That could have applied to Big Brother's torture policies, but, no-o-o-o, Jeb! has to keep yapping. Here's Slate running down the latest:
At a forum in Iowa, Bush declined to make a “definitive blanket kind of statement” on whether he would authorize the harsh interrogation techniques OK’d by George W.’s administration. Bush declined to say which techniques he considered torture but asked specifically about waterboarding at a later event, he said “I’m not ruling anything in or out,” and used the Orwellian formulation, "There’s a difference between enhanced interrogation techniques and torture. Torture’s—America doesn’t do torture.”
We can infer from Bush’s comments—America doesn’t torture, but he won’t rule out waterboarding—that he does not consider waterboarding to be torture. He believes, in other words, that a technique described by the CIA itself as a “series of near drownings” that induce “convulsions and vomiting” and left one detainee “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth” does not constitute “severe pain or suffering, inflicted for the purpose of obtaining information,” as torture is defined under an international treaty the U.S. has ratified.
I'm sure after he said it, an aide came up and quietly said, "Governor, I thought we'd..." to which he just as quietly replied, "Yeah, I know..."

Bush looks like he's sitting on a pile of rattlesnakes and wants to finish his statement before someone asks, "Yeah, but waterboarding two suspects 266 times? Fer real?"

Jeb, this stuff is going to swirl around you right up to the moment you lose the 2016 election, so you'd better learn not to step in it all the time. But, as they say, that's a bridge too far.

Bonus just-ran-into-it video of Jesse Ventura on Larry King, giving us some, er, perspective on torture and Dick Cheney. To quote a Broadway show, Mamma Mia!

Jeb! Listen and learn...

Snowden Strikes Again: AT&T Largest and Longest Collaborator with NSA

(While crafting this post, I brought in so much pertinent backstory that I finally reached Glenn Greenwald Peak Verbiage. As my late friend Art Wilcox would have said, "Hit new level!" I admit I'm exhilarated, if a little frightened.)

NSA HQ. Wouldn't the money -- and buildings -- be batter used as the National
Healthcare Service? Slightly less safe but much healthier. But hey, priorities!

When I read about this "new" Edward Snowden revelation yesterday, I immediately recalled that AT&T early on had been outed as especially cooperating with the U.S. government on spying on Internet and cell-phone communications. A quick google reveals that, yes, AT&T was deep in it early. Read about it here and here. WaPo snippet:
[In 2002] AT&T allowed the agency to hook into its network at a facility in San Francisco and, according to Klein, many of the other telecom companies probably knew nothing about it. [my bold]
Michael Hayden, NSA director,
1999-2005, patriot, "good guy,"
torture supporter, profligate liar.
Yep, that's the story I remember. AT&T opened the door and let all the rats in. But what's important to remember is that the George W. Bush administration began this effort before 9/11. But we knew this, too:
However, once Bush takes office in January 2001, that practice [of eavesdropping on persons of national interest but deleting their names so their rights aren't violated] undergoes a radical change. In the first few months of the administration, President Bush assigns Vice President Cheney to make himself more of a presence at the various US intelligence agencies, particularly the CIA, NSA, and DIA. Cheney, along with other officials at the State and Defense Departments, begins making repeated requests to the NSA to reveal the identities of those Americans which had previously been deleted, so that administration officials can more fully understand the context and scope of the intelligence. Such requests are technically legal. But Cheney goes well beyond the law when he requests, as he frequently does, that the NSA continue monitoring specific Americans already caught up in the NSA’s wiretaps and electronic surveillance. A former White House counterterrorism official will later claim that Cheney advised Bush of what he was learning from the NSA. “What’s really disturbing is that some of those people the vice president was curious about were people who worked at the White House or the State Department,” says another former counterterrorism official. “There was a real feeling of paranoia that permeated from the vice president’s office and I don’t think it had anything to do with the threat of terrorism. I can’t say what was contained in those taps that piqued his interest. I just don’t know.”
Admiral John Poindexter,
Director, Total Infomation 
Awareness, convicted liar,
Iran-Contra co-conspirator
patriot, "good guy."
The Bushies lied from the beginning, pre-9/11.

Also, the mechanisms were in place pre-9/11 and were unleashed after the attacks.

What came out of that was Total Information Awareness, also barely post-9/11, which must have been fascinating to the Bushies because it was almost like a movie.

Do click on the links on Hayden and Poindexter's captions. Note on "patriot:" they no doubt think they are; note on "good guy": they believe they're one of the good guys, so laws don't apply to them when they're acting all patriotically. Cheney and Rumsfeld, for example, think they're good guys, which is why they broke the Geneva Convention, the Laws of War, the U.S. Constitution, federal and state law and still think they're patriots. They even broke the laws -- like the Patriot Act -- that were passed so they could break the law.

Bonus WTF: Yes, Michael Hayden got up in front of Congress and, yes, repeatedly denied the term "probable cause" was in the Fourth Amendment, the part of the Constitution he and Poindexter ripped to shreds. I follow it by showing James Clapper, Director, National Intelligence since 2010, essentially attempting a similar feat.

Stupid or evil? I suppose incompetent could be in the mix, but this guy's a four-star admiral, so I'm going with evil.

Here's James Clapper to compare and contrast:

Clapper said later -- after the Snowden revelations -- that:
"I thought though in retrospect I was asked (a) ‘when are you going to stop beating your wife’ kind of question, meaning not answerable necessarily, by a simple yes or no," he said. "So I responded in what I thought was the most truthful, or least most untruthful manner, by saying, ‘No.’"
Yeah, the only take on that is it's fucked up. But important to note is that Clapper knew the Intelligence Committee knew, and of course the Committee saw right through it. Ron Wyden knew what he was asking and knew that Clapper's answer was bullshit. But the Committee is, by law, prevented from letting the American people in on what they know. So Clapper's artful dodging was aimed at keeping the American people in the dark. Until, uh-oh, Edward Snowden. That's why Snowden is a hero and Clapper -- and Hayden and Poindexter and all their ilk before them -- are montrous dickheads. In DC they're called patriots and good guys.

Didn't mean to go on so long, just google anything you don't understand.  IT'S ALL OUT THERE.

Now, read all of that article on the new Snowden revelations that started all this (I'm just obsessed with background for deeper understanding). Let me leave you with this snippet of it that caught my eye:
At the same time, the government has been fighting in court to keep the identities of its telecom partners hidden. In a recent case, a group of AT&T customers claimed that the N.S.A.’s tapping of the Internet violated the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches. This year, a federal judge dismissed key portions of the lawsuit after the Obama administration argued that public discussion of its telecom surveillance efforts would reveal state secrets, damaging national security.
Read it again if you need to, but you probably noticed that a federal judge -- AT THE BEHEST OF THE OBAMA ADMIINSTRATION -- ruled that citizens can't sue over violations of our Fourth Amendment rights because it might reveal that the government is secretly violating our Fourth Amendment rights, which is A STATE SECRET.

Sorry for yelling, but I wanted to get your attention because the Full Monty Atrios expression of utter disgust is called for: SHIT IS FUCKED UP AND BULLSHIT.

I voted twice for Obama and would again, but in the new world of Constitutional rights, he's as bad as Bush and the whole lot of them.

Final bonus graphic -- the Seal of the Total Information Office:

Yep, beyond the fact that it's seriously creepy, if you look carefully at the seal, you'll see DARPA, the DoD agency that literally created the Internet. So, they created the network that they would, thirty years later, use to spy on us all. You've got to admire the chutzpah, at least, before you decide to emigrate to the Netherlands, or Ecuador, or Tierra del Fuego, or someplace -- where of course they can spy on you, as well. We're screwed. (Wow, maybe this is why I was recently fascinated by the Faroe Islands.)

Boycott ATT&T. Seriously. Also, enjoy the irony that DARPA created the Internet by which the U.S government could spy on us all, by which so much information is randomly distributed and gathered that we eventually can find out all about it, and then share it. Which they also know but can't stop. Unless they go rouge with a police state. Which is something serious to worry about, unless you're a regular Fox News viewer, in which case the real problem with the world in Mexicans, Benghazi, and Hillary's emails. Ugh. Oh, and free anything for the poor.

Robots Are Going to Replace Humans If We Demand a Living Wage? Why Hasn't It Happened Already?

This was the McDonald's of my high-school years in Los Angeles, mid-sixties.

This is the burger joint I thought of when I read an article, common these days as cities and some states -- not the feds -- start to move toward a living wage. It's entitled, "Minimum-wage offensive could speed arrival of robot-powered restaurants." Of course.

The over-arching notion is a threat: Don't make us pay a living wage or we're going to take your job away with automation, so your lives will still suck, loser.

There's another gentler, implied threat: We can't afford to pay you living wages, so wish we could, but we'll have to automate. It's just business, capisce? Loser.

As usual, what should be in focus is how much fast-food joints have automated over the years, which to my not-so practiced eye is not very much. Fast-food productivity may have doubled or tripled over the years, and I remember when McDonald's famously remodeled its food production lines. Production seemed to ramp up, at the cost of obnoxious bells, buzzers, and beeps.

Fine. First a criticism of the article. The focus at the beginning was a guy named Ed Renzi, who first worked at a McDonald's in 1966. He remembered a staff of 70 to 80. He was paid 85 cents an hour. I had trouble with his numbers, which the article didn't seem to question.

In 1966, choices of burger joints were few. In the early 60s, there was McDonald's, and there were private burger joints that made their name with better shakes, or juicier burgers, or some specialty item like a pastrami dip. Then there were the Colorado Blvd. car-culture joints like Bob's Big Boy, that were more expensive, but cute girls came out, took your order, and brought them to your car on a tray that locked onto your open window. We loved that kind of stuff, but it was limited to cruising. On date nights, we took the ladies inside. Like, you know, we had class.

Then Jack-in-the-Box came in. (I know there were Carl's Jr. and In-and-Out Burger maybe out in Riverside or San Bernadino or someplace, but we never saw them.) Basically in the towns of car-culture Southern California, there were one or two chains and one-off burger spots, some drive-thru, some not.

Okay for the background. Now, my first job other than paper boy was at a Jack-in-the-Box the summer of '66 before I left for college. I was paid minimum wage of $1.20. The average staff during lunch rush was no more than 10, in my Jack-in-the-Box or the McDonald's where I preferred to eat. between rushes, there was rarely more than 7. I don't know where Ed Renzi worked, but his story doesn't ring true.

It's not hard to figure. Two taking orders, one guy on fries, one or two on the burger line, an assembler or packager, and a fountain guy. Maybe you had someone on a drive-thru window, and a go-fer hauling out the frozen food -- fries, tacos (deep-fried!), patties -- or bringing out the big galleon plastic jugs to pour in the shake machines, and to keep the bun bins full, more cheese, etc. I recall that in the slow or pre-rush periods, we made sure the soda machines were stocked with syrup, and the pickle, cheese, ketchup and mustard bins were topped off. Bring that back-up jug of Jack's Secret Sauce. It wasn't rocket science in those days of limited menus.

How did the joints boost productivity? Easy. They worked the crap out of you, they hounded you. There were no headsets, electronic order-boards, nothing. And these were the days when the crews were primarily white or U.S. born-and-raised Mexican-Americans from El Monte or the barrios of East LA (yeah, all that Los Lobos stuff was real).

You put up with it until you were off to college or got a better-paying job at the tire store or the local market. It's the way it went. But 70-80? These were the days when McDonald's wasn't open all day, so I doubt more than two shifts a day happened. Oh well.

My major criticisms of the article are somewhat linked:
  • There are rumblings but no major shift yet. Some places are talking about automating, but others are saying humans are appealing, so they're thinking of keeping them.
  • If there were automation innovations waiting to happen if wages go up, why haven't they already happened? If it would work and save labor costs, they already would have been undertaken, right?
  • What's the alternative, slave labor forever?
  • Have you ever eaten sushi? It can be hit or miss, but automated maki rolls? Are you serious? They'll end up tasting like Jack's deep-fried tacos. (The article mentions automated sushi.)
  • There has already been a lot of labor squeezed out of a lot of retail. Remember service station attendants? Gone to self-serve. Remember knowledgeable floor personnel in department stores? Gone except in the high-end stores.
  • Costco is great, I love it, but it's a warehouse for heaven's sake, where we go around and buy stuff and try not to get run over by a forklift. Gone are local hop truckers that bring goods from the warehouse to the local, more personal-service stores, and I'm sure there are efficiencies I don't know about.
  • Effects some people rarely consider: One Home Depot displaces dozens of hardware stores, lumberyards and nurseries; an Office Depot or a Staples can replace computer stores, stationery stores, office furniture stores, and more. You've been to the old small-city downtowns. They're graveyards still slow to revitalize. How many mom-and-pop drug stores can a single Walgreen's wipe out?
The article, in the end, points out that automation and staff reduction in fast-food restaurants are still moving at a crawl. Why? It's hard to automate food production or they would have done it by now. The bottom line is still the bottom line. We're all about the bottom line, after all. It's capitalism.

The article, as far as it goes, doesn't add anything to the discussion. It's a facile set-piece. Its message is, oh-oh living wage, fast-food restaurants will automate unless they don't.

In the end, what's missing is a discussion of whether we have to go this way or not. It's what Clinton and Sanders are talking about and the GOP candidates aren't. It's what drives the Sanders and Trump campaigns, by the way. Sanders because, obviously, he's a socialist, but Trump, too, because he's tapped into both white rage as the minorities sweep in and supplant them, taking their jobs (oddly, it's mostly the minimum-wage and piece-work farm jobs whites apparently don't want, but hey). Trump's people are mad as hell as their middle-class dreams and opportunities dry up, and their natural ally would be a Sanders if they only knew it.

We either eat into corporate profits or continue to expand a growing underclass. Either corporations do it on their own, or the government has to make them do it. Costco long ago did it and have a world-class workforce. Walmart didn't do it and has a workforce on food stamps. Go figure. Walmart is trying to fix it marginally either because they see efficiencies in a more stable, better-paid staff or as a PR stunt. It's probably somewhere in the middle.

As usual, do read the comments on the article. It's full of the usual suspects, from commonsense folk who say "pay 'em a living wage" to libertarians who say "obviously you never paid taxes in you life, let the market decide" to the most extreme who say "if the government does it, it's wrong."

I don't know about you, but I live in the real world (okay, nice slice of it in CA wine country, with lots of barrios, BTW), and walk around with eyes open, and watch opportunities and wages stagnating for decades. We know the statistics. We see those statistics in the faces of citizen and non-citizen alike, and it doesn't have to be this way.

Update. The federal minimum wage in 1966 was $1.25. Okay, I remembered $1.20 (I made more, yay, job still sucked!) Ed Renzi's claim? The minimum wage hadn't been that low since 1955. Hmm. Pretty easy for a WaPo reporter or editor to check, wouldn't you think? The article is about the minimum wage.

The 1966 minimum wage (which I did think sucked) is the equivalent of $8.92 in today's dollars, $1.67 higher that today's $7.25.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Oh Boy, Fiorina Is in Favor of Anti-Vaxxer Kids Spreading Measles and Other "Exotic" Diseases

Fiorina is for vaccination choice, but she's American, so freedom!

I know I don't live in the world of epistemological closure, like Fox viewers, so I remember when everybody got that we do vaccines for the common good. We wipe out a disease, our kid doesn't get it. But those days are gone.

Carly Fiorina is only the latest tool to rile up the crazy, crazy base in hopes of keeping her poll numbers up, so I'm not surprised she came out in favor of vaccination choice, which means my kid doesn't get vaccinated and kids that are in the neighborhood, the school, the county, the region can expect that epidemics can spring up and make some kids very sick, in danger of going deaf or even dying, all because unvaccinated. Hey, fuck yeah! Freedom. (My oldest brother got measles when he was three, and it made him profoundly deaf. But, hey, he got over it.)

Thanks, whatever crew conspired to push this nonsense (google the assholes). The beat, and the danger, goes on.

The epidemic last year started in Disneyland, but the link to the
 story up above is from the Centers for Disease Control,
 not Fox News, so I don't know how reliable it is.

U.S. Already Completely Isolated If We Turn Down Iranian Deal

This post was supposed to be about Chuck Schumer. It is, but a little context?

Of course, I saw Fareed Zakaria's take on Schumer, and I've been following Josh Marshall's excellent writing along the way. More about them later.

As I often do, I go to the opposition to find out how cogent their arguments are on a given issue. One of the most ardent pundits in conservative circles is Charles Krauthammer, who writes for the Washington Post.

I'd never checked about whether Krauthammer is a Jew, but given the subject (Schumer's Jewish), I thought it's pertinent information. (I've always liked Jews, and I don't mean Woody Allen even if I do like his movies. I shouldn't need to explain further, other than I was a knee-jerk liberal supporter of Israel until Benjamin Netanyahu. I'm mostly Irish, BTW.)

I found this, in his own words, in Wikipedia:
His parents were Orthodox-Jewish and he went to a Hebrew day school. "I got a rigorous Jewish education. I know what it is to be a Jew. There's a difference between being nominally Jewish or sentimentally Jewish and being grounded in Jewish learning".
Okay, he's Jewish, according to him, really Jewish. Okay.

Now, nominally, he can be for or against the Iran deal if he has a cogent argument. He doesn't, it's obvious, so basically, Charles, fuck off, you goddam weasel. Read his column, hopefully carefully, to see if his argument holds. It doesn't and he's too smart to put such an argument together. So, he's harnessed distortions in order to support his OUTRAGE. It's probably in his contract. Here's a salient taste:
Congress won’t get to vote on the deal until September. But Obama is taking the agreement to the U.N. Security Council for approval within days . Approval there will cancel all previous U.N. resolutions outlawing and sanctioning Iran’s nuclear activities.
Meaning: Whatever Congress ultimately does, it won’t matter because the legal underpinning for the entire international sanctions regime against Iran will have been dismantled at the Security Council. Ten years of painstakingly constructed international sanctions will vanish overnight, irretrievably.
Even if Congress rejects the agreement, do you think the Europeans, the Chinese or the Russians will reinstate sanctions? The result: The United States is left isolated while the rest of the world does thriving business with Iran.
In the everybody-fucking-knew-this department, what's Krauthammer dribbling on about? Game over. You lost, the good guys won. Go home. He won't, but he's paid to not go home. But he did admit it's over. (Small note. Clearly he wrote this before the Security Council voted 15-0 in favor. Krauthammer weighed in on the 16th, the Council voted on the 20th.) He does have the right to say the deal sucked, but to the suggest that Congress should vote against it to seal the deal on American isolationism. I thought conservatives wanted to empower America, not make us look like losers.

More about Schumer in a minute. Here's the state of world opinion before Schumer announced his intent to vote against the deal (right in the middle of the Republican debate, Bold, Schumer!):
  • The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved the deal, repealing seven previous resolutions, but adding the crucial snap-back mechanism that makes the deal strong.
  • The same day, the European Union approved the deal, so Krauthammer's notion that Obama went to the U.N. to make the U.S. Congress irrelevant is either meaningless or a distortion. I'll say meaningless, giving Krauthammer the benefit of the doubt, although the implication is he's either unimaginative or uninformed. To be especially respectful, I'd have to say his comments were a distortion, since he's not stupid.
  • The Southeast Asian group, ASEAN, along with five large neighbors -- Australia, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea -- approved the deal August 6th. Many will notice the date, the seventieth anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing. If that isn't chilling, well, I can't help you. (I lived in Japan and visited Hiroshima twice.)
  • Pundits on the right claim to have found a holdout: Canada. Check that out at the Weekly Standard and the Observer but do notice that the telltale line showing Canada's steadfast resistance to the deal amounts to this solitary line: "We will examine this deal further before taking any specific Canadian action." Oh no, John Kerry just pissed his pants.
The only people in opposition are the Republicans in Congress (not including Jeff Flake of Ariz.), the entire GOP field, the hardliners in Iran, and, er, Chuck Schumer, not counting Chuck Norris and Ted Nugent.

So, on to Sen. Chuck Schumer. Read his statement here. I'll let Zacharia and Marshall take him apart. They do so with all the decorum they can muster. Then, if you want, google schumer iran deal and sort through the links. You'll be surprised to see how if falls out. But as you read Krauthammer, Schumer, Zacharia, and Marshall, do try to sort out what does or doesn't righ true. I land on the side of the Iran deal, but then I see the failure of the deal raining down disproportionately on us. Why? Because we broke it. Nobody else.

Jeb Bush's Foreign Policy: My Brother Didn't Do It! (Sorry, Jeb, He Did.)

Don't take my word for it. Take McClatchy's. Here's a tease:
The former Florida governor asserted that the Islamic State’s takeover of large swaths of Iraq in 2014 was a direct consequence of the “fatal error” of Obama’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from the country in 2011 after the eight-year U.S. military occupation. He claimed the withdrawal squandered the “success, brilliant, heroic and costly,” of the 2007 U.S. troop surge. He said Clinton “stood by as the hard-won victory by American and allied forces was thrown away.”
Bush’s account of the withdrawal as a “case of blind haste” omitted the fact that it was his brother who’d set the withdrawal date of Dec. 31, 2011, in an agreement that he signed with the Iraqi government in 2008.
He also neglected to note that the Iraqi government strongly opposed the continued presence of U.S. forces.
“The last American soldier will leave Iraq” as agreed, then-Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki said in a Dec. 2010 interview with the Wall Street Journal. “This agreement is not subject to extension, not subject to alternation. It is sealed.”
Funny thing is that's exactly the way I remembered it. Jeb? Probably does, too. So why attempt to rewrite history? I have a few ideas. This is for the base, and he wants to have a foreign policy, a "muscular" one at that. So, what he would "fix" can't have been his brother's fault, must be Obama's and Clinton's. Only trouble is, the Etch-A-Sketch era is over. I'd hate to have to withstand anyone, especially Hillary Clinton, in a one-on-one debate. "I didn't say that" is not a good answer anymore.

The above excerpt was just one of many deceptions -- distortions is the nice word -- explained in the article.

update. Pile on with WaPo's Paul Waldman.

Read more here:

Read more here:

Friday, August 14, 2015

This Just In: GOP Candidates Got Nuthin'!

Lots of candidates, few if any ideas. I guess they want it that way.

Update. David Sanger of NYT adds to the consensus with an article entitled, "Criticism aside, G.O.P. Is Vague on Using Power Abroad." Thanks, David.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Former Baltimore Cop Makes Clear Why Police Can't Properly Serve Their Community

When was it all over for Freddie Gray? Before he was born? Before his
mother met his father? Before the house he lived in as a child was painted?

Freddie Gray never had a chance. From an early age, he and his siblings had brain damage from the lead paint in their house.
Before Freddie Gray was injured in police custody last month, before he died and this city was plunged into rioting, his life was defined by failures in the classroom, run-ins with the law and an inability to focus on anything for very long.
Many of those problems began when he was a child and living in this house, according to a 2008 lead-poisoning lawsuit filed by Gray and his siblings against the property owner. The suit resulted in an undisclosed settlement.
Reports of Gray’s history with lead come at a time when the city and nation are still trying to understand the full ramifications of lead poisoning. Advocates and studies say it can diminish cognitive function, increase aggression and ultimately exacerbate the cycle of poverty that is already exceedingly difficult to break.
If, as claimed in the video below by a former Baltimore cop, the job of a policeman in Baltimore was to "make your numbers," -- arrest enough people as possible on serious charges -- then likely Freddie Gray's life, or at least his luck, was over the day he was born.

Beyond the squalor of the environment or the misbegotten notion of what policing should, or could, be, what most struck me in the video was that Mike Wood, the cop in the video, had little choice if he was to stay employed as a cop in Baltimore. Keep your numbers of arrests up or, well, just keep them up. That was your job. So after he was assigned a post in an upscale white neighborhood -- what many of us would consider a cushy job -- he was actually in a serious predicament. There was nobody to arrest!

So he went a few blocks away into a beaten-down black neighborhood and made his numbers. How? This was the other thing that was unbelievably disturbing. Talking about interactions with citizens, Mike said, "See, that's even a misnomer in itself, that you walk the beat and talk to citizens, no one does that. I would try to be friendly with people, but really the reality is, if I spent an hour talking to a citizen, that's an hour everyone viewed I should have been out getting statistics," which translated into arrests on serious charges, mostly drugs and guns. What really drove the point home was when Mike said, "What [people on the street] fear most is that we can get away with anything we choose to get away with."

I got the distinct impression -- you will, too -- that Mike wanted to do community policing and had ideas of how it might work, but he didn't seriously feel there was any chance of it happening in Freddie Gray's world any time soon.

Mike Wood, retired early, at 24, because of a shoulder injury. The police commissioner, Anthony Batts, brought in from Oakland, California, to initiate a community policing model was fired weeks after Freddie Gray's death. And on it goes.

Black lives matter. Keep saying it. Maybe someday they will.

Note. Anthony Batts was fired ten weeks after the Freddie Gray murder, not "weeks." Oops.

Fine, Trump Leads in Almost Everything in Iowa. But Carson? Seriously?

If you really think this through and believe him, then fine, vote for the whackjob.

So many commentators, mostly Republicans, are thinking that the GOP is going to go off the rails if they can't stop Donald Trump. Something's happening under the radar that is equally frightening:
In the first major-outlet non-Internet poll since the Republican primary debate last week, it's almost not surprising that CNN/ORC finds Donald Trump retaining the lead in Iowa. Almost. It's still a bit surprising, given Trump's wobbly handling of criticism during the event.
So Trump's up — and Ben Carson has moved into second in the first caucus state. For months, Scott Walker held a sizeable lead in the state. Walker's now in third, according to CNN, with Carly Fiorina, winner of the pre-game debate, jumping into fifth behind Ted Cruz.
Fine. Stop right there. Go look at the cool charts in the WaPo article that shows Trump leading in every category except abortion, where he's behind Huckabee and Carson.

Now, reflect. Is there anybody in this world that thought that the early race for the GOP nomination to run for the presidency would be topped by Trump, Carson, Walker, Cruz, and Fiorina?

Progressive that I am, I find it amusing until I think of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Then I'm sober in a flash.

Apparently in Wisconsin, it's the special interest groups, Scott.

Who can cut $250 million from education and turn it into a $250 million arena? Why, Scott Walker, man of the people, can!
In July, Wisconsin governor and presidential candidate Scott Walker signed a budget that slashed $250 million from his state's higher education system. Wednesday, he signed a bill that would spend $250 million of taxpayer funds on a new stadium for the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks.
Read the article to "not get stuck in the weeds." So, GOPers, your priorities are sports and not education when it comes to tax dollars? If so, Scott Walker's your man. You can have him.

Note. Since I'm really sober now, I've got the mention that if Fox News is the news station of choice of Republicans, and they help produce poll results like these -- and you have to be living in a closet not to notice how "on-message" Fox News is -- then we have entered a new realm of politics. The Kochs are not our worst enemies, yet.

This new realm of politics is, in a sense, actually old, in that grand Rovian, swiftboat way, only now cable-news-driven. For example:

The whole report is here. Reading it is clearer than watching it. But what comes out loud and clear -- if you're inclined to rational thought -- is that this controversy is about Hillary Clinton handling her emails while in office the same way predecessor Colin Powell did without controversy. In Clinton's case, the Benghazi committee harassing Clinton has produced a flurry of investigations that, so far, have produced two emails -- sent to, not by, Clinton -- that were not marked as classified. What should be remembered is that the public will never see these emails if they indeed held classified content or were so classified after the fact, so we won't really ever know. And as small as the story really is, Hillary Clinton will be unmercifully swiftboated with it beyond the 2016. And Fox -- and its audience -- eats this stuff up with a spoon. Ratings, people!!

Carly Fiorina: The Republicans' Hired Hillary Attack Dog (Seriously)

Carly Fiorina: Nice attack dog you got there, Republicans.

It was hard not to notice from the start of Fiorina's campaign that she was going after Hillary Clinton in an outright vicious way. And she hasn't let up. And she's not going away.

Why? Digby (of the venerable Hullabaloo blog and Salon) has caught on to her:
The other day when the donor lists to various campaigns were revealed many noticed an odd curiosity about Fiorina’s donations. A pro-Cruz super PAC controlled by millionaire Robert Mercer (who had written checks for 5 million to Cruz’s effort) sent $500,0000 to Carly Fiorina’s super PAC. How often does it happen that a PAC for one candidate helps one of its rivals in a primary campaign? But New York Times reporter Amy Chozick cleared up the mystery when she tweeted:
Fiorina finance chairs told me supporters of other candidates have thrown them $$$ to have a woman in race attacking HRC.
Now that makes sense. (And it also explains why the Koch Brothers invited her to their recent billionaire meet-and-greet.) The Republicans understand the minefield they are going to be walking if Clinton should become the first woman nominee for president of one of the two major parties. It will be helpful to have a woman on the trail making a slash and burn case against her without incurring the wrath of Clinton’s woman supporters. In her closing statement at the Kiddie Table debate that’s exactly what she promised to do:
Hillary Clinton lies about Benghazi, lies about her emails, she’s still defending Planned Parenthood and she is still her party’s frontrunner. 2016 is going to be a fight between conservatism and a Democratic Party that is undermining the very character of this nation. We need a nominee that is going to throw every punch, not pull punches. Someone who cannot stumble before he even gets into the ring.
I don’t know who she’s talking about there, but I’d guess his initials are J.E.B.
You've got that right, Digby. I wonder, how many Republican candidates will she pummel on behalf of her party? If she's doing the Kochs' bidding, maybe everyone except Scott Walker?

But know this: She'll never be a successful candidate for anything, and she won't stop slamming Clinton as long as the money flows. Stay tuned. And read all of Digby's column. There's a lot to unpack there.

Fun reality check below. She may be slamming Hillary, but one day not so long ago, she got the Morning Joe treatment. hahahahahaha. Ouch:

Steve Ratner added some cred to this takedown. And, she had it coming. How soon we forget, if GOPers out there ever really knew Carly Fiorina like Californians like me know her. High-flying, fast-flopping loser, with a yap in her voice. Perfect for her new job.

Ruth Marcus' Bitter, Unfair Column Against Obama's Defense of the Iran Deal (Which She Supports!)

Ruth Marcus: polishing her bonafides as Post reporter by blasting Obama.

Yes, Ruth Marcus takes Barack Obama to task for disrespecting his opposition on the Iran deal. How does she do it? By disrespecting him on the way he defends a deal she approves. Yes, Marcus approves of the Iran deal and believes that Obama should naturally press for its adoption.

So what's the problem? Hey, Obama, you're not doing it right. What are we, back in middle school again? No, with Marcus we're inside the Beltway where intelligent minds melt into nonpartisan centrists with rat poison in their veins.

Funny thing, it hasn't happened to Barack Obama (he's not a pundit or an actual partisan). He's just gotten tired of coddling an opposition that would disapprove of him making Monday "I-love-those-darned-Republicans-Day!"

Read Marcus' column (plus the priceless comments), then wonder why she sits on the Post perch. Oh yeah, it's because she plays by Beltway rules. Real mature conversation you got going there.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Are Laws Against Prostitution Anachronistic?

The Red Light District of Haarlem, Holland.

When I first encountered the red light districts of Holland back at the tender age of twenty-two -- I spent about a year playing music there right after college -- I found the notion of legal but carefully regulated prostitution to be quite sensible. And that was more than a decade before AIDS devastated the casual sex lives of people around the world. After AIDS, legal, well-regulated prostitution seemed, in an advanced society, almost mandatory.

Now, almost forty-five years later, my sensibilities haven't changed. So I was quite pleased to read a well-thought-out op-ed in the New York Times suggesting that sex for money or gifts in private settings should be considered private, protected behavior. In today's world, that makes perfect sense to me, just as well-regulated, legal prostitution remains a sensible approach to the sex-trade and health issues that arise from sex for money in public settings.

Read this important piece by Laurie Shrage, professor at Florida International University. Just as laws that used to govern private sexual behavior have slowly vanished from law books over the past several decades, so too should anachronistic notions of sex-for-hire be reexamined. Should a woman who hunts for and finds a sugar daddy be prevented for satisfying him in exchange for support and expensive gifts if he freely offers them? That hasn't been thought a crime for, well, forever.

I've never availed myself of prostitutes -- though I accompanied friends who did into some of the brothels and red light districts of Europe -- but I must say I've had a girlfriend or two in my early "courting" years that left me broke and otherwise exhausted. Were they ladies of the night or just engaging, attractive women with a penchant for coke and champagne?

I do recall enjoying them until the money ran out. And, boy, did they like me until then. Oh, well.

I'm sure there are plenty of people with their own stories that brushed the line between love and, well, not quite commerce. Now, all these years later, it's time -- past time -- we sort out what's best for society, with less enforcement of public mores and more emphasis on privacy.

The old Palais d'Amour in Hamburg, Germany.  Jeez, that looks like the VW
Micro Bus I drove around Europe back in 1971-72. I stayed outside, waiting for
my traveling companions. I didn't go in. Why? Morality? Nah. It just wasn't me.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

GOP Candidates to America: We Are All Todd Akin Now!

Todd Akin's contribution to Republican politics: flapping-gum syndrome.

Joan Walsh of Salon noticed something Thursday night. The GOP candidates -- as well as Republican leaders in general -- have embraced the controversy initiated by a string of videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood directors willing to "sell" aborted fetal tissue for profit. These highly edited videos actually do nothing of the kind.

A group of virulently anti-abortionists concocted these stings and, through careful editing, distorted their targets' intentions. Planned Parenthood does indeed assist in the donation of fetal tissue for research, but the only money that changes hands is associated with the costs of transport. Anybody who takes an honest look at the videos knows this.

Enter Republicans in search of a cause. Truth be damned. All we need to do is claim that these videos are "disturbing" and show that liberal abortionists sell human body parts of babies for profit and then laugh all the way to the bank.

When they embrace this position and are willing to defund Planned Parenthood and shut down the government to do it, they risk alienating more than fifty percent of the electorate. Todd Akin here we come.

Joan Walsh of Salon thinks it's a bad move:
But the hoax perpetrated by the Campaign for Medical Progress, to dishonestly claim Planned Parenthood “sells” fetal tissue after abortions, may have backfired on the right, judging from the anti-choice pyrotechnics that erupted on stage in Cleveland Thursday night. CMP intended to hurt Planned Parenthood and Democrats in the run-up to the 2016 presidential campaign. But they seem to have hurt the GOP, by tricking the 2016 candidates into believing there’s more revulsion at both abortion, and at the respected women’s healthcare provider long attacked by conservatives, than there actually is.
The anti-abortion one-upmanship at the debate showed how the candidates are misreading the political opportunities and turning themselves into Todd Akin, the Republican who challenged Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill in 2012. Akin, you’ll recall, was disputing the need for a rape exception to an abortion ban when he told an interviewer that in cases of “legitimate rape,” a woman’s body magically has a way to “shut that whole thing down.” His idiocy helped not only McCaskill but President Obama that year. (Three quarters of Americans believe abortion should be legal in cases of rape, by the way.)
Partisan that I am -- and foe of hypocrisy anywhere -- I hope the GOP field jumps the shark en masse in the abortion debate. Any politician with an ounce of honesty knows that funds given by government to Planned Parenthood cannot by law be used toward abortions, and the vast majority of Planned Parenthood services are aimed at women's health issues having nothing to do with abortion. But will that stop the candidates hoping to rally the Tea-Party-infused conservative base to their cause?

No. It's irresistible. It's a pre-packaged scandal. That it's built on misinformation is, as usual, beside the point. It's like a rattlesnake charm: You shake it at your enemy and America rallies to your side. But, oops, America doesn't agree with conservatives on this one.

It's going to be fun to watch, or would be if there weren't serious negative consequences to women's health. These negative consequences are a feature, not a bug, to the conservative proponents of controlling women's bodies against their will. Hopefully, the GOPers have overplayed their hand just in time to negatively impact their 2016 chances.

If there is one thing to worry about is that low-information voters are susceptible to this kind of ideological charade. How many buy the conservative line, however dishonest it is, remains to be seen. Here's hoping Joan Walsh is right.

Update. NYTimes weighs in on the GOP plight with women post-debate.