Rat vs Rabid Dog

It appears that the one of the most common concerns in the aftermath of this election is that those who voted for Trump feel like they are being attacked as racist, bigoted, homophobic, sexist, etc because Trump is.  Sadly, for most people this was not an election about what you want, but what you’re willing to tolerate.  We had two deeply flawed candidates and most people voted for who they felt was the least worst.   In that scenario it’s not fair to assume people are happy about the character of candidate they voted for.   I voted for Hillary and there is some small consolation in knowing that she won’t be president.  She is entitled, disingenuous, arrogant, and embodies the all infuriating dysfunction of our government.  I don’t think she is worthy our nation’s highest office.  Bush 43 was equally unworthy of the office, and a silver spooned dimwit blindly devoted to failed policy, but I would even have voted for him if the alternative was Trump.

I voted for Clinton because giving Trump the presidency is like letting a rabid dog loose in your house because you have a rat.   It’s fair to say that many people who voted for Trump would prefer not to be sleeping with a rabid dog.  They’re just more scared of the rat.  And they seem to have convinced themselves that just because the dog they’ve enlisted to protect them is mean, erratic, and foaming at the mouth doesn’t mean it’s rabid.  Or they really hope the rabid dog won’t attack them – only the rat.  I sincerely hope they’re right, although there is no justification for that belief.  Unfortunately, now we ALL have to live with that rabid dog.   Trump has a long history of screwing over business partners, investors, employees, contractors, strangers, friends, and his own family.  But somehow he is going to be loyal to you? Trump’s closest allies had to ground him from twitter and we’re giving him nuclear weapons?!?

If I liked you before you voted for Trump I still do, in the spirit of “telling it like it is”: it was stupid and reckless of you to gamble my well-being and yours by empowering this mean-spirited, racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, abusive, thin-skinned, childish, vulgar, delusional, undisciplined, ignorant, greedy, authoritarian, sociopathic, sexual pedator.  If you think any presidential candidate in our lifetime, from either party, is anywhere close to being as unfit for office as Trump you have let your justifiable anger make you delusional and self-destructive.   If you think things can’t get much worse than they are now, or that the world will be better after this dog tears the house apart and bites the neighbors, you are dangerously ignorant about our world and its history.  If I’m wrong (and I sincerely hope I am) and, in the end, Trump is not as horrid as his words and deeds show that he is, you are still a %^$! fool for playing Russian Roulette with our well-being.   I understand your anger with our broken political system, but I am pissed off at you for welcoming this rabid dog into our house.


What is so special about polygamists, Muslims, and gays?

Today the Mormon church announced a controversial new policy aimed at LGBT families.  It makes apostates of married same-sex couples and bars their children from religious rites.

The policy is appropriate if you believe in scriptural Christianity, although extension of that policy to children is a sad result of protecting an institution instead of the people it supposedly exists to serve.   The best example of the damage this policy does to children is described by this gay father whose children most often live with their mother, are active in church, and now cannot be baptized and maintain their relationship with him:

I have done all that I can to ensure that my kids will never have to choose between having a relationship with their father and his partner whom they both love, and being involved in the church that their mother loves.Now, because my boys live with me part time, they are excluded from membership in the church unless they receive approval from the First Presidency. Children of felons and rapists don’t even have such a harsh punishment. I’m really hurting. Just when I thought that I had found a way to live with tolerance toward the church they’ve come out and attacked my family in a very personal way.

There has been a strong reaction to this announcement and the apologists are working hard to defend it with irrational and disingenuous arguments. The most common supporting argument on Facebook suggests that his policy is in place to protect children rather than exclude them. For example:

Children are often denied baptism when they come from homes where their parents are living contrary to gospel principles. Not always, but there are certain circumstances where this is the general rule. Whether this is one or not, I must confess that I haven’t read anything official, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was. The church is very careful to never create discord in a family and so children often must wait until they turn 18 and can make that decision as an adult and not as a child. It’s asking quite a lot for a child to live gospel principles in a home where exactly the opposite is being taught by the parents. I think the church does so to prevent the child from making covenants that he/she will be prevented from keeping. It safeguards them from being held accountable for choices that aren’t theirs to make. This doesn’t sound contrary to any position the church has taken previously. Excluding children in this way isn’t punishment, but is exactly the opposite. It safeguards their covenant making opportunities until they are able to make lifestyle choices for themselves.

This idea seems to makes sense until you realize that the church already has a long standing policy that no minor can be baptized without parental support.   That simple fact negates this whole argument and the false need to issue new rules specific to LGBT families and their children.  A similar argument in a very popular LDS blog post suggests that:

The church does a TON to protect children and spouses from being taught one thing at home and another thing at church.

Bullshit.  The church has never been shy about its willingness to cause doctrinal conflict in families.  And if the bible and the church is true it shouldn’t be.  After all, Jesus taught openly and explicitly that family conflict was his goal: Continue reading

Can a Hedge Fund Manager Build a Toaster?

After my last post about Christianity and the poor I received a well written comment challenging what I’d written.   The primary intent of that post was to point out that conservative economic policy and Christianity are not compatible.  That assertion, interestingly to me, was not challenged.   As a non-Christian, that post was not intended to define what I believe about economic policy and wealth distribution – although it certainly contained some hints.   This post, on the other hand, is all me.

In my utopia everyone would have equal capability and opportunity and we’d all pursue and achieve our individual priorities: free time, money, health, etc.  We’d all be different because of our choices but equally happy because it would all be fair.  Envy wouldn’t exist and happiness would reign.  It’s a good fantasy … when you’re five.  In reality, human beings are hardwired to hoard money and power.  hoardingIntelligence, strength, looks, morality, etc are not fairly or equally distributed – making some people are more effective hoarders than others.  The successful hoarders then form social classes to protect their advantage.  It’s human nature.  Mitt Romney isn’t an asshole because he’s an effective hoarder.  He’s an asshole because he believes his hoard of money and power is a virtue he earned all by himself – independent of everything he was handed by being the son of the CEO of American Motors and Governor of Michigan.  The policies he fought to enact would protect his hoard from the plebs so it can be passed along unmolested and unearned to the next generation of arrogant hoarders.   Warren Buffet, in contrast, is wise enough to recognize and enjoy his good fortune without confusing his hoarding prowess with virtue.

On the other end of the socioeconomic spectrum, the poor start life at a disadvantage.   They are born in debt to the hoarders and grow up without people who can model effective hoarding skills.  Fortunately, we live in a society that still provides enough help that some the smartest and hardest working eventually figure out how to rise.  But there are assholes among the poor too.  Poor assholes want to the same thing rich assholes do: money and power.  Without inheriting it like the rich, they find other perverse ways to get it: violence, drugs, abusing charity.    The difference between Mitt Romney and a dealer on the corner may be just a matter of circumstance.  Both feel entitled.  Both take what they can because they can.  It’s human nature.

There are people getting more than they should on both ends of the economic spectrum.  The question is which is worse?  In my mind, there is no doubt.   Charity for the rich is a FAR bigger problem economically, socially, and psychologically than charity for the poor.  For the middle class the problem with extreme wealth inequality is that 70 percent of the rise in average family income has gone to the top 1 percent of families.  We’re all poorer than we should be in order to allow those at the top to be obscenely rich.  For the poor the problem is even more acute.   Continue reading

The Christian Right is an Oxymoron

Christian conservatives are one of the strongest arguments against religion.  Sadly, most Christians are too ignorant and biblically illiterate to see why.  In some ways being biblically illiterate is understandable.  As literature much of the bible is almost unreadable and it’s content is a conflicting jumble of myth, superstition, sexism, violence, etc mixed with some nice but unremarkable advice about not being a prick to each other.   The bible is such a mess that, although almost every Christian pretends to use it as moral standard, almost none really do.  Every Christian I’ve ever encountered cherry picks the parts they find appealing, ignores the rest, and pretends they’re not responsible for what they decided.  Some do it for good reason but Christian conservatives are the worst examples of this.  Christians who fight to limit access to birth control and embrace republican economic, foreign, and gun policy are throwing out the wisdom in the bible and embracing the shit.  Fortunately for them, god doesn’t exist because if he did he wouldn’t be too happy.  And god is not nice when he’s not happy.

AqJevw7The problem with Conservative economic ideology is that it deifies the wealthy and villainizes the poor.  Conservative Christians, of course, will claim that they DO care about the poor and their policies are more beneficial to those at the bottom than the liberal agenda of wasteful handouts.  I think they genuinely are delusional enough to believe this, but that is because they are blinded by anti-Christian greed.

Their claim that their policies benefit the poor is, for them, merely a happy coincidence: an illusionary side effect they hope will result from pursuing their real anti-Christian goal of getting rich.  Yay, money!  Even the term they use for their policy, “trickle down economics,” makes their real intent clear.  If your goal was to help society as a whole, and not just the rich, tickle down would be an incredibly stupid policy.  You can get from Nevada to California by traveling east but if getting to the LA from Las Vegas is your goal you’d have to be mind-bogglingly stupid not to head west.  In the same way, if your real goal is to help the poor and working classes you’d do it by giving the financial benefit to them directly rather than unnecessarily circumnavigating the globe by filtering government handouts to the rich and letting the scraps trickle down to thtricklee peasants.  When Kayne West gold plates a toilet a plumber and a goldsmith get a job – but do you really think a $100 job to install a golden commode is the most effective way that $250K could be used to improve a plumber’s life? Conservatives were dumb enough to try this policy and stagnant or declining wages and unimaginable wealth accumulation at the top have proven it doesn’t work.  However, no surprise, people don’t learn from evidence when ideology is SOOOO much easier.  There has been enough written about this failed trickle down policy that anyone who hasn’t learned anything yet won’t learn anything here.  But the idea that doesn’t get enough press is that supporting this trickle down policy doesn’t just make you a shitty economist, it makes you a shitty Christian.

What should be Christian policy toward the poor?  These are just a few examples of the Bibles commands: Continue reading

Liberal Christians, Homosexuality, And A Disappointing Left Boob

Me (right) and Crusty (left) shortly before being disabused of our innocence.

I first learned about sex from my best friend Crusty’s perverted older brother.  The summer before he started junior high I was sleeping over in their back yard.  He turned the discussion to sex, as he often did, and warned us that if a junior high girl liked you she would stop you in the hall and demand that you take her to the bathroom and service her immediately.  If you didn’t she would have her boyfriend beat you up.  Whoa.   I was smart enough to be skeptical but stories like this didn’t help reduce my ignorance or anxiety about junior high or sex.  Unfortunately, the stories I got from adults about the hell and shame associated with vague sins like “necking” weren’t any more helpful.  (What the %$#! is necking?)

One afternoon around that time I found myself at home alone – which was a rare treat in a family with six kids.  I decided I had to figure out sex once and for all so I headed for my only hope – the encyclopedias. I grabbed a couple promising volumes and hid behind the couch where if anyone came home I could either hide or return the books and act like I was doing something else before I got caught and punished.  anatomyI spent as much time as I dared frantically looking up every sex related term I could think of before somebody came home and ruined my chance for enlightenment.  I read a really long and horribly confusing medical description of reproduction but I didn’t find any useful information about junior high girls or necking.  I did find some interesting male and female anatomy diagrams where you could overlay cellophane drawings of the various systems: circulatory, respiratory, digestive, skeletal, etc.  The last cellophane page overlaid the left half of the skin and included a breast.  I put myself through a confusing afternoon hiding in a cold sweat and jeopardizing my eternal salvation for an outline of a left boob.

Sex is an important and irrepressible part of the human experience.  Fear of sex  is the natural result of a repressive biblical perspective which results in destructive attitudes and actions like sexual ignorance and misinformation, higher teen pregnancy among believers, unnecessary spread of AIDS and other STDs, bigotry, shame, guilt, genital mutilation, etc.

In spite the bible’s very clear and narrow restrictions on sexuality, I’m amazed by the regular articles I see now published by liberal  theologians and journalists who argue traditional Christians are wrong to believe that the bible condemns homosexuality.  Bullshit.  These well meaning liberal Christians are irrational and /or biblically illiterate.  Continue reading

Why I Don’t Drink

I was raised to believe that alcohol was a sin that would result in, at best, shame in this life and eternal damnation to follow.  That is a pretty strong incentive not to drink.
Since I don’t do things half-assed, I did not taste alcohol for most of my life.  Honestly, however, it wasn’t a difficult decision for me.  I am by nature thoughtful and non-impulsive and I like that.   Making myself less thoughtful and more impulsive has never been an appealing idea to me.

As I transitioned away from Mormonism I also left behind the supernatural fear of alcohol.  Since I left Utah most of my friends drink and most of them who know I’m no longer Mormon have urged me to try it.   All of the people I knowdrinking-thinker who have left Mormonism now drink.  Most Mormons, apparently, don’t drink due to fear and conformity rather than rationality.  But, one of my goals in life, and the reason I’m no longer Mormon, is that I try to live deliberately based on my own sense of integrity. Starting to drink based on social pressure from my friends or
rebelliousness about being raised with a false religious tradition would be at least as pathetic as not drinking based on fear of the supernatural.  Each of these reasons is externally driven and exemplifies living reactively rather than intelligently.

About a year ago, I decided I needed to taste alcohol to remove any doubt that fear or habit was still a driver of my behavior and to gain a little better understanding of what I was missing.  Trying it was interesting and liberating both intellectually and emotionally in important ways.

In the spirit of living with personal integrity I’ve thought a lot about this subject.  These are my conclusions.  I don’t think they apply universally and offer them in the hope that they help explain my situation to my friends or offer thought provoking ideas to anyone on unsure about their own relationship to alcohol. Continue reading

Shortening A Board With A Hammer

wp[1]Light exhibits properties of both a particle and a wave even though these two models seem to be in conflict.  Neither model, or even both together, actually explain what light is.  Both are just useful simplifications of reality to help us comprehend different properties of light.  It would be stupid, but easy, to substitute the complex reality of light for a simplified model of it.  But, you cannot rationally dismiss the particle nature of light even if you find it’s wave properties are more understandable or even more useful to you.  Light is neither model.  The model is not reality.  Particles and waves are both important but imperfect representations of light.  

In a similar way, life is a beautiful and incomprehensibly complex interplay of physical, emotional, intellectual, economic and and social factors.   We have come up a variety of models that help to us understand aspects of this amazing mess.  Some models are more useful than others.  Some are more universal.  Some are more specialized.  Many seem to be in conflict: capitalism vs socialism, Kantian vs utilitarian ethics, conservative vs liberal values, etc.     They are simplifications that only exist because life is too complex to understand directly. They are all wrong to some degree because they are not reality. But, like particles and waves, each of these models is a useful tool. You cannot rationally say that socialism does not have value as an economic model because capitalism is more universal or even more useful.  Both models are valuable tools to understanding life and building an optimal society.

hammer-clipart-hammer_in_hand_Clip_Art[1]If you had to choose a carpenter to build your house and one showed up with a variety of tools and the skills to use them, and the other showed up with just a hammer and a lot of enthusiasm which would you choose?  The later may rightfully assert that you can shorten a board with a hammer, but if you have any common sense you know a saw will produce a much better result.  If a person is a capitalist, socialist, conservative, or liberal and doesn’t see value in alternative models they are a carpenter with only a hammer who is going to build you a shitty house.

Capitalism is the most successful economic model in the history of the world.  No sane person disputes the utility of that model.  Even Chinese communists have openly added capitalism to their toolbox.  It has been so successful that many people now believe it is the universal reality and not just a great tool or model of reality.  However successful and close to universal it is, capitalism is not the best model to apply to every aspect of an economy.  Capitalism requires certain conditions to function well.

One scenario where capitalism is the wrong tool is when marginal costs approach zero.  For example, power plants are typically run as public utilities because competition raises prices for consumers.   The cost to build and maintain a nuclear plant is virtually the same whether running at minimum or peak power.  In situations like this, when the marginal cost of adding more output approaches zero, you need to maximize output to minimize cost.    Two plants competing at half capacity will cost twice as much to run as one operating at full capacity.  As soon as as second plant is added to complete with the existing plant, the cost to generate power for the community will double – and rates will rise equivalently.    Minimizing cost by maximizing output requires a monopoly.  Since it is the legal obligation of a corporation to maximize return for shareholders, a private, unregulated monopoly would be required to financially rape it’s customers.  So communities wisely opt to run power plants as public utilities.   This is a widely recognized limitation of capitalism among skilled economic carpenters.

enron1[1]Enron, on the other hand, was an enthusiastic hammer happy carpenter who convinced California to give up their saw and privatize their energy industry.  Instead of competition lowering cost and improving service as promised – privatization resulted in rolling blackouts across LA. (I was there and getting sent home from work early because our section of town, near Hermosa Beach, was going to be without power in the afternoon.  So, perhaps not all bad.) Then prices skyrocketed.  Then Enron went bankrupt in spectacular fashion.  But if all you know, and ever want to know, is how to swing a hammer – you’ll never look at the result and decide to try shorting the board with a saw.  Instead you’ll decide, “they should have used a bigger hammer.”

Another example of the limitation of capitalism is when consumers and producers have unequal access to power and information – as with doctors and patients.  When I had my heart attack I did not have the knowledge or time to question my doctor, investigate alternatives, or negotiate fees.   Even in non-emergency situations it’s not reasonable to expect a patient to have enough medical knowledge to question a doctors recommendations.  Even when getting a second opinion rarely does a patient have enough information to decide which is the better solution, only which one they prefer.  Doctors should be trusted to put their patients health interests ahead of their own financial interests.  Capitalism is a barrier rather than a support for this goal.

Last example, capitalism is not appropriate for mandatory goods and services.  Unless you’re willing to suggest that people who cannot afford emergency care should just die, you’ve already admitted the limitation of capitalism and the importance of a socialist model.  The question is then, what is right mix of capitalism and socialism in health care?  The rapidly declining cost and improving quality of laser eye surgery is great example of the value of a capitalist model for elective procedures.   On the other hand, hammer happy capitalists would prefer to ignore the anomaly in their model regarding health care for the poor.  Instead of facing the limitation of capitalism, they force people to sneak in through an unlocked back gate and incur the exponentially higher costs of inappropriate emergency room care in lieu of lower costs and better results of preventative care.  They are intellectual cowards who would rather hide from the failures of their model rather than fix it by coming to grips with the the effectiveness of a socialist model in the right situations.

The point of this post is not to define the best place to draw the line between socialist and capitalist models in health care.   The point is that if you don’t genuinely understand the value and limitations of many models, even seemingly conflicting models, you’re going to build a shitty system – whether that is energy, health care, education, etc.

If you’re a capitalist who can’t see any value in socialism, or a liberal who cannot see value in conservatism you’re a bad carpenter and will never be a good one no matter how well you learn to use your only tool.  Adopting a model and defending your favorite “ist” or “ism” to the exclusion of all others is not thinking.  It’s deciding that you’re done thinking. Instead you are going to take your hammer and enthusiastically pound the hell out of everything and assume you’re getting the best possible result regardless of how shitty the outcome.

Ending Financial Aristocracy

Most people I know believe in meritocracy – at least in theory.  Every thoughtful person with a basic knowledge of history and modicum of ethical consistency hates the British royals.  They are a legacy of centuries of violent oppression on a massive scale and they represent the height of unwarranted arrogance.  Their very existence is an offence to moral decency and every “subject” of that horrible inbred family should be embarrassed that royals still walk the planet.

Of course, Americans need to be careful not to get too arrogant.  We don’t have an aristocracy of the womb so much as we have a financial aristocracy. iamloveposter[1]  There is now less economic mobility in the US than most European countries.   One of the most revealing topics to split genuine believers in meritocracy from the delusional believers is the inheritance tax.  Republicans are rebranding this as a “death tax” because, apparently, more people oppose it when you change the label.  This shows two things.  First, it shows that politicians are manipulative bastards who care much more about appearance than substance.  Second, it shows that most Americans are idiots.  Not only because their opinions are so mindless and fickle that they can be changed by a bright new label but also because a “death tax”, if anything, should be MORE appealing than an “inheritance tax”.  Who better to tax than a dead guy?  Dead people couldn’t spend their money if they wanted to.  They’re dead.  They are the PERFECT people to tax.  Taxing dead people will allow those of us still alive and spending to keep more of our money to stay warm and fed.

No surprise a sliver-spooned joke like Bush II pushed to lower the death tax.  That guy is a poster child for a undeserved free ride through life.  The surprise is the number of people who supported it in spite of the fact that it’s contrary to both their self interest and moral code.  If you oppose the death tax it is because merit is only important to you so long as it works in your favor.  As soon as you have the opportunity to get your greedy hands on some unearned income your principles no longer mean $%#! to you.

But I’m a guy who is willing to compromise.  I’m not stuck on trying to force everybody to live by their own principles.  5333481663_Paris_Hilton_xlarge[1] My primary goal is to end our American aristocracy in favor of real meritocracy.  We don’t need to tax the hell out Grandpa’s last $50K to do that.  We do, however, need to tax the hell out of Sam Walton’s last several billions.  At least we need to do that if we want to continue to pretend we’re a country that cares about merit.   We can keep our society functioning by taxing 1 dead billionaire or 100,000 new college grads with families.  Which seems like the more rational, ethical choice?

If I were making the rules I’d suggest we restructure the whole tax code.  I’d eliminate the income tax and fund the government entirely out of an inheritance tax and a luxury based consumption tax.  The consumption tax would apply to all non-essential goods and some essential goods above an average price.

  • Carrots – no tax.
  • Car – no tax up to the average national price for a car, luxury tax above that.
  • Fly Rods – full luxury tax

The details are negotiable but the principle is important.  Without an income tax people can accumulate all the wealth they want.  Although the super-wealthy use their power to take far more income than they deserve, in this tax system that will resolve itself in a generation.  As Warren Buffet suggests, it easier to fix the unequal and undeserved income disparity on the back end via a very progressive tax, as opposed to the front end by limiting income.

To make this a truly meritocratic system, we also need to make college education within every person’s reach.  I propose a national scholarship program.  You get money for higher education based on your placement within your graduating class.  If you’re in the top 10% you get free tuition to any school you can get accepted to.  Top 25% get free tuition at any state school.  Bottom 20% get trade school.  If you want to go to school above your scholarship you pay the difference – assuming you can get in.

The only people who should oppose a tax system like this are those who were planning use daddy’s money to live in undeserved luxury without work or stress – or those who want their kids to do it.  And they’re the problem we need to fix, so if they don’t like it – we’re on the right track.

* Most people’s initial reaction to this plan is: it will never work.  The rich will find ways to pass along the money.  But the death tax won’t kick in until you’re well into the obscenely rich category.  If we were talking $100K, that might be possible to hide.  But it’s pretty hard to hide a billion dollar transfer.  The specific number when the death tax kicks is negotiable.  I’d probably start it at $500K if I were in charge, but I could be comfortable with $5 million or more. 

The other question is: what about family businesses or farms?  First, if the value is less than the cap it’s not an issue.  If the value is more, than the family can buy the rest of the business at market rates. 

I expect to find a devil or two in the details.  However, a system like this can be much simpler than the insane tax code we have now and, unlike our current system, will align with the principles of merit we claim to believe in.

How To Tell If You’re An Actual Human

A corporation is an abstract legal entity created primarily to shield actual human beings from responsibility for group actions.   Yet Citizens United gave corporations the same rights as human beings.  Anybody who has lost the ability to distinguish between a corporation and a human being lacks the common sense that ought to be a minimum requirement to be in charge of anything bigger than picking what’s for dinner.

Romney – More corporation or person?

I have a simple instructional exercise to help anybody who is confused about this: the Romney’s and Alito’s of the world.  This exercise will help them learn the difference and act as a little payback for the damage their stupidity has caused.  I’ll attempt to raise a few welts on their head with a night stick.  If it hurts, you’re a person.   Simple, right? You have the ability to feel actual pain, so you can be held accountable for your actions.  You can’t raise a welt on a corporations head.   Without the ability to feel pain, abstract entities like corporations cannot be held accountable.  Punishing a corporation is like trying to make a psychopath feel bad.  He’s a psychopath because he lacks the ability to feel bad.  That’s why big banks are constantly be caught engaging in criminal behavior.  Punishing “the bank” isn’t possible – “the bank” doesn’t care because it doesn’t feel.  The bastards engaging in the criminal activity behind the big fines still collect their fat bonuses and walk away from the destruction they caused.  Until human beings end up in jail, big banks are going to keep stealing everything that isn’t nailed down.  The Supreme Court is astoundingly wrong to suggest that unnatural corporations have natural rights.  Dumb.  Mindbogglingly dumb.

But repealing Citizens United, and even beating some common sense into its leading supporters, isn’t enough.  There are a few fundamental problems with campaign finance we need to fix regarding transparency and accountability.  I propose these rules:

  • Only actual human beings can be engaged in the political process
  • Every political donation must be publicly traceable to an actual human being
  • You can only be engaged in campaigns that represent you
  • Campaigns should be of limited duration

If you’re not an actual human being you should have no political rights and cannot donate to any political candidate or cause.  No more political donations from corporations, unions, PACs, religions, political parties, or any other group.  Only individuals have political rights and only individuals can contribute.  No more filtering money through intermediaries.  No more strong arming group members into supporting their leaders causes.   No more cowardly bastards hiding behind anonymous donations.  corporate[1]If you don’t have the time or courage or interest to get directly and publicly involved then you don’t deserve any influence.  Every dime should be traceable to an actual human being.   If we make every individual uniquely accountable for their political actions then limiting donation amounts will become much less significant.   As long as there is transparency even if rich people do make insanely large donations voters can be informed about potential conflicts of interest.

Speaking of conflicts of interest, I’m shocked that I’ve never heard anyone discuss the obvious conflict of interest in allowing people to donate to candidates that are not supposed to represent them.  Why in the #$%! are the Kochs or Soros allowed to openly buy influence with my senators and representatives?  They are elected to represent the people of their state, not the richest people from other states.  If you can’t vote for a candidate you shouldn’t be allowed to give them money.  Not a nickel.  Simple.  Easy.   I’m shocked and disgusted that this law doesn’t already exist and I can’t believe it never even gets discussed.

Finally, I think we need to limit the duration of our campaigns.  England’s campaign season is 6 weeks and limited to ~$29 million.   American campaigns spend almost that much just on raising money.  In Britain it’s also illegal to run political ads on TV. (Hallelujah!)   In that system, campaigns have trouble spending enough to reach the limits.   As an Iowan, I know very well what it’s like to drown in political ads.  In the run up to an election everyone I know stops answering the phone, tunes out TV commercials, and fills their recycle bin with flyers (average 3-5 per day).  It is an overwhelming waste.  It would be nice if Americans were informed and open enough to learn from all the ways other counties do things better.  American exceptionalism died with American humility.

Dramatically improving campaign finance, and politics in general, would be simple if we had the will to do it.  It’s an indictment of the American political system and American citizens that we haven’t.  Instead we have a system, led by dumbasses like Alito and Romney, that keep whoring out our political process to special interests no matter how far they have to stray from basic common sense to do it.

Delusional Vigilante Fantasies

If you’re a man with two functioning testicles you understand the appeal of guns. If you have more than three functioning brain cells you recognize they must be regulated.  The question is, what is the right level of regulation?

cruzIf everybody thought like me we’d adopt Japan’s gun laws.  I’d happily give up ever shooting a gun again to live a society with virtually no risk of people getting shot.  But most people I know don’t agree.  We live in a democracy and I am happy to compromise. I’m even willing to make 90% of the compromises.  But I’m unwilling to accept our current gun culture and the NRA fight to make the already horrific problem worse.  I am unwilling to live in a war zone.  People unwilling accept basic accountability for guns are gun nuts as opposed to gun owners.

This is not a discussion about the legality of guns. This is a much more important discussion of the morality of guns. Too often conversations on gun control devolve into an argument over the meaning of the ambiguous wording of the poorly written second amendment. Clearly, that is an argument that can never be won.  That is exactly why gun nuts love to retreat there. Getting hung up on interpreting the second amendment is a cowardly way to avoid having to morally defend their position.  The constitution is not a moral guide.  After all, it %$#ed-up the question of slavery – perhaps the easiest moral question in human history.  The constitution is purely political.  It helps define what the law is – it has no bearing on what the law should be.

There are certainly legitimate reasons to own guns. No carnivore can rationally argue against hunting.  Killing a wild animal to eat is more humane than enslaving and killing a domesticated one.  And few people, apart from Jesus (that ignorant goddamn socialist), argue against a right to self-defense.

I have only heard one reasonable argument against fighting for reasonable gun control. Stephen Dubner, one of the authors of Freakonomics, argues that our problematic gun culture is so entrenched that if our goal is purely to save lives there are other problems with much bigger impact that are much easier to solve.  Auto safety is a good example.   From a practical perspective, he makes sense. From a moral perspective, however, I am unwilling to accept that we should have to live the state of fear that is exacerbated and encouraged when we create a war zone by arming everyone everywhere.   It may take generations to fix because of the severity of the problem gun nuts have created.  But we still have a moral obligation to get started.

Many argue that the problem can’t be solved.  That is willfully blind bullshit.  If you go out in the morning and encounter an asshole, he’s an asshole.  If you encounter assholes all day, you’re the asshole.  We’re the outlier.  We’re global asshole.  We’re the only civilized country with a vigilante gun culture and off the charts homicide levels.  Everybody else does this better than us.  We  are just the only nation that is too xenophobic to learn from everybody else and too callus to really care about 10,000 gun homicides every year.gun ownership countries

There are simple compromises that will make a significant difference over time with little burden to legitimate gun rights:

First, background checks must be universal and mandatory. No exceptions.  This is a no-brainer.  There are many cases of people who fail, or would fail, background checks who buy guns from private sellers instead and use them to slaughter people.  Gun nuts like to argue about the numbers: estimates are that 40% of all gun sales do not involve background checks and 10% of all online gun buyers are there because they cannot pass a background check.   There are legitimate reasons to question the accuracy of these numbers – mainly because the bastards that run the NRA and the congressional whores they’ve purchased have made it impossible, if not illegal, to collect actual data.  Regardless, I don’t care if these estimates are exaggerated.  Whether your bucket is 60% watertight or 90% watertight you still need to replace your shitty bucket.

But background checks are not enough.  We also need to start collecting data on gun use from doctors, hospitals, law enforcement, gun shops, universities, etc. so we can improve our legal framework and enforcement. The NRA fight that makes it illegal to collect information on gun use proves those evil bastards know their insane positions cannot stand up to reality.

Next, every gun should have to be publicly registered to an individual. Unless you’re buying a gun to shoot yourself, gun ownership is not private or personal.  Every gun owner must be accountable for the use of their guns. Unless you report that gun stolen, you are an accomplice to any crime committed with it.   Anyone caught with an unregistered weapon will be prosecuted.  Anyone convicted of a violent crime will be crosschecked against the gun registry and have their weapons confiscated. This will help enable us to get guns out of hands of criminals.  Responsible gun owners legitimately concerned about self defense shouldn’t want to keep their guns secret – advertising their gun ownership will make them a less likely target for criminals – which is exactly what they claim to want.

Finally, semi automatic weapons with high-capacity clips should be illegal. The likelihood of a citizen ever legitimately needing more than a few rounds in a clip is astronomically low and the likelihood of ever being able to responsibility use more than a few rounds is even lower.  The heroic shootout where a mild mannered gun packing hero emerges victorious is merely a vigilante wet dream.  If your goals require a semi automatic weapon with a high capacity clip you are probably the psycho we need to defend against.  I understand that a statement like “assault weapons” is too ambiguous to be the foundation of a law.  As long as we have the same objective – limiting the ability to kill at scale – a more specific definition can be negotiated.  As long as gun nuts insist on retaining a militaristic ability to kill lots of people quickly we will never find common ground and gun nuts will continue to use legalistic, linguistic rhetoric to obfuscate, obscure, and distract rather than offer a defensible moral justification.

One of the frequent arguments against these common sense ideas is that it will cause too much hassle and gun owners don’t believe in government competence. The hassle is a legitimate concern. There will, of course, be some degree of bureaucracy, delay, mistakes, and general governmental incompetence.  However, if you believe that your inconvenience outweighs thousands of deaths you need a new moral code.

Another way gun nuts divert attention away from common sense gun law is to claim this is a mental health issue – not a gun issue.  Bullshit.   Our daily mass shootings involve guns 100% of the time.

They involve someone with known mental health issues 5% of the time.  I would absolutely welcome any idea that will help keep guns away from people with violent tendencies and provide them with help.  However, until gun nuts actually push legislation to address what they claim to believe is the problem we’ll all know this is is nothing but a sick and cynical diversion from the issue that is common to 100% of the events to focus blame instead on a fringe issue they don’t really care about and that is relevant in only 5% of the events.

None of these gun regulation ideas ideas are radical.  We regulate cars and we can’t regulate guns?  To operate a car you much be tested, licensed, and insured and these have to be renewed and inspected regularly. We have traffic laws to regulate where, when, and how fast you can go.  We have safety requirements for manufactures that include crash tests, air bags, and seat belts.  We even ticket people who don’t WEAR their seat belt.  We have large numbers of special police that exist only to enforce our car specific laws.   Yet we can’t implement the simplest, most common sense, gun laws.

We regulate cars in spite of the fact that they are universally acknowledged as a personal and social benefit that far outweighs their cost in lives.  Nobody in the world proposes we should stop driving – or even curtail it.  Even the Amish, who religiously oppose modern life including education and cars, openly cheat and ride in hired cars.  But because we’re not stupid we tightly regulate our universally beloved cars to minimize their safety risk.  Yet for most people in the world, and rational Americans, guns – unlike cars – do to not have a similarly obvious social benefit that far outweighs their cost in innocent lives.  If even they did, if we weren’t irrational hypocrites we’d still regulate them at least as much as we regulate cars.

There is one other extreme justification people use for amassing arsenals of unregulated weapons. Some people believe they have a right, and even obligation, to maintain the capability to violently overthrow their own government. This idea is an outdated, delusional, and hypocritical.

America is a divided country.  American citizens can’t agree on jack shit and presidential elections that are won by anything more than a few percentage points are considered a landslide.  This would not be a war of all Americans, red and blue, united against a corrupt government.   In the gun nut’s fantasy I think it is save to assume they’re going to be fighting on the minority / losing side.  (If they were on the majority / winning side they wouldn’t need to fire off a violent rebellion.)  And they’re going to start a bloody civil war against their own legitimate, democratically elected government? Because, for example, they can’t have 20 round clip?

And it won’t be Obama that will be coming personally for their guns – or whatever other issue sets them on their murderous rampage.  It will be the military personnel that they claim to adore.  Are they willing to murder their fellow citizens for doing their job? Even if they are willing, do they think they’re capable of taking out a squadron of marines in a firefight?  And are the rest of us willing to continue to live under a legal system that enables these nuts to stockpile militaristic weapons to enact their ridiculousness, murderous fantasies whenever they feel slighted by democracy?

If a national apocalypse really did happen it wouldn’t look anything like the gun nut fantasy.wolverines  It won’t be a Red Dawn style assault by a military with conventional weapons.  If it comes it will be covert – ushered in slowly by infringing on civil rights for a arguably legitimate cause.  Many of the same people stockpiling guns are currently fighting to yield their fundamental freedoms in the name of counter terrorism.

In the real world, violence is the least effective way change a society. Consider Tunisia, which had the lowest firearm ownership rate in the world (890 times fewer guns per capita than the US) yet its people toppled a brutal, 24-year dictatorship and sparked the Arab Spring.  The fantasy of a violent overthrow of the US government shows a mindless hypocrisy born out of a lust for vigilante power at any price.

The inexplicable resistance to simple, common sense gun laws can be explained by three words: delusional vigilante fantasies.  I have no issue with guns in the hands of rational, responsible people for legitimate purposes, but we need to stop allowing gun nuts to define the culture and continue pushing us into living in a perpetual war zone with more guns and less control.

I have little hope that this post will change gun nuts minds because their opinion is not based on reality.  It is based on irrational fear and heroic fantasy – which no amount of evidence can disprove.  If you’re willing accept almost daily mass murders to protect your delusions, what is a blog post going to do?    If we’re going to improve the situation, the rational majority, including many gun owners who are reasonable and responsible, need to do change the law over gun nuts howls and violent threats.  We need to care enough to become a stronger and louder voice to our politicians than the NRA gun lobby and their mindlessly zealous minions.  Until we become that strong political voice we may care, but we don’t care enough.    I’ve only given financial support to two politicians or political causes in my life.  One of them is Everytown For Gun Safety.  I will never vote for a candidate who is too much of a gun lobby whore to even support universal background checks, regardless of their other positions, and have written my representatives to let them know.

Responsible owners are willing to be accountable for their guns and moral people are willing to put up with some inconvenience to save lives.   Irresponsible and immoral gun nuts should no longer be allowed to dictate our gun culture.  It is literally killing us.