Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Screwing with Advertisers

From: Bryce Newfound
To: Dpaladin
Subject: Website Analysis

Your web site is really good but you could be missing out on a lot of online
business because of where your site shows up on the major search directories. A few
simple changes could greatly increase your web traffic and your bottom line. Reply
to us and we will give you a free analysis of your site and show you what will make
the difference for your business. Include the best way to reach you with the

Bryce Newfound

From: John Hummel
To: Bryce Newfound
Subject: Re: Website Analysis

Dear Mr. Newfound,
Thank you very much for your offer, but I'm not sure you're aware of the nature of my web site.

My web site is geared towards people addicted to gambling porn. Gambling porn is much like regular porn, only it involves only dice, cards and pool sticks. As a personal victim, I can tell you that few things are as arousing as the feeling of rolling dice in my hands. The way the cue stick slides through your fingers. Or the silky feel of the cards moving. Slipping through my palm. Back and forth. Until you slam it on the table. Hard. Show it! Show your cards! Yes! Flush me, baby!

I'm sorry. I got all worked up again.

It is wonderful that you're interested in assisting our support group with more notice on the Internet. Perhaps it will be possible for more people to understand this terrible affliction. Those who can't go past Vegas without needing to feel the chips rubbing against their fingers. The people who's eyes move away from the showgirls because they're mesmerized by the spinning roulette balls. So hard and bouncy.

But - odds are your service isn't what we need. But hopefully, if you suffer the same way I do, you're ready to find a cute.

There is hope, Mr. Newfound. Someday, you will look at a deck of cards without sporting a major erection. Until that day occurs, always know there is a time to hold 'em, and a time to walk away.

John Hummel

Thursday, December 02, 2010

I say Happy Holidays. Deal with it.

It's that time of year again, for frenzied shopping and finding that perfect gift. Tinsel and trees, lights and colors declaring that this is the time of the holiday season.

And, sure enough, people are already getting offended if you happen to say the word "holiday" instead of "Christmas." Once again you have groups like the AFA saying that they're going to boycott Dick's sporting good store because they dared to say Holiday instead of Christmas. "Jesus is the reason for the season!" people declare.

It seems that every time this year, I wish Happy Holidays to someone, and I get a very angry "It's Merry Christmas!" back. And no, I'm not kidding. I've had people tell me very angrily that "Well, I say Merry Christmas, and if they don't like it, then they can just deal with it!"

You know - nobody really minds if you want to say Merry Christmas. Really. I don't give a shit.

I'm still saying Happy Holidays.

I say it because sorry, Christians, you don't have a monopoly on the month of December. Jesus was *not* the reason for the season (considering he was more likely born in the spring than the winter). Christmas itself is an older pagan holiday called Saturnalia that Christians took over from the Romans. That's right - the reason for the season is Zeus's daddy.

I say "happy holidays" because I don't know if the person I'm talking to is Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, atheist or otherwise. I don't care - I want whatever holiday they celebrate to be a good one, and if they (like the Puritans - you know, those Christians who fled Europe to help found the United States) decide not to celebrate any holidays, then I still wish them well.

I say "Happy Holidays", and anyone who takes offense to that is a selfish dick. Because for them, it's not about wishing "Peace on earth, good will to men", or heeding the words of the man they claim to follow when he said "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." For them, it's about dominance. It's about "I'm better than you, my god is better than yours and you'd better acknowledge that." The people who protest a company for wishing "Happy Holidays" upon its customers don't care about "Happiness" - they care to remind people that in this season of togetherness, that they don't *want* to be together with *you*.

So Happy Holidays, everyone. And for those who want to take offense because I'm not specifying your particular holiday - you can just suck my yule log.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

I am a horrible, horrible person

Telephone: Hi, this is SomeDude from American Express.

Me: Um - ok, sure.

SomeDude: Well, we're calling because you qualify for our accidental insurance program - should something happen to you, get laid off, get into an accident, your bills will be covered.

Me: Is this a joke?

SomeDude: No, sir.

Me: Look, I don't know how you got into my medical records. But it's bad enough the doctor tells me that I've only got 30 days to live. I'm trying to get my affairs in order, and *now* you guys call up because you're worried I won't be able to make my credit card payment before - before I - go?

SomeDude: No, sir! That's not -

Me: I had to tell my wife earlier today that I'm not going to make it to Thanksgiving, and now you guys are already up about making sure you get yours. Well, you can just take me off of the call list. Let me have some peace, all right? I - I just want to have some peace.


My Lovely Wife (MLW): You're evil.

Monday, November 01, 2010

ABC: You're Demonstrating how the media is failing us

Breitbart. If the name sounds familiar to you, you might first need to put the words "liar" and "complete and utter asshole" around the word. Andrew Breitbart is probably most famous for giving the world James O'Keefe's selectively edited videos that made ACORN look like an organization that supported prostitution and drug trafficking . As the world has since found out, it turns out O'Keefe's "pimp" outfits were staged, and the ACORN employees "interviewed" were trying to stop what they thought were crimes about to be perpetrated by O'Keefe.

Of course, Breitbart said it wasn't his fault, it was all the fault of the media for not checking the facts. Which leads us right to the Shirley Sherrod scandal, where Breitbart released a video acquired through "anonymous" sources that painted Dept of Agriculture employee Shirley Sherrod as a racist black woman who hated white people.

You might be shocked to hear this, but it turns out that the video of Ms. Sherrod speaking was edited to make the exact opposite point that she was originally trying to make, that it's wrong to discriminate against people.

So we have an established pattern from Breitbart, to have people shoot videos, then edit them to make them look bad. He promotes liars. He targets minorities or organizations that help minorities and works to discredit them through lies.

And now ABC has hired Breitbart to be part of their election coverage on Tuesday.

I'm not going into the problems ABC is having with their new coworker. What I am going to say is that this is the problem with the modern news media. They're not interested in the truth - we know this because they hired Breitbart in the first place. They're interested in controversy, in having monkeys screeching at each other and people watching the poo flinging competitions.

There's any number of people they could have asked to participate. Experts in political opinion. Statisticians who can compare polling results against incoming information. Former politicians discussing their views on what went right or wrong.

But - no. They hired for "controversy", for entertainment of having people on opposing sides of the political spectrum "fighting it out." They could have brought us useful information, an interesting debate between conservative and progressive ideas.

Instead, they opted to serve up a bullshit sandwich slathered with douche drippings and call it a meal. So I'm just letting ABC know:

You're cut off. I'm not watching you in any way, shape or form. No web site, no TV shows. Nothing. Because you're not worth it.

Call me when you're interested in delivering actual worthwhile information that will help people make intelligent decisions, instead of sitting back with the popcorn watching the equivalent of professional wrestling disguised as political discourse.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dear Tea Party, Stop Supporting Racists

One thing I keep hearing from people in the Tea Party is "The liberals and the media are trying to paint us as a bunch of ignorant racists to discredit our cause!"

I can understand the complaint. If I was accused of being a racist without cause, or being ignorant without cause, I'd be pretty pissed off as well.

But the problem is, the Tea Party isn't getting these accusations without cause. Now, I know, "Oh, well, that's just isolated pockets", or "The Tea Party has such a diverse membership you're sure to find some areas with problems."

Here's my problem: it's one thing if you have some lone wolf in the crowd being an asshole. That happens within every group. But when it's the candidates you support, when the crowd sits back and cheers it on or refuses to act against the racist violent members in their midsts, then you can't claim it's an isolated problem.

When the leader you pick says its easier for minorities to make money selling drugs than getting an education, then yeah - I'm going to say that the people who selected this man to run for office are racists.

Sharon Angle has an ad where Hispanics are patrolling the fence, here to take away jobs and college benefits from an all-white group of college students.

And another Sharon Angle ad that shows Hispanics as scary gang members and arrested while "US citizens" (aka - white people) live in fear of the scary brown people:

Angle, if you may recall, won her Republican primary thanks to Tea Party support. If this is the candidate that Tea Party members pick, then it's perfectly within reach to call the Tea Party movement racist for supporting racists like Angle.

When the NAACP issued a report showing how there were elements in the Tea Party movement that were racist, this was the perfect opportunity for the Tea Party memebers to say "Good! We can now find these members within our midst and evict them from the movement." And while there were some token dismissals, you still have some of the largest groups like Tea Party nation call for a Muslim free congress - and still enjoy the support of Tea Party members rather than moving to expel and reject such notions, you don't hear a peep.

You can't say that racism and bigotry are isolated incidents when the leaders that your group selects and supports are saying and doing the bigoted things. Now, I know, someone will say "But those are just isolated incidents! You're blanketing the whole party based on the views of a few!"

No. I'm basing the whole party based on the leaders that they choose. You may not be judged by the company you keep, but you should be judged based on whom you choose to lead your movement.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Immorality of Security Agencies

Last weekend I got new service with Verizon, and during the shuffle from one telephone service provider to the next my phone number was changed. They say it's going to take a week or so to get back.

In the meantime, it seems that our new temporary number has been leaked to every energy, lawn service, and home service company for 50 miles, all calling up to offer their assistance.

Most of these I give a "thank you, no, do not call again." A few when they try to push their "Free $50 gift certificate (with a $500 purchase)!", I tell them that it's against my religion to accept gift cards, since it interferes with our ability to worship Miyamoto and his most holy Mario Brothers.

But when ADT called about having a sign on my lawn - even if I didn't have the service, they'd give that to me for free as long as I put the sign on my lawn! I was very blunt that they should not call again, their services were not wanted, and they were to stop calling my house ever again.

"There's no need to be so rude about it," the salesman said. "We're not offering the service. We're working with the local police department in a marketing campaign-"

"You're working for a fucking evil company that wants to put a sign on my lawn to make people think that I support your taxpayer profiting company when I do not. Never darken my door with your shadow, and never take up my time with your phone calls."

And that's when I hung up.

Yes. I'm serious. I think that ADT and the other companies of their ilk are evil. They're as evil as health insurance companies, who stand to profit by finding ways to deny people's health care and pay CEO's multiple millions of dollars.

Think about what ADT does: they provide a service where you pay them every month, and when a smoke alarm goes off - they call the fire department. If a door opens when the alarm is set or a sensor detects a window is broken - they call the cops.

And I sit here asking - why am I paying you - to call the cops?

They show commercial after commercial of attractive white women terrified in their homes as a burglar kicks in the door the second their husbands leave. They cower while the alarm goes off, clutching children while ADT calls the cops.

And again, I wonder - why am I paying them to call the cops?

Why isn't this a basic service, where communities say "If you have the hardware installed, if the fire or break-in alarm goes off, the system auto-dials 911 and puts in a code that either says 'fire' or 'suspected robbery in progress'?

ADT is basically making money sitting between your home, and the services that your tax dollars pay for. They take in the profit when they're paid every month. According to David Cay Johnson, author of the book Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill), 99% of alarms generated by these security systems are false alarms, furthering costing the taxpayers even more money.

And there's no incentive to fix it.

So no, ADT, Brinks and the rest. I don't live my life cowering in fear. And I think your service should just be a part of a communities fire and police and other emergency systems. You can make money installing or selling the equipment, but after that, be gone.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Crazy Comes Full Circle

Several years ago I listened to a book on tape The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror. I hope any readers of this blog and the author will forgive me for any mistakes I make in referencing that book.

That said, there was a fascinating part discussing how the ideas of Millennial Rule propogated from one group to the next. The idea isn't new, but the most common thread starts with the Book of Revelations in the Bible. It goes something like this:

  • There's going to be a time of great trouble.
  • The world is divided into The Good and The Evil.
  • Eventually, the Evil will be destroyed.
  • Once all evil has been eradicated, there will follow 1,000 years of happiness and joy for the Good people left over.

In the case of the original story in Revelations, this was tied into the early Christian church and Yahweh worship. Eventually, everybody would believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of Yahweh and the Redeemer of the World, all the bad people would be cleansed off the earth, and everything would be awesome.

Ever since then, various groups tried to use this idea, only with changes, and with each adaptation the concept, the Good and the Evil was changed. You start off with Christians being The Good and everybody else being The Bad.

Then came along people like Lenin and Stalin. But in their view, it was the bourgeois (aka the rich and powerful) versus the proletariat (aka the regular/poor people). Once you got rid of all of the rich people and destroyed their power, then you'd have a utopia that would last for at least a thousand years.

Then the Nazi's came along, and they said "Oh, no no no. You guys have this all wrong. See, it's the Aryans who are the Good and the pure ones, and the Jews/gypsies/homosexuals/anybody but Aryans who are the Evil - especially the Jews. So if we just kill off all of the Jews, then anyone else non-Aryan, then we'll have a 1,000 year Reich where everyone will be happy."

Then, if my recollection of The Crisis of Islam is correct, this idea was then picked up by the Baathists. Certain scholars were in Germany as World War II was starting up,and when they returned to the Middle East they said "You know, these Germans have a great idea - only they got it all wrong. Clearly, the Arabians (or the Persians if you were in Iran) are The Good, and everyone else (especially the Jews!) are The Evil. So if we just get rid of all of the Jews and then the non-Arabians, only Good people will be left and we'll have a thousand years of peace."

Guess what happened when Al-Qaida popped up? In their case, The Good were Muslims (at least, their brand of Islam which was much more strict and something like you see the Taliban go by), and the Evil was everybody who wasn't Muslim - or their brand of Islam. Originally, they were attacking other Muslims in the Middle East, since if they could get rid of the "not strict enough Muslims" then they'd have peace. But then they decided that they had to get rid of the non-Muslims first, then go after the not-strict-enough Muslims - so Al-Qaida shifted its attention to the United States.

So where am I going with this? Well, it turns out that this crazy, stupid notion that if only you could get rid of (really, kill off) The Evil and then everything will be wonderful has once again returned to Christianity.

OK, it never really left it - there have been groups that have been looking forward to The End Of The World and the Destruction of the Non-Believers since at least 50 CE. This has been true in the United States, between the Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and so on.

That said, those groups have been fairly benign compared to the other groups I mentioned. However, the US is now facing a new round of crazy. Take Hawaii, where a candidate for governor who's a member of a church that is campaigning against witches.

Witches. In the year 2010. And not just witches, but they want to go about and "If you have any idols in your home, we're gonna burn 'em! If you have any witchcraft items in your home, we're gonna burn 'em!" It's what you see in the Tea Party/David Barton/Glenn Beck historical revisionism that tries to convince people that the United States was always meant to be Christian, that the Founders didn't want any other religion than Christianity - and if you're of any other religion, or believe set, or even don't have a religion other than Christianity: then you must be evil.

It's a notion that seeks to replace all knowledge such as in the Texas schoolboard system to get rid of the ideas of The Evil (aka - non-Christian), because if we could just get rid of those, then we'd have a perfect country and have 1,000 years of peace and happiness. It's the same thinking that produces people like Christine O'Donnell, a Senate candidate who doesn't believe that the 1st Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits government from establishing religion. It's what leads people to make stupid comments like "Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims.".

The stupidity, the rank fearmongering isn't astounding. What's astounding is how many people are falling for it, and willingly embracing it.

It's the same old tribalism that "if only The Other" would

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Who's Holding the Foreclosure Bag?

Another day, another revelation regarding the utter clusterfuck that is the foreclosure crisis. Now we're learning that the original reason why the major banks were halting foreclosures was because they were using notaries to sign foreclosure documents without reading them or verifying that the documentation was complete.

One of the biggest issues with this is the entire idea of who actually has ownership of the title to a home. Usually, you go to the bank to buy a house. They give you a loan, and in return, they hold onto the documents that give them ownership of the home as verified by the local and state governments where the house resides. Once you pay off the mortgage, they transfer that paperwork over to you. If you sell the house, you transfer ownership of those papers to the new owner - or the new bank holding the mortgage.

Only the last decade saw mortgages traded between banks like they were Pokemon cards. They were sold off to major investment firms, slices up and sold into CDOs and other complex financial "instruments" - and it turns out that the important paperwork that actually defines who owns the home may have been lost in that process. And tracking it down can cost hundreds of man hours *per house* - if not thousands depending on the number of times it was traded about.

So when the banks went to foreclose on people, they submit paperwork to the courts saying "We own the house. This person has a mortgage with us, and they haven't been paying. So they must leave the house so we can take ownership of it and sell it to someone else instead. And here's the signature of the foreclosure agent in the bank who has reviewed this paperwork to verify it's all correct."

Two problems:

1. It turns out the foreclosure agents in the bank weren't reading the documents, because with 800 foreclosures to review a week, there was simply no time.

2. The banks in a growing number of instances are finding that they don't exactly know where the title of the house wound up, or if they were properly transferred ownership of the house. And in a time when so many companies have been going out of business - even financial ones - it may be impossible to find out who actually owns the house.


Now, here's where things get worse - turns out the banks have been drafting Wal-mart floor employees, line workers - anyone with a pulse who "review and sign foreclosure documents" without knowing what any of it means.

I get why they did it. The banks need an army of people who can just crank through documents, sign them, and then have them forwarded back to legal so they can kick people out of their houses as fast as they can.

Here's my question, though:

Who's legally obligated to pay the price for submitting fraudulent documents?

The second those documents hit the courts with the signature of "This has been properly reviewed and we own the house" and it's *not true*, that's fraud. So whom will the courts go after? The banks who hired people and submitted the documents?

My money is the banks are going to scapegoat the people they hired with the attitude of "Well, if you didn't understand it, you shouldn't have signed it. So now the judge is going to fine you for having submitted bad documents.

"Oh, and you're fired because you submitted fraudulent documents when we told you to."

I'm afraid we're going to see the latter more than the former. And I'd love to see our government prevent that from happening. It's amazing how when there's a financial collapse or toxic spill the CEO's and executives aren't under any criminal or financial blame - but I won't be surprised to see the grunt workers in this case get caught holding the bag for all the court fees when they come due.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Justice for Those Who Can Afford It

You know the idea that if you can not afford a lawyer, one will be provided to you? The part in the Miranda warning:

You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?

Now it turns out - who cares about getting an attorney if you can't afford it? Now you have states that are making poor people pay for their public defenders.

Hey - maybe we'll be able to use those modern debtor's prisons that are coming back into vogue.

Arresting CEO's - This Is What "Being on the People's Side" Looks LIke

Recently, there was a huge toxic spill that caused destruction of property. The material was released because of apparent negligence by the company storing the toxic material because they ignored safety regulations.

Now, if this was, say, the BP disaster in America, you know how it goes: there's some payments, massive ads run by the company that's hurting the environment telling people how they're helping, then a cover up.

Turns out - that's not how Hungary responds when companies spill toxic chemicals across their country. When a toxic spill harmed 150 people, the CEO of the industrial plant was arrested.

Boom. You want to screw with the environment? You get thrown in jail. You don't get to go around telling people how awesome you are, or how you're going to fix it while spending millions in TV ads. You are arrested for hurting people.

Symbolic? Maybe. But it tells every other would be polluter: This could be you. You will not get away, you will not go home to sleep in your comfortable bed while people suffer. You will be put into prison and be treated like the criminal you are.

Man. Makes you wonder how things might change in the United States if a few more CEO's of companies involved in criminal wrongdoing did a perp walk of shame.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Foreclosures, Judgments, and Congresses Betrayal

It's hard not to feel a bit irritated right now at the United States political system.

When the healthcare debate raged, Single Payer (where everybody in the United States would be signed up for Medicare) was off the table - couldn't even be brought up for debate. The same thing was true with the Public Option (which would have created a government run not-for-profit company). Or even stronger regulations on Wal-Street, or any number of things that "well, we can't get that past the Republicans or the Blue Dog democrats - bummer!"

Now, let's go into recent events. Those with memories lasting longer than a goldfish may remember there was a near financial meltdown of the financial industries, one caused by banks giving far too many mortgages to people who shouldn't have had them so they could sell the mortgages to investment firms on Wall Street. When this bubble finally popped, these financial institutions - which were also tied into people's retirement and pension funds - basically said "give us money or else the whole United States economy will collapse!"

So the American public did. And in return - well, the economy doesn't fall apart, but when it came time to help small business with loans, the response from the major banks was "Well, we're going to hold onto our money so we can buy out other places when *they* go under."

And then in the process, housing foreclosures started in. Attempts made by the Obama administration to curtail this were admittedly weak - but let's face it: the banks weren't interested in playing ball. Story after story of banks being unwilling to work with homeowners who are underwater or facing changing interest rates from mortgage.

Just when the foreclosures were rising - we find out that the courts have started paying attention and making banks prove that they actually own the homes they're foreclosing on. We're finding banks evicting people from houses they don't own.

In order to foreclose on a home, the bank has to prove:

1. That they actually own the home (remember - the homeowner is paying a loan on the house, and until it's paid off, the bank is supposed to own the home).
2. That the person they have the mortgage with is actually the person who signed the paperwork.

So imagine the shock and horror in the financial system when courts are actually making them prove they own the house in question - this after the years of trading houses back and forth like Monopoly cards. And to make matters worse, it turns out that the people working in the banks to review and sign the paperwork were signing the documents as complete without even looking at them. Literally thousands of foreclosure submissions to the courts were sent without the banks actually making sure they actually had the title to the home let along the proof they owned it.

Banks like Bank of America brought a halt to foreclosures at the realization that they courts could toss out their foreclosures. Attorney generals start launching investigations to see if there was fraud involved in claims to the courts that the paperwork is complete.

And then - along comes Congress to the rescue. Oh, they couldn't do Single Payer. They couldn't get a vote for weeks on giving the 9-11 first responders health care or voting on the budget increasing Bush tax cuts because the Democrats didn't have a spine.

Then along comes a bill that would say that courts have to accept the paperwork from banks as being properly checked as long as it has a signature of a notary. Oh, I know - the literal language just says:

Each Federal court shall recognize any lawful notarization made by a notary public licensed or commissioned under the laws of a State other than the State where the Federal court is located if--
(1) such notarization occurs in or affects interstate commerce; and
(2)(A) a seal of office, as symbol of the notary public’s authority, is used in the notarization; or
(B) in the case of an electronic record, the seal information is securely attached to, or logically associated with, the electronic record so as to render the record tamper-resistant.

Oh - sounds innocent. It just says that if a notary has signed it, then it shall be "recognized". The courts would have to accept it. All of the sudden, all of those problems with foreclosures would just go away - banks could submit their paperwork and the courts would have to accept it - and if there are any problems, well, how were we the banks supposed to know that the notaries didn't do their job?

That's not what bothers me. The major banks are crooked and out to make a buck for themselves and screw anybody else. But Congress passed this law in the Senate by Unanimous Consent - in other words, they didn't debate it. Just as the banks needed some help - along comes the Senate to pass a law that helps them.

No questions. No "hey, what's up with this?" Just "Oh, hey, sure - both Democrats and Republicans can get behind a bill that just happens to save the bacon of the major banks who don't want to hire the manpower to actually review their paperwork or verify they own the homes."

Heaven forbid the major banks that wrecked the economy, then got loans to save themselves, then refused to help out anybody but themselves now that they're faced with spending more money in verifying the paperwork they're submitting is correct, in verifying that the people they're throwing out of houses are actually the right people - instead, they can just get Congress to push through a bill that helps them.

It would be nice if Congress were on our side. It would be nice if I can believe it. But after years of Congress being unable to pass anything because "It's just so hard in the current climate" then turning around and passing something that helps out the richest and most powerful - well, I guess we know who's side Congress is really on.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Political Ad Spending up 5 Times since 2006. Elections Now Suck

I can not convey how bad this year is going to be for politics. Pre-Citizen United, the Supreme Court case that gave corporations unlimited spending powers in election. It might have helped if the Republicans hadn't at least blocked laws that would make corporations to name when they're sponsoring an advertisement.

But no - evidently that was too much to actually provide any kind of accountability. So now it turns out we've got 5 times more spending this year than in 2006. And over 80% of that is going to assist Republicans.

Well. Color me shocked, kids. I'm amazed that when corporations are able to spend as much money as they want, they'll blanket the airwaves to support the Republicans which line up to hand up the cash. Here's the sickest part to me:

One major player this year is the 60 Plus Association, an Alexandria-based group that bills itself as the conservative alternative to the AARP seniors group. In 2008, the group reported less than $2 million in revenue, most of it from direct-mail contributions.

This year the group has spent $7 million on election-related ads, according to its FEC reports. It also funded a $9 million campaign against Obama's health-care overhaul in 2009.

Amazing. They bring in $2 million from donors, yet somehow are able to find the money to pay for $9 million in ads. Gee. I wonder where the money could come from to protest health care reform. I can't think of anyone other than multibillion dollar insurance companies who might -might!- have an interest in fighting a health care bill that makes them pay out 85% of their revenue actually helping their customers.

Brave new world, kids. And it's going to suck.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

My Sons Will Not Join That Which Discriminates Against their Father

The Boy Scouts don't allow Jews to be Scoutmasters.

The Boy Scouts don't allow Catholics to be Scoutmasters.

The Boy Scouts don't allow Muslims to be Scoutmasters.

Each of those statements are false, but I imagine they raise the same level of feelings within you as when I type this true statement:

The Boy Scouts don't allow atheists to be Scoutmasters.

Tonight I attended a local meeting at my sons elementary school regarding their potential participation in the Cub Scouts and ultimately the Boy Scouts program. I participated in Cub and Boy Scouts through my own elementary through high school years. This was back when I was still a member of the LDS (aka Mormon) church.

There, the LDS church was as entwined with the Scouting program like two snakes twisted around a staff. Opening and closing prayers, meetings held in the church house - it was pretty much another church meeting.

Things are different now. I'm an out of the closet atheist, and will not have my sons participate in the Scouting program through the Mormon church through one simple reason: they don't allow either homosexuals nor atheists to be scout leaders. Evidently, they lack "proper values" to be able to lead their own children (let alone others) in Scouting events.

Tonight at my children's elementary school, when the opportunity was raised to asked questions, I asked if that rule is enforced at the local level. Turns out it does. Even a group that is hosted at a local school - local secular government institution - still regards atheists as "not fit" to be fully participating members.

Evidently, the fact that I pay my taxes like a patriot should, that I volunteer in my community, that I care for my family isn't good enough if I don't also share belief in the supernatural.

Then my boys will miss out on Scouting. Because I can not see fit to have them participate in an organization that teaches them to discriminate against their father.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Mr. Vice President - Bush didn't care about the troops

I was watching Colbert with Biden on, when Biden turns to the camera and said "President Bush, I disagreed with you on policy, but you always showed commitment to the troops and for their welfare."

I like Biden. I think he lets his heart and mouth run ahead of his head. But right then, I was ashamed to hear those words come from his lips.

Bush didn't give a shit about the troops. If he had, he'd have never have allowed Cheney and company to manufacture every single lie about "why we have to go into Iraq." "Al queda's there!" "No, they're not." "They have WMDs!" "No, they don't." "Uranium!" "No, they don't!" "There will be mushroom clouds if we don't!"

Liars. Bush didn't care when it was reported that there wasn't enough body armor, that there weren't enough troops. No problem - we'll just call up the national guard. Sure, they'd be more useful at home helping with, I don't know, giant fucking hurricanes and other natural disasters.

Bush didn't give a flying fuck about the troops when they were pulled back into active duty over and over again without rest. When they were being pushed back into active service after their terms should have ended by using legalese.

Bush didn't care about the troops when the VA needed more funding to pay for all of the brain damaged US soldiers who had done their duty and then came home without the help they needed. I'm glad that Obama is spending some more money there and working to streamline the process from active military into VA care - but it's still not enough.

The only thing Bush cared about is that he got to swagger about, pretend he was a big a man as his father. Fuck him. Bush Sr wasn't a saint, but he actually put his balls on the line for the country when he served, while W's contribution to the national guard was figuring out how drunk he could get without anybody caring.

So with all due respect Mr. Vice-President, you're wrong. You're so terribly horribly awfully wrong. Oh, I get the political game, how you and Obama have to show that you're "better" than the former administration that lied, cheated, and spent our national treasure of good men and women in Iraq and spent $3 trillion (and counting!) of taxpayer money to enrich their friends.

But right then, I wanted to tell Mr. Vice-President Biden that he could go fuck himself if he really though Bush cared about anything but himself.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Dr. Laura proves she doesn't get the 1st amendment

You may have heard that radio show host Dr. Laura is leaving radio, this "coincidence" happening right after she went on a "nigger nigger nigger" tirade where she complained about how " I really thought that once we had a black president, the attempt to demonize whites hating blacks would stop, but it seems to have grown, and I don't get it."

Yes. Amazing how people are demonizing whites who hate black people. I guess I don't get it either. Oh, yes, I do, because it's racist.

That said, Dr. Laura is leaving radio, and leaving with this bit of nonsense:

“I want to regain my First Amendment rights,” she said. “I want to be able to say what’s on my mind and in my heart and what I think is helpful and useful without somebody getting angry, some special interest group deciding this is the time to silence a voice of dissent and attack affiliates, attack sponsors. I’m sort of done with that.”

And all I have to say is: What?

Who's taken away your 1st amendment rights? Did someone in the government arrest you, Dr. Laura? Charge you with a crime? Take you to court over something you said?

Oh, that's right. They didn't. What happened is people said "Damn, Dr. Laura is a racist. She says racist things. When she said 'nigger nigger nigger' I said 'racist racist racist.'"

Dr. Laura is complaining because other people are allowed to have their speech. Their right to free speech lets them say "I think Dr. Laura is kind of a racist bitch." Their free speech allows them, without government interference, to say "If you are a radio station that hosts the Dr. Laura show, I will call up the companies who advertise with you and tell them I will not buy their product as long as they advertise on the Dr. Laura show."

You see, people like Dr. Laura don't really want a world with free speech. They want paid speech. They want to be paid for whatever they say, no matter how hurtful or stupid or outright wrong. They want to force people to keep quiet and buy the products that pay them money. It's what you hear from people like Glenn Beck when he complains that other people using *their* voices to say "I will not buy that or associate with people who watch that racist Glenn Beck character who hates on Muslims and says the president hates 'white culture'" - evidently, they should say what they want, and we should keep quiet and just keep on ensuring they get paid.

Dr. Laura is leaving radio. Good for her. She can go on out and keep saying all the rotten racist things she wants, all the stupid things against gay people she likes.

At least then her speech will truly be "free", since hopefully nobody will want to pay to hear it.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Real Conversation with My Love Wife: Still Creepy after All These Years

Me: So I'm playing Dragon Quest IX, and finally got to make my party.

My Lovely Wife(MLW): And?

Me: So I made my entire party ladies.

MLW: Oh, really?

Me: Yup. See, I like to think that my thief character and my priestess are secretly lesbians-

MLW: What?

Me: -which makes life for the priestess hard, because she's supposed to be pure and all, but she can't resist the roguish nature of the thief. And then there's the whole "laying on of hands" thing.

MLW: Seriously?

Me: Anyway, I'll be making dinner in a bit after I get done playing with my lesbian brigade. Burgers and tater tots.

MLW: Do we just have regular fries?

Me: Nope! Just tots! And them I'm going to take a few and put them right over my nipples.

MLW: Ewww!

Me: And I'll be all "mmmm - come on over and have a taste of my titty tots."

MLW: Now you're just being wrong.

Me: Oooo - take a bite out of my big thick potato nipples. It's all hot and steamy on the inside.

MLW: You're terrible.

Me: 16 years of marriage, and I can still find ways of creeping you out.

MLW: ....

Real Conversation with My Love Wife: Perfect Plans

Me: I thought I had it all planned out.

My Lovely Wife (MLW): What do you mean?

Me: I moved the Wii upstairs. The Playstation 3 is broken. The Xbox 360 is in the living room so we can stream Netflix. So there shouldn't be any reason for the children to want to go into my office and play on anything.

MLW: And?

Me: Wizard 101! They want to play the one non-Mac compatible game in the house. And it's not enough they have to use their computer upstairs - they want to play at the same time, so they have to use the computer in *my* office!

MLW: Sounds like a flaw in your plan.

Me: It was a perfect plan! Perfect!

MLW: ...

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Republicans in Power are like Bipolar Patients

Several years ago, I read the book "The Road Less Traveled" by M. Scott Peck. He's a psychiatrist who wrote the best selling book based on his experiences treating patients.

There are several fascinating parts of the book, but one that has stuck with me was a discussion of some of his patients who would swing wildly through extremes because they never learned discipline. Parents who would alternate between complete license for their children or cruel, harsh punishments. One woman vacillated between sexual promiscuity and prudery, either inviting men to her bed on the first date or living like a monk. Always swinging between one extreme to the next.

Part of the problem is that living a realistic life is hard work. It's hard to have consistent, fair discipline for your children. I struggle with it. It's too easy to say "Here, kids, here's the TV shut up for a bit", then scream at them when they're too loud or they mess up their rooms. It's hard to pay attention to what really matters day after day, doing the little course corrections here and there with how you treat your family, your coworkers, your friends. When is it necessary to punish and by how much? Are you rewarding for a job well done or encouraging half-assed efforts? Are you putting in 20 hours a day at work because you spent the last 30 days slacking off?

Paying attention is hard. Which is why it's so easy to just swing back and forth between the extremes.

Which is why when I watch the Republicans in the last few weeks, all I can think about is that women who alternated between living like a nun and reenacting "Debbie Does Dallas."

You've got Mississippi Governor, Haley Barbour. First he started out by describing the bits of BP Gulf Oil on the beaches as looking like chocolate mousse. Not that dangerous! It's not that bad! Why are we beating up on BP?

And then - OMG federal government I need help right now this stuff is going to kill us all! Help me! Damn it, I could have called up the national guard but SOMEBODY HELP ME NOW!

It would have been the grown up, mature thing to say "Huh. Maybe I don't think we should worry, but maybe I should get my crap in order *just in case*. Spend some money. I know - government is evil, but I guess I *was* elected governor for a reason."

Then you've got the financial system reform. Remember 2008, when we learned that deregulating the financial market because they said "Hey, trust us, we'll stop doing stupid things before it gets to be a problem, because we're greedy - but we're not crazy?" And then the financial market collapsed, and even Greenspan, the Ayn Rand loving libertarian himself, had to admit that you know, maybe financial regulation was a good thing.

At the time, Republicans were screaming "let it die! Them them all fall apart and let the free market rule!" Granted, anyone who knew anything about history knows that's how the crash of 1929 happened. And while there should have been a better deal, "just letting them die" would have been far, far worse than offering them a loan to get them through. So it was Bush's team that pushed for the big bank bailout, and the Democrats agreed because it was better than nothing.

Now, we have a chance to do some regulation. To impose some boundaries so we don't have the complete and utter shit storm that happened last time. Nothing too crazy - how about some transparency in credit default swaps so we don't have people making tons of bets that things will fall apart and then they have every incentive to see it fail - crazy thought, but maybe people should know that. And maybe the big banks should pay when one of their own falls apart, instead of the American taxpayer. So how about a fund kind of like the FDIC, but bigger, where the money sits in an insurance fund and when someone like Goldman Sachs blows up - they get bailed out with big bank money.

And the response from the same Republicans who whined and complained about the bail outs? We should trust Wall Street. They built the economy. Sure, it was only 1.5 years ago that the thing came melting down like Chernobyl - but these are smart people!

Look at the whole war on terror. You have records about how people like Clarke warned about al Qaeda over and over again, and it wasn't until November 12 that it because something to care about. And then it was Patriot Act and illegal wiretaps and torture.

It would have been better to have a consistent, even, measured, mature method of checking a little bit here, a little bit there, and course correction as need be. It might require you don't see government as "evil", but a necessary component to keep the powerful from preying upon the powerless. It requires that you don't see "the invisible hand" as the ideal for how people interact, but just a term used to describe how prices normalize, not morality.

Sadly, after apologies to BP for having to take responsibility for fucking up the planet, candidates coming out saying that God has a plan so rape and incest victims shouldn't be allowed abortions and Texas rewriting history to fit their ideals - I don't see maturity as something to expect anytime soon.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Final Update to the Netflix Streaming Party plan!

For those who have been following, I'm setting up a sort of party for people to be watching the same movie streamed from Netflix from the same time.

The voting is over, and the movie picked, and based on your votes, it's going to be - Roshomon! You can find it here on Netflix: Roshomon.

It's a Japanese movie classic involving samurai, death, crime, and mystery. Oooooo!

Kind of surprised more people didn't go with Wargames.

Now, how to watch. At 8 PM, we start the movie. I'll be watching it on my Xbox 360 (which I'm about to go buy because the old one red ringed on me and I'm tired of fixing it). Those who are on my Xbox 360 friends list can just join me in the Viewing Room to be synced up as to when the movie starts. If you're watching it via your home systems or whatever, I'll be having the chat window available blow and counting down when the movie starts.

If you're on the Xbox 360, add user johnhummel before the event so I can get you added in!

Anybody can comment, and I'll ask that anyone watching comment through the Cover It Live chatline so we can all join in.

That's it! See you all at 8 PM EDT!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

How to use Weasel Words to Boondoggle the Truth

I signed up some time ago to have Meetup send me notices of any groups in the Hillsborough, Florida county that I might be interested in. A lot of this is fluff, like "Dog Walkers Group of Bradenton" and other things.

But this morning, I got this gem of a turd in my inbox from the group called "Hillsborough Citizens Organized for Sound Transportation" by one Karen Jaroch. Who's previous groups it looks like were running the 9-12 groups inspired by Glenn Beck, which inspired people to show up at town hall meetings I attended and have intelligent, thoughtful discourse about why healthcare reform was a bad thing.

If by "intelligent, thoughtful discourse" you mean "screaming for 90 minutes straight and hurling racist calls like 'Get a job Oprah' to black people" - then sure.

But "Hillsborough Citizens Organized for Sound Transportation" - that sounds important!

And then my words fell on the word "sound."

Where had I seen that word used before? Usually in the phrase "sound science", usually meaning "I know that 99.9% of all climatologists agree that pumping carbon dioxide into the air is bad, and usually the 0.1% that oppose that notion are paid by the oil industry - but I support 'sound science' which means you ignore actual scientists because its inconvenient."

But I read on to see what the group was about. And man, what a bunch of weasel words it's filled with:

HiCOST - Hillsborough Citizens Organized for Sound Transportation is a group dedicated to save Hillsborough County from a 14% sales tax increase which will devastate business opportunity in the county for a boondoggle which will do nothing to relieve traffic congestion.

I'd like to grant a special award for the greatest number of weasel words in one paragraph! Come on down and take your prize, Ms. Jaroch!

We start at the beginning with the words "HiCost" - just in case you didn't get the message that, look out - something bad is coming for your wallet!

Oh, and then there's my favorite: "...save Hillsborough County from a 14% sales tax increase..."

Now, when I showed this to people I know, they went "OMG! A 14% sales tax increase? That's pretty nuts!"

Then they all paused. "Wait - I thought it's a 1% sales tax increase. From 7% to 8%."

That's right. It is. Let's so some math and show how Ms. Jaroch turns 1% into 14%.

Now, if we're talking money, and I say "It's going to cost you 1 penny more per every dollar so we can do something", most people will say "Oh. OK. 1 penny per dollar. That's a 1% increase."

BUT! You're not using weasel math! See, you have to take the sales tax by itself, which is 7%. Suppose you have 7 apples, and I give you 1 more. Now you have 8 shiny red apples.

1 apple out of 7 is 14% of the apples. So going from 7 to 8 apples is a 14% increase in apples. 7 + 1 = 8. 1 / 7 = 0.14.

In the same way, Ms. Jaroch uses her weasel math that if you look at just the sales tax, you're increasing it by 14%. And this is done on purpose, because 14% increase on sales tax is a big, scary number that makes people think you're going from either 7% to 14%, or 7% to a whopping 21% sales tax.

But let's move on from math, cause that's boring.

"...will devastate business opportunity in the county..." Devastate! That's right - when the light rail is built, it won't just impact businesses by some percentage one way or another. Or make it easier for people to reach the shopping areas. No devastation! Fire will rain down from the skies and utterly destroy businesses!

"...for a boondoggle which will do nothing to relieve traffic congestion." I don't know. I kind of like boondoggles. I boondoggled my wife last night, and she *loved* it.

Now, I know a boondoggle is something that's supposed to waste money. Like, building a rail system that cuts through Tampa, and provides fast transport to everyone from Brandon to MacDill to South Tampa all the way out to Town 'N Country.

You could go and read through the HART rapid transit plan located right here in this PDF file.

I used to live in Salt Lake City. Notice I didn't say I was born there - I moved and lived there for a few years. And people just like Ms. Jaroch, spreading misinformation and fears of the apocolypse marched and told people this was a waste of money and time and it would destroy everything.

And they built it anyway. And people rode it. For the first week, because it was a novelty. Then they realized "Wait - I can park here, and instead of a 60 minute drive into work, it's a 10 minute drive to the local light rail station, leave my car, and a 20 minute ride downtown."

It increased business along the rail stops. You could get off, walk to the local shopping centers, carry on. The Mormon church would buy the entire light rail every 6 months so everybody could ride free because it cut down on traffic and gas.

Now they're expanding the rail lines last I heard.

I might use Ms. Jaroch's weasel tactics against her. Ask why she supports more oil being burned so we have BP soaking our beautiful beaches with their black tarry filth as dead birds wash up. Or even question why she wants to support terrorists, who are mostly funded by every time an American fills up. It's not like the oil being pumped offshore is sold only to Americans anyway - it's sold worldwide, and we let oil companies get richer, terrorists get more money - but hey, Ms. Jaroch can save her "14% sales tax increase" - you know, going from 7% to 8%, paying an extra penny on the dollar, so we can have less cars on the road, less oil being burned, less money in the hands of people who hate us for our freedoms.

But then, I'd be a weasel.

Light rail works. I've seen it for myself. And all the fear mongering in the world won't change that fact.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Netflix Movie party plan!

Most of us live geographically separated from each other, across the country or even the world. But why not still have a movie party?

So here's the plan:

The When:On June 19th, we're going to watch a movie.

The What: Which one? Pick from the list on this survey site. You've got a choice of:

Gojira - the original Godzilla movie!
Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog
War Games
Time After Time
Roshomon - Samurai classic
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

The How: For those with Xbox 360 Gold accounts, we'll gather together. You'll have to send me your gamername before this happens.

My username is johnhummel . Yes, I make it hard to find me ;).

For those who aren't on the 360, that's all right! I'll be on Twitter, using the hashtag #NFMP . And yes, my username on Twitter - can you guess - is johnhummel .

And that's it! From there, we comment, we snark, we make jokes about the movie.

If you want to participate, you can sign up on my Facebook event page at: Facebook - and there we go.

That's it! Any questions? Comment away!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Damn it not another Teabagger video

More racist tea party signs

I always love how "it's just the fringe - stop judging us all by the actions of a few!"

Here's my problem with this line of thought: the rest of the group allows and enables those racist fucktards.

If the teabaggers don't want people to think they're racists asshats, the same 20% of the population who followed Bush and Cheney into the ditch then when it became unpopular to love them proclaimed Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck their new saviors - they have to prove it.

That means when Tom Tancredo gives a speech and calls for "literacy tests" to people who are all old enough to remember the Jim Crow era, the response from teabaggers shouldn't be to applaud, but to boo him off the stage.

When someone shows up with a picture of Obama as a witch doctor or referring to him as "boy" or asking "Where's your birth certificate!", the rest of the group shouldn't shrug and say "Oh, well, that's just Earnie," the response of the rest of the teabaggers crowd should be to boo and shame that person and ban them from their midsts.

When I'm in a town hall meeting and a black man stands up and says "Just think of all the progress we made in the 1960's with the civil rights movement", and a teabagger screams at them "Yeah, we know what you did in the 1960's for your kind", or when a black woman speaks and teabaggers scream "Get a job, Oprah", the response of the other teabaggers shouldn't be to applaud, but to be embarrassed.

If and when the teabaggers start doing this, then I'll be ready to start taking them a little seriously. Granted, there's still the "protesting Obama's raising their taxes after they were cut and studies show this is the lowest tax paying generation ever" or "screaming the Obama's taking my guns when not only has he not, he's signed laws allowing more guns in more places than before".

But I'll settle for "stop being a bunch of racist fucktards" as a starting point.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Financial Reform Moves Forward

"Republicans said they now expect Democrats to jettison a $50 billion fund that would have been financed by banks to help liquidate large failing institutions. "

This would be a terrible mistake. Right now, that $50 billion fund is what's preventing the next "too big to fail." It forces banks to put their money on the line - and if one of their number should fail, they don't get bailed out by the government.

They get shut down. The $50 billion goes to protecting the checking/savings/CDs and the like of their customers. Their employees get their final paycheck, the assets are sold, and the investors are left with *nothing* for their bad investment.

Democrats should not remove that provision. If anything, they should replace it with a provision that makes any bank larger than $100 billion dollars automatically broken up into smaller pieces.

One of these two choices is the only way to stop "too big to fail" from ever happening. Either a giant liquidation program to shut down a bank failure, or breaking up banks when they get too big.

Pick your poison, Republicans. Because taxpayers aren't paying for socialized Wall Street anymore.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Rail Then, the Rail Now

When I lived in Salt Lake City, the area was putting in a light rail system. And you will not believe how people reacted. A tax increase? No! People were actually protesting, marching about with signs up about how "Don't use my tax dollars for light rail", old people standing up in town meetings and shouting about the use of "their" money to build the light rail.

Then, it went in. And it proved to be one of the most popular things in Salt Lake. People were using it all the time. So popular the Mormon Church bought the entire rail line once every six months and let people ride free over the weekend. Last I heard, they were expanding the line, traffic was cut down, and it was still going strong.

So I'm not surprised to read that Tampa is having their own issues getting a light rail installed. "Oh, no, you're going to raise out taxes by 1% during a recession and you'll kill business!" "Why build this thing, let's do it later."

Later never comes. And this, combined with the Obama stimulus money, means that *now* is the best time to get the light rail for Tampa installed.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Financial Reform: Republicans want to remove one of the best parts

During the financial crisis, there was a phrase seared into the collective consciousness of the population:too big to fail. The notion that the failure of a particular company or business would lead so such catastrophe, it must be saved at all costs.

There are really only four ways to deal with the problem of "too big to fail":

1. Let it fall anyway. That was tried during the run up to the Great Depression. Didn't work out so well.
2. Bail it out. We did that in 2008' and yeah, the financial system was saved, but the people who helped ruin the economy elated away with their millions of dollars in bonuses, and the financial organizations have no disincentive to act like addicted gambler's with Grandma's retirement money.
3. Make being too big illegal. I personally like this one. You basically expand the monopoly laws to encompass "too big". If a company is too big, you break it up into smaller pieces that have to compete with each other. This insures that the government, which is answerable to the populace at large and not just those rich enough to buy shares, is always much more powerful than the business community. It also has a tendency to make Republican heads explode.
4. Create procedures to shutndown a "too big to fail bank" safely. I rather like this one too. It's also the way the current financial bill works.

Right now, the FDIC exists to make sure that is a bank fails, that the people with accounts in the bank (checking and saving accounts, CDs, etc) still get their money. Basically the FDIC swoops in, takes control of the bank, insures the accounts and gives them to a responsible bank. Usually this takes 48 hours for the transfer to occur, and then the cleanup goes from there.

During the financial collapse, there were plans to take over a giant bank if need be, but the billions of dollars-and the will to use such plans- wasn't there.

The new financial reform bill fixes that. It would set up a banking industry paid for fund of $50 billion dollars and procedures that, should a "too big to fail" bank is about to fail, the answer is "guess what? You're not too big after all. We're taking your assets, firing your management, your investors who encouraged your bad behavior get *nothing*, your customers with checking and savings and mortgages get saved."

It creates a giant Sword of Domacles over the heads of the financial institutions that tells them "you are *not* to big to fail-and if you fail, you lose everything. There will be no more bailouts where you get to go on with business as usual at the expense of the taxpayer."

Which, naturally, is why the Republicans are now lying and calling it a "eternal bailout machine", and why Mitch McConnell is lining up every Republican to filibuster it.

Because unlike the corporate welfare systems the Republicans love, that socialism for the rich and none for the poor, the banks get the profits and the public gets the losses- the financial reform bill stops bad bank behavior. So the banks and their bought politicians will do anything to stop it.

This part of the financial reform bill must not be removed. It must be kept in so big banks know they are not "too big to fail". Sadly, there's word that President Obama will let that part be removed to get Republicans on board.

That would be a horrible idea, and I hope both the President and the Congress fight to keep that part in. Because it's too important.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Florida trying to end Separation of Church and State

I'm not sure if I'm angry about this, or disappointed.

There has been a policy in this country for centuries that holds that the Church and the State should be two separate entities. That people should render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and unto God that which is God.

Because of this, our nation gives churches a lot of leeway. They get the same access to fire, police, roads, environmental protection, military defense, so on and so forth - and they don't have to pay a dime in taxes. Their members, in fact, can give money to the church, then claim that as a charitable donation and pay less to the total pool of money that go in to pay for all of those services.

This is done because it's viewed that religious organizations give out more service that they receive. Perhaps in moral instruction, perhaps in community support, or in helping the less fortunate. In return, the notion of Separation was important. We don't make Baptists pay into a fund to pay the Jehovah's Witnesses, or cause the Catholics to support Jewish synagogues. People donate to their own faith (or withhold their money if they don't believe in organized religion), and share all of the services in common.

Evidently, this isn't enough. Now, the state of Florida wants to change the state constitution to allow money to go to religious schools. Remember, its not enough that they already pay no taxes, that their members can get tax breaks on donations to the church, that they receive free services from taxpayer dollars.

Nope. Now, they need everybody else's money to in order to pay for their own schools so they can keep their kids out of public schools, where they might learn about "evolution" or "Thomas Jefferson pushed for separation of church and state" or, horror of horrors, in the Copernican model of the solar system with the sun in the center instead of Earth.

The proposed constitutional amendment would let state dollars flow into the private coffers of religious groups. Oh, I know the justifications - "it's to provide an alternative to the public school system!"

Fine. Fund an alternative, but making others pay for the religious indoctrination of children is part of the reason why we have "separation of church and state." I'm assuming the state will be all right with a Wahhabi Islam instructional school getting taxpayer funds? How about a white supremacy religion getting state funds to instruction children, since "We have to give parents the choice."

No. I say no. If the state wants to provide money to fund private, secular schools as an alternative to the public education system, I will find the move ironic (the private funded by the public), but I'd be all right.

But the idea of making people of other religions pay to already tax exempt, tax donation reducing, and "getting services for free" organizations that have stood in direct opposition to scientific and moral progress - the answer from me is no.

And hopefully we can let our political leaders know the same.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Nukes, Naiveté, and Facts

Recently, President Obama signed a treaty with Russia that would help reduce nuclear weapons among both countries.

The START treaty, or "Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty", has actually been about since the 1980's, signed by Ronald Reagan on the US side. This treaty is a renewal of that, and boils down to this:

The United States will cut down it's stockpiles of nuclear missiles to only 1500. In return, so will Russia. There's plenty of other language, such as how they'll verify that the missiles are really destroyed and so on - but that's the gist of it. The two largest nuclear stockpiles in the world will be reduced to having the capacity to destroy the entire world only twice over, instead of 3-4 times over. Both sides will save money (since maintaining, securing, updating nukes is a pretty expensive business).

At the same time, Obama is now hosting a nuclear summit with some 40 other countries, the whole idea being "OK, nuclear weapons in terrorist hands are bad, so how about we figure out ways to keep them from getting any, and at the same time we'll all make less. Sound good?"

Along with this, there's the new US Nuclear Stance. This is the official position as to when the US would determine we should use nuclear weapons. The new stance boils down to this:

1. The US won't use nuclear weapons first against other countries unless we're hit with nuclear weapons first.
2. In fact, if you're a country that signs onto the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty , which says "We won't make more nukes, we won't ship nukes to other places, and we'll try not to let people who shouldn't have nukes get them" - if you're a signer of that treaty, then we won't even threaten you with nuclear weapons, even if you have chemical and biological weapons.
3. Did we mention #2 only applies to countries that signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty? If you're not on that list (like, say, Iran and North Korea), then we can threaten to nuke you into Hell when you start acting like you're going to invade someone or offer nukes to terrorist groups.
4. One other note about #2. That bit about "we won't threaten you with nukes even if you have biological or chemical weapons"? That doesn't mean we won't *use* them on you if, say, you hit us with chemical or biological weapons. In fact, if you do, we're more likely to say "Well, we didn't *threaten* you with them - we're just going to use them." So as long as you play nice, we'll play nice.

Seems pretty common sense to me. Ronald Reagen started the process by reducing nuclear weapons by 33%, then the treaty stalled for decades, and now Obama wants to bring it back. He's getting countries to agree to give up their uranium, and is bringing pressure onto nations like Iran and North Korea to do the same.

And then - there's the screeching hordes.

You have Charles Krauthammer writing for the Washington Post with this little bit of willful ignorance:

Imagine the scenario: Hundreds of thousands are lying dead in the streets of Boston after a massive anthrax or nerve gas attack. The president immediately calls in the lawyers to determine whether the attacking state is in compliance with the NPT. If it turns out that the attacker is up to date with its latest IAEA inspections, well, it gets immunity from nuclear retaliation. (Our response is then restricted to bullets, bombs and other conventional munitions.)

Then, there's the actual Nuclear Posture Review (Warning: PDF link!) that says this:

In making this strengthened assurance, the United States affirms that any state eligible for the assurance that uses chemical or biological weapons against the United States or its allies and partners would face the prospect of a devastating conventional military response – and that any individuals responsible for the attack, whether national leaders or military commanders, would be held fully accountable. Given the catastrophic potential of biological weapons and the rapid pace of bio-technology development, the United States reserves the right to make any adjustment in the assurance that may be warranted by the evolution and proliferation of the biological weapons threat and U.S. capacities to counter that threat. (Emphasis added.)

Now, I know the entire report is 45 pages long (oh, the horror!) so maybe it was too long for Mr. Krauthammer to read through in any kind of detail. But the part about "the US reserves the right ot make any adjustment" makes his argument of "Oh, noes, we've been hit with chemical weapons and Obama is preventing us from doing *anything*" is rather silly.

Speaking of silly - guess who? Yes, Sarah Palin (R-Quitter) gave her own little analogy:

Go ahead and punch me in the face, and I’m not going to retaliate.

I rather like the analogy of "A bunch of kids on the playground. One says 'Let's not even fight. But if you do, I promise not to use my gun and blow your head off - unless you pull a knife, in which case your ass is grass.'"

Granted, the fact that Obama's senior thesis in law school was evidently about Soviet nuclear disarmament, and Palin's accomplishment was quitting halfway through her governorship, I don't think this is a contest.

So let's get this right:

Obama wants to continue the path set by Ronald Reagan to eventually disarm the world of all nuclear weapons.

Obama gets Russia to agree to reduce its nukes, removes one of the reasons for countries to get nuclear weapons themselves, and is holding a summit that's getting countries to agree to give up their nuclear bomb making material.

And somehow, according to "serious thinkiners" like Mr. Krauthammer and ms. Palin, that's a bad thing.

Right. Tell you what - while the adults are out there doing things to make the world safer, you guys can stay on the playground and keep fighting amongst yourselves.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Bush knew prisoners were innocent

When 9-11 hit, everybody wanted to plant a bullet inside Osama bin Laden's brain.

OK, maybe not everybody, but I'm sure outside of Ghandi, Jesus and Buddha, everybody else was debating whether to nuke the terrorists or shoot them into the stone age.

The feeling was so great that, as Glenn Greenwald writes in his book "How Would a Patriot Act", after 9-11:

The bipartisan support for President Bush was so great that Democrats waived their right to present the traditional response to the president's address.

Anything Bush asked for the country gave him. New powers to wiretap people? Go for it. A war with Afghanistan? Awesome. Expanded military? You got it.

Turns out, it wasn't enough for the the Bush administration. Now we learn Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld knew there were people innocent of any crimes whatsoever, and wanted them kept in Guantanamo prison because it would hurt their case against Iraq.

A man taken from his home, his family, locked into a cell for no reason. Not even a chance at a trial so he can stand before a judge and say "I didn't do it", and people in power, people who swore an oath to defend the values of the Constitution that includes the right of habeas corpus - the right just to question why you've been arrested - they decided that "Well, we could do the *right* thing, but then we couldn't have this awesome war against someone who had nothing to do with 9-11 except that he's brown too."

Oh, I know, I know - "It was all in the past, John." "It was another time, John." "We need to look forward, not backwards."

Only whenever Cheney or his daughter step out to defend those policies, all I can see now are people who when they're confronted with the fact that they've done horrible, monstrous things, the response is a smirk and "So?"

If there's any reason to take any of them seriously, to ever accept them into polite society again, I can't think of a one.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Layman's view of Attorney General Case Against Insurance Mandates

Since the health care bill passed, there have been 14 states that have sued to prevent some of the provisions within the health care law from effecting them.

Mainly, the insurance mandates.

Their argument, as described in this Daily Cougar article over the lawsuits, goes like this:

Their main issue with the legislation is the requirement that individuals purchase health insurance or face financial penalties.

For more than 230 years, the government has never forced its citizens to purchase anything, as there is no provision in the Constitution that grants the Congress this authority.

An interesting argument.

Too bad it's not true.

In 1792, Congress passed and George Washington signed the Militia Act of 1792 (stolen from a reference from a Salon.com article). Here's the important part:

e it enacted . . . That each and every free able-bodied white male citizen of the respective states, resident therein, who is or shall be of the age of eighteen years, and under the age of forty-five years (except as is herein after excepted) shall severally and respectively be enrolled in the militia . . . . That every citizen so enrolled and notified, shall, within six months thereafter, provide himself with a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch with a box therein to contain not less than twenty-four cartridges, suited to the bore of his musket or firelock, each cartridge to contain a proper quantity of powder and ball: or with a good rifle, knapsack, shot-pouch and powder-horn, twenty balls suited to the bore of his rifle, and a quarter of a pound of powder. . . .

So not only were they telling every "free able-bodied white male" that you're now in the militia, but you have to go out and buy yourself a gun.

"But that's not health care!" I'm sure those attorney generals would say. Sure - so how about John Adams - truly a rampant socialist signed into law an insurance mandate on all sailors making them pay 1% of their income to an insurance program.

So that shuts down the concept that the US government never made people buy things.

Let's go to the usual argument from there. Usually it goes like this:

1. States have mandates for auto insurance, so why can't the federal government make the same kind of insurance mandate?

2. But people *choose* to drive or not to drive. (A point I'd quibble with in a society that puts such low value on public transportation.) They don't choose to live, so it's not right to make them buy insurance.

Let me lay out a few arguments regarding this.

First, is in how the insurance mandate works. If you don't have insurance, then the IRS can lay a 2.5% tax on you. Contrary to hysterical belief, IRS commandos with guns aren't going to kick in your door and make you pay at gunpoint. In fact, Politifact found that you'd have to build up a lot of fines before the IRS would even care about going after you.

The mandate won't kick in until 2014, and typically the way it will come to people's attention unless they file for a tax refund and the IRS spots they don't have insurance (in which case the tax will be applied), or if they show up to the emergency room and found not to have insurance, the IRS could find out.

This is the most important piece, and ties into the basic argument regarding why the insurance mandate is justified.

In 1986, Congress passed the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act. In it, it mandated that hospitals must provide emergency care and assistance to people, regardless of their citizenship, or their ability to pay.

Hence, the entire purpose of the insurance mandates. When people go to the emergency room and either don't have insurance or the ability to pay for themselves, everyone else that pays into the system is paying their costs.

"But John - the hospital can bill them!" you say.

Yes. But the hospital can't make them pay.

The idea was mentioned that people choose to drive so it's fair to make them get auto insurance. Everyone is also able to go to the emergency ward. If you're going to take advantage of the fact that hospitals must pay for your care, then it's only fair that you are a part of that system.

It should be mentioned that the insurance mandates also include subsidies for the poor, expanded Medicaid so that those without aren't forced to purchase insurance when they clearly can't pay for it. However, for everyone else, it's not only Constitutional based on precedent, but warranted that everyone who can take advantage of that system should pay into the system.

The choice was either a direct tax on the population, or allow people to use the market. If anything, a Republican idea for mandates (as Mitt Romney would remind people during the 2008 elections, or Chuck Grassley who pushed for mandates for ages before he decided to oppose them the second the Democrats put them in to get Republican support.

And, just for added benefits, there's one more ace in the whole that gets this *whole case* thrown out:

The mandates are optional.

That's right, kids. Don't like the mandate? Well, then your state can opt out of them - all it needs is to come up with their own plan:

It's called the "Empowering States to be Innovative" amendment. And it would, quite literally, give states the right to set up their own health care system -- with or without an individual mandate or, for that matter, with or without a public option -- provided that, as Wyden puts it, "they can meet the coverage requirements of the bill."

That's right-if you have a state plan, then there's no mandate needed. Single payer, Belgian system, some co-op thing - whatever. Just have a plan that might work, and the mandate goes away.

Either way, I'd say the 14 state attorney generals have a hard time ahead of them. But, I'm sure spending tax payer dollars to make themselves look good will be well worth it.

For them.

Coming out of vacation

OK, so I haven't taken an actual vacation.

But, since my purposeful exile from doing much of anything since finishing my 52 Weeks, 52 Religions project (and I still intend to start writing the book in about a week), I haven't done much of anything.

Read some, played some games, but generally let my brain just sit. Let things simmer while I took care of my personal life.

I'm about to come back out again. It's an election year, and I've all but decided what I'm going to start doing, where my interests lie. So expect to see a lot more of me writing here.

And, I'll be honest - I'm getting pissed. Pissed off at ignorance, at hate, at fear. Pissed off that there is an orchestrated paid chorus of negative voices that are opposing any good progress in the name of their profits and self interests.

I'm nobody. But if I can spend a year going out and talking to tons of religious people, then I can spend a fraction of that time going out and working to make things better in my community.

Stay tuned, Tampa. Shit's about to get real.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Getting tired of the death threat language

My dad had a saying. Once is a mistake. Twice is stupid.

Three times is a spanking.

I want to take a look at the various death threats that have been issued since the health care reform bill passed, and perhaps some of the origins of the, well, insanity.

Before the bill passed, you had Michael Steel stating that the world would end and Armageddon would come if health care passed.

Chuch Grassley making the claim that health care reform would pull the plug on grandma. Why would he say that? Well, because Betsy McCaughey, lobbyist for health care industries, said that the Medicare "End of Life" counseling that would provide payments to doctors to discuss options for terminally ill patients amounted to a panel that would decide who lived and died.

Not, that is, helping people make decisions when someone is already dying or on the edge of death about what they're options are. No, according to such luminaries as Sarah Palin, this would be a system that would have decided to kill her mentally challenged baby.

Even though this is nothing at all what the bill intended. Certainly not helped along when the same Betsy McCaughey came out and said that IMAC (Independent Medicare Advisory Council) was going to force doctors to only do what the IMAC wanted in treating patients. Completely ignoring that IMAC is a recommendations only body that has no power, and its recommendations can only be accepted by the President and if Congress accepts.

In other words - IMAC just looks at current health care research, makes a recommendation on what actually works and what doesn't, what works the best at the lowest price, and the Executive Branch can either go "Ok, sounds good" or "Nope" in regards to how Medicare is paid out. Doesn't mean any doctor is forced to do anything, that anybody's grandma is killed - just recommendations on what best practices are.

But, of course, no, these are Death Panels in the eyes of people like Palin and Grassley and the others.

And, of course, if a health care bill is voted into by the duly elected representatives of the people of their districts, clearly that is totalitarianism and the end of America. Which, of course, is silly, since Republicans are calling for the way to end totalitarianism is by the voters getting rid of the Democrats.

Um - it can't can totalitarianism *if you have free elections where the opposition can run*.

Of course, that's not all.

Once again, you've got Palin leading the charge. With a map showing crosshairs of where Democrats are at they want to defeat, and a message to "Don't Retreat, Instead - RELOAD!.

Helped along by Daily Caller showing people how IRS agents in full military gear and guns will be coming to your house to force you to buy insurance.

So, where has all of this talk lead us?

It lead to Mike Vanderboegh, former head of the Alabama Constitutional Militia calling on his followers to break the windows of the Democratic congressperson's offices. Something out of, say, Kristallnacht.

His listeners followed with the breaking of windows of Democratic congresspeople across the country.

People being told that health care is a plot to kill them leads Tea Party terrorist leaders to give out Democratic Rep. Tom Perriello’s brother's address, leading to a disconnected propane line that could have killed the family.

It's lead to protestors showing up to shout nigger and faggot at congresspeople. To civil rights leaders being spit upon as he walked into the House of Representatives. And along with that, there's the other racist nooses being with racist language and Jewish congresspeople getting swastika's in their hate mail.

It's lead to people showing up with coffins on congresspeople's doorsteps, cause nothing says "rational discourse" like "This is what you deserve to be in."

How about death threats to people's children? That's always a great way to express your anger, right?

It's lead to pro-life groups issuing death threats even to other pro-life congresspeople because they voted for health care. Even though the health care bill *still* holds that you can't use federal dollars for abortion - but that's not good enough, evidently.

It's lead to people shooting pellet guns at politicians offices. Probably after hearing Michael Steele say that Speaker Pelosi should be on a firing line.

Perhaps tied to Tea Party protesters letting people know that if elected representatives can't change something, then perhaps shooting them with a gun can.

And the Republican response to the violence, to the racism, to the threats? Congressperson Nunes from California seems to feel that hey, when you have a democratic vote by elected representatives (or as he calls it, "totalitarianism") people are going to get upset.

Sure. Whenever I get upset, I reach for racist language.

Republican Leader of the House Boehner was kind enough to put out a statement that threatening people wasn't cool. Gee, thanks for telling people to channel their anger into voting, instead of telling people knock the shit off with threatening the lives of children.

I really don't know what else to say about this. What did they expect? When you tell people that Obamacare is going to kill people, that this bill will be the "end of America", that they should "reload" and "put people on a firing line" - *just what in the flying fuck did they expect their followers to do*?

And these milktoast "Well, you know, we don't *mean* for people to start shooting at Democrats really" isn't cutting it. Sooner or later, somebody is going to be shot, and killed. And when the Republican leadership starts the waterworks of "Oh, we didn't *mean* for this to happen!", we'll have the whole sordid trail I've laid out showing how they incited every possible emotion to get people to the point of murder.