Sunday, July 24, 2016

Planet Hillary

 Reprint of a Disqus comment on the Mother Jones article calling Taibbi "Suprisingly weak":

In Frederick Douglass' autobiography, he describes that the slaves would argue over whose master could beat up the other, whose was richer. "To be a poor man's slave," he said "was a disgrace indeed." The slave knows he is being mistreated, but cannot but help but assume some graciousness of his master is attributable to himself. This is true of US politics still. So ask Bernie supporters if they support him because he is what they want to see in themselves, or because he is going to get things done? And same to Clinton.
Having been disappointed by Obama, and betrayed by Rahm Emanuel and his frenemy Bruce Rauner, I cannot but help but worry what a fourth civil servant connected to Goldman Sachs will have in store for this country.
I agree that what's possible is not well understood, nor can it be, but shouting down a surging wave of left-wing revolt is a bad thing for the party, not the least if there's a chance we may have to articulate such positions against an anti-establishment attack from the right. Authenticity will win this election, and Obama is apparently blind to that. We don't have to be. When asked who he would appoint as an advisor, Sanders has said he would look to Elizabeth Warren, a brave voice of dissent toward the banking powers. The way Clinton operates her politics are very in line with how elites function, and is not positioned well to counter the right. Not only has Clinton not disclosed her speeches to Goldman Sachs, it is a sure bet she will hire some bankers to consult on her economic policy as Obama did.
And while overturning Citizen's United may not be in the cards, surely even the symbolic action of the American public putting in a president that is resistant to such influence would be a meaningful, measurable, form of resistance.
Let's take a more hard-headed view and assume absolutely no laws will get passed in the next 4 years. That *only* leaves military policy. Do you want it in the hands of someone who cites the unemployment rate of Gaza or recently presided over military intervention on the behalf of the "young people" in the Middle East, that always seems to end up with Saudi puppets in power?
Read the book "America's 60 Families" by Ferdinand Lundberg. He describes how the wealthy use private foundations to experiment with new ways to manage the population. The corruption is not only direct quid-pro-quo, but a baseline assumption of support. In the back of your mind, you know who pays your bills and is holding a job for you in retirement. And that explains why in every debate, when Sanders says that the wealthy are not pulling their weight in this country, Clinton is absolutely incensed. Not because she is wealthy, nor hateful of the underclass, but because he is threatening her ability to position herself at the top of the elite.
Clinton does not simply get off the hook for Iraq because it was in the past, and darn it if she wasn't on the wrong side of that issue. She was on the wrong side *of the country* which protested the war! (as a side note, how in the heck did a radical evangelical with a C average talk Clinton into anything?) This is a theme that runs through her entire political history. In her book Living History (page 248) Clinton misstates the social culture of the time on health care. A series of CBS polls found that starting in 1990, the majority of Americans favored a national health care system. Clinton's take on this is that the "vast majority" opposed national health care because they would have to "give up benefits and medical choices." It's true that a massive lobbying campaign ultimately drove down public support for *her* particular bill, but she did not try to organize a mass movement to get it passed, and that was its failing.
A recent example was the flub that Nancy Reagan was in any way supportive in the AIDS crisis. Of course, credit to her for apologizing, but what's becoming clear is that Clinton buys into this myth that powerful people are noble, and the rest of us are just, well, "people." This sentiment was actually articulated by her husband in a televised interview, that people need a consciousness that's "way up here" with him. In fact, Clinton herself forgot that Sanders shared a stage with her as she spoke for reform. Her campaign manager reminded us that he was standing in the back, apparently where he belongs.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Hillary Clinton supports coal and oil when her party does not

There is so much to take issue with in the Democratic Party it is difficult to know where to start. So why not start with what happened today?

According to the Associated Press report of the new party platform, the dreaded Trans Pacific Partnership might become a reality:
The panel, which is developing the party's platform ahead of next month's Philadelphia convention, instead backed a measure that said "there are a diversity of views in the party" on the [investor deal] and reaffirmed that Democrats contend any trade deal "must protect workers and the environment."
To the well-trained ear this is a symphony of liberal ideals in action. We are considering diversity! We are protecting people! It's also an agreement that in its essence is about protecting investors from governmental regulation, not limiting investor power.

As can be expected, the environmental protection is compromised and flimsy, (via the AP article):
Working into the evening, the panel narrowly rejected amendments offered by environmentalist Bill McKibben, a Sanders supporter, that would have imposed a tax on carbon and imposed a national moratorium on fracking.

What's not mentioned is that the presumed nominee is also interested in subsidizing fossil fuels, and the platform naturally cannot overstep the (next) president too much. In other words, we have to accommodate the interests of the president and her very pro-oil friends before looking at the science. Isn't that horrible?

According to Hillary Clinton's website, we can expect oil companies to largely survive under her administration due to direct intervention from the state. We have to "modernize our pipeline system" and "repair or replace...pipelines," and "ship oil sands crude" so long as they pay a price. We will also institute what is called "capture" -- a strange Christ-like concept whereby fossil fuel companies save the world from their own dirtiness. Another piece of wisdom from is to work on "the deployment of renewable natural gas."

This directly contradicts the advice of the party's own experts who warn this will go nowhere. Probably better to address that now rather than later? Last winter, Democrats put in a lot of work into documenting the serious problems of fossil fuel industry. As they wrote in their findings:

Perhaps the most compelling finding of the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project is that governments could easily flub the energy transition by failing to plan far enough ahead. Most countries are setting 10- and 15-year targets that can be met with incremental changes
Yet that almost guarantees that the toughest problems, like perfecting the carbon-capturing technology, will be tackled too late to meet the long-term goal of zero emissions, the researchers found.
Another potential dead end, the research suggests, would be an overreliance on natural gas. Gas is a lower-carbon fuel than coal, and switching power plants to run on gas can achieve big emission reductions in the short run. The Obama administration, with its Clean Power Plan, is trying to lock in such a switch in the United States.
But the deep-decarbonization research suggests that gas has to go away within a few decades, which means that heavy investment in natural gas pipelines and power plants now could wind up undermining the long-term goals.

But as everyone was told this election, it's nice to have these ideals of not dying from preventable dirty energy pollution, but maybe not practical.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Australia's gun buyback program stopped violence, their inequality increased it

According to the Guardian, since gun homicides were trending down already, the likeliness of helping Americans with such a program would not help. Obviously there are things that reduce homicides other than guy buybacks. But I'm concerned this is going against existing research.

First of all, it's noteworthy Australia can be an example for at least some of the US, especially since the bulk of our suicides are done with and facilitated by guns. The suicide rate of Australia in 2014 was 12.71 per capita and is worrying but the gun suicide rate is under 1 per capita.

However, Australia presents a second harsh lesson with suicide. Low suicide towns in Australia have seen "recent improvements in the availability and geographical access to focused mental health initiatives" that "were associated with a reduction in the historically high rates of both youth and farmer suicides" while "In contrast HS towns, publicly funded health services were described as being very difficult to access, poorly advertised, or as having prohibitive delays for acute care."

It's noteworthy that suicide is extremely correlated with systemic inequality like poverty, as well as gender and drug abuse but it is also correlated with age, and Australia is an aging country with worrying health indicators even with a strong health care system.

To what degree these issues are involved needs further analysis than a trend line. Australia did in fact introduce more access to health care in 1984 which, when put into policy here, does reduce suicides. But in 1996 it shifted to a private/public system, seemingly leaving behind those using the public one.

All of this is important -- for Australia. Consider however that the United States citizenry are at present not experiencing a hanging epidemic but a gun suicide one (and are hopefully moving towards greater access to health care, we'll see). Looking at overall rates of gun violence in Australia is not a bad place to start. So what did happen to the gun violence rates after 1995 in Australia?

According to only just-dated but possibly relevant research by the Medical Journal of Australia (1988-2007):

Considered nationally, the falls in male suicide were due to significant reductions in shooting, gassing and poisoning, and occurred despite an increase in suicide by hanging. There were similar changes in the methods of suicide used by females. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that that measures to control the availability of firearms, the requirement for new cars to be fitted with catalytic converters and the decline in the prescription of tricyclic antidepressants have resulted in a decline in total suicide rates.

Here is the per capita gun suicide rate following 1995's gun buyback program:

 That still looks like a good start to me.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

More Healthcare, Less guns

39,991 people who happened to have lived in the United States killed themselves in 2013.

Rather than yell at people on Twitter about things I decided to make some nice pretty graphs about this horrible sad topic.

What comes to mind is Bernie saying that addressing health care coverage would reduce gun violence. So I tested his hypothesis and it seems to work. States with worse health care coverage tend to have higher gun suicides. However, states with higher gun ownership also have higher rates of suicide.

This is health care rating graphed against per capita gun suicides. As the state moves down the rank, the gun suicide rate goes up:

These data were collected by Injury Prevention, Gun Policy, and Commonwealth scorecard.

It is also true that states with less guns per capita have lower suicide rates. Here are firearm suicides (red) showing an increase as you start measuring states where they become more available.

In fact, the highest states in gun ownership all had suicide rates of over 15 per capita. New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming, West Virginia, Idaho, Arkansas and Alaska averaged 20 suicides per 100,000 people. In comparison the least armed states: Delaware, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey and New Hampshire averaged 10.

The second dip is at Hawaii which has a medium-high amount of guns, but strangely a very low gun suicide rate. Even general suicide rates it ranks inside the lowest 13 states (although their prosecutor is rightfully concerned regardless).

This is likely because as guns become more available, guns move from 30-50% to 50-75% of all suicides:

So while still having guns, that slump you see at 16% is Hawaii keeping guns away from at least some people who want to shoot themselves. According to Wikipedia:

Acquiring a firearm in Hawaii requires a permit to acquire, issued to qualified applicants by the county police chief. There is a minimum 14-20 day waiting period for receiving a permit. A separate permit is required for each handgun(s) transaction to be acquired (valid for a period of 10 days), while a "long gun" permit can be used for any number of rifles or shotguns for a period of one year. In addition to passing a criminal background check, applicants must provide an affidavit of mental health, and agree to release their medical records. First time applicants must be fingerprinted by the FBI (fee applies). When applying to acquire a handgun, a handgun safety training course affidavit or hunter's education card is also required.[9]
To put it another way, if Hawaii somehow jumped to the gun suicide rate of Wyoming and Alaska, it would be about 3,700 more gun suicides (15.7/1.99 = 7x , 7x339 is 4129 total).

If it can be proven that policy changes will threaten or help people it should become a bigger part of our project. There will need to be less appeals to archaic readings of the 2nd Amendment and simply just what works.

Part 2:

Citing Harvard isn't my favorite thing to do but they did map this out as well.

Part 3

Running this the opposite way: supposing the United States adopted Hawaii's more strict gun-buying rules that prevented gun suicide? Using again a rough back-of-the-envelope calculation that does NOT account for states with similar gun laws to Hawaii, but simply assumes they produce similar results, Hawaii's background check implemented nationally could save close to 15,000 lives:

Friday, June 17, 2016

On Neil Steinberg's Cowardly Narcisissm

When it came to people abused in Homan Square, Neil Steinberg asked us what we're smoking ("overblown"). Surely the police are the good guys. When it came to the police shooting Laquan McDonald his PCP history seemed very relevant ("Outrage is easy... "[b]lame culture that helped put the drug into the 17-year-old’s hands, and that reacts energetically to police officers killing young people, a relative rarity, but more mutedly to young people killing each other, a much larger problem, because it is easier to be aggrieved than responsible.")

Yet when Neil Steinberg is stood up to by someone beneath his station, the pieces all fall into place. He is just as misunderstood. The column of Neil Steinberg refers to his inability to purchase a gun. He attributes this, with no evidence, to being a reporter.  His personal drug abuse is a manufactured controversy! While this may or may not be true, it is certainly true that the gun store is correct in attributing alcohol use to Steinberg.

Let's review:

Steinberg to Black people: Eh you need more proof 
Steinberg to gun store: Why do you have so much proof? You hate me, I'm almost positive
Applying Steinberg's own principles, we must shame Steinberg for bringing himself into this situation. After all, it was enough that Laquan McDonald used a drug to justify shaming an entire "culture" after his murder (I think he meant to say race).

Monday, June 13, 2016

The sinister Muslims turning us into hypocrites!

A bill in support of religious freedom on 2001. Signed by a then-reasonable Barney Frank.


01-HR255 on Oct 4, 2001
Bill Sponsorship: the Resolution on bigotry against Sikh Americans:
Source: House Resolution Sponsorship
Title: Condemning bigotry and violence against Sikh Americans in the wake of terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001.

Summary: Declares that, in the quest to identify, locate, and bring to justice the perpetrators and sponsors of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, the civil rights and liberties of all Americans, including Sikh-Americans, should be protected.

    Condemns bigotry and acts of violence or discrimination against any Americans, including Sikh-Americans.
    Calls upon local and Federal law enforcement authorities to: (1) work to prevent hate crimes against all Americans; and (2) prosecute to the fullest extent of the law all those who commit hate crimes.


Third — and this, he said, “may be the most controversial” of his views: The attack “reinforces the case for significant surveillance by law enforcement of people who have given some indication of adoption of these angry Islamic hate views.” The gunman had been questioned by the F.B.I. “If they had continued to surveil him, that would have led to some A.C.L.U. criticism – and they would have been wrong. I wish they had surveilled him more, not less.”

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Just helping you balance my interests against yours

From 2011, a summary of the Obama administration's response to the popular revolts in the Middle East, the Arab Spring:

In interviews in recent days, officials acknowledged that the United States had limited influence over many actors in the region, and that the upheaval in Egypt, in particular, could scramble its foreign-policy agenda.
So it is proceeding gingerly, balancing the democratic aspirations of young Arabs with cold-eyed strategic and commercial interests. That sometimes involves supporting autocratic and unpopular governments — which has turned many of those young people against the United States.
From an email to Hillary Clinton describing Libya, whose oil minister is not alone in being connected to the industry he oversees (a kind of corruption that Reuters described as "cosy"):
In a private conversation, Jalil stated that he is working to balance the internal political realities of Libya against the concerns of the international business community. The President is concerned that the appointment of BenYezza as Oil Minister in October 2011 provided the JCP with a tangible concern to use against NTCcandidates during the July elections. After his long experience as a senior official of the Multinational Italian Oil FirmENI, Ben Yezza is viewed by Belhaj and many members of the LMB as a symbol of the issue they will pursue in the national election, the idea that NTC, like the Qaddafi, regime is corrupt and involved in allowing foreign interests to control the nation's mineral wealth.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Gaza Flooding

We are coming up on the anniversary of a flood when the impoverished Gaza principality was hit with untreated sewage from war. I happen to sympathize with those making the claims of malicious punishment, though, perhaps because I was fortunate to have read up on the subject myself more critically than even the press has done. Journalism these days has run afoul not only of facts but of the character of the democratic and Jewish state.

As reviewed by Israel's respected paper Haaretz in February of 2015, the general tone covering  February's flooding in Gaza was one that was uncovering a lie. “Al Jazeera on Wednesday retracted its story, based on false claims by Palestinian sources, that Israel had opened dams and flooded the Gaza Strip. This invention was repeated by the Agence France Presse (AFP) news agency, Britain's massively popular Daily Mail, Palestinian news agencies and countless other Internet and social media sites.” The article attempts to clarify that “current flooding in Gaza comes as a result of the heavy winter rains, which have been especially harsh on the masses of residents made homeless by Israeli air assaults in last summer's war.” The solution implied here is that Israel needs to recover its empathetic streak, and think of those least fortunate, made worse by the organic “heavy winter rains.”1
Generally the truth did move the reporters to describe the seriousness of the situation in Gaza but they still taunted readers with headlines. Buzzfeed's sassy pick was “No, Gaza Was Not Flooded By Israel Opening 'The Dams.'”2

It contrasted starkly with its own reporting: An anonymous Palestinian official told Buzzfeed that “[i]t is easy to say it is dams, easier than saying that the problem is infrastructure — not having infrastructure, having bad infrastructure, having what little infrastructure Gaza destroyed each time there is wa[r] — that is the truth. If we could rebuild Gaza, we could build a system that dealt with these horrible floods. But Gaza is in ruins, there is nowhere for the water to go, and each year it will be the same unless someone helps us.” 
Looking at the record, this doesn't go far enough. The AFP story was indeed retracted, citing a Belgian hydrology expert Julie Trottier who noted with clear tepidness that “[t]o my knowledge there is no dam on the Israeli side and terrain is not suited to the construction of a dam.” The whole story is that “the waters gathered naturally and it flooded.” 3 But this bears only on flood source not overall water flow. There seems rather to be an interplay of these forces.

A reservoir internal to Gaza indeed was overwhelmed in 2008.4 But Gaza floods have become beyond severe. Palestinian director-general of the Khan Younis municipality remarked on a recent flood that “the amount of water was massive and unexpected, making it impossible for water pumps or sewage canals to deal with it. Many are closed or blocked by garbage carried along by the rainwater.” 5

While it is technically true that the flood was “natural,” no mainstream outlet has tried to look at the effects of widening the several rivers in 2004 do empty into the Wadi Gaza. This drew immediate protest from Israeli environmentalists, which was kept to the Israeli press.6 The Hebrew article notes Yisrael Katz, a close ally of today's Netanyahu administration7, was hired to run the Ministry of Agriculture by Tzachi Hanegbi. Hanegbi had noted in the previous month that Palestinian prisoners hunger-striking for being forcibly marched, transfered, and beaten8, might as well “starve to death.”9

Israel widening the Nahal Secher in 2004

This doctrine is somewhat necessary to understand why Prime Minster Ariel Sharon's peace deal that wound its way through the Israeli political system didn't reduce of settlement activity in the West Bank. 10 According to a leaked State Department cable, the following year Israel “agreed to review [Palestinian Water Authority] concerns about Israeli wastewater running into the Wadi Gaza in either the [Israeli Joint Water Committee or Joint Technical Committee], and to address the impact on water supplies of the Israeli Kedumim garbage dump on the West Bank in the JTC” but noted the need to “maintain maximum pressure on the [Palestinian Authority].”11

Nothing of the sort made the 2015 press. It was enough to merely repeat the line supplied by lobbyist group Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting (CAMERA)12

'Israel doesn’t have any dams in the Nahal Habesor/Wadi Gaza watershed that it could open to flood Gaza. “There is a diverting dam one meter high which directs water to reservoirs. This is a low dam which cannot be opened or closed,' Nechemia Shahaf, head of the Drainage Authority for the Shikma-Besor Region, told the CAMERA media watchdog.

The reason why this is laughable to those who identify with the state requires understanding state culture. In mainstream thought, violence – as bombing and flooding polluted areas clearly are – tends to be understood as an exception to state doctrine. Perhaps the leading theorist on violence, Steven Pinker, summarized in his 2011 tome that to “cultivate faculties of empathy and self-control” requires “state control and its monopolization of violence, the growth of craft guilds and bureaucracies, the replacement of barter with money, the development of technology, the enhancement of trade, the growing webs of dependency among far-flung individuals” which “all fit into an organic whole.” Indeed, another State Department cable argues that the “most compelling argument for restarting the water projects is to show publicly visible support for a successful post-disengagement Gaza economy.13 According to prevailing wisdom then, being severely punished is a symptom corruption foreign to the United States, which, misogyny and its own prisoner tactics aside, is actually not a very big problem for Gaza when it comes to Hamas services.14
Violence as committed by states exhibiting civilized traits cannot be said to be done out of lack of empathy, but empathy that hasn't found its proper form. Civilized states might be forced to use violence at some point, but generally do not seek it out. As the pro-Israel group J Street put it in 2013, “We should take heart that the centrist heart of Israeli politics is alive and well, and the seemingly inexorable rise of the ultra-right has been halted.” 15

But like most states practicing conscious displacement of the indigenous population by settlers, this cannot be done with an honest reading of history. In a letter rebuking Mark Twain's resistance to the colonization of the Philippines, a reader gave flak that “[t]here is no people in the Philippines. There are a number of distinct tribes... none really civilized.” 16 This is exactly the sentiment argued again in 1970 by the Prime Minister of Israel, there never really was any displacement. “I’m not saying that there are no Palestinians, but there is no such thing that can be entitled Palestinian people.”17

Another illustrative example, reviewing the history of the violent colonization of the Philippines, historian John Morgan Gates wrote, “On the surface, most of the changes taking place in the American pacification campaign appeared to increase its severity and to abandon the policy of benevolent pacification, but this was not the case.” 18 He noted dryly:

Unfortunately, some Americans did not have as good an understanding of the new policy as General Bell, and for them it represented the inauguration of a campaign of severity. Consequently, some enlisted men could interpret the new policy as one of 'taking no prisoners' with MacArthur "sweeping everything as he goes," and officers could write of substituting "the effective noose for the futile school-book.” The cruelties and abuses that appeared in increasing numbers during 1900 continued, and those men who so desired could interpret the new pacification policy as a sanction for such action.

Simply put: we meant well.

1. Feb 25, 2015. Al Jazeera, Britain's Daily Mail Retract False Reports That Israel Opened Dams to Flood Gaza
2. Buzzfeed February 24, 2015. No, Gaza Was Not Flooded By Israel Opening “The Dams”
3. AFP wire via Daily Mail, February 27, 2015; Gaza floods: dispelling the myth about Israeli 'dams' ;
5. Middle East Eye 10 November 2015. Torrential rains pound Gaza, causing heavy flooding
6. שיקום" נחל סכר הפך אותו ל"כביש מהיר" October, 3, 2004; and mirrored*/; Hebrew; accessed 9/4/2015 See also: for Habesor Stream. "the Beersheba River flows into the Besor River, which ... spills into the Mediterranean Sea within the area of the Gaza Strip, creating a lake where waterfowl can be observed amid the lakeside vegetation" 

7. Washington Post July 28, 2015 Israelis scold Huckabee for saying Iran deal sends them to ‘door of the oven’; ret 2/2/2016
8. Haaretz Sep 19, 2004. Security Prisoners Charge Guards With Humiliating Them;
10. Znet. Sharon’s Gaza Pullout November 16, 2004 ret 2/2/2016
12. Times of Israel; February 25, 2015; False ‘Israel drowns Gaza’ claims sweep internet
15.. J Street website. January 25th, 2013. Window of Opportunity ret 2/2/2016
18. 1937; Schoolbooks and Krags; the United States Army in the Philippines, 1898-1902;view=fulltext) ret 2/2/2016