Tag Archives: disinformation

Congressmen Say Their Own Personal Debt is OK, but not Government Debt

This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com

Ah, “elected” government, where hypocrites are paid to advocate for causes they may or may not even agree with, and legislate rules that they themselves don’t follow. And apropos of budget hysteria and economic terrorism being wrought against popular public programs, the trumped-up fears are not only false (the debt crisis is imaginary, and only 6% of the country is aware that the deficit is actually falling) but it’s no surprise to anyone that the ‘debt-fixing’ warriors don’t have the same view of their own debt as they do of the country’s, or yours.

As Josh Israel of ProPublica points out, fourteen of the most vitriolic enemies of vital programs themselves live with the personal irresponsibility of private debt (to the tune of millions).

These hypocrites include:

  • House Budget Committee Member Tom Rice (R-SC):Wrote: “At a time when hardworking American families are living off of a budget, the federal government should be no different. My colleagues and I believe it is time for America to change course and get back on a path of prosperity. This begins with a balanced budget plan.” Reported five mortgages totaling over $4 million.
  • House Budget Committee Member Diane Black (R-TN):Wrote: “The state of Tennessee balances its budget, American families and businesses balance their budgets and so should the federal government,” and “Balancing the budget is not extreme; it is what American families across this country do on a regular basis.” Reported four mortgages on three properties, totaling more than $3 million.
  • House Budget Committee Member Roger Williams (R-TX):Said Wednesday: “We have to have a balanced budget. I have to balance my budget. Everybody in America has to balance their family’s budget or their business’ budget, not every ten years, not even every single year, but every single day.” Reported more than $2.5 million in business debts.
  • House Budget Committee Member Scott Rigell (R-VA):Boasted that he voted for a balanced budget amendment because: “I know that American families do what they have to do to live within their means; and so too should the government.” Reported $1.5 million in lines of credit, a $500,000-plus mortgage, and over $10,000 in credit card debt.
  • House Budget Committee Member Bill Flores (R-TX):Wrote: “It’s time Washington was forced to finally live within its means and cut up the credit cards. Every American family and 49 out of 50 states currently abide by some form of a balanced-budget requirement. If they can make the hard choices to pay their bills and live within their means, then Washington should too,” and “American families and businesses must live by this principle every day, and they want Congress to abide by the same rule.” Reported two mortgages on residences totaling over $1.5 million.
  • House Republican Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA): In a joint editorial with Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), wrote: “Just as any family or business has to do, Washington needs to learn to live within its means.” Reported three mortgages totaling at least $1 million.
  • House Budget Committee Member Vicky Hartzler (R-MO): Said in a floor speech: “Families I talk to, they say, Every year we balance our budget, how come Washington doesn’t? Every small business I visit says, We balance our budget, how come Washington doesn’t? Every farmer and rancher I visit with says, We balance our budget, how come Washington doesn’t?” Reported five real estate mortgages totaling more than $900,000.
  • House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-WA):Wrote: “Balancing the budget isn’t a liberal or conservative issue. When families in Eastern Washington balance their budgets, they don’t consider it a liberal or conservative policy; it’s just a requirement of life,” and “Families, small businesses and even the State of Washington must balance their budgets. It’s difficult and it forces some hard choices. It’s time for the federal government to do the same.” Reported three mortgages totalling more than $600,000 and a student loan of at least $10,000.
  • House Budget Committee Member Reid Ribble (R-WI):Explained that he’d backed a bill because “we need to put a stop to the irresponsible deficit spending in Washington. Families across Wisconsin have been forced to scale back their spending and balance their budgets, yet the federal government has failed to do the same.” Reported several mortgages on properties and a home equity line of credit, totaling several hundred thousand dollars.
  • House Budget Committee Member Rob Woodall (R-GA):Wrote: “A Balanced Budget Amendment is crucial to ensuring fiscal responsibility in our government, not only today, but in the years to come,” Woodall said. “American families and businesses must decide how to spend their money responsibly; it’s time that the folks in Washington do the same.”Reported two mortgages totaling more than $150,000.
  • House Budget Committee Member Alan Nunnelee (R-MS):Wrote that “businesses, large and small, are working on their budgets for 2012. Each of these groups, local governments, state government, and private businesses operate with a very practical consideration…they must make their budgets balance. This is a concept that American families understand. Thirty years ago, just before I was to be married, a very wise friend taught me a simple but important principle of family budgeting, ‘If your outgo exceeds your income then your upkeep will be your downfall.’ The only entity in America that does not seem to understand this concept is the federal government,” and “Families and businesses in my district have been sitting down, cutting spending, balancing their budgets and making tough decisions. It’s time for the federal government to do the same. A balanced budget amendment will legally force the federal government to only spend what it takes in and start living within its means – a practice Mississippi families and businesses are asked to do every day, yet a practice our own President refuses to participate in. Reported four mortgages on two properties, totaling more than $145,000.
  • House Budget Committee Member James Lankford (R-OK): Said in a floor speech: “Nineteen years ago my wife and I married. I was still in school, I was working as much as I could, she was also working, but we were barely making it, but we made the decision, we were not going to run up credit card debt and live beyond our means. We paid our school loans, we tied to our church, we ate a lot of peanut butter, and we lived simply. As Dave Ramsey said, we determined to act our wage. It’s a biblical principal for myself and my family; Proverbs 22:7 states, ‘The borrower is a slave to the lender.’ Proverbs 22 applies to families, and Proverbs 22 applies to nations. If we were living within our means as a nation, almost all the debate in the last six months in this chamber would have been different.”Reported that he “is a slave” to Bank of America, with whom he has a mortgage of more than $100,000.
  • House Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA):Wrote: “In order to make ends meet and plan ahead, hardworking American families and small businesses budget to manage their finances. Why can’t Washington?” and “In the past two years, discretionary spending has increased by 84 percent and our debt has grown by over $3.5 trillion. No family or small business in Bakersfield, or anywhere for that matter, would ever budget like this, and the federal government cannot.” Reported a mortgage of over $100,000.
  • House Budget Committee Member Sean Duffy (R-WI):Wrote: “Congress must learn what every working family and small business in Central and Northwestern Wisconsin has known for a painfully long time: the path forward to a sustainable and prosperous future is paved by fiscal responsibility and smaller, smarter government. One of the most commonsense measures we can enact is a balanced budget amendment which simply dictates that the federal government must live within its means. This is a lesson well-learned by the hardworking citizens of Wisconsin and there’s no reason why Washington should live by different rules than Wausau, Chippewa Falls or Rice Lake.” Reported two mortgages totaling more than $150,000, a line of credit, and a student loan of more than $50,000.

As AllGov points out, forty-six lawmakers in Congress owe thousands of dollars in college loans, totaling between $1.8 million and $4.3 million (via OpenSecrets data). But we’re still not see much action in the way of student debt justice.

They probably don’t care a whit for their own debt because they know the next big bribe or revolving door contract is just around the corner. And they don’t care about your debt at all, because elites in the bubble don’t think the same as we do. And to be perfectly honest, they don’t hate the government debt either, as their buddies continue to get rich off of it (and the big drivers of debt and deficit, Pentagon spending, will not shrink an ounce). But they need a fear engendered in the populace so they can have an excuse to take things away from the populace. And if you complain that the programs you have known and loved on for decades are being austerely destroyed, well, you’re just a ‘moocher’ who wants ‘more free stuff’.

The ProPublica piece reminds us that the government is not the same as a corporation, and shouldn’t be run like one. But even considering that corpo-fascism has already taken hold of our once-public infrastructure that used to serve us, they’re still running it like a pretty piss-poor business.

Al-Jazeera Buys Current TV, Pundits’ Heads Explode

This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com

Current TV was sold to Al-Jazeera English for a reported $500 million dollars. Eliot Spitzer has quit his show, while the Young Turks made a point of saying they are independent, and thus owned by neither organization.

Time Warner Cable opportunistically jumped at the chance to drop Current with the ‘change of ownership’ clause in their contract. Time Warner contends it was not a political move, but cited ‘lack of demand’ and their already-streaming online free content as factors. According to the New York Times, Time Warner Cable wrote: “We are keeping an open mind, and as the service develops, we will evaluate whether it makes sense, for our customers, to launch the network.”

The point has been made at AlterNet that Time Warner subscribers are hit with the cost of political organizations they may not even want, with FOX charging $1 per month for its content and MSNBC 20 cents.

It is difficult to take seriously, however, claims that anything regarding Al-Jazeera in America (which would be called Al-Jazeera America) are not at least somewhat politically-motivated. FOX fraudsters called Al Gore and his Current TV a litany of names from ‘failures’ ($500 million worth of fail) to hypocritical assertions of tax avoidance, even implications of American betrayal and of being *gasp* unpatriotic!  FOX has a long history of blind stereotyping and anti-Muslim hatred, xenophobic fear-mongering and jingoistic bias; they reveal too much of themselves by calling the internationally award-winning Al-Jazeera English news agencies Anti-American terror mouthpieces: “Al Jazeera, known as the network of the Arab Street, is also known for taking anti-American, anti-Israel and pro-terror positions.” Absurd allegations from arguably the most morally bankrupt propaganda companies in the media.

The Huffington Post reminds us that this partisan vitriol is nothing new;

The Bush administration condemned Al Jazeera for its Arabic-language network’s coverage of the Iraq War and broadcasting of al Qaeda tapes, even targeting its headquarters in Baghdad during the Iraq War. Perceptions that the news organization, which is funded by Qatar’s government, is anti-American continue even as U.S. political leaders such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) have praised the network’s reporting abroad.

Al Anstey, managing director of Al Jazeera English, acknowledged to The Huffington Post in August 2011 that “in the United States of America, there were myths and misconceptions that needed to be tackled about what Al Jazeera stood for and what Al Jazeera English stood for and stands for.”

On Wednesday, Al Jazeera management expressed confidence that there’s strong demand for its programming in the U.S., which already accounts for 40 percent of the viewership of its streaming English-language network.

The talking heads at FOX are exploding so fast at news of the sale, you’d think terrorists had managed to creep in.

Bill O’Reilly has lambasted Al-Jazeera’s coverage of the Arab Spring for its ties to the government of Qatar; which would have been a legitimate criticism if it wasn’t embedded in such an an us-vs-them framing, and combined with a factually inaccurate post-9/11 terror angle. It is also particularly silly considering FOX’s parent company’s second-biggest investors is Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, a nephew of the Saudi king. FOX’s biggest investor and founder is, of course, an Australian. Those damn international interests at work!

Glenn Beck went so far as to claim Al Gore had chosen to sell to Al-Jazeera over red-blooded American patriots such as himself. Unfortunately, Beck’s story is beset with inconvenient truths; he didn’t have the money for the purchase, didn’t intend to raise the money, was not a serious buyer, and happens to be at the opposite end of the philosophical universe as Gore. Beck then admitted that he thinks “global warming is nonsense”, and said that Al-Jazeera “hates America” while he himself loves it. Just loves it up in a cup.

Via The Young Turks:

Most of the ‘America hatred’ stems from Al-Jazeera’s coverage in the Middle East, including reporting on and showing the released tapes of Osama Bin Laden. Because a new agency should, you know, ignore or lie about what is going on in the world, especially if it concerns international affairs, the War on Terror or national security. How ridiculously pathetic is our own myopic national news when it has to be stated: “Content with an Arab perspective is not necessarily anti-American.”

Progressive online source Salon has even more on the possible biases and more possible openness of new points-of-view that would come from Americans getting that sweet cable access:

Juliette Kayyem, the national security and foreign policy columnist for the Boston Globe and lecturer at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, told Salon that the impression of Al Jazeera as an anti-America, anti-Israel newsroom was misleading. On a visit last month to Doha’s Al Jazeera campus, she noted, the reporters seemed more than anything young, ambitious and innovative. (Failing to break into the U.S. market meaningfully with Al Jazeera English, the network had been streaming through YouTube for interested U.S. viewers.) They were unconcerned about ownership issuing marching orders: “The monarchy knows Al Jazeera is a good brand for the monarchy,” said Kayyem. “And the more they mess with Al Jazeera, it’s not a good brand.”

Which is not to say that Al Jazeera has magically shed a point of view. “I suspect as viewers get to know the content,” said Al Tompkins, the Poynter Institute’s senior faculty for broadcasting, “they will develop filters through which to watch the journalism, in the same way thoughtful viewers filter Fox or MSNBC and so on.” He cited Britain, Canada, South Africa and Denmark as states whose government-funded networks did good journalistic work.

For the record, can we just acknowledge that every media source has some bias somewhere along the political gradient, with many much worse than others? I can appreciate the alternative views from liberals at RT, for example, and still realize that they go easy on their own right-wing president Putin, who just granted a tax haven to the wealthy. I can enjoy the Chris Hayes and Ed Schultzes of MSNBC, and also see their news cycle asapologism for Obama‘s war crimes. I don’t need to suspect every local story from every minor FOX affiliate to be branded and approved by the GOP, especially if I’m watching FOX Sports.

Once again, it just requires constant calibration of your bullshit detector, which can only be helped by more information, not less.

The Genetic Killer

This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com

Another proposed “solution” to the mass shootings in America is sure to upset many camps; privacy advocates, mental health care advocates, and even those calling for the heads of the murderers. Soon we will have the results of genetic analysis of Adam Lanza, which may be used by scientists to model genetic predispositions of violence, or by defense attorneys in their pleas. This controversial science is being criticized from all sides, condemned as “misguided and could lead to dangerous stigmatization.”

via Vaughan Bell at Mind Hacks:

But the request to analyse the DNA of Lanza is just the latest in a long line of attempts to account for the behaviour of individual killers in terms of genetics.

Perhaps the first attempt was for a case that bears more than a surface resemblance to the Sandy Hook shooting. In 1998, a 15-year-old high school student called Kip Kinkel killed both of his parents before driving to school and shooting 24 students, one of whom died.

In his trial a child psychiatrist argued that Kinkel had “genetic loading” that made him susceptible to mental illness and violence.

His appeal also relied upon this angle. His lawyer argued that “owing to a genetic predisposition, and therefore through no conscious fault of his own, the defendant suffers a mental illness resulting in committing his crimes.”

Perhaps for the first in decades, an appeal to genetics was used in an attempt to explain the killer’s behaviour.

The genetic arguments became more sophisticated with the trial of serial killer Cary Stayner where a psychiatrist and geneticist presented a genealogy of the his family showing how mental illness and violence ‘ran through the family’.

By the time of the trial of murderer Stephen Mobley, the defence based part of their case on molecular genetics – suggesting that Mobley had a version of the MAOA gene that made him susceptible to violence.

It’s worth noting that none of these appeals to genetics have been successful in the courtroom but it’s interesting that in light of the tragic events in Sandy Hook there has been, yet again, a look towards genetics to try and make sense of the killer – this time presumably based on the yet more advanced technology of whole DNA sequencing.

On this occasion, however, the reasons seems less related to issues of legal responsibility and more for scientific motivations, supposedly to better understand the ‘DNA of a killer’.

As the Nature editorial makes clear, this is foolish: “There is no one-to-one relationship between genetics and mental health or between mental health and violence. Something as simple as a DNA sequence cannot explain anything as complex as behaviour.”

There is a valuable science of understanding how genetics influences violent behaviour but analysis of individual killers will tell us very little about their motivations.

It does, however, reflect a desire to find something different in people who commit appalling crimes. Something that is comprehensible but distinct, alien but identifiable.

This may give us comfort, but it does little to provide answers. In the midst of tragedy, however, the two can easily be confused.

While I have mulled the utility of psychopathy testing before (mostly to weed out serial killers and white-collar criminals), I certainly don’t want to demonize mental illness. I also don’t want to see this turned into a genetic witchhunt, with public registries that would affect hiring, insurance rates, or result in other forms of discrimination or revocation of rights. Not only is it unknown for sure if Adam Lanza (or even James Holmes, for that matter) suffered from mental illness or disorder, but depending on the definitions, as many as 1-in-4 Americans might fall into this camp. This framing also narrowly and unfairly decides what is “normative,” always a dangerous proposition for society.

This sort of ‘registration’ might end up much worse for our liberty and democracy than any gun registration, by orders of magnitude. Especially if, as indicated by our elected leaders and the NRA, we are more concerned with tracking and banning these individuals than providing resources and help.

It sets a scary precedent, but it is also the observable evidence-based realm of science. Should we even go there? What do you think?

Read the artice in Nature, and follow Mind Hacks for more in-depth analysis of complex psychological and neurological issues.

The Worst Do-Nothing Congress Since the 1940s

This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com

The 112th Congress, which opened on January 3, 2011 and ended January 3, 2013, was not only one of the most unpopular in history (less popular, in fact, than cockroaches, traffic jams and Nickelback), but it was also one of the laziest.

Perhaps lazy isn’t the right word… Obstructionist? Divided? Constipated! That’s the word I was looking for. The current US Congress would rather lie in a pool of its own partisan shit than stand for principled progress for the American people, who used to be their constituency some thirty years ago.

Of the more than 3,900 bills introduced, by the end of the year only 238 had been adopted, a passage rate around 6%.

From David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff from AllGov:

It is worth noting that 32 of the successful bills involved the naming of post offices and other buildings, while many others were of similar import.

Only 61 real bills went to President Barack Obama’s desk for signing, and he signed them all. This paltry productivity has put the 112th Congress on track to be the least productive in recent history. Even the 80th Congress, branded the “do-nothing” Congress by President Harry Truman in 1948, passed more pieces of legislation (those lawmakers passed 906 bills that became law).
Congressional efficiency peaked in the election years of 1956 and 1958, when Republican President Dwight Eisenhower worked with Democrats, who held slim majorities in both houses of Congress. In 1956, 638 bills were signed into law and in 1958 620. Eisenhower did veto 23 bills in 1956 and 39 in 1958.

The 104th Congress (1995-1996) previously held the ignominious distinction of being the least productive session of Congress, according to the U.S. House Clerk’s Office, with 333 bills passed.

Of course, we know that most of the legislation they do propose is slanted in favor of corporate interests and against the people, and that conservative groups like ALEC actually write most of the text themselves, which lawmakers then copy and alter slightly to appear as their own work. So… exactly what are we paying these people for?

This Congress is one of the most polarized since the Civil War and Reconstruction (which may also explain some of the underlying motives). House Republicans have spent nearly as much time trying to repeal and filibuster (115 times) the bills that they don’t like rather than propose and adopt those that they do. They have blocked raising the minimum wage and the Violence Against Women Act, and voted to repeal Obamacare more than 30 times, while both sides have agreed to allow the President to indefinitely detain and wiretap American citizens without warrants. President Obama, for his part, has vetoed a total of two bills.

Public Policy Polling found that the current Congress has an abysmally low favorability rating of  9 percent, with 85 percent of voters having a negative view. Among the other things more popular with Americans than Congress: lice, Brussels sprouts, NFL replacement refs, colonoscopies, root canals and carnies.

Which leads me to an obvious solution: we should just elect carnies to Congress. It would still be bad, but the economy is already run like one of those crooked games of chance, and at least there’d be more cotton candy. And if you can guess the weight of Chris Christie, they’ll pass relief funding for your state!

And if I were one of those congressmen, I’d be especially embarrassed to be considered worse than Nickelback.

Perpetual War Without End

This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com

As we enter another year of drone strikes, cyber-warfare, espionage, pre-emptive strikes, funding of coups, instigation, and still those combat boots on the ground, many Americans are shaking the daze of election-year, fiscal debt lies, and popular culture distractions from their minds. Just how long are we going to be embedded in the Middle East? Why does it seem we are moving on to parasitically do the same in Africa? Are these theaters of war par for the course? Have we been witnessing a new Vietnam? Fed up citizens everywhere are sick of the deaths of civilians, the war crimes, the cover-ups, the secrecy, the lies.

Glenn Greenwald, one of the few tirelessly crusading journalists left, rounds up the talking head hypocrisies and obstinate thinking of our leaders and policies associated with the War on Terror. Like the War on Drugs, this ideological jihad has no specific end date; it can’t possibly by definition. The declared national security objectives make it theoretically and practically impossible. The reality is, of course, that they are accelerating. So if the parade of conflicts (IraqAfghanistan,YemenEastasiaEurasiaEastasiaEurasia) is as infinite as the human penchant for bloodletting and violence, then can it even be called a war? And if it isn’t a war, what is it, and what the hell are we doing to our fellow humans with our death from above?

Excerpts from Glenn Greenwald’s column at The Guardian:

The polices adopted by the Obama administration just over the last couple of years leave no doubt that they are accelerating, not winding down, the war apparatus that has been relentlessly strengthened over the last decade. In the name of the War on Terror, the current president has diluted decades-old Miranda warnings; codified a new scheme of indefinite detention on US soil; plotted to relocate Guantanamo to Illinois; increased secrecyrepression and release-restrictions at the camp;minted a new theory of presidential assassination powers even for US citizens; renewed the Bush/Cheney warrantless eavesdropping framework for another five years, as well as the Patriot Act, without a single reform; and just signed into law all new restrictions on the release of indefinitely held detainees.

Does that sound to you like a government anticipating the end of the War on Terror any time soon? Or does it sound like one working feverishly to make their terrorism-justified powers of detention, surveillance, killing and secrecy permanent? About all of this, the ACLU’s Executive Director, Anthony Romero, provided the answer on Thursday: “President Obama has utterly failed the first test of his second term, even before inauguration day. His signature means indefinite detention without charge or trial, as well as the illegal military commissions, will be extended.”

There’s a good reason US officials are assuming the “War on Terror” will persist indefinitely: namely, their actions ensure that this occurs…

There’s no question that this “war” will continue indefinitely. There is no question that US actions are the cause of that, the gasoline that fuels the fire. The only question – and it’s becoming less of a question for me all the time – is whether this endless war is the intended result of US actions or just an unwanted miscalculation.

It’s increasingly hard to make the case that it’s the latter. The US has long known, and its own studies have emphatically concluded, that “terrorism” is motivated not by a “hatred of our freedoms” but by US policy and aggression in the Muslim world. This causal connection is not news to the US government. Despite this – or, more accurately, because of it – they continue with these policies.

They act ignorant of blowback precisely because they are counting on it to maintain the status quo of the ongoing conflict. Either that, or they’re hoping that once all their tactics are fully “normalized”, they can toss any contradictory information down the memory tube. Read or subscribe to Glenn Greenwald’s daring coverage here.

Smart Guns Don’t Kill People

This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com

Technologist and New York Times columnist Nick Bilton explores the development of ‘smart guns‘ designed only to work with the owner’s grip or palmprint. These biometric devices are not entirely new, but are still unable to make it into the marketplace. Smart gun tech may have appeased the most idealogical contenders of either side of the debate on Sandy Hook and other gun massacres: they would not have prevented the killers from being able to use any of the firearms in question, but allowed the original owners to keep them without any infringement of their rights.

Nick Bilton via the NYT’s Bits Blog:

For example, the iGun, made by Mossberg Group, cannot be fired unless its owner is wearing a ring with a chip that activates the gun.

But you would be hard pressed to find this technology on many weapons sold in stores. “The gun industry has no interest in making smart-guns. There is no incentive for them,” said Robert J. Spitzer, a professor of political science at SUNY Cortland and the author of four books on gun policy. “There is also no appetite by the government to press ahead with any kind of regulation requiring smart-guns. These safety options exist today.”

But gun advocates are staunchly against these technologies, partly because so many guns are bought not in gun shops, but in private sales. “Many guns are bought and sold on the secondary market without background checks, and that kind of sale would be inhibited with fingerprinting-safety technologies in guns,” he said.

I called several major gun makers and the National Rifle Association. No one thinks a smart-gun will stop a determined killer. But I thought Smith & Wesson and Remington, for instance, would want to discuss how technology might help reduce accidental shootings, which killed 600 people and injured more than 14,000 in the United States in 2010. The gunmakers did not respond, and neither did the N.R.A.

A Wired magazine article from 2002 gives a glimpse of the N.R.A.’s thinking. “Mere mention of ‘smart-gun’ technology elicited sneers and snickers faster than a speeding bullet,” the magazine wrote. It quoted the N.R.A.’s executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, as saying, “Tragic victims couldn’t have been saved by trigger locks or magazine bans or ‘smart-gun’ technology, or some new government commission running our firearms companies.”

TriggerSmart, an Irish company, has patented a childproof smart-gun. One feature is a “safe zone” that can be installed in schools and acts as a force field, disabling any TriggerSmart gun that enters a designated area. Robert McNamara, the company’s founder, has been trying to persuade gun makers to adopt the technology. He isn’t having much luck. “One gun manufacturer told us if we put this technology in one particular gun and some kid gets shot with another gun, then they will have to put them in all guns,” he said.

“We believe we could have helped prevent the Newtown massacre.”

You’ll notice how quickly the NRA equates reasonable proposals like smart gun technology with outright bans and government seizure. The impediments reveal the true, insidious nature of despicable groups like the NRA, who don’t care about human beings unless they have a large pocketbook. They don’t lobby for gun owners, but for large gun manufacturers; gun owners are the window dressing, support for them is incidental, tertiary, and superficial.

This is not the sole solution in a)the rampant problem with hundreds of thousands of unregistered guns, b)the irresponsibility of gun policy in this country, which can be well-regulated without violation of rights, or c)search of a problem, depending on your stance. Obviously ‘smart guns’ would not do anything about illegal guns or second sale or heirloom firearms, which account for a large percentage of sales and crime. This is the problem with most of the proposed legislation and ‘fixes’ from the left; they disproportionately affect responsible gun owners and not criminal use of guns.

Wayne LaPierre, no better than Diane Feinstein, used the tragedy as a pulpit to distract towards everything else besides his own moneyed lobby. It was the culture. It was vidyuh games (thanks, Jack Thompson). It wasHollywood. It was Jon Stewart. It was *as always* the atheists and gays. It was those damn mentally infirm. Hold! For a moment, my heart skipped a beat, would the NRA take an official and humanitarian position on our crumbling mental health care infrastructure? Would they promise millions in direly needed aid to prevent tragedies wrought by unfortunately afflicted people (and not their guns)? No, of course, the NRA’s position is that the mentally unfit should be registered, locked down, locked up, controlled, banned, pushed, filed,stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered. So the people themselves can be infringed upon and violated, but a material possession like guns cannot? Riiiight.

They are unforgivable hypocrites at best, and monstrous profiteers at worst; they have done their part to arm the mentally illAnd in 2007, the NRA fought to allow suspected terrorists of having guns.

My eyes began to glaze over and drool formed around the zombified corners of my mouths as gun advocates praised ideas like putting more guns in schools, more armed guards in our police state children’s vicinity, arm the teachers and principals, FUCK IT, ARM THE KIDS THEMSELVES! None of this makes any goddamned sense, of course, when we look at instances of armed people (including cops) who make shootings even worse by playing hero and spraying more bullets in our combat zones public spaces, often getting themselves and others injured or killed.

And while I don’t believe that there is any NWO scheme to take the guns out of our cold dead hands, I do think that Democrats view it as an easy P.R. win. Another insincere and empty gesture, fully knowing that the final legislation will be watered down, ineffective, meaningless and probably contain a few provisions for special interests and corporations. It might even contain a payout for the NRA, if they play their cards right. Whatever bill is passed will expire or be struck down a few years later, and the whole dance can begin again. The whole hysteria, you’ll notice, is great for gun sales.

Neither LaPierre, Feinstein, nor any other mainstream pundit is proposing any combination of rational and evidence-based approaches to guns or mental health. Even Obama’s statements about making mental health care more easily accessible were lacking any resolution, detail or conviction. They are all knee-jerk reactions based on ideological bias and false, dystopic views of how the world really works.

As FactCheck.org points out, it is a complicated issue with seemingly contradictory statistics and no clear answers. There is academic disagreement and dubious causation for what is happening in America, where gun manufacturing and sales are up, but violent crime and crimes committed with guns are down. However, “non-fatal gun injuries from assaults increased last year for the third straight year“, so there are other factors. We don’t know if there are more gun owners, or more of the same people buying more guns. And still the maniacal massacres continue. Include suicides in the number of gun deaths, and the whole story changes. Gun deaths may outstrip falling rates of automobile deaths by 2015.

I’m not an advocate for any sort of ban at this point, but conflating handguns to assault rifles is like apples to oranges. Or comparing guns to fists and hammers. Or small businesses to multinational corporations. Or fracking done in the 50′s to fracking done today. Ad nauseam. It’s absurd. Guns still account for over double all other murder weapons in the US combined.

I’m sure to ruffle feathers on both sides of the aisle whenever I talk about guns, but I just don’t see the problem with treating them like automobiles. Responsible people register them, irresponsible people don’t. If you want to keep it in your garage and not use it, don’t register it and don’t take it out. If you want to take it out and not pay a hefty fine or punishment, then register it. They only get banned when they get used irresponsibly.

So guns don’t kill people. Smart guns don’t kill people. Sane and insane people use guns to kill lots of people (more people than other weapons can in a single shot), including themselves. And those in power each have vested interests in not being reasonable.

Perhaps the best coverage of the shootings in 2012 was summed up in The Onion’s headline: Fuck Everything.

The Difficulties of Discourse

This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com

The futility of political discourse seems all-too-evident in America, whether at the highest levels of power concerning the nonexistent ‘fiscal cliff’ or the debt ceiling, or around the family reunion dinner table concerning guns and health care. Both ‘sides’ are guilty of pseudoscientific claims, misrepresenting the opposition, sowing division with unnecessary ‘othering’, and usually no real clue as to where they actually stand on the issues or why they stand there at all.

Authors like Alex Berezow and Hank CampbellChris Mooney and Jonathan Haidtclaim to have found the secrets behind flawed political brains, usually on the opposite ‘side’ than their own. Many studies and online polls posit to have found the mechanisms by which liberals and conservatives operate; liberals are smarter,conservatives are happierliberals stereotype moreconservatives bow to authority more. While many of these trends can and do show up again and again, it ignores the diversity within and without party lines, the cognitive dissonance along the ideological spectrum, and the subtler reckonings of individual issue orientation. It defies capitulation, conciliation, and compromise. The sweeping generalizations that each ‘side’ usually eschews concerning class, race, religion, gender and sexuality do not seem to apply when considering others in the political landscape.

As Peter Lawler discusses in a recent BigThink post, there is actually a very wide diversity of conservative opinion, some with more depth than others. If we understand the common history, traditions, populist underpinnings and umbrella themes of even widely disparate worldviews, we can begin to work together towards reasonable approaches and solutions to society’s ills.

What’s the big difference between American conservatives and leftist nationalists?  They have different views on how much big government can remedy the excesses of big business.  Another difference concerns their view of the goodness and enduring viability of local institutions and traditional morality.  They actually tend to agree that Marx’s description of capitalism as reducing our freedom to “nothing left to lose” is largely true.  They differ a lot on the goodness and efficacy of some socialist antidote.  From a socialist view, the [The Front Porch Republic] are agrarian reactionaries.  From a Porcher view, the Marxists are irresponsibly “Gnostic” utopians.

Clearly, generalizations and sterotyping are an impediment to progress on either “side”. Even this false dichotomy of language (a relic of the oligarchy’s division tactics and oversimplified media portrayal), contributes to the unhealthy ‘othering‘ that ultimately serves to dehumanize one’s debate opponent. If the other side wants to murder unborn babies, then they are inhuman monsters. If the other side allows people of color to live with poverty and police brutality, then they are heartless misanthropists.

Because, just as with any intellectual pursuit that involves reason, logic, and candor, striving for thorough understanding is hard. It would be much simpler to only intake the sources that validate our reactionary conservatism, religious zealotry, neoconservative militancy, wall street greed and austerity, party cheerleading, progressive utopia, new age psycho-babble, left-wing anarchism, conspiracy theory, or UFO dreamland.

Party affiliation can be deceptive, as can positioning oneself along the political spectrum, rife with overgeneralizations and false associations. Although it’s also inaccurate to outright deny existing on the spectrum at all; the truth lies somewhere in the middle. On issues, you exist more on a web, an amalgam of strands as varied as the visible spectrum of light (and even the invisible, if our mixed metaphor allows for our hidden biases and subconscious belief systems). Taken as a mean, however, it is fair to place yourself somewhere, at least initially for comparison.

So does a progressive have more in common with an anarchist or socialist than a neocon? Do a Democrat and a Republican each have more in common with a centrist or moderate than the radical extremists in their own parties? Do the moderates of each ‘side’ have more they can agree on than the loud and oversampled minority flanking their ranks?

Talking Points Memo highlighted the efforts of a small, but responsible, group of conservatives who are “pro-same-sex marriage, pro-choice, pro-tax Republican activists.” They may be on the rise, as the Tea Partiers whoenergized frenzied the base resulted in embarassing media coverage, abominable policy stances, a fractured party and a disastrous election. The cry to distance themselves may be ‘Everything in Moderation!’, as we all realize that those social issues are always going to be nagging ethical arguments nuanced between us, but that the majority of Americans are actively under attack by unprincipled predators.

Most people honestly believe their delusions and logical fallacies. They came by them honestly. It will only take the incessant jackhammering of facts to break them free. Whether they believe that there is a massive Kenyan conspiracy or that the mushrooms can talk to us, they are not crazy nor liars. The endeavor of discourse, be it personable, in the media, or the national conversation, should aim to correct misconceptions, preconceived notions, and mistakes. We are not concerned with intellectually dishonest actors here. Do not lower yourself into debate with manipulators and charlatans who are mostly concerned with power and greed. They are not usually themselves radicals or revolutionaries, unless they are using and steering such a group for their own self-interests. As a rational, reasonable debater, you will find your considerable efforts at chipping away the hard exterior of an entrenched acolyte to be far easier than dealing with an unremitting fraud. You can pull the former closer to a more moderate position with enough time and work. After all, they believe themselves pursuant to the truth; they have just fallen down a corridor of errors in their search. A liar has no such allegiance.

It is true that what is ‘moderate’ and ‘centrist’ changes over time. This is not a post-modernist statement endorsing relative morality or truth. It is evident that our national dialogue, and the pandering rhetoric of our elected demogogues, swings over time. There is nothing innate in it that demands it become more progressive or reactionary over time. Other trends such as changing demographics, current events, media, law, those in power gaming the system, and technological transparency help define what the New Normal is. We all contribute to it. We are all in a constant tug-of-war game.

It may be the case that in the grand scheme of the social contract and evolution, we are hardwired by default for authoritarianism, and to conserve the status quo. Think of gene preservation and proliferation and likewise other outlier mutations. But just because something is the popular consensus (logical fallacy: argumentum ad populum) or rules by our leaders (logical fallacy: argument from authority) doesn’t make it right. Likewise, just because something is novel or progressive (logical fallacy: appeal to novelty) doesn’t make it right. It is right because it is right. No, evidence and a factual revelation of how reality works should govern our beliefs and ideology, not the other way around.

We strive as civilized animals for societal progress; to protect the unprotected, to feed the hungry, to clothe the cold, to shelter the homeless, to defend the defenseless. Members in every camp can be reached who feel a sense of justice, fairness, equaility, and civil liberty as part of our American tradition and values. Only those actively working against a righteous human condition need be discounted from the discourse (unfortunately, they are often given center stage, the sensationalist media spotlight, a louder voice within their respective parties than the rest).

And there are a variety of radicals in every camp as well; neoconservatives, tea party conservatives, anarchists, corporatists, new agers, creationists, paleoconservatives, anarchoconservatives, tax protestors, ecoterrorists, corpofascists… Their numbers do not represent the larger percentage of each group (though on specific beliefs, biases and issues, there are predispositions from one group to another). That’s not to say that somebody with some crazy ideas can’t be right every once in a blue moon (see: Alex Jones or Terence McKenna), or that their outsider theories may not hold a kernal of interesting truth. A broken clock is right twice a day, and a logically fallacious argument can still happen to be right coincidentally.

Of course, given two theories, one should not simply report on both and say the middle ground is accurate. This is what has allowed climate change denialists to voice their ‘relative truth’ to an uncritical and overly open-minded media in defiance of the overwhelming and reliably tested scientific consensus (not to be confused with popular consensus or sentiment). The right has its fair share of creationist loonies and neoliberal acolytes. And the left has plenty of crystal-worshipping, anti-vaxxer, alternative cancer cure morons as well. It seems too silly to argue which unsubstantiated claims are more damaging to scientific advancement and public policy. We all have our false dogmas, and they all damage us all.

Proposed or theoretical truths are subject to analysis, and should be eviscerated by criticism, replicated by study after study, and broken down into underlying mechanistic principles. Only after these theories hold up (be they scientific, economic, legal or political), only then should they be added to ‘The Canon.’ The Canon, despite its strict title, is ever changing, ever flowing with both the passage of time, new discoveries and contemporary understanding.

If the austerians believe that we should continue to empower the rich (“the engines of the economy”) at the expense of the poor and middle classes, then theirs should not be the default prevailing Beltway wisdom. The burden of proof is on their economic religious dogma to bear that out, especially considering how disastrous the practiced results of just such strategies have been worldwide. If any policy-maker or pundit honestly believes the inane bullshit that comes out of their pieholes, they should be exposed to harsh skepticism. They may be honestly deceived (or self-deluded), or they may themselves be revealed as a deceiver.

The onus is on all of us to research understand the arguments we are making. Just as it is inappropriate to attack Chris Christie based on his weight (logical fallacy: ad hominem), bear the responsibility of understanding a religion before criticizing its adherents, whether fundamentalist Christian, zionist Jew or radical Muslim. Explore the finer points of your debate opponent’s political philosophy by forcing them to delve into their deepest motivations, cited sources, and logical mechanisms. Who knows? You might alter your stance a bit as well.

Challenge entrenched and unfounded belief systems, especially your own. Do so with a relentless fervor, sincerely try to falsify yourself and above all be rational, be reasonable! Learn the rules of argument and logical fallacies so that you can identify when they are employed against you, by either frauds or self-deluded. Turn the incisiveSocratic Method against all claims, but do so patiently and peaceably. Make it known when you are only playing Devil’s Advocate for the sake of comprehension. Question relentlessly and mercilessly, but also earnestly and nonjudgementally. This will force someone to defend themselves not from your close-mindedness, but from critical-thinking and logic itself. It may reduce them to tears. It may change minds. It might just change the world.