Uncommon Sense

February 26, 2014

Finally, Behind the Public School Failure Myth . . .

We find the “Great and Powerful Oz!, er, no, just greedy corporations and bad math by the Reagan Administration. (Which, I guess could be blamed on a teacher, but wouldn’t that be a conservative teacher and not a liberal one?)

A very good article showing the history of this mistake turned deliberate falsehood can be found in the article “The Myth Behind Public School Failure” in Yes! Magazine.

Defense Cuts? Really?

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is receiving kudos for his “bravery” in suggesting actual cuts to the defense budget. Not mentioned is that Hagel’s suggestions are actually more expensive than what the Sequester set as the amount scheduled to be spent and so are actual increases in spending compared to previously planned amounts.

All told, the U.S. government spent about $718 billion on defense and international security assistance in 2011; this figure does not, however, include benefits for veterans, which came to another $127 billion in that year.

In 2001, the last non-war year of record, we spent (in FY 2012 dollars) $290.5 billion on the Pentagon base budget, $12.4 billion on nuclear weapons, and $16 billion on “Homeland Security” for a total of $318.9 billion.

In summary:

1,385,116 active duty personnel
$318.9 billion spent

1,468,364 active duty personnel
$718 billion spent
Source of Active Duty Personnel Numbers (Military personnel on extended or continuous active duty. Excludes reserves on active duty for training.): Department of Defense.

In other words, the numbers of active duty personnel in these two years is roughly the same with no war fighting being projected for the near future. So the extra $400,000,000 spent in 2011 was to buy munitions, Hellfire drone missiles, and all of the other paraphernalia needed to fight the wars but which will not be needed in 2015.

And the “brave” defense secretary is suggesting increases in spending over what was planned and they seem to be cuts to the Very Serious people in Washington?

WTF? We need the same amount of money to not fight two wars as to fight two wars? I know, I know, those military weapons company executives and their stockholders have families to feed. Right.

NRA: “Mission Accomplished!”

This is the title and first paragraph of a recent NRA press release:
U.S. Firearm Production Sets Record in 2012: AR-15 Production Up Over 100%
“The number of firearms manufactured in the U.S. for sale to American customers hit an all-time high in 2012, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (BATFE) new Firearms Manufacturers and Export Report. American firearm manufacturers produced roughly 8.3 million firearms for sale in the U.S., a new record, up 33 percent from the 6.2 million produced for American customers in 2011.”

Wikipedia says this about the AR-15:
“The AR-15 is a lightweight, 5.56 mm/.223-caliber, magazine-fed, air cooled rifle with a rotating-lock bolt, actuated by direct impingement gas operation or long/short stroke piston operation. It has been produced in many different versions, including numerous semi-automatic and selective fire variants. It is manufactured with extensive use of aluminum alloys and synthetic materials.
“The AR-15 was first built by ArmaLite as a small arms rifle for the United States armed forces. Because of financial problems, ArmaLite sold the AR-15 design to Colt. After modifications (most notably the relocation of the charging handle from under the carrying handle like the AR-10 to the rear of the receiver), the new redesigned rifle was subsequently adopted as the M16 rifle. Colt then started selling the semi-automatic version of the M16 rifle as the Colt AR-15 for civilian sales in 1963 and the term has been used to refer to semiautomatic-only versions of the rifle since then. Although the name “AR-15” remains a Colt registered trademark, variants of the firearm are independently made, modified and sold under various names by multiple manufacturers.”

The phrase “adopted as the M16 rifle” means adopted by the U.S. Military. In other words, this is not a hunting weapon or a self-defense weapon, this is a weapon designed to kill a great many people as fast as possible, a military weapon. The rate of fire of the fully-automatic AR-15 was 800 rounds/min. The rate of fire of the semi-automatic version, the only version legal in the U.S., is indeterminant because it depends on how fast you can pull the trigger. Some say it is as low as 12-15 rounds per minute and that if you go faster, the barrel will overheat and the gun will jam. This seems a preposterous claim for a weapon designed to shoot 800 rounds/min. Also, a technique called “bump firing,” was devised that, while inaccurate, allows the trigger to be pulled at a very fast rate.

To make matters worse, while the interior parts of the commercial AR-15 have been redesigned so that the fully automatic parts from a military AR-15 cannot be just dropped in, consider this comment from January 2013 (Source: This Simple, Legal Add-On Lets an AR-15 Rifle Fire 900 Rounds Per Minute, Slate.com, 1-7-13):
“. . . a company called Slide Fire Solutions introduced a replacement rifle stock called the SSAR-15 that, for $369, allows you to bump fire your AR-15-style rifle from your shoulder while still retaining accuracy and control. The stock, in the simplest terms, is the part of the rifle you hold and brace against your shoulder. According to the Slide Fire website, “unlike traditional bump firing, the Slidestock allows the shooter to properly hold the firearm and maintain complete control at all times. As a result of the forward movement required to discharge each round, the shooter naturally corrects their point-of-aim for each shot and prevents recoil from pushing the firearm’s muzzle upward in an unsafe direction.” Or, as the subhed more concisely puts it, the SSAR-15 lets a shooter “unleash 100 rounds, in 7 seconds.” A product review at a site called Guns America notes that the SSAR-15 “installs in one minute with no special skills.”

Ah, that’s more like it. The NRA is crowing about record sales of a rifle that for a fraction of its original purchase price can be converted in just a few minutes to a fully automatic weapon capable of killing hundreds of people in just seconds.

Why would anyone think this was a good idea?

Ah, according to the Christian Science Monitor, “The estimated economic impact of the US firearms industry in 2012 was $31.8 billion, according to data from the National Shooting Sports Foundation. That’s up from $27.8 billion in 2009.” You can always determine the “whys” of American politics by following the money.

The NRA is a shill for the U.S. firearm manufacturers. When they make money, the NRA makes money. The next time you hear of a mass murder, remember it was not a crime of passion, but of greed.

Postscript Many people claim being able to fire automatic rifles is great fun. I agree. I have done so myself. This can be enjoyed by one and all at licensed establishments designed for such pleasures. There is no need for individuals to own such weapons.

February 23, 2014

Self-Determination, Anyone?

I believe in self-determination.

The overthrow of the president of Ukraine has revealed a life of personal opulence, supportable only by bribes and corruption. Anyone surprised? Anyone? Please note that all of this occurred with much handwringing by actors outside of Ukraine: Russia, the U.S., the E.U., possibly more. But while there was a diplomatic scurry, there doesn’t seem to have been overt actions taken to support either side in the dispute.

I believe in self-determination. I believe that the citizens of Ukraine have a right to settle their own hash: peacefully would be nice but violently also.

But what about North Korea, where the government oppresses the people in unspeakable ways? We should intervene there, no?

I believe in self-determination. The people of Egypt had been oppressed by it’s own President and secret police and army for decades. They rose up and defeated an entrenched tyrant. When the people of Korea do likewise, they may find that their army may support them like Egypt’s army supported its rebellion. Or maybe not.

I believe in self-determination.

I believe that each state in the United States has the right to make their own decisions and that out-of-state political money should be barred. (It is called influence peddling and it is illegal.) I believe that each city in the United States has the right to make their own decisions and that out-of-city political money should be barred. (It is called influence peddling and it is illegal.) I believe that each voting district in the United States has the right to make their own decisions and that out-of-district political money should be barred. (It is called influence peddling and it is illegal.)

I believe in self-determination. Interference from outside of any group can only be to counter the activities of the people inside the group.

Until we clean up our foreign policy so that it is non-interventionist and we clean up campaign finance laws to eliminate outsider influence, we will be living in something other than the democracy we want.

February 22, 2014

What’s in a Title?

I was reading the N.Y. Times this morning and the title of an article struck me, to wit: Religious Right in Arizona Cheers Bill Allowing Businesses to Refuse to Serve Gays.

The article began “In New Mexico, a photographer declined to take pictures of a lesbian couple’s commitment ceremony. In Washington State, a florist would not provide flowers for a same-sex wedding. And in Colorado, a baker refused to make a cake for a party celebrating the wedding of two men. The business owners cited religious beliefs in declining to provide services celebrating same-sex relationships. And in each case, they were sued.

Setting aside the issue of what right a maker of cakes has to what people do with his cakes after they buy them, I looked at that title and was struck by the implications. Think about what it says. People in the religious right are cheering an agreement that makes discrimination by business owners okay and legal, but in which the discrimination has nothing to do with their businesses. Compare this with drug makers whose drugs are used to kill people in executions. A moral objection to having one’s product used to kill people is one thing; a moral objection to having one’s cake eaten by people celebrating a wedding is another.

When I was a boy, the message I heard over and over in school and church was of tolerance, including tolerance of people who looked different, were different from “us.” Apparently that message is passé and instead we have people with religious motivations fanning the flames of hatred. Have we made a U-turn in the American experience? Are we “going back” to “that old-time religion” of the Great Awakening in this country, no matter who pays or how? If so, it is the beginning of the end of the American Experiment.

February 21, 2014

If You Accept What They Believe . . .

If, as Young Earth Creationists believe, the Earth is only about 6000 years old as indicated by their Holy Bible, then certain questions need to be addressed. For one, why does the Bible not mention dinosaurs?

Where are the battles between the courageous Hebrews and the Velociraptors? I am not talking about vague references to monsters in “Revelations,” c’mon. If I were to be in the close proximity of several tons of man rending dinosaur with all of its shit running down your leg adrenaline, I think I could describe that encounter with a few more definitive terms, that is if I survived. If I didn’t, wouldn’t my mates have a story about the “monster that ate Steve?”

Think about the sheer number and variety of dinosaur species that we have discovered and not a single one of them gets mentioned in scripture. Forget about all the camels mentioned in the Bible when there were no camels in Palestine, where are the fucking dinosaurs?

I know that many in the “God did it” crowd will say that God is so powerful he created the fossils of dinosaurs when he created the Earth. That’s effing brilliant; why would God deliberately mislead his people? Did he lay a trap for all of the pointy-headed intellectuals to stub their intellectual toes upon? Why would he not just leave them out?

If you do accept for a minute any of these foolish contentions, you are immediately thrust down a rabbit hole into some kind of Conservative Wonderland.

You may wonder what this has to do with Class Warfare. Well, the answer is simple: Republicans are putting people with such beliefs in important positions in Congress and state environmental agencies. People who can support such beliefs simultaneously with the findings of modern science can believe anything, which is exactly what the corporate plutocrats want. “We can burn all of the fossil fuels we want, Climate change is a hoax; in fact the ‘fact’ that fossil fuels are a limited resource is a hoax.” If you don’t think this is part of a plan of the plutocrats to provide themselves free sway in however they want to make their next billion dollars, think again. They didn’t create Young Earth Creationism, but they certainly have a use for it.

Conservatives Garner New Label

In their stout opposition to climate change, conservatives have been slapped with the label “climate change deniers.” They also don’t believe in evolution, that man has evolved from other apes, so one wag (I wish I knew who) has tagged them “primate change deniers.”

Buh dump, dump!

Conservative Math, Again (Probably Part 2 of a Series)

Fox (sic) News commentators took the cold weather we have experienced in the Eastern U.S. this winter as another repudiation of climate change. They ask “If the earth is warming up, why is it so damned cold?”

Well, as it turns out for the Earth as a whole, it was the fourth-warmest January on record. It was, in fact, the 347th consecutive month with temperatures above the 20th-century average, the government reported yesterday.

You see while it was freezing cold in my city, Chicago, and on the eastern seaboard and even in Atlanta, GA, it was quite warm in places like California and Alaska.

I heartily recommend that Fox (sic) News commentators Google the term “average” and explore how the math is done. It will be enlightening.

February 20, 2014

Be Careful What You Ask For: Arizona Endorsed Sharia Law

Arizona’s Republicans have passed a law that allows “people of faith” to discriminate in their businesses against, gays, freaks, LGBTs, you know, perverts. They framed the law as a restoration of religious freedom in the state. Unfortunately Arizona has thus become the first state to adopt an open door policy regarding Sharia Law. Since I last checked, Arizona is still part of the United States so they could not specify which religion the “faithful” adhered to, so they just used vague terms like: “people of faith” and “religious grounds,” which does not exclude Sharia Law or even Satanism.

Way to go, Arizona Republicans! Could you be any more fucked up?

Conservative Math

The Congressional Budget Office has come to the conclusion that a $10.10 minimum wage would raise 16.5 million people out of poverty. Families of four with incomes between $24,000 a year and $71,500 a year would see their collective incomes rise by $3 billion. And, possibly 500,000 jobs might be lost in the process. Conservatives raved, “See, this is why we can’t vote for an increase in the minimum wage. All of those poor people losing their jobs!”

Conservatives also can’t support Obamacare which will result in 2.3 million people voluntarily giving up their extra jobs or extra hours they were working to be able to get health care.

Let’s see, if the 500,000 people were to snap up 500,000 jobs out of that pool of 2.3 million jobs, there would still be 1.8 million jobs that would need to be filled.

All the conservatives need to do is pass the minimum wage bill, stop trying to roll back Obamacare, and they can claim to have created 1.8 million jobs. See, they do have a jobs program! (Quick, call Paul Ryan to double check the math; we don’t want to get tricked again!)

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