February 02, 2013

In-state only: The latest #gunnut wet dream

Image from Gary Marbut website via Mother Jones
That wet dream, from a Montanan named Gary Marbut, is attempting to have the gunmaking and gun-buying process kept entirely in-state:
Gary Marbut has a dream: a single shot, bolt-action, made-in-Missoula, .22 caliber rifle called the Montana Buckaroo. For the time being, the Buckaroo, adapted from an expired 1899 patent and intended for use by small children, exists only on paper. "Our attorneys have insisted that I NOT complete EVEN ONE Buckaroo," Marbut (said). ...

That's because Marbut's real target isn't the 5- to 10-year-old skeet-shooting demographic—it's the United States Supreme Court. His goal is to effectively nullify decades of federal gun law, and he thinks he's found a trick no one else has tried. In 2009, Marbut pushed a law through the Montana Legislature asserting the state's partial immunity from federal gun regulations, and then sued the Department of Justice for the right to follow through. Under his scheme, the federal government would be helpless to regulate firearm production or distribution—so long as the guns in question never cross state lines.
And, it's become popular elsewhere in wingnuttia:
 Lawmakers in 34 states have introduced copycat versions of Marbut's Firearms Freedom Act, six of them in the five weeks since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. All told, nine state attorneys general have signed onto an amicus brief supporting him; eight governors have signed it into law. The National Rifle Association supports Marbut's law; so does the Cato Institute.
Gee, shock me. Now, as gun control gets debated at the federal level, will some non-skittish House or Senate Democrat bring this issue up, including the NRA support of it, to further slap it and Wayne La Pierre down?

If only he had tried this in the 1960s, and the Warren Court would then have fully federalized the Second Amendment. (More on that in a moment.)
I would still say that if the bullets come out of state, he and any buyers would still be nailed that way, with penumbras of 2nd Amdt + Interstate Commerce Clause. I would also say that because the first clause of the second amendment is the primary clause, the need for a well-regulated militia, combined with the federal government having power over National Guard activations, he would fail that way.

Meanwhile, Marbut was first squelched in federal district court, upholding the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms shutting him down for not having a federal gun manufacture license. The case has been accepted for oral argument on appeal by the Ninth Circuit, though.

Meanwhile, does Marbut have a snowball's chance on this case? Will the "originalists" in the court system support him if this goes all the way to the Supreme Court?

Speaking of .... from the story:
(E)ven Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia thinks the federal government can regulate the plants you grow in your backyard.
Very few biblical fundamentalists are so fundamentalist as to still believe in a flat earth. Likewise, Nino and gang are generally pretty damned selective in the name of conservative judicial activism about their originalism. So, that counterargument by Mother Jones doesn't necessarily carry much water.

Besides, going back to originalist arguments — James Madison wanted to federalize the Bill of Rights when it was first written.

That said, this is also just another sign that, contra originalist nuts like Nino Scalia, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, a constitution written in pre-modern times for a population 1/80th of today's, and with states more nearly equal in size, etc., is about as intelligent as biblical fundamentalism, which it closely parallels.

It's irrelevant in a day of machine guns, as well as of nuclear weapons, etc.

If Marbut decided to start a backyard nuclear centrifuge, then get somebody in Montana to make an atomic shell-firing howitzer (our military had them already in the 1950s), what would the NRA say then? 

January 31, 2013

Once again, the terrorists are within as well as without

And once again, Texas, a state where white extremists have been found with massive weapons caches, a state where someone crashes a plane into a government building, is ground zero.

Once again, contra both wingnuts and a certain Sam Harris strain of Gnu Atheists, the "real terrorists" are often white folks in the heartland. Looks like a assistant DA in Texas, about 30 miles from Dallas, was fatally shot over fighting the Aryan Brotherhood in court.
Before (a federal) release was issued, The Dallas Morning News credited "authorities with knowledge of the assistant DA's caseload" as saying he was "heavily involved" in an investigation of the Aryan Brotherhood. According to the release, Ben Christian Dillon, aka "Tuff", of Houston, and James Marshall Meldrum, aka "Dirty", both "agreed to commit multiple acts of murder, robbery, arson, kidnapping and narcotics tracking" for the Aryan Brotherhood. 
Now, with Wayne La Pierre of the NRA having just testified before the Senate on gun control issues, how will this affect that? How will gun control advocates from President Obama down use, yes, use, this moment?

And, beyond gun control, but without going as bounceback nutbar as folks like the Southern Poverty Law Center can, how will Obama use this issue to address domestic white power, white supremacy terrorism?

January 30, 2013

Review: The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace

The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace
The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace by H.W. Brands

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

NOT Brands' best work

First, there's one majorly wrong historical interpretation. Seeing that made me read the rest of this book in general with a more critical eye.

And that is that Brands perpetuates the myth that Gen. George Thomas had a McClellan-like sloth in the days before the Battle of Nashville in January, 1865. This myth has been convincingly refuted for some time.

Other issues I have with the book? I think Brands is too charitable on Grant's Reconstruction work as president, and doesn't delve enough into issues of how good a president he was in general, vis-a-vis things like naivete about corruption in his staff and cabinet, etc. In fact, the book is kind of thin on in-depth coverage of his presidency in general.

Also, other than noting Grant's devotion to his wife, Julia, he delves little into their marriage and questions about how much her vanity, etc., may have "driven" him.

And, with that, "thin" is perhaps indeed about the best overall way to describe the book beyond errors of historical interpretation.

Compared to a Brands work like "The Age of Gold," this was a disappointment.

View all my reviews

Two simple ideas to address attempted voter blocking

Both, of course, would require a President and an Attorney General with cojones, therefore they won't happen while the Compromiser-in-Chief is still in office.

The first is one I've touted before.

Nationalize the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Including the "preclearance" part. In my legal layperson's mind, especially when combined with the 1964 "one man, one vote" ruling by the Supreme Court, it could also be used to attack gerrymandering more generally.
The Act established extensive federal oversight of elections administration, providing that states with a history of discriminatory voting practices (so-called "covered jurisdictions") could not implement any change affecting voting without first obtaining the approval of the Department of Justice, a process known as preclearance.
And there's legal grounds for this. State laws clearly designed to impede the right to vote of the urban poor, especially those of color, are to be found in several Rust Belt states where the GOP has recently gained state control. Also, American Indians arguably face voting discriminations in far more counties and states in the western United States than is often reported.

Tool No. 2?

Employ the 14th Amendment. Specifically, the second sentence of Section 2:
But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.
That's right. Arguably, it's Congress' power to enforce this, but, a strong President could take the bit in his mouth, and if necessary, sue Congress to take three House districts from Texas, two from Florida, or whatever else is deemed necessary. (Or one or two from Michigan, for that matter, per the discussion above.)

Of course, per the start of discussion, this administration would never do it.

GMOs and global warming — an analogy undercuts #GMO apologists, #pseudoskeptics

Climate change minimalists, if not outright deniers, will often say something like this:
  1. We've always had climate change in the past.
  2. We've even had climate change during relatively modern human times, like the Ice Ages. (Set aside any young-earth creationist issues.)
  3. Humans have adapted before.
  4. So why worry about climate change now, even if it is faster?
Would you ever buy that?

OK, let's imagine a similar argument from touters of how safe genetically modified organisms are.
  1. We've always had genetic engineering in the past, from evolution by natural selection.
  2. We've even had genetic engineering by modern humans, through things such as hybridization.
  3. Surrounding nature has adapted before.
  4. So why worry about genetic engineering now, even if it is faster, or crossing more distant genetic boundaries?
Would you ever buy THAT?

I don't think so.

I don't fully buy into the "Frankenfood" worries. But, I do note that there are legitimate concerns about GMOs. There is also, per Donald Rumsfeld, plenty of "unknown unknowns," and little push by the US Department of Agriculture, let alone the likes of Monsanto, to even make some of these things "known unknowns," let alone to make "known unknowns" become fully known.

And, while skeptics may be right to some degree to push back against "Frankenfood" mongers, they're wrong to disparage any reasonable concern about GMOs as unreasonable. Such people run the risk of being labeled, at least here, as pseudoskeptics.

January 29, 2013

#ARod, Jayson Stark, and an #ESPN shit-pile of hypocrisy

Jayson Stark/ESPN pic
If you're a baseball fan, unless you've been on a desert hermits' retreat, you've heard about New York Yankees injured former superstar third baseman Alex Rodriguez and his huge, newly-revealed, alleged mega-use of steroids, testosterone, HGH and more.

The scheme clearly rivals Barry Bonds and his alleged BALCO roiding and whatever program. We don't know as much about any "program" of Roger Clemens, but we have a good inkling of what he probably did.

I've been pretty consistent on how this whole era should be handled.

But not everybody.

We turn to, where else? ESPN.

Cue up the Jayson Stark hypocrisy alert.

This week, he wants to make roiders feel more pain. Or alleged roiders. Or possible ones. Or maybe ones:
Not one of those players (A-Rod, Nelson Cruz, Gio Gonzales) has ever tested positive for any PED. But that's irrelevant in a situation like this. The commissioner holds the power to suspend players without a positive test if there is firm evidence that they used, or even possessed, a banned substance. ...
So somewhere along the line, the price these men must pay for this crime has to grow large enough to force them to feel the pain. Two-month suspensions alone aren't enough. In-season blood tests aren't enough. Even public humiliation isn't enough.

And it won't be enough until the suspensions grow longer and the penalties grow stiffer -- because, clearly, the thought of losing 50 games worth of pay isn't scaring the people who need scaring.
Sounds like a great, tough, hardline stance, right?

Three weeks ago, he wanted to vote Bonds and Roger Clemens into the Hall of Fame.

On Bonds, he says:
There was only one Barry Bonds
So if you prefer to paint a picture of the baseball world that pretends the 1990s, and the first few seasons of this century, didn't happen, you can erase Bonds from that portrait and not vote for him.
Or you can say this man was convicted of a federal felony (obstruction of justice) directly related to PED use and not vote for him for that. 

Or you can say that no one of his generation was more responsible for obliterating the meaning of the history and the records that once made baseball special and not vote for him for that reason.

If you want to take any of those stances, I get it. But to me, the thought of having the ultimate baseball museum try to make us believe that a player this great was invisible is absurd. Absurd.
He's even more directly hypocritical with Clemens:
One of my distinguished fellow panelists, the great Frank Deford, suggested that day that it was the job of voters to keep any player who'd been proven to use PEDs out of the Hall of Fame. So let me ask you: Is Roger Clemens a "proven" user?

The Department of Justice couldn't "prove" that he used HGH, or that he committed perjury when he claimed he hadn't. Right? So you tell me: Is Clemens innocent or guilty?

Again, I understand the argument for both sides. But no one sums up how difficult it is to answer these questions better than the Rocket does. Guilty or innocent? Clean or dirty? Pick your own standard. Decide for yourself. There's no right answer. ...

C'mon, friends. We can't have a Hall of Fame without Roger Clemens in it. Can we? What kind of Hall of Fame is that?
Which is it, Jayson? Do we give them a pass because we can't prove anything, or through the book at them because we just suspect something?

And, no, this isn't apples and oranges. You said more than two-year suspensions are needed. Isn't that, in part, what a barring from the Hall of Fame is?

You know, it would NOT be hypocrisy if you said, "I blew it three weeks ago," or something similar.

But, hey, Jayson, it's called teh Internet. We got your old column right in front of us. If you don't apologize, if you don't admit you've done a 180 course reversal, it IS hypocrisy. A big, steaming shit-pile, just like I said.

Oh, I Tweeted Stark, too. No response. (And no surprise here.)

Here's my take on the breaking story. Shorter version — Yanks are stuck with him and MLB needs to do more about Hispanic/Latino use of PEDs in the Caribbean.

A-Rod in #BALCO part II? Have fun #Yankees!

Boy, this is a biggie. New York Yankees injured former superstar third baseman Alex Rodriguez is allegedly in the eye of the storm of a doping scheme that rivals Barry Bonds and his alleged BALCO roiding and whatever program.

And, it's not just A-Rod. Per Jeff Passan's story, linked above other people who have had past suspensions for PED violations, including Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon, are also rumored to be involved.
The records of players' use, given to the New Times by a former employee at Bosch's Biogenesis clinic, are especially detailed in the cases of Rodriguez and Cabrera. Rodriguez, referred to as "Alex Rodriguez," "Alex Rod" or "Cacique," received HGH, testosterone cream and insulin-like growth factor, all banned under MLB's PED policy. He also was given "troches," a lozenge that has 15 percent testosterone, and other types of growth hormone, according to the report. 
Ahh, we even have a "cream"! Guess that tells us more about Bonds' "cream" too, eh?

And, not to look biased, but, by A-Rod's one nickname, the name for the lozenges, the names of others involved, and the Miami location, this is clearly a Latino-focused operation and probably extends deep into Caribbean baseball.

But, that's just the tip of the iceberg. Here's the Miami New Times original story with much more.

The starting point indeed makes the same comparison as mine. It also wonders how much "good" crackdowns in general have done:
The story of how Anthony Bosch built the East Coast version of BALCO — the notorious California lab that provided baseball greats such as Jason Giambi and Barry Bonds with steroids — doesn't just shine a harsh light on America's drug-addled pro sports. It also makes clear that federal crackdowns have done little to police anti-aging clinics, which earn millions annually from average citizens wanting to look younger and from elite athletes seeking an edge.
Back to the A-Rod angle.

New Times teases us before getting to the specific goods it claims it has on him:
Take, for instance, one patient list from Bosch's 2009 personal notebook. It charts more than 50 clients and notes whether they received their drugs by delivery or in the office, how much they paid, and what they were taking.

There, at number seven on the list, is Alex Rodriguez. He paid $3,500, Bosch notes. Below that, he writes, "1.5/1.5 HGH (sports perf.) creams test., glut., MIC, supplement, sports perf. Diet." HGH, of course, is banned in baseball, as are testosterone creams.

That's not the only damning evidence against A-Rod, though. Another document from the files, a loose sheet with a header from the 19th Annual World Congress on Anti-Aging and Aesthetic Medicine, lays out a full regimen under the name Cacique: "Test. cream... troches prior to workout... and GHRP... IGF-1... pink cream."

IGF-1 is a banned substance in baseball that stimulates insulin production and muscle growth. Elsewhere in his notebook, Bosch spells out that his "troches," a type of drug lozenge, include 15 percent testosterone; pink cream, he writes, is a complex formula that also includes testosterone. GHRP is a substance that releases growth hormones.
Indeed, BALCO East, BALCO II or whatever seems very, very true. Other drug "cocktails" get mentioned further on in.

Now, the A-Rod future angle?

Add on that the players' union just agreed to testing for human growth hormone, and this story is going nowhere but bigger.

And, A-Rod is even more of an albatross around Yankee necks than ever. Ian O'Conner wonders if Brian Cashman might try to get A-Rod's contract voided on fraud grounds. Given that MLB had steroid testing rules in place at the time he opted out and went for an extension, it's not beyond the realm of probability to try it. It might not be such a "lost cause."

An ESPN staff report says it's under consideration:
While the Yankees officially say they will wait for the situation to play out, baseball sources told ESPNNewYork.com that the team will try to find an avenue to void Rodriguez's contract -- which runs for five more years and $114 million -- if MLB disciplines him.
That said, the players' union would back him to the hilt, as stinky as it would be.

The league, meanwhile, claims it's been extensively involved with the issue all along.
Through our Department of Investigations, we have been actively involved in the issues in South Florida.  It is also important to note that three of the players allegedly involved have already been disciplined under the Joint Drug Program. ...

We remain fully committed to following all leads and seeking the appropriate outcomes for all those who use, purchase and are involved in the distribution of banned substances, which have no place in our game.
Yeah, right. Especially since beyond that, the statement was a "no comment."

Maybe the Bronx Bombers need to think seriously along the lines of my idea of a David Freese (and others as necessary) for CC Sabathia trade.

And.,the Toronto Blue Jays' recent free-agent signing of Cabrera now isn't such a good deal, if he gets a full-year suspensoin.

Finally, cue up the Jayson Stark hypocrisy alert.

This week, he wants to make roiders feel more pain.

Three weeks ago, he wanted to vote Bonds and Roger Clemens into the Hall of Fame.

Which is it, Jayson? Further thoughts here.

January 28, 2013

Middle class jobs gone forever?

This has been more than a jobless recovery. It's been a middle-class jobless recovery.

Continued decline in union power is one reason. Gridlock in the US, or austerity in Europe, is another.

But, the same technology powering your smartphone is probably the primary reason, per this story, that only 2 percent of new US jobs in the recovery are "middle class." (Of the rest, about 70 percent are lower-class and a full 29 percent upper class. So, yes, when the conservatives accuse liberals of "class warfare," it's really them.)
“The jobs that are going away aren’t coming back,” says Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist at the Center for Digital Business at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and co-author of “Race Against the Machine.” “I have never seen a period where computers demonstrated as many skills and abilities as they have over the past seven years.”
And this:
“There’s no sector of the economy that’s going to get a pass,” says Martin Ford, who runs a software company and wrote “The Lights in the Tunnel,” a book predicting widespread job losses. “It’s everywhere.”
It's the robots in particular, but it will be technology in general.

On service jobs, the improvement of Siri-type programs will cut further. Even worse, wait until a health insurance company, a Fortune 1,000 level one, or similar, puts in the first commercial "Watson" of Jeopardy fame. Loads of customer service representative jobs will go out the window.

We already have too many college grads for college-necessitating jobs, and so, this is only going to get worse. Sidebar is likely to be continued growth in the avaricious, and sexist, temp industry.

It's tough for a middle-class parent to tell a kid to NOT think of college, but given the college inflation, both on graduates and college prices, it may be a good idea.

Instead, parents, teach your kids belt-tightening, financial management and similar things. It may produce deflation in some areas, but if that's what happens, that's what happens.

January 27, 2013

The Edge, "great thinkers" and Peter Principle

Online magazine The Edge has, for several years, had an annual "big question." This year, that question is: "What should we be worried about?"

The answer, I think is a high-level and simple one that encompasses a multitude of lower issues.

"We should be worried about the hubris of our species."

Among the list of responses, it instead seems the inanity of our species is a worry to several of the respondents.

A number of people talk about things like "internet drivel," "online fascism," and more, all focused on how today's "always on" world increases this inanity factor.

Nicholas Carr and Evgeny Morozov, as I expected, have some very good Internet-related insights, not necessarily limited to inanity.

And, as a few respondents note, increases opportunities for the Peter Principle to take effect.

That said, the Peter Principle also sometimes pops up among Edge question respondents.

The first, Geoffery Miller, fears Chinese eugenics. Sounds like an overblown worry to me, though the idea of such eugenics does underscore my fear of human hubris.

Dan Sperber says "misplaced worries." Sounds like a trivial answer.