Friday, August 16, 2013

Two big issues, and I can't decide

On many things in politics and our national affairs, I'm pretty sure what I think about them.  But on two of the big conflicts of the day, I am having trouble gaining clarity about a position.   One is Snowden and the NSA surveillance.    Yes, I think the degree of data collecting is scarey;  and, yes, I think what Snowden did was wrong and harmful to our national security.

The other issue is Egypt.   Yes, I am for democracy.   Yes, I think it was a bad thing for a democratically elected government to be overthrown by the military.  UNLESS the government itself has become corrupt, tyrannical, and is killing the nascent democracy;  AND the military action is limited to maintaining peace and order long enough for new elections. 

The current killing of protesters seems terrible.   Is the long-range goal still democracy, and is it worth this?   Perhaps yes, IF the military take-over is temporary and part of a renewed push for self-rule of the majority with protection of the rights of minorities.   That is what the military claim to be doing -- but can they be believed?

One thing we should have learned by now is that it is hard to introduce democracy to a culture that doesn't have the institutions to sustain it.   Developing countries often need some sort of interim arrangement, maybe a combination of free elections and the continuing presence of a benevolent military to maintain order and stability while necessary institutions develop.  The problem with that is that it is rare to find a military that is truly benevolent and willing to relinquish power once they seize it.

It's further complicated by the religious factor.   Morsi was elected on the promise that he would not set up an Islamist state;  but he seemed to be moving definitely in that direction.  That's not what the revolution was for, so the people revolted again.

Which side to choose?    My choice is democracy, as soon as they can handle itBut which side is that?  That's the question.  The Obama administration is struggling with that same issue.


It won't last much longer

Primary elections for the New York City mayor's office are just three and a half weeks away.

Then we won't have to ever again listen to an Anthony Weiner interview.

Before I knew much about him, I sort of liked him -- his progressive views;  and, in brief news clips, he sounded knowledgeable and energetic.  And being married to Huma Abedin had to be a good endorsement.   Maybe that sexting thing was really just a minor peccadillo.

But then he began lying about his "recovery" -- and, even moreso, he began talking to the press.  Every news show wanted to show him, because his situation was such big news.  The more he talked, the more unlikeable he became.   That's a bad sign -- when the more you get to know someone, the less you like him.

Mitt Romney was the same way, for very different reasons.   Well, not that different, actually.   The subject was money and privilege, not sex and lying;  but the process was sort of the same:  a smooth surface gets tainted when the underlying ugliness is exposed.   Remember the prep school bully that Romney was to the classmate with long hair?   Ugh.

Illicit sex is not the only sin.


Thursday, August 15, 2013

Art museums and poverty

The superb collection at the Detroit Institute of Art is again in the news.   I wrote about "A difficult choice" previously (7-21-13).   It seems that the estimated value of the art collection is roughly equal to the debt of the city of Detroit, which is about to be forced into bankruptcy and unable to pay pensions to its former teachers, firemen, etc., nor able to continue its libraries, parks, and city services.

The dilemma posed by the New York Times "Sunday Dialogue" is:   "How many lives is a Rembrandt worth?"

Some people respond that of course no mere canvas smeared with paint is worth a human life.   But that obvious answer has several rebuttals when the complexity of the situation is considered, to wit:

1.  If the art were sold, the proceeds would not go directly to pensions and services.  It would go to creditors to pay already incurred debts.

2.  A bankruptcy judge might consider the art to be one of Detroit's biggest assets that should be retained because of its value in rebuilding the city's future.

3.  Cultural institutions, as well as sports teams, have an intangible value in making a city attractive for businesses picking a place to locate, entrepreneurs looking for a place to invest, and families choosing a place to live.

4.  It's not at all clear that the art would have to be sold and taken away from Detroit.  Some alternate arrangements should be considered, whereby equity could be reshaped, freeing up some cash.

Whatever, let's hope they don't rush into selling off the art and have the money squandered and not feed the poor anyway.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Bottled water: why it's such a bad idea

Based on claims in a Huffington Post, here as some reasons that bottle water is such a bad idea for our society:

1.  For every liter of bottled water you purchase, three liters of water are used -- one in the bottle and two in the production.    To put it bluntly, every time you take a drink, you're using up three times that much of the earth's water supply.

2.  One-third of the cost of your imported bottled water goes for transportation costs -- which means that much more carbon pollution of our atmosphere.   So at least drink local products if you must have bottled water.

3.  A single bottle of water costs as much as the entire amount of tap water used for cooking, washing dishes, showering, and toilet flushing combined.   If a family used bottled water for all this, instead of tap water, their water bill would be $9000 a month.

4.  Why does it cost so much?   Besides the production, shipping, stocking, middle-man profits, store profits, there's the advertising to get you to buy it.

In the end, it's just H2O -- same as tap water.  Unless you get the flavored kind, or the fizzy kind, or the kind with all sorts of additives, which just makes it cost more.   Your body simply flushes those out and uses the H2O.

So why not just buy a reusable bottle and fill it with tap water?   Save money.  Save the planet.


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Voter fraud #2: GOP = The anti-democracy party.

As if on cue, North Carolina's governor has signed the most restrictive voter ID law in the country -- less than 2 months after SCOTUS struck down the portion of the Voting Rights Act that had prevented just such intentional discrimination.

Here's what the NC law does:
Requires one of a these four types of photo ID to cast a ballot:  North Carolina driver's license, passport, veteran's ID or tribal card:  note this does not include student ID's or out-of state driver's licenses.  It cuts by a week the number of early voting days.  It eliminates same-day voter registration during early voting and makes it much easier for "vigilante poll watchers" to challenge the validity of eligible voters in line to vote.  In addition it expands freedom of corporations to make unregulated contributions in state elections, and it eliminates an annual state-sponsored voter registration drive.

Gov. Pat McCrory (R) responded to criticisms by saying:
"Even if the instances of misidentified people casting votes are low, that shouldn’t prevent us from putting this non-burdensome safeguard in place. . . .  Just because you haven’t been robbed doesn’t mean you shouldn’t lock your doors at night or when you’re away from home."
That is totally bullshit.   A more appropriate analogy would be having a deadbolt, a chain-lock, and three padlocks on the door at all times when the incidence of burglary is 0.000005.   That's one chance in 200,000.

Now it's up to the courts.  Within hours the ACLU and the NAACP had filed lawsuits challenging the new law.   Florida and North Carolina are merely the first out of the blocks to provide evidence that voter protection is still very much needed.  Perhaps the criteria do need to be changed, because it is no longer limited to Southern states.   These two examples alone -- along with Texas which the DoJ has already filed suit against -- are enough to warrant reconsideration.

No one says this, but we should blast it in every headline in every newspaper and online and twitter message:
This only proves that Republicans think the only way they can win elections anymore is by lies, distortions, and voter suppression.  
In other words, they no longer believe in democracy.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Some data on "voter fraud"

Florida, Texas, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Alabama responded to SCOTUS' gutting of the Voting Rights Bill by rushing to pass, or reinstate, laws and regulations to suppress the Democratic vote.   That fact is not in serious dispute, despite the pious protests of the right wing machine about "protecting the sanctity of the vote."

To the rebuttal that fraud at the ballot box is virtually non-existent, they just repeat their mantra as though facts do not exist.

That doesn't mean the data do not exist.  Here is some data from the state of Florida.

In the 2012 attempt to purge the voter registration lists of "ineligible voters,"  the Florida elections office started with a list of 182,000 "potential non-citizens."   This group was checked against some other lists and reduced to 2,600.    With further checking, the list shrank to 198 names on the list that were ineligible to vote.   And of those, fewer than 40 had actually voted illegally.

So thousands and thousands of people were inconvenienced, having to prove their eligibility.   And how much did this cost the state of Florida, which is cutting public services because of budget deficits?

Let me put this in perspective.   In the 2012 presidential election, 8,471,179 Floridians cast a vote;   40 of them were case by someone who shouldn't have voted.

That is a "fraud" rate of 0.000005.

Hardly seems worth it, does it?   Of course not.  Unless your concern is not how many people voted illegally, but the tens of thousands who didn't vote because they couldn't wait 7 hours in line or didn't have the birth certificate required to get a voter ID, or various other obstacles.

This data also proves that SCOTUS' majority opinion, written by the Chief Justice himself, was erroneously reasoned when it said the criteria upon which districts were required to get pre-clearance were outmoded.   This proves that there is good reason for Florida to have extra oversight from the Department of Justice.  Instead, SCOTUS gave them permission to go back to discriminating -- with a free hand.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

What to teach

Texas' State School Board was the subject of big controversy when it was taken over by conservatives who then insisted on aligning public school textbook content with their political ideology rather than scientific and historical truth.  And, because Texas is the largest customer for textbook publishers, and because publishers don't want to have to print different versions for different states, what Texas wants tends to be what everybody else gets too.

Now look at the big difference in another conservative state, Kentucky -- home of Mitch McConnell, Rand Paul, and the Creation Museum, where displays show humans co-existing with dinosaurs.

Against strong objection from conservatives, the Kentucky Board of Education has just approved a science curriculum that includes evolution and climate science.  It still has to be approved by the legislative committees on education, but the board chairman was optimistic that science will prevail.

It's good that a red state -- in addition to true-blue states like Massachusetts and California -- has put scientific truth and the importance of good education above political ideology.