Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Bending the Bill of Rights

I had more trouble finding the right words to open this post than for any other in recent memory. Looking at the other articles that mention the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre, opinion writers evidently and understandably feel obligated to voice their outrage at the killings and engage in some kind of emotional contest over who feels worse about it. It feels disrespectful not to express emotion. It certainly feels unnatural. Our feelings about this are why we're writing. I understand that these writers could explain their emotional response to the shooting and find themselves incapable of containing the terror I'm sure they feel. I could have followed the same path here. I may have been able to open this blog with an eloquent, respectful and emotional introduction, but it would have felt dishonest. I am emotionally distraught. I don't want to experience the nausea and chest pain I felt the day those children died. I won't be emotional here. I can't.

Immediately after the massacre, most Americans didn't have the wherewithal to take up the mantle for or against gun control. In the ensuing weeks, however, virtually every newspaper has crowned the front page with articles on gun control. The President has publicly announced his intention to push through legislation that limits gun ownership. Gun statistics have been popping up in partisan propaganda, encouraging me to fend off false data on Facebook, forums and conversation (Only Factcheck.org published an accurate and fair analysis of the gun debate). Statistics hardly matter at this point. The argument consists almost entirely of emotional extremes, with gun-control advocates unleashing an impenetrable wave of outrage with single-minded disregard for data and gun-rights advocates who ferociously fight to maintain their right to own military-grade hardware and view the latest surge for gun control as an affront to their freedom and short-sighted contempt for the second amendment.

This isn't an idle argument. Legislation determining the fate of gun ownership in the United States waits for the dust to settle. Several gun control advocates support a bifurcated, holistic approach to guarding against gun violence, which prevents the sale of firearms to the emotionally disturbed and also restricts access to everyone for the most lethal weapons. For many, the mass slaughter of kindergartners was more than enough to approve limitations on gun ownership and allow sharing of sensitive medical information about those who've shown violent tendencies. I oppose both measures.

It's difficult to separate law-abiding citizens with potential anger issues from dangerous, homicidal medical patients, yet it seems that many are willing to limit the rights of innocuous groups to hopefully prevent the criminally insane from committing atrocities. Inefficacy aside, we cannot limit a person's rights because they are mad about something, whether about how unfair the world is or just having gone through a divorce or had a death in the family. We do not get to limit a citizen's rights based on his or her attitude. People are entitled to anger and are free to seek out mental health expertise to alleviate emotional distress without risking legal persecution. Shortly after the Columbine shooting, because I had always worn a black trench coat and drew violent pictures, I was pulled from British Literature by the school counselor. My sketchbook was seized. My mental state was evaluated. They interviewed my parents and teachers (who universally loved me, luckily). I never fought anyone. I never stole anything. I never threatened anyone. They had no viable reason to confiscate my property and subject me to a mental evaluation against my will. But they did. And perhaps this is exactly the sort of thing that would prevent me from legally purchasing a firearm for protection in the future if new measures are taken to limit gun sales. I still believe in the best in people and haven't murdered anyone despite remaining angry about the ordeal to this day.

Since then, I've been an advocate for student rights and a defender of the fourth amendment to the Constitution. I hate when people suggest we legislate the acceptability of unreasonable searches and seizures and it happens constantly. Citizens have an inalienable entitlement to privacy that is incessantly threatened by those who think sharing the secret emotional vulnerabilities of individuals with public organizations, such as schools, is for the greater good.

A few days after the Sandy Hook attack, the political right launched a preemptive attack against gun regulation by placing the blame of gun atrocities squarely at the feet of mental illness. Philip Terzian wrote the most obvious attack in his Weekly Standard Article, In the Presence of Violent Psychopaths (I'd link it, but it's behind a paywall). In it, he states:

For if you consider the perpetrators of recent incidents of mass murder—the Newtown tragedy, the subway killing, the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the 2007 horror at Virginia Tech—the one common thread is their self-evident insanity. To be sure, not all people with mental illness are violent, and not all violent people are insane. But we seem to tolerate the presence of psychotics in our midst, and regard their occasional explosions as a cost of liberty.

He defends the indefinite detention of the mentally ill, as was done in the 1960s, even though the vast majority of the detainees were, by his own admission, non-violent. The United States legal system already faces serious problems from its zealous determination to incarcerate more people than any other country by a wide margin. Schools are administered more like prisons than learning institutions. Now, Terzian wants to detain even more citizens. For a country that flaunts its freedoms, we have an obsession with detaining people in as many ways as possible.  Terzien and his supporters want to limit the rights of a large group instead of finding a more efficient way to deal with a problem. The government leaders continue to find ways to round up people who inconvenience them. They've found ways to round up innocent Muslims and innocent Latinos, now it's proposed that we round up innocents with mental deficiencies, a cruel solution for those deserving compassion.

Mental wards were closed down because of poor conditions, ineffectiveness, and, more frighteningly, they held people against their will after subjective diagnoses. Wrongful confinement was a well-known problem even back in the 1800s, yet it persisted all the way into the 1970s. In that decade, Mississippi and Georgia had to create state laws making it felonious to confine sane people to asylums. Despite improving ways to identify and treat people with chemical imbalances, insane asylums persisted through too much of the 20th century. Now, we have political pundits proposing the reinstatement of horribly failed policies and a majority of Americans support proposed legislation that will widen the parameters to deny freedoms to citizens who have done nothing wrong.

Those in favor of gun control place confidence in what they believe is a "common sense" position: less guns equals less violence.  The facts do not support the claim, but nonetheless, the leaders of the movement commit to the colossal undertaking of constructing an appealing narrative, bending stats and ignoring data. If they would submit to reality, they would see the enormous amount of data showing that guns do not make people more violent, they don't cause more crime, in fact, they reduce it, and stricter gun control fails to curb violence because guns were never the catalyst in the first place. An argument thrown around lately is that guns make a killer more efficient. Interestingly, a study from 1968 shows that knife attacks are more lethal than gun attacks, although someone can't attack with a knife from afar. Sadly, killers who want to be efficient use bombs. The Oklahoma City Bombing killed 168 people and injured over 600.

Accidental gun death is a frightening prospect, I'll agree. I cannot be in a room with people who show off their guns unless I trust them implicitly. I shouldn't worry, though. So few people die from accidental gun deaths that it is statistically negligible. More people die from choking.

Despite an increased number of guns in the hands of American citizens, we have less murders than at any time in the past fifty-three years, and with only occasional variance, it continues to fall. More people die from infection than from gun-related homicides.  More people die from falling. More people drink themselves to death every year than die in shootings of any kind.


Some insist that the United States is the most violent country in the world, however, our murder rate is ranked 104th. That does not even include government violence on its people. It does not include war and largely ignores genocide. If we look at rape statistics, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Belgium, Australia and others have a higher rate of attack than the United States. This isn't to say that the United States doesn't have a violence problem. We do. But it's not a gun problem. Unarmed assaults vastly, vastly outnumber armed assaults.

The oft cited 30,000 gun deaths in America per year includes suicides. The majority of gun deaths (17,000+)  are suicides. Yet, gun-control advocates claim that removing guns will lower the suicide rate. There is an stunning naiveté required to claim that someone who decides to end everything that is and ever will be, suddenly will be dissuaded from ending it all if a firearm isn't near. If guns were banned, we'd see a major increase in carbon monoxide-related deaths, not a decrease in suicides. It doesn't matter, anyway. No one is trying to ban shotguns (yet) and they are the easiest and quickest way to kill one's self. Including suicide statistics in gun control debates is the most egregious misrepresentation of facts by gun-control advocates spinning their agenda. In the past week, these statistics have been included in gun control talks on The Daily Show, NPR, The Washington Post and surely many others. For this, more than anything, they should be scolded.

Some have proposed firearm registration and something called a "universal background check," a concept that has drawn wide support. However, most people don't know what it entails. Universal background checks require private sellers to do background checks on anyone who buy their firearms, including personal acquaintances. This would include gifts. I'll not dwell on the fact that my personal acquaintances should never be able to check my credit and skip right to the impracticality. There is simply no way to implement this plan without a national registry. Registration and universal background check are synonymous. Support for firearm registration plunged when a New York Newspaper released the names and addresses of firearm owners in New York. Some of the firearm owners were hiding from abusive ex-spouses and, fearing for their lives, bought firearm protection. It also encouraged burglary, showing exactly which houses could be robbed to obtain firearms or which residences were incapable of offering lethal resistance (as a side note: the newspaper, fearing the overwhelming negative reaction to their stunt, hired armed guards to protect them). Not least of all, a list like that has been, and almost certainly would again be used as a list of "potential threats." No one fully appreciated the consequences of "collecting names" until this fiasco.

A popular target of gun-control has been the conceal and carry laws, such as the one in Missouri, that allows law-abiding citizens to carry a concealed firearm. An early argument against it proposed that having ready access to weapons at all times would lead to impulse slayings. That turned out to be false. People who legally carry concealed weapons are thirteen times less likely to commit crimes. Gun-control lobbyists insisted that crime would go up. It hasn't. Crime has fallen in states with conceal and carry options. Gun-control advocates have been scrambling to avoid crediting the drop in violence to the conceal and carry laws, but the data contradicts them.

Gun-control advocates tend to behave as if the government of the United States is a force for good that will always exist and accuse people who prepare for the worst as delusional nut-jobs. The media only interviews the delusional nut-jobs, so it's easy to make the association. I'm unsure why the left wing of the political spectrum believes the United States is impervious to the domestic erosion that has claimed the identity of many great nations. The national media interviews boisterous, paranoid, gun-totin' whackjobs who are incapable of spouting anything more interesting than "Hitler took the guns and look what happened." We don't have to flash back to World War II to find detrimental subjugation of an unarmed public. Just recently, public demonstrations from defenseless Iranian citizens ended with violent police response. The democratic movement against tyranny and corruption was crushed because the citizenry didn't have guns. Such a threat is not imminent in the United States, but private firearm ownership is not an unreasonable safeguard. The way anti-gun advocates portray gun owners validates the suspicion that anti-gun rights groups simply don't like people who like guns. However, the current leaders in the NRA are not helping their own case.

No matter the animosity building on each side of the debate, there are forms of gun control that both sides agree on. We all agree that firearms should not be sold to criminals or kids. Nor should they be sold to previously institutionalized mental patients. If someone has a documented drug addiction, they shouldn't have access to guns. Certainly stalkers shouldn't have hand guns. With the exception of collectors or historians, we mostly believe that people shouldn't have rocket launchers.

Those are all laws. In the past ten years 700,000 gun applicants have been denied based upon this criteria.

We can all agree that raising awareness about gun violence could be beneficial in prompting more responsible firearm behavior. It will not affect mass shootings by the mentally disturbed, but it could help with inner-city violence. Some community groups and non-profits in Kansas City have been experimenting with this concept. Raising awareness about irresponsible drug use and alcohol consumption has greatly reduced drunk driving incidents. Raising awareness about domestic violence has saved the lives of many children and spouses. We should be exploring options to reduce the cultural influence that encourages violent behavior. No, not video games or movies. They are scapegoats of the political left, who don't understand the difference between free expression and inciting crime. A community that nourishes belief that violence can solve real-world problems, that might is right, and a news-media system that promotes paranoia and hopelessness in the real world, not some literary invention, have a much more detrimental effect on the minds of youth. Focusing our efforts on exposing the flaws and lasting consequences of supporting violent behavior will likely have a more lasting effect than abridging our rights.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Benghazi Conspiracy Theory


Sen. John McCain has taken the resolute position that the US Embassy Attack in Benghazi involved a cover up orchestrated by the President of the United States to conceal details from the American government and people. I can only speculate about his motivation, but I would optimistically like to think it stems from his desire to protect Americans abroad, as he has had the most unpleasant experiences at the hands of overseas enemies. His determination to hold American leadership accountable for the Ambassador Chris Stevens' death probably stems from his genuine appreciation of and fondness for him, who, by all accounts was respected and liked by all who knew him. Sen. McCain's insistence that the President is responsible probably comes from his belief that the President is weak on foreign policy and preemptively judges the President's decision-making as inadequate. Many Americans share this view of the President, therefore the theory that he knew more about the attacks than he was letting on gained traction. Many Republican supporters are reeling and angry at the election results and want to show the world just how right they were about how bad this President is. They latch onto any negative criticism of him. An unfortunate stimulant in this conspiracy theory's ability to gain traction is that  many McCain supporters already believe that the President is a Kenyan-born Muslim, so this might not seem like much of a stretch for them (moderate Republicans hate when people bring that up, but it is absolutely true) . Once several people agree about something, consensus advertising shows us it's easier for even more people to accept the premise of any claim. Now, we are in the midst of public inquiries brought about by unfounded theories.

Ambassador Chris Stevens
McCain's theory, like all conspiracy theories, is comprised of few murky details. He has access to more classified information and little-known details that make the rest of us curious onlookers envious, but he has not presented a coherent argument for his theories and is behaving in the exact way that he accused the President of behaving. He has provided no basis for his arguments. Because of that, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid denied John McCain's request for an inquisition-style Senate Committee. Investigations are already underway in the Senate and the House, so Sen. McCain's request for a televised prosecution of the President's administration, no matter how nobly intended, is absurd. Even Republican Senator Susan Collins, Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Committee, said that McCain's suggestion was unnecessary.

The accusations of conspiracy began during the presidential debates, when Republicans, for some reason, accused the president of concealing the fact that the attack did not just spawn from a protest, but was actually a coordinated attack. This does not make sense because, the day after the attack he said, "And my suspicion is there are folks involved in this who were looking to target Americans from the start." Considering the attack could have come from any number of groups that hate America, including remnants of forces loyal to Quaddafi or Ansar Al Sharia, as some military intel suggested, there was no reason for him to immediately say the attack was by Al Quaeda until verified. Still, in his speech from the Rose Garden that day, he implied that the attack as an "act of terror." Fox News tried to convince its audience with ambitious, but ultimately unsuccessful, sophistry that the President didn't say what he actually said, or rather, didn't mean what he said.

John McCain Remarks on Benghazi Investigation

The conspiratorial claims are far-ranging and constantly evolving. McCain and fellow senator Lindsey Graham first verbally assaulted U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice after she made a presentation to the United Nations, implicating an offensive Youtube video as the catalyst for a protest's organic escalation to violent mob. It was a story that the President alluded to in his Rose Garden speech after the attack. Nine days later, the administration announced that Al Qaeda had a hand in the attack. McCain and Graham claimed her integrity should be questioned because she lied to the American people. They plan to block her nomination for Secretary of State after Hilary Clinton's departure. Though she is not even an official choice of the President for the position, McCain and Graham have erected a preemptive obstacle. The President threw down the gauntlet in her defense with unexpected hostility and indignant enthusiasm, claiming she was simply reading from a prepared intelligence agency report. McCain immediately retreated from the unjust attack on Rice. He then redirected the fight again toward the President and his administration.

As already quite clear, the President should not have jumped to conclusions about this being an act of terror, because the enemy was not absolutely certain and both the CIA and FBI left out information about Al Qaeda leads because they didn't want to disrupt the investigation. The President stated publicly that the attackers were organized and targeted Americans, but that was all he was willing to say until more details were from the investigation were confirmed, as it should be. What could McCain hoped to have learned from the President the day after that he couldn't wait nine days to find out? It changed nothing. The reason the Youtube video was mentioned as the catalyst for the attack is because the protest WAS about the Youtube video. United States intelligence indicated that the mob was protesting the video and marched on the consulate in an incensed rage, just as they had done in other nations that day. It was hardly the first time angry Muslims attacked embassies over perceived insults. It's not entirely clear if the Al Qaeda agents were complicit in riling up the crowd, used them because it was convenient, or began the whole demonstration as part of their plan. The concurrent attack on the U.S. embassy in Cairo was a direct result of the Youtube video as well as protests at the Yemen Consulate. Not that Al Qaida needed an excuse, but it seems like the video was the excuse they chose to launch an attack on the United States.

Attack on Egyptian Embassy
CIA reports show that reliable ground level-intelligence was difficult to obtain during the first attack. The CIA had a surveillance drone in the area that gave a limited view of the events preceding the battle, which contributed to early reports that it was a spontaneous attack.  After the CIA and FBI testified that the situation "involved many, many people, and it's a mix of intent, motivation, a mix of skill, armament" the Republicans mostly seemed content that the motivations for the attack were not easily untangled within 24 hours...so they switched attack tactics. McCain then said that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's inaction during the crisis caused the deaths of four Americans. McCain made sure to identify the culprit as a member of the President's cabinet, implicating the President.

Responding directly to John McCain, Secretary Panetta wrote that they could not reach the consulate in time, in part, because "several hundred reports were received indicating possible threats to U.S. facilities around the world." The military was all over the place, investigating threats to other consulates, dealing with the aftermath of other attacks and attempting to defend against other credible threats. They also had to constantly evaluate intelligence received from Benghazi, determining the best plan of action. There are two major criticisms that troops on the ground frequently level at their military superiors when the situations arise: 1.) sending men blindly into a firefight with little-to-no intelligence about the situation, which Panetta clearly was unwilling to do, and 2.) delaying a military response until it's too late. The two criticisms are diametrically opposed. If you avoid one, you run the risk of falling victim to another. Black Hawk Down was a movie-worthy tale of sending troops into a situation with inadequate intelligence. Into the Fire is a book about the deadly consequences of taking too long to evaluate threats. The best any military commander can do is balance the two. McCain was not satisfied because reports surfaced that Ambassador Stevens had repeatedly requested additional security after an armed assault targeted embassy personnel on August 6, but additional security was not given. There was a reason for that, however.

The loss of American lives has blinded many to the enormous task of protecting consulates. On July 2, a planned attack on the Kenyan consulate was thwarted. The U.S. Embassy said terrorist threats were still active a week later. On July 26, a gunman opened fire outside the U.S. Embassy in Bosnia. On August 5, terrorists attacked Israel, killing 16 soldiers and raising the alert for American personnel in that area. On August 6, demonstrations in Afghanistan became violent as they began violently attacking Western targets of opportunity. After an unrelated suicide attack in Yemen, authorities captured Al Qaeda militants who planned an attack on the U.S. Embassy. U.S. Embassy security was heightened in Islamabad, Pakistan in anticipation of violence during Pakistan Independence Day. More personnel was diverted to Pakistan after a suicide bomber killed two embassy employees on Sept. 2. Viable Jihadi groups in Egypt threatened to attack the Cairo Embassy on September 11. In addition to the terrorist attacks, the military attempted to protect the Egyptian and Yemen Consulates from spontaneous attacks. The authorities were also investigating threats to embassies in Lebanon, Tunisia, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Zambia, Armenia, Sudan, Berundi and others. The United States is under attack all the time. The military believed some of the others had greater reason to fear an imminent attack, and some did (they were attacked). They simply couldn't be everywhere at once.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta
Not programmed to pass up an opportunity to lie through its teeth, Fox News claimed that the CIA denied backup to the "diplomatic mission." They even marketed the story as an "EXCLUSIVE" and it is still available on their site. The story was debunked in less than 12 hours. They are still sticking to that story, even now. Immediately after learning of the attack, we now know that the President ordered special forces dispatched from Italy to help in the fight and scrambled jets from North Carolina to aid in the rescue effort. Military bases in nearby countries evaluated the threat and situation, drafted deployment plans and traveled to Benghazi where they arrived after the firefight. Shortly after the first-wave attack on the main building, the nine-man security team was overwhelmed in a rapidly deteriorating situation. The building was set on fire, causing the death of Management Officer Sean Smith and Ambassador Chris Stevens. CIA operatives from a nearby annex building heroically rushed to the aid of the remaining Americans, bringing them back to the more secure annex building. Less than three hours after fighting began, U.S. security reinforcements from Tripoli arrived to help. In a second attack five hours after the first, a rocket fired at the building killed two security operatives on the roof, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty. Hopelessly outgunned, the remaining Americans managed to escape to the airport, flying safely to Tripoli and then Germany where they were interviewed by the FBI.

I'm really not sure what John McCain thinks anyone should have done here. I'm not sure what he thinks the President could have done better. I'm not sure why he thinks Panetta could have done better, considering the complicated and delicate nature of the task, as well as having Congress cut Embassy funding by $327 million. Cutting funding may have been the right move from a domestic spending standpoint, but it certainly made Panetta's job harder. I'm also not sure what McCain wanted the CIA to do, and they made a pretty significant sacrifice in the first place.

Ex-CIA Director David Petraus
The conspiracy took another turn when the affair between CIA Director David Petraeus and his biographer went public, as extremist right-wing conservatives accused the Obama Administration of blackmailing Petraeus to keep quiet about what really happened during the Benghazi attack. Even Charles Krauthammer, the (until recently) respected intellectual elite of the right, is propagating the conspiracy theory. All that McCain, Graham, Krauthammer, and pundits like Andrew Napolitano seem convinced of is that there is a conspiracy. All other details are flexible. They adjust the narrative continually and obsessively to meet each new revelation that deflates the veracity of their claims. They can't name a viable reason for the President to conceal the motivation of the attack from anyone. There are no rewards to be reaped. No one's reputation should be affected by honest and rapid action that nonetheless fell short. There isn't enough reason for the President to instigate an international conspiracy to...do...whatever it is Republicans think it's supposed to do. There's no advantage to this so-called conspiracy in any way. Every single person has been honest since day one. Every single story aligns perfectly to the events portrayed by the person testifying ahead of them, from the people on the ground to the people in the Pentagon.

There's nothing to see here, folks.

Many Americans don't know the details of what surrounds the Benghazi attack. Many understandably rely on news outlets to give them the summary after it's over. But, right now, there are high-level Republican government officials who are determined to live in a conspiracy-filled fantasy world. The Benghazi cover-up isn't even the most ridiculous conspiracy from the Republicans this month. The Georgia Republican Senate Majority Leader sponsored a seminar explaining how Obama won the election using mind-control. That is not a joke or exaggeration. Donald Trump is still spouting about the President's birth certificate. Wisconsin and Florida elected officials are stating that hundreds of thousands of cases of voter fraud per state won Democrats the election. Before the election, seventy percent of Republicans believed the polls were skewed toward Obama, even though they were accurately depicting his victory. This type of conspiratorial thinking should have ended with the election. I thought the message to Republicans was clear: this insanity will no longer be tolerated.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

How to Fix the Republican Party

The United States two-party political system is frequently revered for its elegant simplicity and effectiveness. During my younger years, my father told me it was a good system not easily replaced and one of my favorite historians, J. Joseph Ellis, considers it among the "triumphs" of the Founding Fathers (no, it's not in the Constitution). I, on the other hand, find it limiting, divisive, destructive and dangerous. I want it weakened, split and then eradicated. Data shows that more people are hating it every year, as Independent voters now outnumber both Republicans and Democrats.

My father was right about one thing. It's not easily replaced. Over the past century, Democrats and Republicans have passed laws that make it all but impossible for third-party candidates to get any exposure to the electorate. Despite elected third-party representation in every other developed government, Americans consider it the most unlikely of pipe-dreams.

I've dedicated a considerable amount of thought to the destruction of the two-party system. I think it may yet happen. Goodness knows that the Republican party is teetering on the edge. But that doesn't help the American public right now. Instead of complaining about the parties and their behavior, I've decided to take a brief reprieve and focus on how to improve the parties we have. This doesn't excuse either party's stalwart resistance to the inclusion of a third party, but we need better options right now. We shouldn't have to wait until they do enough damage to themselves or each other before we can finally introduce reasonable and electable third-party candidates. We should improve the controlling parties while continuing to strive for more options in upcoming elections.

Both parties have issues that appear insurmountable to many voters. Democrats seem incapable of understanding the fact that money isn't limitless. Although Republicans understand this, to a degree, they seemingly understand little else. They are blind to their surroundings in every way. They lost the 2012 Presidential election, seats in the House of Representatives and seats in the Senate, yet they still don't see a need for party reform. Right now, Charles Krauthammer, arguably the smartest man I've ever read, continues to spin the idea that the Republican Party is on the right track.

That is willful delusion.

Bill O'Reilly and the 24-hour-infomercial known as Fox News are telling their viewers that Republicans lost the election because the American people want handouts and Obama will give it to them.

That.
Is.
A.
Lie.

According to PEW Research polls, 87% of voters said the Economy was a critical issue. In the same poll, we can see that other considerations are fading, such as immigration, energy and terrorism. Fifty-six percent of voters said they preferred a smaller federal government. The country still leans conservative, which it has for a decade.


Eighty-three percent (83%) of Americans are concerned about the debt. A conservative-leaning electorate with great interest in fixing the debt problem is NOT, by and large, a group that wants handouts. Unless they're old. The only group to continually demand "handouts" en masse, and raise taxes if necessary to keep it getting handouts, is the baby boomer/retiree voting block. Which is the only group that voted heavily in favor of Republicans. That doesn't sound like an electorate that wants "free stuff." It sounds like an electorate that collectively appreciates the dangers of overspending and wants to do something about it.

The majority of people even believed Romney would be better for the debt crisis. That's right, people think a Republican might even be better at dealing with the crisis, but couldn't bring themselves to vote Republican anyway.

I explained in my last post what the electorate actually has a problem with. To elaborate, nearly every other major issue the Republican Party stands for is either...

Bigoted
Racist
Willfully Ignorant
or Batshit Crazy.

The Republican Party has to address these issues. The Presidential Primary proved to the world that the party leadership is comprised of candidates who intend to become the moral police, something most Americans find distasteful in the first place, and worse, their moral compass is off-kilter from the rest of the country. That is not a problem with the electorate, the media, or ANYONE ELSE the party wants to blame. It is a Republican Party problem and if they truly want to address the financial issue, they need to abandon their overbearing, intrusive moral crusade. We can make our own decisions. For a party complaining that the Democratic party thinks we're too dumb to make our own decisions and that they pass too many frivolous laws, like cigarette tax hikes, bans on Happy Meals, and volume reduction on Soft Drinks, the Republican Party wants to control the most intimate aspects of our lives. If we have to choose between two overly-legislative styles, we're going pay more for cigarettes and forgo 64 oz big gulps instead of tolerating Senators telling us who and how to fuck.

There is a separation of church and state. We like it that way. The primary obstacle to the Tea Party's incessant attempts to violate the first amendment is churches. They understand the repercussions to religions intervening in the role of government and vice versa. Too many Republican leaders scratch and tear at the wall of separation when they want Christian laws passed, and then conveniently remember why it's there when they want to squelch the influence of Islam's Sharia Law in American politics. It works both ways. Republicans are constitutionally forbidden from favoring Christianity, Islam, Shinto, Buddhism, Judaism, Hellenism, or any of the hundreds of other religions.

They can probably use the following religious phrases without a) compromising their faith, or b) alienating everyone else:
"God Bless America"
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims."
"My faith has helped guide me through difficult times and tough decisions."

No one gets their feathers too ruffled about those innocuous comments. However, once they start preaching about the will of God (by the way, too many people are privy to God's thoughts, which is blasphemy) or the apocalyptic commandments of Jesus (whose name was actually Yeshua (double parenthetical bonus: it translates to Joshua) and Republicans don't seem to know that), is when we get into dangerous territory.

Democrats aren't divisive, Republicans are. When comparing the party that brought together Latinos, Blacks, women, Asians, Muslims, Atheists, mainstream Christians, Gays and youth for the election, as well as preferred by other nation's leaders to the other party, which is hated by every single other highly developed nation in the WORLD except Pakistan, that could only rally a majority of votes among 50 year old evangelical white males, it's clear which party is divisive. They must knock off this notion that Democrats are the villains in this story and take responsibility for scaring off every demographic with extremist rhetoric and policies.


They need to stop threatening Revolution. Donald Trump is the most recent Republican to do so. It's been said by Greene County, VA Republicans and Sarah Palin. Sean Hannity irresponsibly hyped the rhetoric. Michele Bachmann encouraged it. Glenn Beck alternately condemns  revolution or advocates it, depending on if it's communist or his idea  (He's a Libertarian, though. Kind of). Republican Leaders called for citizens to take their country back, take to the streets, rise up! When the Occupation movement began, when the poor and downtrodden, the young and passionate did exactly that, Republicans did everything possible to crush the movement. They're not just calling for revolution, they're hypocrites about it. They clearly don't care about the will of the people, they just want to do whatever they want. Because that rhetoric is unnecessarily incendiary and they are so selective about whether it is the revolution they want to lead, whether the people want it or not, they need to stop talking about it.

And for goodness' sake, they have to stop talking about Rape! People are making lists of the most offensive Republican comments about rape. That list should have one comment, the only one before they all learned to shut up. If at any point they think it's a good idea to talk about rape, Republicans should take a deep breath, and really think, not rush it. They should think about how they will word it, try to visualize the face of the person they are speaking with when they say it, concentrating on the outcome. They should take time to consider the reactions of the casual passers-by, whom may hear; take a look at them and wonder, really wonder, if they're going to understand, with the utmost clarity, what is being said. If they do all that, the person they were talking to should have already left after uncomfortably staring at their perplexed and distant expressions. They'll know they said the right thing if nothing came out of their fucking mouths. Don't. Ever. Talk. About. Rape. If necessary, Republicans should start the Don't Ever Talk About Rape Foundation (D.E.T.A.R.F.) to give support to idiots in their party who may think they have a problem with spontaneous rape-talk. It tends to be a uniquely Republican phenomenon to burst into rape-talk without warning. They need to nip that shit in the bud.

Just this advice will help Republicans with Asians, Latinos, Mulsims, Jews and Women. Fixing these issues will not compromise what is supposed to be the core issues among Republicans, fiscal responsibility and a limited and efficient government, because most of the country wants that. If Republicans really cared what happens to the country's finances, then they wouldn't use their podiums to ram overreaching moral imperatives down our throats; they would concentrate on finance.

Follow the examples of Marco Rubio when he says, God doesn't love us more than Belgium.  Follow the lead of Jon Huntsman, when he says he believes Scientists about Global Warming and evolution. Get away from complaining about how we're all a bunch of teat-sucking degenerates and concentrate on how to help our financial situation, improve energy efficiency, avoid foreign dependence on oil (and oil altogether, if possible) and advance scientific innovation. We can all get behind those things.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Republicans Miss the Mark

Republicans, I am your target.

I'm a political moderate who believes a balanced budget is essential to renewed American prosperity. I'm a swing voter. In 2008, my ballot crissed and crossed party lines as I tried to support candidates who reflected ethical leadership and responsibility. You've had me in your sights since 2008, and after campaigning for my benefit, speaking directly to me and my circumstances, you have completely missed the mark.

You believed you could attach any price tag to fiscal reform and we'd accept it because we are desperate for it. You overstated the meaning of the 2010 congressional election, when seats swung conservative, you believed it was an endorsement of all Republican ideals. You banked on it. You were wrong. For the sake of promised fiscal responsibility, I, and apparently many others, was not willing to take it at the cost of compromising fundamental freedoms and sacrificing reason.

Americans tend to respect science. It brought electricity into our homes, gave us transportation to work, improved medicine and got us to the Moon. Yet, the Republican Party, with increasing intensity, demands we reject clear scientific data about Global Warming, Germ Theory and Evolution.

You demand we assign special significance to the relationships of certain consenting adults and condemn the relationship of other consenting adults. Most of us couldn't care less what people do or who they do it with.

You've stepped away from the encouragement and promotion of values and, instead, attempt to legislate them. You too often emphasized the middle name of the President, as if it held some significant meaning. You denied the validity of his verified and triple-checked birth records. You unreasonably called him a Muslim while equating American Muslims with terrorists.

You fervently claimed to know the will of a God, and try to make us abide by that will, whether we believe or not. In the only country with a legal founding document elucidating the separation of church and state, you've demanded we worship your God in your way.

For every person willing to risk social injustice for the sake of financial stability, there were more who refused to accept your party's unreasonable prejudices. You've crossed lines the rest of us defend. We do not want zealous anti-science intolerance. Sure, we want passion and responsibility, but we want logic and reason too. After the frightening Republican Presidential Primary, Mitt Romney was the only candidate who stood a chance of election, and even he could not overcome the party stigma. You've attached too high a price tag to fiscal reform.

You've lost the Presidential election because of it.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Kansas Vs. Missouri: The Ultimate Showdown

If you are not from Kansas or Missouri, you may not know how much they hate each other. People from Kansas often call all Missourians idiots. Same thing vice-versa, but it's a different story when the opposing residents are face-to-face. The hate usually does not percolate to the surface in casual friendships. Missourians and Kansans don't seem to hate each other. They hate the other state. Many work together, get along very well, cross borders to have parties with their friends, but as soon as they begin to argue over which state is superior, arguments are heated and sincere. It is state bigotry, hating someone for where they live. They seem to think it is somehow "competitive" and healthy, but it's every bit as petty as racism.

The rivalry stems from the Civil War when Kansas Jayhawkers and Missouri Bushwhackers would cross the border and slaughter each other and each other's families. Neither side can claim innocence. The violence has been tamed considerably, only occasionally manifesting itself in barroom brawls over a college sporting events between the University of Missouri and the University of Kansas.

Both states claim superiority over the other in everything: education, sports, fame, talent, righteousness. I've decided to analyze the two states and determine which is better in the categories the two states fight over most.


College Sports:

The University of Kansas is traditionally superior in basketball than the University of Missouri. KU leads the all-time contest at 172-95, according to Wikipedia. Missouri has a very good basketball program. It is routinely ranked in the top 25, with some exceptional teams (1996-1997, 2011-2012), but KU arguably has the best basketball program in the nation. Athletes from all over the country fight for KU basketball scholarships.  The state of Kansas also has the lesser-known, but also excellent, K-State basketball team. K-State frequently ranks in the top 25. Southeast Missouri State University has had a Division I NCAA basketball program, but the team struggles. Kansas has the better end of basketball, hands down.


With football, Kansas has very little to offer. K-State has improved in recent years, but still holds one of the worst NCAA Div I football records of all time. KU lost ten straight games in 2011 and didn't win a single conference game. They sometimes manage a halfway decent team, and indeed, their overall record is just barely over 50%, but not for much longer. KU's football glory days appear long behind them. Missouri has won more conference and division titles and has gone to more than twice as many bowl games. No contest here: Missouri wins.

K-State ranked in baseball for the first time ever in 2010. KU has made a grand total of four NCAA tournament appearances in its 132 year history, while Missouri has been to twenty-one, including seven since 2003, they've been conference champs fifteen times. Missouri dominates this category.


Other than the "big three" sports, Missouri is often a top ranking school in most programs. Missouri wrestlers took the Big 12 Championship in 2012 and sent all of its squad to the NCAA championship, and are ranked tenth in the nation. KU nor K-State don't even have Div I wrestling programs. K-State does have one of the winningest women's volley-ball programs in the NCAA. It's not enough to make up for the lack of Kansas sport diversity. Missouri has good cross-country, gymnastics, softball, golf, tennis, track, and women's soccer programs. Other than Div I sports, Missouri has a surprising number of smaller schools with good sports programs such as University of Central Missouri's baseball program, Columbia College's girls' softball, UMKC's men's basketball and many others.

Missouri has the complete package in college athletics while Kansas cheer is mostly sequestered to the three months out of the year in which they play basketball.

Winner: Missouri.




College Education

According to US News, the University of Missouri is ranked 90th on the list of top 400 national universities. Kansas is ranked #101 and K-State is #143. In all honesty, MU and KU are in a dead heat for academia despite the rankings. They are strong in different areas and basically tie in several categories. Missouri edges them out, but not by much.  All three are excellent academic schools.

Beyond the two state universities, Kansas doesn't have much to brag about. Their other colleges are mostly fine institutions. They just don't have well-renowned schools for any specific area of study like the colleges in Missouri. The University of Missouri System is comprised of three schools other than MU itself and they are all nationally respected for their specialized programs: UMSL for its Criminal Justice program, UMKC for law, and the Missouri University of Science & Technology is the best engineering school in the nation. The Kansas City Art Institute is internationally recognized for its excellence in art education. Kansas has some good community colleges, but so does Missouri. Missouri has nine colleges with over 10,000 students and Kansas only has four.

Missouri wins this one.


High School Education 

High school is something of a convoluted mess, but I'll try to sort it out. Virtually all the scoring data is from 2009 or before, so the recent collapse of Kansas City, MO schools isn't reflected in most data. The only recent data shows information only on low-income students, in which it shows Missouri performing poorly and Kansas performing well in 2011, overall. According to Statemaster, Kansas has more students receive their high school diplomas than Missouri. Both states are above average in that category, with Kansas ahead. As far as the quality of work expected by students, Missouri has higher standards than any other state in the union. Their educational content is ranked number one according to the American Legislative Exchange Council. Kansas has middling-to-low standards and ranks 41st.

The Science and Engineering Readiness Index ranks Missouri as below average and Kansas as average for math and science scores. The United States Department of Education ranks Kansas in the top ten for Black students and Missouri in the top ten for Hispanic students. Both states rank in the top ten math scores for students with disabilities in grade school. From 2007-2009, Missouri was ranked in the top ten for graduation rate.

Until recently, Missouri was known as the slightly superior state in secondary education, but with the collapse of Kansas City schools dragging down their numbers, I'm not sure that will hold.

Based on what data we have, both states are above average, but Missouri has a bit better numbers. However, that doesn't exactly translate to intelligence...


Intelligence

IQ tests aren't too reliable, but every single study from 2002-2006 ranks Kansas with a higher collective IQ. Kansas averaged about 102 (and climbing) and Missouri averaged 101 (and stagnant). I wanted some other gauge, so I looked at ACT scores. Kansas scored higher on everything but English.


Winner: Kansas



Average Income

This one is cut and dry. Kansans make more money. On average Kansans make $47,817 a year and Missourians average $45,229.  It's a good thing too, because...


Cost of Living

It cost more to live in Kansas. Taxes are higher, groceries are more expensive, gas is more expensive, liquor is more expensive, the beer is weaker, and god help you if you are a smoker in Kansas. The price of cigarettes is at least 20% higher in Kansas.

Winner: Missouri


Professional Sports

At the highest level of competitive play, Kansas has the Major League Soccer team, Sporting Kansas City. Most people consider MLS to be on a lower tier of professional play than the "Big 4," football, baseball, basketball and hockey. The most profitable and widely followed are, of course, football and baseball. Missouri has the Kansas City Royals, Kansas City Chiefs, St. Louis Blues, St. Louis Cardinals and St. Louis Rams. Both states have many minor league or lesser-division professional sports teams. There's not much competition here.

Missouri wins.


Famous Entertainers

This is always fun to talk about. There is pride in having famous or talented individuals come from one's home state. So much so, that Missourians and Kansas will argue over who has the best famous people. Both states even have museums dedicated to famous residents. There are different types of famous people, so I've divided them up into different categories. I also dismissed anyone who was born in one of the states, but moved at a very young age or shortly after birth. Also, people frequently moved from Missouri to Kansas and vice versa, so I had to do a bit of research to find out which state they preferred. If I couldn't decide, as in the case of Dennis Hopper, I just left them off both lists. This only happened with people who lived in Kansas and Missouri. If they moved away to Hollywood or New York, I just placed them in whichever state they spent solid time in. The people had to have some sort of attachment to the state, either spending a childhood there or spending several important years of their lives there. Missouri, of course, is at a statistical advantage because it has more people.

Musicians
Music is more polarizing than anything. For every person I might list here that is a platinum selling musician, someone else might consider it a detriment to the state's reputation, so I won't list all of the famous musicians from the states. Charlie Parker, one of the most influential jazz musicians, grew up in Missouri, and Chuck Berry, the man credited with "creating" rock n' roll, is from Missouri. Kansas has some great and influential musicians, best of the bunch being Melissa Etheridge and Joe Walsh but not as many and they're mostly not the same caliber.

Actors
Kansas has some great actors they can officially call Kansans. Chief among them is R. Lee "Gunny" Ermey, the fast-cursing gunnery sergeant made famous in Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket. They also lay claim to Ed Asner (Up, "Roots"), Paul Rudd (Knocked Up) and Kirstie Allie (Cheers). They also have Don Johnson (Miami Vice) and Billy Drago (Untouchables). Unfortunately for Kansas, Brad Pitt (Seven, Fight Club) is native to Missouri and even went to MU. It's pretty hard to trump the biggest living movie star. Missouri can also lay claim Steve McQueen (The Great Escape), John Goodman (Roseanne), Kevin Kline (A Fish Called Wanda), Jon Hamm (Mad Men), Vincent Price (House on Haunted Hill), Ginger Rogers (Top Hat), William Powell (The Thin Man), Betty Grable (How to Marry a Millionaire), Chris Cooper (Bourne Identity), Scott Bakula (Quantum Leap), Jenna Fischer (The Office) and Sarah Clarke (24).
R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket
Brad Pitt in Fight Club



Directors
Kansas has some exceptional native directors. I'm especially fond of Chris Buck, who directed Surf's Up and Tarzan (1999) and Richard Thorpe (Above Suspician, Ivanhoe), an underrated golden age Hollywood director who worked with every star of the day including Elvis in Jailhouse Rock. Their biggest celeb director is  Darren Lynn Bousman, who directed Saw II, III, and IV. They also have Gordon Parks (Shaft), Alex Grave (Fringe), and Eric Darnell (Antz, Madagascar).

Missouri may actually trump every state in this category because it can claim demigods John Huston (Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, African Queen, The Man Who Would Be Queen) and Walt Disney. Also from Missouri is Disney's Warner Brothers counterpart Friz Freleng who helped create Bugs Bunny and the other Looney Toons. If that wasn't enough (and it is), Robert Altman (M.A.S.H., The Player, Short Cuts), John Milius (Wind and the Lion, Conan The Barbarian), and David Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth, Waiting for Superman) are all Missourians.
Walt Disney

Authors/Writers
Kansas has several good lesser-known authors. The only Kansas author of exceptional literary note is the great poet Langston Hughes, who was born in Missouri, but preferred Kansas.  William S. Burroughs split his time between Missouri and Kansas, so he can't be assigned to anyone. Laura Ingalls Wilder did too, and was a very active community leader in Missouri for twenty years, but she wrote Little House on the Prairie about Kansas. That trumps everything else.  Baseball legend Bill James (Baseball Abstract) is from Kansas. That's something.
Langston Hughes
The most famous North American author to ever live is from Missouri: Mark Twain (Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer). The most famous journalist in America was also a Missourian: Joseph Pulitzer (yes, that Pulitzer). The most famous poet in all the world, T.S. Eliot (The Wasteland) is from Missouri. One of the most famous playwrights in the world, Tennessee Williams, is a Missourian. Missouri can also call the world-famous Maya Angelou, Robert Heinlein (Stranger in a Strangeland, Starship Troopers), Kate Chopin (The Awakening),  its own. Ernest Hemingway was also a part time resident of Kansas City, MO, where he had two of his children and worked for the Kansas City Star. The most famous comic book artist of all time, now a writer and DC Comics executive, Jim Lee, is a native Missourian.
Mark Twain
So, to recap on the famous people. Missouri claims, arguably, the most famous movie star currently living, Brad Pitt; one of the most talented actresses, Ginger Rogers; one of the most revered film directors of all time, John Huston; the most famous comic book artist ever, Jim Lee; the most famous American journalist, Joseph Pulitzer; the most famous American novelist of all time, Mark Twain; the most famous poet, T.S. Eliot; and possibly the most famous person in the world, Walt Disney. It's not really fair to put any group up to those guys--not even R. Lee Ermey.

Missouri, hands down.


Driving

This is one of the largest debates among Missouri and Kansas. Missourians accuse Kansans of driving like slowpokes. Kansans accuse Missourians of driving like frenzied maniacs. According to a study published by Tom Tom Kansas doesn't drive all that slowly (at least on interstates), but a report has shown that, yes, Missourians drive like frenzied maniacs, getting an incredible amount of speeding tickets. According to the same Tom Tom study, Missouri posts similar speeds on the internet state Missouri ranked second worst among states, only ahead of Louisiana. Also, Kansas was found to have the most prepared drivers, scoring higher on written driving tests than any other state. Part of this is because most people in Kansas live around Kansas City. Travel and Leisure surveys found that Kansas City and its surrounding area have the second best drivers in the country. It's almost a perfect split from best to worst. No contest.

Winner: Kansas



Sightseeing

Lake Scott State Park offers the some well-needed scenery, hills and bluffs, in western Kansas, because the rest of western Kansas has lots of wheat--flat, never-ending wheat and sunflowers with virtually no trees. Western Kansas looks as if it were ironed, it's so flat.

They have the Mushroom Rock, which is a cool, rare rock formation in the middle of nowhere.
I don't know the people, I just picked a picture with people for scale.
Kansas has a few other rock formations worth seeing, especially in Kanopolis State Park, and there's a prairie dog town in the northwest. On the eastern side, Kansas has the Flint hills, a group of gentle hills that provide some nice scenery.



The Ozarks make Missouri a rather sought after sightseeing state. The most well-known natural attraction is most likely the Lakes of the Ozark. It serves as a party spot for Spring Break, but during the other months it's a popular boating, skiing and fishing attraction.
Missouri can boast about having more navigable riverways than any other state, which makes it a draw for canoers, kayakers  and rafters. In fact, the riverways are so beautiful in Missouri that they are federally protected. If so desired, people can even canoe through some Missouri caves.
Jack's Fork River

Missouri has a magnificent, huge cave system.
Bridal Cave


Unique and beautiful rock formations are scattered throughout Missouri. Elephant Rock State Park is dedicated to the preservation of enormous climbable boulders.
photo by localozarkian

Nearby Johnson Shut-Ins provides natural waterslides

It's pretty clear that Missouri wins this category.

Cities


Wichita, KS has a few nice districts and buildings surrounding the Arkansas River. It is the only municipality in Kansas that is a bonafide city.

Exploration Place

The state capitol of Kansas, Topeka, is really just a collection of hotels surrounding the capitol building. Kansas City, KS is more of a suburb than a city, but it has landed a NASCAR track and an outdoor mega-mall called Legends. However, not much about it is "city-esque."

Missouri has two major cities, Kansas City and St. Louis which rank in the thirty largest cities in the U.S., so they have much more architectural diversity, including two world-famous landmarks, the St. Louis Arch and the Kauffman Performing Arts Center in Kansas City.


I didn't take any of the following photographs.

Kansas City is known for its fountains, extensive parks and boulevards. It has more trees and grass than most cities. Kansas City always ranks high among the nation's "best cities" surveys. The Travel and Leisure surveys found that Kansas City had the best barbecue and it was the most affordable city in the country. It also ranks high among the friendliest cities.
Union Station in front of Kansas City
Arrowhead and Kauffman Stadiums
Kansas City's Plaza

Kansas City is the City of Fountains
Nelson-Adkins Museum of Art




St. Louis is so famous for the arch that it's difficult to find a picture of St.L without the arch in it, or from it. However, they have many unique and entertaining districts.
View From the Arch
St. Louis Capitol Building

St. Louis Union Station
Busch Stadium

St. Louis Art Museum
With only one city that sometimes drops out of the top fifty most populated cities, with little to no diversity or cultural history, Kansas doesn't hold a candle.

Winner: Missouri.


Overall

Kansas won pretty key categories that mean a lot to me personally, "intelligence" being the most important. That makes me think of the quality of people overall. Making more money, on average, than Missourians is also a key category, but with that higher cost of living, it evens out.

Naturally, there's nothing to Kansas. It's mostly flat and barren. Their state parks are rarely beautiful compared to Missouri's, and it doesn't have any professional sports teams to distract from its vast nothingness. Even at the college level, they only have basketball to cheer for. Kansas has almost no nightlife to speak of unless they want to cross the border to Missouri. They try to hold Johnson County up as the epitome of Kansas life, with its solid economy, clean streets, excellent shopping and good dining, but it is clearly the exception. Johnson County is also a collection of suburbs to a Missouri city. Even in trivial superiority arguments about actors and musicians Kansas has lesser talent (who made it big).

One thing I've noticed when I ask people why they like their state, Missourians name all sorts of things, camping, canoeing, boating, sports, clubbing and a slew of others. Kansans never seem to have anything particular in mind. I'm guessing that they like each other. They like Kansans, because they're generally recognized as friendly people. According to polls, so are Missourians, Southerners, and most of the Midwest. It's not unique to have generally decent people in a state. I finally found an article about "good things about Kansas," and the author comes to the conclusion,  

"After crossing the rest of Kansas, I realize that while there may not be mountains or deserts or interesting things to see (like trees), crossing Kansas did offer its gems. The people of Kansas who we interacted with were all very pleasant and made me feel like I was at home. The food was spectacular as well."

Those are fine attributes of the state, but not unique in any way. They're not even rare. I personally like that they have camels roaming around. I'm fascinated by their history, by bleeding Kansas and their famous lawmen. However, every state has its own interesting history. The only thing they seem to know for sure, is that they hate Missouri...except for the Chiefs, Royals, Kansas City BBQ, their nightlife, and bars.