About Wayne A. Schneider

I'm a Liberal, Libertarian, Atheist Humanist. I believe that though the world is a dangerous place, it can be made better if we stop dividing ourselves by how we're different from each other, and reach out to each other through what we have in common. And that is that we are all human beings on this planet. Please remember that.

The Watering Hole, Monday, November 30, 2015: And The Right Just Keeps On Lying

This past Friday, a lunatic with a gun he no doubt purchased legally opened fire outside a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs, CO, killing three people, including a police officer responding to reports of shots fired at the clinic. From the beginning, the Right began lying about what happened and why it happened. They tried to say it had nothing to do with Planned Parenthood or abortion, and that the shooter just happened to pick that nearby building to take cover. That was not true. The entire incident took place at the Planned Parenthood facility. They tried to say it started out as a bank robbery, but that was also untrue. The shooter started shooting at Planned Parenthood and when police cars started arriving on the scene, he started shooting at them. As some took cover behind a nearby Chase bank, the shooter took shots at them. That’s how the bank robbery lie started. After he was arrested and identified, the Right tried to claim the shooter was transgendered, and a Leftist (they love using that word, “Leftist.” It’s so close to calling us “Communists” and, as we all know, Communism is Pure Evil. And since “Leftist” sounds like “Communist,” that leans Leftists must be evil, too. See how easy it is to be a Conservative? No thinking required.) The same voter registration form from which they determined he used to be female (it was an obvious typo) also listed his party affiliation as Unaffiliated. As for why he did it, the police have not released any official determination, but it has been widely repeated in the media that one cop said the shooter had muttered something about “no more baby parts” as he was being led into custody. This would appear to be a reference to the debunked videos which were purported by their publishers to show Planned Parenthood personnel negotiating the sale of human fetal tissue, but which actually, showed no such thing at all due to their being deceptively edited.

And yet the Right refuses to acknowledge that fact. Just yesterday morning, Chris Wallace of Fox News Sunday allowed Carly Fiorina to further the false claim that the videos were legitimate and showed that Planned parenthood was selling baby parts. She also lied and said that they announced they would stop selling fetal tissues which would imply that they were doing so before. Again, a lie. What Planned Parenthood actually said was that they would no longer accept reimbursement for the costs of providing the tissue for medical research, which is all they were accepting money for in the first place. But Wallace just let Fiorina lie as if it was of no consequence. Even the Fox News article to which I just linked is in denial about the videos:

The attack thrust the clinic to the center of the ongoing debate over Planned Parenthood, which was reignited in July when anti-abortion activists released undercover video they said showed the organization’s personnel negotiating the sale of fetal organs.

I suppose you could say that, technically, there isn’t anything untrue about what they wrote, other than that it’s incomplete and makes no mention of them being deceptively edited. But because of that deception, there are people believing exactly what the video producers wanted them to believe – that Planned Parenthood was aborting fetuses for the purpose of selling off the body parts for profit. What other purpose would there be to making the videos?

What’s worse is that it’s impossible to deny that someone violently opposed to abortion might use that misinformation as justification to start shooting people at a clinic where abortions might be performed (though in much, much smaller numbers than the person believing the first lie might think true.) Liberals tend not to use violence against people to protest their views, but Conservatives have been known to do it many, many times in this country’s history. If heard and reported accurately, the reference the shooter made to “baby parts” is a direct reference to the doctored videos, which means the people who made those videos, as well as the media organizations that promoted them as undisputed fact, and even including the presidential candidates who intentionally lied about the videos’ content, share responsibility for the murders those videos incited. They can’t have it both ways. They can’t deliberately manipulate peoples’ emotions in a way certain to drive them to anger, and them claim no responsibility when they act on that anger and good people die. This can’t be allowed.

Nor can it be allowed that we not discuss how easy it is for such gun violence to happen in the first place. The gun supporters say there isn’t anything you can do about that, but there is. And it’s perfectly constitutional. You can tax the manufacture of guns. Put a $5,000 or even a $25,000 non-refundable tax on the manufacture of every handgun. The gun manufacturers would pay this tax as soon as they make the gun, and not when they sell it. This is perfectly legal and perfectly constitutional. Part of the problem has been that gun makers made excessive amounts of guns and then have to find ways to dump them off somewhere. And they know they can, so there’s no real downside to over-manufacturing. Unless you have to pay to do it and may never recover the taxes you pay to make the guns. No, it doesn’t solve the problem entirely, but it makes a lot of it go away. And that’s reason enough to try. Conservatives won’t see it that way. They’ll find some ridiculous reason based on the concept that this won’t stop all gun violence, and wouldn’t have stopped the Colorado shooting, so why bother? That’s why conservatives are part of the problem.

This is our daily open thread. Have fun with it.

The Watering Hole, Saturday, November 21, 2015: When Being Afraid Just Doesn’t Help

Fear is not always a bad thing. It plays an important role in our evolution as a species. Evolution, BTW, is a fact of Science.

As Bill Nye says, there’s no reason to doubt it. None. And there certainly isn’t any reason to teach your kids Creationism as a valid theory in its place. Creationism is not Science. It doesn’t propose testable hypotheses. It simply tells you what is supposed to have happened and then tells you, “Believe this, or else.” I agree with Nye that one of the worst things you can do to your kids is to teach them that Creationism explains how we got here.

But fear is not always a good thing, either. Erick Erickson (who has blocked me on the twitter https://twitter.com/EWErickson ) is afraid, but not for any good reasons. He says that he won’t go see the new Star Wars movie because…well, here’s what he posted on his website [And, yes, I’m posting it in its entirety. Sue me.]

I’m really glad I didn’t get tickets on opening day to see Star Wars. Seriously.

I have no confidence in this Administration to keep us all safe, particularly in light of President Obama’s statement today that there’s really no way to stop this stuff.

There are no metal detectors at American theaters.

I think I’ll wait till Star Wars is less a threat scenario.

His post is titled, without irony, “Truth be told…”. Except, where did he get the idea that his hometown theater in Macon, GA, is under credible threat of attack? And why would terrorists, of any nationality or religious affiliation, choose the premiere of Star Wars to launch an attack? And for him to say that he has “no confidence in this Administration to keep us all safe” is a very disingenuous thing to say, because as a Conservative, he already believes the world is a dangerous place and always will be. It’s true that the world is dangerous, and there will always be dangers that will never go away (such as climate change and Fox News Channel), but we Liberals believe that it can be made safer from certain dangers, like fear and ignorance. Through education people can be taught to overcome their fears and to think before acting. President Obama is right to say that attacks like the ones in Paris are never going to be stopped entirely, especially if you want to live as the free people we are. Being free means being free to do things that could harm others. To deter these acts, we institute laws with punishments for violating them. And it works for the vast majority of people. But no law will stop someone who doesn’t care if he lives or dies, and this is true whether the person is motivated by extreme hatred of a certain ethnicity or skin color or by religious fundamentalism. And the only way to eliminate those kinds of attacks entirely is turn this country into a police state, where you would be stopped on the street and forced to show the cop your papers permitting you to walk around freely. And none of us wants that, Liberal or Conservative. And Erickson’s saying this for one reason, and one reason only (if you don’t count the other reasons like he’s stupid, and ill-informed, and six or seven other things): He wants you to be afraid. And he doesn’t want you to stop and think. Because when you stop and think, you realize there is nothing to fear. Because if he thinks metal detectors are going to stop would-be religious extremists from gunning down the very audience in which he and his family sit, then he’s forgetting how the Aurora, CO, theater shooter propped open an emergency exit so he could retrieve his weapons from his car and return to the theater to massacre people. A metal detector at the front entrance would not have made any difference there, would it? But simple reasoning like that doesn’t stop Conservatives in or out of government from trying to gin up fears where there is no rational reason to fear. Conservatives love hyping ridiculous conspiracy theories to keep people afraid. And as we all know, people who are afraid make bad decisions. Like voting for Conservatives to govern them.

The danger in all of this fear mongering is that when ACTUAL dangers come along, ACTUAL things that could kill much but not all of humanity, and both for the same reason – Evolution – people are not going to respond to it thoughtfully and rationally. Or they will dismiss it because none of the other world’s-gonna-die stories turned out to be true (on account of they were made up out of bullshit ideas.) And billions could die. I’m not trying to monger up any fear, I’m trying to point out a legitimate danger that could result in massive amounts of people dying. I learned something the other day and it should give you cause for concern. Not the fact that I learned something, I actually do that all the time without anyone being concerned. I mean what I learned should make us rethink how we use antibiotics. There is an antibiotic called Colistin that is considered a last resort weapon to fight dangerous bacteria. And a study out of China suggests that certain bacteria may be developing a resistance to Colistin. Not only that, but some of these bacteria “have developed a mechanism to transfer resistance to neighboring bacteria. And those bacteria don’t even have to be the same strain as those that originally developed the resistance. So bacteria that cause other health problems could be affected.” This is a cause for concern, but let’s not panic and become fearful. The World Health Organization (Whooooo are they? Who? Who? Who? Who?) has developed an action plan to combat drug-resistant bacteria. The Obama Administration has also developed a plan to fight these dangerous bacteria, which became dangerous thanks to Evolution. Does that mean Evolution is dangerous? Well, it can be. I mean, we’re here because of Evolution, but we can also be replaced by more intelligent, more rational, and less fear-based versions of humans because of Evolution. And that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. But don’t worry, Conservatives. By the time that happens, you’ll be long gone. And that would definitely be a good thing.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss your fears, rational or not, or the fears of conservatives (almost always irrational), or anything else you want to discuss. Don’t be afraid. It’s okay. You have nothing to fear at The Zoo.

The Watering Hole, Monday, November 16, 2015: None So Blind

On Friday, November 13, at approximately 9:20 PM local time, a group of well-armed criminals began a mass murder of completely innocent people in Paris, France. There were people from many countries killed, including America. More than 120 people died, not counting the killers, at least two of whom detonated bomb vests killing themselves and one other person total. While suicide bombers attacked a stadium where the President of France was attending a football match, several kilometers across town gunmen opened fire on cafes and bars killing fifteen people. They got in their cars and calmly drove down the road where they got out and killed at least five more people dining in a restaurant terrace. Witnesses say they got in their cars and, again, drove away slowly, calmly. About a mile away they opened fire on an other establishment killing at least 19 people. A third group of attackers converged on a concert hall where an American rock band, Eagles of Death Metal, was performing. They began systematically shooting people and when the police arrived, they began a two-hour-forty-minute siege that ended with at least 89 innocent people losing their lives. Another suicide bomber detonated himself taking no one else with him. By about 12:30 AM local time (6:30 PM EST) it was over. In all, at least 129 innocent people were killed by these ruthless, deluded criminals. My heart goes out to their families and friends. I can’t pretend to know what going through something as horrific as this is like.

And, yes, I am calling them “criminals,” not the “t-word.” I refuse to frame these criminal acts the way the perpetrators want them portrayed. To do so would be to fight this conflict on their terms. They want people to be afraid, and the right wing in this country is giving them everything they want. They want the United States and its European allies to to begin flexing their military muscle and reign bombs down on millions of people, killing as many innocent people, preferably children, as possible. The bombing campaigns will then be used to recruit young, disillusioned, easily-brainwashed kids to become killing machines in an effort to exert more control over the people in the region. The recruiters are cowards, of course. They would never strap on a bomb vest and blow themselves up. They get others to do it. And, yes, they are systematically performing deadly acts meant to strike fear in a populace in order to effect political change and thus are, by definition, “terrorists.” Or so they claim. Either way, they are still criminals. And criminals are fought by the police, not by the army. You’ve heard the expression, “When all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.” Well, in the same sense, when all you want to use is an army, everything happening around you starts to look like a war. This mindset has to stop.

Conservatives want to use nothing but the army to fight these criminals. They want us to constantly send our brave men and women in uniform (well, they would prefer the women stay behind, but that’s a topic for another post) off to fight fanatical criminals in faraway lands. People who, by the way, will almost certainly never be setting foot on our shores to do the things conservatives say they will do. They recruit other people to do that. The people we’re sending our troops to fight are terrorizing people in other countries. The only people being terrorized here are conservatives, especially the ones who watch Fox News Channel. And, as they so often do, they ignore history and reality to tell you not only who you should fear, but who you should blame for that fear. President Obama.

A little background before continuing. On September 11, 2001, a bunch of murderous criminals carried out a mass murder so effectively that we decided to forget we had a Constitution that gave us certain rights, and begin preparations for a military invasion of a country which had nothing whatsoever to do with those attacks. And to help convince the American people that this invasion was not only justified but absolutely necessary to the very survival of our own country, they used their friends at Fox News Channel to spread a few lies. By the time they were through, a majority of Fox News Viewers believed at least one, and sometimes all, of these three things to be true: 1) That Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction (which ones were never quite clear); 2) That Saddam had a working relationship with al Qaeda – the people whom we blamed for the attacks of 9/11 – and that he was prepared to pass of his chemical weapons to them; or, 3) That Saddam and Iraq were involved with the planning or execution of the 9/11 attacks. At least half of all Fox News Channel viewers believed at least one of those things to be true. Not one of them is. And to this day, some conservatives out there still believe at least one of those three false things to be true. Eventually, Saddam was captured, put on trial for killing about 150 people, found guilty and executed. Saddam was a brutal dictator but because of that there wasn’t a problem with groups of wannabe terrorists roaming the country killing people. Once he was gone, his less brutal replacements were unable to stop the infiltration of Iraq by al Qaeda. And the presence of al Qaeda in Iraq gave rise to groups like ISIS. It is an undeniable fact. Had we not invaded Iraq and removed Saddam from power, al Qaeda would never gave gained a foothold there, and ISIS would never have been formed from them. So when Fox News Channel starts spreading provable lies, I get concerned. And what are they saying now? That the attacks in Paris are Obama’s fault.

It started around 6:16 PM, before the events in Paris had come to a conclusion. Courtesy of Newshounds:

CHARLES PAYNE: Many Americans, Ambassador, are sort of frustrated here with the administration for perhaps being too reserved on this issue, for not calling out what everyone else suspects and thinks seriously is going on here and perhaps even emboldening these kind of attacks.

Less than an hour later, Megyn Kelly was “just asking” if Obama was to blame for not being more like Bush. Never mind that the primary reason we elected Obama was to have someone who was less like Bush. In many ways, he was less like Bush. Not all. Anyway…

After that it wasn’t long before more and more Fox Folks started throwing accusations around that if it weren’t for Obama not being Bush, maybe we wouldn’t be having all these problems with ISIS. Yet they will never see that if it weren’t for Bush being Bush, ISIS wouldn’t be around today killing people like the murderous assholes they are.

This is our daily open thread.

The Watering Hole, Monday, November 9, 2015: This Week In Crazy – Christian Persecution, God’s Punishment, and Transgenders and Bathrooms, Again

When you want to hear truly crazy, off-the-hook nonsense, it’s hard to beat the right wing. Those lovable misanthropes never fail to deliver when it comes to conspiracy theories so crazy even Alex Jones says, “Whoa, are you nuts?” Courtesy of the good people at Right Wing Watch (A project of People For the American Way dedicated to monitoring and exposing the activities of the right-wing movement), here are some of the things that have gotten the right wing in a lather. We’ll begin and end with Pat Robertson.

Poor Pat Robertson. No matter how much he condemns them, he just can’t stop thinking about gay men and the things they do when they’re alone together. And now he’s so worried about it that he thinks God is going to collapse our financial markets.

Actually, Pat, I’d be more concerned about what Republicans are going to do to our financial markets. They’re the ones borrowing money at an unsustainable rate while refusing to raise taxes to pay for it. They talk about cutting spending, but not in the areas where they are borrowing the most money – the wars and the prescription drug plan, put together by a corrupt Louisiana Congressman (redundant, I know) who then resigned from Congress to head up Big Pharma. If Republicans were really worried about spending, why not make cuts in those areas? Why not raise taxes back to the pre-Reagan days, when all this income inequality started taking off and getting worse? It’s a popular Conservative myth that tax cuts pay for themselves. They do nothing of the sort. All they do is starve the government of the funds needed to help people who are down on their luck. But they don’t care as long as they keep getting re-elected to their phony-baloney jobs with the help of the very people helping to ruin the lives of millions. But this is nothing new to you, Dear Readers.

Over at Fox News’ “Outnumbered” they’re worried about illegal immigrants bringing disease to America. Specifically, they targeted tuberculosis (TB) as the problem, mainly because they misread and misinterpreted recent reports from the World Health Organization that say TB rivals HIV/AIDS as the leading infectious disease killer. Of course, as is typical with low-effort thinking conservatives, they didn’t explain why that is so. One reason is that spending on HIV has increased so much that fewer people are dying of it. Another is that just like reports of rape increased when women were encouraged to report it (not that the rate actually increased, just our awareness of its pervasiveness), health organizations are better able to track and report TB which leads to an increase in the numbers of people reported it have it. Relax. The death rate from TB is about half of what it was 25 years ago, with much of that improvement taking place in this millennium.

Congressman Randy Forbes (who apparently is also a preacher in his spare time, and who is also part of a constitutionally suspect group called the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation) thinks that there is a vast conspiracy of many organizations trying to destroy faith in America.

Speaking for myself only, I would be happy if this were true. I do not oppose all religion, just the ones that claim to worship a deity or deities. Those are the most dangerous because there is always somebody running them who claims to speak for God(s), and who always says you will be punished if you don’t do what God wants you to do. They often take it upon themselves to punish you in God’s name because apparently God is unable to punish you personally by Himself. There’s a very valid explanation for why that is. God doesn’t exist. That’s why He hasn’t punished us yet (or destroyed our financial markets yet.) And, of course, they’ll claim that you aren’t righteous enough to have heard this from God yourself, which to them is all the proof they need to punish you. It’s a game you can never win when believers in God take control of your government. The only thing you can do is attack these people all at once. As Ben Carson observed, they can’t get you all.

Bryan Fischer, who never met a Christian persecution myth he didn’t like, thinks that President Obama is going to imprison all conservative Christians, “if he had his way.”

Naturally, in true conspiracy nut fashion, Fischer is taking one story about prisons being cleared of some 6,000 non-violent drug offenders, chosen by the US Sentencing Commission for release because future sentencing guidelines are being made less harsh and applied retroactively, and assuming it’s for a purpose they fear – being locked up for disagreeing with the president. Here’s the problem with that theory, besides that it’s completely false – if President Obama were really the tyrant these RWNJs have been saying he is for the past seven years, he would have locked them all up a long time ago. He hasn’t because he isn’t.

Finally, back to good ol’ Pat. After previously expressing support for transgender folk, Pat took a turn in the opposite direction and claimed to not understand it at all. After reporting on a story of an Illinois school district cited for violating the civil rights of a transgender student, Pat then explained his problem, proving he doesn’t get it.

“This transgender stuff, I mean, this was a boy and this boy, we don’t know what surgery was performed on him, if any, we don’t know what his parts are, and yet he wants to go into the girls’ locker room and see all these disrobed little girls running around.”

Pat, I don’t claim to be an expert on transgender issues, and I’m not going to pretend I am. But I’m pretty sure that a boy who identifies as a female is not going to want to go into female locker rooms so he can look at the naked girls. May you do, but not him.

That’s it for this week’s look into the crazy minds of the right wing. I hope I didn’t frighten you too much.

This is our daily open thread. Enjoy.

The Watering Hole, Saturday, November 7, 2015: Adrenaline Rush To Judgment

There is a misunderstood problem in America that is not being talked about from the proper perspective. There are police officers, few in number to be sure, but there nonetheless, who have killed unarmed people who were absolutely posing no life or death danger to the police officer whatsoever. What has exacerbated the problem are the fruitless attempts to hold these police officers criminally liable for taking those lives. Time after time, a police officer caught on video killing an unarmed civilian has walked away free and clear of any punishment for his (or her) crimes. And they clearly were crimes from a moral standpoint. There shouldn’t be any way to defend these actions, should there? Well, if you don’t consider being human as part of the problem, there apparently is.

We are human beings, which means we are animals. I’ll give the more religious ones of you out there a moment to absorb that fact……….[looks at watch]………that’s enough time. And as animals, we have things called survival mechanisms. These are the natural, innate reactions we have to certain stimuli. When we suddenly smell a new aroma we hadn’t noticed before, our brains immediately kick in to identify it. Once we are confident we know its origin and have assessed any danger to ourselves, we unconsciously desensitize our nose to it (if it isn’t too pungent.) This makes our nose and brain better able to notice new smells, like smoke, which alerts the brain to the danger of fire (an association we learned as youths.) This is when our innate flight or fight response kicks in. The adrenal glands start producing adrenaline in case we have to move quickly or exert great strength. Fear can also stimulate the flight or fight response, which likewise produces extra adrenaline. You are now in an adrenaline rush, stimulated into believing, rightly or wrongly right now (but who has time to check?), that your life is in danger. And we humans in this situation do not think, we act. We do something. (Assuming we are not, literally, paralyzed with fear, which does happen, no shame in that.) But we have to do something, as they say in the movies, we can’t just sit here and wait to die. And what we often do is act without thinking things through thoroughly first. We are trying to resolve the situation in a way that puts us out of danger as quickly as possible. This is just part of the reality of being an animal prone to chemically reacting to stimuli in a certain way. If you were to inject yourself with adrenaline right now, you would be so hyped up you’d be looking for something you could call dangerous, just so you could react to it. Your brain would tell you that you are seeing danger where a less hyped-up mind, able to calmly think for a few moments, not subject to a reflex action that demands swift resolution of a crisis situation, would not. You’re not thinking clearly when your brain is telling you to react to anything you see as possibly being dangerous until you feel calm enough to decide that the danger has passed. Your brain is telling you to do whatever you have to to remove yourself from danger. Either you’re going to run as far away from the danger as you can (take flight), or prepare to battle against whatever you think is about to kill you (fight). Some refer to this as “standing your ground.”

Do you think at this point it would be wise to have a gun?

And that is the perspective from which we should be addressing these police shootings of unarmed people. Now, before we get sidetracked, yes, there has been in many of the cases that have come to the public forefront, an element of racism involved. And that is a serious problem in and of itself, and it often plays a significant role in these killings because it contributes to the sense of fear that the cop is feeling at that moment. That cop with a gun at his side. The one whose flight or fight response is about to kick in, but who knows he can’t resort to flight in this situation. (The cop can’t run away from the guy running away from the cop.) He must resort to fight. And what he is about to fight may very well not be an actual danger to him at all. But his brain is not perceiving it that way. His beliefs, formed in part by his experience, are leading him think a danger exists. Yes, that belief may be that all black men are armed and dangerous, but whatever the reason, however motivated, the belief is that a danger exists where none actually does. And that cop has a gun.

Many of these recent shootings involved either an emotionally unstable cop who shouldn’t have been allowed to become a cop in the first place, a veteran cop of some years with a history of valid excessive force complaints, or a very inexperienced cop not used to being in a situation where he thought his life was in danger. None of these are ideal situations, where you might feel comfortable about the cop involved having a loaded gun available. But that is what has been happening more and more lately. At least we are hearing about it more and more, and that is because of social media. But that begs the question of how many of these shootings are happening that are not caught on video? They are happening, and have been happening more often in the past, when there was less of a chance of the killing being recorded for later confirmation (or manipulation, as in the criminal case against the cops who tried to kill Rodney King for no valid reason.) We usually just took the word of the cop in question because there was no visual evidence to the contrary. Of course, this was usually after he had some time to formulate an explanation for his actions. We’re often never sure of what happened because we only heard one side of it, the other side being dead. And the fact that these cops are getting acquitted even after video of the events contradicts their story, as clearly evident in the case of Officer Lisa Mearkle, who shot and killed David Kassick in Pennsylvania after a foot pursuit, which began as a traffic stop over an expired inspection sticker, is an aspect of the problem that won’t go away without addressing the fact that we are giving cops deadly weapons and letting them use them in non-deadly situations, even though they think it is a deadly situation (or so they claim afterwards.) We can never be sure what happened because they can never be sure what happened. With or without the videos, a cop pumped up with adrenaline is not thinking clearly. (Were they calm and rationale, they would not be pumped up with adrenaline.) We are allowing them to defend their actions by claiming a perception of being in danger even absent a confirmation of a danger to them or the public existing. And we know that the very situation they are in can cause them to misperceive the truth of what is really happening. Is that a gun? I see no evidence it isn’t, so it must be. And we are not only allowing this defense to excuse their actions, we are even training our cops to shoot to kill, rather than shoot to wound. The problem is they are shooting to kill in situations where the person they are killing would never have faced the death penalty for whatever he is believed to have done. And this never seems to come up in the discussions I see on this topic. We are letting cops use deadly force in situations where the alleged crimes being committed would never have resulted in the death penalty.

Eric Garner wasn’t selling loose cigarettes without paying the taxes when cops strangled him to death. He was accused by someone and several cops confronted him to question him about the situation. He wasn’t in the act of selling those cigarettes when confronted. Whatever happened after that point, Eric Garner did nothing that would have brought him the death penalty if convicted in court. Selling loose cigarettes without paying the taxes is not a capital crime. Refusing to talk to cops harassing you for something you aren’t doing is not a capital crime. Failure to obey a cop is not a capital crime. Resisting arrest without any weapon is not a capital crime. Holding a toy gun, pointed down to the ground, is not a capital crime. Holding a toy gun in a non-threatening manner, in a store that sells that very toy gun, while talking on a cell phone is not a capital crime. Why are we letting cops get away with using deadly force at all in situations where the person they killed would not have faced the death penalty for anything he did?

Why are we giving deadly weapons to people we put in tense, but not deadly, situations, where the very natural instincts that are a part of being human, are going to make them think they perceive danger where none actually exists? Why are we letting the misperception of danger excuse the use of deadly force in those non-deadly situations? The human brain arrives at a conclusion in one of two ways – either by factoring in the details one perceives and arriving at a conclusion about what is happening, or presupposing what is happening and using the absence of contradictory evidence serve as proof that the theory is correct. In virtually all of the cases of cops killing unarmed civilians, this is how that cop arrived at the perception that his (or her) life was in danger. He assumed what he saw or heard was a gun, then took the fact that he could not see proof he was wrong as proof he was right. We can’t continue to do things this way. We have to change the rules and the training for use of deadly force. We have to train cops in non-lethal techniques to diffuse situations rather than escalate them. We have to drill it into their heads that the use of deadly force is a LAST resort, not the first reaction to the perception of danger, given that it’s more likely no actual danger exists. We have to do a better job of screening applicants to a police force, such as finding out why they were fired from their previous police force. We have to do all these things and more. But we have to do them now, before another unarmed person is murdered by a cop who had no business being issued a deadly weapon in the first place.

This is our daily open thread. Discuss whatever you wish. Just don’t shoot me.

The Watering Hole, Monday, November 2, 2015: Reflections On The Alternate Universe Of David Brooks

David Brooks has been e-mailing his columns in the New York Times from an alternate universe, based on his recent profession of his love for Sen Marco Rubio (R-FL) and his wonkiness.

Ryan is the new House speaker and right now Rubio is the most likely presidential nominee. The shape of the presidential campaign is coming into focus. It’s still wise to expect (pray) that the celebrity candidates will fade as the shopping phase ends and the buying phase begins.

[Ed Note: As of this writing, according to RealClearPolitics, Rubio is third with 9.6%, and the election is still one year away. That’s for those who think nothing will change between now and the day we actually cast our votes for whomever we choose.] With more than a dozen candidates still vying for the nomination, I’m not sure how he could see anything on which to focus in this race. We are still in the “shopping phase,” and there is an awful lot we don’t know about the candidates themselves including, in some cases, what their actual policies will be. The candidates like Trump, Carson, and Fiorina from his universe stand some chance of winning the nomination (“It’s still wise to expect” is hedging your bets, Dave. And saying it’s wise to “pray” is just plain giving up. Which are you doing?) Their counterpart candidates in this universe stand no chance at all of actually winning the nomination of the Republican Party. None whatsoever. I wouldn’t lose a nanosecond’s sleep over ever having to hear the word “President” (with or without the word “Vice” in front of it) followed by any of the names Donald Trump, Ben Carson, or Carly Fiorina. Nor Jim Webb, Lincoln Chafee, Newt Gingrich, Chris Christie, Piyush “Bobby” Jindal, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, or John Ellis Bush, for that matter. Not in this universe. But back to David’s.

Voters don’t have to know the details of their nominee’s agenda, but they have to know that the candidate is capable of having an agenda. Donald Trump and Ben Carson go invisible when the subject of actual governance comes up.

They’re not the only ones, but back to that first point you made. The one about voters not having to know the details of their nominee’s agenda. Really, Dave? A blissfully ignorant and uninformed electorate is considered normal in your universe? It is the goal of the Republican Party in this universe, that’s true, but our universe also has people capable of critical thinking, and we like to know exactly what the people we put in power have in mind, just in case they want to bring about the Biblical End of the World so Jesus Christ will come back and spit on all us Liberals who followed his teachings better than you guys ever did, even if we didn’t believe in him. We’re funny that way. After focusing on one of Rubio’s policy papers, David again brings up caution about what the candidates actually propose.

At this stage it’s probably not sensible to get too worked up about the details of any candidate’s plans. They are all wildly unaffordable.

They are only “wildly unaffordable” if you never consider the simple idea of raising taxes back to the rates they were before President Reagan, on the ill-conceived and childish advice of people like Grover Norquist, who at the ripe old age of twelve came up with his idea for a pledge to voters from candidates that they’ll never raise taxes, and who admit to a starve-the-beast strategy that would inevitably cripple, if not destroy, the framework of our society. The demented theory that supply-side economics would raise revenue to the government was ludicrous. Supply-side economics believes that supply drives demand (Say), not the other way around, that demand drives supply (Keynes). In Reality (i.e., this universe), it is consumer demand that drives an economy. The theory was that giving tax cuts to businesses (and people) would enable them to make more goods for people to buy. It was apparently assumed that everyone would buy whatever was being offered, and THIS would create the jobs. You can make all the widgets you want, but if nobody wants to buy them, you have no reason to have so many employees, and jobs are lost. If demand were high, you would need more and more people to keep up with the timely shipment of customer orders. It is consumer demand that drives the economy. And not the consumer demand of the rich, but of the middle class, along with what the people with even less disposable income can contribute. But they have to have the money to spend in the first place. The rich and super-rich already have enough money to live on day-to-day, so cutting their taxes is nothing but a free gift to them. They don’t struggle to find food to eat, clothes to wear, or shelter from the elements every day. They aren’t going to take their tax cuts and go buy that Gulfstream V they’ve had their eye on. They already had enough money to do that before the tax cuts, and they didn’t do it. And for the ones whose brains weren’t corroded by Ayn Randian self interests and aversion to paying taxes, it had nothing to do with the taxes they’d have to pay because they could easily afford those, too. So it was nothing but a gift, pure and simple. And they didn’t spend it. And it didn’t “trickle down” to the rest of us (though that wasn’t technically part of the theory) as was promised. And the rich just started getting much, much richer (meaning they were accumulating more and more of the limited money supply) and the rest of us were getting less than before. So we weren’t spending as much as before, and the rich weren’t spending what we would have spent if we had it (because we needed to, not because it would be nice to have another jet plane), so local governments weren’t collecting sales taxes to cover their expenses. So instead of residents getting their garbage picked up twice a week, it’s cut back to once a week. And instead of recyclables getting picked up once a week, it’s reduced to twice a month. And instead of their local police force patrolling 24 hours a day, they would take midnight to six AM off. And with the rich and the large corporations getting their taxes cut, there’s less money to the federal government for things like road and bridge repair, or education scholarships, or scientific exploration, or programs that assist local governments by giving them extra money to hire more police officers. But you’re not one who believes in government as being The People, and that what The People want is to provide a safety net for those down on their luck, to provide mom and dad with a retirement check so they can live in dignity, to provide healthcare to our seniors so they don’t die of the first thing they catch. But if there’s no money coming into the government, and if nobody wants to borrow it, those things can’t be done. Lastly,

Rubio would reform the earned-income tax credit and extend it to cover childless workers. He would also convert most federal welfare spending into a “flex fund” that would go straight to the states. Rules for these programs would no longer be written in Washington. The state agencies that implement welfare policies would have more freedom to design them. He’d maintain overall welfare spending, adjusting it for inflation and poverty levels, but he’d allow more room for experimentation.

This makes the totally unwarranted assumption that states now receiving that money want to spend it on those programs, but the ones controlled by Republicans do not, and they have made that abundantly clear. So if you do away with the federal mandate that the states spend this money on the programs, and in the amounts, for which they were intended, does anyone really believe they’ll all spend that money more efficiently and help even more people than they do now? In what universe are you living? Wait, don’t tell me. I bet David Brooks is standing right next to you. Tell him I said, “Keep dreaming, Pal.”

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to make fun of David Brooks or Marco Rubio or me, Brian Williams, if you like.

The Watering Hole, Saturday, October 31: Speaker of the Tea House

If anything unfortunate (as in “fatal”) were to happen to President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, the man who would become the 45th President of the United States is a man beholden to some of the most extreme conservative radicals in recent American history. This past Thursday, Republicans in the United States House of Representatives chose as its 54th Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, the Republican nominee for Vice President in the 2012 elections. The American people rejected both him and his running mate, Willard “The Mitt” Romney, a venture capitalist who made millions by buying corporations, restructuring or selling off their parts, then extorting the banks who lent them money into refinancing their debts under threat of taking all the company’s cash and paying it out as bonuses to his investment partners. You know, the rags-to-riches American dream. (Actually, his father was already a millionaire, and Romney never wanted for anything growing up.) Speaker Ryan should best be remembered (if he’s to be remembered at all) as a hard-line devotee of Ayn Rand, a hypocritical selfish woman who championed an unworkable philosophy of “Objectivism” which wrongly divided the world into “takers and makers” and which proposed the incredibly simplistic and fantastical idea that all government programs are evil, that altruism was a terrible concept, and that rich people should be left alone by the government because they are the true job creators without whom civilization would perish. Thanks to our altruism, she was able to collect Social Security from an evil government, apparently because, like Paul Ryan, his mother, and millions of other Americans, she didn’t make enough money to not need it to survive. But I digress.

Paul Ryan is provably a humongous hypocrite. He rails against “big government” (a phrase that only has meaning to people who can’t explain what it really means), yet his family has been dependent on government for his entire life. Their construction business has relied on government contracts. He has spent his entire career as a government employee of one kind or another. He favors cutting or eliminating programs that help the poor, but he married a woman who inherited millions. He thinks his mother was solely responsible for her own success after his father died (Paul was able to go to college only because of the Social Security benefits his family received upon his death), yet she had to take a government-run bus, driving on government-built roads, to attend a government-run institution of higher learning. This is the aspect of our partly-Socialist society that Conservative Libertarians (such as Ryan and Senator Rand Paul) refuse to see when they talk about getting government out of our lives. People who talk about our government not following the Constitution should remember that it specifically tasks Congress with maintaining postal roads (which are just about all of them), so they should be 100% behind spending on infrastructure. But they aren’t.

Remember how we all thought Ryan was too conservative to be a heartbeat away from the Presidency? What makes Ryan a dangerous choice to be Speaker is that despite his extreme conservatism, the people responsible for his being Speaker think he’s too liberal. The House Freedom Caucus (as they call themselves) believe that this country can only be saved from the horrible rightward direction it has been turning by becoming even more conservative. That’s right. They actually think the United States is not conservative enough. And who are these people in the House Freedom Caucus? There’s about 40 of them, but no one is absolutely sure because some Members of Congress refuse to admit their own membership in the caucus. They’re dangerous because they aren’t just the type who say if they can’t get their way, they’ll take their ball and go home. They’re the type who say if they don’t get their own way, they’ll buy the stadium, bulldoze it to the ground, and replace it with a nuclear waste dump site. And they want Speaker Ryan to stake out a conservative position on every issue and then unflinchingly stick to it. But they won’t compromise.

And that is why they are such a danger to the American People. They refuse to compromise, and governing is all about compromise. Neither ideological side is going to get everything they want, but these people refuse to accept that fact. Personally, I feel the worst thing a country could do to its citizens would be to govern from a Conservative perspective, and I know that’s not just me and the vast majority of people reading these words. They seem to think that Conservatism is all about “freedom”. It’s nothing of the sort. Conservatism, at its root, is about Selfishness. If Conservatism were truly about freedom, then why aren’t Conservatives in the vanguard fighting for the right of women to make their own reproductive choices? Why aren’t Conservatives standing up for black citizens who routinely get harassed and sometimes killed by the police for no other reason than the color of their skin? Why aren’t conservatives fighting to expand government assistance programs that help people enjoy more of what this great country has to offer? Because they don’t believe in “freedom” for everyone at all. They only believe in freedom for people who think like they do. But I state the obvious.

Finally, on an unrelated topic, watch the student in the red and yellow hat visible just over Bernie Sanders’ left shoulder. He seems totally disinterested in what Bernie is saying right up until he hears Bernie mention ending the federal ban on weed.

“Oh, shit” indeed. I had the same reaction when I heard we now have Speaker Paul Ryan. :)

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss Speaker Ryan’s future disastrous turn as Speaker, Bernie’s great plan to end the federal ban on weed (or his not-so-great idea that the states should decide the issue), funny hats or anything else you wish to discuss. I won’t bother you. And Happy Halloween.