As a nominal member of the old, white, male, ruling class, I hereby express my commiserations to my loved ones and friends who are female, gay or trans, people of color, non-Christian, poor, or immigrant, on your official demotion to second-class (or lower) citizens, if citizens at all. We are all the worse for it.

The United States has as always had a resilient, bitter core of anger, resentment, and fear which has now come to the surface.

In a nation made up of the children of immigrants, so many of us hate the outsider, while continuing to oppress and despise the true original inhabitants.
In a nation more than half women, so many of us assert that women aren’t fit to govern, and some, that they shouldn’t even vote.

In a nation where European-descended whites are a minority, we hang on to power with a death grip.
In the world’s most scientifically advanced nation, we assert that religion trumps science and is a legitimate basis to discriminate among people.

In the world’s richest nation, the number of poor grows daily, as does the wealth of the richest.
In the nation with the world’s most advanced medicine, people die daily for want of it.
In the world’s most agriculturally rich nation, children daily go hungry.

In a nation where, in 2008, the greed of bankers wiped out half the wealth on Earth, none of these bankers went to jail. They are richer than ever, and fighting to keep deregulated so they can continue as they are.

In a nation once supposedly dedicated to justice for all, we have elected a President and Congress who believe that all of the above are good things, and have the power to make them law.

Jesus said, "A house divided against itself cannot stand." Abraham Lincoln famously quoted him in 1858:which goes to show that what calls itself the Republican party these days, and claims to stand for the values of Jesus and Lincoln, does neither.
Trigger warning: Contains politics.

1.) So, Trump blatantly lied about the size of the inauguration crowd, and to CIA personnel to their faces about not having feuded with them. Not big deals in the scheme of things, perhaps, but what's going to happen when something really important comes up? "Alternative facts" really?

2.)First acts in office: "Trump also suspended a reduction in the premium rate offered by the Federal Housing Administration to home buyers. The reduction, relatively small, would have saved home buyers about $500 a year. In effect, this is a tax increase on the middle class." This was in with his first batch of executive orders, among trying clumsily to nobble ACA, and freezing regulatory activity. Who knew that raising insurance rates for middle-class home buyers was such a priority? Whose "goodie list" was this on? This is how it will be done. Big flashy things will distract the people, and in four years they will be wondering what happened to the money and the rights they used to have.

3.) Just listened to the President's Inaugural speech. Not as bad as I feared, but largely vague empty bombast. Full of expansive and impossible promises, with zero substance. One bright spot: we don't have to worry about the Apocalypse, according to Trump it's already happened--.

4.) Vladimir Putin may have managed the most Machiavellian manipulation in modern history. By stealing and leaking e-mails, he may have affected the outcome of the American election. By letting it be known he has done so, he has delegitimized and weakened the eventual winner he will be dealing with.

As opposed to the “problem with Trump,” which is a separate set of issues--. Donald Trump’s problem is that he is spoiled. He is a big, spoiled, brat.  He is used to, with some justice, feeling invulnerable. For decades, he has been an absolute boss, with no one to supervise or gainsay him.  His years of “reality” TV have gotten him used to the idea that the more outrageous you are, the better, and the more applause you get.  Such filters as he has have totally corroded, to the point that he blurts out any half-formed phase that makes its way to his speech centers. He is, as George Orwell describes, a “double-plus good duckspeaker.” In 1984, Part 1, Chapter 5, page 46-47 he says:

‘...Winston turned a little sideways in his chair to drink his mug of coffee. At the table on his left the man with the strident voice was still talking remorselessly away....He held some important post in the FICTION DEPARTMENT....It was just a noise, a quack-quack-quacking....Every word of it was pure orthodoxy, pure Ingsoc....Winston had a curious feeling that this was not a real human being but some kind of dummy. It was not the man's brain that was speaking, it was his larynx. The stuff that was coming out of him consisted of words, but it was not speech in the true sense: it was noise uttered in unconsciousness, like the quacking of a duck.

Syme had fallen silent for a moment, and with the handle of his spoon was tracing patterns in the puddle of stew. The voice from the other table quacked rapidly on, easily audible in spite of the surrounding din.

"There is a word in Newspeak" said Syme, "I don't know whether you know it: duckspeak, to quack like a duck. It is one of those interesting words that have two contradictory meanings. Applied to an opponent, it is abuse: applied to someone you agree with, it is praise.”’

Having accepted the National Enquirer conspiracy theory that Cuban expatriates, including the father of Senator Ted Cruz, were involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Republican Presidential hopeful Donald Trump went on to declare:

That, if elected, he will deport all extraterrestrial Aliens from Area 51, and force them to pay for a wall around the planet:

That he will defeat ISIS by conscripting Bigfoot (Bigfeet?) into the Special Forces and parachuting them into Syria:

And, that, when nominated, his Vice-Presidential nominee will be Elvis Presley, " a real American, and a true patriot."

Mr. Presley was unavailable for comment.
Headline in today’s Daily Beast: “Trump Attacks Heidi Cruz’s Looks.” I thought, what is this, junior high? But then I remembered, running for seventh grade class president was WAY more dignified than this, at least in 1967.

Now, slanging on the schoolyard, that's another thing. We've gotten to, "your girlfriend's ugly," next comes, "and your mother dresses you funny."
I’m tired of hearing candidates blather about “making America great again.” America—the United States—is already great by the standards they approve of, those being wealth and power.

By those standards, the United States is still the greatest of great powers. Our economy, despite its flaws, is still the richest on Earth. Our military, despite its challenges, is still the most effective, best armed, best trained, and best led fighting force in the world.

If the proposal were only to strengthen the economy or improve our armed forces efficiency, I could hardly object, although I think we should do more. Instead, what I see is a pervasively destructive and backward-tending set of policies in the offing.

Looking at the agenda of the more extreme neo-conservatives, it is clear that what they want is to go back to the 19th Century: to dismantle not only the accomplishments of Franklin Roosevelt, but also those of THEODORE Roosevelt.

By doing away with economic and industrial regulation, they would return us to the era when Trusts controlled the market place, and rich men and their companies could do as they pleased, and there were no such things as environmental protections or health and safety regulations. When workers had no rights, and could be beaten and killed by company goons with impunity.

They want to take us back to a day when women and children were property, and blacks, Latinos, Asians, and non-Christians were third class citizens if they were allowed to be citizens at all.
These policies do not promote greatness, they erode greatness. There is more to being a great nation than just wealth and might. A great nation also demonstrates magnanimity, charity, compassion, intellectual curiosity, and reverence for culture. At its best, the United States has all these qualities. When we are injured or fearful, like any people, we draw inward and become defensive, but we should not take counsel of our fears.

The program that is offered us to “make America great again” is fearful, insular, bullying, stingy, mean Know-Nothing-ism. When we have thrown away all our freedoms for the illusion of safety, and when we have built walls around the country and locked the gates, what will the United States be, but a larger North Korea? That is not “greatness” by any measure I understand.
It’s not just that Mr. Walker’s comment regarding ISIS, “"If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world” is both insulting to the people of Wisconsin, and pure braggadocio, it is laughable (for bitter, ironic values of laughter) to those of us who were paying close attention to the Act 10 protests. As I recall it, the Governor’s response to the protestors was craven and despicable. Indeed, the Governor and the Legislature responded to the rigidly non-violent protestors as though they WERE a pitchfork-and-torch-waving mob, by trying to lock the people out of their Capitol, directing the Capitol police to be as harsh and repressive as possible, conducting business after hours with no notice, and planning to call up the National Guard versus the same aforementioned non-violent protestors, which, if that qualifies one to combat ISIS, means that George Wallace and Orval Faubus would have been even better.

As for moral courage, not once did Mr. Walker directly address or confront the protestors. In fact, once having done his skullduggery by inserting the anti-union language into the Budget Bill (it had to be separated out as “Act 10” in order to get around the Democratic Senate quorum boycott), he pretty much laid low until it was time to sign the passed bill. The “other Scott”, Senate Majority Leader Fitzgerald, did all the heavy lifting during the legislative crisis.

As for Walker’s “punting” (or rather, fumbling,) on evolution, the President’s love of country, and the President’s Christianity, his non-answers just go to verify my opinion, that he is a total sock puppet for ALEC and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, and that, unless David Koch’s hand is up the back of his coat, he has nothing to say. In point of fact, going back to Mr. Walker’s career as Milwaukee County Executive, he’s never put forward an original thought or idea that I recall.

I noted with considerable ironic humor this Sunday’s column by Walker cheerleader Christian Schneider in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, entitled “A Journey Through Gov. Scott Walker’s Brain.” It’s actually a cute piece, and, unusually for Schneider, admits the Gov. may have made a misstep comparing Wisconsin citizens and ISIS: however, if it had been a factual piece, would have described an echoing void.
On “Enhanced Interrogation”—i.e., torture:

I have previously said, here and elsewhere, that we did not need “black hole” prisons, “extraordinary renditions”, military tribunals, and torture, all of which are inherently harmful and abhorrent to true freedom, in order to protect our freedom. The recent report pretty much bears out my contention that civil courts and constitutionally sound procedures for questioning, investigation, and detention produce just as good results if not better than these “black” operations.

In some ways, even worse than the mere fact of torture* being used at all is the brutal stupidity of it. We are told that some subjects were waterboarded in excess of one hundred times. For what? Does anyone seriously think that they are going to gain any more productive results the 100th time, as opposed to the 50th or the 10th? And what about the agents who had to perform and observe these grotesqueries? They can’t ALL have been psychopathic thugs. Some of them have to have been profoundly damaged by these experiences.

And on a less serious, but aesthetic, side, I’m appalled by the lack of imagination of it all. Waterboarding, ‘stress positions’, lack of sleep—crude, crude. I take it that a qualification to be an actual secret agent must be to never have read spy novels. With essential carte blanche to mistreat, what, no LSD, sensory deprivation, hypnotic lighting or subliminal whispers in the cells at night? The highly paid psychological consultants couldn’t come up with their equivalent of “Room 101”? I realize we are getting into Dr. Mengle’s area of practice here, but, if you are determined to do revolting things and justifying it by your love of country, shouldn’t you at least seek to be effective—or creative?**

*Yes, Mr. Cheney, waterboarding IS torture. If Japanese P.O.W. camp guards were war criminals for performing water tortures on Allied personnel, why shouldn’t you and your henchmen be also?

**Yes, I know I have an evil mind. Fortunately for all of us, I also have principles about employing it.
On police killings: I would like to see a paradigm shift in police training: Emphasis on de-escalation, and tactics such as weapon retention, martial arts such as judo instead of Krav Maga or whatever they teach police these days, and more use of less-lethal weapons such as the PR-24 baton. Fire discipline also needs to be taught. Who’s telling these officers it’s correct to empty your magazine at an unarmed man? I understand that the idea is to knock the suspect down, and people hopped up on drugs or rage or mental illness can sometimes absorb a staggering amount of damage before falling over, but you’d think you could take half a second to see whether the first two shots had effect before pulling the trigger a dozen more times.

On the other hand, I wish that more mothers and fathers, teachers and preachers, would counsel that, no matter how shameful and humiliating it may be to truckle to a police officer, the odds that you will still be alive to complain about it afterwards are far greater than otherwise. As the Bible says, turn the other cheek. “A soft answer turneth away wrath.”

For one thing, you have to realize that the cop is as wary of you as you are of him, if not more so. He doesn’t know whether or not you are armed, drunk, on drugs, or off your meds, and has to assume the worst for the safety of himself, his fellow officers, and citizens in the area until assured otherwise.

People don’t accept that, once engaged, it’s rare that an officer can back down. He’s not just one man, he’s THE Man, the Force, the Law. If he backs down, all that is seen to back down. At best, he will be subject to criticism from his colleagues. At worst, he may be disciplined. If you are calm and compliant, there’s a possibility you may be let go. Get up in his face about the perceived injustice, and, guess what? If you resist apprehension, that officer has hundreds of fellows and heavy weaponry to back him up. It’s a battle you can’t possibly win, yet people try it every day with frequent harm to both sides.
On sexual assault in colleges: The fact that colleges tend to have their own security forces is a holdover from early days when universities were nominally church-run enclaves where every student was considered to be in holy orders and therefore subject only to the jurisdiction of the church, as locally exercised by the school. This tradition continued into relatively modern times, when universities were preserves for the sons of the wealthy and privileged, and expected to be protected by the alma mater. This has got to change.

By and large, campus security and faculty committees are neither competent nor capable of dealing with the issues of sexual violence. (The University of Wisconsin, which has an actual sworn police force with arrest powers, may be an exception.) This tradition needs to go by the board, and all crime on campus should be reported to and investigated by real police, and referred to the District Attorney for prosecution. This then, relieves the college authorities of troublesome decision making. If the alleged perpetrator is a student and is charged, he or she can be suspended based on that finding of probable cause. If found guilty, expulsion is automatic. If the accused is acquitted, then they may return to school.

On sexual assault in the military: Likewise, the handling of sexual assault, indeed all crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, needs to be taken out of the hands of commanding officers and handled by the professional military police and trained prosecutors of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps. This way, charging and prosecution can be based on law and evidence, and not solely on whether or not the accused is a decorated veteran, or the best machine-gunner in the unit. Commanders’ input should certainly be weighed in the balance for what it is worth, but more likely at disposition than at charging.
On Cuba: It’s long past time that we normalized relations with Cuba. For decades, we have been punishing Cuba for frightening us by harboring Soviet missiles in the 1960’s, and for trying to export Communist revolution to Angola in the 1970’s. Cuba policy has been crafted to satisfy the South Florida voting block of Cuban emigres who justifiably hate the Castros like poison, but it’s never been sensible to let such a small tail wag the big dog of US foreign policy.

Ironically, we forgave the Soviet Union for the missile crisis by accepting “Glasnost” in the 1980’s, which helped speed up the crumbling of that entity. Meanwhile, we have made trading partners, if not exactly comfortable neighbors, out of China and Vietnam. I believe that if we had extended Glasnost to Cuba at the same time we did to the Soviet Union, relations with Cuba would be at least as good as with Vietnam, and probably much better.
Disclosure: I work for a major communications company. The opinions and arguments expressed herein are strictly my own, do not necessarily reflect those of my employer, and are DEFINITELY NOT “official” or based on any internal documentation in any way.

I am pleased to see that the FCC has finally seen sense on the “net neutrality” issue, defined as whether or not internet service providers can offer—and charge for—a “fast lane” for those that want it, usually assumed to be high-volume, high-bandwidth users. To me, this has always seemed a sensible idea. There’s a demand for higher bandwidth speeds, but not everyone will need it. Upgrading internet backbone will require significant investment, and it’s appropriate that the companies that lay out for those upgrades should be able to recoup those investments from user fees. On the other hand, there’s no reason to pass on those costs to those who won’t use it—unless forced to.

The arguments against this have always struck me as hogwash, in particular, the one that maintains that internet providers would slow down or bottleneck traffic for non-fast lane users, presumably in order to coerce them into paying for faster service.

Seriously, that’s just stupid. Why would anyone do that? If you are in a business where the competitive edge depends on delivering content more rapidly—streaming video, etc.—you are going to be looking at fast lane regardless. If you’ve got a little arts and crafts web store, there’s probably no benefit in going that way. Consumers and small users are a valuable part of the market. Why would carriers intentionally want to piss them off? (Note: I’m very aware of the hoo-haa between Comcast and Netflix: all I care to say on that one is that nothing has been proven either way.)

Look at how things work right now. Communications companies certainly want to up-sell services, but they don’t engage in coercive practices to make it happen. Small-business land-line users aren’t having their service degraded in order to push them into ordering large-business services. T-1 type services aren’t being slowed down in an effort to push users into getting Ethernet service. Of course, technological migrations happen, the shift from analog to digital broadcast television being a case in point. But, while that was in progress, no one was intentionally degrading analog signals in order to push people to switch to digital more rapidly.

Right now, every aspect of the internet experience is customizable, depending on your needs and your pocketbook, except long distance transport. As a content consumer, you can have as fast a computer as you can afford, and usually a number of speed/bandwidth options from your internet provider. As a content provider, you can connect to the backbone over anything from a DSL line, to a 1.5 megabyte T-1, to a 10 Gigabyte Ethernet connection (depending on where you are), and can hook up as big and fast servers as your needs justify. So, why shouldn’t you have the option to purchase a higher transport speed also, if it is worth it to you?

My rather jaundiced belief is that a lot of the “net neutrality” proponents are essentially hoping that demand will force a general upgrade to internet backbone, and that they’ll then be able to reap the benefits of higher transport speed without having to invest in it. This is both unfair and foolish. A general infrastructure upgrade would require even more investment than the “fast lane,” and those costs have got to be recouped somehow, which, under the “net neutrality” protocol, would probably mean price increases for ALL internet users. Doesn’t it makes sense to assign the costs only to those who want the extra speed and are willing to pay for it, instead of passing it along to those who don’t directly benefit?
Today's Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that Taylor Palmisano, putative author of the Black Friday e-mail solicitation, has been fired from the Walker campaign, allegedly due to anti-Latino tweets issued by her in 2011. Coincidental? I have my doubts.

On the other hand, this is the second time in four months a Walker aide has been let go for racist comments:In August, Walker removed Steven Krieser as his assistant deputy secretary at the state Department of Transportation after the Journal Sentinel contacted his office about Krieser's Facebook posts likening illegal immigrants to Satan in an extended rant. (Note: The Journal-Sentinel also takes credit for bringing the Palmisano tweets to the attention of the Governor's office.)Walker has been successfully "Teflon" about these sorts of things so far. None of the criminal behavior of his County Executive office staff has been brought home to him, but shouldn't people be wondering about his judgement in hiring people to work for him, at least?
I wasn’t particularly surprised by the Zimmerman verdict. Disappointed, yes. I hoped the jury might punt to Manslaughter, but, given the evidence presented to them, I can’t really blame them, although the logic used by the one juror who spoke to the press was way off base in my opinion.

Where institutional racism really screwed up the case was in the local police response. They accepted Zimmerman’s story at face value, and casually assumed that he would be immune from prosecution under the “Stand Your Ground” law, so there never was a good investigation. By the time they got going seriously, only after the public outcry, Zimmerman had lawyered up, other memories were fuzzy, and they never got answers to questions I would have thought critical, such as, “At exactly what point, Mr. Zimmerman, did you draw your gun?”

Zimmerman wisely did not take the stand at his criminal trial, so these questions remain unanswered—so far. I don’t expect anything will come of the calls for a Federal Civil Rights prosecution. The burden of proof is difficult, and the evidence won’t be any better. What I ultimately expect to happen will be an “O.J. Simpson” sort of outcome: there will be a civil wrongful death action brought, Zimmerman will get wrung out on the stand by a good plaintiff’s lawyer, and it will ultimately be obvious where the blame lies.

For myself, there’s no doubt in my mind that the whole thing is George Zimmerman’s fault. He deliberately and against police instructions, sought a confrontation with Trayvon Martin. Until things actually got physical, he could have said, “Forget it,” and walked away any time. You can’t pick a fight and then claim self defense and kill your opponent when you are losing—that’s been the principle and the law for hundreds of years.
It occurs to me that headline might be taken two ways. Obama-bashers look elsewhere--the Capital I'm writing about is Madison.

When Scott Walker was elected governor, his announced agenda included the slogan "Wisconsin, Open for Business." Since it included proposals such as selling state-owned power plants to sweetheart buyers, my thought was "It might as well be, 'Wisconsin: For Sale'."

That Wisconsin is indeed for sale is proven by the recent barrage of corrupt, questionable, and just plain bad legislation included as part of this year's biennial budget package.

Unlike the Federal Government, Wisconsin is constitutionally required to pass budgets. Since this is a must-pass piece of legislation, although it is not supposed to contain policy provisions, the fact is that every administration crams in things they want part of a must-pass bill that they don't want to fight over individually. That Walker has done this also is not remarkable. What is remarkable is what is in there.

We have (had) a provision to specifically exempt rent-to-own businesses from provisions of the Consumer Protection statutes, specifically "truth in lending" sections. There's absolutely no explanation as to why this is supposedly a good idea,other than that the business owners want to be able to better disguise their predatory lending practices from their victims. At the moment, this has been taken out by the Senate Finance Committee who found it smelled a bit too bad, although numerous Republicans voted to keep it in.

There is a provision to totally gut tenant's rights, desired by Republican donors the Wisconsin Realty Association (read: landlords). Among other things, this would allow landlords to perform "self-help" evictions without going to court or having Sheriff's deputies perform the evictions. Landlords would also be permitted to "distrain" or confiscate renter's property for alleged unpaid back rent or damages, a privilege they haven't had in Wisconsin for many decades. Besides the potential for abuse inherent in these changes, I can just visualize the shootout occurring when a tenant attempts to defend his home from the landlord's thugs, who of course would NOT be peace officers, and not have any warrant to enter--.

The Governor also proposes to bring back the business of bail-bonding, something else Wisconsin has survived perfectly well without. No court, prosecutor, sheriff, or police chief has asked for this. Although I would agree that too many people are held in jail not able to make bail, especially in urban counties such as Milwaukee, the answer is for the courts to take a more sensible approach to bail. Instead, it is proposed that we expose more vulnerable families to a disguised form of predatory lending, and allow unsworn and minimally regulated individuals to attempt to serve warrants, make arrests, and take alleged bail-jumpers into custody. This because someone thinks that it is good business.

And, the proposal to sell off State property has returned in a newer and more widespread form. The current proposal would allow the Governor to negotiate the sale of ANY state property, other than certain parks and other facilities specifically entailed to the public trust. The sales are a no-bid process and can be negotiated in secret, although the Legislature appears to be holding out for a review/consent role. The supposed virtue of this plan is that state property can be sold to raise money to pay down public debt. One insidious part is that the proceeds need not be dedicated to the good of the organization whose building it was. For example, University of Wisconsin dormitories could be sold off in order to pay monies owing to highway constructors (some of the state's real owners--). This is also a way to funnel taxpayer money into the pockets of the Administration's cronies while saddling unpopular agencies with crippling costs.

This improvident way of raising short-term funds by assuming permanent expenses was popular in business circles in the last century, when it seemed a good idea to sell corporate properties to management companies and rent them back--until realities of increasing rents and decreasing maintenance hit home. The company I work for, which I have always felt was relatively well-managed, never went for this fad. In fact, for years they have been consolidating OUT of leased offices into company-owned properties.

When it was pointed out to her that, under the plan as written, even the State Capitol building could be sold, Walker's chief Senatorial stooge, Albert Darling, snapped, "That's ridiculous, we would never sell the Capitol!" I would agree that it's ridiculous--but only because the Capitol has already been sold.
In yesterday's New York Times, Paul Krugman, in a column entitled "The Ignorance Caucus," made reference to the Texas Republican Party's 2012 platform, which was refenced favorably in a speech last week by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor joined in calling for an end to Federal funding for research in the social sciences. I hadn't seen a prior description of this document, so eagerly followed the link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/texas-gop-rejects-critical-thinking-skills-really/2012/07/08/gJQAHNpFXW_blog.html
It is, in a word, horrifying.

Among other things, it includes: "Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority."

Now, a specific objection to "Knowlege-Based Education" programs is one thing, but to go on to object to teaching "critical thinking skills" on the grounds that this "has the purpose of challenging the student's fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority," is way out there. Hasn't the goal of progressive education been to challenge the student's fixed beliefs since, oh, Socrates' day? (Of course, look what happened to Socrates. Methinks the Texas GOP would be preparing his hemlock drink.) Socrates was a great one for undermining parental authority, too.

"Parental authority" may be a good thing, or a bad thing, depending upon the parents in question, but how old do you have to be before you are eligible to question? I'm guessing never, which causes me to visualize a Texas version of the old Danny Thomas Show, where one of the running gags was that filial duty required deference to the beliefs of the aged clan patriarch, no matter how arbitrary or backward they were.

Here are some other interesting/appalling bits from the Texas GOP platform:

"American Identity Patriotism and Loyalty – We believe the current teaching of a multicultural curriculum is divisive. We favor strengthening our common American identity and loyalty instead of political correctness that nurtures alienation among racial and ethnic groups. Students should pledge allegiance to the American and Texas flags daily to instill patriotism."

Rational patriotism is of course fine. However, the jaundiced view that "political correctness . . . nurtures alienation among racial and ethnic groups" is totaly factually unsupported.

"Classroom Discipline –We recommend that local school boards and classroom teachers be given more authority to deal with disciplinary problems. Corporal punishment is effective and legal in Texas."

Corporal punishment may be legal in Texas, but I'd like to see any documentation that it is "effective" in any particular way.

"Controversial Theories – We support objective teaching and equal treatment of all sides of scientific theories. We believe theories such as life origins and environmental change should be taught as challengeable scientific theories subject to change as new data is produced. Teachers and students should be able to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of these theories openly and without fear of retribution or discrimination of any kind."

This is a weaseling truckling to the 'teach the contoversy' crowd, which is, itself, a weaseling way of getting Creationism into schools. One has to wonder what would happen to a teacher who taught that Evolution and the current theory on the origin of the universe were the best theories until "new data is produced."

"Early Childhood Development – We believe that parents are best suited to train their children in their early development and oppose mandatory pre-school and Kindergarten. We urge Congress to repeal government-sponsored programs that deal with early childhood development."

Given the well-documented benefits of early childhood education, this is extremely backward. I hadn't been aware that there was a Conservative war on Kindergarten.

"Parental Rights in Education – We believe the right of parents to raise and educate their children is fundamental. Parents have the right to withdraw their child from any specialized program. We urge the Legislature to enact penalties for violation of parental rights."

"Sex Education – We recognize parental responsibility and authority regarding sex education. We believe that parents must be given an opportunity to review the material prior to giving their consent. We oppose any sex education other than abstinence until marriage."

Granted that there should be a reasonable balance between family/community values and what professional pedagogues think, but this proposes giving any ignoramus the power to keep his child out of everything but basic "reading, writing, arithmetic, and citizenship" for any reason or none at all.

"Religious Freedom in Public Schools – We urge school administrators and officials to inform Texas school students specifically of their First Amendment rights to pray and engage in religious speech, individually or in groups, on school property without government interference. We urge the Legislature to end censorship of discussion of religion in our founding documents and encourage discussing those documents."

"Censorship of discussion of religion in our founding documents" is a straw-man covering attempts to introduce revisionist history such as the "Thomas Jefferson as evangelical Christian" myth promulgated by some members of the Texas State Board of Education.

And there's more. School districts that use textbooks not specifically approved by the Texas State Board of Education would have the burden of proving those books were "factually and historically correct"--a heavy burden considering some of the counterfactual doctrines adopted by said Board. "Since education is not an enumerated power of the federal government, we believe the Department of Education (DOE) should be abolished."

Overall, the impression is of a philosophy harking back to the Know-Nothings of the 1850's, in particular its heavily nativist and Christian tendencies. Its evident goal is to raise up a generation of blindly obedient worker drones--not what one would expect from the once fiercely independent Texans.
Things other people have said, and my reactions to them:

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke Jr.: I don’t often agree with Sheriff Clarke. However, when he says “"With officers laid off and furloughed, simply calling 911 and waiting is no longer your best option. You can beg for mercy from a violent criminal, hide under the bed, or you can fight back. ... Consider taking a certified safety course in handling a firearm so you can defend yourself until we get there," he is correct. In an interview with The Associated Press, Clarke said he just wants people to know what their options are. While self-defense isn't for everyone, some people see personal safety as their own responsibility, he said, and they should be trained properly.

"I'm not telling you to 'Hey, pick up a gun and blast away.' ... People need to know what they are doing if they chose that method — to defend themselves," he said.

"People are responsible to play a role in their own safety, with the help of law enforcement," Clarke said. "I'm here to do my part, but we have fewer and fewer resources. We're not omnipresent, and we have to stop giving people that impression."

Setting aside the political agenda—Sheriff Clarke is engaged in a battle with the County Board over funding which has resulted in his laying off some staff—he pretty much agrees with things I have said. The police can deter crime. The police can catch criminals. However, the police cannot be everywhere and cannot prevent a determined criminal from making an attempt. The instances in which police arrive on scene while a robbery, assault, or burglary is in progress are very rare. Thus, it is up to us to see to our own security, and how you do that is up to you. Whether that means keeping alert and staying out of “bad” parts of town, having good locks or a security system, learning martial arts, or carrying a personal alarm/panic button, pepper spray, Taser, knife, or gun, or none of the above, what you do is up to you.

Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn: High on Flynn’s list of priorities is making the illegal possession of a concealed firearm a felony. Currently, in Wisconsin, it’s a misdemeanor. He’d like to see straw purchases of a firearm—purchases made for someone who cannot pass a background check—made a felony as well.

Flynn supports President Obama’s call for universal background checks, but he said he’d also like to see more red-flag disqualifiers for gun ownership. For example, habitual offenders—those with three serious misdemeanor convictions who Flynn calls “career criminals”— as well as felons should be barred from possessing a gun. Those with serious mental health issues or drunken driving convictions should also be (at least temporarily) disqualified, Flynn said.

“If you can’t control your drinking, you shouldn’t have a gun,” Flynn said. “Because when you look at deadly violence in Milwaukee, alcohol is involved an enormous amount of the time.

These are hard to argue with, although might be hard to implement. I would prefer to see any sort of “three strikes” rule qualified so that the three convictions must include crimes of violence, unless the chief can provide some statistical proof of a relationship between shoplifting or writing bad checks and gun crime.

Playwright David Mamet: “The individual is not only best qualified to provide his own personal defense, he is the only one qualified to do so: and his right to do so is guaranteed by the Constitution.” He argues that “It is not the constitutional prerogative of the Government to determine needs. One person may need (or want) more leisure, another more work; one more adventure, another more security, and so on. It is this diversity that makes a country, indeed a state, a city, a church, or a family, healthy. “One-size-fits-all,” and that size determined by the State has a name, and that name is “slavery.”’

Mamet also is taking the position that self-defense is both an individual right, and an individual responsibility.

NRA: The NRA has been stung by recently reported polls, which it describes as “bogus surveys by pollsters on the payroll of antigun groups,” which purport to show that 85% of NRA members support universal background checks and “assault weapon” restrictions.

The NRA notes that: “none of those surveys had access to the NRA's membership list,” which is certainly true. There is a bit of disingenuousness in the way the polls are reported, which should state that “respondents who identify themselves as NRA members support”—which is a rather different matter. If six respondents out of a thousand polled identify as NRA members, and five of the six support the measures, that’s 85%, but it’s not really statistically significant.

Unfortunately, the NRA responds with its own bogus poll, of 1000 randomly selected NRA members. The results, as reported on their website, are:

Key Findings:

91% of NRA members support laws keeping firearms away from the mentally ill.
92% of NRA members oppose gun confiscation via mandatory buy-back laws.
89% oppose banning semi-automatic firearms, often mistakenly called "assault rifles."
93% oppose a law requiring gun owners to register with the federal government.
92% oppose a federal law banning the sale of firearms between private citizens.

Of these, two, four and five are obvious “straw men.” I haven’t seen any of these proposals on the table anywhere, and are part of the NRA’s fear-mongering among its membership and fellow travelers. Number one is a “no-brainer,” you should pardon the expression, that everyone supports—providing we can figure out a workable way to do it.

Giving credit to the NRA, they do publish the actual poll questions and instructions and full results, which most poll proponents do not.

The Atlantic Magazine has published a lot of good articles and opinion pieces (including the Mamet one). Among the best is “The Case for More Guns (and More Gun Control),” which I think is very well balanced, and can be found here: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/12/the-case-for-more-guns-and-more-gun-control/309161/3/

There's also a very good article in the New York Times, "Bipartisan Guidelines for Gun Control," on line at: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/30/opinion/bipartisan-hunting-buddies.html?WT.mc_id=NYT-E-I-NYT-E-AT-0130-L6&nl=el
Unlike many in the on-line community, I have no sympathy whatever for the late Aaron Swartz. I am sure his untimely death is a great sorrow to his family and those who knew him, and they have my commiserations for their loss. However, in my (acknowledgely arrogant) opinion, what befell him was the result of his own bad judgment.

The facts are not in dispute: Mr. Swartz gained unauthorized access to a restricted area at MIT, connected a laptop computer, and downloaded thousands of documents that JSTOR (Journal Storage) archived, with intent to make them freely available on the Internet. Mr. Swartz, as a Harvard research fellow, had a JSTOR account, so his basic access wasn't unlawful, but the mass downloading exceeded his authorizations. And, of course, he had no authorization to tamper with MIT's equipment.

Now, if we were speaking of physical property, what Swartz did would have been considered Burglary (loosely defined as entering the premises of another without the others' consent, with intent to steal or commit a felony therein) and Theft (taking and carrying away the property of another without their consent, with intent to deprive them of the possession of it). Where things get gray is with data, which you can both steal, and leave the holder in possession of. There is precedent for such crimes in the pre-digital era though, such as Theft of Trade Secrets, which established that copying plans or client lists was still stealing.

Plain burglary, without enhancers such as "while armed" is a felony punishable by up to ten years imprisonment in most jurisdictions. Theft is typically classified by the value of the items stolen. If the documents taken by Mr. Swartz exceeded $10,000.00, the potential penalty would also be up to 10 years in prison. So, if one were looking at charges of only one count of Burglary and one of Theft, Swartz would have had "exposure" of up to twenty years in the penitentiary. Since he evidently, per the indictment, gained access to the server closet numerous times, each of which would be a separate count of burglary in the "material world," the Federal prosecutors' decision to issue charges carrying a potential 35 years imprisonment is not such a gross overcharge as has been alleged.

Mr. Swartz may have thought that his public position would shield him from prosecution, or that, given that he escaped prosecution for similar escapades involving the Library of Congress in 2006 and the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) database in 2008 he would not be prosecuted this time, but he misjudged.

In point of fact, Swartz was never in danger of going to prison for 35 years. Two days before his death, Federal prosecutors had told Swarz's attorney that Swartz would "have to spend six months in prison and plead guilty to [all] 13 charges if he wanted to avoid going to trial," which, from the point of view of an experienced former prosecutor and defense attorney, is a not at all unreasonable offer. Six months at a probably minimum security institution is about as light as it gets, federally speaking. One expects that the more onerous part of any sentence would have been the couple of years of supervision, which undoubtedly would have included serious restrictions of on-line activity.

As the song says, "If you can't do the time, better not do the crime." Having been around and paying attention during the Vietnam war era, I got disgusted with protesters who committed acts of civil disobedience up to outright sabotage, and, when apprehended, fought tooth and nail to stay out of jail on every imaginable excuse. They wanted to be romantic outlaws, but had no interest in being "prisoners of conscience," and no more did Mr. Swartz, evidently. He also apparently had no interest in making his case a court fight to give his causes a public airing, which would doubtless have happened had he gone to trial.

As for his suicide, I don't always agree with the rubric that suicide is "the coward's way out," but in this case, that judgment seems hard to argue with. Aaron Swartz was a bold Robin Hood of the Information Superhighway, until it appeared that he might have to suffer a bit for his actions. Then, he decided to take himself off the stage. I am not impressed. Let the curtain fall, without applause.
As one might expect, since the horrendous massacre at Newtown, the national debate on gun control, and specifically, access to assault-style firearms, has come back with a vengeance. As a “gun rights” advocate myself, I’ve heard the renewed debate with great disappointment as both sides trot out the same tired old discredited arguments and dance around unpalatable truths.

“Assault-style” weapons are for defense, not hunting. One of the tired shibboleths being constantly pronounced is that “no one needs a semi-automatic rifle with a 30-round clip to hunt deer.” Well, that’s true. It’s also really unlikely that most people would ever need such a rifle to fend off muggers or burglars, either. A military-style weapon is most useful for defense against military-style opponents.

Movies like “Red Dawn,” notwithstanding, the chance of a foreign invader ever making it to US shores is vanishingly small. Wars with Mexico and Canada (as part of the British Empire) are part of our history, but I can’t see such in our future. The fact is that the ultimate check on the power of the United States government is the power of the people to resist it. As the Declaration of Independence says, “Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends (securing the rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness), it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new governments.” As not only history, but current events (cf.: Syria) , show us, such destructive governments do not tend to go gently into the good night.

Our Founding Fathers of course knew this well. They stockpiled military-style weapons of their day and had to resort to their use in order to throw off British tyranny. Indeed, did not one of the most famous episodes in the early days of the struggle for independence, “the midnight ride of Paul Revere”, center around a British attempt to seize a Colonial weapons stockpile?
The Brown Bess musket was the assault weapon of its day, and the comparison is not a specious one. The British Army infantry, the best trained in the world, could put out five aimed shots per minute per man. In the tactic known as ‘company fire’ a regiment of foot issued a continuous rolling barrage of musketry that had the most devastating effect on enemy formations of any direct-fire weaponry until the introduction of machine-gun batteries in World War I. The Founders knew this. However, instead of putting a blanket right of the people to keep and bear arms into the Bill of Rights, they did not limit the right to possession of pistols and fowling pieces. Even when there was an actual insurrection against the Federal government, the Whiskey Rebellion of 1791, there was no talk of disarming the populace or of restricting the people’s access to weaponry.

I am not one of those who say that the time to take up arms against the government is now. Neither am I one who says the prospect is unthinkable. I vividly recall the 1964 movie “Seven Days In May,” based on the novel by Fletcher Kneble (also author of "Fail Safe"), which postulated a military-based conspiracy to overthrow the United States government. President Kennedy read the novel and believed that the scenario as described could occur in the United States, and gave government cooperation to the making of the film, over Pentagon objection.

I recall the days surrounding the impeachment of Richard Nixon, and taking part in serious discussions of what would happen if Nixon, whom by that time nobody trusted, “sent troops up Capitol Hill.” Things we have heard since, about Nixon wandering the halls of the White House talking to the portraits of his predecessors, make that scenario more, rather than less, unlikely in my opinion.

It wasn’t until much later that I read Sinclair Lewis’ 1935 novel, It Can’t Happen Here. That story hasn’t gotten any less chilling with time. The more I see our politics descend into demagoguery, slander, and “big lies,” the more plausible it becomes.

As things stand right now, the United States could be destroyed, as by a foreign nuclear attack, but not be conquered or occupied. Any would-be dictator must consider the sobering fact that he would face an insurgency unlike anything in history. If we lose the potential to resist the government, we are no better off than the citizens of Syria or North Korea. If the government has a monopoly on coercive force, then our rights become unenforceable and we exercise them only at sufferance.

The other tired argument being trotted out is the “militia” argument: the proposition that the right to keep and bear arms is a collective right pertaining to the (non-existent) well-ordered militia, and not to individuals. Besides this position having been shot down (so to speak) in the Supreme Court’s rulings in “District of Columbia vs. Heller,” and “McDonald vs. Chicago,” this argument has always been based on a misreading of the 1938 case “United States vs. Miller.”

A bit of history: The Miller case grew out of government response to Prohibition-era gang warfare, wherein mobsters were engaging in what we’d now call “close quarters combat” using, among other weapons, sub-machine guns, hand grenades, and sawed-off shotguns. The US government did not attempt to ban those weapons, probably rightly viewing the 2nd Amendment challenge that would arise, but instead enacted a tax law, requiring a license be acquired and fee paid for possession of such weapons. This gave them an additional prosecutorial weapon to use against criminals.

Miller was convicted of possession of an unlicensed short-barreled shotgun. He appealed, and the Supreme Court upheld the conviction on the basis that the 2nd Amendment protected the possession of such weapons as were appropriate for a militia, and, that since sawed-off shotguns were prohibited as a weapon of war by the Geneva Convention, the possession of the shotgun was not protected by the 2nd Amendment. “In the absence of any evidence tending to show that possession or use of a 'shotgun having a barrel of less than eighteen inches in length' at this time has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia, we cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear such an instrument. Certainly it is not within judicial notice that this weapon is any part of the ordinary military equipment or that its use could contribute to the common defense. “ The text of the decision, which can be found here: http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/cgi-bin/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=307&invol=174 goes into considerable detail relating the provisions of Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution(power of the Congress to call out the militia) to the 2nd Amendment, but does not explicitly state whether the right to keep and bear arms is collective or individual, despite many interpretations claiming so since.

The interesting thing is that, had the defendant been charged with the possession of a “tommy gun” or hand grenade, both of which were in the inventories of the US Army and every state militia, by this reasoning the conviction should have been reversed. By the same reasoning, possession of actual full-auto assault rifles, not just semi-automatic replicas, would be protected under the 2nd Amendment.

The “well-ordered militia” doesn’t really have any great potential for resisting government tyranny. The organized militia consists of the National Guard. Although under the US Constitution, the several states retain the power to appoint officers, etc., as a practical matter the various Guard and Reserve units are administered as parts of the national military structures they support—Army, Navy, etc. Also, besides being integrated into the national command structure and military culture, the President has the power to call Guard units into national service at any time. In 1957, following the Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation decision, Arkansas governor Orval Faubus ordered the Arkansas National Guard to preserve order, a euphemism for keeping African American students out of formerly all-white Little Rock schools. However, on September 25, 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower federalized the Arkansas National Guard and deployed paratroopers to carry out the desegregation orders of the federal courts. The Arkansas National Guard obeyed presidential orders. One supposes that if there were a sufficiently serious breach between the states and the federal government—on the level of a new civil war—National Guardsmen might make the decision to oppose the federals, setting aside oaths of obedience and the fear of military punishments, but, failing that, I don’t think the Militia is going to be anyone’s protector of individual rights.

The other unspoken concept in this controversy is that rights have costs. As I’ve said before, ours is an adolescent society. People want, and have the physical ability to grasp, all the powerful and dangerous “adult” instrumentalities: free speech, consensual casual sex, fast cars, liquor, other recreational drugs, guns. However, people all-too-often lack the emotional or intellectual maturity to use these things responsibly. The result is an unavoidable cost in human misery until we finish ‘growing up’. I don’t see that a return to a perpetual state of social kindergarten in which all the potentially hurtful things are locked away forever, is a viable or sensible option.

I cannot say that the lives of twenty children are an acceptable price to pay for our freedom. However, I can’t either say that any restriction of freedom is acceptable “if it saves one life,” as is currently being argued. What we really need to do is to grow up. We need to get over this idea that America in general and Americans in particular, have to be the biggest bad-asses on the block. We need to teach firmly that violence is the last resort rather than the first approach to problem solving. I note with some dismay that we will soon have yet another “Die Hard” movie opening, in which, doubtless, the final resolution will involve the hero “belting up” with as many weapons as he can get and emerging victorious from a prolonged gun battle with the dastardly bad guys. Well and good, one supposes, for the increasingly unlikely scenarios in which John McClane finds himself, but it would be well if these were generally understood to be fantasies, and not primers on how to deal with your property-line dispute with your neighbor, or your frustrations with your mother.

Until then, what is to be done? I’ve never objected to the idea of universal background checks for gun buyers, including gun shows, not that I think it will help all that much. I’ve been to many gun shows, and you don’t see any inner-city “gang bangers” there. Disgruntled white survivalist types, yes—but most of them are otherwise law-abiding, and have no record to stop them buying what they want.

For that matter, I’ve not opposed licensing for firearms owners as long as it would be reasonable, fairly administered and not arbitrarily revocable. The problem with states that have concealed carry permits which are issued at the discretion of the sheriff or police chief is that is usually ends up being the sheriff’s cronies who get them, and anyone he dislikes is out of luck.

I do oppose registration. Registration has historically always lead to confiscation, even in democracies. After World War II, perhaps mindful of the miserable unreadiness of its “Home Guard,” Great Britain allowed veterans to claim and keep as mementos the rifles that they had used in the war. Decades later that decision was reversed, and the ex-soldiers were required to turn in their bolt-action Enfields for destruction, or prove that they had been rendered inoperable. Some elected to do the deed themselves: I recall reading a story at the time, of a daughter watching the tears running down the face of her father as the old soldier took a hacksaw to the faithful rifle that he had carried through five years of war, and that had saved his life in battle.

What passes in our country for a “mental health system” is miserably inadequate. “Deinstitutionalization” was supposed to be replaced by a comprehensive community-based support system, which like the “well-ordered militia,” has never been legislated for, organized, or funded. Most people don’t have any reasonable access to mental health care, and no way to pay for it. We have zero in the way of general screening. One letter writer I saw in the local paper proposed that any would-be gun buyer should be required to complete the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Index, a screening tool for various antisocial personality disorders. Why shouldn’t something like that be administered to all high school freshmen, and appropriate referrals be made? (I know—much too “Brave New World” for most peoples’ taste, even setting aside the likelihood that a majority of teenage boys would end up on anti-psychotic medications--.)

On the specific issue, school security could certainly be improved. We have so aggressively disarmed our school districts to the point that there is not so much of a squirt gun available to deter any attacker. There’s nothing to stop any pervert or madman from entering a school armed with so much as a knife and wreaking havoc, as happened recently in China. The worst school killing in American history took place in the 1920’s, and was done with what we’d now call a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device. Its disingenuous to suggest that a determined killer couldn’t do as bad or worse tomorrow, having provide himself with simple pipe bombs, or a couple of strategically placed buckets of gasoline. (´See, I'm a man of simple tastes. I enjoy dynamite, and gunpowder, and... gasoline!” Joker, “The Dark Knight”) On the other hand, there have been a number of cases in schools that DO have armed security, or, in one case, an armed vice-principal, where gunmen were denied entry and apprehended or killed. These don’t make big news because only the “bad guys” died, if anyone at all.

I don’t think proposals for arming teachers with firearms are reasonable. I don’t think the idea of having police on scene is intrinsically bad, although expensive. As an alternative proposal, why not provide teachers with pepper spray? Many commercially available sprays are effective out to twenty-five feet, the confines of many school rooms, and a hit in the chest is just as likely to be disabling as a hit in the eyes. (The idea of “Bear Guard,” one of the first commercially available sprays, is to keep the bear away before it gets to you--.) Even if the criminal wears a gas mask, as the Colorado movie killer did, there are vision-blocking sprays that effervesce on impact into a dye-bearing foam. Training is much more simple than firearm training would be. The technology exists to make a spray gun with a magnetic trigger lock or biometric grip to prevent accidental discharges. Far from foolproof, obviously. Certainly, there will be accidents, but, as they are saying, if it saves one life?

Ha!

Nov. 7th, 2012 08:17 am
THAT for you, Karl Rove! That for YOU, Koch brothers! And for YOU, casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, and all the plutocrats who attempted to buy this election for Mitt Romney.

One hopes that this defeat will make them reconsider their strategy. Having spent their hundreds of millions of dollars only to be offset by the multitudes of small donors rounded up by the Democratic Party, ActBlue, and the Obama SuperPAC, perhaps they could reconsider this whole idea. That would be nice, but I'm not going to count on it. Instead, as I'm sure Rove, who doesn't want to become a has-been, will argue, what is needed is MORE money applied in even more underhanded ways. After all, adhering to failed past programs is the Republican public policy plan, so why should their election strategy be different?

That said, the best I can muster this morning is "modified rapture," since the best I hope for is four more years of the nation not going straight to hell in the conservative handbasket. (On the other hand, in Wisconsin, the Republicans realized the fruits of their redistricting plan and recaptured the State Senate, so their plans to make us North Mississippi can continue--.)

And, that's the good outcome. Most economists note that the economy is going in the right direction, albeit slowly, and modest recovery is likey to continue for the next four years. However, the Republicans in the House of Representatives are in position to take their revenge by deliberately driving the government over the "fiscal cliff" which, if it doesn't put us back in recession, would almost certainly derail that recovery.

(Not that the "fiscal cliff" is necessarily the end of the world. I, for one, wasn't being killed by taxes before the Bush tax cuts, and their effect on me has been marginal. I wouldn't miss them much. Some commentators have postulated that letting the tax cuts expire and the sequestration go into effect would be a GOOD thing, since the combination would do much to reduce the deficit and put the government on track to a balanced budget. Unfortunately, there's so much of a "Chicken Little" attitude about it that there probably would be at least a mild recession--after all, the crash of 2008 was largely due to a sudden crisis of confidence as much as anything else.)

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