Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Everything is Better with Bacon

According to Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association, "...the sheer fact that we freely allow the sale and consumption of bacon is absolute proof that we are, in fact, a Christian nation."

So, only Christian nations sell bacon?

Personally, I think Fischer is an idiot. Here's a news flash for you Bryan, it's not all that difficult to buy bacon in Jerusalem and it's certainly not illegal. The non-kosher grocery chain Tiv Ta'am sells bacon, ham and shellfish.

There are also Chinese, Russian and Thai restaurants that sell non-kosher entrees. I've eaten non-kosher meals in Tel Aviv hotels including bacon on a cheeseburger which violates all sorts of Jewish dietary laws.

But if you accept Fischer's logic, the fact that Israel freely allows "the sale and consumption of bacon is absolute proof" that Israel is a Christian nation.

Like I said, I think Fischer is an idiot.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Obama on ISIS

The president gave his strategy speech tonight. He outlined four points.

1. Additional airstrikes into Iraq and, if necessary, Syria
2. Increased support to Iraqi forces including advisory personnel on the ground but no combat units
3. Counter terrorism actions to cut off ISIS manpower and funding
4. Continued humanitarian support

Obama talked about leading a "broad coalition" but gave no specifics about the composition of that coalition. I've heard the French are ready to participate in bombing runs. I don't know how true that is but I've heard nothing about Arab participation or other European Union support.

I'd feel a lot better about this if Egypt and Saudi Arabia were sending support as well as the US. Rumor has it that Iranian advisers are already on the ground with Iraqi Shiite militias.

This is a quagmire. I don't envy the guys who have to go there and get caught between Sunni extremists that have probably infiltrated Iraqi forces and Iranian led Shiite militias.

Like I've said before, the basis for a three way civil war was established when the British established the Kingdom of Iraq without regard to national or ethnic considerations.

There was no mention in the speech of who was going to pay for all of this. You'll excuse me while I tighten my grip on my wallet (as if that's going to do any good).

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Rick Santorum - Lack of Religion is also a Religion

Rick Santorum is a nut. His latest idea is that removing religion from the classroom is not neutral because the lack of a religion is also a religion.

Sure Rick, and not collecting stamps is a hobby and bald is a hair color.

This has been tried before. It's nothing new and the very idea has been laughed out of court.

You see when Rick and other right wing Christians talk about "religion," what they assume is Christianity. They forget that there are lots of religions.

Rick wants to teach Christianity in the public schools to have a free exchange of ideas rather than force secularism on everyone. The problem is being silent about religion is NOT the same thing as promoting no religion.

Rick doesn't really want a free exchange of ideas, he wants Christianity taught as the only moral option.

If he really wanted a free exchange then Islam, Hinduism, Wicca and even Satanism would have to be presented as alternative religions. Atheism would have to be presented as an alternative to all religions.

I can just imagine the howls of indignation from Christians if Christianity were presented as only one option among equals.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

32 States ask Supreme Court to Settle Gay Marriage Issue

Fifteen states where Gay Marriage is legal, led by Massachusetts, and 17 states where it is illegal, led by Colorado, have petitioned the Supreme Court to settle the issue once and for all.

The question is heading there anyway so why burn up all of the resources addressing the question in the lower courts?

The SCOTUS should stop hiding in the closet on this one and do what needs to be done.

How would the court rule? Good question. If it rules that bans on Gay Marriage are illegal that pretty much settles the legal question and Gay Marriage would become like abortion access with Conservatives snipping at the edges.

Unlike Abortion Access though, I see this as a rapidly dying issue as time goes on.

If it rules that Gay Marriage bans are constitutional, the fight will continue at the state level with supporters trying to overturn existing bans and opponents trying to re-institute bans in the states where it is now legal.

In other words, things would be even worse than they are now.

We're talking about less than 2% of the population here. I don't see how legalizing Gay Marriage across the board can cause any harm. I can see a lot of harm in wasted resources if the court doesn't legalize it.

Besides, it's the right thing to do, so let's legalize it and move on.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

What's Wrong with this Picture?

Note the following graph.

While Individual Income Taxes as a percentage of GDP have risen slightly from about 7.5% in the early 1950s to about 8% in 2014, Corporate Income taxes as a percentage of GDP have dropped from about 5% in the early 1950s to less than 2% in 2014.

Yet we continue to hear corporation CEOs and the right wing wing nuts cry about high corporate taxes. Here's a hint, they're greedy lying bastards.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Lake Mead

In 2008 I was in Las Vegas. We took a tour to Lake Mead, the reservoir behind the Hoover Dam, and I noticed the water marks of the rocks surrounding the Lake indicating that water level was fairly low.

A day or two later, in exchange for some show tickets, we were working our way through a time- share presentation of some very, very nice new high rise buildings. I had no real interest in a time-share (although the apartments were REALLY nice) but I remember asking the sales guy where all these high rises were going to get water and he simply said "Lake Mead" as if it was obvious.

Given what I had seen at the lake and looking at all the new construction, I had some doubts about how obvious a solution that was.

Now I see on the Internet that Lake Mead is at an all time low and they're predicting water shortages and even possibly "dry days" by 2015. This comes as no real surprise to me given what I've seen in Vegas.

I wonder how the strip is going to make out when there are days when you can't take a shower?

This is only the first effects that we're about to see from climate change rendering the water supply in the western states more and more iffy.

I wouldn't panic just yet, but the problem is Conservatives refuse to even recognize the fact that there is a looming problem.

In the final analysis this is an engineering problem and there is (hopefully) an engineering solution. But we're not going to find that solution until we get engineers looking at the issue and that's not going to happen until we recognize that an issue exists.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Is the NSA's Collection of Metadata Unconstiutional?

Before we get to the answer, let's carefully articulate the question.

First of all, what is metadata?

Metadata is summary information about communications. Generally it includes (1) the calling number, (2) the receiving number, (3) when the call was made and (4) how long the call lasted.

Note that one cannot tell with absolute certainty from metadata who actually talked to whom but one can establish a fairly high probability. Nor can one know what was said. One only knows the duration of the call.

This information is generally the property of the service provider and not the property of the people communicating.

Second of all, what's the so-called reason for the collection? The NSA claims it's to protect against terrorist activity.

Finally, the Article of the Constitution that it may be violating is Amendment IV which states "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

Now, clearly the NSA had no warrant "particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

They were scooping up information wholesale. So how the hell could this possibly be Constitutional?

For two reasons. The first is that, as mentioned above, the information collected is not the property of the caller or person being called. It's the property of the service provider and they apparently freely provided this information.

If you don't know that using the telephone, sending an e-mail or logging on to the internet is being recorded by someone, somewhere and then that information is being used to sell you stuff or send you offers, you're an idiot or you're not paying attention.

So why should you have any expectation of privacy at all when engaging in these activities? This is certainly a question that will be raised during the court case. Now one could claim that this metadata is a "paper" or "effect" or that one does not surrender expectations of privacy when using the provider service. I suppose we'll see.

The other issue is the word "unreasonable." What the hell is an "unreasonable" search or seizure?

Normally it's a search or seizure without "probable cause." And what is "probable cause?" It's knowledge or information that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that a crime is being committed, has been committed or is about to be committed.

Obviously, when you are collecting every piece of information available, you cannot possibly have "probable cause" for everything you're seizing.

So, is there any exception to the "probable cause" requirement?

Yes, there is. In two Supreme Court decisions, U.S. v. Martinez-Fuerte, related to roadblocks to check for illegal immigrants, and Michigan v. Sitz, related to DUI checkpoints which stopped all or random vehicles to check for driver intoxication, the SCOTUS balanced "state interests" against "4th Amendment protections" and concluded that the interests of the state outweighed the minor 4th Amendment inconvenience of the seizure or stopping of vehicles with no particular probable cause related to that vehicle.

In other words, the seizure was not "unreasonable" despite the lack of "probable cause." However, the court made it clear that a "search" still required "probable cause" such as a driver smelling of alcohol at a DUI stop.

So, now we have to differentiate between the "seizure" of the metadata and the "search" of the metadata. I'm not even sure that such a distinction in this case can be made but, assuming it can, then I can see an argument along the lines of the "seizure" being in the state's interest to protect against terrorism but the "search" of the data requiring probable cause.

Of course then the agency would have to demonstrate to a court that this wholesale gathering of information is an EFFECTIVE method to combat terrorism which they may or may not be able to do.

Just about every agency and board that has reviewed the NSA activity has concluded that it's unconstitutional and one court has said that it is probably unconstitutional as well.

The NSA is far and away the most arrogant agency I've ever had the misfortune to interact with but they also have lots and lots of very smart people with lots of access to lots of things that we don't know about.

The Roberts Court also strikes me as one that looks for legal excuses to do what they want to do anyway. It really wouldn't surprise me if by the time this thing got to the Supreme Court they didn't have some sort of excuse to say it's OK if they want to say that.

I also don't count out the NSA presenting classified evidence in closed sessions, real or fabricated, that the public won't hear about for 50 years. In other words, despite everyone being so sure that this violates the 4th Amendment, it wouldn't surprise me at all if the SCOTUS said it didn't.