The Right to Arm Bears

Jon Stewart had a segment on his show this detailing why the Republicans were blocking the confirmation of Dr. Vivek Murthy for the post of Surgeon General.- Daily Show – America Stands it’s Ground. The source of the issue came from the NRA and Senator Rand Paul who started a campaign against the confirmation of Dr. Murthy.

The crux of this is NRA’s apprehension that Dr. Murthy’s outspoken views on “sensible” gun control which in fact are not that radical and in line with what most Americans want, from a reform perspective. So then why IS the NRA worried about this specific nomination to the point that their campaigning has caused the White House to put a halt on the nomination till the elections are completed?

The answer as “control”. The NRA has been very successful in advancing the “fear” propaganda. Guns are safe,  there are a myriad of unseen terrors lurking that can get us and being armed is the best recourse for our personal safety. In addition they have been very successful suppressing data on gun violence.

The Second Amendment provides the right to bear arms and this has been debated ad nauseum regarding the historical relevance of the Amendment. If our forefathers had the “fore”sight that a person, 225 years later would be able to go on the web and buy an AR-15 maybe they would have done a double take on the “right to bear arms” amendment. I get that you need guns to hunt but c’mon semi automatic and sophisticated handguns? These are the same nut jobs that need to buy a Hummer – since the terrain from the gated community to the super market is like Fallujah.

Almost every other advanced country have either no gun ownership or some form of restricted gun ownership and that has had obvious positive impacts on gun related violence. So why is this hard for our country to grasp? What is the fetish with gun ownership that lets our brains go through a cognitive dissonance every time we see a mass shooting in the news? It is always the same three points:

a) It is protected by the constitution – Fine. No argument there.

b) Guns don’t kill, People do – really? that is a viable argument? So if the gunman in the Newtown, CT killings had a bunch of knives (and killer ninja stars) he would be able to kill those poor innocent children at the speed, that he did?

c) I am a law abiding gun owner and I should have the freedom to own the guns I want – That is circular logic. If it has been proven via data and polling that there are certain types of guns (if regulated) will greatly reduce the number of violent gun crimes, isn’t a little bit of sensible regulation good?

Source: http://ksmleadership.com/gun-control/

So what is the solution. It is not attacking the NRA as the boogieman. The NRA is a non profit organization and lobbyist. It is protected by the First Amendment and should be commended for their effectiveness in driving the gun ownership agenda in this country with a maniacal focus.

The obvious answer then becomes our elected representatives doesn’t it?. Here is Obama’s proposed Gun Control measures that were put together post the Connecticut Mass Shootings.Universal Background checks and Assault Weapon Bans are really items that the Congress can do to positively influence gun crime. But that is not happening anytime soon.

And that brings us back to our circle jerk. As Jon Stewart states in his segment, Dr. Murthy is standing for the nomination of Surgeon General – best he can do is put warning labels on bullets!

Lobbyists will lobby that is what they do. There must be a greater conviction amongst our elected officials to be pragmatic, rational and logical. Else we are doomed. We can’t let the rhetoric crackpots influence elected officials.

You know the folks that traverse this arc on a minute by minute basis – Freedom->Guns->Greatest Country->Liberty->God (I know I am missing a few more from the Fringe Bingo Card).

Would taking the “obvious” baseball bat and hitting our elected officials on the head, result in them:

– Appointing or Not Appointing Dr. Murthy based on his experience and qualifications for the position – not because of his views on gun control?
– Passing sensible gun control regulations like background checks and assault weapon ban?

I don’t know…time will tell. Common sense is not so common these days!

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Miraculously Speaking

We have a person at work that throws around the word ‘miracle’ rather copiously. This week after a particularly snowy day she walked into work and went “The morning commute was so bad, it is miracle that I made it to work on time”. This got me thinking about how people view miracles and what influence it plays in our lives and belief systems.

There was this joke that was very popular when I was growing up. It went something like this:

A guy goes to a priest in a church and asks the priest, “Father! how do you define a miracle?”. The priest takes a minute to reflect on the question and then a smile crosses his face. He tells the guy to close his eyes and proceeds to give him a really hard slap across his face. To the surprised (and mildly sobbing) guy the priest goes,” Son, did it hurt when I slapped you?”. The guy, looking up in incredulity goes, “YES”. To which the priest replies calmly, ” Well! it would have been a miracle if it hadn’t hurt!”.

Whether you call minor coincidences, random positive events or unexplained events as miracles, the fact remains that belief in miracles is very very popular. The need to divest your rational thought to an experience in faith is very high in this country.

The table above shows three quarters of the population have really strong beliefs in miracles. One wonders is there is a correlation between the above numbers and the drop in U.S.’s math & science rankings in the world.

In India, a country that is a perfect cocktail of God men, spiritual practices, rituals/pseudosciences, belief in miracles is also very high.There is the God man who materializes objects, or the idol that bleeds milk  (or some random liquid) or the guy who claims he can ward away evil spirits with a talisman. In all the cases the sequence follows the same three step process:

Step Description
The Set Up “I have a friend who told me about this” Or ” I was driving and heard about this and decided to check it out” Or ” We heard about this Baba and wanted to check him/her out”
The Description “My Friend described this thing that was amazing”, ” I saw with my own eyes the milk was flowing”; ” I saw with my own eyes when he materialized the object”; “He had this really bad ailment and he was magically cured when he got the blessings”
The Outsourcing This is where reason/logic gets outsourced. This goes like this, ” I am a sane and scientific person, how can u explain what I saw/experienced” OR ” There have been many scientists that have looked into this and they cannot come up with an explanation” OR ” How do you explain the person had a tumor and one week after meeting with this Baba it went away”

My own views on miracles can be summed up in the figure below:

There has been a lot of progress made in the field of debunking these miracles, although with some collateral damage. Indian rationalist – Sanal Edamauku had to flee the country after the Indian courts invoked an arcane Blasphemy Law to prosecute him when he disproved miracle claims of a statue of Jesus bleeding holy water. Other rationalists have been working hard to debunk these miracles in the hope of waning the public from being duped by these charlatan God men.

Miracles when combined with religious exploitation makes for a potent and lethal combination. You are literally at the corner of Susceptibility and Indoctrination. I would have loved to close with a dissertation from David Hume on Miracles and contrasted that with the current day belief in miracles statistics.

Republibertocrat?

Was having a discussion with a work colleague last week. He asked me what my thoughts were on Putin and his anti gay rhetoric. My colleague is a staunch Republican and conservative. I take care to state both, since I am very aware that not all conservatives are Republicans. So it came as a bit of a shock to him when I said I thought Putin got it wrong on this (and a myriad of other things). And his next question for me was “I thought you were republican (and conservative) are you not?”.  Did not know how to answer that, especially since I think a bare chested Putin is ‘overcompensating’.

 

I thought I had a good understanding on the differences between the party platforms and their underlying philosophies. But just in case they updated something that I may have missed, I figured I would hit the ol’ search engine to refresh my bearings.
My first stop was the trustworthy site Diffen.com (comparison) and I did a quick test typing in the comparisons between Democrat vs Republican vs Libertarian. And I was depressed by the results. I didn’t fit into the classic platform descriptions and attributes.
  • Since I am in favor of a flat tax and believe in free market: I am a Republican
  • Since I am pro choice and support gay marriage: I am a Democrat
  • Believe in individual rights when it comes to tolerance of other people’s property, advancement based on individual ability: I am libertarian
and to make matters worse….

 

 

Source: http://www.teluguone.com/comedy/content/political-jokes-655-6999.html
  • Since I don’t believe in taxpayer funding of religious charities: I am little bit Republican
  • Don’t believe in government regulated economy: you guessed it …not a Democrat
  • Since I actually believe in science and that climate change is not a hoax created by Al Gore and the Nobel committee: I cannot be a Republican

Therein lies the rub. The minute I say I am a Republican or Democrat  (liberal or conservative) a standard set of attributes and positions are automagically assigned to me. What ever happened to taking an issue letting it roll around the old noodle and come up with a position based on what seems right to you. Why the need for the template?

Image Source: http://thedailycannibal.com/2011/11/02/poster-boys/

So I end up being a  Republibertocrat  (or in simplified campaign terms  – the Undecided voter!). I generally lean liberal on social issues and ‘somewhat’ conservative on fiscal issues. Obviously come election time I am like the photo above-  an ‘elephant’s ass’!

Wouldn’t it be cool to customize your own vote? Hear me out, don’t laugh yet….
Here is a potential scenario – What if there were three candidates for the presidency and I was able to allocate my one vote (in parts) to the candidates and I could decide the split based on my stance on the various issues during that election year?
 …..OK maybe you can go ahead and start laughing.
Ah well..this republibertocrat/undecided/independent/liberterioconservative voter can dream!

 

You down with OPP – One Percent People?

No I don’t mean reference to the Naughty by Nature song but rather the One Percenters that have been making the news for the past few years that was the basis of the Occupy Wall Street Movement.
I go to the grocery store about every week – Costco, the local Mariano’s or ethnic grocery stores and I consider myself as frugal or at least approaching frugality (with the few occasional indulgences). It is impossible to fathom how a family of four are able to get by with what is considered as “average” salary in the US.

I was watching Real Time with Bill Maher last week and he had a segment on the 1%ers and how the time to have a discussion on “Maximum Wage” in addition to “Minimum Wage”, has come. He quoted Warren Buffet – “I should write a book on how to get by on $500 million because apparently there is a lot of people who don’t know how to do it”. Also referenced was the Oxfam Report in his New Rules segment –the 85 richest people, 85, own more (wealth) than the bottom three and half billion put together, which is half the planet”.

Personally I support capitalism, as it is one of the best engines for innovations and growth . Yes you need the wealth creators to sustain/grow innovation and job growth. But there is a level of perversity that comes with the Oxfam statistic that is French Revolutionesque. Maher is also quick to pay accolades to the current crop of socially responsible billionaires who have pledged all or most of their net worth to charitable causes (The Giving Pledge).

Social Security Administration’s 2012 report shows a sobering statistic. The key summary is as follows – The “raw” average wage, computed as net compensation divided by the number of wage earners, is $6,529,097,960,690.75 divided by 153,632,290, or $42,498.21. Based on data in the table , about 67.1 percent of wage earners had net compensation less than or equal to the $42,498.21 raw average wage. By definition, 50 percent of wage earners had net compensation less than or equal to the median wage, which is estimated to be $27,519.10 for 2012. (Reference – http://www.ssa.gov/cgi-bin/netcomp.cgi?year=2012) . Also, over the past 40 years, wealth gains for the top 1% completely dwarf the gains for the remaining 99%.

The problem of income equality is real both in the US and globally and needs to be addressed. All indications point to this issue being a campaign point in the upcoming mid term elections and also in the 2016 Presidenial elections. What are some of the options? – controls in executive compensation, Tax reforms, not more but “optimal regulations’ are all being kicked around.

Obviously, I am not an economist, policy wonk or part of the 1% club. At the end of the day there is the real issue when you see people struggling to get by every day. You talk to people at work who have no savings cushion, borrowed – in debt to the hilt or folks who have lost their jobs and are struggling- the working poor and out of work poor!

So here is my question. While this whole debate continues and solutions are being looked at can we”increase” the use of our tax money we are spending to help ameliorate our poor?

Here is a thought — Cut defense spending and reallocate it. I know I know this has been bandied about for a while and this year’s defense budget from Hagel is a good start. But c’mon do we need to spend this much money on our defense (and the answer can’t be we need to protect the freedoms of the world).
What about the freedoms of our citizen who deserve a decent standard of living? Don’t get me wrong this is not a progressive rambling, I am in fact conservative on a lot of issues.
The chart below shows that the US spends as much in defense as the next 15 countries COMBINED!

Source: http://armscontrolcenter.org/issues/securityspending/articles/2012_topline_global_defense_spending/

And here is the allocation of of our entire US budget across various categories:

As Maher points out in his one of his previous shows –“we 
are in the Empire Building business”. We don’t leave anywhere we go”. Our threats in the 21st century are not the traditional wars we have fought in the past, rather disparate groups and organizations with stateless affiliations. We don’t need to build F-35s and Tanks or weapons that will never be used (even the Military is crying that they don’t want anymore!). Will we become less safe if we spend (say) the total defense budget of the next 6 or 7 countries combined instead of 15? I don’t know the answer but it is frustrating when we can send money to support meaningless wars when we can spend it on programs that can make an impact stateside.

So while we figure out how to improve upward mobility and reduce the income disparity can we at least make a small and immediate impact in improving the lives of our citizens?

Maybe the first step in being the “world’s police and beacon of freedom” is to take care of our own first? Now that may be a novel thought!