Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for January 20th, 2015

The raw power of memes demonstrated: Seeking a comedian for the NRA convention

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Pretty clear meme control, I’d say. The gun-rights meme seems to be authoritarian while still being anti-authority—which is sort of odd: you’re either in favor of authority (e.g., favor strongly enforced laws and social codes) or opposed to authority (e.g., the Clive Owen incident, with gun-rights guys in an armed standoff against Federal authorities: the very law-enforcement role they profess to admire, in general. But I would guess that they support authority against The Other, but not against those like themselves, the extension of  the ego. “Others must follow the rules, but I am exempt.”

Come to think of it, that’s a pretty common meme. I can think of the same attitude in many different cultural contexts: it’s a meme-template, in a way. You have the same dynamic being played out in different cultural contexts. That’s the nature of historical drama and fiction: a familiar melody in a new key. (Not to say all historical drama/fiction is of this sort, but certainly some is.)

I suppose that, analogous to the evolution of lifeforms (which follows the same evolutionary process), you have to wonder, given the deep similarities, all those different instances of a meme template trace historically back to some single Adam ur-meme—or perhaps it’s merely convergent evolution:if a particular meme configuration has some survival edge, then meme-evolution will often produce it through natural selection among memes in in groups totally separate from cultural influence. But in that case, given the universality, I would think we are talking about an underlying characteristic of the meme host. It keeps coming up because that’s the way we, as a species, are. That seems the simplest explanation. Thus the perennial cross-cultural themes that you can doubtless rattle off: those are about us, the host that carries the memes.

UPDATE: I was pondering us qua animals, wandering around and following patterns established by memes (culture, in effect, but the living, evolving culture of memes undergoing natural selection and rapid evolution), and thought about how other animals wander around through their own lives but, in general, do not get into such vicious, lethal inter-species fighting. You see in other animals the various male struggles for dominance and females, but you really don’t see the kind of widespread and sustained fights/wars in other species as you do in ours. But on looking at it, a lot (if not all) of that conflict is meme-driven: between religions, between governments, between both (Israel and Palestine), between cultural  (i.e., meme-driven) distinctions of “us” and “them.” In other words, memes are engaged in their own Darwinian struggle, with us as cannon fodder. I think it’s a cliché at this point: that, if we relate to each other as animals would, independent of culture, we’d get along. We’re at each others’ throats for cultural reasons—i.e., because the memes that control us are competing.

Now this is just a different way of stating that different cultures conflict, but I think the emphasis shifts: the conflict is really only between the memes, but the individuals pay the price. It makes the meme the active agent, and the individual just carrying out a tiny part of the struggle “for what he believes”—i.e., his memes. Different protagonist, same story.

UPDATE 2: It’s not the first time an animal has been hijacked by a host.

UPDATE 3: My guess is that the conscious personality is pretty much constructed of memes: memes all the way through: in terms of religion, profession, family role, recognized authorities and ceremonies: all memes. And that gives a new way of looking at the Madonna-like self-reinvention: it’s largely a matter of adopting new memes, which dictate new behavior and expectations—and quite in line with the personality being the current meme collection. So to reinvent yourself, adopt new memes—but note that the memes are in control.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 January 2015 at 1:43 pm

Posted in Guns, Memes

You could’ve knocked me over with a feather!: When public schools get more money, students do better

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Not exactly astonishing, but oddly reassuring: we can control the quality of our children’s education, we just have to pay more for better results. This is amazingly similar to what we find in every aspect of human culture: better quality costs more. So the fact that the rule holds for education as well suggests it’s quite a general rule.

This does obviously required that the expenditures be closely monitored. Private corporations slaver at the idea of building a tunnel into the public’s treasury to siphon the money more easily—i.e., without doing the job. Some charter schools present egregious examples of outright fraud.

But with good monitoring and good transparency about where the money is going and to whom, the law of better quality costing more does seem to hold. It follows naturally from the second law of thermodynamics, so it’s good that it’s true. It should be true.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 January 2015 at 1:15 pm

Posted in Education, Science

The high-carb diet

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And oddly correlated with obesity. Full disclosure: I follow a low-carb, high-fat diet.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 January 2015 at 1:07 pm

A strong condemnation of US airlines—and Congress will not act to help us

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Congress has pretty much abandoned all pretense of fulfilling its responsibilities, and the airline operational policies are designed to maximize profits, in part by cutting services to the barest possible minimum, charging extra fees for everything in sight, and making economy class so horrible that they can charge extra for things like legroom. Dartagnan writes at Daily Kos:

Few experiences are as universal to Americans as the shared degradation and misery of flying on our nation’s air carriers. These corporate behemoths have somehow managed to wrap up everything wrong with this country and present it to us as a package deal: income inequality, corporate indifference, dwindling services, automation and skyrocketing prices all combined to make flying a tortuous chore rather than a pleasure, particularly in the last ten years.  It’s no different than fiscal austerity, really–just a calculated effort to push the limits of greed for a tiny minority to the point where Americans won’t tolerate any more, then convincing us that such a drastically diminished quality of life is the “new normal.”

And Americans continue to suffer it, because in most cases they feel they have to. For many, travel is a necessity for their livelihood. For others with scattered families travel is the only way to maintain personal connections.  The airlines understand they’re fulfilling a need, and at this point they’ve abandoned any pretense of actually caring about what their customers think of them. Thus an unnamed major carrier is considering something called “economy minus” where it can shove more people into its metal cylinders, gutting personal legroom and offering no services at all except (perhaps) a toilet.

The power of the corporations to collude is nowhere more visible than among the airlines. It’s practically impossible to keep track of which airline has merged with another. There are, it seems, only about two or three actual airlines that carry the vast majority of passengers in the Continental U.S.  Deregulation, once promoted to “foster competition,” and a near-constant train of mergers have created a perverse state where the airlines can now collude together to provide poorer levels of service.  One source of the miseries foisted on the air-traveling public is the much-reviled “fee” system:

In 2013, the major airlines combined made about $31.5 billion in income from fees, as well as other ancillaries, such as redeeming credit-card points. United pulled in more than $5.7 billion in fees and other ancillary income in 2013, while Delta scored more than $2.5 billion. That’s income derived in large part from services, such as baggage carriage, that were once included in ticket prices. Today, as anyone who travels knows well, you can pay fees ranging from forty dollars to three hundred dollars for things like boarding in a “fast lane,” sitting in slightly better economy-class seats, bringing along the family dog, or sending an unaccompanied minor on a plane.

The fees (perhaps the most notorious of which is the 200 dollar “change fee” imposed on travelers who have to alter their plans) are nothing more a than a crass marketing gimmick to pad ticket prices, many of which are already usurious, particularly for those travelers who book “refundable” tickets due to the volatile and often “last-minute” nature of business travel.  There can be a thousand dollar price differential between “refundable” and “non-refundable tickets.” A ‘refundable” fare to a “low volume” market such as Fargo North Dakota can cost as much as $2000, particularly if booked less than a week prior to travel.  Again, the airlines assume, quite correctly in most cases, that the traveler has “no other choice.”  But the revenue generated by these fares pales compared to the profits from fees:

The fees have proved a boon to the U.S. airlines, which will post a projected twenty-billion-dollar profit in 2014. To be fair, airlines are not just profiting because of fee income. Reduced competition, thanks to mergers, helps. There is also the plummet in the price of oil, which the airlines seem to have collectively agreed is no reason to reduce fares or even remove “fuel surcharges.” But for the past decade it is fees that have been the fastest-growing source of income for the main airlines, having increased by twelve hundred per cent since 2007.

As Tim Wu, writing for The New Yorker, acutely points out, the “fee” system itself leads to a downward spiral in quality, one that is ultimately agreed to by the airlines themselves:

But the fee model comes with systematic costs that are not immediately obvious. Here’s the thing: in order for fees to work, there needs be something worth paying to avoid. That necessitates, at some level, a strategy that can be described as “calculated misery.” Basic service, without fees, must be sufficiently degraded in order to make people want to pay to escape it. And that’s where the suffering begins.

The necessity of degrading basic service provides a partial explanation for the fact that, in the past decade, the major airlines have done what they can to make flying basic economy, particularly on longer flights, an intolerable experience. For one thing, as the Wall Street Journal has documented, airlines have crammed more seats into the basic economy section of the airplane, even on long-haul flights. The seats, meanwhile, have gotten smaller—they are narrower and set closer together. Bill McGee, a contributing editor to Consumer Reports who worked in the airline industry for many years, studied seat sizes and summarized his findings this way: “The roomiest economy seats you can book on the nation’s four largest airlines are narrower than the tightest economy seats offered in the 1990s.”

As the New Yorker article illustrates, even the process of boarding the plane (grown ever more lengthy and painful as “privileged” business travelers–usually white males–who heavily traffic the airline are permitted to board first) is ruined by the fee system as airlines have no incentive to eliminate the “status racket.” Thus the process of boarding is unduly lengthened and yet another level of misery is added to the experience, along with an embarrassingly stark portrayal of income inequality.

Beyond the elimination of food on all except cross-country flights, and the elimination of pillows, blankets, anything that might administer comfort, the surly attitude of many flight attendants and pilots has also contributed to the general misery.  Of course they are probably miserable as well, having to hawk an “exciting” ten minute “credit card” pitch at the conclusion of every flight, while pushing carloads of prepackaged foods and snacks that most customers choose not to purchase (some, including myself, out of pure rage).  This following invariable, unexplained flight delays or abrupt cancellations attributed to (often non-existent) “weather” or “maintenance” issues, trapping customers in a hermetically sealed palace of rip-offs that passes for a modern American airport, an intrusive and embarrassing security process, and fewer and fewer counter personnel, thanks to automated kiosks.

There is no reason why a country that . . .

Continue reading.

I’ll add another dodge The Wife and I have discovered. Flying from Monterey to Vancouver BC generally involves TERRIBLE connections—leaving around 6:00 a.m. to SFO, with a wait of hours before the connecting flight, arriving in Vancouver around 6:00 p.m. But United regularly offers a 9:00 a.m. departure, a one-hour layover in SFO, and arrival in Vancouver at 1:00 p.m.

That’s not the current schedule, but if you buy a ticket some months in advance, that is available, and United is the only airline offering it, with a nonrefundable ticket. You buy the ticket, you’re locked in.

Then, a few weeks before the flight, you check—and you discover that the flight has been changed. It leaves now at 6:00 a.m., has a several-hour layover in San Francisco, and arrives in Vancouver at 6:00 p.m., the same as other airlines.

It is obviously bait and switch, and they continue doing it. We are looking at traveling to a wedding this fall, and checked airline schedules: there it is again—one flight only, United, with great departure and arrival times, with a short layover. But now after two earlier trips, we know that this is a false promise.

Interesting note: when the times are changed, United does not notify ticket-holders: you have to check it for yourself, which is when you discover the rug has been pulled from beneath your feet.

I have, of course, written to the FAA, United, my US Representative, and my two Senators, and that has done exactly as much good as you think: zilch.

Truly the corporations control way too much, and their only interest is profit. I’m sure United is able to pick up quite a few travelers who don’t realize that its wonderful flight schedule is simply a trick to get you to buy a United nonrefundable ticket rather than a ticket from an airline that is showing a true schedule.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 January 2015 at 11:56 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

The right’s home-school conspiracy: the GOP’s religious war

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Frank Schaeffer writes at Salon:

As someone who participated in the rise of the religious right in the 1970s and 1980s, I can tell you that you can’t understand the modern Republican Party and its hatred of government unless you understand the evangelical home-school movement. Nor can the Democrats hope to defeat the GOP in 2016 unless they grasp what I’ll be explaining here: religious war carried on by other means.

The Christian home-school movement drove the Evangelical school movement to the ever-harsher world-rejecting far right. The movement saw itself as separating from evil “secular” America. Therein lies the heart of the Tea Party, GOP and religious right’s paranoid view of the rest of us. And since my late father and evangelist Francis Schaeffer and I were instrumental in starting the religious right — I have since left the movement and recently wrote a book titled “Why I Am an Atheist who Believes in God: How to Give Love, Create Beauty and Find Peace – believe me when I tell you that the evangelical schools and home school movement were, by design, founded to undermine a secular and free vision of America and replace it by stealth with a form of theocracy.

This happened because Evangelical home-schoolers were demanding ever-greater levels of “separation” from what they regarded as the Evil Secular World. It wasn’t enough just to reject the public schools. How could the Christian parent be sure that even the Evangelical schools were sufficiently pure? And so the Christian schools radicalized in order to not appear to be “compromising” with the world in the eyes of increasingly frightened and angry parents. (My account here of the rise of the home school movement is not aimed at home-schooling, per se, but at parents who want to indoctrinate, rather than educate.)

The Evangelical home school movement was really founded by two people: Rousas Rushdoony, the extremist theologian, and Mary Pride, the “mother” of fundamentalist home-schoolers. I knew them both well.

Until Rushdoony, founder and late president of the Chalcedon Foundation, began writing in the 1960s, most American fundamentalists (including my parents) didn’t try to apply biblical laws about capital punishment for homosexuality to the United States. Even the most conservative Evangelicals said they were “New Testament Christians.” In other words, they believed that after the coming of Jesus, the harsher bits of the Bible had been (at least to some extent) transformed by the “New Covenant” of Jesus’ “Law of Love.”

By contrast, the leaders of Reconstructionism believed that Old Testament teachings—on everything from capital punishment for gays to the virtues of child beating—were still valid because they were the inerrant Word and Will of God and therefore should be enforced. Not only that, they said that biblical law should be imposed even on nonbelievers. This theology was the American version of the attempt in some Muslim countries to impose Shariah (Islamic law) on all citizens, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

I was Pride’s agent and sold her first huge seller “The Way Home.” What, Pride asked, was the point of having all those children and then turning them over to secular public schools to be made into secular humanists and Jesus-hating pagans? The irony was that Pride preached a dogmatic, stay-at-home, follow-your man philosophy for other women while turning her lucrative home-schooling empire into a one-woman industry. And Pride’s successor in the Patriarchy Movement, the wealthy author/guru Nancy Leigh DeMoss, was also one of those do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do best-selling career women doing high-paid speaking gigs while encouraging other women to stay home and submit to their men.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss happened to be the daughter of a former friend of my mother’s, Nancy DeMoss, who was instrumental in my parents’ rise to Evangelical superstardom. Nancy DeMoss was also pivotal in the role of facilitator and financier when it came to seamlessly merging Reconstructionist ideology with the “respectable” mainstream Evangelical community. I worked closely with Nancy on several projects. She generously supported my various Schaeffer-related antiabortion movies, books and seminar tours. She also took “our” message much further on her own by underwriting a massive multimillion-dollar well-produced antiabortion TV and print media ad campaign inspired by our work. . .

Continue reading.

Fundamentalists, whether Christian, Jewish, or Muslim, are a real problem in a modern and pluralistic society, partly because of the intensity of their hatreds, including a hatred for pluralism. Indeed, however much they talk of “love,” their energy and drive clearly comes from hatred.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 January 2015 at 11:39 am

Posted in GOP, Religion

It Would Be Nice If True Conservatives Were Empiricists, But Let’s Face It

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Jonathan Chait writes in New York:

The “reformocons,” the small coterie of pundit-adviser-activists trying to coax the Republican Party back toward sanity, may be doing the most politically significant work of any faction in America today. But the task of talking sense to the senseless is tricky business, involving lots of soft whispering and noble lies. Peter Wehner, the former Karl Rove aide, has taken on an important role in this movement, but his recent New YorkTimes op-ed urging conservatives to be less crazy, reveals just how cautiously the reformocons must tread.

The rhetorical tack adopted by Wehner is to insist that No True Conservative would do things that are not only common features of conservatism, but actually its defining traits. He denounces Republicans who have taken “an apocalyptic view of American life during the Obama era”:

America is “very much like Nazi Germany,” in the words of Ben Carson, a Tea Party favorite. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas said we had a couple of years to turn this country around or “we go off the cliff to oblivion.” Mark Levin, a popular radio talk show host, warned that Republicans were “endorsing tyranny” if they didn’t support shutting down the government in 2013.

Actually, an apocalyptic view of American life is the very thing that propelled conservatism to power in the first place. During the middle of the 20th century, the conservative movement operated at the outskirts of the Republican Party. It was one faction within the GOP, but not a majority. It may have slightly preferred Republicans over Democrats, butNational Review (the central magazine of that movement) denounced President Eisenhower about as sharply as Glenn Greenwald denounces President Obama today.

The first moment when conservatives seized actual control of the party came, of course, in 1964 through the Goldwater movement. The Goldwater activists were driven by conspiratorial thinking. The campaign’s main tract, “A Choice Not an Echo,” written by Phyllis Schlafly, argued that the party could never lose if it campaigned wholeheartedly on conservative issues, but it had been betrayed by “a small group of secret kingmakers, using hidden persuaders and psychological warfare techniques, manipulated the Republican National Convention to nominate candidates who would sidestep or suppress the key issues.” Another key tract, “None Dare Call It Treason,” by John Stormer, alleged “a conspiratorial plan to destroy the United States into which foreign aid, planned inflation, distortion of treaty-making powers and disarmament all fit.” It sold 7 million copies and was distributed widely by Goldwater volunteers.

This apocalyptic strain has regularly infused conservative rhetoric. Milton Friedman compared John F. Kennedy’s program to fascism. Ronald Reagan warned that, if Medicare passed, the government would inevitably force doctors to live in cities where they did not want to, and future generations would no longer know “what it once was like in America when men were free.” (Conservatives continue to tout that speech today, as if it had proven prescient rather than deranged.)

Wehner proceeds to assert that conservatism “isn’t a rigid ideology, it leaves itself open to self-examination and self-correction. Authentic conservatism has a high regard for things empirical, for facts that can lead us to better apprehend the truth.” This is also pretty much the opposite of actual American conservatism. The conservative movement has always stood for the idea that big government is wrong  not just prudentially but in principle. The main thrust was that it didn’t matter if government worked, it should be cut because the government simply had no business fulfilling anything beyond a few limited tasks like defense, infrastructure, the role of law, and so on. Barry Goldwater famously declared: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 January 2015 at 11:33 am

Posted in GOP, Government

The N.S.A. claims it needs access to all our phone records. But is that the best way to catch a terrorist?

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Mattathias Schwartz reports in the New Yorker:

Almost every major terrorist attack on Western soil in the past fifteen years has been committed by people who were already known to law enforcement. One of the gunmen in the attack on Charlie Hebdo, in Paris, had been sent to prison for recruiting jihadist fighters. The other had reportedly studied in Yemen with Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the underwear bomber, who was arrested and interrogated by the F.B.I. in 2009. The leader of the 7/7 London suicide bombings, in 2005, had been observed by British intelligence meeting with a suspected terrorist, though MI5 later said that the bombers were “not on our radar.” The men who planned the Mumbai attacks, in 2008, were under electronic surveillance by the United States, the United Kingdom, and India, and one had been an informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration. One of the brothers accused of bombing the Boston Marathon was the subject of an F.B.I. threat assessment and a warning from Russian intelligence.

In each of these cases, the authorities were not wanting for data. What they failed to do was appreciate the significance of the data they already had. Nevertheless, since 9/11, the National Security Agency has sought to acquire every possible scrap of digital information—what General Keith Alexander, the agency’s former head, has called “the whole haystack.” The size of the haystack was revealed in June, 2013, by Edward Snowden. The N.S.A. vacuums up Internet searches, social-media content, and, most controversially, the records (known as metadata) of United States phone calls—who called whom, for how long, and from where. The agency stores the metadata for five years, possibly longer.

The metadata program remains the point of greatest apparent friction between the N.S.A. and the Constitution. It is carried out under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows the government to collect “books, records, papers, documents, and other items” that are “relevant” to “an authorized investigation.” While debating the Patriot Act in 2001, Senator Russ Feingold worried about the government’s powers to collect “the personal records of anyone—perhaps someone who worked with, or lived next door to . . . the target of the investigation.” Snowden revealed that the N.S.A. goes much further. Metadata for every domestic phone call from Verizon and other carriers, hundreds of billions of records in all, are considered “relevant” under Section 215. The N.S.A. collects them on an “ongoing, daily basis.”

The N.S.A. asserts that it uses the metadata to learn whether anyone inside the U.S. is in contact with high-priority terrorism suspects, colloquially referred to as “known bad guys.” Michael Hayden, the former C.I.A. and N.S.A. director, has said, “We kill people based on metadata.” He then added, “But that’s not what we do with this metadata,” referring to Section 215.

Soon after Snowden’s revelations, Alexander said that the N.S.A.’s surveillance programs have stopped “fifty-four different terrorist-related activities.” Most of these were “terrorist plots.” Thirteen involved the United States. Credit for foiling these plots, he continued, was partly due to the metadata program, intended to “find the terrorist that walks among us.”

President Obama also quantified the benefits of the metadata program. That June, in a press conference with Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, Obama said, “We know of at least fifty threats that have been averted because of this information.” He continued, “Lives have been saved.”

Section 215 is just one of many legal authorities that govern U.S. spy programs. These authorities are jumbled together in a way that makes it difficult to separate their individual efficacy. Early in the metadata debate, the fifty-four cases were sometimes attributed to Section 215, and sometimes to other sections of other laws. At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in October, 2013, Senator Patrick Leahy, of Vermont, called the fifty-four-plots statistic “plainly wrong . . . these weren’t all plots, and they weren’t all thwarted.” He cited a statement by Alexander’s deputy that “there’s only really one example of a case where, but for the use of Section 215 bulk phone-records collection, terrorist activity was stopped.” “He’s right,” Alexander said.

The case was that of Basaaly Moalin, a Somali-born U.S. citizen living in San Diego. In July, 2013, Sean Joyce, the F.B.I.’s deputy director at the time, said in Senate-committee testimony that Moalin’s phone number had been in contact with an “Al Qaeda East Africa member” in Somalia. The N.S.A., Joyce said, was able to make this connection and notify the F.B.I. thanks to Section 215. That February, Moalin was found guilty of sending eighty-five hundred dollars to the Shabaab, an extremist Somali militia with ties to Al Qaeda. “Moalin and three other individuals have been convicted,” Joyce continued. “I go back to what we need to remember, what happened in 9/11.” At the same hearing, Senator Dianne Feinstein, of California, talked about “how little information we had” before 9/11. “I support this program,” she said, referring to Section 215. “They will come after us, and I think we need to prevent an attack wherever we can.”

In the thirteen years that have passed since 9/11, the N.S.A. has used Section 215 of the Patriot Act to take in records from hundreds of billions of domestic phone calls. Congress was explicit about why it passed the Patriot Act—despite concerns about potential effects on civil liberties, it believed that the law was necessary to prevent another attack on the scale of 9/11. The government has not shown any instance besides Moalin’s in which the law’s metadata provision has directly led to a conviction in a terrorism case. Is it worth it?

Before 9/11, the intelligence community was already struggling to evolve. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 January 2015 at 11:23 am

A 30-year prison sentence for suffering a miscarriage

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Grim reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 January 2015 at 11:16 am

The Klan of Kowards

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Great story—and one that shows one benefit of having civilians serve a while in the military.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 January 2015 at 11:15 am

Posted in Daily life

The Supreme Court’s Billion-Dollar Mistake

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David Cole has a good article in the NY Review of Books:

Five years ago this week, in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court decided to allow unlimited amounts of corporate spending in political campaigns. How important was that decision? At the time, some said criticism of the decision was overblown, and that fears that it would give outsize influence to powerful interests were unfounded. Now, the evidence is in, and the results are devastating.

To coincide with the decision’s fifth anniversary, eight public interest organizations—the Brennan Center for Justice, Common Cause, Public Citizen, Demos, U.S. PIRG, Public Campaign, Justice at Stake, and the Center for Media and Democracy—havesimultaneously issued reports that demonstrate the steadily growing influence of money on elections since the Court’s decision. Their findings show that the case opened the spigot to well more than a billion dollars in unrestricted outside spending on political campaigns, by corporations and individuals alike. It has done so at a time when wealth and income disparities in the United States are at their highest levels since 1928. Increasingly, it’s not clear that your vote matters unless you’re also willing to spend tens of thousands of dollars to support your preferences.

Some of this money has come directly from the kind of corporate money at issue inCitizens United. But much more of it has come from other kinds of funding made possible by the Court’s decision, whose rationale undermined expenditure limits across the board, not just for corporations. Take the 2014 midterm elections. Just eleven closely contested Senate races tipped the balance and allowed the Republicans to regain control of the Senate for the first time since 2006. In eight of the ten states for which data is available, outside groups outspent the candidates themselves, by many millions of dollars. In North Carolina, for example, outside groups spent $26 million more than the candidates did. With these kinds of numbers, elected politicians may feel as beholden to such groups as to the people who actually voted for them.

Much of the newly unrestricted funding came from so-called “super PACs,” political action committees that raise money exclusively for “independent expenditures,” usually television and radio advertisements. Citizens United did not itself involve super PACs, but the decision had the effect of freeing super PACs from any meaningful constraints. The Court ruled that the government has no legitimate interest in restricting “independent expenditures”—as opposed to contributions to candidates—because in its view, only contributions have the potential to corrupt candidates. Two months later, in March 2010, a federal court of appeals relied on that rationale to strike down all limits on how much individuals may give to super PACs, since they are organized exclusively for the purpose of “independent expenditures.”

According to the Brennan Center report, over the five years since these decisions, super PACs have spent more than one billion dollars on federal election campaigns. And because these organizations are free of any limits, they have proved to be magnets for those who have the resources to spend lavishly to further their interests. About 60 percent of that billion dollars has come from just 195 people. Those 195 individuals have only one vote each, but does anyone believe that their combined expenditure of over $600 million does not give them disproportionate influence on the politicians they have supported? The average contributions of those who give more than $200 to such super PACs are in the five- and six-figure range. The average donation over $200 to the ironically-named Ending Spending, a conservative PAC, was $502,188. This is a game played by, and for, the wealthy.

It is also a natural consequence of the Supreme Court’s faulty logic in Citizens Unitedand related cases. The Court has found that contributions to candidates can be restricted because they pose the risk of quid pro quo corruption—when a representative essentially sells his vote to the highest donor. But according to the Court, expenditures made independently, even if they advocate a particular candidate’s election, don’t pose that risk, and therefore can’t be limited. This makes little sense. If I give $500,000 to Harry Reid for his reelection, most of which he will probably spend on television ads, there’s indeed a danger that he may feel indebted to me in a way that undermines democracy. So I can’t do that. The most I can donate is $2,600 per election. But under the Court’s logic, I am free to spend $500,000 on my own television ads advocating Reid’s reelection.

The Court’s doubtful rationale rests on the notion that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 January 2015 at 10:48 am

Pairing wine/liquor and cheese

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Steve of Kafeneio pointed out this very useful site: Cheese Cupid. Pick either the cheese you have or the wine or liquor you’re drinking, and it suggests a good pairing.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 January 2015 at 10:34 am

Posted in Daily life, Drinks, Food

Perfect BBS with Standard Frankenrazor and Yardley shaving soap

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SOTD 20 Jan

I brought out the Yardley because someone on Wicked_Edge just scored a tub, and I wanted to show solidarity. It’s a wonderful shaving soap, and the Vie-Long horsehair brush had no trouble at all in getting an instant fragrant, thick lather. Very enjoyable.

LonesomeWhistle on WE was wondering about alternate handles for the Standard. The rule for razor handles, I’ve discovered, is that a heavier handle is no problem, a lighter handle can be iffy: the lighter handle can make the razor feel head-heavy and awkward. For example, I tried an Edwin Jagger DE86bl (faux-ebony handle) handle with the Shavecraft #102 slant, and it didn’t feel right at all. OTOH, the Parker 24C handle and the iKon Bulldog and OSS handles worked fine because they had more heft. A heavy handle moves the center of mass back down into the handle, and the razor feels agile; a light handle moves the center of mass toward (or even into) the head and the out-of-balance feeling is evident.

The UFO handle in the photo, an aluminum bronze number, was quite comfortable and the razor felt even better than with the Standard handle—this new configuration will be permanent. Three passes using an Astra Superior Platinum blade to a perfect BBS result. That means no roughness found in any direction and no nicks or razor burn.

A good splash of TOBS Sandalwood, and the day begins.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 January 2015 at 10:13 am

Posted in Shaving

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