Friday, November 17, 2017

Jon Caldara Tries To Use Skewed "Gun Math" To Defend AR-15s And Other Semi-Automatics

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Jon Caldara is at it again, in his recent (Nov. 12) Denver Post op-ed ('The Assault Weapon Attack On Math') in which he attempts to diminish the impact of semi-automatic weapons based on the much more prolific stats of killings by other means.

He first cites the 374 "killed by rifle" last year -but points out it is only a small fraction of the 11,004 total killed by "firearms". In other words, 10, 630 were killed by handgun - not rifle So his argument is the media attention to semi-automatic weapons is skewed. He then goes on with:

"Shouldn’t there be over four times the media coverage on the 1,604 people killed with knives last year? Some 472 were killed with blunt instruments like clubs and hammers, some of which had polymer, not wood, handles. And nearly twice as many people were killed with hands, fists and feet?"

Err no, because you are mixing chalk and cheese. Human homicides - given the variety of circumstances (and potential weapons available) will always show a diversity of usage, of instrument. But that diversity of assorted killing instruments does not refute the fact that semi-automatic (and  automatic) rifles are an anomaly in terms of the Second Amendment.  By that I mean the authors could no more have imagined such weapons than space ships.

The informal fallacy employed by Caldara is the Ignoratio elenchi fallacy also known as irrelevant conclusion. This is the informal fallacy of presenting an argument that may or may not be logically valid, but fails nonetheless to address the issue in question. The issue in question here before us is whether semi-automatic or automatic rifles are truly allowed under the provisions of the 2nd amendment as originally interpreted.  More on this later.

Even on its own logical terms, Caldara's arguments can be challenged, say in terms of  "the proportion of the mode of killing dictates media and legal attention."  Hence, if the proportion of kills by an assault rifle is low - say compared to other modes of killing - it should receive less attention (including legal) and the others more. Never mind more people can be killed at one time, as we beheld in Vegas.  But if this argument were solid, then - in the arena of air accidents- the FAA would do little or nothing in the way of investigation after plane crashes in which 50 - 60 were killed (say matching the numbers mowed down in the Orlando and Las Vegas mass shootings.)  But the fact is they take such plane crashes very seriously and go over everything - including recovering black boxes. This despite the fact many more people (37,000) are killed in auto crashes each year., or lightning strikes - as Caldara references.

The takeaway is that single events in which many dozens of people are killed bespeak such anomaly that they cannot be ignored or minimized. This is even more crucial when human motivation is behind the mass killing in the case of use of semi-automatic or automatic rifles -  weapons putatively allowed under the 2nd amendment. This is exactly why Australia, after its April 1996  Port Arthur, Tasmania massacre, bought and destroyed more than 600,000 civilian-owned firearms. This was in a scheme that cost half a billion dollars and was funded by raising Aussia taxes.  In other words,  they took this mass shooting even seriously. They didn't diminish its import by false analogy or conflating with other types of killing, e.g. by knives, fists, etc.

Recall that  FDR's Solicitor General framed the argument to the Supreme Court thusly:

"The Second Amendment grants people a right that is not one which may be utilized for private purposes but only exists where the arms are borne in a militia or some other military organization provided by law and intended for protection of the State."

The SC decision was unanimous in agreeing with that take..

While this sane interpretation prevailed for several more decades, it started to unravel by the 1970s as various Right wing groups coalesced to challenge gun control based on spurious "private gun ownership" interpretations, and successively overturned laws in state legislatures.  This despite the fact then Justice Warren Burger had clearly stated this later interpretation was "one of the greatest pieces of fraud on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime."

Well, it's good Justice Burger didn't live to see the arrival of semi-automatic weapons and the claim that the 2nd amendment provided for the ownership of those too! A cockeyed notion that has been pumped by the NRA ever since, more recently with the batshit crazy ad that "your man card is reissued". If you need an AR to be a man, then decidedly you've a long way to go to reach that phase.

Caldara also tries to muddy the waters regarding the use of semi-automatics vs. automatics  as when he writes:

"There’s no better example of the media’s ability to emotionally bait an issue out of all mathematical proportion than that of “assault rifles". Lett’s clarify again what most reporters don’t, likely since it runs counter to their anti-gun bias. Very, very few people own assault rifles. They are nearly impossible to get due to the limited supply and regulatory burden to get one. An assault weapon is capable of firing several rounds of ammunition with one pull of the trigger. What is falsely reported as an assault rifle is just an average semi-automatic rifle, where only one round is fired with every trigger pull. "

This bit of sophistry ignores a number of hard facts, and hence makes it easy for those not rifle savvy to gloss over his claims. For reference let me quote part of a WSJ article dealing with the AR-15 (Caldara's semi-automatic rifle) published on 12/9/15. It noted:

"The AR-15 re-cocks itself immediately after firing. The only thing keeping the gun from firing again on its own is a sear, a piece inserted in the gun that stops the cycle from continuing. By replacing the sear and a few other key components, an AR-15 can be made fully automatic."

Note then that although Caldara glosses over it, the AR-15 is not any old  single shot rifle, certainly not like the bolt action rifle I used to own and fire when I lived in New Orleans. In other words, it took time - measured in seconds - to work the bolt action to fire again, it did not "immediately re-cock itself after firing"  There IS a qualitative difference. My argument is that if any Founders could be brought back to inspect either type of rifle - and how it works - they'd more surely side with my old bolt action as the one allowed under their  2nd amendment, but not the AR-15.
In Murdock, FL, ca. May, 1986, with an AR-15. 

Once more I am not an anti-gun nut. I have owned and used rifles and fired off shotguns as well in target practice.  (Including in 1968 in New Orleans when testing the "jet effect" nonsense peddled by JFK conspiracy deniers). However, I've never owned anything semi-automatic, or with multi-capacity clips.  This is all by way of full disclosure.  My sticking point here is how the Founders themselves would have interpreted semi-automatics like the AR 15 under the 2nd amendment.

Unlike the whacko contingent of gun owners, I also don't believe the 2nd amendment gives people the "right" to own rocket propelled launchers, bazookas, .50 caliber anti-aircraft guns, or military assault type weapons - capable of mass slaughter. The Second Amendment authors - inhabiting a world where single load muskets were the rule - would have been flabbergasted to see the extent to which their amendment had been misconstrued today - such as by the NRA and their denizens.

As for Caldara's niggling about the difference between semi-automatics and automatics, let's just say it is tweedledum vs. tweedledee. As Stephen Paddock showed, one only needs to include a LEGAL bump stock to effectively transform a semi-automatic into a functional automatic. One doesn't  need to be a genius or legal guru to understand the lethality when a bump stock is affixed to a normal semi-automatic.

The argument that the new high powered rifles - such as AR-15s, and Bushmaster .223s are entitled to be owned as a "right" is just plain bollocks. No, you can own a true single shot 30.06  bolt action as a right, because it's a legit rifle with which to go out hunting. You can own a .22  bolt action as a right, and it does a nice job of killing small game especially if you use hollow points.  But you don't need semi-automatic weapons, or AK 47s

Even  though I don't believe the 2nd justifies such powerful weapons, I do acknowledge our laws have been distorted over decades and realize that  - once the horse has escaped the barn- it is difficult if not impossible to get it back in. Thus, I am not for banning such guns, but properly regulating them, using a national registry system such as adopted in Australia and similar to what we already have for auto vehicle ownership. Thus you receive your gun owner ID with photo, and registration number (with serial nos., of all weapons) entered in a national (or state) database and computer -connected to the Homeland Security fusion centers across the country.

Once any mass shooting then occurs, the fusion centers will instantly be able to pick up on the serial number(s) of the weapon(s)  used, the perp and his background. No fuck ups as with the military not reporting certified psychos to the FBI for the current national database.  At that point of infraction in the new system,  the perp is facing justice - if not meted out at the scene - and his gun license permanently revoked.  I would also assert licenses need to be revoked for reckless actions, such as target practicing on trees  (near camp sites) as occurred near Pike National Forest several years ago.

Moral Scolds Will Try To Take Sen. Al Franken Down - But They Will Lose

In any eruption of moral indignation - justifiable or not - there will always exist scolds who play the game of false equivalence: equating one brand of misdeed (say Roy Moore's groping of under-aged girls) with a comedian's skylarking before he even became a Senator. That latter refers to the case of Sen. Al Franken, recently "exposed" by Leeann Tweeden in a photo showing a comic "hands on breasts" photo taken while she was sleeping - on the way to an overseas gig (USO tour) for the troops.   MSNBC’s Capitol Hill Correspondent Kasie Hunt reported to viewers that Franken was “not actually groping” Tweeden, he was "mock groping" as in barely placing mitts over her chest to create a joke image.  There is a difference, but one wonders how many will process it before going ape shit hysterical.

But that hasn't stopped Left scolds like Amanda Marcotte - in her latest piece- to call on Franken to resign and "take one for the team" just in case this is all a Reepo dirty trick. According to Marcotte "if this is a political stunt then the people behind it surely want Franken to stay" adding "every day Franken remains in the Senate as  visible symbol of liberal hypocrisy, Republicans get a free pass to grope, harass and abuse women."  This cowardly willingness and pseudo-moralistic pose would be bad enough but then she expects nothing to come from robust Dem or media defense of Franken and distinguishing it from Trump's and Moore's antics, writing: "Any effort by Democrats or journalists to hold them accountable will be met with 'what about him?'  

So Marcotte will wave the white flag of surrender, like your typical surrender monkey, before even firing a shot -or in her case "digging in a heel". How pathetic! But as Bill Maher put it this evening such a move is a non-starter, and if Repukes do play that game it's on them. And if they try to use Franken's case to justify grope we HOLD THEM To ACCOUNT!  Truth be told, Marcotte ought to be ashamed for even writing such tripe.

Look, no one is asserting Franken - back in his comedian past- was doing any kind of noble action, and yeah, it disrespected Tweeden. But it is emphatically NOT on the level of what the Alabamy slime ball Roy Moore has been accused of doing, including to a young girl of 14. Anyone who tries to mate those two things on a moral spectrum is guilty of false equivalence. It is also up to those of us capable of critical thinking to make that distinction clear, not to confound it by playing into the Reepos' false equivalence hands like Amanda Marcotte would like to do.

But you can be sure in the current climate of #MeToo, there will be many who make an effort to brand Franken with a red letter for "misogynist" or worse, and even attempt to drive him from the Senate in an "ethics committee investigation".  Franken himself, obviously hoping to be pre-emptive, has called for such an investigation. But as Michelle Goldberg put it on 'All In' last night:

"What does that even mean to investigate a sitting Senator before he became a Senator?

Well, no one seems to know, and even Steve Kornacki - appearing on Rachel Maddow last night-  couldn't recall a single instance where that ever happened.  But one thing we DO know is that there once was a Repuke House member (David Vitter) who was involved in a D.C. prostitution ring, and he actually WON a seat in the Senate. My beef then, if a so-called "ethics committee" was fine with overlooking that:  they also need to overlook Franken's one off transgression (kissing Tweeden on her mouth during a rehearsal) now. Not to do so is to flagrantly accept a double standard.

And again, what Franken did is in no way comparable to what Vitter did, let's get that straight. We have to because in the midst of the cumulative clouds of high moral dudgeon it is easy to lose sight of perspective. Without moral perspective everything becomes relative ("one act is as bad as another"), and also everything becomes absolute-  in the sense that the groping of bare breast or pussy by a Dotard is judged absolutely equal to the mock groping (and rehearsed deep kiss) by a Franken.

For sure,  politicians who acknowledge frequenting prostitutes usually don't get elected to any office - especially Senator.. Except that Vitter went public with his ties to the "D.C. Madam" way back in 2007. And, in 2010, he won reelection to the Senate by 19 points over a sitting Democratic member of Congress.  Subsequently nothing ever came of Vitter's ascension though later he did lose a race, the take at that time being he finally had a real "hard seed"  primary opponent.

The other aspect is why hold Franken - as a current sitting Senator - accountable for something he did as a comedian. Likely as not at that time he hadn't the foggiest notion of ever going into politics or becoming a U.S. Senator. People in their earlier stages of life often do things ridiculous or untoward not thinking it will affect them later, but they do. Should people forever be punished for past minor moral transgressions or sexual skylarking? (Again this is not what Vitter or Roy Moore are guilty of).

Yes, "conduct unbecoming" is something to reckon in - as was the case with former Sen. Bob Packwood.   The Republican resigned from the Senate in 1995 amid multiple allegations of sexual harassment and assaulting women. The Senate ethics committee had voted unanimously to recommend his expulsion.   BUT he was already a Senator!  

There seems to be no standard at all for going after a guy like Franken, who committed his "misdeeds" against one woman while a comedian. As Ms. Goldberg said: "What would that ethics investigation even look like?"  Well, a joke, to be sure. As Steve Kornacki observed, this could even be tested in the courts if Franken decided to play hardball.

Meanwhile, we had the likes of Donnie Dotard- who kept his twitter shut down on child predator Roy Moore, tweeting about Franken:

"The Al Franken picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words  Where do his hands go in pictures 2,3, 4, 5 & 6 while she sleeps?"

Well, obviously Dotard would be thinking "grab her pussy" - because that's what HE would do in the same situation. After all, we heard him on the Access Hollywood tape bragging about "grabbing pussy."  Let's also recall at least eleven women came forward during the campaign - including Miss Universe contestants - who complained about Trump fondling their bare breasts. Yet this asshole became a sitting president.  So, I don't want to hear any BS now from moral scolds going after Franken's for a much lower threshold transgression when they don't also demand Trump resign..

No one is saying that in this new climate of sensitivity to sexual harassment Franken deserves to get off Scot free. But at the same time, whatever sanction has to be both judicious and sensible for misdeeds done before even assuming office. The only one that stands out as just, to my reckoning, is censure. Anything more, like expelling him from the Senate - is analogous to using a gas chamber to punish a jaywalker.  Bottom line: any sanction must have temperance built in  especially in light of the Vitter precedent.

If Sen. Franken is proactive in his own defense, and invokes the preceding - especially how David Vitter escaped any expulsion  -  he should not lose his seat. If Dems, instead of acting the part of incessant moral scolds, come to his defense by exposing the double standards at work,  this is even more probable. What they can't do is bend over and take it like Amanada Marcotte has prescribed, or only offer a weak-kneed defense. Bill Maher was correct that it is time people learn to tell the difference between two wholly different classes of actions.

See also:


President Trump, who has remained silent on the accusations leveled against Moore, was quick to comment on Franken’s case through Sarah Huckabee Sanders, with the spokesperson telling reporters the Senate ethics probe is theappropriate action.”

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Toxic GOP "Tax Reform" Atrocity That May Well Eliminate The Safety Net - HEADS UP!!

"It's hard to imagine  a more venal and hard-hearted device to pay for a tax cut for the wealthy than what the GOP has on offer" - Ron Klain

"This is the most irresponsible tax legislation in the history of the United States...there is absolutely no justification for this legislation." - Economist Bruce Bartlett

It is a curious feature of the human brain that it is easily overwhelmed by a torrent of bad news, or even news of a particular type. Much of this also plays into the current narrative of "information overload", or the fact that too many are confronted by so much new information it's like trying to drink water through a firehose.

Alas, there are times when this tendency to take the eye off the ball is understandable - but not now. Not with this latest iteration of the GOP tax "reform" bill which is as close to a political atrocity as we've seen in recent times. Thus, people need to grasp the warp and woof of this abomination - especially the fact - as economist Bruce Bartlett pointed out last night ('Last Word') that once the tax reform plan itself passes the stage is set for worse. This is because the next step will be reconciliation with the budget that has already passed!

Why is this an atrocity? Because the budget the Republicans passed to increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion , in Bartlett's words: "also contains 4 trillion dollars in cuts to Social Security and Medicare".

Thus a BIG part of what's paying for this egregious tax cut are future spending cuts to the most needed safety nets, including Medicaid as well.  Bartlett also sought to alert viewers that once this perfidy passes, the  worst is still to come. In his words:

"The Congressional Budget Office pointed out yesterday that because of existing law called 'pay go' automatic spending cuts will take place the minute this legislation takes effect and $25 billion will be cut out of Medicare in fiscal 2018  and for many years to come - and that's already in law."

We expect these cuts to Medicare will be indirect, in the form of cuts to  physicians' reimbursement by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.  This means many Medicare beneficiaries  will no longer be able to get medical access because doctors will no longer accept them. As it is, millions of Medicare recipients have to do arduous searches to find providers because Medicare doesn't reimburse at private insurance rates. It also lays the ground for the implementation of a voucher system.

The scale of the spending cuts cited is mind boggling and it is likely that the first Social Security target - as has often been cited in the WSJ - will be Social Security disability insurance. Since the Great Recession this has increasingly become the final financial backstop for millions of unemployed - many laid off in the wake of the 2007-08 financial meltdown. After that as David Leonhardt has pointed out in the NY Times, the template is set for the CPI (Consumer Price Index) to be shifted to a less inflationary measure so that the Social Security COLA can be reduced. This will effectively be a higher tax on seniors as well as an increase in Medicare premiums.

All of this adds to an economic atrocity.

The GOP tax reform is even more hard- hearted and dastardly  as we've recently  learned that 46 percent of the world's wealth is controlled by 0.07 percent of its population.  Added to the sheer economic savagery are two poison pill insults  embedded into this misbegotten,  legislative  farrago masquerading as help to the middle class.

1. It includes a provision for drilling in the Arctic Refuge. Yep, you read that correctly - and these miscreants are hoping you aren't conscious of it.

2. It includes yet another effort to validate "personhood".  (Since so many state referenda efforts have failed like here in Colorado).

As Slate author Christina Cauterucci points out:

"In a provision about tax benefits for college savings accounts, a section wholly unrelated to health or pregnancy, the bill’s authors proposed a new definition of life itself:

'Nothing shall prevent an unborn child from being treated as a designated beneficiary or an individual under this section,' the legislation reads. 'For purposes of this paragraph…the term ‘unborn child’ means a child in utero. … The term ‘child in utero’ means a member of the species homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb.”
It takes some audacity to slide ostensibly “pro-life” language into a bill whose egregious tax cuts for the wealthy would be funded by life-threatening cuts to Medicaid and Medicare.

Consider this anomaly on its own merits: these GOOPr dweezils are inserting this "pro life"  bafflegab even as they seek to terminate any life potential for the elder citizen - given his Medicare and Medicaid (for those in nursing homes) will now be on the chopping block. How perfidious does it get? Well, much more!  Rationale? As Cauterucci observes:

"Giving fetuses access to tax benefits could trigger an If You Give a Mouse a Cookie situation that ends with microscopic clumps of human cells getting birth certificates, marriage licenses, and political appointments.."

Let's leave aside for the moment the fact that no sane person   in his or her right mind (pro-life GOOPs excepted)  can possibly regard a "zygote" as a person, or a fetus as an "unborn child". There is simply no standard by which that passes even elemental laws or tests of logic, or science.  A child cannot be "unborn" because by definition it is already born!  Thus, we send the 'child' to school, to take his medicine and so on. If unborn, it's a fetus, not a "child". Don't these ignorant Reeptard tax reform twits know any better?

Meanwhile, a person, a human person, must have at least minimal capacity for basic cognition and rudimentary choice. It must possess a brain, at the very least, which evinces definite brain waves. Anything that doesn't is a proto-human entity, but clearly not a person. The logical error made is called the "genetic fallacy". That is, arguing that because a thing is going to become something, it IS something. It would be like me picking up an acorn and claiming it's an oak tree. Nope. No way.
Apart from this refuse, on which basis this slop that passes for a bill ought to be DOA anyway, there is this overarching axiom: This tax bill is solely designed to rob most of America of its social safety nets in order to deliver an average tax cut of $58,000 to each millionaire  What might these entitled ones do with their extra loot - compliments of raiding the health plans of the rest of us (the CBO forecasts 13.8 m will lose their health care in the first year after this piece of shit passes - if it does)?  

Well, let's see now, the 1 percenter wives might jet off to special villas in the Caribbean (e.g. St. Lucia) where they can partake of "chocolate scrubs" and "rose wine wraps".

Pretty good, eh? While some poor elder schmuck is dying of caner -  because it's regarded now as a "pre-existing condition" - which will no longer be covered.  But hey,  the extra $$$ will allow a fatcat and his pal to jet off to the same destination for 18 holes of golf in idyllic surroundings
- Say while a kid perishes from a peanut allergy because his mom could no longer afford epi-pens and their ACA benefits were nixed because of terminating the Obamacare mandate.

On getting home, these wealthy scions and recipients of GOP tax fortunes  can check their portfolios again, and ensure their hedge funds are still making money while all the little guys are losing with their pathetic and pedestrian mutual funds.

Ah yes, the life of the typical one percenter. How sweet it is under the Trump-  GOP Reich!

But we haven't even gotten started yet - at least I haven't. Let me reference that while many of the Dems are scratching their heads about how pulling the ACA mandate got into a tax plan, a WSJ editorial two weeks ago ('Tax Reform and Obamacare') first dropped the sordid seed, declaring:

"Republicans are looking under every seat cushion to finance tax cuts....One surprising potential 'pay for' - believe it or not - would be repealing Obamacare's individual mandate."   


"Killing the mandate now would also make it easier to revisit health reform next year."

Asserting then that "with the mandate already gone, the CBO would most certainly find there would be fewer uninsured under any new reform the GOP would propose."

Well, of course! And the CBO on weighing this new iteration has found that 13.8 million will lose coverage - hence be "uninsured". But that is most certainly not a good thing as the Journal tries to portray it, other than being more expeditious for the GOP in their next health care try. It means those 13. 8 million people will be without a health safety net and will risk losing everything should a bread winner be in a car crash or even come down with this serious H3N2 flu due to flare up soon.  In terms of the sheer tax benefit, i.e. finding the cash to cover what is given to the rich so they can enjoy their chocolate scrubs and golf  - the CBO estimates a $330b "savings". Transl. $330 b less to spend on citizen health so it can be transferred to the rich who can now enjoy more private Caribbean villa getaways.  (And we aren't even reckoning in the $4 trillion future cuts to Medicare, S.S. to further fund the lifestyles of the Trumpian rich.)

The next piece of germinating codswallop that surfaced around the same time, also appeared in the WSJ ('Corporate Tax Reform Is The Key To Growth') in an op-ed by Martin Feldstein (Nov. 6, p. A17).  In it we read:

"The most important reform is to cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent - the highest among major industrial nations - to 20 percent. This will increase corporate capital directly by reducing the tax burden. Cutting the corporate  tax rate to 20 % would raise retained earnings by $2 trillion over ten years"


"Capital in the U.S. will move from low productivity uses in agriculture and housing to corporate investments that can create good jobs and raise real wages."

I don't know what planet Marty is living on, but the one I inhabit badly needs affordable housing - also enough food to eat! If he regards agriculture and housing as "low productivity" it must mean he wishes to shift capital away from those economic activities. But in the real world that means lower supply of food and housing, hence higher prices for each because the demands of a larger population will drive it. (The rents in Denver are already at a whopping high of $1,800 a month for a 1 bedroom apartment).

So he is asking us to believe that these fantasy potential "higher wages" will cover the costs of ever scarcer housing units, and less food. Is he nuts, or merely gobbling too much MJ candy?

Now, let's cut the crap and interject some reality, in the form of actual fact pertaining to the corporations.  As I've posted on before, the corporate profits are at near record levels but they are not being used to invest in labor capital or even infrastructure. Companies are in fact spending most of their loot on stock buybacks or issuing dividends rather than creating new jobs. So it is the epitome of delusion that with even more profits - compliments of tax cuts - they'd all of s sudden become noble corporate citizens.   No they would not, you can take it to the bank.

More reality:

While it is true the U.S. has the highest statutory tax rate for corporations among developed nations, this is not what they actually pay - thanks to the thousands of deductions and exemptions in state and federal tax codes. Indeed, thanks to state tax breaks many corporations pay zero - that is how desperate many states are to secure jobs (say from Amazon) that they are prepared to give the CEOs whatever they want - even as their states suffer.

Further, as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) the total U.S. tax burden - covering all levels of government - was ranked 28th out of 32 developed nations.  Read that again, as the fourth LOWEST overall tax rate in the freaking world!

Let's drill this down one more time that supply side tax cuts never work. In previous posts I already went over how Gee Dumbya Bush cut taxes deeply and growth effectively collapsed. A Financial Times analysis even confirmed it. The end result is that real GDP rose barely above what it was in the 1990s.

Also the idea that corporate tax rates create jobs is utter nonsense.  Sara Anderson of the Institute of Policy Studies looked at 92 profitable large corporations what already pay at or less than the 20 percent rate the GOP humpers want - thanks to loopholes in the existing code. But know what? these same 92 corps have been laying off - not adding workers over the past three years.

In the end if this abomination of a tax reform plan goes through it means that the tax cuts will be paid for via vicious cuts to government spending that affect many millions of citizens.  These cuts will involves not only ACA access but also Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid cuts as well. People who stand to get maybe $15 in tax cuts, will be dinged in the ER for thousands of bucks in medical fees once they're no longer covered under the ACA - once the individual mandate goes.

But as we know there is always political payback. The results of the state elections last week, especially in VA and NJ, showed people - voters are paying attention and they have not liked what they've seen with GOP efforts at cutting their health care. The GOP thereby paid at the polls with significant Dem wins. They will pay in ever bigger form in next year's mid terms, if this atrocious GOP tax bomb passes. 

After that, I look for the steady decent of the GOP into political oblivion, just like the Whigs. Because it will show once and for all these reprobates can't be trusted with citizen welfare or security. And the ultimate citizen security is having good health  - hence having access to affordable health care.  As Sen. Patti Murray put it:

"The elections last week clearly showed the American people are paying attention and they don't want their health care taken away."

See also:


"The driving motivation behind this bill, rhetoric and packaging aside, is to deliver a whopping $1 trillion tax cut for a few hundred badly behaved global corporations — and another half a trillion to expand tax breaks and loopholes for multi-millionaires and billionaires.

All the other features of proposed tax legislation are either bribes (“sweeteners”) to help pass the bill or “pay fors” to offset their cost. The news media has been talking about “winners and losers” like this were some sort of high-minded tax reform process with legitimate trade-offs, as in 1986.
But this isn’t tax reform. This is a money grab by powerful corporate interests."

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Selected Questions -Answers From All Experts Astronomy Forum (Asteroids & Radar Telescopes)

The asteroid Gaspra  - a definite "planet killer" :  A Gaspra (12.5 x 7 x 7.5 miles) impact would obliterate all life on Earth - never to arise again.


Would you be so kind as to simply explain to me this statement:
"The ability to produce delay-Doppler images of asteroids is exciting but a
bit perplexing.  Clearly there is a lot of information in these images,
but, because radar forms images in a way that is quite different from the
way our eyes work, delay-Doppler images are not very intuitive


All this means is that RADAR ('Radio Detection and Ranging') provides an
indirect means of assembling the image of an asteroid, compared to say an
optical image that one would obtain using a telescope.

To get an optical image, one would either:

a) look directly at the object through the telescope and see it as it is,


b) take a photograph of it through the telescope - which essentially
amounts to collecting the incident light rays and fixing them on a
negative or emulsion

In the case of radar, you don't look directly but rather transmit a wave
(radio wave) toward the object. You can't "see" radio waves, since they
are many times larger than light waves. (Hence outside the visible

So, you have to wait for the transmitted radio waves to bounce back to
you- which you pick up with a radar antenna.

Next, you want to measure how long it takes for each of these reflected
radio waves to get back to your antenna. Each such time delay gives a
rough idea of the asteroid's surface.

For example, imagine a small 'mountain' on the asteroid, its peak in the
rough direction of your antenna. Obviously, the peak is closer to you than
the mountain’s  base.

In one instant, say at time t1 - you get the reflection of the wave from
the base. In the next, at time t2, you get a reflection from the peak.

You find: t2 <  t1 (t2 is less than time t1)

Thus, you can conclude that the second radio wave (corresponding to time
t2)  hit a part of the asteroid that was CLOSER to you.

You continue doing this procedure until you can get no more reflected
signals. (I.e. the asteroid  has passed out of your transmitted beam).

Now, if the asteroid or part thereof is ALSO moving - with respect to
you - then the frequency of the bounced off radio wave will change.  This
is the 'Doppler delay' part of the observation.  Note the strength of the radar
return signal is proportional to the inverse fourth-power of the distance.

Thus, if a part of the asteroid is moving AWAY from you at the time the
radio wave hits it, then bounces back - you will pick up a LOWER frequency
signal. (Call it f1)

On the other hand, if a part of the asteroid is moving TOWARD you at the
time the radio wave hits it, then bounces back - you will pick up a HIGHER
frequency signal.(Call it f2)

Measuring each of these Doppler shifts (f2 - f1) or difference in
frequency, and comparing them with the time-delays allows you to form a
two-dimensional delay-Doppler image.

Obviously, since this is based on times and frequencies (actually
frequency differences) it can't possibly be the same as the way our eyes
work (since they function, like telescopes, in the optical region of the
spectrum - as I noted already).

Preventing A Second Trump Term Only Requires Electoral College Fine Tuning By A Few States.

Image result for Trump rage images
"Yeah! I'm gonna win in 2020 too, once I get my deplorables back on board!"

In earlier posts I had bruited the use of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution or impeachment to rid ourselves of the malignancy we currently have occupying the White House. I even advocated the abolition of the Electoral College which most of us know won't happen anytime soon. But there is another way, one that is actually more faithful to the Founders' will and also which would be much more practical in ridding ourselves of any conceivable 2nd Trump term.

Let's begin first with a basic statistical fact pertaining to Trump's winning the three "Brexit states" (MI, PA and WI) and how this catapulted the maggot into office. In those three states - which would normally have been blue-  Dotard  amassed 46 Electoral College votes. Note that his cumulative winning popular edge was a bare 107,000 - or enough to maybe just fill the LA Coliseum. Had Hillary Clinton won those three states she'd have garnered 278 electoral votes to win the 2016 election.

But this still misses a more fundamental point, including the media overemphasis on  HRC winning the popular vote by about 3 million. That is, in retrospect,  we see that the Electoral College itself   did not function properly even according to its own logic.  Never mind my earlier (still serious) objections to the Electoral College failing to properly assess an unqualified candidate and allowing him to ascend to the highest office. I referred to this as permitting a "mischief of faction".

No, what I am all about here is that despite everything said about Hillary's reasons (see her book, 'What Happened') for losing the 2016 election, insufficient attention has been paid to the basic fact of an Electoral College malfunction in specific states.  There were 6 states in which Trump won without a majority because there were more than two candidates on the ballot. Without Jill Stein and Gary Johnson's names on the ballot, Clinton might have received more votes than Trump in some of these six states. If she had done so in just Florida and either Pennsylvania, Michigan, or North Carolina, that would have been enough for her to win the White House.

What this means is that Donnie Dotard technically achieved an Electoral College victory without genuinely receiving the support of the electorates in the states responsible for his Electoral College win. But this is exact the opposite of what the creators of the Electoral College had in mind.

This point is germane because there is little  realistic chance of replacing the Electoral College with something different, but there isn’t. And meanwhile, it blinds us to the problem that in 2016, the Electoral College did not function properly even according to its own logic. As long as we are stuck with the Electoral College, we should make it operate as intended.

Here's the skinny:  the Founding Fathers believed each state should ensure that a candidate must not receive its Electoral College votes without support from a majority of its voters. States initially complied with this expectation, because a) it was rational, and b) it issued from the very advice of the Founders.  So who would declare it absurd? . In Massachusetts and New Hampshire, for example, if no candidate won a majority of the popular vote, the legislature would appoint the state’s electors. New Hampshire then switched to a runoff, in which voters cast a second round of ballots if no candidate received a majority in the first round.

In other words, states went the proverbial extra mile to assure one and all that the candidate to be awarded its electoral votes had attained a majority of the votes.  The Founders  understood that an election with multiple candidates (like the 4 in 2016) might produce a winner with under 50% of the votes. But this was an outcome they wanted to avoid, which explains why they insisted that to win a candidate had to receive a majority, and not merely a plurality, of  the votes cast.  If no candidate hit that threshold, then s/he needed to get the support of a majority, and not merely a plurality, of state delegations in the House of Representatives.

None of that transpired in the 2016 election. Trump won with only bare pluralities in those 6 states but still snatched all their electoral votes. That was not cricket, not one bit.  How did we end up with this travesty. this violation of the Founders' will? Well, over time the states adopted a mutation of the original premise, i.e. they.moved to allow a presidential candidate all of a state’s Electoral College votes with only a plurality of popular  votes. This was not only a serious mistake and corruption of the original system but grossly inconsistent with the architects' original vision.

What does it mean?

Just that that state electoral laws must be changed before 2020, lest the maggot in chief somehow squeak through again by horrendous happenstance, or voter apathy.  That requires fixing the state laws that implement the Electoral College system.   Some nervous Nellies may wring their hands and whine "it's impossible!" at the prospect, but not so fast.

The good news is that each state already has the constitutional power to adjust its applicable laws, without the need for a constitutional amendment or some sort of multi-state compact that would not take effect until enough states sign on. In truth, if just a couple of states  (FL, PA) had adopted the necessary fix before last year, Clinton might well be president now.

Conclusion? Forget the 25th amendment getting Trump out, we want his whole cabal out. Also, forget the Electors abiding strictly by their conscience to prevent mischief of faction. That has about as much chance occurring as aliens from Tau Ceti's sixth planet kidnapping Trump and doing  a long overdue lobotomy.

NO, the evident solution is for states to fix their electoral process to ensure it is once more consonant with the Founders will: NO candidate gets all of its electoral votes any more unless he or she wins a majority of the popular vote.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Duterte Loves Dotard: Two Authoritarian Assholes- What More Do You Need To Know?

Philippine strongman and butcher Rodrigo Duterte belts out a love song to Dotard last Sunday. Why be surprised that one authoritarian maggot is devoted to another?

Many Americans may have missed the news, but last Sunday Trump, a.k.a. the Dotard, and Rodrigo Duterte - Filipino authoritarian maggot butcher - were among 19 leaders at a gala in the Philippines capital on Sunday before the annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit. At one point Duterte took the microphone to sing a bit of a Filipino love song to Dotard-  in a duet with local pop diva Pilita Corrales.

One of the song’s verses, translated from Filipino, began: “You are the light in my world, a half of this heart of mine.”

According to the ABS-CBN news channel Duterte later said:.

Ladies and gentlemen, I sang uninvited, upon the orders of the commander-in-chief of the United States,”

Maybe, maybe not. Let's just say I would never trust the words of a scumball described as the “Trump of the East”- who worships every step and word of  one of the most pathological liars in history.    Hell,  they even wore the same basic attire Sunday:  a cream-colored barong, i.e. a traditional Philippines shirt.                                                      .                    
 (Andrew Harnik / AP Photo)
Dotard greets fellow maggot  Duterte - one authoritarian to another- in same garb.

So one also needs to inquire into why a Filipino dirtball who admits he once stabbed someone to death would be so enchanted with a character who once tested home-made switch blades on cats in a Queens' alley? I think the answers ought to be fairly obvious. They are both despicable degenerates who place no value on human life or dignity, nor any veneration of morality and law.  Plus, they are world class liars who've managed to get significant fractions of their respective nations to believe their bilge and BS.

In the case of Dotard, we know most of his sorry history already and how he has worked to build his rep  and wealth via his Russian connections. The incontestable fact is that it has always been Trump in up to his eyeballs with the Russkies - including to save his no good, bankruptcy- filing ass.  As noted in The New Republic (Aug./Sept. p. 29):

"A review of the public record reveals a clear and disturbing pattern: Trump owes much of his business success, and by extension his presidency, to a flow of highly suspicious money from Russia. Over the past three decades, at least 13 people with known or alleged links to Russian mobsters or oligarchs have owned, lived in, or even run criminal activities out of Trump Tower and other Trump properties. Many used his apartments and casinos to launder untold millions in dirty money .....Taken together, the flow of money from Russia provided Trump with a crucial infusion of financing that helped rescue his empire from ruin, burnish his image, and launch his career in television and politics....It's entirely possible that Trump was never more than a convenient patsy for Russian oligarchs and mobsters."

Of course, this very background helps explain why Trump is hyper paranoid now about Bob Mueller digging into his money trail, including leading right through his family finances.

In the case of Duterte we know he's a mass murdering SOB - using state-sponsored murder squads to try to control the drug problem.  Many news media cite more than 3,900 Filipinos have been killed in a war on drugs that Duterte declared when he took office last year.   But Human Rights Watch has estimated the number slain at 12,000 and perhaps as many as 13,000. Duterte insists the police "act in self-defense" , but critics say executions are taking place with no accountability.  Given Rodrigo is as big a liar as Dotard I'm inclined to believe the critics.

Duterte actually said last week he would tell Dotard Donnie to “lay off” if he raised the issue of human rights when they met.  But Trump, who has been criticized at home for neglecting rights issues in dealings abroad, praised Duterte in May for doing an “unbelievable job on the drug problem”.

In other words, if Donnie Dotard didn't have to adhere to a Constitution and rule of law he'd probably dispatch his own gangs of murdering filth to kill drug pushers and users like his Filipino pal.

What we beheld with the Sunday exhibition - including both authoritarians decked out in the same duds, is just how much they are alike. Two authoritarian narcissists each with murderous rage buried deep in his respective psychotic psyche.. Except that, fortunately, only one can actually use it with the power of the state behind his vile actions.

We need now to get rid of Dotard more than ever- and in the next post I will show how we can do so.

Robots, AI-Based Systems Set To Displace Financial Workers - And Others

"I am Roberta 2.0 and I am here to take your job!"

According to a recent WSJ  report ('Firms Leave The Bean Counting To The Robots') in the Business and Investing section (p, B5, Oct. 23) AI -based robots will soon be taking over CFO and accounting work across the land. That will essentially displace all those humans currently holding such jobs and likely pulling down big bucks in salary.  Thus we read in the article:

"One of Statoil ASA's newest employees, Roberta, spends her days in the energy firm's treasury department searching for missing payment information and sending out reminders.  Her boss, Tor Stian Kjoolesdal, said  Roberta's heavy orkload would improve overall efficiency in the group."

We then learn "Roberta doesn't have a last name, a face or arms. She is the first piece of robotic software to work in the Norwegian company's treasury department - part of Statoil's push to automation, robotics and artificial intelligence."

Is this a one off electronic freak so bean counters in other countries don't need to worry/ Think again!. The piece goes on to note that finance execs at Nokia Corp., Royal Dutch Shell and Orange SA are developing their own Robertas. Also:

"Two thirds of large global companies  expect to automate some or all of their finance department tasks over the next two or three years, according to new research by Hackett Group Inc. Hacket's report is based on benchmark and performance studies at hundreds of  large global companies."

WHY is this happening, and especially now as there is seeming state and federal pressure for corporations to create new jobs,  not destroy existing ones?  The reason offered in the WSJ piece is straightforward direct:

"The new technologies are designed to cut costs, liberate workers from time consuming repetitive tasks and - in many cases - reduce finance and treasury department employee numbers."

Ahhh, so we finally get to the real reason!  But then this stuff isn't rocket science. It's been known since the mid 1990s that corporations find human employees more to be drains on their profits than useful contributions.  Benefits alone clip the profit margins especially for providing any health care, or even sick days. Given these monetary limitations - and the fact humans get sick and machines don't  - who wouldn't want to ditch all the bio-based flesh and blood workers for machines and software.?

Jim Hightower provides more insights in his recent column:

"With corporations socking away massive profits and the labor market still tight why are worker's wages stuck at miserly levels? One big reason is that corporate boards and CEOs have their heads stuck in a dreamy future. Nearly every economic sector is spending vast sums of money on workers p just not on human workers.

While few Americans are aware of it, bosses are investing in hordes of sophisticated autonomous robots powered by a cognitive technology called artificial intelligence. Instead of paying a decent wage to you, corporations are buying millions of these cheap, human-esque thinking machines in order to take a shocking number of jobs away - well, from you!"

Scare mongering? Not quite.

Playing right into Hightower's hands, we learn from the WSJ piece that Finance departments are seeing results from the increased sophistication of robotics and automation tools leading Finland's Nokia to expect to :shed more jobs as part of the transition to more automated finance departments"

Of course, the spin conveyed in the article is that the reason so many AI -based robots are replacing humans is because:

"It doesn't make sense to pay a human to do that:"  - in the immortal words of Guillaume Texier, of Compagnie de Saint-Gobain SA, quoted in the article.

We also learn the displaced employees will be "expected to do higher level work".

In a pig's eye. In fact, it will merely be a matter of time before that 'higher level" work is taken over by Ai-robots using quantum computing technology.   And as Hightower points out, already the jobs of "accountants, bank loan officers, and insurance claims adjustors are "falling to the bots"

Why? Because they can calculate more rapidly and more accurately than humans. What about "journalism"? Well, the associated press already uses an AI program to "write thousands of financial articles and sports reports".  Meanwhile, FORBES uses an AI system called  'Quill" to pen its articles.

The same applies to the realm of manual labor, and Hightower cites the example of "SAM" a robotic bricklayer that "lays three times as many bricks in a day as a human can". Hence, it has the potential to displace three times the number of human workers.

Hightower again sizes things up with crystal clarity:

"It's not robots that are taking our jobs, but corporate profiteers. They're creating a robot economy in order to displace you and me with inexpensive machines that don't demand higher wages or health care, don't take sick days or vacations and don't organize unions, file lawsuits or vote for pro-worker politicians. It's to be a plutocratic utopia designed by and for the corporate elite "

His words ought to sound resonant chords in any sentient worker. Of course corporations are out to maximize their profits, why else plump for corporate tax cuts despite the fact that few corporations actually pay the 35 percent rate?  Why else would corporations and CEOs prefer AI and robots if not to eliminate the onerous headaches of wages, benefits etc.?

Where is all this going? Or, to put it more exactly: How are the millions of soon to be displaced workers supported to support themselves and families if there aren't enough jobs to enable them to even put food on the table, far less a roof over their heads?

One of several myths circulating is there are ample jobs to go around if people just look for them, but the fact is there aren't.  A huge "job pyramid" is the abiding reality with only a few (mainly techie) jobs at the top but a vast base of underpaid work below and much of that being swallowed by automation.

Another odious myth is that workers are "unwilling to move to take jobs."   But that canard's been nipped in the bud because automation and AI systems are ubiquitous - so merely moving to another locale doesn't ensure AI-based systems aren't already there subsuming every job from bean counter to staff writer to brick layer.

Even those with advanced college degrees aren't assured of "mind jobs" that can keep body and soul together.   The associate professor at university level is becoming a  thing of the past. The percentage of teaching positions occupied by non-tenure-track faculty has more than tripled in the past four decades. According to the Adjunct Project, “Two-thirds of the faculty standing in front of college classrooms each day aren’t full-time or permanent professors.” 

"Limited displacement" you say. Hardly! As Hightower notes:

"Also, the jobs of librarians, pharmacists, lawyers, air traffic controllers, doctors, teachers, hospital administrators, bartenders — and so many more — are targeted for massive displacement."

Welcome to the brave new world of robot and AI workers that will dominate the labor landscape for the next two decades or more. Are there any jobs men especially can grab where they can feel safe not being displaced? According to one Kiplinger's article I read recently, the safest field is Nursing - which has seen a 40 percent increase in males. The problem is not all men are cut out to be caretakers, or nurses.

This again presents the problem of how both men and women are to survive in a world where automaton labor dominates.  The only answer I  can see is providing every citizen with a universal basic income. Yes, it will cost - big taxpayer bucks from those who are fortunate to have jobs. But it will be infinitely preferable to the alternative.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Erosion Of Intellect And Emotions: Part And Parcel Of What The Smart Phone Delivers

Image may contain: 3 people
Kids with eyes buried in tiny smart phone screens risk their intellectual capacity as well as emotional healthThe best advice based on latest research? Do not give a kid an iPhoneX for Xmas!

It was gratifying to read in The Denver Post of October 13 that Littleton students - touched by recent teen suicides -  met last month  to eat pancakes, play volleyball and soccer, and delete every social media app from their smartphones. En masse on Oct. 1st, about 150 students kicked off a month-long social media blackout by erasing Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and the rest from their screens. Since then, the “Offline October” challenge has grown to include 1,600 people at 200 schools in seven countries.

This is a timely move even as we have learned about the new iPhoneX craze striking giddy buyers across the planet, despite its outrageous $1,000 price.  Then there was the news about Washington state announcing that from January it will prosecute for DUI-E or driving under the influence…of electronics.  Each offender will be fined $130 for each violation observed with the potential for enhanced sanctions for repeat violators. This also has come about as there is increased awareness of how smart phone use is pillaging minds - not only of teeny boppers but adults too (WSJ, 'How Smart Phones Hijack Our Minds' Oct. 7-8, pp. C1- C2)  Also, more recently, the article 'We Need To Talk About Kids and Smart Phones' (TIME, Nov. 6, by Markham Heid, sheds light on the pernicious emotional havoc that social media and overuse of smart phones can wreak.. The latter piece  highlighting "teen depression has surged fueling concern over mobile devices."

Actually, this shouldn't be at the level of quantum mechanics or rocket science.  Anyone who allows his or her attention to be fixated on assorted social media devices or apps (most of the contents  of which qualify as fake news, gossip or images that make others feel worse about themselves) can't help but lose self -esteem and also social context. If all you are doing is keeping your eyes fixed on a tiny blinking screen then you are already detaching from social real world interactions - as seen in the image at top. One can easily see this false social system at work any time you are in a public place such as a restaurant - where all the diners appear to be more connected to their phones than their fellow diners. It's absurd!

According to the Post article:

"Teens who made the blackout pledge say giving up social media is like trying to break an addiction."

And this should not be at all surprising.

What are some of the symptoms of smart phone  'always on' syndrome?

- The skipping heartbeat when your phone beeps with an alert and your brain is clobbered by instant curiosity at who or what it might be.

- The nagging need to ceaselessly check for incoming texts or pics even at the movies or while having dinner with your family.

- The recurring 'phantom vibration syndrome' - the creepy sensation in your gut that your cell is sounding off and you need to deal with it.

- The need to access your Twitter and text some bullshit, oblivious to walking even in traffic or high crime areas.

The WSJ piece, meanwhile noted that:

"A 2015 Journal Of Experimental Psychology study, involving 166 subjects, found that when people's phones beep or buzz while they're in the middle of a challenging task, their focus wavers and their work gets sloppier - whether they actually check the phone or not. Another 2015 study, which involved 41  iPhone users and appeared in The Journal of Computer -Mediated Communication, showed that when people hear their iPhone ring but are unable to answer it their blood pressure spikes and their pulse quickens as problem -solving skills decline."

This is truly ridiculous!  But now, what about the effect on younger, still maturing brains? Could there be intellectual as well as emotional penalties? The evidence appears fairly clear that there can be.

Adrian Ward, a cognitive scientist at University of Texas suspects our attachment to smart phones has grown so profound, so intense that their mere presence can diminish intelligence.  Experiments actually carried out at the Univ. of California-  San Diego appear to bear this out (WSJ, ibid.).  Two years ago, Ward and two colleagues (Kristen Duke and Ayelet Gneezy) recruited 520 students at UCSD and gave them two standardized tests - one of which actually gauged "available cognitive capacity". The second assessed fluid intelligence or the ability to interpret and solve an unfamiliar problem.  The only variable in the experiment was the location of students' smartphones.

In both tests it was fond that those subjects whose phones were in full view posted the worst results.  In contrast, those who left the phones in another room did the best, "out of sight out of mind".  Clearly, as the phone proximity increased, brainpower decreased.    This led Prof. Ward and colleagues to conclude in published work that "the integration of smart phones into daily life caused a brain drain that diminished mental skills including: logical reasoning, abstract thought, problem solving and creativity."   Indeed, even the desire to check one's phone  could debilitate one's thinking.

Another less noted phenomenon is what's called the "Google Effect"  whereby smart phones make it so easy to gather information online that users believe it's their own mental capacities doing the work.   Thus, as Drs. Ward and Wegner noted in a 2013 Scientific American article smart phone addicts believe their own "mental capacities" had generated the information not their devices. As Dr. Ward put it (WSJ, ibid.): "The advent of the information age seems to have created a generation of people who feel they know more than ever before even though they really know ever less about the world around them."

Ward believes this also explains why our current society has a gullibility crisis, precisely because people identify the easy info via smart phones as real so often, they come to accept anything coming through it as real.  Hence, they became too quick to "credit lies and half truths spread through social media by Russian agents" as real news. They became intellectual puppets and dupes.

There is also evidence overuse of smart phones can debilitate one's emotions, especially of younger high school kids.  This lot are more susceptible to counting image above everything else and so put themselves at risk of distorted comparison to others and depression. Case in point was the Connecticut teen "Nina" highlighted in the TIME article who grew so depressed  she attempted suicide. Cause? She had "stayed up late and stalked models on Snapchat" comparing her body to theirs and always finding it wanting.  As she put it "I always worried about how I looked".'

Now, to a normal adult brain this is small potatoes. No one, certainly of 71 yrs. of age like yours truly- contemplates suicide over how he looks!   That in itself is the epitome of solipsistic, distorted thinking. But for teens with unfinished brains it's a problem because they obsessively follow every image (or word)  sent to them - or that they access- on their little devices.   Thus, as Dr. Jenna Glover - a psychologist who treats teens with depression - put it in the Denver Post piece:

"These anonymous messaging apps are incredibly dangerous. When we have anonymity we are more likely to be reckless . These apps are bad for all kids no matter they are the bully or the victim"

Adding that "Girls, in particular, bully each other through relational aggression" - harming each other by social status and friendships.   And no one can argue that social media apps have dramatically magnified the degree of shame and embarrassment - when seeming everyone in a school can see a negative comment about someone at the same time.  Thus, while private physical bullying may have involved only one or two peers seeing it, anonymous message apps expand the audience vastly wider and in much less time.

This is why Dr. Glover advises parents to limit the use of media and apps like Snapchat and Instagram.

Recall that in an earlier post (Aug. 10) I referenced  McAfee survey report that also appeared in the Post (Aug. 7, p. 12A) that cyber bullying has now reached epidemic proportions especially in the U S of A.  The platforms most used for bullying in the order of their percentage of young users affected included:

- Facebook  71 %

- Instagram  - 62 %

- Snapchat  49 %

In the survey, which ranged over more than 3,000 kids in multiple countries it was found there was a 22 percent overall reporting of cyber bullying, compared to 30 percent for U.S. students. This is ridiculous and shows: a) too many kids are spending way too much time with these media, and b) the parents have abdicated control to their addicted kids.

In response to the findings, the author of the piece Minda Zetlin presented these bullet points:

-  Instagram and Snapchat have the greatest negative effect on young people's emotional health, with Instagram topping the stats.

- Spending more than two hours a day on social media is detrimental to kids' mental health and a "seriously bad idea".

Meanwhile, the research of Ward and others is disturbing indeed. It shows that "our thoughts and feelings, far from being sequestered in our heads, can be skewed by external forces we're not even aware of."   This is possible because our brain confers inordinate power on any object or device which has "salience" - and which then causes it to embrace and use beyond normal bounds.  In modern times that is the smart phone, and the motto from all these findings - for all of us- would seem to be: Less is better!

For parents considering buying the outrageously priced iPhone X for their offspring the advice would be not to do it. Why put an even more powerfully addicting device in their hands which would speed the intellectual and emotional descent of most users?  It would be little different from giving them an indefinite supply of narcotics.

See also:

Friday, November 10, 2017

Appreciating The Dangers Of "Benevolent" Gene Editing Of DNA Using Crispr

An artist's rendering of DNA double helix molecules and chromosomes.
Back in October we learned that scientists had created a new Crispr- based system to edit RNA instead of DNA in human cells offering a way around some of the ethical and scientific challenges to do with editing the genome.  This was first reported in the WSJ Technology section on Oct. 26 this year and referenced a paper published in Science the day before in which the research was described. The new RNA editing system was dubbed "Repair" by the researchers (based at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard)  and was designed to correct a common mutation known to play a role in a number of diseases.

Crispr - let's reference - stands for "clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats" - serves as the immune system of bacteria, and has been used to fend off viral attacks.  RNA or ribonucleic acid is a molecule found in all cells.

Like DNA, RNA is a polymer, but much simpler. This is because the latter’s ribose sugar molecules are smaller than DNA’s deoxyribose sugar molecules. So there are fewer monomer units in all to make polymer chains. At the same time, while there is only one type of DNA, there are three types of RNA:

- Messenger RNA or mRNA: really a complementary copy of a DNA segment that conveys information from cell nucleus to cytoplasm. Once there it acts as a template for synthesis of a protein molecule.

- Transfer RNA or tRNA: as the name implies, it couples information in the nucleic acid base sequence to the amino acid base sequence in synthesized proteins.

- Ribosomal RNA or rRNA: forms the ribosomes of cells, from which proteins are made.

The diagram below summarizes the process:

Bio-Scientists, while they've long believed RNA to be a good therapeutic target, have actually focused on a less known enzyme -  Cas9 - for making edits in DNA, in their initial work with the Crispr system.

Let's note here RNA editing in general carries fewer potential scientific risks and - unlike DNA, cells constantly produce more RNA.  What kind of risks are we referring to in respect of DNA editing?  Well, not too long ago, Junjiu Huang  and his team of researchers attempted to make use of
a new technique called CRISPR/Cas9, which many scientists are excited about it because it makes it much easier to edit DNA.  In their process the Chinese team tried using CRISPR/Cas9 to fix a gene known as the HBB gene, which causes  the blood disorder beta-thalassemia.   The work was done on 86 very early embryos that weren't viable, in order to minimize some of the ethical concerns. Only 71 of the embryos survived, and just 28 were successfully edited. But the process also frequently created unintended mutations in the embryos' DNA. 

The worrisome aspect of the research is that  some of those mutations are critical to development and survival.   The report, in the journal Protein & Cell, was immediately condemned by other scientists and watchdog groups, who argued the research was unsafe, premature and raised disturbing ethical concerns.

Subsequently, Marcy Darnovsky of the Center for Genetics and Society, a watchdog group, wrote in an email :

"This paper demonstrates the enormous safety risks that any such attempt would entail, and underlines the urgency of working to forestall other such efforts. The social dangers of creating genetically modified human beings cannot be overstated. No researcher should have the moral warrant to flout the globally widespread policy agreement against modifying the human germline,"

George Daley, a stem cell researcher at Harvard, agreed, asserting:

"Their data reinforces the wisdom of the calls for a moratorium on any clinical practice of embryo gene editing, because current methods are too inefficient and unsafe," he wrote in an email. "Further, there needs to be careful consideration not only of the safety but also of the social and ethical implications of applying this technology to alter our germ lines."

Scientists have been able to manipulate DNA for years. But it's long been considered taboo to make changes in the DNA in a human egg, sperm or embryo because those changes could become a permanent part of the human genetic blueprint. One concern is that it would be unsafe: Scientists could make a mistake, which could introduce a new disease that would be passed down for generations. And there's also fears it this could lead to socially troubling developments, such as "designer babies," in which parents can pick and choose the traits of their children.

All of this in tandem explains the current switch to RNA editing - given that if "off target" changes occur the RNA edits are potentially reversible.  RNA editing also allows researchers to revise the therapy more easily as more research is done.

In the words of Elizabeth McNally, Director of the Center for Genetic Medicine at Northwester University's Feinberg School of Medicine:

"Crispr editing of RNA creates more opportunities for things we can do therapeutically"

But let no one think this editing is easy. Omar Abudayyeh, one of the co-authors of the Science paper,  noted the research team spent more than 18 months studying different Cas13 enzymes  to find the most effective to adapt for RNA editing in human cells.  (In nature there are many different Cas13 enzymes that bacteria use to target and cut RNA as art of their defense system.)

For her own part, Dr. McNally is hard at work on efforts to use the Crispr system to treat forms of muscular dystrophy. Meanwhile in September, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals reported positive results in a trial of a so-called RNA interference drug called patisiran. This drug stops production of a disease -causing protein to treat a rare nerve disorder: familial amyloid polyneuropathy.

There are new treatment fronts ready to open with the Crispr technique, we just have to be patient. Alnylam spent 15 years developing its RNA editing therapy.

Ugly Oldster Conversations Overheard Over A BK Breakfast This A.M.

Occasionally I speed walk to the local Burger King, about a half mile or so away, to have a simple economy breakfast: sausage and egg croissanwich, coffee, and small hash browns. I usually eat while poring over the Business & Investing Section of the WSJ to see what topics might make for blog post fare. I was in the midst of a lengthy article on Monsanto's broad spectrum herbicide (dicamba) shriveling 3.6 million acres of crops in Arkansas, e.g.

And a suit filed by over 300 farmers (on account of the herbicide's drift to their crops),  when a quartet of codgers (average age maybe 80) to the side of me erupted in guffaws at a comment one of them made about Chelsea Clinton. Evidently one of the four, in either a Texas or Georgia accent,  insisted she could "chew corn through a picket fence" while another chimed in that "yeah, and her husband hates the United States, you best believe it."

How did he know that? He didn't say, he merely popped it off the top of his gray -haired mop.  So, it didn't take long to process that these four were part of the elderly retired  Reep-conservo enclave that live in the Springs.  (Most of them retired veterans.)

Of course,  we all know our mothers taught us never to eavesdrop on others' conversations. But let's get real: that's pretty damned difficult to avoid when you're seated in smallish booths that are barely feet apart from each other. And especially if one person or group is babbling at the top of their lungs while you are trying to focus on an important article for a future blog post.

Anyway, their next topic was Puerto Ricans who they actually blamed for coming into our beloved county and skewing the vote toward "tax and spend' bond issues.  "Ya know, I heard that hundreds of 'em come in at Fort Carson and other bases, most military families - and that they voted in this past 'lection. I am sure they along with them millunals tossed the vote to higher taxes."

Barely catching their breaths one of them with a raspy voice then belched on about Catholics and swore to the others that "I tell yuh I have seen them things, statues and such, Catholics have in their homes and churches. And most of 'em got little swastikas on 'em!"  Not able to stop himself he then yapped on: "And then these librul troublemakers  wearing ski masks and all black want to say the Alt Right got all kind of Nazis!"

Moments later another of the group (I was seated with my back basically at "8 o'clock"  to them, i.e. they were seated about 4'  behind me and to the left) lambasted the South Koreans for being ingrates. He lashed out at them, blabbing:

"Them South Koreans say they won't buy any weapons or take any nukes 'cause they don't want no war.  Well I say let them North Korean commies blow 'em all to hell then! See who cares!"

Obviously not processing that the South Koreans are geographically directly in harm's way, with over 10,000 pieces of North Korean artillery directed at them - barely 20 miles away- and bearing shells loaded with chemical agents (e.g. Sarin) and bio agents (anthrax, cholera, smallpox etc.)   So these old duffers had no clue what they were talking about.

But the experience was salutary in a way, answering a question wifey and I asked ourselves since Tuesday night's election when we saw more than 60 percent of the over -65 age group went for Ed Gillespie in Virginia.  We questioned why such seniors would cut their own throats voting against their own interests - since for sure Medicare will be on the Right's tax reform chopping block very soon.

Now we know it's all about identity politics. These elderly white guys all identified with Trump and his policies and had prejudiced views against any who were unlike them  - whether brown (or black) people, Catholics or "libruls". This is also likely why Naomi Klein in her recent book, 'NO Is Not Enough - Resisting Trump's Shock Politics'), argued that, pp. 90-91:

"Ir is short-sighted,  not to mention dangerous, for liberals  and progressives to abandon their own focus on identity politics",


"To a terrifying degree, skin color and gender conformity are determining who is physically safe in the hands of the state, who is at risk from vigilante violence, who can express themselves without constant harassment and who can cross a border without terror."

Bottom line? As these codgers proved to me today, so long as the Right embrace identity politics we on the left must do likewise.