Archives for: May 2012

DOMA Down

Batten down the hatches. This is going to SCOTUS:

A federal appeals court Thursday declared that the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutionally denies federal benefits to married gay couples, a groundbreaking ruling all but certain to wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

In its unanimous decision, the three-judge panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston said the 1996 law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman deprives gay couples of the rights and privileges granted to heterosexual couples.

Two of those judges were Republican appointees. Now to clarify one thing: the part of DOMA that was struck down was on federal benefits. States that do not recognize gay marriage would not be required to if the Supreme Court were to uphold the ruling. And the Court declined to review whether there is a constitutional right to marriage.

I kind of like this decision, actually, which crosses me as very federalist. It allows the states to continue to define marriage as they want but requires the feds, as far as they address marriage, to recognize whatever the states have. I can live with that and I suspect most federalists can as well. I suspect most gay people would be fine with it, too. But this won’t be final until SCOTUS makes a decision.

While I’m sympathetic to the Libertarian argument that the government should just get out of marriage, I don’t see this as really practicable. Like it or not, government is involved in marriage and sort of has to be. When someone dies without a will, the disposition of their property has to be determined by law, not whoever shows up with a trailer. When someone is sick or incapacitated and has not left written instructions, someone has to have power of attorney. Custody of children has to be determined by legal agreement or a neutral arbiter, not whoever has them in their home at the moment. Family and probate courts are an ugly business. But the alternative, in the absence of previous legal agreements, is chaos and heartache.

I would like to see the government back out of it as much as possible and I think there’s room for that. Our tax code could be simplified so that marriage doesn’t matter (the tax benefit to married couples being a key part of the legal argument the First Circuit addressed). Wills and inheritances and death benefits can be given to any beneficiary one cares to nominate (many default to legally recognized spouses). Adoptions could be strengthened to eliminate custody battles between families and gay partners. I don’t think there will ever come a time when government can ignore marriage. But I do think we can reduce its footprint to a minor inconvenience.

The Bloomberg Strikes Back

What the hell is wrong with this dude?

New York City plans to enact a far-reaching ban on the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks at restaurants, movie theaters and street carts, in the most ambitious effort yet by the Bloomberg administration to combat rising obesity.

The proposed ban would affect virtually the entire menu of popular sugary drinks found in delis, fast-food franchises and even sports arenas, from energy drinks to pre-sweetened iced teas. The sale of any cup or bottle of sweetened drink larger than 16 fluid ounces — about the size of a medium coffee, and smaller than a common soda bottle — would be prohibited under the first-in-the-nation plan, which could take effect as soon as next March.

You know, I’m running out of adjectives for this power-mad uber Nanny stater. I’m getting tired of pointing out that these bans and restrictions don’t work. There is a tendency of people to simply rebalance their caloric intake. Our bodies are designed, by millions of years of evolution, to avoid losing weight. If people drink less soda, they exercise less or eat more of other things.

Anyone who has tried to lose weight knows this. Losing weight is hard. It’s supposed to be hard because, outside of our current time and place, losing weight was a bad thing that indicated starvation. This instinct is not going to be deterred by shrinking soda size.

Bloomberg is a perfect illustration of what Maggie McNeill calls a “lawhead” — someone who thinks they can change reality just by passing a law. No matter how many times they fail to patch the Matrix to their desires (their calorie-labeling scheme was a complete failure) they keep passing these stupid laws. They keep pretending that, all of the sudden, people in New York will never drink too much soda and all lose weight. Why? Because Michael Bloomberg passed a law, that’s why! What? Don’t give me those looks. Bloomberg is about to outlaw smartass looks.

But, really, I’m wasting my breath on this. Bloomberg cares not for facts or invective. It’s not just because facts contradict his views. It’s because fighting obesity is not really the point. It is, at best, a side effect. Making people obedient to government; controlling more and more of their lives; having them dance to Mayor Nanny’s tune; that’s the point.

The point of power is power. The second Mayor Nanny started in on term limits, the people of New York should have tossed him into the Hudson. They are now bearing the burden of their lack of suspicion.

Diane Tran, Reloaded

The power of the internet, my friends:

Diane Tran, the Texas honor student who was jailed last week for missing too much school, will not have to worry about telling future employers or college admissions offices that she has a criminal history.

Lanny Moriarty, the judge who ordered the 17-year-old to go to jail after more than ten unexcused school absences, has set aside the contempt of court order he entered last week, according to Tran’s lawyer, Brian Wice.

There is no question the contempt order would still be in place had Moriarity’s decision not been splashed across a million web pages. It’s getting harder and harder for these assholes to get away with stuff.

It gets better:

Her story resonated across the country and throughout the world. Nearly $100,000 in donations have come in from 49 states and 18 countries, according to HelpDianeTran.com, a site established in part by the Louisiana Children’s Education Alliance (LCEA), a non-profit that focuses on education reform.

People looked at Diane and said, “This! This is the kind of person we should be holding up as an example.”

Frack The Planet

Now this is interesting:

A new report discussed in the FT claims that American shale gas production has actually reduced carbon emissions by 450 million tons over the past five years, during which fracking came into widespread use. As the report mentions, gas—mostly obtained via fracking—has grown in usage by 38 percent over the past year alone, while much dirtier coal has fallen by nearly 20 percent over the same time period. The correlation between the rise of fracking and a fall in carbon output is not a coincidence. While greens have spent years chasing a global green unicorn, America has been moving towards reducing its carbon footprint on its own, and fracking has been the centerpiece of this change.

In fact, America’s drop in carbon emissions is greater than that of any other country in the survey. Greens have often praised Europe and Australia for their foresight in adopting forward-thinking carbon-trading schemes, while chastising America for its reluctance to do the same. Yet the numbers are out, and America has actually performed better than its carbon-trading peers. From an empirical standpoint, fracking has a much better track record at reducing emissions than the current green dream.

Cutting CO2 emissions was not the intent of fracking and shale gas, but that has been a pleasant side effect. It is a simple fact that natural gas gets you much more energy bang for the CO2 buck than coal. In fact, I would not be surprised if it does better than many of the “green” fuels we are being force-fed. Moving to natural gas isn’t a permanent solution. But 450 million tons is a massive reduction: more than the reductions produced by food miles and cap and trade combined. That’s progress — the sort of progress that can buy time while more long-term solutions like fusion are worked out.

I’m not going to pretend that fracking does not come with its own basket of environmental concerns. I live in central Pennsylvania, where a lot of fracking is going on (uh, that wasn’t supposed to sound that dirty). While the concerns are a bit overblown, they are not zero. But even then, fracking may still be better than coal, which can involve such things as mountaintop removal. Moving to natural gas is a positive in almost every way.

The Green’s reluctance to acknowledge this does, I think, undercut their claims to be pure-hearted environmentalists. Anyone who really cares about global warming would say that, while switching to gas isn’t a perfect solution, it’s a massive improvement. But the environmentalists have set a currently impossible goal of no CO2 emissions (the politicians, by contrast, have set goals of reducing CO2 emissions fifty years from now when they will all be dead).

What’s astonishing is that the Americas are rapidly becoming the world’s energy epicenter. Fracking, shale and deep water are quickly sidelining the Middle East as an increasingly minor player in the global energy market. I predicted this … Lee predicted this … years ago when oil prices first began to spike. That was a signal that we needed more energy and industry has responded. If we had imposed price controls like many Democrats wanted to, we’d not only be out of oil, but not exploiting these newer greener energy sources.

Here’s a quote from Lee. Expand it to fossil fuels in general and you’ll see, as in all things, that he was a fucking prophet:

The difficult argument is to explain to people, calmly and rationally, the situation with oil. The easy thing to do is terrify people into thinking that, just like sucking on a milkshake, one day we’re just going to run out. As I’ve said before, technological advances will make oil obsolete long before we ever actually run out of it. If oil were actually in any danger of running out any time soon it would be $500,000 a barrel instead of $100. (That’s freshman economics, folks. Everyone should understand that.)

Oil will never run out. Ever. There is too much money to be made in the technology industry for the world to keep relying solely on oil. We don’t need nightmares, we don’t need screaming histrionics, we don’t need end of the world scenarios. What we need are smart people taking the problem seriously, and finding workable, reasonable solutions to transition the world from a petroleum economy into the next generation.

Fracking and shale are the technology that is bridging us to the future. They are what will keep our economy going while we develop ever more efficient and less fossil-dependent energy sources. And by exploiting them, we are reducing our carbon footprint, reducing our dependence on foreign oil and reducing our environmental impact. It’s not all rainbows and sunshine — not by a long shot — but it’s certainly a lot more rainbowy than the alternative.

So the question to fracking opponents becomes this: why do you guys not care about the environment?

(PS – In finding that Lee quote, I dug up a lot of old posts. Here is another good one. I miss that guy.)

Update: Spain’s heralded green energy industry is collapsing without massive subsidies. I don’t want to play this up too much since the fossil fuel industry gets subsidies too — although at a far lower rate per Gigawatt of energy produced. But no one doubts the fossil fuel industry could survive without subsidies.

Houla

My God (content warning):

Across Houla, an anti-regime suburb of Homs, images emerged indicating people there had been treated like something less than animals. The bodies of 108 people killed, most of them women and children, filled rooms, rugs and the backs of trucks.

Children were missing limbs. Others suffered gaping head and chest wounds. Images showed children sprawled on blood-stained floors, their lifeless eyes staring into oblivion, their clothing torn and stained crimson. While many young victims were apparently shot, there were reports that children had been stabbed to death or attacked with axes.

U.S. National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said the United States was horrified by “credible reports” of the massacre, “including stabbing and ax attacks on women and children.”

In one video posted online, a man shows a room full of dead bodies covered with sheets. He pulls back one and asks Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a pointed question: “Here are the children. What was their crime, Bashar? What was their crime, Arabs?”

Here’s the worst thing: there’s not much we can do about this. The UN is proposing another strongly worded letter. Sanctions are still going. Several countries have expelled Syrian diplomats. But I don’t see these doing much. Short of invasion or arming the resistance (assuming we can do either), we have few options beyond being horrified.

What is telling is the inability or unwillingness of Syria’s neighbors to do anything about this. Indeed, most the horrors that go on the world go on with nearby nations simply looking the other way. As long as they are massacring their own people, everyone is kind of fine with it.

Don’t expect things to get better anytime soon.

Memorial Day

I thought I’d repost this from the archive:

We came across a lad from A company. He was ripped open from his shoulder to his waist by shrapnel and lying in a pool of blood. When we got to him, he said: ‘Shoot me’. He was beyond human help and, before we could draw a revolver, he was dead. And the final word he uttered was ‘Mother.’ I remember that lad in particular. It’s an image that has haunted me all my life, seared into my mind.

-Harry Patch, The Last Fighting Tommy

No one wants to die. However gung-ho they may be, the instinct to survive is ingrained into our very DNA. It is a will so strong it can bring the near-terminally ill back from the edge of darkness. The success of any military depends on this—upon the willingness to kill rather than die. The men who struggled up the beaches of Normandy and through the fields of Gettysburg knew that their only chance of survival was in defeating the enemy. But to march into the fire meant being willing to die regardless of your desire to live. The willingness to sacrifice oneself means overcoming billions of years of evolution. Animals may do this for their young; only humans can do it for a cause, for a nation and for people they have never met.

I hope that during your drinking and barbecuing yesterday, you took a moment to remember what the day was for. The men who fell in our names would not mind the drinking and eating that happens on their day; they would doubtless wish they were there. Perhaps there is no better way of honoring the dead than to enjoy the life they have given us. But we should never forget that they are out there—silent, sleeping, shielding us even in death.

One thing we have learned is that not all of those who fall do so on the battlefield. Some carry wounds that eventually claim them: Lawrence Chamberlain lived to be 85, volunteered for more wars, became governor — all while enduring pain from his war wounds and eventually dying from them. Others carry their wounds inside: the haunting memories and searing trauma that drive so many to take their own lives or to bury their pasts in drink or drugs. All around us today are those who are slowly dying from the wounds they took for us, the soul-scaring terror they endured for us, the eyes of those they had to kill for us. Come some Memorial Day, we will be remembering them too.

The A-Student Desperado

From the files of You’ve Got To Be Fucking Kidding Me:

An honor student in Texas was thrown in jail after she missed too many classes at her high school.

A judge issued Diane Tran, 17, a summons Wednesday for her excessive truancy after she missed class. She was arrested in open court.

Last month, Tran was issued a warning by the judge for missing school.

You know, I was an honor student — at least until late in high school. And every semester, I would have the “flu” for a week. That’s what I told my mother and that’s what she pretended to believe. I was unpopular, I was the shortest kid in class and I was shy. I needed a break from the other kids. But I kept up my work and I was on the honor roll, so no one cared. The point of school was to be educated, not to show up. Schools are not fucking jails and the people who ran mine didn’t treat it like one.

But … my reasons for skipping school were not her reasons. This story just gets better:

Tran said she works both full-time and part-time jobs, in addition to taking advanced and college level courses.

“She goes from job to job from school. She stays up until 7 a.m. in the morning doing her homework,” said Devin Hill, a classmate and co-worker.

On top of that, Tran said her parents spilt up and moved away, leaving her to support her younger sister.

Yeah. She’s skipping school occasionally because she’s so tired from working a job and a fucking half to support her family. What a monster! We can’t let responsible people like that roam the streets. Better for her to have just dropped out when she turned 16.

The judge admits he wanted to make an example of her. He did make an example … of what happens when tiny-brained men get a little bit of power and just how insanely stupid our Zero Tolerance policies have gotten.

Actually, no, I take that back. She is setting an example and it’s one I think should be set. Let’s make it policy: any student who maintains their grades and works a job and a half gets to skip school occasionally. Make it a reward for being a model citizen.

Look, I understand that that the law is the law. But laws untempered by mercy, justice and common sense are useless. Zero Tolerance policies and mindless obedience to the rules are going to destroy a generation of kids before all is said and done. Literally.

Wisconsin Update

There are various signs that Scott Walker may survive the recall effort. He is leading in the polls. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinal endorsed him. Barret, in last night’s debate, crossed me as a man without ideas, simply repeating the line that Scott Walker “divided the state” over and over again*. He is still not saying how he would balance Wisconsin’s books. This is probably because he can’t tell the truth — that he would leave Walker’s reforms in place — without being slow roasted by his supporters.

(*I love the logic here. Passing reforms? That’s dividing the state. Fleeing to Illinois? Bipartisanship!)

I won’t relax until the votes are counted. And recounted. And challenged in court. And recounted. And the subject of a stupid Michael Moore movie. But there are reasons for hope. And the biggest reason for hope? The Democrats are already saying that the Wisconsin election has no national implications. Nope, no sir. It’s been said in a lot of places, but let’s just go with the Miss Verbal Diarrhea herself:

The chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee said Friday that if Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D) doesn’t prevail over Gov. Scott Walker (R) in next month’s Wisconsin recall election, there won’t be any ramifications for Democrats nationally.

“I think, honestly, there aren’t going to be any repercussions,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said in a broad-ranging interview on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers.”

“It’s an election that’s based in Wisconsin. It’s an election that I think is important nationally because Scott Walker is an example of how extreme the tea party has been when it comes to the policies that they have pushed the Republicans to adopt,” Wasserman Schultz said. “But I think it’ll be, at the end of the day, a Wisconsin-based election, and like I said, across the rest of the country and including in Wisconsin, President Obama is ahead.”

This is, to quote the President, a cowpie of distortion. If Walker is defeated, how long do you think it will take for the Democrats to declare that this a national referendum on budgets, unions, the Tea Party, Mitt Romney, conservatism, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and the designated hitter rule? Ten nanoseconds? If Walker loses, there will be a bloodbath of people stampeded by Democrats rushing to the nearest camera to declare that the American people have finally had enough of crazy Right Wing agendas. In fact, DWS tries it in that very interview, saying this has no national implications except the rejection of Tea Party extremism.

They’re scared. They’re scared that more states will follow Wisconsin’s lead (as many — both Republican- and Democrat-controlled — already have). They’re scared that all the efforts of the party, their MSM propaganda wing and the various Hollywood celebrities who paraded around Madison will come to naught. Wisconsin was supposed to be where the tide turned, where the thinking people of this country finally turned back the wave of Tea Party craziness. It may still happen. But if it doesn’t, they are going to be bitter.

Hence, the backing away and avoiding eye contact.

Argentina and Japan

Wasn’t it just like a week ago that Paul “Wrong Way” Krugman was praising Argentina? And wasn’t it this week that he gushed over Japan’s growth, stimulated by tsunami reconstruction?

Oops:

Recently, two more countries have felt the bite of Keynesianism. Today, the credit ratings agency Fitch downgraded Japan’s economy and the AP reported that the Argentinian economy is likely to decline sharply. While Japan and Argentina might be different kinds of economies performing differently in different markets, their recent bad news can be attributed in part to a fondness for government spending.

These countries have used two different approaches to Keynesianism, but it amounts to the same thing: gushers of debt, oceans of spending and rivers of “stimulus” producing … bad economies. And that’s ignoring, for the moment, the recent downgrades of all the other economies trying to spend their way into prosperity (the US) or raising taxes and calling it “austerity” (most of Europe). They have not acted as dramatically as Japan and Argentina have, which is probably they aren’t hurting as much. Yet.

Is Keynesianism ever wrong? Really, it’s only a matter of time until they drag out the Phillips Curve again.

Penn Goes Off

Sweet Jesus, yes:

That’s Penn, going off on Obama joking about drug use while he continues to prosecute the War on Drugs. It’s beautiful.

I think Penn hits a point that can not be emphasized enough: the role that class and wealth play in the War on Drugs. As P.J. O’Rourke pointed out in Parliament of Whores, rich connected people who do drugs need treatment and help (or, more often, a bong and a rolled up dollar bill). Middle class and especially poor people “part of the drug problem”.

At some point, this is going to be recognized for the debacle that it is. And when that happens, we can not let men like Barack Obama — or Bill Clinton or George W. Bush or anyone of a million hypocritical Drug Warriors — off the hook. The suffering they have inflicted on millions to assuage their guilt about drugs is incalculable.