Saturday, July 9, 2016

Systemic Racism in Law Enforcement

This seems pretty obvious to me, but it seems like a lot of people don't get it.

The problem is not, primarily, that police have animosity towards blacks. The system incentivizes them to arrest and convict people. The police target the powerless because getting them through this process is easier - they put up less of a fight. But you usually can't just look at a person and determine if they have money, or political connections, or access to a defense lawyer.

Being black is just an easily observable proxy for powerlessness.

From the viewpoint of the police, they are just doing the job society has given them - maximizing the number of criminal convictions. From the viewpoint of blacks, they being targeted by the police for being black. They are both right.

This is why it’s called systemic racism. The bias is not in the minds of the people involved, but in how the system works.

(Photo by Guido van Nispen)

Friday, April 8, 2016

Religious Tolerance

A friend some time ago commented on the the Church of the flying Spaghetti Monster's display at the Florida state capital, that this demonstrated atheists intolerance of religion. I disagree.

There is a meme going around, that merely criticizing a religion is demonstrating "religious intolerance". As a secular humanist, I find this quite odd. The basis for religious tolerance is the idea of the marketplace of ideas, where any idea can be presented, and rationally debated, that the best ideas might win out.  It is not unlike the scientific process.

Obviously, for this to work, it must be acceptable to criticize ideas on their merits, with all views receiving criticism or acclaim.. This is handily summed up by Evelyn Hall's summary of Voltaire's view: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" . Every one shoud have access to the marketplace of ideas, even if they trade in inferior goods.

Somehow, this has been warped in the modern era into the idea that all religious viewpoints are equally valid and legitimate. Apparently, now criticizing a religious belief is "intolerance". Somehow, what was supposed to be a market place of ideas, where religious view should not be treated any different from any other belief, has morphed into the idea that religious viewpoints should be given special privilege.

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Existential Threat

In 1985, at the height of the cold war, the soviet army had 5.3 million men. For years, this army was the bogeyman used by Republican conservatives to justify spending billions on the military. Unfortunately for the GOP, with the fall of communism, the military threat of the Red Army declined by half (currently, Russia has about 2.2 million soldiers, including reservists). Fortunately, the GOP has found a new bogeyman - ISIS.

ISIS at its strongest was about 30,000 soldiers, including both the Syria/Iraq theater as well as the Libyan theater, according to the US intelligence.

So, lets take a look at military size of Russia, US, and ISIS (I've also thrown in China for comparison purposes):

That one-pixel line to the right is ISIS. This is what the GOP sees as the existential threat to the United States.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Seven Ways the Republican Party Can Prevent Trump from Becoming President

1. Choke down the vomit, and fully back Ted Cruz

Maybe Cruz wins enough delegates to win the nomination. This is probably a long shot, but it dovetails nicely with a number of other strategies,

Pros: Cruz is (?)  better than Trump at getting conservatives out to vote, which helps down-ticket races.
Cons: Cruz is no better than Trump at actually winning the presidency

2. Contested Convention

Deprive anyone from getting a majority of electors, then pick a different candidate than Trump in a contested convention.

Cons: Trump goons riot. Also, nobody is going to agree to who the anti-Trump candidate is. If they could, we wouldn't be here.
Pro: Trump goons riot, convincing everyone that you made the right decision. And you really have only two choices as to the who is the Anti-Trump: Cruz, or Kasich. Democracy says, pick they guy with the most votes. So go with Kasich. If you were going to listen to the people, you would be going for Trump.

3. Run a Republican as an independent candidate. 

Sure, no chance the sucker is going to actually win, but he might take enough votes away from Trump to keep him from winning.

Cons: Nobody signs up to be a sacrificial lamb
Pros: Would give true Republican voters someone to vote for, ensuring they don't stay home, and thus ensure votes for down-ticket candidates. And who knows, Rubio might be willing to wear a lambswool suit.

4. Third party run. 

Maybe Ted Cruz convinces the Libertarians to pick him as their presidential candidate in exchange for some cabinet positions. Since the Libertarians already have ballot access in 34 states, this would be easier than running as an independent. While any third party candidate's chances are small, all they have to do is take enough votes away from Trump so that he loses the general election.

Pros: Better chances than running as an independent.
Cons: You have to give THEM something in exchange. But really, does the Federal Reserve do anything useful anyway?

5. State legislatures take electoral college elector selection into their own hands. 

So, it turns out,, there aren't any hard and fast rules as to how electors are picked or how they vote. Sure, most states require them to vote for the candidate who won the state, but states can change that. So, Texas could pass a new law that says electors will be appointed by the governor, and must vote as the governor specifies.

Pros: Many conservatives are already questioning the 17th amendment as an abrogation of state's rights. This is the logical corollary.
Cons: Hopefully, most voters find such anti-democratic actions repugnant.

6. Proportional Distribution of Electors

OK, so maybe method 5 strikes many people as heavy handed and  anti-(small d) democratic. But state legislatures can fight Trump AND be more democratic at the same time. If strong Trump states pass a law that says electors will be selected based on the distribution of votes, that could prevent Trump from getting all the electors. So Texas, for example, could pass such a law, and if Trump were winning in Texas by 55%, he would only get 15 electoral college votes. Under the current winner-take-all vote system, he would get all 28. Two states (Maine and Nebraska) already do this.

Pros: Anti-Trump. Pro-democracy. Why aren't we already doing this?
Cons: Would make the general election more (small-d) democratic, and thus more (big-D) Democratic. Still, you could always change the laws back again after the election. No one will notice.

7. Throw the election into the House. 

So, by both running a third party candidate that is popular in a large state, AND changing the elector selection to proportional electors (or whomever the state chooses), you could possibly prevent either Clinton OR Trump from getting enough votes to win. In this case, the president is elected by the House of Representatives with each state getting a single vote, but they are limited to voting for the top three candidates that the electors voted for (sorry, Paul Ryan).

Pros: That handful liberal milk-farmers in Vermont get just as many votes as the entire state of Texas
Cons: You are still stuck with choosing between Clinton, Trump, and Cruz