Warning: Genetically Moronic Organisms

The U.S. left’s anti-science movement is almost as bad as the U.S. right’s anti-science movement. The anti-science-right thinks everything is an ungodly development (or will hurt the oil & gas industry). The anti-science-left wants us all to die of cholera, measles, and mass starvation so long as we all use only “all-natural” medicine and food, supposedly because humanity survived before the modern stuff.

True — and life was miserable because everyone was sick or hungry until they died, hopefully not before popping out enough surviving children to keep the species going.

I’m fine with the critiques of environmental sustainability of food production, but many of the modified crops are more sustainable and have a lower ecological impact than the “natural” and “organic” competitors. And I want everyone to have enough to eat, which is hard to execute without higher-caloric food and drought-resistant crops.

I’m also not going to sit here and pretend that more or less every crop consumed by humans for the past wasn’t genetically modified by humans, via trial-and-error and then formalized food science, for the past twelve thousand years. You can be mad at the health effects of some of the engineered food combinations, and you can be mad at the role of the broken patent system in the GMO world, but you can’t be mad at “genetically modified” food as a concept, because then you’re just mad at all food humans have ever grown.

Even the maize the English colonists found in the “New World” in the early 17th century was engineered by indigenous populations of the Americas for thousands of years before it was a productive, large-ish food crop even close to modern corn. It’s not some twisted Mary Shelley novel up in those food genetics labs. They’re figuring out how to feed everyone.

Meanwhile, the critiques of modern, settled medical science (such as vaccination) are unacceptable and dangerous, as previously covered by Arsenal For Democracy. The only exceptions are on things we know are still in need of improvement, such as pain management and antibiotic over-use. But nobody is going around claiming those areas are a-ok. Doctors and researchers are pretty aware of those problems and are working on them.

Everything that is settled won’t be re-opened just by you rolling out of bed and checking up on your favorite conspiracy blog, the one your buddy from suburban parenting group told you about. Maybe start worrying about actual, verifiable pollution of drinking supplies near vulnerable populations (often non-white and usually low-income) before telling your doctor she’s a sheep for trying to get your kid vaccinated to go to school.

Between the two anti-science factions — right and left — it’s no wonder this country is seeing a rise in childbirth deaths of women and has an infant mortality rate not matched in peer nations. But at least we’ll be back to everyone dying at 30 — like God and/or crunchy Mother Earth intended. YOLO.

The Americanos’ Day (Or: In Defense of ‘Cinco De Mayo’)

Battle-of-Puebla-1862Ah, Cinco de Mayo. The annual day where snooty Americans get to tell other Americans (who are really just trying to drink in peace while wearing face paint in the Mexican national colors) that “actually” Cinco de Mayo “isn’t a real Mexican holiday” and “has no importance or significance” — and then even snootier Americans (like me!) get to tell the first group that the Second French Empire’s defeat in the Battle of Puebla was strategically important to the preservation of the Union during the U.S. Civil War, by preventing Napoleon III from invading to help the Confederacy.

To this day, even though the holiday is not widely celebrated in Mexico (because it was not very important within Mexico as a whole in the long run, since the French won the war anyway at least briefly), it’s important to acknowledge what makes it so unusual in the United States:

1) It’s a rare day where Mexican culture and heritage is openly celebrated in a country that includes the territory that used to be of about half of Mexico. These areas make up parts or all of ten U.S. states now. And the country at large is home to millions of people of Mexican descent. They deserve more than a day. Don’t take this one away!

2) The holiday’s U.S. roots began in the State of California when news of the 1862 victory in Puebla, Mexico reached the Mexican miners in California. Both the United States and Mexico were being torn apart by war at the time. The anniversary of the battle has been celebrated every year since 1863 in California. (1863!) When people say “it’s not a real Mexican holiday,” that minimizes the fact that it’s essentially always been a celebration of Californian Mexican-Americans.

Thus, it’s a great way to celebrate Mexico’s culture and close historical ties to the United States — something that has tragically been forgotten amid the push for bigger border fences and a rising tide of anti-Mexican xenophobia.

And even though Puebla is a southern Mexican state, it is a convenient reason to celebrate the cross-border regional culture of northern Mexico and Alta California/Nuevo Mexico, or the U.S. Southwest.

Mexico has long had many of the same sectional differences that plague(d) the United States. The gross Anglo-American Slaveholders Revolt in Tejas that led to the creation of an independent Texas is a dark mark. But beyond them, a lot of actual (non-U.S.) northern Mexicans wanted out from the rest of the country. Most got it, via the Mexican Cession (though that probably wasn’t what most residents had in mind), but a few states were left behind. They remained close with the United States — often more so than with central Mexico. Until big migration restrictions were put into place, there was a lot of economic activity back and forth in both directions between the American Southwest and northern Mexico, even well into the twentieth century.

U.S. history has long been closely intertwined with Mexican history, both for good and ill. It’s pretty great that a century and a half later, a lot of Americans (including non-Mexicans) take at least one day to acknowledge (however casually, in some cases) that almost a third of the U.S. mainland by area used to be half of another country and that Mexican-Americans still part of both our history and present.

523px-File-Mexico_1835-1846_administrative_map-en-2.svg

And if nothing else, I just want to reiterate that the “insignificant” battle kept the French intervention force distracted in Mexico long enough for the U.S. Army to regain the momentum and win the Civil War before the Confederates could persuade any European governments to help them.

Oped | Pfizer: Tax Havens or Bust!

Why cutting U.S. corporate taxes won’t stop a wave of offshore reincorporations.

My new oped, expanding on a post on this site, is now available from The Globalist:

Grand_Cayman_IslandPfizer, founded in the United States in 1849, is trying to buy AstraZeneca, one of its biggest global rivals. Reportedly, and quite bizarrely, the main purpose of this transaction is so it can reincorporate in the United Kingdom — and thus reduce its tax “burden” as well as access “trapped” overseas cash.

The United Kingdom, of course, makes for a much more “competitive” tax environment. After all, it provides corporations and rich individuals with access to half a dozen or so offshore tax evasion center crown dependencies and British Overseas Territories.

(And let’s not forget about that always-subservient financial center, a medieval holdover city-within-a-city in the heart of the modern British capital.)

Of course, we should refer here to the scheme as tax “avoidance,” because a tax maneuver is not “evasion” if it is entirely legal (thanks to a most circumspect exploitation of all the loopholes).

In Pfizer’s case, it is indeed so entirely legal — and potentially lucrative — for the company that Pfizer has already tried to buy a disinterested AstraZeneca once already this year alone. Undeterred, they have made a second massive offer this month.

United Kingdom or United States to blame?

All of these British tax avoidance centers exist in a legal gray area that has its true charms when it comes to sovereignty and expediency. They are outside UK control on paper when convenient — and therefore, with one exception, outside effective EU regulations, too. But they are very much under the UK’s thumb whenever so desired and needed.

Continue reading…

Donald Sterling is Literally Hitler

Apparently I haven’t delved to the deep dark depths of the National Basketball Association, because it came as a bit of surprise to me that Los Angles Clippers owner Donald Sterling is a massive, old-fashioned racist. Sterling’s former girlfriend(?) V. Stiviano leaked a bizarre audio tape, in which he gets angry she had taken an Instagram picture with basketball legend Magic Johnson (!) and Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp. By the end of the tape, he’s expressing a plantation-owner mentality towards his black players:

V: Do you know that you have a whole team that’s black, that plays for you?

DS: You just, do I know? I support them and give them food, and clothes, and cars, and houses. Who gives it to them? Does someone else give it to them? Do I know that I have—Who makes the game? Do I make the game, or do they make the game? Is there 30 owners, that created the league?

Uhhh….. I’m pretty sure Chris Paul and Blake Griffin could easily find another owner to pay their salaries. And I’m pretty sure Clippers fans are flocking to LA’s long-forgotten basketball team to watch Paul, Griffin and Doc Rivers, not to thank Sterling for decades of terrible ownership. Speaking of Doc, I’m wondering how much he knew about this situation, given that he once played for the Clippers. He has refused a phone call with Sterling, and seems focused on getting past a pesky Warriors team before he really takes on this firestorm.

But forget basketball for a second — Sterling’s racism has real-world impacts. He’s a slumlord who has targeted blacks, Hispanics, and families with children for eviction, getting himself convicted in the largest ever housing discrimination settlement.

But to get the whole bizarre picture, you really need to listen to the full audio. It’s sounds like a parody of a nurse attempting to understand the antebellum views of a senile geezer. His entire premise on why people of different ethnicities can’t be friends comes down to culture — that’s the way it is — a nice little circular argument that I have actually heard from someone who styled themselves as intelligent. I’m sorry but “the culture” has changed a lot since Sterling bought the team in the 80s. I love this particular section, where they go full Godwin:

V: It’s like saying, “Let’s just persecute and kill all of the Jews.”

DS: Oh, it’s the same thing, right?

V: Isn’t it wrong? Wasn’t it wrong then? With the Holocaust? And you’re Jewish, you understand discrimination.

DS: You’re a mental case, you’re really a mental case. The Holocaust, we’re comparing with—

V: Racism! Discrimination.

DS: There’s no racism here. If you don’t want to be… walking… into a basketball game with a certain… person, is that racism?

Yes.

In another interesting bit, Sterling, nee Tonkowitz, talks about how “black Jews” are treated like “dogs.” Black Jews? Maybe he’s thinking of Palestinians?

Oh and also there’s a section where Sterling says Stiviano (who is black and Mexican) is a nice “white or Latina girl.” He needs to step up his slave-master game, because they certainly were under no impressions they were sleeping with white women.

The other NBA owners and new commissioner Adam Silver need to force this guy out as fast as possible. We don’t need another Marge Schott situation, where it took the better part of a decade to oust the Nazi-loving owner of the Cincinnati Reds. At least Eric Miller, Sterling’s son-in-law and Director of Operations for the Clippers, called Sterling’s comments “deplorable and disgusting” in a statement that could cost him a job.

If Donald Sterling still wants to own a team, he picked the wrong league. Not only is the NBA largely black, basketball is a global sport with a growing following in Asia, Africa, South America, in addition to Europe. The NBA already has had stars from China, Argentina, and Germany. The new faces of basketball are fundamentally incompatible with Donald Sterling’s plantation mindset and the NBA needs to force him out immediately.

The loss of Net Neutrality will change everything. (Here’s why.)

Earlier this week, the FCC announced tentative plans to end their policy that broadband internet providers must carry all web traffic to users at equal speeds (i.e. equal priority) regardless of source. The old policy is known as “net neutrality” because it didn’t allow providers to cut deals with certain websites to weigh some traffic more highly than others.

The FCC, which is tasked with regulating some forms of communication in the public interest, says they had to make the change in response to a recent Supreme Court ruling, because (they argue) net neutrality has already effectively been ended and companies will start making deals with each other without oversight and this way they can apply some amount of oversight.

I think a lot of people disagree with that contention, but regardless of the reasoning, the decision to stop promoting neutrality as a goal is a disaster.

Speed inequality is going to cut off many small businesses and new e-commerce enterprises at the knees. Existing web giants like Amazon or Google will be able to pay (even if they’d prefer not to) to maintain their paramount status (as long as they don’t get into fights with providers like Netflix often does), while new start-ups will fizzle before they can launch because their content will be too slow for consumers, by comparison. In other words: More power to the old money (or existing money, at least).

The days of anyone having an equal opportunity to take a good idea, launch it, and bring it to the American people on the strength of its merits and word-of-mouth will be over for good.

The internet’s commercial success in the United States has been based heavily on equality of opportunity — and decades of government-funded research and development into the technologies that led to its emergence into general society.

In an editorial in The New York Times opposing the FCC’s rules change, the board argues that this long public support for the internet’s initial development means the government should have a role in regulating to maintain equality of service:

the viability of those networks are based on decades of public investments in the Internet, the companies’ use of public rights of way and, in the case of some companies, a long government-sanctioned monopoly over telephone service. Public interest groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and Public Knowledge oppose the creation of two-tiered Internet service because it offers no public benefit, but would squelch innovation.

 
Well beyond the net neutrality problem, the FCC’s Bush-era decision to designate broadband as “a lightly regulated information service” instead of a more heavily regulated “telecommunications service” is causing all sorts of legal issues.

For example, while it’s illegal for the phone company to disconnect an elderly person’s landline service for not paying the bill on time (or due to a mix-up), it is not illegal for phone companies to disconnect voice-over-internet telephone replacement services to elderly customers. If the check gets lost in the mail and then you have a medical emergency, you are out of luck if you have a VOIP phone instead of a landline.

So, the Times Editorial Board’s recommendation to change the classification (a move the politically influential providers obviously oppose) would be the simplest solution to many of the problems currently arising from broadband providers abusing the regulatory gaps — and it would circumvent the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling.

But fundamentally, the loss of net neutrality is just bad for business and American innovation in general, because speed inequality removes the level playing field we’ve all been operating on so far. As the Times Editorial Board says:

The Internet has been a boon to the economy and to free speech because it is not divided into tiers and is open to everybody in the same way.

In 2007, President Obama said one of the best things about the Internet “is that there is this incredible equality there” and charging “different rates to different websites” would destroy that principle. The proposal from Mr. Wheeler, an Obama appointee, would do just that.

 
Conservatives often say they don’t want government regulators and lawmakers picking and choosing “winners and losers” instead of the free market. But ending net neutrality does exactly that: it picks all the current leaders as the winners and makes it very difficult for new competitors to emerge as market challengers against the incumbents.

That’s why we need to have regulation in some areas of the market. Market freedom isn’t free.

 

Pictured: The first Interface Message Processor from the U.S. Defense Department's ARPANET system, a predecessor to the modern internet. (Credit: FastLizard4 - Wikimedia)

Pictured: The first Interface Message Processor from the U.S. Defense Department’s ARPANET system, a predecessor to the modern internet. (Credit: FastLizard4 – Wikimedia)

How dare you vote for your interests!

It’s pretty well known that among Fox News’s “infotainment” programming (between its official news segments) the show Fox & Friends is perhaps the most devoid of a link to reality. But it does spit forth, within a vast mine of crap, some particularly putrid gems worth looking at in greater depth.

allen-westOne such recent gem was a segment with Allen West, a hyper-conservative former Congressman from Florida and advocate of the Tea Party movement, perhaps best known for his undying rage toward Muslims. (He is also known, among critics, for his borderline war crimes in Iraq that led to his early retirement from the U.S. Army — a fact the Fox News hosts did not bring up when repeatedly calling him “Colonel West.”)

During this segment, the show asserted (with little daylight between his claims and the hosts’ statements) that the Muslim Brotherhood is about to become a party on everyone’s voting ballots, right alongside Democratic and Republican candidates.

Now, there are many things wrong with that claim (besides the fact that it’s 100% made-up). It’s hard to know where to begin.

For one thing, the framing of the claim is outlandish because anyone could start any party (as many have indeed done) and it would still not be on the same level as the Democrats and Republicans — certainly no more than if I were to launch the “American Easter Bunny Supremacy Party” or whatever. But we’re talking about the network that tried to convince its viewers that the “New Black Panther Party” was a revolutionary force sweeping the nation and oppressing white voters, rather than two old Black men in berets looking cranky outside a single polling place in Philadelphia.

So, for today and the segment in question, it’s probably not worth my time to rehash the theme that Fox News is crafting an entirely fabricated reality that with each passing day shares fewer properties — nay, even laws of physics — with our dimension. If you want more on that, you’ll want to read my popular 2010 treatise entitled “The Right-Wing Alternate Universe.”

(Shout out, though, to their extensive world-building and long-running character development work on this Fox Newsiverse. They should host a con or have a wikia or something, so Fox News Channel nerds can discuss continuity error resolution and alternate timelines.)

Voting bloc

But the real reason I wanted to bring up this segment was the claim that a consortium or coalition of legitimate Muslim-American and Arab-American lobbying organizations were trying to put together a political party. That’s not actually true, as you’ll see from this quotation from the segment, where he elides two entirely different concepts of
1) a political party and
2) a voting bloc (a group of voters who informally vote together based on a shared interest).

From the Informed Comment summary of the exchange (if you haven’t watched the clip yet):

“They’re forming some type of political party, a voting bloc as they call it,” West said.

“In this country!” Doocy emphasized.

“That’s right! To institutionalize policies that favor them,” West agreed, adding that they wanted to “destroy America from within using a civilizational jihad, and that’s exactly what you see happening.”

 
Ok, so in reality (as he tacitly acknowledges without formally acknowledging) no one is actually forming any type of political party. A “voting bloc as they call it” is exactly what every major group of united voters is called in every democracy in the world, but he makes it sound like a concept so exotic and Middle Eastern it just walked out of One Thousand and One Arabian Nights holding hands with Scheherazade.

If all the labor unions in the United States endorse a candidate and organize to get their membership to back that candidate, they have formed a voting bloc, not a political party. They’re not suddenly now “The Labor Party.”

But look at that other remark he tosses in there. He says they (the Muslim/Arab-American interest groups) want “to institutionalize policies that favor them.”

That’s a fancy way of saying they want to pass laws that are in line with their goals (of reducing discrimination against Americans who are Arab and Muslim and of promoting better cultural understanding).

If you listen to the clip of Allen West talking, but then read closely the words coming out of his mouth, it’s the political equivalent of Andy Daly’s (very funny) “Jerry O’Hearn, veteran standup comic” character who just says banal and vacant statements in the expected cadence and rhythm so it sounds like he’s doing a routine, without having to make actual jokes (much like West says banal facts but makes them sound shocking).

Daly has said that he developed the character after he accidentally timed a joke wrong one time and audience members laughed automatically at the pause rather than at the punchline because they thought he had already said it.

Similarly, Allen West can just say normal stuff in a scary way — “a voting bloc as they call it” or “to institutionalize policies that favor them” — and suddenly it has great meaning.

But actually, for the tea party movement, as I’ve argued before, there is great (negative) meaning to the idea of (other!) people voting for candidates that will pass “policies that favor them.” Read more

Combat, mental health, and uncomfortable questions

After the recent (latest) military base shooting, the V.A. urged the media and people generally not to jump to conclusions — suggesting that the shooter suffered from PTSD — that might further stigmatize mental health problems facing some veterans. In the abstract that might make sense, but in context it doesn’t quite. Because that request almost implies that there isn’t any connection — that it’s a myth. Which unfortunately is not the case…

In a Slate article headlined, “PTSD Contributes to Violence. Pretending It Doesn’t Is No Way to Support the Troops”, combat Marine officer-turned-journalist, David J. Morris, looks at historical links between war, PTSD, and home front violence and poses the uncomfortable question:

What if Dept. of Veterans Affairs isn’t trying to protect its veterans from being maligned/marginalized when they tell people not to link shooting sprees and veteran homicides with PTSD — and is really just trying to whitewash the fact that the country sent a bunch of people into very unusual moral situations (and then didn’t help them re-adjust when they got back)?

We absolutely need to do better, and certainly not everyone comes home messed up permanently. But refusing to acknowledge the lasting mental health toll of war for many veterans doesn’t mean it doesn’t last.

The simple fact is that war poisons some men’s souls, and we aren’t doing our veterans any favors by pretending that war is only about honor and service and sacrifice and by insisting that PTSD is completely unrelated to the problem of postwar violence. It’s not only morally irresponsible, it’s scientifically inaccurate.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t want this to be true. In fact, as a veteran who has struggled with post-traumatic stress, I hate that it’s true, but war is an evil thing. As a society we need to face the reality of it head-on so that we can avoid the next war. And despite its official protests to the contrary, the VA secretly agrees with me. Visit any VA hospital across the country and you’ll see what I mean. What’s the first thing you see when you walk in? A metal detector with an armed VA police officer standing nearby.”

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