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Wed Mar 20, 2013 at 01:08 PM PDT

My Sure-Fired Mideast Peace Plan

by TheCrank

Have you heard the news the Iraq War's price tag is going to end up as $6 trillion or up? I worked out the math on this while thinking about the various other ways we could have spent the money, and one way is we could simply have given every citizen of Iraq $218,634 and some odd cents.

So the President is in Israel and we're no closer to peace, with Israel still building settlements where it oughtn't and basically controlling the nearly non-existent Palestinian economy and the Palestinian "authorities" still so corrupted with a half century of anti-semitic hate and propaganda and eternally weak that they can't even keep people from launching missiles at Israel, much less provide in a meaningful way for its own citizens.

In the 1960s some wags at United Aircraft, where my Dad worked for a the time doing research into weapons technology and counterinsurgency techniques, did a similar cost-benefit analysis of both the prosecution of the Vietnam War and the benefits to the American public of defense spending. They called the resulting proposal The Pavement Pacification Plan. The idea was simple: instead of bombing North Vietnam and the Ho Chi Minh trail, we would dispatch the American road construction industry and start paving over as much of North Vietnam as possible into six-lane highways. If the results were similar to what had happened to America's urban centers and environmentally sensitive hinterlands that had been subdivided by highways, (1) there would be no more jungle to hide in (2) everybody in Vietnam would have a construction job for 25 years and (3) American industry would continue to benefit without having to risk the lives of a half million troops in the process.

I'm sure it was a jokey plan at the time, but the science of economic behavioralism strongly suggests it might've worked. Given sufficient economic rewards, people will engage in behaviors en masse and individually that would astonish you.

I have an even simpler idea: for every month there's no terrorist attack on Israel, pay every person in Palestinian-controlled areas a thousand bucks. For every month the net population does no increase and there's no building in the West Bank settlements where Israel has been forbidden to construct new buildings by UN and treaty agreement, give every citizen of Israel a thousand dollars.

You think this is whacky? Well, with the resources we put into the "peace" we have in Iraq applied to the much smaller populations of Israel (7.7 million) and the Palestinian areas outside Israel (4 million), we could keep this up for FORTY-FIVE years and still have change leftover for a whole new three-quarter billion dollar US Embassy someplace.

And in the meantime, nobody dies.

If this sounds like a crazy idea, let me ask you: is a pre-emptive war that cost the lives of at least 100,000 people and costs us $6 trillion a good idea? Has more than a half century of conflict in the middle east been halted by another approach?



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Here's kind of a wild stat that came out of testimony from Senator Warren's hearings on the minimum wage the other day. if the share of worker's wages had remained a constant since 1960, as a component of the GDP, (relative to other parts of the economy, such as corporate earnings, dividend earnings, etc.) and the minimum wage had been adjusted with inflation accordingly, the current minimum wage would be $22 an hour. As it is, the buying power of the $1 minimum wage would correspond to a minimum wage of about $9.25 an hour, but it's actually more expensive to live than it seems, since food, rent, health care, education, and energy costs are higher proportions (compared to, say, the cost of a TV).

Where exactly is the minimum wage relative to the mythical middle class family, and the economy as a whole since 1960? Yes, 1960 is kind of an arbitrary date, but it basically represents the entire working life for your parents if you're in solid throes of middle age like I am or the entire generations of your parents and grandparents if you're just graduating from college, so setting the wayback machine to 50 years is a decent point of comparison.

I took a brief dive into historical Census, BLS, and World Bank economic data.


Are you better off than you or your parents/grandparents were in 1960?

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Mon Feb 11, 2013 at 06:09 AM PST

Want a Gun? Pee in a Cup!

by TheCrank

Conservatives are again introducing legislation into three more states that would require recipients of Unemployment Insurance and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (aka "welfare") to pass a drug test before receiving them. This despite the fact such tests have shown a lower rate of drug use than in the general population, and in every case of unemployment insurance and the vast majority of TANF applicants, those eligible for the benefits have been paying taxes for years prior to falling on hard times. And also, of course, the questionable violation of Fourth Amendment rights, as well as due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. It can't be about the taxpayers' money, right, since the drug testing costs more than it saves.

And since the NRA is so interested in rooting out the "real" causes of gun violence, they surely would have no objection whatsoever on the right to requiring a little pee in a cup before a buyer could obtain a weapon, right?

Because let's take a worst case scenario with some unemployed person without any means of support and a couple of kids to feed who has a little THC in their system. They might go out and use those benefits to buy some milk for their kids, they might go buy a joint, but I'm pretty sure since the latter gives you the munchies they'd spend most of those benefits on food.

And the worst case of a guy stoned out of his mind buying a gun?

Join me below the fold and let's come up with a list of legal benefits of government for which you should have to pee in a cup before receiving them.


For which benefit should you have to test clean prior to receiving?

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Tue Feb 05, 2013 at 06:21 AM PST

Why the Boy Scout Ban Matters So Much

by TheCrank

The Boy Scouts of America are about, we hope, to vote on overturning their "gay ban". I'm hoping it's not going to be some quarter-baked solution of separate-but-equal or local-decisions-by-troops but a firm, clear, national policy.

I have had a hard time dealing with the BSA policy because I have two boys of cub scout age. We have an active den out of our elementary school, and the boys have friends who are active in scouting.

I also have many friends who have been involved in scouting for many years. I was a scout, too, though no Eagle scout (I got tossed out over my punk hair and bad attitude, back in the day, but not until after a half dozen mostly fun years).

So it has been doubly painful for me, to explain to both my kids and to create strife with other parents whose kids are active scouts, to tell them I can't have them participate in an organization that practices hate.

Yes, I use that word. It's a very strong word, as I tell all my kids, and should not be used lightly. "Intolerance" does not do the trick in this case, though. "Honest differences" doesn't do it either. The policy is one of hate, and I'll explain why I feel that way on the flip.


The BSA ban on gay scouts and parents is:

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Wed Jan 02, 2013 at 08:41 AM PST

The World of 1913

by TheCrank

Every year I do a little personal list of events from a hundred years ago, mostly for personal reasons. I pick 100 years ago because, well, it's a round number, and generally you can find a few people for whom events of 100 years ago are living memory.

In doing my list this year, there's a certain, shall we say, rhyme to the events of 1913 with those dominating our news heading into 2013. Progressivism, the original Progressivism, was entering its own in 1913, not all for good but it's astonishing in many ways what was being accomplished a mere 100 years ago and what problems seem to have never ended. Wilson's election in 1912, a watershed election that pushed Progressivism out of the Republican Party into its current alignment and reshaped the Democratic Party, certainly sets 1913 aside as a beginning of sorts. I haven't edited my original list to conform to this mental filter, and present it below "as is", in the hopes it will stimulate some conversation and exploration.

1913 was, of course, the last year before World War I changed the political and economic course of the world and propelled it along to the world of the 20th century, so it may just be as a snapshot of the "Old World" and how it was changing, the year actually is peculiarly interesting.

Instead of grouping the events merely chronologically, I've organized them in a way that made more sense to me. Don't ask me exactly what that organizational scheme is 8-).

I apologize in advance for the inevitable requests to document/cite sources; since this was started as a sort of Almanac list compiled from various sources, for personal reasons, I didn't keep track of them. Errors can be corrected by y'all 8-).



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So the NRA has just over four million members, and the lower tier of membership is $35 to join.

The NRA is both a 501c3 and a 501c4, meaning it has to comply with laws concerning governance for non-profit charities as well as organizations involved in political activity. There is a 76-person board (typically large boards are done in non-profits to effectively reduce control to the paid leadership of the organization) but like all such organizations these board members must be elected. The board members are elected to three-year terms by ballot by mail.

So it's a dangerous tactic, in that it would give the organization another $100 million plus, but if we got 4 million people who wanted to disband the NRA to join the NRA, we could be done with these people for a while. (This tactic was tried on the Sierra Club some time ago, note.)

Yes, they would pop up like whack a mole in another organization, but think of the delightful organizational chaos. Several million members would immediately give those who wanted to change the political activities of the organization standing, and allow legal maneuvering to force the NRA to obey the sunshine laws required for non-profit management, or have it decertified as a non-profit organization. And if the brand can be hijacked, so much the better.

"Conservatives" did the same thing with the Republican party, in essence, with the tea party.

Now, to do this correctly, we'd have to do it all at once. If we trickled in the membership, it would appear as if the NRA support was gaining and the financial resources would go to the organization now. (Note that the current budget is already $250 million, so they're getting more than half their money from big donors, most notably the gun manufacturers.) So if we set it up with a petition, and the commitment of those signing the petition was to join as soon as there were 4.3 million signatories, it would be a triggered event.

I note that it probably is not necessary to get an actual majority, since typically large organizations have low turnouts for board elections. The NRA is a bit of an exception, since there are many suborganizations (you know, Nutjob AR-15 Owners Association, Collectors of Killing Machines of America, et alia) that actively lobby for board seats, but the turnout is still in the 10 percentage range. So hypothetically we'd only need a half million new members or so.

I'm not sure whether this is a proposal that would work, and we'd have to have good legal minds lined up in non-profit law and an organization along the lines of Teamsters for a Democratic Union ("People with Hearts and Brains for a Democratic NRA"), but it's time to give even current NRA members who are not batshit crazy a voice and put some pressure on their leadership.

To coin a phrase, the best defense is a good offense.

Ideas? Alternatives that would attack this cancer at its base instead of with the ineffective peripheral anti-gun organizations that exist? (I gave up on several of these a long time ago for being toothless and craven.)


The NRA will get my dues check...

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Every third diary on the front page today, and I'm not exaggerating, has made reference to the PPP poll which purports to show what, to use Grover Norquist's phrase, "poopyheads" dumb old GOP voters are because 49% of them believe that ACORN, a non-existent organization, is responsible for stealing the election for Obama.

So I will grant you that (a) there are some people out there who believe the election was stolen, (b) there are still a few people confused enough to think ACORN is still among us, and (c) the intersection of these two subsets is probably heavily, heavily Republican, teabagging, and bloviatingly stupid. It is also probably VERY SMALL.

Because the question in that poll had these as the only three options:

Do you think that Barack Obama legitimately won the Presidential election this year, or do you think that ACORN stole it for him?

Obama legitimately won

ACORN stole it for him

Not sure

This is a LEADING poll question. The word "legitimate" has a whole host of interpretations, and anyone who had any question about any aspect of the election, and is still bearing any kind of a grudge so shortly after the event, is likely to respond to that word.

And then, that is paired in the very next clause with only ONE option, "or do you think ACORN stole it for him?" Well, maybe you were paying attention or not to ACORN's demise, but if you're a Fox voter you certainly were trained to believe that such an organization was in the vote-stealing or delegitimization business at one point or another. Or maybe you didn't, but you thought maybe you'd missed something. Or maybe you just missed the second half of the question, and you just want to express doubts about the legitimacy of the election. You will be inclined to take what seems like the least of two badly-worded choices.

Let me give you another example. Please take this scientific poll:

Do you think Barack Obama stopped beating his wife?

- he has stopped beating his wife

- he never stopped beating his wife

- not sure

There is, of course, NO correct answer here. Same thing with this idiotic PPP poll.

So that's one thing - but why do we have to keep quoting or doing shoutouts to the poll? There's plenty of evidence of GOP inanery, and at the same time we have prided ourself recently - gobsmackingly often and in self-congratulation - at being Silverites and data-driven and concentrating on science and methodology.

So front page authors, commenters, diarists -- please let's just drop making references to this. We will look better, we will feel better, and we will be better.

If you won't abandon this dumb-ass, non-reality-based-community poll and just stick to the ample facts of an ignorant Republican electorate for me, won't you do it for Stephen?


When Did You Start Hating America?

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Ah yes, those  radicals at the Financial Times across the pond have done it again. After being the champions of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, of monetarism and deregulation, and being themselves a huge international corporation, those crazy Marxists have endorsed Barack Obama for President.

Here is some of their crazy, wild-eyed Castro/Chavez-like rhetoric:

As in his response to Hurricane Sandy, Mr Obama has shown that purposeful government can be part of the solution rather than the problem. Four years on from the financial crisis, with extreme inequality an affront to the American dream, there remains a need for intelligent, reformist governance. Mr Obama, his presidency defined by the economic crisis, looks the better choice.
Editorial on the flipside, which is appropriate since the world is upside down when ardent capitalists and bastions of empire endorse anti-colonialist Kenyans.

Those filthy hippies at the Financial Times are:

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I'm sure you'll hear it again next Wednesday. Americans truly come together to unite behind the President after bitter, closely-contested elections. That's our way, and that's what happened in 2008.

Will you join me, then, and take the Democratic Pledge of Bipartisanship?

"If Mitt Romney is elected as President of the United States, I hereby pledge:

1. To convey to him the same level of honor, dignity, and respect that Republicans have paid to President Obama.

2.  To give him the same extended honeymoon period of giving him the benefit of a doubt that Republicans gave President Obama.

3. To refrain from questioning his legitimacy to govern, exactly as much as Republicans have done so with respect to President Obama.

4. To support a legislative policy focussed on the problems of the nation and not on political points, in the same model that Senator Mitch McConnell so candidly described in 2009 with respect to his number one priority for the nation over the next four years. In so doing, I will adhere to the same definitions of Bipartisanship espoused by such leaders as Senator Inhofe.

5. To urge my elected representatives to avoid parliamentary tactics, anonymous holds, linkage between unrelated issues on pieces of legislation, stonewalling and other forms of gridlock to the exact same extent as the Republican members of Congress did for President Obama.

6. To express the same kind of unified support of America's foreign policy, in times of crisis, that the Republicans expressed for President Obama.

7. To believe and support the President's patriotism, belief in a common good for all America, and genuine best interest in governing the country as well as he can exactly as the Republicans did for President Obama.

I hereby do so pledge!"


Will you take the Pledge of Democratic Bipartisanship?

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I mean, it's almost a joke if it weren't so serious, the party of Death Panels and morbid mongering about the deaths of our diplomats and conspiracies, but Frankenstorm seems like a fit analogy for the current GOP.

My question here: how long until the first GOP politicization of Sandy? Will it wait for a death, the Obama administration criticized by Lord Mittens for its failure to respond in the middle of the blow? Or will they wait a day and then claim they could have avoided the hurricane? Or that "Government is not the solution" except when there's any minor glitch in FEMA?

What're the odds? The forecast is for 100% politicization of whatever happens with Frankenstorm. You can count on it.


How soon will the GOP politicize Hurricane Sandy?

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Sun Sep 30, 2012 at 09:20 AM PDT

Ten Ways Obama Could Lose

by TheCrank

The path to victory at the electoral college is narrowing for President Obama. All the legitimate polls are saying so. The economy continues to be the President's achilles heel. His supposed strengths in foreign policy have proven a mirage as it was apparent he could have killed Osama bin Laden even earlier, perhaps as early as halfway through the second Bush administration. His association with Islam is becoming more evident, as is his lack of patriotism or love for America.

But the President's clever use of making half of America dependent on the Government, at the expense of defense spending, has clearly given him an unfair electoral advantage.

How then might he still lose this election? In ten easy steps. Read them below the fold.


The President could only lose by:

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Gov. Romney, addressing his secret cabal of donors:

...if we win on November 6th, there will be a great deal of optimism about the future of this country. We'll see capital come back and we'll see—without actually doing anything—we'll actually get a boost in the economy. If the president gets re-elected, I don't know what will happen. I can– I can never predict what the markets will do.

Under President Obama the Markets have

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