The War of the Fish

July 14, 2009

In a misguided attempt to save the struggling catfish industry, the Department of Agriculture is considering inspecting all pangasius fish imports from Vietnam. This seems fairly harmless,  but the “inspection” would turn into a literal ban for at least three years. The dead cattle  industry would also have beef with this, because Vietnam could very well decide to ‘inspect’ US beef for retaliati-‘safety reasons.’ Comparative loss? US beef exports to Vietnam are worth $131 million; the catfish industry just got a $50 million bailout. Worldwide, the cattle industry is obviously worth more, with its $175 billion towering over the $1.4 billion of the catfish.

Aside from the sheer ridiculousness of giving up money for protectionism, there are two other good reasons to keep importing fish and exporting beef.

1. It pisses PETA off.

2. Pangasius fish are adorable!

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Sue for a Sneaker!

July 14, 2009

There are two ways to look at the texting teen incident.  (A teen was texting and managed to fall into a sewer through an open manhole.)

1. The teen should have been paying attention and noticed the giant hole in the middle of her path.

2. The feds should have made sure it was impossible to fall into the hole, and the teen was obviously a victim of governmental dysfunction. She should therefore sue.

The general populous is *not* opting for option 1. Imagine that. Anyway, the mother of the oh so blighted girl is planning on taking option 2 and suing the pants off of everyone even remotely responsible for this. The problem? She doesn’t have any grounds. Her current idea is to sue on the ‘grossness’ factor. I have a better idea. Sue for a sneaker!

But of course, there is no point in having only one sneaker. So sue for a brand new pair. And you can never replace the emotional attachment between a girl and her sneaker, so sue for a couple new pairs every year until she finds one with which she can bond…But this will take time! So sue for all the time that Alexa will lose trying on shoes. This should all add up to about 65 million dollars, right Roy Pearson*?

*Roy Pearson was the guy who sued for $65 million over a pair of lost pants. And there wasn’t even a grossness factor!


Well…I guess we have to do *something* with it

July 9, 2009

On January 28, 2009, the Republicans fulfilled their promises to their constituents. Not a single one of them voted for the $819 billion stimulus plan. It passed anyway.

But their doom was not yet sealed. They could have filibustered. There was still hope.

A few days later, 3 Republicans sold their souls for 19 billion dollars, and a $838 bailout passed the house.  F***ing Commis!!! (For their protection, I will not list their names here. I will call it classified info. Hey, if the CIA can classify common knowledge, so can I. So shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh)

Anyway, the point is that the bailout passed, bought votes aside (and don’t tell me those votes weren’t bought: 19 billion dollars EXTRA to something the Republicans thought was a waste of money and it passes? Don’t even joke) so now we have a whole lot of money to spend. And by the looks of it, not much to spend it on. In total, including all of the bailouts passed and the maximum potential for what programs can cost, there are 11.3 trillion dollars we have to work with, and about a quarter of that has been spent or allocated (this article tells you where it all went). So we have some extra money floating around, and because of the magnitude of the money and the pressure to spend it quickly, it’s pretty much bound to be misspent.

Warren Buffet must be banking on this American incompetence, because even though the money ISN’T EVEN SPENT YET, he called for a SECOND economic stimulus this morning on “Good Morning America.” No really. He wants another one. When the first one has shown NO positive results and is STILL sitting on money. A second one. Please, please explain to me how this makes sense.

Oh, well. I won’t have to pay for it, as the Obama Administration clearly doesn’t care at all about repaying the deficit…ever. As long as I stay nice and poor, this isn’t my problem. 🙂

The bailout money, for all intents and purposes, is already gone. I just hope somebody does something with it.


Mandatory Minimum Sentences: Oops.

July 6, 2009

Background

A mandatory minimum sentence is the number of years that the fed requires you to spend in prison for a given crime, regardless of circumstance. For example, having 5 grams+ of crack = 5 years behind bars, no questions asked.

The main arguments against this system are that the sentences remove the discretion of the judge, tend to be subtly racist, fail to prevent people from doing drugs again, and aren’t cost effective.

The discretion of the judge argument goes like this. A  judge has the right to give a prisoner any punishment that he or she sees fit, taking into account any and all mitigating circumstances at his/her discretion. The judge was selected to do just this. An executive telling the judge that he must give a certain punishment violates this discretion.

To explain the racist argument, let’s examine a specific case. It would take 500 grams + of cocaine to get that same 5 year sentence (http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2009/06/24/attorney-general-wants-review-crack-cocaine-sentences/), a one to one hundred ratio, and the poor tend to use more crack because it is cheaper. The poor are more likely to be minorities. In short, minorities are punished more for drug crimes due to mandatory minimums.

The thing about recidivism rates (how likely people are to go back to jail) is that once people go to jail, they get angry. Whether or not you deserved your punishment, the average citizen doesn’t want to go to jail. In the case of small drug possession rules, most people don’t feel that the punishment is deserved. Citizens can end up feeling that the rules are dumb, or that they could avoid enforcement better next time. Both of these breed anger, and being angry predisposes you to commit another crime.

The cost effective argument is based solely on a lack of deterrence, (this deterrence based article from the Rand Drug Policy Research Center is a good example of an average one), and as I assumed that the death penalty was a good deterrent, I will assume that mandatory minimums are as well.

Note that I am doing this for the sake of consistency. There is no widely accepted scientific study that conclusively proves or disproves the deterrence factor, so any claim is essentially arbitrary. However, if you are interested in the existing studies (well, the pro deterrence studies anyway) you can check my very first blog post. It also includes some things on how you could logically prove that it’s a deterrent.

So, we are assuming that Mandatory Minimum Sentences are a deterent, basically because I feel like it, but also because it’s irrelevent. Why’s it irrelevent? Because today I’m going to do something new, and look at an issue for the human side of things, rather than the strict policy based side.

Controversy

People are irrational. No matter how well they know that the government can’t change an enforcement rule just for them, or how well they know that they broke the law, they don’t want to be punished, and they get angry.

Lengthy Personal Example

Take me for example. As some of you know, I am currently at debate camp, where we have a rule that you must sign a piece of paper by 11, and by signing that paper you are agreeing to go straight to bed.

Tonight, I got in the shower at 10:49. This was obviously a stupid idea. I was positioning myself to break the rule. At 10:59, I ran out of the shower and signed the paper, then went back to the bathroom to get my stuff. At 11, the counselor walked into the bathroom and asked me if I had signed the paper. I told her I had. She told me that I had violated the rule of going straight to bed after signing the paper. I had. Now, it would be easy for me to say,”I signed the paper, then went back to my dorm and arrived before 11. How is a brief stop to pick up a comb relevant?” Or even for me to word this story somewhat differently. I could say,”OMG! I have to run stairs because I went to clean up the bathroom and was like thirty seconds late!! I could have just left that comb there, and not been in trouble. Way to give me incentives to fuck up the bathroom.” Neither of those would be very well thought out responses, but they are expressions of what most of us would have as an immediate, emotional response: This isn’t fair.

Conclusion

But it is fair. The law applies to each of us equally, and though if I had gotten fifty years in prison instead of fifty flights of stairs I would be more angry, it would still be fair. Exceptions to a law can’t be made based on how late you were, or how over the limit you were, because this sets the precedent for the person who was a little later or a little more stoned than you were to ask for an exception because you got an exception. The law must have clearly defined rules. This is legal; this is not. This is the punishment that everyone else gets; this is the punishment that you get.

Furthermore, mandatory minimum sentences allow you to have a knowledge of what will happen if you break a given rule. In trials without these rules, you could go in with no idea of your sentence, or break a law without knowing the consequences. Mandatory minimums, on a purely rational level, let you know the consequences of your actions. Whether or not the Fed should be allowed to do this (can it ignore the judiciary branch’s rights?) or whether or not the specifics of these minimums should be changed (is crack really worse than cocaine?) or whether or not jails should be concerned about helping people make better choices (I’ll go there later)  or whether or not it is actually a cost effective deterrent (who the hell knows), the principle of letting people know what the consequences of their actions are and sticking to these consequences is not a bad one. In fact, it can be very helpful.

Moral of My Story

Oops.


Presenting The Other Side

July 5, 2009

To my fellow Libertarians: This is decently amusing.

To the people who read my blog who aren’t Libertarians (no idea why you read my blog, by the way. I probably routinely offend you. But thanks!!): I figure I should present the other side at times, for risk of being a hypocrite (I *may* be more biased than CNN).

Without further ado, a defense of Universal Health Care, by Fabian Marxist G.O.D:

If every human being is subjected to the fungal foot of an overbearing government-that is to say, any government, the social contract- the bond that exists between citizen and state, ensures that the puny human be looked after to some degree. The human is ruled and subjected to law and ordinance, sensible or not, and in turn is granted rights that the government must look to. These rights include the trivial right to assembly and freedom of worship to the more serious, like, the right to justice and defense in times of national crisis.

Unfortunately, many smug bourgeois (a la MarinaLee), don’t care to recognize the prerequisite to all of these rights: the right to health care. The human body is the medium by which most human beings live.  Living is a function that allows them to enjoy such things as life, liberty, and pursuing epinepheral pleasure. One of the most prestigious governments around by many standards, the United States guarantees the rights that the body may enjoy, but fails to explain how in hell a body may do that when it’s discovered that it’s pushing dandelions.

So here’s an idea: The only way that the rights that a government “ensures” may be enjoyed is if the body is able to receive those rights. The body must be in working, living condition to do so, so Universal Health Care is an implied right.

To some extent, the government of the United States and most governments in this wide world of ours already ensures many forms of preventive health care. Clean water, sewers, eugenics programs… oh wait we quit that, fire departments, and the police department all work to protect the human body. This is all commonplace and expected. A government without these services would be considered backwards, not providing for an essential human right. So why does the government provide these services? To ensure that the humans’ bodies are able to enjoy the other rights. A human can’t be expected to be pursuing anything other than water while on fire, so the government sends out men to extinguish fires, and allow the flamers to pursue their marriag… happiness. So since it is already easily demonstrable that the government should protect bodies from filthy water, feces, fire and fuckers with guns, why not finish protecting the bodies? By not taking care of the body through and through, the government is doing as much a half ass job as Michael Jackson’s heart. Perhaps it is that people aren’t romantic enough. If I cannot see a virus, then surely, it must not exist? I can feel a fire, I can see the dirty water, and those problems must be taken care of. But… a virus? And what is this I hear about Cancer? You say my cells are regenerating too quickly… and this is bad? Obviously no one thinks this way, but the point is that viruses and cancer and all these other health problems can pose just as much a problem as fire. The whole concept of a government looking after its people sans heath care is comparable to a mother smothering her kids in sunscreen at the beach only to let them be eaten by a shark.

Now, obviously any Universal Health Care system in the United States would be bitchy and expensive, and would probably suck nuts. Still, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try. 500 years ago people didn’t have the greatest sewer systems, but they were working on it. They didn’t have the best technology to put out fires and stuff, but they put forth an effort, and now  it works out in a cost effective manner. When a system works, no one bitches about the gargantuan government invading on the private  industry. We may not see a good universal health care system in this generation or the next, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.


Liberal Teachings (Health Care Part 2)

July 5, 2009

Right now, I have the misfortune to be “learning” about national politics from a whole bunch of liberal college students.  Today, we “learned” about health care, and a variety of misconceptions were presented.

Fallacies:

1. A Public Option will not hurt the insurance companies.

Okay, let’s look at this from a logical standpoint. The reason that we (allegedly) need a public option is because some people can’t afford a private option. Therefore, the public option needs to be cheaper, or we have the same problem. If it’s cheaper, and just as good (which it would have to be because the goal of this is for all people to have equal ability to keep themselves alive) then people are going to opt into it.  Even if you can afford the private option, you will take the public one: it’s cheaper.

2. There are no long lines in Universal Health Care Countries.

Brits pull out their own teeth—http://www.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/europe/10/15/england.dentists/index.html

At any given time in Great Britain, there are over half a million people waiting to get into a hospital for treatments.—http://abcnews.go.com/2020/Stossel/story?id=7938095&page=1

Canadians wait a median of six weeks to see a specialist following a referral from their family doctor. They are then forced to wait about another seven weeks to receive the treatment the specialist recommends. Should they need a CAT scan, the median wait is five weeks; for an MRI, 11 weeks. In America, you can get an MRI for your family pet within a day or two.—-http://www.heritage.org/Press/Commentary/ED032202.cfm

The Canadian Medical Association reported last year that 121 patients in Ontario scheduled for bypass surgery had been permanently removed from the waiting list. The reason: They had waited so long they were deemed medically unfit to undergo surgery without an unacceptable risk of dying.

The World Health Organization estimates that 25,000 people in Britain die unnecessarily of cancer every year – people who would likely have survived had they been in the United States. For a British man with colon cancer, the five-year survival rate is 41 percent; in the United States, 64 percent. For lung cancer, the survival rates are 6 percent and 13 percent, respectively. Women with breast cancer in Britain survive in 67 percent of cases after five years, compared with 84 percent of American women.

3. People in Universal Health Care Countries like their system, so it’s good.

While this one should be self explanatory, let me mention a few things. First, people support systems for a variety of reasons. In Canada, the main reason people support the system is that they think it is promotes equality (http://abcnews.go.com/Health/PrescriptionForChange/story?id=2582976&page=1). They like to think that their country allows everyone free and fair access. This doesn’t mean that the system is good, though arguably a system where everyone suffers equally is fair.

I hope that’s enough to debunk those misconceptions. If not, feel free to comment.