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Republicans Seek To Add New Step To The Bureaucracy Of Federal Government

Republican politicians are fond of complaining about the many layers of bureaucracy in the federal government. There is so much red tape and bloat on the process, they say, that it’s impossible to get anything done.

As much as they complain, though, what have Republicans in Congress done to actually make the federal government run more smoothly? Yesterday, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to make the bureaucratic process in Washington D.C. another layer thick.

Their bill, H.R. 427, also given the lengthy title of the Regulations From The Executive In Need Of Scrutiny Act, will invent an entirely new burdensome step in the operation of the federal government. Congress has already granted the Executive Branch the authority to make rules in order to implement the laws passed by Congress. Congress has even set up a complex maze of rules about the way that the Executive Branch can create and implement those rules. Now, H.R. 427 would create another layer of rules about these rules. If H.R. 427 is passed, all significant rules in the Executive Branch will have to return to Congress, and go through a series of committees and hearings, before finally coming up for a final vote on whether to approve the rules – even though congressional authority for the rules already was granted long before.

To go along with this burdensome new process, there would have to be entirely new layers of clerks and aides and bureaucrats checking that the rules about the rules about the rules were being processed according to the rules.

Republicans may complain about federal bureaucracy and big government, but right now, they’re the ones trying to make it all bigger. Not one single Republican in Congress voted against passage of H.R. 427 yesterday.

Donald Trump’s Aide: Yes, You Can Legally Rape Your Spouse. Reality: Complicated

Michael Cohen, aide to presidential candidate Donald Trump, explaining that Donald Trump could not have possibly raped Ivana Trump in 1993 because they were married:

“You’re talking about the frontrunner for the GOP, presidential candidate, as well as a private individual who never raped anybody. And, of course, understand that by the very definition, you can’t rape your spouse.”

“It is true,” Cohen added. “You cannot rape your spouse. And there’s very clear case law.”

CNN quotes RAINN activist Scott Berkowitz as definitively debunking Cohen’s claim:

“Marital rape has been illegal in all 50 states since 1993 and non-consensual sex between spouses does in fact constitute rape, said Scott Berkowitz, the president and founder of the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.”

But legal reality lies somewhere uncomfortably in between these two claims.  For a short-form version of the current state of marital rape law, visit the National Clearinghouse on Marital and Date Rape, which agrees in part with Berkowitz by noting that as of 1993, all 50 states had some degree of prohibition of rape in marriage.  But the NCMDR also notes that in 30 states, a greater degree of violence or evidence is required to prosecute marital rape.  Jennifer J. McMahon compiled a detailed list of the inconsistent conditions and exemptions regarding marital rape as opposed to non-marital rape in those states for her doctoral dissertation, and ties differences between the states to women’s greater or lesser labor force participation, among other factors.

 

Congress Passes Law Requiring Unneeded Maintenance Of Airport Security Machines

Anthony Kimery, Editor In Chief of Homeland Security Today, described a Homeland Security Department audit two months ago by writing that, “US airline passengers appear to have been in potential jeopardy to terrorist attacks for nearly a decade ‘because the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has not properly been managing the maintenance of its airport screening equipment.'”

Let’s unpack that statement.

For nearly a decade, airport security machines have not been maintained in full working condition according to manufacturers’ specified procedures.

Despite the lack of what the manufacturers say is necessary maintenance of the airport security machines, there have been absolutely zero terrorist attacks that took place in the United States because of failures in airport security.

Therefore, either:

A) The supposedly substandard maintenance of airport security machines as it has been practiced for the last decade has actually been effective; or

B) We don’t need airport security machines to protect us.

You know what Congress did in response to the audit, of course. They passed H.R. 2770 yesterday. It’s a new law requiring the Department of Homeland Security to develop a plan for following the plan of maintenance that it was already supposed to follow, but proved to be unnecessary – and not one member of Congress had the guts to vote against the silly bill.

In Australia, the direct cost to travelers of unnecessary airport security is estimated at about two billion dollars per year – and that’s not counting items lost and confiscated by security agents, nor the salaries of those security agents, nor the cost of their equipment – or its maintenance. Who knows how much expense is being caused by airport security in the United States?

Back in September of last year, professors John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart gave it a shot. They calculated that, for U.S. spending on Homeland Security to be cost effective, there would have to be 1,667 attempted terrorist attacks in the United States every year. “In an important sense,” they write, “the most cost-effective counterterrorism measure is to refrain from overreacting.”

Did the Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Break the U.S. Military?

In 2010, as the presidential administration of Barack Obama began laying the groundwork for a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the prohibition on gay men and lesbians in the U.S. military, American conservatives predicted dire consequences. The conservative periodical Human Events issued a typical prediction:

Frank Gaffney, founder and president of the Center for Security Policy, told HUMAN EVENTS that his concern is that if the policy is repealed the military may lose out on retaining personnel. A poll by Military Times showed that between 10% and 25% of those who are currently in the military might say, “I’m not going to serve.”

“You will break the all-volunteer force. And in time of war, in time of great — and growing –  international threats to this country, that’s not something we can afford to do,” said Gaffney.

In 2011, the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” prohibition was officially ended.  Has the U.S. military indeed been “broken” as a consequence?

As Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times reported a year after the change, the predicted 10-25% exodus didn’t materialize:

Pentagon officials say that recruiting, retention, and overall morale have not been affected.  None of the dire predictions of opponents, including warnings of a mass exodus of active duty troops, have occurred.

An ongoing Military Times poll regarding gay and lesbian people in the U.S. military shows that the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” discrimination didn’t break the military.  On the contrary, the military shifted its culture and has increasingly approved of gay and lesbian participation in military life:

Military Times Poll on Gay Servicemembers in the U.S. military, 2006-2015

In the meantime, researchers (a majority of whom are affiliated with U.S. military educational institutions) determined that despite their effort at “identifying evidence of damage caused by repeal” of discrimination against gay and lesbian people in the military, they could find none.  The researchers were particularly damning of the prediction that repeal would impact military “readiness”:

A comparison of 2011 pre-repeal and 2012 post-repeal Military Times survey data shows that service members reported approximately the same level of military readiness after DADT repeal as before it. On all four components of readiness measured by Military Times surveys (quality of training, officers and enlisted leaders, and whether today’s service members are the best ever), the 2012 post-repeal data indicate approximately the same levels as the 2011 pre-repeal data.14 If repeal had compromised overall readiness in any discernible way, it would be hard to understand why every dimension of readiness assessed by Military Times survey respondents remained stable after the new policy of open service went into effect.

Considering related predictions that legalization of same-sex nuptials would somehow destroy American heterosexual marriages, the predictive ability of conservative America isn’t looking too good.  The next time you hear someone say that ending some other kind of discrimination will lead to a horrible result for America, keep that record in mind.

Mike Huckabee Endorsed Sending Advanced Weapons To Iran

Yesterday, Mike Huckabee made headlines by saying that the diplomatic agreement that the Obama Administration negotiated with Iran and the leaders of six other nations is the equivalent of the Holocaust that killed millions of Jews during World War II. Huckabee said of President Obama that “he would take the Israelis and basically march them to the door of the oven.”

In what way would a deal that prevents Iran from developing weapons of mass destruction lead Israelis into an oven? Huckabee couldn’t explain that.

If we want to understand Mike Huckabee’s policy ideas about Iran in more detail, however, we can go back to the 2008 campaign, when Huckabee endorse Ronald Reagan’s Iran policy, saying: “I think it would be incredibly presumptuous and even arrogant of me to try to suggest what Ronald Reagan would do, that he would endorse any of us against the others. Let me just say this: I’m not going to pretend he would endorse me. I wish he would. I’d love that, but I endorse him, and let me tell you why. It wasn’t just his specific policies… What made Ronald Reagan a great President was not just the intricacies of his policies, although they were good policies.”

Making explicit a point hinted at yesterday by another Irregular Times writer, we must point out that Ronald Reagan’s policy toward Iran was dominated by his decision to secretly send weapons to the government of Iran – and to do so in order to fund another military operation in direct violation of a law passed by Congress.

Mike Huckabee has said that he endorse Ronald Reagan because of Reagan’s “good policies”. Prime among those policies was the Iran Contra deal. Until he publicly disavows Ronald Reagan’s policies on Iran, it’s fair to say that Mike Huckabee endorses Reagan’s policy of giving the government of Iran big shipments of weapons to Iran.

Given Mike Huckabee’s comfort with actually giving weapons to Iran that the country’s leaders could use against Israel, what rational justification does Huckabee have for saying that denying weapons to Iran is dangerous for Israel? Is Mike Huckabee’s policy that the way to keep Israelis safe from Iran is to help Iran get more and more weapons?

mike huckabee iran contra ronald reagan

In What Way Does A Killer Cyborg From Outer Space Fit With A Game That Introduces Children To Gambling?

dalek yahtzeeWalking through a bookstore today, I stopped in my tracks when I came across a version of Yahtzee I had never seen before. Yahtzee is a game of dice that introduces children to the basics of gambling, familiarizing them with the basic structure of probability behind games like poker.

The Yahtzee game was devoted to the theme of the Daleks, a species of hateful, clunky-looking cyborgs in the TV series Doctor Who that roam through outer space, seeking to kill every living thing that they can.

When I see a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, I can buy the idea, because peanut butter and chocolate share something in common. They both taste delicious in a creamy way. They are, as the old commercial has it, “two great tastes that taste great together”.

I’m not getting that same feeling of a classic brand collaboration between the Daleks and Yahtzee.

Does anyone care to prove me wrong? Can you explain how killer cyborgs from outer space fit with a gambling gateway game for children?

This isn’t the first weird attempt at a Doctor Who brand extension. Last year, we noted the New Zealand commemoration of the Daleks on a silver coin.

It’s just so strange…

…hold on, I think I’m getting it. Doctor Who is strange. Commemorating killer alien cyborgs on coins and with children’s games is strange. So, the way to create effective brand collaborations for Doctor Who is to find the most unusual combinations you can, such as:

– Cyberman organic potting soil
– The Master antacid pills
– Weeping Angel USB cords

Can you think of any other Doctor Who brand extensions in this vein?

New iPhone App Is Mindful For You Automatically, So You Don’t Have To Be

Facebook is showing me advertisements for Spire – an iPhone-connected device that tells you when to breathe, so that you can outsource your mindfulness to an app.

spire mindfulness breathing appThis is a smartphone app that literally tries to get into your pants. You’re supposed to tuck it into your pants, so that it’s hanging off of where you fasten your belt. Then, the Spire device measures how often you breathe, wherever you go, all day long, capturing data about your “inhalation & exhalation times, breath rate, deep breaths, apneaic events” and so on, then sending that data to a remote computer, where it may or may not be hacked or shared with government agents.

Maybe you aren’t breathing correctly. If so, the Spire machine will tell you so, sending you messages on your smartphone in order to catch your wandering attention until you comply with its orders, and breathe at a rate that Spire’s developers think is right for you.

“Your breath reflects your state of mind,” say the people at Spire. They want to ensure that your breath is under the control of their little machine and smartphone, so that your state of mind will be under their control as well.

The idea, say the people at Spire, is that people need a machine to be mindful, so that people don’t have to go through the work of learning self-control.

I wonder – what other body functions are people willing to surrender control over to data companies?

Would they buy a device called Rinate? How about one called Owelmotion?

Says the Reagan Constitutional Conservative Legislator

Arizona State Representative Bob Thorpe has a problem with Barack Obama negotiating a weapons deal with Iran.

Arizona state legislator Bob Thorpe Ronald Reagan Arms Deal Tweet

Bob Thorpe’s hero is Ronald Reagan.

Insert history.

What’s the Ethical Responsibility of Academics to Society?

The journal Science has published a valuable summary of a scandal in the American Psychological Association that threatens to undo the organization’s reputation.  While  the presidential administration of George W. Bush pursued a policy of torturing people it had detained without conviction, a trial, or even charges, rank-and-file members of the APA began voicing concern at indications that psychologists had been hired to help make torture techniques more torturous.  In public, leadership of the APA responded by creating a committee to inquire into any such practices and ensure that psychologists did not act to condone or support torture.  In private, that committee was stacked with members dependent on government grants and contracts who helped ensure that the government could continue to rely on psychologists to support the practice of American torture.

This is a scandal for psychologists, who are as a profession supposed to help people, but who instead helped themselves to government largesse and in return acted to hurt people.  It is tempting to focus on the American Psychological Association and its failings as a particular academic organization, or perhaps a bit more broadly to focus on the academic discipline of psychology and to ask how it might be reformed.  But perhaps we should expand our focus.  The scandal of torture and psychology came to light once and again, after all, because principled groups of psychologists refused to let the issue drop and demanded that psychology be maintained as a discipline that strives to do no harm.  But how many other academic disciplines are there in which the issue of harm to people is not resolved, and indeed not even raised?  The academic fields of physics, chemistry, mathematics, computer science, and robotics (to name just a few) are sustained by huge government contracts and huge sums of outright grants.  The results of these grants create and sustain advances in the technology of killing people and destroying human infrastructure.  What is the ethical standard for a chemist?  Is it ethically proper for a roboticist to accept funds to develop autonomous killing machines?  While we rightly focus on the ethical crisis in psychology, these questions for other fields have not been raised above the volume of a whisper in a tornado of activity.  Such questions need a louder voice.

Republicans Want Feds To Give Local Governments More Power, Except…

When it comes to federal programs to educate children, protect people from pollution, provide medical care, and promote equality, Republicans object strongly, saying that state and local governments ought to have the freedom to deal with those matters as they choose. They say it’s a matter of principle, a core part of Republican Party philosophy to support local power…

…except when local governments want to do something that Republicans don’t like. When local and state governments started working to give equal marriage rights to heterosexual and homosexual couples, for example, Republicans started pushing for federal laws to make such local actions impossible.

This week, GOP hypocrisy on local government power showed its face again, but this time on the issue of immigration. The elected leaders of some local governments have chosen to fight crime and public health problems by placing a higher priority on those issues than on the punishment of violation of immigration regulations. So, for example, if people report crimes, or believe that they have a communicable disease, these city governments have laws that enable them to deal first with those problems, without having to first go through bureaucratic paperwork gathering information about people’s citizenship status.

The Republican Party opposes this kind of local anti-crime, pro-health law. So, it’s trying to force local governments to place another layer of bureaucracy between citizens and local services. This week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 3009, legislation introduced by Duncan Hunter that enforces unfunded mandates that force local governments to demand people’s citizenship status before they can respond to calls for assistance from local law enforcement and public health agencies. Unless local governments pass the kind of laws on this subject that Republicans in federal government approve of, H.R. 3009 will take away funding for programs totally unrelated to immigration.

Whether you agree with the aim of that particular policy or not, it’s clear that, in this instance, the Republican Party is happy to use the power of the federal government to tell local governments how to run their own communities. All but 5 Republican members of the House of representatives voted in favor of H.R. 3009.

If Republicans are willing to use the power of federal government federal government to tell local governments what to do when it comes to immigration policy, how come they’re not willing to use the power of federal government to improve education, protect us from pollution, provide us with needed medication, and enforce the Fourteenth Amendment’s requirement of equality under the law?

Empty Shelves in American Groceries

 camouflage cake 
Empty shelves are emerging this week in American groceries. Where food used to be sold, now there is nothing, as far as I can see.