Digital Splinters

The ongoing problems in politics and social media surrounding the current president, the alt-right, and other emerging counter-cultures raise a fundamental question for society: what should society do when a large segment decides to ditch the mores that were previously universal?

The answer to that question is not going to be the same every time, because it depends on how vital the particular departure is. If it’s forgoing capitalization, maybe we can live with that. If it’s targeting a race or religion, that’s not abidable.

With any movement, there will be the shades of fervency, and it takes time for things to shake out. Are they productive, or destructive, and what ideas or behaviors can society gain and lose? The civil rights movement, for example, brought tactics like sit-ins, which were productive, giving clarity of cause to their struggle. The fire hoses turned on marchers were destructive, which set the southern establishment as alien to the larger society.

All of this comes against the backdrop of the internet, with its varied mores and boundaries. We have communities comprised of sub-communities, often fleeting, arising with a hashtag and then blowing away with the next moment’s news. We have anonymity, masking who (and sometimes what) people are. But we also have the broken constants of bots who tirelessly draft netizens into the fracas of the day.

There is need for the hosts of the internet to allow for better tools to allow individuals to communicate, to remove the frictions that develop, but to also retreat and erect barriers when needed. Unfortunately, the business mindset is likely not adjusted to that role. It may take collective bargaining on behalf of users to force these corporations to devote the resources needed to prevent the repetitive destruction of bad actors.

The Importance of the Failure to Reform Healthcare

Mental health is an essential part of any changes to address gun violence, with suicides being a significant number of total gun deaths per year. But with the healthcare system still broken, it’s fanciful to suggest any real action on mental health in the United States.

Any major strike, such as the recent teachers’ strike in West Virginia, has healthcare as a sticking point. Replacing employer-provided healthcare, particularly in the public sector, removes a large amount of the friction contributing to labor disputes. It also removes the few, sticky religious freedom arguments that employers have about providing contraceptive coverage.

It removes a line-item that must be worried over year-to-year from most businesses and, depending on the implementation, potentially from most governments as well. That simplifies a lot of budgeting, freeing the workers responsible for maintenance of those decisions to shift to other tasks.

Drug prices, artificially high and an endless source of frustration for those with chronic ailments, can be brought in line, once again simplifying the economic decision making that saps energy from the populace. It can also simplify the work of the FDA and drug makers, who can better understand the targets for better drugs and better vetting of drugs.

On the issues of Medicaid, work requirements go away along with the incentives to impose them (budgetary pressure). Doctors can focus on patient health, and patients can focus on employment, all without these external, artificial pressures.

All of it can be done in a way that saves money by shifting private payments to public payments and raising taxes to offset the public costs.

The failure to honestly approach healthcare reform impacts gun violence, labor disputes, the unreasonable costs of healthcare, has a negative effect on business productivity, and forces states to treat the poor like liabilities rather than human beings.

Fixing healthcare will help treat a number of societal problems, if only there were the will to do it.

Thoughts on the Direction of the Gun Debate

Rubio’s “Laws Don’t Work” Argument

Senator Rubio argued that if someone is truly determined to carry out a horrific act, the law will not stop it. This is true, to a point. The argument bears much more heavily on demand-driven products like illicit drugs, but we don’t hear Rubio calling for the end of prohibition.

The gun case, if sensible legal hurdles block even one in a hundred, without significantly infringing on sportsmen, it’s hard to understand why we shouldn’t make that change in law. More importantly, if it fails to stop the madman from acquiring on the black market, then we can at least bring extra charges, ensuring the liability toward those supplying murder weapons.

All in all, we should take the steps we believe will help, and evaluate as we go (i.e., use science and reason).

Mental Health

Pass a bill if you think mental healthcare is the way to go. Please pass one anyway, as it’d do us all a lot of good to have the ailing be treated.

But it takes multiple components to create these massacres, and one of the necessary components is the gun and the ammunition. Over time, our ability to predict and treat may improve. For now, it is inadequate. Restricting guns is our best bet.

The NRA and Paid Actors

One of the repeated attempts to undermine changes to gun laws is to accuse people of being “paid actors.” Family members, schoolmates, and other community members affected by a shooting are all targets of this tactic.

But the people putting forth these accusations are invariably paid actors. Politicians that take money from the NRA. Right-wing media types are paid to be extremist soapbox goons. The NRA’s actual spokespeople, from their executive on down, are literally paid to stop proper functioning of government to regulate commerce.

If the gun regulation community wants to pay people to advocate, they should feel free to do so. The NRA has done it for over a century.

Other Ideas

Public notice or direct notification to guardians, the school or workplace or therapist, if someone buys a gun or ammunition. This matches with the anti-abortion parental notification laws. At least a heads-up could help either alert security guards and administrators, or maybe even spur reporting or clamoring around an unstable individual so that treatment be rendered before the worst happens.

Learn from previous bans and stop using silly surface characteristics to categorize weapons. Learn from other ban systems. Use a whitelist instead of a blacklist. Use an FDA-style (ugh!) marketing compliance system where they have to apply to sell a gun, an accessory that modifies a gun, etc.

Doing nothing is worse than stupid at this point. It’s grossly negligent. If the Republicans cannot bring themselves to do anything useful, it’s time for them to go. We need a conservative balance to the progressive and liberal impulses of the majority, but we cannot afford that balance to be an anchor against any common sense actions for the general welfare.

The NRA has a lot of sway, but they never actually pass anything or do anything to address the issue. They don’t pass a bill for mental health. All they do is take in money and spew out lies. The only way to stop a bad guy without a gun is to sell the bad guy a gun and let a good guy with a gun shoot him.

The bottom line on guns is as it has been since the late 1990s: with every act of violence the probability of major changes to gun laws goes up. The NRA, gun enthusiasts, whoever, can bitch about that fact but they won’t change the math one bit. If the NRA or gun owners or legislators want to forestall more bad laws from being enacted, they should work on solutions before that probability reaches 0.5 or greater.

Immigration Demands Negotiation

The president set forth his demands in the immigration hostage crisis, and the legislators may capitulate. But we’re supposed to have debates on these topics and then some loud-mouth just issues demands and good-bye public discourse.

What should the US immigration system look like? Should we go all Canada and ignore their population size and general geographic differences? Should we do away with borders altogether?

The first problem with this four pillar approach is that immigration isn’t a single thing as the simple-minded would like to see it. There are various goals, some conflicting but just as often parallel. Diversity, for example, should not be competing with labor needs, because diversity is important in its own right.

Why do we need diversity? The US being a globally active nation, needs to stay well-linked to every corner of the earth. Whether for employers that are seeking to do business or for intelligence community needs, it’s incredibly useful to have people here that are connected and familiar with other places we don’t have deep roots in.

But to hear critics of immigration tell it, we should just forget about the rest of the world. It’s a lost cause.

Any immigration policy that does not account for topics like diversity, not just in humanitarian or pastoral terms, but in terms of development and practicalities, is a policy that hasn’t been studied by anybody with any serious care for the issue.

The other biggest flaw in these hard-liner EZ-Bake immigration policies is that they conflate the broken existing law with some immutable rule and use that as their jumping-off point to set the new policy. This sort of adherence to the past does not serve the current needs in exactly the same way that the new tax landscape was based on 1980s thinking.

We cannot afford to continue to look at issues off of yellowing newsprint when we have computers that provide real-time views of the world. The Republican policy on immigration used to make some sense, if it was a bit authoritarian. But the policy under Trump and the T-as-in-Trump Party is cruel and wasteful.

As with 99% of this administration’s policies, the damage done, they will be wiped off the map. But it is a shame that the damage must be done at all, particularly when they could see electoral benefit from adopting a rational policy instead. Stupid is as stupid does.

Another massacre. Still no action, not even on mental health, by the government.

What creates a slaughter? There are the instigator with some motive, the weapon, and the victims. If you remove any of these, there is no carnage. Leadership, particularly Republicans, from the president to the House and the Senate, have not acted to remove any of them, and they therefore cannot expect this violence to end. Their thoughts and prayers are welcome, but action is still required.

You can move forward on mental health, which might help. The main problem is that if a person is motivated to attack, the treatment ineffective, there is no recourse to stop them without better laws that could result in them not acquiring the weapon. And Republicans can’t have that. Indeed, they weakened such laws as soon as Trump took office.

That said, we should have better mental healthcare for its own sake, to obliterate the suffering in the minds across this country, for the same reasons we need universal healthcare: it’s the right thing to do.

You can remove the weapon. But you can’t with Republicans in charge.

Or you can remove the victims. Without innocent people to shoot, there can be no attack. They can be hidden, or protected, or made difficult to hit. Schools can be transformed into prison fortresses. Jill can learn her ABCs during count and Jack can learn to count by counting the number of gates he passes through on his way to class.

The obvious solution is to remove the weapon from the equation. Republicans suck at math and call the weapon an invariant. In November, we should vote out as many of them as it takes to break this stalemate and protect our nation from this bullshit.

Why Shrink Government?

There are a number of ideas we hear from conservatives which are never explained (at least, I have yet to read a clear explanation; most of the conservative writers I’ve attempted to read are so full of contempt for those who have not yet drunk the punch that they render themselves illegible). They include anti-regulation rhetoric, anti-anti-poverty rhetoric, and anti-government rhetoric. Chief in the lattermost category is the idea to “shrink” the government.

The idea is famously recorded by the Norquip (25 May 2001 on NPR’s Morning Edition):

I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.

The conservative position is that government stinks. That it is a fetter upon the economy. That taxation is a form of theft, robbing everyone of their hard-earned money to provide something they don’t want at a price they can’t afford.

By shrinking government, the thinking goes, they will reduce the harm. People will suffer less tax. The economy will do significantly better. A one-two punch: less tax plus more income. People will have more freedom, particularly to spend that extra money.

Here’s precisely where I get lost. They do not attempt to handle the harm. No talk of pandemic conditions. No discussion of the hapless fools too poor or unlucky that get sucked into the turbines of an economic engine roaring to produce supersonic growth conditions. The best you can get is some hand-wave toward churches that will pray away the pangs of hunger.

But millions of voters find it in their hearts to keep electing these Freedom Caucus types. No regard for the reason government exists, they would happily repeal any regulation just to get another stamp on their conservative-loyalty card.

In all fairness, the image of a gargantuan government comes easily to the imagination. But then, so is the lawless waste, that state of nature. The chief problem with the shrink-government trope is that most of the country is past that sort of thinking.

It’s not a question of bathtub-ready government or beast-sized government. It’s not even a question of right-sizing anymore. It’s just a question of, for any particular program (public or private), with any set of inputs and outputs, is there a better option. And these conservatives are unwilling or unable to engage in that sort of discussion, which is why they should not be involved at all. They should be voted out until they can help with the problems at hand, instead of trying to always return to some fetishistic first-principles analysis of why we should never have left the caves in the first place.

Anyone who really wants to shrink government can start by investing in poor economies so that we won’t need as much aid, military, or border security. The smartest way to accomplish the downsizing is by attrition of the need for the spending.