Wednesday, July 15, 2015

10 Things You Need to Know about the Iran Deal

The newly inked deal with Iran is already raining down fire and brimstone from its opponents, though most of them admit they haven't read it. Here are ten things important to understanding the deal.

1. US Sanctions have been in place since the US Embassy was taken in 1979, imposed by the Carter Administration. They were increased substantially in 1995 by the Clinton Administration.

2. US sanctions were violated in 1985 by the Reagan Administration who sold weapons to Iran. Israel was the intermediary that passed the weapons on to the Iranians.

3. European and United Nations sanctions were imposed in 2006, specifically to force Iran to allow international inspectors and to stop its development of nuclear weapon capability.

4.  Negotiators of the Iran Deal -- US, Iran, Britain, China, France and Russia -- represent a diverse group of interests and attitudes toward Iran. All five permanent members of the UN Security Council had to agree.

5. Iran must eliminate 98% of its enriched uranium and destroy 2/3 of its centrifuges.

6. International inspections are required but not as immediate as hoped. Any violations would mean restored sanctions and threatened military action.

7. Once Iran does as promised (and not before), the UN and EU will eliminate their sanctions.

8. US sanctions remain in place, with the modest exceptions of food, commercial aircraft (a concession to Boeing?) and carpets. One of the major objections to this deal from business is that they miss out on the new markets.

9. Israel's Netanyahu objects to any deal, regardless of the terms. Israel is not offering however to open its own nuclear program to inspectors, nor is it a partner in any of the United Nations' international nuclear weapons agreements.

10. Those objecting to the deal offer no alternatives. Sanctions forever, regardless of Iran's actions? War against Iran?


Thursday, July 9, 2015

Facts don't Matter


Politics and policy in the 21st Century exist independently of facts. What is true is ignored for what is assumed to be true.

Here is but a sampling of the facts contrasted with the policies created in spite of them.


19 states have passed new voting restrictions in the past 5 years. The majority of these include Voter ID laws, intended to counter voter fraud, particularly that involving a person masquerading as another voter. These laws have resulted in a 2% drop in voter turnout, significant particularly because minority voters are most likely to be excluded. So far in 2015, over 100 new disenfranchisements have been introduced in state legislatures.

After considerable research to determine the prevalence of such fraud, national studies found just 10 confirmed cases of voter fraud over a 12-year period, the rate of actual voter fraud is about 1 vote per 75,000,000 legitimate ballots. Putting that in perspective, that's 1 incident of voter fraud for every 15,000,000 people prevented from voting.


13 states have passed laws requiring that TANF recipients pass a drug test to receive benefits. The majority of Americans, from 53% to 81% depending on the poll, support the testing. It's one of those "of course" ideas that makes the rounds on social media every week or two.

Yet of the first 7 states to require drug testing, fewer TANF recipients tested positive than would be expected in a random group of Americans. Less than 1% of beneficiaries tested positive for illegal drugs in 6 of the 7 states, compared with over 9% of all Americans using illegal drugs. And the cost to state taxpayers? Over $1 million.


The NRA and many gun owners insist that their weapons make them safer and that they are used often in self-defense. Heaven help any politician who questions that wisdom, perhaps by using actual data.

There are 300,000,000 guns in the US, yet only 259 cases in 2012 (most recent data) of justifiable homicide with a gun. That's less than 1 case per million guns. Compare that with 11,208 gun homicides per year and just 2% of gun killings were in self defense. Two percent. Adding in all gun deaths, including homicides, suicides and accidental shootings, only 1 of every 32 gun deaths was legitimate self defense. I'd stand better odds in the ring with Evander Holyfield. And for women, the likelihood of being killed is three times HIGHER if there is a gun in the home.

But, you may protest, what about all the crimes prevented by guns that didn't result in deaths? Well, funny you should mention it. There are 67,740 incidents of guns being used each year to prevent crimes, such as burglary. Given that 1/3 of American homes have at least one gun and there were 9,800,000 crimes reported in 2013 (latest data available), guns were useful in preventing less than 1% of crimes and less than 2% of crimes against households with guns.

Yet the FBI reports those guns were used in 117,750 armed robberies (2011) and 131,310 assaults (2011). Your gun is four times more likely to be used to commit a crime than to prevent one.


Some interesting facts about the Pledge:

 1. It was written to commemorate Christopher Columbus' voyage, not the United States. Columbus was an Italian sailing under the Spanish flag (patriotic?) and his brutality as governor of the West Indies caused his eventual firing by the queen.
2. It was written by a socialist minister, Francis Bellamy, in 1892 as part of a business campaign to sell flags to schools.
3. The words "under God" were added in 1954.
4. Today 45 states require the pledge of allegiance be recited in classrooms. There is no evidence that swearing the oath has made better behaved children or citizens in those states. (Those that do not: Vermont, Hawaii, Iowa, Oklahoma and Wyoming)
5. In the New Testament, Matthew tells Christians not to swear any oaths, especially involving God.
6. The Pledge demands loyalty to the flag and the republic, not to the Constitution.
7. Originally, students did the Bellamy salute to the flag. During WWII, the salute was too like the Nazi salute and replaced by the hand over the heart.

Yet to refuse to say the pledge or to speak against it is as close to modern blasphemy as one can tread, short of wearing a burka to WalMart.

Don't like the facts? Apparently you can just ignore them.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Giving Up on the News

My husband watches both the local and national news on television every day.  I stopped watching it a long time ago. Yet we're both news junkies. 

We both read two local newspapers, the New York Times online, and the Economist magazine, not to mention dozens of articles suggested by Twitter, Facebook and email friends. We do care about our community, the US and the world. We often watch Bill Moyers' Journal, Rachel Maddow and Fareed Zakaria. Okay, and we watch Jon Stewart.

But how does one find out what's actually happening around the world? Here's a quiz that asks things your news source probably hasn't covered. I can tell you that mine didn't. Click the link and take the quiz to see what I mean.

There's a reason why journalism gets such a bad rap today and why news sources in general, from television to newspaper, are taking a hit. Here's what local and national TV news have to offer viewers:
  • Someone was killed.
  • Someone shot up a place.
  • There was a flood, fire, earthquake or hurricane.
  • Some celebrity got in trouble.
  • A spectacular car, plane or train crash.
  • A criminal trial that goes on and on.
  • There was an election. There were winners and losers.
  • There was a poll. And another poll.
  • There's a new Coke or a new color of M&Ms.
  • A politician made an assertion (that was not fact-checked).
  • There will be weather.
Other than the last one, none of these (unless I live in the area of the flood, fire, earthquake or hurricane) informs me of anything I need to know. None of our news sources informed us of the important developments in the Gapminder Test.

When I taught social studies, I did not teach "current events". I focused instead on "current issues", those ongoing concerns that were shaping our world. An event happens, dominates the news for a day or more, and is replaced by the next event. If it's a violent event, it makes us subconsciously more fearful and suspicious of others. Not a helpful thing. An issue though informs us on a whole different level. We might learn how incarceration rates have skyrocketed since the War on Drugs and Three Strikes laws. We might learn about the struggles to survive in Gaza under the embargoes. Instead, we see footage of a missile strike and the damage it causes without any awareness of the underlying situation.

I get discouraged that tabloids and celebrity rags have displaced news magazines in checkout lines. I get discouraged when so many Americans can quote headlines but don't seem to know any background. I get discouraged when politicians or campaign ads are able to state the most outrageous lies and actually influence thought. 

When I was a kid, my parents tuned in to Walter Cronkite every evening and subscribed to the newspaper. My father was a news junkie and read as many as five different newspapers daily. Trying to keep up with him was impossible but he was my role model for staying informed.

Today my license plate advertises BE N4MD. 

To do so, you have to work a little to locate reliable news sources. Please?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Getting Real

We liberals get so frustrated that others don't see what to us is a key truth: while the left blames billionaires and powerful corporations for corrupting politics and undermining progress, the right distracts us by ridiculing the poor, minorities, women and the unemployed. We are outraged at the role of money in politics and the corruption it brings. We shout about the Koch brothers and their influence. In return we hear that there are equally powerful campaign donors on the left (George Soros, Hollywood celebrities and who else?) and that working people are tired of "the takers" who expect others to pay for their healthcare, daycare, groceries and housing. We on the left are more concerned with "the takers" on Wall Street and those who vacation on the Riviera than the ones sleeping on the streets in Compton.

Seems that this stalemate could benefit from a little additional reality. Don't you ever wonder how costs might compare between social and environmental programs versus expenditures that benefit particular multinationals or the military? Well, I did. Here's what it looks like. Links are provided for the fact-checkers among you.

Cost of…
Compared to cost of…
Food stamps
Foreign tax credits (2/3 manufacturing)
Medicaid for 49 million Americans
$283 billion
Iraq War (2003-2010)
Infrastructure investments proposed by President Obama
Offshore corporate tax loopholes for just TWO well-known companies (Apple and Microsoft)
Pell Grants for needy college students
Doubling of incarceration rates since 1990 (rates per 100,000 people)
Cuts in education spending
Carried interest special tax breaks for banks
Non-military foreign aid
Oil industry subsidies
Total state spending for public colleges
Afghanistan War (2001-2014)
Federal funding for mass transit
Big agribusiness subsidies (90% to top 10 agribusinesses)
Cost to increase wind power to 20% of total electrical needs (now at 4%)
Federal payments to for-profit colleges
$32 billion (2011)
TANF (formerly Welfare) for 4.3 million needy Americans
CIA budget growth in past 15 years
US contribution to all United Nations programs
$3.4 billion
Tax shields for Wall Street banks for risky derivatives
Difference between what Social Security takes in and pays out annually (not including savings of $2,873 billion in the reserve fund)
$28 billion
Social Security revenue lost because of the $107,000 cap

So for my conservative friends, this is why we think our nation could do a better job of building infrastructure, investing in education, averting disastrous climate change and protecting the health and welfare of our most vulnerable. I for one can't see much benefit for you or me from anything on the right side of the chart above but can get much more excited about maintaining or improving the programs on the left.

So can we talk about real possibilities now?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Annoying our Facebook Friends

What is Facebook for?  It seems different for each of my friends. Basically it's either for lurking or sharing the things we do.  As in...
  • People with kids post pictures and stories about them.
  • Animal lovers share favorite animal videos.
  • Friends on vacation share what they're doing and seeing.
  • Talented friends who do photography share that.
  • Those who enjoy youtube videos share some of their favorites.
  • People who like their own faces take lots of selfies.
  • Doing a remodel? Share the photos.
  • Enjoy eating out? Share pictures of your food.
  • Cooks share favorite recipes.
  • Crafters share their finished works.
I enjoy all of that. Please keep sharing with me. 

But while photographers, hikers, parents, cooks and music lovers are welcome to share glimpses into their lives, there is one group whose avocation is unwelcome.   If you don't like what this group (including me) shares, you need only hide our posts or unfriend us. Because after all, we are incorrigible. Like the grandparent who knows her grandkids are the cutest and the photographer who snaps a great shot, we like to share too.

Every few months, I read that Facebook is not for sharing what I mostly share. It's not for...politics. If the world's developments are your passion, if reading the news is your avocation, if researching what's happening with the environment, in Washington, the Ukraine or Gaza is your shtick, don't share.

Sadly for my FB friends, I still do. In a democracy, particularly in one where so few seem interested in the larger world or are barraged with the nonsense that passes for news these days, I am interested in sharing some of what I find. And I'm interested in what you think about it, especially if you disagree with me. 

Let's be civil and respectful to each other. But by all means, in any exchanges between people, the larger world has a place. 

If we don't talk about politics and only want to think about it around election time, is that healthy? When my smart, knowledgeable friends who disagree with me challenge my assumptions, I dig deeper and I learn more. I need them and I hope they gain too.

I don't condone the posts that insult the other side or spread misinformation (like the picture during the government shutdown of a plane covering up Mt. Rushmore). But even those, once posted, can be challenged by the doubters in your friends group. 

Today's rant and enough.