Saturday, June 15, 2013

Real Time With Bill Maher: Counterpoints (6/14/13)

Wow, it's been a while since my last post. I've just been pretty busy in the real world, so I haven't had much time to think and write. Hopefully next week is better. But in the mean time, we had an excellent episode of Real Time and some things to clarify. So let's get to it.

Patrick Kennedy: Legalized marijuana will increase overall usage and marijuana has deleterious effects on the human brain.

On the science, he's absolutely correct. Quite a few studies have come out showing that moderate to heavy marijuana usage have substantive, negative effects on working/short term memory and cognitive development, especially in younger people. But that doesn't mean it would be the end of the world if we treated it like alcohol.

This is still a country about freedom. And personal marijuana use should not be criminalized. Combine the criminalization of marijuana with prosecutorial discretion, and you have upper middle class white kids in the suburbs skating by with barely a slap on the wrist and then you have poor black kids in the inner city getting thrown into jail for years. Not to mention tens of thousands of Mexicans across the border dying in cartel related violence.

A war on drugs is a war on Americans. Because everybody has a friend or acquaintance that does drugs. Next time find a person like that, talk with them for five minutes, and decide whether that person should spend their time rotting in a prison cell while costing the state tens of thousands of dollars per year. If you can't bring yourself to do it, it's time to stop supporting the Controlled Substances Act.

Niall Ferguson: The technology afforded to us has yielded Big Data, and the security apparatus of the state doesn't get nearly enough credit for preventing an attack. We need to embrace these technologies as effective tools for counterterrorism.

Kellyanne Conway: The real issue we need to decide is whether telecommunications can be considered private property. This is much different from an envelope with your name on it.

These two nailed both parts of the issue very well. I agree with Ferguson in the fact that these are effective tools. Companies already use Big Data to effectively market goods to consumers based on their buying habits (there was a documented case in which a company sent baby goods coupons to a household with a woman who didn't even realize she was pregnant based on her recent grocery bill). The same algorithms can be tweaked to predict the activities of terrorists. It's like the movie Minority Report except computers and not drugged out psychos are doing the heavy lifting.

Conway also brought up a very good point. And the answer is no. Telecommunications cannot be considered private property. Because telecommunications is about sending information across a government owned medium (the electromagnetic spectrum, which is owned by the Federal government and leased out to corporations who must then subject themselves to all the statutes and regulations and the authority of the FCC). Of course the US government can tell companies that they must turn over their metadata. This is literally no different from the mailman (an employee of the Federal government) looking at the front of an envelope (which contains information about the sender and the receiver).

What the government doing is legal and it cannot be considered an invasion of privacy because there can be no reasonable expectation of privacy when you conduct business on public property. Case closed.

Josh Fox and Bill Maher: Fracking is evil. Government is being paid off by corporations to look the other way.

Niall Ferguson, after listening intently to these two blather on and on about this non-issue, rightly took them to task about it. And I'm glad Jonathan Alter also joined the fray as well. Because the simple issue is hydraulic fracturing of shale rock to yield oil and gas is very economically beneficial and still much more cleaner than coal mining despite "leakages" and "contamination".

Alter is correct in that faulty casing in a small minority of wells is how leakages occur (the pipelines drill below the water table and under a vast layer of impermeable bedrock). It all happens on the surface and it's entirely the work of shoddy wildcatters instead of the big multinational corporations who have big fat targets painted on their backs by the media and by people like Maher and Fox.

The modern economy runs on cheap energy. Cheap energy is why we have things like air conditioning, mechanized farming, and why most of our money is spent on things we don't actually need (movie tickets, TVs, smartphones, sporting events, bigger houses, outrageously expensive designer clothing, etc). It is impossible to ramp up renewable energy (excluding nuclear, which is a progressive/liberal bugaboo anyways) to any significant percentage of energy generation in the US within 50 years.

Fracking is here to stay and it's much safer and cleaner than coal mining. Democrats and progressives in government (who actually have to manage the affairs of the country) know and realize this. It is only the Hollywood and ivory tower liberals and progressives who don't know this basic truth, because they have zero incentive to know it.

Bill Maher: Old Congressmen suck. And it's ridiculous how a legislative body with a 10% approval rating has a 90%+ retention rate every election cycle. Gerrymandering is to blame.

It's funny how it's never your Congressmen's fault. It's those evil Republican or snooty Democratic districts that screw things up for the rest of us.

This is a consequence of a weakened legislature. The current design of Congress (based on the rules that Congress has agreed to abide by) makes it extraordinarily hard for big bills to pass. This inevitably strengthens the executive branch, where the President and all the President's bureaucrats can essentially do whatever they want because Congress delegates much of the lawmaking to the myriad of regulatory agencies within the executive branch.

Congress is always a fun punching bag, and the many disparate districts can make for some easy targets like ridiculously old lifers, lightning-in-a-bottle hellraisers and airheads, boring middle aged white guys, and "feisty" minority and female representatives. But the truth of the matter is that Congress, and by proxy, the American people, have decided that Congress should no longer be a powerful institution within the Federal Government.

In a democracy, people get the government they deserve. And one story of American history is our gradual and increasingly democratized political process.

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