I understand that the gun issue has reasonable and well-thought out positions on either side. I realize that the Second Amendment, at least to a first degree of interpretation, guarantees the civilian right to own a gun. I understand the need for protection. I say this in order to clarify that this is not a call to outlaw guns, to enact more control or to repeal the Second: those who know me realize my positions, while generally trending liberal, aren’t always predictable in terms of the arguments I recognize or use.

However, in the inevitable outcry over the horrible events in Aurora, I keep hearing an argument I don’t understand: that if only more people in that theater had guns, this wouldn’t have happened, because if the gunman knew that other people in the theater had guns, he would have thought twice about it.

However I can’t understand why anyone would make that argument, in this case. The gunman was wearing tactical body armor. Was he trying to protect himself from bee stings? One wears tactical body armor when one EXPECTS to be shot at. Obviously the thought that someone else in that theater might have a gun DID occur to him, and he clearly expected to be able to survive being shot at long enough to potentially kill them (since that person WOULDN’T have been wearing armor) and continue the massacre.

Let me repeat: I understand a lot of the arguments for and against gun control. I’m not 100% anti- or pro-, so please don’t assume I accept or agree with any of the standard arguments. At best I can say I am conflicted about the position. I don’t intend this to be a general discussion about all the arguments pro- and con-, I am asking about this one position.

A variation on the theme is that MORE gun carriers in the theater would have meant FEWER deaths or injuries… at least those caused by the gunman himself. Perhaps that is the case. But the number would not have been zero, and I ask you how long the average person (even one with the minimal gun training required to carry a weapon these days) would take to assess this situation in the chaos of tear gas, bullets, and screaming people, then identify which of the 100 people waving weapons and firing was the real threat, and then fire enough accurate shots at the gunman to take him out (considering he was wearing tactical body armor).

Long enough, perhaps, that we might be talking about 6 deaths and 30 injured instead of twice that number.

Is that low enough to end the conversation?

And do we really think that all 100 of those people waving guns would be sufficiently trained and rational and calm enough to not accidentally take out several innocent people running in front of their weapons while they fired through the tear gas and smoke? We’d be talking about a different number of dead and wounded, not zero. Knowing some of the people I know who own and carry guns, I would not even be ready to assume it would be fewer than the number with which we ended up.

I would note that this is not by any definition a straw man discussion: the arguments above have been stated repeatedly in the aftermath of the Aurora massacre. Links available if you really need proof.

Let me repeat: I am not a gun control nut, nor am I a Second Amendment nut. My position is best described as uncomfortable with the need for guns in the first place (as we should all be), understanding and in favor of the need in many cases, but VERY skeptical about the vision in which a Utopian peace is guaranteed by knowing everyone around you is carrying a gun. But, to be clear, I have also seen friends of mine–intelligent, otherwise sane people–use their cars recklessly and in ways that endanger lives (including their own) merely over the offense of being cut off in traffic. I have no illusions that they would use their guns less recklessly if given the chance.

So at best, my position is “uncomfortable” or “conflicted”.

But these two argument variations don’t work. Not in general, and DEFINITELY not in this case. I welcome discussion pointing out any nuance of the arguments I am missing.

My heart goes out to the people in Aurora, the people wounded and dead, their families, even the family of the gunman. It was a horrible, horrible event, and I cannot imagine the anguish they are going through, even as I hope that no one I know ever has to experience the same thing.

Even as I know that, very possibly, some of us will.


I’m not offended by the fact that people are rich

I’m not offended by the fact that the Romney’s have money, just as I wasn’t offended that the Kerrys did. I also don’t find it offensive that the President is of the opinion that the marginal tax rates should be different from what they are.

That a tax system allows someone to claim a $77,000 writeoff (over TWICE the median income in the US) for a horse, and then publicly justify said animal as “therapy”, when that person is also opposed to providing taxpayer-funded healthcare to those who can’t afford it?

THAT, I find offensive.

Check out the new MN United digs!

There’s a new South Central MPLS Action Center for MN United for All Families! It’s in the “All God’s Children” church (I know, I know) at 3100 Park Ave S in Minneapolis. First event this weekend, and I know you’ve all been dying to sign up and help with volunteer work, so here’s your opportunity!

There will be training and events practically every day of the week, including canvassing, event, phone recruiting, phone voter contact, neighborhood knocking and training on how to talk to your friends and family about how to defeat the “Limiting Marriage” Amendment in November.

So if you come on Thursdays you’ll be there to get trained (by yours truly) to call on voters and have conversations with them to see where they stand and whether we can persuade them to vote No. And there are plenty of other opportunities and other kinds of volunteer activities too. What do you want to do?

Watch this space, more specifics on dates and details coming soon.

’tis the political season for lying through your teeth

Lots of people in the conservinterwebs going crazy about Obama’s quote saying:

“If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

Ooh: Obama doesn’t understand entrepreneurship, right? Doesn’t understand capitalism, or business? Sounds pretty bad, and you could almost agree with Romney’s press release and Fox’s pundits that have been making that point all day…

In fact, Romney’s press-released comment seems pretty spot-on:

“The idea to say that Steve Jobs didn’t build Apple, that Henry Ford didn’t build Ford Motor, that Papa John didn’t build Papa John Pizza, that Ray Kroc didn’t build McDonald’s, that Bill Gates didn’t build Microsoft, you go on the list, that Joe and his colleagues didn’t build this enterprise, to say something like that is not just foolishness, it is insulting to every entrepreneur, every innovator in America and it’s wrong.” – Mitt Romney 7/17/2012

Hmmm… sounds like he may have a point, right? Well, unless you happened to read the context around the original Obama quote:

“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.”

Well that sounds much better, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t you agree with that expression, that if you built a business, you didn’t build the roads and the bridges and the fire department that help you be successful?

Does anyone want to make the claim that Romney actually was confused, and perhaps took the Obama comment incorrectly, by honest mistake? Or would you not agree that there is a specific intent to deceive people, by removing the context that turns a relatively innocuous, true statement into something that could only be said by someone who is completely out of touch with reality?

Politicians. The only thing more embarrassing than the things they make up is the fact that so few people bother enough to check when they are making things up.

Legalize Love. Thanks, Google.

Legalize Love. Thanks, Google.

Google is launching a new campaign called “Legalize Love” with the intention of inspiring countries to legalize marriage for lesbian, gay, and bisexual people around the world.

The “Legalize Love” campaign officially launches in Poland and Singapore on Saturday, July 7th. Google intends to eventually expand the initiative to every country where the company has an office, and will focus on places with homophobic cultures, where anti-gay laws exist.

Hey, how about the US?

Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

I have high hopes that this will be the last generation to see open conflict around homophobia and discrimination. It will never go away completely (I don’t have that kind of faith in humanity), but it will recede into the unacceptable shadows in most places.
But this will be the last generation in which there is even a viable debate to be had regarding same-sex marriage.

I’m an optimist. But I see the difference in attitudes in my generation and the next two, and I feel I have reason to be.

The Left Handed Cook

I am openly weeping right now because I can’t marry a restaurant: the Left Handed Cook in


the Midtown Global Market in South Minnepolis.  OPENLY.  WEEPING.

Tiny little place, in the space where the much-missed “La Sirena Gorda” used to be (run by Alfonso Menendez, onetime owner of Babalu), this joint has a plateful of awesome called the “Harold & Kumar Poutine”.  Fries slathered with pork belly curry, kimchi, poached egg, chipotle aioli and OH. MY. GOD. THE DELICIOUS, IT IS TOO MUCH.

I think I may have just shorted out my keyboard from the drool.

Go say hi to owners Kat Melgaard and Thomas Kim, and make a plan to return until you’ve worked your way through the entire menu, and then start over again.



Capitalism is not a force for good, it’s a force for profit. It’s the best economic system we know of out there, but it requires restraint and limitation by an external system that does not have a primary profit motive, in order to temper its worst excesses and address the issues it doesn’t particularly care about.

That’s why we have capitalism AND government. Does the latter make the former less purely efficient? Yes, of course: restraint will always do that. But it is necessary to do so, in order for society to take care of aspects of itself that capitalism is quite incapable or naturally unwilling to address:

– The public good: education, justice, protection and defense, health, unemployment, the “safety net”
– Long-term infrastructure development that has little or no short-term return on investment, and no direct ROI other than diffuse benefit to the overall population (e.g. roads, public schools, environmental protection)
– Inappropriate excesses of the pure capitalistic urge, which can easily become greed (e.g. protecting worker’s rights and well-being at the expense of profit)

Democracy just happens to be the best governmental system we know of, but it ALSO requires restraint and limitation by an external system that does not have control as a primary motive, but rather a desire to increase personal liberty (and in this case, profit). Hence the tight relationship in our society between capitalism and democracy. Both of these systems, left unchecked, run roughshod over the common good or personal rights, respectively: it is only in their combination and mutual restraint that we find balance.

Are both of these systems (government and capitalism) riddled with corruption, inefficiency, ineptitude? Sure. That’s a side effect of the fact that they are both guided by humans, who have a tendency towards those things (especially when left unchecked).

Is it hard to find a balance between the two? Clearly. It’s one of the reasons we have such sharp political divisions today: any attempt to increase government control and improve what is perceived as the public good will be met with shouts of “socialism!” and “government overreach!” by the other side, as well as disagreement over what constitutes the common good. Any attempt to loosen restraints on capitalism and allow profit to be the single unchecked driver will be met with accusations of cold-heartedness, shouts of “tragedy of the commons!”, pointing out unfair advantages to the already monied from the other side, and disagreements about the definitions of greed vs. profit-seeking.

And both sides can point across the aisle and accuse each other of corruption, inefficiency and ineptitude. The problem is that neither side is actually wrong: but when you do so, you should not be pointing at capitalism and democracy as the sources of those blemishes. It’s the humans behind it. Whenever you have two groups of people and there is the possibility of one of them gaming the system (whether economic or governmental) to take unfair advantage of the other, the probability of this happening over time is, for all intents and purposes, one hundred percent. Of course we will find these things in institutions devised by humans, because… well, because they’re devised and run by humans.

But that’s why you need both sides, constantly monitoring and restraining each other, and constantly testing the always-present tension between the two.

Some would argue you need a third element: an agent of morality. I would agree, in general, but note that the individual is that agent. Among the huge problems of introducing a formal organization to control the definition of morality (a role that religion seems to pounce on whenever it gets the chance) is that it rapidly confuses its role with the governmental one. Morality formally organized and defined eventually becomes imposed law that can be managed and coordinated by the government: that’s a good thing when the agency of morality is the individual, but a bad thing when it is a self-appointed authoritative organization, in particular the religious ones that claim moral authority on a basis over which reasonable people will inevitably disagree. It’s even worse and becomes more abusive when the religious authority starts claiming not merely moral authority, but also the right to both impose and punish moral transgression, which is why we separate church and state in the first place.

The agency of morality has to remain with the individual, who collectively monitors the other two but ONLY at an informally organized level if it is to remain restrained. As an aside, this also means that the altruistic initiative must remain at the individual level: it is not something that capitalism will naturally nurture, and if it is formally organized and imposed in any way (whether by government or by religion) it ceases to be altruism.


Capitalism: good but flawed. Tends to overreach.
Democracy: good but flawed. Tends to overreach.
Humans: overall good, intrinsically flawed. Tend to overreach.
Morality: required, but individual in nature (albeit decided collectively)


Inevitably contentious, and today seemingly unachievable in political debate, but it MUST be pursued. And do you know what helps that pursuit? If we don’t yell “SOCIALISM!” every time someone notes the benefit of a public good, and if we don’t yell “GREED!” every time someone else sees the benefit of profit. Things are rarely that clear-cut in the pursuit of that balance, otherwise we’d already be in full agreement on everything.

We need both, and we need them to be constantly checking and restraining each other. We’ve had both in this country for decades, and the experiment is an overall success, in spite of imbalance swings (in both directions) over the years. Those swings are a natural consequence of our human imperfection, which is why we need each other as checks and balances at the moral level too.

Thank you, Anderson Cooper.

Anderson Cooper visited Wolfson Children's Hos...

Anderson CooperPhoto credit: Wikipedia)

‎”Recently, however, I’ve begun to consider whether the unintended outcomes of maintaining my privacy outweigh personal and professional principle. It’s become clear to me that by remaining silent on certain aspects of my personal life for so long, I have given some the mistaken impression that I am trying to hide something – something that makes me uncomfortable, ashamed or even afraid. This is distressing because it is simply not true.

“I’ve also been reminded recently that while as a society we are moving toward greater inclusion and equality for all people, the tide of history only advances when people make themselves fully visible. There continue to be far too many incidences of bullying of young people, as well as discrimination and violence against people of all ages, based on their sexual orientation, and I believe there is value in making clear where I stand.

“The fact is, I’m gay, always have been, always will be, and I couldn’t be any more happy, comfortable with myself, and proud.”

Thank you, Anderson Cooper. We recognize that this is something you haven’t discussed publicly in the past, not because you were ashamed, but because it is a private issue (as it should be). But there are a lot of kids who are being made to feel ashamed today and can now look at you and understand the reality behind the phrase “It Gets Better”.

(PS AC: I’m fighting for the right for you to get married, by the way. No need to send me a card, just a little tilt of your head on your show would be fine, something just you and I will connect on. If I get invited to your wedding, it should be “plus guest”. Thank you.)

Obama announces his support for same-sex marriage, Internet explodes

What is breathtakingly impressive about Obama’s (VERY clear) announcement of support for same-sex marriage is the fact that he made it the day after Amendment 1 passed in NC (by a pretty large margin). That speaks volumes about his desire to do the right thing, regardless of the inevitable hit he’ll take in the polls because of it.

You can be cynical all you want about his motives, but there is no reasonable scenario in which he made this announcement for short-term political gain; in fact it is done at considerable risk, knowing how motivated the opponents of same-sex marriage are, and how his statement will be used to whip up a frenzy of support for his opponents (especially the politically-powerful religious right and the more homophobic branches of the populace), now and in November. Sure, he’s shored up support in the liberal, same-sex supporting groups, but was that really a population that was in peril? He had little to gain, and still has much to lose.

If you can still imagine a scenario where this was just a political pawn issue, played for maximum cynicism and as just another lever pulled by rote in a re-election machine, then I would suggest that you should step back from the conspiracy blogs a little: you’ve possibly lost sight of the fact that these are people we are talking about. People who, like myself, have evolved opinions about same-sex marriage at different speeds.

At some point of their evolution, some earlier and some later, people realize it’s the just the right thing to do. And then they speak out about it.

Some will complain that it took him too long, but you could say that about the past 6 or 7 Presidents too, as well as most members of Congress still serving today: I’m not holding my breath waiting for Boehner to announce his support of full rights and protection for same-sex marriage, considering he’s busy spending his time and your money defending the Defense of Marriage Act now that Obama has instructed the DoJ not to do so. Does anyone want to place bets on how Mitt Romney will spin it? Anyone want to place bets on whether he’ll follow suit?

I say he won’t,  considering he supports a federal marriage amendment barring equality and would uphold the DOMA.. I don’t think I’d have to pay out on that bet.

In the meantime: congratulations on your evolution, Mr. President.



Taxes are 12 points (Photo credit: 401K)

I believe the top tax rate should be 75%, but with a caveat: the top tier of taxation starts at exactly 10% above whatever my salary is for that year. That way rich people have the right incentive: to make sure I make as much money as possible in order to reduce their own tax rate.

See?  A joke!  A small and insignificant one, but a joke nonetheless!

There is a small kernel behind this, actually: that the tax rate should get exponentially higher the further away someone’s income is from the median income of people whose jobs they are responsible for. That way their incentive is not only to maximize their own income by itself, it’s to also increase the median wage for their employees in order to reduce their own tax rate. And the higher tax rates start increasing exactly at the median employee income.

Once you get past some multiplier X of the median salary of people your company employs, your tax rate should shoot up pretty quickly. I don’t know what the value of X is in order to be fair, but I do know that 300 is way too high, and that’s the difference today nationally between CEOs and the average employee (I couldn’t find any reasonable stats on median).

Of course it’s impractical: there are too many complications to think of and address in a WordPress post. You would probably have to have a minimum number of employees for the median to start making statistical sense, and investors who earn income from indirectly funding work and not hiring employees directly would need a different tax method. But our tax system today is structured in a weird way to provide incentive for personal gain at the expense of community economic health, and we need more ways to make it more palatable than punitive to help improve everyone’s lives. It’s also structured today to make the proponents of “trickle down” economics demand their benefits up front, and expect everyone else to take on faith that they will eventually get some unknown benefit at some point in the future (no guarantees): we need to make sure that these promised benefits are real enough that those who promise them are willing to link their benefits to them as well.

Also, any CEO or board member of a bank that received TARP funds because they were “too big to fail” and then proceeded to buy up smaller banks and sit on the cash instead of making credit available gets taxed at 99% on any income over the lowest income of the owner of any mortgage they’ve foreclosed on. In perpetuity.