I've heard and seen several declarations over the past few months that Science is losing ground with Americans, and we're all becoming "anti-intellectual." It's as if the Tea Party, Ken Ham and Jenny McCarthy have somehow moved us all back intellectually, back into a realm where research and evidence is trumped by our gut.

Sure, it doesn't look good when many of the Republican candidates running for the U.S. Presidency are staunchly against scientifically supported viewpoints across a number of topics (climate change, evolution, vaccines, and GMO's). From the European perspective, it's alarming that no major GOP candidate supports evolution, and several flatly refute it. In the scientific community, it's effectively the bedrock of all genetic research.

Then we see a Senator using a snowball to disprove global warming, a measles outbreak happens in California pockets of anti-vaxxers, the "Food Babe" becomes a thing, facts seem to be almost completely absent in popular politics, and suddenly empirical science is under attack.

But fear not, because…

We've always been panicky, emotional idiots

Let's start with the secular and the non-secular. If you look at the trends, acceptance of a non-theist based human evolution is trending up and theist creationism is trending down (both slightly, but enough). General religious practice (which is not antithetical to scientific belief) in itself continues to trend downward. For every meme about growing up Baptist, Jesus and angels, there's a meme or following for Bill Nye, Neil deGrasse Tyson and SpaceX. And in truth, many spiritual people balance their faith with full respect of forward scientific research.

And yeah, we've had a bad go on vaccines in the last 15 years, but a lot of that has been fueled by the massive growth of the pharmaceutical market, and its subsequent rash of drug recalls. That's the backdrop from where people view our growing vaccine schedule for infants, which went from 6 vaccines in 1995 (about 18 injections) to 14 vaccines in 2014 (about 34 injections). In that timeframe, 14 new vaccines were released, which is a lot to take in. Corporate greed and its rush to market casts a large shadow, and a small nugget of psuedoscience sparked a ready backlash against time honored vaccines.

The good news is that it was very small backlash, and the vast majority of parents continue to vaccinate their children. In truth, the CDC remains among the highest trusted Federal agencies (with NASA following close behind), and it's done a commendable job demonstrating the safety and importance of childhood vaccinations.

Today, we just see more stuff

The general truth is that with the expansion of the media and it's focusing lens on our daily life, we have access to more shared knowledge as well as scandals and concerns. Documentaries like Supersize Me and the like feed things like "The Food Babe", which just occupies a space of niche psuedo-nutritionists who've always thrived. This is just a continuation of the Adkins diet, only that guy kinda had a lab coat feel. The "Food Babe" is just, well, a self-described "babe" with no credentials and Kardashian appeal. When has that ever gone out of style?

Nutrition in the public sphere has generally been about the loudest voices, not the most credible science. It has a veneer of empirical evidence, but it comes to us through gossip and infomercials. We have a unique relationship with food, which makes it a bad litmus test for scientific trust (in my mind).

Politics is even worse. Sure, no GOP candidate wants to outright support evolution, because they know their voters. Republican voters trend more theist, and therefore largely believe in some form of God-based creation of life. Even in general, our country is largely Christian by self-identification (around 71%), and compared with other countries we're quite avid attendees of church (39%, only beat by the Irish, Maltese and the Poles). This shouldn't much a surprise – the whole idea of the country started by worshipers seeking religious freedom.

Finally, if you feel the environment is a cause that shows how little we respect science, the general public struggles most over the _long-term projections _of climate change, not the immediate effects. Three out of four Americans want the EPA to do something about smog, because smog exists right now, and it's immediately visible. But if you mount an argument that airplanes, cars and coal factories will sink Miami in 20 years, it's an argument we can dismiss, because Americans are exceptional at dismissing issues until they're staring us in the face. For this one, I won't link articles, just raise 3 points: World War I, World War II and our National Debt. Oh, and those 15 pounds we put on since the 90's.

We're not dumber, we're just mistrustful

The truth is we know a lot more than we ever did as a society, and while that's helped us a lot, it's also exposed a lot as well. Across the board, nearly every public institution and authority has lost some trust with the public. The result causes a lot of debating and noise, but that's just a part of the process. We're not always going to get it right, but at least we're engaged, enough to question authorities now than we ever have.

As one of our smartest Americans once put it:

"Don't just teach your children to read…

Teach them to question what they read.

Teach them to question everything."

– George Carlin

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First, what is the 2nd Amendment?

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Basically, we get to have guns, but not unlimited access to guns. The Supreme Court in 2008 puts it like this (via District of Columbia v. Heller)…

The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm … for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home. … Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose…

So if you're a law abiding citizen, you can own firearms for lawful purposes: hunting, self-defense, and sport. Currently, "warring with the National Army because I don't like the government" isn't a protected right.

So what is gun control? Maybe you already know. If you're a gun enthusiast, you might say it's proper sight alignment and sight picture, or the slippery slope toward a total gun ban. If you're reeling from one of our nation's bi-monthly mass shooting, you might have a foggier idea about what it really is. It all starts with the 2nd Amendment, which has consistently been interpreted to mean that citizens have the right to own firearms (most recently by the Supreme Court in 2008 via District of Columbia v. Heller), but not without some restrictions.

First, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, or ATF, dictates what's legal and what's not. So owning a 9mm revolver for home defense and sport, legal. Owning a 12 pack of hand grenades, not legal. The automatic Colt M16 combat rifle released in 1960 _not legal, _the semi-automatic Colt AR-15 released 3 years later legal. The government is also allowed to deny ownership of guns to categories of people, mainly felons, people with mental illnesses, illegal immigrants and veterans with a dishonorable discharge. So if you commit a gun crime or have a history of psychiatric conditions, for public safety, the FBI will not approve your background check for gun ownership.

In short, gun control is how the government tries to make sure guns are used lawfully, and not for committing crimes. It's keeping guns from the "bad guys" and balancing rights with public safety (hence keeping belt-fed guns and bombs out of general public use).

Where criminals get their guns

So where does the problem of keeping guns from the "bad guys" start? First off, let's omit good guys who go bad – lawful gun owners with no history of violence that decide to commit crimes. Sadly, many mass shooters fall into this bucket, which is why they're often a red herring in the gun control debate.

Let's assume you're a "bad guy" – someone with intent to commit a crime, and you have a criminal record. You need to get a gun, and here are your options.

Buying from a gun dealer

The first place guns are sold is through gun dealers that are issued a Federal Firearms License (FFL) by the ATF. This is referred to as the primary gun market, and makes up about 60% of gun sales. Right now there's over 140,000 FFL gun dealers in the U.S., and only 1000 ATF agents to enforce regulations. If 140,000 sounds like a lot, many operate without storefronts, often from private homes or even on the road. At best, a dealer may be inspected once a year, so some skirt regulations altogether, skip background checks and even traffic guns to Mexican cartels (where demand is huge). These dealers can often be black market dealers with a legitimate license and really bad bookkeeping.

Assuming you're at a legitimate gun store, and since it's post 1998, you'll have to pass an instant FBI background check. Nowadays this often takes less than 5 minutes. If you pass, your gun's serial number and your info is written on paper, mailed to the ATF, and stored on microfiche. Why microfiche? Because the 1986 Firearms Owners' Protection Act (aka FOPA) prohibits any national gun registry, so the ATF gets by with 19th century technology. In the event you somehow pass this check and commit a crime, if law enforcement finds your weapon, they'll make an often futile attempt to trace you through the ATF microfiche system.

To see how futile this is, try hastily writing down your vehicle's VIN number and ask someone else to read it.

…through a friend

But, likely, with a criminal record you'll fail the background check. No matter – FOPA also requires the FBI to destroy any evidence of your failed background check within 24 hours. No authorities alerted, no record to be used against you in court. If you're still really intent on getting the gun at that store, you'll simply need to conduct a "straw purchase" – you just give money to someone else who buys the gun for you. You could be the next serial gunman, but at worst your straw purchasing friend may face a misdemeanor (see 2014 Abramski v. United States).

…through a guy on the Internet

If you don't find an accommodating FFL dealer, what you'll likely do is buy your gun from a private seller, also known as the secondary gun market (accounts for 40% of gun sales). You can try Armslist, the "Craigslist for guns", or a number of  local papers to find folks who grow tired of their revolvers, pistols, shotguns and rifles. Unless you're buying or selling a special category weapon (submachine guns, explosives, and special long barrel weapons), the ATF doesn't govern your transaction. Some states require you to do your gun sale through a FFL gun dealer who performs a background check, but it's so few that you're guaranteed the next state over does not.

…through a "gun enthusiast"

If you don't like what you're seeing in the private listings, you can always go to a gun show. There, while you'll find many normal FFL gun dealers, you'll also find private sellers who use the ATF's vague language for what constitutes a gun dealer and claim to be "casual enthusiasts". As such, they bypass all FFL gun dealer laws – no background checks, no registration. If, say, you live in New York where high-capacity magazines aren't available, well come down to Tennessee and grab a 33 round magazine for your Glock. The only law casual dealers must follow is they cannot knowingly sell to a felon. And as long as your criminal history doesn't come up in conversation, they won't ask.

The sad reality is…

We don't have effective gun laws. Gun rights supporters have fervently fought so hard to keep firearms free of regulation and easy to purchase that there's almost no accountability, tracking or barrier to criminal gun sales. In the few places where gun regulations could work, there's so little oversight that corrupt gun dealers flourish and feed a thriving black market for firearms. In the end, the U.S. has almost half the world's civilian-owned firearms and 2-4 times more gun deaths than any European or Asian country (Montenegro comes close, but it's still recovering from civil war). Uruguay, Barbados, Chile, and Peru all have fewer gun homicides than the U.S., while being significantly poorer and with much weaker police enforcement infrastructures.

I'm a former Marine with two pistols, a rifle and a Concealed Carry Permit. I whole-heartedly embrace a citizen's lawful ownership and use of firearms, but the landscape of gun and ammo sales in America is recklessly tilted toward ease of sale over public safety and crime prevention. While the NRA may drum up a great debate using fears that have no basis in public opinion or reality, it profits entirely from the controversy it instigates and the gun manufacturers that support it, acting as a PR firm for reckless gun marketing and fear mongering.

Americans will always have gun ownership, but we could do much more to ensure that ownership is kept safe, lawful and responsible. A public that doesn't feel safe will always move to the fringes, but avoiding gun violence only helps bolster the rights we agreed to at the dawn of our nation.

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Not much can be said about Trump that every news outlet and himself haven't already said. He's found a winning recipe that taps into 3 near limitless resources: public disdain for politicians, American xenophobia, and his own wealth. Come for his brute attacks on fellow politicians, stay for farcical stance on immigration.

There's a lot of speculation as to how his campaign charts it's disastrous course through the GOP primaries, and most expect the bubble to burst in his popularity, but we're well past our faddish short flings with GOP candidates in the last go. It seemed Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul and Rick Santorium all struggled and eked their ways to the spotlight for short runs, but Trump's been solidly leading polls for almost 3 months. News outlets have fawned over him in both horror and awe of the things he says, and with bewilderment over his ability to avoid a complete collapse.

And with his popularity, he has a stranglehold on the Republican party. He freely admits he's not bound to any party, and if they go with someone else he'll gladly divide up their vote running as an Independent. If they do embrace him – either through a primary victory or loss – he could take the party conversation to a place that'll effectively ruin any chance of a Latino vote for years to come. It's like a story book romance where the Billy (ala voters) is clearly meant to talk to and cozy up with Suzy (ala Jeb Bush), but is fixated instead on a wild-haired rich girl with Turrets Syndrome (ala Trump). Artful analogy, I know.

One thing is for certain, he's entertaining. I'll take 10 press conferences with him at the podium any day over 1 with Scott Walker. Or hell, maybe even Rand Paul, a guy I think I like (generally). It's because he knows what this whole thing is – it's a show. People don't give a crap about your platform in general, so for a while he didn't even bother with one. His platform is his mouth, and whatever gut check, unsanitized, wildly skewed thought that passes through it and out into the world. His website is the most bare on actual Presidential campaign substance – for a while it had nothing. Now at least it has a "Positions" page, which as of today, there is 1: Immigration Reform. (Worth noting: for a New Yorker, _really? _This is your 1 position? America's most famous port of immigration for the 20th century and one of its most diverse cities?)

The man is a walking show, in an arena of polished automatons in suits with an unhealthy middle-class fetish. Maybe at some point people will start thinking differently and weigh him with more serious, rational thought. But for now, it's still kinda fun to watch and wait for what he'll do next.

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In 2015, when you say Scott Walker, most folks think (favorably or with disdain) about the heated 2011 recall election he faced as Governor of Wisconsin after facing down public unions.

He proposed and signed the 2011 Wisconsin Act 10, which was a big blow to public employee collective bargaining, pensions and healthcare. The result was the third ever U.S. Governor recall election, in which Walker drew crazy amounts of outside support, and after raising 7 times more money than his opponent, he won the election.

From the outside in, non-Wisconsonians saw his fight with public unions as a bold, neo-conservative throat-punch to established institutions. Apparently, so did political interest groups. Truth is, Walker was a conservative poster boy from the very beginning. With his father a Baptist preacher, Scott learned how to move a crowd from an early age. He caught the political bug early on, became an Eagle Scout, and immediately after enrolling in college started flexing his muscles on the student government. His bid for student President drew record votes, largely because of his furious campaigning and divisive platform. For Chrissakes, he ran on a Pro-Life platform… in a Student Government election.

After unpleasantness, likely Walker's disdain with his College and hunger for a career, he took a gig with the Red Cross before running for a seat on the Wisconsin State Assembly. We walked all over his district to drum up support, but fell short making the push for a conservative candidate in a very blue area. Ultimately, he had to move and retry in a different district with better results. From there, he'd move to a position as a Milwaukee County Executive, and then after two tries, finally the governor's office. He was 43 when he took the oath for the governor of Wisconsin.

Kill the Unions

He's known, and praised, for striking down public unions, and the huge backlash it stirred up. I even entered this little summary biopic with this fundamental understanding of Walker. He's an ideologue who is after absolute, free-market capitalism. But, maybe it's not so sinister.

On the one hand, Wikipedia says he walked into a $3.6 Billion budget deficit back in 2011, which apparently he touted later on. In truth, his turn around from that figure is less impressive, but nonetheless worth nothing. It's well known that state pensions and healthcare promises years ago continue to be a huge drain on states across the nation today, and as much as I dislike the idea, curtailing these costs can save state budgets. Of course, to counter this, Walker ushered in hefty tax cuts as is popular in every partially budget-conscious conservative's handbook.

But down the line, Walker runs on just about every conservative platform you can think of.

  • Voter ID laws
  • Abolish Abortions
  • Kill the Unions
  • "Right to Work"
  • Increase criminal sentencing
  • Privatize public institutions
  • Shrink government

He learned early on the beautiful magic corporate money and politicians when he worked with ALEC, the Match.com for coporations and politicians, to help private prisons increase profits by keepining inmates locked up for longer terms. And he's got all the folksy Christian talk to make him as "down home" as need be for the reddest of state fairs. One could almost argue he was raised form a ThinkTank gelatinous vat to become a 2016 Presidential hopeful.

I don't like Scott Walker, but I get him

There's no false pretenses with Walker. He's through and through a full-on, hard-core Christian Conservative. You can say he's swayed by corporate masters, but with a platform as pure as his, who wouldn't draw crazy special interest funding. This guy makes no qualms about anything. He's nothing if he's not consistently a hard-core Neo-Con.

The larger question that he'd face in 2016 is "Can he govern the greater U.S.?", and so far with a fairly cloistered upbringing and an entire political career in a state that's nearly 90% white, I doubt it.

 

 

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Rafael Edward "Ted" Cruz, known amongst friends as "Raph" and for his trademark Sai daggers, was born in 1970 to employees in the oil industry of Alberta, Canada. They were both U.S. citizens, so don;t even try that "long form birth certificate" crap on him; Ted is 110% legit.

His educational upbringing is practically socialist, it's so good. He left a lasting legacy for the Harvard debate team, and would later have to murder 6 hippies to shed his perceived liberal street cred. Seriously, the guy was like an Ivy League unicorn.

After several failed barber-shop quartets, Cruz gained employment with a law firm heavily involved in DC politics and carny rights. He actually helped with drafts for the Clinton impeachment, and eventually landed on the Dubya legal team, where he helped with the Supreme Court case that got his employer into the White House. Years later, that same Supreme Court would green light gay marriage, and he promptly proposed impeaching the Justices responsible.

After several years serving as Texas' Solicitor General, he won a seat in the US Senate, where he earned the nickname "Lazlo" for his terrible attendance record. In 2013, he maneuvered a standoff over the federal budget in an attempt to defund Obamacare, but really it was more of a publicity stunt without an endgame and ultimately cheesed off a bunch of fellow Republicans. That trend of pissing off folks in the GOP has pretty much continued since then.

In short,

  • He loves freedom.
  • He despises Obamacare.
  • He really wants that Keystone Pipeline thing.
  • His hot dog eating record in 2 minutes is 35.
  • He sees all the crazy smog and climate change, but doesn't think its because of the tons of toxic chemicals we spew into the air every waking moment.
  • He talks almost as much smack with his own party as he does against the other party. The donkey one.
  • "President Cruz" sounds neat, but will likely only exist in Fan Fiction.
  • If you've never served in the US Senate, he's only voted on bills like 6 more time than you. Check out his voting record – it barely needs pagination (see here for contrast).

 

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