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Study Finds US Is an Oligarchy, Not a Democracy

NicBenjamin Re:Are you kidding (782 comments)

Those countries tend to be really small, with fewer people then New York City; tend to highly exaggerate the odds that somebody from the #3 party will win the top job; or have parties based explicitly on increasing the share of the national budget devoted to their pet programs. The state with the most changeable partisan landscape in the entire world (Israel) actually manages all three.

The difficult thing about politics in a democracy is getting a large number of people to all agree on the same platform. If your country is small it's relatively easy for a guy with a new idea to actually tell everyone this idea, because he doesn't have to waste time hiring 50-state-level campaign directors, he can just buy an ad on the national TV station. Most people will be intrigued and visit his website. As the scale of the country goes up the new party becomes so much harder.

For example in the US a party based on the black vote, the Hispanic vote, the pro-life vote, and Gun Rights vote would probably get 20% of the national vote even if it only got 40% of it's target audience. It's platform would probably be more logically coherent then either big party's platform, because all you'd need to do would be ditch the GOP's economic conservatism and replace it with higher spending on the working class. That can be justified by saying the party exists to protect individuals from bullying, therefore no baby gets aborted, everyone has the right to the same firepower, the rich don't get to buy themselves things the poor can't even dream of, Mexican immigrants get easy access to legal rights, etc. In a a few decades this party would have the votes to totally dominate US Politics.

But just imagine the problem getting any of those people to leave their current parties. If they leave their current party, and nobody else joins them, they get their asses kicked and instead of having the party of the future they get to watch while the new President bans guns/adds six pro-choice seats to the Supreme Court/etc. And even if they win they only get some seats in Congress in the short term, because 20% doesn't get you much. Which means all the big parties have to do to stop the defections is change their platforms. In theory it could be done. But it would take an awful lot of organization, pulled together in a very short time-period, because you'd need 6,000-odd people just to have one spokesman in every County in the US.

It makes a lot more sense for our aspiring pol to join one of the big parties, and try to convince the Dems or Republicans to change their coalition.

yesterday
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Study Finds US Is an Oligarchy, Not a Democracy

NicBenjamin Re:Revolt? (782 comments)

It would take tens of millions of Americans for the revolt to work. If tens of millions of Americans decided to vote for an independent slate to Congress next November then Obama would have to deal with a House dominated by that slate. No party has ever gotten 50 million votes in the mid-terms, and the 40-odd million both parties will probably get would almost certainly take a hit if millions decided to vote for the rebel slate, so a movement of 10% of the country dedicated to actually fucking voting would win.

The problem is that nobody actually wants change enough to do it, and if you don't want change enough to sign a couple petitions and show the fuck up on election day you ain't taking potshots at the Army.

2 days ago
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Study Finds US Is an Oligarchy, Not a Democracy

NicBenjamin Re:Are you kidding (782 comments)

Depends on which elite you're talking about.

The Elite in Brussels has to be far removed from any given ordinary citizen because it represents a half-billion people, and those half-billion are multi-national and multi-ethnic. Hell, most of the point of having this particular elite run things is that it's supposed to be far removed from the people. The elites in the capital are much closer to their people then the elites in DC.

The problem is that Europe's people don't seem to understand reality. Twenty-odd of the EU's 28 states would be much better-served by abolishing their own sovereignty in respect to foreign and defense affairs, and turning it all over to some central body; but God help the Hungarian, or Finnish pol who seriously proposes this. As is they're depending on NATO which is a fancy way of saying that if Putin decides to eat Finland Barack Obama decides whether Finland survives.

Hell look at GM foods. European leaders tend to understand that if GM foods were actually a health threat then the US would not have a life expectency in the 80s, and the Canadians wouldn't beat half of Europe.

2 days ago
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Study Finds US Is an Oligarchy, Not a Democracy

NicBenjamin Re:Are you kidding (782 comments)

The worst part of this post is that many Americans are so Euro-centric that they won't understand why it's ridonkulous BS. The difference between election in most European countries and America is that in most European countries the huge coalitions that dominate politics are divided into multiple political parties. Ultimately every vote in France is a vote for either a) the Gaullists or b) the Socialists. Every vote in Germany will support either a) the Christian Democrats or b) the Social Democrats. Voting Green in Germany or Communist in France influences the strength of of the Greens and Communists in their respective big coalitions, but it does not (in any meaningful sense of the word) make Green or Communist leaders credible candidates for the Big Job.

The US has the same exact system. The only difference is that the big coalitions are called "parties," and the way you strengthen the US equivalent of the Greens is by voting in the Democratic primary. It's a lot more work then the Germans, because you actually have to show up for the primary AND bother to learn which Democratic candidate is most Greenish, but it's no less small-d-democratic in outcome. It's a little more work then France because you actually have to know the names of the people you're voting for, but the French have to vote twice because there's a first round election and a subsequent run-off.

In all these systems alternatives to bland major candidates tend to be extremely unsavory. If you're too Euroskeptic to be a Gaullist coalition partner that's probably because you're racist. If you're too left-wing to be in the SDP's grouping you are almost certainly one of the guys who helped run the Stasi IRL. The last two US presidential candidates you mention in our system to have won states outside the big tent parties were Segregationists running on Segregationist platforms.

2 days ago
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Bill Would End US Govt's Sale of Already-Available Technical Papers To Itself

NicBenjamin Re:What the bill really is doing (32 comments)

That's not very convincing. $1.3 million a year is literally a rounding error of a rounding error in the context of a $Trillion budget. Since Senators make $174k each, and they have offices with dozens of people, it's likely the salary of the people who just wrote a proposal to defund this agency cost more then the agency did.

And if you read your source critically you'll note that it actually proved the agency has value. 26% of it's reports are not available to the government from free sources. The other 74% are clearly not in an easily searched place or nobody would pay the NTIS from their budget to access the damn things.

BTW, the source you link to is a reprint of the press release from McCaskill's office, not an independent take at the issue. And even in her press release McCaskill just doesn't supply a very convincing array of facts.

about a week ago
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U.S. Supreme Court Declines To Rule On Constitutionality of Bulk Surveillance

NicBenjamin Re:Please NOTE... (141 comments)

They only got fire with tracer rounds, which are really bad to use against a defended military position. If the other guy knows where you're shooting from you die.

My point isn't that there are no tactical situations where a gun would be useful. After you rebel it illegally importing firearms is pretty much inevitable. Historically successful rebellions a long-ass time -- the VC started their rebellion in the 40s, and didn't fully succeed until Saigon fell in '75, our own Revolution took almost 8 years, etc.

So the question isn't "would these weapons be useful?" It's "are these weapons so useful that having them for all 100% of the rebellion, rather then merely having them for 85%, increases the odds of success?"

I'd say the answer is clearly no. They encourage your first wave to get itself killed in stupid shoot-outs, all of said first-wave is on multiple mailing lists in DC which would be trivial for the Army to get it's hands on (you seriously think the NRA can keep your name from a new Gestapo?), the weapons aren't useful for suppressive fire because they don't have a full-auto mode (altho it is fairly simple to add that in), without explosives and rockets (which you have to build yourself, because they're illegal even under the Second Amendment) they can't actually do damage to anybody, and by the time you have rockets built you could have a machine-shop churning out AKs, etc.

about a week ago
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U.S. Supreme Court Declines To Rule On Constitutionality of Bulk Surveillance

NicBenjamin Re:Please NOTE... (141 comments)

Check out the Mythbusters numerous attempts to get fuel to blow up with bullets. It almost never works. When it does work instead of *boom* they get a fire. To get gasoline to explode you need a very specific fuel-air mixture, which is very difficult to get by accident. It's even harder to get it in military fuel tanks because the military isn;t gonna design fuel tanks that blow up.

If you want to stop a tank division dead in it's tracks by attacking the supply trucks guns aren't the best option. Some sort of land-mine is a much better. Highly illegal firearms like Rocket Propelled Grenades will also do the trick. The Iraqis and Taliban aren't stupid, they have firearms much more lethal then are available to America's Second Amendment advocates (they generally have actual MilSpec Kalishnakovs liberated" from actual military units, the problem was so bad in Iraq that the US stopped the Iraqis from buying RPG-29s for their Army for fear the damn things would end up in insurgent hands), but their main weapons are RPGs and remotely detonated landmines.

about two weeks ago
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U.S. Supreme Court Declines To Rule On Constitutionality of Bulk Surveillance

NicBenjamin Re:Please NOTE... (141 comments)

Modern tanks are designed so those don't work. The biggest thing is they almost all use diesel fuel, and diesel fuel simply does not burn. This protects most US Army vehicles, and others (like the M1 Abrams) are designed so that a Molotov can't blow up their gasoline.

The armor on the Abrams is particularly effective. You'd think we'd lose dozens in two wars over a decade, but we've only lost a handful.

Now you can clearly majorly fuck up a tank with booby traps, but not a Molotov cocktail, and you probably need Milspec something for the explosive. You're probably best off targeting the supply trucks that keep the tank's parent unit going.

about two weeks ago
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U.S. Supreme Court Declines To Rule On Constitutionality of Bulk Surveillance

NicBenjamin Re:Please NOTE... (141 comments)

Armed infantry. or guerrillas, can destroy the fuel supplies, supply lines, and the personnel who reload and refuel the tanks. Tanks require far, far more fuel, maintenance, and much larger ammunition depots than ground troops. Basically, if you can engage in effective guerrilla warfare, you can defeat an artillery based army. Take a good look at the history of invasions of Russia and Afghanistan for particularly effective ground forces versus armor historical combats.

But it's not the guns that do it. It's explosives and booby traps. Mostly explosive booby traps. And it's definitely not legal guns that can do it.

Which means that even if the Second Amendment was repealed today, and all legal guns disappeared, the odds of a successful rebellion in the US would not decrease.

about two weeks ago
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U.S. Supreme Court Declines To Rule On Constitutionality of Bulk Surveillance

NicBenjamin Re:Please NOTE... (141 comments)

There are around 300 million firearms in the United States. The US military has under 8000 armored vehicles that could even remotely considered "tanks"

If the people of the united states rose up against their government, it would be no contest. The military would lose very quickly. This is the point of the Right to bare arms. There can be no military coup in this country while the populace is so armed.

This is the Founders' logic. The thing they didn't understand is that in the US all these assholes are responsible to the people anyway.

If all 300 million Americans actually want Obama to stop the metadata collection then all they have to do is send him a Congress that says "fuck Metadata collection." We can do this in November. Two years from now we get to replace Obama. Hell in practical terms we could do this tomorrow simply by refusing to go to work until Obama resigns. General Strikes c an be quite effective in changing political policies if everybody actually stays home. And nobody has to die. If we do the military option the Military is gonna kill a few hundred of us before we win.

The math works the same with pretty much any assembly of American people above 66 million, because it's no American election has had more then 132 million votes. The reason we still have things like Metadata collection isn't that the system is unchangeable, it's that our fellow Americans are too fixated on supporting the team which will vote their way on taxes/ObamaCare/etc. to risk letting the other team control the government. And if you're not willing to risk Paul Ryan's budget passing/failing to get rid of Metadata then you'd be a fool to offer to shoot the Army for it.

The military option only makes sense if you've got a much smaller (in the 30 million range) section of the country. But they have to be incredibly committed, and they also have to be so unpopular that neither big party is willing to let them in it's tent.

No offense, but the idea that 30 million Americans could seize the government by military force, against the will of the other 280 million, terrifies me.

about two weeks ago
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U.S. Supreme Court Declines To Rule On Constitutionality of Bulk Surveillance

NicBenjamin Re:Please NOTE... (141 comments)

You don't think American's hobbyists could take down a Predator drone?

With what?

They're big planes with multiple redundancies so firearms probably won't punch a big enough hole to take the damn things down. There's a reason it's news when the Taliban/Iran/whomever takes one out with firearms. Rockets could work, but launching them within the borders of the US would be dumb because rocket fire is incredibly easy to back trace. They'll know exactly where to send the SWAT team two seconds after you fire the rocket.

Using electronic means is probably dumb because electronic signals can be tracked. You can get a drone or two, but eventually they're gonna track your ass just like they tracked MH370.

about two weeks ago
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U.S. Supreme Court Declines To Rule On Constitutionality of Bulk Surveillance

NicBenjamin Re:Please NOTE... (141 comments)

Gun nuts annoy me for two reasons.

1) They are convinced their firearms scare the Army. The Army does not give two shits about you, all your buddies, and your AR-15s combined. It does not matter how many after-market parts you added. Since WW1 the Army has fought no wars where enemies armed with firearms caused most casualties. Hippy-artist-types scare the shit out of the Army because they can design creative booby-traps, and creative booby-traps were the VC's bread and butter. Iraqi and Afghani insurgents, too. There's a reason IEDs are called "improvised."

2) Historically firearms have never stopped the Federal Government from opressing Americans. This is largely because in America the Feds do not oppress US Citizens. What tends to happen is US Citizens oppress each-other, and then whine to high heaven about Abe Lincoln being a tyrant when he frees half the state.

Later on the Posse Comitatus Act allowed ordinary gun-owning Americans south of the Mason-Dixon line to ethnically cleanse their states of pesky black near- majorities (or actual majorities in the cases of South Carolina and Mississippi), impose Jim Crow, etc.

about two weeks ago
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U.S. Supreme Court Declines To Rule On Constitutionality of Bulk Surveillance

NicBenjamin Re:Constitutional Court (141 comments)

In most countries there's a method the government can use to find out if a proposal it wants to enact is Constitutional before it gets passed. In many countries there's actually a specific Court, completely separate from the regular Court system. In others they just ask the Supreme Court. The Canadians have been doing this since 1875.

This looks really weird to Americans, but OTOH it would have been really nice if instead of arguing for two years about whether ObamaCare was Constitutional Pelosi could just have sent a note to John Roberts.

Asking legal scholars doesn't really help because legal scholars can disagree with each-other, and with the Supreme Court. Pelosi would have been told by almost all scholars it was perfectly fine, and the mandate was not a tax. But then the right-wing outrage machine got going and everyone was somewhat surprised Roberts ruled that it was Constitutional at all, and shocked that he ruled it was Constitutional precisely because the mandate was a tax.

about two weeks ago
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U.S. Supreme Court Declines To Rule On Constitutionality of Bulk Surveillance

NicBenjamin Re:Constitutional Court (141 comments)

There's actually a specific legal provision for that. Canadian governments can ask Courts for "Advisory opinions" on whether a particular law is Constitutional. These cases are also called "reference questions."

Since we invented Judicial Review basically by accident (the Founders were convinced the natural give-and-take of government would keep everyone Constitutional, and therefore didn't include any Constitutional provisions for dealing with what happens when somebody says the Constitution was violated), there is no text authorizing anyone in the Federal government to ask for Advisory Opinions.

What does exist is text banning the Courts from hearing a case where there's no controversy. So I can't sue you because you plan to do me harm, I have to wait until the harm is done. In legal terms I have no standing to sue until I've started losing money. In Constitutional questions you can only have Standing if you're harmed (or are about to be irreparably harmed, it's very rare but the Courts occasionally ignore standing rules if the case is really clear). But even with that there's no way for Obama to ask Chief Justice Roberts whether her new Healthcare Law will pass his Constitutional tests because Obama is clearly not gonna be harmed by a law he helped pass.

This is what happens when you write a revolutionary legal document in 1789 and then only update it when you realize that slavery sucks, women should vote, etc.

about two weeks ago
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IRS: Bitcoin Is Property, Not Currency

NicBenjamin Re:Long-Term vs. Short-Term (273 comments)

They do it for stock, and almost no stockholder has physical shares. Shares can be fractional. My Sharebuilder account had three decimal places.

You're really over-analyzing the definition of property. If it can be bought and sold it's property. If it can be traded you are legally required to report every time you trade, and whether that trade resulted in a tax loss for you or a gain. Let me put it to you another way:

If there was any way to hack the definition of property so that something that could be sold for lots of money was not property, would Mitt Romney pay taxes?

about three weeks ago
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IRS: Bitcoin Is Property, Not Currency

NicBenjamin Re:You just got told (273 comments)

You do realize that you can mine to a wallet and transfer to and from that wallet to anywhere in the world. No exchange is needed.

And how do you intend to sell your BTC without an exchange? Or rather, who do you intend to sell you Bitcoin to?

Some guy you find on a website crawling with IRS agents?

On some new Mt. Gox based in Russia?

There's a reason almost all gold transactions get taxed even tho gold works a lot better as a currency then BTC.

about three weeks ago
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IRS: Bitcoin Is Property, Not Currency

NicBenjamin Re:Hmm (273 comments)

I changed that like three times in my most, bnut eventually I realized it doesn't matter whether they are popular in an objective sense of the word.

As far as the IRS IS concerned they're popular now because lots of Americans claim to be millionaires based on Bitcoin, and some of those Americans like to shout from the mountaintop that it's untaxable. If those idiots would shut the fuck up they might actually get away with paying no taxes on their bitcoin. Since they don't the IRS is gonna have to actually send a few of them to prison so most Americans realize they're wrong.

Which means they need to enforce capital gains taxes on BTC, which in turn means they will probably actually bother to figure out whose selling BTC.

about three weeks ago
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Ask Slashdot: Fastest, Cheapest Path To a Bachelor's Degree?

NicBenjamin Re:A printer and a template (370 comments)

Just because you out-perform your co-workers doesn't mean you didn't get the job (and thus the salary) by lying. The act of fraud isn't your job performance, it's your application. Moreover the victim isn't necessarily your boss, it's the qualified applicant who didn't get the job due to the fake resume.

You got money due to a fake document. That caused hard to both the employer (which spent money on you), and other applicants (who didn;t get the job. That is the definition of Fraud. Depending on how good the job is, the premium for college degrees in your field, etc. it may not rise to the level of Criminal Fraud. And you are not likely to go to prison even if it does because nobody prosecutes that shit.

But that doesn't mean you would actually get off if the government tried to send you to prison.

about three weeks ago
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IRS: Bitcoin Is Property, Not Currency

NicBenjamin Re:Hmm (273 comments)

There's no non-messy way to do this.

Either all your transactions get taxed (the way they picked), or you always pay the high personal income tax rate.

If virtual currencies stay popular it's highly likely that Congress will write some new rules that make more sense, but also force virtual currencies more into the normal, highly regulated, fairly transparent (especially to cops) financial system.

about three weeks ago
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IRS: Bitcoin Is Property, Not Currency

NicBenjamin Re:Long-Term vs. Short-Term (273 comments)

There's specific rules governing this with stocks. First-In-First-Out would mean your appreciation (and gain/loss) is based on the oldest coin still in your wallet. Last-In-Last-Out does the opposite, and all the numbers are based on the coin you purchased most recently. You could also figure the average cost of the coins in your wallet and use that as your basis. You get to pick which method you use.

It looks like you could switch from LIFO to FIFO and back from year to year. The sole restriction seems to be that you can only use each coin once.

about three weeks ago

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