Monday, November 23, 2015

Really? Can That Be True?

The Independent of London published a story today explaining how Margaret Thatcher was actually a liberal. Really? I said. Then I read the article. Not really.

Actually it said, or seemed to say, that Margaret Thatcher was liberal toward arch-conservatives, tolerant of her own race and class, openhanded and generous with the very rich, and permissive with capitalists who found corrupt practices useful and government regulation a nuisance. She was not a liberal. It was just a tease. "We dare you to read this article." It was a provocation.

That is the point. Not honesty. Not truth. Not fact or provable logic. It’s all about provocation.

My wife summarized it in one word: CLICKBAIT.

News media are starved for validation, for numbers that will justify their ad rate, just as we are starved for the validation of “likes” on Facebook. That validation is the volume of clicks. The reader may exit the page dumber than he was going in. He may stop partway through and throw his laptop across the room in disgust. No matter. The website already scored the click. Clicks are drawn by provocation. “Come see the bearded lady” who is really a man in a dress. “Come read about this outrage.” This is the most popular because one provocation arrives with sidebars about other provocations, some of them less about issues that they are about sexual titillation.


It doesn’t matter if they are wrong or lying or depraved or monstrous or sociopathic or psychopathic, they drive the key numbers that justify media ad revenue. Sarah Palin, the dumbest of them all (who last week said Jesus would fight for Second Amendment rights, which caused me to ring a little bell on the revenue justifier for whichever site reported it) is the ur-clickbait candidate.

We are growing stupid because of this––because journalism is supposed to inform. It’s supposed to make us smarter, to inform our judgments. Instead it is turning us into 300 million rats in a giant advertising experiment.

We are entering a second and more voluble age of yellow journalism. (I expect soon to read some editorial demanding war with Spain) with the national conversation corrupted and whipsawed for profit. It’s not just a dumbing down, it’s a brutalizing process. Donald Trump eggs on some of his followers beating up a black man one second and the next he’s lying that thousands of Muslims cheered when the Twin Towers were attacked on 9/11. Really? Is that true? “Some say…” is the FoxNews standard.

I used to have a friend who constantly said “Really?” about stuff we were kidding about. We would drop some preposterous falsehood into the conversation and she’d say “Really?” and we would all laugh at her. (We were brutes. This was years ago.) This is now the business model of journalism. The spokesmodels for this are Pat Robertson, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Rick "Oops" Perry and Victoria Jackson. The beneficiaries are the monied backers who want a large gullible electorate to give them power.

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Monday, November 09, 2015

The GOP Math Problem

FoxNews morning hosts are disappointed with 271,000 new jobs. They were expecting more than 180,000.

Congressional Republicans show a graph that contradicts the numbers on it.

The ur-document of all the goofball Republican math is something aptly called “The Laffer Curve.” Don’t laugh.

Republican math is given more active heroic labels like “Dynamic Scoring.” DS measures what will happen after their next tax cut in the Republican Utopia. (Reuters offers this explanation.)

Like in the Republican Wonderland called Kansas where lower taxes was supposed to increase revenues and balance the Kansas budget but did the opposite.

(Forbes examines the corpse.)

TIME gives a second opinion on cause of death.

Salon explains the mathematical deficiencies of Reaganomics' faith-based math.

Doonesbury explains Kansas more humorously and clearly than anyone else.

In Kansas the people who live there are living with their mistake. How much do they regret electing the math-impaired Governor Brownback? The view from Kansas.

In Wisconsin, Brownback’s evil twin, Scott Walker, has similar problems with the numbers. The Washington Post explains.

Despite all the evidence, Republicans keep doubling down. Down is Up. Subtracting makes the number larger. The Atlantic reports.

If you have a dismal record as a CEO that makes you a stellar Republican candidate for president. Carly Fiorina is the reincarnation of W, the perfect Republican who fails upward and upward.

Is it real math or “Republican math”? Even FoxNews's favorite Fox Blonde has her doubts.

In Congress the math is also upside down. The Democrats got 1.4 million more votes nationally and still have far fewer seats in the House. Bloomberg explains, or tries to.

Since the Right and the GOP begin and ends with FoxNews, here is a graphic they used to describe the failure of Obamacare.

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Saturday, November 07, 2015

Big Oil and the GOP Order A Hit On Climate Science

I read in the Washington Post this morning that a Republican/Oil Company congressman is demanding the internal memos and emails of climate scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This extortionist is Lamar Smith (R-TX). His constituents will cheer; he is from Texas and Texas is owned by the oil industry. He and they are employed by Big Oil. He is doing their bidding. Unfortunately the internal memos and emails between Smith and his handlers in Big Oil are confidential. He'll ask the questions. The public is not going to know how his thoughts are controlled or his actions are directed.

We should be demanding the internal memos and emails of the fossil fuel companies and lobbyists and congressmen. We should be demanding this loudly, but we don't have a congressional subpoena power or a congressional microphone. The oil and gas companies' enormous taxpayer subsidies entitle us to know how much they are lying to us. Why exactly are we subsidizing them anyway? They are obscenely profitable. They don't need subsidies. Why are they subpoenaing scientists? Call it blackmail. Call it intimidation. Business as usual.

If this congressional operative of the fossil fuel companies thinks scientists’ casual banter can be twisted into something the public might be persuaded to dislike by an expensive oil-funded ad campaign, well, the toadying congressmen like Smith do to get paid by the oil companies doesn’t need twisting. The congressional GOP has its own private intellectual kama sutra, a set of bizarre positions it assumes to pleasure their funders. They probably keep it under their pillows.

Which is funny until you realize they are accepting money in exchange for allowing the extremely profitable destruction of our civilization. Their only “out" being that this destruction will occur after they’ve been paid all the money and retired from their corrupted offices.

It might give them pause if they realized that their longterm strategy includes an even better paid period working as a lobbyist. In that role they will be reaping the whirlwind they’ve sown. They will be right there in the oil and coal company’s employ, wearing their black hat, explaining why Baltimore and New Jersey port facilities are under water, explaining why it was worth it to turn our nation’s breadbasket into a near-desert thus making it vital that we import our food via the port facilities that their decades of fossil fuel shilling has rendered unusable. The anger of millions of persons who have lost their homes in submerged coastal regions will not be a fun thing for them to deal with. Climate change will create more refugees than the war in Syria and they will be Americans with American voices and American families and an American level of resentment and anger.

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Friday, November 06, 2015

Lord God Please Deliver Us From The SuperChristians

If you read the papers you’re likely to learn about all kinds of strange outliers and unusual happenings. Amidst what we know for sure is an unending War being waged upon Christianity there will be occasional stories about how Christianity is waging holy war on people who’d rather be left alone.

Slate reports on one such case in Louisiana.

And there's also this story from RawStory.

Some helpful perspective from blogger Zack Hunt.

Here is a little known fact (or maybe a carefully ignored one): Showboat religion actually runs counter to what the Gospels teach. Jesus said pretty clearly that praying loudly in public was wrong besides being annoying and in bad taste. Here's the Bible book and verse on public show prayer.

Still, many Americans believe Christianity is under attack even if all we're doing is asking them forgodssake to just tone it down. The folks on FoxNews keep their alert flasher going about this for hours a week, between wringing their hands about the decline in the military budget which isn’t declining and worrying about the hordes of foreigners who keep coming in adding to the U.S. population which is almost entirely descended from foreigners who came in decades earlier, some of whom weren't even Christian at all...some of whom were even (Unitarians). In some columns the greatest threat to Christianity is the threat to our God-given right to carry machine guns. Other columnists think it’s the liberals trying to feed the poor out of the taxed incomes of rich people who are already worried sick about how unlikely it is that they will ever get into heaven unless it becomes a lot easier to fit camels through the eyes of needles.

But the greatest unifying fear among the writhing, fretful Christians out there is the danger that they will lose their sacred American right to marry someone who’d much rather be married to someone else. They feel it’s wrong that gay men might be allowed to marry other men rather than marrying their sisters or daughters, or that lesbians might marry other lesbians rather than being obligated to enter a sacred union with some good Christian man they feel zero attraction to. This holy right to an unhappy, frustrated and unfulfilling married life seems particularly sacred in the South and in the rural West.

Still the Right Wing columnists seem to think free choice is a bad thing in the land of the free.

The best argument for the superiority of their faith among today’s superChristians (the supercharged variety of Christian that is fully armed and believes in the sanctity of lower wages for working people) is that Christianity makes us better people. That going to church on a weekly basis makes us kinder and gentler and more generous, which is most definitely NOT to say that it makes you Liberal. Apparently, though, churchgoing and praying and feeling closer to God than all the other less devout losers you have to rub shoulders with every day does not, in fact, make people more generous or kinder or gentler. Quite the reverse. Of course this new information isn’t a reliable revelation handed down by some godly preacher in a $5000 suit who received it directly out of the sky. No, it turns out this information comes from scientists who did careful verifiable research on human behavior while they weren’t otherwise busy worshipping Satan.

Here's an article about this latest research from that unholy bastion of godless Communism, the Economist Magazine.

And, if you'll forgive me, some more science news on the topic from the LATimes.

Religion sometimes makes us better, sometimes worse, sometimes stupid. I give you Ben Carson, an interesting example of how a seemingly intelligent and well-educated man can come off looking like a damn fool because he refuses to acknowledge that science might be right.

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Tuesday, November 03, 2015

"Citigroup College" has a vulgar ring to it

It doesn't sound any better to name the college after Mr. and Mrs. Sandy Weill, the Citigroup billionaires. NPR reported this story. Sandy and Joan Weill wanted to give $20 million to a struggling small college in upstate New York. The one condition was that the college be renamed after them. How modest the rich are!

How did we get here? Colleges are starved for a reason: the college age population is poorer than ever after three decades of declining middle class incomes. Colleges rely more and more on part time professors who are very poorly paid. Many need public assistance to make ends meet. That is poor advertising for the idea of college, and putting a billionaire's name on the college's football jerseys won't erase it.

The tax deduction given for a donation should be less if your “gift” demands naming rights, or if something is named after you. Maybe the naming should cancel the deduction altogether. There are ways of placing a dollar value on the publicity value of naming an institution after oneself. How much do corporate brands pay to put their name on major league venues? They don’t do it out of public spiritedness. They do it for crass reasons of value. If thousands of college football fans wear your name on their chest and more thousands of graduates put your name in the back window of their car, each iteration of this publicity should subtract from your tax deduction. At some point the institution should be able to demand you pony up more money or be free to remove your name. Maybe cash-starved public institutions should publish the petty-minded negotiations the “donors” engaged in over the size of their name and it’s prominence. It would be good to know exactly how starved for attention rich people can be.

The rich people who give generously because they believe in it far outnumber the ones who are greedy for praise. Most who give to their alma mater do so with a sense of humility, recognizing that the names of the people they learned from are far more important than the names of the rich people who paid their salaries. Better still, name the college after a philosopher who influenced centuries of humanity. He or she never got rich from the search for knowledge. Naming a college after a billionaire suggests that wealth accumulation is the best measure of a civilization. That is a bad message to send young people who are going to school. Why worship the few who become rich by keeping the rest of us poor

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Monday, November 02, 2015

What We Worry? The Big Shrug Over Climate Change.

As climate change denial ramped up I began to wonder where the prudent worriers in our economy had gone. Foremost among this doleful and boring but responsible fraternity are the insurers. Where were they? Why weren’t they siding with the climate change scientists and giving economic muscle to the scientific warnings? It appears there was some translation of risk warnings into dollar terms, but the message was very muted. It seldom reached the public conversation, if ever.

The insurance industry has been slow to warn. Here's an article about this.

The Guardian did report as early as 2011 that Lloyds had begun warning about climate change risks, but 2011 was hardly early. In 2014 they warned again.

In this 2013 article Smithsonian described the insurance pivot as an adjustment, a subtle turn of the dial. This was before they were purchased by the fossil fuel billionaires, the Koch Brothers.

In 2014 MotherJones wrote about how the insurance industry was largely ignoring or downplaying climate change.

I suspected this broad diffidence was because the insurance giants had been bought up by financial giants who were not insurers. An investment company is inclined to think fossil fuel profits are sexier than climate change warnings. They are likelier to tell the killjoy divisions to shut up and quit spoiling the party.

I think it was another case of Moneythink overriding our rational mind. If you are a large financial company your fiduciary responsibility (I call it a fiduciary excuse) to earn maximum profits overrides your responsibility as a citizen, your responsibility as a member of society and a comfortable beneficiary of that society.

I’ve read more since I posted about insurers' climate change denialism, and learned more about the evasions and muted warnings from insurers. Insurance policyholders are as likely to be deaf to warnings as insurers are to be dumb about the risks.

Which is where the media’s deafness comes in. (The news media's denialism has had a neat bag of tricks, as reported recently in a CNN opinion piece––why does critical thinking get relegated to the opinion pages anyway?) The sad habit of evenhanded coverage hasn’t helped. There is a habit among news divisions to “play it safe” by giving both sides of an argument equal weight, regardless of the merits of the opposing arguments. It's a bit like warning people that "There may or may not be a tornado coming. You decide." Some risks are too large to play that way, and climate change is one of them. It has been described by scientists as an existential risk for decades and the pussyfooting of media has enabled fossil fuel companies’ PR departments to sow doubt and paralyze our response. I compare this to the appeasers and America Firsters of the 1930s. We will need a WW2 scale mobilization to confront climate change, where a decade or two ago we might have confronted it without as much disruption.

Or maybe disruption is something the corporate class has anticipated and planned for. Disruption gives greater opportunity for control to those who have the resources and the positioning. For example, have corporations been buying options on lands that climate change would suddenly make viable, and buying up technologies we would desperately need (enabling certain fossil fuel villains to hop on a white horse and rescue us all once they’d reaped the maximum profit from the long con of climate change denial. Is this the kind of calculation that the sharper minds have been deployed to figure out? Vs. the less sexy calculation of risk and avoidance of risk.)

These articles address the problem that kicks in when insurers decide to abdicate instead of confronting risk. (From and from Reuters.

Instead of helping our massive economy address the risks and helping us put policies in place that reverse the risks, what do insurers do? I guess they shrug and give up. They pocket their winnings and leave the game.

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Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Fine Print We Just Signed Has Nullified Our Legal Rights

A very disturbing article in the New York Times explains how corporations have nullified our legal rights. It's all there in the fine print at the bottom of the agreement we just signed.

I can’t decide if this is Orwellian or Kafkaesque. Maybe it’s both.

Why don’t corporations write contractual language saying we agree to allow them to commit crimes against us? If it’s written into a contract’s fine print which we must sign to complete a purchase of something we need, I guess the corporation whose product we need owns us body and soul. They can do with us as they wish.

If something is in a contract we sign is it automatically legal? Can a lawyer legalize murder in a properly written contract? Can a contract absolve a company of all responsibility for its deeds or its products? Apparently. There are arbitrators, but arbitrators need the corporations’ business. They are bound to them as firmly as we are, and will do as the corporations wish.

Our grandparents used to say “they have you over a barrel.” You’re helpless to resist. You can’t say No. You can’t fight it. Surrender. Give up. Give in. The contractual language of everyday life has put us over a barrel.

Somewhere in the fine print our corporate masters have nullified our legal rights. They have deleted their legal responsibilities for anything that might happen, for anything they might do. They have blocked our access to the justice system forever, nullifying one of the three branches of our constitutional government, at least as far as ordinary citizens are concerned.

How can this possibly be legal?

The point is, it’s not for us to say what is legal. We are nobodies. Our legal rights were suspended when we signed the agreement on our last online purchase.

If the document said we were now the legal property of the lawyer who wrote the fine print would we even know?

(One step toward removing arbitration clauses from consumer agreements.)

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