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The Gaijin Tax?

April 19th, 2015 3 comments

A few years ago, I went to Akihabara and tried to buy some cables at a shop there. The four cables I got were in boxes with prices clearly marked; the total was ¥500 ($4.20). The guy at the counter tried to charge me ¥1380 ($11.60). I later realized that my dress was different—I probably looked more like a tourist, so they probably figured that I would pay without question.

At the time, I was pretty shocked; this really had not happened to me much in Japan. It happened in Europe when I visited, like the bakery counter lady in Athens who crassly gave me way too little in change, and when I complained, she took it back and gave me even less. I never imagined that happening in Japan.

However, I have noticed that recently, clerks “accidentally” make “mistakes” with me quite often.

Just the other day, Sachi and I went to a local burger joint, and got a standard lunch set each. There was nothing on the menu more than a thousand yen (less than ten bucks). Even the beer I ordered only cost a few dollars when swapped out for the drink that came with the lunch set. So, for two people, the total should never be more than, say, ¥3000. Even that’s a bit high.

So when I went to pay, I was rather shocked that the total was more than ¥5500 (about $50). The restaurant guy, who had served us and knew that there was only the two of us and we had not ordered anything special, had rung up the total, announced it to me, and then stood there waiting for me to pay.

The thing is, the amount was so far off it stood out like a sore thumb—like going to McDonald’s, ordering two Big Macs, and getting asked to pay $25.

This guy was not a newbie, we’ve seen him since last year; he maybe even owns the place. The total should have immediately stood out to him as incorrect, more than it did to me. But it took me to give him a puzzled expression—for several seconds, no less—before he caught the “mistake.” I put that in quotes because, frankly, I don’t think it was a mistake.

The thing is, after this happened, I began to recall other similar incidents over the past few years. I always just discounted them as errors, and maybe in fact they were—but the thing is, they are happening with increasing frequency, and are typically not minor overcharges. Several times, mostly at restaurants but also at other shops, I have had to check the tally carefully when I am given a total that seems suspiciously high. So much so that I now almost reflexively check my receipts, even when the total doesn’t seem unusually high.

Generally, I am beginning to get the feeling that this is a “gaijin” thing—something that’s happening because I’m a foreigner here. If so, it is relatively new; this never happened with such frequency before. (Although I would be interested to hear if Japanese people get the same thing as often as I do.)

I’m not counting the trivial stuff, like the conbini that gave me a 100-won coin instead of a 100-yen coin in my change (the Korean coin is worth 1/10th the Japanese currency), or whoever it was at McDonald’s giving me a single patty in a double burger. Just the times when the amount I am asked for is significantly over the total I am supposed to pay.

In Japan, when they give you change, it is (or at least used to be) customary for them to politely ask you to check the change to make sure it is accurate. I never really used to do that because it was always right. Now, I don’t hear them saying that as much—and I’m checking the change a lot more now.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2014 Tags:

The Wrong Kind of Concern

April 17th, 2015 1 comment

Conservatives have been making noise about how income inequality is bad and that is so important to them:

Appearing at a candidate forum in late January, three likely Republican presidential contenders — Senators Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul — all made a striking confession: They considered “the increasing gap between rich and poor” to be a problem.

Yeah, the problem they see is that income inequality is being noticed more and it’s in danger of being opposed. We can’t have that.

Which is not too far from their stances: they brought it up primarily to say that it can’t be addressed with government action—in short, we should not raise taxes on the rich or mandate minimum wage hikes, stuff like that.

To prove their extreme concern over income inequality being challenged, Republicans in the House just passed (on heavily partisan lines) a bill that would repeal the estate tax.

To be clear, the estate tax does not affect you unless you are handing over more than $5.43 million upon your demise, and that’s only if you’re single. For a married couple, it’s $10.86 million. And that means that if parents pass away with a $15 million estate, no tax is applied until the first dollar after $10.86 million. After that, the rates go from 18% to 40%, the 40% kicking in after $1 million. So on the $15 million estate, the inheritors would pay about $2 million in taxes.

So, how is this about Republicans protecting people of lower incomes?

Republican Majority Whip Steve Scalise explained, “the vast majority of our members in the Republican conference have never had the opportunity to stand up for small businesses who are threatened by the death tax everyday.”

Ah, yes. The small business owner. The Republicans’ favorite go-to prop when they want to help the super-wealthy.

But wait! Those small businessmen could get hit! Really! It happens!

Well, in 2014, the average and median small business sold for about $185,000.

In fact, only about 20 “small” businesses and farms each year are subject to any estate tax every year. And that’s figuring businesses which value at $5 million, not $10 million. And those 20 per year usually owe only about 5% in taxes.

Not to mention that there is no language in the bill whatsoever mentioning small businesses, just an unqualified repeal.

So, are Republicans really voting to protect small businesses? Of course not. It’s an asinine lie. Nothing new—I have written before about how Republicans habitually trot out “small businessmen” when they want to give massive tax cuts to primarily wealthy people.

In short, it’s pure, unadulterated bullshit.

The estate tax repeal would cost the federal government about $27 billion per year, mostly so that people with hundreds of millions, as well as billions of dollars can maintain vast treasuries of unearned wealth.

For example, Emma and Georgina Bloomberg stand to inherit their father’s $31 billion fortune. Assuming they get it all (and are not largely cut out like Paris Hilton), and they split the fortune evenly, each would, after the estate tax, only receive $9.3 billion. The horror!

As Thomas Piketty pointed out, it is amassed wealth that is the biggest problem in the world—and the estate tax is pretty much the only established tax on that wealth.

And so naturally, Republicans, newly concerned about income inequality, want to completely erase that tax, to the exclusive benefit of the 1%.

Sounds legit.

Of course, we can breathe a sigh of relief: the bill will never become law. Democrats stand to filibuster it in the Senate, and even if not, Obama will veto it. And Republicans know this. Despite that, they passed it purely as a stunt—which, strangely, kind of puts the lie to their recent claims of concern for income inequality. (Alas, billionaires like Sheldon Adelson can hire lawyers to set up massive trusts to get around billions in estate taxes.)

It’s almost as if they figure that independents know full well they are lying all the time, or they believe independent voters are idiots who won’t notice.

Tipping

April 17th, 2015 3 comments

Living in Japan, tipping is just something you don’t have to deal with. You don’t tip here, ever. Not at any restaurant, not for taxi drivers, not for deliveries, hotel service, nothing. It’s actually very nice, as you don’t have to research and remember complex rules about how much to tip which kind of service. You don’t have to deal with the fear of seeming like a cheapskate, or worry about how the person serving you will feel if it’s this much or that much. Here in Japan, paying for something is a stress-free process.

Honestly, to this day, I have no idea how much I would tip a taxi driver for a fare (is it different from short and long hauls?), or a bellhop to show me to my room (I have to ask family and friends when that’s something I have to deal with). I recall that 15% used to be the standard for restaurant tips, now it seems to be 20%.

This causes problems for me when I travel back to the U.S., as I have to break long-held habits. Once, some years back, while on vacation from Tokyo, I went to a restaurant in San Francisco with a friend who was also visiting from Japan. We ate, paid, and left. I realized I had left my jacket at the restaurant, so I went back. I told the waiter who had served us that I had forgotten my jacket. He said, “You forgot your tip, too.” Somewhat abashed, I got out a generous tip as I tried to explain why that happened; I am guessing he didn’t believe me, but whatever.

So I was a bit confused on more recent trips back when I would go to a place that had general seating, but I would instead order something for take-out. There would be a tip jar on the counter, and when I pad by credit card, there would be a line for the total, the tip, and the total with the tip, so that you would have to write the same amount twice, essentially making an outright statement that you are not tipping at all. I was rather taken aback when I first encountered it, and have never been comfortable with it—it seems excessively pressuring, like a few years back when many businesses asked out loud in the line at the register if you “wanted” to make a donation to a charity (which you usually had never heard of and knew nothing about) with your purchase, and to refuse you had to say it out loud in front of a line of people.

When someone waits on me, that deserves a tip. They have to show me to a table, be prompt with service, carry stuff back and forth across the restaurant, make sure your water glass is full, deal with complaints corrections, take care of the payment, maybe other things we don’t even notice. With a home delivery, well, they drive across town to deliver for you, presumably doing so promptly but safely. The standard is, special work is being done.

But a counter pick-up? Really? The person behind the counter is doing no more work than any other register person at any other store. Do you tip the check-out person at the supermarket? Do you tip the concessions seller at a movie theater? Nope.

The argument is often made that these people are paid minimum wage. If that’s the standard, then why are only restaurant people afforded this generosity? Not to mention that servers get tipped because they get paid a pittance (well below minimum wage, often just a few bucks an hour) as the tips are expected to be their main income; cashier people, I understand, are paid a regular wage, as are the cooks.

I’m also pretty sure that a tip was never demanded for counter service when I was younger—of course, tip jars were hardly ever there, either. I’m not arguing that counter staff don’t need the money; however, a lot of minimum wage earners who never get tips deserve better as well. It just seems like an attempt by restaurants to justify paying more workers less, and/or an attempt by better-paid staff to get a gratuity simply because it is a close extension to an established but separate gratuity system.

I would be quite happy if America followed Japan’s example and just got rid of the system completely. Pay people a living wage ($15 at the very least for a minimum wage for whatever job), and just factor that into the prices.

Of course, what would probably happen is that the businesses would all pretend like the difference would cost them a lot more than it really would, and would take the opportunity to hike prices too much… still, the change would be a good thing.

Categories: Economics, Travel Tags:

The Problem Isn’t Just in Ferguson

April 10th, 2015 4 comments

If you or someone you know believe that public and police reactions to white and black people are not distorted, this is an excellent example of how that’s simply not the case. Disproportionate attention means disproportionate response. In the video below, a white man tries to break into a car for half an hour: nobody notices, not even a cop who drives right past him, even as the patrol car is slowed by traffic right in front of him, as the guy is jiggering the door lock and the car alarm is blaring loudly. No reaction. Then his black cohort begins doing the exact same thing, and people immediately begin to react. In just two minutes, a police officer, gun drawn and instantly hurling profanity, arrests him, as more police converge on the scene. Because, coincidence, right?

Check out this video of two young men, one white and one black, trying to steal a bike, even openly admitting to passers-by that that the bike is “technically” not theirs. Predictably, the white guy is left to his business and no one calls the police, while the black guy is instantly surrounded by a group of people who get in his face and call the police. These are just social-experiment videos, but they are not isolated. There’s no end to evidence you can find, if the daily march of videos of white policemen killing unarmed black men isn’t convincing enough for you.

The core problem is how we react to race. Having a name that sounds black on your resume, for example, will make it harder for you to find a job. Are so many employers white supremacists? No.

The thing we don’t hear enough about is the fact that pretty much everyone is part of the problem. Including people who will swear up and down that they never would do anything like this. Our reaction is usually, “Not me!” Guess again. You don’t have to be a “racist” to be part of the problem.

This is a systemic problem in our society, not just with police, but with ALL of us, that must be addressed. The reaction amongst conservatives is to deny and demonize the victims, and the reaction on the left is all too often, “Hey, it’s not me, so what are you going to do?”

The first step is to admit that anyone can have this issue, regardless of color, including people who hate racism, and to understand that this does not mean you’re a dyed-in-the-wool epithet-hurling hate-monger. But you CAN do this, you probably HAVE done this, and you have to acknowledge that before you can begin to deal with it. Awareness is a good first step.

Demanding justice at the societal level isn’t a bad second step. It shouldn’t be hard to be outraged at how this is manifesting today—though a huge segment of our society is trying its damnedest to stay in denial. We should all be demanding a radical change. But if that’s just not in your DNA, then at least stop getting in the way—I guarantee you, history will not be on your side.

Categories: Race Tags:

Not Hard to Predict

April 8th, 2015 No comments

It happened again, inevitably. A white police officer pulled over a black man for an alleged traffic violation. The details are still scarce, but at some point the officer tries to subdue the driver, uses a taser on him, and then, as the man attempted to flee on foot, the officer fired eight times, hitting the man in the back, killing him. After handcuffing the dying man, the officer then radioed in that the “suspect” had been “threatening” to the officer.

This time, the officer was charged with murder—an extremely unusual outcome, mostly because or third-party video showing the incredibly egregious act.

I had to wonder, how are conservatives reacting to this? Well, it really isn’t very hard to guess, as their tactics are always the same: when there is one incident of an injustice they don’t want to recognize, paint the aggressor as a hero and the victim as a villain; when there are multiple incidents, find any example of the reverse happening and cry in outrage that it isn’t being reported on. It’s what they always do. Always.

And sure enough, when I did a search for exactly that, there should be zero surprise at what I found: two police killings, one of an 18-year-old man in Mobile, Alabama, and one of a 20-year-old man in Salt Lake City, both incidents where unarmed white men were killed by black police officers—and conservatives are just outraged that the media isn’t giving these killings the same level of attention as they gave Michael Brown in Ferguson.

As usual, you can guess who can be counted upon to stand up for the oppressed white men:

Talk-show host Rush Limbaugh blamed the discrepancy between the two cases on “the liberal world view” that portrays whites as oppressors and blacks as victims.

“[I]n the current climate in the United States, a black person can never be the oppressor, and a white person can never be a victim,” said Mr. Limbaugh on his national radio show last week.

This attitude is mirrored in the comments to the articles, where conservatives demand equal attention be paid to these stories, condemn the media as “liberal” for not doing so, and point out that white people, unlike blacks, aren’t rioting and looting everywhere.

The fish-in-the-barrel counter to that, of course, is that when it happens once or twice a year, it’s not news. When it happens at least a hundred times a year, probably much more often (police, for some reason, are reluctant to keep track of how often unarmed black men are shot by white police officers), it is news. When it’s a chance occurrence, it’s not a story that merits strong national attention; when it’s a trend, marked by nationwide racial profiling, countless black people stopped, frisked, tased, arrested, shot, and killed, which creates such a spontaneous outrage that people nationwide protest the massive injustice, then it’s a story.

It’s not a story because you can see that your worldview is shamefully wrong so you have to dig deep to find some reverse case which you then claim is equal to the massive outrage.

The Freakout Cycle

April 4th, 2015 4 comments

Gs6EdgebendIt seems we’ve come full cycle now. A video has been released showing that the Galaxy S6 Edge will bend not only as easily as an iPhone 6 Plus, but more catastrophically so.

Expect this to become a major PR scandal everyone will freak out over in 3… 2… 1… Never….

This comes after Samsung and others mocked Apple for making a phone that bent so easily. Nor was this the only time this kind of thing ever happened; in fact, it seems that every release of a new iPhone nowadays has some major, controversial “flaw.”

With the iPhone 3G, it was that cracks appeared in the back shell. With the 3GS, the phone overheated. With the iPhone 4, there was “Antennagate,” which topped the charts and became such a huge thing that Apple had to hold a special event just to address it. With the 4S and 5, there were issues with the screen and camera displaying yellow and purple, respectively. With the iPhone 5 there was “Mapsgate” (a more deserved embarrassment), while Samsung was mocking Apple for the fact that users would have to get all-new connectors. With the iPhone 5S, there was the “scandal” that the fingerprint sensor could be spoofed. With the 6 Plus, it was “Bendgate.”

Never mind that pretty much every single supposedly catastrophic flaw had been an issue with numerous other phones before or since. Apple was hardly the only phone to have antenna interference issues when held a certain way. Nor is it as if no phone had experienced display issues. Fingerprint sensors have always been vulnerable to someone with enough will and opportunity.

Samsung’s mocking of Apple usually turns out to be ironic, like when they hit Apple for changing connectors for the first time in ten years, and then we found out Samsung had changed theirs about a dozen times in the same time period.

No matter: it’s an iPhone that it’s happening to. So many people focus on how Apple fans go nuts over new releases, but few cover how Apple haters similarly go nuts when they find a flaw they can make a big deal over.

I even noted this phenomenon back in 2010:

The iPhone 4 antenna story is the result of a snowball effect, amplified by a media sector looking for a hot story to sell ads and Apple-hating crowd which live to puncture the inflated hype about Apple products. A few users note the antenna signal dropping when the phone is held a certain way. For a few days, most other people are like, “Really? I hadn’t noticed. Hey, how can I replicate that?” The story gets out, videos are produced, more people try to find the problem, and while most can’t, more than enough can make bars disappear and take more videos of that, causing more people to try it. Meanwhile, the media sees a story it can’t resist making a brouhaha about it. Rinse and repeat.

I think I have the cycle worked out even better now:

  1. Apple releases new iPhone
  2. A few users find a flaw
  3. There is a rush to post videos and images on blogs, as these will draw huge audiences and major ad revenue
  4. Most users don’t notice it and/or can’t reproduce it
  5. Some users, who didn’t notice the issue before, try as hard as they can to reproduce the issues in videos, wanting to get more traffic on their sites
  6. The media goes berserk, people who hate Apple have a field day
  7. Competitors pile on, usually with mocking ads
  8. We find out that other phones have had and/or will have the exact same issue and it was never a thing with them
  9. Apple goes on to sell record numbers of the new phone, despite “fatal” flaw
  10. Everybody forgets there was a thing in the first place, until the next time

Rinse and repeat.

There is a similar phenomenon when it comes to labor in Asia. When the media wants to highlight how American firms use cheap labor in Asian countries, the “go to” story is always Apple in China, and inevitably focuses on Foxconn employees killing themselves in droves. Despite the fact that they, well, weren’t really. And while Apple does exploit the cheap labor markets, they tend to demand better working conditions than most other companies and tend to run more frequent checks than other companies to make sure standards are not being violated.

But it’s Apple, and it’s something whiffing of scandal, and that’s what grabs the headlines. So.

Categories: iPhone Tags:

iPhone Killers!

March 28th, 2015 4 comments

There’s a cute article about 16 smartphones that were ballyhooed as being “iPhone Killers,” listing phones that were destined to dethrone the iPhone and leave Apple behind in the dust. A review of the list brings back some memories, but even more reactions along the lines of, “Why don’t I remember that thing even a bit?” They all tried and failed. But, hey, the article only covers phones between 2008 and 2011.

The list certainly didn’t stop there! In 2012, the Galaxy S3 was an iPhone Killer; CNN believed it was because it “dethroned” the iPhone 4s… as it was being taken off the market a week before the iPhone 5 was released. Then, of course, it got wiped out.

Not to worry! The Galaxy S4 was the “Real iPhone Killer”! And if that wasn’t good enough, the Galaxy S5 was an iPhone Killer too! Well, okay, maybe neither of those killed the iPhone. But wait! In late 2014, the Galaxy Alpha was absolutely going to kill the iPhone! They had their “next” iPhone Killer all lined up! Then they released their “next” iPhone Killer! Which didn’t kill the iPhone! But not to worry, the Galaxy S6, or at least the Galaxy S6 Edge will almost probably certainly maybe be the Real Next iPhone Killer!!! Yeah!

Well, no reason why Samsung should be the only one to release iPhone Killers. Microsoft Windows Phone 8 also killed the iPhone in 2012, along with the Nokia 808 PureView. And remember how Amazon killed the iPhone?

China Wireless’ Coolpad killed the iPhone in 2013, as did the Blackberry Z10 and the Moto X.

2014 was a bumper-crop year for killing the iPhone, with the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact (the “True” iPhone Killer), the Huawei Honor 6 (we all remember that one!), the Xiaomi Mi4 (a household name!), the Nokia Lumina 930 (the “Latest” iPhone Killer!), another Xiaomi (they just can’t stop killing the iPhone!), with Amazon and Sony both waiting to release all-new iPhone Killers!

I could keep going on, but you get the idea. Seriously, Bill O’Reilly should publish a book titled “Killing the iPhone.”

Meanwhile, here in Japan, where people have always just despised the iPhone, the rankings show that the iPhone lost it’s standing as the #5 smartphone to the Xperia Z3. I suppose that it will have to be satisfied with the #1 spot. And the #2, #3, and #4 spots. And #6. And #9. And spots number 14, 15, 16, 19, 23, 30, 32, 33, 46, 49, 54, 60, 61, 65, 66, and 78. What shame! #78! Apple should just stop trying to even sell the 18-month-old 32GB-variant Docomo-sold iPhone 5S! Um… oh, wait. They did. It’s discontinued. And yet, somehow, it’s actually still on the list. Must have been a leftover or two.

The moral of the story: don’t rush to buy stock in any company that is releasing yet another “iPhone Killer.”

Categories: iPhone Tags:

On Global Warming and Climate Change

March 24th, 2015 3 comments

You’ll be hearing more like this from Ted Cruz and others as campaign season picks up and the race for the base begins:

…[R]emember how it used to be called ‘global warming’ and then magically the theory changed to ‘climate change’? The reason is it wasn’t warming, but the computer models still say it is, except the satellites show it’s not.

Now, of course, Cruz is full of it. This conservative trope is essentially data cherry-picking, and has long since been debunked.

However, that’s not the worst of it. A rather embarrassing fact for Cruz and his fellow travelers is that conservatives pushed for that exact change in name for the theory… for political purposes:

It’s time for us to start talking about “climate change” instead of global warming and “conservation” instead of preservation.

  1. “Climate change” is less frightening than “global warming”. As one focus group participant noted, climate change “sounds like you’re going from Pittsburgh to Fort Lauderdale.” While global warming has catastrophic connotations attached to it, climate change suggests a more controllable and less emotional challenge.

The fact is that on the science side, the terms “global warming” and “global climate change” have both been used, in almost equal measures, since the 1980′s. They didn’t choose either for political purposes, but rather to describe the phenomenon as best they could. Both are true: the planet is warming, and it is experiencing climate change.

There has been a push amongst scientists to leave the term “global warming” behind—but not to avoid embarrassment over incorrect theories. Instead, it is because of what Stephen Colbert termed as “Peek-a-boo-ology,” a political science-denial technique conservatives have been using in force, which basically tries to push the idea that “global warming” means that “every inch of the Earth must be getting noticeably hotter or else the whole thing is false.” If it’s not warm where I am right now, there’s no global warming. If temperatures don’t rise consistently every year, there’s no global warming. Of course, this is idiocy, but to combat this, the more comprehensive “climate change” designation offers more clarity. The climate change is still caused by global warming, but if people see a snowstorm and get confused, best not to tax their intellect too far.

In short, Cruz and other conservatives are trying to deny climate change by claiming that scientists switch the terms to avoid embarrassment over being wrong, when in fact it was conservatives who effected to switch, in two different ways, for political purposes.

Categories: Right-Wing Lies, Science Tags:

Shut Down the F**k Barrel

March 23rd, 2015 7 comments

John Oliver:

Watching this, something occurred to me: when explaining how those terribly oppressed rich people should have their taxes cut, conservatives love to harp on the 47%, about how poor people get away with “not paying taxes.” What they mean, of course, is that poor people don’t pay income taxes. Well, federal income taxes. Well, in that one year where so many people lost their jobs. Usually it’s been more like 40%. Although most of that 40% do pay federal payroll taxes—typically only 14% of households don’t pay payroll taxes. And in fact, the poorest 20% of households pay more than 12% of their incomes in state and local taxes, and about 16% of their total income in taxes altogether. While Mitt Romney, who is worth more than $200 million and apparently works little enough to enjoy equestrian dressage, only paid 14% on his $13.69 million income, and that’s the only year he let us see, meaning he usually pays less than that.

But I digress. Suffice it to say, people who claim poor people “don’t pay taxes” have their heads up their asses. Let’s leave it at that.

But the video above, along with Oliver’s piece on civil forfeiture, made me realize that there are even more hidden “taxes,” and they’re not just lottery tickets. The heinous system of cities and their police forces shaking down citizens for as much cash as possible is perhaps one of the more significant overlooked taxes paid almost exclusively by poor people.

These videos also made me realize something else. Remember how, a few decades ago, we shook our heads at the kinds of countries—and we usually envisioned Latin American countries—where policemen typically shook down citizens for bribes and protection money?

Yeah, that’s right: we’re that kind of country now.

Congratulations, everyone who decided it was a good idea to cut taxes. This is so much better.

While the Truth Puts On Its Boots

March 22nd, 2015 9 comments

Something that people should be made very well aware of is that one person can quickly shoot out factoids and quips that sound convincing and true, and while what they’re saying is total bullshit, it takes so much effort to show they’re full of it that by the time you get halfway there, nobody is listening to you anymore. That’s why it’s often so easy to lie, and so hard to insist on what’s true.

Here’s a sterling example of that in real time: former Georgia Senator Jack Kingston, a Republican, criticizing Obama, saying that he “is not able to put together an international coalition the way that President Bush did.”

When the person sitting next to him points out how badly that turned out with the Iraq War, Kingston quipped, “You mean the war that Hillary Clinton and John Kerry voted for?”

Watching that exchange—which only took twelve seconds—you would think that Kingston put his opponent to shame, when in fact he was, in fact, selling a line of shit so deep it would be hard to plumb its true depths.

Seriously, saying that Obama is at fault for having trouble putting together a coalition where Bush succeeded is like saying that Obama can’t drive worth a damn because he’s trying to use the same car Bush drove into a brick wall at 80 miles per hour. Bush made a halfway-decent coalition in Afghanistan only because it was right after 9/11 when we had most of the world strongly behind us; a rodeo clown could have done that. Bush then made a bad joke of a coalition to invade Iraq, the “Coalition of the Willing,” as you may recall, one that consisted of countries like Costa Rica, which has no military. Now the entire region is falling to crap and nobody wants to deal with it.

Kingston followed up with the jab about Hillary and Kerry voting for Iraq—as if Clinton or Kerry would have ever started that war if it were up to them. What they did was stupid, but in the context of the time, being piled upon for being anti-American and weak on terror, at a time when being seen as such was considered a political death sentence. Bush made it easier by lying and saying he was only asking for the authorization so he could use it as leverage. They were weak, they caved—but to suggest that Democrats, or even these specific people supported the war, wanted to start it, or were somehow equally responsible for its disaster, based on that vote… it’s pure and utter bullshit.

But the above two paragraphs would take a minute and twenty seconds to try to get out, during which time, someone like Kingston would interrupt, change the subject, and put out six or ten more lines of BS. This is the art of the modern conservative.

People need their own bullshit detectors to combat this, formed with a solid foundation in critical thinking. Which is why it should come as no surprise to anyone that the element of modern education that conservatives hate most is critical thinking skills.

Categories: Right-Wing Lies Tags:

Descending In Open Bigotry

March 21st, 2015 1 comment

There is a high school in New York which, as part of a National Foreign Language Week activity, read the pledge of allegiance over the school loudspeakers in a different language every day. The choice for the first language to try—Arabic—was almost certainly a mistake. Not because Arabic isn’t a proper objective choice, but because we have by now been long primed to act aggressively against anything that smacks of the Arab world.

Predictably, the reading of the pledge in Arabic sparked outrage. That outrage was almost certainly racist or born of religious intolerance, but of course that was not the reason claimed by the angry respondents. Many families complained that they had lost family members in Afghanistan, for example. The problem: Arabic is not spoken in Afghanistan. The two official languages are Dari and Pashto; Dari is effectively Farsi. Many other languages and dialects are spoken there, but Arabic is not one of them. Other complaints came from Jewish families; I fail to see, however, why they should have any more right to object than anyone else whose nationality has a beef with a country that speaks a certain language. Should Spanish be banned because a British family resented the Falklands war? A general language is not emblematic of a specific political conflict, and it should not be prohibited simply because some people make a general connection between something they hate and that language. Why? Same reason it’s not okay to hate all Arabs, or Persians, or all of any race. It’s the exact same principle.

No, the reaction to the reading of the pledge was, if not entirely racist, then mostly so, with general bigotry and ignorance blended in. Many people claimed it was just an aversion to the pledge being recited in a language other than English—in other words, run-of-the-mill xenophobia rather than outright anti-Arab sentiment—but that doesn’t wash, either. As the principal of the school pointed out, “Had it been done in Spanish first or Japanese first, we wouldn’t be having this conversation today.” Indeed: had it been read in one of those languages, there would have been no protest—or at least so little that it would have been negligible. If such had been done first and nobody objected, then reading it in Arabic would have been much more difficult to protest. I do think that the principal was in error, however, in that people still would have complained—they simply would have had to be a little more honest about the reason for their protest.

Back in 2001, in the days after 9/11, Bush made it clear that we were not fighting against Islam, and warned against a backlash against Arab-Americans. It was one of the few stances he took which I admired.

Well, so much for that. America is now firmly bigoted against not just Islam, not just Arabic peoples and languages, but anything that reminds us of any of that.

Categories: Social Issues Tags:

No, Pelosi’s Syria Visit Was Not the Same As the GOP Iran Letter

March 14th, 2015 No comments

I was somewhat surprised when I caught up with The Daily Show this week, and saw Stewart’s reaction to the Republican letter to Iran. Interestingly, he skewered both Republicans and Democrats, based upon the fact that then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Syria in 2007 against the wishes of the Bush administration, and other liberals or left-leaning commentators (specifically, Hillary Clinton, Diane Feinstein, and Chris Matthews) spoke in praise of Pelosi’s actions.

This is essentially the main defense by the right wing for the 47 Republican senators’ letter to the Iranian leadership: Pelosi did it, so liberals are hypocrites for objecting now!

Well, not quite.

In situations like this, it kind of helps to look beyond the superficial and check out, you know, the actual facts of the situation. From a New York Times article at the time of the Pelosi visit:

Ms. Pelosi and many other Democrats, as well as some Republicans, have spoken often in recent months about the value of increasing dialogue with Syria as a way to improve stability in the region, but the Bush administration has resisted the idea, citing its view that the country is a state sponsor of terrorism. It accuses the Syrian government of providing militants with safe passage into Iraq and of interfering in Lebanon’s politics after its army was forced to leave there in 2005. Damascus denies the accusations.

At the White House on Tuesday, President Bush told reporters that he saw little point in talking to Syria now. “Sending delegations hasn’t worked,” he said. “It’s just simply been counterproductive.”

Even so, three Republican congressmen — Robert Aderholt of Alabama, Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania and Frank Wolf of Virginia — visited Syria separately and met with Mr. Assad on Sunday. And a senior American diplomat, Assistant Secretary of State Ellen Sauerbrey, held talks in Damascus last month with Syrian officials about an influx of Iraqi refugees. Mr. Bush did not mention those visits in his remarks yesterday.

Ms. Pelosi is traveling with a high-level group of lawmakers, included Representatives Henry A. Waxman and Tom Lantos of California, Louise M. Slaughter of New York, Nick J. Rahall II of West Virginia and Keith Ellison of Minnesota, all Democrats, as well as David L. Hobson, Republican of Ohio.

Doesn’t exactly sound the same, does it?

So, here is essentially what happened: the Bush administration had a stated policy to not engage the Syrian government on the grounds that such engagement would not be productive… although Bush officials had, in fact, made recent official contact at a fairly high level. Bush just didn’t want Pelosi to go. Pelosi went anyway. That’s about as close the Pelosi visit got to what the Republicans did recently: she engaged with a foreign leader in a way that the president did not approve.

However, that’s where the similarity ends.

The differences? First, Pelosi did not pull a surprise visit to Syria, but instead coordinated her visit with the Bush administration.

Second, while Pelosi made a move that the Bush administration claimed was counter-productive, she went there in support of the Bush administration’s policies concerning Syria, taking the same stance of Syrian conduct, and communicating to Assad the same views that the Bush administration held on his actions.

And third, she was not alone: Republican congressmen and the Bush Assistant Secretary of State all met with Assad, in fact prior to Pelosi, and the Bush administration did not object to any of them doing so, or say that any of them were interfering with administration policy or making things worse. The Assistant Secretary of State’s visit the month before, in fact, clearly belied the Bush administration’s assertion that engagement would not work. Pelosi also traveled with other Republicans (who were also not called out) in what was a bipartisan endeavor.

In point of fact, there was one other similarity between 2007 Pelosi event and the current GOP letter event: in both cases, Republicans used the event as a political weapon to assault Democrats.

Bush was engaging with Assad, and Republicans did also make contact—Bush objected to none of these. He only objected when someone of the opposing party wanted in on the same action his own party was taking. Basically, he was saying, “This is our political campaign tool, to make us look good—how dare a Democrat try to share the stage!”

In contrast, Republicans, in opposition to direct, ongoing negotiations with a foreign leader, actively participated in what was clearly a partisan political stage performance in a manner that undermined the president of the United States. This, just days after Republicans invited the Israeli Prime Minister to address the in Congress in a speech that criticized the president.

So, no. Not the same thing. Not even close.

Categories: Right-Wing Hypocrisy Tags:

Ten Men and a Tax Bill

March 13th, 2015 4 comments

The following is an old story about “How Taxes Work,” essentially an old right-wing metaphor trying to explain how rich people are abused and trodden upon by the lower and middle class, who are a bunch of ignorant, selfish dicks trying to rob the sympathetic, generous, industrious wealthy man. It’s storytelling legerdemain, sleight of hand with figures, like saying that Reagan cut taxes and doubled revenue, when in fact he raised taxes overall and most of the revenue increase was an illusion created by not factoring for inflation. Or the bookend arguments that (1) we should cut taxes for rich people because they pay the lion’s share of the budget, but (2) we should never raise taxes on rich people because if we took 100% of their money it would only pay for a tiny amount of the budget. These arguments depend upon half-truths and more than a little hocus-pocus with hidden values, enough so that the reader gives up on trying to do the math and just accepts what is heard.

See if you can spot any of the tricks in this often-quoted version of the shell game:

Let’s put tax cuts in terms everyone can understand. Suppose that every day, ten men go out for dinner. The bill for all ten comes to $100. If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this:

The first four men — the poorest — would pay nothing; the fifth would pay $1, the sixth would pay $3, the seventh $7, the eighth $12, the ninth $18, and the tenth man — the richest — would pay $59.

That’s what they decided to do. The ten men ate dinner in the restaurant every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement — until one day, the owner threw them a curve (in tax language a tax cut).

“Since you are all such good customers,” he said, “I’m going to reduce the cost of your daily meal by $20.” So now dinner for the ten only cost $80.00.

The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes. So the first four men were unaffected. They would still eat for free. But what about the other six — the paying customers? How could they divvy up the $20 windfall so that everyone would get his “fair share?”

The six men realized that $20 divided by six is $3.33. But if they subtracted that from everybody’s share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would end up being PAID to eat their meal. So the restaurant owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man’s bill by roughly the same amount, and he proceeded to work out the amounts each should pay.

And so the fifth man paid nothing, the sixth pitched in $2, the seventh paid $5, the eighth paid $9, the ninth paid $12, leaving the tenth man with a bill of $52 instead of his earlier $59. Each of the six was better off than before. And the first four continued to eat for free.

But once outside the restaurant, the men began to compare their savings. “I only got a dollar out of the $20,” declared the sixth man who pointed to the tenth. “But he got $7!”

“Yeah, that’s right,” exclaimed the fifth man, “I only saved a dollar, too … It’s unfair that he got seven times more than me!”.

“That’s true!” shouted the seventh man, “why should he get $7 back when I got only $2? The wealthy get all the breaks!”

“Wait a minute,” yelled the first four men in unison, “We didn’t get anything at all. The system exploits the poor!”

The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up. The next night he didn’t show up for dinner, so the nine sat down and ate without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered, a little late what was very important. They were FIFTY-TWO DOLLARS short of paying the bill! Imagine that!

And that, boys and girls, journalists and college instructors, is how the tax system works. The people who pay the highest taxes get the most benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up at the table anymore.

Where would that leave the rest? Unfortunately, most taxing authorities anywhere cannot seem to grasp this rather straightforward logic!

See how much the poorer men are total assholes?

What the story totally glosses over is the amount of effort each man puts into making that meal possible. The richest guy actually worked least hard of all for his food (but he managed the ordering so well that he deserves most of the credit!). The poorest would have liked to work for theirs but were not given the chance, and the guys in the lower and middle part of the group did the lion’s share of labor.

Not to mention that the story falsely assumes that all men eat the exact same meal—as if the poorest 40% have the exact same lifestyle as the richest 10%, or that a poor man benefits from government largesse more than an oil magnate, military contractor, or media tycoon. In a truer telling of the story, each would eat more or less what they could afford.

Not to mention the old canard that that the poorest pay no taxes. They pay no federal income taxes, but there are many other taxes they do pay, including federal payroll taxes. Even if they can’t find work, they still get hit with other taxes, usually sales taxes at least.

The story also gives the impression that the wealthiest man has simply decided to be generous for no particular reason, because he’s such a swell guy.

That and a lot more is simply assumed or omitted from the storyline, for the simple reason that if the story were told fully and truthfully, the rich guy would not come across so much as the oppressed hero.

Here’s how the story would play out if it were widened to a more realistic scope:

Ten men are associated with a company.

The first two are willing to work hard at the company, but the tenth man, the majority shareholder (who is extremely wealthy), has decided that his profit margin just isn’t big enough to justify hiring them. As a result, these men are dirt poor. When possible, they take on odd jobs at extremely low wages, but for the most part, can barely feed themselves and their families, despite their desperation to find gainful employment.

The next two men work 12- or 14-hour days at backbreaking labor for the company, and receive minimum wage. Their jobs are relatively unskilled, but still critical; the company could never function without someone doing this labor. However, they can only barely support their families. They live from hand to mouth, are usually in debt, and likely will have little pension or savings by the time they are old enough to retire. They always fear losing their jobs and being replaced by the first two men, so they don’t complain much.

These first four men cannot afford company stock, and own nothing of the company.

The next two men work 8- to 10-hour days at less menial jobs, and get paid enough to stay out of poverty, but not comfortably so. They have salable skills, but are still not irreplaceable; they also represent labor that is necessary for the company to function, but similarly fear losing their jobs to others who could fairly cheaply be trained to do their jobs. These two men have enough saved that they can buy a little stock in the company, but not much.

Most of these six would like to improve their condition, but they find themselves having a hard time: every time they find themselves getting ahead in the world, their apartment rents and other expenses go up, leaving them with less than they expected. (Guess who owns the apartment buildings.)

The next two men have fairly established skills. They have pretty good job security, and get stock options that allow them to get a 5% share in the company each. They are hardly well-off, but they are comfortable.

The ninth man is a manger. He owns 10% of the company stock, lives in a nice home, and does well. He may work long hours, but does not need to; banker’s hours would be reasonable for him, and he looks forward to a nice, early retirement.

The tenth man, as noted above, is extremely wealthy. He owns about 75% of the company and controls how it runs. He makes a high salary, but pays a lesser percentage of that salary in taxes than the five men below him, mostly by structuring his salary to take advantage of loopholes he paid to slip into the tax code. He controls everything, and decides what work all the other men do. He could easily employ all nine at comfortable wages, but would rather have a bigger yacht, so he leaves the first four men in poverty. He only creates jobs that are absolutely necessary to make him the most money, and pays as little as he can get away with. He works only when he wants to, and does very little actual labor. His wealth derives from the work of the other men below him. He claims that his “talents” are “invaluable” even when he makes stupid decisions and loses money.

When asked why he doesn’t shell out and hire the first two men or give living wages to the next two, he says that the 7th, 8th, and 9th men depend on him to bring in good dividends for them, so his hands are tied. When asked, the three men below him say that they don’t make the decisions, that the tenth man controls things, so such matters are beyond their control. They could make a fuss, but know that hiring and paying living wages to those below them would cost them, not that the tenth man would ever go along with it anyway.


The ten men go out to dinner, the bill coming to $1000.

The first two men can only afford cold franks and beans, with complimentary table water, for a total cost of $2. The rest of the men at the table chip in coupons so these two can have some bread and maybe a small snack.

The 3rd and 4th men have small burgers, fries, and soft drinks, the bill coming to $4 for each.

The 5th and 6th men have pasta with a small glass of beer, and pay $15 each.

The 7th and 8th men have sirloin steaks with salad, garlic toast, and a few glasses of wine. Their bills come to $50 apiece.

The ninth man has appetizers, a salad, a soup course, filet mignon with a nice Pinot, and his selection from the dessert cart. His bill comes to $110.

The tenth man has a rich 6-course meal with caviar, foie gras, lobster thermidor, and much more, with a few bottles of the best champagne washed down with a smooth 50-year-old scotch. His bill comes to $750.

When he sees the bill, he thinks, “Holy crap! Look at how much I’m paying! These other deadbeats should really help out with this!” However, he knows that the others would not easily go for this, so he tries to come up with some clever schemes to get the others to agree to go dutch, or at least foot more of his own bill somehow.

One such opportunity comes along when the owner of the restaurant, happy to get such good business, and wanting these guys to spend this much at his establishment as often as possible, offers to cut the bill by 20%.

The wealthy man immediately jumps in with an offer: “Let’s try to do this fairly.” He points to the first four men. “You bottom forty-seven perce—er, you four guys, you’re hardly paying a damn thing. You should step up and contribute. I suggest you all chip in and pay a few more bucks apiece. It’s only fair.”

“You next two guys, you pay $15 each; the next two $50 each; and you, the ninth guy, you pay $110. I suggest you and I all get the exact same cut—10% off. So the bills will come to $13.50 for the first two of you, $45 for the next two, and let’s call it $100 even for the ninth guy, just to round things off. I handle the rest, which, you have to admit, is the biggest chunk of the bill!!”

Calculators come out and soon it becomes apparent that the richest guy got a whopping $171 off. “Hey Mitt,” one of them says, “you got the biggest cut of all!”

“Of course,” the wealthy man replies, lounging back in his chair; “I pay the biggest part of the bill, so I deserve the biggest cut.”

Another man protests, “But your cut is much more than 10%; you save about 30% off your original bill.”

The wealthy man counters, “I need to have that money so I can create jobs for you guys!”

“Create what jobs?” one of the poorest two men complain. “You keep saying that, but you never actually spend any of the money you wheedle from us on making any new jobs.” “Yeah,” the next four complain, “You always say we’re in line to get better wages, but when it’s time to renew contracts, you claim that there just isn’t enough money for it!”

The first six men, seeing themselves being slighted, decided to jump the wealthy guy and pound him. However, the wealthy guy’s bodyguards cut that idea short, and guy #3 finds himself fired as an example to the others. Man #4 was told to do the third man’s work in addition to his own without any extra pay, which the wealthy man later boasted as an increase in productivity. There was talk of unionizing, but with the laws allowing the wealthy man to bust unions with impunity (paid for by the wealthy man’s lobbying firm), the working stiffs had no real recourse.

There was talk of voting in the next election to make the wealthy guy pay more of his fair share, but the wealthy guy was able to buy advertising to convince most of the others that this idea was effectively communist confiscation and generally unAmerican and unfair. Most were also convinced that they would someday get rich, and they didn’t want to give up their imaginary future wealth any more than the tenth guy wanted to give up his real wealth.

Also, he was able to convince the 4th, 5th, and 6th men that their problems were a result of the first three men mooching off of them (“Your hard-working dollars ended up paying for their franks and beans!”), and that their salaries were lower because the better pay given to the 7th and 8th men were eating up too much of the budget. That divided all of the other men enough that they accomplished nothing in the end.

By the time everyone finished fighting amongst themselves, they had all but forgotten that not only did the wealthy guy get away with the biggest reduced bill, but he left without paying a tip, which the other nine had to split between them.

Now, if they were able to base their company more on true merit and fairness, they would all have a nice steak dinner for $50 apiece and split the bill evenly—except for the wealthy man, who got pissed off that he no longer gets as much as his heart desires. He has to be satisfied having only ten times more than everyone else—which annoys him, as his management talents are obviously much more valuable than the labor he directs.

So the other nine split a $450 bill nine ways, which is okay because now they all make reasonable wages and can afford it.

Not that that’s ever going to happen. Communism, remember? Society will fall apart if the rich guy can’t take home most of the toys.

And that, boys and girls, journalists and college instructors, is much closer to how the tax system works.

That’s a lot more realistic a scenario than the original mendacious cock-and-bull story; it matches pretty well with the kind of tax policies Republicans have been trying to push through for the past several years.

But it’s also a longer story, and takes a little more thought. Most people won’t get so far as to read this line of text. Too much effort.

Categories: The Class War Tags:

3/11/2011

March 11th, 2015 No comments

It has been four years now.

The Republic of Tom Cotton, et al

March 10th, 2015 4 comments

There is a at which the political antics of Republicans go beyond mere idiocy and becomes dangerously close to sedition and treason. And regarding words like “treason,” I do not mean them in the sense that such words are used by Republicans, as in, “Obama just sneezed, let’s accuse him of treason”; I use them in the actual, legal sense.

Republicans have always used their bully pulpit to make the most sensational of charges against Obama, making wild accusations based upon the tamest of actions. After Obama used his authority to issue executive orders even less than pretty much all other modern presidents, he was widely accused by conservatives of being “menacing” in his threat to rule in a corrupt manner that could “deliver us to tyranny,” abusing his powers to the point where impeachment was a just and proper response.

But for all of the hysterical dramatics displayed, this is all just empty posturing; a quick review clearly demonstrates that every right-wing claim is absurdly childish in both the near-berserk levels of alarm as well as the farcical exaggeration of legal claims. Obama has played within his constitutional authority, and certainly well within the boundaries set by his predecessors.

However, Republicans have now begun to take steps which are—in actual fact—both unprecedented and wholly unconstitutional. They came perilously close to that line last week by bringing a foreign leader to their chambers, without the consent of the president, to make a distinctly partisan speech on the behalf not just of Congress, but on behalf of one party of Congress, in what was effectively a foreign-backed political attack on the president of the United States. That comes perilously close to being brazenly illegal, and is without any doubt a breaking of long-held national standards of patriotic fair play.

But now? Now, as the president carries out his constitutionally mandated powers (Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution) to negotiate treaties with foreign powers, Congress has stepped in and sent a direct message to Iran, both specifically and willfully disrupting that process.

This goes beyond mere political interplay. This even goes beyond the now-well-trodden line of intentionally harming the nation for political purposes. This is a deliberate act to undermine the power of the president of the United States as he negotiates with a foreign enemy. Can you imagine what would have happened if, while Reagan negotiated with Gorbachev in Iceland, the Democrats in the Senate sent a message to the Soviet leadership that Reagan had no ability to deliver on any agreement he made? Would Republicans have accepted that?

Of course not, because it would have been tantamount to treason. And no less here, wether you agree with the Republicans’ point of view on Iran or not. They have the power to advise and consent only, not to directly negotiate on matters of foreign affairs, and especially not to work against the president of their own country in foreign negotiations. Though the pundits now seem to be saying that it only comes close to violating the Logan Act (not to mention the constitution itself), they say that the language of the act is vague enough that a good lawyer could wriggle out of a conviction. That does not in any way mean that the Republicans clearly violated the intent of the Logan Act, and are clearly not just in the wrong on this, but have strayed well into the waters called treason.

It is as if Republicans have effectively established their own independent sovereign nation within the bounds of GOP headquarters, and are now acting as a hostile power against the president of the United States.

And, sadly, when it comes to Obama, he is the classic weak-kneed Democrat when it comes to decisive, strong action to slap down the other side when it clearly oversteps its bounds.

The only real question is, what will the Republicans do next? Because, when—not if—they do get away with this, they will surely see the way clear to go one and then many steps further.

Google Announces “Truth Rankings”; Fox News Objects

March 9th, 2015 3 comments

Well, naturally.

This was bound to happen: some impartial body would begin judging objective truth, and conservatives would start going ape. Because, after all, as Stephen Colbert once so aptly put it, “Everyone knows the truth has a liberal bias.”

And here’s Fox News actually claiming that, in their fashion:

But others who follow media bias note that even the media watchdogs – let alone the sites used by the Google researchers like Wikipedia – are often biased.

“They’re very good at debunking myths if they upset liberals, but if it’s a liberal or left-wing falsehood, the fact-checkers don’t seem as excited about debunking it,” Rich Noyes, research director at the Media Research Center, told FoxNews.com.

He cited a 2013 study by George Mason University researchers, which found that fact-checking site Politifact declared 52% of Republican claims it looked at to be false, but did the same to just 24% of Democratic claims.

Yes. Because it is inconceivable that Republican claims are actually false twice as much as Democratic claims are.

What’s really laughable here is that sites like Politifact and FactCheck are usually guilty of the reverse: going after fewer conservative falsehoods and more liberal falsehoods in a facile attempt to appear “less biased,” because giving a more accurate measurement of such things would produce a much more lopsided tally, resulting in even more cries of “bias” because false equivalency is not applied. This is referred to as “working the refs,” a sports term in which complaining harshly that the referees are biased against you will cause them to judge more favorably towards you in the future. Conservatives do this with incredible ferocity, and it works: fact-checking organizations fear nothing more than reporting the true balance of bullshit, knowing it will make them ripe for cries of bias. As a result, they let conservatives off lightly.

For example, when Obama and Romney had a debate FactCheck listed five “false claims” by both candidates as if to make it seem like they were telling truth and falsehoods equally—though Obama’s were grouped higher on the list, making him seem a bit more dishonest. Not only that, they had to stretch the definition of “false claims” for at least one or two of Obama’s statements to bring his tally up to five.

What they did not mention was the fact that at least a dozen more whoppers by Romney were left entirely off the list.

PolitiFact did the same thing, ignoring most of Romney’s fabrications, while going out of their way to make Obama seem untruthful. Among the examples I found at the time: Obama’s statement that Romney was proposing a $5 trillion tax cut. Politifact called this “half true,” because Obama did not take into account the fact that Romney intended to offset the tax cut with closing loopholes (which were never specified), even though Obama expressly mentioned that exact fact. Obama’s statement was fully true, but Politifact dinged him on it.

Meanwhile, Romney was rated as fully “true” for criticizing Obama on not halving the deficit in half in four years as he had pledged. Politifact ignored the criticism and only checked the plain fact of the original statement; they did not take into account or even note that any deficit cutting attempted by Obama was fully obstructed by Republicans. To choose this statement to rate as “true” is along the lines of giving Romney credit for telling the truth because he pronounced Obama’s name correctly. In the meantime, Romney was making substantive claims about Obama doubling the deficit, a clearly bald-faced lie—but PolitiFact could not be bothered to focus on that claim.

Conservatives do not want some organization to have an automated system of fact-checking, because you can’t “work” a robotic referee.

And that would screw up their entire game plan.

Categories: Right-Wing Lies Tags:

Office 2016 for Mac: Because Microsoft Figures You Like Crap

March 7th, 2015 2 comments

For the first day and a half, the download would not work. They seem to have worked that out finally. Got it, installed it. My impression:

Meh.

Major changes:

  • It now looks very similar to Office for Windows
  • They finally made it work with Microsoft’s cloud service
  • A few new bells & whistles, like a new presenter view in PowerPoint, were added

Maybe there’s more of significance, but I can’t find it, not yet at least. It’s more or less an Office365-compatible version with a more Microsoft-ish Ribbon, and not much more.

But hey, it’s now working with the cloud! Like, only years after Google and Apple have been doing it. But you get to use Microsoft’s version, which is even more difficult to use than Apple’s!

In fact, it has made the save and open dialogs much more annoying. You get the cloud dialog first, and have to click “On my Mac” to get into the dialog box to save the document on your own computer. As if it’s impossible to do what most other cloud services do, which is to create a sync folder on your computer, or allow you to change the settings so that you don’t have to work extra to do what you want to do.

Not to mention that the cloud connection takes time to establish each and every time you open it, making you wait—something I am fairly sure will not improve with the final version of the suite. And from what I can tell, you won’t be able to change that.

There are other bugs which one expects with betas like this—Word’s font menu is fracked up and will not jump to the font you want with keystrokes, and in Excel, simple cell selection is buggy and sometimes gives you the spinning cursor for as long as a minute. Those I presume they will fix in the coming months. However, too much else will obviously not be fixed.

What they did not do: fix the annoying and pointless perennial screw-ups in the software. Such as, why is there no “Default” button in the paragraph dialog box? It makes zero sense. It exists in the Windows version. Why not in the Mac version?

Why are page numbers in headers & footers still fracked up? You used to be able to just add the page number anywhere, in live text. For the past several versions, it was changed to be more like the Windows version, which is not as good as the old way of doing it on the Mac. Worse, the new Mac version is still different from Windows, and in a horribly crappy way: the auto page number fields are separate from the rest of the header text, in a way that is totally screwed up and easy to make the document look horrible.

The preferences pane is also still horrible, with maybe 1/10th of the options available in the Windows version. In fact, they seem to have even removed some things, like the way to get the ruler to stop showing character measurements instead of inches.

The Find and Replace interface sucks even worse than before, and the ^p and ^t in searches never works like it used to in Word 2003. What used to be the best and most powerful find and replace engine I ever saw is now annoyingly useless to me.

MLA citations are still fubar. First, you get that annoying fugly-blue bold “Works Cited” title, and the rest of the citation is just as screwed up. For as long as the MLA citation engine has existed in Word, it never produces a Works Cited list in MLA format. Seriously. More than just the non-centered title. There’s no hanging indent. Data points like the date don’t format right unless you type it in just right, making the point of a reference engine mostly pointless—I still find it much simpler just to use my MLA handbook and type it by hand. And it still seems to be stuck on the 6th edition style, which has been out of date for many years now. Hell, titles are underlined instead of in italics, which was changed at least two editions ago! Really, how hard can it be to get that right? Obviously, someone at Microsoft did a piss-poor job six years ago and nobody has bothered to change it since then.

Automated lists are still aggravatingly idiotic. Want to make an MLA-style outline? Fuck you! We’re giving you a maddening morass of crap instead! First, we change the font to Calibri 14 point (14??), then change the spacing to 1.15, and just to fuck with you, add 24 points of before-paragraph spacing! We’ll make every indent a smaller font size, and just to tick you off, we’ll have the I-A-1 correct, and then switch to a non-sequitur a), in italics to boot! And to change this bizarre styling which no one wants to use EVER, you have to navigate the multi-level list styles, which are frustratingly unclear and buggy! You’re welcome!!!

When I made a list at the end of an MLA-styled essay, before the Works Cited list, it not only made what I selected into a list… but then added two extra empty list points, both centered, one below the rest of the list, and one on the works cited page! And neither formatted like the rest of the list. WTF? Yes, there is a long-standing bug that still hasn’t been fixed in which formatting before a break will spill over between the boundary… but in this case, I had an extra blank line between the list and the break, did not select that extra line, and the bug manifested not when making a numbered list, but instead when I selected the new multi-level style. In short, lists still have all the bugs they used to have, and now a few new ones, too!

In fact, almost every single annoyance from Word 2008 and 2011 seems to still be there, a few even worse than before.

I have seen similar comments in articles about the update: “Great! A new update! I hope they have fixed [perennial failing]. … oh, wait, it looks like they didn’t.”

What Microsoft should have done is said, “Okay, let’s focus on making Word for Mac it’s own product, just like we used to, and concentrate first on making it work better and more smoothly than ever before. Let’s get rid of all the bugs and irritations, and see if we can make it do what users want, without extra hassle.”

They clearly did nothing of the sort.

Instead, it’s as if Microsoft completely ignored user feedback, ignored obvious flaws, and their only mission was to make the Mac version an even more badly bastardized junk imitation of the Windows version. Office for the Mac went downhill ever since they corrupted the entire app by trying pointlessly to do that. It used to be snappy and well-designed. Now it’s a crappy morass of blah.

I’ll still use it when I have to (more often than I would like), but am increasingly moving away. I use Keynote for presentations, Google Docs for word processing (in particular with my classes), and, well, I use Excel simply because everything else I’ve found is even crappier.

But hey, new app icons!

Categories: Computers and the Internet Tags:

Code Words

March 6th, 2015 2 comments

In the past, there have been a virtual lexicon of expressions designed to sound generally positive and innocuous while in fact forwarding a strident partisan agenda. “State’s rights” has long been used as a means of attempting circumvention of everything from prohibition of slavery to Obamacare. “Victim’s rights” has been synonymous with denying the rights of the accused, an integral—indeed, overwhelming—chunk of the Bill of Rights. More recently, “academic freedom” and “teaching the controversy” have been used as code words for violating the separation of church and state so as to teach creationism in public schools.

Now we have a new one: Religious Liberty. You want to deny women the right to birth control as much as possible? Well, any relationship you have with them, no matter how slight or glancing, gives you the right to do so, because otherwise, your religious freedoms would be infringed! A gay couple comes into your business and you want to discriminate? Sure, it’s illegal—but if you can’t, then your religious rights are being trodden upon! Religious Liberty!

And if you’re a Hindu who wants to give an invocation at a town meeting?

THEN TAKE IT BACK TO WHERE YOU CAME FROM, YOU FILTHY TERRORIST!!! Because, Religious Liberty!!

See? Simple!

A Serious Rule, Not a Serious Reaction

March 3rd, 2015 1 comment

Hillary Clinton seems to have broken rules about using a personal email account for official business while Secretary of State, constituting a “serious breach” of the Federal Records Act.

Which essentially puts her on equal ground with virtually every major player in the George W. Bush administration.

Nonetheless, the rule is there for a reason, and should be followed. If she broke it, that’s bad. [Late update: Or maybe she didn't.]

And no doubt Republicans will mass all over this like sharks on chum.

It would be nice, however, if before getting to Hillary, they got to the hundreds of Bush administration officials who did this and much, much more. Which will never, ever happen.

But then, hypocrisy is more or less the name of the game nowadays.

Categories: Right-Wing Hypocrisy Tags:

Courage

February 25th, 2015 3 comments

Every once in a while I find conservative web sites espousing views I disagree with, and so I write a response. Not a drive-by, not a quick, general insult—usually, in fact, a comment I spend a lot of time on, giving as much evidence and example as I can muster, trying to be respectful (aside from taking the stand that their reasoning is terrible) and to the point. No foul language, nothing clearly objectionable—just an opposing voice.

I am rather disappointed, therefore, when I find that, about half the time, my comment gets deleted, or never passed through moderation. A few sites then actually block my IP, without note, as if I were never there. These are not sites with tons of comments, but usually more private forums with limited numbers of commenters.

I have to say, I would be pretty ashamed to sink so low, not to have the courage to allow anyone disagreeing with me to post, much less actually try to answer. Very discouraging.

Categories: Political Ranting Tags: