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Greedy Birds

May 24th, 2016 No comments

I have no interest in seeing the Angry Birds movie, one case where I don’t give a damn how long it takes to get to Japan.

If the movie is anything like the game as it is today, it will be interrupted every two minutes with advertisements, and every once in a while the film will stop so that Rovio reps can walk through the audience and pressure people to give up personal information. Also, the movie will be shown without audio and the audience will be forced to pay for headphones that require constant additional “in-theater” payments to last through the entire film.

I liked Angry Birds when it was a game. I recently looked at what they have now, and essentially it has turned into a huge commercial. Became a horrendously sucky experience real fast.

Categories: Entertainment Tags:

Nailed It

May 22nd, 2016 1 comment

Seven years ago, in the midst of the Great Recession, when Jonathan Chait worried that the economy would recover and Obama would actually get credit for it, he fretted that Republicans didn’t seem to have a contingency plan for that event.

My response was that they did have a contingency plan: lie.

That’s how they claimed Clinton was not responsible for the booming economy he oversaw. If the economy gets better, claim it was because of actions taken by Republicans in the Bush years which came to fruition later, because of economic conditions completely divorced from Obama, and because of pressures Republicans exerted to shape policies during the Obama administration. Meanwhile, they will blame Obama for every piece of negative news during that time (there is always something bad happening), and will claim he’s the most liberal and worst president ever.

Is Chait new here or something?

Wow, was I right. Just last week Brit Hume was claiming that Bush deserved credit for the recovery, and he’s far from the first. And in that same piece, he blamed Obama for everything that went wrong. Again, not the first time.

Not that I was unusually prescient or anything. It was totally predictable and easy to see coming.

Categories: Right-Wing Lies Tags:

For the Love of Oppression

May 22nd, 2016 No comments

Conservative-Outrage-DispenserYou may have heard about conservatives being in their usual rage about how Facebook is “censoring” them. Complete nonsense, of course, but this is one of their favorite things to do.

Conservatives love being the victim. Christian conservatives adore martyrdom (have you noticed all the movies on that theme lately?), but conservatives in general simply can’t get enough of claiming they’re horribly oppressed. Liberal media! Reverse racism! Feminazis! Religious persecution! Gun grabbers! Voter fraud! The list goes on.

My favorite representative example of this mindset was a news story back in 2005, about how quotes printed on the side of coffee cups at Starbucks were more often liberal than conservative. Right-wingers got in the exact same state about Starbucks then as they are with Facebook now. The media obliged, running stories on the “issue.”

The money quote, however, came from a woman named Yvette Nunez, a 27-year-old Republican from Tampa. Originally, she hadn’t even noticed the supposed imbalance, but once alerted to it, she quickly fell into line. “I’m not surprised,” she said. “I’m used to being under-represented.”

Keep in mind that in 2005, conservatives controlled pretty much everything. They had had the White House for 5 years, control of the House for 11 years, and the Senate for 9 of the previous 11 years. Conservatives dominated the Supreme Court, and similarly exercised controlling influence over the media—all of this in the shadow of 9/11, when the conservative agenda carried more power than ever.

This woman, however, perhaps from reflex more than anything else, felt “under-represented” because her coffee cups disagreed with her more often than not. Not that she had actually noticed or been affected in any real way.

This is more than just a conditioned reflex or personality quirk amongst right-wingers, however; it is also very much a conscious strategy. It’s called “working the ref.” The more you can claim to be disadvantaged and that the deck is stacked against you, the more you can demand things be “corrected” in your favor. It’s a negotiating ploy: insist that the reasonable center is in fact somehow terribly skewed against you and that the “real” center is way more toward you, and you can shift the end result far more in your direction.

Conservatives will play on this any and every time they possibly can. The entire “liberal media” lie is based on this. The claim of a “color-blind” society which actually suffers from “reverse racism” is founded on the same principle. The specter of “religious persecution” against Christians in a country absolutely dominated by them mirrors this imagined imbalance. We see it in “scandals,” like the story about how the IRS was targeting conservative groups, or how Homeland Security was maligning conservatives by citing a threat from their ranks.

It is, in short, one of the favorite forms of “political correctness” that conservatives take glee in demanding. “We’re being discriminated against and disparaged!” we hear. “Correct for that!”

The whole Facebook “scandal” is exactly the same, and based on evidence just as shoddy. Apparently, one anonymous, admittedly conservative, and presumably disgruntled former worker from Facebook made a completely unevidenced and possibly biased claim that other workers at Facebook were allowing their liberal bias to steer them in their control of the “trending” list.

If you read the story carefully, however, the headline and the main claim can be seen for the bullshit they really are. After reading the headline “We [Facebook] Routinely Suppressed Conservative News,” and multiple accusations about conservatives getting “deep-sixed” and “blacklisted,” we read the actual practice:

Stories covered by conservative outlets (like Breitbart, Washington Examiner, and Newsmax) that were trending enough to be picked up by Facebook’s algorithm were excluded unless mainstream sites like the New York Times, the BBC, and CNN covered the same stories. …

“We were told that if we saw something, a news story that was on the front page of these ten sites, like CNN, the New York Times, and BBC, then we could inject the topic,” said one former curator. “If it looked like it had enough news sites covering the story, we could inject it—even if it wasn’t naturally trending.”

In other words, Facebook was trying to exclude political bias—not practice it! They were told that if a story was not being picked up by the major news sources—not just liberal ones—then it should not have free rein on Facebook. Note that the description of the process did not exclude the possibility that liberal stories would also be held from trending if they were not also reported in the big news outlets—which was probably the case, if any of this was true.

If that’s how it worked, then that makes eminent business sense: Facebook would not want to let itself devolve into a partisan cesspool, where any one point of view dominates—thus alienating potentially half their audience. It is fully likely that liberal-leaning trending stories were “suppressed” exactly as much—but the anonymous former worker, a self-described conservative, didn’t notice or care about those.

In the wake of this, conservatives acted true to form: they railed and wailed about how badly they are oppressed, taking advantage of the idea that tech companies are so liberal and conservatives are so put upon. What, at worst, would have been a subtle act of bias only a fraction as significant as run-of-the-mill daily business as Fox News (which is actually a “news” outlet, unlike Facebook), was treated as so utterly scandalous that even a congressional investigation was warranted—and immediately threatened.

Facebook, in a strikingly acquiescent move, agreed to have a group of notable conservatives come to Facebook to judge them first-hand. Among them was Glenn Beck. I will admit, I figured him to be the most explosive of the bunch, and fully expected to hear him lead the pack in ranting and hair-pulling, no matter what Facebook told them.

Instead, surprisingly, Beck was actually the voice of reason in the group—which might tell you something about how rabid the group was. Beck wrote:

Walking out of the meeting, I was convinced that Facebook is behaving appropriately and trying to do the right thing. They were humble, open, and listened intently to everyone in the room. …

Conservative media, which was started as a reaction to the inherent bias in the main stream media, does not trust anyone outside our circle. Hell, we don’t even trust the people inside our circle. So it’s understandable that going to Silicon Valley, for many conservatives, is like going into enemy territory. … as a general rule, we do not trust them. And with one story, conservatives told Facebook, “There’s nothing left in the trust bank. There’s no goodwill. You must have been scamming us this whole time.” …

So what disturbed me about the Facebook meeting?

I sat through a meeting that, to me, felt like I was attending a Rainbow Coalition meeting, that people (not me) had come with a list of demands.

I looked around the room, I heard the complaints, I listened to the perspectives, and not a single person in the room shared evidence of any wrongdoing. …

I sat there looking around and heard things like:

1) Facebook has a very liberal workforce. Has Facebook considered diversity in their hiring practice? The country is 2% Mormon. Maybe Facebook’s company should better reflect that reality.

2) Maybe Facebook should consider a six-month training program to help their biased and liberal workforce understand and respect conservative opinions and values.

3) We need to see strong and specific steps to right this wrong.

It was like affirmative action for conservatives. When did conservatives start demanding quotas AND diversity training AND less people from Ivy League Colleges.

He also stressed several times that this whole thing was based upon one story from one source, not something with any real evidence behind it.

Beck’s point about the conservatives being so liberal-like in their demands, however, shows up another propensity on the right: accusing the left of doing something, then doing it far more vehemently themselves. “Democrats filibuster!” they raged in 2005, and then when Republicans took over Congress, they filibustered several hundred percent more. “Liberals are too politically correct!” they rage, and then demand that no one says “Happy Holidays,” and rage when anyone publicly discusses gun control after yet another mass shooting.

They despise exactly the things Beck pointed out the conservatives were demanding—but only when liberals do it. But It’s OK If You’re A Republican.

Not that Beck isn’t still biased in his reporting, or that he won’t go all nutball again tomorrow. However, when Beck himself sees his own people as going off the deep end, you know that it’s not all “fair and balanced” in that crowd, to be sure.

Conservatives Are “Mistaken” about the Minimum Wage

May 14th, 2016 1 comment

BoehnerquoteI have written before about how conservatives make rookie “mistakes” in economics when it serves their purposes. They claim that Reagan doubled revenues but “neglected” to take inflation into account; they claim Obama drove unemployment up to 10% but “forget” that unemployment is a lagging indicator; they claim minimum wage hikes caused job losses in 2008, but “overlook” the subprime mortgage crisis.

With the current minimum wage debate, conservatives are at it again. With willful ignorance, they make two glaring “mistakes” in their claims.

“Mistake” #1:

In 2013, Boehner said, “When you raise the price of employment, guess what happens? You get less of it.” This quote exhibits the exact same knowing ignorance behind the whole minimum wage issue: that increasing wages is an cost, and when cost goes up, consumption goes down.

The rookie “mistake”? That employees are a commodity. They’re not. They’re an investment. Saying that raising wages will make businesses hire less is like saying that when stock prices go up, people don’t buy as many.

When you raise wages, people leave the job less; turnover is reduced. Employees stay on longer, acquire more experience, have greater job satisfaction, and they become more skilled, more efficient, and more effective at their jobs. In short, their value rises. Employers recognize this, and give the employee greater responsibilities. End result: by investing, the employee becomes more valuable, thus returning on the investment and making it worthwhile to the employer.

“Mistake” #2:

Conservatives often claim that businesses will not be able to afford higher wages; a common retort they have is, “Where do you think that money comes from?” The answer is easy: where do you think the money goes?

If all minimum wage earners get a higher wage, that is a massive amount of money going into the economy. Minimum wage workers do not stash their money overseas like a rich person would; they buy goods and services here and now, because they need them. Where do they shop? They shop at the exact kind of business that pays their workers the minimum wage. So the money that pays minimum wage workers goes right back to the businesses paying minimum wage.

That’s where the money comes from.

How Did Donald Trump Happen? Here’s How

May 5th, 2016 2 comments

Donald J. TrumpCruz and Kasich are out, and many now are beginning to fear that Trump might actually win. The question is being asked, “How is this possible?” How did it happen that Donald J. Trump could be in striking range of being president?

I can tell you exactly how this happened.

In order: Ronald Reagan, Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, Rupert Murdoch, George W. Bush, the Koch Brothers, and Sarah Palin. Allow me to walk you through it.

Ronald Reagan opened the doors in two ways. First, he was an actor who made the presidential race a scripted, fictional play on a stage, where someone who was more about flash than substance could be president. People embraced it because it made them feel good, feel hopeful. Second, he began in earnest to create the “Narrative,” an alternate reality populated by Welfare Queens and Job Creators, a faux reality that people could believe existed based solely on partisan politics and faith. “Reaganspeak,” using euphemisms for political gain, were a significant development which helped establish and build The Narrative.

Rush Limbaugh was one of the biggest innovators of the partisan media, which he used to further The Narrative, using what Stephen Colbert would later term as “Truthiness.” Limbaugh used demagoguery, never worrying about whether his “facts” were actually true. His high ratings and broad appeal triggered the generation of dozens of talk radio personalities of the same ilk. They justified their value by creating the myth of the “Liberal Media,” setting themselves up as the disseminators of actual truth.

Newt Gingrich began the Congressional trend of the “take no prisoners” style of politics. Based more and more upon the fictional Narrative, ultimately a revision of reality, he began the fortification and coordination of the Republican Party, allowing them to dominate the airwaves with a coordinated message. Remember all those montages Jon Stewart made for us on The Daily Show where dozens of conservatives would use the exact same phrasing? Gingrich pioneered that. The Narrative fed by The Message. While he was often outmaneuvered by Clinton, he did set the stage, and was the author of a pivotal document: “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control,” in which he codified the completely fact-free use of language begun with Reaganspeak.

Rupert Murdoch, meanwhile, arrived from Australia via Britain, buying up 20th Century Fox and using the profits from the Entertainment division to build Fox News, which quickly dominated the ratings, based upon a rock-riffed, outraged version of reality, and the beginning of the death of modern journalism. While partisan journalism existed before then in small pockets, Murdoch exploded it, using the already burgeoning myth built by Limbaugh, Gingrich and others about a fictional “Liberal Media.” This development ripped from our culture any hope of maintaining its most vital resource: a trusted source of objective information for an informed electorate. Walter Cronkite left the building, Edward R. Murrow was surely and truly dead.

George W. Bush took the mantle of Ronald Reagan one step further. Where Reagan was more than anything else a figurehead behind which a team of neoconservatives rewrote our nation’s character, George W. Bush was a hand puppet, and the puppeteer—Dick Cheney, one of the same behind-the-scenes neocons from the Reagan administration—was virtually acting in plain sight. Bush was a prop for others to control, he was a lightweight—and he established the dangerous precedent of electing a complete idiot to power.

The Koch Brothers were not the first billionaires to support politics, but they were pioneers in shamelessly building a political machine. Their greatest creation: the Tea Party. By this time, Reagan, Limbaugh, Gingrich, and others had built The Narrative to the point where it was not just believed by tens of millions, but had generated a culture of outrage based upon a groundless but raging set of fears which prompted millions to froth and act wherever the trusted source of “fair and balanced” non-“liberal media” told them to rage. Thus was born the Tea Party, but the most important element was that free-floating fear and anger by which they were manipulated. The Koch brothers also began the accepted practice of billionaires openly directing politics, along with others like Sheldon Adelson.

Sarah Palin was the last straw that began with Ronald Reagan and was refined with George W. Bush. She was the idiot’s idiot, who repeatedly insisted that Death Panels were real and that she was qualified in foreign policy because Alaska was close to Russia. Completely devoid of any substance, she was endorsed and backed by the conservative establishment, praised endlessly by the right-wing media, and loved by millions. She lowered the bar for political acceptance to the all-time low of being snarky and borderline coherent. She drew the connection between so many of the elements of the foundation already made: the idiot figurehead spouting the fantastical fictional Narrative, using the power of the conservative media to rally the enraged shock troops of the Tea Party mindset.

That was how the groundwork was laid for Donald Trump. That was how he was possible. Because actors behind the scene made the American public accept the specter of the bizarrely fatuous figurehead becoming president; because they created millions of fervently dedicated followers who could be led by whomever was most entertaining and whomever could best manipulate the fear and anger generated by The Narrative so carefully cultivated. He was even a billionaire, but even better, a billionaire who could claim he was not beholden to any special interests. Even better still, he was earnest, “authentic” being the word used, in that he was able to display a natural sincerity which, via Reagan and Limbaugh and Palin, was valued and prized far more than any kind of factual accuracy or attention to truth or detail.

Conservatives created a huge base of voters and supporters who lacked a key element: an anchor. When people are anchored on principles, they tend to follow those who represent those principles. This new base the conservatives built had no anchor; they were instead founded on fear and anger. These are free-floating, meaning that they can be hijacked by anyone who knows which buttons to push.

And who knows which buttons to push better than a professional entertainer and media clown like Donald Trump? He’d been pushing the buttons in the background for years, getting lots of play on Fox News by being the Birther-in-Chief.

THAT’s how we came to the point of Donald Trump being where he is.

Categories: Election 2016, Republican Stupidity Tags:

Lies that Forbes Told Me

April 23rd, 2016 1 comment

I avoid the Forbes site like the plague. Not only do they indulge in click-bait and are aggressive in their advertising and anti-privacy tracking of you, but their bias is even more pronounced than the Wall Street Journal’s, and that’s saying something. Still, I do use Facebook, and so I get Forbes thrown in my face anyway.

A recent lie: Seattle’s decision to boost the minimum wage has resulted in an increased unemployment rate. The Forbes hack author shows this chart, and then comments:

Seattle15Minimumwage

As you can see we have a fall in the number of people employed in Seattle since that higher minimum wage began to bite. You should go see Perry’s post as he’s got three different charts and all three of them are telling us much the same thing. There’s fewer jobs, the unemployment rate is higher and the number of unemployed is higher. The combination of those three means that it’s not a change in population size driving this: it really is that more people who would like to have a job don’t have one.

Wow. That seems pretty iron-clad. I mean, look at that chart! And the ones at his source! The numbers go way down right after the wage hike! Hard to argue with that! And he said that it’s not because of population change, so that pretty much nails it, right?

Sure—if you don’t look too hard or try to find the facts out for yourself. Like I did, when I went to the BLS site and got all the data for myself.

The first thing I noticed was that these people used only the numbers for the city of Seattle, and not for the metropolitan area. That’s dishonest: many people who work in Seattle live in the surrounding areas. So I got the numbers for the metropolitan area, not just the city.

Here are the stats for the Seattle metropolitan area between April 2015 and December 2015, the numbers cited in the article:

Labor Force Employment Unemployment Unemployment rate
4/2015 1,971,701 1,887,637 84,064 4.3%
12/2015 1,983,893 1,884,635 99,258 5.0%
Change +12,192 -3,002 +15,194 1.0%

Hmm. First glance, he seems to have a point: employment dropped by 3,002 jobs. The minimum wage hike got three thousand people canned! Holy cow!

Let’s look at the chart showing the long-term numbers for Seattle, city only (so it matches the data he shows you):

Seatac01

The red vertical line shows when the wage hike went into effect. Hmm. When it started, a peak. At the time of the article, a drop. So, the Forbes guy is right, yes?

No.

This is what you could call a “temporal lie.” It takes a very small segment of time in a volatile data set where there are many short-term variations up and down, and tries to claim that the short-term volatility somehow represents a long-term trend.

Notice on the chart that there was a huge spike just before the wage hike. Notice that there was a drop just before that, and there were similar spikes every year. Oh, hey! Look! A pattern! Every year, in April, there are spikes! And every year, around December, there are drops!

Let’s look at that!

Seatac01b

Hey! Who would have thought?! Every April, there’s a bump up, every winter the numbers drop. And, conveniently, the Forbes hack author uses that exact time frame to tell us that the variation is due to the minimum wage drop! Wow! I’m sure that it never occurred to him, because to be a Forbes author, you have to be a completely blind idiot!

Well, I suppose you can excuse him on a few accounts, like (a) he’s biased, and (b) his source is the American Enterprise Institute, a heavily biased right-wing think tank, and (c) the AEI’s chart is built in a way to disguise these yearly regularities unless you look really hard.

So, we now can see that April is usually high and December is usually low. According to the pattern, we should see numbers jump up again in early 2016.

Fortunately, I can show you this, because the article was published two months ago, and we now have two more months of data. And lo, look at what happens:

Labor Force Employment Unemployment Unemployment rate
4/2015 1,971,701 1,887,637 84,064 4.3%
2/2016 2,019,459 1,912,335 107,124 5.3%
Change +47,758 +24,698 +23,060 1.0%

And jeez, will you look at that. Numbers jumped in February. What do you know. Here’s the updated chart, again limited to the city of Seattle:

Seatac02

If the trend follows the usual yearly pattern, then we should see the numbers for March and April increase even more, sticking to the previous trend line, and thus prove wrong the assertion that Seattle is suffering because of the wage hike.

Looking at the whole actual numbers in a larger context, we can see that in fact, Seattle is doing great!

What they’re doing here is playing on a common illusion in charts: base your claim on a very small part of a trend line and claim it’s proof of something much bigger. It’s what conservatives did with climate change data.

It’s what they do: lie with numbers.

Why Taxing the Rich Works

April 20th, 2016 2 comments

Laughing-Rich-ManThose who advocate trickle-down, tax cuts for the wealthy, are dead wrong. The amazing thing is, it’s not very hard to work out why—but people seldom do the math. Let’s take a look.

The idea behind cutting taxes for the rich is that wealthy people will take that money and create jobs with it.

First of all, let’s deal with this “job creator” falsehood. Purchasing (mostly by the lower and middle class) is what creates jobs, not wealthy people or businesses. Businesses hire workers only when it is absolutely necessary, and never simply because they have disposable income. Businesses only hire people when demand exists to justify the expenditure. Otherwise, businesses work hard to destroy jobs, because profits must be maximized, and payroll is one of the greatest expenses to a business.

So these people and businesses are not “job creators.” Still, the claim is that their investments will drive businesses that will hire people. Is that true?

Mostly, no, and certainly not in essence. Just ask this: when wealthy people get more money, what happens?

The idea behind trickle-down is that they invest it. Investment drives businesses, businesses hire more people, people get more jobs, etc.

However, there’s a major error in the very first step of that assumed process: that wealthy people invest the money in businesses that hire people. That’s not a valid assumption, especially in a bad economy.

When wealthy people get money, they do not say, “Terrific! I can hire more workers now!” Instead, what they do is to ask, “what is the best way I can put this money to work to get me more money?” And in a slow economy, when demand is low, they do not invest in businesses that offer goods and services—the kind that hire people. Instead, they invest in things like real estate, commodities, foreign currency, or a variety of derivatives—none of which drive the creation of jobs. When they do invest in businesses, they want ones that maximize profits—usually at the cost of the worker, demanding that pay and benefits be minimized and that “productivity” (translation: making each worker do more work) be maximized. This is often accomplished by using cheap foreign labor.

So giving money to rich people in a slow economy will not result in that money circulating back into the part of the economy where you most need it. In fact, it’s the entirely wrong end of the economy to put money into. Wealthy people are driven by the desire to accumulate wealth. Giving them more wealth—their end objective—will not drive them to go faster. It’s like giving the horse the carrot at the start of a trip instead of at the end. In another way, it’s like putting gasoline into your tailpipe.

So let’s look at reversing the idea. Instead of cutting taxes for the wealthy, what if we raise taxes—let’s say, for a start, to 50% at the highest margin. Take the money made from that added tax, and the money that would have been used to give the rich a big tax break, and instead, give it to the lower and middle class, in the form of both tax breaks and infrastructure jobs.

First off, we get a lot of value simply from the infrastructure spending alone. The infrastructure in our country is in bad shape, and is essential to the economy—it’s money we have to spend anyway, and the payoff down the line is great.

Second, we get job creation right off the bat by actually hiring people. Conservatives claim that “government never creates jobs,” which is baloney—the government hiring people to build infrastructure is far closer to job creation than is giving tax cuts to rich people. However, technically, they are correct, as job creation (as I pointed out earlier) is driven by demand. However, the demand, in this case, is that we need infrastructure. Whatever you call it, jobs are being created here.

Third, and most importantly, you now have millions of lower- and middle-class Americans either with new jobs and/or with more disposable income from tax breaks. These people do not spend that money on derivatives or foreign currency. They may use some of that to pay down debt, but much more, they will buy stuff. That creates demand, and that drives the economy, creating more jobs.

But wait, you say: we taxed rich people too much! They won’t have enough money to invest in new businesses, or they will be so repelled by the higher taxes that they will (as many Randians such as Bill O’Reilly claim) feel that it just isn’t worth it to try to make money any more!

That’s nothing but nonsense. First of all, rich people will always have enough money to invest. That’s why we call them “rich people.” The tax is on new income, not capital wealth. If money is fed to the lower part of the economy and demand rises, then that demand becomes the best new investment. That is what will drive wealthy people to make investments which involve new or better jobs.

But what if a wealthy person’s capital is already tied up? They really could have used that tax cut to invest!

Baloney. Even if a business or a wealthy individual’s assets are all tied up, they are still assets. And you know who just loves to lend money to wealthy people and businesses with lots of assets in a demand-driven economy? Banks. The wealthy have no problem raising capital in such situations. Millions of people are buying a product, you’re a wealthy person with lots of assets, and you want to borrow money to build that product which is in high demand? Of course banks will lend you money.

But what about the second point? Bill O’Reilly said that if Obama were to raise the marginal tax rate to 50%, he would see that as too onerous, and would quit his cushy, estimated $20 million-a-year job, laying off “scores” of workers, because having a take-home of $10 million instead of $12 million (although in reality, no one pays the top marginal rate on all their income) is just too little for him to sit on his ass all day and pontificate to crowds of adoring fans. What a hard life he leads. No, he would rather fire dozens of people who depend on him rather than suffer with only $10 million a year.

But does O’Reilly have a point? After all, if you tax people at 100%, nobody will want to make money, not legally, at least. So isn’t it logical that there’s some kind of limit for most people, where they’ll quit working if they payoff isn’t good enough?

In a way, this is like asking if a starving man would refuse to eat if you took away half his food. How little food could you offer a starving man in order for him to turn his nose up at it? It would have to be a very small portion.

Most rich people work hard for money, not for an optimally proportional after-tax income. If they want lower taxes, it’s because they want more money, not all or nothing.

Not to mention that, for two or three decades in the mid-20th century, the highest marginal tax rates were at or above 90%. These produced the best economic times we can remember! And if you want to want to argue that it was the war economy, be careful—that economy consisted of the government taxing high and hiring millions of people!

In order to understand this better, let’s ask a basic question: why do rich people keep trying to make money? For most people, making money is for necessities and then luxuries. But we’re talking about people with enough money that they could live in luxury for their entire lives without ever having to work again. So, why do they keep working for money? Or, at least, why do they invest?

I see only four reasons:

  • They want to win. They want to be the best at whatever competition they are engaged in.
  • They want to accomplish something. It might be a cause, it might be a beautiful product, it might be simply to be great at something.
  • They love money. They would work no matter what the conditions to just make more money.
  • They have a financial goal. Reach that amount of money, and then I’m out.

If you can think of any other reason that does not fall under any of these categories, let me know. However, that’s it as far as I can see it.

And now that we have defined these categories, ask yourself: will higher tax rates make ANY of these people quit and go home? Will any of these people just stop investing, even in a high-demand economy?

Of course not. None of them would. Let’s look at each type.

For the type that want to win, the tax rate is largely irrelevant, so long as everyone is taxed the same. They want to be the top dog. Taxing wealthy people more won’t change that, and so will have no effect.

The type that wants to accomplish something will similarly not be deterred by higher tax rates. They will still want to accomplish something. If the higher taxes make that more difficult, then they will work harder to do what they set out to do.

The type that just love money would not love it any less if they were taxed. They want more money, so if you tax them more, they will only work harder to make more, not less.

Finally, the type that have a financial goal will have to work harder in order to reach that goal. Some may be satisfied with a lower goal, but few if any would work less for it.

See the point? Higher taxes on rich people will not impoverish them, it will not make investment capital inaccessible, and it will not deter them from working hard—if anything, the rich will work more if you tax them more. If there is some go-home cut-off level, we know from experience that it comes at a marginal tax rate higher than 90%!

Not to mention two other underlying flaws in the Ayn Rand theory of “the productive class will leave the game” theory.

First, one assumes that the rich people are the productive ones. Wrong. They’re the ones who hire the productive ones. And there is no end to the number of people who want to play the business game. Every time there’s a void in the game, hundreds of others fight savagely to fill that void. There is no shortage of people to fill the ranks of business leaders to manage the many productive workers who will make the managers rich.

Second, the whole idea that rich people will stop working if taxes are even slightly higher must assume that wealthy people are weak quitters who can’t handle adversity. Do you really think that people who are driven to succeed for whatever reason are defined by their immediate propensity to give up the moment they encounter a setback?

That, like every aspect of the “don’t tax the rich” argument, is patently absurd.

Taxing rich people will only improve the economy. When we did that more, the economy was better. Since we tax rich people less, the economy has degraded and sunk, while debt has soared. Hard to argue with facts.

Categories: Economics, Taxes, The Class War Tags:

Media Body Slams Sanders for Doing What Hillary Does All the Time

April 9th, 2016 No comments

The big story in the Democratic nomination has been about Sanders questioning Clinton’s qualifications, but the press has been entirely unfair to Sanders. (1) It highlights his statement, but buries the fact that it was in response to Clinton’s detailed response to the same question making exactly the same claim in reverse; (2) It plays as if he’s claiming that she doesn’t have the right experience, when Sanders is speaking to her decision-making and banking & corporate ties, which speak just as clearly as experience when it comes to qualifications; and (3) it acts as if Sanders is dragging down the Democratic race into hard-hitting chaos like the GOP has been experiencing, as if Clinton is the one keeping clean when exactly the opposite is true.

None of these are accurate. Clinton was on “Morning Joe” and was asked if Sanders was qualified to be president. Clinton evaded saying outright that he wasn’t, but responded to the question with a litany of statements about exactly why she felt that Sanders was not qualified—the he is focused on a single issue of breaking up the banks, doesn’t understand the issues in general, doesn’t understand the law or how politics works, can’t deliver on his promises, and is weaker on economic domestic issues and on national security and foreign policy.

Hillary supporters claim that she didn’t actually say the words, “he isn’t qualified,” but that’s a complete sham. You can’t go on for several minutes explaining about how your opponent has no understanding of anything and claim that you said nothing about his qualifications. Sanders simply spoke more directly.

As to bringing the race down into the gutter? I am 99% sure that if you analyzed statements made by Clinton and by Sanders, you would find a great deal more trash talk coming from Hillary—that’s the way the race has run. Sanders almost always focuses like a laser beam on the issues, and has shown a clear propensity for *not* trash-talking the other candidates. In contrast, Clinton has always been perfectly willing to deliver hard-hitting gut punches on a regular basis.

See this story about Sanders’ talk with Charlie Rose, and you’ll get a *much* clearer picture of Sanders’ actual tone, even when focused only on the Clinton tangle.

Unfortunately, this only contributes to the bias which is so clearly tilted in Clinton’s favor. She could insult Sanders all day long, and the media would not take notice aside from challenging Sanders with the allegations (between asking him if he would encourage his supporters to vote for Hillary when he inevitably loses the race as they are always so sure he will), but if Sanders says anything negative about Hillary—well, that’s taking it into the gutter.
I have long felt that the media should, as a general service, publish all public statements by all candidates online so that the public can judge on tone and severity. Instead, we simply get fed whatever message the media wants to sell that particular day, and most people believe that it is an accurate representation of the real picture.

Categories: Election 2016 Tags:

Getting REALLY Tired of Video Ads

March 27th, 2016 No comments

In an age where more and more is being expressed in video over the ‘net, I am watching them less and less.

Seriously, you try to watch a 15-second video, you are forced to sit through a 30-second ad, which as often as not also has a banner ad at the bottom about five seconds into the video. Some ads allow you to skip the ad after 5 seconds or so, but more and more I have found these to malfunction, with the ad’s audio continuing over the video.

Not to mention that a lot of these ads are running over private content, even ones that have a very short running time.

This is why I started using ad blockers for web pages. Ads are okay, but ads which overrun the content are simply just asinine.

For all the time I have run this blog, I have kept it ad-free. I am considering starting up a parallel blog along with my new community Facebook page, and perhaps to have ad content there—but would only want “acceptable” ads to run. However, the more I look at things, the more I suspect that it would be very difficult indeed to find such an ad source.

What are “acceptable ads”? I blogged in detail on them last October. AdBlock created a mode where it would allow only “acceptable ads” to show. I tried it for a while, but discovered that—at least at that time—the ads were anything but “acceptable.”

Here are a few of the criteria:

  • no animation or auto-running video/audio
  • preferably text-only ads
  • unobtrusive ad positioning (reasonable size, never within the text)
  • clearly marked as ads
  • no links that lead to redirects
  • no misleading links (e.g., disguised as “next page” buttons)

If I can find a reliable source for that, I might opt into i. If I knew a site was firmly adhering to such principles, I would gladly white-list it.

Many sites disable content as much as possible if an ad blocker is running, most notably site comments, but more and more the whole page fails to load properly. I understand that, and care very little if I don’t see your page. Crash my browser, you make me want to not visit your site. Put up a notice that you strictly adhere to an acceptable-ad policy, then you have my business.

Video ads break most of the “acceptable ad” rules. They fail to recognize the length of exposure—there should be no ads for content under 10 seconds, only banner ad for video under a few minutes, and no video ad running more than one-third of the content length.

I have to start looking for a popular alternative to YouTube. It is just turning into an ad bazaar and little else.

Categories: Computers and the Internet Tags:

Immigration, Boiled Down

March 20th, 2016 No comments

LibertyThe first thing we need to realize about immigration is that any problem which exists does not lie with the people who come to this country without documentation.

Immigrants do not “take” jobs. They are offered jobs. They are sought out for jobs. No immigrant ever came to the United States, pointed a gun at someone, and said “give me that job.”

Rather, the problem is with businesses who draw them in and take advantage of them, and because of certain economic and political realities which make it easy for them to do so.

Here are the facts.

No immigrants looking for work would come to America if no jobs were being offered.

No working immigrants would be here illegally if we offered them a legal recourse which matched the jobs being offered.

The conclusion is simple. They are not the problem. We are.

We have millions of immigrants coming to work in this country for three basic reasons. In no particular order:

The first reason is that there are many jobs which Americans generally will not do. You hear about Americans complaining about immigrants stealing their jobs, but it is a sure bet that none of those people want to be migrant farm workers. We need these people—but in most cases, we do not give them a legal avenue to come.

The second reason is that there are many jobs which Americans will not do for the amount of money that the job can pay, given consumer demand. Americans do not want to pay more for food, clothes, or labor in a variety of categories, prices which would be necessary if we did not employ immigrant labor.

The third reason is simply greed. Employers want more profit. They could hire American workers, and they could make a profit and sell at a price that American consumers would accept, but they want to keep more and more of that money for themselves—so they hire immigrants. And since it is cheaper to do so if the immigrants are illegal, they lobby against change.

Therefore:

Part of this is the consumer’s fault: we want cheaper goods and services. You don’t want so many immigrants? Fine. Be prepared to pay a lot more for many of the goods and services you consume. It’s a stark choice; you cannot have it both ways. Part of this is consumers of general goods, such as food and clothing, who support industries who use immigrant or overseas labor. Part of this is people who hire immigrants directly, for jobs such as child care or other labor in or around the house.

Part of this is the country’s fault, the fault of voters and politicians: we clearly call for these people to come and work, but we steadfastly refuse to create a visa system which would accommodate them. They come illegally because we give them little choice. And if you think that one choice is to simply not come, then I invite you to go to the countries where these people come from and live in the conditions from which they come. You will be clamoring to come back to America immediately.

The greatest fault in all of this is the fault of business, and our tolerance of their greed and maltreatment of the workforce. These are the people who take advantage, these are the people who spread fear and doubt, these are the people who most directly influence the laws which maintain the current system. For the jobs Americans do not want or would not pay for, Americans would otherwise be happy to allow the system of immigration to allow these people in legally—but that would cut into profits. For the other jobs, there are many Americans who would be happy to pick up the jobs in fields from construction to high tech, but the companies involved reject these workers and either hire people without documentation, or even specifically import them with valid visas, obtained by fraudulently claiming that American workers cannot be found.


There is one more reason that illegal immigration is rampant: we could stop it, but we do not.

The solution would actually be simple. Trying to arrest and deport immigrants is pointless, as they are not only mobile and have every incentive to return, but they are not the root cause—they’re just people trying to live.

The definitive and simple solution is to police and punish the real offenders: employers. They are the ones asking for immigrants to come in the first place. They are not mobile, and they would respond quite strongly to being caught and punished.

We don’t even come close to doing this. In 2004, a grand total of three—yes, three—businesses were cited for hiring undocumented workers. Nor is the reason for this a surprise. From the New York Times in 2006:

Employers have long been the main driver of immigration policy…. Not surprisingly, they tend to dislike the provision in current immigration law for penalties against employers.

That may explain why fines for hiring illegal immigrants can be as low as $275 a worker, and immigration officials acknowledge that businesses often negotiate fines downward. And why, after the I.N.S. raided onion fields in Georgia during the 1998 harvest, a senator and four members of the House of Representatives from the state sharply criticized the agency for hurting Georgia farmers.

So we make laws: first offense, a warning; second offense, a hefty fine; third offense, a major fine and prison time. And then we set the people we now have chasing immigrants and guarding the borders, and set them to police the employers.

I guarantee you: illegal immigration would halt, and immigrants here without a visa would leave soon after.

But this is what it boils down to: we don’t want to send these immigrants packing. These people do not drain our resources, they enrich us. They do not cause an increase in crime; in fact, they commit fewer crimes than the native population. These people do not sap the economy; they make it robust.

The solution is simple:

  • create a guest worker visa program for jobs we really need filled by immigrants
  • create strict laws against employing illegally
  • crack down on businesses that violate these laws
  • stop allowing companies to import workers for jobs that citizens are trying to fill
  • set up tax and tariff laws which penalize companies that use cheap labor abroad

If we do this, we won’t have immigrants coming in to the country against the law. We will maintain all the benefits that we now have. It’s good for everyone. Everyone honest and fair, that is.

Why don’t we do this? Because businesses don’t want it; businesses want their workforce to be here illegally because it profits the businesses, makes the immigrant workforce easy to manipulate, and disempowers citizen workers. And we have bought into the fear and frenzy that people who profit from the current system, people like Donald Trump, have whipped up to make us believe that it is all the fault of the impoverished, powerless, and mostly law-abiding people who these people of wealth and power take advantage of.

Agree? Then do something about it.

A good start: don’t vote for Donald Trump. Do vote for politicians who espouse the right thing to do. Write and agitate for the correct solution for the issue. Write your current representatives. Make a stink.

And vote. Vote. Vote.

Police: Our Privacy Was Violated When We Didn’t Smash All the Cameras

March 16th, 2016 1 comment

Some Santa Ana, CA police officers were charged recently after a raid on a pot dispensary last year. The raid was carried out because the shop apparently did not have a permit to operate. This matter is dodgy because the city issues permits based on a lottery which appears to be rigged.

That wasn’t what concerned me about the raid, however.

After the police broke in with a battering ram, three wearing ski masks and most of them pointing guns as if they expected armed resistance, the officers’ behavior was less than exemplary. One of the main charges is that the officers helped themselves to the snacks owned by the shop and intended for the staff, and may have even eaten some products that were edibles.

While that’s illegal, that’s not what concerned me about the raid, either.

The person running the shop that day was a wheelchair-bound amputee, with whom the officers had words. After showing her out, one police officer complained that she wanted to “kick her in her fucking nub.”

While unprofessional, no physical abuse took place, so that’s not what concerned me about the raid, either.

This is what concerned me: the shop had a conspicuous and operating 16-camera surveillance system monitoring the shop, and the first thing the cops did was to disable it. They took large wire-cutters to the cables, and one officer even disabled five of the cameras by smashing them against the counter and the register. What they didn’t know was that there was a second security system of four more cameras which were hidden from view. That’s how we know about all the stuff the officers did—stuff they usually deny because, well, they had successfully disabled 16 different security cameras.

The officers then claimed, in their defense, that the evidence against them should be dismissed because—get this—the shop violated the privacy of the police officers.

Yep. In their legal filing, the attorneys for the police charged that the dispensary “secretly recorded the officers in a clear violation of California’s Invasion of Privacy Act, which criminalizes the non-consensual recording of confidential communications.”

I have to wonder, is that even possible? Can the police actually raid a shop, smash an extensive security system, and then charge the shop owners with invasion of privacy because the police didn’t find and smash a second camera system?

Beyond that, however, is the initial question: how is it legal for the police to destroy the main surveillance system in the first place? What was their justification, not just for damaging the equipment, but for disabling it at all?

Aren’t we supposed to be in an age where such footage is supposed to help us trust the police? And what does it say about that trust when, after thinking that they disabled all the cameras, the cops suddenly start stealing food, playing darts, and generally acting like asshats?

Categories: Social Issues Tags:

Why the Republican Party Hates Trump

March 14th, 2016 8 comments

There is a concerted effort within the Republican party to oppose Donald Trump. People assume that this stems from Trump being so horrendously offensive and outrageous, that they don’t want the man to be their party representative.

That is not true. Under the right conditions, Trump’s message and presentation would be perfectly acceptable to them, and they would love to have a candidate so successful and popular.

Instead, Republicans oppose Trump for a simple reason: he’s not their man.

In politics (and advertising, by the way), you create an atmosphere, usually based on fear and other negative emotions, and then you use it to manipulate people into acting in your interest. The problem with this method is that the atmosphere is free-floating, and can be hijacked by someone else. This is what happened after 9/11: al Qaeda created an atmosphere of terror—and the Bush administration grabbed it and ran off with it. Republicans used the terror to manipulate people, milking it for every vote and every election they could, until it became a joke (“a noun, a verb, and 9/11”).

This is precisely what Trump did. For years, Republicans and conservatives in general have been carefully cultivating an atmosphere of fear, paranoia, and outright loathing so they could use that atmosphere to manipulate the public, and Trump simply walks right up—excuse me, he just coasted down an escalator—grabbed it, and walked off with it.

Trump is not opposed by Republicans because of his political views, his language, or his outrageousness. The sole reason they are panicking right now is because he is not beholden to him. He’s not a party man. He does not owe the party or its patrons. He hijacked their mojo. He has no reason to do what they want or put their players into positions of power.

That’s why they oppose him: because he’s not under their control.

Categories: Election 2016, Right-Wing Extremism Tags:

Sanders vs. The Media

March 9th, 2016 3 comments

I have often noted a bias in the media against certain candidates. It is not isolated—it tends to span across all the major media outlets—and it trends noticeably against the candidate less likely to be friendly to big-money interests.

For much of 2015, Sanders was drawing incredible crowds. Vast seas of people to listen to him speak. How did the media cover it? Hardly at all. In January, when it looked like his support—despite media inattention—might actually give him a chance to win, there were pieces in the media trying to explain themselves, and how they had somehow inadvertently “overlooked” Sanders.

Most cited the idea that a socialist Jew had no chance to win, but that was bullshit—their own polls had repeatedly shown that Sanders performed better than Clinton in one-to-one match-ups against Trump, Cruz, and Rubio. More to the point, the polling data showed that while Clinton is one of the most disliked candidates in history with huge negative numbers, Sanders’ appeal was broad, his positives high and his negatives low, and his appeal reached much more deeply into independent territories.

Since January, as primary and caucus numbers have come in, the media has taken a different tack: pay minimal attention to Sanders, ignoring his come-from-behind performances, and instead drone on about Hillary’s inevitability.

In New Hampshire, Sanders was supposed to win by 13% according to poll averages. He won by 22%. Media response? Yawn. Sanders will get crushed in South Carolina.

Sanders had been behind in Iowa by double digits until just a few weeks before the caucus, but came from behind to nearly win; similarly, Clinton had been ahead in Nevada by more than 20 points until just a few weeks before. Sanders’ near-wins in those states was a huge victory for him, and should have been the big story. Instead, the media declared Hillary the winner and kept going on about how she had already won with superdelegates anyway.

I was told that Sanders’ near-wins in Iowa and Nevada were not reported because polls tightened before the final results—but if so, where was the big coverage of that?

However, today we are seeing an excellent example of how the media is studiously disregarding Sanders. With primaries in Michigan and Mississippi, Sanders was expected to lose in both states. Michigan is much bigger, with 141 delegates as opposed to Mississippi’s 41. Up until just a few days ago, Hillary held an average 21.4% lead in the polls.

The current count? With 58% of districts reporting so far, Sanders hols on to a 3% lead over Clinton, 50.6% to 47.6%. While that lead could dissipate and Clinton could eventually win Michigan, it represents a huge surprise surge for Sanders in a pivotal state.

By any rational measure, that should be the story of the hour. Mississippi is over with, and there’s no surprise in Trump winning both states. This is a real horse race, a contentious battle over a big prize. The media would normally being making a huge deal about it, reporting on the nail-biting drama and the potential huge upset.

So, how does the media cover it? What are the headlines?

Los Angeles Times:

Live updates: Donald Trump wins Mississippi and Michigan primaries
Another round of primaries Tuesday could push the Republicans further apart, while Hillary Clinton aims for a predicted win in Michigan.
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump win Mississippi’s primaries
Trump is declared the winner in Michigan, too

CNN:

Primary results: CNN projects 2 wins for Donald Trump, 1 for Hillary Clinton

CBS:

Polls: Trump, Clinton continue to lead their fields nationally

WaPo:

Trump is projected winner in Michigan; earlier he and Clinton won Mississippi

It goes on. The Google News page collecting primary news coverage mentions Trump 28 times, Clinton 10 times—and Sanders just once, in a sentence about how Hillary is “trouncing” him.

Nobody better tell me that I am only imagining a pronounced media bias against Sanders. It has been plainly evident for quite some time now.

Why? Well, there’s no way to know for certain, but I hold that it is not even a small coincidence that Sanders is the only candidate who is vehemently against big money.

Categories: Election 2016 Tags:

No, Bill Maher Is Not Right

February 24th, 2016 1 comment

Bill Maher has been getting a lot of press recently about how “right” he is about what he could just as well be calling “The Muslim Menace.” Even liberal news and opinion outlets have been saying that he is correct in his evaluation about how Islam is a threat, how liberals are giving them a pass, and most recently, how Arab countries are unwilling to take on the forces of Daesh.

The thing is, he’s not right. He’s close on a few things, and hopelessly blind on most others. But not right.

First of all, he’s trying to have it both ways. He blames Islam as a whole for the actions of the extremists, as if it were a problem endemic to the religion and not the fanatics, but at the same time, he denies painting all Muslims with a broad brush. He asked on his show why some people refuse to use “Islamic” and “extremist” in the same sentence. A guest replied that the term “jihadist” is much more appropriate—and they were correct. The question is, why use the term “Islamic” when that term is far broader than what is being discussed? Maher claims that he’s not criticizing Islam as a whole, but gets upset when Islam is not considered the problem.

You can’t have it both ways; either you’re condemning the whole religion, or you’re not. At first I thought he might agree to the idea that the problems are due to the extremists, and there are more of them than we see in other cultures and religions, but each time I hear or read his arguments, I find little support for that point of view. And I have known too many Muslims who are quite kind and loving people to believe that just being a Muslim makes you part of the problem.

Second, he takes liberals to task for “supporting” despicable practices in Islamic states. Strangely, he often mentions female genital mutilation when he brings this up, which is odd because it is not a patently Muslim tradition; it is practiced widely in Christian cultures as well, and not practiced in many Muslim ones. It is, as Reza Aslan pointed out, mostly a Central African problem. This shows up the flaw in Maher’s central focus: he blames Islam for problems that are not really centrally about Islam.

However, what gets my back up is Maher’s virtually right-wing take on this: if liberals are not constantly and stridently calling Muslims barbaric, we must love the worst of their practices. Maher: go frack yourself. It’s a facile claim, one that is no less despicable coming from a Libertarian with liberal leanings than it is from a hard-core right-winger.

Here’s the reason why the claim is bullshit: liberals, as a rule, focus inward, not outward. We focus almost all of our public energies at home, where we can actually make a difference, and we know that huffing and puffing about what Saudi Arabia does will make little difference there. We don’t make any more an issue of Boko Haram than anyone else, or civil rights violations in Southeast Asian countries, or any one of a number of cases where we would vehemently condemn what’s going on—unless America is somehow involved. We don’t make a big deal about what Saudi Arabia does, but we do make a big deal about how the U.S. conveniently overlooks such things when we want a partner in the region. We don’t rise up in protest over Chinese labor practices—we only do when American companies take advantage of them. Hell, we don’t even make a fuss when conservatives in Canada or the U.K. do stuff that we disagree with virtually right next door to us. We simply don’t make noise unless it’s a home-turf issue.

However, just because we don’t make a cause célèbre of loathsome and barbaric practices in Muslim countries when you find it convenient to demand one, it does not, in any way, shape or form, mean that we “support” them, you mindless idiot. I note, by the way, that Maher has not, because he can not, name one accepted liberal spokesperson saying that they “accept” much less “support” crap done in the countries because of “cultural tolerance” or “political correctness.” That’s because none of us actually do that, as much as Maher claims otherwise. The claim is utter bullshit.

Finally, we now have Maher making noise about how Middle Eastern countries don’t take care of Daesh when they vastly outnumber them in military force. Salon backs him up, and Politifact judges his claim “Mostly True.”

This argument of Maher, however, serves as an excellent example of Maher’s shallow thinking, and the general media’s mindless willingness to accept what he says.

Yes, as Politifact points out, his numbers are pretty much correct: Daesh has maybe 20,000 or 30,000 fighters, as opposed to around 5 million troops in 13 countries in the general region.

However, beyond just a simple head count, Maher’s implied thesis is utterly bone-headed. Look, I would love to agree and have local forces take on the task so we don’t have to be involved. There’s just one little problem: it’s a hopeless pipe dream of a desire.

Think about this: what if some insurgency popped up in South Korea, and started wreaking havoc in the region. Would you suggest that Japan, North Korea, China, Taiwan, and Russia form a military coalition to handle it? Such an idea would be laughably absurd; these countries tend to hate each other’s guts.

And what would happen if one of these countries acted alone? Would Japan be okay if China invaded South Korea, or the other way around? And forget North Korea doing anything, or accepting anyone else doing anything.

We’re looking at much the same thing here. Maher’s blind simple-mindedness in which he conflates all Arab and Muslim countries and cultures into one hateful blur ignores the realities of the region. The biggest forces in the region are Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. These nations are hardly close friends. Relations between Turkey and Iran have always been strained, at best. Recent Turkish involvement in Syria have been strongly criticized by Iran. While Turkey and Saudi Arabia get along okay financially, they clash politically and ideologically. And let’s not even talk about how Iran and Saudi Arabia get along. To imagine one capable force moving in and essentially taking over huge swaths of territory within Syria and Iraq is virtually unimaginable. Similar rivalries and factions in various countries tend to preclude any viable force bringing about a successful solution in the region.

To make an alliance that would work better than what exists now is nearly hopeless. Again, I would love to see it, but I am not holding my breath. Beyond this huge obstacle, there are a host of other issues which make such actions highly improbable.

So, yeah, Maher can add. But apparently, his analytical talents end there.

Categories: Foreign Affairs & Policy Tags:

Give Me Liberty, Kind Of

February 19th, 2016 4 comments

I’m not sure if Apple’s motivations in refusing to give the FBI unfettered access to iPhones is altruistic or selfish, nor does it matter to me; I believe that what Apple is doing in this current case, as a general principle, should be the model to follow.

We effectively have little or no Fourth Amendment protection at this point, at least in regard to the government accessing our private data—our “papers,” as it is classically termed. The FISA courts are a joke, essentially rubber-stamping each request. It is not judicial oversight when the judge is complicit and agrees to mass surveillance no matter what.

Will allowing devices like phones or forms of encrypted Internet access allow terrorists to work unimpeded? Perhaps, but there are two huge caveats.

First, terrorists are hardly limited to these forms of security. All it takes is a pre-arranged cypher (A seemingly random communication of almost any type sent at a certain time of day from this person rather than that one equals a call to carry out an attack at x time at y location) which is used only once and then changed, or reliance on carefully discreet personal communication only, or any number of other methods, to confound surveillance and assure security. Opening iPhones will not greatly affect terrorists who are serious about security.

And second, as the saying goes, freedom isn’t free. The founders themselves recognized that greater individual freedom from government overreach would cause greater risk, but that the increased risk was far less important than the potential of losing civil liberties. We’ve become far too willing to surrender those liberties for that modicum of security.

I am not at all impressed by the claims that Obama is a constitution scholar; he seems to be a fairly bad one, especially where privacy is involved. I rather hope he is never appointed to the Supreme Court. But we as citizens must not be cowed by claims of terror and other violence will overwhelm us. What the government is doing has only a limited effect on thwarting determined terrorists from attacking, but it has an overwhelming and frightening impact on our freedoms and liberties.

Categories: Political Ranting Tags:

Let Us Help You by Ignoring Your Preferred Language!

February 11th, 2016 Comments off

One of the problems of living in Japan but not being Japanese: Geolocation. That’s where they determine your location by your IP address, find out what country you are in, and then use that language—despite knowing that not everyone in a country uses the national language. Too many web sites that I visit detect that I am in Japan, and “helpfully” switch the language, so I have to go to preferences and switch it back. This may help most users, but it’s an incredibly annoying pain in the ass for people like me.

The problems:

  1. the method of switching languages on a site is not universal and is often difficult to find, meaning you have to scroll up and down the page to find the tiny little flag or not-flag icon or link, if they have it on the main page at all;
  2. despite using cookies, many sites will not remember your preferences unless you have an account and sign in, which means you have to constantly switch back or else give them your name, email, and probably more. Even then, they sometimes turn on you; I just had GoDaddy switch me to Japanese, even making a huge deal in an email about how much they were helping me!
  3. even when you do make an account and log in, they often manage to lose your preferences and you have to switch back from time to time anyway. Hulu is one example of that last one, I keep having to set the language every few weeks.

Here’s the kicker: your browser and/or operating system routinely send information making clear what language you use on your computer! It’s called the Accept-Language request-header, and every web site you visit can read it just fine. Most web sites obnoxiously ignore this. You can test your settings by clicking here, then look for the language listed by the “Accept header” tag. If it displays a language you don’t want, by the way, you can check the language settings in your browser.

Also, almost every site uses cookies, and these cookies tend to not expire for years. If you’re going to spy on someone, at least have the decency of doing it in their own language!

Categories: Computers and the Internet Tags:

On the Other Hand

January 26th, 2016 Comments off

In my last post, I carefully noted that criticism of Track Palin, though tempting at first, was totally off the table. The reasons: first, he threatened suicide, which suggests a serious psychological issue that should never be trifled with; and second, he had served in Iraq, presumably in combat, and could be suffering from PTSD. In such a situation, I would find it unconscionable to mention Track’s behavior in a political context. One does not dick around with such serious issues.

However, I should note that I was doing something wrong: I was taking Sarah Palin’s statements at face value. While I do not regret erring on the side of caution, I should have known that every single statement she makes is likely to be laced with exaggerations, false insinuations, and lies. So it was here.

As it turns out, Track Palin’s records seem to suggest that he saw no combat while in Iraq, meaning that PTSD is highly improbable at best.

Second, the AR-15 he was threatening suicide with? It was not loaded. Which suggests that the “threat” was probably for show and effect, and not from actual anguish.

In short, it now appears that Track Palin was, in fact, just being an outrageously asinine prick. He got drunk, beat up his girlfriend, and terrorized her.

He gets no sympathy card, and is entitled to no break. Even if he did have PTSD and was suicidal, it still does not excuse his behavior, but it would have made the incident out of bounds politically.

As a fellow veteran said of Palin, the only break he gets is that it was his mother, and not him, that said he was a combat vet and insinuated he suffered from PTSD.

For Sarah Palin to lie about that, for her to use PTSD as a shield to protect her family’s image politically, that’s just as despicable, pathetic, and tawdry a lie as the one used throughout the Bush administration, where any attack on the administration was twisted into an attack on the troops—using their courage and sacrifice as a shield to protect the unspeakably, breathtakingly chickenshit cowards who sent those same young people into battle.

Categories: Right-Wing Lies Tags:

No End to the Depravity

January 22nd, 2016 1 comment

Just the other day, Sarah Palin endorsed Donald Trump for president. At about the same time, her son, Track Palin, was involved in a report of domestic violence, in which an AR-15 assault rifle was involved. Some left-wing web sites have been making something of it since then.

I was of the same mind, to be honest. I remember back in 2008, one popular conservative email story was that, if Obama were elected, he would bring his disgraceful family into the White House. An image was circulated with Obama and some family members, most of them tagged with scandalous—and utterly fake—designations, like gay porn star, crack addict, etc., with a warning that if Obama were elected, “this bunch” would start “running around the White House.” Instead, Obama’s family has been far less controversial, indeed much more upstanding than perhaps any president’s has been for a long time.

Ironically, it was the McCain campaign’s choice for Vice President that got us that level of soap opera drama; the Palin family has been rife with all manner of lurid affairs, each one seemingly worse and more crass than the previous one.

As a result of this, and Palin’s recent endorsement of and possible VP spot in the Trump campaign, I was ready to blog about how the Palins have been an ongoing embarrassment, in contrast with that fake Obama family portrait from years ago, with the new Track Palin story as Exhibit A.

But then I read the details of the Track Palin story. Expecting just another stunningly deplorable Palin family imbroglio, I instead read that Track had threatened suicide with the AR-15 rifle during the incident. At that, there was no story. You do not mess with that. That’s not family intrigue, that’s a man in need of life-saving help. Not that it excuses the punch to the face and kick to the knee that he gave his girlfriend, but it does mean that this is not Palin Family Values at play, it’s something more sobering and serious. In addition, Track served in Iraq in 2008, meaning it could be related to PTSD. Double the hands-off for that. I have lost a lot of respect for the left-wing sites who use her son’s trouble to attack his mother.

You do not make political hay off of that. It would be entirely scummy to do any such thing.

So, predictably, Sarah Palin did exactly that herself.

She took her son’s misery, his apparently tragic mental health crisis… and turned it into a cheap political shot, claiming that Obama was the cause for all of Track’s problems, because he’s just a horrible president who disrespects the troops. Why? According to Palin:

“They come back wondering if there is that respect for what their fellow soldiers and airmen and every other member of the military have given so sacrificially to this country, and that starts at the top,” she continued, touting Trump as the best choice for president. “It’s a shame that our military personnel even have to question, have to wonder if they’re respected anymore. It starts from the top. The question, though, it comes from the top, the question, though, that comes from our own president where they have to look at him and wonder, ‘Do you know what we go through? Do you know what we’re trying to do to secure America and to secure the freedoms that have been bequeathed us?’”

“So when my own son is going through what he goes through coming back, I can certainly relate with other families who kind of feel these ramifications of PTSD and some of the woundedness that our soldiers do return with, and it makes me realize more than ever, it is now or never for the sake of America’s finest that we’ll have that commander in chief who will respect them and honor them,” she said.

Notice how she makes a special effort to drag the crisis to Obama’s doorstep. Not that she’s the most literate person ever, but her segues are rather gallingly obvious.

Not to mention, just as the disgusting 2008 family photo meme, utterly false. Obama has praised the troops and spoken respectfully of their sacrifices endless times over the years. For example, just after taking office in 2009, Obama told soldiers at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune:

“It lives on in the memories of your fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who gave their lives. It endures in the wound that is slow to heal, the disability that isn’t going away, the dream that wakes you up at night, the stiffening in your spine when a car backfires down the street,” he said.

Obama said it’s now the responsibility of a grateful nation to carry out its duty to U.S. servicemembers and their families. This obligation underlies Obama’s decision to allocate funding in his budget proposal to increase the size of the Army and Marines to lessen the burden on those serving, he said.

Or how about this, from 2012:

“I cannot begin to fully understand your loss. As a father I cannot begin to imagine what is like to hear that knock on the door and learn that your worst fears have come true, but as commander in chief I can tell you that sending our troops into harm’s way is the most wrenching decision that I have to make, I can promise you I will never do so unless it is absolutely necessary, and that when we do we must give our troops a clear mission and the full support of a grateful nation.”

Or this, from last year:

“These sons and daughters, these brothers and sisters who lay down their lives for us – they belong to us all. They’re our children, too. We benefit from their light, their positive influence on the world.”

Or, indeed, from just a few weeks ago:

“As we know, when you’re deployed overseas, it’s tough,” Obama said in brief remarks at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe Bay. He said that although his administration has been bringing home troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, “there are still folks over there every single day and it’s still dangerous, as we saw this past week, where we had some outstanding, brave men and women who were killed.”

“So we never take for granted what all of you do for the American people,” Obama said. “You help keep us free. You help keep us strong. Whatever service you’re in, whatever branch, we are extraordinarily grateful for everything that you do every single day.”

Nor has Obama been mute or inactive on PTSD. He has taken it very seriously, and has taken action on multiple occasions to fight for soldier’s access to treatment and care for the condition, from additional benefits on 2010 to the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act just last year. If anything, Obama has been the most active president ever on this issue.

For Sarah Palin, the issue is a punch line. Worse, a family tragedy she can eagerly turn into a political cudgel. She lies horrifically, unjustifiably, shamelessly. Obama never respects or honors the troops? Sarah, go frack yourself.

Not that conservatives are new to this kind of gallingly inhuman hypocrisy. Back in 2011, when Obama made yet another respectful speech to honor the troops, as he has many, many times since he took office, conservatives actually used that praise and respect to bash Obama, acting as if he he never, ever said a good word about the troops ever before, and was only now changing his tune, insincerely, because election season was coming up. Ironically, Obama’s frequent actions to increase benefits for troops and their families—including help for PTSD—was perverted by these slimeballs into a sign of Obama’s supposed contempt for the troops. They begin by quoting Obama’s lavish praise, called it “scripted,” and then wrote:

The flattering message was a remarkable 180 degree turn from his earlier description of soldiers as victims dependent on social-welfare and medical services offered by the Democratic coalition.

Get that? Obama’s praise is scripted and self-serving, and all those benefits he provides the soldiers are just to get them hooked on the socialist government teat.

Now, play that message next to Sarah Palin’s twisted, demented claim that Obama is responsible for the ills suffered by soldiers because he never gave them praise and failed to address issues like PTSD.

You might be tempted to think that Sarah Palin also should not be attacked, but instead be shown concern, as she may herself suffer from mental illness.

But no. She’s just an asshole.

Silencing the Unions

January 11th, 2016 5 comments

The conservatives on the Supreme Court are finally taking a whack at finishing off unions. Were they only supportive of Republican causes, they’d be safe, but as general supporters of liberal politicians, they remain a target to be destroyed, as they have been since the 1980’s.

The court will hear a case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, in which a group of school teachers object to paying union dues on the grounds that those dues will be used to support political causes they oppose. Naturally, the Wall Street Journal (behind paywall; open article can be accessed via Google News link) is positively gushing over the prospect of shutting down labor’s political speech:

Defending free speech has been a notable strength of the current Supreme Court, and on Monday the Justices hear a case that gives them a rare and splendid opportunity to repair damage to the First Amendment done by the Court itself.

In Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, 10 public school teachers object to a California law that forces them to pay union fees that finance causes they oppose. For 39 years the Court has allowed such coercion thanks to an anomalous 1977 ruling in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. Now is the time to overturn it.

If the court finds in favor of the teachers, it would effectively silence unions politically, leaving their counterparts—corporations—with virtually unchallenged voices in politics, heavily favoring the wealthy and removing what little collective voice remains for the working-class citizen.

The Journal cites Harris v. Quinn, a case that said that “no person in this country may be compelled to subsidize speech by a third party that he or she does not wish to support.” Of course, they ignore religious organizations using public funds to both proselytize and to make political statements. And they ignore lawmakers using public funds to force their own religious views on laws. That’s okay.

And naturally, there is no case the Supreme Court will hear which allows objections of individual stockholders to silence the corporate executives who spend corporate cash on political donations and messages that the shareholders oppose. No problems there.

The Journal also ignores the 2006 decision, Garcetti v. Ceballos, which specifically stated that employers may control the free-speech rights of individual workers:

When a citizen enters government service, the citizen by necessity must accept certain limitations on his or her freedom. … Government employers, like private employers, need a significant degree of control over their employees’ words and actions; without it, there would be little chance for the efficient provision of public services.

Of course, the conservative side of the court has never allowed itself to be hobbled by little details like consistency. However, the above was written by Kennedy, who could make one of his pivotal stances against the hard-right four, Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Roberts.

Only time will tell, but I am not overly hopeful: the court has shown great love of corporate power, and little love for anything that opposes it.

Categories: Law, Supreme Court Tags:

Terrorism

November 29th, 2015 2 comments

More is coming in on what happened at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado. The headlines are, “Planned Parenthood alleged gunman is from North Carolina”; “Gunman’s Past Scoured for Clues to Siege at Planned Parenthood”; and “Suspect in Colorado clinic shooting had past brushes with the law.” The headlines and articles use the words “gunman,” “shooter,” “recluse,” and “suspect.”

All of these reports very carefully and studiously avoid the one most highly accurate and relevant term: “terrorist.” No one dares use that word.

Here’s my favorite headline: “Colorado shooter politically motivated.”

Hmmm… what is the definition of “terrorism” again? Oh, yeah, right here in my dictionary: “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.” In short, the Colorado shooting was nothing less than terrorism, and the “gunman,” Robert Lewis Dear, was a terrorist. If it was a shooting at, well, actually, anywhere, but the person shooting was a Muslim from a middle eastern country, no one at all would hesitate to use the word “terrorist”; every single last article would be filled with terror, terrorism, terrorist. But not now, not in this case.

Already people are talking about the man being “mentally unstable,” despite there being no evidence either way on the matter. This is the normal fallback position when a Christian or conservative commits a crime like this, a setup for the “no true Scotsman” fallacy: he wasn’t really a conservative/Christian, he was just crazy. Neither his politics nor his faith are really relevant, is the standard explanation. He was a “recluse,” a “loner,” divorced from the community, we’ll be told.

Nope. From all indications, the man is a terrorist. He mentioned “no more baby parts,” a reference to the recent bogus Planned Parenthood videos which have been all the rage in conservative circles as of late. His target, a Planned Parenthood clinic, was not some coincidence. Officials have stated that his attack was “definitely politically motivated.”

It was the same thing last week when five people were shot at a Black Lives Matter protest. Again, a politically motivated violent attack—and again, the media refused to use the word “terrorism.” Again, it was “shooters,” “gunmen,” “suspects”—but no terrorists.

It’s about time we stopped shying away from calling domestic terrorism for what it is. The problem, of course, is that Fox News and the entire conservative media and much of the core community will explode in anger at the suggestion that politics has anything to do with it.

Fox and other conservative outlets are quickly laying down the crazy-lone-recluse story; Newsmax highlights that he had “few religious or political leanings” and that his mental health is under scrutiny, a story nearly identical to Fox News. Breitbart is almost hilarious in its coverage, going straight for the man’s voter registration and—I kid you not—blaming Colorado gun control laws for the incident, whilst highlighting the claim that Dear was “unknown to pro-lifers in the area.” In short, they are trying to lay down damage control, to give their readers and viewers everything possible to deny that the shooter had any relation to conservatives or the conservative cause.

Nor is that a simple political whitewash; the right-wing noise machine has a serious vested interest in disassociating itself from this case, just like they had when Byron Williams drove his car to San Francisco to kill as many people as he could at the Tides Foundation and the ACLU, after watching Glenn Beck on Fox News rage about these organizations taking over the country. Or when Richard Poplawski killed three police officers in Pittsburgh after watching Fox News and reading InfoWars. Or when Dylann Roof killed nine black people in a church after being radicalized by lies spread on conservative web sites.

It is pretty obvious that not just one source, but the entire culture of dramatically, I would even say breathtaking lies and distortion now blanketing the conservative bubble—this is what is driving the more and more violent right wing in the United States, making monsters out of peaceful protesters, painting a women’s health organization as a machine of genocide, and creating a bizarre alternate fantasy world regarding the president in which he’s a fascist, communist Kenyan with a fake birth certificate bent on slaughtering Christians and conservatives in concentration camps.

It has come to the point where fact no longer matters, not even a little bit. Where top presidential candidates just make all kinds of crap up and the press can’t even refute them for fear of being smeared as “liberal media.” Where outrageous lies and distortions are the norm, not the deviation.

It is my fear—and I believe a well-founded one—that we’re just seeing the beginning of a new wave of violence, beyond the simple slaughter being carried out with firearms on a daily basis. The new violence is, simply, terrorism: politically motivated violence driven by a relentless drumbeat of despicable lies and hatred blared to an increasingly desperate and gullible core of conservatives lost in the desolate bubble of modern conservatism.

Categories: Right-Wing Extremism Tags: