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Prevention and Cure

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , ,

PreventCure

We live in a cure society. Not just because we have races for the cure and build awareness for cures and believe that eventually every malady we face will someday be cured. Also for those reasons, but not even primarily because of that. It is reasonable to hope that we can discover, create, and utilize cures for the things that go wrong in our lives. But as the old adage reminds us, it is even more reasonable (and efficient) to aim to prevent those things in the first place.

We don’t believe in prevention in this society, though. I guess we’re starting to believe a little in the prevention of pregnancy and the transmission of STDs, but otherwise we’re not really into taking steps to keep ourselves from harm. We drive cars, we put the cell phone right up to our brain, we eat poorly, we live with chronic stress and pain and fatigue and anger. And whenever the inevitable things go wrong, when we have accidents or cancer or heart disease or panic attacks, we wait impatiently for the cures to come in and make it all better. To get us back in the game so we can head back out and reinjure ourselves and we can begin the cycle anew.

When I got kidney stones in 2010, my assigned urologist was uninterested in even examining what in my life might be causing the phenomenon. He rattled off a list of prescription drugs that would help combat the stones’ effects, as well as some advanced treatment options for splitting the stones into more manageable kidney pebbles. He rolled his eyes when I asked about side effects of these drugs, let alone the little lasers that could play Bruce Willis to the calcified asteroids in my organs. But the contempt really came out when I asked what steps I could take to keep from getting kidney stones in the future. Apparently I was his first patient to deign to ask why I was getting kidney stones in the first place, so I could attempt to stop doing whatever that was. Granted by the assembled populous of kidney stone and prostate cancer sufferers in the waiting room that I was below his average patient’s age by about four decades and this made me decidedly more invested in future behaviors than most of my comrades, but still. He blinked at me and acted like he hadn’t heard the question. When I made another pass, he mumbled something about eating more stone fruits and maybe less dairy. They are made of calcium, after all, those kidney stones. Not all of them, but the ones I had, according to a week of urine I collected in an orange bucket.

Turned out that the real issue was dehydration, the result primarily of crying basically all the time over my divorce. Which, you know, is not a diagnosis that I could reasonably have expected him to come up with. I got the 100% real cranberry juice (something a friend had to tell me about, because my doctor certainly wasn’t going to) and cut back on cheese, but hydrating more and crying less did most of the trick. I haven’t passed a stone in three years.

So this reality certainly applies to the medical field and our entrenched beliefs about it. It’s part of why medical costs are so disproportionately high in this country, driven as they are by the cure-side of the equation. Prescription drugs are one of the single biggest industries, in terms of both absolute size and ongoing growth, that we have in this nation. Preventative medicine is kind of a fringe notion, vaguely associated with quacky herbs and the word socialism. No matter that health plans focused on prevention rather than repair are immensely more efficient and effective than their rivals. That doesn’t propel a growth industry so much as the maintenance society. And we all know a society addicted to cancerous growth cannot abide a viable maintenance plan.

But this goes well beyond just the medical field as a notion about how we are to live our lives. We live with a model of life that presumes it will create all manner of unhealthy side effects, then try to sell a variety of cures to solve those problems. Stress, unhappiness, inadequacy, depression, infidelity, insomnia, crime, poverty, disaster. We expect most of these things to befall us as we approach our daily life, making it vital that we raise enough money for the tools to fix them: yoga, gym memberships, better food, vacations, therapy, medical care, and entertainment of every possible variety. Examine our professions and pastimes in this society and how many of them are making up for some real or perceived deficiency created by the hardships of life. And I am hardly here to sit on some high horse and chastise you about these things: in the past year, I’ve signed up for yoga, a gym membership, tried to eat better food, considered counseling, taken vacations, and bought a lot of entertainment. It’s not like all or even any of these things are innately problematic. But when we feel a desperate need for them as the natural consequence of the way we live our life, it might be time to take a step back and re-examine.

There is a simpler and perhaps more documented model for this kind of prevention-cure dichotomy in our society: childcare. Childcare is almost uniquely expensive in America, perhaps the only thing people are willing to sacrifice for more than health care. And the justification for buying childcare is maintaining one’s place in the capitalist economy: bringing in enough money and perhaps prestige to keep the wheel turning. For so many couples in America, the equation doesn’t really work: it’s break-even at best. But the notion of living on just one income, of ditching the job for the child, is often unthinkable, even when it would make more total financial sense, to say nothing of the benefits of not having one’s kid raised primarily by a stranger.

Now this particular example is massively complicated by the gender issues involved, with the deadly combination of traditional sexist expectations of women to be the primary caretakers and the pay gap exacerbating pressure on women to be the ones who step away from the workplace. When one adds bias against both women and men with career disruptions on their resume, these factors negate the simplicity of the choice for a lot of couples. This makes it powerfully important for many to stay in the workplace, even if they’re running on a treadmill just to keep up. But if we could hit a giant reset button on gender perceptions in our society (yes, this would fix a lot of things), making it truly as likely that the man would stay home in any given instance, then we’d have another example of it being totally nonsensical to choose cure over prevention.

The trouble is, whether you think it applies well in the childcare example or not, we know that prevention is more effective than curing. Beyond the cliche, it’s fundamentally obvious to us that the cure is never 100%: there are always complications and side effects and increased risks going forward. And sure, prevention is never 100% either. You can avoid the stressful day job and still get depressed. Condoms break. The train can crash just like the car. But at least prevention gives you a good chance at 100% avoidance. And the worst-case scenario of failures in prevention are needing the cure. In other words, the worst-case scenario of a prevention mentality is relying on the best-case scenario of a cure mentality.

What tangible steps can you take in your own life to replace cures with prevention?

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Consistent Judgment vs. BattleBots: an Analysis of Bernie and Hillary Supporters

Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: ,

JudgeBattle

Near as I can tell, the best litmus test (perhaps outside of the South) for whether a potential Democratic voter is likely to support Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders is income. If you’ve got money, or think you will soon, you like Hillary. If you don’t have money, or see economic trouble on the horizon, you like Bernie. This isn’t strictly true, of course, since there are folks who hold onto their ideals of economic equality even after making capitalism work for them and amassing wealth and there are those who don’t have a realistic shot at wealth who still believe the wealthy should rule the world. But fundamentally, people tend to vote their perceived self-interest and you’re more likely to endorse capitalism full-throatedly if it’s working for you. And Bernie vs. Hillary is probably a referendum on capitalism as much as anything else. As much as Hillary is trying to get in on some of that socialism in the primary, we all are pretty aware that Bernie likes taxes and hates corporations way more than his opponent.

This post is about what I think the second-biggest distinction is, and one that I think a lot of folks are talking around but no one is actually directly addressing. And that’s the role one perceives politics to have in this country, and really what the purpose of representative democracy is. This is often phrased quite differently in condescending Hillary propaganda in the media that says things like “Hillary gets things done.” That’s a leading indicator of this type of perceived difference, but it doesn’t really address the core of it in a fair way. And acknowledging my bias as a Bernie supporter, I will try to put this both as clearly and as fairly as possible.

There are two theories of representative democracy and what it’s all about. Okay, there are lots of such theories, but there are two that are relevant to the campaign:

1. You cannot be there to vote on everything yourself, to make every decision, and to advocate for every position. We cannot all be President, nor can everything come down to 300-million-person referendum. As a result, one should choose leaders who most clearly demonstrate clear and consistent judgment. This means both that their decisions will be maximally predictable and that they are most likely to, in the midst of crisis down in the bunker, make the best decision. I’m calling this theory Consistent Judgment.

2. You cannot be there to vote on everything yourself, to make every decision, and to advocate for every position. We cannot all be President, nor can everything come down to 300-million-person referendum. As a result, there are two parties who represent the two possible reasonable and widely held slates of positions on issues to decide these things for the people. One should choose the leader who will best navigate systems of government to maximize the advantage for the party one favors, to beat the other party as clearly and significantly as possible. Even if that person has to change their positions radically, as long as they have the strategic advantage over the other group, them winning for their team is the highest priority. I’m calling this theory BattleBots.

I think the divergence between these two theories is large and explains the level of incredulity Democrats have looking across the divide at the other deeply entrenched camp. For Consistent Judgment advocates, it’s bizarre that consistency doesn’t matter and that positions can change radically as long as the team is winning, since this often mean altering positions or making compromises that look a lot like conceding to the other team. For BattleBots advocates, it’s bizarre that one could advocate someone whose loyalty to the team is nascent and questionable, someone who is less interested in playing the game, since the whole point of politics is to play and win the game.

This is why Bernie is doing so well with independents, both those who choose to vote in Democratic primaries and those who are surveyed nationally in hypothetical general election polls. Independents are free-thinkers who have alternative slates to the two parties and lament the BattleBot culture in Washington. They love Bernie’s judgment and trust his ability to contravene the grain of two-party politics. It’s also why Hillary is doing so well with conservative Democrats, because they feel a strong loyalty to their team that may transcend even the actual platform of their party. They love Hillary’s strong, attacking style that will go after the enemy wherever they may roam.

For those to whom politics is an all-out battle, a game of chess with a winner and loser, Bernie is totally confounding. He’s not rabidly attacking the other side, he’s not even totally committed to this team, and he’s not fully steeped and invested in the team’s infrastructure and bottom line. His voice will criticize members of the team if they contradict his political views and he blames the team for many of the ills he’s fighting against. What a terrible BattleBot!

For those to whom politics is about displaying consistency of judgment, Hillary is totally confounding. She changes her positions yearly, monthly, weekly, even hourly if she’s just been at an event that caters to a particular constituency. She will run in the direction of any candidate she’s against, then run the other direction if her opponent changes. She will use any tactic at her command, even if she criticized that tactic last year. What terrible use of Consistent Judgment!

This is how Hillary supporters can actually see her shifting positions as a strength: they believe it shows the strategic calculation necessary to make the proper adjustment for the moment. Chess games are not about adherence to the preservation of rooks or the ideal of the bishop. They are about winning, whatever shifts and alterations and sacrifices need to be made. Even if the queen was the most important piece on the board last turn, if there’s a strategic advantage in trading her off, then down she goes in the next turn. Hillary supporters see it as clear that she’s a great chess player and they want to win the game.

And this is how Bernie supporters see his commitment to ideals even when potentially impractical or hard to implement as a strength: they believe it shows the good judgment to advocate what’s right, even in the face of total opposition or infeasibility. Politics are not just the domain of the hard-nosed practical compromise, but also about the ability to inspire and lead, to set a precedent at the top that convinces people to change their hearts and minds. Bernie supporters see it as clear that he’s an inspiring change agent and they want that kind of rhetoric and judgment at the top.

For someone who values Consistent Judgment, it’s terrifying to imagine what kind of expedient political decisions Hillary might make in the White House: starting wars, compromising deeply on legislation, changing her mind to advance the interests of her team. Nothing is hard and fast, so anything could go if she finds it valuable at the time, and she’ll recant and apologize later after the sober reflection of what actually resulted. When past examples include DOMA and the Iraq War, it’s really hard for Consistent Judgment advocates to get excited about this.

And for someone who values BattleBots, it’s terrifying to imagine how little Bernie might do for the Democratic Party as a whole in the White House. This is the source of the new criticism that he’s not raising money for down-ticket Dems, as well as the old one that he’s not even really a Democrat. How can you trust someone to be the best BattleBot for your team if he’s only loosely affiliated with your team? If he’s willing to criticize Obama’s policies and Democratic lawmakers, how can he help convince the country that they must support Democrats at all cost? No wonder BattleBots advocates have such a hard time with Bernie.

It’s no secret (except briefly to a couple people on Facebook on April 1st) that I’m in the Consistent Judgment camp. But I also strongly dislike the two-party system and one of my highest priorities as a voter is to oppose it on face. In my mind, BattleBots thinking is exactly why we have gridlock in Washington, a lack of creative solutions, and people consistently flipping positions just to say that they’re getting things done or blocking the other team. Obamacare is a great example of this: the model for the ACA was invented by the Heritage Foundation as a conservative response to advocacy for something closer to single-payer. The individual mandate was a Republican creation first implemented by Mitt Romney to ensure that the market still dominated healthcare. With no cost controls, the ACA has manifest as a pro-corporate development in almost all ways (with slight exceptions being the expansion of Medicare and the removal of pre-existing conditions as a reason to deny coverage). But since Obama was responsible for and associated with the ACA, Republicans suddenly opposed it with every fiber of their being, even though they spent years advocating for its underlying principles. Meanwhile, former single-payer advocates like Howard Dean and even, yes, Hillary Clinton, now disavow single-payer as unthinkable because the Democrats have tied their flag to the mast of the ACA.

Bernie Sanders would never abandon single-payer just because the Democrats had decided to advocate something else. Even if that meant throwing “his party” under the bus. For me, that makes him a hero. For a long-time Democratic Party strategist, that makes him unreliable at best and destructive at worst.

My hope in writing this is not even necessarily that the acrimony between Bernie and Hillary supporters reduces, since I still am a staunch advocate of Bernie. But I think we can gain some understanding of each other by examining not just how our personal policy views might be different, but also how our methodological differences inform our view of political actors. It really impacts every aspect of the campaign. It’s why Hillary supporters are outraged Bernie hasn’t left the race since his chances of winning the nomination are somewhat slim: if there’s even a chance that he hurts Hillary and Hillary is the more likely nominee, then he’s undermining the Code of the BattleBots by hurting the eventual BattleBot Supreme. What if he shaves off a key part of her armor before she has to do battle in the big arena?! And it’s why Bernie supporters are outraged by this call from Hillary supporters – he’s being true to his ideals and consistency, regardless of the situation. He’s representing his views as ardently and consistently as he would in the White House and that’s a critical voice to hear for as long as possible. What if voters become further disillusioned by the idea that politicians only ever say things because they are strategically expedient?!

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What if Bernie Wins 35 States?

Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: ,

I haven’t been posting a lot here this year. I’ve spent too much time arguing on Facebook with people who will probably never change their minds, an old habit from years of debating and judging debate and coaching debate. I truly love debate in all its forms and yet I’m still not totally convinced that it’s always or even often a good use of time. And yet I am the moth to debate’s flame, no matter what it consumes. Regardless, like Bernie’s campaign, this post isn’t about me.

It’s about Bernie Sanders, what happened last night in Michigan, and what it portends for the increasingly unpredictable 2016 Presidential race.

Nate Silver, universally regarded guru of electoral politics, and his team at 538 are calling last night the biggest upset in any vote since the 1984 New Hampshire primary, if not ever. You might think he’s trying to just wipe the egg off his face for basically saying there was no chance (“less than 1%”) that Bernie would win Michigan after polls ranged from having him down 5% to 37%. Never mind that 538 somehow concocted that the 37% was the most reliable poll, even though it only robo-called landlines:

“Federal law only permits us to call land lines using automated polling. Because likely Primary voters are older, 54% are 60 or older and 86% are older than 50, we believe there are sufficient land line voters to get an accurate sample. We do not have to make any assumptions of likely voter turnout.”
-“Clinton Opens Up Huge Lead in Michigan”, Mitchell Research & Communications, poll conducted March 6, 2016

But everyone got this wrong, though not all as appallingly as Mitchell Research & Communications. Even Bernie himself sent his supporters home, somehow unsure that their massive grassroots campaign among people younger than 50 would work to turn the state that everyone had already penciled into Hillary’s column. And suddenly, every Democratic state poll, every model, every assumption has to be scrabbled up and thrown out like so many contracts at Mitchell Research & Communications. The narrative that Hillary Clinton is marching inexorably, though slowly, to the Democratic nomination is back in the uncertainty column.

Her surrogates on national TV and all over the media, through their budding panic last night, hasten to point out that Hillary dominated Mississippi, adding yet another Southern state to her tally. And don’t even get them started about the insurmountable lead in superdelegates! Never mind that those superdelegates are fickle and might flip as soon as the winds change, or that they’re not committed at all, at any point, until the actual convention, or that they are entirely undemocratic and would never flip an election that Bernie had otherwise won if they ever wanted to see another progressive vote for the Democratic nominee in their lifetime. They’re super! Let’s count them in every major media analysis as though they were locked in. Because somehow Hillary’s lead of about 200 delegates doesn’t look that insurmountable if you only count the real, representative delegates.

But let’s leave out delegates. Say the media is right about delegates, but wrong about polls. Let’s just say that Michigan provides the green-light that Iowa and Nevada almost did (and would have had they been primaries and not machine-impacted caucuses), demonstrating that Bernie can win anywhere outside the South, can basically tie or win in every blue state, that the establishment’s polls have been flawed from the outset, unable to keep up with Bernie’s momentum, excitement, and youth power. We’re almost out of real estate in the South – after North Carolina and Florida vote next Tuesday, there will be no more “firewall” for Hillary to hide behind, no way of her saying she “still won tonight” based on lopsided votes in states that will inevitably vote for Trump or Cruz or both at once in the general if the Republicans succeed in betraying Trump.

What if Bernie wins 35 states?

2016DemsBlog

No, Hillary supporters, you can’t poll your way out of this one. Polls are useless, remember? Remember the 37-point lead on the eve of Michigan? Remember “greater than 99% for Hillary”? Nate Silver isn’t going to save you from this possibility.

We’ll give Hillary Florida, though I think that’s quite questionable – there’s a lot of evidence that Florida is it’s own quarky state that diverges from the rest of the South. But let’s say it’s enough like Texas that she gets it. And we’ll throw in New York, too, home of Wall Street and the Clinton carpetbagged Senate tenure. And let’s assume DC is enough like the South that she takes that too.

Then… what else? Where else, after Michigan, can Hillary possibly plant her flag and say “yes, this territory is mine”.

I will grant you that Utah, Kentucky, Maryland, and New Jersey all seem a little borderline to me. Maybe even Connecticut too, though most of the 1%ers there are Republicans I think. That’s five more states that would make it a slightly more respectable 30-20 split. But honestly, after Michigan, I’m not at all sure. The few Democrats in Utah and Kentucky don’t strike me as sure Hillary voters. Connecticut looks a lot like Vermont in some ways. Let’s pursue for the sake of argument the map above.

And let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the delegates still lean Hillary. Or even strongly so. That Bernie’s thinner margins in the 35 states than that band of solid red Southern states Hillary wins by a lot mean that he still trails in the delegate count overall. What then?

Oh, I know what the rules say. I also know that the rules say the Republicans have to nominate Trump when he wins the required number of delegates, but I’d still be more than surprised if they actually do that. Given the utter open war on Trump in the Republican establishment, it’s very hard to picture a convention where Mitt Romney, John McCain, and other party elders lock hands with Trump in triumph and wish him well on the way to the White House, even if he gets 1,400 delegates. Party politics are not federal laws – they are rules both set and enforced by the parties. There’s no saying they have to follow their own rules.

Which is another advantage-Hillary argument, right? Because the Democratic establishment so desperately wants her to win?

Well, maybe. What Democrats seem to want even more than Hillary is to back a winner. And if they look at that map, really study it, do they see a general election winner in Hillary? When she wins mostly red states and Bernie wins 35 of them overall?

If you’re wondering, Barack Obama beat Hillary 29-21 in the state count in 2008:

2008DemsBlog

There are some populous and blue states in her column that year, and Obama still went on to win the general. But there are also lots of solid blue states in Obama’s map, plus bellwethers like Missouri and Wisconsin. Both campaigns had their mix of coalitions. But I’m not convinced that Hillary’s coalition is as large as either hers or Obama’s in 2008. It’s Southerners and old folks. That’s it. She split the African-American youth vote outside the South. She won it among the oldest generations, but she wins every race in the oldest generations. People who’ve given up on being truly progressive or have enough money that they feel comfortable with the establishment love Hillary. Everyone under 50 outside the South is in Bernie’s camp. And he’s drumming up the kind of enthusiasm and energy that drives them to the polls in the face of insurmountable published odds, paying off that better than 100-1 ticket.

Once we leave the South, once Bernie starts racking up state after state after state, week after week, what will this race look like? As Hillary starts getting more panicky, possibly blundering more and making more insensitive or entitled statements, as Bernie voters gain confidence about his electability and popularity and ability to defy the establishment-issued odds? Can you really hand the nomination to someone who won 30% of the states?

I think we may find out. If nothing else, we learned last night that 2016’s primaries didn’t stop being interesting. They’re only getting started.

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Christmas Eve, 6 AM

Categories: A Day in the Life, Tags:

1202Lumis

Woke up at 5:30. Set my alarm for just before 6, but I couldn’t really sleep. Today is my holiday, the one that I unequivocally call my favorite every year. It’s luminaria day, Christmas Eve, in Albuquerque.

It’s supposed to start snowing at sunrise, 7:12 AM. I’ve never seen snow on Christmas Eve here, though a White Christmas is not unheard of. We’re getting a huge storm in a couple days that might dump 6 inches of snow, while New Orleans faces tornado warnings and the east coast is in the 70s. But our real Christmas Eve miracle today is that yesterday and tomorrow are both too windy for little paper bags to stand with flames inside, both featuring winds over 20 MPH. Today, however, will top out at 8 MPH, perfect weather for lumis.

Those of you who have followed my obsession over the years know that part of what fuels my love of luminarias is the nature of obsession itself. The ability to set a personal record, to work hard and long hours at something obscure that I like more than most people do. But I’ve also witnessed in recent years how much joy and excitement others get out of this holiday, and especially my efforts to create a massive display. That is what this season is all about, giving joy to others.

But luminarias hold a special place in my heart for the meaning of the tradition, never more salient in my lifetime than this year. The tradition symbolizes lighting the way for the Christ-child and family as they seek shelter on Christmas Eve. People light a path along the walkways in the dark of night, along their fence lines, roof lines, and leading up to their doors. The message is clear: There is no room at the inn, but there is room here. Come, stay, sit by the fire. We will take you in.

I don’t consider myself a Christian, though I think Jesus is an admirable if highly misunderstood figure. His pacifism and the values sometimes found in Christianity are still highly influential to me. But perhaps no story could be more important to us this year than that of those lost and suffering, wandering in the wilderness, seeking solace and comfort on the 24th of December.

For the next 11 hours, I’ll be out there making the magic come together, all to symbolize the welcoming nature of our home, our city, our people, the openness to those lost and seeking. Setting up small candles, a bulwark of hope against the dark, in concert with others, to light your way home.

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One Nation Under Hate

Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, The Problem of Being a Person, The Wild Wild Web, Tags: , , ,

HateSpeech

I guess I shouldn’t have targeted Donald Trump so specifically. I guess that’s what really brought the vitriol out of the woodwork.

When I launched the green Facebook profile pictures to support Muslims in America project two days ago, I don’t know exactly what I was expecting. Certainly I knew that my Blue Pyramid Facebook page could be the target of incredible vitriol from right-wingers. But somehow I didn’t think that the hate lobbed my way for questioning gun rights in the wake of mass-shootings could be, well, trumped. And maybe if I’d only stood up for Muslims in the abstract and not connected the timing of the need for this to Donald Trump’s consistent claim that all Muslims should be barred from the US, then there would have been fewer death threats, less invective, less utterly disturbing images on my post.

I know, I’m not really being that serious. The comparison of saying “Maybe if I’d only stood up for Jews without criticizing Hitler” would sound a wee bit histrionic in other contexts. In the context of a rising political leader invoking hate against a religious minority to label them as the ultimate threat and bar them from a nation, well…… yeah. I’m hardly the first or even millionth person to draw that parallel.

Still, by attacking the extremely popular person at the top of the totem pole, it invoked many responses which (a) assumed that I support Democrats, (b) assumed that I support Hillary, and (c) assumed that I carried the usual liberal party line. The media does not deal with issues in complex, nuanced, or variable ways, so I can sort of understand why the assumptions are all binary. Either you love Trump or you love Hillary. Either you’re a Republican or a Democrat. Either you care about the entire right-wing slate as presented by modern Republicans or the entire left-win slate as presented by modern Democrats. And yes, not many people are out there espousing pacifism so I wouldn’t expect anyone to assume that as my baseline. What I would expect is some religious tolerance. At least a little. Or some vague understanding that ISIS and 9/11 are not representative of Islam or even a tiny fraction of it.

Nope.

I got death threats. Muslims got way more death threats. People openly, with their names attached, with photos of them holding their smiling kids, called for genocide. It was unbelievable.

I’ve been torn between taking it all down to just reduce the amount of hate in the world, hate that I feel loosely responsible for since I, after all, posted something that elicited it. Torn between that and leaving it up as a little monument to a verbal atrocity. I know, I know, the rule about Internet comments can apply to Facebook pages too. And I’m sure it pales in comparison to the invective thrown at Muslims daily, though I’m pretty unconvinced that most of these folks have ever so much as spoken to a Muslim, let alone a minority of any kind. But the net impact so far of my effort seems to have been rallying a bunch of spiteful violent people against their misunderstanding of Islam. I feel like people who graffiti hate-speech on college campuses, who then see the next day as half the campus rallies in defense of the targeted group. But, y’know, in reverse.

The story of cycles of hate and violence is nothing new. Arguably, this is the only story of human history worth remembering and the only lesson we really need to learn at this stage of our time on the planet. “This stage”, in this instance, being roughly the last 6,000 years. But I don’t think I’d really realized until this week how brazen and substantial the hate is in the United States. And how campaign rhetoric like Trump’s is, as many have observed, emboldening and normalizing hate.

KillEmAll

I guess the ultimate issue is that it’s not really about Trump. That was the post I almost wrote night before last, when I instead decided to turn my frustration into a more positive show of support rather than just criticizing everything again. Obviously, if Trump can enjoy this level of support and garner more enthusiasm for policies like barring all Muslims from entering the nation, then the seeds of this sentiment are much older and deeper than the last few months. I certainly saw glimpses of this at Brandeis in September 2001 – and if I saw it at a purportedly liberal college campus, then one can only imagine what was happening in conservative small towns – but I just greatly underestimated how ready the country was to declare war on a whole religion, a whole people, and not stop till they were wiped out entirely.

I’m not saying everyone feels that way, or even most Republicans, and possibly not even most Trump voters. But the ongoing obsession with terrorism and fear, the incredibly sheltered and privileged position of America as it sits in comfort while lobbing missiles at everyone who disagrees, destroying lives and families and buildings and whole countries in a single bound. It’s coming home to roost. It’s manufactured a dangerous, spiteful, intolerant country that is all the more problematic for its claims at representing the opposite. Many early critics of Trump’s comments this week called his thoughts un-American. I think they were kind of quintessentially American in the America we have now. An America so afraid of its own shadow that it’s ready to blow away the person casting the shadow just to have someone to blame for its paranoia.

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Go Green on Facebook to Support Muslims in America

Categories: A Day in the Life, The Wild Wild Web, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , ,

FBImageGreen_525

I have a long rant about Donald Trump’s latest comments to make somewhere around here at some point, but I’m tabling that for now. Partially because so many people have a long rant about Donald Trump’s latest comments. It’s relieving that he’s finally gone far enough that some people think it’s too far. Hopefully that will get us to start thinking about how far those of us who are not Donald Trump have gone in condemning large groups of people and reflect on our own behavior. But rather than lament and reflect today, I’m doing something. At least, starting an online project.

That project is a Facebook movement, starting with changing Facebook profile pictures green. Not all-green, like the old Libyan flag, but to have the green overlay tint, a la celebrating marriage equality or mourning the Paris attacks. Green is the color historically most associated with Islam and Muslims are the folks who need support right now, especially here in America. We are facing a time where hate-speech, threats, and persecution of Muslims is reaching an unprecedented pitch in the United States. I think we should take stock of those who disagree.

Please log in to Facebook and join my new group there. Use the hashtag #GreenProfilePic to get the word out. And until Facebook creates the option and prompts everyone to do it, tinge your own profile picture with green. I recommend using web color #009900 at transparency 70%.

Spread the word.

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What I Learned on My Day with Pro-Gun Facebookers

Categories: A Day in the Life, Call and Response, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, The Wild Wild Web, Tags: , , ,

ProGun

Yesterday, my recent post on mass-shootings and the second amendment garnered a wide response on Facebook. Most of it was from people who are rabidly pro-gun.

What’s kind of fascinating about the experience is that I had forgotten there were a wide number of people in the country itself who are so adamantly pro-gun. I knew there were corporations in favor of gun proliferation, and politicians bought off by the NRA. But the thing we often forget about the NRA is that it has a wide membership. Since my wife left me five years ago, I had lost touch with my last real bastion of gun ownership in my day-to-day life, that being her family who had an arsenal in the basement and regularly went to the shooting range as a Sunday outing. It was easy to get lost in my own Facebook echo-chamber in the wake of mass shootings and believe that it really is only politicians and corporations who are fueling these disasters.

I really shouldn’t have been as surprised by the reaction as I turned out to be. Like all people trying to promote content on the Internet, I chose an attention-grabbing headline and a controversial picture and blurb. I wanted the experience of seeing the post to be dramatic since I see this as a dramatic issue. And I know, deep down, that Donald Trump is highly likely to win the Republican nomination, arguing against folks who for months have said he’s a flash-in-the-pan and even now maintain that the flash is six or seven months, but certainly not the eighteen he needs to be President.

Who do I think is voting for Donald Trump if not rabid gun-nuts?

That said, there were some really interesting interactions. I had several back-and-forth threads with some of the more articulate gunners which ended in a conclusion of begrudging mutual respect that we’d each argued our positions well and kept things civil. A couple of people for banning the second amendment valiantly did battle with the gunners, but it mostly ended in name-calling. There was, incidentally, an unbelievable lack of accurate spelling almost across the board.

I tell everyone I discuss the subject with that I deeply love Facebook. While I regret its impact of filtering the previously wide-open Internet into one primarily used portal of information, this is vastly outweighed by the contact it engenders between people. I love that I can post an open-ended crowd-source poll on income inequality and generate a thoughtful discussion between twenty different people, many of whom never met each other. I love that thirty people will respond to my random question about which month most symbolizes winter to them. I love the randomness and the sense of loose affiliation we all have.

And I’ve never really found the critiques of Facebook to be all that compelling. Especially when the main one is about artificial presentations of happiness. Though I recognize that I, perhaps somewhat uniquely, really don’t mind expressing frustration, depression, or despair on Facebook. But if others are more inhibited there, then doesn’t Facebook just reflect how they’d be in other public settings? Which I guess brings me to the issue that I’ve learned from this run-in with gunners: garbage in, garbage out. Maybe the only reason I like Facebook is because I like my friends and they are easy to deal with. There are even some pro-gun folks among my Facebook friends, many of them from the five years I spent in rural Oregon in my childhood or from the West Point debate team. But because we have the bond of friendship, we are able to be respectful in a way that many of the gunners were not yesterday.

So perhaps the critique of Facebook, like so much of the Internet, as a siloing echo-chamber, is valid. Most every algorithm that the primary holders of the Internet, be they Facebook, Google, or Apple, have developed in the last half-decade has been designed to customize our Internet experience to be more reflective of what we already believe. What we want, what we think, what we feel is just shot back at us in search results, the friends whose posts get bumped higher in our feed, and the ads we see. And much of it is, ultimately, about advertising. People want to customize and tailor advertising to get precisely in our head, to be as close to intercepting our inner monologue as possible in order to understand exactly how to sell us goods and services. This little capitalist worm that infects everything has inspired the tailoring, but it is probably not the only thing that drives it. Certainly we are comfort-seeking beings, no matter how much harm being comfortable ultimately does us. And it’s comfortable to wrap ourselves in a cocoon where only the like-minded surround us.

The problem is, of course, that there aren’t ground-rules for debating on the Internet, so it’s not possible to learn quite as much from Facebook comments like “With such a outrageous statement for a title no sane person will even read your article …. If the title is bullshit your article most likely is to!” or “Blue Pyramid sounds like the name of a Butt Plug…” or even just the classic “STFU” as I might from, say, a 45-minute ordered discussion on the topic. But maybe I’ve been spoiled by decades of formal debate experience. Maybe it’s good to just get down in the mud and wrassle with folks who spew invective in lieu of argumentation.

I guess I’ll close with the most popular article I saw yesterday from my actual Facebook friends, who were not the folks commenting at length on my Blue Pyramid post. The title was Your opinion on gun control doesn’t matter. And I think that kind of sums up where we stand at the ideological divide here in the United States in 2015. People just don’t think the other person’s opinion matters. They will rarely engage with it or interact in any real way. They will rarely regard it as something to be considered. They will simply hold their opinion and observe that the other person’s doesn’t matter.

And look, I’m not holding myself outside of this in some way. I have strong, firmly held beliefs that rarely change. My goal when I talk to others is usually to persuade. As a lifelong student of persuasion, I see that as core to my purpose here.

But at a certain point, I wonder how we’re going to rebuild bridges of discourse when everyone is getting swallowed up into their own cocoons and bubbles and silos. For all the world’s burgeoning connections, we seem to be building just as many walls.

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The Second Amendment is Terrorism

Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: ,

2ndAmendmentTerror

I’m writing this in the evening following the San Bernardino mass shooting, for context to future readers who may run across this post. My guess is that the San Bernardino mass shooting doesn’t ring a bell with you, because it set no kind of record to distinguish itself from the handful of mass shootings that you do, at this point, remember. It was not a trend-setter like Columbine, it did not open new horrors of venue like Aurora, of high-profile target like Tucson, or of low-age targets like Sandy Hook. It probably has not been memorialized in a permanently posted Onion article like UCSB, nor was it the first big one at a college like Virginia Tech.

I could go on, as the shootings have and will. Odds are you don’t even remember all the names dropped up there, despite the captivity on imagination that they all have at this point in our nation’s history. Tonight, the media belongs to San Bernardino as everyone gets used to that second, silent R and trots out the same sad outrage that nothing is being done to prevent this near daily occurrence in our allegedly civil society.

There are many things one could focus on, and there’s a blog post for all of them, or thousands. They’ve been written before and linked before and gone viral before. Hooray. Tonight, I’m focusing on the second amendment. Because that, more than anything, is the chapter and verse that sanctifies gun ownership in this country. And gun ownership, no matter how it is checked or extolled, limited or promoted, is the root cause of gun violence. Without guns, there could not be gun violence. There could be violence, yes, but not gun violence. There could be stabbings and rock-throwings and poisonings. There is a reason that there are almost no mass stabbings, mass rock-throwings, and mass poisonings in our society. These are difficult, tiring, and inefficient ways to kill people. If you want to do a lot of damage and you aren’t a government, you use guns. Very occasionally explosives, but mostly guns.

So let’s look at why we have the second amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America. It’s for terrorism. No, my right-wing friends, not to prevent terrorism. To guarantee the right to commit terrorism. Yeah, I’m gonna go to the actual text on this one:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

In the context of the militia that fought the American Revolution and inspired this little devastating snippet of our highest code of laws, there are basically two ways to read this. The way it was probably intended involves the lack of standing army and the militia being the only way the US could imagine repelling invading forces that were sure to come from Europe or elsewhere. The militia was the army of the people, by the people, and for the people, so everyone needed a musket at home in case the militia had to be rounded up at dawn to fight off the reconquering British. It would be really inefficient to keep all the muskets in the federal armory and send out Revere and friends to throw everyone a gun when the alarm was sounded. Plus, the American Revolution was a guerrilla war and the Americans assumed future wars on US soil would follow suit, thus decentralization of armaments would be key.

However, this clause of the Constitution has gotten reinterpreted to be a right to violent self-defense, not for the government, but from the government. And it could be argued that this was (at least some of) the framers’ intent as well, what with Jefferson and the bloody trees of liberty from time to time and all that. So if we’re all going to hold hands and collectively pretend that the militia bit isn’t there at all, or that the words “well regulated militia” actually mean “guy in a basement”, then it’s a right to take up arms against the state. Er, State. On behalf, presumably, of the People.

Well, folks, that’s terrorism. The right to violently check your own government in small but hurtful ways that deter government overriding your liberty or will? That’s what we’re calling terrorism these days. The second amendment is a little provision in our Constitution that says citizens are permitted to commit terrorism. Nay, that the right to commit terrorism shall not be infringed.

I mean, sure. Maybe it doesn’t have to come to actually firing the guns. Maybe the point is that the guns, merely as possessions, will be sufficient to deter government action. But the government currently has tanks and stealth bombers and nuclear weapons. And while “arms” does not, strictly speaking, mean guns, the NNWA (National Nuclear Weapon Association) has failed to gain sufficient lobbying power to reinterpret that word in this amendment to ensure that we all have a right to our own household mini-nuke. Though, really, if the framers’ intent was to guarantee that we could deter the government, then that’s what we deserve. Not that anyone currently shooting up the place would possibly misuse a household mini-nuke.

The point is that the argument for individual ownership of guns in a truly private setting requires the belief that people should be able to bear (and presumably fire) guns at the government to prevent their liberty from being infringed. It is strange that so many die-hard second amendment advocates, or at least those who claim to advocate the amendment, the NRA, and its ilk, are simultaneously so angry at Edward Snowden. He merely fired information at the government in order to defend his liberty. Despite repeated claims that someone, somewhere, would die for his actions, no humans were killed in the making of his leak. And yet the amendment so vaunted should actually have given him the right to shoot up the NSA had they tried to stop him.

I know the tone of this post is glib in places, which you’d be within your rights to find inappropriate in the wake of the latest* shooting in San Bernardino. At least 14 people are dead by the volitional acts of their countrymen. But make no mistake, this is serious business: it is incoherent to simultaneously defend the second amendment and decry terrorism. Not just because one tends to lead to the other, but because one literally authorizes the other.

*I hope. I haven’t checked the news in the hour or so it’s taken to write this post.

My only explanation of how this country can continue to cling to this fatally flawed amendment in the wake of the cascading reality of mass-shooting culture is that we are so pridefully obsessed with our self-image as a country that we are categorically incapable of admitting mistakes. It’s how a nation can continue to not apologize for genocide, slavery, internment camps, and bombing the civilians of nearly every other country on the planet. It’s how a nation can continue to demand that all of its leaders believe and regularly proclaim that the country itself is the epitome of human perfection. It’s how a nation can continue to make the same mistakes over and over and over, at home and abroad, for a willful refusal to even try to learn.

Look, the amendments aren’t ironclad. We outlawed slavery at some point with a new amendment. We even undid an amendment with a later amendment! We didn’t always have this infallible notion of ourselves. The framers whose intent we care so much about were a band of unruly, arguing misfits with no governmental experience. They would probably have been delighted to hear that we’d make it past 200 years, but equally horrified that we were carting around their precise verbiage like holy relics. Think about how much Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin cared for the traditional order of their time. Then think about San Bernardino.

I said San Bernardino.

It was the one after the Planned Parenthood Clinic but before the other… oh, never mind.

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The Conflation Problem

Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: ,

HillarySnapchat

There is a troubling trend afoot among supporters of Hillary Clinton. In their haste to embrace her as the avatar of all women in her quest for the White House, many articles have surfaced that claim the main or only reason people truly oppose her candidacy is because she is female. In so doing, there is a not-so-subtle effort underway to brand her opponents as universally sexist and to conflate every character criticism and policy objection with sexism. While there is no doubt that some of her opponents are sexist, just as some of Obama’s are racist, this overall conflation that all critiques of Clinton are borne of sexism is dangerously misleading and, ultimately, an effort to silence legitimate and important objections to her candidacy.

This kind of identity conflation is nothing new. It’s seen most prominently and actively in the conflation of all opposition to Israel with anti-Semitism. When hard-line right-wing Israeli leaders are pushed on the treatment of Palestinians, they retreat to lumping their critics in with Hitler to avoid talking about the real issues. This is equally prominent in debates with US-based supporters of Israel, and perhaps more so. Never mind that the most virulent objections to Israeli policy come in the internal domestic debate inside Israel and that by this logic, many Jews in the Knesset are also anti-Semitic. A government capable of blaming the entire Holocaust on the Palestinian people (reframing occupation of Palestine as a new front of World War II rather than a sadly ironic lack of compassion) has no problem using the notion of anti-Semitism as a blank check for all dubious activities, many of them racist. While this conflation is often effectively stifling to speech, it is utterly illogical.

It’s a difficult thing to talk about, because there are actual racists and sexists out there. There are some people who oppose Obama primarily because he’s African-American and some who oppose Hillary primarily because she’s a woman. And yes, society has subtle and insidious ways of making us more racist and sexist than we’d aspire to be. But no one thinks Elizabeth Warren or even Sarah Palin is a flip-flopper on issues just because there are sexists out there. We think this of Hillary Clinton because she has changed her opinion on almost every significant issue in this campaign. Because even now, her most avid supporters are openly embracing the idea that she’s lying about her stance on TPP to beat Bernie Sanders. Because she equivocates on almost every position even once she’s changed it. “I didn’t have a position on Keystone until I had a position on Keystone” is an actual quote from the debate she allegedly dominated. We aren’t worried about these stances because she’s a woman; we’re worried about them because they indicate that we have no idea whatsoever what she would actually do or advocate for in the White House.

The sting of this concern is especially strong following the last two Democratic Presidents, at least from the progressive perspective. Obviously Obama’s first term was a sad little shadow of what we were promised in the Hope and Change campaign of 2008. Gitmo, accelerated drone strikes, a health-care reform package that prioritized corporations over everything and was barely negotiated, and a stirring lack of social reforms or advances all combined to make left-wing critics of Obama’s policies. These people were not racist. Many of them voted for Obama. Was there a racist among them? Sure. Were some people perhaps in denial about race creeping into their criticism? Sure. But should their objections have been excluded from the discussion because a racist agreed with them sometimes? Of course not.

And of course a lot of the reason we (I guess I should say I here) worry about Hillary Clinton is because of her husband, who did more to move the Democratic Party right on the political spectrum than probably anyone in history. A champion of centrism and double-talking, his time in office was marked by little besides scandal, obfuscation, and DOMA. Yes, the economy thrived while he happened to be in office, but the limited connection between a President’s policies and the contemporary economy is well-documented. And much of that thriving was the vaunted irrational exuberance of the dot-com bubble, that burst late enough in his term to keep him away from blame. The best that can be said about Bill’s Presidency is that he did nothing in office, just took up space for eight years and survived impeachment. While there are some who want that from the President, just to let everything happen and get out of the way and smile for the camera, progressives tend to want more solutions from their leaders. The Bill Presidency is a little too like the Freedom Caucus – content to fiddle while the country does whatever it does. I really don’t think we want 4-8 more years of that.

Which is not to say that Hillary would definitely do what her husband did. There are many claims out there that she’s more progressive than Bill, though the record doesn’t really seem to bear that out with her joining the gay marriage movement very late indeed and her stated desire to utilize the military early and often. Regardless, we’re also all in recovery from seeing a second Bush Presidency that was even more Bushy than the first, doubling down on the mistakes and pushing harder into wars for oil. A similar doubling down on the first Clinton Presidency is nearly as worrisome.

It is important to talk about these concerns. It is vital to talk about where Hillary’s money comes from and how that diminishes her credibility when she says she’s going to take on Wall Street (yes, Bernie missed a chance to dunk the debate by not pointing this out). It is essential that we continue to ask Hillary for her stance on issues she’d rather not comment on, or that she gave a different audience a different answer last week. It is critical that we discern which wars she’s likely to start, who she wants to bomb and kill, so we can determine if that’s really where we want the next 4-8 years to be spent.

Hillary is not the first politician for whom pure ambition seems to be the driving factor. Nor do all of the other politicians who seem driven by this force skate by just because they are generally men. Ambition and power for their own sake are never appealing characteristics. Most of those pointing out that this seems to be Hillary’s desire are not doing so because she’s a woman, but because that seems to be her only motivation. It didn’t seem to be Sarah Palin’s motivation, nor Elizabeth Warren’s. It also doesn’t seem to be Bernie’s motivation, making the contrast especially strong in this primary race. Not because of Bernie’s chromosomes, but because of his character. As with all royal families, the Bushes and the Clintons seem to care, first and foremost, about the empowerment and enrichment of the Bushes and the Clintons. And it is reasonable, and not sexist, to be wary of both Jeb and Hillary on these grounds alone.

Where there is racism or sexism behind an objection, it’s good to observe that. We just must be very careful not to conflate the notion of criticizing anyone with prejudice against their identity group(s).

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I Find Your Lack of Amy Sherman-Palladino Disturbing

Categories: A Day in the Life, Marching to New Orleans, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , , ,

GilmoreWars

You get bullet points today. Because I’m overdue to post, but nothing stays in my head longer than a paragraph in the morning these days. Just pretend Introspection is back.

-I think I may be the person in the world most mutually excited about the return of Star Wars and Gilmore Girls. And not just because I live in an apartment where old seasons of the Gilmore Girls are on a loop in the background most waking hours and this offers the opportunity for new content. I’m also that guy who didn’t think the prequels were much of a departure from the originals – yes, there was stilted cheezy dialogue and poorly sequenced action. Watch the originals. Same thing. Doesn’t make me love Star Wars any less, nor should it for you. The intro music still gets me going. And the fact that Amy Sherman-Palladino will be back for Gilmore Girls salvages the whole project, since the last season of GG to date was pretty close to unwatchable. Now if only we can convince her to write one of the Star Wars movies, we’ll really be in business!

-Living in Louisiana is different. This is a trivial statement: all of the places I’ve lived are different. But in the New Orleans bubble of craziness and left-wing politics, it’s easier to forget that we’re in the Deep South, or at least an hour’s drive from it. Lately, Facebook ads have been trying to remind me. It’s very weird to see a barrage of ads criticizing right-wing Republicans for being too moderate or not Republican enough. My political views on Facebook are “Pacifist Socialist”. I have liked about 14 pages associated with Bernie Sanders. I am trying to make this easy for you. Granted, you don’t have “Pacifist Socialist” indexed in your political spectrum, but I promise I am not the droid you are looking for.

-All debate teams are the same. Again, this is kind of trivially untrue, because the tone set by leadership and the goals of the team can make the experience of the members of the team wildly different. But deep down, at a fundamental core level, the dynamics and interactions and aspirations are all the same. After debating on high school and college teams and coaching professionally, I find this deeply comforting as I start to get more involved with yet another college debate team, despite their being on a different league entirely. And for what it’s worth, slow NPDA is really not as different from APDA as you’d expect. There’s slightly more technical jargon and less overall creativity that comes from the pre-set resolutions (which are predictably topical, generally speaking), but the basics of speeches and what makes for success are easily recognizable. The problem with the league as I can discern it is that it’s so regionally fragmented that the event is completely different in different regions, much like LD when I was in high school. So the exact same performance could win a tournament in one area and go omnidefeated in another. Unfortunately, like every debate format in the world except for APDA and BP, speed has taken over the top of the national circuit, which is a thing Tulane will have to figure out if we’re going to go beyond regional success. Or we could just sit on the even fence of southern NPDA and southern APDA, I suppose.

-I really hope Joe Biden gets into the race. Not because anyone should vote for Joe Biden, but because 95% of his support will come from current Hillary voters. There’s no way that Biden can beat Bernie Sanders, but he can peel enough knee-jerk Clinton support to vault Sanders into a clear lead in the primaries. And all you people moaning about winning should be looking not only at Trump and Carson, but also at Obama and Trudeau and Greece and Corbyn… there is a wave of positive, left-wing populism abroad in the land that can also win here. And if the Republicans nominate a populist and the Democrats trot out the politician’s ultimate politician, it’s going to be a bloodbath. If winning is your primary (pun!) Democratic concern, then you need to take a long hard look at a general election scenario between Trump and Hillary. Turnout, energy, and excitement drive election results in this country. “Obvious” Democratic establishment choices drive the failed candidacies of Al Gore, John Kerry, and HHH. The last time an establishment Democrat won the White House (outside of a re-election campaign) was FDR in 1932.

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Unemployment Jumps in September, Reporting Gap Hits Record 6.52%

Categories: A Day in the Life, It's the Stupid Economy, Tags: ,

For every person listed as officially unemployed in yesterday’s jobs report, there are another 1.28 people who are really unemployed, but are not captured because they have left or never entered the labor force. In total terms, this means that 7,915,000 people are “unemployed” and another 9,140,784 are unemployed, but living in what I call the “Reporting Gap” where they cannot be seen by the official BLS numbers. These folks have either given up looking for work, were ineligible for unemployment because they’ve never had (and thus lost) a regular job, or have restructured their life outside of a legal job because they just don’t think it’s feasible for them. If our numbers were more honest, they’d show that over 17 million Americans are out of work, or 11.62% of the population.

Here are your charts:

Real (red) and reported (blue) unemployment, Jan 2009 - Sep 2015.

Real (red) and reported (blue) unemployment, Jan 2009 – Sep 2015.

Reporting Gap between real and reported unemployment, Jan 2009 - Sep 2015.

Reporting Gap between real and reported unemployment, Jan 2009 – Sep 2015.

Real unemployment is now at its highest rate since December 2014, when it was 11.66%. Unemployment has been above 11% for 77 consecutive months, since May 2009.

The Reporting Gap hit a record high of 6.52%, surpassing a record 6.23% from last month. It has been above 6% for four straight months, and above the reported unemployment rate for 10 straight months, since December 2014. This means that the official unemployment rate has been capturing less than half the unemployed for all of 2015.

I hasten to add that my real unemployment figure includes no one who is working part-time or less than they’d like to be. It includes no one who is working at all. Including people from that popular U-6 figure (currently 10%), would push the overall unemployment rate well above 15%. But I think U-6 unemployment, while capturing some job distress or under-utilization of the employment market, is far less accurate for the phrase unemployment than my figure, since people working even a couple hours a week are employed. Not one of the 17 million people I would call unemployed is working professionally (at least legally) so much as an hour a week.


This is part of a continuing series on the under-reporting of unemployment in the United States of America.

Past posts (months indicate the month being analyzed – the post is in the month following):
July 2015
June 2015
March 2015
February 2015
December 2014 – labor force participation assessment
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014 – age assessment
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
April 2014
December 2013 – seasonal assessment
December 2013
March 2013*
August 2012*
July 2012* – age assessment
July 2012*

*My initial analyses led to a slight over-reporting of the impact of the reporting gap, so the assessments in these posts are inflated, as explained and corrected in the December 2013 analysis.

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Volkswagen and Corporate Impunity

Categories: A Day in the Life, It's the Stupid Economy, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: , ,

VWThinkGreed

“Corporation, n.: an ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility.”
-Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary, 1911

The only thing shocking about the recent incident involving Volkswagen lying about the emissions of their so-called “clean diesel” vehicles is that people are shocked by it.

Or, perhaps, that people seem to believe that Volkswagen is the only company doing something like this.

The entire structure of the way corporations are built and expected to act in modern America, especially large MNCs, is to incentivize and reward this kind of behavior. And increasingly, the advent of major so-called “free trade” deals is designed to give those corporations supremacy over the laws they already blatantly ignore. Law is merely national, while corporations are forever and supreme. And once the law officially gives primacy to the corporation over the nation-state, there will be nothing left to check the nearly ubiquitous cheating, skimming, corner-cutting, lying, and outright fraud that pervades the corporate reality.

The problem, as many corporate apologists have observed, is that corporations are designed and their leaders feel obliged to uphold only one principle: profit. Which, of course, is the opposite of principle, because it’s merely a count of dollars at the end of the day, however and wherever they were acquired. And the larger problem, of course, is that there is only one way to punish a corporation: by taking away money. But not and never all of the money. Only some of the money. Corporate dissolution is not an option the nation-state has given itself to combat misbehavior, nor, realistically, are any sorts of individual punishment like prosecution for fraud. In a world where not one CEO, banker, or financial engineer has faced prosecution for a financial crisis that defrauded and impoverished millions of actual human beings, how could anyone sitting in a corporate office elsewhere even begin to fear personal disempowerment, impoverishment, or imprisonment for any act they choose?

This system means that literally all incentives and disincentives are calculated financial transactions. That is merely the business of business. Just as profits are expected to outrun expenditures (pushing down wages, prices for goods, health insurance premiums, taxes, and anything else the corporation may have to pay), they are also expected to outrun fines, fees, and other wrist-slaps administered by less profitable organizations. The question of whether to lie, cheat, steal, commit fraud, violate sanctions, or otherwise take an illegal advantage is merely referred to the bean-counters. Will this, on average, make us more money than it costs? If yes, proceed.

I don’t doubt that there is a corporation somewhere, or maybe even a few, that are not operating by this principle. The great problem with economics as a theory of life is that it totally overlooks the human element, mechanistically assigning the exact same set of motivations and priorities to every single individual person without fail, ignoring the multitudinous diversity of actual people and their lives. Of course some corporations are run by people who believe in the rule of law or ethical principles or even (God forbid!) morality. Of course fear of losses is not the only thing driving everyone in all of their decisions on any given day. The scary thing is that, increasingly, these voices of purported reason (or tradition?) are getting drowned out by actual statutes that say a corporation is singularly beholden to its shareholders and that their only priority must be profit. We are on the verge of the concept that corporate leaders have a fiduciary obligation to commit as much fraud, deceit, and trickery as can outrun the punishments for it and pad the bottom line. Otherwise, they will face the wrath of investors who can rightfully point across the street to Volkswagen or down the hall to this or that bank that wantonly fixed currency prices or traded with allegedly isolated Iran and say “see, they’re trying to get every advantage they can! What are you doing for me?”

Like police impunity, like the war crimes committed by US Presidents, the only possible antidote for this ever-escalating race to the bottom is accountability. People have to believe and internalize that there can be consequences for bad behavior to feel it’s not worth it. And right now the scales are so badly tipped in the direction of total impunity that it will actually take several high-profile examples of accountability to even begin to suggest to the corporate bean-counters that punishment (real punishment that’s not just a few million dollars) is a reasonable possibility to be taken into the calculus. We could dissolve Volkswagen, imprison its executives, strip all wealth from said executives, and garnish their wages for life, and most corporations would merely recalibrate to lying a little less than VW did. That said, this level of punishment is many scales of magnitude beyond what even the most hawkish prosecutor is considering or even has as a disposable tool. Volkswagen will live through this, just as BP survived the oil spill and Exxon its own, as Blackwater survived its war crimes and all the tobacco companies have persisted. The worst possible punishment is to have to rebrand, and that’s only the worst because it actually costs more than the fines incurred for wrongdoing.

Anger at Volkswagen misses the point. It has its purpose, since it marginally drives up the chance that this will be the rare time there are moderate levels of accountability instead of zero to none. But all that is mostly Titanic deck-chairs. The lifeboats are questioning the whole system that incentivizes and openly encourages this behavior, that makes monsters of men, that takes most of the smartest and best educated minds in our world and turns them into coal-shovelers on a runaway train of profit for profit’s sake. It doesn’t matter where that train is headed or how much coal costs in human, animal, or planetary terms. More coal! This train must move, ever onward, into oblivion, spewing toxicity in every direction.

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Democracy at the Crossroads

Categories: A Day in the Life, It's the Stupid Economy, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: , ,

Corbyn

“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”
-Winston Churchill

It is the fundamental human assumption that one lives at the time of terminal understanding of the world, the universe, and human affairs. This, I think, is the direct result of being temporal beings, doomed to live a finite existence making regular steady progress from birth to death on a planet that is always making its own equally steady journey. It is very challenging to see oneself as just at a sad point in the early part of history where not very much progress has been made and not very much is understood, nor will it be in one’s lifetime. This is a depressing and frustrating thought that leads to the apparent meaninglessness of one’s individual existence which is, in a very real sense, each person’s world. It is also, unfortunately, a true thought.

But we have toasters! We have airplanes and cars and iPhones and bombers! Surely this is the time of terminal understanding! Let’s turn to another celebrated British quote-maker on this one…

“For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much — the wheel, New York, wars and so on — whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man — for precisely the same reasons.”
-Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

It’s really tough for us to wrap our minds around democracy being a failed and sort of silly experiment on the long journey toward functional government, or toward a favorable state of affairs for humanity. And yet I think it’s becoming increasingly clear that this is the fate democracy faces, and sooner than later depending on the outcome of the next few elections in the major states subscribing to this theory of government. But there is a last gasp of the democratic spirit asserting itself throughout these nation-states, a last desperate tide to prove that a government alleging to be of, by, and for the people can actually produce results that live up to this claim. It is the sudden popularity of far-left populism. It is the election of Alexis Tsipras in Greece, the appointment just now of Jeremy Corbyn to head the Labour Party in the UK, and the emerging and ongoing surge of Bernie Sanders to the top of the polls in the US.

These people are unlikely heroes, and it is their unlikeliness that drives much of their power and appeal. Corbyn and Sanders buck all the trends of traditional democratic power brokers. They are old, they identify as socialists, they can easily be characterized as disgruntled ranters. They don’t play well with others in their party because they’ve carried decades of conviction that consistently spurn the wishy-washy adjust-to-polls commercialism of the last three decades of so-called leftist politics in their country. While Labour and the Democrats have been out starting wars, chasing corporations, and trading their principles for money, Corbyn and Sanders have been diligently trotting out the real principles of a people-driven left-wing agenda. And until now, getting basically no traction outside a loyal following in their home districts.

So what’s changed? Why is 2015 the year that these aging scions of consistency get popular?

The reality is that politics as a whole in most Western democracies have swung so far to the right, that really no one besides Corbyn and Sanders can even be described as leftists anymore. There are several key causes that can be explained as a general combined force, but have come together to make the right-wing shift radically rightward and the center-left head to the right of where the right-wing used to be. The shifts have been multifarious and subtle enough to not be noticed as a radical pendulum shift, but all the little hops along the way have suddenly led us to a place where the outrageously radical left is the only thing standing to the left of true center.

Some causes:

1. The learning of the military-industrial complex since the Vietnam War.
While the left went out and celebrated finally stopping an utterly insane slaughterhouse in Vietnam, the right went home and tried to learn from their mistakes. They realized that drafts were always going to create problems, so they altered the draft system into the Selective Service and went to work advancing the de facto economic draft. They improved jingoistic propaganda to promote the military, brought militaristic pride into sports and other venues where it would attract low-income soldiers who felt they had few or no other options. And they continued to buy massive amounts of technology to ensure that war would be more devastating for the “enemy” and less costly for US soldiers. They realized that only a few people cared about the dead Vietnamese in that war, but it was all the American body-bags that meant the gravy train of war had to end. So war would have to become more antiseptic, with fewer American casualties, so that more wars could be fought more often. The first Iraq War was the perfect test of the new approach to militarism, and went off without a hitch. By the time of the “War on Terror”, the military-industrial complex had ensconced a perfect system that “didn’t do body counts”, embedded journalists and the media right into the military, made sure everyone was on the same team, and neutralized all opponents as un-American. I could write tens of post on the little insidious ways all this has manifest since 9/11, but the groundwork for it was laid long before. The result is that even a President who most of the country saw as quite leftist and won the Nobel Peace Prize regularly kills named individuals abroad (something that was explicitly against US policy pre-9/11), intervenes with weaponry, advice, and soldiers in most armed conflicts around the world, keeps operating a prison that holds people who have been their for a decade and a half without charges, and is on a rather unscrutinized war footing with several foreign nations or people in their territory. And really no one questions it, outside of people in the radical left.

2. The advancement of debt as a tool of control.
Call this more learning from the Vietnam era. In an age when the most academically inclined and ambitious young people all gathered together to think about the future of their country for an affordable price, these campuses fomented a strong awareness of the problems with that society and how to fix them. These students were being raised as future leaders, they saw themselves that way, and anything was possible. In today’s economic landscape, college students don’t think of the future as a place of possibility, by and large. They think of the present as a brief respite from the real world, an oasis of personal exploration before they have to start paying for it, literally, for the rest of their life. While some are starting to break away from this system quite recently, most still believe that the piece of paper that comes at the end of this spending spree is the only possible ticket for the future they imagine and that the alternatives are too ghastly to contemplate. As a result, they willingly sign away their future economic well-being to have some hope at an even further-flung future of economic well-being. Thus, today’s college students are far more interested in law school, investment banking, corporate consulting, and anything else that greases the wheels of the neo-capitalist machine because it offers the whisper of relief from their enormous indebtedness. It’s all well and good to debate the merits and ethics of a job when one has economic freedom. When facing six figures of crippling debt that one cannot declare bankruptcy from, the choice quickly seems like fealty to the highest corporate bidder or death. Most choose the former. And thus the greatest minds of my generation expend their energy fueling an immoral system that places profit above people unquestioningly. Worse, almost everyone in that system feels they have no choice and no control, thus they don’t feel agency over the people-defeating choices they make. This is an incredibly right-wing system, but people just see it as “the way things are”. The result is massive wealth consolidation at the top and increased desperation at the bottom. And the bottom is increasingly close to 50% or 60% of the population.

3. The unfettered rise of the corporation.
When the corporation is the only thing that can save us from our debt, we increasingly see ourselves as workers first and everything else (family members, Americans, humans) second. Or last. The increasing rise of disaster capitalism, sampled in the dot-com bust and accelerated to a fever pitch in 2008’s financial crisis, have forced the issue time and again of the corporation’s pre-eminence over the nation-state. There have been so many insidious large and small steps in this chain of events that they are almost too difficult to all chronicle, though I have blogged about many of them individually. The endless rhetoric that government is inefficient while corporations are ruthlessly efficient, even though only corporations produce the waste we call “profit”. The meme that lowering taxes creates growth, despite forty years of evidence to the contrary. The definition of everything about the success and health of society in economic terms, which enables us to support things like a bloated, crippling private health industry that routinely bankrupts thousands of people each day because that industry is a huge portion of the economy and the health of “The Economy” is all that matters. Free-trade deals and agreements that offer massive power to corporations at the expense of countries. Corporate personhood. Citizens United and an unending stream of decisions that give corporations the power to buy off the government. Massive deregulation. The investment of everyone’s retirement fund into the stock market. Too big to fail. Bailouts left, right, and center. Unending zero-percent interest, amounting to an endless free loan to corporations direct from the printers of currency themselves. The list goes on and on and on.

4. The rise of the prison-industrial complex.
An unabated series of “tough on crime” local authorities have been able to arm their police forces like our new high-firepower dehumanized military and funnel people into prisons or graves. The dire consequences of this reality have only gotten attention in the last 18 months, somehow, despite years of an administration with an African-American President perfectly positioned to discuss these issues and bring them to the fore. Our police imprison and kill more people than any law-enforcement authority in the world, by far, and they are so sequestered and marginalized and sent away for so long, that no one advocates for them whatsoever. Worse, the increasing rise of private prisons means that conditions are more dehumanizing than ever, in the name of profit and shareholders, our new gods in the increasingly right-wing world. Anyone who disagrees is seen as pro-crime, someone who wants the world to be more dangerous, and disregarded.

5. The destruction of social safety nets.
The Clinton administration, arguably more of a shift to the right than even the Reagan presidency, is largely responsible for this one, though it’s been ongoing for some time. Policies like workfare, putting more pressure on the unemployed, the destruction of school lunches and mental health facilities and everything else that takes care of people at the bottom have combined to make being poor totally unlivable. The fact that government is no longer taking care of people at the bottom increases the pressure on them to put themselves in the dead-end economy, which is why so many single mothers are now working 2-3 jobs and are still completely unable to pay their bills. Mythical memes like “welfare queens” have fueled this crazy rage at the poor that has led to a massive increase in homelessness that would be out of control were so many people not, through #4 above, now housed in prisons instead. Non-profits have emerged and grown to pick up the slack left by government absence, but even these (and I say this as a loyal non-profiteer) are increasingly beholden to corporations and the wealthy to fund their efforts, leading to almost none of them advocating for policy changes. The more that the government is put out of the business of taking care of those at the bottom, the more that those already doing well financially are seen as the saviors of everything in society, creating greater loyalty to their interests, just as investing government pensions in the stock market creates government interest in propping up its value.

These are the big ones, though you can see that each contains a bevy of large and incremental changes that have lulled us into this right-wing fantasy world. And there have been just enough socially leftist changes to distract us from what a massive rightward tilt every other policy has made. The rise of gay marriage and legal marijuana, almost entirely through popular referenda or the courts, have made us think that political progress in the last thirty years is somehow a mixed bag, when actually it’s a giant right-wing stomp. But these also illustrate the ever-widening gap between politicians and the people. When the people get to decide directly, then left-wing policies tend to be enacted. Politicians would never have implemented gay marriage, as seen by how many establishment politicians took forever to endorse the policy. It’s only the courts, who remain relatively loyal to a set of principles, and the people, who fundamentally don’t seem to want all this reactionary policy (but feel powerless to stop it) who can implement anything to the left of center.

But that may be starting to change as the real leftists make an unlikely last gasp to save our democracy from itself. The burdens of austerity and corporate control have been so massive, the shifts in our priorities so rapid and fundamental, that socialists are the only ones left to speak of alternatives. It’s not stunning that veterans of the sixties are often the only ones left to speak for this possibility, since so many Millennials and Xers are too resigned to the status quo to believe that corporate control can be curbed. The old are an unlikely voice for radicalism, but that has not dampened how compelling these voices have been.

Taking control of the traditional left-wing party is, of course, only the beginning. The mechanisms that modern democracies have put in place to thwart a left-wing resurgence are multifarious. Corbyn now heads the Labour Party, but can he win a national election? Surely he seems to be the person who can bring SNP voters that fled Labour last time back into the fold as the possibility of a real shift left becomes feasible. But all the money and traditional corporate-fueled media is solidly against him, so it remains to be seen how it will play out. And Sanders is increasingly taking the lead in the race to functionally head the Democratic Party, but there’s a long way to go. Will this be a replay of Eugene McCarthy in 1968, who upset incumbent LBJ and forced him out of the race, only to have the establishment regroup around RFK and HHH as alternatives, then kill off RFK so that Chicago’s convention could be stolen and the party restored to the power elites? Or will the momentum of Bernie be simply too popular, especially as the rise of Trump on the other side speaks to a populist rebellion that finally sees through the garbage of all the corporatist shenanigans above and wants a real change?

It’s an exciting time to look at these things, that much is clear. It may not be the terminal point of politics, but it’s a really exciting crossroads. We could realistically have a 2016 convention season that matters, where one or both of the delegate leaders have the nomination withheld by party elites as the Republican or Democratic establishment simply refuses to choose the person the people have chosen. And then what? Will we have four major candidates for President, including two major-party “choices” who the people have already rejected? Will there be any illusion of democracy after such an election season? Or will the parties go back to actually betting on the people and letting the chips fall where they may? Do corporations and the current complexes have enough of a hold on the pendulum that it cannot swing back naturally as political cycles tend to?

We’ll find out!

But to the extent that you can, you can influence these results. You, if you like the idea of democracy and want to give it another go, can try to be a believer. Don’t be skeptical, don’t give in to the voices saying “unelectable” and that it will never work. Because we get to choose. Or at least we can believe we can choose, and that might make all the difference.

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Several Counter-Intuitive Things I’m Thinking Today

Categories: A Day in the Life, Marching to New Orleans, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Quick Updates, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , , , ,

If you don't post a picture on social media, people won't know what your post is about!

If you don’t post a picture on social media, people won’t know what your post is about!

It’s gonna be roundup-style today, kids. The loose thread tying it together is that I’m thinking things I think most people I know might disagree with. The snarky among you are saying “Why should today be unlike any other day?”

1. I don’t think Kim Davis should have been imprisoned.
I know. I know. She’s misdirected and misguided, biased and problematic, hypocritical and the whole nine. I’m not defending her actions or her as a person. But I don’t think arrest and imprisonment actually fit her actions at all. She probably should have been fired, probably on about the second day of her shenanigans. Let the long slow dreadful wheels of employment law sort her out. But I think even state officials failing to execute their job properly or carrying out their job in a biased way does not warrant arrest and imprisonment. Unless, you know, they’re killing people or physically harming them or something. But failure to do your job properly doesn’t warrant arrest. If it did, even more of the country’s population would be incarcerated, which is truly hard to imagine. On a political level, also, there’s the whole martyrdom issue. It made me pretty queasy to see so many “liberal” people condemning civil disobedience as a ridiculous concept on face just because their convictions don’t align with the person invoking said disobedience right now. Letting the person disobeying have jail as a place from which to make a more legitimate-seeming claim of mistreatment was just a bad tactical move, if nothing else.

2. NPDA might not be that bad.
The jury is out on this one, but my first earnest night of working with the Tulane Debate Team led me to believe that the differences have long been exaggerated. Certainly the “coaching” that RUDU has received in the last year or so makes me question this a little, but that might not be NPDA’s fault; it might just be the NPDA-experienced person in the position. Almost every time I asked if something was different, I learned that it’s not. There seem to be spready regions of NPDA, but it looks like Tulane avoids those. It might just be linked APDA, which seems to be what a swath of recent APDA leadership has been clamoring to turn APDA into anyway. I need to go to a tournament or two to be sure, though, which looks like it may be in the works! Don’t worry; we’re going to try to get Tulane up to some APDA contests too.

3. Only a Convention Coup can stop Donald Trump from winning the Republican nomination.
No matter how much the media fights and scrabbles and the establishment refuses to take Trump seriously, I think his momentum is almost unstoppable at this point. People forget that the Republican primaries are disproportionately winner-take-all, which is very different from the Democratic proportional system. Trump doesn’t need 51% support to start edging people out of the race and collecting a lot of delegates. People also grossly misunderstand how well he sits at the crossroads of so many things voters find appealing right now – the combination of irreverence for the economic establishment while being (or posing as) a successful businessman is almost irresistible for a group of people who are not doing well financially but assume they will some day. The Republican Party has always had slots for Trump-like candidates, though they’re usually from California (Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger). We’re facing a year when it’s quite possible that both nominees by delegate count will entering the conventions with no major establishment support or endorsements (R-Trump, D-Sanders). I don’t trust either party not to pull a coup, but especially not the Republicans. The problem is that the Republicans know that Trump will run 3rd party if they betray him, especially after he took the loyalty oath. But how else would you stop him? He’s a walking scandal, making him totally scandal-proof. He’s an American Putin. How would you honestly make people who love him now hate him when everyone in the party is trying so hard to emulate him?

4. The more you do, the more energy you have.
This is kind of an oldie but a goodie. And maybe those “you”s up there should be “I”s since this may not be true for everyone, though I might posit that it just doesn’t seem true for everyone. But awakeness and energy levels have always seemed to depend most on one’s interest in what’s going on when one is awake. If there are lots of things you’re looking forward to, lots of activities (even if many of them are objectively exhausting), then the tipping point of waking up when one is otherwise sleepy or getting out the door when one is otherwise feeling overwhelmed just gets a lot nearer. Part of this is a positive reinforcement loop – expending energy is an investment that may not always pay off. Sometimes activities are less fun or enjoyable or “worth it” than they seem. But I think most people (or maybe just most introverts) discount the value that will be gained from such activities, especially when one has a busy/exhausting job. The reality is almost always surprising that those activities are fun, enjoyable, and ultimately energizing. I think the same principle I used to try to convince people to play another game of Risk on Scheffres 2nd and then start their homework even later is still in play: fill your time and your time will fill you. And sleep is only necessary when there’s really nothing else to do.

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Europe’s Migrant Crisis is America’s Fault

Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: ,

HungarianTrainStation

Even in the typically self-absorbed and America-centric American press, the magnitude of the migrant crisis sweeping Europe has been the top story lately. There is something about a throng of humanity camping out in a train station because of being bureaucratically stuck, or piled dead in the back of a van because of being under-ventilated, that manages to capture the attention of most of the compassionate. And while Europe’s Schengen Zone has been built to be more accommodating to poor, tired, and huddled masses yearning for employment, the sheer quantity of suffering people has found, to quote a phrase, a higher pitch and broader scale.

There are a handful of migrants from Turkey and occasionally another country. But the top three, far and away, the nations that virtually everyone in this slow-moving morass of people piled up in Budapest or Calais or at the psychological gates of Germany are from: Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.

This is the US on the basketball court sticking up a sheepish hand. “My bad!”

Except, of course, we don’t. That’s not the way we do things in the US. Mitsubishi sent a team of executives to officially apologize for benefiting from the imprisoned labor of prisoners of war during World War II, finding a last survivor to sincerely admit guilt to. Nation-states have apologized for genocides, bombings, and other atrocities committed by previous regimes. Yet the United States, who has not even had a regime change since any of our many brutalities to fellow humans, peacefully transferring power in a direct line from genocidiers and slavers, firebombers and nuclear-bombers, we do not apologize. We, as a nation, are never sorry. Sorry is for suckers.

No wonder Donald Trump is halfway to being President in the national imagination. He is the embodiment of the American ego, ripped from the nation itself and implanted in one single person.

So it’s also little wonder that we’re not even whispering some responsibility for what, until recently, would have been called a refugee crisis. It’s unclear to me whether this rebranding is for the sake of the dignity of migrants – refugee becoming a little too tattered a word to describe actual people – or whether it’s a way of minimizing their desperation and suffering, though that’s hard to do when a makeshift raft of these beleaguered people sinks twice a week on the high seas. But make no mistake, when you hear the stories of this level of sheer torrid struggle and hope against hope: we did this. America created this reality.

Having a war rain down on your homeland is not an ideal circumstance. It is arguably far more devastating, destructive, and damaging than the most brutal and oppressive regime that you can imagine. Say what you will about the secrecy, idolatry, and lack of freedom of the North Korean regime, but at least most everyone in the society is intact from day to day, as are their houses, families, and places of work and leisure. Or put it another way – take the top five or ten most oppressive countries in the world and the most self-aware people in each of those countries (to solve for the “brainwashing” question). Then offer those people a choice: would you rather live here, as you do, or move directly to Afghanistan, Iraq, or Syria? If more than 5% of people chose door #2, I’d be shocked. And if fewer than 95% of that 5% regretted the choice after actually seeing the status quo in said nations, I’d be really shocked.

Yes, Saddam Hussein was a bad guy. The Taliban was repressive. America still basically ruined the life of every man, woman, and child in those countries. For over a decade and counting.

Think about the level of fear, hopelessness, and anguish that would lead you to get on a boat that could easily sink, then get in a van that could easily suffocate you, then camp in a train station indefinitely, and to make a series of these risky and questionable choices over and over again. Can you even picture it? The predator at your back would have to be so fierce and tenacious that you would be willing to take almost any heedless act. We did that. We did that to these people. Us. The US.

Syria’s the exception, you say? You’ll concede that the places we bombed to the stone age, then raided house-to-house for years before being confused why killing everyone who disagreed with us kept manufacturing more people who disagreed with us and giving up – you’ll concede that those places may bear our responsibility. But not Syria! We have barely even started bombing Syria!

Well, uh, we created ISIS. And I think we can all agree that ISIS has something to do with why Syria is unlivable right now, though admittedly not all of it. The rest of it probably is related to the government there we used to prop up, or the rebels against it that we are now arming. Leaving a country alone has never really been a reasonable option. The US always knows best, taking sides, making kings, picking winners and losers, all to the benefit of our own people. After all, it doesn’t end up being our train stations that flood with suffering humanity, our vans found packed with corpses, our tax dollars at work trying to get people a better life. We are perfectly placed on the planet to lob a thousand interventions from way downtown, but be far enough away to not really be impacted when things go, as they inevitably do, south.

Yes, Mr. Trump, we are not far away from Mexico. You are right, and for that we have an agriculture industry. Build your wall and deport everyone and see how long people in this country can eat.

You know what, America? You don’t have to say you’re sorry. It would be nice, it would be civil, it would be the human thing to do. But it’s cool, there’s such a long list of things to apologize for, to reconsider, that it’s okay if this doesn’t make the cut. Here’s what I want you to do instead. Just think about what you’ve done. Think about how this happened, how your wars and bombs and drones and aggression created all this. Think about what’s going on in Yemen, where the next wave of migrants is already coming from as the infrastructure there returns to medieval levels. Think about what you keep doing, all over the globe, and maybe… just maybe, stop.

Like any unruly id, it’s hard for the US to really internalize that other people, their homes and lives and feelings, are just as real as they are. That’s good ol’ American Exceptionalism ruling the roost here at home. The secretly harbored feeling that we are the only people who truly matter, or at least we matter most. But it’s not true. Every resident of that train station matters just as much as you do, Mr. Trump. And if we’re not going to take responsibility for those souls, at least we can maybe save the next generation from the next possible target country, and decide to live and let live instead.

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Free (Market) Fallin’

Categories: A Day in the Life, It's the Stupid Economy, Know When to Fold 'Em, Tags: , ,

Who doesn’t love Tom Petty?

I realize that what I’m about to discuss is not a glib and lighthearted topic for most of you out there. Largely because of the reasons I discussed here six months ago, involving retirement accounts and how you have been told to invest them all in the stock market and that the market always and only goes up. Last Friday, when the market plunged over 530 points the day after losing 357 points, NPR’s lead for the radio story was “Well, it’s a bad day to check your retirement account.” The ubiquitous penetration of market investment into these long-term “savings” instruments has only gotten more intricate since 2008. And it’s created a perverse incentive wherein most of the working core of society cares much more about the fate of corporate America and its top dogs than they should, because they see their ability to retire as wrapped up in the success of these multi-billionaires and their ventures.

It’s arguably an even more insidious and effective scheme than student-loan debt convincing a generation of young Americans to sell out rather than pursue their passions. At every stage of life, there’s now an American financial instrument guaranteed to make you prioritize the needs of the big corporation above those of your own moral compass or even personal financial fate. It’s all quite clever.

I happen to not have much in a retirement account, having cashed out what I could long ago and still trying to find a way to get the rest out before the alleged earliest date I can collect, currently slated as 20 February 2039. And no more than 5% of it was ever in stocks, and it certainly hasn’t been there in quite a while. Just as full disclosure of my own positions, which is good practice for anyone posting about the market, with or without giving advice.

Here’s the thing. People always try to explain what’s going on with the market and why things are happening or not. And most financial experts will tell you that the daily effort to attribute major swings in the market to one or maybe two key news events that day are only slightly more accurate than tea leaves. The market is complex, varied, over-leveraged, and unpredictable. To say “the market went down today on China fears” is not the same as saying a baseball team won because their star homered twice and the pitcher threw a shutout. It’s a little more like saying that the team won because 34,000 fans showed up. Like, yes, the fans may have helped the team win. But as the Orioles proved in April, you don’t need fans at all to win a home game.

But to the extent that what now seems by all measures to become at least a three-day slow-crash of the market can be attributed to any one thing, I think it’s best described as a giant tantrum. China, as they say, is just a red herring. Get it?

To the extent that there’s been a recovery in the United States economy in the last seven years, it’s been driven by an enormous transfer of wealth from the bottom 95% of Americans to the top 5%. The bailout was a giant metaphor for this kind of response to the Great Recession, but while income has stagnated and real employment has lagged, corporations have soared by cutting costs (wages, mostly), increasing productivity (longer hours and worse working conditions, mostly), and raking in financial incentives from the government (zero interest, mostly). While the stock market has been transformed to make us believe that it is a leading indicator of the health of the economy writ large, it is no such thing. It is an indicator of exactly what it indexes: the health and profitability of the largest and most successful corporations in society. And while an effort has been made to close the loop on this circular reasoning and make us all “shareholders” so we all feel (and are!) invested in the outcome of these corporations, most of us make most of our money from actual salaries rather than whatever extra we have to give back to companies. So our actual economic health derives from our own bottom line and not the company’s.

The problem with zero interest is that it all but guarantees that we all see the world through this corporate-driven lens rather than one of personal economic rebuilding. When I was growing up, I was taught to save and not to invest in the market. Because interest was around 5% and, as Albert Einstein allegedly used to say, “compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe.” As long as there have been financial instruments and economies, there’s been an assumption money saved will pay off over time. Which is why it’s so bizarre that people have described our present economy as recovering and healthy when you haven’t been able to conjure more than 1% interest from a savings account anywhere in approaching a decade. Despite what your state’s pension fund tells you, the stock market is not a savings account. It only feels that way because you are buying the rhetoric about the market’s unending meteoric rise and you can’t really stomach the idea of “making” 0.1% when inflation feels like it’s 25% on most everything you buy (except, perhaps, these days, gas).

So we’ve had a zero-interest world for a long time, simultaneously convincing the public that the stock market is the only viable place for their money and convincing corporations they don’t need to work to make money, because endless amounts of it are available free at the window. No wonder the corporate economy is booming! Any business can functionally print money for itself, just like the Federal Reserve itself. What’s not to love?

Well, the end of that reality is what’s not to love. Enter the tantrum.

Sure, China’s growth is only 7%. I guess that’s heartbreaking for people who felt that the country of over a billion people was going to generate better-than-Madoff returns forever. But analysts are, believe it or not, smarter than that. This has been foreseen. The skyrocketing growth that comes with a neo-industrial-revolution was never going to go on forever.

But the market really believes that free money, zero interest, can be the new reality forever. And they’re trying to take the Fed and new Chair Janet Yellen hostage.

I think that most market movers are making a play. They believe that if they can get the Dow Jones below 15,000 by the Fed meeting, she and her fellow Fed voters will have no choice but to promise to keep the free money flowing for the next year or so.

And before you think that my eye on the market is too heavily influenced by my own experience playing poker, I’ll counter with this: is there a difference? One of them is speculative gambling, a world of bluffs, calls, wins, losses, huge swings of money, the ability to read and predict the actions of others and react accordingly. The other is played in a casino with a deck of cards.

The market is bluffing, kids. They’re going all-in on free money.

Now don’t get me wrong. It’s possible that the entire pyramid scheme of the market, the illusion of the recovery, the enormous success of corporations and their big-money backers, is 100% dependent on 0% interest. It’s possible that this is only a semi-bluff, that they’re trying to manipulate the market so interest rates stay at rock-bottom, but they really are terrified to find out their worth in a world of even 0.5% interest. After all, the reasonable valuation for the Dow Jones is probably closer to 12,000 than 18,000. Unless, as I’ve observed before, you believe that not only has the economy recovered, but it’s the best economy that has ever been in this country by about 10-15%. Even the happiest true believers in this economy don’t believe that.

Regardless of which, I think it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the market touches 18,000 again for a very long time. I humbly suggest you factor that into your own financial planning. The one exception will be if this stunt works and Yellen and friends capitulate and promise in September to leave the rate at zero indefinitely. Then the market will be at 19k by Christmas.

YellenPetty

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Hillary Clinton and the Problem of Liberalism

Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: ,

Why isn't calling myself a liberal enough for you?

Why isn’t calling myself a liberal enough for you?

“This was an incredibly new and important idea that people on the front lines of the gay rights movement began to talk about and slowly, but surely, convinced others of the rightness of that position. And when I was ready to say what I said, I said it.”
-Hillary Clinton, in 2014, on why she still didn’t support gay marriage fully, but was coming around. She fully endorsed it in April 2015, after 36 states and just 2 months before the Supreme Court legalized it in all 50 states

“Look, I don’t believe you change hearts. I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate.”
-Hillary Clinton, rebuking Black Lives Matter with her theory of “change”

I don’t consider myself a liberal. The term has been corrupted and co-opted by neo-liberalism, a movement really sparked in the US by Bill Clinton. It’s become a term that’s associated with milktoasty right-of-center policies masquerading as the new left. It’s waving the banner of corporatism, of free trade, of incremental change so small and slow that it looks like it’s going backwards. The very few actual Clinton supporters I know (not just begrudging and thankfully dwindling plurality of people who think she’s the only chance for “us” to “win”) tout the idea that her policies are actually very liberal. But liberalism is exactly the problem. Liberalism is about compromise, about (at best) the first six years of the Obama administration, about all eight of the Clinton years that brought us DOMA and NAFTA and bombing campaigns and a bunch of other policies that, before Reagan, we would associate with Republicans.

Hillary Clinton says her heart was changed, incredibly slowly, slower than the state of Iowa, by the gay rights movement. She was just two months ahead of the Supreme Court on this issue, around the time when they were hearing oral arguments, meaning that if Clinton herself were the decisive vote on the Court, the outcome of June’s decision would be in greater peril than it actually was. So much for voting for Hillary to protect the outcome of decisions in the Court.

Hillary Clinton doesn’t believe in changing hearts, though. Maybe because the first quote up top there is garbage. She came out for gay marriage at the last palatable second for a Democrat, largely because she probably still didn’t believe in it. I would contend that Clinton doesn’t believe in changing hearts because she doesn’t have a heart to change. There’s no idealism there. There’s no belief structure. There’s just a series of calculations about how things will be perceived, a mechanistic series of trade-offs en route to what she has seen for a long time as her inevitable just dessert. If this sounds familiar, it’s because this is pretty much the exact belief structure of Bushes the younger, both the successful two-term W and the contending-but-probably-sunk-for-now Jeb!

Here’s the problem, though, and this is coming at all those who posted on Facebook after this quote that Hillary “gets things done”. You have to believe in a change before you can fight to make it law. Hearts change before laws change. Anthony Kennedy’s opinion in Obergefell was not a deeply reasoned meditation on the exact nuances of Constitutional structure. It was a stirring plea from a heart that had been moved. If John Roberts’ dissent sympathized with the heartstrings but stuck to the legal guns, he may have had a point in doing so. “Whatever force that belief may have as a matter of moral philosophy, it has no more basis in the Constitution…” he wrote. He basically conceded that gay marriage was right, but he had found a justification in the “law” for not adopting it. Frankly, even John Roberts’ heart had been changed, but as a strict structuralist, he felt he couldn’t be swayed.

This kind of change is not what Hillary Clinton believes in. And in so doing, she offers a liberalism that guarantees stagnation. She will be even less of a change leader than Obama, who at least has found some will for actual change and chutzpah in his last two years, opening up Cuba and proffering the first sane Iranian policy in the US possibly in history. Yes, he still has his daily kill list and yes, he is still responsible for a terrible law that will make the next forty years of health-care policy even more reactionary than the forty before Obamacare (unless, that is, Trump or Sanders, both of whom believe in single-payer healthcare, get into the White House). But at least he’s found some change we can all believe in at the 11th hour.

The change Hillary believes in is to her bottom line. It’s to the self-serving reputation of the Clinton Dynasty. It’s to the ongoing entitlement of her clan as Democratic Royalty in an era when the Democrats became desperate and started moving further and further right to curry favor with corporate donors. And by resting on the laurels of liberalism, any moderate with a SuperPAC can come in and call themselves a winner to try to carry the banner of a new generation of leftists.

It’s no wonder that Bernie Sanders keeps gaining ground on this candidacy. A huge bloc of the Democratic Party are frustrated left-wingers who felt Obama was disappointingly moderate. You think those people are going to support someone who doesn’t even claim to believe in change? Who thinks Obama compromised too little? Your theory of change can’t be to move Clinton to the left in her rhetoric, because her rhetoric literally doesn’t matter. She doesn’t believe in changing hearts and minds. She believes in herself and doing whatever it takes to win. Fortunately, this year, or next year, so far, that doesn’t seem to be on pace to be a winning strategy.

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Getting Closer Every Day

Categories: A Day in the Life, Let's Go M's, Quick Updates, Tags: , ,

Think these close games aren't exciting the Mariners?

Think these close games aren’t exciting the Mariners?

Ten days ago, I wrote this post about how close most games have been for the Seattle Mariners during the 2015 season.

I focused on closeness through the traditional metrics for such games – extra inning games, one-run games, walk-offs. You may have read that and figured that the variance would even out soon, that the closeness of their contests would “regress to the mean” as they say. You may have believed that the M’s are a fundamentally mediocre team this year, not one destined to barely win or barely lose night after night.

Let’s look at the results since I posted:

Monday, August 3rd: W, one-run game
Tuesday, August 4th: W
Wednesday, August 5th: L, extra innings, walk-off, two-run game
Thursday, August 6th: off day
Friday, August 7th: W, one-run game
Saturday, August 8th: L, extra innings
Sunday, August 9th: W, two-run game
Monday, August 10th: L, one-run game
Tuesday, August 11th: W, extra innings, walk-off, one-run game

For those of you scoring at home, that’s 4 one-run games, 2 two-run games, 3 extra innings contests, and 2 walk-offs. In eight games.

There was one (1) game that didn’t have at least one of those elements of closeness. And yeah, that Mariner eternal optimist in me kinda wants to focus on the 5-3 record during the span and claim progress. After all, we’re only 8 games out of the lead in an increasingly murky AL West. We’re only 7 out of the Wild Card, though we’re admittedly chasing almost everyone (literally everyone except Oakland and Boston) in that race.

The MLB record of 31 extra-innings games in a season (set by the Red Sox in 1943) is probably still safe – the M’s are trailing with a mere 18 at this point with a month and a half (48 games) to go. We’re on pace to finish with 25.5 games in that category, though if we keep up the pace of the last 8 games, we’ll get the record with 36 total. You can say that’s absurdly unsustainable, but I will call your bluff and raise you 23 years of Mariner fandom and the 1995 comeback season.

Keep your teams with leads in their divisions. I’m all-in with a team that, if they fall short, will only have about 40 games to look back on that they almost won, any few of which would have vaulted them to their first playoff trip in a decade and a half. Isn’t that more satisfying than your “winning”?

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Trumpemployment

Categories: A Day in the Life, It's the Stupid Economy, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: , ,

I promise this isn’t just becoming a Donald Trump blog. Though it would be a way to get more traffic.

Trump is one of two candidates in the race, along with the person I actually support, Bernie Sanders, who is observing the flaws in the current methodology for calculating unemployment. Unfortunately, both Donald and Bernie are focusing on underemployment as a facet of unemployment, which is mixing apples and oranges and undermines the strength of the argument that unemployment, meaning joblessness, is actually 11.52%.

They’ve been popularizing the often-touted “U-6” unemployment figure, which includes both discouraged workers, captured in my Real Unemployment figure month to month on this blog, along with workers who are part-time but would rather be full-time. Don’t get me wrong, these underemployed workers matter and are part of a larger picture of an unhealthy and overrated jobs market. But they are categorically better off than people who have left or never entered the labor force and are thus not only ineligible for part-time work income, but for unemployment benefits of any kind.

Definitions from the BLS website:

Persons marginally attached to the labor force are those who currently are neither working nor looking for work but indicate that they want and are available for a job and have looked for work sometime in the past 12 months. Discouraged workers, a subset of the marginally attached, have given a job-market related reason for not currently looking for work. Persons employed part time for economic reasons are those who want and are available for full-time work but have had to settle for a part-time schedule.

What’s amazing is that this inclusion itself nearly doubles the unemployment rate, from 5.3% to 10.4%. And yet this includes zero people who are actually outside of the labor force. And as we know, the labor force as a percentage of population is at a 38-year low, dating back to a time when it was still somewhat novel for women to be working regularly. That was October 1977, before I was born, when the Seattle Mariners had just completed their first season of existence, during Jimmy Carter’s first year in the White House.

By my calculations, factoring in just the truly unemployed, including those who’ve fled or been barred from the labor force, unemployment in July 2015 was unchanged at 11.52%. The Reporting Gap, measuring those left out by the ignorance of how labor force percentages impact unemployment, was also unchanged at an all-time high of 6.22%.

Here are your charts:

Unemployment, real and reported, from  January 2009 through July 2015.

Unemployment, real and reported, from January 2009 through July 2015.

Reporting Gap between real and reported unemployment, January 2009 through July 2015.

Reporting Gap between real and reported unemployment, January 2009 through July 2015.

If you add the difference between traditional U-3 unemployment and the U-6 figure that Trump and Sanders like back to the real figure of 11.52%, you get 16.62%. This is roughly how, I assume, Trump got the basis for his claim that he made during his announcement speech:

“Our real unemployment is anywhere from 18 to 20 percent. Don’t believe the 5.6. Don’t believe it.”
-Donald Trump, 16 June 2015

So I like where he’s going with that, but I think, like so many things Trump says and does, it’s a little exaggerated and more than a little mixed. Though 16.62% is really not that far from 18-20%, which is more than an alleged fact-checker like Politifact gave him credit for. Of course, Politifact makes irresponsible claims like this:

“For the sake of argument, let’s assume that half the additional increase in people out of the labor force comes from the Baby Boom retirement surge.”
-Politifact’s Louis Jacobson, 16 June 2015

We don’t have to just ballpark for the sake of argument. We can calculate this statistic based on data the BLS collects. And the fact is that Baby Boomers are delaying retirement because of the Great Recession, not fleeing the labor force. The Baby Boomers are responsible for 7.5% of the labor force drainage, as of October 2014, which I think you’ll agree is a bit shy of 50%.

Trump may be crazy and mixing his numbers. But if Trump and Sanders win their respective nominations, maybe the media will finally have to pay attention to the reality of the delusion that goes into reporting our unemployment figures in this country.


This is part of a continuing series on the under-reporting of unemployment in the United States of America.

Past posts (months indicate the month being analyzed – the post is in the month following):
June 2015
March 2015
February 2015
December 2014 – labor force participation assessment
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014 – age assessment
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
April 2014
December 2013 – seasonal assessment
December 2013
March 2013*
August 2012*
July 2012* – age assessment
July 2012*

*My initial analyses led to a slight over-reporting of the impact of the reporting gap, so the assessments in these posts are inflated, as explained and corrected in the December 2013 analysis.

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Why We Love Trump

Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: ,

Donald Trump:  definitely not fired.

Donald Trump: definitely not fired.

People like dynamic excitement in elections. This is why I believe Bernie Sanders is more electable than Hillary Clinton. And I could write a whole piece on how that phenomenon is behind Donald Trump’s unexpected and meteoric rise to the top of the Republican polls. It’s fertile ground and there’s a lot there, but honestly, I think it’s a pretty small chunk of the reason that Trump is in the catbird seat for the Republican nomination. I think it avoids why he’s actually such a strong candidate and why, ultimately, he has a very good shot at the nomination and even perhaps the presidency.

People love Trump because he’s honest and sincere. He’s real.

Now you could very easily rebut this by saying there’s not an honest bone in Trump’s body. Many have posited that his whole thing is an act, that he says whatever he thinks will rile people up the most, regardless of his true feelings (if those even exist anymore). His hair is famously fake and surely anyone who goes that length to brag so repeatedly is covering for a mighty insecurity. Truth? Sincerity? Really?

The type of sincerity that Donald Trump offers is one about the political process and the political perspective of his followers and, perhaps, the whole Republican Party. Make no mistake, the Republican Party is almost entirely against immigration. They are fearful of outsiders, of foreign nationals, even (in many instances) of non-whites generally. The whole lineup in Thursday’s debate probably feels that way to an extent, or is at least trying to galvanize people who largely feel that way. So when Trump makes outrageously racist statements about Mexico shipping rapists and murderers north of the border, his statements are not different in kind from those his Republican colleagues would make. They are merely different in degree.

When Trump talks about the bounty of his riches and how he wins in business, he is espousing time-honored Republican (and American) values. Most of the other candidates want to be able to do that, but they have some notion in their head that such claims would be scandalous or indecorous. Similarly, Trumps comments about women reflect a wider ideology at home in much of the Republican Party about the role of women and their rights in society. FoxNews, desperate to assassinate Trump’s candidacy as quickly as possible, tried to zero in on this during the debate and Trump doubled-down. His popularity isn’t suffering, because it’s that kind of perspective that his supporters like. The folks sharing the stage would have similar policies toward women as Trump would. Trump is just going to be upfront about it, and about how he really feels.

Most Republicans (and Americans) want to get ahead of other countries very badly. They’re terrified about China, they’re concerned about our place in the world, they’ve been manipulated (again again again) into thinking war is necessary against [insert hyped Middle Eastern threat here]. Trump just comes out and uses the words folks are using at home to describe these threats and outsiders. It’s the same sentiment that a Bush or a Cruz or a Walker might be trying to get across. But it’s more direct, more biting, and thus more powerful. Because it exposes that Trump has the directness and sincerity to come out and say what’s really behind these political stances, rather than tiptoeing around it. Trump may look like a circus act, but if your alternative is playing with small wooden blocks, crudely shaped like a lion and tiger, wouldn’t you rather just go to the actual circus?

This is what makes it so hard for Trump’s rivals to get an edge on him, how he is hamstringing them all in both an individual debate and the national discussion. To distinguish yourself from Trump, you either have to diverge with him on a policy issue, or you have to sufficiently equivocate so as to seem substantially weaker on it. Neither of these are good strategies. He has cornered all the classic Republican tropes of candidacy in terms of advocacy, while doing so more brashly than others on every front. If you believe in something, you don’t want the person at the top of the ticket quietly mumbling about how it might be a good idea, but there will have to be compromise. You want them boldly embracing it, shouting it from the rooftops, adding bravado! And no one, not even the mighty Ted Cruz (whose territory Trump wholly and masterfully usurped) can out-shout The Donald.

This gets particularly effective when it comes to a subject like money in politics. The shadowy world of the so-called Billionaires Primary and the Koch Brothers and all the masses of cash that Citizens United has helped accelerate into the political process is something most people don’t want to talk about publicly. In an effort to embarrass Trump, FoxNews brought it right to him in the debate. They pointed out that as someone usually on the other side of the money/politicians hookup, he’d supported a bunch of Democratic candidates in the past. The sheer genius of his response has been sorely under-appreciated by the media and most pundits responding to the debate:

MODERATOR: You’ve also donated to several Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton included, Nancy Pelosi. You explained away those donations saying you did that to get business-related favors. And you said recently, quote, “When you give, they do whatever the hell you want them to do.”

TRUMP: You’d better believe it.

MODERATOR: So what specifically did they do?

TRUMP: If I ask them, if I need them, you know, most of the people on this stage I’ve given to, just so you understand, a lot of money.

TWO OTHER CANDIDATES: Not me.

ONE OTHER CANDIDATE: But you’re welcome to give me money if you’d like, Donald.

[More assorted bidding for Donald’s money and discussion of opponents he paid in the past.]

TRUMP: I will tell you that our system is broken. I gave to many people, before this, before two months ago, I was a businessman. I give to everybody. When they call, I give. And do you know what? When I need something from them two years later, three years later, I call them, they are there for me.

OTHER CANDIDATE: What did you get from Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi?

TRUMP: Well, I’ll tell you what, with Hillary Clinton, I said be at my wedding and she came to my wedding.

Did you see what he did there? Not only did he set up a situation that literally illustrated the nature of his opponents’ groveling for money and the position of power that this put him in, but he simultaneously condemned the system that made it possible while reveling in the advantages he’s gained from it. And because he’s Trump, so brash and forthright, he can get away with that. And then, the kicker, the coup de grace, he turned gifts to Hillary on their head to embarrass her with them. Hillary and all that she represents gladly attended the wedding of Donald Trump and his third wife, something we all cannot really imagine Hillary enjoying, just because Donald asked. That’s the power of his money.

After a moment like that, how could anyone feel great about supporting one of Trump’s Republican rivals over Trump? Because here’s the thing: Trump is pointing out that pretty much whoever you’re voting for (*not Bernie Sanders, obviously), you’re voting for Trump. Even voting for Hillary is voting for Trump! His money gives him so much leverage over all these people that they are so desperate, they will literally grovel for money from the front-runner while they are debating against him.

It’s amazing.

We all know this corruption exists. We all read (or are at least aware of) dry and well-researched articles about the fact that whatever vestige of democracy we once had has been sold to the plutocrats. By bombastically illustrating it, by living it on the stage, Trump is simultaneously the embodiment of this system and its repudiation, reaping the best of both worlds. He can say to the public “You want power and money controlling your system? Go straight to the source! Cut out the middle-man!” and lampoon the system that makes this influence possible. Because it is, objectively, absurd. But no one is getting out of it.

It remains to be seen whether FoxNews and all the terrified Republican establishment hacks can assemble enough money and bad press to sufficiently tarnish Donald Trump and get him off that stage. But I really really doubt it. They may keep him from the nomination, making that old electability argument that leads to milktoasty losers like Romney and Dole, Kerry and Gore, but even then his bravado could lead him to a devastatingly upheaving third-party candidacy. Whatever the Republican establishment does to try to beat The Donald, they can’t buy him off. Which is what makes him so scary to the political order running this nation and so appealing to the voters who are sick of it.

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