Tuesday, September 27, 2016

First Debate: Not in Kansas Anymore, Toto

English v. Word Salad: By the Numbers


Time speaking: 41 minutes, 21 seconds
Words spoken: 6,181
Questions asked: 17
Questions dodged: 0
Interruptions by opponent: 29
Fact-checks by moderator: 0
Assertions that opponent was untruthful: 10

Donald J. Trump

Time speaking: 44 minutes, 23 seconds
Words spoken: 7,870
Questions asked: 15
Questions dodged: 4
Interruptions by opponent: 9
Fact-checks by moderator: 5
Assertions that opponent was untruthful: 26
(above data copied from the New York Times today)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

What Will Bernie Do?

FOR THOSE "Third Party" voters who insist on a "My Way or the Highway" candidate,  a commenter on Mr. Blow's call for sanity (given the folly of the protest vote) in today's NY Times has this to say, and it's spot on.  Maybe this is a good time to stop and ask ourselves what our vote really means.

pat knapp
 milwaukee 29 minutes ago
"A vote is not an endorsement. It is not a recommendation. It is not taking a stand. It is not going out on a limb. It is an agreement to participate in the process of building and maintaining a really great country. Yes, it is a great country, where you actually have a role to play in the governance. So vote with anger and disappointment if you'd like. You can't always get what you want. That, too, is a part of the American process. You don't even have to tell people who you voted for, if that gives you comfort. It's between you and the voting machine. So you were hoping for something better. Well, so do all of us. But there are very few saints among us -- and that includes us. Democracy doesn't guarantee perfection or your own preferred outcome. It does guarantee your right to participate. So don't throw your vote away. That's worse than voting for somebody who, in your opinion, doesn't fully measure up."

So 'My way or the highway"? Or cutting off nose to spite face?

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Dumbed Down Nation?

The British press seem to know us better than we know ourselves.  In an article by Ben Fountain examining the transmogrification of the American Dream, one writer examines the rise of Trump as its logical product. This is truly "mighty writing", insightful, hard-hitting electorate analysis the likes of which we never see from the US paper of record.  Is the New York Times dumbing down? (If the Sunday crossword is any indication, I'd say yes.)

From today's Guardian: (my bolds, link to entire article follows)

"Then there’s that other American dream, the numbed-out, dumbed-down, make-believe world where much of the national consciousness resides, the sum product of our mighty Fantasy Industrial Complex: movies, TV, internet, texts, tweets, ad saturation, celebrity obsession, sports obsession, Amazonian sewers of porn and political bullshit [gotta love that one], the entire onslaught of media and messaging that strives to separate us from our brains. September 11, 2001 blasted us out of that dream for about two minutes, but the dream is so elastic, so all-encompassing, that 9/11 was quickly absorbed into the the matrix of FIC. This exceedingly complex event – horribly direct in the result, but a swamp when it comes to explanations – was stripped down and binaried into a reliable fantasy narrative of us against them, good versus evil, Christian against Muslim. The week after 9/11, Susan Sontag was virtually crucified for pointing out that “a few shreds of historical awareness might help us understand how we came to this point”. For this modest proposal, no small number of her fellow Americans wished her dead. But if we’d followed her lead – if we’d done the hard work of digging down to the roots of the whole awful thing – perhaps we wouldn’t still be fighting al-Qaida and its offspring 15 years later.

An 11-Year-old girl wears Trump socks at a campaign event for the Republican nominee at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.
An 11-year-old girl wears Trump socks at a campaign event for the Republican nominee at the Trump International Hotel in Washington DC. Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters
"Here’s a hypothesis, ugly, uncharitable, but given our recent history it begs inquiry: most of the time most Americans don’t know what’s real any more. How else to explain Trump, a billionaire on an ego trip capturing a major party’s nomination for president? Another blunt-speaking billionaire tried twice for the presidency in the 1990s and went out in flames, but he made the mistake of running as himself, a recognizably flesh-and-blood human being, whereas Trump comes to us as the ultimate creature, and indisputable maestro, of the Fantasy Industrial Complex. For much of his career – until 2004, to be exact – he held status in our lives as a more or less normal celebrity. Larger than life, to be sure, cartoonishly grandiose, shamelessly self-promoting, and reliably obnoxious, but Trump didn’t become Trump until “The Apprentice” debuted in January 2004. The first episode drew 20.7 million viewers. By comparison, Ross Perot received 19,742,000 votes in the 1992 presidential election – yes, I’m comparing vote totals with Nielsen ratings – but Trump kept drawing that robust 20 million week after week. The season finale that year reached 28 million viewers, and over the next decade, for 13 more seasons, this was how America came to know him, in that weirdly intimate way TV has of delivering celebrity into the very center of our lives. [How is this writer the only one who seems to have taken note of this?]

"It was this same Trump that 24 million viewers – a record, of course – tuned in to watch at the first Republican debate last year, the glowering, blustering, swaggering boardroom action figure who gave every promise of shredding the pols. One wonders if Trump would have ever been Trump if there hadn’t been a JR Ewing to pave the way, to show just how dear and real a dealmaking TV rogue could be to our hearts. [Home run insight, that one]  Trump’s performance on that night did not disappoint, nor through all the debates in the long march that followed, and if his regard for the truth has proved more erratic even than that of professional politicians, we should expect as much. In the realm of the Fantasy Industrial Complex, reality happens on a sliding scale. The truth is just another possibility."

Read entire article here.  This guy deserves a Puliltzer.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Reagan's Legacy

From an astute commenter on today's NY Times:

"For the white people who have never fully recovered from the economic collapse brought by G W Bush, Trump is a Teflon super-hero. You cannot reason with these voters or convince them how little regard Trump truly has for working people and how they are just pawns in his personal power game. 

We hold a mirror up to our society during an election. Is it really true that we see nearly half of our nation willing to accept an ignorant, hate-mongering fraud as their President? "

And it is that fact that scares me. I live in a country, maybe even a town, where nearly half the people, a dangerous many of them gun fanatics,  are so ignorant they are willing to risk throwing the baby of what's left of our democracy out with the bathwater of congressional failure and stagnation without ever questioning their own part in the decline of political altruism.  In Europe, a wave of frustration is exhibiting itself in right wing party electoral punch as well, but public support for such groups ranges below 25% of voters.

So if you're feeling a little blue, listen to Bill Moyers and what he has to say this week about the election.  He has the gift of humanizing any issue without sentimentalizing. I still miss his PBS show.

Here's a taste of what Bill Moyers has to say about the state of America today (link below)

"Looking back, you have to wonder how we could have ignored the warning signs.  In the 1970s, Big Business began to refine its ability to act as a class and gang up on Congress.  Even before the Supreme Court’s Citizens Uniteddecision, political action committees deluged politics with dollars. Foundations, corporations, and rich individuals funded think tanks that churned out study after study with results skewed to their ideology and interests. Political strategists made alliances with the religious right, with Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority and Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, to zealously wage a cultural holy war that would camouflage the economic assault on working people and the middle class. [Ah, Bill, we love ya when yer blunt.]

To help cover-up this heist of the economy, an appealing intellectual gloss was needed.  So public intellectuals were recruited and subsidized to turn “globalization,” “neo-liberalism,” and “the Washington Consensus” into a theological belief system.  The “dismal science of economics” became a miracle of faith.  Wall Street glistened as the new Promised Land, while few noticed that those angels dancing on the head of a pin were really witchdoctors with MBAs brewing voodoo magic.  The greed of the Gordon Gekkos -- once considered a vice -- was transformed into a virtue.  One of the high priests of this faith, Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, looking in wonder on all that his company had wrought, pronounced it “God’s work.”"

And here's the link to the whole article. It's brilliant:


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Eureka Moment

For yea these many years I've been wondering why American businesses, including the health care biz, suddenly began jacking up the prices of nearly everything with no apparent regard for affordability. In fact, the very same items and services could be (and can be) had in any other developed country for far less cost, so that essentials like food are affordable for the populace at large. 

My creeping awareness that something was amiss began oh ten/ fifteen years ago when it was announced that there was a sudden wheat shortage in the US. Hence the price of bread, including the small fry artisanal types made here in Maine, went up markedly. Okay, you feel for the bakers, the farmers, so you pay the (nearly doubled overnight) increased price. But wait: then the price of wheat went way down, but the price of bread did not. No one seemed to notice, no one complained. So I'm thinking: Whassup wit dat? As Aretha might say: Who's zoomin' who?

Maybe this was just the first of many items I noticed getting pricey in my world; it was not the last. Since then I've been steadily and increasingly shocked at the price I pay for common everyday things when there is no obvious economic reason for it. Maine is a potato growing state, they should be fairly cheap here, and organic local potatoes are fairly cheap at the local grocery store. But head on down to the local "co-op" and you'll pay not five bucks for five pounds, but three bucks for two potatoes.  Take spinach, for example; fresh spinach from a local, highly successful farm and sold at the co-op in my town (more like a faux-op) or at the local boutique "farmers' market" (nothing like the real farmers' market in Trenton, NJ, for example – now that's a farmers' market – fair prices, good quality.) Spinach was TEN BUCKS a pound.  Ten fekkin bucks for a green that traveled from a field only three miles away to that co-op, where I picked it up – for the last time as it happens. Because that farmer also went from packaging their greens in soft bags to hard plastic 'shells', those obnoxious fridge space hogging boxes that have-to-be-recycled lest they end up in the already plastic- infused oceans.  That was the last straw; bags are cheaper and more environment conscious than hard plastic; 90% of plastics aren't recycled. With two strikes against it, you can see why I stopped buying that spinach and grew my own.  The sheer mindlessness of it all. The utter disregard for the customer AND the planet, by supposed hippie farmers and vendors clearly out to make not just a buck but as much buck as the market will bear. And in a town full of retirees flush with invested funds the market will bear almost anything. And there's the rub.  I'm so pissed off  I could be one of those 'deplorables' Hillary's on about. (I'm not; but would she think so? Do I care?)

We were raised to believe that American Business was about making quality things available to the masses at a reasonable price, allowing for a nice profit for the maker, the guy who takes the risk of loans and manufacture... isn't that the old saw?  But prices of everything just go up and up, often 30% a year (mayonnaise? Where's the rationale 30%?).  But you won't see that reflected in the "basket of consumables" whereby the government calculates the cost of living increase, do you? NO, because they change what goes into that basket every year so it doesn't look like we're having mass inflation. When did they start doing that? The new MO seems to be keep the price of gas low (allo, allo: it was 30 cents a gallon fifty years ago) and heating oil manageable to mask the price of everything essential going way up, including the price of drugs (like insulin) that used to be cheap and affordable.  There is simply NO economic, fact-based reason for this to be so. Unless...

The economic paradigm in America has shifted dramatically. The avowed goal is no longer (a la Henry Ford and his ilk) good quality at a reasonable price, a chicken in every pot, a Ford (just one) for every family. Now a nice profit is not enough, it's every man for himself as prices reflect what the "market" will bear, and too many people simply cannot afford to live. Squeezed tighter than a deer tick voters are desperate to understand why, with two full time (poorly paid) jobs per household, they can't have a decent quality of life free of the stress and strain of basic survival in a dog-eat-dog world.  Oh the Horror.

So how did this come about? This corporate rule of the economy's ethics? It occurs to me perhaps we can thank the Graduate Schools of Business for this state of affairs.  Sometime in the seventies they came up with what they figured was "a better business" notion,  a way to maximize profits.  I studied economics, history of economic thought in addition to the usual Econ classes. Never did I encounter the clarity of concept, the purity of description I discovered today in the  comments section of this article in The Nation about the Epi-Pen scandal. It was an economic revelation!   The answer to why things are SO fekked in the US today. WHY prices of everything are so HIGH!  Such a brilliant money-making scheme, the ultimate corporate system, and it's the new American Paradigm; it completely ignores he notion of societal benefit. This is how we all became the 99%.

I have no idea how we'll ever get back to Kansas.

Here's what the commenter said:

Victor Sciamarelli says:
There is a sixth myth that should be added to this fine article. That is, we do not have a for-profit medical system, rather we have a system of maximum profit. These are two different things.
For example, assume there is a movie theater which has 100 seats, the owner charges $1 per ticket, and since everyone has $1, the seats are full and the owner makes $100 in revenue, some profit, and everyone is happy. But, of course, it doesn’t work this way.
The owner then raises the price to $5 per ticket, since not everyone has $5, especially families, the attendance falls to 80 people on average, but the revenue rises to $400.
Again the price rises to $7, $8, $9 and then finally to $10 per ticket. This price proves ideal because on average 60 people attend and the revenue is $600. Beyond the $10 ticket price the attendance declines and revenue falls below the max of $600.
This can become complicated. Airlines use a computer program to manage this process and a fancy name “yield management” but maximum profit is their goal.
The point is that in order to maximize profit a business does not need or even care about you. It has nothing to do with corruption or whose in power. And price gouging is just a blatant example.
It is the nature of a maximum profit system that a large group of people will be excluded and the ones who are part of the system will pay a high price. That is how it works.
Most people intuitively think that business wants as many clients as possible. This is not necessarily true when your goal is maximizing profits.
Movies are not life and death, but health care is. Yet, this corporate system runs our health care. If some people can not afford medicine, heath care, or even partial care, then you can see it is irrelevant to max profits. This fact, that many people will be denied, is not just a part of the system, it is the system.
Sweden and Germany are examples of a for-profit system, that is, prices for health care are set so that everyone can afford it. America is a max profit system. We don’t need more congressional investigations, rather we need universal health care.