Fake News and the Federal Budget

The Tea Party folks have been most shocking for their insistence that citizens should have a sort of line-item veto over the Federal budget. We have usually sent letters, etc. to our representatives in Congress to register our unwillingness to spend tax dollars on certain Federal programs or activities that displeased us. However, the Tea Party went much further. They were so angry, so demanding, so intimidating that the entire party backed them and moved far to the right. Then the party, in order to keep their scary Tea Party constituents at bay did things like shut down the government and vote to repeal the ACA about 60 times, and get the party to threaten to “primary” elected representatives to Congress (including Senators of course) who did not fall in line. The party got the “enforcer”, Grover Norquist to back up these primary attacks.

In particular the Tea Party wanted more control over their taxes – how much they had to pay and how it was spent. They had come to believe that their tax dollars were being handed out to deadbeats, to illegal immigrants, to way too many people in the form of food stamps, and to refugees. They were convinced, in spite of fact checks which disagreed with their analysis, that everyone was getting something for nothing but them. According to urban legend, the government was even handing out cars, free housing, and free “Obama phones” (a program begun in the Bush administration). And there was some truth to what the Tea Partiers believed but the abuses were hardly rampant, or budget-busting. The government does keep numbers on this stuff. Do we still trust numbers or does it now depend on who crunches them?

Generated by IJG JPEG Library

Talk radio has kept the Tea Party angry for the last decade at least and they expanded their reach to even more Americans as the economy lost steam. The anger fed the people’s fears. Then Fox News piled on because this was a ratings bonanza too good to miss. People like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin and Bill O’Reilly and now Sean Hannity have been broadcasting fake news for years. There has always been fake news. It is called propaganda. Fake news did not begin with the 2016 election. But radio and TV outlets that broadcast fake news all the time, any time of the day or night have made fake news a trending phenomenon, allowed to masquerade as main stream media. The popularity of using social media on the internet added a new dimension to the dissemination of news and fake news. And I don’t know that we have previously had to deal with fake news injected into politics in a Presidential election year by a foreign power like Russia who is not generally considered to have American interests at heart.

As a result of the feelings that gave birth to their movement and the overwhelming amount of propaganda that nurtured the hate and anger, the Tea Party is adamant about many things and it is especially adamant about what budget items it will pay taxes for, and which ones it will not. In order to be sure they do not give one dollar to someone who doesn’t deserve it they want to stop giving any tax dollars to anyone. Privatize everything – no food stamps, no welfare, no Medicaid, no Medicare, no Social Security or SS Disability and no public schools. Many Tea Partiers are Evangelical Christians and they do not want their tax dollars to go towards paying for health care in any program that offers abortion, even though the Federal government no longer subsidizes abortions. Some even want to stop helping women get contraception. Send the “illegals” home say these folks and cut off immigration. Don’t take in refugees. But they do want us all to use our tax dollars to build a wall.

Well, if the right has a line item veto over the US budget then the left should also be allowed to say what they don’t want their tax dollars used for. I’m pretty sure that very few people on the left want to pay for a wall along the Mexican border. I’m pretty sure most of us want to see public education remain as a key budget item. Of course, we could put up a web site with various budget items and actually pick what to fund by voting line by line on the budget (recipe for chaos). But there is the matter of laws that were passed or voted down to determine what programs we would fund. Clearly though, some American’s feelings have been exploited by people in the media who know how to use their words to brainwash, to turn their listeners into “pod” people who seem to be convinced that they want to, 1) continue to pay taxes that pay for nothing, and 2) bypass the Congressional system and make decisions according to who does the best bullying. And perhaps the only cure for this is to just decide every single issue in our nation with a popular vote to try to lessen the effectiveness of a media without a soul.

People speak of trends towards fascism, and fake news and nationalism, and racism as if they just popped up in the 2016 election but we have been fed a steady diet of invective over at least the last decade, and it was easy because people had lost so much they were happy that someone was speaking their language of spite and jealousy, fear and despair, and that they were doing it so authoritatively and emotionally too.

I do not want to pay for a wall. I do not want to pay for a deportation force. There are many things the Tea Partiers don’t want to pay for that I feel a society should pay for. Where is my radio talk show to whisper revolution in my ear through the long night? I can’t even stand to watch news at all these days.

The right wing has won and our President elect who could be a unifier obviously is more an easily wounded defender of only himself. If he would show us that he could govern fairly and do that consistently I might not feel so bereft. His cabinet appointments give me little hope. I am thinking that I and other liberals will be left to wander in the wilderness. Any bets about how likely it is that DT can get it together and turn into a real President? Any bets on whether the soulless Republican Party can worry about anything besides owning what was once the government of the people, by the people, and for the people?

Save ACA Now! No Replacement Plan in Place

This is to those Americans who are in favor of repealing Obamacare, also known as the Affordable Care Act. Are you sure? Speak now or forever hold your peace. It took a long time to bring the insurance companies, the doctors, the hospitals, and everyone who might be affected by a new health care plan to the table to hammer out a deal. It took a lot of negotiation to get insurance companies to cover citizens with preexisting conditions. It took much discussion to address the serious problem of the costs that taxpayers had to endure because people with no primary care providers had turned to the emergency rooms in our hospitals to provide care, care they could not afford to pay for. It meant that people most at risk for health problems were unable to seek preventative care and finally came for treatment only when they were seriously ill and needed expensive meds or procedures. We need to save ACA now!

I’m sure you remember that health coverage once came with jobs, and only with jobs that had a fair number of employees? People who did not have a job or who were self-employed, hourly employees, employees who worked at a small business often had limited or no health care coverage. As employers jumped ship and left our shores for nations with cheaper labor and no unions and no environmental standards the employees they left behind lost their health insurance, at least until they found another job.

I know there are flaws in the Affordable Care Act. Some people are dealing with rates that are too high and copays that are too high. But Republicans deliberately set out to undermine this plan. They knew that the rates would rise if healthy people didn’t buy insurance to offset those who had preexisting conditions. The designers knew that unless there was a mandate that required healthy people to join or pay a fine the numbers would not be favorable enough to the insurance industry and they would want to walk away from the agreement. Yet many red states refused to give their poorest citizens access to expanded Medicaid funds so they could be insured and they got the Supremes to nix the mandate aspect of the plan. In other words, they sabotaged the plan and then insisted that it was broken.

Right now in Congress Democrats are holding a Vote-a-Rama to try to save the Affordable Care Act from repeal. And we should all be hoping that they succeed because we have no inkling of what the Republicans plan to offer us for our health care. Isn’t the enemy you know (if the ACA can be considered an enemy) preferable to the enemy you don’t know (whatever privatized, non-inclusive plan the Conservatives whip up). I am proud of the Democrats for trying, but their odds of succeeding are long. There have been 60 votes in Congress to repeal Obamacare (the ACA) but now the Republicans most likely have the votes to pass a repeal.

If this plan is repealed there is no plan right now to replace it. We have not seen even an outline of what we might expect instead of the current plan. Don’t let repeal happen; at least not right now, not until we know the alternative and it is ready to be put into action. Call or write or email your people in Congress and take some pressure off of them by letting them know that you don’t mind if they come up with a plan before they fulfill your most adamantly expressed wish that Obamacare be repealed. Tell them to do their due diligence and come up with a workable plan. Otherwise expect chaos to reign in medical matters.

Good luck out there. I am happy to stick with Obamacare and have our reps try to fix it, but obviously many of you are not. I hope you are not just being stubborn. I hope you can still respond to logic. Google what is happening to health care in England since the Brexit. I hope that you will save the ACA now.

Ripe for Revolution

 

Looking back through forms of governance devised by humans throughout history the problem of wealth distribution has been a consistently destructive dilemma in terms of governmental longevity. When too much wealth concentrates among too few conditions become ripe for revolution; for those at the bottom of the heap to protest, often violently, and to get rid of those with all the wealth and power.

I learn most of my history these days from literature. The intersection between literature and politics, or literature and history, is expansive. If you want to read about monarchs in England and France the choices are so abundant that it is difficult to pick where to start. Investigate the reputations of the authors. Choose those who do in-depth research.

Read the most well-known Russian authors and you will get a pretty fair historical picture of life under the Czars or life during and after the revolution, depending on the title you chose.

To immerse yourself in Rome read the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, or, on a much less academic level, read the Colleen McCullough Rome books. You can pick almost any time in history and find great fiction that will give you a great feel for the culture and how it affected those who lived in that society and time frame. Today you can just ask Amazon or Google for a list of books, for example, that describe Russia before and after the Russian Revolution where once you would have taken a trip to the library to consult the card catalog.

 

Monarchs, according to accounts, were not always wealthy but their people (except for the religious leaders) were even poorer and monarchs had to appear wealthy in order to look powerful to other monarchs, so they often had to take money or services or land from even their poorest subjects. Monarchs had quite a good run but eventually the emergence of the new democracy/republic in America turned monarchs into ceremonial figures and some form of a parliament or congress actually ran the government. In France it took a violent revolution to end the monarchy but in other nations it was accomplished in an almost evolutionary process, or by political coup.

Rome lasted for so long because the wealthier citizens, who were landowners in Rome and therefore members of the government, were constantly at war adding land and resources to alleviate the frequent famines and economic downturns that plagued Roman life. However, eventually power corrupted the rich and influential men of Rome who decided that they were so superior (the Caesars) that they should govern for life as emperors. Roman government just declined until it lost its preeminent place on the world stage and other nations took over. There was chaos, however, for Roman citizens who were unlucky enough to live during the declining years of the empire

Communism was certainly a response to the consolidation of money and power among a few aristocrats who lived lives of privilege while their serfs eked out brutally deprived lives. We saw communist revolutions in Russia and in China, Vietnam, and other less dramatic transformations. But a century later we find that there is a new wealthy, privileged class that has taken power even in places that experienced serious class upheaval. There are billionaires from every continent on this year’s Forbes list.

All history is somewhat skewed but it is even more difficult to get history from China that you can be sure is free of propaganda. The Chinese Revolution happened through what was basically a political coup by Mao. The Cultural Revolution is full of horror stories. The redistribution of wealth by authoritarian decree did not go smoothly. I read an account by Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China (who now live in France). There are also a number of other good fiction books by authors who left China to live elsewhere.

 

Socialism has been practiced in many places but rarely in a pure form. Capitalism is usually mixed into so-called socialist nations making it difficult to know if inequalities occur in societies where socialism is undiluted. I’m not sure we have ever even seen such a society although we have seen smaller scale experiments with socialism and social elements that have been socialized and that still seem to function. Does pure socialism sidestep corruption? I doubt it, because corruption is not inherent in a system of government; it is inherent in the people who run governments (all of us).

However many inaccuracies there are in my very brief trip through history, it seems that we can at least see a precautionary tendency that could save us a lot of grief. It is clear that when wealth gets concentrated among too few people events will conspire to dispossess them of their privilege and reboot the whole process.

Perhaps for a while there will be a more equitable distribution of whatever constitutes wealth in a society, but eventually corruption or skill or luck will recreate a gap between wealthy and poor. For a long time a “middle class” has filled the gap between the very rich and those who live in poverty. If the middle class essentially disappears or feels poor by comparison with the affluent class then they stop acting as a buffer between the two groups and we are back to inviting a coup or a revolution or decline or an evolutionary governmental change.

[I did not look at the patterns in anarchies (do we have any examples that are not science fiction) or tribal societies but there are some accounts of these which still seem to suggest that a class structure still evolved and wars were fought to regain balance (or out of jealousy). In pure dictatorships it is easy to guess that when a moment of weakness appears upheaval will occur.]

Since it is our nature to be corrupt or to hoard or to feel that winning endows us with some sort of divine favor, will it ever be possible to design a culture that values economic balance and truly equal opportunities for all citizens, that acknowledges when people excel but doesn’t allow them to gloat or abuse their success to the deprivation of others. We could. We have really big brains, but it will require us to constantly root out our worst selves. (OK, I should not have gone to see Arrival because it gave the impression that there is hope for humanity yet.) Things are certainly not looking very hopeful right now back here in reality.

What we are seeing right now in America flies in the face of conventional practice? We have overwhelmingly wealthy people staging a coup to take over the government from the people. This is revolution in reverse. It feels bizarre because it is bizarre. These greedy folks feel they don’t have enough money so they want to take their money out of central government and put it back in their states which means that it will eventually find its way back into their own pockets.

Is this a pre-emptive strike? Did Republicans think America was ripe for revolution (even just a progressive one) and decide to take matters into their own hands first. It may work for a while but if the people’s losses are too great it will end up where all societies that are top heavy end up, in chaos until a new order is reestablished (and all you conspiracy cranks, I am not threatening you with your “New World Order,” that fabled Liberal hell that you fear). Assuming we live through the DT years, how will balance be achieved? Will balance ever be achieved? What do you think?

 

Skyscrapers and Billionaires

 

At some point in my past I found an artistically-sized book of Skyscrapers (still in print). It started me on a journey that described the race in America and eventually around the world to build the tallest building. Since skyscrapers were impossible before steel girders and reliable elevators they are a 20th century phenomenon. Furthermore since the first skyscraper was built on an island of only 24 square miles with perhaps the densest population in the world, the footprint on the ground tends to be small, but the sky is, seemingly, the limit where height is concerned.

As soon as the first skyscraper was built, or perhaps even before it was finished, the race was on to build one that was higher. The race eventually moved to other American cities and then the involvement reached out to the entire globe. Architects and builders design skyscrapers, but rich people, usually men, finance them and get to adorn them with the name of their choice (sometimes with their own name). It is so predictable, this competitive desire to be first, to be the best, the tallest, the biggest. You show me yours and I’ll show you mine, and mine will be bigger. Given the phallic nature inherent in the design of this particular class of buildings it is tough to read them as feminine structures. I am always being sexist I guess, but I just can’t help myself since men are having such difficulty sharing almost everything. It seems natural to compare skyscrapers and billionaires.

Anyway I started to connect this race to build the tallest building with the race to be the biggest billionaire which seems to be the newest prize to grasp in the 21st century. Not all billionaires are hoarders. We can name a number of billionaires who have philanthropic goals and who spend their money in useful ways that benefit man and woman kind. Look at the top ten names on the latest Forbes list of billionaires and you will recognize some of those who feel that they have enough money that they can give back.

#1 Bill Gates $75 B 61 Microsoft United States
#2 Amancio Ortega $67 B 80 Zara Spain
#3 Warren Buffett $60.8 B 86 Berkshire Hathaway United States
#4 Carlos Slim Helu $50 B 76 telecom Mexico
#5 Jeff Bezos $45.2 B 52 Amazon.com United States
#6 Mark Zuckerberg $44.6 B 32 Facebook United States
#7 Larry Ellison $43.6 B 72 Oracle United States
#8 Michael Bloomberg $40 B 74 Bloomberg LP United States
#9 Charles Koch $39.6 B 81 diversified United States
#9 David Koch $39.6 B 76 diversified United States

http://www.forbes.com/billionaires/

The article goes on to give us this information:

By Kerry A. Dolan and Luisa Kroll

“Volatile stock markets, cratering oil prices and a stronger dollar led to a dynamic reshuffling of wealth around the globe and a drop in ten-figure fortunes for the first time since 2009. For our 30th annual guide to the world’s richest, we found 1,810 billionaires, down from a record 1,826 a year ago. Their aggregate net worth was $6.48 trillion, $570 billion less than last year.  It was also the first time since 2010 that the average net worth of a billionaire dropped – it is now $3.6 billion, $300 million less than last year.”

The article lists all 1,810 billionaires if you are interested. Are billionaires feeling nervous that they lost some ground last year? Do powerful people race to climb the billionaire ladder in ways that are similar to the race to build taller skyscrapers? I’m guessing that some do and some don’t. But what does it mean for us that these people, by virtue of their wealth can yank our world around and get it to serve the purposes of the wealthy? What does it mean that 1,810 people have lives so much more expansive that most of the 7+ billion people on the planet? How much money would each of us have if the distribution was more equal? Will wealth always accrue to the few in any cultural model? Are there laws and regulations that insure that those who are already wealthy will get wealthier? Are there ways to pass laws which make sure that money will be distributed more evenly? These people want us to believe that they deserve to be wealthy because they are the smartest, the hardest working, the most creative and they would always rise to the top like cream on milk that has not been homogenized. Homogenized milk tastes good. Wouldn’t earth’s societies work well if the money was spread around a bit more? Even cogitating on these matter is likely to raise an injured outcry, but I am going to see what answers I can find. It is my New Year’s Resolution.

 

Conspiracy Theory and Political Identity

Paranoid Android

One of my news feeds on one of my devices brought this very interesting new article summarizing her polls about the correlations between conspiracy theory and political identity by Kathy Frankovic to my attention. My source tells us that she “is one of the world’s leading experts in public opinion polling. She has been an election and polling consultant for CBS News and other research organizations.” Find the full article at

https://today.yougov.com/news/2016/12/27/belief-conspiracies-largely-depends-political-iden/

These graphs, for the most part, back up what many of us already thought was true – that many of the conspiracy theories circulating right now are subscribed to by more voters on the right than on the left.  Empirical data is usually satisfying in offering backup for what we believe, unless, and in this case, you are from the right and you dismiss this all as counterfactual because it probably just comes from the left. What crazy times we live in? I did not foresee that the Fox News/ Talk Radio folks would lie so often that truths would seem to be mutable elements. Those on the right would say that I only like this data because it validates my worldview and that I am, once again, deluded. But I think history will be on my side in the end, for what that’s worth.

Belief in conspiracies largely depends on political identity

 

 

 

These polls shocked the media last week when they saw that 46% of Trump voters still believed that Clinton emails linked her to a pedophilia and child trafficking ring. What puzzles me is why the media was so surprised.

 

December 19, 2016 – Unfettered Capitalism Wins

It is December 19, 2016, the day America’s electors decide whether to break with tradition to keep a crazy authoritarian leader from running our nation or not. I am sure that no one is brave enough to keep this man out of office. My mind cannot help but move ahead into the future we are about to usher in, although our reasons are good ones because we are between a rock and a hard place. We take a chance on destroying our nation either way. But this is also a referendum on Capitalism and our global environments.

Even as I await the surely inevitable results an image comes alive in my mind of the conference table at the G8 Summit (yes we are back to eight nations because I am certain that DT will reinstate Russia). At one end of the conference table will be Putie and at the other end The Donald, finally face to face and, for the moment, sharing power. Each of these men is determined that fossil fuels and GDP and military might will still determine which nations are most powerful. If we switch away from fossil fuels how will the order of power among nations be determined?

So the G8 has changed its mission statement and has become the Board of Directors of Planet Earth. It plans to make sure that gas and oil continue to be a currency mill pumping money into the economies of the eight member nations. This old energy, fossil fuel energy will be used to bring back an Industrial age that has been rapidly morphing into something else, some je ne sais quoi. We know that industry is being turned over to robots, with less human fodder required to run the world’s engines of manufacturing and commerce, and soon even in the service sectors. Perhaps we will turn away from robotics for decades so that the Board can find a use for all of the world’s extraneous masses.

Because with an exploding world population and less and less work for humans to do what will the leaders do to keep the thumbs of  their power on the people, to keep them as useful consumers, but to never allow them to believe that they can have something for nothing. Life should be a “beach” for the wealthy, but for the poor it should be a struggle. We can’t have people enjoying themselves all over the place on the public dime. And that will not even be acceptable to poor folks. Most of us expect to have to pay our way in life. But we do not expect the obstacles to be so strong that we cannot get over or around them with a reasonable amount of effort.

So given all that, what will this G8 Board of Directors do in this all-Capitalist-all-the-time world if we are still earthbound with no technology to expand into space? I don’t think it will be pretty for anyone except the top 1%. Human life will be cheap. We will be cheap labor and no one will mind if our lives become hamster lives – running endlessly on a wheel to nowhere. Perhaps drugs will become plentiful, but I don’t think these folks will offer the new peasant class any way out of their servitude.

And when I say that life will be cheap that means that our new Board of Directors will not care if we live or die – in fairly large numbers. Disease may wipe out huge sectors of the population. Violence will also be quite common. Why would the Board require order when they do not have to live anywhere the rest of us live? Perhaps building walls will become common – walls to keep us out.

But what will the upper echelons do with their money in such a world. Perhaps they will not go this far just so they still have the world they are used to in which to enjoy their power and success and people to envy them and wish to join them. Perhaps there will be chances to climb out of the muck and revel in life at the top. Nine billion people is a really big audience though. Probably too big. Many of us will have to die to keep the population of the planet within comfortable limits. Perhaps the population will always be set to what it was in 1950.

Will there be any concession to keeping environmental conditions that offer beauty, biological diversity, and fresh air and water? If the Board of Directors is limited to living within the confines of this planet it is safe to say that they will have to find a way to balance their avarice with their survival. It will be interesting to see how they create that equilibrium.

A Capitalist dream may take over the minds and hearts of our new global Board of Directors for a while but even they will soon discover the disadvantages of fouling their own nest. Will they get it in time to save the planet? Maybe not. It does seem as if money makes you stupid.

[The Group of Eight (G8) refers to the group of eight highly industrialized nations—France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Japan, the United States, Canada, and Russia—that hold an annual meeting to foster consensus on global issues like economic growth and crisis management, global security, energy, and terrorism.]

http://www.cfr.org/international-organizations-and-alliances/group-eight-g8-industrialized-nations/p10647

 

 

I Feel a Great Disturbance in the Force

 

I know that Star Wars is not true. There may be a force that connects us all but it is not the force that the heroes access in Star Wars. But when that sinister Death Star destroyed an entire innocent planet it seemed a great metaphor for the terrible destruction we inflict on each other and we wish there was a rebellion we could join without violating our beliefs in a nation’s right to autonomy. It is not our fight, but it is our grief. We repeat the emotional impact of the words a great disturbance in the force because it sometimes expresses exactly how we feel.

Aleppo – Before

Aleppo – After

 

Residents inspect damage after airstrikes by pro-Syrian government forces in the rebel held Al-Shaar neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria February 4, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail – RTX25GU1

From Google Earth – After