False Claims of the Presidential Candidates

Pants on FirePaul Bibeau did a little research, Which 2016 Candidates Are the Biggest Liars According to Politifact? He went over to PolitiFact and counted all the articles that they had done on the various presidential candidates to see what percentage of them were “mostly false,” “false,” or “pants on fire.” It’s an interesting idea. But we don’t want to take it all that seriously.

The big thing here is that this is hardly a random sample. And conservatives are absolutely convinced that PolitiFact is part of the liberal media conspiracy. They think this because, consistently, conservatives come off worse than liberals. And it just can’t be that conservatives are just more likely to either lie or not have their facts straight, can it? At the same time, liberals like me think that PolitiFact is far too hard on fellow liberals. It has a tendency to nitpick and find clearly true statements “half true.” All of the fact checking groups have this problem.

Since it clearly is the case that conservatives are simply more likely to believe things that aren’t true, conservative politicians are more likely to go around repeating this nonsense. There are cultural and ideological reasons for this: liberals pride themselves on following the facts and conservatives pride themselves on their certainty. It isn’t a value judgement, but it does explain why conservative public figures would end up saying more false things.

But this puts the fact checking people in a bit of a bind. If they find too many lies on one side, they will be written off as biased. But if they go out of their way to make the numbers even, then they aren’t doing their jobs. I think what ends up happening — probably without them even knowing it — is that they loosen up on the conservative claims and tighten up on the liberal claims. The result is still that the conservatives come off worse, but it isn’t as stark as it is in reality.

One thing I disagree with Pibeau about, however, is that these claims are lies. And I’ve always thought the “pants on fire” designation was stupid. In the vast majority of cases, the people making false claims actually believe them — they aren’t lying; they’re just misinformed. Of course, the Republican Party is indeed “post-truth.” But not valuing the truth is not the same as actively misrepresenting it.

Here is the list, along with the ones that Bibeau didn’t include. I’ve filtered out all of the candidates who don’t have at least 10 statements:

Candidate Statements Fire % False %
Donald Trump (R) 29 21% 83%
Ted Cruz (R) 49 8% 70%
Rick Santorum (R) 56 9% 53%
Mike Huckabee (R) 34 12% 50%
Scott Walker (R) 146 7% 49%
Lincoln Chafee (D) 17 0% 47%
Rick Perry (R) 166 11% 46%
Marco Rubio (R) 95 2% 39%
Rand Paul (R) 40 5% 35%
Lindsey Graham (R) 12 0% 34%
Chris Christie (R) 93 8% 32%
John Kasich (R) 51 6% 32%
Jeb Bush (R) 46 2% 32%
Martin O’Malley (D) 10 0% 30%
Hillary Clinton (D) 114 2% 29%
Bernie Sanders (D) 23 0% 23%
Not listed: Ben Carson (R, 100% of 3 statements), Carly Fiorina (R, 57% of 7 statements), Bobby Jindal (R, 14% of 7 statements), and Jim Webb (D, 14% of 7 statements).

That’s a pretty stark list. Wouldn’t it be amazing if the people actually used this to form their opinions about the parties? But the thing is that I suspect that most people already know about this. But this is where we get into the whole idea of cynicism. “Well, Clinton lies 29% of the time so she’s no better than Trump!” But what the table shows above all is that the Democrats operate in more or less the real world. And the very high levels of false claims are more an indication of the demagoguery of the Republican Party than anything else.

Still, I think the whole thing is true. And it probably understates the reality because of PolitiFact skewing. For example, the last “true” claim of Jeb Bush that the group investigated was, “Says his release of 33 years of tax returns is ‘more than any presidential candidate in history.'” Wow, I’m sure people were just begging for them to get to the bottom of that one! Just the same, the last Clinton “mostly false” was, “Despite keeping distance from national media interviewers, ‘I did local press all along, the last three months.'” This isn’t actually false, but PolitiFact didn’t think she did enough local press, so it’s “mostly false.” But again: not exactly something the people were begging to know about.

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Lobbyists in Control of Congress

Lee FangThe top lobbyist for Chevron, Stephen Sayle, is now a senior staff member for the House Committee on Science, which oversees science policy for the federal government. This is a lobbyist, Mr Sayle, who has helped Chevron beat back regulatory efforts that rest on federal science — whether it’s on the ozone or on climate change. And now that he is overseeing the science committee, he has a unique opportunity to shift not only policy that not only governs the way that federal science is used to implement pollution regulations, he also has an opportunity to help with the science committee’s “investigation” of climate scientists. Over the years, the science committee has brought in scientists to quiz them on climate science and other issues that are very controversial now given the EPA’s pursuit of regulations that affect the fossil fuel industry.

This isn’t a unique dynamic. In the last two Congresses, we’ve seen some unprecedented wholesale change in the senior staff positions in Congress. I’m referring to the chief of staff, which reports directly to a member of Congress or Senator. Or the staff director position. And that’s a position that oversees either a committee or subcommittee. In almost every single position or staff director, we’ve seen lobbyist from the relevant industry take those spots. So before the agricultural committee, which oversees school lunches and nutrition guidelines, we now have a Pepsi lobbyist who is overseeing that committee. In the Senate arms services committee, which oversees military spending, we have a lobbyist for the trade group that represents Lockheed Martin and Boeing, now leading that committee. So from committee to committee, no matter whether it’s on chemical safety, no matter whether it’s on pollution or on school lunches, we have lobbyists for the industries effected running the show from the inside.

—Lee Fang
Interviewed on CounterSpan

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Racism, Hulk Hogan, and Jimmy Dore

Jimmy DoreI was listening to a little of The Young Turks while cooking the other night. I like the show, but as I’ve noted in the past, other than Cenk Uygur, it is intellectually weak. And that was well on display in a segment, WWE Fires Hulk Hogan Over Racist Rant. It seems that the wrestler was fired because he was recorded privately saying the n-word repeatedly. I don’t especially care. Are we supposed to be shocked that a profession that has long used the most vile racist stereotypes would not create a nice liberal culture? I’m not saying that WWE shouldn’t have fired him; it is just that it doesn’t matter.

There is one aspect of the tape that I find interesting. As far as I could tell, Hogan was upset because his daughter had abandoned him for some other mentor who was black. And so Hogan was using the worst word that he could think of. In general, my problem with private use of the n-word is that it breeds a broader callous attitude. It is a sign that the person using it is letting (in this case) his racist thoughts become unchecked. And that is a very dangerous thing because it is empathy destroying.

Another thing that Hogan repeated was the phrase, “I guess we’re all a little racist.” I’m not sure what to make of that. It seems like it indicates that Hogan knew what he was saying was wrong, but he had all this anger toward this African American and it was manifesting in some very ugly ways. Certainly, it was self-justification. But I think it shows more self-awareness than I would have expected. If this is Hulk Hogan’s nadir, then I think he’s okay. If this is a typical moment for him, then I’m afraid he is lost to the civilized world. I like to think the best.

But the gang on The Young Turks did not want to think the best. And that’s fine. But all they did was pile on. They provided no insight. It’s the easiest thing in the world to say that Hulk Hogan is a racist and that’s that. But that could have been done in 30 seconds. The gang spent nine minutes on it. And those were nine very self-important minutes where they, the good non-racist people, looked down on the bad racist, Hulk Hogan, who used the n-word.

The worst part was the focus on the line, “I guess we’re all a little racist.” Now I understand that it is being used by Hogan to justify his anger and language. But Jimmy Dore pushed the idea, “No, we’re not all a little racist.” Well, the last hundred years of cognitive science would beg to differ. Certainly many of us manage to get through our whole lives without using the n-word — or any other racial slurs. But whenever I hear someone tell me that they aren’t racist, I know that they are either a complete bigot or deeply misinformed about how racism works.

Most of us have the best of intentions. And on a rational level, we are often very good. But we are more than our rational selves. And our subconscious, gut, reactions poison us. Dore discussed growing up in a fairly racist subculture, and how he grew past that. Great! I’m the same way. But I still have that background. I have still lived these five decades in a racist society where the underclass is primarily black and brown. And I cannot allow myself to think that I am “past” racism.

None of this means that Jimmy Dore is the real racist and Hulk Hogan is some paragon of honesty. Nor is it to put myself on a higher level. All three of us — and everyone else for that matter — are just a jumble of good and bad contradictions. I would expect that we could all agree that race is a social construct and we are all racist to one extent or another. And hopefully, we can all do better. But thinking of racism as some kind of on-off switch is the game that conservatives play to delegitimize the complaints of those who our racism still oppresses.

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Serial Killer Managed by Quick Thinking Victim

Neal FallsThe man in the photo is Neal Falls. He’s dead. And I have to admit to being okay with that — even a bit happy. I’m not proud of that. But he appears to have been a serial killer — responsible for as many as ten murders and disappearances that we know of. There are two clusters — separated by a decade. So there’s a good chance that there were lots more in between.

This doesn’t mean I’m in favor of the death penalty. Had he just been caught by the authorities, I’d be fine with him rotting in jail until the end of his natural life. I wouldn’t want the state putting him to death. But the way that Falls died is so wonderful — so appropriate — that I just can’t help feeling good about it.

About a week ago, Falls contacted a woman on Backpage — something like Craig’s List, but apparently where sex ads are still okay. According to the NBC News, Man Killed by Sex Worker in West Virginia Could Be Linked to 10 Other Attacks:

The woman, whose identity hasn’t been released, told investigators Falls drew a gun and tried to strangle her. She said she grabbed Falls’ gun when he set it down to overpower her and shot him.

It should be clear from this what I like: the empowered woman. I do hope that the police are treating her as a hero and not as a criminal. And I hope this is an opportunity for her to get into a better line of work. I have no problem with sex work. But in this country, it is usually associated with drug addiction and other dysfunctions. It doesn’t usually pay well. Most people deserve better lives than sex work provides.

On the other hand, I have no special mallace towards Neal Falls. If what has been reported is true, he seems like a garden variety psychopath. And I no more blame him for his behavior than I do a grizzly bear who attacks a human: something that needs to be managed. But dead at the hands of one of his victims? I’m fine with that.

Afterword

Heather - HeroI just found out that the woman was not arrested. That’s her picture there on the right. She asked to be called Heather. She said that Falls came to her home with a gun and said, “Live or die?” He then started to strangle her. She grabbed a rake. He put the gun down to get the rake, she grabbed the gun and shot him. Then, “Heather ran out of the house and flagged down a neighbor, who called 911.”

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Morning Music: Woody Guthrie

Struggle - Woody GuthrieI can’t decide if I should do a straight series of worker songs. But when in doubt, I always go with a set schedule. So I thought today we would listen to Woody Guthrie doing “Union Burying Ground.” It is a commemoration of all the union workers and organizers who were killed in the struggle. It is filled with a religious conviction. It celebrates martyrdom. For example, it says, “Every new grave brings a thousand members…” And also, “I’m a gonna sleep in a union coffin…” These are committed statements.

As I noted before, I don’t have much ability when it comes to faith. This is why I make a terrible activist. You can’t work for change unless you think it is a real possibility. Cynicism gets you nowhere. At the same time, our own cynicism is the capitalists’ greatest tool. The last refuge of a conservative is, “They’re all the same! It’s all corrupt!” John Stuart Mill said, “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.” He wasn’t talking about the capitalist class, but he should have been.

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Anniversary Post: Macbeth

MacbethOn this day in 1054 (maybe), England under the reign of Edward the Confessor invaded Scotland, leading to the defeat and finally the death of Macbeth, King of Scotland. Yes, that Macbeth. Of course, he appears to be nothing like the character in the play. It was, like so much of Shakespeare’s work, just another occasion to suck up to the rich and powerful. The royal line of the people who killed Macbeth were still in power.

What I found most interesting reading about the real Macbeth was that at that time, all these people seemed to do was fight wars. And it got me thinking about the nature of history. The standard take on history is that it is the story of “great men.” But consider the following analogy. Imagine that you were studying ants. Would the story be one queen after another? Of course not. That would be silly. All the queens do are lie around and pump out babies. If you want to know the history of ants, you would look at their slow evolution and migration.

I think it is the same with humans. All the royals of all the countries do is fight with each other. Meanwhile, the “little” people continue on, farming the land, making minor but important improvements to the way of life. Certainly the development of pottery has been far more important than the combined total of everything that royal classes have ever done. Because in sum, all they’ve done is fight among each other to see who gets to sponge off the masses.

The whole thing with Macbeth was that Duncan I of Scotland led an attack on Moray, which was led by Macbeth. Duncan got killed in battle. I wish that happened more often. Modern leaders have learned that they can just send others to fight and die. Anyway, Macbeth became king and Duncan’s wife ran away with her two little brats, and they waited 14 years plotting their revenge. Of course, after Macbeth was dead, they set about creating a history where Macbeth was this horrible character, whereas all the evidence indicates that Macbeth was a decent ruler, all things considered (mainly: that he was a ruler).

None of this takes away from the fact that Macbeth remains Shakespeare’s greatest play. Although I’ve been thinking about that. The main reason for that is that there is nothing in it that really annoys me. It has great moments too. And it is also that it seems more real to me. Othello doesn’t really have any major gaffs, but I don’t accept Iago as a realistic character. The same goes for Richard III. Although Macbeth does have the usual prophecy problem: if you are fated for something, why are you changing what you would normally do? Just the same, people are like that.

Anyway, maybe today is the day that the English marched on Macbeth. That sucked for him.

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Conservatives Blame Poor for Suffering Because of Conservative Policy

Dylan MatthewsOver at Vox, Dylan Matthews wrote a very interesting article, Conservatives Love This Deeply Misleading Factoid About Poverty in America. In this particular case, he’s referring to Rich Lowry at National Review. He didn’t like Ta-Nehisi Coates new book, Between the World and Me. That’s just because, as Charlie Pierce would say, Coates must be wrong, because it isn’t about race because it is never about race. But in the “review,” Lowry claimed, “Among the people who do these things, according to the research of Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution, about 75 percent attain the middle class, broadly defined.” The “things” are three norms: work full-time, graduate from high school, and be 21 years old and married before having children.

The problem with this kind of reasoning is that it is mostly question begging. It’s kind of like saying, “The problem with poor people is that they don’t have any money!” The three “things” aren’t as clearly tautologies. But as Matthews noted, full-time work is hardly a norm. It isn’t surprising that people with full-time jobs are more likely to be in the middle class! And Matthews argues that roughly the same is true for the other norms, which ought to be obvious to everyone.

The big thing here is that correlation is confused with causation. And it is even worse than that, because if there is causation, it almost certainly goes the other direction. We already know that America has some of the worse economic mobility of the advanced economies. Let’s look for a moment at high school graduation rates. There are lots of aspects of this. But let’s look at the economics of it. Schools are funded with property taxes. So rich students go to better schools and poor students go to worse schools. And then poor students end up leaving school more often. Who could ever have predicted that?!

The waiting and marrying is similar. Matthews pointed out that birth control availability is directly correlated with wealth. So it isn’t surprising that the poor would have more children out of wedlock. But in addition to this, there is the waiting question. Generally, young people put off marriage for one reason: college. Why should a young person with no real prospects wait to start a normal adult life? So all three of the “norms” beg the question to one extent or another. But that doesn’t stop conservatives from using such factoids.

What is perhaps most interesting about all of this, is that conservatives are only too happy to shove this in the face of the poor, “It’s all your own fault!” But when it comes to each of these “norms,” conservatives want to deprive the poor of easy access to them. They want a strong dollar and low inflation — both of which keep employment down. They want more inequality in education. Rich kids get trips to the museum and poor kids get metal detectors and another drill on how to take a multiple choice test. But not to worry, a poor child has an equal chance of being the next Einstein! And conservatives not only want to make birth control harder to get — they want to deprive children of even learning the science of sex.

Based upon all this, to be a conservative is to not care about anyone but yourself. Because they aren’t just willing to use questionable data to justify themselves. After all, everyone makes mistakes. But they clearly use faulty data that they know are only made worse by their own policy preference. It’s really vile.

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Ron Johnson on Electromagnetic Pulse Weapons

Max FisherTop administration officials are at Congress today for a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the Iran nuclear deal, a subject that has always brought out the crazy in American politicians.

No one expected this hearing to be anything other than a circus: the deal is politically contentious, and Republicans are trying to out-hawk one another for the coming presidential primaries. Congress did not disappoint. This tweet, from New York Times economics policy reporter Jonathan Weisman, captures the scene pretty nicely:

A bit of context: Johnson is the senior senator from Wisconsin and a Republican. Ernest Moniz is the secretary of energy and one of the lead US negotiators on the Iran deal. Electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapons are a nonsense science fiction “threat” and a longtime point of obsession among certain conservatives, such as Newt Gingrich and Ron Johnson. Johnson’s line of questioning, to a top-of-his-field nuclear physicist, is a little like asking Neil Armstrong if he thinks the moon landing might have been faked.

—Max Fisher
The Clown Show That Was the Senate Iran Hearing, in One Tweet

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Why Do Libertarians Love Private Property?

Matt ZwolinskiMatt Zwolinski published a paper earlier this year, Property Rights, Coercion, and the Welfare State: The Libertarian Case for a Basic Income for All. It is hard not to applaud it, because I find it rare for libertarians to take the issue of property rights seriously. They usually assume that property rights are a given and never address how they are actually liberty destroying. What’s more, this is especially true in that property is passed from generation to generation, so poor people are in no way given equal liberty. It is indeed like being invited to play a game of Monopoly after all the properties have been bought.

Zwolinski argues that in order to justify private property, the society must see to it that everyone is still able to make a living. With the standard Lockean proviso, the idea was that property rights were fine so long as there was still a lot of free land so that anyone who wanted to make a living off it could. It’s all very interesting, because modern conservatives still seem to live in this world where literally no one could be unemployed because there was always land to farm. They haven’t noticed that there isn’t free land to farm and the rest of us are therefore dependent (in the most abased way) on the rich.

Matt BruenigSo the idea here is to yield the point and say that all people should be given a base income, because the way that we’ve structured our society greatly limits their options. Since people can’t just farm a fallow field, society owes everyone a living. I’ve been skeptical of Zwolinski’s work before. But this particular argument is so much more enlightened than most conservative thought. The reigning theory today is that the society owes the individual noting at all, but somehow owes some individuals lots because of the history that ended with the current division of property.

But Matt Bruenig countered Zwolinski’s article, Why Have Property At All? He noted that if all a given governing system has to do is make sure people are better off than they would be otherwise, then pretty much any system works. He noted that this was especially true with social democratic systems — we have plenty of data on that. So basically, although the “basic income for all” might make libertarianism less horrible, it doesn’t distinguish it. (It’s also interesting that libertarianism as most people picture it probably does not pass the Lockean proviso.)

Bruenig doesn’t go into this, but there is a practical issue. In a social democracy, we have a system of government that is strong enough to perpetuate itself. I’ve never heard a compelling argument that a libertarian system wouldn’t quickly and predictably turn into a feudal system. With nothing to stop people from accumulating as much power (including military power) as they want, what stops them from turning their little sections of the world into dictatorships? I get that Zwolinski, as an academic, understands that private property necessarily comes with certain responsibilities. But certainly Mitt Romney doesn’t. And who is it that is going to have the power in the coming libertarian utopia? Certainly not academics.

But Bruenig’s main point is that it is bizarre for a libertarian to understand that private property really does limit liberty, but then turn himself into a pretzel in order to salvage private property. Bruenig noted, “The strong move for libertarians here is to actually go back to the origination of the term ‘libertarian,’ which had to do with anarchist communists.” So why don’t they do that? Well, he provides the main answer: they are “propertarians who masquerade as lovers of liberty.” In as much as they think about it, libertarians always start with the idea of the sanctity of private property. And this is why liberty ends up being defined relative to the government even while all the liberty destroying acts of the private sector are ignored.

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Why There Are So Many Republican Candidates

Republican PrimaryJohn Patty at Mischiefs of Faction has a theory about why there are so many Republicans running for president, Many Men, Many Supporters, United in Anger. Maybe — to some extent. I don’t think there is any more anger on the right, left, or center — but I will allow that the right has a whole industry built on fanning the flames of anger. Martin Longman over at Booman Tribune agrees with me, Why Are There So Many Candidates? He puts forward some practical ideas, like the effect of money in politics. You know: every candidate has his own billionaire. But I don’t think that is so important either.

I think the issue is more along the lines of what Daniel McCarthy said in A Line-up of Generic Conservative Candidates. But he isn’t really interested in the why question. He says that it doesn’t matter that there are so many candidates; they will start to disappear after the debates. The bigger problem is that for all the candidates, there really isn’t much in terms of disagreements. He noted that Rubio is posturing as a hawk and Rand as a dove, but they both jumped on the anti-Iran-deal criticism. He’s absolutely right: there really is no substantive differences between them.

And that, I think, is why there are so many candidates. If there are no issues to discuss, why not a brain surgeon who doesn’t believe in evolution? Or consider the case of Donald Trump. He’s the one candidate with some serious conservative apostasy. But he’s doing well because ideas don’t matter. It’s all about marketing. Who can talk the toughest? Bray the loudest? So why not a reality television star? Or an indicted governor? Or a failed corporate CEO? Or the brother of the worst president in history? Or for that matter, me?

This is going to be an election of, “Yes, but…” Bobby Jindal will say, I think we need to 10,000 more M1 Abrams tanks.” And Lindsey Graham will say, “Yes, but I think it should be 20,000!” Jeb Bush will suggest that they lower the top marginal tax rate to 25%, and Rick Perry will say, “Yes, but we should take it down to 15%.” And Ted Cruz will say, “Yes, yes, but we should just destroy the IRS!” Rick Santorum will say that we should make abortion illegal. And Mike Huckabee will say, “Yes, but we need to kill all the gays too.” It will be like that: a race to the bottom.

They can all fight over issues that won’t come up because they all start with positions that are so extreme that they will be difficult to enact even with complete control of Washington. So Republican Party primary voters have no real choice. This is like a beauty pageant. But instead of the looks of the candidates, the voters are expected to judge based upon grandstanding. Would a single Republican nominee be against repealing Obamacare? What about abandoning the Iranian nuclear treaty? Would any of them be against making the entire United States “right to work”? Or make a blanket ban on abortion? I think the answer to these questions is clearly no.

So why shouldn’t Scott Walker run for president? On the Democratic side, someone like Keith Ellison can look at the Democratic presidential nomination and think, “Bernie Sanders is already pushing the issues that I care about.” But if there were ten Bernie Sanders running for the Democratic nomination, why not Keith Ellison? In a world were all the candidates are generic as a practical matter, and where all the arguments are purely theoretical, there is no reason not to have 15 candidates. Perhaps we could use more. Maybe a few more with curly hair, a tall one, a blind one. Who knows what flavor of rigid conservative ideology the Republican base is going to prefer.

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Morning Music: Joe Hill

Joe HillToday, we’ll do one of the classics, “There Is Power in a Union.” It was written by Joe Hill, just two years before the state put him to death for being a labor activist. Of course, that wasn’t the explicit reason that he was executed. But it rarely was. It was trivial to get labor organizers convicted by a jury of their “peers” for pretty much anything. It is as I say more and more: the justice system has always been about reinforcing power and never about justice.

This version is by folk musician Joe Glazer. And the video is of the violence that erupted as a result of the Little Steel strike. People talk about how violent unions are. You will note who is violent in this video — it isn’t the workers. I find it perhaps the greatest triumph of the power elite that they have managed to make most workers have a bad opinion of the one kind of institution that has done them the greatest good: unions.

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Anniversary Post: Alice in Wonderland

Alice in WonderlandOn this day in 1951, Walt Disney released Alice in Wonderland. I love the film now, but I didn’t like it when I was a kid. I think I know why. It made me nervous. The book is filled with that too, but Disney really piled it on. Of course, now I find it charming.

What I don’t find charming is the film is 64 years old and it is locked up tight under copyright. How is it that in our fast paced world, our copyright moves ever slower? If corporations had the power and inclination in 1865, the laws would have been changed and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland would still be protected by copyright. Think about it: there is money that corporations are losing every time someone reads that book for free!

Here is the tea party scene from the film. It isn’t on YouTube, because they pander more to the copyright demands of these evil corporations than anyone. Thank God for Daily Motion. Of course, the real problems are the corporations and our government that places their demands above the common good.

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