May 06

Why So Many People Hated Hillary Clinton

Thomas Frank - Why So Many People Hated Hillary ClintonYou want to know the biggest lesson I learned touring Trumpland? People hated Hillary Clinton — to a degree that even I, with my cynicism, did not understand.

I did not hate Hillary Clinton. I voted for her, and I agreed with Obama that she was very qualified. She deserved to be president. I didn’t think she’d be a great president, but I thought she’d be OK — certainly better than Donald Trump.

I knew how to hate Donald Trump. That’s easy. He boasts about groping women. He says these evil things about Mexicans, and mocks the handicapped. It’s unbelievable the stuff this guy did and said. Hating him was easy. What I did not understand was the degree to which people really hated Hillary Clinton. And that’s ultimately what this election was about: which one do you hate more? …



What Is It About Her?

She doesn’t say rude things. She tries so hard to not offend people. I think it’s the very things that you and I like about Hillary that were the problem: she is so professional, she is so polished, and she’s such a wonderful lawyer. She went to Yale law school, and was so brilliant, and was the best in her class. People hate this.

They hate what she represents, this kind of scolding liberalism that’s better than you. In Listen, Liberal, I talked about her goodness and her righteousness. I kind of made fun of her for it. But people hate that stuff. Hate it. And people running the Democratic campaign had no idea.

–Thomas Frank
 On the Road in Trump Country

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/05/06/hated-hillary-clinton/

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May 05

Trumpcare to America: We Will Never Forgive You

Mo Brooks - Trumpcare to America: We Will Never Forgive YouI was really struck by the interview that Alabama Representative Mo Brooks had with Jake Tapper. They were talking about the issue of the new version of Trumpcare which grants states the right to allow insurance companies to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions. Brooks, in the grand tradition of white men who thought it was worth fighting a war to maintain chattel slavery, saw this as a good thing. It showed how the conservative mind (and to a less extent the American mind) works: it doesn’t believe in mercy; it does not forgive other people.

Mo Brooks said, “My understanding is that it will allow insurance companies to require people who have higher healthcare costs to contribute more to the insurance pool. That helps offset all these costs, thereby reducing the cost to those people who lead good lives. They’re healthy, they’ve done the things to keep their bodies healthy. And right now those are the people — who’ve done things the right way — that are seeing their costs skyrocketing.”

Let’s Not Forgive Mo Brooks

Let’s quickly throw aside the ending point there: that healthy people are seeing their costs skyrocketing. That’s not true. What Brooks is getting at is what conservatives supposedly hate about Obamacare: that healthy people subsidize unhealthy people. We know they are lying about this, because healthy people subsidizing unhealthy people is what health insurance has always been about and conservatives generally didn’t complain about health insurance until they were attacking Obamacare.

We also should shove aside this idea that people are healthy because did things “to keep their bodies healthy.” I can’t help but see this as nothing more than a vague bit of fat shaming. I could be wrong about this. But I’ve heard this so much over the years. When people talk about “healthy,” they almost always mean “thin.” I discussed this almost two years ago, Meghan Trainor, Fat Shaming, and the Health Myth.

I noted in that article that actual scientific studies do not find that being modestly overweight is bad for someone’s health. It’s a great irony that when I was way too thin — so skinny that it actually was unhealthy — no one was ever concerned about my health. Now that my BMI is on the high side of normal, I do occasionally get told that I should lose some weight for the good of my health. The truth is that being my weight — and quite a lot heavier — is actually quite healthy.

But I’m sure that Mo Brooks, who seems to be a fairly slender man, imagines fat people cramming pastries into their mouths. This, of course, makes them unhealthy and who has to foot the bill? Poor old slender Mo Brooks.

Do People Deserve to Live Without Healthcare?

What I’m more interested in is the possibility that Brooks is right. Not about weight, of course. But consider one of my young friends who is a skydiver. Imagine if, in practicing this very dangerous hobby, he managed to suffer a spinal cord injury. Imagine all the extra bills that go along with that!

Or imagine an actual friend of mine who used to be a heroin addict. As a result, she got Hepatitis C. Now it’s been a long time since she’s done any drugs. She does live a very healthy lifestyle now. But she has not always “done the things to keep [her body] healthy.” I suspect that good ol’ Mo Brooks would see her as the the sort of person who should have to pay more money for her health care. He can’t forgive her for her past behavior. And the fact that she will almost certainly die much younger than she would have otherwise doubtless doesn’t make any difference.

Rob Portman and the Limits of Empathy

The Angel of MercyRemember when Senator Rob Portman became pro-rights for LGBT people — because his son came out to his father. As long as gay men had nothing to do with Portman’s life, he was against them. He could only see them as full human beings once he found out that one of them was his son. Then he could grant them the rights that everyone deserves.

This goes along with the widely documented fact that people who live in high crime areas are less punitive. That is to say that people who live in an area where almost no one ever robs a liquor store will tend to think the punishment for that crime should be much more harsh than people who live in an area where liquor store robberies are fairly common.

This makes sense. In a high crime area, everyone is much more likely to know people who have committed these crimes. Thus, they see these criminals as the human beings who they are. It’s easier to have empathy, just as it was easier for Rob Portman to have empathy for LGBT people once he knew that one of them was his son, who Portman knew was an actual human being.

Americans Have a Pre-Existing Condition

It’s amazing to think that Mo Brooks’ comment did not get push-back because he was saying that he can’t forgive. This isn’t a partisan thing. Americans, in general, are this way. They really do like the idea of punishment. It’s not enough to lock someone away in a cage for ten years, they must also be stopped from having a decent job the rest of their lives.

I’ve heard both Obama and Bill Clinton say on countless occasions that people shouldn’t be punished when they lose a job “through no fault of their own.” Because that’s the thing, right: if someone is culpable for any part of their current situation, we don’t have to worry about them. And that’s because we don’t forgive as a general matter. That is the great American pre-existing condition: lack of empathy.

I get it: if someone is a rock climber, they shouldn’t be surprised if they fall to their deaths. But that doesn’t make the death of a rock climber any less tragic. And as it is, people who are attracted to extreme sports like this aren’t in any more control of it than I am in my incredible fear of it.

Let’s All Learn to Forgive

Trumpcare is a vile piece of legislation. You could make its protections of those with pre-existing conditions even stronger, and it would still be vile. The whole idea of Trumpcare is vile: that the richer and healthier you are, the more the government should work to protect you. But Trumpcare is made worse by making protection of pre-existing conditions weaker.

But it’s sad that most Americans wouldn’t have a problem with denying access to care because people didn’t behave in the past. And this is a much bigger problem than Trumpcare. Americans need to learn how to forgive.

I wish we were better than even that. I don’t think we should feel like we must forgive these people. No one is perfect. We all do things we probably shouldn’t. And whether or not you have a pre-existing condition is nothing but a matter of dumb luck. But I understand that most people can’t understand this.

So how about looking to the Bible, which so many Americans claim to worship. How about embracing the idea of mercy? How about learning to forgive?

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/05/05/america-doesnt-forgive/

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May 04

Senate Republicans Will Not Even Start With House Obamacare Replacement

Paul Ryan - Tax RedistributionSenate Republicans on Thursday said that they will come up with their own version of legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare rather than vote on the bill that House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and colleagues in the lower body of Congress have spent weeks hammering into passable shape.

Twelve lawmakers are working on a Senate proposal that may incorporate elements of the bill passed Thursday by the House, The Washington Examiner reported, but it will not be based on the current measure. …

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) told The Examiner that the group of lawmakers has already been meeting for weeks, as House leadership frantically tried to whip enough votes to pass their own bill.

“It was kind of a moot issue if the House wasn’t going to be able to pass a bill and now they have and I’m proud of them for doing it,” Cornyn said, as quoted in the report. “Now it’s up to us to pass a bill 51 senators can agree to.”

–Esme Cribb
Sorry, Ryan: Senate Republicans to Scrap House Repeal Bill, Start From Scratch

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/05/04/senate-republicans-ahca/

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May 03

In Our Society, Being Ideologue Is Best Thing to Be

Richard Stallman: In Our Society, Being an Ideologue Is the Best Thing to BeThe other day, I wrote something that touched on the cold war between Richard Stallman and Linus Torvalds, or maybe more accurately, their fans. And a colleague of mine mentioned that Stallman wasn’t a coder so much as an ideologue. I agreed with it and didn’t think much more. I don’t see “ideologue” as a pejorative. But it usually is meant in that way. And that got me thinking.

The truth of the matter is that “ideologue” is a word that people pretty much only use to describe someone they disagree with. Otherwise, they aren’t ideological so much as they are simply rational. They are people who have looked at the facts and come to the obvious conclusion. Of course, we know from neuroscience that things don’t work that way. In general, our local brains (or “guts” if you prefer) decide on things and then our upper brains come up with justifications for what are decidedly not rationally derived conclusions.

Linus Torvalds Is an Ideologue

But while it is true that Richard Stallman is an ideologue, so too is Linus Torvalds. It’s just that Torvalds’ ideology is a painfully typical one among the Silicon Valley crowd. He’s an atheist and everything I’ve heard him say that touches on politics makes me think he’s a glibertarian.

As a result, most people would say he isn’t an ideologue, because his thinking fits well inside America’s Overton window. And in terms of Silicon Valley, Torvalds’s political beliefs put him in the dead center of what is a tiny Overton window.But most people think Richard Stallman is an ideologue because his thinking actually challenges the status quo and the power elite. This isn’t to say that Stallman is a political genius. Based upon things he’s said, it’s clear that he could stand to learn a little about good old fashioned political science.

But Stallman is clearly a creative thinker. And that has made him come up with ideas that are dangerous. He is seen as an extremist. But is he really? I would say no. His ideas are not even as extreme as mine, and I stay pretty easily inside the world’s political Overton window. The whole thing reminds me rather of something we see a lot here in American political punditry: the professional centrist.

Centrism as Non-Ideological

In the United States, the professional centrist is best exemplified by our man from Slate, William Saletan. He’s a centrist. He calls himself a “liberal Republican,” and you can’t help but think that he wouldn’t have a cushy job at Slate if he called himself a conservative Democrat (because such things actually exist) or — God forbid! — a leftist. But the main thing is that Saletan supposedly represents the center of American politics and thus is like all the people in middle America who supposedly just want the folks in Washington to “get things done!”

The problem is that I, with my (by American standards) extreme leftist politics have much more in common with the people in middle America than William Saletan has. Saletan, like most professional centrists, is actually an extremist. He has extremist opinions on the right when it comes to economic policy and exttremist opinions on the left when it comes to social policy. The people of middle America are the opposite of Saletan: they have extreme views on the left on economic policy and extreme views on the right on social policy. So they don’t agree with Saletan about anything. They at least agree with me on economic issues.

The Power Elite Define the Ideologue

And so it is with Richard Stallman and Linus Torvalds. Among the power elite, Torvalds’ opinions (or lack thereof: he is of the “A plague on both your houses!” persuasion) are just fine. He would never do anything that might interfere with the profits of Pfizer, Disney, or Apple. So he isn’t an ideologue. The fact that his ideas are extreme and unpopular doesn’t matter. That’s what Orwell didn’t understand: give people a shiny enough prison and they will gladly give themselves life without the possibility of parole.

Richard Stallman is an ideologue because his ideas are unacceptable. But they are unacceptable not because most people would disagree with them; they are unacceptable because the power elite don’t like them. And they don’t like them because those idea threaten their power. But our society is so sick that even people who are not part of the power elite accept the thinking of the power elite because it doesn’t occur to them that they could do anything else.

In a society as screwed up as ours is, being called an ideologue is the highest of complements.

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/05/03/ideologue/

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May 02

How the US “Protects” Us From International Terrorism

How the US 'Protects' Us From International TerrorismThe US government segregates terrorism cases into two categories — domestic and international. This database contains cases classified as international terrorism, though many of the people charged never left the United States or communicated with anyone outside the country.

Since the 9/11 attacks, most of the 796 terrorism defendants prosecuted by the US Department of Justice have been charged with material support for terrorism, criminal conspiracy, immigration violations, or making false statements — vague, nonviolent offenses that give prosecutors wide latitude for scoring quick convictions or plea bargains. 523 defendants have pleaded guilty to charges, while the courts found 175 guilty at trial. Just 2 have been acquitted and 3 have seen their charges dropped or dismissed, giving the Justice Department a near-perfect record of conviction in terrorism cases.

Today, 345 people charged with terrorism-related offenses are in custody in the United States, including 58 defendants who are awaiting trial and remain innocent until proven guilty.

Very few terrorism defendants had the means or opportunity to commit an act of violence. The majority had no direct connection to terrorist organizations. Many were caught up in FBI stings, in which an informant or undercover agent posed as a member of a terrorist organization. The US government nevertheless defines such cases as international terrorism.

415 terrorism defendants have been released from custody, often with no provision for supervision or ongoing surveillance, suggesting that the government does not regard them as imminent threats to the homeland.

A large proportion of the defendants who did have direct connections to terrorist groups were recruited as informants or cooperating witnesses and served little or no time in prison. At present, there have been 32 such cooperators. By contrast, many of the 296 defendants caught up in FBI stings have received decades in prison because they had no information or testimony to trade. They simply didn’t know any terrorists.

The Intercept
Trial and Terror

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/05/02/international-terrorism/

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May 01

I Haven’t Been to Paris; I Haven’t Been to Rome

Frank Moraes with Grumpy Squirrel - Stallman vs TorvaldsThe title of this article comes from Jonathan Richman’s song “New England”: “I’ve already been to Paris, I’ve already been to Rome; and what did I do but miss my home? Oh, New England!” There’s a bit of irony in the song when you consider that within about a decade, he would move to California, after writing, “I have been out west to Californ’ — but I missed the land where I was born.” Anyway, I haven’t been anywhere unusual. In fact, I’ve been the most normal place (for me) in the world: my bedroom/office.

Work has just exploded and I’m trying to keep up. I didn’t manage to wake up today until 1:00 this afternoon, and it is only now at 5:00 this evening that I’ve had time to start writing this. There are lost of people depending on me. And it’s nice to be wanted.

Politics

So what’s going on in the world of politics? Have you noticed that when it comes to national politics, the answer is “nothing”? Or rather, “The same as every other day”? Donald Trump is saying something that doesn’t make any sense but ultimately, he isn’t getting anything done and so we cn all feel a little better about that.

James Hohmann wrote The Daily 202: Eight Ways Trump Got Rolled in His First Budget Negotiation. That’s something that is kind of interesting, but hardly surprising for those of us who were paying attention. We expected that Trump wouldn’t be much into the job of President of the United States. But many (little brains) thought that he would be some kind of deal maker. If you paid attention to his business career, you certainly knew that “Trump Deal Maker” was nothing but branding based on no actual truth.

The article is about the budget deal that Trump made. Of getting such a bad deal for himself, Trump said, “I think the rules in Congress and, in particular the rules in the Senate, are unbelievably archaic and slow moving and, in many cases, unfair.” I hate a paraphrase a man as evil as Donald Rumsfeld, but you know, you negotiate with reality as it exists, not reality as you wish it existed.

Every time Trump says something like this, it makes Hillary Clinton’s main campaign pitch (which I disagreed with) sound all the more devastating, “Vote for me because I know what the hell I’m doing.” Trump famously said that “no one” knew healthcare was so complicated. Everything is complicated to Trump. And the fact that he has a bunch of money is just another example of how the rich are not allowed to fail in our society.

Space Exploration?!

Space.com reported, Wow! See Epic Views of SpaceX’s 1st Spysat Launch and Rocket Landing. Now I’m all for private exploration of space. But let’s get one thing clear: SpaceX and other companies are following in the footsteps of a very big NASA. And it will continue to be that way. Oh, NASA may not be long for this world. Conservatives would love to destroy the space program. And regardless, the US is a dying empire.

But it is collective action that has allowed us to explore the Moon and the planets and the rest of the solar system. Companies like SpaceX are just like pharmaceutical and internet companies that have made their fortunes on the backs of our collective action. This is one of the reasons I’m not a capitalist: it’s always individuals making money after the really expensive part of the work was done by the government. And to make matters worse, once these individuals make huge amounts of money off the backs of the government, they do everything they can not to pay the meager taxes that they owe.

In this particular case, it was a big deal that a private company did something governments have been doing since the 1950s. I see that and I think, “Oh, how pathetic!” But Space.com thinks that it is, “Wow!” To top things off, SpaceX launched from a US government location: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. If you ever want to know how scientifically sophisticated someone is, ask them what they think of Elon Musk. He’s the Steve Jobs of science. And those who have been reading me for a while, know that this is not a compliment.

Richard Stallman vs Linus Torvalds

This makes me think of the difference between Richard Stallman and Linus Torvalds. They are, generally, about equally smart. But Torvalds is not a creative man. And as such, he’s the much more famous of the two. It’s really interesting. Stallman — largely by organizing and energizing a large group of people — created a software structure. Torvalds came in and added one piece to it — a piece that would have been added by someone within a year or two. Torvalds without Stallman is nothing. Stallman without Torvalds is still hugely important.

For example, I’m not writing this on GNU/Linux, but I’m using a whole bunch of GNU tools. The truth is that it doesn’t much matter to me what kernal I’m running, as long as I have all those Unix tools that I’ve come to depend upon. Now in their cases, this isn’t a matter of money. But that’s usually how it is: whoever creates just the right piece of a technology at just the right time is the person who becomes rich. I still find it amazing that people don’t see this.

Some day, I think people will see the truth. They will get past their obsessions with facts that tell them that the GDP increased more this year than last, and start seeing that measuring GDP doesn’t really move them any closer to the truth. Richard Stallman does understand that the political and economic system we have is all messed up. It doesn’t even occur to a mind such as Torvalds that this is the case.

And Back to Donald Trump

So that brings us back to Donald Trump. He doesn’t much matter when you look at the big picture. On the small scale, he matters. People are dying because he’s president. And that’s why we must fight the Republican Party. But we also have to think much more deeply and see that regardless whether Donald Trump or FDR is president: we live in an immoral society.

I’m happy to be working more — to be valued by our immoral system. But to answer the rhetorical question of James L Brooks’ classic As Good as It Gets: yes, in this society, this is as good as it gets. And this should trouble a whole lot more people. But I find that most give me blake stares when I bring up the subject. They don’t see the problem. To anwwer Samular Becket’s rhetorical question: this one is good enough.

Well, not for me.

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/05/01/stallman-torvalds/

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Apr 29

Chaos Theory as it Relates to Rick and Morty

Fractal - Chaos TheoryIt’s weird, but the television show Rick and Morty has given me many ideas for articles. There’s just so much to it. A show like Bob’s Burgers is really all about the characters. But Rick and Morty brings up so many bizarre ideas that I have a hard time not getting lost in them. Most recently, I was thinking of the infinite timelines. This is what explains the Council of Ricks and Jerryboree — the daycare center for Jerrys. Of course, it’s all absurd.

To begin with, if there are infinite timelines, why are there only three thousand Ricks on the Council of Ricks? Well, I do have what might sound like a reasonable explanation: out of the infinite timelines, there are only so many that just happened to have Ricks. This doesn’t work, of course. If there are an infinite number of timelines, there would be an infinite number of timelines with Rick. Infinity is that way. But that doesn’t bother me all that much. What does bother me is this: Rick, Morty, Summer, Beth, Jerry.

Chaos Theory

The issue is this: chaos theory. When I was in my 20s, chaos theory was the thing — even non-nerds were into it. I wasn’t, of course. And that’s because it’s actually a really simple thing. (Research on it, is another matter; but that’s beyond pretty much all but specialists.) It’s just about non-linear systems. Let me explain.

Imagine you are pushing a cart down the road at a fairly constant rate and I’m making measurements of it to figure out how far you’ve gone. That’s a linear system. If I make a small mistake in the measurement of your speed, it will cause me to be wrong in calculating the distance you’ve traveled. But the error will be proportional to the error I made in your speed.

Non-Linear Systems

Rick and MortyNow imagine that you are tripling your speed every ten seconds. Then a small error in my speed measurements will lead to a huge error in the distance traveled. In this case, the error will be squared for reasons that I’d love to explain to you, but don’t have the time (nor, admit it, do you the the interest — a fact I know from experience).

Non-linear systems can be highly non-linear, however. To (inappropriately) use the cart example, you could have a situation where a single small error would cause your final answer to be off by a factor of millions. And that’s what chaos theory is all about. And we have an example of that: the weather, which is where this all started. If you want to know more, learn about Edward Lorenz.

Chaos Theory and Time

Think about time. But first, let’s quote Robert Marley from John Dies at the End, “Time is an ocean, not a garden hose.” We have to forget that, even though I think it’s more or less correct. Imagine time as a garden hose — a line. How chaotic is it? Well, we certainly know it is nothing close to linear. Consider the following example:

A woman is going to buy a ticket for the state lottery. She uses the random system. On her way to the store to get it, a squirrel darts in front of her causing her to slow down and get to the store a couple of seconds later. That is the difference between her life going on as usual and her life completely changing because she won a half billion dollars.

That’s one example. So my belief is that time is the most chaotic system imaginable — indeed, infinitely chaotic — the ultimate example of chaos theory. And that brings us back to Rick and Morty. The best estimates are that our universe is 13.8 billion years old. Given that all of the universes in the show are roughly the same, they too must be that old. Time is just stuff happening: it’s a concept to explain why things change; this is why time doesn’t exist without matter. And 13.8 billion years is a lot of time.

A Long Time Coming: 13.8 Billion Years

Even if time were non-chaotic and changes had linear effects — if small changes would have small effects — that’s enough time that there just wouldn’t be multiple Ricks. But even if there were, how is it that they all marry the same woman who has a daughter named Beth, who goes on to marry a man named Jerry with whom she has two children named Morty and Summer.

Okay: infinity. If there are an infinite number of timelines, then literally every possible universe would exist. (It’s still odd that all of those universes start at the same time.) But if that’s the case, where are all the timelines that are exactly like the 3,000 that we know about except that Morty’s sister is named Winter?

I understand: Rick and Morty is just a television show — one I find quite entertaining. But I actually think that it is dangerous to think that time is not chaotic. Politically, it’s the same as believing in an activist God. It justifies kings because they are the result of fate rather than blind chance.

Who You Are Is the Result of Dumb Luck

The more we know about the world, the more we know that luck is everything. Were you born with a good body? Were you born to parents who raised you in a loving and intellectually stimulating environment? Did you inherit billions of dollars? Were you born in the San Francisco rather than Monrovia? Did a squirrel run in front of your car when you went to buy your lottery ticket?

I think that if people can see that their entire success in life is due to nothing but luck (and I cannot escape this conclusion myself), then we will build a more equitable society. Feudalism existed because people believed that God chose how people’s lives should be. Capitalism exists because people believe that the rich have earned what they have — at least to some extent.

Thomas Paine: Computer Program

Thomas PaineThomas Paine was a great rhetorician who was far ahead of his time in terms of social thinking. But that’s just because he was born with the perfect body and environment to make him Thomas Paine. He didn’t choose to be Thomas Paine. Now that’s not to say that we shouldn’t look up to him. The society should pay tribute to people who made the world better, because we want to create an environment that causes people to be better. Thomas Paine’s body born into 1950 Soviet Union would not be the Thomas Paine we all know and love.

But recognizing that Thomas Paine could no more be anything other than what he was than that a computer program can do anything other than what it was programmed to do allows us to see that having great material differences between people is immoral. Thomas Paine should not have had any more comfortable a life than the millions of African slaves that supported the southern colonies’ economies. We are nothing more (or less) than exactly what we have to be.

Immoral Society Based on False Premises

And these are the kinds of things that you can think about if you watch Rick and Morty. Time is the ultimate example of chaos theory. Luck is the only thing that determines who we are. There is no free will. Our unwillingness to see this provides intellectual cover for an immoral system — one that (if we are very lucky) future generations will look back on in horror, just as we look back at the burning of witches and the enslavement of humans.

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/04/29/chaos-theory/

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Apr 28

Poor Pay More Taxes Than Rich

Poor Pay More Taxes Than RichWhen all forms of taxes and income are considered, poor Americans pay higher tax rates than the richest 1%.

The analysis starts with state and local taxes, which are often ignored by apologists for big-income tax cuts. According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, the state and local tax rate for the poorest 20 percent of individuals is double that of the top 1 percent (10.9 percent vs. 5.4 percent). New data from Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman allows us to go further: When unrealized capital gains are included in the wealth-building of the richest 1%, the overall tax rates plunge for the super-rich, causing the poorest Americans to pay the highest rates.

What is the justification for adding unrealized capital gains to one’s income? The 16th Amendment gives Congress the power “to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived.” Thus, under an original definition of income developed by the American economists Robert M. Haig and Henry C. Simons in the 1920s and still utilized by financial economists, an increase in the value of a stock or other asset would be subject to taxation even if it’s not sold.

With this more accurate guide to income measurement, the real tax rates paid by the 1% can be calculated. The bottom line is that poor Americans pay about 25 percent in total taxes, while the 1% pays anywhere from 18 to 23 percent.

–Paul Buchheit
The Rich Pay Fewer Taxes Than the Poor, and Get More Services

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/04/28/one-percent-taxes/

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Apr 27

Fake Hypocrisy Versus Real Hypocrisy

Fake Hypocrisy Versus Real HypocrisyThere’s this thing about modern American conservatism: it’s clueless appropriation of liberal complaints. You see it all the time in countless ways. But I want to talk about hypocrisy today, because of something I just saw. But before I get to that, I want to go back almost three years.

At that time, I wrote an article about the religious scholar Robert M Price. He’s incredibly knowledgeable on Christianity, but also other things like New Age belief systems and H P Lovecraft. And in this way, he’s what one would have to call a liberal — some would say a radical. But politically, he’s conservative. But he’s not a smart conservative. Whenever he talks about politics, it’s clear that all his information comes from right wing radio.

And on one occasion, he said something that I had heard so many times before. He was talking about hypocrisy as it related to the Bible. And then he gave an example.

Fake Hypocrisy

I wrote at the time:

And as an example, he mentioned Congress members who excluded themselves from Obamacare. Well, as anyone who knows anything about Obamacare can tell you: Obamacare doesn’t affect people who already get healthcare from their employers. But it is because of this conservative talking point that the law was changed and gummed up even more.

This is a clear example of fake hypocrisy. The Democratic members of Congress (Remember: not a single Republican in either house voted for it.) weren’t treating themselves any different than they were treating people who work full-time at Walmart.

“Republican legislators liked this policy well enough to offer it in a new amendment. They do not, however, seem to like it enough to have it apply to themselves and their staff.” –Sarah Kliff

Now sure: if Congress had passed single-payer healthcare and forbade people from buying private insurance (something that would never happen) and then kept their previous insurance, that would have been hypocrisy. But that wasn’t the case. Price thought it was hypocrisy because he didn’t know what he was talking about.

Real Hypocrisy

And so we come to the present day. On Monday, Sarah Kliff wrote, Republicans Exempt Their Own Insurance From Their Latest Health Care Proposal. She put it simply, “House Republicans appear to have included a provision that exempts members of Congress and their staff from their latest health care plan.” What she’s talking about is the provision that allows states to opt out of “Obamacare’s ban on preexisting conditions.” You know: so that sick people in Alabama and Idaho could be further screwed over. I guess in the fantasyland of Republicans, that’s called “Choice!”

But Kliff continued:

Republican legislators liked this policy well enough to offer it in a new amendment. They do not, however, seem to like it enough to have it apply to themselves and their staff. A spokesperson for Representative Tom MacArthur (R-NJ), who authored this amendment, confirmed this was the case: Members of Congress and their staff would get the guarantee of keeping these Obamacare regulations.

I wish that Dr Price read the newspaper instead of getting all his news filtered through Rush Limbaugh. Because here is a case of real hypocrisy. In fact, it is a case of stunningly wicked hypocrisy. This is Old Testament kind of hypocrisy — you know: David and Bathsheba hypocrisy.

It’s All Different Now

Of course, now everything’s changed. Yesterday, Kliff wrote, GOP House Member Says He’ll Fix the Exemption for Congress in His Health Bill. The member in question is Tom MacArthur himself. But the only reason he’s removing it from the bill is because he got caught. If it hadn’t been reported on, it would have stayed. MacArthur put it in the bill because, like most Republican politicians, he’s a real hypocrite.

To make matters worse, MacArthur appears to have lied about the reason he put it in. He blamed the Senate Budget Committee. The Senate Budget Committee spokesperson said in no uncertain terms that this was absolutely false. It was not, as Ben Bradlee would say, “A non-denial denial.”

Summing Up

A liberal friend of mine doesn’t like it when I go after Republicans so harshly because she has Republican family members and friends. But the funny thing is that as I’ve become less partisan — feeling like I’m floating out there far to the Democratic Party’s left — my opinion of Republicans has cratered. The politicians are — with almost no exceptions — simply evil. And the voters are stupid, ignorant, or both.

I just don’t have the time for it anymore. If the Soviet Union was the Evil Empire, the United States is the Evil Empire. And that’s certainly what the world thinks. But like all evil empires throughout history, we think we’re just spreading peace and love. We are an ignorant people. It’s not surprising that half of us can’t tell the difference between fake hypocrisy and real hypocrisy.

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/04/27/hypocrisy/

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Apr 27

We’ve Lived Long in a Post-Truth World

Richard SeymourWe live, supposedly, in an age of “fake news” and “post-truth politics.” This is a misunderstanding. “Pre-post-truth politics” includes the era of the “war on terror” and its deceptions, and the orthodoxies and falsehoods which led to the elite debacle of the credit crunch. It is technique, not truth, which has been found wanting. That is, the idea of a “fact” as an objective measurement of reality, is losing ground in the post-credit crunch era.

“Post-truth politics” is what, until now, we have been living under: technocracy, in a word. The “monstrous worship of facts,” as Wilde called it, is nothing other than an avoidance of the question of truth. The category of “fake news” describes a fusion of infotainment, propaganda, public relations and churnalism which has been long in the making, now accelerated by online advertising revenues. The moral panic which blames “fake news” for the rise of fascism and right-wing populism misses the point that these degraded ecologies of information have triumphed in the vacuum of political possibilities produced by the post-Cold War consensus.

What the moral panic also obscures, by displacing it, is the fact that “fake news” is just one symptom of the breakdown of the near ideological monopoly previously enjoyed by large commercial and state media outlets.

–Richard Seymour
After the Catastrophe: Resistance and the Post-Truth Era

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/04/27/post-truth-world/

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Apr 26

Creed: the Best Swan Song for the Rocky Franchise

Creed Would Be the Best Song Song for the Rocky FranchiseOver the weekend, I watched the 2015 hit Creed. This is not surprising. Since I saw the first Rocky in early 1977, I’ve been a fan of it. That first film remains a great cinematic accomplishment. Although utterly genre, John Avildsen’s direction makes the film seem almost cinéma vérité. It was the first film to make major use of the steadicam — but primarily for financial reasons. Thus, it adds to the film rather than distracting as it did in many films to follow, most notably Goodfellas. The acting was exceptional, and the script establish Sylvester Stallone as one of the best genre writers in Hollywood.

I was almost as happy with Rocky II. Although Stallone directed it, he did his best to imitate Avildsen. I remember going to see Rocky III on opening day and being crushed. It was clear at that point that any art in the Rocky franchise was gone and that it was now commodity. Rocky IV was an offense of epic proportions. Even without getting into the politics of it, the casting of Dolph Lundgren was rediculous. Rocky V is an odd film. It is Stallone’s weakest script, but it manages to succeed more than it deserves with the return of Avildsen as director. Finally, Rocky Balboa managed to charm, but the boxing was ancillary and even more unbelievable than usual.

Creed Is a Reboot

I just don’t think Creed could have been a hit four decades ago, which is all the more reason it makes a fine bookend to the Rocky franchise.

Creed is distinct in many ways. Primarily, it is a reboot — essentially a remake of the first film. It is the only one in the Rocky universe in which the title character does no boxing. Unlike all the other films that you could say were Stallone’s, this one is writer-director Ryan Coogler’s. (It was co-written with Aaron Covington.) And there is much to like about him. I think he has a fine career ahead of him. But Creed is hardly a great film, even though only the original Rocky is clearly superior.

The biggest problem with the film is that it tries to do far too much in what is, after all, a simple genre picture. The film is based on the same “give a nobody the chance of a lifetime” plot that the original was based on. I have no problem with that. But I’m not sure how a writer could create a story based on that kernel and then expect us to take seriously the chemotherapy treatments of the trainer. But more than that, this is a film that is cluttered with too many subplots and a lead character that doesn’t have much in the way of a personality.

Creed Washes Racist Tint of Original

Still, I’m very glad the film was made, because it makes up from what I always saw as a problem with the first film: its implicit racism. By this, I’m not talking about the film itself. Rather, I’m talking about what I discussed in Zulu and the Racism We Bring to It. I simply don’t think that Rocky would have been a hit had the races of the fighters been swapped. That’s just a fact of American life. Maybe its more accurate to say that the problem is ethnocentrism: whites want to see a white man win — especially in the mid-1970s — when whites in the US were still in their migration from the cities to the suburbs to escape the “horrors” of busing.

Creed does manage to reverse the races of the characters. And it does it effectively and affectingly. Just the same, Tony Bellew as the “bad” British boxer Ricky Conlan isn’t quite the threat that Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) was. Creed was a stand-in for the ultimate white terror: an intelligent and powerful black man. In fact, that’s one of the high points of the original movie where Creed is working on his various business dealings while we watch Rocky punching raw frozen beef on the television.

Let Creed Be the Franchise’s End

I find it impossible not to see Creed in political terms — and very positives ones at that. The first was a huge hit, and I just don’t think Creed could have been a hit four decades ago. And it makes a fine bookend to the Rocky franchise. Unfortunately, a sequel was in development and may become a film. I doubt that Coogler would be much involved, given he is finishing Black Panther and seems generally of a mind to make films of some substance.

My hope is that Creed is the end of the franchise. It is the way to go out. What would a sequel offer us anyway? It would almost certainly be a combination of Rocky II and Rocky III. Adonis Johnson (Michael B Jordan) would marry Bianca (Tessa Thompson). And Rocky would die — but probably much later in the film than Mickey (Burgess Meredith) did in Rocky III. And Creed would become the champion. I just can’t see it being anything but filmmaking by the numbers.

Creed would be the best swan song for this very uneven franchise. I dearly hope that it is.

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/04/26/creed/

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Apr 26

Corporate Tax Cut Would Destroy Government

George CallasI want to pick up on… the constraints of reconciliation rules as well as [the possibility that] the White House might come out with a plan that has no offsets. It is a very, very important point here. A plan of business tax cuts that has no offsets… is not a thing. It’s not a real thing and people can come up with whatever plans they want. Not only can that not pass Congress, it cannot even begin to move through Congress day one.

There are political reasons for that. Number one, members wouldn’t vote for it. But there are also statutory procedural legal reasons why that can’t happen… There is this magic unicorn running around, and I think one of the biggest threats to the timeline on tax reform is the continued survival of magic unicorns — people saying “Why don’t we do this instead?” when this is actually something that cannot be done. And as long as that exists, it’s hard to move forward by getting people to go through what the Speaker refers to as the stages of grief for tax reform where you have to come to the realization that there are tough choices that have to be made. And you cannot escape those tough choices.

[The reconciliation rules] don’t say that tax cuts have to sunset in 10 years. They say that you cannot have the deficit increase beyond the 10 year window… If your permanent tax reform that is fully offset with the base broadening forever, you are fine. You don’t have to make anything sunset under the reconciliation rules. You can have permanent tax cuts that are paid for in the out years. You have legislation that has no offsets, no base broadening, so it’s just tax cuts. You either have to get Democrats to support it, which they will not. Or you have to do it through reconciliation so you can do it on a partisan basis with only Republican votes.

Again, reconciliation says you cannot increase the deficit after 10 years… Here is a data point for folks. A corporate rate cut that is sunset after three years will increase the deficit in the second decade. We know this. Not 10 years. Three years. You could not do a straight-up offset three-year corporate rate cut in reconciliation. The rules prohibit it.

You might be able to do two years. A two year corporate rate cut would have virtually no growth effect. It would not alter business decisions. It would not cause anyone to build a factory. It would not stop any inversions or acquisitions of US companies by foreign companies. It would not cause anyone to restructure their supply chain. It would just be dropping cash out of helicopters on corporate headquarters for a couple of years.

–George Callas
Institute of International Finance Policy Summit, Tax Policy

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/04/26/george-callas/

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