Fitbit and Corporate Oppression

Fitbit Go365Last week, I watched Michael Moore’s new film, Fahrenheit 11/9. It was good — even inspiring. But what most stood out to me was the story of a teacher’s strike in West Virginia. Really, just one part of it. The teachers were forced to buy and wear the Fitbit Go365 just to get insurance. And if they didn’t get sufficient exercise, they were charged $500 at the end of the year.

It’s the Corporations Not the Government

I’ve long been parroting Neil Postman’s idea that our society has turned into Aldous Huxley’s nightmare of a people controlled through pleasure rather than George Orwell’s nightmare of control through terror and pain. But the truth is that neither get at the way control exists in the modern world. We effectively have no government in that it is controlled for the purpose of making our largest corporations profitable. Thus, it is the corporations that control us.

Seen in this light, both Huxley and Orwell were prescient. Corporations use both carrots and sticks on us. And forcing teachers to wear the Fitbit device is a great example of this. Most Americans would be apoplectic if the government directly demanded that people wear a fitness device. But in this case, it is “voluntary”! Teachers don’t have to get health insurance. And if they exercise enough, they won’t face the $500 fine! This, in America, is what we call choice.

Neoliberalism: Tyrany of the Corporations

This is also what the federal government does to states. For example, states didn’t have to participate in the test-obsessed and charter-schools-pushing Race to the Top. But if they wanted extra money for their already under-funded schools, they had to. (Of course, many of them didn’t get much money anyway.)

And this is ultimately what is wrong with neoliberal policy. Private business doesn’t get involved with government in order to make the country better. I’m not sure why people don’t see this. After all, we are constantly reminded that corporations have but one purpose: to make money. Yet as a group, we buy this pseudo-science of the “magic of the market.” Charter schools will save us because of unknown market magic. And never do a statistical analysis! Instead, compare the best charter schools to the worst public schools!

Similarly, we have test-based education because the non-profit foundations of the Gates and Walton families have decided that it is the key to better education. I won’t say they are doing it just to avoid higher taxes, because the truth is that I don’t think it even occurs to them that higher taxes might be necessary. When you have that much money, you just know higher taxes are counterproductive.

There Is No Choice

But the Fitbit story still stands out. You probably remember how the televisions in Nineteen Eighty-Four were two-way. During morning exercise, Winston was chastised for not performing well enough. The power elite don’t need such low-tech systems of control. They can just use technology to see how many steps you take per day.

But don’t, for a minute, think this isn’t coerced. Our society has developed a mythology that obscures coercion. It goes along with the idea that if a woman doesn’t stab a man forcing himself on her, she wasn’t raped. Someone who’s been out of work for a year has the “choice” to not take that job that forces them to accept arbitration. And the teachers at Stonewall Jackson (!) Public School had the “choice” to go without health insurance or work somewhere else.

All of these things are coercive. And no amount of myth-making changes that. But in order for it to matter, people need to recognize that all these “choices” aren’t. They aren’t even real alternatives.[1]

[1] A choice provides you with the ability to pick from all possibilities. An alternative allows you to pick from a set number. People usually don’t make this distinction, but it is profound. In a capitalist system, one rarely gets a choice unless they are rich.

Howard Schultz and Delusional “Moderates”

Howard SchultzHere we go again! Billionaire coffee monger Howard Schultz is thinking of running a “third-way” campaign for the president. You see, according to him, what Americans are begging for is a man who is tolerant of gays, wants more immigration, and wants to see less spending on Social Security and Medicare. Democratic voters would generally agree with the first part of that but not to the extent that they would hate the second part. Republican voters would hate all of it.

Who are the people begging for this man to run?

Mostly, it appears that rich media figures are looking for Howard Schultz or any of hundreds just like him. You know: people like Scott Pelley who has a net worth of $16 million.

You see, Howard Schultz is offering exactly what urbane rich people most want:

  1. Low taxes because they want to keep their money
  2. Few regulations because they don’t have to worry about unsafe working conditions or environmental poisoning but love cheap stuff
  3. Social tolerance because diversity is fun as long as you don’t have to be near poor people.

There’s nothing wrong with this. Vote your interests rich people! The problem is that these particular rich people report it as given that this is the what the rest of us want.

What Americans Do Not Want

Back in 2016, the Voter Study Group produced a report, Political Divisions in 2016 and Beyond. And one of its findings was what I’ve known for decades: almost no one is socially liberal and economically conservative.

There are plenty of people who are the opposite: socially conservative and economically liberal. In the following graph, you can see this for the 2016 election. The blue dots are Clinton supporters, red dots are Trump, and the yellow dots are for someone else — generally what’s his name, the Libertarian.

Ideology 2016 - From Voter Study Group

What Americans Largely Do Want

What’s amazing is that the quadrant that is almost empty is the one that the media constantly tell us is the mean between the two extremes. It’s called “moderate” or “centrist” but it is really libertarian.

The opposite quadrant has a much larger claim to being indicative of what Americans want. That’s because Americans are bigots who don’t want anyone messing with their Medicare and Social Security. This is populism in America.

Yet we are expected to believe that what Howard Schultz offers is a non-ideological plan. One that just so happens to be what is best for Scott Pelley and him. Libertarianism isn’t ideological in the sense that what you want is never ideological; it’s just common sense!

Extremist Non-Ideology

Even worse, these so-called moderates and centrists are usually extremist. Most Americans would find them very liberal on social issues and very conservative on economic issues. Even the extremists in the Republican Party know they have to talk around cutting entitlement programs. But to Howard Schultz, it’s just good government!

I get tired of repeating this. But the truth is that the mainstream media have yet to get a clue about this myth they report as undisputed fact. They present populists as if they are dangerous. But these libertarians masquerading as moderates are presented as brave truth tellers. As long as the media don’t get a clue, the rest of us will have to continue to point this stuff out.

But the issue is actually quite clear: don’t trust rich people. They are not here to save us. They are running because they have huge egos and figure that governing is a win-win: they get more money and power and the people get the benefit of their genius. At least in their minds.

Does Obviously Wrong Propaganda Work?

Obama 2009 Trump 2019

This is a curious infographic courtesy of GOP Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel. In a tweet, she commented, “Under @realDonaldTrump, our economy is finally working for ALL Americans. Here’s a 10-year challenge you haven’t seen before…”

My first thought was, “There’s a reason why we haven’t seen this before!” This is obvious propaganda — data meant to deceive rather than enlighten.

The Data

The unemployment data are more or less correct. There are problems, however. For example, there is no data for 2019. These numbers were taken from the BLS for December 2018. Not a big deal except that they could not do a direct comparison without 2019 data. Of course, Obama wasn’t president in January 2019 so I suppose it doesn’t matter. The data for Obama is also largely based on the December 2009. So this is really a 9-year comparison, but I guess that doesn’t look as good.

It’s hard to say what is going on with the GDP numbers. For the year of 2009, the real GDP change was -2.5 percent. The data are not available for 2018. However, the real GDP change for 2017 was only 2.2 percent. I assume they are using some non-official estimate.

In Obama’s first year, there were 3.7 million jobs lost. They seem to be using the period Dec 2008 to Dec 2009. There were 1.4 million jobs lost in the first two months of that period (when Bush was still president). There have been roughly 2.6 million jobs created from Dec 2017 to Dec 2018. Since 2010, the economy has been pretty consistent in the number of jobs created.

Obvious Propaganda

Of course, the bigger issue is just that this is a totally ridiculous comparison. Obama took office in the middle of a massive recession. Trump took office during a recovery. This is obvious stuff — even to GOP operatives.

Generally, when people are at all intellectually honest, they compare like years. So it might make some sense to compare 2010 and 2018. But these years are fairly similar and don’t make a stark comparison.

Indeed, the fact that Trump looks so much better in this comparison should cause even Trump supporters to question this. But I doubt it does. And that raises the question of why people accept things like this.

Obviously Wrong Propaganda Works on Some

But this is a partisan issue. As Dean Baker pointed out, after Trump was elected, Democrats rated the economy as good as they did under Obama. But Republicans rated it radically different. Before Trump was elected, only 20 percent rated the economy good. After he was elected, roughly 75 percent rated it as good.

The economy hadn’t changed in a categorical way. It had simply continued to grow as it had before. And this is why I think Republicans fall for this kind of stuff. It doesn’t occur to them to question it since they have no doubt that the economy is vastly improved since Trump. (The number saying the economy was good doubled just due to his election!)

This is not true of Democrats — even when the numbers are cooked to make them look good. Because fundamentally, liberals are not certain about things. This is a defining characteristic: self-analysis and doubt.

More than anything, we know that this kind of propaganda works with conservative voters because conservative elites create it. If they didn’t work, they wouldn’t be created. On the other side of this, liberals don’t pass around garbage like this because liberal voters will not accept it. And in the long-term, they would ignore anyone known to create such propaganda.

Of course, it is also true that Democrats don’t have to present misleading information. The economy does better under Democrats than Republicans. And there are reasons for this.

Innumeracy and Reporting on the Government Shutdown

Innumeracy and Reporting on the Government ShutdownI know this is trivial, but the way the media report on the cost of Donald Trump’s wall drives me crazy. He has asked for $5.7 billion. But many outlets don’t like reporting $5.7 and instead report numbers that are mathematically wrong.

The Absurdity of This Wall Request

First, let’s consider the absurdity of Trump’s request. The amount he is asking for appears to be meaningless. He first asked for $5 billion and then increased it to $5.7. There is no documentation on how this money will be used. The only thing we know is that it will supposedly pay for perhaps 200 miles of border wall. And that’s interesting because there are roughly 1,000 miles of border without wall.

This is similar to the problem of compressing a balloon with your hands. When you push one part of it in another part pops out. We already have border walls in the areas where it is easiest for people to cross. Closing 20 percent of the border will inconvenience those forced to cross the un-walled areas but won’t significantly reduce the crossings.

I understand that this is supposed to be the first part. But after two years he is only now getting around to doing 20 percent of the wall? Even if he wins re-election in 2020, this wall will never come close to being finished.

Rounding Errors

But what really bugs me are headlines like this from Fox News, Here’s What $5 Billion in Border Wall Funding Would Buy. I have a problem with that.

When has it ever been okay to simply truncate numbers like this? If I owed you $5.70, would you consider my debt paid-off if I gave you $5.00? I don’t think so. (Admittedly, I’m such a kind and charming fellow that you probably wouldn’t require me to pay anything back!) So why aren’t news organizations rounding? Why haven’t I seen any headlines like, “Here’s What $6 Billion in Border Wall Funding Would Buy”?

That’s what we would expect. You know, because if you are going to pick a one-digit number, your options are 5 and 6. And 5.7 is a lot closer to 6 than to 5. That’s obvious, right?

And I wonder if this request for $5.7 billion wouldn’t be reported as “$6 billion” if it were a Democrat asking for it. I wonder if the media outlets aren’t worried that they would cause a ruckus if they reported “$6 billion.” I can well imagine National Review publishing an article about how the liberal media was inflating the amount of money Trump was asking for. Sure, it doesn’t look like much, but it’s actually $300 million!

More Than and Less Than

I also see a lot of reporting like NPR, “President Trump is sticking by his demand for more than $5 billion of wall funding.” Now that is technically true but misleading.

Remember the commercials for Rubik’s Cube? “Over 3 billion combinations but just one solution!” That was true. It has 43 quintillion combinations. That’s 14 billion times as many as 3 billion.

I realize that the error with the wall isn’t that big. But this is a case where you say that it is “less than $6 billion” and not “more than $5 billion.” The idea here is to give people are rough, but accurate idea of the number. “More than $5 billion” implies $5.2 or $5.3 billion. “Less than $6 billion” implies $5.8 or $5.7. And “Slightly less than $6 billion” implies $5.9 billion. This is not hard!

Beyond Innumeracy

But for those who don’t want to mess with math, there is an easy solution: just say “$5.7 billion.” Those two extra characters are not going to destroy the printing (or website hosting) budgets of America’s news outlets.

I’m glad I got that off my chest. Now we can go back to the important business of debating whether undocumented immigrants commit more crime than native born Americans.

Bullying, Plausible Deniability, and Nick Sandmann

Bullying, Plausible Deniability, and Nick Sandmann

I’m still taken with the confrontation between Covington Catholic High School students, four Black Hebrew Israelites, and a group of Native Americans. When the video first came out, the Covington teens looked very bad. Then a longer video came out where they still looked very bad, but not quite as bad. And then a large fraction of liberals did as they often do: folded and blamed themselves for rushing to judgment. Let’s be clear: the initial reaction to this confrontation was correct.

Let me provide some background. Members of the Black Hebrew Israelites — a group the Southern Poverty Law Center as called out for their hatred — were voicing taunting the Covington students as well as the Native American protestors.

As a result, the students crossed the street — apparently to engage. One of the Native Americans, Nathan Phillips, stepped forward to get between the two groups. As a result, the students focused on (encircled) him. That was more or less the idea and we should all be pleased that there was no violence.

Nick Sandmann: Typical Bully

The behavior of the student group was bad but it certainly wasn’t what caused all the hullabaloo online. Instead, it was the image of Nick Sandmann — in his red Make America Great Again cap and self-satisfied smile — staring down Phillips.

Sandmann was staring Phillips right in the eye. Images from the other angle show that Phillips was staring past Sandmann into the distance. This makes sense. Immediately afterward, Phillips said that his intent was to stop the groups from confronting each other. What was Sandmann’s intent?

We do have a statement released by the PR firm hired by Sandmann’s parents:

I believed that by remaining motionless and calm, I was helping to diffuse the situation. I realized everyone had cameras and that perhaps a group of adults was trying to provoke a group of teenagers into a larger conflict. I said a silent prayer that the situation would not get out of hand.

There are a couple of things about this. First, the statement clearly wasn’t written by Sandmann. Second, and more important, is that this is clearly reverse-engineered.

Bullying 101

Sandmann played one of the most common tricks in the bully playbook. Bullies don’t beat up people all that much. Instead, they terrorize people. And the main way that I was bullied as a child was in this way: intimidation with the threat of violence.

What’s great about this from the bully’s perspective is that it provides plausible deniability. A bully can stare you down, just inches from your face. And if you call them out and complain to an authority, they will say, “I didn’t do anything! I didn’t touch anyone!”

Bullies don’t beat up people all that much. Instead, they terrorize people.

Not only was Sandmann staring down Nathan Phillips, but he was also backed up by dozens of rowdy high school boys.

And that is exactly what Nick Sandmann is doing now through a PR firm. We are told that that smug smile was not an attempt to intimidate; it was the sign of a young man praying. Please!

Craven Liberals

But I’m not that upset with Nick Sandmann and the other right-wingers who support him. They are just doing what conservatives always do. There is no difference between Sandmann’s statement and Ann Coulter’s constant refrain that her bigotted remarks are really just jokes.

What bothers me is that nothing we have learned since the initial confrontation came out has changed what happened. Bully Nick Sandmann was staring down an elder Native American while boys behind him mocked his drumming and made tomahawk chops.

Yet it seems half of liberal America is self-flagellating. And all this does is encourage conservatives to believe this wasn’t an act of racial insensitivity. And it allows them to continue on with their false narrative that liberals “rush to judge.”

Indeed, Fox News on Monday was filled with stories about how liberals had rushed to judgment. This is from Fox News — the network that does virtually nothing but rush to judgment. But this time, they had huge numbers of liberals to back them up. What’s that all about?

I’ve written about this tendency of liberals to fold when there is any indication that they might be wrong. Remember Shirley Sherrod? The Obama administration couldn’t get rid of her fast enough because they were afraid of the coverage on conservative media. And after the video was shown to be edited so as to make her look bad, Andrew Breitbart just changed his justification for why he was right to publish the video.

As liberals, we all should demand the truth. But now Nick Sandmann is making media tours instead of being given a time-out. This bully is now widely presented as a victim. And liberals have enabled this instead of fighting back with the truth.

Jonathan Chait’s Open Mind is Really a Blind Spot

Jonathan Chait's Open Mind is Really a Blind SpotLast week, Jonathan Chait wrote an incredibly stupid article, What Happens When Elizabeth Warren Sells Out to Powerful Interests? It was another example of Chait’s obsession with charter schools. Since Warren isn’t a big charter school booster, Chait wanted to attack her. But doing that directly would be too obvious. So he wedded it to a minor point about the medical device tax and extrapolated. You can read all about it from Ben Mathis-Lilley at Slate.

Jonathan Chait Isn’t Objective

If you asked Jonathan Chait, I’m sure he would say, “I’m just being objective; most liberals are being tribal in their skepticism of charter schools.” But is he really being objective? Well, there is one bit of evidence that contradicts that: his wife, Robin Chait, is the Director of Performance Management and Human Resources, Center City Public Charter Schools. I’m not suggesting that the two of them huddle in their home to come up with ways to deceive the public.

However, as Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” But there’s a perfectly understandable reason for this. I’m sure that his wife, being in the thick of the charter school industry, hears every positive thing about charter schools and every negative thing about traditional public schools. And so she repeats them. And for some reason, after 25 years as a political writer, Jonathan Chait doesn’t know about this effect and so simply accepts the charter school industry line as “objective.”

Look at His Writing

But just look at Chait’s writing. On most subjects, he’s pretty even-handed. On education reform, he might as well be a conservative shill writing about global warming. All of his articles are cherry-picked.

Look at the Warren article above. He is right to note that Massachusetts’ charter schools are doing well on the metrics that America currently values. But he doesn’t even mention the counterargument for limiting the enrollment in charter schools: that increasing the numbers would decrease the quality. (This is a common thing in education reform: most solutions are not scalable.)

People’s Blind Spots

Anyone who thinks that one or two special carve-outs to their usual ideology shouldn’t be too certain that this is a sign of their open-mindedness. In most cases, it is simply a sign of their blind spots. That’s much more likely. And you can see it all over the place.

My favorite example is Christopher Hitchens. In his early career, he was a leftist. After 9/11 happened, he turned into at best an imperialist conservative. Yet he held on to all of his previous beliefs.

Hitchens had written The Trial of Henry Kissinger and he never stopped hating on Kissinger. Yet his views — almost from the moment the book was published — were completely in keeping with what he had earlier criticized. It wasn’t that Hitchens continued to be a Marxist (which he at times claimed) but somehow saw that the true threat to global peace were poor Muslim countries. It was just that Hitchens had developed a major blind spot — that consumed the rest of his life.

Jonathan Chait’s Blind Spots

Jonathan Chait has a few blind spots. One is that he is simply unable to see educational policy in any even-handed way. His articles always start with his conclusion that unionized teachers care nothing for children and that the benevolent managers of charter schools care about nothing but children. It’s shocking once you notice it.

He also can’t see the NCAA objectively. That seems to be just because Chait used to play football and he really likes college football now. It doesn’t mean much. And he has stopped writing about it — probably because people just laugh at him like he was the drunk conservative uncle at Thanksgiving dinner.

But his position on “political correctness” is very much in keeping with his position on charter schools. Chait is so elite that people yelling at him on Twitter is one of the biggest problems in his life. As a result, he brought back the 1990’s “political correctness run amok” article. You can read Alex Pareene’s excellent takedown of it.

The point is that just as with charter schools, Chait’s arguments are all one-sided, based on cherry-picked examples with no nuance at all. As Pareene notes: the real victims of political correctness are the same as always: marginalized people. And the people using political correctness against them are powerful people. Chait, of course, would see this in most issues.

We All Have Blind Spots

My point is not that Jonathan Chait shouldn’t have blind spots. We all do! But he should be self-aware enough to stop himself from publishing articles that he clearly doesn’t have sufficient distance from. He should stick with things he can see clearly like Friday’s Trump Didn’t Have Secret Contact With Russia — It Was Done in Plain Sight. I don’t say it is good simply because I agree with it. I say it because it isn’t actively deceptive like his articles on the NCAA, political correctness, and charter schools.

Jonathan Chait has some major blind spots and he should admit this to himself. Then he might not embarrass himself so often.

Fox News “Serious Journalist” Lies About Walls

Bret Baier - Serious News GuySteny Hoyer was on Special Report with Bret Baier talking about the shutdown and Trump’s wall. Hoyer mentioned existing walls in border towns shouldn’t be removed. Now Baier is supposedly one of the Fox News serious journalists. But his partisan leanings have always been clear. So he greeted Hoyer’s statement with glee. He really believed he had a gotcha! “So [walls] work there?”

Oh, boy! Steny Hoyer made news! Except that he didn’t. No one is saying that walls don’t work in populated areas. The question at hand is whether we should put up a wall where they don’t do any good — as a political stunt to pacify people who have been whipped up to believe that brown-skinned hoards are coming over the border to kill and rape them.

The Democrats have never called for the removal of existing border walls except in the fevered imaginations of conservative commentators. And that’s all that Bret Baier’s gotcha was. In the world of Fox News it was a gotcha because in that world Democrats really are for open borders. (For the record: I am for open borders but I hardly speak for the Democratic Party.)

Fox News Has a Scoop!

I was not planning to write about this. After all, Fox News being evil and stupid is hardly worth a comment. By their standards, Bret Baier is a real journalist. But then I saw this headline at FOX NEWS FIRST: Pelosi Slammed for Attempted Shutdown of Trump State of Union; Top Dem Breaks Ranks on Wall.

Note the implication here that the Democrats are breaking ranks. Steny Hoyer did not break ranks. But even worse is the implication that Nancy Pelosi is being slammed by a Democrat. As the article makes clear, she is being criticized by Republicans. What a surprise?! Get an Extra! out for that!

And I’m not alone in saying that Hoyer didn’t make any news. Literally no other major news outlet is covering this “FOX NEWS FIRST.” Even Washington Examiner has failed to pick it up. That’s just how meaningless this story is.

Fox News and World War I

Three Arrows produced a great video, A Battle of Lies — Fake News in the Great War. In it, he mentioned that the German public was shocked and angry when their government surrendered in World War I. This is because they had been fed nothing but propaganda. They were told about every good thing that happened to the military and nothing of the bad.

Reading the Fox News article, I see the same thing happening. Their viewers are fed a steady diet of this kind of “We’re winning!” propaganda. So if Republicans in the Senate do finally revolt and reopen the government, the Fox News viewers will be convinced that the party sold them out. To them, it will appear as though the Democrats were ready to break.

The Danger of Ignorance

I understand that the Fox News model is great for them; they make a lot of money. But it is bad for the country when you have roughly 40 percent of a population being fed a false narrative. And it is truly poisonous because of Trump’s claim about how the mainstream news is all “fake” and “the enemy of the people.” So there is no countering this false narrative in the short term.

This is the kind of stuff that leads to civil wars. Luckily, Fox News viewers are all over 90 so they don’t present a huge threat. (Quick PolitiFact, rate my claim “False”! I’m sure you are very busy looking for liberal comments to offset the tsunami of lies from conservatives!) But regardless, this situation causes civil strife. In the past, I was able to chip away at the Fox News lies held by conservatives. They always came right back when these conservatives watched Fox News alone. But it was nice that one-on-one these conservatives were open to facts.

That’s largely untrue now. Now I usually get some comment about how they’d “have to see the study.” You know, if you tell them immigrants are bringing nuclear bombs into the country, they will believe you. If you say they aren’t, they will demand documentation. And when you show them the documentation, they will say it is fake.

I don’t know how we move forward with 40 percent of our people being mini-Trumps. And Fox News stands as the puppetmaster of these idiots.

Steve King Isn’t the Problem — It’s the Republican Party

Steve KingThe Republican Party has learned that Steve King is a racist because he said, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” Despite the fact that this “awakening” came roughly two decades after it was clear to objective observers, the Republicans are actually getting some good press. They shouldn’t. The Republicans have been a racist party for as long as I’ve been alive.

Ben Shapiro: Synecdoche of Republican Party Thinking

Let’s start with the “cool kids’ philosopher” (CKP), Ben Shapiro. Back on 12 March 2017, Steve King tweeted, “[Geert] Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” It was widely attacked for its obvious racism. But the CKP had other ideas, Media Accuse Rep Steve King (R-IA) Of Racism. They’re Lying. Read His Actual Words. He claimed, “It could be argued that King was stating that multiculturalism, combined with high levels of immigration from non-Western cultures, shapes destiny.” (Note the weasel opening clause!)

But last week, the CKP posted an update. In it he wrote, “In light of [King’s recent pro-white-supremist] statements, this article gave far too generous an interpretation of King’s words.”

Shapiro is one step up from most Republicans in one way: he’ll admit to error if it is the only option. In my experience, articles like this one are usually simply taken down by Republicans and their apologists.

Pausible Deniability

But this isn’t saying much because Shapiro’s threshold for admitting any failure of the American right is ridiculously high. It’s also idiosyncratic. I can well understand King’s anger at all of this. After everything he’s said and done over the years, it was the magic of “white supremacist [shouldn’t be] offensive” that did it? Really?!

(A large part of the reason the Republicans turned on King is also due to his poor showing in the 2018 election. In fact, I suspect that Ben Shapiro would still be defending him if King hadn’t only barely won re-election in a heavily Republican district.)

The Republicans have long been the party of plausible deniability. And that’s what’s going on here. As long as they could continue to — as with Ben Shapiro — find an alternate reading for King’s clearly racist statements, they did. It’s the basis for the whole party.

That’s why they can claim that the 2018 tax cut was for the middle class, even though almost 70 percent of the cuts went to the upper class — after all, over 30 percent went to the rest (half of that went to the upper-middle class). And it only gets worse over time.

A Little History

It’s understandable why Republicans would act like this. For my entire lifetime, Republicans have been a racist party. In the 1964 presidential election, Barry Goldwater ran by appealing to southern racists who did not want to integrate. He lost, but the party fixed on this direction. And over the next decade and a half, all of the southern racists who had been in the Democratic Party rushed to join the Republicans. (This fact is ignored by people like Dinesh D’Souza in their farcical arguments that Democrats are the real racists.)

Then, we got Ronald Reagan — the man who got Americans to embrace their racism. His 1980 campaign is well remembered for his “states’ rights” speech in Mississippi near where 3 civil rights workers were lynched in 1964.[1] Then we got Bush with his Willie Horton ad. And on and on up until Trump who doesn’t even try to hide his bigotry and hatred.

If it weren’t for the effectiveness of racist appeals to voters, Republicans would be a tiny party because most of their votes come from people who only benefit from their relative standing compared to minority group members. So clearly, Republicans are going to be sensitive to claims of racism.

Our Useless Definition of Racism

In America, we usually define racism in the most useless way: using forbidden words. So Steve King is not a racist because of his beliefs, but because he said white supremacy shouldn’t be considered a bad thing.

Similarly, people of the left were very excited that a recording of Trump using the n-word might come out. They were excited not because they thought it was important. We all know that Trump is a bigot. We were excited because we knew that this would strip away a major part of his support. He would have lost his plausible deniability.

So What?

This whole brouhaha about Steve King is meaningless. It is just another obvious example of the Republican Party trying to keep up appearances. And our society goes along with it. As long as Trump doesn’t say forbidden words, the media will not call him a racist — even when he’s praising neo-Nazis. If King censure shows anything, it is just how far off the rails the Republican Party has gone in its racist fundamentals.

Let’s not get caught up in what a bad guy Steve King is. He always has been. In saying white supremacy isn’t a bad thing, King showed how Racist his party is and how fluid their definition of it is.

[1] There is an amusing article in RedState that claims liberals are all wrong about this. But all it does is nitpick the claim, noting, for instance, that he didn’t give the speech where the civil rights workers were murdered, but a whole 7 miles away at the state fair. Also: “states’ rights” wasn’t even an applause line. My, that is a compelling argument!

Using Immigrant Crime Statistics Is Racist

Los Angeles March for Immigrant RightsWe all know that undocumented immigrants commit less serious crime than native-born Americans. We know it from tons of articles like this one in The Washington Post, Two Charts Demolish the Notion That Immigrants Here Illegally Commit More Crime. Nonetheless, conservatives treat this the same way they do global warming by claiming that “we just don’t know!” But we do. There is no question. But fighting about this is a real problem.

When we bring up the fact that statistically undocumented immigrants commit less crime than natives, we are accepting the racist framing of the conservatives. We are implicitly claiming that if immigrants committed less crime the conservatives would be right to be concerned. We would, in other words, be treating immigrants as a monolith — as though individuals were simply representatives of their demographic.

I have no memory of anyone on the left bringing up low crime rates among undocumented immigrants as a reason for accepting them. So it isn’t like leftists are out in the world pushing this point. Instead, our acceptance of immigrants is based on humanism, inclusivity, and egalitarianism. Conservatives are, in general, against these things. More important in modern America, conservative politicians can demagogue the fear that conservatives naturally have of outsiders.

Fighting Racism With Racism?

But this puts leftists who wish to support immigrants into a difficult situation. Conservatives bring up the subject. They state what they “know” in their gut (which isn’t true): immigrants commit more crime. And leftists almost automatically correct this error: no, immigrants commit less crime as demonstrated by studies in Cato Institute, Criminology Journal, and Justice Quarterly.

It doesn’t matter. As in the link at the top, people like Tucker Carlson just ignore them. I hear conservatives repeat this nonsense as much today as I did a decade ago. No amount of data will change it because they “know” that it is true. And even if it weren’t true, they don’t care. They hate immigrants. It’s obvious today as the Trump administration tries to reduce the amount of legal immigration. But back in 2013, I wrote Conservatives Hate All Immigration. Nothing has changed except that Trump has uncovered the true nature of American conservatism.

What Can We Do?

But we can’t just refuse to engage with conservatives over this nonsense. Unfortunately, there are lots of people who are not part of the racist right who do not know this. These are the people who aren’t in favor of a wall but still think there is a security crisis on the border — that’s 12 percent of Americans!

I really don’t have a good answer for this. When your opponent won’t accept facts and has no shame, it puts you in a difficult position.

But I do know how I’ll counter this in the future. I’ll say, “The data is unequivocal: undocumented immigrants commit significantly less violent crime and overwhelmingly less property crime. But that isn’t the issue. That’s a racist way to look at it. I certainly wouldn’t tar you as a violent criminal just because some Americans are. So why do you want to do this to immigrants?”

Yeah, I understand: that kind of aggressive argumentation doesn’t work. But I wouldn’t be saying it for the bigot in front of me. They are hopeless. I’d be saying it for any reasonable people who might be listening. Slowly, these people might learn that immigrants commit less crime and that immigrants are individuals and not just representatives of their demographic.

Attached to a Rotting Corpse

Daisy and Violet HiltonI was watching the film Chained for Life (1952) as part of my work over at Psychotronic Review. The stars of the film are Daisy and Violet Hilton — conjoined twins born in 1908. But as Mark Weldon put it in The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, the story in the film is “nothing compared to their real story.” That’s true. They lived a real horror story.

To begin with, their mother sold them to another woman, Mary Hilton, who basically enslaved them — turning them into a modern freak exhibit. They were controlled through violence. As part of this, they were trained as musicians, and you can see this in the film. They are really good. But when Hilton died, she willed the twins to her daughter, Edith Meyers. Get that? Willed! This is in the 1920s.

A Better Childhood

Their lives improved in 1931 when the twins sued to get out of their “contract” with Edith Meyers and her husband. As a result of the case, they were paid $100,000. This should give you some idea of just how much money the Meyers family (and Hilton before them) brought in on the backs of Daisy and Violet. Humans are savage when it means making a buck.

They lived as performers for most of the rest of their lives. Even if they hadn’t been conjoined, their musical skills would have been in demand — at least as long as vaudeville continued. After that, it was harder to make a living. But they continued — Chained for Life being part of that.

In 1961, they performed at a drive-in theater. Afterward, their manager abandoned them — penniless. They were forced to get a job working at a fruit stand. They worked that job for over 7 years before they died some time around the new year 1969. That was when the true horror occurred.

When Conjoined Twins Die

I had never thought what it would be like when conjoined twins died. But generally, they would not die at the same time. So when one dies, the other is attached to a rotting corpse. And this is what happened to Daisy and Violet.

They were suffering from the flu. Daisy died first. Violet died between two and four days later. So she got to spend this time with the corpse of her sister as it slowly poisoned her to death.

Real Life Horror

This strikes me as a great premise for a novel: a woman attached to her dead sister thinking back on her difficult life while she waits to die. I’m thinking something along the lines of Pincher Martin.

But more than that, I’m thinking of Synecdoche, New York. Charlie Kaufman stated that the idea was to create a horror film — but not to include classic horror elements but rather the things that terrified him.

Violet Hilton could have been too ill to have even noticed her situation. But really, wouldn’t she have gotten thirsty and tried to get up at some point?

Regardless, it’s like with people’s reaction to folklore: it doesn’t matter if it is true but that it could be true.

Spending my last hours on Earth trapped with a rotting corpse — attached to me or not — is a terrifying thought.

It makes me think of conjoined twins in a whole new way. The universe is cruel.

Wow! Copyright Ran Out for a Change

Wow! Copyright Ran Out for a ChangeThis year, works of art created in 1923 went out of copyright and are now in the public domain. This is a big deal because it hasn’t happened in decades because when copyright was about to run out in 1999 (on works published in 1923), the US government extended copyright protection for another 20 years.

Let’s think about this for a second. What does it mean, socially, for a work to be in the public domain? Obviously, it means that the work belongs to everyone. But why? I think it is because everyone knows it. To use the most important example, does anyone know who created Mickey Mouse? (It wasn’t Walt Disney.[1]) For 99 percent of people (that’s no exaggeration), the answer is no. But they sure do know who Mickey Mouse is!

But this is just a way of thinking. I’m not arguing that we use it as a test. If it were, it would allow the most famous people to hold onto copyright longer — exactly the opposite of what we are trying to do. (For example, most people around me know that Paul McCartney wrote “Yesterday.”) Once a work of art becomes suffused in society, it is in the public domain — whether the law agrees or not.

Public Domain Is Too Far Behind the Present

It has been a troubling irony that as society has sped up — as art has changed faster — works have gone into the public domain (legally) slower. Just look at the films that have just now been put in the public domain. They are all in black and white. They are all silent.

Meanwhile, films gained sound. They gained color. Video was invented. And now films are largely made on computers. And yet all that we legally allow into the public domain are films so old that children can’t enjoy them. Indeed, the only people who enjoy them are people who take film serious and understand its technique and history.

Good News?

Last year, Timothy B Lee wrote a very optimistic article, Why Mickey Mouse’s 1998 Copyright Extension Probably Won’t Happen Again. Basically, it all comes down to the fact that a lot of defenders of freedom (the real kind; not the libertarian kind) have sprung up like the Electronic Frontier Foundation that are fighting back.

But I think there is another issue. We are now at the ridiculously long 95-year copyright. The stuff being released is so old it has virtually no value as a commodity. As a result, the bad PR is probably not worth the little money the corporation can squeeze out of these works. Is any corporation really going to release a DVD of Safety Last!? It’s doubtful.

So most corporate copyright holders just don’t care. Maybe Disney will make an effort to protect Mickey Mouse from the horrors of pornography.[2] But without the entire industry lobbying and claiming “No one will make movies anymore!” it isn’t likely that Congress is going to act.

And note, creative development is still accelerating. So in 20 years, the stuff that falls out of copyright will be even further behind the times.

My Proposal

From what I know about publishing (which is a lot), I have developed what I think are extremely fair terms for copyright owners. (Note I didn’t say “content creators,” because most owners did not create any content.) Copyright should last for ten years from publication with an optional extension of 10 years. So the maximum copyright length would be 20 years.

I actually think making the extension 5 years is fairer. But I’m trying to be really nice.

This would more than keep the film, music, book, and art industries going. The vast majority of the money they make is in the first year of publication. In fact, if corporations acted like normal people, they wouldn’t even care after 5 years. The amount of money that comes in is trivial at that point.

But as I’ve noted many times before: if a corporation could make an extra dollar by exporting its entire workforce, it would do it without thought. That’s corporate-think. And it is really something that we should fight as a society.

Good News!

So if the corporate world is really done pushing copyright to be longer and longer, we have an opportunity. We can now go on the aggressive. We can push for copyrights to be reduced.

In Lee’s article, he implies that the 56-year copyright of decades ago was reasonable. It wasn’t. And the author’s life plus 50 years was not reasonable.

We can’t allow the absurd modern copyright length to blind us from the fact that in the modern world, a copyright length of ten years is more than enough. Anything else is just corporate welfare.

[1] Yes, I don’t think much of vague notions about “ideas” when it comes to creative productions. I have millions of ideas. It all comes down to how it is rendered. And when people like Stan Lee and Walt Disney try to take credit for these things, I bristle.

[2] This is a common argument made. It is, of course, not why Disney cares about this issue. It’s all about money. It’s always all about money.

Trump’s Speech and Systemic Failure

President Donald TrumpI didn’t notice much thoughtful reaction to Trump’s speech last night. There was, of course, Lindsey Graham saying that Trump was very presidential. And there were lots of normal people making reasonable comments. But I didn’t see much analysis. And I think I understand why: there was nothing to analyze.

A good example of this comes from Matthew Yglesias, The Real Crisis Is That Trump Has No Idea What He’s Doing. It ends with, “Repudiation at the polls clearly hasn’t caused Trump to rethink anything about this disastrous approach, so we’re now all just left to hope for the best over the next two years. With luck, at some point, we’ll have a functioning government again.”

Trump doesn’t know what he’s doing. And so he just falls back into repeating his usual talking points. The only difference was that there were several minutes of him demagoguing a couple of stories where immigrants killed Americans. I’m really not sure it will move public opinion — at least after it is widely reported tomorrow that his speech was filled with deception and performed by a squinting man with barely suppressed rage. I’m sure it was a big hit with the base, however.

Beyond Outrage?

But this is what our nation has come to. It’s hard to get outraged by what Trump did last night given that he (with almost complete support from Republicans) does every day. What is there to say that hasn’t been said countless times before? If people support Trump, there really isn’t anything that he could do that would change that.

Well… There was this article in The New York Times, A Florida Town Grapples With a Shutdown After a Hurricane. This town is in the panhandle of Florida — you know: Alabama. So it’s filled with Trump supporters. And this is best summed up by Crystal Minton, a prison secretary, and single mother, “I voted for him, and he’s the one who’s doing this. I thought he was going to do good things. He’s not hurting the people he needs to be hurting.”

It’s a remarkable statement. Were the good things the hurting of the right people? Who are these people who need hurting? They clearly aren’t the ones with real power over her. I assume they are brown people — especially from other countries.

It hardly matters. Her big mistake was to believe that Trump (or any Republican) would ever do what was in her interest. One good thing about Trump is that he’s laid the game bare. He doesn’t speak in subtext. And he doesn’t have any problem screwing over his own voters.

What’s sad is that even if people like Ms Minton do figure out that they’ve been conned, they will continue to vote Republican. They will learn not to vote for Trump (at least for a while) but will continue to vote for Republicans with the same policy.

Our Useless Media

Most of the writing about Trump’s predictable performance last night has been focused on the networks’ choice to air this garbage. As has been widely noted, the networks gave air time for a presidential speech on immigration to Bush in 2006 and Trump in 2019. But they denied it to Obama in 2014. Oh my! I wonder why?!

Most people claim that the networks were “played” by Trump. For example, Media Matters reported, The Networks Got Played. Ten years ago, I would have agreed. Now I don’t think so.

The people at the networks may think of themselves as liberal, but they are exactly the kind of people who benefit from Republican policy. The anchors and executives (the people with power) are all millionaires. They’ve done well by Trump’s tax cut. They may prefer a less-chaotic Republican, but Trump is delivering for them.

Systemic Failure

All of this — Trump, Republicans, the media — come down to systemic problems in this country. We have a president who was “elected” by a minority. We have Republicans throughout the nation in charge because of gerrymandering. The Supreme Court is conservative because norms are no longer followed and our entire system of government apparently depends critically on them. It’s all a mess.

The only good thing I can say is that as the country gets more and more unequal, it will become more and more likely that the people will rise up. But until them, at least half the nation will be looking for a president who will hurt “the right people.”