Colin Kaepernick and Real Freedom

Colin Kaepernick and Real FreedomLast week, Colin Kaepernick and the NFL agreed to a deal over Kaepernick’s lawsuit about the league’s conspiracy to not hire him. For those who do not know, he is the former San Francisco 49er quarterback who nealed during the national anthem to protest racist policing policy toward blacks in the United States. Regardless of what happened, this was a great example of what a myth “freedom” is to those on the right.

Before I get to that, I want to note a few things. While I’m happy for Kaepernick, I am sad about the situation. I would have rather seen the NFL be dragged through the mud on this. But had that happened, the result would almost certainly have been that the NFL won the case. This is because the standard for proving conspiracy is ridiculously high. And even with all the bad publicity, the NFL would surely have used the court win to clean up any damage that had been done to their reputation.

Oppression

According to libertarian dogma, only the government can oppress you. Only the government can put you in a cage, they say. Yet this is a delusional belief if you look at how society actually functions. People do not have a choice to not work. And since employers enjoy a monopsony, people don’t get to choose who they work for. And they certainly don’t have the right they did 10,000 years ago to go out and hunt and gather.

So the idea that Colin Kaepernick didn’t have his rights infringed upon is just nonsense. But don’t get me wrong: I understand that the NFL owners saw this as simply an economic issue. They were afraid that there would be fewer fans watching games is such a divisive person played. But that doesn’t mean they were right. As Les Carpenter noted, the NFL continues to rake in money.

Don’t Let Markets Dictate Morality

Colin Kaepernick was not free. And he was not free because of the “free market.”

The question is: should it matter? In this country, we just assume that if the market pushes in a certain direction, that is the direction we should go. But the truth is: there is quite a good demand for whites-only restaurants. Forget the ridiculous libertarian apologetics that “racism is bad for business.” There are plenty of people who are proud of their racism. Just look who’s president!

Should it matter that a good economic decision means making a bad moral decision? I think it should. It means that we are taxing morality. We are saying, “Standing up for what you believe in will cost you your livelihood.” Rather than be guided by what the market dictates (as though it were our god) we should fix the economy where it encourages immortality.

Colin Kaepernick was not free. And he was not free because of the “free market.” He isn’t alone. Most of us have to work jobs we aren’t keen on. We’d rather have actual freedom to do what we want. And I’m certain if that happened, we’d have a society that is just as rich and far less exploitative as the one we now have.

You don’t have to agree with me, of course. But the least we can do is stop pretending that the capitalist system provides us with real freedom. It just provides us with an unaccountable system of control. And I do not accept theoretical “freedom” as a replacement for actual freedom.

Colin Kaepernick Is a Hero

There are some who claim that Colin Kaepernick is not a hero because he doesn’t vote. Let me just say that democracy is not the same as voting. Plenty of countries have voting without democracy. Kaepernick did far more for the cause of democracy than I will with my lifetime of voting. Police mistreatment of blacks, voter disenfranchisement, and Donald Trump are all part of the same thing. I have faith that things will get better and Colin Kaepernick is a big part of that process. Thank you Colin Kaepernick!

Unhappy Valentine’s Day

Unhappy Valentine's DayValentine’s Day is an old holiday but that doesn’t make its modern incarnation any more profound. It is now just a coercive exercise in gift giving. And the business community has really stepped up. Everything is more expensive and every place is more crowded. Valentine’s Day is, above all, a pain for all of us who are not interested in celebrating it.

But I understand the argument in favor of it. “While Valentine’s Day may have the philosophical depth of the greeting cards people buy in its honor, it’s great for the economy!” I used to go along with this reasoning for all holidays. But in the modern world, I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

Dictated gift-giving usually represents the purchasing of garbage. Most people know the experience of getting useless gifts on Christmas. That’s even more true of Valentine’s Day except that the expectations are more rigid. But that only means that people know they will get things they don’t want ahead of time.

Among the people who involve themselves in Valentine’s Day, there just isn’t much need. By and large, people have what they want — at least that’s true of the people who find themselves going to expensive restaurants today. Valentine’s Day is the second busiest day of the year at restaurants — only Mother’s Day is busier.

Capitalism and Forced Consumption

This is a problem with capitalism. It doesn’t matter how much people consume, the nature of capitalism is to always push people to consume more. There is no end. People are never sated because consuming does not fulfill any need.

And we are well past the point where we should know that our consuming habits are hurting us. Whether it is global warming or global trash, capitalism does us no favor in pushing us to consume in the name of profits for people who don’t need them.

Gift Giving

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not against gift giving and restaurant going. Indeed, there are few things as wonderful as coming upon some little item and thinking, “My friend would love that!” I had that experience once with the complete New Yorker on disc for a friend of mine who loved the magazine. Delighting the people you love is great.

But these opportunities are rare and never come about in the brief period of time you are looking to fulfill some obligation for Valentine’s Day or Christmas. And so people get boring or awful gifts.

What people really want is some acknowledgment of their importance in our lives. And a quick trip to the store doesn’t really indicate that.

I remember a scene in The Four Seasons (1981) where Carol Burnett complains that Alan Alda doesn’t bring her flowers when she’s feeling down. He responds that he does bring her flowers. But she says he only does it when it makes him feel better — it is never done for her.

What We Get for Valentine’s Day

I suppose that some people take events like Valentine’s Day as a reminder to show their love. But in the vast majority of cases, people participate to avoid pain. They know that they are supposed to celebrate it, so they do. Even if their romantic partners don’t care about it, they look bad to others.

Romantic love is a myth anyway. It’s just infatuation and it dies quickly. So Valentine’s Day perpetuates a childish myth.

And what do we get in return? Overcrowded restaurants with harried servers and subpar food. Unwanted candy, flowers, and jewelry for her; unwanted candy, wallets, and aftershave for him. Environmental degradation. And disappointment all around.

Unhappy Valentine’s Day!

Trump’s Rallies Make Him Seem More Popular Than He Is

President Donald TrumpAccording to Katy Tur at NBC, Trump’s El Paso rally wasn’t very local. “The majority of people that she’s seen walking in … were not from El Paso. They were driving from hours away.” I think that’s interesting because it seems that this has always been the case.

There were two rallies in El Paso last night. One was Trump’s rally in the El Paso County Coliseum. Beto O’Rourke, Veronica Escobar, and others held a counter-event outside near the Bowie High School. Always classy, Trump had to boast about his supposedly bigger crowd, “We have say 35,000 people tonight, and he has, say, 200 people, 300 people.”

As usual with almost every sentence Trump utters, it is completely wrong. First, he said “10,000 people” earlier during his speech. But even worse, the El Paso County Coliseum only holds 6,500. Trump told his crowd that he got special permission from the fire department to squeeze 10,000 people in the stadium. The fire public information officer, Enrique D Aguilar, said that wasn’t true. “It might be 10,000 with the people outside,” he said.

Meanwhile, the anti-Trump event drew 10,000 to 15,000 people according to the El Paso police. But it hardly matters because Trump only ever preaches to the choir. And they will always believe whatever he says. And even without him, they’d be online right now claiming that there were a quarter million at the rally. (Trust me: I know!)

Trump’s Bloated Rallies

Beto O'RourkeBut I’m struck with the fact that people came to see Trump from many miles away. Of course, it isn’t surprising. As much as the media has made out that Trump supporters are people struggling in this economy, that’s just not true.

My experience is that the typical Trump supporter is a guy with one of the last remaining good union jobs who is pissed off because people don’t think it’s okay to pinch waitresses. But the data bears me out. According to FiveThirtyEight, the median income of Trump supporters is $72,000. And Psychology Today presents a profile of angry authoritarian bigots who think they are being screwed even though they aren’t in any absolute sense.

Given that these people have lots of money, they have the ability to drive a hundred miles to see their prophet. And they always have!

This means that Trump’s events have always presented him as more popular than he really is. Note, in this case, I’m not talking about Trump paying people to support him as he did for his campaign announcement. These are actual supporters.

Trump’s Intense Support

And even if there are not a lot of Trump fans who follow him from event to event, the people at his events seem to indicate the depth of his support, not its breadth. And we already know that. Trump isn’t like a normal politician; he’s like a cult leader. And he has exactly the kind of supporters you would think.

Ultimately, this is bad for Trump unless he can get non-supporters to not vote. As I said, Trump is only interested in pleasing his base. And in doing that, he slowly loses more and more of his non-hard core supporters.

But don’t let the intensity of Trump’s support blind you do the fact that it is a mile deep but not very wide. His events are like magic tricks for the media. And Trump doesn’t even care because these events are only to make him feel good. It’s indicative of our dysfunctional media environment that these events are even covered.

Thousands of sycophants drive up to hundreds of miles to see Trump? Now that’s a dog bites man story!

BadMouseProductions and Patronage

BadMouseProductions

I’ve been watching political YouTube videos recently. As Stewart Lee says, “Where the people film themselves talking.” Mostly, I watch assorted leftists — people like Peter Coffin, Three Arrows, and (so unpretentious it is pretentious) Shaun.

I like all these people very much. But I do think we should call them YouTube Ranters. They are part of an online ecosystem. Much bigger are really vile right-wing loons like Paul Joseph Watson and Stefan Molyneux. And a fair amount of left-wing YouTube is spent debunking all the nonsense that comes from the right-wing echo-chamber.

BadMouseProductions

The most interesting person I’ve found online is BadMouseProductions. I don’t know his name. He says he isn’t a “furry.” I also don’t know what that is — maybe a person who dresses up like My Little Pony? It doesn’t matter.

He used to be an anarcho-capitalist but announced one day that he could no longer support capitalism and became a communist.

It’s an interesting thing because the truth is that people who are earnestly looking for a better society can make a quick switch from what society thinks of as far right to far left.

In the case of BadMouse, it really wasn’t much of a change. He had always been looking for a system that would allow people more freedom. So he wasn’t an idiot libertarian who was just looking to replace government oppression with corporate oppression.

Patreon

BadMouseProductions is the only YouTube channel that I support. And for ten bucks a month, I get mentioned at the end of some videos. I got a whole screen because I’m new. In the future, I’ll just be part of a list. That’s good; I wasn’t sure I wanted my name in there at all. Regardless, I’m too disorganized to have stopped it.

But this involves using Patreon, which I hate. I don’t know how much money they skim but it strikes me as unethical in the way that the entire internet now is. One of the reasons I support this particular channel is that there isn’t much money pledged to it — especially considered just how great the videos are.

Economic Freedom Maps

I think the first video I saw was Debunking the Economic Freedom Map. I’ve been seeing these things for over a decade. And recently, I had to remove them from an article I edited about the best places to start a business. (I’d link to it, but it’s typical nonsense for would-be entrepreneurs — even if I thought I did some of my best work on it.)

These economic freedom maps are all reverse engineered: they start with the countries they want to rank high and then come up with the model. But even if this weren’t the case, the conservative idea of freedom is really messed up. It isn’t the freedom to do what you want but rather the freedom to try. Yes, you have the freedom to be a millionaire by buying a lottery ticket while Donald Trump has the freedom to have the money given to him while still a child.

This video does an excellent job of destroying these maps by looking at it from a Marxist perspective with lots of international insights — including some of Ha-Joon Chang. So it isn’t surprising that I would be struck by this work.

Answer Videos

BadMouse is also really good at answer videos. This one is great: Questions Liberals Can’t Answer (But Socialists Can). They are both crisp and, at times, hilarious.

These kinds of videos are also a good chance to see white nationalist videos without having to wade all the way through them — which is really hard. (For this, Shaun is better.) Even if you don’t follow much politics it doesn’t take long to notice some outrageous false or misleading statement.

Venezuela

BadMouseProductions has created at least two videos on Venezuela. The first was Argument ad Venezuelum, which is great. But just last week, he released Joanna Hausmann Is Lying About Venezuela. One thing above all that annoys me about the discussion of Venezuela is that our media’s tendency toward showing “all” sides of an issue on domestic issues is totally absent this issue. The video takes on this issue in the person of privileged “white” Venezuelan Joanna Hausmann.

For some unknowable reason, we almost never hear from supporters of Maduro (and Chávez before him). Instead, any loud-mouth who criticizes the regime is heald up as George Washington (but without all the slaves). This is a small push back.

Support BadMouseProductions

Hausmann’s Venezuela video has roughly 350,000 views whereas BadMouseProductions’ has less than 50,000. This is why you should support people like BadMouse who are doing great work but getting relatively little exposure and support. And by “support” I definitely include watching and sharing the videos. Even if you don’t learn anything, they are a couple of quantum levels above most popular YouTube videos.

BadMouseProductions Patreon Thank You

Cosplay Socialists and Real Revolution

Cosplay Socialists - Jimmy DoreIn 1857, Frederick Douglass delivered a speech on “West India Emancipation.” In it, he noted something that is widely misunderstood. He said, “This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both.”

I think people imagine this in the context of the Civil Rights Movement — that one can’t expect social progress by waiting around for the power elite to realize that they ought to grant you the same rights they have. But I don’t think this is right. The word is “demand” not “request.” A demand implies consequence. Although the first consequence may not be violence (as Douglass notes), ignored demands ultimately lead to it.

Violence

In his book Intellectuals, Paul Johnson argues that leftist intellectuals eventually get around to accepting violence. He’s right. He didn’t need to write yet another cherry-picked conservative rant to prove it.

But what Johnson doesn’t admit is that violence is the basis of right-wing belief. It’s just that the right-wing is defending the status quo. So they define their violence as justified because they have enacted laws.

But laws are not correlated with morality. Imagine that you were in a flooded area and all the store owners were gone. If your child would die without some medication, you would be morally right to break into a pharmacy — even if you personally accepted the morality of property rights.

Take it one step further: why should you accept the morality of property rights? They are simply the result of historical theft from the commons. In other words, they are just a facile justification for historical violence.

Cosplay Socialists

If people are not seriously willing to risk it all, then they don’t deserve the right to call themselves socialists.

I’ve reached the point where I think that major social advancement will require violence. This is not because leftists are violent. Rather it is because the existing power structure will do anything it can to stop the degradation of its power. What I hope is that there are enough working people behind the cause to make resistance clearly futile. But looking at North Korea, I’m not encouraged.

In the United States, there are lots of what I call Cosplay Socialists. And as much as I like Bernie Sanders, I’d have to say that he is one. Still, a better example is Jimmy Dore. Don’t get me wrong: I do appreciate a lot of what Dore says. But he clearly sees himself as a revolutionary. And he isn’t.

What I think defines Cosplay Socialists is the belief that they can get revolution at the ballot box. And this isn’t going to happen. Wouldn’t it be nice if the billionaire class said, “You know, you’re right! Private property is theft! We don’t deserve all this money!”

You Say You Want a Revolution?

Let me lay it out. Suppose that leftists got control of Washington. They increased the number of seats on the Supreme Court to 100 and outlawed private property. Does anyone question that the military would side with Trump (or someone similar) and declare martial law? And every policing agency in the nation would side with this? And given that, how would the people fight back?

No. If the revolution comes, it will be in some small scale action. And it will grow from there. Most Cosplay Socialists I know are relatively well off. Would they — Would Jimmy Dore! — risk their comfortable lives to give revolution a chance?

Are they willing to risk death for a 10 percent shot at a better nation? What about a 1 percent shot? To be honest, I don’t think they would do it for a 50 percent chance — and there’s no way we are going to get odds like that.


Cosplay Socialist John Lennon: “Don’t you know that you can count me out (in).”

Marginal Change

If people are not seriously willing to risk it all, then they don’t deserve the right to call themselves socialists. Because here’s the thing: Denmark isn’t socialist. And don’t start talking to me about “democratic socialism” because that is simply a pretentious term for “liberal.”

So given that all the Democratic Socialists don’t actually support what would be required for revolution, they should get used to what our current system allows for: marginal improvements. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m keen to limit the damage done by our system until we can change it in a categorical way.

Of course, I’m a pessimist. Even if a workers’ revolution succeeded, history shows that all the other capitalist nations would sanction the new government. The BBC would report that the American People were against the revolution. The only advantage we would have is that the United States wouldn’t be trying to destroy our new government — but only because we managed to defeat it first.

The question then comes: do you support revolution in a meaningful way? Or do you just think that after workers have a majority in Congress the power elite will go along? If the latter, you need to stop pretending and start appreciating marginal advances like Obamacare and same-sex marriage, because those are the only things you are actually willing to fight for.

Afterword

Neal Meyer at Jacobin wrote, What Is Democratic Socialism? The article is typical of the happy horseshit of the power of sustained democratic pressure — even as he notes how Scandinavian countries have failed to attain socialism. But even he seems to understand the problems that socialism faces against entrenched capitalism, “At that moment, it will be the job of democratic socialists in movements and in government to do everything necessary to defend the democratic mandate they won” (emphasis mine).

I understand that one can’t call for violent revolution in this country; it is illegal — which is the same as outlawing radical change. (This alone proves that there is absolutely nothing “natural” about capitalism given that it only survives via edict.) The question is not what one’s public position is but rather whether if we are willing to do everything necessary to assure that a state by, for, and of workers will replace the capitalist system.

A Brief Introduction to Stewart Lee

Stewart LeeFor some time, I’ve been afraid to go public with the fact that Stewart Lee is by far my favorite comedian. And frankly, it’s embarrassing. I am exactly the kind of person who would love Stewart Lee: intellectual git who doesn’t get much exercise. According to him, his agent says his audience is made up of “people who like Terry Pratchett.” Of course, that begs the question. You could just as easily say, “Terry Pratchett fans are made up of people who like Stewart Lee.” Except: a lot more people like Pratchett than Lee.

I discovered Stewart Lee while researching Ben Elton. I’d admired him for years because of The Young Ones and Blackadder. And I learned that there was this guy who apparently hated him. Normally, you don’t find unknown comedian’s opinions listed in Wikipedia pages. So I went to find who this guy was. And I found this:

In addition to being hilarious, it’s a beautifully crafted bit of performance art. And that’s the thing about Lee: he’s an artist. There are lots of comedians who I find funny. But Lee is the only one who I consider an artist. His performances are like plays.

“Give It to Me Straight Like a Pear Cider That’s Made From 100% Pears”

A good example of this is a 25-minute routine that had its genesis in a television commercial for Magners Pear Cider. I can’t find the exact commercial that Stewart Lee references. But this is part of the series. Listen for, “Why don’t they just give it to him straight, like a pear cider that’s made from a hundred percent pears.”

That’s just 30 seconds. And it really isn’t offensive. What Lee discusses is the appropriation of art for commerce. I’m sure you’ve had the same experience of a beloved song being used to advertise a cruise line or tires. Recently, I’ve had Volvo using the Queen of the Night aria from The Magic Flute to sell the XC90. Magners is not doing this. But how Lee uses this ad to criticize this practice is brilliant.

Comedy doesn’t get any better than that. And even though much of it seems ad-libbed, it is in only the simplest ways. Watching different performances of Stewart Lee, I’ve learned that he can anticipate his audience. For example, he refers to the two women with “pink hair.” That wasn’t planned, but he knew there would be people in the audience he could point out.

Actually, I saw an interview with him in which he talked about needing to finesse routines. The audience doesn’t always do what he’s primed them to do. In about 10 percent of the cases, he has to figure out a way to work around it. Of course, those aren’t the routines that make it onto DVD and YouTube.

My Friends Hate Stewart Lee

When I’ve introduced Stewart Lee to my friends they show the same apathy that I do a new song by Meghan Trainor. And I do understand this. To some extent, Lee is a meta-comedian. Much of his act is about doing his act. He’s very big on complaining about one part of the audience not appreciating a joke, for example. And often, the humor is unstated.

His routine about the royal wedding climaxes at a point where the audience must laugh at an obvious joke that Lee does not make. And while most comedians would stop there, he makes a right turn. I love it but I can see where most people would like something more concrete:

I know I’ve presented over a half hour of Stewart Lee performing. If you’ve managed to make it through any of it, let me know what you think. My bet is that Frankly Curious readers will like it more than Frank’s friends. But I could be wrong. I was wrong before when I thought my friends would like him.

This is my favorite Stewart Lee routine: Scooby-Doo and the Pirate Zombie Jungle Island.

Afterword: Bridget Christie

For about ten years, Stewart Lee has been married to actor and stand-up comedian Bridget Christie. If you have Netflix, there is an excellent set by her. But this was my first introduction to her where she plays an ant stand-up comedian.

Stop Giving “Liberal” Corporations Credit

Starbucks SignI saw Cenk Uygur on The Young Turks talking about Howard Schultz. “To be fair to Starbucks, they are pretty progressive as a company — among the more progressive companies. They do a lot of good in the world including being decent to their farmers. That was why I was excited to see what Howard Schultz was going to bring.” He then goes on to note that Schultz seems only to be running in order to keep his taxes low.

But is Starbucks really progressive? And if it is, should it get credit for it?

Starbucks Is Progressive in Easy Ways

Compared to other corporations, Starbucks is progressive. But this isn’t the way to look at it. Let’s start by looking at how the company is progressive. It isn’t economically progressive. That’s what we are seeing from Howard Schultz. He’s all for being nice to minority groups — as long as it doesn’t cost him anything. And we see that with Starbucks itself.

Much is made of the fact that Starbucks pays above minimum wage. But to a large extent, this is necessary based on the quality they require from their workers. And they don’t pay that well. The average wage of a barista is $9.77 per hour — hardly a living wage. Hell, a store manager makes $17.44 per hour, on average. That’s $35,000 per year — just over the level that would qualify a family of four for Medicaid.

Store manager! Each store nets roughly $100,000 per year. Each store employs roughly 8 people. Just saying.

Progressivism as Branding

We need to think about branding. A big part of Starbucks’ brand is being enlightened. That’s because its consumer base is that vague economically moderate, socially liberal crowd that refuses to shop at Walmart.

Okay, that’s an overstatement. Their customers are generally urban professionals. There are lots of Republicans who go to Starbucks — but generally not the kind who are proud Trump supporters (but many of them doubtless do support him because he’ll keep their taxes down).

Is it any wonder that Starbucks has been what I think of as an MSNBC liberal: socially liberal and economically “I’m against economic inequality as long as we don’t do anything about it!” conservative? So Starbucks’ progressivism is the kind that would never get in the way of profits or the wealth of billionaires.

So Starbucks isn’t very big on the economic liberalism — the kind of liberalism that would actually cost them a lot. And when it comes to social issues, I doubt they lose anything. Call it part of the advertising budget, given how much good media they’ve gotten for it.

Regardless, I’m sure there are smart people at Starbucks who have worked out that every liberal thing the company does pays for itself in customer goodwill.

Starbucks Can Afford to Be “Progressive” — For Now

The New Prophets of CapitalBut none of this matters. Nicole Aschoff explains what’s going on in her great book, The New Prophets of Capital. Companies that don’t have much competition generally play the “socially responsible” role. It actually works great for the rich because when idiots like Howard Schultz decide they should be in charge, they can say, “We don’t need higher taxes! We just need companies like Starbucks and Whole Foods who treat people well!” But that doesn’t work.

Whenever a “liberal” company has faced competition, the first thing they do is to jettison their pretenses of liberalism. They know that branding will only take them so far and if a competitor is charging less, the competitor will win out.

So when a major coffee shop challenges Starbucks, watch as it turns into Walmart. As it is, they are already one of the top companies with employees on food stamps.

The Talk vs the Policy

There is a schizophrenic aspect to this. We have business leaders, on one hand, telling us that all we need is for corporations to be socially responsible and all our problems will vanish. And on the other hand, we have business leaders telling us that the only purpose of a corporation is to make money for shareholders. It doesn’t take much clarity to look at the world and see which side is telling the truth.

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.