Predictive Newsfeeds Suck

I have a strange habit when I eat, my mom called it “eating in shifts.”  I start with something, say the piece of meat and I eat it entirely.  Then I eat all my potatoes and then all my vegetables.  Apparently I use newsfeeds the same way and it really screws up my enjoyment of them.

Something comes along like the political season and I start reading those stories.  Pretty quickly, the ship of state turns and washes out all the other stuff from my newsfeed.

At that point I won’t even open the app, because if I see even one more story about Trump, I feel like I will throw up.  I would give anything for some humor or some science news or some stupid Catholic moves, but that is the last thing my newsfeed wants to show me.

So, there I am with my phone, and have a few minutes between classes or waiting in the car.  I turn the phone on.  I look at the app icon.  I turn the phone off.  Turn it on.  Turn it right off.

If there really was any artificial intelligence behind these apps, they would figure out when enough is enough.

And trust me guys, it really is enough right now.

Jobs to Mexico: What To Do?

It seems that Ford has thrown gasoline on the political fire by announcing that they are moving their small car production to Mexico.  You can almost hear the “build the wall” chants in the background.  But the more you ponder this, the more difficult the problem of what you might do about this becomes less and less clear.

Let’s start with just a little math first.  As near as I can tell, labor cost is about 15 to 20% of the total cost of a car.  But no car company publishes this number, so it is very uncertain.  If we use the high side of the estimate on a $25,000 car, we have a labor cost of $5,000 per car.  Just to make up a number, let’s say that moving to Mexico saves half the labor cost, $2,500 per car.  These numbers are probably very high, but the problem gets even stickier if the labor cost is lower and the savings less.

So, let’s try a few scenarios and see what happens.

So, let’s start with the simple and simplistic Trump solution.  Trump thinks that he is going to call up Mark Field and say, “Mark, if you move the plant, I’ll slap a $2,500 tariff on each car!”  And Ford, shaking in it’s boots will change its plans.  Well, except congress passes taxes and a tariff is a tax.  And what congressman wants signs in every Ford dealership reading, “New Higher Prices brought to you by your congressional representative!”  But I will let you decide whether the threat of a tariff would be enough to keep the car plant here.

The Democratic idea is something along the line of since moving the plant will increase profits, we’ll have a windfall profits tax on rich people and we will take some of those profits back into the public realm and redistribute them.

I don’t think either one is going to keep the plant here, but go ahead and make your case for either approach.

The other side of the problem is that if the plant leaves, we will probably provide some sort of job retraining for those affected, but if there are no jobs to go to, what difference does training make?  It really is a hard nut to crack and I really am looking for new ideas.

One thought I have is that, actually, the Mexicans are getting the raw deal on this one.  Think Cleveland in the 1970s.  Assuming that Mexican environmental and safety laws are not as stringent as ours, they are getting a future mess on their hands.  Mexican Rust Belt anyone?  Besides, since companies are moving there for low wages, there is not going to be much wage growth to go with the increased employment.  And low wage jobs don’t actually grow the economy.  Low growth and pollution…Thanks America!

Then there is the idea that it is not so much location that matters.  According to this: Mercedes has the highest labor cost in the auto industry and Volkwagen is listed as the lowest.  At least part of the difference between the two companies is surely the amount of automation that they use in the manufacturing process.  Small cheap cars are made cheaply.  Big expensive cars get more hands on treatment.  Ford points out that they are increasing investment in big car (such as SUV) production here in the US.  So, even if the plants stayed here they would be more and more automated and use less and less skilled labor.  Once again, maybe we are better off to export these jobs.

Another question is about the future of the car industry anyway.  Some people are predicting a future where the only people who own cars are Uber drivers.  And then those drivers get replaced by computers.  Perhaps the auto industry as we know it is on the path of the buggy whip industry.  Once again, exporting our dinosaur plants could actually be a good idea.

Just one other thing, when Obama wanted to bail out the auto industry (and for many years before that, frankly) there were lots of complaints that labor (unions especially) had pushed up the cost of labor so high that they were the ones putting the car companies out of business.  But now, those are the very jobs that the electorate seems most nostalgic for.  We can be pretty sure that cheap cars and high wages are not going to be on the same plate anytime soon.

Or we can just say, its the free market and you can’t fight the market.

I used to think I might know the answer to this kind of situation, but I don’t any more.  I’d love to hear what proposals you have and what you think.

Meanwhile on the Religious Front…

Being a recovering Catholic, from time to time I tune into (Ir)Relevant Radio, from the far right wing of the cathedral.  I do this so you won’t have too.  Sometimes I also get a blog post idea or two.  But frankly, it turns my stomach so fast that I usually turn it off before I get enough information to actually write a post.

In the minute and half that I was able to listen over the past few days, I caught two snippets that actually go together and explain in a nutshell what is wrong with much of religion in our society currently and why I no longer hold any truck with those folks.

Today some joker named Joshua McCaig was on discussing “Catholic politicians in public life” on the Drew Hystriani show (if you listen for even a few minutes, if you can stomach it,  you will know why I call him that).

McCaig, Mr. Religious Liberty, according to the link above, was going about how Catholic politicians should honor their home faith by forcing it on everyone else through legislation and such.  The idea that someone (presumably someone like Tim Kaine) who would follow Catholic rules in their own life, but not force those rules on others, is just wrong.  Several times in the few minutes I stand listening, McCaig said that things are “black and white, no gray areas.”  Follow the church’s teachings and that is all.  At one point he mentioned that he started a Catholic Bar Association, because he can’t fathom why lawyers, lawyers of all people, can’t understand that these issues are black and white!

I had to give up when they took a call and the caller breathlessly praised Mike Pence for basically preaching the gospel while running for office.  Couldn’t take it any more and I bailed.

But in those two minutes, I got enough to go on for quite a while.

Let’s start with hubris.  The clown thinks he knows the mind of god so well that everything is “black and white.”  He knows god’s answer for EVERYTHING! Every time!  Wow, pretty amazing!  Better than Jesus even!  That would be enough to turn a thinking person from religion, but there is so much more.

How about a different kind of hubris, chutzpah (which was once defined as someone killing their parents and begging the court for mercy because they are an orphan.)  Here is a guy saying that Catholic politicians have to enforce Catholic orthodoxy on the country — and then says he is in favor of “religious liberty.”  This is a new definition of liberty: “To force my ideas on you.”  And he wonders why lawyers don’t understand?

Now, when he said that being a Catholic politician was simple, “because it is black and white” he is really speaking in a short hand code.  What he really means is that you just have to vote against abortion at all times and none of the rest of it matters.

So, I wanted to call in and ask him, what would the Catholic position be on, say, voting to limit the liability of companies that made deadly products, like say, lead paint?  Surely the church would be in favor of people making amends for their actions when they hurt other people.  Surely allowing rich people to walk away from their obligations — in exchange for a few campaign contributions would not be pleasing to god.  Or would it Mr. McCaig?  You seem to know god’s mind perfectly.  Is there a politician anywhere in any party that follows Catholic teachings completely?  I would say the Republicans here in Wisconsin with their pay to play system fall a bit short.  And I am sure McCaig thinks those immoral Democrats are not worthy either.

Let god make the laws directly!  Who needs politicians!

The pay to play issue just broke wide open here in Wisconsin, but what about more mundane things?  We appear not to have enough money to fund our schools and fix our roads.  Republicans cut $300 from our university system and now are short about a billion in road funds.  So, what is the Catholic position on this Mr. McCaig?  Take more money from roads to fund schools?  Bad roads can kill people, so maybe close the schools completely to fix the roads?  Or perhaps the solution is to raise taxes to take care of both.  Jesus said god had no problem with taxes.  Please tell us what god thinks about this Mr. McCaig!  It must be a simple black and white answer!

I could go on, but I know you understand.  There is no politician anywhere who follows the line of any church or religion from top to bottom.  We know that religious people cherry pick, and religious politicians most of all.

Finally, to switch subjects just slightly, I caught a snippet a few days ago where a lady had called into a program and she was looking for an “ethical” doctor.  What she meant was a doctor who would not only recommend only church approved treatment options not only to her, but to everyone the doctor saw.  In other words, a doctor who would not recommend or prescribe birth control to her or anyone.

I should probably make this a separate blog post, but here goes.

“Religious” reasoning is not the same as “ethical” reasoning, lady.  Religious reasoning may include ethical principals, but ultimately religious rules are just that, rules for no real rhyme or reason.  Wearing a hat (for women) or not wearing one (for men) are religious rules with no ethical import.  Sure there are reasons, but they are reasons that are only meaningful to those who follow the religion.  Hat or no hat, makes no difference ethically.

I will not say that using birth control has no ethical import, but I am sure any open minded ethicist can make a good case for the use of birth control, here is a listing of a few considerations.  It is also true that not all churches, or even all Christian churches oppose contraception, so the Catholic argument doesn’t even apply to all Christians.

This lady — and McCaig — both want to take their narrow understanding of what god wants and to force it on everyone, no matter what the conscience of those other people might tell them.  They both are completely cocksure that they know every thing god thinks, wants and demands and wants to force that view and those actions on the rest of us.  That is not ethical thinking or even religious thinking.

It is fascism, pure and simple.  Calling fascism “religious liberty” is just polishing a turd.

 

Epistemology and Donald Trump

Sciencedebate.org, which is backed by about a bazillion scientific organizations has published the answers of the presidential candidates on twenty questions that revolve around issues that are on the border of science and politics (for example climate change.)  You can find all the answers here, although I don’t think any of them are going to surprise anyone.  Clinton’s answers look like they were put together by a PhD policy wonk committee and Trump’s look pretty much like his tweets.  But that you could already figure out.

In his last answer, Trump says something that at first seems jaw droppingly stupid, but turns out to be quite a conundrum.  Here is the question and answer:

20. Scientific Integrity

Evidence from science is the surest basis for fair and just public policy, but that is predicated on the integrity of that evidence and of the scientific process used to produce it, which must be both transparent and free from political bias and pressure. How will you foster a culture of scientific transparency and accountability in government, while protecting scientists and federal agencies from political interference in their work?

Trump’s Answer:

Science is science and facts are facts.  My administration will ensure that there will be total transparency and accountability without political bias.  The American people deserve this and I will make sure this is the culture of my administration.

“Science is Science and facts are facts” at first seems so self evident (and so opposite of Trump’s problems with actually relating to facts) that it is laughable.  But hiding underneath that is a problem that philosophers have been struggling with for millennia and I am currently trying to get across to my critical thinking students, epistemology.

Epistemology is a big word (which Trump is probably unfamiliar with) which deals with the question of how we know what we know and what is knowledge.  And it turns out that, after all is said and done, “science” is not Science and “facts” are not Facts.

When I was in high school, I was taught the “solar system” model of the atom, which at once a simplification of the current theory and an older theory (Google images for “general science” and see how many solar system atoms you see!).  The electron cloud model has replaced this.

Was the former model (and my knowledge of it) a “fact?”  Is the new model a “fact?”  Some years from now will a science website put of a picture of an electron cloud with the legend, “This is what an electron is not!”?  Philosophers debate endlessly about what all this means, but I can assure you that almost nobody (other than religious philosophers) are willing to argue that there is something call Truth with a capital “T.”

And the same is true with “science.”  For the moment, I won’t quibble about the difference between science as a method and the results (and infrastructure) of that method.  For the moment, I am referring to science as the latter: people in white coats, collecting and publishing data and drawing conclusions.

The scientific method is certainly a wondrous thing, but what we call “science” is certainly not Science! (with a capital S).  The scientific method has many safeguards built in which are supposed to reduce or eliminate various kinds of bias, but because science is done by actual humans, we find many clever ways to allow that bias right back in and even create new biases.

Publication bias is a perfect example of a new bias that the infrastructure that is “science” has created.  Positive (and newsworthy!) results get published and negative results get set aside.  In  a similar way, more research is probably done on profitable drugs than unprofitable.  Money, politics, ego and who knows what else introduce biases that prevent “science” from ever being Science!

From the other end of the spectrum, Neil deGrasse Tyson said that what we need is a country where all decisions are “data driven.”  His idea was roundly booed from all sides, and rightly so.  What even counts as “data?”  Trying to determine what the “real” unemployment rate is turns out to be a very thorny problem.  Yes, some methodologies are much more defensible than others, but none is perfect.  How do we make “data driven” decisions when the data itself is subject to doubt?

Here is a minor example I came across today — the harm to humans from wind farms (Say what? you might ask…).  Here is a report that says wind turbines can be harmful to human health, and here is another which reaches pretty much the opposite conclusion:  “the scientific evidence available to date does not demonstrate a direct causal link between wind turbine noise and adverse health effects.”  They both look very “scientific,” So which data should we heed?

This is not to say that complete skepticism is a useful position either.  Philosophers say that “knowledge” is a “justified, true belief.”  Even if we allow that there may be no such thing as “absolute truth” we can effectively substitute “corresponds with reality” for “truth” in the above formulation, which we can say conforms with our current understanding of the world.

 So, then we can say that while the jury may be out on how much harm wind farms cause humans, there is pretty good data that shows it is more dangerous to live next to an oil refinery than to a wind turbine.  Or at least I would hope so.  Using the best available information is the “justified” part of the definition above, even as we concede that such “knowledge” is by definition imperfect.

So, while it is not really true that “science is science and facts are facts” we can move forward on various issues on the basis of scientific consensus.  When a vast amount research, using a variety of methods from different disciplines point in the same direction we are clearly “justified” in calling that knowledge and moving forward with that “knowledge,” even if it might be overturned later.  Business forecasting is notoriously unreliable, but businesses push forward with their plans all the time none the less with the best information at hand.  Society and government should do the same as well. 

A classic example of this is the case for human caused climate change.  Do we have a ton of information, from a wide variety of sources and disciplines that are all pointing in the same direction?  Indeed we do.  Given that the predicted outcomes of these trends are unfavorable in the long term, should we take action?  That is clearly a justified “scientific” belief.   Well, except for the guy who said that “Science is science and facts are facts.”

Trump has famously said that climate change science is a hoax invented and perpetrated by the Chinese.  So, even when he spews what look like innocuous platitudes, Trump is both lying and straddling both sides of the issue.

Trump doesn’t believe that “science is science” but not in the way that philosophers would object.  What he really means is “Science I like is real science and the rest of it is crap that we don’t need to listen to.”  Which, unfortunately is a view that many people hold about science and no amount of philosophizing  on epistemology or transparency on the part of scientists is ever going to change.

Conservative Principles

For many years now, and again in this election season, I have struggled to understand what “conservative principles” actually are.  For expro_life_pro_god_pro_gunample, I saw a car this afternoon with a bumper sticker that read: Pro-God, Pro-Life and Pro-Gun.  How does that even fit into any kind of consistent philosophical system?

Democratic party principles, while not ironclad are, I think relatively consistent.  I think it can be summed as “Freedom is a pretty good thing, but needs limits for everyone to get along.”

So, you get a reasonably consistent set of policy proposals.  They don’t want to take away all guns, but want to control which guns people can buy and who can buy them.  Wants free enterprise, but with limits such as a minimum wage and environmental laws.  Not 100 percent consistent, usually close enough that things make sense.

On the Republican side, I have never, ever been able to figure out what the underlying “conservative” philosophy really is.

For example, Republicans are for freedom with little or no limits when it comes to people who own companies.  But that same freedom does not apply to people who use drugs or want to have an abortion.  Libertarians are consistent on this, but Republicans, not so much.

The same is true of so called “fiscal conservatism.”  Republicans hate budget deficits, but only when Democrats run them.  When Reagan and W. Bush ran deficits, no problem.  Republicans want to count every penny for Zika funding, but when it comes to the Pentagon, they just pour it on.  Even one penny less reduces the military to rubble.

Religious freedom, aka social conservatism, is just a muddled.  Of course there is the “if Christians do it it’s OK, but Muslims, no way!”  But that is just too easy to pick on.  In the areas of gay and reproductive rights, the idea of “sincerely held religious beliefs” has become a bit of mantra.  When I heard the Hobby Lobby decision, my first thought was “Sincerely held beliefs in what religion?  ‘Cause it sure in hell isn’t Christianity!”

I am sure you remember the bumper stickers, “Christians aren’t perfect, they’re forgiven.”  And you can look it up, Jesus hung around will all kinds of “sinners.”  Seemed to be pretty proud of it, actually, made a bit of a point about it.  Oh yeah and Jesus DIED FOR OUR SINS.  His whole freakingperfect purpose really.  But now, somehow, allowing employees to have access to birth control using their healthcare plan dollars, makes the bosses “complicit” in the sin of the birth controllers.  WTF??  Doesn’t Christianity say we are all sinners?  Didn’t Jesus die for our sins (at least those who pray to him in just the right way)?  So, how is baking a cake for someone making you a sinner?  Makes no sense whatsoever, especially WITHIN Christian theology.  So, even on religion, there seems to be no real “conservative principles.”

Philosophically speaking that is.

Sociologically speaking, it seems the picture gets a bit clearer and Trump is making it even more transparent.  The best way to put it is “in-group vs out-group.”  It is not racism strictly speaking, but it can certainly start there or be used to fan the flames.  So, let’s take another look at “conservative principles” through this frame.

People who use drugs or women who want to control their fertility are just not “honest hard working people.”  They have “no morals.”  Lock them up, punish them.

Which explains the military (at the national level) and prisons and police (at the state and local levels).  Got to have someone to lock them up.

Honest and hard working people deserve their Social Security and Medicare.  But those people, you know who I mean, don’t deserve food stamps and welfare, so we can get rid of those programs.  One of the reasons I think it is not straight up racism is people like Paul Ryan are moving toward another in/out distinction where working people don’t deserve retirement benefits, only folks like the Koch brothers should have it easy in retirement.  Because of course folks like them are the real “creators” and the rest of us are just takers.

And of course the religious angle is really just for show.  No one can convince me that the Hobby Lobby people are really religious.  And even if they are, they can’t really believe that Jesus just loves rich people, but can’t stand people who have sex without having babies every single time.alt-right

Us versus Them is the only consistent theme I can see in so called conservatism as it is practiced here in the US.  I think we need a new name for it.  Alt-Right is not a bad start, but doesn’t really have enough punch to it.  Suggestions welcome (and I am sorry, but Nazi was already used, so I will discount that one from the start.)

Now, I do believe that there could a consistent conservative philosophy.  There is no reason that you can’t be both pro-business and also want to conserve our natural resources.  Wanting a smaller government overall can be consistent if it applies equally and includes some kind of cost-benefit analysis.  Religious freedom is a good idea if it means not telling other people what to believe and letting them live their lives according to their own principles (until they unduly affect others, of course).  These all strike me as “conservative.”  But the modern Republican party does not embody any of these ideas.

It is not “conservative” in the least.

Free College is Not a Game Changer

There have been two battle cries in our current election cycle, “Free College!” And “The System is Rigged!”  My analysis is that the second slogan is actually true (but not in the way it thrown around) which makes the first plan not all that useful.  To understand why I think free college is not a game changer you need to understand what education is really about.

Yes education is certainly about acquiring certain skills and knowledge and most schools are pretty good at that (believe it or not!)  But education also has another function, and that is a social sorting function and this is the part that is certainly rigged.

You could, if you wanted to head over to EdX and get yourself a Harvard education.  You really can, if a Harvard education is about getting information.  But as you will quickly find out, knowing as much as a Harvard graduate is not the same as being a Harvard graduate.  Granted there are a few things you won’t get in your online Harvard education, things like mentorships, but ultimately actually going to Harvard actually means that you are the kind of person who can go to Harvard which means you can get the kinds of jobs that the kinds of people who go to Harvard get.  It is pretty much that circular.

Which is not to say that Harvard folks are not smart.  They certainly are.  But we have a real problem in defining what “intelligence” really is.  How it is defined now, we know that socio-economic status is very closely correlated with both IQ and school achievement.  But again, the process could well be circular.

So, we know that kids raised in a rich environment are more intelligent.  Most likely it is that the environment stimulates brain development and a more developed brain is smarter.  House full of books, trips to zoos, museums and Europe — all stimulate brain development and make people “smarter.”  But wait there is more.

Psychologists like to say that “intelligence is what intelligence tests measure.”  And what they really mean is that how and what you measure in turn defines what intelligence is, or at least what it is perceived to be.  Let me give you an example with this little thought experiment.

So, you are an intelligent reader, perhaps college educated, certainly widely read and schooled in critical thinking.  Then you should have no problem whatsoever with this short little “college entrance exam.”  You don’t have to actually do it, just look at it and you will immediately know what kind of score you would probably get on this.  OK, go “take the test” and come back.  I’ll wait.

How did you do?  I know for myself that my score on the test would be a big fat zero.  Imagine that the skills and knowledge measured by this test were the ticket to the upper middle class.   Upper middle class homes would all be conservatories of music.  Here is another thing to consider, especially if you are one of the few that aced this exam.  If you aced the exam, you get to go to a “selective” college which is great for you!  Congratulations!

Oh, but wait, there is some “affirmative action” program that lets in kids that didn’t quite have access to your musical education.  Unfair right?  You have much better qualifications than they do!  Because, of course, this test measures musical ability perfectly.  Or does it?

Before you answer, consider a few people who know a thing or two about music, but could not pass this test, starting with the Beatles.  Neither Lennon nor McCartney could read music.  Are people who passed this test really musically “smarter?”  I think the same can be said of SATs and other academic tests.

My point?  What we call “smart” and what actually is “smart” certainly overlap, but are not necessarily the same thing.  An article in the Atlantic on the subject of free college points out that the “selective” California schools (UCLA, UC Berkeley and UCSD) are full of kids who got near perfect SAT scores and have near perfect grades.  Yes, I am sure they are smart.  I am also sure that their upper middle class parents exposed them not only to zoos and museums, but also professional journals and SAT prep courses.

Another example, the students at the technical college often times struggle with writing academic papers in APA format.  They have not had much exposure to academic writing, if any.  Children of doctors and lawyers surely get exposed to academic writing style in high school, and surely their parents make sure they do it well as they probably have professional journals around the house.  Writing papers in college is a breeze.  Which is why almost every kid at UCLA is getting A’s.

Excuse me while I digress, but if college is supposed to be a meritocracy shouldn’t the best of the best of those kids get A’s and the rest B’s and C’s.  Oh, there would be a riot if they did that, never mind.  Back to the article in progress.

So, upper middle class kids get A’s in “selective” colleges, which allows them to get into “selective” professional schools (medical and legal) or get the best internships and jobs.  And then they take their kids to zoos, museums, and Europe and the cycle continues.

Let’s face it, in our society a college degree is really a filter.  It separates a person from the “common riff-raff.”  If you don’t believe me, do a Google image search on “College students on the quad.”  Looks like Paul Ryan’s interns.  Lower college tuition is not going to change this, people will simply find another filter.

For many people, college is not really about getting smart, it is simply a marker that they travel in those circles.  Free college tuition is not going to help this.  If anything it will push the price of private colleges even higher.

This does not mean that there is not anything we can do.  We certainly need to strengthen funding for our public colleges to make them as accessible as possible.  We need to have college admission systems that value diversity, not only culturally or ethnically, but also in how we assess “intelligence.”  SAT tests were supposed to bring in a pure meritocracy.  High scores supposedly were indicative of pure ability.  It was originally said that you “could not study” for them.  That has turned out not to be true.  And they only measure a small slice of what might be called “intelligence.”  So, we can do better.

We can also do better in providing education that matches real needs in the job market.  Everyone talks about how we need so many more people who can write computer code.  Yet it is not taught widely in secondary schools.  We could do better.  We can test for “intelligence” better as well and understand it better in society.

Unfortunately there is no way to “unrig” the educational system.  There is no such thing as a pure meritocracy (except maybe Major League Baseball, and I am not even sure about that) and social advantage is always going to be a factor.  The winners of today’s economic system will want to hire people such as themselves, who will come from families like their own.  And it will probably also always be true that kids from well off families will always be “smarter” because their advantages in their home environment.

A fully funded Head Start system is probably the best way to “unrig” the educational system, not free college.

 

Left Wing Fundamentalism

It was certainly not my intention to get political on this site (I have another blog site where I get political) but this year there is a phenomenon that crosses the line from politics into religion.  There has been a lot of attention on third party candidates because of the less than likable nature of the two major party candidates.

For the record, I find that Gary Johnson’s libertarianism might be appropriate for the 18th century, but just doesn’t cut it in the corporate age.  I agree with many of the positions of the Jill Stein and the Greens, but they are not in any way an organized, effective political party.  Well, same with the Libertarians as well, and I would never vote for either person for President.

Even though I would say that I often agree with Jill Stein’s political positions, I wish she would sit down and shut up.  I find her campaign completely illogical and frankly, insulting.

The latest example comes in a Salon piece, which quotes her in the lede as saying, “Democracy needs a moral compass.”  This is ludicrous.  Democracy is a technique, a way of organizing people.  It cannot have a moral compass.  Only the people who practice democracy can have a moral compass.  I am further bothered with her implication that “We the People,” when we do not act in the oh so pure way that Stein does, that we are lacking in a moral compass.  This is exactly what you would expect Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell, Jr. to say.

I am not quite sure if this is just smug moralizing or the same kind of delusional thinking that lead Donald Trump to declare that he — and only he! — is the solution to all of our problems.

The article further says that Stein said that her platform is “is an emergency job program that will address climate change and will create an emergency transition to 100 percent renewable energy.”  Hmmm…Emergency this and emergency that.  Actually sounds kind of un-democratic to me.  This is how dictators often take over in other countries, finding an “emergency” that requires a brutally efficient fix.  “I’ll just do this for you now and we can work out the niceties later.”  Stein seems to think of herself as some kind of philosopher king, that if we would just give her the reins of country for a few years, she will just patch everything up perfectly in her image.
But the sad reality is that she apparently has no clue as to how things actually work in our republic (we are not a democracy, by the way.)  If we are to have a massive jobs program and renewable energy program, where does that have to come from?  Congress of course.  Have such things been proposed?  Of course they have.  Went no where.  Ask Obama what you can get done when Congress is against you.

So how many Greens are in Congress?  None.  Here is Wisconsin, the Greens are “supporting” four local candidates.  They cannot even fill out their own state governing committee here.  They can’t get a decent number of local candidates, cannot even fill out their own organizational chart and Stein thinks she is going to push a New Deal style jobs and energy program through Congress?  Don’t make me laugh.

If, as Stein says, the future is not in our hopes or dreams, but in our hands, then let her and the Greens get themselves a functioning political party.  Senate candidates in every state, a Green for every congressional district.  Until then she is just a delusional hoper and dreamer.

Now, some will say that we need other parties to push back against the two main parties that have “sold out.”  While I agree that our current political climate has plenty of problems, I have to take issue with the idea that both parties are “just same,” “equally corrupt” and have “sold out.”falseE

This just the fallacy of false equivalence.  Yes. both parties take corporate money and billionaire money.  But do you really think that Elon Musk and the Koch brothers are “just the same?”  What each party seeks to achieve with those donations is very different, and claiming otherwise is just disingenuous.  Just as an easy example: do you really believe that Antonin Scalia and Thurgood Marshall were “just the same” on the Supreme Court?  Which is a Democrat more likely to nominate?  A Republican?  You can’t argue that both parties are “exactly the same.”  (And just for grins, even if you believe that Stein would nominate, say, Noam Chomsky to the Court, how in the hell would she get him confirmed?)

The same with “selling out.”  We all sell out to one degree or another.  The college I teach at now insists that all teachers use the same curriculum elements.  Same assignments, same grading scale.  I don’t think they are that great.  Am I selling out by continuing to teach there?  Maybe, but at least inside the system I have a better chance of effecting change.

Whether we like it or not corporations are part of our democracy.  They have a right to do business here and the people who run them have a right to participate in the political process.  The question is not whether but rather how.  Stein, in that sense is like a fundamentalist — all or none.  In her case none.  I find it ironic that her followers are denouncing corporate influence by tweeting from their iPhones over the AT&T network.

Fundamentalism, that is to say rigidity of thinking, is just as bad in politics as it is in religion.  For that reason alone, I think no one should vote for Jill Stein.

The Worst of Times? I Think Not!

There seems to be a chorus of voices all crying that these are the worst of times, I think there are reasons for that, which I will get to at the end of my post, but first I want to tell the story of my Grandfather.  AmericanFamily

Let’s say that on the surface, it might be his story that the Trumpeteers are thinking about when they say, “Make America Great Again.”  With a modest education, a high school diploma my grandfather got a job with one of the biggest corporations in America, AT&T.  He made enough money so that my grandmother could stay home with her four kids.  He worked for AT&T for 40 years and retired with 80% of his pre-retirement salary as a pension.  Three of his four kids went to college, and got advanced degrees.  His fourth child wound up at IBM in a well paying position.  The American dream, right?  It would seem so, but let’s take a look at the details of the story as well.

My grandfather was born in 1911, so was graduating from high school in, do the math, 1929.  Yes, he came out of school looking into the maw of the Great Depression.  You think we have it bad, how about that?  Now, yes, he was very lucky in getting his job with AT&T in 1932.  I have no idea how.  He got married that same year and bought a house in the suburbs of Philadelphia.  And basically did the same job for the next 40 years.  Second shift.  Whoo hoo.  Sound like your ideal career?

Although he was lucky to be employed, the scars of the depression lingered.  In his retirement he paid all his bills immediately because he was afraid “they would come and take the house.”  He lived in the same house for more than 40 years, it had been paid for for years.  But those memories obviously remained.

After my grandmother had her first three kids, they faced the abyss again.  The rise of Hitler in Europe, blitzkrieg in Poland and France and finally Pearl Harbor.  Again, he was lucky and got to stay on the homefront, but once again, life must not have been a bowl of cherries.  Rationing, shortages, complete uncertainty.

Finally, the war was over and America entered its golden age.  Well, except for McCarthy seeing commies under every desk.  The anxiety of the nuclear age.  The rise of the Soviet Union and the Cold War.  Their fourth child was born in 1950, perhaps adding a bit of uncertainty to their lives personally.  But perhaps the 1950s were about as sanguine as their lives held.  Little did they know that all hell was about to break loose.

My mother and her sister got ready to leave home as the 1960s dawned.  I am sure my parents looked ahead with optimism as they got married in 1959.  Just a few years later, they thought it might be all over as the Cuban Missile Crisis loomed.  All around them the civil rights movement and the southern backlash was tearing the country apart in what must have looked like the second coming of the Civil War.  Just when it looked like it might be resolved peacefully in 1963, next thing you knew, the president was assassinated.   Johnson wins reelection in a landslide, but all hell breaks loose again as Viet Nam bursts into our consciousness and the anti-war movement joins the Civil Rights movement on the streets.

Bobby Kennedy is killed.  Martin Luther King is killed.  Cities erupt with riots, fires and shootings.  Casualties mount in Viet Nam.  My uncles join the military.  At any one of these points, the country probably looked as though it was going to come apart at the seams.

Finally, as his retirement approached and things looked like they might be calming down, Watergate bubbled up the surface.  Just two years after he retired the country was hit by the twin shocks of the oil embargo and Nixon resigning.

Any of this sound like a piece of cake?  Something you would like to go back to?  And my grandfather, was extraordinarily lucky across all those years.  But wait, there was a couple of more issues he needed to face.

Just ten years into his retirement, AT&T was declared a monopoly and ordered broken up.  This must have caused just a bit of anxiety as “stagflation” was the economic worry of the time.  Unfortunately, my grandmother passed away soon after AT&T was broken up and just a few years later he finally moved out of the house where he had lived since 1932 — into a nursing home to deal with Parkinson’s disease, which finally claimed him in 1992.

And none of this mentions some of the other lovely features of the “golden age” he lived through.  Smoking rates of close to 50% among adults.  An epidemic of heart disease, especially among middle aged males (which took my other grandfather at the age of 52).  How about the Cuyahoga river catching fire, Lake Erie dying, smog and deindustrialization.

Of course there were many good things that happened in those years and I am sure if you asked him, he would have insisted that he had a great life.  And yes he did.  But it was not easy, it was not golden by any means.

There is a lot that is wrong with our world (perhaps more on that in later posts), but there is very little chance that 2017 is going to be anywhere as near as bad as a few years I can think of for my grandparents.  The coming year cannot be as bad as 1933. Or 1963.  Or 1968.  Or 1941.  And so on.

It is my opinion that the “powers that be” want to convince us that these are, in fact the worst of times.  Trump made it explicit in his acceptance speech, essentially, these are the worst of times and only I can save you.  Perhaps you have noticed that many churches are the same way, “The end times are near and only Jesus (and the priest, his representative) can save us.

So, don’t believe the hype.  Are there going to be tough times.  Of course there will be.  But theses are nowhere near the worst of times.  If what my grandparents lived through can now be considered a golden age, image how rosy our current times will look in the rearview mirror.

More of the Speech Bernie Should Have Given

Don’t get me wrong, I thought Bernie gave a great speech last night and hit many of the right notes, but I wish he had said more about what it is really going to take to make “the revolution happen.”

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It seems to me that our opponent doesn’t even know what office he is running for.  He mistakenly thinks he is running for emperor rather than President of the United States.  The office of president has limited constitutional powers, the president can’t just “fix everything” all alone.  Donald Trump can’t, I can’t, nobody can.

I ran for President to highlight the need for change, but understanding that even as President I couldn’t make those changes happen by myself.  That’s not how the presidency works.

If you want a $15 an hour minimum wage, congress must pass it.  We need 60 senators and 225 representatives to pass that legislation.  Of course we also need a president who will sign it.  I am sure that Hilary will do so.  All the presidential leadership in the world would not get such a bill through our current congress.  Yes, we need a progressive President, but we need a progressive congress even more.

In the same way, if you want an Apollo Project for renewable energy, we need a progressive congress.  If you want funding for rebuilding our infrastructure, we need a progressive congress.  Yes, we need a president who will sign those bills, but we need a congress that get those bills to the president’s desk.  It is more important that we get Russ Feingold and many more like him in the Senate than we have Bernie in the White House.

If you want increased college funding, we need a progressive congress.  If you want more support for public colleges so they can have affordable tuitions than you need more than a progressive congress.  You need progressive state legislatures and governors.   If you want to overturn Citizen’s United you need 38 progressive state legislatures and governors.

While I appreciate the confidence you put in me with “Bernie or Bust,” it is just not true.  The revolution is not focused on the White House, it can’t be.  You have to have this level of enthusiasm and passion for every election.  Presidential, congressional, state and local.  You have to get out and vote — every single time.  You have to organize — for every election.  If you don’t like your choice of candidates — run yourself.   Every election, every vote.  If the system is rigged, we have to get in there at every level and unrig it as best we can.

Finally, let me say that will the President is limited in power, this is an extraordinarily important election.  There may be as many as four vacancies on the Supreme Court in the next 4 years.  International relations seem to be at a critical point.  Dealing with gun violence and terrorism within Constitutional bounds will continue to be a huge issue.  And perhaps even dealing with decisions about war and peace.  In all of these issues, I trust Hilary Clinton to make decisions that are keeping with American and progressive values.  I will be doing everything I can to not only see that Hilary is elected, but that we take back the House and the Senate and I hope that all of you will join me in those efforts.

Get out and support the revolution vote as “Bernie-like” as possible at every level, up and down the ballot!

 

Reassessing the Second Amendment

To say that we have an issue with guns in this country is to make the understatement of the year.  At the risk of being labeled as “one of those liberals who want to take all the guns away,” I believe it is time to reassess the Second Amendment.

I am not a Constitutional literalist, the Founders clearly left us with a mechanism to change the Constitution and we have used that mechanism where we later decided that the founders had not gotten things quite right the first time, for example with slavery, the indirect election of Senators and women being denied the vote.  So, the Constitution is not sacrosanct, it can be altered and changed  — even the Bill of Rights.

That being said, I am a big fan of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and would agree that any changes have to be made carefully, thoughtfully and democratically.  The other thing that has to be said is that no right, Constitutional or otherwise, is absolute.  Famously, the First Amendment does not protect my “right” to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater.  Individual rights are balanced by the rights of others.

With that in mind, here is my reassessment of the Second.

The first thing that we have to look at is: What is the actual purpose of the Amendment?  Like the other items in the Bill of Rights it must be there to provide protections from government “tyranny” (Where, of course we have another defintional issue).

So, it does not protect the “right” to hunt.  They would have said: “Hunting, being necessary to feeding of a free people…” but they did not say that.   It also does not seem to be about self protection, if so it would say: “The police, not being able to be everywhere…” which it also does not say.  So, what do guns have to do with government tyranny?

Some historians say that the “Well ordered militia” clause means that the government should not keep a standing, professional army as that army could be ordered by a despot to institute and enforce a dictatorship.  A citizen army would be less likely to fire on its neighbors.  Another school of thought, taken from Jefferson’s comment that the tree of liberty is to be watered from time to time with the blood of patriots, is that an people armed could rise up against any despot that came to power.  Either of these reasons have little to do with our modern National Rifle Association and its defense of the Second Amendment.

In Minneapolis, the first accounts of the shooting seemed to indicate that the officer shot Castile after being informed that Castile was carrying a firearm.  If so, this is what the NRA should be up in arms about.  For example, it might be that net neutrality might have some theoretical First Amendment impact, if police raided my house because I blog on this site, that is a direct affront to the First Amendment.  The same way for the NRA.  A law limiting the number of bullets in a magazine is one thing, but police shooting someone for carrying a gun is a direct affront of gun rights.  So where is the NRA outrage?

Talking about Dallas is even a more tender issue, but I feel I must go there.  Let me make a devil’s advocate argument here.  IF police are acting “tyrannically” towards people of color in American cities and IF the political process is not effective in changing that, then according to NRA logic, the shooter in Dallas was using his Second Amendment rights in the just way Jefferson intended.  Is this not the logic of the Bundys that the right wing defended, like in this article?  Something like, when the government tramples on my rights we will respond with guns.  Dallas is what that looks like in practice.

Which is why I say it is time to consign the Second Amendment to the dustbin of history.

In modern democracies, we do not need the threat of violence to ensure change in our political system.  Black Lives Matter is a non-violent movement and that is the only way they will succeed.  Accomplishing political change at the point of a gun is the logic of ISIS, not modern democracies.

Dallas also seemed to show that even the “self protection” possibility of the usefulness of the Second Amendment is also fallacious.

According to the Dallas Mayor, Mike Rawlings, a number of open carry advocates were attending the peaceful Black Lives Matter rally when the shooting began.  Like everyone else, those armed guys ran.  They did not prevent or stop the actual shooting.  But they did cause problems for the police because it was certainly possible that anyone with a gun was a part of the problem.  So, police spent time chasing down innocent people and trying to figure out which side they were on.  This adds to the problem, it doesn’t solve anything.

Guns, per se, no longer prevent tyranny.  The idea that citizens could somehow compete with a professional army is clearly ludicrous.  An AR-15 versus a drone?  Get serious.

Allowing armed groups or people,  be they the Bundys, ISIS or those who feel they are fighting police tyranny, to use guns as part of their political arsenal is not democracy, it is terrorism, pure and simple.

I think it is time to scrap the Second Amendment.

Now that is not to say that we need to eliminate guns, certainly guns have legitimate purposes, hunting and home defense certainly.  But the idea that guns are some kind of human right, that they have some sort of political purpose, that violence is a legitimate political act,  is an idea whose time has passed.