Tag Archives: politics

What Up With That: Nationalism

The recent political earthquake in the US is just one example of a nationalistic wave that swept across Western democracies in 2015-2016. The election in the US seemed to surprise many political talking-heads since the nation was, and still is, on a continuing path towards greater liberalism (mostly due to demographics).

So, what exactly is up with that? Can American liberals enter a coma for the next 4 years, sure to awaken refreshed and ready for a new left-of-center regime? Or, is the current nationalistic mood — albeit courtesy of a large minority — likely to prevail for a while longer? Well, there’s no clear answer, and political scientists and researchers are baffled.

Care to learn more about theories of nationalism and the historical underpinnings of nationalism? Visit my reading list over at Goodreads. But make sure you start with: Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism by Benedict Anderson. It’s been the global masterwork on the analysis of nationalism since it was first published in 1983.

I tend to agree with Anderson’s thesis, that a nation is mostly a collective figment of people’s imagination facilitated by modern communications networks. So, I have to believe that eventually our networks will help us overcome the false strictures of our many national walls and borders.

From Scientific American:

Waves of nationalist sentiment are reshaping the politics of Western democracies in unexpected ways — carrying Donald Trump to a surprise victory last month in the US presidential election, and pushing the United Kingdom to vote in June to exit the European Union. And nationalist parties are rising in popularity across Europe.

Many economists see this political shift as a consequence of globalization and technological innovation over the past quarter of a century, which have eliminated many jobs in the West. And political scientists are tracing the influence of cultural tensions arising from immigration and from ethnic, racial and sexual diversity. But researchers are struggling to understand why these disparate forces have combined to drive an unpredictable brand of populist politics.

“We have to start worrying about the stability of our democracies,” says Yascha Mounk, a political scientist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He notes that the long-running World Values Survey shows that people are increasingly disaffected with their governments — and more willing to support authoritarian leaders.

Some academics have explored potential parallels between the roots of the current global political shift and the rise of populism during the Great Depression, including in Nazi Germany. But Helmut Anheier, president of the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, cautions that the economic struggles of middle-class citizens across the West today are very different, particularly in mainland Europe.

The Nazis took advantage of the extreme economic hardship that followed the First World War and a global depression, but today’s populist movements are growing powerful in wealthy European countries with strong social programmes. “What brings about a right-wing movement when there are no good reasons for it?”Anheier asks.

In the United States, some have suggested that racism motivated a significant number of Trump voters. But that is too simplistic an explanation, says Theda Skocpol, a sociologist at Harvard University.  “Trump dominated the news for more than a year, and did so with provocative statements that were meant to exacerbate every tension in the US,” she says.

Read the entire story here.

p.s. What Up With That is my homage to the recurring Saturday Night Live (SNL) sketch of the same name.

The Next 4 Years

It’s taken me a week to recover from the visceral shock of the US Presidential election. A vile process that continued for 18 months finally culminated in the election of, quite simply, a neo-fascist-lite for our Twitter age.

Like many other so-called elitists — if we should equate elitism with a higher education — I had hoped for a different outcome. Well, it wasn’t to be. So, it’s time to accept the result and move on, right?

Not quite, since this is an existential threat to my children and our democracy, like no other.

Thus, I will begin the next four years by reminding myself, and you dear reader of the President-elect’s vulgarities, bigotry, hypocrisy, contempt, mendacity and other dangerously ignorant, poisonous nonsense and complete bullshit from the depraved, despotic, shameless, shallow, deceitful, volatile, puerile, vindictive, noxious, boastful, misogynistic, racist, corrupt, thuggish, insensitive, naive, irrational, petulant, solipsistic, authoritarian, vengeful, disgraceful, abusive, irresponsible, narcissistic, pompous, vacuous, cowardly, amoral, self-aggrandizing, unprincipled, pathologically deranged, completely detached-from-reality (crazy), unapologetically fraudulent, chronically repulsive, thoroughly sleazy and incoherent mind mouth of the President-elect (think about that very carefully for several minutes each day over the next 1,450 or so days).

Trust A Climate Scientist?

infographic-trust-in-climate-scientists-is-low-among-republicans-considerably-higher-among-liberal-democrats

If you trust a climate scientist you are more likely to be a liberal Democrat. And, if you tend to be highly skeptical of climate science, scientific consensus, climate change causes, and even ways to address climate change, then you’re more likely to be a Republican.

A fascinating study from the Pew Research Center sheds more light on the great, polarized divide between the left and the right.

For instance, 70 percent of liberal Democrats “trust climate scientists’ a lot to give full and accurate information about the causes of climate change, compared with just 15% of conservative Republicans.” Further, just over half (54 percent) of liberal Democrats “say climate scientists’ understand the causes of climate change very well”, which compares with only 11 percent of conservative Republicans.

From Pew Research Center:

Political fissures on climate issues extend far beyond beliefs about whether climate change is occurring and whether humans are playing a role, according to a new, in-depth survey by Pew Research Center. These divisions reach across every dimension of the climate debate, down to people’s basic trust in the motivations that drive climate scientists to conduct their research.

Specifically, the survey finds wide political divides in views of the potential for devastation to the Earth’s ecosystems and what might be done to address any climate impacts. There are also major divides in the way partisans interpret the current scientific discussion over climate, with the political left and right having vastly divergent perceptions of modern scientific consensus, differing levels of trust in the information they get from professional researchers, and different views as to whether it is the quest for knowledge or the quest for professional advancement that drives climate scientists in their work.

This survey extensively explores how peoples’ divergent views over climate issues tie with people’s views about climate scientists and their work. Democrats are especially likely to see scientists and their research in a positive light. Republicans are considerably more skeptical of climate scientists’ information, understanding and research findings on climate matters.

Read the entire article here.

Infographic: Trust in climate science is low among Republicans; considerably higher among liberal Democrats. Courtesy: Pew Research Center.

Iran Versus Macy’s

The NYT recently published an updated compendium of the 281 people, places and things that the Republican nominee for President has insulted via Twitter. It makes for some unbelievable and sometimes humorous reading. Interestingly enough, the “great orange one” has more vitriol to hurl at Macy’s department store (“very disloyal to me”) than at Iran and the recent international nuclear agreement (“Really sad!”).
The Iran nuclear deal international agreement:

Please Don’t Send in the Clowns

google-search-clowns

By some accounts the United States is undergoing an epidemic of (scary) clown sightings. For those who have been following the current election cycle — for what seems like years — this should come as no surprise. After all, a rather huge (or is it “yuuge”) one wants to be President.

That aside, this creepy game [for want of a better word] began in August in South Carolina, and has since spread to New York, New Jersey, Texas, Oregon, Florida and a host of other States.

I think author Stephen King has a lot to answer for.

Humor aside for a moment. A study on the nature of creepiness published in April 2016, ranks clowns as the most creepy occupation followed by taxidermist and sex shop worker; funeral director and taxi drivers rounded out the top 5. Many psychologists and anthropologists will find this result to be unsurprising — clowns, court jesters, jokers and village fools have been creeping out (and entertaining) audiences for thousands of years.

And, then of course, there’s an even more serious clown show going on at the moment, headed by a truly dangerous one — especially if you’re female:

google-search-clown-car-2

From the Guardian:

The first person to spot a clown, the patient zero in the current epidemic of threatening clowns sightings spreading across the US, was a little boy at a low-income apartment complex in Greenville, South Carolina.

He ran to his mother, Donna Arnold, and told her what he had seen: two clowns in the woods, both brightly dressed and made up. One with a red fright wig and the other with a black star painted on his face. They whispered something to the boy.

“They were trying to lure him to the house,” his mother told me, pointing toward the woods.

A path into the woods led down into a shaded hollow, at the bottom of which was a small pond. Beside it sat a house that seemed abandoned. Someone had boarded up the windows, and the balcony sagged. New bags of potting soil sat near the basement door, though. And a modern security system looked recently installed.

After sunset a car approached the house; a gleaming white, new-model Mercedes that looked as out of place as any clown car. The driver stepped out and said she had recently bought the old house as an investment because it sits on five acres in an otherwise densely populated area. “You think it looks bad now, you should have seen it before I came in,” she said.

While we talked she wore an in-ear headset, so it wasn’t always clear whether she was speaking to me or someone on her phone.

No, she didn’t want to give her name, she said.

Yes, she had heard about the clown sightings.

Read the entire story here.

Images courtesy of Google Search.

One Month to Go!

trump-rnc-convention-speech-crop

On November 8, 2016 citizens of the United States will decide who takes up residence in the Oval Office on the following January. If you remain undecided — which I doubt — please select from any one of the following links or stories or visit this summary page.

Gathered for the first time in one place, I present daily Trumpian #NeverTrump #DumpTrump vulgarities, bigotry, hypocrisy and other dangerously ignorant and poisonous nonsense from the volatile, puerile, vindictive, noxious, misogynistic, racist, insensitive, naive, irrational, petulant, authoritarian, disgraceful, irresponsible, narcissistic, vacuous, cowardly, pathologically deranged, completely detached-from-reality, and chronically repulsive and incoherent mind mouth of the “Republican” nominee for President (think about that very carefully for several minutes).

There is such a goldmine cesspool of material stretching back years, nay decades, that it’s difficult to recommend just a couple of highlights. However, if you’re a connoisseur of such ignorant vulgarities then I would suggest days 31 and 42 for their “jaw-droppingness”.

As we count down to Election Day — a potentially apocalyptic event — I plan to add a daily key “thought” (I use this term loosely) from the increasingly deranged and highly volatile mind of the Republican nominee.

For the sake of historical completeness I’ve also included some of Mr. Trump’s most recent choice vulgarities, bulls**t and other nonsense pre-100 days. I’m not going back more than a couple of years because, quite simply, there’s far too much crass stupidity to cover on one simple web page.

This truly is a gift that keeps on giving — but only up until November 8, 2016, of course.

The Elitist Media

The sad, low-energy, loser, elitist media just can’t get it right.

Local and national newspapers, magazines, TV and online media — on the left and right — continue to endorse Hillary Clinton and bash Donald Trump. Some have never endorsed a candidate before, while others have never endorsed a Democrat for President. Perhaps not surprisingly the non-elitist National Enquirer has endorsed Trump. Here are just a few of those elitist endorsements:

The Atlantic: Against Donald Trump

[O]ur interest here is not to advance the prospects of the Democratic Party, nor to damage those of the Republican Party,” the editorial concludes. “We believe in American democracy, in which individuals from various parties of different ideological stripes can advance their ideas and compete for the affection of voters. But Trump is not a man of ideas. He is a demagogue, a xenophobe, a sexist, a know-nothing, and a liar. He is spectacularly unfit for office, and voters—the statesmen and thinkers of the ballot box—should act in defense of American democracy and elect his opponent.

USA Today: Trump is ‘unfit for the presidency’

From the day he declared his candidacy 15 months ago through this week’s first presidential debate, Trump has demonstrated repeatedly that he lacks the temperament, knowledge, steadiness and honesty that America needs from its presidents.

Arizona Republic: Hillary Clinton is the only choice to move America ahead

Since The Arizona Republic began publication in 1890, we have never endorsed a Democrat over a Republican for president. Never. This reflects a deep philosophical appreciation for conservative ideals and Republican principles. This year is different. The 2016 Republican candidate is not conservative and he is not qualified.

Dallas Morning News: We recommend Hillary Clinton for president 

Trump’s values are hostile to conservatism. He plays on fear — exploiting base instincts of xenophobia, racism and misogyny — to bring out the worst in all of us, rather than the best. His serial shifts on fundamental issues reveal an astounding absence of preparedness. And his improvisational insults and midnight tweets exhibit a dangerous lack of judgment and impulse control.

Houston Chronicle: These are unsettling times that require a steady hand: That’s Hillary Clinton

Any one of Trump’s less-than-sterling qualities – his erratic temperament, his dodgy business practices, his racism, his Putin-like strongman inclinations and faux-populist demagoguery, his contempt for the rule of law, his ignorance – is enough to be disqualifying. His convention-speech comment, “I alone can fix it,” should make every American shudder. He is, we believe, a danger to the Republic.

Cincinnati Inquirer: Enquirer: It has to be Hillary Clinton

Trump is a clear and present danger to our country. He has no history of governance that should engender any confidence from voters. Trump has no foreign policy experience, and the fact that he doesn’t recognize it – instead insisting that, “I know more about ISIS than the generals do” – is even more troubling.

The Banana Republic Nextdoor

Seal_of_North_Carolina.svg

The United States has no problem raking other nations and their leaders over the coals for violating fundamental human rights. We don’t like it when certain countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America trample on democracy, restrict free speech and restrict the ability of citizens to vote.

Yet, North Carolina clearly sees itself as a leading anti-democratic banana republic. Restricting voting rights of huge parts of the population under the guise of non-existent or insignificant voter fraud is nothing more than institutionalized racism.

The state’s leaders should be ashamed — the US Supreme Court seems to agree.

So, the next time you think of visiting a “third-world” nation to experience their “antiquated” governmental practices and their “quaint” discriminatory worldview put North Carolina on your bucket list.

From Washington Post:

The emails to the North Carolina election board seemed routine at the time.

“Is there any way to get a breakdown of the 2008 voter turnout, by race (white and black) and type of vote (early and Election Day)?” a staffer for the state’s Republican-controlled legislature asked in January 2012.

“Is there no category for ‘Hispanic’ voter?” a GOP lawmaker asked in March 2013 after requesting a range of data, including how many voters cast ballots outside their precinct.

And in April 2013, a top aide to the Republican House speaker asked for “a breakdown, by race, of those registered voters in your database that do not have a driver’s license number.”

Months later, the North Carolina legislature passed a law that cut a week of early voting, eliminated out-of-precinct voting and required voters to show specific types of photo ID — restrictions that election board data demonstrated would disproportionately affect African Americans and other minorities.

Critics dubbed it the “monster” law — a sprawling measure that stitched together various voting restrictions being tested in other states. As civil rights groups have sued to block the North Carolina law and others like it around the country, several thousand pages of documents have been produced under court order, revealing the details of how Republicans crafted these measures.

A review of these documents shows that North Carolina GOP leaders launched a meticulous and coordinated effort to deter black voters, who overwhelmingly vote for Democrats. The law, created and passed entirely by white legislators, evoked the state’s ugly history of blocking African Americans from voting — practices that had taken a civil rights movement and extensive federal intervention to stop.

Last month, a three-judge federal appeals panel struck down the North Carolina law, calling it “the most restrictive voting law North Carolina has seen since the era of Jim Crow.” Drawing from the emails and other evidence, the 83-page ruling charged that Republican lawmakers had targeted “African Americans with almost surgical precision.”

Gov. Pat McCrory (R) filed an emergency petition to restore the law, but a deadlocked Supreme Court on Wednesday refused his stay request, meaning the law will not be in effect for the Nov. 8 election. Because the lower court did not offer specific guidelines for reinstating early voting, however, local election boards run by Republicans are still trying to curb access to the polls.

In lengthy interviews, GOP leaders insisted their law is not racially motivated and their goal was to combat voter fraud. They called their opponents demagogues, who are using the specter of racism to inflame the issue.

Read the entire story here.

Image: State seal of North Carolina. Public Domain.

Ideological Entertainment

Vermont_state_fair_barker_bwEver wondered what really fuels the right-wingers in the media. Is it genuine, hard-felt belief — however unpalatable those beliefs may be to the mainstream — or is it about cold, hard cash and puerile attention seeking?

The cynic in mean tends to agree with Michael Gerson’s op/ed, that much of the conservative media vitriol makes for good clickbait. So, where does this leave the true citizen-believers? Well, to the media carnival barkers they are just gormless marks to be had at the freakshow. It’s ideaological entertainment folks!

You decide.

From the Washington Post:

Of the 2016 election’s lightning storm of shocks, few will have more lasting political consequence than the discrediting of the main media organs of movement conservatism.

Fox News — the “fair and balanced” alternative to the liberal media, the voice of traditional values, the never-ceasing hum in the background of American conservatism — has been revealed as the personal fiefdom of a Donald Trump shill and as an institution apparently operating (according to one lawsuit) “like a sex-fueled, Playboy Mansion-like cult, steeped in intimidation, indecency and misogyny.” While Fox News is not going away, it will need to be relaunched and rebranded as the network of Bret Baier and Megyn Kelly (both fine journalists), rather than of angry white television personalities who employ perpetual outrage as a business model.

Speaking of which, a similar unveiling has occurred with the right’s defining radio personality, Rush Limbaugh. It is difficult to overestimate Limbaugh’s influence on two generations of intensely loyal listeners. Steve Forbes has called him “part of the trinity that made modern conservatism,” in the company of Ronald Reagan and William F. Buckley.

In this campaign cycle, Limbaugh fully embraced right-wing populism, including defending Trump’s hard line on immigration and mass deportation — a position Limbaugh once described as “standing up for the American way of life.” During the recent six-day period in which Trump moderated his immigration stand and essentially embraced Jeb Bush’s views, Limbaugh fielded a call from “Rick in Los Angeles,” who was angry at Trump for adopting a position he had savaged other Republicans for holding. “This is going to enrage you,” Limbaugh replied. “I can choose a path here to try to mollify you. I never took him seriously on this.”

It is an admission of astounding cynicism.

Read the full op/ed here.

Image: Barker at the Vermont State Fair, 1941. Courtesy: Jack Delano, photographer. United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division. Public Domain.

176 Reasons to Vote Against the Bully

I implore you to watch the entire video and (re-)learn why the Republican nominee for President should never be elected. The piece is 17 minutes long — it’s increasingly impossible to distill Trump’s truly deplorable and vulgar bile into anything shorter.

Video: 176 Reasons Donald Trump Shouldn’t Be President
In the debut episode of his new series, “The Closer with Keith Olbermann,” GQ’s Keith Olbermann tallies the most outrageous of Donald Trump’s offenses in what is now his 15-month assault on American democracy. Courtesy: GQ.

Occam’s Razor For a Trumpian World

William_of_OckhamOccam’s razor (or Ockham’s razor) is a principle from philosophy popularized by 14th century philosopher and logician William of Ockham.

Put simply, it states that if there are two or more explanations for a possible occurrence, the simplest explanation is usually the best. That is, the more assumptions required for a possible hypothesis, the less likely is the explanation for that hypothesis.

While Occam’s razor has been found to apply reasonably well in the philosophy of science and more generally, it is not infallible. So, in this 21st century, it’s time to give Occam’s razor a much needed, fresh coat of paint. Further, it also requires an update to make it 100 percent accurate and logically water-tight.

So, let me present Trump’s razor. It goes like this:

Ascertain the stupidest possible scenario that can be reconciled with the available facts and that answer is likely correct.

Unfortunately I can’t lay claim to this brilliant new tool of logic. Thanks go to the great folks over at Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall and John Scalzi.

Read their insightful proposal here.

Image: William of Ockham, from stained glass window at a church in Surrey. Courtesy: Wikipedia. Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0.

Texas Versus Women’s Health

Texas-map

During the period between 2010 and 2014 the rate of women who died from pregnancy-related complications doubled. Not in an impoverished third world nation, but Texas. This increase in maternal mortality is second to none across the United States and all other developed nations.

Perhaps not coincidentally this same period is also marked by Texas’ significant budget cuts that all but destroyed reproductive healthcare clinics and Planned Parenthood services in the state.

This is a great (and sad) example that clearly demonstrates how political ideology can have serious and fatal consequences for 51 percent of the population. I have to wonder if the other half of the population will ever come to its senses. Though, with Republicans firmly in control at the local and state level I’m sure even these concrete facts will be fair game for some hyperbolic fictional distortion.

From the Guardian:

The rate of Texas women who died from complications related to their pregnancy doubled from 2010 to 2014, a new study has found, for an estimated maternal mortality rate that is unmatched in any other state and the rest of the developed world.

The finding comes from a report, appearing in the September issue of the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, that the maternal mortality rate in the United States increased between 2000 and 2014, even while the rest of the world succeeded in reducing its rate. Excluding California, where maternal mortality declined, and Texas, where it surged, the estimated number of maternal deaths per 100,000 births rose to 23.8 in 2014 from 18.8 in 2000 – or about 27%.

But the report singled out Texas for special concern, saying the doubling of mortality rates in a two-year period was hard to explain “in the absence of war, natural disaster, or severe economic upheaval”.

From 2000 to the end of 2010, Texas’s estimated maternal mortality rate hovered between 17.7 and 18.6 per 100,000 births. But after 2010, that rate had leaped to 33 deaths per 100,000, and in 2014 it was 35.8. Between 2010-2014, more than 600 women died for reasons related to their pregnancies.

No other state saw a comparable increase.

In the wake of the report, reproductive health advocates are blaming the increase on Republican-led budget cuts that decimated the ranks of Texas’s reproductive healthcare clinics. In 2011, just as the spike began, the Texas state legislature cut $73.6m from the state’s family planning budget of $111.5m. The two-thirds cut forced more than 80 family planning clinics to shut down across the state. The remaining clinics managed to provide services – such as low-cost or free birth control, cancer screenings and well-woman exams – to only half as many women as before.

Read the entire article here.

Image courtesy of Google Maps.

How to Tell the Difference Between a Liar and a Bulls**t Artist

In this age of media-fueled online vitriol, denigration, falsehood, and shamelessness — elevated to an art form by the Republican nominee for President — it’s critically important for us to understand the difference between a liar and a bulls**t artist.

The liar is interested in the truth, deep down, but she prefers to hide it behind a veil. The liar often has knowledge or expertise about the truth, but hides it. The bulls**t artist, on the other hand, is an entirely different animal. He is detached from reality caring not for truth or lies; he only cares for his desired effect on his intended audience. The absence of knowledge or expertise is required.

I’ll let you determine to which group Mr.Trump belongs. But, if you need help, check out CNN’s Fareed Zakaria reminding us about Mr.Trump’s unabashed ignorance and bulls**t-artistry.

[tube]Y8nhV4HM3jI[/tube]

From the Guardian:

As the past few decades have shown, the trolling mindset is awesomely well adapted to a digital age. It ignores rational argument. It ignores evidence. It misreads, deliberately. It uses anything and everything somebody says against them. To argue with trolls is to lose – to give them what they want. A troll is interested in impact to the exclusion of all else.

Trolls themselves are hairy Nordic creatures who live under bridges, but trolling doesn’t take its name from them. It comes from the Old French verb troller, meaning to hunt by wandering around in the hope of stumbling upon prey. The word made its way into English as a description of similar fishing tactics: slowly towing a lure in hope of a bite.

Then, in the early 1990s, a Usenet group took up the term to describe some users’ gleeful baiting of the naive: posting provocative comments in hope of attracting an outraged “bite”, then winding up their unwitting victim as thoroughly as possible.

In this, trolling is a form of bullshit art. “The essence of bullshit,” argues the philosopher Harry Frankfurt in his 2005 book of the same name, “is not that it is false but that it is phony”.

Both a liar and an honest person are interested in the truth – they’re playing on opposite sides in the same game. A bullshitter, however, has no such constraint. As Frankfurt puts it, a bullshitter “is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false … He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose”.

Once again, impact is all. The total absence of knowledge or expertise is no barrier to bullshit. In fact, it helps. The artistry lies in knowing your audience, and saying whatever is needed in order to achieve a desired effect.

Read the entire article here.

Video courtesy of CNN.

The Psychopath Test and the Nominee

Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks as he accepts the nomination during the final session of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 21, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder - RTSJ4LA

Wouldn’t it be interesting to know if the potential next President of the United States were a psychopath?

I would certainly like to have the answer, which would seem to be just as important as knowing if the nominee supports a minimum wage increase, universal healthcare, equity for women, and justice for minorities.

So, interestingly enough Keith Olbermann over at Vanity Fair ran Donald Trump through the Hare Psychopathy Checklist. It was developed by Robert D. Hare, a criminal psychologist, in the early 1980s. Still in use today, the 20-point checklist is used as a simple tool (among others) to quickly assess if a subject has mental health issues ranging from brain injury to psychopathy.

Here’s how the checklist works. Take each of the 20 items and score each with either a 0, 1 or 2, with 0 denoting “does not exhibit” and 2 denoting “does exhibit”. The highest score of 40 indicates that the subject has a high potential for being a dangerous psychopath; 30 is the minimum ranking for psychopathic tendencies.

I urge you to read the full article, but in the meantime I’ll excerpt Donald Trump’s score’s on each dimension below:

  • Glibness/superficial charm — 2
  • Grandiose sense of self-worth — 2
  • Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom — 2
  • Pathological Lying — 2
  • Cunning/Manipulative — 2
  • Lack of remorse or guilt — 2
  • Shallow Affect — 2
  • Callous/lack of empathy — 2
  • Parasitic lifestyle — 2
  • Poor behavioral controls — 2
  • Promiscuous sexual behavior — 2
  • Early behavior problems — 2
  • Lack of realistic, long-term goals — 1
  • Impulsivity — 2
  • Irresponsibility — 1
  • Failure to accept responsibility for one’s own actions — 2
  • Many short-term marital relationships — 0
  • Juvenile delinquency — 2
  • Revocation of conditional release — 0
  • Criminal versatility — 0

Total score, 32.  There you have it. So, when you vote in November, 2016, please think of the children of the world and the nuclear codes.

Image: Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks as he accepts the nomination during the final session of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 21, 2016. Courtesy: PBS / REUTERS/Brian Snyder – RTSJ4LA.

Satanists Snub Comparison of Cruz to Lucifer

Lucifero-Alessandro-Vellutello-1534

On April 30, 2016 Ben Gittleson, a journalist for ABC News, authored this headline:

Satanists Snub Comparison of Cruz to Lucifer

Surely it is the best political headline bar none. Ever. Period.

Click here, if you wish to read the actual story behind this 7-word masterpiece.

Image: Lucifer, by Alessandro Vellutello (1534), for Dante‘s Inferno, canto 34. Courtesy: Wikipedia. Public Domain.

One Dollar, One Vote

Top-20-political-donors

Money continues to swirl and flow in US politics. During a presidential election season the dollar figure is now in the billions. The number is unfathomable and despicable. And, yet according to the US Supreme Court money is free speech so it’s perfectly legal — although morally abhorrent (to many).

Thus, by corollary, many people feel (and know) that the system is twisted, rigged, and corrupt. Money sways lawmakers. Money helps write laws; it overturns others. Money elects. Money smears. Money impeaches. Money filters news; it distorts fact. Money buys influence, it buys access.

Of course, in a democracy, this would seem to be a travesty — many millions of ordinary citizens without thousands or millions of dollars are left without a voice. Because the voice of the many is completely usurped by the voice of the few, replete with their expensive megaphones and smartphones with speed-dial connections to their political puppets. But, don’t forget, we — the ordinary citizens of the US — don’t live in a democracy; we live in a plutocracy. The wealthy few, rule for and by themselves.

A small example, collectively, the top 20 political donors have so far, this election season alone, donated a staggering $171.5 million to their favorite political action committees (PAC). This doesn’t even include money that’s funneled directly to the candidates themselves.

It’s obscene and corrupt.

But, hey, it’s free speech, so we’re told.

From Washington Post:

Since 2015, super PACs have raised $607.7 million and have spent $452 million. The top 50 donors together have supplied $248.2 million—41 percent of the money raised to date.

The largest share of the money has come from donors who have given between $1 million and $5 million. Five contributors giving more than $10 million each contributed 14 percent of the total raised.

Many of the biggest super PAC donors have spread around their money, financing multiple super PACs that back presidential hopefuls and congressional candidates. They hail from various sectors, with many drawing on fortunes made in the energy industry, on Wall Street and in health care.

The Washington Post is also tracking donations made through “ghost corporations” whose backers cannot be identified. Clicking on “ghost corporations” below brings up a list the corporate contributors to super PACs who have not yet been publicly linked to individual donors.

Read the whole story here.

Image: Snapshot of top donors compiled by Washington Post.

Hyperlinks of Hypocrisy: Money, Power and Corruption

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The extraordinary and very welcome leak of over 11 million files — collectively known as the Panama Papers — from one of the world’s largest offshore law firms, Mossack Fonseca, shows three very simple things. First, power corrupts. Second, the super-rich will continue to get richer. Third, the very rich live by different rules to the rest of the global population.

None of the preceding is, of course, of any surprise.

What fascinates me is to see this common thread of brash hypocrisy and self-aggrandizement links politicians of all stripes in democracies, with business leaders in totalitarian states, with so-called “communist” dictators, and holier-than-thou celebrities.

This tangled web of tax-avoiders and wealth-obfuscators links oligarchs with royals; it links Christians and Muslims; it links atheists with the pious; it links military dictators with socialists; it links criminals and bankers (too many, one and the same) and drug lords; it links sanctions-busters with sanctions-enforcers; it links the Saudis with the Iranians; it links footballers with cello players.

Avarice and greed knows no boundaries and transcends all political systems.

This, of course, shouldn’t come as any surprise either.

From the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists:

A massive leak of documents exposes the offshore holdings of 12 current and former world leaders and reveals how associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin secretly shuffled as much as $2 billion through banks and shadow companies.

The leak also provides details of the hidden financial dealings of 128 more politicians and public officials around the world.

The cache of 11.5 million records shows how a global industry of law firms and big banks sells financial secrecy to politicians, fraudsters and drug traffickers as well as billionaires, celebrities and sports stars.

These are among the findings of a yearlong investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and more than 100 other news organizations.

The files expose offshore companies controlled by the prime ministers of Iceland and Pakistan, the king of Saudi Arabia and the children of the president of Azerbaijan.

They also include at least 33 people and companies blacklisted by the U.S. government because of evidence that they’d been involved in wrongdoing, such as doing business with Mexican drug lords, terrorist organizations like Hezbollah or rogue nations like North Korea and Iran.

One of those companies supplied fuel for the aircraft that the Syrian government used to bomb and kill thousands of its own citizens, U.S. authorities have charged.

“These findings show how deeply ingrained harmful practices and criminality are in the offshore world,” said Gabriel Zucman, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley and author of “The Hidden Wealth of Nations: The Scourge of Tax Havens.” Zucman, who was briefed on the media partners’ investigation, said the release of the leaked documents should prompt governments to seek “concrete sanctions” against jurisdictions and institutions that peddle offshore secrecy.

World leaders who have embraced anti-corruption platforms feature in the leaked documents. The files reveal offshore companies linked to the family of China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, who has vowed to fight “armies of corruption,” as well as Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who has positioned himself as a reformer in a country shaken by corruption scandals. The files also contain new details of offshore dealings by the late father of British Prime Minister David Cameron, a leader in the push for tax-haven reform.

The leaked data covers nearly 40 years, from 1977 through the end of 2015. It allows a never-before-seen view inside the offshore world — providing a day-to-day, decade-by-decade look at how dark money flows through the global financial system, breeding crime and stripping national treasuries of tax revenues.

Read the entire story here.

Video: The Panama Papers: Victims of Offshore. Courtesy: International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

The Power of Political Shamelessness

Cowardly_lion2I’m not quite sure when the era of political correctness died, but surely our current election cycle truly signals its end. The pendulum of discourse has now swung fully away from PC to PS — Political Shamelessness.

I suspect that the politically correct modus operandi of tip-toeing around substantive issues of our time is partly to blame for the rise of PS. Some commentators believe that PS is also fed by the shield of anonymity so perfectly enabled by our new online tools — anyone can now voice a vitriolic monologue behind a convenient anon avatar. Perhaps more so, our current culture has come to value blow-hard opinion disguised as news and hysterical reality TV re-packaged as real-life, and the more controversial, dramatic and bigoted the better.

Mark Leibovich, correspondent for NYT Magazine, looks at the roots and consequences of this epidemic of shameless public behavior. He’s quite right to assert that a “cesspool of anonymity” has facilitated a spike in indifference and shamelessness, and both are associated with false courage. Thus, it would seem that many of our public figures — especially our politicians — are petty cowards hiding behind a shield of untruth, bluster and anger. And, until we are all courageous enough to battle this tide of filthy discourse we will all continue to surf in the ocean of shamelessness.

From NYT Magazine:

Lately I’ve been thinking about the notion of false courage. It was introduced to me by an unlikely philosopher king: the Dallas Cowboys’ owner, Jerry Jones, whom I interviewed for an article on the N.F.L. that ran in the Feb. 7 issue of the magazine. We were talking about proposals on how to improve player safety in football. Jones mentioned to me a counterintuitive idea that Lamar Hunt, the founding owner of the Kansas City Chiefs, once suggested.

“Hunt thought we should take the face mask off of football helmets,” Jones told me. Why? Jones explained that face masks can foster an illusion of protection. “Lamar Hunt thought the face mask gave a player false courage,” Jones explained. “It gave the impression he could launch headfirst, and the face mask would protect him.”

I have since found myself thinking about false courage in other contexts. As a political culture, we are drowning in false courage. For all the exposure and exhibitionism that social media has allowed for, it has also has created a cesspool of anonymity — and what is anonymity if not a social face mask and sweeping enabler of false courage?

You can type pretty much anything you want these days with very little risk of discovery, let alone shame. People send me the most vile emails and tweets without any fear of anyone — namely me — learning who they are. I don’t much care; I am numb to their abuse. As with everyone who writes for the Internet, that is my default. I don’t mean to be glib here, especially as a man — I fully realize that for female writers, the line between run-of-the-mill Internet moron and a genuine threat can be hard to discern. But learned indifference is my face mask. No one gets embarrassed after a while because no one cares.

Last week, I wrote a brief article about Hillary Clinton. Nothing guarantees a faster descent into the cesspool than writing something — anything — about Hillary Clinton. I could list examples, but, you know, family newspaper. I received one particularly vulgar email via The Times’s feedback queue from a reader who identified himself as “Handsome Dave.” Without getting into his particular anatomical eloquences, I admit that I forwarded his note to a few friends with a sarcastic rejoinder about the quality of some of our readers. One person I sent Handsome Dave’s missive to was Tom Brokaw, the retired NBC News anchor, who has had a firsthand view of how fast our notions of common respect in the public discourse have disintegrated. Brokaw’s take on Handsome Dave: “It is that mentality and sense of empowerment that allows Trump to get away with his style.”

It’s always easy to roll eyes at traditional media types’ wringing hands over “the coarsening of our culture” or some such. But it’s also worth noting that the coarsening norms of the Internet can bear much resemblance these days to what’s actually coming from the candidates’ town halls and debate stages. Today’s politics nurtures its own ethic of false courage. For as scrutinized and unprivate as the lives of politicians have become, I would venture that they can get away with much more today than they used to; the speed of the news cycle, the shrinking of attention spans and the sheer volume of information practically dictates as much. People used to have time to digest information, and leaders were better regulated by higher capacities for shame. Community decency standards were higher. Everyone’s outrage reserves were much less overtaxed. Now everything burns off in a few days, no matter how noxious.

Brokaw mentioned Donald Trump. Trump is probably the best example of a politician that has insulated himself from the outrages he perpetrates by never apologizing, simply throwing himself into the next news cycle and explaining away what used to be called “gaffes” as proof of how honest and refreshing and nonpolitician-like his style is. But it’s not just Trump. All politicians today seem to operate with a greater sense of invulnerability — the belief that a deft media strategy can neutralize any consequences.

Read the entire article here.

Image: Dorothy meets the Cowardly Lion, from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz first edition. Courtesy: W.W. Denslow (d. 1915). Library of Congress. Public Domain.

Speaking in Tongues

Apparently there is some depth to ex-governor of Alaska Sarah Palin’s unintelligible vocalizations. According to Anna North, editor of the cultural blog at the NYT, Palin’s speech patterns are actually quite complex, reminiscent of the Latin oratory of ancient Rome. [Do I detect some tongue-in-cheekiness?] Oh, ignotum per ignotius!

Please make up your own mind. From the NYT:

Sarah Palin has been mocked a lot for the way she talks, especially in her strange and rambling endorsement speech for Donald Trump. But her speeches on the campaign trail aren’t simple; they are actually incredibly complicated.

Her unusual style was on display at a Trump rally on Monday afternoon in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “When both parties, the machines involved, when both of them hate you,” she said at one point, “then you know America loves you and we do love he who will be the next president of the United States of America, Donald J. Trump!”

Let’s break that last part down: “We” love not just Donald Trump, or even just Donald J. Trump, but “he who will be the next president of the United States of America.”

Mrs. Palin relies heavily on this particular kind of dependent clause. “He is one who would know to negotiate,” she said of Donald Trump in her speech endorsing him on Jan. 19. Later in that speech, she spoke of “our own G.O.P. machine, the establishment, they who would assemble the political landscape.”

Maybe Mrs. Palin or her speechwriters think the convoluted sentence structure makes her sound smart. Maybe they think it makes her sound heroic, like the orators of the past. Or maybe all those extra clauses are just a really good way to load up a sentence with praise — or insults. Here’s Mrs. Palin using both a dependent clause and a participial phrase to attack President Obama on Jan. 19:

And he, who would negotiate deals, kind of with the skills of a community organizer maybe organizing a neighborhood tea, well, he deciding that, “No, America would apologize as part of the deal,” as the enemy sends a message to the rest of the world that they capture and we kowtow, and we apologize, and then, we bend over and say, “Thank you, enemy.”

I honestly am not sure what’s going on in this sentence. What I do know is that Sarah Palin has this in common with Roman orators: She loves to talk trash.

Read the entire column here.

SciDeny and Rain Follows the Plow Doctrine

Ploughmen

“SciDeny” is a growing genre of American fiction.

SciDeny is authored by writers who propose an alternate “reality” to rational scientific thought. But, don’t be fooled into believing that SciDeny is anything like SciFi.

There are 3 key differences between SciDeny and SciFi. First, SciDeny is authored by politicians, lawyers or lay-persons with political agendas, not professional novelists. Second, SciDeny porports to be non-fictional, and indeed many believe it to be so. Third, where SciFi often promotes a visionary future underpinned by scientific and technological progress, SciDeny is aimed squarely at countering the scientific method and turning back the clock on hundreds of years of scientific discourse and discovery.

SciDeny is most pervasive in our schools (and the current US Congress), where the SciDeniers promote the practice under the guise of academic freedom. The key target for the SciDeny movement is, of course, evolution. But, why stop there. I would encourage SciDeniers to band together to encourage schools to teach the following as well: flat-earth, four humors, luminiferous aether, alchemy, geo-centric theory of the universe, miasmatic theory of disease, phlogiston, spontaneous generation, expanding earth, world ice doctrine, species transmutation, hollow earth theory, phrenology, and rain follows the plow (or plough).

We’re off to a great start already in 2016, as various States vie to be the first to pass SciDeny-friendly legislation. Oklahoma is this year’s winner.

From ars technica:

The first state bills of the year that would interfere with science education have appeared in Oklahoma. There, both the House and Senate have seen bills that would prevent school officials and administrators from disciplining any teachers who introduce spurious information to science classes.

These bills have a long history, dating back to around the time when teaching intelligent design was determined to be an unconstitutional imposition of religion. A recent study showed that you could take the text of the bills and build an evolutionary tree that traces their modifications over the last decade. The latest two fit the patterns nicely.

The Senate version of the bill is by State Senator Josh Brecheen, a Republican. It is the fifth year in a row he’s introduced a science education bill after announcing he wanted “every publicly funded Oklahoma school to teach the debate of creation vs. evolution.” This year’s version omits any mention of specific areas of science that could be controversial. Instead, it simply prohibits any educational official from blocking a teacher who wanted to discuss the “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories.

The one introduced in the Oklahoma House is more traditional. Billed as a “Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act” (because freedom!), it spells out a whole host of areas of science its author doesn’t like:

The Legislature further finds that the teaching of some scientific concepts including but not limited to premises in the areas of biology, chemistry, meteorology, bioethics, and physics can cause controversy, and that some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on some subjects such as, but not limited to, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.

Read more here.

Image: Ploughing with oxen. A miniature from an early-sixteenth-century manuscript of the Middle English poem God Spede þe Plough, held at the British Museum. By Paul Lacroix. Public Domain.

Election 2016 QVC Infomercial

The 2016 US presidential election cycle just entered the realm of total absurdity.

Not content with puerile vulgarity, hate-speech, 4th-grade “best words” and policy-less demagoguery, current  frontrunner for the Republican nomination was hawking his fake steaks, bottled water, vodka and wine at his March 8, 2016 press conference…

trump-infomercial-8Mar2016

Image courtesy of Jared Wyand / Independent News.

PhotoMash: A Great Leader vs Something Else Entirely

Today’s PhotoMash comes courtesy of the Guardian (UK Edition), on January 21, 2016. A kindly editor over there was thoughtful enough to put President Eisenhower alongside two elements of the 2016 US presidential election clown circus.

Photomash-Palin-vs-EisenhowerMany political scholars, commentators and members of the public — of all political stripes — who remember Eisenhower during his two terms in office (1953-1961) agree that he was one of the greatest US Presidents. As for the pretenders to the throne in the other half of this PhotoMash, well, ugh. Enough said.

Image courtesy of the Guardian.

A (Word) Cloud From the (Tweet) Storm of a Demagogue

trump-wordcloud-26Feb2016

It’s impossible to ignore the thoroughly shameful behavior of the current crop of politicians and non-politicians running in this year’s U.S clown car race presidential election. The vicious tripe that flows from the mouths of these people is certainly attention-grabbing. But while it may have been titillating at first, the discourse — in very loose terms — has now taken a deeply disgusting and dangerous turn.

Just take the foul-mouthed tweets of current front runner for the Republican nomination, Donald Trump.

Since he entered the race his penchant for bullying and demagoguery has taken center stage; no mention of any policy proposals, rational or otherwise; just a filthy mouth spouting hatred, bigotry, fear, shame and intimidation in a constant 140-character storm of drivel.

So I couldn’t resist taking all his recent tweets and creating a wordcloud from his stream of anger and nonsense. His favorite “policy” statements to date: wall, dumb, failing, dopey, dope, worst, dishonest, failed, bad, sad, boring. I must say it is truly astonishing to see this person attack another for being: hater, liar, dishonest, racist, sexist, dumb, total hypocrite!

Wordcloud generated using Wordclouds.com.

Please Laugh While You Can

Rationality requires us to laugh at the current state of the U.S. political “conversation” as Jonathan Jones so rightly reminds us. I say “conversation” in quotes because it’s no longer a dialog, not even a heated debate or argument. Politicians have replaced rational dialog and disagreement over policy with hate-speech, fear-mongering, bullying, venom, bigotry and character assassination. And, it’s all to the detriment of our democracy.

Those of us who crave a well-reasoned discussion about substantive issues and direction for our country have to gasp with utter incredulity — and then we must laugh.

From Jonathan Jones over at the Guardian:

When a man hoping to be president of the United States can sum up his own country with a photograph of a monogrammed gun and the single-word caption “America”, it may be time for the rest of the world to worry.

Instead they are laughing. Since the Republican nomination hopeful (although not very hopeful) Jeb Bush tweeted a picture of his handgun he has been mocked around the world with images that comically replace that violent symbol with the gentler images that sum up less trigger-happy places – a cup of tea for the UK, a bike for the Netherlands, a curry for Bradford.

The joke’s a bit thin, because what is currently happening in US politics is only funny if you are an alien watching from a spaceship and the fate of the entire planet is just one big laugh to you. For what is Bush trying to achieve with this picture? He’s trying to appeal to the rage and irrationality that have made Donald Trump’s bombastical assault on the White House look increasingly plausible while Bush languishes, a conventional politician swamped by unconventional times.

The centre cannot hold, WB Yeats wrote nearly a century ago, and this photograph shows exactly how off centre things are getting. When Jeb Bush – brother of one warmongering president, son of another, and a governor who sanctioned 21 executions during his tenure in Florida – embodies the centre ground, you know things have got strange. Compared with the strongman politics, explicit bigotry and perversion that a Trump presidency threatens, mere conservatism would be sweet sanity.

But this photograph reveals that that is not on offer. America, says Bush’s Twitter account, is a gun with your name on it. The candidate has his name inscribed on his weapon – Gov Jeb Bush, it says on the barrel. This man is a gun. He’s primed and loaded. You think Trump talks tough? Well, talk is cheap. “Speak softly, and carry a big stick,” said Theodore Roosevelt. Bush has got this gun, see, and he knows how to use it.

Read the entire article here.

PhotoMash: Honey Boo-Boo and Trump’s Jihadists

Oh, the Washington Post is the source that keeps on giving. We’re only a few days into 2016, and the newspaper’s online editors continue to deliver wonderfully juxtaposed stories that highlight the peculiar absurdity of contemporary (American) “news”.

Photomash-honey-booboo-vs-donald-for-isis

This photomash (or more appropriately “storymash”) comes to us from the Washington Post, January 2, 2016. Both subjects are courtesy of our odd fascination with the hideous monsters created by reality TV.

The first story describes Discovery Communications re-awakening; aiming to move away from the reality trash TV of Honey Boo Boo. The second, highlights our move towards the new phenomenon of reality trash politics spearheaded by the comb-overed-one.

Congressional Climate Science Twilight Zone

Kiribati-Marshall-Islands-001

By its own actions (or lack thereof) and admissions the US Congress is a place where nothing gets done, and that nothing is done by non-experts who know nothing — other than politics, of course. So, when climate science skeptics in the US Senate held their most recent, “scientific” hearing, titled: “Data or Dogma: Promoting Open Inquiry in the Debate over the Magnitude of Human Impact on Earth’s Climate”, you can imagine what ensued.

Without an ironic nod to the name of their own hearing, Senators proceeded to inquire only from scientists who support the idea that human created climate change is a myth. Our Senators decried the climate change lobby for persecuting this minority, suggesting that their science should carry as much weight as that from the other camp. Yet this sham of an “open inquiry” fails to recognize that 99 percent of peer-reviewed climate science is unequivocal in pointing the finger at humans. Our so-called leaders, yet again, continue to do us all — the whole planet — a thorough disservice.

By the way, the Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Competitiveness is chaired by Senator Ted Cruz. He believes that his posse of climate change deniers are latter-day Galileo Galileis — a persecuted minority. But he fails to recognize that they are in the minority because the real science shows the minority to be wrong; Galileo was in the minority, but he was backed by science, not dogmatic opinion. I think Senator Cruz would make a great president, in the time of Galileo Galilei, since that is where his understanding of “science” and the scientific method still seems to reside.

From Wired:

You are entering the world of another dimension—a dimension of sight (look at the people who don’t like scientists), of sound (people talking a lot), and of mind (well, maybe not so much). There’s the signpost for the Dirksen Senate Office Building up ahead. Your next stop: Senator Ted Cruz’s hearing on climate change earlier this week, which felt very much like something from the Twilight Zone.

Cruz himself is an intense guy in a dark suit—but that’s where the evident similarities between the senator and Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling end. Serling was an abject, romantic humanist. Cruz’s hearing was more like one of the side-shifted worlds Twilight Zone stories always seemed to happen in, at the crossroads of science and superstition, fear and knowledge.

Stranger than the choreography and theatrics (police tossed a protester, Cruz spent plenty of time denouncing a witness who either didn’t show up or wasn’t invited, and a Canadian blogger barely contained his anger during a back-and-forth with Democratic Senator Ed Markey) was the topsy-turvy line of questioning pursued by Cruz, a Texas Republican and chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Competitiveness.

He opened the hearing—“Data or Dogma: Promoting Open Inquiry in the Debate over the Magnitude of Human Impact on Earth’s Climate”—with a tale of a 2013 expedition by New Zealand scientists. They were investigating Antarctic sea ice—”ice that the climate-industrial complex had assured us was vanishing,” Cruz said. “It was there to document how the ice was vanishing in the Antarctic, but the ship became stuck. It had run into an inconvenient truth, as Al Gore might put it. Facts matter, science matters, data matters.”

So OK. To bolster that us-versus-them narrative, Cruz invited scientists who believe they are being persecuted (or denied government funding)—just like Galileo was by the Catholic Church, they kept saying.

The other side of the aisle responded that these scientists aren’t being funded because their research and ideas don’t measure up to peer-review standards—or are just plain wrong.

Read the entire article here.

Image: The Demon Town cemetery in Majuro has lost many graves during a decade of constant inundations. The local people have moved their relatives’ remains and graves further inland, 2008. Courtesy of The Marshall Island Journal / Guardian Newspapers.

Clowns, Ducks and Dancing Girls

OK, OK. I’ve had to break my own rule (again). You know, the one that states that I’m not supposed to write about politics. The subject is far too divisive, I’m told. However, as a US-based, Brit and hence a somewhat removed observer — though I can actually vote — I cannot stay on the sidelines.

Politics-Cruz-ducks-15Jan2016

For US politics and its never-ending election season is a process that must be observed, studied, dissected and savored. After all, it’s not really politics — it’s a hysterically entertaining reality TV show complete with dancing girls, duck hunting, character assassination, clowns, demagogues, guns, hypocrisy, plaid shirts, lies and so much more. Best of all, there are no policies or substantive ideas of any kind; just pure entertainment. Netflix should buy the exclusive rights!

Politics-Trump-rally-15Jan2016

Image, top: Phil Robertson, star of the Duck Dynasty reality TV show, says Cruz is the man for the job because he is godly, loves America, and is willing to kill a duck to make gumbo soup. Courtesy of the Guardian.

Image, bottom, Political rally for Donald Trump featuring gyrating dancing girls and warnings to the “enemy”. Courtesy of Fox News.

The American Dream: Socialism for the Rich Or Capitalism For All?

You know that something’s up when the Wall Street Journal begins running op-ed columns that question capitalism. Has even the WSJ now realized that American capitalism thrives by two sets of rules: one for the rich socialists, the crony capitalists who manipulate markets (and politics), invent loopholes, skirt regulation, and place enormous bets with others’ wealth; the other, for the poor capitalists, who innovate, work hard and create tangible value.

Now even Bill Gates — the world’s richest citizen — tells us that only socialism can address climate change! It’s clear that the continued appeal of Bernie Sanders to those on the political left, and the likes of Ben Carson and that-other-guy-with-the-strange-hair-and-big-mouth-and-even-bigger-ego to those on the right, highlights significant public distaste for our societal inequality and political morass. At times I feel as if I’ve been transported to a parallel universe, a la 1Q84, where the 99 percent will rise and finally realize meaningful change through social and economic justice. Can it really happen?

Nah! It’ll never happen. The tentacles that connect politicians and their donors are too intertwined; the pathways that connect the billionaires, oligarchs, plutocrats and corporations to lobbyists to regulators to lawmakers are too well-protected, too ingrained. Until these links are broken the rich will continue to get richer and the poor will continue to dream. So, for the time being remember: the rich are just too big to fail.

From the WSJ:

If you want to find people who still believe in “the American dream”—the magnetic idea that anyone can build a better life for themselves and their families, regardless of circumstance—you might be best advised to travel to Mumbai. Half of the Indians in a recent poll agreed that “the next generation will probably be richer, safer and healthier than the last.”

The Indians are the most sanguine of the more than 1,000 adults in each of seven nations surveyed in early September by the market-research firm YouGov for the London-based Legatum Institute (with which I am affiliated). The percentage of optimists drops to 42 in Thailand, 39 in Indonesia, 29 in Brazil, 19 in the U.K. and 15 in Germany. But it isn’t old-world Britain or Germany that is gloomiest about the future. It is new-world America, where only 14% of those surveyed think that life will be better for their children, and 52% disagree.

The trajectory of the world doesn’t justify this pessimism. People are living longer on every continent. They’re doing less arduous, backbreaking work. Natural disasters are killing fewer people. Fewer crops are failing. Some 100,000 people are being lifted out of poverty every day, according to World Bank data.

Life is also getting better in the U.S., on multiple measures, but the survey found that 55% of Americans think the “rich get richer” and the “poor get poorer” under capitalism. Sixty-five percent agree that most big businesses have “dodged taxes, damaged the environment or bought special favors from politicians,” and 58% want restrictions on the import of manufactured goods.

Friends of capitalism cannot be complacent, however. The findings of the survey underline the extent to which people think that wealth creation is a dirty business. When big majorities in so many major nations think that big corporations behave unethically and even illegally, it is a system that is always vulnerable to attack from populist politicians.

John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods, has long worried about the sustainability of the free enterprise system if large numbers of voters come to think of businesses as “basically a bunch of psychopaths running around trying to line their own pockets.” If the public doesn’t think business is fundamentally good, he has argued, then business is inviting destructive regulation. If, by contrast, business shows responsibility to all its stakeholders—customers, employees, investors, suppliers and the wider community—“the impulse to regulate and control would be lessened.”

Read the entire column here.

Science, Politics and Experts

NOAA-climate-data-trend

Nowhere is the prickly relationship between science and politics more evident than in the climate change debate. The skeptics, many of whom seem to reside right of center in Congress, disbelieve any and all causal links between human activity and global warming. The fossil-fuel burning truckloads of data continue to show upward trends in all measures from mean sea-level and average temperature, to more frequent severe weather and longer droughts. Yet, the self-proclaimed, non-expert policy-makers in Congress continue to disbelieve the science, the data, the analysis and the experts.

But, could the tide be turning? The Republican Chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, Texas Congressman Lamar Smith, wants to see the detail behind the ongoing analysis that shows an ever-warming planet; he’s actually interested in seeing the raw climate data. Joy, at last! Representative Smith has decided to become an expert, right? Wrong. He’s trawling around for evidence that might show tampering of data and biased peer-reviewed analysis — science, after all, is just one great, elitist conspiracy theory.

One has to admire the Congressman’s tenacity. He and his herd of climate-skeptic apologists will continue to fiddle while Rome ignites and burns. But I suppose the warming of our planet is a good thing for Congressman Smith and his disbelieving (in science) followers, for it may well portend the End of Days that they believe (in biblical prophecy) and desire so passionately.

Oh, and the fact that Congressman Lamar Smith is Chair of  the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology?! Well, that will have to remain the subject of another post. What next, Donald Trump as head of the ACLU?

From ars technica:

In his position as Chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, Texas Congressman Lamar Smith has spent much of the last few years pressuring the National Science Foundation to ensure that it only funds science he thinks is worthwhile and “in the national interest.” His views on what’s in the national interest may not include the earth sciences, as Smith rejects the conclusions of climate science—as we saw first hand when we saw him speak at the Heartland Institute’s climate “skeptic” conference earlier this year.

So when National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists published an update to the agency’s global surface temperature dataset that slightly increased the short-term warming trend since 1998, Rep. Smith was suspicious. The armada of contrarian blog posts that quickly alleged fraud may have stoked these suspicions. But since, again, he’s the chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, Rep. Smith was able to take action. He’s sent a series of requests to NOAA, which Ars obtained from Committee staff.

The requests started on July 14 when Smith wrote to the NOAA about the paper published in Science by Thomas Karl and his NOAA colleagues. The letter read, in part, “When corrections to scientific data are made, the quality of the analysis and decision-making is brought into question. The conclusions brought forth in this new study have lasting impacts and provide the basis for further action through regulations. With such broad implications, it is imperative that the underlying data and the analysis are made publicly available to ensure that the conclusions found and methods used are of the highest quality.”

Rep. Smith requested that the NOAA provide his office with “[a]ll data related to this study and the updated global datasets” along with the details of the analysis and “all documents and communications” related to part of that analysis.

In the publication at issue, the NOAA researchers had pulled in a new, larger database of weather station measurements and updated to the latest version of an ocean surface measurement dataset. The ocean data had new corrections for the different methods ships have used over the years to make temperature measurements. Most significantly, they estimated the difference between modern buoy stations and older thermometer-in-a-bucket measurements.

All the major temperature datasets go through revisions like these, as researchers are able to pull in more data and standardize disparate methods more effectively. Since the NOAA’s update, for example, NASA has pulled the same ocean temperature database into its dataset and updated its weather station database. The changes are always quite small, but they can sometimes alter estimates of some very short-term trends.

The NOAA responded to Rep. Smith’s request by pointing him to the relevant data and methods, all of which had already been publicly available. But on September 10, Smith sent another letter. “After review, I have additional questions related to the datasets used to adjust historical temperature records, as well as NOAA’s practices surrounding its use of climate data,” he wrote. The available data wasn’t enough, and he requested various subsets of the data—buoy readings separated out, for example, with both the raw and corrected data provided.

Read the entire story here.

Image: NOAA temperature record. Courtesy of NOAA.