Toys for us and others

This will be the first Christmas in a long while without retailer Toys R Us, who went out of business. Or, as my youngest son aptly called it when he was a younger, “Toys for us.” The “Toy Story” movies register the impact of the store on our lives.

Toys are no longer for kids and sometimes disguise themselves as what they are – useful products. A mobile phone is far more than a phone, but the “wanna new phone” marketing that occurs is estimated to cost a user $75,000 over a lifetime. Do you have to have the latest and greatest new phone? Just think, if you skip a few new phone upgrades, you reduce that number a great deal.

But, while our younger generation is accused of a more materialistic mindset, I must confess how proud I am of kids who are making statements on the need to address better gun governance and action to combat climate change. Yesterday, in Australia, tens of thousands of kids age 5 to 18 boycotted school to protest en masse for more action on climate change. While their President and lead environmental person said these kids should stay in school to learn something, I think these two men need to learn a few things.

Earlier this year, we saw kids make a huge difference in Florida when the state legislature passed a few gun governance bills in the wake of the Parkland shooting. Could the legislature have done more? Yes, but the kids forced them to act. The kids live in fear and are not burdened with lobbyist dollars and threats as are the legislators.

Toys are important as a distraction and even to make our devices more utile. Yet, these kids stepped up and made their voice heard. Given what they are protesting, it would behoove the legislators to listen. “They ain’t playing.”

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There’s a lot of “money” in songs

After hearing me sing (of course singing is kind) a few lyrics to “Money,” by Pink Floyd, my daughter suggested a post on songs with “money” in the title. The song begins with a cash register ringing up sales, then proceeds with a well-known base guitar lick. Here are the first few lines:

“Money, get away
Get a good job with good pay and you’re okay
Money, it’s a gas
Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash”

I think the most famous money song is by The O’Jays called “For the love of money.” It is based on the biblical verse from Timothy, “For the love of money is the root of all evil.” The song starts with the words “Money, money, money, money…money,” Then they repeat it five more times before heading into the gist of the song. Here is a verse late in the song:

“I know money is the root of all evil
Do funny things to some people
Give me a nickel, brother can you spare a dime
Money can drive some people out of their minds”

Another favorite is courtesy of Donna Summer. “She works hard for the money,” is a pulsating disco song that she is known for, but this one has more meaningful lyrics like this one:

“It’s a sacrifice working day to day
For little money just tips for pay
But it’s worth it all
To hear them say that they care”

Shifting gears to rock-n-roll, an early Dire Straits song poked fun at MTV with “Money for nothing.” Mark Knopfler was joined on this song with a haunting harmony from Sting. In essence, it is hard-working people wishing they were MTV singing stars as they lament without realizing the hard work and dues they had to pay:

“Now that ain’t workin’ that’s the way you do it
Lemme tell ya them guys ain’t dumb
Maybe get a blister on your little finger
Maybe get a blister on your thumb.”

Two other songs about money are worth mentioning. AC/DC sang of money in “Money talks” and Notorious B.I.G. rapped on about “Mo money, mo problems.” The former speaks of how popular one is with money noting all the things they can buy, while the latter speaks to how that popularity causes more problems with folks coming out of the woodwork asking for some.

Let me close with a song which comes from the play and movie “Cabaret.” It is quite the comical farce and force in the play with a title similar to that of Pink Floyd’s, “Money.” Here is a sample:

“Money makes the world go around
The world go around
The world go around
Money makes the world go around
It makes the world go ’round.”

Money is needed to provide a roof over our heads and feed and clothe our children. These songs look at its acquisition and power from a variety of views. From the documentary movie “I AM,” the key lesson is money cannot make you happy, but the absence of money can make you unhappy. That sums it up nicely.

Plausible sensationalism creates the illusion

In follow-up to a satire post inspired by The Onion, back and forth comments with Linda and Jill noted a sad truth. There is so much fake news created by, for and passed along by this President, it may be putting The Onion’s satire on the back burner. What used to play as satire is being covered by pseudo-news/ entertainers on various shows as news or plausible speculation. And, some pseudo-news outlets have a mission of putting forth conspiracy theories or false stories.

Democracy requires an informed electorate. On NPR, I heard a news reporter who has been victimized in a cruel way by fake news, state that in Europe, they are used to Russian propaganda. One of the top rated shows on Sunday night in one of the Baltic States is to highlight fake news that has been planted by Russian agents that week. Whereas we watch some faux-reality show here in the US, they are debunking myths presented as news. In the US, it has been proven we will believe just about anything.

The key is for the fake story to have “plausible sensationalism.” To create a saleable illusion it has to be sensational. Yet, it cannot be off the boards crazy, as it will not be believed. It has to have some grounding or plausibility. The plausibility could be a person who is painted as untrustworthy or it could be related to a fact. The news reporter speaking on NPR noted the Russians under Putin have done this for years and often will surround a fake story with three or four true ones. So, the reader or watcher will be fooled in believing each story is true.

InfoWars does this quite often, which is a reason they offend and are often sued. The lead storyteller, Alex Jones, will say the mass shooting at Sandy Hook was staged, for example. Or, he may claim that Hillary Clinton is raising money by running a child pornography ring from a pizza parlor in Washington. The first story relies on the NRA and their avid members to make the story plausible. The second one relies on the built-over-time mistrust of Clinton coupled with a pizza parlor for plausibility.

Recently, we had Geraldo Rivera and others on Fox claim the story of the bombs being sent to fourteen Democrats was a “false flag” operation. Per these pseudo-news/ entertainers, the bombs were not real and being sent by a Democrat plant. The purpose of the operation is to influence the election. The false story got so much airplay and social media use, it had to be debunked by the US Justice Department.

The same goes with the President who is the biggest purveyor of fake news in America. He watches these shows or hears of the stories and passes them along. Then they get reported on Fox or mainstream news, and then he repeats them saying “people are saying.” All they have done is repeated the lie the President said. It is akin to validating your own rumor when it circles back to you. The President will often say things without proof or make up parts of conversations as he did with the Finnish President when he said they rake the forests to prevent forest fires in Finland.

Whether he is saying there our middle eastern terrorists among a slow-moving caravan of many women and children which justify the cost of sending troops to our border or claiming rampant voter or election fraud, there is enough plausible sensationalism to make people believe his BS. On the first one, why would terrorists spend months in a caravan to infiltrate the US, when they have such a good track record of recruiting people online? On the latter one, his party has been claiming greater voter fraud than exists to pass voter suppression laws.

So, what do we do about this? Please check your sources. If you are getting your news from InfoWars, Breitbart, Donald Trump, the MSNBC or Fox pseudo-news shows after their real news efforts go off the air, please stop or take it with a huge grain of salt. If you quote Alex Jones or Sean Hannity to someone, then be prepared for pushback that you should get. If you cite the President, be similarly prepared as he is more untruthful than he is not, as measured by Politifacts and judged by people who know him well.

A final rule of thumb. Sensational stories are not necessarily false, but be skeptical and ask questions. There are two well-known sensational ones underway right under our noses. Did Mohammed bin Salmon order the execution of the Khashoggi? The Keystone Kops storytelling by the Saudis imply something is amiss and our own CIA said he did. The other is the inadvertent or planned collusion with Russia to influence our 2016 election. The fact the Russians did is pretty much accepted, even begrudgingly by the President. But, we must get to the bottom of the bigger question.

Should we be skeptical? Of course, but consider the sources and nature of those involved. And, consider the degree and magnitude of changing stories that has gone with each. One thing for certain in my book – neither one is a witch hunt.

It is time to govern

Now that the elections are over, it is time to put away the rhetoric and focus on governance. This used to be how it was done, until we segmented the news into various markets. The past twenty years or so, we seem to govern off the campaign rhetoric rather than facts and collaboration has become a dirty word.

As an Independent voter, who has been a member of both parties, the governing off rhetoric and lack of collaboration need to stop. Neither side owns all the good ideas and both sides have some bad ones. And, we need to focus on the underlying truths and facts rather than tweets and who wins a public relations battle over an issue. Process matters – when politicians deviate from process, it is for political reasons.

In this spirit, here are the issues that this voter thinks we should focus on. Many voters have voiced agreement on some of these, but some issues just don’t get due attention.

– we should stabilize and shore up the ACA which most Americans favor: funding commitments to insurers will stabilize premiums, as will expanding Medicaid and considering the expansion of Medicare down to age 55, 60 or 62.

– we should ditch the harmful tariffs and work with our allies and the WTO to pressure China to stop the intellectual capital theft. Tariffs hurt consumers and producers, especially our farmers.

– we should address infrastructure needs which are many, doing so as we have done in the past with a blend of business, venture capital and federal, state and local government funding.

– we should recognize that the two biggest threats to our planet per the World Economic Forum are our water crisis and climate change, which exacerbates the first issue: strides have been made, but we need to reassume our global leadership role on climate change and focus on measures to address both.

– we should add more governance around gun control issues: Gun-owners and non-gun owners have voiced agreement on measures that would help. It should be noted most gun-owners do not belong to the NRA, so the NRA’s political activism against reasonable change should be noted, but not over-emphasized.

– The deficit and debt are building to a point of huge reckoning. It has been eight years since the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Resuction Committee report was shelved. It was shelved because it recommended $2 in expense cuts to every $1 in revenue increases. It was shelved because neither party had the political courage to roll up their sleeves and make tough decisions – we cannot get there with only expense cuts or revenue increases, needing both.

– We should stop the lack of civil discourse and beating up on the media. The media’s role is vital to our democracy. Pay attention to where your news comes from. Be wary of opinion disguised as news. Tweets are not long enough to show context or subtlety and are an easy way to misinform, as a result. To this end, it is vital for our democracy to return to appropriate Congressional oversight. We are not a kingdom.

If anything, we must have our politicians work together. The crime bill the President is pushing and that passed the House is not perfect, but is a bipartisan effort. It makes steps forward. Let’s make needed improvements and get something done. And, that is what Americans want most from our politicians – stop the grandstanding and get stuff done.

 

 

The real voter fraud

Living in a state that has had its voter ID law overturned for unconstitutional discrimination along with several attempts at gerrymandered districts, I have witnessed first hand Jim Crow-like voter suppression. In fact, the latest ruling against gerrymandering happened just two months ago, too late to change the districts for the 2018 election.

To avoid the obvious point, this is cheating. Both sides have cheated in the past, but using the wording of an appellate judge on the North Carolina GOP voter ID law, it was a “precision-like” effort to discriminate.

Sadly, the states of Georgia and North Dakota are witnessing orchestrated attempts to suppress votes. What makes the Georgia suppression efforts targeting African-American voters so inappropriate is the man running for Governor, Brian Kemp, oversees the voting process as Secretary of State. He is running against a Black female Democratic candidate, so this is blatant cheating and highly unethical.

In North Dakota, Native Americans are being discriminated against. Many use a PO Box for mail purposes, as their rural homes often do not have a physical address. So, a voting law was passed requiring the use of a street address or you have to go through more hoops to vote. The Native Americans tend to favor Democrats. Again, to state the obvious, this is cheating.

These laws are designed to address a fairly non-existent problem. Yet, the orchestrated public relation efforts of their advocates paints a much overstated problem. The laws tend to go beyond an innocuous sounding voter ID issue, which is discriminatory by itself. The laws tend to include other 21st century versions of Jim Crow efforts to make voting harder for people of color. Ironically, the one area that sees a more than a trace voting fraud is absentee voting by mail. Since this method has tended to favor Republican voters, it tends not to get included in the voter ID laws.

I am Independent voter who was a Democrat as a young adult and Republican as an older one. A key reason I left the GOP was a tendency by the party and its biased news support to make things up, far more than the Democrats. This obfuscation of the truth has actually gotten much worse with the current US President. So, from my vantage point, the only voter fraud I see is being perpetuated by the Republican Party.

Sunday summaries

I hope your weekend is going well. Several topics have toyed with me writing a full post, so I will resort to a brief summary of a few. In no particular order:

The royal family of Saudi Arabia has done a pretty inept job of lying to the world about what happened to Jamal Khashoggi. It is so unartful that even the US President, who is not known for truth and wants just to do transactions, is being forced to admit they must be lying. I applaud other world leaders and even more than a few US Senators for stepping up to cry foul. My guess is this will eventually lead to the fall of Crown Prince MSB as he is embarrassing the family and country and this is adds to a growing list of notorious screw-ups.

Heading north to Great Britain, there were an estimated 750,000 British folks that protested in the streets of London yesterday asking for a new Brexit vote with actual facts being disseminated. While I fully understand the rationale of those who want Brexit, from the outset, Brexit will be harmful financially to Great Britain. Many financial companies and EU headquarters have either moved or are planning to move to an EU site. Plus, Scotland and Northern Ireland continue to talk openly of votes to leave Great Britain should it occur. If that is not enough, it is believed that Vladimir Putin has had a hand in the disinformation as he did with the 2016 and current 2018 elections in the US.

Returning to the US, candidates of my old Republican Party are taking a lot of heat over their positions on healthcare over the years. They should. Not only has this party not tried to improve and stabilize the Affordable Care Act, they have sabotaged and made it worse. It should be noted politicians don’t seem to understand a lot about healthcare. Here is a letter I sent to my newspaper that will give you a sense of what has transpired.

It seems healthcare is a key issue this election. Surveys the last eighteen months have indicated the majority of Americans want the Affordable Care Act stabilized and improved. Yet, the GOP leadership has tried to repeal it and actually has sabotaged its success making premiums higher than they otherwise would have been. The Senate’s defunding by 89% of adverse selection payments to insurers, the President’s defunding of payments to insurers to help people in need with co-pays and deductibles and the fight in states like NC to not expand Medicaid have increased exchange premiums and driven more carriers out of markets. This retired actuary, benefits consultant and benefits manager believe these measures have harmed Americans and people should know this.

Finally, a story that should get even more airplay than it is relates to the voter suppression attempts by the Georgia gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp in his role as State Secretary. Whereas an ethical person would recuse himself from overseeing elections, Kemp has been pretty blatant in his efforts to make it harder to vote. I do not like the voter ID laws, gerrymandering districts and aggressive voter suppression tactics being done in my own and other GOP led states. These are Jim Crow-like. Yes, Democrats have done similar tactics, but what is being done the last eight years has been an orchestrated effort by a group called ALEC, funded by the Koch Brothers.

I am pretty tired of this the “ends justifies the means” rhetoric. I see what can happen when people cheat. They cheat to get elected and cheat once they are there. The US President is not only enriching people who donated to his efforts, he is enriching himself by using his position to make more money. This self-dealing is actually illegal. And, when people cheat, it devalues our country and state governance.

 

 

 

Anatomy of a Liar

One of the biggest factors of more autocratic governments is difficulty with the truth. Vladimir Putin, for example, may be the world’s most adroit liar. This is a key reason that the US President’s frequent problem with the truth give people concern over where the country is headed.

Looking at the anatomy of a liar, several things jump out. At the center of these untruthful leaders is a large ego that bristles at any kind of criticism. For this very reason, a liar tends to take credit for all things good and deflect blame to others for all things bad. Close to home, it is not uncommon for the US President to claim things he did not work on as “disasters” and things he did as “beautiful” or the “best ever.”

A favorite tactic of a liar is to keep things simple and repeat it over and over again. Using labels and calling people names are key parts of this strategy. When delivered with bombast, these lies seem very convincing. Smugness is also a common tactic to delivery. Smugness and bombast do not make you right, but unfortunately people are fooled by them. As for Trump, when he punctuates a thought with “believe me,” he is most likely lying.

In today’s news, several lies are jumping off the page. Saudi Arabia continues to come up with a changing storyline on the killing and dismembering of a reporter. Putin continues to deny strong evidence he tried to poison a former Russian agent on British soil and interfere in the 2016 US election. He also tried to interfere in the French election, but Macron’s people knew this and placed incorrect emails in the trove they stole to lessen the impact.

As for Trump, he lies everyday at a rate of more than 2 out of 3 statements per Politifacts. He is even worse at his pep rallies, where he lies 3 out of 4 times. I have long ago stopped believing anything Putin says. I also chose to do the same with Trump. To be trusted, one has to be trustworthy. And, therein lies the rub.