An Open Letter to Great Britain…

Reuters is reporting that Rupert Murdoch is doing everything he can to win approval to buy the 61 percent of Sky he doesn’t already own.  Regulators won’t let him at the moment.  They fear the “influence Murdoch could wield through the ownership of Sky News.”  They’re right to do so.  I wouldn’t want to overstate things, but if you love your civilization, you’ll do anything, everything you can to stop him.

I know, “…if you love your civilization” seems hyperbolic.  But all you need do is look across the pond to see the damage Murdoch has inflicted on the United States.  In the US, consumers of Murdoch’s Fox “News” will fight for their right to be wrong. They’ll do it because Murdoch convinces them their opinion is every bit as important as someone else’s facts.  After awhile, you’ll hear people discounting facts in favor of opinions as though that’s perfectly reasonable.  Eventually, they’ll go so far as to deny science, itself, in order to stay safely in the club.  It’s like trying to convince the Pope that Jesus never existed.  Even if he agreed with you, he would never admit it.  He’s got way too much to lose…

Murdoch accomplishes his goals by empowering and emboldening the worst aspects of the weakest thinkers.  He sells fear and anger.  He tells the weakest thinkers that, secretly, they’re the smart ones and they should shun the “intellectual elite.”  Secretly, they have the truth and everyone else is deceived.  That empowers them.  He causes them to believe that, secretly, they’re the majority.  All they need do is step outside and say what they think and they’ll find their kindred.  All too often, they do.  That emboldens them.

Mind you, Murdoch’s Fox “News” doesn’t come right out and say any of these things.  It’s more subtle.  It’s insidious.  Certain messages are reinforced a thousand times a day by implication and insinuation.  Fox uses every trick in the book to deceive the gullible – and they’ve even made up a few of their own.  They cite “some” as a source.  (“Some say…”)  Many stories are factually accurate, though factually incomplete.  Often, it’s the bit that gets left out – an “editorial decision” – that moves a story from “truth” to “not truth.”

I think the sentence that chilled my blood the most while reading this article was this: “Last week, Fox pledged to maintain and fund a fully independent Sky-branded news service for five years, and on Tuesday it upped this offer to run for 10 years.”  I’ll bet.  Murdoch ran Fox “News” at a loss for years before finally turning a profit.  He doesn’t mind.  He knows it takes time to undermine a culture.  He’s patient.

And it won’t just be Sky News, either.  After Murdoch gets started, a network of supporting players springs up in various formats.  I know many conservatives who insist they never watch Fox “News” without ever considering that they’re watching people who, themselves, are watching Fox “News.”  Call it Fox “News” by proxy.

Keep Murdoch out if you can.  He’ll only do to you what he’s done to us.  Not to put too fine a point on it, Donald Trump is the culmination of twenty years of Fox “News.”  I’ll tell you this: if you relish the notion of having your very own Trump as PM, give Murdoch what he wants.  I don’t advise it, though.  Not if you love your civilization…

 

Washington’s Birthday…

When I was a kid, there were two holidays in February: Lincoln’s Birthday (February 12) and then Washington’s birthday (February 22).  The usual motivation cited for changing that was a law that converted as many holidays as possible to Mondays, ‘The Uniform Monday Holiday Act’ which became law in 1971, ostensibly so workers could get more three-day weekends.  I suspect the idea of having two holidays in February gave the proletariat too much time off so we got “traded.”  They traded us two holidays that fell when they fell for a single three-day weekend.

Officially, the Federal holiday recognized on the third Monday in February is still called ‘Washington’s Birthday.’  There was talk of changing the name at the Federal level to ‘President’s Day’ but that idea proved to controversial.  Many individual states, though, have been making the switch.  In an ironic twist of fate, it was Richard Nixon who signed the law that created what is slowly becoming known as ‘President’s Day.’  Richard Nixon, the one President of this once-great nation who has had to resign in disgrace.  You know…so far…

I’ve never been much of a fan of the ‘President’s Day’ moniker.  Nixon is an excellent example of why.  When we celebrate ‘President’s Day’, we start mixing and matching Presidents as though they’ve all been alike.  They haven’t.  We’ve had some good ones, sure, but we’ve had more bad.  Washington established the country.  (No, not alone but still…)  Lincoln held the nation together during one of it’s most dangerous existential turning points.  I would add FDR’s birthday, January 30, as he directed the nation through a series of crises and was, more than any other, the man responsible for making America great in the first place through the New Deal…

But this country got attacked, once, and the sitting President at the time invaded the wrong country in “response.”  Twice!  How does a guy like that warrant the same “recognition” as George Washington?  Our current White House squatter is such a disgrace, not only to the Oval Office but to humanity in general, I can’t even say his name without throwing up in my mouth a little.  He’s SO disgusting, I’ve given up Bridge!  (And who is more likely to decide the holiday is REALLY all about him?)  Our “Gift From Putin” deserves the same respect as Washington?  No.  Just…no…

So I reject ‘President’s Day.’  I know this is a “fight” I’m not going to win.  Common usage will, over time, prevail over common sense.  I wish the day would be the day, again, too.  That is, Washington on the 22nd, Lincoln on the 12th.  What’s done is done, though, so I’ll be stuck with the third Monday in February.  But I’ll tell you this: in my mind, the third Monday in February will always be Washington’s Birthday…

The 2nd…

“Did you hear?  There was a school shooting yesterday in Florida.”
“On Valentine’s Day?  That’s terrible!”
“Seventeen known dead.  And it’s the eighteenth school shooting so far this year!”
“Sheesh…  Well…thoughts and prayers.  What’s for dinner?”
“Chicken…”

I once re-wrote the Constitution of the United States in an effort to address some of the glaring oversights.  That’s a different essay but in the process of doing such a thing, one is inevitably confronted by the Second Amendment.  It’s a tough one.  Lots of controversy.  Lots of emotion.  I stared at it for quite some time.  I did some research.  I gave it much thought.  In the end, I left it just as it is.  I came to the conclusion that, intentional misinterpretations aside, the Second Amendment says what it means: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

But here’s the thing: at the time the Constitution was being adopted, our idealistic, young(-ish) revolutionary founders had decided that the United States would NOT maintain a standing military.  The thinking was that a standing military would serve as an albatross around the neck of the national economy and, once such an entity existed, some useless idiot would feel compelled to use it.  (Quite prescient, those founders…)  Instead, went the fantasy, in case of an invasion, the citizen militia would serve as the first line of defense while a more formal army was raised and trained.

We didn’t even get through Washington’s presidency before we began to realize the impracticality of such an arrangement.  It took a few fits and starts but it wasn’t very long before we had a standing military, despite the original intention.  Obviously, this negated the need for the Second Amendment but nobody bothered to do anything about it.  The change in defense strategy had evolved over time and I imagine nobody saw a need.  After all, it was pretty well understood that the Second Amendment was intended to protect Americans.

But the further we descend into this “Bizarro America” we’re stuck in today, the more things get turned on their ears.  It was after that shit-stain in Las Vegas murdered 58 people and injured 851 by firing into a crowd of over 22,000 people at a concert that I had an…unexpected realization: the Second Amendment has been bastardized from a tool intended to protect Americans, into a weapon that prevents Americans from protecting themselves.  It is a logical response that when a given provision of the Constitution turns out to be doing more harm than good, as is the case with the Second Amendment today, that provision should be repealed.  Yes, I think we should repeal the Second Amendment.

Now, I want to be clear, here.  I’m not advocating mass gun confiscations.
“You just want to take my guns away!”
No, I don’t.  Read it again: ‘I’m not advocating mass gun confiscations.’  Mostly, I don’t care that people have guns.  I know that most people use them for target practice and competitions and other such non-lethal events.  I know that criminal shootings are carried out by less that one percent of gun owners.  I KNOW that 99% of gun owners are a-okay!

But I DO want to know who has guns and I can’t because of the Second Amendment.  I want to know how many guns a person has and what kind.  I can’t…because of the Second Amendment.  I want to know that people keeping such dangerous toys know how to use them by requiring classes, licenses, and insurance.  I can’t because of the Second Amendment.  I’d like to see serious, in-depth background checks done with every gun purchase, new or used, public or private.  I can’t because of the Second Amendment.  I’d like to see the ATF office that traces guns used in crimes be able to use computers to do their job rather than taking months and sometimes years to identify the owner of a given weapon.  I can’t…because of the Second Amendment.  I’d like to restrict mentally ill people and people on the terrorist watch list from acquiring guns but I can’t…because of the Second Amendment.

I’d like to see America take those steps in an effort to protect Americans.  But…the Second Amendment.  There are many non-intrusive, common-sense things Americans might do to protect themselves without having to don body armor before checking the mail.  But the fucking Second Amendment won’t allow them.  So you see?  The Second Amendment is preventing Americans from protecting themselves and no longer preserving their right to do so.

I’ll say it again.  I know that 99% of gun owners are responsible people.  But the few always ruin it for the many, right?  If, every time Americans try to take specific action against specific atrocities the Second Amendment is trotted out and used as a shield to protect the insanity, the Second Amendment is going to have to go.

And I’ll tell you this: the gun rights crowd is going to have to give a little on this because if they insist on making this an absolute, all-or-none battle, I suspect the vast majority of Americans are going to side with “none, then…”

Hope…

In 2004, the at-the-time Mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom, started issuing marriage licenses to interested parties in the gay community.  One can imagine the elation of those affected.  It was a bold move that was instantly lauded, applauded, and embraced by every segment of society…

Ha, ha…I’m kidding of course.  A certain segment of our society lost their collective minds.  Protests were staged, names were called, fights were had.  Then…laws were made.  What started off as a high-flying moment for the LGBT community seemed to have come to a crashing end.  But passing laws was an overstep by the “H8ers,” as they had come to be known.  Laws moved the issue from opinion, stereotype, and conjecture to a matter of, well, law.  It’s still true in this once-great nation that laws can’t discriminate.  In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that states could not bar gays from getting married.  These days, gays are allowed to marry and divorce right along with everyone else.  The world hasn’t ended.

In a larger way, the entire country finds itself in a similar situation.  In 2008, the country “elected” a black man as President.  One can remember the elation of most of those affected.  It was a bold move that was instantly lauded, applauded, and embraced by every segment of our society.

Okay, no.  A certain segment lost their collective minds.  Protests were staged, names were called, fights were had and then…Trump.  I mean, talk about some brutal push-back.  The “Tea-baggers”, as they’ve come to be known, complained that Obama had too little experience to be President.  So they “pushed back” by supporting an individual with zero experience.  Aside from enriching himself through his office, nothing seems quite so important to our current POTUS as undoing everything “Obama”, becoming the “Anti-Obama”, if you will…

As President, Obama was thoughtful and articulate.  Trump appears to know somewhere between two- and three-hundred words.  Obama was attacked as the “teleprompter President.”  Trump squints at the thing, “reads” like it’s an I-Can-Read book, and STILL mispronounces several words per speech, perhaps to re-assure his “base” that he really is NOT part of the “intellectual elite” (code talk for “smart people.”)  The Obama administration made rules protecting the environment.  Trump allows coal companies to push mining waste into rivers and streams.

Trump supports off-shore drilling and just about every other 19th century power source – again, the exact opposite of Obama, who was trying to move the U.S. into 21st century power sources.  Obama was young, athletic, and dignified.  Trump?  Well, let’s just go with “the opposite.”  What started off as a high-flying moment for America seems to have come to a crashing end…

But I’ll tell you this: the “H8ers” exposed the very worst of humanity when it came to tolerance and equality.  Once the majority of the nation got a good view of what that looked like, we rejected their backwards, wrongheaded position.  The gays won.  In the same way, the Tea-baggers have shown us the ugliest portrayal, the darkest corners of ourselves and in every meaningful way, Donald J. Trump epitomizes the very worst of us.  We, the people, are getting a very good view of what that looks like.  I’m hopeful that the majority will reject the Tea-bagger’s backward, wrongheaded viewpoint, just like we did with the “H8ers.”  Perhaps, America can still win…

Market Movements…

Did you hear?  The stock market crashed…then recovered…then crashed again…then recovered some more.  Down, up, down, up – some fairly wild swings in some fairly short periods of time.  Profit taking?  An inevitable “correction?”  Did the stock market take such a rough ride because of the jobs reports that showed modest growth in real wages?  Maybe.  Real wage gains was one of the myriad suggestions out there.  I hope that one is wrong, though.  It’s not a good sign – the suggestion that the market might crash if workers start to get more fair wages.  It DOES, however, support my contention that the “Dow” reflects only the happiness of CEOs and has nothing to do with the state of the economy so…victory lap?

I can’t pretend I’ve heard each and every one of the possible explanations out there but the one I DIDN’T hear was this: 45’s policies are starting to take effect.  For reasons I can’t explain, FAR too many Americans don’t seem to realize that the first year of a President’s term – any President – plays out under the LAST year of the previous President’s budget.  So all of this “good” economic news that’s been playing out over the last year has REALLY been the “end” of the Obama administration.

It seems quite possible to me that one of the problems is that the GOP can’t seem to get it’s financial house in order.  They’ve been trying to come up with their own budget and, so far, we’ve measured not one but two “government shutdowns” as the GOP careens between “cruel” and “not cruel enough” for the various “Republican” factions.  When they DID finally come up with…something…it added over one TRILLION dollars to THIS YEAR’S deficit.  Talk about “fiscal responsibility…”

But, in addition to the jobs report on the Friday the crash “started”, another event took place on the subsequent Monday: Janet Yellen was replaced as Fed Chair by a Trump pick, Jerome Powell.  Okay, “Trump pick” isn’t exactly right.  Powell was already on the Board and he was put there by Obama.  But Yellen was doing a good job as the Chairperson and it is described as “highly unusual” for a competent Chair to NOT be recommended for a second term.  Replacing Yellen with Powell introduced uncertainty and one of the things the markets hate beyond any other is uncertainty.

So, why the change?  Acknowledging that Trump and I haven’t spoken on the subject, I’d have to submit that, perhaps, the driving factor was Powell’s known aversion to “regulatory burdens.”  He was once a partner in the Carlyle Group – a Washington based private equity firm.  OF COURSE he wants to reduce “regulatory burdens.”  How the hell can banks game the system and rip off their customers if regulations prevent them from doing so?  And, sure, that will help usher in new instabilities as the economy returns to the boom and bust days of old…

I’ll tell you this: “Uncertainty” and “instability” are words regularly associated with this maladministration.  Sadly, they’re also the very intangibles investment markets try to avoid at all costs.  Perhaps Mr. Trump’s Wild Ride has only just begun…

Parade THIS…

So…President Tiny Hands wants a grand military parade.  I guess he wants to see what a big missile looks like.  Apparently, he’s been quite impressed by Kim’s missile and now Macron’s.  Somebody should explain it to him.  Parades don’t change anything.  Sorry, Tiny, but if you want your “missile” to look bigger, your stomach is going to have to be smaller…

I wonder if he’ll show up wearing one of those stupid-looking pseudo-uniforms, covered from shoulder to shoes with medals and ribbons and declare himself the newest, greatest, highest rank in the military: ‘Field Marshall Von Admiral General’.  Dumb-ass.  You’re already the highest rank in the American military: the civilian Commander-in-Chief.  He could have known this already, of course, but when he had the chance to get up close and personal with military hardware, he sought deferments, instead…

I guess the entire disgusting affair will be “sold” as an opportunity to support our troops.  But, don’t we already support our troops?  I mean, sure, we do nothing to help them re-adjust to civilian life when they come back, we let them suffer in homelessness, and we fail to provide adequate health care for the injuries they sustain securing our nation’s oil…but we have those little magnets on the back of our cars…

Politicians are always on about how there’s no money for this, that, or the other thing and yet taxpayers are going to cough up a bit more so Tiny can pretend he’s a “real dictator”?  I’ll tell you this: I think we, the people, are already paying more than enough for displays of American military hardware around the globe.  If Tiny wants a parade, he should pay for it out of his own pocket…

Well, Of Course They Do…

I saw this item in the Guardian.  It’s an article about a study done to determine who shares the most “Fake News.”  It was done by Oxford University.  (I know…experts…pffft…)  You’ll never guess who, among us, consumes and redistributes the most “Fake News.”  I don’t want to steal the article’s thunder so…

 

“Low-quality, extremist, sensationalist and conspiratorial news published in the US was overwhelmingly consumed and shared by rightwing social network users, according to a new study from the University of Oxford.

The study, from the university’s “computational propaganda project”, looked at the most significant sources of “junk news” shared in the three months leading up to Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address this January, and tried to find out who was sharing them and why.

“On Twitter, a network of Trump supporters consumes the largest volume of junk news, and junk news is the largest proportion of news links they share,” the researchers concluded. On Facebook, the skew was even greater. There, “extreme hard right pages – distinct from Republican pages – share more junk news than all the other audiences put together.”

The research involved monitoring a core group of around 13,500 politically-active US Twitter users, and a separate group of 48,000 public Facebook pages, to find the external websites that they were sharing.”

I know, no surprises…at least not to anybody who’s been involved in the political discussion over, say, the last forty years or so.  (Subversive disinformation has been called ‘propaganda’ FAR longer than it’s been called ‘Fake News.’)

I’ll tell you this: the affected group, those who SHOULD review, reflect, and reconsider their sources, will simply declare the study ‘Fake News’ and move on to the next story about the AWESOME accomplishments of Trump…