Archive for April 2014

Our Amazingly Failing Media

UPDATE ON THE MINIMUM WAGE: The measure, which needed 60 votes to go ahead, was defeated 54 to 42. The GOP seemed to catch on, with Republican Senate Whip John Cornyn asserting, “This is all about politics. This is all about trying to make this side of the aisle look bad and hardhearted.” No John, it was not to make you look bad and hardhearted, it was to show that that is exactly what you are.

I watched today as the Donald Sterling thing was discussed and it was amazing how “pundits” looked like a bull dog with a new bone, salivating all over it and not knowing exactly what to do with it. Sadly they offer nothing insightful and are just repeating what is circulating in the media bubble instead of looking at the real issue of prejudice with some real understanding of the issue. It is a prime example of how news is to have some information without real analysis of that information.

On the cynical side, I saw an analysis of the debate on the minimum wage that is now occurring in the Senate. It was described as a political ploy by the Democrats because we all know the Republicans will filibuster it so why bother? I guess the cynicism here is that anything brought to the Senate if it doesn’t have a chance is just partisan politics. But is it?

People in America are amazingly misinformed about where Republicans really stand because the filibuster has prevented many things being even debated so Americans are left with the impression that Congress is doing nothing. So getting it out into the open and seeing where each side stands is partisan politics? I don’t think so. It is the way our government is suppose to function and it informs the electorate where the real problem is.

We are All Prejudiced

Since we are beating up racists this week as though this is some kind of great step forward in the battle against prejudice, I thought I would try to remind everyone that prejudice is natural and is built in to the way we think. At least that is what I got out of Gorden Allport’s classic book, The Nature of Prejudice that I read maybe 30 years ago.

His point was that our mind evolved to categorize things and stereotype their behavior. It was a good survival technique. There are poisonous snakes and non-poisonous snakes, but treat them all as poisonous to be on the safe side. Strangers outside your clan are to be feared and avoided. Some are after your woman. Avoiding gangs of young black men in a poor urban environment may be wise.

These are all survival techniques that have proven to increase our longevity as we evolved, and the last is how we apply it today, and still may be true. The point is that we all have a tendency to think in categorizing stereotypical behavior and it bleeds into every thing we do. In order to not be prejudiced, we have to work at it. Matt Yglesias had an interesting piece in Vox.com this morning about how this prejudice is subtle but in most of our behaviors. All Gorden Allport did was explain why.

That is why real prejudice, not the ranting of a racist whose racism is more of a psychological disease, is the real problem we are really not addressing. And the only way to address it is to be aware of it. So if someone tells you they are not prejudiced*, they really haven’t examined their behavior very closely and are more likely to in fact be prejudiced. It is a real challenge to take each new situation and person as just that, a new situation, than to color it with our experiences and predefine what we expect. But it was what may make us better than we are and is what real courage is all about.

*I am prejudiced against Republicans. I know what they or going to say, or at least I think I do, and in the rare times they make sense, I am probably tuning them out.

More Irreverence

Since I am on a roll of saying impolitic things, let me comment on religion and tornados. Many noted that as they went into their “hidey hole” they were praying to God to spare them. There my friends, is how religion and the belief in a superior being came about. When shit happens and chaos is out of anybody’s control, all we have left is a belief in somebody who controls all this and will take care of us. Doesn’t make it true, it just shows why we need to believe it.

And one other irreverent thought. Isn’t Tornado Alley and the states affected those red states who are trying to deny healthcare to their poor, deny women’s choice, and moving to disenfranchise many voters? Could this be a sign? Note that in Oklahoma they have seen the light and have agreed to fund further weather science to better predict events. If it happens to them they get it, science matters. If it is happening to others, well, we can’t afford it.

More on Sterling

Well let the happy talk begin. The NBA took the steps that were allowed by their charter to deal with Mr.Sterling’s racist remarks. I would take exception with the media happy talk that this was somehow not related to the business of sports and shows that money aside, we do the right thing. It certainly was in the NBA’s financial interests to do what they did. A boycott of players would have been a financial disaster.

But I still am troubled by the fact that we are punishing racist speech, but not actual discrimination. Sterling made his comments in private to his mistress. So do we have thought police? Now I get it that once it was out there it was an affront to all blacks and that an organization like the NBA was making an important statement about not tolerating racism. But is it actually punishing racist speech, which is protected I believe by the Constitution, and not addressing any real discrimination in terms of behavior that disenfranchises someone based on race*?

Maybe this sends a message but I am afraid it is the wrong message. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts in his court’s disastrous rulings on the voting rights act, and more recently affirmative action, claimed racism is no longer the issue it was. He will take the instance as proof that government does not need to worry about it. But all we are punishing is racist speech, not actual racist behavior that hurts others**. So is the message just be more politically correct in your speech while real discrimination goes on uncorrected? I don’t think this is the great moment everyone thinks it is.

Think of it this way: In North Carolina and across many red states real people are being discriminated against by having their ability to vote threatened based upon the color of their skin and/or political beliefs through voter ID laws and changing the rules on hours and places to vote. The owner of a basketball team whose players has bargaining rights and are well paid, said some racist things about them. Which one is the one we really need to fix? Which one should these basically wealthy black men care more about? They were greatly offended and I get that, but why aren’t more of them focusing some of their attention on real discrimination?

*I understand that Mr. Sterling has been sued before for actual discriminatory behavior. He is a racist and in one case he settled and in the other he won. But in those cases there were actions that denied others their rights. I am not sure how his current behavior actually denied anyone else their rights.

**My definition of racist behavior hurts others is that the behavior denies others of their rights. Certainly the speech itself is hurtful and may lead to others discriminating, but the speech itself did not as I understand it, deny anyone of their rights.

Getting Distracted by the Wrapings

Ever as a child been really excited about a present under the Christmas tree because you think it is really special because of the ornate packaging and open it to find socks? I make my living in the consulting world by trying to figure out what the present should be, not how to wrap it. It is amazing how people get distracted by the wrappings and forget about the present. Wrappings can be important to get attention, but in the end it is about what is in the package that counts.

There were two things I read this morning that reinforced that concept of not judging a package by its wrapping. The first was an a really good takedown of McKay Coppin’s Buzzfeed’s piece (Paul Ryan’s Inner City Education) on Paul Ryan by Matt Yglesias. Matt’s point here was that the piece was all what Paul Ryan said about his concern for the poor, not what his budget actually told us he really thinks. The Buzzfeed piece was a well written piece that was all packaging and nothing inside. Welcome to the majority of reporting these days, form over substance

The second example was an truly interesting interview by Ezra Klein with Frances Lee, Professor of American Politics at University of Maryland. The gist of the interview was that we think we send politicians to Washington to work together (except for the Tea Party of course) to solve problems and do the best thing for the country. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Politicians are simply about winning. The classic example is Obamacare which once the Republicans were for and now are against. We have such a evenly split electorate, that the minority party’s only interest is in opposing everything that the party in power proposes to differentiate themselves in order to win the next election. Think of it like this: Why would you vote for the minority party if they were working with the majority party to implement their solutions? What’s to change?

And then as Ezra brought up, enter Pyscho-Politics. When you look at the flip-flops on issues because the other party has proposed your idea, you come up with ever more complex rationalizations to justify your new position. So the bottom line here is that if you thought both sides were ever going to work together when either side has the potential to win back power, you are dreaming. It is not about finding the most optimal solution to our problems and implementing them. It is about winning, solutions be damned.

Americans see their political system (wrappings) as a system where there are honest disagreements, and compromise works to craft a solution that will both pass and will work. The reality (what’s in the package) is that politics in our times is about winning, and what you are for I am against. Said another way, dysfunctional government. We see it every day.

How to fix all this? We are a country that focuses on the packaging, not on the contents. We have few real policy discussions in our news, just political discussions, and no they are not the same. The day we start voting for people whose policy positions, and not their persona are our focus, will be the day we start turning this around. Oh, and we would need a media that rationally investigates and analyzes policies so we could be informed about them. Yes, I know. I dream.

Donald Sterling and Racism

Mr. Sterling made some racist comments. They were deplorable. They were also his opinion. Now, and fat white boy here so forgive me, did he actually discriminate? By that I mean did he do something that prevented someone else from enjoying their full rights under our Constitution? Maybe he did, but I don’t see it and while his comments are despicable, so are the Koch brothers. So are we really preventing discrimination or are we punishing him for not being politically correct? Are we punishing a failure to use politically correct speech or are we punishing an act of discrimination. They are not the same and punishing the poor choice of words just sends the message that you need to stay politically correct, but can still discriminate.

Focusing on All the Wrong Things

We are facing real crises in global warming and economic inequality. What are the right policies to address these grave issues that will determine the future viability of the United States both as an economic powerhouse and leader in the world? So what are we focused on in the media? Donald Sterling, owner of the Clippers basketball team, racist remarks. He is an old fat rich guy (no doubt a Republican) and we are surprised? He has a cute young girl friend, so is there any question about either one of their judgements?

The Cliven Bundy story and his racial comments are now off the front burner with Sterling’s utterances. The sad thing is that the real story around Bundy was not his racism (it goes with all separatist movements), but the conservative embracement of what is an act of insurrection against the rule of law. I have agree with Paul Krugman that it is too bad he made his racist comments because his failure to recognize the federal government and the Right’s embracing him is the bigger story that needed to be examined. Now he is pushed off the news by Sterling.

And really, is this really the big story about racism? He may be a racist, but at least his employees are paid well. I don’t mean that as you can buy off racism. What I mean is that isn’t there a bigger story about people who are much less able to fend off racism from their employer? So what we have is a soap opera about a high profile basketball owner and his racism, when the real issues that are going to impact all of us are pushed off the media frenzy table. Oh how I love news today.

Living in Cyber Hell

Now I live in the country. I have a little vineyard in the Sierra Foothills (mountains actually) and it was my choice. But I had no idea what I was giving up. Where I live (and it is a 15 minute drive to Placerville, the local municipality and county seat, there is no high speed internet. None, nada, zipola. No cable, no DSL, just dial up, satellite, or cellular access. So I have satellite. But don’t be fooled. Satellite is a very limited medium.

The rest of the world is living in streaming movies and videos and I know if I do that, I will exceed my bandwidth limitation (fair access) and my speeds will be reduced to dial-up speeds. I wait forever for some sites and when I am in the city on a high speed net I marvel at how much I can get done without the long pause waiting for a site to load. Then there are those automatic updates of your operating system that come out every day, and they eat up your bandwidth. Forget streaming music or internet radio.

Why is it this way? Why after all these years do we not have faster more responsive systems. When you look at worldwide access to the internet, we are falling way behind. Here is a quote from an NPR article about the problem:

What’s even more disturbing is that in other countries — I’ve visited both Seoul and Stockholm recently — they take these services for granted. For about $25 a month they’re getting gigabits symmetrical service, which is 100 times faster than the very fastest connection available in the United States and for a 17th of the price. It really is astonishing what’s going on in America. Americans aren’t quite aware of it because we don’t look beyond our borders, but we’re falling way behind in the pack of developed nations when it comes to high-speed Internet access, capacity and prices.

And the problem is a lack of competition and a market place that has locked out innovation. Our capitalist system anoints winners and then protects their favored positions. It is another glaring example of how America is falling behind because we have blinders on. The author offered this about the way out, but it doesn’t help me very much:

There are two routes out of this puzzle for the United States: One is greater oversights, setting a national standard, making sure that everybody gets high-speed fiber access. The other is just leave these guys behind and build better alternative fiber networks in each city in America. And a lot of mayors are extremely interested in doing this because they see it as a street grid or a tree canopy — this is just infrastructure. … We’ll see a lot of developments along these lines the next few years as we try to get out from under the thumb of the cable monopoly for wired service in America.

Just another example of a growing problem in America and we are letting corporations who are sucking us dry, hold us back to maximize shareholder profits. Just who is in charge in this country?

The Enemy in Our Own Camp

They are called moderate Democrats, but moderate is a relative term considering how far right the country has swung. Moderate Democrats are usually social progressives and economic conservatives, whereas moderate Republicans (a disappearing breed) would kind of like to be moderate Democrats, but in order to keep their jobs have sold their souls to the right wing nut jobs.

Moderate Democrats are purple state Democrats trying to hang on to their jobs by catering to conservative ideas whether they be coal states, or walking a fine line between state’s rights and big government. The conventional wisdom is that moderate anything is good. Hey, compromise is good right? Both sides bring something to the table, right? Not anymore.

Here is what we know. No, this is not an opinion, it is what we know. We face two giant crisises: Global Warming and extreme Economic Inequality. Let’s start with the global warming thing. The conservatives (hereafter referred to as the crazies) deny it exists in the face of overwhelming data.

As Chris Hayes pointed out in a Nation post, in order to stem the worst effects of global warming, we are going to have to leave trillions of dollars worth of carbon in the ground. There is no well we could take half or maybe eventually there will be clean coal. We either leave it in the ground and don’t burn it or we go over the tipping point. In other words, there is no room for negotiation.

So where do we think the moderates stand? Here in California, they are making deals to increase fracking, but getting some safeguards for the water. Seems reasonable until you look at the big picture. In coal states they are trying to save jobs and it seems reasonable till you look at the big picture.

And what is the big picture? That global warming will be the greatest threat to world peace as droughts, floods, rising oceans, displaced people change historic patterns of commerce, haves and have nots. If you look at it in these terms, the moderates are selling us out.

To transfer from carbon based fuels to alternate energy could reinvigorate our economy including jobs to harden our infrastructure to prevent the damage from rising seas and future Sandy’s. But there would be winners and losers and those losers have big bucks to fight change (See Koch brothers in Oklahoma fighting solar energy).

The other great threat to us is growing economic inequality. Our wealth is being focused in a few, while the rest of us loose ground and our economy languishes. But wait! We have been sold that economic inequality is that vital element that gives us the motivation to strive. And it is true within reason, but we have left the starting gate of all reason. And this is not about capitalism, but about the rules and policies we put in place around capitalism. And guess who those mostly benefit?

Economic inequality kills jobs, reduces competition, kills people (that is why there is a higher mortality rate if you are poor), but is great if you are wealthy. See Divided: The Perils of Our Growing Inequality, by David Cay Johnston. The fix is to take some drastic action like raising the minimum wage, giving women equal pay, reducing patent protections, reforming immigration, reforming trade policy, and reforming the tax code. Once again moderate Democrats aren’t going to make the changes necessary because they are economic conservatives. They still believe in flow down which is the ideological basis for making “job creators” wealthy. They are still terrified of the debt instead of unemployment.

One side hasn’t just got it a little wrong and we need to meet in the middle, they have had it completely wrong and moderate Democrats are right in there with them. We are now facing some of the biggest threats to America’s prosperities and halfway measures are not going to move us off the status quo. That is why moderate Democrats right there with the crazies, need to be relegated to the dust bin of bad ideas. We need a Progressive tomorrow, not more compromise that gets us nowhere.

Bits and Pieces

I see where two past Popes (John XXIII & John Paul III) are to be canonized. No not fired out of a canon, but made saints. Get the old jersey number painted on the stadium wall so to speak. I am surprised Ronald Reagan wasn’t also considered. I wonder if it kind of waters down sainthood when too many get the nod when most of us know the miracle thing is wishful thinking. I wonder where I can get a John XXIII jersey? Could it be worn at Easter Mass?

In the world of inequality I see where Walmart Owners (Waltons) are giving millions to charter schools. Isn’t that wonderful that they are trying to help kids? Or is it horrible that they are trying to undermine public schools since public schools have to subsidize charter schools and charter schools can scoop the cream off the top? Oh, and they don’t have to follow the rules public schools have to. How long before you see the Walton’s right leaning ideas influencing curriculum of schools they paid for? Where do you think this is all going?

As a project manager, I am just intrigued by Oregon’s failed Obamacare website. Here is a state that is bluer than blue, with a great tech company, Oracle, as their prime contractor, and they never got the thing to work. What is falling out is that the state took on the role of program integrator (to coordinate all the activities of the various players and required interfaces) and it is one of the only states to not hire professionals to do this. Then when problems were identified they were quashed by this state agency as being alarmist. At least that is what is coming out before the major investigations start. I think this is going to one of those great examples of how to ignore project management 101. Let the lawsuits begin.

As a final shot across your weekend bow, let me show you how fiction is more real that reality. I am a great fan of the British World War II mystery drama on PBS, Foyle’s War. Foyle is a civilian detective in wartime England. One of the stories (War Games) describe how a murder was an attempt to cover up wartime business dealings that went on with the Nazis even when they were at war with them. As one of the anti-heros spouts, “Wars will come and go, but business always goes on.” Well here is from the NYT this morning:

Russia and its allies in the European private sector are conducting a separate campaign to ensure that they can maintain their deep and longstanding economic ties even if the Kremlin orders further military action.

Making money and maximizing shareholder profits is way more important than enslaving people of Eastern Europe, right?

Enjoy your weekend.