FCC enables more media consolidation. The result will be less real news.

We typically blame the decline of the news media in the 21st century on one of two factors: the growth of the Internet as a 24/7 source of news and the proliferation of fake and false news.

But given much less attention is the consolidation of news media and news-gathering operations. It used to be that the federal government had strict regulations about the number of radio and television stations any company could own and forbade ownership of both newspapers and broadcast stations in the same town. Even when single newspapers came to dominate many towns, there were typically many different organizations searching for and presenting the local and national news. A series of laws and new regulations over the past 35 years—aka the Reagan Era—has consolidated media ownership.

The key law was the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which enabled companies to own more stations. Larger companies bought smaller ones and suddenly instead of hundreds of owners of TV and radio stations across the country, there were only dozens.  We saw the impact on radio as Clear Channel, and recently Sinclair Broadcasting, and other companies owned by right-wingers gained control of the editorial policies of more and more stations.  Pretty soon the range of opinion on radio narrowed and moved extremely right. While Rush Limbaugh began making a name for himself before 1996, it was the consolidation of media ownership that led to the domination of talk radio by Rush and his clones—Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Michael Medved, ad nauseum.

Last week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took a major step in making the problem worse by voting to allow a single company to own both print and broadcast media in the same town. The FCC also voted to increase the number of TV stations one company can own in any given market. It was a close vote, 3-2, on party lines. Don’t be embarrassed if OpEdge is the first you’ve heard of this awful decision. It received very little coverage; the New York Times buried the news on page two of the business section.

The Obama Administration FCC also announced its intentions to end the restriction on ownership of both print and broadcast media in 2011, but eventually backed down. This time, under its brand new Trump-blessed FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, an Obama appointee to the FCC known for his pro-broadcasting industry views, the FCC has made good on the threat.

The rationales today and in 2017 are similar: That local media needs to consolidate to be able to compete against the giants of Facebook and Google. Pai, for example, has argued that local media companies would have a better chance to compete against Internet behemoths by combining local market resources.

The argument is completely specious for two reasons. First of all, most broadcast stations and daily/weekly newspapers are already owned by large chains. It’s not the case that the various media in Cincinnati will join forces to do one great job on local news. Instead, one national giant that also controls Toledo, Ohio, Syracuse, New York and four dozen other localities will end up owning all the media in Cincinnati. The new rule will surely lead to ever greater concentration of media outlets in the hands of fewer companies.

The second problem with Pai’s argument is the confusion of news-gathering with news media. Despite the alarming decrease in the number of daily newspapers over the past few decades, the number of absolute media outlets has increased: Internet news sites, cable news and specialty weekly and monthly pubs have more than made up for the decline in newspapers.

The problem is that while media outlets have increased, news-gathering on both the local and national level has decreased, as recent studies by the Pew Foundation and the FCC . And consolidation of media outlets is a major cause. When a company buys more than one newspaper, it can use the same news-gathering staff for all the news, except for the news that pertains to each newspaper’s particular readership, something most often defined by locality. All the newspapers in the Gannet or Tribune chains get the same national and international news and columnists. But each local paper has to find its own local news, typically in competition with the three or four local TV stations, the local business paper and the local alternative weekly.

Now that a single company is allowed to own all of these local properties, the company will be stronger, but primarily because it is able to cut costs through using the same news room to cover stories. The impact on overall news production will be horrific: Instead or more editorial boards deciding what is newsworthy, one will. Instead of three or more points of view on a story, there will be only one. Instead of three or more sets of reporters trying to dig deeper, only one will—that is, on those stories that the editors and business sides decide is worthy of delving. Instead of three or more sets of opinions on local issues, only one. Finally, instead of three or more organizations with ties to differing networks of national and international news gathering, there will be but one. The result will be less reporting.

Instead of actual reporting, what we’ll see once large media companies start buying up local properties is more of the same filler that has been replacing real news for the past 15 years or so, including more opinion pieces like this blog; more coverage of celebrities and sports; more repackaged how-to’s and advice columns; more part-and-parcel use of news release, fact sheets and “articles” produced by the government, rightwing think tanks, large companies and public relations firms; and more “sponsored” news reports, which are advertisements pretending to be news.

If the FCC and the current administration really cared about freedom of the press and creating a stronger marketplace of ideas, instead of allowing companies to buy more media properties, it would implement regulations and put pressure on Congressional leaders to break up the media industry oligarchy and stop the pilfering of free content that occurs on Facebook and Google News that denies news-producing media outlets needed revenues. Unfortunately, it would take Congressional action to do most of what I’m recommending:

  • Limit ownership of media properties to a total of 10 properties, including television and radio stations, newspapers, news magazines, cable networks and websites, and push for expedited divestiture by the current media giants.
  • Prohibit companies from owning more than three cable networks, and make all cable networks provide at least two hours of news coverage a day.
  • Prohibit companies owning ISPs from also owning media outlets.
  • Reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine, which used to make every broadcast television and radio outlet to devote some airtime to discussing controversial matters of public interest and to air contrasting views regarding those matters. The Fairness Doctrine was the law of the land from 1949 until 1987, when the Reagan FCC voted to end it.
  • Allocate billions of dollars in aid to nonprofit or small for-profit media outlets to produce original reporting and fund it at least partially by taxing social media services and Internet service providers (ISPs) like Spectrum and FIOS for their “free use” of news.
  • Legalize strict principles of journalistic ethics and start to prosecute journalists and media company executives for knowingly disseminating fake and false news. I propose to walk a fine line between censorship and responsible reporting. But by focusing exclusively on the reporting of facts and not the spouting of opinions, I think we can protect true freedom of the press.

I am not very optimistic about any of my recommendations being pursued by either a Republican or Democratic administration and Congress. Politicians of both parties have cozy relationships with the mainstream news media and conservative ones seem not to mind that so much in the rightwing media is false or fake news. Thus we face an ironic future in which there are many ways to access the same limited and somewhat flawed set of facts and conjectures about current events, society and government activity.

We like to conceive of history as a steady progress of human ingenuity solving problems and bringing an ever higher standard and quality of life to more and more people. But our 10,000 years of recorded history has seen many eras in which people were far worse off economically than the decades and centuries before, for example, during the 300 year transition from medieval times to the industrial revolution during which the world experienced the “Little Ice Age.”

In the same way, we have not seen steady progress in the spread of knowledge. After the death of Charlemagne, for example, Europe entered a centuries-long epoch in which scientific knowledge and literacy declined and intellectual activity retreated into monasteries.

It seems to me that America is are entering another intellectual dark age, in which people in general will know less, be able to reason less effectively and have less access to the gamut of human knowledge, from science to the arts. It’s not just the consolidation of the media and the decline in the number of news-gathering operations that is driving the drift towards ignorance. The large number of ideologically inclined think tanks churning out false research. The gradual starving of public schools. The increased involvement of for-profit corporations both in operating schools and in supplying material such as learning guides to public and private schools. The blurring of the distinction between the entertainment and news divisions of media companies and between advertising and news. The politicization of text books. The denial of basic scientific facts by one of our two major parties. The continued glorification of celebrity and mocking of intellectual achievement in the mass media. Virtually every trend in the marketplace of ideas is making Americans less educated, less informed and less capable of sifting through assertions and understanding which are reliably factual information and which are sheer nonsense.

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Sexualizing young girls while condemning adult-child relations: Outing Roy Moore highlights historical flip-flop

Society has made an historical flip-flop in two paired values we hold about teenaged girls, especially aged 12-16.

In the old days, there was little wrong with a 32 year old man courting a 14 or 16 year old girl. As a citizen of the 21st century, I personally find it both distasteful and weird, a signal of an immature male adult. But in the old patriarchal days, the age difference didn’t matter that much. As recently as the late 1940’s, my Syrian grandfather—born and weaned in Aleppo—married off my 16 year old aunt to a man in his late twenties.

In those days, however, the sexuality of young girls was deemphasized, especially in middle and upper class families. Their dress was more modest. In some cultures, girls were educated separately or isolated from males of all ages. In some cultures, dates were chaperoned. For the most part, only bad girls manifested their sexuality.

Our attitudes about the normalization of adult-child marriage and the sexualization of young girls have both done a complete 180 over the course of the past century, not a sharp turn, but a slowly accelerating curve. Nowadays, we rightfully frown on sexual and romantic relationships between children and adults. From at least the 1970’s onward, there might exist some relationships between girls under 16 and boys between 18-24, but no gap as wide as 32 and 14, or 32 and 17 for that matter.

Yet American mass media sexualizes young women on a daily basis. No, change that to on a nanosecond-by-nanosecond basis. By the time a girl attains 14, she has been introduced to a wide array of clothes, cosmetics, toys, books, electronic games, advertisements and movies that reduce her and other young girls to sexual objects. Sexualization begins as early as four and five for girls participating in youth beauty pageants. Fulfilling or enhancing your sexual being unleashes a literal cornucopia of needs that products and services can provide, so it is a powerful tool for marketers and advertisers. As our consumer society has advanced, so has the sexualization of women—and men to a lesser extent—of all ages.

Through much of human history, the distinction between childhood and adulthood was not as stark as it has been in the 20th and the 21st century industrialized societies. Many children worked in prior centuries and there were few if any organized groups of or for children. Society in general was much less child-centered than today, for two reasons (if my memory of reading books on the subject has not failed me): Firstly, many children died in childbirth, which hardened people to death and caused them to invest less emotional energy in their children’s lives. Just as important, however, were the more constrained economic circumstances before the industrial revolution and then the great redistribution of wealth downward in the first two-thirds of the 20th century. As people have had more disposable income, they have gradually focused more of their expenditures on their children. A contemporary Thorsten Veblen would say that we are engaging in conspicuous consumption to demonstrate how much we love our children and how well-off we are. Children have joined—and perhaps started to replace—women on the fetishized pedestal of consumerism.

Today’s society has it three-quarters right. There should be a separation between childhood and adulthood. Societies in which children are protected and adults are expected to be responsible and independent corresponds to our developmental needs as primates with a long maturation process for our progeny.

In addition, open attitudes about sex, sexuality and sexual identity lead to healthier individuals and a healthier society. But while our advances towards a society accepting of everyone’s sexuality is positive, the market-driven sexualization of young girls is not. It forces young girls to be overly concerned with their bodies at a time of life when the body is rapidly changing and before their brains have developed enough to address the multiple sophistications of sexual relations in our complex society.

Additionally, we are seeing the lines between childhood and adulthood blurring over the past twenty years. Instead of adulthood being thrust prematurely on adolescence as in pre-industrial times, youth and adolescence have been extended into the twenties and the thirties, as more and more adults retain their entertainments and predilections of childhood. I’ve recited the litany of adult infantilization many times over the past few years, most recently a few weeks back.

Every year, more adults read Harry Potter and other adult fiction, watch movies about super heroes and fantasy worlds or about adult men—and now women—remaining adolescents, wear Halloween costumes to work, collect My Little Ponies and Legos, enjoy cosplay and participate in sleepovers in museums. Every year, more children remain at home or move back to live with their parents, often for economic reasons, but often also a sign of immaturity. All of these and many other cultural phenomena suggest that adults are thinking and acting more like children and that childhood is expanding to engulf part if not all an individual’s adult life.

The most telling sign that American society is becoming infantilized is that enough Americans voted for a 70-year-old infant with a child’s emotions, emotional needs, thought processes and level of education that a majority of Electoral College members could feel free to vote for him. Again, the dictates of consumer capitalism are to blame: it’s easier to convince a child to buy some shiny new, but useless, bauble than it is to convince an adult.

To be sure, our society has advanced to the point that victims feel they can come forward and identify their abusers. Coming forward of course discourages these creeps because they know in their hearts what they are doing is wrong and that, if made public, their actions will ruin their careers. Coming forward also prevents predators from becoming repeat offenders. The fall of Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore, Kevin Spacey and all the other recently-outed prominent dirtbags gives us hope that we will soon have a society that is both non-sexist and non-sexually exploitive. That it came so soon after the election of an avowed sexual harasser and abuser only shows how much Americans were shaken by the results of the 2016 presidential election. All good.

But at the end of the day, the advances we have made in our mores through creating certain barriers between childhood and adulthood, having a more open society in sexual matters and now openly confronting sexual predators are corrupted and partial offset by our consumer-driven economy of conspicuous consumption that reduces all human experience to the buying of goods and services.

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New York Times has split personality: conservative news coverage and liberal editorials

I can’t imagine that the New York Times editorial staff and news department ever talk to each other. They might not even read each other’s work. If they did, the Times might have to split into two publications or engage in a civil war as fiercely fought as the one between the rapidly-industrializing northern states and the traitorous slave-owning south 150 some odd years ago.

The Times editorial staff is reliably left-leaning, taking the Democrat’s side on environmental, immigration, healthcare, foreign policy, taxation, infrastructure, consumer protection, global warming and other key issues. It typically endorses Democratic candidates. The people writing the Times editorials tend to recognize and put a good deal of credence into legitimate research, which drives them further into the arms of left-leaners, since on virtually all issues, the facts speak loudly against rightwing positions.

The news department, however, displays a Republican bias that goes back at least to the 2010 midyear election, if not years earlier. In 2010, remember, the Times covered many Republican primaries but very few Democratic ones; printed exaggerated totals for the Tea Party March on Washington and underplayed the two left-leaning marches that drew about as many people each as the Tea Party did; and totally botched the job of explaining how those currently with health insurance would benefit from the Affordable Care Act.

The Times news staff usually doesn’t lie—that would be against journalistic ethics. Well maybe Judith Miller did stretch the truth in 2003 beyond recognition when she published as facts Bush II propaganda about Iraqi possession of weapons of mass destruction.

But, really, outside of wartime, the Times reporters don’t lie. They don’t have to. There are so many insidiously hidden ways to support Republicans and their untenable rightwing positions. Some examples:

  • Give much more coverage to Republican candidates and primaries than to Democratic ones. It’s happened every election cycle since I started counting in 2010.
  • View all issues through the prism of the right’s ideology, like focusing on deficits instead of job creation or the amelioration of suffering during the recent Great Recession. Until quite recently the Times accepted the GOP argument that tax cuts would create jobs; only when it became obvious to everyone that the purpose of the current cuts is to reward wealthy donors has the Times switch gears and focused news coverage on the great inequities that the Trump GOP plan would create or exacerbate.
  • Doing positive and sympathetic features on people representing miniscule populations but with rightwing views, like the recent feature on mothers who believe their boys were incorrectly accused of sexual harassment on college campuses or the feature on people who believe that the Affordable Care Act hurt them.
  • Focus heavily on rightwing protests, whiles ignoring leftwing protests or trying to normalize or perverting them through isolation. For example, the Times normalized the fact that so many women participated in protests after a serial harasser/molester was awarded a majority of the votes in the Electoral College in 2016 by focusing not on the issues, but on the large number of women mobilized. We can see perversion in the Times joining the rest of the mainstream news media in focusing on the very small number of weird, homeless and incendiary individuals participating in the Occupy occupations, trying to isolate the Occupy movement from the mainstream.
  • Keeping in the news controversies that have been decided in favor of the left-center view years, and sometimes decades earlier, as the Times news department did with climate change and the vaccine controversy, and still does with the economic benefit of lowering taxes on the wealthy.
  • Cherry-picking the research it publicizes to over-represent studies supporting positions on the right, which often entails misinterpretation of results or publication of bogus research. For example, the Times put a Koch-sponsored George Mason survey of the attitudes of weather personalities regarding global warming on the front page, while completely ignoring a Stanford University study that demonstrated that we could use wind power to supply all the world’s electrical needs with minimal impact on the environment. The Times report on a study of women’s lives a few years ago buried the fact that 62% of all American women now cohabitate without the benefit of marriage sometime in their lives and instead led and featured the meaningless trivia that women who cohabitate may be slightly more likely to get divorced if they later marry. One Times business writer recently explicated Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart’s elaborate theory that a nation’s economic growth stalls when it has too much debt but forgot to mention that Professors R & R made some basic math mistakes which, when corrected, produce numbers disproving their theory.
  • Presenting an equal number of experts for both sides of an issue, e.g., quoting two scientists on each side of the global warming issue, when in fact, 95+% of all scientists concur that global warming is occurring and is caused primarily by human activity; or presenting the opinion of a woman who hasn’t vaccinated her children against that of an public health expert.

This weekend, the Times used one its favorite techniques: floating trial balloons for right wing nonsense. These article are always heavy on conjecture and light on facts. They quote unknown sources, accept speculation as the basis for further speculation and make hypothetical conclusions. These articles are often mystery-shrouded incantation of experts, elected officials and organizations considering, debating, analyzing, researching or developing, in other words, a chopped liver of supposition and conjecture.

Over the past few years, the Times has run front-page stories floating the following rightwing ideas: states filing for bankruptcy so they can renegotiate retiree pensions; spending billions updating and expanding our nuclear arsenal; cutting Social Security benefits as part of a plan to reduce the deficit; both Bush II and Obama proposals to increase troops in Iraq on a temporary basis. In some but not all of these examples, the Times is performing its function as “newspaper of record” by floating controversial Administration proposals so that, if met with opposition, the Administration can deny considering them. But in every case, the ideas about which the Times are decidedly rightwing.

This week’s trial balloon is not so much in favor of a rightwing idea and more in support of a discredited rightwing foreign policy apparatus, to wit, Donald Trump’s. The article claims that a team led by soon-to-be-indicted Jared Kushner is putting together a proposal to bring peace to Israel and then Palestinians, one that the Administration thinks has a high degree of success because, as one expert puts it, “the stars are in alignment.” The article details what may or may not be in the proposal, what concessions the Israelis, Palestinians and others may or may not be asked to make, while discussing reasons why all sides may or may not want to or be in a position to accept this as yet undefined “ultimate deal.”

Yes, the Times really uses—and in fact builds the article—the expression “Ultimate deal,” which sounds like standard Donald Trump puffery. It’s the largest, the oldest, the most expensive. The most luxurious, the most powerful, the most intelligent. The best. The ultimate deal.

Oh, and where are we in the process of forming and then getting all parties to accept this ultimate deal? “Mr. Trump’s team has collected “non-papers” exploring various issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and officials said they expected to address…”

In other words, a great big nothing burger.

The purpose of the article, thus is not to propose an obnoxious rightwing policy but to shore up an obnoxious rightwing regime. Even as the Times editorial excoriated Trump for trampling on the Constitution, the front page of the Times news section is puffing up a peace proposal before one even exists to make it look as if the Trump Administration is miraculously solving a problem that has plagued U.S. foreign policy for about 50 years.

Talk about a split personality. That’s Jekyll and Hyde.

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Instead of cutting estate tax, we should limit amount that can be inherited. Heirs do nothing to earn inherited money

When a mentally ill ISIS supporter plows a truck into bicyclists in New York, killing eight and injuring 15, Donald Trump calls for the ending of an immigration program that has given our country hundreds of thousands of highly productive and patriotic Americans over the years.

But when mentally ill gunmen perpetrate horror after horror, all Trump and the GOP can do is ask us to pray and blame it on mental illness. Not a word about making it harder for the mentally ill to purchase guns. Nothing about prohibiting automatic rifles, expanding the national no-gun registry, prohibiting perpetrators of domestic violence and people on the government’s terror list to buy or own a gun, extending gun waiting periods and making them apply to gun shows or making people take gun tests to own a gun license.

Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, Charleston, Orlando, San Bernardino, Sandy Hook. Those are some of the biggest shootings over the past few years. And so far in 2017, there have been 307 mass murders committed by firearms in the United States. Most of these were not acts of terrorism. All of them involved guns. Some of these mass murders could have been prevented by more restrictive gun laws. Others, like Las Vegas and Sandy Hook, would have been much less destructive if automatic weapons were prohibited.

Survey after survey shows that most people—and most gun owners—want greater restrictions on gun ownership. And yet, state legislatures and the Congress refuse to pass any law restricting gun ownership and in recent years sought to expand gun rights. As a group, legislators have displayed a craven disregard for life and a dismissive disrespect for voters. A persistent theme in news media coverage is the fear that candidates have of offending the voters. More often than not, however, and certainly in the case of gun control, candidates and legislators don’t care a gnat’s hindquarters about the voters’ wishes. What they care about is pleasing their corporate masters. The gun industry was one of the first industries to recognize the value of investing in the political process. It would be more accurate to write that politicians worry about what their constituencies think, and leave it to the insiders to understand that big money interests and not the voters are the constituencies being referenced.

The hard facts support gun control. While a federal law prevents federal dollars from supporting research into gun violence (yes, Congress did that!), enough research does exists to demonstrate without a doubt that the more guns in a society, the more deaths and injuries from gun violence will occur. The causes are various: self-inflicted, friendly fire, accidents, mass murders. But very few gun deaths and accidents occur in defense of life and property. The conclusion is obvious: the more we restrict guns, the fewer gun deaths and accidents we’ll have.

The facts disprove the main argument of the gun industry that owning a gun keeps you safe. You may feel safer with a gun in the house or strapped to your side, but you have actually put yourself at greater risk of injury or death.

Of course, gun ownership is not the only issue in which Trump and the GOP talk and act against the facts. On immigration, education, the environment and taxation, Trump and the GOP persist in spewing myths, lies and disproven theories.

There is a second edge to the Trump and GOP hypocrisy, which the events of the past few weeks have sharpened. When a Muslim or immigrant commit a mass murder, it’s terrorism. But when a red-blooded American commits a mass murder, it’s the act of a lone looney. Make no mistake about it: this racialization of mass murder is another attempt to distract us from the real problems. Sowing resent against Muslims and immigrants helps to create an us-and-them world in which poor and middle class white Christians learn to hate and fear people of color instead of hating and fearing the group that is really hurting them—the rich folk who want to curtail social welfare, infrastructure, healthcare and education programs that help poor and middle class white Christians more than any other group.

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The ultimate hypocrisy is Trump GOP response to Las Vegas & Texas church shootings & New York truck mayhem

When a mentally ill ISIS supporter plows a truck into bicyclists in New York, killing 8 and injuring 15, Donald Trump calls for the ending of an immigration program that has given our country hundreds of thousands of highly productive and patriotic Americans over the years.

But when mentally ill gunmen perpetrate horror after horror, all Trump and the GOP can do is ask us to pray and blame it on mental illness. Not a word about making it harder for the mentally ill to purchase guns. Nothing about prohibiting automatic rifles, expanding the national no- gun registry, prohibiting perpetrators of domestic violence and people on the governments terror list to buy or own a gun, extending gun waiting periods and making them apply to gun shows or making people take gun tests to own a gun license.

Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, Charleston, Orlando, San Bernardino, Sandy Hook. Those are some of the biggest shootings over the past few years. And so far in 2017, there have been 307 mass murders committed by firearms in the United States. Most of these were not acts of terrorism. All of them involved guns. Some of these mass murders could have been prevented by more restrictive gun laws. Others, like Las Vegas and Sandy Hook, would have been much less destructive if automatic weapons were prohibited.

Survey after survey shows that most people- and most gun owners- want greater restrictions on gun ownership. And yet, state legislatures, and Congress refuse to pass any law restricting gun ownership and in recent years sought to expand gun rights. As a group, legislatures have displayed a craven disregard for life and a dismissive disrespect for voters. A persistent theme in news media coverage is the fear that candidates have of offending the voters. More often than not, however, and certainly in the case of gun control, candidates and legislators don’t care a gnat’s hindquarters about the voters’ wishes. What they care about is pleasing their corporate masters. The gun industry was one of the first industries to recognize the value of investing in the political process. It would be more accurate to write that politicians worry about what their constituencies think, and leave it to the insiders to understand that big money interests and not the voters are the constituencies being referenced.

The hard facts support gun control. While a federal law prevents federal dollars from supporting research into gun violence (yes, Congress did that!), enough research does exist to demonstrate without a doubt that the more guns in a society, the more deaths and injuries from gun violence will occur. The causes are various: self-inflicted, friendly fire, accidents, mass murders. But very few fun deaths and accidents occur in defense of life and property. The conclusion is obvious: the more we restrict guns, the fewer gun deaths and accidents we’ll have.

The facts disprove the main argument of the gun industry that owning a gun keeps you safe. You may feel safer with a gun in the house or strapped to your side, but you have actually put yourself at greater risk of injury or death.

Of course, gun ownership is not the only issue in which Trump and the GOP talk and act against the facts. On immigration, education, the environment and taxation, Trump and the GOP persist in spewing myths, lies and disproved theories.

There is a second edge to the Trump and GOP hypocrisy, which the events of the past few weeks have sharpened. When a Muslim or immigrant commits a mass murder, it’s terrorism. But when a red-blooded American commits a mass murder, it’s the act of a lone looney. Make no mistake about it: this racialization of mass murder is another attempt to distract us from the real problems. Sowing resentment against Muslims and immigrants helps us to create an us-and-them world in which poor and middle class white Christians learn to hate and fear people of color instead of hating and fearing the group that is really hurting them-the rich folk who want to curtail social welfare, infrastructure, healthcare and education programs that help poor and middle class white Christians more than any other group.

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Europeans in North America have ignored climate in the past, always leading to disaster

In A Cold Welcome, Ohio State historian Sam White reminds us that the 21st century is not the first time that Europeans in North America have ignored the climate and thereby created human disasters.

In the century after the second European discovery of the New World by Columbus in 1492, several European nations founded a number of settlements in North America, yet any attempt to colonize north of Florida ended disastrously: crop failures, deaths from freezing, famine, cannibalism, retreat. Professor White lays much of the blame on the Little Ice Age, a global cold spell that lasted from the late Middle Ages through the end of the 19th century but peaked in the 16th century. The first wave of the Little Ice Age probably led to the decline of Viking colonies established on Greenland in the 9th century.

But White also documents how European arrogance and ignorance contributed to the many failed attempts of Europeans to settle what later became the United States and Canada in the 16th century, and to the extreme hardships endured by the first settlers in Jamestown, Santa Fe and Quebec. Following the Greeks and Romans, the European science of that time postulated that all geographic regions at every latitude would have the same weather. In other words, New York’s weather would be the same as Madrid’s, Quebec’s weather would be the same as Paris’ and the weather in the north of Canada would be the same as London and Berlin. In every case, of course, the weather was and is much colder and subject to weather extremes in the North American locale than in the European city at the same latitude. It was not until the 20th and 21st centuries that climatologists began fully to understand the subtle interplay of winds, heat, carbon monoxide levels, large bodies of water, the Earth’s position vis-à-vis the sun and humanity’s own actions that forms weather conditions around the world.

Europeans also arrogantly assumed that same crops and domesticated animals they cultivated in Europe would transfer readily to the New World and that they could grow the crops at the same time of year. Thus attempts by the Spanish to grow winter wheat and barley and raise goats and sheep in Florida ended in complete failure. Failing crops led to cannibalism during the “starving time” the English colony at Jamestown endured later in the century.

But Europeans learned the way humans have always learned: through observation of empirical phenomena and the accumulation of evidence. With an assist from the warming climate, Europeans applied the knowledge gained from observation and learned how to survive and thrive in North America, building permanent encampments from the beginning of the 17th century onward.

The contrast with today’s situation is stunning. We have the knowledge we need to tame an increasingly unhospitable land—made less livable by own machinations. In Europe, Africa and Asia, leaders are willing to do what it takes both to reduce the impact of human’s on climate and to address the extreme weather and its potential disastrous impact on human settlements that global warming has and will continue to cause. Everywhere, humans are rising to the challenge, if a bit more slowly than climate scientists and environmentalists want.

Everywhere, that is, except in North America, where Americans, primarily of European descent, want to ignore science and impose their own ignorant beliefs on MotherFather Nature. The agenda of Donald Trump and the GOP don’t just ignore science, but like a spoiled child who refuses to yield to reason, they give a mean-spirited raspberry to the pursuit of knowledge. Look at the anti-intellectual carnage wrought in less than a year since the Electoral College turned its back on its constitutional responsibility to make sure that a madman or tyrant is not inadvertently elected America’s leader (note that I continue to come up with clever ways to avoid using “Trump” in the same sentence as a certain word that begins with the letter “p”): walking away from the Paris Accord, rescinding Obama Administration environmental regulations, dismantling government website pages referring to climate change, censoring scientists and scientific reports and replacing scientists with industrial leaders.

Ignorance and false science stand at the heart of most Trump/GOP proposals. Scientists, social scientists and economists keep shouting many truths other than human-caused global warming at the right. Truths like:

  • Lowering taxes on the wealthy does not lead to job growth, wage growth or economic growth.
  • The number of gun fatalities in a population is a direct result of the number of guns owned by the population. The more guns, the less safe we are, and the fewer guns, the more same we are.
  • When adjusted for poverty and disabilities, U.S. schools outperform most other industrialized countries and public school students do better than private schools students do.
  • Immigrants, even illegal ones, lead to job and wage growth for those born in the country; immigrants also have lower crime rates than native-born Americans.

I could go on, but you get the point. A major political party is trying to impose its irrational, childish will on reality, and we know that never works. What’s worse is that right wingers have created a network of mass media outlets and privately-funded think tanks to spew out and publicize false research and theories.

The early European settlers didn’t know any better and so believed their garbage science. They soon learned better, though. It’s ironic and tragic that their ancestors who do or should know better are ignoring the much more developed and detailed science of our current age.

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The commercialization of Halloween has helped further the infantilization of American culture

The day after seeing the first TV commercial for the December holiday gift potlatch seems like an appropriate time to consider the point at which the celebration of Halloween transformed from a secular celebration of a religious holiday to a major factor in the infantilization of American culture.

Infantilization occurs when adults continue to act like children in their adult years, e.g., living at home after college (although many must), vacationing at Disney facilities, collecting My Little Ponies or Legos, indulging in superhero culture, participating in adult sleepovers at museums, engaging in cosplay or spending a good deal of time playing video games. The list of movies glorifying adults who remain children grows so quickly that I have tired of trying to keep up, and so supply a slightly old set of examples: The “Bad Mothers” series, “Tammy,” “Harold & Kumar” movies, “Old School,” “Big,” “Grandma’s Boy,” the “Ted” flicks, “The Wedding Crashers,” “Billy Madison,” ”Step Brothers,” “You, Me and Dupree,” “Dodgeball,” “The 40-year-old Virgin,” “Knocked Up,” all three “Hangovers,” the “Jackass” movies, “Bridesmaids,” “Hall Pass” and “Identity Thief.”

My central assertion over what has become ten pieces on the infantilization of American  culture has been that retailers and advertisers embrace and encourage adults to keep their childish habits and ways of thinking because it’s easier to convince children to buy something, easier to manipulate their emotions and dissemble their still forming critical faculties.

Celebrating Halloween is different from attending a “My Little Pony” convention because it has a long history dating to the ancient Celts. Christianity rolled pagan customs into a three-day celebration of saints. When I lived in Germany in 1976, no one celebrated Halloween, but churches were opened and stores closed for the next day, All Saints Day. In England, by contrast, children have been trick-or-treating since the 16th century. Moreover in much of the civilized world, rich folk have dressed up for costume balls and parties since at least the Romans, if not before. Like all holidays that predate the establishment of the world’s major religions, Halloween is at essence a way of marking time, which means both counting years and separating the parts of the year—and the day—into parts and defining appropriate human behavior for marking those parts.

As it has done to all modern celebration, commercialization has slowly corrupted the holiday of Halloween. In every decade since World War II, fewer costumes are home-made and more are store-bought than in the prior decade. Virtually all treats are now prepackaged candy: a handful of highly-publicized cases of adulterating food aided by urban-legend type rumors of others in the 1980’s pretty much put the kibosh on distributing home-made cookies or brownies. Giving even a small amount of something healthy like raisins or nuts is way too expensive for most families. Decorations have gotten completely out of hand. Once people put a pumpkin or two in their window or on their porch. As children in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, my brother and I used to add a few cut-outs of ghosts, sometimes bought and sometimes created from construction paper. We would add twists of orange and black crepe to the living room when we threw a party. Decorations have become more and more elaborate with each passing decade and today symbolize an apotheosis of conspicuous consumption: elaborate and very expensive displays of three-dimensional witches, ghosts, goblins, gremlins, goons and monsters. Thorsten Veblen, author of The Theory of the Leisure Class, would marvel at how Halloween now turns the exterior of the house into yet another opportunity for the bourgeoisie to demonstrate that they have enough money to waste large sums of it on trifling showiness. People now also routinely send Halloween cards. With the increase in the intensity of Halloween celebration has come, of course, a growing tsunami of TV and Internet ads and entertainment programming starting around October 1st each year. In total, Americans spent $8.4 billion to celebrate Halloween last year, or $82.93 for each individual making a Halloween purchase.

But while we can regret this commercialization of Halloween, there is no infantilization in these developments, just the same good old-fashion American commercialization that has corrupted Christmas, Hanukkah and Easter, while creating new opportunities to commemorate by spending such as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

Many adults, however, are celebrating Halloween as if they were still children, all involving costumes. When you get dressed up in a costume to stay at home and distribute treats, you have been infantilized. When you insist on donning a costume to accompany your children on their trick-or-treating journey, you have been infantilized. When you wear a costume to the office during office hours, even if it is to attend a Halloween party that takes place at the lunch hour, yes, you’ve been infantilized. In all these situations, you are extending the habits and thought processes of childhood into adulthood. These practices are of course new reasons to buy stuff for the holiday, and so have been encouraged by commercials and entertainment, e.g., situation comedies and family dramas.

Moreover, Halloween was a holiday for children for many years. Now it is a holiday for children and adults. Commercialization and infantilization have worked together to transform Halloween from a special occasion for the community to give its children sweets from the harvest bounty to another excuse for Americans to spend to show they’re human and to pretend, for one evening, to be children again.

When I wrote at the beginning of this piece that I saw my first holiday gift TV commercial yesterday, it was a mild distortion. The commercial alluded only obliquely to Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, but instead pushed the idea of getting Black Friday prices before Black Friday, which has all but official recognition as a major American holiday, one dedicated to the greatest of all American past times—shopping for goods and services that express emotion and define relationships. The only benefit from this overlapping of the Halloween and the Christmas season is that it provides further protection from commercialization to Thanksgiving.

I want to close this piece with a base commercial announcement of my own: My latest book of poetry, a flipbook titled Cubist States of Mind/Not the Cruelest Month is available from the publisher, Poet’s Haven Press or Amazon. Cubist States of Mind uses language equivalents of Cubist painting techniques to depict mental states, such as anger, desire, jealousy, boredom, hunger and wonder. Not the Cruelest Month is a cycle of vignettes of New York City the April after Superstorm Sandy hit that explores the relationship between reality, perception and language. That’s a lot of thought-provoking poetry, and at $6 it’ll make a great stocking stuffer or small gift.

Now that I have ended my shameless shill, I leave it to my readers to determine whether I have subverted commercial culture or been co-opted by it.

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Cutting taxes on rich will be as destructive as closing down trolley lines in cities to favor of cars was in 20th century

Slashing taxes on the wealthy and cutting services to children, the poor and the aged.

Cutting back on immigration and deporting the 800,000 dreamers.

Shaping government policy to promote fossil fuels, while ignoring the role government can play in addressing global warming

Ending our commitments to treaties forged from a policy of cooperation with other nations throughout the world.

Let’s forget about the human tragedies that these Trump-GOP policies will produce. If carried through, any of these four actions will be enough to sink the American economy.

But don’t think that it’s the first time that the leaders of our country have instituted policies that were doomed.

We’ve done it before.

And usually, the reason for the disaster has been that the government policy was concocted to help one industry or small group of people and founded on the faulty ideas and reasoning that industry/group developed to justify their greed.

20th century American history records at least three instances of our government working hand-in-glove with well-heeled special interest groups against the best interests of the American people:

  1. Truman’s decision to develop nuclear energy instead of solar energy.

As if dropping atom bombs on two large cities wasn’t enough, Harry Truman also got the federal government behind development of nuclear energy as a means to generate electricity and squelched the solar option. In the early fifties, experts placed two white papers on his desk—one to develop nuclear, the other to develop solar. Truman went with nuclear, because it did what the large utility companies and major manufacturers wanted: centralized power facilities transmitting electricity along a grid and then metered and sold. Solar by contrast, would have developed decentralized industries and enabled many consumers to lower their use of all other metered energy, such as heating oil and natural gas. Non-metered electricity and heat? Better for the long-term economy, public safety and the economy, but a no-no to the big guys.

  1. Destruction of inner city mass transit and the development of auto-dependent suburbs

Lots of things contributed to the development of our car-dependent existence and its discontents, e.g., pollution, traffic jams, social isolation and segregation. Government housing and transportation policies, the rapid decline in cost of both cars and homes, the creation of suburban plans that tended to isolate people, media exaggeration of urban problems, the machinations of local real estate industries everywhere and racism all played a role. But there can be no doubt that the long prevailing mass transit policies—the destruction of dedicated trolley lines in cities in favor of the automobile and busses and the related development of suburbs with no mass transit to urban and job centers—were negative policies that played major roles in creating all the dystopic aspects of suburban life. As Kenneth T. Jackson so ably detailed 30 years ago in Crabgrass Frontier, before World War I we had more trolley lines in inner cities than all of Europe combined. Governments saw trolley lines as private businesses which they taxed and regulated to keep fares below costs. The same governments invested huge sums in highways. Moreover, the federal government sat still for 30 years and let General Motors buy up hundreds of trolley lines all over the country and either shut them down or convert them to buses, freeing the roads for cars and more cars. Meanwhile, unlike the first wave of suburban growth, new suburbs were developed that did not have ready access to rail mass transit helped by governmental policies. As a nation, we turned our back on dedicated mass transit for the benefit of the automobile industry and certain developers.

  1. The imperialist post-World War American foreign policy

After World War II, the United States acted as if a country that wasn’t completely anti-communist was a threat that gave us the right us to interfere in its politics. We were quite willing to do business with dictators, but not with democratically elected governments that leaned left. People of good will can dispute the merits and necessity of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, but how did we improve our national security by helping totalitarians overthrow the democratically elected governments of Iran and Chile? How did we improve national security by taking sides with anti-democracy forces in Nicaragua, Guatemala and Angola? How could Democrats and Republicans so ubiquitously share the mass delusion called the domino theory and therefore subscribe to the Viet Nam war, a war that Lyndon Johnson knew was unwinnable even as he kept escalating it? The Iraq War merely extends the lunacy of post-war U.S. foreign policy. One consistent element in all of the individual bellicosities the American Imperium has committed has been the massive economic benefit it provides to large defense contractors and to other large industries, often involved in natural resource extraction.

Yes, our leaders have had a curious habit of hurting the country to favor a few wealthy industries or families. It goes back to the beginnings of the nation—subverting democracy to favor slave-holding agricultural interests through the institution of the Senate, the Electoral College and the counting of slaves as three-fifths of a person for census purposes.

These collective inanities of the 20th century have turned us into a society divided by money, race and geography with a crumbling infrastructure, poor health and severe environmental and climate challenges. But behind each mass delusion are good intentions: securing our supply of energy in a post-oil world, making it easier for people to move around the world, defending our national security. In theory it’s not a bad thing if industries and individuals benefit by fulfilling national policy. In a market-based economy, even one with lots of regulations, a wide social safety net, and government involvement and even ownership of industry, individual companies, industries and families will always benefit from government policies. There’s nothing wrong with that outcome, as long as the benefit to the industries and individuals maximizes the benefit to society and everyone else. All too often in the United States, however, industries and individuals highjack policy and shape it so they will benefit, even if it means hurting others.

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Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains fills in blanks in Jane Mayer’s Dark Money narrative

According to the standard leftwing narrative about the current dominance of Republicans on both the state and national levels is that the economic rightwing has contrived a deal with racists and social conservatives (among which groups there is some but not complete overlap) by which the ultra-wealthy have manipulated poor and middle class whites to vote against their own economic interests while seeking to disenfranchise large groups of left-looking voters. It’s a storyline which I think pretty accurately describes American politics over the past three decades.

Duke University history professor Nancy MacLean, however, makes a strong case in Democracy in Chains, that the techniques for gaining absolute power and the ultimate objective of the Koch, Mercer, Anschutz, Bradley, DeVos, Prince and other ultra-rich, ultra-right families derive from the original racist reaction to the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, which outlawed segregation of the races in public schools.

According to MacLean, the key figure in transforming the reactions of segregationists to the working game plan of the 21st Republican Party was James McGill Buchanan, who stands out among Nobel Prize winners for Economics for his focus on theory and disuse of empirical evidence. His great contribution was to bring economic ideas into the realm of politics, primarily through what is called the “public choice theory,” primarily the idea that individuals always behave in politics in their own best interests. While at the University of Virginia, Buchanan put together the plan in Virginia to resist segregation by ending public schools and giving parents vouchers for private schools. Later he founded the Center for the Study of Public Choice, into which the Koch brothers poured millions of dollars. Once Buchanan transferred the program to George Mason University, the focus shifted from educating thinkers to dispute the constitutional thought that led to Brown v. Board to training operatives for the far-flung network of think tanks and lobbying groups funded by the Kochs and their pals. This network, which includes the Cato Institute, the Mt. Pelerin Society, the Heritage Foundation, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Americans for Prosperity, Club for Growth and Reason Foundation, among others, spews out deceptive information and ideas on a variety of matters such as healthcare policy, gun rights, climate change, school policy and public sector employment. You see their bogus work all the time as opinion or expert pieces in The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Atlantic and elsewhere.

Underlying the convoluted gobbledygook of public choice theory is the basic belief that the majority should never constrain the minority. Public choice theory “elevates property rights as to paralyze the use of government for democratically determined goals,” as MacLean puts it. At the same time, public choice theory insists on the primacy of individual players, believing that collections of individuals, such as unions and other special interest groups, too often get their priorities approved by government, a terrible situation for Buchanan, Koch and others if it leads to any constraint on property. Buchanan and his ilk (disciples all of Hayek and Milton Friedman) want the government to operate like an absolute free market—each entity representing only itself, even if a small number of ultra-wealthy entities can therefore control everything.

Constraint of the majority was the original Southerners’ idea during the debate on the Constitution to prevent the growing, non-slave-owning North from gaining too much power through the federal government, leading to the Electoral College, Senate and the counting of slaves as three-fifths of a person for census purposes. Later it became the basis for all segregationist arguments, and still later the rationale for the opposition to environmental regulations, higher taxes on the wealthy, LGBTQ rights and a variety of other policies approved by a majority of Americans. In its extreme, as presented by Buchanan (and co-author Gordon Tullock) in The Calculus of Consent, it means that only those who agree to being taxed for public schools or building a road should pay and only programs with unanimous consent of all governed can be implemented by the government.

MacLean reports that after losing the battle against integration, Buchanan and some associates used what she calls Leninist ideas to put together a stealth plan to inject public choice theory into the mainstream of American political thinking and to turn the United States into the type of oligarchy that existed in Virginia and other southern states in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The plan seems to follow the lead of corporate mobilization called for in Lewis Powell’s famous 1971 memo in which the future Supreme Court Justice calls for corporate American take a more aggressive role in shaping America’s social and political ideas. It’s not mentioned by MacLean, but the process that Buchanan outlined and the Kochs and their pals funded seems right out of socialist G. William Domhoff’s public policy model. In simplified terms: rich folk put together foundations and think tanks, which propose ideas that rich folk find politicians to endorse; once elected, the politicians form commissions and committees on which sit the rich folks’ experts to promulgate the policies and laws that the rich folk wanted in the first place. http://www2.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/Sounds like the plot of Jane Mayer’s Dark Money, required reading for anyone interested in learning why our democracy has been commandeered for the benefit of a few ultra-wealthy and very selfish families.

Right-wingers have panned MacLean’s book, asserting that she made a selective use of Buchanan’s work, citing what damned him as an anti-democratic racist and ignoring other evidence that suggests otherwise. But as with the more than 150-year-old defense of the racist and strategically mediocre Robert E. Lee, the defense is based on snippets in an ocean of information. Democracy in Chains joins Dark Money, Domhoff’s Who Rules America Now and The Myth of Liberal Ascendancy and C. Wright Mill’s The Power Elite as essential reading to understand how rich folk manage to always get their way in the United States, even if their way hurts just about everyone else.

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Let’s use the Weinstein moment to fight for laws that end wage gap & support health of women & families

If a woman would gladly watch a high-powered Hollywood executive play with himself, give him a massage or do whatever else Harvey Weinstein fantasized about, that would be between them—two consulting adults.

But Harvey Weinstein was not interested in consensual sex, and I doubt he was interested in sex at all. For him, it was all about power over women. He must be one sick pup—just as sick as Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Bill Cosby and Donald Trump. Very insecure men who seem to feel threatened by all women and take every opportunity to use sex as a weapon to assert a superiority in power.

That these men are still allowed to play key management roles in large organizations in the 21st century seems as impossibly fantastic as the idea that enough Americans would vote for an inexperienced, ignorant and unbalanced failed businessman to enable him to win the Electoral College vote. The outing of these famous super-predators, the defeat of an eminently qualified woman in the Electoral College by one of them, and the widespread reports of badly-behaving men and rampant male chauvinism at many young technology companies all remind us that a virulent strain of misogyny still exists in the United States.

But also existing are the laws, and in most places, the corporate policies and procedures to shut down sexual harassment of women. What doesn’t exist all too often is the will. It doesn’t help that, like child molesters, the super-predator has a sixth sense about which potential victims are more vulnerable—the new, the naïve, the ignorant, those with emotional problems. The fact that there are often ready-made victims for sexual harassers makes it even more incumbent on organizations to clearly communicate that harassment of all types is illegal and will not be tolerated, no matter how rich, famous or connected the harasser is.

But in the hubbub about Weinstein’s disgusting behavior and the entertainment industry that enabled it for decades, let’s not forget that women face not just sexual harassment, but economic discrimination in the workplace. Women still make less than men for doing the same job, plus workplace rules often create a “Jim Crow” kind of situation, without the lynching and jailing—a set of laws that tend to favor men over women. For example, employers still are not required to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant women who want or have to continue working and there are no national scheduling standards that balance employers’ desire for scheduling flexibility with the need of women (and some men) to be able to plan family necessities.

The issue of employment equality and workplace sexual harassment are related. We won’t solve one until we solve the other. Lower salaries and de facto discriminatory policies and procedures tell men that organizations don’t consider women to be their equal, a subtle but clear signal that women can be treated as objects, insulted or pressed for sexual favors. The lesser, more vulnerable human is always fair game.

My wife alerted me to a great organization, the National Partnership for Women and Families, which lobbies for new laws that expand opportunities for women and improve the well-being and economic security of families. In a March 2017 fact sheet, the National Partnership detailed five proposed laws that would help women achieve equality in the workplace (and I quote): http://www.nationalpartnership.org/research-library/work-family/not-enough-family-friendly-policies.pdf

  • The Paycheck Fairness Act would strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and help eliminate the discriminatory pay practices that plague employed women.
  • The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would prevent employers from forcing pregnant women out of the workplace and help ensure that employers provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant women who want to continue working.
  • The Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act would create a national paid leave insurance program to support workers and businesses when a new child arrives or a serious personal or family medical need arises.
  • The Healthy Families Act would allow workers to earn seven paid sick days to use to recover from illness, access preventive care or care for a sick family member.
  • The Schedules That Work Act would establish national fair scheduling standards that would help provide economic security for working families and enable workers to meet their responsibilities at home and on the job.

I urge readers to contact their Senators and Congressional Representatives and urge them to support these bills. Also get on the National Partnership website and educate yourself about all the issues affecting women in the workplace. You might even want to contribute.

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