The case against smartphones: To get one benefit you make a lot of trade-offs

Virtually everyone I know has or is getting a smartphone. I keep resisting the Siren call, however, because as far as I can discern, the smartphone provides only one benefit and in return the user has to give up a lot that I prefer to keep.

The benefit is to have it all here and now, and by all, I mean the Internet, email, games, text-messaging, movies, music, directions and documentation such as airline or event tickets. In short, everything that the user is accustomed to getting on her/his computer, DVD player, landline telephone, stereo system, Gameboy, paper newspaper and MP3 player.

The only additional benefit that the smartphone provides over any of these devices is to be able to have it here and now, at this instant, immediately, right now. No matter what the app, you can find an equivalent on at least one and sometimes several other pieces of equipment that do the same thing. The only additional benefit you get from the smartphone is the instantaneous nowness.

And here is what you give up to get the smartphone’s immediacy:

  • Civility: Smartphone use spoils interactions with other people. Checking a batting average, playing a smartphone game in the restaurant and text-messaging while you’re talking all offend the commonly held conventions of etiquette. The scene of a table full of young people, each on his or her own cell phone, replays daily and nightly in every city across America.
  • Size of screen: The smartphone screen is too small to be of any real use, if you ask me. The miniaturization of the smartphone experience offsets the value of immediacy—I would rather see a larger screen for a movie or TV show, to play a game or even to surf the web.  Scrolling, and especially horizontal scrolling, slows down the search for information. The eyes can quickly review a lot of detail at one time, but there is only so much detail that can fit on a small screen.  Whatever you’re doing thus takes longer on the smartphone than when using a computer or reading a book or Kindle. It’s funny, though, whenever I raise the size issue with smartphone owners, they brag about how much bigger their screen is than those of other smartphone brands.
  • Sound quality: The sound on a smartphone is terrible—and it’s always breaking up. I understand that with headphones you get a pretty good sound from the MP3s and movies you play, but the sound is only as good as the headphone, and the best headphone never compares to the warmth that the room environment provides to sound that comes from speakers.  Call me an effete audiophile, and why not: there’s nothing I like more than putting my e-width feet up and listening to some Beethoven or Kate Bush from a beautiful sound system.

At this point, I imagine that smartphone defenders are eager to point out that there is another benefit of the smartphone—having everything in one place. And by everything, I don’t mean all the experiences that devices with larger screens or better sound systems give us better, but stuff for which size (and sound) doesn’t matter, like tickets and other  documentation.  I travel a lot by Megabus and last time amazed me: half the passengers showed their smartphones to the ticket-taker. I see more and more people presenting the smartphone at concerts, plays, airports, restaurants and sporting events.

But having all your documents in one small place has its drawbacks: What if you lose your phone? Or if some super freaky hacker steals it or buys it hot? For anyone using the smartphone to manage all documents, when you lose it, you lose everything.

Paper tickets are also so easy to deal with: You show it and then you throw it in a shoebox or file or wherever you keep your receipts for reconciliation, tax or expense account purposes.  When you’re done, you throw it out. If you need to have an electronic copy, you just scan it.

Occasionally when I’m with a smartphoner, it’s helpful that she/he can punch out the directions to someplace we’re headed (obviously none of my friends and family are “Applers”).  Other information, e.g., where is the closest Chinese restaurant, can also be useful.

But these small conveniences aren’t worth the cost.  Smartphones are expensive to buy and expensive to operate, especially if you go app-shit crazy. There’s no such thing as unlimited use on smartphones, which is why Internet service providers love them so much. The more you use the smartphone instead of a computer, the more money the corporate leviathans make.

Many tech writers and social critics believe that we have entered the age of the portable device, and that pretty soon all of us will be managing our lives on that little square of plastic and wires in pocket or purse.  If that’s so, I’ll be the last person that still prints his ticket on the computer or waits for them to come in the mail. I’ll be the last one to present the paper to the ticket-taker. And I’ll be the last one to ask complete strangers coming out of the subway at Union Square where Irving Place is instead of accidentally ramming into a wheelchaired individual because I was looking it up on my smartphone.


Behind surveys with ideological subtext lies an attempt to subtly shape the views of the audience

The number of surveys that news media are placing on their websites for their online followers seems to multiply daily. Most of the surveys reflect only the views of the respondents. Since the respondents self-select to take the survey, the validity of these surveys for the nation as a whole or even for the universe comprising the audience for the media outlet is virtually always suspect.

Take for example the Yahoo! survey of which presidential candidate would receive their vote featured on its web page the day before this past election: 53% of the respondents said they would vote for Romney and only 47% for President Obama. Of course the actual results were flipped, with Obama winning 51% of the vote and Romney a mere 47%. Clearly either Yahoo! users or those who answer Yahoo! surveys are more Republican than the voters.

These quick-and-dirty surveys usually ask one or at the most a few questions.  But even with one question, they often seem to be making a point as opposed to gathering information. These media surveys often reduce to attempts to convince the public of something rather than to gather information.  The persuasion comes in how the question and the answers are phrased.

Here are a few recent examples of advocating an ideology in the one-question Yahoo! survey, which changes every day or two on its home page:

Survey Question: Are you planning to shop on Cyber Monday?

Yes, I don’t like crowds

No, I prefer to shop in person

The assumption is made that, no matter what, you’re going to shop for Christmas/Hanukkah/Holiday presents. But what if you’re not shopping on Cyber Monday because you don’t celebrate holidays, don’t celebrate by exchanging gifts, are boycotting the holiday, make your own presents or have already shopped online for the holidays. By giving one and only one reason for not shopping on Cyber Monday, the question assumes that the only possible reason not to shop on the Monday after Thanksgiving is that you are participating in another way in the great American potlatch of materialism  called the Holiday Shopping Season. The subtext of the question supports the basic American ideology of consumerism.

The next example, also from Yahoo!, is even more manipulative:

Survey Question: Do you support a tax hike for the wealthiest Americans?

Yes, it’s needed to fix the deficit

No, it will hinder economic growth

We see in the characterization of the “no” answer one of the great hoaxes that conservative economic writers and pundits have been perpetrating on the American public for decades: that raising taxes on the wealthy will hurt economic growth. It’s just not so, as recent studies have shown. The further up the economic scale you go, the more money you take out of the economy. The wealthy invest most of their money without investing in new jobs or the economy—for example, by buying stocks and bonds on the secondary market (where the money doesn’t go to a company that’s hiring, but to another investor). Every bit of the money that the government takes in is spent (except what’s used to pay down the debt, which is owned primarily by the rich and foreign governments). World economic history has shown that higher taxes on the wealthy almost always lead to economic growth and virtually never hinder growth.

The “yes” answer also serves as an ideological shill. There are a great many progressives, including myself, who think the deficit is not such as critical problem, but propose raising taxes on the wealthy to improve our infrastructure of roads, bridges, mass transit, public spaces and education; support the development of new technologies; or help the people hurt by the last six years of deep recession followed by slow growth.  The survey question leaves out these option.

Yahoo! is not then only one that’s trying to freeze the debate about economics in conservative terms. Here is a recent Washington Post online survey:

Survey Question: Would you be willing to pay more in taxes to help shore up the deficit?



In this case, the only reason given to raise taxes is to pay down the deficit (which is what I think the imprecise “shore up” means). And again, there are many people who would be delighted to see their taxes raised to kick-start the economy or help people in need, but would not want to pay more in taxes to pay down the deficit at this time. It’s something that the Washington Post doesn’t even want us to bring up, let alone consider.

The accumulation of little nuggets of propaganda—in these silly surveys, in the details and assumptions of news stories, in the experts quoted in articles—allows many false notions to parade around in the marketplace of ideas as truth. The news media accepts these false notions and wants us to do the same.



Some gifts you can give our society and economy on Black Friday

With the great American holiday of Black Friday in two short days, I wanted to suggest some gifts that my cherished readers can get for American society to celebrate the holiday season. Note that I wrote “get,” and not “buy,” since these gifts do not involve commercial transactions.

Gift Idea #1: Boycott Wal-Mart until it stops its anti-union activity, and email the company to tell it that you’re not shopping at Wal-Mart until its store and warehouse employees are covered by certified unions. If enough people boycott Wal-Mart, it will be forced to unionize, just as grape farmers were forced to accept a union for farm workers after the successful boycott of grapes led by Cesar Chavez in the 1970’s.

You may be wondering how unionizing Wal-Mart will help our society. It’s simple: The more unionized workers there are, the higher the wages of everyone else. Wal-Mart is the largest private employer in the country, one known for giving very low salaries to their employees (except the executives!).  If Wal-Mart were unionized, wages would increase across the board across the country.

If history can serve as a guide, with higher wages will come some increase is prices, but employers will have to swallow a good part of their increased costs. Those that don’t adjust will lose market share to the entrepreneurs and innovators who are willing to take a lower profit margin.

The net effect of unionizing Wal-Mart will therefore be to rebalance the distribution of wealth, with less income and wealth in the hands of those on top and more in the hands of the middle class and the poor. One of the lessons of economic history is that nations with a relatively equitable distribution of wealth thrive; examples include the United States in the 50’s and 60’s and Europe in the 14th century after the Black Plague drove up the cost of labor. And yes, nations in which the distribution of wealth becomes increasingly less equitable suffer precipitous economic declines; examples include the Roman Empire after about 200 CE, Spain in the 16th century, several of the Chinese dynasties and the contemporary United States.

Right now the U.S. government provides billions of dollars of subsidies to Wal-Mart because so many of its employees qualify for food stamps. Another effect of unionizing Wal-Mart will be to make a big dent in the costs of the food stamp program, thus lowering government costs.

Those who want to give the precious gift of a just society and a growing economy to the United States can email Wal-Mart about your boycott at, check the “Financial Information” box, click “Next” and then leave your message on the page that appears. And instead of buying at Wal-Mart, go to your local merchants and to national companies that treat their workers with the dignity of a fair wage.

Gift Idea #2: Write your Republican Senators and Congressmen and tell them that you will not vote for them if they take the Norquist Pledge not to raise taxes or do not recant the pledge if they have taken it in the past.  The pledge, first proposed years ago by right-wing political operative Grover Norquist, has become part of contemporary Republican ideology. Before the most recent election, 238 of 242 Republican Congressional representatives and 41 out of 47 Republican Senators had signed Norquist’s pledge, promising to “oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rate for individuals and business; and to oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.”

The problem is that the federal government has been starved for revenues since the Bush II temporary tax cuts went into effect about 10 years ago, during which time we have fought two purposeless wars that have drained the federal treasury. We have to pay our debts, but just as importantly, we have to have the funds to keep investing in the economy by rebuilding our infrastructure. And we need money to respond to natural disasters like Sandy and man-made ones like the bursting of the real estate bubble that sent the country into an economic nosedive in 2007 and 2008.

But since they control the House of Representatives, the Republicans stand in the way of raising taxes. (In my heart, I believe that they would be delighted to raise taxes on anyone making less than $1.0 million or so a year. I base this belief on the Republican tax policies of the last 30 some-odd years, which have shifted the burden of paying for everything the government does from the wealthy to the middle class.)

Right now the Republicans are particularly vulnerable to reason, as they see that they have lost the election and surveys show that most Americans want to raise taxes on the wealthy. Telling Republican Representatives and Senators that getting your vote depends on their voting “Yea” on tax increases could prove to be particularly effective at the current moment, when President Obama is negotiating with Congress about new taxes.

So give some gifts that can keep on giving for years. Tell Wal-Mart and the Republicans that we won’t put up with their policies that are creating a nation of rich and poor.



Possible Twinkies demise gives journalists another chance to equate bad food with good times

When I look back in fond nostalgia to childhood foods, I often remember the Syrian and Eastern European delicacies that my mother made for us at holidays. I can often almost taste the sweet fresh corn on the cob in the summer and the tangy mussels that would come in a bucket.  I sometimes conjure steaming images of oversized potato knishes and hot pastrami sandwiches we used to get at the neighborhood deli. Perhaps my most sentimental memories are reserved for the turkey, stuffing and sweet potatoes we had at Thanksgiving.

My food nostalgia never includes packaged baked goods like Twinkies, Ho Hos, Ding Dongs and Wonder Bread: They never were very good, and certainly not as good as the corn rye we got at the bakery or that the various cakes and cookies my mother would make, sometimes without a package mix, or we would occasionally buy in the bakery. I stopped eating Hostess-type packaged junk sometime in my teens and never returned to them.

When I’m reminiscing about childhood foods with friends and family, no one ever mentions these Hostess products either, even though, regardless of their age, almost everyone I know ate them at one time or another.

Nevertheless, it didn’t surprise me that the news that Hostess may close down and that these baked concoctions of white flower, sugar or corn syrup, food coloring and lots of preservatives instigated collective moaning and hand-wringing by the mass media. Reporter after reporter have mourned the loss of these products (and they are more product than food) as if we had suddenly lost a part of our collective cultural heritage, akin to all the monuments in Washington crumbling or misplacing all the episodes of “The Andy Griffin Show” and “You Bet Your Life.”

Writer after writer has come forward with his or her own defense of Twinkies and dirge for their possible demise. Here are some examples:

“Except that Twinkies aren’t merely a snack cake, nor just junk food. They are iconic in ways that transcend how Americans typically fetishize food. But ultimately, they fell victim to the very fervor that created them.” (Associated Press)

“When news broke Monday that beloved treat-maker Hostess would not be forced to shutdown after all, Americans breathed a joint sigh of relief.” (Business Insider)

“If my insides are particularly well-preserved, it’s not because of the steamed broccoli crowding my dinner plate. No, it was the Twinkies. My longtime habit of consuming the famously imperishable cakes — with a preservative no doubt passed down from King Tut’s mummifiers — surely must have infused me with their elixir….Perhaps, it’s for the best that I wouldn’t have one last bite. They couldn’t live up to my gauzy memories of them. And maybe the Twinkie hoarders will pass them down like heirlooms to their children.” (Chicago Tribune)

“I don’t want to live in a world without Twinkies… The Austrians have their Strudel, the Italians their tiramisu, the French created crepes. But the Twinkie is an American original.” (Fox News)

“A world without Twinkies! How can it be?! I haven’t eaten a Twinkie since the third grade. But, when the demise of Hostess was announced last Friday, I, along with most of America, got swept up in Twinkiestalgia. Watching the six o’clock news, it dawned on me that my kids had never had and might never have a Twinkie in their young lives. What kind of life is that? What kind of mother would I be if one of those infinite-shelf-life treats never passed their lips?!” (The “Today Show” website)

“The Twinkie is an institution and a distinctly American one at that. It was the dessert that Edith packed in Archie’s lunchbox. It became part of legal nomenclature (the “Twinkies defense”). And its supposedly eternal shelf life only added to its stature as a pop-culture icon…No one, it seemed, had eaten a Twinkie (or Sno Ball) in years. Their affection for the brand was largely an exercise in nostalgia. The Twinkie took them back to their childhood – and knowing it was still there (and could be had at any time) meant there was always a comfortable (and cheap) portal to a time when life was safer, simpler and more innocent. It’s the Twinkie as, yes, Proust’s madeleine.” (The Wall Street Journal)

“Consider the Zen of the moment when you take a bite, that taste of something so simple yet decadent, Godiva for the everyman, and, for many, the savory hint of childhood and innocence. Can that small pleasure be had any longer without fear of diet-busting self-loathing?” (Baltimore Sun)

The common themes running through the commentaries are 1) nostalgia for what are imagined were simpler, better times and 2) defiance of what the reporters postulate are the food police who want to take away our every culinary pleasure and replace them with good food.

The nostalgia aspect is just weird: there are so many good things we can remember about the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and every other decade of the last century that it seems absurd for pundits to give bad-tasting food that was also bad for you a second thought.  We all have individual memories and we also share in collective memories, both happy and sad. For example, people my age can reminisce about where we were when the first men landed on the moon (I am proud to write that I watched the first moon walk sitting next to my uncle, who led the team that engineered the fuel that propelled the rockets) or about the first time we heard the Beatles. But Twinkies?

When the mass media tries to create a collective memory for all of us, there is usually some ideological or business reason behind it, and that brings us to the second common theme in the encomiums to Twinkies: the assertion that there is a dichotomy between food that tastes good and food that’s good for you. The mass media often asserts this dichotomy: when discussing fast food, balanced diets, foods you can buy at state fairs, what to make at holidays or for Superbowl parties and what to feed your children.  It’s a false dichotomy, but every time a writer makes it or assumes it, it helps to sell more of the crap.  It also undercuts efforts to address our growing epidemic of unhealthy lifestyles.

I can see why someone might grab a package of Twinkies from the food vending machine for a late afternoon snack, even though I wouldn’t do it. And I can understand why parents’ might find it easy to slip a package of Ding Dongs into their kids’ lunch bag, although I never did. And certainly there are a number of people around who can’t distinguish between a Twinkie and a piece of fruit, some home-made cookies or even cinnamon and sugar sprinkled on a piece of buttered whole wheat toast.

But these instances do not make a case for elevating Twinkies, Ho Ho’s and the other edible dreck from Hostess into the pantheon of American culture. The very fact that these brands are threatened by poor sales suggests that they brands do not hold any special place in our collective hearts, at least not until the mass media starts to brainwash us with phrases about “pop-culture icons” and “savory hints of childhood and innocence.”

Of Petraeus the betrayer and DesJarlais the anti-choice abortion counselor

The news media is still wringing its hands in torment over the loss of their military darling, General David Petraeus, to the vagaries of carnal affection.  While some have wondered why an affair should force a resignation since it’s a private matter, most editors, writers and pundits have bereaved the inevitability of resignation.

The thought process that leads to automatic resignation starts with the idea that a CIA Director could be blackmailed into acting in the worst interest of the country to avoid being found out.  Few seem to remember that Petraeus is an old hand at doing what’s not right for the country. He was, after all, architect of the “surge strategy” in the Iraq War that postponed the inevitable withdrawal of U.S. troops from the morass of anarchy created by the U.S. invasion. The surge did give the U.S. a flimsy justification for claiming success, so in a sense, Petraeus constructed one of the most costly fig leaves in recorded history, the cost unfortunately computed in both human lives and wasted money.

Petraeus probably “cooked the books” in reporting progress during the Iraq War surge, as reported by MoveOn, most notoriously in a 2007 full-page ad in the New York Times. The same mainstream media that are now surgically investigating the Petraeus affair raised a collective voice back then to defend Petraeus and condemn MoveOn for its clever headline, Petraeus betray us.”  Funny, isn’t it:  The mainstream media pretty much accepted the Bush II Administrations lies about weapons of mass destruction, Iraqi support of Al Qaida, torture as a mere aberration in the lower ranks and the success of the surge. Yet they are digging deep to uncover every tawdry nugget of the Petraeus scandal.

In other words, the mass media that botched the investigation of an important public issue show a great deal of competence and professionalism going after all the details of an extramarital affair.

My own view is that Petraeus should never have been given the job of CIA Director. Once confirmed, however, engaging in extramarital sexual congress should not have warranted dismissal. Now if Petraeus was in some way going to benefit from any deals that ”family friend” Jill Kelley was trying to broker for exorbitant sums, then he should not have been given the face-saving option to resign, but instead been summarily dismissed.  (Petraeus’ paramour instigated the investigation that “caught” Petraeus when she suspected that the general was servicing Kelley and so sent her imagined or real rival some threatening emails, which the well-connected Kelly turned over to an FBI friend).

Petraeus’ private affairs should never have become front page news. Not so for Tennessee Republican Congressman Scott DesJarlais, formerly a physician. Unsealing his divorce records of a decade ago has revealed that DesJarlais’ former wife had two abortions on his advice and that he urged a patient whom he had impregnated to get an abortion.

Certainly DesJarlais behaved unethically to sleep with a patient, although they were both consenting adults. But as far as the abortions go, who cares? Abortion was legal then and is legal now.

Except that DesJarlais says he’s pro-life.  It’s the hypocrisy of wanting to prevent other people from doing what you yourself have recommended multiple times that makes DesJarlais’ private matters fair game for the media.

How Mark Twain might have imagined the 2012 presidential election

Friends, I remember the time centuries back when the souls of all the deceased presidents of the United States residing in heaven had their shorts up in a bunch because God’s hands-off policy was failing America. It looked as if the country, left to its own devices, was going to elect an incompetent liar. This Mitt feller told some of the biggest whoppers they ever heard up there, and these boys could all spin a good yarn from time to time.

The presidents were shaking in their boots that Mitt’s anti-government, anti-tax agenda would send the country into a long-term recession, while enriching his cronies, making a mess of the land, taking away basic civil liberties and allowing our public infrastructure to go to potholes and outages.  God agreed that the selfish Baby Boom generation was making a botch of things praying to the false gods of the free market and social control.  But she was disinclined to intervene in earthly matters.

After much hootin’ and hollerin’ by all the presidents, except Hoover and Reagan who were taking their mid-morning naps, God agreed that she would allow them to concoct one plan to save the United States from Mitt Romney.

But that was the easy part. The presidents in heaven were stumped as to how to defeat Romney and his big wad of cash. How do you answer bald-faced lies that are repeated so many times that they start to sound true and feel true? The “Big Lie” worked in Germany in the 1920’s and early 1930’s, and it looked like a lot of big lies were going to work in 2012.

After scratching their heads for days—proposing and then rejecting idea after idea, John Quincy Adams, the bright bulb of the bunch, says, out of the blue, “We need the help of the president who didn’t make it into our august company.”

Suddenly waking from a snore, Reagan intones, “You mean the one who sits at the right hand of the devil.”

“Well you can’t believe everything you hear about a president,” John Q. snorts back. Honest Abe, FDR and Big George agree with John Q., so he carries the day.

The deceased presidents summon Lyndon Baines Johnson from hell and tell him the problem.

LBJ cackles an oversized Texas laugh and says, “You just have to get these peckerwoods to where they need you real bad.”

With that, LBJ raises his hand and waves it around and a storm named Sandy forms in the Atlantic Ocean. With the aplomb of a circus ringmaster, LBJ announces, “Watch now, we’re going to take this one oversized Republican peckerwood named Chris Christie and we’re going to make him do all our campaigning for us. We’re going make him say that guv’ment is good.  He’s going to praise our guy as if he were a saint.”

And that, friends and neighbors, is how Barack Obama won the 2012 presidential election. At least according to legend.




An official endorsement: OpEdge urges voters to vote party line Democratic on Nov. 6

There are several good reasons to vote for Obama and many very good reasons to vote against Romney.  The most compelling case to be made, however, is to vote straight party line Democratic regardless of the individual candidates.

Today’s Republican Party advocates a ratcheting up of the policies that have gutted the middle class and created a nation of rich and poor, including:

  • Reducing taxes on the income and investments of the wealthy.
  • Reducing programs that help the needy among us, including the elderly, poor and disadvantaged.
  • Ending job creation programs, even those that build or repair our infrastructure of highways, bridges, mass transit, sewers and schools.
  • Attacking unions and making it harder to unionize.
  • Privatizing standard government functions, which turns the middle class income of government employees into profit for government suppliers such as Halliburton and Blackwater.

One can’t help but note that in articulating these positions, many Republicans use racial code words and insinuate that their version of us-versus-them has a racial and ethnic tinge to it.  Republicans bite off these code words with a mean-spirited malevolence that advocates that we should always turn our back on our fellow humans.

Republicans also are opposed to regulations that protect workers, markets, the community and the environment. They do embrace regulations that impede minorities, the poor and students from voting.

While worshipping at the altar of the free market, the current Republican Party wants to take freedoms away from individuals, women in particular, but also gays, Muslims and poor.  In the Republican fantasy land, there are no married gays, in fact no gays whatsoever, no abortion, homes full of pregnant wives and a landscape buzzing with houses of worship, all Christian. Everybody speaks English.

This combination of controlling private actions that hurt no one but allowing public actions that can hurt the entire community is the essence of what has led to the U.S. decline since about 1980. To reject it, we have to reject Republicans at every level of the ballot, from President on down to dogcatcher.

If Mitt Romney were a Democrat, I might urge voters to go third party, because his beliefs or lack of beliefs aside, he does not have the qualifications or capabilities to be President of the United States.

Here is my bill of particulars against Mr. Romney:

  • Romney will do anything and say anything to get elected. We don’t know if the right-wing Romney of the primaries and early election season is the true Romney, or if it’s the more centrist Romney of the first debate and beyond. We don’t know and that very fact should frighten voters.
  • Mitt lies way too much for an elected official: He lied about Obama cutting $715 billion out of Medicare; he lied about Chrysler shipping U.S. jobs to China. He lied about the impact of his proposed tax break for the wealthy on the tax payments of the non-wealthy.  He lied when he said his health care plan would cover pre-existing conditions.  He lied when he said that Obama was responsible for all the job losses of the recession (which came before Obama took office or during his first few months in office).  The idea of an apology tour is one sustained big lie. There are many lists on the Internet of Romney’s constant lying: here’s one.
  • He has proven to be a complete doofus on foreign policy issues:  an inelegant bull in a china shop, shooting from the hip, insulting allies and seemingly dense to issues of foreign protocol.
  • As Lee Fang and others are beginning to uncover,  Romney is poised to turn the federal budget into a piggy bank for his supporters and cronies in the same way that Bush II did with the ill-conceived and costly Iraq War.

The case for Obama is the hardest to make. His record on protecting the environment and preparing the country for climate change is disappointing, as is his war on legal medical marijuana and his support of union-busting charter schools. From the standpoint of progressives in the George McGovern tradition, which constitute a large part of the Democratic Party, Obama has been a disappointment in foreign policy matters. When judged, however, by the centrist American imperialist and exceptionalist policies that have been in effect since World War II, Obama has been one of our most successful foreign policy presidents. He got Osama bin Laden, shut down Al Qaeda, has show a steady hand as middle eastern regimes have toppled and has managed our complicated business relationship with China.

To the positive is the Rube Goldberg machine called the Affordable Care Act.  It provides coverage for an additional 30-40 million Americans, removes the financial onus of a pre-existing condition, covers children under their parents policy until the age of 26, removes lifetime limits and begins to address the inefficiencies in our healthcare delivery system. Also to the good is the economy, which is slowly nursing its way back to health. Yes, the economy could be better, but that’s the fault of Congress for not passing the broader stimulus bill Obama wanted and for not funding this stimulus by allowing temporary tax breaks for the wealthy to expire. It is true that Obama caved too quickly on all of these issues, another reason for disappointment. I’m also dismayed that Obama has said nice things about the Bowles-Simpson report, which ignored its charge to address the deficit and instead proposed a tax overhaul that would have the wealthy paying less and all others paying more.

We can divide our vote up into three parts: Centrists and liberals might vote “no” on the Republicans, “no” on Romney and “maybe” on Obama, which computes to a positive vote for Obama on election days. But even progressives who might vote “no” on Obama in their hearts must pull the Obama lever because of Romney’s incompetence and Republican intransigence. And the same holds for traditional Eisenhower-Rockefeller conservatives as well. 

But I’m going to make it easy for everyone but the one-percenters or the 20% who are extreme social conservatives (the ones against vaccinations and abortion even if the woman has been raped): Don’t vote for Obama. Vote straight party line Democratic.

Famous for being the sister-in-law of someone whose grandma is famous for being famous

When I saw Parade Magazine’s front cover of a semi-attractive young lady named Pippa Middleton watching a young girl eat a donut hanging by a string, I immediately thought of Miggy and A-Rod.

Miggy, Miguel Cabrera, the best pure hitter of baseballs since Mickey Mantle, only gets in the news when he does something newsworthy like wins the Triple Crown or gets flagged by the cops for drunk driving. By contrast, faded superstar Alex Rodriguez gets in the news every time he pulls out of his driveway, waves to an attractive women or yawns.

A-Rod is a celebrity and Miggy is merely a great athlete.

But at least A-Rod can still hit a little bit and is a good fielder with the best infield arm since Cal Ripken.

And at least Lady Gaga can shake that thing and pretend to sing. Although just like Madonna three decades past, many rock critics gush a little bit too much about Gaga’s tunes, which really are the musical equivalent of eating microwave-warmed KFC leftovers.

Moving along the celebrity spectrum to the less essential, we can at least point at the relatives and paramours of the Kardashian bimbas and say that they have some accomplishments, e.g. Olympic gold medalist, pro basketball player and entertainment business mogul.

But what the heck did Pippa Middleton ever do to deserve any coverage in the news media?

She is the done-nothing sister of a done-nothing who married a done-nothing whose did-nothing grandmother happens to serve a hereditary ceremonial role that symbolizes everything against which the United States is said to stand and against which we fought the Revolutionary War. The bedrock of American exceptionalism—a theory that I reject—is the principle that we have no royalty. All men and women are created equal.

Middleton represents the pure celebrity—famous for nothing more than being famous. While the news media can find small admirable things about her life, in the grand scheme of things, she is little more than a hanger-on to royalty: a sycophant to evil. Let’s not forget that royalty is the belief that some people are inherently better and more deserving than others, and not even by virtue of doing good, but merely by birthright. To assert this belief, kings and queens through the ages have killed, maimed, tortured, stolen, raped and pillaged.  Middleton is the avatar not of evil monarchy but of the parasite, the drinking companion or the lady-in-waiting. Would we hang on the words and actions of the familial flotsam of the North Korean dictator?

When Parade first got the idea to build its Halloween issue around the celebration in another country, I wonder if a Spanish-speaking land came to mind, and was then rejected as not entirely keeping with the current anti-immigrant wave welling across the heartland. The Sunday supplement to most local newspapers wouldn’t want to appear to take a political stand over Halloween.

To make Merry Olde England the exotic foreign land whose celebration of Halloween Parade would feature makes sense since part of American consumerism is to homogenize the exotic—to reduce it to a few easy-to-identify traits that are then used to trick up the same old same old. Since we’re so British to begin with and we speak the same tongue, we start with instant homogenization.

But as usual, when Parade explores a holiday, social issue or milestone (with the strange exception of its recent excellent feature advocating vaccination), it does so through the prism of celebrity. It can’t just be British or Celtic (Irish) Halloween; it has to be Halloween celebrated by a British celebrity.  If fact, how Pippa spends her Halloween has less to do with Celtic or British traditions than it does with the high quality enrichment I associate with the best public elementary schools.

Who did Parade not feature? Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Prime Minister David Cameron, Christian Bale, Julie Andrews (Mary Poppins!), Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins. These Brits are all celebrities and have also done something, although I don’t want to conflate acting in a few popular action hero movies with making major contributions to the science of evolution.

For Parade and the American mass media, the celebrity sets the tone for a celebration, trend, idea, holiday or event. The celebrity defines and upholds the standard as to what is hip, new, chic, stylish or socially acceptable. The celebrity tells us what to do, what to eat, and most importantly what to buy.   The celebrity sells not just products, services and actions but the very idea that social interaction reduces to buying.

As it turns out, much of the Pippa Middleton article consists of a hodgepodge of interesting ideas to expand Halloween beyond dunning neighbors for treats that the children then consume in a sugary orgy. Parade suggested activities like leaf rubbing and pumpkin bowling that actively engage children in imaginative play and easy crafts but which aren’t really British, English or Welsh.  Reading Halloween books with children is also a good idea.

Setting aside the relative lack of authenticity in Pippa’s Halloween, what corrupts these excellent suggestions for a Halloween party is the very fact that the context is the celebrity, and not just any celebrity, but the pure celebrity, known for nothing more than being famous.

Parade consciously decided to build its celebration of Halloween around a celebrity. That they found one who represents an inherent evil is merely a lucky bit of symbolism, since the very concept of celebrity is as detrimental to the human body and soul as royalty is. Royalty enslaves us to other, more powerful people who can never lose their power (until we overthrow them), whereas celebrity enslaves us to the marketplace and the concept that all human expression revolves around buying and consumption.

The actual suggestions in the article eschew marketplace solutions for the quaint, old-fashioned and many would say enduring values of imaginary play and crafty activities. Parade validates these values through the vehicle of celebrity, as if to say that even though leaf rubbing and cutting spooky place cards has nothing to do with vacationing at a fancy resort or wearing designer dresses, they’re still okay because a celebrity does them.




Does Romney deserve a free pass on foreign policy because he never represented a nation?


The consensus in the main stream news media is that Obama won the debate on foreign policy, but that Romney did okay.


The view that Romney held his own neglects the fact that Mitt once again repudiated 24 months worth of speeches and position papers to list to the center. His accused Obama of projecting weakness abroad and yet ended up saying he’d do exactly what the President has done. At certain points, Romney was incoherent in response to Obama’s articulate and respectful chiding.


Whoever wins the election, Obama’s line about Romney’s idea of increasing our battleships will go down as one of the greatest of all debate putdowns. Here is the most extended version of it:

“You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines…And so the question is not a game of Battleship, where we’re counting ships. It’s what are our capabilities.”


While demurring from the mainstream view that Romney did okay enough to help himself, I want to consider the excuse that some like Cokie Roberts gave for Romney: a sitting president has an enormous advantage over the challenger when it comes to foreign policy.


It sounds reasonable until you actually examine the evidence. Even after four years as president, Bush II had no more experience in foreign policy than Kerry. The same for Bob Dole and President Clinton; the same for Walter Mondale and President Reagan. While challenger Clinton’s and Reagan’s foreign policy credentials couldn’t compare to the incumbents, they articulated easy-to-understand global visions and voters hated the policies of the incumbents, Bush I and Jimmy Carter, respectively.


In short, lack of foreign policy experience is not an excuse for Romney, but a flaw in his candidacy that voters should and will weigh when deciding for whom to cast their vote.


At least the inexperienced Clinton and Reagan offered voters a choice, each in his own way. By contrast, Romney offers nothing different in substance or action from Obama. Mitt’s only difference on foreign policy is one of style. Instead of speaking softly and carrying a big stick—yet another way in which Barack Obama resembles past Republicans, Mitt would propose we thrust our horns out, snort, kick the earth a few times and plunge into that China shop.


As many Democratic, liberal and progressive candidates, office holders and pundits have already recommended, perhaps we should judge Romney by the advisors he has retained. About two-thirds are former Bush II officials and the main guys all advocated or helped to plan or wage the disastrous Iraq war. Romney himself has now flipped and flopped on every foreign policy issue; and on many of them he flipped and flopped in the third debate.  Maybe instead of believing that Mitt has settled in the center, we should instead assume that he will listen to his neo-con advisors. The guys who brought us an expensive goalless war, torture, diminished respect among our allies and the hatred of many in the Moslem world


We can’t afford to give Romney the chance to put the neo-con warmongers back in charge.

I thought Mitt’s big issue was low taxes for rich; turns out he wants to use presidency to make money

Over the weekend I read Lee Fang’s expose of the “Romney Family Business” in the latest issue of The Nation.

All this time I thought that the only thing Mitt Romney really cared about was lowering taxes on the wealthy. It turns out he plans to peddle influence and sell off the government to cronies and those who pay to be his pal—CORRECTION—the pal of his son Tagg. You know the young Mormon who wanted to slug the President of the United States.

Lee Fang reports that Mitt’s tag-along son owns a company that is a fund of funds for rich investors. For a big take of the action and fees up front, Tagg’s company, Solamere, invests the money of very rich folk into various hedge funds and private equity funds. But they do it through a series of corporations in the Cayman Islands and elsewhere so that the investors don’t pay taxes. It makes the Bush family ties to Saudi oil interests seem virtuous.

But wait, it gets worse.

Investors expect, and get, special access to the presidency.

The article focuses on the potential for giving away the government store to cronies. Here’s one example of what we might expect from a Romney presidency: twice on the campaign trail, Mitt has gone out of his way to praise a for-profit college called Full Sale University in comments about education reform.  Full Sale is owned by one of the Solamere equity partners, TA Associates.  It’s a real bargain, too—LOL—the third most expensive college in the country.

We can expect Romney to privatize as much as he can and then give the rights away in sweetheart deals to cronies, defined as those who invest with Tagg.  BTW, here’s what privatization mean to the U.S. economy: middle class government jobs are replaced by jobs that pay less and more money goes to the executives and owners of the companies with the government contracts.

But wait, it gets worse.

Solamere has invested in Hart Intercivic, which makes voting machines that Politico reports are prone to failures and counting errors. And yes, the Hart Intercivic machines are being used on voting day in parts of Ohio. Of course the good little Tagg-along would never dream of cooking the voting books. That would be illegal.

At this point, it might be best to begin remembering the difference between aristocracy and plutocracy. Aristocrats can be rich or poor, although the rich aristocracy will often help poor relations, especially the talented ones, kind of like Gavin Newsom and John Kerry got help as youths. (Of course, when the help is offered to all regardless of family background it’s sometimes called a meritocracy and sometimes called godless socialism.)  You can’t stop being an aristocrat, because it’s in the blood.

But the plutocracy operates on a cash only basis. If you don’t have the money, you have no influence in government. Without the big bucks, you are essentially without a vote.

Keep that in mind in the case that Mitt Romney wins the presidency.