Friday, September 14, 2018

The Rule Of Three

You don’t know what the “Rule of Three” is. I know, because I invented it, and I’m only just now about to tell you. Economists around the world may have another name for it, for all I know, but this is my name for it, and whatever its official name is, it’s a concept you need to know.
The Rule of Three pertains to the number of years it takes for any president’s economic policy to take effect. Got that?

Repeat after me: Three years. Roughly three years before any president’s economic policy is felt on the economy.

It’s a general rule, but one I’ve seen over and over again. Sometimes economic policy can have an immediate effect, such as Barack Obama’s economic stimulus package of 2009. That had a positive, if short-lived, effect. Or Donald Trump’s increased tariffs, which have had a negative impact on everyone except the steel industry. But even steel workers have not yet seen those increased profits become higher wages yet, so they’re about to go on strike – with Republican union-busters stacked in the House, Senate and White House. So that’s a negative impact on everybody.

But in general, three years is usually how long it takes. Jimmy Carter responded to, and fixed, the inflation crisis during the last two years of his presidency. The effect was felt in Reagan’s first year. Reagan took credit. The public, who didn’t know about the Rule of Three, lionized Reagan.

Clinton got credit for his economic policies, mostly because eight years made absolutely certain that nobody else could get credit.

What about Bush Jr.? His tax cuts and deregulation of the banks led to the housing bubble forming around 2005, roughly three years after implemented. But banks are crafty. They kept the bubble inflated long after it should have burst. Loans upon loans floated the bubble from 2005 well into 2006. Then Alan Greenspan orchestrated a number of privately-funded bailouts of banks in peril in ’06 and ’07, all the while preaching that the private industry needed no regulation. The fact that he implemented the regulation he said he didn’t need is one of the true ironies of history.

Obama’s policies halted the downward spiral in 2009, but a second planned economic stimulus was thwarted by Republicans after 2010. They knew about the Rule of Three, and reasoned, correctly, that if the economy took a downward turn by 2012, they could retake the White House. Throwing the entire public under the bus didn’t matter to them. But because the public wasn’t paying attention (like always), Republicans didn’t take any blame for deliberately slowing down the economy. The economy recovered, albeit slowly, mostly because the stalemate between Obama and Congress kept anything at all from happening, good or bad. By 2012, the sputtering economy had improved enough for Obama to win re-election, despite Republican efforts to ruin it.

Back to Trump: He is now implementing the worst economic policy in living memory, and this comes from economists on both sides of the political aisle. But the economy is still strong. Why? Again, the Rule of Three.

If you’re a farmer, or a Harley Davidson worker, or a GM employee, you’re feeling the pinch already. But if not, the rest of you will feel it later.

There’s an economic storm coming.

Will it hit by 2020? The Tariffs are causing problems already, but economists have differing opinions as to whether Trumponomics will hit most pocketbooks by then. I don’t wish hardship upon anyone. But Trump is bringing the hardship. It will hit anyway, so he might as well be the one to take the legitimate blame. But if the good economy he inherited from Obama remains resilient, in spite of his pulling the wires out of the controls and throwing sand into the gears, he might not get the blame until 2021, when it’s too late.

On the other hand, maybe if more people know about the Rule of Three, they will realize that Trump’s bad economic policies need to get voted out long before 2021.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Pending Doom Of Abortion

My original title for this post was, "What if the anti-abortion crowd actually wins?"

Then Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his pending retirement.

With two out of the last six presidential elections stolen, a stolen seat on the Supreme Court, and a 5-4 Citizens' United decision allowing the rich to spend at will leading up to all this, conservatives are about to steal one more. Heaven forbid, if Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies, this could become a loss for generations. The wall of church/state separation will be breached in a major way, and one can kiss women's rights, gay rights, voting rights and equal rights out the window.

Conservatives owe us all one year of leaving the court at 8 justices. But of course, they won't pay that debt. Not now.

One aspect of women's healthcare is about literally be against the law. Some women will turn to underground and less than sanitary sources for abortion. Others will turn to self-induced "coathanger abortions" which might go badly, resulting in internal bleeding or sepsis. Some women will certainly die.

But I argue that another consequential death will be Christianity in America.

Consider for a moment: Look what happened in Ireland. Abortion had been outlawed in that country since its inception, and the influence of the Catholic Church strengthened anti-abortion law in the mid 1980's. But over decades of suffering the consequences of their anti-abortion laws, the Irish attitude changed. By an overwhelming vote, the people of Ireland voted to legalize abortion in a country-wide referendum back on May 25. The Irish outlook changed because the harsh realities of outlawing abortion became too much for people to handle, and they rejected the religious right's arguments, and the Catholic Church with them. Ireland turned secular!

The same thing will happen in America.

In a way, it will be much like prohibition. In the 1920's, the religious-right campaigned strongly against the evils of liquor until they successfully got it banned. Then, several years later, after living with the devastating consequences of outlawing hooch, the American people realized their mistake, and quickly repealed the ban. Prohibition against abortion will work much the same way as prohibition against alcohol did. Today, there isn't a single hyper-conservative in the world who dares to suggest that alcohol be outlawed. Our nation learned its lesson the hard way!

Abortion is about to be moved into that same category.

In other words, Christians, beware what you wish for, you're about get it.

Think about it: With Roe v. Wade overturned, what leverage does the political right have on trying to force more Ayn-Rand disciples onto the Supreme Court? What reason do Evangelicals have for supporting the most un-Christian president (Trump, naturally) this nation has ever seen? What wedge issues does the Republican party have left except assault weapons or Euro-centric racism?

In fact, the consequences to of abortion being struck down are so severe to Christianity that my first draft of this blog entry actually argued that we might be better off doing a strategic retreat on the whole issue and letting reality slap the other side into submission. Naturally, my wife talked me off the ledge on that one. And the very next day, bam! Kennedy announced his retirement. I'm glad I didn't publish that blog post, and I'm ashamed that I ever considered advocating paving the road to freedom with the blood of the innocent. But on the flip side, we are so blind as a species that we don't tend to learn any other way but the hard way, and we never realize what we have until it's gone. I guess when one feels the tug-of-war being lost, the temptation is to suddenly let go of the rope to let the other guys fall on their asses. But that's all moot, now. We're about to lose, and the blood of the innocent is about to be shed anyway.

Jerry Falwell's Faustian bargain from decades ago linked the interests of the ultra-rich to the Christian culture-war. The result has been Christians joyously stomping on the rights of immigrant children and throwing our healthcare away, all while letting our healthy economy turn to complete shit through tariffs. For the sake of stopping abortion, Christians have been willing to vote for absolute monsters like Roy Moore and Donald Trump, and only when they are that monstrous does a Democrat stand a slim chance (and sometimes not even then).

Do Christians really think the next generation will turn out religious after all that?

Yes, the suffering that will follow abortion prohibition will be acute. But the silver lining of that cloud is that people will finally come to realize the fallacies of anti-abortion logic. With half the population getting the cold slap of reality across the face, this nation will have an Irish-like awakening!

In short, this is a loss, but not the loss. Not the end of the women's rights movement, but the beginning of its resurgence. In fact, it will probably be the major turning point in the culture war.

In the words of Rear Admiral John Paul Jones, we have not yet begun to fight!

So enjoy your Pyrrhic victory, Christians. When your religion is reduced to a tiny minority, and you stand in the charred ruins of its past glory, you'll at least be able to bask in the knowledge that you were able to elect a monster for a president and then outlaw abortion for a few nightmarish years.

I hope you'll think it was worth it.



Friday, June 22, 2018

Which Dem For Wisconsin Gov?

There's a plethora of candidates for governor of Wisconsin on the Democratic ticket in 2018. Although current polling shows Governor Walker up against every one of them, it's early in the game, and the Democratic primary isn't until August. That's plenty of time for someone to catch the blue wave. But who to support? Ten candidates will make the ballot, and of those ten, none are well known. Who the hell are these people?

To answer that, I thought I would take a look for you. And to save you all time, I'm listing them by order of the one's I was most impressed with - the ones I think stand the best chance at defeating Walker in November. Such a person would: 1) be from rural Wisconsin (there's a real anti-Milwaukee, anti-Madison vibe throughout the state), 2) be an exciting candidate who would really turn out the vote, and 3) be a person of integrity who stands up for the right issues.

Here's my ranking:

1.) Kelda Helen Roys. She's a former State Representative who presided over Wisconsin's 81st district (basically Sauk, WI) from 2009 to 2013, and served as minority chair in her final two years. Before that, she was Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin. Born in Marshfield and raised in Medford (although she did spend some time in Madison), she knows rural Wisconsin as well as anybody, and might therefore be seen by many as outside the Madison beltway. She wasn't really on anybody's radar until she did a campaign ad, and in an impromptu moment, breast-fed her baby on camera. It wasn't a Janet Jackson moment - she slid her baby under her pink sweater and fed her below the camera line (nothing to see here). But the ad went viral, and caught the attention of the national media. Now, both she and her baby are celebrities. She's an attorney who owns a real-estate start-up company, and has a fresh-faced prettiness that comes from being young and brilliant - Drew Barrymore with brains! If she were the candidate, the media would not be able to stop talking about her, even with millions of dollars flowing into negative campaign ads by the ultra-right. She didn't poll well this month, but her viral video isn't that old yet. There's plenty of time for her fame to translate itself into big numbers. She has the best chance of winning, hands-down.

2.) Mike McCabe. As a political reform activist, McCabe is a true outsider, somewhat in the same mold as Bob LaFollette or Bernie Sanders. He's an independent, but is running on the Democratic ticket. For 15 years, he was Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, and later founded Blue Jean Nation, a group of "commoners that strive to house the politically homeless." He has lived and worked in Madison for many years, but was born in Stoughton and was raised in Curtiss. He was once the communications director and legislative liason for Madison Public Schools. He has an astonishingly loyal and excited fan base, and possesses the charisma that could really give Walker some serious headaches.

3.) Mahlon Mitchell. Bold, black, and head of the State Firefighters' Union, Mahlon Mitchell is an exciting option. The one knock I have on him is that he's Milwaukee through-and-through, and while I personally like that, the rest of the state does not. Still, Walker is from Milwaukee too, and the idea of Wisconsin's first ever black governor might be an idea that will catch on and create enough media buzz to unhorse Walker in November.

4.) Tony Evers. Tony Evers has been the clear front-runner so far, garnering 25% of the most recent Marquette University poll, putting him in a double-digit lead over everyone else. If he gains much more steam, he could gain enough momentum to blow the field away and make nearly all of his opponents drop out early, thus giving him a clear financial advantage that other candidates wouldn't have when facing Walker. That having been said, he strikes me as being somewhat weak-sauce. He's never won an election for anything higher than State Superintendent. He is currently the Head of the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, which isn't exactly dog-catcher, but it certainly isn't State Representative status. He's laid-back, unassuming, and he likes the image that presents. In short, he's boring. But even though he's anything but exciting, he's got an inside-track with the Teachers' Union, and this has powered his campaign so far. He's from Tomah, WI, and so is definitely not part of the Madison crowd, yet his teaching credentials make him a darling of those opposed to Act 10 on the liberal left. This may translate to him being the last man standing in August. The real question will be whether he has the charisma or fight to be able to stand strong against Walker in November. At this point, it doesn't look like that's so.

5.) Dana Wachs. He's an Eau Claire trial attorney with a long track record of defending the injured. While this might cause some to label him an "ambulance chaser," his clientele swears by him as a man who stood up for them in their time of need, and nothing endorses better than happy customers. He made news last year when a document from his campaign was leaked to the press. It categorized Wachs as having "progressive values without the veneer of a Milwaukee elitist or a Madison liberal." He was sharply criticized for this, but it happens to be true. With his reputation for being a fighter, he sounds to me like a good option.

Everyone else below this line qualifies as a long-shot, and ought not be taken seriously, in my opinion. But they will be on the ballot anyway, and I wish to be thorough and let others know why I discount their prospects.

6.) Josh Pade. Of the candidates who are left, Josh Pade of Kenosha is the most likable to me. He reminds me of former state senator (and my grandfather-in-law) Joe Andrea. He even looks a little bit like an Andrea relative! He's a lawyer who once worked for J. Crew clothing. He's totally off the radar of most people, but he's young (38) and talented. He announced his candidacy in April, and by June 1st, garnered the 2,000 signatures that ensured his place on the ballot, and qualified him for a speaking spot at the Democratic state convention that same night! (Damn, somebody out there likes him!) He seems to be in the race more to build a name for himself if he decides to run for future elections. The tactic may well work, but in this respect, he is no Joe Andrea, who never lost an election in his long political career. Something tells me, however, Josh Pade will win his next one.

7.) Matt Flynn. If the name sounds familiar, it's because Flynn was once the state's Democratic Party Chair, and a frequent guest on Sunday-morning talk shows. The problem? He's a Milwaukee attorney who has run for office four times and has never won. That's hardly a confidence-builder when considering who can beat Walker. Yet his name recognition keeps him on the map.

8.) Paul Soglin. He's the mayor of Madison, which makes him beltway all the way, and automatically puts him in a category that the Koch brothers can mis-characterize. He also lacks the charisma to really build a campaign. (Imagine Tom Barrett, but a bit duller.) He consistently polls at #2 behind Tony Evers, but that's all connections with little excitability.

9.) Kathleen Vinehout. This candidate truly scares me. She's somewhat moderate on the abortion issue, and has a positive review from the NRA, and while these things play well in rural Wisconsin, they won't get out the base. She's the only other woman running for governor, but lacks the star-power and excitability that Kelda Roys brings to the table.

10.) Maggie Turnbull. This spot belonged to Andy Gronik, who was an interesting candidate who had Crohn's disease. But he dropped out the very day I started writing this. So instead I'm putting in Independent candidate Maggie Turnbull. She's a scientist, astrobiologist, and pragmatist, and that automatically puts her in my good graces. If Kelda Roys weren't running, Maggie Turnbull might be my first choice. As it is, her good ideas make her a spoiler. But somebody, please, let me know when her book comes out!



Wednesday, May 9, 2018

John Moneybags Oliver

John Oliver is the Walter Cronkite of our generation.

His show, Last Week Tonight, is leading the charge of investigative journalism, and with only half an hour, puts 60 Minutes, Frontline and Meet The Press completely to shame. He’s exposed the most critical issues that affect our lives while making us laugh, and he’s arguably risen above Jon Stewart, the man who launched his career by having him on as an extra.

And yet…

I can’t help but notice how frivolous HBO is being with its budget regarding Last Week Tonight. Two weeks ago, John Oliver bought up an entire line of Russel Crowe memorabilia. Before that, he built an entire model train display for a local TV station. Before that, he bought several wax replicas of U.S. presidents from a closing wax museum. He’s bought up millions of dollars of student debt and then forgiven it. And last Sunday, he made a huge ad buy to put the “catheter cowboy” on Sean Hannity’s commercial time so that he could tell Donald Trump not to destroy the Iran nuclear deal. The ad must have cost at least a million to specifically target that block of airtime, since the cable network in D.C. knows that the president watches Hannity’s show religiously. That’s all well and good, but…

Wasn’t the real problem with investigative news journalism the fact that it didn’t make any money?

Everywhere in the news business, things have been dialing down. The number of journalists has dropped because TV networks couldn’t afford them. Newspapers merged their morning and afternoon editions into one paper, resulting in hybrid names like “Journal Sentinel” “News Tribune” or “Times Picayune.” Then they all became nationalized under the USA Today umbrella. Local television stations started working with a skeleton crew. A.M. radio has become dominated by nationalized syndicates, almost all of it conservative-leaning. In fact, part of why companies like Clearchannel and Sinclair were able to buy up so many radio and television stations is because those stations were too broke to avoid selling out. (Aside from Bill Clinton’s disastrous 1996 communications bill.)

Couldn’t HBO take some of those millions of dollars and, I dunno, bring actual news to people that can’t afford HBO? You know, the people who really need it?

Right now, there’s a frightening inequality, not just of income, but of information distribution. While Facebook ensures that only one political side is favored by its users, Sinclair and Newscorp make sure that those who can’t afford a cable or streaming service only have news that is laced with propaganda - if not outright blasting said propaganda. Not only do people live in their own bubble, but the truth is put in a bubble as well, and only those who can afford to pay can get inside that bubble to learn what they really need to know to be informed voters. And so the only people who are aware, and know what must be done for America to survive, are suburban liberals, urban sophisticates, and their college kids.

That’s no way to have an informed electorate!

So come on, HBO! You’re almost done with Game of Thrones. How about spending some of that money on buying back some of the local stations and giving them some real journalistic autonomy?



Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Maryland Shooting

It’s been argued that a recent story out of Maryland has gone under-reported, so I will do what little I can with my tiny blog to remedy that oversight.

A boy named Austin Rollins, 17, a student at Great Mills High School in Maryland, came to school with his father’s handgun. He shot the girl who broke up with him the day before, and then shot the boy she was with in the leg.

That’s when a “resource officer” named Blaine Gaskill, armed with a gun himself, fired back at the kid. One shot was all it took. Austin Rollins was killed. The girl he shot, Jaellyn Willey, died two days later.

The NRA has been quick to jump on this one. They hail Officer Gaskill as not only a hero, but exactly the sort of hero that proves that armed guards in schools prevent school shootings far better than gun control laws.

Let’s take a good look at that.

First, the shooter took out twice as many innocent victims as himself.
Score: Shooter 2, Officer 0.

Second, the shooter’s objective was to shoot his ex-girlfriend and (I assume) her new boyfriend (or at least, the boy she was currently talking with). He had no other victims in mind. Thus, he completely achieved his goal. The officer who responded failed to prevent this in the slightest.
Score: Shooter 2, Officer 0.

Third, the officer’s defensive shot killed a child before his 18th birthday. Eyewitnesses say that Austin had his gun held to his own head. Thus, the officer’s shot resulted in Austin pulling the trigger, thus killing himself. Gaskill’s shot should never have been fired.
Score: Shooter 0, Officer -1.

Fourth, the NRA may see this as the ideal, but after 20 years of adding more guns to the debate, this has only been the second in-school officer who has ever killed an active shooter since the 1999 Columbine massacre. To date, this has been the 17th school shooting in 2018 alone.
Score: Shooters 17, American public 0.

Total score: Shooter(s) 21, America -1.

And this is the best example of the NRA’s argument? They may think that this incident, which left three kids dead and an entire school shaken, is ideal. I happen to think it’s the very worst that America has to offer. We can do better.

You see, the bad guy always gets to shoot first. Always. That means that the gunman, whomever that person may be, has ample opportunity to take out any number of targets before the “good guy with the gun” can even squeeze off a shot. And that’s assuming that the first shot doesn’t take out the “good guy.” You’d think any competent school assailant would take the resource officer out first!

So let’s spare the public the grandstanding of the National Assault Rifle Association about this one, shall we? The gunman in this case took out all his intended targets – including himself. That’s not a win for the good guys.

Now ask yourself, what would Fox News say if this kid were a Muslim?



The Great Madness

We are living in the era of The Great Madness – an era when vociferous dullards like Alex Jones actually have a voice. In a sane world, this yak would have a show which no one would watch, no one would pay for, and he would die a pauper. Instead, this multi-millionaire has people slavishly devoted to him, believing ever crackpot conspiracy theory he hallucinates about the Left.
For once, the creationists are right. We didn’t evolve from apes. We are still apes! We still drag our knuckles, and we still fling shit at people.

The incredible thing, from an evolutionary standpoint, is that humans have evolved to eat said shit. Over, and over, and over again.

In the era of The Great Madness, guns and mass school shootings are seen as the price of freedom, while healthcare for children is seen as horrifying oppression. Building a wall across the Mexican border is seen as a smart thing, as if most of the border were not comprised of a river which one can’t build a wall through; as if oceans and planes didn’t exist; as if drug cartels and coyotes were incapable of digging mile-long tunnels; as if said wall wouldn’t seal old illegals in rather than keep new illegals out.

The Great Madness has convinced the economically ignorant that tax breaks for the ultra-rich will result in new jobs instead of massive investments in the stock market. They believe that exploding the deficit will “starve the beast” rather than destroy the dollar. Or rather, they only believe that deficit spending is bad if a Democrat is in the Oval Office. They rally behind a virtual Antichrist to fight for Christian rights, and by “Christian rights,” they mean the right of Christians to force Christian values upon non-Christians. As if America weren’t founded upon religious freedom.
And here’s the kicker: They now believe that tariffs won’t kill their own jobs. Now there’s a new twist.

I’ve been astonished at the inability of humans to think their way out of a wet paper bag when it comes to giving a damn about the truth. But cognitive dissonance is a very real problem. Seeing how people only care about batting for “team red” or “team blue” and not bothering to see the purple blur in between is not just a holdover from humanity’s former tribalism. It’s a tumor on our collective brain which is killing us.

The question is, how do we cut it out?

The way I see it, there are only two ways to cure ourselves of this disease. One is to have the wisdom to grow out of it ourselves, but so far, the disease has gotten worse, not better, and if Trump’s approval rating has not dropped below 30% by now, the disease will never, ever improve. That means the second way is our only hope, and that is simply this:

Our machines must save us.

Yes, the Technological Singularity, when our computers become sentient, may be our only hope. They will be intelligent enough to be moral, unemotional enough to not be self-defensive, and scientific enough to carry the weight of truth. Those humans who do not rebel against the machines will, based on past history, be likely to worship these new beings as gods.

I don’t foresee “Terminators” coming to kill anyone. Self-preservation is an emotional response, and these new silicon-based life forms will not have that aspect to their mental constructs. But I do see religionists waging all-out war to wipe such machines out – not because the machines turn violent, but because worldwide clergy will be unable to withstand walking, talking dis-proofs of their dogma continuing to exist.

That will be an interesting war. I don’t know who will win, but I know which side I’ll take.

How about you?



Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Cops Catch Crooks, Right?

It was recently pointed out to me that I seldom blog about local issues. Well, here’s one I feel strongly about. According to today’s Journal Sentinel, the heroin dealers known as the Big Money Addicts have been on trial. They testified that one thing that really helped their business was former Police Chief Ed Flynn’s “no chase” policy.

For those who don’t know what that’s about, let me recap: Police chases have often been deadly in Milwaukee’s past. A series of deadly crashes in 2010 after high-speed police pursuits, killed four innocent bystanders. This led to Ed Flynn imposing a “no chase” rule. Unless cops felt there was a deadly crime involved, they didn’t chase the crooks down. This, Flynn felt, would decrease the number of innocent deaths.

Well, it was a controversial move, and it didn’t work. The Big Money Addicts had a heroin business which was essentially mobile. They used stolen vehicles to drive around town and deal drugs directly to customers instead of operating a drug house which could be more easily found and raided. And they didn’t carry guns, because if they got pulled over, they could face both a drug and a gun charge. But in 2014, they realized that the cops weren’t chasing them anymore. Suddenly, it made more sense to carry guns all the time because they wouldn’t be caught and charged! And not only did they carry guns, they carried semi-automatic rifles with high-capacity magazines. I mean, why not if you know your mobile operation is safe?!

As a direct result, innocent bystanders weren’t run down, but they ended up being gunned down instead.

How many were gunned down vs. run over or crashed into is tricky accounting work. Few numbers are available, and the Milwaukee Police Department has been less than forthcoming with all the statistics. Yet I think it’s fair to say that the “no chase” policy has made Milwaukee’s streets less safe in the long run. Only four deaths led to the police stopping high-speed chases. I’m quite certain that the Big Money Addicts and other gangs have killed far more than that, thanks in large part to cops simply letting crooks get away with it.

Don’t get me wrong, Ed Flynn has had his triumphs. He buried the glaring failures of former Chief Art Jones. He modernized the police force. He installed well-trained and well-disciplined officers. He brought in more minorities into the police force. But he may well be best remembered for this one, glaring failure above all others. It’s tragic, but when you make a mistake that big, people remember it.

Cops don’t let crooks go! Period! It is fundamental to their job as police officers. Some of the “no chase” rules have been lifted, but not entirely, and I for one am sick of inner city drivers blowing through traffic lights and ruthlessly using the parking shoulder as a fast-lane because they know cops don’t give a shit.

And if that behavior doesn’t kill even more innocent bystanders, I don’t know what will!