An Epidemic of Untreatable Illogic

One of my favorite diseases—and I say favorite because it has a great moral associated with its diagnosis—is an old, discredited but useful look at how the views of power filtered down to popular medicine, a disease named drapetomonia. Ever hear of it? It was one of the first illnesses to have a very clear ethnic identity—it only affected blacks. It was also one of the first specific mental health diagnoses. Declared an epidemic among its target population, shortly after being discovered by a Georgian physician in 1851, its treatment protocols involved harsh whippings and restraints in chains.

Today, it is one of the few discredited diseases reemerging as one of the false equivalencies that increasingly characterize American views of politics–and global warming, evolution, education, economic growth, race, and religion. I see a new strain of the disease emerging, and clearly we have no cure, or even treatment or care for it.

My old favorite, drapetomonia, was a response to a social condition, slavery, and was diagnosed as the condition that made slaves run away. Flee toward freedom. Hide in the woods, outside of civil authority, living in a place of fear. The new equivalency has jumped the old ethnic bounds. But it sees itself as flying toward freedom. Leaving behind civil authority—and also living in a place of fear. The new strain is tied to the older drapetomonia by its implied inability to accept reality, but it is characterized by far greater frequencies of delusions. The old and the new, the up and the down have been with us since the beginning. As the poet W. H. Auden said, “the situation of our time surrounds us like a baffling crime.” But this new strain forgets why the old strain was discredited, lost its potency and went bust: it described a wrong reality; it was a projection of its own delusions.

So, too, today, in the new, unnamed strain is the double circle of logic whose answers assume the truth of its assertions. My favorite example this week was a radio interview with Virginia’s Attorney General, whose radio host pointed out that the President did not win the red states where a photo ID law was in place or early voting was drastically restricted, and the wins and loses of those states alone were sufficient to point to clear evidence of a pattern of widespread Democratic fraud being rampant throughout the country. Well, Barack Obama didn’t win those same red states last time either, in 2008, before restrictions of early voting or photo ID laws were enacted. And he won all of the states he won before, without a single reputable complaint of fraud, except in the mouths of talk show hosts and elected officials whose delusions are a double circle. Continue reading An Epidemic of Untreatable Illogic

Style Points For Lies

It was a stunning performance! No candidate ever boldly told so many cheery, rapid-fire lies in 90 minutes, pushing aggressively to bullet point the base. Romney offered not policies but pledges.

His first pledge stunned America, caught off guard by the bold detail expressed when Romney overlooked Obamacare and leaped forward to announce the first detailed cut included in his budget and tax plan. Kept tightly secret; no leaks, no rumors or predictions; no one was suspicious that something big was about to break.

The self-styled jobs creator’s first announced act, in line with his budget criteria, was to cut Big Bird. Old habits die hard. Always the venture (many say vulture) capitalist, Romney knows how to target and dismantle valuable enterprises to extract value and create outsized capital returns that others miss. He casts a hard eye. With government funds, cuts can reduce the deficit, be used as subsidies, consultant fees, put into private contracts, be given away as tax breaks, or lower debt.

The problem is Big Bird’s annual federal share is less than 1/10th what the Justice Department prosecuted in 2012 federal health care fraud cases against private and corporate doctors and service providers who stole $4 billion in taxpayers’ money. United Technology was fined $75 million early this year for violating US trade laws in selling highly classified, prohibited military materials to China that, if trafficked outside of the company, would have amounted to espionage of state secrets; its fine was 1/6th of Big Bird’s and his whole crew’s annual budget. Big Bird is small potatoes when it comes to federal funding.

As the shock died and recovery began, Romney later emphatically stated his goal to strengthen education. That bullet point offered evidence of the Romney fissure, the old disconnect of his warring, divided vision, the way he separates rather than combines things. He can point out valued pieces, but he can’t put them in combination. Synergy is less his strength than demolition; salvaging, extracting value.

He had just pledged to use the power of government to cut the best the government had to offer in early educationa program in the most crucial timean innovation so original it stimulated learning, reduced childcare costs for working families, taught life lessons, and moved an eight-year-old after the debate to write a powerful letter pointing out what should have been obvious even by Romney’s blind criteria.

According to Romney, the costumed character and legendary early childhood educatorone of the nation’s best and most cost-effective, the wildly successfully Big Birdis bad, wasteful, off-target government; Romney implies only private education, offered as public subsidy, is able and effectiveand can be strengthened with your taxes. To Romney, their overwhelming broadcast success confirms Big Bird and Sesame Street belong in the private sector; he ignores the suitability and match of the content and purpose of their goals to public and non-profit markets, and the unique protection these markets offer to Sesame Street’s creative ways and means.

Big Bird is a big entrepreneur, but he took a different path than Romney’s. In 40 years, Big Bird has grown. Along the way, he created jobs. Sesame Street, his home place, is exported for broadcast to 140 countries, adapted to each country’s culture; Nigeria, for example, offers Zobi the Cookie Monster. Early countries included New Zealand, Norway, Germany; it was the top children’s program in Kuwait for 15 straight years. Big Bird’s home territory created hundreds of different products, generates income, excise, and sales taxes, meets a high wage payroll, supports ancillary jobs in a wide variety of industries.It has no offices outside of America. It is a universal early foundation of later workforce training.

By exporting broadcast and other products, Sesame Street helps lowers the US trade imbalance. It now offers leading edge, new media products and a full catalogue of traditional fare: games, toys, clothes, and a publishing division that publishes books and magazines, along with DVDs and other media. Approximately 60% of its annual revenues are license-generated.

But one of its broadcast licensing demands directly contradicts the demands of the private market: all of its broadcast materials must be commercial-free. This reinforces the strong social impact of its mission in countries like Israel and South Africa. China wants inwith Big Bird. Frankly, Sesame Street brings a lot to the table for the government. I would be trying to embrace the program the world loves; it’s peanuts in the national PR budget, its good will is inviolate, and I wouldn’t want word to get out around the world that my first act was to put Big Bird on the chopping block, killing the $1.25 a year per capita the program indirectly receives from station fees.

Its low debt and strong annual cash flow makes Sesame Street the perfect takeover target were it not protected as a non-profit.

But most importantly, Sesame Street sets the global standard for media-crafted early childhood education in every region and language. It has won 143 Emmy and 8 Grammy awards. Although the show continually innovates in its markets, it is a lower-cost producer than the private sector.

It began by capitalizing on a vision outside of its highly successful, positive balance sheet, a big idea best suited and pursued in the non-profit marketplace. With large grants from the Carnegie Foundation, and later the Ford Foundation, Sesame Street also established an endowment rather than leveraging its assets through borrowing, a high risk, capital reward and extraction strategy Romney repeatedly employed at Bain. It wisely did not put itself in danger by borrowing against assetsas did Lehman Brothers, JPMorganChase, and others that racked billions in losses and required government bailouts.

In large part, the show’s 40-year stability is because it is outside of the capital markets and does not serve its masters. But Romney doesn’t understand markets focused on value, not profits. He wants to eliminate those markets. He’s okay if the government transfers money through services or contracts, but values mean, for him, picking “winners and losers.” He picks against values. That why Romney wants to punish the Bird’s neighborhood (it can’t be sold or outsourced!) and make it an example of waste rather than an example of huge value and global good will, an amazing American brand reaped from a minor investment of government aid, at a current per capita cost of less than a $1.25 a year.

But Romney sees success as the province of only the private sector balance sheet, claiming in another bullet point that the private sector always lowers costs, increases innovation, and grows jobs, telling Barack he didn’t know of any examples that differedignoring the contradictory example he cited in his opening detail of items to cut. Romney, unlike Warren Buffet, was never a buy-and-hold investor. He’s only put nominal money into his own candidacy this time; he’s inclined toward leveraging and short sales, turnovers.

The program is slated for Romney’s ax or red pen, he says, because it does not meet his “one” criterion: being worth the sale of US debt to China at an average rate of 2.1 %. China’s US debt share is 13%, less than the combined 17% shares of Great Britain and Japan, the second and third largest international purchasers of US debt. Number one are the American people and domestic institutions. Apparently selling debt to China to fund battleships and rejected weaponry for the Pentagon to defend against an unforeseen military threat from China is okay. But Big Bird, used to teach China’s children, doesn’t meet that threshold. Continue reading Style Points For Lies

Digging Deeper: Romney on Foreign Policy: All Fault, No Forward

A partisan critique of the President’s foreign policy is not a foreign policy plan. Mitt Romney is conducting his review, and his VFW convention stump speech on foreign policy sounded remarkably similar to his stump speech about America’s standing. All fault, no forward. All will, no way. All blame, no shame. His grand strategy sounds like a call for global domination. We know he doesn’t practice what he preaches! He is the first major party candidate to express his faith in America by moving his money out of the country. The real question is: what does he preach?

What uses of soft power does Romney propose? Where does he stand on the UN call for nations to give 0.07% of GDP to foreign aid? What is his approach to the military and political conflicts that have destabilized and disrupted important African states? Does he see the connections between political stability and gender equality recently outlined in Foreign Policy? What are his views on international agreements on fishing stocks? How will he limit the theft of intellectual property?

Does he see AIDS treatment as an arm of American policy? Will he switch to local purchases of food aid, a model that reduces workers’ risk, stimulates local markets, and broadens the aid’s impact? Will he strengthen ties with Brazil, already a major partner of China? Will he aid in developing Brazil’s enormous oil find or expand its steel industry, redirecting energy and infrastructure trade to a hemispherical partner? Does he support greater access to education and greater economic opportunity for the world’s women?

Could Romney rally the world against Iran as the President has done? Will he continue drone strikes? Does he support rendition?

Romney’s policy seems to be to search for enemies, spend billions more on building outmoded traditional defenses like battleships and carriers, and restore imperialism. For him, global social reform means suppressing the rights of laborers and workers and controlling the results of democratic actions by organizing efforts to undermine self-determination. Continue reading Digging Deeper: Romney on Foreign Policy: All Fault, No Forward