The humor in ancient wisdom and the folklore celebrated by hunters and gatherers who spent long-ago evenings and days together with family and friends found its source in paradox—that place in life and history where nothing works as it should. At least, as we think it should.
Lucille Ball was its comedic master, taking simple sketches and adding her timing, eye-rolls and physical twitches until she embodied the madness that engulfed her. It was no longer the situation that was ridiculously funny: it was her!
And nothing fixed it, either. Paradoxes, like stones in a river, can be traversed, but not solved. No engineering or spin, no rule or bill, no lie or fear will change their nature. That’s why the ancients often pointed to them as the center of not only village humor but as communal religious teaching. They require heroic courage and thinking, both inside and outside, to get past them and mark the passage.
But paradoxes have a dark side, on full exhibit in the conversations about sex and race.
Anthony Weiner offers a paradox—more pathetic than funny or religious—until you realize that his situation is not an “either/or” of guilt and penitence of personality and politics, of bad judgment and stubbornness, but is a sequel, with parts one and two. His two-step process jointly connects to the biggest voyeuristic thrill in the history of American politics. Therein is his paradox; he is using politics to further the thrill!
What’s bigger and more dangerous to personal standing and the sanctity of the inner self than sending high-definition pictures of personal sex organs to unmet strangers over the internet?
Doubling down and knowingly running for one of the nation’s highest municipal offices, the high-profile mayor of a city that is a global beacon, and announcing at the announcement that more scandal is to come, then reveling in it when it does, dragging his family along, and refusing to step down, in order to draw the maximum public attention possible to what began as a private, prurient act and turning it into a daily outing, seen in the eyes of the hundreds he encounters without shame of his being a bad boy.
So with Weiner, rethink the prevailing view: switch the roles of the election and the exposure and see them as connected, evolving stages. The campaign’s main purpose is for flaunting his flaunting. Remember the announcement of his candidacy also included the announcement of “more incidents” to come. Note there is no platform, team, volunteers.
Now focus on the campaign as the second stage as a two-part event; the first being the private, digital exposure; the second being the public, personal exposure—the largest of its kind in history, within a public crucible that heightens the exposure, contact and exuberant feeling—even as the polls drop.
His running for mayor is a part of the earlier event, a vehicle for widening the data and getting the feedback so craved; a continuum of the risk-taking exposure morphed and zoomed to the biggest possible public stage—the ultimate danger, the non-repeatable, once-in-a-lifetime thrill, driven not by plan but impulse that laid out the order for it to fall into place.
It’s not for politics that he will not let go. It’s for the same reason he sent the pictures; for him it’s the same thrill/danger/defiant compulsion, larger, grander, a public naughty.
Notice it doesn’t bother him in the least.
Built on denial and blame, the GOP relies by intention and instinct on paradox. Theirs is a cultural strategy that relies on built-in paradoxes leveraged by misdirection, framed around denial, resolved by cognitive dissonance and the plausibility of blame.
Slavery is among the biggest of America’s historic paradoxes and is used to leverage racism and disenfranchisement today.
I see a neat match between our current place and the landed gentry who decided selling human beings from auction blocks was a capital idea—after trading with corrupt leaders for their capture, and disposing of those who died en route by dumping the bodies into the sea as great whites tore the flesh off the falling bones. Nothing defined America’s political parties, inside and outside, the rich and poor, and the common collective consciousness, its “governance,” like weekly arriving barks and schooners of Africans. Law, will and make-believe turned them into a half-million enslaved. Continue reading More Race and Sex
Oklahoma is the 20th largest US state by population. Its 77 counties rank 17th in states by number of counties. Oklahoma is also the only state where President Barack Obama failed to carry a single county—in both elections. Cimarron County give him only 9.6% of its 2012 vote; Cherokee’s 6,137 votes gave him his best 2012 state showing with 43%.
Statewide, Obama received only 33.6% of Oklahoma’s 2012 Presidential vote. He won a few urban precincts in Oklahoma City, Lawton, Norman and Tulsa, and in the state’s east. But twice in Oklahoma, the President met dismal defeat. No state was more red and more solid in its votes against him. And he did worse the second time.
You would not know this from the reception the President received during his recent visit to Moore, a town leveled by the worst tornadoes in years. No grandstanding or finger-pointing, no back-turning or ugly signs of protests met his inspection tour of a red state now needing federal assistance. He was received with genuine voices of goodwill and relief.
It was same when the President visited Cushing, OK in March 2012, where a local boom in oil storage led to opening a new, 65-room Best Western. Cushing’s size? About 8,000, including the correctional institution that is counted in the town’s numbers. Protesters were gearing up, but many locals felt it rude to not to extend the President gracious hospitality.
Cushing wanted the XL Pipeline built; it passes right through town. Obama promised to fast track its southern end. It should be finished by the year’s end. But will it be connected to its northern half?
Many find Obama’s decision-making weak, but I think it alternates between courageous, risky and indifferent. For a host of reasons, including the type of slurry it carries and Houston’s refining capacity, the pipeline makes no sense in US energy policy or as a job development project.
It only makes sense if you are Ottawa, Canada, and because of opposition and jurisdiction issues, cannot build a pipeline to Canada’s Pacific coast and need a global outlet and port.
The President has a decidedly laissez-faire approach to business, whether in the oil fields or on Wall Street—or in pushing for a faster recovery with greater job growth. In the right combination, courage, risk and the benign can work successfully to stifle political opposition and overcome structural obstacles, but will seldom accelerate progress. But we are in a rare era, where these values can hasten our economic success. The President faces an opening that matches his skill set.
In economics, progress is tied not to profit but to opportunity and productivity. In the US, both measures are stagnant or falling. Industrial production is recovering from a deep hole and has not yet returned to pre-recession levels.
The aggregate hours for workers engaged in production follow exactly the same trend.
The chart of workers not in the labor force but actively looking follows a pattern that is the inverse of how we think about charts. Its upward trend means the numbers of displaced workers who want work are high and appear to be entering and leaving the work force with high volatility, finding work only in brief squirts after the recovery’s initial bounce. Continue reading For Obama: One Great Final Step
Step away from the shards of glass that litter politics as Republicans have tried to shatter the President’s image. Step over the desolate landscape of unemployment that could end tomorrow with bipartisan effort in Congress. Step up and send the message: end the blame. Fix the country. Jobs now! Housing now! Healthcare now! Let all America stand before the bar of justice. Let’s take the corporate cases first.
The facts: Yahoo bought Tumblr. It paid $1.1 billion. In cash.
Background: Yahoo was supposed to be an internet company on the ropes; its current CEO, the Stanford-educated daughter of a Wisconsin engineer and an art teacher, 37-year-old former Google vice president (employee 20) Marissa Meyer is the company’s fifth CEO in five years! One hedge fund recently dumped 4.7 million shares, zeroing out its investment. But Yahoo’s current market capitalization is $27.78 billion dollars, on a profit-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of under 8, a positive sign for investors: it makes a dollar profit for every eight dollars it brings in.
And just last week, Yahoo won a huge victory in a Mexican court. A judgment against the company for $2.75 billion was overturned—and reduced to $172,500! (Appeals are pending!)
So what does Yahoo get for its $1.1 billion (in cash!)? A company founded in 2007. Six years ago. The website Tech Crunch Base describes the company:
“Tumblr is a re-envisioning of tumblelogging, a subset of blogging that uses quick, mixed-media posts. . . its extreme simplicity will make luring users a far easier task than acquiring users for traditional weblogging. Anytime a user sees something interesting, they can click a quick “Share on Tumblr” bookmarklet that tumbles the snippet. The result is a string of media links and text to pictures and videos that takes very little time and effort . . . There is little to no learning curve involved in using Tumblr. . . Users simply sign up and begin posting in a minute.”
For the record, I tried Tumblr. I did not understand it. I didn’t return. But 300 million discrete/discreet users see Tumblr pages monthly. I say that not only to define individual users but also to signal that Tumblr permits adult content; 11 percent of its user content accounts are labeled “not safe for work” (NSFW), its warning and search firewall for its adult content, which currently drives Tumblr’s highest traffic.
But Marissa Mayer says, “I think the richness and breadth of content available on Tumblr—even though it may not be as brand-safe as what’s on our site—is what’s really exciting.”
How many accounts does Tumblr have? A tech specialist at the site All Things D estimates “the total number of monthly users who will see a Tumblr dashboard is at least a third of the company’s 110 million registered user base, and maybe quite a bit higher: My guess is 30 million to 50 million.”
What is Tumblr’s current revenue? In 2012, $13 million dollars. Yahoo paid $846.15 for each dollar of revenue. Tumblr has not shown a profit. (I have a $20 ebook. At Yahoo’s rate, they would pay me $1692.30 for the right to publish each future copy; not an exact analogy, but the ratio of revenue-to-purchase is true.)
So $1.1 billion will get you $13 million in revenues, lots of dirty pictures and personal musings, hardware, intellectual property, and a promise by the new CEO that she “won’t screw this up!”
Oh. How many employees? 18. A billion-dollar company has 18 employees. Including its Alfred E. Neumann-looking CEO (I’m not kidding!), hood-wearing (stay away from South Florida, dude) 26-year-old CEO who quit high school at 14, at his mother’s suggestion, to be homeschooled.
Some Tumblr users feel betrayed and are angry. One has a petition circulating.
Seriously? You think a petition is going to overturn the sale and stop the founder and the backing venture capitalists from walking away with a cool, no-strings billion dollars in cash, to assuage your emotional boo-boo about the change in ownership of the digital platform that hosts your free account? This is your blow of outrage against the robber barons who provide you and your boys a free site for your porn? You don’t even plan a march in front of Yahoo headquarters? No pies? Not even a Twitter bomb? Keep it up, and David Karp’s mother will visit you and take away your brownies!
Seriously, several issues deserve outrage—and caution. A good staring point is a female CEO buying a site that probably demeans women and treats them as sex objects (An artful rear view photo of Hungarian actress/model Eve Angel kneeling on a chair is entitled “Super-size me”). Mayer seems more concerned about content search safety than the social impact of the attitudes that are enabled by the sites.
Several Tumblr accounts exhibit rape “fantasies” (it shows up in a Tumblr site search), a real non-sequitur, since rape is one of the most physical and psychologically violent crimes imaginable. What does it say that Tumblr users, at least some of them, see rape as a leisure time activity, a publicly hosted, private shared feature of a digital social life?
Will Tumblr advertising take on the character of the back pages of the Village Voice?
Yes, adult digital content is disease-free and can be non-exploitative (at least a case can be made), but in the current atmosphere of misogyny, adult content almost seems the softer side of what the web and real life engage as words and deeds. Remember the Onion’s twitter label for a 9-year-old actress during the Academy Awards? The recent US military report citing 26,000 incidents of sexual assaults last year? The nexus between guns in the home and domestic violence deaths? Or the guy in South Carolina who raped two women while wearing an ankle monitor? Where does Tumblr fit in? Continue reading Jobs Are Losing the Race
In the televised debate Monday night for South Carolina’s US House seat in District 1, Mark Sanford compared himself to Bill Clinton. Huh? Yep. The House’s most conservative Republican former member found common ground with the former Democratic president. You already know it was not an act of statesmanship. Clinton and Sanford were fallen, pushed by demons and desires into sin. Clinton looked to God for redemption. Mark Sanford turned to Bill Clinton.
Since Sanford brought it up, their sins and failings warrant a comparison, especially when a Republican in a Republican district evokes Bill Clinton as his politician savior. Is this a new thesis of mercy or an invitation to temptation? Their crimes do share elements both wide and narrow.
Narrow, as both had hot scandals. Both lied and were caught, both were in the public eye. Both had affairs. After that, the connection breaks down.
Clinton remains married. His wife is our former Secretary of State. Sanford chose divorce. He is engaged (but not yet married!) to the Argentinian woman with whom he had the affair. Clinton never ran again for public office. Sanford, who fervently supported and then broke self-imposed term limits, wants another chance. Clinton was not fined for the private use of government property. He avoided successful impeachment as the first President for whom the bill of high crime (and misdemeanors!) involved oral sex (it really is sex!). His high crime was lying about his risk-taking; his DNA was saved on a dress!
Sanford instead poetically proclaimed his love at a press conference when he returned from a week’s absence on Father’s Day weekend and asked his wife for an open marriage. He repeatedly confuses and commingles his private and public selves. Voting no on every spending bill and twice on the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), he slickly slashed through his own fiscal barriers to fund his impulses and lasciviousness. He flew on his public credit card, in state planes.
His hand in the public till, he jetted off on taxpayers’ money. Eventually, he paid it back. But strange behavior for a man who spent his time in Congress sleeping on a couch and once gave his wife a $25 used bicycle as a combined Christmas and birthday gift! The man who slept on an office cot and voted against every budget took a state plane to get a haircut!
A wide comparison creates more stark differences between Clinton and Sanford. Clinton created 21 million jobs in eight years in office; in four years, South Carolina, with Sanford as its executive, lost 98,000 jobs, with a Republican in the White House. His current priority? In a state in the bottom five of employment, cutting the federal budget.
His claim of attracting Boeing is debunked by a well verified story that state leaders convinced Boeing that legislative support was more important than the governor’s endorsement when they were spooked and on the verge of pulling out because of Sanford’s weird behavior.
Since Sanford initiated a comparison with a Democrat in order to claim the privilege of forgiveness and equal treatment, principles he voted against and failed to fund, another comparison might be effective with a scandal-driven Democratic politician, one who sought and successfully achieved a return to public office—Washington, DC’s former mayor, Marion Barry.
First, I have met Marion Barry and Mark Sanford, and lived in cities and districts where they were elected to govern and procure progress. I have looked closely at the policies of both men and seen them on the campaign stump. Through their period of travails, I have witnessed their efforts at political comebacks. I have seen them put themselves before voters to judge not only policies and promises, but their penalties and crimes.
Marion went to jail. Mark paid $74,000 in fines. Both lost wives. But both are confident, handsome and resilient. Both are polarizing figures, with detractors and supporters. But Mark Sanford is no Marion Barry. He’s worse!
Here’s why: Politics comes down to service, money, and rights.
Mark Sanford, in his service as governor, once walked into the South Carolina State House, carrying a pig under each arm; he named them Pork and Barrel. Termed “an ill thought-out display,” deemed by the Republican Speaker “beneath the dignity of the Governor’s office,” the legislature, controlled by his own party, then promptly overturned, with bipartisan support, 100 of the 106 items he vetoed in the budget. He got his way with six.
This describes Sanford’s duty of service: sleep in his office, sleep with his fiance, proudly turn down stimulus money. And he also touts charter school reforms, including a statewide district, a reorganization of the Department of Motor Vehicles, cutting wait times, restructuring the state’s Department of Transportation, and tort reform. Jobs, wages and health, environmental protection, higher education don’t appear anywhere in his Sanford Seven.
In Congress, he wanted to reform Social Security, a program with a $2.7 trillion surplus (it added $69 billion this year!) and the lowest overhead and administrative costs of any private or public program for income security. He called it “putting tax payers first.” Really?
So he’s known for a little theater, a big temptation to tinker with public money, shorter waits for driver’s licenses, and running around the district this election with new props: cut-outs of Nancy Pelosi and waving hundred dollar bills, claiming this election is being bought—after the Republican National Committee withdrew his funding when it emerged that after repeated warnings, he was charged with trespassing at his ex-wife’s house!
“I had to make the call,” he says in his second explanation of the incident. It was Super Bowl Sunday and his wife wasn’t back yet to receive their 14-year-old son. Enter Mark.
I’m divorced. My daughter always had a key to her mother’s house. But my ex-wife never found me inside. The way you handle custody exchanges is not to enter each other’s dwellings. If the exchange or pickup is missed, you leave a message. It’s simple. “I have the child. You weren’t home yet. Contact me on what you want to do.” You reset. You don’t “make the call” to enter with ease. And then try for the moral high ground in a political ad, under the cover of great parenting skills. (Remember when Sanford was missing on Father’s Day? A time zone away? Out of touch?)
What could have been handled with a phone call or text message (Sanford lived 20 minutes away!) instead led to a full-page campaign ad to spin a clear error in judgment that millions of divorced parents make daily about custody. It also blames the media. It’s arithmetic; his errors multiply.
But what sets Mark Sanford aside from Marion Barry is his unabashed opposition to the dredging of Charleston’s harbor. Charleston ranks three or four in the nation’s busiest harbors, higher than New Orleans, Galveston, Mobile and West Coast ports. Moreover, it has an efficient connecting infrastructure of roads, warehouses and personnel skilled at trade, whose long arms affect the nation. $13 trillion worth of goods are imported through Charleston; $12 trillion are exported. The jobs, income, and multipliers are enormous. Continue reading Mark Sanford Is No Marion Barry. He’s Worse!
Barack Obama, at his inauguration, spoke memorable words: “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.” He called for the unity of the country, especially its national legislators in the House and Senate.
House Budget Chair, Paul Ryan, who ran for Vice President against the winning Democratic ticket, later said these words in a television interview:
All of the statements and all of the comments lead me to believe that he’s [Obama is]thinking more of a political conquest than a political compromise…”
We must choose our battles carefully, and stay united in them to succeed. We can’t get rattled. We won’t play the villain in his [Obama's] morality plays. We have to show that — if given the chance — we can govern. We have better ideas.
No doubt, among those better ideas is Speaker of the House John Boehner’s main priority — a national priority of the “will of the people,” he says — to “help make abortion a relic of the past… Let that be one of our most fundamental goals this year.”
Neither the House Budget Chair or the Speaker of the House mentioned jobs or made jobs a top priority. Ryan seemed to forget about all those millions out of work that he mentioned at every stop during the campaign. For him, did they just go way, having served their usefulness?
The President did not mention jobs directly in his speech, but he expressed three fundamental national principles, endorsed by polls that show his focus on jobs to be “the will of the people.” The first: Continue reading A Dialogue of Givers and Takers
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama in the Blue Room of the White House, July 4, 2010, before delivering remarks to military families during a Fourth of July celebration. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)
Jobs, Growth, and Recovery
Is President Obama accountable for the slow economic recovery? Did the size of the crisis–the biggest since Hoover–have something to do with the US’ weak fundamentals? Or the ongoing saga of Europe, at the brink of collapse every week? Canoes don’t paddle well on dry beds. An American president of any party finds it hard to “fix” a national economy when every idea is labeled and rejected as partisan, even when confronted with empirical proof, theoretical verification, and country examples.
US Job Growth (non-farm), July 2011 - 2012, under President Obama
Globally, the US leads all economies in the recovery!
Accusing someone doesn’t make them guilty. First, choices, players, conditions, opposing forces, and standards must be assessed. The initial stimulus sent money to the states to provide for the increased demand for basic services, health, unemployment, education, public safety during a time when revenue fell dramatically. The money helped cushion the sudden shock of people who lose jobs in the tailspin. This aid to states was essential. Even those guilty of criticizing it requested and received the money for a variety of projects and programs.
Should the success of the stimulus be measured solely by job creation? That ignores that fully one-third of the stimulus was a payroll tax cut to put more money in the hands of families. It also helped families who couldn’t find jobs.
The recession was international. Where does the US rank globally, among all nations? Globally, the US leads all economies in the recovery!
The US has a higher per-capita GDP than Germany, Europe’s leading economy. China, the world’s second largest economy, had a strong 2011, but now, its year-over-year GDP is falling and its growth rate is slowing.
US GDP growth in constant dollars has trended consistently upward since the recession’s end. In contrast, our most prosperous neighbor in the hemisphere, Brazil, whose economy is now larger (6th in the world!) than Britain and Canada’s, saw its GDP (in constant dollars) drop significantly last year.
In 2011, US corporate profit hit record highs. The aggregate? $824 billion. Profit margins (profit after expenses and taxes) also accelerated to an all-time high. In fact, profits recovered quicker and grew faster after the recession than anytime in US history. Conversely, wages are down. Obama has promised to address the inequity of the middle class’ income and wealth. Wages are revenues for other companies, and as long as wages are low, the recovery will be inhibited, creating a negative feedback cycle of job losses, low wages, and low demand.
Germany’s unemployment is lower than the US, at 6.5% having fallen since February from 7.5%. Brazil, Canada (7.5%) and England match the US rate at 8% (for Brazil, a metropolitan-based rate). Mexico’s unemployment? 5.5 percent, the hemisphere’s best, is severely undercounted. Our economy is still almost a third larger than China’s and 15% larger than Eurozone’s.
Finally, US interest and inflation rates are at all-time lows. Inflation-indexed 10-year treasuries have negative returns! (You pay the government to park your money!) Currently, fixed-yield securities (constant maturities for 10 years) return 1.63 percent.
It’s hard for a single country, even one the size of the US, tied to so many markets, to outpace the world! Sometimes, for reasons or events beyond political control, times are hard. As the US de-leverages from the housing bubble and banking crisis, demand will not return until private debt levels (not public!) provide an impetus to spend.
US Job Growth (non-farm), July 2007 - 2008, under President Bush
Looking at the global details, the benchmarks, GDP comparisons, the rates of growth worldwide by verified standards and measures, the US is still the number one economy in the world and leads the global recovery.
Slowly, the US is shaking off the effects of a deep crisis without falling back into a double dip, as England did. Add record corporate profits and lower taxes to the US’ leadership record, and Barack Obama has done an outstanding job resetting the economy in a world still stalled, trying to recover its punch.
President Barack Obama hugs Stephanie Davies, who helped keep her friend, Allie Young, left, alive after she was shot during the movie theater shootings in Aurora, Colorado. University of Colorado Hospital, July 22, 2012. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)
Health Care and the Savings Debate
The President’s plan expands and protects services for seniors and the uninsured
Rising costs? Cuts in Medicaid services? Taking away seniors paid-in benefits to pay for expanding Obamacare? Under the President’s plan, seniors keep their full range of services while coverage is expanded.
In his speech Mitt Romney said no:
His [Obama's] $716 billion cut to Medicare to finance Obamacare will both hurt today’s seniors, and depress innovation – and jobs – in medicine.
Here’s an insight from a New York Times reader in San Francisco that explains why Medicaid clients will keep their coverage and tells how the savings work.
I’m a little worried that the worst lie is not being pointed out completely. It is not that Ryan, hypocritically calls for the same cuts in Medicare reimbursements to hospitals as Obama; but rather Obama doesn’t really cut the total reimbursement to hospitals at all–while Ryan would.
Everyone keeps missing the Medicare point. Reimbursements to hospitals are overpaid because hospitals carry the extra expense of providing care to the uninsured for which they aren’t reimbursed. The Obama plan essentially insures that hospitals continue to get the same amount of total reimbursement–less from medicare but more from the previously uninsured because they will be required to have insurance under Obamacare (shouldn’t be ashamed to call it that).
The Ryan plan is an actual cut–because they are not going to require the uninsured to get insurance. HUGE difference that seems to be ignored in the sea of Ryan prevarication.
The President’s plan expands and protects services for seniors and the uninsured.
Soon doctors will get out of practicing medicine? With the provisions in the ACA to cap and deter frivolous lawsuits, malpractice costs should drop. But adjustments can be made–as Bush did with Part D, and with the Advantage program.
The Democrats have a plan! Their plan for cost savings is included in the PPACA (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare) and is already showing great results. Its major thrust targeted fraud. Last fiscal year, the Attorney General announced a record total annual recovery: $4.1 billion in fraud. In February, he brought the single biggest case against fraud, taking down an extended network that bilked $375 million in illegal payments by, in some cases, going door to door to sign up recipients for false claims. No small change! Continue reading Opportunity! Health Care, Jobs, and Race