31 October 2020

Big Percentage Fall and Rise of GDP - Pandenomic Extremes Explained

Thursday, third quarter GDP numbers came out. They sounded really good. They even set a record for gain in a single quarter. 

Let me put it in perspective.

Imagine that your GDP is 100. It drops 50%. You're now at 50. Now, imagine that your GDP goes up 50%. You're now at 75. Back to back fall and rise of 50% will actually leave you down 25%. It's not a trick. It's not a conspiracy. It's not a debate. That's just how percentages work.

Last quarter, the economy contracted 31% (at an annualized rate), a new record. Thursday it grew 33.1%. The net effect? GDP is down about 3% from a year ago - 5% from its trend. 

Jobs and Stock Market Numbers During Carter, Reagan, Bush1, Clinton, Bush2, Obama and Trump Presidencies

 Two sets of facts for our last 7 presidents. (It's worth remembering that the economy didn't do well enough during Carter or Bush1's first terms for them to win re-election.)

Why Women Don't Vote For Trump (And Why Men Do)

If only women voted, Trump would lose by about 19 points.

My theory?

Men imagine getting away with everything he gets away with. Women imagine him as their child or mate and having to deal with the fallout of all that he gets away with.

America Has Been Carried Forward by Innovation of Immigrants

Between 2000 and 2010, the US hugely benefitted from the innovation of immigrants.

But I've seen interviews of folks at Trump rallies. Those people seem very tech savvy. I'm sure that once these anti-immigrant nationalists are free from the pressures of free trade and can focus again on their technology inventions they will more than compensate for Trump's dramatic reduction in student visas and immigration rates.

The Case for a Biden Landslide

It is true that Trump has a 10% chance of winning this election but it's also true that Biden has a 30% chance of winning in a landslide. The first possibility has been endlessly explored. The latter? Not so much. Here's why I think it's such a distinct possibility.

1. Trump is the first president to never break 50% approval levels. The majority of Americans have never liked him. It is hard to imagine that a man who has never risen above 44% approval in the last three years is going to shoot up to 49% in the next three days.

2. Yesterday - Friday - the country broke the record for new COVID cases, a record set Thursday that broke the record set Wednesday. Throughout this, Trump has held rallies where he's mocked people who wear masks or take COVID seriously. A recent study concluded that the rallies he's held through 24 Sep have killed 700 people. There are people who think you shouldn't have the option of terminating your pregnancy but do think that your grandma's life should be sacrificed to the right to not wear masks but those people are not a majority. 59% of Americans think the spread of coronavirus is out of control.

3. And speaking of records, the country will set a new record for the number of voters. Might even break the old record by 20 million. A high percentage of old people always vote. This year young people - whose support for Trump runs at about 29% - are voting in large numbers. (What else are they going to do? Go to a rave? The clubs are closed.) Could it be that an economic crisis, protests and a pandemic that kills 800 Americans a day has rallied the country to come show their support for the president? Well, in theory, sure. In reality? I know I have a clear bias but I find it much easier to believe that folks are coming out in record numbers because they've tired of Trump's divisive style and "I take full responsibility, it's not my fault" [actual quote from the last debate, by the way] style of management of the pandemic and economy.

4. Most importantly, a decent portion of Americans are tired of his continual assault on our institutions. Using the police to remove peaceful protestors for a photo op holding a Bible. Pardoning his cronies from felony convictions while calling for the imprisonment of his political opponents, as if we were a banana republic. Calling military people "suckers and losers." And most jarringly, becoming the first president in history to refuse to support a peaceful transfer of power in the event that he'll lose the election. We're so polarized that even something this shocking will only influence one to three percent of Americans but that still changes the election outcome.

So, might Trump win? He might.

Might he lose by double-digits? Yes. And that distinct possibility isn't getting enough attention.

America - with 330 million people - is so many things. It's worth remembering that the same country that (barely) elected Trump (overwhelmingly) elected Obama. Are we incredibly innovative, scientific and inclusive? Yes. Are we incredibly xenophobic, subject to conspiracy theories and resistant to change and progress? Also yes. The choice between these two only requires a shift in the opinion of a few percent of Americans. I suspect that since 2016, though, it is more than just a percent or two of Americans who have changed their opinions.

29 October 2020

GDP Growth From a Year Earlier - Down 2.9% In Spite of a Tripling of the Deficit to $3 Trillion

Tuesday I posted that today's GDP growth would seem incredibly high but that it was important to compare to a year earlier rather than last quarter. We are down about 3% from a year ago and given that before the pandemic the economy was expected to grow 2%, this means that current GDP is about 5% below its trend line. If the economy were to stabilize at this level, it would mean that GDP will have shrunk $1.1 trillion.

(Is $1.1 trillion a lot? 47 states have GDP lower than $1.1 trillion. A drop of $1.1 trillion is the same as if the 15 states with the smallest GDPs simultaneously had their economies collapse to zero.)

Jason Furman posted data on how much GDP had dropped in the worst year of the last 6 recessions (including this one for Q3 of 2020).

1975-Q1: -2.3%
1982-Q3: -2.6%
1991-Q1: -1.0%
2001-Q4: +0.2%
2009-Q2: -3.9%
2020-Q3: -2.9%

Also of note: the purchase of goods has more than recovered (the green line below) but the purchase of services (the blue line) is still far below its trend. What does this mean in simple terms? I was talking to a co-worker today. He just bought a new motorcycle, which is a good. He's also eating out far less than a year ago, so less work for the wait staff who provide services. Purchase of goods up; purchase of services down.

Probably the biggest takeaway though? We've recovered in part because we're learning how to buy, sell, and work in a pandemic and in part because we have run a monster deficit this year. Last year we ran a deficit of nearly $1 trillion; this year the deficit was more than $3 trillion. Congress ended its session last week without passing a stimulus package. Expect GDP to drop again this and / or next quarter because of that failure. Without an extra $2 trillion of government spending on top of the $1 trillion pre-COVID deficit, GDP would not have grown 33% at an annualized rate this last quarter. Without stimulus spending, the economy would have continued to fall. If we don't get another round of stimulus spending, you may see what I mean.

27 October 2020

14 Weeks of Holidays and Vacation - Plus the Most Civil Perk of All - How the Dutch Treat Their Workers

I was working with a team of nanotechnologists in the Netherlands a few years ago. We were defining their project calendar.

"How many weeks of vacation a year," I asked.
"Wow. Very cool." So I blocked out 8 weeks. Then I clarified, "So that includes both vacation time and holidays?"
"Oh no. We also get 6 weeks of holidays."

I was impressed but there was more.

Every March employees get 8% of their annual pay to fund vacations. They can use it for plane tickets, scuba lessons, whatever it is people buy for vacations. And you need special permission to NOT take a vacation of four continuous weeks at some point in the summer.

The Dutch pay about 39% of their GDP in taxes (compared to 24% in the US). One of the guys on my team could trace his family tree back to a Dutch king from 800. I asked him, "Do you have any political parties that push for tax rates more like we have in the States? You have half a dozen parties with seats in parliament; do any of them push for big tax cuts?"
"Uh, no," he said in his delightfully lilting Dutch accent.
"No political push for that at all," I repeated.
"Well," he said, "we know that better things always cost more. The best is not cheap. And in all the studies of the happiest countries in the world, we come out in the top 5. So, we pay a little more and we get a little better. It's worth it to be happy."

A Fourth Generation Californian Rants About How The Senate is Designed to Give the Most Power to The States Least Able to Create Jobs and Grow Their Population

As a fourth generation Californian, I am defensive about my home. People in blue jeans (first invented by Californian immigrant Levi Strauss) on Facebook (headquartered in California) scrolling on their iPhone (Apple, founded and headquartered in California) calling folks from the Bay Area communists. (San Francisco not only has the highest per capita income of any county in the country but attracts more venture capital (that's venture capital, as in the leading edge of capital markets, not venture socialism) than any other country (not county - country) in the world. California is the most diverse state in the union (by many measures but one simple one is that it has the highest percentage of foreign born people of any state) and this has not only fed the entrepreneurship of Silicon Valley and LA but made it home to Hollywood and recording studios that have generated the most popular movies and music in the world. California is a place where people invent themselves. Marion Morrison from Iowa came to Hollywood and became John Wayne. Norma Jeane Mortenson, born in LA, grew up and became Marilyn Monroe. They invent themselves and invent new products, companies and styles. No other place in the world compares for levels of creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. And no other state has created more jobs in the last 70 years.

Communities in California have figured out how to create good paying jobs and because of that the population has grown. The way political power works in the US, though, California is penalized. Citizens in California are discounted, given less influence in national politics. Weirdly, the states least able to create jobs are the ones who are most rewarded with political power. West Virginia - a beautiful place - is wildly incompetent at creating jobs. Each senator from West Virginia represents 900,000; each senator from California represents 20 million. When votes are taken in the Senate about which direction the country should take, West Virginians who are demonstrably incompetent at job creation have as much influence as Californians. 

If you look at population growth since 1950, California tops the list. Texas is second and while Texas matches California for percentage growth, it has not created jobs that pay as well (as you can see in the contrast in per capita GDP).

Of the 15 states with the largest population growth, only two have a better than 50% chance of giving their electoral votes to Trump. Of the 15 states that have created the least new jobs in the last 70 years, ten will probably give their electoral votes to Trump. The communities least able and willing to create new jobs (and the population that accompanies it) are the ones who prefer Trump's trade wars, xenophobia, and anti-science, anti-university, and anti-expert worldview. (And of course that worldview is a large part of why they are so incompetent at creating jobs.) By giving states unable to grow their population more power than states able to create jobs, we've tipped national elections towards the policies and cultures least effective at creating jobs. Call me a crazy Californian, but that sounds backwards to me.

17 October 2020

The Politics of Hobbits, Hooligans, and Wonks

A group on one side of the river sees a group on the other side. They holler across, "How do we get to the other side?"
The other group looks at each other perplexed and then one hollers back, "You ARE on the other side."

Here's an interesting idea. (Not mine.)

When it comes to politics, there are three groups: Hobbits, Hooligans and Wonks.

Hobbits really don't want to be bothered with politics. They want their second breakfast, their pipe and a fire in the evening. They find political discussions unsettling.

Hooligans are here to cheer for their team, even turn over cars if their team loses (or is it if their team wins?). If they're a Padres fan, they will cheer loudly for the Padres no matter how bad or good, benevolent or ill-tempered are the players that particular year. In politics, they have their "team," and regardless of the gaffes, flaws and policy pronouncements of their candidate, they cheer loudly for them and will defend them.

Wonks are the weirdest ones in the bunch. They love data, discussions on whether this policy or that will do more to increase income and lower poverty. They wonder if particular economies create particular cultures or vice versa. They like graphs, numbers and comparisons.

You can - and will - have very different conversations with Hobbits, Hooligans and Wonks.

Now let me share some fascinating data with you that suggests that generations raised in relative security are more likely to be open to immigrants and value self-expression and generations raised in relative scarcity are more like to seek out strong, autocratic leaders to defend the group from "them."

In Praise of Fivethirtyeight

In 1980, Ted Turner launched CNN, the first 24-hour news network.
In 1985, Rupert Murdoch bought Fox.

Ted Turner is worth $2.2 billion. Rupert Murdoch is worth $17.6 billion, or 8X as much.

Turner proved that people wanted television news outside the window from 5 to 6. Murdoch proved something more interesting: there is actually more demand for news that will defend your worldview than news that challenges it. Cognitive dissonance is a fancy term for "what you've just told me is forcing me to question what I know." It's no fun to learn that your lover is cheating or that fossil fuels really are driving crazy weather events. Denial is likely the first step for processing any new information that upsets our worldview. (And is one reason why younger people often have better models of the world: they aren't protecting investments in dated worldviews.) Murdoch turned that denial into a business model, offering viewers a safe place to learn about the world without having to change their minds about it.

Unsurprisingly, reporting that defends your worldview is worth 8X as much as reporting that might randomly attack your worldview.

What does this have to do with Nate Silver and fivethirtyeight? Well, as much as we'd love certainty, Silver won't give it to us. "Just tell us who is going to win the election," we demand. He refuses. 

Instead, Silver takes into consideration all sorts of variables, weights them, and then his model spits out results that told us in 2016 that Trump had a 28% chance of winning and tells us today that Trump has a 12% of winning (as of this morning, 17-Oct). We want him to tell us who will win. He will only tell us probabilities. Now that doesn't mean that there aren't sure things. There are. Biden WILL win Massachusetts and Trump WILL win West Virginia. If someone wants to bet against those outcomes, go all in. As it now stands, though, there is no certain outcome for this national election. Just probable outcomes that literally change every day as the election nears and as events unfold.

What Silver has done is created a news outlet that won't give us false assurances. Probabilities are tough because it forces us to embrace uncertainty. Even if it fills us with dread, it feels simpler to say, "Trump is going to win again! It doesn't matter what he does or says! His supporters don't care!" than it is to say, "We can't be sure but it is likely that ..." False certainties mean that we're done thinking. They resolve the dramatic tension. Probabilities instead force us to remain uncertain. Probabilities also live at this beautiful place between a world of false assurance and a world in which nothing is knowable.

Our worldview is too simple, too static and too distorted to neatly match reality. The future is probable but not certain. And if we are going to have an accurate worldview even on something as simple as "Who will win the election," that worldview needs to change with new data and be expressed as probabilities rather than certainties.

One of the things that I love about this is that taking fivethirtyeight's model of the world seriously means working hard to get data, understand it, and then use it to choose between different paths based on probabilities rather than false convictions. This process is bigger than an election. It forces you to evolve a worldview rather than defend it. It's a lot of work but it's also more likely to be effective than defending a worldview you seized hold of (or more likely, that seized hold of you) at 18.

Fox news is proof that it is very lucrative to offer worldviews a safe place to come for protection. It is how Fox became the mainstream media, the network that continually leads in ratings. You wouldn't be human if you didn't have moments where you just wanted the oracles to tell you, "Should I marry this person?" or "Should I take this job?" In the realm of politics, Fox will give you such assurances. "Fox News: your worldview is safe with us."

I suspect that Nate Silver's net worth is only a fraction of Murdoch's or Ted Turner's. Still, fivethirtyeight has a great following which I find heartening because it means that there are people incredibly interested in outcomes who also know that probable - and not certain - is the best that we can get.

Here is a link to the presidential election forecast. Biden will probably win.

15 October 2020

It is Time to Change the Senate and Electoral College

How much does the electoral college change things?
Per the Economist, Donald's odds of winning the electoral college are 9%.
His odds of winning the most votes? 1%.
A system that increases your odds of winning by 9X is quite a system.

In the 1800s, throughout Europe, their parliamentary system was changed to adapt to the new industrial economy. We need to do the same to adapt to the realities of the new information economy.
Manchester, England led the world into the industrial economy and as a result its population grew rapidly. In 1700, Manchester had less than 10,000 people. By 1820 it had closer to 200,000.

But here’s the deal. Politics hadn’t kept up with economic and demographic realities. Manchester did not even elect its own two Members of Parliament (MPs) in the early 1800s. It was part of another district.

Meanwhile, in the “rotten boroughs,” a paltry few could elect their two MPs. How few? In one district, 7 voters got to elect 2 MPs. Another district had mostly fallen into the sea, leaving just 32 voters clinging to the land and getting to choose 2 MPs.

Throughout the 1800s, folks in the UK, France, Austria and Germany changed these sorts of odd disparities so that political power better aligned with demographic and economic realities. We could learn from their example.

Wyoming and Vermont have populations smaller than Washington DC; those two states get 4 senators and DC has none. 21 states with 36 million residents get 42 senators – close to half of the senate’s 100. California with its 40 million people gets 2 senators.

California has helped to pioneer the information and entrepreneurial economies and that has made it successful in industries like aerospace, communications, silicon, software, biotech, and the internet. Of the 100 most valuable companies in the world (as of 15 Oct 2020) California’s companies represent 25% of the global market cap and 33% of the US’ market cap. Because California has been so innovative and entrepreneurial, it has created more jobs than any other state in the union and now has the largest population. Like Manchester, England in the early 1800s, California’s population and economic importance is incredibly diluted through the country’s obsolete political system.

In 1790, when the US was founded, 90% of workers were in agriculture. Acreage was a pretty good proxy for representation then. Agriculture now employs fewer than 2% of American workers. Acreage is now a terrible approximation of how representation should be calculated.

As it now stands, politics in the US is going to be disproportionately defined by the least populous and least affluent areas of the country because of how the Senate is structured. This makes progress difficult. It’s like having the kids in the bottom half of the class write the textbooks.

Right now, we have division where there is – in terms of population and definitely economic weight – a clear majority. These less populous and economically developed regions are pushing to protect us from the global economy rather than better connect us to and prepare us for it. This simply frustrates progress and the electorate. It’s time to change.

12 October 2020

Columbus Day And Encountering Life from Another Solar System

528 years ago, two continents began a slow collision that would devastate the people of one and transform the people of the other.

In 1492, seventy-five million people lived in the Americas and 60 million lived in Europe. Between 1500 and 1800, as many as fifty million Native Americans died, chiefly of disease. Europeans brought with them a host of diseases for which Americans - who had crossed the Bering Strait 14,000 years earlier - had no immunity. It's true that the Europeans practiced genocide. It's also true that genocide was nearly incidental in its death toll in comparison to deaths by a dozen pandemics. The first Americans and American civilizations were devastated.

Columbus landed in the Americas in 1492 but died thinking he had landed in Asia. It took time for Europeans to realize that they’d discovered a new world and it called everything into question. The Bible made no mention of Americans and yet here were strange tales of a people who had seemed to evolve a very similar civilization -complete with aristocracy and priests - but who knew nothing of Abraham, Jesus or Muhammed.

This collision was devastating to Americans and disruptive to Europeans. A quarter of a century after Columbus landed in the Americas, Martin Luther posted his 95 theses, igniting a Protestant Revolution that would transform Europe. The contrast between how northern and southern Europe would disperse power between church and state was trivial in comparison to how Americans and Europeans ordered their worlds. Big change is easier to undertake when it is made to seem small by contact with a new civilization. Soon gold and silver began streaming in from the Americas, triggering a long economic transformation that is still incomplete.

The White House came out swinging in defense of Columbus Day as a great day that deserves celebration. Other people find it horrific that we celebrate the start of the end of the Americas of 1491 and the people who lived here. In 100 years, when coastal cities are being rebuilt at great expense, people will dismiss everything we have done and stood for simply because none of us are innocent of the consumption of fossil fuels. They’ll likely be horrified at us in the same way that we are horrified by the brutality of Europeans who first came to the Americas. I don’t know how you glorify Columbus or ignore this as a momentous day. I don't know how you properly judge two groups of people who were very different beings from us, shaped by such radically different worldviews, beliefs, practices and technology. I don’t know if you celebrate this day or condemn it or what difference either makes. I only know that to experience anything as disruptive, dangerous, exhilarating, terrifying, transformative and as difficult to comprehend as it was for Americans and Europeans when they first encountered each other, we will have to encounter a civilization from another solar system.

08 October 2020

Lines I would like to hear from Biden in the next debate

Lines I would like to hear from Biden in the next debate.

Well of course he’s sending mixed signals about something as simple as wearing a mask. This is the guy who goes home to his wife after having unprotected sex with porn stars. He’s not exactly a health expert.

\In the three years before Trump took office, during the Obama-Biden administration, the economy was creating about 225,000 jobs a month. In Trump’s first three years, it was creating about 180,000 jobs a month. He inherited a great economy and it continued to do well. So, what does that prove? He can peddle fast downhill.

\Then when he hit his first steep hill – when he hits his first crisis – the economy is a disaster. This year – even including January before COVID shut things down – the economy has been destroying an average of one million jobs per month. One million. Per month.

COVID is Trump’s 9-11, his Sputnik moment, WWII, Great Depression. This is his moment to become a leader. What does he say about 210,000 Americans dead from COVID? “I don’t accept responsibility.”

And what does he do? He tweets.

He can’t tweet his way out of this, even though he’s tried. In 2020, he’s been tweeting 5X as much as he did in 2016, before he became president. On a single day in June of this year, he posted 200 tweets and retweets. This is how he battles a pandemic. We pay him to watch TV and rage tweet.

And now he won’t commit to a peaceful transfer of power. It’s like saying that if your team doesn’t win the super bowl, you’ll ask your fans to burn down all the football stadiums. If we don’t win, football is over. No president has ever done this before because for every previous president, this democracy was more important than how they did in the election. Not so for Trump. In his mind, he is literally more important than our 232-year-old democracy. How small is the mind or big is the ego that would believe this?

07 October 2020

The Single Best Predictor of Management Failure: How Trump and Pence Model a Rude and Polite Version of Disinterest in Any Other Opinions

I've had the opportunity to be inside of a lot of organizations and was reminded of one in particular this evening as I watched Mike Pence.

Even if I haven't been introduced to people, I can usually tell quite quickly who is in charge. I was just starting what turned out to be a multi-year engagement with a Fortune 50 company when I was in a conference room with about 12 people. Very quickly I realized that person A was in charge. Everyone deferred to him. He spoke at the greatest length and with the most authority. Then out of the blue, this other guy took over the conversation. I thought the first guy might be offended, but he was deferential to this new guy. I thought I might be witnessing a subtle takeover. And then - about fifteen minutes later - this happened again. There were at least three people who were clearly the leader in that room and I was baffled. It wasn't until this happened one more time that I realized what was going on. This company makes multi-billion dollar investments that are incredibly risky. They are the definition of cutting edge technology. And depending on the topic of the moment, the expert in the room literally shifted from one person to the next. Exploring a new material? Joe is our guy and he leads this discussion. Talking about factory construction? Suddenly it's Akbar. And so on. The topic was way too complex for any one person to dominate. It was also too important for any one person to politely defer.

They weren't necessarily gentle with each other. They had a value they called "constructive confrontation." The point was not to be polite. The point was to genuinely respect different perspectives and opinions and get to something like the truth before investing millions in a new product or billions in a new facility.

Why mention that tonight? Well, Trump and Pence have been accused of not listening to experts. I think that's wrong. My impression after watching them talk over moderators and their opponents is that they are not used to listening to anyone. They're not interested in understanding different perspectives. They are not interested in anything like the truth. They simply expect to be heard and to dominate the conversation. And of course Trump does it rudely and Pence does it politely but it is the same outcome: we're not here to debate, to exchange and defend ideas. We're just here to tell you.

And in my 25 years of working within a wide variety of companies, this disinterest in hearing anyone else or conflicting opinions is probably the best predictor of failure. Watching Trump and Pence's complete lack of interest in anything but being heard explained to me so clearly why their policies have been so disastrous.

Family Separation for the Children of Undocumented Workers - from illegal immigrants to tax cheaters

Imagine a political group gets into office and they are as upset about undocumented workers and businesses as Trump supporters are about undocumented workers. The difference being, this group is upset about a failure to file or pay taxes. 

These people are upset about tax cheaters in the same way that Trump supporters in 2016 were upset about illegal immigrants. What they didn't realize, though, is that the government they voted in would decide to discourage tax cheaters through a policy of family separation. Children of tax cheaters were essentially incarcerated, left in lock-down 23 hours a day. Some of the children actually adopted out.

It seems that these folks outraged at tax cheaters have two choices once they see this. One is to simply say, "Yeah. That is spot on. Take their children." The other is to be outraged, shocked that this new government would systematically separate families as punishment for cheating on taxes. The relevant question at that point is whether undocumented (as in did not file any or any accurate tax records) workers deserve a punishment this harsh and whether they'll vote again for this administration now that they know how far they'll take things.

This is the question before Trump supporters who are as equally outraged at undocumented workers (who don't have proof of residency or citizenship) but still feel that systematically separating families as a discouragement is even more evil than having someone in the country willing to work in our fields or kitchens for lower than minimum wage. The question is, Do you want to be on the side of an administration that will perpetuate this kind of cruelty on the most helpless people within our borders? Children who not only don't understand our system but don't even speak our language and for whom the only clear reality is that they've been torn from their mother? Because in 2016, you may not have properly understood why Trump was working so hard to convince you that Mexico was sending us rapists and murderers. Now you do. Good people like you can be made to support cruelty only if you believe it is just retribution for egregious behavior. Now you know that this was to get your support to be cruel to people who are born so inferior that they don't even deserve the comfort of a mother. These people are so evil that they don't deserve family. Now you know that the point was to be cruel to children who are vulnerable, confused and traumatized. If you find that more outrageous than someone crossing the border in the hopes of a better life for them and their children, you have a simple way to stop such behavior: don't vote for the man who has done this and still thinks he has done nothing wrong. Don't vote for Trump.

And I know that the Trumpbros are going to jump on this and say, "But under Obama this happened." Yes. With legal proceedings and detentions, this kind of thing happens. There is a difference between the rare case that inevitably falls out in the midst of managing borders and systematically separating children as Trump, Stephen Miller and Jeff Sessions intended. There is a difference between the rare case and systematically warehousing thousands of children in converted Walmart stores.

So think about the policies that matter to you and who deserves punishment. Whose behavior you think most undermines the economy you think we're trying to build. Tax cheaters? Illegal immigrants? And then ask whether the proper punishment for such undocumented workers is taking their children from them. Because if you voted for Trump in 2016 and then this happened, you can honestly say that you didn't see this coming. If you vote for Trump in 2020, you have to own this and say that someone trying to better themselves without having all the proper paperwork - as illegal immigrants and tax cheaters do - deserves to have their children taken from them as punishment. You have to clearly state that you support cruelty to the children of people who cut corners to make a better life for those children. Perhaps I'm a starry-eyed optimist but I don't believe nearly as many people will support that kind of cruelty as believe that undocumented workers of any kind is an issue.

02 October 2020

You Can Have Your Space, Cowboy: The Biological Imperative and How Hubris Won't Save You

You can have your space, cowboy. 6 feet to be precise. Socialize outdoors and not in. Wear a mask. If you live with biological imperatives like the need for sleep, food, water, and a bathroom, you are susceptible to COVID. They're not giving out any awards for stupid at the end of this pandemic. Hubris won't save you. It might even kill you.

On a related note, how brilliant is Musgraves? What a singer, songwriter, and what a song this is.

It's a do your own mood Friday but this song ought to nudge you into a reflective mood.

01 October 2020

There is No "They" in a Democracy

There is no they in a democracy. It's all us in here.

One of the most consistent term in any conspiracy theory is, "They." "They are making up these numbers .."
"They set this up so that .."
"They don't want you to know .."

One of the less obvious things that conspiracy theories do is make you helpless. Some mysterious group is up to no good. We don't even know who they are. We are up against a conspiracy and there is nothing we can do.

Do you know who your congressperson is? Someone who is like you but decided to run for office.
Do you know who runs that big company? Someone who is like you but started a company or focused on a career and moving up the corporate ladder.
Does luck play into this? Yep. Are some people born on third base and others born walking up to the plate with three strikes? Yes. Variation in starting positions and reasonable aspirations are huge but they're more often thought determinant than they actually are.

The Republican Party never gives its base a ban on abortion and always gives its elites tax cuts. Every time they get into power. Why do these elites (who are so successful at getting their tax cuts) so hate people like Bill Clinton and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? The thought that the son of a widowed hairdresser or a former bartender could actually have power and change laws outrages the folks who prefer to think - and prefer that you think - that only the rich can change laws. The success of these upstarts might actually undermine your sense of resignation.

But of course it's a democracy. Even a failing businessman whose only success in life was to play a successful businessman on TV, or a politician from a state college who stutters can become president.

So if some of the wealthy hate politicians who might embolden common folks to run for office and push for policies that work for common folks, why do so many lesser mortals hate it when commoners take office? It's a reminder that any one of us can become one of "them," and it is harder to take the thought that you could have but did not then the thought that "they" are in control and there is nothing much you could have done about it anyway. The notion of a "they" lets you reject the notion that you might be responsible for finding or creating a way to make a difference. The sense of helplessness that comes from an embrace of "they" being in charge is quite liberating. Even when life sucks, there is nothing you can do about it., so, "Oh well."

There is no "they" in a democracy, only "us," different people who started with and seized different sets of opportunities and possibilities. The bad news is that this truth makes you responsible. Of course that's also the good news. If you're responsible, you can also change things. And that is something that "they" definitely don't want you to realize.