Skip to content

Democratic Rights

Because everyone is equal, but some people are more equal than others. Thanks to Citizens United and the Supreme Court, that includes corporations.

© Ruben Bolling

One thing I’ve wondered about is if corporations are people, why haven’t they been given the right to vote yet? Corporate Lives Matter!


The More Things Change…

…the more they stay the same.

There is a very interesting article in the Washington Post by George Will, titled “Technologies give velocity to stupidity, but they don’t make people stupid” (or in blunter terms, people are always stupid, but technology makes it easier to spread stupidity, so it just seems like there is more of it).

I am a total technologist, and I can’t imagine living without the internet and the web. But there are times when I wonder if the internet (and especially social media) is pushing the world in a good or a bad direction. But Will’s article snapped me back to reality with a simple example, namely the spread of transcontinental trains and telegraph lines during the time of Abraham Lincoln.

Many 21st-century Americans are impressed, and distressed, by the supposed power of late-20th-century technologies, especially the Internet and social media, to shape society, and them. Two 19th-century technologies stirred somewhat similar uneasiness: The railroad and the telegraph, which were arguably as socially transformative as digital innovations are said to be, saved the nation from dismemberment, and fertilized the culture of freedom.

But these same technologies also spread “fake news about Washington burning, enslaved people rebelling, President James Buchanan resigning, Republicans sharing their wives, Lincoln being a cannibal”.

Nowadays, nobody worries that established technologies — not just railroads and telegraphs, but also airplanes and telephones — will destroy the world. And yet, in their heyday, people did worry about these new technologies.

In 1858, when the first transatlantic cable connected New York with London, the New York Times worried that the telegraph might make the velocity of news “too fast for the truth.” Sound familiar?

Yes, new technology, like any change, can take some getting used to. But the real problem is one we have always had, namely stupidity.

Today, the Internet and social media enable instantaneous dissemination of stupidity, thereby creating the sense that there is an increasing quantity of stupidity relative to the population’s size. This might be true, but blame it on animate, hence blameworthy, things — blowhards with big megaphones, incompetent educators, etc. — not technologies. Technologies are giving velocity to stupidity, but are not making people stupid. On Jan. 6, the Capitol was stormed by primitives wielding smartphones that, with social media, facilitated the assembling and exciting of the mob. But mobs predate mankind’s mastery of electricity.

Like railroads and the telegraph, today’s technologies have consequences about how and what we think. They do not relieve anyone of responsibility for either.

Dishonest people will always find a way to take advantage of people who are ignorant about new technologies. The answer is not to blame the new technologies (for that is not the real problem), but for technologists to take on the responsibility to help people learn and adapt to these new technologies. It will take time and effort, but it will be worth it.

© Dave Whamond

Corporate Comics on Free Speech

The comic creators definitely noticed the hypocrisy of the GOP, with many fine comics being created. This is just a sampling.

© Jack Ohman

This one is even funnier. Castigating corporations over their “virtue signaling” for voter rights only points out how the only signaling being done by the GOP — mainly using dog whistles — is for bigotry, racism and white supremacy. In fact, some Republican politicians (cough, Marjorie Taylor Green) aren’t even using dog whistles anymore.

© Matt Wuerker

Ironically, their efforts are pushing corporations toward the Democrats. As Electoral-Vote put it in “Can Democrats and CEOs Be Friends?:

The voter-suppression law in Georgia—and before it, the “bathroom bill” in North Carolina—have been catalysts in making the two sides less wary of each other. While all CEOs want lower taxes on corporations, most of them are not bigots and are not in step with the modern Republican Party and its focus on grievances, culture wars, and suppressing the Black vote.

Biden noted that in some areas corporations have come a long way. Ads featuring gay or biracial couples are common now. CEOs of giant multinational corporations are not stupid. They know that many consumers consider the corporate image when making a purchasing decision. Coke and Pepsi taste pretty much the same but if the CEO of Coca Cola comes out strongly against Georgia’s new voting law and the CEO of Pepsi Cola does not, that is going to affect sales. If polls and focus groups show the CEOs that getting an image of being socially responsible wins over more young, progressive customers than it loses old, conservative customers, then opposing the law becomes a sensible business decision, not a political or moral decision.


Free Speech isn’t Free

The Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court decreed that money is speech, so you can’t deny Corporations the right to donate arbitrary amounts of money to politicians. Hypocritically. Republicans are now punishing corporations for their actual speech against voter suppression, by stripping Major League Baseball of their antitrust exemption, and raising taxes on Delta Air Lines.

© Matt Davies

Does this mean that free speech is constitutionally protected only if it means giving money to politicians? And did anyone else notice the hypocrisy of the GOP trying to raise taxes on Delta, and then complaining bitterly about Biden trying to raise corporate taxes for infrastructure?


The News

If it bleeds, it leads.” And when events conspire to be boring, they will just make shit up.

© Keith Knight

It used to be that News Departments were separate from Entertainment. But in the great race for ratings, they combined. The goal of news reporters is not longer to inform you. It is to keep you watching.


Technology to the Rescue

So, I have been completely vaccinated against Covid-19, as have some of my friends. What we all have in common was that we had to spend a lot of time and energy finding a place to get vaccinated. Searching multiple websites for a place that was going to have open appointments to get vaccinated, waiting for a slot to open, and then jumping on it. In my case, the only place I could find (after weeks of searching) was a two-hour drive away (each way).

It was the Moderna vaccine, so I had to drive there twice. And now Moderna is saying that they are working on a booster vaccine, to guard against new varieties and strains, so I might have to do this all again. What a mess!

But a private citizen decided to do something about it! Nick Muerdter is a programmer (like me!) and built a website that shows open vaccine appointments for all 50 states — the COVID-19 Vaccine Spotter! Check it out!

According to Muerdter:

It seemed like a lot of people were just spending a lot of time on these pharmacy websites. And those were particularly frustrating just because it was, you know, you go to the website, you enter a zip code, you select a store and then nope, no, no appointments. And then you need to try a different store or try a different zip code.

All you have to do is give the website your zip code, and tell it how far you are willing to drive. The website does all the mechanical work to find any available appointments (something that computers are good at!)

If you are a programmer, the website is open source, so you can contribute to make the site better.

My only question is, why didn’t the government do this months ago? You might be forgiven for thinking that maybe because someone incompetent was in charge of the government.


Different Strokes

Differences of opinion, even though they agree on the facts. Great skit from SNL.


Bad Excuses

Half of all Republican men refuse to get vaccinated against Covid-19. You might think that this could be a good thing because it might cause an extinction event for supporters of Donald Trump, but unfortunately it is just as likely to kill the rest of us as well.

But the crazy thing are the excuses being given for refusing a jab or two:

© Tom Tomorrow

The last panel reminds me of the time when people thought that cell phones cause brain cancer. I haven’t heard much about that for a while.


Politics as an Attention Economy

Jonathan Last has published a fascinating article in The Bulwark (an anti-Trump conservative website) about how Republican politics now follows the rules of an attention economy. To whit, politicians don’t get elected because they do their jobs well (govern, pass laws, etc.). They gain power by getting attention (even negative attention). The obvious example is Donald Trump, but the same thing applies even to Matt Gaetz, Madison Cawthorn, and Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Here’s an excerpt, but do read the whole thing (it is relatively short):

Does it matter to his future political prospects that Matt Gaetz doesn’t advance legislation? Does it matter that Madison Cawthorn staffed up his office with comms people? Does it matter that Marjorie Taylor Greene doesn’t have committee assignments?

Well, these quirks would matter in a system where legislative accomplishments influenced voter behavior. But the preponderance of evidence suggests that Republican voters don’t care about tangible government outcomes.

They don’t care whether or not a border wall is built, or who would have (theoretically) paid for it. They don’t care about whether or not the government fails to manage a global pandemic, killing hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens. They don’t care if unemployment is up—or down. They don’t care about stimulus checks. Or the national debt.

Republican voters—a group distinct from Conservatism Inc.—no longer have any concrete outcomes that they want from government. What they have, instead, is a lifestyle brand.

The key here is the idea of a “lifestyle brand”, where buying a certain product (including a politician) is important because it says something about the buyer’s life. We may not know why the Kardashians are famous, but we pay attention to them because they are famous. And the more people pay attention to them, the more famous they become. Why? Not because they do anything helpful or important.


Winning the War against Covid?

There are two pieces of potentially very good news that just came out, based on real-world studies of people who have been vaccinated against Covid-19. Mind you, these are preliminary results, and more research needs to be done before we declare victory, but at least these give me hope.

The first article points out that even though cases are rising again, they fell dramatically among groups that have already been vaccinated (in particular, first responders and seniors). One big caution is that we don’t really know what will happen with the new variants. That’s why it is extremely important that we continue to wear masks and socially distance. The spread of Covid among as-yet unvaccinated populations will not only spread the existing new variants (some of which are much less responsive to the current vaccines), but will continue to create new variants. We need to stop this cycle in its tracks!

The second article could be extremely good news, if it bears scrutiny. New CDC data suggests that people who have been vaccinated do not carry the virus, and thus can’t spread it to other people. Of course, no vaccine is 100% effective, but current estimates are that both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are around 90%. That means that if you get together with a group of people who have been vaccinated, your chances of being in contact with someone with Covid goes down an order of magnitude. And if you are vaccinated too, it goes down another order of magnitude.

Again, more research will be required to confirm that this is true, but for now it is giving me hope. Let’s use the good news to continue to be very careful, hopefully just for a little bit longer.

© Darrin Bell

Jumping the Shark

It has been a while since I posted anything about Donald Trump.

This weekend, Trump crashed a wedding reception, grabbed an open mic, and started talking. You can see the video here, but you don’t need to to know how pitiful he sounds. Trump says:

I’ve been watching the news, and they’re telling me about the border, they’re telling me about China, they’re telling me about Iran.

You know, like the TV talks to him alone.

The border is not good. And what you see now, multiply it times 10. What’s happening to the kids … they’re living in squalor. They’re living like nobody has ever seen.

After rambling on for a little while, and complaining about the election, Trump jumps the shark, saying the words of a lonely man who desperately needs attention: “So, I just say, do you miss me yet?”

Remember Sarah Palin? Remember when she was in the news all the time? We thought we would never be rid of her, until everyone stopped paying attention… and she just vanished.

© RJ Matson

UPDATE: Trump wants his followers to boycott Major League Baseball, because they moved the All-Star game out of Georgia. Trump is definitely out of his league!


Profiles in Insurrection

Garret Miller is one of the insurrectionists who stormed the US Capitol building on January 6. Like many in the mob, he thoroughly documented his actions on social media. This included a selfie of himself after breaking in, along with a comment “Just wanted to incriminate myself a little lol.” He also bragged that he brought a gun with him.

Later, after Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted “Impeach”, Miller tweeted back at her “Assassinate AOC”.

On Jan. 10, he posted about the Capitol police officer who shot and killed a woman rioter inside the Capitol, “He will swing. I had a rope in my bag on that day.” He also called the officer, who he thought was Black, a “prize to be taken.”

When Miller was arrested at his home in Dallas, he happened to be wearing a T-shirt that had a photo of Donald Trump, along with the words “Take America Back” and “I Was There, Washington D.C., January 6, 2021.” Seriously.

But there’s more. His lawyer is asking for the release of Miller, saying he has expressed regret for his actions. But immediately after his arrest, on a recorded call to his mother, he had said “I don’t feel that I’ve done anything wrong.”

Multiple instances of him incriminating himself. No regret. Continues to threaten violence and to make it clear that he is a danger to others. Racist and delusional. In Texas, do they still throw people in jail and throw away the key?


Invasion Narrative

Why are people freaking out about a supposed immigration crisis? After all, there is plenty of evidence that the “Biden surge” is a media manufactured “crisis” started by racist Trump staffer Stephen Miller and Fox News. In particular, apprehensions at the southern border were rising sharply even before Joe Biden was elected.

So why the sudden concern? Clearly to distract us from GOP efforts at voter suppression (and insurrection, and selling the country out to foreign dictators, including Putin, and even the GOP failures to fight the Covid-19 pandemic). Indeed, the GOP started blaming Biden for the ongoing border problems just one day after he was sworn in as president.

We’ve been trying to solve the immigration problem since long before Ronald Reagan got elected.

© Jen Sorensen

Reasons to be Gay!

How gay can you get? Because there is recent news that should make gay people even happier (you might say more gay!).

First, despite the fact that the Republican Party is losing moderates, and becoming more socially conservative, a new poll (based on over 50 thousand telephone interviews during 2020) shows that for the first time a majority of Republicans support same-sex marriage. I find this extremely promising, considering that until a few years ago same-sex marriage was one of the strongest GOP wedge issues. I was frankly surprised when gay marriage became legal, and almost expected a backlash against it from the right.

Instead, the new survey shows that 51% of people who identify as Republicans support and approve of gay marriage. In 2019, the number was only 47%. The percentage of people who approve of same-sex marriage has been increasing steadily over the last ten years. Indeed, today, 72% of independents and around three-quarters of Democrats support it.

An even larger majority of all partisan groups support LGBTQ+ nondiscrimination protections: 62% of Republicans, 79% of independents, and 85% of Democrats. In February, the House passed a bill that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, but the bill has languished in the Senate due to opposition from the GOP. If the current trends continue, it is only a matter of time before it becomes law.

Second, Joe Biden nominated Rachel Levine to the position of assistant secretary of health. Levine is a pediatrician, former Pennsylvania physician general, and currently the Pennsylvania Health Secretary, but is about to be the first openly transgender federal official to be confirmed by the US Senate.

Finally, and something that is particularly gratifying to me, is that as part of the UK changing their banknotes, the new 50 pound note will feature the image of Alan Turing. Turing is one of the most famous pioneers of early computing. He was a brilliant mathematician, who had a huge impact across many fields, including biology. Turing is probably best known for his work breaking the Nazi Enigma code, which was thought to be unbreakable. In order to do this, he designed and built a precursor to the digital computer. Historians estimate that this enormous feat shortened WWII by around two years and saved millions of lives. I think they are being too conservative in their estimates, and it is not too far-fetched to think that the Germans might have won the war otherwise.

But despite all of his achievements, Turing endured terrible persecution for being gay, including from the government. Even though he saved millions of lives, he died at the age of 41 from suicide, an outcast who was stripped of his security clearance because of his sexuality, forced to take estrogen shots that chemically castrated him, and basically hounded to death. I just wonder what else he could have achieved if he had lived longer.

I am hopeful that this sad, misguided pseudo-pandemic of discrimination and persecution of gay people may sometime, hopefully soon, be banished to the past, and all people gain the right and opportunity to achieve their potential and live happy lives.


Having a Bad Day

We’ve had two mass shootings in less than a week. In the first one, a white man shot up three different spas around Atlanta, where 6 of the 8 people killed were of Asian descent. The local police spokesman said the shooter was “having a bad day”. In the second one, a man with a Muslim name and a history of psychological problems killed 10 people in a grocery store, and Tucker Carlson said “The left, mainstream media turn Boulder shooting into yet another racial powder keg.” Silly me, I thought that police killings of minorities, increasing voter suppression, and, you know, an invasion of the US Capitol to keep Trump in power were the racial powder kegs. These two shooters were just crazy, and should never have been allowed to own a gun.

© Matt Bors

The only thing that is certain is that we won’t get stronger background checks on people trying to purchase guns. We may need a license to drive a car, but not to buy a gun.