Category Archives: Politics

Businesses behaving well and badly (and other links)

I’ve been pretty scathing of the way CEOs make out like bandits regardless of their performance. So I must give Wells Fargo credit for socking it to the CEO ($41 million from his compensation packet) over the current scandal about bank employees opening unwanted accounts for consumers. I’m sure CEO John Stumpf’s salary is humongous, but $41 mill? That’s gotta hurt.

•AT&T is dropping one data-gathering program that required users pay to keep information private. And the FCC has released its new, not-yet-imposed restrictions on how internet service providers handle our data.

•On the downside, Comcast has allegedly bilked Washington State consumers with a deceptive service plan, which the company denies. And the company continues to insist that its data caps mean people who use less data pay less, even though they don’t.

•Speaking of cultural appropriation, here’s a case in the food world: a Nashville restaurant taking credit for creating hot chicken which has been around in the black community for quite a while.

•So the US government asked Yahoo to search all of Yahoo mail for a particular term tied to a security investigation. Yahoo, according to the linked Reuters article, wrote a tool to do exactly that. Yahoo disagrees.

•You’ve probably heard about Mylan, the company that makes epipens, has hiked the price in recent years. A Medicaid official says they’ve also misclassified the product so that Medicaid pays them more (if it were properly classified, Mylan would pay Medicaid a higher rebate on purchases). And is the $465 million to settle that issue enough of a penalty?

•A new lawsuit charges that United Health’s co-pays are higher than what the company pays for prescription drugs — so rather than covering some of the drug’s costs, the copays are just extra profit for the insurer.

•Airbnb claims that it’s no more responsible for bad hosts using its services (in this case, hosts who don’t comply with San Francisco rental-registration laws) than eBay is for sellers offering bootleg or phony merchandise. Experts interviewed at the link aren’t sure whose side the law is on. In Philadelphia, a judge has ordered UberX and Lyft to shut down, but they’re just ignoring him.

•I can’t see why someone who bilks consumers with fake cheese shouldn’t get a jail sentence instead of community prison.

•Americans believe self-driving cars are safer, but they’re not sure they want one.

•Like Slacktivist, I’ve often wondered how much of the hostility to financier George Soros is because he’s an international Jewish banker, a long-time bogeyman of the far right.

•A year ago a federal appeals court ruled that while the NCAA can’t stop student athletes profiting from playing, there were limits on what students could receive. The Supreme Court has declined to hear the case.

•Donald Trump has never released his taxes (the news about his billion-dollar write off came from a leak). But that doesn’t stop one talking head saying that he’s been more honest than Clinton.


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Digital-age problems (and other links)

Wired says automated Twitter-bots can be used to run a digital astroturf campaign, creating the illusion there are thousands of people on Twitter venting about something. Brian Krebs shows (based on personal experience how) hackers can take down online journalists using unprotected routers, DVRs or Internet of Things devices to generate a massive denial of service attack. As it becomes easier, Krebs suggests, it may be easier to suppress Internet speech than to censor stuff in hard copy.

•Trump claims we should get rid of the FDA. And he’s embraced anti-abortion talking points.

•No sooner did I make my post about Trump and women, than I found right-winger Roger Simon explaining Trump reveres women, which is why he’s so obsessed with their looks. And many other right-wingers are explaining that despite his sexism and his losing a billion dollars in a single year of business,  President Trump’s a sure thing. And to make sure, Trump wants his voters to watch the polls for Suspicious Voting (I’m guessing that means non-white people).

•I’ve pointed out before that sexist attacks on conservatives are as unjustifiable and sexist as attacks on liberals. Apparently pundit Maureen Dowd didn’t listen as her attack on Trump is that he’s as mean as — a tween girl! But Hilary Clinton’s mean too, so … I’ve no idea.

•Doctors are still too eager to prescribe antibiotics, even as more bacteria become immune. Many restaurants aren’t concerned about antibiotic-free food either.

•Reporter criticizes Trump’s marital history. Mike Krawitz, a New Jersey township committee candidate, says he hopes she gets raped.

•David Brooks, who strongly believes in a top-down system of morality imposed by our betters, is unsurprisingly outraged that a football player wouldn’t stand for the National anthem. Doesn’t the fool realize that if he does things like this, people will stop supporting civil rights?

•David French discovers when he talks at conservative events, the millennials in attendance are conservative! So he takes back everything he said about how millennials suck, because that only applied when they were liberals.

•The current eight-person Supreme Court split 4-4 on hearing North Carolina’s appeal of a judge’s ruling against the NC racist voting law. The right to vote survives, for now.

•People who toss around “social justice warrior” as an insult aren’t being ironic, they don’t like social justice. At least not the type that involves rights of gays, women and minorities.

•Another potential case of robots replacing human workers?

•Donald Trump campaign member Sid Miller thinks the Civil War was about the Confederacy fighting for free speech. Which makes even less sense than most pro-CSA arguments, seeing how parts of the South actively banned abolitionist literature and speeches (one of my And columns discusses this).

•Pundit Damon Linker is shocked liberals would consider Trump voters to be racist just because they have a natural preference for their own kind. Slacktivist dissects his argument.

•Slacktivist also explains why “Democratic senator Robert Byrd was a Klansman” is not an answer to criticism of current Republican racism. For one thing, Byrd actually changed and stepped away from his bigotry.

•Right-wing law professor Glenn Reynolds suggests that the solution to protesters blocking freeways in Charlotte NC is to run them over.

•Nashville has adopted a law to let Google fiber hang its wires from telephone poles. AT&T sues to stop the competition.

•A firmware update to HP printers makes them reject third-party cartridges (which are cheaper).

•Another company hikes a prescription product’s cost through the roof (while insisting it’s all the fault of third parties).

•Allowing in the military will lead to hate crimes against straights, and other bullshit predictions from the recent past.

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Trump and Women (he’s not fond of them, just their hot bodies)

As you’ve probably heard, during last week’s presidential debate, Clinton brought up that Donald Trump called Miss Universe Alicia Machado “Miss Piggy” (she put on too much weight after she won!) and “Miss Housekeeping” (she’s Latina). As LGM points out, while Trump consistently denies saying the things he just said, he didn’t deny this one — in fact he took to Fox News, brought up the topic, and claimed his remarks were right: Machado was a fatty! And that’s such a big issue with Trump that managers of Trump properties had to hide staffers who weren’t sufficiently sexy when Trump visited, otherwise he’d want them fired.

I think this is a good example of what makes sexism so tough to beat (not that racism is a cakewalk, as the past couple of years have shown). As I’ve mentioned before, it’s still possible to construct a life with minimal contact with blacks or Latinos (for example) except in securely subordinate roles (though as Obama shows, it’s not as easy as it used to be). Most sexists don’t want to construct a life without women. For many men, women are essential because that’s how you prove your manhood —  Trump, for example, defines his by his supposed sexual prowess and the hotness of his women, whether his wives, mistresses, daughter or subordinate. They’re hot, he’s in charge, so he’s thereby one hell of a man.

Part of that manly superiority is his right to judge their worth, which means judging their physical assets. And women who don’t measure up are not fit to be part of the greatness that’s the Trump empire; keeping non-hot women around reflects badly on Trump and the Trump name that he merchandises so much. Similarly, although Trump has announced he’s going to go after Clinton by bringing up her husband’s infidelities, his criticism of Bill C. back in the 1990s wasn’t that he cheated, it was that the women weren’t hot enough. Which made Bill a loser, while his wife is a loser because she wasn’t hot enough to keep him interested (which I imagine is the subtext of why Trump thinks it’s a relevant attack).

And I don’t think Trump’s alone in that kind of belief. Some years back, the creator of the old Girls Gone Wild video series said that he much preferred filming women he had to talk into performing than women who liked the idea — presumably because the latter are women acting on their own agency, the first group are women he’s been able to seduce with his awesome charm.

Of course, Trump has no reason to think being a pig will hurt him. It hasn’t so far; and plenty of right-wingers are, of course supporting him, including Newt Gingrich, the Daily Caller (their take: OMG, did you know that slut Machado appeared topless in Playboy?), and Jonah Goldberg. After all, to the white male Trumpites, he’s saving them from Clinton, who will take the country away from its real owners.

Unfortunately as Trump’s unlikely to give up the national stage even if he loses, we’ll be seeing his sexist crap for a while to come.

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Filed under Politics, Undead sexist cliches

Sex, intentions, time and cultural appropriation (#SFWApro)

So after commenting in a discussion of cultural appropriation on Jim Hines’ blog (which I linked to in last week’s Writing the Other post), I’ve been thinking about the topic. And I think I have two or three posts I may want to write on the topic, but the only clear thoughts I have are listed in the title: sex, intent, time.

sinful-ones-184x300•Sex. In the intro to this paperback edition of The Sinful Ones (cover art uncredited, all rights to current holder), Fritz Leiber says that dealing with loosening sexual mores while working on this book (it came out 1953) was a real challenge. If he played it safe and stuck to the old consensus on what was acceptable, he’d look like an old fogey; if he amped up the sexual scenes and went further than the new rules allowed, he’d squick readers out. The awkwardness of the scenes, he says, came from trying to thread that needle.

Leiber was obviously not dealing with a cultural appropriation problem but I wonder if it doesn’t compare to some of the current debate in figuring appropriation out: what stories or ideas constitute appropriation, what’s legitimate borrowing, how do you tell the difference? The standards are changing, we’re trying to hammer them into some sort of (maybe) consensus, but there’s still lots of disagreement and uncertainty.

•Intentions. Speaking of disagreements, one of the argument other commenters made at the blog post was that if you’re appropriating someone’s culture and causing pain to the victims, it doesn’t matter what your intentions were. The pain is still there whether you were well-meaning or not, just as the injuries and pain from a car accident exist regardless of whether you intended to hit someone.

I’ve heard this elsewhere, but I can’t get behind it. Intentions do matter in a car accident: if I hit someone while drunk or texting I’ll be judged differently from if I tried to stop but skidded uncontrollably; or if the victim ran out in front of my car before I could stop; or if I’m a crazy racist who hit them because they were black or Latino. The whole point of hate-crime legislation is that intention matters: if A assaults B out of bigotry, it’s different than if they just got into a regular brawl. So I don’t buy intention is irrelevant, though I haven’t thought out what would constitute a good or bad intention.

•Time. Is there a point in time after which appropriation, even if we still acknowledge it, doesn’t matter?

Take vampires. In Dracula Bram Stoker took Eastern European legends, combined them with a historical figure and distorted both out of recognition (folklore vampires aren’t at all like Drac). I’m fairly sure that by most of the standards I’m reading about, that’s cultural appropriation. But it’s been more than a century and generations of Americans have grown up with vampires as part of their own culture. Even if there are Eastern Europeans who resent their legends being tampered with (I know some Romanians resent the negative portrayal of Vlad Tepes, the historical Dracula), I don’t think it’s still morally objectionable to write vampire fiction.

Ditto Arthur. Arthur was (most probably) a Celtic warlord rapidly turned into legend after his death. I know at least some Britons (Brittany, now part of France, influenced the legends a lot) resent the legend being turned into books, TV, movies that have nothing to do with Arthur’s roots. But I think pop culture has as good a claim now as his source cultures do.

At what point does this happen? I don’t know. I don’t think it should be an argument to brush off current issues (“It’s been appropriated, it’s everyone now, end of story.”) but like copyright expiring eventually, at some point appropriation should be a non-issue.

It’s possible these assessments are full of shit, but I’m more likely to find out if I put them down in print than if they just lie around in my head.

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Reporting on Trump

Trump is doing considerably better in the polls and some critics on the left see that as partly the fault of the media and the belief that being even-handed means criticizing both sides equally. Even when one candidate, despite her faults is a competent public servant and Trump is a white supremacist abomination.

For example, if they’re going to criticize Trump for being a birther, they have to blame Clinton for starting it. Even though she didn’t. And Trump didn’t stop the bullshit when he claims. Or if they’re speculating about Russia interfering with the election, they suggest it might rig the game for Putin’s friend Trump or for Clinton. Or presenting Trump’s admiration for Putin as just a wacky eccentricity. Or consider USA Today headlining an article about Trump’s economic plan by focusin on his claim it will create 25 million jobs rather than the fact it’s a massive tax cut for the rich. Or saying an outright lie is “stretching the truth” (Columbia Journalism Review discusses the reluctance to use the word “lie”). Or responding to a Donald Trump Jr. tweet equating Syrian refugees to poison by mentioning that the Clintons have unpalatable relatives too (no comparable examples provided).

The New York Times insists that it’s totally even-handed in its treatment of Clinton and Trump — why their own Clinton investigative reporter confirmed she was completely fair! LGM disagrees. Echidne points out the assumption that journalists are reporting on the campaign objectively still requires reporters to make judgment calls about what’s worth covering — for example, digging into the Clinton email matter even after the FBI finds nothing to pursue her about. And newspaper stories that do show the depth of Trump’s scheming don’t seem to draw attention from the rest of the media the way the alleged Clinton scandals do (which would again be reporters and editors making judgments about what to pursue). For that matter, Digby argues, Clinton’s agenda doesn’t get attention compared to Trump’s Clinton bashing or Clinton’s alleged scandals.

Vox asks (admittedly not the first to do so) why the media focus so much on angry white men as the important demographic: Trump’s not doing any better with them than Romney did, so why not focus on, say, white women, where Trump’s doing considerably worse? Their conclusion is partly that focusing on economic issues ducks the racial and sexist aspects of Trump’s following; as Ta-Nehisi Coates’ says, white male grievance is always justified. Or as Scott Lemieux says, some reporters can profile failing rust belt cities and not find any blacks or women to speak, only angry white male Trumpites.

The authors at Vox also surprised Trump is held up as the answer to working-class whites’ economic woes when that demographic has consistently done better under Democratic presidents. But that, alas, is normal: Republicans have somehow maintained the image of themselves as the sane fiscal ones even though they’re not (case in point, Pay Ryan’s tax plan delivers more than 99 percent of benefits to the rich).

The left-wing blogs I follow have also speculated that the debates are automatically a win for Trump: as long as he doesn’t totally lose it, the desire to be even-handed will have the press declaring that Trump won simply by not blowing it. This fear isn’t totally crazy: most viewers thought Al Gore won the debates in 2000, but the press asserted George W. Bush was the real winner because everyone expected he’d be crushed and he wasn’t. Victory!

How will this affect things? We’ll know in a couple of months.


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Businesses behaving badly (and other links)

Normally local governments tax property based on “highest and best use.”In Texas, Lowe’s is arguing its stores should pay property tax as if the store were closed. Sometimes they win just because they can outspend the county on legal fees.

•A mother claims a for-profit college took out a loan in her name without her consent.

•Apparently the Texas prison system is a big business. One reason it generates huge profits is that it uses prisoners as slave labor.

•Long Island University tried to break the faculty union by locking out the unionized staff after they rejected a contract proposal (and advertising for replacements on, according to this interview). Happily the lockout failed and negotiations are back on.

•Megan McArdle defends for-profit prisons.

•A judge has fined Verizon $3,750 for leaving an elderly couple without phone service for several days. And a woman claims the company charged her for a massive excess data use she couldn’t possibly be responsible for.

•Comcast insists its data usage meter isn’t at fault, even if it billed customers for data they couldn’t have used. The company is also freaking out over an FCC proposal that would allow competition in the market for providing TV set-top boxes. Comcast and AT&T are also protesting Nashville’s decision to let Google fiber use city utility poles alongside the other providers.

•The Department of Justice is looking into Wells Fargo employees’ alleged practice of opening added accounts without customers’ permission.

In other topics—

•A former Israeli politician says Israel is becoming increasingly divided.

•AirBnB says Santa Monica’s ban on short-term rentals violates federal and constitutional law. Curiously while it claims no responsibility for what people post on the site, it’s also setting requirements for rental-owners intended to reduce discrimination. Which is a good thing, but still seems inconsistent.

•Multiple tech companies have supported Microsoft’s lawsuit claiming customers have a right to know if the government has searched their electronic files.

•Thanks to Obamacare, fewer Americans are uninsured than ever before.

•Class action lawsuits are not an option for Uber drivers, an appeals court says.

•Fifteen years after 9/11, why are Muslims and Arabs still under suspicion? We Hunted the Mammoth says anti-Muslim vandalism and assaults are getting worse.

Lethal yellowing disease is wiping out coconut plantations.

•Right-wingers are using Hilary Clinton’s recent illness as proof she’s too sick to be president (and probably hiding worse illness!).

•Echidne looks at the sexism involved in the French burkini ban, both in the assumption women shouldn’t show skin and the pressure to do so.

•An anonymous reporter argues that we should vote Trump because the disaster will be more interesting to cover than a Clinton presidency. While this is a dreadful reason (as noted at the link) I was also struck by his argument that Trump might work out in the long run because “you just have to blow up shit to build it again.” Trouble is, I doubt in office Trump will blow up the government (the Middle East maybe). As many people have suggested, he’ll probably be happy to sign whatever right-wing bullshit the Republicans in Congress can bring to his desk. And as Echidne points out, the reporter might feel different if he thought his own shit was at risk of being blown up, rather than minorities and Muslims.

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Diversity and kidvid (#SFWApro)

On her blog, Foz Meadows looks at the anti-diversity argument that giving women/gays/minorities a leading character they can identify with is just tokenism or political correctness or unbelievable or just objectionable for some other reason. As she points out, when people argue this is somehow wrong

they forget the point of stories. We have, quite literally, an entire genre of films, books, comics, games and TV shows dedicated to showing us how normal, mediocre straight white guys – literal everymen, as proudly proclaimed in their blurbs and trailers and other forms of promotional bumpf – can rise up and save the world and the day and get the girl, even when they’ve had absolutely nothing going for them and no pertinent skills before that point. It might happen through luck or hard work, through outside help or unknown possession of a secret destiny, or sometimes a combination of all four, but it does happen, over and over and over again, with the cosmic regularity of sunset, and do you know what? Regardless of whether we love or hate or meh those individual stories, everyone who watches or reads or plays them understands, at base, that a certain degree of implausibility is the fucking point. The idea isn’t to create a hyper-real explanation as to why John Doe is suddenly the only man standing between Earth and alien annihilation, although it’s always nice when the worldbuilding rises to the occasion: the fundamental point of the everyman as hero is to make us, the everyday audience, feel as if we could be heroes, too.

And that the goal isn’t to erase the WASP straight male from leading roles nor to put out lots of crap justified by having female/black/gay/bisexual leads, but to have them in good roles — though that said, Meadows argues, it’s perfectly natural to get excited about a role even if it’s flawed because there’s still so little out there.

Her piece is good, and I recommend it, but as I was reading, I started thinking about children’s films and TV. Stranger Things and all its antecedents such as Goonies, ET, Explorers. And before them, some of Disney’s assorted (and frequently lame) kids vs. crooks films. Or the countless variations from my childhood such as Enid Blyton’s numerous stories of kid groups (The Adventurous Four, the Five Find-Outers, the Secret Seven) who exposed crooks and busted evil schemes. Or Robin, the Newsboy Legion and other young super-heroes.

starspangled7(Cover by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon. All rights to current holder).

All unrealistic, because children going up against organized crime wind up dead. All written to cater to a specific demographic. Yet while people may laugh at the unrealisticness, nobody’s thrown into the frothing fits the way the all-female Ghostbusters do. We accept kids enjoy reading about themselves (even if they read older stuff too). Lots of adults enjoy stuff targeted to kids (I doubt ten year olds are buying the hardback Newsboy Legion collections).  But if the demographic targeted and focused on is “women” or “blacks” that’s something objectionable.

Is it because the kid groups tend to be mostly or entirely male and white, so the anti-diversity people can identify with the protagonists in a way that they can’t if it’s a woman or a trans character? Or that “kid stuff” has been around so long we take it for granted, while diversity feels like a searing new attack on WASP male privilege (even though the issues have been discussed since the 1970s, at least)? I suppose you could argue that “kid stuff” isn’t meant to be taken seriously, but that doesn’t stop a lot of adults watching Stranger Things or ET.

This isn’t a perfect analogy, but I think it’s a good start on one.


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