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Your daily dose of “outrage”…

I find myself becoming increasingly disenchanted with the blogosphere. It’s not that there isn’t a ton of great information and discussion out there. It’s not that I don’t think it’s valuable, quite the opposite. However, so much of what you read is just, well, petty pearl clutching.

It’s sort of a packaged “daily dose of outrage” (or more accurately, depending on how many RSS feeds you follow, a by-the-minute dose of outrage).

It’s not that there isn’t actually truth in what is written, though again it is often pumped up, however I’m not sure it does anyone much good to read this stuff. Sure, when someone has a long well thought out opinion on some topic of importance that is one thing, but so much of what we see is essentially, “X said something stupid,” “Y did something stupid,” and “Z did something stupid”.

Of course each of these raise our pulse rate and convince us the people on the “other side” are evil, but I don’t think it really does much to raise the level of conversation, educate, or ultimately move toward solutions. In fact it rather divides us.

Worse, I’d think it’s really what Aldous Huxley was concerned about – distractions from anything real.

I say this in part because I also read conservative blogs now and then and it’s funny, if you just substitute liberal names with conservative names and vice-versa, it’s pretty much the same crap. This is particularly true lately as we see conservatives attack Obama for what liberals attacked Bush for (and conservatives defended Bush against) and liberals support Obama for what liberals attacked Bush for. It’s only an outrage when it’s not your “team”.

This helps no one and is ultimately, well, comical (in the “it’s so sad you have to laugh”, kind of way).

I don’t know I’m paranoid enough to believe that this is exactly what the powers that be want – us ruminating on petty disagreements and tribal alliances, but it sure works to their benefit and not ours.

And if that all doesn’t get you outraged, well just remember every outrage pumps you up and makes you miserable. Sure, it’s an emotional high (and probably a sign of our “addictive” American psyche), but it sure does make the world a bad place to live.

UPDATE:

I left off an important detail – I am most definitely part of the problem, or at least have been. There is plenty to be found in this blog that in my mind constitutes a “daily dose of outrage”. Sad but true.

SCOTUS – Shelby County v. Holder

On June 25th in Shelby County v. Holder the Supreme Court essentially gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA). While I unfortunately do not have the time to go to great detail here, the court’s majority opinion rests on the presumption that the VRA violates multiple constitutional precepts, which (as with all such decisions) it goes at great lengths to outline.

The problem is, all of those constitutional precepts are based on the Constitution as it existed pre-Civil War. The decision entirely ignores two small but remarkably consequential details, namely the 14th and 15th amendments.

Those amendments say (14th):

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States … Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

and (15th):

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude … Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The emphasis being on “Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation“.

In short, if Congress feels that it needs to legislate to achieve the aims of these amendments it has unbridled freedom to do so. It doesn’t matter how convoluted, antiquated, or silly it might seem to the SCOTUS (and the VRA is anything but silly), Congress has the right to do so.

In order for these amendments to become law, all of the states had to ratify the amendments. That means the states agreed to grant these powers to the Federal government.  Moreover since these amendments come after the main body of the Constitution, they supersede any prior language. They are in effect, “the Constitution”.

It is not complicated. The SCOTUS has no place here. In deciding to side against the VRA, they have not nullified a congressional act, they have nullified the Constitution itself. The only way to take this power away justifiably from Congress, would be a constitutional amendment itself. This is a vast overstep on the part of the SCOTUS and hard to not see as simply partisan.

Welcome to the party…

Really, the AP just figured this out???:

Obama embracing some Bush-era anti-terror policies

Welcome to the party.

Thomas Paine, Communist

“Separate an individual from society, and give him an island or a continent to possess, and he cannot acquire personal property. He cannot be rich. So inseparably are the means connected with the end, in all cases, that where the former do not exist the latter cannot be obtained. All accumulation, therefore, of personal property, beyond what a man’s own hands produce, is derived to him by living in society; and he owes on every principle of justice, of gratitude, and of civilization, a part of that accumulation back again to society from whence the whole came.

This is putting the matter on a general principle, and perhaps it is best to do so; for if we examine the case minutely it will be found that the accumulation of personal property is, in many instances, the effect of paying too little for the labor that produced it; the consequence of which is that the working hand perishes in old age, and the employer abounds in affluence.

It is, perhaps, impossible to proportion exactly the price of labor to the profits it produces; and it will also be said, as an apology for the injustice, that were a workman to receive an increase of wages daily he would not save it against old age, nor be much better for it in the interim. Make, then, society the treasurer to guard it for him in a common fund; for it is no reason that, because he might not make a good use of it for himself, another should take it.”

 – Thomas Paine

PS: See also “Benjamin Franklin, Communist

Hypothetical…

If we droned Mohammad Nour’s ass while he was standing next to McCain do you think maybe then we would care about “collateral damage” (and don’t even mention “due process”)?

UPDATE 1:

This also shows the unholy mess we are injecting ourselves in if we take sides here. What the heck is the non-Executive branch Senator doing there anyway?

Unhinged…

Only in our Bizarro-World of high finance could this from the AP possibly make sense:

The stock market rose Thursday after a pair of lackluster economic reports raised expectations that the Federal Reserve will continue to boost the economy with its stimulus program.

Ok, as they quote:

“The big worry that’s been hitting the market lately, that the Fed might step back prematurely, might be fading a little today on the idea that the economy does need a bit more support”

but still, the point is the economy sucks #$%^ and the market goes up! Black is white, white is black, and cats and dogs are sleeping together. Oh and “free markets” my a$$.

UPDATE:

Honestly most of the time I don’t think they have a clue why things went up and down and just make shit up that sounds plausible.

UPDATE 2:

Yes, I know my language sucks today.

 

If they can’t, how can we?

Here’s a snippet of a recent memo from a large hospital regarding the planned termination of their pension plan in favor of a 401(x) plan:

Very simply, the primary reason we are making these changes is because BLAH can no longer afford to offer the legacy retirement programs we currently provide our employees. Though our finances are stable right now, we can no longer afford the market ups and downs related to our $BLAH million BLAH BLAH Plan obligation. Despite timely and sophisticated efforts to manage funded status, cash contribution and expense issues during the past decade, external economic factors – such as low interest rate environment – continue to dampen the positive impact these actions could have on the BLAH BLAH Plan’s financial state and volatile plan costs.

So I guess my question is, if despite being able to use “sophisticated" efforts” (which I assume means well trained professional fund managers) they can’t adequately fund your retirement, how is it that you, a layman are going to do better?

I am not trying to pick on the Hospital in question here, but the point remains, what are we as retirement “consumers” being sold here with this nationwide march to 401 plans?

It would strike me that if professionals can’t find a way to profitably aggregate the investments of thousands of employees, how are isolated individuals making uninformed decisions going to adequately fund their own retirements?

It’s true, 401 participants can choose from a wide range of funds (depending on what their employer has opted for), but if somehow that is magically better, why couldn’t pensions invest in the same funds and cut out the middle-man?

The obvious answer is these 401 plans aren’t going to sufficiently fund the individuals’ retirements, just the difference is that the burden of that failure is going to fall squarely on the individual. This is particularly true if you consider that many 401 funds have high management costs and at time of retirement far more retirees are likely to be badly hedged against market downturns than pensions run by sophisticated managers. That is, again, if the big guys have a hard time of making a pension work in a downturn, how in God’s name are you going to?

The larger answer is of course the retirement system is broken and essentially we are quietly kicking the can down the road when we are likely to find most retirees are at least as unprepared for retirement as the pensions they are being kicked out of. Unlike pension plans, however, there will be no corporate profits or government bailouts to make up the difference. Cat food will be the meal du jour.

Which brings us to the final point – were pensions ever financially sustainable? If the answer is “no”, then we have our answer (but still no answer for future retirees). If the answer is “yes”, then what changed? Where has the money gone?

I mean, certainly it seemed to work out for a lot of our parents.

I have a theory on where that money went, just follow the sucking sound as the money flows to the top 1%…

Douglas Adams on Democracy…

“It comes from a very ancient democracy, you see….”
“You mean, it comes from a world of lizards?”
“No,” said Ford, who by this time was a little more rational and coherent than he had been, having finally had the coffee forced down him, “nothing so simple. Nothing anything like so straightforward. On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people.”
“Odd,” said Arthur, “I thought you said it was a democracy.”
“I did,” said Ford. “It is.”
“So,” said Arthur, hoping he wasn’t sounding ridiculously obtuse, “why don’t the people get rid of the lizards?”
“It honestly doesn’t occur to them,” said Ford. “They’ve all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they’ve voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.”
“You mean they actually vote for the lizards?”
“Oh yes,” said Ford with a shrug, “of course.”
“But,” said Arthur, going for the big one again, “why?”
“Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” said Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in.”

- Douglas Adams, “So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish

Americans are funny…

Not saying Chavez was a cuddly guy but I will point  out that despite unending news reports saying how he destroyed the country, he had:

“approval ratings at the time of his death at around 60 percent”

Whereas one might note:

“President Obama’s approval rating had fallen to 46% for the Friday-through-Sunday tracking period, which is down from 53% a week earlier”

or:

“President Bush will leave office as one of the most unpopular departing presidents in history, according to a new CBS News/New York Times poll showing Mr. Bush’s final approval rating at 22 percent.”

Clearly Venezuelans need to be educated on just how bad off they were.

System 1 vs. System 2

Just putting this here for future reference:

“System 1″ in “Social Psychology” parlance is your “unconscious” or “emotional self” (or perhaps “ego”), whereas “System 2″ is your “conscious” or “intellectual self” (or “id”).

Most humans generally believe, or should I say, would prefer to believe that it is “System 2″ that controls “System 1″.

Reading the excellent “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman (as well as a number of other books on the subject) it is pretty clear that we’ve got it completely wrong. Rather in the vast majority of situations it is in fact “System 1″ that is running the show and “System 2″ is at best providing verification for what “System 1″ is doling out. This makes a lot of sense when one consider “System 2″ is slow, requires effort, and even (according to studies), induces the equivalent of pain to actual use.

In social situations it appears “System 2″‘s function is to really provide “cover” (aka “window dressing”) for “System 1″‘s already predetermined notions. That is, “System 2″ isn’t really functioning from an analytical sense and providing “well thought out” responses, but rather supplying plausible, but not necessarily accurate, explanations for what “System 1″ has already determined (albeit perhaps wrongly and certainly in many cases arbitrarily).

This is why intellectuals (which I would for argument sake have to include myself), don’t necessarily come out with better answers than (so-called) non-intellectuals. The “intellect” isn’t really often providing “value-add”, just better obfuscation. Worse it inclines said intellectual to believe they have a better understanding than they do (ie: be more damn sure of themselves).

This isn’t really news if one is a parent. One watches their children not necessarily improve their judgement, with age, but rather get better at justifying their judgement even if it’s just as wrong as it was before.

In fact I think the true difference between children and adults, and sadly this includes myself, is not necessarily better judgement (though experience does finally get through or rock heads eventually) but rather is their competence at windowing dress their arbitrary already predetermined positions.

That is, they are better at dishing out bull shit.