Tuesday, January 31, 2023

"Dr. Fauci made out like a bandit."

Comment sent to this blog: 
"Fauci made out like a bandit devoting his life to serving the public. Not exactly Mother Theresa."

No. Not Mother Theresa. A pretty typical mission-driven professional.  

Anthony Fauci is a doctor. He worked full time until age 82. 
Of course he accumulated some money.

Anthony Fauci has critics. Elon Musk tweeted, "My pronouns are Prosecute/Fauci." Senator Rand Paul spars with him in senate hearings. A GOP House Committee has announced its plan to investigate him. Marjorie Taylor Green introduced H.R. 2316, titled the "Fire Fauci Act." You can buy tee shirts showing Fauci with devil horns.

Anthony Fauci draws criticism for being the highest paid U.S. government employee, $480,000 a year. Fauci's income does not surprise me. He is a physician in America. Governments retain physician employees by paying them what they might make working elsewhere, including in private practice. 

When I was a Jackson County Commissioner the Health Officer for the county was a physician. He was the highest paid county employee. We had to pay a competitive income. Fauci is a physician who supervises physicians, and he held the job for 38 years, which put him at the top of seniority step increases. Fauci's income would be a commonplace income for a physician in private practice in Medford, Oregon. Physicians with specialties that involve procedures make substantially more than this.

The comment quoted at the top of this page used the word "bandit." A Trump/MAGA/conservative meme is that Fauci's income was not just excessive. It was illegitimate and exploitiveThe "bandit" accusation is odd and misplaced because Fauci was perfectly placed to cash in on his expertise, connections, credibility by quitting his job. He would be paid enormous sums to sit on the boards of drug companies, insurance companies, hedge funds, or virtually any board that wanted instant credibility heft. Fauci remained in his government job as Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for the most obvious of reasons. It wasn't money. He is a mission-driven professional doing work he considered important. We see this frequently among people who could retire, but choose to keep working, as lawyers, judges, professors, financial advisors. Their work is important to them. They are good at it and get satisfaction from it. 

The Fauci-as-bandit commenter linked to an article from the conservative magazine National Review that headlined that Fauci's net worth doubled during the pandemic, growing from $6 million to $12 million. The implication is that Fauci used the pandemic to get rich. There is another simpler explanation: A bull market for both stocks and Washington, D.C. homes. It does not surprise me that Fauci and his wife of 37 years accumulated $6 million dollars by Anthony Fauci's 80th birthday. His wife has a Ph.D. and is a department head at the National Institutes of Health. They fit a pattern of a two-income professional family, one of whom is a physician who kept right on working. He was earning a physician-level income for 50 years. Anyone in those circumstance would have accumulated money. Rising stock prices in 2020 and 2021, plus D.C. housing prices, would explain the expansion of their net worths since then. I have no reason to think Fauci reads this blog--I am sure he does not--but a year ago I said that technology stocks were overbought, that speculation was rampant, and a person should reduce risk and buy depressed oil stocks if one had not already done so. If Fauci had followed my suggestions his net worth would have more than doubled over the past three years. 

Yahoo Finance

Anthony Fauci represents exactly what one would expect from a public health official. His job was to  protect public health. The job of people in political roles is to balance public health interest against other interests. Trump and Biden each did such. People have every right to disagree with Fauci's recommendations. Maybe he was too earnest. Maybe he erred by caring more about the health of the vulnerable elderly than does the average American. Maybe, in hindsight, he was wrong on some things. It is easy to Monday-morning quarterback him.

But bandit?  I think not.

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Monday, January 30, 2023

Damar Hamlin is alive.

"What a fool believes, he sees.
No wise man has the power to reason away
What seems to be.
Oh, I believe
                      The Doobie Brothers,  1978
Damar Hamlin, the NFL player who had a heart attack after being hit mid-chest, did a direct-to-camera video.

He did it to show he isn't dead.  

Post-Musk adjustments to the Twitter algorithm have given me new and unexpected exposure to the anti-vaccination world-view. I am getting multiple posts from people I had not previously seen. They assert that Dr. Anthony Fauci conspired to create a weaponized virus to kill Americans, that COVID vaccines have killed millions of people and will kill millions more, and that athletes are dropping dead from the vaccines. Therefore, "the system" arranged to hide Hamlin's death. Conspirators include every malefactor of the political left. The changes to Twitter are subject for another post, but for now I am grateful for the insight into what some people are reading. It helps explain why so many people let lapse their COVID vaccination boosts.

A conspiracy involving body doubles seemed crazy to me. The Hamlin-is-dead claim requires that he never be exposed as alive. But doubt does not require credible theories or evidence, just hearing confident assertions by enough people. This Twitter post arrived yesterday. Its reach was boosted by Naomi Wolf, a Ph.D. in English Literature. She became famous as a clothing advisor to Al Gore in the 2000 election--telling him to be more "alpha"-- but she re-emerged in national consciousness as a spreader of conspiracy themes on social media. 
The "expert in data analysis" doesn't know that the word data is plural. No matter. His assertions and ones like it from thousands of other people circulate within MAGA circles. Some people will be influenced and won't get vaccinated or boosted. As this blog has reported, Republican areas have seen a rise in mortality rates compared to Democratic areas, beginning when vaccines became widely available. MAGA COVID victims who die are not talking. The ones who get through it can say, "See, it wasn't so bad."

The battle to stop the spread of COVID has been lost. COVID is endemic. Colorado's Jared Polis probably had the right political instincts for a Democratic governor. He decided to give up trying to protect Coloradans from one another--the original justification for lockdowns, social distancing, masks, and vaccinations. Instead, protect yourself. Get vaccinated--but if you don't, it is on you. The vaccines now largely protect the vaccinated from a severe case of COVID, not from spreading the disease. The justification of COVID protocols shifted about the same time the tipping point of Americans lost their patience with the protocols. Besides, why bother? They were hearing word that vaccinations were dangerous and masks were worthless.

Nations can do hard things, but it takes leadership. Ukraine's Zelenskyy has shown that public support for a courageous path can be mustered if a leader establishes a clear national purpose and demonstrates he is all in. President Trump took the position of minimizing the disease. He helped fast-track creation of vaccines, but since his bigger message was to "go on with your lives," a split emerged in the national message. Public health authorities talked about a health crisis, while the Trump message was that the COVID crisis was fake. Trump's strongest supporters turned against vaccinations. They've "heard things." 

The best data (plural, remember) on vaccines come from a source considered non-credible in many circles, the CDC. I consider them more credible than Joe Rogan or Marjorie Taylor Green. The CDC says vaccines have a vanishingly small health risk and they reduce the severity of COVID if one gets the disease. Here is some difficult, dense reading by the CDC.

Readers will choose their own sources. Believe what you wish. I will summarize the report's conclusion: The vaccinations are a significant net health benefit. Stay up to date with recommended COVID vaccines, including the bivalent boosters. 

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Sunday, January 29, 2023

Easy Sunday: Dispatcher: "Do you need police, fire, or medical?"

The San Francisco 911 dispatcher was on the ball. 

Paul Pelosi, husband of Nancy Pelosi, made a distress call to the 911 dispatcher.  The home invader was there beside him listening. 

Pelosi had to appear to the home invader that he was calling off the police. He sounded nonchalant. Meanwhile, he had to signal to the dispatcher that he was in grave trouble and, yes, it was an emergency, send police.

There were two messages, given simultaneously, to be interpreted in opposite ways. It is easy, in hindsight, to know that of course this was a distress call. Hindsight is 20-20. It fooled the home invader. The dispatcher "got it." Maybe. That is the problem with messages hidden inside messages. Maybe she "got it" just barely enough. She did send police.


Click Here: Three tense minutes

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Saturday, January 28, 2023

News Update for Southern Oregon. Judge Joe Charter is resigning as

Circuit Court Judge Joe Charter wrote Governor Tina Kotek on Friday, announcing his decision to retire as Jackson County District Court Judge as of May 1, 2023.

He was elected to the position in November, 2022.

No further information is available from Charter. He texted that he is traveling and that his phone is on airplane mode.

"Candy girl, won't you come out tonight."

Mars Candy updated their animated brand characters.  

The Green M&M was too slutty.  
     "At Mars we believe that in the world we want tomorrow, society is inclusive. And, as one of our most iconic brands, M&M’S® is announcing a new global commitment to create a world where everyone feels they belong."

Those are fighting words. 

With all the problems in the world, the kerfuffle over M&Ms animated brand spokespeople is the most trivial. Yet even its triviality makes a point. Nothing is too small to fight over. [Note that M&M is a registered trademark of Mars, Inc.] A great part of America considers itself to be losing a war of values and norms to tyrants of the educated, liberal, establishment, who relentlessly push an agenda celebrating diversity and inclusion. They feel dissed and under attack. Their leaders are fighting back. Even animated candy brand characters are a trigger. 

The character change was an opportunity for Tucker Carlson at Fox. The Mars candy people probably thought it was a harmless and generally good thing to update their brand. They already had built-in opportunity.  Multiple colors--rainbows--are associated with diversity. They have different colored candy but they are all the same inside, a perfect message. They may have thought that their Green M&M character sexualized and objectified women in a way that would not stand up to criticism in a #MeToo world. The character wore go-go boots. She had big eyelashes. She looked ready to go out on a Tinder date, suggesting she meet you at her place.

She had been in a commercial where she was moaning in bed. She was alone, eating M&Ms and doing who knows what else.

30 seconds. Weird but funny.

The new Green M&M wore tennis shoes, not high heels. She looks healthy and cheery, but not overtly sexy. If there is a Tinder date with her, it starts at a Starbucks, not her bedroom. Here is a screen grab from the commercial Mars created to introduce the character changes:

The Mars people were, in fact, making a statement in favor of diversity and inclusion. M&Ms are diverse in color and they share space. That has meaning. "All are welcome here" the ad says, and "everyone feels they belong." It was a political statement.

Here is the ad:   M&Ms For All Funkind.

The Mars company may have thought the ad was in the tradition of the iconic Coke ad of 1971, "I'd like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company. It's the real thing." Take a minute to remember the ad and the good old days when it was OK for diverse people to sing in harmony.

60 seconds. Joyful. 

What was possible in 1971 is not possible now. Businesses are caught in a dilemma, pushed toward inclusion by their Gen Z employees and a corporate environment where diversity is a norm. Businesses with national footprints appear caught off guard by rural and conservative America. Pat Buchanan, Rush Limbaugh, Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis, and Tucker Carlson understood that America. They amplified the backlash to a changing demographic and to the increasing visibility of diverse races, genders, religions, and orientations. Disney was the most prominent target in 2022, and Ron DeSantis made the most of it. M&M is the most recent, with Tucker Carlson the spokesperson. 

Carlson could pick a fight over an M&M because it was yet another norm being adjusted. The Green M&M became less feminine. Her de-gendering is another step in the changing world, like the changed "spokesperson," not "spokesman.'' Afro-American studies courses moved Black Americans from nameless "extras" in the background of American history into the foreground. They were half the population in parts of the American south, but most were as nameless as other chattel in the traditional rendering of American history. Now they are making claims to share the speaking parts. It is unsettling and illegitimate to many Americans, including to DeSantis, who majored in History at Yale. It was a norm change to fight. The Mars people changed the Green M&M from hottie to human, and gender norms are a battleground to defend. Carlson smashed a bag of M&Ms. How dare they!

Mars shelved its animated brand characters. “We’re all about bringing people together," they wrote, but those are fighting words to about half of America.

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Friday, January 27, 2023

Unequal opportunity

"All I want in life is a small, unfair advantage."
           Hank Greenberg, Former Chair of AIG

Equal opportunity 
is how we resolve the contradiction between equality and equity.

When we play the game of Monopoly, every player starts with the same amount of money, and none of the property is owned. When we start out in real life, someone owns the railroad and utilities and the properties are developed. The parents of some players own good properties and collect rents. The parents of other players live on low-rent Baltic Avenue or are in jail. The Community Chest cards don't make a dent on that inequality. The Get Out of Jail cards are given primarily to the people who own the hotels.

Yet, amid that reality, we assert that all people are created equal. We want to believe our system reflects that value by offering equal opportunity to all. People have different and unequal needs. A "kinder, gentler" GOP under George H.W. Bush urged that "no child be left behind." Children should have educational accommodations to give them what they needed to succeed. Unequal accommodations created backlash, that is now a significant part of the current populist GOP. The "haves"--including the White working class--say it is unfair to them. Some educators say it is misplaced effort, because inequality is baked in the DNA of some people who fall behind.

Today Herbert Rothschild looks at the post that started this discussion, a post by Michael Trigoboff, a now-retired professor of Computer Science at Portland Community College. Rothschild graduated from Yale, then got his Ph.D. at Harvard and then taught English Literature at LSU. He has been an activist, donor, and volunteer for civil rights, the environment, and peace. He lives in Talent, Oregon.

Guest Post by Herbert Rothschild
Michael Trigoboff’s guest post in the January 20th Up Close addressed matters it’s important that our society gets straight--equality, equity and wokeness. His attempt at doing so fell short of helpful, however.

I won’t dwell much on wokeness. Its usage is too unstable to know, until one hears how someone uses it, whether one agrees or not. I think a basic description of it is an acknowledgement of the grievous injustices many groups experienced in the past at the hands of those who held power over them, and an attentiveness to the continuing consequences of those injustices. I don’t see why any fair-minded person wouldn’t agree that wokeness, understood in that way, is a proper outlook.

Equality and equity require more analysis. I’ll begin with a statement Trigoboff quoted with disapproval: "Every talent and ability is [sic?] distributed randomly and evenly among all the different subgroups of the population." Since he didn’t identify the source, I can’t be sure, but I suspect that the writer meant something quite different than Trigoboff took it to mean--not that everyone in any one group is similarly endowed, but that innate talent and ability are distributed in equal proportions in every group no matter what group it is.

For example, there are as likely to be proportionally as many gifted Black scientists as White scientists, female scientists as male scientists, if they have a chance to develop their innate abilities. And the reason it’s important to affirm this understanding of equality is that males insisted in the past that all females by nature are unable, say, to succeed at left-brained work and Whites insisted in the past that all Blacks are intellectually inferior. And then, acting on these unscientific assumptions, institutions controlled by White males provided less opportunity for females and Blacks to develop their abilities, thus fulfilling their own prophecy.

Here is how Trigoboff distinguishes between equality and equity: “Wokeness tells us to forget equality and emphasize equity instead. They reject equal opportunity (equality) and propose the substitution of equal outcomes (equity) instead. Every student should succeed, they insist, regardless of innate ability, level of interest, or willingness to work hard.” I don’t know who Trigoboff’s “they” is, but given his use of the key terms, it’s no wonder that he finds himself unhappy.

“Equity” certainly doesn’t mean “equal outcomes.” Actually, a commitment to equal outcomes falls under the purview of equality. Sometimes that would be a legitimate goal, sometimes it wouldn’t. For example, one would want all children in one’s society reach adulthood in good health. On the other hand, I can’t see anyone wanting every child to reach adulthood weighing 160 pounds. So, reasonable people make careful distinctions about what kinds of equality they seek. (More on this in the last paragraph.)

All of us would agree with Trigoboff that we want equality of opportunity. And not just because it’s fair to individuals but because it’s good for society. The more of us realize our potentials, the better off we all are collectively. I infer Trigoboff doesn’t think in those terms. And I know that he doesn’t recognize that providing equal opportunity requires equity, which (as almost everyone but he understands) means fairness.

Take the instance of dyslexic children. Except in severe cases, dyslexic children have the potential to read. However, teaching them to read requires different methods than are used in the regular classroom. Federal rules rightly require schools to give every child an “appropriate” education. In this case, “appropriate” means instruction in reading appropriate to those with dyslexia. That provision not only ensures equality of opportunity, but also something like equality of outcome--that is, they too will become readers. Will every child be as good a reader as every other child? That is not required. But a democratic society needs literate citizens and should devise policies to foster them.

I could multiply cases. Just one more. Equal access to a public facility can’t exist if we don’t make provide ramps, elevators, etc. for the physically challenged. With passage of the ADA, our society finally acknowledged that there can be no equal opportunity without differential treatment, and equity required that we provide it.

Trigoboff writes, “There are those of us who believe in intellectual integrity and the necessity of competence and excellence in the practice of the crafts we have devoted our working lives to.” Why does he think he’s in a minority? My guess is that the people who believe otherwise are few and far between. I’d be hard put to find anyone who would want me to perform open-heart surgery on their spouse or who would want Trigoboff to start as point guard for the Portland Trailblazers. Knocking down straw men neither advances our understanding of serious subjects nor validates claims of intellectual integrity.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Game theory: Burn it down.

It sounds crazy.

The public might reward the House Republicans if they use the debt ceiling to crash our economy.

It is cynical. It is unpatriotic. It is smart game theory.

Democrats should not presume House Republicans are making an empty threat when they threaten to damage America's credit standing or trigger a recession. It would be the "burn it down" gambit, and the arsonist comes out the winner. 

Silverback, mother, child
Rewarding the hostage taker, not the victim?? It is unintuitive, but let's consider primate behavior in our cousins, the gorilla. Gorillas live in small groups consisting of a single, powerful male gorilla, who looks after a harem of a few females, plus their young offspring. The remaining bachelors make longing looks at the harem from outside. Each ponders whether and when to challenge the male. If a new male takes over, his first task is to kill all the infants from the other male so that the females go back into estrus and bear the offspring of the new male. From time to time a bachelor will rush in, grab an infant from the group and kill it, then run off. The female will grieve. Then, often, she will leave the group and pair up with the murderer. Why would she join him?  Because she realizes that her former male protector could not protect her infants from murderers like him. 

It is grotesque, but it makes sense. There is no room for sentiment or prissy morality. Survival is on the line. If you can't beat him, join him. 

It isn't just gorillas. In tough neighborhoods, where the police are weak and cannot protect citizens from violent actors, it is necessary for citizens to pay "protection money."  "It would be a shame if a fire were to burn down this lovely store you have." The Mafia sometimes carries through with the threat. It makes a vivid physical message of police weakness and the credibility of future threats. The prudent person allies with the ones with the power. "Nice economy you have here. If we just had a GOP president like Trump, then this kind of mishap wouldn't happen."

Wall Street Journal
The current political reward structure incentivizes Republicans to trigger a debt ceiling crisis. The machinations that put Kevin McCarthy into the Speakership shows that the tipping point Republican demands hard knuckle politics. "Normal" non-MAGA Republicans are intimidated. Some cheer. Some keep their heads down. They all go along, lest they be outed as RINOs. They saw what happened to Liz Cheney. The Freedom Caucus is not a majority of the GOP, but they now lead it. 

But won't the persuadable middle of American general election voters punish Republicans, not Biden, if they see that Republicans provoked the damage? Probably not. Biden carries more risk of being blamed. Possibly a Bill Clinton or Barack Obama would have the oratorical skills to push blame back onto Republicans--and indeed that happened in prior debt crisis events. A Democratic president would need to explain the mess amid in-the-face reality of a damaged financial system, a recession, and unemployment. It is a hard task for any president. Biden is no Churchill. Moreover, the job of sending a persuasive message cannot be delegated. Delegation would confirm Biden's weakness, not the strength of his team. See! The weak president needs to be propped up.

The GOP can muddle the issue of fault. These issues are complicated and Republicans can argue they are protecting America from profligate Democrats. What would not be complicated is that the U.S. would be in distress. Misery speaks for itself. Biden would be left holding the bag. After all, he is the president. The worse the bag, the better for the GOP. The cynical move is for the GOP is to wreck the bag.

Will they? The Freedom Caucus is insisting on it, and doing so strengthens its hand inside the GOP, and the GOP's hand in the upcoming election. 

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Wednesday, January 25, 2023

AI text is text built to a formula

Artificial Intelligence text is like a cantaloupe purchased out-of-season. 

It looks like a melon, but it has no taste. 

People still buy those melons. They are easy and they are good enough, if availability is more important than quality.

$4.99 at Safeway, today

AI text creates an outline for a blog post, and then fills in that outline. Using the key words one enters to instruct what is wanted, the program creates a two or three sentence introduction which restates those key words inserting them into full sentences. Then it inserts a few paragraphs, with each devoted to one of the key word concepts. It concludes with a paragraph that repeats what has just been said.

Part of the genius of AI text is that it uses different words to say the same thing, which obscures the fact that it is filling space. In the instance of my trial experiment with a post on Social Security, the AI text repeated at least 10 times within a 461-word essay that seniors count on their Social Security check. It is true. Most do. The Social Security example cited some readily available statistics, including that 65 million people get the benefit and that it is 35% of the average senior's income, which gives some data heft to the argument. The text argues that seniors like having money to spend, that merchants like having it spent, and that governments like merchants who stay in business. All true. All so reasonable. All dead obvious.

The AI text displays its lack of "understanding" of why Social Security has persisted for eight decades amid all the political turmoil over taxation and income re-distribution. It is as if the AI text did a quick scan of web commentary and synthesized it--which is, of course, what it did. In that sense it is all too human, rather like someone passing along rumors gleaned from friends, Joe Rogan, or email chain letters. In the paragraph on fairness, it reports that "wealthy Americans do not pay into the system at all once their taxable earnings exceed $132,900 per year." That is true. That argument misses a key point, though, for an essay on the political risk to Social Security when weighed against budget deficits. Social Security is set up as an earned benefit. Like most pensions, the benefit is approximately a return, with interest, of what was paid in by oneself and one's employer over one's working life. The Social Security benefit is capped to pay out on earnings up to the maximum at $132,900, so the payment into Social Security is capped at the same level. In fact, the formula for payouts skew toward providing a better benefit for lower income people, but that is disguised. Social Security isn't "welfare," nor do people understand it as such. Social Security is arguably a fair return across all income levels, given that on average prosperous people live longer. That gives it political buy-in across all groups. If it became a transparent transfer of money from the prosperous to the poor, Social Security would become an unearned benefit, and promptly become as contentious as welfare or food stamps. 

It would be dangerous for a writer to put his name on unedited, unchecked AI text. It asserts with confidence things the program doesn't understand. Besides, it is boring and repetitious. It reads like the bullet points in an old-style Power Point presentations. 

But AI text, even at its current state of development, still has value to a writer. It fills a block of space with words that sound reasonable and are grammatically correct. If readers are just skimming anyway, it looks as if the writer addressed the topic. Quick-and-dirty readers get quick-and-dirty text, and nobody is the worse. The text is meant to be read the way a cantaloupe purchased January is meant to be eaten. Both fill space. They aren't good, but they are good enough.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Sample Number Two: Artificial Intelligence writes a blog post

Below is a sample blog post, written by an Artificial Intelligence website.

It is not the future of this blog. 

It is from ChatGPT, at www.openai.com It is currently free.

I will have comments on what is lacking in upcoming commentary. I would never make a daily habit of reading text like that below, but readers should decide for themselves. For today, just take it in. 

My prompt, telling the program what I wanted: "Write an essay about the downsides of wokeness and critical social justice ideology."

The response, received in a few minutes: 


Wokeness and critical social justice ideology have gained significant attention and influence in recent years, particularly within certain communities and sectors of society. While these ideologies aim to address and combat discrimination and inequality, they also have a number of downsides that should be acknowledged.


One of the main downsides of wokeness and critical social justice ideology is that it can be divisive and polarizing. These ideologies often involve a strong emphasis on identity and group membership, which can lead to the creation of "us vs. them" mentality. This can be especially harmful in a diverse and multicultural society, as it can lead to increased tension and mistrust between different groups.


Another downside of wokeness and critical social justice ideology is that it can lead to a culture of censorship and suppression of dissenting views. This is particularly true in environments where these ideologies are heavily promoted, such as universities and certain workplaces. Individuals who hold views that are perceived as "not woke" may feel pressured to keep quiet or risk being ostracized or facing consequences.


Additionally, wokeness and critical social justice ideology can be seen as overly simplistic and reductionist. These ideologies often reduce complex social issues to a matter of good vs. evil, and individuals to their respective group memberships, which can lead to a lack of nuance and understanding in important conversations.


Furthermore, it can be argued that wokeness and critical social justice ideology can lead to a lack of accountability for one's own actions and behavior. This can be seen in the way that individuals who hold these ideologies may view themselves as inherently good and morally superior, which can lead to a lack of self-reflection and a lack of willingness to take responsibility for one's own actions.


In conclusion, wokeness and critical social justice ideology have the potential to be powerful tools for addressing and combating discrimination and inequality. However, it is important to also acknowledge the downsides of these ideologies, such as divisiveness, censorship, oversimplification, and lack of accountability. It is important for individuals and communities to be aware of these downsides and to have open and honest conversations about the ways in which these ideologies are being applied and implemented.

I welcome reader opinion in the comments. 

[Note: To get daily delivery of this blog to your email go to: https://petersage.substack.com Subscribe. The blog is free and always will be.] 

Sample Number One: Artificial Intelligence writes a blog post

Below is a sample blog post, written by an Artificial Intelligence website.

It is not the future of this blog. 

It is from Jasper: www.jasper.ai  It is the "professional" model, priced at $80/month.

 I will have comments on what is lacking in upcoming commentary. I would never make a daily habit of reading text like that below, but readers should decide for themselves. For today, just take it in.

My prompt, telling the program what I wanted: "Social Security.  Is it necessary to cut benefits to reduce the federal deficit?"

The response, received within seconds:

Blog Title: An Examination of Social Security Benefits and the Federal Deficit 

Blog Introduction: Social Security benefits have been a source of security for millions of Americans since the 1930s. Recently, there has been talk of cutting these benefits as a means to reduce the federal deficit. But is it necessary? Let’s take a look at the facts. 

Blog Body: 

Social Security Benefits and Retirement Income 

Social Security benefits are an important part of retirement income for many Americans. According to the Social Security Administration, nearly 61 million people receive Social Security benefits every month. In fact, retirement benefits make up approximately 33 percent of total income for those aged 65 and older. Furthermore, these benefits are especially important for women who are more likely to outlive their male counterparts and need to rely on this income to make ends meet in later life. 
The Impact of Benefit Cuts on The Economy

It is true that reducing Social Security benefits could result in significant cost savings for the federal government in the short term—but at what cost? Reducing these benefits would also reduce economic activity in local communities as fewer people have money in their pockets to spend on goods and services. This decrease in spending would mean less tax revenue for local governments, which would further compound our budget woes over time. In addition, cutting these much-needed retirement benefits would disproportionately affect low-income seniors who rely more heavily on Social Security than wealthier individuals with other forms of retirement income or assets like investments or real estate holdings. 

The Fairness Argument 

When considering whether or not it’s necessary to cut Social Security benefits, we must consider fairness. As mentioned earlier, low-income seniors rely heavily on these benefits—and yet wealthy Americans do not pay into the system at all once their taxable earnings exceed $132,900 per year. It seems unfair that those who can least afford it should be asked to bear the burden when other measures could be taken first—such as raising taxes on high earners or closing loopholes that allow corporations and wealthy individuals to avoid paying some taxes altogether.                      

Conclusion: When discussing ways to reduce the federal deficit, it is important not to forget about Social Security—a crucial safety net for millions of retired Americans across the country who rely heavily on this benefit every month just to make ends meet. Cutting these much-needed retirement benefits should not be done lightly as it could have serious negative economic consequences both nationally and locally while unfairly burdening those who can least afford it; we ought instead focus our attention elsewhere such as increasing taxes on high earners or closing corporate tax loopholes before taking away this essential source of financial security from American seniors everywhere.


I welcome reader opinions in the comments. 

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Monday, January 23, 2023

Equality and Equity

A Guest Post on "Wokeness" caused a stir.

"What next, Peter, a Guest Post from the KKK?" 

I am writing about the Guest Post published Friday, "Why I fight wokeness."

Some issues are too hot to address. The question the Guest Post addressed was whether the goal of equity, meaning accommodations for pre-existing disadvantages, is fair, just, and realistic. Equity confronts another American value, that of equality. The instant blowback from the left from Friday's post is a problem for Democrats. Equality and equity raise serious issues of jobs, public benefits, and education. Politics is how we resolve conflicts, but the communication needed to do politics is perilous. No one has standing. Everyone has identity characteristics that both qualify and disqualify. Equity is about measuring out victimization and compensations. Somebody wins, somebody loses. The winners feel entitled, the losers feel cheated. The message of Dr. Martin Luther King, which once unified Democrats, now divides them.

The political right has a message vacuum in which to frame the issue to their advantage: The woke left wants to screw you and other smart, hard-working normal people so they can give your job and tax money to others.

Democrats are conflicted. They want both equality and equity, but talking through the nuances and contradictions triggers opposition from one's friends. The image used in the Guest Post last Friday to explain equity is in widespread use by proponents of equity. It is the example of a just society. The image skirts the problem. Boxes are cheap. There is room for all three of them. No one seems to care that they are avoiding the game box office.

The reality is that no football coach puts tiny people on the defensive line. The Guest Post author taught computer science at the college level. He observed that some people are better suited than others for the punctiliousness and logical rigor of writing code. You cannot stack boxes under bad code. Code either works or it doesn't. Reality is in conflict with Democratic ideology, so the issue festers for the political left. 

The Guest Post on Friday was a gift to Democrats. He put the problem of human differences on the table for discussion. Liberty and respect for the individual are core values of Americans. Thomas Jefferson wrote that individuals are free and equal, with autonomy to pursue happiness. 

There is an opportunity for a Democratic politician to form a message of nuance on this issue of equity and equality. He or she would reaffirm respect for individuals and liberty as Democratic party values as well as American values. That Democrat will catch hell for it, at first at least. The Democrat would be seen to be downplaying identity and intersectionality. It is possible a White male simply cannot do this. He has White male privilege! He cannot possibly understand! He is defending oppression!  It may take a woman of color to open the door. Possibly a LGBTQ woman of color. But once open, there is opportunity for all Democrats to talk about liberty and personal choice. Embrace diversity of the individual, not just of groups.

I am hopeful that Biden chooses not to run for re-election. That would throw open the  Democratic primary to several dozen aspirants. There will be TV cameras in New Hampshire exposing Americans to a new generation of Democrats. Some candidates will say the un-sayable. Some of them will rise to the top. Then the hard work of political adjustment and compromise can move forward.

Tomorrow: How Artificial Intelligence deals with messaging on "wokeness."

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Sunday, January 22, 2023

Easy Sunday: Robot

The future of employment/unemployment.

Don't worry about the Chinese taking your grandchildren's jobs. 

Automation will do it instead. 

But who will make and repair the robots this clever and reliable? Surely there is work to be done doing that.

Yes. Robots will do it.

Click here: 91 seconds

Tomorrow: An example of what Artificial Intelligence in ChatGPT can do, writing on a controversial subject.

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Saturday, January 21, 2023

Debt Ceiling Default Disaster

Canadian Economist Sandford Borins warns: 

The USA is acting like a Banana Republic.

The USA, the "indispensable nation" of the post-WWII world, is acting like an out-of-control teenager, showing disrespect to parents, teachers, rules and institutions. The teenager is out late at night, recklessly driving daddy's T-Bird.

The populist forces shaping American politics aren't conservative in the Edmund Burke sense of respect for enduring practices and institutions. Quite the opposite. Political populism acts like technology startups: "Move fast and  break things." The populist GOP grew powerful by exciting a voter base that cheered breaking norms. News is fake. Elections are rigged. The CDC is corrupt.  Civil Service is corrupt. The FBI is corrupt. Judges are corrupt. Auditing taxes is tyranny.  

Break things. And how better to break things than using the debt ceiling?

Sandford Borins is an economist in Toronto, Canada. He is watching the U.S. House Speaker promise the most adamant of the burn-it-down caucus that his majority will shut down the government over the debt ceiling. That action would break yet another institution: The guarantee of the U.S. Treasury bond. People in the U.S. and around the world count on Treasuries. When people with a liability want to lay off risk, they buy a U.S. Treasury to secure its payment. Bank reserves are in U.S. Treasuries. Without secure Treasuries, the world's financial system is a fragile house of cards, full of mutual promises by people who might pay their debts, but might not, because they, too, are owed money by people who might pay their bills, but might not, because those third and fourth party debtors are also at the mercy of unreliable debtors. There would be no bedrock. Borins writes that a debt default would be a disaster for the U.S. and the world. Borins is a college classmate and Professor of Public Management, Emeritus, at the University of Toronto. He writes and posts regularly at www.sandfordborins.com

Borins, yesterday

Guest Post by Sandford Borins

             A Banana Republic with Economic WMD’s

Russia, Iran, and North Korea are now recognized as terrorist states with nuclear weapons of mass destruction. My argument in this post is that the legislated limit on the amount of debt the United States can issue has now made it a banana republic possessing weapons of economic mass destruction.

I’ll begin by unpacking both parts of that assertion. Politically, the US has in recent years taken on many of the characteristics of a banana republic including election denialism; an attempted insurrection; frequent death threats to, and occasional instances of, attempted violence against politicians; voter disenfranchisement; and unlimited election spending. The brilliant minds of the US financial sector invented subprime mortgages, mortgage-backed securities, collateralized debt obligations, and credit default swaps. These instruments were the primary causes of the global financial crisis of 2008-09. Now the debt limit has the potential to unleash economic mass destruction.

Serious Business

A government’s fiscal balance (surplus or deficit over both the short and long terms) and its appropriate debt-GDP ratio are serious and important policy issues. For example, the Government of Canada made major budget cuts in 1994-97 to restore fiscal balance after decades of large and growing deficits. After 25 years of strong finances, fiscal balance has re-emerged as a significant issue as the federal and provincial governments attempt to deal with the fiscal aftermath of the pandemic. Balanced budget amendments were championed decades ago by serious scholars like Aaron Wildavsky and have been enacted in many jurisdictions. They usually involve some flexibility in the definition of what is being balanced and the time frame over which balance is to be achieved.

Economic Terrorism

In contrast, the threat by right-wing fringe (Freedom Caucus) Republicans in the House of Representatives to refuse to authorize an increase in the debt limit unless major spending cuts are made is an act of economic terrorism. If there is no increase in the debt limit, the United States Government would be forced to balance its budget overnight.The deficit is now 5 percent of US GDP, so this would mean an immediate reduction of 5 percent of GDP, or approximately $1 trillion. Not only would that require large cuts in discretionary spending, but it would force the government to renege on many statutory commitments.

The domestic impact of reneging on statutory commitments is to sharply reduce consumer spending and capital investment as funds stop flowing from government to consumers and business. This bleeding of purchasing power, coupled with the increase in interest rates, would make a serious recession a certainty.

In addition, the US Government could be forced to default on its accumulated 31 trillion in public debt. Banana republics default on their debt because they no longer have the resources to service it. Costs are immediately borne by the holders of the debt but ultimately by the republic itself, as it is either excluded from capital markets or faces higher borrowing costs. A default by the US would be different, because it can readily service its debt, but is choosing not to.

If the US starts to default on its debt, what will institutions that hold it (especially the $7 trillion held overseas) do? Will they sit tight and wait for the Washington windbags to come to their senses, or will they unload it? Debt holders attempting to sell so large a body of debt will drive up interest rates both in the US and globally, representing another recessionary force. In the long run a default will signal the unreliability of US Government debt and hence create a debt premium for the US relative to, for example, EU and Japanese debt.

How it Ends

In my view, nothing good can come of this economic terrorism. US legislators should have a serious discussion about restoring an appropriate fiscal balance and take action in that direction. But threatening economic terrorism – with all its costs for the US and global economies – is not the way to begin such a discussion.

In both houses of Congress, there are majorities consisting of all the Democrats and some Republicans that reject economic terrorism. But House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has sold his soul to the terrorists to realize the pinnacle of his ambition. He may be willing to bring the temple crashing down over his head as long as he can retain his power in the ruins.

The price of credit default swaps on 5 year US Treasuries has been steadily increasing recently, but still only implies a .5 percent probability of default. As the Treasury takes measures to delay a default until June, and the President and the Democratic leadership ponder whether and how to negotiate with the economic terrorists, perhaps this is the time to buy the default swaps.

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