Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The immigration argument that Rubio ducked shows what’s wrong with presidential debate structure

By Marc Jampole

Both the Associated Press and The New York Times did a solid job of reporting the factual mistakes made by the various Republican candidates for president in the fourth debate. Between the two media outlets, they picked up on the fact that:
·         Ben Carson was wrong when he said that raising the minimum wage always increases the number of jobless.
·         Donald Trump was wrong when he claimed China designed the Trans-Pacific Partnership; in fact China had nothing to do with the agreements.
·         Marco Rubio was wrong when he said welders make more money than philosophy majors; philosophy majors make more than three times what welders do.
·         Ted Cruz was lying when he said he was proposing a simple 10% flat tax, when his plan also calls for a 16% added value tax; added value taxes, FYI, are typically passed along to end users—meaning the general public.

But as usual, the media outlets went after small fry errors, the policy equivalent of nitpicking gotcha’s. On the larger issue of conceptual lies, the media was silent. To a person, the eight candidates at the “big kids” debate all advocate that lowering taxes will lead to economic growth. Analyzing each of their tax proposals in detail reveals that all want to give the lion’s share of reduced taxes to the wealthy and ultra-wealthy. None of the media points out that the bulk of the research by economists demonstrates that lowering taxes on the wealthy does not lead to increased jobs, but raising taxes on them does.

Likewise with government regulation, immigration and the minimum wage: The media is happy to correct an error—or lie—of number or fact, but not of concept.

Speaking of the minimum wage, the way the debate moderators handled that issue at the fourth debate exemplifies what’s wrong with the basic debate structure. At the very beginning of the debate, a moderator asked Trump and Carson whether they thought the minimum wage should be raised to $15 an hour. We did not get an opportunity to hear what any of the other candidates thought about the minimum wage, because the moderators changed the question for Marco Rubio, who decided to answer the minimum wage question despite the change of subject. All three were against raising the minimum wage, but we never found out what the other five thought.

The moderators insisted on flitting from question to question, afraid that viewers would get too bored with eight people pontificating/obfuscating/expatiating the same basic thoughts on the same issue, essentially saying the same thing, because it seems as if on every issue, at least six of the eight hold isomorphic views. The show biz aspects of the debate compel the moderators to keep the subject fresh.

The changing of topics before all had their say worked in Marco Rubio’s favor when the topic turned to immigration. First Trump gave his poisonous views on immigration and then both Kasich and Jeb pointed out the impossibility of deporting 11 million people. Jeb added a compassionate note about the American way. It was probably his finest moment in the campaign so far, and was rightfully the highlight of much of the mainstream news media’s coverage.

What happened next is what I would call a deus ex machina for Rubio. A deus ex machina is a god that comes out of a machine at the end of Greek or Roman play who resolves all the plot twists; in modern parlance it refers to any sudden ending, such as the King pardoning Mack the Knife (Brecht) or arresting Tartuffe (Moliere). For Rubio, the deus ex machina was the moderator’s need to change the subject. The next question was to the young lad Marco, but about automation, not immigration. And unlike the first time the moderator changed the subject on Rubio and Rubio said, “Let me answer that, too,” this time Rubio took a pass and gave his standard campaign messages about addressing automation. Rubio avoided the need to confront his disgraceful waffling on the subject, coming out against the immigration bill he helped to develop because he was afraid to lose primary votes.

Much of the news media is calling Rubio the big winner from last night, but I think that’s wishful thinking for those looking for an alternative to Cruz, which means most of the mainstream and rightwing news media. I don’t think any candidate did anything to change anyone’s minds, except Carly Fiorina, who I expect will lose support.

Carly produced the most laughable moment of the debates, and she did it again and again. It’s when she kept calling for “zero-based budgeting” as the answer to our problems. Zero-based budgeting means that when putting together an annual budget, a manager does not start with last year’s number, but determines the department’s needs for the coming year; you start from zero and decide what you really need. It’s a technique of managing corporations that I learned in my first job after graduate school, in 1974! It’s been around for decades. Wikipedia says the federal government has been using it since Jimmy Carter mandated it in 1977. It’s a fundamental tool of all organizations.

Essentially, what she is saying is the equivalent of a chess teacher saying he can teach a kid to be a world champion by learning the “fried liver” offense, which can win you a game or two on the beginner’s level but will lose to any player with even a little experience. I have to believe that many business people noticed that Fiorina is advocating the second day’s lesson in business management 101 for non-majors as the key to most of our problems. Even those without MBAs will likely have been bored by this one-trick pony droning on and on in message points that sometimes didn’t really match the question.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Evangelicals should protest that Starbucks commercializes Christmas by offering special cups to attract sales

By Marc Jampole

Another skirmish on the culture wars broke out this week as right-wing Christians have flooded the social and mainstream media complaining that the specialty coffee cup into which the part-time, low-paid servers working for multinational Starbucks pour its overpriced brew in November and December does not sufficiently represent Christmas. This year’s cup is plain red with the Starbucks’s logo. In past years, Starbucks has embellished its holiday cup with icons of contemporary secular Christmas celebration such as ornaments, carolers and snowflakes.

Evangelicals say the Starbucks’s action is part of a continuing “War on Christmas.” For about 10 years now, religious right-wingers and right-wing media such as Fox News have complained whenever big retailers have used “holiday” in their ads and marketing instead of saying “Christmas.” The motivation of the retailers seems clear: to entice those who don’t celebrate Christmas to participate in the potlatch of conspicuous consumption which defines late December in the United States and most other countries whose population is Christian or has a Christian background. Jews fell into line decades ago, turning a minor holiday—Hanukkah—into an occasion for gift-giving, which of course means gift-buying. But what about Kwanzaa and Chinese New Year? And what do retailers do about Muslims, Buddhists, Hindi, Jains and the myriad of other religions practiced by Americans? An ecumenical “holiday” season certainly has a better chance of attracting sales from all these non-Christian groups than a “Christmas” season. 

But that’s not how the evangelicals see it. To them, everything that does not directly manifest Christianity in the marketplace in November and December is a direct attack on Christianity. If they cared so much about Christianity, however, their concern would not be that the marketplace is too secular, but rather that the marketplace has taken over Christmas and slowly drained it of any religious meaning.

The big complaint should be that Starbucks trots out its special holiday cups as early as the first week of November, the same time that most retailers install their holiday decorations, which mostly draw from Christmas traditions. We have two solid months in which we are bombarded almost 24/7 with attempts to sell us goods and services to celebrate the holidays. Whether “holiday” means Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Chinese New Year or whatever, the marketplace and the mass media exhort us to celebrate by buying stuff. Not by following Christian principles. Not by contemplating what some will call holy mysteries and others will call myths. Not by helping others. No, most of the holiday information overload focuses on conspicuous consumption. As is the American way, we relate to others and the real world on Christmas solely as purchasers.

If they really cared about Christianity, right-wingers would protest the commercialization of Christmas. They would advocate that cashiers and store greeters say “Happy Holidays” or give the normal rest-of-the-year greeting, because reducing their religious holiday to conspicuous consumption dishonors the day’s holiness. They would picket stores with Christmas displays, since those displays are merely exhortations to buy, and not reflections of devotion to their god.

Muddying the Starbucks cup controversy is the ignorance of many of the evangelicals, who don’t realize that certain Christmas practices have nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with social customs, many of which predate Christianity, such as bringing greenery inside the home in winter. For example, one prominent evangelical dunce named Joshua Feuerstein wrote on Facebook, “Do you realize that Starbucks wanted to take Christ and Christmas off of their brand new cups?” Of course, he was wrong. There never was a symbol of Christ on the cups, just symbols of secular Christmas.

Those who believe in the War on Christmas do not understand how ubiquitous and potent the symbols of Christianity are in society during the last two months of the year. The Starbucks cup is exhibit A. While plain, the color combination is red and green, traditional Christmas colors. As far as I know, there are no white and blue cups, which would suggest Hanukkah. No cups add black to the color palette, which would symbolize Kwanzaa. None of the cups are red and gold, colors associated with the Chinese New Year.

No, it’s only red and green, the colors of Christmas. Starbucks may proclaim its dedication to diversity, but its special holiday cup references only one holiday. Even those commercials that talk about the “season” exclusively focus on Christmas in the iconography they present—trees, stockings, Christmas-style decorations.  I’ve yet to see a Menorah or dreidel in a Wal-Mart or Target TV commercial. One sometimes sees Hanukkah themes in store decorations—a little Jewish star in a sea of Santas, reindeer, candy canes, ornaments, trees, angels and carolers. That’s why many Jews and other non-Christians feel that the real war this time of year is against every other religion. I understand that retailers focus on Christmas because most Americans are either Christian or of a Christian background. But that knowledge does little to relieve the oppression and alienation that many non-Christians feel as the holiday is shoved down their throats for two solid months. 

After making a vague suggestion that people should boycott Starbucks because it only used color to symbolize Christmas and Christianity on this year’s special cup, commercial real estate failure and former reality show host Donald Trump—who, BTW, is running for the Republican nomination for president—said “If I become president, we're all going to be saying, ‘Merry Christmas’ again. That I can tell you.” Now that’s a declaration of real war, not against Christmas or Christians, but against basic American values. That a major party candidate should make such a statement should send a chill down all of our spines.