Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Where is the liberal bias in the media?

On Sunday, September 21st, there was a historic march in New York City. More than 400,000 people gathered to march in protest in favor of the earth, to protest the economic policies that have given rise to climate change. The story was plastered all over the internet. There is no way you could miss it in any social media or news on the internet. Yet, our Sunday morning talk shows had nothing to say about it.

Most conservative politicians would rather whine about liberal media bias than tell you about all the stuff that is missing from the news. From massive trade deals to gerrymandering, most politics is omitted from the news to avoid stirring up the vote every two years. Instead, the news brings you gory stories about violence between people or how a kitten was rescued from a tree by a fireman. Network news, even local news, is very unappealing compared to what I can get on the internet.

If anything, the media has a conservative bias in favor of stories about people rather than stories about what elected and unelected representatives are voting for. Over at the Daily KOS, they have a list of big news stories that would be front page news if there were a liberal bias in the media. But they're not news. Why?

Think about what you buy when you buy a newspaper. There is room for news and room for advertising. That space for advertising? That's called the "newshole". The rest of the real estate is for advertising. Your 50 cents isn't what pays for the newspaper. The advertisers pay for the newspaper. And if the advertisers aren't happy with a story that appears next to their ad, you can bet that the editor is going to hear about it.

Who are the advertisers? They are capitalists with businesses big and small. They've made an investment in advertising to draw you in to their store or website to buy something. They are making a bet that their products will have better sales when you see their ads. So if you run a paper, you better have nice, gushy stories about how great capitalists are while showing how bad those little people can be to other little people. Yeah, capitalists are different from the little people. I know one of them. He thinks he's immortal. Seriously.

This is just my take on the news. I look for the news I want to see. But I also know that if there is any concern about bias in the media, there is something I can do on the internet that I can't do on TV. I can cross check stories. That means I can search for stories in the news and then read about the same story from different regions of the country and the world.

Cross-checking a story allows me to corroborate facts about a story. I will read conservative and liberal sources, for and against, and I will look for any other way to contrast sources so that I can get two opposing views of the same topic. It's easy to do. When I search for a topic in Google News, there are often several hundred to several thousand hits that I can choose from. I can hopscotch around the country to read about one story to get a better sense of the fairness of narrative.

Remember, reading is not believing, it is thinking. Whether or not there is bias in the media, we all have our own biases. we have biases in what we choose to read, where we choose to find our sources and how we choose to interpret what we read. We can read with an uncritical eye or we can do some research on topics that are more important to us.

With every word, every sentence, every paragraph that we read in, we must find a way to make sense of it for ourselves. When we share that information, we can add our own narrative to the story, and so the next person does the same thing, and so on. That is how we've done it for thousands of years. That is the only way we know how. The internet, as far as I can tell, is the best resource for checking our sources, their biases and their facts. The internet has become a repository for all human knowledge, irrespective of bias.

But there is one thing that is incontrovertible: the climate is changing, people have noticed and they are asking their leaders to take action. That is front page news, top of the hour news on TV, but not in this country.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Thoughts on the movie, "12 Years A Slave"

Over the weekend, I had an opportunity to watch "12 Years A Slave". The Internet Movie Database provides the following synopsis:
"In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery."
It was a brutal and fascinating journey from freedom to slavery to freedom again. What really blows my mind is that the movie is based on a true story. In the end, no one really knows how Solomon died or when. But we see how he lived and found the determination to find salvation rather than despair. He found freedom in his own mind and chose to shine by his talents and abilities than to subject to abject humiliation. He kept his eyes on the prize, studiously and consistently for 12 years until he found freedom.

What I also found striking about movie were the antagonists, the slave owners, and their subordinates, and how they imposed their false piety upon others. We see them in the movie, giving sermons to their slaves, as if somehow, being in the bondage of slavery and listening to the sermon would somehow save them from the devil. I wondered to myself, if that were such a great and compelling duty, why more white men did not submit themselves to slavery.

In the movie, I also saw a white slave owner pretend his monogamy to his wife while raping the slave women, yet still, he felt so righteous. The same slave owner, preferring to be called "Master", imposed severe violence on his slaves, as if he were the one, the only, God. From whipping to hanging, the masters knew the tools of their trade well.

It is with great sadness that I saw in the movie, how false piety can be used as an excuse to impose slavery upon others. With each historical drama that I see about that period of our great nation's history, I see how far we have come and how far we have yet to go. For there are still people in the South who believe it is right to suppress or eliminate the vote of people of any color. They still believe it is their right to discriminate and segregate people of color from that who they deem most holy, the white man, irrespective of his sins.

The movie reminded me of how we are all connected and that we cannot impose pain or imprisonment upon another, without doing the same thing to ourselves. That is why I try, with much success, to err on the side of peace.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

What if we didn't bail out the banks in 2008?

In the months leading up to the collapse of our banks, there were many warnings of what was to come without changing course. The people in charge of our biggest banks were smart people and they knew what they were doing (or they wouldn't be there), but refused to listen to good advice and had very little oversight from the government or the markets. When their errors in judgement finally came down to losing big money, they found allies in government who would help them at the expense of the taxpayer. They held a gun to their head and said, "Bail us out, or we'll pull the trigger!"

When the government bailed out the banks, they made it easier for the banks to hold onto to their property rather than selling it at fire sale prices (Iceland figured this part out early). Letting them fail would have been better for the economy and that would have tipped the scales back to the 99%. But the one percenters would have none of that. They wanted government insurance (that everyone else bought for them, without their consent) for their failed investments. They had unclean hands.

What does that mean? Well, they expected to loan money out to everyone else, sit back and collect a check while keeping inflation low, keeping wages for labor stagnant, and expecting people to make payments on mortgages that they could not afford once the ARMs went up. This was done on a very large scale and went on for more than 30 years. It's like they were trying to find more and more ways to make money without working. Their plan worked for awhile, but then in 2008, it stopped. Too many foreclosures due to adjustable rate mortgages adjusting. No could adjust to a mortgage payment that went up by $1000 a month on a jumbo loan without a commensurate wage increase.

If the government had refused to bail them out, yes, there would have been hard times, but the wealthiest among us would have had to work again instead of living on government bailouts. Without the bailouts, the banks would have had to sell off their assets as soon as possible to recoup their investments, or what remained of them. This is how capitalism is supposed to work. If you make a mistake, no worries, sell your assets so that you have some money left, even if you take a bath while selling them, you will still have money.

But the so-called capitalists didn't want to lose any money. They felt it was not their fault that they lost money and expected the government to help them out. Without government help, the tide would have turned and our economy would have come roaring back because people could buy property on the cheap. Oh, well. Live and learn. That's why we're here, you know, to learn from our mistakes.

Unfortunately, the same people who were bailed out didn't get to learn from their mistakes and many of them are still alive, still in power, and exercising that power daily. A true capitalist accepts the risk of his investments and is willing to take a bath when he makes a mistake. The men and women in power today are not true capitalists for they have committed the sin of socializing risk while privatizing profits.

There was a time when we could say that America was a capitalist country. Not anymore. Maybe that's not such a bad thing if you live in a Conservative Nanny State.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Everything works better with a network

A new study has found that cities with super fast internet - that's gigabit speed - are more productive. The study seems to have done a fair job of ruling out other factors and found that on average, cities with gigabit speeds had an increase of about 1.1 percent annual GDP per capita. That doesn't seem like a lot, but it compounds nicely over time and it makes a big difference when compared to cities without the same access to the internet.

This parallels nicely with comments made by Tom Wheeler, chairman of the FCC:
Chattanooga’s proximity to the Tennessee River – a natural network – fueled its initial growth. When the railroad network arrived in the mid-19th century, Chattanooga became a boom town. The railroad allowed raw material to flow into the area and finished products to flow out to markets around the country – making Chattanooga an industrial powerhouse.
Chattanooga is home to one of the first gigabit networks in the country, providing super fast internet access to every home and business within the service area of the EPB of Tennessee. The EPB offers internet access at speeds 100 times the national average speed of 10 mbs. The EPB offered gigabit service even before Google Fiber did - by two years.

Networks are everywhere. They are the most efficient way to distribute anything. There is no other way to do it until we have teleportation, and even then, we will need a network.

Everything in life uses networks. Plants, trees, rivers, the veins in your hand - they are all networks. The speed of the network can determine outcomes. The complexity of the network can determine capacity. One estimate holds that there are 100 trillion connections between cells in the human brain, a very fast, very efficient thinking machine. The internet is developing connections like that.

It takes community networks to make this happen. Why? Because private internet service providers like Comcast, AT&T, Time-Warner and Verizon would rather put shareholders and executives first before customers. Because these same companies were able to secure enough trust from the communities they serve to get a private monopoly, then they betrayed that trust by denying better service or any service at all, or playing favorites.

Community networks do not carry the baggage of corporate loyalties like the incumbents do. Their first priority is customer service to deliver and maintain high speed internet access. They do not have to answer to shareholders or executives. They must answer to voters and city councils. Without that baggage, community networks can deliver a superior connection at a better price than the unelected incumbent service providers.

Cable is a dying industry that picks favorites and leaves everyone else out to hang. The phone companies? They're tacitly conceding territory to cable in exchange for peace with cable. Let's move along and forget them. Let's build the network that serves everyone in every home and business. Community broadband is not the utility of the future. It the utility we need now.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The symptoms of trickle-down economics

Oligarchies mean that the top 1% can make decisions for other people without accountability and without consequences. In an oligarchy, the people at the top can earn money without work. The people at the top become, in a sense, royalty. In a sense, it's very well obscured slavery.

We live in a defacto oligarchy, something proven by more than one study like this one. We can thank Reagan Republicans for getting the ball rolling. Tea Party Republicans are working hard to make sure we never find the ball. Trickle-Down economics, as it was called during an election featuring Ronald Reagan, doesn't work. George Herbert Walker Bush called it "voodoo economics", and I think, it was for good reason. He knew that Trickle-Down economics doesn't work.

We have inflation when there are more dollars chasing available goods. That what I learned in school, but we never discussed deflation. Maybe that's because they never believed that it would happen then. But it is happening in Europe, and it could happen here, too. Deflation comes with money being pulled out of the market, driving employment and prices down.

As wealth accumulates in the hands of the few, inflation is abated because money is being pulled out of circulation. This is exactly what we saw in the meltdown - a tremendous transfer and accumulation of money in the hands of the very few - with very low inflation. Very low inflation can lead to deflation, and that is very hard on anyone who doesn't have money. But for those who have money, their money increases in value without additional work, a very convenient fact that conservatives don't discuss too freely.

So while the press is happy to report on low inflation, they tend to omit the cost of low inflation to everyone else. Anyone who owes a debt will have will have to work much harder to pay it off. Take a simple mortgage for example. Over thirty years, the payment on the mortgage is the same number. At first, when families are young, the majority of the payment is interest with very little principle, and it's hard to make the payment because earning power is lower for young adults. As adults near middle age, the payment is the same, but relative to earning power and inflation over time, the effective payment is lower. More disposable income is available in later years.

That is what should have been happening in the years leading up to 2008. But incomes for labor had been stagnant for 30 years and people couldn't move. They couldn't pay off debt. They couldn't buy houses. They couldn't sell houses. But if you had money at that time, making money is much, much easier. The only people who were bailed out were the people who had money. Everyone else was out of luck.

If you own debt, low inflation is fantastic. If you owe debt, low inflation will be the bane of your existence. Maybe that's the reason we allow for inflation in the first place. You know, to avoid revolution.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The disintermediation of cable

The good folks of Longmont, Colorado are getting a gig fiber service to their homes and businesses. They are in addition to the 400 cities and towns that have rolled their own broadband with speeds and prices that are far better than the incumbents care to offer. Early adopters will be privy to 1 Gbs speeds up and down, for $50 a month. That is an incredible rate that no one at Comcast, Centurylink, AT&T, Time-Warner or Verizon will ever offer. They have shareholders to answer to.

But what I find so interesting is an observation made by the general manager of Longmont Power and Communications, Tom Roiniotis:
“Cable TV is a dying industry. People want to get the TV that they want, not the TV that the cable companies force them to get.”
When pressed for an example, Roiniotis considered sports. If you want to watch an NFL game, why should you have to pay for two hundred channels you’ll never even tune into? There is a growing consensus that audiences don’t want to watch the movie that happens to be on Showtime right now, they want to choose when to start, when to pause, and what movie they’re interested in. As he put it, “The consumer is finally becoming king in the world of TV.”
 He has summarized exactly how I feel about cable. I don't watch ESPN, don't care for it, but I must pay for it so that rabid sports fans can have their subsidy. I don't watch the movie channels because they aren't showing what I want to watch when I want to watch it. I prefer to stream everything and be able to pause when I want to pause. Then I can return to it when an interruption has been resolved.

He also notes that I'm not alone. Millions of viewers like me want more control over how we receive our content. I simply deplore the notion that I'm a trained monkey who will sit and watch what cable companies deem good enough to deliver when they want to deliver it. If there is something I really want to watch without interruption, I watch it early in the morning when everyone else is asleep. On my computer, with my headphones. Maybe someday in the future, I will have my own home theater, but that is for another article.

I've been so busy lately, that I really haven't had much time for TV. Even the news is not appealing to me. Just more news about angry people doing bad stuff to other people. Who needs that?

There is also a nice video that provides a physical demonstration of how fast a gigabit service would be. You can check it out here. I remember my first 1.5 mbs connection in 2001. It was 50 times faster than my humble modem. A gigabit connection is 20 times faster than my 50 mbs connection I have now, but I pay about $75 a month for it. Longmont residents will get gigabit service for $50 a month.

We're rolling our own here in Utah, too. Utopia is working carefully with Macquarie Capital to create a world class service that will connect every home and business in my city to gigabit access. It might not be as cheap as the service in Longmont, but it will be far better than what incumbent providers are willing to provide on performance and price. Shareholders and executives hold a higher position than customers with incumbent providers. But with numerous examples around the country, municipal broadband only answers to customers and voters.

Yeah, I like that idea. An internet service that must listen to customers first. What a concept.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

That equinox thing

We are once again approaching the autumnal equinox, the midpoint of the earth's orbit around the sun. We call it a midpoint because the earth is tilted 23 degrees off perpendicular to its orbital plane. In the summer the northern hemisphere tilts towards the sun and in the winter, the northern hemisphere tilts away from the sun. The equinox is the midpoint between solstices.

At solstice, the position of the sun is at it's most extreme. The summer solstice shows the sun at the most northern position at noon, bringing the northern hemisphere the warmest temperatures. The winter solstice shows the sun at the most southern extreme. That is why this time of year is called the equinox, which will fall on September 23nd.

The shadow play at sunrise and sunset near the equinox are a source of fascination for me. The way the light plays around equinox just seem sort of odd, out of place. Like we're not really sure where they are going to go. They are, in a sense, timeless since they reflect neither winter nor summer. In the autumnal equinox, the sun sets right down the middle of a street that intersects at 90 degrees with the street I live on. One of the windows of my house happens to look straight down the middle of that street. So for a few days a year, I get a perfect shot of sunset at the onset of spring and fall.

I am reminded of the movie Thor, and the mythical land of Asgard. In the movie, Asgard is portrayed as a land where the sun hangs perpetually over the horizon, as if in eternal sunset during the day. The light is golden, mellow and warm. The shadows are long and winding across the landscape, turning up the walls in dwellings where the light shines. I get a little of that in my home and it is a thrill to see the light shine across my house to the opposing wall.

I see the leaves turning color, the grass getting greener as it can now hold more water thanks to lower temperatures and less sunlight. In the summer, the grass can dry out quite a bit in the hot desert I live in now. At summer solstice, the temps average 90+, the days are long and the sprinklers run long and heavy. In the winter, we get a bit of snow that covers the grass with a wonderful blanket of soft white. The albedo of snow is so strong that at night, the city lights bounce off the clouds, then to the snow to give the backyard an eerie twilight at midnight.

At equinox, the grass is warm and moist from the sun and the water remaining from the last sprinkler run. Walking with bare feet, the grass reminds me of my source, the earth, charging me with the grounding effect, electrons from the earth. I always feel better after a walk in bare feet on grass. From the cool grass in the shadows, to the warm grass in the sun, my feet are reminded of their kinship with the earth, having spent so much time in shoes.

There is something else I love about that time when the sun hangs over the horizon: the way the sunlight passes through the blades of grass on my lawn. There is a certain magic to seeing the grass light up with sunlight as the light passes right through, but its green. The shadow play, the golden light, and the grass all come together for some incredible scenes of serenity for me.

These are things I will teach my kids to appreciate. The sensation of the seasons, their changes and their effects on the mind and the body, are all important to me. For they remind me that time is of the essence and that the most important moment is now. Since the past doesn't exist anymore, and the future is not here yet, there is only one place to be. To be anywhere else is to be absent from life.