Blog #124 – Dear Artificial Intelligence


Dear Artificial Intelligence.
On reading economics, thinking Artificial Intelligence might help.
But recalling Faust on self-doubt and Bernie Sanders on winners and losers

Here I sit, a PhD. a retired legal technician,
I’ve had to study the latest economics as if on a mission
I’ve spent hours on the web and can do no more.
Yet here I sit, poor fool, and am no wiser than before,

Maybe artificial intelligence will solve all those problems
I won’t have to go back and read all those volumes
JI can just lie back and let it all sink in
And I will know who will lose and who will win.

Yet if I think about it just as bit more
I’ll realize I actually knew the answer to that before.

To wit the answer is:

The winners will be those that were rich and have all the money,
Whose words were all so persuasive, all dripping with honey
Who only do what their lawyer says the law will allow,
Who sometimes acted quickly and sometime acted slow.
But whether the markets are frozen or runny
Whether the forecasts are cloudy or sunny
The rich always turn out to be winners. Wow isn’t that funny?

And I had to read economics to learn that?
Working hard while others grew fat?
And still not have the power to change it at all?
Maybe Artificial Intelligence will help where the natural fails?
And is better than just flipping a coin and calling heads or tails?

But that doesn’t mean Artificial Intelligence can’t have any good use
Only that what it’s taken to be doing can be seriously misleading
By ignoring whose hand and whose interest is doing its feeding.
Not disclosing who owns its product can lead to dangerous abuse.
Pretending that if something is the result of A.I.,
Without disclosing who’s asking the questions
What stake they have in what the answers are,
Against such practices there should be a bar.

Dear A.I., the problems economics describes seem intractable to me,
The answers, A.I. or no, seem to me nowhere in sight.
I’m not even sure I know which ones are harmful, which ones right.
So A.I., if you’re so smart, please tell me what I should do,
And I’ll go do it, and if it goes wrong, blame the results on you.
Of course if it succeeds, I’ll take the credit for having seen the light.

So remember, Dear Artificial Intelligence,
You may think you’re so smart
But– you and we know you don’t have a heart,
You can’t tell the good from the bad
You don’t know if you’re being used honorably or being had
You may know moral values by their name,
And you may even refer to them without shame
But letting feelings influence your work is for you are a no-no
People are just numbers in some algorithm you have developed.
You can’t tell whether the level of happiness produced is high or is low.
All most of your clients seem to care about is the dough.

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Blog #123 – The Funny Hearings, Seriously


THE FUNNY HEARINGS, SERIOUSLY

The Kavanaugh senate hearing was efficient and conclusive.
It gave Kavanaugh a chance to show how abusive
A Supreme Court Judge-in-Waiting could be without ever saying “sorry.”
It simply had to make it sure that her story would end up as his story
Its conclusions were firm without time wasted on thinking and worry.
.
So what really happened in that really irrelevant past?
(We all know youthful characteristics don’t last)
She knows, but don’t believe her, just a teen, and he’s now a very honorable judge,
You can believe she’d have dreams, but such an honorable man wouldn’t fudge.

If only we knew who from behind pushed her in,
We’d know if he committed the original sin.
Maybe it was an immigrant hiding in that hall
Oh, if only they’d let us build up that wall!
After all, maybe it was only a prank,
Just blame it on one too many he drank
And he never got her clothes off and went all the way,
So just tell him how much he has to pay
That satisfied each of the others Trump had had
And they never complained or showed they were sad.
After all, didn’t the man drive his daughter to her classes?
So what if he took a little time out to make a few passes.
And “nothing really happened,” said our worldly Rep, boys will be boys,
And if a future Supreme Court judge doesn’t want to answer questions,
Why upset him by asking for confessions.
And girls should be pleased that they could be their toys.
If everyone knows, a the end of the line,
What the result will be, we’re just wasting our time.
His concern for justice can wait till he’s on the bench,
By then we’ll have forgotten there was a bit of a stench.
It’s time to stop this demeaning charade
And get on with his inaugural parade.
Donald Trump has told us whom to believe in these cases.
With his personal experience he knows what a man such as this faces.
Don’t call in the over-burdened FBI
Why expect them to tell the truth from a lie.
Our leaders can do that much better themselves, they tell us,
And get the job done without anymore fuss.

We’ve spent too much time on this already. Not a single day more.
After all, finding the truth would just be a bore.
—————
Now they’ve got to wait a whole week for a “limited” FBI report
Which won’t have a firm conclusion of any useful sort
Then they’ll draw their own conclusions, from this fact or that fact ,
And move on, greatly relieved, as it’s in their sole power to do, to act
Never mind if the facts show they were right or were wrong,
They’ll do as they’ve wanted to do all along.

And then the voters will finally have their say,
And we’ll thank the strong women who’ve shown us the way!

Blog 122c -Non-Causes of Poverty, Jobs, Welfare Responses


Blog #122c – Non-Causes of Poverty, Jobs, Welfare Responses

Why is there poverty in the United States today?[1] Most anti-poverty policies rely on one or more of four theories about the causes of poverty: the lack of jobs, the shiftlessness of the poor, the changing technological composition of production, or the scarcity of resources to provide for all. None of the four holds up.

We don’t have enough jobs. Not so. “Unless we create more jobs, there will be unemployed and thus poverty,” many believe. But unemployment is low, whatever the weaknesses of its measure, and most poor people are already employed. They already have “jobs,” or at least work, and very often hard work, often part- time, insecure, without benefits, almost always devalued. It is the substandard quality of the jobs we have that undergirds poverty.[2]  Killer jobs, not job killers, are the real problem.

And that so many jobs are substandard is not by accident. Simple economics dictates that employers will always push wages as low as they can: wages to workers are income to employees, but expenses for employers.  Matthew Desmond’s trenchant article[3] provides the figures, and lays out the consequences, in well reasoned and human terms. What’s needed are good jobs, paying living wages, secure over time, organized so as to be manageable along with meeting all the other obligations of complicated lives

They are poor because they are lazy. Not so. “They don’t want to work, or they drink, or are addicted, or mentally ill,” some argue. But, as noted above, most poor are in fact working, but at jobs with less than living wages or unsustainable working conditions Blaming the victims for their poverty will not work

Technological change requires workers with skills the poor don’t have. Yes but. A high school education may be increasingly needed to get a good job, but lack of a high school education is not voluntary for most without it. Getting a good education is not so simple for many, and especially for those that begin poor. Lack of good schools, of health care, of transportation, of housing, of physical security, of social encouragement, all play large roles. There is no evidence that, given the opportunity, poor people are not able to handle work that requires a post-high-school education. The poor may indeed have less education than those better off, but not because they are stupid.

Technological advances should in fact increasingly be able to provide enough for all, so that there would be no such thing as poverty, if they were appropriately socially organized.

There will always be winners and losers. The poor are simply the losers. No longer so. “The poor will always be with us is an old argument. It is increasingly wrong. Our societies are able to produce enough so that no one needs to live without adequate housing, food, clothing, rest, security, or the other things a decent standard of living in a technologically advanced society can produce. The statistics on inequality are clear. Even a modest redistribution from the top 1% would mean that all of the other 99% could live well above poverty levels.

 If none of these four explanations accounts for the widespread existence of poverty today, what does?

Two factors basically explain the existence of poverty today.

First, major real conflicts of material interest underlie poverty.  As pointed out above, simple economics dictates that for-profit businesses will always push wages as low as they can: wages to workers are income to workers, but expenses for for-profit businesses. Thus, poverty benefits powerful economic and political interests, powerful both in establishing economic relations, and in politically establishing governmental policies that further business interests opposing the steps necessary to eliminate poverty.  And,

Second, the necessity of dealing with immediate and critical human problems detracts from confronting these real conflicts, creating an incentive to downplay the existence of these conflicts politically as well as ideologically, even among well-meaning advocates of policies challenging the underlying causes of the conditions whose consequences they seek to ameliorate, so-called anti-poverty and social welfare programs.

So what is to be done to reduce and ultimately eliminate poverty from rich societies such as ours?

 Immediate actions. We have some limited but moderately effective social-mobility programs: minimum wage laws, restrictions on hours of labor and unhealthy working conditions, subsidized health care, unemployment benefits, public financing of elementary education. They need to be adequately and securely funded.[4] They should be championed, expanded, and stripped of any draconian and counterproductive work requirements. But more is needed.

Ultimate goals must be kept on the agenda as ultimately needed, goals such as a real right to housing, to free medical care, to free public education through college, an adequate income should be considered, and seen as obvious governmental functions, just as are police or fire services or streets and highways or sanitation or environmental controls or providing for holding democratic elections or public parks or clean water. So one might consider adopting as ultimate asocial goals for social action the elimination of poverty entirely and the provision of a right to a comfortable standard of living commensurate with what society is already in a position to provide, given a commitment to use it so that its wealth is distributed equitably among all individuals and groups in the society, commensurate with individual and group needs and desires. The even broader goal might be expressed as the just and democratic control of the economy as a whole and in its parts.

Transformational Measures. But to achieve such goals, shorter-term steps also need to be pursued, measures that move in these directions but that do not promise more than are immediately political feasible yet can contribute to meeting long-term goals.. [5] We should not neglect the importance of the poverty fixes we already have. Safety-net programs that help families confront food insecurity, housing unaffordability and unemployment spells lift tens of millions of people above the poverty line each year. By itself, SNAP annually pulls over eight million people out of poverty. According to a 2015 study, without federal tax benefits and transfers, the number of Americans living in deep poverty (half below the poverty threshold) would jump from 5 percent to almost 19 percent.[6]

  1. Improving minimum wage laws. Moving towards the ultimate goal of stablishing a standard of living for all that guarantees not only the necessities of life but at a level consistent with a comfortable and secure standard of living and a level commensurate with the productive capacity of society, appropriately organized to fullfill social needs and enforced well enough to prevent destructive competition- among businesses based on how little they pay their workers.
  2. Strengthening workers’ rights, moving in the direction of fair wages for all, including strengthening requirements for fair labor standards in the work place. Encouraging self- organization workers and poor households along diverse lines needing publii representation..
  3. Expanding the public and non-profits sectors, in the direction of recognizing the benefits of using social contribution as the motivation of provision of goods and services, rather than profit to be made by furnishing them, e.g. in housing, health care, education, recreation, transportation, environmental amenities, creative arts.
  4. Terminating public expenditures whose motivation is economic development and growth for their own sake, and focusing them on their contribution to meeting social goals, including provision of socially desired levels of goods and services. Publicly subsidized job creation as part of and motivated by economic development interests will simply benefit employers unless coupled with living wage and decent working condition requirements. Adding a work requirement to the receipt of social benefits is likewise a painfully ironic was of reducing such benefits to their recipients in a system in which if they do not produce profits for an employer, over and above their wages they will not be hired.[7]
  5. Making the tax system strongly progressive, lower at the bottom, higher at the top, moving towards the broad reduction of inequality and targeting them to the encouragement of socially desirable activities.
  6. Weighing the advantages and disadvantages of imaginatively recasting budget priorities, specifically reducing the military budget, funding anew climate -change-centered civilian conservation corps, increasing foreign aid aimed at alleviating conditions that lead to emigration etc.
  7. Recasting the public thinking about the meaning and values of work, the causes of poverty, the values implicit in alternative approaches to inequality and injustice. [8]

In Matthew Desmond’s eloquent words, “We need a new language for talking about poverty. ‘Nobody who works should be poor,’ we say. That’s not good enough. Nobody in America should be poor, period.”  He’s right.[9]

[1] The official poverty rate is 12.7 percent, based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 estimates. That year, an estimated 43.1 million Americans lived in poverty

 [3] Matthew Desmond, “Americans Want to Believe Jobs Are the Solution to Poverty. They’re Not,” concludes simply: “the able-bodied, poor and idle adult remains a rare creature “Why Work Doesn’t Work Any More,” The New York Times  Magazine, p. 36ff. Available at                             https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/11/magazine/americans-jobs-poverty-homeless.html

[4]

[5] For a further discussion of the concept of transformative measures, see pmarcuse .wordpress.com, blogs 81a-81e, 97, and 99, Towards Transformative Approaches to Unjust Inequality.

[6] Mathew Desmond, op. cit., p. 49.

[7] Mathew Desmond in a factual, tightly argued, and very persuasive article effectively demonstrates the futility of work requirements attached to the receipt of social benefits. Today, 41.7 million laborers — nearly a third of the American work force — earn less than $12 an hour. the New York Times Magazine of September 11, 2018,

[8] Matthew Desmond, op. cit., writes ”No single mother struggling to raise children on her own; no formerly incarcerated man who has served his time; no young heroin user struggling with addiction and pain; no retired bus driver whose pension was squandered; nobody. And if we respect hard work, then we should reward it, instead of deploying this value to shame the poor and justify our unconscionable and growing inequality.”  And Joanna Scuffs, in a rich and provocative article , writes of ”the slipperiness of the term ”work”, from work  as a daily grind into work as “life’s work “oeuvre, art,  the reason you’re here on earth.” The’Linguistic Chamelion” of Work,In These Times, April  2018, [[. 65ff.

[9] Op. cit., p. 9.

Blog # 117a – Boss Trump and the Uses of Humiliation


Blog # 117a – Boss Trump and the Uses of Humiliation

The manipulation of emotions and their consequences plays a major role in the politics of power i n America today. The emotion of humiliation is a weapon in the hands of Boss Trump, strengthening is power by undermining the resistance to it. Their victims in the broader society litter the landscape of political action. The search for dignity, which may be seen as the opposite of humiliation, is partly in response to humiliation by its direct and indirect victims.  The causes and consequences of humiliation need to be understood by those opposing its human cost.

Calling Michael Cohen “incompetent” as a lawyer is an obvious example, meant to denigrate him and undercut anything he might say. It’s become  standard practice for Boss Trump to let loose twitters aimed at humiliating critics of any of his policies or positions by name. It leaves his victims with a choice between an ongoing contest with someone with a wide audience and a sharp tongue, or endure the humiliation in a silence that is in itself humiliating in its necessity, the choice that Attorney General Sessions seems to be making.  And humiliating his critics directly has a wider benefit for Trump: those witnessing his humiliation of his critics themselves become intimidated by what they see, and restrain any inclination to join in. That they feel thus constrained is itself internally humiliating, and a further defensive reaction can be to accept Trump’s side of the story and persuading oneself of its correctness, a many seem to be doing vociferously at Trump rallies and in interviews. They thus justify a potentially humiliating exchange with an apparent show of support, joining Trump’s reputed hard core loyal base.

But humiliation plays a broader societal role, a role of which Trump is a beneficiary but not a principal cause. It often produces the clichéd “white working class,” response of those who may be active in the work force but still feel insecure, underpaid, working below their capacity or deserts. It can be expressed as a claim to a lost dignity, a feeling of helplessness in conceding to bosses’ power, a feeling that has often fueled labor unrest, but that can also lead to a form of inhibition in its expression by an attribution of the result by defenders of the status quo to lack of ability,  lack of education, laziness, the victim’s own conduct, own fault. That can be a humiliating perception, and because so widely accepted and so insistently reinforced by those in power like but not limited to Donald Trump and his direct entourage, it is also likely to lead to humilitation inhibiting fighting back.

uch self-blaming, such created humiliation and the inhibition to which it may lead is often reinforced by well-meaning critics of the reality it reflects. When Hilary Clinton spoke of “the deplorables,” when the Harvard grads or the lucky investors or those in securely positioned armchairs who view the passing parade and “don’t understand how anyone can swallow Donald Trump’s lies or condone his behavior,” they can easily be perceived as looking down on their fellows, as being members of an elite not recognizing the lived experience of the less fortunate. If many of the “white working class” are emotionally humiliated in the social structure of society as they experience it, so are many of “the elite” inhibited from questioning those social structures that have produced their own advantages for fear of having to face some humiliating causes.  The elite may find it hard to accord to others less well stationed than themselves the dignity that those others feel they also have a right to demand.

Humiliation can also lead to a variety of emotional responses. Opioid addiction, gang membership, street violence, domestic abuse, can  all be read as distorted reflections of a search for a dignity which prevailing relationships do not provide for their  victims.  An unconscious and inhibited identification with the boss can play a role, a desire to be oneself a boss, to have all that freedom which the real bosses have and which they are often faulted for exercising. Such responses often create difficulties of understanding in well-meaning efforts to address their causes

Conclusion: If humiliation is a widespread and debilitating emotion, its existence is not an inherent aspect of human nature. If there is humiliation, there are humilitationees and humilitationors.

When Trump humiliates anyone, what he is doing can be explicitly labeled and condemn as such, without long arguments about who’s right and who’s right in the dispute. Boss Trump can be challenged for simply acting like a bad boss, and who likes a bad boss, even if they’re right every now and then. And if those who are being deprived of their dignity by a bad boss or his lackeys, what is going on can be pointed out without reinforcing it by another form of humiliation in how it is pointed out as a necessary lesson the more well-off need to teach their less understanding others. .

  My thanks to Don Bushnell and Thomas Scheff for the provocation that lead to these thoughts                                                                .          They should not be blamed for the result.

Blog #118 – Explaining “President” Donald Trump’s Behaviour.


Blog #118 – Explaining “President” Donald Trump’s Behaviour.

Recent efforts to explain Donald Trump’s behavior in clinical psychiatric terms are provocative,[1] but may be unnecessary. Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu is proposing a bill that would require the White House to have a psychiatrist on staff.[2] A petition at Change.org, accusing Trump of mental illness and asking for his removal from office, has been signed by nearly 25,000 health professionals. The New Republic published a story this week speculating that Trump may have an untreated sexually transmitted disease that has led to a condition called “neurosyphilis,” characterized by “irritability, loss of ability to concentrate, delusional thinking, and grandiosity.”

And on Tuesday, the New York Times published a letter signed by 35 psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers accusing the president of “grave emotional instability” that makes him “incapable of serving safely as president.” Though it is considered a breach of ethics to evaluate or diagnose public figures, they wrote, “We fear that too much is at stake to be silent any longer.” Allen Frances, a former chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the Duke University School of Medicine. disagreed, calling it “an insult people who have mental illness.”

“President” Trump has simply not been able to overcome his insecurity about “winning” an election in which he received 2,868,686 fewer votes than Hilary Clinton did,[3] in a low-turnout election in which he ended up with less than half of all eligible voters voting for him.[4] And this despite all of his name calling, lying, and not so ethical efforts to undermine Hillary’s campaign, even with the apparent help of his Russian counterpart. Having to face the legitimacy of his election and being labeled “President” Trump may be much more unnerving for him than being called “crooked” Clinton ever was for her. Everyday child psychology may be a simple enough explanation for the conduct a person with such an outsize self-image; a more medically-based approaches may not be needed. Think of the expected behavior of the bully in the sand box when his braggadocio no longer intimidates those subject to it. Perhaps Trump should be treated in the pediatric ward rather than the psychiatric? If not in both?

 

Peter Marcuse

August 2, 2018

[1] California Journal, Robin Acarian, “Talking Trump and mental health,” http://enewspaper.latimes.com/infinity/article_popover_share.aspx?guid=93f3dcf0-698d-42a3-9cdc-bb5070205776

[2] https://www.democracynow.org/2017/2/15/rep_ted_lieu_to_introduce_bill

[3] By Gregory Krieg. CNN December 22, 2016. It’s official: Clinton swamps Trump in popular vote – CNNPolitics https://www.cnn.com/2016/12/21/politics/…trump-hillary-clinton…vote-final final-count/index.html

[4] Why is voter turnout so low in the U.S.? Politics Nov 6, 2016 https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/voter-turnout-united-states

Blog #116 – Robert Mueller’s Report Song to Congress


The Robert Mueller song, as he presents his final Report to Congress.

 

To the Tune of the Chiquita Banana commercial:

I’m Chiquita Banana, and I’ve come to say

Bananas must ripen in a certain way….”[1]

——————–

My name is Robert Mueller and I’ve come to say,

Investigations must be undertaken in a certain way.

You can’t just claim that what so and so did was wrong

You have to have evidence that is clear and is strong.

You have to say what this man or woman did on a certain day

Violated a certain law at a certain place in a certain way.

This is what he did, and this is the person that saw him do it,

This is what he said he did, and this is why it’s obvious his story blew it.

These are the penalties that can be applied  that the law prescribes,

Only made more severe if you try to evade them with lies.

 

So here is my report:  I know that it’s 430 pages long

But what it describes was also very wrong wrong wrong.It’s the Congress that determines what’s wrong and what’s right.

My job is only to see how the facts fit what Congress set out, and how tight.

Now what happens, when, and to whom is up to the courts to determine

Whether those who did it were well-intentioned or were vermin.

I’ve finished the job I was hired to do,

Now it’s up to those that hired me to see the matter through.

 

If I can be of any more help, please do let me know,

Otherwise, I admit, I’m very happy to go.

Good bye, and best wishes.

Robert Mueller.

 

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RFDOI24RRAE    It was a United Fruit commerciaI. If you have trouble finding it, it’s from 1940 and the oldest a google search for Chiquita Banana commercial produces; ‘ll try to get the exact url for it shortly. It;s great on its own.

Blog #110a – Cultural Wars and a new Tribalism?


Blog 110a – Cultural Wars and a New Tribalism?

The Times Op-Ed page (on 3/2/18­­) was marvelously symbolic. On the left side, David Brooks reduces all the frightening disagreements about where our country is going, the battles over gun control , trade and tariffs, armaments, nuclear weapons, into manifestations of a “cultural war”,: in which the conservatives “have zero cultural power , but immense political power.” The big prize is not gun control. It’s “winning the cultural war, with the gun fight as the final battle.” Several days earlier (Feb 20,), he had written, “We don’t have policy debates anymore. We have one big tribal conflict…,” and the answer is, “just as the tribal mentality has been turned on, it can be turned off.” How? “Respect First, Then Gun Control.” If the Blues and the Reds simply respected each other, they’d settle their problems easily. His recommendation: Blues should stop shaming Reds.  Politics is not about who get what from whom and how they get it, but about how the left stupidly engages in “elite cultural intimidation , claiming “moral superiority.”

On the other side of the Op-Ed page, counter-symbolically the right side, Paul Krugman’s column is headed: “Taxpayers, You’ve Been Scammed.” It’s a straightforward contribution to a policy debate about the new tax law. It gives some facts about whom it will help, whom it will hurt, and how political and economic power are being wielded to achieve what those that possess it want, for their own benefit, at a cost to the middle class. Not a word about a “cultural wars.” It’s about who get what from whom and how they get it

And symbolically between these two column’s is Mat Glassman’s column, which explains the “larger problem” behind the White House Chaos,” blaming it on the weakness of Donald Trump as President to his inability to attract a competent staff to advise him.  It’s a management problem.

What the “culture wars” argument does, as does “lamenting the ‘roots of the problem’ in ‘management skills,’ ” is to completely side step the very real factual economic and social and political differences that divide the country. For cultural theorists, there’s no moral difference between advocating for teachers carrying guns in school and asking for a ban on assault rifles; no more weight to be given to logically grounded analysis of tax policies than to the hurt sensitivities of those that support them. Tranquility is what’s needed, above all; never mind who’s goring whose ox, whether some go homeless while others thrive in mansions using their labor. Such evenhandedness violates any effort to shape public policies that promote the values of social justice and human rights.

Indeed there are troublesome cultural differences that exacerbate the problems in our society, but the real issues aren’t differences of opinion or how they are expressed, but how the wealth that  society produces is shared. We don’t have “big tribal conflicts” because all of a sudden some “tribal instincts ” have emerged from some repressed deep identities, or because  we’ve suddenly decided to turn these instincts on, having turned them off all these years.  Focusing on the symptoms of conflicts shouldn’t obliterate recognition of their causes.

And it obliterates very specific causes: any reference to inequalities of wealth or power, or to their use in exploitation or domination, to create very hierarchical divisions not simply differences at the level of what the divisions are about, not “souls committed to the basic democratic norms–respect for truth, personal integrity, the capacity for deliberation and compromise, loyalty to nation above party or tribe,” up against other souls who believe “what matters is the survival of your nation and culture.” [David Brooks, “Worthy is The {Conor} Lamb,” New York Times, 3/17/p. A27] That something as mundane as class or race might be playing a role in the divisions that divide “us” never appears.