Thoughts on Our Political 50/50

Election night, and Obama has just won his second term. While he trounced it in the electoral vote, the popular vote was nearly dead even. Which, when you think about it, is a really strange thing.

How is it that our nation has become so *perfectly* divided across tens of millions of votes, statistically speaking? Why not 48/52 (in either direction)? Or 40/60?. The perfect numbers split feels like the mathematical settling of a great pendulum, like Forces in Motion no longer in motion, like two bodies of water connected by a channel, finding their natural level. As if the system of checks and balances has counter-checked itself into submission. Like a left brain and a right brain connected by a corpus collosum. Both sides watch the red/blue map and wonder “Who are all these people who don’t see it my way? What drives them, what makes them tick?,” while really we’re just synapses in a global brain that’s finding its natural level. Not that that’s how I want it to be – of course I wish we didn’t have to fight for the environment, wish we didn’t have to fight for gay marriage, wish we didn’t have to fight to have a modicum of civilized health care, wish we didn’t have to fight to keep the middle class from vanishing. But regardless how I wish things were, just think it’s astonishing – almost magical – that we have settled into this perfect mathematical split. Feels like something deep and weird in the statistical nature of the world.

The American People Are Angry

The middle class is rapidly collapsing, and the numbers are staggering. Today, the 400 wealthiest individuals together own more than the bottom 50% of our population combined. That’s 400 people vs. 150 million people. One American family – the heirs to the Walmart fortune – now owns more wealth than the bottom 30% of American families combined. That’s one family vs. 90 million Americans. And people wonder why Occupy Wall St. happened.

Bernie Sanders is amazing. Check out at least the first 10 minutes of this:

The Smart Idiot Effect

Salon on the “smart idiot” effect – why more education amongst conservatives leads to more firmly believing the opposite of the facts. Interestingly, the “smart idiot” effect does not seem to hold amongst liberals, for whom learning more may actually get them to change their views.

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The ugly delusions of the educated conservative
Better-educated Republicans are more likely to doubt global warming and believe Obama’s a Muslim. Here’s why

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Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory – It’s About Us

This American Life is pretty much always great, but this podcast – covering one man’s journey into the Chinese factories that make our tech products – affected me deeply.

Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory

Heartbreaking and fascinating, seriously worth 45 minutes of your life. Stories of extraordinarily long hours, child labor, and repetitive stress injuries that make our own seem like hangnails in comparison. Stories of people assembling parts as small as human hairs by hand for 16 hours at a stretch, stories of people working with their hands until their bones simply crumble (and they’re out of work for life). Stories of experiments with neurotoxins like hexane being done on unwitting human workers. It goes on and on.

But listen through to the last ten minutes, where the emotional impact, and the anger the story generates,  is sort of qualified by observations of economic realities in China: “Hundreds of thousands of Chinese choose the grimness of factory life over the grimness of the rice paddies.”

I remember when the suicide nets went up around the Foxconn factory, and the simplistic reactions people had to their existence. But some perspective helps – the truth is, China as a whole has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, while those rates are actually lower in factory cities like Chengdu than they are in the rest of the country. And Foxconn is doing the right thing by trying to prevent them – that’s a good thing, not an example of Foxconn simply accepting suicide as a cost of doing business.

But while Apple is  a sexy centerpoint for the story, it’s important to remember that this isn’t really a story about Apple – virtually every single technology product we buy, from DVD players to smartphones to game consoles to blenders, is made under similar conditions.

Actually, this isn’t even a story about the human cost of our enjoyment of technology. Virtually everything on the shelves at Walmart and Target is made in China. The clothes on your back, that car you drive… chances are high those things were made in conditions that are similar or worse than those at Foxconn. It’s not about Apple – it’s about us (ZDNet’s Larry Dignan does a good job widening the scope of the story in this post).

The popularity of this story is an opportunity for the west to reflect on the implications of its addiction to cheap products in general. We’ve grown into  a dangerous symbiotic relationship with China – we can’t shake the allure of cheap products, and they can’t shake the allure of jobs for their citizens. Your cheap jeans create jobs for peasants. And if we were somehow to bring those jobs back to the U.S., we would be throwing those peasants back into the poverty they’ve partially escaped in the past decade. Reality is messy.

Coupled with a recent NY Times piece covering the same topic, it’s been a hard week for Apple, who are scrambling to do spin control. But whether this is an Apple problem or a larger problem of our addiction to cheap goods, Apple could be stepping up as a leader in making a difference here. With the company’s insane bankroll, they could and should be doing more to affect manufacturing conditions.

What about you? Would you be willing to pay 50% more for an iPhone or an HP laptop if it meant you knew it was made in the U.S., under different conditions?

See also: Apple CEO Steve Cook Responds to Allegations

R.I.P. Christopher Hitchens

I got to see Hitchens debate former J-School dean Orville Schell during the height of the Iraq war, and found him a puzzle, as one often does when you agree with exactly half of what someone really smart is saying.

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Christopher Hitchens Is Dead at 62 — Obituary

Mr. Hitchens wrote in the tradition of Thomas Paine and George Orwell and trained his sights on targets as various as Henry Kissinger, the British monarchy and Mother Teresa.

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Raising #OWS from Protest to RealPolitik

The goals of the #ows movement have been well-communicated by now, and continued encampments are starting to do more harm than good in the public perception. It's time for an effective political movement to grow from this soil, and seeds for the real politics of #ows may lie in Lawrence Lessig's new book,

Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress — and a Plan to Stop It

which apparently gets both parts right – what corruption is, AND what to do about it. Lessig's book could become the "manual" for the future of #ows. Sounds like a great read.

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Has a Harvard Professor Mapped Out the Next Step for Occupy Wall Street?
His call for state-based activism on behalf of a constitutional convention could provide the movement with a political focus

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Student Loan Debt Forgiveness

I have TWO friends in their mid-40s who are still paying off their student loans – halfway through their lives. America needs to invest in education. Forgiving student loan debt would have an immediate and profound effect on the economy.

MoveOn:

Forgiving the student loan debt of all Americans will have an immediate stimulative effect on our economy. With the stroke of the President's pen, millions of Americans would suddenly have hundreds, or in some cases, thousands of extra dollars in their pockets each and every month to spend on ailing sectors of the economy.

As consumer spending increases, businesses will begin to hire, jobs will be created, and a new era of innovation, entrepreneurship, and prosperity will be ushered in for all. A rising tide does, in fact, lift all boats—forgiving student loan debt, rather than tax cuts for corporations, millionaires and billionaires, has a MUCH greater chance of helping to raise that tide in a MUCH shorter time-frame.

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Want a Real Economic Stimulus and Jobs Plan? Forgive Student Loan Debt!
I just signed a petition to The United States House of Representatives, The United States Senate and President Barack Obama: Forgiving the student loan debt of all Americans will have an immediate sti…

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