Feb 032016
 

skinner-lab-work-70
In a pioneering experiment in economic behaviorism,* B.F. Skinner attempts to prove the theory of trickle-down economics **

 

Introduction

In  our previous entry, we continued our exposition of the film The Big Short. We noted the role that the bond ratings agencies played in the spreading the financial virus known as collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), and their mutant offspring, synthetic CDOs, in the 2008 financial collapse. In this installment, we expand  our exploration of the Dunning-Kruger effect by delving into the related fields of behavioral economics and behavioral finance. And we document how the fraudulent  mortgage bond industry directly gave rise to the Tea Party.

Behavioral Economics

In the film The Big Short, Dr. Richard Thaler, author of Misbehaving: the Making of Behavioral Economics, identifies the key driver behind bubble psychology as the hot hand fallacy, an allusion to a basketball player on a hot shooting streak (with an assist from Selena Gomez; see previous entry). In the financial universe, it refers to the belief that because stocks and real estate have gone up in the past, they will continue to do so in the future. Okay, maybe with some dips and valleys along the way, but not enough to separate a True Believer from his or her’s God-given right to fabulous riches and a glorious retirement.

Behavioral economics can be defined as:

…the study of the effects of psychological, social, cognitive, and emotional factors on the economic decisions of individuals and institutions and the consequences for market prices, returns, and the resource allocation. Behavioral economics is primarily concerned with the bounds of rationality of economic agents. Behavioral models typically integrate insights from psychology, neuroscience and microeconomic theory; in so doing, these behavioral models cover a range of concepts, methods, and fields. Behavioral economics is sometimes discussed as an alternative to neoclassical economics. [cites omitted; emphasis mine]

Of the three prevalent themes underlying behavioral economics―heuristics, framing, and market inefficiencies―the ones that concern us here is framing.

Framing: The collection of anecdotes and stereotypes that make up the mental emotional filters individuals rely on to understand and respond to events…human beings are by nature “cognitive misers,” meaning they prefer to do as little thinking as possible. Frames provide people a quick and easy way to process information. Hence, people will use the previously mentioned mental filters (a series of which is called a schema) to make sense of incoming messages. This gives the sender and framer of the information enormous power to use these schemas to influence how the receivers will interpret the message.

Given that my ontological bias is rooted in The Urantia Book, permit me to share this excerpt from its 1.1 million word text concerning “the bounds of rationality” and framing  [emphasis mine]:

Partial, incomplete, and evolving intellects would be helpless in the master universe, would be unable to form the first rational thought pattern, were it not for the innate ability of all mind, high or low, to form a universe frame in which to think.…And while such universe frames for creature thought are indispensable to rational intellectual operations, they are, without exception, erroneous to a greater or lesser degree…

While the passage above concerns a general discussion of cosmology, it does reflect the relativistic nature of all thinking. As above, so below. It’s good to keep in mind that any attempt by a part to comprehend a whole, in this case the individual’s attempt to cognize the financial universe in which he or she is embedded, is problematic; i.e not absolute, subject to change. It also underscores what behavioral economics refers to as the “bounds of rationality.” People who violate those bounds are what we here at Urantian Sojourn like to call Teh Stupid and Teh Crazy. While I don’t think that the Wall Street banksters who brought us the financial collapse consciously engineered it, their unshakable belief in their own competency (a hallmark of the Dunning-Kruger effect) helped convince other “cognitive misers” to buy what they were framing, er, selling.

There is a scene in The Big Short where a discouraged Dr. Burry (who had predicted the collapse of the subprime loan industry some 4 to 5 years before it occurred; and is an example of an arbitrage participant mentioned in the section below), tells an employee to start liquidating some the fund’s other assets to pay the premiums due on their insurance swaps. The employee asks him whether his whole thesis about the subprime loan industry could be wrong. Burry replies that he just couldn’t see how―numbers didn’t lie in his world. But in contrast to The Street as a whole, he admitted being wrong was at least a possibility. It’s people who can’t even admit the possibility of being wrong that is the subject of the film’s epigraph:

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. –Mark Twain

Burry would have been proven correct a lot earlier if the market wasn’t as crooked as he subsequently discovered it to be. As firms like Goldman Sachs, which had underwritten a big chunk of his credit default swaps realized they were going to get crushed, they artificially kept the market alive as long as they could, frantically dumping their swap liabilities on any sucker they could find, including their own unsuspecting clients.

Behavioral Finance

The central issue in behavioral finance is explaining why market participants make irrational systematic errors contrary to assumption of rational market participants. Such errors affect prices and returns, creating market inefficiencies. The study of behavioral finance also investigates how other participants take advantage (arbitrage) of such errors and market inefficiencies.

Behavioral finance highlights inefficiencies such as under or over-reactions to information as causes of market trends and in extreme cases of bubbles and crashes. Such reactions have been attributed to limited investor attention, overconfidence, overoptimism, mimicry (herding instinct) and noise trading. Technical analysts consider behavioral finance, to be behavioral economics’ “academic cousin” and to be the theoretical basis for technical analysis.

Having dabbled in technical analysis (TA) over the years, that last sentence provoked an “aha” moment for me. I’d never bothered to look into the psychological underpinnings of TA, of why certain chart patterns correlated with significant price movements. It was enough that there exists a high degree of correlation between the two. From the perspective of behavioral finance, taking the pulse of the market in general or individual stocks in the particular is really a way of divining how investors are using their emotional and cognitive filters to “make sense of incoming messages.”

In addition to technical analysis, another approach to investing is fundamental analysis. Tune into any of the three major business news channels and you’ll be treated to an endless parade of “experts” framing that day or week’s trading activities with narratives that, on the surface, seem to explain what’s driving the market at any given time. But after a couple of decades of watching these people, I’ve concluded that a great deal of their “analysis” is simply designed to keep the rubes in the game by providing seemingly “rational” explanations for what are largely high frequency, computer driven trading schemes that use “dark pools” of money and others forms of subterfuge to separate investors from their money.

Other interesting psychological insights that behavioral economics and behavioral finance brings to the table include: the dynamics of  loss aversion―the tendency for people to strongly prefer avoiding losses than acquiring gains; the endowment effect―a hypothesis that people value a good more once their property right to it has been established, the curious tendency to value one’s own property over the identical property of another; and my personal favorite, conditional expected utility, defined as:

A form of reasoning where the individual has an illusion of control, and calculates the probabilities of external events and hence utility as a function of their own action, even when they have no causal ability to affect those external events.

What could be more devastating to a control freak than to suddenly realize that the basis of his or hers presumed control is an illusion? As in, mortgage bonds never fail? Stocks and real estate prices will rise ad infinitum? It takes a person with a special cognitive makeup to so staunchly believe in their own competence, while the world they helped create comes crashing down around their ears. Just what was going on inside the hamster wheel  brains of these Wall Street’s Masters of the Universe? Ask any of them whether they considered themselves “smart,” and no doubt the answer would be yes. I recently came by this definition of smart by neuroguy at the Big Orange in his diary titled “Dr. Ben Carson is not Smart.” Think of it as an inverse definition of Teh Stupid.

“Smart” is a multifaceted cognitive feature composed of excellent analytical skills, possession of an extensive knowledge base that is easily and frequently augmented, possession of a good memory, and being readily curious about the world and willing, even eager, to reject previously accepted notions in the face of new data. Being smart includes having the ability to analyze new data for validity and, thinking creatively, draw new insights from existing common knowledge. [emphasis mine]

Or as The Urantia Book puts it:

The true teacher maintains his intellectual integrity by ever remaining a learner.

Assigning Blame

There are any number of conventional explanations for the Great Recession. All may be true, as far as they go, and include the following:  it was another example of the greater fool theoryit was due to a lack of regulatory oversight by an underfunded SEC; it was the product of unethical investment banksters packaging subprime loans and credit default swaps into bogus mortgage securities, CDOs, and synthetic CDOs; it was the fault of corrupt bond ratings agencies, foremost among them, Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s.

I would nominate the ratings agencies as the primary culprit. It was they who sprinkled holy water on dogshit and turned it into fool’s gold, the better to rip off first-time home buyers, teachers, little old ladies, and international pension funds. You know―people whom the Tea Party blames for the whole freakin’ mess.

Origin of the Tea Party

I nominate  Rick Santelli, CNBC‘s resident blowhard bond maven, as the founding father of the Tea Party movement. During a television broadcast in February 2009 (that I happened to view live at the time), Santelli delivered an apparently unscripted rant in which he blamed first time home buyers for the 2008 collapse, instead of the Wall Street banksters who so assiduously recruited them to keep their mortgage bond scam going. (Go to minute 2:18 of the clip below to see his call for another Boston tea party, to the cheers of his fellow bond traders.)

CNBC’s Rick Santelli calling for the creation of a modern day Tea Party

Blaming the victim is a stock in trade tactic of the Powers That Be, and can be considered a form of institutional projection. Why the Tea Party and others are willing to blame the victims rather than the perpetrators is a question perhaps best explained by Thomas Frank and his classic book What’s the Matter with Kansas? I can’t help but wonder whether the vehement victim bashing so characteristic of right wingers doesn’t reinforce their own sense of victimhood. If the “takers,” Mitt Romney’s 47%, are the hammer, and they the anvil, the one in their eyes weilding the hammer is, of course, President Obama. Without his critical role in preventing another Great Depression, they would have really become victims of the first order. (Or as me wooden-spoon-wielding Irish granny would have said: “Stop your bellyaching, or I’ll really give you something to cry about!”)

Regulating the Regulators

Leave it to a turn of the of the millennium Roman satirist, Juvenal, to ask the essential question:

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?  Who will guard the guards themselves?

Take the Securities Exchange Commission. (Please!) Incapable of exercising its watchdog role because of persistent efforts by congressional Republicans to underfund it and stock it with past and future industry hacks  (tactics they employ to hamstring other regulatory agencies like the IRS), there exists a well lubricated revolving door for underpaid government employees to bolt an agency for lucrative jobs in the very companies they are charged to regulate. This unfortunately legal but morally reprehensible practice is captured in a scene in The Big Short in which an SEC employee is sunning herself at a Las Vegas hotel-casino  pool on her own dime, shopping herself to potential employers. (They are all in Vegas for the annual American Securitization Forum convention,  the one that Steve Carell and his partners attended at the behest of Ryan Gosling‘s character, described briefly in the previous chapter.)

The perennial complaint of the Wall Street Republican Ruling Class, and therefore the top issue of every GOP congressional and presidential wannabe, is that there is too much regulation―corporate, environmental, and especially, financial. Even President Bill Clinton bought into that latter steaming pile of horseshit when he signed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Ac in 1999 that repealed essential parts of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933put into place to prevent Wall Street banksters from spawning another Great Depression. Clinton also signed into law the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which exempted credit-default swaps from regulation, laying the groundwork for the subprime loan fiasco that followed. Whether he knew it at the time or not, Bill Clinton proved to be a classic Wall Street tool. (Hullo Hillary―care to distinguish yourself from your hubbie’s brilliant policy choices? During the next debate, perhaps?)

Half a millennium earlier, none other than Leonardo da Vinci observed:

He who does not punish evil commands it to be done.

We are all on trial here, on this World of the Cross. So, belly up to the bar―no, not that bar, silly―the bar of justice, cosmic justice. As The Urantia Book puts it:

Mercy may be lavish, but justice is precise…For mercy is not to be thrust upon those who despise it; mercy is not a gift to be trampled under foot by the persistent rebels of time.

In the final chapter, we provide an overview of the current world economy and ask the question: Are we wiser now, having experienced the worst financial collapse since the Great Depression. Or are the cognitive filters that produced the 2008 crash still in place, leaving us blind to the next catastrophe.

NOTES

*I thought I was really stretching it by using this photo of B.F. Skinner to make a point about behavioral economics, but then I came across a paper by Battalio, Green, and Kagel (1981, p 621), in which they write:

[Studies of economic behavior in non-human animals] provide a laboratory for identifying, testing, and better understanding general laws of economic behavior. Use of this laboratory is predicated on the fact that behavior as well as structure vary continuously across species, and that principles of economic behavior would be unique among behavioral principles if they did not apply, with some variation, of course, to the behavior of nonhumans. [cited in Behavioral Economics]

**Another way of describing trickle-down economics, the economic theory so dear to Republicans and Wall Street banksters that holds that tax breaks for the rich benefit the middle-class, is this:

The way to feed rabbits is to feed hay to horses.

 

The Big Short Part II: The DK Effect Part V

 Posted by on February 1, 2016 at 12:11 PM
Feb 012016
 


 In a series of visual puns,  Margot Robbie describes the collapse of the real estate bubble while sipping bubbly in a bubble bath, in this synopsis  of The Big Short, nominated by Oscar for best film

Introduction

In Part IV of the Dunning-Kruger effect, we laid the groundwork for understanding its consequences to society as a whole by focusing the Great Recession, as seen through the lens of the film The Big ShortWe began an exploration of how the American mortgage bond industry, formerly a pillar of the world economy, degenerated into the greatest financial fraud in history. We continue here with the film’s exposition, examining the role that individual borrowers, mortgage brokers, bond ratings agencies, and bond traders played in the Great Fraud.

The Bubble Builds

Dr. Michael Burry may have been the first person to realize that there was “value” to be had by betting against subprime loans, but others eventually came to the same conclusion. In the year 2000, the total amount of traditional default swaps outstanding was $900 billion. By the end of 2007, derivatives of the type that Burry pioneered equaled $62.2 trillion, roughly five times the entire GDP of the USA; and ten times the amount of total corporate debt.

While Burry took a numerical approach―loan to value ratios, types of adjustable loans, a borrower’s creditworthiness, down-payment percentage, a home’s location, secondary lien, etc., to determine that the subprime industry was ripe for plucking, others took a different approach to suss out the truth.

Steve Carell‘s character (based on FrontPoint Partners’ managing partner Steve Eisman) relied on his evaluation of the people involved. In the film, he interviews a Florida pole dancer who owns five properties with multiple mortgages on each, assured by her mortgage broker that if the market softened, she could always re-finance. He meets with that self-same mortgage broker who brags about being able to close a loan on Friday and sell it to a Wall Street investment bank on Monday, including loans for so-called NINJAsNo Income, No Job Applicants who’d leave critical questions blank that he would helpfully fill in for them. He meets with a senior analyst at Standard and Poor’s who explains why her firm, “a ratings shop,” rubber-stamped as triple-A every “dog shit” bond that the big Wall Street banks plopped on her desk. And he has dinner with a man at the very heart of the subprime fraud.

Ryan Gosling‘s character (based on a subprime loan trader working for Deutsche Bank) invites Carell and his partners to a subprime mortgage conference held at Sheldon Adelson‘s Venetian hotel and casino (irony noted), to surreptitiously meet “the enemy.” That is, the parties that were on the other side of their trades, the people that were betting against them. Carell and company were anxious that these old-time bond traders knew something they didn’t. Gosling assures them that on the contrary, they were, in the immortal words of George Clooney‘s character in the film O Brother Where Art Thou?―dumber than a sack of hammers.

Gosling arranges for Carell to have dinner with a smug, self-assured “CDO manager”―let’s call him “Chow.” Chow runs an investment advisory firm with some $15 billion under management for clients who trust him to analyze various CDO investments. (We’ll get into the nature of “Collateralized Debt Obligations” in a moment.) But instead of exercising what should have been a fiduciary duty to his clients, Chow brags that he was, in effect, a double-agent working for Merrill Lynch, whose reputation as Wall Street’s largest CDO machine didn’t exactly engender the trust of their clients. Merrill packaged the worst of the worst subprime loans into CDO bonds and then had Chow “analyze” them for purchase by his clients. (Not only did ML send Chow CDOs to launder, but suckers clients to buy them as well!) Despite being comprised exclusively of subprime loans, 80% of them were still being rated triple-A, so it wasn’t exactly a hard sell.

In his last year as a portfolio manager for a New York insurance company, Chow had earned $140,000. In his first year as CDO “analyst,” he took home $26 million. Carell knew a psychopath (i.e. a high functioning sociopath) when he saw one; a man whose greed and indifference contributed to the misery of tens of thousands of hapless borrowers, suckered into taking out loans they never had a prayer of paying back. In a superb acting performance, Carell displays a visceral hatred of the man, and after the dinner orders his partners to bet against every CDO this mofo was buying.

In The Big Short, Selena Gomez explains synthetic CDOs

Collateralized Debt Obligations

Collateralized Debt Obligations, or CDOs, made their debut in the Wall Street’s world of “structured finance” in 1987. Originally, they were bonds composed of combinations of corporate loans, bank loans, and emerging market bonds. Later, subprime loans were included. During the height of the mortgage bond mania of 2004-2007, they went from a total of $500 billion in 2006 to $1.4 trillion a year later.

As Wall Street ran out of decent loans to assemble into mortgage securities, they increasingly had to scrape the bottom of the barrel, sometimes creating bonds composed exclusively of subprime loans. These were disingenuously labeled “asset backed securities” and assembled into CDOs. As mentioned, 80% of those were still mysteriously rated triple-A. As the amount of subprime loans was exhausted, only the dregs of the dregs were left. These were packaged together with unregulated swaps into “synthetic CDOs.” Or as Carell’s character so memorably describes them, “dog shit wrapped in cat shit.”

The Ratings Agencies

Perhaps the moat essential players in the financial collapse were the bond rating agencies, primarily Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s. Carell and his partners, in a scene where they interview and executive at Standard and Poor’s, are stunned to learn that, for a flat fee, S&P routinely approved as triple-A almost every bond that Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, and other Wall Street banksters brought to them. As Upton Sinclair once observed:

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

 Moody’s Investors Service could earn five times rating a mortgage pool ($250,000) versus what it could earn rating a municipal bond of comparable size. In 2006, it was one of the most profitable companies in the world. Between its initial IPO in 2000 and the subsequent spin-off of Moody’s Analytics in 2007, its stock rose 340%. According to a report entitled “Did going public impair Moody’s credit ratings?”, its authors concluded:

Consistent with Congressional allegations, we find that Moody’s credit ratings for new and outstanding corporate bonds are significantly more favorable to issuers relative to S&P’s after Moody’s initial public offering (IPO) in 2000. The higher ratings assigned by Moody’s after its IPO are more pronounced for clients that are large issuers of structured finance products and operate in the financial industry, consistent with testimonies that easier rating standards originated in the structured finance products group of Moody’s. Moody’s ratings are also more favorable for clients where Moody’s is likely to face larger conflicts of interest: (i) large issuers; (ii) firms that are more likely to benefit from higher ratings, on the margin; and (iii) in industries with greater competition from Fitch. Moody’s higher ratings, post IPO, are also less informative when accuracy is measured as expected default frequencies (EDFs) or as the likelihood of bond defaults. Our findings have implications for incentives created by a public offering for capital market gatekeepers and professional firms.

After the collapse, S&P was sued in at least 41 different actions. Instead of being driven out of business and their principals sent to jail, courts ruled that they were innocent. They were simply offering their opinion as to the value of the bonds, and thus covered by the First Amendment’s right to free speech.  In the end, a small measure of justice and accounting was achieved when the Department of Justice sued S&P in 2013. Two years later, S&P, without admitting guilt, paid a record $1.5 billion in fines (more than a year’s profit). Bloomberg Business reported it as follows (emphasis mine)

The company’s leadership ignored senior analysts who warned that the company had given top ratings to financial products that were failing to perform as advertised,” said Attorney General Eric Holder in prepared remarks. “While this strategy may have helped S&P avoid disappointing its clients, it did major harm to the larger economy, contributing to the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

S&P admitted in the statement that its ratings decisions were affected by business concerns, a fact it disputed two years ago when the lawsuit was filed. To win business, S&P awarded top grades on bonds built out of risky subprime mortgages that investors thought were as safe as debt from the U.S. government. When housing prices fell, the bonds defaulted, helping freeze credit markets and trigger the worse recession since the 1930s.

In the film’s epilogue, we learn that with the exception of a single European trader, nobody directly involved in the most massive criminal financial fraud in history went to jail. Last year, JP Morgan Chase and four other banks were found guilty of rigging foreign currency rates.  Given the sheer scale of this criminal enterprise, knowledge of its operation must have been known at the very top, and was not simply the work of an obscure trader toiling behind the fortified walls of his cubicle (the usual patsy in these kinds of cases).  As the saying goes, a fish rots from the head down. In the case of JP Morgan Chase’s CEO Jamie Dimon, he was sentenced to no jail time and given a 35% raise (presumably for negotiating a pittance in fines compared to the damage done). And just this month, Goldman Sachs was fined a paltry $5 billion for their role in the great mortgage bond fraud.

The Big Short Vampire Squid 2

The Great Vampire Squid embracing the world’s financial system

Coming up: In Part VI, we examine more closely the psychological and cognitive dimensions of the Dunning-Kruger effect by placing it in the context of the larger fields of Behavioral Economics and Behavioral Finance. And we show how the birth of the Tea Party was the direct result of the implosion of the mortgage bond industry.

Jan 292016
 

 Trump on the LawnWhat’s Wrong With This Picture?  Yes, his mouth is open, but that’s not it. It’s that 38″ tie there, that’s blowin’ in his wind. This is exactly what Trump will look like as president, telling the press to “Get off my lawn!”— the lawn of his private Ireland “White House” golf course estate, and to go have sex with themselves back in America.

 

Several weeks ago I began to notice that Trump wears his ties extraordinarily long.  It’s easy to believe he’s just inept and — well he is inept— but I mean inept at simple things that he does every day of his life, like tie a tie;  groom his hair;  say good morning.

For those of you who forego business drag:  As a general rule, the widest part of your tie should hang roughly at the same height as the upper edge of your belt, with the tie’s tip extending slightly below it.  The narrow end hangs wherever.  But Donald J. Trump has his own rules, as well as his own set of facts.  Consider the words of Steve Schmidt.

The crisis in the Republican party is not caused by Donald Trump, Donald Trump is the result of the crisis in the Republican party.  You have a party that has lost the popular vote in 5 out of the last 6 elections;  you look at a party that is shrinking;  in every demographic in the country that is growing, the Republican party is losing in market share.

Its leadership has been complicit in the prosecution of an improperly prosecuted war;  it has been complicit in spending the country to 19 trillion dollars in debt, abrogating its claims to being the party of fiscal responsibility.  And all of the institutionalized conservatives, and the establishment conservatives, and the professional conservatives in Washington have stood idly by during this season of collapse.  

There were no new ideas in the Republican party, no fresh policies;  there is not the intellectual rigor and vigor that you saw out of the conservatives in the 1980s.  On top of it all we live in a country where trust has collapsed in nearly every institution, with the exception of the military.  And you see this playing out additionally on the Democratic side with the rise of Bernie Sanders.

Trump Fit to be TiedWell Steve is a Republican, right, so he didn’t go far enough.  It wasn’t just a crisis or two or three or four in the Republican party, it was also the rising tide of propaganda being spewed 24/7 by Fox and friends, which authenticated every ounce of vitriol, fear, hate and bigotry being sprouted and nurtured by them, along with a bunch of base and deranged hatriots on the radio. Trump, in a word, was inevitable.

But getting back to Steve for a moment. Steve is a respected MSNBC contributor, who provides an occasional bit of reality, often laced with a dollop of sophistry.  Like above where he admits the Republican party has no “new ideas,” or “fresh policies,” then adds that conservatives in the 80’s possessed an “intellectual rigor and vigor” which has somehow evaporated.

My best guess is he is talking about America’s first round of ruination with an “entertainer.”  The Reagans were also inevitable;  the growing hoards of teh suffraged stupid were well in evidence by the seventies;  just check out this 2016 1980 Republican platform.  No examination of the intellectual rigor and vigor of the Reagans would be complete without a big fat nod to their astrologers, Jean Dixon, and Joan Quigley.

Virtually every major move and decision the Reagans made during my time as White House Chief of Staff was cleared in advance with a woman in San Francisco [Quigley] who drew up horoscopes to make certain that the planets were in a favorable alignment for the enterprise.”  —Donald Regan

As far as we know, Trump doesn’t have an astrologer, but something or someone has convinced him to start believing his own bullshit.  And now that he’s taken on cult-guru status with the timid souls who’ve become his true beliebers, they’ve gone from “He speaks his mind,” to “He speaks my mind.”

Still, you’re wondering just what kind of people would find a boorish billionaire narcissist with a desperate need for attention and a  trump fanslong-tie fetish capable of leading a normal life, let alone carrying out the responsibilities of a real president of the United States.

Alex Castellanos

Guess what, we don’t have any [alternatives to Donald Trump].  And whose fault is that?  I think a lot of the fault actually belongs to the conservative intellectual leadership of America that you see in this issue of National Review.  With the conservative cause that animates the Republican Party, we don’t appeal to young people, we don’t appeal to millennials, we don’t appeal to young women, we don’t appeal to minorities. We appeal to only cranky old white guys like me who end up voting for Donald Trump.

Trump with his favorite tie

Want to know what kind of “First Lady” Melania Trump will be? Go here.

“Cranky old white guys.”  Oh, and the subservient “cranky old white gals” chained to the stove who keep making the grits and gravy that keeps them careening around Trump town halls and tuning in to Rush Limpbat.  Also too, the rapidly multiplying Palin family and the wake of social carnage they produce as they make their way from one grift to the next.  To wit:

Conservative blog RedState’s Susan Wright called Palin’s endorsement “an inglorious display of crass opportunism,” and criticized Palin for betraying the Tea Party “ideology she once rode to prominence” by supporting Trump, who “will be the death of the GOP”:

Sarah Palin, that darling of a failed John McCain presidential bid, has resurfaced to throw her voice and her support behind the gilded toad of the GOP, Donald Trump. Where she was once a strong Tea Party leader, promoting free market ideas, limited government, and power back in the hands of the people, today she forsook it all, in favor of a big government, foul mouthed, Wall Street liberal with atrocious hair.

But who are these people.  The place to begin is with “these people,” themselves.  They are every bit as much a dangerous American phenomenon as Trump is himself.  Naturally, the first place to find Trump supporters is (Lost Time Warning) YOU TUBE.  YouTube.  YouTube.  youtube.

There are literally hundreds and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of videos on YouTube of Trump supporters, and in an effort to spare you the heartache and the headache of having to view such a staggeringly painful side of humanity, we paid a Trump supporter new friend a small sum of bus tokens and bottle caps to view them for us, and recommend a “representative” video.  We hope you will find it as disturbing as we did.

As you may have noticed, some of the creatures in the video were quite young. That means that the cranky old white guys continue to procreate, and their spawn will be with us for many more election cycles to come. They too will continue to ignore facts, indulge fear, and seek out other “successful” billionaire entertainers who will lead them, like lambs, to the all you can eat buffets, and the path to becoming a billionaire, too.

What can go wrong.

Success may generate courage and promote confidence, but wisdom comes only from the experiences of adjustment to the results of one’s failures.  Men who prefer optimistic illusions to reality can never become wise. Only those who face facts and adjust them to ideals can achieve wisdom.

Wisdom embraces both the fact and the ideal and therefore saves its devotees from both of those barren extremes of philosophy — the man whose idealism excludes facts, and the materialist who is devoid of spiritual outlook.  Those timid souls who can only keep up the struggle of life by the aid of continuous false illusions of success are doomed to suffer failure and experience defeat as they ultimately awaken from the dream world of their own imaginations.   —The Urantia Book

Stand With Trump's Tie

TrumPenstein Redux (Updated)

 Posted by on January 27, 2016 at 8:03 PM
Jan 272016
 

Trumpenstein

Zombies have nuttin’ on Herr TrumPenstein

Back in August, we published Trumpenstein! that begins as follows:

Mary Shelley’s classic sci-fi horror novel, Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus (1818), her protagonist, the brilliant Dr. Viktor Frankenstein, allows his hubris to get the better of him by assuming the powers of the Creator. His monstrous faux human creation, without name or number in the original—let’s call him “Donald” for now– refers to himself initially as “the Adam of your labours,” and subsequently as “your fallen angel.” Assembled from the disjointed body parts of dead humans, the good Doc’s beloved creation rebels and tries to destroy him.

Which pretty much describes Donald Trump’s relationship with the GOP establishment. His political persona is as much a creation of the political arm of the GOP, Fux News, as it is one of his own devising. Prior to the first, now infamous, 2016 Republican presidential debate, Trump was a regular weekly guest on Fux’s morning program, Fux and Friends, which gave him a long-running, high profile forum to build his political persona. A marriage made in heaven for an extreme narcissist and a cable network, both seeking maximum public attention and approval…

But now that the Trumpestein monster has broken his restraints and left the table, marauding across the countryside and terrorizing the peasants (cue music: The Monster Mash…it caught on in a flash.), the GOP is forced to reanimate the issue.

And now comes this from Media Matters.

GOP Presidential candidate Donald Trump backing out of Fox News’ debate is a damning indictment of the creature that the right-wing media helped create and that the rest of the media enabled for far too long.

Not only did Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media manufacture many of the lies that serve as the refrain of Trump’s campaign, but they also fomented much of the racial antipathy and sexism that Trump is using to fuel his campaign.

In this conservative universe, facts don’t matter. Which is exactly why Donald Trump can claim that he is backing out of the Thursday’s debate due to the fact that Fox News doesn’t treat him well, despite the fact that Trump has appeared on Fox News at least two and a half times more than any of his GOP primary opponents. (I’ll save the irony of Fox News being burned by the same kind of fact free attacks that the network conditioned its audience to respond to for another day.)

In his rationale, Trump also cited concerns about the debate being moderated by Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly. Trump has openly attacked Kelly since the first Fox News debate in August. But make no mistake, Donald Trump does not have a problem with Megyn Kelly because she’s a serious journalist who asks really tough questions (she isn’t). Nor is it because she challenges Trump’s policies. Remember, Kelly was one of the first media figures to defend Donald Trump’s claim that Mexican immigrants are rapists and killers.

Trump has a problem with Megyn Kelly because at the first Republican primary debate, Kelly asked Trump about his misogyny and his long record of sexists attacks against women. Trump reacted by attacking Kelly, suggesting that she was on her period and subsequently threatening to boycott Fox News.

Don’t you just love it when life imitates art?

 

UPDATE (1/28/16)

As the Frankenstein meme to describe Donald Trump’s effect on the Republican party spreads, Professor Cole reminds us today of the historical parallel between Trump and Richard Hostadter’s classic 1964 essay on “a paranoid style in American politics.”

Observing the paranoid style in the early 1960s, Hostadter noted that it had a particularly strong appeal for those who see themselves as dispossessed and feel that “America has largely been taken away from them and their kind.” This holds true today, a sense of dispossession is felt particularly keenly by the white working class, among whom there is a deep distrust of government and a real anger that their cultural and religious identity is under siege. And they are tired of being taken for granted by the Republican leadership.

It is a constituency to which the absolutism of Trump’s rhetorical style plays well – and in appealing to it he has revealed the chasm that has opened between the Republican establishment and its base.

The mainstream American right and its media allies have long exploited fears about social issues to build support among white working class conservatives, but they have simply lost control of this process. Enter Trump a Frankenstein of the Republican Party’s making.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Jan 262016
 

Fiorina pimpimg out kids
Carly Fiorina encouraging kids to take their country back from Planned Parenthood

Well, well…the gods of karma have been busy this week.

First off, failed former HP CEO and presidential candidate Carly Fiorina was roundly criticized for using a group of kids out on a field trip to an arboretum as props for her agi-prop campaign against Planned Parenthood. 

Carly Fiorina Accused Of Crashing Kids’ Field Trip And Ushering Them To Anti-Abortion Rally

Carly Fiorina’s latest campaign stop in Iowa has upset some Des Moines-area parents, who say the GOP presidential candidate “ambushed” a group of kids on a preschool field trip — and led them to an anti-abortion rally.

On Wednesday morning, Fiorina attended the Iowa Right to Life Presidential Forum, where she emphasized her support for defunding Planned Parenthood and passing a national abortion ban.

The anti-abortion event was held at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden. At the same time, a group of preschoolers was also visiting the botanical garden for a field trip.

According to the Des Moines Register, Fiorina “headed straight for a group of giggling 4- and 5-year-olds” when she first arrived at the botanical garden. She reportedly ushered them toward the makeshift stage set up for the anti-abortion event — which featured a large poster of a fetus — without asking permission for the children to sit with her.

Not content to merely push her anti-abortion agenda in front of the kids, she also got into her signature campaign rant: Planned Parenthood is selling baby parts to the highest bidder. (“Mommy, the nice lady at the flower place said something about selling baby body farts…”). The evidence for her claims? A doctored video released last summer.

From CNN:

Planned Parenthood has countered that it donates the tissue for scientific research and receives only reimbursement for its expenses, which is legal. The group also says it helps people donate tissue “with full, appropriate consent from patients and under the highest ethical and legal standards,” according to a statement from spokesman Eric Ferrero.

Later, Ferrero issued another statement saying, “These outrageous claims are flat-out untrue, but that doesn’t matter to politicians with a longstanding political agenda to ban abortion and defund Planned Parenthood. Women and families who make the decision to donate fetal tissue for lifesaving scientific research should be honored, not attacked and demeaned.”

The group leveling the accusation, the Irvine, California-based Center for Medical Progress, says it shot the video a year ago at a California restaurant. On it, two people purporting to be with a human biologics company speak with a Planned Parenthood doctor over what appears to be a lunch meeting. The Center for Medical Progress says the pair, who are off-camera and never seen, are paid actors.

The video, which is almost three hours long, was released Tuesday along with a heavily edited eight-minute version, which has drawn more than 1 million views on YouTube, as opposed to about 40,000 for the the full-length footage. The group has also released a transcript of the longer video.

“Planned Parenthood’s criminal conspiracy to make money off of aborted baby parts reaches to the very highest levels of their organization,” said statement from David Daleiden, who led the undercover project.

As you can imagine, the GOP presidential wannabes jumped all over the story. Much heat was brought down on Planned Parenthood, most especially from Texas. Not only did Governor Greg Abbot cut off its medicaid funds (Abbot had earlier cut-off its cancer screening service for low-income women), but he had his Republican Lt. Governor Dan Patrick launch a criminal investigation of the organization.

Imagine my surprise when I bought my dead-tree version of the NY Times this morning and saw this (above the fold) front page story.

HOUSTON — A grand jury here that was investigating accusations of misconduct against Planned Parenthood has instead indicted two abortion opponents who made undercover videos of the organization.

Prosecutors in Harris County said one of the leaders of the Center for Medical Progress — an anti-abortion group that made secretly recorded videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood officials trying to illegally profit from the sale of fetal tissue — had been indicted on a charge of tampering with a governmental record, a felony, and on a misdemeanor charge related to purchasing human organs.

That leader, David R. Daleiden, 27, the director of the center, had posed as a biotechnology representative to infiltrate Planned Parenthood affiliates and surreptitiously record his efforts to procure tissue for research. Another center employee, Sandra S. Merritt, 62, was indicted on a felony charge of tampering with a governmental record.

So not only was Planned Parenthood exonerated from any criminal wrongdoing, but the slime-buckets who created the video were themselves indicted on felony and misdemeanor charges of fraud.

Marco Rubio was the first GOP presidential wannabes to step in it last night when the news broke. He was at a town hall meeting in Iowa where he announced the decision by the grand jury. Naturally, he spun it into a remix of his stump speech rant that it was just another example that the country was “headed in the wrong direction.” Not because an  operation steeped in criminal fraud designed to prevent women from getting low cost medical services was uncovered. No, the real crime is that the vitriolic narrative that he and his fellow Republicans are propagating has just been shown to be full of shit.

What’s next? Hypocrite Rubio bragging that he’s a law and order man? Maybe he should take the advice of Republican district attorney who said she was just going where the evidence led her.

Same goes for Carly F, who referred to Robert Lewis Dear,the man accused of murdering five people with an AK-47 at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs last November as “a messenger” and a “protestor.

God save us from these delusional wackos.

ManUpCarlyTeaBagMag

Carly goes semi-commando, claiming that her degree in Medieval history and philosophy would make her tough on ISIS

 

Teh Stupid: Donald Trump Replaces Sarah Palin

 Posted by on January 24, 2016 at 6:06 AM
Jan 242016
 

I'm with stupid

Well, if ever a news event didn’t require an explanation of Teh Stupid, this is it.

From Politico:

Trump video shows footage of Russian, not U.S. veterans
By ELIZA COLLINS 01/22/16 07:05 PM EST

Donald Trump used footage of Russian soldiers in a video post on his Facebook page that was meant to convey his respect for America’s veterans.

Fullstop!  WTF?

The video — which was later deleted — contains images of soldiers with medals that have the hammer and sickle, the symbol for communism, and “CCCP,” an abbreviation for the Soviet Union. The original footage is available on the stock footage site Shutterstock and is titled “RUSSIA, TOGLIATTI, MAY 9, 2015, Victory Day: Veterans of World War II with red flowers in hand at the Military Parade, military medals.”

In Trump’s video, he Trump speaks directly into the camera and says, “Our great veterans are being treated terribly, the corruption in the Veterans Administration, the incompetence is beyond. We will stop them.”

Then the video pivots to the images of the Russian soldiers as his voiceover says, “We’re going to take care of our veterans, we’re going to take care of our wounded warriors. These are our greatest people. We will take care of them like they’ve never been taken care of before.”

“Illegal immigrants in many cases are treated better than our veterans, that’s not happening if Trump becomes president,” Trump says again into the camera. “Believe me, our veterans will be proud again.”

Ya know, when I first downloaded the Daily News photo of Sarah Always Failin Palin and Donald Trump, I thought of the classic t-shirt caption “I’m With Stupid.” Problem was, I didn’t know who to make the subject of the caption, Trump or Palin. They’re both pointing at each other. Imagine my relief when the above article appeared. Problem solved.

In case you can’t read the fine print in the space between the heads of these two head-cases in the pic above, it begins with: “Birdbrains of a feather flock together…” In prehistoric times, their soul-mate fusion would have looked like this:
Feathered dinosaur

Trump, the avatar of solipsism,  is rapidly proving that he is only too competent to replace Palin as the embodiment of Teh Stupid. What’s next: Trump saying he can see Russia―or should that be Tehran?―from the balcony of his penthouse suite, atop the tower that so egotistically bears his name?

mcpalinboots

Exsqueeze me, puhleeze!

Jan 222016
 


He fixes the cable?What— Me?  “Fatuous”??


Now, this here story I’m about to unfold took place back in the early nineties— just about the time of our conflict with Sad’m and the Eye-rackies.  I only mention it because, sometimes there’s a man. . .  I won’t say a hero, ’cause, what’s a hero.  But sometimes, there’s a man;  and I’m talkin’ about the “Dude” here.  Sometimes, there’s a man, well,  he’s the man for his time and place.  He fits right in there.  And that’s the Dude, in Los Angle-les.  And even if he’s a lazy man— and the Dude was most certainly that— quite possibly the laziest in Los Angle-les County, which would place him high in the runnin’ for laziest worldwide. . .  But sometimes there’s a man, sometimes, there’s a man. . .   Aww.  Lost my train of thought, here.  But. . .  aww hell.  I done introduced him enough.

Life has a way of wearing down our sharp edges, has a way of making life changing decisions manifest out of the most unlikely circumstances.  And if you’re reading this now, then that circumstance is upon you.  What you make of it is entirely up to you.  But take a moment to hear me out, and see if you’re ready to go a new way;  the eternal way— that beckons you onward toward your destiny.

Now there are easily a thousand good reasons why you should read The Urantia Book, not the least of which is, it’s the official user’s guide to the planet you’re standing on.  But for the benefit of those who have never heard of it, like the Dude, or those who are just becoming aware of the book, like you, let’s just say the five reasons which follow are good enough to get you started.  See what you think.

5.  Admit it, dude:  you don’t really know where you are.

giphy-2Like all other mortals, you and the Dude were born into this world totally ignorant of whence you came, where you are, or what you are doing here.  But hopefully you began at some point to piece together a crude picture of where you are, and the more true information you’re able to add to your picture, well, the more staggeringly awesome it gets.

But, we find ourselves as living, supposedly sentient creatures on a singular, tiny blue dot of a planet, whizzin’ along at some insane rate of m.p.h., somewhere in the uncharted outskirts of an incomprehensibly vast spiral arm of a frickin’ enormous galaxy;  which would be just one of many trillions of such gigantic structures in our quite limited vision of the observable universe.

And even with our substantial strides in cosmic understanding, the vast majority of us still don’t fathom we are all a part of an immense plan— a gigantic enterprise— an eternal project— which the Gods are supervising and outworking.  And it’s the very incomprehensible vastness of the undertaking that renders it impossible for us to see very much of it at any one time, and more poignantly, during any one life.  Oh, and dude— you are on the bottom rung of an eternal ladder.  Better start climbin’.


Big Lebowski
:
 What makes a man, Mr. Lebowski?
The Dude:  Dude.
Big Lebowski:  Huh?
The Dude:  Uhh… I don’t know sir.
Big Lebowski:  Is it being prepared to do the right thing, whatever the cost?  Isn’t that what makes a man?
The Dude:  Mmm. . .  Sure;  that, and a pair of testicles.

 4.  You don’t really know who you are.

Eight year olds, Dude.

Eight year olds, Dude.

Sure:  you’re “The Dude,” and some people call you “The Dude,” and perhaps you know a bit about a branch or two of  “The Dude” family tree;  but none of these sort of things tell you who you fundamentally are.  And, in the parlance of our times, neither does a pair of testicles.  So who are you?  Probably not who you’re thinking.

First things first.  We are all children of an infinite creator.
Consequently, whether you know it or not, that makes us all potentially eternal beings.  And whatever ideas you have of your “self” at this point in your really short little life here, it’s gotta be far less than the magnificent destiny that is being offered you by your Infinite Creator Father:  A creature that achieves perfection while climbing rung by evolutionary rung to Paradise.

But, yeah, you really can’t know a damned thing about that if you haven’t read the manual.  And if you haven’t read The Urantia Book, you haven’t read the manual.  Somma you may wanna start here.

 

3.  Dude.  You don’t even know what you are.

EvoMythApeYou may say to yourself, I’m a “bowler,” or, I’m the “Dude,” or, I’m a nihilist;  you may be a “cowboy,” a “compulsive fornicator,” a “private dick,” a “video artist,” or into “adult publishing.”  But all of those are secondary classifications;  they don’t actually explain what you are— as a sentient creature— a creature with the potential to become eternally existent in an endless universe.  So.

You know you’re a “person.” It’s because you possess something called “personality.”  “Personality” is probably the most misunderstood word in our language when it comes to understanding what we really are.  That’s because current psychology really doesn’t understand what personality fundamentally is, not to mention the other components of being— say them with me now— body, mind, soul, and spirit. Personality is able to unify these various components and, through your decisions, create your identity.

But you— when you carefully examine your identity— your self— should be able to recognize that there’s no one else exactly like you, anywhere;  not in the eternal past, not in the internal future;  you are already eternally unique.  Basically, that’s really the only thing you have to offer God— an eternally unique, personally unique perspective on reality.  And the reward for sharing your perspective?  Eternal life!     Are you seeing the bargain here, dude?!?


Has the whole world gone crazy?

Am I the only one around here who gives a shit about the rules?
Walter Sobchak

 

2.  You don’t really know where you are going.

Eternity would really really suck if there weren’t a lot of astonishingly interesting places to see, places to go, things to do and people to meet in the universe;  well the universe, it just so happens, is infinitegiphy-1ly full of unending wonder, personal beings both human and divine, and matchless adventure.  Ever heard this before?  It’s a clue:

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it even entered into the mind of man, what the universal Father has prepared for those who survive the life in the flesh.”

But that was then.  It’s NOW, dude.  Step away from the Torino, and into the future;  you’ve gotta whole lotta learnin’ to do.

The watchword of the universe is progress.  All that incomprehensible vastness out there should suggest to any clear thinking mind that there’s a way to get out there and explore!  The good news is, there is a way;  the proviso is, you have to want it.   And yeah, it’s pretty hard to want something you don’t really know anything about.  Which, surprise, brings us right back to learning about what’s really going on in the universe from an authentically spiritual point of view.  The tasty part is, you can make it your point of view.  So pull over, kick back, and read The Urantia Book.  Yep, all of it.

 

 1.  You don’t have a real cosmology.  Yet.

But you need one;  everybody does.  Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t even know what the word cosmology means.  And a surprising number of those who do usually refer to the limited dictionary meaning for their understanding of the word.  But “cosmology” must be personally redefined— by you— to include everything there is to know about reality and the universe.

The problem–riddled theory of the Big Bang currently dominates physical cosmology, to the extent that most people think the mystery of creation has been resolved by science and that’s all there is to it.  Sadly, no.  But a spiritual cosmology must ascend to the pinnacle of human understanding.  And short of a celestial teacher showing up and teaching cosmology to the masses, the only game in town for a relatively replete cosmology is waiting for you right now— in the pages of The Urantia Book.

It’s difficult to explain how truly complicated a replete cosmological picture is, because so much of it simply doesn’t exist yet for most people.  For ingiphy-7stance, the evidence for an intelligently organized and designed universe has yet to be discovered by astronomers;  the universe is simply too vast to either observe or comprehend.  And things beyond our human comprehension still require some degree of faith to ascertain.

And that brings us to an interesting proviso, man.  While we have the utmost appreciation for The Urantia Book, we also know not everyone is ready to receive it.  Many minds are not ready for this revelation and will inevitably find a way to blow it off.  You may liken it to an infant trying to comprehend a set of encyclopedias.  There is nothing wrong with the encyclopedias or the infant, but of course an infant does not have the necessary development to read or comprehend them.  For this reason, we recommend that spiritual newbies first try to gain a good working knowledge of The Urantia Book with the assistance of a more experienced reader.  Experienced readers are usually willing to share suggestions on how to grapple with the Book’s more difficult concepts, and other readers are increasingly easier to find.   Go get you some.  And you can always use our comment section, or one of several FaceBook groups.

 

giphy-3

I’ll tell you what I’m blathering about—I’ve got information man!  New shit has come to light!

That’s right: “New shit has come to light.”  In the parlance of our times, that “new shit” is The Urantia Book.  But that’s not to say there aren’t real challenges facing anyone who desires to give the book a fair reading.  Don’t be surprised if a few of your most precious preconceptions about the way you think things are in your personal universe have to be re-framed, upgraded, or maybe even deleted.  If it’s any consolation, those of us who’ve already done that usually swear it’s totally f’ng worth the effort.

So.   If you can suspend any superficial obstacles long enough to let the book speak for itself, we believe the more courageous and energetic individuals out there will be compensated with knowing the who, what, and why of personal existence on a world of time and space!  and yeah, consequently, be changed forever and ever.  Heh.  And if you don’t realize that’s the most valuable information you can discover for reals during your life on this planet, dude, well. . .  go ahead and watch the video just for the colors, then.

Yes, this is a very complicated book, Dude.  You know— a lotta ins, a lotta outs;  a lotta what-have-yous.  And, a lotta strands to keep in your head, man;  lotta strands in old Duder’s head.  The good news is, you’ve got a perfect, divine, guiding Spirit to help you with all of them.

That's fucking interesting, man.

Just read it, Dude.  And you, too.