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What do you mean by that?

Gun safety

When it comes to guns, we often seem not to want to talk in definitive language, unless we’re taking a shot (as it were) at the other side.

There is, for example, the classic old quote (a pre-meme meme) by gun backers: “Gun control means using both hands,” sometimes expressed as, “I’m all for gun control: I use both hands.”

That tactic is still out there but it doesn’t get so much usage these days. It’s not hard to figure out why. Once a term used often by gun-regulation advocates (maybe we can call them that here for present purposes), “gun control” has since been adopted more by anti-regulation forces, such as many National Rifle Association members.

In early 2019, the Washington state legislature, like several others, was considering new gun regulation legislation. Advocates of those measures didn’t refer to them as “gun control.” Instead, they referred to them as “gun safety” measures.

To which one Republican (and anti-regulatory) legislator replied, “It’s not gun safety it’s gun control.”

That more or less unveiled the situation. To the Democratic bill proponents, the bill was a safety measure. (How effective it might be as a safety measure could of course be a matter of debate.) But it also meant to control some aspect of gun ownership or use; loosely at least, you reasonably could call it gun control. Depending, of course, on what you mean by control. Both terms could apply.

The shifts in emphasis represent more awareness of PR than of anything else: Both sides have seized on to what is the most appealing aspect of their side of the argument: “safety for the pro-regulators” as against “control” for the anti-regulators. Both sides have reached a public relations rationality.

that also means, unfortunately, that both sides now likely are destined to start talking past each other, neither side hearing or understanding what the other says.

For a clear real-world demonstration of this in another context, see: abortion, “pro-life” v. “pro-choice.”

Nothing matters

When John Mellencamp (then still under the “John Cougar” label) in 1980 released an album called “Nothin’ Matters and What if it Did”, he did at least have the advantage of appending a phrase that saved the idea from complete nihilism.

No such luck a few decades later.

Sometime probably in early 2013 an animated gif image, consisting only of rotating letters, was designed to say “lol nothing matters.”

An advocate soon responded, “So try responding to someone with the “lol nothing matters” gif the next time you are in an internet fight. You will automatically win so hard your opponent will probably disable all of their social media accounts and move to a remote mountaintop.”

And there it might have stopped but, in the nihilistic spirit of the age, it did not. It was in fact widely used as an image in commenting – on all manner of subjects – but then it forked into new, curious and eerie meanings.

A writer in Slate reported about the indifference of many people to checking whether purported facts were actually truthful (the article was discussing a professional fact-checker). One subject concerned the false report that weapons of mass destruction were stockpiled in Iraq before the American invasion there. A correction on that report was issued, but for students inclined initially to believe in the WMD report, the correction only caused them to defend the idea more fiercely.

The resulting thesis was that “the internet divides us, that facts will make us dumber, and that debunking doesn’t work. These ideas, and the buzzwords that came with them—filter bubbles, selective exposure, and the backfire effect—would be cited, again and again, as seismic forces pushing us to rival islands of belief.” In other words, “nothing matters” next to one’s belief. The article concluded with the suggestions that the concern may be overstated; but by how much remained unclear.

The “nothing matters” idea was picked up by Donald Trump, on more than one occasion. Back in 2004, speaking on the Larry King show, he answered a question on coping with stress by saying, “I try and tell myself it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters.”

The theme popped up in his presidency, an arena where nearly everything said and eon is cloaked in a mantle of significance. In September 2018 he said “We’ll see what happens with Iran. … I will always be available, but it doesn’t matter one way or the other.” In October 2018, he answered a question about the controversy surrounding the Supreme Court appointment of Brett Kavanaugh by saying, “It doesn’t matter. We won.”

Tim O’Brien, who wrote the book TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald, suggested the slip into the concept is natural for him: “He profoundly believes nothing matters because he usually isn’t the victim of his own mistakes,”

A headline over a Michelle Goldberg column [New York Times, August 28, 2018] said: “Motto for the Trump Age: Lol, nothing matters.” The context for the piece was a recitation of the problems of the Trump Administration, noting that very little effective blowback to those issues had materialized. So endless scandals and legal issues are reported: Does any of it matter?

Or, put another way, “The watchwords of Trump-era politics are “LOL nothing matters.” If you’re in a jam, you just lie about it.”

What does matter?

Free market health care

In his book Words that Matter, linguist Frank Luntz counsels against referring to “private health care,” if what you’re trying to do is to reduce, eliminate or de-emphasize such programs as Medicare and Medicaid (or, prospectively, the Affordable Care Act). Speak instead, he advised, of “free market health care.”

It does sounds friendlier, doesn’t it?

But what does it mean?

It means in practice, in the era of the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare; Luntz was writing a couple of years before its passage): going back, in many respects, to what the United States had previously. The ferocious political debates of 2017 and 2018 brought forward to the nation what that meant: Eliminating or diminishing health care insurance coverage for tens of millions – maybe most – of Americans.

Here’s a dispassionate take, from Wikipedia, on what the term could be taken to mean:1

“In a system of free-market healthcare, prices for healthcare goods and services are set freely by agreement between patients and health care providers, and the laws and forces of supply and demand are free from any intervention by a government, price-setting monopoly, or other authority. A free market contrasts with a controlled market, in which government intervenes in supply and demand through non-market methods such as laws creating barriers to market entry or directly setting prices. Advocates of free-market healthcare contend that systems like single-payer healthcare and publicly funded healthcare result in higher costs, inefficiency, longer waiting times for care, denial of care to some, and overall mismanagement. Skeptics argue that health care as an unregulated commodity invokes market failures not present with government regulation and that selling health care as a commodity leads to both unfair and inefficient systems with poorer individuals being unable to afford preventive care.”

Those “market failures” are not a matter of chance or an occasional slipup, but an inherent part of the system.

Free markets, in the classic and idealistic sense, operate at least theoretically under arms-length, willing-buyer-willing-seller conditions. In many marketplaces that can and does happen, but in others specific conditions do not allow for it. In the case of health care, while there are exceptions, the consumer and provider are not on a level playing field with comparable leverage.

My one experience with hospitalization began when my wife called for an ambulance – sent by the only outfit available – which then took me to the nearest hospital. No options were seriously considered even for a moment; there was no time and no capability to assess (much less do a price comparison) of alternatives. Upon arrival at the emergency room, the demand was made that I sign an open-ended – completely open-ended – agreement that I would pay whatever charges were imposed, with no ceiling on the number of dollars involved, nor any way for me to control them. My life was at immediate risk, and neither I nor my wife anywhere in the process was given a chance to consider options or even find out how much expense we were committing to. Checking the alternative of another hospital or medical provider was not even a remote consideration. (We did not have health insurance at the time either, though the situation would not have been greatly different if we had.) This was not an arms-length, willing-buyer-willing-seller transaction. The only real choice involved here was: “Your money or your life.”2

In other terms, the health care system involves (as a Nobel Prize-winning economist argued) “a huge mismatch of power and information between the buyer and the seller. If a salesman tells you to buy a particular television, you can easily choose another or just walk away. If a doctor insists that you need a medication or a procedure, you are far less likely to reject the advice. And … people think they don’t need health care until they get sick, and then they need lots of it.”3

Even aside from life and death situations, true arms length transactions are unusual. Changing doctors or medical centers is often difficult or time-consuming. For many people, multiple providers may be involved. Many patients, especially those in advanced age, may have difficulty dealing with the options even if they were all practically available.

Some medical treatments really are discretionary or allow for the time and information patients need to make informed and thoughtful choices. The free market can and frequently does (or could) work in those cases. But much health care is not on that level, and for most people, most of the time, getting it to work in a fair, useful and affordable way probably would take still more regulation at some level.

The system is immensely complex, and while the core of it in the United States has emphasized involvement by private providers, there’s long been governmental regulation of various sorts as well – not to mention the ugly elements of a highly competitive for-profit system, which often has a tendency to drive up prices and cut costs (service and quality for patients).

Writer John Daniel Davidson remarked, “We’ve never really had a ‘free market’ health care system in the modern era. What we’ve had is more like crony capitalism. We spend hundreds of billions every year subsidizing employer-sponsored coverage, which mostly benefits large employers, while also paying for a Medicare entitlement that includes every American over age 65 – even billionaires. We could create a market-based system that subsidizes those who need it while driving down costs for everyone else. But it would mean disrupting the cronyism that has dominated American health care for 70 years. So far, neither party has been willing to do that.”4

That may be in part because neither has been able to find a way to make it work.


2I should add in fairness that the actual medical care I received was excellent, and because of that I soon recovered fully.

3Fareed Zakaria, Washington Post, April 2, 2017, at

4John Daniel Davidson at, March 31, 2017.

Globalist agenda

Let’s start with the agenda part of this, and work our way back to globalism.

According to Conservapedia, the agenda being sought by “globalists” includes these items – comment attached here.

“‘harmonizing’ our laws with foreign ones, rather than vice-versa.” In practice, this works now as it always has, in areas where nations think cooperation is a wise thing: They negotiate. The same thing happens among states in the United States when they try to develop common laws so that commerce, travel, communications and more aren’t hopelessly snarled by passage across state lines. It’s not new; the idea goes back a few centuries.

“amnesty for illegal aliens, open borders, no border wall.” The concept of open borders – see the entry for that in WDYMBT – is not completely imaginary, but as concerns the United States is held by few people, no massive group of globalists. Nearly all nations around the world enforce restrictions on passing through their borders, so how an anti-borders approach would be the domain of globalists is hard to feature. As for the practicality of a border wall (presumably, to judge from the conversation, with Mexico) … that would be a fantasy.

“more visas for guest workers” Requests for those usually are generated by local, American, businesses.

“repealing the Second Amendment” There is no  meaningful such effort in existence, imaginations of certain of its advocates notwithstanding.

“eliminating the abortion issue from politics by making Roe v. Wade permanent”  Nothing in American government or politics is permanent; to the degree Roe is established law (via court decision), it already is and has been since 1973. Nothing else short of constitutional amendment (which isn’t on the horizon) could make it more so. But even in that case, abortion would not be eliminated from American politics as long as people want to debate it. The Roe decision certainly didn’t accomplish that. Taken as a whole, this stated goal must be the most ludicrous of the bunch.

“repealing the Electoral College” Hard to see how moving the process of electing a president from an otherwise obscure national group to the outright selection of the voters of the United States would serve global rather than American interests. You’d think it might more logically be the other way around.

“a parliamentary style of government” There’s no push for that in the United States, though there are some arguments that such as approach might be more efficient than what we have. It’s debatable. But hard to see how it would diminish natural sovereignty.

“repealing the Treaty Clause” This is a real puzzler. The Treaty Clause is the provision in the U.S. Constitution which describes how treaties are approved (the president negotiates and proposes them to the Senate, which can approve them with a two-thirds favorable vote). Maybe someone somewhere has an alternative procedures to propose, but any proposal to actually repeal this provision has kept very, very quiet. If (as is unlikely) it exists.

“supporting many unnecessary treaties, like NAFTA and the Paris climate agreement, which don’t receive Senate approval” Not all international agreements are formal – binding – treaties; some do not require Senate approval. as to what’s necessary or useful, opinions may vary.

“removing state sovereignty and, eventually, establishing a one-world government” Here presumably we get to the core of the thing, and the heart of the paranoia.

“One-world government” (which probably will get its own entry here before long, it being apparently not yet a gone-away phrase) is an old faithful bogeyman, going back generations and no closer to reality now – even in a time of much accelerated communication and transportation – than it ever was. And you will have to look with a microscope to find anyone in American politics, or really the politics of any other country, who would support it.

A letter to the editor of the Washington Times added this: “It is amazing to me that so many people are unable to see through the scam of ‘climate change.’ This goes right along with the bogus Islamic immigration policies being pushed on Western nations. Such policies, clear as can be, are being pushed on Western countries by the global elitists. They want to destroy Western culture and capitalism as we know it. In addition, they want to bring on a one-world religion and blend Islam into the mix.”

Why these elites, who presumably are overwhelmingly white Western secular capitalists, would be so eager to do all this, is unclear … the say the least. In fact, it’s hard to imagine almost anyone desiring this collection of goals.

So much for the agenda. So what’s left for globalism?

The Conservapedia entry starts out with this description: “Globalism is the failed liberal authoritarian desire for a “one world” view that rejects the important role of nations in protecting values and encouraging productivity. Globalism is anti-American in encouraging Americans to adopt a “world view” rather than an “American view.” The ultimate goal of globalism is the eventual unification of humanity under a one-world government. Communists and Marxists are using globalization to advance their political aims.”

Considering the near-complete collapse of communism around the globe a generation ago, this doesn’t seem to be working out very well for them.

There are some alternative, less ideological, ways of looking at the idea of a trans-national cooperative effort, however. The idea that power is perfectly siloed within national borders is clearly invalid in a day of multinational corporations, international finance, global military systems and worldwide instant communications.

Writer Jeremy James in one recent paper (its dating is unclear) wrote that “many dismiss those who believe in a global conspiracy as cranks and fools.” He goes on to point out, however, to offer this definition: “A secret agreement by a number of super-rich families to increase their wealth and power on the world stage by covert means, with a view ultimately to impose a unified world government under their control …”

There are in fact wealthy interests – some familial, some not – around the globe whose tentacles reach across dozens or scores of nations, and surely they sometimes talk to each other, and no doubt cooperate. But the real world, they’re not going to agree all the time, and their practical ability to cooperate in a thriller novel is not much better than the ability of most any other group of disparate people to operate like a well-oiled machine. The idea is an exposure of an unawareness of how people and organizations work in the real world.

There is another, maybe darker, aspect to the “globalist” label.

Writer Peter Beinart put it this way: “The term “globalist” is a bit like the term “thug.” It’s an epithet that is disproportionately directed at a particular minority group. Just as “thug” is often used to invoke the stereotype that African Americans are violent, “globalist” can play on the stereotype that Jews are disloyal. Used that way, it becomes a modern-day vessel for an ancient slur: that Jews—whether loyal to international Judaism or international capitalism or international communism or international Zionism—aren’t loyal to the countries in which they live.”


The quote from academic Thomas Sowell reads, “I have never understood why it is ‘greed’ to want to keep the money you’ve earned, but not greed to want to take someone else’s money.”

The source of the quote, exactly, is unclear; where Sowell originally offered it – if he did – is also unknown, though it has been reported as dating to 1999 and Sowell seems not to have disputed its origin.

Regardless the origin, the line has been reiterated so often around the web – I spotted it just the other day on a Facebook meme – that it deserves a quick breakdown.

Aside from Sowell (and his re-quoters), it’s not clear who ever contended that that greed means keeping money one earned. Merriam-Webster calls it “a selfish and excessive desire for more of something (such as money) than is needed.” BusinessDictionary, going a little further, calls it “a selfish want for something beyond one’s need. Typically, greed is associated with wealth or power. Greed describes a desire to have or acquire something that is not necessary for their own survival but also to the detriment of another. In addition, greed usually describes someone that cannot have enough. The more he or she attains, the more he or she wants and is never satisfied.”

That sounds generally like “greed” in the sense most people would use word. A desire for something one needs – food, shelter and other necessities – would not qualify.

It also fits with the origin of the word, which is the old English graedig, which translates to voracious or ever-hungry for more. Or as Tom Petty once sang, “too much ain’t enough.”

The concept links to passages in the Bible on the subject. In Proverbs 15:27: “He that is greedy of gain troubleth his own house; but he that hateth gifts shall live.” Ephesians 4:19 refers to people who, “Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.” Greed is commonly listed as one of the seven deadly sins.

The critique of greed by early Christian writers (including Thomas Aquinas and Dante Alighieri) focused more on the sin of focusing on earthly things at the expense of the spiritual. But it has social impacts as well.

That was the focus of a 2004 opinion piece by the Catholic priest Andrew Greeley: “Greed caused the disgraceful corporate scandals that fill our newspapers. Greed is responsible for crooked cops and crooked politicians. Greed causes the constant efforts to destroy unions that protect basic worker rights. Greed has produced rash tax cuts that have given money to the rich and in effect taken it away from the poor. Greed has led to the immigration policy in which hundreds of poor men and women die every year as they struggle across the desert for the jobs that el norte promises them. Greed accounts for the efforts to take profitability out of the pensions and health insurance of working men and women. Greed is responsible for the fact that so many Americans have no health insurance and the fact that the recent reform of Medicare was a fraud.”

He considered greed – as an unbounded grasping – to be America’s foremost social illness.

The short answer to Sowell’s confusion, then, is that he misapprehends what is meant by “greed.”

He also seems to misapprehend the effects of it.

Surveillance capitalism

Among the various descriptors of capitalism – global, late-stage, Marxist and others – the term “surveillance capitalism” has gotten less traction than most.

That may be a little surprising, and it may not stay that way much longer.

Its meaning is a little nebulous, but it relates to how information, especially personal and insider information, has become a major commodity – and some would argue, in terms of expansion of market share in the American economy over the last generation, the leading sector of the economy.

An entry in Wikipedia offers this viewpoint:

Capitalism has become focused on expanding the proportion of social life that is open to data collection and data processing.[3] This may come with significant implications for vulnerability and control of society as well as for privacy. However, increased data collection may also have various advantages for individuals and society such as self-optimization (Quantified Self),[3] societal optimizations (such as by smart cities) and new or optimized services (including various web applications). Still, collecting and processing data in the context of capitalism’s core profit-making motive might present an inherent danger.

The term seems to have come from a social psychologist, Shoshana Zuboff, who has written a book called The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, which argues (among other things) “that surveillance capitalism has usurped so many of our rights in these domains is a scandalous abuse of digital capabilities and their once grand promise to democratize knowledge.”

The concept, if not the specific term, has been getting steadily more attention. Much of the value of many of America’s fastest-growing big companies – Facebook, Amazon, and Twitter among them – lies not in the advertising or services they sell but in the information they harvest from (often unwitting) users of their services. Enormous amounts of information have been collected by businesses, probably far in excess of the (often more controversial) government collection of information.

The subject is ripe for political discussion. And the term is ripe for broader usage.

The data collection we should be concerned about is at a level LOWER than what we can see. This essentially means that it exists beneath the service level. Mail, Storage, these are services, and are no longer where collection efforts are focused. The algorithms are working at a platform level, monitoring behavior patterns that we implement autonomously. Google doesn’t want your waking thoughts, they want your subconscious habit and muscle memory. (linux email group)


Market-skeptic Republicans

Democrats who have a limited amount of faith and confidence in the socially-helpful workings of business and the marketplace are not really news: People like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have ensured as much.

But there are also Republicans who have some similar concerns. The term “market-skeptic Republicans” has emerged, evidently courtesy of the Pew Research Center, as a means of identifying them.

Pew used the term to describe a slice of the Republican world, one segment of four (the others are core conservatives, country first conservatives, and new-era enterprisers) – and at 12% of the overall population, the second largest of the Republican groups. Apparently, classifying Republicans as uniformly pro-business is not wise.

The researchers said of the group’s views, ”

Only about a third of Market Skeptic Republicans (34%) say banks and other financial institutions have a positive effect on the way things are going in the country, lowest among Republican-leaning typology groups. Alone among the groups in the GOP coalition, a majority of Market Skeptic Republicans support raising tax rates on corporations and large businesses. An overwhelming share (94%) say the economic system unfairly favors powerful interests, which places the view of Market Skeptic Republicans on this issue much closer to Solid Liberals (99% mostly unfair) than Core Conservatives (21%).”

The constituency has developed a voice through some Republican officeholders. One of the more vocal has been Missouri Republican Senator Josh Hawley, who said in a November 2019 speech that “We are witnessing the rise of a new oligarchy of wealth and education. And not surprisingly, the leaders of this country’s government, its press, its corporations and most of its popular culture most all belong to this same class. But this oligarchy is not sustainable. Not only because it is unjust that the global economy should work for so few, that so many should be shut out of America’s front row, left without a voice. It is unsustainable because so many Americans are so profoundly discontent, even despairing.” Sanders and Warren might have found a lot of common ground there.

Other Republicans have struck back. Columnist George Will (an expatriate from the party, but long one of its leading mainstream conservative voices) said in a sharply-toned critique, “Hawley asserts, without demonstrating, a broad “collapse of community” across America, and blames this, without explaining the causation, on “market worship,” without identifying the irrational worshipers. His logic is opaque, but his destination is clear: Because markets do not properly allocate wealth and opportunity, much of their role must be supplanted by government.”

The Republicans diverging from their party’s long-standing laissiz-faire approach have, however, seized onto something politically useful, as some Democrats have found. It has its flaws, as any ideological position will, but it will not be easily bushed aside.