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September 19, 2015

then what exactly are they doing?

This is a totally honest, snark-free question.

So, just in the course of last Wednesday's debate, a) Jeb Bush, in a moment presumably rehearsed, told Donald J. Trump to his face, I think while wagging his finger, that his brother, former President George W. Bush, "kept this country safe!" which, well, 9/11 duh; and b) Carly Fiorina, in a moment hopefully not rehearsed, detailed her opposition to Planned Parenthood by describing a gruesome moment she remembered from the (doctored) gotcha videos recently released, a gruesome moment that is in fact not in the videos, or any other videos.

Now I'm not sure how it is with you, but when I've committed such errors of fact (well, lied), the authority figure, Mom, a teacher, or an employer, would apprehend the lie, and then follow-up: You know that's not true? Why are you saying things that are demonstrably not true? And then I had to explain myself, poorly.

Jeb Bush even "doubled-down," as they say, and released a tweet repeating the sentiment, with a photograph of his brother standing in the rubble of two collapsed buildings, which buildings collapsed during such brother's presidency. Jeb Bush's Twitter account has 311,000 followers. Carly Fiorino also "doubled-down," so much, but in response to a polite enquiry about whether or not she might have been mistaken. So then who are the authority figures to examine this distortions of reality, promulgated purely for the purpose of popularity with those sort of people for whom fact is nothing but an inconvenience?

And once I had explained myself poorly, then I would be held to account. Variously, I was sent to my room or a principal's office, or I was warned that further such mistruths would result in separation from employment.

What then are the consequence for the press corps with opportunity to ask these follow-ups who fail to do so? Granted, George Stephanopoulos did give Fiorino a chance to walk it back, but she responded indignantly, that her easily-proven lie damn well was not a lie!

Is any of this then not news?

Posted by mrbrent at 1:14 PM

September 17, 2015

first the debate, then the hangover

It's Thursday morning. That CNN debate is still going on, isn't it?

I have successfully led a blog post with a Tweet. Word.

So you no doubt are either drowning in takes — are we living in a post-Donald world? Was Carly Fiorino tripping balls? Is Scott Walker an actual ventriloquist's dummy? Either that, or you are so done with this already even though we are still FIVE YEARS away from the first state primary, let alone the general election.

Me? I was playing that game where I was keeping myself on my toes by not deciding whether or not to watch it until the very last minute, pro being I like to stay up on things and I like to poke fun, con being having to actually watch it.

I went con.

And I'll leave the implications for the fullness of time to actually unravel and we'll figure it out in hindsight. But I do not want to let pass the solid fact that CNN can go down in history for a combination of Worst Presidential Debate and Most Shameless Open-Arms Welcome of the Coming Dystopia.

Worst Debate? Well, that's largely due to the quality of the candidates, but CNN did nobody any favors by turning the debate into some sort of bastard child of a variety show and the Hunger Games. Jake Tapper (if he had any journalistic credibility I hope he wasn't attached to it) ran the event like what-if-Jerry-Springer-were-a-marriage-counselor, prodding intra-candidate spats, directing then redirecting and then over-redirecting the conversation, just generally looking like a man nervous that Brian Stelter would stage a palace coup against him if a bona fide Viral Moment were not delivered. It was the clowniest of clown-shows, and just a general embarrassment before the already-embarrassing "contestants" opened their mouths. CNN even captured a bit of nostalgic inanity by asking the field what woman they would put on money and what their Secret Service code-name would be. Maybe not quite a boxers-or-briefs moment, but these were alleged journalists asking questions and not a roomful of MTV teens.

But, putting up a bad show, that's one thing. Gleefully wallowing in it for days before, that's positively pre-apocalyptic. The charge was led by the aforementioned Stelter, a blithely careerist cheerleader of everything plastic and facile. Did you know that the debate was likely to be the most watched CNN broadcast ever!! Stelter sure did. Of course, this is a presidential debate that we're talking about. Yes, the Fairness Doctrine is decades in the crypt, but presidential debates are on that fine line between journalism and public service. Objectivity must be kept in mind, and the event should be produced and presented to the electorate with the sobriety that the occasion demands. To treat it as a Nielsen event that advertisers are going to go gaga for, unapologetically, is to betray a cynicism that disqualifies one from being a reporter. And yes, I know that Fox News did the same thing a couple weeks ago, but that was Fox News. They know better, and they aren't even pretending. Maybe the problem is that knowing better is not Stelter's strong point.

But maybe this is the future and I am what was once called a fuddy-duddy. Maybe I just don't know how to have fun! In any event, while it's true that each election is the most expensive election ever, this one will surely be the most highly rated election ever, if for no other reason than the "news" networks are working hard to make it so.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:45 AM

September 15, 2015

what got me this morning 9.15.15

What got me this morning was an NPR story on Bernie Sanders giving a speech at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, the Evangelical Christian university that is sort of an Bizarro version of a Jesuit institution, rigorously instructing its faithful student body how not to learn. So Sanders is down there as a sort of a thought exercise, speaking as he does of inequality, trying to bridge the gap, find the common ground, which common ground surely could be compassion? And the kids sat quietly on their hands, as Sanders talked about poverty and children with food security issues and at the conclusion the provost or whoever read questions submitted by the students, and went with, "Well starving poor children sure whatever what about THE UNBORN" and the place goes nuts. Just molten, like Elvis is back in the building. And then a few kids are interviewed, who seemed like they had nice tidy haircuts but to a one sounded like, "It's important to listen to other people PLANNED PARENTHOOD" or, "I literally cannot form an actual sentence ABORTION."

That there is this idée fixe that prevents presumably rational people to feel any sort of empathy or responsibility for 16 million children living below the poverty line is beyond my ken. And it's not even some moral compulsion. It's a learned behavior, and it's wielded like an applause line, a dog whistle so the kids know that Jesus says it's okay to applaud now.

That's what got me this morning.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:27 AM

September 14, 2015

wework: disruption and its discontents

Over on my Twitter feed I've been mildly obsessing over a certain labor dispute involving the start-up WeWork. They're a fully-fledged member of the sharing economy! They lease out office space and then rent it to you, and these spaces have all of the expected Silicon Valley/Alley amenities as everyone knows it's impossible to get any sort of work done unless there's a ping pong table on the premises, a door down from the meditation room. But yeah, WeWork has been having a spot with their cleaning staff, who were variously subcontracted and non-union and eventually just plain laid off.

Anyhow, in the NYT Sunday Business section there was a nice long write-up that gives a good bit of context for the contretemps. Basically, if you're the sort that likes spoilers, WeWork never intended to go out of its way to conspire against it non-union workforce, but at the same time they've done a piss-poor job of damage control and have never exactly said that they'd do anything different given the chance. Read it! You'll like it!

However in the midst of all this there is an illuminating passage that states a problem with these sharing economy creations quite plainly:

Unlike many start-ups in the digital age, WeWork seems to be making money. The company would not disclose its financial performance. But according to internal documents obtained by The Information, a technology news website, WeWork had $75 million in revenue last year, with $4.2 million in profits.

By any conventional measure, those figures do not support a $10 billion valuation. Like other start-ups, including Uber and Airbnb, WeWork is part of what many critics are describing as a new technology bubble. Yet WeWork is anticipating huge growth as it expands rapidly and gains corporate clients renting hundreds of desks each. It forecasts nearly $1 billion in profit on sales of $3 billion by 2018, according to the documents.

Let me suggest two ways to look at that. First, after the most recent round of fundraising, WeWork's valuation is up around $10bn. That's a lot of cabbage. So then, in 2014, WeWork's revenue was three-quarters on one percent of its valuation, while its profits were .042 percent of valuation. That's bonkers by any measure.

But on the other hand, WeWork is projecting that profits will increase to $1bn in four years. That would be an increase of nearly 24,000 percent. That is optimistic to the point of ignoring math.

Point being, the ethical position of the darlings of the sharing economy aside, there are a whole lot of deranged valuations and projections for these companies that are largely solutions for problems that didn't actually exist. And granted, I don't think that these bubbles have reached the point where they're threatening anyone other than a bunch of venture capitalists, but when it comes to the share of the public attention being spent on these companies, there's a whole lot of smoke and not much fire.

I guess the Twitter feed is where I'm logging my mild obsessions? Along with the in-jokes and the public baiting of known rocket scientists like Scott Walker and Alex Jones.

[Credit where credit is due: I first heard of this topic thanks to the dogged reporting of Brendan O'Connor, who has been on this story like ugly on a gorilla.]

Posted by mrbrent at 11:14 AM