Life is one long struggle in the dark.
BALTIMORE – In January of this year, the Empire Herald reported that a “meth-addled couple” had eaten a homeless man in New York City’s Central Park.
Later, Now8News reported that a can of cookie dough had “exploded in a woman’s vagina”; the woman was alleged to be shoplifting.
Yesterday’s big news: Russia’s ambassador to Turkey was shot and killed. The assailant looked a lot like a 21st-century version of Gavrilo Princip, who lit the fuse for World War I by assassinating Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, in Bosnia.
By the time it was over, 16 million people were dead…
We are writing a series on things that people think they know but ain’t so… popular ideas that are wrong, dumb, or misconstrued… which is practically all of them.
In the press lately, for example, is the idea of “fake news.”
Supposedly, there is true news, filtered, approved, and administered by the elite media establishment. And there is fake news, such as the deliberately faked stories about cookie dough and meth-addled couples at the beginning of this Diary. And there is also news provided by Russian manipulators that supposedly cost Hillary Clinton the White House.
Separating fake from authentic is what we try to do here at the Diary. But we are overwhelmed.
Half the news is fake, including many of the biggest stories you get from the major media outlets… and reports of fake news! The other half is just mistaken and/or misleading.
In the run-up to America’s entry into World War I, for example, the English cut the cable that gave the U.S. direct access to news from Germany. Henceforth, most of the “news” read by Americans about the war came via England, where it was heavily redacted.
The English spun tall tales of German perfidy and German atrocities – including nuns who had been mass raped and children whose arms had been cruelly cut off by the barbarous Huns. None of it was true.
But it did its work; in 1917, gullible Americans rushed troops to join the war… on the side of the English.
News is rarely what it pretends to be. It is not a bloodless recitation of indisputable facts, like a list of the temperatures recorded at the North Pole.
Instead, every bit of it is informed and persuaded by a web of ideas, myths, and misconceptions. Otherwise, the news would be meaningless.
Every day, millions… no, billions and zillions… of things happen.
The Roman poet Lucretius, way ahead of his time, described life as particles in random collision… Mr. Jones says something to Mr. Smith… a cold breeze blows across the public parks of Duluth… a bird flies into a window pane in Georgia.
If you really wanted to report what happened, you’d have an infinite amount of material.
Obviously, you couldn’t do that. Even if you knew what had happened. So, you apply some artificial standards… some “categorical imperatives,” as Kant called them. You try to make sense of the world and its goings on by labeling things and putting them on shelves.
It is one thing for a man on the streets of Lagos, Nigeria, to kill another man in the heat of passion. It is quite another for a man in Ankara to gun down the Russian ambassador.
Both involve passions. Both involve men. Both stories end with a corpse. But the former is not newsworthy. Different shelf.
The media decides. It tells us that whatever Mr. Jones said to Mr. Smith, it is not worth reporting. It leaves the cold breeze story to The Weather Channel. As for the poor little bird, who gives a damn?
Purveyors of Puffery
Your editor has been the subject of news stories from time to time. Unless the article was pure puffery, intended merely to flatter or entertain, the reporters missed the point or misconstrued the facts in such a way that the reader knew less after he had read the article than before.
In one sad instance, an ex-employee committed suicide, distraught over a personal problem. It happened at a time when one of our groups was being investigated by the SEC. (The case ended up as a legal fascination… complicated, but inconsequential… and later largely repudiated by the courts…)
The ex-employee was in no way associated with the alleged wrongdoing. And the infraction had nothing to do with the SEC’s usual beat – front-running or market manipulation. But the reporter couldn’t resist: “Suicide at Troubled Baltimore Publisher,” read the headline.
The reader was left to conclude that the poor fellow offed himself because he was implicated in a trading scam that had never happened or even been alleged.
In another article in the 1980s, your editor was named as part of a “vast, right-wing conspiracy.” He had been the director of the National Taxpayers Union, earnestly trying to fight waste in government.
Later, he had hired a private investigator to look into the curious death of Hillary Clinton’s law partner, Vince Foster. And now he was criticizing the Clinton administration! The reporter linked us together with other Clinton critics and provided a common cause that never existed.
And now, The Washington Post, owned by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, has accused a number of websites and opinion blogs of purveying fake news, some of it fed to them by Russian agents!
Yes, Naked Capitalism, Truthdig, Contra Corner, CounterPunch – websites run by former Wall Street Journal editors, former congressmen, former Reagan-era officials… left, right, libertarian – and dozens of others were named.
Several of them republish our comments.
We’re proud to be among them…
BY Alexander Green, Editor, The Momentum Alert
About the Author: Alex is the chief investment strategist over at The Oxford Club, and today we share his thoughts about the risk of the new Trump rally.
Investors expect Trump’s pro-growth policies – tax cuts, regulatory reform, and infrastructure investment – to boost the economy, inflation, wages, interest rates, consumer spending, and corporate earnings.
Trump has also soothed nerves by toning down some of his harsh rhetoric and backing away from some of his more controversial policy proposals.
For instance, he has said he won’t prosecute Hillary Clinton. He will keep some features of Obamacare. He has an “open mind” about climate change. And he no longer believes that torturing terrorism suspects is a good idea.
However, one campaign promise continues to loom over the economy, the financial markets, and the future of the country itself: his pledge not to reform our out-of-control entitlement programs.
Consider the problem. The U.S. national debt now exceeds $19.9 trillion. That’s equal to $166,533 per taxpayer.
But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. The current unfunded liabilities for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid now total more than $104.2 trillion. That’s equal to $872,296 per taxpayer.
Add them together and – if you’re one of us poor schlubs who actually pays federal taxes – your share of this liability is $1.04 million.
Congratulations. You’re now a seven-figure debtor.
Moreover, the Congressional Budget Office estimates the Social Security and Medicare shortfall – the one that totals more than $100 trillion – will continue to grow by more than $8 trillion a year.
To put this figure in perspective, if the U.S. government confiscated all the profits of every publicly traded company in the nation and all the adjusted gross income of every household earning more than $66,000, it wouldn’t even pay for the annual increase in these liabilities.
There is no Social Security trust fund. There is no Medicare lockbox.
One hundred percent of the payroll taxes for these programs is spent in the same year they are collected. If the federal government produced the kind of financial statements that are required of businesses and nonprofit enterprises, this would be more widely known.
But it doesn’t. And it isn’t.
Our entitlement system – which would make Bernie Madoff or Charles Ponzi proud – is careening toward insolvency.
Yet candidate Trump – like candidate Clinton – promised not to reduce Social Security or Medicare benefits.
Unfortunately, entitlement spending is now so stupendous that it is no longer a matter of simply raising taxes here or cutting a program there. The whole system has to be radically reformed. Every serious person knows it.
The problem, of course, is voters don’t want their benefits cut (or even delayed) or their taxes raised.
However, if Trump truly wants to “drain the swamp,” run the government more like a business and be a transformational leader, he will need to tackle this problem head on, not kick the can down the road as his predecessors have.
Let’s hope in his first 100 days he calls for a bipartisan commission to deal with this reality.
Because only when the country’s entitlement programs have been put on a financially sound footing can we invest for the long haul with confidence.
Editor’s Note: With such a big risk that the Trump rally will stall, Alex has found an unusual approach to investing. It taps into the secretive trades “The Donald’s” Wall Street cronies are making and uses those moves as highly profitable investment signals. You can see all the details here.
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Today, lots of good insights from your fellow Diary readers in response to yesterday’s Mailbag question: “Was Bill right on the money with today’s Diary? Did the prevalence of partisan news sources now available influence your decision in the presidential race?”
But first, some more praise for Bill…
All hail from the great state of Delaware. On occasion, I will disagree with your viewpoints but am in constant admiration of your word-smith-ing skills. Today’s dissertation on "creative facts" hits home and underscores the delusional nation we are becoming here in the dissociative States of America. Keep deluging us with common sense. I rarely see it displayed other than in your columns.
– Walter C.
And now, Diary readers chime in on how the media did or didn’t influence their vote…
Bill is right on the money. I told everyone I knew to expect a "surprise." Male millennials (I am 66) are getting totally screwed by The Dark System. They sense it. Most don’t have a clue about what’s really going on. People my age don’t seem to care as long as their piece of the action isn’t touched. But most people didn’t really care exactly what Trump meant or what he stood for as long as it isn’t more of the same. But so far it is. Goldman is still calling the economic shots.
– Tim P.
You asked for comments about whether those sources played a role in my selecting a candidate for president. ANSWER – NO! My first choice was Scott Walker because of the way he stood up against the unions and turned Wisconsin into a right to work state. When he dropped out, I switched to Trump based on his performance at the so-called debates. He showed me more leadership skills than the other candidates. Trump said things that needed to be said that other candidates didn’t want to talk about – e.g. illegal immigration.
– Bruce H.
All news sources are partisan and I take them with a large grain of salt. Trump was not my first, second, or third choice, but when he got the nomination, I voted for him because I was very familiar with Hillary Clinton’s history from the time she and Bill were in Arkansas. Trump may be problematic, but Hillary is a known disaster. I agree that the financial time bomb may very well explode during Trump’s presidency for which he will get the blame much as Hoover did when he presided over a financial blow up.
– William M.
I truly enjoy reading everything you have written. Your insights into cause and effect in the world are interesting and most of the time probably right, although we’ll have to wait and see. That said, I would caution you that a man who lives in a glass house should be careful when throwing stones. I agree with you that there are so many sources of “news” and all seem to be tailored to a target audience that at times, it is tough to know what is really true. I must point out that you, too, are a pundit that tailors your “news” to a target audience.
In Case You Missed It…
Our friends at The Oxford Club just released a startling presentation about these mysterious “dark pools” and the “Dark Trades” that occur in them. In it, they reveal how some smart investors are making thousands of dollars by using these secret trades as investing signals. To see the full exposé, go here now…