Presty the DJ for April 29

Today in 1976, after a concert in Memphis, Bruce Springsteen scaled the walls of Graceland … where he was arrested by a security guard.

Today in 2003, a $5 million lawsuit filed by a personal injury lawyer against John Fogerty was dismissed.

The lawyer claimed he suffered hearing loss at a 1997 Fogerty concert.

The judge ruled the lawyer assumed the risk of hearing loss by attending the concert. The lawyer replied, “What?”

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for April 29”

100 fewer employees later …

The biggest news in sports media this week was Wednesday’s layoffs of 100 ESPN employees.

As someone who was told not to go to work the next day or any future day by an employer (which event started this blog six years ago), I have sympathy for those laid off. It seems highly unlikely that ESPN’s business problems are the fault of, for instance, Ed Werder, ESPN’s 17-year NFL reporter, or Jayson Stark, ESPN’s 17-year baseball reporter. Evidence that life is unfair is that the worker bees get laid off instead of those on the executive floor whose bad decisions caused bad financial results that led to the need for those layoffs.

ESPN’s problems are driven by economics, in two directions. Former ESPN, well, whatever he was Colin Cowherd opined, and Awful Announcing heard him say …

Speaking on 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland, Cowherd said he knew things were going to change at ESPN when he learned of the news that the network had signed a huge megadeal to keep the NBA:

“I told my producers … ‘fellas, it’ll never be the same here.’ You can not pay four times for the house what you paid for the house last year. And I said this company will never be the same.

“It was at that point I started looking, and this is not going to end today. They have really cost-prohibitive contracts, combined with cord-cutting.

“I said this when they cut 850 people, I said it the next day, it’s awful, and it will happen annually for the next decade. You have to have contracts …”

And regarding the layoffs, Cowherd noted that the overpayment for the NBA and in particular, the NFL has come back to bite ESPN and it’s forced the company into layoffs:

These firings are awful. It makes me sick.

“The good news is – most of the people let go are really talented, but this is all about business, and when you have overpaid for products, sometimes six and seven hundred million more than you had to pay, certainly with the NBA that’s the case, they just pay way too much for it. This is the result, it’s awful, and I think unfortunately this was the first of a 10-year deal with the NBA and I just feel awful – there’s are a lot of good people.”

But he added that he feels that ESPN has let go of the most expensive people at the company and that “a lot of them are going to land in really good places.”

The other half is that ESPN charges cable operators more than $7 per subscriber per month, and of course those charges are passed on to cable customers. Cable companies’ failure to get viewers the channels they want and not pay for the channels they don’t want has prompted cancellation of cable TV. ESPN has lost about 10 million subscribers over the past three years.

ESPN has a website, and has an app. But if you’re not a cable subscriber, you can’t see live games on either, including WatchESPN. (You also can’t see live games even if you are a cable subscriber if your cable company doesn’t offer WatchESPN.)

Even if you’re a sports fan there are a lot of ESPN “sports” not worth watching, including so-called “extreme” sports, Mixed Martial Arts (imagine boxing with no rules) and poker, and has replaced them with far too many debate shows. Part of it is that ESPN has lost a few properties, including the baseball postseason, the National Hockey League, and NASCAR auto racing, and according to viewers (of which I am not), its news coverage of sports it doesn’t cover has dropped precipitously.

What viewers may find somewhat ridiculous is who is still at ESPN — namely, Chris Berman, whose best days are well past him, and Stephen A. Smith. The latter got rather defensive about his job status, as reported by Alex Putterman:

In the midst of ESPN’s massive round of layoffs Wednesday, more than a few people brought up Stephen A. Smith as evidence of how the Worldwide Leader had gone astray. How, people wondered, could ESPN fire so many great reporters while keeping a loudmouth hot-take artist like Stephen A. Smith around to appear on First Take and numerous other shows?

Among the legions making some version of that argument was former Sports Illustrated writer and best-selling author Jeff Pearlman, who called Smith’s employment in the face of layoffs “an assault on the profession.” …

Well Stephen A. Smith puts up with a lot of crap, but he apparently wasn’t willing to put up with that. On his radio show Thursday, he addressed Pearlman’s criticism, as well as the general perception that he is unqualified for such a lofty position at ESPN.

Smith began the segment by saying he didn’t like to respond to criticism but that he felt compelled to in this case. He then described the layoffs as business-related and implied that he was protected because his show is popular and well-rated. Then he really got going:

I’m going to ask Mr. Jeff Pearlman and all the Jeff Pearlmans of the world a simple question: Why are you focusing on me? There are people in our business who actually get paid more, who do less and produce less. Why are you not talking about them?

Like when they call me ‘Screamin’ A?’ I’m the only dude on the air who’s loud? I know plenty of white dudes who are screaming and going off. They’re called passionate. I’m called loud. … The real issue at hand is, what you’re bringing into question are my qualifications.

Smith then listed out his career history, from graduating from Winston-Salem State University to holding numerous internships to working at several newspapers, including the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he was promoted again and again until he became on of the only black sports columnists in the country.

His point was simple: He worked hard to earn the position he’s currently in.

Some people will surely balk at Smith’s invocation of race, but he wasn’t really calling Pearlman racist or suggesting all criticism of him is due to his skin color (though undoubtedly some fraction of it is). This was his main idea:

I used to be a journalist? Mr. Pearlman, you used to be a college student. You used to be a high-school student. Last time I checked, there’s a level of elevation that took place because you graduate to certain levels. I’m not a blogger. I came up in this industry where you had to be a journalist. You had to break stories. You had to break news in order to elevate your career to get to a certain point to get to a certain level before you even had the license to give your opinion, especially if you were a black man. 

Mr. Pearlman’s not black, maybe that’s why he doesn’t understand where I’m coming from. Maybe that’s why he’s so quick to talk about what I have deserved. I gave ya’ll my resume. I transferred from newspaper to television, from television to television and radio. I’ve done this. My credentials speak for themselves. I’m so sick and tired of people coming at me. If you want to talk credentials, name the time and place. Tell me what level I didn’t work on.

Smith repeatedly complimented Pearlman, saying he would never dare question another writer’s credentials.

Stephen A. is absolutely 100 percent correct that he has the resume for the position he’s in, that he worked his way up the ladder and earned bigger and bigger roles, and that it’s not easy to get to where he is now. Without question, his critics lose sight of that all the time, unfairly depicting him as a brainless carnival barker.

However, it’s certainly fair to wonder why Smith uses his hard-earned position to propagate a high-pitched, disagreement-centered, occasionally offensive model of television that risks undermining the more journalistic aspects of the industry—and to question why that’s the model ESPN chooses to reward.

The 800-pound gorilla in the room, however, is ESPN’s conscious decision to insert politics into its sports coverage. Those who approve of this have sworn up and down all week that that has nothing to do with ESPN’s current financial problems. Certainly it’s not the primary cause, but if cable subscribers are dropping you, and some number of your viewers are not fans of the liberal politics you’re espousing, one would logically seem connected to the other.

ESPN quotes a fellow La Follette Lancer (we were in the same journalism class) on its editorial policy:

ESPN has issued new political and election guidelines for its employees that, while allowing for political discussion on the network’s platforms, recommend connecting those comments to sports whenever possible. The new policies also provide separate guidelines for ESPN staffers working on news and those engaging in commentary. …

“Given the intense interest in the most recent presidential election and the fact subsequent political and social discussions often intersected with the sports world, we found it to be an appropriate time to review our guidelines,” said Patrick Stiegman, ESPN’s vice president of global digital content and the chairman of the company’s internal Editorial Board, which drafted the new guidelines.

Stiegman said no single issue or incident led to the change, but Craig Bengtson, ESPN’s vice president and managing editor of newsgathering and reporting, said the nation’s tense political climate did play a role.

“We have the convergence of a politically charged environment and all these new technologies coming together at once,” he said. “Based on that, we wanted the policy to reflect the reality of the world today. There are people talking about politics in ways we have not seen before, and we’re not immune from that.”

Stiegman said the new election guidelines are no longer just targeted at presidential elections. “We simply extended our approach to covering presidential elections every four years to major elections, in general, believing all the same principles should apply,” Stiegman said.

So what’s different in the new policies? Let’s start with the Political and Social Issues guidelines. Its first line lays out ESPN’s challenge quite accurately:

“At ESPN, our reputation and credibility with viewers, readers and listeners are paramount. Related to political and social issues, our audiences should be confident our original reporting of news is not influenced by political pressures or personal agendas.”

As I wrote in November, not all ESPN consumers — or employees, for that matter — feel the company has lived up to this ideal. Stiegman said that the buzz around the topic of ESPN and politics — also written about by The New York Times, Awful Announcing, the Orlando Sentinel and many conservative sites criticizing ESPN’s perceived leftward tilt — didn’t play a significant role in the revision of the guidelines.

The two most notable changes from the Political Advocacy policy are the delineation of guidelines between news and commentary, and allowing for increased political discussion on ESPN platforms, as warranted and connected to sports. This isn’t a surprising development, it’s just new.

“We wanted to err on the side of transparency and trust with our reporting,” Stiegman said, “but also give our columnists and commentators the freedom to discuss topics relevant to those sports fans who visit our platforms, even if the issues are political or social in nature.”

Here are other notable points in the Political and Social Issues policy, with my thoughts:

“Original news reports should not include statements of support, opposition or partisanship related to any social issue, political position, candidate or office holder.”

This one seems straightforward and achievable, at least within ESPN’s platforms. The one place on ESPN in which you don’t see straight opinion is on the hard news side of the operation.

“Writers, reporters, producers and editors directly involved in ‘hard’ news reporting, investigative or enterprise assignments and related coverage should refrain in any public-facing forum from taking positions on political or social issues, candidates or office holders.”

The three key words here are “public-facing forum.” That expands this policy beyond ESPN’s borders and brings the Wild West of social media into play. In fact, later in the memo, it is said directly that the policy applies to “ESPN, Twitter, Facebook and other media.”

This is where the potential for problems exists. ESPN news reporters tweeting political opinions from their own social accounts would technically violate this policy. Again, hard news reporters are less likely to use social media for this purpose than commentators, but how effective this policy is will depend on how hard executives choose to look at social media. Let’s be honest: It’s not too hard to find ESPN employees tweeting political opinions. Yes, much of that activity does fall within the new guidelines, which also note that those who do publicly express political views could be reassigned when covering stories. But the propriety of other posts is a tad murkier.

“Outside of ‘hard’ news reporting, commentary related to political or social issues, candidates or office holders is appropriate on ESPN platforms consistent with these guidelines.”

This is meaningful because, unlike the company’s previous policy, it states that commentary on political and social issues is OK. The previous policy not only didn’t say that but also conveyed a tone that suggested that dipping into political waters carried more danger than reward. Put another way, the new policy has gone from “It’s dangerous out there, so probably best to stay home” to “It’s dangerous out there, so here are some tools to best keep you safe.” …

“The presentation should be thoughtful and respectful. We should offer balance or recognize opposing views, as warranted. We should avoid personal attacks and inflammatory rhetoric.”

What is a “personal attack” and what’s considered “inflammatory”? As with many journalistic policy questions, those are subjective. And in policies like these, that can lead to caution.

“There is always a layer of subjectivity in such areas,” Stiegman said. “Editors and producers will work with those offering opinions on these topics to ensure the dialogue and debate is thoughtful, respectful and as fair as possible.”

That is not happening, according to Ben Shapiro back in November:

From giving Caitlyn Jenner a heroism award to stumping for Black Lives Matter, from pushing gun control to praising Kaepernick’s heroism, from firing Curt Schilling for expressing anti-radical Islam sentiments to threatening Chris Broussard for taking a religious view of homosexuality while doing nothing about Kevin Blackistone for calling the national anthem a “war anthem,” ESPN has become – as I’ve long said – MSNBC with footballs.

Now, ESPN’s public editor is admitting that the network has a problem. As Newsbusters reports, Jim Brady admitted, “One notion that virtually everyone I spoke to at ESPN dismisses is what some have perceived as unequal treatment of conservatives who make controversial statements vs. liberals who do the same.” He added:

ESPN is far from immune from the political fever that has afflicted so much of the country over the past year. Internally, there’s a feeling among many staffers — both liberal and conservative — that the company’s perceived move leftward has had a stifling effect on discourse inside the company and has affected its public-facing product. Consumers have sensed that same leftward movement, alienating some…. For most of its history, ESPN was viewed relatively apolitically. Its core focus was — and remains today, of course — sports. Although the nature of sports meant an occasional detour into politics and culture was inevitable, there wasn’t much chatter about an overall perceived political bias. If there was any tension internally, it didn’t manifest itself publicly.

Brady talked to anchor Bob Ley, who admitted that ESPN has no “diversity of thought.” A conservative employee told Brady that “If you’re a Republican or conservative, you feel the need to talk in whispers.” Jemele Hill, naturally, said “I would challenge those people who say they feel suppressed. Do you fear backlash, or do you fear right and wrong?”

This is the problem. And this is why ESPN and the media more generally fail. It is suppression to label those who disagree with you politically morally evil because they disagree. Yet that’s what Hill does. That’s what ESPN does, too. The left believes its opinions and feelings are facts; those who disagree are therefore either morons or fascists. That’s why Hill thinks Schilling should have been fired for putting up a meme expressing that transgender people should go to the bathroom in the restroom that matches their biological sex. Schilling must be evil.

That perspective comes across in ESPN’s casual leftism. And it alienates viewers. I’m one of them. I used to watch ESPN every time I worked out. Now I’d rather have the television off. I’m not interested in hearing talking heads who know less about politics than they do about water polo take for granted that they are morally righteous, and everyone on the right is morally obtuse. Screw them. I’d rather cut the cord entirely.

Sean Davis says:

The industry insider I spoke to said the focus on politics was a symptom, rather than a root cause, of all these current issues. According to this insider, ESPN executives saw the writing on the wall — higher costs, subscriber losses, lower ratings — and decided that it needed a bigger content pie to attract more content consumers. Sports is too small, so why not try for a real mass audience by broadening the network’s focus to include news and politics? If X number of people like sports, and Y number of people like politics, then surely combining sports and politics will lead to a much bigger audience, thereby solving the company’s financial dilemma.

This view, of course, ignores how people consume political news. The diehards who love political news don’t turn on the TV or open the laptop and navigate to sites with zero bias that just play it straight. Why? Because those kinds of political news and commentary providers don’t exist. Because that’s not what political junkies want. Liberals want news from liberals, and conservatives want news from conservatives. The Balkanization of political news and commentary didn’t happen by accident. People in this business know you have to pick a side. That works in political news. It doesn’t work if you have a bipartisan mass media audience.

Instead of expanding its pie by combining two types of mass media content, ESPN ended up communicating to half its audience that it didn’t respect them. How? By committing itself entirely not to political news, but to unceasing left-wing political commentary.

You want to watch the Lakers game? Okay, but first you’re going to hear about Caitlyn Jenner. Want some NFL highlights? We’ll get to those eventually, but coming up next will be a discussion about how North Carolina is run by racist, homophobic bigots. You want to see the box scores of today’s baseball games? You can watch those at the bottom of the hour, but right now some D-list network talent would like to lecture you about gun control. After that we’ll have a panel discussion about how much courage it takes to turn your back on the American flag.

The most interesting aspect of the mass layoffs on Wednesday isn’t that they happened, it’s who the network targeted. Not the high-priced carnival barkers and the know-nothing loudmouths doing their best to make Rachel Maddow proud. Nope. ESPN targeted sports reporters. In an effort to cut some fat from its bottom line, ESPN exchanged a scalpel for a chainsaw, skipped the fat entirely, and went straight to cutting out muscle.

If ESPN wants to once again be the worldwide leader in sports, it should refocus on covering sports, which used to be a refuge from politics and the news. America is politicized enough already, and if its citizens want political news, several cable outlets do political news far better than ESPN ever could. Instead of doing sports and politics poorly, perhaps the network could return to the thing that it used to do better than everyone else in the world: cover live sports.

Unlike those with nothing more than opinions, Deep Root Analysis looks at data:

The FOX blog “Outkick the Coverage” has attributed ESPN’s decline to the rising partisanship coming out of Bristol, labeling the network “MSESPN” in pieces like this one, headlined “ESPN Profit Plummets As Network Turns Left”. “Outkick the Coverage’s” Clay Travis supports his argument with Scarborough data showing most sports fans are conservative politically. With the news of today’s layoffs, Travis argues that the network’s leftward turn is “more a symptom of the collapse than it is a cause of the collapse.”

Naturally, the news out of Bristol has led to a variety of “takes” across the Internet. The National Review Online wrote a warning about politicizing sports. Others have scoffed at the idea that partisanship has kept people from watching ESPN, even as ESPN’s public editor concedes that it is among “a set of smaller causes” harming ESPN. Perhaps the hottest take of the day claimed that “sports fans really don’t like anyone who stands up for civil rights.”

WHAT DOES THE DATA SAY?

But is there data to support the notion that Republicans are turning off ESPN as the network ramped up its political commentary during the 2016 election and beyond?

Deep Root Analytics specializes in local television measurement by segmenting the population into political, advocacy and commercial groups and matching those segments into observed TV viewership data via set-top boxes and smart TV data. This allows Deep Root to produce customized ratings and indices for every program and daypart on broadcast and cable TV – including data on ESPN’s viewership among loyal Democrats and Republicans.

We analyzed viewership data in a large media market in a swing state (Cincinnati, OH) for the entirety of 2015 and 2016.  Also, to control for any changes in partisan identification between 2015 and 2016, Deep Root Analytics analyzed viewership among the same audiences across both years.

In our analysis, a clear trend emerges: ESPN’s viewership in this key swing state market became less Republican during 2016.

Specifically, in 2015, the ESPN audience on average skewed Republican across all dayparts, ranging from 12% more Republican (Early News, Late Fringe, Overnight) to 21% more Republican than Democratic (Early Morning).

In 2016, every daypart on ESPN became less conservative, with Daytime being only 2% more Republican than Democratic, while Late Fringe and Overnight programming became 10% and 12% more Democratic than Republican – a 22 and 28 point shift, respectively.

The same is true across other ESPN properties. ESPN2 skewed Republican across most dayparts in 2015; in 2016 all dayparts skewed Democratic. Every daypart also switched on ESPN News from 2015 to 2016.

ESPNU was the only network that retained its mostly Republican audience. ESPN Deportes – the network’s Spanish language channel – became even more Democratic in 2016 than it already was in 2015.

Here is a complete look at the 2015-2016 shift in partisanship across ESPN networks:

To be sure, the ESPN layoffs signal a larger business challenge facing the network. But at least in Cincinnati, the partisanship of viewers noticeably shifted – just as ESPN’s problems got worse.

I would contend that there are more conservative fans of sports than liberal fans of sports. Conservatives did not create the odious phrase “the personal is political.” Conservatives did not create today’s culture of participation medals. Unlike most of life, sports is closer to black and white — team A defeats team B; athlete C finishes first, which means the rest do not.

Here is an example of ESPN’s self-defense, from its Undefeated site:

In sports, everything from choosing fantasy sports teams to selecting the teams that will play for big-time college football national championships is rooted in statistics and statistical analysis, wins and losses and strength of schedules. Further, in sports, everything from a player making an obscene gesture to a pro franchise abandoning one city for another can prompt earnest discussions about right and wrong, revenge, rehabilitation and forgiveness.

But in the nation’s public policy, we too often allow ideology and political maneuvering to render facts moot, especially when those facts support inconvenient truths such as global climate change. And morality, if it is acknowledged at all, is presumed to be the province of specific parties or ideologies, instead of governing our thinking, decisions and actions. From public education to health care, we focus more on the politics of changing public policy than the efficacy and morality of making the changes.

Consequently, our nation, a house divided, struggles to stand: We’re a people who talk to one another without a common political vocabulary, a people who seek to silence dissenting voices. We’re a people who seek to move without common direction, a people who would solve our problems without a consensus of what those problems are, or a common moral purpose to guide our actions.

The apologia for this comes from the oxymoronic Think Progress:

I truly wish this went without saying, but apparently it doesn’t: Reports of ESPN’s political agenda have been greatly exaggerated, and politics are absolutely not to blame for the cuts this week.

ESPN is not a political network. Its analysts do not spend hours debating the latest poll numbers, reporting on proposed legislation, or counting down to lawmakers’ town halls in their home districts.

ESPN covers sports. It just doesn’t pretend that those sports happen in a vacuum.

That means ESPN will cover stories like Colin Kaepernick’s protest during the national anthem, a team of WNBA players wearing “Black Lives Matter” t-shirts during warm-ups, and the domestic violence allegations against an potential NFL draftee.

Sports are an escape, yes, but they are also enriched and impacted by the real-life events happening around them. Covering these topics accurately and fairly when they directly intersect with the sports world isn’t politics, it’s journalism.

“The word ‘politics’ has become too all-encompassing,” SportsCenter host Jemele Hill said on the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast with Richard Deitsch in February. “Mike and I aren’t … breaking down the Affordable Care Act. That’s politics. Understanding somebody’s right to speak out against injustice, oppression, and police brutality, isn’t a political matter. It’s right or wrong.”

“‘Don’t hit women’ is not politics,” her co-host Michael Smith added.

“Sorry we don’t tolerate bigotry here. Why are you taking offense to us suggesting that African Americans — breaking news — have been treated differently and unfairly for the entirety of this country? That’s not a hot take.”

Of course, what Hill and Smith are touching on here is that when people complain about anything getting “too political,” it’s a safe bet the criticism is actually that it’s too liberal. And that usually implies it’s too diverse or too outspoken about inequality.

The president of the company has pushed back against this idea, too.

“The Walt Disney Company and ESPN are committed to diversity and inclusion,” ESPN President John Skipper said last year in response to similar accusations that the company had gotten too liberal. “We do not view this as a political stance but as a human stance. We do not think tolerance is the domain of a particular political philosophy.”

Interestingly, not everyone at ESPN seems to be on board. The New York Post reports:

ESPN’s sweeping staff cuts are not just the result of ambitious TV rights deals and an overburdened budget, popular “SportsCenter” anchor Linda Cohn suggested Thursday.

The network may be losing subscriber revenue not just because of cord-cutting, Cohn allowed, but because viewers are increasingly turned off by ESPN inserting politics into its sports coverage.

“That is definitely a percentage of it,” Cohn said Thursday on 77 WABC’s “Bernie and Sid” show when asked whether certain social or political stances contributed to the stupor that resulted in roughly 100 employees getting the ax this week. “I don’t know how big a percentage, but if anyone wants to ignore that fact, they’re blind.”

Cohn agreed with the argument that certain sports fans may have disapproved of the way ESPN covered polarizing figures such as Roger Goodell, Colin Kaepernick and Caitlyn Jenner.

The example used was of the 2015 ESPYs. Jenner, a former Olympic champion in the decathlon, won the prestigious Arthur Ashe Award for Courage for publicly coming out as a transgender woman. Some felt athletes suffering from disease or disability — such as college basketball player Lauren Hill, who died from cancer three months before the ceremony, and marathoner Noah Galloway, who lost an arm and a leg in the Iraq War — were more deserving.

Cohn, a 25-year ESPN veteran, toed the company line.

“You know, when you work for a big company, you have to follow in line, you have to pay the bills,” she said. “But you just kind of look in the mirror and do what you think is right no matter what else is going on around you. And that’s what I always tried to do.”

ESPN and its liberal sycophants are taking the usual liberal tack that any position other than their own is wrong and not worthy of consideration. As usual, the left approves of every kind of diversity except for political diversity.

Whether you agree with ESPN’s politics, or whatever causes you’d like to attribute to ESPN’s decline, ask yourself this question: If ESPN is losing viewers (and it is), why should ESPN go out of its way to alienate its (remaining) viewers?

 

Mark of eccentricity, or when did this seem like a good idea?

I am a member of several automobile-oriented groups on Facebook, including Cars Modified in Ways That Dumbfound.

While that group has whose vehicles were modified in ways that defy reason …

… this country’s automakers have occasionally sent out into the world vehicles with features, or sometimes lacking features, that make one wonder about the decision process that led up to that dubious judgment.

It seems as though most of those came from General Motors, which by the 1950s was the nation’s largest company in terms of revenues as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product, the largest private-sector employer in the world, and the first U.S. company to pay more than $1 billion in taxes.

 

For all of GM’s innovations — the first self-starter, the Cadillac V-8s, the Chevy small-block V-8, their current automatic transmission design — GM’s major sin has been sending vehicles and technology into the marketplace before they were really ready to be there. One example was the 1980s Pontiac Fiero, a mid-engine two-seater with not much engine until a V-6 was installed. The much more fun driving experience of a V-6 in a light car lasted until the Fiero was canceled three years after the V-6 was introduced. (Apparently publicity about engine fires, a hallmark of the original engine, has a negative effect on car sales.) A much wider example was GM’s 1981 Computer Command Control, which was supposed to improve performance and fuel economy. Instead, it introduced the car-buying world to the yellow Check Engine light.

In 1960, Chevrolet began selling the Corvair, its first rear-engine rear-wheel-drive vehicle after decades of selling cars with the engine in the front and the drive wheels in back. Yes, Volkswagen sold air-cooled rear-mounted flat-engine rear-drive Beetles. Yes, Nash, which became AMC, entered the compact market 10 years earlier with the Rambler. But, for instance, one has to question the utility of a station wagon …

… or a pickup truck …

… or a van …

… where loads have to be placed over the engine. (Each was gone by the Corvair’s redesign in 1965.)

The bigger issue was the Corvair’s handling; engine weight over the rear wheels made them oversteer, as opposed to the traditional understeer of front-engine rear-drive vehicles. The suspension design not only made oversteer worse, it helped make the rear wheels bounce off the road surface, which doesn’t help, you know, controlling the vehicle. A change in suspension design for the second-generation Corvair made them handle much better, but why didn’t GM introduce that design for the first generation? Did GM test the cars in (imitation) real-world use enough to figure out they had a suspension problem?

Shortly after the Corvair debuted, GM’s other divisions (except for Cadillac, which was 15 years away from introducing something that wasn’t the size of an aircraft carrier) introduced their own compact cars on the same unibody chassis — the Pontiac Tempest, whose base engine was half (literally) of a V-8, with a rear-mounted transaxle (later to be seen on the Corvette); the Oldsmobile F-85; and the Buick Special, each of which had as standard or optional an aluminum-block 215 V-8, the basic design of which can be found in, of all vehicles, the Land Rover Range Rover. (The Buick also offered a 198 V-6, the design of which was sold to Jeep a few years later, only to have GM get it back in the early 1970s and use it into the late 1980s.) Chevy, meanwhile, came up with its own compact, the Chevy II, though on a different platform after the Corvair was badly outsold by the Ford Falcon.

The Tempest, F-85 and Special at least were attempts at innovation, which went away by 1964, when the redesigned intermediates were all variations on the same basic design, in part because of a steady increase of buyer interest in horsepower. But GM, and other carmakers, noticed an interest in smaller import cars, smaller even than the Corvair. And so with uncommon (for GM) speed, the company introduced …

The car was styled by Bill Mitchell, so of course it looks good. Ed Cole, who brought the world the modern Chevy small-block V-8, was its designer; he became GM’s president. The lead designer had worked on the Nova and Camaro, the small-block V-8 with Cole, and the Turbo Hydramatic automatic transmission, which has been used by GM for more than 50 years.

And that’s where things started to go horribly wrong. CheatSheet Autos explains:

Nothing had ever been done like this before, and from the get go, it was apparent that GM simply wasn’t up to the task. Dubbed project XP-887, Cole tapped recently-appointed Chevy brand chief John DeLorean to be cheerleader for the new car in the press. Almost immediately, he didn’t like what he saw. In his book On A Clear Day You Can See General Motors, DeLorean recalled:

From the first day I stepped into Chevrolet, the Vega was in trouble. General Motors was basing its image and reputation on the car, and there was practically no interest in it in the division. We were to start building the car in about a year, and nobody wanted anything to do with it. Chevy’s engineering staff was only going through the motions of preparing the car for production, but nothing more. Engineers are a very proud group. They take interest and pride in their designs, but this was not their car and they did not want to work on it.

By late 1968, Chevy had a running prototype, but in a sign of things to come, the front end sheared off after just eight miles of testing.

Fixing the front end meant adding weight, so engineers looked to shed pounds elsewhere. Inner fenders were deleted, as were plastic fender lines to combat rust, saving a whopping $2.28 per car. And instead of an iron block, they used a new 2.3 liter die-cast aluminum block inline-four. GM had built aluminum engine blocks with no major issues before, but this mill was different. Its heavy cast-iron head outweighed the block, and on top of vibration issues that caused the carburetors to rattle them selves apart, high compression caused engine blocks to warp and fail should temperatures climb over 230 degrees.

Strike three for the Vega was the car’s construction. Contrary to popular belief, GM did rust proof the cars, but its design allowed for air pockets to develop between the front fenders, cowl, and firewall during the rustproofing process, leaving the steel in those areas dangerously unprotected. Yet while all these defects were known to company brass, the Vega debuted on September 10, 1970, and just like GM hoped, it was a huge success.

1970 was when Detroit got serious about import fighters. American Motors snagged a Newsweek cover in April with the release of its subcompact Gremlin, and Ford’s Pinto became ubiquitous overnight, famously being described as “the car nobody loved but everybody bought.” Chevy was late to the party, but it hardly made a difference. Two years overdue and well over-budget (GM spent $200 million on the XP-887 project, or around $1.2 billion today), the Vega instantly became the star of the American subcompact segment, with its good looking kamm-tail body and mini-Camaro front end. It was slightly more expensive than the Pinto and Gremlin, but looked better, handled better – and at first, was almost completely unavailable.

General Motors spent $75 million retooling its production facility in Lordstown, Ohio specifically for the Vega, going full speed ahead while labor relations hit an all-time low. The company boasted that the semi-automated assembly line could build 100 Vegas and hour, and fit 30 of them into specially-designed freight cars, a drastic improvement over the standard 18 vehicles per boxcar.

But these advances in automation came with waves of pay cuts and layoffs. Workers at Lordstown briefly went on strike in late 1970, and again for 22 days in 1972, with the plant becoming the focal point of national labor relations as workers intentionally slowed down production and sabotaged cars to retaliate against company policies. As Vega supplies ebbed and flowed, “Lordstown Syndrome” became shorthand for the troubling times in the automotive world. For GM, it was only going to get worse.

The Vega won Motor Trend’s Car of the Year award for 1971, with the magazine concluding, “…the Chevrolet Vega 2300 is Motor Trend’s 1971 Car of the Year by way of engineering excellence, packaging, styling, and timeliness. As such, we are saying that, for the money, no other American car can deliver more.”

But within a year, the car was already starting to lose its shine. By the end of 1972, GM would issue recalls for over 500,000 Vegas to cover defective axles, sticky throttles, and electrical issues that could cause a fire. And once that first winter hit, owners in the Northeast began complaining about their fenders rusting through; by ’73, Vegas in the arid Southwest began to rust too. Engines began to seize, and soon Chevy was swamped with angry customers. The American public had been conned; the Vega was a lemon, and it quickly became the poster child for everything that was wrong in Detroit. GM addressed the corrosion issues with galvanized bodies in ’73 and ’74, and completed an emergency redesign for the car and engine for ’75, but it was too little, too late. …

From 1971 to 1980, Chevy sold over 3.5 million Vegas and other H-body models. Despite their fantastic potential, a litany of recalls and atrocious build quality means that they’ve all but disappeared from American roads. The few that survive have become a symbol for all that went wrong in the American auto industry after 1970. There’s a direct line from the Vega to the Monza to the Cavalier to the Cobalt, and while each of them could be considered a fantastic sales success for the company, their reputations for being unreliable, unsafe, and embarrassing to be seen in ensure that none of them are remembered very fondly.

I have written about station wagons occasionally on this blog. This was another area for strange GM decisions. Before the early 1970s GM had a normal tailgate for its big …

… midsize …

… and compact wagons.

But someone thought it would be fun, or something, to mess with a successful, though conventional, design. And so GM introduced …

… the clamshell tailgate for its full-sized wagons, with the metal half folding into the floor and the glass half moving upward into the ceiling. (Except in cases of mechanical failures.)

For its midsize wagons …

… instead of the aforementioned conventional tailgate (being used by its competitors) GM thought a giant hatchback would be a good idea. (That was the completely opposite direction of the clamshell.)

Neither Ford nor Chrysler jumped on the clamshell bandwagon, nor did either jump on the monster hatchback trend. When GM redesigned its big cars, the clamshell did not survive:

The aforementioned wagon represented the first phase in GM’s three-phase downsizing of most of its cars in the late ’70s.

The full-size B-bodies and C-bodies were a home run in terms of design.

The intermediate A-bodies, well, less so.

Notice the rear door. The window did not roll down. (Nor on the wagon.) The reason was that the engineers removed the window mechanism in order to add elbow room through hollowing out the door. (I can speak from experience that extra elbow room was useless where it was located.)

The A-bodies were the second round of GM downsizing. The third round was the most radical, replacing the Chevy Nova …

… with the revolutionary (for GM, though Japanese manufacturers had them for years before) Chevy Citation, Pontiac Phoenix, Olds Omega and Buick Skylark:

(Side note: In 1977, the downsized Caprice was the same size as the last-year Malibu. In 1989, the downsized Malibu was the same size as the next-to-last-year Nova. One might think GM could have just called the 1977 Malibu a Caprice and the 1978 Nova a Malibu. GM did that with the Pontiac Bonneville a few years later. Bad, bad idea.)

Given that GM had started working on the Citation five years before introduction (in 1979 as a 1980 model), you’d think GM would have fixed its issues before Citations went to dealerships. Instead, the more than 800,000 first-model-year Citation buyers discovered an old-design and crude four-cylinder engine (previously seen in the Vega), a new concept called “torque steer” (front-wheel-drive oversteering upon applying foot to gas pedal), rear brakes that locked alarmingly often (antilock brakes were a few years away), and, by the way, poor build quality and worse reliability. The most radical design GM had attempted to date lasted six model years, though its inclusion on numerous Worst Car Ever Sold lists has lasted far longer.

On to pickup trucks. For the first half-century or so of their use, pickup trucks had one seat. While International offered a crew cab pickup in 1957 …

… followed by Dodge in 1963 …

… Ford in 1965 …

… and Chevrolet in 1973:

The crew cabs had fairly small customer bases — the military, government and railroads. You’ll note that the crew cabs are very long, longer than even the huge sedans of the day.

The same year Chevy and GMC got around to introducing their crew cabs Dodge introduced its Club Cab pickup, which was the first to have a (very small) back seat in a two-door pickup truck:

Two years later, in 1975 Ford introduced its SuperCab:

It only took Chevy and GMC 13 more years to build an extended-cab pickup:

One assumes based on the introduction dates — 1973 for the Crew Cab and 1988 for the extended cab, the first years of new-design pickups — that GM lazily waited until a new pickup design to get around to a new model already being offered by its competitors. (And when the extended-cab pickup came out, Chevy and GMC kept selling their old-design crew cab pickup; GM didn’t get around to a new-design crew cab until four years later.) No wonder Ford has outsold Chevy in pickups for years.

The same cannot be said about minivans, introduced by Chrysler in 1984, GM in 1985 and Ford in 1986. The difference between Chrysler’s minivans and GM and Ford’s is that the latter were based on their compact pickups, the S-10 and Ranger, respectively. (Each also developed a small SUV, the Blazer and Bronco II, respectively, based on the same small pickups.) Lee Iacocca came up with the idea for the minivan at Ford …

… but Henry Ford II wasn’t interested. Upon being fired at Ford, Iacocca took his idea with him to Chrysler, whose minivan was based on the K-car platform. The Chrysler minivans sold much better than their competition, and probably paved the way for more car-like vehicles such as the Honda Odyssey van and Pilot SUV, both based on the Accord sedan.

GM had multiple responses when it became apparent the Astro (and GMC Safari) were losing in the minivan sales race. Its first was the Lumina APV, based on the (by now midsize) Lumina sedan …

… immediately dubbed the “Dustbuster” (as were the Pontiac Trans Sport and Olds Silhouette) for their resemblance to the Black & Decker portable vacuum cleaner.

A few years after the Dustbuster went away, Pontiac came out with a concept vehicle, the Aztek …

… which proved popular enough on the car show circuit to make Pontiac decide to build them. But to prove the old saw about a camel being a horse designed by committee, and repeating its sin with the Trans Sport, which unlike the concept …

… was a warmed-over Dustbuster …

… Pontiac didn’t send that Aztek to market:

So what went wrong? Popular Mechanics explains:

Back in the bad old days at GM, the people in charge of vehicle manufacturing had huge control over how vehicles looked. Designers knew what they wanted GM’s first crossover to look like, but in the convoluted corporate world of the 1990s, GM’s own manufacturing team wouldn’t give it to them. The excuse? It would have cost too much.

That decision cost GM dearly … and not just in dollars.

The hideous slab-sided production horror that debuted in 2001 shares little with the 1999 concept. … Their proportions are completely different. The most visible alteration was to the angular roof of the concept that looked much like the production Chevrolet Equinox.

If the concept had made it to production, the fate of the Aztek would likely have been much different. Instead, the Aztek earned its title as the ugliest car in the world, and helped kill off the Pontiac brand.

Road & Track columnist Bob Lutz was hired from Chrysler to GM right as the production Aztek was introduced:

A bad car happens in stages. The Aztek concept car was a much leaner vehicle. Decent proportions. It got everybody excited. At the time, GM was criticized for never doing anything new, never taking a chance. So Wagoner and the automotive strategy board decreed that henceforth, 40 percent of all new GM products would be “innovative.” That started a trend toward setting internal goals that meant nothing to the customer. Everything that looked reasonably radical got green-lit.

These things require a culture of complete acquiescence and intimidation, led by a strong dictatorial individual who wants it that way.

The guy in charge of product development was Don Hackworth, an old-school guy from the tradition of shouts, browbeating, and by-God-I-want-it-done. He said, “Look. We’ve all made up our minds that the Aztek is gonna be a winner. It’s gonna astound the world. I don’t want any negative comments about this vehicle. None. Anybody who has bad opinions about it, I want them off the team.” As if the public is gonna give a sh** about team spirit. Obviously, the industry is trying to get away from that approach.

Early on, the Aztek obviously failed the market research. But in those days, GM went ahead with quite a few vehicles that failed product clinics. The Aztek didn’t just fail—it scored dead last. Rock bottom. Respondents said, “Can they possibly be serious with this thing? I wouldn’t take it as a gift.” And the GM machine was in such denial that it rejected the research and just said, “What do those a**holes know?”

The danger with the totalitarian management style is that people won’t speak up when there’s a problem. They’ll get their heads cut off or the messenger gets shot. …

One guy I informally interviewed about how the Aztek happened was one of the top guys on the project. And this guy, he looks at me and he says, “I’m proud of it.” Proud of the Aztek? “Yup. That was the best program we ever did at GM. We made all our internal goals, we made the timing, and I’m really proud of the part I played in it.” He had tears in his eyes. It was almost tragic. Everybody wanted to will this thing to succeed, and it didn’t work. All the emotional commitment and pride in the program was that it achieved all its internal objectives. And it was probably one of the great defeats in his life, or in his career.

For a company known for excess bureaucracy — which might explain the tardy introduction of extended-cab or crew-cab pickups, which cost GM lots of money given that pickups then and now are hugely profitable — one wonders how the Corvair and the other design oddities got to market. (“Totalitarian managment” is probably right on.) Every time a business debuts a poorly-thought-out product or service, or rebrands itself in a curious way (for instance, Wisconsin Electric renaming itself “We Energies”), one thinks there was a guy in a room who did not speak up when he (or she) should have about how dumb this idea was. Call him or her Mr. or Ms. Non-Groupthink.

 

Happy (?) Tax Freedom Day

Every year, the Tax Foundation announces:

Tax Freedom Day is the day when the nation as a whole has earned enough money to pay its total tax bill for the year. Tax Freedom Day takes all federal, state, and local taxes—individual as well as payroll, sales and excise, corporate and property taxes—and divides them by the nation’s income. In 2017, Americans will pay $3.5 trillion in federal taxes and $1.6 trillion in state and local taxes, for a total tax bill of $5.1 trillion, or 31 percent of national income. This year, Tax Freedom Day falls on April 23, 113 days into the year.

That was Sunday. When is Wisconsin’s Tax Freedom Day?

Wisconsin has the 40th latest Tax Freedom Day, which means this state has the 11th highest federal, state and local taxes as a percentage of income. Only Minnesota and Illinois have higher tax bites out of their income than Wisconsin in the Midwest.

Tax Freedom Day was April 12 in 2010, April 16 in 2011, April 21 in 2012, April 20 in 2013, April 22 in 2014, April 25 in 2015, and April 27 last year. You’ll notice that that is not a positive direction. I would wonder why people vote for Republicans who promise to cut taxes and then don’t cut taxes meaningfully, except that Democrats could not care less about cutting taxes in a remotely meaningful way. (As it is, Republican supporters should ask their Republican elected officials that question.) No, $4.7 billion in tax cuts this decade are not sufficient, and $600 million in the proposed 2017–19 state budget are not sufficient either.

The second time I noted Tax Freedom Day on this blog, I listed what paying nearly $1 out of your $3 in income (as opposed from the 10 percent God asks):

  • A substandard education system. (The fact that there are some above-average schools doesn’t change that reality.)
  • Teacher unions that spread lies during elections. (Though their political power has shrunken in the post-Act 10 world.)
  • A statewide teacher union that pays its management six-digit salaries and pays its employees on average $95,000 per year, almost twice as much as the median family income in this state.
  • An extremely substandard business climate and perennially underperforming economy. (Very small steps have been made in the correct direction, which are the result, again, of our bad tax system.)
  • 3,120 units of government.
  • A political culture that is out of touch with the rest of the planet, let alone the rest of the state.
  • Insufficient political will to change any of these realities.

It is my contention that Wisconsinites overpay for government services, including, yes, schools and the UW System. As I wrote on a previous Tax Freedom Day, think of the worst teacher, the laziest or most incompetent government employee you can think of, or the politician you wouldn’t vote for if he or she were running against Joseph Stalin, and then remember: your taxes are paying his or her salary and (Rolls–Royce-style) benefits.

It is a fact that our quality of life is not improved by government; quite the opposite, in fact. It is also my contention that, rather than rely on one political party to hold the line on taxes and spending, taxpayers need to be protected from elected officials regardless of party (or lack thereof) by enacting constitutional (as opposed to legislative) controls on taxes and spending and requiring referendum approval for all tax increases.

For maybe one more night

It figures that just as I started to get interested in the Milwaukee Bucks again, they would flop in two playoff games and now stand one loss away from having their season end.

So before the Bucks lose tonight or Saturday, you should read what Jabari Parker has to say:

The moment I went down … I knew.

As soon as I felt my knee buckle, and I hit the ground — I knew right away what had happened. I knew right away what it would mean.

I had torn my ACL.

Again.

Not exactly how I pictured my comeback season coming to an end.

But as tough as the injury itself was … where it really has hurt? It’s not where some people think. It’s not for what it means for my future: I’ve been through this before, and I came back better. And I know the player that I’ll be when I’m back on the court again. That doesn’t scare me. But the fact that I can’t be out there with my team, right now, during these playoffs — to finish what we started? Knowing the team that we’ve been growing into together … and not being able to see that through with them?

That’s what has hurt the most.

See, this year … it’s meant a lot to this team. This year, from the very beginning, was about us making a name for the Bucks — about us forcing our way into the argument of who the East’s top contenders are. We knew, going into the season, that we weren’t a team with a ton of playoff experience, or with a ton of veterans who’d been in these situations before, or with résumés like some other guys have in our division. We didn’t know our peak … and neither did anyone else.

And that was part of the fun.

This year, we vowed not to be one of those teams that other teams picked on. We vowed not to be one of those teams that guys felt they could rest their stars against, or relax against in any way. And, honestly, it’s not like we had some master plan, or that we did anything special. We just went out and played. That’s it. We went out every night, and we kept our composure, and we found our confidence, and we took each challenge as it was presented to us. We figured — what fun is it to play in the NBA if we’re not taking on those challenges? If we’re not getting hyped for the Clevelands, the Golden States, the San Antonios? If we’re not working hard to perfect our late-game plays, and flip the results on some of those last-second losses? If we’re not holding our own with the teams that we’re using as our standard?

And up until the night of my injury, we took on those challenges on the court together. So, you know, that’s what has really hurt: Not being able to be out there with my team, while they’ve kept this thing going.

And that’s exactly what they’ve done: They’ve just kept going. They’ve just kept playing. They’ve just kept making strides — and I’ve been so proud of them. And I know they’ve been proud of me, too, as I’ve had to take on new challenges of my own, with my rehab.

And through it all: We’ve both had the city of Milwaukee.

Milwaukee, man … it’s home. You know I’m a Chicago kid, and Chicago will always have a big piece of my heart. But with Milwaukeefor me it was just love at first sight. As soon as I got here, I was like, Wow, this is the place for me.

I love this city.

It’s funny — I always think about this one day, pretty soon after I got here, when I took my car out for a drive around town. I pulled up to this spot … and I saw these olds guys, hanging out, sitting outside with their hot rods. I mean some real nice cars. And I parked my ride, I got out, and, man … we just got to talking. You’d look at us, and you’d probably be thinking that we have nothing in common — these old white guys, and then here I am, this young black ball player who’s bumpin’ rap music? No way. But it turned out we did. And it was just this really great day. I’ll still go back there, sometimes, and me and those guys, we’ll just catch up. I’ll ask them about cars. They’ll tell me stories about going to Bucks games in the ‘70s. It’s just very Milwaukee. We can talk about anything.

And that’s what I love about this city. It’s — well, it’s the love.

Honestly, I love this city so much that it scares me sometimes, in a way, you know? Like, I’ve seen other guys get traded and leave since I’ve been here … and you realize, Wow, as players we really don’t have that much control over it all. But one thing I do have control over, regardless of my playing career, is knowing that I want to raise my own family here someday. It’s that deep.

The Bucks have indeed taken big steps this season. It looked as if they had taken additional big steps by winning game one of this playoff series at Toronto and then just crushing the Raptors in game three. And then came games four and five, and the Bucks will have to win at home tonight and at Toronto Saturday to probably lose to Cleveland in the next series.

My concern with the Bucks dates back to their old days:

With the exception of the 1971 champions and the 1974 runners-up, the Bucks have always been not quite good enough. They had Marques Johnson and Sidney Moncrief and acquired Bob Lanier in the late 1970s, but were not as good as either Boston or Philadelphia. The Kareem Abdul-Jabbar dynasty ended when Abdul-Jabbar decided he didn’t like Milwaukee anymore.

The Bucks now have one of the best players in the NBA in Giannis Antetokounmpo. (And you thought “Abdul-Jabbar” was hard to pronounce in the ’70s. I had to announce Antetokounmpo’s younger brother in a state championship game.) What if the Greek Freak decides he doesn’t like Milwaukee anymore? All the work the Bucks have done to build a team that is on the way up would be for naught. Again.

 

The non-science guy

This Facebook meme says that Bill Nye the Science Guy is not a scientist. (If he were a competent engineer, he’d be working in engineering, not TV.) Nor is he a constitutional expert, as Michael Bastasch reports:

Bill Nye the “Science Guy” tried to claim the Constitution supported the concerns of thousands of scientists and environmental activists who took to the streets on Earth Day to protest the Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts to federal agencies.

“If you suppress science, if you pretend climate change isn’t a real problem, you will fall behind other countries that do invest in science, that do invest in basic research,” Nye told CNN Saturday as the “March for Science” took place.

The march took place in dozens of cities across the world, and the main march took place in Washington, D.C., Saturday. Nye spoke at the rally where thousands carried signs deriding skeptics of global warming and cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other bureaucracies that fund or conduct scientific research.

“And it is interesting to note, I think, that Article 1 Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution refers to the progress of science and the useful arts,” Nye said.

“Useful arts in 18th Century usage would be what we call engineering or city planning or architecture,” Nye said.

Nye’s used the argument before to underscore how “unpatriotic” it is to not have the federal government hand out billions of taxpayer dollars to universities, corporations and research institutions.

“Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution says the government shall ‘promote the progress of science and useful arts,’” Nye told Vox in 2015 — Vox didn’t correct him or fact check his claim.

“So if you’re a politician looking to derail the progress of science, I think you’re not doing your job,” Nye said.

And, like last time, he’s 100 percent incorrect.

Nye is referring to the Constitution’s Copyright Clause. The clause is one in a laundry list of Congress’s enumerated powers.

It reads: “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

The Copyright Clause has nothing to do with government-funded science, but everything to do with establishing a legal framework to protect intellectual property rights.

This is why Nye is not known as the “Constitution Guy.”

On the other hand, Nye’s not good on TV either when he’s required to not read from a script. Slate reports:

“Science Guy” Bill Nye was none too happy that CNN put him on the same panel as a climate change skeptic on Earth Day. “I will say, much as I love the CNN, you’re doing a disservice by having one climate change skeptic, and not 97 or 98 scientists or engineers concerned about climate change,” Nye said during an appearance on CNN’s New Day Saturday to discuss the March for Science that was taking place in more than 100 cities across the world.

During the segment, William Happer, a physicist and climate change skeptic, argued that the Earth is getting greener and that carbon dioxide is good for the atmosphere. “There’s this myth that’s developed around carbon dioxide that it’s a pollutant, but you and I both exhale carbon dioxide with every breath. Each of us emits about two pounds of carbon dioxide a day, so are we polluting the planet?” Happer said. “Carbon dioxide is a perfectly natural gas, it’s just like water vapor, it’s something that plants love. They grow better with more carbon dioxide, and you can see the greening of the earth already from the additional carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.”

An obviously exasperated Nye responded: “What he claims to not understand is the rate. it’s the speed at which we’re adding carbon dioxide.” He latter accused Happer of “cherry picking a certain model” and that the consensus view on climate change “is not controversial in mainstream science.” Plus, Nye added, acting like climate change doesn’t exist is bad for the economy. “If you pretend that climate change isn’t a real problem, you will fall behind other countries that do invest in science—that do invest in basic research,” Nye said.

Happer, who has met with Trump and has been described as the man who may take over the role as top science adviser, later appeared to shock everyone when he compared the Paris Agreement on climate change with the Munich Agreement and Nazi appeasement. “It’s definitely appeasement,” Hopper said. “It’s an appropriate comparison because it was a treaty that was not going to do any good.”

Boo hoo, Billy. Nye, it turns out, is nothing more than a poor entertainer who like all the envirowackos (see Gore, Al) wants to control our lives and gain for themselves political power and money.

For instance, John Nolte reports:

Yes, according to Nye’s guest Travis Rieder, who holds the creepy title of a Bioethics Ethicist, you and I and our precious children are what Rieder calls “individual emitters,” meaning we are inconvenient to the Greater Good because our individual emissions of carbon contribute to global warming (which is a hoax).

But we are not all guilty of doing “a lot of emitting.”

Even though they have one of the highest fertility rates in the world, the good people of Niger, according to Rieder, are totally awesome because they “are doing almost no emitting.”  Yes, these amazing people emit only “0.1 metric tons of carbon annually,” while we American pigs emit “160 times” that amount.

Oddly enough, though, what Nye and Rieder fail to tell us is that Niger is a hellhole of humanity that ranked as the country with the world’s worst standard of living in 2009, a standard that has only gotten worse since. The “absolute poverty rate” in Niger was 61% and climbing in 2012.

But when his guest mentioned Niger, Nye said approvingly, “They burn some charcoal [only] now and then.”

Well, when all you own is a wooden bowl, an old blanket, and herd of bed bugs…

Anyway, things then got super-creepy….

Billy Nye: So, should we have policies that penalize people for having extra kids in the developed world?

Travis Rieder: I do think that we should at least consider it.

Bill Nye: Well, “at least consider it” is like “Do it.”

Travis Rieder: One of the things that we could do that’s kind of least policy-ish is we could encourage our culture and our norms to change, right?

Couple points…

1) HITLER!

2) Niger has an infant mortality rate of 71.2 deaths per 1000 live births — one of the highest in the world. America’s infant mortality rate, which the left-wing Washington Post called an “embarrassment,” is only 6.1 per 1000.

Life expectancy in Niger is 61 years (the same age as Tom Hanks!). Life expectancy in America is 79 years. America’s poor live like kings compared to the average Nigerian.

So maybe instead of penalizing developed countries, we should use all that activist energy to help develop Niger?

But the inhuman tyrants we call environmentalists actually fight against the modern development of countries like Niger. Like real-life Bond villains, all they care about is their golden calf of Gaia. While they sip lattes and burn more carbon with their television shows than I will in ten lifetimes, they are comforted by the fact that the people of Niger — although miserable, dying, exploited, and despairing — are living worse than animals do on American farms.

The other truth that goes unmentioned is that developed countries like ours are much, much, much cleaner than human hellholes like Niger. Our water and air is cleaner. We use much better methods to dispose of our garbage and sewage. We preserve, recycle, and replenish our natural resources. For example, no one plants more trees than the private logging industry. America has more trees today than we did 100 years ago. Nothing produces a clean environment better than private ownership. You take care of what is yours.

Developed countries that allow for human freedom are not the problem, they are the solution. People are not the problem, they are a blessing and the very ones who invent, create, and come up with the ideas that have, overall, improved both living and environmental conditions throughout the world.

But science-denying monsters like Bill Nye would have us believe the opposite is true. Because it is not about the science. It is about the depraved power that comes with controlling the lives of others.

A non-fan of the First Amendment

Margaret Menge:

Former Democratic presidential candidate and Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean claimed Thursday evening that speech from conservative author and commentator Ann Coulter is not protected by the First Amendment.

“Hate speech is not protected by the First Amendment,” Dean tweeted in reference to Coulter’s scheduled speech at Berkeley, which campus administrators cancelled due to the threat of leftist violence. …

Dean, the former Democratic governor of Vermont, made his comment in reply to a tweet from someone who had written: “Free Speech Defenders Don’t Forget: Ann Coulter once said: My only regret w/ Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times building.” …

Best-selling author and conservative columnist Ann Coulter was scheduled to speak at the University of California, Berkeley, on April 27, but the university canceled the speech this week, saying it could not provide adequate security, given recent riots to shut down other conservative speakers, such as Milo Yiannopoulos.

Coulter subsequently told The Hollywood Reporter: “They can’t stop me. I’m an American. I have constitutional rights.”

The university announced it would reschedule the event for the afternoon of May 2, during final exam week, but attorneys for the groups that had invited Coulter, including Young Americans for Freedom, blasted university officials in a letter, saying it was attempting to impose “discriminatory” time and place restrictions and warned of “imminent litigation” if the university does not confirm by today, April 21, that it will cooperate with plans for the April 27 event.

Dean is not a constitutional scholar. Washington Post columnist Eugene Volokh is:

This leads me to repeat what I’ve said before: There is no hate speech exception to the First Amendment. Hateful ideas (whatever exactly that might mean) are just as protected under the First Amendment as other ideas. One is as free to condemn, for instance, Islam — or Muslims, or Jews, or blacks, or whites, or illegal immigrants, or native-born citizens — as one is to condemn capitalism or socialism or Democrats or Republicans. As the Supreme Court noted in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez (2010), the First Amendment’s tradition of “protect[ing] the freedom to express ‘the thought that we hate’ ” includes the right to express even “discriminatory” viewpoints. (The quote comes from the four liberal justices, plus Justice Anthony Kennedy, but the four more conservative justices would have entirely agreed with this, though also extended it to university-recognized student groups’ freedom to exclude members, and not just their freedom to express their thoughts.)

To be sure, there are some kinds of speech that are unprotected by the First Amendment. But those narrow exceptions have nothing to do with “hate speech” in any conventionally used sense of the term. For instance, there is an exception for “fighting words” — face-to-face personal insults addressed to a specific person, of the sort that are likely to start an immediate fight. But this exception isn’t limited to racial or religious insults, nor does it cover all racially or religiously offensive statements. Indeed, when the City of St. Paul tried to specifically punish bigoted fighting words, the Supreme Court held that this selective prohibition was unconstitutional (R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul (1992)), even though a broad ban on all fighting words would indeed be permissible.

The same is true of the other narrow exceptions, such as for true threats of illegal conduct or incitement intended to and likely to produce imminent illegal conduct — i.e., illegal conduct in the next few hours or maybe days, as opposed to some illegal conduct some time in the future. But these are very narrow exceptions. Dean’s post came in response to a Steven Greenhouse tweet saying, “Free Speech Defenders Don’t Forget: Ann Coulter once said: My only regret w/ Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times building”; but if Dean meant that such speech by Coulter is constitutionally unprotected, he’s wrong. Indeed, even if Coulter was speaking seriously (which I doubt), such speech isn’t unprotected incitement, because it isn’t intended to promote imminent illegal conduct. Compare, e.g., Rankin v. McPherson (1987), which upheld the right to say, after President Ronald Reagan was wounded in an assassination attempt, “If they go for him again, I hope they get him” — and that was in a case involving a government employee being fired for her speech; the First Amendment offers even stronger protection to ordinary citizens whose speech is more directly restricted by the government.

Returning to bigoted speech, which is what most people use “hate speech” to mean, threatening to kill someone because he’s black (or white), or intentionally inciting someone to a likely and immediate attack on someone because he’s Muslim (or Christian or Jewish), can be made a crime. But this isn’t because it’s “hate speech”; it’s because it’s illegal to make true threats and incite imminent crimes against anyone and for any reason, for instance because they are police officers or capitalists or just someone who is sleeping with the speaker’s ex-girlfriend.

The Supreme Court did, in Beauharnais v. Illinois (1952), uphold a “group libel” law that outlawed statements that expose racial or religious groups to contempt or hatred, unless the speaker could show that the statements were true and were said with “good motives” and for “justifiable ends.” But this, too, was treated by the court as just a special case of a broader First Amendment exception — the one for libel generally. And Beauharnais is widely understood to no longer be good law, given the court’s restrictions on the libel exception. See New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964) (rejecting the view that libel is categorically unprotected, and holding that the libel exception requires a showing that the libelous accusations be “of and concerning” a particular person); Garrison v. Louisiana (1964) (generally rejecting the view that a defense of truth can be limited to speech that is said for “good motives” and for “justifiable ends”); Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc. v. Hepps (1986) (generally rejecting the view that the burden of proving truth can be placed on the defendant); R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul (1992) (holding that singling bigoted speech is unconstitutional, even when that speech fits within a First Amendment exception); Nuxoll ex rel. Nuxoll v. Indian Prairie Sch. Dist. # 204, 523 F.3d 668, 672 (7th Cir. 2008) (concluding that Beauharnais is no longer good law); Dworkin v. Hustler Magazine Inc., 867 F.2d 1188, 1200 (9th Cir. 1989) (likewise); Am. Booksellers Ass’n, Inc. v. Hudnut, 771 F.2d 323, 331 n.3 (7th Cir. 1985) (likewise); Collin v. Smith, 578 F.2d 1197, 1205 (7th Cir. 1978) (likewise); Tollett v. United States, 485 F.2d 1087, 1094 n.14 (8th Cir. 1973) (likewise); Erwin Chemerinsky, Constitutional Law: Principles and Policies 1043-45 (4th ed. 2011); Laurence Tribe, Constitutional Law, § 12-17, at 926; Toni M. Massaro, Equality and Freedom of Expression: The Hate Speech Dilemma, 32 Wm. & Mary L. Rev. 211, 219 (1991); Robert C. Post, Cultural Heterogeneity and Law: Pornography, Blasphemy, and the First Amendment, 76 Calif. L. Rev. 297, 330-31 (1988).

Finally, “hostile environment harassment law” has sometimes been read as applying civil liability — or administrative discipline by universities — to allegedly bigoted speech in workplaces, universities and places of public accommodation. There is a hot debate on whether those restrictions are indeed constitutional; they have generally been held unconstitutional when applied to universities, but decisions are mixed as to civil liability based on speech that creates hostile environments in workplaces (see the pages linked to at this site for more information on the subject). But even when those restrictions have been upheld, they have been justified precisely on the rationale that they do not criminalize speech (or otherwise punish it) in society at large, but apply only to particular contexts, such as workplaces. None of them represent a “hate speech” exception, nor have they been defined in terms of “hate speech.”

For this very reason, “hate speech” also doesn’t have any fixed legal meaning under U.S. law. U.S. law has just never had occasion to define “hate speech” — any more than it has had occasion to define rudeness, evil ideas, unpatriotic speech or any other kind of speech that people might condemn but that does not constitute a legally relevant category.

Of course, one can certainly argue that First Amendment law should be changed to allow bans on hate speech (whether bigoted speech, blasphemy, blasphemy to which foreigners may respond with attacks on Americans, flag burning, or anything else). I think no such exception should be recognized, but of course, like all questions about what the law ought to be, this is a matter that can be debated. Indeed, people have a First Amendment right to call for speech restrictions, just as they have a First Amendment right to call for gun bans or bans on Islam or government-imposed race discrimination or anything else that current constitutional law forbids. Constitutional law is no more set in stone than any other law.

But those who want to make such arguments should acknowledge that they are calling for a change in First Amendment law and should explain just what that change would be, so people can thoughtfully evaluate it. Calls for a new First Amendment exception for “hate speech” shouldn’t rely just on the undefined term “hate speech” — they should explain just what viewpoints the government would be allowed to suppress, what viewpoints would remain protected and how judges, juries and prosecutors are supposed to distinguish the two. And claiming that hate speech is already “not protected by the first amendment,” as if one is just restating settled law, does not suffice.

Law professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds:

I tell my constitutional law students that there are a couple of statements that indicate that a speaker is a constitutional illiterate who can safely be ignored. One is the claim that the Constitution views black people as ⅗ the worth of white people (actually, it was all about power in Congress, with slaveowners wanting black people to count 100% toward apportionment so that slaveowners would get more seats in Congress, and abolitionists wanting them not counted at all so that slaveowners would get fewer seats in Congress; the ⅗ compromise was just that, a compromise).

The other hallmark of constitutional illiteracy is the claim that the First Amendment doesn’t protect “hate speech.” And by making that claim last week, Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont and Democratic presidential candidate, revealed himself to be a constitutional illiterate. Then, predictably, he doubled down on his ignorance.

In First Amendment law, the term “hate speech” is meaningless. All speech is equally protected whether it’s hateful or cheerful. It doesn’t matter if it’s racist, sexist or in poor taste, unless speech falls into a few very narrow categories — like “true threats,” which have to address a specific individual, or “incitement,” which must constitute an immediate and intentional encouragement to imminent lawless action — it’s protected.

The term “hate speech” was invented by people who don’t like that freedom, and who want to give the — completely false — impression that there’s a kind of speech that the First Amendment doesn’t protect because it’s hateful. What they mean by “hateful,” it seems, is really just that it’s speech they don’t agree with. Some even try to argue that since hearing disagreeable ideas is unpleasant, expressing those ideas is somehow an act of “violence.”

There are two problems with that argument. The first is that it’s idiotic: That’s never been the law, nor could it be if we give any value to free expression, because there’s no idea that somebody doesn’t disagree with. The second is that the argument is usually made by people who spend a lot of time expressing disagreeable ideas themselves, without, apparently, the least thought that if their own rules about disagreeable speech held sway, they’d probably be locked up first. (As Twitter wag IowaHawk has offered: “I’ll let you ban hate speech when you let me define it. Deal?”)

The response to Dean was merciless:  First Amendment law expert Eugene Volokh responded, “No, Gov. Dean, there is no ‘hate speech’ exception to the First Amendment.” If there were, neither the Westboro Baptist Church — whose hateful speech the Supreme Court recently held protected — nor the many people referring to Trump supporters as Nazis and “deplorables” would enjoy free speech.

As Volokh writes, if people want “hate speech” to be unprotected, they’re calling for a change to the First Amendment, and it’s a big one. They should not only admit that, “they should explain just what viewpoints the government would be allowed to suppress, what viewpoints would remain protected and how judges, juries and prosecutors are supposed to distinguish the two. And claiming that hate speech is already ‘not protected by the First Amendment,’ as if one is just restating settled law, does not suffice.”

Dean then doubled down with the constitutional  illiterate’s usual fallback, that you could ban “hate speech” as “fighting words” under the 1942 case of Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, which allows a ban on “fighting words.” (Journalist Dan Gillmor commented:  “Disappointing, to say the least, to see Dean digging the hole deeper on his flatly incorrect original statement.”)

But “fighting words” aren’t hate speech. Fighting words are direct, person-to-person invitations to a brawl. Expressing political or social views that people don’t like isn’t the same thing, even if people might react violently to those views.

And that’s good. If, by reacting violently to views they didn’t like, people could get the government to censor those views as “hate speech” or “fighting words,” then people would have a strong incentive to react violently to views they don’t like. Giving the angry and violent the ability to shut down other people’s speech (the term we use for this in constitutional law, Gov. Dean, is “heckler’s veto”) is a bad thing, which would leave us with a society marked by a lot more violence, a lot more censorship, and a lot less speech.

Is that really what you want? Because that’s what we’d get, if we followed the advice of constitutional illiterates.

As I’ve written here before, I am old enough to remember when the Democratic Party was supposed to be the party of free speech. Not anymore.