Archive for the ‘Capitalism Without Control’ Category

Fake news and misleading stats…

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017

Hmm…LinkedIn? Now that Microsoft owns them, you have to wonder what they’re using that website for beyond ads. They’re certainly discouraging discussion groups, my favorite feature, but for what reason? Maybe they realize they can’t compete with Google or Facebook—the former makes a major portion of its profit from ads, although Google+ is weak compared to both in discussions, and the latter is trying to catch up with the ads but lights up with discussions.

They all have fake news. Should we also call misleading stats that appear on all of these fake news? Stats are rarely “clean.” First, authors of articles using them often leave out the hypotheses and description of how the dataset was collected and processed. Second, they often jump to conclusions based on biased sampling techniques. Third, the author of the article can choose, and often does, only those stats that support her or his opinion. It’s all a bit like the Bible: you can find stuff there that will support any position if you look for it.

Yep, many articles quoting stats are fake news if not downright lies. Here’s a recent example that occurred on LinkedIn. The author of a post was probably an innocent victim, but she provided a link to an article about a Nielsen report that gives stats showing ebooks are in decline. Do you follow links like this? It can be dangerous because the link might allow a virus or other malware to invade your laptop or smart phone. Your best bet is to go to the original site if it looks OK and read the article. That said, I read the entire Nielsen report.

But more on Microsoft’s LinkedIn for a moment. I’ve never found much use for it. I have a lot of connections. A lot of them are good people who seem to think I’m someone useful to connect with. Me, the introverted fiction writer? The shy fellow who will never do blog radio and is uncomfortable at any event where I have to appear in person and participate in one-on-one conversations? (I taught large lecture classes at one time, but there is a certain anonymity in that situation that made them easier for me. First days were scary in any class, though—and I was the professor!)

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Irish Stew #60…

Monday, January 30th, 2017

[Note from Steve: Lots of mini-comments, mostly related to Mr. Trump. Don’t worry—I’m not responding to every tweet!]

International

Welcome to fascist America! That’s what needs to be on the Statue of Liberty now, thanks to Il Duce Trump’s most recent executive order which led to the detainment of Muslim travelers in the nation’s airports. This decree from a small-minded and arrogant SOB is as unconstitutional as it is unconscionable and represents a blatant pandering to his bigoted and hateful followers.

In the dragnet, Muslims who have helped the U.S. military, CIA, and state department in their fight against terrorism, Muslims who are war refugees who have legal visas after 2+ years of extreme vetting, parents visiting their children in the U.S. who have visited them many times before, and others were detained, some forced to sign papers allowing DHS to return them to their place of origin, action which mostly likely puts their lives in danger at the hands of the true terrorists. Others are left in limbo with no place to call home. Still others who have already immigrated and are contributing here in America shouldn’t leave the country, even to Canada, for fear of not being able to return. The stay granted by a federal judge in Brooklyn seems to affect only green card holders. That’s not enough!

What’s next? Muslim-Americans being required to wear crescent patches? Internment camps? Goose-stepping troops marching down Pennsylvania Avenue and in front of Trump Tower? The parallels with 1930’s Germany are scary!

“Build the Wall!” Trump’s campaign slogan is a sophism. Most claims coming out of his big mouth are sophisms. His executive orders are sophisms and carefully worded to hide his administrations racism and bigotry. American taxpayers will have to build the wall, not Mexico. Illegal immigrants will tunnel around it or come in on temporary visas, as the majority already do, most staying as good workers who do jobs Americans won’t do, raise their children to be responsible members of immigrant America, and stay out of trouble. The wall will do nothing more than another pandering to Trump’s bigoted and hateful supporters.

America’s greatness lies in its immigrant tradition. Building the wall is the least intelligent thing we can do for immigration reform. And intelligent people know that. The president of Mexico knows that, which is why he blew Mr. Trump off, among other reasons. Why waste time talking to a psycho?

Europe’s turn to the right. French and German progressives and many others are feeling the heat. Mr. Trump was the first, but he might not be the last as the world turns to right-wing demagogues. now called “populists” in the new doublespeak (see the next item). I’m the first to acknowledge that conservatism has its place—change for change’s sake can never be a sound governmental policy. Every action has at least one reaction and careful consideration must be given to whether a policy change will create unintended consequences and have negative impacts—that requires logic and reason driving careful analysis, not ideological and illogical rants.

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Capitalism loves fascism…

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016

The title is the easiest and most profound explanation for why the NYSE is doing so well. It’s also the eight-hundred-pound gorilla in the pundits’ room that they don’t want to mention. The reverse is also true, of course: fascism loves capitalism. They can be Satan’s two partners for leading us down the road to a despotic government. That’s a yellow-brick road that isn’t gold but old, dry cow pies; it starts with the Roman Empire and before, passes through 1930s’ Berlin, and leads to too many world capitals today.

Don’t get me wrong. Controlled and regulated capitalism in cooperation with government services that take care of people, defend them against enemies, foreign and domestic, protect natural resources and wonders and the environment in general, and work to maintain the health of its citizens, services corporate America doesn’t give a rat’s ass about, makes for a strong partnership and a healthy democracy. Creativity and ingenuity are byproducts of capitalistic-induced rewards for good hard work and industrious production—these are needed to keep an economy healthy, but healthy and happy people are needed too.

History has too many proofs to the meta-theorem of the title and its inverse. The Nazi fanatics and German industrialists were willing partners in the Third Reich’s juggernaut—greed and power took precedence over human rights. More recently the Chinese have created the perfect capitalistic/fascistic marriage. Putin started with fascism, but has created an oligarchy in Russia—an oligarchy is a special shared-power fascism. In both the Chinese and Russian cases, fascism was installed and capitalism is the young bride. On the flip side, Europe is trending toward fascism now, while here in the U.S., Trump’s choices also reflect the trend—three ex-generals in the cabinet paired with the CEO of Exxon/Mobil as SecState.

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Irish Stew #56…

Monday, December 12th, 2016

[It’s been awhile. I use this potpourri of news when I want to make a lot of mini-op-eds about current affairs—hence the name. Or, if you like, my Irish temper blows, and then I stew. Because I already had a political op-ed set for tomorrow about the healthcare crisis, I decided to pair this with “Monday Words of Wisdom” and clear my writing to-do list a wee bit. Let’s go to it…]

International

More Saudi duplicity. I’ve often railed against the duplicitous Saudis in this blog. Sometimes I feel like a voice crying in the wilderness. Here’s yet another example of their duplicity: while we’ve been fighting the Taliban, among others, in Afghanistan for years, the Saudis have been playing both sides, but more in support of the Taliban! To quote a recent Times article: “Saudi Arabia is critical [in Afghanistan] because of its unique position in the Afghan conflict: It is on both sides.” Was Machiavelli a Saudi? They represent the primary source for destabilization in the Middle East and are indirectly (if not directly) responsible for countless tortures and murders of innocents. They are NOT our friends.

Taiwan calling. This is one case where government intervention was required—lots of it! During the election, Trump bloviated a lot about his loathing of the People’s Republic of China (like many communist naming inventions, it’s not a republic and certainly doesn’t belong to the people). He took a congratulatory call from the Taiwanese president. Big deal! Irony?  Obama can call a brutal and murdering dictator in Cuba and Trump is criticized for accepting a call from a democratically elected leader?

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Trade agreements: the good, the bad, and the ugly…

Tuesday, October 18th, 2016

A serious moment occurred in the presidential debate on October 4 (there weren’t many).  Ignoring the name-calling, insults, and non-productive finger-pointing, Trump could be considered the big winner for this one moment when he mentioned trade agreements.  First, the encounter reinforced the perception that Hillary and Clinton Inc. are sleazebags.  Not only did she deny calling TPP a gold standard for trade agreements (she did), she committed lies of omission by not pointing out that she came out against it only after Bernie Sanders was making points by knocking it.  There Trump was wrong.  Yes, he came out against it too, but only after Sanders had been successful questioning the trade agreements, NAFTA and TPP in particular.

Second, Clinton also presented NAFTA as some great success story from Mr. Hillary Clinton’s administration.  When you add NAFTA to his other sins—the crime bill which sent many blacks to prison, thus worsening their family’s economic plight; colluding with Republicans to strip away Glass-Steagall and other restrictions in place since the Great Depression, thus causing the financial implosion of 2008-2009 because Wall Street had a field day bilking the American public; and not following up that first attack on the WTC with energetic pursuit of al Qaeda, thus allowing 9/11—Bill Clinton’s legacy has many nails in its coffin without even counting Monica Lewinsky and that no-show at the debate, Jennifer Flowers.  It’s surprising that Mrs. Clinton even mentions her husband, but maybe her senility has shortened her memory to the point that she expects the American public to forget about Bill’s peccadilloes.

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Genius?

Tuesday, October 11th, 2016

I tend to reserve that word for special people. Einstein, Ramanujan, Michelangelo, Mozart, Shakespeare, and others come to mind. Trump calls himself a genius, though, so, ignoring the braggadocio and narcissism, can a business person be a genius? Maybe the founders of Microsoft, Apple, and Google, but probably not even them. Certainly not Trump. He’s more of a robber baron than a genius.

America’s tax laws are so bad that he can get away with declaring a 917 million-dollar loss and profit from it. Compared to what other one-percenters big corporations do, Trump’s transgressions seem misdemeanors compared to felonies, though. Of course, they’re not running for President of the United States—they already control the country, so why bother?

The recent “discovery” of the 2005 tape showing Trump’s attitudes toward women—obviously he only considers them sex objects—sure wasn’t a stroke of genius either. His campaign might never recover, and his only counterpunch left is to go after Bill Clinton for his peccadilloes and Hillary for sticking by his side and attacking the women who came forth—whether he brings up Vince Foster again remains to be seen—but all that happened a decade earlier. While many men are sleaze with similar attitudes—you can call them locker room banter if you want—they aren’t presidents or running for president.

The excerpts from Hillary’s Wall Street speeches will be lost in the scandal revolving around Trump’s comments. They indicate that she’s entirely comfortable being the pawn of Wall Street, but the NY Times had that on page 14 last Saturday morning when the latest Trump scandal broke. We have the two most flawed candidates in American history, and one will become president because the other’s a “genius.” Of course, they’re both idiots.  Out of 350 million people, the geniuses in the two parties could only come up with these two?  The title of a famous sci-fi novella comes to mind: we’re faced with “The Marching Morons,” not geniuses.

But sleaziness, mudslinging, and sexual peccadilloes aside, let’s get back to some substance. What Trump’s misdemeanors, braggadocio, and narcissism suggest a more complex question: why are one-percenters and corporations being favored by American tax laws? No serious reforms are on the horizon from any of the four candidates for president, or from any House or Senate members.  The system is rigged against the middle class who pay the bulk of the taxes.  One-percenters often pay very little—something Warren Buffett has railed against—but whether legal or not, the middle class carries the country’s fiscal obligations on their numerous shoulders.  And people like Clinton and Trump can use their “genius” to preserve their fortunes and make even more.

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A double standard for data collection…

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016

I can’t believe it! A news item in one of my favorite progressive newsletters, Common Dreams, aligns it with the movement to pardon Snowden.  “’Pardon Snowden’ Campaign Takes Off as Sanders, Ellsberg, and Others Join” is an absurd article and this movement is ridiculous when you consider that Snoweden is as guilty of treason as Aldrich Ames, Jonathan Pollard, and Bradley Manning. Ames, a CIA analyst, spied for the Soviet Union. Pollard, a Naval intelligence analyst, spied for Israel. Manning, an Army analyst, and Snowden, an NSA analyst, were just spies who got their kicks from releasing classified information.  They’re all traitors who should be in jail for life (in such cases, I think that’s a more just punishment than a firing squad, but I’d go along with the latter). They’re all people who are indirectly responsible for many Americans’ deaths as well as the deaths of America’s supporters against our enemies.

Mr. Obama could put another nail in his legacy coffin (#1, a veto of that anti-Saudi bill, was considered last week): he could pardon Snowden. I doubt he will. In spite of his successes or failures in combatting terrorism (there are many in both categories), he probably likes the idea of electronic surveillance—actionable intelligence is the ubiquitous point of failure in our battle against terrorism, both foreign and domestic. But he might give a nod to all those faux-liberals in the land who support him and have put Snowden on a pedestal as the great American patriot and folk hero. You’d think the ex-NSA analyst could walk on water.  Maybe he can, using his inflated narcissism as a life raft?

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Common sense in a nonsensical world…

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016

If your perception about U.S. policies is that they don’t make sense, you are correct—most of the time they don’t. Not necessarily in order of importance, here’s why: First, the courts are stuck in the 19th century because the laws are. Second, American foreign policy is still based on the credo that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Third, the people running everything, the super-rich, don’t give a rat’s ass whether things are done right, as long as they get richer. I could go on, but you get the idea. Sure, problems in the 21st century are complex, but incompetent people and institutional resistance to change for the better make them more so.  My definition of conservative: someone who’s so satisfied with what they have that they don’t want any change. There’s a place for that attitude, but not in the three points I mentioned.

I’ve suffered in my life with both types of judicial systems, English and Roman. In the first, precedents are given weight so that there’s continuity to “justice” (the meaning given to that word could be a fourth problem–just ask the innocent victims of gun violence or those who think Hillary Clinton should be in jail). In the second, the system inherited from the Romans and popular in Latin countries, you can do anything the law doesn’t specifically prohibit (that’s why those countries’ constitutions, if they have one, are so long).  Both are unwieldy. The first practically precludes adapting to changing times, a conservative’s delight. For example, the internet was invented in 1983 (ARPANET) and only assumed something resembling today’s chaos in 1990—let’s give it thirty years. Adding to that the fact that most justices and juries (formed from users, not techies) have no tech background at all, you can see that the justice system can’t possibly make informed decisions about scientific and technical issues most of the time.

Roman justice has a similar problem. Its laws tend to be more “written in stone,” so new science and technologies occur without any control whatsoever. It’s impossible to prohibit something when it hasn’t even been invented yet, and when it is, it might be too late to prohibit it. Progress occurs so fast nowadays that neither judicial system can keep up. Unscrupulous people will take advantage of that, human nature being what it is. Common sense tells me that technical regulatory boards are called for to keep pace with the progresses in science and technology—groups of high-tech “philosopher kings” in the sense of Plato, incorruptible individuals serving limited terms. Again, given human nature, that word “incorruptible” is key. Do such individuals exist? But there’s no doubt the current system is broken and must be fixed.

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Should Turkey be in NATO?

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

Recent events justify this question. First, the coup attempt was evidence for a country in turmoil. Second, the crackdown after that attempt—let’s call it for what it was, a Stalin-like purge of most anyone who has spoken out against the current government, including university personnel—represent several kilometers more down that bloody brick road that leads to fascism. Third, pointing the finger at the U.S. as the cause of the coup because their scapegoat is self-exiled in the U.S. has no logic. Fourth, the current government’s rapprochement with Vladimir Putin means that Turkey isn’t to be trusted with any NATO secrets whatsoever.

Those are just the recent events. Let’s go back in time…way back. The Turks have long been in denial about the Armenian holocaust. Unlike the German’s angst about the Nazis’ final solution, Turks have never owned up to their version. Germany renounced fascism—we hope forever—the Turks never have and have practiced a concealed version since the days of the Ottoman Empire.

The Turks’ fight against ISIS is lackluster because Kurds are also fighting ISIS. The Kurds are personas non grata in Turkey and represent today’s Armenians. Turks attack the Kurds more than they do ISIS and will probably soon be helping Russia put down all of the Assad government’s enemies. Their duplicity in the Middle East is only second to Saudi Arabia’s. Some people might say that the military coup was fascism at work. I say Turkey is already a fascist state pretending to be friendly to the West, just like Saudi Arabia.  Both countries want to see a return to sixth century values.

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Modern carneys…

Thursday, June 23rd, 2016

Back in the 19th century, bewhiskered and nomadic men sold all kinds of elixirs and magical potions, cure-alls for many perceived maladies. Carneys still peddle their wares, but now they can stay in one spot by working the cable channels and the internet. Some things sold are designed for particular demographics—anti-aging creams and vitamin supplements to counteract any symptoms associated with old age, or love potions for acne-faced tweenies looking for a date to the prom. All are designed for anyone who is gullible, and most products are of dubious and/or unproven value.

Celebrities are often willing participants in these get-rich schemes—so-and-so’s perfume, Mr. X’s magic supplements to counteract arthritis, Dr. Y’s vitamins for sexual bliss. Vary rarely are these products tested, and very rarely is their distribution controlled by the government. TV and the internet have made selling these products a huge business—you see it on TV (that’s often a lead-in: “You saw it on TV!”—as if that’s some kind of guarantee); you order on the internet. Many infomercials about these products state that if you’re not completely satisfied, you’ll get a full refund. I bet people are so embarrassed about being gullible they don’t ask for refunds, and the carneys probably count on that.

I don’t deny that sometimes TV-sold products are good. Joy, that terrible movie about the Miracle Mop (reviewed in Movie Reviews #23), is the story about an all-around American girl, Joy Mangano, turning into a legitimate carney. It’s the elixirs and magical potions that make me cringe—not only for their dubious value but because people put their faith in these products. P. T. Barnum said there’s a sucker born every minute, and I’m afraid the potions and elixirs are creating a lot of suckers who lose money purchasing these products.

Here’s a particular example I caught in a doctor’s waiting room (consider the irony!): a recognized beauty’s two pics are flashed up and the announcer says something like, “See—she still looks the same even though she’s thirty years older because she puts brand X gook on her face.” You can’t buy the gook at CVS because supplies are limited. Besides, CVS doesn’t stock $400 creams like X, but these nice TV hawkers will send it to you for only $150! They sweeten the deal for women in the TV audience (maybe even men?) by offeriing a free gizmo that defoliates the face (I was thinking it’s actually to remove the gook which probably hardens into a mask).

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