Archive for the ‘Capitalism Without Control’ Category

Amazon: one size fits all…

Thursday, October 19th, 2017

This giant retailer has expanded so far beyond books that now books are only a small part of Bezo’s business. The company can no longer be considered a friend of readers and writers as a consequence.

Let’s start by listing some recent sins: they offer only one format for ebooks—theirs, of course. While they compensate for that by offering the Kindle app, available for most devices, readers with older ereaders can’t be too happy with the situation because the app isn’t universal.

In fact, Amazon has destroyed the competition as far as ereaders go. They’re putting a lot of print-on-demand companies out of business too with their Create Space print-book publishing option. Bookstores almost universally refuse to stock Create Space books for a multitude of reasons; that affects readers who might like to read an author’s book in a print version, and it obviously diminishes an author’s distribution options.

The borrowing option with Prime is potentially a source of income for authors, but they’d make more selling the entire ebook; even when a reader reads the full book, it’s a way for Amazon to pay writers fewer royalties. Another negative for authors is that to offer a book at a sale price on Amazon, the book must only be available on Amazon! That is detrimental for an author’s marketing options.

There are other pros and cons. One positive point is that Amazon is the largest retailer in the world. Unfortunately books are only a small part of that retail business now. And people can often find better deals at a mom&pop bookstore or even a B&N book barn, as well as other online book retailers like Smashwords. The latter retailer offers almost every ebook format, including Amazon’s .mobi. It also has affiliates, both retailers and book lenders. It allows authors a variety of marketing options, including special sales on ebooks. And it allows an author to set a lower price for public library purchasers. Best of all, it’s all about books, just like any bookstore in your neighborhood. Amazon fails to compete in most of these venues. In fact, in shuns them with despicable snobbery.

For once I agree with Douglas Preston. He’s rather famous for his on-going feud with indie authors, Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath, in particular, and his blatant rants in support of Big Five publishing conglomerates—forget those small presses, of course. But in his recent (Thursday, October 12) op-ed in the NY Times, “Publishing’s Unfair Gray Market,” his title is a wee bit misstated and certainly unexplained. “White market” refers to legit booksellers and distributors who do NOT scam the reading public; “black market” presumably refers to book piracy (see my previous article about that subject). “Gray market” refers to the ambivalent—perhaps legit but most certainly unethical.

Some of what Preston describes has been going on a long time, but a lot of what he says focuses on Amazon. The retailer has sneakily changed its book merchandising policy to match their policies for other products it sells, where third party vendors can actually compete with Amazon and sell used and returned items as new. Their review process has always treated books as products like shoes and hairdryers (I received one negative review from a person who mainly reviews women’s apparel!). Now they’ve gone too far. And you wonder why my books are no longer exclusive to Amazon and I only offer sales on Smashwords? Any author who’s exclusive to Amazon is shooting her- or himself in the foot!

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Real tax reform…

Tuesday, October 10th, 2017

…won’t happen. It never does. Lobbyists and special interests vie for their special deals, the GOP hauls out its debunked trickle-down economics theory to make the rich richer and widen the income gap, the middle class gets the shaft yet again, and the poor just become poorer as always. We don’t need a Sheriff of Nottingham or Prince John when federal, state, and local taxes are much more egregious than Robin Hood’s foes’ and make the revolutionary mantra “No taxation without representation!” completely meaningless.

The average citizen is burdened with tiers of taxes. Local ones are usually in the form of property taxes. They are often the worst in the sense that they’re not progressive; the many fees charged locally are regressive too. You start asking yourself, “Why can’t renters and businesses also pay for schools?” and “What can I do that doesn’t have an associated fee?” (In our town, for example, you have to pay $250 to chop down a diseased tree on your property, but I suppose the pain would be much worse if it ever fell on the easement the town owns in front—they own ten yards or so, yet we’re responsible for maintaining THEIR sidewalks!)

What’s good about Trump’s plan? Zero. Zilch. Nada. Nil. Everything is bad, but some items are worse than others. The major evil is the institutionalization of trickle-down: corporate taxes go from 35% to 20%. That will make Corporate America happy, I suppose, and the rich even richer—a GOP mantra—but it won’t help the economy at all because ordinary people will have even less wherewithal to spend on industry’s products. If Trump and the GOP don’t use trickle-down as justification, they haul out something more stupid and hypocritical like “taxing Corporate America is communism!” because those rich SOBs riding in from Connecticut to Wall Street on the commuter rail or driving on Silicon Valley’s highways equate socialism and communism and yet using the government-provided transportation system. Etc. Etc.

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Age discrimination…

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017

A popular adage says “60 is the new 40.” Try telling that to companies and other hiring institutions. Most companies don’t like to hire anyone over fifty—they view older workers at best as a drain on their benefits programs, and at worst they’ll fire older workers because they figure they can hire two or three younger employees for the same salary. Experience has no value anymore.

Colleges and universities can even be worse than companies. There’s a wealth of experience among retirees from industry that these institutions ignore. Maybe they’re worried about benefits and salaries too, preferring to pay pittances to these people as adjuncts, but I believe it’s often academic jealousy. Industry’s retirees have actually done something with their knowledge instead of teaching and writing arcane papers no one reads besides other academics. The ivory towers of academia are so lofty that those invaders from the outside can’t scale them and aren’t welcome even if they could, so those inside become incestuous and their towers dungeons instead.

What’s going on? It’s not all about salaries and benefits. You’ll hear one ubiquitous reason from HR offices across the land. “You have too much experience for this job.” Those are code words meaning “we can hire two or three people for what we’d have to pay you.” For academia, they prefer to hire experienced people as adjuncts so their great academics don’t have to compete with persons who actually know how to do worthwhile research, and young people without tenure, squeeze them dry, and then fire them so they don’t get tenure. I don’t know what the percentages are for making tenure in the various disciplines, but it’s probably embarrassing. Also embarrassing are the taxi-profs, the adjuncts who have to hold down three or four positions when they’re laid off by a major corporation. And in those same companies, the average employees’ ages, most less than fifty, are embarrassing too, so they treat those numbers as Top Secret.

Never mind that experience often implies that the older worker knows what s/he’s doing and goes about doing it efficiently. Never mind that older workers are often problem solvers while younger workers are often lost without a cookbook solution because of the failures of our current educational system at all levels, even at the college and university levels. Never mind that those younger workers could often use some good mentoring and a bit of corporate knowledge so that they aren’t wasting time reinventing the wheel, which they often do out of their ignorance.

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Why “Medicare for All” won’t work…

Tuesday, September 19th, 2017

The reasons are rather simple: doctors and the AMA, hospital conglomerates, insurance companies, and Big Pharma are against it. They all have various justifications for their opinions, but they all can be summarized in one word: greed. We got trapped into the for-profit business model in health care long ago. Even when Nixon and the CEO of Kaiser Permanente sat down together and invented the HMO concept, the death knells were already sounding. We took the wrong road; European and other countries took the right one. The end of Robert Frost’s “The Road not Taken” sums it all up (maybe the whole poem?): “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” (My apologies to Mr. Frost for using his poem in this way, but it works here).

I’ve been worried about health care for a long time. Fact: we have the most expensive health care system in the world yet one of the largest populations without quality coverage. Fact: The whole system is geared to make money for the providers. Doctors charge exorbitant fees. While medicine has always been the “golden career” for too many, the situation is critical now. There’s a lack of internists (AKA primary care physicians) because doctors know specialization pays more. There’s a lack of nursing personnel because they’re paid less by clinics and hospitals in order to pay the doctors too much. You might find a few needs-based facilities scattered around, but they’re scarce, and they generally don’t offer quality care. There are cases of dumping—hospitals, especially ERs, that kick patients out if they have no insurance or bad insurance. A profit-driven system not only is contrary to the Hippocratic Oath, it leads to graft and corruption.

While Full Medical, my first novel, is a sci-fi thriller, it’s dystopian in the sense that it projects what the for-profit motive in health care will bring the U.S. and the world to by mid-century—that’s the theme woven in and around the plot (hence the title). Dangerous extrapolation, some critics might say, but I see it all coming true faster than I thought it would.

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Creeping capitalism…

Tuesday, August 15th, 2017

Let’s get one thing straight: while I’m a progressive, I still believe we need to strike a balance between capitalism and socialism. We need to offer equal opportunity in this modern world, and we also need to recognize individual abilities and reward those with the new ideas. These are NOT antithetical goals and any political activist who tries to paint them that way immediately loses my respect. The world isn’t black and white, and it isn’t even just fifty shades of gray. It’s a technicolored world of great diversity that we should celebrate and make the most of in our daily lives. The key word here is balance maintained through logic and reason.

That said, let me justify the title of this article. Governor Cuomo’s newly announced partnership between the MTA and private enterprise is an example of “creeping capitalism.” (Did you think this article was about President Trump? Tsk, tsk.) Cuomo’s proposal: For $250k, a company can participate, and for $600k, it can “adopt” a subway station. Nowhere have I seen what the companies will get out of this participation (naming, plastering its ads on subway walls—how far will they go?), and I refuse to research it because the whole thing’s a bad idea. Knowing Mr. Cuomo, it will be yet another loss in the public’s battle against capitalistic intrusions into public services and spaces.

Some services just need to be government controlled and not in the hands of private enterprise to eliminate the often occurring abuses of corruption and price gouging. Private enterprise’s goal IS ALWAYS to make money; public services should only charge enough to cover their costs (which shouldn’t include bloated salaries for fat-cat administrators—do they think they’re more worthy than a NASA climatological scientist?). This is a fundamental and necessary bifurcation that is indeed black and white. Mixed systems do NOT work, and even private enterprise’s offering of essential services—natural gas and electricity, telephone, cable, ISPs, water and sewer are good examples—must be heavily controlled by governments if not actually owned by them.

NYC isn’t the only city and NY isn’t the only state where capitalism is increasingly intruding into the public service sector. Essential services were often run by local, county, state and natural governments to eliminate the abuses of private enterprise, but now these same entities are outsourcing to private enterprise to reduce costs because budget cuts make it attractive to shirk their civic responsibilities. This is a horrendous mistake because the human element is all too often ignored and the for-profit element is emphasized by these outsourcing firms. Privatization hurts their employees and takes the power away from the people by placing a barrier between essential services and the people they serve.

Conservatives often complain about the cost of government services. It’s always amusing for me to see well-dressed business people riding on public transportation and complaining about them. That’s hypocrisy in action. There’s no guarantee that costs to the user will be lower when the service is outsourced. And, if they aren’t, the private company will cut costs by minimizing workers’ salaries and benefits or skimp on maintenance. We see this in the airline industry, for example. This often leads to strikes, work stoppages, and inferior maintenance, a further burden for the user of the service.

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The prophet of greed…

Tuesday, July 25th, 2017

It’s not surprising that President Trump’s favorite book is Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead or that Rex Tillerson’s is Atlas Shrugged. People call Trump and his cronies populists. I call them narcissistic sociopaths. Their admiration of Ms. Rand, the prophet of greed, is all the proof anyone should need. According to the NY Times, many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs—all one-percenters, of course—even consider her a saint. The fallen Uber CEO is probably a disciple too.

This Libertarian heroine (Paul pere et fils are super-fans—remember the latter’s belief is that the Senate healthcare bill doesn’t go far enough on waging war against the poor and middle classes) preaches the antithesis of social justice. Man’s goal (and the gods’ goal for human beings?) should be a selfish search for his own wealth and happiness, even at the cost of others’. Concern for others isn’t important; greedy self-interest is.

What’s ironic is those who extol her philosophical ramblings actually consider them great literature. The best I can say about the books already mentioned is that they are boring and rambling. English wasn’t Rand’s first language, but that’s not the problem. She simply can’t write. The usual skills associated with plot and character development, creating interesting settings, and writing interesting dialogue are completely missing. The second book even contains a seventy-page speech from the main character—now that’s real snappy dialogue, folks!

Rand fails as a philosopher too. She offers no valid philosophical bonafides and solves no problems of the human condition, mental or physical. Greedy self-interest isn’t a philosophy. It’s an immoral cul de sac. She just doesn’t get it. Neither do her followers.

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Irish Stew #63…

Wednesday, June 28th, 2017

International

Trump’s Saudi policies. Saudi Arabia wasn’t on Trump’s list of countries whose Muslim immigrants, many escaping horrible situations in their home countries, are the targets of his bans in his executive orders, contradicting his belief that all Muslims are terrorists. And Mr. Trump negotiated a weapons deal with the duplicitous Saudis to make the military-industrial complex happy during his whirlwind tour in the Mideast.

The Saudis aren’t our friends. They’re not even the enemies of our enemies. They are the enemy. The majority of the 9/11 terrorists came from Saudi Arabia because the Saudi royal family’s state-sponsored religious schools have a continuing policy of brainwashing young boys and men to hate the West. And they have continuously attacked Yemen where they are responsible for mass murders of innocents. They probably support ISIS too, because ISIS hates Shi’ites, and they’re the Saudis’ enemies.

Sad! Trump is supporting duplicity and murder. Guess he believes in that.

National

Malthusian politics? The CBO hasn’t published its financial analysis yet, but the Senate’s proposed healthcare bill is meaner than the House’s. They’re both an attack on the middle class and poor, especially those who don’t have any financial means and depend on Medicaid as a life preserver—elderly in nursing homes, people with serious disabilities, and very sick children. Too many without any other coverage.

Not just sad but doing the Grim Reaper’s work so the GOP can give tax breaks to the rich elites. These aren’t healthcare bills—they’re thinly disguised tax breaks. And Rand Paul thinks they don’t go far enough? This guy has no compassion at all. No wonder he was a failed doctor! Next thing we’ll see from the GOP? Maybe death ovens for the sick and infirm with Dr. Death running them?

Is Obama to blame? Not as much as the GOP and American media are saying! They’re still supporting the attack on the ex-president for not divulging what he knew about Putin’s personally directed attack on our electoral system. Why? It’s not “fake news” if they hide the real truth that Obama’s desire to secure bipartisan support to inform the American public was rejected by the GOP members of congress Obama approached. OK, maybe Obama was stupid to believe that HRC was a shoo-in, but Trump had been yammering all during the campaign that the system was rigged. What if Obama had decided to divulge all he knew? They’d have said he was unfairly supporting HRC! Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

For eight years the GOP practiced obstructionism against the Obama administration. And Trump dares to accuse the Dems and Obama of being obstructionists? Of course, I’m waiting for HRC to say Obama was responsible for her losing. Sad! You can’t trust politicians or the media these days.

Wild weather. Last Saturday morning NJ received a taste of Midwest weather. I saw my first tornado in Kansas when I was thirteen visiting my grandfather—an awesome sight even if it was off in the distance. Now we had two in Howell, NJ. A smack across the face from Mother Nature to wake us up to the problems of climate change? She should concentrate on Trump who believes it’s all a hoax. Hey Mother Nature, why don’t you go after Mar al Lago or one of his many golf courses—Bedminster would be a good start? Just give the innocents a warning.

Sports etc.

Cosby and Hernandez. I never bought into the theory that the ex-Patriot tight end committed suicide. He had just won acquittal for one charge and was going to appeal the conviction that put him in jail. Why would he be suicidal?

MA law says a conviction that is being appealed must be vacated. Sleazebag prosecutors want to change that law. They must be related to the DA prosecuting Bill Cosby.

DAs who are running for office or have nefarious agendas shouldn’t be allowed to prosecute anyone because they are just trying to win points for being “tough on crime.” Political campaigns interfere with objectivity. So do many careers in general. Of course, most lawyers, prosecutors or defense attorneys, aren’t known for objectivity or a commitment to the truth—they’ve sold their souls to the Devil for their clients.

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There’s a big book Summer/Winter Smashwords sitewide promo from July 1 – 31. You have be a member to receive the email catalog. Join Smashwords—it’s free, and it provides a large universe of reading entertainment. Almost of my ebooks are sale with price reductions from 25 – 50 %. That includes the first six books in the “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series.” Load your e-reader up for summer (northern hemisphere) or winter (southern hemisphere). And for additional great reading, don’t forget my new novels, Gaia and the Goliaths (#7 in the detective series) and Rembrandt’s Angel, both mystery/thriller novels. Enjoy!

And so it goes…

China Inc….

Tuesday, June 27th, 2017

[This is the second installment about our two main enemies, China and Russia. If you disagree, write a comment.]

Like many countries, China is one of contrasts. Chinese dynasties and empires predate most European history. Great Chinese fleets of mighty ship[s roamed the Pacific long before the Spanish Armada’s and Admiral Nelson’s tiny vessels were even imagined. Those Viking ships which conquered the seas and sowed destruction and fear in the North Atlantic are also gnats in comparison, although that’s a wee bit closer to China’s ancient domination of the Pacific.

From beautiful landscapes and grand bridges crossing mighty rivers, to slums and nauseous pollution, you now have a government that can best be described as fascist capitalism controlling things. It’s what capitalism can become when there are no controls exercised by the people (a warning to all in the U.S.). That government gives a wink and a nod to communism, but the very existence of this corrupt and despotic regime shows why communism is a debunked ideology with absolutely no relevance. Workers are exploited in China to enrich the lucky and often unscrupulous few. Human rights take a back seat to capitalistic profit and greed.

At the beginning of my sci-fi novel Survivors of the Chaos, the Chinese model has swept across the world. There’s no longer any pretense—corporations control the world, even in China. This change even reaches Mars where the first Chinese colony there succumbs. As in today’s China, corporate leaders wield all the power. Communism is no more, and the world has been reduced to small, feuding national tribes loosely stitched together by a UN controlled by the worldwide corporations. Is this the future awaiting all human beings?

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Trump isn’t the problem; it’s the GOP…

Tuesday, May 30th, 2017

I should qualify the premise in the title: I know many GOP members, and they view conservatism like I do—a check on exuberant progressives who are too emotional and don’t think about the consequences of their actions and how solutions to problems might cause other, even more serious, problems. I’m a progressive, but anytime emotions take precedence over logic and reason, trouble is likely.

That said, it’s the GOP leaders who aren’t true conservatives and are: (1) out of touch with popular opinion; (2) out to destroy the middle class in America and benefit the rich; and (3) determined to pander to bigots, haters, and one-percenters. (The Dem establishment also does a pretty good job of #2.)

Trump is too much a wild man and overt fascist (his attacks on the free press should be a clue to you—did he secretly approve of the choke-hold and body slam of the reporter by the GOP candidate for Congress in Montana?). He can’t be effective in carrying out the GOP establishment’s evil agenda that I’ve outlined and does pretty much what he wants to do, riling that same establishment, whereas McConnell, Ryan, many members of Il Duce’s cabinet, and the GOP establishment are the sycophants of lobbyists and special interests. (Again, the Dem establishment is guilty of the latter.) Hmm. That should be point four in the GOP’s evil agenda.

In fact, Trump AKA Narcissus le Grand (pushing aside the president of Montenegro was telling) has become a lightning rod attracting the bolts from critics away from the GOP’s evil agenda. That doesn’t excuse him, of course. In fact, he’s an ineffective leader who plays with fire (how long will we have to wait for that charge of obstructing justice?); he offers such a big target that some people forget that all those nefarious GOP leaders are working in the background to put their evil agenda into laws.

Primary season is coming up in some states. For example, here in NJ there will be a primary for governor and other state-wide offices. My hope is that voters slap around the GOP establishment, once led by Chris Christie. Unfortunately the Dem establishment dominates the ballot too. The current Dem candidate in the lead is Phil Murphy, an ex-Wall Street banker and confirmed one-percenter; he’s a symbol of what’s wrong with the entire Dem establishment that was really responsible for losing the 2016 presidential election (read the excellent book Shattered, now on the NY Times bestseller list). Jim Johnson is the only progressive candidate on the ballot for the Dems. The rest of the Dems running for governor and all those running for those other state-wide offices are not only establishment types but representatives of the oppressive statewide Dem political machine.

NJ shows why voters need to be vigilant. If you’re a conservative, vote for a true conservative, not a GOP establishment type. If you’re progressive, vote for a true progressive. Voting for the stooges who represent either establishment, GOP or Dem, is to vote against your own interests. These stooges of the establishment and powerful interests in this country aren’t interested in making our lives better. Let’s purify American politics and install some logic and reason to the political process.

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Rembrandt’s Angel. To what lengths would you go to recover a stolen masterpiece? Scotland Yard’s Arts and Antiques Inspector Esther Brookstone goes the extra mile. She and paramour/sidekick Bastiann van Coevorden, an Interpol agent, set out to outwit the dealers of stolen art and recover “An Angel with Titus’ Features,” a Rembrandt painting stolen by the Nazis in World War Two. Their efforts lead to much more, as they uncover an international conspiracy that threatens Europe. During their dangerous adventures, their relationship solidifies and becomes a full-blown romance. Published by Penmore Press, this novel is available in ebook format at Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, B&N, and Apple, and in print through Amazon or your local bookstore (if they don’t have it, ask them to order it). Great summer reading!

And so it goes…

Can you afford Trump’s tax reform?

Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

Like many rich people, our president doesn’t mind spending money as long as it isn’t his. In the case of his proposed tax reform, he’s willing to steal from the middle class in a nefarious campaign to enrich his friends and destroy your future. Moreover, he’s also happy to waste money as long as you foot the bill.

Let’s start with the security for Trump Tower in NYC where the wife hangs out with the kid while he goes prancing around the country to faux campaign stops designed to bolster his already infinite ego. That security costs millions, and most of the bill due NYPD hasn’t been paid. The family will soon join Il Duce in either the White House or Mar-a-Lago. I guess we’ll have to call Trump a snow-vulture as opposed to snowbird as he flits back and forth between his properties. He even thinks the people’s house, the White House, is his own special property as he redecorates in a style reminiscent of a mafia mansion. Counting travel costs between NYC, DC, and Florida, and more security at Mar-a-Lago and other Trump properties, your money might as well be flushed down one of the golden toilets at his estates. In addition, he makes money off you too, because the State Department’s website advertises for free the sumptuousness of Mar-a-Lago and he has doubled the membership fee as a result.

Now let’s turn to those Executive Orders. The first, an anti-Muslim edict that couldn’t pass constitutional muster, was replaced by Version 2.0, which was also declared to be unconstitutional. Narcissus le Grand vows to fight that all the way to SCOTUS, with you paying all the legal bills, of course, because the case is a squabble between the Supreme Court and a lower court, i.e. all government.

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