Thursday, March 28

George Carlin: The American Dream

"The real owners are the big wealthy business interests that control things and make all the important decisions. Forget the politicians, they're an irrelevancy. The politicians are put there to give you the idea that you have freedom of choice. You don't. You have no choice. You have owners. They own you. They own everything. They own all the important land. They own and control the corporations. They've long since bought and paid for the Senate, the Congress, the statehouses, the city halls. They've got the judges in their back pockets. And they own all the big media companies, so that they control just about all of the news and information you hear. They've got you by the balls. They spend billions of dollars every year lobbying ­ lobbying to get what they want. Well, we know what they want; they want more for themselves and less for everybody else."

"But I'll tell you what they don't want.  They don't want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don't want well-informed, well-educated people capable of critical thinking. They're not interested in that. That doesn't help them. That's against their interests. They don't want people who are smart enough to sit around the kitchen table and figure out how badly they're getting fucked by a system that threw them overboard 30 fucking years ago.

"You know what they want? Obedient workers ­ people who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork but just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly shittier jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, reduced benefits, the end of overtime and the vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it. And, now, they're coming for your Social Security. They want your fucking retirement money. They want it back, so they can give it to their criminal friends on Wall Street. And you know something? They'll get it. They'll get it all, sooner or later, because they own this fucking place. It's a big club, and you ain't in it. You and I are not in the big club."

"This country is finished."

Wednesday, March 27

The cells of a woman who died in 1951 are being used for ongoing medical research, and are at the forefront of a debate on genetic research and privacy

"LAST week, scientists sequenced the genome of cells taken without consent from a woman named Henrietta Lacks. She was a black tobacco farmer and mother of five, and though she died in 1951, her cells, code-named HeLa, live on. They were used to help develop our most important vaccines and cancer medications, in vitro fertilization, gene mapping, cloning. Now they may finally help create laws to protect her family’s privacy — and yours.
"The family has been through a lot with HeLa: they didn’t learn of the cells until 20 years after Lacks’s death, when scientists began using her children in research without their knowledge. Later their medical records were released to the press and published without consent." ...
"The problem, says Yaniv Erlich, a fellow at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, is that anonymity vanishes when it comes to DNA: 'People don't realize it's impossible to hide genetic information once it's out there.' He and his colleagues recently proved that it's possible to use online public databases to find the identities of people whose anonymous DNA samples had been sequenced and published online." ...
"The Lackses' experiences over the last 60 years foretold nearly every major ethical issue raised by research on human tissues and genetic material. Now they're raising a new round of ethical questions for science: though their consent is not (yet) required for publishing private genetic information from HeLa, should it be? Should we require consent before anyone's genome is sequenced and published? And what control should gene-sharing family members have?"
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, the Sequel (NYT)

Tuesday, March 26

Selfie-sickness: The Internet Narcissism Epidemic

"We are in the midst of a 'narcissism epidemic,' concluded psychologists Jean M. Twnege and W. Keith Campbell in their 2009 book. One study they describe showed that among a group of 37,000 college students, narcissistic personality traits rose just as quickly as obesity from the 1980s to the present." ...
"Researchers at Western Illinois University measured two socially disruptive aspects of narcissistic personalities -- grandiose exhibitionism and entitlement/exploitativeness. Those who had high scores on grandiose exhibitionism tended to amass more friends on Facebook." ...
"In virtual space many of the physical interactions that restrain behavior vanish. Delusions of grandeur, narcissism, viciousness, impulsivity, and infantile behavior for some individuals rise to the surface. Aboujaoude, in his book Virtually You, observes, 'the traits we take on online can become incorporated in our offline personalities.'"
The Internet Narcissism Epidemic (The Atlantic)

Monday, March 25

Rand Paul talking sense: Obama & Bush were ‘lucky’ they weren’t arrested for smoking pot as kids

"Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Sunday that President Obama and former President George W. Bush 'got lucky' by not being arrested for smoking marijuana as young adults.
"Arguing against mandatory minimum sentencing for pot use, Paul said that a marijuana-related arrest for either Obama or Bush could have ruined their lives.
"'Look, the last two presidents could conceivably have been put in jail for their drug use,' Paul said on Fox News Sunday.
"'Look what would have happened. It would have ruined their lives. They got lucky. But a lot of poor kids, particularly in the inner city, don't get lucky. They don't have good attorneys. They go to jail for these things. And I think it's a big mistake.'"
Sen. Paul: Obama, Bush 'lucky' they weren't arrested for smoking pot as kids (The Hill)

Friday, March 22

A fast-food chain making burgers that will kill you is unhappy that it must now offer health insurance to employees

A Five Guys franchisee is raising a public stink about the Affordable Care Act, which will require him to offer his employees health care next year:
"In the burger master's view, the government is forcing him to 'pass on the costs to customers,' he said. But he already passes on considerable costs to customers who may never sniff a Five Guys fry. Because he doesn't give his employees health care, they show up as charity cases at the hospital emergency room when something goes wrong. Last year, the uninsured cost the system $39.3 billion. Guess whom the expenses are passed on to?
"This argument — trying to shame those who don't pay for health insurance and who force those who do to pick up their costs — was originally made by the conservative Heritage Foundation. The mandate was the basis of Mitt Romney's successful health care overhaul in Massachusetts and is the basis for President Obama's Affordable Care Act.
"But now that the Heritage Foundation has turned against its policy progeny, it needs to flip the debate. So, Mike Ruffer was brought in as the star witness at a Heritage forum designed to show just how egregious it is that businesses will have to provide health care for their employees, or pay a fine. Right wing media — Drudge, Breitbart, Fox — played their part, sounding alarms over a cheeseburger that may cost an additional quarter."
Burgers, Fries and Lies (NYT Opinion)

Thursday, March 21

The righteous indignation of the Internet is aimed straight at CNN's coverage of the Steubenville case

"Fact-wise, few had complaints about CNN telling the truth. It was how they told it that's stirred nationwide anger. In correspondent Poppy Harlow's report from Steubenville, she waxed compassionate in speaking about how the convicted rapists 'that had promising futures, star football players, very good students, literally watched as they believed their lives fell apart.' The whole segment more or less follows that vein of reasoning with the other two on-air personalities saying similar things, and the Internet was not happy about that. Then CNN revealed the name of the victim on air, with MSNBC and Fox News to follow."
At Least 200,000 People Want CNN to Apologize for Its Sympathetic Steubenville Coverage (Atlantic Wire) - Petition

Wednesday, March 20

Hindsight is 20-20: Bush lied to Americans about the Iraq War

"...the Bush Administration steadfastly maintained that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and posed a direct threat to the United States, so it was off to war we went. ...
"We were told we would be greeted as liberators, that the war would cost, at most, $50 to $60 billion and that the casualties would be minimal.
"A decade later, the price tag for the Iraq War stands at between $1.7 and $3 trillion, depending on who you believe, more than 4,400 military casualties, with another 32,000 wounded in action. Add to that the number of civilians killed, estimated to be over 100,000. Oh and by the way, turns out there were never any weapons of mass destruction. The whole WMD idea was a hoax, perpetrated on a public still reeling from the worst terrorist attack ever carried out on its soil."
Ten Years, $3 Trillion, Thousands Dead, Zero WMDs

Tuesday, March 19

Some thoughts on demand-side vs. supply-side economics

Bear with me for a moment, and follow me, if you will, in a brief story:
Start at square one, wipe all economies out, let's give ourselves a theoretical clean-slate.
In 'the beginning', so to speak, you have some humans that need clothing, need food, need shelter, right? So then these humans start making clothing, shelter, hunting and growing food, etc. At some point, they realize that it makes sense to specialize. Specialist hunters, farmers, tool makers, builders, clothing-makers emerge. And they begin to trade. This trade is the beginning of an economy. The specialists are the first businesses, they naturally emerge to meet the inherent demand. 
The human demand for goods & services exists whether or not anyone is there to fill it. And if people don't have money, they will barter for goods & services. Demand is inextinguishable, it's built into humans. Supply—specialists, businesses—always come to meet demand wherever it exists. So even without 'jobs', without employers, without 'suppliers', there is still the seed of an economy, because there is demand to be satisfied.
Eventually, the nascent 'barter' system gives way to money, because people realize it's more convenient than trading chickens, etc., and thus you have something that looks very much like our economy today. Human need, (i.e., 'demand') is inherent and inextinguishable.
This little story is my way of saying, "Supply-side economics is bunk."

(These thoughts were originally seen in some of my tweets.)

Monday, March 18

Egalitarian Core

"Imagine that it is your professional duty to report a cost-benefit analysis of liberalizing immigration policy. You wouldn't dream of producing a study that counted 'men only' or 'whites only,' at least not without specific, clearly stated reasons for dividing the data. 
"So why report cost-benefit results only for United States citizens or residents, as is sometimes done in analyses of both international trade and migration?"
Full piece. The assumed position is often quite the opposite.

Friday, March 15

A liberal Muslim homosexual ACLU lawyer professor and abortion doctor was teaching a class on Karl Marx.

In case you've never seen it, a classic bit of Internet parody:
A liberal Muslim homosexual ACLU lawyer professor and abortion doctor was teaching a class on Karl Marx.
“Before the class begins, you must get on your knees and worship Marx and accept that he was the most highly-evolved being the world has ever known, even greater than Jesus Christ!”
At this moment, a brave, patriotic, pro-life Navy SEAL champion who had served 1,500 tours of duty and understood the necessity of war and fully supported all military decisions made by the United States, stood up and held up a rock.
“How old is this rock?”
The arrogant professor smirked quite Jewishly and smugly replied, “4.6 billion years, you stupid Christian.”
“Wrong. It’s been 5,000 years since God created it. If it was 4.6 billion years old, and evolution, as you say, is real… then it should be an animal now.”
The professor was visibly shaken, and dropped his chalk and copy of the Origin of the Species. He stormed out of the room crying those liberal crocodile tears.
The students applauded and all registered Republican that day, and accepted Jesus as their lord and savior. An eagle named “Small Government” flew into the room, perched atop the American Flag, and shed a tear on the chalk. The pledge of allegiance was read several times, and God himself showed up and enacted a flat tax rate cross the country.
The professor lost his tenure and was fired the next day. He died of the gay plague AIDS and was tossed into the lake of fire for all eternity.

Thursday, March 14

United States now starting to take offensive role in cyber-warfare

"The Pentagon's Cyber Command will create 13 offensive teams by the fall of 2015 to help defend the nation against major computer attacks from abroad, Gen. Keith Alexander testified to Congress on Tuesday, a rare acknowledgment of the military's ability to use cyberweapons.
"The new teams are part of a broader government effort to shield the nation from destructive attacks over the Internet that could harm Wall Street or knock out electric power, for instance." ...
"Alexander's remarks came as U.S. intelligence officials elsewhere on Capitol Hill testified about the growing cyberthreat. At a national security threat hearing, ­Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. called on China to stop its 'cyber-stealing' of corporate secrets from U.S. networks.
"Alexander said the 13 teams would defend against destructive attacks. 'I would like to be clear that this team . . . is an offensive team,' he said.
"Twenty-seven other teams would support commands such as the Pacific Command and the Central Command as they plan offensive cyber capabilities. Separate teams would ­focus on protecting the Defense Department's computer networks. He said the first third of the forces, which officials have said will total several thousand civilians and uniformed personnel, will be in place by September and the second third a year later.
"Some teams are already in place, Alexander said, to focus on 'the most serious threats,' which he did not identify."
Pentagon creating teams to launch cyberattacks as threat grows (Washington Post)

Wednesday, March 13

Costco seems to understand how the economy works

Costco CEO Craig Jelinek supports increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and indexing it to inflation. The company continues to thrive, and its success illustrates a fundamental principal of how our economy works: Demand for goods and services (which drive the bulk of our economy) comes primarily from the working and middle classes, and ensuring that these groups have purchasing power is a wise policy position that supports GDP growth.
"The discount retailer CEO said in a statement that his company pays a starting wage of $11.50 across the country and is 'still able to keep our overhead costs low.'
"The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Had it kept up with inflation since its 1968 peak, it would now be $10.58. A minimum wage that had kept up with both inflation and increasing productivity would now be worth $21.72 an hour.
"Costco is known as a big box retail store with unusually good working conditions and wages. New York Times labor reporter Steven Greenhouse has described it as the 'anti-Walmart,' due in part to its relatively high wages and low turnover. In a November 29 interview with Greenhouse regarding Costco's labor practices, The Ed Show's Ed Schultz said, 'This is how you treat workers.'
"Comparatively, Walmart's starting wages can be as low as $8 an hour, with annual increases of as little as 20 or 40 cents. For someone working 40 hours a week without any vacation time that amounts to $16,640 a year."
Costco CEO wants minimum wage hike to $10-plus (MSNBC)

So you think you could design a better system?

"I don't need to design a system."

David Henderson has a nice post highlighting a common mental hurdle facing the proponent of emergent order.

Tuesday, March 12

Democrats demand full legal basis for drone strikes…finally

"In a letter sent Monday, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) said a leaked Department of Justice memo showed an 'increasing devolution of accountability, transparency, and Constitutional protections in U.S. counterterrorism operations.'" …
"The House Democrats were particularly concerned that the memo appeared to have no defined geographic boundaries, did not identify officials with the authority to approve so-called 'kill-lists,' provided a vague definition of feasible, and used a broad definition of 'imminent threat.'
"'The executive branch's claim of authority to deprive citizens of life, and to do so without explaining the legal bases for doing so, sets a dangerous precedent and is a model of behavior that the United States would not want other nations to emulate,' the letter stated."
House Democrats demand Obama release ‘full legal basis’ for drone strikes (The Raw Story)

Monday, March 11

When it comes to health care, the U.S. is asking all the wrong questions

"…we do not have a health care system in America. We have a disease-management system -- one that depends on ruinously expensive drugs and surgeries that treat health conditions after they manifest rather than giving our citizens simple diet, lifestyle and therapeutic tools to keep them healthy.
"The brutal fact is that we spend more on health care than any other country -- an estimated $9,348 per capita in 2013 -- and get shockingly little for our money.
"The U.S. 'currently ranks lowest on a variety of health measures,' concludes a new report from an expert panel commissioned by the National Institutes of Health. Specifically, Americans have more obesity, more sexually transmitted diseases, shorter life expectancies and higher infant mortality than the inhabitants of nearly all of the 16 developed 'peer' countries studied.
"Why? A major culprit is a medical system based on maximizing profits rather than fostering good health."

Friday, March 8

Individuals have a right to record police activities

"The Justice Department is urging a court to affirm individuals' rights to record police under the First Amendment, filing a statement of interest in support of a journalist suing over his arrest while photographing Maryland officers.
"In the statement filed this week in a federal court in Maryland, the Justice Department argues that not only do individuals have a First Amendment right to record officers publicly doing their duties, they also have Fourth and 14th Amendment rights protecting them from having those recordings seized without a warrant or due process."
U.S. weighs in favor of right to record police (Politico)

Thursday, March 7

Is Tea Party Republican Rand Paul defending civil liberties better than the Democrats?

"Members of Congress, tasked with oversight of intelligence and military matters, have repeatedly demanded the memoranda from the White House detailing the legal basis for the drone program, only to be repeatedly denied. The nomination of Brennan has opened up the debate, forcing the Obama administration to make nominal gestures of compliance. The answers so far have not satisfied Senator Paul. Nearing hour six of his filibuster, Senator Paul admitted:
"'I can't ultimately stop the nomination, but what I can do is try to draw attention to this and try to get an answer … that would be something if we could get an answer from the president … if he would say explicitly that noncombatants in America won't be killed by drones. The reason it has to be answered is because our foreign drone strike program does kill noncombatants. They may argue that they are conspiring or they may someday be combatants, but if that is the same standard that we are going to use in the United States, it is a far different country than I know about.'
"The issue of extrajudicial execution of US citizens, whether on US soil or elsewhere, is clearly vital. But also important is the US government's now-seemingly routine killing of civilians around the world, whether by drone strikes, night raids conducted by special operations forces or other lethal means." …
"Barack Obama and John Brennan direct the drone strikes that are killing thousands of civilians. It doesn't make us safer. It makes whole populations, from Yemen to Pakistan, hate us. Senator Paul's outrage with the president's claimed right to kill US citizens is entirely appropriate. That there is not more outrage at the thousands killed around the globe is shameful … and dangerous."
America is shamed that only Rand Paul is talking about drone executions (Guardian)

Wednesday, March 6

Google publicly acknowledges that the FBI tracks some its customers' activity

"…it is unlawful for any record-keeper to disclose it has received a so-called National Security Letter. But under a deal brokered with the President Barack Obama administration, Google on Tuesday published a 'range' of times it received National Security Letters demanding it divulge account information to the authorities without warrants." …
See the report here: Google Transparency Report - User Data Requests
"National Security Letters are a powerful tool because they do not require court approval, and they come with a built-in gag order, preventing recipients from disclosing to anyone that they have even received an NSL. An FBI agent looking into a possible anti-terrorism case can self-issue an NSL to a credit bureau, ISP or phone company with only the sign-off of the special agent in charge of their office."
Google Says the FBI Is Secretly Spying on Some of Its Customers (Wired)

Tuesday, March 5

Bad for the economy: Corporate profits at all-time highs, as worker wages stagnate

This is important: The U.S. economy is 'muddling along' with a reasonable amount of growth, but very little of the benefits of this GDP growth are inuring to ordinary working people. Instead, wages continue to stagnate, even as most employers continue to realize significant profits.

Take a look at the graph below. Wages as a share of GDP (blue) plummet, while corporate profits as a share of GDP (red) skyrocket:

This is *terrible* for the economy. Ultimately, this cycle cannot continue, because the very workers whose wages are stagnate are the ones who drive the profitability of corporations—by purchasing goods and services. If some of the economy's growth is not translated into higher wages for workers, any growth, regardless of how modest it may be, will stall.

Henry Ford understood this many years ago when he decided that his workers should make a solid living wage. Unfortunately, today, this seems to be a lesson we have forgotten.

Corporate Profits Are Eating the Economy (Atlantic)

Monday, March 4

Implanting of human brain-computer interfaces seems possible within one generation

"A team of neuroengineers at Brown University has developed a fully implantable and rechargeable wireless brain sensor capable of relaying real-time broadband signals from up to 100 neurons in freely moving subjects. 
"Several copies of the novel low-power device, described in the open-access Journal of Neural Engineering, have been performing well in animal models for more than year, a first in the brain-computer interface field. 
"Brain-computer interfaces could help people with severe paralysis control devices with their thoughts."
"The new wireless device is not approved for use in humans and is not used in clinical trials of brain-computer interfaces. It was designed, however, with that motivation. 
"The researchers are continuing work on advancing the device for even larger amounts of neural data transmission, reducing its size even further, and improving other aspects of the device’s safety and reliability so that it can someday be considered for clinical application in people with movement disabilities."
The brain-computer interface goes wireless (Kurzweil AI)

Friday, March 1

Time Warner Cable is telling us that we don't really want super-high-speed internet

Following-up yesterday's telecom post…we have Time Warner Cable's CTO spouting off corporate propaganda that consumers don’t really want the gigabit internet speeds offered by Google Fiber and other high speed providers:
"On Wednesday, at a conference in San Francisco, Esteves downplayed the importance of offering a service to compete with Google, as reported by The Verge. 'We're in the business of delivering what consumers want, and to stay a little ahead of what we think they will want…. We just don’t see the need of delivering that to consumers,' she said, referring to gigabit-speed internet connections.
"Esteves thinks only business customers will need that kind of bandwidth, and she noted that Time Warner already offers gigabit connections for businesses in some markets.
"Google rolled out its gigabit speed fiber optic service in Kansas City earlier this year. But big telcos like Verizon and Time Warner have been slow to match it. In fact, Verizon has frozen expansion of its much slower — and more expensive — fiber optic service, known as FiOS.
"Experts believe that this reluctance has less to do with a lack of customer demand and more to do with protecting high margin broadband businesses. Companies like Time Warner Cable make around a 97 percent profit on existing services, Bernstein Research analyst Craig Moffet told the MIT Technology Review this month. But Verizon is more interested in wireless broadband, on which it can make an “absolute killing,” by charging per gigabyte for usage, broadband industry watcher and DSL Reports editor Karl Bode told Wired earlier this year."
You Don’t Want Super-High-Speed Internet, Says Time Warner Cable (Wired)