Mark Zuckerberg and Big Brother

Mark Zuckerberg and Big Brother

Facebook allowed bots from Russia, and fake accounts that originated in Russia to post fake ads to Facebook to try to sway the 2016 election. Zuckerberg, et al were into a head space where free means free and anyone gets to speak on Facebook. And I suppose it is actually possible that he was unaware of just who was speaking and what they were speaking about. Is propaganda-speech from unidentified sources protected by America’s First Amendment? Is free speech absolute or is it really only possible to have relatively-free speech?

Hard to say because now our Supreme Court has ruled that money can be speech and that corporations are people and can weigh in at elections with as much money and influence as they please. Perhaps our government shares some guilt in this Russian interference because they allowed money to flood elections while the sources of the money are protected and do not have to be revealed.

But in this case, the government has Facebook in hot water because the bots and fake accounts did not originate in America but were posted from Russia by Russians to meddle in an American election. Social media, unless posters are carefully vetted, allows elections to be influenced globally, and not just in America, but in any nation. I’m not sure why Mark Zuckerberg is taking all the blame for foreign interference, but his business model, which charges no fees to users relies completely on selling data from users to companies who will pay for the data. I suppose we all knew he was doing this, but if we stopped to think about it, when it was called to our attention, it became clear that it is an invasion of our privacy and it was being done without asking for our stated permissions. Who has our data? We have no idea. Does Mr. Zuckerberg know? Does Russia have our data? China? Everyone?

Zuckerberg’s business model now relies on earnings from selling space on Facebook, selling ads. But because the internet is still basically the Wild West he cannot actually be sure who is buying these ads. The US government is not happy. They threaten him with anti-trust laws.

So now Zuckerberg must find ways to vet Facebook users in order to eliminate anonymous foreign interference and vet US users to make sure they are real citizens. He has had to put himself under the thumb of the government (the Trump government). Given the way social media works he has been given a Herculean task. Almost anyone it seems can hack the internet and steal information (data), block the data of schools and governments for ransom, generate fake accounts. So now the government wants names and addresses. Do you see the Big Brother connection?

I have a website, a blog, where I post opinion articles about politics. Facebook offered to push out an ad to connect readers to my articles. It was useful to help find readers, although finding trolls was far more likely, and  it is inexpensive. It did get my posts out to more readers, but the readers did not tend to stay or come back on their own. However, since it was helpful and cheap I continued to use Facebook’s ad services.

I had to prove that I was a real person and not a bot by going through a process of four factor authentication. The last step involved sending a code to my house that I then had to enter on Facebook. But that 4 factor vetting is not enough, apparently. Now if you write about politics you have to register with the government. I do not trust our current government. I think of Trump’s government as constantly trying to create lists of American citizens who might become Trump ‘enemies’. I will simply stop buying ads on Facebook and write in the dark. Big Brother is watching!

This is the text of the note I got on Facebook from Mark Zuckerberg:

Hello

In August we announced several updates to ensure greater authenticity and transparency for social issue, electoral, and political ads in the United States. Advertisers can now begin the process of providing more information about their organization and give people insight into who is responsible for the ad before getting their “Paid for by” disclaimer approved. We encourage you to start this process as soon as possible. Beginning mid-October advertisers who have not provided the new required information will have their ads paused until they complete the new disclaimer process.

Advertisers targeting the US with ads about social issues, elections, or politics, now have five options for confirming their organization including three options that prove they are registered with the US government.

  1. Tax-registered organization
  2. Federal Election Commission ID number (FEC)
  3. Government based email and website with similar domains (ending in .gov or .mil)

If they complete one of these options they will receive a ‘Confirmed Organization’ icon that will appear on all their issues, electoral and political ads. We also want to ensure advertisers who do not have those credentials, such as smaller businesses or local politicians, are empowered to run issue, electoral or political ads. These advertisers will have two options and their ads will have an ‘About this ad’ icon in lieu of the ‘Confirmed Organization’ icon:

  1. Submit a different organization name, along with a US street address, phone number, email and website that matches the email
  2. Use the Page admin’s name as it appears on their valid government-issued ID. For this option, the advertiser will not be able to use an organization name in disclaimers.

These new indicators, which shows if an ad is run by a ‘Confirmed Organization’ or not, aims to bring transparency directly to people by helping them understand who is paying for the ad. With this layer of transparency, people will be able to see the information Facebook confirmed with one tap on the ‘Confirmed Organization’ or ‘About this Ad’ icons. The information Facebook confirmed will be publicly accessible in the Ad Library for seven years.

Join the Facebook team for a live webinar on Sept. 24 or Oct. 7 at 10 am PT/1 pm ET to walk through the new disclaimer process with Q&A

End of note-

Let the hacking and government surveillance begin…

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search, youtube.com

His Contempt, Our Shame: Beef Up the Constitution

From a Google image Search – Washington Monthly

Congress holds the purse strings. Can the president go outside of Congress to fund his projects? Can a president take money from items already budgeted to other government departments or agencies. What if Congress says no it will not give him money to build a wall even when he claims it is a national emergency, because Congress knows it is not an actual national emergency? Does a president have absolute power regardless of the issue to decide that Congress is wrong, that Congress will put the nation in jeopardy, that the president must step in and save America from what he perceives as a crisis, although others do not? Or is the real plan just to grab power and render Congress inert?

Can a president disrespect the Constitution by ignoring its stated directions? In the case of the emoluments clauses, both foreign and domestic can a president decide that s/he can ignore that part of the Constitution and just line his own pockets with money that the Constitution interdicts because of matters of outside influence. Can a president direct the military of our nation to lay over at a private hotel or property or country club/golf course he owns and accept tax dollars as payment for the rooms, food, drinks, etc.? Can he also accept profit from foreign leaders who stay at his properties? The Constitution clearly says no, but a lawless president does this openly and defies the people when they complain.

Congress asks for documents to prove the president’s acceptance of emoluments, the president denies access to the documents, orders pertinent agencies to deny access to documents, and then turns to the media and says, “where is the proof?” Yes, other presidents have done this but have been eventually forced to back down by loud opposition. This president denies Congress access to anything that touches the executive and since he governs alone this means Congress is denied access to everything. Without the Senate to back up the House, opposition is very silent indeed.

Can a president declare every word he utters so private that the people he utters those words to are not allowed to testify to the appropriate investigative committees in Congress? Can he also protect the speech of people who were never hired to work in government? Apparently he can do that.

Watch the Democrats in the House try to see the president’s tax documents, which every modern president has delivered to Congress. Watch the committees in the House of Representatives try to talk to any of the people who testified before the Mueller Investigation and you will see something like the travesty of the hearing with Corey Lewandowski who basically sneered at our representatives and hid behind a president who controls people with veiled threats. Bear witness to the two empty seats at the table representing Trump/government employees who refused to testify because Trump told them not to.

Clearly you can do any old thing you want as president if you surround yourself with cult members and threaten mayhem. But is this democracy? Is this our republic as described in our Constitution? If you deny the power of the Constitution which makes our government a republic and you deny the Congress which makes our government a democracy, haven’t we already tipped over into authoritarianism?

I swear all these actions are unprecedented in quantity and in the flagrancy with which they are conducted. I once thought our Constitution could protect our freedoms, protect us from the authoritarian whims that might arise through power and executive privilege. But as revered as it is, a Constitution is just a piece of paper and without people in Congress to enforce it we might as well burn it. Without enforcement it is useless. And it should first be enforced by Congress, second by our Department of Justice, third by our courts, and fourth by we the people. We are failing on every level.

We are letting an unqualified person run this great nation all by himself because everyone around him just enables him for what are probably a variety of reasons. We hate the way he is running our nation but every day we let him pretend that his is actually governing when he is really just flying by the seat of his pants, and grinning. When and if we get rid of this usurper, this authoritarian dictator wrapped in our flag, we must beef up our laws so that we can deal effectively with any others with delusions of grandeur, who take office by taking an oath on a document which they fully intend to ignore.

Our president is actually an “anti-president. Although he supposedly represents conservative Americans who believe in state’s rights he went to California to boss the state around. Perhaps you remember the smoggy air that used to hang over California cities and highways before there were emissions standards for cars. The president supposedly believes that auto manufacturers will stay in America if he strips away these emission standards. That is not the reason our manufacturing left our shores, or at least not the only reason. The president decided this simplistic approach sometime in the 80’s and has waited to impress us with his brilliance all this time.

Our cars are designed and built using the tougher emissions standards and it has almost wiped out smog and the acid rain which used to fall over the Adirondacks with devastating effect. Manufacturers will have to retool and redesign to go back to older standards. They don’t care to do it. But Donald wants it, he demands it, he declares it and all must comply, even California. And while he’s there he might as well solve that homeless problem California has too. As if you can do that by mandate or mythic powers.

Here is a man who lets disaster hit Puerto Rico and the Bahamas and he is barely moved by the plight of these people who live so near America or who actually have a partnership with America, and who then contemplates going to the aid of Saudi Arabia when two of the nation’s oil wells are hit by drones and missiles. He gives the power to the Saudi’s to tell us what they would like us to do. Unprecedented. We begin to sense that our president’s relationship with the Saudi’s might be a bit too close. It may have started out being about Trump’s money, but it could end up being about American lives. Even Trump seems a bit taken aback by the prospect of war with Iran, although he considers them bad actors who must eventually be dealt with.

It almost seems like real America. But it’s not. The president’s assaults are so unending and constant, so shocking that we have become numb (shell shock?) and we just decide to listen to Nancy Pelosi and get rid of the president and all his henchmen at once the only way we can, in an election. I do believe that Pelosi is a consummate political strategist, but I still find myself wishing we were acting more like activists and less like this is all a normal ho hum election. This election may very well be the only thing that stands between the return of a robust democracy and a dreary, chaotic state  – a state that jerks from oddball policies to the same old diplomatic strategy of “psyching out” the totalitarian leadership of nations that feel so beleaguered that they choose aggression over politics.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – The National Review

When Winning Means Losing Blame Republicans

The Republican Party sold itself lock, stock, and barrel to the corporations and to the Americans who used the corporate system to become the small class of billionaires who now hoard the largest share of American wealth. Perhaps the GOP got nervous when they saw the factories leaving and sheltering profits elsewhere. It was certainly enough to make us all nervous. They decided to go all-in on deregulation and to reverse environmental rules, things they felt would tempt businesses to return. They focused on robbing unions of their power, and of making people who need government help to live a decent life fearful that the government would no longer be able to pay for a safety net.

Conservatives and Evangelicals worked together, a bizarre wedding of convenience, once considered unthinkable until Evangelicals rewrote the Bible. The new Evangelical Bible pronounces that the wealthy are rich because they are chosen, because God loves them better than he loves the middle class or the poor. God wants them to live in mansions and own jets and yachts, all the better to convince people who worship other gods that ours is the most powerful. Based on what we all learned in Sunday school this is the exact opposite of what Jesus would do?

Once the people at the base of the party, hoi polloi for sure, but in a democracy numbers are important, formed the Tea Party to parrot the sentiments of the Republican talking points the battle became far more lop-sided. The Republicans, through the careful planning with their wealthy allies now had the tools in place to unseat the Democratic Party, or at least make them powerless. In order to do the biding of their corporate overlords and their newly zombie-ized base they had a list of priorities to take care of. They had to rig the vote so Republicans could hold on to a power they were in danger of losing. They had to deregulate. They had to deny climate change so they could reverse climate laws. They had to constantly remind their base that minorities were about to dominate America and that immigrants were cashing in at the expense of taxpayers. They had to pass that obscene tax cut which made America more top-heavy then ever. They had to demonize the other party. They had to isolate America from our allies and trash the media, make it impossible to tell who was right and who was wrong. They had to pillage the countryside (privatize public lands) and rape the women (get them under their thumbs).

It has been a masterful plan and with the Democrats subpoenaing documents and witnesses every day and being flatly denied rights that our Constitution clearly assigns to them as the majority in the House of Representatives, with one fell swoop an opposing Party seems to be side-lined and even a little ridiculous, and the American Constitution is violated and rendered obsolete. Even today as Corey Lewandowski finally appears before the House committee, he is under orders from the president to not testify to anything substantive. But Corey Lewandowski never worked in the Trump administration, only the Trump campaign, so the only power Trump has over Lewandowski is that of a mafia godfather. Even with a thug running America the Republicans stick to their master plan and smile the annoying smile of men who consider themselves powerful.

But the Republican Party is living in a fantasy world of their own making. Those factories are perfectly happy where they are. They have no intention of repatriating their dollars unless someone finds a way to make America once again the center of prosperity. You cannot isolate a nation our size in a world full of ships and jets. When the Ebola virus looked like it would cause a pandemic we should have learned this lesson. You can end immigration, you can end tourism, you can end trade (no you can’t, these guys are capitalists) but you cannot guarantee that nothing bad (like 9/11) will ever again happen in America. Even something as tiny as a mosquito could undermine your plan. You can have your righteous snit and pledge that the world will not turn us into a poor nation because we will stop helping poorer nations around the world. If they don’t like us we will take our toys and go home. We will no longer invest dollars in foreign aid to people who apparently hate us. But isolationism and white supremacy and pretending to turn America into a Capitalist Fantasy Park will not work.

What will work is to invest in America and the American people, to offer training and opportunity, to open the doors once again to immigrants whose striving could energize us all. If we subsidize the American people for a while, if we spend money to make money, we can be an engine of innovation and usher in a new age of prosperity. I think this new prosperity comes through both innovation to save the planet and innovation to leave the planet. If the Republicans succeed, if they “win”, America will lose.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – National Review

September 2019 Book List

My September booklist is a bit late this month. No apologies because I am into reading Frederick Douglas: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight and, although it is not at all difficult to read, it is long and I have not had as much time to read (because I subscribed to Netflix, very naughty). I have been tempted away from print media for a while. But I will be back and I already have other books clamoring for my attention. Salman Rushdie has a new book and it is calling to me along with all the new fiction on the Amazon list this month. The New York Times Book Review has changed it’s format and I will have to get used to the new setup, so I did not include those books on this month’s list. I will have to get with the new program.

Amazon

Literature and Fiction

Dominicana: A Novel by Angie Cruz *

Quichotte by Salman Rushdie *

The Secrets We Kept: A Novel by Lara Prescott *

Gun Island: A Novel by Amitov Ghosh *

The World That We Knew: A Novel by Alice Hoffman *

The Water Dancer: A Novel by Ta-Nehisi Coates *

The Grammarians: A Novel by Cathleen Schine *

The Dutch House: A Novel by Ann Patchett *

Red at the Bone: A Novel by Jacqueline Woodson *

Opioid, Indiana: A Novel by Brian Allen Carr *

Mysteries and Thrillers

The Nanny: A Novel by Gilly Macmillan

The Institute by Stephen King

A Better Man (a Chief Inspector Gamache Novel) by Louise Penny

Land of Wolves (Walt Longmire Mystery) by Craig Johnson

The Secrets We Kept: A Novel by Lara Prescott

Mycroft and Sherlock: The Empty Birdcage by Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Anna Waterhouse

The Glass Woman: A Novel by Caroline Lea

Cold Storage: A Novel by David Koepp

The Chestnut Man: A Novel by Sören Sviestrup

The Girl Who Lived Twice by David Lagercrantz

Biographies and Memoirs

Make it Scream, Make it Burn (Essays) by Leslie Jamison

Over the Top: A Raw Journey of Self Love by Jonathan Van Ness

The Soul of Care: The Moral Education of a Husband and a Doctor by Arthur Kleinman

High School by Sara Quin, Tegan Quin

The Ride of a Lifetime: Lesson Learned from 15 Years as CEO of Walt Disney Company by Robert Iger

Year of the Monkey by Patti Smith

Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead by Jim Mattis, Bing West

Permanent Record by Edward Snowden

Sontag: Her Life and Work by Benjamin Moser

Prisoner in Chief: Sidney Gottlieb and the CIA Search for Mind Control by Stephanie Kinzer

Nonfiction

We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast by Jonathan Safran Foer

Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell

She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story that Helped Ignite a Movement by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey

How to Raise a Reader by Pamela Paul and Maria Russo

How to: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems by Randall Munroe

Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? Big Questions from Tiny Mortals About Death by Caitlin Doughty, Dianné Ruz

Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life by Nir Eyal

The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garett M. Graff

Something Deeply Hidden: Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime by Sean Carroll

Super Pumped: The Battle of Uber by Mike Isaac

Science Fiction and Fantasy

Last Ones Left Alive: A Novel by Sarah Davis-Goff

The Testaments: The Sequel to the Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

A Little Hatred (The Age of Madness) by Joe Abercrombie

A Song for a New Day by Sarah Pinsker

The Nightjar by Deborah Hewitt

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

Publisher’s Weekly

Aug. 5th

Without a Prayer: The Death of Lucas Leonard and How One Church Became a Cult by Susan Ashline – NF

King of the Court by Travis Dandro – Memoir

Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law by Haben Girma – Memoir

The Wolf Wants In by Laura McHugh – Thriller

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silva Moreno-Garcia – F

City of Windows by Robert Pobi – Thriller

The Right Swipe (Modern Love #1 by Alicia Rei  – F

Say You Still Love Me by K A Tucker – F

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware – Thriller

The Remainder by Alia Trabucco Zerán trans. From Sp. By Sophie Hughes

Aug. 12

Rule of Capture by Christopher Brown – Science Fiction Thriller

The Last Ocean: A Journey through Memory and Forgetting by Nicci Gerrard (dementia) NF *

Gods with a Little g by Tupelo Hassman – F *

Unbreak Me by Michelle Hazen – F – Romance

The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee – YA *

Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America by Christopher Leonard – NF *

The Perfect Son by Lauren North – F

Inland by Téa Obreht

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa trans. from Japanese by Stephen Snyder – F

Texas Flood: The Inside Story of Stevie Ray Vaughan by Alan Paul and Andy Aledort – NF

The Plateau by Maggie Paxson NF

The Retreat by Sherri Smith – Thriller

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk trans. from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones – F

Catfish Lullaby by A C Wise – Horror novella

Aug. 19

The Cruel Stars by John Birmingham – Science Fiction

The Second Biggest Nothing by Colin Cotterill – F

Coventry: Essays by Rachel Cusk – Essays

A Good Provider is One Who Leaves: One Family and Migration in the 21stCentury by Jason De Parle – NF or based on a true story

Going Dutch by James Gregor – F

Tidelands by Phillippa Gregory – F

The Warehouse by Rob Hart – F

Meet Me in the Future by Kameron Hurley – Short Stories

The Whisper Man by Alex North – Thriller

The World Doesn’t Require You by Rion Amilcar Scott – Short Stories

Machine by Susan Steinberg – Thriller

This Poison Will Remain by Fred Vargas trans. from Frenchy by Siân Reynolds – Mystery

Aug. 23

Everything Inside by Edwidge Danticat – Short Stores

From the Shadows by Juan José Millas trans. from Sp. By Thomas Bunstead and Daniel Hahn – F

A Better Man by Louise Penny – Mystery

The Ventriloquists by E R Ramzipoor – F

Gender and Our Brains: How New Neuroscience Explodes the Myths of Male and Female Minds by Gina Rippon – NF

Aug. 30

Unbreakable: The Woman Who Defied the Nazis in the World’s Most Dangerous Horse Race by Richard Askwith – NF

We the Survivors by Tash Aw – F

Women War Photographers from Lee Miller to Anja Niedringhaus by Anne-Marie Beckmann and Felicity Korn – NF

Dominicana by Angie Cruz – F *

Quichotte by Salman Rushdie – F *

The Art of Statistics: How to Learn From Data By David Spiegelhalter – NF

The Bone Fire by S D Sykes – Whodunit

Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes by Dana Thomas – NF

The Sweetest Fruits by Monique Truong

 

 

 

Hardhearted Us (US)

We watch. We witness. And what we see is an endless stream of behaviors which offend the senses, that certainly change America’s role in the world. We have hardly forgotten Trump’s treatment of Puerto Ricans when their nation was leveled by  Hurricane Maria. He fought very publicly with the mayor of San Juan, he sneered at her and brought up Puerto Rico’s debts. His disdain for both women who refuse to be submissive and the people of Puerto Rico was on full display. He did not seem to know, or acknowledge once he did know, the close relationship between the US and Puerto Rico. He most likely has old evidence of Puerto Ricans he hired to work for him years ago stored in his moldy brain. So he threw paper towels to Puerto Ricans while he stroked his own ego. It was embarrassing, and if I had been one of the people who needed empathy and aide, disheartening.

President Donald Trump throws rolls of paper towels to a crowd affected by Hurricane Maria as he visits a disaster relief distribution center at Calgary Chapel in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017. Trump is visiting Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria.(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Parts of Bermuda were recently leveled by Hurricane Dorian and I don’t recall any official statement of grief issuing forth from the US President at the terrible losses suffered there. Public conversation on American media instead revolved around a guy – our 45 – who hates to be wrong and so entered into a weeklong back-and-forth about his mistaken (oops, Trump is never mistaken) statement that Alabama was going to be in the path of the hurricane. Trump is shameless – he apparently added to the hurricane’s path with a “Sharpie”, extrapolating an extended path, and then excoriated a NOAA employee for disagreeing with the president’s bona fides as a meteorologist. NOAA admin then backed the president rather than their own employee because there is (frighteningly) only one expert in our government on every subject and that is the barely sane Donald Trump. I guess the weather was “fake” news.

To add insult to injury, Trump’s new immigration stance, requiring that only folks with money and credentials (and white skin) need apply, made it difficult for those made homeless in Bahama, whose documents were destroyed by Dorian, to enter the US. Well Trump may not ever feel shame, but I did and I do. Do you recognize this incarnation of America? I don’t. Does the world recognize this as American behavior? They may cut America some slack for a while but probably not forever, because there are signs that protectionist, selfish behaviors are becoming the new normal, and many recognize that it never bodes well when the world goes there.

Photo Credit: From Google Image Searches – MarketWatch, People.com, Daily Mail

Trumping China

About China and Trump

Trump’s idea, apparently, is to weaken the Chinese economy until China adopts fairer business practices or until the Chinese economy fails. He believes his tariffs will force China into a less aggressive stance on the world stage.

Despite Trump’s failures he still thinks he is a great negotiator. He also thinks he can use Patriotism as a lure to order manufacturers back to the US. Economic experts don’t like tariffs, both those on the left and those on the right. Tariffs, they say are like taxes on goods and they rebound on the nation that levied them. However, President Xi of China must not mind taxing his own people who may not even be his main consumers, because he is a dictator whose citizens know better than to complain.

Trump and his henchman Mnuchin say that a bit of suffering for the greater good is our patriotic duty and humbling China (if the China of 2019 can be humbled) will pay off for all of us in the long run. And it is true that if the American economy is strong, the people benefit. But Trump is making an awful lot of assumptions without getting any input or advice from American capitalists and farmers who will have to weather the economic storms when they are already being battered by actual atmospheric storms.

Trump’s first assumption is that a trade war will work. It will even the economic playing field between the two nations without saber rattling or threats of a real war. I don’t hear anyone who expresses comfort or confidence in this strategy except Trump and his toadies. A tiny part of each of us almost believes Trump’s hype. After all China has gotten pretty far out over their skis. However it is possible that they may have the chops to back up their bravado, while our guy doesn’t We only hear Lindsay Graham telling us to take one for our country. Take less for a while (how long?) to win big in the end. But it seems like a real long-shot gamble.

Which brings us to the second assumption. If Trump orders it, our factories will come back ‘home’ and he has, as of now, ordered it. But is this actually a viable assumption. If it is the patriotic duty of manufacturers to pay American workers rather than Chinese workers then how much are they willing to pay; minimum wage? These same manufacturers are paying Chinese workers far less. Given the popularity of the ‘free market’ stance and the greedy profiteering of modern capitalists it doesn’t seem as if even a threat of loss of citizenship will suffice to bring factories back to the US.

If anything Capitalists are trying to cool off the desires of American workers and cool down our economy so that Americans will have to accept much lower salaries before manufacturers will even consider coming back. It is doubtful that they are very afraid of Trump or will be persuaded by something as non-concrete (non-green and ‘unbankable’) as Patriotism.

China seems quite ready to just walk off and do business elsewhere. The reason for some of the fires in the Amazon basin is to clear land to grow soy beans for China that US farmers used to grow. Actions have unexpected consequences as we are all interconnected. Perhaps our president has no peripheral vision. He only sees straight ahead so he misses a lot, like a Chinese lateral move to find a new source for soy beans in South America. The American people are far more likely to cry chicken first than the Chinese are because they live in an authoritarian state. It is likely that they are used to far more hardship than we are.

Except for our millionaires and billionaires most of us are not feeling very flush and we cannot afford to be patriotic for very long if it means getting even poorer, especially when we have no faith in our ‘great negotiator’ and when we know that the outcomes he predicts are unlikely to result from his ‘Grand China Plan’. We also realize that doing these things, going down these roads, will probably deepen our isolation. We will produce and consume but it will be a small-time domestic operation. The world will move on without us. Trump has diminished our already diminished power in the world and yet he wants to act as if our bargaining position is undiminished.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – The Live TradeRoom

Stephen Miller’s OCD/White Nationalist World View

Stephen Miller, who I’m sorry to say made my brain scream ‘brown shirt’ when I first set eyes on him, ended up proving soon enough that I was not so far off the mark. On Sunday 8.18.2019 Miller spoke on at least one talk show. It is Stephen Miller’s stated theory that people are happier with their own kind and the world runs more smoothly when cultures don’t mix.

When Stephen Miller was a child perhaps he did not mix up the colors of his Legos, but built monochromatic structures, which if you know Legos is pretty hard to do. Perhaps he never allows his plates to mix with his cups and each room in his house uses one color palette only. Maybe he is one of those very organized people who sort their buttons by color and size and who never mix their bolts with their nuts. Maybe we should have some sympathy because he could have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). But this also looks a lot like white nationalism, which looks a lot like racism.

Stephen Miller’s mania for categorizing and isolating by similarity of traits runs into huge difficulties when you try to apply it to humans and human societies. Do we separate by color? What nation or continent do Americans of African Descent claim as their home given that many of their ancestors were brought here against their will 400 years ago. (Do you suppose that Miller has talked Trump into buying Greenland so America has somewhere to offload nonwhites who have no place to go? Of course it could just be about oil because drilling in pristine wilderness areas is also something Trump loves to do.)

Will we just have separate zones (states) in America organized by skin color? Will language be a point of distinction? Perhaps people will be sorted out by religion. What if your skin is dark and you are not a Christian? Will there be a separate category? Perhaps it will require lists of traits to assign people to the appropriate corner of the planet (they could start with the fictional color classifications from Underground Airlinesby Ben H Winter). Will miscegenation be punished? Will there be spots to tuck people away in who will never fit any approved category? A gay country? A trans country?

Stephen Miller is scary enough when he looks affectless – which is most of the time. But after he explained all this on Sunday he smiled – and that was far more frightening. Life is not orderly. It gets less orderly if you look at individual traits that divide us. No one stays put. They keep moving around. This would be unacceptable in Stephen Miller world.

Would Miller wipe out all migration, make it a crime. You get assigned a culture and there you must remain because all the chaos in the world will end if people only live in close proximity to others who are like them. American is probably to blame for climate change although 45 likes to blame China. But if your climate changes, too bad. You are not going anywhere. Famine, lack of water, war – supposedly will all be ended by homogeneity. Did we ever know a time when the world worked this way?

Stephen Miller claims that he is not a racist or a white supremacist. Then what is he? Why does he have such a segregated view of the world? I suppose there was a time when Europe was peopled by white folks but people still found many reasons to war with each other. They warred about property, about money, about government, about religion, just because they took a dislike to each other. Stephen Miller’s theory is ridiculous; it is unprovable; it is not backed up by history, or science, or religion or by anything. It is a figment of Stephen Miller’s imagination which is hardly to be considered very original.

Of course Hitler put 6 million people to death because they, according to him, did not belong in Europe, or in fact anywhere on Earth. Check everyone’s DNA. I doubt if anyone is pure enough to know which group s/he belongs to. Stephen Miller’s racist logic is not logical. He should not be in America’s White House advising an American president. We will never have a sensible approach to immigration as long as he is there.

Photo Credits: From Google Image Searches: Washington Post, The Daily Beast

Fall by Neal Stephenson – Book

When Neal Stephenson takes on a subject he does not fool around, or he does but with purpose. In Fall, Neal Stephenson takes on the small topics of our times like how to fix the internet, immortality, artificial intelligence, and the Singularity. He even gets in a prolonged jab at modern American culture when he takes us with Sophia to Ameristan for a quick and terrifying visit (hint: the border is made up of WalMarts).

Who is Sophia? She’s Dodge’s great niece. Dodge, also known as Richard Forthrast, is the key character in this sprawling novel. One of Dodge’s last acts before entering a clinic for a simple procedure (which proves fatal) is to be distracted by a red leaf that he catches on the palm of his hand before it hits the pavement (Fall). He asks “if we lived on as spirits or were reconstituted as digital simulations” would things still have “quale” (for example) the subjective experience of redness.

Dodge, although his demise is premature, has made legal arrangements to have his brain frozen (a legal dilemma since the cryonics company has folded, but also not a dilemma because Forthrast is a very wealthy man with relatives who love him). So his brain is separated from his body until those at the forefront of using computers to scan brains and preserve them in digital form can progress. Once this is accomplished Dodge awakens in an empty digital simulation, a digital afterlife. But Dodge earned his fortune as the inventor of a popular world-building game called T’Rain. He begins to build a world to give the afterlife form. Back on earth living people can watch Dodge’s simulation unfold (he remembers his name as Egdod)

Dodge’s cohorts and rivals are Corvallis Kawasaki (cohort) and Elmo Shepherd (rival) and, of course his niece Zula, mother of Sophia (loyal family). A fake nuclear incident which leaves many people believing that the town of Moab, Utah was attacked points out some of shortcomings of the internet. “The Internet – what Dodge used to call the Miasma – had just gone completely wrong. Down to the molecular level it was still a hippie grad school project. Like a geodesic dome that a bunch of flower children had assembled from scrap lumber on ground infested with termites and carpenter ants. So rotten that rot was the only thing that was holding it together.”

Our intrepid computer wizards and coders invent a new way to protect an individual’s identity by using their actual “lifeprint”, called a PURDAH (Personal Unseverable Designation for Anonymous Holography). The internet needs to keep expanding to keep Dodge and all the new souls being scanned into the afterlife alive. Then Dodge, creator of the land mass of the afterlife from his Palace to the Knot, decides to see if he can bring forth new souls in the Landform Visualization Utility (LVU). When he is ultimately successful his old rival El (Elmo) Shepherd feels the entire design has been taken in the wrong direction. He decides to end his own life (he has a fatal disease anyway) and get scanned into Dodge’s creation. He ousts Dodge and takes over.

Eventually, of course, all the friends and enemies of Dodge die (or are murdered) (bots are no better than their owners). The population of Earth is declining. Who will be left to make sure the afterlife is supplied with enough energy to continue to exist? How do we get to the Singularity?

It’s a long strange trip (from the Grateful Dead song ‘Truckin’). Neal Stephenson is always amazing and Fall might just be the quintessential gamer fantasy novel/or you might think it is just past weird. As for me, although it lagged in a few parts, it worked. That does seem like one way we could get to the Singularity and leave the Earth to its own devices to recover from humans. On the other hand, I have not signed up for any tech leading to a digital afterlife, and as far as I know, no such tech exists. I don’t think the afterlife looked all that appealing unless you were a member of the ‘Pantheon’. We may find out if books copy life, or if life copies books. Keep your ears open.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – The Verge

Brainwashing America: What to Do with our Beloved Pod People

For years the brainwashing that produced Trump’s followers has issued forth from radios in the dead of the night as lonely truckers and other drivers travelled the highways across America. For at least one decade, probably closer to two decades impassioned talkers have whispered in the ears of lower middle class men and women, husbands and fathers the news that white people in America were about to be replaced by minorities; that soon the minority population of America would be larger than the white population. These smooth talkers did not bother to tell listeners that this did not mean any one group would outnumber white folks, that this number was an aggregate number. Pretty soon all over America people were shaking their heads in agreement, suddenly aware that these midnight voices were speaking a truth they could feel in their own guts. Yes, yes Rush Limbaugh is a righteous dude. You should listen. Marc Levine, f-ing A, that’s my man. You gotta’ hear this.

Immigrants, some of them Muslims, some of them gang members, people who can’t even speak English, who are not Christians, are taking your tax dollars, they expound to the rhythm of big tires on American highways and in garages all over the country. These immigrants get the same benefits you get like welfare, health care, even social security or social security disability. They get free housing, some are given cars, these disembodied voices exclaim each night in the hours when drivers are in danger of falling asleep at the wheel without some kind of stimulation. These radio talkers offer major stimulation; they offer anger and ‘enlightenment’ and approval of what others call inappropriate thoughts and opinions. You may need guns they say.

These immigrants are taking American jobs because they will work for nothing. Many of them are here illegally, they should not be here and yet they are given jobs and benefits just like real Americans. You are being replaced in your own nation by foreigners. These topics are popular. They come up over and over again. People can call in and these guys will sympathize with the anger their listeners express, they can prop up that anger and expand on it. The hours melt away.

They tell their listeners that they can blame it all on the Democrats. The talkers’ views are so popular that a whole TV network is cobbled together to bring these views into American homes, in order to discuss American gripes twenty-four/seven. These issues that arouse the anger of their listeners do not have to be true; they just have to call forth that righteous anger that fuels an entirely new political view, the politics of white injustice, the piling up of the abuses being heaped on real Americans, of the losses real Americans have suffered when their good jobs, their factory jobs were given to foreigners. Brains are being ‘snatched’; a generation of ‘pod’ people is being created.

Americans who worked hard all their lives were paying for deadbeats who did not have to work. Now the drumbeat of injustice played out all day and all night in living color. Democrats defend deadbeats, therefore Democrats are bad. Republicans are informing you of how you are being ripped off so Republicans are good. Glenn Beck, your old dashboard friend Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly – these guys sound smart, they write books, they are patriots, they even rewrite history for their listeners. The internet gives us The Daily Caller, and The Thinker, pseudo-Conservative (actually extreme right wing and Tea Party) sites offering “intellectual” cachet to a movement that is basically anti-intellectual.

You are paying too many taxes. (Yes we are, these people are so right.) Your tax dollars are being used to support illegal immigrants. (That’s true, listeners say, and it makes me really angry.) Our government is too big. (Also true, you guys are speaking our language.) All this nonsense about what it is politically correct to say and what it’s not OK to say. We have free speech. We get to tell it like it is. (Husbands and wives listen and watch together and they bond in righteous anger.)

This is brainwashing and it has been very effective. These are Trump’s peeps. They heard the gospel according to Talk Radio and Fox ‘News’. They are pumped, they are not going to take it anymore. They are the new Republicans who the old school Republicans are aghast to find in their party. But these people are white and they are a whole different kind of ‘woke’ and the party of racism and guns, facing decline, needs them. We’ll talk them into believing the Democrats are going to steal their guns and allow their daughters to abort their grandchildren, that strangers will slaughter them in their beds, they say. There is so much scope in this whole strategy of stoking the feelings that folks are victims of a great big plot against real Americans that those who run the GOP can make themselves wealthier and these particular Americans will think it is all part of a plan that will benefit the middle class. The politicians and pundits will laugh all the way to the bank (but not out loud please).

Our forefathers may have said that all men are created equal and that we all deserve the same things but half of them kept slaves so they didn’t really mean all people; they meant white people, people of European descent. So even when Republicans ignore or reinterpret portions of our Constitution and our laws and rules, these Americans, primed by propaganda delivered in their most vulnerable moments, feel convinced that ending our democracy/republic will turn out in their favor; isolationism will turn out in their favor; and somehow, by deportation or death, we will become an all-white English speaking nation. It won’t be pretty and our souls may not get through the entire process unscathed and we might not even still be alive when the ‘cleansed’ version of America becomes reality, but our children’s children will be all set. (Especially since climate change is not real, they are told.)

It is becoming increasingly obvious that we cannot undo these decades of brainwashing, of filling people’s minds with lies that suggest that merit is sorted out by skin color, what language you speak, and even what God you worship or how you worship God. Terrorism is scary and has given fear-mongering tactics added power to persuade Americans that they will only be safe in a homogeneous nation, while those who say they will guarantee that safety rob the middle-class of assets and place those assets in their own bloated bank accounts.

Democrats have been so successfully demonized that they realize that they will be unable to get through to at least 30% of Americans, possibly even 40% of Americans and that, given four more years in power, the damage to American values and the foundations of our nation could be devastating. What can a party do when it believes that mass propaganda is wrong? They can’t use the tactics they abhor. All they can do is speak the truth and hope it eventually gets through the fog of brainwashing many percolate in. But global chaos waits in the wings if minds remain programmed as the ‘pod’ peoples’ are.

Photo by freestocks.org from Pexels

 

Trump’s Authoritarian Bent – Unexpected Consequences

Trump’s attacks on our democracy might just save it. Please, do not be mistaken about any of the arguments I am about to make. I’m sure any positive consequences of this administration are unintentional consequences. Donald Trump is a terrible President, and apparently a fairly twisted person with a bank account for a soul. He is probably the worst businessman on the planet, reportedly wealthy only because he extorted money from a father who must have loved him.

However, it seems that Trump’s meanness, his policies that will hurt the people who worship him most, his racism, his authoritarian disregard for our Constitution and our laws, his love affairs with dictators, his nods at brutality as a strategy to solve problems that should be solved intelligently may be pleasing his peeps who have been turned into “pod people” by tuning in to Fox News to be hammered with propaganda. But his cruelty and dictatorial bent are also having the opposite effect on many Americans and on people in other nations around the world.

American Health Care

People who once squealed about the way the Affordable Care Act became law, and who wanted nothing to do with that health plan will fight to keep it when they are able to understand that Trump and the Republicans want to take it away and replace it with nothing.

American Safety Net Programs

In fact the Republican Party has worked very hard to convince the American people that there are deadbeats all over this nation living well off their tax dollars because of benefits designed to help less fortunate Americans or Americans temporarily experiencing setbacks. But the real endgame here is to end Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, food stamps, housing subsidies, and welfare (which is almost gone already). Voters who understand this will not reelect Trump.

Smaller Federal Government – State’s Rights

What will the GOP use the freed-up budget dollars from benefit cuts for? That is left somewhat unclear but what this administration says is that they will make the federal government smaller and state governments will be more powerful. If you think that Trump will save benefits for seniors, the disabled, and the poor you are wrong. Trump’s original budget included fairly large cuts to safety net programs and even though all of these cuts did not ‘make the cut’, we recently have learned about the 3 million dollars to be subtracted from the food stamp program. Our benefits are being chipped away. And, having powerful states may sound appealing, but services and even laws will vary from state to state and what seems unfair now will seem punitive for some states if Republicans and Trump have their way. The Democrats do not have enough power right now to defeat an all-out attack on our safety net and many states cannot afford to offer such benefits.

Immigration and Asylum

We see how the Trump administration treats our neighbors who are leaving their home nations because of threatening gangs and intermittent famine. We understand  that they are seeking asylum and a better future in an America that once welcomed immigrants who came here legally. Watching what happens at our Southern border is already creating a backlash against policies that make us cringe. We have never been a nation that ignored need or inhumane conditions. We have never been a nation that put too many people in one cage with no soap and no toothbrushes, no showers and bad food and then baited people who could not keep themselves clean under such conditions.

This behavior is disgusting and America can never claim this moment as a proud moment in our history. We are an enormous country with only 350 million people. We do not lack the space to show kindness for neighbors under cultural stress. Immigration and asylum could be handled in ways that did not incite shame in one half of America, and hate in the other half (less than half).

Hong Kong

Recently we have watched the people of Hong Kong pour from their homes and businesses in protest against a leader who wanted to send people who reside in Hong Kong who are accused of crimes to mainland China for judgment and punishment under the harsher rules of President Xi, ruler for life, a dictator by another name. They won. The people, for now, successfully pushed back in a show of democratic spirit we do not seem to have found yet in our democracy. Perhaps seeing what Trump was doing in America helped to radicalize them. They have now taken over the airport. Perhaps what they are doing will inspire us.

Puerto Rico

Puerto Ricans poured into the streets to protest the behavior of their governor after pages and pages of racist emails were made public and to demand that he leave office. It took days and days but eventually the governor caved and resigned. Perhaps Puerto Ricans realized that America was in no condition to step in and help them at this time and our dilemmas emboldened them to activism. The anger Trump has engendered in the hearts of our Puerto Rican neighbors, who are Americans without a real vote in Congress, by his unfair attacks on their nature, helped them perceive of one more string of insults as just too close to home and too over-the-top. Trump’s racism and authoritarianism radicalized them. Right now there are  Americans who are being radicalized in support of Trump, but many, quieter, Americans have been radicalized against Trump.

Moscow

https://youtu.be/5HGA76MEZcw

Hundreds demonstrated in Moscow for free elections. This has happened before but it could be more important now that American freedoms are being challenged by the Trump administration who is backed by the Republicans in Congress. Freedom seems to gain ground when there is a push to take it away.

America and the Liberal World Order

Ever since the end of World War II our planet has been involved in a tug of war between democracy/capitalism on the one hand as exemplified by America, communism on the other hand as exemplified by first the USSR and now Russia. America fought with funds for modern development, American products, American weapons and tanks and planes, American music and fashion, American technology to persuade the world’s nations to choose democracy over communism. Communists, who could not persuade with glitzy things or money offered things like gas and oil, of which they had plenty, and Russian weapons of war. America began to push a bit too hard and did a few too many regime changes and nations became leery of American “help” and suspicious of American capitalism. The world was beginning to turn a cold shoulder to America and that might help explain the rise of dictatorships around the planet.

Trump, friend of dictators everywhere, seems to be inspiring others around the world to fight harder for freedom and to fight at the grassroots level, a bottom-up movement as opposed to the old top-down approaches. Perhaps people around the world now see America as having more in common with their own situations and the hubris with which we once set out into our international endeavors is now tempered by the humility of being under the tiny thumb of a very unbalanced president with authoritarian and blatantly racist tendencies. Suggesting that anything good will come of having someone like 45 in the Oval Office goes against the grain of my soul and I am not alone in this, but we also know that even the worst ordeals can have some positive outcomes. Keep up the good work people of earth. We will not give into anything or anyone that stands in the way of global prosperity, peace, and tolerance. Trying to end democracy just might save it.

Photo by Element5 Digital from Pexels