Victimless punishment

Eric Holder, Wall Street Double Agent, Comes in From the Cold
Barack Obama’s former top cop cashes in after six years of letting banks run wild
http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/eric-holder-wall-street-double-agent-comes-in-from-the-cold-20150708

Funny, you don’t hear any libertarians or Tea Partiers carping about this, just dyed in the wool progressives like Matt. Why is that? Why is it that one of the harshest critics (excepting, of course, the frothing-at-the-mouth morons that will hate any democrat, particularly a _black_ one) is a progressive liberal? Him and Glenn Greenwald, another progressive. Here we are winding up Bush’s fourth term. Cheney should be proud, his policies have been in place now for almost 16 years. If Hillary gets elected, another 4-8 years!

I plan on voting for Bernie any chance I get. I view him as the only realistic way to turn the tide, or heck, get it to stop rising!

Amazon causing literature to degrade?

More reasons to hate Amazon: Ursula Le Guin is right about their model of books as commodities “written fast, sold cheap, dumped fast”
The online bookseller does more than just shut down indie bookstores, says the venerable fantasy author
http://www.salon.com/2015/06/03/more_reasons_to_hate_amazon_ursula_le_guin_is_right_about_their_model_of_books_as_commodities_written_fast_sold_cheap_dumped_fast/

Disclaimer: I really like a lot of Le Guin’s work and respect her very much as a writer. Having done some research now on the publishing world as a writer I can see some of the things she is talking about. Since I am doing this with a profit motive (I like to write, but I don’t _need_ to write) I am trying to write something popular that sells well. Though what I write is focused on the story I want to tell, I do consider popularity elements as I make decisions on various plot points. I have gone back and rewritten sections because I feel they will market/sell better and, presuming my reviewers give me the thumb’s up and get it professionally edited, I suspect I will be making additional changes towards better marketability. Then, if I go with a traditional publisher, no doubt they will recommend more changes still. However, I am trying to tell a specific story and there is only so much I will bend before I no longer enjoy what I am doing (you have to do it for the joy in the beginning, that might be all you ever get!) and will drop the thing. I wonder if some of my favorite authors would ever get a chance in today’s publishing world. If Dune, one of the most popular Sci Fi books of all time, were Herbert’s debut novel, I doubt it would get considered today. It is too far from the mainstream and isn’t easily categorized. My attempt is firmly in the romantic thriller genera and, except for the focus being from the “bad guy’s” point of view (the title says it all: “Diary of a Contract Killer”) I believe is fairly conventional. Publishers want you to be different, yet the same, exactly like Hollywood. Everyone complains about how Hollywood never does anything new or different, Le Guin sees the exact same thing now in the publishing world and lays the blame at Amazon’s feet. I don’t see it as exclusively an Amazon issue, but they are certainly accelerating the trend (though they are also providing a platform for self publishing, which lowers the bar to the point that anyone who can finish a novel can get it published, though very few indeed will ever get paid for the time they invested). Though I am not convinced that changing Amazon’s behavior would change the trend (personally, I see this trend beginning decades ago and Amazon just riding the wave), I do think it needs to be said, heard and debated, so this is my small effort to broaden the article’s exposure.

Burn it! Burn it all down!

How to demolish the oligarchy in 3 easy steps
American democracy has been tainted by lobbying and corporate interests. How do we fix it? Blow it all up
http://www.salon.com/2015/04/24/how_to_demolish_the_oligarchy_in_3_easy_steps/

This is a nice clean summary of some of the pivotal sources of inequality in our ‘great nation’. This doesn’t require that the rich pay higher taxes (though they certainly should), it only requires that parasites on our dysfunctional system get shed for the greatest good for the greatest number…

We have six separate, major American health care programs, with different streams of revenue and based on different systems

America’s health care policies are a dog’s breakfast. America’s retirement policies are a dog’s breakfast that a dog barfed up later.

By my count, that’s four distinct major retirement systems in the U.S.

Education? We have public provision: public K-12 and public community colleges and state universities. Outside of this system of direct public educational provision, we have a separate system of federal student loans. And a third system of federal grants. And because three incompatible systems of aiding higher education are not enough—this is America!—we have yet a fourth, completely different system of tax-favored college savings accounts. America’s system of funding higher education is not quite as insanely complicated as our health care and retirement systems. But we’re getting there!

The political scientist Steven Teles calls this kind of baroque public policy “kludgeocracy.” Another way to describe it would be that Rube Goldberg gets elected and promotes various goals—health care, retirement security, educational access—by means of needlessly elaborate contraptions involving candles, levers, and gerbils running on wheels.

Who benefits from this complexity? Lobbyists, tax preparers, accountants, and rent-seeking parasites in the private sector who figure out how to game these needlessly elaborate systems to skim money from taxpayers and rate payers. Complexity is the friend of corruption. Simplicity, on the other hand, promotes democracy.

Equal rights for all, special privileges for none.

Fantasy? In the short term, sure. The well-paid parasites who profit from complexity will see to that. But there are two kinds of politics: Moving the ball and moving the goal-posts. This is about moving the goal-posts. This is about the next generation, not the next election.

Rome was not built in a day, and the antiquated, crumbling, rat-infested fire hazard that is American public policy will not be condemned, demolished and replaced by a clean, modern, solid structure overnight. But the sooner we start the demolition, the better. In the meantime, “Equal rights for all, special privileges for none” would make a good campaign slogan in 2016.

Processing is the problem

Your microwave dinner is making you obese: What the food industry doesn’t want you to know
New research indicates processed foods are even more harmful to our health than previously thought
http://www.salon.com/2015/03/19/your_microwave_dinner_is_making_you_obese_what_the_food_industry_doesnt_want_you_to_know_partner/

A bit of a misnomer, the microwave has nothing to do with making you obese, it is the processing of the processed foods. I talk about how processed food can lead to metabolic syndrome but in that post it was about eating too many calories (made easy because processed food is so energy dense). This article is saying that the processed products themselves are the problem due to the compounds used during the processing. I have been eating less processed food lately, but that is for financial reasons (we are spending so much on the greenhouse/pool that we have to spend less thus cook more). I don’t feel any less fat, but then again, if my microbiome has been distorted too much it might require intervention in order to put me in a better state.

Anyway, processed food is a problem! Eat more unrefined foods!

Compact Fusion

Lockheed is claiming it can solve the world’s energy problems:

http://www.lockheedmartin.com/us/products/compact-fusion.html

I think it is hubris that makes a claim that they can go from nothing to a working prototype in 5 years when collectively the world’s best research scientists have spent 5+ decades and likely 100+ billion bucks with next to nothing to show for it. There is no doubt that having access to piles of money and eliminating the bureaucracy will speed things up (think Manhattan Project, but is Lockheed going to piss that much away on spec?), but I have no reason to think that just because a team was once great in the past on a totally different subject (aeronautics of the U2 and Blackbird) that that team can just switch over to something completely different. It smells like an attempt to jack up their stock price to me.

Now if they were claiming they already had a breakthrough and had something that was already showing enough positive net energy to mathematically pay for the start up energy given that converting to steam and twirling turbines results in a 60% loss and they had ‘only’ to work out how to effectively capture the neutronic energy at high efficiency, then I might be less pessimistic. Not optimistic, because that is still a non-trivial problem, less pessimistic.

When a web page advertising a scientific breakthrough of the magnitude Lockheed is suggesting reads like an infomercial with all the content removed, it really raises my skeptic’s hackles. Show me the science!

Our ‘Justice’ system is even more corrupt than I thought!

Will HSBC Deal Come Back to Haunt Loretta Lynch?
Deal to save HSBC’s American office looks very bad in retrospect
http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/will-hsbc-deal-come-back-to-haunt-loretta-lynch-20150209

Got to be read to be believed, but the gist of the matter is the ‘punishment’ that our so-called Justice system meted out to HSBC for laundering money for drug cartels (!), a joke at the time, is even more inexplicable given that our government already knew that HSBC was also acting as an illegal tax haven for the wealthy.

And oh, by the way, our soon-to-be new Attorney General Loretta Lynch was instrumental behind it. No question she is a perfect for for Obama, she clearly knows where all sorts of bodies are buried.

So NICE to be an American!

Wow! Email encryption relies on just ONE guy!

The World’s Email Encryption Software Relies on One Guy, Who is Going Broke
Werner Koch’s code powers the email encryption programs around the world. If only somebody would pay him for the work.
http://www.propublica.org/article/the-worlds-email-encryption-software-relies-on-one-guy-who-is-going-broke

Also interesting comments here.

It is amazing how many fundamental pieces of open source software are dependent on a handful (or just one) person. There are a few that are supported by large groups, for instance Linux, Apache, gcc, but so many are hanging by a thread. It would be nice to see some process whereby these people could be compensated, but I am not holding my breath.

Forming your own echo chamber

The propagandists have won: What Fox News and the pornography revolution have in common
Truthiness has replaced truth. Now that we all have our own facts, we may rue the day we personalized the news
http://www.salon.com/2014/12/21/the_propagandists_have_won_what_fox_news_and_the_pornography_revolution_have_in_common/

I rant about ‘sheeple‘ a lot here and am often frustrated trying to understand why we are that way. While this book excerpt (here is the book on Amazon; I haven’t bought it because I already haven’t read a pile of books I have purchased in the past) doesn’t exactly explain _why_ we are so stupidly credulous, it does describe how we are getting better and better at being so.

There are a lot of interesting parts in the excerpt, the author seems to be a good writer, insofar as turning a phrase. I particularly like how she likens our search for ‘real’ pornography with our search for ‘real’ news (where ‘real’ basically is just confirming our preconceived notions).

Anyway, I encourage my reader(s) to at least take a look at the excerpt…

Steadily chipping away…

The Most Important Trial in America
The federal government’s case against the proprietor of a ‘darknet’ website could forever alter how we all use the Internet.
http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/01/14/the-most-important-trial-in-america.html

This is something that deserves higher visibility, so I will do my small (tiny (infinitesimal)) part to widen the scope. I agree with this statement:

I have no idea if he is innocent or guilty of all or some of the charges against him, but the manner in which his prosecution is playing out should disturb anyone who cares about justice.

When the government is allowed to break laws willy nilly and the justice department stands idly by, we are no longer a nation of laws. Of course, this has been a reality for quite a while, but sometimes it is hard to convince the sheeple that these things are important. Perhaps one day the government will finally reach a point where they take on someone who isn’t successfully demonized and the sheeple will rally. Or perhaps not…

In other words, people don’t commit crimes, corporate culture commits crimes!

The $9 Billion Witness: Meet JPMorgan Chase’s Worst Nightmare
http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-9-billion-witness-20141106

Matt has moved back to Rolling Stone and I am starting to catch up on his old posts, so this might be the first of a few. I have often attempted to tell people that the ‘historic’ $13 billion find that Chase agreed to was nothing more than a slap on the wrist and represented a trivial fraction of the profit they made and a teeny tiny fraction of the economic harm they caused. This post details that it is even worse; in addition to, naturally, the fine being paid by the share holders (the CEO got a raise!), the fine itself is being used as a tax deduction. Four of the supposed $13 billion isn’t even real money at all, it is just accounting trickery to inflate the $9 billion number (which, after writing off the taxes, is really much closer to $5.5 billion (this on a company that nets that much each quarter)).

Matt’s article makes it crystal clear the complicity of our supposed government watchdogs on the coverup. This is, of course, just a single instance of our government’s efforts to work with Wall Street to cover up crimes that should result in hard jail time for many executives.

Anyway, here are a couple of excerpts to attempt to get my reader(s) to take a look:

In September, at a speech at NYU, Holder defended the lack of prosecutions of top executives on the grounds that, in the corporate context, sometimes bad things just happen without actual people being responsible. “Responsibility remains so diffuse, and top executives so insulated,” Holder said, “that any misconduct could again be considered more a symptom of the institution’s culture than a result of the willful actions of any single individual.”

Because after all this activity, all these court actions, all these penalties (both real and abortive), even after a fair amount of noise in the press, the target companies remain more ascendant than ever. The people who stole all those billions are still in place. And the bank is more untouchable than ever – former Debevoise & Plimpton hotshots Mary Jo White and Andrew Ceresny, who represented Chase for some of this case, have since been named to the two top jobs at the SEC. As for the bank itself, its stock price has gone up since the settlement and flirts weekly with five-year highs. They may lose the odd battle, but the markets clearly believe the banks won the war. Truth is one thing, and if the right people fight hard enough, you might get to hear it from time to time. But justice is different, and still far enough away.