Friday, October 28, 2016

Ammon Bundy acquittal: reaction

Today, despite hours of video evidence of clear violation of the law, Ammon Bundy and his co-conspirators were found not guilty. This comes as a shock to everyone following the case. In fact, the first article I read had to be edited to say acquitted rather than convicted because the factual (as opposed to legal) guilt of the defendants was apparent. This serves as further evidence, in my opinion, that trial by jury is failing in this country. Unfortunately, I don't know if the alternatives are any better.

My trust in trial by jury was tenuous at best from the time I started paying attention and became skeptical of everything (yay, adolescence). But it was further deteriorated after the acquittal of George Zimmerman. Further hits came from efforts to free those that had been wrongly accused, and findings that juries in the US had a clear racial bias. The reason our jury system is imperfect is that our people are imperfect. But as our culture becomes more diverse, such attitudes are becoming less and less acceptable. However, we also need to be aware of our hidden biases and fight against them.

This is an issue that is affecting us in more and more obvious ways as time moves on and our culture becomes more diverse. I don't know how many times I've heard that by some near year whites will no longer be a majority of the US, but it seems the plan of the 60's and 70's to screw until we're all the same color is starting to have results, if not the exact results that were touted. But this isn't enough.

Because we all have hidden biases and a lot of those biases stem from one very understandable emotion: fear of the unknown and the unfamiliar. This is the root of tribalism. You know the kinds of people you are around most often and are comfortable with them. But the "other", whether they are other because they have a different skin color, a different religion, a different culture, etc., make us uncomfortable because they are different than our norm.

While it is (or at least should be) culturally unacceptable to discriminate against people for these reasons, it is too often easy to get away with subtle discrimination. This is where change is needed. The first step is to recognise it in yourself. So I would like to encourage everyone to be more aware of their own biases (we all have them) and confront them. Make an effort to recognize when your decisions are being informed by racism, sexism, or any other intolerance, and change yourselves. It is not easy, but it gets easier over time. And I will make the same effort, and together we can make this world a better place.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

I am not qualified to be president

So last night I came up with a bunch of topics I could write about, but then ERB released a new video, and YouTube comments pissed me off, (damn trolls, why do I even read those), and that gave me an idea for yet another topic, this one more pressing.

But first, a little housekeeping. If you're reading this (a huge if, I guess), then you may have seen my last post, a fake news article meant to subtly undermine the Project Veritas claims by hinting that if, as O'Keefe claims, all of the violent and racist elements of Trump's supporters were Clinton plants, his real support would be tiny. My plan, and I admit this may be unethical, was to push the post as if it were "real Trump supporter news" on right-wing sites, but after 1 post I decided against that for 2 reasons. 1: I don't want my site to be overrun by trolls, and 2: I can't handle the things being said on such sites, let alone feed into them. If that post later gets some popularity because I'm running for office and people want to use it against me or Trump supporters get more desperate and somehow see it as good for their candidate, I just wanna be on record here as saying that it is parody (as it is tagged), and that it's not even great parody at that.

That (slightly) leads into my next point. I have never run for public office, though Bernie's campaign has made me consider it more heavily than I have before. And I certainly have not run for president, nor would I at this stage in my life, even if the legal issues of me not being 35 and the monetary issues of me being a broke man with principles were magically taken care of. And there is a very simple reason for that: I am not prepared to be the president.

I hate to admit this, but when Gary Johnson was shamed for not knowing what Aleppo was, I felt shame too, because I also didn't know what Aleppo was at the time. And although I have since learned that, as well as more about Syria, Iraq, Iran, ISIS, and the middle east in general, I am not nearly an expert. I have some thoughts on when war is acceptable but I don't know how to handle the delicate situation in the middle east, with ISIS using chemical weapons, refugees seeking asylum (at least that should be a fairly obvious yes vote. Have some compassion), and so on, and that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to my ignorance.

What do we do about immigration? I think we should keep families together and provide a path to citizenship, but I don't know enough about the existing laws or the situation on the ground to draft or even judge the finer points of a bill on that issue. The same is true of healthcare, trade deals, drug laws, law enforcement, etc. I have strong opinions, and varying levels of knowledge, but I don't have the kind of experience or training required to be the person overseeing the whole apparatus, nor do I have the connections to appoint a good cabinet, a bunch of judges, and pretty much the whole executive branch. I am absolutely not (yet?) prepared to be the president. However, I am more prepared than Donald Trump.

In my opinion, the best line Hillary Clinton delivered this election ( which was sadly left out of Epic Rap Battles' take on it) was this line about preparation. This is a great line, because Hillary Clinton has not only wanted to be president for a long time, she has made an effort to achieve that goal. A monumental effort. She has gone through law school and has been the first lady, a senator, and the secretary of state. She knows the law, she has dealt with legislation, she has dealt with diplomacy and war, and she has connections. Though I have disagreements with some of her policy, if anyone is qualified to be president, she is.

Now contrast "The Donald". He has been a real estate mogul, a casino owner, and a reality TV star. I wouldn't be surprised if he knew as little about Aleppo as Gary Johnson and I did at the time. He has no legal training, no experience in foreign affairs or domestic affairs, no knowledge or experience with the legislative process, and he doesn't even have the will to learn or the patience to prepare. He's surrounded himself with the same kind of panel of sycophants and yes-men as Douglas MacArthur (who he often praises) did and he is even more likely to ignore intelligence to the detriment of himself, his country, and the world. (KERA Think did a piece recently on Douglas MacArthur and the Korean war that I enjoyed. I recommend looking up the podcast if you haven't already.)

Donald Trump wanted to ignore the issues before October 8. He wanted to be as vague as possible to hide the fact that he knows nothing about policy. After the infamous tape came out, he started saying we should be focusing on the issues, because he thinks that no one will take him up on that proposition so he can pretend he's taking the high ground by proposing real solutions to the problems facing America and the world, even though his most substantive issue is a stupid wall. But I think we do need to take him up on his challenge and call him out not just on his lack of ethics, but also on his lack of substance, policy, and experience. I already used the early voting available in Texas to vote for Hillary Clinton (and democrats down-ballot, but that's an issue for another post). I hope many of you will do the same. Get out there and vote for the qualified candidate.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Shocking: new WikiLeaks emails reveal many Trump supporters paid by Clinton

In a shocking turn of events, emails between top Clinton campaign officials released by WikiLeaks today show that the Clinton campaign has been paying large numbers of people to go to Donald Trump's rallies. The paid rally attendees were told to be as belligerent and intolerant as they could, in order to make Trump's support look deplorable. They were even told to punch anyone looking like they weren't "crazy enough" to fit the image Clinton wanted of "Trump supporters".

They were also identified to news organizations so that the media coverage of Trump supporters was almost entirely made up of Clinton plants. "They had us all set up and ready to go with the full line of reporters," Rick Ashton, a Pennsylvania actor who took money to appear at a rally, told us. "I told CNN that there was nothing Trump could do to lose my vote, can you imagine any sane person saying such a thing?"

"What really surprised me at first, was that Clinton expected Trump to be able to get through the primary," Chevy Carlin, a former plant at an Ohio primary rally, reminisced. "I wondered, 'well what about the other 50 or whatever candidates,' but Clinton just has incredible foresight. She knew Trump would win the primary, even with all the bad press we were getting him. I just wish I knew how she knew."

While this comes as less of a shock than it would have if not for previous leaks revealing that most pro Trump YouTube comments are made by a team of bots maintained by Clinton staffers, some revelations of this latest leak are just too insidious to believe. Perhaps the most shocking of all is that Donald Trump was paid millions of dollars by the Clinton campaign to tell his supporters at one rally to punch anyone looking like they were going to throw tomatoes at him. He confirmed to us in a 3:17 AM tweet that this was true. "I'm not a violent man by nature, and I don't like to incite violence, but I really needed the money to keep the lights on and pay the rent #BeingBrokeSux"

We still don't know how this will change the election, but 95% of responses in our online poll on the issue were bots run by Clinton staff to make Trump supporters look bad. Chat with them in the comments.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

MLM combines the worst aspects of capitalism and peudoscience

A few days ago I visited my sister, who has unfortunately bought into a bunch of these scams, and was intrigued by her cleaning supplies, and not in a good way. In her bathroom, Thieves brand hand soap. In the kitchen, Thieves brand household cleaner. Then today I noticed in my kitchen, Thieves brand hand soap, which I assume my grandmother bought from her because as the title of this post may have tipped you on, Thieves is one of those multi level marketing schemes that is robbing the poor and desperate in this country while they gladly get out their checkbooks for them. It must absolutely thrill the Thieves company how many people sign up despite the name being largely accurate.

Anyway, I did a quick google and found out that the Thieves name supposedly comes from a concoction of lemon and eucalyptus and some other cheap ingredients that a gang of thieves used to protect themselves from bubonic plague and it also prevents all flu and cold. This raises so many questions, but I'm going to point out two. First, as Monty Python fans should know to ask: where did they get eucalyptus oil. Eucalyptus only grows in Australia, which was an unknown continent to Europe at the time. Did it migrate? Was it carried by dodo birds? Secondly, if this has been known to prevent all flu and cold for 400+ years, why are we just hearing about it now? So I'm not even going to look at whether the stuff works because I don't have time to test all the stupid claims made by MLM companies about how 1/5 lemon to 4/5 eucalyptus does nothing extraordinary but 1/3 lemon to 2/3 eucalyptus cures every disease on earth and brings world peace and allows you to survive a nuclear blast or whatever the hell they claim. There is peer review and the FDA for a reason.

But really, the bulk of this article isn't even about the stupid, stupid claims made by MLM. It's about how multi level marketing is such a good illustration of what's wrong with capitalism, especially unfettered capitalism or libertarianism (the US version, anyway). So first why don't we ask: with such stupid claims, why aren't more MLM companies sued for fraud? And the basic answer is that the companies themselves don't make these claims directly. They list vague effects such as "Protandim may help with any of these 50 conditions", or "Thieves oil is good for the flu". Or they have spokesmen give anecdotes like "I was 270 lbs but then I took Herbalife and lost 350 lbs, turned into an antimatter bomb, and blew up the planet!", "These drinks I got through AmWay turned me back from a newt!", or "At my wake, a friend poured some TrueScience in my mouth and I came back to life!". Then the representatives take the vague and the anecdotes and a huge dose of the placebo effect and start making claims that would get the companies in trouble if the representatives were employees rather than independent contractors.

Now, let's unpack that one. Just what does it mean that the people actually doing the selling are independent contractors and not employees? Well for one thing, it means they don't have to be guaranteed a minimum wage, which is insane. Used car salesmen are guaranteed minimum wage, meaning that there are now two big differences between used car sales and MLM sales: used car sales more reliably puts food on the table, and used car sales is more honest (Have you ever been sold a car shaped sugar pill at a dealership? I didn't think so). In fact, a great deal of MLM representatives lose money doing it. They work 80+ hours a week, they come to you so you don't even have to leave the house, and all so they can lose money. They must really like you. And yet, the competition continues to get even fiercer as more people keep signing up. In the 1980's everyone knew that AmWay was something only fools would follow and yet now it's bigger than ever (just like a certain presidential candidate).

In fact, as you may be able to guess, the people at the top of these MLM companies are doing very well. This point seems so obvious that I'm not going to spend much time researching it. I'll look up just one of these companies, let's say the Thieves oil dudes, and see what I find. brb. Looks like they had sales of over a billion dollars last year(link), and I found an interesting article about how Gary Young got his doctorate from a diploma mill and some other stuff (link). So with a billion in sales they claim that 92% of their distributors rank under star class or whatever, and star class makes on average $73 a month, implying the 92% below them make even less (link).

And why is there such a disparity? I hinted at this in the title. It's because the workers do not have any control over how the fruits of their labor are distributed. The capitalists in charge of MLM, such as Gary Young, have full control over that and have decided, all too predictably, to give the proceeds to themselves while giving out just enough to prevent a mass desertion or revolt. They are free to sell snake oil and lies to both the distributors and the customers and this is exactly what unfettered capitalism looks like.

So what we need to do is put an end to the MLM malarkey. In the short term, require that independent contractors get all the benefits of employees. This means minimum wage or better guaranteed, not having them pay the company for products they sell, the company being liable for any fraudulent claims they make, and the required benefits if they work more than 32 hours per week or whatever it is.

Long term, we need to democratize the enterprise, that is, we need to promote coops through subsidies, regulation, and media. If every worker gets a vote in how the proceeds are used, how many would you expect to put up with this idiocy? I hope not many.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Prediction: Obama's supreme court nominee will be approved in November,

Here's how I see this playing out. Obama's going to nominate someone decently qualified and moderately liberal, just as he's done in the past. The republicans will block the nomination out of fear of getting beaten in their next primary. Eventually, those running for office this cycle will realize that Trump is going to be the nominee and that they need to help him if they want to keep any of their own seats. In order to get republican voters to hold their noses and vote for him, they advertise that the only way to prevent a liberal supreme court is to elect Trump and the GOP.

However, the idea of the next president being "guaranteed" a supreme court pick drives up turnout in general, helping Sanders in both the primary and general election, and democrats in general. Once Sanders and a senate super-majority are elected, the senate sees their choice between Obama's moderate liberal supreme court justice and a Sanders pick, and vote to confirm Obama's nominee.

Of course this is all just speculation. What do you think? Is this absolutely 100% correct or is it the stupidest prediction you've ever heard? Leave a comment and let me know.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Will a rise in minimum wage lead to massive inflation or job loss?

When I talk to my friends about the need to increase the minimum wage, the main arguments I hear (other than "I don't want to talk about politics") is that raising the minimum wage to $15/hr will lead to massive inflation, and that a higher minimum wage will lead to less jobs available. These are common misconceptions, and at the surface level they make sense, but deeper analysis shows they aren't true.

The basic argument for a higher minimum wage causing inflation is that when minimum wages rise, other wages rise as well. Companies lose so much in paying their employees that they have to raise prices and fire employees to remain profitable, and as the prices of gas and materials go up, the prices of goods and services using those go up, with everything balancing out in the end.

There are a few flaws with this argument, however. Firstly, while anyone making less than the new minimum gets their wages raised, wages don't usually go up very quickly for those making more than the new minimum already. In particular, wages of CEO's, shareholders, and other executives don't go up immediately in response to minimum wage laws. So the immediate effect on the cost of labor goes mostly to businesses that rely on documented low-wage workers, such as restaurants and retail. The restaurants may raise their prices a bit and the retailers may try to do the same work with less people, but the effect isn't huge. The oil industry tends to have higher paid workers, and the agricultural industry tends to use undocumented workers, so the cost of food doesn't rise quickly as a result.

With more people able to afford goods and services, the economy grows. If current businesses are unwilling or unable to keep up with demand, new businesses come in. This is why unemployment doesn't see a huge uptick after minimum wage increases. Because all the rhetoric given about large corporations being "job-creators" is backwards. Businesses respond to demand, one way or another. Consumers are the real job-creators, because they are the ones actually paying for the result of the labor being done. Also, as people build up wealth, they are more likely to start their own businesses, and to negotiate for better wages. This does then lead to inflation, but it is inflation due to growth, which is good in the short term.

However, this is only a temporary fix, since growth can't continue forever. What we really need is a guaranteed basic income and a shortened work week so that we can have a society that moves toward opportunity equality while shrinking to or maintaining a sustainable economy. But that's a topic for another post.

Friday, November 20, 2015

3072

I am going to (or will have, by the time you read this) add a couple links to the sidebar. One of these will be (or is) to a modified version of 2048 that I put together a while ago, called 3072. Try it out, and if you like it, share it and/or comment.