Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Tarriffs, Don Giovanni, a Trump Supporter Speaks Up and More on Internet Regulation

From the Right

The other day I was talking to a supporter of the President.  We disagreed on a lot of things.  I asked him to work with me and compose a letter voicing what he was saying to me.  Here is what he wrote, admittedly with my help putting his sometimes incoherent thoughts into words.

Jack:  I can’t agree with your constant attacks on President Trump in your blog.  Let’s look at the facts.  You may say that everyone is entitled to their opinion, but not to their own set of facts.  Well I happen to believe that my set of facts is more accurate than those you, and a lot of mainstream newspapers and TV commentators, believe.

First of all, even though Donald Trump didn’t get a majority of the votes cast, he did win the Electoral College vote in 2016 so there is no question as to his Presidential legitimacy.  If some voters were misled by material on TV and the internet which was planted there by Russia, it really didn’t differ greatly from the untruthful material posted by some Americans of different political persuasions.  It’s sad that campaigns are run at that level, regardless of who is doing the posting.   Dirt will be flung, regardless of who throws it.  In any event, no one has even come close to proving that what the Russians were doing was in cooperation with the Republican Party or the Trump organization.  Yet that is what the Special Prosecutor is spending millions of tax dollars to try to come up with.   Other things he has come up with, such as the Manafort and Ryan indictments, clearly indicate faith put in the wrong people by Donald Trump, but there have been such mistakes in many recent administrations, and no one made a big deal about them, as the Democrats and the media are doing today. There were firings and that was that.  Furthermore, Special Prosecutor Mueller is going far, far beyond what he was supposed to be doing when he investigates such people, and that includes Michael Cohen, who even if he has been involved in wrongdoing, should not be the subject of Mueller’ probe, which he is, despite it being “delegated” by a compliant Acting Attorney General to the Southern District of New York.

The tax reform bill is truly a great accomplishment of the Administration.  Most workers are already getting an increase in their take home pay.  True, the wealthy and corporations have received benefits as well, but that will be channeled back into the economy, creating more jobs.  And the President, even aside from this, has reduced unemployment.  That’s an unarguable fact!

As for health care, the Affordable Care Act only served to make a bad situation worse.  People with health insurance with which they were satisfied were conned into purchasing policies they could not afford.  People who didn’t want to buy insurance were penalized.  Employers were shackled with another costly responsibility. The only ones who truly benefited were people on Medicaid who didn’t have to pay for their coverage.  If it’s free, of course you’d like it. But nothing is free.  The taxpayer ultimately foots the bill and that bill, it has been repeatedly shown, is higher when the government gets involved than when it is done through the private sector.  This is the direction the President is attempting to lead us over the next two and a half years.

When the President talks about tariffs and our coming out on the short end of the stick when trading with other countries, he is thinking about the American worker.  To him, that is the bottom line.  If American jobs are lost to foreign workers, it doesn’t matter that we ultimately come out ahead in our county’s bank accounts or through the sale of our technology, which may be the case.  To him, it’s jobs that count and he knows that. NAFTA is a good example.  Show me an American worker who is in love with it.

You and the media often attack the reduction in government regulations.  Well, businesses can operate more efficiently when government is on their side and not putting obstacles in their way.  If a business does something improper, there are plenty of legal avenues where redress can be sought.  A few bad apples don’t justify throwing away the barrel, which is what excessive regulations have accomplished.  Trump is fixing this. And the United States has become a leader in petroleum production. Pipelines and fracking, long fought by regulators but encouraged by the President, have made that possible.  And the same goes for other businesses.

As for foreign affairs, North Korea and even Iran now know that we mean business and are not taking us for patsies as we plan negotiations with both.  And when Syrian despot Assad crossed a red line, unlike Barack Obama, we bombed his country.  Many Democrats even believed that was the right thing to do!  When the President took steps to move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, he sent a message to the Palestinians saying they had better get serious about negotiating with Israel and get rid of Hamas or they will see their dream of a State of their own drifting further and further away.

Finally, many personal attacks have been made on the President as being a womanizer.  Many Presidents have been subject to similar criticism, however, only recently has that been fair game for the media.  Bill Clinton and Jack Kennedy are good examples.  Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and even overweight Grover Cleveland played around and no one really cared.   I will agree with attacks on the President’s sexual behavior only when it affects the manner in which he carries out the duties of the Presidency.  And I don’t see that happening.

I ask you one thing, Jack.  Give the man credit for what he is accomplishing despite the opposition, often covert, of those entrenched in the maze of government bureaucracy politely referred to as a swamp.  The President is doing his best to make America great.  Please help him.

So what do you think, folks? 

Tariffs, Schmariffs, Not the Solution

Economic Thoughts from a Non-economist

So our President threatens China with 100 billion dollars in tariffs.  This moron (ex-Secretary of State Tillerson had it right) glosses over the fact, or possibly doesn’t even know, that when we do that, the hundred billion dollars, while paid to our Treasury Department by the importers of “stuff” from China, is passed on by price increases to whomever in this country they sell their “stuff.” That could be anyone who manufactures things from steel and aluminum from China and folks who buy clothing, electronics, appliances and other “stuff” made in China. 

Dollar Stores, where most of the merchandise is “stuff” imported from China, will perhaps have to become Dollar and a Half Stores.  Look at the number of “made in China” labels the next time you are in any retail outlet.  Bottom line is that that 100 billion dollars in tariff money will be paid into our Treasury Department, not by China, but by the American consumer.  Trump’s tariff won’t hurt China.  Rather, it will hurt the American consumer upon whom it will amount to a Federal sales tax designed to pull in 100 billion dollars.  It appears that our President is either unaware of this or too dumb to understand it.  

I think he is under the illusion that because of their tariff-inflated higher prices, the imported goods will not be purchased and goods made in the United States will be purchased instead.  Supposedly, this will create unemployment in China, hurt their economy and result in job creation here.  Nice try … but not so.

The trouble with that is that because of our workers’ higher standard of living, most stuff made here will still be more expensive than the Chinese stuff, even with the tariff added to the price.  Of course, American goods might conceivably be cheaper if we automated our manufacturing to the extent whereby there would be just a few employees left here working in this country with a lot of robots performing tasks formerly done by salaried workers.  That would lower prices on stuff made here. But this would create so much American unemployment, unfortunately, that consumers here would not have the jobs nor the money to be able to afford anything, regardless of any tariff which may or may not be involved.  (This may happen anyway as automated manufacturing grows.)  While this lack of consumption might temporarily cause prices to drop for the few remaining Americans who had jobs producing American-made goods, whatever they spend would not be sufficient to keep our economy growing.  Then, everything would grind to a halt as we entered a tariff-fueled depression.

Not even considered by the President is that China is not going to accept such tariffs without retaliating with ones of their own.  And these would severely impact the income of Americans, mostly in the agricultural areas of the Midwest, whose livelihood is based on exporting to China, who would look for another source from which to buy, for example, their soy beans, our major export to China.

That's a lot of soybeans they're buying from us!  (See if you can find the typo on this graph)
And these folks, many of whom voted for Trump, will begin to wonder why the bottom has fallen out of their soy bean market.  Or they might be just gullible enough to blame it on Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or Nancy Pelosi.  Fox is still busy attacking them and wondering why their wrongdoings aren’t being investigated with the vigor which Special Prosecutor Mueller is proceeding.  (The answer to that is that their ethical shortcomings, whatever they may be, are dwarfed by the smelly sludge surrounding the man in the White House.) But getting back to trade ....

Historically, there have been many who advocated the kind of blind protectionism of which President Trump seems to be a champion.  They have included Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot, both of whom ran for President.  Even Hillary Clinton took protectionist positions designed to cater to her union supporters. It's an easy, but often insincere, position to take. In fact, in reviewing some of my own letters, I have sometimes, usually too hastily, leaned in that direction. But in the end, America's corporate structure wielded enough power to keep protectionism in the background and wisely plant the United States firmly in the camp of globalization of trade.

Politics aside, the real answer is that a finely tuned world economy, where everyone trades with everyone else, with each country’s economy exporting what it does best and importing what others do better, works out well for all participants.  A little bit of government subsidy here and there and an occasional minor tariff to smooth things out can work wonders with such globalization.  It’s not so simple as the President sees it, but that’s what advisors are for.   And of course, advisors who always agree with you are of no value.  Advisors who make different suggestions aren’t any good either when the President, out of ignorance, agrees with all of them.
Jack Lippman

Who's Going to Hell?

The other evening, I heard Michael Avenatti (Stormy Daniels’ lawyer) comment during one of his many TV appearances that he was “shocked” by the quality of legal representation President Trump has in regard to his client’s case as well as for the President’s involvement with Special Prosecutor Mueller’s investigation, in which he is peripherally involved.  One would suspect that a successful businessman, now President of the United States, would have representation by top legal experts with heavy experience in these kinds of matters.  According to Avenatti, this is just not the case. He has made comments implying that while he is “playing chess,” Trump’s lawyers are playing “tic tac toe” in representing him.  

(Personally, I believe the President's horrid choice of lawyers is based on his conception of the lawyers as people who can figure out ways for you to do illegal things legally.  He has no concept of justice, honesty and no respect for the law.  That's his problem.)

This observation of Avenatti's is not unlike my oft-stated puzzlement about how a man of such limited intellectual ability managed to be successful in the New York City real estate world, where some of the most clever, shrewdest and sometimes dishonest operators are encountered on a daily basis.  From what I’ve seen from him as President, he lacks the ability to have been competitive in that arena.  Yet he was. 

Someday the story will be written of how Donald Trump’s road to success was paved.  From his initial funding by his successful (and bigoted) father, through his career as a real estate developer, casino and hotel operator, TV personality, reality show impresario and licensor of his name to others, to his ascension to the Presidency of the United States, there is much yet to be written.  There probably are dozens of competitors in each of the fields in which he has worked who are far superior to him in knowledge and business skills and who can out-negotiate him with one hand tied behind their backs. Of the seventeen who vied for the Republican Presidential nomination, he was clearly the least qualified for the job.  A blind man could see that!  Yet, he prevailed there as he has prevailed elsewhere.  The reasons why will someday be written about.  But not today.  And certainly not by me.  And it will be a best seller!

But quite simply, Donald Trump is going down.  How do I know?  I’ve increased my viewing time on Fox and I can sense the feeling of panic spreading throughout their organization.  Even Laura Ingraham  seems to be cracking, mouthing unsupportable ideas every time she talks.   Today’s Fox line is that the appointment of a Special Prosecutor is unconstitutional. Along with the President, they are being backed into a corner where they can no longer scream about Hillary Clinton’s emails or Benghazi  or  the evils of Obamacare.  They are beginning to realize that facts just cannot be denied.  They know the judge who signed off on the Justice Department seizure of records at Trump’s lawyer’s New York offices only did so because there were good and totally legal reasons to do so.  They know life-long Republican Robert Mueller has probably already found out enough to bring down the President. Whether he will go that far is another question, however.

Trump’s screaming at everyone in the Department of Justice (Sessions, Rosenbaum, Mueller) is an indication of his own panic.  Some Republicans are now becoming reluctant to apologize for him.  They don’t want to go down with him when his presidency collapses.  Paul Ryan is walking away from him, with family responsibility as his excuse. Mitch McConnell is still wearing his blinders, but they will be coming loose shortly.  And EPA Secretary Pruitt, who is far to the right of Trump, is practicing being President in his EPA environment, hoping to become a right wing alternative to an ultimately impeached President who will drag his Vice-President along with him into the recesses of history.  

Trump’s Russian connections, probably through Deutsche Bank financing, their effect upon the 2016 election, the payoffs engineered by his fixer, lawyer Michael Cohen, his lifetime of not paying bills, bankruptcies and  browbeating people, and his pathological womanizing will all come together to bring him down, abandoned by the Republican Party, and probably Melania and Ivanka as well.  It will almost equal the final scene of Mozart’s Don Giovanni.

Stick around.  It’s coming to a TV set in your home within the next five or six months.  I can feel it.

If, however, I am wrong, the only explanation can be that democracy in America no longer works.  That about 40% of the American people are firmly locked into Trump’s simplistic and ultimately unworkable solutions to their problems while the Republicans gleefully give tax breaks to the already wealthy  
and destroy regulations put in place to protect the American people, is a very sad commentary on the state of our nation.  It suggests that as the curtain descends, we and not Donald Trump might be the ones going to Hell.  But I don’t think I am wrong.

All, however, is not a bed of roses.   I feel that if the 2016 Presidential Election were held today, the results would be the same.  Trump's base in crucial states remains.  They ignore economics and they ignore anything that isn't on Fox.   Hence, the only solution rests in Democrats taking over the House in 2018 and coming close to taking over the Senate.  That will change things. It will somewhat level the playing field for the 2020 Presidential election.  Hopefully, the evil, the bigoted, the gullible and the just plain stupid people who comprise Trump's base will be neutralized with the G.O.P. given back to real Republicans.  They will lick their wounds, imposed from the right, attempt to regroup ... but be unable to hold off the Democrats.

Regulating the Internet

It is evident that the world of information technology encompassing such giants as Facebook, Google, Amazon and thousands of other players has reached a crossroads.  Their excesses have been reported in the media and included in recent blog postings here.  The signs at that crossroads point in two directions.  One is toward the European approach to the problem which features increased government regulation.  (The prior posting on this blog described one idea for us in this direction.)  The other is the traditional American approach of unregulated freedom for the Silicon Valleys of the world.  This position is championed by of all countries, China!  But we know, of course, that their position of a lack of formal regulation of the internet, allowing their theivery of technology to take place, occurs in a society where total regulation of everything else actually exists, so it's a no brainer to disbelieve them.


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HOW TO VIEW OLDER POSTINGS.                                                
To view older postings on this blog, just click on the appropriate date in the “Blog Archive” midway down the column off to the right, or scroll down until you see the “Older Posts” notation at the very bottom of this posting.  The “Search Box” in the right side of the posting also may be helpful in locating a posting topic for which you are looking.

To send this posting to a friend, or enemy for that matter, whom you think might be interested in it, just click on the envelope with the arrow on the "Comments" line directly below, enabling you to send them an Email providing a link directly to this posting.  You might also want to let me know their Email address so that they may be alerted to future postings.

Jack Lippman 

Friday, April 6, 2018

You're for Sale, Protecting Our Data and the Power of the NRA

Our mascot for this posting is the White Peacock butterfly, often seen in the woodlands in South Florida.  After the Monarchs and the Zebras, these are the most common butterflies in my neighborhood.

How Facebook Targets Ads to YOU

If you have any doubt when you use sites like Facebook (and others) at no monetary cost to yourself, that you are definitely not their "customer," you must visit https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2016/08/19/98-personal-data-points-that-facebook-uses-to-target-ads-to-you/?utm_term=.e8bdf79387db   (This is a link you can click on.)  It is an frightening piece which comes from The Washington Post.
Mark Zuckerberg, who founded Facebook, and Susan Sandberg, the brains behind running it. 

YOU are their merchandise which they are selling to others.  At best, it results in advertisements being directed to you, based on what they know about you and have sold to the advertisers.  At worst, it can dig into portions of you existence which you might not want to share with those to whom Facebook might sell it.  And that, I fear, can include government agencies.  Read the article.  It might cause you to exercise greater care when you go online.
Jack Lippman

Should the Government Regulate Data?

BloombergBusinessWeek devoted a full issue to one single article in June of 2015 when they published Paul Ford's essay on what "coding," the nuts and bolts of the data revolution, was all about.  When it comes to data, this man knows the score.  And when he addresses the challenge to your privacy posed by the internet, he is about as knowledgeable an authority that one can find!

A few weeks ago, BloombergBusinessweek published the following article by him, the reading of which is vitally important to all Americans.  All of us are in great danger.  Read why Paul Ford strongly feels that way and why this is included in this blog posting.

Silicon Valley Has Failed to Protect Our Data. Here’s How to Fix It

 It’s time for a digital protection agency. It’s clear ethics don’t scale, and it’s not just Facebook’s problem.
Paul Ford
March 21, 2018, 5:01 AM EDT
    Over and over in the last 20 years we’ve watched low-cost or free internet communications platforms spring from the good intentions or social curiosity of tech folk. We’ve watched as these platforms expanded in power and significance, selling their influence to advertisers. TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle—they grew so fast. One day they’re a lovable new way to see kid pix, next thing you know they’re reconfiguring democracy, governance, and business.

Facebook’s recent debacle is illustrative. It turns out that the company let a researcher spider through its social network to gather information on 50 million people. Then the Steve Bannon-affiliated, Robert Mercer-backed U.K. data analysis firm Cambridge Analytica used that data to target likely Trump voters. Facebook responded that, no, this was not a “breach.”  OK, sure, let’s not call it a breach. It’s how things were designed to work. That’s the problem.

For years we’ve been talking and thinking about social networks as interesting tools to model and understand human dynamics. But it’s no longer academic—Facebook has reached a scale where it’s not a model of society as much as an engine of culture. A researcher gained legitimate access to the platform and then just...kept going, and Cambridge Analytica ended up with those 50 million profiles. The hack was a true judo move that used the very nature of the platform against itself—like if you gave MacGyver a phone book and he somehow made it into a bomb.

What’s been unfolding for a while now is a rolling catastrophe so obvious we forget it’s happening. Private data are spilling out of bankscredit-rating providersemail providers, and social networks and ending up everywhere.

So this is an era of breaches and violations and stolen identities. Big companies can react nimbly when they fear regulation is actually on the horizon—for example, Google, Facebook, and Twitter have agreed to share data with researchers who are tracking disinformation, the result of a European Union commission on fake news. But for the most part we’re dealing with global entities that own the means whereby politicians garner votes, have vast access to capital to fund lobbying efforts, and are constitutionally certain of their own moral cause. That their platforms are used for awful ends is just a side effect on the way to global transparency, and shame on us for not seeing that.

So are we doomed to let them take our data or that of our loved ones and then to watch as that same data is used against us or shared by hackers? Yes, frankly. We’re doomed. Equifax Inc. sure won’t save us. Do we trust Congress to bring change? Do we trust Congress to plug in a phone charger? I’ll be overjoyed to find out I’m wrong. In the meantime, turn on two-factor authentication everywhere (ideally using a hardware dongle like a YubiKey), invest in a password manager, and hold on tight.

The word “leak” is right. Our sense of control over our own destinies is being challenged by these leaks. Giant internet platforms are poisoning the commons. They’ve automated it. Take a non-Facebook case: YouTube. It has users who love conspiracy videos, and YouTube takes that love as a sign that more and more people would love those videos, too. Love all around! In February an ex-employee tweeted: “The algorithm I worked on at Google recommended [InfoWars personality and lunatic conspiracy-theory purveyor] Alex Jones’ videos more than 15,000,000,000 times, to some of the most vulnerable people in the nation.”

The head of YouTube, Susan Wojcicki, recently told a crowd at SXSW that YouTube would start posting Wikipedia’s explanatory text next to conspiracy videos (like those calling a teen who survived the Parkland, Fla., shooting a “crisis actor”). Google apparently didn’t tell Wikipedia about this plan.

The activist and internet entrepreneur Maciej Ceglowski once described big data as “a bunch of radioactive, toxic sludge that we don’t know how to handle.” Maybe we should think about Google and Facebook as the new polluters. Their imperative is to grow! They create jobs! They pay taxes, sort of! In the meantime, they’re dumping trillions of units of toxic brain poison into our public-thinking reservoir. Then they mop it up with Wikipedia or send out a message that reads, “We take your privacy seriously.”

Given that the federal government is currently one angry man with nuclear weapons and a Twitter account, and that it’s futile to expect reform or self-regulation from internet giants, I’d like to propose something that will seem impossible but I would argue isn’t: Let’s make a digital Environmental Protection Agency. Call it the Digital Protection Agency. Its job would be to clean up toxic data spills, educate the public, and calibrate and levy fines.

How might a digital EPA function? Well, it could do some of the work that individuals do today. For example, the website of Australian security expert Troy Hunt, haveibeenpwned.com (“pwned” is how elite, or “l33t,” hackers, or “hax0rs,” spell “owned”), keeps track of nearly 5 billion hacked accounts. You give it your email, and it tells you if you’ve been found in a data breach. A federal agency could and should do that work, not just one very smart Australian—and it could do even better, because it would have a framework for legally exploring, copying, and dealing with illegally obtained information. Yes, we’d probably have to pay Booz Allen or Accenture or whatever about $120 million to get the same work done that Troy Hunt does on his own, but that’s the nature of government contracting, and we can only change one thing at a time.

When it comes to toxic data spills, it’s hard to know just how exposed you are. Literally all of us have been hacked—hard and a lot and mostly behind our backs. At least we could start to understand how bad it is. We could teach high school students to check the DPA site, to manage their own breaches. You’d go to the website to get good information about recovering from identity theft or a new social security number (we should also get rid of social security numbers as identification, but that’s another subject). It would have the forms you need to restore your identity, assert that you’d been hacked, and protect yourself. A nice thing for a government to do.

Let’s keep going! Imagine ranking banks and services by the number of data breaches they’ve experienced. Or a national standard for disclosure of how our private information is shared. (These ideas have been floated before in lots of different forms; the point is, how nice would it be if there was one government agency insisting on it in the same way that we have nutrition labels and calorie counts on our packaged foods?) The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was headed in this direction—if it can survive the current maelstrom, maybe its mandate could be expanded.

So: Lots of helpful information, plenty of infographics, a way to track just how badly you’ve been screwed, and, ideally, some teeth—the DPA needs to be able to impose fines. I’m sure there’d be some fuss and opposition, but, come on. The giants have so much money it would hardly matter. And consider this from their perspective: How much better will it be to have your lawyers negotiate with the DPA’s lawyers instead of being hauled before Congress every time someone blows a whistle on your breaches?

The EPA’s budget is more than $8 billion, a little on the high side for the digital version. You could pull this off with $15 million or $20 million for tech infrastructure and to support a team—four engineers to build the platform, some designers, and then a few dozen graphic artists to make the charts and tables. Add on $2 billion for management and lawyers, and you’ve got yourself a federal agency.

I know that when you think of a Superfund site, you think of bad things, like piles of dead wildlife or stretches of fenced-off, chemical-infused land or hospital wings filled with poisoned families. No one thinks about all the great chemicals that get produced, or the amazing consumer products we all enjoy. Nobody sets out to destroy the environment; they just want to make synthetic fibers or produce industrial chemicals. The same goes for our giant tech platforms. Facebook never expected to be an engine that destroys America. Lots of nice people work there. Twitter didn’t expect to become the megaphone of despots and white nationalists. But the simple principles of “more communication is better” and “let’s build community” and “we take your privacy seriously” didn’t stand a chance under the pressure of hypergrowth and unbelievable wealth creation.

Unfortunately, ethics don’t scale as well as systems. We’ve poisoned ourselves, and more than a little. Given the money and power at stake, it’s going to be hard to get everyone to admit we’re sick. But we owe ourselves—and, cliché though it may be, we owe our children—to be more pragmatic about treating the symptoms.

Paul Ford is the Co-founder of Postlight, a digital platform and product shop in NYC. He is on Twitter at @ftrain and email at paul.ford@postlight.com.

The Power of the National Rifle Association    

Are you aware that gun manufacturers are the only major industry in America that has immunity from facing lawsuits?  Congress granted gun makers this power in 2005, which consequently left families who lost children in mass shootings, like Sandy Hook and Parkland, without any way of holding these corporations accountable. Some of their firearms are designed specifically with the power to inflict mass damage, and yet the law says you can’t hold them responsible for making, marketing and selling them.  This is one example of the power the NRA has over our legislators.

Another is the law in Florida preventing local government from passing laws regulating firearms.  Doing so can result in substantial fines to the local government and removal from office of its elected officials.  This is another example of the power the NRA has over our legislators.

Neither you nor I gave them this power.  It comes from the concerted effort of its over five million members putting pressure on legislators through its paid lobbyists.  They donate money to candidates too but that is not as significant as the lobbying.  Elected officials know that without the votes of NRA members, they might be voted out of office, so they figuratively kiss their butts when it comes to issues concerning reducing gun violence.   

They hang their hats on a gross misinterpretation of the Second Amendment to the Constitution which has been supported, at least insofar as hand guns are concerned, by a Supreme Court which accepted a warped interpretation of the Second Amendment in 2008, reversing the more literal interpretation which had been followed for at least 210 years!  History will paint the hands of these Supreme Court Justices in the blood of those murdered by weapons which have no business being in the hands of anyone other than the military.

The NRA believes that even minimal steps to reduce gun violence will start a slide down a "slippery slope" which will remove guns from all private citizens.  So they oppose all reform!   Really, there are people in this country, in and out of the NRA, who fear that the existence of our government, or any government for that matter, is a danger to individual freedom.  Hence, they want to be able to have guns to oppose the government, should the need ever arise.  This is really what it is all about, and if a few dozen kids get gunned down every year by deranged individuals, that is the price America must pay to prevent its government from taking away their freedoms.  That is what opposition to gun legislation is really all about.  These people are sick.

Many readers of this blog are alerted by Email every time a new posting appears.  If you wish to be added to that Email list, just let me know by sending me an email at Riart1@aol.com.

Just send it to me by email at Riart1@aol.com.   YOU ALSO CAN SEND ME YOUR CONTRIBUTIONS TO BE PUBLISHED IN THIS BLOG AS WELL AS YOUR COMMENTS AT THAT ADDRESS.  (Comments can also be made by clicking on the "Post a Comment" link at the blog's end.)


HOW TO VIEW OLDER POSTINGS.                                                
To view older postings on this blog, just click on the appropriate date in the “Blog Archive” midway down the column off to the right, or scroll down until you see the “Older Posts” notation at the very bottom of this posting.  The “Search Box” in the right side of the posting also may be helpful in locating a posting topic for which you are looking.

To send this posting to a friend, or enemy for that matter, whom you think might be interested in it, just click on the envelope with the arrow on the "Comments" line directly below, enabling you to send them an Email providing a link directly to this posting.  You might also want to let me know their Email address so that they may be alerted to future postings.

Jack Lippman 

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Overdosing on Trump's Base, Belly Fat, Privacy, a Benevolent Monarch, Reducing Gun Violence and Peeking in Toolboxes

  Today's "mascot" is the Monarch butterfly, familiar to most of us.  There are fewer and fewer around these days for a variety of reasons.  You can help preserve this beautiful species by having a few milkweed plants around your house or garden.

An Addiction

The other morning on “Morning Joe,” MSNBC correspondent Kasie Hunt commented on what she thought was the reason so many Republicans in both houses of Congress were reluctant to speak out against the President’s efforts to discredit and conceivably ultimately fire Special Prosecutor Mueller, even though their body language and silence showed that they obviously disagreed with him.  Quite simply, she said, “They need him to get elected.”

Her comments reminded me that such behavior is not unlike that of a rock star who needs to take drugs to perform at the peak of their talents.  Without them, they fail, and sadly, by using them, they hasten their demise, which is often death as was the case with Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, 
Prince and others. 

Relying upon Trump’s base supporters to get elected isn’t quite the same as using drugs to perform, but many Republican Senators and Representatives are beginning to realize that becoming addicted to such support, developing a dependency upon it, may not be a good thing in the long run.  Are they beginning to fear that that sooner or later, this dependency will be, like that of the addicted rock stars, their downfall when Trump is “taken down” by whatever means it occurs? They will have “O.D.’ed” on Donald Trump’s voter base. 

And Vice President Pence, who is likely to be in the White House within the next year or two, is not immune to this addiction.  His allegiance to Donald Trump will further shatter his already somewhat questionable credentials.

Recognizing this, some are beginning to try to find a way out.  Going “cold turkey” and denouncing the President would be suicidal for many, so they are content with encouraging efforts to discredit Prosecutor Mueller while not openly supporting any movement to fire him by the President.  Those who are not blind know this kind of fence-sitting can only delay the negative result of their dependency upon his base and is a path leading to a dead end, disastrous to themselves, not to mention the Republican Party. 

Enough of these musings, though.  After watching "Morning Joe" for a while, I switched channels to Fox to see what was doing there.  The other media outlets were filled with broad criticism of the President for congratulating Vladimir Putin for his “electoral” (to use the President’s words) victory in the Russian elections.  His victory being universally acknowledged to have been in a corrupted, fixed election, the President was reminded in “caps” by his advisors, NOT TO CONGRATULATE HIM in his phone call.  Nevertheless, he did.  So what did Fox have to say about this?

Well, they had an apologist on who explained that by congratulating Putin, Trump was enhancing his ability to work with the Russian leader in solving international problems in Syria, North Korea and with ISIS. (Eventually, the White House made this explanation more or less official.)  Of course, they initially ignored mention of the spy poisoning case in the UK, our closest ally, and Russian interference in our own election process, well documented by our intelligence agencies.  To the millions of gullible viewers who spend their time watching Fox apologize for the President, this was sheer brilliancy on his part.  (And oh, yes, he then fired the National Security Advisor who probably was the one who told him not to congratulate Putin. Re-staffing the White House is being handled, I believe, by the Human Resources Department at Fox News.)
Jack Lippman

Belly Fat

Marie Osmond, who does the Nutri-System commercials on TV, is getting old and folks may be tiring of her telling them how to lose their “belly fat.”  Should she choose to retire, an obvious replacement would be Sarah Huckabee Sanders who sooner or later will be fired by the President.  Of course, they would have to throw in an appointment with a really talented hairdresser too. Am I being too cruel?

Privacy, Schmivacy

Another thought (although it is not original):  If you get something for free on the internet, you are not the customer!  Nothing is ever “free.”  You are paying for it by making yourself into “merchandise” to be the subject of another transaction by parties unknown to you.  You and everything that internet site knows about you is sold to advertisers or others interested in such information.  Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., don’t cost you a penny, but they make their money by peddling what they know about you.  Your “profile” on these social media sites contains much information you have voluntarily provided.  And you have no control, once they have it, as to how they peddle your information.
If you search for some free information on line about buying an appliance or car or check out airline fares or hotel prices in a particular location, you become the recipient of ads for car dealers, appliance stores, travel agencies and hotels. Gee whiz, how did they know you were interested in purchasing a late model used Mercedes convertible?  Well, they do and that is how you have paid the internet site you used “for free” for your information.  You have been sold to someone as a likely customer. You are the “merchandise” the “free” internet has for sale.  And unfortunately, this blog is no exception because it sits on a framework managed by Google.  But at least we give the pennies they pay us when you click on an ad to charity.

How much attention, really, do you pay to the “privacy notices” you receive from every utility, bank or other enterprise, financial or otherwise, with which you do business?  Or do you just throw them in the trash, unread, as I do.  Same goes for the “Terms of Service” of innumerable web sites you use.  You just click “Agree,” right?  They are required by law to tell you how they are using you, but you know that if you don’t click “Agree,’ you might not be able to use the site and you would have to move back to the way you did things in the twentieth century, depending on telephone calls, the U.S. Mail and trips to the public library.  But then, at least, you had your privacy.

A question:  If you have liberal, progressive, conservative or even radical political ideas, you might reflect those views by the sites on the internet you visit, the searches you make and the emails, often unsolicited, which you choose to open.  So long as you have no criminal intent, Is that anybody’s business but your own?  Really.

In totalitarian regimes in “the old days,” neighbors were called on to spy on neighbors.  Stalin’s Russia and Nazi Germany are good examples.  There are more.  But that isn’t necessary anymore.  We have the internet.  Think about it.  Think hard about it.

Democracy's Failure - Would a Monarch be Better?

How did we get into the mess we are in today?  Two posting ago, I suggested that democracy wasn’t working because of:

(1)  the misinformation which is financed in this country by corporate dollars under the guise of free speech allowed by the Citizens United Supreme Court decision,
(2) unrepresentative legislatures made possible by the gerrymandering of congressional and state legislative districts,
(3) the replacement of traditional reputable sources of information such as newspapers by tremendous numbers of unreliable and opinionated internet media outlets and the exchange of specious information through social media.
(4)  the acceptance in the minds of many of the existence of more than one version of “truth.” 

Thomas Jefferson is often quoted, or more likely misquoted, as saying that “an educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.”  While his remarks, if ever made, probably referred to education rather than to politics, they pretty much refer to the "educated citizenry” which the items (excluding the gerrymandering) listed above aim at destroying.  Ask yourself, because what we have isn’t working very well, would we be better off if we were not a democracy?

Would a kind and benevolent monarch or even a kind and benevolent dictator, one without worries as to where their plentiful resources were coming from, and faced no internal nor external threats, be better than a democracy which produces a Donald Trump in the White House, an N.R.A. supporting bad laws, the Koch brothers buying governmental power and an economy which caters to the wealthy and is not particularly kind and benevolent toward society’s have-nots? 

I think not.  Sooner or later the resources (think oil in Saudi Arabia) run out or threats to the monarch appear and then, the lack of democratic institutions can hurt or even be fatal … and the party will be over.  But in a democracy, so long as it doesn’t totally destroy itself, there is always the opportunity to rebuild and correct its errors.   The Roman Republic’s bicameral legislature, judiciary and executive branch (the consuls) lasted over half a millennium.  Our government, patterned after it, will last longer, once it corrects its flaws (enumerated above) and lets democracy get back to work.

Please register to vote!

Reducing Gun Violence

We worked hard on our local demonstrations here in South Florida supporting the kids who went to Washington last weekend to “March for Their Lives” and lobby for the only real kind of effective way to reduce gun violence, the banning of military assault weapons in the hands of civilians! 

We must keep the pressure on legislators.  Here is a copy of an email with which I blessed Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell last Saturday evening. 

“After today’s demonstrations all over the nation, it becomes clear that your leadership role in Congress demands that you personally introduce legislation banning assault weapons in the hands of civilians.  The alternative to this for you is to resign from Congress.  The NRA is, as of today, history.  The voices out there on the streets today, far outnumbering the NRA’s membership, are the present and the future and you must accept this … or leave office.

In D.C. vs Heller (which dealt only with handguns), the late Justice Scalia clearly stated that Second Amendment rights were not unlimited and that prohibitions on unusual and dangerous weapons were acceptable.  Remember this when you decide whether to introduce legislation banning assault weapons in the hands of civilians or tender your resignation.”

And while on the subject of reducing gun violence, here is a copy of a sign I have in the rear window of my car.
Up until now, I have been very careful where I drive with it displayed, even removing it when I leave my car parked.  But after seeing the guts those Parkland kids displayed in Washington, I am proud to display it anywhere I drive for all to see.  There has been a “sea change” in America since last week.  We all must be part of it.


Look in Their Toolboxes

Joe Scarborough recently pointed out that In the "Art of the Deal," Donald Trump advocates striking back as the best action to take when attacked.   And he has not hesitated to do so frequently during his  Presidency.   Please note that the only ones whose attacks he has responded to with silence are those of Stormy Daniels and Russia, in the personage of Vladimir Putin.  His silence, other than claiming that what he doesn't like to hear is "fake news," is his tacit admission that the tools in both Daniels' and Putin's toolboxes are more potent than he can handle.

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Jack Lippman