About Me

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Jack is a graduate of Rutgers University where he majored in history. His career in the life and health insurance industry involved medical risk selection and brokerage management. Retired in Florida for over two decades after many years in NJ and NY, he occasionally writes, paints, plays poker, participates in play readings and is catching up on Shakespeare, Melville and Joyce, etc.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Gun Violence, a Placard, a Letter and Amendments on the November Ballot

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.

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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.

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Jack Lippman 

The following piece was prepared before Sunday's shooting at a Waffle House in Nashville.  The deranged gunman, who killed  four with an AR-15, was the same individual who was apprehended and disarmed by the Secret Service last year attemping to see the President.  He also had claimed singer Taylor Swift was "stalking him."  His guns were returned to his family by the Secret Service and he was convicted of a misdemeanor, for which he performed community service.  Certainly this is the type of person who should have been under continual surveillance and referred for mental health counselling, and probably was. Yet, it turned out to be ineffectual.  It is ironclad proof that the "other measures" mentioned in the first paragraph which follows are inadequate because ...

It’s All About Guns, Not Shooters
(Some of this material originally appeared on the website of progressivemajorityaction.org.)
To me, and to the survivors of the Parkland MSD High School shooting, the most important step to be made in order to prevent gun violence is the banning of assault rifles in the hands of civilians.  Other measures (raising age limit for gun purchases, increased background checks, better school security, increased mental health resources) are fine but they do not address the core of the problem. 

We all know some weapons are too dangerous for civilian use. That’s why, for nearly 80 years, federal law has banned machine guns, sawed-off shotguns, silencers, very high-caliber firearms, grenades and bombs. Military-style assault rifles are versions of weapons made for our armed forces that are designed for rapid fire. They are weapons of war, and like machineguns, too dangerous for civilian use and should be included in such bans. 

So recognizing this is nothing new!  We have been banning these kinds of particularly dangerous weapons for years!   Don’t be ashamed of getting emotional about assault rifles. Just consider this: 
   Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut—20 children and 6 faculty murdered with a semiautomatic copy of the U.S. military’s M-16 rifle.
          Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado—13 killed and 23 wounded with four guns, including 55 rounds fired from a TEC-9 semiautomatic assault pistol.
·          Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton, California—5 small children killed and 30 wounded with a semiautomatic copy of the Soviet military’s AK-47 rifle. 
·         And most recently, of course, the killer at Parkland used the same kind of weapon used at Newtown, an AR-15 knock off the Army’s M-16 to murder 17 victims.  

                        Students exiting Marjory Stoneman Douglas H.S. in Parkland, FL at time of shooting.

   That nothing has been done, after all of this and more, about these weapons is enough to make one cry.

What makes these guns "different" is they were originally designed as machineguns, so they have features like large-capacity magazines, pistol grips and barrel shrouds that enable the shooter to shoot a lot of bullets very rapidly and still keep control of the gun. In the hands of someone with practice, an assault rifle can fire almost as fast as a banned machinegun. (You can see this on videos readily accessible over YouTube.)  A "bump stock," eliminating the necessity of repeated trigger squeezing, turns "semi-automatic" (which is bad enough) into "automatic" weaponry.  But even without much practice, and without a bump stock, anyone can fire two rounds per second from an AR-15, emptying a 30 round magazine in 15 seconds or less.

In all likelihood, if and when this issue reaches the Supreme Court, the Justices will probably look to the majority opinion in D.C. vs Heller, the 2008 Supreme Court case which negated the District of Columbia’s ban on handguns.   In that opinion, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, highly respected on the right, wrote:  

Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment,  nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.  We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms. Miller (another case cited by Justice Scalia) said, as we have explained, that the sorts of weapons protected were those “in common use at the time.” 307 U. S., at 179.  We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons.”

Justice Scalia said it all.  Assault rifles are indeed "dangerous and unusual weapons."  If you don't think so, re-read the article above. Eventually, the Supreme Court will ban them in the hands of civilians.  That day will come, but we must work to accomplish it much sooner.  Demonstrate, show your support and make it very clear to legislators on all levels that in the face of preventable tragedies, "thoughts and prayers" are not enough.
Jack Lippman

Florida's Constitutional Amendments (with some tongue in cheek)

Those Florida residents who have spent time in other parts of the country know that despite its fine climate, cultural attractions and recreational opportunities, the Sunshine State is a very backward place.  This is because in its northern regions, generally describable as the areas to the northwest of the I-4 corridor running from Daytona to Tampa, the possibility exists that there has been much inbreeding among the residents, resulting in many having mentalities little removed from Neanderthal man.  Many fine examples of this are found in Florida’s State legislature.

Every twenty years a commission of these dimwits is assembled to come up with proposed Constitutional Amendments to place before Florida’s voters.  This is such a year.  Amendments are supposed to be very basic things but often they deal with subjects most other States handle by simply passing laws.  Florida’s legislature is very weak on passing laws, other than the boilerplate right wing stuff the American Legislative Exchange Council provides for them to act upon.  That’s why there are thirteen proposed Amendments scheduled to be on the ballot in November.  (None are as bad, however, as the Amendment to protect pregnant pigs, passed in 2002 to regulate the hog industry.  That should have been handled legislatively, but to avoid offending some voters, the buck was passed on to the electorate which  made it part of the State’s Constitution.  That’s good for pigs.)

Making things into Amendments, rather than just passing laws, is undemocratic because the Legislature at some later date can find it difficult to pass needed laws in the face of existing Constitutional Amendments.  This might subvert the will of the people.  Amendments should be reserved for very basic things, expected to be of a permanent nature.

Florida State House Pictured Above

To become part of the State Constitution, at least 60% of the voters must approve an Amendment.  Other than being put on the ballot by this screwball commission, Amendments can be proposed if at least 750,000 voters petition to do so.  The most important Amendment being proposed this year (Amendment Number Four), and it got on the ballot by petition, would restore voting rights to felons who have fully paid their debt to society (other than murderers and sexual offenders).  Florida’s present method of handling this problem has been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

But some of the Amendments proposed by the “commission” are ludicrous.  So that they wouldn’t have too many to propose, these geniuses combined more than one issue into single proposed Amendments. 

For example, banning the use of electronic smoking devices, sometimes called “vaping,” is paired with the banning of offshore oil and gas drilling.

This poses a problem for someone who abhors the smoking of electronic cigarettes in otherwise “non-smoking” areas but who owns a lot of stock in companies aiming to cash in on petroleum deposits off of Florida’s coasts.   One can’t ban one without voting to ban the other.  Of course, neither warrants being an Amendment; they should be individual laws debated and voted upon by legislators. 

Another beauty from the Neanderthal commission calls for three things: (1) Requiring civic literacy in public education, (2) Establishing school board term limits and (3) Allowing the State to operate non-board established schools.  
While most voters probably won’t object to teaching “civic literacy,” some might object to the State being able to bypass local Boards of Education by opening its own schools (“charter schools”?) and setting term limits for members of those Boards.  Some may support one of these things but not the other.  They will have a problem.  Perhaps they should take up “vaping.” 
Of course, in normal states, teaching “civic literacy” is usually an educational “given,” not requiring a Constitutional Amendment, but someone who opposes the State opening its own schools and/or limiting school board term limits, is forced to vote against “civic literacy,” something few would normally oppose.  In this case, the commission apparently wants to use the desirability of “civic literacy” to get people to vote to take power away from local school boards.  This is a political move, and again, something that should not be made part of the State Constitution.

Constitutional provisions, including Amendments, are different from laws passed by a legislature.  They are intended to be permanent bedrock upon with legislation is based, but not deal with specific issues.  Florida politicians are unable to grasp this very basic concept.  This shortcoming goes back a long time.
Stuff like this in backward States like Florida stems from the victorious Union after the Civil War in 1865 not doing away with the treasonous Confederate States and turning them into colonies until they learned to properly govern themselves, which to this day, they have not.  

Blame it on Andrew Johnson and the Republicans who succeeded Abraham Lincoln and permitted the corrupted Reconstruction of the South to take place.
At this point, my recommendation to Florida voters is not to vote on any proposed Amendment dealing with more than one thing, unless you happen to agree or disagree with all of the items covered in that proposed Amendment.   I believe there will be five such Amendments on the ballot.  As for the ones dealing with only one subject, most voters should already have sufficient ‘civic literacy’ to make a choice on them.  The one Amendment I feel must be passed, and which I urge all to support, is Amendment Four, restoring the vote to felons who have fully paid their debt to society, bringing Florida in line with the 39 more progressive States which in varying degrees allow them to vote.

On this subject, here is the text of a letter I sent to the Palm Beach Post last week.
So far, they have not published it.  But I thought it might be of interest to you.

Last Sunday’s Post editorial and other articles on the subject made it clear that Floridians will be asked to vote on a daunting number of proposed constitutional amendments in the November election.  This might cause harried voters not to give these amendments the attention they deserve.  This would be a mistake because the amendment restoring the right to vote to felons (other than killers and sex offenders) who have served their sentences in full is by far the most important constitutional amendment proposed in years.  Attaining the 60 percent needed to pass it will be difficult.  In fact, it only got on the ballot the “hard” way, by the submission of petitions signed by at least 750,000 voters.   Its passage should be of great importance to those minority groups among which many felons who have paid their debt to society can be found.   Hopefully, this will bring out an increased number of voters in such communities.  Both major parties will take note of this.

Democrats, recognizing that minority voters generally support their candidates, can look forward to these new voters voting for Democratic candidates as well as voting for the proposed amendment, their motivation for their going to the polls in the first place.  Therefore, beside proposing the restoration of voting rights to felons, this amendment has potent political implications as well.   And they are not bright for Republicans.

Window Sign

Suggestion:  Copy and paste this, enlarged if you are able to, and place it behind the back seats of your car so it can be seen out of the rear window.   You might want to remove it, as I do, when leaving the car parked on the street or in a public lot.  You never know.

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.


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 

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.

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Jack Lippman