Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Class warfare or Race warfare?

According to the always ahead of the curve The Big Picture:

The Terrible Handling of the Economic Crisis Is a Cause of the Ferguson Riots

TBP's points basically come to "we told you 3 years ago that the economy was going to cause class warfare and riots".  And you can check the archive, they did indeed say that (several links in their article.)  And they have several good points in their prediction.

But the fact that they predicted class warfare does not prove that the current riots in Ferguson are in fact class warfare.  How would we go about distinguishing class warfare from race warfare?

Kareem Adbul-Jabar (yes, that guy) says that Ferguson is class warfare.  His argument amounts to "the upper class are using government against the lower class, and that should lead to riots and protests."  And while I agree whole-heartedly with what he says here, "should" is not proof.

Why does this matter?  Because class warfare matters.  The 1% have been abusing the system for generations, and when the 99% really begin to move we need to have a goal in mind.  I have a goal in mind, and I need to know if it is time for me to drop everything and begin shouting that goal from the roof-tops.

So, how do we really determine if Ferguson is a race riot or class warfare?  I've googled, and I can't find an answer.  If you can find an answer, please comment and let me know.

In the meantime, these are my theories for the difference:
* Race riots are generally directed at a single event.  Class warfare will have to be broader in scope.
* Race riots are local.  Class warfare has to be regional or national.
* Race rioters are almost exclusively members of a single race.  Class warfare will require many races to stand together in unison.

At this point Ferguson looks like a race riot to me.  It could still escalate.  I have great confidence in Eric Holder's ability to screw up the situation further.

I do not wish for violence. But something has to change.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Near constant financial distress

Interesting article about how poverty impacts the way a person thinks.

The author uses the term "financial distress" as an equivalent to poverty.  I think this is a brilliant insight.  I earn a good income (and I'm thankful for it), but because I have a big family and lots of stuff happening we are in a perpetual state of financial distress.  We're one big medical bill away from bankruptcy.  We would have to go into ugly debt if (when) our home A/C goes out or if (when) one of our cars dies.

I wonder if the coming revolution will tap into all of the financially distressed, or only with the extremely disaffected (see Ferguson.)  If I can explain to the financially distressed how Democracy 2.0 would help them get out of distress (without violence), then I might see this in my lifetime.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Flaws in the PRISM

The PRISM project is flawed.  This short thought experiment will highlight the flaws.
Let's say that "your guy" wins the next election and becomes president.  Your guy is wise beyond his years, cares for the people, and has all of the right policies to really fix up this country.  In four years your guy will be up for re-election against some "bad guy" from the other side.  This bad guy is particularly loathsome because he is both corrupt to the core and an idiot who can't tie his own shoes. 
Your guy has an ace up his sleeve for the re-election race, and he needs to decide whether or not to play it.  He could order someone in the NSA to use PRISM to spy on the bad guy's campaign--listen to their phone calls, read their emails, and intercept their plans.  This would allow your guy to always be one step ahead of the bad guy in the campaign.  Your guy would be prepared for everything that the bad guy could throw at him.  And your guy could know which questions the bad guy isn't prepared for.  It might not be decisive, but it would be a tremendous advantage. 
Your guy might not play that ace, because he holds to a moral code.  But the bad guy doesn't hold to a moral code.  If the bad guy wins, then he will have no restraint because he is already corrupt and immoral--and he might not even be smart enough to understand the moral arguments against this abuse of power.  The bad guy will certainly use the power of PRISM to keep himself and his cronies in power indefinitely. 
Your guy knows that if the bad guy ever gets a hold of PRISM the country will be lost.  There will be an unending chain of bad guys winning all of the major elections.  The irrational and corrupt policies of those bad guys will destroy this country.  So perhaps your guy will play that ace in order to keep PRISM out of the hands of those bad guys.
It might not be this election or the next election, but eventually someone will succumb to this argument and play that card.  It might not be the president.  It might be a worker bee who finds some plausible pretext to focus PRISM on their political adversaries--allegations of illegal campaign funding on the other side, allegations of vote tampering on the other side, etc.

Your guy doesn't necessarily have to PRISM the opposing candidate directly.  He could PRISM the press, the pollsters, the think-tanks and party stooges, or even campaign contributors.  A few well-placed FBI investigations could freeze soft-money contributions into the PACs, and dramatically shift the balance of war chests in an election.

This is the very definition of the phrase "power corrupts".

The fundamental flaws with PRISM are
  • It gives the incumbent party too much power over the next election
  • It has no transparency, so we cannot ever find out about the abuses of power
Nuclear weapons don't have this problem, because the incumbent cannot use nuclear weapons against his political opponent.  Politicians have used the FBI and IRS to attack their political opponents, but those abuses come to light and get tried in the court of public opinion (at minimum.)  After the Snowden betrayal you had better believe that there will be no whistle-blowers coming out of PRISM telling us about the abuses of PRISM power.

PRISM is too large of a threat to the democratic process to be allowed to exist in its current form.  It must be scaled down.  There must be checks and balances installed.  There must be external oversight and delayed transparency.

For instance:
  • There must be a court order for each investigation
  • The court(s) issuing these orders must be as independent as possible from the administration
  • Each court order can be sealed for a period of time, but must be unsealed after a period of months
  • There must be a data destruction policy built into PRISM to enforce a statute of limitations
  • There must be a secure process for whistle-blowers inside of PRISM to expose abuses
  • There must be a public ongoing vetting process for PRISM workers to keep political stooges out of the system
Those are just initial ideas.  We need to stop assuming that we can trust the politicians to operate this tool.  We have to get involved.  We have to demand to see the data on the successes and abuses, in order to find out if PRISM really is stopping terrorist attacks or if it is just a giant defense contractor boondoggle.

I propose that we need to insist an independent citizens' board conduct a thorough investigation of PRISM and publish findings and recommendations.  This board should have 5-7 people:
  • Technology people who will understand what they are seeing
  • An even number of Democrats and Republicans, with the odd seat filled by an Independent
  • No one who has ever run for election, worked in a political campaign, or worked for an elected politician or political party

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The best news I've heard all day

California and New York Attorney Generals are going to start prosecuting loan origination fraud, including lenders who ignored borrower's ability to repay.  The laws have always been on the books, so they can go as far back as the statute of limitations will allow them.

If I were a lender who had done business in one of those two states I would be packing right now, headed for a non-extradition territory with as much of my loot as I could carry.

I don't think that is going to happen.  I think that the banks are going to stall the lawsuits and finance competitors to these AGs.  And I am afraid that the cost for all of this is going to be borne by the little people, as banks raise fees and/or lower interest rates.

But it is the right thing to do.  The past cannot be fixed, but the future can only be salvaged if we start enforcing the rule of law.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The rule of law

I am very impressed by Barry Ritholtz.  His latest article is one of his best ever.

The rule of law must apply to the big banks.  The government should not be in the bail-out business because it undermines their willingness to apply the rule of law to those banks.  Barry has the details.  Go and read.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Killing in the name of

One of the things I love most about America is our ability to protest.  If someone says or does something I disagree with, then I have the right to call them down.  The closer that they are associated with me, the more my right becomes a responsibility.

The Catholic church can excommunicate people who stray from the faith.  The protestant church has no such tools.

I'm a believer.  The people of Westboro Baptist Church claim to be believers.  They are associated with me.  I would excommunicate them, if there were a way to do that.  But there isn't.  So I just have to protest as I can.

Westboro Baptist Church does not believe in the same Jesus I believe in.  They do not worship the same God I do.  They are not members of the family of faith that I am a member of.  They are heretics.  They embarrass God by spewing hate.

I denounce Westboro Baptist Church in the strongest possible terms.

I do not advocate violence.  I am not planning on doing any violence, and I do not want anyone else to do any violence.  Committing violence against Westboro Baptist Church would be worse than ignoring them.  If you are considering acts of violence, please do not do it.

However, I do hope and pray that the church would get destroyed by a tornado.  I don't want anyone to get hurt, but I would like to see that false community of believers face some of the so-called divine retribution the scream at everyone else who suffers.

As for the people themselves, I wish that there was some way that they could see the Truth.  I hope for a path to repentance for them.  I want to see them repent and apologize, rather than perish and suffer.  I wish there was a way that I could participate in God's work towards that end.

I'm convinced that God is working in that direction.  There is no one who is beyond His forgiveness.  No one, not even Westboro Baptist Church, has failed so badly that He cannot redeem.  But I wonder who God can call to reach them.  Who would they listen to?  I wish I were such a person.  But I am not.

I am happy that the world is finding ways to cope with the vile hatred that Westboro Baptist Church spews.  The good citizens of Brandon Mississippi have it right.  If I had been at that gas station ans seen that fight, I certainly would not have turned in the person/people who did it.  And I would gladly park my car behind theirs to keep them from being able to protest.

But the real trick here was what the cops did.  I believe that this will be the pattern that the authorities use from here on out.  The WBC members could learn to cope with having their cars blocked in the hotel parking lot.  They could work around that.  But they cannot work around being hauled down to the police station on investigation in regards to a crime.

Now, at every town where Westboro Baptist Church goes to protest, someone will call the police and report a robbery somewhere near the church members/protesters are staying.  The police will bring all of the WBC members in for questioning.  They will be questioned for a few hours, and then released.

This is not injustice.  This is not suppressing the freedom of speech.  This is a free people finding a way to work within the system to temporarily silence a voice that no one wants to hear.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The shadow government

If you care about government spending, debt, or the future of America, then go read this article.  Warning: It's Rolling Stone, so there's ample profanity.  If you understand how we're being stolen from then you'll be tempted to partake in the profanity.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The thing that has always amused me about the robot apocalypse

Isn't it funny that we always seem to be happy to create the tools of our own destruction?

I wonder if this guy realizes the Pandora's Box he has opened?  Surely someone else would come along and open it later, if he didn't do it now.  But it's still very creepy how we pretend that all progress is good progress.

Clearly the world would be better off if no one ever solved this particular software puzzle.  But there is no way for us to all agree to not do it, so someone is bound to do it.  I think that this particular economic problem--the lack of a system for agreeing to not do something--will be the great Achilles heel of humanity.  The last words of our species will be, "I wish we could have come up with a way to agree to not do that."

Saturday, April 2, 2011

American Oligarchs

I've been writing about Democracy 2.0 / Evolving Democracy for a while now.  I've been treating it as a purely academic exercise, because I've assumed that there would be no chance for anything like it being adopted in my lifetime.  I just wanted to leave a challenging idea behind for future generations to chew on, in the hopes that a revolution would occur someday, and that my ideas would help form the next new best government without resorting to violence.

I'm starting to believe that there will be revolution in America in my lifetime.  These two commentaries mirror my own thoughts on the subject:
Joseph Stiglitz details the extreme income imbalance.
Paul Farrell identifies the delusion of the Super-Rich.

Kareem Adbul-Jabar's recent Op-Ed in Time also mirrors my own thoughts on this.  Mr. Adbul-Jabar's Op-Ed is in response to the recent unrest in Ferguson, Missouri.

"It's class warfare. My class is winning, but they shouldn't be."
     -Warren Buffet

Warren Buffet is right.  The rich are waging war on the poor.  Government is supposed to be the protector of the people; the mediator of class struggle. But the rich have infiltrated the government and undermined its ability to judge impartially.

Princeton University recently conducted a study of politics in America (summary - full results.)  The researchers concluded that America is no longer a democracy, but has transformed into an oligarchy--rule by the wealthy elite.

I hate the idea of America being an Oligarchy.  But if the shoe fits.....

I've been thinking about the right criteria for determining who the American oligarchs are:

Simply identifying the 1% or the 0.1% would get you a close approximation.  But the real oligarchs probably hide their assets in order to stay off of the Forbes list.

Tracking lobbyist spending will get you closer.  But the real oligarchs will not likely appear on that list--they have people who do that stuff for them.

Such a list has not been disclosed, but I'll bet every penny I have that the NSA has a "Do Not Track" list.  These are people that their government masters have told them are above suspicion.  Their phone calls are not recorded.  Their emails are not read.  Their license plates are not tracked.  All of the American Oligarchs are on that list.  How do we get a copy of that list?

Friday, March 18, 2011

This is what YouTube is for

Problems with my tires forced me to replace my shocks and struts yesterday.

My car has 100k miles.  The fuel filter has never been changed.  It idles low and rough, and has been losing power.  So it was time to change it.  The shop where I had my oil changed wanted $30 for the filter and $50 for the labor.

I bought a new fuel filter for $8.  After I had the rear shocks replaced I tried to pull off the old filter.  I have the Haynes repair manual that has step-by-step for stuff like this, and I followed the steps.  I fought with it for half an hour and couldn't get it disconnected.

This morning I googled it and found this YouTube video:

The voice is monotone.  But the instructions are better than the stupid Haynes manual because this guy shows the critically important fuel line disconnect tool!?!?!?!?  I can't believe that the Haynes manual missed this.

That tool is $5 at the local part store, and they have it in stock.

The shop wanted $1300 to do the shocks and struts, and $80 to do the fuel filter.  I'm going to have both done for $300 and about 5-6 hours.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

3d modeling in the near future

Microsoft provides an open interface for Kinect, which lets hackers use the Kinect camera for whatever crazy projects they can come up with.

This video is a little technical, but even non-technical folks should be able to follow the amazing new user interface.

I would expect to see more refined versions of this commercially available within the next two years.  3d CGI will faster, easier, better looking, and more accessible to amateurs.

Hopefully Microsoft will learn something from this project and open the interface for more projects.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Bankers talking about moral hazard

Bankers talking about moral hazard is something like rapists talking about chastity.

The New York Times is reporting that Bank of America is refusing to write down mortgages, as they have been paid and ordered to do by the government.  Their main argument is moral hazard.  They believe it would be bad business to reward home owners who took out larger loans than they could actually afford.  Seriously.

Tar and feather is too good for these people.  I have a strict non-violence policy, but the gall of these people is pushing my limits.

They are busy paying billions in bonuses to themselves, the crooks who wrecked the economy, and they claim to worry about the moral hazard of rewarding someone else?

Their secondary argument holds a little water.  They claim to be unable to figure out who to give how much write-down to.  This boils down to claiming that they are incompetent.  "Oh, the figures are just too hard to compute."  I've worked with the mortgage modification program people at Wells Fargo, and I would accept the argument that they are incompetent to do the math.

Well, I'll help them out.  We'll make it simple for them.  Any mortgagee who wants it gets a free re-fi, on these specific terms--regardless of their credit rating, payment history, LTV, etc.  If they currently do not pay PMI then they do not have to pay PMI on the new mortgage, either.
* Take the current principle balance and refinance that amount for 30-years at a low fixed rate.
* The rate they get depends upon the amount of their current principle balance, according to this sliding scale:
- Less than or equal to $100k -> 3%.
- Between $100k and $150k -> 3.125%
- Between $150k and $200k -> 3.25%
- Between $200k and $250k -> 3.375%
- Between $250k and $300k -> 3.5%
- Between $300k and $350k -> 3.625%
- Between $350k and $400k -> 3.75%
- Between $400k and $450k -> 3.875%
- Between $450k and $500k -> 4%
- Between $500k and $600k -> 4.25%
- Between $600k and $700k -> 4.5%
- Between $700k and $800k -> 4.75%
- Between $800k and $900k -> 5%
- Between $900k and $1M -> 5.25%
- Between $1M and $1.5M -> 5.5%
- Between $1.5M and $2M -> 5.75%
- Between $2M and $5M -> 6%

Obviously the sliding scale will be endlessly debated and negotiated, but I think that the government could cram this down the mortgage companies' throats.  And I think it would do a tremendous amount of good for the economy.

I'll take myself as an example.  We're not in the moral hazard set.  We paid down 10% and took out an 80% and a 10%.  We owe less than the market value of the property.  We have never been late on a payment.  And our credit ratings are still excellent.  We've been in our house a few years.  We would take this deal.  Based upon that sliding scale we would save about $350 per month.