Corruption

The degree of corruption in this President and his Administration is so exhaustive it’s difficult to quantify. From the level of dishonesty on all things–from the most petty to the most consequential–the complete ignorance of, and most disgracefully, the complete disregard for the law, the Constitution and our bedrock principles of democracy, to the overt self-enrichment and promotion of the Trump brand using his position as President, the most audacious aspect of it all is its obviousness! It’s completely in your face, out in the open, bald-faced corruption. His children wield vast powers in fabricated positions in the White House. Government agencies promote the Trump family’s books and their Florida resort. The President relentlessly attacks and maligns all adversaries, imagined and actual. He has filled his cabinet with cronies and is hellbent on undoing all things done by his predecessor through the very same Executive Orders he maligned him for using.

But the most chilling event in this terrifying experiment of having an ignorant old con man running the nation is his firing of the Director of the FBI, who was leading an investigation into the ignorant old con man running the nation. Again, the overt outrageousness of this action, reeking as it does of covering up wrongdoing by getting rid of the guy uncovering the wrongdoing is its most appalling aspect. I mean, there isn’t even an attempt at subtlety! The President and his minions will just blatantly lie, on television, in front of cameras, knowing full well that video exists to prove that they are lying. It’s as if they are daring the nation to try to stop them from doing precisely what they appear to be doing, which is enriching themselves by using the full power of their elected positions and ousting anyone who gets in the way.

I’ve stopped sharing the news articles on social media because they’re ubiquitous. The only question that remains unanswered is if our Republic’s systems of checks and balances and law and order are sufficiently solid to take the needed steps to remove this President and his people from their lofty perches. Impeachment seems like the least that should be done! For the full weight of justice to be felt would likely involve imprisonment of who knows how many people.

A Proclamation!

This is a truly astounding document, but what makes it so is that it isn’t irony or satire. The President of the United States has proclaimed that the date of his inauguration as the 45th man to lead the nation is a day of patriotic devotion. Par for the course, to use a metaphor near and dear to the President’s heart, Mr. Trump makes bold assertions which are extravagantly exaggerated, and devoid of any real substance. In the face of historic protests against his rise to power, he proclaims that a new national pride has swollen the breast of every American, and that despite 11 million more citizens choosing someone other than him as their desired leader, we are united by a common purpose.

The best one say about this proclamation is that for once, Mr. Trump doesn’t only speak of himself in the highest regard, but throws a bone to the American citizen as he proclaims them the greatest of all the world’s people.  There is a disclaimer though, as he warns that there is no freedom where the people don’t believe in it, no law where the people won’t follow it, and perhaps most absurdly, no peace unless the people pray for it.

I strain to see the value in this proclamation. It feels disconnected from the reality of this tumultuous transition of power, with its false attempts at lumping all Americans in the same pot. It reeks of isolationism and overt nationalism, hammering away at the theme of the Trump campaign to restore a still nebulous and ill defined greatness to the country. Ultimately it comes across as yet another pat on one’s own back for ascending to the ultimate celebrity, while ignoring the excruciating blow to the American psyche from the inversely lopsided victory, cloaked in suspicion of foul play. Perhaps my cynicism is reaching critical mass, so I will leave the Proclamation here to revisit at some future date where perhaps, in spite of seemingly overwhelming obstacles to the path of unity, we will find our bonds strengthened under the astute leadership of the Celebrity President.

 

National Day of Patriotic Devotion

 

Belief

I don’t know why it’s so difficult for people to shake the concept of belief out of their skulls, but the dangers implicit in this mentality are currently on display in truly frightening ways. US Intelligence Agencies have concluded that Russian Intelligence Services penetrated the US Government’s IT resources.

Link to the Report

The stolen materials were shared with Wikileaks, who then broadcast what was contained in the private email communications from the team of one of the two Presidential Candidates in the 2016 Presidential Election. The President-Elect of the United States has chosen to attack the US Intelligence community, who have uncovered this disturbing information, and take up sides with the Russian Government. Today, Sean Hannity of FOX News, who apparently will take on a new role as propagandist, tweeted this after his interview with Wikileaks’ notorious Julian Assange:

screenshot-2017-01-04-at-5-34-35-pm

Which brings me to the crux of my point: Believing has nothing to do with it. A quick look at the list of things that people believe should convince one that there has to be a better way of knowing what’s true:

Things People Believe that they Shouldn’t

  • Bigfoot is out there
  • The Lochness Monster is real
  • They’ve been abducted by aliens
  • A Rabbit’s foot can be “lucky”
  • Astrology is real
  • Evolution isn’t true
  • Psychics can predict the future
  • Vaccines cause autism
  • Acupuncture does something
  • Angels are real
  • Demons are real
  • Ghosts exist
  • Houses can be haunted
  • 9/11 was an inside job
  • The Newtown Sandy Hook massacre was staged
  • The moon landing was fake
  • The Earth is flat

 

We shouldn’t be asking what anyone believes! The questions we should be asking are, what does the evidence suggest? Is the evidence compelling, and is the source(s) credible? Is there contrary evidence to consider? Does the evidence support a particular hypothesis? What conclusions can we draw now, using the available evidence? Do those conclusions require making assumptions for which we have no evidence?

There is manipulation, diversion, deflection and misdirection at play here, and people who are unaware of their own innate biases are being led astray. People’s beliefs are given credibility, posted in online or print headlines, or plastered across TV screens. What we believe is irrelevant. What can be shown and proven to be a candidate for the truth is what matters. Bald-faced assertions with no evidence of their veracity must be dismissed, and no one needs to compile evidence for why they should be dismissed. There’s no need to do their work for them. The person who asserts something has the obligation to provide proof that it’s true, or at least plausibly could be true. There is no obligation for anyone to prove that something someone else asserts isn’t true. That my friends, is another technique called shifting the burden of proof.

Allow me to demonstrate:

  • I have an original, autographed Babe Ruth baseball card in a safe deposit box, believe me.

You ask me to produce it, but I tell you that I can’t get to it now, because it’s in a bank in another state where I used to live. But I’m hurt that you don’t believe me, or I start getting angry that you doubt me. Being a bright and skeptical person, you could begin to search the Worldwide Web to determine how many original autographed Babe Ruth baseball cards are in existence, and perhaps if we know who owns them. You could check with experts in sports memorabilia to get their opinion on the likelihood of my owning such an item. Or… you could tell me that it seems highly unlikely that I have such an item and that unless I can produce it, you don’t believe me. As uncomfortable as that last option is, it is the correct option. You are under no burden to prove that I don’t have the card.

Fact checking has become a regular part of our daily lives now, and that’s a good thing. But fact checking comes well down the line from the original claim and may never be seen, or may be seen after the damage is done and people have been sold the lie. What needs to happen is that in real time, baseless claims needs to be challenged. The media, whose job it is to report the truth, needs to immediately stop assisting the braggarts and liars and start calling them out on their unsubstantiated remarks. Even putting the word “alleges” or “claims” in front of the person’s statement would be a great start.

“Donald Trump alleges he knows things no one else knows about the hacking of government accounts,” would be a better headline than “Donald Trump says he knows things no one else knows…” Here, I’ve rewritten just a few recent headlines:

  • “Trump claims that he believes Julian Assange is telling the truth, although he has no evidence to support it.”
  • “Mitch McConnell just asserts that he doesn’t believe the American people will tolerate blocking Trump’s SCOTUS nominee.”
  • Conservative writer: “Atheists who raised money for Christian charity were doing it for publicity,” although he provides no basis for his statement.

This kind of real time qualification of people’s baseless claims will go a long way toward alerting the reading public that this statement hasn’t been vetted; no one has demonstrated its truthfulness to date. We need to be skeptical, we should demand proof and we should stop just believing things because someone said it, no matter how pretty, famous, smart or powerful they may be.

The Politics of Bullshit

Everything isn’t political spin. Every event isn’t seen through a prism of ideological preference. Some things just are what they actually are. If the Electoral College chooses a President who was selected by a minority of American voters, that’s exactly what is happening. If I find that troubling, it isn’t because I’m politically aligned with the losing side. It’s because 54% of Americans chose someone else. 10.5 million more people voted for someone other than the man who will be sworn in, yet sworn in he will be. I find this disturbing for the factual reasons, i.e. the United States will live under minority rule for the next 4 years, not because my political feelings have a boo-boo.

US Intelligence has found compelling evidence to suggest that the hacking of private government email accounts, and the releasing of that information to Wikileaks, was done by Russian agents, in what appears to be an attempt to influence the US Presidential Election. I find this troubling not because the Democratic candidate was the one who seems to have been affected by these actions, but because Russian agents interfered in a US Presidential Election.

Taken to the extremes, these ideological prisms we see things through result in a complete refusal to accept objective reality. Take the case of Alex Jones of InfoWars. This man doesn’t accept the objective reality that on December 15, 2012 in Newtown CT, at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 children and 6 adult staff. He believes it was fabricated by an elaborate government conspiracy for the purpose of advancing a gun control political agenda. So he and his followers are so politically influenced, they see only political maneuvering in the mass murder of kids by a lunatic, and choose to ignore the bloody reality to make it fit their preconceived political ideology.

The human mind is burdened with consciousness layered atop the ancestral brain developed over billions of years of natural selection. Our minds are fundamentally flawed, seeking patterns where none exist, fearing the other from outside of our tribe, holding fast to deep-seated beliefs when contrary information makes us uncomfortable. We seek shelter from the storm with others who see what we see. I get it. But the spin cycle we’re currently in, exacerbated by the interconnected world we live in, with online means of aligning ourselves with like-minded people, and the simple, instantaneous way of spreading information (true and very untrue information) is creating chasms of separation, distrust and resentment unlike any in our lifetimes.

There are things that are objectively, factually accurate and represent only the things they actually represent. Someone wearing boots, or sporting a beard, or wearing flannel isn’t political. Starbucks trying out new colors for their paper coffee cups isn’t political. This madness has to stop because while we’re all busily complaining about whether our feelings got hurt, the people newly elected to power are hell bent on enriching themselves and their families for generations. They’d love nothing more than for the American populace to focus on Facebook memes, Twitter rants and arguing among themselves over who’s to blame for everything that bothers us rather than focus on them, and what they will actually do with their newfound weapons of mass enrichment.

 

 

 

Corporate Profits and Stock Buybacks

United Technologies Corporation is an enormous multinational organization. In 2015, they had over $56 Billion in revenue, made over $6.5 Billion in profits, had over $7 Billion in cash and cash equivalents, along with another $10 Billion in Accounts Receivable they hadn’t collected yet. Their total assets were $87.5 Billion against total liabilities of $58.5 Billion.

Consider that they’re in the news of late over one of their subsidiaries, Carrier Corporation, moving one of their manufacturing plants to Mexico to save on labor costs and increase profits accordingly. American workers will lose their jobs, with the pay and benefits that go with the job, so that Carrier, and ultimately United Technologies can squeeze a few more bucks onto the bottom line profits. Now you may be thinking, well that’s just good business. Let’s look at a few details that don’t get as much press.

United Technologies is a publicly owned corporation. Its stock trades openly on the US markets and the stock price reflects investors current opinion on the value of the company overall, divided by the outstanding number of shares, and the company’s future prospects. To be a good investment, UTC’s stock needs to increase in value over time from the current market price. When more investors feel optimistic about the company’s prospects, they buy the stock and drive the price higher. Conversely, when investors get spooked by the outlook or see better opportunities elsewhere for investment dollars, they sell and the stock price declines. Basic stuff I know.

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