Category Archives: Political Banter

We take a level headed, logical, point of view on the political state of America and abroad. We discuss ideas and a better way forward.

Quick thought on Ebola and FEAR!

Last night I watched my poor wife watch World News Tonight on ABC in queasy discomfort.

On the screen, anchor David Muir reported-  “Someone in New York City who has been to Africa was found to have symptoms that might be indicate they have Ebola, but could also just as easily belong to the flu or common cold!  No one can confirm if it is Ebola or not at this time…. and now on to the WAR ON TERROR! BE MOTHER FUCKING AFRAID BITCHES!”

David Muir World News Tonight

Alright, I’m paraphrasing of course, but that is what he might as well have been saying.

Turn your damn TV off, quit listening to the radio. Give it up already. The news no longer backs up their “news” with sources or information.

I’ll put it this way, if I wrote an audit report for work, or a research paper for school the way news sources report the news, I’d be fired from my job and get an F in class for failing to site valid sources and incompetency.

It’s all a fucking joke.

-Holden

Ebola, ISIS and a Perpetual State of Fear

Last week a really smart friend of mine wrote me an email saying some things I felt were really foolish. He has a trip to South America coming up in December and he was writing me, asking what I thought about the Ebola outbreak and wondering if he shouldn’t bail on the trip.

A follow up email later that week spread on to fear talks about ISIS and the possibility of an American invasion by radicalized, passport toting Americans or worse, Arabs posing as Mexicans and waltzing right across our southern borders into the homeland!

My friend isn’t the only one who has latched onto these fear memes. It seems most of us are being drawn into the Fear-Machine. My new stance on all this is- I need to see it to believe it. In the mean time, I’m assuming it is all bullshit. Here’s why:

  1. The NSA leaks carefully selected information to the media. This includes both authorized leaks that Congress is aware of and unauthorized leaks: http://www.wired.com/2014/10/nsa-mind-bender-wont-tell-info-already-leaked-media/
  1. Our government has repealed a portion of a law named the Smith-Mundt Act which made it illegal for our government to propagandize US citizens: http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/07/12/us_backs_off_propaganda_ban_spreads_government_made_news_to_americans
  1. The Norman Lear Center, a public policy advocacy group which works with government agencies, openly admits they lobby Hollywood to inject propaganda into prime time television. Below is a link to a two minute audio clip showing how they use their influence to push a climate change agenda. What other memes and ideas might they be pushing? http://adam.curry.com/enc/20141009173314_hollywoodhealthsociety4martinkaplanbragging.mp3
  1. Udo Ulfkotte, a German journalist explains how Intelligence Agencies befriend journalists abroad, write articles for them and push them to publish Agency produced propaganda in highly credible news sources, which American news sources then use as official sources.

These Intelligence Agency produced news articles published under the name or credible journalists have the power to sway both public opinion and set the agenda for law makers.

There’s a few clips here, but each well worth a listen (listen to in order):

All news clips are compliments of the No Agenda Show- www.NoAgendaShow.com

-Holden

Preferential Segregation and Gay Exceptionalism

I heard a news clip recently from ESPN where the commentator mentioned that the NFL was begging teams to sign Michael Sam, the first openly gay NFL football player, to avoid a scandal.

michael-sams-nfl-future-doesnt-look-good

Unfortunately, I have no doubt that if a team hadn’t signed him, there would have been a scandal of sorts. After all, America just hates gay people right?

Actually, I think outside of those with strong religious convictions most of us don’t give a shit. I certainly don’t. But what I do give a shit about is the endless parading around and bellyaching of the gay voice in Hollywood, television and the news media.

It seems that the gay movement has evolved into an all-out effort to promote preferential segregation. Imagine if another very vocal minority existed within society which existed to vehemently oppose gay rights. Never mind, groups like these do exist, for example, Westboro Baptist Church. And society loathes them.

The gay community is known to be comprised many very well educated, upper middle class individuals. Why is it then that such bright people appear unable to step back from the situation and realize that they are no longer fighting for gay equality, but gay power, gay exceptionalism, and gay privilege?

These interest groups are now akin to the hate groups that you would logically consider their antithesis, except in reality they are two sides of the same coin. And much more dangerous because of their wealth and influence in politics and media.

I think the lesson to be learned here is, everyone wants preferential treatment and everyone wants to be segregated. Eventually, all interest groups appear to go too far and start lobbying to be placed above opposing minorities and subcultures in one fashion or another.

-Holden

Data Brokers are Selling Your Identity

Do you regularly pay with a credit card at the checkout counter? What about use grocery store loyalty cards? Turns out, all that data is being aggregated and used to track you!

You read right. Statistics gathering companies like Acxiom Corp and LexisNexis, which are called Data Brokers, buy up your personal information from credit card companies and retailers and use it to create a profile on you. Then that data is sold to healthcare providers.

On the surface, this might sound amazing! You doctor can use smart predictive methods to stop you from having a heart attack or developing diabetes before it ever happens.

But wait… doesn’t that also mean that the data could be used against you? Suddenly….

  • Your insurance company can charge you more for being a smoker, drinking more than they are comfortable with, or eating too many Little Debbie cakes.
  • The EPA can decide you consume too much fuel and should be put into a higher tax bracket designated for those who emit too much carbon pollution.
  • When switching insurance companies, you could be charged higher premiums for visiting the doctor too often in the past.
  • A potential employer could buy this data and use your pharmacy loyalty card data to determine that you take too many meds and are prone to taking sick time more than they are comfortable.

Hell, I could speculate all day on the way this data could be used against you. I think the ways it could be used against you easily outnumber the ways it is useful by at least 10 to 1.

It makes one seriously consider going to all cash as much as possible. I’ve always been a tin-foil hat wearing kind of guy in this regard anyway, simply from working in IT and knowing the level of detail that can be surmised about a person based on their web surging and computer usage habits.

For example, I could tell that Jane in HR has gall bladder stones, Mike in accounting feels a burning sensation when he urinates and Michelle in finance just recently got engaged just by the crap they search for in Google. Adding in loyalty card and credit card transaction information simply fills in the pieces of the puzzle. Throw in a little cell phone GPS and metadata and suddenly they know more about us than we do ourselves.

We’re suddenly all under a microscope. Maybe it’s time to go off grid a bit. Switch to cash when possible, leave the cell phone at home or in the car when walking about, start using our browsers in private browsing mode and using browser plugins like Disconnect.

Regain a little bit of ourselves and anonymity.

——

Check out the Bloomberg article on the subject proclaiming HOW GREAT THIS ALL IS!!!!

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-06-26/hospitals-soon-see-donuts-to-cigarette-charges-for-health.html

-Holden

 

IRS Email Scandal – Does Sonasoft reveal what happened?

Today I was reading Sonasoft’s blog post denying that they have the IRS’s email archives and I noticed a few nuances that I wanted to point out. Their main point that is repeated several times is as follows:

“Sonasoft does NOT have IRS email. Sonasoft NEVER had access to IRS email.”

This is interesting because they stress that Sonasoft does not currently have IRS email (which is true) and that they never had ACCESS to IRS email. They do not say that they “never had” IRS email or that the email wasn’t archived – only that they did not have access. Presumably because the IRS was using a Sonasoft product (SonaVault) and not the Sonasoft arching service.

I believe that this is just another instance of performative language that is “legally accurate”, but purposely deceiving. They never deny that data was deleted or archived on their servers.

The “access” language is interesting to me because I believe Sonasoft is attempting to tell everyone what likely happened.

Sonasoft has safeguards and special algorithms to protect the SonaVault Email Archive from mischievous IT administrators who might be tempted to delete or tamper with the archived email. Any attempt to delete or modify the SonaVault email archive will capture the altered text, date stamp the attempt, and send out various alerts to IT personnel and management that an attempted breach occurred; the original email will not be changed in any way. The only way that email can be deleted from the archive is through SonaVault’s expiration policies. The Administrator can set retention policies to purge the archive of emails that have reached an expiration date, which is often set to be a seven-year period.

Basically, as I read it, Sonasoft is saying that they did not have access (i.e., did not have admin access to change the policy settings), but it is probable that an IRS admin did. Which is what I think happened. Someone inside the IRS was probably told to change the configurations to dump email archives.

Sonasoft also gives us the key to finding out who deleted the files right in the blog post:

There are many options to safeguard expired email, and purging the email requires several steps so that email cannot be ‘accidentally’ deleted. In addition, all purge policies are recorded and become part of the permanent log that cannot be tampered with.

They key to understanding who deleted the IRS emails and by extension who ordered the files to be deleted is in the administrative logs. A savvy lawyer should subpoena the administrative logs, determine which administrator changed the configuration settings to delete the archived emails, and determine who made the decision to do so.

Why A One-Size-Fits-All Minimum Wage Doesn’t Work For America

It seems to me that federally enforced on-size-fits-all minimum wage legislation is an ineffective way for policy makers to improve the standard of living for this country’s people.

I completely agree that something needs to be done. There are a thousand different ways we could improve the standard of living for the entire country. Simple and effective ways we could close the income gap between the richest and the poorest among us, but $10.10 an hour isn’t one of them. Frankly, it’s lazy policy making.

$10.10 an hour means different things in different parts of the country:

I think it is difficult for people in different parts of the country to understand what $10.10 an hour means to one another. Someone in New York City probably thinks that $10.10 an hour is slave wages while someone in Jackson, Mississippi (capital of MS) probably considers $10.10 an hour a livable wage. That is because the average cost of living varies wildly from region to region in the United States.

Average Cost of Living

Housing Prices Vary Wildly Across Major Cities: 

We can quickly compare median sales prices for homes across the country (source):

City Median Sale Price
Manhattan, NY $1,175,000
Jackson, MS $184,502
Seattle, WA $435,000
Atlanta, GA $245,000
San Francisco, CA $945,000

Gas Prices Vary Wildly Across Major Cities: 

We can quickly compare gas prices across the country (source)

City Regular Mid Premium Diesel
Manhattan, NY $4.052 $4.216 $4.354 $4.479
Jackson, MS $3.440 $3.642 $3.812 $3.737
Seattle, WA $4.035 $4.152 $4.255 4.109
Atlanta, GA $3.692 $3.871 $4.045 $3.893
San Francisco, CA $4.225 $4.342 $4.440 $4.291

Note: There are similar variances for food and clothing costs.

It is important to realize that these major variances are across major cities. If you compare rural areas to cities the variance is even more dramatic. So why does anyone expect a one-sized-fits-all minimum wage to work across the country?

The Solution: A Livable Wage that Fits

If we want to increase the minimum wage it seems like we need to make an effort to understand what that wage is in each part of country. We should not pick a number that everyone is expected to implement across the board. The country is to diverse for that to be successful.

What may be a fit for Seattle, WA would probably be overly burdensome to businesses in Jackson, MS. What may work in Jackson, MS would probably be insufficient in Manhattan, NY. So why do we treat wages the same when costs across the country are provably and undeniably different? This makes no sense to me.

Instead, it seems like we should empower our communities and local policy makers to actin the best interest of their constituents by providing the people living there with critical data and information to make better decisions for themselves. And if we are going to implement something federally (which I don’t think we should) – shouldn’t we at least make an effort to make it work for everyone?

We are a great country because of our diversity. There is something, somewhere, for everyone. We have always embraced that mantra. I don’t think we should stop now.

The Indoctrination Process

Six children and one women sitting in a circle holding hands. There heads were bowed and the women was mumbling softly. The children paid close attention.  As I jogged by the group one child looked up at me, almost afraid to be caught, with one eye barely squinting open, and immediately returned to the correct posture.

I slowed my jog to a walk so I could see the events unfold in more detail. In the front yard of the old house there was a small television with cartoon characters in the same posture as the women and children. I noticed that the children’s mouths were mumbling at the same cadence and volume as their teacher’s, but I couldn’t make out the words.

It was a vacation bible school camp. One just like the kind I had attended dozens of times as a child too.

In retrospect I remember all of the things I was taught as a child. How I was taught to think and not think. Not to question, to have faith without evidence, and to obey authority. The cost of disobedience was worse than death. Hell. My parents, grandparents, and the rest of my family enforced these ideas too. I believed it all without question.

When I think of it now this seems so unfair. It is such an obvious process of indoctrination that I can barely believe that such an institution, in its present form, exists at all. The use of authority, media, entertainment, and group-think to ingrain a since of loyalty  and respect to an organization and its belief system.

When you think about it, it’s not too different than how any society works. Even here in the land of the free.

“The use of authority, media, entertainment, and group-think to ingrain a since of loyalty  and respect to an organization and its belief system.”

Patriotism enforced by a since of community , unlimited hours of (un)reality TV available for consumption, a media network that pumps ideas into the psyche of the public, and a since that we owe it all to those in charge. We hold our leaders up like infallible idols – as long as they belong to the correct political party. A false since of choice.

This form of indoctrination works. It has been and continues to be used. We just can’t recognize it because we are part of the process. But once you recognize that such a thing exists it’s a lot easier to be yourself. Not what they told you to be.

Proof that our Health and Medical Insurance System is FUCKED!

Today I got a bill in mail for when my wife went to the doctor recently due to having the flu. She didn’t go to the Emergency Room mind you, she went to her primary care physician.

The final cost to me out of pocket was only $25. Not bad if you forget that I pay about $400 every month in insurance premiums then my employer picks up another $800 for a total of approx. $1200 a month to insure my family.

But check out the wonderful itemized bill! It’s for almost $400!!!!!

Look closer and you notice the doctors and insurance companies have some nice deals with each other. The doctor discounted the insurer $177 + $82. Yup- $259 (65% of the bill) was “Wrote Off”.

2014-06-19 20_35_17-Picasa 3

I wonder if I were uninsured and I went in for this visit, would they have wrote off 65% of the medical bill for me, or stuck my poor soul with the whole $400?!

Someone give me a spoon so I can gouge my eyes out! This is maddening!

-Holden

The Economics of Compounded Growth

Our economy slowly grows at around 4% a year. This is a given. An expectation. Anything less is seen as a failure, anything more is an achievement.

I read an article today that did a good job of putting that kind of growth into perspective.

“Let us imagine that in 3030BC the total possessions of the people of Egypt filled one cubic metre. Let us propose that these possessions grew by 4.5% a year. How big would that stash have been by the Battle of Actium in 30BC? This is the calculation performed by the investment banker Jeremy Grantham(1).
The trajectory of compound growth shows that the scouring of the planet has only just begun. We simply can’t go on this way.

Go on, take a guess. Ten times the size of the pyramids? All the sand in the Sahara? The Atlantic ocean? The volume of the planet? A little more? It’s 2.5 billion billion solar systems(2).”

This idea makes me wonder: Where is our breaking point? Where is the point in which we can’t sustain growth any longer? And what is our contingency plan?

I don’t know. Maybe we are already there. Maybe technology will let us keep going further than any of us ever dreamed. I don’t claim to know, but it’s certainly something we should all consider.

Problems and Solutions to the Broken Healthcare System

My wife and I recently had a little girl. Until that moment I had never been exposed to the healthcare and insurance ecosystem. I have been fortunate. I’ve never had an extended stay at the hospital, I’ve never been on prescription medication, and as an adult, I have never been to the doctor outside a checkup. Now I realize that the system is completely convoluted and non-transparent.

From what I can tell there are four major problems with the healthcare and insurance mechanisms.

1. Prices for healthcare services are unavailable, non-existent, or not published.
2. There is no crowd-sourced ratings system for hospitals (think yelp for hospitals).
3. Since everyone is insured no one cares about cost. This has resulted in higher prices.
4. The people have no power to control the quality or cost of the healthcare services.

These four problems ultimately result in a system that is too expensive, low quality, and where the people have no power to do anything about it.

Here are my proposed solutions:

1. Pricing for healthcare services are unavailable, non-existent, or not published.

Require all hospitals post itemized prices for their goods and services. Every procedure should have an itemized “menu” outlining what the procedure may cost. Since any given procedure is highly variable the menu should include “average cost”, “best case”, “most likely”, and “worst case” scenarios.

The menu should also include things like bandages, medication, and anything else a hospital could use to inadvertently pad the bill.  Great hospitals should even consider hiring a “budget specialist” who discusses costs and options with each patient.

These menus should be posted online and available before he procedure. This will allow individuals and insurance companies to shop around for a facility that meets the individuals’ need. This will also drive prices down since hospitals will be forced to compete based on price (or provide superior service to justify higher prices).

I would not eat at a restaurant that didn’t post prices so I should not have to receive healthcare services without prices either.

2. There is no crowd-sourced ratings system for hospitals (think yelp.com for hospitals).

There should be a crowd-sourced ratings system for hospitals. In my opinion this would have been a much better investment than healthcare.gov. When hospitals are forced to compete for business based on price and services the consumer benefits. Prices will ultimately fall and service will rise.

For example, in Atlanta there are several major hospitals in the metro area. For most procedures I have no idea what a service cost or who the best service provider may be. I usually just go to the closest major hospital. I imagine most people do the same thing.

A rating system would enable a consumer to quickly and easily search for a service provider based on thousands of consumer ratings. Ultimately a sick person cannot choose if they want to go to the hospital, but they can choose which hospital they visit. The power of consumer choice based on good information will ultimately force hospitals to compete.

3. Since everyone is insured no one cares about prices. This has resulted in higher prices.

The third major problem I see with the healthcare system are insurance companies.

Healthcare prices are so complex and expensive (for reason listed above) that no one can or wants to deal with it. We defer all responsibility to our insurers. Now, with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) we have no choice anyways. Ultimately this leads to a system where no one cares about prices because they will be paying the same insurance premium regardless. But this is a false premise.

Because no one cares about prices and live under the illusion that their costs are the same there is no incentive to seek more cost effective solutions. People rarely look at their hospital bill and pay whatever the insurer requires. This ultimately leads to higher healthcare costs and higher healthcare insurance premiums.

Healthcare insurers should provide incentives (lower insurance premiums) to individuals who shop around for better prices and value. This would ultimately lower insurance prices and force hospitals to compete again.

4. The people have no power to control the quality or cost of the healthcare services they receive. 

The biggest problem with our healthcare system is that the people receiving the services have no power to control prices or the quality of service they receive. The appropriate infrastructure is not in place. All of the power resides with the insurance companies and healthcare providers.

Insurance companies operate as powerful unions who dictate what they will pay a hospital for a given good or service. Insurance companies have large staff who perform complex pricing studies so they understand what people are paying and how much a product SHOULD cost regardless what a hospital charges.

This results in hospitals charging several times market value for a given good or service because they fully expect the insurance company to pay only a small fraction of that amount. Meanwhile: the consumer is screwed, hospitals charge too much, and insurance companies reek most of the profits.

Obamacare:

Obamacare has only served to strengthen this broken system by further empowering insurance companies and disenfranchising the individual. Since EVERYONE is now forced to have healthcare insurance this eliminates any opportunity for individuals to negotiate or bargain for themselves.

Ultimately, we live in a system where the insurance companies dictate how much they will pay hospitals and how much they will charge consumers. Meanwhile, there has been no progress toward a system that promotes competition, dives prices down, or leads to better services.