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Jun 212018
 

The USA likes to think of itself as the “leader of the free world”, but two things that have happened recently shows that it is really morally bankrupt. It is no longer a great country but an international pariah.

The first is that they have left the UN panel on Human Rights because it is supposedly broken – they would rather throw a childish tantrum than stay, fix the supposed problems, and fight for human rights.

Actually it is the US that is broken. They would rather protect their ally (Israel) than actually do their job on the human rights panel; the honourable thing to do is not to protect their ally no matter what but to keep quiet when Israeli human rights abuses are being discussed.

The second is that the US has been found out about it’s policy of dragging young children (including dragging a baby away from its mother whilst breastfeeding), and locking them up in concentration camps (not death camps). Putting them in cages, letting the sleep on floors, limiting their bedding to survival sheets of shiny foil, keeping them inside for 22 hours a day; what else can you call this other than a concentration camp.

And that is just what has leaked so far – in just over a month since this policy was started.

There has been predictably a negative reaction to this policy – many US politicians  are outraged (and not just Democrats). One Republican governor has had himself pictured sending Sessions the finger; eight state governors have refused to send their respective National Guards to the borders.

And the number of lies told by Trump’s minions is unbelievable. The scum in the White House did this deliberately to provoke a reaction. But the reaction may have been bigger than expected – Trump has just announced that he is revoking his policy and children will be imprisoned with their parents.

I thought about not publishing this post when I heard, but then I thought No. The US government did this thing so still qualifies as a rogue nation.

Just take a good long look at that crying child; the US government did that. Trump and his minions went ahead and set up concentration camps for children; they probably spent close to a year getting prepared for this and at no point thought better of it. If your government ever does anything like that, you know that the wrong sort of people are getting into power.

And the people. As many as 28% approve of immigrant children being put into concentration camps; as many as 28% have a broken moral compass.

Apr 142018
 

In the USA, a considerable number of states (30 counting 16 years as “adult”) allow the marriage of underage children under certain constraints. And these marriages do happen; whilst proportionally they are a tiny minority, to those victims it is nothing less than state-sanctioned child sex abuse.

In terms of numbers, Unchained at Last (via Wikipedia) found that between 2000-2010 there were 167,000 children in marriages; 13% were boys (I mention boys because most articles start with the girls). But weren’t they all children marrying each other? Only in 14% of cases.

The USA government condones and supports child sex abuse.

The overwhelming majority of not just the rest of the world, but even third-world countries are better on the marriage loophole allowing child sex abuse. Trump: For the victims of those marriages, USA is the “shit-hole”.

The Bench

Mar 252018
 

It seems likely that the company Cambridge Analytica paid Facebook for access to data and using it’s access, downloaded as much data as possible for nefarious purposes. Nobody should be that surprised at this.

Facebook does not host an enormously expensive social network just because it is fun; it does it to make money. It probably does this primarily through advertising, but selling access to social network data is always going to take place.

And from time to time, scandals when companies like Cambridge Analytica are going to take place. At which point Facebook will protest saying that it didn’t realise that the associated firm was doing such naughty things. And once the story drops out of the news, Facebook will carry on leaking data.

As the saying goes: “If you are not paying for it, you are the product.”

In the end, the only solution to something like this, is to produce some kind of peer-to-peer application that is as easy to use as Facebook, uses strong end-to-end encryption, and keeps our data private to those people and groups we choose to share it with.

The Hole

Mar 152018
 

One of the strangest things about the US is that one of the government’s most popular programmes is Medicare, which is in effect a socialist programme. As recently as 2015, 77% of US citizens approved of Medicare making it the second most popular US government programme (the most popular was Social Security which is even more socialist).

Yet tell most people from the US that socialism is alive and well in the US, and practised by US government, and you’re likely to be answered with astonishment. Of course the US isn’t tainted by that evil socialism!

Perhaps it would be better to call it “community-funded programmes for all”, although the “for all” would have to wait until Medicare is extended.

Audio Windmills

Nov 252017
 

The last few weeks has seen an explosion in the number of sexual abuse scandals amongst US politicians, and a somewhat bizarre difference in how the two parties treat them. The most serious accusations have been made about a US politician called Roy Moore, a particularly loathsome piece of work (even before the accusations) who is accused of molesting teenagers. Of course he has denied the charges, claiming amongst other things that he has never dated any girls without the permission of the mother (as if that makes a difference).

Now some Republican politicians have reacted appropriately and suggested that Moore should withdraw, but far too many have continued to support him arguing that either the accusers are making it up, or that it doesn’t matter – a child molester is preferable to a Democrat. Donald Trump (himself probably guilty of sexual harassment) has come down in favour of Roy Moore, in effect agreeing with both positions.

Many evangelical religious leaders have also come down in favour of Roy Moore; you might think that religious leaders might demonstrate some level of moral leadership but in this case those who support Roy Moore show they are not entitled to claim any sort of moral leadership.

Other Republicans have pointed to disgraced Democrats who have recently been exposed as guilty of sexual harassment as if that is comparable with child molestation. There are two very clear distinctions; firstly the Democrats have generally resigned their position, have lacked support from within their own party, and lastly whilst sexual harassment is inexcusable, it is hardly comparable to child molestation.

To abuse an analogy, sexual harassment is comparable to holding up a service station with a toy pistol whereas child molestation is a full-on bank robbery where the robbers shoot the security guard dead just for trying to do her job.

It appears from this distance that a sizeable proportion of the Republican party is comprised of self-entitled arseholes who can do no wrong providing they support policies that support the ultra-rich; led by the buffoon Trump.

Jul 292017
 

There has been a lot of talk about how the USA pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord is stupid in various forms. Stupid enough that many US cities and states are trying to meet their climate accord obligations independently.

But one thing doesn’t appear to have been mentioned: That the USA made a firm commitment to follow the Paris accords, and then broke that agreement. Which makes the US government oath-breakers – an untrustworthy party when it comes to international agreements.

You can make all sorts of excuses for repudiating the Paris Accord – perhaps it wasn’t in the best interests of the US to take part, or that it was unfair to the US in some way.

But fundamentally, the USA made an agreement and then repudiated it. It is now less trustworthy than it was before.

Feb 042017
 

I could choose to criticise Trump’s stand in immigration from certain countries based on the rights and wrongs of it, because it’s certainly wrong. But firstly there has been plenty written and said about that aspect of it, and secondly those who don’t see how wrong it is are not likely to change.

But even those who do not see how wrong it is may well be able to see just how stupid this move is.

Just to remind ourselves, Trump has temporarily blocked all travel into the USA by anyone holding a passport issued by seven countries which were previously subject to heightened visa requirements. And for good reasons – the relevant countries have more than their fair share of terrorist activity – and it is more than reasonable to check on immigrants to verify that they are not known terrorists.

The first “own goal” is that the new restrictions blocks many people from travelling to the USA who have made their homes there including famous people like Mo Farah (although the ban may not apply to him). How much safer is the US by blocking Mo from entering the USA and going home?  Or all the others in his position?

And let’s be frank – there’s something less than honourable about issuing a visa allowing someone to travel, and then preventing them from travelling. There are people who have planned the holiday of a lifetime and arranged to visit Disneyworld or Disneyland, and all of a sudden they are prevented from travelling.

Now you could argue that if this action decreases the risk to US citizens it is worth taking. But even if it does significantly reduce the risk, I would argue that it is better to accept the increased risk to do the right thing. And in general if you do not accept a slightly increased risk to do the right thing, you are a morally bankrupt person.

But does this decrease the risk to US citizens? To assess that we need to assess how great is the risk of terrorist attacks to the USA, and specifically terrorist attacks from those seven countries.

In fact the risk attributed to terrorism is vastly overrated. Going through the Wikipedia list of terrorist incidents, I get a total of 5 incidents causing the deaths of 50 people (the perpetrators excluded), which includes the Pulse nightclub shooting. If you go back to 2015, the figures are 4 incidents and 23 deaths, and one of the incidents was a christian terrorist.

Working through a similar list of mass shootings in 2016, I get a total of 14 incidents causing the deaths of 56 individuals.

Which is basically saying that you’re about as likely to walk into a terrorist incident as into a mass shooting, and both are really, really unlikely. That doesn’t help much if you are caught up in such an incident, so taking reasonable and proportionate action to decrease that risk is worthwhile.

And targeting refugees fits into the disproportional category; of those 5 incidents in 2016, only one was perpetrated by a refugee (and nobody died).

And now onto the final bit of stupidity: Firing your legal adviser for telling you an executive order is illegal when it is being found so over and over again makes you look more than a bit foolish.  Particularly when you could accomplish almost as much (although in reality more) by simply stopping new visas being issued; especially when the decreased risk from terrorism is marginal at best.

Nov 112016
 

So Trump has been elected as the next president of the USA.

Now setting aside my disbelief for a moment (really? He actually won?), let’s look at some of the reasons why he may have won, and why the poll takers got it wrong.

First of all, the polls were not that far out – whilst they got the winner wrong, they did predict that it would be close. And it was close – Clinton got 47.7% of the popular vote whereas Trump got 47.3%. Yes, Clinton actually won the popular vote, but the US electoral system does not work quite so well when the result is so close. But not bad for a 200-year old system, but perhaps it is time for a long and careful review of the process in the light of modern communications.

In addition, there is also the embarrassment factor – if you had decided to vote for Trump, would you really admit it publicly? On a more serious note, when elections are particularly acrimonious, there is a good chance that a significant amount of the electorate will lie (or just keep quiet) about their choice when asked by pollsters.

Enough about pollsters though, how did he win? Of course everyone wants one simple answer to that question, and there isn’t one. There are many factors as to why he won, and each contributes a little.

The first thing to remember is that there are many stupid people in any population. Nothing wrong with being stupid; some of my best friends are stupid (that didn’t come out quite right!). Really! And it is a fact of life that there are many stupid people – it’s how intelligence tests work. You measure everyone’s intelligence, and those who are below average are stupid, and those who are above average are bright.

Besides, Trump won didn’t he? QED.

And stupid people are easily conned by anyone who tells them what they want to hear no matter how fantastical it might be. And Trump has been telling them what they want to hear – abortion is wrong, he can restore manufacturing jobs (presumably by overturning the laws of economics), making America great again (that one always goes down well, even if America is already great), that climate change is not man-made, etc.

Every time that he pushed one of those buttons, and pandered to every wing-nut grouping out there, he gained more supporters. He either didn’t care or didn’t know that he came across as a cretinous fool, as long as he got some votes.

The second big factor was that although Trump was nominated by the Republican party, he was the closest thing to an anti-establishment candidate of the two major parties (I’ll come to the other parties shortly). Of course he isn’t really not part of the establishment being a billionaire property developer, but he hasn’t previously held public office. And anti-establishment is very popular right now. Given that Clinton was very definitely old political establishment, this could very well be the most significant reason.

And of course there is the economy. Like the rest of the world, the US has just been through a huge recession where many lost their jobs or even their homes. And any ruling party suffers in the wake of a recession. Whether or not the Democrats were to blame, they were going to get blamed by the voters – or at least enough of them to make a bit of a difference.

Next there is of course the poor old sane Republican who has always voted for their party. This time around, they had a buffoon to vote for and although some couldn’t face voting for Trump, a good number couldn’t see any other options.

The reason that some people are blaming are the “other” candidates. Despite the media coverage implying that there are only two candidates, there were in fact nearly 30. If all those who voted for one of the others, had voted for Clinton instead, it might have made a difference, but it seems a touch unlikely that they would have all voted for her. Best guess? They would have divided more or less evenly just like everyone else did.

Having said that, it would be nice if the US had a transferable vote system whereby you could vote for (say) the Green Party, but have your vote go towards another if the Green party didn’t win.

I’m not going to bother mentioning those who couldn’t be bothered to vote. They didn’t vote so they don’t count.

So how about the reaction to Trump’s victory?

It’s almost as bizarre as the lead up to the election: When you’re in a room the morning the results came out, and the two embarrassed Americans both apologise for the US having voted in Trump, you know there’s something odd going on. The reaction has been extreme – not just the usual moaning about having an idiot in charge for four years, but protests, riots, and even a group in California that wants to declare independence. It is sort of understandable (after all, it’s Trump!), but the division in the US today may be almost as damaging as the idiocies that Trump will enact.

On the subject of which, Trump himself probably can’t remember all the rubbish he has promised all over the campaign trail. Of course there are those who will remind him of things he has promised, and probably a lot more besides. But how much damage will he actually do?

The worst case scenario (and there’s more than one) is that he brings about some sort of theocratic form of government (he certainly has supporters who would like to see this), and launches nuclear weapons (Trump with his hand on the launch button? Shudder!).

This is not that likely – there are too many obstacles in the way, including the constitution. And there is just the slightest hint that Trump might not be quite that bad.

His first reaction to the protests was typical paranoia – blaming them on paid activists. But his second reaction was quite sympathetic saying he was pleased that the protesters loved their country so much. Trump probably likes being popular, and there’s one obvious thing to do with a president like that – when he proposes some idiocy, protest. Don’t protest about Trump (however tempting it is); protest about his bad policies.

Of course I might be overly optimistic.

stack-of-coins-p1

Oct 302016
 

Of course it isn’t; it’s England (I’m English).

It’s all very patriotic to claim your country is the greatest on earth, but it also indicates an immense level of smug complacency. If you live in the greatest country on earth there is no reason to look at your country and see what to do better.

Some questions to ask yourself about your country :-

  1. Where does your country fit in the list of infant mortality?
  2. How free is your country according to the Press Freedom Index?
  3. What ranking does your country get in the list of life expectancy?
  4. How evenly is wealth distributed?

Now you might not agree with my list of how well a country is doing (and mine isn’t necessarily the same as the one above), and I may well disagree with your list vehemently. But that is beside the point – choose your list of what you think is important in a country, assess your country’s level, and then decide if your country is the greatest, or whether it could do better.

stack-of-coins-p1

Jul 172016
 

As seen from afar, the USA seems to be having a problem with racial tensions – police shootings, protests, “Black Lives Matter“, etc., and racial inequality such as found at Facebook. Nobody with any sense doubts that there is racism in the USA – everywhere there are bone-headed bigots worrying about the colour of the dead stuff that keeps the squishy bits on the inside.

But we may be too quick to assume that it is simply racism; many of the symptoms could well be caused by wealth inequality and relative poverty.

The wealthy (and their children) are more like to succeed because of a number of factors :-

  1. They are more able to afford private education – either to supplement state education or to replace it with presumably higher quality private education.
  2. They are more able to afford higher education; even though it is possible for those who cannot afford it to get loans to pay for higher education in the USA, this will leave those in debt at a disadvantage.
  3. Social networks (the “old boy network”) that the wealthy have access to includes greater opportunities at internships at organisations that give their children greater opportunities.
  4. And internships themselves seem designed to favour the children of the wealthy – unpaid work in the hope of getting a better job at the end of it is something that is only a suitable option if you already have money to live on.

There are those who point at people from relatively poor backgrounds who have “made it”, and there’s certainly no doubt that exceptional people can succeed whatever their background. But most of us are not exceptional.

Relative poverty and lack of opportunity can easily lead to frustration with the system, and amongst the criminally inclined a tendency to resort to crime – those with more wealth or more opportunities will not resort to crime to the same extent.

So does the USA have a racism problem or a wealth inequality problem? I’m not sure what the answer is, but I would not be at all surprised if the answer is both.

2012-05-19-sheep standing guard.small

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