Unconscionable!!!

Jeff-BezosJeff Bezos, the man who co-founded Amazon and today is the CEO and 12% shareholder in the highly profitable company, has a net worth of $118 billion.  Just to make that a bit more visual, that’s $118,000,000,000.  It’s a lot of money, anyway you look at it.  Bezos is said to be the richest individual in the world.  The world.  Perhaps now we understand the source of the “Amazon smile”. Last year (2019) alone, Amazon posted $280 billion in revenue and $11.9 billion in profits.  At least they will actually pay federal income tax for 2019, unlike 2018 when they paid $0 on $11 billion in profits.

Amazon is one of the few companies whose business has surged during this time of coronavirus pandemic.  More and more people are ordering household supplies and even food that they cannot find in their local stores, or just to keep from having to spend much time in the local stores.  Amazon announced last week that they will be hiring up to 100,000 additional workers to cover the increased demand.  And yet …

Amazon maintains one of the stingiest paid sick leave policies among major corporations.  To add insult to injury, Amazon under CEO Bezos is requesting donations from their customers to cover sick leave for their employees!  Think on that one for a minute.

Amazon-donations

The man with more money than anybody deserves or needs, more money than he could possibly ever spend, is too cheap to fully cover his employees sick leave, but expects his customers, many of whom are currently laid off from their jobs, to pitch in.

As if that weren’t enough to make you want to dump a pan of hot berries on his bald pate, he also managed to profit ‘bigly’ by selling $3.4 billion in Amazon shares just before the stock market peaked in mid-February.  Can we say, insider trading?  Had he held onto those shares until this week, he would have lost $317 million … not that he’d even notice, for that’s pocket change for him.

I have been an Amazon customer since 2003, have a monthly standing order for household cleaning supplies, and frequently order other things we need, but … I’m going to start looking for alternatives.  Today!

Snarky Snippets Just Keep Coming …

Good afternoon, friends, and welcome to an all-new episode of Snarky Snippets!  I had really hoped to settle into a more in-depth post today, but for any number of reasons, it didn’t happen.  One of those reasons is that every news site I visited this morning had an angst-inducing story right on their front page.  So, here goes …


Oh goodie … something new to lose sleep over

The headline caught my eye:

Ex-Google worker fears ‘killer robots’ could cause mass atrocities

This was in The Guardian, not some fly-by-night, off-the-wall website, so of course curiosity got the better of me and I had to delve deeper.

Laura Nolan is a former Google software engineer who resigned last year in protest at being sent to work on a project to dramatically enhance US military drone technology.  Her position is that AI killing machines not operated by humans should be banned.  For the record, I agree with her.

Nolan went to work for Google in Ireland in 2013 and became one of their top software engineers.  Then in 2017, she was sent to work on Project Maven, which takes drone technology a step further, removing to a large extent, the human factor.  According to the article in The Guardian

Instead of using large numbers of military operatives to spool through hours and hours of drone video footage of potential enemy targets, Nolan and others were asked to build a system where AI machines could differentiate people and objects at an infinitely faster rate.

Nolan has predicted that autonomous weapons being developed pose a far greater risk to the human race than remote-controlled drones. She outlined how external forces ranging from changing weather systems to machines being unable to work out complex human behaviour might throw killer robots off course, with possibly fatal consequences.

What could possibly go wrong, eh?  Plenty, according to Ms. Nolan …

“You could have a scenario where autonomous weapons that have been sent out to do a job confront unexpected radar signals in an area they are searching; there could be weather that was not factored into its software or they come across a group of armed men who appear to be insurgent enemies but in fact are out with guns hunting for food. The machine doesn’t have the discernment or common sense that the human touch has.”

It isn’t enough that we have nuclear weapons in the hands of madmen posing as world leaders, and that the earth’s atmosphere is being destroyed even as we speak, while greedy corporate executives and politicians pretend it isn’t happening, but soon we will have killing machines flying above us, deciding all on their own who or what to destroy in a given instant.  Way to go, humans … see if you can’t find more ways to hasten the demise of all life on earth.


Two thumbs up to …

United Auto Workers (UAW), who will be going on strike nationwide at midnight tonight against General Motors over the usual – wages, healthcare and profit-sharing.

Here’s the thing, though.  General Motors, in an effort to cut costs, has made healthcare more expensive for their workers.  This might be understandable if General Motors was weren’t making profits hand over fist, but … they are.  In fact, their revenue for 2018 was $38.4 billion, net income was $8.1 billion, and … with Trump’s tax cuts for the wealthy, the company not only paid no taxes in 2018, but will be getting a tax refund of $104 million!!!  But they cannot take care of the people doing the work to earn them those profits.  SHAME!

This, my friends, is a classic example of capitalism run amok. Once again, this nation is putting the grotesquely bloated profits of the few ahead of the basic health and welfare of the many. And it is being supported and encouraged by Trump and Congress.


Pompeo wants war …

We may be rid of warmonger John Bolton, but there’s still Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State, and he seems to see fit to start a brand-new war today.  Yesterday, attacks on Saudi oil refineries knocked out an estimated more than half of Saudi oil output or more than 5% of global supply.  Yemen’s Houthi group claimed responsibility.  But, apparently Mike Pompeo, with no evidence, has decided to blame his arch-nemesis, Iran.

“Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply.”

What. An. Idiot.

An idiot and a dangerous fool.  Iran is not taking this lying down.  A not-so-subtle warning was issued by Senior Revolutionary Guards commander Amirali Hajizadeh …

“All American bases and their aircraft carriers in a distance of up to 2,000 kilometers around Iran are within the range of our missiles.”

Way to go, Mikey … start a bloody war sans cause.  Oh, and by the way, folks.  The destruction of all that oil has a price.  It is expected that tomorrow the price of oil will rise from between $5 to $10 per barrel, so look for prices at the pump to jump.


Okay, friends … I now return you to your regularly scheduled Sunday activities.lies.png

Might vs Right???

Yesterday, I received an email from our friend Scott (sklawlor), asking if I would use my voice, small though it is, to bring something to the attention of the public, or at least those who read my blog.  After researching the issue, I agreed.

At issue is whether online retailers have an obligation, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), to make their websites accessible to people with disabilities, such as blindness.  From an article in The Verge:

Domino’s, the leading US pizza chain that pinned its remarkable turnaround nearly a decade ago on an investment in technology, is currently waging a legal battle so that it does not have to make its website accessible to the blind. The case, which began three years ago as a lawsuit by blind US resident Guillermo Robles, may go all the way to the US Supreme Court, CNBC reports. The eventual result could become a landmark decision over the rights of people with disabilities and the responsibility of companies to retrofit mobile apps and websites for accessibility.

At the core of case is Domino’s insistence that it should not have to make its website, the predominant platform for ordering pizza from its physical stores, accessible to people with visual impairments. Specifically, Domino’s is contesting Robles’ claim that Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers mobile apps or websites, which effectively did not exist in modern form when the ADA was passed in 1990. Robles alleged the ADA does cover the web and software, so long as the business contains physical locations in the US and is soliciting customers over the internet. A federal court agreed.

Domino’s is now arguing against the judgement, and the company petitioned the Supreme Court to weigh in with a 35-page document designed to get the court to accept the case.

The importance of this issue is in the precedent it will set.  If Dominos wins their case, will more companies feel free to limit accessibility to the blind or the deaf on their websites?  Almost certainly so.  Dominos is a multi-million dollar company whose net income has steadily increased over the past several years.Dominos net income

Although there is a Dominos just down the street from us, we don’t care for their pizza, but rather we typically order from a local pizzeria whose website is designed to be accessible to those with both visual and auditory impairments.  If a small company can do it … ???

Per Scott …

“I would encourage you all to write to this company and voice your disdain for their willful practice of blatantly ignoring accessibility options which clearly exclude a large segment of the population from partaking in their services. Sure, you can always call them to place an order, which I have done, but will no longer do just on principle, but that’s not the point of this in the first place.  If they lose enough customers, maybe they’ll reconsider so I would appreciate it if you would share this, and maybe between all of us, or those of us who see the post, we can make it go viral.”

These days we seem to live in an era of nearly unregulated, unfettered capitalism, an era when what matters most seems to be profit, profit, profit, without regard for the environment or people.  The only way, it would seem, to make our voices heard is through our wallets.  If a company cannot spend a small amount to accommodate those of us who have special needs, then why should we give them our hard-earned money?  I hope that if this case is heard by the Supreme Court, they will see it in the same light.

Thanks to Scott Lawlor for bringing this to our attention!

Going … Going … Gone

This morning the United Nations released a report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the premise of which is that as many as one million plant and animal species are on the verge of extinction.  Think about this one, folks … one million

That in itself is cause for grief, but the report goes a step further than previous studies by linking the loss of species to humans and analyzing its effect on food and water security, farming and economies.  According to the report, more plants and animals are threatened with extinction now than any other period in human history. Nature’s current rate of decline is unparalleled, it says, and the accelerating rate of extinctions “means grave impacts on people around the world are now likely.”

Now, personally I do not, as some do, see the human species as superior to all others.  Obviously, if the human species were so superior, we would not be willfully destroying every living creature on the planet.  No, I think humans are without doubt the greediest, most selfish species on earth.  But, since we broke it, it is up to us to fix it, and yet the very people with the greatest ability to do so, refuse, putting their own convenience and profit ahead of the future of all life on earth.

It isn’t only the effects of climate change that are causing the global crisis. The report emphasized the effects humans have on animals that are key to their own survival. Pesticides sprayed by farmers that kill pollinators such as bees and other insects will likely have a devastating effect on crops. Homeowners contribute to the problem by purchasing “bug zappers” that target mosquitoes but also eliminate key pollinators such as butterflies and moths, as well as common flies that some animals rely on for food.

The report has a positive spin, saying that “it is not too late to make a difference.” But that difference requires more than 100 developing and non-developed nations to work together to bring about change.  Today.  Not tomorrow or next year – TODAY!

A friend recently told me that she believes God gave the earth to humans for the purpose of their enjoyment and that there is nothing to worry about, for in essence God wants people to be happy and will replenish the earth without us changing our lifestyle.  Well, folks, guess what?  That is the biggest line of bullshit I’ve ever heard.  The owners of those factories spewing tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, the companies that produce the killing pesticides, the fossil fuel industry have all contributed to convincing people to “stay calm”, that the scientists are all wrong, and that everything will be alright.

EVERYTHING WILL NOT BE ALRIGHT!

So, why am I carrying on again about the same topic I’ve written about multiple times?  Because we’re not getting through to the politicians who can make the biggest difference through legislation.  Because we’re not getting through to our friends and neighbors.  Because … we all have children and grandchildren and we are allowing their future to be destroyed.  I know you’re tired and so am I, but we need to do more.  We need to do our own small part, sure, but we also need to get back on a letter-writing, phone-calling, e-mailing campaign and tell our elected officials to get off their sweet patooties and do the right thing.

An anonymous comment I read this morning in The Washington Post says it all …

“For many decades, environmentalists have been sounding the alarm that people are destroying the Earth through their callous disregard of nature, because of the misguided thought that we are supposedly lords over the planet instead of another species that is PART of the planet.

People who think of themselves as separate from nature rather than part of it fall in to the dangerous assumption that they can just keep on killing off whatever plants and animals they want, in as large numbers as they want, without it affecting human life too.

For many decades, politicians have been ignoring these calls for people to have a greater respect for the natural world of which we are a part. For many decades, those calls have been answered with criticism from those who believe there should be no environmental regulations, no protections for wildlife, and that humans should be able to just destroy whatever they want, whenever they want, as often and as much as they want, because to them, making money by destroying the environment is awesome.

Now they’re going to learn the hard way that it’s not awesome at all. The environmentalists have been correct about this all along, and the greedy selfish people who think environmental regulations are bad just keep on trying to claim they’re not.”

This isn’t just another political issue.  This should rise far above partisan politics, should take precedence over trade wars, over corporate profits, and every other issue, for frankly, if we don’t do this now, none of the rest will matter a whit by the end of the century.  You won’t be around to see it nor will I, but our great-great-grandchildren will.  Think about it.

Greta Thunberg Speaks Out …

Back in December, one of my ‘good people’ was a 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden named Greta Thunberg.  She is the originator of the movement that has young people all over the world leaving their classes on Fridays to participate in protests against governments that aren’t doing their part to protect our planet.  Ms. Thunberg is a courageous and caring young woman who refuses to ‘sit down and shut up’, as some wish she would do.

Yesterday, Ms. Thunberg gave a speech to the UK’s Members of Parliament, and she pulled no punches.  I would like to share that speech with you today, and I really wish she would cross the pond and give that same speech to our Congress!  Prime Minister Theresa May did not attend, though a seat was saved for her.


Greta-ThunbergMy name is Greta Thunberg. I am 16 years old. I come from Sweden. And I speak on behalf of future generations.

I know many of you don’t want to listen to us – you say we are just children. But we’re only repeating the message of the united climate science.

Many of you appear concerned that we are wasting valuable lesson time, but I assure you we will go back to school the moment you start listening to science and give us a future. Is that really too much to ask?

In the year 2030 I will be 26 years old. My little sister Beata will be 23. Just like many of your own children or grandchildren. That is a great age, we have been told. When you have all of your life ahead of you. But I am not so sure it will be that great for us.

I was fortunate to be born in a time and place where everyone told us to dream big; I could become whatever I wanted to. I could live wherever I wanted to. People like me had everything we needed and more. Things our grandparents could not even dream of. We had everything we could ever wish for and yet now we may have nothing.

Now we probably don’t even have a future any more.

Because that future was sold so that a small number of people could make unimaginable amounts of money. It was stolen from us every time you said that the sky was the limit, and that you only live once.

Greta_Thunberg_pissed-800x450You lied to us. You gave us false hope. You told us that the future was something to look forward to. And the saddest thing is that most children are not even aware of the fate that awaits us. We will not understand it until it’s too late. And yet we are the lucky ones. Those who will be affected the hardest are already suffering the consequences. But their voices are not heard.

Is my microphone on? Can you hear me?

Around the year 2030, 10 years 252 days and 10 hours away from now, we will be in a position where we set off an irreversible chain reaction beyond human control, that will most likely lead to the end of our civilisation as we know it. That is unless in that time, permanent and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society have taken place, including a reduction of CO2 emissions by at least 50%.

And please note that these calculations are depending on inventions that have not yet been invented at scale, inventions that are supposed to clear the atmosphere of astronomical amounts of carbon dioxide.

Furthermore, these calculations do not include unforeseen tipping points and feedback loops like the extremely powerful methane gas escaping from rapidly thawing arctic permafrost.

Nor do these scientific calculations include already locked-in warming hidden by toxic air pollution. Nor the aspect of equity – or climate justice – clearly stated throughout the Paris agreement, which is absolutely necessary to make it work on a global scale.

We must also bear in mind that these are just calculations. Estimations. That means that these “points of no return” may occur a bit sooner or later than 2030. No one can know for sure. We can, however, be certain that they will occur approximately in these timeframes, because these calculations are not opinions or wild guesses.

These projections are backed up by scientific facts, concluded by all nations through the IPCC. Nearly every single major national scientific body around the world unreservedly supports the work and findings of the IPCC.

Did you hear what I just said? Is my English OK? Is the microphone on? Because I’m beginning to wonder.

During the last six months I have travelled around Europe for hundreds of hours in trains, electric cars and buses, repeating these life-changing words over and over again. But no one seems to be talking about it, and nothing has changed. In fact, the emissions are still rising.

When I have been travelling around to speak in different countries, I am always offered help to write about the specific climate policies in specific countries. But that is not really necessary. Because the basic problem is the same everywhere. And the basic problem is that basically nothing is being done to halt – or even slow – climate and ecological breakdown, despite all the beautiful words and promises.

The UK is, however, very special. Not only for its mind-blowing historical carbon debt, but also for its current, very creative, carbon accounting.

Since 1990 the UK has achieved a 37% reduction of its territorial CO2 emissions, according to the Global Carbon Project. And that does sound very impressive. But these numbers do not include emissions from aviation, shipping and those associated with imports and exports. If these numbers are included the reduction is around 10% since 1990 – or an an average of 0.4% a year, according to Tyndall Manchester.

And the main reason for this reduction is not a consequence of climate policies, but rather a 2001 EU directive on air quality that essentially forced the UK to close down its very old and extremely dirty coal power plants and replace them with less dirty gas power stations. And switching from one disastrous energy source to a slightly less disastrous one will of course result in a lowering of emissions.

But perhaps the most dangerous misconception about the climate crisis is that we have to “lower” our emissions. Because that is far from enough. Our emissions have to stop if we are to stay below 1.5-2C of warming. The “lowering of emissions” is of course necessary but it is only the beginning of a fast process that must lead to a stop within a couple of decades, or less. And by “stop” I mean net zero – and then quickly on to negative figures. That rules out most of today’s politics.

The fact that we are speaking of “lowering” instead of “stopping” emissions is perhaps the greatest force behind the continuing business as usual. The UK’s active current support of new exploitation of fossil fuels – for example, the UK shale gas fracking industry, the expansion of its North Sea oil and gas fields, the expansion of airports as well as the planning permission for a brand new coal mine – is beyond absurd.

This ongoing irresponsible behaviour will no doubt be remembered in history as one of the greatest failures of humankind.

People always tell me and the other millions of school strikers that we should be proud of ourselves for what we have accomplished. But the only thing that we need to look at is the emission curve. And I’m sorry, but it’s still rising. That curve is the only thing we should look at.

Every time we make a decision we should ask ourselves; how will this decision affect that curve? We should no longer measure our wealth and success in the graph that shows economic growth, but in the curve that shows the emissions of greenhouse gases. We should no longer only ask: “Have we got enough money to go through with this?” but also: “Have we got enough of the carbon budget to spare to go through with this?” That should and must become the centre of our new currency.

Many people say that we don’t have any solutions to the climate crisis. And they are right. Because how could we? How do you “solve” the greatest crisis that humanity has ever faced? How do you “solve” a war? How do you “solve” going to the moon for the first time? How do you “solve” inventing new inventions?

The climate crisis is both the easiest and the hardest issue we have ever faced. The easiest because we know what we must do. We must stop the emissions of greenhouse gases. The hardest because our current economics are still totally dependent on burning fossil fuels, and thereby destroying ecosystems in order to create everlasting economic growth.

“So, exactly how do we solve that?” you ask us – the schoolchildren striking for the climate.

And we say: “No one knows for sure. But we have to stop burning fossil fuels and restore nature and many other things that we may not have quite figured out yet.”

Then you say: “That’s not an answer!”

So we say: “We have to start treating the crisis like a crisis – and act even if we don’t have all the solutions.”

“That’s still not an answer,” you say.

Then we start talking about circular economy and rewilding nature and the need for a just transition. Then you don’t understand what we are talking about.

We say that all those solutions needed are not known to anyone and therefore we must unite behind the science and find them together along the way. But you do not listen to that. Because those answers are for solving a crisis that most of you don’t even fully understand. Or don’t want to understand.

You don’t listen to the science because you are only interested in solutions that will enable you to carry on like before. Like now. And those answers don’t exist any more. Because you did not act in time.

Avoiding climate breakdown will require cathedral thinking. We must lay the foundation while we may not know exactly how to build the ceiling.

Sometimes we just simply have to find a way. The moment we decide to fulfil something, we can do anything. And I’m sure that the moment we start behaving as if we were in an emergency, we can avoid climate and ecological catastrophe. Humans are very adaptable: we can still fix this. But the opportunity to do so will not last for long. We must start today. We have no more excuses.

We children are not sacrificing our education and our childhood for you to tell us what you consider is politically possible in the society that you have created. We have not taken to the streets for you to take selfies with us, and tell us that you really admire what we do.

We children are doing this to wake the adults up. We children are doing this for you to put your differences aside and start acting as you would in a crisis. We children are doing this because we want our hopes and dreams back.

I hope my microphone was on. I hope you could all hear me.

Capitalism Run Amok

I have said many times of late that ours is a system of capitalism run amok.  It’s a system driven by greed, by wealthy corporate giants intent on squeezing every last nickel out of the consumers without taking responsibility for their own product.  The republicans act as if ‘socialism’ is a bad word, but frankly democratic socialism makes a heck of a lot more sense that todays extreme capitalism.  It seems that a very astute mind agrees with me.  Take a look at what Robert Reich has to say on the subject.

Corporations are endangering Americans. Trump doesn’t care

From Boeing to Monsanto and beyond: this week has revealed the tip of the iceberg of regulatory neglect

By Robert Reich

Robert ReichWhy didn’t Boeing do it right? Why isn’t Facebook protecting user passwords? Why is Phillip Morris allowed to promote vaping? Why hasn’t Wells Fargo reformed itself? Why hasn’t Monsanto (now owned by Bayer) recalled its Roundup weedkiller?

Answer: corporate greed coupled with inept and corrupt regulators.

These are just a few of the examples in the news these days of corporate harms inflicted on innocent people.

To be sure, some began before the Trump administration. But Trump and his appointees have unambiguously signaled to corporations they can now do as they please.

Boeing wanted to get its 737 Max 8 out quickly because airlines want to pack in more passengers at lower fuel costs (hence the “max”). But neither Boeing nor the airlines shelled out money to adequately train pilots on the new software made necessary by the new design.

Nonetheless, Trump’s FAA certified the plane in March 2017. And after two subsequent deadly crashes, the US was slower to ground them than other countries.

Last week Facebook admitted to storing hundreds of millions of Facebook users’ passwords in plain text that could be searched by more than 20,000 Facebook employees. The admission came just a year after the Cambridge Analytica scandal revealed that Facebook shared the personal data of as many as 87 million users with a political data firm.

In reality, Facebook’s business model is based on giving personal data to advertisers so they can tailor their pitches precisely to potential customers. So despite repeated reassurances by Mark Zuckerberg, the firm will continue to do what it wants with personal information.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has the power to force Facebook to better guard users’ privacy. But so far Trump’s FTC has done nothing – not even to enforce a 2011 agreement in which Facebook promised to do just that.

Altria (Phillip Morris) was losing ground on its sales of cigarettes, but the firm has recently found a future in vaping. Because inhaling nicotine in any form poses a health hazard, the FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb wanted to curb advertising of vaping products to teenagers.

Gottlieb thought he had Altria’s agreement, but then the firm bought the vaping company Juul. Its stock has already gained 14% this year. What happened to Gottlieb? He’s out at the FDA, after barely a year on the job.

Wells Fargo has publicly apologized for having deceived customers with fake bank accounts, unwarranted fees and unwanted products. Its top executives say they have eliminated the aggressive sales targets that were responsible for the fraud.

But Wells Fargo employees told the New York Times recently that they’re still under heavy pressure to squeeze extra money out of customers. Some have witnessed colleagues bending or breaking internal rules to meet ambitious performance goals.

What has Trump’s Consumer Financial Protection Agency done about this? Nothing. It’s been defanged.

This week, a federal jury awarded $80m in damages to a California man who blamed Monsanto’s (now Bayer’s) Roundup weedkiller for his cancer, after finding that Roundup was defectively designed, that Monsanto failed to warn of the herbicide’s cancer risk, and that the company acted negligently. It was the second jury in eight months to reach the same conclusion about Roundup.

Roundup contains glyphosate, a suspected carcinogen. Cases from more than 1,000 farmers and other agricultural workers stricken with non-Hodgkin lymphoma are already pending in federal and state courts.

What has Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency done about glyphosate? In December 2017 its office of pesticide programs concluded that glyphosate wasn’t likely to cause cancer – although eight of the 15 experts on whom the agency relied expressed significant concerns about that conclusion, and three more expressed concerns about the data.

These are just tips of a vast iceberg of regulatory neglect, frozen into place by Trump’s appointees, of which at least 187 were lobbyists before they joined the administration.

This is trickle-down economics of a different sort than Trump’s corporate tax cuts. The major beneficiaries of this are the same big corporations, including their top executives and major investors. But these burdens are trickling down as unsafe products, fraudulent services, loss of privacy, even loss of life.

Big money has had an inhibiting effect on regulators in several previous administrations. What’s unique under Trump is the blatancy of it all, and the shameless willingness of Trump appointees to turn a blind eye to corporate wrongdoing.

Trump and his Republican enablers in Congress yell “socialism!” at proposals for better balancing private greed with the common good. Yet unless a better balance is achieved, capitalism as we know it is in deep trouble.

Thoughts On This ‘Independence Day’

fireworks-promo-articleLarge.gifToday is the Fourth of July … typically a fun holiday involving grill-outs, get-togethers with friends, and at the end of the day, a fireworks display.  I remember many a Fourth spent with our old friends Kim & Jerry, cooking out on their patio, then going to a local park where every year there was an awesome fireworks display.  It was a much-anticipated day.  This year, I actually forgot that it was the fourth until yesterday when I was talking on the phone with my friend Herb, and he reminded me.  Whoopee.

The point of the holiday is to celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence back in 1776, some 242 years ago.  It would be another eleven years before the U.S. Constitution was born, but still, it was the beginning of the process that eventually led to the nation we now know as the United States of America, the USA.

Frankly, while I still have admiration for those who have gone before and helped shape this nation, those who worked tirelessly to make it a good place to live by abolishing slavery, working toward civil rights and equal rights for women, those who have engaged in humanitarian ventures to help the people … the ordinary people … of this nation thrive, I have very little pride in this country today.  I really do not feel like celebrating the hypocrisy that this nation has become.

We are currently in the midst of such great upheaval, such chaos, that I no longer even feel that it is a single nation, but rather a bunch of people living on the same continent, but being engaged in a constant battle with prize being … nothing.  The things that once made me proud to live in this country are being eroded day-by-day.  Police killing unarmed blacks simply because they can get away with it.  White supremacists, neo-Nazis and other hate groups marching, holding rallies, all because they are arrogantly convinced that somehow pale skin is a virtue.  Conspiracy theories running rampant. People at either end of the political spectrum engaging in juvenile name-calling, threats and taunts, rather than trying to work together to solve the nation’s ills.  And nearly 3,000 innocent children, torn from the arms of their parents and being held hostage by our own government, innocent pawns in a high-stakes game of politics. Where this nation began as a nation of immigrants, we now vilify immigrants.

The people we voted for, we elected to represent us and our values, sit in their fancy air-conditioned offices and scoff at our needs, our desires.  “Vote for me and I’ll promise you everything you ask for,” they say in the lead-up to November, but then after they are elected, it’s “Ha ha, sucker!  Don’t call me … I’ll call you!”  They do not even hear or see our cries for equality, for truth, for justice, for help.

The history of this nation has sometimes been noble, often not.  We killed the Native Americans in droves and ran them off their land for our own greed.  We held on to the notion that African-Americans were not wholly to be considered human beings, but rather slaves, for far too many years and even today, some hold onto that belief.  We interned citizens of Japanese ancestry for no other reason than unwarranted fear during World War II.  We murdered more than a quarter-of-a-million people by dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki Japan in 1945.  The list of our less-than-glorious moments in history is long.

And today, we are engaged in actively and knowingly destroying the earth for no other reason than to put more money in the pockets of rich corporate barons.  We are devaluing our poor people, robbing them of health care and even food & shelter.  We are condoning the blatant discrimination of people whose skin is not pale or who do not believe in the “Christian values” that are determined by a small group of men called ‘televangelists’ who are getting rich off people who can ill-afford to support their luxury lifestyles.  We are supporting corrupt politicians who are milking us for their own personal gain.  We are intentionally scaling back our education system so that only the wealthy will be well-educated enough to hold political offices in the future.

There are many things to love about this nation, but today I have trouble remembering what they are.  I love the wonderful forests, rivers, lakes and coastal areas, but those are being destroyed by greed, by oil pipelines, drilling and mining operations that put more money in the pockets of the wealthy.  It feels like everything that was once good is being destroyed, and I find it difficult to feel any joy in celebrating the birth of a nation that is now eating its own.  A nation that places more value on a dollar than on a life.

Many will not like this post, will not like my harsh words, and I understand that.  Frankly, I don’t like them either, but they are honest words.  Honesty … one of the values, along with integrity and compassion, that we have thrown in the trash as we race to become a nation of rich white people.  It is a vision that sickens me and one that I want no part of.

Keep safe and enjoy your holiday, friends.  Love ‘n hugs to you all!

Score One For We The People

Today We The People had a victory.  Oh, to be sure, it was a small victory and only a baby step at that, but a victory, nonetheless.  I hope that more steps in this direction will soon follow.

The issue?  Citizens United.  First, a brief explanation of Citizens United, for those who may not be quite clear on what it is.

Citizens United is a conservative political advocacy organization, founded in 1988, whose stated mission is to “reassert the traditional American values of limited government, freedom of enterprise, strong families, and national sovereignty and security.”  Sounds harmless enough, right?

What they actually do, using donations from wealthy republican supporters, is create and produce advertisements and documentary films critical of republican opponents, primarily democratic candidates, but also certain media outlets, such as Mother Jones, and in 2016, they produced a film critical of the United Nations.

iaauw'In 2016, Citizens United president David Bossie, a long-time friend of Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway, took leave to become Trump’s deputy campaign manager.  As such, he made personal and television appearances and produced ads mainly unfavourable to Hillary Clinton.

we the corporationsBut the real impact of Citizens United came from their lawsuit in 2009-2010, Citizens United v Federal Election Commission (FEC).  To make a very long story short, in that case the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that that the free speech clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution prohibits the government from restricting independent expenditures for communications by nonprofit corporations, for-profit corporations, labor unions, and other associations.  In other words, there are no limits to what any business, individual, union, PAC or other organization can contribute to a political campaign.  It is the ruling that opened the door for such organizations as the NRA to put hundreds of thousands of dollars into the pockets of members of Congress. So, if you’ve got the money, you can basically buy a candidate.

Now, fast forward to today.  The State of New York has a requirement that nonprofits must disclose their donors each year.  Citizens United challenged that law, claiming it violated the First Amendment, and that to disclose the names  of donors would inhibit some, who wished to remain anonymous, from donating.  Today, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan rejected those claims. Circuit Judge Rosemary Pooler said New York has important interests in stopping fraud and abuse by charities, and requiring them to disclose names, addresses and contributions of their largest donors makes enforcement easier.

Okay, granted it may not seem like much of a win, but I think it is the first step on a path to greater transparency in political campaign funding.  The ultimate goal, of course, should be to severely limit campaign funding, for when a company, say a coal company, can spend unlimited amounts of money to fund the republican candidate’s political campaign, then that company no doubt expects something in return.  We are seeing that today, with the fossil fuel industry having contributed heavily to, not only Donald Trump, but also certain pliable members of Congress, and now those who received the benefit are providing the payback.

Michael Boos, one of the attorneys for Citizens United, has indicated that they will be considering an appeal to today’s ruling.

On March 27, 2002, President George W. Bush signed into law a bill, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, aka BCRA, aka McCain–Feingold Act, that regulated the financing of political campaigns.

I generally give the U.S. Supreme Court a thumbs-up for their diligence, their sense of fairness and non-partisan decision-making.  However, the case of Citizens United v Federal Election Committee is the exception, for I believe they made a grievous error in allowing unlimited donations to political campaigns.  I hope that today’s decision by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court is upheld, and that it is merely the first step toward implementing common-sense rules over campaign financing.  Every November, we each put on our patriotic hats and go to the polls to vote according to our beliefs and our consciences.  But, in recent years, our elections have been tampered in many ways, and by many nefarious players, not the least of which are those whose corporate greed far outweighs any consideration for We The Pople.  It is time for that to change.

And In Today’s Bad Taste Section …

Any who know me well know that I have an extreme distaste for Wal-Mart.  The reasons are numerous, starting with the way they treat their employees, their environmental practices, their poor quality products and much more.  I have boycotted Wal-Mart for years now and will continue to do so.  However even I could not have predicted how low they could stoop, what poor taste they would exhibit with their latest faux pas.

Wal-Mart Is Selling Prints of Japanese Internment Camps as ‘Perfect’ Wall Art

The retailer is offering 15 posters of the forced relocation of tens of thousands of Japanese Americans, which occurred during World War II, including ones of children waiting to be transported and a group of Japanese women within the grounds of an internment camp. The pictures are described as “the perfect Wall Art for any home, bedroom, playroom, classroom, dorm room or office workspace.” – Think Progress, 11 November 2017

What’s next?  Pictures of bodies in the ditches of Auschwitz?  This is not the first time Wal-Mart has come under fire for selling controversial products.

  • In September, 2016, a Wal-Mart in Panama City Beach put up a display that used Coke and Sprite boxes to create an American flag backdrop. In front of it, Coke Zero packages were stacked to resemble the World Trade Center towers. A banner above read, “We will never forget.” The display was quickly taken down amid complaints from shoppers, but still …

Wal-mart twin towers display


  • In July, 2014, a poster, featuring the main gate of the Dachau camp with the slogan “Arbeit Macht Frei”—”Work Makes You Free”—was being sold on Wal-Mart’s website. It, too, was quickly taken down and Wal-Mart issued a statement that it had been placed there by one of their third-party sellers, but still …

Wal-mart auschwitz


  • This past July, a netting weave cap was listed on Wal-Mart’s website, the colour described as “N—– Brown.” Again, the product was quickly removed, the blame placed on a ‘third-party seller’.  But still …

Wal-mart brown capMy best guess is that by the end of the day, the internment camp pictures will be removed, blame placed on a ‘third party seller’, and the incident will fade into the oblivion of most peoples’ minds.  But let me note here that Wal-Mart has full control of their website, that it is viewed by Wal-Mart’s own web developers daily, and that at the end of the day, Wal-Mart must accept responsibility for any and all content.

What is in the mind of whomever first came up with the idea, the person who thought this was a good idea, who thought it would add something to one’s living room to have this picture …

Wal-mart internment… hanging over the fireplace?  I realize that we are fast becoming a society inured to social injustice, placing it far lower on the priority list than greed and profit … but this???  Is there any one person reading this post who thinks this is okay? What kind of people are so greedy that they would profit from the pain of others?

I know a great many people who shop at Wal-Mart, though I refuse to.  They say they save a lot of money there, but I have my doubts, given the shoddy quality of their merchandise.  And those who call for this new “America First”, for the manufacturing of goods to return to the U.S. from overseas, need to note that Wal-Mart imports from China alone were estimated to have displaced some 400,000 jobs from U.S. workers between 2001 and 2013 1  Only one of many reasons to ask yourself if you might do just as well elsewhere.

Shopping at Wal-Mart is a bit like voting for Donald Trump or Alabama’s Roy Moore:  cheap, tacky, classless and tasteless.

1 New York Times, 09 December 2015