Friday, April 28, 2017

Who's on Trump? What's running the State Department? I don't know Where on Healthcare.

The total chaos and confusion in the Trump Administration has a precedent.

So if you're not sure what our foreign policy is vis-a-vis Syria, for example; or whether repealing Obamacare and replacing it with some form of "better" insurance is on or off; or whether the Trump tax cut will raise or lower your take home pay, and at whose expense, or to whose profit, check out the video below.

I'd say it was created as a metaphor for the Trump Administration, except that it was done long, long ago during the Truman Administration.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Was Ledell Lee murdered? And if so, who did it?

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson

Trump U.S. Supreme Court appointee Neil M. Gorsuch
Last Thursday, April 20th, in a middle-of-nowhere prison called the Cummins Unit, the State of Arkansas strapped Ledell Lee on his back to a gurney-like execution apparatus. 

Asked to make a statement, Lee declined. Somebody stuck an intravenous needle into him, and pumped a three-drug “cocktail” into his body. About 13 minutes later, he was dead.

You can favor capital punishment or not. This is not about that. This is about the rushed killing of a possibly innocent man, which would make Ledell Lee’s execution a cold-blooded, state sanctioned murder. 

Lee had always proclaimed his innocence. And there is a convincing body of evidence that indicates he indeed was innocent. Consider these excerpts from the Innocence Project’s Death Penalty Blog:
Mr. Lee has always maintained his innocence of the 1993 murder and sexual assault of Debra Reese.  Numerous unknown fingerprints were found at the crime scene, yet none were from Mr. Lee. 
At trial, the prosecution claimed that two small spots of “human blood” on shoes recovered by the police from Mr. Lee were likely the victim’s blood.  Yet despite the extremely bloody nature of the crime, no other blood was found anywhere on Mr. Lee’s shoes, or any of his clothing.  Newly available DNA testing could prove whether the spots were in fact the victim’s blood 
Attorneys are also seeking to test hairs of purported African-American origin that were recovered at the scene.  At trial, the state argued that the hairs came from the defendant, after witnesses reported seeing a lone black male enter and exit the home of the victim, who was white.   
The state’s experts claimed that the hairs were “consistent” with Mr. Lee’s, based on microscopic examination – a forensic method that has since been discredited.
DNA testing could prove not only if the hairs came from Mr. Lee, but a DNA profile could also be identified from the hairs that could help determine who really committed the crime – including comparing it to the millions of DNA profiles in the national DNA databank.  DNA testing and databank searches were not available at Mr. Lee’s trial, but are standard practice in 2017. 
The criminal justice system has completely failed Mr. Lee since he was arrested for the crime.  Mr. Lee was tried by a judge who concealed that he was having an affair with the assistant prosecutor on the case, whom he later married. 
Mr. Lee’s first state post-conviction counsel introduced the evidence of the affair by calling the judge’s ex-wife, who testified about the affair after opposing the subpoena. Mr. Lee’s lawyer, however, was so intoxicated at the hearing that the prosecution asked for him to be drug tested after he slurred, stumbled, and made incoherent arguments. 
Most of the Arkansas appeals court that heard this cased chose to ignore the evidence pointing to the likelihood that Lee was innocent. An exception was Judge Josephine Linker Hart. Again, the Innocence Project reports:
In a dissenting opinion denying Lee a stay issued today, Arkansas Supreme Court Judge Josephine Linker Hart made a powerful argument for why DNA testing was in the interest of justice. Justice Hart characterized Lee’s claim for DNA testing of hairs the state claimed linked Lee to the crime as a “modest request,” noting that the hair evidence had been used against him at trial and “tilted in the State’s favor a very weak case based entirely on circumstantial evidence. 
Judge Hart also emphasized the unfairness and arbitrariness of the Arkansas court’s grant of a stay to Stacey Johnson for DNA testing while denying one to Lee, adding, “I am at a loss to explain this Court’s dissimilar treatment of similarly situated litigants.” Judge Hart concluded by stating, “The court’s error in denying the motion for stay will not be capable of correction.”
Well, it might have been capable of correction had the United States Supreme Court provided a stay of execution until valid forensic evidence could be analyzed. Fat chance. Donald Trump’s newly-minted appointee, Neil Gorsuch, voted with the majority to kill the man first and ask questions later.

I hope the Innocence Project will not let this matter rest even though Lee is dead, and that it will continue to demand a forensic analysis of the “blood” — if it was blood — on Lee’s shoes, and of the hair samples found at the murder scene.

If those are not a match with Lee, the people who in effect will have murdered an innocent man will include more than just the judge and prosecutor in Lee’s original trial, who for all I know may have arranged his death sentence in bed. There are others. Among them:

• Arkansas State Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, who succesfully fought tooth and nail to get Lee executed before the forensic evidence could undergo DNA testing.

• Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, who has been pressing for the equivalent of an excution assembly line — evidently whether the men he executes are guilty or not — because one of the drugs used in the “cocktail” is approaching its “use by” date, and he’ll have one hell of a problem replacing it once it’s expired.

• Perhaps, most shamefully of all, newly appointed U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neill Gorsuch, another “execute ‘em first and ask questions later” judge, who made his bones with his first decision on the high court.

If DNA analysis eventually proves Ledell Lee’s innocence — or if the Rutledge, Hutchinson, Gorsuch and others somehow manage to block an examination of the evidence or allow its destruction, I hope that wherever they go, crowds of  chanting Americans will call them out for what they have been shown to be.

“Murderer! Murderer! Murderer!”

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Take your tech and shove it!

This is where all the trouble began

Okay, before I begin, I need to confess.  More than a half century ago I turned in my press card and took a job in advertising. No excuses. I’m just telling it like it is. Or was.

My first advertising assignment was to write copy for IBM’s corporate campaign. The advertising was designed by my bosses — I swear this is the truth — to convince people that not only were computers incapable of thinking, but that they were also of incapable of taking jobs away. 

Don’t be afraid. It’ll flash
it’ll blink, but it won’t think.

Remember, this was back when a computer was a bunch of metal boxes that could nearly fill a banquet hall, and people were terrified of  those flashing, blinking, whirring “thinking machines.” I was instructed to tell people that computers would “electronically compare” millions of tiny bits of data and use this data to save lives and do other impossibly wonderful things for humanity, 

My first ever-published advertising headline said, “IBM computers don’t think, but they do help find rare blood to save a life.” (The ad had to do with computers browsing blood donor files to find, say, a pint of type AB Negative, so that an army of desperate clerks wouldn’t have to. Instead, I suppose, the clerks were free to anxiously wring their hands.)

Another of my ads revealed that “IBM computers don’t think, but they do help find lost ships at sea.” Yup, another info retrieval story. Notice, in both headlines — and in others that followed — computers never actually did anything. They just helped do the job, which was a task that still belonged to people. 

One ad even joyfully revealed that computers would “help make bank lines shorter,” a considerable benefit back when there was no such thing as automatic deposit or cash machines, and long payday bank lines could eat up an entire lunch hour. Alas, when I last went to a human-staffed teller window at my bank a few months ago, there was still a long line. But there were only two tellers in a bank that used to have over twenty  of them.

The other eighteen tellers? The copy used to say computers were freeing up people so they’d have more time to think. My guess is, they’re thinking, “How the hell am I going to find a new job?”

The TV spot that terrified
an ad agency biggie

Eventually, the campaign got on television and somebody, not I because I was too junior, was assigned to write a TV spot about computerized speech synthesis. (Hey Siri, did I spell “synthesis” right?) At any rate I was there when another proud copywriter unveiled his storyboard, which involved scientists staring at displays of wave forms on oscilloscope tubes, while other scientists spoke into microphones to generate the wave forms, while still other scientists studied how babies learn to speak. 

In the last few seconds,  somebody feeds a piece of film with nothing but a wave form on it into a computer, and the computer was supposed to cry, “Mama!”

The most senior account manager in the room was the first to try to murder the copywriter. “You crazy sonofabitch!” he yelled. “That’s going to scare the living crap out of people! Who hired this nincompoop?”

Needless to say, the commercial was never made, and the storyboard was buried in an unmarked grave.  

All this by way of bringing up a study reported on in an advertising trade journal called “Campaign,” under the headline, "IBM study finds most people are disappointed with digital brand experiences.”

Ya think?

IBM exec is shocked. Shocked!

You bet. In fact, “the results were ‘shocking,’” according to Robert Schwartz, Global Lead of Strategy and Design at IBM’s Interactive Experience Division.” I’ll pause for a moment in case you tried to say that name and title out loud and need to unclench your jaw and catch your breath. 

All set now?

Turns out — who’d-a thunk it? — that rather than spend half their lives pressing buttons or talking their way through phone trees to explain that the cable is out, and they’ve already unplugged the flippin’ cable box and then plugged it back in, and whatever else the machine tells freaked out people to do while they’re missing their favorite shows….turns out people would rather speak to a live human being.

Read between the lines and what you discover is that the “consumer experience” sucks whenever corporations throw people out of work and tell machines to answer the phone and deal with customers. 

Listen up, corporations. “Didn’t work as expected,” was the top reason “consumers are disappointed” with your damn habit of throwing people out of work and having machines answer the phone so that you can reduce your payroll. That’s quickly followed up by “Not convenient,” “Hard to use” and “Too confusing.”

Do the captains of America’s C-suites give a flying microchip? Not if the last incident with United Airlines is any indication. Corporations will try to get away with as much as they can, and let the customer get roasted in hell for eternity, as long as the company gets ever-increasing profits. 

Business doesn’t love you.
It loves profits. Period.

Industry will ignore you. It will have machines that can’t quite grasp your problem talk to you. It will beat the stuffing out of you on an airplane, or rip you off if you deposit at their bank, or chase you to the deep end of hell for the money you owe on your student loan….and the list goes on.

That’s why government regulation is so important, and why Donald Trump has done immeasurable damage to this nation — and continues to do it every time he underfunds, underpopulates, or undercuts a government regulatory agency.

Yes, we need capitalism. We also need vicious guard dogs. But both need to be kept on a tight leash.

Donald Trump, you see, is like a computer. He doesn’t think. But he does help destroy whatever used to be civil in civilization.

Over to you, Congress. Oh wait, I forgot.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

UAL board of directors, it’s time to fire Oscar Munoz. Congress, it’s time to get off your butts and re-regulate airline travel. (Fat chance!)

What next? Will United Airlines throw you off the plane in
mid-air if they don't like your looks?
Oscar Munoz, the CEO of United Airlines, thinks he can tough it out and not resign, after the horrifying incident in which a paying and seated passenger was ordered off the plane for the convenience of United, and then beaten by a pair of thugs when he refused to go.

After first issuing a line of doublespeak, worthy of George Orwell, about “re-accommodating” passengers, instead of apologizing for beating the crap out of one of them….

After then praising the crew for this incident as an example of  “continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly right”…

After United Airlines showed such brutal and wanton disrespect of the implicit contract it signs when you buy and pay for a ticket, that you'll get a seat on the ticketed flight...(And please don’t tell me about the  mind-boggling list of terms and conditions, set in nearly unreadable mouse type, that take it all back somewhere on the back of the ticket)….

After all that, the backlash was so powerful, and the impact on United’s stock so devastating that it created over a quarter of a billion dollar loss for stockholders in just one day. Munoz finally realized he was in deeper doodoo than he at first imagined. 

So he offered a new statement contradicting everything he said before, declaring, “It’s never too late to do the right thing.”

Not so quick, Mr. Munoz. Your airline beat the crap out of a passenger for legitimately sitting in the seat he had bought and paid for. You defended the practices that led to this atrocity. You changed your mind only when you saw the press, airline passengers, and stockholders coming for you with torches and pitchforks. 

So far as I’m concerned, you’re now speaking with all the sincerity and humanity of a pit viper. And you deserve to be treated like the pit viper you are.

This is not the first time United has affronted passengers. Nor the second. Nor the third, fourth, fifth. They’ve thrown a family off a flight because their teen-aged daughter was autistic. They stranded a ten year old child at a major airport. They even killed somebody’s pet golden retriever. All those stories and others here:

For that matter, they unsympathetically stranded The New York Crank in Dayton, Ohio for 24 hours, as I previously reported on this blog. 

And this just in: "A MapLight/International Business Times review of records kept by the Center for Responsive Politics found that during the last two-year session of Congress, the airline spent $7.26 million to fight legislation that included measures to create minimum airline seat sizes; require airlines to allow families to sit together on flights; and prohibit airlines from charging customers to use an airplane bathroom."

Alas, mistreating paying passengers is so wide spread that even an airline I once adored, Jet Blue, has begun straying  into the passenger abuse business.

So I’m not late to the party with this commentary. I’ve just come back to it with more beer. We’re going to have to stick it out — and keep up the pressure — until we get a Congress and a president who are willing to re-regulate the airlines, so that you’re not risking your life or the shape of your face the  every time you get on an airplane.

It won't happen under a President Trump or a Congress and Senate full or Republicans. But that is simply another reason to stay politically active and throw out the Republican bums in Congress and the Senate. Real change will happen if you never stop demanding. Keep up the pressure!

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Hey, Trump supporters who want your jobs protected. Say hello to the REAL threat to your livelihood.

Think he's cute? Wait until you see how cute 
he gets when he steals your job.

Trump lied to you. The jobs aren’t coming back. Coal isn’t coming  because it’s being replaced by natural gas, solar and wind. Factory jobs aren’t coming back, because the Chinese and Mexican workers who are driving you so crazy aren’t really the problem.

The problem is robots.

Call your bank, your credit card company, even the entity you ordered your unspeakable sex toy from, and lotsa luck getting through to a real person. You’re talking to a bot that generally not only asks questions but understands your answers and often closes sales. The “Art of the Deal?” That’s just another algorithm. 

Bots have already taken thousands of jobs on production lines away from people, and more thefts of your work from machines are coming.

If a bots can drive, as they seem to be doing, in a couple of years down the road you’re finished as a cabbie or a truck driver. Or a fork lift driver. Or, in all probability a backhoe or derrick operator. The time is likely not far off where a skyscraper construction site will be staffed by one human being and a bunch of walking, or crawling, or climbing, or rocking, rolling, rattling robots.

And wipe that smug grin off your face, Mister White Collar know-it-all. You’re royally screwed, too. Just as surely as cash machines stole thousands of once-plentiful bank teller jobs, bots are coming to the point where they’ll be able to make programmed decisions and ask programmed questions, that will take away the necessity to employ you as a beat newspaper reporter, a school teacher, an attorney, many kinds of doctors, and a buh-zillions other forms of once-human employment. We don’t need no cops. Cop robots will be able to do much of the work, with fewer police-involved deaths.

These days there are even bot con men. Or at least bot con women. One bot keeps calling me, and when I say “hello” a couple of times,  the bot tells me in a giggly-girly voice, some variation of, “Oh sorry, my head set slipped and I didn’t hear you.” I hang up on Ms. Bot before she can launch into her sales pitch. 

That doesn’t bother her in the least. She just calls an hour, or a day, or a week later with the same girly routine and the same imaginary slipping head set.

Oh sure, there will still be a handful of employees around with collars of different colors to un-stick the machines when they get stuck, or to politely brush off people like me who go ballistic when a phone bot won’t give me what I’m asking for.

And there will always be some CEO at the top, reaching into the corporate cash flow and pocketing fat wads of cash that once had to be distributed as payroll among the working stiffs. But the rest of us are done for.

So what are you going to do about it? Because Trump isn’t going to do it for you. He’s one of the money grabbers, not one of the problem solvers. Getting rich at other peoples’ expense is how he got any richer than the fortune his father left him in the first place.

Smash the machines? A man named Ned Ludd inadvertently started a movement to do just that back in the 18th Century. It didn’t stop the weaving machines, and it didn’t stop any other kind of machine. 

So again I ask, what are you going to do about it? Because, if you do nothing, the extreme likelihood is that you, and most certainly your children, will starve to death, or freeze to death in the gutter.

For openers, we can demand a 20 hour week, necessitating two workers for every job that now requires one worker for a 40 hour week. 

And how will all those workers get paid? To a great extent by limiting the compensation of the CEO and board members, even stockholders like me, and putting the money back into the payroll. Since human “productivity” will go down, it’s also inevitable that prices will rise. But at least there will be paid workers in this nation to pay the prices. Think of the alternative.

But the 20 hour week alone won’t do the job because sooner or later — and probably sooner — there will be hardly any jobs of any kind, except for CEO. So what then?

Well, the government had better find ways to keep us fed, clothed, housed and occupied. For example? 

Free colleges or other forms of classes, but with mandatory attendance and the attendees getting paid for being there. A growth in the arts — the very thing from which Donald Trump is now busy cutting funding — to make life beautiful and to get more of us participating in both its creation and its enjoyment. More beautiful parks and public lands — the very thing Trump is intent on ravaging for commercial interests — for us to enjoy.

The truth is, by doing nearly all of the work, robots ultimately have the potential to turn the earth into a Garden of Eden. Or, if we go down Donald Trump’s road, a Garden of Hell.