Saturday, December 21, 2013

I Applaud the Hackers Who Stole 40 Million Credit and Debit Cards from TARGET

TARGET was hacked over a very busy shopping period and about 40 million debit and credit cards were stolen. It gives me joy to say that I am reading that hackers in Eastern Europe may be behind this heist. Yippee ki yay!

I am happy not because 40 million customers have been directly affected. The affected customers are only 'collateral damage' - I am one of them-  and will be taken care of by the all powerful banks. I am thrilled because this event clearly shows that there is no way to protect a computer network, no matter how much money one throws at it.

In this case, I am quite sure that the Eastern European hackers only had a few thousand dollars to play with. They are using their brain power and their computing smarts to disarm a company security systems that cost hundreds of millions of dollars a year and I am elated to see that money cannot defend a network. Yippee ki yay! Again.

Expertise and constant questioning by freelancers can defend a network and companies and government agencies should encourage hacking as a way to increase our skills and abilities in this area. One cannot learn how to hack -at least not proficiently- in a classroom and this has to be recognized by our government. 

We should not prosecute hackers as criminals but use them as allies and place them all in a 'public corporation' paid for with our tax money. Let all freelancers out there -even in Eastern Europe- prove that they are experts by hacking the 'hackers corporation' first... The public company will then issue instructions on how a network needs to be set up to be able to withstand any type of cyber attacks. Their job would be to break into any company they can...

Socially, by using hackers as a public resource, we would be better off. Besides, this approach would be far cheaper than the current mentality/approach that states that hackers are the bad guys and they will pay for their misdeeds in the judicial system. We all pay more for banks' and retailers loses, either directly -higher prices- or indirectly -inconvenience, taxes, etc.-.

Au contraire, hackers are serving a social good, just like vaccinations. Let's learn how to harness the power hackers have and put it to good use. Why do we continue to vilify them?

Friday, December 20, 2013

Snowden Is Slowly Emerging as a True American Patriot

The US government is trying to get a hold of Edward Snowden to put him on trial for revealing 'national secrets'. Mind you, that the 'national secrets' were collected with the help of a secret court and using secret methods so that we would not have been able to find anything about them until who knows when...

Snowden did us 'an unprecedented solid' by revealing the true magnitude and deviousness of the US spying capabilities as well as the fact that the NSA could spy on anybody, anytime, on any channel, and for whatever reason they wanted. It was a total black secret, so who cared?

It was clear to me from day one of this saga that Snowden is a true national hero, but it took the media and the American people a few months to pretty much realize the same thing and I am thrilled about that. I am literally jumping up and down as I am typing this entry.

A federal judge ruled unequivocally that what the NSA is currently doing is totally illegal and unconstitutional and I could not agree with him more. We are lame ducks and guinea pigs in an unprecedented experiment in which the government is capturing and monitoring every single electronic communication move we make.

The current, NSA led, spying activities on our citizens are not only dangerous for the entire society as it stymies the freedom of speech and can destroy legitimate business initiatives but it could also be totally disastrous for our democracy should an unscrupulous president be elected.

A legitimately elected president (turned rogue while in office) could cherry pick individuals -in Congress or not yet in Congress- he wanted to blackmail and ask the NSA for secret reports on them 'on national defense grounds'. He could then blackmail them at will to get to, for instance, pass any laws he wanted. How would the NSA be able to deny such requests when the FISA court rulings are 100% secret and can be easily influenced by the president?

Reforming the NSA and government spying are badly needed. I was reading some ideas generated by a panel selected by the WH to reform the government spying activities and it would be great to have all of them implemented right away. The funny thing is that the president will decide what the next steps are and this is infuriating as the current spying programs and methods were created by the NSA and they should be dismantled by the courts. Their replacement should come from congress action and not just from the executive branch.

North Korea Leadership Would Be Really Funny...

Today I was reading that North Korea sent a fax to the South Korea's Ministry of National Defense stating that it would strike South Korea 'mercilessly and without notice'. What?

I am rubbing my eyes in disbelief and imagine it is a joke but sadly it just cannot be. North Korea is an insane place, absolutely crazy and unpredictable.

Leaving aside the fact that they sent a fax -who uses faxes anymore?- why would they make it sound like it did not count? 

This is absolutely hilarious and reminiscent of a skit that would be played out by Monty Python or SNL. I just can imagine the crazy North Korean president just bursting into madness and envision how one of his generals, trying to appease him, proposed that they just sent a 'menacing' fax... And it actually happened.

I just have a feeling that North Korea will fall apart soon. The North Korean leader is as unstable as it gets, in my opinion.

We should make the North Korean leadership listen to The Black Eyed Peas 'I Gotta Feeling' song, but my feelings are not that happy as far as North Korea is concerned.

Monday, December 9, 2013

We Need a Single Payer Healthcare System (SPHS) in the United States

I am reading that Colin Powell favors a single payer system to address all the shortcomings of the US healthcare system.

Although I should be careful with Mr. Powell's positions, given his strong support of the Iraq war, I truly agree with him and I believe that a single payer system would address most of the existing inadequacies of the US healthcare system.

1. Access
2. Affordability and coverage
3. Yearly mad dash to buy insurance
4. Outcome
5. Cost

1. Access

We currently have an N-tier healthcare system where people with money can have any procedures they want and the poorest of all can only access ER and all the other 'providers' in-between.

SPHS would eliminate all barriers to entry if you pay social security taxes. I would expect a SPHS would increase the social security taxes to allow payments for this new universal benefit.

2. Affordability

Currently we do not know how healthcare prices are set. Doctors, hospitals, insurers, clinics, pharmaceutical companies, etc. can set any prices they want 'just because'.

No doubt that SPHS will eliminate insurance intermediaries and all insurance savings will make healthcare more affordable from a price perspective.

3. Yearly mad dash to buy insurance

SPHS would eliminate the requirement that we do anything to obtain health insurance next year. We just pay the extra social security premiums and we are instantaneously covered.

4. Outcome

If you need to see the 'final' healthcare outcome, please compare the US with any Western European country and see for yourself. Even Cuba does better than the US, and they use a SPHS.

5. Cost v. Benefits

We spend a significant chunk of change on healthcare, both collectively, as a nation, and as individuals.

As a matter of fact, in terms of efficiency, Bloomberg ranks the US on the 46th position, behind Libya, Thailand, and Romania, among others. We are spending over $8,600/year per person on healthcare (over $715/mo). This is insane, if you think about it, as the figure includes toddlers and senior citizens...

Saturday, December 7, 2013

On Nelson Mandela and Terrorism

Nelson Mandela, the president of South Africa, died on Thu, Dec 5, and I am reading that 4 -current and former- US presidents will attend his funeral, on Dec 15th.

RIP, Mr. Mandela.

It is beyond ironic -and a bit unsettling- to see how the US reveres Nelson Mandela while it considered him a terrorist until 2008. 5 years ago Mandela was a terrorist and now 4 US presidents go to his funeral and consider and speak of him as a 'hero'. I am wondering if any US president(s) would have traveled to Mr. Mandela's funeral had he died in -say-2007...

I just cannot wrap my mind around this type of hypocrisy shown by the US government. At the same time, I am certain that individuals who currently are considered 'terrorists' by the US government may actually be social mavens and represent legitimate social movements.

How can we trust that -at any given time- the US really 'knows' who the real 'terrorists' are?  

Friday, December 6, 2013

FIFA Should Sell the Rights to Name the World Cup Finals Groups And Pay Me an Idea Fee

Just like today's WC draw, I always enjoy the final draw for the WC final tournament but I am terribly bothered by the fact that the groups are identified by letters as opposed to -for example- companies' names and/or products.

Would it not be awesome if, let's say, the group of death would be named 'Samsung Group of Death'? Instead of 'Group C' a group's name could be 'Ford Explorer Group' or any other company or product name, such as 'Nike Hypervenom Group'.

A group's name could even be the name of one the official partners/sponsor. FIFA -and I- would make a chunk of change by selling the group naming rights and I would like to get a portion of that.

If FIFA does decide to do this I would like to receive 15% of the naming rights revenue FIFA receives. I am almost certain FIFA could make at least $5,000,000 for each group name at a final WC tournament.

Then, imagine the extra money to be made when the announcers call out the groups or posters/media materials are made/printed with the companies' names right where the group letters exist now... The group names would stick with a tournament forever: video games, stamps, newspapers, etc. will always have the company/product names listed as the group names.

This idea could be applied to other tournaments, such as basketball, tennis, and hockey, and these tournaments can be sporting or artistic events....

The concept could also be applied to all competitions where teams are assigned to groups and I would like to get 15% of all proceeds resulting from the naming rights. 

On Fri, Dec 6 2013, I have actually sent an email to FIFA about my idea and proposal.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Amazon's Drones And My Solution

I watched last night how the CEO of Amazon bragged about the possibility that Amazon would be able to use -within the next several years- drones to deliver purchased merchandise to people's homes within 30 min from placing the order (and within 10 miles from a 'fulfillment' center).

That is awesome!

But I think there are better solutions for this problem. Here is the solution I am envisioning.

1. Each household can have a set of drones, each with particular capabilities, (range, duration, etc.) and each with an assigned pad (a 10 x 10 foot area or similar);
2. Each drone has assigned a unique ID, similar to how cell phones, computers, and devices have a unique MAC address;
3. When a household member makes a purchase they can dispatch one of their drones to go fetch it, if within range of the vendor's warehouse;
4. Each drone is associated with a specific home base and a respective landing pad coordinates;
5. When dispatched to retrieve packages, each drone acquires a flight path lease that is unique for a very short period of time (maybe 20 min). This path cannot be used by any other drone for that time frame. Paths can be possibly mapped with radar devices mounted on existing cell towers.
6. Drone signals the coordinates and time elements to a centralized drone paths clearing house and the clearing house stores the fact that the path is 'busy' and cannot be leased to any other drone for that time frame;
7. The centralized clearing house receives updates -from the drone- on current coordinates as the drone flight develops and updates internal database; 
8. Drone with specific/authenticated/assigned ID travels to the merchant's warehouse on the uniquely leased flight path, lands on the pad assigned by the merchant and picks up the package;
9. Drone acquires a new path lease from the clearing house, as well as the time elements, and travels back to homebase pad;
10. Drone lands on home pad with assigned package;
11. :) Happy customer and no drone collusion;

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A Few Thoughts on Romania's National Holiday (Dec 1)

Today, on Dec 1, Romania celebrates 95 years since the grand reunification of 1918.

Romania was not a brand new country when its provinces unified under a single national state in 1918, but rather a few old and profoundly connected cultural and linguistic spaces. Finalizing the overlaying of geographical boundaries over historical values and connections is the classic definition of the Romanian nation.

(Unfortunately it is not something Romania could have accomplished on its own, but this is another topic.)

Romania, to its credit and in spite of extreme external pressure, has sustained these connections through extraordinarily difficult times, from Nazism to communism and from totalitarianism to democracy. Kudos to Romania for this accomplishment.

Romania needs to step up and show that it is a mature nation by providing opportunities to its citizens. It is unacceptable that young Romanians think that they can get more accomplished overseas than at home. The value of being a Romanian needs to be demonstrated in Romania and not in a foreign country, except in very few cases.

Certainly the +3 millions of Romanians who emigrated during the past 20 years would argue that they had no rational choice and there are no arguments to defeat the reality that Romania has never, in its history, exported so many of its citizens (in such a nonchalant fashion).

The Romanian government and politicians' performance needs to be measured against a set of metrics that include not only the unemployment rate, tax rates, and GDP growth but also the retention rate of Romanian citizens (professionals and young, mostly) in Romania.

How is it possible for a nation to continue to remain viable and grow organically when 20% of its citizens want to not live within its borders? It is even more troubling to think about that given the severe demographic constraints faced by Romania.

Make Romania a desirable country to Romanians and Romania will be prosperous. There cannot be a unified country with accelerating divisions between what its citizens want and what the government thinks that they want. If Romania succeeds at enabling Romanians to be successful at home then few Romanians will need to emigrate and Romania will become stronger than ever.

And, frankly, who does not want to see a strong Romania? La Multi Ani, Romania!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Cheap Wine That Does Not Feel Cheap (Yellow Tail - Shiraz)

If you do not feel like spending a chunk of change on an expensive wine I would recommend you drink the shiraz (syrah) from Yellow Tail. It is smooth, full of flavor, and clean when it hits the roof of your mouth.

It is a bit spicy and goes well with blue cheese, lamb, beef, and pasta with red sauces.

I just love it and if I did not know it was Yellow Tail I could not tell the difference between it and Rosemount shiraz (which costs at least twice as much as Yellow Tail).

Today I bought 6 bottles of Yellow Tail shiraz at a local grocery store near my house and I found out that I can get $12 back from the distributor, which is amazing, considering that I only paid $34.20 for the 6 pack. Hence my 6 bottles will cost me $22.20 which is less than $3.75/bottle. Absolutely amazing, considering that a glass of house red wine at a relatively cheap restaurant is at least $5.

I toast to Yellow Tail and savor the shiraz for its intense flavors. Cheers!

On Thermocouples, Pilot Burners, and Fireplaces

Our gas fireplace would just not work.

The pilot light was not staying on -unless I was keeping the ignition knob depressed- no matter what I was doing. I cleaned the oxygen sensor and I repositioned the logs. I was so mystified that I even called a gas fireplace expert who told me that I needed a new thermocouple (which he would 'love to install for me').

Well, I just did not believe the gas 'expert', even though I paid him $85 for 1 hour of his trials and tribulations.

Immediately after he left, I noticed that the pilot light was not touching the thermocouple shaft due to it being too low relative to where the pilot flame was hitting. It just occurred to me that the thermocouple could not engage the valve to keep the pilot on. (Without the pilot light on the fireplace cannot be lit, for safety.)

So, just as a last resort before buying a new thermocouple, I attached a flashlight to my head, took a Phillips screwdriver, stuck my head into the fireplace, and disconnected the small metal brace that keeps the thermocouple attached to the burner -it also keeps the piezo element close to the pilot gas tube- and repositioned the thermocouple so that its tip was about 1/2 inch above the pilot flame opening.

The interesting thing is that the thermocouple has a circular groove around the base that is supposed to indicate how is it to be 'seated' on the support and for some reason it slipped from its groove. (So I just repositioned the thermocouple on the proper groove.)

I reattached the plate -together with the piezo element next to the pilot burner- and, viola, the pilot flame stays on after just 6-8 seconds of keeping the ignition button depressed. It only took me a grand total of about 10 minutes of work -plus a few head bumps on the flue damper- and that includes the removal of the logs and their repositioning at the end.

When the pilot flame is on it hits the thermocouple at all times and now the fireplace works like a charm. I feel terribly sorry I did not spend the $85 I paid to the gas 'professional' on a few good bottles of Shiraz or Zinfandel.

Next time I will definitely do my homework before I call a pro...

As far as how much of the thermocouple should be in the pilot's flame path, have a look at the image to the left below. In my case, before I corrected the problem, the tip of the thermocouple was about 1/2 inch below the pilot burner flame axis. Go figure!


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Mr. Obama is The Most Incompetent President I Have Seen

Mr. Obama, the president of the US, is the most incompetent president I have seen. Even Mr. Bush was better than Obama, and I never thought I would say this.

Without a doubt, his signature legislative success, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, has been so poorly executed that Mr. Obama administration's has come to be known as a 'loser'. We would have been way better off with a universal healthcare system than the current mess.

Our healthcare system has gotten more complex and expensive due to Obama, although the reform does have its merits.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

We are gradually becoming a true 100% police state

I am reading in bewilderment how the NSA spies indiscriminately and illegally not only on all of us (as Americans) but also on the entire world. It can do that since it is the hub of most -if not all- electronic communication on the planet. Servers, switches, hubs, gateways, databases, and all sorts of data communication equipment are or can be directly controlled by the US government since they are in the hands of American corporations.

We need to either stop using data communication networks or become truly rogue and flood the NSA monitoring networks with so much false positive messages that they will have to stop collecting the 'garbage'. I loathe the NSA, I really do.

Yesterday I read a story on how a California cop shot and killed a 13 year old boy because he was carrying a toy gun and the cop thought it was real. Mind you, the shooting happened within 10 seconds of reporting the boy's sighting to the dispatcher, so they did not even bother to give a chance to the kid to show that he was innocent. They shot first, and killed the boy, and now they need to answer questions about this crime. They put 7 bullets into a totally defenseless kid.

Cops in our cities have become true thugs and can -and do- get away with murder and extensive abusive behaviors. There must be hundreds of cases a year where cops have killed 'suspects' when alternative methods could have diffused the situations without any violence or abuse.

Today I am reading how plain clothed cops in New York are routinely stopping black shoppers who buy luxury items and detain them to inquire about the source of the funding and 'their ability to buy such luxury items'. Mind you, the cops stop shoppers after the shoppers have paid, left the store, and have started to walk away, outside of the stores. In some cases, black shoppers of luxury items were stopped blocks away from the location of the store they just visited.

If these examples are not outrageous I am not sure I know what outrageous is...

Sunday, September 8, 2013

No, no, no! An American war in Syria would be based on lies, lies, and more lies.

Mr. Obama and his administration are beating the drums about the need for the US to defend Syrian population from chemical attacks launched -according to them- by the Syrian government.

US's military's intervention ins Syria would be erroneous and misguided. It would open up the doors for intervening in any country where civil war exists. It would create a precedent that would be difficult to not obey by.

In addition, we are being told that the 'intelligence' community knows with a 'high degree of precision' that the chemical attacks in August were 'directed' by the Assad's regime.

Can we trust the intelligence community anymore? Who can trust agencies that lie to our face and spy on us with impunity?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Purely Outrageous: David Miranda Got Detained for Almost 9 Hours in Britain

Today, David Miranda, the partner of the Guardian journalist (Glenn Greenwald) who has been writing about the illegal activities of the NSA -in cahoots with other government agencies and governments- has been detained for almost 9 hours by the British authorities while he was transiting through the London Heathrow airport.

Apparently, David's electronics (laptop, mobile phone, camera, memory sticks, DVDs, and game consoles) have been 'confiscated' by British authorities without any legal recourse. 

If this is not an abusive act of a 'free' government I do not know what abusive acts are. How else can we describe these and other similar actions of the British government but dictatorial? It was not a random act and it was not a matter of miscommunication, that is for sure. 

We have totally lost our democratic ways when journalists who expose government abuses get frisked, detained, and have their property stolen while transiting through 'friendly' countries (and serve as tacit crime partners).

Apparently, ANYTHING can be labeled as terrorism. Even writing against fragrant government illegalities can be seen as a terrorist act.

We urgently need an international agency or body to protect us from individual country abuses when they arbitrarily define what terrorist threats and acts are.

Note to self: Never, ever, go to Britain again.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Yeay! Snowden is Free in Russia

I am elated that Putin has allowed Edward Snowden to chill out in Russia for at least 1 year. Russia is not the one of the best of the countries in the world but in this case is the best outcome for Snowden.

The US government is over-reaching in this case, and behaves like a bully.

Russia shows maturity and strength while the US shows that it is just a crybaby when it cannot  get what it 'demands'. Yes, the US actually demanded that Snowden be turned back and that has not happened... Thank you, Mr. Putin.

Deal with it, Mr. Obama. Democracy may not be symmetric but it is beautiful when it reaches all corners of the globe.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Our Government Has Gone Rogue On Us

Today, we just found out that the NSA uses hop analysis to track phone calls or email messages. This just proves the point that the NSA is breaking the laws and overstepping their authority.

NSA uses a piece of software called XKeyscore and NSA analysts can look-up anybody at any time with no warrant or any other judicial oversights.

If a person has 40 contacts and one of the contacts in their address book is under 'surveillance' the NSA can hop from contact list to contact list indefinitely. The reach of the government spying capabilities are exponential. In just 3 hops: 40*40*40=64,000 people that become under surveillance overnight. All this info is linked on the fly and is based on the databases and entries already collected about each one of us. NSA must have millions of records stored for each one of us, starting with contacts, phone numbers, and emails.

Amazing and frightening at the same time.

Why should the government stop at 3 hops? They can do 6 hops and they reach or every single American if, on average, we each have 40 contacts in our address book setups.

Are we insane to allow the NSA to do this? Have we lost our minds?

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Bottled Samuel Adams Boston Lager Beer Tastes Old and Uninspired

Today I bought a six pack of Boston lager beer brewed by Samuel Adams and had a few bottles.

I was disappointed by the fact that the beer tasted old and stale mostly since I had Samuel Adams Boston lager at a bar -I cannot recall exactly where-, as a draft beer, and I remember it being crispy and with a smooth finish.

The 6-pack I purchased today let me down and I will not purchase it from liquor stores anymore.

USG Should Drop All Criminal Charges Against Snowden

I am reading today that Mr. Holder (the AG of the US) would like to see Edward Snowden returned -by Russia- to the US. I rarely, if ever, support Russia's positions but in this case I cannot not support a true American hero.

According to Mr. Holder 'the US will not torture or pursue the death penalty' against Snowden. Mr. Holder, even children know that the US practices torture routinely. We also know that nobody in the world is going to believe that the US will not pursue the death penalty against a true patriot when thousands of Americans have been killed -by the legal system- during the past decades.

The US is in a very weak position when it comes to credibility and the fact that Mr. Holder speaks in a tone that sounds alarmist is not very reassuring.

At this stage of the affair, it is clear to me that the US has no interest in pursuing criminal charges against Snowden and Mr. Holder should communicate that instead of spewing veiled threats and innuendos.

The USG should make us proud and forget about criminal charges against Snowden.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Watch Man IPA

I have never had a Watch Man IPA until today and I was blown away by its deep flavors. It is multidimensional, thorough, and leaves no sorrows behind. It is beer that represents all IPAs with honor, bravery and honesty. Drink it up!

The beer is brewed by Empyrean Brewing Co. of Lincoln, NE and I would recommend it to all beer drinkers worldwide.

Monday, July 22, 2013

A Baby Turns the Media Upside Down

Today a baby has been born in Britain and the media went ballistic to report that it is a boy. For this particular reason I am not watching any news.

I find it shameful and infuriating that US media outlets spend so much time focusing on the British monarchy and yet we are a proud republic. I literally abhor monarchies and would like to see them all replaced with thoughtful republics. It is insufferable and unacceptable to see that civilized people continue to look at monarchies as suitable forms of government. We are in the 21st century, people!

Monarchies are a literal power grab that should be penalized by the United Nations.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Detroit Has Filed for Chapter 9 Bankruptcy Protection

In the 60s, 70s, and even the start of the 80s Detroit used to be an awesome city.

Today Detroit is spent and aimless and it has just filed for bankruptcy protection. It was an expected act given the value of the promises made during the past several decades. It promised good pensions to its former employees and those promises were built on assumptions that were known to be unsupported by economic reality.

There are many individuals who will be directly and negatively affected by Detroit's bankruptcy but the good thing is that it will forever change the psyche of how cities across our nation function. Cities all over this great country cannot continue to make promises that depend on totally uncertain future economic growth rates, tax base, and population increases. Rating agencies need to be stingier with their highest bond ratings and need to be able to take into account economic uncertainties that can arise over decades.

If cities and municipalities cost of borrowing were to truly reflect the economic uncertainties I think that the existing and current budgets would be much more constraining and we will eliminate potential catastrophic bankruptcies.

Detroit is guilty of overspending but this would (could) not have happened had the municipal bonds issued decades and years ago had been priced correctly. Bond rating agencies are almost equally guilty in Detroit's ultimate fate. There are no perfect markets but for short periods of time. Promises made decades ago are toast and pure rubbish. Markets need to realize this fact and tell all cities that make free promises that there is no free lunch.

Poor and destructive planning by public officials and greedy private credit rating agencies have colluded to create a monster called 'free market' credit instruments. Bond buyers were fooled to think that municipal bankruptcies are impossible while the cities' credit ratings were overstated.

We really need to have the government take a hard look at credit rating agencies practices.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Snowden Should Release Even More Details on the US Illegal Spying on Americans

The US government (USG) cannot contain Edward Snowden. As it turn out, he has even more details and information on methods used by the USG to intentionally spy on all Americans, without any probable cause.

I was reading today that the USG should fear if something bad happened to Snowden.To a certain extent, I think the USG could care less about any additional information that Snowden -or his acolites- could release if Snowden were to be covertly (how else?) assassinated by USG agents.

CIA and NSA have already drafted and operationalized strategies to contain whatever damage Snowden could cause the USG. For this reason, I think Snowden should certainly allow his agents to divulge as many secrets as possible and as quickly as possible.

The additional, Snowden guided, releases of secrets in a quick fashion would render some of the CIA's (or NSA's) defensive strategies useless as they would need to step in quickly and this will create opportunities for errors that might help Snowden's interests (to be able to freely get to his asylum destination).

Besides, releasing additional NSA secrets would embolden wealthy Snowden supporters to provide additional help to Snowden. Ultimately, they could pay for a private charter to extract Snowden from Russia and land him safely somewhere in South America. The bad part for Snowden is that even if gets to South America safely he will continue to have a life on the run.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Send A Few Dozens Snowden Lookalikes to the Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport

I am reading that a diplomatic Bolivian plane -with the president of Bolivia on board, no less- has been diverted from its route and forced to land in Vienna, Austria, because there had been reports that Edward Snowden was hiding on board.

Like many other Americans, I find it absolutely humiliating and insulting for this action to happen in this day and age.

However, this story shows with clarity that Snowden could have a ton of additional and very damaging information about the US surveillance programs. The US government is practically neurotic about letting Snowden walk free.

Also, the fact that Austrians played along with the CIA demands shows that the information Snowden could have in his possession -or at a secured location- is far reaching and more revealing than we could have ever thought.

One certain way to make this situation develop into a true saga is for WikiLeaks to send about 20 to 30 lookalikes to the Moscow Sheremetyevo airport where Snowden is in a legal and singular blockade. Then trickle each Snowden lookalike out of the airport, one at a time, until everybody gets tired of the charade and eventually the real Snowden will get away, free and clear, right from under the noses of the American secret services.


Sunday, June 30, 2013

Today Brazil Finally Stopped Spain With a Clear Win

Today Brazil beat Spain with a score of 3-0 in the final of the Confederations Cup.

The game was played at the famous Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro and I am extremely happy to see that the supremacy of Spain as the soccer super power ended. Good riddance!

Italy could have also beaten Spain a few days ago in one of the semifinals but they were unfortunate. Oh well. Italia! Italia! Italia!

Today is a beautiful day indeed, with the soccer world balance restored to its rightful and harmonious state, with multiple teams rightfully contending to be on top.

It was a great game with 2 goals scored by Fred and 1 goal scored by Neymar and this shows that Brazil manages to combine 'steel and silk' with great precision to create a game fabric that can endure any type of pressure. This new Brazilian soccer fabric will come in handy at next year's World Cup, when teams such as Germany, Belgium, Italy, and Argentina will undoubtedly put some serious pressure on the hosts.

NSA Spies Even on European Allies: US is Just a Few Steps Away from Dictatorship

I am reading today that the US -via NSA and CIA- is routinely intercepting voice and digital communication of high level European officials at the European Council in Bruxelles.

This is not totally unexpected given that the US spies freely on its own citizens. The US no longer shows respect for privacy when it comes to Americans and we expect the US to show that they care about Europeans?

I am wondering what else is the NSA doing that can top the facts the it spies at will against lawful Americans and against traditional US allies...

The only 'democratic' ingredient missing from making the US a full blown dictatorship is a president with more 'personality' than all the secret courts combined. Such a president could make amazingly crazy requests to these secret courts that will quiet and instill fear for good into all democratic dissidents and those who do not acquiesce to the fully and secretly blessed new presidential powers.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

In Snowden We Trust

I think Snowden has a lot more actual data on the mass spying the US government performs on its subjects. Snowden will no doubt release even more documents showing the full extent of USG abusing the powers granted to them by all of us.

Today we learned that after Sep 11 the NSA has started to collect massive amounts of raw internet data we generate every single second of the day. How can we continue to remain so silent and passive in the face of these secret NSA operations aimed at fighting 'terrorists'? By their logic we are all terrorists since they spy on all of us simultaneously.

Snowden is a national hero and if the USG claims he 'broke the law' I would like to remind you that so was George Washington in late 18th century. I like what George Washington did.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The US is Throwing the Kitchen Sink at Snowden

The USG has decided to charge Edward Snowden with 'espionage' and theft of 'government property'.

It is as clear as daylight that the USG has become abusive and has changed the conversation from defensive statements to bullying, pure and unadulterated bullying. They have revoked his passport and have started to threaten all and any country that dares to grant Mr. Snowden political asylum.

I would like to see more proof that the US national interests have been affected by Mr. Snowden's brave disclosures of government abuses. We, as citizens and nation, are better off by having the knowledge and certitude that the US does spy on us at will.

We need to respond to illegal information snooping 'in kind', with tons information that falsely overwhelms the NSA's 'filters'. If we do this collectively and efficiently we will overwhelm their 'security' and render the NSA snooping totally irrelevant.

How can the US provide a 'fair' trial to Mr. Snowden when the US would be using secret courts and secret documents? Are we so naive to think that the USG can be 'fair' in this case?

Look at what the USG has done with the Guantanamo 'prisoners' and you will get a glimpse at the 'impartial' judicial processes that the USG can resort to while going around the world and touting the 'rights and freedoms', we as Americans, are 'blessed' to have been 'granted' by our constitution. Why is the USG attacking the US constitution?

The US age of naivete is over.

With Mr. Snowden's aggressive pursuit, the USG has successfully joined the few governments of the world that are abusing their powers with impunity and nonchalance.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Yes, the NSA can Spy on Anyone, Anytime

Please read this article and tell me that the US government is not blatantly breaking the law.

This is a remarkable article as it points out that what the USG wants to do is have unlimited powers in regards to how it deals with our data. If this is not infuriating I am not sure what is...

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Stay (or Run) Away from Bank of America

No matter what you do, do not use any financial services from Bank of America.

They are 100% crooks and are not to be trusted with any of your financial needs.

My mortgage used to be serviced by BoA and I am getting as far away from them as possible.

I have engaged another bank to refinance and BoA gave me a call to ask me about my intents and I have gloated in my ability to not be connected with a bank that has the reputation of a thug. BoA is a disgrace...

Good riddance, BoA!

The Tale of the 50 Prevented Terror Plots by the NSA

According to the NSA director (who is an Army general, and I find this highly problematic), Gen. Keith Alexander, claims that the NSA spying on all of us saved lives and prevented more than 50 terror plots.

Not unexpectedly, the FBI -as good mafia membership rules would require it- has also quickly jumped on this bandwagon and are arguing for the utility of secret courts and a continuation of large scale spying on all us, indiscriminately.

We are supposed to believe that terror plots -that cannot be independently verified- were 'prevented' from happening by using secret documents allowed to be collected by an obscure and secret court (FISA) that allegedly is totally constitutional. Mind you, this court has never, ever, refused to reject any -how else?- secret request made by the NSA. Think about that for a minute.

Our government behaves just like a bunch of mafiosi/thugs using secret decisions of a secret court to enforce national 'security'. I rub my eyes thinking about this and get anxious as we seem to be helpless in the face our government's egregious abuses.

How can we prevent the government from using secret courts to track us? How can we defend against secret decisions? Are we playing a rigged game that only the government can win?

Besides, the NSA blatantly claim that they have 'prevented over 50 terror attacks'. This is the weakest of all logical arguments that exist, as NO ONE can prove with certainty what DID NOT HAPPENED due to an unequivocal reason.

For instance, you cannot 'prove' that I am not sick now because I exercise 3 days a week. It might be because I eat healthy or because I have good genes, or a myriad of other connected or independent reasons. Proving why a particular outcome has not happened is not just lame, but is totally fallacious.

Our government's claim that some terror attacks did not happen only because of the NSA spying on us is tantamount to me saying that the government is not lying to us. For a short proof see this.

Stop the NSA from spying on us constantly.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

On Food Buffets

There are very few things that I dislike when it comes to food or restaurants and buffets are close to the top of the list.

When I talk with friends about buffets most of them like them because they 'give us a choices that we cannot get any place else'. I am amazed that the surplus of choices argument can be used in this case.

Buffets cater to people who are either perpetually food dyslexic or have ADD. What difference does it make if you can get 15 types of desserts when all of them are made with high fructose corn syrup? Why would you want that to begin with? It is as if you were to make a choice between smoking cigarettes and driving drunk. They are all bad and they are not really rational 'choices', or are they?

Discernment, thoughtfulness, self-control, and rationality are opposites of food buffets and I like to hang around every single concept that opposes food buffets. If it were after me I would ban buffets tomorrow.

No One is Telling the Truth When It Comes to Violating the Bill of Rights

As the days pass I read, hear, and see that the US government is literally collecting all our data without our permission. They claim it is for terrorism fighting reasons but I highly doubt that. The government appropriates more powers for its agencies ever single day. Perhaps we need a -legal?- revolution to wipe the slate clean and forever remove the government from our private lives.

I feel that the government's spying on us is highly unconstitutional and in spite of the fact that the government claims the indiscriminate data collection is 'legal' I think it is totally wrong and I doubt it is fully legal since everything seems to judged by secret courts.  Aren't these called Kangaroo courts?

They claim that they only collect metadata from our phones, but that metadata is still data that belongs to me and I need to be informed that the government is looking at my personal metadata.

Why should we trust our government? I am staying as far away as I can from Google and other providers, including Facebook-  and limit my communication to a bare minimum just because I do not want to leave too many electronic and data traces for others to collect without my approval.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Our Government is Spying On All of Us, At Will

Not many decades ago, the US was a bastion of individual freedoms. We were envied and admired around the world for government transparency, open courts and laws, ability to petition the government, individual freedoms and privacy, and freedom of the press. Our rights were protected and defended by the US government. Individuals had equal rights with the government's.

I am reading today multiple pieces of news that confirm that the US government does not care about our privacy at all. Government agencies tasked with 'our national security' absolutely hate the idea that we have private lives and thoughts.

During the past decade the tables have gradually turned and the government has gained the upper hand. They can snoop on our entire communication portfolio 'as they see fit' and without shame or any court/independent supervision. Our rights have been flushed down the toilet by well funded government agencies and very lenient 'secret'/closed courts. How can such government practices be constitutional? Soviet Union used to do exactly such things and we were criticizing them. As we can read now, we are doing the exact same things, only amplified by many thousands of times in terms of magnitude (scale) and intensity.

How can we go around the world and tell -say- China or Iran that they are not respecting their citizens' human rights when we are as guilty of even more egregious abuses? Have we lost our sense of free Americans and have become immune to government's actions and abuses? How can we accept sheepishly what the government is doing when they violate our basic constitutional rights at privacy?

In the name of defending us from evil doers our government has become pure and distilled evil.

Some people will say that if we save a single life by allowing the government to spy on us then this is perfectly legit and we should mind our own business. I beg to differ with this train of thought as -daily- we lose hundreds of lives to gun violence, car crashes, and tobacco use and the government has never spied on us because we drive a car. Or has it?

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Just Got Back from Hawaii

Hawaii is a jewel of a state. I think it's a state that makes the US a complete nation. Continental US is tough, difficult, unpredictable, and requires quite a bit of imagination to get through the daily life.

Hawaii is relaxing and densely inviting, with beaches, mountains, and a culture that is totally foreign to us, the 'continentals'.

My wife and I only spent 2 weeks in Kauai and Hawaii (the Big Island) and were stunned at their beauty. Vegetation is awesome, scenery is incredible, and geology is alive. I am thrilled that Hawaii is an American state.

Friday, April 26, 2013

I Love Grimm, the NBC Show

I watch Grimm, the NBC show, and I just love it. It has a 'je ne sais quois' that makes me daydream and fantasize of what I really am.

All of a sudden, my friends, co-workers, and neighbors seem like they could be characters in the show. The show is international, it is creative, and it is at the border between believability and incredibility.

It merges old Europe and present day, and it makes us feel like we are in the Wizard of Oz. Everyone of us are not at all what we think we are. Awesome show!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Boston Pipe Bombings, the FBI, and Our Constitution

It was absolutely awful  and painful to see how 2 young immigrant brothers (Tamerlan  and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev)  from Chechnya managed to create and effectively deploy 2 pipe bombs at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon. This has caused absolute mayhem for about 5 days in one of most influential large American cities.

3 people were killed and over 180 were injured. Only by a miracle there were just 3 deaths, given the middle-of-the-crowd placement of the home-made bombs.

The older brother was killed a few days after the attacks and the younger one was taken into custody, but not before being severely injured during apprehension.

Recent reports show that the older -Tamerlan - of the 2 brothers -who was 26- had been interviewed by the FBI a few years ago with the suspicion that he had been radicalized by Islamist groups from Russia. In spite of theses fears, the FBI apparently did nothing after the initial investigation.

We cannot rule out that the FBI bears at least some -non zero- responsibility for these actions, given that the agency knew at least about the possibility that the older brother was a potential terrorist. The FBI cannot blame budget cuts as it has received all the money they have asked for during the last 11 years (since 2011). No question about that. If it is not about the budget then it must be about their competence (or lack of it).

The younger of the 2, who is 19 -Dzhokhar-, is a naturalized American citizen.

I have heard and read comments that he should not be read his Miranda rights and I believe that this would be a grave mistake.

When he became an American citizen 'he swore allegiance to the flag and the republic for which it stands'. Meanwhile, during the naturalization ceremony, the US has also granted him rights that are bestowed on all Americans, rights that are spelled out in the Bill of Rights. The social contract we share as Americans cannot be ignored willy-nilly by the government as they see fit.

The beauty of the balance of powers in our country is that the government cannot acquire more powers from the individuals without preserving the individuals ability to defend fairly against such actions.

Even in cases such as the Boston bombings, the US government should ensure first that they have done EVERYTHING THEY COULD to avoid similar tragedies BEFORE showing to us that they have the power and the will to restrict our freedoms. Otherwise we will have a government that will show that they can react very well after the fact but this might be too late for us to obtain personal and collective security.

After all, what is the point of the government if it cannot defend us before an attack that could have been foretold?

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Stockton Bankruptcy Effect

Today, a judge declared that Stockton can file for bankruptcy protection, in spite of creditors' vehement protests.

This case brings to the forefront the fact that bankers are fiduciary and equally responsible for the borrowers' ability to pay back the borrowed money. When I owe money to a financial institution it needs to factually endorse my ability to pay the loan -they granted- back.

In Stockton's case -and over many years- bond holders have agreed to provide loans -by buying the bonds the City issued- to the City of Stockton either 1) because they were lied to about Stockton's financial state or 2) because they were expecting to get a good return, regardless of Stockton's ability to pay the money back (they thought that Stockton could just increase local taxes at will).

Certainly, creditors cannot claim reason #1 above as they would look totally incompetent. As far as for reason #2 the City has the right 'to penalize' its creditors by, perhaps, not paying them back fully.

Cities should not be able to easily have access to credit unless they develop certain/new revenue streams able to pay for the loans at the time of loan engagement. 

Creditors should not buy any municipal bonds until cities show clear ability to pay the loans back.

The Stockton bankruptcy effect dictates that the municipal interest rates will go up rather quickly, unless the Fed or Congress intervene. When municipal bond rates go up cities will first need to slow down their increasing costs (a majority of increases are retirement costs associated with their current and former employees) and the sooner that happens the less pressure we will see on new taxes.

Hopefully, the Stockton effect will encourage both creditors and cities to be more realistic in terms of expectations during the engagement and execution of financial transactions.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with some large municipal bankruptcies and we need to see a few more of these before the municipal bond rates reflect the true difficult financial realities many cities, counties, and municipalities are facing.

Markets do reign supreme, after all, and creditors cannot be kept far away from their own mistakes.

Denver (MI), Jefferson County (AL), and San Bernardino (CA) are all coming up next.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

North Korea Lost It

North Korea keeps issuing threats against the US and they seem dead serious to try to prove that they are totally capable of attacking the US -or or allies- in an intelligent way.

The sad fact is that a losing war of aggression may be one of the few viable ways for North Korea to get out of the economic disaster they have gotten themselves into.

From many perspectives, North Korea is many decades behind the rest of its neighbors -and world- but the reality remains that they have a massive military force. Not necessarily effective, but massive. Anything massive attracts resources from other domains and North Korea has deliberately pursued a policy of 'military first'. So, almost everything not military related has been left without many resources.

Another -somehow less viable- way for North Korea to change its course is to completely alter the political discourse as well as its economic policies, but, after so many decades of indoctrination, its population would be left totally confused and disoriented.

North Korea is in a very hard situation and if we want to avoid an aggression war initiated by them we need to engage them in the same ways that we have started to engage China in the 1970s. However, for that to happen North Korea needs to take the first steps and show us that they want to follow into Chinese footsteps.

Based on what they are doing now, North Korea is doomed to remain one of the world's pariah for quite some time. I feel awful for its citizens though.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Cyprus Should Exit the Euro Zone and 1 USD Should be Worth 2 Euros

What credibility do the Euro currency and the Euro zone have anymore?

Cyprus opened up its banks today and has enforced severe restrictions on cash withdrawals and transactions. As a matter of reality, and as it has been proven during the past several weeks, the citizens of Cyprus do not have total ownership of their own money held at banks.

Mind you that this is supposed to be the exact same currency as the one used in France and Germany.

We can clearly see that we are dealing with several flavors of Euros and some are seen as better than other. Currencies are fiat and Euro has very little fiat, that is for sure.

If you have Euro deposits at banks in -say- Germany you have a currency with more freedoms (withdrawal, use, leverage, etc.) than if you hold it in Cyprus, or even Spain (by association).

It is true that in Cyprus a total banking collapse has been averted but the price of this stabilization will linger in people's minds forever and this crisis has cracked open the door for the Euro to stop being a by-design multinational currency.

Euro is surely not sustainable under the current set up unless all vulnerable countries are expelled from its 'spell'. Currencies are not a magic tool to become wealthy and productive and the fact that a country gets to use the Euro does not mean anything more than a sanctification of a political will.

When the political tools fail to be backed up by economic performance the currency becomes an 'after thought' and an appendix. You can lose the currency in use and the country resets to a new orbit around the Euro. Why is exiting the Euro zone so difficult to accomplish?

Considering the challenges the Euro faces I think that the US dollar is totally undervalued.

1 USD should buy 2 Euros and I cannot understand how it is possible that today 1 Euro buys 1.28 USD. Can anybody explain this to me?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Intuit, the Maker of TurboTax, Hates Us

In case you have not read this story, Intuit is heavily lobbying the US federal and state governments to prevent them from allowing tax payers to get -at the end of the year- a pro-forma tax form auto filled with known-by-the-government tax information.

All for free (as it should be) and as it already is in other, with more accountable governments, countries.

Tax authorities at both federal and state levels already have direct and electronic access to the tax forms issued by our employers, banks, schools, brokers, mortgage companies, and so on. So why do we need to use products such as TurboTax? The simple answer is just so that Intuit can make billions of dollars a year, every year.

The idea of government issued tax forms is that, at the end of the tax year,  the federal and state governments would provide us with a link to our own personal tax forms filled with the financial information the government already knows and has access to. We would just edit some information -or just accept it as is- and then submit our returns for free, with no hassle and no payment to any third party processors (such as TurboTax or H&R Block).

Certainly Intuit would lose a chunk of change but we would gain the freedom of not having to worry about audits that much since we would use the governments' forms already pre-populated for us. In addition, this would be optional: we use it or not as a choice. And it would be a totally free choice, with no penalties.

How can we trust our government when companies such as Intuit sabotage the political process to appease their own, very private, benefits? Intuit is stealing money from us and there is nothing we can do about that, as the government is complacent to this type of 'transfer'. The government is supposed to serve us and not special interests.

In this case, the federal and state governments are actually a liability to all us when they yield to companies such as Intuit.

Whoever said that governments do not create jobs are total losers.

All TurboTax jobs were/are created by our own politicians. Our politicians misuse the government agencies they oversee to achieve personal gains (basically to help them win elections).

The current state is a win-win for the politicians and Intuit but we are all holding the bag to pay for it. Some think that this is an example of free enterprise. Free exactly for whom, I ask?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Cyprus: Casinos Steal Your Money Subtler Than the EU

Today I am reading that the Cyprus economic saga ended with an abomination of a compromise. I am left wondering what is going to happen next in Europe and I really worry that nothing good will come out of this widespread economic catastrophe.

After all, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, and Cyprus have had to each be bailed out during the past several years.

In Cyprus it was decided that all private bank account balances of more than E100,000 will be 'taxed' with a 'one time' 30% tax. 

Hocus pocus magicus! Close your eyes and watch this trick: You no longer have E100,000 in your savings account but only E70,000. Thanks for playing, suckers! Even casinos take your money more pleasantly than the government. To which I say: Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.

It is not necessarily that large deposits will be taxed at an outrageous rate but that most bank deposits cannot be accessed -except for modicum amounts- at all during this round of political and financial negotiations. In other words, bank owners' deposits are literally being held hostage to political and economical processes they did not cause directly (or indirectly,  as a mater of fact).

How can this theft be justified and -let alone debated and considered- by law principles, constitutional practices, and economic theories? This is pure and unadulterated theft. Call it whatever you want but in my eyes this is highway robbery and no less than racketeering.

People have no legal recourse whatsoever and no way to challenge the legality of the Cyprus government action of holding bank deposits hostage while a law to tax them is being debated. It is like the movie 'Dead Man Walking'. This sort of government action cannot be called democracy. It is textbook communism.

The Cyprus government is saying: I take 30% of your money and then you are free to go. I already have your money and you can do nothing about that.

How can individuals defend against such irresponsible moves in the future? This action will freeze people's financial actions and they will do all they can to not hold money in places where governments can get to it.

If I were to have hacked all the bank accounts in Cyprus and simply stolen 30% of each bank deposit holding a balance of more than E100,000 I would be sought after by all police agencies on the planet. No questions, buts, and ifs about that.

When the government of Cyprus does it under the directions of international financial agencies they call it 'bailing out'. Really? Isn't this the core of the definition of asymmetric economic warfare?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Our Tetra Malefic Leaders: Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld

I was reading about a an Iraqi war veteran -Tomas Young- who -on his death bed- has sent a letter to George W Bush to ask him to apologize for engaging the US into the Iraqi war started in 2003.

I believe I cannot disagree with Tomas and I would like to see the tetra malefic group -Bush, Cheney, Rice, and Rumsfeld- deferred to the International Court of Justice to stand trial for crimes against humanity.

The war in Iraq initiated by the tetra malefic group was totally unjustified and unnecessary. Not only it has killed hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians but it has also made the US a much more disliked nation than before the war started.

The massive US internal budget deficits the war has partially caused have made the US a weaker nation, a nation that now has to set aside money to pay down the accumulated deficits (debt) and this will undermine for a very long time the well being of the weakest amongst all of us.

How can anybody justify the war in Iraq anymore?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Cyprus Has Backed Down a Bit

Today Cyprus back down on its decision to partially confiscate bank holders' deposits via a one time tax scheme supposed to affect every bank account holder.

Cyprus has to consider a more realistic way of remaining in the Euro zone as its government can not afford to punish people with bank accounts just because they have bank accounts. This is even more insane when we consider that the largest depositors are not even citizens of the EU (they are Russians).

What is completely unprecedented and incomprehensible is that EU officials actually recommended this partial confiscation to the Cyprus' officials.

I continue to rub my eyes in disbelief as this decision shows that EU officials have no idea how financial markets function in the real world. They are totally parallel to how the international financial system is set up and yet they take decisions 'off the cuff' about how it should work. What are they smoking?.

Political leaders are weasels that want to appear populist and will step on principles to support their positions. However their positions on Cyprus are abject, and despicable. EU should encourage positive capital flows and should promote the development of financial services as a way to revitalize the sagging European economy. 

Low level participants in the financial sector (bank account holders) need financial encouragement to leverage their own assets in the financial markets more and not less. Economic growth depends on market driven financial decisions and not on governments' abrasive intervention.

After all, even Putin can see that the EU is wrong and if the EU cannot see that then we are in trouble. Bada-boom trouble.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Democracies Can Collapse in About One Day

This weekend, in Cyprus, the government decided to 'tax' all bank deposits with a one time 6.75% tax for deposits under 100,000 Euros and with a 9.9% tax for deposits totaling over 100,000 Euros.

I thought the theft of depositors' money or part of it was supposed to only happen in communism. This example comes to show that 'democracies' can decay pretty much overnight into pure communism.

The lifetime of any given democracy is close to 1 day, seeing how Cyprus is punishing bank account holders.

Seemingly it seems that it is more important for Cyprus to remain in the Euro zone than to abide by the principles that say that the government cannot take away private property from citizens without proper compensation.

This is stealing, pure and simple, in spite of the fact that the president is promising bank 'shares' in exchange for this outright confiscation, with no war threat or martial law in effect.

This incredible decision, supported and recommended (!) by the European authorities, given that Cyprus is in the Euro zone, shows -as clearly as daylight- what the fundamental problem with the European common currency is. The periphery always breaks the rules and the core countries need to step in to defend the common currency, even though the currency is the only common thread between periphery and core. This cycle cannot be broken without changing the rules 'on the fly', as it were. But jeopardizing democratic principles on the commonality spiel altar is reprehensible. Totally.

The officially backed theft of depositors' money is almost unprecedented as it indicates that taxation decisions were/are taken without public input and without regard to individual property rights.

The government of Cyprus has shown that it behaves like communist government, with excuses that are equally ridiculous.

Instead of exiting the Euro zone and affect fiscal policy in a democratic fashion, Cyprus decided to remain in the Euro zone and behave like a dictatorship. Paying for the government's mistakes over the years with private money is totally wrong on so many levels that I cannot afford to go over in a short post.

As we have learned in school, there is a trade-off scale that maps democracy to economic freedoms. The less economic freedoms there are (and this includes predictability around taxation) the less democracy there is, no question about that.

How can the common currency (Euro) continue to survive this mess? It is only a matter of time before the economic separation between nations will include again national currencies. Strong nations cannot continue to subsidize weak nations forever or else.

Democracy and economic freedoms demand private ownership be respected as it is the unbiased basis for economic growth. Threats to private ownership make it impossible for economic growth to achieve critical mass and sustain economic momentum.

Cyprus's example shows what 'peaceful' governments can resort to when needed and we should all learn from this that we need to protect our private property -with all our powers- against abusive practices of confiscation, even partial, and even when 'justified'.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Long Live The Process (and Science)

After only 2 days, this week, a new pope was elected in the Vatican Conclave (a sort of special election in church parlance).

Out of 115 cardinals, 77 voted for an Argentinian Jesuit (Jorge Mario Bergoglio) who took the name of Pope Francis.

The Papal election process is a tribute and testament to the process that takes over creativity.

Churches and religions love stable processes and they need an 'eternity' to change processes.

In numerous ways states have learned to preserve basic state processes (election, courts, military, etc.) from religion and perhaps this is a requirement to be considered a state to begin with. Religion taught kings how to make states work and exist forever.

Perhaps religion should also learn from the functioning of the state and start to use democratic processes to elect their leaders...
 Does that make the current process obsolete? Not really as the papal election outcome is somehow manageable and intellectually elevated and elevating for the crowds.

I believe that science and scientists should take a cue from the Catholic Church and create, cherish, and repeat stable processes (in perpetuity) to celebrate scientific events and accomplishments in order to attract more adherents to the scientific process and thought.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Police Officers are Thugs, Plain and Simple

Today I was reading a piece of news about an unarmed individual who was shot to death by an officer of the police department in Omaha, NE. In this particular case the police officer in an unmarked vehicle decided to shoot because he thought the passenger in a vehicle was reaching for their gun.

Police officers have a great responsibility and with that responsibility comes the obligation to first do no harm.

When police officers are allowed to shoot first and ask questions later then the state of affairs changes dramatically. We can each become victims of police abuses. And no matter how innocent we are the police are getting a free ride to lie.

The irony is that we are paying their salaries and benefits and they seem to enjoy those benefits immensely.

So, the police just thinking that somebody is reaching for their guns and they can open fire then we are all in their sights. We are all deer in their headlights.

The police cannot be allowed to act this way. We have to protest and demand that police follow simple and civil protocol.

Police officers are thugs. Plain and simple. We need to demand that the DA and our elected officials stop police brutality.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Mars is Just Like Earth - What Will Theologians Say About That?

Today, after a long journey and after drilling holes on rocks on Mars, NASA's Curiosity robot found out that Mars is, at least from a chemical composition perspective, just like our planet.

This is an unbelievable piece of news as we can now prove without any doubt that the entire universe is more like our plant. Or that our planet is not dissimilar to any other planets.

This shows, yet again, that our planet, our beloved home, is anonymous from a 'supreme being' viewpoint.

If I were a supreme being responsible for earthlings and after hearing the Mars news, I would just run away as I would have become philosophically obsolete and hence no longer needed.

After all, why should any Earth based creature believe in any supreme being if the entire universe is composed of the same matter and it is symmetrically spread all around us? What makes Earth and its inhabitants so 'special'? We are just a reflection of where we live in the universe and no supreme being is needed to point to us that we are special.

We are special, but not because a supreme being had anything to do with it, but rather because we have evolved the way we have on our own using mechanisms that are truly universal and explainable scientifically.

It is astounding to be free of theological constraints. It is even more astounding to ponder that we can become extinct as quickly as we have become humans, if not faster. Much faster.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Tax Forms in the US: 149 pages for 2012

Yesterday we filed our taxes using Turbo Tax, the on line version.

It took us a few weeks to gather and group all the documents needed, import data from brokers, financial institutions,  and import W2 forms from our employers.

Certainly I am glad we are done and the most amazing thing is that when I printed a copy -for backup- I ended up with 149 pages for both federal and state taxes.

149 pages is an astounding amount of bureaucracy.

We paid under $80 for Turbo Tax and Intuit filled in all our forms electronically, almost magically.

The $80 price is amazing as had we had to fill the forms out by hand we would have given up and hired an accountant and that would not have been cheap, that is for sure.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Manchester United Bites the Dust!

Yesterday at Old Trafford in Manchester, England, Real Madrid managed to beat Manchester United by a score of 2 to 1 and thus eliminated the English super power house from the European Champions League.

Amen, brother!

This is awesome news to me as Man U is one of the most arrogant team on the face of the earth.

Thank you, Real Madrid, for bringing the reds down to earth. 

Man U supporters blame the referee but he had nothing to do with Real Madrid's clear and crisp victory.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Beer Drinkers' Democracy

Anheuser-Busch (owned by InBev), the maker of Budweiser -among other beers- has been sued for mislabeling the alcohol content of their beers.

The news, however, is not that  Budweiser is a watered-down beer but that beer drinkers cannot be fooled forever by their 'kings'.

InBev's marketing department has been working for years to instill into the beer drinkers' minds the fact that Budweiser is 'the king of beer'. The irony is that a king can take decisions on almost any matter without any checks and balances and this fact may have been the leding factor in InBev's arrogance.

Beer drinkers' revolutionary step to require affinity to rules and labels leads to democracy and this leads to accountability.

We, as beer drinkers, can test the alcohol content by volume (ABV) of beer relatively cheaply and we can demand that beer makers abide by labeling laws. InBev cannot state on labels that a particular beer has 5% ABV when the beer has, in fact, 4.75% ABV.

By deliberately debasing their beer InBev has stepped into the 'pure' realm of kings (and crooks) and has started to steal from their own subjects/customers. Kings used to debase their gold -or other precious metals- currencies to create private wealth which they could use for wars or lavish court expenses.

I do not drink Budweiser but in very rare occasions and the beer debasing practices demonstrated by InBev prove to me that I should never consume any beer made by this multinational corporation as it may be deliberately debased in order to increase their profits unfairly.

Long live local breweries not owned by multinational corporations as I will always support locally owned breweries over the 800 lbs. gorillas.

Here is a list of beers made by InBev in case you want to stay away from them.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Michelle Obama and the Academy Were Disgusting

Unexpectedly, arrogantly, and bullishly Michelle Obama showed up at the Oscars and announced the best American Film Academy movie of 2012 (Argo).

The fact that the movie selection was political was one thing but to have the wife of the POTUS show up as if she had anything to do with the movie industry (or as if she were a movie celebrity) and announce it was insulting to the veiwers' intellect.

As soon as Michelle showed up on the screen I turned the TV off as I could not take even 1 second of the falseness and charade displayed by the Academy.

Shame on you, Michelle, and shame on the Academy for playing so blatantly open political games. Disgusting and lame and nothing more.

Michelle, go back to your White House vegetable garden and mind the tomatoes and onions, please.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Art and Process: Process Always Wins

Germans know how to follow processes. They have a plan, devise a strategy, and then they write precise instructions to be followed. They reward people, groups, companies, and governments that follow processes. They are great engineers and have precise expectations on how thing should work and be. The outcome is almost always as expected.

Germans are group driven.

French people are artists. They follow instincts and 'je ne sais quoi' to attain objectives. To achieve their objectives the French may need a process but the precise process can be/is optional. Instructions are for the 'weak'. This is why they have amazing gardens, architecture, and unparalleled food. They have spontaneity and a lot more serendipity.

French people are individual driven.

In the long term the Germans always win when compared to the French. Large economies value fungible and easily exchangeable goods/ideas compared to unique goods. Econ 101. Only auction houses like unique items.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Medical Billing Is Dreadful

Today I was reading an article on Time magazine about the byzantine way the medical billing functions in the 'greatest' nation on the planet.

It is beyond belief we do not have a set of laws to address the fact that any American hospital can charge any amount for any procedure/materials/medication as they see fit, using an arcane instrument called 'hospital chargemaster'.

We do have a law that dictates how much the government pays for procedures under Medicare and I think that this provision should be made universal. No medical bill for any given procedure can be higher than a Medicare bill. The bill will not undermine the value of healthcare and will afford most people access to any medical procedure without the fear of bankruptcy.

Another legal change should be made to stipulate that no medical bill can result in bankruptcy and, furthermore, can affect the credit score. All medical related bills should not even be reported on individual credit scores.

A 3rd legal change should force hospitals to post prices for each procedure online and on clearly visible spots at their intake rooms. Prices listed on these documents can only be changed, at the very most, twice a year, and only after a review by a Federal agency.

The 3 legislative provisions highlighted above have the potential to fundamentally alter the face of healthcare billing abuses in America.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Juventus Beat Celtic 3-0 in Glasgow

On Feb 12 Juventus Torino beat Celtic FC with a categorical score of 3-0. This was the best tactical game I have seen this year.

Celtic FC attacked constantly and Juventus defended impeccably. All 3 goals Juventus scored came from counter-attacks and there was nothing Celtic could have done differently.

This is a game that needs to be taught in soccer academies as Juventus played a precise, perfectly timed game. Matri, Marchisio, and Vucinic scored without much fuss and with efficiency.

Awesome game! Molto grazie, La Vecchia Donna!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Obama, Meat Cleavers, and Sequestration

Today Mr. Obama suggested that the budget sequestration due to take effect on Mar 1 was tantamount to using a meat cleaver to chop away expenditures. I imagine he would have liked to have access to a scalpel or perhaps a laser guided instrument to extract savings out of our $3,600 billion yearly expenditures.

Well, Mr. Obama, you yourself have signed the sequestration bill you are currently labeling as 'meat cleaver' into law (with your own fingers). You have no moral authority to demand that it be repealed when we have so many other laws and bills that demand the attention of our representatives.

We need tax reform and true healthcare reform and we need a stronger Union as we have gaps in education across our country. A kid in DC gets a better education than a kid in Mississippi. Why should that be? We also have gaps in geographical well being and access to public services and you are mandated to help all of us become a stronger nation, and not to forever fix laws that were not meant to take a hold of our political life to begin with.

Get to do some real work, Mr. President. What are you waiting for?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Sequester Cuts and the Federal Budget

The US government spends about $3,600 billion a year. The sequester, which is supposed to start on Mar 1, is supposed to cut $85 billion out of that amount. So, it is less than 2.4% of the total outlays. This means that 97.6% of the expenditures can be done as planned.

What is the big deal about the sequester given its marginal impact?

It is mystifying to see that the law that instated the sequester (i.e. it was passed by the Congress and signed by the president) gets to be revised so fast when there are so many other laws that are more deserving of the legislature's attention.

'Surviving from fake crisis to fake crisis', this seems to be the governance motto of this political age.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Horse Meat in Europe 'Scandal' (British Media is Rubbish)

Last week, yet another scandal emerged in England around mislabeled 'lasagne'. (BTW, who, on this planet calls lasagna 'lasagne' but ignorant Brits?)

Apparently the bolognese sauce was supposed to be all beef when in reality was either all horse meat or, at most, partially beef.

Most -if not all- British papers quickly -and stupidly- pointed their fingers at Romania via a media bullying campaign. After all, it is much easier to bully the new kid on the block than do some real journalism and get to the bottom of the problem.

As it turned out, a French firm and some intermediaries from Cyprus and the Netherlands (as well as British firms) were the real culprit for the selling of horse meat as beef and the British immediately changed their tune.

Romania was not to blame anymore as this was an 'European' problem. As if Romania were not a part of Europe. The real problem is not that people have been eating 'lasagne' with horse meat for who knows how long but that they did not know about it. Really? Is that a problem that warrants such a big over-reaction? Nobody got sick or died after eating horse meat and instead of having a debate about perhaps eating horse meat on an open fashion we are having a scandal about whether food labels are accurate.

In my opinion this affair was labeled a 'scandal' only because the meat originated in Eastern Europe (and perhaps Ireland).

Food mislabeling is not that uncommon as it was portrayed (see this or this for blatant examples of fish mislabeling) and the fact that the British media can be allowed to be so openly and aggressively anti Romania is tantamount to mass hysteria at best and ignorance at worst.

Food labels have been inaccurate and uninformative for a very long time.The British media thought that they had found a bloody gem of a problem to attribute to Eastern Europe (mainly Romania) to satiate their appetite for barbaric ideological practices.

British media has proven yet again to be junk media that plays inhumanely dirty games against transiently weak members of the European Union. Shame on you, Britain!

Meteor in Russia (Reveals Our Utter Ignorance and Arrogance)

This past week in Russia a meteor landed in Chelyabinsk and caused serious damage with about 1,000 injured people. 

The most astounding issue on this landing is that nobody anticipated it in spite of the billions of dollars in resources spent for space research. We are basically wasting money if, after spending it with aplomb, cannot issue warnings to people living around the predicted meteor impact zones.

Everybody was surprised by this meteor: scientists, lay people, and clergy. Yet the event could have been predicted just like hurricanes are, with an impact zone cone and evacuation routes. And it was not. Why do we allow ourselves to be so ignorant in the face on an event that can cause serious damage and injure or kill thousands of people?

Carnival Triumph Was a Disaster

What a week! The story of Carnival ship Triumph losing all power and creating a nightmare for all on board is absolutely incredible.

How is it possible for a company that sells 'experiences' disguised as 'vacations' to have absolutely no back up plans for losing all the power on board? Triumph lost power on Sunday due to a fire and all power was lost. Even power to critical systems, like navigation, sanitation, and emergency systems.

Over 4,200 passengers and crew were left in their own filth for 5 days without working bathrooms, without running water and with a very poorly designed food distribution system. It is not conceivable for a person to pay money expecting the experience of a lifetime and get the trauma of a lifetime.

Many think that Carnival did the best they could but I believe they did nothing to prepare for such an event. You expect the best and prepare for the worst but in cruising one expects that the preparation part totally belongs to the cruise line. If I pay money to prepare for the worst then what expectations can I have?

The business model of the cruise industry has to change to reflect the reality that catastrophic failures do happen and they need to have serious contingency in place to be able to better insulate passengers and crew from preventable (and, in the case of fire in the engine room, not very rare) events. 

I have never been on a cruise before and I will never go on a cruise. I would rather depend on loosely distributed systems for my security and well being than a singularly controlled web of systems (mostly when there is no redundancy built in).

Monday, February 11, 2013

Billed for unused ambulance service

I was reading today about a case where an individual's family was billed for a late arriving ambulance. By the time the ambulance arrived the patient died. The actual story can be found here.

Given the current state of health care costs in our country I make a promise to myself to never, ever call an ambulance. I would 100% prefer to die than to have to deal with the insurance and health care providers and their insane bills.

When I pay my insurance premiums and taxes -they are both withheld directly from my paychecks- I never have a choice to make it difficult for the insurance company or taxing authorities to get their hands on my money.

However, when I need access to healthcare and government services the government and insurance companies are equally difficult to deal with, even though my money got to them painlessly. Why is this relationship so skewed in the favor of the big 'thugs'?

Our government is a monopoly and I sort of understand that they can do whatever they want, or pretty close to that. But why would insurance companies -that are run by private interests, which are supposed to be responding quickly to consumers- want to be in the same category as the government?

I think it has to do with a monopolistic collusion between government and insurance companies. Government regulates healthcare quite a bit. Insurance companies need to obey the regulations and also make a profit.

So, when I become a healthcare user -by becoming sick, for instance- I become a target of regulation. As such, I am captive and not able to exit the healthcare 'box'. Hence I'd prefer to die than deal with the American healthcare system. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Just like in any other 3rd world country

To my total amazement, during the 2013 Super Bowl game, the lights at the New Orleans super dome went dead for about 30 minutes. This type of power outage, during the biggest game/event of the year, does not happen in a first class nation, and yet it's just happened in the US of A. Can the US continue to claim to be a top class nation? I am not sure. Not at all.

The most ironic part of this power outage was that after the power had been restored -it took about 35 minutes- we were being shown TV commercials that blatantly touted the technological advances in the US of A. Yet we are not able to keep the lights on during a football game. The biggest game of the season, no less, with hundreds of millions of people glued to their TVs. A large part of theses viewers is all around the globe and they will talk about it, and not in a positive manner. We quickly become famous for reasons that mimic the ones found in 3rd world nations.

Kids being randomly shot in schools while attending courses, stadium lights going out during big events, effective gun laws extracted in a bizarre way from the 18th century, lack of access to medical care for a significant portion of the poor, representation in Congress that reflects political maps that look like cancer cells, and the list goes on and on.


Super Bowl half time show with Beyonce was simply atrocious

This year Beyonce was the performer elected by the NFL to entertain us during the Super Bowl half time.

Beyonce's performance just ended a few moments ago and I found it bland, boring, and a tad insulting.

I could not fully stand to watch her performance as it appeared sexist -I am a man after all- and targeted only to women audiences, or, at the very best, to teenage boys.

No doubt, Byonce has an amazing body, but that fact alone cannot make a Super Bowl half time show, unless you go to a strip club.

NFL made a poor choice with giving the entertainment keys to Beyonce and I am thrilled that I have the ability to switch channels quicker than Beyonce can shake her booty and/or hair.

Friday, February 1, 2013

COX Communications - Part 3

Cox Communications has decided to give me $65 instead of $50 for the 'inconvenience' they have caused when they erased forever all my messages from my e-mail accounts with them.

So, after they lost my pictures and documents that were worth perhaps $2,000 they decided to compensate me with a 'free' month of internet service. It is hard to believe that they can get away with that.

Cox Communications behaves like a true monopoly. The US government does absolutely nothing about it. The US government should force cable companies to open up 'the last mile' to competitors. This will bring the internet and cable TV prices down in no time. Cable companies have too much power because the government allowed them to get it, one little rule at a time.

The government works for the people more than it works for cable companies, no doubt about that.