More on Why the U.S. Is Falling Behind

In my last post on the topic, I somehow forgot to mention Aereo, which has already been outlawed by judicial decree in some jurisdictions. Its fight against broadcasters is headed to the Supreme Court, where the (supposedly tech friendly) White House is lobbying against it.

Meanwhile, Marginal Revolution has some frightening statistics on our crumbling infrastructure. Also, we now have measles outbreaks in San Francisco and New York City, thanks to ignorance and complacency.

Quinn Norton, writing on Medium, has published a powerful piece on how money rules all in the United States:

There is no place with more personal debt and heavier patterns of obligation than the Land of the Free. We are free to try to get expensive degrees to get jobs that barely exist, we are free to spend most of our lives paying student loans, we are free to lose everything we may have gained the moment we get sick. Along the way we can buy more things and get into more housing debt than almost anyone in the world, making our freedom one of consumption — consuming and being consumed by the systems we are born to.

We are free to vote in gerrymandered districts, and free to vote for two federal parties that are largely identical. We are free to vote on machines and systems that it is often illegal to audit for security purposes. We are all free to talk at once, and listen to no one at all. We are free, ever free, to chase as many dollars as we can, all the way to Hell.

It’s time to call America what it is: a kleptocracy, run by corporations and governments with only cosmetic distinctions. It is full of good people whom the kleptocrats keep fighting against each other, as they have for over 150 years, and will until the good people drown in rising saltwater or epic storms, or simply die, exhausted and used up.

Is there any way to fix this?

Why the U.S. Is Falling Behind

"Hey, we developed a commercially viable electric car!"

Government: BAN IT!

"Hey, here's a newer, better alternative to traditional cabs!"

Government: BAN IT!

"Hey, here's an alternative to cigarettes that is much less harmful!"

Government: BAN IT!

"Hey, we'll test your genetics and warn you if you're at risk of disease!"

Government: BAN IT!

"Hey, we have a flying robot that can deliver packages to your house!"

Government: BAN IT!

"Hey, here's an alternative to hotels!"

Government: BAN IT!

How can we possibly maintain a competitive economy when our federal, state, and local governments outlaw every new innovative technology and service?

Fire Eric Holder

Earlier this week, Attorney General Eric Holder defended the prosecution of the late Aaron Swartz with some rather convoluted reasoning:

Eric Holder: "There was never an intention for him to go to jail for longer than a three-, four-, potentially five-month range. That was what the government said specifically to Mr. Swartz. Those — those offers were rejected."

Sen. John Cornyn: "Does it strike you as odd that the government would indict someone for crimes that would carry penalties of up to 35 years in prison and million-dollar fines and then offer him a three- or four-month prison sentence?"

Eric Holder: "Well, I think that’s a good use of prosecutorial discretion to look at the conduct, regardless of what the statutory maximums were, and to fashion a sentence that was consistent with what the nature of the conduct was. And I think that what those prosecutors did in offering three, four, zero to six was consistent with that conduct."

Sen. John Cornyn: "So you don’t consider this a case of prosecutorial overreach or misconduct?"

Eric Holder: "No, I don’t look at what necessarily was charged as much as what was offered in terms of how the case might have been resolved."

So, despite threatening to throw Swartz in the slammer for 35+ years, all they were trying to do was bully him into pleading guilty, so they could lock him away for a few months for essentially nothing. Instead, they bullied him into tying a rope around his neck.

Then later in the week, Holder admitted that he is completely and totally unable to uphold the law:

"I am concerned that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if you do prosecute, if you do bring a criminal charge, it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy," he said. "And I think that is a function of the fact that some of these institutions have become too large."

If he's not willing to stand for justice, or at least the law, then what are we paying him to do?

Alec Baldwin Interviews George Will

In a time of increasing political tension, so much that it's ending friendships, I'd like to highlight this discussion between liberal Alec Baldwin and conservative George Will. While they're diametrically opposed on the issues, it's a respectful, almost friendly discussion. It's a reminder of what political discourse used to be in America.

I've admired George Will since I was a kid. While I often disagree with him, he's no-nonsense, well informed, and wants the best for the nation. That's the sort of conservative I can get behind.

You owe it to yourself to check out other episodes of Alec's podcast, "Here's the Thing." His interview with David Letterman is fantastic, if tragically brief.

Refund for the Rumble

This past weekend, I told you about the issues that I, along with many other customers, had with the online-only "Rumble" between Jon Stewart and Bill O'Reilly.

The good news is that the money has been refunded. But even in that, Nox Solutions bumbled. First, I never heard from anyone involved with the event until I received the refund. Then, when I received email notification for the refund, it said that I was being refunded because of "multiple orders." This caused me to scour my bank and Paypal records, only to find that no, only one order had been placed.

I can only assume that I was refunded due to my vehement complaining, but honestly I don't know. I appreciate the refund, but I would have appreciated clear communication even more.

I love the idea of online pay-per-view events like this, but Nox Solutions is clearly ill-equipped to handle them on such a large scale.

Congress Wants Army to Have New Tanks, Whether It Wants Them or Not

CNN:

The U.S. has more than enough combat tanks in the field to meet the nation's defense needs - so there's no sense in making repairs to these now, the Army's chief of staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno told Congress earlier this year...

...If the Pentagon holds off repairing, refurbishing or making new tanks for three years until new technologies are developed, the Army says it can save taxpayers as much as $3 billion...

...173 House members - Democrats and Republicans - sent a letter April 20 to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, urging him to continue supporting their decision to produce more tanks.

Mind boggling. To put things in perspective, the United States Government spends about $445 million a year on PBS. Cut these unwanted tanks, and we could fund PBS for nearly 7 years. I don't know about you, but I've received a lot more value out of Sesame Street than I have out of dusty, unused tanks.

I'm all for cutting government spending, but let's focus on the real problems. Leave Big Bird alone.

Via Reddit

The Rumble that Wasn't

Last night I signed up to watch Jon Stewart debate Bill O'Reilly.

Only that didn't happen. The website worked well enough when it took my $5, then immediately became inaccessible.

I wasn't alone.

Transient

I was finally able to watch the last 30 minutes of the event. What I saw was great, much better than the first presidential debate. I decided to just download it the next day, which was included with the $5 fee.

This morning, this message appeared on the site:

We understand many viewers had difficulty streaming the debate when it began. These issues have been resolved and the show is now available both on-demand and via download. For anyone who was unable to view The Rumble live and no longer wishes to do so, refund information will be available early next week. We regret any inconvenience this may have caused.

Great, I'll just login to download the video...

Transient

What the hell? I've already paid! Give me my damn video!

So I use the support form to contact them. Here's what I received:

Dear Josh Centers,
Ticket Number: (=)37802834(=)
Ticket Status: **Closed (Please REPLY to this email if you need further assistance.  A Customer Service representative will respond within 24 business hours.)
Thank you for contacting the Customer Service Team at TheRumble2012.com.
**This list of suggestions was generated automatically based on the Help topic title you selected. **

What followed what a list of generic technical advise, like enabling javascript and installing Flash. Of course, this doesn't do anything to solve my problem, so I reply to the email, like I'm told to do. Here's what I got in return:

This is absurd. Nox Solutions, the company responsible for the event, is completely and utterly incompetent. I've seen screwups of live streams before (UFC), but this is on a completely new level. I'm now out $5, have only seen a third of the event I paid for, can't download a legal copy of it, and have absolutely no recourse.

Thankfully, Youtube to the rescue:

How Bin Laden Won: A Call for Sanity

September 11, 2001 was a surreal and tragic day. Thousands died then, and even more have died or will die from contaminant exposure.

But perhaps the biggest tragedy of all is that in a way, we let Osama bin Laden win. His goals weren't merely to kill people and destroy property, he wanted to turn us against each other and bankrupt our nation.

Bin Laden tricked us into spending trillions of dollars we didn't have on a war in Afghanistan. The Bush Administration took the bait and the opportunity to settle old scores in Iraq, costing trillions more, not to mention thousands of lives and livelihoods.

He tricked us into spending another trillion on inane, ineffective airport security, like scanners that won't catch bombs, but might give you cancer. Every flight is now an exercise in humiliation, stripping our shoes and clothes for a system that makes us no safer, but offers natural-born bullies a chance to throw their weight around.

We had one shining moment of togetherness before our lizard brains took over. We are now so afraid that we don't care when our civil liberties or dignity are trampled upon. And in our fear, we have become downright mean.

We scream and yell at each other, go out of our way to ostracize others, and we idolize the meanest and cruelest our society has to offer. Could you imagine, even in the Clinton era, a political party trying to destroy a voter for hugging the president? America's always had a mean streak, we had to, but we've lost our grip of it.

It's past time for the madness to end. Osama bin Laden is dead, and the towers are back where they belong. It's time to bring the troops home, reinvest in America, and most importantly, to be Americans again. To stand together, to demand dignity, and be a shining beacon for the world.

The New New Deal

A long time ago, when I was younger and more naive, I studied astrology. Some astrologers believe that around the turn of the century, we entered, or will enter, what's called the "Age of Aquarius," a time when people become more individualistic and self-guided, as opposed to the previous age of Pisces, that was defined by strong leaders like Jesus Christ, Charlemagne, Napoleon, Hitler, Franklin Roosevelt, and Stalin.

Well, astrology might be a crock, but I think they're onto something there.

Since the dawn of the Industrial Age, for roughly 200 years, western civilization has held an informal social contract. We would allow a small number of capitalists to own the means of production, and we would restructure our society to suit their needs.

Schools were constructed to turn children into good factory workers. Infrastructure was built to make products easier to move. In exchange, the owners would provide jobs and keep society rolling.

It worked. Better than feudalism, at least, but the owners got greedy. One Roosevelt divided their power and forced them to consider the needs of their workers. Despite his efforts, the economy crashed, and another Roosevelt created a New Deal of government safety nets.

And so after a few tweaks, the system was great. The '50s and '60s were times of prosperity, and despite a few bumps in the road, that prosperity lasted through the '90s. It was so simple. All you had to do was go to school, cut your hair, and get a job.

But in 2008, things once again fell apart and threw us into a recession that may never end. And slowly we've came to a terrible realization: Our leaders no longer have any idea what they're doing.

Maybe it was cronyism gone amuck. Perhaps too much inbreeding. Or could it be that the world now moves too fast for anyone to keep up with? Regardless of the reason, we are becoming increasingly aware that newthe only people we can depend upon are the ones we look at in the mirror.

It's an exciting time, if you look at it the right way. The problem is that we're in a time of transition, and the system is slow to adapt. Our schools are still churning out factory workers when we need leaders, artists and entrepreneurs. We still hope for pensions and life-long employment, while we would be just as productive dreaming of unicorns and wizards.

Don't believe me? Take a look at the math. Let's say you buy into the old way of doing things. You spend your entire life working, saving for the day when you can finally retire, meanwhile putting your money into mutual funds and bonds.

We'll assume you did well for yourself. You retire at the tender age of 65 with a million dollars. Of course, you don't want to touch the principle, so you stick it in the bank and draw interest.

Today, you'd be lucky to get an interest rate of 1% on that million. That brings you in a whopping $10,000 a year. If Social Security is still around, you might do slightly better than double that. How much do you think $25,000 a year will buy you by the time you retire?

There has to be a better way. When you spend most of your life working for a system that leaves you, at best, a broken pauper, then that's a system that's not working.

We are in need of a New New Deal. But this time, the one dealing it won't be a rich factory owner or a president. It will be you, and you alone.

As author Seth Godin says, there are no more maps. If you want one, you'll have to draw it yourself.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be telling you about a few books that will help you draw your own map and teach you the skills you'll need to adapt to the Aquarian Age.