Jun 272011
 

What is No Time: Twisted Ladders about?
This science fiction work explores what may happen in the future when the human genetic structure (DNA) can be reprogrammed as easily as an application on a smart phone. No Time: Twisted Ladders also illustrates with many examples how you can become more creative in your daily life.

Here are the notes from the back of the book:
In the future, biological viruses will be a double-edged sword. Some will be engineered to save our lives, while others could be designed to steal the DNA that makes us who we are. No Time: Twisted Ladders explores the impacts on our society when the human genome can be reprogrammed as easily as a common computer application.

In the spring of 2055, Tryfold works in a government-sponsored think tank. As the result of genetic engineering, he is now the world’s top creative mind. President Kate Neala recruits this creative savant to investigate how secret information has been inserted into her mind while she sleeps. Using a stealth device called an Ellipsoid, he penetrates the Department of Defense and discovers that the federal government is not only stealing DNA from its citizens, it is also creating dangerous genetic weapons in research facilities buried deep underground. Furthermore, in what looks like a suicidal move at the national level, elite politicians appear determined to start another world war with China. As Tryfold races to uncover the ultimate reason for the government’s gruesome genetic research, it becomes clear that losing another world war to China is not the biggest issue.

Multiple wars break out, and the prospect of survival looks bleak. Tryfold steps up to the challenges and, armed with his unique brain and an arsenal of creative tools, begins inventing.


Currently, there are three ways to purchase No Time: Twisted Ladders.

If you have a Kindle you can purchase it at Amazon by clicking on this link.

If you would like to have the paperback version (6″x9″) you can purchase it at CreateSpace, a division of Amazon by clicking on this link. I make the most money if you go this route.

And if  you would like to purchase the paperback version at Amazon, click on this link.

Come back to this blog and join in the discussion about science fiction, creativity, where our countries are heading, politicians, and, of course, the future.

 

Aug 162014
 

By Timothy Noah, www.msnbc.com
View Original
June 3rd, 2014

A worker cleans leaves from the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill October 17, 2013 in Washington, DC. Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Photo by: Brendan Smialowski/Getty

Two decades ago, liberals and conservatives found common ground in the doctrine of government privatization. “It makes sense to put the delivery of many public services in private hands,” affirmed David Osborne and Ted Gaebler in their best-selling 1992 book, “Reinventing Government,” “if by doing so a government can get more effectiveness, efficiency, equity or accountability.” Vice President Al Gore headed up a “reinventing government” initiative that concluded, among other things, that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration should avoid “hiring thousands of new employees” to perform worksite inspections by giving the job to private-sector inspectors instead.

A generation later, the federal government employs more than three times as many contract workers as government workers, and state and local governments spend a combined $1.5 trillion on outsourcing. One result, according to Demos, a nonprofit public policy organization, is that the federal government effectively pays $12 or less to nearly two million contract workers – “more than the number of low-wage workers at Walmart and McDonalds combined.”

Now a new report by In the Public Interest, a nonprofit group that tracks government contracting, argues that privatization at the state and local level “contributes to the decline of the middle class and the rise in poverty-level jobs, thereby exacerbating growing economic inequality.”
Public-sector pay is lower on average than private-sector pay, but at the low end of the pay scale the opposite is true: Workers with just a high school degree make 6% more in the public sector than in the private, and workers with a few years of college but no college degree make 9% more. For low-wage workers, then, privatization means even lower pay and fewer (or no) benefits.

“I was a housekeeper from Milwaukee County courthouse,” Mary Farrow told reporters on a conference call organized by In the Public Interest. Farrow said that working for the county she made $14.29 per hour plus health care and other benefits. Then, in 2010, the county turned housekeeping services over to a private contractor. “They offered me $8 an hour with no benefits,” Farrow said. She turned it down. Now, unable to find work, she’s had to raid her son’s college fund to cover living expenses.

In New Jersey, where 64% of all school food-service workers are contract employees, those who previously worked directly for school districts earned $4 to $6 less per hour after their jobs were outsourced.
In a home for veterans in Grand Rapids, Mich., that’s jointly funded by the state, the Veterans Administration, Medicare and private sources, nursing assistants earn $15 to $20 per hour and receive health and pension benefits. But that’s only if they’re lucky enough to be employed directly by the state of Michigan. Other nursing assistants at the same veterans home performing the same work are contract employees who receive only $8.50 per hour and no benefits.

“The false promises of privatization are triggering a race to the bottom,” Donald Cohen, executive director of In the Public Interest, said in the conference call.

Much of the “efficiency” realized by privatization lies in reducing former middle-class workers to poverty wages. Jared Bernstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington nonprofit, argued in the conference call that even from an efficiency point of view, privatizing low-end government jobs was self-defeating. “You get what you pay for,” Bernstein said. Lower wages for public services, he said, translate into “higher turnover and a decline in the quality of work.” It also means an uptick in welfare expenses. In California, contract school cafeteria workers collect $1,743 annually in public assistance because their private employers underpay them. In effect, the state is putting its own employees on the dole.

Outsourcing low-wage work is hardly limited to governments. It’s been a common practice for decades among corporations, which have been ever-more reluctant to employ directly anyone who earns, say, less than about $30,000 per year. As a consequence, these companies no longer offer much opportunity for anyone performing a menial job to make it to the top. That used to actually happen now and then. Sidney Weinberg started at Goldman, Sachs in 1907 as a janitor’s assistant and by 1930 was its chief executive. David Geffen started, as recently as 1964, in the mailroom of the William Morris Agency before advancing to Hollywood megamogul. Today, though, jobs like janitor and mailroom clerk are almost always outsourced.

Does Osborne, now a senior partner with a consulting firm, have second thoughts about privatization? “No, I don’t,” Osborne wrote in an e-mail. “We could subsidize higher wages than the marketplace provides, as we often do in the public sector, and tell ourselves we are all better off. But it would be a lie. The more of our dollars that go into taxes and fees to support public employees, the less we spend on other things, and the more demand we withdraw from the private economy. The end result: we are all poorer.”

“Far better,” Osborne said, “to support things like [the Earned Income Tax Credit] and food stamps and job training to help the working poor than to subsidize millions of public employees.”

But since when is government assistance an acceptable substitute for paying employees a living wage – particularly when those employees themselves work for the government? In the Public Interest’s new report suggests that, at least for low-wage workers, we might be better off reinventing government back to how it was before liberals succumbed to privatization fever.

http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/government-privatization-hurts-middle-class

 

Aug 162014
 

This is a selfish smartphone — it will not take pictures of me. The selfish cell phone only takes selfies of itself, ad nauseam

The Selfish Selfie photo: ragan, 2014 (c)

May 182012
 

This Uber-Wealthy Venture Capitalist Gave A TED Talk Saying Rich People Don’t Create Jobs — And TED Is Refusing To Post It

As the war over income inequality wages on, super-rich Seattle entrepreneur Nick Hanauer has been raising the hackles of his fellow 1-percenters, espousing the contrarian argument that rich people don’t actually create jobs.
Nick Hanauer

The position is controversial — so much so that TED is refusing to post a talk that Hanauer gave on the subject.

National Journal reports today that TED officials decided not to put Hanauer’s March 1 speech up online after deeming his remarks “too politically controversial” for the site.

In an email obtained by the National Journal, TED curator Chris Anderson told his colleagues that Hanauer’s speech “probably ranks as one of the most politically controversial talks we’ve ever run, and we need to be really careful when” to post it. He added: “Next week ain’t right. Confidentially, we already have Melinda Gates on contraception going out. Sorry for the mixed messages on this.”

TED regularly posts speeches about sensitive political issues, including global warming and contraception, so it’s not clear why Hanauer’s talk would be singled out for censorship.

We’ve emailed Hanauer to see what he thinks, but in the meantime, here’s an excerpt for you to judge for yourself:

I can say with confidence that rich people don’t create jobs, nor do businesses, large or small. What does lead to more employment is a “circle of life” like feedback loop between customers and businesses. And only consumers can set in motion this virtuous cycle of increasing demand and hiring. In this sense, an ordinary middle-class consumer is far more of a job creator than a capitalist like me.

So when businesspeople take credit for creating jobs, it’s a little like squirrels taking credit for creating evolution. In fact, it’s the other way around.

Anyone who’s ever run a business knows that hiring more people is a capitalists course of last resort, something we do only when increasing customer demand requires it.  In this sense, calling ourselves job creators isn’t just inaccurate, it’s disingenuous.

That’s why our current policies are so upside down. When you have a tax system in which most of the exemptions and the lowest rates benefit the richest, all in the name of job creation, all that happens is that the rich get richer.

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/this-billionaire-venture-capitalist-gave-a-ted-talk-saying-rich-people-dont-create-jobs–and-ted-is-refusing-to-post-it-2012-5?nr_email_referer=1&utm_source=Triggermail&utm_medium=email&utm_term=Business%20Insider%20Select&utm_campaign=Business%20Insider%20Select%202012-05-17#ixzz1vGx04Lrs

Apr 292012
 

Derivatives – The Unregulated Global Casino for Banks.

(Click on the above to see the full article as well as astonishing graphics that illustrate what a trillion dollars looks like. –Rick)

A derivative is a legal bet (contract) that derives its value from another asset, such as the future or current value of oil, government bonds or anything else.

Ex- A derivative buys you the option (but not obligation) to buy oil in 6 months for today’s price/any agreed price, hoping that oil will cost more in future. (I’ll bet you it’ll cost more in 6 months). Derivative can also be used as insurance, betting that a loan will or won’t default before a given date. So its a big betting system, like a Casino, but instead of betting on cards and roulette, you bet on future values and performance of practically anything that holds value. The system is not regulated what-so-ever, and you can buy a derivative on an existing derivative.

Most large banks try to prevent smaller investors from gaining access to the derivative market on the basis of there being too much risk. Deriv. market has blown a galactic bubble, just like the real estate bubble or stock market bubble (that’s going on right now). Since there is literally no economist in the world that knows exactly how the derivative money flows or how the system works, while derivatives are traded in microseconds by computers, we really don’t know what will trigger the crash, or when it will happen, but considering the global financial crisis this system is in for tough times, that will be catastrophic for the world financial system since the 9 largest banks shown below hold a total of $228.72 trillion in Derivatives – Approximately 3 times the entire world economy. No government in world has money for this bailout. Lets take a look at what banks have the biggest Derivative Exposures and what scandals they’ve been lately involved in. 

You can confirm this total derivatives number via the USA government (it’s now up to $244T):

http://www.occ.treas.gov/topics/capital-markets/financial-markets/trading/derivatives/dq111.pdf

 

Dec 012011
 

10 Things We Didn’t Learn From Enron Scandal

 

PHOTO: Enron headquarters
Pat Sullivan/AP Photo
An unidentified person leaves Enron Corp. headquarters in Houston in this Jan. 22, 2002 file photo.

Ten years after the energy and commodities firm Enron collapsed under the weight of a massive fraud, much has changed about how corporate America does business and much, unfortunately, has remained the same, with new frauds and excessive risk-taking exposed all too frequently.

“We did learn some lessons and people were more careful, but greed creeps back in again,” said Lawrence Weiss, professor of international accounting at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

Before the bankruptcy of WorldCom in 2002, Enron’s bankruptcy was the largest in U.S. history. Names like AIG and WorldCom may have replaced Enron in the vernacular when referring to corporate meltdowns and greed. Enron executives Kenneth Lay, Jeff Skilling and Andrew Fastow — all convicted of white collar crimes — emblemized the bad side of the one percent before the term existed.

Once the darling of Wall Street, Enron was the country’s seventh-largest company with a soaring stock price that grew more than 100 percent in 2000. The company collapsed in a matter of months as the media and the public became aware of its faulty accounting and business practices.

1.

Conflicts of interest continue to occur

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the permanent subcommittee on investigations which reported on the role of Enron’s board and investment banks’ response to lessons learned from Enron, said the Enron scandal did not put an end to corporate malfeasance..

“One lesson we haven’t learned from Enron is that corporations will engage in conflicts of interest, and some won’t stop until action is taken,” he said.

Enron allowed its chief financial officer, Andrew Fastow, to set up a fund called LJM and engage in suspect deals that made Enron’s books look better, Levin said. In the years after Enron was exposed, companies like Goldman Sachs and Citibank set up synthetic CDOs, sold shares in them to clients, and then made money betting against their own clients.

“Conflicts of interest will continue to plague Wall Street until regulators use the new Dodd-Frank provisions to prohibit them,” he said.

Peter Elkind, editor at large with Fortune magazine, investigative reporter and co-author of Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron with Bethany McLean, said business, especially the financial world, can’t be left to regulate itself.

“The risks that traders take pose risks for all of us,” he said.

2.

If it’s too good to be true, it probably is

Weiss said at the most basic level, the key lesson from the South Sea Bubble, Enron, and Madoff Ponzi scheme is knowing whether a business itself makes sense.

“For Enron, the firm was growing at a fantastic rate and the question was how were they doing it? The answer, one knows with hindsight, was they were committing massive fraud,” he said. “This then begs the question of whether it was obvious at the time. I would argue that at best, the firm smelled very bad.”

First, Weiss said, the cash flows did not match the profits even after many years which should have raised a red flag. Next, it was difficult if not impossible to understand exactly how the firm made money.

“They employed brilliant people. Okay, but how did these people create the wealth? What exactly were they doing? Trading energy, trading weather futures, trading broadband,” he said. “And they could do this and make a fortune, and no one could copy it? How was it shown on their financial statements?”

Weiss said one could not understand how Enron valued things, or management had discretion in the valuations which allowed management to choose their profit number.

“If it looks too good to be true it probably is, or people’s inherent greed often gets the better of their judgment,” he said.

3.

Regulators and the regulated continue their dance

Opinions over the role of regulators are mixed. Many say regulators need teeth to enforce rules and weed out shady accounting. Many in the business community say business regulation is doing more harm than good for an already fragile economy.

Elkind said regulatory agencies need to have the weapons and funding to closely monitor new, ever more powerful financial instruments.

Weiss said the Sarbanes Oxley Act, which created new standards for accounting firms, boards and management, was a “clear overreaction” to the Enron scandal, which is “understandable.” Weiss said good and bad came as a result of its passage in 2002.

Given the lopsided votes in favor of the law, Weiss said it was likely not well-read by lawmakers before it was passed.

“When you pass these laws, it adds a level of complexity that is hard for many companies, especially small companies,” he said. “You probably could have gotten benefit of Sarbanes Oxley with a smaller law that avoided the pitfalls that companies complain about.”

Weiss said the same could be said of the Dodd-Frank Act, or Obama’s healthcare plan.

“Some people like them a lot, but they’re just so complex. Instead of the massive amount of documents can’t we do one thing at a time, isolate and make it clear, so we have a sense of the repercussions?”

4.

Transparency is vital.

Elkind said companies must clearly disclose the risks they are taking and regulators need to require them to do so.

Stephen Lubben, law professor at Seton Hall University School of Law, said recent years have also shown the limits of the ever-increasing disclosure obligations imposed on companies.

“The changes made after Enron did little to avoid the shocking failures at AIG and other financial companies,” he said. “At some level, we might be better off with a simple cigarette-style warning — this investment is not guaranteed; you could lose all of your money — than the phone book style SEC reports that are currently distributed to investors.”

5.

More capital is better

If you increase capital requirements for financial institutions, you decrease risk, Elkind said. Higher capital requirements and less leverage reduce the danger of a catastrophe.

“You’re not so far out on the ledge,” he said.

6.

Excessive leverage is as dangerous as a bad bet

Corporations still use accounting tricks to hide debt. Enron allegedly made prepay deals worth billions of dollars, such as pretending to engage in energy swaps with other companies but they were actually dealing with offshore companies that were banks, in essence to receive loans. Today banks have refused to devalue their troubled assets, say some economists.

Olympus managed to hide losses for two decades and admitted only recently to doing so. Unlike Enron, Olympus came clean on its own.

PHOTO: Jeff Skilling
Johnny Hanson/Getty Images
7.

Corporate leadership makes all the difference in the world–for good and for bad.

Former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling reportedly led the company’s risky bets to revolutionize the market for natural gas and commodities trading. It was his CFO, Andrew Fastow, allegedly idolized Skilling, and did his part to cook the books, hiding billions of dollars in debt.

In 2006, Skilling was convicted of 19 criminal counts, including one count of insider trading, related to his role in the massive fraud. Skilling was alleged to have dumped $15.5 million in Enron stock in an insider trade more than two months before the company declared bankruptcy. Skilling was sentenced to 45 years in prison and fined $45 million.

8.

Preferred stockholders get preferred treatment

Lubben said the recent financial crisis showed that small investors still do not fully understand where shareholders stand in the priority line — the “food chain” — of large corporations.

“The basic answer is that a common shareholder only gets paid if everyone else has been paid,” he said. “Often that means they don’t get paid at all. In Enron, and more recent cases like GM and Lehman, this really seemed to surprise some investors. Obviously this is a problem in all bankruptcy cases, but it is especially acute in a situation where a big, well-known company fails will little warning.”

The company’s 20,000 employees lost not only their jobs and medical insurance but retirement savings in company stock. In 2001 Enron employees lost $1.2 billion in retirement funds and $2 billion in pension funds while Enron’s top execs cashed in $116 million in stock, according to the film, “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.” The average severance pay was $4,500 while the top executives were paid bonuses totaling $55 million.

9.

Still building fragile financial structures

“We could have taken a deep look at the special purpose vehicles, derivatives, repos, and the rest of the ‘new’ finance that was core to Enron’s business model, in order to see what needed to be done better,” Mark Roe, professor at Harvard Law School, said. “The outright fraud of the type that was the core of Enron’s ultimate collapse — bogus transactions that generated accounting entries but not real profits — was contained after Enron (even if other frauds, like Madoff’s arose).”

That’s the good news, Roe said.

“We muddled through and avoided more Enron-type frauds and collapses, which isn’t bad. But we still built, and we’re still building, too many fragile financial structures that fail too often.”

Examples include Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers in the run-up to the financial crisis and MF Global’s implosion just recently, he said.

“After Enron, we could have, but didn’t, take the opportunity to re-think what’s the core of what’s economically valuable in managing risk in the derivatives business and financing firms via repos and special purpose vehicles,” Roe said. “We could have taken the opportunity to preserve the valuable in the new finance and carve out the excess. We didn’t, but we still could and we still should.”

10.

Important names make mistakes too

Alex Gibney, filmmaker who produced “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” said the big lesson that wasn’t learned was it was aided and abetted by most important banks in America and around the world.

“One of the things most people forget about Enron, it wasn’t an outlier,” he said. “Just because it’s a big respectable bank, don’t think they’re not into gambling.”

Many transactions — ultimately at the collapse of the company — involved some of the largest banks in the country.

“These frauds don’t happen in a vacuum,” Weiss said. “Lots of people were aware or should have been aware. Lawyers, bankers, auditors and many employees saw stuff that they knew was wrong or was suspicious and said little or nothing. We need to create the right incentives to keep people honest – or at least not afraid to speak out.”

See original article –>  10 Things We Didn’t Learn From Enron Scandal, 10 Years After – ABC News.

Nov 142011
 


Kent Porter/The Press Democrat, via Associated Press -Protesters severely disrupted operations at the Port of Oakland, Calif., earlier this month.

November 12, 2011

The New Progressive Movement

OCCUPY WALL STREET and its allied movements around the country are more than a walk in the park. They are most likely the start of a new era in America. Historians have noted that American politics moves in long swings. We are at the end of the 30-year Reagan era, a period that has culminated in soaring income for the top 1 percent and crushing unemployment or income stagnation for much of the rest. The overarching challenge of the coming years is to restore prosperity and power for the 99 percent.

Thirty years ago, a newly elected Ronald Reagan made a fateful judgment: “Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.” Taxes for the rich were slashed, as were outlays on public services and investments as a share of national income. Only the military and a few big transfer programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and veterans’ benefits were exempted from the squeeze.

Reagan’s was a fateful misdiagnosis. He completely overlooked the real issue — the rise of global competition in the information age — and fought a bogeyman, the government. Decades on, America pays the price of that misdiagnosis, with a nation singularly unprepared to face the global economic, energy and environmental challenges of our time.

Washington still channels Reaganomics. The federal budget for nonsecurity discretionary outlays — categories like highways and rail, education, job training, research and development, the judiciary, NASA, environmental protection, energy, the I.R.S. and more — was cut from more than 5 percent of gross domestic product at the end of the 1970s to around half of that today. With the budget caps enacted in the August agreement, domestic discretionary spending would decline to less than 2 percent of G.D.P. by the end of the decade, according to the White House. Government would die by fiscal asphyxiation.

Both parties have joined in crippling the government in response to the demands of their wealthy campaign contributors, who above all else insist on keeping low tax rates on capital gains, top incomes, estates and corporate profits. Corporate taxes as a share of national income are at the lowest levels in recent history. Rich households take home the greatest share of income since the Great Depression. Twice before in American history, powerful corporate interests dominated Washington and brought America to a state of unacceptable inequality, instability and corruption. Both times a social and political movement arose to restore democracy and shared prosperity.

The first age of inequality was the Gilded Age at the end of the 19th century, an era quite like today, when both political parties served the interests of the corporate robber barons. The progressive movement arose after the financial crisis of 1893. In the following decades Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson came to power, and the movement pushed through a remarkable era of reform: trust busting, federal income taxation, fair labor standards, the direct election of senators and women’s suffrage.

The second gilded age was the Roaring Twenties. The pro-business administrations of Harding, Coolidge and Hoover once again opened up the floodgates of corruption and financial excess, this time culminating in the Great Depression. And once again the pendulum swung. F.D.R.’s New Deal marked the start of several decades of reduced income inequality, strong trade unions, steep top tax rates and strict financial regulation. After 1981, Reagan began to dismantle each of these core features of the New Deal.

Following our recent financial calamity, a third progressive era is likely to be in the making. This one should aim for three things. The first is a revival of crucial public services, especially education, training, public investment and environmental protection. The second is the end of a climate of impunity that encouraged nearly every Wall Street firm to commit financial fraud. The third is to re-establish the supremacy of people votes over dollar votes in Washington.

None of this will be easy. Vested interests are deeply entrenched, even as Wall Street titans are jailed and their firms pay megafines for fraud. The progressive era took 20 years to correct abuses of the Gilded Age. The New Deal struggled for a decade to overcome the Great Depression, and the expansion of economic justice lasted through the 1960s. The new wave of reform is but a few months old.

The young people in Zuccotti Park and more than 1,000 cities have started America on a path to renewal. The movement, still in its first days,  will have to expand in several strategic ways. Activists are needed among shareholders, consumers and students to hold corporations and politicians to account. Shareholders, for example, should pressure companies to get out of politics. Consumers should take their money and purchasing power away from companies that confuse business and political power. The whole range of other actions — shareholder and consumer activism, policy formulation, and running of candidates — will not happen in the park.

The new movement also needs to build a public policy platform. The American people have it absolutely right on the three main points of a new agenda. To put it simply: tax the rich, end the wars and restore honest and effective government for all.

Finally, the new progressive era will need a fresh and gutsy generation of candidates to seek election victories not through wealthy campaign financiers but through free social media. A new generation of politicians will prove that they can win on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and blog sites, rather than with corporate-financed TV ads. By lowering the cost of political campaigning, the free social media can liberate Washington from the current state of endemic corruption. And the candidates that turn down large campaign checks, political action committees, Super PACs and bundlers will be well positioned to call out their opponents who are on the corporate take.

Those who think that the cold weather will end the protests should think again. A new generation of leaders is just getting started. The new progressive age has begun.

Jeffrey D. Sachs is the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and the author, most recently, of “The Price of Civilization: Reawakening American Virtue and Prosperity.”

 

From the –> The New Progressive Movement – NYTimes.com.