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109. Online Corrupt Reviews

13 Sep

As technology brings us more complicated and better systems, opportunists develop ways to corrupt them, for their financial benefit. In previous blogs, I have discussed many types of corruption. Just today, I received a communication from what appeared to be a valid bank, one that I dealt with in the past. The message was “unauthorized sign-in.” I immediately knew this was phony because I never had an account with this bank (only a credit card, a long time ago). The whole presentation was not believable. They wanted me to log into a special site and give them banking information — obviously phony.

The above kind of scam I have seen for many years, but here is a new one (at least for me). A certain trusted web site that I have used for many years, contacted me with a proposition. I could buy certain items, write a review, and then get reimbursed for the amount paid. In other words, I would get free items in exchange for reviews that vendors needed. It sounded OK at first, but as I investigated, I discovered a whole new scam in which sellers could get good reviews for their products through deals made by intermediaries. Reviews actually have a great effect on profit. I determined that I was not contacted by my trusted online sales source, but by a scam operation. As I investigated more, I found out that there are many of these “review” scams, both negative and positive. The scammer I dealt with did not ask for good reviews, but it was strongly implied. I knew that if I made bad reviews, they would no longer deal with me. So examine reviews for your purchases carefully to make sure they are valid. For example, a large number of max reviews would be suspect.

I also have found that some companies that do major residential work, coerce their customers into providing good reviews, using an implied threat of discontinuing service. I recently bought a new car and the salesman badgered me with requests for a good dealership review. On another occasion, I was badgered by a junk hauling company for a good review, even though they tried to make me pay, unfairly, more than the pre-paid promotional coupon.

I guess that all through history, scammers have found a way to rob people. Variations of “snake oil” (a cure all) have been around for hundreds of years.

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104. Underemphasized Political Facts

5 May

I listen to a lot of political commentators and government leaders. It disturbs me that many important factors are rarely mentioned. Here is a list of very important facts that should affect political judgments:

1. The inheritance tax (a.k.a. death tax) is only for very rich folks and starts at $5.45 million. So when GOP people want to end it, it is done to support millionaires and take money away from us.

2. Tax simplification does not help ordinary folks, as their tax is already simple. It helps rich folks cheat, because there are fewer rules governing their very complex returns. Fewer tax categories are always designed by Republicans to make rates lower for high earners, not you and me.

3. When highly respected conservative George Will says a fellow Republican, Donald Trump, cannot “think and speak clearly”, it is significant.

4. Scientists have found that lack of sleep seriously promotes Alzheimer’s disease. Pres. Trump brags about the little time he devotes to sleeping.

5. Those who believe that Bill Clinton’s affairs tarnish his wife Hillary, should recognize that Trump, the actual candidate, has worse transgressions.

6. In Trump’s recent interactions with Chinese President Xi Jinping, he was the losing negotiator. Trump was forced to reverse his accusation of currency manipulation while China only reinforced previous policies.

7. Our House of Reps. just passed a healthcare bill for which there was little time to read and discuss, and was not evaluated by the Congressional Budget Office. This bill is also not consistent with Trump’s many promises, which proves he has no ideals and just supports rich Republicans and himself.

8. There is a tendency for commentators to look for one cause for each result. The recent Dem. loss by Hillary is one such case. Most likely, is that a combination of 7 or 8 factors (mostly “dirty tricks”) lead to the defeat. Please see my Blog Number 95.

9. Trump would have lost most of his followers if he told them in advance of his cabinet choices of several Wall Street billionaires, and his extreme conflicts with personal business interests. He has not done any divesting.

10. In the last 50 years or so, Republicans have always favored very rich folks over ordinary citizens. This is clear if you go to GOP candidate web-sites and examine their U.S. Budget plans. Current plans are to increase U.S. debt by lowering taxes for the rich, and offset this with reductions in services and programs for the rest of us.

11. FBI Director Comey has excuses for making announcements of Hillary investigations, but the bottom line is that he violated Justice Dept. rules. Almost all FBI investigations are secret and not announced until the final result. Investigations of Republicans were secret.

12. Republicans want to decrease regulations because that helps their rich industrial donors and Wall Street.  But most regulations are designed to protect the citizens from air and water pollution, hazards in the workplace and elsewhere, and taxpayer bail outs for bankrupt financial institutions.  Regulations are based on actual abuses and now are being eliminated in a secretive way.  There are supposed to be hearings on such matters.

102. The Other Terrorism

28 Apr

Clearly, terrorism has dramatically affected most of Earth’s citizens. Airplane
travel and other modes of transportation are affected, people live in fear, disastrous mass migrations have occurred, and governments have toppled. The cost is at least billions and maybe trillions. We are all familiar with these problems.

There is a similar destructive force, which is not quite as dramatic, but is still very costly and fearful. It is information corruption — including identity theft, Internet hacking, stolen emails, Internet viruses, bogus news web-sites, blatant political lies, and similar. (Note, I include all computer related problems.)

We all love the convenience of trade using money (becoming obsolete), credit cards, and even Internet money like Bitcoin and the future “Blockchain.” But every financial system created by man has been corrupted. There is counterfeit money, bogus and stolen credit cards, and I am certain that even highly-touted future systems like Blockchain will be penetrated.

What brings this all to the forefront for me was a process of canceling an inexpensive fax service and a credit card. A simple email or web-site cancellation was not possible. The reason always given is “security,” and that is because of the scoundrels that corrupt our financial systems. Phone calls are always required and they can take hours to complete. The typical citizen goes through dozens of screens searching for a box that says: “check this to cancel the service.” Boxes like this used to be common, but now are scarce. You need to supply all sorts of security info, and if you cannot find something, you are doomed to eternal monthly service fees, inactivity fees, or maybe phone or email harassment.

Another experience had to do with an investment account of mine that was almost compromised, but saved by security procedures. A criminal attempted to withdraw money from my account, but was blocked. However, I was unable to use the account for a month or two while lawyers figured out what to do. I finally had to close the account.

Here is a list of ways that information corruption can affect us:

1. Identity theft can ruin your life by affecting your credit rating, loss of funds, and even bankruptcy. Legal help for a serious situation can cost thousands.
2. Stolen emails have affected our recent presidential election.
3. Credit card info stolen from a business can cause losses for thousands of people.
4. Bogus news web-sites have affected elections.
5. We have a leader now that re-writes history to suit his needs.
6. Information in personal and business computers is hacked for illegal purposes, or destroyed, by computer viruses, which generally operate in a way similar to biological viruses.
7. Reliable scientific information is challenged by callous politicians for various reasons, but most often to support the needs of rich industrial donors.
8. Perhaps most important, hackers from a foreign nation or terrorist group could disrupt our electrical grid. Widespread and prolonged power loss could have serious, even life-and-death, consequences for millions of people.

Is there a way to solve the information corruption problem? One thing is likely, that in the near future, security measures will increase and people will be even more disturbed by the inconveniences. Is there a long term solution? Maybe not. The ultimate answer,  I suspect, would require a utopian world of complete equality,  devoid of criminals and competition, and luxuries for all.  (Imagine that.)  As long as there is competition, some desperate folks, who feel left out, will be driven to some form of terrorism.

101. Worldwide Chaos?

26 Apr

Is there “worldwide chaos” or is it normal to have a certain amount of danger, struggle and warfare. I feel that recently, chaos has taken a step upward,
and there is more to be concerned with now — particularly in the USA — than in the last several years.

Here is a list of factors that currently are particularly disturbing:
1. Endless war in Syria and the resulting massive migrations.
2. Our current leader, Trump, is unprepared for high office, and lacks “ideals.”
3. Brexit: Britain leaving the European Union.
4. Russian attack of Ukraine.
5. Israel and Palestinian endless conflict.
6. Worldwide terrorism, including the dangers of ISIS, Taliban, others.
7. Failure of many leaders to recognize climate-change danger.
8. In some countries there is assassination of reporters and dissidents.
9. Greedy leaders scam the citizens, promoting personal wealth for a few.
10. Significant interference in USA elections by a foreign power (Russia).
11. Christianity and Islam sometimes are compatible, but often clash.

The search for chaos “causes” can take many forms, and for most important events, there are many factors that can be causal. There are many places to start the search. I believe a good point is the industrial revolution, usually dated from about 1760 to 1830.

As governments and technology developed, there was a parallel evolution of greed and corruption. The basic principle is that in any society or nation, a few aggressive and intelligent citizens will become leaders. As they improve their political skills, they learn how to communicate with citizens to achieve power, and to make use of rich donors. Congressmen are “bribed to help the wealthy with tax breaks and loopholes, and subsidies, creating a financial cycle: rich donors support desirable legislation and in turn, get even richer.

Once in office for a few years, they also can become adept at increasing their personal wealth. It is a matter of “learning” and of the eventual irresistible temptation to become richer. Those in office gradually separate from the people and form what could be called a “royalty” class. In many cases, a leader that starts out with good intentions will eventually fall into corruption.

The end result of this process of corruption is often violent or non-violent revolution. Excessive greed at the top will produce more poverty and more poor people. This has taken place for centuries, but recent improvement in communication, like the Internet, focused on this oppression, and helped with the organization of protest. One result was the “Arab Spring”, which began in Tunisia around 2010. Revolutions in Egypt and several other countries followed. Syria was the worst case, resulting in a disastrous deadlock between rebels and its President.

So a basic cause for much of the current world crisis is the rise of a greedy “Royalty Class” in many countries (even in the USA). The Syrian disaster became a basic cause to many other international problems. War in Syria resulted in a massive migration to other countries. This refugee problem I see as the major cause of BREXIT, the rise of Pres. Trump, and perhaps the rise of ISIS and other terrorist activity. In the US, the fear of refugees was recognized by Donald Trump, and promoted by him.

Here is a summary of some major (not all) causal links:

The rise of technology was accompanied by gradual governmental corruption.
Greedy and corrupt leaders exploit the citizens and increase poverty.
Citizens, helped mostly by the Internet, discover the corruption.
They are able to organize and revolt in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Libya, etc.
The revolution in Syria caused massive migration and associated fears.
Migration fears caused Brexit, the rise of Trump, terrorism, ISIS?, etc.

Final thought. I have condensed what could be a whole book, into a brief blog.
My purpose here, is to promote thought and analysis. As ordinary citizens better understand the world, it can become a better place.

100. Basic Causes of Greatest Concern

10 Mar

In my 100 blogs to date, I have tried to cover important governmental, social, medical, and related issues, that profoundly affect our way of life. In this, my 100th blog, I will list some of our most significant current issues, and maybe some possible solutions. I know that my blogs are sometimes imperfect and not very original, but my purpose is to increase the number of voices urging important changes and understanding. So here is a list of ideas to emphasize:

Our American founding fathers when creating the Constitution and other rules, were afraid of the kind of populism that we see today. So they tried to move important decisions away from the ordinary citizens and towards more responsible and intelligent leaders. Here are two examples supporting this lack of trust:
1. The establishment of an electoral college, to prevent direct citizen voting.
2. Until 1913, senators were elected by state legislatures, and not the people.
The founding fathers were afraid that ordinary people could be scammed by unscrupulous politicians. They anticipated someone like our current President.

Societies that over emphasize capitalism and the importance of financial success, foster corruption so that clever manipulators accumulate vast wealth, much of which belongs to the people. It is apparent that anyone (or party) in office for a long time will drift away from the people’s needs and develop methods for increasing their wealth. These methods include donating to Congressmen who will legislate tax loopholes and unfair subsidies.

An age requirement for U.S. President is not enough. Tax returns must be required and other financial and business details provided. It is too easy for very rich people, once in office, to make decisions best for their businesses and not for the country. A notable example is the transport minister for Azerbaijan, formerly a part of the Soviet Union. His covert construction contracting, participation in money laundering schemes, and wide-ranging contacts made him extremely rich at the expense of the citizens.

Corruption and unjustified accumulation of wealth, is not limited to politicians. Almost every vital service needed by the people, such as healthcare, education, and insurance, has cheated the citizens and made administrators (and others) hugely wealthy. Many of these rich people donate to Congress and through resulting legislation, make themselves even richer. Donations to congressmen has shifted vast amounts of money away from ordinary citizens, to undeserving administrators (making many millions of dollars). For example, median total compensation for ceos of major teaching non-profit hospitals is 1.35 million. Many make much more. Is it right that many millions of dollars are given to hospital administrators while poor people are being rejected (even die) for lack of insurance? Important services should be provided by the government at little or no cost. I feel that administrators and certain others should be allowed to become somewhat rich, but not extremely so.

Clarification: All “Western” or developed countries are a combination of capitalism with some socialistic features. Pure capitalism allows the unlimited accumulation of wealth with no financial protections for the citizens. Pure socialism is an economy totally controlled and owned by the state. In the USA (and many other major countries) capitalism is primary, and there are “social programs” in areas such as healthcare, education, and supporting the poor. Shifting some funds from the very rich to the very poor through taxation changes and programs like Medicaid is not “socialism,” it is simply the addition of a “social program.”

Last but not least, is the unethical and self-serving practices of many doctors, dentists, and other healthcare practitioners. Diagnoses and treatments are often are more determined by cash-flow than by what is most beneficial for the patient. Here are some examples. In the area of severe back-pain, diagnosis is usually a defect in the spine, and the possibility of simple excessive muscle strain and tension is ignored. Procedures for spinal defects are very expensive whereas procedures for muscle tension simply involve (at no cost) frequent muscle stretching. Here is an example from dentistry. Several years ago, my teeth would develop a dark blue hue, which could be removed by a professional teeth cleaning. Two dentists I went to urged me to double my teeth cleaning sessions, and spent little effort in trying to determine the cause. Fortunately, I was able to figure this out myself, and saved a lot of expense. The blue colored mouthwash I was using, dyed the teeth, and there was even a warning on the label. I could provide a lot of other personal examples, and many are described in previous blogs. An excellent book on this subject is “Confessions of a Medical Heretic”, 1979, by Robert Mendelsohn, MD. This is an old book, but still very applicable to many current physicians (but definitely not all).

Is there a quick fix for all of the forementioned issues? No, but major efforts to improve education could be transformative. Knowledge is important, but developing an ability to reason and research is even more relevant. Still, I have a sneaking suspicion that our current administration would fear a well-informed electorate.

99. Change Yes, Trump No

4 Mar

I think our country needs some radical changes to preserve it, and make it exemplary again. Forget Trump’s “great  again”, let’s make it admirable, honorable, and respectable. This blog is “BasicCauses” and I want to look at some of the fundamentals of our system.

I am going to make some major criticisms so I want to make it clear in advance, that I am happy to be an American, vote every election, served in the U.S. Army, and enjoy free enterprise, having created two successful businesses. I generally support the fundamental features of our current governmental system, but believe we need some significant basic changes. The arrival of Donald Trump as our country’s leader, emphasizes the need for  re-thinking.   Please consider the following:

1. The Primary Process and Voting does not yield the best leaders. This is hard to fix, and probably the best solution, better education, may not be effective for a long time. Many poorly educated voters do not have the reasoning and research skills to make the best judgments. Long held and obsolete beliefs are barriers to better choices.

2. Congress is organized so as to promote gridlock. Our current system has too many barriers to completing legislation. There are many different changes that could speed up law making. One thought that I have had is to have one large legislative body and require 52% of votes to pass a bill. Filibustering would not be allowed, but short speeches from many would be allowed.  The quality of legislation could be improved by adding to this body,  various specialists such as University representatives. A major reorganization will not occur in my lifetime, but starting to think about it is important and I may discuss it more in future blogs.

3. The “fourth branch of government”, the press, is being oppressed. It appears now that we need to pass laws or find other means of protecting the press and allowing them to criticize without recrimination. Also, the citizens should clearly support freedom of the press.

4. Rich donors should not have powerful control of our government. I suggest a maximum donation of $100 for all citizens and no donations allowed from corporations or other organizations. Let’s abolish the super pacs and have a true democracy.

5. Our middle-class is not benefiting enough from our nation’s success. We need to abolish tax-loopholes and increase rates for the very rich.  Many wealthy corporations and individuals pay no tax at all because of loopholes.  Even the Pope has criticized “trickle-down” approaches, which rarely work, but are advocated by the GOP.  (“Trickle-down” means: give lots of money to wealthy businesses and simply hope that some will trickle-down to the rest of us.)

6. Congress should not police and regulate itself. An independent body should do this. (The same goes for all Healthcare organizations and many other service areas.) Unfortunately, with today’s polarization, it is not easy to find truly independent persons.

7. A potential problem is “privatizing.” This means moving a function run by the government, to a private, for profit company. A consequence is that some rich person (and staff) will make huge amounts of money and emphasize profits over proper services. In most cases, the benefits of competition do not make up for all the money lost to over-paid executives. For example, privatizing prisons was a failure and was abolished. Politicians sometimes threaten Social Security and Medicare with privatization, which would decrease benefits.  I have said more about this in previous blogs.

97. Trump’s Extreme Hypocrisy

25 Feb

Trump loves to dramatize his speech, like we need “extreme vetting”. He said that he was going to “win so much, you’re going to be sick and tired of winning.”

I just heard Trump complain at CPAC, about the news media using anonymous sources. Frankly, I laughed out loud. During his adamant “birther” period, on numerous occasions he referred to unnamed sources searching records in Hawaii about to prove that Barack Obama is not a citizen. This pattern of stating unsupported “facts” (aka alt-facts) has been repeated numerous times.

In fact, I would confidently venture to say that Trump himself referred more times to unknown sources (or did not name a source) than any other president. Here are a few examples:

Trump said that Hillary won the popular vote (by a margin of almost three million) because of illegal voting.  In fact, “all the illegal votes were for her!”  Does he think that all of us are incredibly stupid, or is this stated just for his hardcore fans?

The crowd for inauguration was much larger for Trump than for Obama.  No proof for this assertion was provided, but plenty of photographic evidence was provided for the opposite.

He stated that he won more electoral college votes than previous presidents — false. No sources for this were named, and after questioning, admitted his error.

We gained nothing from the Iran Nuclear Deal and the money paid could have been used for infrastructure work. He failed to say that the money paid was actually Iran’s money that was confiscated and could not have been used by us.

There are many other types of extreme hypocrisy. A really good example is Wall Street abuses. Trump complained on numerous occasions about Hillary’s relationship with such companies as Goldman Sachs Group. He said that Clinton is “nothing more than a Wall Street puppet.” But after his election, he named former Goldman President, Gary Cohn to head his National Economic Council. Former Goldman partner Steven Mnuchin was chosen Secretary of Treasury. Chief Strategist Steve Bannon once worked for Goldman Sachs. Trump is also working on reducing safeguards aimed at avoiding investment company failures. After pledging to fight Wall Street he has been doing everything to support them. His promises to help the working man are shameless lies.

After talking so much about Clinton corruption, the following has just been reported. The Republican chairmen of two intelligence committees have admitted that a member of the White House staff approached them. They were asked to tell reporters that no illegal contacts of the W.H. with Russians were discovered.  And at this time,  the committee work was not even finished.

There also is evidence that a report on the “Travel Ban” countries was tampered with. The original report (leaked to press) stated that the seven banned countries posed no particular threat. Country of immigration origin is not a good predictor of terrorist activity. The final report was altered to say the opposite.   See this website:  http://www.msnbc.com/maddowblog   for supporting details for this paragraph and the one above.

All of which brings to mind my greatest worry — that Trump will not only fail in many ways, but he will re-write history so that the Democrats are blamed for the failures. He actually blamed Hillary for the “Birther” movement!