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TM, ®, Copyright © 2015 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Articles on the USA published after 2012
Arming teachers
Congratulations NRA: another successful massacre!
Winners and Losers in the US Election
Why Romney is losing
Democracy and marketing
A referendum on Ayn Rand
And again and again
Do not get over it
The largest terrorist organization in the world strikes again
A new kind of smearing campaign
Double standards in cyberspace
Why a US soldier killed 16 Afghan civilians for fun
Why Rick Santorum is good for the world
The lesser evil
Facebook's Brave New World
We are all pirates
Articles on the USA published before 2012

  • (december 2012) Arming teachers.
    The latest demented installment in the Northamerican saga of the gun lobby is a proposal to arm teachers in order to prevent mass shootings in schools (the mass shootings that take place periodically in the USA, and pretty much only in the USA). The general philosophy is embedded in a statement by Wayne LaPierre, chief of the National Rifle Association: "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun".
    I will use the article written by this gun lobbyist and sent to me by a reader because it is emblematic and slightly less fanatical than most, hence more credible. The premise is this: "The average number of people shot in a mass shooting event when the shooter is stopped by law enforcement: 14. The average number of people shot in a mass shooting event when the shooter is stopped by civilians: 2.5" (Well, no sources get quoted when the gun lobby makes this kind of statements or the source turns out to be some obscure think tank that has no academic credibility, but let's assume that the statistics is correct). This statement is obviously missing the point: most countries don't have to deal with mass shootings, period. Of course, once you have a problem of mass shootings then you sadly can do this kind of statistics. Most countries in the world don't have to do this kind of statistics because they have no mass shootings. And they have no mass shootings because there are virtually no guns to use in mass shootings.
    The gun lobby's new great idea is to make it voluntary (not even mandatory) for a teacher to carry a weapon in the classroom. If a teacher is morally opposed to guns, s/he could still say no and continue as s/he does today. The deterrent would be the simple fact that the teacher "may" be armed. The theory goes that the psycho will think twice knowing that he might be shot down by a teacher, regardless of whether the teacher actually has or does not have a gun. The author of that article ecstatically proclaims "Simple. Cheap. Available now."
    Simple? A law that entitles "teachers" to bear arms, and therefore will massively increase the screening we need to do before we hire teachers? If teachers are entitled to carry arms into the school, the issue is not whether they elect to do it or not: the issue is to whom we want to grant that right. Someone can be a good math teacher but a bit too much of an eccentric to be trusted with a gun. If the law entitles teachers to carry a gun, then we don't want him as a teacher. Hence we must have some mechanism to select as teachers only people we trust with guns, just like today we have mechanisms to select as teachers only people we trust with children (not child molesters, no matter how good they would be at teaching math and science). And cheap? Who is paying for the guns? If every teacher decides to have one, it's millions of dollars. Available now? What is available now is the guns, yes. Way too many. Way too easy to buy them. I agree on this one: available now. So is Al Qaeda. So is AIDS. So are many other evils.
    In my opinion arming teachers will have two immediate effects.
    1. Psychos will not attack classrooms but, still being psychos and still being armed, will simply kill somewhere else. Then the gun lobbyists will apply the same logic to school playgrounds, school restrooms, cafeterias, restaurants, casinos, shopping malls, rollercoasters, gas stations, gaming arcades, city parks, sidewalks, etc etc. How come the rest of the world does not need all these "good" gunslingers around? Eventually we'll have an armed person at every corner, just like in Somalia's capital. Meanwhile the rate of murder in the USA will remain exactly where it is: the highest in the developed world, pretty much the highest of any major country that is not engulfed in a civil war (but maybe we should consider the murder rate of the USA as a civil war in its own). Eventually we will have recreated the society that existed in the Middle Ages: everybody armed to their teeth. So what these arguments are really asking is that every single person arm her/himself to the teeth. And once everybody has a gun, the one with the better gun prevails. Their logic will then be that you need to buy a better gun, everybody. Eventually we'll be reading articles that tells us to arm teachers with nuclear weapons.
    2. The quality of teachers will rapidly decline. Most teachers who are in that business because they perceive it as a mission will simply change job. I wish i could point to a good teacher who has ever thought of owning a gun. I know many good teachers. I find it hard to believe that any of them would want to continue being a teacher if forced to undergo shooting practice. I have lectured in universities around the world and i, for one, would never do it again if it involved learning how to shoot people.
    Furthermore (and perhaps more importantly), note that the goal of arming teachers is to kill the killer, not to prevent the psycho from becoming a killer. If the killer had no guns, most likely he would do something else with his frustration/psychosis/etc (e.g. write nasty emails to me like many angry French and Chinese readers do) rather than try to kill 20 children. Perhaps he would even consider reading more books and listening to Mozart instead of arming himself. The whole ideology of arming to protect yourself from potential killers is a manifestation of a bloodthirsty mind to start with. The difference between "evil" killers and "good" killers is only in the mind of the one who considers himself a "good" killer.
    Anyway, back to the arguments of the gun lobby. The quoted article claims "Gun Free Zones are hunting preserves for innocent people. Period." Yes, in the USA they are. It is gun owners who turn us into targets. Our enemy is gun owners. Most of the developed world (from Britain to Japan, from Austria to Poland, from Athens to Istanbul, from Buenos Aires to Shanghai) is a gun-free zone, and does NOT become "a hunting preserve for innocent people". It's a very safe place for innocent people, including children. It used to be "a hunting preserve for innocent people" before guns were banned. In the USA we become innocent people in hunting preserves because millions of people own guns. Remove those guns, and the hunting preserve becomes a peaceful society just like Austria, Japan, Poland, etc etc. Sure, with the occasional murder that makes headlines. Our murders don't make headlines anymore: there are just too many.
    Quote from the same article: "China. GUN FREE COUNTRY. A guy with a KNIFE stabs 22 children." He curiously omits the fact that none of the children died, and most of them only suffered minor injuries. In the USA it would have been 22 dead bodies.
    Quote (another frequent remark by the gun lobby): "Every single mass shooting event with more than four casualties has taken place in a place where guns were supposedly not allowed." False. Outside of warzones, every single mass shooting happened in places where guns are legal and widespread: the USA and (one) Norway. It is pointless to declare gun-free zones in a country where 100 million people have guns. It's like declaring Prohibition in a country where everybody drinks alcohol and then counting how many people died of alcohol and conclude that alcohol-free zones causes hepatitis, cirrhosis, etc. It is an illusion that any place in the USA can be a "gun-free zone" when it is surrounded by millions of gun owners.
    Inevitably, gun lobbyists hail the merits of the Second Amendment of the Constitution, thus taking for granted that 1. Those founders of the USA were too wise to make mistakes (they actually granted no voting rights to slaves and women) and 2. Whatever was decided back then is still good today, no matter how much society has changed. And maybe it is. In fact, for the time being, it would be nice to simply stick to it: allow people to bear the guns that were available in the 18th century. That amendment was never meant to cover all possible weapons of the future. Even the most irresponsible right-wing psycho probably agrees that citizens should not be allowed to own nuclear weapons. So why semiautomatic weapons? Why any gun of 2012? The second amendment doesn't say anything about the weapons of two centuries later. Sticking to the second amendment would indeed be simple and cheap.
    Incidentally, the original purpose of the Second Amendment was not to protect from mass shooters but to protect from the abuses of government. Unfortunately, today it is simply ridiculous to think that citizens armed with guns could fight a government armed with drones, special forces and nuclear weapons. And i would be quite scared of any citizens who thinks that he or she has the authority to decide when we have to grab a gun and start shooting at police officers who are enforcing a law. If you don't trust the democratic system, you are living in the wrong country. The original purpose of the Second Amendment has simply become obsolete. And the last people whom i would trust with exercising that right against the government are the very trigger-happy supporters of the Second Amendment, the Sarah Palins and Rush Limbaughs of the world, whom i trust with my safety and freedom as much as i trust Islamic terrorists.
    Needless to say, these articles omit all international statistics that show a direct correlation between gun availability and gun shootings (duh) and they omit a serious discussion on why school shootings (and many other types of mass shootings) are an issue only in the USA (the country with the highest density of guns) and not in all those other countries.
    The nail in the coffin of all these arguments is that they (the gun lobbyists) are not willing to try. As it is often the case with people who know they are wrong, they refuse to test their theory. Let's remove all guns and see what happens. That simple. You hand your gun to the local police officer, they tag it and keep it for you. After that, anybody caught with a gun is automatically arrested simply for having a gun. If, by the end of a five-year test, murders have not declined in the USA to the levels of, say, Germany, you get your gun back. If, as these gun lovers imply, murders skyrocket overnight, you get your gun back right away. That's how science works: you experiment. And this is not a crazy experiment since it has been tried in all countries that now have a very low murder rate, and to my knowledge no country (ever) went back to gun freedom. Hence it is not such a crazy experiment to try. Hence they first have to answer the simple question: "Why are you so determined NOT to let us see how a gun-free society works?" Perhaps because you are paid by the gun lobby and you know that such a society would be peaceful and prosperous and the gun lobby would lose billions of dollars? Remember who kept trying to convince us that tobacco is harmless? Or perhaps because you are so ignorant and imbecile to be easily brainwashed by the above-said lobbyists (as millions were by the tobacco industry).
    Sadly, i think that arguments like this one (to arm teachers) only prove two things: a bloodthirsty society and a failed educational system.
    The question, of course, is how you remove all guns on day one. Good question. First, you obviously need to criminalize the NRA so it gets out of the way. Imagine if we were discussing how to fight terrorism in a country where Al Qaeda is not only legal but it is routinely bribing our politicians to pass terrorist-friendly laws.

    P.S. of two days later: I did not believe this until i saw it. A reader posted a link to my article on the gun-lobbyist blog under the title "A Powerful Rebuttal". The link was removed (so that nobody can read my article) and a note was inserted that says: "Editor's note: We are not a debate blog. We are here to dispense information." Except that there are 53 comments (the counter is very visible), all of them of course in favor of arming teachers. Beware of these people. This is precisely what the Chinese government does: social media that seem to be absolutely free and whose users reliably parrot the official propaganda, when in fact every dissenting opinion is carefully removed.

    You judge who is more dangerous for democracy and freedom: Islamic terrorists or the gun lobby.
    Responses on some of the questions that i deemed more intelligent:
    • "How do we defend ourselves from Mexican gangs who can enter the USA across a porous border?" As i wrote in The other war on drugs, pretty much all the guns you can find in Mexico come from Texas, as the former president of Mexico famously told the world. It's a civil war indirectly funded (drugs) and armed (NRA) by the USA. So it's actually them (the Mexicans) who are asking "how do we defend ourselves from the gun stores of the USA?"
    • "What makes you think that banning guns would be any different than banning alcohol and drugs, both failed experiments of the past? First of all, the fact that it worked in most (all?) countries where it has been tried, from Britain to Poland. Secondly, alcohol and drugs don't kill 20 children in a school. In any case you are not correct: we do prohibit alcohol and drugs effectively. Fpr example, fewer and fewer people drink and drive. It's just that a psycho who grabs a beer is not as dangerous as a psycho who grabs a gun; and a domestic dispute fueled by alcohol with no weapons around is less likely to kill an entire family than a domestic dispute with no alcohol but guns involved; so we can be more lenient about the amount of alcohol that people store in their homes. Anywhere in the world.
    • "Is it really possible to change the violent nature of US society, which is rooted in centuries of violent conflict, by simply removing guns?" Europe invented the inquisition, the slave trade, imperialism, genocide, two world wars... Nothing compares with the carnage seen in Europe over the centuries. Today it is one of the safest places in the world for a child to walk to school. So is Japan, another country with a very violent history of civil wars, anarchy, samurais and imperialism.
    • "How would a single mother living in a house in a poor neighborhood defend herself from an armed intruder, given that poor neighborhoods are not well patrolled by the police and there are a lot of armed criminals in poor neighborhoods?" The problem is obviously that the police are not patrolling adequately those neighborhoods. That single mother is not safe today either. In fact, i think today she owns no gun, but many bad people do. Banning guns would at least remove some of the guns in the hands of bad people. Incidentally, the police (by their own admission) are afraid to patrol those neighborhoods because there are too many guns.
      TM, ®, Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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    • (december 2012) Congratulations NRA: another successful massacre! See The largest terrorist organization in the world strikes again or And again and again or this article or this article or... I am tired of writing the same article every few months. Read the old ones. Nothing has changed. Nothing will change. Terrorist organization (the National Rifle Association) bribes democratically-elected officials to pass gun-friendly laws. Terrorist organization kills at will. Innocents die. What's new?
      Anyway, a summary of where i stand:
      • The longest war that the people of the USA has ever fought is the war against the NRA (National Rifle Association), that has been going for over 100 years and has killed more than one million citizens.
      • If you live in the USA, you are dozens of times more likely to be shot than if you live in any other developed country. And no, it is not true that there are other countries where guns are widespread: most countries de facto ban guns altogether and the exceptions are countries like Switzerland in which only very basic guns are allowed
      • No, it is not true that the US Constitution grants citizens the right to bear arms. It grants citizens the right to bear the arms that were around in the 18th century. It doesn't say anything about modern arms. Saying that the 1791 second ammendment of the US Constitution grants you the right to buy the gun sold at a store near your house in 2012 is like saying that the same constitution grants you the right to purchase a nuclear-armed rocket.
      • The shooter may or may not have been insane. On the other hand, those who are certainly insane are those who in any form or fashion try to justify the very tolerant gun laws of the USA (or, better, the non-existing gun control laws) that may soon kill their own children
      • The reason the mafia still exists is that too many Italians justify it and minimize its responsibilities. The reason that Al Qaeda is still thriving is that too many Muslims justify it and minimize its responsibilities. The reason that mass shootings keep happening in the USA is that too many citizens justify the pro-gun laws and minimize the responsibilities of pro-gun lobbies like the NRA. If you are one of them, you are as guilty of this massacre as some Muslims are of the September 11 attacks and some Italians are of the mafia even if you personally think of yourself as a good law-abiding citizen (which is exactly what they all think of themselves). Millions of very good law-abiding Germans justified Hitler: millions of Jews, Russians, etc would not have been killed without the tacit complicity of all those good law-abiding Germans.
      • I totally side with those who claim that the USA has to understand the source of the violence. This is a violent society to start with, and guns only amplify the problem (in particular they amplify the number of people who get killed by an act of violence). Those critics claim that removing every single gun would not solve the root problem. I think they are both right and wrong: they are right that there is a fundamental problem with a society that has such a passion for violence, but i also think that the second amendment had much to do with creating that passion for violence. It is not the only cause, but probably a more severe cause than Hollywood movies and videogames and rap songs. The USA is one of the few countries left with the death penalty, and some of the places with the highest execution rates (notably Texas) also have the highest density of guns: people who claim they need guns and the death penalty to defend themselves from a violent society are confusing cause and effect. I agree with many other factors invoked by the gun lobby to explain the violent society (although one wonders why European and Asian kids who watch the same violent movies and play with the same violent videogames are much less likely to become mass murderers). It might well be that the high rate of divorce (broken families in general) and of drug and alcohol consumption (never a sign of happiness) have something to do with the homicide rate.
      • Imagine if an Islamic terrorist organization (Al Qaeda or Boko Haram) were legal in the USA, raised millions of dollars every year, and used that money to bribe politicians to pass laws friendly to Islamic terrorism. Sounds like a nightmare? That's precisely what has been going on for years with the National Rifle Association.

      A 2015 study shows that life expectancy in the USA is lower than in most Western countries before of gun-related deaths .

      TM, ®, Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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    • (november 2012) Winners and Losers in the US Election.
      First of all, the pundits who called the election a very close one were obviously wrong (Obama won by a significant margin), so don't trust anything they say now to explain the results. Many pollsters were right on target: they don't have an explanation, they just cruch the numbers. The simplest explanation is that some people changed their mind from 2008 but not enough to change the outcome, so nothing has really changed in the USA other than a bit of disappointment for what Obama has (not) accomplished. Since there was no Sarah Palin to scare away voters, the Republican candidate won a few more votes. Those are the two fundamental (but tiny) differences between 2008 and 2012.
      Clear winners of the 2012 elections are diversity and tolerance: the two main candidates were an African-American and a Mormon in a country that was founded by white Anglosaxon Protestants. The Catholic influence is particularly impressive now. Before Romney won the nomination, the Republican front-runners were a Mormon and two Catholics: Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. The Speaker of the House is John Boehner, a Catholic. Romney chose Paul Ryan, a Catholic, as vice-presidential candidate. Romney and Ryan are a first: a ticket for presidential elections that does not include a Protestant. The star of the Republican convention was Marco Rubio, a Catholic and a Hispanic. Six out of nine justices of the Supreme Court are Catholics.
      The obvious loser is the Republican Party: they lost votes in the House and in the Senate, and lost the White House again. The Republican Party has moved too much to the right, and cannot easily win the moderates that it used to win in a tight race. The party of Sarah Palin and the likes is not a party that many of us want to be associated with, no matter what the party of Romney says that sounds alluring to us. Unfortunately (for them) it is the same party. My feeling: split the Republican Party into a fanatic right-wing party for very dumb people (the party of Fox News, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Ted Nugent, and the "retard" Ann Coulter) and a party for competent economic-minded people (Romney, McCain, Boehner, etc) and the latter will get a lot more votes than the union of the two does today.
      Talking of Sarah Palin and Paul Ryan, Republican candidates have a passion for picking the wrong person for vicepresident. Sarah Palin was probably the main reason that John McCain lost the independent vote in 2008, and now Paul Ryan certainly did not help win the female vote. Romney won the election among men but lost it (big time) among women. Every poll predicted this. You'd expect Romney would pick a vicepresident who is either a woman or appeals to woman. Instead he picked a strong opponent of abortion and of pretty much all the social issues that most women care about. Suit yourself.
      The Republican Party was not founded on greed, materialism and self-interest, but it came to embrace those views. Coming out of a deep recession, those views lost, but that might just be a temporary setback. There might be a brighter future in the greedy egotists (and atheists) of the USA than in the Christian fanatics (see A referendum on Ayn Rand).
      It is debatable whether women lost or won: none of the presidential and vicepresidential candidates is a woman, and their percentage in the Senate (20) remains way below 50%. It is sad that so many women in the USA are hailing this election as a victory because a few more seats went to women. The USA ranks 80th in the world for women in parliament.
      Among the winners are gays and marijuana, which probably simply reflect the fact that these are non-issues (irrelevant issues) for the younger voters. Another winner of the same kind is social democracy: the candidate promising to expand the welfare state won too many states to consider it an accident. Sure, the margin of victory was slim, but this might become a trend: you lose enough votes among liberals and independents that you cannot become president if you pledge to cut welfare programs. This is not new: most of Europe has been a social democracy of one kind or another for at least 50 years. It may surprise economists and historians that the USA decides to copy Europe just when Europe is declining, but maybe the transition to social democracy is an inevitable consequence of democracy (rule by the majority, which is not rule by the richest but rule by the so-so rich) just like the seasons are a consequence of the law of gravitation.
      If we also list minorities among the winners, then we get a higher-level winner that Rod Dreher has termed "the McGovern Coalition": the alliance of old-fashioned liberals (who believe in the role of government), idealistic youths (who are much more sensitive to global issues such as climate change than to church values), ethnic minorities (who are indifferent to Christian dogmas and distrustful of foreign policy hawks), workers and feminists. George McGovern lost badly when he forged this alliance in 1972, but 40 years later he is being vindicated by Obama.
      The quality of politicians has increased, so one would expect to count the political system as a whole as a winner. Obama and Romney are a far better choice than anything offered by the political system of the last 20 or 30 years, and many senators and representatives are competent, educated and relatively honest (as honest as a politician who wants to be reelected can be). Not long ago the USA had racists and drunkards even in the Senate. Unfortunately, the quality of politicians seems to make little difference on actual government: the system somehow creates a gridlock, two parties that fight on each and every issue convinced that the future of the country depends on each and every issue. Competence and honestly may have won, but governability did not.
      The big loser, however, is democracy. Democracy lost, first and foremost, because the Supreme Court decided that a corporation is a person, a way to let money influence politics as much as it can. The two candidates spent more than $2bn on adverts alone. The most successful marketing campaigns did change a lot of minds. It is ridiculous that a president be elected based on who hires the best marketing agency. Secondly, were lucky that the man with the most votes became president. As i wrote before the elections (See Do not get over it), the USA still uses a silly undemocratic system to elect the president: the one who wins the most votes does not necessarily win the elections. That is a gross distortion of democracy (of the will of the people). It might have made sense when the constitution was written, but it makes no sense in an age in which people mean to vote not for a delegate but directly for one of the candidates. "Winning" has a twisted meaning in the USA. You may win more votes but not the states that matter most, and then "lose" the election. Thankfully it did not happen this time, but it might in the future, as it has in the past: it does not help bridge the divide. In any event, it was sad to see the two candidates spend money and time only in a few states (the "swing" states), ignoring millions of voters in the rest of the country: the election hinged on those few states whose electoral votes could make the difference, regardless of how many votes each candidate would get in the states that were not in doubt. My vote in California literally did not count. Change the laws or the laws will change us.
      TM, ®, Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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    • (september 2012) Why Romney is losing. The reason the Republican convention sounded so lame and false is simple. Had he been president during these last four years, Romney would have done exactly what Obama did: bail out the banks, save the auto industry, spend a trillion dollar in stimulus to boost the economy, bring back the troops from Iraq, kill Osama bin Laden, etc And Romney would do in the future exactly what Obama will do: save Medicare, and probably even slightly increase taxes.
      This is good news for the Democratic Party, but not necessarily for the nation: it means that there are no ideas other than the ones already implemented, no alternative to Obama's policies. Romney has presented absolutely no new ideas: he simply rants against Obama's actions for the sake of ranting, but rarely does he say what he would have done differently in a credible way. Bomb Iran? Really? Kill Medicare? Really? Whenever Romney attacks Obama, Romney comes up with silly proposals that obviously (obviously) nobody, and let alone he, would implement. His plans are just not credible. As Clinton said, it's their very arithmetic that does not hold water.
      Romney still has to come up with something that is truly different, that truly constitutes a different vision for the USA. By comparison, Ron Paul represents an authentic alternative, because he offers a completely different vision for what the USA should be, internally and internationally.
      During an interview Romney said that there are differences between him and Obama on Afghanistan and "they are important" but then couldn't list one. It is not only Romney that doesn't seem able to articulate what he stands for. The whole Republican Party keeps yelling at Democrats, but, when asked, cannot explain simple things. Let's start with the most crucial one: what caused the Great Recession? Not a single Republican has provided a simple explanation. The Democrats have a simple version of the facts: Bush's tax cuts and Bush's wars caused the country to go bankrupt. It might be an oversimplification but it is not too far from reality and it has a colossal merit: it is easy to understand for ordinary people who are tired of convoluted political speeches. The Republicans never offered their version of the facts, other than a generic "shit happens" kind of fatalistic acceptance that economies go up and down. The Republicans respond by ranting against "big government", except that the government was solvent, and even profitable, in the last year of the Clinton presidency and it went bankrupt when the Republicans were in power. The Republicans rant against "entitlements" but it doesn't take much for ordinary people to understand what that means: Republicans want to take away your social security and your health care. The Republican Party thought they had a powerful weapon in "Obamacare", which is obviously a wildly unpopular program; but even there the Republicans are responsible for not passing any health care reform when they were in power, and the lack of health care reform during those eight years (after a half-hearted attempt by Clinton was killed by the Republicans in the 1990s) is precisely the reason that Medicare got completely out of control. The Republicans are clear only on social conservative issues: they want to make abortion illegal and turn the USA into the Christian equivalent of Iran's Islamic theocracy. That is not a terribly appealing prospect for the vast majority of voters, especially the female ones.
      Romney seems to have no ideas. The Republican Party seems to have only bad ideas.
      The other thing that is painfully clear to everybody is that Romney refused to disclose his tax returns; which, of course, is not the attitude of someone who has nothing to hide. And, again, it would be interesting to hear Romney give his version of what caused the Great Recession. (Some of us, who are not running for president, saw it coming and wrote about it way back in 2001).
      TM, ®, Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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    • (september 2012) Democracy and marketing. John Adams and James Madison were famously skeptic about the merits of democracy, fearing that the majority of poor people would vote to take all the money from the minority of rich people and corporations; in other words, fearing that democracy would lead to communist under a different name. Lo and behold, what happened was exactly the opposite: the more people voted, the richer the rich became. The wealth gap is at record levels in the USA. No matter what the economy does, the rich do better than the middle class. Adams and Madison were using elementary psychology in their dire predictions. They did not know the power of marketing. What they overlooked is the power that rich people and corporations have to influence the votes of the middle class by spending billions on advertisement, especially in the age of ever more powerful mass media. Money can convince an ordinary family that their best friend is their worst enemy, and viceversa: all you have to do is hire the best agencies in advertising and target that family with tailored messages. It is just a matter of time before that family will start believing you (or, better, your ads) over their own experience with their best friends. Nor could Adams and Madison foresee that a demented Supreme Court would some day declare that corporations are people, thereby further increasing the influence of money on the democratic process. Every vote counts, but every ad counts too. And sometimes an ad is worth a thousand votes; or a million votes.
      TM, ®, Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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    • (august 2012) A referendum on Ayn Rand. The 2012 presidential elections of the USA will be contested by Barack Obama, a populist, and Mitt Romney, a capitalist. While this is not a new pattern, this election comes after a Great Recession that has greatly polarized an already polarized nation. Even more importantly, a new dividing line is emerging, one that could redesign the political landscape (and its discourse) in the long run. During the Great Depression of the 1930s the overwhelming mood of the nation was one of compassion: when Roosevelt enacted the New Deal, he represented the mood of the nation. Ultimately, his New Deal reflected the ideology that the community was supposed to get together to overcome the economic crisis. Indirectly, this was an affirmation of universal moral values, ranging from the unity and holiness of the family to the duty to help your neighbors. The same "moral" mood permeated the USA through World War II and then allowed Truman to spend taxpayers money in the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe and then inspired Kennedy to launch the Apollo program to put a man on the Moon. The Great Recession of 2008-11, instead, has been notable for harboring a more cynical view of the world; this selfish mood has been brewing for a while, and is almost the exact opposite of the idealistic mood that dominated the political discourse until the 1960s. The difference between the two eras could be the growing and enduring influence of Ayn Rand.
      The Russian-born writer Ayn Rand (born Alisa Rosenbaum) wrote two lengthy (definitely overlong) novels, "The Fountainhead" and "Atlas Shrugged" (1957), that were met mostly with scathing censure or just indifference by the literary establishment. I think her writing is mediocre at best. Nonetheless, they quickly became (and remain) bestsellers. I doubt it was because of the merits of the novels. These books, especially the second one (and various essays), amount to a manifesto of a political view that promotes rational self-interest above anything else; in other words, extreme materialism. She scorned the concept of community and even depicted greedy capitalists as a persecuted group. Therefore she is often quoted by those who believe in "laissez-faire capitalism" (read "unregulated greed").
      Alan Greenspan, the influential Federal Reserve boss who engineered the dotcom bubble of the 1990s and the real estate bubble of the 2000s, was a lifelong fan.
      In general, according to Rand, the only purpose of your life is your own happiness. Her "objectivism" basically rules out moral values. Whatever is good for you is also morally right. If you are an altruist, you are something akin to a genetic mistake and deserve to fail. Passages of her philosophical meditations read like footnotes to something that Nietsche ("the concept of man as a heroic being" sounds a lot like the ubermensch) or even Hitler (survival of the fittest race) could have written, minus the racist overtones. Aand her dogmatic tone frequently echoes the Lenin-Stalin kind of communist propaganda, but she probably didn't know or it was common in her times to use that tone.
      Wildly popular in colleges around the USA (although virtually unknown abroad), her books have raised a generation of young North Americans who are motivated only by self-fulfillment and the belief that you are the only thing that matters, and who apply this principle to their sexual lives, to their work lives and to their political lives. The "Ayn Rand ideology" (that there is no moral value other than self-fulfillment and that government should never interfere) spilled over into what i call the Wall Street dictatorship currently ruling the USA: let corporations run the country because they know better, let sweatshops in poor countrie help stockholders get filthy rich, give power to attorneys and financial investors, get rid of all regulations on corporations, give tax breaks to the wealthy at the expense of the middle class, etc. Whether that's what she intended or not is another story (i think she did).
      Foreign observers often neglect the influence of her books on what the USA became in the 1990s. Just after Greenspan had started the first of his terms, a national poll of 1991 showed that Rand's Atlas Shrugged ranked in the USA as the second most influential book for book readers after the Bible, despite being boycotted by the political and intellectual establishment. That was pretty much the case for Hitler's "Mein Kampf" in Germany in the 1930s. You can't explain what happened in Germany in the 1930s without explaining why Hitler's book became the second most popular book after the Bible, despite being boycotted by the political and intellectual establishment. Today's USA is Ayn Rand's nation pretty much like Germany in 1939 was Hitler's nation. (Of course, the similarities between the two end here, if nothing else because she never ran for office).
      From the connections that i made you can guess that i consider Rand's ideology as a fusion of some of my least favorite ideologies of the 20th century. Like it or not, she is very much at the center of the political debate of 2012, even among those who never heard her name. On one hand there is an incumbent president, Barack Obama, who personifies everything that Ayn Rand stood against: a populist who started out helping disadvantaged minorities and went on to invest trillions of taxdollars in community infrastructures around the USA, and who now wants to increase taxes on capitalists to help a shrinking middle class. On the other hand, there is a challenger, Mitt Romney, who stands for precisely what Ayn Rand believed: let the rich get richer and get government out of the way (Romney's choice for vicepresident, Paul Ryan, was, guess what, a fan of Ayn Rand in college). This confrontation has been building up over the years. During the 1990s and in part during the 2000s the various Greenspan bubbles (or should we call them "Ayn Rand bubbles"?) created a false sense of security and therefore enough popular consensus to let extreme capitalism run the nation. After the Great Recession people are not so sure anymore. People woke up to the simple fact that the income of the middle class (adjusted to real cost of living) has been steadily declining since the 1970s while the richest 1% of the nation has been getting wildly richer (so much so that the richest person himself, Warren Buffet, has pleaded "stop cuddling the rich").
      The Great Recession was a tragedy of pure greed: Wall Street literally mortgaged an entire nation, and was on its way to mortgage the entire planet. (Main Street was an involuntary accomplice). It is becoming more apparent every month that many political decisions (including the ones that cost the lives of thousands of people in Iraq) were driven by Wall Street's ideology of maximizing profits. Some people don't like it, but some like it.
      Obama said "You didn't build that" to small businesses, implying that the whole of society has to work in order for a few to succeed. Romney retaliated by repeating Obama's statement (in mocking tones) over and over again to anyone who has succeeded in her or his field, implying that the opposite is true: your own hard work and intelligence turned you into a top Stanford student, not your parents' wealth, or into a rich startup owner, not the fact you happen to be in Silicon Valley at the right time. Romney thinks that the Great Recession was just a blip on the radar of the great endless rise of capitalism. Obama thinks that the roots of the nation's crisis are systemic, and the seeds were planted long ago (by unbridled capitalism of the kind advocated by Ayn Rand and now Mitt Romney).
      And, incidentally, even right-wing Republicans occasionally embrace the view that something is fundamentally wrong with the USA of 2012: the decline of moral values. While they think of abortion and gay marriage as examples of that decline, the underlying philosophy is actually similar to the philosophy of left-wing Democrats: there is a fundamental problem, and it has to do with moral values. The right wing and the left wing of the USA fight over which are the correct values, but they at least agree that there must be values. Ayn Rand always represented a much colder view of the world, one in which the only moral value is pure self-interest. Everything else is artificially fabricated and not "objective". And that is the view embraced by Romney and Ryan. The moralistic and sometimes bigot right-wing of the Republican Party does not realize that, in a sense, Obama is closer to their view of the world than Romney. The Republican Party of 2012 contains two different parties: the social conservatives and the corporate hawks. There is actually no reason why they should share the same party. In fact, the corporate hawks share little of the compassionate Christian ethos that constitutes the moral foundation of the social conservatives.
      There are divisions among those who believe in moral values, and we split them roughly in right and left, conservatives and liberals. But the real division in the near future will be between those who believe that moral values matter (social conservatives and liberals), even if they don't agree on "which" moral values should be held universal, and those who believe that only self-interest matters (the Rand-ians). Romney/Ryan and Wall Street represent the latter. Obama and Bush have more in common than they think: they both represent a world in which (universal) moral values matter. Romney could be the first Rand-ian president.
      Obama vs Romney is more than just an ordinary presidential election: it is becoming a referendum on Ayn Rand, a referendum on whether (universal) moral values should matter or not in an advanced capitalistic society. Are there universal moral values and do these create a better society around you or do they stand in the way of fulfilling your aspirations?
      If you want to know more about Rand's books, read articles by: Jesse Larner, Adam Kirsch, Harriet Rubin, and Whittaker Chambers (a 1957 review by a former Communist) and maybe this modern response by Jason Lee Steorts.
      TM, ®, Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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    • (august 2012)

      And again and again. The NRA has done it again: Wade Michael Page shot six people dead at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. A few days later three people, including a police officer and the suspected gunman, were killed by a gunman near the Texas A&M campus in College Station. And this coming right after the massacre of Aurora (See The largest terrorist organization in the world strikes again). If it sounds like Iraq or Afghanistan, welcome to the USA. A local official described the Wisconsin killer as a "frustrated neo-Nazi": isn't that what all terrorists usually are? Isn't that what every member of the NRA ultimately is?
      The people of Wisconsin have only themselves to blame for this carnage: Wisconsin passed a law in 2011 allowing citizens to carry a concealed weapon and boasts some of the most permissive gun laws in the world: this killer was doing nothing wrong until he pulled the trigger. In most civilized countries it would have been illegal for him to buy a gun, illegal to own it, illegal to keep it, illegal to carry it, illegal to even think of having a gun. Someone would have reported him long ago to the police as a criminal, simply for owning a gun or wanting to own a gun. And these six people would still be alive and enjoying their lives. They and thousands of other innocents brutally exterminated by the National Rifle Association.
      One million US citizens will be killed by gunshots before i die (if i am not one of those killed by gunshots). Beat that, Al Qaeda.
      (A few days later a gunman killed a former coworker in front of the Empire State Building and then got into a gunbattle with police that resulted in eight people being wounded in the firefight).
      (A few days later in Baltimore a 15-year-old student walked into the school's cafeteria and shot a schoolmate).
      (When Andrew Engeldinger killed five people in Minneapolis, the news media barely reported the fact: it was not "news" anymore that someone grabbed a gun and went out shooting people dead - not even in Iraq are media so used to deadly senseless violence)
      See also this article, this article, and this article and how the gun lobby de facto fuels the Mexican civil war

      TM, ®, Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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    • (july 2012) Do not get over it. As the incapacitated person he is, justice (lower case) Antonin Scalia keeps repeating "Get over it" to anyone who asks him about the december 2000 decision to award the White House to his favorite George W Bush instead of rival Al Gore. What Scalia and many other biased politicians don't get is that the issue wasn't just that Gore had won the election (by a lot of votes) but that the problem is bound to repeat itself, bringing the country ever close to civil war. This is not about whom we like, but about what happens to a nation when someone is elected despite having lost. It is not about Gore being better than Bush (i have my doubts). It is about a system that is sabotaging itself (especially when compared with regimes that are not distracted at all by succession fights).
      Let's go chronologically. In 1948 Truman defeated Dewey by winning three states (Illinois, Ohio and California) with razor-thin majorities of less than 1%. If a few votes were not counted or were mistaken, then Truman stole the election. Luckily in 1948 people were not as partisan and as fanatic as in 2012, so the issue did not go beyond a "Dewey was not lucky" kind of comment. In 1960 John Kennedy probably stole the election from Richard Nixon: Kennedy got less than 1% more votes than Nixon and became president because of rigged vote counting in Illinois. Even if he had won Illinois fair and square, it took an amazing combination of narrow wins in other states to gain enough electoral votes to become president. In 1976 Jerry Ford lost the presidency because of 6,000 votes in Ohio and 7,500 in Mississippi. In 1992 Clinton became president with only 43% of the popular vote. In 2000 the farce reached a point of ridiculous when 537 voters in Florida (and justice Scalia) decided the presidency out of tens of millions of voters. Without that case, the presidency would have been decided by the tiny majorities gained by Gore in Wisconsin and New Mexico (less than 1%), and the result would have been equally divisive.
      The point is that there is something fundamentally weak with the way the USA picks its president. The process lends itself to endless recriminations and undemocratic decisions by unelected officials (like Scalia). Whether you believe that it was right or wrong to give the presidency to George W Bush, whether you rooted for one or the other, there is no doubt that the numbers favored Gore: more people voted for Al Gore than George W Bush, and many more people voted for the candidates of the Left (Gore plus Ralph Nader) than for the candidates of the Right (Bush plus Buchanan). When George W Bush was sworn in as president, the will of the people was clearly ignored.
      The lesson of that twisted and bitter election should not have been forgotten. (See Let's not get over it and Get over it... or not). Alas, the 2001 terrorist attacks created other priorities. But do we really want to get into another contested outcome that will make the USA an even more bitterly divided nation?
      In 2012 the USA is faced again with a close election that may be decided by who wins which tiny state (by however tiny majority) and not by who wins the most votes. One could win 60% of the national votes and still lose the presidency if the other wins those few critical "swing" states by 0.01%. In fact, it is pointless to vote in states like California: we already know who is going to get the majority of the votes, and it makes no difference if he wins by 1% or by 49%: the number of electoral votes is the same (all the electoral votes that California is entitled to go to the winner). The votes of millions of registered voters do not count. Literally.
      This is just one of the undemocratic rules in the USA (Rhode Island sends two senators to the Senate just like California, which means that a Rhode Island voter is 30 times better represented than a California voter in the Senate, which prompted me to propose that California split in 100 states, so that it will send 200 senators to Washington); but it is the one that chooses the most powerful person in the world. It was urgent, it is urgent and it will be urgent that the USA adapts the rules to the world of 2012. The original idea was that states send delegates to pick a president. Now that people elect the president directly, it makes no sense to count by states: just count the total and appoint president the person who got the most votes nationwide; and forget who won Florida or Ohio by how many votes. It would also be nice to have a simple rule that the winner must have won at least 50% of the votes: if none of the candidates wins the majority, let's have a second round between the two top candidates.
      A country in which the one who gets fewer votes can become president can hardly be called a democracy. Notice that, when the issue came up of deciding who deserved to be president, nobody thought of having a referendum and let the voters decide: it was basically implied that the will of the people is not really what matters. What matters is a set of complex procedures devised more than two centuries ago at the time when there were no mass media and there wasn't even a telegraph. Nobody asked the voters who they really wanted for president, Bush or Gore? It would have probably cheaper, faster and less contentious to organize a referendum than to have local courts and eventually the Supreme Court involved in a decision that left the country bitterly divided.

      Justice Scalia keeps saying "Get over it" (senile people do tend to repeat themselves), as if the whole business was not worth discussing. It is very much worth discussing. In fact, little else is worth discussing: either the USA is a democracy or it is not. If it is not, then let's say it loud and clear: "Your vote does not always count".

      TM, ®, Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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    • (july 2012) The largest terrorist organization in the world strikes again. An armed madman, James Holmes, walked into a movie theater in the town of Aurora (Colorado) armed with weapons that any Islamic terrorist would love to have and killed 12 people. The difference between this mandman and an Islamic terrorist is simple: this madman lives in a country in which it is legal to own a gun, and in fact it is encouraged. The de-facto largest terrorist organization in the world, the National Rifle Association (NRA), is perfectly legal. In fact, it is protected by most of Congress (well, most of Congress is routinely bribed by this organization in one form or another). While we witness the atrocities committed by the Syrian regime against its people, one wonders why the atrocities committed by the gun lobby in the USA do not qualify as such. A dead person is a dead person, and it makes little difference whether s/he was killed while raising the Syrian flag or watching a movie in a theater. In fact, it sounds to me like a mass killing in a movie theater is more abominable than a mass killing in a civil war. In a sense, we devalue the lives of these 12 innocents when we consider "terrorism" the attack in Bulgaria that killed five Israeli tourists (and pledge revenge on the group that sponsored them) and neither consider "terrorism" the cold-blooded attack in a movie theater nor pursue and punish its sponsors. It takes a few minutes to find out the names of all the politicians who vote according to the wishes of the NRA, and even less to find out the address of the NRA, the names of its leaders, and the names of all its members.
      Every time there is a mass shooting the politicians pretend that they will do something about guns. Following the january 2011 shooting that left a politician, Gabrielle Giffords, severely wounded and six dead in Arizona, the parties bickered briefly on how to enforce gun laws, but time took its toll: eventually the media went on to talk about other issues and absolutely no law was passed by Washington. The 12 killed in the Colorado movie theater are the victims of that inaction.
      There are, however, people who might be even more despicable than the politicians bought by the NRA. First of all, the criminal lawyers who immediately seize on these tragic events as opportunities to make lots of money. Even before the victims are buried, they encourage the families to file lawsuit against just about anybody who might in some way or another be responsible, just in case a jury of idiots awards compensation. The chance is not high but do it all the time and you can make a very good living out of it. If there is one category that loves the gun laws of the USA, it's the attorneys who parasite on cases of mass shooting. Secondly, the families of the victims who agree to file the lawsuit. The family of Torrence Brown who immediately accepted to file a lawsuit against the movie theater not only distorts the facts (it is not the movie theater that armed the assassin but the NRA and your elected officials) but also clearly only cares about the money: there is nothing that the junevile staff of your average movie theater can do to stop a killer armed to his teeth with combat weapons. You are simply trying to make money out of your son's injuries or death. We wouldn't be surprised if you opened a bottle of expensive champagne when you heard that your son was one of the victims. Their attorney (Don Karpel) has boasted that he will sue at least 1. the movie theater, 2. the Hollywood studios for making violent movies, and 3. the doctors who did not realize that the shooter was insane. The difference between James Holmes and Don Karpel is that one studied neuroscience and the other one studied law. Other than that, they are equally dangerous to society. If you think people in Colorado are particularly greedy, think again: there have been million dollar lawsuits against schools, governments and videogames in the wakes of each and every mass shooting (Columbine, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood). Of course, nobody ever sued the NRA, which was and is ultimately responsible for the mass killer having the deadly guns that killed: attorneys know that it is pointless to fight such a powerful organization. And nobody ever sued the families of the killers, the families that failed to raise these young people to be decent human beings: those families are broke anyway, and there is nothing that attorneys can gain from suing them. It's all about money.
      If you think this is a random episode of the kind that happened in Norway last year, the scary thing is that this happens very frequently: it is just that either the killer is so dumb he screws up his own plan and kills nobody, or that the police catch him before he can start the shooting. Days after the Colorado massacre Maryland police arrested Neil Edwin Prescott, who, armed with 25 NRA-provided firearms, had warned his employer he intended to exterminate the whole workplace. Luckily this one has a big mouth, otherwise we would be discussing another dozen of victims killed by the largest terrorist organization in the world. A few days later in south-central Pennsylvania an angry husband, Kevin Cleeves, shot dead his wife, her boyfriend and his mother: it made news only in Pennsylvania. If the national news programs had to report all these incidents, the news hour would last five hours. In other countries every murder makes the national headlines.
      And just to be as politically incorrect as possible, please note that the mass killer, James Holmes, is, yet again, a male white Anglosaxon Protestant (a male WASP). A few days later Iraq was rocked by a wave of suicide bombings and random killings, but those can be attributed to political and sectarian design of one kind or another. The Islamic world has suicide bombers, the USA has male WASPs who go berserk and need to kill as many random strangers as possible. And guess what: the typical member of the NRA is a male WASP.
      See also this article, and this article and how the gun lobby de facto fuels the Mexican civil war and Mexico's president blames the USA for violence at home (Yahoo News)
      TM, ®, Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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    • (july 2012) A new kind of smearing campaign. A reputable scientist, Robert Howarth, a professor at Cornell Univ, made the mistake of publishing a damning report about natural gas. Powerful lobbies are pressuring the government of the USA to invest in natural gas, even though the science is clearly alarming: natural gas is one of the most polluting substances that you can think of, and even its economic benefits are debatable. Any honest scientist has to write the truth. Howarth did just that (and many others too, but he's particularly respected and famous). The industry's main lobby, the ANGA (America's natural gas alliance), has unleashed a massive smearing campaign against Howarth. That would not be news, as it has frequently happened that big money silenced a scientist through some kind of smearing campaign (e.g. via friendly tv channels like Fox News or radio programs like Rush Limbaugh's show) but this time they used a different weapon: Google ads. Another victim of the same association was Josh Fox, the director of Gasland. Just google their names and the first thing that appears on your screen is an ad that smears them. ANGA purchased Google ads on the names of scientists. This is probably a first in history, and possibly a taste of things to come: big money purchasing ads on the Internet not for advertizing a product but for smearing fastidious opponents. This could happen to you: a disgruntled neighbor or coworker could purchase an ad on Google to link to a page that smears you, and that page automatically becomes the main page about you on the entire Internet. Anybody in the world who searches for your name will be delivered by Google the page that smears you before any page about your accomplishments. (Have i just given a golden idea to my detractors?)
      TM, ®, Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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    • (march 2012) Double standards in cyberspace.
      • There has always been a cosmic battle using technology as a weapon. Every new technology promises to free people, but is also eventually used by governments to limit their freedom. The Internet is the latest episode in this cosmic battle.
      • When they speak to a domestic audience, Western politicians warn that the Internet is a massive distraction that can have terrible effects on people. When they speak to the international audience, Western politicians boast that the Internet is spreading democracy.
      • Most NGOs (non-government organizations) distributing software for democracy in totalitarian countries are funded by Western foundations. Most software used by totalitarian regimes to limit the freedom of their citizens is made by Western companies.
      TM, ®, Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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    • (march 2012) Why a US soldier killed 16 Afghan civilians for fun. It was inevitable: sooner or later one of the psychos who are enlisted in the army of the USA was bound to kill more innocents than any local terrorist ever did. I wrote two years ago that "The USA is creating an army of thugs and psychos" (See The enemy is us). It was obvious to everybody except, apparently, the president of the USA. Many of the young people who volunteer to become soldiers are part of the trigger-happy crowd that subscribes to the National Rifle Association (de facto the largest terrorist organization in the world because it is responsible for more killings than Al Qaeda). The culture of death is very much part of their society. They simply export it wherever they are send to "fight". They don't go there to fight, but to kill, which is a different goal. The stories that surface (like the one of the soldiers who raped a girl and then burned her entire family in Iraq) are only the ones that we get to learn about. There are probably many more. These are psychos, selected from a base of psychos in the USA. The problem is in the USA: a culture of death that starts from the church, where violence is regularly excused and justified (a Christian preacher was quoted with the very unChristian words "May God bless the man who killed him" as if Jesus ever justified homicide) and peaks in Congress, whose members routinely sell their vote to the National Rifle Association (NRA), which is de facto the largest terrorist organization in the world (See Defend the USA against terrorists). The USA is one of the few developed countries that still administers the death penalty, and many of its states do so eagerly, routinely killing convicts who are probably innocent just for the fun of killing someone (See Amanda Knox vs Troy Davis).
      A related episode happened in Florida: at about the same time that Robert Bales was gunning down unarmed Afghan civilians in their homes, a diligent Florida citizen, George Zimmerman, shot dead an unarmed kid who was passing by. That is not the news: the real news is that Zimmerman was not arrested. Zimmerman invoked two laws that only exist in the USA: 1. You can carry a loaded gun in the street, and 2. You can shoot if you feel threatened. That's the real news: there are 21 states in the USA that allow their residents to buy a gun, load it, carry it somewhere, and kill a passer-by. The police has absolutely no power to stop the person carrying the gun and cannot even arrest the person after the person committed the murder. Absolutele impunity for murder, thanks to lawmakers like the sinister Durell Peaden who sponsored the "Stand Your Ground" law in Florida after being "lobbied" by NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer. So why be surprised if 1. the USA army recruits trigger-happy citizens and 2. those citizens kill 16 unarmed Afghan civilians? That's precisely what they are taught back home, thanks to laws passed by government officials (like the sinister Durell Peaden who sponsored the "Stand Your Ground" in Florida) bribed by the National Rifle Association, de facto the largest terrorist organization in the world. Then they are sent to Afghanistan to fight terrorists (get the irony?)
      The culture has to change back at home before the USA can afford to send its young people to battlefields far away in the world. Every person in the USA (starting with the president) who says that this rogue soldier does not reflect the values of the USA are lying through their teeth.
      TM, ®, Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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    • (march 2012) The lesser evil. As the presidential elections in the USA approach, both parties are standing on shaky ground. Barack Obama was elected on a promise to "change" things. He changed very little: he bailed out Wall Street, he increased the bombing in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen (killing hundreds of innocent civilians and breaking international law), he withdrew troops from Iraq just like Bush had promised to do, he did not close Guantanamo, he approved laws that further curtail the rights of citizens, and he authorized the assassination of a US citizen in Yemen with no trial. Even his main accomplishment abroad, the assassination of Osama bin Laden, is morally dubious: we never saw the evidence that Osama was personally responsible for the 2001 terrorist attacks. We only saw the evidence that he is a big mouth. And, regardless of his actual role and responsibilities, it would have been extremely interesting to hear his version of the facts. Obama cannot be blamed for the bad economy (yet), given the damage caused by his predecessor, but he wasted 500 million dollars on Solyndra and kept General Motors alive just like Italy and France kept failing giants alive only to pay a huge price decades later. His health care reform is so messy that even his own party is confused. If reelected, we fear that he would not reduce the deficit, not fight corruption, and not reform the tax code. We fear the devastating influence of radical environmentalists, the devastating effect of intricate regulations, the devastating provisions of the tax code. In other words, Obama is hardly loved by anyone: the leftists are disappointed, the conservatives still hate him, and the independents are wary of him.
      Obama is lucky that the Republican Party is an absolute mess. It has become at least three parties in one. There is Mitt Romney's party, which is basically the successor to Ronald Reagan's party: willing to compromise on social issues but strongly committed to "trickle-down economics" (let the rich get richer and their wealth will spread to the poor too). Then there is Newt Gingrich's and Rick Santorum's party, which borders on fascism and religious fundamentalism. These are people who would have bombed the crowds in Cairo to keep the hated dictator in power. These are people who want to attack Iran no matter what. These are people who want to take orders from Israel's prime minister (question: why do we need a president if the president has to approve anything Israel does, and then provide the funds and weapons to Israel? can't we just hire the prime minister of Israel as president of the USA?). These are people who want to follow the Bible the way Iran follows the Quran. These are people who would almost certainly repeat all of Bush's mistakes: wars, tax cuts, class warfare (against the middle class), etc. Finally there is Ron Paul's party, the libertarian wing of the Republican Party that disagrees with just about everything the party has done and is doing, opposing the wars, indifferent to the fate of Israel, outraged by the bailout of Wall Street, determined to reduce the number of military bases around the world. Ron Paul is the most rational of these candidates and is winning over an increasing share of the electorate (not only Republican). Whichever wing of the Republican Party wins over at the national convention, it will have to convince the other two wings that it represents them too.
      Then they will have to convince independents of the five no's: no wars, no god (no religious interference), no cuddling the rich (tax the rich), no selling out to Wall Street, no bending to Israel. Ron Paul is the only one who is credible on these five "no's". The problem is that he is not electable because he is viewed as a lunatic politician (any politician who is honest and rational must be lunatic). The others will freak out the independents for one reason or another: they already promised war against Iran, widespread Christian fundamentalism, further deregulation for the financial speculators, tax cuts for the rich, and obedience to Israel.
      (Note of july 2012: Mitt Romney promised that he would make Israel his first trip abroad as president).
      TM, ®, Copyright © 2011 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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    • (march 2012) Why Rick Santorum is good for the world. Rick Santorum is the candidate for president preferred by the right wing of the Republican Party. Mitt Romney is the favorite of the moderates. Any objective observer blames the Republican Party more than the Democratic Party or the president for the current deadlock in Washington. The USA is incapable of taking any meaningful decision (particularly about its finances) because the two parties are caught in an endless ideological struggle. But these days it's really the Republican Party that is less willing to compromise. The Republican Party has become as intolerant as the Democratic Party was in the 1970s, when it was dominated by the left-wing extreminsts. The Republican Party is now dominated by the right-wing extremists, who largely decide its agenda.
      The ultimate paradox is that Sarah Palin is the one figure who galvanized the party. No other Republican politician has had such a strong effect on the party in the last 20 years. But Sarah Palin was just an accident: John McCain's campaign picked her out of desperation, looking for a woman to reenergize a rapidly collapsing campaign. They liked that she embodied everything that their candidate didn't: she was sincerely anti-abortion, sincerely trigger-happy, sincerely religious, and a sincere believer in family. Little did they know: those would become the holy commandments of the Tea Party. An accidental joke became the main inspiration to reform the Republican Party from the inside.
      The Republican Party is a party more and more concerned with issues such as abortion and the role of religion. The military hawks are turning the president of the USA into an assistant to the prime minister of Israel, since the president of the USA is supposed to agree with anything that Israel does, and to provide the funds and weapons. On health care the Republicans think they are on the people's side, but the polls show that the vast majority of citizens want universal health care (although not the mess that Obama created). Despicable human beings like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck exert a ridiculous influence on this Republican Party. This is not a party that the USA needs, and certainly not a party that the world needs: the world is more scared of a Republican president than of an Al Qaeda attack. The USA and the world need a responsible and competent party that will cooperate with whoever is president and will work for the best of the nation (not just of Christian fundamentalists, Wall Street and the military establishment).
      If Rick Santorum becomes the nominee of the Republican Party, he would probably be trounced by Obama in the general elections, and this defeat may finally help convince everybody that Sarah Palin was just an accidental joke and help the moderates regain control of the Republican Party. If, on the other hand, Mitt Romney is the nominee and he loses to Obama, the extremists will have even more power to steer the Republican Party even further to the right, to make it even less willing to compromise, to turn it into a Christian version of Iran's ruling theocracy. The world lives in the constant terror that the USA elects a new Republican president who will be even worse than the last one. The best way to prevent such an outcome is to improve the Republican Party. This can only happen from within, and, given the logic of democracies, it will happen only if the Republican Party suffers a colossal defeat. Rick Santorum is the right man to bring about that defeat.
      TM, ®, Copyright © 2010 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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    • (february 2012) Facebook's Brave New World. When i wrote The demise of Google, i emphasized that Google's business model is all based on selling advertising space and that it has been amazingly incapable of creating new sources of revenues. Hence i predicted a rapid decline (of Google as it is today: Google is rapidly transforming into a venture capital operation that might continue to thrive for decades). The switching cost is basically zero: you can switch to another search engine without losing anything; you can upload videos to another service without losing much; you can use another mapping software and get the same directions; you can change email client and will only lose old emails that you probably don't need anyway. I pointed out that Facebook, that relies on the same business model (of selling advertising space), enjoys a much higher switching cost: leaving Facebook means losing a lot of friends, their postings, your postings, pictures, etc. The only people who are willing to do that are Google employees who are under pressure to show their patriotic spirit by switching to Google+. This has nothig to do with the merits of Facebook. In fact, the features of Facebook are often maddeningly stupid even for hardcore fans. The fact is that Facebook is a platform of 800 million people.
      Facebook enjoys another advantage over Google: its closed world. Unlike the users of Google's search engine (who don't have to sign in), the users of Facebook have to sign in. Unlike Google, that integrates smoothly with the rest of the Internet world (e.g. Wikipedia), Facebook takes the user to a separate world where the rest of the Internet is not visible anymore. If you don't sign into Gmail or Google+, Google does not really know who you are. Facebook always knows who you are. Never in human history (not even in the Soviet Union) has someone held so many data about the ordinary lives of people. Facebook will probably continue to fine-tune ways to gather more and more data about its users. Again, its business model is about selling advertising space, and the price it can demand is proportional on how intelligent the placing it is. Very soon businesses might have to pay a fee just to be on Facebook because social marketing is the single most powerful form of marketing (when you click "Like" on someone's post, you are recommending that thing to all your friends, who may then recommend it to their friends and so sorth).
      Hence the difference between Facebook and Google is that Facebook has the power and has the momentum, whereas Google will struggle to continue making money in its traditional ways.
      If you are an investor in Facebook, that's the good news. If you are not, then there is a really bad news in what i just wrote: Facebook is out to dominate the Internet, in fact is out to literally hijack and take over the Internet. Facebook is not using compliant HTML and the other standards of the Internet. It is not compatible with any other websites. If you have your own website, you can bid farewell to it right now: Facebook wants you to abandon it and move its contents inside Facebook so that it can automatically attach ads to it like it does when you post something on your wall. If this future of a company that owns so much information about everybody and that forces everybody to surrender more and more freedom, and that may turn the free and public Internet into the private backyard of a corporation, sounds scary, there are only three forces that can prevent it from happening.
      One is the government. There are antitrust laws that even broke up the biggest company in the world: AT&T. It would make sense to invoke an antitrust investigation against what is arguably the only social media in the (non-Chinese) world. Unfortunately, Google had the awful idea of introducing its own competing platform, Google+: it will probably go nowhere, but it creates the perfect alibi for Facebook against any antitrust investigation (there is an obvious competitor, and its revenues are even bigger than Facebook's). Government, if it were indeed working for the people, could also enact legislation to limit what all these Internet juggernauts routinely do: harvest your personal data and make money out of it (directly or indirectly). Basically they turn your private life into a commodity to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Sounds amoral? Apparently not for those who make money out of it (Google and Facebook) and for the thousands of businesses that are willing to pay for it and for the politicians that never interfered with this practice.
      Second, Facebook might implode just because of its own success: about 30% of its employees are bound to become millionaires when Facebook goes public. If all of them retired to enjoy their wealth, it would be a crippling blow to Facebook's internal processes which might result in so much instability in the platform to give Google+ a chance to steal the limelight. However, that's not very likely because a) Google+ is not exactly a stellar product and b) Facebook is actually a very easy platform to maintain with very few features and virtually no request from users to change (in fact, users tend to get mad whenever Facebook changes a feature).
      Last but not least, it could be that Facebook's hyper-proprietary strategy backfires. Will Wikipedia accept to move inside Facebook? Probably not. Will government agencies and embassies accept to move inside Facebook where their content is subject to Facebook's policies and hosted on Facebook's servers? Obviously not. Will even businesses accept to live inside Facebook, knowing that Facebook controls every business transaction? Unlikely. The benefits of soial media do not justify the risk of losing confidential data. On the other hand, when in the 1980s Apple chose to go proprietary, many saw it as a mistake: the world wanted Microsoft-compatible software and Intel-compatible hardware. Decades later Apple has become the most valuable company in the world precisely because of its proprietary software and hardware; and its smartphones and notebooks are probably used for sensitive transactions too...
      See also: The demise of Google and Wikipedia as a force for evil.
      TM, ®, Copyright © 2011 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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    • (january 2012) We are all pirates. When the Soviet Union divided Berlin in two, US president John Kennedy went to Berlin and shouted "We are all Berliners". Now that another evil empire has divided the World Wide Web into good and bad websites by shutting down Megaupload, the motto should be "We are all Megaupload users", even the ones who never used it and don't even know what exactly it is (was).
      This comes at the same time that the government of the USA is planning to shut down websites at will, based on two anti-piracy laws (named SOPA and PIPA) that have been sponsored by the big entertainment companies (corporations for which, admittedly, i feel absolutely no admiration, and that cause the world to be a worse place than it would be without them).
      Wikipedia, Google and other popular websites are complaining that those laws severely alter the free nature of the Web. This is precisely what the entertainment industry wants, and it never made a mystery of it: it wants total control of what you can see (their products) and of what you can do (buy those products).
      Unions representing 182,000 actors, directors and assorted Hollywood staff backed the proposed laws: your children and grandchildren will live in the world that you created, and they won't be grateful for it.
      Virtually nobody dares to talk about who are the real pirates. Take a look at this bio that has been on the Warner website for several years: this is a carbon copy of my bio on the Deftones. They scientifically removed the copyright line and the name of the real author. This has happened countless times: millions of us have been robbed by these corporate thieves. Warner never responded to my emails, and never will: they know that i canont afford to hire an attorney. On the other hand, if a teenager downloads some of the garbage that they sell, they do have plenty of attorneys and can bribe plenty of politicians to get that teenager in jail for the rest of her/his life. Who's the real scumbag in this picture? The corporations that routinely steal, terrorize and bribe, or the penniless teenager who is forced by their marketing pressure to watch a lousy movie and ends up downloading it where s/he can find it for free?
      Note that these Hollywood corporations who want to shut down websites at will are the same people who promote violence, rape, drugs and all sorts of amoral behavior in their movies and songs. However, when it comes to cashing in the revenues, they label as "amoral" the behavior of anyone infringing their copyrights. In other words, they hold the copyright law as more important than the whole nightmare of rapists, thugs, junkies and mass murderers that their stinking blockbusters and hits contribute to create in every high school of the world.
      Even on purely economic terms, i am not sure who would benefit from these "anti-piracy" laws. There are thousands of independent musicians whose work has spread worldwide thanks to what is, technically speaking, illegal file-sharing. Their work would be known only by a handful of people if everybody, from Japan to Brazil, had to pay for their CDs. I wonder if anyone has done an accurate study: how much did an independent musician earn in the days when his music was only known through magazine coverage and live shows, and how much does a musician earn in the days when his main income does not come from selling CDs but from being invited to countless music-related events because file sharing made him more famous than he would have been in the old days? I suspect that someone at the major music corporations knows this and fears the power that file sharing has to market independent musicians instead of their lousy pop stars.
      The government of mainland China is certainly watching amused: wasn't China the evil country that blocked websites at will? It is time that the world comes up with an alternative to the Internet.
      Meanwhile, let's download and store somewhere else as much content as we can before they shut everything down and leave us only the choice to listen to the most stupid pop star around and watch the most ridiculous movies ever made. That's their ideal world: you are just a consumer, just buy their garbage and shut up.
      There is another way to look at this story. If you (whether a conservative bigot or a liberal intellectual), think like me that their garbage is worth nothing, and in fact, even a danger to our society (either because it promotes amoral behavior or because it degrades culture), then you almost have the moral obligation to do anything you can to damage their business plan. Hence let us rejoice if they indeed lose money out of the Web. Dear entertainment industry, if you go bankrupt, i would personally come and dance on your corporate graves. We do miss Megaupload (even those who never used it) but we will NOT miss you.
      In fact, i would propose that we simply kick out the major labels and major studios from the Internet. The Internet was doing just fine before they arrived. Let us simply ban any music and any film from the major labels and the major studios, and then, once they are completely out of the Internet, let's ban any reproduction of their products. Let the Internet be completely free of any reference of any kind to the music and the films of the major entertainment corporations. That solves the problem, doesn't it?
      We know who the real enemy is. We know where to find it. We don't really know how to fight it because it is so much more powerful than us and their armies of attorneys and lobbyists can easily throw us in jail, but we will find ways. You can throw in jail one person one time, but you cannot throw in jail all people all the time.
      We are all pirates, and proud of it.
      TM, ®, Copyright © 2011 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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