Thursday, February 4, 2016

Avoid the Un-Educated Electorate

In my Open Letter to Voters, I referenced the "well-informed citizenry". While most people may consider themselves informed, I believe there is a very small percentage of Americans that have carefully considered or given deep thought to issues beyond their immediate lives.

While some are extreme, here are a few examples of the un-educated electorate that I'm afraid are more common that one would think/hope:

Congratulations North Korea!

Jimmy Kimmel bit where he tests the theory that "if you ask people a question in a cheerful enough way, we will offer congratulations for just about anything."
While I sometimes think some interviewees are staged, the fact that anyone would think this was praiseworthy is pretty disheartening.

(Jimmy Kimmel via The Free Thought Project

"Candidate's Cribs"

Filmed in front of the White House, young people are questioned about four homes and try to match them with the presidential candidate they think own them.

Spoiler: They're all Bill & Hillary Clinton's!

While assuming/guessing that all four are owned by the same person is a bit of a trick, the main takeaway is that these people are so clueless to the Clintons' wealth.

However, overlooked is something even worse; these kids base their political beliefs on a candidate's wealth instead of their stances on the issues.

Note: I did a bit of research and the video was produced by CampusReform, which is a student-focused conservative policy group. So the video is probably edited to maximize the participant foolishness, but I assume the general public has done little research on the Clintons' personal wealth.

Nearly 10 percent of college grads think Judge Judy is on Supreme Court

Justice Judy?
I don't know... This is just sad.
Nearly 10 percent of college graduates think television’s Judge Judy serves on the Supreme Court, according to a new report released this month. 
The report, titled "A Crisis in Civic Education," was based on a survey of 1,000 adults in August and concludes that "recent college graduates are alarmingly ignorant of America's history and heritage.” 
"They cannot identify the term lengths of members of Congress, the substance of the First Amendment, or the origin of the separation of powers," the report said, referring to college graduates.  
The lack of civic knowledge extended to the Supreme Court, where 9.6 percent of college graduates incorrectly identified Judith Sheindlin — who handles small legal disputes on the TV show "Judge Judy" — as a justice. Another 5.5 percent of college grads picked John Kerry, the former senator who is now secretary of State, as a member of the court. 
Of those surveyed, the report found only 28.4 percent of college graduates identified James Madison as the father of the Constitution, while 59.2 percent thought the answer was Thomas Jefferson.  
Nearly 40 percent of college graduates didn't know Congress has the power to declare war and less than 50 percent of the college graduates surveyed were aware that presidential impeachments are tried before the U.S. Senate.
I guess we should just be glad it's not more than 10%.
(via The Hill)

Again, civic engagement is of the utmost importance. It does not require much to greatly improve things, so a little bit of research and staying up to date on current events goes a long way.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Quick Hits: February 3, 2016

IPO Market Comes to a Standstill

"A frigid January for initial public offerings is pointing to a hard winter for fledgling firms seeking to go public. 
There were no U.S. IPOs in January, the first monthlong drought since September 2011, when the eurozone crisis was in full swing and the debt rating of the U.S. had just been downgraded, according to data provider Dealogic. Investors and analysts attribute the dearth to the global stock-market rout of the first two weeks of the year, which signaled a broad retreat from risk by investors. 
If sustained, the reversal threatens to send ripples through global financial markets. Many analysts and traders view a healthy IPO market as a necessary precondition for a sustainable advance in the broad stock indexes."

The bubble continues to deflate...

Stretching: The Truth

"WHEN DUANE KNUDSON, a professor of kinesiology at California State University, Chico, looks around campus at athletes warming up before practice, he sees one dangerous mistake after another. “They’re stretching, touching their toes. . . . ” He sighs. “It’s discouraging.” 
If you’re like most of us, you were taught the importance of warm-up exercises back in grade school, and you’ve likely continued with pretty much the same routine ever since. Science, however, has moved on. Researchers now believe that some of the more entrenched elements of many athletes’ warm-up regimens are not only a waste of time but actually bad for you. The old presumption that holding a stretch for 20 to 30 seconds — known as static stretching — primes muscles for a workout is dead wrong. It actually weakens them. In a recent study conducted at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, athletes generated less force from their leg muscles after static stretching than they did after not stretching at all. Other studies have found that this stretching decreases muscle strength by as much as 30 percent. Also, stretching one leg’s muscles can reduce strength in the other leg as well, probably because the central nervous system rebels against the movements."
First learned about active stretching while on the track team in college... The benefits weren't explained, but I definitely felt better after doing them rather than touching my toes.
Check out the article for three solid stretches. The Scorpion is my favorite, even if you get stares at the gym.

"Neckties embedded with QR codes. Pants that make drum noises. “Uber for medical marijuana.” These are just a few of the goofy startup ideas that have cropped up in Silicon Valley in recent years. 
I can’t be the only one who’s disappointed with this. The Valley is the birthplace of game-changing innovations, like the microprocessor and the PC. It’s home to enough brainpower to take on the biggest problems of today, like world hunger and climate change. So why, in 2015, was it so myopically focused on silly wearables and more efficient pot delivery? 
To me, the answer seems like an obvious one. Like middle-schoolers at a high-school dance, startup founders are trying too hard to be cool. And it’s not only hurting the world — it’s hurting the longevity of the entire tech industry."
Nothing revolutionary, but interesting. I think this thinking is further contributing to the deflation of startup valuations. Investors aren't just looking for the next big fad anymore, they're looking for companies and ideas that will actually create "value" in the long-term. 

"British actor John Cleese—best known for his roles in the Monty Python films—joins the list of celebrity comedians perturbed by the utter rejection of so-called offensive humor on college campuses. In a recent video for Big Think, Cleese lamented that political correctness was depriving society of a sense of proportion. “Then, as far as I’m concerned, you’re living in 1984,” he said. 
A transcript of his remarks: 
I’ve been warned recently, don’t go to most university campuses because the political correctness has been taken from being a good idea—which is, let’s not be mean particularly to people who are not able to look after themselves very well, that’s a good idea—to the point where any kind of criticism of any individual or group can be labelled cruel. And the whole point about humor, the whole point about comedy—and believe you me, I’ve thought about it—is that all comedy is critical. Even if you make a very inclusive joke—like, How do you make God laugh? Tell him your plans—that’s about the human condition, it’s not excluding anyone, it’s saying we all have all these plans that probably won’t come and isn’t it funny that we still believe they’re going to happen. So that’s a very inclusive joke, but it’s still critical. All humor is critical. If we start saying, oh, we musn’t criticize or offend them, then humor is gone, and with humor goes a sense of proportion, and then, as far as I’m concerned, you’re living in 1984."

And video:

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

It's Time for the American People to Hear More About Those Damn Emails

Well, looks like Bernie Sanders is ready to talk about those "damn emails".

While he does not make claims or accusations about Hillary Clinton's handling of emails during her tenure in the State Department, he is beginning to bring the issue to the forefront and state that they are a "very serious issue". I think this is a critical and important change for the Sanders campaign, but I think it may be too little, too late.

Additionally, I respect Sanders for initially trying to take the high ground, but I hate the fact that he is trying to politi-spin his previous comments in his interview with Jake Tapper. At the first debate, I doubt he realized how severe the email mishandling was and wish he would just admit this fact, rather than trying to deflect and imply that he always believed it was an important issue.

With Sanders finally coming around, I think it is critical for the rest of the American public to better understand just how important the issue of Clinton's private server is.

Clinton passed Top-Secret information through her private server

First and foremost is the fact that Clinton and her staff passed top-secret and other classified data though her person, unsecured server.

The primary offense of this is that it is illegal to send classified data over an unsecured network. Having worked at a defense contract company, I know just how hard companies work to keep data (particularly that related to national defense/security) safe. I knew a person who was fired for simply leaving his work notebook, that did not even contain classified data, at a client site.

Secondarily, considering the prolific hacking attempts (and successes) of foreign entities against government agencies, it is possible that Iran, China or Russia may have gotten to her server. If they were aware of it, it is likely that they had access to its contents. Regardless if the information it contained was classified or not, there would definitely be information about those nations discussed between members of the State Department and other agencies.

More damning are the recent reports that not only did her emails contain classified information, they assuredly contained Top-Secret and even more highly protected need-to-know data.

Clinton staff deliberately copied classified data to an unsecured network

Clinton has repeatedly stated that she wanted a single email address and use a single device for ease-of-use. First, this has been proved patently false. Second, this claim only strengthens the potential that her staffers copied classified data to ease their workflow.

As I stated, companies work diligently to keep classified and unclassified data separate and intentionally make it difficult to mix the two. The Federalist does a great job of laying out how one would even get classified data out of the enclosed system. If true, this would be a systematic effort to skirt federal law and is cause for, at minimum, prosecution for mishandling classified data (the same General David Petraeus plead guilty to).

The Obama administration was generally lenient on General Petraeus, but it is well know that it is generally hard-nosed when it comes to leaks. While not surprising, it is frustrating that the same Executive Branch is not pushing harder (or pushing at all) to pursue the same, if not worse, allegations.

Clinton has lied about her emails, repeatedly

While the Congressional hearing on the Benghazi incident were a distraction from the more important issue of mishandled data, it did give Clinton another chance to clarify her State Department's emails system.

Rather than clarity, Clinton continued, and continues, to lie and deflect questioning about how she handled emails and the transparency (or lack thereof) that her private server gave from the wider government and Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) requests. It is required that all government officials retain records of their correspondence and will be, with appropriate redaction, be made available to the public. By having a private server, Clinton tried to avoid this and keep her emails hidden.

While she claims (and it has been generally supported) that no emails were marked classified upon her receipt, as a member of the State Department with access to sensitive data, she should know what would be considered classified or significant to national security; specifically, data regarding foreign governments or travel itineraries.

Overall, I'm very surprised that Sanders had not chosen to pick up this issue sooner and more surprised that few media outlets continue to cover it, save for when unavoidable news is released.

I'm generally all for supporting "innocence until proven guilty", but if deleting 30,000 emails before handing over her server isn't suspicious, I don't know what is.

Update: I just read about former U.S. House Majority leader Tom DeLay's comments that he had "friends that are in the FBI" and they are ready to indict Clinton.

Monday, February 1, 2016

An Open Letter to the Voters of the United States of America

Dear Voters of America,

With the Iowa caucuses upon us, and as we rapidly approach the primaries and exponentially increase rhetoric, I simply ask that you become independently educated about all of the candidates, their positions, and their character before pledging your votes.

"A properly functioning democracy depends on a well-informed citizenry". The quote, and its derivations (well-informed electorate, educated citizenry, etc.), are attributed to Thomas Jefferson though the actual source, as written, is unknown. Regardless of its originator or composition, the essence holds true.

Voting in a democracy is not enough. It's citizens must be well-informed on its issues and actively engage to ensure its success and continuation. We have become a nation of mindless beasts, beaten down by the bureaucracy and partisanship of a government more preoccupied with retaining power than representing and protecting its citizens.

It is too easy to sit within the comfortable cocoon of like-minded individuals and vote along the same lines as your peers so as not to cause a disturbance. However, this is a near-sighted decision, opting for short-term harmony, while sowing the seeds for greater discord in the future. There is resonance in agreement. This may seem like positive, but this is the current (albeit, bi-modal) state we're in. With everyone marching along the same two frequencies, we are creating giant waves of incredible momentum that are near impossible slow down.

Established, career politicians have relied on this fact and do what they can to perpetuate the current state and retain blind votes of the ignorant. It is when citizens become wise to this deception and begin to think for themselves that elected officials will have to truly answer to their constituencies and return decisions to the people.

This election cycle has been different in that there are small tremors of resistance to this system. Still, we are a two-party system where, despite the bloviation, the leading candidates of each party are nearly identical to one another, regardless of party affiliation. 

Understanding that every person is different, with different values and goals, is key to generating substantive dialogue and well-functioning democracy. Not everyone will agree with you, nor should they be expected to. Rather, our goal should be to create a society in which all its inhabitants have the ability to advance themselves free of oppression from a majority who would impose their will on the individual.

Irrespective of your personal views or opinions, take the time to research each candidate on their own merits and stances on the issues. Question their motives, research their assertions, and consider their character. This is not disorderly or traitorous, it is patriotic to do due diligence in selecting the next leader of our country.

One vote from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts