The Root of All Evil: Quality Vs. Quantity in America

We have a number problems in this country:  the national debt,the quantity of jobs available, the rocky relationship between Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart, all of which deserve our undivided focus and attention.  There is another problem we face, one that comes close to equaling Rob and Kristen’s emotional rollercoaster. It is a problem that contributes to our social and economic conditions. Our society faces the problem of trying to find the delicate balance between the lack of quality and the excess of quantity that is found in multiple aspects of our culture. Simply put, Americans want more. And they want it to levels of excess that have become problematic and detrimental.

Today, we’ll first look at the causes behind our society’s issues with quality as it relates to quantity. Next, we’ll examine the effects of this epidemic, and finally, we’ll pin-point some solutions that will allow us to balance our growing need for more, with what we actually need, so that we can tip the scales in our favor.

quantity

Need money, feed me! hateandanger.wordpress.com

Tipping the scales back towards center may not be as easy as it seems. We are fighting against more than balancing our needs and wants; we are fighting against a way of thinking that has dominated our social understanding of quality versus quantity. In the 1987 movie Wallstreet, corrupt businessman Gordon Gekko tells us that,

Greed is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.

Unfortunately, what Mr. Gekko says is true. Greed is now what drives our wants and desires, and what pushes us to obtain what we want at any cost. We have entered a time where people pay less attention to what you have, and more attention to how much of it you have. We are blinded by the quantity of the things we own, rather than the quality of our possessions and our lives. According to physicist and computer scientist Carlos Roca in his article “Social Cohesion in a Society of Greedy, Mobile Individuals,” published in the Journal of the National Academy of Sciences,

Human wellbeing in modern societies relies on social cohesion, which can be characterized by high levels of cooperation and a large number of social ties. Both features, however, are frequently challenged by individual self-interest.  The stability of social and economic systems can suddenly break down as the recent financial crisis illustrates.

quantity

Very, very dependable. http://bostonoccupier.com/

What this means is that our individual interests are actually breaking down our social structure.  Our “me-first” attitude is what directly affects our need for quantity, instead of quality. If we are focused on getting as much as we can, as fast as we can, the quality of what we consume is going to be compromised.

There are many aspects of our society that have been affected by our focus on quantity at the expense of quality. In the business and entertainment sectors, we’ve seen politicians sent to jail for crimes motivated by greed, and celebrities and artists produce material that is at best of questionable quality. One need look no further than politicians like disgraced Illinois senator Rod Blagoivich, or companies like Johnson and Johnson, which in 2007 reported illegal activity to the government such as bribing government-paid doctors and health officials to promote sales of medical devices in Greece, Poland and Romania. According to Robert Khuzami, director of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s division of enforcement,

For years, the company tried to hide its illegal activities by using sham contracts and off-shore companies to cover its tracks. The Johnson & Johnson’s bribes might have harmed public health in several European countries.

The scariest effect of this mentality is the disregard for the public’s well-being. This side-effect manifests itself in the actions of companies like Johnson and Johnson, but also in what we are exposed to in our everyday lives.

quantity

OMG let’s go to the mall! http://www.ourbreathingplanet.com

Our country’s obesity rate, for example, is a calling card of society’s issue with quantity.  A 2012 report published by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that by 2030, 42 percent of U.S. adults will be obese, adding $550 billion in obesity-related medical expenses to healthcare costs over that period, unless Americans change their ways.  Our need for more money, more food, and more recognition is literally making us sick. If we don’t work to correct the imbalance between how much of everything we want, versus how much of it we need, we will find ourselves with a lot of stuff, but without the most important things we have – our physical and emotional health.

Back in 1997, Rapper The Notorious B.I.G. told us that,

The more money we come across, the more problems we see.

Fifteen years later, his words, like the rapper, have started to take on an even larger meaning.  When it comes to getting our B.I.G. quantity issues under control, we need to change rappers. And by that I mean, change the rap lyrics our country has come to identify with. The iconic group Outkast tells us,

Don’t act impatiently.  You’ll get where you need to be, in due time.

What this means is that we need to be patient and work for good things in our lives, instead of accepting the many mediocre things that come our way.  Anthony Levine, CEO of the Nonprofit Finance Fund and author of Impact Investing: Transforming How We Make Money While Making a Difference, argues we need to approach solving our attitudes towards the need for excessive quantity from an economic angle. He says that,

When the market’s crashed in 2008, I think people realized just how much we need community. Not only did out of control money put us in a bad situation, but we realized that we can’t rely 100% on 401ks and the market to take care of us.  Trying to make so much money so that you don’t need anyone is a ridiculous and lonely pursuit. We need to view our financial returns alongside the society we’re building. It keeps us connected.

quantity

Please sir, may I have some more? rashidaanurse.blogspot.com

As Mr. Levine says, we need to make sure we are focusing on what’s good for our society, not just what is good for us as individuals. We need to remember that greed only leads to excess, which does not translate into having items of quality in our lives, and also, a quality society. The only thing greed leads to is a huge quantity of stuff.

As the saying goes, the best things in life are worth waiting for. And that is what we need to keep in mind when we evaluate what we have in our lives. You may desire more in terms of your financial, social, or personal gains, but that isn’t the answer. The answer is to appreciate the quality of what you have and know that quantity never equals quality.

So, while we still have issues such as our nation’s debt and the job crisis, perhaps these words will reach the ears of the people who hold the fate of our country’s happiness and health in their hands, and it will teach them to love and be grateful for what they have.  Here’s looking at you, Kristen and Rob.

 

 

Sources:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0094291/

http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2011/06/21/1101044108.abstract

http://star.worldbank.org/corruption-cases/node/20060

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rod_Blagojevich

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/09/business/09drug.html

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/09/18/us-obesity-us-idUSBRE88H0RA20120918

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xZ4tNmnuMgQ

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dg-0843U7zM

http://www.forbes.com/sites/elmirabayrasli/2011/09/06/greed-has-gone-good-social-capital-markets-2011/

Failure of Central Planning and the Venezuelan Toilet Paper Shortage

Venezuelan officials continue to undermine individual freedom by further demonstrating the deleterious effects of economic central planning. The nation is experiencing shortages of dozens of staple items including rice, milk, butter and toilet paper. These shortages have been exacerbated by a new pilot program designed to limit the amount of goods each person can purchase. However, innovation and decentralization have provided a way for savvy shoppers to once again beat the government’s vain attempts to control the market.

In an attempt to curb the crisis, the western state of Zulia is embarking on a digital endeavor that will track the goods individuals purchase and will block them from buying staple products from different stores on the same day. Blagdimir Labrador, a state official, explains:

Considering the average size of a family, one person should only buy 20 staple products during the period that we establish, which we think will be one week.

The initiative’s pilot will be run in 65 supermarkets in Maracaibo, the capital of Zulia.

Related Article: Public School Failure in America

The shortages were in part caused by price controls set into law during the Hugo Chavez administration, which keep goods like rice and flour below their market price. Steve Hanke, an economist at Johns Hopkins University, describes the flawed policy:

State-controlled prices – prices that are set below market-clearing price – always result in shortages. The shortage problem will only get worse, as it did over the years in the Soviet Union.

Although the intention of these policies was to ensure that the poor would have access to these necessities, their actual (and predictable) effect has been to dramatically reduce the supply of staple items.

Recognizing the shortage, many people are stocking up on supplies and some are reselling them at greatly inflated prices to needy Venezuelans. Zulia borders Colombia, where prices are several times the subsidized costs in Venezuela, and there has also been an increase in trade across the border.

Related Article: Income Inequality in America: Red Herrings and Wealth Envy

The result of this market mangling is an eminently foreseeable feedback loop: Economic controls and central planning distort the actual prices of staple products. This imbalance between cost and actual value leads to shortages which create incentives for people to hoard goods. This further diminishes supply, and by rationing the remaining goods the government further induces people to stockpile and the shortage is exacerbated.

In short, the Venezuelan government dug itself into an economic hole and is trying to dig its way out.

The national shortage of toilet paper has struck a nerve with many Venezuelans. In order to quell their frustration, the government says that it is going to import an additional 50 million rolls along with 760,000 tons of food.

Related Article: Bitcoin’s Rise and the Cyprus Bailout

Amazingly, Commerce Minister Alejandro Fleming blamed the shortage of staple goods on “excessive demand.” To a dyed-in-the-wool statist, the inherent friction involved in managing a society is always to be blamed on the proletariat, never on the Top Men attempting to organize the nation.

However, people are already ingeniously subverting the statists’ attempts to model society. On May 29 Jose Augusto Montiel launched an app called Abasteceme, which translates to “Supply Me,” which helps people get around government-caused scarcity. The app utilizes crowd-sourcing technology that alerts users to supermarkets that still have desired goods in stock. According to Montiel, toilet paper and flour are the items most sought after by shoppers. When users find a store that has these items on the shelves, they flock to the market and whip out their checkbooks. More than 12,000 people have already downloaded Abasteceme, mostly in Caracas, but its popularity is spreading.

The economic problems in Venezuela are intrinsic to the state-controlled political legacy Chavez helped create. Venezuela ranks 174th out of 177 in the 2013 Heritage Foundation report on economic freedom, nestled neatly between Eritrea and Zimbabwe. Chavez’ authoritarianism echoes elsewhere in Venezuelan society, as Chavez repeatedly attacked and censored the media for criticizing his regime and held human rights in disregard.

Related Article: The Senate is Useless and Should be Dismantled

Central planners believe in Top Men who have the knowledge and ability to maximize the productivity of a country and its people. They fail, however, to have the humility to realize that this is an absurd task for any leader or politburo, as it’s inherently impossible for a group of few to effectively run a nation of many. History has borne this out repeatedly and this further elucidates the mindset of Top Men. Every problem or inefficiency can be blamed on the Little People who audaciously have an “excessive demand” for anything, be it toilet paper, a free press or even liberty itself. For them, the problem isn’t that their political and economic ideology is fundamentally flawed, logically destined to devolve into the same illiberal hell that every socialist government has thus descended.

It’s that the proletariat didn’t comply or simply that the “right” Top Men weren’t in charge.

Modern technology has made controlling human activity gloriously challenging. This is a decided advantage of living in the 21st century, where people can wirelessly transmit knowledge and innovate myriad wrenches to throw into the machinery of tyranny. However, to statists this development makes their ultimate goals more difficult to achieve. To them it is something to be stymied and snuffed out, perhaps most dramatically seen during the 2011 uprising in Egypt when the Mubarak regime literally turned off the Internet to make it more difficult for the protesters to organize.

This authoritarian impulse can also be seen in America, as news of secret NSA surveillance has been leaked. Also reminiscent of Chavez’ regime, the Associated Press was specifically targeted and the phone records for 20 reporters were seized by the Department of Justice.

The statist playbook is outdated; their only remaining tool is the administration of further force onto an increasingly unwilling populace. This gambit continues to work in many regimes around the world, but its expiration date is nearing. People have begun to realize that the decentralization of power and the abandonment of Top Men leads to freedom and peace.

By innovating to strip Top Men of their iron authority, the Little People—too numerous and evasive to be stomped out—can hopefully reject unwanted and unwarranted authority in illiberal governments around the world.

Sic semper tyrannis.

 

Related Article: Gossip Through the PRISM: NSA Shenanigans

 

Sources:

http://news.yahoo.com/venezuelan-state-considers-system-limit-food-purchases-160925448.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/southamerica/venezuela/10112604/Venezuelans-use-smartphone-app-to-find-toilet-paper.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/southamerica/venezuela/10062640/Venezuela-running-out-of-toilet-paper.html

http://www.heritage.org/index/ranking

http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/03/05/venezuela-chavez-s-authoritarian-legacy

http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2011/01/egypt-isp-shutdown/

wondergressive.com/2013/06/11/prism/

Gossip Through the PRISM: The NSA’s Shenanigans

Pink_floyd_-_dark_side_of_the_moon

“Truth, through the lens of gossip” or “What is legal, through the lens of Law” (Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon Album Cover)

When pressed to think about clandestine organizations, I’m often lead down the thought path towards action/sci-fi secret outfits such as Nick Fury’s S.H.I.E.L.D., James Bond’s MI6 (though this is actually a real government organization), and George Orwell’s dogs from Animal Farm. Often times I’ll even muse about how awesome it would be if one of these such organizations existed in real life.

In the last few days, these musings seem to have come to fruition with the recent uproar in regards to the awesomely named “secret organization” called PRISM.

I used quotes for two reasons. The first reason is that PRISM is hardly a secret. The plans have been available in the local planning office for the last nine months. By “local planning office,” I mean to say the internet and by “nine months,” I mean to say 5 years.

The second reason for my implicative use of quotation marks is that PRISM is a tool used by the National Security Agency (NSA).

PRISM is a kick-ass GUI that allows an analyst to look at, collate, monitor, and cross-check different data types provided to the NSA from internet companies located inside the United States.

So the NSA uses PRISM -my instinct here is to complain about acronyms. I’ve decided not to as my name is one of them- PRISM is a tool that collects data and this data is collected from internet companies.

Tech companies are legally required to share information under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (Fisa). Those requests have to be made via a Fisa court …. The companies are not obliged to make the process easier for the NSA.

From the Director of National Intelligence’s June 8th memorandum (please read this):

Under Section 702 of FISA, the United States Government does not unilaterally obtain information from the servers of U.S. electronic communication service providers. All such information is obtained with FISA Court approval and with the knowledge of the provider based upon a written directive from the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence.

Most importantly the information used cannot and I mean cannot:

be used to intentionally target any U.S. citizen, or any other U.S. person, or to intentionally target any person known to be in the United States. Likewise, Section 702 cannot be used to target a person outside the United States if the purpose is to acquire information from a person inside the United States.

So if all of this is true, where is the scandal? Why the uproar? Nobody in the US is being targeted without a reasonable tie to an international terror institution. Well, let’s have a “chat” with Edward Snowden to find out.

Recently Edward Snowden took it upon himself to disclose practices and policies used by the NSA. Practices and Policies which, in Edwards opinion, were immoral and inappropriate.

What I’m doing is self-interested: I don’t want to live in a world where there’s no privacy and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity.”

In his recent revelation as the NSA whistle blower, Edward speaks out about the injustice he has witnessed.

The government has granted itself power it is not entitled to. There is no public oversight. The result is people like myself have the latitude to go further than they are allowed to,”

Supposing that the world was naive enough to believe that everybody followed the law as they should, there would be no problem with the NSA’s use of tools like PRISM.

The problem with this is that the NSA bends the laws to their own purposes. Just as lawmakers, cops, and even people avoiding speeding tickets do. Our legal system is a cacophony of loopholes and short cuts. When you work for the government, the law changes from “what shouldn’t I do” to “what all am I allowed to do” and “how far can I go with this.”

How can we challenge the gross misuse of United States Law?


Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PRISM_%28surveillance_program%29

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Snowden

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/06/us-tech-giants-nsa-data

http://gizmodo.com/what-is-prism-511875267
http://www.dni.gov/files/documents/Facts%20on%20the%20Collection%20of%20Intelligence%20Pursuant%20to%20Section%20702.pdf

http://www.reddit.com/r/explainlikeimfive/comments/1fx8zs/what_is_prism/

http://news.cnet.com/8301-1009_3-57588253-83/what-is-the-nsas-prism-program-faq/

http://theweek.com/article/index/245360/solving-the-mystery-of-prism

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/09/edward-snowden-nsa-whistleblower-surveillance

Note: When sifting through information concerning current events, I’ve found that the “facts” seem to change on a daily basis. These changes come from all sides. It seems that the need to be first has far outweighed any sort of journalistic integrity and this is very, very disconcerting. The government, the people, and the generally unconcerned all have constantly changing opinions and sources of info. I would just like to ask everybody to please use their best judgment when spreading information. Gossip is the worst (out of all the things). Remember we are all in this life together. The only way to Be Always Growing is to be doing this together. That being said: I welcome any and all corrections that you may have. Thanks for reading-JR

The Drones Are Coming!

drones

bbc.co.uk

Whether its government raids of domestic properties or the attentive nature of big brother while you surf the internet, the government is slowly gaining ground on its way to a 1984 scenario. As if worrying about someone monitoring our torrents wasn’t enough, we now have to worry about military grade drones being used by police officers in the US to keep us in line. It is true that new conveniences and technological upgrades always come with new battlegrounds and new frontiers, but I wonder if we may be crossing the line that affords us our freedoms.

With compelling arguments from Police such that drones would help reduce cost and help make fighting crime more efficient, drones sound like a good idea.

In this time of austerity, we are always looking for sensible and cost-effective methods to improve public safety,

said Capt. Tom Madigan of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department,

We are not looking at military-grade Predator drones. They are not armed.

YET.

These TOYS, as some law enforcers are calling them, are slowly being introduced into society with the idea that drones are the future and that people can make a successful career out of piloting a drone. Call me crazy but when was it ever OK for the government to invade the privacy of its people? Thankfully, we haven’t all stayed silent about this matter, and for the time being the drones are being put down and canceled, but for how long?

Doug Honig, spokesman for ACLU of Washington says:

Drones give law enforcement agencies unprecedented abilities to engage in surveillance and intrude on people’s privacy

Dave Norris, a city councilman in Charlottesville, Va. says:

I don’t mean to sound conspiratorial about it, but these drones are coming, and we need to put some safeguards in place so they are not abused

With the looming threat of overpopulation, is it a question of morality to set these drones afloat that is, for the time being, forcing them to stay grounded? Is this simply one more step towards total control that is part of a New World Order scheme? Or is this simply a cost effective way of handling crimes in a technologically advancing society? Like it or not, THE DRONES ARE COMING!

 

Research:

Wondergressive

NBC News

The New York Times

US News

American Civil Liberties Union

Ted Poe Congressman

Wikipedia

Ars Technica

Youtube

EU Funds Orwellian Plan to Invasively Monitor Public’s Behavior

 

 

In a push to prevent crime, the EU is beginning to implement various invasive techniques that monitor the public physically and virtually.

The name of the project is Project Indect, and its aim is to “develop computer programmes which act as “agents” to monitor and process information from web sites, discussion forums, file servers, peer-to-peer networks and even individual computers.”

The EU has increased its budget for fighting crime, terrorism and handling migration by 13.5% in the last 5 years.  Through profiling entire nations, the new collective European police force is “likely to gain access to sensitive information held by UK police, including the British DNA database. It also expects the number of UK citizens extradited under the controversial European Arrest Warrant to triple.”

The ‘1984’ style overhaul will even analyze and monitor personal computers and networks. Critics all around the world are calling this the beginning of a ‘European CIA.’

EU Orwellian Plan to Invasively Monitor Public’s Behavior

 

In a push to prevent crime, the EU is beginning to implement various invasive techniques that monitor the public physically and virtually.

The name of the project is Project Indect, and its aim is to

develop computer programmes which act as ‘agents’ to monitor and process information from web sites, discussion forums, file servers, peer-to-peer networks and even individual computers.

The EU has increased its budget for fighting crime, terrorism and handling migration by 13.5% over the last 6 years.  Through profiling populations of entire nations, the new collective European police force is

likely to gain access to sensitive information held by UK police, including the British DNA database. It  also expects the number of UK citizens extradited under the controversial European Arrest Warrant to triple.

The ‘1984′ style overhaul will even analyze and monitor personal computers and networks. Critics all around the world are calling this the beginning of a ‘European CIA.’

 

Sources:

Telegraph: Orwellian Artificial Intelligence

Project Indect

European Union Financial Report

1984 by George Orwell