Facebook Seeking to Exploit Consumer Banking Data

Major corporations are interested primarily in profits, not helping human beings. Since data is clearly one of the most valuable resources in the world today, major corporations trying to obtain consumer banking data represents the corporations trying to further engage in data mining and exploitation.

Apparently not satisfied with access to its users’ call history, text messaging data, and online conversations, Facebook has reportedly asked major Wall Street firms like JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo to hand over their customers’ sensitive financial data as part of the social media giant’s ongoing attempt to become “a platform where people buy and sell goods and services.”

And according to the Wall Street Journal—which first reported on Facebook’s plans on Monday—the social media behemoth isn’t the only tech company that wants access to Americans’ financial data. Google and Amazon have also “asked banks to share data if they join with them, in order to provide basic banking services on applications such as Google Assistant and Alexa,” the Journal pointed out, citing anonymous sources familiar with the companies’ ambitions.

Over the past year, Facebook has reached out to some of America’s largest banks to request “detailed financial information about their customers, including card transactions and checking account balances, as part of an effort to offer new services to users,” the Journal notes. “Facebook has told banks that the additional customer information could be used to offer services that might entice users to spend more time on Messenger.”

In response to the Journal‘s reporting, critics of corporate power used the word “dystopian” to describe the push by Facebook, Google, and Amazon for ever-greater access to users’ personal information in a bid to boost profits.

[…]

While Facebook insisted in response to the Journal‘s story that it doesn’t want to use any of this data for advertising purposes or share it with third parties, many pointed out that there is no reason to trust Facebook’s expressed commitment to user privacy, particularly in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal and other abuses.

Insightful Noam Chomsky Interviews

Much of importance is worth noting here.

ALEXANDRIA OCASIOCORTEZ: I do think that the way that we won in New York 14 is a model for how we can win almost anywhere. I knew from the outset that—you know, I had no misconceptions of the fact that the New York political machine was not going to be doing me any favors. And so I didn’t—I tried to kind of come in as clear-eyed as possible. And I knew that if we were going to win, the way that progressives win on an unapologetic message is by expanding the electorate. That’s the only way that we can win strategically. It’s not by rushing to the center. It’s not by trying to win spending all of our energy winning over those who have other opinions. It’s by expanding the electorate, speaking to those that feel disenchanted, dejected, cynical about our politics, and letting them know that we’re fighting for them.

[…]

AMY GOODMAN: And the issues you ran on?

ALEXANDRIA OCASIOCORTEZ: And the issues I ran on were very clear, and I think it was an important part to us winning: improved and expanded Medicare for all; tuition-free public colleges and universities, as well as trade schools; a Green New Deal; justice for Puerto Rico; an unapologetic platform of criminal justice reform and ending the war on drugs; and also speaking truth to power and speaking about money in politics not just in general, but how it operates in New York City.

[…]

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, I think there’s—her victory was a quite spectacular and significant event. I think what it points to is a split in the Democratic Party between the—roughly speaking, between the popular base and the party managers. The popular base is increasingly, essentially, social democratic, following, pursuing the—concerned with the kinds of progressive objectives that she outlined in those—in her remarks, which should be directed not only to expanding the electorate but to the general working-class, poor population of the world, of the middle-class population of the country, for whom these ideals are quite significant. They can be brought to that.

[…]

I think she was right in saying that the policies she’s outlined should have broad appeal to a very large segment of the population. We should bear in mind that, for now almost 40 years, since the neoliberal assault began, taking off with Reagan, on from there, a large majority of the population are living in conditions of stagnation or decline. Real wages are—for, say, male real wages—are about what they were in the 1960s. It’s been—there has been productivity growth. Hasn’t gone to working people. It’s gone into the very few extremely overstuffed pockets.

[…]

Notice, as everybody’s well aware, the tax scam was a purposeful effort not only to enrich the super-rich and the corporate sector—corporate profits, of course, are overflowing—but it was also an effort to sharply increase the deficit, which can be used—and Paul Ryan and others kindly announced to us right away what the plans were—the deficit could be used to undermine any elements of government structure which benefit the general population—Medicare, Social Security, food for poor children. Anything you can do to shaft the general population more can now be justified under the argument that we have a huge deficit, thanks to stuffing the pockets of the rich. This is an astonishing phenomenon. And under those conditions, a properly designed progressive program should appeal to a large majority of the population. But it has to be done correctly and not shaped in ways which will appease the donor class.

[…]

We should be considering why people are fleeing from their homes. Not because they want to live in slums in New York. They’re fleeing from their homes because their homes are unlivable, and they’re unlivable, largely, because of things that we have done. Overwhelmingly, that’s the reason. That tells you right away what the solution to the crisis is: rebuild what we’ve destroyed, compensate for the atrocities that we’ve carried out. Then the flow of refugees will decline. And for those who come with asylum pleas, they should be accommodated in a humane and civilized way. Maybe it’s impossible to imagine that we can reach the level of civilization of the poor countries that are absorbing refugees.

[…]

AMY GOODMAN: Federal officials say 711 children remain separated from their parents, despite Thursday’s court-imposed deadline for the Trump administration to reunite all migrate children separated from their parents by immigration officials at the border. More than 400 of the children have parents who have already been deported from the United States.

[…]

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, it’s a major scandal, of course, and properly condemned throughout the world. Taking children away from their parents, sending them off somewhere, losing track of them, you know, it’s hard to think of a more brutal and sadistic policy.

[…]

You’ll notice there’s one—there’s two countries in the region from which there haven’t been refugee flows. One is Costa Rica, which happens to be the one country that sort of functions, and not by accident, the one country that the United States has not—in which the United States does not intervene militarily to overthrow the government and run a military regime. The other is Nicaragua, which differed, which also suffered severely in the 1980s from Reagan’s assaults. But Nicaragua was unlike the other countries of the region: It had an army to defend it. In the other countries, the army were the terrorists. In Nicaragua, the army could, to some extent, defend the population from Reagan’s terrorist forces. And though there’s plenty of problems in Nicaragua, it hasn’t been the source of refugee flow.

So, essentially, what President Trump is saying is, we’ll destroy your countries, slaughter you, impose brutal regimes, but if you try to get out, you’re not going to come here, because America is full.

[…]

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, my frank opinion is that—I must say I don’t pay much attention to television, so I don’t know a great deal about it. But, in general, I think the media—first of all, Fox News is, by now, basically a joke. It’s, as you said, state media. The other media, I think, are focusing on issues which are pretty marginal. There are much more serious issues that are being put to the side. So, the worst of—even on the case of immigration, once again, I think the real question is dealing with the roots of immigration, our responsibility for it, and what we can do to overcome that. And that’s almost never discussed. But I think that’s the crucial issue. And I think we find the same across the board.

[…]

NOAM CHOMSKY: Trump has basically one principle: me first. That’s almost all of his policies, and wild statements and so on are perfectly well explicable within—under the assumption that that’s what’s driving him. Now, that—crucially, for him, he has to ensure that the Mueller investigation is discredited. Whatever they come up with, if it implicates him in any way, the way the media and political culture function, that will be considered of enormous significance, much more significance than his pursuing policies on the environment which may destroy human civilization.

[…]

NOAM CHOMSKY: We can’t overemphasize the fact that we’re in a unique moment of human history. In fact, we have been, ever since 1945. In 1945, human history changed dramatically. In August 1945, humans demonstrated that their vaunted intelligence had created a means to destroy life on Earth. Didn’t quite have it yet at that point, but it was obvious that it was going to extend and expand, as it in fact did.

A couple of years later, 1947, The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists established its famous Doomsday Clock. How far are we from midnight, terminal disaster? It was set at seven minutes to midnight. It once reached two minutes to midnight, 1953, when the U.S. and then the Soviet Union detonated thermonuclear weapons, which do have the capacity to essentially destroy life. Then it’s oscillated variously. It’s now back at two minutes to midnight—with an addition.

It was not known in 1945 that we were not only entering the nuclear age, but entering a new geological epoch, what geologists call the Anthropocene, an epoch in which human activity is having severe and deleterious effects on the environment in which human and other life can survive. We also entered into what’s now called the sixth extinction, a rapid extinction of species, which is comparable to the fifth extinction 65 million years ago when an asteroid, huge asteroid, hit the Earth, we know.

The World Geological Society finally settled on the end of World War II as the onset of the Anthropocene—sharp escalation and destruction of the environment, not only global warming, carbon dioxide, other greenhouse gases, but also such things as plastics in the ocean, which are predicted to be greater than the weight of fish in the ocean not far in the future.

Letter to Amazon CEO Addressed to an “Insuperable Control Freak”

Amazon’s social responsibility is horrendous given its market dominance, and its CEO is the world’s richest person while many Amazon employees struggle with low pay and terrible working conditions. Amazon received a tremendous public subsidy by exploiting the law to avoid sales taxes in its formative history — it should be doing much more to pay back to the public.

Dear Mr. Bezos:

You’ve come a long way from being a restless electrical engineering and computer science dual major at our alma mater, Princeton University. By heeding your own advice, your own hunches and visions, you’ve become the world’s richest person – at $141 billion and counting.

[…]

Your early clever minimizing of sales taxes gave you a big unfair advantage over brick and mortar stores that have had to pay 6, 7, 8 percent in sales taxes. Your tax-lawyers  and accountants are using the anarchic global tax avoidance jurisdictions to drive your company’s tax burden to zero on a $5.6 billion profit in 2017, plus receiving about $789 million from Trump’s tax giveaway law, according to The American Conservative magazine (see Daniel Kishi’s article, “Crony Capitalism Writ Large,” in the May/June 2018 edition).

[…]

Your expansion into retail stores and warehouses will further highlight the low wages and sometimes hazardous working conditions and assembly line pressures of your corporate model. Other companies are exploiting their workers—as in Walmart (which by the way pays far more income taxes than you do on a percentage basis even under its tax avoidance schemes)— but few companies are as blatant in their planning to replace with robotics the warehouse workers and truck drivers delivering goods.

[…]

So you are on top of the world, hyper-rich, arrogant, with your raucous laugh and your sudden temper, believing that neither antitrust laws, nor labor laws, nor tax laws, nor consumer, nor environmental, nor securities laws will ever catch up with the excesses of your business model.

Don’t bet on it. Relentless greed with overly concentrated power (about the only thing you seem not to be willing or able to control is Alexa whose ambitions may come back to haunt you) sooner or later, faces a statute of limitations.

Patriotic Millionaires: “Just Tax Us More, PLEASE”

There’s really something wrong going on when there’s a group called the Patriotic Millionaires that advocates for left-leaning policies to help the general population.

According to a new report released yesterday by Medicare trustees, the program is projected to run out of funding three years earlier than previously expected, now running out of money by 2026. A partner report stated that the funding for Social Security would run out in 2035.

In response to this news the Patriotic Millionaires released the following statement:

“This is beyond absurd, this is morally bankrupt. The GOP is waging a war on everyday Americans on behalf of their donor class. Why else would they stand by and watch programs that 40% of Americans benefit from dry up all while signing a $1.9 trillion tax cut for the wealthy into law?

Millions of American seniors depend on these programs every day. Maybe GOP members of Congress are not thinking about those seniors, about 2026 or about 2035 because they plan to have skipped through the revolving door to lucrative K Street lobbying jobs by then. Whatever the reasoning, it’s become clear the the GOP has plans for the type of America they want to live in, and it is not the type of America we want to live in.

We want to live in an America with a healthy population, a population that is able to live in retirement with dignity, and a population that is not under constant attack by Republican lawmakers. So tax us more. Tax us more to fund these programs and give us a healthy workforce, to give us retirees who can afford to buy our goods and services, and to give us a country that we can be even prouder to call home.”

The group also has a good statement on the Supreme Court’s recent decision to unjustly diminish political democracy:

This afternoon, in response to the news that the Supreme Court upheld by a 5-4 decision Ohio’s process of purging individuals from its voter rolls, the most extreme in the nation, as not violating the National Voter Registration Act, the Chair of the Patriotic Millionaires Morris Pearl, former managing director at BlackRock, Inc., released the following statement:

“Today’s decision by the Supreme Court is not just a mistake, it is the latest blow in a war over the fate of our democracy. On one side, the people. On the other, the conservative officials and wealthy oligarchs who wants more money in politics and less voting. This decision does not make our elections safer or more fair, it just makes it harder for lawmakers to be held accountable by their constituents. At a time when public trust in government has never been lower, we need to make it easier, not harder, for people to vote.”

Article Examining Depression

The article mentions standards such as medication and counseling, but perhaps the best way to reduce high depressive rates in the population is to restructure society to make it much better for most people than it is currently.

Clinical depression has surged to epidemic proportions in recent decades, from little-mentioned misery at the margins of society to a phenomenon that is rarely far from the news. It is widespread in classrooms and boardrooms, refugee camps and inner cities, farms and suburbs.

At any one time it is estimated that more than 300 million people have depression – about 4% of the world’s population when the figures were published by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2015. Women are more likely to be depressed than men.

Depression is the leading global disability, and unipolar (as opposed to bipolar) depression is the 10th leading cause of early death, it calculates. The link between suicide, the second leading cause of death for young people aged 15-29, and depression is clear, and around the world two people kill themselves every minute.

While rates for depression and other common mental health conditions vary considerably, the US is the “most depressed” country in the world, followed closely by Colombia, Ukraine, the Netherlands and France. At the other end of the scale are Japan, Nigeria and China.

[…]

Things have improved since people with mental illness were believed to be possessed by the devil and cast out of their communities, or hanged as witches. But there remains a widespread misunderstanding of the illness, particularly the persistent trope that people with depression should just “buck up”, or “get out more”.

[…]

The WHO estimates that fewer than half of people with depression are receiving treatment. Many more will be getting inadequate help, often focused on medication, with too little investment in talking therapies, which are regarded as a crucial ally.

[…]

There have been positive experiments with both ketamine and psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms. Further hopes for a new generation of treatments have been raised by recent discoveries of 44 gene variants that scientists believe raise the risk of depression. Another controversial area of research is treatment for low immunity and mooted links between depression and inflammation.

Countries are increasingly recognising the need to train more psychologists to replace or complement drug treatments.

And perhaps most importantly, there is a cultural movement to make it easier for people to ask for help and speak out about their illness.

The Importance of Using Different Language for Political Messaging Effectiveness

Language can be used as a method of influencing or controlling thought. I have my disagreements with the cognitive linguist Lakoff, but he does present a useful analysis on why it’s important to use different language to defeat the extreme right-wing in political messaging. One example is that he tells progressives to avoid the phrase “death tax” when referring to the estate tax, instead recommending the counter be the “billionaire’s tax” since less than 0.002% of people will have to pay it. According to Lakoff, this is how the negative connotation to taxing extreme wealth can be countered.

Without knowing it, many Democrats, progressives and members of the news media help Donald Trump every day. The way they help him is simple: they spread his message.

Think about it: every time Trump issues a mean tweet or utters a shocking statement, millions of people begin to obsess over his words. Reporters make it the top headline. Cable TV panels talk about it for hours. Horrified Democrats and progressives share the stories online, making sure to repeat the nastiest statements in order to refute them. While this response is understandable, it works in favor of Trump.

When you repeat Trump, you help Trump. You do this by spreading his message wide and far.

Nobody knows this better than Trump. Trump, as a media master, knows how to frame a debate. When he picks a fight, he does so deliberately. He tweets or says outrageous things, knowing they will be repeated millions and millions of times. When the news media and Democrats repeat Trump’s frames, they are strengthening those frames by ensuring that tens of millions of Americans hear them repeated over and over again.

Quick: don’t think of an elephant. Now, what do you see? The bulkiness, the grayness, the trunkiness of an elephant. You can’t block the picture — the frame — from being accessed by your unconscious mind. As a professor of brain science, this is the first lesson I give my students. It’s also the title of my book on the science of framing political debates.

The key lesson: when we negate a frame, we evoke the frame. When President Richard Nixon addressed the country during Watergate and used the phrase “I am not a crook,” he coupled his image with that of a crook. He established what he was denying by repeating his opponents’ message.

This illustrates one of the most important principles of framing a debate: When arguing against the other side, don’t use their language because it evokes their frame and not the frame you seek to establish. Never repeat their charges! Instead, use your own words and values to reframe the conversation.

Interesting Inequality Article

in - Copy

An interesting article on inequality. The journalist is probably of the class who feel some guilt for benefiting from the unjust, enormous upwards redistribution of income that’s happened in the last four decades. The income share of the top 1 percent in the U.S. has doubled from its share during most of the 1950s to 1980. This is an amount high enough to increase the income of people in the lowest 90 percent of the country’s income distribution by over 20 percent, and it’s nearly enough to double the income share of the bottom 40 percent.

I have my disagreements with the article, and it doesn’t offer many solutions relative to its lengthiness. In brief though, one of the most important ways to reduce inequality is to stop wealth from being distributed so unequally to begin with. Market structures have been rigged in all sorts of ways to benefit the wealthy, and instead of only focusing on tax and transfer policy, pre-tax distributions of income need to be focused on more.