Tag Archives: steve jobs

If It Doesn’t Die Right Away, Apple’s New Macbook Is Amazing

Originally published by ANewDomain:

Apple’s new MacBook is amazingly tiny, thin and light, weighing it at just two pounds. But something’s missing — something you might miss. The three and a half-year old MacBook Pro I’m typing on now features two USBs, a Thunderbolt, a FireWire and a Kensington lock slot.

Only one survives. TechCrunch reports,

This MacBook only has a single USB-C and it does everything from charging, to sending video out and transporting data … It’s the only port on the computer meaning owners cannot charge the computer and an iPhone at the same time. It’s not possible to output video to a monitor and input data from an external drive — at least not without a hub.”

apple macbook new

Just what I need, another Apple video port that won’t connect to the year-old (i.e., ancient) digital projectors owned by any of the libraries, schools or bookstores where I give talks. Of course that’s a problem easily (though annoyingly) solved by the purchase of another overpriced, easily lost, unreliable adaptor.

For my money the big story here is Apple’s longstanding unwillingness and inability to address the issue of battery power.

Mad with Power

Apple markets portable devices that can’t be carried around more than a few hours without needing to be plugged in. This makes said devices practically as portable as one of those “portable TVs” that weighed 60 pounds but had a handle on top. By that standard, the earth is portable if you attach a big handle to the North Pole.

With moderate use, my iPhone 5C sometimes makes it six whole hours without running out of juice. (And yes, I turn off my apps, use airplane mode, adjust my settings to lower light and never stream video or play games, just like all the articles about saving battery power advise.) This, I submit, is unreasonable for a phone. If you remember, the original reason you bought your first cellphone was that it would be perfect in an emergency — like your car breaking down in the boonies.

Alas. During the recent cold snap here in the Northeast, I actually watched my iPhone go from 100 percent charge to 5 percent in an hour. In an hour! Because, as Apple says, you’re not supposed to use it when it’s under 32 degrees, which, for those who don’t know, happens during the season of winter.

Even when it was new, my laptop never made it more than three hours of doing something wild and crazy, like keeping Word and Firefox open at the same time. Photoshop? Fugheddaboutit.

Crappy battery life on Apple products has turned me into Rae Dawn Chong in “Quest for Fire.” I’m constantly and obsessively searching for power, but looking a lot less cute.  I carry a Mophie “juice pack” in case of, you know, an automobile mishap. When I fly, I favor carriers like Virgin America, which have power outlets. (Inexplicably, they have two outlets per row of three seats, which can lead to ugly scrambles between the knees. On the plus side, it keeps you limber and might lead to surprising romantic moments with other passengers.) At Starbucks, I’m the guy staring through — not at — your crotch to see if there’s a plug two feet above the baseboards.

Apple’s low-battery problems are well-documented. And, it turns out, intentional. Chief company designer Jony Ive admits the company intentionally ships its products with less capacity than rival Android. From the Financial Times:

Talking of performance, when the issue of the frequent need to recharge the iPhone is raised, answers that it’s because it’s so light and thin that we use it so much and therefore deplete the battery. With a bigger battery it would be heavier, more cumbersome, less ‘compelling.’

In other words, it’s our fault.

As much as I hate to admit it, the man has a point. As long as people keep paying top dollar for the smallest, lightest whatever, despite the fact that the power situation is objectively unacceptable, Apple has no reason to change.

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Ellen Pao vs Kleiner: What It Means to You and Silicon Valley

Originally published by ANewDomain:

Ellen Pao’s gender discrimination lawsuit has the tech world talking about what it will mean if she wins a verdict against her former employer, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm.

It’s a crazy case. Among the highlights: an office affair gone wrong, with the jilted married guy accused of retaliating against the jilting single woman; a company ski trip for bros before hoes; juicy revelations about huge salaries and ridiculous work hours, including putting in time during a honeymoon.

So what does it mean?

Maybe it’s about the power of money.

ellen-pao“What’s Really at Stake in Ellen Pao’s Kleiner Perkins Lawsuit,” asserts Emily Bazelon in The New York Times, is the tantalizing possibility of “a cultural shift” in Big Tech, infamous for its young white male-dominated “bro” culture. (They used to call that “frat boy”crap.)

“As the kingmakers who decide which start-ups survive, they have the leverage to make the industry more receptive to women and their ideas or continue to reinforce the ‘brogrammer’ norm,” she writes. (Disclosure: Bazelon edited some of my work in the 1990s.)

Or maybe this lawsuit is about the tightrope women have to walk in the American workplace.

“The real drama is in the more mundane charges, about slights familiar to any woman in any workplace that are rarely aired in public, much less in a courtroom,” Claire Cain Miller writes, also in the Times. “Ellen Pao, a former junior partner, was told that she didn’t speak up enough and was too passive — but also that she spoke up too much and was pushy and entitled.”

Could Pao v. Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers be about the paucity of women?

“What is really under examination in this trial is the question of why there are so few women in leadership positions in Silicon Valley. At stake is any hope that the tech world can claim to be a progressive place, or even a fair one.” That’s David Streitfeld. Also in the Times.

Three different takes in the same paper!

Here, let me help make things more confusing — with yet another interpretation of why it matters.

Ellen Pao’s case is really about accountability.

The Silicon Valley that emerged after the dot com crash of 2000 has been a cultural and legal Wild West, dominated by companies run by executives who don’t think the rules apply to them.

Every human resources hack knows that gender discrimination is strictly prohibited under federal law. That’s been true for decades.

Google, the biggest tech employer, has a 70 percent male-30 percent female workforce. (It’s 79 percent – 21 percent for “leadership” positions.) Men in the Valley earn 61 percent more than women with the same job and qualifications. It’s actually getting worse.

Numbers like that lead to one obvious conclusion: the bros aren’t even trying. Because they’re not worried about the EEOC, or PR, or anything at all.

The rules-are-for-peasants mentality was epitomized by late Apple chief Steve Jobs, who famously parked in handicapped spaces. “He seemed to think the blue wheelchair symbol meant the spot was reserved for the chairman,” Andy Hertzfled wrote.

As I reported late last year, tech companies violate federal laws against age discrimination even more brazenly than those concerning gender — which is saying something. Many tech ads overtly state that anyone not “young” need not bother to apply. Electronic Arts had no employees over age 35.

And they’re just as bad on race. Whites and Asians are radically overrepresented; Latinos and blacks, if and when you can find them in Silicon Valley, are paid less than whites for the same job.

It’s not just legal stuff. Silicon Valley firms ignore the golden rule of business that the customer is always right. For the Valley, the customer — you and me — are sources of data and money to be exploited and drained dry without so much as a thank you.

Got a problem with Facebook? Too bad.

They don’t have a single customer service rep you can telephone for help when, say, your creepy ex-boyfriend posts photos of your intimate moments.

Facebook also resets the default on your “privacy” settings to “public” without asking. Nice respect for the fundamental American right to privacy.

Sorry, Mark Zuckerberg — I could have just as easily picked on any other company. Nothing personal.

Back to Ellen Pao.

If she wins, which is by no means certain, it will not mean that Silicon Valley will begin treating its customers with respect, or hire people over age 35. What it will mean is that they have to follow the same rules as the rest of us — or pay the price.

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LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: iDeasy

iDeasy

It sounded like a great idea at the time: L.A. would give students a boost into the 21st century by putting tech directly into their hands. The city’s United School District would buy 700,000 iPads from Apple, each loaded with educational software supplied by Pearson, the major textbook publisher.

“In June 2013, the [Los Angeles] Board of Education approved a deal with the Apple/Pearson team after senior staff assured members that its proposal was both the least expensive and highest in quality, Pearson provided curriculum; Apple was to supply iPads,” Howard Blume writes in the Times.

Apple’s sleek tablets appeared in 47 Los Angeles public schools during the 2013-14 academic year. Right out of the gate, however, it became clear that there were problems with the $1 billion contract. At a time of drastic budget cuts and brutal teacher layoffs, Apple charged L.A. more per device than other districts had paid. Pearson’s software was glitchy and incomplete. Schools weren’t set up to deal with security concerns — protecting the hardware, and blocking students from viewing inappropriate Internet content proved difficult. The district bought iPads at full cost even though their model was about to be replaced by a newer version. “Students at three campuses, for example, deleted security filters so they could browse the Internet — prompting officials to prohibit the use of the devices outside school. At times, officials also provided conflicting or incorrect answers about the project to a technology committee headed by school board member Monica Ratliff.”

When government bureaucracies wind up paying too much money to private contractors for goods and services that fall short — especially when the deal gets cut quickly — it’s reasonable to wonder whether the bidding process was open and transparent. Based on a series of emails disclosed at the request of the Times under the California Public Records Act, communications between L.A. schools superintendent and executives at Pearson and Apple, and the complaints of rivals who tried to land the district’s business, appear to indicate that an arm’s-length approach gave way to a level of institutional coziness that verges on outright political corruption.

“It looked like Apple was positioned to be the choice,” Chiara Tellini of Irvine-based Mind Research Institute, groused to Blume.

From Blume’s report:

In one email, from May 24, 2012, then-Deputy Supt. Jaime Aquino seems to strategize with higher-ups from Pearson, an international education-services company, on how to ensure that it got the job.

“I believe we would have to make sure that your bid is the lowest one,” wrote Aquino, who was an executive with a Pearson affiliate before joining L.A. Unified.

Deasy was one of the last to participate in that email exchange and made his comments after Aquino’s, which covered several topics.

“Understand your points and we need to work together on this quickly,” Deasy wrote. “I want to not loose [sic] an amazing opportunity and fully recognize our current limits.”

Charming.

(More from Blume: “On Sunday, Deasy said that the conversations were only about a ‘pilot program we did at several schools months before we decided to do a large-scale implementation. We did work closely on this pilot.'”)

Under fire and possibly facing an ethics probe, L.A. Unified has suspended the Apple/Pearson deal.

“You should make every bidder think they have a slim chance of getting the job,” Stuart Magruder, a school bond oversight committee member who questioned the deal at the time and got fired over it only to be later reinstated, told Times columnist Steve Lopez. Deasy “didn’t do that.” Lopez is not alone in wondering aloud whether Deasy’s days at L.A. Unified are numbered.

If not, they ought to be. In politics as in business, there’s little effective difference between the appearance of impropriety and outright corruption. Taxpayers have the right not to have to wonder whether their money is being safeguarded — and students have the right not to know they’re being shortchanged by a regime heavy on high tech and low on actual teaching.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Good Reasons to Hate Big Tech

We love computers and other electronics, but — not unlike an addict’s opinion of his dealer — we hate the companies that sell them to us. Now our contempt for Silicon Valley is expanding to include tech workers.

In San Francisco, where locals know the techies best, 30-year-old worker bees are taking as much heat as their billionaire CEO overlords.

Geographical familiarity breeds political contempt.

Just as Zuccotti Park gave birth to Occupy Wall Street’s clarion cry against the predator class henceforth to be known as the Banksters, San Francisco bus stops have become ground zero in a backlash against Big Tech. Oversized SUV-like buses that ferry Google staffers down the Peninsula provoke anger by clogging public transit stops in a city whose crumbling fleet of city vehicles is starved of funding. Private tech company buses have been blocked by protesters who object to gentrification fueled by the soaring rents paid by deep-pocked tech workers. A bus window got smashed. Across the bay in Berkeley, demonstrators even showed up at the home of a Google engineer to hold him to account for his dual role as tech dystopian (he runs Google’s creepy robot car project) and real estate developer.

Save for a window and a few Google worker tardy notices, nothing has been harmed. Days of Rage this ain’t.

Despite the relative mellowness of it all, any hint that American leftism is livelier than a withered corpse prompts establishmentarians into anxious fits that the streets will soon run red with the blood of fattened-on-organic-veal-and-green-smoothies technorati. In Salon, the usually steady Andrew Leonard lectured San Francisco’s dispossessed that street actions like slashing bus tires are “bullshit,” opining that “delivering passionate rhetoric at a public hearing on city policy toward private shuttles is part and parcel of how a democratic society operates.” (Or doesn’t operate, by his very own account.)

“This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking,” Tom Perkins, an 82-year-old venture capitalist who helped fund the initial launch of Google, wrote in an instantly infamous letter to the The Wall Street Journal, comparing dislike of 1%ers to Nazi attacks on Jews. “Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendant ‘progressive’ radicalism unthinkable now?” (Note to Perkins: You’re old enough to remember that Nazism was a right-wing movement.)

“With spokesmen like Mr. Perkins,” David Streitfeld responded in The New York Times, “the tech community will alienate the entire country in no time.”

Gallup’s 2011 poll of public perceptions found that Americans view the tech sector more positively than any other industry but that, I think, is not going to last. Because there are lots of good reasons to hate Big Tech.

The root of our contempt for the tech biz is that all our economic eggs are in their basket. Manufacturing is never coming back. Whatever chance the U.S. economy has of recovering from the 2008-09 collapse (and, for that matter, the 2000-01 and 1989-93 recessions) lies with the tech sector. But the technies don’t care. And they’re barely employing anyone.

Facebook has 6,300 employees, Twitter has 2000, Instagram has 13.

The Big Three auto companies each employ between 2.5 million and 3 million workers directly or through subsidiaries and contractors.

It’s not like Facebook couldn’t use more American workers. Because Mark Zuckerberg can never grab enough loot for himself, Facebook does without the basics, like customer service reps. They don’t even have a phone number.

It’s hard to feel warm and fuzzy about companies that don’t hire us, our neighbors or, well, anyone at all.

Or answer the phone.

Fair or not, we feel vested in tech. The average American spends thousands of dollars a year on electronics and tech-related services, including broadband Internet. Objectively, we spend more on housing, food and energy — but those expenditures feel impersonal. Unlike our devices, we’re not constantly reminded of them.

Smartphones, tablets and desktop computers are central to our minute-by-minute lives, serving as a constant reminder of our material support to the digerati.

Every time we pick up our iPhone, we recall the $400 we spent on it. (And the $300 on its once cool, now lame, two-year-old precursor.) This makes us think of historic, extravagant profits pocketed by their makers. We can’t help but remember the over-the-top paychecks collected by their makers’ CEOs, including the incompetent ones. Also popping to the front of our consciousness is the despicable outsourcing of manufacturing to slave labor contracting firms like Foxconn, where abused Chinese workers attempt suicide so often that the company had to install netting around dormitory windows. Charmingly, Foxconn began requiring new hires to sign an agreement releasing the company from liability if they kill themselves.

Few industries gouge consumers as ferociously as wildly profitable tech outfits like Microsoft, Adobe and Apple.

Not only have Americans been reamed by Big Tech — they know they’ve been reamed. Which sets the stage for big-time resentment.

In the past, wealthy companies and individuals mitigated populist resentment by paying homage to the social contract — i.e., by giving back. Henry Ford paid assembly line workers more than market rates because he wanted them to be able to afford his cars. 19th century robber barons like J.P. Morgan and Cornelius Vanderbilt built museums and contributed to colleges and civic organizations. These gestures helped keep socialism at bay.

Whether it’s due to the influence of technolibertarianism, pure greed or obliviousness, tech titans are relative skinflints compared to the manufacturing giants they’ve supplanted. Yes, there’s the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (though its “philanthrocapitalism” model is staggeringly ineffective). But Steve Jobs kept almost every cent. Facebook and Twitter are basically “non-players” in the philanthropy world. Google doles out roughly 0.02% of its annual profits in charitable grants.

Some say the techies aren’t cheap — just skittish. “A lot of the wealthy in Silicon Valley are newly wealthy,” said E. Chris Wilder, executive director of the Valley Medical Center Foundation in San Jose. “That money still feels a little too tenuous; still feels fleeting. And the economic downturn has reinforced that feeling.”

Whatever the cause, underemployed and overcharged Americans expect tech’s 1% to start stepping up.

(Support independent journalism and political commentary. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Why Isn’t Organ Donation Mandatory?

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America’s Weird, Enduring Respect for Corpses

This week America’s news media obsessed over the shooting deaths of 12 people in Washington. The usual arguments over gun control seem irrelevant since there isn’t much that could have been done to prevent those particular killings. It was a navy base. Even in England, members of the military have access to automatic weapons. And even if we were inclined to start locking people up for hearing voices or feeling strange vibrations, we can’t build enough mental asylums to hold all of them.

On the other hand, it is estimated that 18 people die every day due to a national shortage of organ donations. This crisis can be solved.

Don’t worry: this is not one of Those pieces calling for you to consider signing the donor section on the back of your driver’s license.

My solution is more radical. When you die, the government should take your organs.

The transplant shortage is acute. Some patients are so desperate that they travel on ethically-dubious “medical tourism” junkets to China, which implants organs from executed prisoners. Others accept D-rate organs. Patients at the University of Maryland recently accepted kidneys that had recently been operated upon for benign or malignant tumors. Better bad kidneys than none at all.

The waiting list system is widely viewed as arbitrary and unfair. In June 2013 a federal judge made news by issuing an order suspending rules that effectively blocked children under the age of 12 from receiving organs from adult donors. Several children who might have died without the procedure benefited. Unfortunately, the court’s ruling probably killed a similar number of adult patients. Like cash, life is a zero-sum game.

It is widely believed that celebrities and wealthy people, most notably Billy Martin in 1995 and Steve Jobs in 2009, are able to cut the line, moving themselves up the waiting list. Technically, this isn’t true. But practically, it is.

A major factor determining whether or not you will receive a new organ is whether you can afford the $500,000-plus cost of the procedure and its maintenance, or whether your insurance coverage is sufficiently expensive to cover it. Rich people can pay, poor people can’t. “There’s a huge triage involved in getting in,” Arthur Caplan, chair of the department of medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania, told CNN. “If you’re a homeless alcoholic sleeping on the streets of L.A., and you’re going toe-to-toe with Steve Jobs, you’re going to lose.”

Where resources are scarce, politics get ugly. In 2012 the University of California at San Francisco kidney exchange was accused of denying a kidney to a man because of his status as an undocumented immigrant. A petition campaign changed UC officials’ minds.

This being America and anything more progressive than the collected works of Ronald Reagan being off the table, the mainstream media turns to free-market solutions: paying prospective donors, either while they are alive or after they die, for their kidneys, livers and other body parts that could be used to enhance or save someone’s life. In 2010 The Wall Street Journal published an essay urging that we adopt Iran’s approach, which guarantees a year of health care and a cash payment to donors. A June 2013 Slate piece by Sally Satel, “How to Fix the Organ Transplant Shortage,” called for “providing in-kind rewards — such as a down payment on a house, a contribution to a retirement fund, or lifetime health insurance” to donors.

These merchantilist suggestions have gotten traction. A 2012 poll found that 55% of Americans now believe that selling your organs ought to be legal.

And maybe they’re right. But it’s easy to imagine how the commodification of body parts could corrupt an already flawed system. Do we want to live in a nation where the unemployed resort to auctioning off pieces of themselves to stave off foreclosure?

There’s not much we can do to reduce demand for organs. So let’s focus on the supply side of the equation.

Efforts to guilt Americans into donating voluntarily are failing those 18 Americans a day. But not every healthy person who refuses to sign a donor card is heartless. I know because I’m one of them. I refuse to endorse a system that rewards the rich at the expense of the poor. If the system were more transparent, and treated everyone equally, there’d be more donors.

However, the system being what it is, that’s not going to happen.

Which brings us to the government’s role. I don’t understand why organ donation isn’t mandatory. Why isn’t every corpse harvested for all of its usable organs?

It isn’t a property-rights issue. You don’t own your corpse. Neither does your family. If it did, they could leave your body to rot in the backyard. Laws dictate how to properly dispose of a dead person.

There have been baby steps toward mandatory donation. In 2010 a New York assemblyman introduced a “presumed consent” bill that would have automatically enrolled all New Yorkers as organ donors unless they opted out (analogous to the federal “do not call” list for people who don’t want to get telephone solicitations). Two dozen other nations have similar laws. The bill failed.

If the government can save 18 people a day by harvesting every available organ, why doesn’t it pass a law making it so?

The blogger Stewart Lindsey expresses the most passionate, coherent and logical argument I can find against mandatory organ donation: “If I OPT to donate my liver, kidneys, heart or any other worthwhile organ at the time of my death, I will make that decision known. Don’t we have enough intrusion from the government into our personal lives already? If they can dictate whether or not you should be an organ donor, how much longer before they will be making the choices of where you can live, where you can work, go to church or school, who you can marry, what stores you can shop in and ultimately, how long should you be allowed to live, before your organs are no longer a viable option for harvesting!”

As a student of history, I am sympathetic to slippery slope arguments. And as I wrote above, I despise the way that the current health care system prioritizes wealthy Americans over the less fortunate. But when you boil it down, Lindsey’s argument is purely emotional. It’s my liver, and you can pry it out of my cold, dead carcass…or not.

Anyway, our top government officials don’t care about those concerns.

In the end, it comes down to the power of superstition.

When we die, we cease to exist in every way. Our bodies decompose. Only idiots believe in God, the Devil, Heaven, Hell, an afterlife. Whether your body is harvested for organs, eaten by cannibals, or minced to fertilize topsoil, you will never know the difference. Anyway, no major American religion teaches that what happens to your corpse affects your destiny in the hereafter.

Between our smart phones and amazing technology that allows our government to spy on our every digital moment, citizens of the United States of America feel that they live in an incredibly modern society. But not in our hearts, not in our souls, and certainly not in our brains.

About 2.5 million Americans die every year. Most are burned or planted in the ground, completely wasted. Vast numbers of them rot away, their bodies containing potentially life-saving organs, left intact — or embalmed — for only one reason: politicians are too cowardly to challenge the ancient idea that there is something sacred in a hunk of flesh.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. Go there to join the Ted Rall Subscription Service and receive all of Ted’s cartoons and columns by email.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Against Philanthropy

As Hurricane Victims Freeze, Billionaire Mayor Gives Away $1 Billion to Wealthy Med School

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg made headlines over the weekend with his announcement that he has donated $345 million to Johns Hopkins University. Added to his previous donations, the media baron has given his alma mater over $1 billion – the largest charitable contribution to an educational institution in US history.

Bloomberg received plaudits for his generosity by the usual media sycophants. Along with death and taxes, another thing you can count on is being told to be grateful when masters of the universe give away some of their loot (even if none of it goes to you.) As pundits fawned, thousands of New Yorkers – residents of Queens whose homes got damaged by superstorm Sandy – were shivering under blankets in heatless homes in 15° weather because restoring electricity and housing storm victims isn’t one of the mayor’s top priorities.

Disgusting.

This was a man, New Yorkers remember, who wanted the mayoralty so badly that he subverted the people’s will, bribing and bullying the City Council into overturning term limits passed by an overwhelming majority so that he could keep the job a third term.

No one should claim that he didn’t want responsibility for those poor cold slobs out in the Rockaways.

If there’s anything more nauseating than watching this rich pig bask in the glow of his philanthropy while the citizens he is tasked with caring for turn into popsicles, it’s the failure of anyone in the system – columnists, local TV anchor people, even Bloomberg’s political rivals – to call him out. For $345 million the mayor could have put his city’s storm victims up at the Four Seasons for years.

Bloomberg’s donation to one of the wealthiest universities on earth, with an endowment of $2.6 billion, serves to remind us that philanthropy is evil.

You could argue that generous rich people are better than cheap rich people. And if you like the way things are, with the gap between rich and poor at record levels and spreading – you’d be right. But most people are not happy with our winner-take-all economy.

No one deserves to be rich. And no one should be poor. Everyone who contributes to society, everyone who works to the best of their skills and abilities, deserves to earn the same salary. Of course, I realize that not everyone adheres to such basic Christian – er, communist – principles. (Anyone who denies that Jesus was a commie never cracked open a Bible.)

But most people – certainly most Americans – agree there’s a line. That too much is too much. People like Michael Bloomberg and Steve Jobs and Bill Gates may have worked hard and created products that consumers purchased in great numbers – but no one can work $25 billion hard (Bloomberg’s estimated net worth). There aren’t that many hours in the day; the human skull doesn’t contain enough synapses; no idea is worth that much.

One of the big problems with charitable giving is that it mitigates the injustice of inequality: sure, maybe it’s a little crazy that Bloomberg has 11 luxurious homes while people are starving to death and sleeping outside, but at least he’s generous. He’s giving it away. The implication, that the chasm between rich and poor isn’t that bad, is a lie. It’s also evil: If inequality isn’t that bad, it’s not important to talk about – much less fix.

“For many people, the generosity of these individuals who made so much money eliminates the problem that wealth poses, inequality poses, in the society,” says Robert Dalzell, author of “The Good Rich and What They Cost Us.” “We tend to conclude that such behavior is typical of the wealthy, and in fact it’s not…This whole notion of ‘the good rich’ I think reconciles us to levels of inequality in the society that in terms of our democratic ideology would otherwise be unacceptable.”

It’s better for society when rich people are unlikeable jerks like Mitt Romney. Knock over old ladies, stiff the waitress, talk with a pretentious fake British 19th-century accent, install a car elevator. Bad behavior by our elite oppressors hastens the revolution.

Bloomberg’s billion-dollar gift to a school that doesn’t need a penny illustrates the inherent absurdity of capitalism: aggregating so much wealth and power in the hands of a few individuals. It’s obscene and morally reprehensible to allow a disproportional share of resources to fall under the control of the arbitrary whims of a few quirky rich dudes.

Why should National Public Radio, which received a $200 million bequest by the widow of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc, get all that cash while the Pacifica radio network – more avant-garde, better politics – teeters on the edge of bankruptcy? It’s nice that the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation fights AIDS in Africa, but who are Bill and Melinda Gates to decide that AIDS in Africa is worse than, say, diarrhea, which kills more people? It’s amusing to hear that the heir to a pharmaceutical fortune gave $100 million to an obscure poetry journal – but again, people are sleeping outside. Why not musicians? Or cartoonists?

People are dying because they can’t afford treatment by a doctor. People have been convicted of crimes they didn’t commit and executed because they couldn’t afford a competent lawyer to defend them.

If a government agency were allocating public funds based on the personal whims of its director, there would be a scandal. Under the veil of “philanthropy” billions of dollars that could help millions of people are being spent in a haphazard manner – and we’re supposed to applaud because it’s up to the “private sector”?

In an ideal world no one would have that kind of power. We’d be as equal as the Declaration of Independence declares us to be. We’d make decisions about who to help and what problems to try to fix collectively. The most unfortunate people and the worst problems would get helped first –long before Johns Hopkins.

Our world isn’t perfect. But it is our duty to do everything in our power to make that way. Toward that end, billionaires like Michael Bloomberg ought to have their assets confiscated and redistributed, whether through revolutionary political change or – for the time being – high taxes.

If we can’t pull off nationalization or truly progressive taxation, if we are too weak, too disorganized and too apathetic to form the political movements that will liberate us, the least we should do is to denounce “generous” acts of philanthropy like Michael Bloomberg’s for what they are: arbitrary and self-serving attempts to deflect us from hating the rich and the inequality they embody.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Down and Out at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

What I Would Do If I Were Obama

Jobs, jobs, jobs. Throughout the presidency of Barack Obama, Americans have been preoccupied with jobs. Unemployed people need work. The underemployed need more work. The employed want salaries that go up instead of down.

The rich are worried too. The Depression of 2008-? is killing their stock portfolios.

Most presidents struggle to find the pulse of the people. Trapped in the D.C. bubble, they try to find out what voters want. Obama was lucky. He didn’t have to do that. The U.S. was in the midst of an epic economic collapse in January 2009, and has been ever since. It’s the only issue that everyone, rich to middle to poor, cared about. It still is.

In this single-issue environment, any idiot could have been a successful president. All Obama had to do was express sympathy and understanding while announcing a bunch of jobs initiatives.

Not hard.

Weirdly, though, Obama has focused on everything else except jobs: healthcare, gays in the military, gays getting married, more war against Afghanistan, new war against Libya, secret wars against Somalia and Yemen, the dreary showdown over taxes, budget cuts and the federal debt ceiling.

According to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, Obama’s approval rating is down to 39 percent. The crappy economy—and Obama’s inaction—is the simple cause.

“What Happened to Obama?” Drew Westen asked in a much-passed-around New York Times op-ed. It used to be just me. Now everyone sane agrees that Obama’s presidency has failed.

This is my favorite part of Westen’s postmortem: “Those of us who were bewitched by his eloquence on the campaign trail chose to ignore some disquieting aspects of his biography: that he had accomplished very little before he ran for president, having never run a business or a state; that he had a singularly unremarkable career as a law professor, publishing nothing in 12 years at the University of Chicago other than an autobiography; and that, before joining the United States Senate, he had voted “present” (instead of “yea” or “nay”) 130 times, sometimes dodging difficult issues.”

Westen is nicer than I am. He left out the fact that Obama had an undistinguished career as a U.S. Senator.

Is Obama a secret pawn of evil plutocrats? Does he suffer a character flaw alluded to in Westen’s piece, that he doesn’t know who he is?

Maybe. But I don’t think so. I think eight years of George W. Bush caused Americans to make a mistake. Obama was calm, so they assumed he was wise.

Obama is calm. He’s calm that it’s hard to tell if he’s sentient. But that doesn’t make him smart. Based on his record before and after becoming president, there’s a better-than-even chance that he’s not very smart.

Let’s be logical. Let’s assume that appearances don’t lie—that Obama doesn’t lose a wink of sleep over the fact that he’s presiding over a disaster that makes 9/11 look like a joke.

Let us further stipulate, for the sake of argument, that Obama isn’t stupid. That he’s merely another cynical and/or corrupt politician. If nothing else, Mr. Cynical (But Intelligent) Dirtbag ought to care about getting reelected.

Right?

If I were in Obama’s shoes, and I had any brains, if I wanted to turn those lousy poll numbers around, I’d hold press conferences to talk about jobs every day. I’d talk about jobs until the media was sick of it. Then I’d do it some more.

I’d spend two or three nights every week couchsurfing with families who were suffering, cameras rolling as I pretended to care about their silly problems with mean bosses and evil health insurers.

Most importantly, I’d set up next year’s television attack ads. I wouldn’t let a single week go by without proposing some piece of legislation related to creating jobs, alleviating the problems of the jobless, and increasing wages.

I’d send Congress huge publics-works bills. I’d ask them to hire millions of unemployed people to work for federal agencies. I’d push for higher unemployment benefits, payments that don’t expire until you find a job. Tax breaks for companies that hire. Tax deductions for those that give raises. Penalties for outsourcing jobs. Keep the Bush tax cuts, but only for the poor and middle class.

Let the Republicans kill my ideas. All the better for my 2012 ad buy! “Republicans voted against new jobs for Americans 22 times. Against helping homeowners keep their houses 15 times. Republicans: They just don’t care about you.” You get the idea.

Of course, a president can accomplish a lot by executive order. Remember that story about how Apple had more ready cash than the U.S. Treasury? Since America obviously needs the money more than Steve Jobs, Obama could have nationalized it and given it to the states in order to bolster their unemployment compensation funds.

American voters are so defeated and disgusted that they no longer demand a president like FDR or LBJ who actually fights for them. They’ll settle for one who goes through the motions.

The question for Obama and his advisors is: Are they smart enough to pretend to care about the only issue that matters to voters?

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

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