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Mindconnection eNL, 2006-12-17

Past issues

In this issue:

  1. Product Highlights
  2. Brainpower tip
  3. Time tip
  4. Finance tip
  1. Security tip
  2. Health tip/Fitness tip
  3. Miscellany
  4. Thought for the day

1. Product Highlights

Spanish Translator

(This product recommendation added in 2011, to replace the original which has since been discontinued).

2. Brainpower tip

We've all had arguments with people.

Sometimes, these arguments are actually debates. The two people exchange points back and forth, and each adopts the "winner" in the exchange as his new viewpoint. Example:

  • Mark: "I read this statistic that 5,000 new jobs were created in the Midwest last month. From this, I conclude that people are better off."
  • Howard: "I read the same statistic. But it doesn't account for such things as the number of jobs lost, what those new jobs were or what they pay, or how many people are working multiple jobs."
  • Mark: Hmm. "Good point. So, I guess that statistic, because it has no context and is so vague, has no value."
  • Howard: "You got it."
  • Mark: "I concede that my conclusion has no merit from the fact presented. If you were going to support my conclusion, what facts would you use?"
  • Howard: "I think I'd start with such things as the decline in government spending, which is non-existent. I'd look at the trade balance, which is lousy. I'd look at personal debt, which is rising. These things don't support your conclusion. But there are some new factory starts that do. Toyota has opened, what, five plants in the past four years?"
  • Mark: "Thanks for trying. I can't use plant openings, because there are more plant closings. I still think people are better off. But I can't prove it."
  • Howard: "Some people are better off. You can certainly prove that some people are better off. But extrapolating their data to the general population doesn't work."
  • Mark: "I think the necessary data for a general conclusion may not exist."

You can see from this exchange that neither participant has an agenda. The first one posits a conclusion, using facts. The second one doesn't challenge the facts, but points out that the particular fact mentioned does not support the conclusion. [This is what we call a non-sequitor. "Sequitor" and "sequence" have the same root, meaning "to follow." You have a non-sequitor when the conclusion doesn't necessarily follow the facts.

Most of the time, though, arguments are simply a collective monologue. Each participant has an agenda, whether recognized or not. I won't give an example--nearly every argument is done this way, today, so examples abound.

Why do people normally find it so hard to discuss things in an intelligent, objective manner? Many reasons exist, and the combination of reasons varies among individuals. We can sum most of these up into one meta-reason: We want to feel validated, and we try to get that validation by having other people agree with our views. But this approach is self-defeating in over a dozen ways. Further, it bleeds over into the information absorption process.

Not only does the "argue with agenda and self-validation as the goals" approach reduce any potentially meaningful conversation down to an exchange of "I'm not listening buy you had better" messages, it poisons our very ability to form our ideas correctly in the first place.

If you are emotionally threatened by a viewpoint that differs from your own while in a conversation, you will also be that way when absorbing information to begin with.

Notice in our example exchange that Howard offers up information counter to his own view. He is able to do this because he has looked at information that supports his view and supports the opposite view. He formed his view only after looking at all of the information. He does not have an opinion on the matter--he has an observation.

Mark, by contrast, has an opinion. He is trying to validate it. Fortunately, he realizes this is what he is doing. But suppose he started with a conclusion? Then he would refuse to accept information such as the number of layoffs, the massive increase in taxation, the massive currency devaluation, plant closings, and so forth. He would look only at new plant openings and other positive events.

Further, he would use non-information to prove subpoints. An example is the so-called "unemployment rate." This meaningless statistic tracks new claims for unemployment insurance compensation. It is completely unrelated to the number of people unemployed or underemployed. Nor does it account for situations where salaried people are working 70 hrs a week while their base pay and benefits have been cut.

The way you approach information hugely influences your ability to form correct conclusions. If you are always filtering things out because you have already reached your conclusion and the information doesn't fit, then you are limiting your ability to see reality.

A caution applies, here. I'm not saying don't ever filter. If ideas or purported facts don't fit with your fundamental knowledge, then you do yourself a favor by rejecting those out of hand. The trick here is to correctly determine what knowledge is fundamental. For a long time, it was fundamental knowledge that the earth was flat.

3. Time Tip

4. Finance tip

Thanks to the "mainstream" media, Americans are far less better off than they otherwise would be. Wny? Grossly understated financial hemorrhaging.

The errors from such disinformation sources as the New York Times (far left fringe) and the Wall Street Journal (conservative) involve economics and mathematics, which aren't normally the bailiwick of someone with background as a journalist. Since the journalists choose to write and edit in these areas (errantly) anyhow, I have summarized some of the common errors here:

  • Most news sources mistakenly defines the taxes of Americans in terms of the published federal income tax rates. This narrow view grossly understates the typical American tax burden. It ignores the dozens of other taxing mechanisms. For example, there are 127 different taxes in the price of a single loaf of bread. Did you know that the tax on an airline ticket can be a third or more of its price? Taxes appear to be more abundant than hydrogen.

    Looking at only one form of taxation as being the form of taxation is intellectually disabling. This "blinders on" approach leads to false comparisons of the tax burdens among nations, allowing bad public policy to escape scrutiny. Citizens of the United States, a debtor nation, pay higher taxes than do citizens of other industrialized nations. You can calculate the extent of the damage by looking at how much the US  government spends. You just need to understand that money to pay for this spending comes out of taxpayers' hides (the pockets were emptied long ago) one way or another. Despite wishful thinking, money does not grow on trees.
  • We have been hearing about the "massive tax cuts" that allegedly took place over the past few years. It's unfortunate that people are subjected to this parroting of political rhetoric. Those "tax cuts" are just another example of giving a little with the one hand and taking much with the other.

    In reality, we have suffered an enormous increase in our tax burden over the past decade. The bulk of this increase occurred in recent years. Government spending is been at record levels, and the money thus burned has to come from somewhere--that "somewhere" is, via one route or another, the citizen. When the citizen has to surrender money to the government, that is called "taxes." Ergo, taxes have gone up. Way up.
  • One way the government "taxes without taxing" is it borrows. But the borrowing is huge and it has a dramatic and negative effect on the capital markets. Due to the law of supply and demand (Economics 101), it hugely raises the cost of capital, which you pay for (dearly) in the prices of the products and services you buy. Look again at the one-third direct tax on the typical airline ticket and add in this indirect tax, and you start to get the picture of just how massive the tax load is for an American citizen. But it's only a start.
  • Another way the government "taxes without taxing" is it expands the money supply. This lowers the value of every dollar you have (if ever so briefly), but allows the government to pay its bills in dollars that have less value to the recipient. We call this form of taxation "inflation." How big is this tax? The $20 bill you put in your pocket in 1980 is worth less than $4 now.

    Imagine going to the store and being told that all prices are quadrupled just for you. Or imagine what it's like to have someone come into your home and steal 3 out of every 4 items you own. That's what the government does to you by putting more money in circulation. If not for inflation, that last airline ticket you bought would have cost less than one-fourth as much as it did. And that includes the huge portion of it that is simply a direct tax. Take all the taxes out, and that $400 airline ticket would run you about 36 bucks. In short, the actual price you pay is pretty much a rounding error compared to the tax component.
  • Some of these purported news sources go so far as to say that President Bush inherited a budget surplus. But that is a meaningless and misleading bit of information. A budget surplus is easy to achieve--just do what President Clinton did and move expenditures off budget until you get the "budget surplus" you want. You can increase spending and produce a budget surplus simultaneously--the two actions do not share a dependency. As an example, consider people who have a gambling addition. They put the gambling "off budget" but wind up deep in debt anyhow. The federal government has a similar addiction to frivolous spending, with similar results.

If you want to improve your finances, start where the real problems are. Tell your legislators that you want government programs and agencies eliminated, you want spending slashed, you want taxes actually cut, you want borrowing to cease--in short, you want them to stop robbing you blind just to they end up with a cushy job. This constant stream of spending is destroying the USA.

We are hurting

If you've visited Japan (or any of several other nations) recently, you've noticed the USA no longer leads the world in technology. In fact, it has fallen behind in many areas. A November 2006 article on cell phones, for example, revealed that the top nine models aren't even available in the USA. Many other areas of technology follow a similar "loss of lead" pattern.

For a clue as to where the USA fits overall (not just technology), consider one statistic: life expectancy. Americans are ranked somewhere between 40th place and 50th place among nations (the statistic varies by source and methodology). My opinion is this decline is due to such factors as the "normal" obsession with overeating (which has resulted in a obesity epidemic) and the stress of all the hours we work just to pay our outrageously high taxes. The latter may be the cause of the former.

We can clearly trace the cause of our decline to massive and rampant federal overspending (mostly on waste). Repeat after me, "Money does not grow on trees...."

From a political point of view, bringing federal spending down to a sensible or affordable level is impossible. That's because pork barrel spending is the means by which politicians earn their keep from those who put them in office. The more they waste, the more secure their jobs are. Imagine if you could keep your job, with an automatic pay raise each year, by robbing the homes of your company's shareholders. That's what members of Congress do to keep their jobs--they rob your home via higher taxes, direct or indirect.

There are only a few small groups begging legislators for some mercy toward the people who are fleeced to pay for the massive overspending. But there are hundreds of powerful lobbyists pressuring legislators to misallocate your money--and rewarding them for doing so.

From a practical point of view, reducing spending to a sensible and affordable level is easy because most of the spending isn't needed. The idea of "making tough choices" doesn't apply, because there are so many easy ones to make first.

How much is too much?

Some sources say 99% of federal spending isn't needed, and other sources provide lower estimates. In any case, the amount of unneeded spending dwarfs the amount of spending that serves any legitimate purpose or does the average citizen any good.

The federal government is 185 times larger than it was a century ago, and the debt it has saddled us with is astronomical. Yet, our so-called representatives ignore such "low-hanging fruit" solutions as eliminating costly agencies that serve no legitimate purpose. Let's consider an example, next.

The United States spends more on its military than the next five nations combined, while the IRS has more employees than all of our military has soldiers and sailors combined. Yet, the IRS is just another, extremely expensive, layer of taxing that is redundant to other taxing bodies. This massive army that strikes terror into the heart of innocent citizens while consuming vast quantities of tax dollars to do so could be replaced by a single harmless employee who simply coordinates and tracks payments from the 50 states. We could do this easily, if we went back to apportionment.

Having an IRS is like turning on all of your stovetop burners to heat one small pan--just a senseless waste of resources (with the added catch you also pour boiling water on your foot). Nobody with any common sense would turn on all four burners just to heat one small pan. Similarly, common sense mandates to Congress and the Senate that they put an end to the IRS with all due haste. They could then put the billions of dollars saved to a worthwhile use.

The fact we still have an IRS shows how irresponsible the Congress and the Senate are. We have to quit putting members of the same two insane parties back in office. Voting Republican or Democrat is like not voting at all, because you are essentially saying, "I don't mind if you pillage this country for your personal benefit and I am going to show my approval by voting for one of the two robbing parties."

Senseless waste is institutionalized in dozens of federal agencies and programs, most of which we would not miss if they were simply eliminated. Cleaning up that mess would free up enormous financial capital that could be used in something worthwhile. Insist on it. Don't wait until the next so-called election. Start demanding fiscal responsibility now. But keep in mind it won't be easy. The typical drunken gambler is more competent in this regard than the typical senator. You will get insincere promises. When you do, ask for a date by which your senator (or Congressman, depending) will get back to you with the results and what he or she will do if not successful. If enough Americans keep pushing, we could see Tax Freedom Day arrive as early as Thanksgiving.

5. Security tip

As a merchant, I have occasion to work with law enforcement to track down fraudsters and even recover stolen merchandise. So, I see a lot of fraud schemes first-hand. I also get to talk with detectives and earn some of the latest things thieves are doing.

Some of the things I'm told are not for public consumption, and I'm not in the business of educating losers on how they can rip other people off. But I can provide our readers with security tips based on what the experts are telling me.

If you find a credit card charge that you suspect isn't right, don't just call the credit card company, contest the charge, and cancel the card. You need to find out how that charge got there. To do this, call the merchant. All merchants to take credit cards can tell you what the thief knew about your identity, such as your:

  • First and last name
  • Possibly, your middle initial
  • Phone number
  • Billing address
  • Home address, including street number and zip code
  • Credit card security number
  • e-mail address

Find out what you can about these things, and you may be able to track down the person who stole your identity. But if all (or most) of this information has been taken, you are not just a victim of credit card fraud. You are a victim of identity theft. In that case:

  • Contact your local police department, and ask for the latest advice in clearing up identity theft. This may require an officer coming to your home or business to take information and it may require filing a criminal complaint. All of that effort is worth it.
  • Contact every credit card company for which you have a card. Cancel existing cards and get new ones.
  • Contact your bank and explain that you are a victim of identity theft. Tell them that you want to close your existing account and open a new one.
  • Provide all auto-pay providers (utilities, for example) with your new bank acct number.
  • Contact one of the major credit bureaus and obtain your current credit report.
  • If you have been using a computer at your place of employment to conduct your online transactions, stop stealing your employer's time and other resources. It's possible someone installed a keystroke tracker on your computer and got information that way. On a home computer, this problem does not exist.
  • Report the problem to the IRS. This organization is a common source of identity theft, due to lax security, poor psychological profiles of employees, rampant criminal activity (source: GAO reports), lack of oversight, and a general attitude that taxpayers are cheaters, liars, and scum. But still, even the IRS has some standards. If the right manager sees your complaint, a criminal may be stopped.

6. Health tip/Fitness tips

7. Miscellany

  1. If we could turn stupidity into usable energy, CONgress could supply the entire world with all of its annual energy needs in just one month.
  2. For some amazing photos of our little patch of the universe, see
  3. See: Special Offers (expired link now removed). It has some great offers that are worth following up on.

  4. We don't run ads in our newsletter. We do get inquiries from advertisers, all the time. To keep this eNL coming, go to and do your shopping from there (as appropriate).

  5. Please forward this eNL to others.

8. Thought for the Day

When someone mentions "great historical figures," whom do you think about? Did any Congressmen or Senators come to mind? I'm going to guess "no."

The current hoopla about the "leaders" in the US House and Senate will blow away (mostly because of all the hot air). Paying attention to the promises of those parasites is a waste of the limited time you have on this earth. From their track records, we already know the outcome--more stupidity and increased loss of personal wealth and freedom. Until we start electing people from other parties (that is, non-Demopublicans), this trend will probably continue.

How can you best use your limited time to improve your life and that of those around you? What have you done lately for a neighbor, friend, or family member?


Wishing you the best,

Mark Lamendola


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