Category Archives: politics

The right narrative to fight voter-suppression candidates

I sent the following suggestion to the campaign of Jean Schodorf, who is running to oust the “worst Republican in the world” – Kris Koback – from the office of Kansas Secretary of State. Schodorf is that rare creature, a genuine prairie conservative who would have been republican all her life, till she realized that the madness that has hijacked today’s GOP is not temporary and recently switched parties. Unlike the millions of sane but in-denial “ostrich republicans” who have buried their heads, moaning and hoping the craziness will just go away, Schodorf is taking it on, head-to-head. Zeroing in on Koback’s blatant and extreme efforts to suppress thousands of native born Kansans from exercising their right to vote.

Here is my suggestion… which any of you are free to pass along to your own favorite candidates-for-sanity.

 ————

Dear Jean Schodorf,

voter-suppression-laws-voteDavid Brin here – best-selling author and scientist – with a suggestion how to manage the voter-suppression issue in your coming electoral campaign.

Let’s start with the obvious: You will get almost nowhere just proclaiming that Voter Suppression laws are unfair.  That will be dismissed as “the whining of losers.”

There is a much better “judo” argument that will expose the Voter ID campaigns as hypocritical cheating… a much more powerful accusation.  Please carefully read my argument below, which is cribbed from one of my more well-known postings: Steering Our Outrage in Wrong Directions.

“In fact, as a moderate, I am not opposed to gradually increasing the demand that voters prove who they are! Even though at-precinct voting fraud is virtually nil, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with improving care and accountability. People who are against voter ID improvements in any form are probably dogmatic, too.

voter-repression-laws“But — and here is a very big “but” — if these laws aren’t aimed solely at stealing elections for the GOP, then the states in question would have accompanied the new regulations with measures aimed at helping their citizens to comply with the new burdens.

“States routinely give “compliance assistance” to major corporations, when new regulations apply to them. 

 “But apparently not one cent has been appropriated in any red state to help the poor, or young, or women, or minorities to get the required ID, a move that would also help them in so many other aspects of life.  In some cases, simple access to ID might help them to STOP being poor.

“Please dig that well, because it is the alarm and utter proof of both cheating motives and lying hypocrisy. How much have red states allocated to help newly disenfranchised citizens to comply with onerous new state regulations?  Not… one… red… cent.

Hypocrisy“Hypocrisy is still punished by some voters. If this point of compliance is hammered home, maybe ten percent of the voters might be swayed, and that’s a lot.

“Hammer that this is what the once honorable and intellectual movement of Goldwater and Buckley is reduced to. Not winning elections based on the merits of their evidence or by comparing the outcomes from their party’s past periods of rule. Rather, all efforts go to cheating and more cheating. And if you support this cheat, then no amount of arm-waving will let you escape the clear fact — that you are a cheater, too.”

Yes, that is a very aggressive way to put it.  But this issue could be a killer for candidates opposing the swarm of vipers who have taken over the party of Lincoln, Eisenhower and Reagan.

With cordial regards,

David Brin

http://www.davidbrin.com

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On Government, Morality and Competition

== The age-old enemies of competition ==

As part of my eclectic and contrarian approach to life, I subscribe to a number of conservative and libertarian newsletters and sites… and some rather lefty ones, too. While I am skeptical of all prescriptive-simplistic dogmas, I do keep searching for that germ or core concept are variation that might be worthwhile. As a result, and despite my well-known views about the noxious New Confederacy, I nurse some concepts and notions that shock my left-leaning friends.  Indeed, what follows is sure not to please dogmatists of any stripe. Still, you might learn something.

government-moralOne of the more hard-hitting, Rothbardian-Libertarian sites is Casey Research, headed the brash but smart and sorry-but-I-can’t-help-liking-him master-provocatuer Doug Casey. One of Doug’s Fellows, Mr. Paul Rosenberg, just issued a manifesto assailing the core morality of “government”… a central catechism of the Rand-Rothbard-Cato wing that has taken over libertarianism, for more than a generation. You should read this missive; it will give you a better understanding of the incantations that transfix many of your neighbors. (Hey, you have your own glib and oversimplifying incantations – are you honest enough to admit it?)

I generally shrug off the polemics while sifting for pearls in manure. In this case, however, I felt I simply had to respond. Go have a look… then come back here.

== Hatred of all government – enabling an older enemy of freedom ==

Alas, amid his blanket denunciations of “government” as inimical to liberty, Mr. Rosenberg ignores the elephant in the room — the failure mode that destroyed freedom and competitive markets and enterprise in 99% of human cultures, across the last 6000 years.  Feudal lordships in which owner-oligarchs crushed the hopes of the great masses of peasants below, while quashing any advances that might destabilize their family grip on power.  Steep pyramids of power, in which a few bullies with swords owned everything and used hired priesthoods to declare “it is GOOD that our sons will own your sons!”

Compare the horrific “morality” of any feudal oligarchy to the flawed but often progressively positive morality of a modern, western state.  This is not a comparison that Mr. Rosenberg’s jeremiad can survive… so he evades the contrast, altogether.

Mr. Rosenberg knows darned well that owner-oligarchy is the great failure mode.  The one denounced by Adam Smith as the relentless market destroyer.  The calamity against which our American founders rebelled.  Yet, he is part of the campaign to yell “squirrel!” and point our attention elsewhere.

CompetitionTo be clear, competition is the greatest creative force in the cosmos.  Adam Smith focused on the positive outcomes when competition can be engendered in the best ways.  Competition made us! But in nature it is vicious and inefficient, working slowly, atop mountains of corpses.

It is seldom much better in human affairs. Look across the centuries; we see almost every renaissance of competitive creativity (e.g. in markets) is almost always quickly suborned and ruined by cheaters.  By conniving men with swords or deeds of ownership over everything.  The rentier caste that Adam Smith denounced.  Competition has only survived more than one generation  – anywhere – when it was regulated to minimize cheating. Exactly as Smith recommended.

In fact, that success, getting the good, positive outcomes from creative competition for more than two generations in a row, while excluding the nearly automatic cheating modes that always ruined it in the past, has truly only happened once in all of the history of Homo sapiens… during this marvelous western renaissance we are living in.

COMPETITION-1You’ll notice that my portrayal of the situation fits into neither the simplistic model of the Left nor that of the Right!  One side’s lunacy is to ignore the fantastic fecundity of competition at generating such vast amounts of wealth that we can then afford to do progressive things.  The insanity of the right is to ignore those 6000 years and pretend that the fecundity and productivity can happen amid the usual, festering swarm of opportunist-cheaters!

== Prevention of cheating requires… regulation! ==

sports-regulationThe exact parallel is professional sports, one of the tightest-regulated realms of human experience.  Yes, most of the regulations are decided by cabals of team owners. But I never said regulation has to be “governmental.”  What is key is that most of the regulations in a sporting league are intended to level the playing field and eliminate cheating.  Because if cheating reigns, then the system fails to deliver the desired product… excited fans, eager to buy tickets.  (Do you deny that individual players and teams would cheat, if they could get away with it? Or that the sports franchises become valueless, when the customers notice rampant cheating?)

AdamSmithREgulationAdam Smith knew all of this and recommended state endeavors to balance out the inevitable rise of cheaters and to do what F. Hayek later demanded… to maximize the number of skilled competitors!

You liberals, forget your cliches about Smith!  Actually read and rediscover the founder of your movement.

Smith wanted free public education, state financed infrastructure and health measures, the breaking up of monopolies and other reforms that would ease the way for bright sons of the peasantry to compete with the sons of owner-lords.  The very first acts of the American Founders, after the Revolution, included seizure of half the land in the former colonies from a few lordly families and redistribution, in order to create a (somewhat more) level playing field.

Indeed, many of the reform movements since then have revolved around spreading that circle of fairness.  Not just because it’s nice, but because it is stupid to waste talent and let cheaters stifle competition by the maximum number.

None of which is part of today’s libertarian doctrine!  All talk of level-flat-fair-open competition and Smithian libertarianism is quashed, replaced by the New Dogma — idolatry of unlimited, lordly accumulations of private ownership… which (let me reiterate) was THE failure mode for 6000 years. Property is now the libertarian god! Competition is shrugged off and never appraised for what it is, an explosively creative force that must be maintained, like an engine, lest the grit of cheating destroy it.

WealthNations== To be clear… ==

While I hold many liberal or progressive views, I also proudly and unabashedly proclaim others that are Smithian-Heinleinian Libertarian, in that I deem healthy suspicion of government over-reach to be fit and proper! But I can turn my head and see such dangers – abuse of power – looming from all directions. (Can you?)

Yes, “government” can be captured by crony oligarchs!  That is why the democrats (and never republicans) de-regulated away and erased captured agencies like the ICC and CAB and broke up AT&T and gave an unregulated Internet to the world. And worth-noting: all of those deregulatory measures were opposed by the GOP at the time.

Keeping a close eye on government, skeptical to all over-reach, is a fine role and it inspired my book: “The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Privacy and Freedom?

But assuming we do keep the bureaucrats leashed, then it is proper to recall that they… and the scientists too… are “elites” we can use to counterbalance the inevitable cheaters-from-oligarchy who betrayed freedom and competition in every other era.  Indeed, the war on science and all other castes of “smartypants” expertise is being funded precisely by those who want feudal oligarchy to come roaring back.

== But is capitalism a good thing? ==

market-competitionGuardedly, you bet! In that market competition is the engine of our cornucopia and the wealth that enabled us to then take on progressive causes.  Indeed, healthy market capitalism should be viewed as a top victim of crony-oligarchy. Indeed, You liberals need to admit that the issue of “globalization” is not settled and your reflexes were dead wrong.  Aside from the two billion people rising rapidly in China and India…

…read about potential real progress in three more countries that together contain 1.5 billion people.  Nor are these the only such examples.

Have investments in infrastructure, education, science R&D and public health paid off? According to one of the top (still-sane) conservative economics research houses, that “social capital” of shared investment in the future is responsible for most of our current standard of living.

“The United States and the rest of the post-industrial, developed world owe their epic rise in living standards to the underlying “social capital” that properly incentivized innovation, entrepreneurship, and thus technological transformation over the last two centuries.” – says Worth Wray of Mauldin Economics, a noted conservative investment newsletter:

econmics-solowMIT Professor Robert Solow would agree with us on this front. Solow’s work on the US economy – which has become a textbook economics lesson – explains that innovation has accounted for more than 80% of the long-term growth in US per capita income, with capital investments accounting for only 20% of per capita income growth.” 

So much for supply side (voodoo) economics (SSVE), which proclaims that the only way to engender growth and development is huge tax cuts for the uber-wealthy… even at the cost of cutting back on infrastructure, education, science R&D and public health… exactly the opposite prescription cited by Adam Smith.

Funny thing. Not one prediction ever made by SSVE has ever, ever, ever come true.

Liberals, this is your fault too.  Again… until I am blue in the face — instead of bad-mouthing capitalism, embrace Adam Smith and declare true, healthy, flat-open-fair capitalism to be a top victim of the campaign of crony-cabal grabbing by the New Lords.  Investments in infrastructure, education, science R&D and public health are what feed and engender a thriving market economy.

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The True Origins of the American Revolution

A few weeks ago, I was a keynote speaker at Freedom Fest, the big libertarian convention in Las Vegas. Do I seem an odd choice, given my past thorough and merciless dissections of Ayn Rand?

COMPETITION-1In fact I’ve done this before, showing up to suggest that a movement claiming to be all about freedom might want to veer away from its recent, mutant obsession — empowering and enabling the kind of owner-oligarchy that oppressed humanity all across the last 6000 years. Instead, I propose going back to a more healthy and well-grounded libertarian rootstock — encouraging the vast creative power of open-flat-fair competition

…a word that libertarians scarcely mention, anymore. Because it conflicts fundamentally with their current focus — promoting inherited oligarchy.

With that impudent, contrary attitude, would you believe I had a fine and interesting time? My son and I dined at the VIP table with publishing magnate and former presidential candidate Steve Forbes. Along with humorist P. J. O’Rourke and John Mackey (Whole Foods and an avid SciFi reader.) Also at the table? Grover (I kid you not) Norquist, founder of Americans for Tax Reform and a guiding force beyond the American right’s current-central obsession — that government of/by/for the people must perish from the Earth.

Would you be surprised that I was the most-liberal voice at this gathering? And yes, I managed to poke without being rude. (I’ve been known to poke in other directions, too!) See an addendum, below, offering more about the Freedom Fest event.

Foremost, though, I want to focus one piece of polemic that Grover Norquist thrust upon us over dinner, concerning the origins of the American Revolution.

 

== It’s not easy being green ==

TEA-TAXESGrover N. asserted that, in 1770, the British people put up with being taxed above a 20% rate, while folks in the colonies were taxed at roughly 2% of their average income. Yet, those colonists reacted fiercely and rebelled when/because they saw that burden doubled to 4%!

What an interesting assertion! It turns out that the statistics are generally true, that is, when it came to taxes passed by Parliament – though Mr. Norquist leaves out levies enacted separately by colonial legislatures. But my real quibble concerns which word is correct in the preceding paragraph: “when” or “because.” 

Norquist says “because.” Implying that American colonists – unique by their irascibly independent nature – were eager to shuck all old loyalties, to risk hanging, to endure devastating war and deprivation, because 4% was beyond all forbearance. And therefore, today’s American populace, enduring many times that rate of taxation must be inferior, devolved creatures, unworthy of such a founding generation.

May I be frank? That assertion is utter, howling malarkey. In fact, the Founder generation in the 1770s was willing to pay many times as much tax, if only they were treated as full citizens, with representation. The Tea and Stamp and other taxes were convenient ignition sparks, But the fuel for a real fire was far more significant.

 

==  True Grievances Behind the American Revolution ==

The American Revolution serves as a Rorschach test that reflects the obsessions of each succeeding generation. In the 1920s, Marxist notions of class struggle dominated and thus even anti-communist historians viewed the rebellion as a phase shift from monarchal domination to empowerment of the bourgeoisie. In the forties, this seemed hackneyed and literalist scholars started instead taking the Founders at their word — that the Revolution was an idealistic exercise in limiting the scope of government.

During the cynical 1960s, fashions changed again, to viewing the rebellion as a manipulative putsch that allowed local gentry — the caste of Washington and Jefferson — to displace others at the top of the heap. A lateral coup, with just enough populism to keep the middle class placid.

Peoples-historyWhat these generations of scholars all seemed to agree upon was that the colonists weren’t rebelling over the raw magnitude of taxes. Indeed, many expressed puzzlement that there were any grievances worth fighting and dying over! Certainly it all seemed rather far-fetched, given how comfortable life had been for most American colonists, especially compared to the mountain of crimes committed against the people of France, by the Bourbon ancien regime.

In fact, despite the hairsplitting obsessions of academic scholars — and the puerile tendency of textbooks and politicians to mention only tea and stamp taxes — it is pretty clear in historical records that the colonists revolted for a host of genuine grievances:

  1. Monopolies such as the East India Company had been granted exclusive trading rights, cutting out American merchants, funneling commerce through ports and markets controlled by the top one hundred British families — the one-percent or one-percent of one-percent. Colonial goods had to be carried in cartel ships, and sold through cartel agents. Thus Americans were viewed as cash machines for the Crown and nobles. Those who had the gold, made the rules, and those rules ensured they would get more, an ancient and deeply human pattern that Adam Smith denounced with the publication of Wealth of Nations, in 1776.
  1. The insanely destructive 1764 Currency Act, which forbade the colonies from issuing paper currency and required use only of coinage released by the cartel, in London. This devastated the velocity of money, making it difficult for colonists to pay their debts and taxes, even if they had plenty of non-liquid wealth, and forcing thousands into bankruptcy. Contemporary accounts tell that until the 1764 law, you could scarcely find a jobless or poor person in British America.  After the colonies were banned from printing money, the economy tanked. Suddenly there were homeless and beggars everywhere.

That’s a helluva lot less abstract than a tax on tea. Alas though, it does not suit the tea-party narrative. Note also that there has always been an obsession, in society’s aristocratic class, with lowering the velocity of money, a policy that always devastates the middle class.

3) Almost half of the land in the colonies was owned by absentee lords. The main reason Franklin was sent to London (around 1760) was to attempt persuading the Penn family (also later the Baltimores and other members of the aristocratic cartel) to allow themselves to be taxed, even at very low rates, so that the colonies could function. Their refusal to contribute (based on ancient feudal privilege) was identical to the rigid stance of the aristocratic First Estate in 1789 France. The “legal” basis was exactly the same.

(Note: those French nobles lost their heads because they clutched obstinate, unreasoning greed. In contrast, the Penns/Baltimores and other lordly families with vast American holdings merely lost their lands, which the Founders seized and redistributed, like the “socialists” they were! 

(Hence let me put a side wager on the table: care to bet how the Kochs/Murdochs will behave, as they push exactly the same privilege-line to its inevitable conclusion? Never tax the “job creators!” Which of those two outcomes is likely to befall them, when that propaganda line finally loses its distraction effectiveness and America’s lower middle class remembers their grandparents’ tales of earlier phases of class warfare? Will the final outcome be the French result? Or the American? Either way, these fellows are nowhere near as smart as they think they are.)

4) Coming in at number four, at last: taxation without representation! Yes, it is the classic. Only let’s dive deeper into this one, because true history is nothing like what we’re told by the Norquist/Teaparty narrative.

TAXES-REVOLTThe British Parliament was at that time hugely “gerrymandered,” to apply a modern term. There were many Rotten Burroughs where a lord and a few dozen tenants got to elect their own MP, while the masses in Birmingham and London were steeply under-represented… and Americans had no representation at all. Reforming this mess (it eventually happened) would have prevented the explosion, keeping the colonies loyal. But it would also hurt the short-term self-interest of those lords and MPs. So, the blatantly unjust system was maintained and American grievance ignored.

Did you catch the parallel? Today’s Republican Party relies utterly upon two kinds of gerrymandering. In red state legislatures and the U.S. House of Representatives, it is the blatant twisting of electoral districts. (Some blue states do it, too, but more of them are abandoning the foul practice; not one red state has.)

In the U.S. Senate, gerrymandered-unfair representation is even more deeply embedded. It derives from the cynical drawing of state boundaries, so that — for example — Dakota Territory was split in two and given four Senators, despite having minuscule population, then and now. That problem is much harder to fix and must await a truly angry era – one that is evidently coming.

unfair-representationAn aside: just to make this perfectly clear — anyone defending this wretched cheat (gerrymandering) is – himself – thus proved to be a cheater and liar and an enemy of the Republic. There is no matter of ambiguity or opinion over that. No rationalization to save you from what you see in the mirror. Reform will happen (as it eventually came to the British Parliament, after the damage was done). Those who delay reform of this dastardly practice are little better than thieves, and stupid ones, blind to how much worse they are only making the inevitable backlash.

The crux: you claim the American people despise their government and taxation? How about letting our elections be fair and proportionately representative, then let the people decide.

5) British laws against settlement beyond the Appalachians. At surface, this rule was to protect native tribes. Indeed, resentment against this restriction, particularly by Scots-Irish immigrants, arose because they wanted to go over the mountains to grab farmland from peoples already living there. But the Crown and Lords weren’t doing this to be nice to the tribes. They had a real problem on their hands.

The frontier provided an easy haven to which tenant farmers, indentured servants and slaves might flee, and/or remake themselves. That escape option – unavailable in old Europe – made it very hard to maintain a bottom-caste peasantry. For all its faults, the frontier forged the deeply libertarian American soul.

(Again… I am talking about older libertarianism… not the weirdly-mutated thing the movement has become.)

Note that factor #5  came to roost in two of the most important battles of the Revolution, King’s Mountain and Cowpens, when those Scots-Irish frontiersmen bloodied Cornwallis and helped take back the South from Charleston tories. (Note to nation. Please, next time, let Charleston secede!)

EGALITARIANISM6) Egalitarianism. Some historians anchor the American Revolution upon a single day, when Ben Franklin was summoned before the King’s Privy Council for a public berating and humiliation… the day that the smartest man in a century was converted from an impudent-but-loyal subject into a dedicated conspirator for independence. The colonies were already home to a new spirit and ethos – part cantankerous, part ebullient and hopeful, and part-scientific, with all those portions combining to demand one core question:

Why should I have to bow down, or be bullied, by another mere human… just because of who his father was?”

The irony is rich. Those today citing the Founders most often are folks who are most vigorously helping propel us back into a world of inherited status, dominated by clans and cartels of aristocratic families.

radical-revolutionIn his book, The Radicalism of the American Revolution, historian Gordon Wood emphasizes this aspect, pondering that the new idealism crystallized by Thomas Paine might have built into a breakthrough not seen since Periclean Athens — the invention of the dedicated modern citizen. Wood parses this idealism into many permutations, dissecting variations of republicanism, none of which matter to us here. Suffice it to say that a general quality of fervent belief in a New Man clearly did take hold, taking over from earlier grievances.

61p0XW6DvWLIn Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality, Princeton professor Danielle Allen ponders every sentence of the seminal American document and sometimes every word, examining five facets that revolve around the notion of political equality, including, as Gordon Wood describes: “the importance of reciprocity or mutual responsiveness to achieving the conditions of freedom.”  In other words, providing the back and forth of accountability that no individual can apply to him or herself.  The reciprocal accountability that was strenuously avoided and quashed by every ruling caste, in almost every other society that ever existed, and that is perpetually under attack, in our own.

Make no mistake. The Charleston tories became Confederate plantation lords, who aimed to re-establish inherited-landed-ownership nobility, the classic human pattern that ruined markets and competition and freedom and social mobility in every society other than ours.

And that torch is now carried by hirelings of a new oligarchy, diverting libertarian passion away from flat-open-fair competition over to worship of absolute property rights, no matter how inherited or how much this re-creates the Olde Order that sparked our Revolution.

History rhymes.

 

== What about hatred of taxation? ==

Were there other reasons for rebellion? Sure. For example, as in all civil wars, many felt their blood boil over local and personal grievances, spurring groups of neighbors to call themselves “tory” or “patriot” while riding forth to settle old scores. But for our purposes here, it suffices to demolish the pat and absurd narrative of today’s right, that the rebellion was all about… or indeed had much of anything to do with… the basic amount of taxation.

Oh, sure, there were earlier versions of Grover Norquist, in those days. But few.

eb0743f468c286572fe8cb3d2b92ae5eFor example, take the Whiskey Rebellion, which is often cited by radical libertarians as a failed but glorious attempt to finish the revolution.

How inconvenient to point out that the Whiskey Rebellion was not against the Whiskey Tax, per se! Rather it expressed resentment that state authorities refused to let farmers pay the tax… in whiskey! Which was their only cash commodity! They had no silver, but were willing to pay… in ‘shine!  (Which was freely traded about as currency, in those days.) Instead, domineering officials demanded coin, and thus bankrupted a number of farmers, driving others into a fury.

(Note the exact parallel with Parliament’s foolish 1764 Currency Act. Indeed, the very same principle was at stake in the much later Free Silver platform of William Jennings Bryan. And it is seen in those who urge us to “return to the gold standard.” Indeed, this same effect is manifest in Congress’s obstinate refusal to fund desperately needed infrastructure repairs that would have employed 100,000 Americans, circulating high velocity money… a far better form of stimulation than the Fed’s bond buying program, whose inefficient “stimulus” poured half a trillion dollars into low-velocity uses, like inflating asset bubbles.  Again and again, the pattern repeats: aristocrats use their political influence to bring down the velocity of money and to beggar the middle class.  An old battle, indeed.)

And yes, that was a case where state bureaucrats were bossy, insensitive, impractical and ruinous of the people they were supposed to serve. I told you, I have a libertarian streak! Government is a perpetual threat to freedom – even if today’s right exaggerates the current danger, a hundred-fold. Sincere civil servants can metastasize into overbearing bureaucrats! It isn’t only oligarchy that threatens us. All accumulations of power must have accountability!

The upshot of the Whiskey Rebellion was that Washington and his troops established the power of the state to tax. But there also ensued hurried changes in law, easing the farmers’ debt crisis, based on a principle we should always remember. That the state’s power should never become destructive of its citizens.

 

== The Underlying Agenda of the Narrative ==

I will hand it to Grover Norquist. He is honest about his goal, which is to starve government, then strangle it and then bury it. (Did I leave out the step of incineration?) He makes no pretense otherwise. Reiterating: Norquist and his co-religionists precisely want “government of the people, by the people, for the people” to perish from the Earth.

Now, as a science fiction author… and as a child of Adam Smith and George Orwell and Robert Heinlein… I openly avow that overweening and over-reaching government can be one of the Great Failure Modes! We need an active libertarian side of the national and world conversation, focusing skepticism on the potential for bureaucrats and armies and police to betray and oppress the citizens who hire them! Just as we need others to remind us that the greatest enemies of markets and enterprise and freedom — across 6000 years — have been cartels of owner-oligarch-lords.

cheatersCheaters can arise from any direction, aiming to end our Great Experiment and return us to the old pyramid of privilege, and it does not matter much if the masters call themselves “civil servants,” “job-creators,” feudal lords or communist commissars. It is the same cheating impulse. And it may erupt straight out of genetic nature. Unless we constantly resist all would-be lords, whatever direction they come from and whatever rationalizations they offer.

Which is why we need moderate libertarians who will constantly demand proof that any statist “solution” will both solve the problem at-hand and not take us toward Big Brother. Just as we need moderate liberals to remind us that the best capitalism is one that is flat-open-transparent and broken into units that are small enough to fail. A capitalism that benefits (as Hayek preached) from maximizing the number of skilled, eager and ready competitors! And hence, a society in which all children grow up healthy, educated, well-fed, hitting age 25 prepared to… compete! From basically equal starting gates. Not based on who their fathers were.

competition(Competition. There’s that word again. If only it were, once again, a libertarian touch stone.)

A plague on both the simplistic, lord-loving entire-right and a patronizingly pushy-PC far-left, both of which despise even the notion of flat-open-fair competition. Indignant dogmas are a plague, crippling our genius at negotiating an agile and sophisticated and wise civilization.

 

== We have a revolution to uphold… ==

As for Grover and his agenda. Sorry. Adam Smith and the Founders knew what our parents and grandparents in the Greatest Generation knew… that a government that is warily watched can serve us. And it can serve as a counterweight to other, older and just-as-dangerous centers of power. We remain free by siccing elites against each other! And that cannot happen if government completely vanishes. Or is neutered.

A lean and leashed government is the only tool citizens have to counterbalance the inevitable cheating by aristocracy that ruined every other human renaissance. Adam Smith And the Founders knew this. Every generation of Americans rebelled against cheaters… generally through calm reforms, but twice violently… though never falling into the intemperate rage of the Russian, French or Chinese revolutions.

Book-Review-The-Greatest-Generation-by-Tom-BrokawAgain I keep coming bcd to the ‘greatest generation‘ — that fought depression and Hitler and made the flattest but most successful capitalist society… one that got rich so fast that it could then afford to start toppling ancient injustices, like racism, sexism and all that. Do you admire that generation?  Well, that ‘greatest generation’ revered and adored one man, above all others. He was the same man that the Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation the Koch brothers and Fox News all now want us to call Satan Incarnate.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Who saved America as a flat-fair-open market economy, from monsters of both left and right. And yes, many of FDR’s solutions were not appropriate for our era. I prefer looser approaches, that leverage on the vastly higher levels of education that our tech-savvy populace has achieved — in part because of what the Greatest Generation accomplished.

But I will proudly stand up for the founding father of both liberalism and libertarianism. Adam Smith, author of both Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments, was almost as smart as Ben Franklin! And both of them proposed that the future will be won by moderate, undogmatic people, who are passionately reasonable!  I relentlessly preach for agile, citizen-level power, a burgeoning Age of Amateurs, for Smart Mob ad hoc networks, and for local action.

I will continue preaching to liberals that they should rediscover their Smithian libertarian side.

Meanwhile, thReclaimAdamSmithough, libertarians, you must stop the ranting and lapel-grabbing dogmas that were spoon-fed to you by “think tanks” operated by a fast-rising caste of oligarchic-feudal cheaters! The great enemy of freedom across 6000 years, returning with a vengeance. Escape your hypnotic, Platonic catechisms and realize… that the true, healthy heart of your movement is far more liberal than you ever realized.

We are still the rebels.  Here is to ongoing, militantly-moderate Revolution, forever

=

See my collected articles: Libertarianism: Finding a New Path. 

 LIbertarianism** NOTES ON THE FESTIVAL: My hosts, Mark & Jo Ann Skousen, were lovely, their Freedom Film Festival was intriguing/challenging, and the evening’s talent show, a libertarian re-telling of Camelot, was a hoot. Oh, and the Janis Joplin impersonator was terrific! Hey, it’s Vegas; you can hire anyone or anything. 

Clearly, the top organizers of FreedomFest wanted to toss a grenade at the Randians and Rothbardians, and I was that grenade! In fact, I found it all very interesting… and proof that I don’t need a political chiropractor! I can turn my head and look all ways, seeking value, and listening well enough to understand what I refute. (Can you?)

 

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Will the “true 21st century” bring us back to feudalism?

Exactly a century ago, a lone gunman set in motion events that transformed the world — ending the lives of millions and shattering empires. With that anniversary in mind, I pondered the clear fact that the last three centuries all seemed to start on their FOURTEENTH YEAR. The brutal arc and themes of the 20th Century – a concave pit that hit its nadir in 1943 – all of it started with shots fired in Sarajevo in June 1914. And 1714 and 1814 were years of similar, transforming portent.

Century-Begin-2014 See my explanation… along with speculation where we might be heading, if 2014 proves to be the “real beginning” of the 21st Century. And sure… that great, over-arching, 21st Century theme might turn out to be pragmatic, adult problem-solving, science and reason! Heck, throw in the Age of Aquarius! I’m for all of that.

But let’s be frank, the odds have always been against those traits ever getting the upper hand for long. Too many deep, animal drives have propelled most human cultures toward slumping into pyramids of hierarchy and domineering privilege. And rationalization, as portrayed in this poignantly sarcastic piece in the Onion.

Conniving cheaters and their lickspittle excuse-makers will always be an anchor on our ankles, dragging us backward.

== Traitors to the Enlightenment ==

How far does it go? Corey Pein takes on (and eviscerates) one extreme cult — the New Feudalism — a weird and deeply sick new type of mind-herpes that has infected some of our worst indignation junkies out there — resentful fanatics who love drawing attention by declaring hatred of democracy, egalitarian justice and science, pledging fealty instead to rule by a new lordly caste.

Neoreactionary-brinLike a parody of evil techie libertarians, theses fellows would be funny, if they weren’t potentially dangerous. See my own take on this “movement,” which declares hatred of all the things that brought us the richest, wisest, gentlest, most productive, insightful, generous, creative, artistic, scientific and enlightened era of all time. Indeed, delusional rationalization is the greatest human talent, and the one gift in which pathetic under-achievers truly excel.

See the root cause of all this, in my talk: “Indignation, Addiction and Hope: Does it help to be “Mad as Hell?”  Follow along with the slides on Slideshare!

Mr. Pein may go a bit too far by interpolating and extrapolating similar views that he attributes to Silicon Valley libertarian-investor Peter Thiel. Thiel likes to poke at a very wide horizon of concepts and he is entitled, even if some of those what-if experiments border on silliness. I can hardly throw stones at that trait! And Thiel has done enough pragmatic delivery of genuine goods and services that he is no under-achiever. Again, if he wants to poke at our heads with provocative ideas — he’s entitled.

indignation-junkiesAs for the others? Facts will not stall indignation junkies, even when nearly all of their assertions prove diametrically opposite to actual truth. It is the Rapture of the Ingrates.

Oh, one final, amusing thing about the neo-feudalists? Their hilarious adoration of Vladimir Putin.

== Putin… the expected one? ==

I kid you not. Track the admiration of Russian President Vladimir Putin, which is lavish and open among the neo-feudalists but only softens a little — to “grudging admiration” —among the pundits at Fox. And why not? Everything now happening in Russia suits the Fox Design, as does the Putin narrative. Religion, hierarchy, inherited status, venerated values, top-down monopolies organized around families…

During the Crimea takeover, President Putin derided Western notions of tolerance and universal rights as “barren and neutered.” Said Putin, it is time to resist this scourge of “diversity” creeping in from the West. “More and more people in the world support our position on defending traditional values.”  He asserted Russia’s role to “prevent movement backward and downward, into chaotic darkness and a return to a primitive state.”

UnlikelinessPositiveSumSocietyI do not blame him for saying this! It is, after all, exactly (almost word-for-word) the dismissal that zero-sum thinkers — even very bright ones — always come up with, when faced with the stunning successes of the Enlightenment West. Our wealth and productivity and power and freedom and joys must have come at a cost! Something precious must have been sacrificed in a “tradeoff.”

Osama, Stalin, Hitler, even the Civil War Confederates… all said the same thing in various ways. Western/Northern decadence must have been purchased at cost of our “soul”… or manhood, or grit, or resilience, or style, or willingness to sacrifice.

Zero-summers must believe this! The only alternative, when staring jealously at our innumerable successes, would be to admit “those people in the scientific-tolerant West know a better way to live.” And rather than utter those words, they would rather die, or else make up a good story.

Every generation of Americans, especially, has had to disprove the Zero Sum Canard, sometimes at great cost. In comparative terms, we got off easy with 9/11. The grit and determination exhibited by New Yorkers, who stood atop the rubble and shouted “Is that all you got?” was capped by the courageous rebellion of the passengers on flight UA93, who reacted within minutes and showed what resilience and grit truly mean. No zero-sum society would ever see common citizens react with such rapid agility or guts.

Positive-Sum-GameI do not blame the zero-summers for not understanding the Positive Sum Game. Zero-sum thinking is deeply rooted in human nature. But understanding why they go back, again and again, to the same dreary rationalization does not mean we must put up with it. Because it always forces us into a position of pain, having to prove, yet again, that we have (figurative) cojones.

We cannot surrender our method — our positive sum revolution. Not even while merchants of fear on both the left and the right are yammering at us to give up and give in to despair.

== Speaking of ingrates… ==

With just a few exceptions, the states whose politicians most-loudly preach small government tend to be much more reliant on it than other states. Red States by far are more dependent on the federal government and are poorer. In aggregate, these states take back much more from the federal government than they put in. More of their gross domestic product comes from direct and indirect government outlays. This turns the takers vs makers debate on its head as those pushing that message represent the end they portend to despise.

Quality-life-america-countyAnd more — a composite ranking (map) differentiates those counties where Americans are healthy and wealthy, educated and thin… versus struggling, poor and obese.

Sorry. The left has its haters of the enlightenment, too. But our biggest problem, right now, is the New Confederacy. Instead of seceding, this time, they think they have a better plan. They are tearing it all down from within.

 

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Yes, Polarization Is Asymmetric—it’s not about physics… but politics

Back when I published research on optical ellipsometry, “polarization” seemed an innocent-enough term — and indeed, lately there have been applications that let us peer into the very origins of the universe. Alas though, more and more, we hear talk about a polarization of politics — especially in the USA – that has destroyed a great nation’s ability to argue fairly, negotiate pragmatically, and forge the sort of effective compromise solutions that enabled past generations to keep moving ahead.

The worst aspect of all this has been the devolution of politics into cliches, outright lies and a relentless disdain toward science… along with every other “smartypants” profession, from medical doctors and teachers to journalists, economists, civil servants, skilled labor and law professionals. All are now targets of trumped-up hatred. And not all of it from the right! The far-left contains plenty of anti-modernists.

But why?

 Isaac Asimov once commented: “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

Or take this from another commenter: “Everywhere you look these days, America is in a rush to embrace the stupid. Hell-bent on a path that’s not just irrational, but often self-destructive. Common-sense solutions to pressing problems are eschewed in favor of bumper-sticker simplicities and blind faith.”

Hm, replace “bumper sticker” with “snarky Facebook Jpegs.” This depressing article — America Dumbs Down — in Canada’s MacLeans Magazine certainly offers a litany of statistics suggesting that at-minimum, the citizens of the United States are splitting in twain — with half the country going out o’ its ever-luvin’ mind.

== Do I sound depressed? ==

In this new article, America’s Cult of Ignorance is No Match for Asia’s Cult of Intelligence, Texas professor John W. Traphagan suggests that this cult of ignorance is the most serious national security issue facing the U.S. today. Other nations are not sabotaging themselves this way, they are pushing education, intellect and admiration for accomplishment:

“It is more important than the external threats from terrorists or the rise of a politically and economically powerful China. And a major part of the reason it is such an major issue for Americans to fix is that our immediate competitors, particularly those in Asia, have managed to create a culture in which rather than a cult of ignorance, a cult of intelligence plays a major role in shaping attitudes about the world and, thus, policies about dealing with other countries.”

Polarization-politicsSo… Is there any way out of this third phase of the American Civil War? Both sides are more politicized these days, but it’s not equal.

A recent Pew study of the American political landscape breaks down the population into eight groups, seven of them engaged in politics at least to a degree and the other mostly on the sidelines. Three are highly ideological and politically engaged — two that lean to the Republicans, one to the Democrats. Four other groups are “less partisan and less predictable” in their political views, what the study calls a “fragmented center” that poses challenges for both major parties:

“The most loyal followers of the Republican Party account for about one-fifth of the total population, more than a quarter of registered voters and more than one-third of politically engaged Americans. The Pew study labels these two Republican groups as “business conservatives” and “steadfast conservatives,” writes Dan Balz in The Washington Post. Almost nine in 10 people in each group are white, and about six in 10 in each group are men. Two-thirds of steadfast conservatives are 50 or older…” The study also appraise divisions among liberals and leftists.

See: Yes, Polarization is Asymmetrical…and Conservatives are Worse — in The Atlantic.

Personally, though I respect Pew, I find their categories silly to the point of uselessness. For reasons I go into, elsewhere. Nevertheless, the article is interesting.

politics-outrge== The Good Billionaires ==

Smart billionaires are worried. They see their own their own futures being endangered by the dumb billionaires. Those who got rich by paying attention to trends — like Silicon Valley entrepreneurs… and Warren Buffett… are starting to see a truly scary prospect on the horizon. Torches and pitchforks. Or one word that says it all (look it up).

“Tumbrels.”

The dire, freedom-wrecking consequences of wealth disparity were discussed long ago by Adam Smith. They were the root cause of both the French and American revolutions — one of which resolved the situation with moderation, the other with self-defeating pain. And the tradeoff is starkly portrayed in an article by billionaire Nick Hanauer, on Politico: The Pitchforks are Coming…for us Plutocrats:

Hanauer-tumbrels-capitalism“Our country is rapidly becoming less a capitalist society and more a feudal society. Unless our policies change dramatically, the middle class will disappear, and we will be back to late 18th-century France. Before the revolution.”

This kind of “smart billionaire” will be our secret weapon, in the fight for our Great Experiment to continue.

Nor is Hanauer alone. We know that most of the tech billionaires have joined Warren Buffet in rejecting the winner-takes-all mantra of Fox-style economics. But how about midwest agri-business leaders?

Greg Page is executive chairman and former CEO of Cargill, Inc., the largest private company in the U.S. Page participated in the high-level “Risk Committee” of top business leaders that forecast the U.S. economy could suffer damages running into the hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century due to climate change.

page-climate-change Page describes the northward movement of the American agricultural belt. As average temperatures have risen over the past decades, the growing season in the northern plains has grown, while heat waves further south have baked America’s traditional agriculture producing states like Iowa, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas.

==Looking for Solutions==

What can the rest of us do?

lesterlandMayday PAC was started by my colleague, Professor Lawrence Lessig (founder of Creative Commons) — a “super PAC” using the power of kickstarted funds from ordinary citizens to fight the power of big money donors that control America’s political system. Make a donation  to help reduce the power of influence in politics — they have five days left to meet their goal.

Start with the TED talk by Professor Lessig called “Lesterland” — a program detailed in his book, The USA is Lesterland: The Nature of Congressional Corruption — “a map for a democracy we could reclaim.”

Or view Steve Wozniak’s 3-minute video: America’s Operating System is Broken.

I am just passing this along for now, for your awareness. I haven’t delved in very far, as yet or done due diligence. But something of this kind is clearly needed.

anti-science-politics

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Can Citizens Become a Political Force?

Is there one thing that an average US citizen can do, right now, to help end the current phase of America’s ongoing civil war?

may-day-pac-lessigOnly a few days are left in the crowd-funding campaign for Lawrence Lessig’s citizen-centered Super Pac: MAYDAY-PAC. Aimed at changing the playing field, so that raw money is less of a force in U.S. politics.

Mayday PAC was started by my colleague, Professor Lawrence Lessig (co-founder of Creative Commons) — a “super PAC” using the power of kickstarted funds from ordinary citizens to fight the power of big money donors that control America’s political system.

You are summoned! To spend one minute – in a minuteman-tradition – to make a difference.  Make a donation  to help reduce the power of influence in politics — they have five days left to meet their goal.

lesterlandStart with the excellent 2013 TED talk by Professor Lessig called “We the People …and the Republic We Must Reclaim” — with over a million views.

Lessig’s ideas are further expounded in his ebook, The USA is Lesterland: The Nature of Congressional Corruption — “a map for a democracy we could reclaim.”

USA-lesterland-lessigSummarized by Lessig: “Less than 1/20th of 1% of America are the “relevant funders” of congressional campaigns. That means about 150,000 Americans, or about the same number who are named “Lester,” wield enormous power over this government. These “Lesters” determine this critical first election in every election cycle—the money election. Without them, few believe they have any chance to win. And certainly, neither party believes it can achieve a majority without answering the special demands these “funders” make. Our Congress has thus become dependent upon these funders. In this sense, we are now “Lesterland.””

Or view Steve Wozniak’s 3-minute video: America’s Operating System is Broken.

Lessig-take-back-democracyI am just passing this along for now, for your awareness. I haven’t delved in very far, as yet or done due diligence. But something of this kind is clearly needed.

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So Do Outcomes Matter More than Rhetoric?

Get ready, because I am about to use a concept from Basic Calculus to reveal to you Americans out there a lie that you’ve been taught to believe – almost all of you. No matter which party you support, you “know” one thing about their attitudes and behavior… how Republicans and Democrats differ toward deficit spending. Alas, what you “know” is exactly opposite to what is true.

BUDGET-DEFICITLet’s start with the fact that the U.S. posted a $130 billion budget deficit in May and the smallest shortfall for the first eight months of a fiscal year since 2008, as a stronger economy and rising employment bolster revenue. This trend reiterates a core difference between the two major U.S. political parties, when it comes to federal budgetary responsibility.

Okay, here it is:

The crucial 2nd derivative of debt… the pace at which the rate-of-change of the federal deficit is itself changing… either moving toward fiscal disaster or away from it… has been positive (toward accelerating debt) during almost every year of every Republican administration since Eisenhower.

In stark and dramatic contrast – that crucial metric is always negative (deceleration) every year of every Democratic administration.

Let that sink in, because it is diametrically opposite to the rhetoric and propaganda and fulminations that have become accepted “truthy” notions in our minds. So? Are you a slave of truisms? Or are you capable of noticing facts that stare you in the face, and are nearly always true?

Why is the 2nd derivative more valid than – say – looking at the simple size of this year’s budget deficit? Because our fiscal situation carries momentum from actions taken three or five years ago, even a decade. Stepping on the brakes does not instantly stop your hurtling car — it decelerates your rush toward that cliff. The 2nd derivative tells you – almost instantly – whether an administration is at least trying to be fiscally responsible.

 

420px-FederalDebt1940to2012.svg

Let’s examine the 2nd derivative of debt in action. Have a look at this chart of the US federal deficit as a fraction of the nation’s GDP. Wherever the curve is seen to be turning, go ahead and guesstimate a rough CENTER to that stretch of curve. Of course things are bumpy, so a little subjective smoothing is called for, shrugging off blips. But if, across any 3 to five year span, the center point of your curve lies ABOVE, then the nation’s debt is on a worsening track.

Second-derivative-federal-deficit-us

If the center of the curve is BELOW, then there’s an improving trend, decelerating an arterial hemorrhage, so that it starts to curve back down, or even moving toward surplus. Think convex versus concave.

Now recall that GOP administrations began in 1969, 1981, 1989 and 2001. Democratic administrations began in 1977, 1993 and 2009. Now go draw your curves, find those center points. It truly is amazing!

Let me reiterate. The rate of rate of change of debt is positive (toward reckless debt) during almost every year of every Republican administration (post Eisenhower). It is negative (building momentum toward prudence) in every year of every democratic administration, (post Johnson).

BUDGET-DEFICITNow add in this bald-faced fact. That Bush Administration accounting tricks deliberately kept the costs of the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars “off the books” for half a decade, letting them finally slam the formal deficit just when economic mismanagement sent the economy into hell, leaving behind a mess that included hyper-velocity debt. In other words, the 2006-2007 “dip” is a lie.

Likewise “Congress controls the purse strings” is a silly excuse. The GOP controlled Congress both for 6 years before Bill Clinton left office and for 6 years after. Yet the 2nd Derivative was negative in the first six and swung sharply positive the very instant a GOP president replaced him, and Clinton could no longer veto the annual Supply Side Voodoo Economics Bill, opening our arteries to the (non) “job-creator caste.”

This is not just overwhelming, this rule correlates so perfectly that it seems almost at the level of physical law. Hence, any “fiscal conservative” who supports the GOP – no matter what the rationalization – would have to be either stupid or out of his cotton-pickin’ mind.

== Perspective time ==

I am libertarian enough to want budgets that are relatively balanced. Yes, a small amount of deficit spending is harmless and probably stimulating, especially if spent on national underpinnings like children and infrastructure. A moderate amount can be written off by tipping the scales toward slight inflation. Still, most economists think that a combined national/corporate/personal debt greater than 300% of GDP is in a Problem Zone, and I don’t disagree.

On the other hand, we have already seen how bizarre it is for the American right to fetish on debt, when every post-Eisenhower GOP president sent deficits skyrocketing and every demo prez fought them back under control.

140531-02

 

But is the United States an especially spendthrift and debtor nation? Look at this chart and you decide. It’s possible… just possible… that there are other matters that deserve equal footing on our national agenda. Like problem solving  and becoming a scientific and advanced nation again.

And putting people to work preventing 60,000 defective bridges from falling down.

== The underlying agenda? ==

In fact, the current U.S. budget shortfall would be well in the safe zone, were it not for the lingering Bush tax cuts for the uber-rich (and residual effects from Bushite wars). It would be one thing if Supply Side assurances (“the cuts will pay for themselves as job-creators invest!”) ever came true… even once, in the decades since the Laffer Cult sprouted. But that voodoo never came true. Ever. Not one prediction. Even once. But it is still pushed. Wonder why?

== The oligarchs step up ==

SECRET-SUMMITSIn what might have been a scene taken from the pages of EXISTENCE, 250 individuals flew into London for a conclave of the world’s richest people and estates, with the formal agenda of preventing revolution by making capitalist societies more inclusive.  Their combined assets, estimated at $30 trillion — amount to roughly one-third of the total investable wealth in the world. If money is power, then this is the most powerful group of people ever to focus on income inequality.

The titans of commerce and finance didn’t necessarily fly to this meeting in London out of a sense of ethics or moral duty, though that may be a motivation for some. For many, says conference organizer Lynn Forester de Rothschild, it’s a sense of self-preservation. Capitalism appears to be under siege.  “It’s true that the business of business is not to solve society’s problems,” she says. “But it is really dangerous for business when business is viewed as one of society’s problems. And that is where we are today.”

Question: were there meetings behind the open meetings, as I depict in fiction? Well?  Do any of YOU out there, reading this, happen to know?

Here’s the deal. These are the good billionaires! Here’s another secret confab, one that is endearingly free of any “help the world” rationalizations: Secret Summit: 24 Hours with the Koch Brothers.

== Ah, statistics… ==

Okay. If you can’t beat em…

Drugs, prostitution and smuggling (ie Hookers & Blow) will be part of Italy’s GDP as of 2014, and prior-year figures will be adjusted to reflect the change in methodology, the Istat national statistics office said today. The revision was made to comply with European Union rules, it said.

== And finally, the Big Lie propaganda about the American Revolution ==

Franklin-taxSaid Ben Franklin: “The Colonies would gladly have borne the little Tax on tea and other matters had it not been the poverty caused by the bad influence of the English bankers on the Parliament, which has caused in the Colonies hatred of England and the Revolutionary War.”

The notion that the American Revolution was somehow against “government” and “taxation” in general, and not – as all the Founders said – against oligarchy and rule by monopolists and feudal lords – is among the most hilarious conflations and orwellian propaganda campaigns of our lifetimes.

 

 

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How to regain trust in the NSA era: The IGUS Gambit

How might the Obama Administration best respond to wave after wave of “NSA revelations” that roil and cloud the political waters?

NSA-Snowden-AssangeIronically, almost none of Edward Snowden’s leaks — or those of Julian Assange — revealed anything that was illegal per se. What they have done is stir a too-long delayed argument over what should be legal!  Specifically, the Patriot Act and the ratchet effect on surveillance that always happens when a country enters a state of panic. The post-9/11 alarm is finally fading and — (barring some new, panic-inducing event) — elements of the Patriot Act and pervasive surveillance are now up for public debate.

See page 206* of The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force us to Choose between Privacy and Freedom? (1997) — where this cycle of terrorism and increased government surveillance was predicted in precise — and rather creepy — detail.

NSA-WATCHING-WATCHERS Elsewhere, I recently dissected and appraised the forty-two suggested reforms that a commission presented to President Obama, many of which he has instituted or sent to Congress. Here I want to focus on one important, trust-building measure that would make a huge difference.

 

== Meeting the needs of the Public and the PPC ==

As expected, most of the current argument is about the wrong side of the issue — mewling plaints calling to prevent society’s elites (like the NSA or Google) from seeing — an effort that is fated to be futile, condemned to absurdity by Moore’s Law.

But at last there is talk also of doing what will work — improving the degree to which the citizenry can supervise and have confidence that government remains essentially a servant of the people.

The main sticking point is over the need that members of the Professional Protector Caste (PPC) have for tactical secrecy, or the ability to conceal their operations from villains and adversaries.   This need is very strong, but so is that of citizens to feel assured that secrecy remains only tactical, short-term and pragmatic, never an excuse for permanent avoidance of accountability.

INSPECTOR-GENERAL-UNITED-STATESI have over the years offered several innovations that might achieve a win-win — securing both tactical shadows for the PPC to be effective, while ensuring accountability that at least partially reassures the public. Foremost among these proposals would be to create the office of Inspector General of the United States (IGUS).

IGUS could be established with a one-page law that simply transfers all of the inspectors general in every agency and department to an independent service under a figure of noted rectitude, whose staff might then perform their functions without the inherent conflict of interest that stymies so many IGs. IGUS members would be trained in both confidentiality and prim skepticism on the taxpayers’ behalf, allowing PPC agencies to continue tactically secret investigations, but always with the peoples’ delegated gaze over their shoulders.

NSA-Citizen-OversightA POLITICAL WIN-WIN: Without question, proposing and establishing IGUS would be an agile jiu-jitsu move on the part of the Obama Administration. It would simultaneously say:

“We understand that public confidence is shaken and this move should help to restore it while preventing the worst and most perniciously chronic abuses… while at the same time allowing our skilled public protectors to continue doing their important jobs. It is also the quickest way to do this, requiring the fewest changes in law.”

Will this satisfy everybody? Of course not… nor should it! Indeed, I do not consider IGUS to be enough. I have several more proposals that would work in parallel with IGUS, so that in-sum we all can truly be sure that our watch dogs remain loyal (if fierce) dogs, and never wolves.

inspectors-GeneralNevertheless, IGUS would be a good start. And it would allow the Administration to be seen acting vigorously, in a forward, pro-active direction that BOTH enhances public trust and allows our agencies to do their jobs.

My IGUS proposal was written in greater detail as one of two dozen “Suggestions for the Incoming Obama Administration” way back in 2008. Alas, not one of them got to anyone’s ear. C’est la vie.

Still, you can read about it here: Free the Inspectors General!

 

== Political Miscellany ==

Lying with Data: Fox viewers in the family? Show them this chart that appeared on their news” network and ask if they can explain why almost no American scientists are republican, anymore.  See this appraisal, also: The Statisticians at Fox News use classic and novel graphical techniques to lead with data.

 

Transparent-Society-206

*Here’s an image of page 206 of The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force us to choose between Privacy and Freedom?. 

 

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Hypocrites stand up for Liars! While others hold out for truth…

= Hypocrites abandon all pretense of supporting competitive markets = 

Amici-curiae-cato-instituteOhio has a law on the books that criminalizes “lying” (as determined by the State) in political discourse.  In opposition, P.J. O’Rourke and the Cato Institute have filed what one observer calls “the funniest — and possibly best — amicus curiae brief to the United States Supreme Court, ever.”

Yep… maybe, to today’s snarky-smug cynics it’s “best,” but I’m getting tired of this fellow who has spent his life ridiculing any standard of decent behavior, no matter how loosely applied.

Sure, there was a long stretch in my youth when giving the finger to “standards” was a necessary phase and boy did we boomers take to it!  The most self-righteous generation in history used our mighty Power of Indignation to take on all sorts of stodgy, repressive authority: right on!  Breaking ancient taboos that ranged from racism and sexism to uptight “morality” over normal human libido… a whole industry burgeoned around the ethos of “screw you dad!” And in large measure — despite his heroism against Hitler and all that — Dad had it coming.

But self-righteousness can become a nasty habit and it is currently poisoning America, in particular.  Moreover, it just downright stupid to claim that there are NO standards that decent people might universally apply.  Like “don’t deliberately harm people.”  And “don’t repeat deliberate, out-and-out lies that you’ve been confronted with, countless times and that you know damned well to be false.”

Cato-HypocrisyIn denying even that extremely loose and generous definition of “lying,” P.J. O’Rourke’s credibility is like the so-called “libertarian” “scholars” at Cato, an intellectual brothel, bought and paid for by an oligarchy that hires mouthpieces to concoct rationalizations and excuses for an oligarchic putsch that will end real competition, real capitalism, real competitive enterprise and real freedom. We’ll say anything you want, oh masters who pay the bills.

They fulfill what has become a complete (and unnoticed by media) betrayal of Adam Smith and the American founders — who knew very well one core fact: that the truest enemy of freedom and fair competition has seldom been civil servants.  Across 6000 years, most of the time, those good things were routinely crushed by cabals of cheating, competition-suppressing owner-feudal lords. The same caste that Smith and the Founders denounced.

In this particular case, it’s no wonder that O’Rourke and Cato snark and sneer and ridicule — calling today’s tsunami of organized lying “part of political discourse.” The ability to lie without consequences s fundamental to the Koch-Murdoch-Sa’udi campaign to destroy American aptitude for pragmatic negotiation and instead stoke Civil War. (In fairness, it was part and parcel of the far-left, back when they were the most looming threat to freedom. Even today, the left spawns something called “postmodernism” that also denies the existence of any kind of verification or truth.)

No scientist would ever have any truck with such nonsense.  Nor any medical doctor, teacher, journalist or any of the other clades of knowledge who are declared to be enemies by this new Know Nothing movement. Yes, much in life is contingent, arguable, unproved or at least tentative, but the crux of science is that we build a hierarchy of improving models.  And there comes a point where we can say “that’s simply false.”

Cato-O'Rourke-Fox-News-Supreme-CourtThe Big Liars’ goal – to make slander and deception consequence-free – has a perfect illustration: Fox is the only “news” outlet ever to sue not for protection from inadvertent errors or accidental falsehoods but from any accountability for relentlessly repeated and knowing lies.

Oh, the snarks by Cato and O’Rourke can be funny and indeed, they have a point. As illustrated in Kurt Vonnegut’s classic satire “Harrison Bergeron,” law-centered “solutions” to human deficiencies in character are inherently problematic.  Naturally, one can concoct a worst-case version of an anti-lying law to ridicule as an example of statist-meddling, thought-policing and nanny-finger-wagging prudery. O’Rourke is really good at skewering that sort of thing.  We boomers specialize in sarcasm. (And our vastly better kids will make a great world, when our sanctimonious boomer asses shuffle off this mortal coil.)

But that is not how anti-deception laws would work in any real America, and O’Rourke knows it.  Any such law would have to put stiff burdens of proof on the accuser that an assertion was deliberately public, known to be factually false, that the perpetrator had ignored repeated confrontations with the truth, and that the perpetrator was abusing a position of public trust.  Moreover, the sliding scale of penalties would consist almost entirely of retractions.

DisputationArenasArrowCoverIndeed, one potentially great outcome would be public fora for weighing factual evidence, as I describe in my Disputation Arenas paper. Looseness is an essential feature of American life and no one will go after internet polemicists bandying stupid-ass untrue jpegs.

But there has to be a backstop!  A point where relentlessly repeated lying by media hits a wall called Proved Truth. A point where the resulting shaming actually reduces the public credibility of the Goebbels-level Big Lie machines, out there.

That sort of thing will not suppress discourse.  It will sway discourse toward something we used to be good at.  Conversation.  Fair argument.  Debate.  Comparison of real evidence. And, ultimately, a word that the Murdochians do their best to rail against, hobble, cripple and destroy… negotiation.

Only dig it… the whole thing will soon be moot as technology provides us with actual, bona fide lie detectors.  They aren’t here yet, but as this article shows, researchers are zeroing in.

And see where it may go.

== A Miscellany of much smarter people… ==

…than the Cato sellouts surrounds us!  Let’s start with a woman who is incredibly American. “A California woman who applied for American citizenship had her application rejected because she identified herself as a “conscientious objector” who will not bear arms for the United States because she objects to war on secular moral grounds.” She wrote: “As a woman in my mid-30’s, I understand that it is unlikely that I will ever be asked to take up arms to defend this country. I could have easily checked ‘yes’, sealed the envelope, and sent it out,”  so, let’s see — taking a self-righteous moral stance on abstract principle, knowing that (1) the matter is of moderate memic importance and (2) that she’ll actually suffer very few negative outcomes…?  Yep. She’s already a real American. Proud to keep her.

Is MJ Harmless?  I have always liked California’s outspoken, slightly weird but fantastically effective Governor Jerry Brown. He so often hits the nail on the head. “California Governor Jerry Brown said he is not sure legalizing marijuana is a good idea in his state because the country could lose its competitive edge if too many people are getting stoned.”

Oh I can hear howls from most of you, out there. And mark me: it is terrific that we are finally moving away from the insipidly insane and counterproductive Drug War!  Marijuana is a lesser problem and should be treated as a minor vice, compared with so many others. And yet…

… those who go too far the other way and say it is not a vice, at all, are coo-koo birds.  Sure, as with alcohol, millions can use it once a week with no deleterious effects. And even habitual users aren’t dangerous to others, the way alcohol abusers can be!  And yet… those who deny MJ’s one major down side are hypocrites or blinkered fools.  For a large fraction of heavy users, it is an Ambition Destroyer.  It mellows guys down below the energy level it takes to get up and get innovative-transforming work done.  You all know guys like that.  And just because MJ is not the problem that puritan idiots said it was… that doesn’t mean it’s not a problem at all… one that we should keep thinking about.

And you can see the common theme with my screed about the mockers of all standards (above).  Just because a prudish system was 90% wrong, don’t compound the travesty by ignoring the 1% that was core and right.

Is the “age of the gun” as the Great Equalizer over?  See a thought-provoking argument that the past 700 years have been the Age of the Gun – when barely-trained infantrymen were the basis of military power. Says Chris Phoenix: “The implication I see is that Enlightenment ideals may have been based on, or at least supported by, the fact that a fairly small amount of work and training could create an army out of ordinary people.  But a quadcopter-mounted gun beats an infantryman.  So what happens, socially, when the leaders no longer have any fear at all of the people?”

Jefferson-rifleMy answer: It all depends.  This assumes that citizen militias cannot have quasi equivalent quadcopters. An Orwellian state would make sure of that.  But an Orwellian state does not mix well with the ethos that still reigns in the civilian population from which the military draws its recruits.  (The Animal House ethos that P.J. O’Rourke embodies.) Which makes it very hard to make a cohesively repressive occupying force, or a very large coterie of defection-free henchmen.  See this illustrated in the 2008 film about drones called SLEEP DEALER.   And in my own novel EXISTENCE… and in this discussion of “The Jefferson Rifle.”

Oh, but finally… These guys are a hoot!  The “New Monarchists” actually dare to show their faces… as we near the anniversary of the week when two microcephalic grandsons of Queen Victoria ignored every plea by real statesmen and plunged the world into a war from which today, a century later, we are still recovering.  Indeed, these guys are focusing especially on the Romanov (czarist) house and even suggesting Putin marry into it for legitimacy!

Oy!  Talk about microcephalic!

Preposterous-plausible-quoteWant an irony?  My short story “The Fourth Vocation of George Gustaf” makes the argument for a mild constitutional monarchy better than any of these guys do! So does Robert Heinlein’s DOUBLE STAR.  And mind you, neither of us really believed it!  I mean Gee Wiz, if you’re going to make a case for the preposterous, at least make it sound vaguely plausible.

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Do We Want Political Dynasties?

== Come on… must we? ==

The verdict has been declared… at least by one political seer. “ It’s over: Jeb Bush will be the GOP nominee in 2016.”

Political-dynastiesOy!  And with Hillary the democratic heir-apparent — and with the next-generation George P. Bush running for office in Texas… and rumors of Chelsea Clinton — where does that put us, dynasty-wise?

Mind you, I have very different opinions of these two clans, one of which oversaw twin eras of absolutely perfect mis-rule and ruin for the United States, without a single positive outcome in any metric, while the other is recalled as generally effective and decent — if fraught with a few personal flaws.

Still, do we really want this?

Way back in 2007, I suggested a bit of theater to put it all in satirical perspective. Picture a black-turtleneck-clad greek chorus holding up alternating pictures as they chant. The first round consists of just one phrase as they hold up one placard, labeled “1980” — that shows the gipper with Bush Sr.

The second round repeats showing 1980, then the same pair again, labeled “1984.”  Then 1980 and 1984 with one more added… Bush Sr. alone in 1988… You can envision each round getting longer as we then add Bill Clinton twice, then Bush Junior twice, each time reiterating a chant that adds one more layer…

REAGAN-BUSH-CLINTONREAGAN-BUSH!

REAGAN-BUSH!

BUSH,

CLINTON,

CLINTON

BUSH,

BUSH…

…CLINTON?

That last chant would have shown Hillary 2008. We’d then repeat the whole thing culminating in her second term. Then repeat again for 2016 showing Jeb… and Jeb again in 2020… and then… Chelsea?

Read the whole script here: Reagan Bush, Reagan Bush, Bush Clinton…

And yes, history passed that scenario by.  Though… why not resurrect the work of satirical art, updated and revised? All that’s needed is to interrupt the repetitious chant with a double pause while the chorus offers a respite of two hosannahs… O-Bah-mah! O-Bah-mah! … before going back to the rhythmic Battle of the Dynasties.

If any street theater types want to pull off this satire, I can offer the whole script.

To be clear… I have no major beef with Hillary Clinton.  And Jeb does seem to be the least awful of his calamitous clan. Still, as I said earlier… oy. We don’t have to do things this way.

== “Ostrich” conservatives! There are places for you! So lift your heads ==

Ostrich-conservativesI have mentioned before that among the crucial demographic of “ostrich conservatives” — millions of decent folks who are in desperate in denial over  the hijacking of their once-intellectually rich movement go giants like Goldwater and Buckley — are waking up and lifting their heads to confront its veer down insanity lane.  Ashamed of the War on Science and the abandonment of any pretense of support for small business or fiscal responsibility — or even common sense — some genuine discussion is happening at THE AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE Magazine.

Another Goldwater-Buckley type wrote to me about the Hoover Institution:

“Interestingly, some good climate scientists are (or at least were) Republicans (Jim Hansen, Richard Alley, Kerry Emanuel, and some folks at the Hoover Institution, like George Shultz, who helped to fight the Tesoro/Valero/Koch initiative to undo AB32, and who gushes over his Nissan Leaf.  Unlike most of these thinktanks, that’s actually (mostly) a center of legitimate conservative thought, of the old-style conservatives, not Tea Party. It is certainly disheartening to see the disappearance of the oldstyle moderate Republicans, like Sherwood Boehlert or Olympia Snowe.”

Alas, in the Murdochian push to reclassify “libertarianism” as purely anti-government, rather than pro-competition, the Powers that have done the hijacking are foisting on us ravers like Judge Andrew Napolitano, whose recent rants – based 100% on concocted falsehoods – against Abraham Lincoln clarify their purpose.  To ensure that “government of the people, by the people, for the people SHALL perish from the Earth.  Hm… I wonder why billionaire feudal-lord inheritance oligarchs would want that….

==  political miscellany ==

When May I Shoot a Student? An essay in which a Boise State University professor comments (tongue in cheek I hope) about the many advantages of Idaho’s (soon to be) new law allowing guns on university campuses. A work of art that will make simultaneously laugh and cry…. What a crazy country we live in!

How to respond to people who claim the ACA didn’t originate from the GOP.  Better yet just repeat this to republicans. “Obamacare was your… own… damn… plan.

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