Saturday, October 21, 2017

Dangers pile up. The Court, the foreign meddlers... and our oppressed military.

Studies of gerrymandering show that this horrific crime by the political caste against U.S. citizens won’t die easily. As described in Quanta Magazine, mathematicians have dialed in on the problem in such a way that the Supreme Court can no longer use its longstanding rationales for ignoring the problem.

From The Washington Post: Gerrymandering is the biggest threat to democracy: “In the 2016 elections for the House of Representatives, the average electoral margin of victory was 37.1 percent. That’s a figure you’d expect from North Korea, Russia or Zimbabwe – not the United States. But the shocking reality is that the typical race ended with a Democrat or a Republican winning nearly 70 percent of the vote, while their challenger won just 30 percent.”

Last year, only 17 seats out of 435 races were decided by a margin of 5 percent or less. Just 33 seats in total were decided by a margin of 10 percent or less. In other words, more than 9 out of 10 House races were landslides where the campaign was a foregone conclusion before ballots were even cast. In 2016, there were no truly competitive Congressional races in 42 of the 50 states. That is not healthy for a system of government that, at its core, is defined by political competition.” -- writes Brian Klaas.

Justice Anthony Kennedy - on whom the fate of the republic resides - can no longer claim there's no metric for harm done by this foul cheat. Mathematical models of "voter efficiency" have settled that. If he is also reluctant to demolish "legislative sovereignty" with apportionment commissions, he can always point to my own Minimal Overlap solution to gerrymandering, which largely eliminates any need for such commissions and allows state legislatures sovereign power over one chamber. A senior federal judge I know deemed it interesting and impressive.

The need is paramount. Andrew Reynolds - an elections expert who has consulted in over 25 nations on issues of democratic design - wrote recently in the Charlotte Observer that governance in his home state of North Carolina had struck a new low: “When it comes to the integrity of the voting district boundaries no country has ever received as low a score as the 7/100 North Carolina received. North Carolina is not only the worst state in the USA for unfair districting but the worst entity in the world ever analyzed by the Electoral Integrity Project.”

Of course Reynolds was referring to gerrymandering and other cheats, perfected not just in North Carolina but in all but two other Red States. (In fairness, two blue states are almost as bad, in rigging contorted districts.)

But there is a key outcome from all of this. As Reynolds points out:
“Seventy-six of the 170 (45 percent) incumbent state legislators were not even opposed by the other party in the general election.” (This is the unforgivable crime of the democrats, who should be recruiting retired military officers to run, in every red assembly district in the nation... and decent sane republicans should be doing the same, in the GOP primaries.)

Reynolds concludes: “Respect for democracy is not a partisan issue. In America true Republicans are as loyal to democratic principles as are Democrats.”  And I agree.  But where will you find these “true Republicans, who put country ahead of dogma, facts ahead of emotion and adult behavior over playground fury?

They used to be called “Eisenhower Republicans.” But nowadays, I have another term for them: Eisenhower Democrats.

Prove me wrong McCain, Murkowski, Collins, Corker and so on. Are you ready, at long last, to stand up to Rupert Murdoch, put a stake in the heart of the undead were-elephant, and start a party of sane conservatism?

== The war on the military and all other smartypants ==

Then what about all the generals DT is hiring?  Donald Trump is enlisting generals for the upper ranks of his administration to a degree uncommon in modern politics — and that has some lawmakers, diplomats and former national security officials worried that the president-elect will be relying too heavily on military leaders to shape foreign and security policy,” reports Politico. 

I have to repeat things, till at least one other person in media or politics notices, too. But the one common thread, since 1995, has been the Murdoch-Koch-Fox-etc war on all fact-using professions.  Not just science, teaching, medicine, law, economics, journalism... but now the "deep state" Intelligence Agencies, FBI and military officer corps.

There is a strain of fact-hatred on the far-left, too! I would make a big deal of it, if it controlled liberalism, the way confederate-romatic hatred of brains and knowledge have completely taken over the American right. See where Robert Heinlein predicted all of this!

Looking back at Heinlein's Future History - coming true before our eyes.

How can any modern person rationalize going along with a drum beat of hatred toward people who know stuff? I've dissected this before. The right's insanity is based upon taking truisms and conflating them prodigiously.  

Example: We all know that; "Being smart and knowing a lot does not automatically make you wise."

THAT IS TRUE!  But what this has become, on the American right, though never stated with this explicit absurdity, is: "Being smart and knowing a lot automatically make you unwise."

When stated that way, baldly and openly, it is spectacularly stupid.  And yet, that is the implicit lesson that underlies the outright war against science, journalism, teachers, civil servants, economists, diplomats, medical doctors and nearly all other knowledge castes in American life... a list that now includes the Intelligence Community and soon will assail the U.S. Military Officer Corps.

Yes, some senior officers of the CIA let themselves be bullied by the President (G.W. Bush) into bending the truth re Saddam's WMDs.  There were reforms to make that less likely. Now? DT screams: "They flubbed WMDs so we should pay no attention to all our entire range of intelligence agencies!  The CIA, DIA, NRO, FBI... ignore them all if they say something I don't like!"  Are... you... kidding me? 

Because one GOP president bullied defense officers into lying on his behalf... we want another GOP president to do the same exact thing? Parse this out.  

== Populism vs wealth ==

Nassim Taleb (author of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable) - always both brilliant and stunningly cocksure weighs in on wealth inequality, which he agrees is bad and getting dangerously worse. But he is skeptical of how it’s dealt-with by his colleagues. Taleb proposes that: “what people resent – or should resent – is the person at the top who has no skin in the game, that is, because he doesn’t bear his allotted risk, is immune to the possibility of falling from his pedestal, exiting the income or wealth bracket, and getting to the soup kitchen. Again, on that account, the detractors of Donald Trump, when he was a candidate, failed to realize that, by advertising his episode of bankruptcy and his personal losses of close to a billion dollars, they removed the resentment (the second type of inequality) one may have towards him. There is something respectable in losing a billion dollars, provided it is your own money.”

Interesting fellow. Wrong far more often than he thinks he is. But that is why we need an open society.

In The World Post, Julian Baggini asserts that a consolidating “populist international” binds the anti-establishment revolt across Western democracies together with the strongman approach to governance favored by Putin.

“(To view the Trumpists and other right wing) populists as hapless victims of Kremlin manipulation is to underestimate the genuine admiration they have for the qualities Putin represents. It may well end in tears, but this is no marriage of convenience: this is true love. If we want to know why so many voters have fallen for the populists, we need to understand why the populists have fallen for Putin.” 

This might sound perverse, given that one of the only things populists agree on is their disdain for elites, and as an ex-KGB man with almost absolute power at home, Putin is hardly an outsider. But populist resentment has never been directed at all elites ― just at the wrong kind, those who comprise the political mainstream, who have led Western democracies for the decades since World War II. That is why the rich and powerful Donald Trump can be seen as anti-elitist: he belongs to an elite, but not the Washington or Brussels one. Putin similarly belongs to a Russian elite, but not to the Western liberal establishment.”

Alas, Mr. Baggini is close, but misses, probably because he thinks that this is all about politics. It’s not. Yes, the deep reflex that has been exploited is Suspicion of Authority (SOA) - the theme conveyed in every single Hollywood film and a core element of the western enlightenment revolution.  The enemies of that revolution, who seek to re-establish 6000 years of feudalism, know they can only succeed by doing what the Confederate plantation lords and Prussian nobles accomplished, in 1860 and 1932, divert populist rage toward *other* authorities or elites. 

Baggini thinks it is the Washington establishment of centrist politicians, but no, demographically it is a much larger tsunami of hatred toward every profession that deals in knowledge and facts.  Like scientists, teachers, doctors, statisticians, economists, journalists... for years I’ve demanded of any confed to name an exception. One knowledge caste not attacked by Fox and alt-right? Name one?

There are three exceptions. The financial-CEO elite, the doctors of divinity, both of who do know a lot about their fields… and until recently the military/intelligence officer corps.  That last group, though hard afflicted by every period of republican leadership, had not been attacked openly.  

But that has changed, as Donald Trump prepares the way for what bodes to be mass firings in the intelligence and military communities. And the promotion of weirdos and fanatics. Watch. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Science Fiction & Prediction

Let's take a breath and look longer term.  I am inspired after we watched the (mostly) very good "Bladerunner 2049" flick, last night.  More on that, below.

== Probing the territory in front of us ==

How does Science Fiction do at prediction? From Star Trek to 2001 and The Matrix, this article from The Guardian takes a look at how well -- or poorly -- science fiction films predicted and portrayed the next generation of computers, robots and technological innovation. 

In this essay - Why Science-Fiction Writers Couldn’t Imagine the Internet, Lawrence Krauss (author of the recently released The Greatest Story Ever Told -- So Far: Why Are We Here?) presents game-changing real world technologies that defied prediction -- and contemplates what science fiction is good at, and how it seldom actually forecasts the truly unexpected. Well, sure. Though it’s also important to be aware of anomalies...

Like E. E. Hale's The Brick Moon, published in 1866 which foretold navigation and communication satellites as well as humans living in orbit, or Bernal’s “The World, The Flesh and the Devil” in the 1920s scanning ahead at rotating cylinder space colonies, or Aldous Huxley’s genetic augmentation of humans, or H.G. Wells predicting nuclear weapons and war. 

American short story writer Edward Page Mitchell in the 1880s foresaw instant news transmission, pneumatic tube transport and equal rights for women, along with a steady decline of racism, till a Chinese-American is a major presidential candidate in the 1960s. 

San Francisco author Robert Duncan Milne had a run of fantastic tales from 1877-1899 about radio communications, image-based surveillance, photographic forensics, and surviving solar flares.  (More Brin news about Milne, in the course of time, I promise.)

Krauss kindly credits me with predicting some aspects of the World Wide Web, in my 1989 novel EARTH, along with William Gibson’s cyberpunk versions of the Internet, earlier. But he stops there, claiming that SF missed the super-linked world, for the most part. And, for the most part, he’s right! Still, other exceptions stand out. Take Frederik  Pohl's The Age of the Pussyfoot, which in 1967 or so portrayed not only a vast world-array of linked computers, but citizens carrying personal assistants in their pockets (“Joymakers”) that advised, got information, took pictures and – oh yes – made calls. 

John Brunner’s 1960s novels Stand on Zanzibar and The Shockwave Rider anticipated not just the internet but computer worms and viruses, as did Gregory Benford’s even-earlier story "The Scarred Man."  Even before that, Murray Leinster’s “A Logic Named Joe” had fun with what could go wrong, if we all got semi-intelligent personal AI helpers.

While we are on brilliant prescience, have another look at a Fred Pohl book that I have touted for 20 years, urging members of our intelligence, law and military communities to read, and be scared! Pohl’s The Cool War is mentioned in this article that openly adopts his terminology for a struggle between powers that has warmed up to a desperately dangerous kind of bitter peace. In that novel, nations wage a cryptic campaign of tit-for-tat sabotage, undermining each others’ infrastructure, banking systems and power, a ‘war’ that is never declared and never goes nuclear, but leaves us all spiraling ever downward into failure and poverty.

Cool War... The term has been updated and promulgated by David Rothkopf, editor at large at Foreign Affairs and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and I am glad it is getting wider play, since a Cool War is clearly what we’re in. (A little credit then, for my having pushed Pohl’s book -especially to the Protector Caste- for two decades? ;-)

The new anti-democratic axis that has been forged by Vladimir Putin -- now stretching from Ankara all the way to Manila and supported by another rising power – discusses openly its motive and intent to bring down the “decadent west” with its “fictitious” notions of freedom of citizen-rule.  The sabotage of our political processes has come far and probing feints have measured vulnerabilities in every area that Fred predicted, from the power grid to transport. 

And did you really think that North Korea’s nukes have no part in the overall plan? They allow for a possible EMP strike on North America aimed at knocking us down a bunch, while the larger powers retain “It wasn’t us!” plausible deniability. Read that again. And again while actually thinking about who really controls things, in North Korea.)

I’ve railed about this in both fiction and nonfiction (e.g. The Transparent Society) as well as many talks and consultations. 

Though it can be important to grasp the justifications of the other side! Let’s remember that Putin feels vexed that Obama and Hillary Clinton oversaw (he claims instigated) the revolution that removed the Ukraine from Russia’s orbit, sending that people racing toward union with the West. Putin did not want the masterminds of this setback to remain in power, and he brought out every gun to ensure they’d be replaced by his own favored man.

Yes, we live in a world that seems almost written as a science fiction tale!  Who on Earth would have imagined that Americans might be prodded and propagandized into turning away from our genius at pragmatic negotiation? That we’d let ourselves be talked into abandoning the high art of politics? That a third of our citizens could be distracted into waging all-out war on … science? On every single profession of fact-users who know stuff? And now the “deep state” officers of the FBI and intel agencies and military?

No, no. Let this be a cheap novel.

== The future is better than the past ==

Few of my postings have elicited as much fervent argument – and even hate-mail – as my recent blog about Robert A. Heinlein, an author log categorized as a right-winger by oversimplifying fools. That post reprinted directly from Heinlein’s afterword to Revolt in 2100, in which he expressed desperate worry about a merging of the American right with racism and the nastier tendencies in fundamentalism.

Yes, RAH was definitely a “libertarian” in the older sense that hearkens to Adam Smith and self-reliant individualism, though I doubt he’d find much in common with the version that has hijacked that movement, nowadays. On the other hand, he was vigorously pro-science and intellect and diversity/tolerance, and… well, read his own words, and see how chillingly close they came to predicting our awful, pre-theocracy politics, today. 

Here’s another passage, this time from the penultimate page of his finest time travel novel, The Door Into Summer:

"…the future is better than the past. Despite the crepehangers, romanticists, and anti-intellectuals, the world steadily grows better because the human mind, applying itself to environment, makes it better. With hands...with tools...with horse sense and science and engineering.
“Most of these long-haired belittlers can't drive a nail nor use a slide rule, I'd like to invite them into Dr. Twitchell's cage and ship them back to the twelfth century--then let them enjoy it.”

Yeah, sure. There are lefty flakes who qualify as “romantics” and “long hairs!” But look around at who is screaming hatred of science and every other fact profession. (Name one exception.) Look at the revival of fascism and confederatism, two of the most romantic movements ever seen. And… aw, heck.  Let me paste back in here the pivotal paragraphs of Heinlein’s afterword to Revolt in 2100:

“Could it be otherwise here? Could any one sect obtain a working majority at the polls and take over the country? Perhaps not – but a combination of a dynamic evangelist, television, enough money, and modern techniques of advertising and propaganda might make Billy Sunday’s efforts look like a corner store compared to Sears Roebuck. 

"Throw in a Depression for good measure, promise a material heaven here on earth, add a dash of anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, anti-Negrosim, and a good large dose of anti-“furriners” in general and anti-intellectuals here at home, and the result might be something quite frightening – particularly when one recalls that our voting system is such that a minority distributed as pluralities in enough states can constitute a working majority in Washington."

Oh, yes. Science fiction authors can be off target.  But there can also be prescient.

== Bladrunner 2049 ==

Forgot to do this so I'll be brief.  It's a great flick. Very enjoyable. Grade A for Ambiance, music and acting. A bit lower for plot logic, but I'll get to that another time. Seriously, the fact that I'm not used as a plot consultant more often than I am is ... well... a tragedy for you film lovers!  ;-)

Saturday, October 14, 2017

How they get away with this... and how we can thwart them

The fate of America – and the experiment in a Periclean civilization – should not come down to one man.  No, I am not talking about the President, but Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy who, with his eight colleagues, is pondering arguments for tearing down partisan gerrymandering.  

There are intimations that this time, Justice Kennedy may be ready to act against this ongoing rape of democracy. (That anyone could even mouth justifications for such a blatantly heinous and treasonous crime against American citizens should appall any decent mind, whatever their political leanings.) Certainly the plaintiffs have refined their arguments with much better facts and details… and I am told that my own contribution – a potential remedy that is simple, equitable and makes generous allowance for state sovereignty – has been put before one of the plaintiff attorneys. Well… 

… all of that is beside the point. My question is, how could it all teeter on one man? Specifically, what could possibly be going on in the minds of John Roberts and Samuel Alito? 

Unlike their conservative brothers, Gorsuch and Thomas, they weren't chosen in order to be partisan shills. We’re told they are genuine legal scholars whose loyalty to party is secondary. Roberts has even displayed a little independence, and fealty to logic, from time to time. So why is this matter even in doubt?  Can Alito and Roberts actually look in a mirror, siding with this travesty? This crime? Knowing that they'll consign the Republic – eventually – to no recourse other than revolution?

== The warriors resist calls for insane war ==

All the world's despots and fanatics want a U.S.- Iran war:  Trump would get a distraction from his troubles and GOP presidents love ordering troops forward, like pieces in a game. The Mullahs get an excuse to crush their own modernist population. The Saudis and Vladimir Putin get high oil prices and Russia will gain a new, Persian dependency under Kremlin "protection." And others will benefit, too! But not us. Not America or the West or civilization.

Note: under Obama, the U.S. became virtually energy independent. We have no further national interest maintaining a carrier group in that dangerous gulf. Prevent an Iranian bomb? Fine. Then sit back and let demographics seal the mullahs' fate.

And not sane/sober members of the U.S. military, who would be sent to fight it. "The nation’s top military leaders stated unequivocally that they believe the United States should stay in the Iran nuclear deal, staking out a position at odds with President Trump’s only days before he decides whether to certify that Tehran is in compliance with the deal."

God bless the United States Military Officer Corps - who have endorsed remaining in the Iran deal. The final fact-using profession to come under attack from the mad right, who will rue the day. "Deep State" my ass. They are heroes.

== The Union rises: some good news from the front ==

I have been hammering the point that Democrats would be fools to aim all their attention on the clown car craziness in the Executive and Legislative federal branches. At least as important will be races for state assembly and state senate, and the dems must get to recruiting appropriate candidates for those crucial races, right now. Elsewhere I’ve discussed:

(1) Where to find the best candidates for red districts. (And you might know someone appropriate! It is your duty to at least think about who you might help recruit.)

 And finally, the good news:

(3) Apparently there actually are some smart folks out there who have noticed. There have been under-reported results. “Of the 27 Republican-held state legislative seats that have come open in 2017 to date, Democrats have now flipped almost 30% of them -- a remarkable number in any circumstance but especially so when you consider the average Trump margin in these seats in 2016 was 19 points.”

“So, why aren't we hearing more about it? Because state legislative races aren't sexy. Because Democrats haven't been able to win one of the more high profile GOP-held House seats in a series of special elections so far this year.” Though in those congressional races Democrats overperformed -- by a large amount -- Hillary Clinton's 2016 showing in these congressional seats.

Want more good news? Despite the extraordinary challenges the world is facing – from growing economic inequality and climate change to mass migration and terrorism – “if you had to choose any moment in history in which to be born, you would choose right now. The world has never been healthier, or wealthier, or better educated or in many ways more tolerant or less violent,” former President Obama said at an event for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Now if you disagree with that assertion, you are welcome to compare statistics. (You’d lose.) But what’s interesting is the emotional response it elicits, from many on the left and almost everyone on the right – fuming rage -- that anyone would dare to say there’s reason for optimism, or that our efforts at reform for 80 years have born a lot of fruit. 

The gloom on the right is understandable – since every media outlet on that side, from Breitbart to Fox to elite “institutes” has a vested interest in destroying American and Western confidence in our open-egalitarian-democratic-entrepreneurial civilization.

But on the left, it is pure craziness – a fetish to save the world only through guilt trips and finger-wagging, never acknowledging that optimistic-confident people are more likely to take on challenges. This is the biggest factor distinguishing pragmatic liberals from ideological “leftists.” Liberals are willing to acknowledge that we’ve come a long way. And that the effectiveness of our past efforts should spur us onward to take on the vast challenges that remain.

== Okay then, a few are trying to get below superficials ==

On the World Post site, there is much wisdom on offer, but with an underlying layer of obstinate blindness: “…former U.S. President Bill Clinton, summed it: “We know from the human genome that all people are 99.5 percent the same. Some people seem to spend 99 percent of their time worrying about the .5 percent that is different. That is a big mistake. We should focus on what we have in common. And focus on what is common. We make better decisions in diverse societies than in homogenous ones. America’s great advantage is that we are an idea, not a place. We are not an ethnicity or a uniform culture.”

Clinton also warned of the dangers of the nativist narrative that has recently arisen: 
“We are playing Russian roulette with our biggest ticket to the future. Even if you believe we are headed toward the first big change since the industrial revolution with robots and digital technology that will kill more jobs than it creates, we are still going to need diversity. We are going to need creative cooperation. To do that we need some fair back and forth with others not like us. Resentment-based divisive politics is a mistake.” But, as the former president sees it, historical experience suggests it will all work out in the end: “This is just the latest chapter in the oldest drama of human history, us vs. them. But sooner or later we mix and move on.” 

All of that is wise and right and good.  But it misses the point about this resurgent confederacy.

Another article asks why Trump keeps on winning. Sure he accomplishes nothing at all, but gridlock and rigor mortis has always been the right’s principal goal. Demonstrating democracy's futility is the core and central aim of Putin's anti-western axis. So long as his opponents are stooopid - using sumo instead of judo - Trump and his master-backers will win.

Example: the inanity of thinking the alt-right is about racism! What stunning nonsense. Yet no liberal or democrat can see that "racism!" is a distraction, a tar-baby, meant to cling and grab all the attention away from the blatant, central confederate theme... hatred of the fact-using, expert castes.

Even the loudest, screeching white supremicist will vary his racism, getting all friendly with any minority reporter who gives him some attention.  I know this. My father, at age 70, drove to the Aryan Nations compound in Idaho and they fell all over themselves to show him around, posing for pictures to run in an ethnic newspaper. Yes, racism is horrifically part of their incantations! But it can vary.

No. What does not vary is their volcanic rage against smartypants. Experts. Name for me one profession of high knowledge and skill that’s not under attack by Fox/Trump &cohorts? Teachers, medical doctors, journalists, civil servants, law professionals, economists, skilled labor, professors… oh, yes and science. Thirty years ago, 40% of US scientists called themselves Republican, now it is 5% and plummeting. They are voting with their feet, the smartest, wisest, most logical and by far the most competitive humans our species ever produced. 

Yes, I said all this above. (I create these blogs sometimes by accretion, and similar rants can accumulate.) But I will reiterate until I see someone else in high place covering this ground!

The FBI and the US military and intelligence officer corps; all are dismissed as "deep state" enemies. Yes, this is not your daddy's conservatism.  When your screeches of hate are directed at every fact-profession... (have your confed uncle name one exception)... and every fact-checking service is automatically "politically biased" then three things are clear. 

(1) This phase of the confederacy is just like the old one. 
(2) If properly roused to awareness, the smart people (the Union side) will win again. 
(3) Hence it is vital to distract the smart folks from waking up! Distract them with racism when the real agenda is to discredit every fact-using profession and destroy their ability to thwart the confederacy's new plantation lords.

I keep waiting for some democrat or statesman or leader to make this the real issue, challenging the Murdochians:

“Every time facts and evidence are used to refute your lies, you attack the source as partisan. And so I demand right now that you tell us what kind of a neutral fact-checking service you would accept!  Would you agree to help form a commission of great American sages – including revered Republicans like Sandra Day O’Conner – who could help set up a truly neutral way Americans can confront rumors and lies?

“Not just one fact-service!  We don’t want a ‘Ministry of Truth.’ But a template for several competing but above-reproach services that can say about the worst trash: ‘that’s not true’.  We challenge you to help construct this solution! And if you refuse, we denounce that refusal as treason.”

 == From the Hannah Arendt Center ==

And yes, there are islands of sagacity:

We are experiencing a worldwide rebellion against liberal democracy. In Hungary, Russia, Turkey and other countries across Europe, right- and left-wing parties flirt with authoritarian rule. In the United States, President Donald J. Trump channels the voices of the self-described disenfranchised. Representative governments everywhere are shown to be corrupt, inefficient, and undemocratic. The great political achievement of the modern era - stable representative democracy - is everywhere under attack.

Hannah Arendt knew that democracy is tenuous. In 1970 she famously wrote:

"Representative government is in crisis today, partly because it has lost, in the course of time, all institutions that permitted the citizens' actual participation, and partly because it is now gravely affected by the disease from which the party system suffers: bureaucratization and the two parties' tendency to represent nobody except the party machines." 

Yes, but so?  We recovered from the collapse of American citizen confidence that raged during Vietnam and Watergate. We can surge back from this phase of the Civil War. Rise up.


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Foxes and chickens: caught in the act

Always passionate and well-spoken, Jim Wright (Stonekettle Station) is well worth visiting online. He is a living lesson in what we need, to survive this phase of civil war and go on to make starships. It's not political litmus tests, but something else that is far more important... an American penchant for pragmatic, grownup, tolerant willingness to talk things out.  Only also, to fight evil when we have no other choice.  See also his greatest hits

And for comparison?  An example of that pure evil. A genuine monster: Listen to Paula White on Jim Bakker's show.

At the opposite extreme is Betsy Rader, a congressional candidate who grew up in “hillbilly” poverty and knows what combination of grit, hard work, values, determination… and help from a decent civilization… assisted her single mom to raise 5 kids on $6000/year... with great results. 

== Caught in the act – but counting on us to do nothing ==

The same voter analytics and persuasion company that coordinated Russian, Murdochian and alt-right efforts to swing the U.S. election has been raking it in, selling their services elsewhere. Have a look. The Kenya Supreme Court nullifies presidential election - over concerns of electoral hackingNote that the data firm Cambridge Analytica, was hired by the Kenyatta campaign to do polling and data analytics.  More on this: Cambridge working in Kenya.
Meanwhile, at home… Hackers prove how trivial it is to break into modern voting machines and change results, using methods already exploited by most Republican Secretaries of State, to order up any result they want… in those red states without paper receipts that can be audited.

This has led to what should be a harbinger… Virginia scrapping its touchscreen machines! Read more on this decision

The Steele Report, Revisited: How much of the infamous document ended up being corroborated elsewhere? A whole lot, it seems. No, not the "pee tape." That part is still unsubstantiated. But monthly these reports gain more verifications or credibility. This detailed and highly informative article, by a 30 year CIA veteran, reveals a lot about the current cold war that neo-czarist Russia is waging against us, far more aggressively than the old Soviet Union ever did.

Those present day confederates who now make excuses for Trump and Putin, in the face of overwhelming evidence of combined war-attacks and treason, have proved their hypocrisy. Thank God for the professionals.

== Foxes and chickens ==

Confederate apologists for Donald “Drain the Swamp” Trump explain away his appointing so many Wall Streeters to his cabinet and sub-cabinet (seven from Goldman-Sachs, alone). The excuse is: “It takes a fox to guard a henhouse.”

Sure. And billionaires have so much money, how could they ever want more? Or to do anything but serve?  

And so, we’ll start a series: “foxes and chickens”, listing how many such examples these selfless servants of the public present to us. First:

Trump has appointed as the head of Dept. of Education's anti-fraud unit, the former head of a for-profit college that had to settle a large anti-fraud case with the Department of Education.

Second, the Oklahoma Republican congressman President Trump tapped late Friday as NASA’s next administrator is one of the Denialists that the GOP have packed onto the U.S. House “Science Committee.”  Jim Bridenstone doesn’t have a formal science background. His last job before being elected to represent Oklahoma’s 1st District in 2012 was as executive director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum & Planetarium.  Ah. No wonder they are canceling almost every Earth observing satellite that might help nail down the facts.

In a provocative and persuasive essay, Brink Lindsey ponders “Why libertarians and conservatives should stop opposing the welfare state.” Instead of trying to roll back the entire welfare apparatus, he argues, libertarians and small-government conservatives should consider leaving useful benefits and sequence in longer-term reforms.

In other words use government for what we know it’s good at, recognizing a problem and acting upon it now, with cumbersome diligence. But then viewing “governmental solutions” to problems as lumbering temporary measures that should – over time – wither away, as other forces, like markets and philanthropy, deal with the root causes more organically and efficiently. This alternate version of libertarianism is closer to its founding traditions – before Rand and Rothbard and oligarchs pushed for the movement to have just one mantra: “Hate only ‘government,’ always and all the time.”

But let’s hear from Lindsey:

“Over fifty years ago, Richard Cornuelle issued a challenge to small-government supporters in his book Reclaiming the American Dream: roll back the welfare state, not by complaining about it, but by outcompeting it. Cornuelle urged libertarians and conservatives to turn their energies to what he called the “independent sector,” building new institutions and organizations in civil society to meet the public needs currently addressed by government: The independent sector will grow strong again when its leaders realize that its unique indispensable natural role in America is to compete with government,’ he argued. ‘It must be as eager as government to take on new public problems.’

“A half-century after Cornuelle wrote those words, the gap between public needs and the capacity of civil society has grown. I have concluded that this fact discloses a failure of libertarian ideas: I don’t believe it is possible for the nonprofit sector to outperform government in protecting people from certain downside risks of life in a complex, highly urbanized, individualistic society. At the very least, though, it reveals a failure of effort. I would be happy for opponents of the welfare state to prove me wrong. But first they have to try.”

Lindsey’s case can be made even stronger, and even more ironic.  Stronger by pointing out that libertarians could use one simple metric, when deciding whether to hate any government program a lot, or merely seek to compete with it: “Does this program increase the overall number of market participants who are healthy, skilled, confident, empowered and ready to compete?” 

Isn’t that what both Adam Smith and the right’s economic doyen – Friedrich Hayek – called fundamental?  The virtues of competition – e.g. consumption or investment allocation – become more wise, far-seeing and error-resistant, the larger the number of sagacious and vigorous participants!

Wisdom fails when allocation “of winners and losers” is done by ever smaller, self-referential groups. And if this is true about half a million diverse, well-trained, scrutinized and dedicated civil servants (‘bureaucrats’), then how much more so regarding a narrow, self-serving and secretive cabal of 5000 golf buddies in a largely inherited CEO caste, who appoint each other onto boards to vote themselves largesse from our corporations?

 Neither of these groups are ideal allocators. But markets can be, if well-regulated and filled with tens or hundreds of millions of persnickety and skilled competitors. At least… so sayeth Smith and Hayek.

Lots of government programs pass the "increase competition" sniff test, by raising the overall number of market participants who are healthy, skilled, confident, empowered and ready to compete.  Public health and education – for all their faults – inarguably altered the fraction of Americans capable of participating. So have most investments in infrastructure. And regulation is not always an enemy of entrepreneurship, as seen in times past when anti-trust laws were enforced. 

If an intervention increases the number of vigorous participants… or equalizes opportunity… then it is far easier for a libertarian to swallow than other, well-meaning liberal efforts to equalize outcomes.

Cornuelle’s version of libertarianism would resist  the outcomes-levelers but greet opportunity–leveling programs differently: “we will set things up so that soon, your clumsy/needed approach to solving this problem will wither away.” 

This approach would urge innovators to come up with processes to compete government’s lumbering interventions out of existence.  Barry Goldwater is said to have wanted this, long ago, proposing changes in the insurance industry that would spur companies to make their clients live longer! By rewarding clients who live safely and well. Ideally, our insurance companies could replace the paternalistic protections of the FDA, FTC, OSHA and so on. There have been recent (timid) moves in this direction, after decades of industry resistance.  

And yes, the Charter Schools movement could be viewed this way. “Yes, we needed public schools to bluntly end illiteracy and create a road upward that all could use. But everyone can see that schools could be much better. Let us try alternatives, now!” Alas, though there are shining lights, most of the charter movement (like most of libertarianism) has been wholly captured by forces of oligarchy, fundamentalism and right wing’ism. It will only achieve its potential when it shrugs off those influences.

The irony I spoke of is one that embarrasses libertarians, though it shouldn’t.  It is in that deliberately-chosen phrase “wither away.” Yes, it is a Marxist term, and it points out one of many overlaps, including the final, end-state goal of both Marxists and Libertarians… a future without coercive elites or power centers or ‘government,’ per se. An era when any individual will feel free and empowered to make alliances and pursue any project, combining talents as she or he sees fit.

This dream is a hell, in the eyes of those who cling to notions of feudal hierarchy – the beast that oppressed all of humanity for 6000+ years. The thing that would-be inheritance-oligarch-lords fear most is that liberty lovers will recognize them as the Olde Enemy. The kings, lords and owners and priests who cheated to prevent the rise of a myriad market participants who are healthy, skilled, confident, empowered and ready to compete.

Government is inherently dangerous and even when it is well-meaning, it can cloy or stifle initiative.  I am enough a libertarian to avow that!  But it is insane to screech “Hate only ‘government,’ always and all the time,” when bureaucrats did very little to crush freedom and opportunity, across 60 centuries.

  Not compared to oligarchs. Not by orders of magnitude.  And that is the one bald fact they are spending billions to ensure you’ll forget.

 == Economics & politics ==

 The Evonomics site is one of the best online. They have taken over my own formerly-quixotic quest to re-study Adam Smith. If he were alive today, Smith would not just be a Democrat, he'd be urging revolution, the way he did in 1776.  See how this economist-historian explains the "rentier" phenomenon and why Supply Side tax cuts for the rich have never, ever had the effect of stimulating investment in productive innovations or factories. 

Let me reiterate. "supply side" has never delivered on a promise. Even once. Ever.

Former GOP Senator Bob Graham about how the supervising Intelligence Committees in both the House and Senate have been allowed to slump into torpor, since he chaired investigation of the 9/11 attacks. The salient trait of this Congress - even more than hyper-reactionary partisanship - is its stunning laziness.

According to some estimates there will be 20 million people moving to Texas by 2050. And many from California will be conservatives upset by not only how Democratic the Golden State has become, but also – face it – by how successful, well-governed and delusion free California is doing.   Many of these grumpy, disappointed conservatives will be making the move across with the help of a company called Conservative Move whose tag line is "Helping families move Right."

But that brings up an interesting point. Ever since W.E.B. DuBois, there has been talk of drumming up a movement for African Americans to move to Mississippi or South Carolina where, IIRC, it might take only a couple of hundred thousand to stage a voter-uprising and transform one or both states!  Someone do the research and report back here, under comments?

Steve Bannon may be slightly less powerful now.  But meet Vladimir Putin’s chief ideologist, Alexander Dugin,  Bannon’s Kremlin counterpart, extolling love of Donald Trump as gushingly as Bannon kvells on Putin.

Meanwhile, the U.S. does nothing while Putin rebuilds the Soviet Union.

All these guys are heavily vested in “cyclical history” and the need for Traditionalism… which of course translates as restoration of Feudalism, with Bannon’s and Dugin’s lords creating dynasties.  Read about how explicitly and fiercely they intend to end the Western Enlightenment.

== The romantic fixation on (nonexistent) "cycles" ==

Aw heck, in hope that this topic will go away at last, more on Bannon: In his favorite book: "The Fourth Turning: What Cycles of History Tell Us About America's Next Rendezvous with Destiny," William Strauss and Neil Howe theorize that the history of a people moves in 80-to-100 year cycles called "saecula." The idea goes back to the ancient Greeks, who believed that at a given saeculum's end, there would come "ekpyrosis," a cataclysmic event that destroys the old order and brings in a new one in a trial of fire.

“Bannon's obsession with this book should cause concern. He believes that, for the new world order to rise, there must be a massive reckoning. That we will soon reach our climax conflict. In the White House, he has shown that he is willing to advise Trump to enact policies that will disrupt our current order to bring about what he perceives as a necessary new one. He encourages breaking down political and economic alliances and turning away from traditional American principles to cause chaos.”

Finally. Rick Ellrod offers an interesting rumination on what a number of science fiction authors have said about the basis of civilization. Ellrod reminds me that the following has been the coda on my main web page for longer than I can remember. Almost as long as there has been a World Wide Web:

Ironies abound. The left is suspicious of "competition" and the right hates the word "regulation."  Yet it is by calm, reasonable Regulated Competition that this civilization has given us so much.  A flattened, diamond shaped social order so much fairer and more productive than all the old pyramids of privilege of the past, when cheaters always, always wrecked the fecundity of competitive creativity. 

Cooperation is not the opposite of competition!  We must cooperate - form just and open governments - in order to prevent cheating and spread opportunity... and then fantastically creative competition can ensue.