Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The downside of political amnesia

By the time you read this, we'll all know the outcome from the Alabama Senate race. And either way, it is a cautionary tale about the perils of plunging into phase 8 of the American Civil War.

You’ve also heard about an effort by well-known political fraudster James O’Keefe and his organization Project Veritas to entrap the Washington Post newspaper into publishing a false story about Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, with the obvious intention of discrediting the well-documented allegations that Moore preyed on teenage girls when he was in his 30s. This Post writer - Paul Waldman - has a right to be angry… but also should take a stress pill.

“If you’re a Republican voter, I have some bad news for you. The people who lead the movement that supposedly represents your views — the politicians, the media figures, the activists — think you’re an idiot. In fact, they count on it…. This is much larger than O’Keefe or this one Senate race. It’s about a poison of exploitation and deceit that courses through the conservative movement. Some conservatives have tried to expunge this poison, without success. If anything, the scam has gotten even more pervasive and influential.”

Okay, take a breath, big fellah.  Pace yourself. In fact, I have nothing against baited tests of integrity being applied to all sorts of professions.  But they should be evenhanded and citizens should note when it snares members of their own party.  Not much chance of that, alas.

Anyway, you didn't expect the goal posts to shift, yet again?  Used to be that divorce was a sure killer for any Republican candidate. Then came Reagan and suddenly third or even fourth marriages are dismissed with a shrug. Vices like gambling become normalized, when casino lords make up a large part of your party's donor base. 

The goal post shifts regarding Climate Change have been epic! (First: "Glaciers are spreading!" Then: "There's been no warming for 20 years!" Then: "Okay it's getting plenty hotter but... but it's the sun! Yeah, that's the ticket!" Then: "Who cares about doomed Florida, if I can buy melting tundra in the Yukon!")

So calm down. Normalizing pedophiles and sexual predators is only part of the "normal" pattern.

== Don't be distracted from the core matter -- war ==

Everything I predicted about the looming Iran-U.S. “Potemkin war” is coming true, as anti-democratic forces converge on the same scenario. See: Iran’s hard-liners use Trump’s rhetoric to target rivals at home. "Escalating tensions with the United States have stirred nationalist sentiment in Iran, giving its hard-liners an opportunity to more fiercely target critics and settle old scores, rights advocates and analysts say."

Exactly as predicted. This run-up to war is a choreographed dance..

== The Soros Amnesia Effect ==

Google partnered with an organization largely funded by billionaire George Soros to “fact-check” news stories, a move that could affect search results for certain news agencies. The new group’s code of principles requires news agencies to obey five commitments to ensure news agencies remain honest, transparent and nonpartisan. 

And yes, there are denunciations that Soros - called by some “the Great Meddler - is using this excuse to gain propaganda advantage, as slyly implied in this article. (Only, note the source! RT, the official Kremlin mouthpiece.)

“Soros was recently criticised for transferring nearly $18 billion to his Open Society Foundations, making it the second largest charity in the US after the Bill and Melinda Gates’ Foundation. The charity has been accused of inciting so-called “color revolutions” to install governments friendly to the US.”

Ah Soros.  All across the right-o-sphere, from Glen Beck and Fox to Alex Jones and Breitbart, George Soros is declaimed, often as Enemy #1. In their ravings about him, they illustrate the “true lie” technique. When a fellow is rich and strong enough to sue, you attack with half-truths

Glen Beck led the way, shouting "George Soros is so powerful he toppled EIGHT FOREIGN GOVERNMENTS!!!!"

Now, I’ll surprise you by agreeing with Beck. This lie is based on a true statement. George Soros did in fact help to topple eight foreign governments! But does it occur to any of the Beck-Breitbart-Fox watchers to ask their hypnotizers to name those foreign regimes that George Soros helped to topple? 

Is it a sign of the quality of this audience that no one asked or considered it pertinent? None of the alt-right blogs, not Fox, no one at all… and sadly, no one on the left or in mainstream media bothered, either. No one asked for the list of foreign governments that George Soros “toppled.” Why? Was it simple, dullard incuriosity? 

Can you name them? It seems a simple enough question. I ask it in perfect friendliness. There’s a hint, even in the recent RT article. And it shows that - yes - George Soros has been a master meddler!  But he has always been on our side. 

And those denouncing him are not. 

== Oh the “Uranium” thing… subsidized by guess who? ==

One outcome of the Paradise Papers imbroglio: Offshore cash helped fund Steve Bannon's attacks on Hillary Clinton, especially channeled in secret from Robert Mercer.

Oh, when your crazy Uncle screeches about “selling all our Uranium to Russia," ask him to state clearly what supposedly happened? And then put money on it in a wager! Over whether: 

(1) whether Hillary Clinton had anything to do with the decision (she didn’t),

(2) whether the Russians got any Uranium (they didn’t; a Russian company bought a Canadian mining company that owns land where maybe 20% of U.S. reserves might (estimates) lie deeply buried),

(3) whether she was bribed (show one scrap of evidence. Nine U.S. agencies and half a dozen Canadian ones signed off on the purchase; were all of them bribed?)

(4) This 'uranium sale' (that actually sold no uranium) helps to “arm” Russia? Hmm…. Maybe over a decade or more. But when the Soviet Union collapsed, Yeltsin sold us almost all of their loose Plutonium…. hundreds of bombs’ worth, and already refined. So I guess the screams were louder, over there.

In a more general sense, you folks have been denouncing the Clintons for 25 years. In just taxpayer funded investigations (not counting right wing private eyes) the cost has neared half a billion dollars of our money. For much of that time, the GOP owned every single branch of government , ordering vast resources to seek even a single Clintonian "smoking gun." And to date, what's proved, or even indictable?

Nada, zip. This doesn't utterly prove the Clintons totally innocent!  (Though let's see you survive that kind of 25 year dissection, hm?) 

What it does prove is that the entire GOP political caste is so incompetent they shouldn't be trusted with a burnt match. Seriously. You can't nail the "worst humans alive" after 25 years spent prying into every single file or pimple or pore? A cynic might suggest you guys are siding with Idiocracy. 

== Bait n' switch ==

Paul Ryan announces a 4th tax bracket for "the rich," and thus hopes to distract from the core goals of theTax Bill. 

- to end the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) that assures the uber-wealthy pay at least something into the civilization that defends them.

- to end the Inheritance Tax. While you pay state and federal on the income you sweated for, some brat scion-heir will get billions tax free, because you weren't paying attention. The Inheritance Tax is by-far the fairest tax, helping to prevent a return to 6000 years of feudalism. And it need never be paid! Just leave your kids the exempt $10 million and assign the rest to a charitable foundation of your own choosing, to sing your generous name down the ages!

- the slashed corporate tax rate won't be spent much on productive capacity or jobs or R&D. These weren't incentivized and profitable companies were already spending their cash on stock buy-backs. (Which the Greatest Generation wisely made illegal.) This will let the 5000 member of the CEO caste fulfill their golden option plans while buying oligarch-owned stock at top prices, just before a recession. It is the part of the bill that has the aristocracy drooling.

This is the attempted oligarchic coup in its rawest form. Note that it is not the self-made, genius inventor tech-billionaires or makers or producers who are fighting for this. Most of them are democrats! (Or libertarians: another story.) 

No, it's the stupid ones - resource extractors who buy sweetheart deals through political influence, K Street "swamp" lobbyists, Wall Street parasite cheaters, lordly heirs, foreign sheiks and Cayman moguls - who actually manage to convince themselves that something like this will stand for long, before Americans eventually turn to one kind of revolution -- the moderate, rooseveltean variety preferred by the Greatest Generation -- or else another, less-moderate kind. 

Look up the word "tumbrels." See my earlier posting: Class War and the Lessons of History.

== Some conservatives can see what's in front of their faces ==

On his newsletter - Thoughts from the Frontine - John Mauldin struggles to maintain a nearly extinct species – the sane American conservative. And that means accepting facts, now and then, as illustrated by the following chart from John’s friend, billionaire Ray Dalio, one of the smart moguls who recognize that revolution is coming, and wants it to be one of those mild ones.

The red line is the share of US wealth owned by the bottom 90% of the population, and the green line is the share held by the top 0.1%. Right now they are about the same – the top 0.1% owns as much as the bottom 90% -- but notice the trend. The wealthiest 0.1% has been increasing its share of wealth since the 1980s, or the dawn of Supply Side “economics” -- while the bottom 90% has been losing ground. 

Says Mauldin:Looking back, we see a similar pattern in the 1920s – which dramatically reversed in the following decade. Then there was an almost 50-year period during which the masses gained wealth and the wealthy lost ground. This doesn’t mean the 0.1% ceased being wealthy. It just means they owned a smaller portion of the total wealth. An economy in which 0.1% of the people own 10% of the wealth is still skewed, just less so.”

Yes, and I hope we can do as well as the Greatest Generation -- when America proved its 'greatness' -- and when the most adored American was the fellow who saved the republic from a communist revolution and put us on the road to prosperity, might and success. You know who.

== The real war, made utterly explicit! ==

Never has the war on all fact-users been more explicit than conveyed by the Core Loon himself, Rush Limbaugh. 

On Fox, they’ll whinge:

we aren’t anti-science! We’re just urging you to assume scientists (and all other fact-professions) are all mealy-mouth, conformist-corrupt liars. We know and love science better than scientists!” 


But Rush is blatant and in the open, See the image he originated, that’s circulating the web like mad. Hatred of all fact-using professions is now the main Confederate article of faith.
From Thomas Paine "To argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority of reason, and whose philosophy consists in holding humanity in contempt, is like administering medicine to the dead, or endeavoring to convert an atheist by scripture."

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Visualizing the future - and ways you can change it

While attending the Future in Review (FiRe) Conference in Park City Utah, I participated in talks about AI, trends in computing, visualization, entrepreneurship etc.  

Notable was this year’s CTO Challenge about “visualizing visualization,” and presentations about breakthroughs in understanding the retina and neurons, new steps in supercomputing, and risk-management software tools. Nascent companies of significance include a new type of combo solar roof that also condenses water out of the air, purifies other water, uses it to cool solar panels to higher efficiency, and pre-cool the home. (“The 24 hour solar roof Co.") Improved generators & motors, and other cool breakthroughs. Also, thorough discussion of the all-out campaign to steal the fruits of western and American creativity.

Should we fear or embrace the future? The BBC ran an extended interview with various futurist mavens at the recent FiRe, discussing innovation, and cyber-security… and saving the best for last, a bit of blather from yours-truly, about how we may make peace and live with artificial intelligences. And yes, it will be worth the wait.

Artificial Intelligence has replaced both transparency and national security as the #1 topic I am asked to speak and consult about. A fairly vivid tech business site asked me - and 21 other mavens — for predictions on how AI will impact the enterprise workplace.  

Meanwhile, are we self-lobotomizing?  It appears that  half of the American population is addicted to at least one behavior. 

We obsess over our emails, Instagram likes, and Facebook feeds; we binge on TV episodes and YouTube videos; we work longer hours each year; and we spend an average of three hours each day using our smartphones. Half of us would rather suffer a broken bone than a broken phone, and Millennial kids spend so much time in front of screens that they struggle to interact with real, live humans.  See a review of Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked by Adam Alter.
== Apparently, some folks are listening… ==

I’m #52 in a compilation of “Top 100 digital influencers.” Some of the people below me are brilliant! Indeed I am puzzled both to be there and by a lack of Vint Cerf.  Yes, this is one fellow’s personal list, so fine! 

Here’s video of my talk on the future of A.I. to a packed house at IBM's World of Watson congress in Las Vegas, October 2016. A punchy tour of big perspectives on Intelligence, as well as both artificial and human augmentation.

Meanwhile, wearing my “Mr. Transparency” hat, I just published: “No One Said It Would Be Easy: Copcams, sousveillance and the revolution of rising expectations,” in the first issue of the Journal of Science & Popular Culture - now available online. "Science permeates contemporary culture at multiple levels, from the technology in our daily lives to our dreams of other worlds in fiction."

 The Journal of Science & Popular Culture is a peer-reviewed academic publication that seeks to explore the complex and evolving connections between science and global society."  My article in issue #1, volume 1, is pp. 77–82 , 2017.

== Some are trying to make us smarter ==

The brilliant folks at "X" - the Alphabet (Google) company that takes on grand challenges - used stratospheric balloons to deliver emergency internet services to Puerto Rico. "Working with AT&T, Project Loon is now supporting basic communication and internet activities like sending text messages and accessing information online for some people with LTE enabled phones."

Project Loon is a network of stratospheric balloons designed to deliver internet connectivity to rural and remote areas worldwide. Loon balloons sail on winds in the stratosphere, extending the reach of our telecommunication partner’s networks into areas that are currently unconnected.This is terrific and helps make up for the way the federal government has failed 3 million US citizens down there. But it shows once again how much of our resilience depends on access to communications, a point I have been making in nonfiction, fiction, speeches and consults with agencies. Foremost...

...the chips in our cell phones could already allow peer-to-peer (P2P) text passing from phone to phone in afflicted areas without working cell towers. If this capability were simply turned on, many places would see far better citizen robustness and local problem solving!  See where I go into detail, here. And it is almost criminal that this one small thing, which might double national resilience, has been blocked by very obtuse men.

Oh, but – “Purdue Engineering researchers have developed a system that can show what people are seeing in real-world videos, decoded from their fMRI brain scans — an advanced new form of  “mind-reading” technology that could lead to new insights in brain function and to advanced AI systems.” 

One envisions how it could empower Big Brother so that no resistance will ever be possible. Or else…

empower us all, if we can apply these tools upon politicians and the mighty, to make sure that Big Brother happens… never.

Heck... while we're peering ahead... If tachyon neutrinos exist, then there are some interesting ramificationsIt isn't often that you see the word "gobsmacking" in an abstract ...

== Holiday wishes?  You (yes, you!) can save the world (personally!) ==

It's a good season to re-evaluate... and each of us taking responsibility for the future, as best we can.

For example, as we've seen in a year of weather extremes, hurricanes, fires etc., both natural and man-made disasters are always looming. I've long advocated that all citizens engage in the kind of preparedness that both Boy Scouts and Mormons practice out of habit. I also trained to be a member of our local CERT (Community Emergency Response Team). At least have a look at the program and consider taking the mere 20 hours of training. It’s all that remains of Civil Defense in the U.S. (Find your equivalent, in other nations.)

(In fact, I took it to the next level and trained to join the California Disaster Corps. I have the uniform and prepared my go bag, in case I am ever called.  CERT is to help your own community (and I’ve donned the green gear a few times.) CDC might summon me to wear dark blue anywhere in the state.)

There are other ways to be ready, without going all out to the prepper or survivalist (or even Holnist) extremes. Take this fellow’s cogent compilation of ways that you can help others, even far away, get through emergencies.

Of course we must prevent the preventable, which is why this time of year I urge everyone to read my “proxy activism” posting, that describes what average people can do to save the world — in exactly whatever set of priorities you think best!

I list worthy groups from Doctors Without Borders to Oxfam International  as well as The Planetary Society, Donors Choose (for schools) and Habitat for Humanity.

The method that I offer leaves all decisions and goals up to you, whether you view yourself as an environmentalist or a libertarian or Vegan activist! Moreover it's just right for a lazy person, (like you?) Do what I recommend and you can sit back, at least knowing that you helped others to save the world for you!

(Use each December as your season to reflect, adjust, and renew memberships. Don't worry... I'll remind you.)

One thing we do know: if you aren’t doing this much - this basic minimum - then you are one of those who later generations may curse. And they may have that power. It wouldn’t put anything past ornery humanity!

So do at least the minimum.  And then, when we narrowly save it all, you’ll get to be one of the smug ones who take credit.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Flawed models of society... (Some kinda work). And why our worst foe is certainty.

I plan to be more general and deal with bigger-broader issues this time since, well, we have to pause now and then. Take a breath, saying (about today's political ructions) "this, too, shall pass."

Still, before diving into "social and political "charts" and the theory of totalitarianism, I will throw out there two vital and timely news items. First...

You must read the text of Sen. Jeff Flake’s speech, declaring that he can no longer stand by, while American discourse, politics, and even civil peace are wrecked byreckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons, reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the fortunes of the people that we have been elected to serve."

Another excerpt: “Leadership lives by the American creed, “E pluribus unum.” From many one. American leadership looks to the world and just as Lincoln did, sees the family of man. Humanity is not a zero sum game. When we have been at our most prosperous, we have been at our most principled, and when we do well, the rest of the world does well.”

The Arizona Republican does a humble mea culpa about having been too quiet in the era that led up to Donald Trump, and he implicitly calls Trump a devastating symptom of a deeper sickness in his own party. 

So, then… might this lead to what the Republic desperately needs? A critical mass of grownups who will disown the whole Murdoch-owned maelstrom of lies and cheaters, coalescing instead to form a Party of Sane American Conservatives, or PASAC? Elsewhere I show that this sort of thing sis happen in the past. See "The Miracle of 1947."

Alas, we have been waiting for such a gathering of sane conservatives for at least a decade. If it were going to happen, would they not have saved us from the nation-rape of the recent Tax Bill?

Seriously, the GOP political caste is cowardly. But if I am wrong about the Officer Corps, then we are well and simply screwed. 

If I am right, then we have powerful allies who want the American Republic and the Great Enlightenment Experiment to succeed. And they are caught in a terrible, terrible bind. God bless em.

Do your part. See how to take advantage of the revulsion-momentum and help reduce the Hannity-Fox ad revenue.

== “Charting” politics? ==

I have long inveighed against the absurdly lobotomizing so-called “left-right political axis,” which crams all issues together along a scale that no one can even properly define.  Others have agreed that one-dimensional politics is unworthy of a sapient people. My recently departed colleague, Jerry Pournelle, was among those who have tried to offer an improved landscape.

One problem with most such models – like the "Nolan Chart" often handed out at Libertarian gatherings – is that the two axes all too often overlap, meaning that there will be a tendency for persons traveling along one coordinate to automatically travel along the other. In other words, using the terminology of science, the variables are neither independent nor orthogonal. Also, many of these mental calisthenics have been created with a specific political message in mind. In other words, they suffer from tendentiousness, a gross logical sin that occurs when the arguer claims to be seeking a neutral process, but is driven all along to reach a foregone conclusion.

Their very purpose is not illuminating but polemical, to lure others who are viewing the chart to drift toward the corner that the chart-makers want you to go. Or - in Jerry's case - to a definition of "moderate centrist" that happened to be his view on everything. Jerry's 2-D chart is better than the tendentious "Nolan Chart," though alas, it is still non-orthogonal and "rationality" is a judgment call. e.g. I deem Randians to be spectacularly irrational. 

My own 2D (and 3D!) charts use measurable metrics that are truly orthogonal and the resulting landscape is not tendentious... not designed to lead you to my favored direction.They also happen to eviscerate the standard assumptions that you are used to. So be prepared to re-evaluate!

As happens even more thoroughly, if you dare to try on the socratic probings of my Questionnaire on Ideology, which speaks to none of today's hot-button issues. None at all. Still, you'll go huh!

== Stuck in a rut ==

Let me illustrate the stupidity of our current “spectrum” simply: Many of our supposed "left-right" rigor mortises collapse if you ask the right questions. e.g. Competition is clearly a mighty generative force and "right" people claim they are defending it from being stifled by lefty meddlings.  

But Adam Smith, Hayek and common sense show that competition is best when regulated to maximize the number of confident, skilled and ready participants!  Well, nothing ever expanded that pool of competitors more than liberal interventions in mass health, education, infrastructure and rights.

And keeping things flat-fair. After 6000 years, we know that brief eras of open-fair competition are always ruined by oligarchic cheaters. Regulations (e.g. anti-trust) that keep competitive markets flat-open-competitive are not "stifling."  They ensure a fair game, as do regulations and referees in sports.

For these two reasons, it is insane to call liberals "leftists" who want socialism, just because they want some socialist interventions that increase the number of skilled participants and regulations to keep competition fair.  In fact it is the exact opposite!  Liberals are the only friends that a fair and open market system have! If he were alive today, Adam Smith would be a Democrat. And the folks at Evonomics show this by citing Smith more than anybody. 

In contrast, most "libertarians" today seldom mention or have read Smith, and the C-Word... "competition" ... is never mentioned at all, amid the idolatry of unlimited aristocratic property.

Those five paragraphs, alone, show how insane "left-right" is, since it does not even mean what it claims to mean in the narrow realm of market economics! Not while the "right" is the chief force destroying flat-fair competition today.

== A flawed but improvable system ==

Lawrence Lessig is at it again.  Last year he tried to get on the Democratic Presidential debates — not aiming to win nomination, but to elevate the conversation, trying to discuss corruption and the poisonous effects of Big Money in politics. Among the many huge mistakes made by Democrats was squelching such participation in the first few debates. They missed an opportunity to draw in viewers and make themselves decisively the party of thoughtfulness, by bringing in diverse voices, at least for a while.

(I was so disappointed Jerry Brown didn’t run… not to win office, but to bring his stunning mind onto that stage and shattering all the standard models.)

Regarding Lessig’s anti-corruption campaign - let’s be clear: Republican Congresses are not only the laziest in the history of the Republic - holding the fewest hearings, votes or days in session and passing almost no bills, including none of their proclaimed priorities… but they are also the most corrupt, spending nearly all of their time doing “fund-raisers.” 

Democrats do some of that, too! But much less and (crucially) most of them would vote for Lessig’s reforms.

Now, while continuing his efforts on campaign funding. Larry is pushing another endeavor, filing a lawsuit against a major distortion of our political process, the “Winner Takes All” apportionment of electors in 48 states, in presidential elections.

The Electoral College itself is in the Constitution. But “Winner Takes All” is not! It is a corruption instituted by party hacks - like gerrymandering - to cheat American voters.

I know Lawrence Lessig has seen my essay on this matter, first circulated in the last century and posted on my site in 2008.  

To be clear, this is no panacea. Ending “Winner Takes All” will generally ensure that the Electoral College is apportioned closer to the popular vote… but there is an inherent advantage to the GOP in the plethora of low population red states, each of which has two senators and hence two bonus electors. (We need two Dakotas? Seriously? Read up on how that came about.)

Still, fairness will improve some if we do this simple reform. And candidates will pay attention to more than just a few swing states. So I urge your support.  Here’s the fundraiser for Larry’s effort. Do sign up! Though also circulate my 2008 link, since… well… fair is fair.

== Monstrous Certainty ==

Let me finish with a riff on the nature and roots of despotism.

One of the more important unsung corners of our renaissance is the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College, where director Roger Berkowitz runs the “Amor Mundi” (love of the world) Newsletter, offering many off-angle modern insights.  Here he discusses the way that many on the far-left have chosen to veer their passionate interest away from traditional topics like class warfare and economics, over to critiquing the way the masses have been hypnotized into false cultural beliefs.  

'This “cultural left” has specialized in “what they call the ‘politics of difference’ or ‘of identity’ or ‘of recognition.’ This cultural Left thinks more about stigma than about money, more about deep and hidden psychosexual motivations than about shallow and evident greed.” Losing interest in labor unions and laborers, the “academic, cultural Left” this wing argues that “the system, and not just the laws, must be changed.” And by “system” they mean the programming that combines racism and classism with the memic repression cult called science.'

Here’s a link to Roger’s excellent and informative missive. And before I continue, let me make clear that this critique is qualitative.  In any quantitative sense, this wing of “leftism” is minuscule, compared to the mad cults that infest and have hijacked America’s currently jabbering-loony right.   Shills like Sean Hannity point at far-lefty shriekers and claim “See? All liberals are like that!” Um, not. In fact, we are able to critique our own fanatics. You confederates cannot. 

Alas, the decline in discourse in American life is, I believe, rooted in something biochemical. The bilious rage of extreme partisans - of all stripes - has a component that's entirely orthogonal to the actual merits or faults of the cause, itself.  That driver is the addictive high of self-righteous indignation.

I've been writing and speaking about this for a long time... once even at the National Institutes for Drugs and Addiction. Barbara Oakley included my piece in her terrific tome PATHOLOGICAL ALTRUISM.

The word "addiction" should be expanded to include so many of the fine and good things that we do, that are reinforced by chemical feedback loops in the brain -- e.g. love of music, or skill, or our kids.  Sanctimony is a mental state that - like many religious experiences - can tap into these reinforcement systems, triggering release of endorphins and dopamine and getting the user to repeatedly return for another hit, another high.

One understands why indignation can do this. Across our evolution, there have been a myriad times when some added force-of-will made the difference between success and failure. Even life or death. Moreover, there are many things - like injustice - that are worthy of volcanic ire! In no way am I implying that liberal activists should back off from their causes.

Still, we have all seen how the passionate can take over advocacy groups and causes. And then there comes a race-to-the-top in competitions to show who is most passionate -- comparison contests that leave many movements under command of the angriest, the most-intense, those least likely to accept partial allies, those least able to negotiate half-step-forward, pragmatic compromises.

== Certainty is the core enemy of our renaissance ==

Of course this flame is stoked by many Hollywood-modern memes, like the relentless lesson of Suspicion of Authority (SoA) that's preached in every film and in so many songs. So many of the passionate proclaim (in effect) "I invented indignation at injustice and suspicion of authority!"  

No, in fact you suckled these lessons from the very society that you've been trained to despise.

Where this relates to the Berkowitz missive is the fact that polemical passions are endangered, whenever they focus on realms that might be amenable to factual analysis, wherein even being right is likely to lead to some tepid, 90% validation, calling for at-least a little compromise and pragmatic negotiation. This quandary means the farthest left can no longer focus on economics or matters of law or governance -- these call for focus on hard and gritty reality, wherein the detested pragmatists can trot out their hated and feared weapon of oppression -- facts.

The postmodernists' war against fact-users - especially science - is thus rooted in exactly the same elements of human nature as the War on Facts waged by the Mad Right. And while of course these two polemical wings are very different -- blatantly the entire U.S. right is far larger and more dangerous for now -- it is not untoward for reasonable people to bear in mind that there are more dimensions here, than just the hoary-lobotomizing "left-right axis."

It was not any calmly-parsed argument of Marxism that made Lenin and Stalin willing mass murderers. It was the thing that Jacob Bronowski denounced in the very last episode of his fantastically wonderful "The Ascent of Man."

Monstrously passionate certainty.

If you binge on anything this year.... binge on that show, which set the template for COSMOS and so many others. 

(And compensate for the 1970s less-PC language; it's worth it.)

== And finally, here is my incantation ==

Try repeating it, aloud.

I am a member of a civilization
It’s good that we have a rambunctious society, filled with opinionated individualists. Serenity is nice, but serenity alone never brought progress. Hermits don’t solve problems. The adversarial process helps us to improve as individuals and as a culture. 

Criticism is the only known antidote to error — 
Elites shunned it and spread ruin across history. We do each other a favor (though not always appreciated) by helping find each others’ mistakes.
And yet — we’d all be happier, better off and more resilient if each of us were to now and then say:

“I am a member of a civilization.” (IAAMOAC)

Step back from anger. Study how awful our ancestors had it, yet they struggled to get you here. Repay them by appreciating the civilization you inherited.

Monday, December 04, 2017

The Tax Bill: aspects that no one (at all) will discuss.

It seems that the GOP, which has owned every branch of government and lever of power, since January, will at last have an "accomplishment" -  a Tax Bill they admit will add a trillion dollars to the national debt, while offering last-minute gushers for real estate developers, banks, hedge funds, the oil industry, lobbyists and aristocratic heirs…

… all of it without spending a red cent on infrastructure, which would have generated high money velocity and growth, while fixing actual bridges, actual roads we use. 

(Funny how that list describes almost every power broker or politician-owner correlated with this Congress and this White House:  Real Estate developers, Banks, hedge fund skulks, the oil industry, lobbyists and aristocratic heirs… ah, swamp drainage.)

To distract from this raid on our children, the oligarchy offers up more magical incantations of Supply Side “economics,” proclaiming that this time the oligarchs will spend their windfall on R&D and productive capacity and jobs… unlike every single other time, when they spent it all on passive asset bubbles, exactly as Adam Smith predicted, back in 1776.

Smith warned that aristocrats — like the ones our U.S. Founders rebelled-against — tend not to spend infusions of cash on risky capital formation, or research, or factories. Generally 90% of them will plow it into ‘rent-seeking’ assets like stocks or land, where they can passively collect dividends or gains.  (Note that every tax break in this bill favored passive income, not wages you actually earn through work.) 

As in King George’s time, top cronies adjust the laws to favor rent-grabbing assets over innovation, production or work. Smith would be outraged today… but not surprised.

Of course there is an end game to asset bubbles, and that end-game is the elephant in the room! One that, so far, no clever pundit has raised, amid all the yelling over this tax bill... an important aspect of the legislation that matters far more that the petty attacks on higher education and science, or the open war waged upon Blue States. I'll get to this invisible pachyderm, in a moment.

But pause first to congratulate the victors! The same folks who howled that Democrats passed the ACA (‘Obamacare’) in "just a year," holding open, public hearings for just 6 months in just five committees… those same complainers have now passed the biggest tax bill in history with ZERO days of hearings, with scribbled margin notes enacted into law, forging this trillion dollar raid for billionaires in top secret and passing it in the dead of night, amid a festival of lies.

What you fellahs do is evil. It is treason. But you do it very well.

== The real reason for the tax cut - an oligarch exit strategy ==

Critics of the Tax Bill point out that benefits to aristocrats are locked in, while much smaller cuts for working people fade quickly and turn into tax hikes, over a few years. That’s a travesty, of course.  But also a distraction, because we're left with an impression that the biggest change - slashing corporate tax rates - has little to do with the top-rich families of the country.

We're assured corporations will then invest it all in R&D, in new products, in factories and jobs. But...

1) Again, across 40 years, this Supply Side incantation never came true. Ever. Once. The eras of highest U.S. growth, rising wages and middle class health all took place under high tax rates established by the Greatest Generation, in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Except for the JFK rate cuts, every other cut was followed by reduced growth rates.

2) For the 2nd half of the Obama Administration, corporations have been mostly very profitable. They already had tons of cash on-hand, in the USA, to invest in production, jobs or R&D, but those investments declined. Their bulging cash larders were spent instead on dividends and stock buybacks that helped their CEOs to meet performance criteria for their vampiric option plans.

3) Any “competitive disadvantage” from other nations’ lower corporate rates might have been dealt with by negotiating a world treaty balancing such rates. It’s happened before! Sure, negotiations might not work, this time. But there’s no mention of even trying, only a race to the bottom.

4) Those who used to lie - claiming they care about deficits and debt - are suddenly shouting “squirrel!” and pointing offstage.

5) If this Tax bill had anything to do with investment in new products etc., it would have targeted to incentivize R&D, new factories and jobs. Instead, this was left as only a vague, armwaved promise. There is a reason.

== They need an exit from the bubble they created ==

Look across the era since Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations. Every generation of Americans since then has witnessed attempted political and economic putsches by would-be aristocrats gaming the rules so they can get richer without working or producing. Instead, as Smith described, they heap wealth into passive (rent or dividend or capital gains or parasitic-commission bleeding) assets. They do this because it’s far easier than putting “skin” into actually producing goods and services.

They also do this because sweetheart legislation makes it a great deal! But the smart ones know there is a price. 

That price is an ASSET BUBBLE.  We’ve seen many in our lifetimes: commodities, housing, real estate, banking and now a hyper-inflated stock market, with price to-earnings ratios that seem straight from the Twilight Zone. Those who piled their earlier tax largesse into asset bubbles know the great times always end.  

And hence, being clever, they always plan an exit strategy, for when the bubble bursts.

The dream strategy concocted during our previous two bubbles used to be "privatize social security!"  Get every middle class bumpkin to funnel his or her SSI account into stocks during a market peak! Fill equity markets with Greater Fools to sop up bloated assets, so the current (rich) owners can cash-out at top prices. 

That scam was stopped, thank God, just before the last collapse.  Whereupon Republicans suddenly lost interest in privatizing Social Security.  Go figure!

So what's the plan now?

Send hundreds of billions of tax-bennies to already profitable corporations!  Without any requirements or incentives to actually spend any of it on R&D or factories or jobs, members of the inbred, incestuously conniving “CEO caste” of 5000 golf buddies will know what to do, with a nod and wink.

Accelerate their already absurdly massive stock buy-backs!  (There are reasons why this was illegal, during the Greatest Generation.) Break the U.S. budget subsidizing companies to squander their futures, giving money to current stockholders... buying up stock that the moguls know will soon plummet in value.

We stopped their earlier scam, but this time — by skulking in secret and at night — they will get their way.

How can you benefit from this insight?  The wise will wait till the first buy-back crest brings equities to their final peak, then sell. Get out before the middle gets crushed again.

Oh, it may work. Only they are counting on us never noticing. And that could be a mistake.

=== Coda ===

“There are two ideas of government,” William Jennings Bryan declared in his 1896 “Cross of Gold” speech. “There are those who believe that if you will only legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea, however, has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous their prosperity will find its way up through every class which rests upon them.”

That was more than three decades before the collapse of the economy in 1929. The crash followed a decade of Republican control of the federal government during which trickle-down policies, including massive tax cuts for the rich, produced the greatest concentration of income in the accounts of the richest 0.01 percent at any time between World War I and 2007. Those disparities were brought to their minimum under FDR and Eisenhower, with tax rates and policies that were ratified over and over by the Greatest Generation.
 We need to study them, and how they achieved all that they did in a spirit of moderation and enterprise. Especially, how they veered away from dogmatism and craziness, just when it seemed overwhelming.

One major danger of the right's current madness is that the left might over-react, returning to its own past insanities. The Evonomics site is where calm, rational, brilliant scholars & others reveal how cheaters have betrayed not just the poor and middle class, but also enterprise, innovation, genuine market economics, common sense, national self-interest and even Adam Smith! The articles and studies get better and better, making the clear case that market enterprise works, but only when cheating is tymied. (I've published a few there.) 

If your cousin is one of that vanishing breed - a residually sane Republican - take her to Evonomics and tell her: "Only you can save enterprise capitalism from its age-old foe. Not socialism so much, but feudalism."

Which brings me to my question. You’d have to be deaf and blind not to see the signs of a growing movement of American conservatives who are fed-up... not just with Bannon and Putin and their Trump, but with Rupert Murdoch and the insanity promulgated by Clear Channel Radio. Signs are all there - especially among the Mormons - that vigorous conversations are afoot about holding a convention of Sane American Conservatives.

Here's a parallel event, showing how it happened, in the past. If the dems could do it, why not you guys? 

Hence my question. Surely some of you have been approached by now? By people desperate to save American conservatism, before it is too late?



* In addition to stock buybacks, there are mergers and acquisitions. At one level, this helps to make up for the plummet in industrial R&D -- purchasing small, innovative startups does have its logic, reducing short term risk, passing it over to entrepreneurs. That's fine. But the other half is what three generations of our ancestors fought, tooth and nail, the trend toward monopoly, duopoly or oligarchy in an industry. Anti-Trust laws were there for hard-won reasons that the Baby Boomers may be too stupid to grok.

*  Apparently the tax bill actually makes corporate tax deductions more or less irrelevant. But don't get excited.  The omission will be fixed in conference committee. What matters is: "The biggest consequence could be the research credit, often used by manufacturers, technology firms and pharmaceutical companies."  This is just another part of the War on Science. But more-so, since it directly goes to the jugular of American strength. Putin could not have asked for more.