Thursday, November 24, 2016

Donald Trump: Mr. Voldemort goes to Washington

Animal, Vegetable or Mineral?
Now that a white supremacist has just been made the next president’s closest White House adviser, and the president-elect has called conspiracy theorist Alex Jones of Infowars to thank him and his followers for their part in his election victory, we have reasonable confirmation that we are indeed in a fever-dream America. Tom Engelhardt

These days I often find myself wishing that Norman Mailer were still alive to turn this fecal moment of America's democratic saga into art. 

Mailer's The Armies of the Night and Miami and the Siege of Chicago both dating from the legendary year of 1968 were an important help in making some sense of a period that had begun with the mysterious assassination of JFK and carried us through the civil rights battles and martyrdom of Martin Luther King, all accompanied by the obscenity of the Vietnam war... a period whose divisions and bitterness have as yet to heal.

It was a great story and Mailer told it well.

Intuition tells me we are about to enter a similar period.

We are faced with the immovable fact that someone so surreally "un-presidential" as Donald Trump has captured the White House, thus becoming the most powerful man in the world overnight ... And that he has achieved all this mostly by evoking the sordid, family demons inhabiting  the septic tank of white America's psyche.

Seeing something so improbable I'm tempted to believe that the Donald must have made a iuuge, wonderful, "deal" with none other than Old Scratch himself.

Living the sickening horror that Trump's mysterious ascension and triumph produces, I wonder if someone so reality grounded as Mailer could have handled anything this weird. Certainly analyzing paranormal phenomena was never part of his skill set.

In fact, analyzing my own shocked and sickened feelings and searching the corners of my subconscious, I discovered to my amused horror, that the only living author that might have the vocabulary to portray Trump's uncanny rise in the face of all common sense and decency, is J.K. Rowling  and she doesn't write about politics, she writes about witchcraft.

A great villain makes for a great story and we are now part of this villain's story

Nobody knows better than Ms. Rowling that the heart of a thrilling yarn is a good villain, at that she's tops. Remember it was  J.K. Rowling that created Lord Voldemort, who is the closest thing to Donald Trump I've ever seen.

See how she analyzed her creation, the "Dark Lord", AKA "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named" in a BBC interview:
Rowling described Voldemort as a self-hating bully: "I think it is often the case that the biggest bullies take what they know to be their own defects, as they see it, and they put them right on someone else and then they try and destroy the other and that's what Voldemort does." Wikipedia
Now if that doesn't describe the @realDonaldTrump to a tee...

So the Good News is that Trump is a flawlessly perfect villain; and perfect villains... like perfect heroes, are of enormous value in great stories, and remember, great stories are the philosopher's stone of political action.

Think back on how many people were moved to vote back in 2008 just by reading "Dreams of My Father", but the problem was that after voting people simply expected their "hero" to take care of everything while they went about their business... that way, since the people didn't stay mobilized, "Hope" and "Change" turned out to be little more than words in the wind.

A perfect villain will keep the people mobilized.

The problem is we have our villain, but we haven't got a hero yet... Where is our Harry Potter, the one who can break all Voldemort's spells and incantations and expel He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named to the outer darkness?

The answer is one Harry Potter isn't going to get it. To change things there must be an army of "Harry Potters". An army teeming with all those citizens of America and the world who can't face sitting passively by watching President Trump crush one by one all their hopes and dream of freedom and justice. They, all the engaged and committed people must be the Harry Potters of our times, the ones who keep freedom alive.

To paraphrase a musty old slogan from the 60s (irony alert) "Let a million Harry Potters bloom"! DS

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Elections 2016: Good News and Bad News and a Question

First the bad news: Trump won.

Now for the good news: Hillary lost.
(T)he force most responsible for creating the nightmare in which we now find ourselves wide awake: neoliberalism. That worldview – fully embodied by Hillary Clinton and her machine – is no match for Trump-style extremism. The decision to run one against the other is what sealed our fate. If we learn nothing else, can we please learn from that mistake? Naomi Klein - The Guardian
Many of history's great moments are written by such details; as this famous poem illustrates:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a nail.

And it turns out that the good news is truer than the bad news. Look at the graph below:

 Not a Trump landslide, but rather a Hillary collapse       hat @jonathanwebber
Looking at the graph it's obvious that probably any other Republican could have defeated Hillary Clinton and that any other Democrat (certainly Bernie Sanders) could have defeated Trump. 

This means that, thanks to the Clinton machine's insistence on Hillary's entitlement, the absurd face of Donald Trump will someday grace a postage stamp, but more importantly, this also means that the Democratic party is either going to move more to the social-democratic left or disappear... and that is really good news.

And now for a question:

Is globalization dead or does it just smell that way?

Stay tuned. DS

Saturday, October 08, 2016

The magnificent quest for Shinola and its dangers - (updated)

This is a revised version of something I wrote several years ago, which I felt with a few minor changes would be more timely today than when I first wrote it.

Shinola, take a whiff
In American-Speak someone of little understanding is said to be unable to distinguish between excrement and shoe polish, we say then that he or she "can't tell shit from Shinola." It appears that a perhaps critical mass of Americans have taken it upon themselves to investigate the why and the how of the odor coming from the collective "shoe" and have set about to do something about it. Not a moment too soon if the the never ending antics of the Republican House of Representatives or the appearance of a nightmarish buffoon like Donald Trump, are any sort of leading olfactory indicators of the nation's mental health. 

Contemplating the mere possibility that something that should only be handled with forceps like Trump could now lead a party once led by Abraham Lincoln or Dwight Eisenhower; one gets the feeling that the spirit of the republic is a little like the Bruce Willis character in The Sixth Sense, dead, but doesn't know it yet. 

In that film, only one small boy seems to understand the situation. Today the social media are crowded with "small boys" of every political, or conspiracy stripe, all of them shouting out their versions of the system's multi-odorous shoe.

There is certainly a sense that something is terribly wrong, something mysterious, but I think it could be something quite simple, if intractable, that is afflicting the system. Like the Bruce Willis character, we really don't understand our true situation. In my opinion we are going through something similar to what the USSR went through nearly twenty five years ago. Twenty five years may seem a long time to someone under forty, but in historical terms it is nothing more than a blink of the eye. After all, from the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919 to the outbreak of World War Two in 1939 was only twenty years.

Absurd, you say, the two systems are totally different, like oil and water ... on the contrary, I would say that the similarities between them are more interesting than the differences and that America has simply been more efficient than the USSR ever was in resisting the same acids that are eating away at its structures of social control in much the same way as they devoured the Soviet's.

Both the USSR and the USA have relied on huge government spending to propel their economies. The role of government funded research has been essential in almost every high tech area: computers, the Internet, aviation, etc, in all of them the input of the state has been paramount. Where the United States won hands down was in turning the sophisticated technology so expensively acquired into affordable consumer products and fomenting never-never credit to keep them affordable when salaries stagnated.

"What about freedom?" you say, to which I would reply that the social control of the Soviet system was extraordinarily brutal and primitive compared to our system of social control, which is infinitely more sophisticated than theirs was. I never lived in the Soviet Union and my experience of how a well-oiled dictatorship controls public opinion comes from having lived in Franco's Spain. Franco lasted forty years and the Soviets lasted seventy. Although the USSR was communist and Spain's regime was authoritarian/fascist, the similarities in maintaining control were great.

Under Franco, all newspapers were of course owned by people approved of by the regime, however until very late into the dictatorship, all articles appearing in them were previously censored by government officials before publication, after previous censorship ceased any violation of the regime's standards could be punished by imprisonment and fines. There was only one television channel to begin with, later two, both state owned and censored, as were all books, stage plays and films, which were previously dubbed into Spanish, (with often curious results). There were private radio stations, but they all connected to the state radio for their hourly news programs. Here is something that will give you an idea of how paranoiac such a regime can be: radio dispatched taxis came into use in the USA in the late 1940s, but they were still forbidden in Spain until well after the dictator's death in 1975, as they constituted an independent communication network outside state control. There is no way that the Franco regime could have ever tolerated the Internet, cell phones, SMS or social networks such as Twitter or Whatsapp.

Getting back to the Soviet Union I have read that you needed very high level permission to even have access to a photocopying machine there. Thus the modest mimeograph machine was an important instrument in the USSR's downfall.

Bottom line: A system of social control cannot operate successfully in an environment of free movement of information.

This is where, until now, the USA has always been more sophisticated and effective, however, like the mysterious intruder in Edgar Allen Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death," you can run, but you can't hide and the same access to information  that brought down the Soviets and would have made Franco's regime impossible, have in America morphed under the combination of military technology,' hooked to an insatiable consumer society, and are now even eating away at the US system.

As we observe in the political paralysis of today, we can see that the Founding Fathers of 18th century, in an America then WASP, religiously and ethnically quite homogeneous, created a political structure that was not designed to reflect a society as complex and multifaceted as contemporary America's has turned out to be.

The centrifugal forces of a country as huge and diverse as America's were kept more or less under control until recently by what Edward Bernays and Walter Lippmann called, "the management of consent," that is to say the American science of public relations applied to forming public opinion. 

Heretofore "freedom of the press" in the first place required enough  money to buy a press, therefore the creation of opinion was in the safe hands of people with enough money to pay to play. The major newspapers, radio and TV networks and of course Hollywood all worked together naturally to manufacture a national opinion leading to political consensus. Compare this to Twitter and cellphone videos of the police shooting black people.

Herein lies the importance of the recent idea of the "people" being 99% and everything being owned and run for the benefit of the "one-percent": this is a self generating phenomenon, which has required minimal capital outlay to influence the opinion of millions of people, and which is helping a critical mass of opinion to "tell the shit from the Shinola". The downside of all this being political instability.

This phenomenon is totally outside the control of those who have always manufactured consent until now. As an example: Walter Cronkite's role as the symbol of unified national opinion would be impossible today.

This is only the beginning, in a couple of years we will be look back on this present moment tenderly like watching a home movie of a baby's first steps.

However "our" system has been reacting to this danger which its own technology and marketing have produced and under the cover of the war on terrorism, the National Security Agency. the FBI or the guardians of intellectual property, are putting mechanisms in place that only await a "national emergency" to tug on our leash.

In short this is a fight that is never fully won, but never must be lost.

A toast to Shinola! DS

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Fear breeds evil: Trump is only a symptom of much worse to come

"It is fear that brings misery, fear that brings death, fear that breeds evil."
Vivekananda, the Indian, patriot-saint, whose teachings inspired Mahatma Gandhi, spoke about fear breeding evil in the late 19th century. This was long before a massive wave of post-defeat inflation, which destroyed the savings of its middle class, caused a terrified Germany, home of Goethe, Hegel, Meister Ekhart and Einstein, to hand over its destiny and the lives of many millions of Europeans to an insane, failed water-colorist, ex-corporal, from Vienna... all with the blessing of Germany's "one-percent".

The lesson being, if the corrosive, poisoning effects of fear could cause that nightmare to happen in one the world's most educated and civilized nations, it could happen anywhere and that certainly includes today's United States of America.

Fear as Vivekananda said, "breeds evil". You could say that fear weakens the "political immune system" of a nation and that a "symptom" of an acute failure of that political immune system might be the sudden appearance of the bizarre, massively unqualified figure of Donald Trump as a serious candidate for the US presidency, with its capacity to turn the world into atomic ashes, something which in political terms could be compared to the spectacular Kaposi sarcomas which in the early 1980s announced the beginning of the AIDS epidemic.

Or if you prefer even racier metaphors, The Donald could be a sort of wacky "John the Baptist" for the Anti-Christ...
Imagine, though, a different figure, someone with Mr. Trump’s callousness but without the thin skin, lack of self-control and fragile, oversize ego. Imagine, in other words, a demagogue who embodies the dynamics of America’s pervasive commercial atmosphere, but who is smart, cunning, self-aware and self-disciplined(...)We had better prepare for such a person. In business, Mr. Trump might be called a beta test, or a “proof of concept.” To that end, he has already succeeded. Lee Siegel - New York Times
Mark Twain said that history doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes:
The troubled psyche requires a scapegoat. For Hitler, it was the Jews, among others. Today scapegoats are sought everywhere for the widespread feeling that something is amiss: that jobs are being lost; that precariousness has replaced security; that incomes are stagnant or falling; that politicians have been bought; that the bankers behind the 2008 meltdown got off unscathed; that immigrants are free riders; that inequality is out of control; that tax systems are skewed; that terrorists are everywhere. Roger Cohen - New York Times 
What is the objective reality behind the fear that so many people feel today?
When (some economists and technologists) peer deeply into labor-market data, they see troubling signs, masked for now by a cyclical recovery. And when they look up from their spreadsheets, they see automation high and low—robots in the operating room and behind the fast-food counter. They imagine self-driving cars snaking through the streets and Amazon drones dotting the sky, replacing millions of drivers, warehouse stockers, and retail workers. They observe that the capabilities of machines—already formidable—continue to expand exponentially, while our own remain the same. And they wonder: Is any job truly safe?(...) The share of prime-age Americans (25 to 54 years old) who are working has been trending down since 2000. Among men, the decline began even earlier: the share of prime-age men who are neither working nor looking for work has doubled since the late 1970s, and has increased as much throughout the recovery as it did during the Great Recession itself. All in all, about one in six prime-age men today are either unemployed or out of the workforce altogether.   The Atlantic
Andrew McAfee, associate director of the MIT Center for Digital Business at the Sloan School of Management,(…) despite his obvious enthusiasm for the technologies, doesn’t see the recently vanished jobs coming back. The pressure on employment and the resulting inequality will only get worse, he suggests, as digital technologies—fueled with “enough computing power, data, and geeks”—continue their exponential advances over the next several decades. “I would like to be wrong,” he says, “but when all these science-fiction technologies are deployed, what will we need all the people for?” (emphasis mine) MIT Technology Review Magazine
"I love the poorly educated"

When we say, "We the people"... Who exactly are "We"? Who are the winners and the losers going to be in our "brave new world"?

Here is a graph to show the spread of intelligence (hint: most well paying jobs in the future will go to the light purple to red IQs on the right side of the graph)
Lets clarify even further what "average" means:
The average IQ of the population as a whole is, by definition, 100. IQs range from 0 to above 200, and among children, to above 250. However, about 50% of the population have IQs between 89 and 111, and about 80% of the population have IQs ranging between 80 and 120, with 10% lying below 80, and 10% falling above 120.(emphasis mine)
Here is a chart that shows what you can do with the following IQs:

Table 1 - Practical Significance of IQ -
IQ Range
Typical Educability
Below 30
1% below 30
Unemployable. Institutionalized.
30 to 50
1% below 50
1st-Grade to 3rd-Grade
Simple, non-critical household chores.
50 to 60
1.5% below 60
3rd-Grade to 6th-grade
Very simple tasks, close supervision.
60 to 74
5% below 74
6th-Grade to 8th-Grade
"Slow, simple, supervised."
74 to 89
25% below 89
8th-Grade to 12th-Grade
Assembler, food service, nurse's aide
89 to 100
50% below 100
8th-Grade to 1-2 years of College.
Clerk, teller, Walmart
100 to 111
1 in 2 above 100
12th-Grade to College Degree
Police officer, machinist, sales
111 to 120
1 in 4 above 111
College to Master's Level
Manager, teacher, accountant
120 to 125
1 in 10 above 120
College to Non-Technical Ph. D.'s.
Manager, professor, accountant
125 to 132
1 in 20 above 125
Any Ph. D. at 3rd-Tier Schools
Attorney, editor, executive.
132 to 137
1 in 50 above 132
No limitations.
Eminent professor, editor
137 to 150
1 in 100 above 137
No limitations.
Leading math, physics professor
150 to 160
1 in 1,100 above 150
No limitations
Lincoln, Copernicus, Jefferson
160 to 174
1 in 11,000 above 160
No limitations
Descartes, Einstein, Spinoza
174 to 200
1 in 1,000,000
above 174
No limitations
Shakespeare, Goethe, Newton

If these charts are correct it means that 90% of America's population is at the very best intellectually fitted for nothing more than then AI vulnerable jobs like "manager, teacher, accountant" and only 15% could even aspire to that. 75% are between 89 and 111.  All of those jobs from manager on down to caregivers and perhaps even sex workers are vulnerable to the rapid advances in artificial intelligence.

And don't imagine that China, often the villain of American job loss, is any different. The Chinese are leading the world in Robitics.  The loss of industrial jobs for "average" people is a world problem and the Chinese, like the Japanese, or Europeans for that matter, at least have the excuse that their population is rapidly aging.

Largely as a result of higher fertility rates and immigration, America’s population, while ageing, is nonetheless likely to remain distinctly younger than other developed countries. Oxford Journals
It seems obvious that there is a critical mass of American citizens/voters who have every right to feel afraid and as Vivekananda said, "It is fear that brings misery, fear that brings death, fear that breeds evil.". This is the stagnant pool where demagogues like Donald Trump swim and flourish.

What  or who created good jobs for people with average intelligence in the first place?

Henry Ford
A good symbol of the economy that is disappearing would be Henry Ford and the philosophy behind that economy and American's legendary prosperity could probably be summed up by these two quotes of his:
Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs 
Paying good wages is not charity at all - it is the best kind of business 
Those two ideas, making complex things cheaply and paying basically  low-skilled workers well, changed the world and created a stable, property owning, comfortable, middle class life style for millions of Americans with only a high school education or less, and gave the United States a political stability that was the envy of the entire world. That stability is disappearing/has disappeared as of today and fear... and the evil fear brings are the result. And soon even highly skilled workers and people with graduate degrees will probably be finding themselves facing the same realities as the poorly educated do today... if they aren't already.

Henry Ford's Detroit factory today
As we try to predict the future of the few winners and many losers of today's technological revolution, it might be useful to consider the fate of the losers (and they lost big) of  Ford's technological revolution.

This is what big city traffic looked like before Henry Ford made cheap automobiles ubiquitous.

This film was shot in London, but it could just as well have been made in New York or Chicago.

What is shown in 1890s London that is missing from today's city streets?


The streets then, the world itself, was full of horses, millions and millions of horses. For thousands of years horses had accompanied humanity and done them great service. The word for horse in Spanish is "caballo" and the word for gentleman is "caballero". Our relationship was once that close:
Due to its natural companionship with man in both work and art, the Horse easily wins a special seat in history, ranking high marks of honor, reverence and symbolism. Serving man in war, mobility, productivity, agriculture, development of all kinds, the Horse is by far one of the largest contributor to the enhancement of civilization. Avia Venefica
When Henry Ford made cheap, reliable cars people said, 'Nah, what's wrong with a horse?' That was a huge bet he made, and it worked. Elon Musk
In a very short time a much loved symbol of the "enhancement of civilization" almost disappeared simply for economic reasons.

What sort of "jobs" are the few horse left doing? What sort of insight could this give us to the future of the masses of today's humans who wont be relevant in tomorrow's new technological environment?

Well, a horse that is very fast or very beautiful, plays polo, does tricks or is very "good with children" still has a place in today's world of the wealthy and the chance of a comfortable, pleasant life. Other less desirable "careers" might be that of a "trail horse" in a summer camp... or participating actively in steak tartar.

But you say, "this horse metaphor is ridiculous, horses are animals and people are well, 'people' ... human beings, 'endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights' and so forth". But what this really boils down to, is that horses couldn't vote and unlike so many Americans today didn't possess fully automatic assault rifles with banana clips.  In short eliminating horses from American life because they were no longer needed or profitable had little or no danger or political cost.
So leaving aside the precedents of certain 20th century figures like Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot, we can safely assume that Americans with average  to low IQs are not going to be physically eliminated. 

Where are we headed then?

If we want to be optimistic we can see ourselves looking at the problem as Michael Littman does:
We can turn machines into workers — they can be labor, and that actually deeply undercuts human value. My biggest concern at the moment is that we as a society find a way of valuing people not just for the work they do. We need to value each other first and foremost. Make it clear that the machines that we're talking about are machines to benefit everybody and not just the people that have them. Michael Littman, computer scientist at Brown University - Tech Insider
A skeptic might imagine one of the "great and the good", a "one-percent-er" reading that and thinking, "how much is all that going to cost?" and saying, "not by raising my taxes" and then contributing heavily to the campaign funding of any politician or media group dedicated to fighting Littman's point of view.

What will the future AI/robotic America probably look like then?

You won't need much of an imagination to envision where we are going. Think of a big country, thickly peopled, rich in natural resources with a first class scientific and cultural establishment and many mega-billionaires... and enormous masses of desperately poor people... Say, Brazil or India

In short, in the foreseeable future, or the United States of America is  going to turn into a nightmare of human misery something like the slums of Calcutta, the favelas of Rio de Janeiro or today's Detroit and the South Side of Chicago, or the elected representatives of the millions of “unneeded human beings” are going to have to fund the  massive government expenditures that are going to have to be made in public education, social support, socialized medicine, day care centers and public “make work” projects of all kinds. This is what libertarian billionaire, Peter Thiel probably meant when he said that freedom and democracy are incompatible. He surely means that in a democracy his freedom to do what he and other billionaires want to do with their money would be severely curtailed.

In short, American big money will be as cool with this nightmare scenario as their Indian and Brazilian counterparts and like a boxer tying up his opponent in a clinch, will happily finance every nutcase and corrupt politician they can find to avoid this future sacrifice of their power, wealth and privilege. DS

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Donald vs. Hillary: the winner gets the atomic bomb

The festive celebration of elderly, white-American andropause held in Cleveland Ohio drew to its close without bloodshed. For this we can be truly thankful. Coming next, the coronation of Hillary Clinton in Philadelphia, the "city of brotherly love".   It has been commented that Donald Trump is the only Republican that Hillary Clinton could defeat and that Hillary Clinton is the only Democrat that Donald Trump could defeat. 

The winner gets the atomic bomb.

For me that is the decisive fact. Hillary Clinton is not very honest and her judgement is questionable, but she is not mentally ill. Donald Trump is neither honest nor trustworthy, either, but on top of that, I seriously doubt his sanity,   The idea of Donald Trump in possession of the atomic bomb is unacceptable. For me it is that simple.

This campaign for the presidency of the United States of America shows every sign of becoming the ugliest, dirtiest one in American history. With my mind already made up and as a matter of elementary mental hygiene, I don't want to follow it blow by blow, wading in the filth.  These coming months, not being able to retire to a cave in the Himalayas, I hope to find other things to write about. DS

Friday, July 15, 2016

Cleveland, America's "glasnost" moment?

Thoughts for the day:
“A Republic, if you can keep it.”
Benjamin Franklin
 "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
John 8:32 - King James Version
"Freedom? For whom? To do what?"
Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov
"To whom much was given, of him much will be required"
Luke 12:49 · ‎Luke 12:47 · ‎King James Bible

Understanding the world today would be much simpler if we conceded that gradually after WWII and picking up speed dramatically after 9-11, the United States has evolved into a corporate-military-security state... in short a "regime";  and like our old,  Cold War opponents, the Soviet Union, (which was also a corporate-military-security state-regime), we need to wrap our realpolitik in millenarian ideology... "We are building global democratic capitalism comrades". The "end of history" and all that... while we force-feed political prisoners in our Guantanamo gulag, kill American citizens without trial, etc, etc.
America’s post-September 11th national-security state has become so well financed, so divided into secret compartments, so technically capable, so self-perpetuating, and so captured by profit-seeking contractors bidding on the next big idea about big-data mining that intelligence leaders seem to have lost their facility to think independently. Who is deciding what spying projects matter most and why? The New Yorker 
Here are two examples of who we say we are: 
Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2006 "None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available pursuant to this act shall be obligated or expended to finance directly any assistance to any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree."  109th Congress Public Law 102

So we face a historic opportunity.  We have the chance to show that America values the dignity of the street vendor in Tunisia more than the raw power of the dictator.  There must be no doubt that the United States of America welcomes change that advances self-determination and opportunity.(...) And now we cannot hesitate to stand squarely on the side of those who are reaching for their rights, knowing that their success will bring about a world that is more peaceful, more stable, and more just. Barack Obama - May 19, 2011
Followed by an example of who we really are:
On 3 July 2013, Egyptian army chief General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi led a coalition to remove the only democratically elected President of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, from power and suspended the Egyptian constitution.(...) The US refused to describe the action as a coup.(...) Ensuing protests in favour of Morsi were violently suppressed with the dispersal and massacre of pro-Morsi sit-ins on 14 August 2013, amid ongoing unrest; journalists, and several hundred to a few thousand protestors were killed by police and military force. Wikipedia
A clear example of our reality might be the contrast between Obama's Cairo speech in 2009 or the public encouragement of the "Arab Spring" and then supporting the military coup d'├ętat in Egypt, that soon followed their first free elections in history (while because of 109th Congress Public Law 102, denying it was a coup) where an army that literally lives off American aid (in exchange for not troubling Israel) massacres the supporters of a legitimate, democratically elected government that they have overthrown manu militari, without the White House even giving them a sharp tug on their leash... impossible for anyone, anywhere, to believe that the USA hadn't colluded in it...  Perfectly comparable to the Soviets invading Prague in 1968  to "defend 'real existing socialism'"... All of this brings us face to face with our hypocrisy... rubs our noses in it really.

Perhaps hypocrisy is to be preferred to cynicism though, because as La Rochefoucauld famously said, "Hypocrisy is the homage which vice pays to virtue", which means that if good didn't exist, bad people wouldn't have to pretend to be good... Which is probably the best you can say about America's present performance on the world stage.

Sort of the "Soviet Union Light".

What was it that brought the mastodonic Soviet superpower crashing to oblivion, the straw that broke the camel's back?

What finally caused the USSR to unravel was the simple free movement of information, it was merely allowing Soviet citizens full, free access to the ordinary photocopying machine. That is what brought down the Soviet system.

Could it be a vulnerability that both superpowers might have somehow in common?

What could be America's version of the USSR's Xerox-Achilles heel.

Today facing the security state we have the ubiquitous cellphone video camera connected to Facebook and Twitter, plus a population armed to the teeth, in a country where in many places "open carry" is legal. This is a combination whose dissolvent effects on public order we are just beginning to sample.

In Dallas, the police's use of an exploding robot also gives a sinister hint of the militarization of America's police forces that the establishment feels might be "necessary" if that public order were to be severely endangered. 

What sort of endangerment? Where could this be leading

We might find out very soon.

How about this for a possibly historic clusterfuck? Armed to the teeth Black Panther activists slipstreaming the Black Lives Matter movement go to the Republican convention is Cleveland Ohio, to protest Donald Trump's racism, where they will meet white power Trump supporters also armed to the teeth. This in a state (Ohio) where a black child carrying a toy rifle could be shot by the police. 
The New Black Panther Party, a "black power" movement, will carry firearms for self-defense during rallies in Cleveland ahead of next week's Republican convention (...) Several other groups, including some supporters of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, have said they will carry weapons in Cleveland.(...) Officials in Ohio have said it will be legal for protesters to carry weapons at demonstrations outside the convention under that state’s "open carry" law, which allows civilians to carry guns in public. Reuters
The ingredients for anarchy are all there. If not now, when?

If something dreadful doesn't happen, we might take it as a sign that America's famous luck has not quite run out... yet

Where could the combination of all of these ingredients be heading?

A wise old fellow once said something to the effect that the present cannot judge itself, anymore than we can judge a person by what he thinks of himself... that time alone will be the judge of our present affairs, but that old man also said that the present is always pregnant with the future and in time it will be clear that everything that is to come tomorrow was present in some form today, right now, under our noses waiting to come to fruition. 

Sobering thought that. DS

Thursday, July 07, 2016

November 2016... tick tock...tick tock

If you are an American living abroad, as I do, you are naturally very conscious of the world's opinion of the USA. The question now sometimes asked directly and often implied is: How can a country of over 300 million people, the richest and most powerful in the history of the world, one that, once upon a time, produced Jefferson, Lincoln, the two Roosevelts... even Truman, Eisenhower and LBJ, end up having nothing better to choose from now than Trump and Hillary?

Donald Trump appears like a nightmare product of a poorly digested meal... I find myself much more worried by the masses of people who would support him enthusiastically than by the Donald himself. When he has gone back to his golf courses these people will remain and perhaps, someone more subtle and even more evil than Trump will find many more effective ways to exploit them.

That leaves Hillary

I don't like Hillary Clinton, I never have... or Bill for that matter, although he may have been the most naturally gifted politician ever to sit in the White House, he may have also been the cheesiest too. That odor of ripe Camembert follows the Clintons wherever they go. 

Obama too has been quite a disappointment for me, I agree with Cornell West, that he is a "Rockefeller Republican", having said that, he and his family have had a very beneficial effect on America's image around the world. "Elegant" is the best word to describe Barack and Michelle Obama. As to his "legacy", he will probably be remembered as much for what he hasn't done, like not sending ground troops back to the Middle East, as for achievements like Obamacare, which is pitiful when compared to any European country's public health system.

For me the choice between Trump and Hillary is clear

Hillary Clinton may reek of Camembert, but Trump reeks of sulfur.  

The biggest danger now is that many of the supporters of Bernie Sanders, among whom I am numbered, dislike (loathe) Hillary even more than Trump supporters do and if, as is nearly certain, she is the Democratic candidate, many Sanderistas may either stay home on election day, or go out and vote for a third party candidate or... even vote for Trump.  In sufficient numbers this fugitive vote might end up putting a renegade villain escaped from a Marvel Comic into the White House.

The third-party option is the one that worries me most. Remember: this sort of bickering leading to Ralph Nader's votes in Florida was what brought us George W. Bush... and next to Trump, Dubya, is Joan of Arc. 

The American system has been so constructed as to be very resistant to change and it is a two party system. At this moment the Republican Party seems about to commit suicide and it would be a shame if the Bernie supporters did anything to impede their Trump-led, self-destruction. After the Republicans destroy themselves in November and the Democrats take back both houses of Congress... then would be the time to split the Democratic party to left and right, not now. DS

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Are Freedom and Democracy Incompatible? Peter Thiel thinks so

Peter Thiel is the creator of PayPal, also the first major investor in Facebook and he sits on the Facebook board.
Peter Thiel
Peter Thiel wrote, on April 13, 2009, in the Libertarian 'Cato Unbound' blog, “Most importantly, I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.” In the same article, he also wrote, "Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women — two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians — have rendered the notion of “capitalist democracy” into an oxymoron. (emphasis mine) Wikipedia
How does Thiel define "freedom"?
"I remain committed to the faith of my teenage years: to authentic human freedom as a precondition for the highest good. I stand against confiscatory taxes, totalitarian collectives”   Peter Thiel - The Education of a Libertarian
Thiel thinks his freedom is incompatible with democracy. How is democracy normally defined?
democracy ‎(plural democracies)
  1. (uncountable) Rule by the people, especially as a form of government; either directly or through elected representatives (representative democracy).
  2. (countable, government) A government under the direct or representative rule of the people of its jurisdiction.
  3. (uncountable) Belief in political freedom and equality; the "spirit of democracy".
"Democracy" then, means the rule of the "demos". Who are the "demos"?
demos ‎(plural demoi)
  1. (political science) The common populace of a state, the people. Wiktiionary
Where and how is Democracy incompatible with Peter Thiel's freedom?

It's all quite simple, let Bernie Sanders explain:
This is an economic model developed by the economic elite to benefit the economic elite. We need real change.(...) We need to end the international scandal in which large corporations and the wealthy avoid paying trillions of dollars in taxes to their national governments. Bernie Sanders - New York Times
Where is Thiel-style freedom leading?
McAfee, associate director of the MIT Center for Digital Business at the Sloan School of Management, (...)despite his obvious enthusiasm for the technologies,  doesn’t see the recently vanished jobs coming back. The pressure on employment and the resulting inequality will only get worse, he suggests, as digital technologies—fueled with “enough computing power, data, and geeks”—continue their exponential advances over the next several decades. “I would like to be wrong,” he says, “but when all these science-fiction technologies are deployed, what will we need all the people for?” (emphasis mine) MIT Technology Review Magazine
Obviously. from Peter Thiel's personal point of view, democracy and his freedom are incompatible.

In Thiel's defense we should be grateful for his forthrightness, because Peter Thiel is rather innocent in his sincerity. The crafty Koch Brothers, for example, would never come right out and express themselves so frankly, but everything they actually do expresses the same view of democracy as Thiel's.

And they are not just sitting on their hands, they are up and doing something about it.
The House approved a bill Tuesday that would bar the IRS from collecting the names of donors to tax-exempt groups, prompting warnings from campaign-finance watchdogs that it could lead to foreign interests illegally infiltrating American elections. USA Today  
USA Today’s Fredreka Schouten reported that the bill is openly supported by Charles Koch, the older of the two “Koch Brothers,” fossil fuel billionaires whose deep pockets hold a notoriously outsized influence on American politics. Kit O'Connell - Mint Press
This is nothing new. The democratic state, (government of the people, by the people, for the people) has always been the only possible defense of "the People" facing the powerful, who wish to dominate and exploit them.

Again, knowing who the Thiels and the Kochs of this world are, who are "the People"?
The mass of a community as distinguished from a special class (elite); the commonalty; the populace; the vulgar; the common crowd; the citizens. Wiktionary
How long has this struggle between the "Thiels and Kochs" and "the People" been going on?
Aesop: A Lion used to prowl about a field in which Four Oxen used to dwell. Many a time he tried to attack them; but whenever he came near they turned their tails to one another, so that whichever way he approached them he was met by the horns of one of them. At last, however, they fell a-quarreling among themselves, and each went off to pasture alone in a separate corner of the field. Then the Lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end of all four. Moral: United we stand, divided we fall.
This struggle is nothing new and it has no end. DS