Saturday, March 18, 2017

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

This one is so pertinent and important, I tried to find a more public venue for it. But one of the tragic consequences of the Trump Era is the decay of op-ed journalism -- everyone recycling the same whines. I'll speak more of this, at the end. But now -- this just can't be put off, any longer.  Prepare to go wide-eyed!

== A chilling forecast: accurate down to the last detail ==

You can sway a thousand men by appealing to their prejudices quicker than you can convince one man by logic. – Robert A. Heinlein, Revolt in 2100

Robert A. Heinlein’s 1953 "Future History" collection, Revolt in 2100, vividly portrays citizens rising up against an authoritarian theocracy which has taken root in America. A succession of fundamentalist despots have ruled for nearly a century, dating back to the First Prophet, Nehemiah Scudder. John Lyle, a graduate of West Point and now a member of the Prophet's elite guard "Angels of the Lord," joins an underground revolt when he finally begins to question the society under which he always lived: 

"I began to sense faintly that secrecy is the keystone of all tyranny. Not force, but secrecy ... censorship. When any government, or any church for that matter, undertakes to say to its subjects, 'This you may not read, this you must not see, this you are forbidden to know,' the end result is tyranny and oppression, no matter how holy the motives. Mighty little force is needed to control a man whose mind has been hoodwinked; contrariwise, no amount of force can control a free man, a man whose mind is free. No, not the rack, not fission bombs, not anything -- you can't conquer a free man; the most you can do is kill him." (If This Goes On-- Chapter 6)

Does that sound familiar? Oh, but you ain't seen nothing, yet. Prepare to be amazed.

Sure, Heinlein's voice is different than mine. But he largely raised me, and I deeply resent it when some folks lazily dismiss RAH as a "right winger" or even "fascist." Sure, there are ways in which he reads rather retro, today. And he yelled "get off my lawn!" at hippies who came to pay homage, after Stranger in a Strange Land.

But he truly saw himself as a champion of equal rights and equal opportunity, even if his characters can seem cringeworthy, through modern eyes. His libertarianism is of another, Jeffersonian-Adam Smithian variety, and he despised Ayn Rand.

Of course, our chief overlap is seen in that extract, above. Heinlein and I both portray light as the cleanser and liberator. We must all see as much as we can handle, and then more. It is a citizen's duty to look! And yes, to re-examine things we had been comfortable believing.  Transparency is key to reciprocal accountability, which we use to be both free and smart. It is the miracle tool that enables us to question the lies of monsters.

== Amazing prophecy! ==

Is it ironic that the author of a novel about false prophets nailed the future so well? Oh, but it gets much better. Especially the paragraph in bold, below.

Here, I’d like to quote extensively from Revolt in 2100's afterword, “Concerning Stories Never Written,” in which Robert Heinlein takes an incisive look at a possible dark future for our country:

As for ... the idea that we could lose our freedom by succumbing to a wave of religious hysteria, I am sorry to say that I consider it possible. I hope that it is not probable. But there is a latent deep strain of religious fanaticism in this, our culture; it is rooted in our history and it has broken out many times in the past. 

"It is with us now; there has been a sharp rise in strongly evangelical sects in this country in recent years, some of which hold beliefs theocratic in the extreme, anti-intellectual, anti-scientific, and anti-libertarian.

“It is a truism that almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so, and will follow it by suppressing opposition, subverting all education to seize early the minds of the young, and by killing, locking up, or driving underground all heretics. This is equally true whether the faith is Communism or Holy-Rollerism; indeed it is the bounden duty of the faithful to do so. The custodians of the True Faith cannot logically admit tolerance of heresy to be a virtue.

“Nevertheless this business of legislating religious beliefs into law has never been more than sporadically successful in this country – Sunday closing laws here and there, birth control legislation in spots, the Prohibition experiment, temporary enclaves of theocracy such as Voliva’s Zion, Smith’s Nauvoo, and a few others. The country is split up into such a variety of faiths and sects that a degree of uneasy tolerance now exists from expedient compromise; the minorities constitute a majority of opposition against each other.

“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."

Jiminy!  Heinlein wrote that in the early 1950s! Is there anything he did not hit right on the head? Heck, he even nailed the dominionist "Prosperity Gospel" so popular among Ted Cruz types, promising fervid followers that their "material heaven here on earth" will come by righteously seizing the property of unbelievers. (Late note: a prosperity gospel preacher keynotes Donald Trump's inauguration.)

Seriously, read his last paragraph (above) again.  Then recall that Heinlein portrayed Nehemiah Scudder taking the White House against the will of a majority, in 2012.  (He also spoke of America sinking into "The Crazy Years.") 

As for you blithe judgers who dismissed Heinlein as a 'fascist'? Shame on you.  He was fighting the good fight before you were born, far more persuasively and effectively than you'll ever be.

Oh, but back to his essay. It gets even more amazing:

“I imagined Nehemiah Scudder as a backwoods evangelist who combined some of the features of John Calvin, Savonarola, Judge Rutherford and Huey Long. His influence was not national until after the death of Mrs. Rachel Biggs…. who left Brother Scudder several millions of dollars with which to establish a television station. Shortly thereafter he teamed up with an ex-Senator from his home state; they placed their affairs in the hands of a major advertising agency and were on their way to fame and fortune. Presently they needed stormtroopers; they revived the Ku Klux Klan in everything but the name – sheets, passwords, grips, and all. It was a “good gimmick” once and still served. Blood at the polls and blood in the streets, but Scudder won the election. The next election was never held.

“Impossible? Remember the Klan in the ‘Twenties – and how far it got without even a dynamic leader. Remember Karl Marx and note how close that unscientific piece of nonsense called Das Kapital has come to smothering out all freedom of thought on half a planet, without – mind you – the emotional advantage of calling it a religion. The capacity of the human mind for swallowing nonsense and spewing it forth in violent and repressive action has never yet been plumbed."

Give Heinlein's Revolt in 2100 a read (available for Kindle.)  

Are the parallels with our present situation perfect? Well, no. For one thing, there is the spectacular hypocrisy of U.S. fundamentalist Christians gushing their fervid support for a man who is - in every conceivable measure of action or character - the diametric opposite of Jesus. Even Heinlein could not have written that.  

No, this has to be a clarion call. Members of the American center and moderate-left must get past their clich├ęs... like the insipid stupidity of calling old-fashioned Jeffersonian libertarians like Heinlein "right-wingers." For one thing, anyone who loves science, nowadays is, by definition, no member of that cult.

We must be welcoming of fellow citizens who flee the rising, confederate madness. Soon, these will include waves of 'retiring' U.S. military and intelligence officers, potential allies of stunning value in our task of saving civilization! So do not listen to fools on the far-left, who would spit in the faces of such refugees. The far-left can be as crazy as the entire-right has become. Especially if they would reflexively spurn powerful allies, just because they have good posture and sport crewcuts.

Or powerful inspirations, like the science fiction author and American, Robert A. Heinlein.

Honor the legacy of Heinlein and Pay It Forward! Support the efforts of the Heinlein Society -- which promotes education, blood drives and provides books to veterans.

== Addenda ==

Oh, you don't believe that there is a nationwide cabal of fundamentalists who aim for precisely the scenario that worried Heinlein? Read this. An escapee from the "christofascist" network describes how a million or so children at any time are not only being homeschooled, but indoctrinated to think of themselves as holy warriors, battling a satanic republic. And this is the central goal of Betsy DeVos, our new Secretary of Education.

And yes, central to their belief system are not the words of Jesus, but the diametrically opposite and hate-drenched Book of Revelation.  With hand-rubbing delight, they anticipate the torture and death of you and your loved ones and our nation, followed by eternal torment and damnation, plus an end to all democracy, science, ambition, curiosity, questioning, exploration and every other thing that makes us human. And... oh yes, a violent end to the United States of America. And I did not exaggerate a single word. Every single one of those outcomes is directly and explicitly what they pray for, daily.

Finally... A Scottish newspaper listed coverage of the Trump Inauguration as a Twilight Zone reboot: "The Twilight Zone returns with one of the most ambitious, expensive and controversial productions in broadcast history. Sci-fi writers have often dabbled with alternative history stories... It sounds far-fetched, and it is, but as it goes on it becomes more and more chillingly plausible..."

== The meta problem, here ==

I had saved up this posting, offering it to every venue I could find (or shortened versions, eliminating my personal voice.) It is interesting, effective and different. But there is the rub.

Look, there's one more factor at work now. Fear. When that emotion reigns, even the side that believes in openness and originality shuts down psychologically. At the very moment when we need a wide stance and originality, mass media have circled the wagons, allocating op-ed soapboxes to pals who re-word the same whines, over and over.

Like the latest wave of ill-considered reactions, screaming about the Trumps' increase in military spending, as liberals fall for a baited trap, reflexively shouting hate at the Military Officer Corps, spurning another set of victims, another fact-centered profession. This is the stupidest thing we could possibly do, right now.

It's not that they are wrong in opposing this tsunami of Confederate madness! Their mistake is a belief that the Union can win this phase of civil war with "resistance" alone, pushing back with grunting sumo.  Again and again I cry - as Heinlein did - that this is a time for agility.  For judo.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Shifting views on immigration

In 1939, the infamous ship St. Louis limped around the Atlantic and Caribbean with over 900 German Jews on board. Arm-twisted by the Nazis, but also shamefully, the United States and Cuba both refused sanctuary to the refugees. Eventually the ship returned to Germany and most of the passengers on board were eventually killed during the Holocaust.

Bard College professor an director of the Hannah Arendt Center, Roger Berkowitz talks about a luckier refugee, Hanna Arendt: In 1943, Arendt wrote a poignant essay 'We Refugees': "The stateless person, without the right to residence and without the right to work, had of course constantly to transgress the law."

Berkowitz expands on Arendt's experience: 

"The word, refugee, flattens a person and a people marked by loss and vulnerability. Having lost their home, their language, their friends, and their families, refugees live in camps, in public; they experience the rupture of their private lives and their public visibility as only a mass.
   "The refugee is transformed from a person with a history and world into a pitiable figure. We can have compassion for an individual, look into their eyes, touch their shoulder, and feel the humanness in their pain. But faced with masses of refugees hands open, seeking refuge, compassion is too often replaced by pity (if not by fear).”

I’ve long accused all sides of hypocrisy regarding immigration!

History shows that Democrats protect the borders and reduce illegal immigration --demonstrably better and more vigorously than Republicans (till Trump) -- for the same reasons that they boosted legal immigration — because legal immigrants can join unions and eventually vote. Yes, this sounds counter to popular impressions because liberals try to be kind to illegals, once they are here. But democratic presidents always boosted the Border Patrol (Obama deported all the illegals who misbehaved, who he could get his hands on).

Think about why, until 9/11, GOP presidents always slashed the BP. It's true!  Why? Because their owner caste loves cheap labor that must live in fear and that undercuts unions.

If cranky, white, male boomers want to blame anyone for the changing look of America, blame the Democrats all right! But for legal immigration.  The landmark Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 eased the path across the nation's borders for people from Asia and Africa by removing old regional quotas. That was moral and right.

That 1965 Democratic Congress also did something that seems also to be right-sounding… easing the way for families to re-unite, if one member is already legally a U.S. resident. And there, well, I disagree

Sure, unite parents and children and spouses. But the sibling and cousin advantage is just immoral and wrong. 

Think.  Anyone in another country who has a U.S. relative is already much luckier than his neighbors in say, Bangladesh. Think, I mean it, actually think about this. Those relatives back home already get remittances and packages and favors, and help with legal paperwork trying to emigrate. They are already lucky! Why should they automatically be luckier than their neighbors, in Dacca?  Don’t those neighbors deserve a chance, too? See my earlier posting: Hidden factors in the rush to immigration reform. Must luck be kept limited to arbitrary family chains?

Does this mean I approve of a Republican bill?  Really? These monsters who have betrayed Adam Smith and Lincoln and who have sent Barry Goldwater spinning in his grave? 

Well, in fact, while it seems old-fashioned, I am capable of fine parsing. And there are portions of this bill that are as loathsome as anything else spewing from Paul Ryan’s Confederate Treason Cabal. But to be honest, there are parts that I can shrug over.

Look, we need to prioritize. Obama himself had no problems with simultaneously creating a citizenship path for "dreamers" - kids who came here as babies, while vigorously deporting slimes who betrayed their adopted land by wreaking crime and harm.  He called for kindness and help for hard-workers who were already here... while spending quite a few millions beefing up the Border Patrol and laying hundreds of miles of new fences, so immigration can channel through the legal processes.

Just in order to shock you all, let me say: "Build your stupid wall." It's about time Republicans were willing to employ lots of semi-skilled workers in infrastructure, creating high velocity money in the economy instead of sucking us dry with tax gifts to the rich.

If this were a negotiation, I'd let em have the wall, in exchange for... for... for not being jerks at war with facts and brains and heart in every way they can possibly find.

== Immigration and Violence ==

From the Los Angeles Times: Californians are 30% less likely to die a violent death today than other Americans. Since 1980, California’s rate of reported crime overall has fallen by 62%. The state’s criminal arrest rates, too, have fallen considerably, by 55% overall, and by 80% among people younger than 18 — a population, it is worth noting, that is now 72% nonwhite. 

Violent crime in California has fallen by an impressive 50% in the same period. This includes drops in robberies (65%), homicide (68%), and rapes and assaults (more than 40%). That last figure is even more remarkable when you consider that the legal definitions of both assault and rape were expanded during these years.

Trump often points at violence in Chicago. An outlier that is less blue and less immigrant rich, and far smaller than California. 

Oh, and California generates inventions and jobs faster than anyone. Texas keeps sending governors here to try to raid and poach our companies. Um, why? Can't generate your own?

Efficient government, top schools and universities... and sure, filled with problems... that are being handled better than any red state. Why? How? We haven't abandoned the formula of the Greatest Generation. We have unions, universities, infrastructure, tolerance and the rich pay taxes. And business flourishes. 

Oh, one more thing. We like being a little bit funky-crazy. It's cool. It is one of many reasons why we're the sane ones.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Science Fiction: Into the future

Let's take a pause to envision how science fiction makes a difference.  First by pointing at the rocks that lie in wait, downstream, that might yet be avoided. Second, by shining light upon the possible -- on things that we might want, or the people we choose to become. And finally...

... the category of I told you so. Rubbing our Cassandra warnings in the faces of those who just didn't listen!  Very soon, I will post about how Robert Heinlein is suddenly oh, so pertinent again, in all three categories.  But for now, let us romp through the lesser but still fascinating tulips all around us.

== Appreciation from the mighty ==

We have fans in unexpected places.  For example, the (then) President of the United States - in his final interview in office - touted The Three Body Problem, by Liu Cixin and conversed tangentially about the Hugo Award. Yes, he has long been – tangentially – a sci fi reader. Great stuff!  But. Um hey, sir? Did you notice my name, in small letters, on the back cover of that book? ;-)

Well, well. In this interview, Obama says, I don’t worry about the survival of the novel. We’re a storytelling species. I think that what one of the jobs of political leaders going forward is, is to tell a better story about what binds us together as a people. And America is unique in having to stitch together all these disparate elements – we’re not one race, we’re not one tribe, folks didn’t all arrive here at the same time. What holds us together is an idea, and it’s a story about who we are and what’s important to us. And I want to make sure that we continue that.”

What a terrific interview about books and reading with a truly amazing American who isn't done helping the world. 

Even more powerful... Google has shown its appreciation often. For example, I spoke last week at the blue-sky and far-out research group "X" -- with thanks to our host, Rapid Evaluation leader Rich DuVaul and his fine colleagues.  And in this article how another group, Google Creative Lab, is currently taking applications for The Five, a one-year paid program for five lucky innovators, drawn from a pool of artists, designers, filmmakers, developers, and other talented, multi-dextrous makers. And yes, SF authors.

In fact, open mindedness has always been present, at least among geniuses. Winston Churchill wrote an extensive essay about… alien life. How amazing! We will fight them on the beaches and the landing grounds...

== Cool links ==

Tune in to Episode 5: "Limits of Understanding: cosmology, imagination, and the role of theology", with Paul Steinhardt (author of Endless Universe: Beyond the Big Bang) and David Brin, part of the "Into the Impossible" podcast series by UCSD’s Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination.

Also check out the extensive archives of Starship Sofa for more audio science fiction stories. 

Yea for time sinks! Dust offers a great collection of entertaining and provocative Sci Fi short films.

Good Omens, Neil Gaiman’s first novel, done with the late Terry Pratchett, will be televised by the BBC. And Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land is coming to television as well. 

On the international front... Looks like a really interesting contribution to the African SF Renaissance.  Nigerians in Space by Deji Bryce Olukotun, tells the tale of a Nigerian geologist who has been asked by his nation... to steal a piece of the moon.

And this from the New Scientist: In China, this is Science Fiction's Golden Age, by Lavie Tidhar. 

Did SF predict the iPad, Skype... or Trump? Business Insider lists: The seven most freakishly accurate ways science fiction predicted he future.

== Sci Fi novels in the news ==

Larry Niven’s classic story Inconstant Moon asks the question, “What would you do if it were your last night on Earth?” and takes place over one catastrophic night in Los Angeles.  It’s been picked up for a film by the producers of The Arrival.  Terrific!  

In other Niven News, Larry’s terrific novel Protector is assigned reading for the Special and General Relativity course at West Point! The tale’s vivid depiction of interstellar spaceflight at relativistic speeds culminates in a relativistic space “dogfight” past a neutron star.  Though of course the tactics shown at the end of Startide Rising ain’t shabby, neither, ahem. 

Jeez, what’ll it take to get some royalties, around here? Have a look at an Interesting spin on dittos in a video game…  that actually looks kinda cool. 

And then there’s this: “Terminator and Avatar director James Cameron has signed a deal with AMC to produce a six-episode documentary series, titled James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction. The series will explore how science fiction has tried to answer humanity’s “big questions” throughout history.”  I’ve been on a lot of these shows, e.g. Masters of Science Fiction and Sci Fi legends, but I expect Cameron to bring a big budget sensibility and a strong sense of why we are all different from our ancestors. Largely because of a new habit of looking ahead.

Oh, here's another interesting novel, this one by Norman Spinrad (author of Bug Jack Barron and The Iron Dream). HIs latest, The People's Police tells of New Orleans in a near future when Category 6 hurricanes are the norm, when deflation is getting millions tossed from their homes, when voodoo comes alive... and when the police tire of serving the money-masters, devoting their loyalty instead to the common people.   

Norman can get a bit polemical... then he makes you laugh out loud with something outrageously unexpected, like a vodoun spirit talker elected governor of Louisiana. I think he gets wrong how our public servants will rise up to protect and defend and serve us.  But it is a near-certainty that they will.

Just released: a graphic novel adaptation of Octavia E. Butler's powerful novel, Kindred. 

And Margaret Atwood has created a graphic novel, Angel Catbird -- a tale of genetic engineering.. and a superhero who emerges after the accidental merging of human DNA with that of a cat and an owl. Volume 2, To Castle Catula has just been released.

Following up on his classic American Gods, Neil Gaiman's latest novel, Norse Mythology was released in February -- with his own colorful re-telling of the legends of the ancient Norse pantheon of gods. 

== Science Fiction & Politics ==

Slate has invited ten writers to envision the possible (dystopic?) future of Trump's America. You can read compelling selections by Lauren Beukes, Jeff Vandemeer, Elizabeth Bear, Saladin Ahmed, Nisi Shawl, Ben Winters and others in The Trump Story Project.  

Our metaphors fill society.  This one was posted with zero commentary needed.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Inconvenient facts: The future of news.. and "otherness" has been stolen!

I recently spoke (via Beam robot) at a conference on “The Future of News Media” hosted by the Institute For The Future (IFTF), in San Francisco. An erudite gathering of concerned men and women from around the world discussed problems of Fake News, declining advertising revenues, state interference, self-censorship, and the web’s tendency to corral individuals into self-isolated pocket universes that reinforce their prejudices. In the short time allocated to me as kickoff speaker, I tried to give (ahem) ‘unusual perspectives’ on each of these topics.

Make no mistake, the survival of independent and professionally trained news media is vital to our civilization, just as undermining such experts is essential to the agenda of our rising caste of would-be masters.

I always have lots of unconventional things to say, but one stands out and you will see it repeated forever, till it’s tried on a large scale. Wagers.  Dares! Bets. Putting money on actual verification or disproof.

It is the only approach that will work, in an era when romantics have declared that all is subjective. That incantation works for macho guys… till something tangible is on the table. Then? Recall that most of these fake-news slathering fellows are also sports fans. And they know, deep down, that there comes a time when you can no longer talk your way out of comparing actual facts.

They grasp the idea that a wager has to be resolved. And it will turn on what can be proved. And now machismo becomes our friend, since it over-rules subjectivity!  If you flee from a bet, you are shamed. And if you refuse to pay-up, you are un-manned, period.

I broached this at the conference, as one of many observations and speculations about the future of news. It only got blinks of confusion from those erudite folks, showing how alien is their elite, mature, fact-loving world from that of the Confederacy that gave us this tsunami of fake-news. But give it time. Experiment with it. Because something has to be done. And this approach will go to the root, the heart of the problem.

== "Otherness"... redefined by monsters! ==

Ouch! Do we never get to keep nice things? Way back around 1990 I coined a term that later became the title of my 2nd story collection: OTHERNESS. It stood for the trend - in our recent, enlightenment renaissance - to be fascinated with horizons. To look beyond the immediate and near and familiar. And, yes, this manifests in many of us - those with some confidence - in a willingness to expand our boundaries of inclusion, to encompass "others."

Extending my essay "The Dogma of Otherness" (in OTHERNESS), I later showed how this process is inversely proportionate to fear, and has been, across most (maybe all) human cultures. It explains why the calmly confident society crafted by the Greatest Generation became one obsessed with expanding horizons.

Alas, all that has been sabotaged. Instead of rising in confidence - as Americans and all advanced and advancing nations should be doing now, amid very good times - we are letting ourselves be talked into quaking, quivering terror.

That I find upsetting. But want to see me really pissed off? Now my optimistic and brave term - "otherness" - has been stolen! Appropriated not only without credit or provenance, but given diametrically opposite meaning!

It's like the way they took the term "fake news" - which stood for their tactic to rile up an unsapient confederacy - and grabbed it as one more polemical weapon to use - in stunning irony - against real news media.

Alas, even those writing cogently against the madness keep falling for these traps, as with this fellow, who blithely accepts the alt-right definition of "otherness," ceding ground, even while whining about it. We can do so much better.

== Teaching the young – and old farts ==

Stanford professor Sam Wineburg lays out the steps educators need to take to help students discern what is fake news or not. “The tools we’ve invented are handling us,“ he says, “not the other way around.”  

A commenter suggested that the way to counter “alternative-facts may be to use their own s### against them: “When Trump says that 3 million illegals voted in the last election, tell them it doesn't matter because a majority of them voted for Trump! If he asks where you got the information, just say it was from the same source that he did. Or that it is common sense. Or that you "heard it on the internet." Or all the other lame excuses they use.

“When they make up stuff, make up stuff about their stuff. Be truthful about our stuff, but for their stuff, let you imagination run wild. Without facts to back up their claims, there is no way they can disprove any claim you make.”

It is a very, very dumb proposal.  We have other ways to win.

== The fact people ==

Evonomics is the place for erudite and fact-rich proof that inequality and huge wealth disparities are NOT healthy or faithful to fair-competitive market enterprise or even capitalism. 

An article online about cheating in economics explains how we are rediscovering the wisdom of Adam Smith and how parasite “rentiers” are not the friends of capitalism. Monopolists, “finance wizards” and passive lease-collectors create nothing and certainly do not compete. See both how Smith denounced the vampire effects on markets… and how it’s played out - to Dracula proportions - today.  

The Real "Takers" in America: Michael Lind’s article in Evonomics shows the kind of rooseveltean thinking that the oligarchs deeply fear might take hold.An Anti-Rentier movement would oppose unproductive, ill-begotten wealth, not the rich in general. Wealthy individuals who get richer by investing in start-up companies or funding long-lived, creative blue-chip firms provide a valuable benefit to society, even as they risk losing their own money. Such risk-taking investors are the opposites of financial sector rentiers who seek to bribe policymakers into letting them privatize their gains while socializing their losses.”

Radical? A bit, sure. But what’s the alternative? Do the rentier-oligarchs actually believe they can crush us back into inherited-nobility and feudalism?  If the coming re-set is not a moderate-pragmatic, rooseveltean one - as instituted by the Greatest Generation - then it will be something much more radical. Already, search results for Karl Marx” have skyrocketed, in recent years.

Finally, someone else is pointing out that "Obamacare" was always the Republicans' own plan, all along! This young, democratic Congressman lays it out so clearly that even a Fox-watcher would understand… and perhaps start scratching his head, asking: "So what was all the screaming about? And why did I ever watch Fox?" 

Oh, I am gonna keep my eye on this Rep. Brendan Boyle fellah.

== Other things that got (a lot) better ==

Expect a new section in these missives: Bad News/GoodNews.

The Bad News: Obama’s Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz is an example of the brainpower and expertise that we lose. He’s a nuclear physicist for MIT who has been involved in government energy projects for two decades. His designated successor, former Texas governor Rick Perry, has no comparable educational or business background that would equip him for the job.

(To be clear, I am miffed that our present situation leaves me delighted to see Perry in the cabinet. For all his faults and awful limitations, RP seems at least to be an American of normal IQ and no cultist. Such a low bar.)

The Good News:  Read how Moniz says that our accomplishments in developing efficient, sustainable and non-carbon technologies are irreversible. Despite treasonous obstruction by The Cult, these techs have now taken off, reaching beyond break-even, drawing every utility and energy-using entity away from carbon sources. “Smart government policies have encouraged and reinforced this evolution, but it now has a life of its own, studies suggest.”

Filthy coal has collapsed as U.S. supplies of much cleaner natural gas burgeoned, with America attaining effective energy independence under Obama, for the first time in 40 years.  The Energy Department estimates that 61 percent of the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions in the power sector from 2006 to 2014 came from switching from coal-fired plants to gas-fired ones. (A side effect no one seems to have reported: even with our troops helping governments in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is no longer a U.S. aircraft carrier battle group in the Middle East. We just don’t need that region for our own survival, anymore.)

Gas is a stopgap. “Continuing declines in the costs of alternative energy sources are making them increasingly competitive. Since 2008, costs have fallen 41 percent for land-based wind power and 64 percent for utility-scale solar power. The cost of efficient LED light bulbs has fallen 94 percent since 2008. The cost of battery storage has declined 70 percent over that period, making electric vehicles more affordable. As of last August, there were 490,000 electric vehicles on the road.”

Want another? Chart some national statistics and how they did across the Obama administration. In only one case was there not a huge improvement… the national debt.  But the size of the debt is a huge lagging indicator.  Far more significant is the rate of change of the rate of change of debt. By that metric, any fiscal conservative can see on a single chart (that I provide) how they would be insane ever to trust a republican with a burnt match.

Ah, but PrezDon screamed that all favorable statistics under Obama were lies... but now that the momentum on jobs is continuing... it's all real!  

The ultimate answer to government is useless: Evonomics chose my essay as ideal to cap off a tumultuous year, and to welcome one that might be much better. That is, if we choose to remember where all our good stuff came from. It came from a civilization that (once) encouraged negotiation based on facts. One that benefited from educating millions. One that developed the fantastic tool known as science.

One of you wrote in to comment about how intense public reaction stopped Paul Ryan’s reavers from: 1- neutering the Congressional Ethics Office, 2- rushing Trump’s confirmations before ethics reports come in, and 3- canceling the ACA before a new health plan is ready.  Sayeth Stefan: “Calling and emailing your representative and senators WORKS.  You look up their contact information here. 

And if you want to get involved in organized resistance, you read the Indivisible guide and join one of their local groups.”

And yet, while I will write letters and even sometimes march... that is not how we'll win.  It's yummy and satisfying, but only entrenches civil war. This sumo is what they want. It's necessary, but if we only do sumo, we lose.

Victory will only come via Judo.

== The expert on despotism ==

Populism and Totalitarianism: Roger Berkowitz Sheds light on probably the greatest expert on despotic regimes, Hannah Arendt. In her chapter on “The Totalitarian Movement” in The Origins of Totalitarianism, Arendt notes that the leaders of movements are marked by their “extreme contempt for facts as such.” The reason for this contempt for facts is that the world is complicated and uncertain. For the masses of people who are suffering dislocation, instability, and meaninglessness in their lives, “movements conjure up a lying world of consistency which is more adequate to the needs of the human mind than reality itself; in which, through sheer imagination, uprooted masses can feel at home and are spared the never-ending shocks which real life and real experiences deal to human beings and their expectations.”

The great danger in all movements is that they can have no firm goal; as movements, they continually need to stir up their supporters who drive them forward. If any goal is met, a new one must be contrived. So movements are motivated less by a firm end than by a promise to fulfill a deep spiritual need. That is why movements mobilize masses who are longing for a “completely consistent, comprehensible, and predictable world.” There is a “desire to escape from reality because in [the mass of the people’s] essential homelessness they can no longer bear its accidental, incomprehensible aspects…