Sunday, February 26, 2012

Santorum Part III: The ironic winners, if he prevails

Okay, we've had a brief survey of our generation's would-be Nehemiah Scudder. Just last week's short list  of recent "Santor-isms" was enough to give any modern or compassionate or sane person the creepy heebie-jeebies. Do you doubt that I could go on and on? (See Parts One and Two)

Scary?  Sure. Can one envision the outcome, if a guy like this who wants "fire in the sky" and an end to the United States (all of it implicit in his prayed-for Book of Revelation End Times) ever gets his hands on nukes? Does he distill the terrified, future-shocked rage of those imbibing Culture War, making clear that this truly is Phase Three of the American Civil War?

(See  a much more detailed, though somewhat more partisan, litany of Rick Santorum's astonishing views: Agenda for the Dark Ages. I say "more partisan" because my complaints about Rick have very little to do with old-fashioned "left-vs-right.)

"Oh, don't worry," our sincere "moderate Republican" friends tell us.  "Romney will get the nomination. And Mitt doesn't mean all the extremist, red-meat, never compromise, worship the rich crap he has to shout, in order to appease the base and get nominated.  As soon as he clinches it - the very second that he has the nomination locked-up - Mitt will charge for the center as quick as a cat!"

Yep, that is what they are saying. And it's a measure of how deep the moderate GOP "ostriches" have to stick their heads into a pit of rationalizations, that all that sounds like a goooood thing to them.  In my last installment, I explained how they are right about this, because it fits the nominating pattern that the GOP follows perfectly. And it is still depressing as all get out.

But for the moment, let's ponder a different path. What might be some unforeseen consequences if the True Conservative were to come out on top with the GOP nomination, handing it to Honest Rick Santorum.

== There would be silver linings! ==

Well, it could offer hope to guys like me  - (moderates with a strong Adam-Smithian streak, who dream of a return to Yankee-style pragmatic politics) - that a Santorum nomination might be the long awaited Last Straw.

Oh, what if! Suppose those millions of good, decent "ostrich" conservatives are capable - at long last - of recognizing and admitting how thoroughly their once-noble movement has been hijacked by cynical oligarchs and outright crazy-people. If anything could ever achieve that miraculous psychological breakthrough, then putting Santorum at the GOP helm ought to do it. At long last.

Some are calling it the GOP's "McGovern Moment,"   but I look even farther back in time, to 1947, the year that democrats and liberals gathered the courage to separate from their own, in-house crazies. (And the left DOES contain those! In far smaller numbers now, than today's right, but  lefty-loons do exist.) I call it the Miracle of '47. You should look it up.

Oh, but will personality trump common sense yet again?  So far a single mantra has worked for conservative ostriches to keep them allied with monsters -- "Yes, my side has gone nuts, but Democrats are just as bad or worse!"  Will that crazy, fact-free chant finally fall apart? Indeed, maybe those millions will start to remember adults like Buckley and Goldwater and finally decide -- after November's trouncing -- to stand up and retake their movement. Reforging an adult conservatism that America needs, for balance.

From hard experience, I won't hold my breath.

== The real winners in a Santorum nomination? Libertarians! ==

Oh, oh, but the GOP tent holds yet another group that's exercising utter denial. I must now must turn and speak to my poor libertarian friends.

All right, your infatuation with Ron Paul has been fun.  And yes, I find him both admirable in some ways and spot-on when it comes to certain issues. But he has not been good for your movement.
Honestly. Do you expect Paul to change the GOP from within?  Or to affect at all the ongoing oligarchic putsch, combined with bedroom policing "social" hysteria?

The Paul Phenomenon only feeds a loony delusion that the GOP is somehow your "hold the nose" second-best choice. That somehow, in some twilight zone universe, the democrats are... worse?  A crazy idea if you actually list policies that might get negotiated with one major party or the other.

But here's another thing that Libertarians ought to be pondering, right now: If, by some amazing twist, Rick Santorum actually gets the Republican nomination, then this will be the year that the Libertarian Party finally gets more than 1% of the national vote!

In fact, there will be a flood of liberty-minded refugees fleeing to the LP. A tsunami the likes of which you've never seen before. Who knows? If that surge waxed high enough in the polls, the LP candidate might even get in on a debate or two! Hey, it happened for Ross Perot in 92!

Am I off base here?  Just look at how many of Ron Paul's supporters find they cannot stomach anyone else on the GOP side. "While other GOP presidential candidates have seen their fortunes wax and wane with voters, Ron Paul has enjoyed steadfast, if relatively low level, support from an obsessively loyal base of backers. But if his long-shot bid falls short, his supporters may balk at throwing their votes to a rival."  

For that reason, ironically, it seems logical that libertarians in Michigan and Arizona should right now ponder voting Santorum! Forget nostalgia for Ron Paul. That love affair was sweet but it's not gonna change anything if it leads to Romney and another 1% year for the LP. On the other hand, a GOP that finally ends the hypocrisy and confesses what it has become? A GOP that finally drives out freedom lovers?
That could transform everything. I salivate for the day when the Libertarian Party rises to replace the GOP as the main one opposing the democrats, arguing fairly and openly and sagaciously about market solutions as legitimate alternatives to state solutions.  The resulting discussions and arguments will finally contain substance!  They'll be honest. And they won't be about helping return us to feudal dark ages.

Think nationally. Think about the future of liberty-oriented politics.  Ron Paul has had his shot.  Now clear a path for Gary Johnson to actually get somewhere, in the fall.  Hold your nose one last time and vote... (heaven help us)... for Scudder.

== Late Addendum ==

I know this will crush some of my libertarian-romantic friends.  But have you noticed how - in the debates - Ron Paul never takes a swipe at Mitt Romney?  Always, always, he comes out swinging hard at whomever happens to be Romney's top rival of the moment!  This is too consistent for it simply to be explained by "Mitt and Ron are friends."

Now see this analyzed in a very very disturbing article.

Or google "Paul-Mitt Alliance". It seems, my friends, that you may have been sold out.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Santorum Part II: More Choice Samplings of Culture War

Well, he survived the debate and we're all breathlessly awaiting the results from Michigan and Arizona, to see if this marvelous theater will go on.  My own fascination with Rick Santorum is partly rooted in the fell prediction that Papa Robert Heinlein made, in his future history, way back in the 1950s... that a fundamentalist preacher would win the presidency on a court decision, without a plurality (sound like 2000?) and thereupon clamp down a theocracy as "Prophet of the Lord." That character was named Nehemia Scudder and it all happens in 2012.

But in fact, I do not expect Rick to win the nomination, this time around. That is because Republicans always follow a very precise pattern in their nominations.

(1) if there is a recent or sitting Vice President available and running, they always choose him. (In fairness, the dems do that too, almost as consistently.)

(2) If there is no available veep, they then nominate the guy whose "turn it is." The fellow who came in second for the nomination last time.  Reagan in 1980, Dole in '96, McCain in 2008, etc.  Hence, following that rule, it will be Romney in 2012…

...only dig it... that means Santorum in 2016.  Was Heinlein off by only a little bit? I'll conclude this series with a comment on that. Including a prediction for how the GOP base will deal with it when -- the very second after he is nominated -- Mitt Romney instantly charges for the Center as fast as he can.

But first, let's get back to Rick Santorum, the gift that keeps on giving.

 == Rick's Roll Goes On and On... ==

What's he been saying lately?
State and federal governments should not have a role in operating schools

No abortion even in cases of rape or incest. Women should "make the best out of a bad situation."

Birth control is "harmful to women."

The government should ban or refuse to pay even for pre-natal testing.

When Santorum's press secretary, Alice Stewart, called Obama a "radical islamist" to an open mike, was that just an innocent slip of the tongue?  Or an inadvertent, but Freudian-honest rolling-out of what she - and many Santorum supporters - commonly say and believe in private?

And it goes on. Did Rick call Obama Hitler? See how he denies it... then weaves a draw-your-own-conclusions tapestry that inescapably says exactly that.

== "Fairness" is When YOU Want More... ==

"Just like we have certifying organizations that accredit a college, we'll have certifying organizations that will accredit conservative professors. If you are to be eligible for federal funds, you'll have to provide an equal number of conservative professors as liberal professors." See this interview with Santorum.

So, governments should not operate public schools, and big federal interference is bad... but it should hammer down on colleges to force them to hire 50% conservatives?  Wow.  What's the principle here, Rick?  Fairness and equal time?

Hm... then why do the GOP and Fox scream bloody murder over any mention of restoring the old equal time rule in broadcast news?  The notion that the viewers deserve to see and hear rebuttals to outrageously partisan declamations on partisan cable "news" channels?

Why no opposing opinions or rebuttals... at all?  That's the policy on Beck, Limbaugh, Fox&Friends, Hannity and so on.  Only the resident "adult" at Fox, Bill O'Reilly, has the guts to bring on some guests with challenging viewpoints. Rarely. You say it's the same on the Left?  Not.  Jon Stewart has more opposition guests on his one show than the entire Fox network. He treats them courteously and hawks their books. They come back often and eagerly! There's a word for what Stewart does. It is Courage.

And thus, those who do the opposite are cowards.

Heck, I'd settle for a 10% rule, because having tough, smart opposition voices just that often on Fox would demolish their hypnotic trance.  Rupert and Roger desperately fear the day their captive audience might hear alternative viewpoints. Or even -- (shudder) -- facts.

It seems that "equal time" is right and proper, depending entirely on who is getting "equalized."

Oh but I saved the best for last. It is by far the most important aspect to all of this, even though it will strike many of you as troglodytic and obscure.  Because it shows where millions of our neighbors have been wandering, in their minds and in their increasingly fury-drenched attitude towards the rest of us.

== The role of religion: Rallying the faithful... vs the majority ==

Here's the part that Rick Santorum considers paramount. And so we should take his word on that and spare the time to  pay close attention, because the moral and logical essence is astonishing.

Santorum proclaimed that mainstream Protestantism is "gone from the world of Christianity" -- thereby dismissing all of the communions who are members of the National Council of Churches  as heretical, and thus classifying - by inclusion - all Americans who abide by mainstream Protestant sects such as Lutherans, Episcopalians and Methodists. By all means. link to hear his speech laying out how Satan personally seeks to destroy America, and has so far succeeded in corrupting our colleges and our mainstream Protestant churches:

"And so what we saw was this domino effect, once the colleges fell and those who were being educated in our institutions, the next was the church. Now you’d say, ‘wait, the Catholic Church’? No. We all know that this country was founded on a Judeo-Christian ethic but the Judeo-Christian ethic was a Protestant Judeo-Christian ethic. Sure the Catholics had some influence, but this was a Protestant country and the Protestant ethic, mainstream, mainline Protestantism, and of course we look at the shape of mainline Protestantism in this country and it is in shambles, it is gone from the world of Christianity as I see it."

What a guy!  I'd be delighted... at one purely political level... if I weren't also terrified.  This, after all, being the year that Papa Heinlein forecast the election of a radical fundamentalist "prophet of the lord" named Nehemiah Scudder.

Woof.  How do you answer stuff like that? Is the intention of all this to make half of Americans view the other half as purely satanic enemies?  For it is no less than that.  Can the United States of America govern itself when we're no longer arguing over negotiated policy solutions, but over pure and essential damnation?

Before you shrug, consider what this means. These folks try not to say it before an open mike, but their pastors (e.g. of Sarah Palin's church in Wassila) make plain that they both pray for and expect all of the events described in the Book of Revelation (BoR) to befall us in the very near future, and that those who do not hold to their exact doctrines are inherently in for grotesque torment and eternal damnation. (Do, by all means, read Revelation and see what they pray for, including "fire from the sky," lavish agony for the vast majority of us, and an end to all democracy and to the United States of America.)

Many of us were already used to being consigned to that category by the BoR-fetishists. Only now Rick makes it clear -- it includes a majority of his fellow citizens.

But let's return to that bit about Satan personally having it in for the good old USA.  Consider it logically.

Let's suppose that someone, say Satan -- (or else an immensely rich foreign royal family with its eye on ending and replacing Pax Americana) -- did conspire and plot to see the U.S. ruined.  Would the devil -- or those princes -- not want exactly this volcanic fury vented by Rick Santorum and his allies?

Raging, hate-propelled civil war? Demonizing our neighbors over any disagreement? An end to all chance for Americans to negotiate with one another as free minds, willing to learn and adapt in the face of evidence? To make us incapable of negotiating with our neighbors as calm adults.

Wasn't that our strength, the eager optimism of our song?

And who'll be laughing with delight the day that music dies?

==Return to Part 1
or continue to Part 3

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Rick is on a Roll! The Stunning Sincerity of Rick "Nehemiah" Santorum

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum is truly on a roll.  Feeling his oats, he has been laying down a hardcore line. And if this one week is any sample, we are in for one heckuva ride.

He started by impugning President Ombama's religious faith as "phony theology." This is red meat, so central to the party faithful that a surrogate let slip what it really means, into an open microphone -- the "radical muslim" fantasy that they share privately on the bus and plane.

But more on that in another post.

Is Santorum the new "teflon candidate" to whom nothing bad will stick? Let's start with the Phony Theology of environmentalism.

==  Elevating the Earth above People? ==

Now, completing 48 hours of grand assertions, Santorum proclaims that President Barack Obama is beholden to “radical environmentalists” and has a "world view that elevates the earth above man.”

Again and again, we see broad-brush assertions that are immune to testing by facts or experiment of falsification, because by their very essence they are about rhetoric, polemic, the world of subjective rage.

There IS an answer for this latest Santorum salvo.  Alas, it must be in terms that are rhetorical, polemical and subjective.  Yet, the pure truth.

So is it even remotely true that - as Santorum claims - both Obama and the hated/satanic blue half of America elevate the Earth above people?

Wrong.  We elevate our great-grandchildren... and their great-grandchildren... above both short-term ripoff artists and dopes who pray for Armageddon.

Tens and hundreds of billions of people... future people... our descendants.  We want to save a viable planet -- and a viable, vibrantly creative economy and a vigorously scientific civilization -- for them.

When you strip away all the dross and distractions -- like the insipid notion that any of this involves old-fashioned "left-vs-right -- and when you also strip away all the self-hypnosis incantations like "muslim" and "socialism" -- what is left?  What's the essential. core matter before us?

== The divide is not left/right... it is forward vs backward ==

Picture the big-money oligarchs who are stage managing this hysteria, hijacking the once-noble movement of Barry Goldwater...what do they have in common with the ground troops of the GOP, in their steepening spiral of frothing religious hysteria? Very little, except...

...the future.  Neither of them think about it, want it, care about it or believe in it. The populists in America's latest Great Revival think the days of the Late Great Planet Earth are numbered, and they despise those who would tend it with careful attention to distant tomorrows. The oligarchs? If they had horizons extending beyond ten years, they would get rich the way Gates and Buffet do, with goods and services, and with some thought to the long range, as well. In both cases, the agenda is nostalgia.

Oh, I will concede that Newt wants a moon base.  But where else is the extended future - the Long Now - to be found, contemplated anywhere at all on the right?  Barry Goldwater used to think long term. But in those days, 40% of scientists called themselves Republican, instead of 5% today. A migration and exile that says it all.

Read more about how well Rick Santorum channels to the "future shocked" side of America -- our neighbors who want no part of it.

Yes, there are also lefties, who "avatar" tomorrow with gloom.  I have always avowed that there are nut-jobs in that direction, too.  But those flakes are relatively rare and they do not own or operate an entire political party.  They don't have the calamitous misrule of the 2000s decade to atone for. Those lefty flakes are not the same thing as Blue America.

The America that still thinks about posterity -- and yes the posterity of our beloved fellow (red) citizens, as well. All of our descendants who will need a living Earth.

==Continue to Part 2

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Re-inventing the Future--When Incremental Advances aren't Enough

Most of our holidays look backward, honoring past victories, dead presidents or long-standing traditions. How about a day that looks forward, toward thinking creatively about building a better tomorrow? The brand new Future Day (originally proposed by Ben Goertzel at Humanity+) will be March 1. How would you (productively) observe such a day, particularly to inspire the next generation?

Solve for X: Google's new TED-style project aims for technologic 'moonshots’ to develop innovative, far-reaching solutions to the problems of tomorrow, covering topics ranging from transportation to agriculture, genetics to computing.  Google notes: “Moonshots live in the gray area between audacious projects and pure science fiction; they are 10x improvement, not 10%,” because we can't afford to think incrementally...

...for the future is a steamroller bearing down upon us. In Megachange: The World in 2050, Lawrence C. Smith takes at big picture look at the megatrends and forces shaping the civilization’s next forty years. We will need to anticipate the accelerating effects of globalization, climate change, population growth, and increased demands on natural resources, particularly water (which the author calls Blue Oil), which are likely to exacerbate inequalities across the globe.

Looking even further ahead, Deep Future: The Next 100,000 Years of Life on Earth, by Curt Stager, explores the potential long range impact of climate change on our planet. Stager notes, "We face a simple choice in the coming century or so; either we’ll switch to nonfossil fuels as soon as possible, or we’ll burn through our remaining reserves and then be forced to switch later on...We are faced today with the responsibility of determining the climatic future that our descendants will live in."

The future of space exploration is increasingly international—yet the U.S. has backed out of 5 joint projects with the European Space Agency. The 2013 NASA budget slashes planetary science by 20%, with Mars exploration taking a severe hit. (Fortunately, the James Webb Space Telescope avoided the axe.) NASA may abandon the joint NASA-ESA ExoMars missions scheduled for 2016 and 2018, as well as a joint venture to explore the moons of Jupiter. Europe is now courting Russia for the ExoMars mission. We need to show some consistency and commitment to our partners overseas… and how about some commitment to our heirs and descendants? The War on Science has gone too far--if we are to remain a forward looking civilization.

Universities are critical in preparing students for a rapidly changing world, yet undergraduate education has changed little over the last century—large lecture halls, blue books and expensive textbooks still prevail. Lawrence Summers notes that factual mastery, passive learning and individual effort should be of less consequence than analytical, cooperative, cross-disciplinary thinking. In the real world, fields such as science, business and government rely on an ability to collaborate and work together, yet at schools this broaches on ‘cheating.’ A recent study showed that replacing the lecture part of introductory physics with an interactive peer-based seminars increased comprehension by 20%. Moreover, this fits already-embedded American ways of education. In addition, America will need to produce one million additional graduates in math, science and engineering to remain competitive globally, according to a recent report by the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

For too long we have been tolerant of planned obsolescence--for manufacturers know they can sell us a new and improved model in a year or two.  A lovely nugget from Christian Cantrell’s hard SF novel, Containment: He describes the “Nobel Prize winning concept of ‘End of Life Plans’ or ELPs” – instructions included with every single manufactured item, specifying what to do when the item is discarded. With parts no longer tossed in landfills, manufacturers were forced to develop products using recycled/converted components. Anticipating that components would be reused, manufacturers had an incentive to use longer-lasting materials that could be upgraded for next-generation models. Make it so!

More generally, how about an overhaul of our entire trash collection system? One concept straight out of Sci Fi: Pneumatic tubes to whisk away trash. Such a system is already in place in several European cities, as well as Roosevelt Island in New York City, processing nearly 6 tons a day. The upfront costs to develop infrastructure would be substantial, yet there are long term savings in personnel, vehicle and fuel costs, as well as CO2 emissions. It currently takes 6000 heavy garbage trucks rumbling down already over-crowded streets to remove trash from New York City alone (The very model of inefficiency--these trucks get all of 3 miles per gallon!) Such pneumatic systems may be the future of municipal waste collection.

And the future of energy….The United States' first new nuclear power plant in a generation won approval Thursday as federal regulators voted to grant a license for two new reactors in Georgia. Part of the promised “nuclear renaissance” to restart the road to energy independence... though with beefed up standards in the wake of the tsunami-caused problems in Japan. Finally (after 60 years) nukes will be required to have ample cooling liquid available on a purely gravity-supply basis. I mean geez, what’s so hard about that?

What do you get when you cross an accelerator with a nuclear reactor? The Accelerator-Driven Subcritical Reactor (ADSR) would use thorium instead of uranium. It doesn't generate long-lived nuclear wastes and can even consume toxic wastes from traditional nuclear reactors.

==The Possibilities are Endless==

Now and when: some radical notions for the future of Australia. Many of these concepts, presented at the Venice Architecture Biennale, portray Australians moving onto and incorporating the ocean into the urban environment.

One way to build a lunar colony: print structures directly on the moon, using lunar rocks as raw material.

Things we were promised…By 2031 we'll be flying personal blimp-jets.

Six inventors visualize the perfect toy--setting aside concerns over money, safety… and the laws of physics.

Lifebook: a single device that combines every gadget you carry.

Enter the 2012 Create the Future Design Contest – which aims to stimulate engineering innovation in areas such as Sustainable Technologies, Transportation, Electronics and Consumer Products.

==Contacting the Alien: past and future==

An essay in the New York Times asks: "If we made contact, what would we say? What answers would you expect?" A bit simplistic but fun.

Jill Tartar on Big Think: If you were an extraterrestrial looking at Earth, what would you observe?

A thoughtful rumination on the pros and cons of cloning a Neanderthal and bringing the Olde Race back to life... which I portray for you in Existence!

The Onion is nearly always worthwhile.  But this one about patronizing aliens was choice.

And while we’re on the funny-bone... here’s a rather specific “if this goes on” extrapolation that comes as a protest t-shirt. “God hates dolphins who marry chimps!”  Hm... I wonder where they got that idea! In fact... see Gorilla, My Dreams!  About this very topic. 

 ==And Finally==

Time to start pondering where I’ll visit in my coming June book tour for Existence! Want your city to be included?  It will help if I can show the Tor publicity director eager invitations from local media and bookstores... and/or possibly offers of a major talk at a notable university... Give it a little thought... and thanks.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Preserving our right to look back...

Worrisome. A recent article, The War on Cameras, in Reason details police threats, phone confiscations, detentions, felony charges and convictions of citizens for the 'crime' of recording officers on duty. Yet, laws are vague and vary greatly from state to state. The central issue revolves around whether taping police without their consent is a violation of wiretapping statues, and whether police have a reasonable expectation of privacy in public encounters with citizens—or if they are to be held accountable for their actions on the job.

We've discussed this here before.  Yes, a recent Supreme Court case appears to have settled this matter, in principle. The imbalance of power between individual and state is so huge that the citizen must -- must -- retain the one thing that equalizes the playing field somewhat.  The truth.

In practice, this will still be a hard fight.  I tend to worry much less about restricting what the government and other elites can see (how you gonna stop em?) than about preserving our right to look back!

But can we look?  Really?  We have the illusion of choice…but six media giants now control a staggering 90% of what we read, watch or listen to, in the U.S. These companies are: CBS, Viacom, Disney, GE, News Corp (which includes Fox and the Wall Street Journal) and Time Warner (which includes CNN, HBO, Time and Warner Bros). The largest owner of radio stations in the U.S., Clear Channel, operates 1,200 stations, airing shows by the likes of Limbaugh and Hannity, with programs syndicated to more than 5,000 stations. And who owns Clear Channel? Bain Capital purchased Clear Channel shortly before Mitt Romney's 2008 presidential bid.  One clear reason why conservative talk show hosts support Mitt? And weren't we supposed to be more independent and broad in in our access to information, by now?

Well, at least now we know who to blame for what's happened to the History Channel.

A horrifying brain drain. “At some Ivy League schools last year, up to half of the graduates went into finance or consulting, a move that could have a profound effect on the economy in the years to come.”  Crum, any civilization that does this to itself deserves what will happen next. The very brightest, who do NOT fall for this trap will simply leave the country. A genuine “brain drain.” Leaving the finance twits in charge of a society that explores nothing, invents nothing, produces nothing except paper short-term-parasitic profits. Ever hear of the Golgafrinchan B-Ark? Think about it.

Self censorship? Social media giant Twitter announced they would block messages on a country by country basis, to “to withhold content from users in a specific country while making it available to the rest of the world.” This policy will allow Twitter to grow internationally into countries with "different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression", but won’t affect China or Iran where Twitter is already completely blocked.

An unprecedented loss of Arctic sea ice over the last few decades suggests we may soon see an ice-free Arctic summer. But then, as I have linked many times before, the US Navy has long known this and is making major plans. So are the Russians. Maybe THAT will get through to your crazy uncle.

Digital thievery is rampant! Have a look at the precautions that US corporate officers, scientists and government officials have started taking, before getting on a plane to China.  “If a company has significant intellectual property that the Chinese and Russians are interested in, and you go over there with mobile devices, your devices will get penetrated,” said Joel F. Brenner, former counterintelligence specialist. We're not enemies!  But things are passing through a phase where it just makes sense to be careful.  You'll actually get more respect when they know you're smart enough to protect yourself and your endeavors. Seriously, read the description of what a cautious businessman does to stay digitally clean and no bring home spyware.

The media does seem to have a polarizing effect…Would ANY new data make you change your opinions on hot button issues such as the death penalty, abortion, same sex marriage, legalization of marijuana? Or God? Or the fact that US taxes are near a 100 year low? Any data at all? Read about opinions beyond the reach of data.

Cadmium, a carcinogen and neurotoxin, may be as hazardous to children as lead. Current regulations are based on threats to adults; recent studies show possible links with learning disabilities and retardation in children.

== Better Accountability through Visualizing our World==

Shining a light into the darkness: I knew I liked the guy, despite resenting the soul-sold handsomeness... The Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP), begun by George Clooney, is an attempt to use technology to deter civil war and atrocities against citizens in Sudan. SSP combines satellite images and field reports with Google Maps to track movements of troops and displaced people, bombed villages, mass graves and other evidence of large-scale violence, providing public access to updated information on these long-suffering areas.

An ever-reddening glow: NASA video depicts global temperature data over the past 130 years.

Speaking of heating... this map shows hot spots for terrorist attacks within the U.S.--a third of attacks occur in urban areas.

How is water used worldwide? Researchers map a global water footprint detailing water usage. 92% goes to growing food, 40% toward the export of products.

Satellite data reveal the extent of China's air pollution problem--finding dangerous levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5, less than 2.5  microns).

Accountability on a local basis: the energy usage of New York’s buildings, visualized.

When 30,000 square feet isn't enough...aerial views of mega-mansions. Even as the size of the average American house shrinks after peaking during the boom, several of the wealthy are building gigantic homes of 20,000 square feet and more.

==On the Technology Front==
 Virtual devices will read your hand motions and gestures and provide what you want—meaning technology will appear even more like…magic. If you hold up your hand, a map or keypad will appear, for you to retrieve or send data. Sensors on the ceiling will monitor your gestures, and respond.  I portray this in Existence

CleanSpace One, an $11 million “Janitor Satellite” under development in Switzerland, would be the first of a series of craft launched to clear orbital debris, grabbing items with its robotic arm.  Read a better method in chapter one of my next novel.

Patrick Tucker suggests that Artificial Intelligence will be America’s next Big Thing, directing traffic, managing electrical grids and resources, aiding doctors, lawyers and police, analyzing satellite data, optimizing manufacturing and design, developing new medicines and cures, leading to a third Industrial Revolution. Yet, the roboticization of the factory floor will have human costs, as well. See Making it in America in The Atlantic.

Researchers make iron invisible to X-rays, using quantum interference.

==Miscellaneous Fiction/Film==

I'm quoted in this article on Prophets of Science Fiction--about the interplay between science and Sci Fi.

A few sci-fi-ish films from this year's Sundance Film Festival.

Eeeek!  A “re-imagining” remake of the worst sci fi pile of drivel ever made... Space 1999!

Fascinating perspectives from Jonathan Dotse - an IT student, blogger, and science fiction writer based in Accra, Ghana. He discusses the future of African science fiction.

How does Science Fiction influence Public perception of science topics such as Genetic engineering, cloning, nanotechnology? See an article in Biology in Science Fiction.

Glimpse this new Nigerian sci fi film! Kajola.

Seriously? Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. In this movie, that axe isn’t just for chopping down trees… and it looks as if it just might (unbelievably) be worth checking out!

Russian speakers, see a translation of my essay about The Uplift War.

Enough of a coolstuff dump for ya?  Well... the year has just begun…

Final note: I am among those interviewed onscreen for "First Contact" - a show that will appear on the Science Channel on March 13 and March 20.  Very relevant as to whether humanity will get to continue its... existence.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Tax Inequity and the Middle Class -- Top Issue for 2012

In an earlier political posting I pointed out that the top federal income tax rate - for earned income - has seldom been lower than it is right now.. and the rate that Mitt Romney pays on dividends is half of that.  Federal taxes, in general, are at one of the lowest points since 1912... suggesting that our current national argument about taxes ought to at least feature commensurately lower rates of anger.  Sure, let's negotiate how to simplify the system and make it more fair. But can we tone down the rage a little?

(Oh, but indignant fury is the whole point.  If it isn’t taxes, it will be something else.)

Above all, effective tax rates on the very wealthy are at their lowest since Teddy Roosevelt was president.

One response was sent in “That’s federal taxes! But state rates have gone up.”  Well, it’s a point that merits answering. So consider: (1) states vary a great deal, hence you are free to move to a low-tax state and I know many folks who have.  (2) Have a look at the Wiki site for “Tax Freedom Day.”

Tax Freedom Day 1971 to 2011 Source: Tax Foundation
Tax Freedom Day is the first day of the year in which a nation as a whole has theoretically earned enough income to fund its annual tax burden. It is annually calculated in the United States by the Tax Foundation—a Washington, D.C.-based tax research organization that is far, far from lefty, let's say. Every dollar that is officially considered income by the government is counted, and every payment to the government that is officially considered a tax is counted.

Taxes at all levels of government—local, state and federal—are included.  Have a look at the site.  Even taking all state and local taxes into account and averaged, the US falls way toward the bottom of tax rates for industrialized nations.  And at rather low rates compared to American history.

Only now have a look at the deadline for a fix that looms ahead of us in January 2013.  The Bush era tax cuts, that were supposed to result in vanished deficits (via Supply Side magic) have instead simply vanished revenue while inflating asset bubbles and rewarding passive types of parasitic income,  Do, by all means, actually read this article in the New York Times.

“We are at a revenue level that is almost the lowest in 60 years as a share of national income, too low to fund the things that are required,” Mr. Conrad said.

In 2011, federal tax revenue as a percentage of the gross domestic product stood at 15.4 percent, the Congressional Budget Office said in January. That is up slightly from the previous two years, but otherwise is the lowest percentage since 1950. Federal spending last year, at 24.1 percent of gross domestic product, was on a par with 2009, but to see such levels before the recent recession, you have to go back to 1946 and the winding-down of World War II.

...and this, from later in the article:

"The Bush tax cuts, which totaled nearly $2 trillion over their first decade, remain highly controversial. Tax cuts in 2001 lowered income tax rates at all levels, to 35 percent from 39.6 percent for the highest income earners, and to 10 percent from 15 percent for the lowest bracket. They also doubled the size of the child tax credit and made it refundable for the working poor, while phasing out the tax on inherited estates and allowing affluent taxpayers to take more deductions and credits. Even Mr. Hubbard acknowledges that in some ways the cuts made the tax code more complex.
Another round of tax cuts in 2003 reduced most capital gains tax rates to 15 percent from 20 percent, while also taxing dividends at 15 percent. Before, dividends were taxed as ordinary income, meaning a 39.6 percent rate for affluent investors.

Mr. Conrad calls the tax cuts “a profound mistake for the country on almost every level.” Still, 2001 started as a heady year, with the Congressional Budget Office projecting a federal budget surplus for the coming decade totaling $5.6 trillion. Alan Greenspan, then the chairman of the Federal Reserve, worried that the federal debt would be eliminated too quickly, leaving the world with nothing to benchmark interest rates against because Treasury bonds would cease to exist."

Really?  How charmingly naive and quaint.  And dismally stupid and an utter repudiation that such people should ever again be listened-to or allowed anywhere near power.

Read the article... and the suggested "reforms" that are being discussed. I am seriously unimpressed with most of them.  See my own suggestion on how the tax code can inarguably be simplified while avoiding the usual political wrangling. My "no losers" approach separates simplification from tax "policy" or who should pay more!  If we did this first, we'd have a sleek, sensible system in no time, and could then make policy adjustments that made sense.

Oh... but it gets worse, way worse.  See these charts revealing the "knee-capping of the U.S. middle class."  And yes, this will be the issue, for the rest of 2012.  Above all, as I suggested last time, use all this as a basis for making real-money wagers with your tea party uncles.  But get them to write it down, first.

== Ultrafast Stock Trading ==

Following up another past-posting, where I touted a Transaction Fee as a way to let humans regain some footing in stock market trading... here’s a relevant recent study. “

Ultrafast Trades Trigger Black Swan Events Every Day, say Econophysicists. The US financial markets have suffered over 18,000 extreme price changes caused by ultrafast trading, according to a new study of market data between 2006 and 2011“

But nothing will convince the mutants of the City and Wall Street. Listen to these religious fanatics spouting fervent and totally un-based incantations about "market efficiency" and "hyper-liquidity" and denouncing "friction"...  then look at the bitter fruit of their tenure at the helm of our economy.  They are mad.  Eloquent!  But loony priesthoods often are. In fact, they are out of their cotton pickin' minds... and sucking at our necks like lampreys. They are the worst enemies of true capitalism.

==  Political Miscellany ==

An interesting... pessimistic... interpretation of why Americans are using a whole lot less gasoline than they used to.

But let's finish with some optimism! My friend Peter Diamandis has an essay in Forbes, foretelling that science, entrepreneurial markets, innovation, startups, amateur enterprise and stunning breakthroughs in technology may soon unleash a tsunami of Abundance on the world, erasing poverty and helping to heal the planet, too!  Peter discusses why we are biologically programmed to view the world through a filter of anxiety, when, in fact:

"What does the world really look like? Turns out it’s not the nightmare most suspect. Violence is at an alltime low, personal freedom at a historic high. During the past century child mortality decreased by 90%, while average human life span increased by 100%. Food is cheaper and more plentiful than ever (groceries cost 13 times less today than in 1870). Poverty has declined more in the past 50 years than the previous 500. In fact, adjusted for inflation, incomes have tripled in the past 50 years. Even Americans living under the poverty line today have access to a telephone, toilet, television, running water, air-conditioning and a car. Go back 150 years and the richest robber barons could have never dreamed of such wealth."

Peter goes on to describe tech wonders looming on the horizon.  I make many of them vivid in Existence (coming in June.) But I think he leaves out one reason for our frenzied waves of anger and fear, nowadays... because rage feels great!  Sanctimony and Self-righteousness are drug highs. They can have their uses.  But when they prevent our fellow citizens from even detecting good news? Or worse, when they turn our neighbors into active obstacles to progress?  Then these sick habits are worse than heroin.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Are Taxes Historically High or Low? Chilling Secrecy, Clint Eastwood and the Rise of Common Sense

Okay, so it's 2012 and you can expect a regular rhythm of postings that are... well... political.


To listen to Republicans, you would think we have the most oppressive tax rates ever, with the federal government hogging ever larger portions of the national economy.  Ever hear of Orwellian anti-truth?  That is where you repeat the exact opposite of the truth and people start believing it.

Top Federal Marginal Income Tax Rate from 1913 to 2011
But drop by and look at the actual facts. See this compilation of income tax rates.. Tax rates are at historic lows. And  this is for earned income. Rates for dividends and capital gains are even lower - by half - than what you see in the figure!

In the 99 years that we have had the income tax, rates for top earners were lower than they are today only twice: 

1)  during the 5 years before the US entry into the First World War in 1917, and

2) during the brief stretch from 1925 through 1930... when a massive asset value bubble pumped the economy into the Great Depression.

Also note this. They are LOWER for the middle class, under Obama, than they were under Bush. The "Obama tax hikes" are purely mythical.

That’s it. Today’s top rates are currently lower than at any time since 1930... and ironically that includes half of the HOOVER Administration preceding FDR. In other words, the hiking upward was first done by the same 1930 Republican Congress that brought us the Smoot-Hawley Tariffs!

Just to make this clear, so you rub it in your crazy-as-Fox uncle, income tax rates are lower than at any time in 80 years.
The other big fact is the fraction of U.S. national GDP taken by the federal government.  Fox’s uncles swear that this is at an all-time high. In fact, the federal share of GDP is at its lowest since 1950.

Be entrepreneurial.  Make Adam Smith proud and use all this to make money. Seriously. Lure your nearest Tea Partier to make grand declarations about the oppressiveness of recent tax rates and the growing federal share of the economy and then demand a wager!  Only... get it in writing.

== Chilling Effects ==

What exactly are your online rights? What protections are offered under the First Amendment and intellectual property laws? Here are details expanding on last time:  Chilling Effects offers an extensive database of info about copyright and trademark infringement, fan fiction, cease and desist notices, issues of anonymity and freedom of expression. A joint project of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Law Schools at Harvard, Stanford, ...Berkeley and the George Washington School of Law, Chilling Effects is a first stop to determine your legal rights in the on hot issues in the ever-evolving online world. 

I’ve been known to differ over matters of emphasis with my friends at EFF. I am far less worried about what governments and the mighty “see” about me -- and history shows little hope of stopping them -- while I am more vexed and angry over government and the mighty hiding from citizen supervision. Still this is a good and important move and I am glad these folks are doing things like this!

9780199890262_p0_v2_s260x420Most civil servants... and even a lot of politicians... are sincere. They believe they are protecting us and/or defending freedom. The problem (for now) is that they can be counted on - via human nature - to have the inherent reflex of rationalizing how they must wield power for the greater good and must evade (some) accountability of the kind that might hamper them in doing their jobs.

1) They (and we) must be convinced that what's important is to defend and promote... the secular trend toward a more open world. The reason is clear and it goes beyond mere "goodness" of openness. It is the simple fact that our type of society is invigorated by the effects of transparency (though individual leaders are often severely inconvenienced) while all the cultures that oppose our way suffer from severe-to-lethal damage when washed in light. That is too great an advantage to ignore, even if you are a realpolitik-cynic.

2) Given that this secular trend is essential... and that human nature works against it... are there forms of sousveillance - or shining light upward - that can be applied to our own elites that will still leave them unimpeded in the practical fulfilling of their duties? Short term tactical secrecy is still vital for the effectiveness of military, police and Homeland Security functions, among others.
In EARTH I portray the legal sequestration of information being limited to short, 5 year terms unless a longer term is purchased at considerable dollar cost. In other words, there is a built-in bite and disincentive to claiming longer periods of secrecy, and with most secrets kept at the shorter, 5 year term, you have a reflex to say "I'd better behave generally well... or at least well enough to be forgiven... since this will all come out."

3) As it happens, there are some lovely potential innovations that could increase our confidence in supervision while ensuring minimal interference in day-to-day operations. I talk about some of them elsewhere

== Clint Eastwood... Democrat? Or American? ==

Has there begun a jobs renaissance in America, especially in manufacturing?  There are definite signs of “in-sourcing” taking place.

Oh but that segues into Clint Eastwood's Superbowl Chrysler commercial... and the subsequent Republican fire storm against him, by Karl Rove and others, for daring to suggest that the "bailout" of Detroit was actually a resounding success. 

Rove sniped "... Chicago-style politics, and the President of the United States and his political minions are, in essence, using our tax dollars to buy corporate advertising and the best-wishes of the management which is benefited by getting a bunch of our money that they'll never pay back."

Say what? Except that we're getting every single penny back. Plus many millions more in taxes on now-profitable American companies that Rove and his ilk wanted to let go belly up? (After they did urge much bigger bailouts for their Wall Street friends.) Refusal to admit that the automaker loans were anything other than a towering, spectacular, 200% success is the act of a deranged mind.

Oh... BTW. Clint has said "I don't recall ever voting for a democrat." If a man like that has switched sides, it is because he has sanely realized that the GOP has "left him."

== Some Fascinating Political Miscellany ==

LARGE_book_after_music_stoppedHere's a fascinating one: "The lesson of the Great Crash was that unequal enrichment provokes asset bubbles, excessive demand for debt and, finally, economic failure. Now we are painfully learning that again."  Read the whole article by Stewart Lansley.  But a key point.  The massive wealth that has been redistributed upward to a thousand or so billionaires and top corporations is not generating jobs or economic activity at anywhere near the same pace as the same wealth would have, if it remained with the middle class. Those “job creators are mostly sitting on mountains of cash.  Banks, flush with reserves, are lending very little. Cash-rich companies are neither building productive capital (supply-side’s justification) nor doing much hiring.

Sign the petition offered by Senator Bernie Sanders, for a Constitutional Amendment that declares that Corporations are not the same as people and can be regulated by Congress and the States.  I also recommend Kent Pitman’s blog on this topic.  

On the lighter side.... In New Hampshire there was an event carried on C-Span... the "lesser candidates' forum" featuring 13 Democrats running against President Obama (all it takes is $1000 in NH) and 25 or so lesser known Republicans. See an article... but it pales next to the videos, including one of the "very silly party" candidate wearing a boot on his head, named "Vermin" who promises every American a pony.

Look at how a transparency (and tech-empowered) citizen hero caught villains with his flying drone. Snapping aerial photos of an illegal river of blood pouring from a slaughterhouse into a river.   Exactly what I spoke of in The Transparent Society  and especially the citizen action smart mobs I portray in my next novel!  

Recall my earlier blog urging the establishment -- or rather RE-establishment -- of the 90 year old transaction fee for financial trades?  At 0.1% per trade, this would scarcely be noticed by you or I, but would lessen the huge advantage grabbed by giant Wall Street houses through massive computerized trading systems.  Well, things are moving fast.  The French are now siding with the Germans in enacting such a fee.  The British conservative government, protecting the “City” bankers who got western civilization into this fine mess, are balking hard.

Okay, I admit this is beneath me.  But does anyone remember the 1971 creepy rat movie “Willard”... or the even-creepier 2003 remake with Crispin Glover? Okay, so, now we’re supposed to elect a guy named Willard to be President?  Okay, I admit “Obama” was creepy too, in the context of 9/11.  So what does it all mean?  That “fate” is giggling and poking at us from behind the curtain? It gets weirder. But enough about that.

An interesting - if biased in-favor - article about President Obama does clarify matters as to whether he has either been a “socialist” or “betrayed liberals.” 

And again.... Nehemia Scudder supporters! Order your bumper sticker!  Seriously, get people talking. It is a meme worth spreading. 

== Finally... housekeeping ==

A quick check.  Folks have lately reported problems receiving RSS feed from this web-log. If you feel that’s been the case, go ahead and leaf through the last few entries to see what you’ve missed.  If you fall into that category... but the problem has been fixed, feel free to let me know (or that there’s still a problem) by making a comment, below.

==For more on the Economy: Past, Present and Future