Thursday, October 26, 2017

Saving democracy - why the Democrats are failing

First, some support for my proposal to remove at least one motive from mass shooters. 

The “Erastratos Effect” – which I’ve described after most mass shootings and most recently here -- is where villains - often heinous criminal-creeps - are often motivated by a desperate need for infamy, seeking immortality through destruction. I’ve elsewhere described how the ancients dealt with this driver of heinous crimes.

Now parents of one of the Aurora victims are pushing this concept. Through No Notoriety, they advocate for members of the media to only use the killer’s name once; don’t publish aggrandizing photos of the shooter. The FBI, in 2014, launched a tentative Don’t Name Them campaign.   

== Calling the colonels? Why I am finally in despair ==

I've been shouting for years that both moderate conservatives and pragmatic Democrats should be seeking out military retirees. I've seen rock-ribbed NRA types - who have never listened to a Democrat in their lives - stop and hear-out a retired colonel who appeals to them to heed actual facts. Anyway, defending all those seats will bankrupt the Kochs and Murdoch and the Mercers. (See details here: A Time for Colonels.)

And hence… I am devastated. According to this article, Democrats have recruited 20 retired military officers to run for office, as if that's a lot. It should be 2000!  Enough to contest every "red-safe" state assembly district, even in deep-red Alabama. If this is all there is, then we are royally screwed. The confederates may survive and kill America.

Praying that article mis-stated the number by an order of magnitude, shall I see the following as sign for hope?  Is there an insidious political side to this sudden recall to active duty of thousands of retired military officers? I have no clear facts. Hence we must take the services at their word, that they're doing this because of urgent staffing shortages. Still, look carefully, folks out there! Might the call-ups lean hard on retired officers who were thinking about running for office? Perhaps as Republicans in primaries? Or as Democrats, challenging confederates in "safe" GOP districts?

And hence I have to ask: has anyone else connected these two dots? If the call-ups have any bias to them, that political-cheating "straw" could break this camel's back.

A scary alternative hypothesis, that I deem plausible, alas. These officers are being called up in preparation for war. 

== Attacking (and saving) democracy at its roots ==

Reacting in large part to Russian efforts to hack the presidential election last year, a growing number of states are upgrading electoral databases and voting machines. The plans — from both Democrats and Republicans — amount to the largest overhaul of the nation’s voting infrastructure since 2000. Example: Delaware is moving its voter-registration list off the state’s aging mainframe computer and preparing to replace a 21-year-old electronic voting system that does not leave a paper record of votes to be audited. Federal intelligence and security officials were so shaken by Russian attempts to compromise the vote that the Department of Homeland Security designated election systems a critical national infrastructure, like banking and the electrical grid, that merit special protection. 

The scope of the threat was underscored on Tuesday when a new report concluded not only that widely used voting systems can be breached by hackers — sometimes with almost trivial ease — but that they contain components manufactured in nations like China with a clear interest in undermining American democracy.”

The new guidelines for manufacturers of voting equipment — reduced to five pages from more than 200 — include for the first time principles as basic as a requirement that voting devices produce written records that can be verified, and that software or hardware errors cannot lead to undetectable changes in tallies.”  Virginia scrapped thousands of paperless voting machines in 2015 after discovering that even an amateur hacker could easily and secretly change vote tallies.

Oh but we know they are cheaters. They cannot win except by cheats that range from treasonous-foul gerrymandering to "losing thousands of voter registrations always a week or two before an election, to rigged voting machines, to voter suppression... and now this: "A computer server crucial to a lawsuit against Georgia election officials was quietly wiped clean by its custodians just after the suit was filed, The Associated Press has learned. The server’s data was destroyed July 7 by technicians at the Center for Elections Systems at Kennesaw State University, which runs the state’s election system."

Hey cheaters, be proud... but where do you think this will all lead, when we finally get fed up?

But read about the one political office that is most filled with outright traitors, in the U.S. In most states, the Secretary of State is responsible for managing elections and voter rolls. One of our political parties has given top priority to filling this one office with skilled and relentless cheaters. 

And I reiterate... this solution to gerrymandering avoids all the excuses offered by Anthony Kennedy, last time that he wriggled out of helping to end gerrymandering. It preserves state and legislature sovereignty. It is clear, enforceable, palliative and not at all onerous. And I promise you'll have seen it nowhere else!

== Stop yammering “impeachment” impatient fools ==

In a previous blog, I dissected why dealing with a president and VP who are both mad, in different ways, will require finesse.  Finesse that I see nowhere among Democrats, liberals and so on.

For example, what stunning foolishness, mistaking the symptom for the disease, Larry Flynt offers $10 million for whomever can provide dirt sufficient to impeach Donald Trump. Argh. Alas, this would just replace an emasculated buffoon, whose every action is transparent and whose administration leaks like a sieve, with a Pence White House that will be filled with fervent apocalypse-seekers and iron discipline.

Seriously, study Mike Pence. I earlier called him Trump’s impeachment insurance for a reason.

Look, I am in favor of accumulating evidence to discredit the madness, but focus on the Murdoch-Mercer-Breitbart-Fox- disease! Not the gyrating but self-limiting Trump symptom!  See where I eviscerate the "impeach" idiocy.

Mind you, Mr. Flynt, I am in favor of rich folks offering whistle-blower rewards!  See The Transparent Society where I touted this 20 years ago and yearly, since. But try having the patience of a homo sapiens, instead of an angry tree shrew.

== Criminal betrayal of market enterprise… even capitalism… by its supposed defenders ==

I have very mixed feelings about Ralph Nader, who bears partial responsibility for the catastrophes that have wrecked American politics since the 2000 election. But he is also a very sharp critic. And he is right to focus (at the Evonomics site) on the biggest monster of economic waste, far exceeding all the inefficiencies of government — over $7 trillion of dictated stock buybacks since 2003 by the self-enriching CEOs of large corporations. 

A crime and cheat as blatant as gerrymandering, stock buybacks let CEOs trivially meet the milestones for their stock price based vampire compensation packages given them by other CEO golf buddies, who they select for their own company’s board. This incestuously self-serving cartel “picks winners and losers” far more secretively and corruptly than any of the civil servants who are maligned by right wing propaganda.

As Nader puts it, “due to the malicious, toady SEC “business judgment” rule, CEOs can take trillions of dollars away from productive pursuits without even having to ask the companies’ owners—the shareholders—for approval.”  And note that it is one more example where the “supply side” caste has proved that they have zero interest in investing in productive capacity, R&D, new products or any other aspect of “supply.”

“Companies with excessive stock buybacks experience a declining market value. IBM, since 2005 has spent $125 billion on buybacks while laying off large numbers of workers and investing only $69.9 billion in R&D. IBM is widely viewed as a declining company…. General Electric, in the same period spent $114.6 billion on its own stock only to see its stock price steadily decline in a bull market. JC Penny and Macy’s spent more in stock buybacks than their businesses are currently worth in market value.”

Those who bucked this trend have done far better. Interestingly, the listed corporations are known for tech innovation.  And most of their CEOs are known to be either libertarians or democrats.  Almost no republicans among them. Nader adds:  “The corporate giants are also demanding that Congress allow the repatriation of about $2.5 trillion stashed abroad without paying more than 5% tax. They say the money would be used to grow the economy and create jobs. Last time CEOs promised this result in 2004, Congress approved, and then was double-crossed. The companies spent the bulk on stock buybacks, their own pay raises and some dividend increases.”

Mind you, were the GOP to insist that all repatriated funds be spent directly on R&D or jobs, the resulting boom could save the Republican Party from what’s coming, otherwise.  It won’t happen. Because the vampire urge is far stronger than long term self-interest.

Read this. Only then remember. Nader’s often right… and has proved himself not to always be our friend.

For someone more consistently on target, see billionaire Nick Hanauer eviscerate the CEO caste for using the stock buy-back cheat to wreck our future and line their own pockets. 

Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has been hammering on a devastating critique of the role that lack of enforcement of anti-monopoly laws have had on the poor performance of the American economy and the declining share of income to labor that is also a critical piece of how the neo-feudalists are seeking to entrench their power over our society while sapping innovation and vitality out of our economy.


Frederick Ellrod said...

In addition to stock buybacks, don't forget buying out competitors and other mergers. Consolidation not only reduces the number of competitors, but also wastes money unproductively.

Michael Bryan said...

Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has been hammering on a devastating critique of the role that lack of enforcement of anti-monopoly laws have had on the poor performance of the American economy and the declining share of income to labor that is also a critical piece of how the neo-feudalists are seeking to entrench their power over our society while sapping innovation and vitality out of our economy.

Alfred Differ said...

hmpf. So we have a definition for waste now? What is it?

Tim H. said...

Alfred, that looks like an exercise for the reader.
From the previous thread, I have little faith in the market, what I have is confidence that we have a market-like entity largely populated by people diligently working to reduce their exposure to competition, who put their interests ahead of the stockholders and the customers. A market that works well without regulation is as likely to occur as trickle down economics is to work as advertised. Now combine market with government, there's potential for something good.

LarryHart said...

Paul Krugman:

What this means is that around 35 percent of a tax cut from an administration that proudly uses the slogan “America first” — $700 billion over the next decade — wouldn’t even go to Americans. Instead, it would be a windfall to wealthy foreigners, who would probably gain a lot more from the tax cut than U.S. workers. Oh, and it makes all that talk about allies not paying their “fair share” sound kind of silly, doesn’t it?

So the Republicans are doing the exact opposite of that Monty Python gag, giving a tax break to foreigners living abroad?


donzelion said...

re stock buybacks and international taxation

Activists, like Nader, are interested in setting terms of debate to focus on greed, shortsightedness, etc. - using terms not unlike Trump's own to appeal to the 'critical but ignorant' the Left that will finance his next misguided crusades. Doing so garners him the finance he needs to raise shareholder derivative claims for his own line of plaintiff lawyers. It will not fix the underlying problem at all.

He raises the the traditional question here -

"[W]hy don’t the corporate bosses simply give more dividends to shareholders instead of buybacks, since a steady high dividend yield usually protects the price of the shares?"

-but to the extent he concludes it's greedy parasitism, he's reached the wrong answer.

Paying out dividends to American shareholders requires repatriating funds to America, which requires subjecting foreign earnings to American income taxes. Same would apply to any other expenditure by an American parent company on any activities in America - cash earned abroad by a non-U.S. person is completely free of U.S. taxes unless/until that cash is repatriated.

Share buybacks (from a foreign subsidiary of a U.S. parent) are one of the more tax efficient means of repatriating 'foreign earnings' which are otherwise not subject to American taxes. If a foreign sub buys shares in an American parent, that purchase is not 'income' for the American parent; only capital gains fall within the tax code. It's less about 'greed' - more simple tax efficiency.

The parasitism in this system, if any, comes from the Hedge Funds when they finance transactions (for a fee) which, in effect, enable parent companies to make use of their 'foreign earnings' without repatriating them - in effect, 'virtually' repatriating them, but never converting them into U.S. taxable income.

More nuanced understandings (Obama, the Clintons, and their insider set) focus on international treaties and mechanisms - because ultimately, that's the only way to harmonize and disrupt the incentives making this system operate. Transparency on that level COULD reduce the tax benefits of the basic structure. But few care to look at complex realities when they have simplistic moralizing alternatives on offer.

Hans said...

I'll just leave this here:

If anyone is interested in supporting Mr. Brin's suggestion.

David Brin said...

Hans thanks and I will publicize!
Donzelion, that was unusually cogent and I believe you , that that is the rationalization offered by CEOs for the tsunami of buy backs...

...that just happen also to inflate stock prices JUST in time to meet the CEOs' option bonus thresholds, letting them claw hundreds of millions in compensation, while reducing the overall value of the company by billions.

You forget to mention that the amounts spent on this vastly overshadow amounts spent on R&D and productive capacity, even in tech giants like GE. So yes, thanks for that. It was instructive. And it does not matter. This is an evil done to us by a caste that is vastly more damaging to healthy capitalism than any combination of bureaucrats.

Alfred Differ said...

@David | vastly overshadow amounts spent on R&D and productive capacity

I'm not sure I have an issue with them under-spending on R&D if they use the money instead to acquire the more nimble, entrepreneurial operations. I like the idea that investors in small start-ups have an exit strategy that involves being purchased. That enables a model where entrepreneurs take over R&D functions for companies too calcified to manage it themselves.

Look at one of Intel's most recent acquisitions for example. I was watching their CFO today explain that they think the equipment we are putting into cars to make them drive themselves (someday) will be a bigger market for them than PC's were. They purchased their way into that market, so the R&D that had to be done earlier obviously occurred outside their corporate culture. I don't know Intel's culture, but being able to purchase results from other experiments in culture is necessary for our future.

I'm not ignoring your concern about golf buddies choosing what is best for themselves. It's just that I'm not convinced a low R&D budget is a good way to describe your concerns. M&A budgets make up for it in some ways.

donzelion said...

Dr. Brin: "This is an evil done to us by a caste that is vastly more damaging to healthy capitalism than any combination of bureaucrats."

A caste that is better understood by referring to their actual behavior, rather than leaping to (fanciful) guesses about good and evil.

Apple committed at least 4x as much to share buybacks as it did to R&D from 2013-2017 (approximately $175 bn, against an R&D budget under $40bn). Facebook? Their first purchase was announced Nov. 2016; it was larger than their R&D budget as well. Google? $7bn in 2016, $5bn in 2015 ($12 bn, about 50% more than their total R&D budget during the period, and they are relative giants in R&D). Amazon? They have a $5bn repurchase program in place, but does not appear to actually be allocating the cash.

Labeling Amazon as 'good' and Apple/Google 'evil' based on this criteria is both silly and ignorant.

Tim H. said...
And in time for Halloween!

TCB said...

Ah, this might be a good time for my elevator speech on Waste versus Efficiency. We always hear people decry Waste, and insist that it must be reduced to zero, and we all seem to assume that we agree on what Waste is, and what it is not. Let me offer a way to think about Waste.

Consider an incandescent light bulb. Googling heat waste, the first result has this to say: Who says incandescent bulbs have to waste energy: MIT design is more efficient than LEDs (...)Though incandescent light bulbs have been used to light homes for more than a hundreds years, and still do so in most of the world, these are ridiculously inefficient.

Incandescent bulbs emit 90% of their energy usage as heat. Fluorescents emit about 30% 'waste' heat.

So if you want to generate light and don't need heat, the old-style bulb is wasteful. But if you are setting up an incubator for chicks and eggs, that 'waste' heat is not waste at all. It's the reason you're not using an LED!

So, what is Waste? It's whatever result from any process that diverges from Efficiency, which is the result you seek and measure. And this is decided not by some universal constant but by the intent of the user doing the measuring.

This is why stock buybacks are Waste for the sort of purposes Dr. Brin and many of us might support, but they are not Waste if you're a CEO with a bank account to line.

Conversely, "Labor Costs" are considered waste by management running a corporation for profit, but to the workers they are most assuredly NOT waste! They are bread and butter. Which is wasteful: no-bid Pentagon contracts and taxpayer-funded sports stadiums, or food stamps and single-payer health care? Again, it depends on who's asking. To the oligarchs, a dime landing in a pauper's pocket is a greater crime against Efficiency than a square mile of national forest logged to the bare bones by a for-profit Wall Street enterprise.

So: whenever you hear something being described as Wasteful or Efficient, take a moment to consider who is making that judgement and whether they are measuring the same thing you would want to measure.

Paul SB said...


I pretty much share your view of unregulated markets, but want to point something out:

"A market that works well without regulation is as likely to occur as trickle down economics is to work as advertised. Now combine market with government, there's potential for something good."
- Yes, there is potential for something good, but there is also potential for something evil. We are seeing a lot more of the evil these days than the good - Shrub Jr. provoking a war that killed thousands of our people, over a million people in Iraq, and provoked the rise of multiple deadly terrorist organizations so he could raise the value of his stock portfolio is just one example. We could write volumes about the crimes against humanity being committed by President Grope and his gang of thieves. And while the Other Side tends to be less corrupt, they sure as hell have failed to avoid the appearance of corruption to make them a less than enthusiastic rally point against the Moguls.A key factor here is belief, on a huge, social scale. If people perceive the government to be hopelessly corrupt, then their tendency will be to favor smaller, less powerful government, that does less to regulate business. That is, of course, what the 0.01% want, so they can make foolish decisions with their too-big-to-fail businesses and not suffer any consequences. The Market might punish business inefficiency, but not before the executives running those businesses can bail out with their golden parachutes and go saprolite on some other business venture. In the meantime, government provides a huge customer base for non-bid contracts in all sorts of arenas. It's actually in the interests of the corporate caste to keep government in place because they can corrupt it and twist it to their advantage fairly easily when society is cynical.


"It's less about 'greed' - more simple tax efficiency" and "A caste that is better understood by referring to their actual behavior, rather than leaping to (fanciful) guesses about good and evil."
- It sounds a little bit like splitting hairs. 'Tax efficiency' is just a euphemistic way of saying clinging to as much money as possible and trying to pay as little as possible to support the society that allowed you to become spectacularly wealthy. Good and evil, of course, are always relative terms. What is good for the 0.001% of rich golf buddies is evil for around 60% of the rest of the people. Talk about choosing winners and losers! Most civilizations consider greed to fall into the category of evil - it's one of the Seven Deadly Sins in the Western tradition - but it's amazing how easily the memes and tropes can be twisted to the advantage of the greedy, especially when they have control of so many of the levels of discourse/propaganda.

Paul SB said...


I would say that your perspective here is refreshing and smart, except that it's one of those "no-duhs" that is so no-duh no one seems to notice it. That is, people tend to skip right over the assumptions about what constitutes good and evil from different perspectives because they assume that their perspective is what matters. Smarter people will either take the "do the minimum harm" perspective and assume that what benefits the most people/hurts the least people is what is good, while the smarter among the elites will assume the opposite - that because they are better people than all those hoi polloi unwashed masses whatever benefits them and hurts the majority is good. Phrasing it as waste and efficiency doesn't change the good/evil aspects, because waste is always assumed to be bad and efficiency good. Unfortunately, there is another bifurcation between the business elite and the masses where these assumptions are concerned. That is interns of what is considered wasteful and efficient. Managerial types tend to want to look at "the bottom line" by which they mean simple, easy-to-grasp money. But many of the masses recognize that people are more than just producing and consuming machines (to borrow a phrase from Robert Heinlein). What is efficient from a "bottom line" view is actually very simplistic and can run businesses slowly into the ground, because they treat both their workers and customers as inhuman, a practice that slowly builds resentment and resistance.

Keep pointing out these "no-duhs" whenever you can. Remember what Aldous Huxley said when he read "The Origin of Species" for the first time? "It's so simple! Why didn't I think of it myself?"

Tim H. said...

Paul SB, to clarify my point, when markets serve us, they're great, no purely socialist system can compete. When we serve markets, it would be difficult to imagine worse. Another angle on regulation, done well, it can save the market in the long term, from the cumulative effect of decisions that pay off this quarter, but in the long run reduce the spending power of their customers. There's enough overlap between employees and customers that they should be considered one group, even if your employees have no use for your product, they will spend at your customer's business.

Joel Greenwood said...

donzelion and TCB both reset my thinking framework for things I see very day.

In Canada we won't have cashiers any more. Every grocery store is half self checkout. Same with McDonald's. CEOs are eliminating "waste" at a record rate. Amazon is even further along shipping coffee and cat food to me on an automated schedule.

In terms of tax efficiency then, buybacks are the perfect efficiency machine. Parent issues shares for money tax free, subsidiary buys them for other cash. No repatriation required.

Moralizing on the practice won't change anything. Corporation rule changes might.

LarryHart said...

Joel Greenwood:

Moralizing on the practice won't change anything. Corporation rule changes might.

Is it time to drag out the conversation about the "Three Laws of Corporatics" again?

LarryHart said...


I have no idea whose blog this is, but back in 2008 (man, am I getting old!), he name-checked my "Three Laws of Corporatics" and is (or at least was) obviously a follower of this site.

It's a new year, what is your proposed self-improvement plan this time around, if you have a new one?

In homage to Asimov's 3 Laws of Robotics, Larry Hart’s “Three Laws of Corporatics”:

- "First Law: A corporation may not impose externalities on the outside world without fairly negotiated and sufficient compensation and/or restitution to those harmed.

- Second Law: A corporation must fulfill its chartered and openly vetted mission statement to the extent that doing so does not conflict with the First Law.

- Third Law: A corporation must maintain its ability to continue functioning to the extent that doing so does not conflict with the First and Second Laws."

As I said back then, the "Laws" were works in progress as far as the actual details went, but in a very general sense, what I was going for was:

1) Don't make us sorry we chartered you.
2) Do what we chartered you for.
3) Be viable.

In my dream world, states and nationalities and (eventually) international law would be written as to deem the Three Laws to be implicit in any corporate charter.

LarryHart said...

...Oh, and another thing is that the order of the Three Laws is just as important as anything else.

That "Third Law" could be construed to imply "maximize profit", and I don't have a problem with that, but the "to the extent that doing so does not conflict with the First and Second Laws" part has to be observed as well.

Paul SB said...


I understand your point. I have made it myself, and so has our host. I was just pointing out that even checks and balances - basically what government is supposed to be on business - is no panacea.

Where I differ is that I am more favorably inclined toward socialism than most Americans, and likely for different reasons. Yes, free markets out compete everything else, and yes, competition can be incredibly productive. But every civilization that ever collapsed fell because of the very thing that caused its rise. Forces that cause growth have to kept in check or they outgrow their ecosystem and collapse. Alfred likes to talk about evolutionary models, they don't work so well for a couple reasons that should be obvious if you understand them. Economic theories all presuppose that constant growth is a necessary and desirable thing. This is progress in economic terms. But there is no assumption of progress in evolution. Evolution is change in response to the combination of mutation and environmental change. Progress is a human concept that does not have much meaning in natural systems. To take TCB's point, what seems like progress to us may be regress to some other species. Sixth Extinction comes to mind. In evolutionary terms, success is not "progress" it's survival. A species is successful if it can last for tens of millions of years without having to change very much. By that standards hominids aren't doing so well, and have been easily bested by roaches and horseshoe crabs.

Another important fact is that evolution tends to lead to specialization, not progress. And specialization is great, it can be mistaken for progress, because species become better and better at surviving in their little microclimates, in whatever ecological niche they have squeezed into. But as soon as the climate changes, a new predator moves in, a volcano dumps ash over your habitat or whatever, the most highly specialized species go belly up. The survivors - like roaches - are usually scavengers and generalists.

What does this have to do with capitalism and socialism? Capitalism is on the road to overspecialization. Everything ends up being about "the bottom line" and huge aspects of life get shoved aside in the desperate pursuit of money. The value system in socialism is less about money and more about survival. In socialist countries people bitch about the taxes all the time, until they get hurt and need serious medical attention, or get laid off by the high-t aggressors of the business world. In short, capitalism is a system poised to snuff itself out. it might take another few hundred years, but unless we are converted into emotionless cyborgs, it's not sustainable for the long haul. If all the word follow America's footsteps, the species is doomed.

donzelion said...

Paul SB: "It sounds a little bit like splitting hairs."

Perhaps. To me, attributing claims of good and evil - especially after egregiously misconstruing facts used to reach those judgments (e.g., the simply erroneous claim that tech firms do not play the share buyback game) is 'splitting hairs': either we make judgments AFTER conducting thorough investigation (and then strive to limit our judgments as best we may, and focus instead on understanding first), or we judge erroneously.

Apple is the largest buyer of its own shares today, by significant margins. Our host proposes that this is a symptom of feudalistic intent; I disagree (and try my best to be civil, whereas he feels no such need - it is his board, after all).

Our host cites a report that claims such conduct is suicidal and stupid (at least when done by other companies); I disagree (look past Nader's simplistic claims to the underlying research he cites - say, Lazonick's 'Profits Without Prosperity' - and look there to find a more complex story).

Our host claims this practice is uncommon among tech firms; their financial reports often say otherwise (that is, assuming Apple, Google, and other firms are 'tech firms').

"Everything ends up being about "the bottom line" and huge aspects of life get shoved aside in the desperate pursuit of money."
At times; yet the end result of that 'bottom line' is anything but clear. To me, 'everything' always consists of so many things!

The enemy of thought is the dogmatic lens, that path of ignorance - reducing shades of gray to black and white, when nature herself applies no such labels to light, and simply emits photons, and equips us with eyes that inject their own interpretations.

Some people play a money game, with blinders, and see nothing but shades of 'wins' and 'losses' - others play a moralistic game, reducing all to 'good' or 'evil.' Either sort of thinking has its place - but not necessarily every place. Usually, we need to do a little work to figure how and where to put our time in seeking solutions.

LarryHart said...


So if you want to generate light and don't need heat, the old-style bulb is wasteful. But if you are setting up an incubator for chicks and eggs, that 'waste' heat is not waste at all. It's the reason you're not using an LED!

I don't remember what locality it was, but I remember reading that some place installed LEDs in all of their stoplights to save energy, and then discovered that they had to hire workers to wipe snow off of the light faces in that kind of weather or else no one could see the lights. The old lights had melted the snow off with the excess heat, so it had never been an issue before.

My first revelation of the problem with such specialization came back when I was a kid reading "MAD" magazine. One of the strips had a customer at a fancy restaurant asking the waiter for a match. The waiter acted as if a "match" was beneath the station of such a fancy place, and offered the customer a gold plated lighter instead, to which the customer noted that a gold plated lighter won't be any help as he wanted to pick his teeth.

Tim H. said...

Paul SB, To me socialism is something that looks good on paper, but hasn't really worked out to well, except as a modification to capitalism, where it shines. "Socialism light" allows capitalists to concentrate on what they do best.
Maybe we should start considering capitalism as a religion? It's proponents see it as an answer to everything, and they're trying to be tax-exempt.

Paul SB said...


I can't call myself an expert on it, but people I know who live in socialist countries seem a lot happier than most people here. And there's a lot of metrics of social health to back that up, too. And they still do business, lots of business. And they still have scumbag slum lords and bloated robber barons trying to turn the government into their tax-payer ATM just like here. I'm not sure what "socialism lite" is supposed to be, except a term meant to be slightly more palatable to old-generation farts who think that socialism is just another name for communism. Socialism sounds more like that happy medium between the faiths of communism and capitalism (I considered capitalism a religion all the way back in my Neolithic High School days). All socialism really seems to mean is having a very robust social safety net that takes life-or-death out of the economic equation and makes some serious effort to relieve the miseries of poverty and homelessness - more serious than the band-aid and scold for being lazy and stupid approach we have here. Europe had some hard economic times back in the '80s, but the massive unemployment of those days have been over for awhile. It's just that Americans cling tight to that image.

Several months ago I picked up one of the books that our host recommended, and it added some valuable stats to my point. I've mentioned the mental health crisis we have in America. It's like the diabetes crisis but many times worse. Doctors think that 1/3rd of all people who have diabetes don't know they have it. I was acquainted with a slender and seemingly healthy young man back in Colorado who died in a diabetic coma. No one, including himself and his doctor, had a clue that he had diabetes. The mental health crisis is many times worse. 20% of Americans end up in the psych ward at some time in their lives, requiring medication to keep them from killing themselves. The doctors estimate 50% of the general population have these issues, but because it is something no one talks about and the stigma is so severe and pervasive, we act like it is something extremely rare, and there's no way in hell anyone I'm related to has a mental problem. The problem is much lower in just about every modernized nation than the U.S. The ones that come close are almost all Anglophone, where the culture of exploitation is stronger, with the exception of Holland, which Alfred likes to tout as the birthplace of the capitalist faith.

Capitalism is killing us, plain and simple. I don't have a problem with business if it can't kill, maim or otherwise destroy the lives of people. People matter much more than financial faiths. By exaggerating the competitive side of human nature, we have created Cortisol Hell on Earth. Competition is good under some circumstances, but not all circumstances, and treating it as an article of faith and national pride is a deadly mistake. I agree with Dr. Brin that business is a huge driver of the economy and should be interfered with as little as possible, though we could spend decades arguing over how much is the minimum. I am an archaeologist by training. I am used to looking at things over the long term, which is why I brought up the evolutionary models that are touted by the capitalist faithful (read Dan Ariely's "Predictably Irrational" chapter 2, entitled "The Fallacy of Supply and Demand" if you get a chance - lots of libraries have it so you wouldn't have to buy it). This is a balance we have to get right - and be flexible to be able to adjust with each generation - or we will end up joining the other 99% of species in the dustbin of history - just another failed experiment, while the more flexible roaches become the next dominant species. Rigid thinking is the cultural version of low genetic diversity - the blind alley that looks like progress until the conditions change and you can't or won't change with them .

David Brin said...

I truly suspect donzelion is from the lordly caste. His rationalizations for Saudis and Swiss bankers and a conniving cabal of 5000 golf buddy CEOs are creative. But they would shatter were light to penetrate those secret realms.

Paul SB said...

Dr. Brin,

Donzelion doesn't strike me as aristocratic. He is most definitely contrary, and like most people, when he knows one little corner of the world in detail that others do not, he is going to see and bring up the complications. Most of the time he is talking about things I know very little about, so I can't judge fairly, but I think he has shown enough humanity here to trust that he is not a class partizan.

Tim H. said...

Paul SB, we seem to be talking past each other a bit, i think the socialism you describe, I might refer to as socialism light, reserving Socialism for the post-scarcity society I never expect to see. Somehow I don't believe an argument could be successfully made that capitalism doesn't exist in the social democracies of Europe, and we could and should do more here and capitalism would be in no danger, and if it's prevented from destroying itself, could last longer.

Paul SB said...


"To me, attributing claims of good and evil - especially after egregiously misconstruing facts used to reach those judgments ... is 'splitting hairs': either we make judgments AFTER conducting thorough investigation (and then strive to limit our judgments as best we may, and focus instead on understanding first), or we judge erroneously."
- It's part of the human experience that we misconstrue pretty much everything we see, and every opinion we hold is hopelessly subjective. However, we still inevitably make judgements every instant we consciously think. The trick of making good judgements is perseverance in examining the evidence and flexibility in interpreting it. Where it comes to judging people, there is another trick, and that is diligently trying to get into the heads of others, understand their perspectives and limitations and account for their backgrounds and personal histories. These are the things we tend to do when we know people in face-to-face, normal life, but social media tends to focus so much on reducing the time and effort it takes to communicate that it leads people to rashness. Just a gentle musing, not a lecture, and not for your eyes only. In an ideal world, scientists and lawyers both would look at all things with the same level of tenacious resolve to uncover the truth of the matter, but humans are fallible, emotional engines. We can only do our best, and hope it doesn't come to a war of words and harsh feelings.

"To me, 'everything' always consists of so many things!"
- That was part of my point. The bottom line has become business school dogma, but they miss all those other things that have to happen to get to that bottom line, like earning the trust of customers and the respect of employees. Simple minds make simple generalizations. But then, it's hard to talk about anything without making generalizations. Last summer I read a book that was all about corporate executives that had discovered that if you treat people like human beings and not sneer in smug superiority at them you actually increase your bottom line. So obviously not all business people are the Ebenezer's of stereotype. It's what I emphasize, though, because they are the ones who are doing the most damage to the species.

"The enemy of thought is the dogmatic lens, that path of ignorance - reducing shades of gray to black and white, when nature herself applies no such labels to light, and simply emits photons,..."
- The 'lumpers and splitters' phenomenon. Generally speaking, the more time and effort people put into studying a particular subject, and into quelling their own biases, the more they see that the details matter and split. People who see everything in binary might be doing it rhetorically, but more often they are simply ignorant of the details and too quick to judge. But judge we will, one way or another. I'm okay with shades of grey, even though I am probably biologically more inclined to go the other way. It's something that good specialist training can do to the mind.

Paul SB said...


Agreed in general. Just note that any time we use a word like /socialism/ it has huge negative undertones to a very substantial portion of the (primarily older) American population. It's a powerful hostility trigger.

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

Just note that any time we use a word like /socialism/ it has huge negative undertones to a very substantial portion of the (primarily older) American population. It's a powerful hostility trigger.

Exactly why I often argued here that Bernie Sanders would be in trouble in a general election. The rose-colored polls that had him beating any Republican did not take into account what would have happened once the big guns were leveled against him in the fall.

What I failed to notice was that "Clinton" and "Hillary" were such hostility triggers in their own right.

Daniel Duffy said...

Don't despair, America is about to become California:

California is the future. That’s the best way to understand the way forward for America, and ultimately the world. California is roughly 15 years ahead of the rest of America in confronting the very different realities of the 21st century. A world of transformative new technologies with capabilities that we are only just beginning to fully comprehend and harness. A polyglot world of diverse mixes of races and ethnicities that are both super-creative and periodically combustible. A world that increasingly is shaped by climate change and the immense challenges it poses for all of us.

California not only has faced up to the 21st-century challenges, but it’s begun to seriously adapt to them. Californians saw waves of new technologies early, then got a jump on leveraging and accommodating them, and occasionally constraining them. They began integrating a massive influx of Latino and Asian immigrants, coping with diversity in schools and work, and coming to terms with whites being the minority. Californians took a beating in climate-related catastrophes like the recent drought, and have aggressively moved forward with some of the most ambitious clean energy and sustainability measures in the world.

Daniel Duffy said...

Their are encouraging political, economic, demographic and technological parallels between recent California history and the current state of America as a whole:

Spoiler alert: Trump will bring the old conservative agenda to its absurd conclusion with high-profile climate denial, anti-immigrant intolerance, and tax cuts for the rich in the face of historic inequality, to name just a few. The Republican Congress will embrace Trump, futilely try to apply their rigid orthodoxies to the complex modern world, break into ideological war with each other, prove totally incompetent, and fail big. In the process they will alienate all the growing political constituencies that matter going forward. The Republican brand will become toxic, their support will collapse and they will be pushed to the political sidelines for a long time to come. Why? Because California is the future and that’s exactly what happened to California’s Republican Party about 15 years ago.

Daniel Duffy said...

California may not be perfect, but it sure beats the Republican dream of turning America into Alabama.

donzelion said...

Dr. Brin: "I truly suspect donzelion is from the lordly caste."
An erroneous suspicion. If you want to believe share buybacks are a ploy by greedy execs in dying companies, at least stick to your principles. Apple and Google have both put considerably more into buybacks than into R&D in the last 2-3 years: either they are expressions of the evil you assert - or your assertion ought to be at least attenuated. (BTW, both IBM and GE have impressive tech pedigrees and current capacities - I wouldn't dismiss them quickly.)

If you truly care to stop oligarchs, try looking where I'm pointing. Entertain the possibility that there are experts who've studied fields you haven't. When I critique some of your positions, it's because when you're 'almost right' (but still wrong) - the errors you haven't bothered to correct may prevent and impede ideas that could probably make a difference. Similar with Nader, who has helped to torpedo the effective approaches of Clintons or Obamas, thereby helping the very group of billionaires he pretends to fight against.

Billionaires aren't particularly bothered by disclosing their assets (what exactly has Trump actually disclosed so far?): they already do this to one another, often, usually to increase those assets. They fret over disclosing the flows behind those assets because if those flows were known in detail and understood, they could be taxed, regulated, or otherwise impaired. Transparency COULD play an important role in limiting the abuses, and is far more likely to do so when its advocates (like you) learn and correct your mistakes, rather than attacking experts who can point them out.

Alfred Differ said...

@David | I truly suspect donzelion is from the lordly caste.

I sincerely doubt it. He strikes me as someone who used to work for some of them and has since converted. He might even be trying to atone.

My guess is former boffin.

At a minimum, it is very obvious he has worked for them and studied them. I think it would be wise for you to listen to his perspective. You recall how you've previously invited some of their henchmen to turn on them? Whistle blow? You might be deriding one such person who is willing to give you an inside viewpoint.

David Brin said...

donzelion, Apple and Google have not stopped innovating or investing in capital. Moreover, my Apple stock is fine for "hold" guys like me and not just for alert inside traders... who are the ones benefiting by the stock buy-backs in non-tech, that raped the companies of value.

Have you any idea how much cash Apple had? Your description of why they chose stock buy-backs over dividends makes some sense, then. But only because FIRST they spent as much as possible on R&D and product.