Wednesday, September 02, 2020

End the Cheating First! -- Chapter 4 of Polemical Judo

I've been running a series here, posting for free every chapter of my book Polemical Judo, that offers 100+ tactics that have been utterly ignored by our "generals" in this phase of the American Civil War. Last time we surveyed past heroes, admired by the Greatest Generation and by others, whose very names and stories can be used to sway those of our neighbors who have forgotten.

This one roams from electoral cheating and gerrymandering (with a surprising solution), to rigged voting machines and voter ID laws. And yes, some cheats like sabotaging the US Postal Service weren't included when I published Polemical Judo, just last November! (For that, look up a certain prescient novel called The Postman!)

You’ll find some unusual and practical ideas here, I promise. (Plus an addendum written today about QAnon 'theories.')



Chapter 4 of Polemical Judo


End the Cheating First



“The arc of American history reveals an unmistakable pattern. Whenever privilege and power conspire to pull us backward, we eventually rally and move forward. Sometimes it takes an economic shock like the bursting of a giant speculative bubble. Sometimes we just reach a tipping point where the frustrations of average Americans turn into action….The oligarchs and plutocrats would like nothing better than for the rest of us to give up and drop out. That way, they get it all. But we never have, and we never will. Preserving and expanding democracy has been America’s central project since its founding. It’s an unending fight. And no matter how bleak it may look, we will never stop fighting.”


                - Robert Reich



Let's talk about how Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch – and his minions and overseas allies – achieved their impressive run, taking almost absolute power in the United States. The Republican Party lost the popular vote in ten of the last twelve congressional elections, and in all but one of the last seven presidential elections. Yet they held the Oval Office for three crucial terms and have either controlled Congress or else had the power to render it neutered for all but two of the last 24 years. 


And ‘neutered’ was good enough! These were the laziest U.S. congresses in at least a century, not just blocking valid initiatives wanted by liberals and independents, or recommended by experts and civil servants, but holding incredibly few days in session. Aside from tax-cut gifts to oligarchy, they passed fewer bills (even long-stated conservative desires) than any other congresses in living memory.[6] If you set aside useless-futile and absolutely unproductive “Clinton Investigations,” they issued fewer subpoenas and held fewer hearings… but set records at fund-raising. Yet they retained control over power in Washington – the power to give our republic the political equivalent of tetanus.


How do they accomplish this? By cheating, of course. 


They were already very good at it by the time Newt Gingrich took the House, in 1994, but at least his principal weapon was a masterpiece of political polemic and he took charge with a popular vote majority. That all changed when Tom DeLay and Dennis Hastert took over Republican leadership. Those two (both later convicted of felonies) were joined by Boehner, McConnell, Cheney and a wave of state-level GOP secretaries-of-state, who commenced a concerted and targeted series of moves to manipulate elections, preventing the unwashed and fickle “people” from ever again prying their hands off the wheel.


We know how urgently they needed to control the Supreme Court, which has refused to intervene against the egregious treason called gerrymandering. (Future generations will remember this craven behavior in kind with the Dred Scott Decision.) Further, the Court, in a 5–4 ruling, allowed states to purge voters for a failure to vote. Combating these cheats on the ground are groups like VoteRiders that actually get on the ground - like the Freedom Riders of old - and help poor people, the old, the young, divorced women etc. to get ID. Any Blue Wave will be inadequate unless voter repression in swing districts is fought, tooth and nail.[7]



In 2016, just before the general election, the FBI informed top Maryland officials that the state's voter registration platform was purchased by a Russian oligarch in 2015.  It was only the latest in a series of deeply suspicious activities surrounding the machinery of voting. For decades, the companies making US electronic voting machines just happened to be owned by former GOP or Murdoch operatives.  Now, without even much pretense, Russians are making their moves.


In states that have taken the threat seriously, voting machines are either fed a hand-marked paper ballot to read, or else they provide a printed receipt that the voter can inspect and drop into a separate box. Either way, all votes made in that precinct can be audited.  No matter how many back doors and cheats might be built secretly into the machines or programs, no one will dare pull a major electronic switcheroo, if enough precincts will be randomly hand-counted and audited. The same is not true in many red states, where GOP-run legislatures gave voting machine contracts to a trio of companies all of whom have strong Republican Party connections, or else the aforementioned Russian links.[8] (The address of one of those companies?  ES&S: 11208 John Galt Blvd. Omaha, NE. I kid you not. John Galt Blvd.)


Despite fierce resistance by Republican leaders like Mitch McConnell, some money has been allocated toward increased election security. Nevertheless, as of mid-2019, twelve states still include jurisdictions that use paperless electronic machines as the primary polling place equipment in at least some counties and towns – Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.[9]  Indiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas do not appear to be taking steps to replace their paperless equipment before 2020, and some Texas counties are ignoring the national trend altogether, replacing paperless systems with other paperless systems. Of course paper receipt systems call for widespread adoption of risk-limiting audits (RLAs), considered the “gold standard” of post-election audits.


This potential theft will be exacerbated by the fact that news organizations and polling firms are cutting down on exit polls.  Exit polling has proved to be a major deterrent to cheating, because of its high degree of accuracy.[10] In precincts that are neither exit-polled nor auditable by paper receipts anything – including skullduggery and cheating – can happen.  And many folks expect that cheating will happen - say in Virginia or Florida - if the election is tight.

By now it’s grown clear that the top job of every GOP Secretary of State in red states is electoral cheating, and they are richly rewarded, both financially and with job sinecures. These states, lacking auditable paper records, will show anomalously high Republican voting next election in targeted swing districts, especially in state assembly districts that might tip the balance of power in statehouses.





Instead of – or in addition to – howling “racism!” how about using a principle that’s beloved to all conservative lawyers and jurists? One they cannot shrug aside? 


Voter ID laws[12] supposedly deal with a problem of “electoral fraud,” when cheaters pretend to be someone else, casting an illicit ballot. All studies show such voter fraud is extremely rare. Of course we all know this spate of laws – mostly in “red states” – are designed as repressive measures, aimed not just at poor people who often lack clear ID, but the ill-educated, or recent citizens, or the young. They also present hardships for some women, who may have failed to re-document after marriage or divorce. Some on the left call this another front in the “War on Women.” 


And yet, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with gradually ratcheting up the degree to which we apply accountability to potential failure modes![13] For generations, we’ve had volunteer poll watchers. It does seem reasonable, over an extended period of time, to ratchet up a completely unbiased process for voters to prove who they are. Hence Republicans proclaim: “If you don’t want voters to show ID, it’s because you want to cheat.” 


Is there a test to nail down whether a Voter ID law aims at unbiased accountability, or is a blatant cheat aimed at stealing votes way from poor people, minorities, young folks, and women? There is.




Conservative leaders going back to Buckley and Goldwater have demanded that regulations placed on business should be accompanied by help complying with new burdens. It’s standard dogma on the right.


And Democrats agree! Almost always, whenever new or onerous regulations are applied to businesses, there are allocations to set up offices, call-lines, visiting experts and grace periods, all with the aim of helping corporations – and the rich – to comply with the new regulations. It’s called compliance assistance. [14]


You see how this applies. In red states that passed new Voter ID laws, were significant funds allocated to help folks comply? “Here is an onerous new burden upon the poor, women and so on – but we’ll commit to assisting voters satisfy these new regulations.” Real money and serious effort going to communities with poor folks, minorities, recent immigrants, women, young people – helping them obtain the identification they need to exercise their sovereign voting rights?


Note! Beyond voting, Just getting clear ID would help them to stop being poor! Boosting folks on a path to helping themselves. This should be what conservatives are for. Has this happened? Alas, such efforts are sabotaged relentlessly. Hardly a cent has been allocated for compliance assistance in any of the red states that passed these new voter ID laws. 


Hardly one red cent.


You liberals out there. Don’t make this a matter of goody-goody preaching, or denying a long term need to ratchet up ID accountability. Make it about hypocrisy. The blatant lack of sincere compliance assistance provides clear proof that these are attempts to steal elections.


A final note on voter ID and compliance assistance. Absent government support, this is one place where proxy advocacy and personal volunteer work can accomplish something big. Helping people get whatever ID they need does not have to be a partisan act! But it can also make a huge electoral difference. Stacy Abrams’s initiative, Fair Fight 2020,[15]will concentrate its efforts on battleground states, helping Democratic candidates establish voter-protection programs ahead of the election. And yes, a few of you should recall the Freedom Riders of long ago.





What about bypassing politicians entirely? Certainly the ballot proposition or referenda system has worked well in California and other western states that adopted the Progressive Movement’s[16] agenda, more than a century ago. While foolish measures sometimes pass, and we must be wary of dumb or corrupt measures pushed by special interests, voters in those states have a good track record, in part because (unlike Brexit) citizens generally have six months or more to read arguments and watch debates. 


The “Five Star Movement” in Italy has aimed to use modern social media methods to get the people engaged in genuinely productive debate… with mixed results.[17] In the nation of Estonia – sometimes called “E-Stonia” for its campaign to get all government business efficiently and openly online – many topics get heard the very week or even day that they are raised.


Alas, history is rife with examples of plebiscites that were staged by tyrants to validate their own rule, or else to spur hot-tempered populism. Even when the formal processes are evenhanded, quick-polls can be dangerous. Critics of direct democracy point to Brexit and several other recent “spasm” referenda (e.g. in Eastern Europe) as examples of why a representative republic approach is needed, to both heed popular will but also curb sudden mass-impulses, using both time and cooler heads to craft sagacious legislation out of that will. 


The extremum is called “demarchy,” in which all matters of law are settled by rapid debate online for a couple of hours, followed by a decisive e-vote among all citizens. A chilling portrayal of this system’s potential drawbacks is science fiction author Joan Vinge’s The Outcasts of the Heaven Belt.


Some aspects of this question are immediate and pressing. Many problems with referenda might be solved with a longer discussion period and, yes, Ranked Choice Voting. Certainly, if and when Democrats take power in any state that does not already have a referendum process, they should leap, using that perhaps narrow opportunity to establish one, offering hope that any future regime of an outright cheater party (guess who I mean) can be bypassed and over-ruled by the People. 





One kind of gerrymandering is embedded into the U.S. Constitution, providing 400,000 voters in Wyoming with as many senators as 34 million Californians. We discuss that elsewhere and – frankly – there’s plenty of lower-hanging fruit to reform before we tilt at that giant windmill.


Gerrymandering at the level of state legislatures and Congressional districts is another matter. This outrageous cheat has reached a level of such blatancy that everyone knows American democracy has been outright stolen. As I describe elsewhere, in a much more extensive analysis of gerrymandering,[19] voters in many “blue states” have rebelled against their own Democratic politicians, ending the foul practice via ballot measures. Hence, with a few dismal exceptions - like Maryland and Illinois - this cheat has become ever more associated with the Republican Party.


(See a “pause” description, after this chapter, where I describe a trick that some of you can do, personally and easily, if you live in a gerried district, to mess up the cheaters’ plans.)


But this chapter has gone too long and there’s already plenty to digest. So let’s put off till Appendix 1 my unusual proposal called “Minimal Overlap” that would work smoothly and effectively based on just three sentences. According to one senior U.S. District Appeals Court judge, “this could really work.” Evaluate for yourself, in Appendix 1.


For now though, the lesson is clear. The cheating must end! But it will take more than outrage to accomplish that. It will take innovative approaches to legislation and court action, in technology and citizen activism.


And we may have to shake up some of our own would-be feudal lords, who have let flatterers croon that “the mob” of free citizen voters can’t be trusted. Ingrates who have benefited profoundly from the bounties of a (mostly) open-flat-fair democracy, They recite magical incantations like the Tytler Calumny (next pause section) to justify cheating as necessary for the good of all, and thus invite destruction upon us all. Especially upon themselves.


For their sake (as well as the world and our children) we must stop them.

See footnotes below.


And yes, I always append an addendum from 2020 during the fevered election. In this case, what to do about the flood of insane conspiracy theories pouring from Donald Trump and QAnon and their apologists? The intent is not to indict or bring anyone to justice, but to allow a certain voting population... some of the clade of ill-educated white males who are decent enough fellows to be repulsed by Trump and fascists... to hold their noses and still vote Republicans because Democrats are worse!

Among the many tactics I recommend in Polemical Judo, is a daily "PROVE THIS!" demand issued by a top attack dog, say Kamala. Every single day, beyond her other activities, she might step up to a mic to say: "Here's today's PROVE-IT challenge. And our ongoing dare to the Trumps and those spreading false rumors to provide evidence before a panel of Americans who are beyond reproach."
After fifty of these, the lesson will be: "These are coward blowhards." How hard is this, when Trump's tale about a planeload of black-clad mercenaries headed for the Republican convention ought to be pretty darn falsifiable!
We've learned it's not enough to rely on journalists to analyze or refute these things! Our target demographic is 1 million decent folks who know Trump is distasteful and so cling to Fox, suckling these stories in order to murmur the incantation "Scary dems are worse!" You won't get through to them by citing NY Times articles! But repeated, daily, straight in-yer-face "Prove-it!" denunciations make powerful internet memes...
...especially when (at last, at long last) accompanied by a demand that Fox negotiate a panel of distinguished Americans - many of them retired senior military officers - to actually weigh on on whether things seem false or true.
It's our win-win. Either that panel convincingly refutes almost all the Putinists say... or else Fox&Co. are cornered into denouncing senior retired officers, thus offending a huge part of their base, who retain residual respect for those fact-centered men and women.
Why is this so hard?


[1]  “End the cheating...”


[2] “The (almost) full story on gerrymandering”


[3] “The ‘Minimal Overlap’ one-page solution to gerrymandering.


[4] “Voter ID Laws: Scam or Accountability?”




[6] Lazy Congresses… needs updating:


[7] And I will repeatedly remind you that previous, victorious get-out-the-vote drives, in 1992 and 2008, led to briefly joyous victories, till those roused masses sank back into torpor, in 94 and 2010. Counting on get-out-the-vote alone is a proved losing strategy. Those who deny other fronts are proved fools.


[8] Voting machines.


[9]  States still resisting use of paper-auditable ballots. Note while two of the twelve might be deemed ‘blue,” those two have long traditions of entrenched party machines.


[10] One of many potential uses for volunteers would be to serve as unpaid exit pollers for local news media. A national movement to do this could not come too soon.


[11] Based on an October 2014 posting:


[12] Or watch this essay on YouTube:


[13] My book, The Transparent Society, is all about this. Winner of the 1998 Freedom of Speech Award.


[14] First discussed at:


[15]  Stacy Abrams’s initiative, Fair Fight 2020


[16] The “Progressive Movement” of that era has overlaps with today’s use of the word. But we should still be wary of quick assumptions.


[17] Five Star Movement.


[18] See Addendum #1 in this volume… or “The “Minimal Overlap” Solution To Gerrymandered Injustice”


[19] My more extensive appraisal of gerrymandering:



TheMadLibrarian said...

Apropos of very little, has anyone had a Stonekettle Station sighting? I hope Jim comes through his procedure (whatever it might be) with flying colors.

Larry Hart said...


Stonekettle posts regularly on Twitter. He's through the surgery and pretty much his ornery self.

Larry Hart said...

What we already know. The Republican Party is anti-democracy, and the populace is so disenchanted with government's "inability to solve people's problems" that they keep electing the party who doesn't want to solve people's problems.

In a new book, “Presidents, Populism and the Crisis of Democracy,” the political scientists William G. Howell and Terry M. Moe argue that Trumpism is largely a symptom of growing populist disaffection with the American government’s inability to solve people’s problems. Even if Trump does lose, they argue, our democracy will still face serious questions about its viability. I asked Moe, a professor at Stanford, how America might recover from this damage.

“It’s not clear that we can,” he told me. “I think the Republicans, for now, are an anti-democracy party.” Their only chance of political survival is to continue to “make the country as undemocratic as they can so that they can win elections.”

David Smelser said...

Stonekettle Station has been active on twitter today. Most recent tweet is 7am PST on 9/3.

john fremont said...

ML, Jim Wright just posted this Twitter thread this morning.

Stonekettle (@Stonekettle) Tweeted:
I encourage you to commit crimes to prove crimes are being committed.

Republican Logic.

Hailey said...

Also haven't seen Acacia post in a while. Hope she's doing okay too.

Jon S. said...

Dunno about the Station, but he's on Twitter (@Stonekettle, of course). Doing well, putting the airlock through its paces (during the RNC, I suggested we just have all the trolls report to the hangar deck and get it over with), and of course not publishing pictures of his hummingbird feeder or the local railroad tracks because for some reason that drives some people into an absolute foaming furor. I don't get it either.

David Brin said...

LH while Howell & Moe are right that the confederates now (as always) despise democracy, fearing an "ignoraant mob" - terminology that best describes them - I think they miss the point. The have proved to have only one trait that matters to them. Every Trump characteristic that should disqualify is shrugged off because he does one vital thing...

...he mortifies, frustrates and enrages the people they hate. Smrtalecks, nerds, professionals... all the know-how folks they depends on and thus resent.

Larry Hart said...

john fremont:

Stonekettle (@Stonekettle) Tweeted:
I encourage you to commit crimes to prove crimes are being committed.

Just to be clear, that wasn't Jim Wright himself advocating that. He was commenting on a Trump tweet encouraging supporters to try to vote twice (to test whether they're allowed to).

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

Every Trump characteristic that should disqualify is shrugged off because he does one vital thing...

...he mortifies, frustrates and enrages the people they hate. Smrtalecks, nerds, professionals... all the know-how folks they depends on and thus resent.

That has become painfully obvious. However, that very fact implies that they've given up on anything resembling functioning government, and are bitterly content to treat the entire political process and theater.

scidata said...

Nosecones. I'm telling you, I've seen it work.
Many of the really, really serious amateur astronomers I know are (or were) confederates.

jim said...

From the last post David said
“Is he aware that energy use and CO2 emissions have plummeted during covid?”
Yes I am, and as a matter of fact I linked to a story about how Earth overshoot day happened a couple of weeks later than last year.

Now unfortunately this is just more evidence that the only thing that reduces our carbon footprint in the real world is economic hardship (recessions, depressions things like that). And sense that seems to be the only effective policy it is no wonder that our political system has been unable to address the basic environmental problem we face. Voluntary poverty is not a popular political platform. We will not change on our own, we only seem to change when we are forced to by events beyond our control.

But sense our environmental problems are real and getting worse because we are not dealing with them, we have gotten to the point where everywhere in the world in under at least a good deal of environmental stress. This current pandemic is the first precipitating crisis for our new age. We have blown up the airline, hotel, and travel sector of the economy, small businesses are going bankrupt at unprecedented rates, ten of millions of people have lost their jobs, and we are making our rather difficult debt situation far worse (US government debt will equal a full years GDP by early next year) . Add to this the fact we have a steadily rising energy cost of energy, political disfunction and failing global empire, it really does mean things are now beyond our collective ability to control.

Over the coming decade I am slightly hopeful that events beyond our control will allow Survival to replace economic Growth as our prime motivator.

David Brin said...

"Now unfortunately this is just more evidence that the only thing that reduces our carbon footprint in the real world is economic hardship (recessions, depressions things like that). "

Oh jibbering nonsense. (1) A shift just as large happened because of LED lighting... I said it in the same posting! Showing that technological advancements have huge effects. (2) Sustainables are killing even natural gas! Something I didn't expect for another 5 years. (3) Just one act - Biden unleashing drones to monitor illegal methane ventings and then armtwisting other nations to do the same - could make a fantastic difference WITHOUT A DEPRESSION.

Finally, the current economic disruptions while serious are not anywhere near Great Depression level. So if you want travel and industrial pollution reductions on the scale of this year, it can happen with life adjustments already handled and much lower than we'll get just by reducing the number of cattle on Earth.

David Brin said...

Very interesting and promising new kind of “nuclear battery” that could last years in perfect safety for uses as small as pacemakers, combining several technologies that have been progressing in recent years, such as the efficient creation of industrial diamonds. If this actually works, and can be scaled, it is an absolute miracle.  Not only does it recycle nuclear waste it also eliminates the horrible lithium mining in the US, Chile, and China.  

The initial public fears can be overcome simply by the military being first user for several years.

The potential killer is the waste reprocessing which I have seen be a killer of several other endeavors. You need a processing system that's foolproof and that doesn't produce a greater volume of radioactive waste than it eliminates. Plus a good place to send the residuum.

Jacob said...

Regarding Trumps recent comments on voting: Choose your battles as this is a losing one.

Trump is really bad at communicating. I'm inclined to think he would love for his supports to be the only one who could vote. However, his statements were about ensuring that vote is counted. I've worked the polls. What he said poorly describes how we prevent someone from voting twice. Voting in person after voting in mail will just hinder the process so please stick to one or the other.

If verification is a concern, you should just vote in person as that is the best way to do so. If you are concerned about health risks, vote early or by mail.

Please pick your battles and don't lose credit by choosing this one.

jim said...

Sorry David but the impact of the use of LED lights is not seen in the data. Look at the last 20 years of global carbon dioxide emissions the only times they have gone down from one year to the next is during economic hard times (the great recession and the covid recession/depression). Although it is true that you can get the same amount of light from a LED using less energy than an incandescent or florescent light bulb, the energy saved by stitching light sources ended up getting used for other things. The switch to LEDs would only help if the energy saved by switching never gets generated in the first place. If the “saved” energy gets used for something else the energy isn’t really saved.

A.F. Rey said...

Please pick your battles and don't lose credit by choosing this one.

The problem is that, if enough of his voters follow his advice, it will slow things down even more from all of the cross-checking that will need to be done. And Lord help us if they miss a few. Then Trump uses them as examples of how mail-in votes are rigged. So we need to convince as many of them as possible to vote only once.

Perhaps, rather than accusing Trump of encouraging people to vote twice (even though that is precisely what he did), we should tell them how to verify their vote was received and counted instead.

David Brin said...

This is the most far-out project we funded at NIAC and not one I am especially proud of. But we need to keep up a 10%+ ratio of kooky and these kooks are very, very smart. So... what if?

Larry Hart said...

Obvious in retrospect...

For decades, Mr. Nixon and Mr. Kissinger have portrayed themselves as brilliant practitioners of realpolitik, running a foreign policy that dispassionately served the interests of the United States. But these declassified White House tapes confirm a starkly different picture: racism and misogyny at the highest levels, covered up for decades under ludicrous claims of national security. A fair historical assessment of Mr. Nixon and Mr. Kissinger must include the full truth, unbleeped.

Larry Hart said...

John Oliver reviews the RNC and events in Kenosha. The Oliver link is the one at the bottom of the page:

Okay, if that is what most people in society are thinking, then we are...and this is true...a terrible society.

Larry Hart said...

A few months back, someone here (sorry, I forget who) described the paradigm held by right-wingers that there must be an upper class of people who are "protected by the law but not bound by it" while the great mass of the populace is "bound by the law but not protected by it." The more I consider those phrases, the more I believe that to be the very root of the culture war we see played out between the white grievance crowd and the social justice crowd.

In theory, America has a system of law which does not conform to the above. All are both bound and protected by the law. In practice, of course, there are always those powerful and or rich enough to flout the law. Still, historically it was always necessary--or at least polite--to give lip service to the ideal that everyone is equal under the law, and to make up reasons why someone deserved special consideration in an individual case of lawlessness, vague or nonsensical as those "reasons" might be.

As in so many other ways, Trump appeals to those who don't even care about such lip service to equality, and are happy to have a president who finally lets them stop pretending to do so. His wife's family gets to make use of chain migration even though chain migration is evil, because he is special. Just as Limbaugh deserved leniency for his drug problems while condemning anyone else in the same situation because he is special.

We keep rhetorically asking what values Republicans stand for these days, and up until now, I've been saying "White grievance", but maybe it's a more general "They stand for the principle that their kind is to be protected but not bound by the law." Their ridiculous character assassination of liberals and Democrats as lawless thugs is actually a reaction to the proposition that "If Democrats are in power, you'll be bound by the law as well as protected by it, and they'll be protected as well as bound." Which translates to them as a threat to their very way of life. Dr Brin keeps asking the MAGA crowd to define when America was great? It was when everyone knew and accepted that white Christian men were protected but not bound by the law.

"Black Lives Matter!" is a call for recognition that black people must also be protected by the law. The counter that "All lives matter!" is a cynical assertion that when black people assert their right to protection, they are asking for a special privilege that doesn't apply to anyone else.

Note that this is not a symmetrical phenomenon. Democrats don't campaign or govern on the basis that white Christian me should be bound and not protected by the law. They do so on the basis that the law applies equally to everyone. To fever-brained Republicans, the one is the same thing as the other.

Tony Fisk said...

Donald seems to be unusually adamant that he didn't refer to the residents of a US military cemetery as 'losers'. His tweets have an unusually plaintive tone: almost as if he realises he might have to face consequences for once. How about the same penitence put on Patton after he struck a shell-shocked soldier: visiting every unit under his command to apologise in person?

Larry Hart said...

From an extremely prescient episode of "Batman" from 1966:

Robin: "Did you hear those rumors in the lobby? The Penguin running for mayor."

Batman: "It's a free country, Robin."

Robin: "It won't be if he's elected!"

jim said...

The above link is a really interesting take on one of the fundamental ideas in economics--- Capital.

In it the author makes some really interesting points and backs it up with more interesting data.
Fist he points out that both neoclassical economists and Marxists understanding of capital is flawed.
He notices that our civilization has a unique feature to its distribution of social power. Our society seems to be the only one yet that has found a way to quantify social power. Other societies had differences in social power and you could tell who had more and who had less power but it wasn’t really quantified.

“Capital, Nitzan and Bichler argue, is not a ‘thing’. It’s an ideology. Capital is the ritualistic quantification of property rights. And because property rights stem from the power to exclude, it follows that capital is the ritualistic quantification of power.”

Then he goes on to show how a metric of social power can be created. Then goes on to show how this Power Index has changed over time.

Spoiler alert – neoliberalism has given the owners of capital an unprecedented advantage in social power.

David Brin said...

jim, yes it is an interesting insight that power has been quantified in our society. But you and they draw the diametrically wrong conclusion from that, as exemplified by:

"neoliberalism has given the owners of capital an unprecedented advantage in social power. "

...which is utter, drooling ludicrous absurdity. Across 99% of the last 6000 years, elites has NON-quantified utter power over those below, taking whatever they liked, including your daughters for their harems. Your ignoring that fact is just as loony as your ignoring where YOU got it in your head to criticize unequal power and to actually believe it can be corrected.

You believe it because you grew up in a society that actually believes a level playing field is theoretically possible and has come closer than any other (it's hard) progressively, across 2 centuries. And 'quantification" HELPS that progress by showing the cheats and injustices more effectively.

jim said...

Well David sense our current society is the only one that has figured out a way to quantify social power, ours is the only one you can actually make a graph of social power over time.

So perhaps a more accurate statement on my part would have been
“Spoiler alert: the current era of neoliberal capitalism has given the owners of capital an unprecedented advantage over workers even surpassing the robber baron days of the late 19th century.”

(again the article is worth reading)

jim said...

I find it rather bazar that David thinks that our society invented the idea of Fairness. Even though for the vast majority of the time humans have been humans, we existed in hunter gather societies in which fairness and equality were facts of daily life. As a matter of fact there is a good amount of evidence that non-human social animals have a “fairness instinct”.

David Brin said...

“Spoiler alert: the current era of neoliberal capitalism has given the owners of capital an unprecedented advantage over workers even surpassing the robber baron days of the late 19th century.”

Absolutely wrong. There are some new methods of cheating, yes and these are being applied right now in a desperate bid to PREVENT the restoration and revamping and improvement of Rooseveltean methods that boosted the middle clas (albeit mostly the white middle class, but others too) at the expense of wealth disparities.

'I find it rather bazar that David thinks that our society invented the idea of Fairness.'

I said no such thing. I said agricultural societies tend into aristocratism,

"Even though for the vast majority of the time humans have been humans, we existed in hunter gather societies in which fairness and equality were facts of daily life."

1- non sequitur since I have specifically said "agricultural" and/or '6000 years."

2- You know no such thing. Closer examination of such societies has shown that romanicization of their non-stratified societies was bullshit. Moreover the closest analogue that you can see ANY DAY is your nearest elementary school. Watch the bullies and victims. There's your basic "tribe" in every single society on Earth that has such schools... or that doesn't.

Darrell E said...

Larry Hart said...

"We keep rhetorically asking what values Republicans stand for these days, and up until now, I've been saying "White grievance", but maybe it's a more general "They stand for the principle that their kind is to be protected but not bound by the law.""

I think it definitely is more general. Racism and fear of losing privileged status are real things but they are a subset of what the underlying motivations are of the people that lead the RP. DT is no doubt a racist asshole but he doesn't give a shit about pure white trailer trash either. Or even white hard working middle class. Or anybody except perhaps Ivanka. Sure, he acts like he's out to further their interests and he stokes their fears and hatreds of others for purely selfish political gain, to con them to vote for him. But those poor dumb bastards are delusional to think that Trump would ever intentionally do a damn thing for them except to pretend to be a not complete asshole towards them for precisely as long as they continuously, without pause, fellate him. As he has said about plenty of white folk that refused to pleasure him, "pure scum."

Similar for most of the other RP higher ups and their tools. Anyone, regardless of color or station, that isn't of use to gain their ends is villainized.

Similar also for the RP voting base, which is the demographic you probably mean. Sure, there is plenty of real racism among them and that's a convenient lever for their propaganda masters to use. Which to my mind is one of the most egregious crimes the RP and Trump have / are committing. Due to their efforts overt racism in the US has regressed by decades. Yes, it was still there, now it's re-legitimized. In a just world they would rot in jail for this alone. But the RP voting base reviles folks like you and I with plenty of fervor too. It's more general than racism, it's othering, of which racism is a subset. Old as mankind, or mammals more likely. Othering doesn't require different skin color, though that is definitely a major inspiration for it.

jim said...

David said
"Absolutely wrong. There are some new methods of cheating, yes and these are being applied right now in a desperate bid to PREVENT the restoration and revamping and improvement of Rooseveltean methods that boosted the middle class (albeit mostly the white middle class, but others too) at the expense of wealth disparities."

let me paraphrase:
"totally wrong, oh sure there are lots of new ways the wealthy are cheating and they are using their wealth power to keep their power and wealth but i hope and pray that a new FDR will come along make america great again and that is why you are wrong about the unprecedented advantage the wealthy have now. "

Did you read the article i linked to? Did you look at the evidence provided?

Duncan Ocel said...

I don't know, David. I doubt children are a good analogue for preagricultural tribal societies. It's true that children haven't been fully taught our society's rules, but their brains are also not fully developed and they haven't had time to become wise. Preagricultural societies were certainly composed (at least in part) by adults who had had time to learn about human interaction, who were logical, and who took actions to make their world one they want to live in.
I don't think other animal species provide good analogues either, because they don't think quite like we do.
The best bet for retro-prediction is to conjure up a group of adults who haven't been educated into our social norms. BUT, it's folly, too, to assume that early societies did not have their own norms to which their children were socialized.

matthew said...

This has the darkest of implications:

The pentagon is ending Stars and Stripes, the independent armed forces newspaper and website. In four weeks. Before the election. Stars and Stripes are part of DoD, but do not answer to the generals. They are well-respected and listened to, separate from the brass but a deep part of the culture. They cost $15mil per year.

The attempt at the GOP seizing power is moving exponentially now.

David Brin said...

Duncan fair enough. Certainly my remark comparing elementary school kids to pre-agricultural tribes seems politically incorrect and disrespectful. But geez. Isn't the near universality of bullying and hierarchy and so on, among kids, indicative of a high likelihood that similar behaviors, seen very often among tribes with similar levels of "education", might be carry-overs? Doesn't the burden of proof fall upon you, since Occam's Razor make "human nature" the simplest explanation?

Weren't religions and early justice systems obsessed EXACTLY with steering adults away from such behaviors?

Jim your snarky paraphrasing was very good as a gambit! It was not explicitly incorrect! But at the same time it put my assertion in the very worst possible light, while utterly shrugging off my key point. That we did it before and have all the tools to do it again.

TCB said...

In his article We’re Not in This Together, Ajay Singh Chaudhary argues that the privileged actually stand a decent chance of seceding to their walled redoubts and living on Amazon drone shipments while the rest of us endure the worst of global warming under a neofeudal yoke. He says that

part of what makes this such a plausible outcome is that it is another intensification of the existing world. Approximately 25 percent of the American workforce is already employed protecting wealth and surveilling other workers. This is a trend one can see in other countries; it tracks inequality. As we’ve already seen, the business-as-usual world is a radically unequal one. But the intensification of phenomena like this would be so significant as to be a qualitative shift. Such a world is not speculative fiction; it is the continuation of an existing trend.

Though it is a minor detail of the whole argument, I would like to know where he is getting that shockingly high 25% figure. Surely there aren't THAT many Brinks armored car guards. Chaudhary must be counting a lot of people who do not think of themselves as surveillance/wealth protectors. I suppose this means everyone at the bank, not just the guards.

Related to this, I sometimes want to cite Dr. Brin's statement about how much land in the former colonies was taken from British landowners (especially the aristos and the King himself) after the American Revolution, but I can't find any source. It seems that, in the case of Tory landowners who left after the revolution, this was something that worked piecemeal through the early US courts for almost thirty years. Nowhere could I find a clear estimate.

Duncan Ocel said...

Yes, Occam's Razor. It does seem likely that most early peoples practiced bullying, cheating, and feudalism. Years of reading the blog has mostly convinced me of that. But because I have stars in my eyes for anarcho-communism ala Ursula LeGuin, I like to hope that at least SOME societies were egalitarian, altruistic, and libertarian. The burden of proof would be on me if I were to assert that ALL societies stemmed from this utopian ancestral state, but that I will not try to prove. I instead rely on hope that of the thousands of generations of modern humans that have lived and the millions of iterations of tribes, in some village at some time, a paradisaical state probably existed on which I can base the future global anarchosyndicalist paradise... :D

David Smelser said...


I see "They stand for the principle that their kind is to be protected but not bound by the law" as best summarized as they value hierarchy. Anything that enables or preserves hierarchy is good (such as capitalism) and anything that changes the hierarchy, especially anything that is fair/flat/equal (like democracy) is bad.

TCB said...


The Pentagon has ordered Stars and Stripes to shut down for no good reason

Hitler couldn't shut down the Stars and Stripes. Brezhnev couldn't shut down the Stars and Stripes. And we will let that little fascist fuck draft dodger Benedict Donald Trump shut down the Stars and Stripes?

David Brin said...

My father, who had covered Capone era tommygunnings in Chicago, was a top reporter for Stars & Stripes in WWII. Knew Erie Pyle. The unexplained and inexplicable move by Trump's DoD to shut down Stars & Stripes is is one more thing Vlad would want, among so many already delivered. Can't have anything compete with the Fox News blaring in most noncom ready rooms. The officers need to command that those TVs rotate through the news networks for varied perspectives. It's that or fret about what will happen to the officer corps, when they stand up for the Constitution.

Duncan... very well and fairly stated.

TCB that fellow seems not to have extrapolated what the middle classes, who know bio, cyber, nuclear, will do if they get really mad.

David Brin said...



Larry Hart said...

Darrell E:

Similar also for the RP voting base, which is the demographic you probably mean. Sure, there is plenty of real racism among them and that's a convenient lever for their propaganda masters to use.

Just to be clear, I'm not saying that Trump supporters are all racists. To me, racism is very specifically a belief that people of different races really do have different value due to their race. And while racists usually believe that their own race is the superior one, that isn't even a necessary condition. One can believe that the races are hierarchical that that oneself is one of the inferior ones. That guy in Life of Brian who hangs upside down in the dungeon going, "Great race, the Romans!" is an example.

It is entirely possible to perceive that one is the beneficiary of white privilege without being racist. You would just be thinking you lucked into something that you are happy to take advantage of. Or something you don't want to lose. You can vote for Trump thinking he's protecting your standard of living, which would surely fall if you were bound by the law. That's not racism--just a willingness to cheat.

Or even worse, you might fear that some other group might become the ascendant one, and that you could end up being treated the way black people are today. Trump has a lot of people convinced that he alone protects them from such a fate. That's not racism either--just cowardice and a touch of paranoia.