Sunday, January 17, 2021

World: please celebrate for us! (But not Vlad.)

Many factors are at work in the drama that’s unfolding this week, and maybe the least important player is a whining toddler who will rant at at Joint Base Andrews, Wednesday morning, screaming for attention after running around the White House prying the letter “J” off keyboards and leaving doobies in the ventilation ducts. There will be worse.* And just-in-case, I’ve urged that Biden, Harris and Pelosi keep distant (social and precautionary) from each other, while offering us all words of hope that America is back, baby.

Three groups will matter a lot, now and for weeks to come: foreign friends, foreign and domestic enemies… and nerds. I’ll get to Vladimir Putin and his fear of renewed western skill, in a bit. but first, here’s a call for our friends around the world to celebrate for us.

== Dancing in the Streets ==

To our allies around the world and to all friends of freedom, enlightenment, science and progress -- please turn out, the Wednesday.  Our domestic, home-grown enemies of progress -- many of them dear neighbors lured into furious madness by Fox/Sinclair/Goebbels liars, far more than by that pathetic toddler -- have triggered immune response by our protective services, locking down the American Capital and other cities when Joe Biden takes the oath of office, even more than we're compelled by a Trump-amplified pandemic.  

As  a result, Americans won't be pouring into the streets to celebrate nearly as much as we want to. But YOU, our allies in wanting an enlightened, forward-looking, fact-seeing and decently-just world, YOU can celebrate for us!

We ask that you fill your most famous streets with flags and balloons and signs that congratulate not just Joe Biden but all of us, including you fellow members of the Great Enlightenment Experiment!  Oh, stay safely masked and distanced! But please, make a good show of welcoming America back.

Because we need encouragement, right now! It truly would help Joe & Kamala, a lot. And also because, well, a dynamic and forward-looking, scientific-creative and generous USA is still necessary, if we want a civilization worthy of the stars. 

Certainly our enemies think so, given how hard they have striven to bring us down. Which brings us to...

== I wouldn’t be in Vlad’s shoes ==

I hope I’m wrong. I pray that I am wrong. But given the nearly 100% perfect record of Trumpian Republicans betraying the West and giving the Kremlin everything is wants (offer me large wager stakes on that: I will own your house), tearing down our sciences and alliances, weakening US entrepreneurship, waging war against all fact-using professions and instigating civil war, I have to worry whether the quarter million men and women in our security and intel agencies are even ready to teach Vladimir Putin that it’s time to back off.

1. For four years the top political-appointee slots atop those agencies have been people of at-best questionable qualification or loyalty. I have no doubt that skilled professionals isolated/cauterized the worst of them. But it is quite possible that an evisceration or rot-from-above has plunged deep into the ranks of those whose skill and professionalism won the Cold War and the War on terror, while treasonous, Sinclair agitprop demoralized them with slanders like “deep state.”

2. Putin is desperately getting in final licks. Yesterday he pulled out of the Open Skies Treaty that Trump formally exited a couple of months ago.  I expected (and obviously so did Vlad) that Biden would rejoin almost instantly (along with the Paris Accords on climate) since the Open Skies Treaty VASTLY favored Europe and the West and Putin long chafed over allowing NATO planes to crisscross Russia. Giving Putin an excuse to quick-exit that treaty - and the Intermediate Forces Agreement and others - was among the countless favors performed for him by the Kremlin’s White House agent. 

ALAS, not a single news report (that I’ve seen) has looked at this matter of timing. But watch. Don’t be distracted by Trump’s sudden tsunami of pardons! Vlad will do as many last-minute sabotages as Trump, these last few days.

3. On the other hand, Vlad’s got to be nervous. Surely some corner of our ‘deep state’ has been un-suborned, preparing options to offer the new president. Ways to - in some measured degree - at least smack the relabeled (but almost identical in staff, goals and methods) Soviet KGB across the snoot and say “back off!”  Oh, how wonderful - for example - if the Russian people were suddenly to see how much of their nation is now owned by “ex” Soviet commissars, now relabeled as billionaire oligarch mafia dons.

Okay. Revenge doesn’t interest the mature… and we count on Joe to be mature and judicious. So I expect to be frustrated and angry at his levels of restraint! Because… well… I am not ‘mature.’

4. I’ve spoken relentlessly about what simply has to be the elephant in the room, in DC. What I expect will be revealed as a mountain of blackmail.  We all saw in the recent Borat movie how trivially easy it is to lure many males into kompromat traps, and Russian spy services are much more adept at it than Sacha Baron Cohen. They have been doing it since the 1800s.  Elsewhere I warn those newly arriving in DC to be wary! 

If I’m right, then no event would so dramatically reverse our current troubles than a tidal wave of light. Some of the most blatant examples, for whom there is no other conceivable explanation than blackmail - Graham, Cruz, Rubio, Collins and Anthony Kennedy - could at any moment turn their legacy from zero to hero, by helping turn the tables on their tormentors. But don’t expect that. At least not till Biden establishes a Truth & Reconciliation Commission.

5. Extending that more generally, Putin knows his edifice will collapse if the West gets good intel. It's hard to retaliate or deter the current wave of relentless Muscovite attacks when we are blind! Part of that blindness will be solved when our defenders are no longer hampered by the quislings who were appointed over them by a Putin-blackmailed shill. 

But that leaves out an even more significant factor. That HALF of our good intel during the Cold War came from defectors, who would regularly even the playing field by bringing over vast floods of information, counterbalancing excellent KGB spycraft and our disadvantages as an open society.

==The vital importance of the moral high ground ==

During the Cold War, defectors were attracted by three things. We offered:

1) Safety

2) Good prospects

3) The moral high ground.

I’ve tried to explain this - repeatedly - to large audiences at CIA, fer gosh sakes!** - how the patterns of FSB/Putin actions all fit an overall aim of demolishing western alliances (Trump accomplishment #1) plus systematically toppling all three pillars that brought us recurring waves of defectors from the USSR. 

To that end, 'botched' assassinations of Russian dissidents were actually perfectly executed, achieving terror in potential defectors. 

Above all, the Trumpian campaign to crush and despoil the US moral high ground has been Putin's greatest accomplishment….

…but that victory can be reversed if our friends around the world do that one thing - both for us and for themselves and the planet and their children and the future:

Celebrate for us! 

Show the world that you know Donald Trump was an aberration! That the confederate side of our recurring American fever is and always has been a minority of fervid lunacy and when the blue is back, we can resume being a scientific, progress-seeking, problem-solving, egalitarian beacon and partner in making a better world.

And the forces of evil, trying to re-impose 6000 years of wretched, failed rule-by-oligarchy will fade under waves of cleansing light.


*Rent the first episode of the Kiefer Sutherland TV series DESIGNATED SURVIVOR. 

** And yes I am regularly invited back.

Saturday, January 09, 2021

If only our heroes were nimble instead of plodding. Not just good, but agile.

So many things happening all at once. I am juggling ten projects, reviving old favorites like the Uplift Series, plus my great old YA series and a nonfiction book about science fiction and Hollywood... and more! Stay tuned for news... 

...that is, after we save the Earth and a human civilization that may become worthy of the stars. That's all. No more than that is at stake, teetering these very weeks.

And yes, I have proposals for how to run forward, toward that better future. I'll be offering many... without any hope or expectation that any of them will be noted even slightly by those leading the Good Side in this battle to save the Enlightenment Experiment. We have many decent/skilled folks -- and not one apparently has the imagination of a squirrel.

Expect that I'll opine on...

SHORT TERM - you all know I've been yammering about methods to expedite either impeachment or the 25th Amendment that appeared in Polemical Judo, methods that still could be valid and useful, even now...

...along with a way for the three Americans who should not stand near each other till all this poisonous dust settles -- Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and Nancy Pelosi -- to nonetheless put on an Inauguration that's both spectacularly memorable and hugely safe. 

...along with a dozen super-quick actions Pelosi-Schumer could push through the new Congress in a day... even next week... some of them quick bills taking up one page... or even one sentence(!)... that would demonstrate grit, determination, common sense and utterly devastating repudiation of Trumpism. (Example: a one-sentence bill clarifying that Secret Service agents are not personal servants - an implicit, devastating, eviscerating rebuke of Trump that also would make friends where Joe needs them, ASAP. There are other zinger bills like that, that few Republicans would dare to oppose or even delay.) my warning to any incoming reps or administration officials to watch the damn Borat movie and heed its clearest lesson, not to get snared into blackmail traps! Seriously, there is no other explanation for what's happened in DC, and you can bet the KGB lures are out, right now, seeking to sink hooks into na├»ve new Washingtonian power folk. So warn any pols or civil servants you know. Especially... well... the male ones, or the ones who have male relatives.)

MEDIUM TERM - I have offered a great way to hold together the Coalition for National (and world) Salvation, by presenting 31 consensus goals that all democrats and even some sane republicans (they exist!) can share

Dear liberals, look over the list and tell us you can keep some discipline and stay with the program till these 31 things get done... or else that we all (especially you) won't be better off and better able to make progress from that new level!

LONGER TERM - Yes I will return with many of the proposals I've made in the past, including this 2008 version of things that could likely have prevented Trumpism altogether. (He asserts, arrogantly.) 

Expect repetition. Because I just don't know what else to do. How else to get through.

== Pertinent Miscellany! ==

"Many patients who are hospitalized for COVID-19 are discharged with symptoms such as those associated with a brain injury.... For many affected patients, brain function improves as they recover. But some are likely to face long-term disability... the infection can lead to blood clots that may cause a stroke." And yes, this can happen to the otherwise asymptomatic.
On the other hand, wearing a mask and treating your neighbors with courtesy and science with respect will turn you into a shambling liberal freedom-hating zombie. So... weigh the alternatives.

The silver lining is that we're much readier than before for what's next. If the transition goes well. My Hugo-nominated story “The Giving Plague” explores our complex relationships with viruses. Get it free.

Stepping back, I am surprised by one Biden cabinet choice... a democratic governor for Commerce Secretary, a position Dem presidents usually give to a simpatico Republican, as GOP presidents used to always have a Democrat as Labor Secretary, as a tacit nod to bipartisanship. Back when some degree of consensus was a shared goal. Yes, reliably sane/competent and honest Republicans of high level are very rare, these days. But there must be some? I know one, exiting NASA Director Bridenstine shocked all by coming in and zealously administering with curiosity, respect, competence and enthusiasm. Not NASA's best/brightest or most inspiring, by far, but far from worst, especially in light of the pressures from insane superiors. He could do nothing vs. the Trumpian Moon Footprints Fetishism, a terrible waste of US space talent and resources aimed at repeating what we did 50 years ago. But he defended science and long term investments surprisingly well.

A fascinating study of interrogation methods finds that the technique used by the WWII Luftwaffe’s top interrogator – of relentless (though carefully tactical) friendliness – appears to deliver best results. Think “Good cop, bad cop” but with the bad cop toned way down.  “The Scharff Technique was defined by four key components: 1) a friendly approach, 2) not pressing for information, 3) the illusion of knowing it all, and 4) the confirmation/disconfirmation tactic. (The latter strategy is when an interrogator presents a claim in the hope that the prisoner will confirm or disconfirm it.”

== And NON-political palate-cleaners! ==

An inspiring tale about the first Asian-American woman naval officer who taught air combat during WWII. 

This app Gigwalk lets you earn nano-pay for nano-jobs in your area. I just a couple of months blurbed an SF novel about something like this, see the works of Karl Schroeder!

Now a suggestion for all! The last-quarter-hour vow. Swear off all e- communications during the last quarter of each hour.  If you’re hard core, swear off all ”e” for that quarter hour. But at minimum put down the phone.

Sunday, January 03, 2021

A completely unexpected bipartisan win for civilization? This matters, a lot!

How on Earth did this slip past Mitch McConnell?

 By a vote of 81 to 13, the Senate on New Year's Day joined the House in overriding Trump’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act. It was the first (and last) veto override of Trump’s presidency. Among the shifting reasons Trump gave for that veto were its requirement that military bases named after (incompetent) Confederate generals be renamed, and his demand for the repeal of protections from liability for online sites hosting the content of third parties. But I suspect the real reason was the inclusion in the bill of the Corporate Transparency Act. 

Years ago, it occurred to me that perhaps the single biggest progressive reform Congress could enact would be to eliminate the anonymity of shell corporations, requiring the disclosure of their ultimate beneficial ownership. It would go a long way toward solving a whole range of corrupt practices, from tax evasion to money laundering, and all manner of other illegality. 

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) had introduced a version of this legislation in the House every year since 2009. I had no real hope that such a fundamental reform would ever be achieved. So I’m a bit stunned that it actually passed Congress. This is huge. 

In addition to requiring disclosure for most new corporations, it also requires it from existing corporations over a two year period. It’s not perfect. It only requires that this information be given to the US Treasury Department, rather than being made public. But that’s the nature of legislative compromise. That doesn’t seriously detract from its virtue. 

Of course, Trump has been a notorious, corrupt user and beneficiary of shell corporations.  (Among other things, he was virtually the only developer of high-end residential properties in NYC to allow purchases of units by anonymous shell companies, making them havens for money laundering by Russian mobsters and all manner of other disreputable people. This is likely at the core of his love of all things Russian.) So it’s no wonder he vetoed the bill. It’s ultimate passage is an achievement that should be celebrated.  (Thanks to Russ Daggatt)

== An implied next step... one simple act that would save the world ==

Naturally, this long-needed reform is consistent with everything I said in The Transparent Society about the core health metric of any society is light and reciprocal accountability. But all the more so in this case, because it is a clear step toward the one act that I think could save the world, especially Western Civilization, in a single shot. That reform would be a World Ownership Treaty with one simple provision:

 If you own something, you must say, publicly, "I own that." 

Here's my earlier missive about this concept, back in 2010, and more generally in The Transparent Society.

For most humans, this would be a small and temporary inconvenience. A few ambiguous property lines might abruptly come into conflict and each nation must offer its own conflict-resolution systems, ideally with plenty of Solomonic incentives for out-of-court mediation. And as I suggested in 2010, this could be phased in, starting at the top.

 Despite all those palliations, sure, such a worldwide edict would open a decade-long golden age for lawyers. So? we need new jobs for humans anyway. But that's an almost trivial side-effect.

Imagine if all property - from ocean-going tankers to great tracts of land - can be attributed either to a state, to named people, or to accountable foundations. Then the tax base will expand, enormously, allowing a rate CUT for almost all honest taxpayers. 

But that, too, is a secondary effect.  

So is enabling markets to work better, by empowering consumers and buyers and sellers to know better who owns what. It is where Adam Smith and Hayek overlap in agreement! No 'defender of free enterprise' should oppose that -- though many hypocrites will. 

But no, even that is secondary!

The primary outcome of such a worldwide accounting of ownership would be the abandonment off truly vast amounts of land and riches that are now ambiguously 'owned' by mafias, cartels, drug lords, and countless other kinds of scoundrels. All that vast wealth would devolve to states who would first use it erase crushing debt burdens and then - very likely - be able to declare a year-long tax holiday for honest folks. 

And yes, there's likely that much illicit wealth, out there. (Developing nations would better be able to retrieve trillions stolen from them by former kleptocrat despots, and present day ones would likely topple.)

Oh, there'd be clever tricks and cheats. Picture a drug lord, knowing that he cannot declare ownership of an entire valley without prompting too many questions, simply handing out parcel deeds to every man, woman and child living on the estate... with the assumption that they will then 'sell' their parcels back to him at a very low price. Yes. Though to avoid scrutiny he'd have to leave them with some of the land and some profits. Call it a form of redistribution, even if you are cynical. (This bears some relationship to the methods of Hernando de Soto, that bore such excellent fruit for poor farmers in Peru, empowering them to participate better in market economics.) 

Point is that vast amounts of criminality and evil in this world are built on a house of cards, relying on shadows and obscurity. (e.g. Vladimir Putin might spend sleepless nights worrying if the Russian populace will find out how much of their wealth he and 100 other former commissars now own.)

== Specifics ==

Want the biggest reason for this reform? Bigger than erasing most governmental debt and giving honest citizens lower rates and a tax holiday? 

Bigger than disempowering drug lords and despots around the globe? Bigger than basing policies and market decisions on greater participant knowledge, the very thing enthusiasts claim healthy markets require?

Okay, how about saving the world?

On 16 March 1978, the oil tanker Amoco Cadiz ran aground on Portsall Rocks, 2 km from the coast of Brittany (France). NOAA estimates that the total oil spill amounted to 220,880 metric tonnes of oil resulting in the largest oil spill of its kind in history to that date.  While Amoco wound up paying reparations to France, the actual owner of the tanker itself was so thoroughly masked under shell companies that investigators could never find or hold them accountable. This sort of thing happens all the time... and defenders of capitalism are utter hypocrites when they say public exposure in the open marketplace will take care of most such problems.  No, not when 'public exposure' is a mockery and light never shines upon the skulldugerous mighty.

Hence, an aggressively radical idea... actually serves to save moderate, even capitalist processes from the very contradictions and lethal cheats that act -- as both Adam Smith and Karl Marx described -- to detroy market societies from within, turning consumers, citizens and the young against them.

No anonymous ownership of anything. You want the state to uphold and defend your property rights? Declare them! If no one claims ownership of a corporation, it dissolves and loses all its assets. 

Do I expect any of this to actually happen, short of the "Helvetian War" that I described in EARTH? 

Of course not. The powers of the world come in all varieties and many of them are generally in favor of enlightenment civilization that's been very good to them.  Still, the "good" or "sensible" zillionaires are twitchy, nervous types with obsessions distracting them from helping us overcome the well-focused and tightly collaborating cabals who are busy bringing back feudalism. And yet...

...oh, well, if Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney can plug away at this for 12 years, I suppose I can, for 30. Thank you, Rep. Maloney. I lay my sword at your feet.

== Oh but glance at this jpeg ... to see what we're up against ==

I've long held that THE central issue before us is the war on all fact based professions. No other matter compares, for one simple reason... all our other fights - e.g. to advance justice, fight racism/sexism, save the planet and all the rest - will go far better if the power of FACT is restored, because in those battles, facts are on the side of justice!

Which is why the all-out war on facts must be fought above all else. 

Our enemies of civilization know this. As exemplified in this graphic from 'Medal of Freedom recipient' Rush Limbaugh. It summarizes the all-out, Kremlin/Foxite-funded war vs. all nerdy professions perfectly: our major sources of objective fact are all part of the “universe of lies”:

Which is why the new administration needs to make this Job#1.  

Perhaps starting with my proposed FACT ACT.