Saturday, October 20, 2018

What you can do. More "ammo" for the trenches.

Racing about SoCal, first to Peter Diamandis's XPrize Conference and then to give interviews in LA. But I'll try not to neglect you. And so --

== What can you do... even in the last few weeks? ==


Make a difference? Again, state legislatures! Small races but important! See this: "Data for Progress, a scrappy think tank that operates outside the Democratic Party suggests donating to eight state legislative campaigns around the country where the winner could tip the balance of power in the chamber."


Donate? Or see this WaPost graphic. Or find a quixotic state assembly race on your own! Again, that's where to find a candidate who - if she wins - will remember your name!


== Spreading disinformation ==

Social media bots and Russian trolls have been spreading disinformation about vaccines on Twitter to create social discord and distribute malware, U.S. researchers say. Troll accounts that had attempted to influence the U.S. election had also been tweeting about vaccines, posting both pro- and anti-vaccination messages to create "false equivalency." 

Why? By now you know that the main enemy is every fact-using profession. The one billion skilled human beings who stand in the way of an aggressive, worldwide oligarchic putsch. Because if the rising world middle class gets educated fast enough, imbued with Hollywood values, the chance to restore feudalism may be lost forever.


Of course Vladimir Putin hears an even more-pressing ticking clock. Russia teeters at the edge of demographic collapse. (I have long-odds wagers out there, with some 'agency people,' that he is already selling Siberia to the Chinese.) Part of this collapse is a horrific public health crisis. Another is reluctance of Russian women to bear children. So there's very little time to anchor in the real objective of these former KGB billionaires -- a world mafia state whose topmost "families" - Corleones - just happen to be those with nukes.

Watch these mob families coalesce and drop all pretenses, as they do mob-style hits on journalists. (And doing it blatantly is part of the plan.) 


Another example, Erik Prince, the Blackwater founder, went on Fox & Friends to appeal to Trump to Privatize the Afghanistan War. Give him a ten billion dollar contract and he’ll kill-em-all. Prince “is also brother to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Oh, and there is also the "report that he made a mysterious visit to a Seychelles hotel in which he is alleged to have helped establish a secret back channel of communication with Vladimir Putin.” Blackwater was renamed Xe Services — a private military support company that’s is arguably the world’s “most powerful mercenary army.” Unless you include Putin’s personal forces in Crimea and the Donbas.


There. Were those three paragraphs sufficient to make me a target, yet? Let me be your canary. When I'm taken out, you'll know they are going after pathetic, all-talk theoreticians... and it will be time to organize your militias. No, time to dig into your cyberpunk skills and show them the price of under-estimating "fact-loving nerds."


== Elder Ammo ==

Know anyone on Social Security? Well show them thisOn Tuesday, after the Treasury Department released figures showing the federal deficit for Fiscal Year 2018 rose 17 percent to reach $779 billion, Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said the "solution" must be drastic cuts to Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid.


Yawn. Everyone knew this was Mitch's plan. No Supply Side tax cut for the rich ever stimulated growth or investment or R&D or reduced deficits, ever, even once. The GOP always sends debt skyrocketing and money velocity plummeting, a sure sign that Adam Smith's hated "rentier caste" - against whom the real Tea Party rebelled - is back in force. The aim of the recent tax gift to oligarchs was to use the tsunami of red ink as an excuse to slash Social Security.


In fact, back when sincere adult Republicans existed, in 1993, President Clinton created the Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform as part of the administration's effort to promote economic growth and control the budget deficit. The commission, chaired by Senator J. Robert Kerrey (D-NE) and Senator John C. Danforth (R-MO), wrought bipartisan agreement on long-term entitlement reform and structural changes to the tax system.


The resulting bill almost passed. It would have gradually cranked up retirement age and saved trillions, in exchange for cranking up Medicare for children and the poor and meaningful contributions by the rich. But the opportunity was trashed by Newt Gingrich and then by Dennis "friend-to-boys" Hastert, who worked with Fox to end all traces of adulthood in the GOP. Danforth-style Republicans are now entirely extinct.


Link to this! Make it clear they are going after Social Security again, in order to keep the Supply Side gusher going into the open maws of aristocrats and vampires. Remind them that their parents faced a similarly dangerous plutocracy, and the Greatest Generation adored one man... Franklin Roosevelt.

== Lefty Ammo ==


Dig it. Only 95% of our current crisis arises from a mad, confederate right that's tooling for a world feudalist-mafia. Alas, in fighting to save the Enlightenment Experiment, we get little help from a pompous-preening-purist FAR-left

My most popular Facebook posting of late has been a takedown of insipid "splitters" who would make the Union's tent smaller, pouring hate on refugees from the Republican insanity... including those crewcut-wearing protector-caste officers and other "deep state" fact-users who are supplying lots of our best mid-term candidates. 

Any time you see purist splitting by lefty zealots, whether they are sincere fools or (more often) Kremlin provocateurs, stomp it! Even if you think some dems are too pallid, the Democratic Party will get you half of what you want, and that will do for starters. You will be better positioned to demand more, if first we get:

... an end to gerrymandering, voter suppression and other cheats
... transparency of money in politics
... a return of the Rebuttal Rule (vs lies especially on Fox)
... restoration of fair tax rates
... full funding of IRS auditors
... protection of the civil service
... doubling energy research
... restoration of energy/mileage standards
... decent judges
... fairness for DACA kids
... congressional committees investigating real things...

... plus at-minimum giving Medicare to all young people under 26
... and raising the national minimum wage
... and background checks. 

Those are consensus things that all democratic politicians are for.

Yeah, sure, they will then divide on many other things, like the importance of trying to balance a budget, as Jerry Brown has done spectacularly in California. But even you lefties out there, do you want to get at least those items first?

Show that list to your lefty-flake pals and ask them which of those measures they deem unimportant or 'no-real-difference.' If you would split the DP's big tent you would undermine all those items. (And witness California, where the divided dems still agreed on all of those and more.) "They're all corrupt and the same," is THE number one meme pouring out of the Kremlin basements.  Anyone who helps to spread it is a tool, at best.


Dig it. Once the insane treasonous GOP is dead, then the democrats will divide into two parties, one of them more interested in stimulating enterprise and balancing budgets. Sane conservatives, who like science and justice and facts and compassion, would find a home with those moderate liberals. 

But here's the deal -- you lefties can have the other half and make it yours! You can then oppose and pester that sane adult slightly-conservative party of grownups with further lefty stuff if you want! Re-learning the almost lost method called negotiation, on a political landscape relatively free of cheating.

And if you won't listen to me, then watch Bill Maher shred the purists and torch them into dust.  Share this.

== Uncle Ammo ==

Elsewhere I emphasize the most useful things you can do:

- Check on your own voter registration and all your friends, especially in swing districts where cheating and voter dumping are afoot. If you find any, yell.

- State assembly races are the most important ones! If there’s a swing district near you, or you know someone living in one!

- Fight in the trenches. You can still find a get out the vote drive.

And don't stop arguing. Yes, I know your mad-confederate dad or uncle or brother is beyond hopeless, glued to the Fox-teat, desperately gulping, even mainlining Hannity nostrums of hate toward law professionals and the FBI, the intelligence community and the U.S. military officer corps – half a million smart, dedicated “deep-state” conspirators who are all committing the same “treason” at the same time. 
       
And hate toward scientists, doctors, teachers and every other fact-using profession. If you’ve dared him to name one exception to this anti-all-smart-people pogrom, and he won’t even try, then sure, probably nothing will sway him. And yet…

…his wife may be listening, from the next room, and she can’t be bullied inside the polling booth. And maybe you can demoralize his confederate zealotry enough that he’ll drink those extra beers you gift to him, on election day. 

Or else maybe… just maybe… I’ve seen some RASRs (Residually Adult-Sane Republicans) lift their ostrich heads out of the sand. I’ve been responsible for a few.

Which is why I push using wagers. Properly parsed, they can corner any confederate and/or possibly get you a little cash. I’ve listed dozens of starkly-put bets, like going to a nearby beach together and personally measuring ocean acidification. But here’s a new one or two.

“What were the tangible outcomes of Donald Trump’s forays into diplomacy?”

- A president accused of collusion with despots fed more suspicion by meeting privately, without witnesses, with a murderous communist tyrant and gave that Korean commie lord everything he wanted, backstabbing our closest ally, in exchange for empty, vague promises. WAGER: you can’t name a single tangible outcome that benefited the U.S.

Now replace the word "Korean" with "Russian" (keep the commie part.)

== California ==

One of the largest, most-innovative and most-agile and productive economies in the world is California, despite endless, tedious howls from the right that businesses are driven away. In fact, no governor has ever been more popular than Jerry Brown, whose combination of skinflint budgetary prudence and skillful management has won fans even among the state’s business community, while the state leads the way in exploring the new era of environmental responsibility and truly equal rights. Here’s an article about how California has slashed childbirth mortality rates, even as the U.S. as a whole has stagnated or worsened.

Yes, wealth disparity indexes in California are pretty high. Ever ask why?  It’s because those who get rich in the state’s spectacular tech quarter – contrary to the yelps of every Texas governor – don’t leave!  They like it here, despite high taxes. And because it’s a land of opportunity, the poor flock in. Yes, faster than California can handle. It’s no utopia. And Climate Change threatens to burn us hard, every single year. And yes, there are islands of truly jabbering lefty-flakery and even PC bullying -- as happened at UC Irvine, recently. And let me be frank, the teachers’ unions need to relent on the issue of firing bad eggs. So? None of those anecdotes compare to the universal and contemptible utter-treason across all of today’s Confederate right.

We’ve learned. Slander must be answered. And we’ll no longer be lectured about “values” by regions that have far worse rates of STDs, gambling, teen sex, teen pregnancy, obesity, opioid addiction and every other turpitude you can name.  And if you want us to stop pointing that out, and help, instead? The answer is --  stop yowling that we’re evil. Stop screeching that all fact-using professionals and all university graduates and all people who know stuff are evil. And all the states where the future is being confronted, with courage and thoughtfulness. 

Stop it. Just stop. And we’ll go back to being generous as all heck.

 == Miscellaneous issues ==


Again, I explain why confirmation of water ice on the lunar poles is not a good enough reason to justify the fetish to send the U.S. back where we’ve already been, copying all the Apollo-copycats hurrying to the dusty-useless surface of the moon.  There are things America can do, that no one else can do. Also: defense against killer asteroids! Pre-cambrian 'explosions' and are octopi aliens? And is the economics of "The Expanse" remotely possible?

My song in praise of Adam Smith has been republished at Phil's Stock World.

If Two Scoops were a scientist... This posting is both funny and quite apt.
                                                                                  
Addendum: Why do I call him "Two Scoops"? Because we need to learn the art of polemic! Trying to match Trump and Fox in nastiness is a mug's game, and you must chide any allies who drop to that level. (deNiro did no good for anyone.) But just the right kind of ridicule is a weapon, if (blatantly) they were first and worse.

There is nothing obscene or vicious about "Two Scoops." But it does trigger memory of DT's utter pettiness, fragile ego and stunning lack of basic values, like simple hospitality. The trick is that no one can claim you are being (very) vulgar and certainly not inaccurate! And dig it, this kind of nickname may even help convert a wavering republican, where screaming will just make him dig in his heels. Look for the win-win.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Transparency: sense and nonsense


Every breakthrough in communications was misused, before it gradually made us better. The printing press horribly exacerbated Europe’s religious wars. Radio and loudspeakers amplified the voices of demagogues and helped make the 1930s-40s hell on Earth. But eventually each new tech does expand what people can know and feel and understand.

Concerned about the malignant effects of social media?  Watch this video.  Of course it is 90% public relations. Still, I consulted with Facebook a year ago about the problems of misinformation and “echo chambers” on the web and social media, and I’m pleased they are implementing some of my suggestions, though it will be far from enough. As predicted in my 1989 novel EARTH (it had web pages), these poisonous effects will grow and expand before our more mature angels lead us back to amiably and positively argumentative citizenship.  

In the same theme: 3,517 Facebook ads were bought by Russians. Their dominant strategy: Sowing racial discord. Often taking both sides of the argument, as in vaccination, in order to sic Americans against each other.

Still, be pragmatic. You could be one of those people who actually sets your settings for privacy.  This article shows how.

== A ‘landmark’? ==

This is an important ruling and a minor victory for liberty -- but hardly a "landmark." 'A U.S. Supreme Court ruling issued Friday barred police from accessing cellphone records such as call listings and location data without first obtaining a search warrant.' It sounds marvelous right? But all such restrictions on the ability of elites to see will prove ephemeral. Accelerating tech ensures that any "walls" you erect will become transparent or useless across the following decade. Please, name one counter-example? Those who tried to ban face-recognition systems learned that the ability is proliferating into scads of apps.

There was a recent "landmark" -- in 2013, the best year for civil liberties in this century, so far -- when both the U.S. courts (Glik v Cunniffe) and the Obama Administration declared it to be "settled law" that a citizen has the right to record his or her interactions with police in public places.

No single matter could have been more important because it established the most basic right of "sousveillance" or looking-back at power, that The Transparent Society is all about. It is also fundamental to freedom. For in altercations with authority, what other recourse can a citizen turn to, than the Truth?

Notice the crucial difference. One 'landmark' encourages us to limit the power of an elite by hiding from them. It won't -- it cannot possibly -- work for long. 

The other encourages us to limit the power of an elite by looking back at them (sousveillance.) The first can be rendered moot, tomorrow. The second can be tech-enhanced ever onward, if we choose the braver-assertive path of active citizenship.



== The same old foolishness ==

An interesting article by Mariana Mazzucato on MIT Tech, suggests that many of our modern information age problems – such as being “farmed” by Internet giants for our information – might be addressed with a socialist approach… making most of the information about us into a “commons” where we all might benefit.  While I have some problems with some details, it is certainly in such a commons that we might at least get to see what is being done with our information, who is using it, and possibly even get paid for “interest” in knowledge about us, in a manner talked about by Jaron Lanier.

Caustically rejecting Dr, Mazzucato’s proposal is Aral Balkan, who insists that every individual should have sovereign control over his or her own portion of a balkanized infosphere, many billions of isolated cells, with every human attentive to which items of personal information are allowed to pass.  

“The crucial point here, however, is that this toxic way of building modern technology is not the only way to design and build modern technology. We know how to build free and open, decentralised, and interoperable systems where your data originates in a place that you – as an individual – own and control.”

What stunning, staggering towering malarkey. An example, please. Show us one example of such a system that has worked, persistently, at closing information flows in ways that stymie elite view and empower privacy and citizenship through concealment. There are no large scale examples, because it is technologically, logically and historically impossible. Nor is it even distantly related to the methods that we have used, across 200 years, to create a briefly flourishing era of individual creativity and freedom.

Again and again, since writing The Transparent Society, I’ve asserted. It’s not a important to fret over what elites know about you, as it is to have active, assertive power over what they can do to you. And that power is only derived from your knowledge of what they are up to. Balkanization of a secretive, cellular infoWeb can only benefit the mighty, who will have every tool to exploit cracks in those cell walls… and show me one such system – one, ever! – that did not have such exploitable cracks. 

But when elites are also naked, then they are limited in the number of henchmen they can hire without springing their own leaks. And…

…no, I will not try to summarize The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? Where I argue we should stay faithful to the impudent method that worked for the only 200 year stretch of rising human freedom and happiness.  If you are actually curious, here are articles and speculations by David Brin about transparency, freedom and technology.  

== And more of the same ==

Continuing in the same vein: In a perfect example of the Aplha-Minus Effect, Rochelle Gurstein rails in the Baffler against “Self-Invasions and the Invaded Self,” denouncing the trend toward self-exposure in the modern world, as if she invented what is - in fact - the hand-wringing stance that’s standard across the depth and breadth of modern intelligencia, denouncing how we live in “a society that offers boundless opportunities for men and women to expose themselves (in all dimensions of that word) as never before, to commit what are essentially self-invasions of privacy.” 

Continues Dr. Gurstein: “Although this is a new phenomenon, it has become as ubiquitous as it is quotidian, and for that reason, it is perhaps one of the most telling signs of our time.”

No, it is not a new phenomenon, not even remotely. Across all the history of our species, most humans lived in either tribes or villages in which power was disproportionately wielded by chieftains and their thugs and priests… and by the busybody gossips who pounced on every minor indiscretion or exposed weakness.  And exposed we were, in those ancestral villages, vastly more than we are today, when both physical walls and the law protect the interior spaces of our large homes.  

No. What is new is not our degree of exposure, but the extent to which it is voluntary - a choice taken by many millions to step out and preen in the open. A choice that wins them patronizing contempt from those who… like Rochelle. Gurstein… are waving their arms and shouting “look at me, instead!” from the page-screens of hifalutin intelligencia zines, not Instagram. This elitist contempt is richly expressed: 

“To get a sense of the sheer range of unconscious exhibitionism, we need only think of the popularity of reality TV shows, addiction-recovery memoirs, and cancer diaries. Then there are the banal but even more conspicuous varieties, like soaring, all-glass luxury apartment buildings and hotels in which inhabitants display themselves in all phases of their private lives to the casual glance of thousands of city walkers below. Or the incessant sound of people talking loudly—sometimes gossiping, sometimes crying—on their cell phones, broadcasting to total strangers the intimate details of their lives.”

To be clear, I agree that much of this modern self-exposure is both puerile and somewhat unwise. Though it does go way back, as she herself refers. 

“As (Henry) James put it in his description of the newspaperman in The Bostonians: “For this ingenuous son of his age all distinction between the person and the artist had ceased to exist; the writer was personal, the person food for newsboys, and everything and everyone were everyone’s business.””

Professor Gurstein proceeds to erect a series of strawmen to knock down, like the notion that anyone of note today might actually, actually be saying “Why seek privacy; do you have something to hide?” 

Um, please cite one example of that cliché being uttered by anyone of significance? One example? Even just one? Oh, but the series of strawmen continues:

“It is no wonder, then, that the world we inhabit together feels ever more ugly, coarse, and trivial. When the boundary between public and private becomes as extremely porous as it is today, we lose far more than “that kingdom of the mind, that inner world of personal thought and feeling in which every man passes some time,” which would have been disastrous enough.”

In fact, the private individual has never had more sovereignty than in today’s west, wherein personal eccentricity is vouchsafed protection by both law and relentless Hollywood messages. Yes, we continue to reform, always in the same direction of more tolerance, not less. Again and again we find just one limitation that consistently is applied to check that expansion of individual sovereignty, one criterion - is there a victim? 

If your eccentricity is one that hampers the livelihood or eccentric freedom of others, then you face opprobrium.  And note: if my assertion makes you angry, because we do not live up to that image well enough, consider that your very reaction is an example! 

Your eagerness to make it more true is shared by millions. In truth by a majority of your neighbors.

Among her article's few moments of lucidity, Rochelle Gurstein asks: “How can we begin to think about protecting our private experiences and our common world from more and more brazen indifference to their inherent fragility? The first thing we need to recognize is that the law is no help.”

Here we agree. No, law won’t protect you from the tsunami of light, nor will whining, or commanding the tide to go back out. 

What does have a chance of helping individual humans maintain some degree of safety, sovereignty, and even a little privacy is exactly the thing that dour svengalis rail against… light itself. If average people are empowered to see all elites, enforcing MYOB or “Mind Your Own Business”, then they may have deterrence.

This is not theoretical. Everywhere in the West that light has poured, oppression gained stigma and eventually began to fade. It is the thing – the only thing – that works.

Oh, I know what’s going on in China. The Social Credit system is turning light into the enemy of eccentricity, or freedom, or diversity and accountability. It could have that effect here, too. Which is why it’s all the more urgent that we study the west’s immune system against oppression and conformity. Light can be the enemy of those things, if it empowers feudal elites and gossips to push us around, as in the villages of old.  

Or it can empower us to hold elites and busybodies accountable and hold them at bay. What matters is our shared value system. And the pivot could not be more clear:

If I am right about our value systems re: eccentricity and tolerance and MYOB, then we have a chance. If I am wrong, then what does Dr. Gurstein think she’s accomplishing with her jeremiads?

Will transparency be used that way?  Here, at last, I have some overlap with the writer – (disclosure: she and I have had tussles, before) -- because the choice will be ours and it will depend upon our “sensibilities” or values. 

“How can we revive those aspects of the reticent sensibility that we need in circumstances radically different from the world in which they originally emerged? What would be their new foundation? I am sorry to report that I find myself at a complete loss for an answer.”

Yes, yes. That much is truthful and clear. That admission of failed imagination may indeed be the first step on the road to wisdom. The next is admitting that some things have actually worked, in our recent past. And squinting to perceive what they were.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Spreading disinformation - we can fight it with wagers

Alas, the "Union" side in this already-ignited civil war appears to have no generals. At least none with any sense of where the battlefield really is.  

It is all about the notion of "fact" or objective reality.  The top-foremost aim of the other side -- the mafiosi who have taken Washington and who are sweeping the globe -- has been to undermine every profession that deals in evidence, proof and the testing of assertions. From science to journalism to "deep state" law and intelligence agencies and the U.S. military officer corps -- all are denounced at every rally and Fox show.

No other issue matters like this one, because almost all other matters would swing their needle hard toward sensible negotiation and resolution, if factual reality itself weren't Enemy Number One. 

Efforts to counter this calamitously clever assault do exist. The Annenberg Public Policy Center set up FactCheck.org and we all know about Snopes. There are dozens of worthy efforts and you can find many more below, under comments. But these earnest endeavors all suffer from a fatal flaw. As soon as each one starts operation, its tally of lies and misleading statements will point overwhelmingly at right wing pols and media. 

This, in turn leds to denunciation of the fact site as a "clearly biased" liberal mouthpiece, or an attempt to impose a "Ministry of Truth."

My own 12-part proposed Fact Act would get around this, by emphasizing fact-adjudicating methods that are inherently competitive. For example one provision would re-introduce five minutes of rebuttal per every five hours of one-sided opinion on any channel or station that takes advertising. You know who would oppose this! But the proposal does sound fair, and that is the first step to winning the war of polemic.

But we needn't wait. I have found one thing rocks our mad uncles out of their trances. One thing halts the spew of canned fox-incantations about Clintons and climate change hoaxes. One tactic always works! It is the one area where a good-old-boy still admits that facts matter. I've said it till I was blue in the face.

Wagers. Offer to find a neutral bartender or lawyer or scientist to first hold the stakes, then demand: "Put money on it!"  Watch.  Most of them will flee, of course. But a certain fraction... the ones we need, to tip the balance, will blink and start backpeddling, and at minimum you'll get some amusement.

"You are so sure that climate change is a hoax (or supply side tax cuts work, or there's massive voter fraud, or Republicans are better for market enterprise...) that you're willing to stake our children's future on it? But you aren't sure enough to make a bet and take my money? 

"Then the issue here isn't facts. It is cowardice and hypocrisy. It's weaseling and hot air!"

Here I detail six surefire-killer wagers that are NAME ONE EXCEPTION challenges. For example, name one fact-centered profession, from science to the FBI, that's not under direct assault by Fox. Or: name a single factor that won us the Cold War that’s not been dismantled by the Trump-Fox-GOP. Our mighty alliances like NATO? Our peerless and admired American science? Strong and confident intelligence agencies, or a public that’s united against Kremlin scheming, or IRS auditors tracking KGB cash flows? Protection of Russian defectors, or an American tradition of adult negotiation based on evidence. Oh and climate change has given Russia twelve new seaports along a valuable, ice-free Arctic they now control.

Oh, sure, your mad uncle won’t wind up taking an actual fact-centered bet. But use that fact! The macho may never recover. 

I've discussed this elsewhere, earlier this year and other years, yet not one other public figure-centrist I know of has tried this simple gambit. It was tried, briefly, against Rick Perry by Mitt Romney, who blew it, letting it be portrayed as bullying by a rich man... one of many wriggling excuses they'll use, and that incident may have deterred others from trying. But there are a million ways around such squirms: "Let's bet 5% of your wealth (or income) against 5% of mine," or "one day of your income vs. one day of mine," or "let's pick any random five people off the street and let them choose the stakes!"

Oh, the squirming that ensues. The specific terms of the bet, who holds the stakes... and none of that is the point!  The point is to let the public see who is doing the squirming!  And if it is just you vs. your uncle?  If he is an honest person, deep inside, then he will be the one to notice that.

I'll finish this time with a recommendation for his wife... your aunt... or any other American female who feels repelled by the current madness, but helpless in the face of political mania by the man she loves.

== More ammo for wagers ==

Elsewhere I list some great wagers, like demanding your Mad Uncle (MU) go with you to the beach to personally measure ocean acidification. (Watch him squirm!) Now on to some fresh items from the news.

A recent NY Times exposé on Trump family finances is just the tip of the spear in our guts. In his new book "House of Trump, House of Putin: The Untold Story of Donald Trump and the Russian Mafia," veteran investigative journalist Craig Unger presents a detailed and exhaustively researched account of how Donald Trump has for decades laundered billions of dollars for Russian organized crime figures and other oligarchs. This fits a larger pattern in which Trump and his inner circle have shown a great comfort with financial crimes and other forms of unethical or illegal behavior to personally enrich themselves at the expense of the American people.

The bet? That the tally of Donald Trump's foreign 'friends' is nearly all mafia states, while those he rails at the most are traditional allies and democracies. The folks standing in Putin's way.

 Study patterns! In 1930 the German Junker aristocracy and the industrial moguls threw money behind a populist-nationalist movement that they thought would prove an effective way to destroy the Social Democrats... who were the only force keeping the communists out of power. It worked. Both communists and social democrats were slaughtered by the Nazis en masse. Then - too slowly - came the "what have we done?" realization that the rabid beast the aristos had released was no longer saddled. At which point they could only hold on for dear life... and many lost their lives and everything else.

Now we see something similar, in eerily ironic ways as Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson is pumping tens of millions of dollars more into Republican Party coffers in an 11th-hour push to save their congressional majorities. Confront your mad uncle (MU) with this! How conservatives reversed from hating gambling as a sin/vice to the GOP being owned and operated by casino moguls like Adelson, Wynn and Trump - the one profession on Earth that absolutely requires daily mob ties.  BTW, Adelson’s most  uncannily profitable casinos are in Macau — almost certainly laundering and channeling PRC money straight into our elections.

The bet? Find a core element of morality that the confederacy hasn't reversed, from gambling to accepting the vastly higher divorce rate among GOP politicians than democrats, to acceptance of dozens of sexual predators and child molesters as high officials, including one who spent ten years as Speaker of the House and the nation's top Republican. Dare him to bet on that! Or on relative rates of teen sex, teen pregnancy, STDs and so on, in Red America vs. Blue.  Oh, you'd win the bet! But watch, he will flee, rather than put up honest stakes

Is this more "fake news"? Concocted by the "deep state"? The same U.S. intelligence agencies that your Mad Uncle used to root for, when they struggled against the very same Kremlin foes, back when they wore hammer-and-sickle pins? Again, ask your MU to explain how the GOP swung from hating gambling to being owned by Casino moguls, slumlords and Cayman bankers. And who on Earth is more likely to have mob ties?

== As for your aunt? ==


Married Women May Be Moving Away From The GOP. That’s fine. Loving him doesn’t mean you have to adopt his loony politics, especially when you are alone in the booth. But you can do more. 

On election day, vote early, with friends - maybe dragging along some young people? Then bring home a case of his favorite beer. Put on a good game. Nag him to go vote half an hour before the polls close, but dress in a way that makes him want to stay. Think of Lysistrata. Save the world for your children.

== And if you know one of the masters of this treason? ==

The notion that shortsighted plutocrats are actually smart is one cultivated by their sycophant flunkies and it proved catastrophic in every past oligarchy, feudal or royal or theocratic or leninist. In EXISTENCE I tried to portray what some trillionaires might do, if they truly want to stay on top, while riding a healthy civilization upward. A civilization never angry enough to turn and look closely at the aristocracy. It was a pretty good scene, if I do say so... and I see no signs that any of today's oligarchs are smart enough to know how badly they need this.

Instead, we have (1) a war on all fact-using professions... how will that go, when you've angered all the folks who know nuclear, bio, nano and every other technology? and...

(2) A riled up, know-nothing, mass-populist movement that will either swing hard to the left, when folks remember their parents' devotion to FDR... or much worse...

... that the rabid populism stirred up by Fox-Jones-Breitbart will stay fascist and turn on the oligarchy with ferocity. We are seeing the latter now, and Charles Koch would do well to prove he truly is smarter than the average billionaire. If he and a few others don't waken, they had better learn the word "tumbrels."


Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Toward a transparent (and safer, tolerant and more free) world


In an important step toward an accountably transparent world, offshore owners of British property will be forced to reveal their true identities or face jail sentences and unlimited fines under draft laws that aim to end the UK’s reputation as a high-risk jurisdiction for money laundering. Overseas criminal gangs were using British property transactions to launder billions of pounds in corrupt funds. Parliament’s foreign affairs committee went further earlier this year, saying that corrupt Russian funds laundered through the UK, including via property, posed a threat to national security.

The Brits and Europeans are the ones with guts right now, peeling away layers of what amounts to open warfare against the West by wold mafias. See how Russian GRU (KGB) agents have been running amuck, committing acts or sabotage, espionage and murder with increasing impunity, while Russian agent-hackers are caught red-handed spying on the investigation into the crash of flight MH17, as well as the World Anti-Doping Agency. 

And now the thing I've been demanding for 25 years. What is an 'Unexplained Wealth Order'? A UWO is a new power passed by the British Parliament to target suspected corrupt foreign officials who have potentially laundered stolen money through the UK. Take this example of the wife of a former Azerbaijani state banker who risks losing her £15m home near the London Harrod's store where she has spent another 15 million pounds, if she fails to explain the source of her wealth to the High Court. Now, if only some of the laundered money can make its way back to the poor citizens of the original nations.

God bless Europe for keeping a candle lit. Light is our last, best weapon. This has got to be just the beginning, or we will have that Helvetian War.

== The How and Why of using light to save civilization ==

So how does this relate to China’s Social Credit system? It’s probably the largest social engineering project ever attempted, a way to control and coerce more than a billion people… Smartphone apps will also be used to collect data and monitor online behavior on a day-to-day basis… The system will be enforced by the latest in high-tech surveillance systems and facial recognition as China pushes to become the world leader in artificial intelligence.”  

Moreover, as in the chilling Black Mirror episode “Nosedive,” your crucial score will be harmed if you associate with the “wrong people,” meaning anyone who dissents or even displays eccentricity.

How do I reconcile one form of coercive transparency while denouncing another? Duh? One is aimed at reinforcing the things that have kept us free, safe from coercion by topmost castes, by applying light to all elites who would exercise power. The other is a method elites can use to force obedience and conformity from the masses, from us. 

Dig it well, something like social credit is inevitable. We’ll see each other and adjust whom we want to hang or associate with. But there are two failure modes that we know how to evade, if we prove smart and wise and assertively determined.

1) If light is vigorously applied upward – thoroughly and habitually! – then these tools might hold elites accountable. More important, we can sic elites against each other, which was the great innovation set up under the U.S. Constitution. If that includes NGOs with millions of middle class members, then there’s a chance that transparency might serve and protect freedom, not crush it.

2) Okay, suppose we do that, then everything is open and democratic, right? No Big Brother. Only then what’s to stop a 51% prudish, oppressive majority from democratically and openly voting to cram conformity upon all the eccentrics and unusual folk out there? It’s happened before, and it is the style of democratic despotism portrayed in Ray Bradbury’sFahrenheit 451.  

Will a paramount Big Brother be replaced by millions of nosy, judgmental Little Brothers? See how there's great news... that the world population is now majority middle class! But that doesn't necessarily translate into pro-tolerance, diversity and eccentricity. Middle classes can be bigoted, too.

Only step back. The fact that I am asking that pointed question… and YOU are nodding with shared worry… is a clue to the answer. 


Values

Transparency will empower the majority to impose its values. But if that value system extolls diversity, tolerance and MYOB… or Mind Your Own Business… then think about the effect. Bullying others to repress their  differences will be deemed a worse crime than any harmless eccentricities they exhibit. Let me repeat that, because it is what you believe should  be our future. If bullying and conformity-oppression are among the worst social sins, then that is what gets socially punished. And light just might be our friend.

No. You still don't get it. In all my life, I've found no concept to be harder to convey. This is the fundamental wellspring of all our freedoms and individuality, yet it seems utterly counter-intuitive to most folks. So let me illustrate with an example from mass culture-media.

Picture that scene from the movie version of The Circle, in which nasty putzes use cell phone cameras to torment a shy person. Blatantly, that is the kind of thing the director wants you to hate! Only dig it, in today’s America, those bullies would likely be shot - in turn - by the cell cams of better folks, who will show the bullies' nasty behavior to their moms.

Oh, you are steaming now, I bet. Fuming that we aren’t that vigorous at defending diversity and eccentricity. And you’re ignoring the very value system that taught you to feel that way! That drives you to be unsatisfied with our partial progress toward tolerance. 

And you’re right! We’re only vastly more tolerant and diverse and eccentric than all other human societies, combined. It’s not good enough! Those values must be reinforced, before the tools of social credit sweep the world! 

And here is just one example - out of many happening every single day - that should inspire you!

Hey… I… am… on… your… side in this. Now is not the time for complacency. If we don’t achieve miracle #1, then modern tech tools will enable some cabal of the rich and Mafiosi and demagogues and other fanatics to shut down this Periclean renaissance, possibly forever. Ferociously upward-aimed transparency is the only thing that can prevent it, and bring us miracle number one…

…but in order to achieve the second wonder - and stymie the pernicious scheme to repress diversity with things like "social credit" - it will be up to us to ensure the coming flood of light empowers our best values, encouraging a humanity whose wide stance – based on diversity and tolerance and MYOB – leaves us ready for whatever may come.
  
== Five Myths about Transparency ==

There is a clever "five myths" feature that appears in the Washington Post outlook section every Sunday.  For example, detailing and appraising five commonly held assumptions about recycling, or artificial intelligence or presidential pardons. I’m occasionally told I should write one of these perspectives… or ten, on different topics… but I never find the time.

Philosopher Arnold Kling has suggested especially something related to transparency. "Five myths about each new revelation of surveillance"  — or things that happen every single time the news reveals that we’re being seen, starting with the mythology that any of it is surprising. These surveillance myths are:

Myth #1.  We should be shocked by the arrival of new tools for surveillance. We should be surprised that elites (e.g. government, criminal, foreign, corporate, aristocratic or technological) will try to exploit them in secret.

Myth # 2.  That laws limiting surveillance tools have ever worked in the past, or can possibly work in the future.

Myth #3.  That such tools cannot be turned around to equalize the playing field, by letting average folk look back at power (sousveillance.)

Myth # 4.  That it even matters what elites know about us, instead of controlling and deterring what they can do to us.

Myth # 5.  Our culture must ban technologies rather than adapt to them.

Your feedback on rephrasing this set would be welcome.

== Can we even believe our eyes, anymore? ==

Which photos are real? We’ve all seen the recent videos, showing Barack Obama saying (harmless, so far) things he never said. It’s only a matter of time, before counterfeit “reality” floods our perceptions, the way fake news did, earlier.  San Diego startup Truepic raises $8 million to develop methods to certify the authenticity of online photos - and debunk "deep fakes.”

It’s a problem with deep roots.  In my nonfiction book The Transparent Society, I had a chapter entitled “The End of Photography as Proof of Anything At All?”  Even earlier, in my novel EARTH (1989) I discussed the likelihood we’d be dealing with this, by now.

Google's DeepMind computer vision artificial intelligence showed that it can generate an accurate three-dimensional map or graphic from a set of two-dimensional images. For many years, computer “vision” was poor and image fakery easily detected.  But that was during the Moore’s Law Era, back when hardware advanced swiftly, but software remained leaden and far behind.

In what I’ve called the “Big Flip,” we see Moore’s Law finally in its long predicted taper-off… while suddenly software has gone on a tear, accelerating in capabilities almost exponentially. And nowhere is this more apparent than in image processing.  Or “deep fakery.”

And yes, there is a solution — I talk about it, in The Transparent Society. It can work, because it is the only thing that ever worked against skilled liars. Unfortunately, it will only be done after (as Winston Churchill put it) we’ve “tried everything else.”