Friday, January 17, 2020

At the heart of the matter... Ukraine, Rapture, and Walken's dazzling prophecy

And the drama continues. Let's set aside the news that Ken Starr and Alan Dershowitz will be Trump's defenders, nailing the coffin of those asserting that the Clinton impeachment "Starr Chamber" was anything but utterly biased... the sole whine that Republicans now hurl at any investigation of them. No, let's dial even deeper.

 At the heart of the impeachment imbroglio seems to be...“Trump’s animosity toward Ukraine.” 

One theme that runs through almost all of the accounts from witnesses who testified before House lawmakers is President Trump’s unyielding loathing of the former Soviet republic, which dates to his earliest days in the White House. “He just hated Ukraine,” one former White House official said.  Why? You might ask.  Well, for starters, Trump campaign manager - and now imprisoned felon - Paul Manafort was a mafia fixer for Viktor Yanukovich, Putin’s puppet Ukraine president, who was ousted by a popular revolution that – yes – got some support from Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and George Soros. 

To Vladimir Putin, this was a body blow, almost as bad as the fall of the USSR itself (which VP bemoans as the 'greatest tragedy of the 20th Century.') Don't take my word; actually read Putin's speeches on the matter. The 'stealing' of Ukraine from Russia's sphere of influence was an unforgivable act of war by the West, despite the Ukrainian people's will on the matter. It had to be avenged, first in the 2016 U.S. election, but then...

Of the countless services to his master that Trump pursued, one of the foremost was helping Vlad with this grudge.

== The Treason is Getting Utterly Explicit ==

Russia has reinvented itself as a bastion of Christian values in a world beset by relativism and godlessness. As a result, conservative Christians gathering at the World Congress of Families are looking to Putin to protect Christianity from the West.”  

Yep. After 70 years spent futilely trying to suborn the U.S. left, which generally saw through all the faux-egalitarian Leninist crap, Putin and his fellow commissars and KGB agents just dropped all the hammer-sickle stuff and re-branded themselves as billionaire-Christian mafia-oligarchs. And that was all it took, in order to hypnotize the entire U.S. right. What a contrast.


"In western Europe, many people believe that the West is collapsing and all civilisation is threatened by Islam, by demography, and by democracy…What they try to pretend is that there is only one country where Western civilisation is well and alive and thriving, and that's Russia." … Once dismissed as fringe extremists by the political elite, the WCF now counts friends amongst the leaders and politicians swept to power by the populist wave in Europe and the U.S.


“Vice President Mike Pence and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson were originally scheduled to address the conference, but their names were removed from a list of speakers without explanation.”… "Among the members of the WCF is the Family Research Council, an anti-LGBT group with longstanding ties to Pence. 
"It is a geopolitical and ideological battleground," said Kreko, and remarked that the event was a message from "pro-Russian forces in Moldova that the U.S. conservative right and Russia together can save the world from this plague of liberalism and tolerance." reports Newsweek

Then there's Mike Pompeo, openly saying that he's biding time till the Rapture, when 99% of Americans will be consigned to living torment, then eternal damnation, followed by a permanent end to all democracy, diversity, ambition, discovery, curiosity, freedom... an end to all new generations of children... and an end to the United States of America. And yes, although that's not a direct quote, it is exactly what he means.


== It's fragging obvious ==

I doubt any pundit anywhere will take this interpretation. But I believe one reason that Trump intends to pardon - and even promote - soldiers convicted in military courts of war crimes is to drive a wedge between the U.S. military officer corps (USMOC) and the non-commissioned ranks. Putin-Murdoch-etc. know that the USMOC is the 3rd best-educated clade in American life. Moreover, the officers — while conservative in demeanor and behavior — remain deeply committed to science, fact-using and the rule of law, all of which are being warred-upon by the New Oligarchy. 

(Retired officers provide the largest group of new Democratic candidates who have been taking territory in purple and red districts.)

Indeed, the thing I fear most about a second Trump term is that interference in the promotion process will start to have major effects, as these deeply non-political men and women - devoted to the Constitution - are chivvied and harried beyond forbearance. But the scariest angle is how they will also have to start watching their own backs, if Trumpism sinks talons deeply into the non-commissioned ranks.

Doubt this? I know officers who report that the TVs in the noncom ready rooms are always… always… tuned to Fox News. Ponder that.

== Is Civil War pending? ==

I cannot urge you too strongly to read the linked article from The Atlantic's special issue on "Civil War." Here's a blip from How America Ends, by Yoni Appelbaum, who shows why the right is so desperate to cheat and grip power, in the face of demographic collapse:

 “A conservatism defined by ideas can hold its own against progressivism, winning converts to its principles and evolving with each generation. A conservatism defined by identity reduces the complex calculus of politics to a simple arithmetic question—and at some point, the numbers no longer add up.”

And: “When a group that has traditionally exercised power comes to believe that its eclipse is inevitable, and that the destruction of all it holds dear will follow, it will fight to preserve what it has—whatever the cost.

Before you gloat over the apparent intention of the Republican Party to self-destruct at a gibbet of fanaticism, consider a sobering historical correlation and danger sign. The Fox/Putin systematic destruction of moderate conservatism has implications, as Appelbaum points out:

“In his recent study of the emergence of democracy in Western Europe, the political scientist Daniel Ziblatt zeroes in on a decisive factor distinguishing the states that achieved democratic stability from those that fell prey to authoritarian impulses.

“The key variable was not the strength or character of the political left, or of the forces pushing for greater democratization, so much as the viability of the center-right. A strong center-right party could wall off more extreme right-wing movements, shutting out the radicals who attacked the political system itself….  

“If groups that traditionally have enjoyed privileged positions see a future for themselves in a more democratic society, Ziblatt finds, they will accede to it. But if “conservative forces believe that electoral politics will permanently exclude them from government, they are more likely to reject democracy outright.””

This is just another reason to be ready with an olive branch to offer any and all ‘RASRs’ who are willing to renounce their movement’s fealty to mafia-oligarchy, and who will help re-establish the primacy of facts and fact professions. 

(And I have mentioned especially Utah Republicans. They will never be liberal Democrats, so don't ask it. But like Sen. Mike Lee and others, they are realizing that the version of conservatism offered by Putin, Fox and the MAGA inciters is not compatible with theirs. Most Red States and GOP pols and pundits have terrible record score vastly worse than blue ones. Will Utahns form the nucleus of a clean, honest, and fact-friendly conservatism? One can dream.)

Facts matter. And the talons of foreign despots must be taken off our institutions. All else is negotiable! But without those two things, we are forced to accept a bitter truth. That sane conservatives have turned a blind eye to their duty, to country, civilization and even conservatism. At which point, we’ll just have to save all of those things, ourselves.

And yes, Appelbaum covers a few of the points I make in POLEMICAL JUDO. How nice to be a wee bit less lonely.

== Looking back ==

Of all Christopher Walken schticks, it wasn't the infamous SNL "Cow Bells" scene that most rang true. It was playing the fervently anti-communist dad in Blast from the Past who, emerging from 30 years in a bomb shelter, asks his son (Brendan Fraser): "So we're supposed to believe that one day the Moscow Politburo guys just threw up their hands and said 'We surrender'?"

"That's about it, Dad."

Walken shakes his head and sighs: "You've got to hand it to them."

At the time, I (like everyone) thought this a cute little joke on dad's paranoia. Who knew it would turn out to be a terrifying prophecy! That many of the same conspiratorial commissars who schemed against us during the cold war would smoothly convert themselves (with help from Bushes) into billionaire "oligarchs" still using a virtually unchanged KGB, still seeking to destroy the West.

All of the Russoligarchs who Fox/Murdoch/Kochs now adore grew up reciting Leninist slogans and their leader called the fall of the USSR "history's greatest tragedy," yet we're to believe they all became freedom-lovers? Yes the leopard changed its spots, but its claws? Before, it was a criminal gang under a guise of elevating workers. Now, it's a gang - largely the same gang - openly bragging mafia-aristocratic rule. Big diff?

It is! Reiterating the point until some of you start spreading it: for seventy years, they tried using Marxist incantations to suborn the American Left, and almost entirely failed. But as soon as they dropped the hammer and sickle symbols and egalitarian slogans in favor of billionaire-mafia stuff, the U.S. Right falls all over itself, throwing themselves on their knees to betray America and cater to every Putin whim.

Shatter our alliances and sciences? Sure! Attack all the intel, FBI and military officers who fought the Cold War, dissing 500,000 of our finest as "deep state"? Whatever you say boss! Wreck any sense of fact or accountability and devastate our rule of law while making a mockery of U.S. justice by appointing pre-blackmailed shills as judges? Sure, anything the politburo commissars... I mean Godfather Putin... says.

Reminder. Watch this scene again, as Putin greets his co-owner of Fox News, MBS. And notice the puppet entering the room in the background. Then watch the grin as he greets his master, while other western leaders know what they are looking at. The winner of the new cold war, destroyer of NATO and puppetmaster for the American fall.

Oh, Christopher Walken had it right.

You've got to hand it to them.

== A roundup of worthwhile articles. ==



3) Russians have been quietly seeding political scandals in the West for decades. But their methods started working much better when they dropped the marxist surfaces and found different western allies. Read about how simple the method is, from Slate.

4) Professional trolls understand how to harness our biases (and hashtags) for their own purposes and how best to drive us to distrust our neighbors. This article shows how they often start by building rust with 'adorable' viral postings that have nothing to do with politics, from Rolling Stone.

What an era. "End of history" my shiny metal....

Saturday, January 11, 2020

SETI, METI and the Fermi Paradox

Let's take a science break, looking upward at what might be ours someday, if we build a worthy, forward-looking civilization. Tantalyzing goals seem to be getting closer in some ways! For example, a “super Earth” about 6x our planet’s mass orbits a red dwarf  just 31 light years away at  the outer edge of its host star's "habitable zone," and hence, depending on atmospheric constituents, scientists believe that this super-Earth could have water on its surface.

In a model based on Kepler probe data, researchers estimate that “planet is very close to Earth in size, from three-quarters to one-and-a-half times the size of earth, with orbital periods ranging from 237 to 500 days, occur around approximately one in four stars.” This article is vague and I assume they are talking about sunlike stars. The bestiary of “habitable” worlds orbiting red dwarves would be very different.

Yeah, that puts even more of a burden on the Fermi Paradox. Which alas gets covered in much of the press with incredible shallowness.  See below.

== Is there life out there? ==

We keep refining our models of what it takes to have a “Goldilocks World.” For example, Earth skates the very inner edge of our sun’s Continuously Habitable Zone (CHZ) which will migrate outward past us in just a hundred million years or so, maybe as little as the 66 million since mammals got their big break. As is, Earth must reach a “Gaia balance” with only just enough CO2 to feed plants. Any more and we fry. And humans are supplying more.

Now scientists are considering other factors, like size: How small is too small? The critical boundary point seems to be about 2.7 percent of the mass of Earth. Any planets less massive than that would lose their atmospheres to space before liquid water could form on their surfaces, and any water that might be present would vaporize or freeze. For comparison, the moon is 1.2 percent of Earth’s mass and Mercury is 5.53 percent.  Here I’m skeptical.  But it’s a start.

Isaac Arthur has one of the best science-speculation podcast series. On Halloween 2019 he added a 4th chapter to his cluster about the Fermi Paradox… which I (back in 1983) labeled “The Great Silence.”  In this episode, he reviews the notion of “filters” that might be responsible for the apparent paucity of detectable tech civilizations out there.  

The Fermi Paradox, the big question of where all the aliens are, has many proposed solutions focusing on what might lower the odds of intelligent species arising on another world, or what might end technological civilizations or cause them to go unseen by us and our SETI efforts. But what if intelligence rarely leads to technological civilizations in the first place? Could there be countless planets in our galaxy occupied by species who never came to value technology?”

== SETI advances… but there’s more METI foolishness ==

Should we be revealing ourselves to the cosmos? What if the first aliens to discover us do so thanks to our own transmissions, and, more disturbingly, what if those aliens are less than benevolent? On this week’s StarTalk All-Stars, astrobiologist and host David Grinspoon also tackles METI, or “Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence.” With co-host Chuck Nice, Dr. FunkySpoon invited David Brin, the Hugo award-winning science fiction author, scientist and NASA consultant who was on the committee that drew up the protocols for what to do if we do make contact with aliens.

You’ll learn why the “barn door excuse” – that we’ve already sent out radio and television transmissions that may have sealed our fate – is scientifically incorrect, but why new plans to use planetary radar like Goldstone (pictured above) to send focused beams into space would pump up the volume and increase the likelihood of being found. You’ll hear about the growing global discussion of whether the general public has the right to determine whether we broadcast our presence to the universe, or whether the “scientific elite” gets to decide humanity’s fate. 

Let’s set aside arguments over the narrow tech-window overlap… or the dismal insolence of those who would yell yoohoo on our behalf, without serious discussion of public or collegial concerns. (To read about that debate, go to davidbrin.com/meti.html) There is another, more specialized aspect to the specific “send everything” notion.

Plus, play along with David Grinspoon as he plays Chuck’s new game, “Brain of Brin or Dump of Trump,” and tries to guess whether a statement was first uttered by David Brin or Donald Trump. 

The Penn State Extraterrestrial Intelligence Center aims to fund research, host conferences, educate students, and grant doctorates in the general field of SETI.

== Shallow coverage in the press doesn't make us look "sapient" ==

WIRED carried an article about radio conversations with alien civilizations, that is simultaneously cogently interesting and amazingly wrongheaded. After covering some interesting aspects of communication methodology, the author concludes that all those efforts to develop clever math-linguistic protocols will not avail. Instead, we should (as recommended by the SETI Institute’s Seth Shostak) just beam forth the whole internet and let super-advanced aliens sort it all out. 

There is another, more specialized aspect to the specific “send everything” notion. That aspect is a phrase recently familiar: “quid pro quo.”

Only a few Earthly animals exhibit inter-species altruism, but most do seem to grasp some degree of commerce or trade: “You do something for me and I’ll do something for you.” Or give me that in exchange for this. Among advanced civilizations, separated by vast gulfs of empty space, the chief items of exchange will be in the form of information. Artworks, ideas, inventions, music and so on.

But these “beam everything!” fools seek to give away all of our trade goods straight from the start! Every famous painting or symphony or poem or patent, poured forth in exchange for nothing. “Thanks for the terrific free samples!” those uber-beings out there may reply. “Now what do you have to actually trade?” And if you doubt that scenario, despite trade being prevalent across all times and cultures, are you so sure that you’d bet our future without the courtesy of even discussing it?

Should we let fools rush to impoverish us? That’s not the behavior of scientists. It’s a cult.

== And harmless silliness ==

AstroGrams – helped by Apollo astronaut Charlie Duke - offers people worldwide the opportunity to inscribe a small metal plaque with their name, and a message and send it into space – either on a suborbital flight or orbital flight, to the International Space Station, to lunar orbit and perhaps even to Mars or beyond — with costs starting at just $99. Silly, yes, but harmless compared to fools who want to pour coherent blaring “yoohoo” radio messages out there.

Finally...A sense of scale from XKCD. Voyager 1 isn't even at the event Horizon.

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

On Iran's "retaliation" - a guest perspective

Much discussed (elsewhere) is the high likelihood that Iran's recent missile attack on U.S. bases in Iraq was an "arbitrated response/deal..." one negotiated in advance, allowing Iran and Iraq a face-saving way to "retaliate" in some flashy way, without causing any U.S. casualties that would invite further vengeance. This kind of thing is classic in the art of de-escalation and is consistent with Trump's bipolar pattern - lashing out then hurriedly backing off and letting professionals help him minimize any blowback.

Below is a guest-commentary that was offered to a small group by my friend and respected investment guru Russ Daggatt. But first -- I agree that the Iranian missile attack will be seen as a rather lame pre-negotiated, pre-warned face-saver. And hence, there will likely also be deemed insufficient by many of the parties in the Ayatollahs' constituency. You can be sure it will be supplemented with a "deniable" attack of some nastiness, at a later point.

What would be smartest? On the Daily Show, Roy Wood comically suggested those with grievances against Donald Trump make threats against Trump hotel properties. The threats needn't be serious in order to have intended effects. Moreover, it seems apropos, since this whole affair was a choice made entirely by ol' Two Scoops, against the wishes of all responsible U.S. government adults. 

Any of you who have read either EARTH or Polemical Judo know that I long ago suggested that kind of non-lethal methodology for developing nations to use, applying the prim legal definitions of "war" to get their stolen trillions back from banking havens. I proposed they issue Letters of Marque for anyone to use stink bombs or streaking on the small nation's behalf. I am not recommending this to Tehran! Since in fact, that regime doesn't deserve any moral high ground -- it has none, and will soon be a Russian satrapy, in any event.

Still, one can fantasize such a measure simultaneously deterring Trump income while adding a touch of whimsey to lighten up a crisis.

Now over to Russ Daggatt.

==  The Iran Tiff: Factual background, by Russell Daggatt ==

Tonight, Iran has reportedly launched a dozen or so missiles at two US military bases in Iraq (apparently without American casualties). Iran has sent word that they won’t further retaliate if the US doesn’t. Obviously, a lot is still uncertain. Now’s a good time to pull back and look at what we hope to achieve from all this.

By any definition, assassinating the top military leader of another country is an act of war. (The last time we did it was during WWII, when we killed Admiral Yamamoto, the architect of the Pearl Harbor attack. But that was total war (we actually nuked Japan), declared by Congress.) General Soleimani was a national hero in Iran, which is a proud country of 80 million people. Their internal politics demanded some act of retaliation. (Had another country assassinated, say, Dick Cheney during the Bush years, every Democrat would have joined every Republican in demanding some kind of retaliation. And Soleimani was more beloved in Iran than Cheney was here.)

Instead of seeking to cool emotions, Trump has been escalating the conflict, engaging in the taunts, threats and insults that he is temperamentally inclined to spew in even the most trivial and benign of situations. Before we rush headlong into war (again), it’s worth asking what we are hoping to achieve and whether war is the best means of achieving those objectives.

Humans are tribal. We tend to see our tribe as virtuous and other tribes as evil or devious or, at a minimum, mistaken. It’s useful occasionally to see things from the other side (not always easy when the nationalistic drums of war are beating).

I’m no fan of theocracy. I would be happy to see the Iranian people throw off their’s (and hope we don’t embrace one here). But we have a pretty bad history with that country - from our overthrow of their democratically-elected Prime Minister Mosaddegh, to our shooting down Iran Air 655 (killing all 290 innocent men, women and children aboard), to supporting Saddam in the Iran-Iraq war (which cost upwards of a million lives), to abrogating the nuclear deal (with which they were complying) ... and now assassinating General Soleimani. They have far more reason to fear and hate us than we do them. The Iranian leadership has generally been relatively restrained into their regional behavior - aggressively advancing their interests, but in a low-cost manner that doesn’t overextend themselves or risk major escalation.

To review: We invaded and occupied countries on either side of Iran, and have remained there for nearly two decades. During that time, we’ve had as many as 180,000 troops in Iraq (to their west) and 100,000 in Afghanistan (to their east). There was really no way they could stay out of the chaos we created on their borders and throughout the region - they had and have too much at stake. (By comparison, what are our interests, 6000 miles away?)

Iran’s leadership has been portrayed in this country as fanatics bent on suicidal aggression. In fact, they are relatively conservative, cautious and pragmatic (unlike our current leadership). They have shown themselves repeatedly willing to deal with us when it is in our mutual interest. They initially worked with us in Afghanistan (General Soleimani supported our allies, the Northern Alliance, in the battle against the Taliban even before we got involved there) - until Bush declared them part of the “Axis of Evil”. In 2003, they proposed a “Grand Bargain” to resolve all our regional differences (including those re Israel), to which we didn’t even respond. And they led the fight against ISIS in Iraq - with US forces and Iranian-backed militia sometimes operating out of the same Iraqi bases (it’s fair to say ISIS might have overrun all of Iraq had it not been for General Soleimani).

The media have been constantly repeating the administration's claim that General Soleimani was “responsible” for the deaths of hundreds (or sometimes, specifically, 600) American troops. It’s true that Iran backed Iraqi Shiite militia in the civil war that was unleashed in the chaos following our invasion and occupation. The US was fighting both sides of that civil war at various times and various places, and sometimes we were fighting Iraqi Shiite militia backed by Iran. We killed a lot of Iraqi Shiites and they killed a lot of our troops. Over 4500 Americans died in Iraq, which means most of those deaths were from fighting the Sunnis who those Shiite militia were also fighting. In other words, much of the time, they were fighting the same people we were. But those Iraqi Shiite militia, with the support of Iran, did seek to drive us out of their country.

We need to accept the fact that there is no way we are going to eliminate Iranian influence in Iraq. We opened that Pandora’s Box in 2003. Iran is the center of the Shia faith and many of its most holy sites are on the other side of the arbitrary post-colonial border in Iraq. Iraq is majority Shiite and many if not most Shiites look to Iran as the center of their faith. It’s worth noting that there were no Iranian-backed attacks on US forces for eight years, from 2011 until Trump pulled out of the JCPOA. After 2014, we were on the same side in the fight against ISIS.

And then there was the *nuclear deal* - the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The more moderate elements of the Iranian government took a big risk negotiating with us. They peacefully dismantled their nuclear program under the most intrusive inspections regime ever agreed to by any country in the world. While some of the restrictions on their enrichment activity phase out over time, their commitment never to pursue nuclear weapons and to that inspections regime never expire. By all accounts, they fully complied with the agreement. But the moderates lost that bet. We reneged. The hardliners were proven right - the US can’t be trusted.

It's also worth noting that Soleimani, while a ruthless warrior and committed adversary of the US and Israel, was also a skilled diplomat and negotiator - one of the best in the region. He knew how far to push it, and when and how to cut a deal. In fact, he was in the process of doing so -- arguably lured to his fate by a false U.S. overture --  when a US missile killed him outside the Baghdad airport. Iraq’s Prime Minister said that Soleimani was bringing him Iran’s response to a Saudi proposal for de-escalating regional tensions. Since the US did not inform the Iraqi government that we were planning on killing Soleimani on Iraqi soil, we might not have known that was his mission that day.

(To further complicate things, among the others we killed along with Soleimani was Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. That is a really big deal in Iraq by itself. He was the leader of an Iraqi Shiite militia that fought the US during our occupation of Iraq, and which the US says was behind the attack on a US base that killed an Iraqi-American contractor last month. But he was also deputy commander of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a state-sponsored coalition of mainly Shiite militia, nominally under the control of the Iraqi PM, formed in 2014 to fight ISIS. As the leader of that fight, Muhandis was considered a hero by many Iraqis (while considered a “terrorist” by the US). He had also been a security advisor to the first Iraqi PM after our invasion and a member of the Iraqi parliament. So, Muhandis was part of the Iraqi government, who fought against us during our occupation, but with us against ISIS. The Iraq PM said the killing of the Muhandis was an act of aggression against Iraq and a breach of the conditions under which American forces operate in their country. Complicated, right? How much of much of that do you think Trump understands?)

The current escalating conflict started with an attack by an Iranian-backed Shiite militia, Kata'ib Hezbollah (part of the Iraqi PMF), on an Iraqi airbase, that killed an Iraqi-American contractor. The US retaliated by attacking several militia bases, reportedly killing 25 Kata'ib Hezbollah members. That might have been disproportionate on our part, but not extremely so. Things might have ended there, but following a funeral in Baghdad for the Kata'ib Hezbollah militiamen killed by the US, an angry mob of dozens of militiamen and their supporters marched to the US Embassy and stormed the outer reception area.

Some background on that embassy attack: It is an understatement to call the US compound in Baghdad an “embassy.” It is more like a walled city within a city. At 104 acres (with much of it underground), it is the largest and most expensive embassy in the world, nearly as large as Vatican City. It cost $750 million to build* and has 5000 people (and has had as many as 16,000 people) working there. That is more than a mere diplomatic outpost. It is like an American small town, inside a fortress, in the middle of the largest city in the largest Arab country.

The “attack” was a mob of a few dozen Iraqis, armed only with stones and improvised Molotov cocktails, who stormed the outer reception area of this vast complex. Iraqi security forces reportedly made no effort to stop them. They threw rocks and trashed the reception area (setting fire to it). But it was not any kind of military attack or attempt to take over the compound - it was an angry protest. From how it has been characterized in the media, you’d think it was a coordinated military attack by Iranian forces. The mob only went about 5 meters into the reception area and never approached within hundreds of meters of the main embassy building. There were no deaths or serious injuries, and after a few hours, they left. I’m sure it was scary for the people in the US compound. But it did not warrant a major military escalation with Iran.

That was a perfect place to leave our escalating tit-for-tat with Iran (at least for this round). It was unarmed Iraqis protesting our killing other Iraqis in Iraq. They shook their fists in anger at us, but no one was hurt. Total casualties in the three incidents: One American contractor, on our side, and 25 Iraqi militiamen, on the other side.

But then Trump decided to radically escalate the conflict. (The embassy attack reportedly reminded him of the US embassy occupation in Tehran under Carter and the Benghazi attack, so he felt he had to look tough. Specifically, he had to look tougher than President Obama, with whom he is irrationally obsessed.) The Trump administration, led by Secretary of State Pompeo initially lied and said the killing of Soleimani was in response to the threat of an “imminent” attack on US interests, but that story quickly fell apart. It was the most “extreme” option given to Trump to retaliate against Iran and had been under consideration for a while. It increased the danger to Americans in the region, it didn’t decrease it.

So let’s look at where things stand now:

• Trump betrayed the Kurds in Syria, ceding Syria to Russia and Iran, and proving us to be an unreliable ally.
• The US-led coalition has suspended operations against ISIS in Iraq, as resources are reassigned to protect our own facilities and personnel.
• The Iraqi parliament voted to expel US (while chanting anti US slogans), solidifying Iranian influence in that country.
• By killing an Iranian national hero, internal pressure on the Iranian regime has eased as the country unites against the Great Satan.
• Iran has announced it will no longer abide by the enrichment restrictions of the JCPOA, further dividing us from our erstwhile allies. (It’s worth noting that Iran is not abandoning the inspections regime and cooperation with IAEA.)
• The populations of both Iran and Iraq have been turned against us.
• No one believes a word Trump and his administration says.

Were these the objectives we hoped to achieve by starting a war with Iran? If not, what are our objectives and have recent actions helped further them? (As Lewis Carroll wrote, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road’ll take you there.”)

My point here isn’t to act as an apologist for Iran or Soleimani. They have been determined adversaries of the US and Israel and have done a lot of bad things. It is to step outside our own tribal bubble and focus on the bigger picture. Even looking narrowly at our own national interests, is this escalating conflict advancing them?

I think you can guess my answer.

-- RD

== DB Notes ==

* The greatest untold travesty, among the countless travesties of the Bush era, was who actually benefited from the US invasions.  The Kurds, sure, a bit, till we betrayed them at Trump's orders. Kuwait for sure. Iran, from delayed demolition of Saddam and us later basically handing them Iraq...

...but the one never discussed was Halliburton, plus Bechtel and other military logistics companies. These are the ones who, on cost-plus contracts, gorged on "emergency" no-bid contracts to build and supply and run the bases etc. Their profit margins were unprecedented across all of human history, vastly greater than say Lockheed or other tranditional military suppliers, who nowadays don't benefit all that much from shooting wars.

The greatest TOLD obscenity committed by the Buishes was committed by Bush Senior (the worst president of the 20th Century) who allowed Saddam to murder a million Iraqi Arabs who were dancing in the streets celebrating their promised liberation from that monster, one of the worst stains on American honor in all of history.

Friday, January 03, 2020

The Libertarian Dilemma - and yes, Papa Heinlein would be pissed

Before getting to my libertarian jeremiad, a couple of items.

Know someone who might make a good candidate for office? Not just Congress, but even more important are state legislature seats in states that might get flipped out of gerrymander hell, if we get a big enough wave? Here’s a primer

Civics and the Future of Democracy: Yep.  Many - including Richard Dreyfuss - have pushed for re-establishment of civics curriculum in US schools. I agree. But what is never mentioned is how civics requirements at university would be a spectacular weapon in international culture war. A million foreign students in the U.S. would be exposed to insidious time bomb ideas they would then take home.  Oh, and our kids would be better citizens. That too.

And yes, much about this in Polemical Judo

== Again, the libertarian dilemma ==

I wince when many of you speak up about libertarianism, because, generally, folks don't have a clue what they are talking about, picturing smarmy-smug, lapel-grabbing Ayn-Randroids who rave their solipsistic superiority without a scintilla of life accomplishment to back it up .  Yes, those irritating yammerers exist... as do the incredibly similar far-lefty flakes and sanctimony junkies who wreak harm on every cause they claim to support. Neither group represents anything cogent. (See my thorough take-down of Rand-ism.)

(Key difference. Liberalism contains a ditsy far-left. Todays entire right consists of toxic delusion.)

I know the variants of libertarianism pretty well, from genuine followers of the soulful and insightful enlightenment genius, Adam Smith, to those reciting Murray Rothbard's hypnotic catechisms and the followers of Milton Friedman, whose 'advice' led to reducing the ROI investment horizons of American business from ten years, to five... to three months. I even witnessed - almost first-hand - the birth of the neo-feudalism movement -- incel-ingrate monsters who insist they would be top dogs in a medievalist world, such as I portrayed in The Postman. 

But it is the middle of that spectrum -- decent folks who sincerely believe that they are championing in freedom -- where some real opportunities... and dangers... lie.

In fact, I've just been invited for the sixth time to speak at a major libertarian gathering... that's twice the number of times I've been invited to major Democratic ones. The most remarkable (to me) mainstream libertarian trait is that maybe a quarter of them exhibit a willingness to argue and enjoy a good tussle, and many of those wind up on the speaker committees. Hence, I get invited back, even after raising uncomfortable points...

...like the fact that the core word for the entire movement should be competition, the greatest creative force in the universe. Competition provides freedom with all the pragmatic justification it needs, exposing many of the vague, moralizing shoutings of the "F-Word" as both unnecessary and often sanctimonious excuses for its opposite.

I'll get back to that in a moment. But first a necessary-contemporary riff.

== Choose a different 'second choice" ==

The one thing you always hear at these gatherings is "I hate both Republican and Democrat parties! Liberals want freedom in the bedroom and Republicans want freedom in the boardroom. I want both and won't compromise!"

Except they do. The Koch brothers bought and paid for the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation, top whorehouses pushing that aristocratic hierarchy means freedom. Steve Forbes threw decades of lavish parties at libertarian get togethers with one aim... to ensure the GOP will remain categorized as "less-bad than Democrats," so that a couple of million libertarians will hold their noses and keep checking GOP boxes in the voting booths. They know that if these folks ever do see how they've been had, they'll influence millions more to stop supporting the party of oligarchy.

Okay. The cliché is "Liberals want freedom in the bedroom and Republicans want freedom in the boardroom." Except... is it true? It is! If you define "boardroom" to mean a narrow, incestuous caste of 5000 CEO golfing pals appointing each other onto corporate boards, allocating winners and losers and dividing up markets, re-creating the same tediously stupid feudal owner-lord pyramid that repressed enterprise in 99% of societies for 6000 years. The same oligarchy Adam Smith denounced and that the Founders and the real Tea Party rebelled against.

If instead you want freedom to engage in vigorously creative competitive enterprises in flat-fair markets, then things are different. Democrats promote both. Republicans neither. Period. 

Heck, make that more than an assertion. Let’s bet on it! Deposit $5k in escrow with a reputable law firm so I’ll know I’m not wasting my time with another Kremlin-boy blabbermouth. I'll take your cash, sure.

Hypocrisy test! Illinois is the latest blue state to end the war on pot users - name the reds who are ending the Drug War or criminalization of 'deviance.' The GOP supports assassination to spark war without due process and over the objections of professionals. Monopoly skyrockets under GOP rule... yet libertarians cling to the notion that Republicans are somehow "less-bad" than democrats, under whom deficits decline and at least some efforts are made to encourage market competition.

And hell yes, I prove all of the above in Polemical Judo.

== Is liberal meddling always bad for markets? ==

I said the true test is whether a libertarian - like followers of Adam Smith - wants freedom along with plenty of creative competition... or if they have been suborned to fulminate passionately about a fundamentally unlimited right to property. 

Oh, property rights are important, to the degree they protect our ability to seek Smithian betterment and wealth through creative activities. But like water, air, food, alcohol etc.... all good things become toxic in excess. And the one thing all non-Smithian libertarians refuse to do is look at what propertarianism did to 99% of human societies, across 60 centuries.

What about liberal meddling? All that do-gooder flood of "programs" to help the poor etc. A standard reflex of the right is to declare - against all evidence - that such interventions are counter-productive and hurt those they intend to help. And above all, they undermine our competitive drives.  But Adam Smith knew that for a false incantation and an utter lie, 250 years ago.

Dig it. If an activity markedly increases the number/fraction of people who are liberated from inherited, non-chosen constraints ... if they are freed to engage their talents and work and all pertinent knowledge to compete in open-fair-flat markets... then a burden of proof falls on anyone who claims "that's an assault on freedom!" Even the doyen of capitalist economics, Friedrich Hayek, said the most fundamental need of an "invisible hand" economy is to maximize the number of knowing, empowered and confident market participants, and what better way to maximize that number than by reducing the number of children with malnourished, or empty, or pollution-tainted brains?

And yes, that means libertarians should favor public education, public health, anti-poverty interventions, civil rights and infrastructure development... efforts that are COOPERATIVE, that wind up enhancing COMPETITION. 

While vigorously criticizing specifics of implementation -- proposing less-governmental and less-paternalistic approaches -- any honest libertarian would admit that a baseline of state involvement just makes sense.

== Quote Heinlein at them! ==

Heinlein did! Try reading his prescriptive utopia BEYOND THIS HORIZON, which portrays a wild and woolly competitive future in any realm that involves creativity, but in which his alter ego character says "Of course, food and shelter are free! What kind of people do you take us for?"

Again: Robert Heinlein saw it all in our future - America diving into  “Crazy Years.” Throttle your rightist or libertarian sci fi fans into reading these lines from Papa H! Better-yet, read to them aloud! I tell you, for a select but important subset of our population, there’s nothing more effective. Especially the 3rd excerpt!

“As for ... the idea that we could lose our freedom by succumbing to a wave of religious hysteria, I am sorry to say that I consider it possible. I hope that it is not probable. But there is a latent deep strain of religious fanaticism in this, our culture; it is rooted in our history and it has broken out many times in the past.

“It is with us now; there has been a sharp rise in strongly evangelical sects in this country in recent years, some of which hold beliefs theocratic in the extreme, anti-intellectual, anti-scientific, and anti-libertarian.”

Heinlein tore into the potential for an alliance of oligarchs and pulpit pounders taking over America... a cabal that would –

“–promise a material heaven here on earth, add a dash of anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, anti-Negroism, and a good large dose of anti-‘furriners’ in general and anti-intellectuals here at home, and the result might be something quite frightening – particularly when one recalls that our voting system is such that a minority distributed as pluralities in enough states can constitute a working majority in Washington.”

And yes, see this riff and many like it, in Polemical Judo.

== Arise you AdamSmithian moderates and heroes of enlightnment! ==

Alas, feudalist-oligarchs have used oceans of money -- and whore-shill faux "academes" like Cato and Heritage -- to subsidize a tsunami of invectives shifting the libertarian movement's focus from Competition to the P-Words... utter defense of Property, Power and Privilege, at all cost. This despite the blatant historical fact that 99% of nascent flat-fair-open market systems across all of history were destroyed not by government bureaucrats or do-gooder socialists, but by feudalist-oligarch owner-cheater lords, bent on replacing flat-fairness with inheritance of Power for their sons, who never created any goods or services at all.

The varied oligarchies are uniting against us. Communist hierarchs and "former" communist boyar-mafiosi, petro-sheiks and coal barons, gambling moguls and Wall Street parasites. There are no greater enemies of flat-fair-open competition, which threatens their sons with the worst of all possible fates... having to earn their own way in the world.

Those oligarchs are desperate to maintain this hypnotic trance. They know that libertarians would have influence far beyond their numbers, if they ever rediscovered the C-Word and its fundamentals. Hence, at all of these gatherings, you see giant screens raving against bureaucrats and socialists and nosy lib'ruls... and nothing at all about those who were the foremost Enemies of Freedom across nearly all of the last three hundred generations.

=================

Housekeeping announcement. I was proud of the fact that I was among the last public figures whose blog allowed unmoderated comments. CONTRARY BRIN is one of the oldest blogs extant (from the 1990s) and the comment community is pretty terrific, with a few odd irritant regulars who are sometimes a bit... endearing. But all innocence ends and ours lasted until the 2020s! Moderated comments are a bit slower. Be patient... and fight for a civilization worthy of the stars.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Face recognition bans, and an ad-based Internet. Is there no end to foolishness?

There is no more important news, and they hope we won't notice: 'In a free speech ruling that contradicts six other federal circuit courts, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals - based in Missouri... has upheld a district court ruling that says Americans do not have a first amendment right to videotape the police, or any public official, in public.' This is of course a blatant attempt to reverse the most important year for civil liberties in this century, when courts and the Obama administration declared a universal right of citizens to record (and hold accountable) encounters with authority-force on the streets. Make no mistake, this is part of the Roberts Plan to reshape America according to the blackmailers' will. See below for what we must do about this.
== On Surveillance and Facial Recognition ==
Come by for a lively debate among friends on Warren Olney's "To The Point" NPR radio show -- "Surveillance cameras are capturing what we do on the streets, at airports, in stores, and in much of our public space. Facial recognition software is touted as making us safer. But mass surveillance has downsides of major proportions. Kade Crawford of the Massachusetts ACLU is concerned about violation of privacy."
... and she's perfectly correct! So I say in my on-air response, while asserting that the ACLU's emphasis on trying to blind elites is tactically all-wrong, as there's no sign of it ever having worked for long, across human history. Far better to strip elites naked. It is what the bad ones fear most.
It is fast coming on us. China is expected to have 626 million surveillance cameras – or one camera for every two people – in use by 2020. “The country, which has a 1.386 billion-strong population, has also reportedly invested in facial recognition technology to track people’s movements and even predict crime. According to an earlier report, the system is touted has being “fast enough to scan China’s population in just one second”, and can scan the world’s population in just two seconds.”

One can see how this leads to Orwellian Hell. But is there a way out, as non-Chinese cities like Singapore and London hurry to keep pace? 

Now comes: Bernie Sanders announced this weekend that he would bar law enforcement agencies from using facial recognition systems if he’s elected president in 2020.  Not only is Bernie a near clone of my dad. He's clearly technologically clueless.  One thing is certain, attempts to “ban” facial-recognition systems in San Francisco etc. may flow from legitimate Orwellian fears, but the prescription is a sure sign of lunacy and truly cosmic level ignorance. That isn’t the solution.

The cameras and their analytic systems are coming, soon to be like pollen in the wind. But they can as likely be freedom’s friend as its enemy, depending on whether access is limited to controlling elites or spread among a population of confident citizens, who use the flood of light to sousveil the mighty, holding them accountable.

And… The physics professor who says online extremists act like curdled milk. "Hate may be less like a cancer and more like bubbles, says Neil Johnson, who applies physics theory to human behavior.”

== Alternatives to advertising in social media? ==

"Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales has quietly rolled out a new social network that is intended to get right what Facebook and Twitter have so far been getting wrong.  The new social network, WT:Social, which Wales announced had 25,000 members on November 6, now has about 78,000 members who are at least intrigued by the idea of a social network that combats fake news."

The site goes against the ad-funded models normalized by Google, Facebook, and Twitter, instead asking users to pay a subscription fee to access information and communicate on the site.  It costs $12.99 a month or $100 a year in the US, or €12 a month or €90 a year in Europe. It's £10 and £80 in the UK. In other words, about the same as a Netflix or Spotify subscription.

It seems a stiff price and a mistake not to do a ramp up, letting folks know in advance that the price will rise from pennies at first.

Meanwhile, Facebook debuts vaccine pop-up windows to stop the spread of misinformation. 

I have a better approach...

== The time has come ==

Keynes said you’ll run out of money (betting against market idiots) long before the markets run out of idiocy. And yes, it applies to me. Way back in the last century, I foretold that it would be loony to imagine that the whole internet would be financed by advertising for much longer. But well, it has, with  countless negative outcomes including the near destruction of many old-line investigative journalism outlets and local newspapers, the convergence of ad dollar flows into a half-dozen trillion-dollar companies, and the massive collection of personal data from almost every person who ever goes online. 

Can it go on? In his most recent Strategic News Service newsletter, Mark Anderson cites dozens of reasons to figure that it can’t, though not the biggest one.  

- 1 in 5 ad-serving websites are visited exclusively by fraud bots (The Verge, 2017)
- For every $3 spent on digital ads, fraud takes $1 
- Click fraud is currently growing at 50% per year
- The click fraud operation Methbot generates $3 to $5 million in fraudulent revenue every day 

Fake news sites have been major perpetrators that clone the look and feel and almost the same URL as reputable sources like ABCNews. Among the myriad are those used to spread financial rumore that manipulate stock markets. Another published a false story claiming actor Denzel Washington endorsed Donald Trump for president. The fictional headline led to thousands of people sharing it on Facebook, a prominent example of fake news spreading on the social network prior to the 2016 presidential election. Then there are real-but-unhinged sites like InfoWars, soon to be wholly owned by the parents of Sandyhook victims. Anderson’s long list of examples is daunting and depressing and just a scintilla sampling…

… and all the more reason we need a savvy counter-attack against lie-spreading methodologies. I offer a dozen or more potentially effective approaches in Polemical Judo… and no, not one of the proposals involves anything remotely resembling a “Ministry of Truth.”

  "I can think of nothing that has done more harm to the Internet than ad tech. It interferes with everything we try to do on the Web. It has cheapened and debased advertising and spawned criminal empires.... Nobody knows the exact number, but probably about 50 percent of what you're spending online is being stolen from you." - Bob Hoffman, veteran ad executive, industry critic, and author of the blog the Ad Contrarian; quoted on Bloomberg.com

And now the key point. I know why all past efforts to do micropayments have failed. Would you pay a nickel to read a New York Times article, knowing you could get the nickel back, if you thought it inferior? And if it was one-click and saved you having to type passwords to get into a subscription silo?

Then see the "secret sauce" that could offer this alternative to insidiously awful advert-based internet commerce in your information. And part II showing how micropayments could be the alternative that frees us all.

== Defend our right to see! ==

Oh, what to do about the right's effort to re-criminalize recording the police?

The transparency-accountability prionciple still hols outside the 8th Circuit. - "A transparency auditor was photographing a local police station from a public sidewalk. As a result, the transparency auditor was illegally detained for 2 hours. The Colorado Springs Police Department agreed to pay the transparency auditor $41,000 and to update police policy and provide local police with training on transparency and citizen rights." But for how long, if this truly opens a wedge for John Roberts to use against us? (Or to rule favorably, for "balance" while cutting us off at other ankles?)

We need to wage a full frontal assault on every libertarian we know. Propagandized by $3billion spent by Kochs and Mercers/Fox etc, the supposed "freedom lovers" reflexively and automatically deem Republicans less-bad than democrats, and hence represent an important part of the "hold-my-nose" factions staying loyal to the GOP at the ballot box. Despite liberals sharing descent from Adam Smith, being far better on deficits and flat-fair enterprise, blue states leading us out of the Drug War and taking the law out of the bedroom, and EVERY major deregulation that ever made sense.

They will move goal posts again and again, and it is time to corner them and dare them to actually, actually justify joining the putin-putsch to re-establish 6000 years of feudal-inheritance-brat-rule.