Monday, February 15, 2016

Issues of note in an election year

I have some perplexities about Bernie Sanders, and especially the way some of his fiercest adherents are getting overly emotional, when the blue Union needs to wage this phase of the Civil War with icy reason.  

Still, in several topics Bern is the only guy talking about core problems.  Like the concentration of economic power into pools and piles so immense they are "too big to fail."  

Have a look here: How 37 banks become four megabanks over the last two decades.  This is not a sign of a healthy economy.  A few bad choices by half a dozen secretive moguls -- and the rest of us will be left, holding a huge (yuge!) bailout check. Even if Bern doesn't get the nom, he's roused our attention and determination.

And my estimation of him just went up one more notch: Sanders would instigate a 0.5% tax on stock trades - to reduce speculation and high frequency stock trading. If Congress whittled it in half, that’d be just right. See elsewhere my own riffs on why such a transaction tax is utterly essential… including a sci fi reason that Bernie won’t mention. I’m still not sure he is my first choice to be president. But boy am I glad he is out there raising lots and lots of policy boldness to our political attention and horizon. 

On the transparency front...

John Kavanagh, a Republican member of the Arizona Senate, just introduced a bill stating: “IT IS UNLAWFUL FOR A PERSON TO KNOWINGLY MAKE A VIDEO RECORDING OF LAW ENFORCEMENT ACTIVITY.” Thus attempting to yank back from us the most important advance in American Civil Liberties in this century

Yep.  They will try. Despite a precedent in federal courts and declarations by the Obama Administration stating clearly that it is “settled law” that citizens have a solid right to record their interactions with police. That made 2013 the most important civl liberties year in decades... all ignored by the press.  Despite the fact that technology has proved to be the great, unheralded impetus behind the Black Lives Matter and other recent movements.

Make no mistake, this is not just one Republican state senator.  It is a movement, a party and a putsch that wants to turn citizens into sheep. 

Meanwhile. .. Breaking a decades-long trend, the world gets more violent.  See this study from the Conflict Data Program charting yearly fatalities. Okay, I've been touting causes for hope.  But there are plenty of reasons for wariness!

While we're at it. An interesting breakdown of who owns the U.S. national debt.  

Oh, athe Evonomics site: read about a real life and macroscopic experiment of Ayn Rand’s philosophy put into practice, when the CEO of Sears decided to sic his sub-units and corporate sections into internal “competition” with each other.  The result?  Sears has tanked.   Foir example: the appliance division found it could make more profit from selling Samsung appliances than from selling Sears’ Kenmore brand, so they gave more and better floor space to Samsung. 

And now... Walmart will hike wages for more than 1.2 million of its United States workers.  All very well and good.  But the company is fretting about lawsuits over the fact that its workers are so poor and many get so few benefits, that the public is left with huge welfare support and Medicaid bills. 

== Rattling sabers at Iran ==

Those who insist we should have made no deal with Iran, but instead should scream and rattle sabers to drive average Iranians into the mullahs’ arms… these voices were the ones who screeched when Henry Kissinger went to Mao’s China, in 1971. In some cases the very same voices. 

Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger were savvy enough to see how stupid a situation we were in, to abide a triangle that favored the Soviets, with us hating on both the USSR and China and the Sovs getting to hold center position.  Kissinger arranged a judo move in which we became the ones talking to both sides and playing them off each other.

Now? “Feckless” Obama has just pulled a Nixon by opening up better relations with Iran, allowing us to take that favorable position, playing Iran against the Saudis. It is obviously and blatantly the smart thing to do… once we coerced Iran to eliminate 25 tons of enriched uranium and to pour concrete into its plutonium reactor. And accept strong inspections.

But witness the Fox’ism as one commenter decried the comparison:  “We have not exchanged embassies with Iran. Their leaders will not stop calling us the devil. Obama has not gone to Iran. What have we gained the ability to threaten the Saudis with?”

To which I reply that foxisms are drivel. We do not need an embassy if two million Iranian expatriates start investing in their homeland, using economic leverage to help Rouhani and undermine the Guards, who are screaming in terror over that. Just as two million Cuban Americans in Florida are about to flood their homeland with both wealth and communism-toppling memes -- a win-win.

 We are still at the Kissinger phase! And Mao called us devils till the day he died… while working with the US to scare the crap out of the Russkies.

As right now, thanks to both the Iranian detente and low oil prices, Saudi influence (read control) over the U.S. appears to be plummeting to a many-decades low.

== The word of the year, bandied by confederate sloganeers ==

To what I just wrote, the Roger Ailes talking point will be: But “Feckless” Obama “lost Crimea”!  

Only… that happened after he went and stole the entire Ukraine from the Russian sphere of influence, the biggest expansion of the West since the end of the Cold War. Russian media and Putin himself lay that “disaster” right at the feet of the man they call "aggressively clever" and anything but “feckless.”

The entire U.S. military is back at 100% readiness, even the reserves, after plummeting to 0% (for major U.S. Army and Marine and Reserve units) at the end of both Bush administrations. While casualty rates among servicemen/women have plummeted and Defense modernization is at its fastest pace ever. And every metric of U.S. national health has gone up -- and almost every such measure plummeted across both Bushes.

And… oh… yeah.  Obama killed Osama bin Laden.  

Did you think we’ll let you forget that?  Never, b******s.

"Feckless" my freckled behind.


Dwight Williams said...

A conversation between yourself and Senator Sanders about the true value of Kissinger's actions over the decades might be both entertaining and enlightening.

atomsmith said...


Major loophole here.

"You are under arrest. Law Enforcement Activity is occurring in the City of Baltimore, and you are less than 20 feet outside city limits!"

Kinda like how the US border became "within 100 miles of the US border", i.e. 66% of the US.

LesliMLH said...

Why do you support it? Setting aside the fact that it is entirely legal and consistent with the 6th Amendment to record law enforcement activity, why don't you think it's a good thing to require law enforcement to work under the supervision of the people it serves?

Jumper said...

I changed my mind. I don't support that law as written. I think the police should have the right to get videographers to move back 20 feet, but anyone recording up to the point when the cop tells them to move should not be penalized for recording up to that point in time. The cop would tell any civilian to "please move back" if the situation called for it, whether they had a camera or not.

Jumper said...

For those who can't be bothered to read, it's about standing too close to the police, not about video in general. I support "not standing too close" but support video recording the cops, of course.

Arizsun Ahola said...


Problem is that it also criminalize a driver or passenger in a stopped car from recording their own, or the driver's, interaction with the police. It is kind of hard to step back 20ft when you're in a stopped vehicle.

It could also be abused by law enforcement simply repeatedly moving to within 20ft of a videographer and requiring them to move ever further from the scene.

Alfred Differ said...

Calling The Money Store a bank is quite a stretch. I used to work for them. They were a sub-prime lender that financed their loans the way non-banks do. They packaged them and sold the proceeds on Wall Street. The merger with First Union occurred because First Union needed a corporate arm that served community minorities. Fail to do that and you'll catch the attention of merger oversight officials. In many communities, the minorities ARE sub-prime risks. It wasn't until after the merger that we began to behave like a bank with all the regulatory requirements and that killed our business model.

The merger with Wachovia came about because Wachovia had a decent reputation on Wall Street and we (FU) were considered to be FAR too willing to spend extravagantly during mergers. It was a reverse merger since Wachovia was the smaller bank and we needed their name. I left shortly after this merger which was a few years before the meltdown.

Can you name which of the banks on the list was 'dealt with properly' by federal regulators during the meltdown? Sliced up and shareholders left to hang? You got it. My shares of Wells Fargo net me $0.11 in dividends each year. Heh. I make them pay every penny of it in cash.

Alfred Differ said...

Does AZ have a 'stand your ground' law?


Tom Crowl said...

I want to say more about the Big Bank/Small Bank issue and how big banks encourage bad business (at least in some cases). But only have a moment right now.

SO, meanwhile... a quick thought re the use of language in politics.

Whatever you think of Bernie Sanders (and I support him and his positions)... I believe he'd be wise to stop using the word "free" about healthcare, education, etc... and define them rather in terms of functions belonging in the public sphere... the way parks and roads and dams are conceived.

These public purposes... this needed infrastructure is not FREE... but it is recognized that they are part of the collective landscape. This is the shift in mindset that needs to take place. Constant use of the word free is an simply an invitation to put it in the same frankly childish way that both Parties conceive of money and economics... and cater to this ridiculous fear that we're being "ripped off" by having a healthy public sector.

Tom Crowl said...

An excellent political analysis below:

Politician by Cream...

donzelion said...

Interesting piece, and analysis. Some thoughts:
(1) Saudi "influence" (re control) over the U.S.? Really? The primary Saudi influence is a decision to either pump "a lot of oil" or "an awful lot of oil." That influence can change the price of oil, esp. if demand from China slumps, but in practice, it only determines whether oil services barons (e.g., Kochs) are worth $30-50 billion or merely $3-5 billion. In broader terms, as investors and markets, Gulf Arabs proved they could bankrupt GM and Chrysler by buying their high end vehicles from the Germans and Japanese - that didn't really give them much influence in America.

(2) The "Wal-Mart raise" ought to be front and center in an election year, and the judgment should be on whether Wal-Mart employees receiving public assistance ultimately enrich a handful of billionaires. Conservatives don't have much issue with "job creators" who are indirectly sucking at the public trough - but only because no one harps on this (save Bernie - Hillary hasn't spent much time critiquing the practice).

(3) Focusing on who owns the federal debt is always helpful, but perhaps some of the implications aren't clear. Consider: say China wanted to go to war with the U.S. Say that the Chinese economy and currency markets are heavily linked to dollar-denominated U.S. treasuries. The second things get 'hot' - China has to sell its entire stockpile - temporarily wiping out their currency and ability to trade in commodities (including importing oil, from Saudis among others - unless those others are also willing to trade in Chinese debt). China's gambits in Angola and elsewhere are about locking in access to key commodities should such a dislocation occur - but if it ever did happen, could America swoop in and block them? (Yes, if we have close ties with Japan, Korea, and others in the Pacific - but no, if we try to impose it on our own...). Suddenly, the rationale behind the Trans Pacific Partnership looks much more "security oriented" than "trade oriented."

David Brin said...

Interesting #2 and #3 but #1 is silly. Oil price is the only way that a mani-trillion$ sovereign wealth fund run by a paranoid-secretive family can influence US politics? How charming.

Paul SB said...

Language in politics. This is politics, right? Language in politics is intended to manipulate people. It's a word association game called "priming" - psychologists have known about it for decades, and professional marketers are the engineers to psychological science. They are masters of manipulation.

But then, shouting "free" all the time is hardly masterful, is it?

A couple threads back we had a bit of the old sloganeering. The most obvious was the "Let's elect the party of Lincoln." We see Lincoln as a great hero of the people, the man who freed the slaves. Our minds automatically associate positive things with his name. But the Party of Lincoln stopped being the Party of Lincoln sixty years ago. If you want to sloganeer, we could all them the Party of J.P. Morgan, or the Party of Too-Big-to-Fail. But that would be priming, wouldn't it?

How about "taxation is theft" or "taxation is fee for services." Okay, there was some good discussion on this one, but in most fora what passes for discussion rarely rises above the level of sloganeering.

So, do we fight priming with priming? Or do we try the rational discussion approach?

Catfish N. Cod said...

Atomsmith: "Within twenty feet" means the defendant cannot be the one videotaping. That's not enough of a loophole for me. I can see a legitimate desire to keep people from using the rationale of being a video recorder to push their way into a law enforcement proceeding and placing themselves or officers in jeopardy. This rule is designed to look like that, and if it were written incompetently, might originally have been meant as that.

But unless I missed something, this is too much. Jumper has the right of it; the LEOs have the right to keep the people twenty feet away, not the camera. Consider if the camera were attached to a hovering drone marked "PRESS" instead of a person.

Alfred: If rearranging to remix different market segments were the goal, then it should be the reverse of the upcoming Dow-DuPont merger, in which the giants are immediately re-splitting by market segment. In this case, overspecialized banks would remix themselves as more generalist banks. But that's not what we're seeing: instead we see conglomerization.

Paul: I wouldn't like the Party of Morgan, but I wouldn't be frightened by it. People forget that Morgan overcame a hundred years of objections to set up the Federal Reserve, deliberately arranging to make a key institution not only public but as uncorruptible as could be managed. Morgan and Carnegie and such were rapacious capitalists, but had senses of duty to the commons.

Honesty in advertising, though, would be to say it is the Party of Shkreli right now.

Tony Fisk said...

#1. Who backed Murdoch's takeover of Western mainstream media? How do you think he repaid that debt, in part?

@Paul SB, I would suggest both: Use language priming (pathos) to promote attention and sympathy to your pov, and 'icy reason' (logos) to defend and establish your position. If you want to use a combat metaphor, pathos is your spear, and logos is your shield*. Ethos is why you're in the arena in the first place, and why you're being assailed by wrathful rebel yellers.

Tax? The cheapest service fee (because a: bulk efficiency and b: the provider has no direct incentive to maximise profit). Hmm. I wonder if any government's ever been brave enough to suggest 2-3 competing Tax Departments?

*There is such a thing as staff blocking and shield rushing.

Alfred Differ said...

@donzelion: China has no lock on anything in a war setting. Their navy simply can't compete. Unless they are using home grown resources delivered via a land route, they are screwed in a war with us. That's the point of maintaining the navy we have. Modern wars between nations require economic depth. In sports terms, you need a bench/bullpen to sustain you through the game. The US Navy is how we deprive opponents of this depth.

In case it isn't obvious, China does not have this depth. No one on Earth does. The only 'nation' that comes close is the one who takes over the northern plains of Europe as the French, Germans, and Russians tried.

It won't come to that, though. We only send in our forces (when we have sane leaders) after a collapse of regional balance. Our actions in Iran can be understood in this sense. Whether we like them or not, they help balance the Saudi's and recalibrate our relationship with Israel. Next up is our relationship with Turkey and their role in the region.

Alfred Differ said...

@Catfish N. Cod: I'm not suggesting the mergers were good for everyone. I got to see some of them from the inside, though, so I'm suggesting what happened depended on a lot of local circumstances and a global incentive. In the mergers I saw, the Executives were doing precisely what their Boards expected. I understand that some of them served on those boards and on each others boards, but that happens with large share holders and cozy relationships. From what I saw, many people in the market expected us to gobble up smaller banks when the laws forbidding such were relaxed. Failure to comply got executives dismissed to avoid risk of shareholder lawsuits. There really WAS an expectation across the market segment.

At the local level, though, there were the usual incentives that were less than transparent. I've got a TMS plaque sitting on my desk to this day that was given out to many of us at the 30 year anniversary meant to inspire us to believe in the longevity of the company. We were sold to FU within a couple years at about the time of the collapse of the Russian Ruble. That collapse decimated the sub-prime market because bond buyers went home for a while. We survived because we were already in communication to sell the whole company. What an inspiration that was. Hmpf. I got to avoid a lay off, but I also got to see a bit of the Truth about entrepreneurs.

My takeaway lesson from those years is that the people involved were all quite human. In hindsight it was possible to see how motivations led to behaviors. Expecting saintly behavior from them is silly. A few are kind. A few are sociopaths. Most are looking out for their bottom line. If we don't like what they all did, look to the incentives in the market to understand. Change them if you want to do something different next time, but don't expect to get it right. These market systems are HUGE and unlikely to be predictable to anything with a brain as small as a human being.

David Brin said...

The twenty feet rule actually makes sense if you say “anyone within 20 feet of police officers in a tense situation must keep their hands empty and visible.” In which case this would propel the rapid development of lapel cameras and the transition to page 160 of The Transparent Society will be complete. Or Tru-Vu goggles and we get Earth.

Anti trust rules should be amended to make market dominance and too-big-to-fail criteria for breakup.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB: I prime in full awareness of what I'm doing. 8)

When I use 'taxation is theft' it isn't so much that I believe that to be true. The problem is that I know many who DO and they aren't inhuman monsters. They have a moral point to make when a person is asked to fund something and would rather not. A gangster who walks into your shop and extracts protection money from you so nothing bad happens to your investment is guilty of extortion. A man who takes your bread to keep his starving daughter alive is guilty of theft. Obviously we tolerate one behavior more than another, but write a few more examples and you'll find a slew of them where we don't have consensus. Is an inheritance tax a 'death tax' or a way to prevent the oligarchs from funding the political aspirations of dynasties? Obviously... both. I prime in order to demonstrate the emotions involved and the need to anticipate them for the sake of civic debate.

One space advocacy group to which I belong calls these weapons 'cultural cruise missiles.' They advocate for more private participation on the frontier, but have to fight the popularity of government funded programs because these programs suck all the investment money out of the market. Only fools compete with government. My favorite refers to Apollo. I love how we inspired a generation with our Moon landings, but it is time to move on to the next phase. To do this, I have learned to refer to Apollo as 'flags and footprints' missions. One doesn't expand our civilization with flag ceremonies and a few more footprints on alien worlds. WE have to go out there in such numbers that they cannot be mistaken for a round off error for zero.

Alfred Differ said...

I'm all for well-considered market regulation to deal with the obviously immoral results of previously legal market behaviors. Fix mistakes, but don't expect to avoid future ones. As long as they aren't the same mistakes, we are progressing.

This is one of the distinctions between old school liberalism and libertarianism. The libertarians are often of the opinion that government can't improve in this fashion. Liberals will argue that it can, but the path is difficult.

Don't forget a rule that ensures executives have skin in the game. There should be no win-win scenarios for them personally that involve the wreckage of the company they lead. I remember working through one example in 2010 where a bank CEO stood to gain $1.5B if things went well or $0.5B if it didn't. The failure scenario led to the demise of the company. The Board should have been guillotined.

Tom Crowl said...

Mr. Differ... just a thought re your military analysis vis a vis China (or whoever).

Seems pretty reasonable as long as the adversary was stupid enough to use outdated war strategies. They wouldn't unless they're idiots. Which is always possible.

What about cyber warfare before any traditional military action? An EMP pulse? Cutting Internet cables? Satellite attacks knocking out GPS? Carefully targeted bio-warfare. Currency market sabotage?

Maybe in ways where we couldn't even be sure where the attack came from.

I'm not suggesting that China or anyone else is planning to do that... but I wouldn't expect an attack to take the form we expect by them going against our strength with their weakness.

Acacia H. said...

Personally, I think the Moon would work well for a new Space Objective. But what we have to do is not go there, grab rocks, and go home.

No. We build a permanent settlement and scale it up. Yes, it's not as grandiose as going to Mars and it makes more sense in the long run to build asteroid bases rather than colonize planets... but I don't think we could make an asteroid base with our current technology. Building on the Moon has the benefit of being seconds from Earth for communicative purposes, greater ease of transporting supplies for getting things set up, and the fact the Moon is in our collective psyche.

It may also be handy to learn what the long-term impact of lower-gravity environments would have on our physiology. When we do leave for the stars, the size of our generation ships will depend partly on how much spin we need to put on a hollowed-out asteroid. Those asteroid bases would need to be larger if we need to achieve closer to a one-gravity environment. (Though that does have the added benefit of allowing greater biodiversity inside.) But larger asteroid bases likewise take more energy to accelerate... or decelerate. If we can survive lower-gravity settings without harm (as compared to freefall conditions), then we can likewise use smaller generation ships.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

TomC your war scenario is almost spot on the one at the beginning of GHOST FLEET in which our F35s just fall out of the sky from software bugs.

RobH It helps to find wealth where you want to settle. The Spanish found gold. English settlers wanted gold but found farms.

In the sort term, the moon has nada, zero, zilch. Zip. Asteroids my be tough and hard, but the wealth is there.

Dave said...

@Paul SB a bit of both, carefully [fighting priming with priming or reason]. George Lakoff says (IIRC) that arguing against a frame reinforces the frame by continuing to activate it. Reason happens in the conscious mind, framing does not. Or rather, reasoning about a frame doesn't deactivate it (don't think of an elephant). So the challenge is to combine the two, to come up with something that gives a reasonable response to the opposition framing while strongly activating framing that works for you. Scott Adams of Dilbert fame has been analyzing the Trump campaign in similar terms on his blog, though according to him Trump mostly leaves out the reason and goes straight for the subconscious.

Laurent Weppe said...

* "If you want to sloganeer, we could all them the Party of J.P. Morgan, or the Party of Too-Big-to-Fail."

The Party of the Rich Kids.
The Party of the Inept Heirs.
The Party of the Trust-Fund Parasites.
The Skeksis Party


* "How about "taxation is theft" or "taxation is fee for services.""

Taxation is your anti-dekulakization premium: if the state's services and infrastructures and collapse, the underclasses' main incentive against slaughtering the privileged (and those associated to them) will vanish.


* "The only 'nation' that comes close is the one who takes over the northern plains of Europe as the French, Germans, and Russians tried."

Why do you think Putin is spending millions subsidizing anti-EU far-right parties?

Alfred Differ said...

@Tom Crowl: I'm not suggesting our navy can't be attacked. What I'm pointing out is China (and others) need far more than they can reasonably claim to have if they want to last for long against us. We just might get smacked by another Pearl Harbor equivalent taking out our 'previous war' equipment, but that still leaves us with 20+ cities with populations over 1M an the distributed economic engine they serve. Cut cables? Hah! Feel free to try. EMP? All our cities? Which nations can do that today? What are the chances we would notice them trying? Currency sabotage? We are the best able to survive it while the rest of the world burned those who did it for us. GPS attack? The Fleet has thought of that. Biowar? Mmmm... and interesting possibility... against one of the most heterogenic nations on Earth.

We CAN be attacked, so I'm not complacent. I'm all for people thinking about our weaknesses and doing something about them. However, while doing that, I also encourage people to realize that the bazillions of $$$ we've spent over the last few decades have produced some very real accomplishments. There is a really good reason Europeans haven't slaughtered themselves by the millions for over two generations now. There is a really good reason there hasn't been a world war we haven't permitted to happen in that same period. Americans don't like market collapses much and hate sending their sons to die somewhere. It isn't our government that has pulled all this off. It is us. All of us. It is the result of a bazillion tiny actions of a free people who want something.

Alfred Differ said...

Why do you think Putin is spending millions subsidizing anti-EU far-right parties?

To avoid you all siding with former Soviet bloc nations against Russia. If you do, we don't have to and then he has to spend double the money restoring Soviet glory.

Don't get me wrong, but I think Putin is doing us a favor trying to keep you all divided. If he didn't, we would... eventually. I'd much rather be friends and have the next few generations so inter-married that we can't figure out who is who. The Hapsburgs understood something.

donzelion said...

"Oil price is the only way that a mani-trillion$ sovereign wealth fund run by a paranoid-secretive family can influence US politics? How charming."

"Charming?" How gracious of you. And an interesting notion, @Tony Fisk, that the Saudis financed FoxNews (technically, the same prince who owns a large stake in Fox also backed and bailed out Citibank and Donald Trump - the latter 2-3x, depending on how you count). Historically, Saudi oil wealth flowed right back into America (largely because they had no suitable local investments in the 80s/90s) - straight to Wall Street. In the '00s, they followed the Silk Road to China - giving them power to help Toyota/Volkswagen surpass GM, or in some cases, Airbus v. Boeing. But they're not secretive powerbrokers, not by any stretch. Bear in mind that their sovereign wealth fund is currently propping up government budgets (with oil below $60/barrel, that's all it can really do). Their power is oil - not a magical spice from Dune - and there's a lot of it in the world (just not a lot at any fixed price).

@Alfred - I think we actually concur. I wouldn't pretend China is a "threat" to America, at least, not in 2016. However, (1) economic power ultimately offers powerful tail winds to military power, (2) naval power projection has both impressive costs and benefits, and (3) in a democracy, the great threat to military power is pork - either in squandered treasure or misplaced glory (Athens invading Sicily before defeating Sparta; America invading Iraq before killing AQ). The key to maintaining naval power is maintaining effective global trade power to offset the costs - otherwise, entropic forces of pork lurk like will-o-wisps (fund a new missile platform to reward a senator in Kansas, fund a little insurgency in Latin America to protect a bank...).

But again, in terms of Iran v. Saudis - there's no real balance. Saudi struggles to deal with Yemen, Bahrain, and its own population - despite impressive wealth. So with Turkey, Israel, Iran - each challenged internally, looking outward primarily to justify existing internal power/wealth structures, and less to attain geostrategic primacy.

Alfred Differ said...

@donzelion: If you are arguing that the greatest threat we face comes from our own ineptitude, I'll agree. I will add one thing, though. We are spectacularly wealthy. We can afford the occasional trillion dollar bungle. Seriously. We will survive it, though not without some grimacing and gnashing of teeth. Athens didn't have the economic depth we do. To find something on that kind of scale that we CAN'T do, you have to look at a Napoleonic dream. We can't take over Eurasia. Only a nation owning the northern plains of Europe can. Unless one of them wants to join us willingly, we've gone about as far as we can in terms of geopolitical control. We WILL find a way to project force onto the Russian Steppes, but we will have to do it from space. In a practical sense, this will just be an expansion of our navy. It won't be boots on the ground.

The real balance in the middle east will be between Iran (Persian empire core) and Turkey (Ottoman empire core). Everyone else will get carved between them. Even Israel, though probably as a buffer state. I don't think the internal issues with these former empires will last too much longer. History shows change can be quick. Germany of 1930 was a basket case. By 1940, they were successfully managing a two front war and becoming the very threat the US would have to crush.

Jumper said...

In looking at differing ways to view the "death tax" you missed one: a simple capital gains tax like any other. Which is a lot less onerous than calling it simple income.

There's that framing thing again. "Poor Sam; taxed even when he's dead!" Not "Sam's kids just got cash and stock."

locumranch said...

If you want to start the conversation about a settled citizen RIGHT to record their interactions with police, then you may as well as well natter on about the right to imprisonment, dependence, wage slavery & a free university-level education, because the very idea of a 'right' (once signifying that which was thought 'inherent', 'god-given' and 'natural') has become so culturally debased as to become meaningless, for anything given but non-inherent can be taken away, just as any "settled law" only remains 'settled' until it has been supplanted by yet another (often contradictory) law.


Tim H. said...

Alfred, "...successfully running a two front war..." is stretching it a bit, more like a foolhardy rush to an unsustainable position. And Hitler didn't stab Stalin in the back until June, 1941.
Concerning war strategy, ours should center on deterrence, we don't have the industrial resources we used to, we won't be able to militarize off-shore resources if we're in conflict with the host nation.

Charlie Hohn said...

On the subject of transparency or lack thereof, one particularly atrocious example was this attempt by some resource extraction groups in Wyoming that could be interpreted as going so far as to literally make it illegal to take photos on public land, because you might see a polluted creek.

I believe a court has rightfully already thrown it out, but it was incredibly blatant and malicious.

Two sidenotes:

if you are interested in transparency as well as helping ecologists conserve species and monitor effects of climate change I highly recommend checking out This is a really neat naturalist website that allows you to upload observations of living things. If you add photos then a crowdsource algorithm allows people to agree or disagree with the ID or even identify a species i you get a good picture and don't know what it is. And... there are wonderful apps that let you document things on the fly with your smartphones, so it will also tag the locations. I've been involved with it for a while, and think it's one of the best citizen science things out there. Many federal and state land areas are critically underfunded, often unintentionally so... sometimes unable to report things like changes in flowering time due to climate change... or in some cases they are not funded enough to even have a full inventory of things like plant species. There is an increasing movement to get big groups to descend on areas of public land and document everything they can over a day or a weekend - they call them bioblitzes. Inat has gotten huge - as of right now there are 1,791,935 observations with locations marked on the map. Check it out and if you upload a plant in New England or California I might hep you identify it.

Secondly - on the subject of ranchers and pollution and water - i think with the Bundy idiots and other such events... people are missing something huge... water. If you can stomach going to the Bundy website (if it is still there), you will find that the words 'water rights' occur I think 13 times and 'gun' 14. Ranching doesn't make a lot of money. I think the continued grabbing and squabbling over rangeland is not for cows... but for water rights. It will be interesting to see what happens. El Nino resulted in only feeble drought relief, or in the case of southern California none at all. Next year could get very scary.

It feels like I already live in a weird sci-fi story.

raito said...

I'd prefer to go to the moon, in the short term, also. The wealth there is data.

Tom Crowl,

How about a more explicit analysis?

Friend of the Common Man (The Blasters)

Ah, he wasn’t born in a cabin,
He never fought in a war.
But he learned to smile and quote Abe Lincoln,
And get his foot in the door.

Ah, he knows all your problems,
Ah, he shares all your dreams.
Ah, when he laughs his wife laughs too,
As they ride in their limousine.

Chorus: So wave the flag and take a stand,
Stand in line to shake his hand.
He says he’s your friend,
A friend of the common man

Ah, he’s got all the answers,
The good days will be back soon.
Just one more strike and a compromise,
And a hungry child in each classroom.

Chorus: So wave the flag and take a stand,
Stand in line to shake his hand.
He says he’s your friend,
A friend of the common man

Everybody works day to day to get by,
Ah, every mornin’ searchin’ for a reason to try.
Ain’t he the friend?
The friend of the common man?

Ah, he wasn’t born in a cabin,
He never fought in a war.
But he learned to smile and quote Abe Lincoln,
And get his foot in the door.

With one hand on the bible,
He swears he’s only here to serve.
While everyone says “for better or worse,”
We get what we deserve.

Chorus: So wave the flag and take a stand,
Stand in line to shake his hand.
He says he’s your friend,
A friend of the common man

Anonymous said...

Personally, I think Antarctica would work well for a new Space Objective. Not a small band of plucky scientists and their support staff, but something scaled up. Yes, it's not as grandiose as having 0.00000008% of the population in low earth orbit and it makes more sense in the long run to colonize habitable areas... but I don't think we could make a space colony with our current economics. Building on the Antarctic has the benefit of being on Earth for communicative purposes, possesses a much greater ease of transporting supplies--leaving aside the tyranny of the boat equation--and is an *entire* continent ripe for the plucking!

Why, I'm sure there's at least one or two deep water ports somewhere in the infinite shore of the Antarctic, and the mere presence of these should be enough to bootstrap the economy--the functional equivalent of Lagrangian points, so to speak, only orders of magnitude more viable.

Tom Crowl said...

Hey Raito!


(P.S. I was born in Downey where it was recorded)

David Brin said...

donzellion. Having sold a lot of hi priced oil, the Saudi power becomes money, and money - more potent than spice -makes the world go round. It has financed the re-ignition of the US Civil War. That was a core Saudi goal, attempting to bring down the chief obstacle toward their Caliphate goal.

"Settled Law"? When a citizenry becomes very used to exercising a right, it becomes harder to take it away.

Talking about the German invasion of Russia in 1941 generally eludes crucial context and unsung in history, The Brits' forlorn effort to save the Greeks in April 1941. It forced the germans to send many divisions south, delaying Barbarossa till June. A delay that saved Russia and led to the Nazis defeat. The British paid dearly. Their role in wwII was not a minor one. They kept the Nazi-occupied Dutch govt from installing new governors in Batavia who would have then given all the oil and rubber to Japan. The Brits saved civilization.

matthew said...

@raito - one of the great bands! And one of their best songs. Thanks for the reminder to listen to it later today.

Tony Fisk said...

A brief shout-out for ex-Worldchanger Alex Steffen's new project, a three part documentary for which he's just launched a funding drive.

Here's the hook:

"I want to invite you on an adventure.

Our culture is full of dire predictions, disaster scenarios and post-apocalyptic tales. It’s astonishing, though, how few stories we tell about futures where humanity succeeds.

That’s a problem. I believe it’s literally true that we can’t build what we can’t imagine. The fact that we haven’t compellingly imagined a thriving, dynamic, sustainable world is a major reason we don’t already live in one."

The sentiment will sound familiar to anyone here who's followed the movie review posts.

Anyway, I'll just leave this here...

David Brin said...

The press is offering many scenarios for how Pres. Obama may pick this or that kind of nominee. But none of them consider that one way around it is to choose someone who is NOT young enough to last a long time. Goppers, even the current crop of DeLay bred fanatics, might back off and let through a well-qualified jurist who is a bit on in years. I have someone in mind.

Alfred Differ said...

@Tim H.: Heh. That's why I used 1940 as the measuring date. Stalin was duped at that point and Germany got it's hunk of Poland without losing control of eastern front risks. That part wasn't foolhardy. It is the way the geopolitical game is played.

The foolhardy part was believing the US wouldn't play its part of the game too. We were already propping up the British so they could do what had to be done.

Regarding industrial resources, I'll point to the situation we were in in 1940 again. Our economy didn't get bombed back to the stone age AND we found our motivation. The real futuristic weapon the US used was its economy. If someone fails to learn that lesson, just go read a shampoo bottle for what will happen next. Lather, rinse, repeat. We will build what we need, money be damned. Our opponent will make progress while we do that, but only one owning northern Europe's plains with a compliant population has a chance to match us.

There are lots of people who did what had to be done in WWII for the allies to win and in their own way, they proved themselves. What WE did collectively was prove the power one builds with a non-command economy. Wars tend to be run as command economies, but US power comes from the times between wars when our markets tend to operate more freely. Even on war footing, our markets aren't reduced to 'GAR'.

A.F. Rey said...

In case you missed it, Dr. Brin, a comic you might find useful in the future, regarding climate change and TWOTDA.

Alfred Differ said...

If you live on the deserts of the US, it's ALWAYS about water rights. When I lived in Vegas in the early 80's, I could see constant construction and a growing need for water. We knew the inter-state arrangement governing use of the Colorado River was going to come up again around the turn of the century, so there was an obvious conflict looming. The cattle ranchers are just a small part of the big picture and they don't add up to many votes or campaign contributions.

Water is life out here. Beat the costs for desalinization of ocean water and you'll be able to print your own money.

donzelion said...

#Alfred Differ - ah, the joys of digital discourse with educated discussants!

The main point: "we have only ourselves to fear" - I think we agree upon, The Soviet Union was an existential threat to America (and nuclear war, a threat to humanity itself). Al-Qaeda? Chinese ascendancy? Not even in the same ballpark. At least, not in 2016.

But rethink the (temporary) fall of Athenian (slave-based) democracy. The Sicilian debacle hurt, but the coup/plutocracy of the 400 sank Athens. A unified country can recover from military catastrophe in a single generation or less. It is unity, more so than military projection at any single point in time, that determines power - but unity benefits some more than others, and at some point, the plutocrats calculate self-interest in ways that result in breaches.

You might rethink Napoleon too - an ingenious tactician, sure, but no Andrew Wiggins. Had Russians offered the same support to his invading army that Germans, Poles, and so many others did, the Russian winter wouldn't have hurt the Grande Army any more than it always hurts the Russian army. Yet unlike most other Europeans, the Russian populace sided with their 'wealthy' land owning aristocracy. Why? In part, 1800s Russian nobles were significantly less grandiose than their European counterparts. In part, they were much further away.

Caesar became Caesar through Gaul and Egypt after Romans blocked his ambitions. Genghis became Khan through Chinese and Eurasian conquests - after Mongols slaughtered one another for decades. America MIGHT also go that route - if political leaders perceive no alternative but to vent domestic rage through (misguided) foreign action. But we have Brin's, Tyson's, and others, pointing out beautiful alternatives to such pointless endeavors.

donzelion said...

David - "Having sold a lot of hi priced oil, the Saudi power becomes money, and money - more potent than spice -makes the world go round."

Think more broadly about what money is - a debt, backed with a promise to pay. AIG conjured quadrillions of dollars as "pseudo-money" - lacing derivatives trading on possibilities (interest rate default swaps, spreads). Saudi debts were backed by oil - in 2009, that might be worth $2 trillion, in 2016, it's worth at most $1 trillion, and even that valuation is suspect when every gallon of water produced takes a certain fraction, every degree of air conditioning drains another. That money flowed into U.S. treasuries (because it's simple to do that), global stocks (only an iota more challenging), and real estate (more challenging still).

But if it was the impetus behind your 'neo-Confederate uprising" - you'd expect the neo-Confederates to at least be slightly sympathetic to Saudis and/or Muslims. Are they?

"That was a core Saudi goal, attempting to bring down the chief obstacle toward their Caliphate goal."

OK - your theory: a secretive family skillfully plots to cause a Christian, anti-science backlash in America. Very smart politicians pretend to disdain the Saudis, while secretly taking orders from them (or very stupid politicians are manipulated by them to declaim evolution and raise Stars and Bars). They do so through a mass mind-merge that unites all 8000 royals into the secret conspiracy (or perhaps, just one or two who control the others). The core goal is to produce the 21st century kwisatz haderach - a Christian confederate warrior king over America who will drive the strongest opponent of Saudi caliphate (which the Saudis themselves rejected publicly - but only as a careful ploy) into civil war.

I like it as a science fiction premise. ;)

My theory: a family inherits unexpectedly vast oil wealth, wants to keep it, while facing internal dissent, foreign threats, and all sorts of uncertainty. After a king passes, his 50+ sons vie for power, after which they're 8000+ progeny will vie for power - splitting that oil wealth into fractions, potentially splintering the country. Meanwhile, 30 million mouths need water in a desert that offers very little - a more tricky challenge than the 10 million they needed to care for 25 years ago, and one likely to get even trickier.

I hate it as a science fiction premise, but Occam at least suggest its closer to reality. Our problems are our own domestic creation: no one in the world is crazy enough to make America what it is except ourselves. Or as beautiful.

Alfred Differ said...

@donzelion: Yah. The people who hang around this place are a blast. There is nothing like a small community that groks CITOKATE. 8)

I’m not that concerned about US unity for this century. Look at how agitated we are right now with the political theater currently being staged and note how big money is failing to buy elections. It still has influence, but that’s far worse than what it could do just a few generations ago. Some people may get shot and some cities burned, but not right now. Maybe in a few years, but I doubt we will get to 1968 levels this decade. The young ones aren’t being conscripted. The Confederacy is gasping for oxygen. Seriously now... they can’t even control their own political party. We still unite under external threat (9/11), but are wonderfully cacophonous elsewhen. It is a neat strategy for foiling would be Ceasars. Rhapsody in Blue should be our national anthem.

I’m also not that concerned about our foreign adventures. Many territories we annexed after being populated by our citizens who took over from the inside and THEN asked for annexation. Look at what was going on in California shortly before the Mexican-US war. Look at what happened in Texas earlier. Look at what happened to Hawaii. Why in the world did the British hand over Ohio at the end of our revolution is they didn’t foresee us moving out there and taking it? Our people are far more adventurous than our national government. I know a guy who spoke of what his charitable group did in Ukraine during GWB’s terms. Know what they were teaching the ‘loyal’ citizens of Ukraine? Democracy. Liberty. They did it because our federal government wasn’t willing to upset the Russians. The feds were busy with Middle East adventures. Obama didn’t take Ukraine or lose Crimea or anything silly like that. Russia lost Ukraine because guys like that one intervened directly and taught future rebels what they were missing. Bazillions of tiny actions pushed by free people who want something did in Russian control of Ukraine, but with no coordination, they didn’t gain control of Ukraine. That’s us in a nutshell.

Tony Fisk said...

Alfred, you left out what happened in France after the soldiers came back from fighting in your revolution.

Democracy: the real zombie plague. (Quite dreadful)

Alfred Differ said...

Yah. Don't blame us for the plague, though. It started in England a century earlier and took a while to ferment. 8)

I view the period from 1688 through 1849 and the revolutions in that 'century' as related. The Dutch empire got gobbled up by pirates who exported their culture to the New World. A philosophical 'disease' spread across the channel and then east and south until 1849 when the final revolutions failed and the disease mutated.

The plague was liberalism.
The mutated version was socialism.

Andy said...

Yes, Obama happened to be President when Bin Laden was killed. My question is: did Obama create any changes in policy or strategy which helped lead to finding him, or was it just luck?

Alfred Differ said...

Probably. A willingness to diss the Pakistani leadership was required to kill bin Laden.

matthew said...

@Andy, remember Bush and Cheney saying that getting bin Laden wasn't important because they had defeated Al Quada? A willingness to take risk was needed to get him. Obama took the risk after the Bush administration gave up pretending to try.

Dave Werth said...

@Andy, my personal conspiracy theory on that is that Bush/Cheney didn't really want to get him because he was a convenient boogeyman for them.

David Brin said...

DW he was careful and very hard to find... and likely protected by the Pakistani ISA.

duncan cairncross said...

Re - Bin laden

The last thing Cheney wanted was Bin Laden in a court of law talking about his dealings with the US establishment

It did not surprise me at all that he was killed rather than taken into custody

Tom Crowl said...

Financial Capitalism (monetary corruption is not Capitalism) allowed both Political Parties to evade real problems and avoid hard choices. It worked for a while... as it has for a while in previous monetary regimes. It won't last.

If Zero Interest Rates Fixed What's Broken, We'd Be in Paradise

Tacitus said...

The original post contains quite a bit of "recycled material". So lets go in a different direction just for fun.

Lets envision a Bernie Sanders presidency. Why not? This is after all a politics heavy Sci Fi site!

For various reasons the path to nomination for Hillary Clinton has been prepared and strewn with palm leaves. But she may not - for reasons of health, legal entanglements, just plain tepid candidacy - be able to ride that donkey to the finish line.

So Bernie. I have always had a measure of respect for him. A strong political culture requires a few eloquent spokespersons for alternate points of view. Ron Paul for instance. Bernie Sanders too. We have never actually put one in charge. But in my opinion Sanders would beat Trump in a general election. ( If you can find anyone who called this matchup a year ago I suggest a swift raid by the Men in Black...clearly they have a Time Machine stashed!)

Sanders would of course pick female VP, could be Warren, more likely would be somebody younger and more centrist. Senator Klobuchar perhaps.

It is fair to say that relations with the GOP would be difficult for President Sanders. The Grand Old will have destroyed itself and be in the midst of recriminations. And it is always easier to blame Others for ones own Misfortunes. But as to him being a Crypto way. I doubt Sanders would try to hide anything.

The concept of Executive and Legislative branches having very different governing philosophies does not have much precedent. In the English system for instance the Party in Power would just call for a Vote of No Confidence. Can anyone give a recent example of a major nation with this bifurcated leadership situation?

Of course the campaign will have been ugly. Sanders has some blemishes on his personal life, although we have gotten more tolerant of such. (I think Sanders v Trump would be the first contest of divorced men, who also have had children out of wedlock...Sanders for sure and Trump presumably given his nature). But at the end maybe things would settle down into a contest of ideas.

I respect Paul Ryan. I am less keen on the Senate leadership of either party. Maybe things would work out. When two parties are so far apart compromise has to happen. And Sanders due to age and to his own political uniqueness might not be looking for a "Legacy" and a swell post pres life. Of course enhancing the future of VP ???? would be a priority so a selection of somebody could act a peacemaker would be key.

Little has been said of late regarding Sander's health. I recall reading earlier that he is in considerable daily pain from arthritis, and the campaign trail will have been hard on him. Given the ageing effects of the Oval Office a one term presidency would be expected. I hope, and I am in all of this being sincere, that he would make it through in decent shape.

So there you have it. A more or less establishment conservative looking at the Presidency of an avowed Socialist and saying..."eh, we could do worse".

Who would have thought it!


Tom Crowl said...


Good points... the commonality between a Ron Paul and Bernie Sanders is this: they both have recognized that there is a problem in finance/banking and how this delusion benefits both political Parties.

Leaving aside social policy disputes (though the two agree on much in a sort of "social policy libertarianism")...

The difference is this: Paul opposes Keynesian "fiat" currency/credit creation and supports a nearly laissez faire approach to regulation... whereas Sanders supports Keynes and responsible regulation.

Unfortunately both Party Establishments are tied to the misuse of Keynes and faux regulation benefitting their contributors... while deceiving and placating the general population... and perhaps themselves as well... while the party lasts.

Though taking somewhat different forms in the past its an old story... another form of bread and circuses while eroding from within.

Its only fair to mention that the incompetence of the population has also always been a key contributor to keeping the fantasy going.

Which is the worst of both worlds.

A.F. Rey said...

Your scenario sounds quite plausible, Tacitus2, except for the part, "When two parties are so far apart compromise has to happen." So far, I haven't seen that.

The Republicans have been riding a wave of obstructionism, not being able to enact any of their ideas, so instead preventing "the other side" from enacting any of theirs. And they have been doing this successfully. As far as I can tell, Republican support has not diminished significantly and still holds about around 30 percent of the country, with a good 20 percent or so sympathetic independents.

So while Republicans may lose the Senate, I foresee them still holding on to the House and blocking everything they can.

Which means more of the same as in the last 8 years. Sanders will be attacked as harshly as Obama has been. Little or nothing will move through the Legislature. Judicial appointments will continue to be vacant. They may even not fill the Supreme Court seat until maybe 2018 or later!

The GOP is going through a death-throw, but it hasn't found it's new direction yet. It is desperately seeking this new path--that's one of the reasons Trump is so popular, because he takes a different path than the mainstream (as old a path as that is)--but until a leader can personify the path, it will flail about, trying to stay relevant by preventing what it doesn't like. Which means that, until we have an external threat that must be immediately addressed, we will continue to tear at ourselves instead of uniting toward a common goal.

David Brin said...

Interesting thoughts Tacitus & A.F. But I think much depends on whether the Trump followers go the rest of the way in repudiating the oligarch establishment. One could imagine a fill-circle symbol in which many of them seek Sanders having gone around a circle. ...

Just do not expect "compromise" from the current, Ailes-run GOP establishment. The Hastert Rule is in full force. They have one job. To prevent the functioning of actual politics in the USA. Any politics at all.

LarryHart said...


I'm in awe of your heartfelt and thoughtful post about Bernie Sanders. You sound more accepting of a Sanders presidency than I do, not because I don't want him to win, but because I have more doubts about his viability.

In any case, I did have this specific comment:

So Bernie. I have always had a measure of respect for him. A strong political culture requires a few eloquent spokespersons for alternate points of view. Ron Paul for instance. Bernie Sanders too. We have never actually put one in charge...

You don't count Ronald Reagan in that category? I think he might fit.

LarryHart said...

A F Rey:

Little or nothing will move through the Legislature. Judicial appointments will continue to be vacant. They may even not fill the Supreme Court seat until maybe 2018 or later!

A whole lot will depend on who dies next.

If it is Ruth Bader Ginsberg, we'll be back to a 4-3 Republican majority, and there will be a lot of political pressure on the new Democratic president to appoint "one liberal and one conservative" to replace her and Scalia, thus maintaining the 5-4 majority. Of course, if the next president is a Republican instead, he'll appoint two arch conservatives and they'll be confirmed in a heartbeat, with the destruction of the filibuster if necessary. The "strict constitutionalists" will somehow interpret "whole number of persons" to mean "eligible voters", even though the words clearly don't say that, and the Republican Party will cement its gerrymandered majority for decades to come.

On the other hand, if the next to go is Clarence Thomas, there will be one brief, shining moment of a 4-3 Democratic majority, in which case, I'd like to see a rampant display of judicial activism as would fully justify the way the right characterizes liberal judges. I don't really expect to see that, but I can dream, can't I?

Deuxglass said...

Dr. Brin,

My hat is off to you. Many posts ago you predicted that Assad's and the Russian's objective was to create a protection zone extending from Damascus to the Turkish border encompassing the richest part of Syria thereby ensuring the survival of Assad's regime. That looks very much what we are seeing today. Your contacts in the intelligence and military community were right on. I am truly impressed. From now on I will pay very much attention to what you say in things to do in this domain.

Alfred Differ said...

Reagan was riding an historical wave of change. Sanders isn't no matter how much his supporters might wish it to be true. The angry Boomers of the 60's changed course in the late 70's. The Great Society was out and Reagan's ideas filled the void.

Sanders doesn't have this kind of social event occurring underneath him. I suspect we WILL create one of those voids, but not after more dissolutionment on the Right. Reagan's future counterpart will be elected in 2028.

David Brin said...

DF my Syria forecast was based less on IC contacts than simply the obvious. The 1919 syria is not a viable state in any conceivable way. The coastal "Levant" communities of Alawites, Druze, Shia and Christians may hold onto more than they deserve, e.g. from Golan through Damascus to Aleppo and the coast. If so the remnant is Sunni and rather poor.

Turkey might use the Kurds as excuse to finally invade and save eastern Aleppo for the Sunnis. Much then depends on whether a secret deal has been struck with the kurds. Their westernment enclave is utterly indefensible and provokes the Kurds. A land swap with territories to the east might be viable and logical. But I doubt any such logical deal has been struck and hence there will be a spectacular FUBAR. And at some point some Saudi-owned US made missiles will start shooting at Russian planes. What a F#@#@ mess.

Deuxglass said...

Dr. Brin,

Many things are obvious but the timing when it comes about are not. We are paying for the errors made by the British and the French when they took over the remains of the Ottoman Empire and set up artificial countries that ignored ethic, cultural and religious divides. These counties lasted for close to a century before they broke apart. Most analysts still see them still as integral entities and look at ways to preserve them when that is a lost cause. You looked at it differently. I repeat, your timing is excellent and I commend you.

matthew said...

@ Alfred, Sanders may be riding on a historical wave of change, IF the populism that Trump embodies can find a way to coexist with Sanders' own brand of it. Here is the big question- are the Trumpeters more interested in his racism or in his economic populism? If it's the second option then Sanders will be our next President. If they are racists first and populists second (as I seem most likely) then Trump's supporters will not defect to Sanders in a general election against a non-Trump Republican. I suspect that what I'm seeing (Trump supporters who rank Sanders as their #2 choice) is a combination of hatred for Hillary and economic dissatisfaction with The heavy weight on hating Hillary.

Alfred Differ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alfred Differ said...

I suspect some populists will vote for any non-establishment candidate. If Sanders gets the nod, he should certainly campaign as if that were possible. I don't see populism as an historical wave, though. It happens a lot in the US. The wave I'm referring to happens with a period of about 50 years. Think 1880, 1930, and 1980. About 15 years before a transformation occurs, there is a lot of upheaval followed by hope. Shortly after that, the idealists find their hope dashed and THEY change which causes the political landscape to change.

The periodicity isn't perfect, but it works well enough to suspect a two generation cycle of change. On days when I think my crystal ball is working, this is the best theory I can come up with for what I see. Most days, though, I think broad predictions like this are nonsense and only fit if we desire them to do so. Maybe it is our desire for upheaval that is the actual two generation cycle. 8)

Jumper said...

Tacitus manifests common sense regarding Sanders' age. I'll add his poor foreign policy knowledge as a negative. His pragmatism I don't doubt given his experience.

I assumed Clinton would be pressured to take the VP slot.

Re. populism, Trump is very inferior compared to Ross Perot, who was revealed to me after a while as not so good. I voted for him in '92. Not '96.

Tacitus said...


Reagan. Hmmm. Perhaps. A former movie actor would not be completely out of line with The Donald on a superficial level. But the former was of course Governor of a large state and quite active within the Party, but still...perhaps.

As to a "historical wave of change" they are much easier to see after they slam into the beach than before.

For what its worth I did not vote for Reagan first time around. That was my one foray into third party politics. So ya see, just because somebody is wearin' Elephant Ears don't mean they get my vote.


Jumper said...

Arghh! you voted for David Koch! Unclean! Unclean!

DP said...

The current political and economic situation in America bears more than a passing resemblance to Germany's Weimar Republic of the 1930s. America is now Weimar-Lite:

In Weimar people suffered from massive unemployment and poverty.
In America people suffer from massive insecurity and wage stagnation.

On the Right, Weimar politics were dominated by a right wing populist National Socialist party built on murderous xenophobia directed against Jews and Slavs.
On the Right, American politics are dominated by a right wing populist Trumpist Tea Party built on fearful xenophobia directed against Hispanics and Muslims.

On the Left, Weimar politics were dominated by a left wing populist Communist party violently opposed to capitalism.
On the Left, American politics are dominated by an left wing populist Occupy/Berniebro party angrily opposed to the wealthy.

Weimar suffered psycologically from an humiliating defeat in the Great War.
America suffers psychologically from a frusterating stalemate in the Iraq War.

Weimar Germans felt culturally threatened by a Modernism that threatened traditonal values of Kinder, Küche, Kirche.
Many Americans feel threatend by social change mainstreaming gay marriage and LGBT rights.

Weimar listened to and followed a bombastic demagogue who many at first dismissed as a clown.
America is listening to and starting to follow a bombastic demagogue who many at first dismissed as a clown.

Tacitus said...

Uh 1980...John Anderson.


LarryHart said...


Reagan. Hmmm. Perhaps. A former movie actor would not be completely out of line with The Donald on a superficial level. But the former was of course Governor of a large state and quite active within the Party, but still...perhaps

Well, you baited-and-switched there making a comparison to Trump. I thought your original statement was that we don't put someone like Sanders in charge. He was governor of a small state and quite active within the party caucus, if not the actual party.

I mentioned Reagan because I don't think the Supply-Side economic theories he espoused were very mainstream back then.

LarryHart said...


Uh 1980...John Anderson.

Well, then technically, you did vote for a Republican (albeit not the Republican nominee that year). But then, technically, I voted for that same Republican that same year.

Tacitus said...


No intention to bait and switch. You just got me thinking about Reagan. His was an interesting political journey. But it is fair to say that Reagan had more executive experience (and zip for legislative) compared to Sanders. As to how active each was within their party, not sure. They were both on the fringes to some extent. Reagan then pulled the mainstream of the GOP over to where he was...

So John Anderson was a Republican. If I knew that I had forgotten it. Odd year 1980.


duncan cairncross said...

Hi Daniel

Re Wiemar politics

Adolf was the only politician who pushed back against "Austerity" - all of the other main German parties were still going down the track of increasing austerity in order to protect the wealth of the rich

That was why he won power - and on that subject he was actually correct,

In some parallel universe Adolf fixed Germany's economic woes, was tragically killed in a road accident in 1935 and is now fondly remembered as the father of his country

Acacia H. said...

There are two things that the Sanders-naysayers are forgetting: Sanders is an old white man, which is one of the favorite things among Republicans, and while he's running on the Democratic Ticket, he's not a Democrat. As such, you may very well find Republicans in Congress end up being more likely to work with him - especially if he denies Clinton her coronation. Because they hate the Clintons with a passion.

A Sanders Presidency could see the fracturing of the Republican Party as he works with various groups - for instance, the more libertarian-minded Republicans to allow Marijuana legalization, or Republicans such as John McCain who wants to restore banking regulations as they were before Clinton dismembered them.

And it may very well be healthy for the Republican Party to start diversifying.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Duncan, Mein Kampff was filled with mad ravings and hate. That would have survived the road accident. Indeed, his admirers like Lindbergh might have gained power in other lands.

Rob H your scenario, may it be so. I am less sure.

duncan cairncross said...

Yeah - Hitler was a monster loonie

BUT he was still the only German politician who was correct on "Austerity"

If some of the other guys had stopped pandering to the elites and looked at what would actually have worked Hitler would not have had his chance at power and the world would have been different

DP said...


"I mean, say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it's an ethos."

And I'm not just makeing a Trump-Hitler comparison.

Bernie also fits the role of Ernst Thalmann.

P.S. The thugs who protect Trumps rallies are modern Brownshirts.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Daniel

I don't think either of those comparisons are anything like valid,

The Donald is not like Hitler
Cruz worries me more!

and Bernie is definitely NOT like Thalmann

But they are not the final product -
if you go through another election cycle with no change then the new Hitler is more likely to emerge

DP said...


"History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce."

Tim H. said...

Because too many people can't work out how to use the lessons of history, saying "that was then.", shrug and walk away. Mostly they also have difficulty associating the karmic kick in the pants with the prior warnings of history.

Jumper said...

Apologies, Tacitus! I was guessing the Libertarian ticket (Koch ran for VP) and guessed very much wrong.

locumranch said...

While it's true that the US Republican Party is in its 'death throes', as evidenced by the Trump's populist success, the very same could be said about the US Democrats with the near identical populist success of Sanders.

Also in its 'death throes', the European Union proceeds us on the same path, as evidenced by Germany's suppression of a free press, France's ongoing repudiation of democracy (Etat d'Urgence), the rise of militant tribalism & the slow collapse of its common currency.

The news from Turkey is similarly depressing as the Ankara Bombing could lead to more overt Turkish confrontation with Syria, Russia & its covert trading-partner ISIS but, more likely, it signals the subsequent collapse of Turkey's covert military dictatorship into an overt Civil War.

How are you liking the Arab, European & North American Spring now ??


A.F. Rey said...

Sanders is an old white man, which is one of the favorite things among Republicans, and while he's running on the Democratic Ticket, he's not a Democrat. As such, you may very well find Republicans in Congress end up being more likely to work with him - especially if he denies Clinton her coronation. Because they hate the Clintons with a passion.

While Congress may be "more likely" to work with Sanders than Clinton, I question how much more they would work. I doubt it would be measurable.

The Republicans have spent 8 years slandering Obama and opposing practically all his initiatives. He, also, beat Hillary in the election. And although he is not an old, white man, I doubt the lack of cooperation, or even compromise, is purely based on race or class.

Republicans gain political support by showing solidarity against the Democrats. And that will not change if there is a new Democrat President. It will be a continuation of the gridlock we've seen with the Obama's Presidency.

My only hope is that Clinton, being experienced with a hostile Congress, will be able to play them better than anyone else. Yes, there will be a lot of "investigations" and hearings. Yes, there will be "scandals." But Hillary might be able to broker some deals with certain members of Congress, and might be able to get something done. Might.

I don't see much chance with Bernie, since his cooperation depends on the good-will of the Republicans. Something that they have been very good at suppressing these last 8 years.

(And while nominating Hillary would lose some Bernie supporters, and energize the Right, remember that nominating Bernie would lose some of Hillary supporters, especially among the minority voters (if reports can be believed). The upcoming primaries will help clarify just how strong Hillary's support is.)

Jonathan Roth said...

I read this article awhile back, and thought our host would appreciate it

Also, I really want to see a moon colony. I'm just fine with space stations, asteroid colonies, and Mars colonies as well. I think a moon colony would be a good first run, with Earth and space stations not as far away in case of emergencies requiring assistance and rescue. I believe the information gained would be well worth it, though I admit it mostly just has a huge emotional appeal as well.

Jumper said...

"We need authority for fear of anarchy. So we rely on the Constitution, or pretend to, more or less as “Star Wars” fans rely on the imagination of George Lucas—or at least on the idea that there is a consistent imagination there."
"There is no Force—no divine text, no inspired reading, no Jedi Council. Justice Scalia, like many another Justice, was a passionate politician fighting political battles for his religious and ideological views with all the words and arguments at his disposal. To pretend otherwise is to participate in a galactic humbug."

Thought you'd find this both fun and interesting.

A.F. Rey said...

Just in case anyone wants to see how Bernie well is tracking toward a nomination (or not), FiveThirtyEight has an interesting chart on Bernie Sander's Path To The Nomination:

Paul451 said...

Tacitus2 said: "So there you have it. A more or less establishment conservative looking at the Presidency of an avowed Socialist and saying..."eh, we could do worse". "

To David and LarryHart, this is what I (and others) have been talking about. The hate-word "socialism" is actually much less effective these days than the hate-word "Hillary". Even on conservatives themselves.

But note that T2 still harbours the belief that Clinton is facing possible "legal entanglements" over the email thing. Even though he's a smart sane conservative, even though he doesn't dwell in the House of Madness that is "conservative media", he still has so internalised the anti-Clinton propaganda that he can't accept its falseness, no matter how many people here try to tell him that not only was there no crime, the practice wasn't even considered unusual. The slander is against the person, and that's much harder to overcome than a generic not-our-team hate-word.

Eventually the hate machine will work up similar personal attacks against Sanders. But they are starting from scratch. They need new events, new Whitewaters and Benghazis and Teh Emailz, to hang their anti-Sanders propaganda on. That takes time. More time than the months until the election. With Obama, they didn't really get traction until after his first year in office.

With Clinton, they have 24 years of accumulated memes to call upon, most invoked with just a word. With Sanders all they have is "socialist", and all that means these days is "ageing hippy", "well-meaning but naive eccentric". Hardly anger-provoking for people attracted to Trump.

[IMO, the ineffectiveness of the word "socialist" is because of the House of Madness's own overuse of the word to describe... well... anything they don't like. They've diluted it to meaninglessness. It's just become a generic swear-word. When a corporatist, rightwing-designed health-insurance program like ObamaCare is "socialist", that doesn't leave you anywhere to go when someone suggests universal healthcare. "It's socialism!" Yeah, so. "Uh... more socialist!" Ooo scary.]

From the article proper,
"I have some perplexities about Bernie Sanders, and especially the way some of his fiercest adherents are getting overly emotional"

I think you're reversing causation. You see a few particularly hateful Clinton-attacking Sanders supporters, but it's not that they support Sanders and therefore hate Clinton, it's because they already hated Clinton that they support Sanders. The hate preceded the support. Berating "Sanders supporters" for hating Clinton is pointless, while berating actual Sanders supporters over those Clinton-haters is just silly.

You'd be much better served taking to task the Clinton camp for their very organised, very deliberate, and so very skilful venom directed against anyone who doesn't support Hillary.

David Brin said...

As a human we know Cruz on sight. He is Joe McCarthy (whom he physically resembles) moderated by a little Richard Nixon cunning and with some Nehemia Scudder mixed in.

Donald OTOH is a totally different phenomenon. He is – I believe – LYING about nearly all of his most odious views. Which is utterly bizarre because that makes him a sociopath… yet probably more pragmatic and moderate by far, in policy. I do know this. I do not want to see a real world experiment in what kind of presidency that would bring.

A.F. “My only hope is that Clinton, being experienced with a hostile Congress, will be able to play them better than anyone else.”

Um, how about the “hope” of trouncing the GOP so badly that statehouses change hands and gerrymanders cured and science restored and Tacitus-style conservatives rise up en masse and yank their party back to adult sanity?

J Roth I too would love to see a moon base. But it should be a privately funded tourist destination that also does a little science. There is in fact very little useful science to be done there in the near term, but rich tourists might pay the freight.. The thing about asteroids – especially if they are disassembled in Lunar orbit – that they might become profitable enough to sustain themselves as an industry.

Paul451 said...

AF Rey,
"Which means more of the same as in the last 8 years. Sanders will be attacked as harshly as Obama has been. Little or nothing will move through the Legislature. Judicial appointments will continue to be vacant. They may even not fill the Supreme Court seat until maybe 2018 or later!"

It took time for the hate-machine to build up traction against Obama. His early failure was an own-goal by the conservative wing of the Congressional Democrats before the 2010 midterm, not the strength of Republican hatred.

IMO, the Senate is more likely to swing to the Dems under Sanders (at least at first). That means hundreds of vacancies can be filled, including that Supreme Court vacancy. Yes the Republicans will obfuscate and even filibuster, but unlike 2008-2010, the Dems in this round will understand that playing nice will not win them any votes in the 2018 mid-term.

Changing the balance of the Supreme Court may see a reversal of the recent trend in anti-democracy rulings. Which may see a chance of changing the House in the 2020 election.

"My only hope is that Clinton, being experienced with a hostile Congress, will be able to play them better than anyone else."

Senator Clinton has some insight that Senator Sanders doesn't? Her 8 years in the Senate, versus his 16 years in the House and 10 years in the Senate?

"remember that nominating Bernie would lose some of Hillary supporters"

No. Clinton supporters are, by definition, pragmatic moderates. For example, female supporters of Clinton didn't stay at home or switch parties after Obama won the nomination in 2008.

Douglas Fenton,
"We are paying for the errors made by the British and the French when they took over the remains of the Ottoman Empire and set up artificial countries that ignored ethic, cultural and religious divides."

They didn't ignore them, in each case they very carefully balanced the forces against each other. A western-allied minority rule, an oligarchy made to depend on that rule, and a poor majority from a different faction which the ruling-minority fears.

Horrible, but not a "mistake" of "ignoring". A mistake of very deliberately putting Realpolitik ahead of progress.

Paul451 said...

"a moon base. But it should be a privately funded tourist destination that also does a little science. There is in fact very little useful science to be done there in the near term"

If the estimates of the scale of volatiles in the lunar cold-traps is correct, then it will have likely been deposited in layers over a billion years or so. That provides you with a chronological record of every major lunar impact for a billion years, along with effective samples of millions of comets. (Non-volatile dust from large stony and metallic asteroid impacts will also settle in the polar regions (as everywhere else) in thinner layers separated by the thicker volatile deposits from comet and wet-asteroid impacts.)

I can barely imagine the science you could do with such a resource. But "very little" seems unlikely.

Tom Crowl said...

This may spark some dispute; hopefully worthwhile dispute. Any analogies to now?

Currency and the Collapse of the Roman Empire

matthew said...

That 538 article was excellent even if I disagree with some of the methodology (relying on Facebook Likes, etc. in place of polling). Thanks.

It looks like Massachusetts and Colorado will be the bellwethers to watch. Very good information.

Alfred Differ said...

@locumranch: Populism doesn't kill the Democrats. They live for that stuff. Go Underdog!

Turkey will manage. What will die over there is the period of retreat from the world stage. They got torn apart with WWI and died s slow death of centuries before that. The Ottoman period died and Turkey was born in its place. The 20th century pressures that encouraged them to hide and lick their wounds are almost gone, though. With conflict on their borders, they will have to behave more like the empire of olde. They will or they will get eaten alive. I'm betting they will come out of their shell.

As for the EU... well... Europe has never been all that unified even under conquerors.

A.F. Rey said...

Um, how about the “hope” of trouncing the GOP so badly that statehouses change hands and gerrymanders cured and science restored and Tacitus-style conservatives rise up en masse and yank their party back to adult sanity?

Alas, Dr. Brin, I have very little hope in that. From what I read in the polls, the Senators and Congressmen who have been elected are pretty much representative of their constituents. Gerrymandering has some effect on the outcome, but I fear that it is not significant enough to change the overall outcome. About half the voters are Republicans, and there is little that Hillary, Bernie, or any Democrat can do to change that. And if the Tacitus-style conservatives haven't risen yet, I see no reason that will rise now. Perhaps after the Republican Party finally breaks and realigns itself...

So I foresee Congress to change little in this election (if we're lucky, the Senate may go back to the Democrats, but that's about it). So the next President will have to deal with the same obstructionism that Obama did.

But I am a lousy prognosticator, so there is hope. :)

Senator Clinton has some insight that Senator Sanders doesn't? Her 8 years in the Senate, versus his 16 years in the House and 10 years in the Senate?

Paul, Hillary has experience being attacked by the Right for the last--what is it?--20 years or so. If she can't handle 'em, no one can.

I don't think Bernie has experienced the full wrath of the Right, so I don't know how he would handle it. And while it may take the Right a while to build up steam, they will hit him, as hard as Obama or worse.

No. Clinton supporters are, by definition, pragmatic moderates. For example, female supporters of Clinton didn't stay at home or switch parties after Obama won the nomination in 2008.

I primarily considering minorities who are looking for someone to champion their causes. I've heard that a sizeable chunk feel strongly about Hillary; they may not feel that strongly about Bernie. But how big a chunk that is remains to be seen. It may be small, but I believe they are there, and shouldn't be discounted off-hand.

Laurent Weppe said...

* "are the Trumpeters more interested in his racism or in his economic populism?"

* "Donald OTOH is a totally different phenomenon. He is – I believe – LYING about nearly all of his most odious views. Which is utterly bizarre because that makes him a sociopath… yet probably more pragmatic and moderate by far, in policy"

Urk, here we go again.
How many time have I to repeat it: as a rule right-wing demagogues do not believe their own rhetoric, and neither do their followers.

Unlike its left-wing counterpart -which is all about making the future autocrat look like an idealistic rogue trying to give the Powers That Be what for- right-wing demagoguery is a two-pronged con that target simultaneously its followers and its foes:

• To its followers -who are well aware that the demagogue they're supporting won't bring singing tomorrows- it sells the implicit promise that the -grossly unfair and prone to employ violence against dissenters big and small- regime it intends to establish will reward its voters by giving them preferential access to the ruling-class' scraps.
It works because the audience of right-wing demagogues is deeply cynical: its members are well aware that the game is rigged, realize that the game isn't rigged in their favor (or not as rigged as is used to be: White males went from owning the Konami Code to being downgraded to Scalzi's Easy Mode), and convinced themselves than fair governing is all but impossible: if the schoolyard is to belong forevermore to the bullies, then the smart thing to do is to either become one, or to become part of one's posse of favored lackeys and be rewarded for one's submission.

• To its foes, it sells the idea that its rank and file voters are merely misplacing sincere and legitimate anger. Here's the thing: fascism pseudo-populist rhetorics are not meant for fascist voters: they are meant for the rest of us: their role is to incapacitate the progressive opposition by convincing its members that if only they found the right argument, the right words, the right tone they would convince the wayward far-right voters to come back home, so they waste precious time & energy wringing their hands about devising the perfect magical silver-bullet argument that will "win the debate" instead of working toward shunning the demagogue and his followers away from any form of political power, big or small

Hence two things:

1. Trump voters, by and large, won't ever be swayed by Sanders: they don't give a shit about Trump's pseudo-populism, they aren't here for that, and therefore they won't give a shit about Sanders' more sincere brand of rebelliousness.

2. The fact that Trump most certainly doesn't believe one half of a third of a quarter of a fifth of the filth he spews is both absolutely true and absolutely irrelevant: Trump won't deliberately harm American Muslims because he or his voters sincerely view them as million of Daesh's sleeper agents: Trump will deliberately harm American Muslims because his zero-sum voters sincerely believe that by banishing/disenfranchising/ghettoizing/exterminating/mass-raping-à-la-Serbe them, the resources they own will flow back to the White population, and the same can be said about any and every bogeyman-du-jour who did and will receive the dubious honor of becoming the focus of one of his rants

Laurent Weppe said...

* "They didn't ignore them, in each case they very carefully balanced the forces against each other. A western-allied minority rule, an oligarchy made to depend on that rule, and a poor majority from a different faction which the ruling-minority fears.

Horrible, but not a "mistake" of "ignoring". A mistake of very deliberately putting Realpolitik ahead of progress.

Oh but there was a very big, glaring mistake: they believed the regime they installed would be stable and reliably dutiful toward their colonial overlords.

Far from being adept at realpolitik, the West-European upper-class is inordinately fond of the oxymoronic fantasy of the "Enlightened Despot", and as a result, they thought that if they created the conditions for such "Enlightened despots" (read: rich dudes educated in Western capitals who share the White Bourgeoisie's contempt for the Arabic plebs) to emerge and take control, they would turn their country into stable buffer states.
Every attempt at prompting these "Enlightened Depots" ended either in failure or catastrophe, yet you still see the same pseudo-intellectuals claiming that subsidizing the latest Egyptian putschist general or allowing Putin to slaughter the Syrian Turkmens and starve Aleppo will bring stability to the region and its neighbors this time.


* "Currency and the Collapse of the Roman Empire"

Debasement of the currency had little to do wth the Empire's collapse: the urban elites refusing to pay taxes and demanding that the burden be transferred to the poorer rural populations, the wealthier landowners preferring cash crops over more vital foodstuff, over-reliance on egyptian wheat, which was so overexploited that egyptian lands became barren despite the Nile's silt plus a nasty case of climate change that began circa 300 AD, when temperatures suddenly dropped, which caused the usable agrarian lands' surface to shrink, the productivity to drop and an inflation that had less to do with lack of precious metals and more with the fact that the roman economy was producing less stuff.

David Brin said...



duncan cairncross said...

Hi Laurent,

Re Trump voters - I see them as a spectrum -
From racist who will NOT be swayed by the Bern through to people who have always been Republicans but realize that the GOP is now unashamedly focused on further enriching the 0.1%

Those people would NEVER vote for Hillary - but may vote for Bernie,

Our Tacitus2 may well be a member of that group, -

Joe D said...

I've seen you cite the military readiness statistics a few times, but I can't find the reference you must have provided in your first citation. I would love to be able to provide this to my otherwise intelligent friends who repeat what they're told about how bad our military has gotten under Obama.