Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Future of Free Speech - and Privacy

In an era when we have "weaponized narrative" and open warfare against every single knowledge or fact-based profession, my role as "Mr. Transparency" has mutated into fighting for the very concept of objective reality. And hence a break from our usual topics - science, science fiction and politice.

The Future of Free Speech: Trolls, Anonymity and Fake News Online: Pew released a report on social media and negative political trends with quoted bits from (among others) Brad Templeton and me. 

Yet, another Pew report  - The Future of Free Speech Looks Grim - dismally wrings its hands and declares there will never be a solution to the plague of trolls infesting the Internet. But you know me.  I find cynical gloom to be the surest sign of dullard minds.

How has awful human behavior been mitigated in the past? This report utterly ignores the lessons of 4000 years of human history, that the deterrent to abusive behavior is accountability. And sure, accountability that is pounded onto people from above -- by priests and kings -- became tyranny. Probably 99% of our ancestors suffered under either chaos - beset by bullies  around them - or else feudalism - repressed by king-lord-priest-bullies from above. But eventually we found -- (or stumbled into) -- a better way. Making accountability reciprocal so that it shines on everyone, including the mighty. 

In The Transparent Society - and in novels like Earth - I talk about how light is the great cleansing agent. Almost all harmful people - from industrial moguls to criminals to terrorists to trolls - are fatally allergic to it. On the first order, our solution is attributability, ending the cover of anonymity.

Oh, but there are second order effects. Much of the internet's charm and effectiveness comes from our ability to post or say some things safe from "being known as a dog." Must we lose that, in order to have accountability?

There are ways to get both... to have our cake and eat it, too. E.g. via mediated pseudonymity. But these solutions must start with rejecting the dour doomcasting of articles like this one.

== Spy fetishism... and a solution ==

Say hello to the camera; goodbye to privacy: A cogent article in the San Diego Union Tribune explores how Americans' compulsion to share everything online - especially video - collides with our concerns about privacy. I was interviewed for this piece, which features glimpses into our transparency-related anthology, Chasing Shadows. My co-editor of the anthology, Dr. Stephen Potts, and I were on radio (KPBS) discussing the book.... and the problem.

And you didn’t expect this? As if I haven’t warned you for night on 30 years? A hidden spy camera in an innocuous looking AC to USB wall charger plug.

And yet....   Founded by one of the fathers of the Internet, Vint Cerf, and MeiLin Fung, one of the pioneers of CRM software, People Centered Internet aims to assure that the Internet, and the data it creates, deliver economic, social and political empowerment, and permission-less innovation, for all humanity.  Envision a world where everyone is connected, and those connections, enriched by dialog and data, empower humanity’s thriving.

== Hazards & Worries ==

Charles Stross is a brilliant science fiction author, who also runs a cogent blog. Charlie combines these roles in a posting  that could make you laugh and cry at the same time. It takes the form of a rejection letter that he (supposedly) received for a novel proposal based upon the recent “WannaCry” ransomware exploit. The reviewer dismisses as implausible every single step along the path of this insanely hard-to-credit tale, from the NSA carelessly losing hold of its most precious tools, to the stunningly bizarre way that the thing mostly-ended, with the apparent discovery of a strangely unlikely deus ex machina off-switch.  And yes, life can be stranger than fiction!

What Charlie doesn’t mention is that those two cappers, the beginning and the ending ones, might have been intentional, all along. That opens up a whole 'nother realm of layers to the “real plot” of the story. Just sayin…

Still, have a look at this amazing way the WannaCrypt malware got substantially stopped by one white-hat fellow. An amazing tale and a prime example of why the default method for dealing with information age problems can only be transparency.


Facial recognition has progressed to a point where "dysmorphology" - the diagnosis of rare diseases - can be accomplished (initially) by computer analysis of a child's or adult's features.  This could be a valuable addition to the tools that were pioneered in the Tricorder XPrize contest, enabling quicker diagnosis and care in the field.  

Of course, it also raises chilling awareness of how far facial recog tech has come... and how utterly useless will be any vain efforts to ban or restrict the technology.  Especially when it becomes capable of some degree of lie detection.  These tools will either be monopolized by elites (leading to Big Brother forever) or else used by all of us to hold accountable lying politicians and so on (Big Brother never.)  You decide.

Tools to fake news: Reported on CRACKED… which is not The Onion, but should still be treated warily… “In November, Adobe demonstrated an experimental project they've been toying with called Voco. Voco allows you to "Photoshop" speech, changing what the speaker said to whatever you care to type. Based on a 20-minute sample of me speaking, someone could fabricate a pretty damn convincing facsimile of me saying, "I hate children" or "Earth should have a self-destruct button" or maybe even things I've never said.”  Oh, but if this is fake news it's cheap stuff, based on what we'll have next year. Or the next.

In chapter One of The Transparent Society, I talk about “The End of Photography as Proof of Anything at All: With sophisticated image processing, we may never again be able to rely on photos or videos as perfect evidence, but this may not be as calamitous as some fear.”  
This is just more of the same. No method other than openness and transparency can possibly solve it.

== Reality TV with a better than average premise ==

 Contestants try to drop out and hideas if being hunted… and they are!  By retired or profession cops and such, on HUNTED. Of course science fiction has been there.

While I find so-called “security expert” Bruce Schneier vastly overrated, and often flat-out wrong, I will gladly avow when he says something wise. In this article, he criticizes the way that market forces and laziness and cheapness have combined to make our rising Internet of Things horribly susceptible to hacking, botnets and such: Regulation might be a dirty word in today’s political climate, but security is the exception to our small-government bias. And as the threats posed by computers become greater and more catastrophic, regulation will be inevitable. So now’s the time to start thinking about it. We also need to reverse the trend to connect everything to the internet. And if we risk harm and even death, we need to think twice about what we connect and what we deliberately leave uncomputerized.”  

Alas, as usual, Schneier is very good at raising scary alarums… and stunningly vague in his recommendations.  Which basically amount to “get government to solve it!”  Riiiight. 

Encryption based security systems fail almost weekly, but this is a big one. A clever new way that hackers take over whole systems. “A rash of invisible, fileless malware is infecting banks around the globe.”

== Threats to Democracy ==

Daniel Dennett used to at least contribute value to the conversation, but that was years ago. This time (oh go read it!) -- Fake News Isn't the Greatest Threat to Democracy. Total Transparency Is -- his chain of assertions - any one of which is diametrically opposite to true - shows that the fellow's truly gone bonkers.  

Take this paragraph.: "Staying afloat in today’s flood of information means understanding the subtle relationship between transparency and trust. And it is not what you might think ― the more transparency, the more trust.The reality is the opposite: when everything is exposed, all information is equal, and equally useless. When no one knows things that others don’t know, and there are no institutions or practices that can establish and preserve credibility ― as is threatened today with the new dominance of peer-driven social media ― then there is no solid ground for a democratic discourse."

What a towering loony! Each and every assertion is patently false, and I mean every one! We already live in a largely transparent world, compared to our ancestors, and we have developed many systems for separating wheat from chaff, pearls from swill. In fact the whole "fake news" phenomenon and the deliberate lobotomization of the American Right depends utterly upon sabotaging all those systems. Systems that let us grant credibility to the credible and subtract is from the wrong or wrongheaded.

Fox-ism and Trumpism are part of a deliberate putsch to undermine the greatest tools humanity ever had, and the fact-using professions who wield them.  And those fact-professions -- from science, teaching and journalism to entrepreneurs and civil servants -- depend utterly on open flows of information.

Now as de-facto "Mr. Transparency" you might think I decry all secrecy, but that would be dumb. In The Transparent Society I repeatedly show that the few secrets that governments, businesses and private individuals really need - including privacy in the home and intimacy with loved ones - are far better protected if we live in a generally open world, wherein the skulks and voyeurs and spies and peeping toms are better caught! And where we can relax about abuse of power because the mighty face more light than the rest of us. 

Even when members of the Protector Caste are engaged in legitimate secrecy, there are ways to supervise and ensure that it stays legit.

Again and again, Dennett ignores the plain fact that we achieved almost all our modern miracles, including science, freedom, accountability and a cornucopia of wealth, because we are already more than halfway toward a transparent society, compared to every single other culture or tribe that ever existed.  He blathers that accountability and gradation of information is impossible, while ungratefully ignoring how much he has always depended on exactly those things, fostered and amplified by light.

Okay, I accept the sermon that he (unintentionally) preaches. That people who were right in the past won't always be. And pomposity is one of the warning signs.  So go to a mirror and tell that guy!  It's what I am about to stand up and do.


Political addendum:

Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to help the legal case against the outrageously treasonous cheat called gerrymandering. He’s teamed up with Common Cause to help Crowdfund legal fees for the court case, and he’s matching every donation!  

Among all the fervid money and action calls out there, I can think of few as important as this one. Other than recruiting women ("She Should Run"), scientists (314.org) and retired officers to run, this is the biggie. If Alito and Roberts weasel out of this decision, then we'll know that they aren't Americans, anymore.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Exoplanets, waterworlds and asteroids

After three postings about politics and winning this phase of the Civil War... how about some space stuff?  Proof that we are members of a dynamic, bold, competent scientific civilization.

A planetary system similar to our own: Epsilon Eridani, at 10.5 light years, is one of the nearest solitary stars roughly similar to our sun, and hence was inspected by Frank Drake, in the 1960s, for possible SETI signals. Now, as well reported on the SETI Institute’s site, new infrared observations reveal a system very similar to ours, with a Jovian planet riding herd just outside a silicate-dominated asteroid ring and an outermost ring much like our Kuiper Belt… but with a third debris field also orbiting where we would have Uranus.  

It appears that most habitable planets may be waterworlds: On Gizmodo, George Dvorsky reports on a new study published in The Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society suggests that most habitable planets are wet. “Like, extremely wet. Using computer models, astronomer Fergus Simpson from the Institute of Cosmos Science at the University of Barcelona found that habitable exoplanets, at least simulated ones, tend to be overrun by water, in most cases accounting for 90 percent or more of the total surface area,” unlike Earth’s relatively dry 70%.  Here’s the original paper’s abstract.

In fact, the authors’ inferences are a bit weak. Still, I have been saying that Earth is likely to be dry, for a water world, for 30 years.  Going back to this classic paper in the 1983 Quarterly Journal of  Royal Astronomical Society.
Or in this way fun youtube riff you’ll enjoy, I promise!

In fact, this is the safest and best "soft landing" to the Fermi Paradox.That the universe is filled with life-rich water worlds, but our Earth, skating the inner edge of the Sun's CHZ or Goldilocks Zone, has unusually more land surface. Hence hands-and-fire races like us are the rare thing.  When we build starships, we'll find lots of other folks out there... with flippers and such. Interesting to talk to, but not competitors.  

Of course there's another aspect to us skating the inner edge of the Sun's CHZ or Goldilocks Zone.  It explains why Earth has to shed heat so efficiently and even a little bit of greenhouse gas excess can be lethal.  But then, members of the Denialist Cult don't read my blog. And you science lovers don't need to be convinced.

== Again, the case for asteroids ==

A question asker over on Quora someone asked: “Is space mining sci-fi or a legitimate concept?

In fact, some of the smartest people on the planet have studied the material properties of meteorites, which are bits of asteroids or comets that have fallen to Earth. Back in the 1980s, John Lewis's book Mining the Sky (or his more recent Asteroid Mining 101) made clear that simple estimates of the various types of asteroids and their relative abundance reveal what’s out there…

…and what’s out there is a bonanza. Just one 1-km asteroid of the right type — if melted and cast using solar concentrators — would produce:
  • the entire Earth’s iron/steel/nickel production for a year.
  • Earth’s gold and silver production for 100 years.
  • Earth’s platinum group production for 1000 years. And that’s one such asteroid, and there are millions

Do we yet know how to “melt and cast using solar concentrators” in space? Only in computer models. But a different kind of asteroid is rich in water, so we’d harvest that resource much sooner, just by throwing a baggie around one and siphoning the evaporated volatiles.

Is all this guaranteed? Of course not. Do the payoffs seem to warrant some capital investment? Um, duh?

Oh, about “bringing asteroids to Earth”… the answer is you don’t do that! You bring them to lunar orbit and process them there. Which means that a lunar orbit station would be valuable in all sorts of ways. Including the profitable selling of services to all the wannabe nations — China, Russia, India, Europe and billionaires — who want to plant their own footprints on that sterile and (for now) utterly useless surface.

(If you meet a “back to the moon!” zealot inside the US, it will always be a republican, whose other mantra is “screw science!”)

I have been cataloguing answers to the “Fermi Paradox” - the question of why we see no blatant signs of other sapient species - since 1983, before it was even called the “Fermi Paradox”! In all that time, I have found that the brightest people — e.g. Hawking — tend to leap to declare “Aha! I know the reason!” 

It seems an immature habit, given this is a topic that has no known subject matter! ;-)

Seriously, the best we can do is catalogue and maybe rank-order these notions by plausibility. In my novel Existence, for example, I go through more than a dozen hypothetical reasons why interstellar AI probes might sit in the Asteroid Belt, tune in to our Internet, yet refrain from making themselves known.
Among the 100 or so “Fermi” explanations, a few seem plausible (e.g. we may have anomalous-fluke intelligence), some are optimistic (e.g. Earth happens to be “dry” compared to most Water Worlds, and hence, most other bright races have fins, not hands.) And a fair number are pessimistic or dangerous, (I go through more than a few of those, in Existence.)

The dangerous ones aren’t totally compelling - though they worry folks like Nicholas Bostrom and Lord Martin Rees. And Hawking. But they seem plausible enough to put a burden of proof on those silly radio astronomers who eagerly seek to beam “yoohoo!” messages into space. I am among the SETI scholars who object to this foolishness called METI or Messaging to ExtraTerrestrial Intelligences.

This is not a place to go into detail, but you can find a very biting rundown of why so many of us object to this stunt on my website.

== The Politics of SETI ==

Stranger danger: Extraterrestrial first contact as a political problem, by John Hickman and Koby Boatwright offers an interesting essay on political decisions whether to respond to a SETI detection and the difficulties of communications with aliens.

Just released: Aliens: The World's Leading Scientists on the Search for Extraterrestrial Life, edited by Jim Al-Khalili, with contributions from Martin Rees, Paul Davies and others.

And consider this: Nuclear explosions and submarine comms distort space weather near the earth: Very-low-frequency (VLF) signals are emitted by ground stations "at huge powers" so they can reach submarines deep below the ocean's surface. Now comes a (still controversial) finding that these VLF signals can affect the Van Allen radiation belts above the Earth.  Satellites report that the inner boundary of the inner VAB has shifted over time. Measurements from the 1960s, when VLF transmissions were more limited, suggest that the inner edge of the Van Allen belts was closer to Earth then than it is today, according to NASA. It's possible that the inner boundary of the Van Allen belts is an "impenetrable barrier" and that, if humans did not send out VLF signals, the boundary would stretch closer to our planet.  

Gawrsh. There’s a sci fi premise that writes itself.  

 == Cartoons re SETI & METI! == 

Fom: SMBC Comics: 

From: XKCD Comics:

Brewster Rockit on METI and REGRETI

Thursday, June 22, 2017

A Time for Colonels and Captains: Part Three

In Parts One and Two of this series, I offered an impudent but reasonable suggestion — that 2018 should be a Year of the Colonels. 

Not in the sense of nasty-tropical-clichéd caudillos! Rather, it's a benignly pragmatic proposal for the Democratic Party -- and or reformers in Republican primaries -- to call up real warriors for this political struggle to determine life-or-death for the great American Experiment. To sift among many thousands of retired Army and Marine Colonels (and Navy Captains, and other former officers and noncoms of spotless record), then recruit scads of them to run in every single 'safe' Republican Congressional and state assembly district, in 2018. 

And yes, this broad front approach will mean leaving the juiciest and ripest swing districts to be contested by Bernites, fine! This is in addition to the vigorous activists, at their left-end of the Big Tent. Civilization needs need every ally we can get.

Last time, we discussed deep, psychological reasons why this is how to reach those aging, bitter, non-college white boomers who were suckered into Trumpism, and thus supporting the very destroyers of the middle class in America. Many — enough — of those pivotal voters can be weaned out of the mad GOP coalition, not by emulating Foxite pandering, but instead by sending them adults! Candidates whose background and demeanor they will respect enough to listen-to.

Indeed, the problem is taken seriously. Former President Barack Obama announced he will be working with Eric Holder, his former Attorney General, on the National Democratic Redistricting Committee to help Democrats reverse their losses in the states. This is urgent, if Democrats hope to have any say in how congressional and legislative district lines are drawn by governors and state legislatures after the next census in 2020.

== Gloomy forecasts ==

Oh, but it won’t be easy. Even if Donald Trump continues his slow motion car crash, so many red-cheats (like gerrymandering and rigged voting machines) and demographic distribution problems hamper the Democrats that even a narrow win might be hard to achieve in 2018. Mara Liasson on NPR said:

While Republicans are able to turn out their voters every two years, Democrats seem only able to turn out their voters every four. That needs to change. Democrats need to restock their pipeline with candidates for city council, mayor, state legislature and governor — and they need to do it all across the country. It's true that Democratic voters are inefficiently distributed geographically for the purposes of electing members of Congress or the Electoral College.”

Christopher Browning, author of Nazi Policy, Jewish Workers, German Killers comments

We already have a Congress that is so gerrymandered that it would take a Democratic landslide of 56 or 57 percent to simply get a change in the majority. And we certainly know that the voter repression laws that are likely to creep in between now and 2020 are going to make things worse.”

Aaron Blake in the Washington Post put it bluntly: 

Can Democrats get used to all the losing that lies ahead? "Despite Trump's historically bad image for a new president, the 2018 electoral map is a daunting one for Democrats, with very few good opportunities to win the three Senate seats they need and plenty of tough seats to defend. The GOP also retains its beg advantage on the House map, which would require a huge Democratic wave to sweep Republicans out of power."  

To some, the prospect is so daunting that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the much-heralded political mind behind Democrats' successful campaign to win the House majority a decade ago, says the idea of retaking majorities in 2018 is pie in the sky.

And if you find this gloom unacceptable, so do I. Wealth disparities and parasitism are approaching the levels of 1789 France and recent political cheating resembles the final days of the Roman Republic. We need a calm, but major electoral reset, or our next worries will be about revolution.

== Inescapable logic ==

In Part One, I compared two strategies the Democrats could take. Traditional politics would have them bracket in on some issues and selected districts, hoping for an anti-Trump revulsion among “swing voters” in order to pick up maybe thirty House seats and a few senators, enough to officially control both chambers. A “victory” like that will be catastrophic, since the inevitable resulting gridlock is exactly what the Republican masters most adore. Having nothing get done, but evading any blame for it!

The alternative is simple — go for broke. March with fortitude into enemy territory. Challenge every red constituency, from Senator and Governor down to state assembly. Send candidates who are simultaneously sane-compassionate and fact-using, while also simpatico with the by-personality conservative voters in those districts, because they, too, are conservative-by-personality. They’re just too smart and sane to be Republicans.

Send to these voting constituencies women and men who — as genius social psychologist George Lakoff urged Hillary Clinton to do — appeal to the “strong father” reflex of red Americans. But a version of strength that is calm, reasonable, tolerant and amenable to science. A version that can be represented by some of our "tough mama" retired officers!

Take advantage of the way an illogical, frothing, anti-fact, Fox’d and drooling-insane rightwing media has spent 25 years screeching hatred at all fact-centered professions. And now this cult is also hating on the most fact-focused profession of all -- the United States Military Officer Corps. 

(Sure, some such retired officers could run in Republican primaries, instead of as Democrats… I have nothing against that ultimate answer to the Tea Party, which might spark the gradual resurrection of a sane American Conservatism. A 21st Century, grownup GOP is not impossible to imagine -- just very, very hard.)

One of you noted: "Apparently, the Republican strategy for defeating conservative Democrats in conservative districts is to smear them as liberal. Which is not a difficult charge to make stick, honesty."  Well, sure.  But it's harder to make it stick on a retired officer, as Doug Applegate showed, in California's 49th. And this year we've seen that it is a hard, ground game... push just another few percentage points and the madness might collapse.

In part one, we looked at the fly in this ointment — that Democratic activists — in their own state of righteous fury — might reject these new allies, instead of embracing them. Steve Bannon and Alex Jones and that whole pack of shills count on a reflexive hostility by liberals toward military folks. If the left is stupid enough to refuse this spectacular gift, then we are truly screwed.

== Not just colonels! ==

Oh, sure, I am oversimplifying! We need all sorts. In Part One I linked to She Should Run — a national organization that works to encourage women and girls of all backgrounds to aspire to public leadership and run for office next to men…   

…and to 314 Action, helping those with backgrounds in science to contend in the political arenas, defending the integrity of science and promote the responsible use of data driven fact based approaches in public policy.  See also the older group, ScienceDebate.org.

Want a really aggressive approach?  A regular commenter on this blog proposed: “Adopt an Elephant.” In this gambit. Each democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives would be randomly assigned the constituents of one of their Republican colleagues. Each foster parent gives these constituents the same love and attention as they would their own. Mail. Phone calls. Commercials. Advocacy. And lots of face time visits to their adopted territory. Just act like you're the real congressman and be a better parent to your foster children than their real “parents.” What’s nice about this is that it isn’t necessarily a joke. The power of empathy forces compromise, even as dogmatism crushes empathy. 

The notion resonates with another suggestion from George Lakoff:  

“If the Dems are going to recover, I think they need to put permanent teams in the areas whether they have reps or not. This is not for campaigning, though they should contest more places. But parties (all of them) need people, agents listening (and helping where it is with the philosophy or plank of the party). What the Dems lost may be due to no one was paying attention because no Democratic Congress person felt need to keep contact. in an area that was not represented by a Dem.”

Of course running against the tumor-like murdochians is one thing, but it is the ideas or memes that make this warped version of American conservativism truly toxic.

== The USMOC Strikes Back ==

I spoke last time about struggles within military culture. And while many, many officers care more about facts and logic and love of a dynamic, scientific nation, there are others, a large minority, who are like Michael Flynn, steeped in fanaticism, proto-feudalism and religious fundamentalism.   

Illustrating this internecine culture war, the new commandant of the U.S. Air Force Academy can expect a rough reception from the surrounding hotbed of radical Christian fundamentalism – Colorado Springs. Indeed, it has long been known, even openly avowed, that such groups try to inveigle and suborn the service’s tradition of non-sectarian and adult secularity. But if any officer can ease the USAFA out of this trap, it will be its new commandant, Brig. Gen. Kristin Goodwin, former B-2 pilot and former commander of the Second Bomber Wing, who arrives soon with her two children and her wife. And yes, I put great faith in the stature, maturity and enlightenment-loyalty of our officer corps. 

In fact, the reds are doing some of our recruitment work for us. Articles like this one – "denouncing the “Deep State” – are trial balloons that test possible justifications. They set the stage for actions against all the knowledge castes, but especially security professionals.

== Final words ==

The brilliant thing about the “colonels gambit” is that there are plenty of these retired officers to seek out, vett, and armtwist into running for office.  Moreover, when a colonel knocks on a red door, the folks within cannot slam it in his or her face.  they will listen, with respect.

Moreover, these folks can run in wide variety.  From crewcut-liberal to Eisenhower conservative, and (yes) even Reagan conservative!  So long as they are willing to sign a very general statement of not-crazy principles, they can be Big Tent Democrats and run in districts that are currently GOP-safe.  Indeed, such districts should be represented by conservative-minded people!  Though ones who are sane.

Those basic principles might be:

Running as a Democrat, I accept and avow that:

- Facts matter. We should find ways to refute lies, from all sides, and let evidence change our minds.

- Science is real. Public policy should pay attention to – even if it doesn’t always follow – the advice of folks who know facts.

- Our children deserve a healthy planet to live in. We can invest in both a clean environment and energy independence, while maintaining a strong economy. Only losers believe in zero-sum games.

- No child should have his or her future harshly limited by race, gender, poverty or class. 

- Schools should be held accountable to high standards of performance, and have the resources to give us an educated generation.

- It’s okay for there to be “winners” in the economy or politics, but not by cheating.

- It is time to sensibly ease our way out of the insanely self-defeating "War on Drugs."

- “Supply Side” experiments in huge tax breaks for the rich have universally failed, leading only to parasites draining the middle class. We will not let them bring back feudalism.

- Government must be open and accountable. Elections must be clear, verifiable and in fair districts.

- Our military must be strong, capable and used responsibly, in carefully considered and adult ways.

Further suggestions are welcome for this list. 
But you know I’m not done.  
Because if you are sending these folks into districts that are conservative by personality, then be prepared to hear some items from the older-saner side of American conservatism. 

For example:

Running as a Democrat, I feel free to differ with other Democrats, and to express my own position on:

- Gun rights. While I do feel there are reasonable ways to reduce gun access by irresponsible people, I fully support gun ownership by American citizens.

- Abortion: people of conscience can disagree over when life begins. But we can all strive to find ways to empower and help women avoid ever facing that decision. Though the decision must be theirs.

- Nuclear power: many “tech-liberals” are parting company with the standard position against this relatively clean and helpful power source.

- Globalization: we need careful analysis how to keep the benefits of world trade, while ensuring that our innovations benefit us and that good jobs stay in America.

If some of these positions make me “conservative” in the older sense of Eisenhower and Reagan, then so be it. I am still running as a Democrat! Because, to paraphrase President Reagan… “I did not leave the Republican Party… the Republican Party long ago left me. 

"And then it went, stark, jibbering loco.”

Here is the core question: If a thousand candidates took on crazies in a thousand deep-red districts, would such a pledge make you ready and willing to help? Or are you a litmus-purity fanatic, just like the enemies of freedom?

This is not about "left" vs. "right" (can you even define those lobotomizing clichés?)  It is about decency and ability to recognize that facts actually are things. To couch it in liturgical terms: God made objective reality for us to live in and a planet that feeds us. And hence, who gave hypnotists like Sean Hannity the power to croon: "ignore what's true!"

The crux of it all. With some exceptions, our officers - the heirs of George Marshall - are too practical to ignore facts, and thus, most of them simply cannot be mad elephants. Yes, some of them have crewcuts and erect posture and may even sound like the dad in Leave it to Beaver, or Andy Griffith, so?  If lots of them enter Congress and statehouses they'll negotiate with us again, restoring something called grownup democracy. 

So, let's call up bunches of them and ask their help winning back a nation and civilization of sane, logical, compassionate, forward-looking, mature and fact-using citizens.

All our other problems will be tractable then. Because there's nothing we cannot negotiate -- or accomplish -- together.

== Return to Part 1 of this series.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A Time For Colonels, Part Two: Working with - not fighting - human nature

In Part One of this series, I laid out how the Trumpite collapse of the Republican Brand might lead to GOP losses in 2018… and yet, that "victory" - narrowly winning back the House and Senate - would leave the Democrats and the nation catastrophically impotent and gridlocked. And gridlock - not governing - has been the central GOP aim for 24 years.

Only a far, far bigger “wave” can possibly help America break out of debilitating culture war that is now teetering on civil war.

I wholly applaud the fervor of Bernites and other liberal activists to non-violently contest every swing district where Trumpist shenanigans are turning moderate-wavering voters away from the alt-right madness!  But can we agree that’s nowhere near enough? 

There are 220 “safe” Republican congressional districts — and several thousand red-safe state Assembly and state Senate seats. Moreover, even if we smash the dastardly and purely-evil treason of gerrymandering, those numbers won’t decline by more than a fifth.  

If you want to end this insanity — helping the people of suffering Kansas, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and so on shake off the monsters in their statehouses — then we’ve got to offer them alternatives that average voters in 'personality-conservative' regions will find palatable.

Yes, that means men and women who are conservative by style and temperament — and yes, some opinions — but who are also sane, intelligent, science-loving, rights-respecting, fact-using and eager to solve problems for a better America.

There are many places to seek such candidates, and I send money to orgs who are recruiting women and scientists etc. to run for office! But last time I told you the best and richest ore to mine…

… so let’s get back to why.

==  Use human nature, instead of denouncing it ==

George Lakoff, one of the smartest social psychologists around, tried to warn the Clinton campaign that they were doing it all wrong. They thought that Trump’s endless series of outrageous statements and behaviors would undermine support when, in fact, his success at infuriating blue smartypants types was a feature to Red Americans, not a bug.  

Even many Latinos voted for Trump. Why? Because “strict father” morality is big in Latino culture.  As opposed to the “nurturing parent” mode of leadership that Lakoff ascribes to liberals.

Lakoff correctly pointed out that this needn’t be either-or! Sure Republican politicians trick voters into conflating “strength” with “mean-minded and nasty.” But why cede them that ground? If the voting majority in a particular district or constituency thinks and feels in Lakoff’s Strong Father mode, then why not provide a candidate who offers a mien of quiet strength, combined with intellect, moderation, compassion and rectitude? Such people exist. Our country overflows with them! They don’t have to be colonels… but it’s a good place to start.

Last time, I described how Rob Quist recently came closer to to ousting the GOP from Montana’s single congressional district than any time in 30 years. He wasn’t a retired officer, but his combination of political moderation-intelligence with good-old-boy styles brought him close, despite being outspent five to one. Likewise, I spoke of how, in my own district, retired Marine Colonel Doug Applegate was similarly outspent by the richest man in Congress, and gave infamous Darrell Issa the scare of his political career.

Consider that running such candidates makes sense even in districts that seem truly and utterly hopeless! Just forcing Republicans to spend at these levels… five to one… in their supposedly safe seats is a spectacularly effective thing to do! Besides, we don’t know yet how badly damaged the GOP brand will be, by November 2018. So how about being ready to pounce, with candidates even in Deep Crimson territory?

Two asides: 

*  Recruiting candidates demands a lengthy vetting process and it’s already getting late for 2018! Residency must be established and all that. One advantage of retired officers is that their lives were already spent under scrutiny, with very clear paper trails. Vetting can happen quickly, with some high likelihood there are no hidden skeletons.

Another advantage — they spent their service years moving around, and hence cannot easily be called “carpetbagging outsiders.”

* And sure, also recruit from other sources! Last time I referred to the many groups recruiting women and minorities, plus the amazing 314.org campaign to get active scientists running for office. Here’s another great idea: when Donald Trump fired all 48 Obama-appointed US Attorneys, he inadvertently supplied another clade of potential candidates with “strength” in their resumes.

== Refusing a free gift ==

Remember fundamentals. If Trump-exhaustion gives the Democrats an edge in 2018, should they aim to slice off maybe thirty House seats and five in the Senate, and thus win a razor thin Congressional control? Let me reiterate: that happened in 1992 and in 2008, and each victory was ephemeral, even futile, as gridlock soon set in. And gridlock serves the GOP masters just fine.

Or should the aim be crushing victory? A demolition of the Murdochian treason, so overwhelming that this phase of civil war ends and rational politics can resume in America?

To achieve the second result, you’ll need more than “swing voters.” As I said, you must peel away ten million or so remnant-sapient conservatives, overcoming their obstinate loyalty to a party that long-ago left them — (use that Reagan line!) — and that left behind all decency, in slavish devotion to oligarchy. Fox hollers “Democrats are worse!” But we’ve seen that there are fact-centered men and women of moderation, logic and compassion who can pierce that delusion. 

Put a Democratic colonel or captain before a red voter. That voter will listen to a Democrat. Perhaps for the first time, ever.

Oh, but will liberals embrace such allies, knowing there will be some irritating clashes down the road, over this or that cultural meme, symbol, or specific doctrine? Will the reaction be: “Okay, we’ll have some minor differences. But you are sane and decent and fact-loving and will help end the madness. So welcome!”
Or will these recruits be reflexively snubbed, driven back into the arms of the Murdochians? 

Fox and pals are absolutely counting on the latter reaction. Already we’ve seen internecine fights over whether to support  candidates who — while vastly better than a gopper incumbent — failed to pass some liberal or leftist litmus test. Norman Goldman derisively calls the "Progressive Purity Police” those who would repeat every tactic of the so-called Tea Party, that helped turn the Republican Party into the most-disciplined partisan force in U.S. history, and one of the craziest. Oh, by all means, imitate that. 

Sophia McClellon on Salon points out the many problems of the Democratic Party, whose brand rates as not much of a draw for those repelled by GOP madness.

Asking “Why won’t Democrats let anti-abortion progressives under their tent?” Washington Post commentator Christine Emba  complains: “This is a mistake — and not only because it limits Democrats’ ability to keep or expand their voter base. It also reduces the core values of the progressive movement to a single symbol and constrains the debate on how to best achieve broader goals of social and economic equality. The associated contempt for antiabortion activists often relies on outdated assumptions about their aims and origins and fails to take into account the complexity of most Americans’ views on abortion.”  

Is there a win-win compromise? The sensible thing for Bernites and other left-liberals to demand would be: “Leave the most vulnerable swing districts to us. But go ahead and send your blue-dog candidates invading red territory. If all those ex-colonels and such win — kicking out Tea Party maniacs — we expect to argue with our new, blue-dog colleagues, now and then, in the halls of Congress, while agreeing 75% of the time on matters the country desperately needs. If they have some “sane conservative” traits, we can live with that, if it helps to kick out the insane ones.”

The good news: there are signs that this approach — attacking the madness across a broad front — is taking hold. See some of the new candidates who are stepping up, already.  A Bronze Star paratrooper platoon leader. A woman engineer and Air Force captain. Another bonze star major who is a medical doctor. A former Navy Seal and entrepreneur.  

And — crucially — other moves are taking place at the state level. As in Virginia, where Democrats plan to challenge 45 GOP incumbents — as opposed to just 21 candidates, last round — in the deep-red House of Delegates this November, including 17 lawmakers whose districts voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton.  

An improvement - but also pathetic! Since there are 100 seats in the Virginia House of Burgesses. Every one of them should be contested.  

Especially districts that have a strong military presence! An analysis of Gallup polling data during the first 100 days of Trump's presidency shows that Trump's job approval plummeted especially in military counties — from an average 51 percent approval and 41 percent disapproval in the first 100 days to 43 percent approval and 52 percent disapproval for May -- and that was a month ago. Here and there, Democratic and moderate political groups have been targeting veterans as candidates for midterm races and there may be some reason to think military voters could be good targets for the party. 

== It’s never simple ==

Okay, before I get screams… yes, there are elements in the military who embrace the dark side. Michael Flynn guzzled koolaid and joined almost every member of the Trump administration beating a drum for war (of some kind) with Tehran, a lunacy supported, fortunately, by almost none of his peers in the senior officer corps. 

Elsewhere, I compare the different ways that democratic and republican presidents wage war and why this distinction matters to serving warriors.

Yes, there have long been struggles within the military over religious fundamentalism, for example. I’ll talk a bit more about this in Part III. 
On the other hand, nothing better displays the good sense of this plan better than the panicky fury it elicits, in mad corners of the alt-right. Screechers like Kurt Schlichter proclaim:

“The Democrats are out there recruiting military vets – there’s one jerky liberal everyone finds annoying in every big unit, and that’s who they pick. They’ll preen and pose and get elected and then salute General Pelosi….”

(If you doubt the venomous fury of this Fox-propelled movement, here is the fellow’s alarum to any Republican politician who even thinks about breaking the “never-ever-negotiate” Hastert Rule: "

You see, you're there to represent Republicans. Some goofs and wusscons have the idea that you're there to represent all voters, but that's nonsense…. You are there to represent the people who voted for you, not the liberal whiners and welfare cheats who didn't and who hate you and us..... We're going to hurt Democrats."

Let's put the shoe on the other foot, and watch how quickly these fellow whimper "be fair!"  Of course... we will.

== History validates: The officer corps is on our side ==

In Part Three of this series, I’ll appraise many other reasons why democrats should find plenty of volunteers, from among recently retired officers, including their revulsion toward a “Deep State” meme, that the mad right now uses to justify attacking those who serve.  

But for now, let’s just remember what finally brought down the equivalent of Steve Bannon, back in during the Greatest Generation of the 1950s. What event finally toppled the horrific firebrand Joe McCarthy? What was “Tailgunner Joe’s” fatal error? 

It was attacking the U.S. Military Officer Corps. 

Alas, weaned on stereotypes, movie clichés and pop-paranoid philosophers, I doubt that most of the Murdochians have a clue who they are leveling their lance against. The best-educated, most-pragmatically grownup and loyal clade of men and women in American life.

They spent their careers willing to lay down their lives for us. In retirement, they can be called up to step up, once again, and rescue the Union from a recurring, potentially-lethal madness.

Let’s not wait for the Democratic Party leadership to wise up. Heck, I don’t mind if retired, sane colonels run in Republican primaries!  Go ahead, begin the process of resurrecting a decent American conservatism, that way.

But no. It’s up to us. If you know a retired officer — a colonel or major or Navy captain or any other background worthy of respect — talk to him or her about this. 

Plant a germ of the idea. Send them to talk to Doug Applegate. Offer to help them, even if it means finding and moving to an amenable red district! Get them discussing it with their ex-comrades. Link them here.

This can start with you.

== Continue to Part III or return to Part I.