Archive for the ‘The New Normal’ Category

Hispanics and Anglos get along just fine

November 12, 2018

Ron Unz, known as a leader of the campaign against bilingual education in California years ago, wrote a sensible article on his web site about Hispanic immigration into California and the United States as a campaign issue.

Hispanics are now about 60 40 percent of the population of California, so that state is an example of what is likely to happen as they become a larger fraction of the overall U.S. population.  Here are some of his main points: –

  • Anglos and Hispanics in California get along just fine.
  • Most American-born Californians have nothing against immigrants.  Sanctuary cities are popular.
  • Hispanics as a group as law-abiding.  The killing by an illegal immigrant used in recent Republican campaign ads was the result of a firearm accident.  There is no Hispanic immigrant crime wave.
  • Most immigrants, including Hispanic immigrants, want their children educated in the language of their new country.
  • Most immigration into the United States is legal immigration.  Increased border security will do little to reduce net immigration.
  • Immigration of unskilled workers does hurt the wages and job opportunities of existing citizens.  The way to deal with this is (1) a higher minimum wage and (2) lower numbers of legal immigrants.
  • Republicans in California condemned themselves to minority status by being anti-Hispanic and anti-immigrant.  The same thing could happen to Republicans in Texas and the nation as a whole.

HIs article is worth reading in its entirety.

LINK

Racial Politics in America and in California by Ron Unz for The Unz Review.

Airports, security culture and the new normal

November 1, 2018

Source: Philosophy Tube.  Hat tip to Alex Page.

At the dawning of the “war on terror”, the new airport security rules seemed shocking and unnatural.  Conservatives as well as liberals objected to them.  The “no-fly” lists—the idea that the government could ban people from traveling by air and not give a reason—seemed outrageous.

But I’ve ceased to think about this.   The video above—about the thoughts and experiences of a young Englishman flying from London to New York—reminds me of how abnormal our security state really is.

The other thing I get from the video is how the United States is spreading police-state thinking to other countries.  I was brought up to think of my country as a beacon of freedom and democracy, and I think that, in some ways and to some extent, it was.

But nowadays cruel and ruthless dictators can point to the U.S. example to justify torture, warrantless arrests, extrajudicial killings and military intervention.

The question asked by the video is, “When will security ever go back to normal?”  The present security culture has been in existence for 15 years.  It now seems normal to many of us, maybe most of us.   Until and unless we stop thinking of it as normal, it won’t change.

A growing China reboots totalitarianism

October 22, 2018

Source: Dissident.

My great fear during the Cold War was that the totalitarian USSR would outlast the democratic USA.  I was afraid that a dictatorship would be able to take a longer view than a democracy, and would be better able to prioritize military and diplomatic power.

The philosopher Bertrand Russell, for one, scoffed at these fears.  He said that a democracy would always be able to outlast a dictatorship because dictators insulate themselves from bad news, while, in a democracy, contested elections and a free press provide a reality check.  The fall of Communism in Europe in 1989-1991 appeared to prove him right.

Now the Chinese government has created a new and more effective totalitarianism.  It uses social media and other new techniques to control the population more effectively than Mao ever dreamed of—while keeping the old Communist police state as backup.

When China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, Western leaders hoped that as China made economic progress, it would become more liberal and democratic.

China has made enormous economic progress.  Hundreds of millions of Chinese have been raised from poverty.  China is a major manufacturing nation.

Economic historian Adam Tooze said Chinese economic expansion was the main force pulling the world out of recession after 2008 and today contributes as much to world economic growth as the USA and Europe put together.

The Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, aka the New Silk Road, involves investing more than $1 trillion over the next 10 years to create a railroad, highway, pipeline and electrical grid extending over the whole of the interior of Eurasia, creating an integrated economy centering on China.

But if there was a possibility that this would make China more liberal and democratic, President Xi Jinping has moved to head it off.  Since 2013, China has been cracking down not only on corruption, but also on human rights lawyers, religious believers and critics o the government.

Xi Jinping has abolished the term limits that bound his predecessors and encouraged a Mao-style cult of personality.  There are even Institutes for the Study of Xi Jinping Thought.

Social media in China are monitored, and the Chinese government is in the process of implementing a scheme by which every Chinese citizen will be given a social credit score, based on an algorithm that takes into account credit history and good citizenship, but also opinions and associations, which can determine access to education, health care, credit and even public transportation.  This is powerful, because there is no individual against whom you can protest or to whom you can appeal.

In Xinjiang, members of the native Muslim Uighur population can be sent to Mao-style reeducation camps for the least little thing, even wearing a beard.  Surveillance cameras using facial recognition technology are everywhere.

China’s leaders have found a way to harness capitalism to the service of a capitalist government—much as Lenin tried to do with his New Economic Policy in the 1920s, allowing limited private business but maintaining ultimate control.  Maybe the USSR would have become like today’s China if not for Stalin’s forced collectivization drives.

There is a possibility that much of the rest of the world may come to regard China as a better example to follow than the United States.  Unless things change, the Chinese totalitarian model may prevail not through subversion or military force, but by force of successful example and as a price of doing business with China.

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Pro-family vs. anti-family conservatives

October 18, 2018

The conservative blogger Rod Dreher put up an interesting post this morning quoting an evangelical Christian man who says he and his wife can’t afford to have children because of corporate business practices and neoliberal economic policies supported by both Republicans and Democrats.

He and his wife are both employed in STEM fields and earn six-figure incomes, but their employers constantly remind them that they can be replaced at any time by immigrants from India willing to work at one-third their salaries.  Losing a job would mean losing health insurance, which might mean bankruptcy.

A cousin actually went bankrupt because his newborn had a rare disease, and his insurance company decided that the medical staff on duty that day were not in its network, even though the hospital itself was in-network.  Then there is the cost of education, which can bankrupt even an affluent family.

The most interesting part was his contrast of European and American conservatives.

Europe’s conservatives actually are pro-family there and support pro-natalist policies. The US media as usual is embarrassingly confused about populists like Matteo Salvini, Victor Orban, the AfD in Germany, the NF in France, Vox in Spain, the Sweden Democrats and the conservatives in Denmark, Poland, Austria and the Netherlands.

These aren’t racists like the media claims, in fact quite the opposite, they are not the ones calling for invasion of foreign countries, but rather for the preservation of their own native European Christian cultures, Christian values and distinctive identities within their ancient homelands. And above all for supporting the family unit. [snip].

Europe’s populist conservatives all favor universal healthcare, low-cost childcare, free or low-cost tuition for colleges, 6 weeks of vacation (great for bonding with the family) and protection of the local labor market and wages. When I worked in Europe all Americans and other foreigners (including many tech workers from India) were paid the same or higher wages than locals, and if any employer tried to undermine the local labor market and wages, he’d be greeted with a prison term.

Source: Rod Dreher | The American Conservative

If somebody like that doesn’t think he can afford to live what used to be considered a normal life, what about the rest of us?

I’m reminded of Chris Arnade and his contrast of the “front-row kids” and “back-row kids”—the ones who get ahead because they value education, adaptability and individual success most, and the ones who are left behind because they value family, tradition and community more.

This is a good example of the coming together of the cultural conservative critique and economic radical critique of our current political economy.

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Patrisse Khan-Cullors and liquid modernity

October 14, 2018

Patrisse Khan-Cullors

When They Call You a Terrorist: a Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele is an eloquent and just outcry against injustice.  It also reflects a world and a way of thinking that I’m not comfortable with.

A few months ago I learned a new phrase—”liquid modernity.”  The idea is that we no longer live in a world of fixed structures—political, economic, social and moral—that we can either cling to or fight against.  Everything is fluid and ever-changing, and individuals have to continually reinvent themselves and start anew.

I can best explain what I mean by comparing and contrasting Patrisse Cullors today and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. 50 years ago.

I make the comparison not to rank them or nor to denigrate Cullors.  She has overcome difficulties I can barely imagine and accomplished orders of magnitude more in 30-some years I have in 80-some.  The comparison is to show how thinking about justice and society has changed in 50 years.

Black Lives Matter and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference are not opposites.  They both engaged in non-violent protest in order to bring about social justice.  Although most Americans now venerate Dr. King, it is through a golden haze of amnesia that makes us forget he and his movement were as controversial and as hated in their day as Black Lives Matter is today.

The SCLC was tightly organized and highly disciplined.  Dr. King was highly protective of its image.  People who wanted to participate in SCLC protests had to submit to training in the discipline of non-violence and provide assurance that they would not do anything to harm the cause.

Although Dr. King had a low opinion of the average white American’s sense of justice, he was concerned about white public opinion and sought out white allies, including journalists, labor leaders and Christian and Jewish clergy.

Which is not to say he was subservient to white opinion.  His opposition to the Vietnam War, while justified in the light of history, cost him the support of President Johnson and many white allies.

Black Lives Matter is loosely organized.  In its early days, it consisted of people following a meme on Twitter and Facebook, and there was confusion as to who had a right to speak for Black Lives Matter and who didn’t.   It’s now a more formal organization with authorized chapters.  I’m not familiar with its inner structure, but my impression is that it still is not highly centralized.

This has advantages, of course.  Individuals and local chapters are able to act on their own initiative without getting permission from a central governing body.

Black Lives Matter does not rely on the mainstream press to get the word out.  Communication is by means of social media, which did not exist in Dr. King’s time.

Nor do Black Lives Matter leaders frame their statements or their actions with an eye to what white people think of them.   Its emphasis is on solidarity among black people, whether male or female, native-born or immigrant, straight or LGBTQ, and unity in pressing their case.

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Managerial feudalism and BS jobs

May 23, 2018

BULLSHIT JOB: A form of paid employment that is so completely pointless, unnecessary or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence even though, as part of the condition of employment, the employee fells obliged to pretend that this is not the issue.  [David Graeber]

∞∞∞

Huge numbers of people work in jobs that they themselves think are completely unnecessary.  Many of them would prefer to do something useful, but useful jobs on average pay less.  Sometimes they quit and take a lower-paying useful job anyway.

Some five years ago, David Graeber, an American who teaches anthropology at the London School of Economics, wrote an essay for an obscure left-wing magazine called Strike!, about the phenomenon of bullshit jobs.

The article struck a nerve.  It got more than a million hits on the Internet, crashed the Strike! web site several times and was translated into more than 10 languages.

A YouGov poll soon after found that 37 percent of full-time employees in the United Kingdom thought their work made no meaningful contribution to the world.  A survey in the Netherlands put the number as high as 40 percent.  I imagine a survey in the United States would be much different.

Graeber himself communicated with hundreds of unhappy, useless employees via e-mail.

The result is his new book, Bullshit Jobs: a Theory.

He learned about a museum guard whose job was to report if a certain empty room ever caught on fire; a military sub-contractor who drove more than a hundred miles in order to give a German soldier permission to move a piece of equipment from one room to another; a receptionist who, to fill her time, was tasked with jobs such as sorting paperclips by color.

But most of his reports are about people who worked in offices—making studies that were never read, making proposals that were never acted on or not doing anything at all, but doing their best to look busy.

How can there be so many admittedly useless jobs?  We live in a time of austerity and layoffs.  Full-time jobs are being replaced by temporary jobs.  That is true of government as well as the private sector.

One thing that free-enterprise advocates and Marxists agree on is that competitive capitalism produces economic efficiency.  Free-marketers think everybody benefits and Marxists think that only the capitalists benefit, but they agree on the drive of business to maximize profit.

Maybe this is wrong.  Maybe competitive capitalism is a myth.  Maybe we live under what Graeber calls managerial feudalism.

Back in the days before the French Revolution, the peasants, who were the main producers of wealth, paid so much in taxes and rent they could barely live.  They supported an aristocracy, who, in turn, supported an economic class of coachmen, door keepers, lace makers, dancing masters, gardeners and the like, who were generally better paid than the peasants.

Just like the aristocrats of old, the prestige of managers in organizations is based on the number of people they have working for them.  Prestige is not based on whether they are useful or not.  In fact, employees whose work is essential are a threat.  They have the power to quit or go on strike or to unexpectedly reveal they know more than the boss.

So the incentive is to diminish the role and power of those who do necessary work while inventing new jobs whose existence depends on the discretion of the job creators.

A large number of new jobs are administrative staff.  They are different from administrators who make actual decisions.  Their job is collect quantitative information about the work of the useful employees on the principle that “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.”

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Robots will not (necessarily) replace us

November 15, 2017

You Will Lose Your Job to a Robot—And Sooner Than You Think, argues Kevin Drum in Mother Jones.

His argument is simple.  Historically, computing power doubles every couple of years.   There is no reason to think this will stop anytime soon.   So at some point the capability of artificial intelligence will exceed the capability of human intelligence.  Machines will be able to do any kind of job, including physician, artist or chief executive officer, better than a human being can.

This will happen gradually, then, as AI doubles the last few times, suddenly.

When that happens, humanity will be divided into a vast majority who serve no economic function, and a tiny group of capitalists who own the means of production.   Rejection of automation is not an option, according to Drum.   It only means that your nation will be unable to compete with nations that embrace it.

The only question, according to Drum, is whether the wealthy capitalists will have enough vision to give the rest of us enough of an income to survive and to create a market for the products of automation.

I have long believed that automation is driven as much by administrators’ desire for command and control as it is by the drive for economic efficiency.   An automated customer service hotline does not provide better service, but it eliminates the need to deal with pesky and contentious human beings.

I also believe that, in the short run, the danger is not that computer algorithms will surpass human intelligence, but that people in authority will treat them as if they do.

Drum presents interesting information, new to me, about the amazing progress of machine intelligence in just the past few years.   But that’s not necessary to his argument.

His argument is based on continuation of exponential growth and (unstated) continuation of the current economic system, which works for the benefit of high-level executives and administrators and of holders of financial assets at the expense of the rest of us.

There’s no law of physics that says development of technology has to result in higher unemployment.  Under a different system of incentives and ownership, technology could be used to expand the capability of workers and to make work more pleasant and fulfilling.

To the extent that automation eliminated boring and routine jobs, it could free up people to work in human services—in schools, hospitals, nursing homes—and in the arts and sciences.

Technology does not make this impossible.   Our current economic structure does.   Our current economic structure was created by human decisions, and can be changed by human decisions.  Technological determinism blinds us to this reality.

Sexual abuse more common than I like to admit

November 10, 2017

I can’t get my mind around the number of prominent people who have been credibly accused of rape and sexual abuse, including rape and sexual abuse of minors.  They seem to be in all walks of life and reflect the full spectrum political and religious beliefs.   The world is a very different place from what I want to believe it is.

Not everybody accused of sex crimes or sex abuse is guilty.   People have gone to prison or had their lives ruined on false sex charges.

I know many highly moral college professors and business executives make it a rule to never talk to a female student or subordinate behind closed doors or without a witness present.   I know of someone whose life was almost ruined by a false charge of sexual abuse.   I don’t discount the danger of hysteria and over-reaction.

But recent high-profile scandals—Roger Ailes, Bill Cosby, Roy Moore, Bill O’Reilly, Kevin Spacey, Leon Wieseltier, Harvey Weinstein—make it impossible to pretend that sexual abuse is rare or exceptional.

I am—or have been—part of the problem.   I turned a blind eye to evidence of Bill Clinton’s abuse of Paula Jones, Juanita Broaddrick and other women.   I wanted him to defeat the Republicans in the 1992 election, and so I just refused to think about what he had done.

Supporters of Donald Trump in last year’s election did the same thing as I did then.  It’s time to stop tolerating and making excuses for sexual abuse.

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Are we still getting smarter? Maybe not

October 3, 2017

Average I.Q. test scores rose decade by decade in most countries throughout the 20th century.   But now, in a few countries, the trend may be going into reverse.

By the standards of today, the average person in the late 19th century would be been on the verge of mental retardation.  By the standards of that era, the average person of today is on the verge of being highly gifted.

This is called the “Flynn effect,” for James R. Flynn, who discovered it.    He doesn’t believe that people today are biologically superior to people of an earlier era, even though they are better nourished and get better medical care.

He believes it is because people today are educated to reason abstractly and hypothetically, which is what I.Q. tests measure.   People in the earlier era weren’t stupid; they just focused on particular things and personal experience.

Higher I.Q., in other words, fits you to function in a civilization based on abstract reasoning.

Now there is some evidence of a “reverse Flynn effect”—I.Q. leveling off or declining in some countries.   This is based on tests of large numbers of British school children age 11-12 and 13-14 in selected years, of military conscripts in Denmark, Norway and Finland, of students in Estonia, of adults in France and the Netherlands.

It is hard for me to think of any reason why this would be so in those countries that would not apply in greater measure to the United States.

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The new normal 2017

August 2, 2017

Click to enlarge.   Source: Tom Tomorrow.

On the other hand, read What Trump Is Quietly Accomplishing by David A. Graham for The Atlantic.

Steven Pinker on moral fiction

July 9, 2017

Double click to enlarge.

Source: New York Times.

Heroin addiction comes to West Virginia

June 5, 2017

As a boy and well into adulthood, I thought of heroin addiction as a product and problem of big city slums—a world completely alien to me.

My old friend Steve called my attention to a harrowing article in The New Yorker about heroin addiction in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia, just across the river from western Maryland where the two of us grew up.

The Eastern Panhandle as I remember it

I am shocked, although I know I shouldn’t be, that heroin addiction could capture so many people with the same small-town white Protestant background as me.  But in fact rates of drug addiction are higher among non-Hispanic white people than among Hispanic or black people.

Like much of Appalachia, as well as the Rustbelt along the Great Lakes, the city of Martinsburg, W.Va., lost its main manufacturing employer, the Interwoven textile mill, and nothing has ever taken its place.

Citizens of Martinsburg today are thinking of converting part of the old Interwoven plant into a drug rehabilitation center.

Margaret Talbot, the author of the New Yorker article, gives harrowing descriptions of how drug addition has become normalized.  She opens with a description of a mother and father suffering a drug overdose while attending a Little League game.

She reported on how marketing of painkillers such as Oxycontin enabled West Virginians to self-medicate for physical and psychic pain, and then how heroin was introduced as a cheaper substitute.  She went on to write:

Michael Chalmers is the publisher of an Eastern Panhandle newspaper, the Observer. It is based in Shepherdstown, a picturesque college town near the Maryland border which has not succumbed to heroin.

Chalmers, who is forty-two, grew up in Martinsburg, and in 2014 he lost his younger brother, Jason, to an overdose.

I asked him why he thought that Martinsburg was struggling so much with drugs.

“In my opinion, the desperation in the Panhandle, and places like it, is a social vacancy,” he said. “People don’t feel they have a purpose.”

There was a “shame element in small-town culture.” Many drug addicts, he explained, are “trying to escape the reality that this place doesn’t give them anything.”

He added, “That’s really hard to live with—when you look around and you see that seven out of ten of your friends from high school are still here, and nobody makes more than thirty-six thousand a year, and everybody’s just bitching about bills and watching these crazy shows on reality TV and not doing anything.”

Source: The New Yorker

As I see it, large numbers of Americans think that what gives meaning to life is economic success, or at least being able to pay your way and be a breadwinner for others.  When that meaning is no longer available, they feel worthless and fall into despair.

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Donald Trump, a walking conflict of interest

May 3, 2017

I doubt if Donald Trump could get through a single day, certainly not a single week, without being involved in a conflict of interest.

The Atlantic magazine has drawn up a list of 39 issues (and counting) in which decisions by President Trump will affect the profitability of the Trump Organization.

Maybe the biggest one is the federal investigation of the Deutsche Bank, which holds $300 million in IOUs from the Trump Organization.

U.S. banks wouldn’t give Trump credit after he defaulted on debt when his Atlantic City casinos declared bankruptcy, so he turned to the Deutsche Bank, which is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice on charges of  laundering money for Russian mobsters.  Attorney-General Jeff Sessions said he will continue this investigation impartially.  We’ll see,

The Department of Labor and Internal Revenue Service have been conducting investigations as to whether the Trump Organization violated labor law and tax law.   Will these investigations continue?  We’ll see.

The Trump Organization’s lease agreement with the General Services Administration for the Trump International Hotel property contains a provision that no elected official will be part of the lease.  But the GSA has ruled this doesn’t apply to Trump because he’s no longer officially head of the business.  An impartial decision?  Maybe.

Trump’s business is involved in business deals with politicians and close relatives of politicians in India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Turkey, Dubai and Argentina.  Will Trump, if necessary, make decisions that threaten those relationships?  We’ll see.

And then there are daughter Ivanka’s women’s fashion business and son-in-law Jared Kushner’s family real estate businesses.

Never even mind the penny-ante stuff—Donald Trump charging the Secret Service for use of Trump facilities while they guard him and his families.

Any of these conflict would be highly controversial as a stand-alone issue.  The problem is that there are so many issues it is impossible to remember any one of them.

The problem is that there is hardly any decision that Trump or his appointees can make—whether in foreign policy, tax policy, labor policy, environmental policy or consumer protection—that will not in some way affect the profitability of the Trump businesses.

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Barack Obama’s $400,000 speaking fee

May 3, 2017

There are two ways of looking at the $400,000 speaking fee that ex-President Barack Obama will receive from the Wall Street brokerage firm of Cantor Fitzgerald for speaking at a health care investment conference.

One is that a public official who governed in the interests of Wall Street and the health insurance industry is receiving a big bag of money from a Wall Street firm with major investments in the health insurance industry.

The other is that Obama is merely doing what all but one of the ex-Presidents from Gerald Ford onward have done, which is to use speaking fees cash in on his celebrity status.

Hillary and Bill Clinton’s speaking fees were a special case because Hillary Clinton was a future Presidential candidate.   Hillary’s $675,000 in Goldman Sachs speaking fees could be interpreted as payments not only for services rendered, but for services anticipated.   That suspicion was reinforced by Clinton’s refusal to release the texts of her talks.

I imagine that Barack Obama will have sense enough to watch his words enough to be able to release the text of his Cantor Fitzgerald talk without embarrassment.

Obama is not doing anything unusual.  All but one of the Presidents from Gerald Ford through George W. Bush cashed in with big speaking fees after they left office.

This is the new normal.  In this neoliberal age, an ex-President such as Harry Truman or Jimmy Carter who refused to monetize the office of the Presidency would seem quaint and strange.

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Guantanamo ratio vs. public school ratios

April 10, 2017

Prison staff at Gitmo: 1,750

Prisoners at Gitmo: 41

Average teacher/student ratio in US public schools: 1 : 27

Source: Jeffrey St.Clair | Counterpunch

Donald Trump didn’t come out of nowhere

March 7, 2017

During the election campaign, I wrote that Donald Trump is intellectually, temperamentally and morally unfit to be President of the United States.  Nothing since then has changed my mind.

But it is not as if Trump overturned a well-functioning system.   The United States was already committed to perpetual war and rule by Wall Street.

My friend Bill Elwell called my attention to an article by Tom Engelhardt, who wrote in part:

Odd as it may seem under the circumstances, Trump’s presidency came from somewhere, developed out of something. To think of it (as many of those resisting Trump now seem inclined to do) as uniquely new, the presidential version of a virgin birth, is to defy both history and reality.

Donald Trump, whatever else he may be, is most distinctly a creature of history. He’s unimaginable without it.  This, in turn, means that the radical nature of his new presidency should serve as a reminder of just how radical the 15 years after 9/11 actually were in shaping American life, politics and governance. 

In that sense, to generalize (if you’ll excuse the pun), his presidency already offers a strikingly vivid and accurate portrait of the America we’ve been living in for some years now, even if we’d prefer to pretend otherwise.

After all, it’s clearly a government of, by and evidently for the billionaires and the generals, which pretty much sums up where we’ve been heading for the last decade and a half anyway. 

Let’s start with those generals.  In the 15 years before Trump entered the Oval Office, Washington became a permanent war capital; war, a permanent feature of our American world; and the military, the most admired institution of American life, the one in which we have the most confidence among an otherwise fading crew, including the presidency, the Supreme Court, public schools, banks, television news, newspapers, big business and Congress (in that descending order).  […]

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How artificial intelligence elected Trump

February 28, 2017

thedges0112mercer

Hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer bailed out the Trump campaign last summer when it hit its low point, but that was not the most important thing he did.

The most important thing was to teach Steve Bannon, Jared Kushner and Jason Miller how to use computer algorithms, artificial intelligence and cyber-bots to target individual voters and shape public opinion.

The Guardian reported that Mercer’s company, Cambridge Analytica, claims to have psychological profiles on 220 million American voters based on 5,000 separate pieces of data.  [Correction: The actual claim was 220 million Americans, not American voters.]

Michal Kosinski, lead scientist for Cambridge University’s Psychometric Centre in England, said that knowing 150 Facebook likes, he can know a person’s personality better than their spouse; with 300 likes, better than the person knows themselves.

Advertisers have long used information from social media to target individuals with messages that push their psychological buttons.

I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked or surprised that political campaigners are doing the same thing.

Bloomberg reported how the Trump campaign targeted idealistic liberals, young women and African-Americans in key states, identified through social media, and fed them negative information about Hillary Clinton in order to persuade them to stay home.

This probably was what gave Trump his narrow margin of victory in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

The other way artificial intelligence was used to elect Trump was the creation of robotic Twitter accounts that automatically linked to Breitbart News and other right-wing news sites.

This gave them a high-ranking on Google and created the illusion—or maybe self-fulfilling prophecy—that they represent a consensus.

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Why do things cost so much?

February 17, 2017

cost_putoff

Scott Alexander, a physician in the Midwest, points out on his blog that during the past 50 years—

  • U.S. housing costs have increased about 50 percent.
  • U.S. education costs have increased 100 percent
  • U.S. college costs have increased 400 percent.
  • U.S. subway fares have increased 400 percent or more.

All of this is adjusted for inflation.

  • Health care in the United States costs about four times as much as equivalent health care in other First World countries
  • U.S. subways costs about eight times as much as equivalent subways on other First World countries.

The wages and salaries of public school teachers, college professors, nurses and physicians has meanwhile remained relatively flat.

As Alexander points out, this is strange.

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Maybe we all really can get along

February 11, 2017

This Danish television program takes people who fit in different boxes ethnicity, belief and social and economic class, and shows the commonalities that exist across these divisions.   Who among you was the class clown? they were asked.  Who are step-parents?   Who is madly in love?

It’s easy to put people in boxes.  There’s us and there’s them.  The high-earners and those just getting by.  Those we trust and those we try to avoid.  There’s the new Danes and those who’ve always been here.  The people from the countryside and those who’ve never seen a cow.  The religious and the self-confident.  There are those we share something with and those we don’t share anything with.

And then suddenly, there’s us.  We who believe in life after death, we who’ve seen UFOs, and all of us who love to dance.  We who’ve been bullied and we who’ve bullied others.

  Maybe we all really can get along.   Hat tip to kottke.org.

Americans’ increasingly insecure twilight years

January 14, 2017

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Hat tip to occasional links and commentary.

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Can intelligence agencies overturn the election?

January 12, 2017

The following is by Lambert Strether on the Naked Capitalism web log.

Since November 8 we’ve had four crises of legitimacy of escalating intensity, each one pointing to a change in the Constitutional order.

  • First, we had Stein’s recount effort, justified in part by a(n unproven) theory that “Russian hacking” had affected the vote tallies.  (Recall that 50% of Clinton voters believe this, although no evidence has ever been produced for it, it’s technically infeasible at scale, and statistically improbable.)  Since the “Russian hacking” theory was derived from intelligence not shown to the public, the change to the Constitutional order would be that the Intelligence Community (IC) would gain a veto over the legitimacy of a President during a transfer of power; veto power that would be completely unaccountable, since IC sources and methods would not be disclosed.
  • Second, we had the (hilariously backfired) campaign to have “faithless electors” appoint somebody other than Trump to be President.  Here again, the change in the Constitutional order was exactly the same, as (Clintonite) electors clamored to be briefed by the IC on material that would not be shown to the public, giving the IC veto power over the appointment of a President after the vote tallies had been certified.
  • office_of_the_director_of_national_intelligence_seal_usaThird, we had the IC’s JAR report, which in essence accused the President-elect of treason (a capital offense).  Here again the publicly available evidence of that quite sloppy report has been shredded, so in essence we have an argument from IC authority that secret evidence they control disqualifies the President elect, so the change in the Constitutional order is the same.
  • Fourth, we have the “Golden Showers” report, which again is an argument from IC authority, and so again gives the IC veto power over a President appointed by the Electoral College. 

Needless to say, once we give the IC veto power over a President before the vote is tallied, and before the electoral college votes, and after the electoral college votes but before the oath of office and the Inaugural, we’re never going to be able to take it back.

This is a crossing the Rubicon moment.  Now, you can say this is unique, not normal, an exceptional case, but “sovereign is he who decides on the exception” (Nazi legal theorist Carl Schmidt).  And who then is the sovereign?  The IC.  Is that what liberals want?

Source: naked capitalism

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Senator Schumer on the power of the deep state

January 5, 2017

The new leader of Democrats in the Senate says Donald Trump is being “really dumb” for picking a fight with intelligence officials, suggesting they have ways to strike back, after the president-elect speculated Tuesday that his “so-called” briefing about Russian cyberattacks had been delayed in order to build a case.

“Let me tell you: You take on the intelligence community — they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer Tuesday evening on MSNBC after host Rachel Maddow informed him that intelligence sources told NBC news that the briefing had not been delayed. 

“So, even for a practical supposedly hard-nosed businessman, he’s being really dumb to do this,” he added.

Source: Washington Examiner

Think about what Schumer said.   He said the Central Intelligence Agency is more powerful than the elected President of the United States, and the President is a fool to challenge the CIA.

Is this compatible with democracy?  with Constitutional government?

This is an example of the power of what’s been called the Deep State—interlocking institutions with power over public policy that are not accountable to the public.

Presumably President Obama was not such a “fool” as to take on the CIA, even if he disagreed with its conclusions.  This would explain a lot about his decisions on foreign and military policy.

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Adam Curtis on image, reality & suicide bombing

November 10, 2016

Adam Curtis is a documentary filmmaker for the BBC who uses archival footage to remind viewers of forgotten facts and to make connections that others wouldn’t see.

This documentary does not quite add up to a connected whole, but within it is a fascinating history of the evolution of suicide bombing, starting with the attack on the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1982, the Iran-Iraq war, Palestinian terrorism, the 9-11 attacks and Islamic State (ISIS) terrorism.

Along with it is a history of American and British deception and self-deception in their policies toward Syria and Libya.

Suicide bombing, according to Curtis, as a military tactic by Syria’s ruler Hafiz al-Assad to offset American military power in his region.  Now it is used by ISIS to sow sectarian strife in Iraq and Syria, and bring down Assad’s son, Bashir al-Assad.

He documents how Muammar Qaddafi was set up by American policy-makers as a scapegoat for the crimes of Hafiz al-Assad because he was a more vulnerable foe.

This film is not the whole story of recent Middle Eastern history.  Curtis appears to think that the American and British governments seriously intended to bring democracy to the Middle East, for example.  But he brings out many fascinating facts, some forgotten and some new (at least to me).

I recommend viewing just those parts of the documentary dealing with Syria, suicide bombing and the Middle East, and fast-forwarding through the rest, which consists of disconnected material about Curtis’s long-term concerns about technological manipulation, technological utopianism and the decline of the democratic process.

Click on HyperNormalization if the YouTube version doesn’t work.  Click on The Century of the Self and All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace for Curtis’s best documentaries about his meta concerns.

The good, the bad and the ugly

November 7, 2016

A Tale of Three Foundations: Carter, Clinton and Trump by Peter Van Buren for We Meant Well.

The new normal: links Nov. 2, 2016

November 2, 2016

A Tale of Three Foundations: Carter’s, Clinton’s and Trump’s by Peter Van Buren for We Meant Well.

Forget the FBI cache: the Podesta emails show how America is run by Thomas Frank for The Guardian.

Too Smug to Jail: ‘The Economist’ issues a myopic defense of the white-collar criminal by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.

Michael Moore Owes Me $4.99 by David Swanson for Counterpunch.