A propaganda war is not really a war

March 1, 2017

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The New Yorker ran a long article about Russian propaganda and how the Russian government sees propaganda as a weapon of war.

The article, though one-sided, contains interesting information.  My problem with it is that the writers treat propaganda—including truthful propaganda—as the equivalent of war.

The U.S. government during the past 15 years has waged war by means of aerial bombardment, targeted assassinations, economic sanctions, arming terrorists and warlords and actual invasions of  foreign countries that do not threaten us.  Russia has done some of the same things, although on a smaller scale.

There is a strong possibility of a military confrontation between Russia and the United States that could risk a nuclear war.

Russian attempts to influence American and European public opinion seem fairly benign in contrast.

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How artificial intelligence elected Trump

February 28, 2017

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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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Rich people’s countries, poor people’s countries

February 28, 2017
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Double click to enlarge.

This map shows national output (GDP) per person in different nations.   The leaders seem to be financial centers (Luxembourg, Switzerland, Singapore) and oil and gas producers (Qatar, Brunei, United Arab Emirates and maybe Norway).

The USA is both a financial and energy-producing center, ranking eighth behind those seven nations, but way ahead of Russia and China.

While China’s overall economy is thought to be larger than the American economy, that doesn’t mean that the average Chinese person is rich.

Of course GDP per person is not the whole story, either.  How the average person does depends on how wealth is distributed.  What the GDP figure shows is how potentially well off the individual person is.

LINK

Which Government System is the Best for People’s Wealth? on howmuch.

My favorite movie of 2016

February 26, 2017

Click on Hell of High Water: ‘I never met nobody who got away with anything’ for a good review by Lance Mannion.

Who are willing to fight for their countries?

February 24, 2017
The darker the red, the greater the willingness to die for one's country

The darker the red, the greater the willingness to fight.

Only 44 percent of adult Americans are willing to tell pollsters they’d fight for their country.

The percentage is even less for some U.S. allies, such as Canada (30%), France (29%), the United Kingdom (27%), Italy (30%), Germany (18%) and Japan (11%).

In contrast, 71 percent of Chinese and 59 percent of Russians say they’d fight for their countries.

This is the result of a public opinion poll of more than 1,000 people in each of 64 countries in late 2014 by WIN / Gallup International.   The complete results are below.

I’m not sure what to make of this.  I think it partly depends on people mean by “fight for country”.

I think almost all Americans would be willing to fight to defend our nation from an invader.  I think only a minority are willing to go to some foreign country to fight to increase U.S. geopolitical power.

The problem for us Americans is that someday U.S. power will begin to slip, and countries that now fear to go against the United States will become our enemies.

When that backlash comes, our nation will need the patriotism that our leaders now exploit and abuse.

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Black parents hold ‘the conversation’

February 23, 2017

Hat tip to kottke.org.

I think this video speaks for itself.

Ancient Greece and the meaning of democracy

February 22, 2017

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What is democracy?  Does democracy consist of free elections?  Is democracy based on inalienable human rights?  Is a democracy a government of laws and not of men?  Does democracy require political parties, checks and balances and separation of church and state?

The classicist Paul Cartledge pointed out in his new book, DEMOCRACY: A Life (2016), that ancient Athens and the other Greek city-states lacked all these things.   Yet, he argued, it was they who best represented the ideal of democracy and we Americans and British who have fallen away from it.

Democracy in ancient Greece had a complicated history.  Cartledge derived from the fragmentary historical record how the common people over time wrested power from kings, aristocrats and the rich.

At the high tide of democracy, the main governing bodies were Assemblies were chosen at random, by lot, as juries are today.

The Athenian Assembly had a membership of up to 5,000 to 6,000, chosen from a citizenry of about 30,000, and they all met for important decisions.

The Assembly met almost continuously; it passed laws, set policy, tried important legal cases and decided on whether to exile (ostracize) troublesome citizens and politicians.

The Assembly did elect an administrative Council of 500 as well as generals and treasurers.  Other governmental positions, including juries for minor cases, were chosen by lot.

There was no bright line dividing the legislative, executive and judicial function.   An Athenian citizen might propose a military action in the Assembly one day and be named to command the troops to carry out that action.

There was virtually no limit to the power of the Assembly.  You could call it a tyranny of the majority.  You could even call it a dictatorship of the proletariat.

But you couldn’t deny that the people of Athens and the other democratic Greek cities ruled themselves in a way that contemporary Americans and Britishers don’t come close to doing.

Aristotle defined democracy as the rule of the poor (meaning workers) and oligarchy as the rule of the rich (meaning property-owners who don’t do manual labor).   Any Athenian in the time of Pericles would call the modern USA and UK oligarchies, based on the influence of the rich on public policy and the lack of participation by the mass of the citizenry.

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Donald Trump is out of step with public opinion

February 22, 2017

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Rolling Stone had a good article on how Donald Trump’s policies are go against not only the wishes of a majority of the American public, but also many (not all) of the wishes of a majority of Republican voters.

I think this is interesting, but the fact is that leaders of both political parties have gone against the wishes of the American public for a long time without suffering fatal consequences.

The American public didn’t want the government to bail out Wall Street, but it happened just the same.

Many Americans are so disillusioned with American politics that they no longer are indignant about politicians who break their promises.   In the 2016 election, more voters stayed home than voted either Democratic or Republican.

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She uses dance to help repair her brain

February 20, 2017

Clara Ooyama, once a corporate lawyer for Eastman Kodak Co., suffered serious impairment of brain function as a side effect of chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer in 2006.

Over a two-year period, she lost basic mental capacities, including the ability to read and to multi-task.   Her doctor sent her to a brain rehabilitation clinic, but she was dismissed because she was too-high functioning.

With heroic determination, she worked to rebuild her neural pathways.  She at first worked six to eight hours a day on the controversial Lumosity brain training exercises, carefully keeping note of mental speed, memory, flexibility and ability to pay attention.

In 2013, her husband Steve Searles reached out to the Expressive Arts program of the Hochstein School of Music and Dance here in Rochester, N.Y.    Instructors helped her use dance and music as a way to do multiple tasks and hold multiple thoughts at the same time, and to integrate mind and body function.

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Half full or half empty?

February 19, 2017

sf-existential-42-900x1709-webVia simonandfinn.

The beauty of fog

February 18, 2017

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I never thought of fog as beautiful.  Or that it could come in waves.

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These photographs were taken by Nick Steinberg over an eight-year period in the San Francisco Bay area, using high peaks such as Mount Tamalpais as his vantage point.  What a labor of love that must have been!

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It’s good to remember that there are other things in the world besides politics and economics.

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Why do things cost so much?

February 17, 2017

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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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Timothy Snyder on the 1930s playbook

February 16, 2017

There is a playbook from the 1930s that some people in the presidential administration are following.  This includes picking a minority in your country, associate it with a global threat and use the notion of a global struggle as a way to create national solidarity while neglecting the nation’s actual problems.

This is a quote from an article by historian Timothy Snyder for Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung.

What did Michael Flynn do that was so bad?

February 15, 2017

National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigned after the FBI or NSA revealed that he talked to the Russian ambassador about economic sanctions prior to President Trump being sworn in.

Michael T. Flynn

Michael T. Flynn

He reportedly asked the Russian ambassador to ask his government hold back on retaliating against President Obama’s economic sanctions because the Trump administration would have a new policy.

President Obama’s actions, taken during his lame-duck period, could have put Russia and the USA on a path of tit-for-tat retaliation that would have made it harder from the Trump administration to improve U.S.-Russian relations later on.

De-escalating was a good thing, not a bad thing.

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I agree that General Flynn was not a good choice for the post of national security adviser.  He was evidently a brave and honorable commander in the field, but he did not function well at headquarters, for which reason he was fired by President Barack Obama as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

He thinks the West is in a war with the whole Islamic world, not just the Islamic State (ISIS), Al Qaeda and their sympathizers.   He is a war hawk regarding Iran.  He would have been likely to get the United States into pointless wars—just not a pointless war with Russia.

I would consider his departure, in and of itself, a good thing, but for the fact that he will almost certainly be replaced by someone else just as bad or maybe worse.

The problem is that he was forced out for (1) trying to stop the slide toward military confrontation with Russia, and that the forcing out was done (2) by intelligence agencies with policy agendas different from the White House.

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When the United States rigged Russia’s election

February 14, 2017

Twenty years ago, the U.S. government intervened in Russia’s election to put Boris Yeltsin in power.

Mark Ames, editor of the English-language eXile magazine in Moscow in the 1990s, explained all this in an interview with Abby Martin for The Empire Files.

He told how the Clinton administration managed his election campaign, and the International Monetary Fund pumped money into Russia to keep the Russian government going.

With the guidance of economists from Harvard University, Yeltsin sold off Russia’s national assets to foreign corporations and Russian individuals who became the oligarchs who dominate Russia today.   With U.S. approval, he shut down the Russian parliament and concentrated power in his own hands.   Independent journalists were murdered.   Oligarchs took over the independent press.

The Russian people were reduced to a state of misery not seen since Stalin’s rule in the 1930s.  The death rate soared and the birth rate fell.  Eventually even the Russian stock market crashed.

Source: The Diplomat

Source: The Diplomat

Vladimir Putin was Yeltsin’s right-hand man.   The U.S. government accepted him as a reliable successor to Yeltsin.  But when Putin refused to support the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the U.S. turned against him.

I wrote in a previous post that Vladimir Putin is a killer.  But every abuse of power by Putin was made possible by Yeltsin.

Boris Yeltsin in fact was more of a killer than Putin, but the American government didn’t care because he was willing to subordinate Russia’s national interests to the interests of American and other foreign corporations.

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Things (some) women don’t see about men

February 14, 2017

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Steve Bannon’s wars, at home and abroad

February 13, 2017

Steve Bannon is President Trump’s most trusted adviser.   He is the second most powerful person in the Trump administration.

He is guided by a dangerously wrong philosophy.

He thinks that Judeo-Christian civilization is at war with the Moslem world abroad, and with secularists and Muslims at home.

He expects a shooting war with China and as well as a shooting war in the Middle East.

He sees himself as part of a global nationalist movement that includes the United Kingdom Independence Party, the National Front in France and similar movements across Europe.

He has expressed admiration for Lenin and Karl Rove, and has compared himself to Thomas Cromwell in the court of the Tudors.

Trump owes him.  He and Jared Kushner, through their skilled use of data mining and social media, are responsible for Trump’s victory in the 2016 Election.

His idea that Americans are engaged in both a civil war and a global war could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

∞∞∞

Steve Bannon, born in 1953, has had a varied career as U.S. Naval officer, mergers and acquisitions specialist for Goldman Sachs, and executive producer in Hollywood.  He has degrees from Virginia Tech, Georgetown University and Harvard University.

He was a little-known but influential figure even before he joined the Trump campaign.  Among his films are documentaries on Ronald Reagan, Michelle Bachman and Sarah Palin and an expose of Occupy Wall Street.  He was on the board of directors of Breitbart News and became executive chair when founder Andrew Breitbart died in 2012.  Another Bannon organization sponsored opposition research on Hillary Clinton which resulted in the book, Clinton Cash, and many articles in mainstream newspapers about the Clintons’ conflicts of interest.

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The hollow populism of Steve Bannon

February 13, 2017

Steve Bannon, the chief adviser to President Donald Trump, is probably the most influential person in the Trump administration besides Trump himself.

But I find it hard to get a handle on Bannon’s thinking, since he shuns the limelight, and hasn’t written any books or magazine articles I could get hold of,

His 2010 documentary film, Generation Zero, is probably as good a guide to his thinking as anything else.

It is well done and, despite being 90 minutes long, held my interest—at least until the last 10 minutes of so, which consists of restatements of the main points.

Generation Zero is an analysis of the roots and consequences of the 2008 financial crisis, which Bannon rightly blames on crony capitalism, the unholy alliance of Wall Street and Washington that began in the 1990s.

But if you look at the film’s action items, what he really does—knowingly or unknowingly—is to protect Wall Street by diverting the public’s attention from what’s really needed, which is criminal prosecution of financial fraud and the break-up of “too big to fail” institutions.

Bannon presents himself as an enemy of corrupt politicians and financiers.  But there is nothing he advocates in the film or otherwise that threatens the power of either.

∞∞∞

Generation Zero draws on a book, The Fourth Turning by William Strauss and Neil Howe, who claim there is a cycle in American politics based on the succession of generations.  Each cycle consists of four turnings—(1) a heroic response to a crisis, (2) a new cultural or religious awakening, (3) an unraveling and (4) a crisis.

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Ian Welsh on happiness

February 12, 2017

Blogger Ian Welsh says the first step to being happy is to stop making yourself unhappy.

I live in a single room, in a downscale neighborhood.  I sleep on some pads on the floor.  I am in debt, and I have a couple of serious health problems.

Yukon raven by gavatronI am also happy most of the time.

I’ll be sitting in my garret and thinking, “God, life is amazing.  This is wonderful.”

And I’ll laugh and mock myself, “What’s good about this?  You’re poor, sick, overweight, and broke.”  All that is true, but I’m happy (and my health is improving, no worries, I don’t expect to die soon, though who knows).

So I’m going to give some unsolicited advice on how to be happy even though your life sucks, because, well, I’m pretty good at it.

The first step is to not be unhappy.

(Insert head smacking motion from readers.)

Seriously, though, start there. Or, as I like to say: “The whole of the path is not giving a fuck.”

Run out of fucks.  Do not restock.  Life will seem a lot better.

Please don’t mistake Welsh’s philosophy for indifference to the world or other people.   He is engaged with the world through his excellent political blog.   He is concerned about world events.  He just doesn’t let world events make him miserable.

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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.

Why I’m not sorry I voted for Jill Stein

February 8, 2017

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Hillary Clinton was not defeated by a white working class uprising in favor of Donald Trump.

And she was not defeated by the defection of liberals and progressives to Jill Stein.

She was defeated by her personal failure, and the failure of the Democratic Party overall, to hold the votes of its core supporters—black and white, male and female.

It is important to remember this because merely attacking President Trump (as justified as these attacks may be) will not, in and of itself, bring back the Democratic vote.

You can’t beat something with nothing.   Unless Democrats offer a path to prosperity and peace, they will very likely lose and, even if they win, their victories won’t matter.

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Is it fair to call Vladimir Putin a killer?

February 7, 2017

In a word, yes.

Vladimir Putin is clearly implicated in killings of Russian citizens.

It is true that Barack Obama also initiated a policy of killing individuals he deemed a threat to the United States, and a couple of those were American citizens.   It is true that the U.S. supports dictatorships that use death squads.  But changing the subject to the U.S.  doesn’t change the facts about Putin.

2014-03-07-PUTINIs the fact that Vladimir Putin is a killer a reason not to have diplomatic relations with Russia?  It certainly is a reason not to be naive in dealing with Putin.  It is a reason not to regard him as a friend.

But President Franklin Roosevelt formed an alliance with Joseph Stalin, one of the greatest mass killers of the 20th century, in order to defeat Nazi Germany.  President Richard Nixon flew to China to open U.S. relations with Mao Zedong, another mass killer, in order to checkmate Soviet Russia.

If working with Putin can eliminate the danger of nuclear war over Ukraine or defeat the Islamic State, that would be a good thing, not a bad thing.

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Why GOP administrations are transformative

February 7, 2017

I have to give Donald Trump and Steve Bannon credit.  Their administration is unpopular, most of the leaders of their own party distrust them, yet they are moving forward as if they had won a landslide victory.

I have to go back to Lyndon Johnson before I can find any Democratic President who has acted so decisively on taking office.

This is part of a pattern.  Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and even George W. Bush were transformative Presidents.  Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were not.   What Clinton and Obama basically did was to normalize the changes that Reagan and G.W. Bush brought about.

Michael Kinnucan, writing in Current Affairs magazine, said the difference between the two parties is that the Democratic leaders always try to position themselves in the moderate center, while the Republican leaders continually redefine where the center is—

Ending Medicaid isn’t an obvious or an easy fight—it’s a very efficient program that’s been part of the American social fabric for 50 years, a program with 70 million beneficiary-constituents, one vital to the survival (economic and otherwise) of some of the most photogenically unfortunate people in America (families raising kids with major disabilities, for chrissake!) and a major source of business for the gigantic and very widely geographically distributed healthcare-provision industry.  It’s also very popular; only 13% of Americans support slashing Medicaid. And no wonder: 63% of Americans say that either they or a close friend or family member has been covered by Medicaid at some point. It’s not even arguably in any kind of crisis; there’s no obvious reason to touch it.

So for Republicans, going after Medicaid is picking a big fight, one they could easily dodge.  But that won’t stop them.  They know that destroying this kind of program is key to their vision for America, both ideologically and in terms of budget math.  They’ve known it for years, and they’ve been releasing plans and focus-grouping and developing consensus for years in the wilderness, and now they’re tanned, rested and ready.

And for 95% of their congressfolks it’s not even a question—they’ll vote yes.  They’ll do it in the smartest possible way, too: they’ll say there’s a fiscal crisis and it’s necessary, they’ll say it’s not a cut it’s just market efficiency, they’ll use block-granting to disown the cuts that happen and lay them on the states, and then wait till the cuts reduce the program’s popularity to mop up what’s left.  Most Americans won’t really believe anyone would do what the GOP is about to do until it’s too late.

And hey, maybe they’ll even lose a couple of Congressional races over it, but the Dems won’t be in a strong enough position to reverse the cuts for years and years, and starting a program like this is much harder than ending it.  Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Source: Current Affairs | Culture & Politics

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Seeing with an eye of an eagle

February 4, 2017

An eagle with a Sony video camera flew off the top of Burj Khalifa, currently the world’s tallest building, in Dubai, enabling us to (sort of) see what an eagle in flight sees.   It’s too bad there is no footage of the eagle’s last few feet of flight before landing, but the footage is still something to see.

The billionaire behind Bannon and Trump

February 2, 2017

An interesting behind-the-scenes look at the Donald Trump election campaign, which I just now got around to watching.   Click on this for a transcript.