Saturday, February 17, 2018

Why I Believe Russia-gate is Overblown (Dangerous, Delusional Russian Hysteria!!!)

The U.S. "Intelligence" agencies do not have a good track record

  • Mueller was part of the intelligence team making the case for the 2003 Iraq War:
Baghdad has the capability and, we presume, the will to use biological, chemical, or radiological weapons against US domestic targets in the event of a US invasion. 
 This was on of the two largest blunders of my lifetime (along with Vietnam), resulting in about 1 million unnecessary deaths.
Mistakes were made; hundreds of thousands of lives lost; U.S. credibility destroyed.  

The intelligencies agencies have a job to do, and that's fine.  But we the people need to form our own political judgments considering more than just the few pieces of evidence released by the intelligence agencies.

The Impact of the Russian Interference is being Greatly Exaggerated 

  • Leon Panetta, Director of the CIA as well as Secretary of Defense under President Obama, said yesterday that the Russian interference was equivalent to a physical bombing (can't find link, but I saw this on the NBC Nightly News).  His top assistant at the CIA, Jeremy Bash, described the episode as an event of "epic  proportions".  The mainstream media is unanimous in echoing the intelligence community's opinion that this is all as a very big deal.
  • The fact is, however, that the Russian effort is trivial in the big picture.  The U.S. routinely seeks to influence public opinion in other countries, including Russia, and on a much bigger scale.  Also, the total Russian operation is a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of money spent by U.S. sources.  And some of the Russian money was spent on other things, including funding anit-Trump rallies after the election. 
  • As Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein emphasized at a Friday news conference:

    There is no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity.  There is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election. 

Let's Not Overreact Once Again

In matters of "national security", the U.S. public has been repeatedly whipped into a bi-partisan frenzy of support for aggressive military behavior and more military/intelligence power and spending.   I do agree that we should discourage the Russians and others from meddling in our elections.  But's let keep the big picture in mind.

The U.S., as a global superpower, has squandered credibility and the moral high ground since 9/11, by applying laws and logic selectively.  Practically, this attitude has brought us domestic chaos (the Trump Administration) and international skepticism.  Let's quit digging this hole by trying to blame Russia for Trump.  We're only fooling ourselves.
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Monday, February 05, 2018

More Reasons We Need Sanders Wing Policies

Sanders' platform addressed several areas that have been problematic, and not addressed adequately by the Obama / Clinton wing of the Democratic party.

1. Financial Bubbles
Discussion at EschatonBlog :
Bubbles are the problem with the financial markets. Bursting them is painful, but better sooner than later. Bitcoin is the obvious current example, but the stock markets have been in severe bubble territory for some time.

But when bubbles do burst, it is problematic for everyone, whereas their inflation manages to benefit those with the most resources to get into markets.

Yes. That's one of the problems I've had with mainstream Dem, as well as Republican, policies. After dotcom and housing, we should have learned some lessons about these financial bubbles. I guess Dodd-Frank was better than nothing, but it hasn't prevented more potentially damaging financial bubbles.
2. Health Care and Tuition Inflation
Kevin Drum notes that tuition and medical expenses have risen much faster than the general rate of inflation in recent years.

Friday, February 02, 2018

My UU Elevator Speech

  1. There is one human society. (Unitarian)
  2. All are included. (Universalist)

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Service Economy and the Fallacy of Composition

Here's an article that makes some interesting observations, but doesn't give answers: Donald Trump, #MeToo, Facebook, And The Breakdown Of Institutional Power.  Excerpt:

Trump constantly subverted the expectation of what a normal candidate would do (e.g., apologize for accusing Judge Curiel of bias based on his Mexican-American heritage) by never conceding any mistake. The idea generally is that campaigns, like corporations, are basically built to apologize, walk back, and/or preemptively manage expectations so that the minimum number of voters take offense at any given thing. Trump rejected that framework entirely, but stretched the understanding of what was normal so far that there was a sense (a flame that apparently burns eternal) that some objective, imagined hand of authority — the Republican Party or the RNC or the delegates at the convention — would step in. No one did, because the uneasy reality is that candidates and their own campaigns alone govern the candidate and campaign’s conduct. If you’re unafraid of the public’s distaste, there are a lot of places you can run with that. Basically: If a candidate says, well, listen, I’m doing this and you can’t stop me — maybe you actually can’t. Trump, then, is like some classical Greek, Shakespearean character sent to reveal that weakness in the system.

And here's an article that takes the analysis in the previous article deeper, and points to the needed corrective action:  The Post-Physical Economy and the Rise of Trump

This second article spells out the logic which brought us to where we are today.  I'd like to quote the entire article here as it flows wonderfully, but I'll spare you and let you click on the link if interested.  Here's a relatively brief excerpt:

It’s a ridiculous idea, but one that’s pervasive to the point of cliché: the key is education. But even if there is a chance that, in isolation, an enterprising young person could improve his or her situation by getting more degrees, it might well be that if everyone headed in that direction, the economy would collapse entirely. There just can’t be an economy where nothing physical gets done, because everyone is sitting in a cubicle somewhere, managing, or thinking, or coding, or writing emails, or staring blankly at Facebook...
The mainstream political left, including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, put everything on this picture. It was Bill Clinton and Al Gore’s rallying cry in the 1990s: a bridge to the 21st century, a transformed IT America. With the technocratic vision comes a whole syndrome of positions: leaning on experts, relentlessly emphasizing science and technology, paying abject homage to software billionaires, creating a three-way circulation between Goldman Sachs, Harvard University, and the cabinet. Then Democrats wonder how they lost the blue-collar vote. If you think it’s in the interest of blue-collar people, for example union members, to help the Democratic Party transform the economy and the values of the culture in this way, you’re willfully blind, whatever government benefits you’re offering. I think it was much closer to their rational interest to vote for Trump.
One strategy for realizing this impossible vision of a post-physical economy might have been to promote all native-born Americans to service-providers or IT consultants while importing a workforce for practical matters such as agriculture, transportation, building, mowing lawns, and so on. There has been some of that; fundamentally, that’s where those 11 million undocumented people came from. But the basic move was to shift manufacturing and even to some extent agriculture to other countries. The only way to have something resembling a service or information economy, or a whole workforce of professionals and cubicle-dwellers, is to outsource physical reality more or less entirely...
We obviously will never be a planet of managers and code-writers, except as we verge on extinction. We’re still physical creatures in a physical environment.

We see something like Idiocracy at work already in society.  In that movie, humanity had moved to an overly automated society.  Humans had built a lot of great machines, but we couldn't maintain them properly.  The result was a mess.  Who among us has not marveled at the stupidity of our automated telephone customer services systems?  Occasionally, automation is a mistake.  In my opinion, the rush to automonous vehicles is in the same vein.  They won't work well enough to be worth the expense and frustration.  The autonomy and purpose we experience in controlling our vehicles may be more valuable than the time saved by very fallible robots.

At a larger level of abstraction, we can see the neoliberal Fallacy of Composition at work.  Just because it makes sense for individuals to strive for higher education and non-physical labor, doesn't mean that that is worthwhile and attainable goal for society at large.  Rather than all becoming artists and computer programmers, perhaps society is better off with people doing physical work.  Yes, physical work can be difficult and dangerous, but that doesn't mean that it is entirely inappropriate for humanity.  Use technology to make the work safer and more enjoyable, not to eliminate it entirely.  Driving is a good place to start.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Economics 101 (Money and Banking)

I majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, yet never learned the basics of banking and the monetary system used by the United States and all other countries.  This seems like a problem that can and should be corrected.  Wouldn't we be better served by economists who understood the monetary system, including topics such as government debt and banking that are part of everyday discourse?

I was just reviewing my own understanding of these subjects (which I acquired outside of college) and ran across this very good primer (at an MMT website):  Money & Banking.  Read this (also in textbook form here) and you'll know more about the subject than Paul Krugman.

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Thursday, December 14, 2017

Higher Consciousness

Humans are programmed to survive, yet our survival looks doubtful because the very aggressive traits that have made us successful seem likely to cause us to destroy each other.  Perhaps there are two schools of human survival:

  • The moral school-- We need to move to a higher level of consciousness, where concern for the species overrides concern for individuals.  This has perhaps happened evolutionarily as humans consist of trillions of individual cells (and bacteria), yet we consciously value the human more than the component cells.
  • The survival of the fittest school-- Individuals need to kill off the competition from other individuals.  This doesn't seem practical to me as humans are social animals and no one can do much by him or herself.  The best that can be done in this regard is to be part of a group that is victorious over competing groups.  However, winning groups tend to be composed of individuals committed to the group, and so we are back to the need for a higher level of consciousness.
What is "God", if not a higher level of consciousness?  Religion may be irrational, but on the other hand there is an evolutionary imperative to get beyond individual consciousness. 

Monday, December 04, 2017

The NY Times likes Republicans and racist conservatives. Their "liberalism" is simply a marketing tool.

From Atrios:
I have no idea why the New York Times keeps elevating racist dumdums to the status of philosopher genius or why the fact that someone deemed worthy of such a portrait "reads books" is notable. He's super smart, and he reads books!
The Times has been doing this for years. At some point Occam's Razor applies in explaining why the Times covers things they way they do. They like Republicans. They like racist conservatives. Their "liberalism" is simply a marketing tool (not that I have ever really thought the Times was liberal over and above rich New Yorker liberalism which isn't really liberal, but their readers think it is).
 The link above is to this article, which is about as chilling an indictment as I have ever read, in which Nathan Robinson reviews Ben Shapiro's work, and wonders why the NY Times acts as if he's a serious intellectual.

Atrios has pointed out several other examples of this in just the last week.  Here's discussion of another example from
How to Interview a Nazi -- White supremacists should be challenged—not indulged:
balance is important. Nazis should not be ignored. They are dangerous. We need to understand where they’re coming from, what motivates them, and what their strategies are. Ignoring bigotry doesn’t make it go away. The basic principles of journalism still apply: They should not be misrepresented, lampooned, or caricatured. But neither should they be indulged. We should not inflate their importance, ignore their brutality, or enable their self-aggrandizement. They are not regular politicians. Violence is central to their method; exclusion is central to their meaning.  Instead, they should be confronted, challenged, and exposed. How we engage them—and why—is an issue of political morality. This is an imperative that sits uneasily with flaccid notions of journalistic objectivity...  You can’t weigh genocide against relatively stable democracy as though any reasonable person might disagree on the outcome... The Times article failed on most of these counts. Indeed, thanks to its obsession with the trivial details of the Hovaters’ daily lives, its effect was not to expose the obscenity of their views, but rather to underscore the normality of their existence. It offered this as a revelation, as though Hannah Arendt had never covered Adolf Eichmann’s trial...  This is essentially the same mistake that the British press makes every time it profiles a jihadi terrorist. The reporters marvel that the killer in question once supported Manchester United, ate fish-and-chips, drank in pubs, and had girlfriends.
I guess this latter case is really more incompetence on the part of the Times, as opposed to their really liking their Nazi subject.