Category Archives: America

About American politics, our spirit, and our soul

We can’t fix police violence because we don’t know the cause

Summary: Police violence is a hot issue in 2015, as NSA surveillance was in 2013. Activists probably will make the same two mistakes now as they did then. First, they’ll build an inadequate political coalition (many whites fear blacks more than the police). Second, they’ll fail to understand the roots of the causes of the problem, making effective treatment difficult or impossible.  Here we look at the latter problem.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

Police: To Protect and to Serve

The pressure grows for reforms to the US law enforcement apparatus as the number of police brutality reports grow. By now it’s well documented, as in this detailed report by the ACLU: “War Comes Home – The Excessive Militarization of American Policing“. Of course resistance from the police has arisen along with opposition from the Right (see this and this story).

Yet the debate includes little discussion about the nature of the problem, which remains on the simplest level. The violence results from “bad apples” among police, plus “insufficient training” and “racism.” There are excuses also, such as “the police shooter was nervous because so many criminals have guns” and “the police shooter feared for his life.”

These are partial truths, at best, on which we’ll build controversial solutions with high odds of failure. Accurate diagnosis should precede treatment if we’re to have good odds of success. Agitating for change is nice, but not enough. Let’s review some important factors at work here.

Continue reading

Samuel Adams started the Revolution because he didn’t have Twitter

Summary: We don’t eat kippers for breakfast because Samuel Adams didn’t have the temptation of running the Revolution by Twitter instead by snail mail. Social media are a powerful tool for organizations, but no substitute for them. The delusion of a self-organizing crowd appeals to people seeking easy low-commitment ways to reform America. Perhaps repeated failures will eventually teach us this. This is the 3rd in this series.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

Contents

  1. High-tech failed revolutions.
  2. Why social media isn’t a magic bullet for politics.
  3. Organizations: a key to successful reform.
  4. Other posts in this series.
  5. For More Information.

 

(1)  High-tech failed revolutions

Contrast this with the color revolutions which began with such promise — easy, fast revolts using Twitter! — but most of which ended with such disappointment. Techies hoped that social media facilitated self-organizing networks that would reach critical mass, somehow producing complex political change.

Consider the Orange Revolution in Ukraine: protestors overthrew an elected government (the vote certified as fair by domestic and foreign observers) with the aid of western intelligence agencies (working through various NGOs), resulting in a rise of neo-Nazi groups and civil war. It’s a story as common as dirt.

Social media can effectively mobilize public support, but that’s a snare. Not only do movements created by social media lack a leadership structure, their flat communications networks tend to suppress the rise of leaders. Social media networks center on nodes: people with connections to many other people. The skills needed to become a node are not those of leaders. Most of all a node is an individual, a leader is one who assumes some personal responsibility for the movement (that is the sine qua non of leadership).

Except when used by an organization, social media excels at creating mobs (especially flash mobs). As we saw with Occupy, mobs are easily misled into folly. As we saw with the Tea Party, they’re easily led to aims quite different to those they intended (born in opposition to bank bailouts, they helped elect the most bank-friendly Congress since 1932 (as Chairman Bachus explained).

What have we to show for the movements of the past decade? How many of the “Twitter revolutions” on the the following map accomplished much?

Continue reading

Should we panic at the many warnings about domestic terrorism?

Summary:  Since 9/11 the security services have repeatedly warned about domestic terrorists of the Left and Right. The  important conclusion from these — and the numbers — is that domestic terrorism is probably a relatively small problem, one that our security agencies might give too much attention. This diverts attention and burns resources that could go to bigger and more likely risks.  (2nd of 2 posts today.}

Keep calm and carry on

Contents

  1. 2007: Islamic terrorist attacks in the next 3 years!
  2. 2009: right-wing terrorist attacks in the next few years!
  3. What do state and local police think?
  4. Again warning about domestic terrorism.
  5. Rise of the Lone Wolf Terrorist!
  6. Conclusions.
  7. For More Information.

(1)  Islamic terrorist attacks coming to the Homeland!

The July 2007 a summary was released of an National Intelligence Estimate about “The Terrorist Threat to the US Homeland“.  This alarming forecast proved quite wrong, but that has not slowed the gravy train to the security services. Excerpt:

We judge the US Homeland will face a persistent and evolving terrorist threat over the next
three years. The main threat comes from Islamic terrorist groups and cells, especially al-
Qa’ida, driven by their undiminished intent to attack the Homeland and a continued effort by
these terrorist groups to adapt and improve their capabilities.

… We are concerned, however, that this level of international cooperation may wane as
9/11 becomes a more distant memory and perceptions of the threat diverge. … As a result, we judge that the United States currently is in a heightened threat environment.

(2) Rightwing extremists might attack the Homeland!

Continue reading

Good news about the fear epidemic: we’re learning!

Summary: Today’s post gives good news (too rarely found here). ! I have long warned about the fear epidemic where our elites use fear as the most effective way to mold public opinion. That explains the near-constant fear barrages. But our ruling elites (and me) might be wrong about us — and the effectiveness of fear as a tool to rule us.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

The brave man is not he who feels no fear,
For that were stupid and irrational;
But he, whose noble soul its fear subdues,
And bravely dares the danger nature shrinks from.

— Joanna Baillie’s Count Basil (1798).

Fearful faces in the dark

America overflows with fear. Both Left and Right rain daily fear barrages on us, warning of a multitude of certain dooms ahead. Countless foes foreign and domestic. Ten percent of us suffer from a hundred or more serious diseases. So many of our foods are poisonous, as are the chemicals we drink, eat, and breathe — from industrial pollution, contact with our consumer goods (soda bottles), or waste (hormones from birth control pills). The very weather threatens to destroy us, as our society disintegrates.

As I have shown in scores of posts, our elites increasingly attempt to influence by appeals to fear — rather than to higher qualities, or even other low traits. I assumed they were correct to do so, but now suspect I am wrong.

A paradigmatic fear barrage was the early 1980’s “nuclear winter” campaign to force unilateral disarmament by the US. It gained wide support in academia, on the Left, and among journalists — but failed to gain traction with the public.  It did not fail because of its shaky scientific foundations, or its somewhat fraudulent marketing (a theory unveiled in Parade magazine rather than peer-reviewed journals) — but because the public didn’t believe.

Fast forward to the fear campaigns of today, such as the Right’s crusade against Obamacare and gays and the Left’s crusade against global warming (rebranded as climate change). These have been conducted with skill and professionalism, supported by lavish funding. All have failed.

Continue reading

Our response to California’s drought shows America at work to enrich the 1%

Summary: The California megadrought shows America’s public policy machinery at work. Dysfunctional for us; highly functional for the 1%. It’s the price we pay for our apathy and passivity. Today we review California’s latest response to this crisis.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

California drought

Contents

  1. Summary
  2. How Growers Gamed California’s Drough
  3. “California Goes Nuts”
  4. Apocalyptic Schadenfreude
  5. Updates
  6. For More Information

(1)  Summary

Here’s the tale in brief, told by journalist Mark Hertsgaard in “After Warmest Winter, Drought-Stricken California Limits Water But Exempts Thirstiest Big Growers“:

There are a lot of Californians who are suffering right now, especially farm workers. There are communities out in Central Valley, the poor communities where a lot of farm workers live, that literally don’t have water coming out of their household taps anymore. That is not the case for Mr. Stewart Reznick {billionaire} and a lot of bigger farmers. In fact, my story in The Daily Beast started with a conference that Mr. Reznick and his pistachio company, Paramount Farms, held just last month, where they bragged, literally bragged and celebrated about the record profits that they are making on pistachios, on almonds, and not only the profits, but the record production levels, and the record acreage levels, which means that as the state has been going into drought, nevertheless agricultural interests are planting more and more acreage, new almond trees — we are growing alfalfa here which is a very thirsty crop and gets exported over to China.

There are all kinds of examples of this. But, the pain is not being felt equally here. The growers at that conference, they literally trooped out of that conference listening to Louis Armstrong saying “it’s a wonderful world,” and I think the mood was captured by one grower who said, “I’ve been smiling all the way to the bank,” and they played a clip from that Tom Cruise movie, “Jerry Maguire” where Cruise yells out “show me the money.” Well, they are making plenty of money, some of the big farmers here, and that’s largely because they are still getting plenty of water, and, as I say, the experts say that this water is underpriced. If that if we did price it properly, which means a little bit higher, that there is enormous strides that California could be taking with water efficiency.

Continue reading

Who will find the key to power: America or the Middle East’s jihadists?

Summary: We dream of superempowered individuals, seeing ourselves as Ayn Rand’s Übermensch or comic book superheroes while we ignore the methods that made us powerful. Meanwhile, Islamic fundamentalists seek to recover formulas from their past that made them world leaders. We have the machinery yet not the will; they have the reverse. Which is more likely to see a successful mass movement? The answer will channel events in the 21st century.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

“We are gods. Our tools make us gods. In symbiosis with our technology, our powers are expanding exponentially and so, too, our possibilities.”

— Jason Silva, keynote speaker at the 2012 Festival of Dangerous Ideas.

Superhero

Contents

  1. Our fantasies of superempowerment.
  2. The Islamic Crusade simmers.
  3. America: eagles who think they’re sheep.
  4. For More Information.

 

(1)  Fantasies of superempowerment

Our fantasies take many forms. Some are explicit, like the stories of superheroes that dominate the Hollywood boxes offices. Some are sublimated, such as the hundreds of articles describing how technology creates super-empowered individuals capable of changing the course of history (for good or evil).

This is nothing new. Individuals can destroy cities as easily as Mrs. O’Leary’s cow destroyed Chicago, or create new ideas for technologies that change the world. History is the record of these things.

Technology provides new capabilities, such as allowing individuals to release vast troves of secrets (e.g. as did Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden). But information means nothing by itself. We have no technology allowing better development of common goals and deep trust among people any better than the mail used by the Committees of Correspondence to start the Revolution during 1764-1774. It’s the will that matters, not the tech.

Humanity’s god-like powers come from mass movements — collective action of cities, religions, nations, and political revolutionary groups. Such a movement can coalesce in an eye blink and spread at warp speed, becoming an irresistible force that overturns immovable institutions.

Continue reading

Threats come & go, leaving us in perpetual fear & forgetful of the past

Summary: Fearful and forgetful make us an easily ruled people. Easily aroused to panic, yet amnesic about it once the news media move to a new threat — so that we never learn. While a pitiful state for a once-great people, we can regain our former sense and skepticism.

“Maybe it will all work out ok, but if you catch Ebola just remember your nice article calling anyone concerned chicken little as your lungs fill with fluid, and you’re shitting and vomiting blood.”
By Sam, October 14. One of the many terrified commenters, fruit of conservatives’ fear-mongering about Ebola — immediately forgotten after the election.

Missouri: the "Show me" State

What happened to these people? We need them now.

A few months ago we quaked in fear about Ebola (see John B. Judis’ in The New Republic: “Ebola and ISIS Are Making American Voters Go Crazy. Here’s How Irrational Fears Shape Elections.“), about the horde of immigrants flooding in from Latin America, and about the campus rape epidemic (1 in 5 coeds raped!). America was a nation of wet pants. Suddenly these threats are gone, replaced by new ones about which we’re just as irrationally frightened (Yemen!).

Best of all, from our leaders’ perspective, we forget the stories about the previous threats and so eagerly believe the new ones. I watch these transitions with astonishment.

All peoples have manias, of different kinds. Today in America it’s their magnitude and frequency which makes our politics so dysfunctional. While we run screaming in terror at each new phantom, our elites quietly build a New America on the ruins of the old.

Continue reading