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The story of America: what’s wrong and how to fix it

9 June 2014

Summary:  Let’s start the week with an explanation of why the Republic has come to the brink of death, and some possible reforms. It’s a simple and clear story, with an open ending. There are so many possible reforms; all difficult, complex, and of uncertain effect. This post summarizes the major themes during the past few years of the FM website.

Alberto Brandolini

15th International XP2014 Conference, 26-30 May 2014, Rome

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Alberto Brandolini (software development consultant; bio here)

At the 15th International Conference on Agile Software Development,
26 – 30 May 2014, Rome, Italy

A tweet by Captain Crom (@TheAgilePirate)

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(1)  Tribal propaganda

There are deep force at work producing the daily headlines.  Sometimes during the past generation our leaders (both left and right) discovered that they can successfully lie to us. Insights of that kind change the course of nations.

The result was a revolution in American politics:  the increased use of outright propaganda by both Left and Right. We accepted it. Truth became tribal for us.

Every society has this to some extent. Leaders tell distorted versions of events to better meet their needs. Histories include myth and erase dark deeds of the past, becoming “Whig history” — a tale of progress leading to the wonderfulness of today.  But, as always, magnitudes matter.  What distinguishes 21st C America is the degree of falsehood in our view of both the past and present, so great that it degrades our ability to see and understand the world.

This steady diet of fantasy has led to an atrophy of our minds, the pervasive “dumbing down” seen in so many aspect of America life.

To see how far we’ve decayed, I recommend a look at the transcripts of the Lincoln-Douglas debates (also see the Wikipedia entry). They read like term papers of today’s college sophomores.  They are longer, more complex and sophisticated than the political “debates” of today, where candidates volley sound-bites with journalists.  The L-D debates gave tangible evidence of a vibrant democracy.  American will be back on track when we produce something like this.

Let’s not point the finger of blame (or any other finger)  at our political activists. Activists do what works. Political debates consist of exaggerations and lies only to the extent that we passively accept them. We have the tools to become well-informed, and minds with which to balance competing theories.  We we have become gullible, that’s our problem — not theirs.

Read more…

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Will we starve after all the bees die?

8 June 2014

Summary: Stories about a crisis reveal much about more than the specific threat. They demonstrate our ability to clearly see the world, assess relative risks, separate political advocacy from real dangers, and take action.

A Western Bumble Bee

Our partner in farming

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Contents

  1. More journalists than news
  2. Alarmist hype about the bees
  3. Scientists address the problem
  4. How this happens: churnalism
  5. For More Information

(1)  More journalists than news

The news media has many problems, but perhaps they add up to too many journalists with too much space to fill and too little time to do journalism. As a result they’ve become suckers for every pc activist group with a scary story. The actual science usually gets misrepresented or ignored, which puts pressure on scientists to help push the narrative (they have families and careers, like the rest of us).

Any easy solution: manufacturing  into a crisis normal events which occur rarely in one lifetime. We see this today in weather, with normal large events call “monster”, “super”, and even (falsely) “unprecedented”. We see this today with terrorism — a recurring problem in western civilization treated as a unique event (e.g. see the longer and more severe attacks by anarchists).

Today we look at another example.  Our food supply faces a horrific threat: the bees are dying.

(2)  Alarmist hype about the bees

Read these and fear the future!

(a) Better Planet: Beepocalypse. Can we save honey bees from Colony Collapse Disorder?“, Josie Glausiusz, Discover, July 2007 — Seven years later alarmists still warn of the End.

(b) Beepocalypse Redux: Honeybees Are Still Dying — and We Still Don’t Know Why“, TIME, 7 May 2013 — “More than 5 years after it was first reported, colony-collapse disorder is still killing honeybees around the world. If scientists can’t pinpoint the cause, the economic and environmental damage could be immense”

(c) The New Silent Spring: America is one bad winter away from a food disaster, thanks to dying bees“, Todd Woody, Quartz, 7 May 2013

(d)  Politically useful but over-confident articles about causes of the beepocalypse:

  1. Death of the Bees. Genetically Modified Crops and the Decline of Bee Colonies in North America“, Brit Amos, Global Research, March 2008 (reposted August 2011)
  2. It’s Time to Ban Dangerous Neonicotinoid Pesticides“, Mother Earth News, August/September 2012 — “Research shows that potent neonicotinoid pesticides, used on many crops in the United States, pose serious threats to bees and potentially to humans.”

(3)  Scientists address the problem

As usual, science is complex and fits poorly in the politically-useful alarmist narrative.  Fortunately the ancient saying applies: “the dogs bark but the caravan moves on”.  Scientists do their thing in the background while journalists chatter on.

Read more…

Cheap Imports Backfire on America’s Retailers & What’s Left of Our Economy

6 June 2014

Summary: Globalization and free-trade, combining to an irresistible force, have reshaped the world since WW2. As that era ends, and we enter a perhaps tumultuous transition to a new and different era, we should examine the calculus of its benefits and costs. Today’s analysis by Alan Tomelson helps us take a first step.

World Trade

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Cheap Imports Backfire on America’s Retailers
& What’s Left of Our Economy

By Alan Tomelson
Posted at RealityChek, 3 May 2014

Reposted with his generous permission.

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It’s really no exaggeration to call this the most spectacular and grimly hilarious irony of the current era of U.S trade and globalization policy:  Wal-Mart is running into big-time trouble because it can’t cut even its rock-bottom prices low enough to make them affordable for its low-income-dominated customer base.

A little skeptical about the irony claim?  Think about how Americans have debated trade and globalization policies since these issues became major news — certainly once the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into the spotlight in the early 1990s, and even back to the late 1970s, when high value imports from Japan began threatening advanced U.S. manufacturing industries like steel and autos.

Perhaps the most effective counter to demands that these imports be curbed somehow was the claim that, whatever harm they inflicted on domestic producer industries and their employees, consumers benefited hugely from lower prices.  And nowhere was the argument made more powerfully than in the case of labor-intensive consumer goods imports like garments offered in abundance to low-income Americans by Big Box retailers like Wal-Mart (which not so coincidentally were powerhouse lobbyists in favor of more import-friendly trade deals).

Trade policy critics tried to point out the limits of this rationale — especially noting that even the lowest prices were scant consolation to those desperately needing any income at all because their jobs had been destroyed by imports, or because their wages had been driven way down as job losses in high-value manufacturing pumped up the labor supply in the rest of the economy and created an ever stronger buyers’ markets for their labor.

Read more…

Celebrate what happened one year ago. It’s the birthday of a New America!

5 June 2014

Summary:  Exactly one year ago Glenn Greenwald published the first of Snowden’s revelations. Two days later I forecast that our response to these momentous disclosures would be nothing. That our passivity would mark the birthday of the New America, and the death of the Second Republic (under the Constitution). Today I add this to the successful predictions page. It’s reposted below, as worth reading today as then (more so now, since we know so much more about the government’s activities than we did a year ag0)

As I said then: Our children are the victims. Powerful elites are the agents. We are the cause. This is now obvious to any who choose to see. July 4 was the birthday of the America-that-once-was. Today is the birthday of the New America!

Watching the little people

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——- Reposted from 5 July 2013, our birthday of New America ——-

This week we learned more about the extent of the National Security Agency’s surveillance. Do not see this as an event, but as a step in a process. Slowly we are broken to accept a harness designed by our ruling elites, administered by their agents in the government.  Slowly since WWII, more quickly since 9-11, the government has extended its supervision over us. Not to control our daily acts — as in 1984 (the 1% doesn’t care what the proles do after work) — but to limit our political activities. Limit our ability to run the Republic.

The changes come slowly. It’s not like a frog being boiled, because frogs are smart and jump out of the pot. More like bondage porn, where a sub slowly surrenders to domination by the will of another. We are surrendering responsibility, the burden of self-government.

We cannot admit the harsh truth, and so take comfort in lies, myths, and amnesia.

We hope this will save us from the shadowy threat of jihadists – who one day over a decade ago killed a fraction of those who die each year in traffic accidents, or suicide by guns, or from other causes we cannot bother to address because we spend so much on security (internal and external, formerly known as police and defense). We give up so much in fear of an organization which probably no longer exists in significant form, bequeathing their name to nationalistic movements who fight us because we go to their lands and fight them.

We yield to the government because we believe that they — and our ruling elites — are too strong. We let the democratic machinery of the Republic lie unused because we believe that resistance is futile.

In fact we yield because it is easier for us. More comfortable.

What about all the bold noise in the newspapers, on the internet?

Yes, we boldly write and speak.  As we boldly protested when we learned of the previous set of outrages. And the ones before that. As we will for the next one.  And the next one.

Read more…

How you can start the campaign to reform America

3 June 2014

Summary: Today we finish the series using hit TV show “Castle” as a mirror for America. We gained insights from it about our society: about romance, marriage, justice, our myths, and values. The tentative conclusion drawn in these posts was that we have become alienated: we no longer see America as us, or ours. Today we end the series with a proposed solution, a way to help start the political reform process.

Patrick Henry

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How can we re-kindle American’s willingness to fight for the Republic? Such a campaign should have several characteristics.

  1. A simple message.
  2. A message tapping into people’s existing beliefs and values.
  3. A message a wide range of groups will adopt and promulgate.
  4. A message that encourages people to become more politically involved.
  5. A message that overcomes our alienation.

Here’s my guess: we feel alienated not because of what America has become. It’s imperfections provide our excuses for passivity.

We’re alienated because we no longer believe we own or control America. It’s a natural reaction to the rise of the 1%.

We need reawaken a belief that we are strong, that America belongs to us, and that we can retake control of it from the 1%.  We need a call to action.The 1% powerful, but we have greater strength in our numbers — and even (collectively) far greater money.

This asks to to get involved in politics, contributing time and effort. The specific things that each person does depends on his or her individual values and beliefs. We need to have faith in each other, faith that no matter how great our differences together we’ll find a path to rebuild America.

Read more…

The bitter fruits of our alienation from America

2 June 2014

Summary:  We conclude our examination of the hit TV show “Castle” by adding up what we’ve learned from it about America. Perhaps we have become alienated from 21st C America because we no longer see ourselves as part of it. Hence our unwillingness to defend it. Today we discuss the consequences of that alienation. It’s not pretty.

This continues from part 1: “Castle” shows that many of us don’t defend New America because we don’t like it.

Kleisthenes of Athens

He looks at us & feels sad.

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Contents

  1. Why should we worry about alienation?
  2. No worries! Others will rule us.
  3. How we got to this dark place
  4. Other posts in this series about “Castle”
  5. For More Information
  6. The flip side of alienation is irresponsibility

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(3)  Why should we worry about alienation?

Wikipedia describes alienation (lightly edited):

In sociology and critical social theory, alienation refers to an individual’s estrangement from traditional community and others in general. … the atomism of modern society means that individuals have shallower relations with other people than they would normally. This, it is argued, leads to difficulties in understanding and adapting to each other’s uniqueness (see normlessness).

Alienation attacks the glue that holds a nation together, so that we no longer see ourselves as fellows in a great joint venture.   Just as unit cohesion makes possible survival on the battlefield, strong social cohesion allows — makes possible if not certain – a society to survive what would otherwise be overwhelming threats. Solon’s reforms gave Athens the such strong social cohesion that they remain a beacon for us millennia later.

Alienation of individuals from the group disrupts cohesion, and can prove fatal to the group in times of great stress. As a social illness, it might have already gone deep into US society.

This might explain the splintering of the American polity and our inability to do what we have done so well in the past — to respond collectively to serious threats. We no longer see America as ours; we feel alienated, which feeds on itself as our internal structures decay — and we realize that alone we’re powerless.

It’s obvious in a thousand ways. Our ability to take collective action to address serious national problems diminishes, as we see in Washington’s gridlock during the past decade. Even support for vital government programs — like rebuilding our infrastructure — declines.

We have heard countless warnings about Latin America-style hyper-inflation. Instead we should worry about Latin American-style social cohesion. In the 1920s people in the great European nations described the wealthy as being “Rich as an Argentinian.” Generations of social conflict wrecked their economic and social structures. Their GDP per capita now ranks 55th, between Gabon and Croatia.

Read more…

As the 1% grows more powerful, they speak their minds more boldly

31 May 2014

Summary:  We needn’t worry if we decline the burden of self-government. The 1% will govern us. Perhaps quite well, but certainly not in our interest, but for themselves. In fact they’re already doing so. Today we review some of the evidence. It’s all around us, if we dare look. Now they feel sufficiently secure to tell us.

The One Percent That Matters

Marketing in New America

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To the right see an example of marketing in New America. It’s a twofer: selling security to the 1%.

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Contents

  1. Ascendant, the 1% grow bolder
  2. They already rule
  3. Showing us the New America
  4. For More Information

(1)  Ascendant, the 1% grow bolder

The Great Recession destroyed a significant fraction of the middle classes wealth, tilted the job market even more in favor of corporations over workers, and entrenched the 1%’s control of the government (as seen in the continuity of Bush Jr’s regulatory and economic policies by the Obama administration.

As a natural result, the 1% have grown bolder in public, with deranged exaggerations of efforts to regulate corporations and raise taxes.

  1. Tom Perkins warns in the Wall Street Journal op-ed “Progressive Kristallnacht Coming?
  2. Bud Konheim, CEO of luxury-goods corp Nicole Miller tells the 99% to stop whining.
  3. Stephen Schwarzman, Chairman of Blackstone Group, described proposals to raise his taxes as “It’s like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.”
  4. Robert Benmosche, CEO of bail-out beneficiary AIG, described public outrage over his bonuses as like the lynching of blacks in the South.
  5. Charles Munger, vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, explains to the 99% that “You should thank God {for bank bailouts} … Now, if you talk about bailouts for everybody else, there comes a place where if you just start bailing out all the individuals instead of telling them to adapt, the culture dies.
  6. Jack Welch, retired CEO of GE, warns about Occupy Wall Street:  “the risks of this movement’s efforts to demonize business are frighteningly high.

The for next step: they tell us that they run America, a New America, as in this conversation with Silicon Valley’s Marc Andreessen. We pick up with a reference to a new study showing that the 99% have little influence on public policy (see the next section for details).

Read more…

Does Obama “plan to use the military against citizens”?

30 May 2014

Summary: Today’s hot story on the Right concerns Obama’s new policy allowing use of military force on US soil. Great outrage and wetting of pants follows! Like the “Antarctica ice collapsing” stories this month that bedazeled the Left, these demonstrate (again) that we’re ill-informed and easily manipulated because we get information from our tribal leaders, and they lie to us. Leaders don’t speak truths, let alone harsh and difficult ones, to dogs. When we decide to again stand like men and women, we’ll find reliable sources of information. And better leaders

WW2 propaganda

True then and true now

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Memo outlines Obama’s plan to use the military against citizens“, Washington Times, 28 May 2014 — Opening:

A 2010 Pentagon directive on military support to civilian authorities details what critics say is a troubling policy that envisions the Obama administration’s potential use of military force against Americans.

The directive contains noncontroversial provisions on support to civilian fire and emergency services, special events and the domestic use of the Army Corps of Engineers.

The troubling aspect of the directive outlines presidential authority for the use of military arms and forces, including unarmed drones, in operations against domestic unrest. “This appears to be the latest step in the administration’s decision to use force within the United States against its citizens,” said a defense official opposed to the directive.

This is agitprop fed to the gullible — like much of what the Washington Times prints. They’re pros.

  1. This article refers to DoD Directive 3025.18, which consolidates, replaces, and updates various policy documents going back to 1997 (they’re listed in the references).
  2. These policies were expressed for the field in “Civil Support“, Joint Publication 3-28, dated 14 September 2007 — before Obama was elected.
  3. JP 3-28 was reissued in “Defense Support of Civil Authorities” dated 31 July 2013.

So the policy is not Obama’s. It’s not new. The article identifies no changes. For that we turn to JP 3-28, which lists the changes from the 2007 version. Read them and tremble in fear!

Read more…

“Castle” shows that many of us don’t defend New America because we don’t like it

29 May 2014

Summary:  We conclude our examination of the hit TV show “Castle” by adding up what we’ve learned from it about America. We might have become alienated from 21st C America because we no longer see ourselves as part of it. Hence our unwillingness to defend it.  Spoilers!

Karl Marx

Karl Marx smiles, having long ago predicted our alienation

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Contents

  1. “Castle” shows us 21st C America
  2. It’s back to the future for our love of the State
  3. Why should we worry about alienation?
  4. No worries! Others will rule us.
  5. A closing note about America
  6. Other posts in this series about “Castle”
  7. For More Information
  8. The flip side of alienation is irresponsibility

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(1)  “Castle” shows us 21st C America

We’ve used the hit TV show “Castle” as a mirror in which we can see unpleasant aspects of 21st century America which otherwise remain invisible. Attention to them benefits neither party of the 1% (“Left” or “Right”), and so remains outside the narratives told us by journalists and intelligentsia.

The 19th C was a horror show: slavery, the Civil War, the failure of Reconstruction, the oppression of Indians and workers, the 1%-engineered deflation and depressions of the Gilded Age. But in the first 60 years of the 20th C our forefathers rebuilt both America at the world. The resulting America of the mid-1960s is what we (speaking broadly) think of as America. Neither utopia or Heaven, but an accomplishment seldom equaled in history.

The sixty years since then have seen rapid and great changes to America. Changes in our society, from gender and racial roles to ethnic composition. Changes in our economy. Changes in our role in the world. In a sense it was natural evolution of society driven by our national ideologies.

The result is a New America. After a long time portraying America essentially as it was in mid-1960s, TV shows now show us — in a soft focus — America as it is today. Which we see in “Castle” (and also described in 16 other similar other posts; links in 7d below)

It’s better in many ways than the America that Once Was. Worse in other ways. Perhaps most important for many people, it’s different than what they think of as America. So much so that many of us no longer see themselves in the mirror when they look at America. They’re alienated.

Alienation shines through the actions of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements. Alienation drives middle class people to use Pirate Bay. It’s obvious in a thousand other ways.

(2)  It’s back to the future for our love of the State

The most serious effect of alienation might be on our relationship to the Republic.

As Martin van Creveld showed in The Rise and Decline of the State (1999), patriotism only recently arose in the West. Without love of the State, rulers dare not burden their subjects too heavily. They recruited foreigners for the core of their military (as King David did). The revolutions that created the modern era changed the State from an scourge into something for which people would gladly sacrifice not just their goods but also their lives — and those of their children.

As van Creveld explained:

Read more…

Richard Castle shows us the dark reality of justice in 21st C America

28 May 2014

Summary:  We continue our examination of the hit TV show “Castle”, today mining for insights about justice in 21st C America. Castle is a romantic comedy; an accurate depiction of our criminal justice system would be a horror show. As in the previous chapters of this series, this suggests that we might no longer defend America because we’ve lost confidence in it.  Spoilers!

We should fear Justice. If she weighs America in her scales, she might use that sword on us.

Lady Justice
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Contents

  1. “Castle” shows us 21st C American justice
  2. The collapse of our criminal justice system
  3. Feudal justice
  4. Other posts in this series about “Castle”
  5. For More Information
  6. They’ll have to carve these words off the Court’s building

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(1)  “Castle” shows us 21st C American justice

From the first episode of Castle.

BECKETT:  You have quite a rap sheet for a best-selling author: disorderly conduct, resisting arrest.
CASTLE:  Boys will be boys.
BECKETT:  It says here that you stole a police horse?
CASTLE:  Borrowed.
BECKETT:  And you were nude at the time.
CASTLE:  It was spring.
BECKETT:  And every time the charges were dropped.
CASTLE:  What can I say? The mayor is a fan.

BECKETT
Mr. Castle. You’ve got quite a rap sheet for a best-selling author: disorderly conduct, resisting arrest.

CASTLE
Boys will be boys.

BECKETT
It says here that you stole a police horse?

CASTLE
Borrowed.

BECKETT
Ah. And you were nude at the time.

CASTLE
It was spring.

BECKETT
And every time the charges were dropped.

CASTLE
What can I say? The mayor is a fan,

- See more at: http://seriesmonitor.com/castle/transcripts/season1/01.html#sthash.atyJdJrh.dpuf

BECKETT
Mr. Castle. You’ve got quite a rap sheet for a best-selling author: disorderly conduct, resisting arrest.

CASTLE
Boys will be boys.

BECKETT
It says here that you stole a police horse?

CASTLE
Borrowed.

BECKETT
Ah. And you were nude at the time.

CASTLE
It was spring.

BECKETT
And every time the charges were dropped.

CASTLE
What can I say? The mayor is a fan,

- See more at: http://seriesmonitor.com/castle/transcripts/season1/01.html#sthash.atyJdJrh.dpuf

BECKETT
Mr. Castle. You’ve got quite a rap sheet for a best-selling author: disorderly conduct, resisting arrest.

CASTLE
Boys will be boys.

BECKETT
It says here that you stole a police horse?

CASTLE
Borrowed.

BECKETT
Ah. And you were nude at the time.

CASTLE
It was spring.

BECKETT
And every time the charges were dropped.

CASTLE
What can I say? The mayor is a fan,

- See more at: http://seriesmonitor.com/castle/transcripts/season1/01.html#sthash.atyJdJrh.dpuf

BECKETT
Mr. Castle. You’ve got quite a rap sheet for a best-selling author: disorderly conduct, resisting arrest.

CASTLE
Boys will be boys.

BECKETT
It says here that you stole a police horse?

CASTLE
Borrowed.

BECKETT
Ah. And you were nude at the time.

CASTLE
It was spring.

BECKETT
And every time the charges were dropped.

CASTLE
What can I say? The mayor is a fan,

- See more at: http://seriesmonitor.com/castle/transcripts/season1/01.html#sthash.atyJdJrh.dpuf

This is a realistic description of High Justice in America, the criminal justice system for the rich. Drug use? Disorderly conduct? Sexual assault, rapeEven murder? Erased by money and power.

A young man of the middle class who commits crimes like Castle’s gets Middle Justice:  a criminal record, with punishment mitigated only if the relatives fund crippling legal fees. Disorderly conduct, indecent exposure, and resisting arrest are misdemeanors, usually punished by fines and probation — with possible “collateral consequences” such as loss of professional licenses and bonds.  Theft of the police horse is a felony, with punishment depending on the degree of anger felt by the police.

A young man of the lower classes commits such crimes gets Low Justice: a criminal record, with all of the above plus the possibility of jail time.

(2)  The collapse of our criminal justice system

The “Castle” TV show frankly if lightly describes some dark aspects of our criminal justice system, such as prison rape. But overall it is accurate as a “police procedural” in the same sense that Lord of the Rings describes warfare. Fun fantasy.

Read more…

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