Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Imperial Naivete of the American Public

The nation's premier corporate profit engines / social media giants are the ideal platforms for undermining the U.S. via the sowing of disintegration.
Whether it's stated or not, one source of the inchoate outrage triggered by Russian-sourced purchases of adverts on Facebook in 2016 (i.e. "meddling in our election") is the sense that the U.S. is sacrosanct due to our innate moral goodness and our Imperial Project: never mind that the intelligence agencies of all great powers (including the U.S.) meddle in the domestic affairs and elections of other nations, including those of allies as well as geopolitical rivals-- no other great power should ever meddle with U.S. domestic affairs and elections.
In effect, meddling in the domestic affairs and elections of other nations is the raison d'etre of all great power intelligence agencies:
Our outrage is based on Imperial Naivete: the naivete of a public lulled into a warm and fuzzy sense of moral superiority based on the notion that we only go to war to save the good and punish the evil, and if we meddle in other nations' domestic affairs and elections, we're only doing so for their own good.
If we weren't a kindly, generous Empire, we'd let them go down the drain without trying to set them straight.
And since people tend to react poorly to Imperial meddling, we have to do it real sneaky-like using our alphabet agencies (CIA, NSA, et al.) and Alphabet itself (Google) and all the other tech giants so beloved by financial analysts agog at their immense profits and power.
There's another aspect of Imperial Naivete: the American public naively assumes that their Imperial Project is so god-like in its powers and prowess that no other great power should be able to meddle in our domestic affairs and elections.
In other words, we're outraged to be vulnerable to any blowback, any intrusion, any meddling.
We implicitly or explicitly reckon that its our Imperial right to, say, blow up a wedding party in a destabilized nation we're "helping," killing dozens of innocent attendees, all on the off-chance we might nail a bad-guy who happened to be in attendance.
If he survives the slaughter, well, we'll blow up the next wedding party he attends.
That is to say, there are no limits on our execution of power because we're morally superior and this grants us carte blanche on everything from undeclared war to slaughtering wedding parties to manipulating (meddling) in every other nation's domestic affairs and elections.
This is broadly defined as "protecting our interests," which just so happen to extend into every nook and cranny of the globe. There are no corners of the planet that are not of interest to the Imperial Project.
The great irony in all this is the 2016 meddling was so easy and cheap, thanks to Facebook and the rest of America's Big tech / Big Data quasi-monopolies. As I explained in How Much of our Discord Is the Result of the "Engagement" Advert Revenue Model of Social Media? (October 24, 2017), Facebook's model for generating outsized profits is tailor-made for arousing conflict, discord, disunity and Balkanization.
The reality is Facebook is just too tempting a tool to sow division and conflict.In effect, other powers would be fools not to exploit Facebook et al.
Meanwhile, the stock market analysts love all the profits Facebook reaps. I hope you discern the irony: the nation's premier corporate profit engines / social media giants are the ideal platforms for undermining the U.S. via the sowing of disintegration.
And the social-media / corporate media addicted U.S. populace is also tailor-made for meddling: a populace addicted to its mobile phones, social media and divisive mainstream media is the ideal populace for those seeking to disrupt and fragment.
So let's go back to the offending adverts purchased on Facebook in 2016. It seems that the purpose of those campaigns wasn't necessarily to elect Trump but to sow conflict and discord in the U.S. populace.
I'd say if that was the goal, it's working frightening well. Meanwhile, we laud our tech overlords and spend an ever-increasing number of hours on news feeds, threads, social media, search and corporate-owned media.
Maybe the real problem is our own naivete about our Big Tech / Big Data corporations. Poking thumbs in other people's eyes is immensely profitable--not to the nation being torn apart, but to the Big Tech / Big Data /Social Media -Marketing corporations we are addicted to.
In loving social media and mobile telephony, we're loving our servitude and our vulnerability to meddling.
Many thanks to G.F.B. for illuminating these issues, which are unexplored by the mainstream media (no surprise there...).


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Friday, July 20, 2018

The Schizophrenic Deep State is a Symptom, Not the Disease

If we understand the profound political disunity fracturing the nation and its Imperial Project, we understand the Deep State must also fracture along the same fault lines.
If we consider the state of the nation from 40,000 feet, several key indicators of profound political disunity within the elites pop out:
1. The overt politicization of the central state's law enforcement and intelligence agencies: it is now commonplace to find former top officials of the CIA et al. accusing a sitting president of treason in the mainstream media. What was supposed to be above politics is now nothing but politics.
2. The overt politicization of the centralized (corporate) media: evidence that would stand up in a court of law is essentially non-existent but the interpretations and exaggerations that fit the chosen narrative are ceaselessly promoted--the classic definition of desperate propaganda by those who have lost the consent of the governed.
The nation's elites are not just divided--they're exhibiting signs of schizophrenic breakdown: disassociation and a loss of the ability to discern the difference between reality and their internal fantasies.
I've been writing about the divided Deep State for a number of years, for example, The Conflict within the Deep State Just Broke into Open Warfare. The topic appears to be one of widespread interest, as this essay drew over 300,000 views.
It's impossible to understand the divided Deep State unless we situate it in the larger context of profound political disunity, a concept I learned from historian Michael Grant, whose slim but insightful volume The Fall of the Roman Empire I have been recommending since 2009.
As I noted in my 2009 book Survival+, this was a key feature of the Roman Empire in its final slide to collapse. The shared values and consensus which had held the Empire's core together dissolved, leaving petty fiefdoms to war among themselves for what power and swag remained.
A funny thing happens when a nation allows itself to be ruled by Imperial kleptocrats: such rule is intrinsically destabilizing, as there is no longer any moral or political center to bind the nation together. The public sees the value system at the top is maximize my personal profit by whatever means are available, i.e. complicity, corruption, monopoly and rentier rackets, and they follow suit by pursuing whatever petty frauds and rackets are within reach: tax avoidance, cheating on entrance exams, gaming the disability system, lying on mortgage and job applications, and so on.
But the scope of the rentier rackets is so large, the bottom 95% cannot possibly keep up with the expanding wealth and income of the top .1% and their army of technocrats and enablers, so a rising sense of injustice widens the already yawning fissures in the body politic.
Meanwhile, diverting the national income into a few power centers is also destabilizing, as Central Planning and Market Manipulation (a.k.a. the Federal Reserve) are intrinsically unstable as price can no longer be discovered by unfettered markets. As a result, imbalances grow until some seemingly tiny incident or disruption triggers a cascading collapse, a.k.a. a phase shift or system re-set.
As the Power Elites squabble over the dwindling crumbs left by the various rentier rackets, there's no one left to fight for the national interest because the entire Status Quo of self-interested fiefdoms and cartels has been co-opted and is now wedded to the Imperial Oligarchy as their guarantor of financial security.
The divided Deep State is a symptom of this larger systemic political disunity. I have characterized the divide as between the Wall Street-Neocon-Globalist Neoliberal camp--currently the dominant public face of the Deep State, the one desperately attempting to exploit the "Russia hacked our elections and is trying to destroy us" narrative--and a much less public, less organized "rogue Progressive" camp, largely based in the military services and fringes of the Deep State, that sees the dangers of a runaway expansionist Empire and the resulting decay of the nation's moral/political center.
What few observers seem to understand is that concentrating power in centralized nodes is intrinsically unstable. Contrast a system in which power, control and wealth is extremely concentrated in a few nodes (the current U.S. Imperial Project) and a decentralized network of numerous dynamic nodes.
The disruption of any of the few centralized nodes quickly destabilizes the entire system because each centralized node is highly dependent on the others. This is in effect what happened in the 2008-09 Financial Meltdown: the Wall Street node failed and that quickly imperiled the entire economy and thus the entire political order, up to and including the Global Imperial Project.
Historian Peter Turchin has proposed that the dynamics of profound political disunity (i.e. social, financial and political disintegration) can be quantified in a Political Stress Index, a concept he describes in his new book Ages of Discord.
If we understand the profound political disunity fracturing the nation and its Imperial Project, we understand the Deep State must also fracture along the same fault lines. There is no other possible output of a system of highly concentrated nodes of power, wealth and control and the competing rentier rackets of these dependent, increasingly fragile centralized nodes.
Of related interest:
Virtue-Signaling the Decline of the Empire (February 28, 2017)


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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Solutions without Historical Templates: Cryptocurrencies and Blockchains

Crypto-blockchain technologies are leveraging the potential of computers and the web for direct political-social innovation.
We're accustomed to three basic templates for system-wide solutions or improvements:
1. an individual "builds a better mousetrap" and starts a company to exploit this competitive advantage;
2. a company invents something that spawns a new industry (the photocopier, the web browser, for example) and/or disrupts existing business models;
3. the central government decrees a strategy or investment, i.e. makes something happen (the Interstate Highway system in the 1950s, the space race to the moon in the 1960s, for example).
I don't think any of these templates really captures the eventual impact of cryptocurrencies and blockchains, which I define broadly as any decentralized, distributed ledger.
As for the better mousetrap-- the creators of bitcoin explicitly designed a form of money that they reckoned was superior to centrally controlled fiat currency. A decentralized form of money that isn't borrowed into existence like fiat currencies is certainly revolutionary, but that is only one aspect of the crypto-blockchain technology.
Since bitcoin and the blockchain technology behind it aren't owned by a corporation, the template of a company benefiting from disrupting existing business models (for example, Apple's iPod, iTunes and iPhone) doesn't fit.
It's certainly true that cryptos and blockchain are spawning a new industry, much like micro-processors and digital memory launched the computer revolution and the world wide web and its protocols launched the Internet revolution.
There are between 1,600 and 1,900 cryptocurrencies and tokens based on them, and hundreds of enterprises are developing applications for blockchain and related technologies.
The difference between these old templates and the crypto-blockchain technologies is these have explicit social and political applications and ramifications--consequences that cannot be mapped onto consumer product innovation or process innovations such as increasing computational power.
These technologies have the potential to re-order the structure and processes of governance and of social relations. In this way, crypto-blockchain technologies are leveraging the potential of computers and the web for direct political-social innovation.
Here's an example (described in an email to me from Decred's lead developer, Jake Yocom-Piatt) of a software platform that is not connected to a cryptocurrency that could be applied to the kinds of decentralized governance, community development, guaranteed paid work and markets that I describe in my CLIME system (community labor integrated money economy):
"The big idea with Politeia was to create a time-anchored filesystem with a minimal on-chain footprint, so you can be certain that the information in the filesystem existed on or before a particular date. Additionally, it includes identity data, so that person/entity X can attest to data Y at time Z in a way that cannot be altered after-the-fact. I felt that having a plain old website for our governance system wasn't sufficiently censorship resistant.
As I expect you can see, Politeia is an incredibly generic tool, and you can make use of it without holding any Decred."
This sort of distributed ledger--stripped of the computational weight of the blockchain-- could power community democracy, the distribution of a labor-backed currency (as I describe in my book A Radically Beneficial World) and render market transactions transparent to all participants.
These applications don't enrich a corporation--they re-order the power structure of the economy and society.
I don't think there are any historical templates that fully capture the potential for such a direct (i.e. not a byproduct or second-order effect) re-ordering of political and financial power.



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Sunday, July 15, 2018

Our Institutions Are Failing

Our institutional failure reminds me of the phantom legions of Rome's final days.
The mainstream media and its well-paid army of "authorities" / pundits would have us believe the decline in our collective trust in our institutions is the result of fake news, i.e. false narratives and data presented as factual.
If only we could rid ourselves of fake news, all would be well, as our institutions are working just fine.
This mainstream narrative is itself false: our institutions are failing, and the cause isn't fake news or Russian hacking--the cause is insider plundering and collusion, aided and abetted by a decline in transparency and accountability and the institutionalization of incompetence.
In other words, the citizenry's trust in institutions is declining because the failure of institutions is undeniably the fabric of everyday life in America.
When was the last time you heard the top management of a university system take responsibility for the unprecedented rise in the cost of tuition and textbooks? The short answer is "never." The insiders benefiting from the higher-education cartel's relentless exploitation of students and their families act as if the soaring costs are akin to cosmic radiation, a force of nature that they are powerless to control.
The same can be said of every other cartel plundering the nation: healthcare (i.e. sickcare, because profits swell from managing chronic illness, not from advancing health); the Big Pharma cartel; the military-industrial complex; banking; student loans; the governance-lobbying cartels; the war-on-drugs gulag, the FBI and so on in an endless profusion of insiders whose self-serving plunder and gross incompetence rarely generates consequences (such as being fired or indicted) due to an absence of accountability and transparency.
Incompetence has been institutionalized, and is now the accepted norm.Schools fail, municipal agencies fail, oversight agencies fail, state agencies fail, and the public feels powerless to effect any systemic change.
Changing the elected officials who are the citizens' representatives does nothing to rid the system of incompetence or enforce accountability and transparency; the insider elites have wired the system to avoid responsibility and maintain their institutionalized skims regardless of who is in elected office.
Budgets never decline, they only expand. The system is organized to punish frugality and reward incompetence, sweetheart contracts, overtime, and ever higher public spending.
Calls to trim waste are met by gestures of powerlessness: rising costs and institutional failure are presented as the equivalent of gravity: we can't change the system, it's unstoppable.
The general public has largely lost the experience of public-sector/institutional competence and accountability. As a result, resignation is now the response. So the public dutifully waits in line for hours to renew a drivers license, despite having made an appointment online, to take one common example in California, which likes to pat itself on the back as the tech / progressive capital of the galaxy, if not the universe.
How is it "progressive" to rob the working stiffs who pay all the taxes hours of their life for something that should be routine and quick? Where's the Big Data and high tech when it actually counts? If citizens had a choice to renew their drivers license at (say) Amazon or the DMV, do you reckon Amazon might not make everyone cool their heels for hours?
The list of gross institutional incompetence is truly endless in America:Universities that can't offer enough classes so students can graduate from college in four years (oops, you have to pay another rip-off tuition fee for another semester to get those last few classes you need for your worthless diploma); finance departments that can't track payments (so here's your bogus late fees that will take hours to challenge), and on and on.
As for sickcare--how about the evidence-free embrace of synthetic heroin as a "safe" and "non-addictive" pain treatment? Skeptics were bulldozed or marginalized, because there was simply too much money to be made by jumping on the Oxy et al. bandwagon.
As Scientific American reported in its June 2018 issue, "Powerful drug-marketing efforts had somehow swamped science." When a large study was finally done comparing the effectiveness of opioid and non-opioid drugs, "The results, published in March, were eye-opening. Patients given alternative drugs did just as well as those taking opioids in terms of how much pain interfered with their everyday life. In fact they reported slightly less pain and had fewer side effects."
Yes, many transactions are more complex now than they were 30 years ago.30 years ago it took less than a day to obtain a building permit for an entire house in the rural county I lived in. Now it takes 3 to 4 months in the same county to get a permit, which must now be stamped by a licensed architect or engineer (at great expense, of course).
OK, we get it-- things are more complex now. But how does a one-day process balloon into a 100-day process at best? We can understand a one-day process becoming a 3 day process, but did the complexity really rise 100-fold?
I think we all know the answer is "no." The vast majority of the wasted time, effort and cost is the result of unaccountable insider incompetence enabled by a complete lack of accountability and transparency.
Conscientious public servants and institutional insiders are thwarted by incompetent managers, lazy co-workers and institutional bloat designed to increase costs and inefficiencies because higher budgets and inefficiencies boost payrolls and thus power. Organizations within the failing institutions are loathe to surrender their gravy trains, so they resist any change, even those which might have saved the institution from its inevitable collapse.
Our institutional failure reminds me of the phantom legions of Rome's final days. Legions existed in the bureaucracy, and payrolls were sent to the pay masters, but the Legions were mere fictions--there were no soldiers, and no fighting force; there were only a few insiders skimming their take, confident that accountability and transparency had been irrevocably lost.
Systems fail one institution at a time. No wonder the super-wealthy are building bunkers.


Summer Book Sale: 30% off Kindle editions, 25% off print editions. If you're interested in real solutions, check these out:
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Read the first chapter for free.


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Read the first section for free in PDF format.


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