Nancy Pelosi is wondering if she can pull a “Juan Guaido” on Donald Trump….

 

I find it not only interesting how consensus by leaders of nation-states is needed before another nation-state’s leader is considered valid, but how the citizens of a nation-state never question why they should give a damn about the opinions of other world leaders regarding how they select their own.

The first response to the above query may be that without the blessing of Justin Trudeau or Vladimir Putin, it would be hard for a country to trade with others. That would imply that the only reason your nation-state exists is to create and transfer benefits of a nation-state to a global elite, the very elite that heavily influence who you choose as your next leader. Make the right promises and you can have your coup-d’etat supported by the right global leader.

Maybe Nancy’s political strategists are whispering this in her ears right now.

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A quick thought on stablecoin, Facebook nation, and government pushback

Just had a thought on creating a digital nation and admittedly I am still just fleshing out the idea so bear with me.

Crypto currencies still have a chance at succeeding, but the issue commenters and the public continue to overlook is that as currencies, Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple, and whatever the hell else is out there have no underlying political economies to support them. Currency valuations transmit to the world the value and/or level of economic output a nation has. Bitcoin, for example, is not a nation’s currency. If it were, it would give Zaire’s currency volatility a run for the money. With the advent of stablecoin, particularly Facebook’s expected issue of the digital coin in 2019, we could see the beginning of a truly digital political economy.

Stablecoin is defined as a cryptocurrency pegged to some reserve currency like the U.S. dollar or another crypto currency such as Ethereum. No matter the model, the goal is to provide users with some stability in the coin’s exchange price. Consumers and investors may like the convenience of not having to check Bitcoin’s price every time they want to buy a cup of coffee or make a currency exchange. Stablecoins, at least in theory, helps to avoid all that.

Facebook will reportedly first play in India’s remittance market. As we descendants of the Commonwealth are all to familiar with, the remittance process can be emotionally taxing when the lack of necessary middlemen are not in place to get money to our relatives in Europe, Asia, and the Caribbean.

The blockchain technology platform that Facebook’s stablecoin will use is expected to provide the transparency and peer-to-peer capabilities that ensure that monies are sent and received under a system of trust, verification, and lack of intermediaries.

But I can see Facebook and even Amazon going beyond playing a relatively minor role in a country’s payment system. Not only could Facebook or Amazon issue digital currencies in the next ten years, they could and should go all out in developing their own digital nations.

Facebook could finally add some meat to his currently weak mission of “connecting the world” by leveraging every business and consumer in his network to engage with each other commercially by using his stablecoin. Consumers subscribing to Facebook or Amazon could be assessed annual membership fees or be charged a “tax” substantially less than the average state or local sales tax in exchange for exclusive access to every merchant listed on either platform with the medium of exchange being a stablecoin.

As one of the largest companies in the world with a 2.5 billion people user base, Facebook, via commercial exchange on its platform, can generate the value necessary for traders in currency to express enough faith in the currency to trade in it drive up its value. Unlike current crypto currencies, a “Facecoin” could exhibit more organic and trustworthy movement because it would be backed by a company large enough to be a national economy.

As for local, state, and federal governments, they could be left a few decades from now with nothing left to regulate and tax but physical infrastructure. Would government be understanding and wish more and more taxpayers a fare thee well, or would government act like the pharaoh in the Old Testament, chasing the people with its tax chariots.

The ensuing issue may be the legal relationship between the old State and the new Digital State that online platforms like Facebook and Amazon will hopefully morph into and how best to treat citizens who have to spend time in both worlds.

For Christmas, give yourself a new brand of representative democracy

Every two years we hear candidates for election argue that incumbent representatives are not accountable to the public; that incumbents make political and public policy decisions that are in opposition to the public interest. We hear arguments that incumbents have served in office too long and that they should be term-limited either by law or by the voters. But instead of change, we usually see voters sending incumbents back to office to continue the supposed damage. Maybe it is time to call the voters’ bluff. Maybe it is time to give the voter more control of the process by implementing a new indirect voting system for national leaders; a voting system where the voter is the troll under the bridge.

In my opinion, a more electorally effective voting system i.e. the troll system creates a concrete connection between state and national elections. An electorally effective voting system would put a U.S. congressman or senator’s electoral fate in the hands of state legislators and vice versa.

Specifically, the system would allow direct elections of state representatives by a state’s citizens, just like the states have today. However, instead of popular vote for representatives to either chamber of the U.S. Congress, state legislators would be responsible for selecting these federal representatives.

And instead of popular or electoral college vote for the president, the Congress would be responsible for nominating from their body candidates for president and vice-president. Preferably, the U.S. House would select the president while the U.S. Senate would select the vice-president who would continue her dual role as president of the senate.

One advantage of this system is that it ties the state and federal levels of representative government. If national representatives and the president fail in their management of the political economy, state representatives who hold the responsibility for vetting national representatives would incur heavy political liability up to and including removal from office. Removal or the threat of removal from state office would translate into lost support for national representatives who may find themselves heading out the door at the end of their terms.

Another potential advantage is a better alignment of political choices with the political values of the electorate. It has been argued and observed by pundits, commenters, and analysts that America is a center-right nation, yet the political noise has emanated from the fringe elements of its two major political parties or that the two major parties represent the more radical voices in the Left and Right of the electorate. Under my proposed system, state legislators may focus their search for national representatives on candidates who best represent a middle of the road, collaborative characteristic of governance and policy making, thus ensuring that national representatives are in line with the political culture of a plurality of the electorate.

Another advantage of the troll system is that it would severely reduce campaign expenses. Most campaign spending would occur on the state level as candidates vie for the state houses out of which national representatives will come. While the political action committee system that owes its success to its flyover view of the electorate would take a hit, the upside is that resources will have to be spent on the ground. Local advertisement as well as old fashioned “knocking on doors” campaigning will gain new life because voters would be able to impart consequences on elected officials more efficiently, with only one visit to the voting booth.

Another advantage to consider is that candidates on the state level may be forced to admit up front what their stances are on national issues thus further tying the consequences of poor national management of the political economy to state politicians. Candidates for state office will have to take a more holistic and cohesive view of the political economy; being more thoughtful of the role their jurisdiction plays in extracting, managing, and distributing resources.

I have merely scratched the surface on alternative views on democracy. An increasing number of commenters have been pondering democracy’s inability to allocate resources, capital, and opportunity to citizens and elected officials can only brush off how complicit they are in the problem but for so long.

The American voter bears significant burden as well. Her burden emanates from an unwillingness to promote evolution of the electoral system. So enamored or frozen by tradition that the voter believes that pursuing improvement of the system of change in leadership by replacing it is somehow heresy. It makes me wonder about a people who go bonkers every July 4th celebrating revolution but are lazy when it comes to electoral evolution, willing instead to suffer through the inequities in the name of tradition.

Diversity is a fraud

As a black person I have grown increasingly suspect over the years of calls for diversity. It is not that I have succumbed to another race’s false sense of superiority over mine.  It is because diversity is really nothing but an expression of weakness by blacks in America.  It is a rallying cry for inclusion of those blacks who consider themselves the cream of the crop and deserving to be placed ahead of other blacks due to their education and their networks. Diversity is a willingness to shun the need to generate and contribute real economic value settling instead for creating arguments that have at their base the need to make white people feel guilty. Diversity is a feel good political package sold to black voters who stand as much of a chance of breaking glass ceilings as the Atlanta Falcons have at playing in the Super Bowl in Atlanta next year.

As an expression of weakness, calls for diversity are calls for permission to enter a house you are otherwise unwelcome in.  We’ve heard the arguments. “Inclusion is the right thing to do.” “Dr. King died because he believed we are all equal in character.”  ” It is immoral to exclude people, etc. etc.”  It really boils down to begging to be included, basing arguments on weak moral grounds that can fade away when tough economic times appear and animal spirits rise up to battle for scarce capital and jobs. 

Diversity benefits only those who come from a certain pedigree.  In the real world, diversity doesn’t get most blacks a full time job with benefits. What gets people work in the real world are skillsets that bring value to an employer’s efforts at output and a network that through his new employee an employer can tap into.  This is especially important in an information driven economy where workers are no longer “nodes for manufacturing”, where the emphasis is on an employee’s manufacturing skills, but instead is a “node of information”, where the employee uses technology to gather data that helps his employer make the best resource allocations. 

The flip side to this argument is that blacks may not be in the position to be “information nodes” given centuries of being locked out of certain networks.  My answer is, tough.  After being in North America for 400 years and 153 of those years post slavery, Black Americans have had opportune time to accumulate the educational and work experience to access information, garner the appropriate skills, and build valuable networks. Instead of diversifying ourselves into a system dominated by a racial majority and created for a racial majority, blacks need to offset the negative repercussions of the current system by supplementing the current system with a dose of increased self-reliance.

Earlier I described diversity as a feel good political package designed by a political party dominated by white people and sold by an educated small black elite to the masses of black voters.  It is a weak package that is comprised of slight modifications to existing civil rights and labor laws with no meaningful transfer of capital involved.  It is empty with the only blacks getting paid being the fraternity and sorority boys and girls who have some mid-level office driving cars that they look good in. Diversity has not translated into a political economy that takes us to a higher form of human engagement, one where the basic needs of all are truly provided for. 

Diversity is a fraud.

Current black elected leaders are in no position to provide a disruptive campaign finance model that helps poor blacks

I am seeing no serious attempt  on the part of blacks to step up our political game.  Oh yes, we may have a Stacey Abrams, Ben Jealous, Andrew Gillum, or Mike Espy run for a governor or U.S. senate seat.  We may even show case a couple “winners” like Corey Booker, Kamala Harris, or Tim Scott, but in the larger scheme, beyond these “one-zee, two-zees”, are blacks posing a meaningful impact in the area of national politics? 

What I am seeing so far post mid-term 2018 is the current national black political leadership moving lockstep with Democrat Party messaging, messaging that does not address economic needs of blacks.  To assess the  needs of blacks, you need look no further than the income disparity and wealth gap between white and black people in America.  According to research by the Pew Research Center, the adjusted income for households headed by blacks was $43,300 versus those households headed by whites came in at $71,300.  Pew also reported that median net worth of white households was 13 times higher ($144,000) than that of blacks ($11,200).

As we saw in the last major recession, not having a wealth cushion can be disastrous for households that lose their income.  Having some wealth that can be monetized can help tide a person over until the storm passes, but for many blacks, there may not be any chances of seeing the eye of the financial storm because the first wall of the hurricane wiped them out. 

In the political theater, not having a wealth cushion also means diminished influence on elected officials, during a campaign and post elections.  Being able to finance targeted and strategic messages or finance a campaign’s operational spending increases the chances of being listened to during the interval between elections, when policy making occurs.  Blacks are disproportionately participate in general elections and forego midterms or even some local elections. But worse, blacks are likely less inclined to keep up with the granular needs of day-to-day governance.   Not donating to campaigns or keeping constant pressure on elected officials only makes overlooking blacks as a constituency easier for elected officials.

Sure there are advocacy groups out there that allegedly speak on behalf of “people of color”, but these groups tend to look out for the concerns of the fringe upper crust of minority groups. the highly-educated, higher-wage types who do not reflect the needs of the vast majority of everyday blacks.

This is the downside of being low-income in a political eco-system that stresses buying the eardrums of candidates, where candidates need money to run campaigns while poor blacks have to decide between electric bills, food, or rent. 

It would be beautiful to construct a campaign finance model that disrupts the status quo of political party leadership and incumbent elected officials.  A disruptive system that keeps black elected officials especially focused on why the masses elected them won’t be created by blacks beholden the party leadership and messaging that does not serve blacks.

  

Does an “open internet” promote a representative democracy? No, because democracy is not its job

Techopedia defines the open internet as “a fundamental network (net) neutrality concept in which information across the World Wide Web (WWW) is equally free and available without variables that depend on the financial motives of Internet Service Providers (ISP).”

The political debate over net neutrality over the last three years has focused on the ability of ISPs such as Comcast and AT&T to discriminate against third-party content provider traffic in favor of ISP content, to the extent that ISPs are expected to use their gateway status to slow down traffic from certain websites or outright block subscriber access to certain websites.

The internet as a platform plays an important role in American commerce as American consumers are expected to spend an estimated $7.8 billion on Cyber Monday. Net neutrality violations could mean lost advertisement revenues for content providers who are unable to get their products and advertisements in front of consumer eyeballs.  Being cut out of $7.8 billion of revenues during the holiday season could pose an existential threat for small businesses depending on those holiday sales to break even or stay in the black.

Besides the issue of staying in the black is the issue of whether an open internet promotes the components of American political culture; whether an open internet or lack thereof poses an existential threat to the American republic.  I think as currently construed, an open internet does not pose an existential threat to the American republic. On the contrary, when it comes to navigating the political-economic environment of the United States, knowledge on how well American representative democracy is working is best ascertained by reviewing hard political-economic data published by public agencies or academic or other research institutions.

The open internet has inundated the political economy with junk. It has Americans sacrificing value of specialized information for volumes of narcissistic junk.

First, why has the internet not eroded the American republic?  Contrary to the hoopla surrounding assertions that the Russian government sponsored psychological warfare on the American electorate during the November 2016 elections, the populace participated in the selection of the electors that voted for the president of the United States. More votes were cast for president in 2016 (135,719,984) than were cast in 2012 (128,768,094).

In addition, what I refer to as “insurgent” parties, i.e., the Green Party, the Libertarian Party, etc., did better in 2016 than they did in 2012.  The Gary Johnson-led Libertarian Party ticket picked up approximately 4.5 million votes in 2016 compared to 1.3 million votes in 2012.  The Jill Stein-led Green Party almost tripled its 2012 showing during the 2016 campaign, with approximately 1.5 million votes cast for the Green Party in 2016 versus approximately 470,000 votes in 2012.

Rather than eroding representative democracy, an argument could be made that the internet provided less expensive outlets for insurgent parties to get their messages out to the voting public.  I saw more of Gary Johnson and Jill Stein on YouTube than I did mainstream press.

America’s founding aristocracy chose a republic as the best vehicle for promoting the three major components of American political culture: liberty, equality, and democracy.  Does the open internet help promote these characteristics of American political culture? I would argue only if the government expressly decides to use the open internet itself in order to accomplish these goals or requires by charter that every private entity operating on the internet do so.

Liberty is freedom from government control where Americans expect a great degree of economic and personal freedom without the government unreasonably regulating personal and commercial behavior.  The open internet itself does not have this responsibility. In the end it is just a communications platform.  Problems would arise if government were to use the internet for surveillance purposes, i.e., use deep packet reading to ascertain what messages you are sending over the internet or, under the guise of “smart city” technology, surveil minority neighborhoods to regulate citizen movement.

Nor does the internet have the responsibility of creating political equality. Political equality refers to the right to participate in politics equally based on the principle of “one person, one vote.”  Notwithstanding the alleged Russian interference in the 2016 general elections, the “one person, one vote” characteristic of American political culture is, again, the responsibility of national and state governments.  Online voting as a concept is in its infant stage.  And while the Russians allegedly interfered by waging a messaging campaign via social media, there were other outlets, both online and offline, where Americans could get their information and strengthen their “one vote” with knowledge.

Lastly, there is democracy itself, the right to cast that one vote for the candidate of your choice.  How does the unimpeded flow of information across 100,000 interconnected global computer networks impact your ability to choose a leader? The above discussion summarizes the answer: it doesn’t.  Yes, one could go to the internet and look up information on a candidate, but there are millions of Americans with no access to broadband that function normally in society; that buy groceries, go to work, and yes, vote, without having to access the information floating around the internet that is deposited by various sources.  Besides traditional media, they probably access information from the original sources i.e. city council meetings; public access television, government agency public information offices, and make just as accurate a political decision as the woman surfing the internet in her bunny sandals and pajamas.

Yes, the internet has afforded millions of people to express themselves in cyberspace via blogs, websites, podcasts, and online videos, but the open internet neither promotes or hinders democracy.  Only humans can and there are other sources of information through which humans can accumulate knowledge on liberty, equality, and democracy.  Democracy is the responsibility of government and its citizens.  The open internet is neither savior, devil, or panacea….

Does Facebook’s business model disrupt the political information markets?

Facebook is engaging in a war against misinformation and divisiveness in the United States as perpetrated via social media, according to published reports by Bloomberg and The Atlanta Journal Constitution. Having done a 180 degree turn from its position last year that its platform was not used to cause a disruption of public opinion leading up to the 2016 presidential election, Facebook is using artificial intelligence tools to identify inauthentic posts and user behavior.  With teams comprised of data scientists, policy experts, and engineers, Facebook is blocking fake accounts and vetting news stories posted on its site.

Critics doubt that Facebook’s attempts to thwart future social media influence will outweigh its incentives to distribute fictional political stories that keep people glued to Facebook while providing advertisers with millions of pairs of eyeballs.  Facebook, according its 10-K annual report, garners almost of its revenues from advertising.  In 2017, advertising made up 98% of Facebook’s revenues.  According to Facebook’s 10-K, at the top of the list of factors that could adversely impact advertising revenues: decreases in user engagement, including a decline in the time spent using the company’s products.

Having used Facebook for eleven years, I witnessed the increase in the use of the platform as a tool for political engagement.  Facebook has expanded opportunities for voters to vet politicians and their policies.  I have seen a significant number of posts, including memes and video, that got the facts wrong; that showed no knowledge of process, politics, or economics.  Cynicism, fear, passion, inaccuracies, sincerity, patriotism, anarchy, and indifference all run rampant on Facebook.  But do I buy the argument that messages placed on Facebook by Russian agents spread so much misinformation that America became suddenly divided overnight? That “Russian interference led to a Trump victory?

No.  The divisiveness was already there.  Giving a couple hundred million Americans the ability to quickly share their thoughts, accurate or not, on the political news of day simply tore away the scab.

Further evidence of divisiveness in American politics: print, broadcast, and cable media.  American media is meeting the demand of a divided public, with Fox News occupying the Right and MSNBC and CNN serving the frenzied Left.

What Washington may truly be afraid of is that politicians have less control over the channels through which they are vetted.  On the one hand, Jeffrey Rosen, president of the Constitution Center, shared the following with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg:

“Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms have accelerated public discourse to warp speed, creating virtual versions of the mob.  Inflammatory posts based on passion travel farther and than arguments based on reason.  We are living, in short, in a Madisonian nightmare.”

On the other hand, Americans may be taking to Facebook, YouTube and Twitter in search of alternative opportunities to criticize the political packages and action plans that politicians offer in exchange for votes and increases in taxes.  The divisiveness may be stemming from an increased lack of enchantment with democracy itself.  After all, according to Professor Yuval Harari, democracies are “blips in history” depending on “unique technological conditions” and losing credibility as democracy faces more questions about its inability to provide for and maintain a middle class.

Democracy is hard up to explain why almost all the nine million jobs created post recovery from the 2007-2009 recession have been “gig work” paying little to no benefits.  Democracy has yet to come up with a solution to a wealth gap that the Left invests time in describing, laying blame at the feet of the rich yet coming up with no solutions for a society that prides itself on equal access to the ballot but still comes up short on adequate access to capital.

To the question whether Facebook’s business model has disrupted the political information markets, I would, for now, answer yes.  Facebook has contributed to bringing unreasonable, uninformed voices into the arena. I for one do not want to be lead or have policy fed by impassioned, unreasonable voices, no matter what part of the spectrum they fall on.  What the political class may have to look at for in the near term is that democracy may be less of a facilitator of a peaceful transfer of power between its factions as the mob continues to peel away the scab.

 

 

It will be up to people, not tech, to make government not relevant

Peter H. Diamandis penned an article recently that discusses whether technology, particularly artificial intelligence, will make government irrelevant. Failure to keep up with private sector digitization combined with declining trust on the part of its citizens, argues Dr. Diamandis, contributes to emerging technology knocking government off of its dominant perch.

While I see government remaining behind the private sector in the adoption of artificial intelligence, I don’t see the concept of government going away anytime soon.  If anything, at least in the short and intermediate run, emerging technologies are going to be used to augment what government does.

In addition, at the risk of sounding metaphysical, until humans can abandon corporeal form, they will always need access to physical infrastructure in order to get to work or entertainment venues or have goods transported between physical points.

Part of government’s role, the role that allows it to maintain its dominant perch, is its responsibility for maintaining and administering physical space.  Government in the United States, through its public works initiatives, leverages less than five percent of total national capital to carry out this role.

The American Public Works Association defines public works as the following:
“Public works is the combination of physical assets, management practices, policies, and personnel necessary for government to provide and sustain structures and services essential to the welfare and acceptable quality of life for its citizens.”

Public works is an increasingly information intensive endeavor and rather than allowing an emerging information economy disrupt government’s public management of physical jurisdiction, I see government using the information markets to strengthen its influence and control.

Some local and state governments are at the crossroads when it comes to extracting, organizing, and leveraging information and information technology in order to maintain their viability.  As Michael Ward wrote in 2015 during an assessment of the use of information technology by local and state government in Massachusetts, many of the Bay State’s agencies were not taking full advantage of data especially when it comes to determining how effective their local and state government programs are.

What Mr. Ward found were local and state agencies in general and public works agencies in particular using inadequate work order systems, relying instead on antiquated technology such as Post-it notes and e-mail.  He also found that in the era of big data, machine learning, and deep learning that not only were data entry skills lacking, but also lacking were the skills necessary for analyzing data.

But government, at least on the local and state level, doesn’t appear quite ready to abdicate its role in developing or deploying public infrastructure due to a failure to use data adequately.  One example is local government exploration of the use of geographic information system technology for public works projects.

National Geographic defines a geographic information system as a computer system for capturing, storing, checking, and displaying data related to positions on Earth’s surface.  There is an efficiency resulting from this type of mapping tool as it allows various amounts of data, i.e., vegetation, buildings, roads, etc., to be shown on one map. Combining various types of data allows easier analysis of patterns and relationships.

ESRI, in a 2006 white paper, provided examples of best practices for local governments that choose to use this tool for data gathering and management.  Extracting and sharing data within public works agencies and with other local government agencies is one benefit.  According to ESRI, public works employees can tap into data collected by GIS in order to create maps,, design new projects, build infrastructure, and manage existing assets.

But if information technology such as GIS exist, why the concern that government may become irrelevant as a result of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, deep learning, and machine learning?  Is it just wishful thinking on the part of libertarian-leaning technologists?  Is it a belief that technology is deterministic of how political power is going to be balanced or exercised? Is it the perception that government is notoriously slow to respond to change?

The answers to the above questions may be “yes”, but I believe that the existence or relevance of institutions such as government lays in the hands of the humans that created them.  Government and politics are social relationships that may be enhanced by technology.  Technology does shape how social and political actors engage each other, whether from attending a town hall meeting in person in 1960 to listening in via telephone in 1984 to streaming it live and watching on a smart phone in 2018. It won’t change, however, the need for humans to form factions that compete against one another for the control and management of public resources.

Government will remain relevant. In what form is always the question.