There is too much “we” in our mindless political analyses

Recently I saw a meme on my Facebook feed that asked, “How did my freedom end up in Afghanistan?” As July 4th approaches I cringe at the thought of all the patriotic messages that will be spewed especially by Blacks born here in the United States. Their thoughtless blithering on “freedoms” and “blessings” form the basis for the observation in the Afghan meme.

Thoughtless because it is beyond me how a small Central Asian country that has poppy as its main crop could pose any danger to my ability to walk around my neighborhood; eat my turkey sub; write this blog post; apply for a job; or watch a movie.  Yes, the Afghans are notorious for rightfully kicking the asses of imperialist British and Russian invaders, but if anyone’s freedom is being threatened, it is that of the Afghans who have a 150 year of more long history of battling uninvited guests.

Blacks in America should be especially mindful of latching on to the “we” word.  A group of people who only saw their rights as citizens fully incorporated by law within the past 60 years should be pulling back from the assimilation rhetoric of current misguided or disingenuous political leaders.  So quick to be accepted are blacks that it is easy to spout the mindless adages that will flow more freely than beer during July 4th.

It is too easy for blacks to scream that the Russians attacked “our” election process.  Really? How so? Did the Russians stop 20 million eligible black voters from going to the polls and choosing Hillary Clinton?  How is it “our” process when diverse voices within the black population can nary get support from fellow blacks?

The second problem with “we” is that it reinforces the myth that the black population is a political monolith.  Black over-indexing in support for the Democrats creates group speak and gives the Democratic Party the emotional, Pavlovian responses that make good sound bites for television talking heads and thirty-second video clips for MSNBC.

The appropriate unit of analysis for reflection should be “I”. Democracy and the partisan politics that flow from it have made Americans fearful of sounding selfish or anti-social. Avoiding the “we” is painted as anti-collective and creating disharmony.  Focusing on the “I” fears collectivists, especially the collectivists on the Left because the “I” means operating in an environment of mental and emotional discipline, and when operating in the space raises the chance that the individuals says, “Hey. Not so fast, collective. That’s not where I want to go.”

It is time to pursue more independent thinking. Time to stop fearing the “I”.

Morgan Freeman finds out that the internet has turned millions of Americans into lawyers, prosecutors, and jurors

The only thing missing from today’s internet charge, trial, and conviction of actor Morgan Freeman on allegations of sexual harassment at a workplace are the digital eyewitnesses like the ones that caught Al Franken play-fondling Lauren Tweeden’s breasts.  In Mr Freeman’s case, the eyewitnesses were human. The prosecutors, lawyers, and jurors, however, are mostly digitized and charges and convictions merge and rapidly go viral in a globe that is increasingly connected.

My title implies that the number of arm chair attorneys and jurors has increased. Check your Twitter and Facebook timelines and observe your followers and friends opining on allegations by eyewitnesses (allegations not yet entered into any legal record) and an apology issued by Mr Freeman (questionable as to whether it is admissible as evidence and probably meaningless since he admitted to nothing). As to whether the number of commenters contributed significantly to the degree of virility, I would answer that while there was some contribution, the number of commenters was not the significant contributor. The main contributor is the number of online editors or gatekeepers.  There are more people today that are giving a “thumbs up” to posting a story.

If you lived in Charlotte Amalie, U.S. Virgin Islands in the 1970s, you had one newspaper and two television stations providing you news. That meant three editors deciding what local news got broadcasted and back then local TV news coverage was sparse, in my opinion.  Today the internet has changed that.  Alternative online news sites and blogs mean that a non-story to one editor is a scoop to another. It is not that the same level of information is spreading faster. Viral means to increase the amount of available information that gets to more consumers via digital means.

The increase in the amount of information reported is compounded by an enlarged forum within which the public is exchanging ideas. Some net neutrality advocates would call an enlarged forum an example of the openness of the internet where more media consumers can be heard. Hence the millions of armchair lawyers and jurors.

How valuable are these opinions? In a court they don’t mean much. Judges and attorneys would not want juror assessment tainted by uninformed opinion, meaning these days they would have to look under a rock to find people outside an earshot of a podcast on the matter.  To a social scientist the public exchanges online provide some data on attitudes toward the tawdry behavior Mr Freeman is accused of, but as an experiment, as a measure of opinion the public exchanges don’t provide the best data because the collection is not subject to the best controls.

Probably the only benefit that matters is that people can claim that while they are not a lawyer, they slept at a Holiday Inn and the ability to vent support, denial, anger, or frustration en mass is benefit enough.

Toward a New Political Market: Rewiring Democracy to Make Entry More Expensive

Democracy has created a political market where prospective providers of political packages challenge each other for the vote and indirect control of society. The perception that democracy is about equal expression of multiple voices within society creates an opportunity for prospective providers of political packages to delineate the market by creating different packages for a variance of voter: marital rights for the LBGTQ community; increased funding for and an increased number of social welfare programs; or progressive changes in affirmative action programs where greater access is created for middle to upper income white women. The reality of democracy, where democracy is an institution that allows more factions to vie for control of society in a bloodless transfer of power, would still result in factions delineating political markets and offering more packages only because the pot has to be sweetened to garner voters into a faction’s camp.

Is this expansion of the supply-side and demand-side of the political markets a bad thing? I believe the answer is yes for the following reasons.

First, the suppliers of political packages and the voters that demand them are creating an ever increasingly expanding State.  As an instrument of the State, government has expanded way beyond what the framers of the Constitution intended.  Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution provided limited duties for the government; limited duties that included providing post offices, a national defense, the regulation of domestic and foreign commerce, the coining of money and protection against counterfeiting, the regulation of bankruptcies, the promotion of science and useful arts, and establishing courts. Any other police powers would be left to the individual states.

Today, the federal government is involved in many parts of the individual American’s personal life. The federal government has weighed in on abortion; the regulation of marriage; on the use of contraceptives; the amount of privacy for sexual acts between consenting adults; the use of radio frequencies by individuals; who a proprietor may serve or not serve in her store; whether an individual must enter the markets to buy health insurance; the amount of information businesses must share with consumers; the amount of information companies must share with investors; and the manner in which a private corporation must manage its communications networks.

For the individual who is best able to determine and promote her personal and economic self-interests, this expansion comes with administrative rules and procedures. It comes with limits on individual experience, growth, and decision-making. It comes with limits on freedom.

The mention of freedom provides a segue to the second reason: taxation. Among Congress’ powers is the power to lay taxes. Even with the limited powers of the Congress, I would expect the amount of taxes levied and collected from Americans to grow along with the population of the United States and the infrastructure and other needs the government would be expected to provide. But along with extra-Constitutional supply of political packages comes the additional costs of supplying those packages and a heftier tax bill to go along with it.

The limited enumerated powers afforded to the U.S. government per the Constitution do not support social welfare programs such as social security, Medicare, or Medicaid, yet programs like these account for a significant and growing portion of federal government expenditures.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, in fiscal year 2016, the federal government spent $3.9 trillion.  Social security spending accounted for 24% of federal budget spending. Together, Medicare, Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program, and other medical aid subsidies accounted for 26% of federal budget spending. Safety net programs such as refundable portions of the earned income tax credit, the child tax credit, supplemental security income, food stamps, school meals, and low-income housing assistance contributed nine percent of federal government spending.

For those believing that defense expenditures and aid to foreign governments take a larger share, think again. Military spending accounts for 16% of the budget. In addition, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, interest on money borrowed by the federal government amounts to six percent of the federal budget.

Approximately 84% of the fiscal year 2016 budget was financed by government revenues including taxes. Whether debt financing increases or not, Americans will still be on the hook for paying federal outlays or paying the debt as increased burdens due to increased programs and policies are crafted.

And the burdens will increase. Analysis by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates that the federal debt load as a percentage of gross domestic product will increase from 77% today to 96% by 2029.  Spending is expected to increase over the next ten years, from 20.8% of GDP in 2017 to 28.6% of GDP in 2027.

We have a political market place that is delivering tyranny. By creating more market participants, more issues are being spawned that lead to more expensive solutions chasing in some cases problems that do not exist. For the problems that do exist, the solutions that political packages promise are not blossoming. Democracy is failing. It is creating a society built on burden creation. A growing number of individuals no longer wish to carry the financial burdens the current representative democracy creates, especially when they are seeing no returns from their expenditures.

I propose one solution here for now: reduce the number of voters which will lead to a new voter base that providers of political packages will have to adjust to. The United States should require states to impose voter registration requirements every two years, with the registration closing one year before the midterm and general elections. Just like new immigrants are required to take a civics test in order to become naturalized citizens, Americans should be required to take a rigorous civics test in order to vote. Such a test will meet three goals.

First, a civics test will move the U.S. closer to ensuring a better-informed voter is entering the voting booth. In theory, a voter becomes a more effective citizen when they stay abreast of current political events and can apply critical thinking skills to assess those events. Today, this is just not happening.

Second, the required time to prepare and take the exam along with paying a nominal fee for taking the exam will leave the door open to only the most serious and informed voters. If democracy is to have any validity, shouldn’t participants demonstrate the concept’s importance by investing the time into taking the exam? Is this not the type of voter you want making decisions on leadership and issues placed in a referendum?

Last, a civics test challenges the very notion of democracy itself. I take to heart the following quote from Winston Churchill:

“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”

In today’s social media world, that argument extends into perpetuity given the overwhelming level of misinformation regurgitated by users of Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms. I at times wonder why these individuals are allowed into a voting booth and indirectly cause the creation of policies that for the most part work against my freedoms and liberties.

Democracy needs a reboot. It might just need to be tossed, at least on the national level. ….

 

Net neutrality: Good politics is about manipulating reality

Democracy gets too much credit as a platform for openness and equity. It operates efficiently by being the opposite: as a platform for manipulating reality by manipulating consensus. American society is under the mistaken belief that facts create reality. I would go further and say that Americans are confused as to the definition of the word “facts.” Engaged in an argument with the average bloke about politics and he will offer as fact his assertions based on what he perceives his surroundings to be as supported by something Joy Ann Reid or Sean Hannity said. That a fact should be measured and its existence corroborated would make his head spin. Measurement and corroboration require too much work and it is much easier to rely on feelings.

There is nothing wrong with feelings and perception per se as navigation tools for moving through life as an individual. As I get older I find myself increasingly comfortable with “going with the flow” of the day, an argument, an event. Being too linear in thinking for my personal daily life is restricting, cuts off the blood flow, creating an uptightness that drives my teenager crazy sometimes.  Sometimes you just have to say, “fuck it.”

But can a society take that attitude? I have some reservations at to what a society is purposed for but will share them some other time. For now, let us stick with a standard definition of what a society is, an organized group with some interest in common or group of persons forming a single community. While as individuals our daily rules of living may differ; you may choose to stay linear, I may choose the flow. A society, if it is to stay, by definition, cohesive must follow some standard that should be followed by everyone. It is a standard arrived at via some political mechanisms and agreed upon by consensus. The agreed upon standard is basis for the political, legal, and economic reality of the community.  Manipulate the consensus and you manipulate the reality.

Take for example the issue of net neutrality. Net neutrality is a set of principles that provide for transparency in the management of broadband networks, calls for equal treatment of all traffic flowing from all websites, and ensures that consumers are able to access the legal content of any website they choose to visit. In short, net neutrality guarantees an open and democratized internet experience.  Over the past fifteen years, ever since the inception of the concept via a paper written by a law professor, net neutrality has become for millions of Americans their internet reality.

Net neutrality is an example of manipulated consensus creating a new reality. Prior to 2003, there was no “net neutrality” concept. All traffic could not, and today arguably cannot, be treated the same. Latency, speed, and bandwidth requirements differ between types of content. Video form RealNetworks in the year 2000 used more bandwidth than an email. Remember your buffering issues? In 2018 while the buffering problems have been adequately addressed to the point where we can watch a two-hour movie on our laptops, a video still uses more bandwidth than email.  But why and how did the new consensus come about, that all traffic should be treated equally, even in the face of facts regarding network management?

First the why. In the early 1990s, alternative network providers, including cable television companies, offered services where they would take a business customer’s calling traffic, route it around a telephone company’s network, and deliver the traffic to the customer’s designated location. This was called bypass.   As revenues and profits increased and technology improved, these companies started their own local telephone networks competing for residential as well as business traffic. In these early local telephone competition days, the traffic that new entrants handed off to incumbent telephone companies was less than the traffic the new entrants received from incumbents. Instead of paying each other for the traffic they exchanged, they decided to merely keep the revenues they received from their own subscribers.

Competitors became increasingly successful and given the increased traffic they provided to the incumbents, the incumbents decided to start pursuing payments. New entrants including fledgling new content providers wanted to maintain the neutrality of payments i.e. no payment exchange, meaning that traffic should continue to be treated with neutrality. This was the beginning of the net neutrality argument.

Now, the how. Politics is about marketing to vote providers and behind good marketing is good communications. First, you make a legal and regulatory argument that neutral exchange of traffic is good policy and should be set in rule. Second, you approach regulators and the courts with this principle and try to convince them as to the feasibility, efficacy, and legality of such a rule. Lastly, to secure the rule once it has been passed, or to gain more support should the rule face roadblocks, you enlist an ignorant public with a narrative that net neutrality is about “open networks” and “freedom on the internet.” Get 4 million signatures on post cards mailed to the Federal Communications Commission and get John Oliver to go on television and skip 20 years of telecommunications history and you can change consensus on what net neutrality is really about.

So far, the efforts have put net neutrality on the political radar.  Efforts by the Federal Communications Commission to remove net neutrality rules from the books are being met in court by proponents for net neutrality rules. How it plays out, I don’t know. I do know that good politics is about effective manipulation of consensus and consensus creates the reality of net neutrality.

The Russian attack on democracy was ineffective because they don’t understand democracy.

American democracy is about the creation of a political marketplace where the taxpayer receives certain protective services in exchange for her vote. These services include police services, fire services, transportation services, commercial trade platforms, cultural services, legal and regulatory frameworks, and education services, to name a few. They are delivered by local, state, and federal governments and their costs are recovered by government in the form of property, sales, and income taxes and other fees.

Politicians squabble before, during, and after the election season on how best these services should be delivered, how much the government should pay to deliver them, and how much of the bill the taxpayer should foot for the government’s efforts. Classical liberal, progressive, and conservative philosophies collide during these debates and the clash of perspective is most apparent during election season when more people are paying attention. To secure the majority of voter approval for position and philosophy, politicians engage in the blood sport of electioneering, a blood sport that includes embellishments, character assassinations, and a lot of misinformation.

Reports abound of how a Russian firm, the Internet Research Agency, entered the political fray between 2014 and 2016 and used social media posts, tweets, and blogs to upset the elections. Their activity during an election year would have been business as usual were it not for their status as foreign agents conducting these activities. Whether or not they upset the political markets with their activity will be hard to determine.

For example, will investigators be able to say that the cost of the exchange of the vote for services increased due to Russian interference? I see no data that describes politicians seeking higher taxes for government spending as a result of any information provided by Russian trolls.

Did any information introduced into the political markets by the Internet Research Agency cause voters to leave the market? I have heard one argument that black voter participation fell because of Russian disinformation about Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton has drawn the ire of some blacks as a result of her description of black teenagers as “predators” and her Clinton Foundation taking financial advantage of earthquake relief efforts in Haiti. It is questionable whether any additional misinformation by the Russians could have created any further negative view of Mrs Clinton by blacks. She may have done enough on her own.

American democracy bases societal cohesion on the vote, the ability of the masses to elect its leaders. Leaders promise, as I laid out before, protective services. But what would happen to the democratically-based cohesion if the dependence of Americans on protective services were drastically reduced or eliminated? What if more Americans had 3-D printers and could manufacture their own tools or furniture? What if more Americans grew their own vegetables in their own apartments? What if more Americans were able to take advantage of devices that use unlicensed spectrum in order to form their own local communications networks and reduce their communications expenses? What if more Americans used solar or wind to energize their homes? What if engineers could design apartment buildings such that each unit could take advantage of solar energy?

A true attack on American democracy would be a demonstration of how to live independent of the political elites that thrive on the electorate’s unwillingness to be or ignorance of independence. Whether a democracy or an authoritarian regime, nation-states are about centralizing power. When they attack each other, destroying the core is all that is needed for the knockout punch. Given the Russian Federation’s history of allowing true freedom, an attack on democracy based on independent sovereignty would be thinking way outside the box.

No, American democracy was never really attacked by the Russians. It simply got poked by a player who didn’t have the legal credentials to enter the ring.

 

Net neutrality rules proceeded from a no value premise

Back in the early 1990s, a higher value was placed by the consumer on her use of the internet and the dial-up services that were used to access it. It was expensive paying either per use or per minute or hour or day depending on your AOL package. The analog telephone service sometime required additional toll fees to access online providers. You didn’t take for granted your time used to access or be online. You made a cost=benefit analysis regarding the time online and paid for the value of the information you retrieved.

Our perspective on value for being online has changed. We have gone from waiting till after 9 pm or weekends to make a long distance call in order to save on toll fees to having bundled wire or wireless services that have eliminated toll calling. You no longer wait minutes for a 100-page document. Such a document can be downloaded in and shared with others around the globe in seconds. Our appreciation for the cost of being online has fallen so low that a significant number of Americans believe that using online resources to transmit videos of singing cats has equal value to data containing vital procedures for surgery.

Net neutrality has spawned the delusion that democracy requires equal treatment of all traffic, no matter how mundane, non-substantive, or perverse. It is time to reverse this perversion by imputing a value component to online access and data exchange. A crucial first step toward bringing back value is the repeal of the Federal Communications Commission’s 2015 open internet order and the no-value rules that it created.

True network neutrality cannot occur if agreements on the pricing of the exchange of traffic are overseen by the federal government.  Content delivery networks, internet information portals, and broadband access providers should negotiate traffic exchange freely and allow their assessment of the value of traffic exchange determine price. These carriers have data on the value the consumer places on their content and access services and can design the proper price points for recovering costs and generating profits.

For the end-use consumer, a day of reckoning will occur. Will they meet the new demand for price recovery issued by content providers by paying higher prices?  Or will they spend less time on the internet? Some may see value by paying additional fees to content providers. For those who don’t, they will threaten to abandon internet networks or reduce the time spent on them. This will provide content and network providers to become innovative by providing tiers of services that give the consumer additional flexibility on payment and usage.

In the end, network neutrality won’t “destroy democracy” on the internet. To be technical, democracy is about choosing political leaders and until we have elections via the internet, the democracy argument is nonsense. What we will have, with the elimination of these rules, is a conduit of commerce being subjected to market rules voluntarily entered into by its participants.