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On the Antifragile Political Campaigns of Sanders and Trump: 1

April 24, 2016 7 comments

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the nomination process for the 2016 presidential election has been most unusual- for both the democratic and republican party. Based on how things look right now, it is very likely that Donald Trump will be the republican candidate for the presidency. On the other side- the officially anointed candidate (aka Hillary Clinton) will not be able to get the democratic nomination through elected delegates alone, IF it comes to that. Some of you might think that this situation is not that big a deal or things like this have happened before. Well.. things like this have not occurred before- at least not in living memory. Let me explain.

Ask yourself- when was the last time republicans selected a presidential nominee who had not previously been elected to any public office? Here is a hint.. he won the 1952 and 1956 general election. On the other side- when was the last time an independent socialist non-observant Jew was a serious and extremely popular candidate for the democratic party nomination? What about- never! My point is that the immense popularity of traditionally shunned outsider candidates in both parties at the same time tells us that something pretty fundamental about the american political system has recently undergone a major change. The successful candidacy campaigns of both these outsider candidates does however raise another important question.

Why has the establishment of both parties, including their coteries of supposedly “apolitical” gatekeepers and subservient presstitutes been so spectacularly unsuccessful at derailing the candidacy campaigns of Sanders and Trump?

Why do Trump and Sanders keep on winning primaries inspite of constantly negative coverage by supposedly “mainstream” and “respectable” media outfits? Why does every attempt by the establishment and media to concoct a narrative about how those campaigns get rebuffed by the results of the next set of primaries? Why has the cacophony of opinion pieces against both candidates by supposed “experts” and “professionals” made no worthwhile dent in their popularity, ability to raise money or the enthusiasm of their supporters? Why do mainstream media attack on these candidates result in an increase in their popularity, donations to their campaigns and ever bigger rallies?

Clearly, something about the established way of doing politics in the USA is no longer working. But what is not working and why now? Well.. as I wrote in my previous post, there are many mutually reinforcing reasons for this change. A significant part of this change has to do with the rapid and terminal decline in trust of the “establishment”, its “institutions” and their “experts” and “professionals” among the general public. Basically, today only older adults (above 50 yrs?) have a significant amount of residual trust in the old order. The rest, especially the younger ones, have seen and experienced too much to have worthwhile amounts of belief in the old order.

I will address the issue of people losing trust in the “establishment”, its “institutions”, “experts” and “professionals” as it applies to the current political environment in future posts. This one is, however, about a smaller issue peripherally related to that topic.

How can Bernie and Donald treat their respective party establishments with a mixture of open contempt and disdain? How can they get away with not playing by the “establishment” rules? How can they get away with basically telling their party establishments to go fuck themselves? Why are they not submitting to the rules and opinions of their party establishments- like every other potential presidential candidate in living memory? What makes them immune to the pressures of their respective party establishments?

Well.. it comes down to the fact they have no real reason to play by the rules. In the case of Bernie Sanders, who has been an independent since he entered politics, pissing of the democratic establishment carries no real consequences for him. He is in his mid-70s and a very popular senator from a state that likes politicians like him. Perhaps more importantly, he is not doing this to make tons of money and therefore has no vested interest in playing nice with the party establishment in case he does not succeed. His plan B is to continue being the Senator from Vermont.

Donald Trump, too, is also not doing it for the money. While he may not be worth over 10 billion, as he claims, he is still a multi-billionaire. His failure to win, therefore, has no worthwhile effect on his financial situation. He will still be filthy rich and famous. He also has no reason to play by “establishment” rules. Furthermore he knows the political establishment is full of greedy spineless critters who will come back begging him for campaign contributions in the future. In other words- he knows who is the driver’s seat and why.

Contrast the situation of Bernie and Donald to “establishment” politicians whose entire careers, fortunes and legacies are dependent on how well they play with whichever asshole or group of assholes is driving their party at any given moment. Do you think Hillary or Bill Clinton would be anything without the support of the “establishment” in the democratic party. What about Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Jeb Bush or even George W Bush? Do you think they would be anything without unfailing loyalty to whichever asshole or group of assholes is dominating the republican party at any given moment?

My point is that the outsider candidates in both parties are just not in a situation where the “establishment” of those parties can exert any worthwhile influence on them. Consequently, Sanders is very likely to go all the way to the end of the primary nomination process for the democratic party. Trump is also going to go all the way to the republican convention and any attempt to deny him the nomination WILL fuck up the republican party for many years- if it can survive in its current form past the 2016 election.

What do you think? Comments?

How the Internet Killed the Efficacy and Careers of Political Strategists

April 21, 2016 3 comments

One of the more significant, but largely overlooked, change in the american political arena within the last decade concerns the obvious impotency and rapidly declining role of political strategists in wining party nominations and elections. It was not that long ago when names like Lee Atwater, Karl Rove and Roger Ailes evoked feared in those who ran against the politicians who employed them.

While a significant part of their fearsome reputations was based on myth and hearsay, it is also clear that their “dirty tricks” were somewhat effective in winning close elections. We all remember how George W Bush “won” the 2000 presidential election. But that was over a decade ago and the presidential elections of 2004 were the last major elections in USA where such political consultants were able to influence the final electoral results to any measurable degree.

Since then political consultants have been, by and large, unable to influence major elections at the national and increasingly the state and local level. Some of you might remember the very public humiliations and irrelevancy suffered by once feared political operatives like Karl Rove and Roger Ailes during the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns. You might also be aware of how Donald Trump destroyed the presidential aspirations of his far better funded and establishment rivals in the still ongoing race for the republican nomination.

So what is going on? Why are all the old and new “machiavellian geniuses” unable to influence american elections like their predecessors? Why do they seem to spend more time as TV pundits, Authors and make most of their income from job descriptions that fit the definition of a Sinecure? Why is somebody like Donald Trump winning the republican primary? Why is Bernie Sanders still competitive in the democratic primary?

Well.. there are many reasons for this change ranging from the still ongoing impoverishment of the average american to the (also still ongoing) post-2008 loss of public trust in all credentialed professionals and institutions. However the most important, and central, reason for the terminal impotency of political strategists is linked to the rise of decentralized, fast and structurally uncontrollable spread of information over the internet. And it does not work the way most of you think…

The conventional narrative about the effects of information spreading over the internet is based on a pleasant-sounding fallacy. Most people believe political change over the internet is almost exclusively due to people using it the educate themselves about the “facts”. While that is sorta true for objective “facts” like the stuff found in textbooks on physics and chemistry- it is not the case for information about subjective issues such as politics.

The biggest, and most important, effect of the internet on politics is that it makes pretty much everyone extremely cynical of the whole political process. The sheer amount of opinions supporting or denouncing any given position on any issue almost guarantees that most people will stick to what they believed in the first place. It is this widespread cynicism which more than anything defeats attempts to sway opinions through sophistic rhetoric, “dirty tricks”, advertisements and appeals to morality.

This is why all attempts by MSM to attack Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump have had virtually no negative effects on those who support their campaigns. Indeed, the scorn of the MSM and its paid pundits has increased, rather than decreased, public support for both outsider candidates. This is why Bernie and Trump rallies can easily get tens of thousands of enthusiastic supporters while mainstream politicians like Hillary or Cruz struggle to get a tenth or twentieth of that number.

Another interesting effect of internet driven cynicism is that the physical appearance of politicians is far less important than it was even ten years ago. People have now come to associate a “professional” look and grooming with dishonesty. In other words, people are now far more likely to trust (or not distrust) somebody who looks like Bernie or Trump than somebody who looks like Hillary, Rubio, Cruz or Mitt Romney. I had predicted something along these lines in one of my older posts- How ‘Anodyne’ Communication Destroys Societal Trust.

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting Links: Apr 19, 2016

April 19, 2016 2 comments

Here are links to a few interesting articles I came across recently. They are all about how neoliberalism aka late-stage capitalism is busy killing its host.

Link 1: The Mental Disease of Late-Stage Capitalism

Seriously though, we should have seen this coming. Build an economic system based on wealth hoarding and presumed scarcity and you’ll get what was intended. The system is performing exactly as it was designed to. That is why wages have stagnated in the West for 30 years. It is why 62 people are able to have the same amount of wealth as 3.7 billion. It is why politicians are bought by the highest bidders and legislation systematically serves the already-rich at the expense of society. A great irony of this deeply corrupt system of wealth hoarding is that the “weapon of choice” is how we feel about ourselves as we interact with our friends. The elites don’t have to silence us. We do that ourselves by refusing to talk about what is happening to us. Fake it until you make it. That’s the advice we are given by the already successful who have pigeon-holed themselves into the tiny number of real opportunities society had to offer. Hold yourself accountable for the crushing political system that was designed to divide us against ourselves.

Link 2: The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans Important – ignore all popup messages from this site requesting you to whitelist it on Adblock Plus!

I know what it is like to have to juggle creditors to make it through a week. I know what it is like to have to swallow my pride and constantly dun people to pay me so that I can pay others. I know what it is like to have liens slapped on me and to have my bank account levied by creditors. I know what it is like to be down to my last $5—literally—while I wait for a paycheck to arrive, and I know what it is like to subsist for days on a diet of eggs. I know what it is like to dread going to the mailbox, because there will always be new bills to pay but seldom a check with which to pay them. I know what it is like to have to tell my daughter that I didn’t know if I would be able to pay for her wedding; it all depended on whether something good happened. And I know what it is like to have to borrow money from my adult daughters because my wife and I ran out of heating oil.

Financial impotence goes by other names: financial fragility, financial insecurity, financial distress. But whatever you call it, the evidence strongly indicates that either a sizable minority or a slim majority of Americans are on thin ice financially. How thin? A 2014 Bankrate survey, echoing the Fed’s data, found that only 38 percent of Americans would cover a $1,000 emergency-room visit or $500 car repair with money they’d saved. Two reports published last year by the Pew Charitable Trusts found, respectively, that 55 percent of households didn’t have enough liquid savings to replace a month’s worth of lost income, and that of the 56 percent of people who said they’d worried about their finances in the previous year, 71 percent were concerned about having enough money to cover everyday expenses. A similar study conducted by Annamaria Lusardi of George Washington University, Peter Tufano of Oxford, and Daniel Schneider, then of Princeton, asked individuals whether they could “come up with” $2,000 within 30 days for an unanticipated expense. They found that slightly more than one-quarter could not, and another 19 percent could do so only if they pawned possessions or took out payday loans.

Link 3: Why Are Voters Angry? It’s the 1099 Economy, Stupid.

Meanwhile, in my time as a freelancer I could never access health-care or pension-benefit plans. If production took a day off for a holiday, nobody got paid. If you set up a gig and the production schedule got pushed back a week, so did your opportunity to earn money. Sick days and personal days didn’t exist. I remember once being sick but still coming in for a late-night editing shift, taking medication to get me through the evening. I didn’t notice that the cold medicine I took was Tylenol PM until I fell asleep in my chair. I played loud music with the windows down on my more-treacherous-than-it-needed-to-be drive home late that night. But I got paid. These are sadly typical stories of those disempowered at work, with all the risks put on their shoulders. “Angry” voters may simply be angry workers tossed into the Darwinian world of the modern economy, operating without any fallback support from their employers or their government. This was bound to find its way into our politics, but though solutions for these workers exist, nobody is talking about them.

The way the 1099 economy is sold, with airy platitudes about freedom and being your own boss, doesn’t correspond to the very real anxiety of this type of arrangement. You’re cut off from any safety net that relies on employers. You have an unpaid, part-time job consisting of getting your next job and making sure you get paid for your last job. Your taxes are a nightmare to unravel. You have no advocates for you in the workplace, and little bargaining power to improve your lot. The fact that this shift toward the 1099 economy occurred mostly during a terrible labor market suggests it was never a matter of worker choice, but an exercise of employer power. And it’s become a frustration for millions, a confirmation of the rigged economy that places more of a burden on ordinary people. It certainly informs this anti-establishment, anti-business-as-usual political moment.

Link 4: The New Astrology

But despite the funding crunch, it’s a bull market for academic economists. According to a 2015 sociological study in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, the median salary of economics teachers in 2012 increased to $103,000 – nearly $30,000 more than sociologists. For the top 10 per cent of economists, that figure jumps to $160,000, higher than the next most lucrative academic discipline – engineering. These figures, stress the study’s authors, do not include other sources of income such as consulting fees for banks and hedge funds, which, as many learned from the documentary Inside Job (2010), are often substantial. Ben Bernanke, a former academic economist and ex-chairman of the Federal Reserve, earns $200,000-$400,000 for a single appearance. Unlike engineers and chemists, economists cannot point to concrete objects – cell phones, plastic – to justify the high valuation of their discipline. Nor, in the case of financial economics and macroeconomics, can they point to the predictive power of their theories. Hedge funds employ cutting-edge economists who command princely fees, but routinely underperform index funds.

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting Links: Apr 13, 2016

April 13, 2016 4 comments

Readers of this blog might remember that, a month or so ago, I had posted a piece about how Bernie will almost certainly take the fight to the democratic convention in July to ensure that the public image of Shrillary (and the DNC) is damaged beyond repair. At that time, some of you thought that Bernie would either not take it that far or be too nice to go through with such a destructive plan. Well.. it turns out that “professional” journalists are now starting to consider the plausibility of that scenario.

A Contested Democratic Convention Is Now a Near Statistical Certainty

Hillary Clinton needs to win 65.3 percent of the remaining pledged delegates to avoid a contested Democratic convention at which she and Bernie Sanders separately plead their cases to the Party’s 714 unpledged “super-delegates.” Democratic candidates in 2016 need 2,383 pledged delegates to win the Party’s nomination via pledged delegates alone. Barring Senator Sanders dropping out of the Democratic race prior to the New York primary, it is virtually impossible for Secretary Clinton to hit that mark.

Few can doubt that, from a practical standpoint, the stronger case at a contested Democratic Convention lies with Sanders — given that the purpose of any Party-sponsored primary race is to find the candidate most likely to win in a general election — but nearly 100 percent of mainstream media pundits predict that not only will Sanders not win a majority of super-delegates, but also that his case to them (above) is unlikely to sway more than fifty of the 714 total super-delegates (7 percent). If the two competing arguments above look like a 93 percent-to-7 percent Clinton win to you, congratulations — you don’t struggle with cognitive dissonance and the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this July is likely to make perfect sense to you.

Hillary Clinton’s Superdelegate Problem

It’s possible that Sanders would do what Clinton did in 2008 if he loses the final pledged-delegate count. Campaigns, including Clinton’s in 2008, have a tendency to promise that they’ll fight all the way to the convention as a means of rallying supporters, but once the voters have finished voting, they call it a day. But Hillary Clinton in 2008 was a much different person than Bernie Sanders is in 2016. She was, and is, a party player, and taking her doomed fight to the convention in 2008 would have crippled her legacy within the party and her chances for running again in the future. Sanders, as the Clinton campaign likes to point out, is much less a party man, and he’s also in his mid-70s, meaning it’s highly unlikely that he would run for president again. What does he have to lose by contesting the convention other than the admiration of his peers, which he never had in the first place?

Democrats created superdelegates to give party leaders a final check over nominations after the reforms of the 1970s, in their opinion, gave too much power to primary voters. But the superdelegate trigger has never been pulled. Voters have always chosen nominees that the party deems acceptable, and it would destroy the party if superdelegates ever did overturn the clear preference of the voters. What superdelegates have done is dilute the pool of pledged delegates and make it that much harder for the leading candidate to compile a delegate majority solely from pledged delegates. That in turn gives someone like, say, Bernie Sanders a justification for extending his fight into the convention if he’s willing to shatter certain norms of intra-party etiquette. And as you’ve probably noticed, norms aren’t doing so hot in politics these days.

So there you have it. The presstitutes are now starting to consider the scenario which was simultaneously obvious AND beyond their willingness to imagine it. Then again, almost nobody in any position of power at the start of WW1 or WW2 thought those wars would last so long and have such profound and lasting effects on human history.

What do you think? Comments?

An Interesting Comparison of Donald Trump with Clodius Pulcher

April 12, 2016 1 comment

I recently came across an interesting article comparing Donald Trump to a famous roman populist/demagogue who was a contemporary of Julius Caesar. The author of the piece is trying to point out that unconventional and populist political figures such as Trump can be found throughout recorded history.

Ancient Rome’s Donald Trump

The man who ultimately brought down the system was a wealthy and ambitious nobleman named Publius Clodius Pulcher, a populist demagogue who refused to play by the rules. Clodius had always been eccentric and unpredictable in ways that both shocked and amused the Roman populace. As a young man, he had incited a mutiny among his brother-in-law’s troops. Then, when pirates captured him, he took deep offense at the small ransom they accepted for his release. Nothing was sacred to Clodius. The more audacious his behavior, the more the public loved him for it. In Rome, for example, Clodius, a noted ladies’ man, committed sacrilege by dressing up as a woman and infiltrating the female-only religious festival of the goddess Bona Dea, with the aim of seducing Pompeia, Julius Caesar’s wife. The scandal led Caesar to divorce Pompeia, and gave rise to the famous quip that Caesar’s wife needed to be beyond suspicion.

After the elite rebuffed him, Clodius began breaking every rule in his quest for power. He gave up his standing as a nobleman and officially joined the plebs, positioning himself as the leader of the angry Roman working classes. Using his natural charm, fiery rhetoric, and keen sense of how to play establishment politicians against each other, he rammed through legislation establishing the first regular handout of free grain in Western history. This provided him with a huge following among the common people, especially those who had lost their jobs in recent economic upheavals. He became the king of the Roman streets and unleashed a populist uprising unlike anything the Republic had ever seen. Rome’s ruling classes had no idea how to control Clodius, whom they continued to despise. If the Republic were going to be destroyed, the famous orator and establishment politician Cicero lamented, at least let it fall by the hand of a real man.

My take on it however a bit different and darker. I see Clodius Pulcher as the almost inevitable consequence of a fundamentally unstable socio-economic system. It is reasonably well-known that the transition of Rome from a medium-sized republic to a full-fledged and multi-ethnic empire (200 BC- 50 BC) was frequently less than positive for most roman citizens. Multiple empire building wars, conquest of new lands and importing slaves was however extremely profitable to the oligarchs (and wannabe oligarchs) who pretended to run Rome as a republic. It is therefore no surprise that levels of internal unrest in Rome rose alongside the expansion of its empire. The continuous infighting and scheming among various shifting factions of the oligarchs also made Rome far less governable than when it was a regional south Italian republic. All of these changes and related neglect of the needs of average romans resulted in high levels of discontent among the population.

Clodius Pulcher was certainly not the first to exploit generalized public discontent of romans with their supposedly “elected” leaders. Nor was he the first to use wars and other crises to bypass republican limits on individual power. He just happened to be an especially skilled demagogue and politician. Pulcher’s biggest and especially relevant innovation was his grasp of the of popularity of social welfare programs in combination with organised strong-arm tactics which were previously the domain of oligarchs. He understood that most average romans were just not buying into all the ideological bullshit that most other oligarchs of his time assumed. Clodius Pulcher also, correctly, figured out that manipulating and humiliating other elitist oligarchs greatly increased his popularity- in addition to discrediting his opponents. It also helped that he was in the right position at the right time. History may not repeat itself perfectly, but it often rhymes.

What do you think?

Interesting Links: Apr 8, 2016

April 8, 2016 4 comments

Here are links to a few interesting articles I came across recently. They are all about how “law enforcement” agencies left to their own devices will always screw over their host societies.

Link 1: CIA’s Venture Capital Arm Is Funding Skin Care Products That Collect DNA

Skincential Sciences, a company with an innovative line of cosmetic products marketed as a way to erase blemishes and soften skin, has caught the attention of beauty bloggers on YouTube, Oprah’s lifestyle magazine, and celebrity skin care professionals. Documents obtained by The Intercept reveal that the firm has also attracted interest and funding from In-Q-Tel, the venture capital arm of the Central Intelligence Agency. The previously undisclosed relationship with the CIA might come as some surprise to a visitor to the website of Clearista, the main product line of Skincential Sciences, which boasts of a “formula so you can feel confident and beautiful in your skin’s most natural state.”

The article, which is no longer available on the fund’s website but is preserved by a cache hosted by the Internet Archive, argues that advances in medical research into biomarkers can be leveraged by intelligence agencies for a variety of uses, from airport security to next-generation identification tools. A diagram in the article calls human skin the body’s largest organ and a “unique, underutilized source for sample collection.” The author, Dr. Kevin O’Connell, then a “senior solutions architect” with In-Q-Tel, notes, “The DNA contained in microorganisms in a person’s gut or on a person’s skin may contain sequences that indicate a particular geographical origin.”

Link 2: L.A. Activists Want to Bring Surveillance Conversation Down to Earth

Khan’s coalition works to track, publicize, and ultimately dismantle the highly intrusive ways the Los Angeles Police Department surveils the area’s citizens, using an infrastructure of advanced intelligence gathering linked to federal government counterterrorism initiatives. The LAPD uses big data for “predictive policing,” street cameras with highly accurate facial recognition capabilities, Stingrays, and DRT boxes — which imitate cellphone towers to track nearby phones or jam signals — automatic license plate readers, body cameras, and drones. “How many different ways are our bodies being constantly tracked, traced, and monitored, not just online?” Khan asked in a phone interview.

Many of the policies adopted in L.A., he says, were originally developed to fight terrorism overseas — including predictive policing methods first funded by the U.S. military to track insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now they’re “becoming a part of local policing,” Khan said. The coalition discovered that the National Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative, launched in 2008, gives LAPD license to “write up secret files on individuals based on speculation and hunches.” The group learned from an LAPD inspector general report in 2014 that over 30 percent of these reports are written about black people in L.A. — where less than 10 percent of the entire population is black.

Link 3: Spies in the Skies

Each weekday, dozens of U.S. government aircraft take to the skies and slowly circle over American cities. Piloted by agents of the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the planes are fitted with high-resolution video cameras, often working with “augmented reality” software that can superimpose onto the video images everything from street and business names to the owners of individual homes. At least a few planes have carried devices that can track the cell phones of people below. Most of the aircraft are small, flying a mile or so above ground, and many use exhaust mufflers to mute their engines — making them hard to detect by the people they’re spying on. The government’s airborne surveillance has received little public scrutiny — until now. BuzzFeed News has assembled an unprecedented picture of the operation’s scale and sweep by analyzing aircraft location data collected by the flight-tracking website Flightradar24 from mid-August to the end of December last year, identifying about 200 federal aircraft. Day after day, dozens of these planes circled above cities across the nation.

But most of these government planes took the weekends off. The BuzzFeed News analysis found that surveillance flight time dropped more than 70% on Saturdays, Sundays, and federal holidays. “The fact that they are mostly not flying on weekends suggests these are relatively run-of-the-mill investigations,” Nathan Freed Wessler, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Project on Speech, Privacy, and Technology, told BuzzFeed News. The government’s aerial surveillance programs deserve scrutiny by the Supreme Court, said Adam Bates, a policy analyst with the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington, D.C. “It’s very difficult to know, because these are very secretive programs, exactly what information they’re collecting and what they’re doing with it,” Bates told BuzzFeed News.

What do you think? Comments?

A Couple of Especially Accurate YouTube Parodies about Hillary Clinton

April 2, 2016 1 comment

Recently, I came across a number of scarily accurate parodies about Hillary Clinton on YouTube. It is worth noting that the channels producing these parodies have a strong progressive ideological bent- suggesting that a large number of younger generation in the USA are incapable of seeing Hillary as anything other than a calculating and greedy robot.

Here are two examples..

Clip 1: Hillary Clinton’s Lena Dunham Strategy (Above Average)

Clip 2: What’s Inside Hillary Clinton’s Pockets (CollegeHumor)

What do you think? Comments?

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