Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Future Perspectives… and does the ACLU (at last) understand sousveillance?

== Perspectives on our future ==

Smithsonian-imaginationA reminder: I’ll be performing at this event in mid May -- THE FUTURE IS HERE: Science meets Science Fiction, Imagination, Inspiration and Invention --  will be a lavish/spectacular event MAY 16-18, 2014 in Washington DC, presented by the Smithsonian Magazine in collaboration with the UC San Diego  Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, Nerd Nite, Smithsonian Grand Challenges Consortia, and the Smithsonian Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation.

Presenters include: Patrick Stewart, David Brin, Kim Stanley Robinson, Brian Greene,  Adam Steltzner, George Takei,  Stewart Brand, Sara Seager, and some of the Mythbusters .

Reaching back a bit…I had a chance to speak with the mighty maven of tech-future Journalism, Tim O'Reilly, during my previous visit to Washington DC. The next day in Forbes, Tim cited me with the following quotation: "It is intrinsically impossible to know if someone does not have information about you. It is much easier to tell if they do something to you." His article, The Creep Factor: How to Think about Big Data and Privacy, is cogent.

Dragnet-Nation-cover-art Elsewhere I tout Julia Angwin's Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance. It' a very entertaining and wise book, in which Ms. Angwin kindly cites my book (The Transparent Society) as partial inspiration. But here's a quotation from an interview the author recently gave… a thought-provoking call for us to drop the sick temptations of cynicism and to re-acquire that good old, optimistic, can-do spirit.

"I am aware that I take a slightly irrationally optimistic view of this. But I also think that the only way to get change is to be irrationally optimistic. Change happens all the time. I compare privacy to environmental damage. We lived in a world where we were perfectly willing to tolerate our rivers catching fire and the air being filled with soot and people dying of black lung disease and then all of a sudden, after 50 years of that, we decided maybe we don’t want that kind of world. And we’ve been very successful at cleaning up our environment. We did it partly through laws, but we also did it by changing our social norms. I mean if you told someone 50 years ago that Upper East Side women in fur would be picking up their dog’s poop, they would have laughed at you. But we did it, we changed our social habits. I think privacy is a similar social problem. It’s something that we will change both through laws and also through being smart about what choices we make about what technology we use." 

I had a chance to meet Ms. Angwin during a privacy (IAPP) conference in DC a few months back. Delightful and very smart.

== Is the ACLU Catching On? At last? ==

alpr-slide-title-720x450-v02_0License plate readers and face recognition are already ubiquitous. And Vigilant Solutions is bringing it to you. And yes, the ACLU is (legitimately) concerned about increasing powers of unbalanced surveillance. And yes, the ACLU joins those (foolishly) whining about it, instead of seeking the obvious and only possible answer.
Only… maybe I am too harsh. The ACLU report, "You Are Being Tracked," does conclude by suggesting two reforms that smack of intelligent sousveillance…

1) People should be able to find out if plate data of vehicles registered to them are contained in a law enforcement agency’s database.

2) Any entity that uses license plate readers should be required to report its usage publicly on at least an annual basis.

Okay… maybe they are starting to catch on. Still, to even imagine that we won't all be using face-recog and things like license plate scanning in the near future displays the kind of stunning myopia that always puzzles me, when displayed by intelligent and well-meaning people.

== Transparency News ==

L-firstnet-logo-500x350 The Internet of Cops is Coming… FirstNet (First Responder Network Authority)—pitched as a state of the art communications network for paramedics, firemen and law enforcement at the federal, state and local level—will give cops on the streets unprecedented technological powers, and possibly hand over even more intimate data about our lives to the higher ends of the government and its intelligence agencies. FirstNet will also give local law enforcement the ability to take digital “fingerprints from the field,” record and share high quality video, and instantaneously marry these freshly sourced data with others over the network. In the video above, a demonstrator uses facial recognition software on a tablet; finds out if the target is in a linked database, and is immediately provided with a wealth of information on him.

Of course, having a police officer be able to instantly identify you with a tablet —or the “single […] device for voice, data, and video” being developed—is open to abuse, and raises serious worries for privacy.

"One scary thought is that it could help set up … “communications systems apartheid”: where the public are relegated to an “insecure, heavily monitored network that can be turned off at the flick of a switch,” while the government enjoys the benefits of an encrypted network that is far more stable."

Of course this is a downside scenario I long ago described in The Transparent Society.  And yet, in all the years since, I keep hearing people come crying "stop them from looking at me!" To which I respond, don't blame me!  Blame yourselves for all the endless whining about stuff like this. Whining that will go on and on and on and that you all will never stop doing

MILITANT-SOUSVEILLANCE …rather than focusing on what might work: the militant, assertive and practical measures that might defend freedom.  Not by trying to resist the absolutely unstoppable trend toward the mighty getting to look at us. (They will; and whimpering about it is pathetic.) But instead to strip the mighty naked with supervision so that they will never dare to use all that vision to actually harm us.

That is an activity we can accomplish. That is do-able and might actually work. We should be militant! But focused.

Alas, I have to wonder, is this generation even the same species as the ones who 200 years ago understood this distinction so well?  No matter how many times I explain the difference between militant sousveillance and impotent whines of "don't look at me!"... it always turns out that 1% actually get it... and the rest go right back to the same futile refrain -- "don't look at me!"

Case in point. This reporter - on a dare - investigated another person simply based upon an anonymous tweet… and figured our enough information that he could have emptied the other guy's bank account. Scary stuff.  Would you bet your life or security on any assurance that this capability has been stopped?  Really?

Let's insist on getting to detect when and who makes such enquiries.  That might be achievable.

== And… ==

watching-youIn "The Secret Cost of a Surveillance Society" you can see a truly awful article, in which the author utterly conflates causation with correlation and draws unwarranted conclusions. Still, there is a glimmer of a point: that a sensitivity to surveillance may be deterring individuals from seeking basic services like hospitalization. As a raising of possibilities, it seems worth a read.

Watch Your Privacy: A Google Glass App overlays the streetscene with warnings (in red) of where cameras may be pointing. Close appraisal suggests they may over-promise. But the implications are interesting.

Cameras with wireless transmitters will soon be so small that they could be taped to an appliance, wall, ceiling, dashboard. “Our aim is to add eyes to any digital device, no matter how small,” says an innovator about the system--  which requires no lens… the heaviest and bulkiest part of most modern optics. "It might become almost impossible for an ordinary person to know if they are in a private space." complains one critic, without offering any suggested way to stop the trend. We'll need to learn more about this, and think about the ramifications.

sousveillance-david-brin

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Science Fiction II: the literary stuff - Hugos and China and a Latin Beat!

First, briefly, congratulations to this year's Hugo nominees
 -- Including -- amid a gallery of bright lights of SF -- Anne Leckie, Charles Stross, Mira Grant, Larry Correia and so many more you might survey (and buy opportunities to read!). 

== SF that's for reading and the mind ==

But onward to the next year.

ThreeBodyProblem1The Three-Body Problem is part one of an award-winning trilogy by Liu Cixin— and is arguably the best Chinese science fiction novel ever translated into English. Liu uses the “three-body problem” of classical mechanics to ask some terrifying questions about human nature and what lies at the core of civilization.

The series explores the world of the Trisolarans, a race that is forced to adapt to life in a triple star system, on a planet whose gravity, heat, and orbit are in constant flux. Facing extinction, the Trisolarans plan to evacuate and conquer the nearest habitable planet, and finally intercept a message—from Earth. The Three-Body Problem, due out in October 2014, has been translated into English by award winning writer, Ken Liu.
Special note… TTBP deals very closely with the issue of the Fermi Paradox and whether we should shout "yoo-hoo!" into the cosmos  -- a quandary about which I've also written, from time to time. (Now see Stephan Martiniere's way-cool cover for the coming Tor Boooks edition!)

I've long maintained that the health of an enlightened and progressive society is measured by how vibrant is its science fiction, since that is where true self-critique and appraisal and hope lie. If so, the good news stretches beyond China!

== Sci fi with a latin beat ==

Science-Fiction-genresHorizon-expansion has been the core cause of the liberal west, increasing the circle of tolerance, diversity and respect… and no literary genre has explored these issues more deeply or broadly than science fiction. Despite an absurd reputation for being "dominated by old white guys," SF has actually been pretty joyfully accepting and welcoming… though any field will exhibit noxious old habits that need cleansing or at least interrogation. For years the James Tiptree Award (named after the great SF author Alice Sheldon) encouraged exploration of gender issues in SF. The Carl Brandon Society provides a center for discussion of the future as it relates to ethnic issues, especially in science fiction.

In another welcome endeavor, there are moves to form a support group for latino sci-fi writers. We should all enthusiastically back any endeavors that will draw more bright writers from the cultural background of Cervantes and Marquez! Not only will we benefit from horizon-expanding insight and art (and social criticism!) But there are so many parts of the world that will reciprocally benefit from the greatest gift of all… more science fiction!

The posting at La Bloga is informative. Alas, it wrangled much to much about the politics of such a support org and speaks far too little about positive goals. Like how to get sci-fi excitement to latino youth and students. How to encourage the feed stock of sci fi thinking so that more young writers emerge, and how to spread the memes of future, change and exploration back into the grand Hispanic culture whose vibrancy is already a marvel to the world.

Although, the SF movement still has a center! And here's an interesting article about why the future seems so often to be set in California. Yes… so? Hey, Heinlein explained it. The continent is tipped and everything loose rolls down into this corner.

The-martianOf course, space is the frontier! An old-fashioned "can-do" sci fi novel, The Martian, by Andy Weir, updates Robinson Crusoe and Marooned with lots of fascinating, problem-solving verve. A best-seller that arose out of self-published versions, Weir's tale portrays an astronaut, abandoned for dead on the red planet, finding ways to survive until rescue can finally arrive… in 500 days.

== And a Saharan What-If tale! ==

Here's a fun what-if scenario. When the Americas began breaking off from Eurasia, two possible north-south rifts might have made the sea-spreading divide. What if the other one - the loser in our world, stretching from the Congo to Morocco -- had taken off? Arfrica's western bulge would have stayed linked to Brazil. The resulting globe map is… creepy!

This is a cute story. I love the assertive, can-do ghostbusters-style ethos. Also kind of reminiscent of Eric Flint's 1632 series. Take a look at Southern Fried Cthulhu by Steve Poling.

== Brin-stuff ==

Vint Cerf's recent hangout interview (TWiT Hangouts) was spectacular and wise. Classic Vint … sagacious and well-worth watching/listening. (And all right, I enjoyed late in the podcast when he gave me and my novel Kiln People a shout-out.)

Meanwhile the same novel is highlighted in a very interesting essay by Dean Burnett in the Guardian, about Mind-Swapping… whether or not this familiar sci fi and movie trope might ever actually come true.

Google-author-talk Talks at Google has uploaded my speech: David Brin, "Existence" - a one hour talk about pretty much everything (!) that I gave at Google HQ last winter.

Here's a lovely mention of The Postman in the Arkansas Times, in the context of "books that women recommend to men, when they become more-than-passing interested in them as potentially more than a friend." Pleasant and wise.

While we're at it. This page takes you on a tour of the weapons used in the movie The Postman.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Science Fiction Media and Films -- Some hidden gems

interstellar-movieWhile we're all holding our breath for the release of films Interstellar and Transcendence… let's skim a fewer lesser-known nuggets. But first a few announcements:

1) The Smithsonian Magazine in collaboration with the UC San Diego Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, Nerd Nite, Smithsonian Grand Challenges Consortia, and the Smithsonian Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation PRESENTS

THE FUTURE IS HERE: Science meets Science Fiction
Imagination, Inspiration and Invention
MAY 16-18, 2014 Washington DC

Presenters include: Patrick Stewart, David Brin, Kim Stanley Robinson, Brian Greene, Adam Steltzner, George Takei, Stewart Brand, Sara Seager, and The Mythbusters! For more information…. TICKETS ARE GOING FAST!

Smithsonian-future-is-here-2014

Culminating the first day, the mighty string theorist and science popularizer/author Brian Greene will interview me onstage.

2) Issues in Science and Technology --  a respected quarterly journal that explores the intersections of science, technology, society, and policy -- announces a science fiction contest! Winners will receive $1500. Throughout 2015, starting with the Winter volume, IST will publish one SF story per issue, on topics of broad societal interest. Published stories may be accompanied by a brief commentary or response written by a member of the National Academies. Co-sponsored by Arizona State University.

== Greene/(Green) Days ==

greene-hidden-realitySpeaking of the brilliant Brian Greene, author of The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos as well as The Elegant Universe… watch this trailer for a magnificent dramatization of his children's book "Icarus at the edge of Time," narrated by John Lithgow with music by Philip Glass.

Further… when does a story about science become science fiction? On this episode of ScienceFriday, Cosmologist Lawrence Krauss and theoretical physicist Brian Greene discuss how to spin a yarn about string theory or the Big Bang, without hyping or distorting the science. And novelist Ian McEwan, whose books touch on neurosurgery and quantum field theory, talks about what science offers to fiction.

Speaking of the verdant color, lately, at the LA Times Festival of Books, I was able to wrangle for Cheryl a seat to watch an interview with John Green. the effervescent impresario of Crash Course online tutorials, as well as a legendary series of entertaining pro-sense-and-science v-log rants, co-founder of Nerdfighters, and New York Times best-selling author of novels including The Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska.

== Media and Movies! ==

UnknownKeep an eye open for John Harden's latest short film "NEW" which will soon be hitting the festival circuit, thanks to the generosity of online supporters like you. Moreover, get ready for a story that is poignant, stirring, but not stuck in the hackneyed rut of apocalyptic dystopias. "Cautionary tales have their place, of course, and I love those movies," says Harden, "but I think dystopian views of the future are just a trendy stock solution. It's not a good trend, because an unvaried diet of dystopias doesn't warn us, it just points us toward despair." Harden believes we need the utopias, too.

One review reads: "I think that's one reason that NEW got [an] endorsement from sci-fi author and futurist David Brin, back when we were launching our first online fundraiser," says Harden. "He and I are simpatico on that point—which is why my movie shows a lush green future of rolling hills and puffy white clouds." Plus some sadness… and some hope. Spread some yourselves.

And yipe... this trailer for Scarlet Johansson's coming film LUCY is amazing. How interesting that the human enhancement theme is on a roll. This one makes it a dive into psychic stuff, but I am willing to be entertained. Still, I enjoyed the intelligent film LIMITLESS (2011) as one of the few SF films "for grownups" ever made.

BBC-real-history-sfBBC America has just announced the 10 PM April 19th debut of a four-part mini-series titled The Real History of Science Fiction, which will feature films from Star Wars to 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Jurassic Park to Doctor Who, each program is packed with contributors behind these creations. There are even (gasp) a couple of authors.

Some details about Andy and Lana Wachowski's super secretive new Netflix series Sense8 have finally surfaced. And this new series, created in collaboration with Babylon 5's J. Michael Straczynski, sounds kind of incredible. It apparently concerns some topics that have been raised here before (and in certain novels): the cultural expansion of empathy horizons, from family to tribe to clan to nation to globe; as well as how technology is used to both unite us and divide us. Interesting themes, a promise of a show in conception already more sophisticated that most of the SF we get in media usually.

Black-MirrorAnyone know about BLACK MIRROR? It seems the top sci fi anthology show around and …well… my ulterior motive is to get them a copy of OTHERNESS. Lots of people think I have a dozen tales perfect for that kind of Twilight Zone treatment. Hint. Hint. (Some of my best haven't been collected yet!)

Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe is threatening to draw me in. Argh, like I needed more time sinks.


Terry Gilliam may be out of his mind -- and this trailer for his new quasi-sci-fi film, Zero Theorem, seems to indicate it's so -- but no one can deny he is the bravest film maker alive.

== Weird but a good effort ==

lem-futurological-congressIn his 1960s novel The Futurological Congress, the great science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem foresaw a worldwide chemical dictatorship run by the leading pharmaceutical companies, whose complete control of our emotions range from love to jealousy to fear. Director Ari Folman's new film adaptation of Lem's novel -- The Congress -- introduces the current cinematic technologies of 3-D and motion capture, which are then extrapolated to a future when actors -- in this case Robin Wright -- sell their personnas to become permanent studio franchises, completely created by AI.

The film, which won a number of festival awards, has no theatrical release scheduled in the U.S., alas.  My wife and I got to see it as guests of the San Diego Jewish Film Festival… for the price that I had to join a panel afterwards, with local luminaries (KPBS's Beth Accamondo) and animation experts, to discuss the movie. (I was the token sci fi author.)

congress-movie-folmanWe had mixed reactions.  I felt the middle third dragged and the animation was too repetitious -- too many lush, avatar-like flowering plants.  On the other hand, Robin Wright was terrific, playing an alternate version of herself.  And the poignant ending was very well-handled. I thought that Folman dealt with the "what is reality?" issues at least as well as any of the directors who have rendered Philip K. Dick tales.  All told, I recommend renting the DVD when you get a chance.

How to regain trust in the NSA era: The IGUS Gambit

How might the Obama Administration best respond to wave after wave of "NSA revelations" that roil and cloud the political waters?

NSA-Snowden-AssangeIronically, almost none of Edward Snowden's leaks -- or those of Julian Assange -- revealed anything that was illegal per se. What they have done is stir a too-long delayed argument over what should be legal!  Specifically, the Patriot Act and the ratchet effect on surveillance that always happens when a country enters a state of panic. The post-9/11 alarm is finally fading and -- (barring some new, panic-inducing event) -- elements of the Patriot Act and pervasive surveillance are now up for public debate.

See page 206* of The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force us to Choose between Privacy and Freedom? (1997) -- where this cycle of terrorism and increased government surveillance was predicted in precise -- and rather creepy -- detail.

NSA-WATCHING-WATCHERS Elsewhere, I recently dissected and appraised the forty-two suggested reforms that a commission presented to President Obama, many of which he has instituted or sent to Congress. Here I want to focus on one important, trust-building measure that would make a huge difference.


= Meeting the needs of the Public and the PPC =

As expected, most of the current argument is about the wrong side of the issue -- mewling plaints calling to prevent society's elites (like the NSA or Google) from seeing -- an effort that is fated to be futile, condemned to absurdity by Moore's Law.

But at last there is talk also of doing what will work -- improving the degree to which the citizenry can supervise and have confidence that government remains essentially a servant of the people.

The main sticking point is over the need that members of the Professional Protector Caste (PPC) have for tactical secrecy, or the ability to conceal their operations from villains and adversaries.   This need is very strong, but so is that of citizens to feel assured that secrecy remains only tactical, short-term and pragmatic, never an excuse for permanent avoidance of accountability.

INSPECTOR-GENERAL-UNITED-STATESI have over the years offered several innovations that might achieve a win-win -- securing both tactical shadows for the PPC to be effective, while ensuring accountability that at least partially reassures the public. Foremost among these proposals would be to create the Office of Inspector General of the United States (IGUS).

IGUS could be established with a one-page law that simply transfers all of the inspectors general in every agency and department to an independent service under a figure of noted rectitude, whose staff might then perform their functions without the inherent conflict of interest that stymies so many IGs. IGUS members would be trained in both confidentiality and prim skepticism on the taxpayers' behalf, allowing PPC agencies to continue tactically secret investigations, but always with the peoples' delegated gaze over their shoulders.

NSA-Citizen-OversightA POLITICAL WIN-WIN: 
Without question, proposing and establishing IGUS would be an agile jiu-jitsu move on the part of the Obama Administration. It would simultaneously say:

"We understand that public confidence is shaken and this move should help to restore it while preventing the worst and most perniciously chronic abuses… while at the same time allowing our skilled public protectors to continue doing their important jobs. It is also the quickest way to do this, requiring the fewest changes in law."

Will this satisfy everybody? Of course not… nor should it! Indeed, I do not consider IGUS to be enough. I have several more proposals that would work in parallel with IGUS, so that in-sum we all can truly be sure that our watch dogs remain loyal (if fierce) dogs, and never wolves.

inspectors-GeneralNevertheless, establishing an Office of the Inspector General of the United States would be a good start. And it would allow the Administration to be seen acting vigorously, in a forward, pro-active direction that BOTH enhances public trust and allows our agencies to do their jobs.

My IGUS proposal was written in greater detail as one of two dozen "Suggestions for the Incoming Obama Administration" way back in 2008. Alas, not one of them got to anyone's ear. C'est la vie.

Still, you can read about it here: Free the Inspectors General!


== Political Miscellany ==

Lying with Data: Fox viewers in the family? Show them this chart that appeared on their news” network and ask if they can explain why almost no American scientists are republican, anymore.  See this appraisal, also: The Statisticians at Fox News use classic and novel graphical techniques to lead with data. 


Transparent-Society-206*Page 206 of The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force us to choose between Privacy and Freedom?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Money flows that might prevent new World Wars

Syria-Russia-Iran-IraqVeteran U.S. diplomat and Middle East expert Dennis Ross made some interesting points about President Obama's trip to Saudi Arabia in an L.A. Times editorial: "Next Test for Obama: Soothing the Saudis." He referred to the Saudis biggest concern, the rise of militant Shiite Islam and an axis of Iran-Iraq-Syria that now includes an aggressively revanchist Russia. A problem that some have referred to as "World War Four".

Alas, Mr Ross ignores the elephant in the room. That the Saudis are not the victims in any of this. Their relentless push to establish fiercely conservative Wahhabi madrassas all over the Sunni Muslim world helped to create Al Qaeda and most of the 9/11 attackers. Their own textbooks declare the west to be an evil place, to be tolerated only while necessary. Above all, they have striven, since 1948, to stymie peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. By pushing to keep Palestine as an open wound, they ensured only that the Levant region would remain embroiled and steeped in pain, never achieving what the Saudis' Hashemite rivals once dreamed-of -- an alliance between Arabs and Jews that could strengthen all concerned.

One wonders, as the generations pass along, if the admittedly brilliant grandsons of Abdulaziz ibn Saud might be flexible enough to envision how that long-deferred option is worth trying, at long last. That Israel and the Levant and Egypt and Arabia have potential far beyond mere oil, especially if all parties were to help foster synergies, instead of trumped-up enmities.


Saudi-aid-PalestinianThe Saudis, especially, have the wherewithal to offer aid and investment – a deal that would be impossible for the Palestinian side to refuse. And such an offer would corner Israel with an economic carrot that transcends any and all sticks.

Above all, such a jiu jitsu move by the Saudis would render the Russo-Shiite axis futile… almost cute in its impotence, next to the scientific/technological/economic superpower that would blossom in the Sunni-Israeli zone.

(Don't bring us the purported Saudi "peace offer" from a few years ago.  It was tepid, amounting merely to an acceptance of the world consensus that Israel in here to stay. It took none of the expensive and memically painful steps necessary in order to boost the moderates on both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli gulf.)

 All of these benefits await, but are only perceived by those of flexible mind.

Alas, Mr. Ross shows us no hint of any of that.

== A “Helvetian” scenario? ==

SMUGGLE-DEVELOP-COUNTRIESIt's hard to build your country when the money keeps slipping away. Foreign capital flight has been a problem for developing countries this year, but a bigger problem might be the funds smuggled out by tax evaders, corrupt officials and criminals — $946.7 billion in 2011. Nearly a trillion dollars, according to the latest estimates released today by a team of economists at the non-profit Global Financial Integrity, an increase of more than 10% over the previous year. For comparison, total foreign aid to developing nations in 2011 was just $141 billion.

"The nations most hamstrung by illicit flows are in Africa, where illicit flows are the equivalent of 5.7% of GDP; the average developing country lost 3.7% of GDP in 2011. That's a huge amount of money to lose that could otherwise be invested in private or public enterprise that might improve the lives of people living there. Instead, it winds up in tax havens—including the United States and the United Kingdom. "This isn't really just a developing world problem it's facilitated by developed country banks and tax havens," Brian Leblanc, one of the economists behind the study, told Quartz."

"Indeed, with six times more money leaving developing countries illicitly than entering them as aid, advocates for these nations might do well to back policies to block these flows. Promoting tax-haven crackdowns and convincing powerful multinationals to submit their transactions to more scrutiny is hard to do, but it could pay dividends for development down the line."

MIDDLE-CLASS-RISEIn EARTH I portray a dozen developing nations having suddenly realized that several trillion dollars -- ripped off from poor countries by former kleptocratic lords -- sits in Swiss and other bank haven accounts.  When all else failed, they declared war on Switzerland -- in the 2020s -- in order to use the rights of belligerent powers to seize assets all over the world and to coerce return of enough money to save millions of children.

Things needn’t come to that! In fact, a deal might be worked out in which developing nations agree to keep the restored funds deposited in Swiss banks! Only with interest and collateral value now going to the nation’s children, not former klepto-presidents. Such a deal would, in a shot, restore hope and trust… and guarantee the bankers against the kind of comeuppance they think (right now) can never come.

History disagrees. It can come. Cut the deal.

==Creditors or Debtors?==

Treasure-Islands-Shaxson-bookIn this recent report -- The Missing Wealth of Nations: Are Europe and The U.S. Net Debtors or Net Creditors? -- analyst Gabriel Zuchman shows evidence that around 8% of the global financial wealth of households is held in tax havens, three-quarters of which goes unrecorded. Meaning that this is about much, much more than just the developing world. "On the basis of plausible assumptions, accounting for unrecorded assets turns the eurozone, officially the world’s second largest net debtor, into a net creditor. It also reduces the U.S. net debt significantly."  

It's flagrant! "... (worldwide) more investment income is paid than received each year…" and "...many European securities, in particular, have no identifiable owner…"  

Clearly this relates to my longstanding proposal -- for worldwide transparency of ownership.  It is completely non-socialistic and would probably result in taxes upon honest families going down.  All it would do is ensure that those yelling the loudest in defense of open capitalism actually live by it. 

== Grabbing, hand over fist ==

And finally -- related news that just hints at the scale of the oligarchic putsch…

Rupert Murdoch’s media group received a $882 million tax rebate from Australia last year in a revelation that is likely to reignite the debate over how much tax is paid by international corporations. Again, this generation is the savviest and most knowledgeable in history.  Do you guys honestly think that -- when it becomes radicalized -- there won't be repercussions?

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

It’s not the “One Percent”

First, before getting into the “one percent” matter…

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I have heard few interviews on NPR that were more cogent, intelligent or rich in wisdom and knowledge than this one, with Bruce Levine, a professor of history at the University of Illinois, who is author of The Fall of the House of Dixie: The Civil War and the Social Revolution that Transformed the South and Confederate Emancipation, Professor Levine deals handily with the edifice of completely made-up rationalizations we hear fermenting these days: e.g. that slavery was declining in the South during the lead-up to the U.S. Civil War (phase 1).

Not one of the excuses offered by apologists -- like Judge Andrew Napolitano -- stand upon anything more substantial than wish-fantasies and fairy dust.

Listen to the audio interview. This is a wise and knowledgeable fellow. An example of why those waging war on science had to expand their campaign to encompass and reject history, economics, journalism and every other clade of knowledge in American life.

== It’s not the “One Percent” ==

Okay, I have a bone to pick with you “progressives” out there. Sometimes you can be as lazy and simple-minded as your opponents.

99-percentStop referring to "the one percent!" It is a trap. Indeed, it may be a polemical trick, foisted on us all by a conniving oligarchy that does not want to face the ire of a united citizenry.

Those chanting “we’re the ninety-nine percent” only thus empower Fox-pundits to respond that "most of the one-percenters are small business owners, or hard-working doctors and dentists who are demonized by the left for their well-earned success, stigmatized for providing valued goods and services."

And that's completely true!

Look, you polemical liberals out there, do you really want three MILLION of America's most productive, innovative and hard-working people to be driven into the arms of the real oligarchs, by tarring them with the same, simplistic brush? Guilt-by-association?

There's a word for that. It is "stupid."

one-percentIn fact, according to this article in the Atlantic it is the top 0.01 percent—that's the uppermost one percent of the top 1 percent—that's leaving the rest of the top percentile behind, in the dust along with the rest of us. “While nine-tenths of the top percentile hasn't seen much change at all since 1960, the 0.01 percent has essentially quadrupled its share of the country's wealth in half a century.”

Alas, what this article leaves out is discussing the one-percent of THAT clade… or the 0.0001%ers. Those are the folks always to scrutinize. Even the father of modern market enterprise capitalism (Adam Smith) said so!

They aren't all bad, just because they are rich! Indeed, the Silicon Valley billionaires and other entrepreneurs who developed goods and services by working closely with thousands of skilled and free-thinking engineers – these men and women know that it is a relatively flat, well-educated and open “diamond-shaped” society – dominated by a vibrant and empowered and knowing middle class – that creates the kind of opportunities that let them succeed in a positive-sum way. Getting rich while making us all richer. Guys and gals like that are sensitive to how it all would get ruined – will get ruined – if we follow the age-old human pattern. Into feudal-inherited-oligarchy.

Interestingly, those open-market-friendly rich men and women are mostly democrats.

ClassWarLessonsHistorySo. Shall we get mad? Chant and wave torches and polish our tumbrels? No, we must recall enough history to remember this is an old, old problem. Those who are meddling in our politics and hiring propagandists to restart the American Civil War, they are acting entirely according to human nature, spanning thousands of years. It is not morally culpable that they are too stupid to rise above basic, pre-sapient instinct. Alas though, it does mean that those obeying ancient-harem-seeking instincts are not as smart as they think.

By doing all of this, they in fact prove a fundamental of nature. That all good things are toxic, when too concentrated. Water, food, oxygen… wealth. It is one thing about which Adam Smith and Karl Marx absolutely agreed.

In order to save and preserve a system in which each of us can get rich -- by providing competitive-creative goods and services – even very, very rich (so long as it is fair) – then we may have to put some kind of limit upon the number of "verys."

== Obscure… but related ==

Speaking of very… this is very interesting, if too radical for our present world to experiment with… except maybe in a sci fi novel… Geo-libertarians hold that all natural resources – most importantly land – are common assets to which all individuals have an equal right to access; therefore, individuals must pay rent to the community if they claim land as their private property. They simultaneously agree with the libertarian position that each individual has an exclusive right to the fruits of his or her labor as their private property, as opposed to this product being owned collectively by society or the community, and that "one's labor, wages, and the products of labor" should not be taxed.

This is one example of the many alternatives that used to be discussed by the Greatest Generation… before we Boomers took over and made everything simplistic, reflexive, emotional… and admit it… not one of you has ever actually read Adam Smith or Karl Marx. If your life depended on it, could you describe accurately what they said? Or even define what “left” and “right” mean?

Really?  Well… this blog does attract the erudite.  But those few of you are very very rare.

== And re transparency ==

With rising public interest in what developers refer to as the “privacy economy,” researchers from the MobiSocial Lab at the Stanford School of Engineering have announced at SXSW a new type of social network, called Omlet that allows users to control their own personal data. Omlet “shields users from the monetization of their personal lives.