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The Jefferson-Madison Debates: The Next Civil War?

May 13th, 2018 // 4:25 pm @

True or False…or False?

It’s getting worse. Just watch the news. This phrase, the “Next Civil War”, was recently used by economic forecaster Harry Dent to describe the growing divide between Red and Blue state cultures. These two sides now disagree with each other to the point that in many cases people experience real hatred for those on “the other side”.

Former president Barack Obama noted that people who largely get their news from the mainstream media and those who get their news mostly from Fox are basically living “on different planets.” They not only disagree on principles and solutions, he pointed out, but they fundamentally disagree on “facts”. What the Blue culture sees as incontrovertible truths, the Red culture frequently sees as lies. Fake. False. And the opposite is just as true: what the Red culture sees as fact is often considered false by Blue culture.

No wonder the two sides are so angry at each other. When you disagree on what the facts are, the solutions promoted by the other side frequently appear ludicrous. Even dangerous. Both sides, each rooted in its own understanding of reality, watch the other side say and do things that are clearly and painfully hurtful—according to the set of obvious but differing “facts” they each believe.

Roadblocks

This divide is widening. We’ve reached the point that one of the worst things parents can learn about their child’s “significant other” or new fiancé is that he/she is a Republican, or Democrat—depending on the family. Religion, career, ethnicity, education, financial status, and even a criminal history, are largely negotiable in most modern families. But the other political party? Many parents turn Tevye: “If I try and bend this far, I’ll break.”

Lynn Vavreck wrote in The New York Times (January 31, 2017): “In 1958, 33 percent of Democrats wanted their daughters to marry a Democrat, and 25 percent of Republicans wanted their daughters to marry a Republican. But by 2016, 60 percent of Democrats and 63 percent of Republicans felt that way.” And for many, the feelings run very deep. While in 1994 21 percent of Republicans viewed Democrats in the “Very Unfavorable” category, by 2016 the number was 58 percent. (Pew Research Center) In 1994 17 percent of Democrats saw Republicans as “Very Unfavorable”, but the number in 2016 had skyrocketed to 55 percent. (Ibid.)

Aaron Blake summarized this concern in The Washington Post: “If 58 percent of Republicans hate Democrats and 55 percent of Democrats hate Republicans, that would mean about 35 percent of registered voters hate the opposite political party.” (June 19, 2017) “But that’s not quite hate…. 45% of Republicans see the Democratic Party as a threat to the nation’s well-being…. [and] 41% of Democrats see the Republican Party as a threat to the nation’s well-being”. (Ibid.) When you add independents, the “hate” one of the parties (those who see the other party as a threat to the nation) makes up 39 percent of registered voters or “About 1 in 4” Americans. (Ibid.)

There are a lot of others who see the other side in an unfavorable light, around 33 percent of additional Republicans (for a total of 91% with “unfavorable” or “very unfavorable”) and 30 percent of additional Democrats (86% with “unfavorable” or “very unfavorable” views). (Ibid.) Note that all of this occurred before the Trump presidency. Again, this divide is real, and deep. In the Trump era the intensity has only increased.

But does any of this justify the phrase “Next Civil War”? Not yet. Not unless we’re going to surrender to hyperbole. Yet this conflict is escalating in many sectors—it’s moved beyond the traditional battlegrounds of politics and news media to additional culture and power centers including education, television, movies, entertainment awards shows, daily and nightly talk shows (both radio and television), sports, and multiple venues on social media. Even social media and Internet platforms are getting involved by adjusting algorithms to promote certain political leanings—or dampen the voice of those they dislike—often without informing their customers.

Platforms and Soapboxes

For many Americans, the sight of some NFL players purposely kneeling during the National Anthem is the ultimate symbol of this divide. One side sees young role models and leaders using their public platform to bravely protest government abuse—especially what they consider racially charged police violence. The other side feels hurt and confused by millionaire beneficiaries of the American Dream figuratively spitting on the American Flag and the sacrifice of dead and maimed military heroes.

It’s difficult to even discuss this situation rationally in many venues due to the raw and heartfelt emotions of people on both sides of the Red-Blue cultural divide.

Sadly, many schools have also become places of great conflict. For example, a national uproar occurred when a middle school teacher assigned her students to write letters to political officials urging them to pass stronger gun control laws. Should teachers tell middle school children what sides to take on political issues? And assign them to engage in activism for one specific side? At what point does teaching become brainwashing? A father of one of the students, a policeman, refused to allow his child to do the assignment. The father deeply disagreed with the politics of the teacher, and many of the other parents disagreed with the politicization of middle school in general. In response to backlash, the teacher allowed students to skip the assignment without penalty, but didn’t suggest writing against stronger gun control if this more accurately aligned with the student’s views. The same week, an elementary student was expelled from school for drawing himself hunting during a “free art” assignment, and a high school teacher was fired for a lengthy history-class soliloquy describing current members of the military as “the lowest of the low” in our society. Red and Blue cultures passionately disagreed on how these events should be handled. Both sides largely see the other’s view as ridiculous and extreme.

Another moment that epitomizes this division occurred on Broadway when the cast of Hamilton stopped the musical midstream to lecture the new Vice President elect, Mike Pence. Hamilton itself is an artistic icon—an American Les Miserables that underscores how the struggles of Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton and their families and peers unleashed freedom in a way that has now spread to people of all backgrounds. The lecture itself was seen by one side as a welcome comeuppance to a dangerous new administration, and by the other as yet another gauche elitist attack against the will of the voters and the American system.

Networks, Numbers, and New Divides

Thankfully this war is largely cultural—it has not devolved into massive physical violence between the two sides of a nation (like the French Revolution, U.S. Civil War, or Russian Revolution, etc.). Hopefully it will always remain peaceful. But in the fight for hearts, there is no doubt that a major civil war for the future of our republic is already under way.

Worse, it is doubtful that any real solution is imminent. When one part of the nation generally believes most of what airs on CNN, ABC, NBC and MSNBC, while another part tends to place more trust in Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, or Trump tweets, the two aren’t going see eye-to-eye on much of anything. And when these two groups are the largest political blocs in our republic, we’re going to have genuine and repeated disagreements.

Perhaps the epicenter of this battle for “the hearts and minds of the people” is found in the media. And this poses a major challenge. Why? Because most of modern media—from both the Left and Right—has three serious problems:

1-It is largely agenda driven (“Forget the facts, full speed ahead!”)

2-It is shallow.

3-It is electronic.

Most people realize the problems with item #1. As a result, they stop listening to media outlets that are clearly against their views—and seem hostile to anyone with a different perspective. This has created another significant problem with modern media:

4-It is isolated. The Right listens to the Right, while the Left listens to the Left. Few listen to both. Few listen to the other side. Over time, media outlets increasingly cater to their narrow audiences, so the extremism increases.

Result: the divisions in our nation are getting wider, deeper, and more susceptible to anger and, too often, extremism and unhealthy thinking and actions.

The Missing Depth

The  2nd and 3rd problems listed just above are equally dangerous. Many people are very busy—work, family, more work, community, more family. Little time is left over for meaningful civic involvement, much less for taking the time to really dig into each day’s news, truly understand what is happening, and go way beyond the 30 second sound bites or even 3 minute segments on any given story. An hour of the news is more than most can spare—and most hour newscasts only provide a very shallow overview of a few of the day’s news topics. In short, shallow. No time for depth.

The result is that nearly all shows repeat a few top stories, with only a bit of detail. Even if a person watched television all day, he or she would usually only hear about the same top stories, addressed shallowly over and over—with different opinions but nothing really weighty or reflective. Depth is almost unheard of in most of today’s media.

This is especially true of the electronic media. Besides, television, radio, and online media typically interact with human brains more like entertainment than like something really, truly important. When we watch or listen or surf our news, in most cases, we are in the mode of moving quickly from one thought to the next. Even if we try to focus, ads, pop-ups and crawlers invade our screen with multiple headlines and distractions all at once. Our devices were purposely designed this way, in fact.

Reading the news, in contrast, naturally moves the focus into our intellect. A good start. “But nobody wants to read anything longer than a page…” today’s editors assure everyone. Many editors put the limit at “two paragraphs.” If we don’t read more deeply, we’ll truly and literally become a nation of sheep. Deep thinking is needed to deal with the reality of today’s complex and globally-interconnected world—for any citizen. And deep thinking about the news is basically impossible unless we’re reading (or listening/watching to a source that takes) much more than 5 minutes to really address an issue in some depth.

The Jefferson-Madison Debates

The term “fake news” means the following to most people: news that pushes a false agenda, distracts from truth, lies. But “shallow news” is just as bad for the nation. Even “accurate news” that is shallow is a major blow to our society. And this accounts for most of what media consumers experience. When it is both fake and shallow, we’re in real trouble.

The Left and Right argue about which news reports are “fake,” but few even claim to offer real depth in their news. And even fewer consumers seem to be actively searching for and embracing deeper news.

To reiterate: the Red-Blue divisions are growing, and intensifying, and this means that major problems are ahead unless we do something about it. My plan is to write a weekly (or, sometimes, every two week) article that treats real topics in enough depth to help readers take a step back from the constant screaming of electronic news, and really understand a topic (one at a time) enough to see behind the scenes of modern media spin and fake/shallow posturing.

More will, of course, be needed to stop our seeming national sprint toward more civil conflict. But I know this weekly column will make a difference—for those who read it.

It was the reading and thinking about articles and pamphlets during the American Founding generation that helped America gain freedom, and deep thinking is vitally needed today. I’m calling this new series of weekly articles The Jefferson-Madison Debates, and I hope you’ll join us.

It’s going to be fun.

— Oliver DeMille

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The Jefferson-Madison Debates: Are Today’s Education and Politics Entering the Age of Star Trek?

May 12th, 2018 // 9:02 am @

“A shoe, too, is no longer a finished product, but an endless process of reimagining our extended feet, perhaps with disposable covers, sandals that morph as you walk, treads that shift, or floors that act as shoes.” —Kevin Kelly 

“We have long argued that as the Web extends in usage…increased access to factual information would improve the quality of public discourse. However, the opposite seems to be occurring.” —Don and Alex Tapscott

Given how much technology has changed the world in the past twenty years, and how differently we now live, it’s easy to assume that the Internet Revolution has brought the big change—and this era of massive shifts will slowly relax back into some kind of normality. But the truth is that we are just at the very beginning stages of the Information Age. The changes have just begun.

Following are a few of the major developments still ahead, as described by the experts on current technologies. As you think about each of these, consider the ramifications of these trends as they relate to the future of education, career, the economy, and the type of education needed for the emerging economy:

1. Autonomous vehicles. Self-driving cars are a reality.[i] How long they will co-exist with human drivers before the laws require all cars to be driven electronically remains to be seen.[ii] Self-driving planes, boats, and trucks will also change our lives drastically. Flying vehicles are next. As drone technology improves, taking people as passengers may not be too far away.

2. 3D Printing (additive manufacturing).[iii] This will revolutionize transportation, shipping, and manufacturing. Things that can be printed out in our own homes don’t need to be built in factories, or shipped by truck, airplane, or even drone. 3D printing will also have significant impact in medicine by printing certain medical implants.[iv] In fact, 3D printers now print food, including candy—and some people think it even tastes good.[v] One taste tester wrote: “It tastes like an after-dinner mint mixed with a sugar cube.”[vi]

3. 4D Printing. The printers will print smartobjects that are self-learning, and self-altering in response to their environment.[vii]

4. New Smart Materials. As Klaus Schwab, Founder of the World Economic Forum, put it: Some are “self-healing, self-cleaning, metals with memory that revert to their original shapes, chemicals and crystals that turn pressure into energy, and so on…. Take advanced nanomaterials [nano means smaller than the human eye can see] such as graphene, which is about 200-times stronger than steel, a million times thinner than a human hair, and an efficient conductor of heat and electricity. When graphene becomes price competitive…it could significantly disrupt the manufacturing and infrastructure industries.”[viii]

5. iMoneyCenter. As Forbes put it: “Your cellphone will become a global bank. Mobile money accounts already outnumber traditional bank accounts in parts of the developing world, and new technology will turbocharge that trend, allowing payments to anyone, anywhere, in local currencies.”[ix]

6. RFID (Radio Frequency Identification). Tiny tags can be put on pretty much anything, or anyone, and track where it is at any time, all over the world.[x] This technology is cheap and easy to use. The tags can even contain sensors that keep track of how well the item is doing, and what it is doing.[xi]

New Normal

Kevin Kelly said of the various kinds of small digital devices that are being created: “A few are shrinking to the size of the period following this sentence. These macroscopic measurers can be inserted into watches, clothes, spectacles, or phones, or inexpensively dispersed in rooms, cars, offices, and public spaces.[xii] Sensors can be built to watch and listen. He also wrote: “Massive tracking and total surveillance are here to stay.”[xiii]

The machines are becoming ubiquitous.[xiv] Moreover, a lot of people like it this way. One report summarized the trend as “Our Love-Hate Affair With AI.”[xv]

The ramifications of the new era of machines for freedom and relationships of all kinds are immense.[xvi]

7. Gene Mapping and Synthetic Biology. This is popularly called the creation of “Designer Babies.” “It will provide us with the ability to customize organisms by writing DNA.”[xvii] “Today, a genome can be sequenced in a few hours for less than a thousand dollars.”[xviii] And at some point scientists foresee artificial memory implanting into peoples’ brains.[xix] Just download what you want to know—facts, dates, formulas, etc. Gene Mapping will impact agriculture and the energy sector (by producing biofuels) as well as medicine and education.[xx]

8. Personalized Medications. Medicine, from those used to treat advanced diseases to simple aspirin, will be personalized for each individual—“tailored to your DNA.”[xxi] These will likely be very expensive at first, further widening the gap between the upper and other classes.

9. Non-Communicative Relationships. A number of popular magazines each month present articles that tell men and women they need to turn off their electronic gadgets and talk to their spouse or significant other. The articles are detailed and specific, with advice like “look your spouse in the eye while you talk to her,” and “actually listen to the words he says and try to connect with his logic and feelings,” etc.

The volume of such articles suggests that this is a serious problem. Relationships are often victims of addiction to electronic devices, texts, messages, and other incoming communication that is more highly valued than interaction with the live person in the same room.

Relationships and Roboticships

Moreover, emerging technology will very likely throw a serious monkey-wrench into many relationships. VR (Virtual Reality[xxii]) is incredibly advanced now, and will soon be on the market in extensive ways. A person can slip on a VR helmet or glasses and be transported mentally to a whole new world. Some VR research and development is focused on porn, although the tech world prefers the term “alternative relationships.” How will this impact marriage, family, education, and stable relationships?

Robotics have reached the point that lifelike “partner dolls,” sometimes called “sex dolls”, that talk and interact are already available.[xxiii] Soon, experts say, they’ll be easily accessible online and sold in our corner neighborhood stores.[xxiv] It’s a potential revolution in lifestyles, and the impact on relationships will certainly be real.[xxv] It is unclear how this will influence marriage and family, but the prospects seem quite negative.

A number of apps try to fulfill the same need—for relationships in an electronic format.[xxvi] If we find it difficult now to put down our phones or take off our headphones to engage in meaningful conversation and relationships, imagine how difficult it will be to turn off the robots, apps, and VR glasses.[xxvii] VR, and lifelike personal relationship robots, can be programmed (or told by the user) to never argue, nag, disagree, shout, or storm away.[xxviii] Again, such devices won’t take the place of quality, mature relationships, but they could very well hurt or make such relationships more difficult.[xxix]

10. The Rise of the Algorithms. Online technology now employs numerous advanced algorithms and AI technologies that are learning to do everything from sensing where our eyes are gazing (in order to know our interests and sell to us)[xxx] to what our politics are (as mentioned above, this could be to allow providers like Facebook and Google, or others, to determine what news feeds to send us—to promote their own political goals), to how empty the milk carton in our fridge is (in order to order a fresh one).

Schwab said: “Amazon and Netflix already possess algorithms that predict which films and books we may wish to watch and read. Dating and job placement sites suggest partners and jobs—in our neighborhood or anywhere in the world—that their systems [algorithms] figure might suit us best.

The Man AI in Charge

“What do we do? Trust the advice provided by an algorithm or that offered by family, friends, or colleagues? Would we consult an AI-driven robot doctor with a near perfect diagnosis success rate—or stick with the human physician with the assuring bedside manner we have known for years?”[xxxi]

AI is tasked with watching us and learning from us, and as AIs become smarter, some of them will be incredibly effective forecasters. Companies may even be valued based on their AI. For example, Kelly wrote: “Amazon’s greatest asset is not its Prime delivery service but the many millions of reader reviews it has accumulated over the decades.”[xxxii] These reviews, and the AI that runs them, learns from them, and uses them to help predict what books each user is likely to enjoy, is a huge asset.

The concept of establishing corporate boards of directors made up entirely of Artificial Intelligence is discussed openly and seriously.[xxxiii] Do we want algorithms in charge of everything?

In education, the possibilities are seemingly endless—and just as alarming. Kelly wrote: “The tiny camera eyes that now stare back at us from any screen can be trained with additional skills…researchers at MIT have taught the eyes in our machines to detect human emotions. As we watch the screen, the screen is watching us, where we look, and how we react.

“Since this perception is in real time, the smart software [algorithms] can adapt it what I’m viewing. Say I am reading a book and my frown shows I’ve stumbled on a certain word; the text could expand a definition.”[xxxiv]

This means that the text of the book is changing before you read it, based on what you have read so far and how you reacted. In other words, the computer is in effect censoring what you read before you even read it.

What about the author’s intent? Well, that depends. The AI, or the people who commission and oversee the AI, may decide to carefully protect the original text, or they may not. They may edit, censor, distract, etc.—whatever they think best achieves their goals.

Remember that thing called Thinking?

They may even have different ways of dealing with different people—like Google gaming the search system so that people who look up a certain Republican candidate get the most negative articles about him on the first page, while those who search for his Democratic opponent get the most flattering articles (or vice versa).

Or they might simply guide your searches to the companies who paid them the most to do so. If these guides are personalized and targeted to each individual user (like in the movie Minority Report), different readers will literally be getting a very different education. One student will read very different things than a second student, while the third reads yet another thing—all determined by AI and/or those who program and control the AI.

Kelly continued: “Or, if it realizes I am reading the same passage, it could supply an annotation for that passage. Similarly, if it knows I am bored by a scene in a video, it could jump ahead or speed up the action.”[xxxv] If we choose such functions on a menu, that’s one thing. But what happens if the big businesses or the cyber-governmental-industrial-complex just decides that this kind of censorship is best for the people? Or for a certain group or type of people, such as those from a certain religion or political party?

On purely educational grounds, having the computer supply definitions, commentaries and links is bad for thinking. It teaches rote dependence on experts, even if the expert is an AI. If we don’t have to question, ponder, or debate the books we read, we’ll be thinking a lot less. The words censorship and brainwashing aren’t farfetched in this context.

What about politics? The media and party-media machines already spread a lot of false information. What will happen when algorithms take over the media spin? It will personalized to each reader, each person using the Internet (or whatever kind of Supernet or Skynet takes its place). As such, the AI will learn how to confuse each person the most effectively. Again, this isn’t far from the personalized billboards and ads in the movie Minority Report.

(Un)Locked Doors

On an even larger scale, if an algorithm claims to predict which of various candidates would make the best president, prime minister, judge or senator, do we just give up voting altogether? After all, the voters seldom put in leaders who truly deliver what they promised. Or will the experts try to convince us that an algorithm-based AI should be our president and Congress and Court and make our top government decisions—getting rid of human error altogether?

And in all this, let’s not forget that someone can access the algorithms. All computers can be hacked—so far. As author Marc Goodman put it: “There’s never been a computer system that’s proven unhackable.”[xxxvi] Bigger technologies mean bigger hacks, with more drastic impact on people.

And won’t the growth of the Internets just funnel more and more power to a few elites who control the algorithms? The answer is “Yes. Emphatically yes!”

In fact, is there any way to stop this from happening?

11. “Reshoring.” This means that when high tech processes like 3D printing, gene mapping, and RFID tagging become mainstream around the world, many industrial jobs will be lost—but a lot of high-tech jobs will move back to the most advanced nations in search of highly-trained workers with expertise in areas conducive to high tech.[xxxvii] Whether this will happen or not remains to be seen. It may not happen at all. “…many workers [may]…end up permanently unemployed, like horses unable to adjust to the invention of the tractors.”[xxxviii]

12. Portfolio Careers. These occur where a person’s career includes doing several different jobs for different employers in the same day.[xxxix] For example, one person might be a teacher during the school day, a restaurant manager during the evenings, and an eBay seller in his spare time—all to make ends meet. Portfolio careers may become very widespread in the new economy. A lot of people probably won’t like such a development, leading to increased class divisions and conflicts.[xl]

13. Even Greater Class Divide. As Schwab wrote: “…half of all assets around the world are now controlled by the richest 1% of the global population, while the lower half” of the population control less than 1% of world assets.[xli] Or as the Tapscotts put it: “…the global 1 percent owns half of the world’s wealth while 3.5 billion people earn fewer than 2 dollars a day.”[xlii]

To be continued next week …

NOTES

[i] Schwab, 15, 147-148; see also Kevin Kelly, The Inevitable, 2016, 50-51; Brynjolfsson, 14-20; See Sam Smith, “The Truth About the Future of Cars,” Esquire, April 2016, 69-74; Erin Griffith, “Disconnected,” Fortune, August 1, 2016, 44.

[ii] See Smith, 69-74.

[iii] Scwhab, 15; see also Brynjolfsson, 36-37; Kelly, 53.

[iv] Schwab, 15, 22, 161-167.

[v] Andrea Smith, “Print Your Candy and Eat it Too,” Popular Science, January 2015, 24.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Schwab, 16.

[viii] Ibid., 17.

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An Update on the State of America: What’s REALLY Happening?

October 28th, 2017 // 4:41 pm @

(It’s Not What You See On the News)

The Goal

“Keep your eyes on the ball.”

I think every baseball coach I ever had repeated this advice like a mantra, and with good reason. A batter faces all kinds of distractions: players from the other team–both those on the field and those in the dugout–make a point of yelling, waving their arms, and doing whatever they can to distract a batter, to get him to take his eyes off the ball.

The catcher says things from behind the plate. The opposing crowd yells boisterously in the stands, waves banners or hats or small children, and some honk their car horns or chant pithy slogans in unison. The good batter learns to ignore all of this noise and mental clutter, to focus only on the ball—eyes on the ball, always.

The same focus is vital in politics. Most people realize this in a roundabout way, but they tend to think that media, the opposing party, and social media are trying to keep certain governmental leaders distracted. This does happen, but it’s not the real problem. In fact, media outlets and political parties trying to divert each other pale in comparison to the actual distraction.

The Diversion

The real problem occurs when the citizens get distracted. When they “take their eyes off the ball.” Both political parties routinely try to get citizens focused on tangents, and one of the most effective ways is to attack each other.

Nothing keeps people misdirected like a good bout of Washington name-calling. If that isn’t working, the media can be counted on to up the ante and intensify the rhetoric, spin, and accusations.

The more the citizens who tend to stay informed on the news can be diverted by such tactics, the less they tend to pay attention to their real role, their crucial responsibility—to keep the government in check, not let politicians and/or bureaucracies quietly (or loudly, for that matter) chip away at their freedoms.

The media are supposed to help this important work by keeping a close eye on government and calling attention to federal excess and abuse. Sometimes they do this well, but mostly they join the political parties and politicians in creating more noise, clamor and misdirection.

The Constitution gets attacked each month in a number of ways, but the media and parties tend to redirect the American people to other things, loud and emotional issues that spread anger, division, and a focus on personalities, parties, special interest groups, “who said what” and “who responded how”—and “how dare they!” While this is happening, our freedoms are whittled away behind the scenes.

For example, as Senator Mike Lee pointed out, if the bills passed by Congress in any given year are stacked in one pile, and the policies adopted by the sprawling federal bureaucracy during the same time period (without any vote in Congress and usually with little or no media coverage) are stacked in another, the bureaucratic pile is many times higher than the first. Yet hardly anyone knows what the myriad government agencies are writing, implementing, and enforcing; almost nobody has a say in what they decide; and few even know it’s happening. By the time such policies start directly hurting you and other people, it’s often too late.

This occurs year after year, decade after decade. Add to this the various court precedents and additional policies established by local, state and federal judiciaries, executives, and legislatures across the nation, along with international precedent, treaties, and agreements that American courts and the other branches of government are bound by or choose to comply with, and the “behind the scenes” pile of government regulations, policies, penalties and rules has grown (and is growing) even more quickly.

The Problem

The spread of governmental power in the past few decades has been almost exponential. Carly Fiorina was right when she repeatedly warned during the 2016 presidential primaries that America is being “crushed” under the overwhelming weight of regulatory overreach.

Yet this is seldom, almost never, mentioned in the media—mainstream or otherwise. It is simply a non-story for most Americans. Instead, the media distract us with the latest White House skirmish, presidential Tweet, ridiculous things said by the media, or outrageous words or actions by a political official (sometimes Republican, other times Democrat) or Hollywood celebrity, sports star or recording artist. Even sports shows, late night TV, and various celebrity-studded awards shows have recently joined the fray.

It all adds up to one glaring reality: Distraction, distraction, distraction. The problem isn’t so much that perception is reality, but that “the news cycle is reality” for far too many Americans. And, in fact, for a growing number of people “the latest post is reality.”

We are living in a new era of political interaction. “Get your daily distraction here!” Buy a magazine, turn on the news, or read the headlines on your smartphone—it’s often at least 99% distraction. And no, this statistic isn’t scientific, it’s just my best guess. A true scientific study of the facts would quite possibly show that 99% is a bit low.

The real issues, the most important realities, almost never pop up on the morning smartphone update. They only rarely appear in a television news program, and even the once-highly-trusted print media now serve up large swaths of distraction. We live in tabloid nation, at times, even when we try to follow the news.

The Shift

The truth is, I think most Americans kind of sensed this turn of events taking place during the 2015-2016 presidential elections. Media coverage was frequently so extreme that anyone who still trusts the media must not have watched the news during the past 24 months. Many on the Left are shocked by President Trump’s tweets; a lot on the Right feel the same way about the nightly news.

That’s what effective distraction is all about. It keeps us uneasy, concerned, worried about what the other (“evil”) party might do. This kind of intense media environment is like a drug—great for ratings, but often light on truth. Those who get hooked have to get their daily fix, shake their heads, and try to sleep at night even though the world is “so close to the edge right now”. Thanks to smartphones, too many of us are even addicted to the hourly fix, each new headline scrolling across the handheld screen to remind us to stay mainlined to the latest media report.

But there’s more to all this than initially meets the eye. At the same time we witnessed this momentous shift in American news and politics, especially its growing levels of intensity and divisiveness, we also experienced something else—mostly unarticulated, a feeling, a fleeting glimpse of…something. We’re not yet sure what it means, but it’s starting to look a bit like…dare we say it?…a new sort of wisdom.

For example, during the election a friend told me he was deeply worried Trump would win. When I pressed him for details, he explained that he thought Trump represented a spreading American authoritarianism. Not conservatism. Not liberalism or progressivism.

Just a desire to have someone strong in charge who would ignore the old political ways of doing things and instead just get things done, torpedoes-away-style if needed.

I asked if he thought Hillary would be better, and he responded that she’d be normal—corrupt, a politician, the kind of president the red states would hate and watch closely. But predictable. And therefore better.

Then he said the really profound thing that made me stop and think. “With Hillary in the White House and a large Republican majority in the House,” the government will be largely handicapped for the next four years. I like that.”

The Setup

He wasn’t just seeing things as liberal versus conservative. He was looking past media and party distractions and keeping his eye on the ball. Agree or disagree with his conclusions, but it struck me that his main focus was figuring out how his vote could help limit Washington.

Interesting.

The most intriguing thing about this conversation wasn’t the Hillary versus Trump issue, which for him seemed entirely secondary. His concern was that everything hinged on how to keep America from losing more of its freedoms. At the time, I thought it was a remarkable discussion.

But then another friend told me he supported Trump all through the Republican primaries because he believed Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, or any other mainstream politician might be elected along with Republican control of the House and Senate, meaning that there would be nobody to aggressively check their agenda.

“But with Trump in the White House,” he predicted, “Republicans in Congress will work hard to check the president. He won’t get very much done—just a few big and important things like deregulation of past executive orders, a Right-leaning Court appointee, and major tax cuts. Congress will only support the things we really need, not all the Trump rhetoric.”

Again, we discussed the specifics, with me mostly asking questions, but the most interesting thing I took from this conversation was that he, too, was looking for an election outcome that would check and limit Washington. He had a very different view than the other friend, and ended up voting differently, but they both had the same top goals in mind—protect our freedom, reduce the power of Washington, reboot the Constitution.

Yet another friend took a drastically different viewpoint, but with the same ultimate goal. “I hope Hillary wins and both houses of Congress stay Republican, or that Trump wins and Democrats take control of the Senate,” she said. Then she ended with: “Anything to get the checks and balances working better.” Again: curtail Washington’s power and let the Constitution shrink the overreach of government.

After this third conversation, I stopped being surprised when this approach came up. I didn’t see it much in the national media, but I heard similar thoughts from at least a half-dozen other people. Unlike the other heated elections I’d closely watched since 1992, this time around a lot more people seemed to be seeking something more than “the better candidate.” They wanted to see real change in Washington, not through a candidate, but by setting up Washington to do more internal fighting and do less. They wanted to limit the government.

The Ball

Is this change occurring because people are starting to give up on party politics as a real solution to our national problems? Or are they reading the Constitution and founding ideas more deeply? Or, alternatively, are there growing concerns that Washington has just become too big, too unwieldy?

Was all this a coincidence? Maybe. Or perhaps there is a new wisdom, embryonic to be sure, rising in America. A new sense that if we want to be free, we’re going to have to look past blind trust in what the media tell us and dig deeper, think more deeply and independently about our freedom and our politics.

Or could it be even more simple: Could it be that the media tipped their hand in 2015-2017, clearly signaling to a lot of Americans that it is “all in” for bigger government, more power to Washington, and more support for leaders who want to expand that power? As a result, perhaps a lot more people are looking around for new and better ways.

If there’s one thing Donald Trump absolutely got right in 2016, it is that the time has arrived to “drain the swamp” that is Washington D.C. In fact, Barack Obama started his presidency with the same call for real change in Washington and the way it did business. So did Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, for that matter. All came to the Oval Office as outsiders, promising to put Washington back in line. History seems to be teaching us that presidents don’t change the swamp as much as they want to.

If a new wisdom is percolating among the American people, it will need to use the power of the voting booth to put disruptors and real innovators in office—many offices—and never again settle for mainstream politicians and managers of the status quo (from either party).

To accomplish this, we’ll have to learn to largely ignore distractions from party politics and the manic media and instead keep our eyes on the ball:

What is undermining the Constitution
and our freedoms this month?

That is the question.

This is what is really happening in America.

And the stakes could hardly be higher: If we’re not up to the task, the elite politicians, bureaucracies, and media will win; families, middle America, the economy, and our posterity will be the losers.

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One Great Challenge Facing America Today

August 26th, 2017 // 4:51 am @

The Coming Fall

Only 15 percent of Americans are on target to fund 1 year or more of their retirement. One single year. Yet many will live twenty to thirty years after retiring. This one fact alone is a major blow against conservatism.

It may in fact kill conservative principles and ideals in the next two decades, and it could deeply hurt the American economy and our freedoms in the process. This is not an exaggeration. Put simply:

How can conservatives expect to win elections or, even if they are victorious at the ballot box, actually pass conservative laws and policies when more than 85 percent of the American people are going to be fully dependent on someone else’s money for housing, food and clothing, health care, and other expenses during retirement?

With the massive Baby Boom generation moving into retirement, many analysts ask: how can the United States implement anything short of collectivist socialism in the next thirty years?

To cut away the safety net, or to default on the promised Social Security and healthcare benefits workers paid into for decades, would be immoral and create widespread poverty for many of our most vulnerable. To buck up and pay for these obligations, and supplement them with what will be needed for millions of retirees to just get by, will require levels of taxation and regulation that will truly be nothing short of…well, socialism.

Bottom Dollar

Few people want to admit this reality—Republican politicians least of all. But over sixty years of government promises, spending money that should have been saved, inflating the currency, and putting numerous regulatory hurdles in the path of entrepreneurialism, innovation, and economic growth have taken their toll. A national debt north of $20 trillion dollars (more than $100 trillion when all the obligations and liabilities are met, and a lot more as these obligations and interest on the debt increase every month) leave us little wiggle room.

There are two realistic responses. First, we can go after major economic growth. This will require a systemic change in our economy—meaning mass deregulation and getting the government almost entirely out of the marketplace. Tax rates must come down drastically, and foreign-held corporate money must be encouraged to repatriate without penalty. Foreign direct investment must also be recruited (another reason tax rates must be significantly reduced).

The second option is to keep on the current path until we default, then allow an IMF bailout of the U.S. and the replacement of the dollar as the world reserve currency with International Monetary Fund SDR currency or some other (probably electronic) legal tender. This will result in a major reduction of the standard of living for most Americans and an explosion of additional government handouts. Most retirement and other savings that do exist will be wiped out, and nearly all Americans will go on the dole, with a few elites at the top, and both socialism and globalism will dominate.

The amazing thing, to me at least, is that many of our nation’s leaders right now—in both parties—actually prefer the second option. Moreover, a lot of them believe that this is the best course for our future. They deeply believe in globalism, collectivist economics, and the end of America’s attachment to free enterprise, gun rights, family values, and religion. They believe that government is the greatest power on earth, and deserves our universal allegiance and support. Even, ultimately, reverence. Anyone who disagrees, they believe, is small-minded or caught in the past—or both.

New or Old

Not only do many Democratic leaders hold this view, but a surprising number of Republican officials believe it as well, or at least they vote like they believe it (which brings the same results). This is a real battle, and the globalist elites are winning. The media, most of academia, and a majority of politicians are on their side. In their view, the future of the world is at stake—either a bright future of globalism (with elites in charge) or a return to dark-age tribalism, as they see it (where the regular people rule through small-minded, unenlightened democratic influence), will ensue. They are determined to ensure the globalist outcome.

They literally consider it a war–and one that is worth winning, whatever the cost. If academia, media, Hollywood and the lobbyist/D.C. bureaucracy/political party-apparatus can force the Trump administration to back down from anti-globalist policies and behaviors, so be it. That’s what the hubbub is about on the nightly news, investigations, etc.

But if not, they’ll take more drastic measures. A currency default might do it, causing bank holidays and massive layoffs. Or a serious shakeup in the White House—brought on by the Special Counsel, indictment of the President, or something else that circumvents the will of the voters and instead chases the goals of the elite. Something unexpected, of the same magnitude, could trigger a return of White House alignment to globalist goals. Today’s elites in government, media, finance, etc. can hardly remember a time when globalism wasn’t the clear agenda. Most of them are outraged at the very thought.

The rest of America has a serious problem. Remember the 85 percent of Americans who don’t (or won’t) have enough retirement savings to last more than a year? How are conservatives going to effectively promote smaller government and a return to genuine free enterprise in a nation strapped with the $20 trillion-plus national debt, $13 trillion in consumer debt, over $100 trillion owed in debt plus unfunded liabilities, and many millions (and growing) of retirees who will desperately need financial support?

The Next Step

I’m an optimist, because I believe the best days of America and the world are yet to come. Usually I infuse my writings with optimistic ideas on how we can really improve things in the days ahead. But right now I have to admit that I’m concerned. I’m not sure how we get past the economic hole we’ve dug for ourselves—not just politicians, but the regular people as well. We are culturally, if not actually, dependent on government spending and government growth.

Yes, a lot of people want the government to cut back, but they can’t agree on what to cut. Almost all Americans want the government to keep spending for things that benefit them directly. The ones that support cuts mostly only support cutting other people’s government benefits. Thus Congress doesn’t actually fix much.

Unless this changes, Democrats will continue to be the party of bigger government and increased socialism while Republicans will talk about smaller government, limits, and Constitutional boundaries—but when the votes come to the Senate, truly conservative changes won’t have enough Republican support to pass, and when cases make their way to the Supreme Court, free enterprising systemic changes to the government-corporate-K Street nexus won’t have enough Justices behind them. Too many officials simply aren’t willing to do what needs to be done. It’s too hard, and too unpopular.

I’m not sure what can change this.

Of one thing I am certain, however. History is absolutely clear on this point. As goes entrepreneurship, so goes our nation. Ultimately, a major increase in effective entrepreneurship, innovation, and business ownership is going to make or break us. It will create growth if it happens, and that changes everything. Also, the future of entrepreneurship is something each of us can influence. Our next three decades will either bring massive economic growth or the rise of rampant socialism to America. To choose the path of growth, our government can help (by deregulation and choosing to be smaller)—but a lot more people engaging effective entrepreneurship is the indispensible. Period.

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“The Coming Tide”

July 25th, 2017 // 7:22 am @

A Prediction

For decades the Democrats proudly saw themselves as the party of the little guy and the working poor. Republicans were considered the party of Wall Street, white collar professionals, and big business. But these alignments have changed during the opening years of the 21st Century. The Democrats are now, as The Atlantic put it, “a coalition of Millennials, minorities, and white professionals.” The Republicans consist of whatever is left over, which amounts to a majority of people in the large majority of states.

Perhaps the most striking thing about this new political arrangement is that so many white-collar professionals are now Democrats. Moreover, a large number of them are genuinely liberal, even progressive. This is a major departure from historical trends.

The most obvious reason for this shift is something members of the professional class have in common: years of participation in and graduation from the modern American university system. To find success in today’s campus environment often corresponds with embracing academe’s general values, processes, and views. When such views emphasize diversity of thought and vigorous debate of different ideas, the result is a certain kind of learning—and a certain kind of graduate. This approach helped make American universities the best in the world.

But when such views and values include rejection of diverse ideas, religious values, and pressure to adopt one overarching political and cultural perspective (pervasively advanced by the Left), a different result is natural. A different kind of typical graduate is also inevitable. This is where we find ourselves today. As the American campus has moved increasingly Left, the culture experienced and accepted by a large number of its participants has followed suit.

College Flight

This leaves many conservative or religious families, and others who aren’t particularly conservative or religious but don’t want their college youth to be ridiculed for their views or indoctrinated with blatant liberalism, with a difficult choice. College, long considered a required rite of passage into adulthood by many families, is becoming less attractive to a lot of people. The rebuttal is that the financial rewards of a college degree make it unavoidable. This boils down to two widely accepted but currently weakening views:

  1. College leads to financial success
  2. Financial success requires college

Perception is never quite as accurate as reality. Belief #1 (college leads to financial success) is a partial truth. It turns out to be true for some people, not true for others. In the 2010s, it is false for more than half of college graduates. Belief #2 (financial success requires college), on the other hand, is patently false. There are many people with financial success and means who dropped out of college or never enrolled at all. Indeed, many business owners who never finished college find their company bombarded with resumes and applications of those who did.

Certainly college is an effective path to career for many people. However, a downside for parents who aren’t committed liberal ideologues is the worry that many of today’s universities will turn their children into exactly that. And the biggest losers in the current system—even in the few schools where religious or conservative values are acceptable—are students whose focus on career prep distracts them from getting a truly great education. Sadly, this describes a significant majority.

II.

To be clear, all of this is part of a much larger national context. The bigger trend is that Americans are increasingly rejecting the 1960s promise of a society of experts who wisely and efficiently fix everything. The golden era of the American university was an outgrowth of this post-World War II zeitgeist: that everyone could participate in a society of experts, and that expertise and institutions held the solutions to all our national, world, community, material, and even personal problems.

Increased medical expertise and technology would make us truly healthy; better law schools and lawyers would ensure true justice to everyone; advanced technology and training in journalism would bring a golden age of media full of light and truth; business advances and expertise would eradicate poverty and bring prosperity to all. And so on….

The promise of what experts would bring the world was exciting, even intoxicating. True political experts, we were assured, would bring lasting peace, end conflicts, and spread happiness to every city and town. The Fed would ensure a stable and growing economy at all times, using modern expertise and financial algorithms to save us from major financial challenges. The promises were endless.

Over fifty years later, none of these expectations have been realized. Not even one of them. The entire “experts will fix everything” project is a bust. Just look at the current state of our politics, from the Clinton era to the Bush years, from Obama to Trump. Problems are far from solved. Many of our great national institutions, both public and private, have declined or lost their way. The citizenry’s trust of our government, and of experts in general, is lower and lower each decade.

In truth, the era of the expert is insolvent. It’s well past bankrupt, to be precise. We’re still training more experts, but they still haven’t solved the problems that caused us to want more of them in the first place. A lot of things have gotten worse. In short, something else is needed…

And soon.

What’s Next?

While national debts continue to skyrocket (more than doubling in the past 8 years), markets show increased volatility, and governmental credit ratings are downgraded, many of the experts assure us that things are getting better. But all they’ve shown is that they don’t really know what they’re doing. They know how to keep themselves well paid and in power, but beyond that, they haven’t fulfilled their purpose.

For example, imagine what would happen if we faced an economic depression like those the U.S. suffered in the 1930s, 1860s, or 1780s. When the Great Depression came, most Americans trusted the government, our leaders, and our national institutions. Today most citizens have very little trust in any of these; indeed, over sixty percent of Americas don’t trust the government to do the right thing most of the time. If crisis comes in this atmosphere of mistrust, few solutions from Washington will find enough traction to be successful.

This is a dominant characteristic of our times: We can’t seem to solve our national problems, big or small. We are mired in political squabbles, both between parties and within parties, and Washington accomplishes very little that actually helps the American people. It often causes harm, in fact.

As a people, we have largely lost trust not only in governmental officials and institutions but also in the media, Wall Street, Hollywood, the schools, big business…the list is long. Whom do we really trust as a people? Whom can we turn to in crisis—with real confidence they’ll fix things? In short, which experts do we really believe have our backs anymore?

If the promise of “experts will save us, and all our youth should become experts” doesn’t ring true anymore, what does? What is the answer? From the founding era through westward migration and the Industrial Revolution, the overarching goal of most Americans was to build a business and raise a family. This was our drive, our agenda. It was our national project, carried out by myriad individuals and families.

Then after World War II we turned our gaze in another direction: the career, a profession, education as job training, and daily life spent meeting the needs of the corporation or whatever organization employed us. In short, experts ruled and most people wanted to be experts. If they couldn’t swing it themselves, they at least tried to make it a reality for their children. Even family goals were expected to bend or give way to the interests of employers. Schools, likewise, were reorganized to separate, grade, sort, and point young people in the direction most likely to meet corporate needs. Experts oversaw the entire process, literally from cradle to grave and almost everything in between.

As the evidence of expert limitations grows, and as our national faith in the power of experts to solve our problems erodes and crumbles, what is left? Where will we turn? A whole generation of Millennials grapple with this situation in their work life, and more decide to opt out of the system than join it. Where are we headed?

III.

So far, nobody can definitively answer these questions. Time will tell, but in the meantime we must do our best to understand and prepare for the economy and world that is emerging in the post-faith-in-experts era. My opinion is that the most likely path forward is to reconnect with our American roots and turn our sights once again toward entrepreneurship. Business ownership is, in fact, the historical American pastime. The fact that many people abandoned it for half a century only worked because a few business owners did things on a big enough scale to employ the many.

But eventually, like any system where the many depend on the few for survival and progress, the few began taking more and more of the profits and power for themselves. In history this was called aristocracy, in more recent times it has been called socialism, and in our day it often gets away with calling itself capitalism. But whatever we call it, such a model is a far cry from the free enterprise system that turned America into a world leader—based firmly on freedom and the goal of most people to be independent owners and build their own businesses.

If and when this goal once again permeates our national mindset and our people’s choices, we’ll see the rise of a nation of problem-solvers. At that point, we won’t be dependent on politicians to fix things, and as a result, things will actually get fixed. In the process, we’ll naturally see a decreasing attachment to political parties and the rise of a non-political majority of business owners and family raisers.

There was once a name for just such goals: “The American Dream.” It’s time to bring it back.

To put it succinctly: Experts won’t save us. Politicians won’t fix what ails our nation. The solution will come, if at all, from a cultural change that marks the resurgence of a certain kind of person. At one point in history, people around the world had a word for such independent-thinking mavericks who took risks and then worked incredibly hard to make their businesses flourish and grow. They called them “Americans.” What qualified one for such a title? A burning drive to build and lead one’s own business, and to raise a family and community of young people with the same goal.

I think we’ll witness the rebirth of this same “tide in human affairs” very soon. In fact, I believe it’s already begun. But it faces strong headwinds blowing in the other direction, so we need to do better if we want the American Dream to succeed again. This is our key to the kind of future we want to pass down to our children and grandchildren.

Families, schools, communities and parents can either raise a nation of “independents” or a society of “dependents.” One will bring freedom and opportunity, the other won’t.

It’s our choice, and the decision won’t be made in Washington — or even at the ballot box.

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