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election-2016

I just read The Economist’s rather excellent series of articles concerning the extent to which enormous multinational conglomerates have gained dominance over the world’s economy and politics.  This article concludes that American and EU politicians will have to use a (quasi-miraculous) combination of self-restraint, prudence, insight, ingenuity, determination, and bravery in order to control these monopolies/cartels without risking destroying the innovation & growth which make them [the giant corporations] so valuable. I was suddenly filled with indignant fury!  Our political leaders cannot approve simple funding against Zika–a serious and universally-feared communicable disease. American politicians seem like poltroons who would rather fight each other over moronic soundbites rather than picking extremely low hanging fruit.  How can they be expected to reign in vast all-powerful companies worth hundreds of billions of dollars which wear a million aliases yet have neither face nor address?

aindex

However, once I calmed down, I realized how dangerous and counter-productive this sort of anger is. Our indignant fury at the system is not helping us—in fact this anger at our leaders is making everything worse. And anger at the system helps one side more than the other.  Being infuriated and throwing up your hands and saying “everything is hopeless” is, itself, a partisan position.

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This is because the so-called tea-party legislators have gamed the system in a way which has diminished the system.  Namely, they have told everyone that government does not work and then they have deadlocked government so that it does not work.  They have done so in order to cynically reap electoral advantages, and in order to privatize government services and turn sundry public holdings over to their cronies.  As the government gets worse and worse—they can claim to be correct about how useless and ineffectual it all is.

This strategy is successful in that government indeed becomes less and less effective (just like the Republicans said!), but it is a dangerous strategy–like trying to take over a spaceship by turning the life-support systems off and prying open the airlocks.  Our state is already showing the sad results of such naked sabotage—but becoming angry or nihilistic about this terrible problem only magnifies the damage.  We are trapped in a feedback loop.

As if this weren’t bad enough, the Russians have been meddling in our election this year with a series of leaks, statements, vague threats, and (probably) with money. I find it alarming how similar the Russian strategy is to the tea-party strategy. A Rand Corporation spokesperson summed it up succinctly: “(The current Russian leadership) may think there is a low-cost/high-payoff way to increase the perception that the system over here is chaotic and is not reliable.” They would do such a thing in order to make autocracy look good…and apparently that is working too.

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Republicans have tried to exploit this so they can momentarily balk the demographic trends which are relegating their party to obscurity, but in doing so, they have opened a portal to hell. Indeed the tea-party people seem to have lost the momentum and they are being swept away by the autocratic and fascist-style politics they have unleashed.

Being angry at the government is how the Republicans and the Russians want you to feel.  They want the government to fail so that they can allow oligarchs to take over even more critical functions.  They want corporations (and the rich people who own them) to directly control the streets, schools, parks, and military as well as the hospitals, courts, and prisons.  They believe that you should be the plaything of autocrats and enormous monopolies.

angermeter

So I have stopped being generally angry at the election and the government. We all need to move beyond feeling so much directionless anger and fear.  These things are poisoning us. We need to gain a sense of steely calm and we need to carefully and methodically fix the problems which are undermining our superpower. This doesn’t involve saying that everything is broken and there is no point trying to fix anything.  It involves seeing that the system is broken because one of our two parties is deliberately sabotaging our state. Let’s throw out these revolting tea baggers who are defrauding us, so that society can start building things and discovering things and caring for people and the planet—oh, and busting up the monopolies which have been preventing competition and free enterprise from doing what they are supposed to do.

And if the Russians and the Republicans win, they probably can’t dismantle the entire system in 4 years.  We can throw them out then and start to bust trusts and rebuild society in 2020. I can see the bumper stickers now “Hindsight is 2020: No more President Trump!” but it would be better if we didn’t have to print such things.  It would be better if we acted like adults and sorted out our problems now with a combination of self-restraint, prudence, insight, ingenuity, determination, and bravery.

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Happy Birthday NASA! The National Aeronautics and Space Administration began operations on October 1, 1958 barely two months after the passage of the National Aeronautics and Space Act (which congress approved on July 29, 1958).   Since then the space agency has encountered myriad astonishing successes from landing humans on the moon, to leaving the solar system, to building the only working space planes, to exploring the planets and sun with robots (and doing so much else).  In order to accomplish these astonishing missions, NASA has spearheaded countless breakthroughs in science.   During its 55 year history, the space agency has caused revolutions in fundamental astronomy, physics, aerospace engineering, materials sciences, ecology (and many, many other fields).  NASA is a resounding success—it is one of the greatest human institutions for exploring, learning, and innovation.

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It is somewhat ironic that today is the space agency’s anniversary because the shutdown of the American government has is deeply hurting the agency.  Of NASA’s 18,000 employees, 97% are on unpaid furlough. All projects other than active missions are temporarily suspended.  This is serious business, because space projects, like cakes in the oven, do not deal with suspension very well.  The more time spacecraft spend here on Earth being shuttled in and out of storage, the greater the likelihood of something going wrong.  Also, the universe did not shut down because of funding trouble—so missions with orbital based schedules will potentially have to be held up for years.

Sigh--Don't hold your breath for this...

Sigh–Don’t hold your breath for this…

For anyone reading this in the far future or from a cave deep beneath the Earth, this is all a by-product of a failure of America’s split legislative houses to pass a budget due to political feuding.  Extreme right wing legislators who do not wish for Americans to be able to afford health care (and believe that if the government is defunded it will advance the wealthy business leaders whom they serve) are holding the national budget hostage in the hopes that they can disassemble the Affordable Care Medical Act.  Congressional districts in America are laughably gerrymandered (i.e. designed to be perfectly safe for incumbents) so it will be some time before the majority of voters can remove these dangerous and incompetent politicians from office.

"I want to hurt sick people AND stop human progress." (citation needed)

“I want to hurt sick people AND stop human progress.” (citation needed)

Even before the government shutdown, NASA has been having political and funding trouble.  The anti-government right-wing caucus in the House of Representatives has been trying to bleed away more and more of its funding (many of the so-called tea party caucus are also religious fundamentalists, so science makes them nervous and unhappy anyway).  All of this strikes me as appallingly short-sighted.  The legislators who believe the market to be the supreme arbiter of human affairs are clearly being paid to espouse such a short-sighted objective. While, the market is quite good at selling everyone plastic rubbish, crooked equities, and hair loss pills, by itself the system is fundamentally incapable of the sort of research which moves humankind forward.  Blue sky research into the unknown is not a job for abusive oligarchs and fat corrupt businessmen.  The exploration of the universe and of cutting edge science is a task for the brilliant men and women of NASA–but at present they are at home worrying about their bills and looking at the employment section for less important (but better paying) jobs.

At least you don't need a clean room to flip burgers...

At least you don’t need a clean room to flip burgers…

Bullet train! Yes!

Usually I avoid quotidian political subjects, but I am excited about the newly released plans for high speed rail (which fit very well with my preferred vision of the future) and I was also angered by the kneejerk opposition to those plans.  It would be fun and elucidating to write about the many merits of high speed rail and the great opportunities which such a system presents.  Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the way that political discourse is conducted in America anymore, so I will bow to contemporary conventions and belittle its foes.

A pro-rail article from Yahoo news presented these disparaging words from a rail critic, “Only two rail corridors in the world – France’s Paris to Lyon line and Japan’s Tokyo to Osaka line – cover their costs, says Ken Button, director of the Center for Transportation Policy at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.”

Hmm, I actually don’t think anything in the transportation world covers its cost.  Ken Button, whose quote makes him sound profoundly ignorant of transportation realities (and whose name makes him sound like an off-brand toy) is just blithely assuming that roads, highways, car infrastructure, and even air infrastructure is all free.  In fact these things cost a great deal of money–and taxpayers foot the bill. Even “for-profit” airlines are heavily subsidized and supported by public money.  But it is money that taxpayers are willing to shell out, because we like having a civilization.

"All of this is completely free and appears by magic!" --Ken Button (cit. needed)

Sometimes, when I’m on the subway and lack an appropriate book, I read one of New York City’s tabloids. The editorial section usually features some suburban blowhard observing that since he doesn’t take the subway he doesn’t want his tax dollars paying for it–let the strap hangers pay for it themselves with greatly increased fares. This poor logic always bothers me.  An equally weak counter argument would run thus: I don’t drive, so why should my tax dollars pay for the roads?  (I could add that roads are filled with dangerous maniacs who love to carelessly mow down children, working people, and even one another.  Additionally cars increase our reliance on foreign oil suppliers and cause a variety of environmental problems.)

But it is wrong to dislike roads (and the automobiles on them).  Roads allow goods and services to move everywhere: they are the means by which emergency vehicles get around and food is delivered.  Outside the city, they are the only way to travel (except for ornithopter or pony).  But, here in the northeast corridor, they are also a mess.  So are airports for that matter.  If we want to move around freely in the future we will need new means of doing so (maybe we won’t want to travel—we might be busy shooting arrows at each other and fighting over canned food, however politicians would be wise not to make that a centerpiece of their vision for the future).  I’m sure the anti-subway driving enthusiast writing to the Daily News would find new worth for the subway if all 5 million riders decided to drive to work (particularly if it was on the day his heart gave out and he needed an ambulance).  Maybe he will even have some qualms about quashing public transportation when petrol shoots up a few more dollars (and growing instability in the middle East always makes that seem likely sooner rather than later).

Of course there are very valid concerns about the proposed high speed rail system: Amtrak is a mess (having been remade in the image of a pork barrel), and we don’t want to damage our extremely reliable freight rail service.  And the whole thing is going to cost far more money than it is being billed at (money we don’t have). But I imagine that money would be thrown out anyway (remember “cash for clunkers” which subsidized wealthy car buyers to purchase new Toyotas?) and at least we’ll have beautiful new bullet trains and an additional way for people to move around the country.  Additionally, such a system will be necessary when we inevitably move to a nuclear-powered world.  Either opponents of the new high speed rail plans should produce some long term plans of their own or they should just come straight out and proclaim they are friends of Middle Eastern despots and that they oppose technological progress and infrastructure growth.

Of course high speed rail is all a dream anyway--this is the most likely actual future.

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