Friday, March 18, 2016

5 Things on a Friday: Rise of the "Know Nothings"

It’s been a tough week.  It’s been both busy and confusing, with near-constant frustration and substantial positive reinforcement coming in a constant stream from unexpected angles.  I don’t want to get into the details, but the level of cognitive dissonance in my life is at times deafening.  I hardly know what to think.  It’s hard at times just to parse all the mixed messages.
As we were headed to the gym on Tuesday night, Hannah asked me what was going on.  She’s a perceptive twelve-year-old and a straight-A student.  I told her that I was frustrated, that it seems like people--even people whom I respect a great deal--have shown themselves to be fundamentally self-interested, and that their willingness to tie themselves into knots intellectually in order to believe what’s in their own basic self-interest has been both overwhelming and disheartening.  I tried to explain to her that we have a higher calling, that the fact that she IS a straight-A student and has every advantage gives her a responsibility going forward.  She was not put on this Earth just to be a mother and a veterinarian, if that’s the path that she chooses.  Self-interest and the interests of her family will always be important, yes, but those things will never be as important as her responsibility to society, to her community as a whole.  There is such a thing as service, and though it’s up to each of us to define our own service for ourselves, service just to oneself and one’s family doesn’t actually get us anywhere.  Service to one’s self and family is a truly minimal kind of social responsibility.
Hannah gets it, I think, but I don’t know who else does.  I don’t know who else is teaching this lesson to their kids.
As a society, we’ve made greed a virtue.  College kids look at a film like The Wolf of Wall Street and they see a role model, not a cautionary tale.  We’re all going to be stuck with the consequences of this in time.  These consequences might take a while manifest, but their manifestation will be a real thing.  We will all notice.  We will all live with the consequences.
How much any of this influences my own cognitive dissonance is an open question.  It feels like I’m a hero when people need a hero, and I’m a goat when they need someone to blame or have another hero picked out already.  Meanwhile, I’m always me; I’m the same guy.  I do what I do, and it’s flattering when people notice, and it’s frustrating when they cut me off before giving me so much as a chance to show my strengths.  This is true for everyone, I’m sure, but it’s been really, repeatedly unmistakable these past weeks for me.  As my father used to say, “What you see depends on where you sit.”  It’s weird, though, to be the object of that saying, to have people project whatever they need onto me.
At the end of the day, I have a beautiful wife, two great kids, and a house that I can afford.  I don’t exactly need other people’s approval.  Still, the mixed messages are hard to hear in rapid succession, and at times that makes my personal reality a bit unpredictable.
Don’t be confused by Kasich’s grinning, cheery attitude. For him to do what he needs to do to win the nomination, which is presumably the reason why he’s still bothering to run for president, he would have to shatter the Republican Party, ostensibly in order to save it…
Here is the ugly way that such a scenario might play out to the benefit of John Kasich. The party establishment, as represented by 1,237-plus delegates, would dismiss both Trump and Cruz as unacceptable, despite them finishing first and second in the delegate count and together representing the preferences of a majority of Republican voters. Unless the party migrates back to this joker [Mitt Romney], or to some other “white knight” option, Kasich would be the party’s default man.
As I’ve said before, I’d rather see a third party run by a true Centrist candidate, but I’m not convinced that this is what’s going to happen.  In fact, I’m starting to think that Donald Trump is going to pick Ted Cruz as his running mate, solidify the GOP in a way that now looks impossible to most observers, and then torpedo Secretary Clinton’s campaign in exactly the same way he’s torpedoed the GOP.  Clinton and her supporters are being a little too sublime about their chances in November if you ask me.  Like mainstream Republicans, she and her folks have lost touch with the way that society is fracturing.  We have two big-tent political parties trying to represent the views of at least six distinct domestic political factions, and the result is a poorly served electorate.
I’m not a political scientist, but I see the breakdown like this:
1. Tea Party/Libertarians.  This is Ted Cruz.  These folks are anti-government isolationists, often using a states’ rights argument.  Tend to be socially conservative.
2.  Traditional GOP.  This is George H.W. Bush.  These folks believe in government, collective security, international engagement, and free trade, but wants to limit the welfare state.  Not typically willing to go to war over social issues.
3.  Know-Nothings.  This is Trump.  Socially conservative but isolationist and protectionist.  In the modern day, they favor government spending and the welfare state.
The "Know Nothings" were a major party in the mid-19th century.
They even had their own flag.
These three segments currently make up the GOP, and as should be obvious, they do not play nicely with each other.  Truly, there’s not a lot of common ground here.
4. Traditional Democrats.  This is Clinton.  Socially liberal, in favor of the welfare state, believes in a strong federal government, international engagement, collective security, and free trade.
5. Social Democrats.  This is Bernie Sanders.  Socially liberal, wants to expand the welfare state to include college tuition, but is isolationist and protectionist.
6. Greens.  This is Ralph Nader.  Similar to other Democrats but believes that the environment and climate change are more important than the welfare state.
As with the Republicans, there are substantive differences here.  Not coincidentally, those differences are down to isolationism vs. collective security and free trade vs. protectionism.  Or, to put it another way, mainstream Republicans and Democrats now have much more in common with each other than they do with many members of their own parties.  This isn’t because of corruption, it’s ideological change at the grass roots level.
Unfortunately, Donald Trump is the only one who’s noticed, and indeed, his campaign’s social agenda notwithstanding, he looks set to run to the left of Clinton on many important issues.  But the most important issue he’s laid out is trade.  
His victory speech on Tuesday made this clear:
One of the broadcasters was saying ‘is there anger?’ I'm supposed to say, ‘no, there's not, we love the way things are working, we love the deal you made with Iran, it's wonderful, you give them $150 billion, we get nothing, we love all the deals, the trade deals are wonderful, you lose $500 billion a year with China, we loss $58 billion a year in terms of imbalance.' It’s a total imbalance. We don't make good deals anymore. We don't win anymore…
They're not angry people, but they want to see the country properly run. They want to see borders, they want to see good health care, they want to see things properly taken care of. They want our military rebuilt, our military is in a very bad state. They want it rebuilt.
I do not support Trump.  I’ve made that plain.  However, his message is going to resonate with people, and I think you’ll be surprised by how many are willing to forgive the racist overtones to the primary portion of his campaign.  People without jobs hate Free Trade.  On top of that, Trump is going to point to Clinton and take her to task on Libya and Syria and Iraq, and that’s going to stick.  Her argument is experience, and it’s going to lose because people just weren’t happy with her tenure as Chief Diplomat.  What were her successes?  Seriously, name one.  If she’d been some great Secretary of State, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.  She would have secured her party’s nomination via coronation in exactly the way she expected early last year.
If Internet security cannot be controlled, it’s not an exaggeration to say the effects could be no less than a nuclear bomb,” said Gen. Fang Fenghui, chief of general staff of the People’s Liberation Army of China, in April 2013. Fang is not alone in drawing comparisons between nuclear weapons and cyberweapons during the past few years. Secretary of State John Kerry responded to a cybersecurity question during his confirmation hearings in January 2013 by saying, “I guess I would call it the 21st century nuclear weapons equivalent.” That same year, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin praised cyberweapons for their “first strike” capability. Since 2013, a number of leaders in the U.S. national security establishment—including former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft in January 2015, Adm. Michael Rogers of Cyber Command in March 2015, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper in February of this year—have stated that the threat posed by cyberweapons is comparable to, or greater than, that of nuclear weapons.
The author’s point is that cyber-weapons are less dangerous than nuclear weapons, and that may be true.  However, they are still plenty dangerous.  Not because they can inflict mass casualties by themselves but because they can—potentially—be used to melt down nuclear reactors, which would still be plenty bad.  Moreover, cyber-weapons are scary for the same fundamental reason that nuclear weapons are scary—you can never be sure that you’re guarded effectively against their use.  With the potential doomsday scenario of multiple nuclear reactor meltdowns, that makes them quite effective as international deterrents.  Thus this comparison.
Vladimir Putin cited Russian military success in Syria as his reason for scaling back his forces there. But his belief that the intervention delivered him a seat at the top table of world affairs is more likely to have tipped his hand.
Russia's Syria operation, launched on Sept. 30 last year, made military, diplomatic and domestic political sense for the Kremlin which was keen to shore up its closest Middle East ally and protect its only naval facility on the Mediterranean. It has largely achieved both aims.
But an analysis of comments made by the Russian president and other officials, and conversations with people familiar with his thinking, suggests his primary aim was to make Russia so indispensable to the Syrian peace process that it could regain a measure of the global clout the Soviet Union once enjoyed.
This is a good piece of analysis.  Still skeptical?  This bit is further down the page:
In the space of six months it has gone from being a pariah state in the West because of its annexation of Crimea and support for pro-Kremlin rebels in eastern Ukraine to being the go-to partner over Syria. Once spurned by Western leaders, it is now a regular interlocutor for both Washington and EU leaders.
4.  Daredevil

It came out last night!
5.  Army Sports Update

The game is at 2:30, which is convenient because it means that you don't have to put off watching Daredevil.  Instead, you have to find a way to watch while you're at work.

I know nothing about hockey, but this is badass.
Long post this week.  Sorry about that.  
Have a good weekend!


  1. I think your political breakdown needs one more division. Ted Cruz is pitching much more to the religious right than to the libertarians, as far as I can tell, and these groups actually have few interests in common. Thoughts?

    1. That's a fair point. I lumped them together based mostly on tax policy & their record of obstructionism against the president's agenda, but it's true that there are some real differences here.

    2. Not sure I agree on the Anti-Gov't aspect you tie to Ted Cruz. First, I'll likely vote for Cruz, so I want that out there for consideration.

      My disagreement comes from this; Federal and State government are both required in order to achieve the Unity and Strength the U.S. needs as a Nation. Like other parts of our system, they must both work together, and act as a 'checks & balances' against each other. Like myself, many of those who support Cruz believe that the Federal Gov't has overstepped its mandate in many regards. President Obama's actions to date underline exactly why Cruz has so much support.

      In essence, it's not Anti-Government, it's that many are seeking that balance between the State and Federal that has been lost.

    3. That's fair. I said "anti-government", but I should have said "anti-Federal" with a desire to devolve things to the state and local level. I even thought about that when I was writing but chose brevity over clarity.

      I'm not a Cruz supporter--not a suprise, I suppose--but I understand the arguments in his favor. My calling him "obstructionist" isn't meant as an insult. He has--legally, honorably--obstructed an agenda with which he vigorously disagrees. I would personally favor more compromise, but one could turn that on its head and say that if the president had proposed a more Centrist agenda, maybe we wouldn't have had so much obstructionism.

  2. For the most part, I agree with your assessment that cyberweapons aren't like nuclear weapons because they lack the primary damage capability of nuclear weapons (relying on secondary effects), but as an Information Security geek, I think you understated the risk a bit. Causing meltdowns of nuclear reactors would indeed be bad, but I suspect that would be one small part of an actual coordinated attack. In addition to attacking nuclear facilities, an enemy could easily attack our woefully underprotected infrastructure systems such as traffic control - turning all (or a significant portion of) traffic lights green simultaneously. Once the roads are sufficiently fouled up with accidents to prevent emergency personnel from getting places, attacks on electrical systems could be triggered, causing widespread power outages. Now you have nuclear meltdowns, lack of communication due to power outages, widespread damage, injuries and death from traffic accidents, and emergency services unable to respond effectively.

    And as much as I know about our vulnerabilities (and as scary as that is), I have no doubt that guys like Snowcroft, Rogers and Clapper are aware of plenty of other less well known vulnerabilites which are just as scary as the ones I named.

    Sadly most industrial systems were designed with 100% attention to functionality, and nearly 0% attention to security. Trying to Bondo on security patches after the fact is never 100% effective, and most companies running those systems are afraid that applying the patches might cause outages resulting in loss of customers, and PR problems. So they do nothing.

    On another note - I couldn't agree with you more on the frightening devolution of values in society, and our need as parents to instill a desire for service in our children. Unfortunately our children are bound to be outnumbered as adults by those who didn't grow up that way.

    1. Another friend--a former Army Swimmer, in fact--told me pretty much the same thing a few months ago. I will say that I hope it's not quite as bad as all that, but my buddy assured me that it most definitely is.


      I thank God every day that my kids are smart. Sally & I are doing okay. I have faith in the demonstrated abilities of my kids. I don't know what else to say except that my kids--most especially my older daughter, Hannah--have it within themselves to be leaders. I want them to understand that there is a responsibility that comes with that, that the greater good doesn't just happen. People have to make it happen. Especially since Hannah has said (many times) that she wants to be a veterinarian, she needs to find some way to serve her community besides the more obvious paths that Sally & I took. That's important. She has an obligation.

      That said, it's not up to me to define service for Hannah or anyone else. Mark Cuban was quoted as saying that the best thing you can do for this country is to earn a lot of money and pay your taxes with a smile. That paying taxes is citizenship; what your country needs from you is your success and your money.

      That's a low bar for service, but at least it's something.

      Y'know, if all else fails, give blood. People really need it, it's almost painless, and it doesn't take very long.