Sunday, May 30, 2021

The Case of Filibuster v. Coup

A Senate majority voted Friday (May 28, 2021) to establish an independent commission to investigate the January 6 riot.

But alas, in the US we're not ruled by the majority.
Oh, we let them suggest things and wish for things, even promise things,
but in the end we let the minority have final say.
So most good ideas go in the trash.

On balance, we get the right to occasionally trash the opposition's ideas.
So nothing changes.

We're told that's important stability,
even as voting systems are being dismantled locally across the ntation,
even as the train wreck of climate change approaches at frightening speed.
Change is needed but the filibuster is going to consistently block change.

We had a coup attempt on January 6.
By majority vote, We The People really care about such things.
But a minority disagrees, and the filibuster gives them the power.
So that ends that.

• • •

If it was some other country and we saw video of an attack on the capitol, we would not speak of those “alleged” to have attempted a coup.

If it was some other country, we would not say that we saw something but could not be sure what it was unless that country created a bipartisan committee to study it thoroughly and report with more reliability what was already obvious to anyone watching.

If it was some other country, we would not doubt the contemporaneous report of on-site American reporters as if it could all be some form of mass delusion or fake news that appeared consistently on myriad cameras in real time.

If it was some other country, we would just call it an attempted coup.

If it was some other country, any president but the previous would already be lecturing the world on the precious nature of democracy and how they must rush to safeguard it—the way we do in the US.

We do still defend democracies in the US, don't we?

I ask because I know of one that's in immediate danger and needs such help.


• • •

The failed vote can't keep us from knowing what happened. We know. It is instead just more proof that we don't need a blue ribbon commission to see that things are seriously amiss, and that we need swift action:

Ditch the filibuster and start governing proactively, not just reactively.
That's what democracy is meant to be.

Fix voting rights while there's still time.
Now. Not tomorrow. As with Covid, every day counts.

Do not wait because things can change even without an election.
If bad things happen, we need good rules already in place.

Otherwise, the GOP is set to move in and show us all how power is used.
But they're not going to waste time on bipartisanship.
And they're playing for keeps.

So, do your job, Democratic Senators, as a majority of voters sent you there to do.
Safeguard the nation, not the dysfunctional filibuster.
If you don't do it today, we may never get another chance.

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This post began as a Facebook comment.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Children of the Information Era

“Now you see it … Now You don't.”

Probably most people know, because so many web sites ask about it when you register, that there is special protection on the web for US children under the age of 13. Quoting the FTC's explainer page on the Children's Online Privacy Protection Rule ("COPPA"):

“COPPA imposes certain requirements on operators of websites or online services directed to children under 13 years of age, and on operators of other websites or online services that have actual knowledge that they are collecting personal information online from a child under 13 years of age.”

So we in the US have a sort of right to privacy on the web. OK, not a right, exactly, but at least a strong law. But there's just one small hitch: it expires as we get older. What is that about?

Why should it be OK for that right to go away as we get older. Whose interest does that serve? Certainly not mine. What kind of values are encoded here? What message does that send?

I'm sure this was sold to Congress, and then to the American people, under the tried and true “for the children” banner and that lawmakers didn't stop to think very hard about how much many of us adults would have loved to have at least the option of similar protection.

But it was not to be.


Ethics and Technology

People like me who've watched and rewatched Star Trek for decades are regularly reminded, as one of its common themes, that technology and wisdom need to move hand in hand. When technology gets ahead of wisdom, bad things happen. But Star Trek mostly takes place in the 23rd and 24th centuries.

Ethics has had a very hard time in our 20th and now 21st century technological society. Really there's very little ethics built into anything technological. There's an explanation for that and it comes in two steps.

Early on, technologists anxious to explore a topic insist it would “hold back progress” to weigh them down with ethical concerns, as if the worst thing in the world would be having to think about the impact of technology on society.

Later, if you try to apply ethics to a more mature technology, the punch line of the joke on us is trotted out: It's too late. “It would be disruptive to the market” to impose ethics—now that the market is used to doing to us whatever it's doing that profits someone.

Growing Up in the Information Era

Of course there's another possible explanation for why this privacy “right” goes poof and vanishes at age 13: By that age we have “grown up.”

We'll ignore for the moment that 13 is not the ordinary line between childhood and adulthood. But probably some business somewhere stood to lose too much money if we drew the line between childhood and adulthood in the right place. Though I'm sure the official party line was that kids needed time to swim in the deep end while there were still adults around to help them. Or something like that.

I'm not buying any such sophistry, though.

After all, what is adulthood? Why do we even make a distinction in society between how we treat children and how we treat adults?

Wikipedia suggests this about adulthood:

“In contrast to a ‘minor’, a legal adult is a person who has attained the age of majority and is therefore regarded as independent, self-sufficient, and responsible.”

Implicit in this is the notion that there are people—often but not necessarily parents, but usually at least other adults—training one for this role of independence, of self-sufficiency, of responsibility. And why? Well, because they've been around awhile. They're native guides familiar with how adulthood plays out. They can tell children what to watch out for because they've lived in the adult world for a whlie and have seen the pitfalls.

And that's the problem. This theory might work OK for learning to drive a car. Cars change a little each year, but mostly driving a car is the same today as it was decades ago, hopefully a little safer. Adults know what to teach kids about driving a car because they've done it awhile. They know the landscape.

But the information landscape is just different. You may give up a piece of information, like your location, and think it quite benign. It's never caused you a problem before. But there are people whose job it is to infer new information all the time from old information. That data is a treasure chest for companies to mine, so the implications of giving it away are not known to your parents. They maybe, if they're really paying attention, know what a given piece of information was used for in the past, but every day there are new things being inferred. Not just new ways to track us in the future, but new ways to understand data already obtained.

I'll say it this way to be most clear: There are no adults in the information society. There is no one who can take their lifetime, or even their last 20 years, and tell you what the next 20 years will feel like. Society has always changed from generation to generation, but it's happening faster and faster, to the point that we are really all just children, bumbling our way through the implications of the world that is being re-made before us. There are not a lot of adults with worked experience in the information age they can share with their children, not really. Not in the sense that there are adults who can help kids learn to cook dinner or play a piano or drive.

We are all children in the rapid-paced world of information that dominates today. There are effectively no adults who have lived this life before and are competent to prepare the next generation for that role. The informational life that any previous generation lived is a life that has already vanished by the time the next generation comes along.

The right to informational privacy should not expire as we grow up because there's no sense in which we can usefully reach “informational maturity” until we change the aspect of society in which we're willing to let technology far outpace wisdom, with ethics left far behind, lost in the dust.

Given that we are all really just children in this information era, adulthood not an easily attainable concept, we all deserve the protections that we today afford only to those under age 13. Our right to privacy should not suddenly expire.

Control at some point should pass from parent to child, but it should not just pass to the market. We should demand to hold it ourselves for our entire lifetime.

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Saturday, February 20, 2021

Simple Political Competence

Media keeps calling it "leadership"—the thing that had been missing in 45's administration, that Biden restored. But 45 was a leader of sorts. His base was drawn to that. What he lacked was the competence to manage the parts of government we rely on.

As a public, we lack competence too. We interview prospective leaders but not on how policy will work. Just please sound sure. We'll vote promises, fear, hope. That's why education must be in reach of everyone: so we ask harder questions and understand the answers. Democracy cannot not survive an uneducated public.

Politics must care about science because policies must address what the world throws at us. Science can't fully predict the future, but it can report the odds, letting us be more prepared. To Ignore such a potential edge shows willful lack of competence.

Climate Change is here, gaining steam. To oppose addressing it is willful denial and plain incompetence. A partisan divide over simple, unavoidable truth makes no sense, but if the GOP wants to draw the line there, say it plainly: They're the Party of Incompetence.

There is a lot of work to do ahead. 45 left things in shambles, some borne of evil profiteering intent, other parts of manifest incompetence of the highest order. Even when dug out from that, we have big problems afoot. We need competent solutions.

Let go of centrism, which says no matter the problem, modest solutions are enough, an incompetent claim. Big problems may need big solutions.

  • Identify compassionate goals. (Or why bother?)
  • Fairly express problems.
  • Offer competent solutions.
  • Only then, lead.

Recent shifts in diversity and inclusion are a good start at compassion and fairness. Campaign funding reform is key, too. Properly representing We The People lays foundation to solve the right problems. Competently describing and solving problems will do the rest.

Democratic Values

✓ Compassion
✓ Fairness
✓ Competence
✓ Leadership

The GOP fancies itself the party of values. Dems have values, too, but have been incompetent at articulating them. That must change.

Compassion. Fairness. Competence. Leadership.

Pick a simple set like I've offered here. Repeat them every single day for 4 years.

The previous President had very few competencies, and terrible values. There is not a lot to learn from him other than what not to do. But he knew how to get a message out. The messages he picked were terrible. But repeating them daily clearly had an effect on many voters.

Democrats should learn from that—not the messages, but a way to deliver messages so they sink in. Daily repetition is essential.

And did I mention repetition helps? It's part of competent messaging.

Bill Clinton's campaign was famously designed around the mantra "It's the economy, stupid." I would almost suggest the phrase "It's the competence, stupid." but calling each other stupid won't get us far.

Also, competence isn't the whole of it, just something recently and conspicuously missing in the GOP. Actually, all of these important qualities are lacking in the GOP, except leadership.

Republican Values

✓ Leadership

The GOP does offer leadership, but of a pure authoritarian kind.

  • GOP policy lacks compassion.
  • GOP policy lacks fairness.
  • GOP policy lacks competence.

That's why articulating values in this way matters.

  • These are not words you can usefully attack.
  • These are not words you can easily forge.
  • These are words that most voters would say they care about.

Plus, in difficult times, well-articulated values can cut through political disagreements. They serve as a compass to remind us of where we're going, why we're going there, and why it matters to choose plans that really get us there.

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This post began as a Twitter thread I posted on Feb 20, 2021.