Monday, March 25, 2019

After Mueller, Time to Tell the Resistance to Let It Go; Using Alinsky Against Itself

Photo Credit: USP News

I've been saying for months that nothing would come of the Mueller investigation. At long last, we have a report that says exactly that. There’s no smoking gun; that would have surfaced a long time ago if it existed. There are no major Indictments; and many abandoned minor ones. Mostly, in the grand scheme of things, it’s much to do about nothing. About the only thing the Mueller investigation did prove is that President Donald Trump had some oddball personalities who orbited him. What man of means doesn’t?

Mr. Muller was certainly methodical and thorough. Thorough to the point that there aren't really any stones left worth turning. Despite what some people may hope, there’s nothing worth looking into further. And don’t give me any of that Southern District of New York double speak. Any investigation that squeezes stool pigeon after stool pigeon granting immunity to obtain accusations is another dead end. The wait for the shoe to drop game is over. The fat lady is singing.

I suspect Mr. Mueller wanted it that way. To have a conclusion that an Attorney General would have overwhelming guidance to either pursue an indictment or let it go. In this case, US Attorney General William Barr quickly determined the conclusion is the latter.

And so once again, two years after the November election of 2016, acrimony once again begins by those who cannot believe they have lost again. For me, as soon as I saw the breaking headlines come across the wire feed in my phone, I quickly made the decision that it would be a good day to just ignore television and skip over anything that wasn’t a picture of cats or food on social media.

Bye Felicia. Mic Drop Time

I’m mentally done with this episode. I have better things to concern myself with besides looking in the rear view mirror. I am much more inclined to focus on the future.

Things like how Trump and Bolton will get Korean Peninsula de-nuclearization back on track for instance. The Vietnam Summit did not go well. I sense dissonance between the two American architects, one looking to deal flexibly and the other looking to bargain positionally. The US two headed snake problem very much plays to the advantage of the Chinese and North Koreans while we continue to dawdle.

With no Trump-Russia collusion conclusion, maybe the long overdue process of finding constructive ways the US and Russia can work together that should have started on January 1, 2017 can finally get back on track. There’s certainly a need. ISIS as a military force in Syria is gone but the even more complex task of keeping Assad’s Alawites, the Iranians, the Turks, and the Kurds from plunging into chaos is certainly an area where the US and Russia have much to discuss. That and the US needs to recognize that the only other $16 Trillion GDP economy on this planet is seeking influence with Russia while we aren’t.

That is not very smart playbook for US national interests. The so-called “Resistance” has harmed these processes and the end of Mueller gives us a tiny window of opportunity to get back in our wheelhouse. We won't win on the world stage unless we have a national agenda united behind our Executive Branch and that means telling Congress to move along. Every one of our global adversaries knows this. Every one of our global adversaries hopes we don't remember how important it is. A distracted America is a loser America.

Establishment Elites and Social Justice Warriors

Sadly, we have forces within our country that want us to lose even more than our international adversaries. We have a political establishment class dedicated to gridlocking the United States until the 2020 election. These are the haves of our nation, the elites, the betters, the money, the power mongers, the yellow journalists, the ones who would tell us how to lead our lives.

We ordinary Americans are the have nots. We are the orphans from political parties gone mad with internal factional fighting that has little to do with us and more to do with the circus theater they use to distract us. Vladimir Lenin used to say that one percent of truth is the perfect amount of cover to sell a 99% lie. That's certainly true today when one looks at the world or of mainstream media news where fair and balanced reporting has been replaced by opinion punditry that cares only about packaging the message to maximize capturing the confirmation bias of target audiences. These too are the haves of our times running rough shod over us have nots.

Thank goodness for the discord of the internet with its infinitely segmented social media, a forest of independent websites and podcast networks, and robotic web crawling search engines. Otherwise, alternative views would never be heard. At least for now. Or haven’t you noticed that the Establishment, at the behest of academia’s elites, is trying to clamp down in the internet? The forces of control are predictably tireless.

Changing the Game

What chance to ordinary Americans stand to take back control? We who are the silent orphans from the political parties who can’t stomach the vitriol of politics because, like refugees from political strife the world over, we are deep down tolerant and caring people who don’t things it’s cool to turn our guns on our neighbors. What rules of change management to we pursue to rein in the haves of our times? Melt the wax in their wings? Pour water on their feet of clay? Bring their egos back down to size? How to we be revolutionary Americans again?

Just remember this throughout what follows. Don’t just force the enemy to live within their rules. Force them to live within our rules. And then, break the rules. Because Americans do that.

Let’s try a thought experiment together. What if we, the silent majority stopped being silent? What if we turned the rules of radicalism used by those who have been trying to control us against them?

Saul Alinsky, author of "Rules for Radicals"

When Saul Alinsky wrote his rules for radicals, he clearly stated these were tools for the have nots to take power back from the haves. In 21st century American, the have nots are the ordinary Americans. Therefore, we should be using these rules. So let’s give it a try turning Alinsky philosophy against itself shall we?

By the Numbers

Alinsky #1: Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.

Santiago #1: Know your enemy’s facts. Power is not about believing what your enemy wants you to think. Power is about knowing where the enemy is advantaged, disadvantaged and just plain full of it.

Alinsky #2: Never go outside the experience of your people.

Santiago #2: Teach your people to have the insight and expertise to deal with what is going on. Educate your fellow Americans until we’ve negated whatever experience advantage our enemies have, or think they have.

Alinsky #3: Wherever possible go outside of the experience of the enemy.

Santiago #3: We hold this truth to be self-evident, that all Americans are equal. Always strive to level the playing field. Educate the enemy as much as you educate yourself. Make them know that their denial is what causes them to be disadvantaged, ostracized and losers.

Alinsky #4: Make the enemy live up to their own book of rules.

Santiago #4: Make the enemy live up to a common book of rules that are based on tolerance and respect among equal Americans.

Alinsky #5: Ridicule is man's most potent weapon.

Santiago #5: Politically incorrect ridicule is an even more potent weapon.

Alinsky #6: A good tactic is one that your people enjoy.

Santiago #6: A great tactic is one based on truth.

Alinsky #7: A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.

Santiago #7: A clear vision and strategy defeats any tactic of the moment. Great visions, like the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and the Bill of Rights can be passed from generation to generation. Never forget that the United States is one of the youngest cultures on planet Earth. More important, at this point in time, we are also the oldest continuous government on planet Earth. Think about that for a minute. And then be proud, very proud.

Alinsky #8: Keep the pressure on.

Santiago #8: Pressure my behind. No one can make you feel inferior without your permission. Or maybe Saul forgot to read Eleanor. Don’t let someone else’s pressure cooker and need to eat Xanax as a food group affect you. Find the elegance in the truth of the moment. Savor the tranquility of your clarity. Let the desperate enemy burn themselves our as you watch and smile knowingly.

Alinsky #9: The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.

Santiago #9: Nothing is terrifying when you know what’s going on. And everything becomes almost trivial when you take the time to look at things from multiple viewpoints to really understand how and why one person is triggered by something one way and another person responds a completely different way. Then, nothing phases you.

Alinsky #10: The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.

Santiago #10: Alinsky repeats himself. He said the same thing cogently enough in his rule #8. That he had to repeat himself is something I’ve always interpreted as a self-admission that he knows he is in the wrong. I now invoke rule #5 and ridicule him thusly and impolitically just because I don’t like jacuzzi revolutionaries. Bite me Saul. So there.

Alinsky #11: If you push a negative hard and deep enough it will break through into its counterside.

Santiago #11: This is probably the most important counter rule to remember. Bullshit, no matter how loud or eloquent, is still bullshit. Every American should know how to detect it. No American should ever feel shame in politely pointing it out when detected. This is how you disarm the enemy and make them impotent. This is how we will win.

Alinsky #12: The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.

Santiago #12: Advantage is the most fleeting asset in warfare. All warfare goes from one cycle of engagement to the next. One battle is not a campaign. At each engagement, always begin to turn the enemy’s strength into his next bowl of weak sauce. The objective is to move the enemy to more and more untenable positions until they eventually abandon their agenda on their own because it just doesn’t work anymore. Remember, you are part of an American majority. Share what you learn with your fellow minded Americans. An enemy swarmed by a multitude dies a death of a thousand cuts quicker. Just saying.

Alinsky #13: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.

Santiago #13: Learn to fight con artistry. Don’t be that sucker born every minute. Understand the game being attempted on you. If you aren’t sure, develop trusted resources to find out. Do find the weaknesses in the persona of the attacker and exploit it to throw them off their game. It’s ok to be impolitic about it; remember, they are attacking you. You’re just defending yourself.

Freeze on your own terms. Alinsky adopts a classic military tactic called fire and maneuver that allows the enemy to search for your soft spot. But subterfuge is perfectly legitimate in such matters. Suckering a social justice warrior into an argumentative trap where you turn the tables and freeze them on your own terms is perfectly acceptable in political contests.

On the last point of Alinsky’s, pick your target, I finally agree with him. You are allowed to pick your fights. You are allowed to refuse to discuss something stupid with an enemy that isn’t making sense. You’re not crazy, they are.

I hope you found some if this useful. Here’s all of us ordinary Americans and the common values we share. God bless the United States of America.


Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Privilege with Prejudice

Originally posted at, https://americaoutloud.com/privilege-with-prejudice/

Source: Associated Press
America is rocked by yet another scandal. The latest one by privileged parents bribing a corruptible college recruiting system. As criminal activity goes, it's pretty hard to top federal racketeering. Yet that is what this latest rendition of American affluenza seems to be. Privilege clearly has no philosophical boundary in America given that most of the accused in this case seem to have liberal tendencies. It raises the question of just how far the elite class in this country is willing to go to achieve their aims by any means necessary.

It is something that should worry every ordinary American. Those of us lowly citizens relegated to watch our betters make decisions on our behalf. We may argue that this is not so to our hearts content on the circus that is social media; but the reality is but the elites are getting away with it.

Next to the story about the scandal over college admission bribery In the Wall Street Journal is a parallel story about the thriving industry of legal manipulations by the elite to place their children into colleges. There are 17,000 college admission assistance service businesses in this country. No! What blows my mind is that WSJ article illustrates that the main thing wrong as far as academia is concerned is that this group of people charged by the federal government did not play by their rules of bribery.

There is something fundamentally wrong about our value system highlighted by cases like this. The days of asking what you can do for your country are no more. it's not even about what your country can do for you. Now, it's about what you can get away with. We idolize those who figure out how to cheat the system.

In the real world, celebrities, major office holders, heads of corporations, and professional athletes are few and far between. Regardless of that status, everyone is still, in the end, an ordinary American.

These days, that's no longer enough to be proud about. Today, if you're not an influencer, you're a nothing. Stepping back and thinking about it, it's a macabre version of China’s social scoring system that seeks to rate how good of a citizen you are in that country. In our system, we seem out to prove who has the biggest of any of the three orifices of our bodies.

And it’s extracting a terrible cost. In an America where emotions are amplified by an electronically enhanced sense of confirmation bias, it has turned us into a mean society. Our funniest jokes are demeaning. Our first reactions are snarky at best, indignant on average, cruel far too often. Trolling is considered a skill to be proud of. We are a nation of spineless keyboard warriors who wouldn't last a minute in a real fight. The loudest among us speak with platitudes of promise for their ideals that go hand in hand with declarations of animus for those with whom they disagree even slightly. Pluralism is dead. Tolerance is weakness. To be American is to self-segregate and demand, “Me first!”

Researchers who study social media point out a category of people whose lives have revolved around creating images of success online that are juxtaposed with clinical depression in the real world because no one can live up to their artificial self-images 100% of the time. Cell phones are the leading cause of PTSD particularly among younger Americans.

Punditry has become an art form not of increasing the clarity of the explanation of topics. Instead, it's become a game to extend the hyperbole of nonsensical arguments as far as possible. Whether it's mainstream media, social media commentary or blogging, the name of the game is justifying one's biases; objectively, really stupid biases.

How else to explain something as bizarre as the latest cool kid phenomenon of changing the boundaries of the discussion around anti-Semitism? I mean really folks; that's just stupid. That's the kind of thing that leads to genocide happening again. In America, the concepts of “Never Again” and “Never Forget” are being evaporated and the so-called Establishment is going along with it like a bunch of permissive parents who will tolerate the worst behaviors of their spoiled brat children. That's not going to stop them from one day taking power and murdering people they don't like.

And increasingly, they seem not to like anyone. The cancer of the deconstructionist academics who invented political correctness to breakdown the rules of American Society, to make it malleable enough to reshape it in the image of the political theories of their preference, have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. No literally! I mean beyond anything they ever thought.

Look at what happened to 1960’s dream of an equal America turning into white women being the newest privileged villain of social justice warfare. Talk about matricide. The equal rights movement was pioneered by white women. This entire phenomenon is best explained by looking at social justice as a bunch of spoiled children becoming unlikable teenage punks.

Like all trendy things, the day of reckoning is coming for all of it. It's certainly come for the people that were just indicted for bribing the college admission system. Conspiracy and racketeering are serious transgressions against society. The consequences are justly harsh. If these people are smart, they will plead guilty early. They will hope the court is lenient. They should serve their time humbly. Ponder the cost of their hubris. After that, they can begin to pick the pieces of their lives up and, hopefully, spend the rest of their lives asking what they can do for their country.

Someday this “dorm kegger” of malformed notions of the narcissistic powerful dictating to the people in the “cheap seats” will coalesce back to the rules of a complex society based on plurality, tolerance and coexistence. The idea that privilege gives you the right to beat people you don't agree with into submission always ends the same way. Wings of wax always melt; feet of clay always crumble.

In America, it's the ordinary people that still matter the most. None of us is more special than another; that’s what makes us special.

Foxes and Hens; The Changing Landscape of Mainstream Media


Screen captured of FOX and CNN on the 20th of March 2019.  FOX leading with a story of the Nadler committee running into difficulties.  CNN leading with the problems of the Conways.

FOX and CNN business calculus is not about politics, it’s about looking for marginal gain in audience share.

FOX has likely recognized that they have captured almost 100% of the tv watching conservative audience; and that audience has no alternative venues to watch. Every dollar invested in the right now has very low marginal return on investment (ROI). The calculus says losing 5% of share in conservatives to gain 20% of left leaning viewers is an attractive use of capital. The danger in this strategy is that FOX will become a bipolar two headed snake that no one likes.

CNN is the struggling third network in the news. They know they over invested left of aisle and it did not lead to the number one network position in the marketplace. And they were just eaten by AT&T, a very numbers driven company. The calculus says the ROI to hold position with their current business model probably will not pan out. So time to move out of box. The most attractive option analysis fork is to invest in market segments it has near zero share in. That is right of aisle content hoping to win poll position by becoming the icon of fair and balanced news in the hope of attracting the silent disenfranchised viewer base that had given up on tv news. The danger to CNN is that the walk away viewer base won’t come back. The opportunity for AT&T is that they don’t need cable to be everywhere.

Which one will win? Who knows. But as a long time student of the news business, I’m fascinated to see things like this unfold.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Deep Links in Journalism; Misapplied Tools in an Aggregation Addicted Era


Journalism has evolved considerably since the 1990’s when I first encountered the industry as a founding member of the CBS MarketWatch team. From a very humble beginning at an average internet speed of a dial-up modem, I have watched many experiments in post-McLuhan medium technology come and go.

During that era, I attended a fair few futurist events including the wonderful New Directions for News series media innovation gatherings put on by Professor Jean Gaddy-Wilson. It was a time of discovery of how to use tools that would one day become known as click-bait, search engine optimization, personalization, and, this article’s subject, deep linking.

What is deep linking?

In journalism, deep linking is the practice of embedding direct links to other web pages within a story packaged in a manner to compel a reader to click and look at more content under your company’s control. In internet parlance, it is what makes a site “sticky”; meaning, generating more than one page view per site visit. 

In the design of a web content business, stickiness is where you make the profit.  It turns one ad serve into two ad serves in top line revenue thereby beating the marginal return on investment of single ad serve per visit economics. Among other things in the theory of medium exploitation principles, it allows advertisers to set up a complete “look to book” soft sell journey from door opener to deal close ad presentation strategies embedded within a user’s self-identified confirmation bias envelope aka comfort zone. Sorry, that was an equation. I do that sometimes. But the point is to create that kind of ad services value, you have to package content to be that compelling.

In its most elegant form, one click-bait/echo chamber story randomly attracting a viewer on the internet to a well designed deep linked content page leads a user to an extended “on topic” immersion experience never leaving the journalism business site. It takes between five and ten sequential page views of exposure for a soft sell ad strategy to create statistically significant purchase intention.  Some sites are well capable of delivering this. These days, most news sites aren’t.

What’s gone wrong with it?

These days too many digital news websites aggregate other people's content. In general, news bureaus have lost their ability to package long linger immersion experiences for users. The rise of random tidbit news packaged by teams of superficial reporters and editors almost entirely focused on initial click-bait packaging has degraded many site’s internet business models to over relying on single page view visit economics. It’s an eventual money loser that leads to loyal audience abandonment and channel switching behavior even on the web. The economics are unconvincing and natural audience and agenda burnout cycles lead to internal acrimony and eventually, staff layoffs.

They have little internal material to link through to because they lack the subject matter staff to produce original stories; or in some cases, decent independent coverage. We now have cases of major news outlets that have gotten so bad that their aggregated articles assembled by weak sauce teams that deep link to web pages of major and minor competitor news bureaus. That's basically giving business away.

I'm at a loss to explain why boards of directors are not hammering on top level executives for such practices that are destroyers of shareholder value added (SVA) performance. Some of these news services have gotten so bad their articles borderline plagiarize the sites they point at. Since when is it a good thing that a gossip site has better coverage depth of a major bureau on the same story? That's just sloppy workmanship.

Something is wrong with the organization design and internal controls in such cases. Rewarding single view per visit followed by immediate hand off to a competitor is just weird to me.  Particularly so because the advertisers have technology that can see the came from and sent to flow of the user cookies. They know who's sticky and who isn't.

You can spot news sites suffering from this problem by looking for artifacts of un-compelling linking. We cannot call it "shallow" because that term refers to a link to the home page of a site as opposed to a specific content page. Un-compelling links in news look like this,

A Dearth of Original Content

A lack of original content is the first sign of an un-compelling news service. Every news service needs some degree of premier reporting to create a base of material that will be deep link targets within their systems and from others. The negative economic effects of a lack of original content are tangible.Among other things, it means nobody in the business deep links to you so while your aggregators are sending customers to other people's original sources, no one is sending them you.

The proper company performance metric on original material deep linking in a competitive industry is that, at a minimum, cross site referral traffic going out from your site should be equal to the amount of traffic coming in. The detailed corporate measure should really be that this 1-to-1 ratio should apply versus the top 10 closest competitors and be no worse than 2-to-1 versus specialty content sites you've made traffic exchange deals with.

There should be upper level management assigned to make sure these traffic exchange ratios are managed actively; including, but not limited to, assuring a healthy library of original content is available for use as deep linking destination URL's; and, making opportunistic deals with key specialty content sites for exclusive deep linking arrangements. In original internet parlance, you are "ring" making. The purpose now is the same as the purpose back in the beginning, maximizing effective market share.

Random Linking

Random links to unrelated topics that a user interested in the topic at hand has little reason to click on.  Random links also have the negative effect of forcing the advertiser to re-start the soft sell process from scratch with each page because every random page initiates a different immersion algorithm from the prior page.

It is corporate hubris to think that the news company’s logo is more important than the story that is shaping the advertising customer’s business objectives. I am somewhat surprised that advertisers don’t clamor more to only pay profitable ad serve fees based on a third page view within the same web domain purchase intention lane. It’s certainly measurable … and demand-able.

Plop Linking

Another form of un-compelling linking is “plop linking”. That’s where an editor inserts links in between paragraphs to other stories but there’s no context in the story as to why that link is integral to understanding the current story.  It’s just sitting there like a smelly dead phish, more uninviting than enticing. Yes, I meant the way I spelled that word.

If you see a site packaging with these three characteristics, it’s probably not capable of carrying a viewer ten page views into mind share immersion. The ads on it will be ignored. The look-to-book metrics will be awful.

These practices were never good business. I suspect such methods will fare even worse as artificial intelligence user support technology advance to that point they begin to interfere with advertiser’s ability to use non-cooperative target recognition tools like cross domain cookies that serve on the internet kind of like the equivalent that time synchronized clear channel ad broadcasting works in radio and TV. You’ve seen this driving or sitting at home where no matter what channel you turn to you are hearing the same ad play. That’s not an accident, that is the value-added service of the technology at work.

Foundations and arcs.

Compelling deep links presented in solid context within a news story that generate a high probability of the viewer going to the next story and that page carrying the reader on more and more after that ultimately lead in an inwardly spiraling arc to foundation object stories. These are the underlying basis that create context for every breaking news and opinion editorial built on top of them. They are collections of factually objective pieces that allow additional works to tie in showing off sub-plots of persona, political, diplomatic, economic, technical and philosophical arcs that are the immersion of the reader into an encyclopedic journey of a subject.

To have a persistent visitor experience, you have to invest in deep link material. Following best practices I learned from the early days of the internet when "category killing" was the name of the game, I concentrate on foundation pieces as I compose material on www.pickingnits.com so that as news plays out I have an increasing number of deep links to tie back into. Stories like "Dangerous Skies; Aerial Warfare Over Syria""America’s Unwanted Young Men" or "Grey Zone Conflict: On Exploiting Human Domain Asymmetry" serve as a basis to frame future breaking news or policy events.

I often wonder why some news bureaus do not have more foundation subject matter expert material prepared in anticipation of future story arcs that they clearly have staffers on board who are smart and connected enough to task to do. Instead I see far too much reactive coverage to breaking news and reliance on pundits and commentators that are painful to listen to even as the public yearns for cogent explanation.

Other news bureaus do exhibit foundation content production. I like them better. They have the depth to weather storms.

Foundation content is an art form of story telling that has been degraded in an age where aggregators pick through performance art content on the internet hoping to do little more than create viral blooms of one-trick pony events. And then sent them to a competitor. There’s no look-to-book value proposition pony in that model.  No imprimatur that owns a subject across all market segments.  It’s just a mouse on a wheel chase for the next piece of cheese.

News bureaus that have lost their ability to invest in broad audience story telling are just waiting for the next business cycle downturn to explain why they laid off 5 to 15% of their staff in a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Form 8-K filing to be followed by a lawyerly MD&A section in the next Form 10-K to be explained to one’s unhappy board of directors and activist investors.

You also drop off being relevant to the original source priority search engines.

The “original source priority” what?

Deep inside the internet beyond the once every seven-days web crawlers that catalog the internet every seven days, there the most precious set of search engine support servers on the net.  These are the priority original source servers kept by major search engine operators and government/intelligence systems.

It's not a given. You must be provably relevant to qualify for curation by one of these original source systems.  Provable means passing some form of automated or human driven diligence process that shows what piece of content needs to be hyper-watched on the internet.  If you fall in this category, what you do appears on the net instantaneously.

Become less relevant and you appear seven days later.  In Internet timelines, you’re a LOSER.

To be fair, that criteria has layers. Commercial search engine hyper-watchers tend to be broader in acquisition scope as far as speed is concerned but these days I suspect a lot of that has to do with a business need to spread the dragnet to catch viral content as it begins to blossom.  This is a social media adaptation of the internet.  What I am seeing is that too many news bureaus are trying to do well on social media at the expense of managing to their core business advertising economics. Traffic at the cost of linger. And it's killing them like a cancer.

Other hyper-watchers curate on thought influence relevance.  This is more productive focus area for a news bureau.  There are certain servers at certain IP addresses on this planet you want picking your stuff as the base object reference point the instant it goes live because that server considers you a definitive component of setting the echo chamber debate or policy deliberation and decision process that is about to follow.  And if you know you stuff, your IT people will be monitoring your inbound hit traffic for these IP addresses and reporting on the delay time from content live to first look as in how many seconds. Bear in mind, not all these IP addresses are in the United States.  News bureau imprimatur measurement is a global not local measurement process.

In terms of commercial human curating, I still give the brilliance award to friend Arianna Huffington and her original model of curating a select group of influencers as the imprimatur leverage point of the original Huffington Post.  She assembled a collection of people beyond left or right and built a new media powerhouse that challenged the imprimatur of every old media company in the marketplace.  What most never got was that Huffington carefully curated the leverage.  The rest was letting the cadre write and interact facilitated by a support staff that made sure content was copy edited at least one pass and got up quickly.  That curated list was in turn hyper-watched by an original content server at Google.com creating a breaking news wire effect far more effective than the vertically integrated systems of mainstream news.  Having once been a CTO watching over the server farm of CNBC.com at the end of Dot Com One, I appreciated Arianna’s brilliant move on many levels.  That’s why I did the Move Your Money project with her during the middle of the 2008 financial crisis.  The post-Arianna HuffPost that bought into repetitious drumbeat content? No so bright a star.

I do not see that kind of brilliance in too many of today’s news services.  Mostly, I see mediocre aggregation and a lack of organizational design attention to what it takes to create the next category killer.  Instead, most of the things we feared would come about back in those New Directions for News gatherings have come to pass.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Grey Zone Conflict: On Exploiting Human Domain Asymmetry



Grey Zone conflict is defined as the state of heightened tension that occurs at the junction between peace and war.  It brings disparate force elements into tension as dissimilar cultures and expectations clash both within the same teams and between conflicting sides across grey divides. Training to understand and exploit these human force structure components in scenario planning and execution are mission critical to prevailing in the end-game outcome. This article discusses issues and table top exercises operators can use at all levels of command and control to maximize human factor engagement probability metrics in their favor.

Question: What do you think are the biggest problems in Grey Zone operations and environment.

The main challenge in grey zone operations is the orchestration of the various pieces of military, economic and diplomatic components that constitute a much broader range of force elements that a campaign planner can utilize to execute policy and strategy objectives.

You are operating constantly in a state of asymmetric tactics often putting the narrow views of your own assets in conflict more than the adversary's.

As a note, a master of this art form at the present time is President Donald Trump who's approach to policy and strategy has shown he is willing to trade off force element utilization strategies with little regard to tradition.

It's an approach that works particularly well in the grey zone; something that traditional scenario analysts in many tradition bounded segments of U.S. government apparatus and the NGO community have been slow to embrace.

Note that posture, both threatening and supportive, are powerful force elements in grey zone operations. For instance, the positioning of assets within striking distance to create a deterrent can radically change an adversary’s calculus.

The force element does not have to be military.  It could be economic in the form of a treaty, material aid, actual financing, offers of guarantees, favorable trade terms, or sanctions.  It could be appealing to constituents particularly in cases when significant numbers of the adversary’s people

Even the mere creation of a solution to undermine an enemy's assumptions can be effective. In the 1980’s, we did this as part of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) aka Star Wars. In 1984 I wrote a paper on the Imperfect Defense Theory of Strategic Missile Defense that challenged the ground rules and assumptions of conventional nuclear war planning models of both the United States and the Soviet Union. It was an example what could today be considered Grey Zone leverage using mathematics that eventually brought both the US and Soviet apparatus to a constructive negotiating table at Reykjavik, Iceland in 1986.

I leveraged it again in a series of articles on North Korea in 2017. The North Koreans made a major Grey Zone information blunder.  One of them said the word Guam. That was enough to set the analytics in motion and write, ”A US Missile Defense Architecture Solution Against a Rogue North Korean EMP Attack”,  http://www.pickingnits.com/2017/09/handling-it-us-missile-defense.html?m=1

There's lots of Grey Zone level of operations strategic maneuvering discussed in the articles I've written on www.pickingnits.com.  The topic is not new. I did a class on this for Air War College back in the 1990's.  Back then, Asymmetric Warfare was a very new concept emerging on the heels of the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Twin Towers were still standing in New York City. The lessons about leverage just beginning to be studied then still apply, perhaps even more so today.

I pause for an important admonition. The mathematics of grey zone strategies are risky. It's based on something called "uncertainty theory". Within this math is something called post option degradation. It’s fancy talk for nothing goes as planned after the first shot.  Which is why, one of the key tenets of successful operations in a grey area is “don’t fire that first shot”. This is a critical thing to bear in mind if you are the strategy planner.  You need to reach the end game and win before chaos initiates.

Question: The issue with grey zone is that it is a very broad regime. We are trying to narrow focus on the biggest issue and how to approach it. Any thoughts?

It’s not as broad as people would think. Conflict management still follows the same long-term rules it always has. The operational metaphor of force and maneuver still applies. Like any chess game with feints, you create openings and trigger reactions on the opponent.

In Grey Operation, you are really using different chess pieces. For example, fishing rights or oil rights instead of air defense interdiction zones and fields of fire.  You think more openly about the forces you can deploy. It is highly useful to favor passive solutions to manipulate the target into going down the path you want while believing they did it of their own will.  Also become comfortable that combat elements are almost always supporting characters in the grand play of a grey war. The actual “boot on the ground” that wins the US’ physical victory should, if possible, not be military boot but a designer shoe. Truly stable outcomes are elegant.

Suggested Table Top Exercises

Exercise 1: A good thing to focus on for a table exercise is "managing inter-agency rivalry risk". It's a huge factor in whether a grey strategy works or not. Intel, diplomatic, law enforcement and banking agencies tend not to play well with military. It causes more failures than anything in my experience.

Exercise 2: Another zen of the game exercise is a teamwork strategy design focused on "who is the leader what part of the op". How do you hand of leadership smoothly phase by phase? What is the responsibility of the leader when it's their turn? Leading a multi-element team means you must be able to step out of your own comfort zone and step into a frame of mind that values the entire team and the big picture mission while it's your turn to lead.

Quite honestly, most people mess these two things up.  And you have to train to be good at these things. It’s important.  Get it wrong and it means you will kill about 400,000 people over 10 years in whatever region you screw up.

Question:  What are the major challenges and opportunities for influencing the human terrain in warfare? Where are we relative to our adversaries and how can we learn from them?  Note that human terrain is now also known as human domain.

This is a big question with a complex answer on multiple levels of leadership, operational role and populace.  Human domain is an operating space like a jewel with many facets.  The ground rules and assumptions of one facet can be very different from the next.  For example, cyber hacking has a very different meaning depending on where you are in the world.

Tim Maurer’s book “Cyber Mercenaries” on the state, hackers and power details four very different approaches to cyberwarfare.  The US facet focuses on centralized power and the assumption all enemies are subversive to it.  The Russian/Eastern European facet emphasizes reaping opportunistic benefit from criminal or near-criminal activities aimed outwardly against the world while also punishing inward attempts crime extremely harshly.  The Chinese facet emphasizes the management of hyper-patriotic hacker communities.  And finally, there's an activist/NGO cyber hacking facet that focuses on disjoint political agendas that have little or no profit motive.

To give you an idea of US strategic myopia, the last Cyber Security policy statement published by the White House only dealt with one of these facets.  The remainder were ignored in the policy statement. This tells you that the US position on the logic and preparedness of our adversaries is too often to ignore or discount their relevance to our strategic planning.  This is a dangerous thing that is very exploitable by our adversaries.

More Exercises for Winning

The bottom line is gray operations are highly dependent on exploiting the asymmetric responses of humans to specifically triggering stimuli that are inserted into the scenario on purpose to exploit their weaknesses. It involves profiling both the strengths and weaknesses of your target and of your own assets because it is the interplay between the asymmetry of all components of the battle plan that matters.

Put more simply do you have to know where the vulnerable points are on their side and yours so that you can plan for success based on those realities. The most important thing to do that will cause your team to win the engagement is don't fall for your own bullshit. And that requires a great deal of training and maturity on the part of the leadership ethos of the team.

Exercise 3: The tabletop exercise for this is a series of self assessments of strengths and weaknesses of the individual members of a team. Simultaneously a second team should be doing the same. With that list of strengths and weaknesses by both sides, a third team then looks at how to exploit the two teams to create a desired scenario outcome. The scenario then played and observations made as to whether the assessments, strategies and reaction predictions were accurate. The tabletop exercise continues until each of the three teams has had a turn to be the scenario outcome designer. The debrief for each segment is for the three teams to honestly assess whether or not they got their self assessments correctly and how this scenario design team may have done things better.

The self-assessment elements include things like, cultural background, training and conditioning, susceptibility to triggering from friendly and hostile stimuli, impulsiveness, Things that contribute to understanding the profile of how a person will react under two scenarios. One, how they will react when they are calm. Two, how they will react when they are under stress. Specifically, how they will react under stress created by an external force deliberately attempting to trigger a perceived vulnerability. The training objective is to learn to not be triggered by such things.  It will make a difference in the outcome of missions in the real world.

Ultimately, all conflict is won or lost by who blinks first. Grey Zone operations are, most of all, about causing the other party to blink without having to shoot at each other.

Additional Reading

While you are looking up references, see if the library where you are has a copy of the old book titled "Getting to Yes". The book was used by President Carter to negotiate a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. Within that book is a powerful concept called a Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA). It is a classic tool for ensuring have leverage if your primary strategy collapses; which is pretty much inevitable when it comes of high stress campaign scenarios. Most of the book is about diplomatic maneuvering. But, this concept of BATNA is an important one for anyone working the Grey Zone to have in their arsenal. It should be part of any team's mission planning process.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Wall of Words: Trump and the Democrats Face Off Across A Philosophical Border

Associated Press

It’s a new day in America. We have returned to a government digging its heels. Populist outsider Donald Trump fights against the establishment, a growing army of politicians assisted by a ratings hungry media attempts to isolate him and his agenda from the American people.

There’s a philosophical wall between President Donald Trump and the Democratic leadership headed by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. That wall is about whether and how the federal government of the United States should secure its border.

The President wishes to create a tangible and credible deterrent that materially changes the politics and economics of crossing the border to a mode where illegal activity is minimized. He asked for assistance from Congress to do so in his State of the Union address on January 30, 2018.

Following that address, Congress passed a budget that contained nothing of what the President asked for. Instead, Congress sent the President the 2019 Budget in September that make Trump swallow a bitter pill to get the Defense Department funded and kicked the can down the road on the border for a showdown in December 2019.

The political maneuver made Trump recoil in disgust and swear that he would never let Congress do that to him again.

Well came to be December 2019 and Congress tried to do it again. With no “can’t do without it” budget appropriation to force Trump to sign it available, Congress attempted to put in little more than lip service budgeting to border security; something that the White House had strongly signaled was a “never again” move.

The result was a partial government shutdown beginning on December 22, 2018 furloughing around 800,000 federal workers out of a civil service workforce of 2.79 million. That’s worth about $2 billion in missing paychecks every two weeks according to US Office of Personnel Management. Trumps wall would cost $5.7 billion, roughly six weeks of the affected workforce’s payroll.

Let’s be frank. That’s not a lot of money for America. Particularly so in the context of the societal costs of the presently less secure border system that the President stated was around $500 billion a year, almost as much as the defense budget. So why are the Democrats continuing to kick the can down the road at each turn? Surely, it’s not about the money.

I am reminded of the besieging of another president against whom another establishment army determined to thwart his quest to save the soul of his nation, Abraham Lincoln. The analogy isn’t as far off as you think. The question in Lincoln’s time was whether to let go of the United States of America as the founding fathers envisioned it or fight to preserve it. We see America divided arbitrarily again, this time not North vs. South, but Coastal vs. Heartland. The vision at stake is the same, should America as we know it be abandoned.

This is the elephant in the room that establishment Washington does not want to face. The thing that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Chuck Schumer “disagree” with President Donald Trump about what to do.

Trump is clearly trying to preserve traditional America. It’s clear he is sincere in his belief that his call to Make America Great Again is something he believes and that he is doing everything he can to bring that vision to fruition. He is being opposed blindly at every turn.

Associated Press/Alex Brandon

Pelosi and Schumer also want to preserve their version of America. Theirs is a one of an establishment political class that acts as the caretakers of America reigning over ordinary Americans as willing vassals of the land. It’s a rose-colored vision of Democratic Camelot. One where importing willing vassals to outnumber unwilling traditionalists is a good thing.

But I’m not so sure that establishment America isn’t about to see this blow up in their face.

The Democratic Party is flush with a new crop of representatives and senators who would change America even more than them. In their America, traditional American culture is the enemy to be wiped away without mercy. Bringing in immigrants to help make that change happen is about the only thing they have in common with their establishment cousins.

The change metaphor can be stated another way. Tradition minded Americans are the new native Americans and the immigrants are coming not to assimilate but to settle on the land and eventually send the traditional Americans off to reservations.

The new breed will all be Democrats of course. Or so Pelosi and Schumer think. I’m not so sure. I worry that, just like the Europeans discovered a century ago, catastrophic revolution is more likely as social cohesion erodes into animus. These things do have a predictable pattern.

Me? I’m really not of a mind to take that much of a risk on losing the core of American culture. I see too much value in it for this country and for the world. American pluralism that respects Americas founding values as the most important beacon for human rights and liberty on this planet. It’s something worth preserving.

Compared to kicking the can down the road endlessly on border security, I see much more merit in the principles of Donald Trump’s approach of securing the border to create the equivalent of what US immigration history in the 20th century called the “immigration pause” where people from Europe stopped coming in large numbers. This slowdown in people coming to America in the early 20th century enabled assimilation.

More important, it enabled the adoption of traditional American culture to take root in the second and third generations of immigrants. It facilitated a Great America culture that would eventually save the world from the Axis and planted the seeds for a view of universal human rights that would see the United States experiment with something called the Great Society.

What’s not to see in the merit of an America that sees that securing the border is about securing the viability of our culture? Why shouldn’t ordinary Americans, including the 2.79 million federal civil service employees and the 5 million federal contractors that work with them let Congress know that preserving the Nation’s culture means something to them.

Personally, I’d pick up the phone and call Congress and tell them to spend the measly $5.7 billion already and see where it goes.

Now if only Donald Trump could Tweet a Gettysburg Address of his own.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Trump Changes Strategy in Syria


Acrimony and unease grip America’s global stability community as President Trump signaled his intent to extract the last remaining US advisors from eastern Syria. With his power as Commander in Chief, the President informed the entire diplomatic, military and intelligence arms of the US government that the end game point in the battle against ISIS for the United States has been reached. The outcry was immediate and vociferous including the resignations of Defense Secretary James Mattis and US Envoy in the fight against ISIS Brett McGurk in protest, their advice to maintain a long-term US presence in the region having been rejected. The US mainstream media, in an odd twist, went into a rare moment of introspective journalism asking if this meant the beginning of the end of Americas “endless wars”.

Elsewhere in the world, recrimination by French President Emmanuel Macron over the Trump’s decision included accusing the US of being an unreliable ally; for the record, Syria is a former French colony. The concern was echoed in the rest of the European Union with nations there asking if the EU needs to purse a global force projection agenda independent of United States leadership. Forces of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan began massing across from Kurdish held territory in Northern Syria clearly anticipating with relish the prospect that US is about to throw them under the bus.

But is Trump’s move reckless? Or does the president see trends in the world that he sees vital to the fate of a nation to step up to? Let’s look at the hand of cards he has.

The endgame of ISIS in Syria and Iraq is near. The philosophical threat of ISIS, the desire for an independent Islamic Caliphate, has receded into a nightmare for its supporters being ruthlessly hunted by everyone, ally and adversary. What is emerging now is a matrix of regional power players over which the US has a very weak hand in influencing directly. Syria is a playing field where the Russians, Turks and Iranians are going to sort it out at the expense of the indigenous natives including the Syrians and the Kurds; yeah same song, different stage. Who gets to be the next Armenians? Just saying.

Leverage in the Middle East going forward can only come from two things. One, is convincing the Russians that they don’t have to be there; that there are more important things to deal with like getting their tiny $1.3 Trillion GDP up and that 80 of 85 districts insolvent problem of theirs under control before they crater internally. Second is diffusing the potential larger war in the Middle East between nuclear armed factions possessing intermediate range delivery weapon systems. Meddling in Syria going forward by the US would make headway in these two areas of US national interest impossible.

The price? The natives. The Syrians. The Kurds. The Iraqis. The Afghans. The legacy of the 400,000 people who died because the United States naively believed we had the power to deliver them from evil. We got lucky in Grenada. Lucky in Bosnia. Lucky in Kuwait. We bit off more than we realized in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I can understand why James Mattis, who lost brave men and women under his command, and Brett McGurk, who forged deep friendship and trust with the natives in the fight against ISIS, would be deeply hurt by this turn of events. They fear for the next 400,000 people who will die in the coming decade if this new game doesn’t work.

And they are right to be fearful. The Fertile Crescent, the former Garden of Eden, has been a layer of Dante’s Inferno for a very long time. Personally, I’m not sure their leaving in protest at this time will help delay the onset of the deaths of the next half million. I’d have stayed to try to save the humans I could while this new strategy found its footing.

I will note that Donald Trump is not the first US President to attempt to end an “endless war” scenario. In the 20th Century, President Richard Nixon did the same over another former French colony painfully trading America’s national prestige for eventual regional stability.

Then the Bush-Clinton-Bush era made us bold because we took on the mantle of being the world’s policeman; the defender of universal human rights. The planet gladly let us while selfishly turning the surface of the earth into collection of locales where human rights are far from universal. We spent treasure and blood in a quest that was always going to reach a limit point; just like every crusade before it.

In the 21st Century, Donald Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama repositioned the United States to be a supporting character in world affairs as opposed to the prime mover of outcome agendas. With such a weak hand, the US must now find a path to world peace.

So help us God.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

A Look Underneath the Hood at Why the New York Times is Attacking Facebook


On Wednesday November 14, 2018, the New York Times declared war on Facebook. Under the guise of an article titled “Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook’s Leaders Fought Through Crisis”, the Times lambasted the social media giant accusing the company of internal turmoil at the highest management levels and dubious lobbying activity beginning in 2017 and into 2018.

The Times expose paints Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg as an evil figure on the order of the evil queen Maleficent who personifies dark cloud of social media willing to use every insider tool at her disposal to ensure power and influence of her company. The article also paints Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as a disingenuous two-face who pretends to care on the outside but has the persona of a heartless automaton on the inside.

NYT printed, “But as evidence accumulated that Facebook’s power could also be exploited to disrupt elections, broadcast viral propaganda and inspire deadly campaigns of hate around the globe, Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg stumbled. Bent on growth, the pair ignored warning signs and then sought to conceal them from the public.”

That’s a pretty strong and caustic accusation. Interestingly, also an accusation that’s been leveled at social media’s primary rival for political influence, the mainstream media that the New York Times is very much a part of. The specter of selective and biased journalism, so-called “yellow journalism”, isn’t new. The phrase “all the news that’s fit to print” goes back to newspaper tycoons like William Randolph Hearst. The Times has certainly done it’s share of participating in the “resistance” to the administration of US President Donald Trump and is a hardly considered a bastion of fair and balanced reporting anymore as it struggles to maintain market share in its very crowded corner of the media industry where liberal slant publications are packed like sardines into a dwindling total readership base.

And honestly, the New York Times spoke with a forked tongue itself last week. The expose attacked Ms. Sandberg for using her Democratic Party connections particularly with Senator Charles Schumer as a vehicle to stem threats to her firm inferring the possibility of either expensive influence buying or possibly even political collusion. The echo chambers on the internet picked up the lead right on cue turning the senior senator from New York into a lightning rod for criticism. And if you think that’s accidental, I have a bridge for sale.

The forked tongue by the Times came in the form of an opinion editorial published on November 16, 2018 by columnist Michelle Goldberg titled “Democrats Should Un-Friend Facebook” where Ms. Goldberg turns the tables and accuses Facebook of being responsible for helping Republicans win politically by giving them access to the platform; an opinion many Conservatives see rather oppositely. If you think this isn’t a classic political “trial balloon” article too, I’ve got another bridge to sell you.

Personally, I’m very suspicious of the New York Times’ motivations. The bottom line is that NYT thinks social media’s biggest platform is bad for their business. And well they should, like most print businesses, the “Gray Lady” has seen circulation decline since the arrival of the Internet and is down to around 500,000 printed copies per day, half of what it was in 2008. The New York Times, a for-profit business, has turned online circulation currently estimated at around 2.9 million users including paid and unpaid readers of its articles. When you go on the net, you run into Facebook. Facebook has 2.27 billion users worldwide with 240 million of them being in the United States. On its best day, NYT is one percent of Facebook USA and 1/10th of a percent of Facebook Global.

In a lake full of big data, the New York Times is a guppy. And on a social media engine like Facebook where content either has to be placed by purchasing positioning using FB’s advertising engine, which cuts into profitability, or virally cited by one of those 2.27 billion eyeballs, or a “bot” masquerading as an eyeball, they’ll remain a guppy.

Is the “Gray Lady” a sacrifice on the altar of Silicon Valley?

Never ever make the mistake of thinking any “flame war” that erupts on the internet does not have a reason. And in this case, the reasons are not hard to find. What the New York Times describes as a “distraction of personal projects” for Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg are their very focused efforts to execute a strategy of eyeball / mindshare ownership of the internet through a series of strategic acquisitions and cross platform integrations to span generational silos such as Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram and the ascendance of their Messenger system to become one of the primary means of one-to-one communication on the Internet. Team Zuckerberg has been displacing competitors such as Yahoo, Google and Microsoft’s Skype using a combination of public forum and private messaging tool offerings. In some countries, it’s become the primary means of communications supplanting even text messaging because FB Messenger doesn’t cost phone users per message charges or have phone records of traffic that prying governments can monitor in real-time.

All this is a preparatory staging to Facebook’s next monetization step on the internet, establishing advertising, marketing and transaction fulfillment space on the internet. By owning the audience’s means of communication, Facebook seeks to undermine and disinter-mediate some of the position of established online shopping giants such as Amazon, Ali Baba and eBay. Notice please, the global nature of the business case scope and the titanic sizes of the behemoths jockeying for position.

Notice further that the other Kings of Silicon Valley are acquiring media companies. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos just bought the Washington Post and is placing a “yuge” headquarters presence in the City of New York. Other acquisitions include Saleforce’s Marc Benioff bought Time and Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Steve Jobs, bought The Atlantic.

Mr. Bezos’ corporate presence will make him one of the bigger tenants in a town that has an inconvenient truth vacancy space problem. You really think part of the calculus of someone like Bezos isn’t to counter the eyeball ownership advantage of Facebook/Instagram, Twitter, et al? Wake up and smell the coffee.

In an interview for Recode.net November 5, 2018, NY Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger was quoted as saying “the New York Times is not for sale”. That may not be a position he can maintain forever.

“Do no evil.”

In social media, even the best edited long form article by a publication like the Times has to compete on a level playing field basis against the virality of a Tweet by @realdonaldtrump or an article on AmericaOutLoud by some schmuck named Santiago. I cannot imagine that this “new normal” does not drive NYT’s management bonkers. The internet took control over deciding what “news is fit to print” away from them.

But let’s unfold this evolution of new media vs. old media one additional unveiling of the curtain further and ask, is Facebook evil? It’s certainly huge. It’s certainly rich. It’s certainly coming out of a phase of innocence where the presumption that content would sort itself out because people are smart and able to tell real from fake and objective from manipulative has given way to realizing that an open platform will be taken advantage of by interests motivated by all manner of subterfuge in the name of some end justifying the means. Is it evil to have been naïve? Is it diabolical to have designed a content micro-casting engine so well, it allows 2.27 billion people on this planet to have their own personalized virtual world bubble? Was there intentional malice on the part of Facebook or the other social media engines to disrupt the social fabric of the United States and turn it into an animus filled Balkan morass? Honestly, I don’t think so.

I have seen nothing so far that indicates that Facebook has done anything but deliver a perfect bubble for every eyeball. I see perfectly well that this is how an engine that caters to human interests and intentions should be technically designed to work. Such systems create new ecosystems, clusters and networks of affinities, what humans call groups of friends. I can see that the creators of these system would want to eventually monetize their efforts into markets as a classic extension of age of electricity Marshall McLuhan Madison Avenue marketing and advertising theories. And I can see that these disruptive innovations on the internet would eventually cause a massive shift in how information and economics flows through society.

What I do not think Mark Zuckerberg ever dreamed would happen in this college dormitory was that evil humans would exploit his platform and use it as a mechanism to recruit armies to fight culture wars. But that’s the problem that now besets the company he founded. And I’m not really sure that responding to a curve ball like this would not make anyone stumble a few steps coming to terms with it.

But I’ll assert this next. What people with dark hearts fear isn’t so much that Facebook can be used to exploit the frailties other humans. No. What they fear is that Facebook is still an equal playing field where any group can try to get away with something. What they fear most is that their enemies will succeed before they do. I think this is why you see efforts to impede companies like Facebook from implementing future technologies on their platforms that can keep playing fields fair appearing in the sphere of public policy debate. The last thing that dark forces want is to allow social media to continue to improve so that their subterfuge becomes instantaneously transparent.

And those dark forces come in many shapes. I would highly recommend to Ms. Sandberg and Mr. Zuckerberg to grab the complete video log of the “After the Digital Tornado” conference held in December 2017 hosted by Kevin Werbach at the Wharton School. I attended this symposium held just four months after the date of the meeting noted in the New York Times article. It was where the leading academics first labeled the big internet companies including Facebook as dangerous entities that needed to be brought to ground by constraints and regulations. I was an uncomfortable practitioner at this gathering of academics and did not agree with their conclusions. However, their research and theories continue to manifest and work their way into public policy.

Then again, the internet moves far faster than academia or government realize. I can tell you right now that somebody at Facebook is going to read this article and from here they will eventually find one I wrote sitting on Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global “Three Steps to Take Control Back from the Media Anyone Can Do”, https://medium.com/thrive-global/three-steps-to-take-control-back-from-the-media-anyone-can-do-924e8a4b518e. And from there I bet it’s just a matter of time before social media platforms will all learn to un-spin yellow journalism for users in real-time, identify the actual agents behind agendas, laudable and nefarious, also in real-time, and educate people in how to actually get to the real source material behind the noise and digest it in real-time. Then we can return to the presumption that content will “sort itself out” because social media will assist people to be smarter and able to tell real from fake, objective from manipulative.

Whether there’s still a place for outlets like the New York Times in the form it exists in now when that time comes, who knows. And to be frank when that time comes, who will still care?

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Suspicious Border Incursions


Photo: Jorje Cabrera, Reuters

There are “caravans” marching north though Mexico originating from the Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Presently around 1,500 miles away, they get out of their trucks to march for the benefit of cameras with uncannily precise timing to arrive on the precipice of the U.S. November midterm election.

Is your spider sense tingling? Are you wondering if this is a scam? So am I.

These people are portrayed as refugees; but are they? They aren’t acting like it. There’s a pretty straightforward script about how refugees are handled on this planet. The international law on asylum is that the asylum seeker is supposed to present themselves to the authorities of the first international border they reach upon fleeing their countries. For Central Americans fleeing north from their governments, that country is Mexico; specifically, the southern border of Mexico.

The way it is supposed to work, Mexico, with aid from the international community, is supposed to set up refugee camps. The coordination body for this is U.N. High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR). It is from these camps, that other organizations such as the US Office for Refugee Resettlement are supposed to process persons to qualify eligible refugees for movement from the camps to a third host nation. If this were the Middle East, the analogy would be people in Iraq and Syria fleeing ISIS going into U.N. camps in Jordan.

Here’s where it gets weird. That’s exactly what the UNHCR, Mexico and United States are trying to do in this case. This is not a money issue. The US, Mexico and the UN have the money and resources to support a proper refugee camp. We’re talking 1,500 people per caravan which is a drop in the bucket compared to the 11 million Syrians, Kurds and Yazidis displaced in the Middle East.

But wonder of wonders, these people are refusing to go into camps and process as refugees. Somebody’s giving them a better deal than the internationally sanctioned solution set. Instead, they are marching towards the US border escorted by, and it seems funded by, American activist handlers. What does that tell you is really going on here? Again, are these people really legitimate refugees from their own governments? If so, what exactly are they fleeing?

Let’s dig a little more.

First, these marchers do come from three relatively small economies. Guatemala has a $75.6 billion GDP nation, El Salvador a $24.8 billion GDP and Honduras has a $22.98 billion GDP. But here’s the thing. As of 2017, the GDP’s of all three of these countries was growing. Yeah, you heard that right, growing. Note that all three of these governments are imploring their citizens to return. And they were doing that before Donald Trump threatened to cut off aid to them. What’s the underlying stress that may be besetting Central America? Here are my observations.

First, this may very well have simpler explanations that have nothing to do with being refugee problems. People leaving otherwise improving economic conditions speaks more to internal forces having to do with economic opportunity inefficiencies within these nations. One of the organizers of the caravan is a Honduran ex-lawmaker named Bartolo Fuentes who’s apparently been organizing caravans since last September as reported by the New York Post and Daily Beast. These are normally small groups numbering in the 200 range. According to the NYPost, the swelling in numbers for this caravan may have been triggered by a woman referring to “assistance” in an interview on Hoduran TV news channel HCH. Mr. Fuentes reported a surge in phone calls following the broadcast.

What does that mean? Could this be local politics in Central America gone viral on the world stage because of the internet? It's certainly not the first bizarre consequence effect we've seen happen.  Or, it may be simple economics in action. It costs an average of $7,000 USD to pay a coyote to smuggle a person to the United States. A caravan with “assistance” reduces that cost per traveler considerably … and potentially upsets the human trafficking economies extending from Central America to the United States. Think about the implications of that one buckwheat.

OAS considerations.

More broadly, what Central American nations do share, actually the entire Western Hemisphere and the Organization of American States, is a common problem called Venezuela. That socialist state is a basket case of a national failure. Venezuela’s economy has collapsed thirty-seven percent (-37%) since 2014 from being a $482.4 billion GDP nation to a maybe $300 billion GDP country today; that’s a loss of $182 billion of GDP by Venezuela. That math basically means that Venezuela has evaporated wealth greater than the combined economies of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The stresses put on Venezuela’s neighbors because Nicolas Maduro is nincompoop of a socialist despot even by socialist’s standards is a problem now beginning to resonate throughout the New World.

My instincts say Maduro is triggering the Western Hemisphere equivalent of the refugee problem besetting Europe. We are facing a problem very similar to the walking wave of people seeking economic opportunity while hanging on to their cultural identity.  They, like their migrant counterparts in the EU, are escaping a no go home scenario. The similarity to what is challenging Europe is uncanny; except the problem for the New World isn’t Muslim refugees displaced from their homes in Syria, Kurdistan, Libya, or Sudan, it’s Venezuelans displaced from their homes.

The Venezuelans need that $182 billion of lost GDP to survive and like their Muslim counterparts in the Old World, they are pursuing a scrounge at the expense of their hosts path to that desperate survival. Central America is being invaded by Maduro’s refugee hordes.

So far, no one has the guts to do something about the cancer that is Venezuela’s blight upon the Americas. This is not going to get smaller as Central and South America’s economies continue to crater under the weight of the spread of that pathetic socialist failure.

The Gringo Factor

Stranger still, groups in the US are seeking to exploit the plight of the innocent for their own political purposes, most embarrassingly, by activists and globalists in the United States. The political elite Gringo’s are being ugly Americans using these people like pawns. I doubt they even actually care what happens to them, or their countries.

Here’s my reality check.  Cooler heads than the American hotheads are beginning to voice their concerns.  Eventually, I think the suggestion of Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto to US President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that the countries of North America, who have strong economies, will have to solve this problem as an Organization of American States problem. It will become front burner policy.

My suggestion to President Trump is to seriously consider these posits. We may need to build a coalition of the willing to help Central and South America find a better future without a Maduro led Venezuela. We may need to re-cast how US aid to Central America can be better used to further decrease the attraction of economic migration from these countries. And, we may have to deal with the economic food chain of human trafficking in the New World.

There are global repercussions that accompany this strategic realization.

Meditate on this more I shall.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Trump Shuffles House of Cards at the UN

photo: AP/Mary Altaffer

During the first minute of his speech on the 25th of September 2018 to the United Nations General Assembly, president Donald J. Trump received a greeting of muted laughter. For the near hour of the speech that followed, you could have heard a pin drop in the cavern. Trump minced no words. He was brutally clear to everyone in the General Assembly that the United States of America meant business. The repercussions of that speech will be world changing.

Foremost In the president's message to the world was his rejection of globalism represented most by the governing apparatus of the United Nations and its supporting agencies. The UN had been born in an era of global power concentration at the end of World War II. It has functioned as such since then concentrating the real power over the planet in the Security Council. This model husbanded the planet through the Cold War and a period of post-Colonialism in the aftermath of it. But much like his domestic presidency is a recognition that established bureaucracies can become bloated by elitism and hubris, so can the world stage.

I found it poetic that this message to the world that the time has come to set central control aside and embrace a more plural form the world governance was delivered in the General Assembly where decades of evolution adding nations represented in the room have brought necessity to evaluate the issue of how nations relate to each other to the forefront.

This has been evolving for some time. The world has become more regionalized with confederations, some cooperative and some adversarial, emerging on the planet. The European Union has gone through several cycles of growing pains, so has Russia and its Confederation of Independent States. These two regions of the world have now existed in their present forms for longer since the fall of the Berlin Wall now longer than the entire length of time the Cold War wall existed. The Middle East and Africa have undergone radical change from a landscape of colonies to amalgams of nations. The world became plural in an image, quite honestly, modeled after the original hopes of the United Nations and financed, in many cases, by the treasure of the United States. Mission accomplished. Hooray for us monkeys!

In his speech, Trump challenged this now more plural world to begin to live up to its potential. In doing so, he announced that it was time to win the world of American dependence. He pointed out that for America to navigate into its own future such a change was a necessity. He implied that this necessity applied to every other nation as well. The stunned silence in the room was surely no surprise to the American delegation delivering this 21st century tough love message.

I smiled to myself as I listened to it not because I am an isolationist, but because I am an American. I’m pragmatic about the practice of global stability and national policy. I found my thoughts drifting back to a much younger United States of America. In the 1790’s and leading up to the War of 1812, the United States was a beacon of freedom to a Western Hemisphere dominated by colonial masters. They coveted how the United States was thriving in its social and power experiment. Throughout the Americas, people saw the emergence of a free and independent nation and wanted the same for themselves. America's leaders struggled with the requests for aid throw off the world powers of that era and cast them out of the New World. There was acrimony about it at the time, and regret. America's leaders knew we were not rich enough or powerful enough come to the aid of our neighbors and risk the combined might of Europe against us. Mind you the British did try. Lucky for us, we survived the War of 1812. More importantly for the world’s future, we chose to lead by example that would become a hallmark of our future conduct on the world stage. We took the position of tough love showing our neighbors what was possible, to inspire hope even if (no because) we were unable to do it for them. We recognized even then the wisdom of teaching others to fish.

If you think about it openly, the world is in a similar position today following the abandonment of colonialism worldwide. There are only two nations rich enough to vie for hegemony on this planet. This would be the multi-trillion economies of the United States and China. No one else has this potential. Both nation’s societies are presently in flux. One is pursuing hyper-patriotic centralization of social values controlled via the technology of universal social scoring. The other tumultuously hangs on to its internal pluralism using technology in an endless series of trials by fire, well technically flame wars, to bring everyone’s egos to ground.

Stepping back and looking objectively, both nations are experiments in the future of complex societies for this planet. Opposite in approach, these two nations are the templates for where technological humanity must find a future. Clearly neither model has found its sweet spot yet. Is what it is. What will be interesting in the next decade is whether the US and China come to blows over these templates or find a way to manage their polar forms of leadership in concert for the benefit of the remainder of the world.

Perhaps we’ll find a new détente. Hopefully, the UN General Assembly noted in its silence of President Trumps speech, the bilaterally messages between the Unites States and the nations single out by the US, that included carrots and sticks, loud and clear.

I believe that the American delegation’s message to the United Nations in 2018 will go down in history as a reminder by the United States of the same message it has stood for since its birth.
For whatever acrimony the news of the day makes of this inconvenient truth, President Trump did his job as our messenger effectively.