Monday, January 16, 2017

Predicted Harms of #PresidentTweety

17 January 2017

What Could Possibly Go Wrong? EVERYTHING!

Historical Context of my Presidential Predictions:

This first subsection is actually just a review of some predictions I made in 2000 when Dubya occupied the White House. I think I eventually got used to hearing his actual name in the same sentence as "president", but it always bothered me. It's as though he vanished 8 years ago and no one can even remember who he is, which is kind of amazing in itself.

The full context was quite long, but is still online as of this writing. However, for this review the following summary table will suffice to show how innocent, naive, and optimistic I was back then. (The green bits were added after 9/11.)

Early 2001 predictions for Dubya:

Category Probability Time Scale to do Damage Time Scale for Recovery
Education 50% 1-4 years Perhaps never
Federal Courts 80% A few months (for confirmations) 40 years
Economy 75%, now to 95% 1-4 years 1-3 years
Environment 80% 1-4 years 10-100 years
The American Military 60% 2-4 years 3-7 years
War 45%, now to 90% On opportunity 5-20 years
The Internet 75% 1-4 years Immediate?
Public Trust in Government 95% Immediate Perhaps never, but perhaps bad is good here?

In hindsight, pretty much all of the harms did come to pass, so those probabilities can now be raised to 100%. I think there are two possible exceptions. It isn't clear how much the military changed during Dubya's time, so I might stand on the 60% estimate for the balance of those changes being negative. Maybe the military was not much affected, though it became the mechanism of a lot of additional economic damage? Also, it could be argued that none of Dubya's wars really represented existential threats to the nation.

The time scale predictions, both for damage and recovery, were mostly too optimistic, except for the economy category, where Dubya's damage continued growing right up to the end of his 8 years, culminating in a HUGE financial collapse that took much longer than 3 years to mostly recover from. My bad prediction for the recovery of the Internet was probably because I overestimated the flexibility of the new medium and had no real understanding of the tremendous power of do-it-yourself brainwashing. (It was probably around 2005 before I even started speculating on the negative effects of personalization, though my original description was in terms of "pandering to the users".) Tempted to go into much more detail, especially on the education part of it, but that would probably run too long.

In my increasing senility, I now see the whole thing as more of a natural progression with some confusion due to the oscillations. The presidency has been evolving towards a dictatorship, and I'm about (in the next subsection) to predict that we will be arriving at our sad destination momentarily. I do see the negative oscillations as mostly under the influence of the so-called Republicans, but the Democrats have also been part of the devolutionary process. Will Trump be cast in the role of Caesar? I doubt it, but I can make arguments for considering almost all of the recent presidents as representing the "point of no return" that could be regarded as the effective end of the democratic experiment in America. Nixon may have the strongest argument, considering his personal belief in the imperial presidency, his corruption, and, most importantly, for his lack of accountability.

Perhaps the biggest picture is to consider Benjamin Franklin's description of the new government as "a republic, if you can keep it." Looks like it had a good run, but we lost it.

Early 2017 predictions for #PresidentTweety:

Category Probability Time Scale to do Damage Time Scale for Recovery
Education 50% Starting back with Reagan and continuing. Perhaps never, as in too late now.
Federal Courts 100% Negative 9 months or so, since the nomination of Merrick Garland. 30 years, but looking like never.
Economy 75% Probably within a few month, as soon as some actual news triggers "Buy on the rumor, sell on the news." Perhaps only 6 years, based on President Obama's efforts.
Environment 80% Continuing the insane policy of ignoring climate change. 100 years to longer than we have to worry about it.
War and the American Military 75% Immediate in already demanding the resignation of some generals. Though Trump isn't as aggressively bloodthirsty as Cheney, I think his incompetence is more likely to trigger wars. What recovery? As long as Trump's cronies profit there's no problem, eh?
The Internet and Media 75% Continuing the destruction. Again, it looks like recovery is unlikely.
Public Trust in Government 100% Again, beginning before the election. Until the revolution, which he may bring upon us.

Considering the original webpage about Dubya, I feel like this is a pretty weak effort, but I just read that "Inspiration is perishable", and it seems too true these days. My sense of outrage was burned out by all that Dubya stuff? Dr Pepper is a weak sauce substitute, but I'll try to make a few concrete predictions along the categorical lines above... Struggling with a feeling of exhaustion, but here goes:

On the education topic, my current long-term perspective is that public education in America really started to fall apart decades ago. The most important contributor may have been William Bennett, who headed the Department of Education for Reagan and who supported Trump, too. The punchline is how he became rich publishing books about virtues, only to lose most of his profits because of his gambling addiction. Not exactly the virtue his many readers sought in his books, eh? The transformation was from broad-based public education for everyone, with some local problems, to a completely bifurcated system. Most of the public schools have basically been reduced to obedience schools training kids to become wage slaves or docile prison inmates, obeying their orders, especially the ads for toothpaste or political candidates. There are a few good public schools, but really just enough to create a lottery (like Bennett's gambling) for parents who want to hope their kids might escape. Most of the places in the high quality schools are purchased by rich people for their kids, and they have even created extra back doors to effectively enslave the few poor kids who succeed, saddling most of them with massive debts in the form of student loans that cannot be evaded, even by bankruptcy. Trump may stay the course, but it's unlikely he will worry about it and his pick for the job is already an enemy of public education, so it even seems possible things will get worse.

In the federal courts, Trump starts with a free seat to insure the 4-4 SCOTUS is tipped back to the far right. However I think he will make it even worse than that by picking for personal loyalty, too. He strongly needs the personal loyalty because his OWN legal situation is so precarious. No president has EVER entered office with so many pending lawsuits, just for starters. I do think he was lying at Gettysburg and he will not initiate any lawsuits against the women who have already accused him of sexual assault. That would force him to confess or perjure himself, and he knows he's at serious risk of being Bill-Cosby-ed out of office. If he shoots his wad too soon and fails to utterly destroy his accusers, the other women will start coming out... Then again, considering how much the value of their Donald stories will skyrocket next week, they may start selling their stories anyway. Maybe it won't matter how loyal the SCOTUS is?

On the economy, the item that has been in the news has been the stock market. I think it's just "Buy on the rumor, sell on the news" in action, and so far they have been buying on the rumors, and driving the prices up. As soon as they have some solid news, they'll start selling, especially since the news is almost certain to be bad. The presidency is no job for an apprentice. Trump's economic proposals are mostly incoherent, but some of them look to be disastrous to the point of bankrupting the federal government.

On the environment, there were still some traces of doubt in Dubya's time, but not now, notwithstanding Trump's confused mumbling on the topic. His Secretary of State might understand the problem, but it isn't part of his job, and Trump's other appointees are going to continue making the terrible situation worse. Trump certainly has no personal reason to care, since he's already 70 years old and I'm convinced he's way too selfish to worry about his own descendants. Or maybe he cares, but he's merely confident that his family will always be able to buy a safe palace in the Swiss alps (or somewhere)?

Actually I'm not even sure what my focus was when I included the military as a separate category, but now it obviously makes sense to merge it with war. I could argue that the probability is 100% insofar as Trump is inheriting several situations that are hot and violent enough to qualify as wars, but none of the current messes are that serious. Just leftovers from Dubya that President Obama wasn't able to fully clean up, not helped by the so-called Republicans' interference sustained for the entire 8 years... The main concern here is how much worse Trump may make things, either by stirring up some of the existing messes or by creating new ones. For example, as regards Syria, it seems likely that Putin timed things to "eliminate" that problem while America was incapable of interfering, and Iran will probably be suitably grateful for the Russian help (while Assad is probably in Putin's pocket now). In terms of new threats, China appears to be the greatest. They may decide it's high time to attack Taiwan, and I even think Putin would love to figure out some way to tilt them into doing it. No-lose proposition for Russia. If Trump lets it go, he's weakened, and if Trump tries to intervene it may tear America apart from inside (which is probably how Putin feels about the dissolution of the Soviet Union). As regards the military part of this category, Dubya depleted it heavily and I don't feel like Obama was able to fully fix it, so Trump may well be able to push it right over the edge.

Adding the media to the Internet for several reasons. Mostly because in 2000 I didn't realize how closely linked they were, but also because of the importance of fake news stories in defeating Hillary. From another perspective, the sickness of journalism created more wiggle room for Trump to work, and now it looks like he will engage in a full-scale assault to destroy the last bits. The most relevant model may be how Putin demolished the developing media in Russia, though journalism only had a brief life there, basically from the collapse of communism until Putin's victory in 2000... The Internet has mostly become a tool for do-it-yourself brainwashing.

Now the category of public trust in government is almost hilarious for its rich irony. Trump campaigned on not trusting the government, only to turn around and start making it much less trustworthy. Corruption is the new game of the day, but it may get interesting if his past corruption comes out through the Russians or the mafia, both of whom almost surely have lots of bad goods on Trump. Putin has a particularly strong hand to play, because he's outside of Trump's reach and at the same time doesn't really care if he destroys Trump, since that would actually help his project of discrediting America and democracy. Trump has been a useful idiot, and if he isn't a good puppet now, Putin has no real reason not to cut the strings and laugh. I'm not sure what sort of prediction to make on this topic, but I guess the summary is that it won't help trust in government if Trump is quickly forced to resign, and I strongly doubt he'll last four years.

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As a blogger from before there were blogs, I've concluded what I write is of little interest to the reading public. My current approach is to treat these blogs as notes, with the maturity indicated by the version number. If reader comments show interest, I will probably add some flesh to the skeletons...