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Thursday, November 10, 2016

Our Role and Responsibility

It's Trump but not just Trump. Brexit. Right-wing politicians gaining power in France, Netherlands, Austria and beyond. We worry about the future of our country and the whole world at large.

But what role have we played? By we I mean those of us who work in technology-related fields and have benefited the most from the new economy. 

There's a large population who's lives haven't gotten better. Not just the poor, we're talking the lower 80% of the economy. Our changing economy hasn't greatly improved the life of the middle class. 

Our technologies have put people out of jobs. We tell them our technology will create more and better jobs, our own version of trickle-down economics. They just need to learn what we have created, drive our Ubers, at least until the Ubers can drive themselves. 

We love working at universities where we can educate the very top students. But many don't get the opportunity to go to college at all. They are honest people willing to work hard and not seeing their lives improving. And we just call them "uneducated". 

We have learned how to mine data but often forget the people behind the data and get caught by surprise when things don't go the way we expected from the data.

We've created new communication channels. But we also control those channels. We often make the choices between usability, security, privacy, fairness, free speech and preventing hatred and discrimination. But who are we to make those choices. They have little say.

Who are they? They are us, fellow Americans. We need to make sure that all of us benefit from our changing world and everyone feels that they contribute to making it better and everyone has a say. Democracy, messy as it is, means that if people don't feel they the world looks out for them, they will find someone who promises change no matter the baggage they carry. And we need to listen or we end up with Donald Trump.


  1. The problem is, it is going to be a worser place, both for them as well as for us. We are being empathetic here, as most often, we were previously too. It can improved. But there is no good reason for him to be the place he is now. It is manifestation and manipulation of hatred. Divisiveness in america that is going to prove costly for all of us.

    1. I agree with much of this. But it takes two to lose an election. And while I might not be happy with the outcome of this election, I can begin to understand it. The public at large clamored for an anti-establishment candidate. There was a feeling that they weren't being represented by the powers that presided over a couple decades of stagnating or declining middle class income. And the best the Democratic party could do was to nominate a former occupant of the White House to run. This came about in part due to a media consensus that gave Hillary the kind of airtime advantage that Trump also enjoyed. It also came about through an openly hostile DNC. Now for many of us, all of this paled compared to the threat that Trump appeared to pose. But it's not hard to see why people felt condescended to and lied to and that the Democratic party didn't do enough to dignify the electorate.

    2. I think part of the reason Trump won is that white males were beginning to notice that if they disagreed with liberals on anything they would be deemed racist. Many believe that there is a double standard about race in the media. If a Republican says something that could be construed as racist the media would nail him to a wall. At the same time minorities who were completely blatantly racist were given free pass. White males were tired of being deemed as racist because they were really sick of Muslims slaughtering people and being told essentially they would have to live with it. People I know are saying to me essentially "Shame on you! You're a privileged white male oppressor!, You don't know what its like to be oppressed by a privileged white male oppressor!" Seriously.

  2. This post is an important voice to understand where we are. It is certainly true in other places than the us (Israel is a fine example).

  3. Here it is, translated to Hebrew:
    זה טראמפ אבל לא רק טראמפ. ברקזיט. פוליטיקאים מימין צוברים כוח בצרפת, הולנד, אוסטריה ומקומות אחרים. אנחנו דואגים לעתידה של המדינה שלנו ואת העולם כולו.

    אבל איזה תפקיד אנחנו מילאנו? כוונתי לאלה מאיתנו שעובדים בחברות טכנולוגיות ונהנים מן הכלכלה החדשה.

    יש אוכלוסיה גדולה של אנשים שעבורם החיים לא השתפרו, ואלו לא רק העניים, אלא שמונה העשירונים הנמוכים של הכלכלה. הכלכלה המשתנה שלנו לא שיפרה את חייהם של המעמד הבינוני.

    הטכנולוגיות שלנו גרמו לאנשים לאבד את עבודתם. אנחנו אומרים להם שהטכנולוגיה שלנו תיצור תעסוקה טובה יותר, הגרסה שלנו של כלכלת חלחול כלפי מטה. הם רק צריכים ללמוד את מה שיצרנו, להיות נהגי האובר שלנו, לפחות עד שמכוניות אובר ילמדו לנהוג בעצמן.

    אנחנו אוהבים לעבוד באוניברסיטות שבהן אנו מחנכים את התלמידים המצטיינים, אבל רבים לא מקבלים את ההזדמנות להשכלה גבוהה. הם אנשים הגונים וישרים שמוכנים לעבוד קשה ולא רואים שיפור בחייהם, ואנחנו פשוט קוראים להם "חסרי השכלה".

    למדנו איך לכרות נתונים אבל אנו שוכחים לעתים קרובות את האנשים שמאחורי הנתונים, ואנו מופתעים כאשר דברים לא הולכים בדרך שהנתונים אומרים.

    יצרנו ערוצי תקשורת חדשים. אבל אנחנו גם שולטים באותם ערוצים. לעתים קרובות אנחנו עושים את הבחירות בין שימושיות, אבטחה, פרטיות, הגינות, חופש ביטוי ושנאת מניעה ואפליה. אבל מי שמנו לבצע בחירות אלה. להם אין הרבה זכות דיבור בנושא.

    מי הם? הם אנחנו, חברי האמריקאים. אנחנו צריכים לוודא שכולנו נרוויח מהעולם המשתנה שלנו ושכולנו נרגיש שאנו תורמים לעולם טוב יותר, ושלכל אחד יש מה לומר. דמוקרטיה, מבולגנת כפי שהיא, משמעותה שאם אנשים לא מרגישים שיש מישהו בעולם שדואג להם, הם ימצאו מישהו שמבטיח שינוי , בלי קשר לסוג המטען שהם נושאים. אנחנו צריכים להקשיב או שבסוף נגמור עם דונלד טראמפ.

  4. Nice post. I still think however that Trump is a reasonable choice, and that the premise that it was some kind of "anger" that drove people to vote for him instead of simple reason, is mostly false.

    1. I'm curious, what is your "reasonable" case for Trump, specifically?

  5. Very nice and thoughtful post.

  6. I would like to recommend reading some "contrarian views" which, surprisingly, come from such unexpected sources as retired DIA and Special Forces American Veterans:
    Sic Semper Tyrannis.

  7. "They are us, fellow Americans."

    Do you count the 11 million or so illegal aliens as "fellow Americans" also? How do you feel about 8 million or so jobs being done by them? Would you support the deportation of the vast majority of those people who are here illegally and changes to the welfare system that would tell able-bodied individuals that they have to work for their money even if the job isn't the one they wish they could have? If this freed up $100 billion a year, what could we do with it to improve the footing of the country?

    1. It turns out that the so-called "illegal immigrants" often work very dangerous jobs that most Americans refuse to do, such as coal mine work, factory farm slaughter houses, etc. And the welfare system is almost totally insignificant financially, and it covers mostly elderly and children.

      The real cost reduction is in requiring the top 1/10 of one percent to pay taxes and reducing runaway military spending, which by our own intelligence agencies serve to incite terrorism rather than discourage it.

    2. It's a two trillion dollar system each year. If you tell me that cutting out some of the unemployment benefits and food stamps and other things by having more of the able-bodied people working jobs isn't going to save anything worthwhile, I'd like you to toss me a few billion dollars of your pocket change.

    3. This is a "straining at gnats, swallowing camels" sort of issue. Study after study demonstrates that welfare fraud is quite rare. Reducing military spending (which is more than the rest of the world combined) would have enormous effects on the economy. Also, it's worth noting that illegal immmigrant workers have paid over $100 BILLION dollars into the social security trust fund, with no direct way of ever benefitting. There's your $100B, right there.

      But more important even than the financial argument (which is elementary) is the moral dilemma: why are refugees from Central America, South America, and Mexico here? Too often Americans believe we exist in a vacuum, independent of these other so-called nations which ostensibly can solve their own internal problems. Look at America's influence in Latin America in the post-war era; coups, surrogate state dictatorships, assassination campaigns, all in the name of corporate profits, have driven millions from their homes. And NAFTA, predicted by analysts at the time, crushed Mexican agribusiness, driving millions of rural farmers into the over-run cities and eventually across the border. It's no coincidence that the U.S. militarized the border to the south immediately following the passage of NAFTA. So I reiterate, should we deport all of these people with no consideration of why they're here? Do we owe them nothing? Many of these people have been here for all of their adult lives with nothing to which to return.

    4. Did you forget that if citizens held those jobs they would be paying the same supposed $100 billion (for now I'll play along with your claim on this) into the social security trust fund?

      Your second paragraph nicely ignores everything else and says we should just welcome all 11 million illegal aliens and demonstrates one of the likely reasons that Donald Trump won.

      Aside from ignoring the 30 or 40 million legal immigrants in your attempt to say we owe it to the illegals to let them stay, DHS said a few years ago that there were almost 2 million "removable criminal aliens" in the country. Would you agree to at least having them removed from the country?

      If the person who stole your car said "but if you take it back I'll have nothing to drive" would you let them keep it?

    5. My second paragraph, on the contrary, tackles a central issue in the role of the United States in the world. We owe it to our victims to offer haven and help, not disdain and disgust. They pay taxes, work, do the jobs most Americans are unwilling to do, and have stolen nothing. If anything, you should respect the tremendous courage it takes to come to another country rife with xenophobia to try to better the lives of their families. What would you do in their position? Consider carefully. We're all descendants of immigrants.

      What have they taken from you personally? Aren't you happy to buy cheap fruits and vegetables in the grocery store, hand-picked by illegals? Aren't you happy to eat restaurant food at low cost because of illegal cooks in the kitchen? Do you enjoy cheap beef cut and packaged by illegals? All of these things will go up in cost if Americans decide to do these jobs (assuming it's possible to convince them.) Do you want the Americans who do those jobs to receive less than minimum wage so you can enjoy low prices?

      Are they the reason we have fewer and fewer manufacturing jobs in the U.S.? Offshored production is incidental to incoming aliens. Further, you probably happily buy the cheap goods manufactured under unsafe working conditions by those Mexicans who remained in the factories.

      More seriously, are you aware of the tremendous theft of resources from our neighbors to the south corporations here have carried out over centuries? Guatemalans paid dearly so United Fruit could deliver cheap goods to your recent ancestors. Coffee, beef from Nicaragua. Sugar cane, cotton from El Salvador. Easy access from the Atlantic to the Pacific in Panama. The entire northern half of Mexico stolen by force. The list goes on and on. Robbing a hemisphere of its riches through the mockery that is trade exacts a terrible human cost, and you, like it or not, have benefitted tremendously from it already. If illegals are stealing from us by having jobs and a chance at decent existence, it's an absurdly small price to pay for the decades (and centuries in many cases) long theft of land, resources, and dignity. Are you willing to give back everything we've stolen from them?

      Finally, criminals represent an administrative problem that is largely irrelevant to the larger debate. And your metaphor is a straw man.

    6. We have reaped the incredible bounty of fossil fuels in the past 50 years or so to bring automation and reliability to farming. In school we learnt of a thing called "the green revolution" in the 70s instituted by the great leaders that alleviated famine in my country.

      It was only later in life that I came to understand that the "green revolution" was simply a metaphor for chemical fertilizers, pesticides, agricultural machinery and relentless groundwater exploitation. It is not quite that the famines were conquered but that we have just kicked the can down the road.

      Relentless drought and unprecedented floods are now the norm in many parts of my country. Sure there were droughts and floods before this, but the persistent grim situation is now increasingly evident.

  8. Spot on!

    It is not just disappearing jobs. It is how the new economy is shaped. The regulations are designed not to benefit the consumers but the producers. The right often complains about regulations protecting citizens and consumers and environment for distorting the market. But what we are witnessing now is regulations that distort the market to the benefit of producers, specially big multinational corporations, at the expense of average citizens and consumers. Think about entertainment industry, pharmaceutical industry, ... We used to be able to copy things, share things, ... Now all of that is forbidden because of restricted terms of service and usage. Why? To increase the profit margins. Monopolies are part of the reason why we are witnessing an increasing wealth gap. Combined with technological advances that make jobs obsolete we are heading towards a oligarchic society. Global uniformization of regulation is turning this into a new global order. Rich from across the world are buying up all kinds of assets in the west and further aggravate this trend. The influence of average voters on the politicians is going down while the influence of the corporate special interests are rising. This trend makes people feel powerless and cheated by politicians. No surprise that we are witnessing very high unpopularity ratings for politicians and government organizations.

    None of these issues have a simple solution. The next 20 to 30 years are going to be very hard times and we will witness fundamental changes in how our society is organized. Without courageous politicians who can stand for the rights and interests of the average citizens and consumers we are heading fast towards a global neofeudal dystopia and away from the ideals of enlightenment period like equal rights and liberal democracy. It is our duty to increase our support of honest politicians who have been working for the interests of average citizens like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and civil and consumer right NGOs like ACLU and EFF.

  9. Why has the blog roll been saying that Terry hasn't posted in 8 years..?

    1. It's generated automatically based on the RSS feed. Don't know how to fix it.

  10. Lucid remarks, Lance. The real issue is that a large fraction of Americans have lost ground rather starkly over the past forty years. My grandparents with just a high school diploma could buy a house, two cars, and send their kids to college. Impossible now. The danger here is that fundamental public institutions have let them down, so filling the void of no coherent answer to their plight is vile hatemongering, xenophobia, homophobia, and the like. A masterful conman, as has been the case other times in the modern era, can easily incite and delude; this, coupled with guarded over-confidence and a fundamental disconnect with the working class in the opposition generates a perfect storm.

    Our job as so-called elites is to educate and strive hard to build a framework in which we can all enjoy the near limitless wealth and privilege technology has created.