Sunday, September 24, 2017

The “Minimal Overlap” Solution to Gerrymandered Injustice

...Another generative idea that could not find a home in any media...

Gerrymandering has reached a point of such outrageous blatancy that it seems likely the US Supreme Court will have another look, soon. This NewYorker article dissects the problem, describing some new insights from logic and mathematics that might help the Court better to understand a foul practice that has warped and partly-stolen American democracy. A lot has changed since Justice Kennedy provided the deciding “we can’t see a way to do anything about it” vote, roughly a decade ago.

As I describe elsewhere, voters in many “blue states” have rebelled against their own Democratic politicians, ending gerrymandering via ballot measures.  Hence, with a few dismal exceptions - like Maryland and Illinois - this cheat has become ever-more associated with the Republican Party.

Ideally, solutions should come from negotiated legislation. When power abuse is generated by legislatures themselves, courts must step in. Hence, aware that losing this battle may end their lock on power, attorneys of the right argue that no alternative is intrinsically fair – including “impartial commissions.” Moreover courts are reluctant to interfere with state sovereignty.

Why did Justice Kennedy opt for the status quo, last time? Even in the face of blatant injustice, judges like to have two things:

* A simple, unambiguous metric that proves actionable harm. 

* At least one clean and simple remedy they can point to as an example.

The first requirement has been provided recently by an elegant standard of “voter efficiency.”  

But for the Court to articulate a workable remedy limiting gerrymandering, what’s needed is a fallback solution that is inarguably better than the present state of affairs - one that can be ordered if a state proves unable to devise a fair and impartial redistricting process on its own. To resolve Justice Kennedy’s dilemma, I will propose a solution so simple that it can be expressed in three sentences.

Here are those three sentences:


1. With allowances for contorted state borders, like Maryland’s panhandle, the districts that are drawn for State Assembly, State Senate and Congress shall meet a basic compactness standard, not falling below a reasonably generous area-to-perimeter ratio limit set by the court.

2. On advice from a non-partisan and unbiased commission, the State Legislature may assign boundaries to the districts of the State Assembly however they see fit.

3. Once those State Assembly boundaries are set, the drawing of boundaries for State Senate and Congressional districts will be computer-generated with the core provision that they must have MINIMAL OVERLAP with each other and with the State Assembly districts, sharing as few voters as practically possible.

There you have it. Three sentences. I’ve offered this suggestion for a decade and I promise that (alas) you’ll find it nowhere else. But what does it mean?

It means that the State Legislature may, if they choose, ignore the ‘neutral commission’ and connive, jigger or gerrymander districts for one house — the State Assembly — limited by some basic rule of compactness. But provision #3 ensures that the districts for State Senate and Congress will be utterly different. The more carefully the legislature’s majority partisans gerry-rig one house, the less effective will be their efforts in the other two.

The chief aim of gerrymander-cheating — to achieve government dominance by the most rabid of hyper-partisans — will be devastated and then grow weaker, over time.

 ==  Illustrating the Minimal Overlap concept ==

For some reason, the notion of minimal overlap seems obvious to some people, while others find it difficult to grasp. So let’s try using illustrations.

Sentence/provision #1 takes care of the worst, egregious cases, illustrated in our first figure.
As Figure 1 shows, a large fraction of gerrymander travesties would be eliminated by a compactness rule, setting upper limits to perimeter-area ratios. This limit can be fairly generous, since the rest of the solution happens through minimal overlap.

In Figure 2 we present a strawman set of six State Assembly districts that are (for the sake of simplicity) highly compact.

Let’s assume that the state legislature has, under rule #2, but limited by the compactness rule #1, arranged these assembly districts to maximize gerrymander benefits for the majority party.

Now, in our third illustration, let’s overlay districts for State Senate. These are required – under the court-ordered remedy of MINIMAL OVERLAP to be computer-optimized so that each senate district shares as little territory and as few voters as possible with any one assembly district.

Assuming the compactness rule is enforced, and that Senate districts are truly drawn according to provision #3, then Minimal Overlap – also called “anti-nesting” -- means that the political character of the Senate will not be warped by gerrymandering. Citizens who were disenfranchised before will likely get attention and an effective vote, in at least one chamber.

The districts for Congress, presumably larger, will nevertheless be kept off-kilter from the gerried State Assembly districts. The party in power will thus only get to have one chamber warped by self-serving, partisan political cheating.

Moreover, even if this method has flaws, it is a clear limiting case that deprives the courts of any “we see no clear remedy” excuse. For all its faults, Minimal Overlap is palliative, equitable and enforceable. It also gives a nod to state sovereignty and legislature privilege, by allowing the legislature to continue complete, discretionary control over one chamber, while the other two are set by a neutral computer reacting to their assembly boundaries.

== Arguments against Minimal Overlap ==

One objection that opponents to such a solution will assert is that voters should be represented by “communities of interest.” For example, one of the commonly used excuses for gerrymandering is that contorted arrangements are necessary in order to ensure that minority populations get some representatives who are of their ethnic persuasion.

There are two, decisive answers:

(a) The “communities of interest” argument is served by having one of three chambers divided that way. So long as those communities of interest are firmly ensconced and represented in one chamber, there is no inherent need for duplication. This is an original merit of bicameral legislatures.

In fact, there are strong arguments in favor of voters facing different coalition needs, in different houses.  Why should their Assembly, State Senate and Congressional delegates be clones of each other?  Apportioned one way — say in the Assembly — the community of interest might map onto national political parties, or else be optimized for ethnic representation. But mapped orthogonally in another house, entirely different matters of community interest — based on geography, markets, or some other basis — might come to the fore. State Senators will discuss different priorities at their town hall meetings than Assembly members, to the benefit of political problem-solving.

Anyway, a state senator who must negotiate among multiple constituencies and interests will be a busier one, and possibly one who achieves a lot more to break down our divisions.

(b) This method is a fallback, intended to persuade the Supreme Court that gerrymandering can be solved intrinsically, in a simple fashion that is inherently more fair than the present, biased-partisan cheating. And what could be simpler than three sentences?

Under the Minimal Overlap method, voters who now feel completely disenfranchised in all ways and in all chambers will thereupon very likely see their position improved. They will gain a chance that at least one of their three representatives will be someone who heeds their concerns. That is an improvement and a palliation of harm, and one that is far from arbitrary.

Voters thus would be guaranteed some relief from a conspiratorial injustice, in a fashion that is simple to execute. States may opt for some other method to eliminate the injustice. Many already have. But this method provides a backstop ensuring that the worst, most pervasive effects of gerrymandering will end.

== Implications of Minimal Overlap ==

Notice one “judo” aspect of this approach — that it allows hyper-partisans to have their way - somewhat - for a while, in one house. This might lessen resistance to reform by the most fundamentally powerful entities in American political life, state assembly members. It also splits away the self-interest of State Senators, reducing their motivation for hyper-partisanship - which is a desirable outcome in its own right.  Why should Assembly members and Senators connive together? Vive la difference!

Moreover, as State Senate and Congressional delegations become more moderate and less partisan, they will then tend to pressure the State Assembly to damp down its own cheating and partisanship.

The Court should also be made aware of the effect that impartial redistricting has had in many blue states and a few purples. While California remains dominated by the Democratic Party, impartial redistricting and other reforms (e.g. non-party primaries) have resulted in less bitterness between parties, not more. Less acrimony. Even in districts that wind up heavily Democratic or Republican, voters who are members of the minority party now feel more listened-to than before.

Earlier I mentioned that Illinois and Maryland and few other Democrat-dominated holdouts still outrageously gerrymander. Former President Barack Obama and former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder have specifically targeted these states, arm-twisting state legislators to end gerrymandering. When those Democratic Party holdouts comply, this horrifically blatant cheat and crime will be seen as an odious offense perpetrated primarily by just one party against the citizens of this great nation.

Nevertheless, the best solution will come from the Supreme Court, whose past reluctance must be met with a web of logic that allows no escape or wriggle room for Justices Roberts, Alito and especially Kennedy, erasing their earlier excuses for inaction. Minimal Overlap can serve as a example of a backstop remedy that’s simple, fair, and undeniably better than the outrageous status quo.



                     Cross-posted on Medium. 


David Brin is a scientist, tech speaker/consultant, and author.  His novel about our survival in the near future is Existence.   A film by Kevin Costner was based on The Postman.  His 16 novels, including NY Times Bestsellers and Hugo Award winners, have been translated into more than twenty languages.   Earth, foreshadowed global warming, cyberwarfare and the world wide web.

Dr. Brin serves on the external advisory board of NASA's Innovative and Advanced Concepts program (NIAC). David appears frequently on shows such as Nova and The Universe and Life After People, speaking about science and future trends. He has keynoted scores of major events hosted by the likes of IBM, GE, Google and the Institute for Ethics in Emerging Technologies.

His non-fiction book -- The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Freedom and Privacy? -- won the Freedom of Speech Award of the American Library Association.    (Website: )

The Supreme Court case that could shift how Americans vote rests on a simple math equation, Lola Fadulu, Quartz. 2017       

FINAL NOTE: I tried taking this article every media outfit I could find. It's blatantly original and interesting and potentially of real value. When even the "good" outlets are rigidly exclusive, saving all slots for pals, nepotism and established old-farts, we are crippled as an imaginative, problem-solving society.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Science Fictional futures: used by companies, agencies and bad cinema

Science fiction as a commercial product, for companies to use in either planning or sales, is not completely new. Monsanto’s 1950s House of the Future, at Disneyland, offered both a public puff piece and a way to focus their corporate culture. The Arconic Corp. re-imagining of the Jetsons comes vividly to mind. And if you want to explore this topic further, there’s a recent pair of Novum podcasts, entertainingly appraising both science fictional portrayals of advertising and advertising uses of science fiction.

A related trend has been asking SF authors to conjure stories and scenarios to dramatize, illustrate or even interrogate a client’s plans and vision.  As far back as the 1980s, I participated in scenario-building exercises for NASA, defense agencies and companies that resulted in brief, fictional vignettes, a couple of which I then developed into pretty good stories.  

I recently collaborated with Tobias Buckell on an action-adventure tale set on the very edge of outer space, in Overview: Stories in the Stratosphere, an anthology of terrific tales for Pluto (New Horizons) explorer Alan Stern’s World View stratospheric balloon company.  The ebook can be downloaded for free on the ASU website.

I’ve mentioned Japan’s ANA Airlines collaborated with the X Prize Foundation in an anthology about an airliner whose passengers left Tokyo in 2017 and arrive in San Francisco of 2037.  Here’s Bruce Sterling’s writeup. Read the stories on the ANA site: Seat 14C.

Now an entertaining article in the New Yorker reveals how Industrial-Grade SF has taken off, especially at Ari Popper’s company SciFutures. Another excellent adventure in Applies Science fiction is Berit Anderson's bold endeavor called Scout. Browse some of the great content
== Sci Fi Cinema ==

We watched the highly touted flick Logan. How sad. It featured excellent dialogue, top actors and good (if uber-violent) action choreography… but the premise and background logic were as atrocious as that over-hyped monstrosity, Mad Max 4: Fury Road. 

Both utterly betrayed the premise of their universe in order to wallow in some of the worst clichés that infest Hollywood today.  Loony-cartoonish villains who deliberately violate every hint of logic or even self-interest. Infinite supplies of disposable henchmen, none of whom have a scintilla of motive for following an asshole into hell – certainly no families of their own or qualities that might question death-loyalty to jerks. Pathetically, the Logan scripters thought that making the viewer wonder "what happened to the hundreds of millions of mutants?"  - yet never giving a hint - would somehow be a delicious puzzle for us all, instead of a grinding scrape of fingernails that persisted through every scene.

Yes, J.J. Abrams did something similar when he annihilated the Planet Vulcan, but at least there he allowed the Federation to be the Federation. Both Logan and Fury Road utterly obeyed the reflexive catechism of lazy Hollywood scripting: “Thou shalt never show any institution functioning, nor any chance of a working civilization. And all your fellow citizens and neighbors are useless sheep.” 

Ironically, the previous X-Men films… and Mad Max episodes one through three… did not follow those insipid rules. In all of them, both citizens and institutions were complex and included elements trying to do the right thing. In fact, X-Men and Mad Max used to be about that! True, Mel Gibson’s character seldom got much satisfaction, except by rescuing a few drips of civilization, but those worth-protecting glimmers existed!  And most of the X-Men flicks were about calling citizens and institutions to rise up to their better natures. 

Don't let fight scenes and good actors distract you from wretched storytelling. Demand: what supposedly happened to all the mutants?  There were hundreds of millions of them! And nations who had made peace with them, incorporating their talents. And billions of people would have started relying on the talented ones.

I sat through these things, as I sometimes do, in a state of self-lobotomization, in order to enjoy the good parts.  In both cases, the action choreography and in Logan’s case, watching Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart and the youngster-with-a-big-future act away.  But every minute after, I got angrier. Then reached a limit and shrugged it aside.

== Life on the sun? ==

On Quora, someone asked: “Could there be life on the Sun?”

Some of those answering sneered about the Sun being too hot for molecular life.  To which I answer: “So? Try actually stretching your conceptual noodle.”

“Life” can be defined as a dissipative structure that utilizes thermodynamic gradients to: (1) produce entropy, (2) export entropy from a confined area in order to create islands of order, (3) reproduces new versions, in order to continue.

The sun provides many kinds of extremely steep energy and thermal gradients. We use some of them here on Earth. In the solar atmosphere (chromosphere) these gradients might by exploitable. Moreover, while it is too hot to allow molecules and molecular chemistry, there is another kind of structure that might, possibly, become self organizing.

In my novel SUNDIVER I portrayed entities consisting of self-sustaining magnetic field loops, that use the copious energy flows to energize, grow, and spawn new loops. We can already do similar things in the lab and we see field loops forming all the time in the Chromosphere. Not in ways that satisfy a definition of life. But it’s not precluded.

See an illustration of my sun beings in the cover art to Sundiver, created by the brilliant Jim Burns. I have it hanging on the wall behind me. And yes, I have had Nobel winners compliment this book, so it ain’t all that crazy… just far-fetched! ;-) 

== Miscellaneous ==

Reminiscent of a scene in my 1989 novel Earth, the National Wildlife Property Repository, near Denver, is crammed with stuffed monkeys and ivory carvings, snow leopard coats and dried seal penises, chairs with tails and lamps with hooves. The repository contains 1.3 million confiscated items.  See a purse of alligator skin; a stool made of an African elephant foot with a zebra skin cushion; walrus tusks; a hat made of black bear skin; medicinal snake wine; an orangutan skull. A room filled with tigers and leopards.  I don’t know if it existed in 1989… but read my ultimate suggestion for what to do with these things… in Earth.

Anyone know David S. Goyer  Or Josh Friedman? Their  plans for a "Foundation" TV series seem to be moving ahead! Just putting it out there that I'm probably the best living expert on the story arcs of Isaac Asimov's universe, having written the ultimate sequel Foundation's Triumph, that tied together all of Isaac's loose ends.  (Isaac's widow and daughter were very happy.)   

Indeed, the producers ought to know where the books of the Second Foundation Trilogy fit in the sequence. Greg Bear and Greg Benford wrote prequels showing Hari Seldon as a young man... and my story fits right in among the opening chapters of FOUNDATION. Just sayin’ that a chat might be called for.

Oh, for the several of you who asked... The Postman is now back on Audible.

== Why Alternate Histories are generally silly – “if the South had won.” ==

Okay, I am going to use a new sci fi parallel world TV series as a kickoff for a historical (hysterical?) rant.

A new parallel world show called “Confederate” seems a timely, provocative riff on our re-ignited American Civil War. “The series takes place in an alternate timeline, where the Southern states have successfully seceded from the Union, giving rise to a nation in which slavery remains legal and has evolved into a modern institution. The story follows a broad swath of characters on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Demilitarized Zone — freedom fighters, slave hunters, politicians, abolitionists, journalists, the executives of a slave-holding conglomerate and the families of people in their thrall.”

Romantics claim the outcome of the 1860s phase of our ongoing Civil Was was iffy and could have gone either way. But it's just not true. Even the southern-born scholar Shelby Foote avows that "The Union fought with one hand behind its back. If it were ever in peril, it would have just brought out the other hand."

Romantics claim the question teetered on bare chance, at Gettysburg. Bull. The outcome at Gettysburg was foregone, the day the Army of Potomac arrived and Reynold's men gave Hancock's Corps time to form up along a ridge in good order.  All the AoP had to do then was sit tight. Let Lee fumble around and discover why offense was so darn near impossible with 1860s technology. Picket's Charge was just a capper. Lee lost before the battle began.

And if he had won? Crushed the AoP and moved on to Washington? So? The AoP had proved its stunning resilience over and over, and always reformed within a week after even devastating losses like Chancelorsville. Augmented by truly vast numbers of alarmed northern militia and led by Sherman, the reformed AoP would have fallen on Lee's rear while he tried to noodle a way around Washington's defenses.  Without any conceivable source of supplies, he'd be doomed.

And yes, this holds even if both France and Britain joined the slave-holders' side (they wouldn't, but pretend they did.)

Let's recall that the very day Lee ordered his last gambit at Gettysburg, Grant finished off the Confederacy's last outpost on the Mississippi, Vicksburg. Half of the CSA's ports were already taken by smaller Union armies. So, let's say Lee takes Washington and forces an armistice. Or say McClellan wins the 1864 election and signs a treaty. The "Confederacy" might include much of the official territory you see on maps...maybe even (unlikely) including Texas and Arkansas. But none of the great waterways or rivers.

Moreover, consider what happens next. Even supposing McClellan lets the CSA have transport rights on the Mississippi, the economic power of the CSA will be negligible. Texas would likely declare independence, or else rejoin the Union.  And both sides would spend the next ten years re-arming for another war. And the 1870s phase would not be in doubt past the first day, the first minute.

Industrial and military capacity in the Union was skyrocketing by the end of the war.  Heck, in our own timeline, in 1865, the US military could have taken on all of the armies and navies of the world, combined. Propelled further by a deadly grudge, by 1875, the US would far outstrip the industrial capacity of Britain. The behemoth faced by the South would have been overwhelming.

But look at history. The 1875 war would not have been for unification, but punishment and correction. The CSA would have lost Virginia, Florida and the Mississippi Valley... and the slaves would have been freed. Perhaps they'd be given Georgia.  All of it. Every house and stick of furniture. What remained could then call itself the Confederacy.  Until they provoked a third war.

Is that parallel world better than this one?  You'll see it in no sci fi paratime novels, because an equal struggle makes better drama. But it's the likely course, had Lee or McClellan got their wish and Lincoln not prevailed.

Let me be clear. Those of who who denigrate the Confederacy are right on every moral or historical plane, save one. That horrific "cause" had one unsullied and spectacular grace... martial courage, resilience and audacious effectiveness. Them rebs were fighters, all right. And southern men sign up for military service at higher rates, even today. And you have no right to criticize faults, unless you have the calm maturity to acknowledge virtues. Those that are there.

Still, here's your Halloween costume.
== Weirdly connected to sci fi ==

The internet goes wild and… okay, Snopes says this is for real. I mean, there it is, a scanned document. The book, "Baron Trump's Marvelous Underground Journey", by Ingersoll Lockwood, was published in 1893. A tale of a boy named Baron Trump who can time travel. Lockwood's next book was called "The Last President", of which the president had a cabinet member named Pence. 

Now calm down all you fantasy maniacs. Isn’t it likely that Donald Trump would have known of this book, and then later have named his son after it? No need for time travel, dudes.  Heck, one is more impressed with the episode of a 1950s cowboy series called Trackdown, that is about a conman named Walter Trump who convinces the townsfolk that the world will end—unless they build a big wall around the village. 

In fact, the other book – “The Last President” – is a little polemical tract attacking the real Democratic candidate for president, William Jennings Bryan and the Free Silver movement, prophesying what would happen if they took power.  While I am no fan of Bryan – the famed prosecutor in the infamous Scope Monkey Trial (played brilliantly by Frederick March in Inherit the Wind) – the other side was even worse, as evidenced by Lockwood’s turgid tirade screed.  Other than the irrational screaming, it has zero overlap with Donald Trump, that I can see.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

"Sovereignty" and a world-wide rush toward Putin-ism

The key word from Donald Trump's United Nations speech - "sovereignty" - should trigger alarms. That word — repeated 21 times in the 40-minute speech — has been widely discussed by politicians, pundits and the media, focusing on how Trump’s U.N. speech bounced between conflicting impulses "to the point of incoherence." In paying homage to American generosity on the world stage, for example, Trump cited several U.S.-funded global health programs... that his administration has cut. He praised the Marshall Plan, which rebuilt Europe after World War II, even as he repeatedly vowed that the U.S. role in nation-building is finished.
Alas, I know of no one in media who has pointed out the most blatant thing about the "sovereignty" riff. It is a core catch phrase of Putin-ism. Along with "traditionalism," "western decadence" and "western false democracy," this mantra is recited by every national leader who has slid into the Kremlin's orbit, an anti-democratic axis that now stretches from Ankara, Tehran and Belarus across Asia, all the way to Manilla.
The fact that the same words are spouted by Islamist regimes, by Russian Orthodox czarist-nostalgists and by Marxist despots in Venezuela and Cuba reveals that this isn't about "left-vs-right" in any classic sense. It is about Oligarchy's last ditch effort to end the Great Enlightenment Experiment, before it is too late.
Of course "sovereignty" is not inherently an evil term - that's why it can be effective as a Trojan Horse. There's nothing wrong with a nation pursuing its own enlightened self-interest. But there are layers you'll not hear about from shallow media.

1. Deep context. The principal divide in American politics is not specifically racism or sexism, as horrible as those are. Nor (again) is it classic "left-right," not when competitive entrepreneurship and market outcomes always (and that's absolutely always) do better across Democratic administrations. The core isn't even the Republican War on Science and every other fact-using profession. 

All of those are epi-phenomena of the battle over horizons -- whether we're a culture that looks ahead toward future times, that confidently explores newness in knowledge, technology, goods and services... and one that expands horizons of inclusion. 

The last of these has always been a major American project, ever since Washington and the Founders repeated the achievement of Pericles, enlarging the council of enfranchised citizens from a 0.01% nobility to the 20% who were white, land-owning, English-descended males. During Andrew Jackson's Scots-Irish-Appalachian revolution, this circle expanded, as it did (with setbacks) with every generation that followed, leaving Periclean Athens in the dust. That circle now (imperfectly!) encompasses the largest fraction of resident adults of any civilization, reducing both injustice and terrible waste of talent.

None of these inclusion expansions came easy! No other issue has been as forefront in America's continuing (now in phase 8) Civil War. There was always a large minority who resented change and especially being chided with guilt trips. These neighbors of ours - often very decent folks - have horizons that are closer-in and more zero-sum. For a majority of Trump supporters, the sub-text - after being hectored to change their old-comfy habits in so many successive causes like LGBTQ and transgender bathrooms - is "stop nagging me!"

You can see where "sovereignty" and nationalism and nativism come in here. Everything is relative, to near-horizon folks. Within the context of America, everything is red-state vs those awful, oppressive, city-slicker blues. Within a context of the world, everything is America. And nothing is more suspect - more of a symbolic threat to their horizons - than the United Nations.
(Blatantly, if there were an alien threat, those horizon markers would shift!)

2. Why is "sovereignty" so important to Putin and other members of his axis? Because there's nothing more frightening to them than the rule of law. All of them have constitutions which - if properly followed - would threaten their positions of power and control over national wealth. Having seized their own nations' judiciaries and police, they fear three potentially lethal external threats -- intervention by international court systems, attacks by human rights NGOs, and actions taken by this era's still powerful imperial economic/military/cultural power... Pax Americana.

Those three threats have motivated "sovereignty" whimpers for decades. But things have changed, now that Vladimir Putin's long-sought anti-western alliance is firming into place. Moreover, in a coup of staggering proportions, they now have some unknown degree of sway with the constitutionally installed leader of America, who (coincidence?) is using domestic politics as a surface reason to proclaim the very same meme. 

Parse the U.N. speech with care. Note that his bluster is a tantrum of weakness. Because a confident pax power has no need to cry out "sovereignty!" What's normal is that the era's pax power is the one being accused of violating sovereignty! And sure, being mightiest hasn't always made the U.S. right... it's made huge mistakes! But on balance, Pax Americana has inarguably been by-far the best 70 years in all of human existence. No nation - when tempted by imperial power - ever used it with anywhere near as close a semblance to actual wisdom, or such net-overall positive outcomes. 

Anyway, it is the US president's job to make that case! Not to moan that 'we're not so special, after all!' Who is going to respect a pax power that whines? 

Moreover, note that while Trump did not did not discuss climate change, nonproliferation, human rights or the Middle East peace -- all of which were paramount to every past Republican and Democratic president, he did complain at length about “unaccountable international tribunals and powerful global bureaucracies” that sapped the sovereignty of nations. Donald Trump's message is to assert that the U.S. is a victim of the same international system resented by Putin, Erdogan, Khamenei, Lukashenko, Duterte and others. 

Do not think for a moment that the Kremlin lost value in its White House "asset," just because there's a Mueller investigation. They have been stymied in some ways -- the Crimea sanctions remain in place and adults have re-taken some U.S. national security posts. But they will keep trying to use their suborned national asset... as (I assert) the Saudis did with theirs, in 1991 and 2001.

3. Do not see Donald Trump's low credibility as a victory. A central argument of Putinism is Western Decadence. Elsewhere I have shown that every single zero-sum enemy of the American Experiment has pushed the exact same message -- that Americans are rich, happy, exploratory and have fun, all at the expense of some terrible sacrifice. 

Unable to grasp the concept of positive-sum, all of them claimed that yankees traded away manhood, virility, soul, fortitude, etc. in exchange for toys. The British in the 1770s, confederates, nazis, stalinists, jihadists... all have pushed exactly the same line, forcing Americans to disprove it, at great cost, every single generation.

They specifically deride democracy, either by spewing insanely wrong lies like the Tytler Calumny, or touting the nonexistent virtues of "traditionalism and hierarchy"... or else proclaiming that democracy is always a sham. That popular will is always perverted by cheating, so why not be open about it? (See: "Is democracy hopeless?")

 In pushing this line, the Putinists get help from our home grown confederates, but also from liberals who leap upon every Trumpism as a refutation of legitimacy. Let's be clear, Donald Trump is a Putin-axis "asset." But they don't mind him making a mockery of himself, so long as it de-legitimizes democracy.

I could go on. There are so many undercurrents that no one discusses. And of course that is the Putinists' greatest victory. They have even our brightest so busy reacting viscerally and instantly to superficial things, that only the schemers, themselves, grasp the big picture. Alas.

ADDENDUM: As it happens, I'm not the only one to notice how Donald Trump's U.N. speech mirrors the core elements of Putinism.

== The path to chaos  ==

Lest you dare to try to suppose that Donald Trump is the “disease” and not the biggest symptom of and ailment that spans the last 25 years, see this diagnostic closer-look: How America Went Haywire, by Kurt Andersen in The Atlantic. 

“President George W. Bush’s political mastermind, Karl Rove, came up with the remarkable phrase reality-based community. People in “the reality-based community,” he told a reporter, “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality … That’s not the way the world really works anymore.”

This madness has been deliberately concocted. The war against all fact-using professions has steadily broadened and now includes the few that had previously been exempt… the “deep state” experts in the intel communities, the FBI and law-enforcement, and the U.S. Military Officer Corps. (Name one exception -- a fact-centered profession not hated-on by the risen confederacy. I challenge you right now.)

A side thought. The smartest folks I know see the stock market surge as the run-up to a crash. Still... I just read about how DT might save himself. It is scary. There’s talk of a tax holiday for U.S. corporations to bring home trillions stashed overseas. If DT just does that, then the money will all be spent on useless crap like stock buybacks and asset bubbles. But populist Trump MIGHT proclaim ”You can bring it back tax free if it all goes directly to U.S. jobs.”

It’s something he might do.  And it could prevent the 2018 recession.  Scary that there’s a scenario for him to get something right, temporarily.

== Map the Crazy ==

Want a map or rogue’s gallery of the factions in Donald Trump’s White House? (See this attempt from The Washington Post.) We know that Steve Bannon’s  neo-blackshirts made a tense alliance with The Family - the Kushner-Trumps - to use a Wall Street front-stabbber (the Mooch) to oust Olde-Republican Reince Preibius, before moochie’s towering offensiveness and ineptitude became too much even for Trump, who then fired him as a price for hiring General John Kelly to grab the reins in that madhouse.

The Washington Post
And yes, Kelly presumably is allied with NSC Chair and former general H. R. McMaster… but not another general (Flynn)….. Yipe!  

Then there are the Underminers! Listen to the black shirts howl that the second, third and fourth ranked folks in the White House are rife with leakers and others who dare to put other loyalties (like to the country or their children) ahead of sworn allegiance to POTUS. Okay, the cited article tries to map out some of it…

…and fails miserably.  The author’s categories suck, in my opinion. (For example combining a crazed warmonger, Putin-puppet and Bannon-ally (Flynn) with the conservative but desperate grownups McMaster and Kelly who are (one prays!) close to their adult peers in the Officer Corps.  Likewise, the map does little to show the Goldman-Sachs roots of so many. The Kushner-Trumps are their own category (forget “New York.”)  And the Olde-Republicans should show their ties to Olde-Money. And the links to Rupert Murdoch are crucial! Seriously, where are the asterisks and dotted lines leading to either Fox News or Russia? And the Saudis?

 Above all, the recently ousted Steve Bannon and Sebastian v. Gorka are not “conservatives”!  They are fascists in the old and dictionary-pure sense of the term – romantics with a fierce dedication to symbolism, cyclical destiny, national purity, volcanic hatred, disdain of expertise and (let's repeat the central trait) utter romanticism, in other words every single litmus test of fascism, by the book.  (Not the silly strawman images of that word that are bandied loosely and careflessly by lefties.)

Moreover, VP Mike Pence is no classic Republican, either; Dominionism is his central trait and that End-Times obsession makes him and his faction the most dangerous of all. 

Now that I am pondering it, this map is calamitously dumb except for one thing, it gets you arguing - as I just did - and learning about some of the faces who aren’t in the news.

Keep a link to this map! (And my criticisms). After all, I may be wrong, wholly or in part.  And we’ll need every navigation aid we can find. For another convoluted map, see the Los Angeles Times take on: How Steve Bannon became the face of a political movement.  Do not imagine he is irrelevant now!

Jiminy while we’re at it, how about mapping the crazy-complex loonies in the Cabinet and chairing committees in Congress?

== What about the audit? ==

Democratic politicians are nearly all dingbats who cannot parse an opening, even when it’s laid before them. Sure, some maneuvers would take courage and imagination – like my “Short Straw Proposal.” (Has Chuck Schumer recently read my proposal?)  But others just require a little common sense and a few spare neurons to rub together. For example –

-- Donald Trump refused to show us his tax returns “because they are undergoing audit.” But first of all, the two are not linked! Legally or in any other way. The one has nothing to do with the other.

Second, why did no one demand verification from the IRS that an audit of every Trump return, across the last ten years, is underway?  Sure, there’s confidentiality. Perhaps IRS cannot do that without Donald Trump’s permission. So? Should not voices have risen, across the spectrum, demanding that DT give the IRS permission to confirm the very story that he was telling?

Above all, some democratic leader should have said: “I’m sure the IRS will be willing to cancel your audit, sir, in the national interest and at the request of all political parties. Just make the request, openly and publicly, and we’ll see if the IRS complies. Can you give us any reason why you’d not do that? Get yourself off the hook from an IRS audit that you blame for your lack of candor? Who wouldn’t do that?”

And finally, since DT has slipped around all of those approaches – because no democrat was smart enough to try them – then how about demanding the appointment of an independent ombudsman to look over the auditors’ shoulders, to ensure the audit is handled properly, and no advantage is given to the President?

Of course all of this is probably obsolete, because Robert Mueller has likely subpoenaed the tax records by now. They are almost certainly being sifted, as we speak… during the short time that Mueller has left before being fired.

== This will be a harsh phase ==
In honor of the courage, resilience and determination of the people of Houston, I will leave off with a quotation from Sam Houston, urging his fellow Texans to stay calm and not go along with the mob rush to secession:

"Some of you laugh to scorn the idea of bloodshed as the result of secession, but let me tell you what is coming….Your fathers and husbands, your sons and brothers, will be herded at the point of the bayonet….You may after the sacrifice of countless millions of treasure and hundreds of thousands of lives, as a bare possibility, win Southern independence…but I doubt it. I tell you that, while I believe with you in the doctrine of state rights, the North is determined to preserve this Union. They are not a fiery, impulsive people as you are, for they live in colder climates. But when they begin to move in a given direction…they move with the steady momentum and perseverance of a mighty avalanche; and what I fear is, they will overwhelm the South. ”

There is much more, from a mighty Texan-American. 

And in that spirit, here's your Halloween costume. Order soon. They may run out. Walmart has pulled the gray version but you can still get one for your mad uncle. Get him to come out. It'll be healthier for us all.