The New American Civil War

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I have written before about the increasing possibility of civil war in America, as did Robin Wright in “Is America Headed for a New Kind of Civil War?

Here are a few more recent developments to help you connect the dots. In “How Democracy dies? Voter Suppression + Court Packing + Killing Net Neutrality,” A. Siegel paints a frightening picture of the future of American “democracy” and the life of its subjects (citizens).

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. He could have added gerrymandering, building an unfair advantage into the census, the proposed virtual elimination of taxes on the super wealthy and corporations which will eventually lead to an attempt to destroy all of America’s limited social safety net, the conservative news bubble owned by the wealthy, the destruction of the State Department, the EPA, the packing of the courts, and more.

Net neutrality is especially important, as rolling it back is an attempt to control and distort information. You can find another piece of the puzzle in Pam Vogel’s: “Sinclair’s conservative news takeover will rock 15 regions.” If these changes go through, even my small voice will essentially be silenced. (For more on the net neutrality issue see “The Internet Is Freedom, and It Is Under Attack.“)

I hope I’m wrong, but I see even darker times ahead. I think the remnants of American democracy are about to collapse. (Since I wrote the above sentence, E. J. Dionne made a similar point in the Washington Post in “Our Political Foundation Is Rotting Away,” and Thomas Edsall wrote about the same issue in his excellent op-ed “The Self-Destruction of American Democracy.“)

9 thoughts on “The New American Civil War

  1. I’ve mentioned before that we might be witnessing the dystopian singularity. Everything is being framed to benefit corporations — meta-intelligences (realized as a distributed network with each node as powerful as a human brain … aka “employees”) that have one goal: higher quarterly profits.
    Glacial AI is working out how to optimize paperclip production.

  2. All the people who should be linking arms to oppose the corporate consolidation of power are too busy tearing each other apart with identity politics.
    Of course, as a white heterosexual male, my opinion is less than worthless.

  3. divide and conquer has always been the strategy of the powerful. That’s what racism and sexism and xenophobia and homophobia are all about.

  4. While I am in strong agreement with you that the American polity is unraveling and political violence is likely, I have a few cautiously optimistic — perhaps merely hopeful — observations to offer.

    First, voter participation is the primary deciding factor in winning elections. The party that can get more of its voters to the polls usually wins. This in turn is decided by outrage. The Republican party, and especially Mr. Trump, have been enormously successful in stoking the outrage of reactionary voters, which has won election after election. “The Mexicans, the criminals, the terrorists, the North Koreans, the Iranians, the Chinese — they’re all out to get us, and those liberals are on their side. Let’s git ’em!”

    However, I think that the outrage will tilt strongly in the other direction next year. Liberals are furious over the crimes that Mr. Trump and the Republicans have been committing. Today Mr. Trump is decimating two national monuments in Utah. Liberals really are up in arms. They will turn out in droves next year.

    Meanwhile, the reactionaries are having second thoughts. There are a lot of reactionary voters out there who regret their vote last year. Sure, there’s a hard core of fanatics who still support him, but that hardcore comprises less than 20% of the population and it’s shrinking. Meanwhile, the number of people who are outraged against the Republicans are running at perhaps 40% of the population — that’s a two to one advantage.

    I’d like to point out an important factor in reactionary outrage: the move towards gay marriage. Not gay rights, but gay marriage. This, I think, is the force that drives reactionary outrage more than any other single factor. It started back in 2000 with the first legalization of gay marriage in San Francisco and several other cities. That drove millions of reactionaries to the polls and deprived Al Gore of a victory that he should have had locked up. I think that we moved too quickly on that one. We should have given the reactionaries more time to see that gay marriage does not destroy civilization, taking it one step at a time.

    My second main point concerns net neutrality. I’ve been following this for some years and I must confess that I am still on the fence on this one. The problem, I think, is that the companies in question are, effectively, monopolies and as such should be subject to the same regulation that is applied to other utilities. The problem is that utilities have always been handled by the states, not the Feds.

    Moreover, I see some economic flaws in our current system. The price and cost of service are not properly connected. The price is fixed, with (in many cases) some ceiling on the maximum amount of data transferred per month. But the cost of the service is determined by bandwidth, not data delivery. It’s the RATE of data transmission that matters, not the total amount of data transferred.

    The economically perfect way to handle the situation would be to charge consumers for the fraction of total available bandwidth that they consume at any given moment. Here’s the calculation:

    Large corporation DollarPigs, Inc, has installed fiber optics permitting it to deliver a maximum bandwidth of one billion bits per second. (I’m keeping the numbers small to make the calculation easier to follow. Let’s just say that DollarPigs serves only the little town of Podunk, Nevada.) The company invested $1 million installing this cable. It has 100 customers. If DollarPigs is to make a 10% return on its investment, then it needs to get $100,000 income per year from the customers.

    Most of the time the customers use only a little bandwidth for email and light web browsing, so they don’t use anywhere near a billion bits per second in total demand. DollarPigs has far more capacity than it needs.

    But every evening after dinner, the Podunkians start watching movies on their computers. Demand suddenly skyrockets and the DollarPigs cable can’t handle the load. So they have to double their capacity, costing another $1 million, and meaning that they have to rake in twice as much income as their customers are now paying. This is inordinately expensive.

    The ideal solution would be to put a bandwidth meter in the equipment providing the data to the customers. The amount a customer pays is calculated second by second. A customer who eats up lots of bandwidth at the same time everybody else is using bandwidth pays a steep price for the privilege. On the other hand, if that same customer watches the same movie at 3:00 AM, when nobody is using the cable, then the movie is almost free.

    This is the ideal solution. Unfortunately, most people are too stupid to understand how it works, and they would complain endlessly. So instead we use simple-mind plans that don’t properly reflect the costs. Hence we have set up suppliers and consumers in an adversarial situation.

    Net neutrality is a patchwork solution; it allows DollarPigs to charge the suppliers of the data on the basis of bandwidth usage. Let’s face it, Netflix is pushing the data transmission networks a LOT harder than http://www.walmart.com is. Netflix should be charged more for the increased bandwidth it consumes. This permits DollarPigs to apply the economically most efficient pricing mechanism.

    Unfortunately, this just begs the question, because now Netflix holds the hot potato. DollarPigs will charge them more money when their customers watch movies in the evening. So does Netflix pass on the system to the customers? No; it charges by the movie or by the month. So we still haven’t really solved the problem.

    People apparently think that big companies will be able to negotiate lower rates for access to the cables, and little guys will get stuck with higher fees. But that has the economics backwards. If you’re buying manufactured items (pills, solar cells, pajamas, whatever), the manufacturer enjoys economies of scale and lower distribution costs to bigger customers, so it’s a win-win situation for both parties when the manufacturer gives a discount to a big customer.

    But with data transmission, it’s the other way around: the more bandwidth you use, the higher the capacity required, and so the higher the costs. The cable owner wants to charge more for higher bandwidth usage, and less for lower bandwidth usage.

    That’s why I’m on the fence about network neutrality.

  5. Chris – As always thanks for your thoughtful insights. I think I’ll just repost this tomorrow to see if it gets any response. You know so much more than I do about this that its hard for me to intelligently reply.

  6. @Chris Crawford. I’ve had your post in mind for a while and here’s what bothers me is your second main point which concerns net neutrality.

    I’ll set aside but not concede the idea that there’s a problem in “that utilities have always been handled by the states, not the Feds.” There’s a lot of obscuring going on with the verb “handled”, the Federal government has been handling the regulation of utilities for a long time.

    The crux of my concern is that the entire argument about net neutrality is framed in terms of consumption levels. By that argument, whether the consumption is from using Neflix is irrelevant, I take your position to be what you describe: metering. Metering is orthogonal to net neutrality.

    You can have net neutrality and metering, the metering must simply not charge more or less depending on the source/destination of the various packets. Similarly, you can have metering without net neutrality, with metering rates different for various content.

    When arguing about net neutrality let’s be clear what we mean: ISPs able to block content, able to bundle, able to favor particular sources of data, all either in whole or by discriminatory pricing that makes accessing particular data more or less expensive to the end user.

  7. Thanks for correcting me. I have continued researching the subject and have discovered numerous errors in my thinking. For example, Netflix already pays a surcharge for its heavy use of bandwidth. Second, the feds have been regulating utilities since the basic law they passed in the 1930s. Oops.

    But the most important mistake I made was in failing to grasp that the true significance of net neutrality is that, as you point out, the desired neutrality applies to sources and destinations, not bandwidths.

    I can see a good argument for economic discrimination — making special deals with special sources or destinations. For example, if some corporation promises to transfer its humongous amounts of daily information at 2:00 AM each day, it makes perfect sense that a carrier should cut them a special deal. But that’s just a bandwidth argument one step removed from directness.

    The part that I didn’t catch was the new ability of carriers to block sources or destinations for economically arbitrary reasons. I shudder to think of what would happen if a politically motivated actor were to gain control of even a portion of the backbone. They could delay delivery of information from blacklisted sites so as to conceal their actions yet partly control the political discourse.

    The new regulations do require some degree of openness from the carriers, but I suspect that they’ll be able to conceal their unfair behavior all too easily.

    I wonder if it would be useful to copy the methodology now used for electrical power in many states: the industry is broken into two sub-industries, the grid and the generators. The grid companies have to carry the power from any generator at a standardized price. The generators feed power into the grid. An lo! That sure sounds like net neutrality to me.

  8. Metering by time of day wouldn’t discriminate by content, sounds reasonable to me too. Would help smooth out usage too for operators who can take advantage of that.

    Besides the further slanting the economic playing field, I entirely agree with you on the political consequences. It would have sounded far more absurd just a little over a year ago. Yet here we are. Shadow bans coming soon for people and ideas, all but certainly. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shadow_banning)

  9. The collapse of a corrupt system of govt. is always a good thing. I’m more than ready to see Rome burn. It’s long overdue and my only worry is it won’t be complete.

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