Saturday, February 17, 2018

Something Must Be Done!!!

Or maybe it should read
Get Pissed and Do Something
So today we find ourselves with two ongoing narratives battling for their share of popular outrage. One is yet another mass shooting, this time at a school in Florida, and the other is Russian social media based interference in the American (and other) democratic election process. In these cases, the outrage is expressed in remarkably similar terms - that is people demanding action. Enough is enough, they scream, and they demand somebody DO SOMETHING. And that's fine, as far as it goes - in both cases we find ourselves helpless, and in the face of that kind of helplessness, angry. And we know that, as citizens, we have no real power to change the rules, to somehow turn the world from this crazy, destructive, unsustainable path it has somehow gotten onto, and make it better, make it make sense.

Both of the outraged demands that somebody DO SOMETHING have something noteworthy in common. In both cases, nobody ever offers any real thoughts or suggestions about what it is we should do. Instead - particularly in the case of the gun murders - the best they can do is demand some magical end-state, without ever even thinking about how to get there, what it might take politically and how much time it would require. I note this partly because it is the same with demands for government funded single payer health care - we want a functional system up and running, but absolutely refuse to do the hard work of thinking about what it would take for us to get to that point.

Let's first consider the election interference, because in the case of these two impossible demands it is probably the easier one to approach. American elections are tremendously costly primarily because they require a full-spectrum advertising blitz. Not just television and radio, but internet, social media and rallies on the ground. There is nothing we can do to prevent Americans from posting political advertising and messaging, and meeting with others in support of their candidates and issues. The Russian intelligence agencies recognized this early on, and set up a group to impersonate Americans and sew chaos and division. It was incredibly effective, and probably was partially responsible for the election of the most unqualified idiot imaginable to the most powerful position in the land.

Make no mistake, 2016 was a learning process for them. In many ways they were sloppy, making only a minimal effort to cover their tracks and spending only a million dollars a month on the effort. This year, they will do a better job of hiding the source of funding and recruiting Americans to be the front men for an operation that will then supply content - both stolen (and possible altered) private messaging and emails, and social media posts of the most ugly and outrageous kind possible. Remember, the goal is to create a level of hate and discord that makes a democratic electoral system break down under the weight. The playbook is written, they are coming for us again in 2018, and they will do a better job than they did last time.

So what can we do about it? Obviously, we're not going to ban political social media messaging and posts, and while we can try to make certain that those posts that are paid advertising are purchased by Americans, but that kind of loose limitation is easily bypassed by the professionals in Russia. It's already clear that won't be near enough. Education won't work, because so many Americans WANT to believe the things they believe, and anything that reinforces those beliefs (crooked Hillary) will be believed, liked and shared. I'm wide open to suggestion, but I believe that the only option that remains is active measures.

The US - both in the NSA and in the Military - has an offensive cyber operation in place. (So, it should be noted, does every other country.) We have the option of breaking systems, destroying networks and erasing data. Every time we can target the source of this kind of interference, we could shut it down and force them to reconstitute those capabilities. Seems like that might be effective, right? Of course, with any escalation, you're going to get a counterattack. As mentioned above, they also have an offensive cyber warfare capability, and could respond with their own active measures. What will they come for? State electoral systems? Banking systems? Railroads? Electrical grid? Then how do we respond, and where does this escalating cyber war leave us? And does any of it actually protect our fragile democratic elections?

As to guns, what we hear is 'ban AR-15s', 'ban semi-auto weapons', ban ammunition types and the old standbys, improve background checks and address our mental health crisis. And of course, none of these things are bad, per se. But they are desired end-states, not anything like a plan or a course of action. If you demand one of these end-states, shouldn't you be obligated to at least offer a rough outline of how you're going to get there? In trying to game out a path to a solution, at least you come to understand how desperately difficult solving these problems is going to be in our current political environment.

The short answer to the gun problem is going to be nothing less than a shift in political belief systems. At some point, Americans are going to refuse to go along with the status quo. Right now, a significant portion of Americans have decided that this slaughter of innocents is a reasonable price to pay in exchange for unfettered access to modern firearms. But now we're on a path that leads to more slaughter, and higher body counts. Las Vegas was a breakthrough in high-volume murder, and all the people who will commit similar crimes in the future are paying attention. It's almost certain that we will - at some point - experience our own "Australia Moment" when the carnage becomes so sickening, and comes to so many otherwise 'safe, white' places, that we demand that our leaders - at least at the State level - simply ignore the arguments about the 2nd amendment and do the draconian things we need to do to put an end to this madness.

At the end of the day, demanding action - that somebody DO SOMETHING - isn't a particularly effective political strategy. It just reinforces the understanding of the power imbalance, and lets those 550 legislators in Washington know that nobody actually believes that they will act. But to be fair, this is where we are in the process. The 2nd amendment is toxic, and it's killing Americans at an alarming rate. If enough people get out and demand action, and vote in pro gun control candidates, then change will someday be possible. So yeah - I'd like to hear concrete suggestions, but today I'll settle for anger and outrage.

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