Dennis Santiago
Dennis Santiago

Picking Nits

24.10.2018
Dennis Santiago
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Photo: Jorje Cabrera, Reuters There are “caravans” marching north though Mexico originating from the Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Presently around 1,500 miles away, they get out of their trucks to march for the benefit of cameras with uncannily precise timing to arrive on the precipice of the U.S. November midterm election. Is your spider sense tingling? Are you wondering if this is a scam? So am I. These people are portrayed as refugees; but are they? They aren’t acting like it. There’s a pretty straightforward script about how refugees are handled on this planet. The international law on asylum is that the asylum seeker is supposed to present themselves to the authorities of the first international border they reach upon fleeing their countries. For Central Americans fleeing north from their governments, that country is Mexico; specifically, the southern border of Mexico. The way it is supposed to work, Mexico, with aid from the international community, is supposed to set up refugee camps. The coordination body for this is U.N. High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR). It is from these camps, that other organizations such as the US Office for Refugee Resettlement are supposed to process persons to qualify eligible refugees for movement from the camps to a third host nation. If this were the Middle East, the analogy would be people in Iraq and Syria fleeing ISIS going into U.N. camps in Jordan. Here’s where it gets weird. That’s exactly what the UNHCR, Mexico and United States are trying to do in this case. This is not a money issue. The US, Mexico and the UN have the money and resources to support a proper refugee camp. We’re talking 1,500 people per caravan which is a drop in the bucket compared to the 11 million Syrians, Kurds and Yazidis displaced in the Middle East. But wonder of wonders, these people are refusing to go into camps and process as refugees. Somebody’s giving them a better deal than the internationally sanctioned solution set. Instead, they are marching towards the US border escorted by, and it seems funded by, American activist handlers. What does that tell you is really going on here? Again, are these people really legitimate refugees from their own governments? If so, what exactly are they fleeing? Let’s dig a little more. First, these marchers do come from three relatively small economies. Guatemala has a $75.6 billion GDP nation, El Salvador a $24.8 billion GDP and Honduras has a $22.98 billion GDP. But here’s the thing. As of 2017, the GDP’s of all three of these countries was growing. Yeah, you heard that right, growing. Note that all three of these governments are imploring their citizens to return. And they were doing that before Donald Trump threatened to cut off aid to them. What’s the underlying stress that may be besetting Central America? Here are my observations. First, this may very well have simpler explanations that have nothing to do with being refugee problems. People leaving otherwise improving economic conditions speaks more to internal forces having to do with economic opportunity inefficiencies within these nations. One of the organizers of the caravan is a Honduran ex-lawmaker named Bartolo Fuentes who’s apparently been organizing caravans since last September as reported by the New York Post and Daily Beast. These are normally small groups numbering in the 200 range. According to the NYPost, the swelling in numbers for this caravan may have been triggered by a woman referring to “assistance” in an interview on Hoduran TV news channel HCH. Mr. Fuentes reported a surge in phone calls following the broadcast. What does that mean? Could this be local politics in Central America gone viral on the world stage because of the internet? It's certainly not the first bizarre consequence effect we've seen happen.  Or, it may be simple economics in action. It costs an average of $7,000 USD to pay a coyote to smuggle a person to the United States. A caravan with “assistance” reduces that cost per traveler considerably … and potentially upsets the human trafficking economies extending from Central America to the United States. Think about the implications of that one buckwheat. OAS considerations. More broadly, what Central American nations do share, actually the entire Western Hemisphere and the Organization of American States, is a common problem called Venezuela. That socialist state is a basket case of a national failure. Venezuela’s economy has collapsed thirty-seven percent (-37%) since 2014 from being a $482.4 billion GDP nation to a maybe $300 billion GDP country today; that’s a loss of $182 billion of GDP by Venezuela. That math basically means that Venezuela has evaporated wealth greater than the combined economies of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The stresses put on Venezuela’s neighbors because Nicolas Maduro is nincompoop of a socialist despot even by socialist’s standards is a problem now beginning to resonate throughout the New World. My instincts say Maduro is triggering the Western Hemisphere equivalent of the refugee problem besetting Europe. We are facing a problem very similar to the walking wave of people seeking economic opportunity while hanging on to their cultural identity.  They, like their migrant counterparts in the EU, are escaping a no go home scenario. The similarity to what is challenging Europe is uncanny; except the problem for the New World isn’t Muslim refugees displaced from their homes in Syria, Kurdistan, Libya, or Sudan, it’s Venezuelans displaced from their homes. The Venezuelans need that $182 billion of lost GDP to survive and like their Muslim counterparts in the Old World, they are pursuing a scrounge at the expense of their hosts path to that desperate survival. Central America is being invaded by Maduro’s refugee hordes. So far, no one has the guts to do something about the cancer that is Venezuela’s blight upon the Americas. This is not going to get smaller as Central and South America’s economies continue to crater under the weight of the spread of that pathetic socialist failure. The Gringo Factor Stranger still, groups in the US are seeking to exploit the plight of the innocent for their own political purposes, most embarrassingly, by activists and globalists in the United States. The political elite Gringo’s are being ugly Americans using these people like pawns. I doubt they even actually care what happens to them, or their countries. Here’s my reality check.  Cooler heads than the American hotheads are beginning to voice their concerns.  Eventually, I think the suggestion of Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto to US President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that the countries of North America, who have strong economies, will have to solve this problem as an Organization of American States problem. It will become front burner policy. My suggestion to President Trump is to seriously consider these posits. We may need to build a coalition of the willing to help Central and South America find a better future without a Maduro led Venezuela. We may need to re-cast how US aid to Central America can be better used to further decrease the attraction of economic migration from these countries. And, we may have to deal with the economic food chain of human trafficking in the New World. There are global repercussions that accompany this strategic realization. Meditate on this more I shall.
10.10.2018
Dennis Santiago
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photo: AP/Mary Altaffer During the first minute of his speech on the 25th of September 2018 to the United Nations General Assembly, president Donald J. Trump received a greeting of muted laughter. For the near hour of the speech that followed, you could have heard a pin drop in the cavern. Trump minced no words. He was brutally clear to everyone in the General Assembly that the United States of America meant business. The repercussions of that speech will be world changing. Foremost In the president's message to the world was his rejection of globalism represented most by the governing apparatus of the United Nations and its supporting agencies. The UN had been born in an era of global power concentration at the end of World War II. It has functioned as such since then concentrating the real power over the planet in the Security Council. This model husbanded the planet through the Cold War and a period of post-Colonialism in the aftermath of it. But much like his domestic presidency is a recognition that established bureaucracies can become bloated by elitism and hubris, so can the world stage. I found it poetic that this message to the world that the time has come to set central control aside and embrace a more plural form the world governance was delivered in the General Assembly where decades of evolution adding nations represented in the room have brought necessity to evaluate the issue of how nations relate to each other to the forefront. This has been evolving for some time. The world has become more regionalized with confederations, some cooperative and some adversarial, emerging on the planet. The European Union has gone through several cycles of growing pains, so has Russia and its Confederation of Independent States. These two regions of the world have now existed in their present forms for longer since the fall of the Berlin Wall now longer than the entire length of time the Cold War wall existed. The Middle East and Africa have undergone radical change from a landscape of colonies to amalgams of nations. The world became plural in an image, quite honestly, modeled after the original hopes of the United Nations and financed, in many cases, by the treasure of the United States. Mission accomplished. Hooray for us monkeys! In his speech, Trump challenged this now more plural world to begin to live up to its potential. In doing so, he announced that it was time to win the world of American dependence. He pointed out that for America to navigate into its own future such a change was a necessity. He implied that this necessity applied to every other nation as well. The stunned silence in the room was surely no surprise to the American delegation delivering this 21st century tough love message. I smiled to myself as I listened to it not because I am an isolationist, but because I am an American. I’m pragmatic about the practice of global stability and national policy. I found my thoughts drifting back to a much younger United States of America. In the 1790’s and leading up to the War of 1812, the United States was a beacon of freedom to a Western Hemisphere dominated by colonial masters. They coveted how the United States was thriving in its social and power experiment. Throughout the Americas, people saw the emergence of a free and independent nation and wanted the same for themselves. America's leaders struggled with the requests for aid throw off the world powers of that era and cast them out of the New World. There was acrimony about it at the time, and regret. America's leaders knew we were not rich enough or powerful enough come to the aid of our neighbors and risk the combined might of Europe against us. Mind you the British did try. Lucky for us, we survived the War of 1812. More importantly for the world’s future, we chose to lead by example that would become a hallmark of our future conduct on the world stage. We took the position of tough love showing our neighbors what was possible, to inspire hope even if (no because) we were unable to do it for them. We recognized even then the wisdom of teaching others to fish. If you think about it openly, the world is in a similar position today following the abandonment of colonialism worldwide. There are only two nations rich enough to vie for hegemony on this planet. This would be the multi-trillion economies of the United States and China. No one else has this potential. Both nation’s societies are presently in flux. One is pursuing hyper-patriotic centralization of social values controlled via the technology of universal social scoring. The other tumultuously hangs on to its internal pluralism using technology in an endless series of trials by fire, well technically flame wars, to bring everyone’s egos to ground. Stepping back and looking objectively, both nations are experiments in the future of complex societies for this planet. Opposite in approach, these two nations are the templates for where technological humanity must find a future. Clearly neither model has found its sweet spot yet. Is what it is. What will be interesting in the next decade is whether the US and China come to blows over these templates or find a way to manage their polar forms of leadership in concert for the benefit of the remainder of the world. Perhaps we’ll find a new détente. Hopefully, the UN General Assembly noted in its silence of President Trumps speech, the bilaterally messages between the Unites States and the nations single out by the US, that included carrots and sticks, loud and clear. I believe that the American delegation’s message to the United Nations in 2018 will go down in history as a reminder by the United States of the same message it has stood for since its birth. For whatever acrimony the news of the day makes of this inconvenient truth, President Trump did his job as our messenger effectively.
25.09.2018
Dennis Santiago
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The ability of the Internet to cause storms of social upheaval has reached epic proportions. Since the November 2016 election the Internet has been used by political parties to ferment acrimony in the national debate far beyond anything we ever saw in terms of campaign influence efforts by any party foreign or domestic. The degree of malicious animus that the entire world is seeing us undergo is, quite frankly, embarrassing. We have literally descended to high school clique mean people politics. The most recent of these being the nomination to the Supreme Court of Brett Kavanaugh where, at the last minute after a seemingly clear path to confirmation had been achieved, an accusation exploded into “court of public opinion” virality. It doesn’t matter to many people whether the accusation is founded. It doesn’t matter that the State of Maryland, where the incident allegedly occurred, has already stated that in the 1980’s the law was that such an infraction by a minor would have been a 2nd degree misdemeanor for which the statute of limitations has long expired; and would have been expunged from the record upon the age of majority. No. What matters is that the obsession of all parties, of an entire nation, is to sacrifice Kavanaugh like a lamb on an altar over an obsession with another man, President Donald Trump. He’s the real “bad boy” that women have that love-hate fantasy with as noted in that old 1970’s feminism text, Nancy Friday’s “My Secret Garden”. Entire genres of both pornographic scripting and victim archetype psychotherapy have evolved from that book. Today, it seems that total Internet bandwidth utilization is split 50/50 between these two themes. Well, the social media acrimony half also shares its allocation with all the other mundane functions of the internet. All of it makes money from combinations of actual purchases, ad serves, or user data mining marketing intelligence. We are the product. Yeah that’s right, looking at the raw traffic data tells you a lot about America. We are also the fuel that keeps this cycle of meanness going. The thing about the internet is that it’s a totally level playing field of democracy. Tumultuously fair. Everyone’s voice counts equally, albeit with amplifications that come from the gossipy effects of combinations of money and sex appeal. Anyone can Tweet. Anyone can make a snarky Facebook post. Anyone can generate a meme. These are all tracked, cataloged and sorted into data mining information for sale right along with your browser cookies of what you are looking at even if you think you are expunging them by the way. Regardless, the cumulative effect on the human brain as we “monkey up” trapped in our biological evolution to be creature of stimulus-response, is that we begin to believe that what appears on the LED screens is real. It’s not. The internet is just like TV, it’s a “boob tube”, pure entertainment for the mind. Something primates do while waiting for the meteor to hit. To be sure, the big internet companies take this phenomenon very seriously. Not because they care about people’s mental health mind you. It’s because they know that every fad has a half-life and sooner or later, Facebook could become Prodigy and fade into oblivion. Like their television counterparts who are seeing the public’s interest decline because the noise saturation level of the medium has reached abandonment behavior levels, the internet giants are seeing their own credibility questioned more and more. There’s a big debate over what to do with the monopoly positions that companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter have achieve in the mindshare of adult America. I note “adult” with emphasis, the kids have their own places on the internet they use. The sites adults argue about are called “old people” watering holes. You ought to know this if you are reading this article that in internet dog years, you are an old fart. The Internet debate rages from academia to government. The academics, mostly left leaning, who in the 1990’s argued vociferously for an open and unregulated internet free of influence from “the man” have, in the last couple of years, done a 180 degree about face. The last conference on this I attended in November 2017 called “After the Digital Tornado” http://digitaltornado.net/schedule/ was interesting in that eventually this same 1990’s academic brain trust used the same arguments of Heidegger, Kafka and Marx to argue for a conversion of the market-based Internet into a central government regulated utility internet. No really. You can use the same body of academic reference base to create any outcome posit you want. My considered strategic net assessment analyst reaction to the conference, with decades of heuristic and mathematical modeling under my belt? Groucho trumps Karl. Always has, always will. Now government is getting involved. On Friday September 21st 2018, The White House released a document titled the “National Cyber Strategy of the United States of America”, https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/National-Cyber-Strategy.pdf It’s a 40 page document that parallels many of the recommendations from a book by Tim Maurer named “Cyber Mercenaries”. It’s a very well written, if deeply academic language laced, examination of cyber policies and strategies around the world that fairly describes the issues different countries face in dealing with cyberspace and the state and non-state actors within it. The US strategy statement elucidates our perspective and aspirations within this larger global playing field. But there are dangers not noted in the latest White House document. Concepts of governance become moot when the baseline tech shifts back from central server to distributed infrastructure models. That’s coming. It’s called the Internet of Things (IOT). The “things” keep getting smarter to the point that they become mobile self-contained data centers, that’s what a self-driving vehicle is while it’s parked and plugged into an outlet. It’s R2D2. The lobbying of the monopoly companies to retain their market share is intense. But think about it, there’s no reason why social media needs to be a one stop portal. There’s no reason why Amazon should be the only company store that matters, that it should replace the post office, UPS and Fedex. One of the laments of the academics I do agree with is that the Internet used to have hundreds of them; that the Internet used to better fit the design of a competitive market space where on single company had greater than fifty percent market share. That is wasn’t a landscape of pseudo-utilities with unregulated staffs not subject to internal controls on behavioral norms. Economic interest wise, big companies and big governments like cozy rooms. That’s ultimately a bullshit reason for how to design the internet too. Posit in your head for a moment if social media was a society of 100,000 small servers, each governed by a sysop, the net would be self-neutral via natural counterbalancing. All these central control computer programs and intrusive data mining systems would either be superfluous or governed via a very different set of norms and expectations. My point here is, we are still in the stage of baby steps even if our egos try to tell us otherwise. But the danger to the US in cyberspace is that our own domestic ineptitude, as seen in how our people are so vulnerable to the cancerous effects of “low information” viewer social media, are the seeds of our own destruction in the global race for dominance in cyber norms and behaviors. We presently do not hold the moral high ground of behavior. It means we are on a path to lose the cyber war asymmetrically. We will concentrate on infrastructural security raising barriers to entry to innovation even as the global technology base develops futures designed on completely different infrastructure models from the ones our bureaucracies know how to regulate. We will concentrate on managing down “bots” while at the same time artificial intelligence is making it that you cannot tell an internet robot from and actual human, and the robots actually will eventually serve you better as they evolve from toys into “droids”. What have not even begun to do is teach humans to separate fantasy from fact, to learn to live beyond being audiences of LED “boob tubes” willing to believe the shallowest of lies because it gives us a biological endorphin rush. We have a long way to go.