Dennis Santiago
Dennis Santiago

Picking Nits

Associated Press It’s a new day in America. We have returned to a government digging its heels. Populist outsider Donald Trump fights against the establishment, a growing army of politicians assisted by a ratings hungry media attempts to isolate him and his agenda from the American people. There’s a philosophical wall between President Donald Trump and the Democratic leadership headed by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. That wall is about whether and how the federal government of the United States should secure its border. The President wishes to create a tangible and credible deterrent that materially changes the politics and economics of crossing the border to a mode where illegal activity is minimized. He asked for assistance from Congress to do so in his State of the Union address on January 30, 2018. Following that address, Congress passed a budget that contained nothing of what the President asked for. Instead, Congress sent the President the 2019 Budget in September that make Trump swallow a bitter pill to get the Defense Department funded and kicked the can down the road on the border for a showdown in December 2019. The political maneuver made Trump recoil in disgust and swear that he would never let Congress do that to him again. Well came to be December 2019 and Congress tried to do it again. With no “can’t do without it” budget appropriation to force Trump to sign it available, Congress attempted to put in little more than lip service budgeting to border security; something that the White House had strongly signaled was a “never again” move. The result was a partial government shutdown beginning on December 22, 2018 furloughing around 800,000 federal workers out of a civil service workforce of 2.79 million. That’s worth about $2 billion in missing paychecks every two weeks according to US Office of Personnel Management. Trumps wall would cost $5.7 billion, roughly six weeks of the affected workforce’s payroll. Let’s be frank. That’s not a lot of money for America. Particularly so in the context of the societal costs of the presently less secure border system that the President stated was around $500 billion a year, almost as much as the defense budget. So why are the Democrats continuing to kick the can down the road at each turn? Surely, it’s not about the money. I am reminded of the besieging of another president against whom another establishment army determined to thwart his quest to save the soul of his nation, Abraham Lincoln. The analogy isn’t as far off as you think. The question in Lincoln’s time was whether to let go of the United States of America as the founding fathers envisioned it or fight to preserve it. We see America divided arbitrarily again, this time not North vs. South, but Coastal vs. Heartland. The vision at stake is the same, should America as we know it be abandoned. This is the elephant in the room that establishment Washington does not want to face. The thing that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Chuck Schumer “disagree” with President Donald Trump about what to do. Trump is clearly trying to preserve traditional America. It’s clear he is sincere in his belief that his call to Make America Great Again is something he believes and that he is doing everything he can to bring that vision to fruition. He is being opposed blindly at every turn. Associated Press/Alex Brandon Pelosi and Schumer also want to preserve their version of America. Theirs is a one of an establishment political class that acts as the caretakers of America reigning over ordinary Americans as willing vassals of the land. It’s a rose-colored vision of Democratic Camelot. One where importing willing vassals to outnumber unwilling traditionalists is a good thing. But I’m not so sure that establishment America isn’t about to see this blow up in their face. The Democratic Party is flush with a new crop of representatives and senators who would change America even more than them. In their America, traditional American culture is the enemy to be wiped away without mercy. Bringing in immigrants to help make that change happen is about the only thing they have in common with their establishment cousins. The change metaphor can be stated another way. Tradition minded Americans are the new native Americans and the immigrants are coming not to assimilate but to settle on the land and eventually send the traditional Americans off to reservations. The new breed will all be Democrats of course. Or so Pelosi and Schumer think. I’m not so sure. I worry that, just like the Europeans discovered a century ago, catastrophic revolution is more likely as social cohesion erodes into animus. These things do have a predictable pattern. Me? I’m really not of a mind to take that much of a risk on losing the core of American culture. I see too much value in it for this country and for the world. American pluralism that respects Americas founding values as the most important beacon for human rights and liberty on this planet. It’s something worth preserving. Compared to kicking the can down the road endlessly on border security, I see much more merit in the principles of Donald Trump’s approach of securing the border to create the equivalent of what US immigration history in the 20th century called the “immigration pause” where people from Europe stopped coming in large numbers. This slowdown in people coming to America in the early 20th century enabled assimilation. More important, it enabled the adoption of traditional American culture to take root in the second and third generations of immigrants. It facilitated a Great America culture that would eventually save the world from the Axis and planted the seeds for a view of universal human rights that would see the United States experiment with something called the Great Society. What’s not to see in the merit of an America that sees that securing the border is about securing the viability of our culture? Why shouldn’t ordinary Americans, including the 2.79 million federal civil service employees and the 5 million federal contractors that work with them let Congress know that preserving the Nation’s culture means something to them. Personally, I’d pick up the phone and call Congress and tell them to spend the measly $5.7 billion already and see where it goes. Now if only Donald Trump could Tweet a Gettysburg Address of his own.
Dennis Santiago
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Acrimony and unease grip America’s global stability community as President Trump signaled his intent to extract the last remaining US advisors from eastern Syria. With his power as Commander in Chief, the President informed the entire diplomatic, military and intelligence arms of the US government that the end game point in the battle against ISIS for the United States has been reached. The outcry was immediate and vociferous including the resignations of Defense Secretary James Mattis and US Envoy in the fight against ISIS Brett McGurk in protest, their advice to maintain a long-term US presence in the region having been rejected. The US mainstream media, in an odd twist, went into a rare moment of introspective journalism asking if this meant the beginning of the end of Americas “endless wars”. Elsewhere in the world, recrimination by French President Emmanuel Macron over the Trump’s decision included accusing the US of being an unreliable ally; for the record, Syria is a former French colony. The concern was echoed in the rest of the European Union with nations there asking if the EU needs to purse a global force projection agenda independent of United States leadership. Forces of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan began massing across from Kurdish held territory in Northern Syria clearly anticipating with relish the prospect that US is about to throw them under the bus. But is Trump’s move reckless? Or does the president see trends in the world that he sees vital to the fate of a nation to step up to? Let’s look at the hand of cards he has. The endgame of ISIS in Syria and Iraq is near. The philosophical threat of ISIS, the desire for an independent Islamic Caliphate, has receded into a nightmare for its supporters being ruthlessly hunted by everyone, ally and adversary. What is emerging now is a matrix of regional power players over which the US has a very weak hand in influencing directly. Syria is a playing field where the Russians, Turks and Iranians are going to sort it out at the expense of the indigenous natives including the Syrians and the Kurds; yeah same song, different stage. Who gets to be the next Armenians? Just saying. Leverage in the Middle East going forward can only come from two things. One, is convincing the Russians that they don’t have to be there; that there are more important things to deal with like getting their tiny $1.3 Trillion GDP up and that 80 of 85 districts insolvent problem of theirs under control before they crater internally. Second is diffusing the potential larger war in the Middle East between nuclear armed factions possessing intermediate range delivery weapon systems. Meddling in Syria going forward by the US would make headway in these two areas of US national interest impossible. The price? The natives. The Syrians. The Kurds. The Iraqis. The Afghans. The legacy of the 400,000 people who died because the United States naively believed we had the power to deliver them from evil. We got lucky in Grenada. Lucky in Bosnia. Lucky in Kuwait. We bit off more than we realized in Afghanistan and Iraq. I can understand why James Mattis, who lost brave men and women under his command, and Brett McGurk, who forged deep friendship and trust with the natives in the fight against ISIS, would be deeply hurt by this turn of events. They fear for the next 400,000 people who will die in the coming decade if this new game doesn’t work. And they are right to be fearful. The Fertile Crescent, the former Garden of Eden, has been a layer of Dante’s Inferno for a very long time. Personally, I’m not sure their leaving in protest at this time will help delay the onset of the deaths of the next half million. I’d have stayed to try to save the humans I could while this new strategy found its footing. I will note that Donald Trump is not the first US President to attempt to end an “endless war” scenario. In the 20th Century, President Richard Nixon did the same over another former French colony painfully trading America’s national prestige for eventual regional stability. Then the Bush-Clinton-Bush era made us bold because we took on the mantle of being the world’s policeman; the defender of universal human rights. The planet gladly let us while selfishly turning the surface of the earth into collection of locales where human rights are far from universal. We spent treasure and blood in a quest that was always going to reach a limit point; just like every crusade before it. In the 21st Century, Donald Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama repositioned the United States to be a supporting character in world affairs as opposed to the prime mover of outcome agendas. With such a weak hand, the US must now find a path to world peace. So help us God.
On Wednesday November 14, 2018, the New York Times declared war on Facebook. Under the guise of an article titled “Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook’s Leaders Fought Through Crisis”, the Times lambasted the social media giant accusing the company of internal turmoil at the highest management levels and dubious lobbying activity beginning in 2017 and into 2018. The Times expose paints Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg as an evil figure on the order of the evil queen Maleficent who personifies dark cloud of social media willing to use every insider tool at her disposal to ensure power and influence of her company. The article also paints Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as a disingenuous two-face who pretends to care on the outside but has the persona of a heartless automaton on the inside. NYT printed, “But as evidence accumulated that Facebook’s power could also be exploited to disrupt elections, broadcast viral propaganda and inspire deadly campaigns of hate around the globe, Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg stumbled. Bent on growth, the pair ignored warning signs and then sought to conceal them from the public.” That’s a pretty strong and caustic accusation. Interestingly, also an accusation that’s been leveled at social media’s primary rival for political influence, the mainstream media that the New York Times is very much a part of. The specter of selective and biased journalism, so-called “yellow journalism”, isn’t new. The phrase “all the news that’s fit to print” goes back to newspaper tycoons like William Randolph Hearst. The Times has certainly done it’s share of participating in the “resistance” to the administration of US President Donald Trump and is a hardly considered a bastion of fair and balanced reporting anymore as it struggles to maintain market share in its very crowded corner of the media industry where liberal slant publications are packed like sardines into a dwindling total readership base. And honestly, the New York Times spoke with a forked tongue itself last week. The expose attacked Ms. Sandberg for using her Democratic Party connections particularly with Senator Charles Schumer as a vehicle to stem threats to her firm inferring the possibility of either expensive influence buying or possibly even political collusion. The echo chambers on the internet picked up the lead right on cue turning the senior senator from New York into a lightning rod for criticism. And if you think that’s accidental, I have a bridge for sale. The forked tongue by the Times came in the form of an opinion editorial published on November 16, 2018 by columnist Michelle Goldberg titled “Democrats Should Un-Friend Facebook” where Ms. Goldberg turns the tables and accuses Facebook of being responsible for helping Republicans win politically by giving them access to the platform; an opinion many Conservatives see rather oppositely. If you think this isn’t a classic political “trial balloon” article too, I’ve got another bridge to sell you. Personally, I’m very suspicious of the New York Times’ motivations. The bottom line is that NYT thinks social media’s biggest platform is bad for their business. And well they should, like most print businesses, the “Gray Lady” has seen circulation decline since the arrival of the Internet and is down to around 500,000 printed copies per day, half of what it was in 2008. The New York Times, a for-profit business, has turned online circulation currently estimated at around 2.9 million users including paid and unpaid readers of its articles. When you go on the net, you run into Facebook. Facebook has 2.27 billion users worldwide with 240 million of them being in the United States. On its best day, NYT is one percent of Facebook USA and 1/10th of a percent of Facebook Global. In a lake full of big data, the New York Times is a guppy. And on a social media engine like Facebook where content either has to be placed by purchasing positioning using FB’s advertising engine, which cuts into profitability, or virally cited by one of those 2.27 billion eyeballs, or a “bot” masquerading as an eyeball, they’ll remain a guppy. Is the “Gray Lady” a sacrifice on the altar of Silicon Valley? Never ever make the mistake of thinking any “flame war” that erupts on the internet does not have a reason. And in this case, the reasons are not hard to find. What the New York Times describes as a “distraction of personal projects” for Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg are their very focused efforts to execute a strategy of eyeball / mindshare ownership of the internet through a series of strategic acquisitions and cross platform integrations to span generational silos such as Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram and the ascendance of their Messenger system to become one of the primary means of one-to-one communication on the Internet. Team Zuckerberg has been displacing competitors such as Yahoo, Google and Microsoft’s Skype using a combination of public forum and private messaging tool offerings. In some countries, it’s become the primary means of communications supplanting even text messaging because FB Messenger doesn’t cost phone users per message charges or have phone records of traffic that prying governments can monitor in real-time. All this is a preparatory staging to Facebook’s next monetization step on the internet, establishing advertising, marketing and transaction fulfillment space on the internet. By owning the audience’s means of communication, Facebook seeks to undermine and disinter-mediate some of the position of established online shopping giants such as Amazon, Ali Baba and eBay. Notice please, the global nature of the business case scope and the titanic sizes of the behemoths jockeying for position. Notice further that the other Kings of Silicon Valley are acquiring media companies. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos just bought the Washington Post and is placing a “yuge” headquarters presence in the City of New York. Other acquisitions include Saleforce’s Marc Benioff bought Time and Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Steve Jobs, bought The Atlantic. Mr. Bezos’ corporate presence will make him one of the bigger tenants in a town that has an inconvenient truth vacancy space problem. You really think part of the calculus of someone like Bezos isn’t to counter the eyeball ownership advantage of Facebook/Instagram, Twitter, et al? Wake up and smell the coffee. In an interview for November 5, 2018, NY Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger was quoted as saying “the New York Times is not for sale”. That may not be a position he can maintain forever. “Do no evil.” In social media, even the best edited long form article by a publication like the Times has to compete on a level playing field basis against the virality of a Tweet by @realdonaldtrump or an article on AmericaOutLoud by some schmuck named Santiago. I cannot imagine that this “new normal” does not drive NYT’s management bonkers. The internet took control over deciding what “news is fit to print” away from them. But let’s unfold this evolution of new media vs. old media one additional unveiling of the curtain further and ask, is Facebook evil? It’s certainly huge. It’s certainly rich. It’s certainly coming out of a phase of innocence where the presumption that content would sort itself out because people are smart and able to tell real from fake and objective from manipulative has given way to realizing that an open platform will be taken advantage of by interests motivated by all manner of subterfuge in the name of some end justifying the means. Is it evil to have been naïve? Is it diabolical to have designed a content micro-casting engine so well, it allows 2.27 billion people on this planet to have their own personalized virtual world bubble? Was there intentional malice on the part of Facebook or the other social media engines to disrupt the social fabric of the United States and turn it into an animus filled Balkan morass? Honestly, I don’t think so. I have seen nothing so far that indicates that Facebook has done anything but deliver a perfect bubble for every eyeball. I see perfectly well that this is how an engine that caters to human interests and intentions should be technically designed to work. Such systems create new ecosystems, clusters and networks of affinities, what humans call groups of friends. I can see that the creators of these system would want to eventually monetize their efforts into markets as a classic extension of age of electricity Marshall McLuhan Madison Avenue marketing and advertising theories. And I can see that these disruptive innovations on the internet would eventually cause a massive shift in how information and economics flows through society. What I do not think Mark Zuckerberg ever dreamed would happen in this college dormitory was that evil humans would exploit his platform and use it as a mechanism to recruit armies to fight culture wars. But that’s the problem that now besets the company he founded. And I’m not really sure that responding to a curve ball like this would not make anyone stumble a few steps coming to terms with it. But I’ll assert this next. What people with dark hearts fear isn’t so much that Facebook can be used to exploit the frailties other humans. No. What they fear is that Facebook is still an equal playing field where any group can try to get away with something. What they fear most is that their enemies will succeed before they do. I think this is why you see efforts to impede companies like Facebook from implementing future technologies on their platforms that can keep playing fields fair appearing in the sphere of public policy debate. The last thing that dark forces want is to allow social media to continue to improve so that their subterfuge becomes instantaneously transparent. And those dark forces come in many shapes. I would highly recommend to Ms. Sandberg and Mr. Zuckerberg to grab the complete video log of the “After the Digital Tornado” conference held in December 2017 hosted by Kevin Werbach at the Wharton School. I attended this symposium held just four months after the date of the meeting noted in the New York Times article. It was where the leading academics first labeled the big internet companies including Facebook as dangerous entities that needed to be brought to ground by constraints and regulations. I was an uncomfortable practitioner at this gathering of academics and did not agree with their conclusions. However, their research and theories continue to manifest and work their way into public policy. Then again, the internet moves far faster than academia or government realize. I can tell you right now that somebody at Facebook is going to read this article and from here they will eventually find one I wrote sitting on Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global “Three Steps to Take Control Back from the Media Anyone Can Do”, And from there I bet it’s just a matter of time before social media platforms will all learn to un-spin yellow journalism for users in real-time, identify the actual agents behind agendas, laudable and nefarious, also in real-time, and educate people in how to actually get to the real source material behind the noise and digest it in real-time. Then we can return to the presumption that content will “sort itself out” because social media will assist people to be smarter and able to tell real from fake, objective from manipulative. Whether there’s still a place for outlets like the New York Times in the form it exists in now when that time comes, who knows. And to be frank when that time comes, who will still care?