Sunday, November 8, 2015

November 8 2015. Truly pernicious propaganda tends to appear as highly credible. Here is an excellent example from the Washington Post.




I am becoming more and more convinced that—greed apart—the root cause of many of the U.S.’ current problems is the dominance of propaganda which so distracts and deludes people that their capacity for rational thought is seriously undermined.

If that is the case, democracy cannot work effectively—as is the current situation. In fact, the U.S., right now, is not a democracy at all. It is a plutocracy. Whether the pendulum can be made to swing back to favor genuine democracy is an open question. The candidates for the 2016 presidential elections do not give grounds for optimism.

In brief, people can, and are, being manipulated to an egregious extent. As a consequence, the kind of outrage you might expect in the face of blatant injustice, grossly unfair social structures, and malfeasance by corporations (or other powerful institutions from the police to the legal system to the military to academia) either doesn’t happen at all—or is curiously muted.

Good things can be used for bad purposes. Freedom of speech is a noble aspiration—and is integral to the U.S. constitution—but the flawed human condition doesn’t allow for absolutes—so absolute freedom of speech is a mistake. It needs to be qualified—difficult and unpalatable though that may be. Other countries do it with great success.

It also needs to be made constitutionally clear that the money of the ultra-rich—which has U.S. politics in thrall right now—is not the same as speech (and neither are corporations people).

In essence, the movers and shakers—the ultra-rich, the CEOs and senior executives of the corporations they control, and politicians (together with camp followers in profusion) do what they want—and are relatively unopposed.

The following very readable and interesting piece in the Washington Post is a very good example of the most pernicious kind of propaganda.

I’m surprised at the Post. They have been getting a great deal better since Jeff Bezos bought it, but this article is really substandard. In fact, it is downright sleazy—though it doesn’t appear so on a first reading.

  • Merely appearing in so influential a newspaper as The Washington Post is significant in itself. It gives the piece an authority it does not deserve.
  • It is smug, complacent, and arrogant in tone. It makes Americans feel superior—and foments American exceptionalism. In short, it is a classic example of emotional button-pressing—one of the commonest types of U.S. propaganda.
  • It may be factually accurate (I have my doubts) as far as it goes—but its conclusions are decidedly suspect. Above all, they are inconsistent with the reality of life for most Americans today. If the U.S. is so innovative, why are its problems so blatant and extensive? The short answer is because it is only only innovating in selective technological areas. These may be fine things in themselves, but meanwhile the U.S. political system is in gridlock and the Constitution cries out for innovation. Innovation in equal pay for both sexes wouldn’t hurt. And root and branch innovation is needed in healthcare. One could go on for pages.
  • It omits crucial context—and context is king. If said I man was pointing a gun at you, you would be alarmed—but not if the context was a movie.
  • It relies entirely on one source—a serious weakness in itself.

America’s reinvention is helping it leap further ahead of the world

The Washington Post · by Vivek Wadhwa and Edward Alden · November 2, 2015

Pessimists believe that the United States has peaked as a superpower and is falling behind in education, research and development, and economic growth. They say the country’s best days are behind it.

Fortunately, they are wrong. Not only is the United States leading a technology revolution that will help solve the grand challenges of humanity — problems such as disease, hunger and shortages of energy and clean water — it is increasing its lead on the rest of the world. By combining its entrepreneurial strengths with its creativity, it is reinventing itself once again.

A new report from the Council on Foreign Relations, Keeping the Edge, is one in a series that analyzes where the United States stands in key dimensions of economic competitiveness. It concludes that on innovation, which drives rising living standards in the advanced economies, no other country is even close. For example:

–Of the top 20 universities in the world that produce the highest-impact scientific research, 16 are in the United States.

–Total U.S. research & development spending — most of it by companies — is higher as a share of the economy than at any other time since the early 1960s when the space program was starting. In absolute terms, no other country invests nearly as much in R&D as the United States, and in relative terms only Japan is close. And in a recent survey, the average U.S. corporation said it planned to boost research spending this year by nearly twice the rate of its international competitors.

–The share of the U.S. economy that comes from knowledge-intensive industries has risen sharply over the past decade, reaching nearly 40 percent; no other large economy has even hit 30 percent.

Most of this is a private-sector story. The United States has an entrepreneurial culture that rewards risk; a highly developed venture-capital industry; and a large market of consumers eager to embrace new commercial innovations. But one of the more interesting findings of the report is that — unlike on so many other policies, from immigration to tax reform — the U.S. government has mostly got it right on innovation.

The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program was established by Congress in 1982, during the Reagan administration, and has been reauthorized multiple times with little controversy. The SBIR requires that all federal agencies with big R&D programs set aside 3 percent of their research budgets for small businesses.

The result is a $2.5 billion fund that helps to bridge the so-called “valley of death” that new start-ups face between good ideas and commercial products that are attractive to investors. Apple, Compaq, and Intel all received SBIR funds in the 1980s; today, some 6,500 small companies are beneficiaries. In surveys, 97 percent of those companies said that the grants had been vital to their later successes. Other countries have taken note, with Germany, the U.K., Israel and China all launching similar schemes.

U.S. policy in support of innovation has gotten some other things right as well. Washington relies mostly on direct subsidies, which generally favor new and smaller companies, rather than R&D tax breaks that primarily help established firms. The government has sponsored cheap but galvanizing competitions, such as the Defense Department’s 2004 “Grand Challenge,” offering a million-dollar prize for a driverless car that could navigate a desert course. No one took away the award, but it pushed forward research that is only now coming to fruition.

The U.S. university system, with its mixture of public and private support, autonomous administrations, and competition-based funding for research, is also uniquely successful at generating commercially relevant research breakthroughs. The system can be improved significantly, but it has fueled world-changing innovations. Other countries are trying to find the U.S. secret sauce, but without much success.

The report does highlight some red flags. Funding for public universities, such as the vaunted University of California system, for example, is under enormous pressure. So too is funding for basic scientific research. Massive research undertakings, such as the quarter-century-long Human Genome Project, which has paved the way for breakthrough drug therapies, are impossible without generous taxpayer support for basic science. Entrepreneurs can work hand in hand with universities in commercializing scientific breakthrough, but they can’t invest the time and money to create them.

Innovation also arises from the talents and ingenuity of those residing in this country, and immigrants have long brought a disproportionate share of that precious resource to the United States. The decade-long failure to reform immigration laws to welcome the best and brightest remains a deep, self-inflicted wound.

But amid so much of the hand-wringing in Washington, the report tells a remarkably positive story. When it comes to the scientific breakthroughs and commercial innovations that are building the economy of the future, the United States really is number one — and no competitor is in sight.

Edward Alden is a senior fellow and director of the Renewing America initiative at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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