Book review: “Skin in the Game”

I recently finished reading Skin in the Game – Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.  It was a thought-provoking read, boiling down observations about the impact of personal vestment (or lack thereof) in decision-making and social interactions, producing frequent pithy remarks such as this:

“Bureaucracy is a construction by which a person is conveniently separated from the consequences of his or her actions.”

The gem above appears at the end of a section discussing the consistently foolish policy of interventionism the U.S. has maintained overseas.  Our national leaders never seem to learn proper lessons about the consequences of their actions, largely because they are insulated and isolated from those consequences.  Not so, unfortunately, for many people on the ground where their policies have impact (and for the Americans put in harm’s way to enact those policies).  He notes that more than 2,400 years ago the Athenian Isocrates wrote “Deal with weaker states as you think it appropriate for stronger states to deal with you.”  Application of that thought would certainly result in some change to our foreign policy.  The author’s discussion of a perceived distinction between “the Golden Rule” and what he terms “the Silver Rule” makes for interesting reading as well.

Taleb later labels the worldwide political developments of 2014-2018 (Brexit, the election of Trump, etc) as “a rebellion against the inner circle of no-skin-in-the-game policymaking ‘clerks’ and journalist-insiders, that class of paternalistic semi-intellectual experts with some Ivy League, Oxford-Cambridge or similar label-driven education who are telling the rest of us 1) what to do, 2) what to eat, 3) how to speak, 4) how to think, and … 5) whom to vote for.”  Couldn’t have put it better myself.

The book applies the concept of personal interest in a wide-reaching manner, far more broadly than the two quotes I’ve provided would indicate.  He uses the lens to examine everything from the positive roles of risk-taking to “the dominance of the stubborn minority,” and whether a society can afford to tolerate an intolerant system such as Salafi Islam. The prose is highly readable, specifically summarizing premises as it goes along.  But it’s not a quick read if you’re engaging the material and thinking about larger implications.  I found myself breaking out the highlighter and bending page corners repeatedly so I could go back and review.

The concept of the book first interested me because I believe the loss of “skin in the game” for our political, business, science and educational leaders is a key reason why our institutions are in such decline.  Taleb seems to agree.  As I’ve put it on this blog more than once, accountability seems to be out of favor.  Businesses deemed “too big to fail” are allowed to reap profits while saddling taxpayers with losses.  Government officials seem to have a different legal system applied to their actions than would the common citizen.  Politicized “science” drives policymaking with few, if any repercussions to the industry when the “settled” view is later shown to be in error.

At any rate, if you’re looking for something weightier to read than the usual New York Times bestseller lightweights, this one is worth your attention.

 

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On laws and the flouting thereof

Every day brings new evidence that the desired state of being “a nation of laws, not of men,” is no longer true of America:

Federal immigration agents arrested more than 150 people in California in the days after Oakland’s mayor gave early warning of the raids, it was announced Tuesday…

On Saturday, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf warned residents that “credible sources” had told her a sweep was imminent, calling it her “duty and moral obligation” to warn families.

According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, about 800 individuals sought for arrest eluded the organized crackdown, most with criminal records and multiple previous deportations.  So how is the mayor’s warning not a case of obstruction of justice?  In fact, why isn’t the entire “sanctuary state/city” nonsense chargeable as conspiracy to obstruct justice?

While we’re talking about illegal immigrants, let’s note that Rahm Emmanuel’s Chicago has created a municipal identification card “for undocumented <read: illegal> immigrants and others” that will be considered valid ID for voter registration and votingMeanwhile, 12 States and the District of Columbia issue drivers licenses even to illegal immigrants who cannot provide previously required documentation such a Social Security card.  When you add this to the nationwide push of “motor-voter” laws, it’s easy to see how we could have tens or hundreds of thousands of foreigners voting in our elections each cycle.  Indeed, Pennsylvania currently faces accusations that about 100,000 illegal immigrants are registered to vote in that State.

Here’s the irony: the investigation into Trump’s 2016 campaign is allegedly supposed to determine whether it “colluded” with Russian influence to win the election.  In other words, foreign interference is undesirable (on that, at least, we can agree).  But if that’s the whole point of the investigation, why are there not similarly prominent efforts to look into and prosecute the facilitation of foreigners living and voting illegally in the United States?

Immigration and naturalization are the purview of the Federal Government under the Constitution.  Any State or local official who deliberately interferes in these matters should be held to account.  Many do so today because such “virtue signalling” to our invaders and their domestic supporters carries a nonexistent personal cost.  Sure, a few would be willing to act as “martyrs” if we got serious about accountability, but the vast majority are crybullies who would think twice if others hit back.  It would send a tremendous signal if Federal agents arrested the mayor of Oakland for harboring fugitives with her warning of ICE raids.

Don’t worry, though — I’m not holding my breath that such true accountability will occur in these lawless times.  *IF* the rule of law ever returns to this country, it likely will only be after a harsh period of restoring discipline and individual accountability.  The pendulum has swung too far for it to be otherwise.

Stop looking to government to save you

Because it’s plain that is its last priority.  Our nation’s Federal law enforcement has now spent over a year investigating politically charged claims that President Trump somehow colluded with Russia to “steal” the election away from Hillary Clinton.  (After all, how else to explain the anointed one’s failure to ascend to the throne?)

But apparently that same apparatus had no resources to spare when told specifically and repeatedly about the threat posed by Nikolas Cruz.  More than FIVE MONTHS before the troubled young man shot up a school on Wednesday, a YouTube channel owner alerted the FBI to online comments Cruz made under his own name about wanting to be a “professional school shooter.”  Today the FBI admitted it was also given very specific threat information about Cruz SIX WEEKS ago… and did NOTHING:

‘The caller provided information about Cruz’s gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behavior, and disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting,’ said the FBI in a  statement on Friday.

The agency went on to state that this information, which came in over their Public Access Line, should have been classified as ‘a potential threat to life’ and the Miami field office notified about the information.

Those protocols were not followed however for reasons that are still not clear, and on Wednesday Cruz shot dead 17 people.

Maybe too many agents were busy trying to trap Trump associates.  Maybe they were all busy sending thousands of text messages to their lovers.  The truly cynical part of me can no longer dismiss the possibility some in our government allow such things to happen because the public then willingly surrenders more of their rights in an elusive quest for security from Uncle Sam.  Whatever the reason, Florida Governor Rick Scott is right to call for the resignation of FBI Director Christopher Wray.  But accountability shouldn’t stop at that mostly symbolic gesture.  EVERY agent who was privy to the information that citizens had provided should be fired and prosecuted for gross dereliction of duty resulting in loss of life.

We’re constantly told we need a perpetual surveillance society, and that if we “see something, say something.”  But what good does it do to surrender our rights to privacy and accept an Orwellian panopticon if those in authority fail in their part of the devil’s bargain and refuse to protect us?

And the Left wants us to give up even more of our rights by disarming?  I think not.  In fact, it’s plain the opposite needs to occur: more citizens need to arm and train themselves.  At the same time pundits are praising the willingness of Coach Aaron Feis to give his life shielding students, they’re asking what needs to be done to prevent such tragedies.  It shouldn’t be so hard to connect the dots: train and arm willing teachers so schools stop being inviting soft targets.  No teacher who is willing to risk their life for their kids as Coach Feis did should have to face an attacker unarmed.  I saw this graphic online recently and it speaks for itself:

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Nothing in the above list is more precious than our children — our future.  The utter failure of the FBI in this case reinforces the adage that “when seconds count, the police are just minutes away.”  We have a God-given right to “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness,” and that includes the right to defend those things.  We may delegate some of that authority to police agencies, but one of the first things I learned as a military officer is that while you can delegate authority, you cannot delegate responsibility.  All of us, as citizens and parents, are ultimately responsible for the defense of our families and communities.  That responsibility means facing head-on the fact there is evil in this world that requires the average person to be prepared to confront it at any moment.

It also includes the responsibility to punish those we empower to act on our behalf, but who fail to do so.  There MUST be a revival of accountability — and personal responsibility, including self-defense — in this country!

Calling them out

The corporate press in America preens about being an agent of accountability for public officials.  In recent years, though, many Americans have come to wonder “who watches the watchers?”

Thanks to the internet, the answer can be: everybody.  Knowing this, President Trump executed a genius communication move last night by announcing his “1st Annual Fake News Awards.”  While some may have laughed at the claim these were “highly anticipated,” events bore the description out as the hosting GOP website crashed for approximately two hours after the tweet (from all the incoming traffic), and on Twitter the hashtag #FakeNewsAwards trended globally (it still is as of this writing, more than 14 hours later).

Some in the press are trying to counter by pointing out the mistakes on the list were later acknowledged and corrected.  And for the most part, they’re correct — while still being disingenuous.  Any student of journalism knows the first copy is what gets the attention — retractions almost never get the same level of resonance.  What Trump’s compilation does is remind and show overall just how sloppy/slanted/partisan the news coverage was in 2017 as the press hurried to seize on anything that might remotely make him look bad, without taking time to verify or research context.  (Hint to media executives: when your only source is that another news outlet is reporting something, you’re on very shaky ground.)  It is a very damning list.

By releasing the compliation on Twitter, Trump circumvented the media gatekeepers.  His public stature prevents Twitter from blocking such a move, but it’s worth noting plenty of voices on the Right are being silenced deliberately there and on other prominent internet platforms.  The press is working overtime to respond to Trump today, but that means they are reacting to his messaging, rather than producing their own biased news cycles.  And in doing so, they are giving the compilation even more coverage, potentially showing more Americans the sum total of what the epithet “fake news” really means.

As I said, it was a genius communication move.

In desperation, some have taken to claiming that Trump’s effort to point out media errors amounts to attacking the First Amendment, and equating it to various dictators’ muzzling of opponents.  This childishness trivializes the very real dangers advocates of free speech, criticism and accountability face around the world today.  Let’s be blunt: the First Amendment does not provide anyone the right to print whatever they want without being challenged for it.  When corporate news have to have the administration’s prior permission to run their stories, or CNN’s Jim Acosta is arrested or killed I might reevaluate the vacuousness of this whining, but not until.

I still shake my head in amazement that our nation’s reached the point where Donald Trump could become president.  But as others have pointed out, he looks a lot better if you evaluate him by what he’s done, versus what he says or what’s said about him.  In the meantime, Trump is showing how to play offense in this struggle, the media are getting a dose of their own medicine and it’s clear they don’t like it one little bit.  To which I can only say:

It’s about time.

Making a list, checking it twice

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations plans to note who’s naughty or nice:

America First

This is long overdue in our international relations, and should be a key plank of the new National Security Strategy to put American interests first (see pages 19 and 40 here).  Much of the foreign aid we give out yields dubious returns for America.  And unlike other nations (*cough* China *cough*), we aren’t exactly smart in our use of “soft power.”  Much of the “aid” we supply all too often ends up in the hands of local thugs in power, while China’s efforts produce visible changes and local goodwill.  No doubt if the locals balk, China is not reluctant to tighten the purse strings.

So why do we not do the same with our spending overseas?  At its most blatant, foreign aid is about “winning friends and influencing people.”  But how much influence do you really wield if the recipients of your largesse habitually spit in your eye, knowing they can get away with it?

We are not in the financial position we were after World War II, where America accounted for nearly one-quarter of the global economy.  The Marshall Plan of the late 1940s was unprecedented in scale for American foreign policy, but it also seemed a relatively small price to pay to stabilize Europe and inoculate it against further communist encroachment.  Today, advocates of foreign aid like to point out that it makes up “about one percent of the federal budget” — but that still amounts to billions of dollars that produce scant results compared to the Marshall Plan.

Here’s hoping those countries put on Nikki Haley’s “naughty list” Thursday feel the choking off of unappreciated American dollars.  Since the Federal Government currently borrows nearly 1 in every 5 dollars it spends, those dollars are more appropriately spent at home.

A poor substitute for accountability

Today, 1,632 days after Lois Lerner planted a question with a reporter to head off an Inspector General report by revealing the Infernal Internal Revenue Service had discriminated against Tea Party-related groups seeking non-profit status, the government announced the IRS has issued an apology for improper behavior, and will pay out a settlement to the groups estimated at a total of $3.5 million.

No employees were fined, imprisoned, or otherwise inconvenienced as a result of their rogue agency undermining the electoral process in a blatantly partisan effort to help the re-election of Barack Obama in 2012.  The American taxpayer, however, is now on the hook for $3.5 million due to criminal activity by “public servants.”  (Where did you THINK the settlement money comes from?)

This is justice??

Some may take issue with my statement that nobody was inconvenienced by pointing out Lois Lerner retired as a result of the revelations.  I stand by what I wrote.  In the three years before she retired (when all of this came out), Lerner received total federal employee “bonuses” of $129,000 before settling down to collect an annual pension estimated at around $100,000.  (For comparison, that’s just shy of twice my military pension after 24 years of service and six deployments.)  That she was allowed to retire rather than face disciplinary action for clear violations of the law shows yet again the rule of law is dead in this nation.  So no, she wasn’t inconvenienced in the slightest other than losing the power to inflict misery on people with whom she disagreed politically .

It’s enough to make you wonder what happened to the American spirit, that we just accept such outcomes and assume we can do nothing about it.  The founding generation of Americans were not above using tar and feathers for tax collectors.  While I’m not in favor of resurrecting that practice, I *am* in favor of finding ways to make government agents more fearful of the peoples’ wrath at their abuses.  (Maybe a response like this to their “apology.”)  They clearly have no shame, so fear is the only way to keep them in check.  It’s clear these days that people such as Hillary Clinton, Huma Abedin, Eric Holder, Loretta Lynch and Lois Lerner have no fear of legal repercussions to their actions.  For all intents and purposes, the legal system does not apply to them.

What they fail to realize is that when enough Americans decide the current system is merely a sham to protect those in power, the danger is the citizens will begin to take the law into their own handsShould that day arrive, the pent-up anger that elected Trump will go on to make tar and feathers look like child’s play.

Unfortunately, the denizens of Mordor D.C. don’t seem to think about such possibilities.  They’ve been overprotected for too long to think it could possibly happen to them.

At the rate things have been going in recent years, they may be in for a rude surprise.

Sir Hollywood the not-so-brave

It’s been decades since Tinseltown was content with just making entertainment.  No, today everybody has to have a message, an agenda and a cause, and these usually overshadow the actual business of TV and movie making (which is probably a large part of why very little worth watching comes out of there anymore).  The big names claim they have an obligation to speak out in support of others, to “speak truth to power.

Unless that power is someone like Harvey Weinstein.

The real story with Weinstein isn’t that an entertainment mogul has been revealed to have used his position to harass and abuse women in the industry.  Frankly, given the stories coming out of Fox News and elsewhere, that much is almost blasé.  No, the real story is why it took so long for this to be publicized.  Now that the dam has broken, it’s like more than half of Hollywood is saying “well, of course there was a problem.  Who didn’t know?”

In other words, when Weinstein was at the height of his power, nobody was speaking truth to him.  On the contrary, if allegations are true, a number of big names in the business were active enablers of his behavior.  Does anyone believe this is the only rock that needed kicking over?  Is it any coincidence that so many child stars (particularly those who work for Disney) seem to grow up and lose their mind?  If Congress can find the time to investigate the use of steroids in baseball, why can’t it find the time to investigate the toxic environment of Hollywood?

Probably because of the money involved.  Weinstein was a generous supporter of the Democratic Party and a very close friend of Bill and Hillary (whose judgement only appears more evil and self-serving by the day).  But money alone doesn’t explain it all.  Does anyone doubt if one or both of the Koch brothers were found in the same circumstances that the media would be demanding every Republican in Washington publicly denounce them?   So why hasn’t anyone brought Weinstein up with Hillary, who is still giving lucrative speeches well after her sell-by date?  Barack Obama, who seemed to be speaking as a shadow president during Trump’s early efforts to reverse his disastrous legacy, also seems strangely silent and out of sight.  He’s far from the only one who’s lost his usually overactive tongue.

It’s called partisan protection.  As Glenn Reynolds frequently says of the corporate media, “just think of them as Democratic operatives with bylines and it all makes sense.” There is so much overlap in the Venn diagram of Democrats, Hollywood and the Media that reporters risk being cast out of the bubble of their incestuous clan if they ask the difficult questions.  So much for “bravery:”

In the absence of personal risk, haranguing the powerful can be soul-satisfying, and sometimes it forges careers, but it isn’t brave by a long shot. Thomas More spoke truth to Henry VIII, and it cost him his head. Dietrich Bonheoffer spoke truth to Adolf Hitler and was hanged in a concentration camp. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn spoke truth to the Soviet Union and suffered grievously for it. Stephen Colbert piddled on the president’s rug, and he’s been cashing big-bucks checks ever since.

See the difference?

The protection afforded Weinstein by his liberal enablers doesn’t stop at silence or the reluctance to make him the subject of standard late-night comedy roasts.  Donna Karan, a well-known fashion designer, was forced to walk back comments that perhaps Weinstein’s victims were ‘asking for it’ by the way they dressed!

Certainly in the country of Haiti where I work, in Africa, in the developing world, it’s been a hard time for women.   To see it here in our own country is very difficult, but I also think how do we display ourselves? How do we present ourselves as women? What are we asking? Are we asking for it by presenting all the sensuality and all the sexuality?

If a conservative comments on how lasciviously many women dress today, it’s considered “victim blaming” by alleged Neanderthals.  But if such an examination is a way to help out a Hollywood mogul, it’s OK?  Is your head spinning yet at the audacious double standard?  Sure, Karan was pressured to disavow the statement, but the fact she made it shows it’s part of the toxic self-justifying entertainment industry’s environment. It’s easy for them to hold conservatives’ feet to the fire over standards.  It’s harder to do so for liberals, when it appears they have none other than the will to power.

The public has more reason than just simple decency and morality to be outraged. Hollywood derives tremendous benefit from tax breaks and government incentives to churn out their drivel.  In other words, cord-cutting or not We the People pay for this filth.  Just as the immature posturing of NFL players has caused some to look at the League’s anti-trust exemption and frequent use of municipal bonds to build their palatial stadiums, perhaps Weinstein’s downfall should cause America to truly confront the moral sewer that is Hollywood.  Public funding for both (including PBS) should dry up entirely.  Let them earn their profits by making edifying fare that Middle America actually wants, versus their tax-supported propaganda.

Final thought: what are the odds Weinstein actually goes to jail (versus some sort of high-profile “rehab”)?  Roman Polanski and Woody Allen after all, are still considered persecuted entertainers by many in Hollywood.  And there’s not exactly a tradition of holding Leftists criminally accountable these days (see: Hillary, Bill, Huma, Lois Lerner, Loretta Lynch, etc., ad nauseum).

Remember that, when Social Justice Warriors ask if we ‘normal Americans’ have any decency.  It’s called projection.  And they don’t really have the courage of their convictions when it comes to policing their own.