Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

24 February 2018

“Random”: the Rise and Fall of Facebook, Twitter and Perhaps American Society

[For an update with comment on how gun massacres reflect our national dysfunction, click here. For a note on how to do good by doing well and taking profits, click here. For seven reasons for us to deploy small nukes, click here. For comment on our desperate need to save the Dreamers, click here. For my prediction of a coming stock-market crash, click here. For links to popular recent posts, click here.]

When Bill Gates was at the height of his personal power as a software baron and monopolist, he had an all-purpose word of disapproval: “random.” It was good for all occasions because it described the antithesis of everything he did, or tried to do, in his business at Microsoft.

Gates wanted everything about Microsoft and its software to be rationally planned, calculated and designed in advance. Later, he wanted to maintain and extend his monopoly of operating systems for personal computers. He wanted to plan every move effectively, leaving no room for competitors to escape.

Gates wanted to strike hard and fast while the world of business, law and politics barely understood what he was doing. Virtually no one outside the industry then knew what software was and what it could do—let alone how it works.

So Gates had a clear field for most of two decades, until Steve Jobs, who did understand, came back to take Apple over again and make it the world’s most valuable company (for a time). During the interval between offering the first operating system for personal computers and succumbing (at least for supplying consumers) to competition from Apple, Gates’ well-planned control-freakism made him the world’s dominant software baron and the world’s richest man.

The antithesis of Gates’ personal style was “random.” If a proposal or project inside Microsoft wasn’t planned and engineered down to the tiniest detail and the most obscure consequence, Gates would use that word. After failing to meet Gates’ standards, employees who heard it would wilt. It was a word that could kill projects, doom software under test, break egos and destroy careers.

Facebook and Twitter are different. Randomness is part of their design.

Facebook is the extreme example. It was designed to be random. It’s supposed to duplicate on screen the random process of unstructured human social interaction. It’s kids gathering on a playground to play. It’s adults gathering at a break or after work at a water cooler or in a parking lot to “talk story.” It’s small-town racists gathering uninvited as they pass by a Ku Klux Klan rally or a lynching.

Facebook lets random social impulses prevail, thereby duplicating the normal process of unstructured human interaction. Hence the term “social media,” first applied to it.

Facebook’s primary software feature—each account’s “Wall”—follows this paradigm of randomness closely. An announcement of a friend’s pregnancy or birthday can follow outreach by a long-lost friend or co-worker. Then can come a commercial advertisement, whether sent directly by the advertiser or forwarded by a “Friend.” In the middle of it all can come a bit of “fake news” prepared by trolls without borders, whether working for Vladimir Putin or just probing your computer’s defenses in the hope of stealing your identity or your money.

That’s why Facebook repels users like me, who are trained in careers of discipline like science, engineering, law or medicine. Facebook’s Walls have no organizing principle. All they have is the bare possibility of searching electronically for something you thought you once saw in a particular thread. It would take great effort merely to organize a Wall into basic conceptual categories such as “long-lost contacts,” “birthdays and other special days,” “friends,” “family”, “distant relatives,” “commercial advertising,” and “propaganda.” Very few, if any, of Facebook users make that effort.

Even if you allow only a few “Friends” to post, the volume and randomness of what appears on your Wall can quickly become overwhelming. If you try to follow it all, you can succumb to the depression of a Sisyphean task. If your developing adolescent ego craves “likes“ and abhors rejection, Facebook can crush you.

We all know the apocryphal “truth” that everyone on Earth, and even everyone in human history, is related to you through no more than seven degrees of separation. Well, once you permit Friends of Friends to post on your wall, you are inviting communications from at least two of those seven degrees. Further degrees may appear as Friends of Friends re-post things sent by their own Friends of Friends.

This last effect is hardly unique to Facebook. E-mail alone can cause it unless you exercise discipline in culling your mail and deleting or filing duplicative messages. But unlike Facebook, Google has given its users a way out.

Google lets uses of its Gmail service “organize” messages into real communications, social-media postings and “promotions” (both political and commercial). You can set Gmail to file messages in these categories automatically, as they come in. (In my own use of Gmail, I skim my “Promotions” and “Social Media” inboxes once or twice a year, if at all.)

The randomness of messages on one’s Wall can make Facebook emotionally attractive to many users, especially those who don’t have much going for them otherwise. Randomness offers novelty. If you feel your life is otherwise boring, routine or humdrum, so much the better. Every day something new can appear on your Wall.

Even if your circle of “Friends” is narrow, you never know what might appear there. And if you permit Friends of Friends to post, as many users do, what appears there expands exponentially. You never know what you might get, or from whom. Every day can be a special day.

Thus does the notion of accepting unexpected messages from strangers insinuate itself into the most vulnerable minds. Adolescents and youth are particularly susceptible, as they find their painful way into comfortable social circles in a world of seven billion people, many of whom could (at least in theory) contact them directly or indirectly on Facebook.

The randomness of Facebook postings can have at least three undesirable consequences. First, the volume of postings can quickly become overwhelming. It can draw time from more productive pursuits, such as work, study or real friendships in the real world. The desire to keep up with the endless flow can make Facebook a compulsion or obsession, leading to a virtual treadmill, depression and even suicide.

Second, the randomness and lack of control can permit and even encourage all sorts of gang behavior, including bullying. When students in an ad-hoc Facebook ring bully a victim into depression or suicide, it’s just a virtual lynching—a crime made much easier by being on line and possibly anonymous.

Finally, the atmosphere of acceptance and the craving for “likes” make users of Facebook particularly susceptible to advertising, propaganda, and fake news. After all, every posting comes at least from a Friend of a Friend, doesn’t it? When a bit of fake news falls right next to an announcement of a good friend’s birthday, pregnancy or fatherhood, mere proximity enhances its credibility.

However false or misleading, messages on Facebook have three indicia of reliability that mere rumors don’t have. First, they come from or are blessed by Friends, or at least Friends of Friends, even if they ultimately derive from the darkest and most sinister source. Second, they are in writing or (if audiovisual) in tangible form. You can read them or play them again and again, as obsessively as you like, using your own powers of imagination—or your own conscious or unconscious desire to believe—to render them credible. Finally, if their ultimate source is professional persuaders—whether advertisers, professional trolls or Russian spooks—they have far more intrinsic persuasive power than rumors tossed around orally and off the cuff by a group around a water cooler or in a playground or employee parking lot.

So if Putin’s trolls using Facebook swung our 2016 election (as appears probable but remains unproven), it’s not because Americans are especially gullible. It’s because they have encountered individualized propaganda in a medium, manner and means never before experienced in human history, and fraught with so many random flaws.

The unintended consequences of Facebook’s randomness, coupled with the Internet’s near-capsizing of our professional news media, have upended the communication systems by which Americans once understood the world around them. If we are not careful and clever, they may soon upend our democracy and way of life.

In this regard, Twitter is less insidious than Facebook but still bears watching. It’s less random because it has a simple and powerful organizing principle: hashtags. Users organize their Twitter reading by hashtag and respond to Tweets the same way.

Twitter also makes it harder to disguise or elide the true origin of a Tweet: a re-Tweet discloses its original author, unless the forwarder copies or paraphrases the original Tweet to make it his own. (Russians and Russian bots reportedly did a lot of this.)

But Twitter can be even more insidious than Facebook in one respect. Its character limitation, now 280, renders formal reasoning almost impossible, let alone debate. All you can do in a Tweet so short is state your conclusions or assertions and the most cursory and oversimplified reasons for them.

This fact makes Twitter more a way to reinforce a reader’s preconceived opinions than to change minds. That’s why advertisers and propagandists seem to have taken to it less than to Facebook. Sometimes they retweet messages they favor, as Putin’s trolls often did with Tweets by real Americans.

Nevertheless, Twitter’s very brevity and hashtags lend themselves to something that Facebook’s randomness prevents: the assertion of authority. Twitter is a perfect medium for those in positions of authority or power, whether based on public office, wealth, or celebrity. It’s an ideal medium for orders and pronunciamentos, devoid of research or persuasive reasoning.

Donald Trump understands this advantage instinctively. That’s why he’s made Twitter his principal means of communicating with the public. It’s ideal for an authority figure like the president, precisely because its power relies on the Tweeter’s authority, rather than any cogency of reasoning—which no one could compress into 280 characters.

If the emperors of ancient Rome had had Twitter, rather than papyrus scrolls and town criers, they would have used it just as Trump has. The difference, of course, is that two millennia later we are supposed to have a society of laws, not men. By Tweeting just as a Roman emperor might have issued decrees, Trump reinforces his authority and influence among those who favor him.

He also instills fear in those who oppose him. Even the most sanguine of us fears that his Tweets, willy nilly, might somehow become the law, just as the decrees of an ex-corporal and house painter did in Nazi Germany.

Despite their differences, Twitter and Facebook have a big thing in common. They are completely new under the Sun. Our species has never had anything like them, ever. They exploit the oft-predicted but until recently less-used ability of the Internet to handle many-to-many and many-to-one communication.

Letters and the telephone gave us one-to-one telecommunication, which we have had for well over a century. Broadcast radio and television gave us one-to-many telecommunication. In so doing, they obviated the “whistle stop” political speeches along railroad lines common in the nineteenth century. So they, too, upended politics in their times.

But nothing prepared us for qualitatively different and far more powerful potential for millions (including Putin’s trolls) to put messages on the Facebook Walls of millions of citizens. Nothing has prepared us for a president who collects instant feedback from his citizens and his partisans through “likes” of his Tweets.

Before any pollster can even think of proper questions to ask, let alone write them, prepare a proper statistical sample, and telephone the questions, Trump has a good read on how his public reacts to each of his Tweets. And in theory, though probably not in practice, someone in Trump’s position, or an assistant, can read at least a sampling of response Tweets, thereby getting to know some reasons for the public’s reaction. This new many-to-one communication capability may some day render pollsters and opinion monitors obsolete; at very least its ability to strike fast will push them to rely more on greater precision and thoroughness than Twitter’s “likes” can provide.

Many-to-many and many-to-one communication are absolutely new, let alone with the breadth and instantaneity of Facebook and Twitter. The much-vaunted mavens of these firms gave little, if any, thought to their societal consequences, let alone the unintended ones. They were just interested in innovating and “monetizing” the results of their innovation, willy nilly.

Yet today the unintended consequences of the randomness of what they wrought loom far larger than anything their creators intended. Those consequences include new causes of mental illness among our youth and allowing fringe groups and foreign spooks and trolls to subvert our democracy. They have rendered large portions of our population more vulnerable to lies and propaganda than ever before. It’s hard to imagine how Trump could have become president without them.

If this process continues unabated, our society could dissolve into warring clans, divided not as much by race, religion, ethnicity and national origin as by absolute conviction in differing views of “the facts,” truth and reality. We and perhaps some of our democratic allies could come to resemble Matthew Arnold’s “ignorant armies [that] clash by night,” while authoritarian societies such as Russia and China deliberately exploit and inflame our weaknesses as Putin has.

There are countermeasures we can take. But they will not be easy. Our First Amendment permits no censorship, and our society could be gone by the time we figure out how to amend it without destroying its benefits and implement a solution.

The only apparently durable solutions are education, strict identification of sources, and sources of non-fake news that enjoy universal trust and respect. Until we implement those solutions, we must cope with a level of randomness in our society and our thinking that we have never experienced and never expected.

From our Founding, we distinguished ourselves as a sensible, practical people motivated by Reason, not ideology, religion or superstition. Now we must restore that distinction under the threat and reality of randomness. And we must do so at a time when our entire species is struggling with the stresses of global warming, increasing oil scarcity, refugees from war and climate change, possible consequent food scarcity, overpopulation, and nuclear proliferation.

If we humans are to rise to these unprecedented challenges, we Americans will need both great thinkers and great leaders. Unfortunately, neither Trump nor anyone in his Cabinet appears ready, let alone capable, of rising to the occasion. And as the enfant terrible Zuckerberg slowly comes to comprehend the true scope of the damage he has done, how long will it be before he or anyone else fixes it?

Endnote. Facebook is not the only current example of the many-to-many communication on the Internet. Others are the comment sections to many on-line news-and-opinion sources and the customer reviews that Amazon pioneered and that now appear on the websites of many sellers of goods and services.

Yet for three reasons Facebook is by far the many-to-many communication system most susceptible to abuse. First and perhaps most insidious is Facebook’s random “organization." When a reader sees an online comment on a newspaper article or editorial, or a review of a product or service review on a seller’s website, she knows in advance the specific subject matter of the comment or review. In fact, the website’s very format and navigation are such that the reader is likely looking for exactly that. In contrast, Facebook’s random organization surprises users with messages from advertisers, trolls and propagandists hidden amidst innocent personal missives and photos from friends, relatives and acquaintances. It thus catches them off guard, with their critical faculties sleeping and their gullibility at a maximum.

The second vulnerability to abuse is format. Facebook permits any format for Wall messages, while comment and review pages typically support only limited formats. Thus an advertiser or troll can make a Facebook post in video and make it look official or authoritative. It can even copy the format, typeface and style of a real newspaper, such as the New York Times. Or it can make its fake news resemble a legitimate news sources, even if that “source” is entirely fictitious. In contrast, news-comment pages permit only text (and some even limit hyperlinks), while product-review pages permit text with limited graphics and video supporting the text.

The third vulnerability of Facebook to trolling by advertisers and spooks is the total lack of control over who may post (in unrestricted accounts) and who may become a “Friend” (in restricted accounts), as well as failure to require truthful disclosure of who has posted. In an attempt to limit product reviews to authors who have actually purchased and used the products, Amazon notes “verified purchaser” prominently below the names of authors. Most newspapers allow readers to complain of abusive or inappropriate comments, and some have software algorithms that reject comments with profanity and abusive language. Their improvements in this regard are ongoing. (For a time, the New York Times had human moderators read every comment, correspondingly elevating the level of dialogue.)

In contrast, Facebook originally had nothing of the kind. It left what could be posted entirely to each poster, apparently relying on a “relationship,” family, social or otherwise, between poster and reader. Only now, as Facebook has become a prime target for advertising and propaganda, is it trying to put in place ad hoc (and often ineffective) limits on posting.

Originally Facebook was a site by, for and of kids, set up for their juvenile social interactions. Today, a decade later, its flexibility, disorganization and relative lack of rules have made it a medium of choice for advertising, public relations and political propaganda of all types. It carries the rants of Islamic extremists, domestic extremists, political operatives, and foreign spooks. What rules and organization might be put in place now bear great resemblance to roping the horse after he’s bolted the barn.

And yet we must try, whether by goading or shaming Facebook’s management or directly by federal regulation. Like water rushing downhill though an orifice, the world’s bad actors have taken Facebook as a hole in the Internet’s thin protection of truth, decency, and civilization. One way or another, and no matter how hard the technical or political challenges, we must plug that hole in order to insure the survival of our democracy and our civilization, not to mention decency.

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17 February 2018

The Dysfunctional States of America

[For an update with comment on how gun massacres reflect our national dysfunction, click here. For a note on how to do good by doing well and taking profits, click here. For seven reasons for us to deploy small nukes, click here. For comment on our desperate need to save the Dreamers, click here. For my prediction of a coming stock-market crash, click here. For links to popular recent posts, click here.]

Rarely does a single day produce three compelling proofs of national dysfunction. But it happened to us yesterday. If this keeps up, and if we can’t stem the tide, we will no longer be the United States of America. Instead, we will become the Dysfunctional States of America.

Our Founders had no idea how our pols would twist the great compromise that is our Constitution into the most dysfunctional form of “democracy” imaginable. In Article 1, Section 5, they let “[e]ach House . . . determine the Rules of its Proceedings . . . .” Little did they suspect that, two and a quarter centuries later, each House would adopt rules abolishing majority rule and conducing to anarchy.

But that’s exactly what happened. In a divided House of Representatives like today’s, the so-called “Hastert Rule” allows a small minority of around 25% of the whole House to block any bill from debate, let alone adoption. The Senate allows any single member to delay to death any bill or appointment (except of judges of lower courts) with a so-called “hold.”

And the Senate’s filibuster rule, originally intended just to provide delay for debate and deliberation, has morphed into a veto by senatorial minority. In this new century we have used it at 142 times the rate prevailing in the period 1917 to 1972—a period of intense national stress that included parts or all of both world wars, the civil rights and sexual revolutions, the Cold War that nearly extinguished our species, and our wars in Korea and Vietnam.

So what happened yesterday is disappointing, but no surprise. Resolving an issue like immigration, with several aspects and strong views on all sides, is harder than just agreeing to give away money for different purposes, not all of which all members of Congress support equally.

The Senate failed to pass any compromise bill by a filibuster-proof majority, thereby showing dysfunction in two ways. First, no group of sixty senators could agree to give up enough of members’ ideal wish lists to create common ground. No such group could even agree to focus on the two most important issues—keeping the Dreamers from being deported and strengthening border security—and let the other two (family and diversity-lottery immigration) wait for another day.

During the seventies, a caricature of hedonistic and self-centered Baby Boomers had them proclaiming “I want it all now!” Little did anyone suspect that that cartoonish worldview would become the guiding philosophy of our Senate when Baby Boomers took over. We might have predicted it from the fact that Baby Boomers are the most heedlessly selfish and pampered generation ever. But no one did.

Another depressing facet of the Senate’s failure to compromise is an appalling failure of logic and common sense. Any executive, manager or competent ordinary person (in his or her own life) handles the most urgent and important matters first. The most urgent and important aspect of the current immigration debate is the Dreamers’ uncertain status and imminent risk of deportation.

No other aspect even comes close. Deportation of Dreamers will disrupt their lives, their families’ lives, and our economy. It will do so from the moment deportation begins.

Some deported Dreamers will suffer violence and even murder by criminals and gangs, especially in Central America. Many will lose the benefits and opportunity of their education in English. Some will become disoriented and despairing and turn to drink, drugs or crime. For many, these falls from grace will be permanent and irreversible.

Depending on whose count you take, there are about 700,000 of them, whom Obama protected by executive order, or 1.8 million, whom Trump publicly claimed to want to protect. Either way, it would take several years of illegal immigration to match that level of human carnage. Surely that’s enough time for Congress to address the rest of the whole problem, let alone Trump’s “four pillars.”

Meanwhile, Trump’s constant anti-immigrant tirades and restrictive executive orders have reduced the flow of illegal immigration to its lowest levels in decades. There is no risk of an immediate explosion if debate delays enhancing border security.

As for legal immigration, it’s only an expectation, not a reality, until it actually happens. So a delay in addressing the subject, whether to increase or reduce the flow, will hardly be catastrophic or irreversible.

It takes years to acquire citizenship. In the meantime, those who want to stop the flow of legal immigrants can revoke or deny green cards and visas. Those who want to expand it will merely have to require those foreigners who’ve waited years to wait a little longer. None of this comes close to the disruption of lives, fortunes and economic progress that will attend the massive deportation of Dreamers, which could begin as early as next month.

The second astonishing proof of our dysfunction came in the long and detailed indictment of Russian individuals and ventures for their “active measures” to influence our elections and destabilize our democracy. The indictment itself was no evidence of dysfunction. On the contrary, it showed the ability of our system to fight back, despite continual assaults on our organs of justice and our press from the very top of our government.

The problem is that any informed American has known of or suspected these assaults on our system for about a year. Our president has known longer, being formally informed of these attempts at least as early as his transition to the White House, and informally probably a lot earlier.

But what was our president’s response to the most thorough and detailed allegations of Russian wrongdoing? It was, in effect, to shout “it wasn’t me!”

Here, in its entirety, is Trump’s Tweety response to the indictment, which alleges the most serious attack on our way of life since Pearl Harbor and 9/11:
“Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong - no collusion!”
We leave aside the claim of no effect on the election, which no one can verify, the indictment didn’t address, and every intelligence service of ours has explicitly refused to discuss. The whole thrust of the Tweet—“no collusion!”—is a claim that Trump himself wasn’t and isn’t guilty.

Our Constitution empowers and requires our chief executive to protect us, our way of life, our Constitution and our democracy. So what does ours do? Like a child in a roomfull of adults trying to find a lost credit card, he wails “I didn’t take it!” There is no thought—not even a feint—toward developing a response to the Russian assault on our system.

Either our president is now colluding by ignoring the assault for his own political or commercial benefit. Or he is one of Lenin’s “useful idiots,” helping the scoundrel without any idea what is going on. Either way, can you imagine anything more dysfunctional than a chief executive who refuses to recognize the existence or seriousness of an attack against us?

The third and last revelation of dysfunction yesterday was of collusion between wrongdoers in high places and our press. Reports on PBS suggest that powerful newspaper interests, include ones that control The National Enquirer, were parts of a conspiracy to keep the president’s early extramarital affair secret. When you add the president’s later reported dalliance with a porn star, you begin to see a whole system of secrecy involving lawyers, contracts, hush money, and newspapers, which are supposed to publicize bad acts by powerful people, not bury them.

The National Enquirer is hardly the heart of our Fourth Estate. It’s a British-style tabloid. Yet if the “custom” of suppressing reports of moral and legal wrongs by the rich and powerful ever infects the so-called “mainstream media,” our democracy is done.

Sunlight may indeed be the best disinfectant. But if the bosses and our news media keep the rest of us in the shade, there is no way, even in theory, that democracy can work.

So in a single day our American democracy took three big hits. Not only did our legislators fail to resolve the most burning disputed issue of the last two generations: immigration. They also failed even to analyze it as any competent business executive or head-of-household would. Our president, who thinks that everything is all about him, tossed off the most detailed public report of Russian assaults on our way of life, implicitly refusing to acknowledge it or do anything about it. And news reports showed that that selfsame president is both willing and able to use the media and all possible means to preserve his own reputation and political viability.

Trump may be right about one thing. Russian “active measures” began long ago, under the “Soviet” label and during the Cold War. They never stopped.

For many other reasons, it’s also true that our national dysfunction began long before Trump. It began at least as early as Bill Clinton smiling while signing the massive 1999 financial deregulatory bill that led directly to the Crash of 2008. It certainly began when the rate of filibustering rose to 142 times the rate during our golden age.

So Trump may be just a symbol and result of our national dysfunction, rather than a cause. If so, the propaganda war that Putin is waging against us may not be the lethal attack, only the coup de grace for a spent society.

Coda: Prayers and Condolences

Although it didn’t happen just yesterday, a fourth earmark of national dysfunction recurred earlier this week. On Wednesday a deranged kid with an AR-15 killed seventeen people and wounded at least fourteen at a school in Broward County, Florida.

That was one of more than 40 “active shooter” incidents recorded in U.S. schools since 2000—well over two per year involving kids. For victims of all ages, it was one of 1,624 mass shootings—four or more people other than the shooter shot in one incident—in 1,870 days. On average that’s one every nine or ten days.

So what did we do after a military-style assault weapon killed seventeen, mostly kids, in the latest incident? President Trump offered prayers and condolences to the victims’ families and friends, and we buried the dead.

That’s what we’ve done, as a nation, for every one of the 1,624 mass shootings that occurred in the last 5.1 years. That’s what we did for all the 307 mass shootings just last year, only to November 6.

What kind of a society is so dysfunctional that it can’t protect its own children—let alone ordinary adults—from deliberate but random murder by firearms? What kind of society allows its kids to be massacred in schools, where they go to get educated and learn to contribute to society?

Before we try to answer these questions, a few more statistics are useful. The United States, which has 4.4% of the world’s population, has 42% of the world’s guns in civilian hands [statistic 7]. As of 2016, there were 265 million such guns in America, more than one for every adult.

Only 3% of us owned nearly half those guns, with an average of 17 per person. We allow private citizens to own military-style semi-automatic assault weapons like the AR-15, which has been used in many of the most gruesome mass killings. And despite idle talk of banning them after the Las Vegas massacre, we have yet to ban “bump stocks” that can make such weapons nearly fully automatic.

Stymied by the NRA and those 3% with nearly half the guns, we have no effective laws to stop the growing scourge of mass shootings. And we recently made it easier for mentally ill people to acquire weapons.

What kind of dysfunctional society allows this to happen? Do people with only two hands need seventeen guns? Does anyone need an AR-15 to kill a deer, or to stop a burglar? And isn’t it hard to carry an AR-15 on your person, let alone concealed?

Imagine that we had a functional society not in thrall to the NRA and the gun lobby. Imagine that we didn’t have to genuflect to an “industry” that, in our gigantic economy, barely moves the needle of our GDP. What would we do if we were as serious about stopping random, senseless domestic terrorism as we are about foreign-inspired terrorism by Islamic extremists?

We might do four simple things. First, we would keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. We would do so by requiring universal background checks and making selling any gun to a blacklisted individual both a criminal and civil offense. People knowingly making such sales could go to prison, and survivors of victims of the guns they sell illegally could sue them and their businesses for wrongful death.

Second, we could ban the sale of military-style semi-automatic assault weapons to any civilian, under similar penalties. On conviction, we could fine businesses millions, send knowing controlling persons to prison, and shut repeat offenders down. We could allow victims’ families to recover damages for wrongful death or negligence, just as we do for other kinds of unreasonably dangerous products.

Third, we could ban the sale of high-capacity magazines and explosive and “cop-killing” ammo, under similar rules. You don’t need these things to hunt or to protect your family from burglary, robbery or assault by armed individuals. You do need them to commit mayhem.

Finally, in order to get existing banned weapons and ammo out of circulation, we could hold a nationwide amnesty to recover and destroy them, as Australia recently did successfully. We could even provide powerful monetary incentives to get them off our streets.

Suppose, for example, that there are a million AR-15s in circulation in the US today. We might buy up and destroy most of them by offering $10,000 in exchange for each one, no questions asked. That’s a total of $10 billion to save our kids and the rest of us from becoming victims.

We recently spent $1.5 trillion on tax breaks that go mostly to corporations and the rich. Think we might spend 1/150th that much to save our kids and stop this scourge?

But we can’t even begin to discuss these practical, sensible measures because the NRA and its lobbyists hold our pols in thrall. They do so by inciting the 3% who hold half the guns with paranoid fantasies and delusions of personal omnipotence. They make gun owners think that the government (or Obama, in his day) is coming to get their guns. They make them believe that practicing for an hour a month at a shooting range will turn them into skilled and practiced killers, the equivalent of our Navy Seals.

By deluding these voters, they make otherwise good Republicans and Democrats in purple districts fear even to whisper the words “gun control.” How better to demonstrate what a dysfunctional a society we have become, than to allow a relatively unimportant industry to sell, unimpeded, dangerous products with which deranged people routinely kill us at random?

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11 February 2018

Majority Rule: What a Concept!

[For a note on how to do good by doing well and taking profits, click here. For seven reasons for us to deploy small nukes, click here. For comment on our desperate need to save the Dreamers, click here. For my prediction of a coming stock-market crash, click here. For links to popular recent posts, click here.]

Even more quickly than the first, the second government shutdown in less than a month was over almost as soon as it began. In a relative eyeblink, Congress had spent another $560-plus billion, $329 billion of which will go on the tab.

What happened? What cleared the legislative logjam? Something extraordinary, almost miraculous, at least in the last generation. Congress actually acted by a bipartisan majority.

The vote tallies tell the tale:

Votes on the Big Budget Bill

Percent For71.7%56.3%

The Senate’s vote was veto -proof. Only the fractious and half-demented House might have failed to overturn a presidential veto. But no veto came. Our president was eager to chalk up a win—any win—to improve the dismal legislative record of his presidency.

To understand what made this bipartisan success so miraculous, we must review some recent history. In each House, the leadership now determines what bills get a vote. Period.

What does that mean? There are several majority “leaders” in each House, but the “leadership” is not a democracy. It’s basically a one-man dictatorship, as it has been throughout our history, except for Nancy Pelosi’s brief speakership, 2007-2011. The Senate Majority Leader (now Mitch McConnell) calls the shots in the Senate, and the Speaker (now Paul Ryan) calls the shots in the House.

In the House, the rule is semi-formal. It’s called the “Hastert Rule,” in “honor” of Dennis Hastert, a former football and wrestling coach released last year from prison for sexual abuse and paying hush money, who was Speaker from 1999 to 2007. Like any good dictator, he decided that no bill would reach the House floor for debate or a vote unless it had a majority of the House Republican Caucus.

Think about that. For most of the last generation, Congress has been about equally divided between Republicans and Democrats. Just to illustrate the principle, let’s say the division is 50-50. Then under the Hastert Rule, no bill gets debate or a vote unless a majority of Republicans, or 26% of the whole House, supports it. Just half of the Republican Caucus, or 25% of the whole House, can keep any bill from reaching the floor for debate or a vote.

If you want to know the source of our recent—and seemingly incurable—government dysfunction, you need look no further than that. The Hastert Rule imposes minority rule on our House, by which 25% of the whole body have, in effect, an absolute veto on legislation. This rule allows crazies like the Tea Party and the so-called “Freedom Caucus” to rule us all, although even together they constitute a small minority.

The rule in the Senate is less formal and rigid. But it has much the same effect. Nothing gets to the floor unless Mitch McConnell decides that it has the majority support of the GOP and is good for the GOP politically. Political tactics compete with policy and often take precedence. Remember preserving “the issue” for the next election, rather than doing anything to resolve it?

Add to that the custom of Senate “holds,” by which a single senator can delay any bill or appointment to death, and you have something very close to anarchy. And all this is without even mentioning filibusters, which require a 60% vote to get most things done in the Senate.

What once kept this bizarre and dysfunctional system from collapsing under its own weight was the quaint notion of congressional “comity.” Once upon a time, members of Congress had respect for and even friendships with each other, including members of the opposing party. Once upon a time, individual members had the good grace to let a majority of a whole chamber (House or Senate) rule, even if they and their constituents disagreed with it. Once upon a time, neither individual members nor congressional leadership took every opportunity to gum up the legislative works, but reserved their “veto" power for once-in-a-decade disputes about which they felt extraordinarily strongly. Once upon a time, our nation followed the oldest and most fundamental principle of democracy, derived from the ancient Greeks and Romans: majority rule.

But not during most of the last generation. The Majority Leader in the Senate and the Speaker of the House each assumed the power of veto dictators. So did some individual senators, using the custom of Senate holds. The result has been the gross dysfunction of government that has hobbled our nation for the last generation, no matter which party had the majority or which captured the presidency. Although our Founders had decried and feared the impact of “faction” (partisanship), in their wildest nightmares they never could have imagined it would get this bad.

The burning question, of course, is whether this bipartisan bill is a sign that our representatives are coming to their senses. Or is it just a one-of achievement, a temporary patch for the reputations of our most dysfunctional president and Congress ever. At the moment, it’s hard to tell.

It’s easy to give away money and put the bill on the tab, even when you don’t think what the other party wants money for is wise or proper. It’s even easy for the GOP, which (except for Rand Paul) seems hardly to notice the gross hypocrisy and economic nonsense of bewailing debt when Obama was president and our economy badly needed a stimulus but letting it roll when Trump is president and the economy is running on all cylinders.

What will happen when it’s not just a matter of throwing a big money party and letting our kids pay for it? What will happen when there’s a clear disagreement on policy and a clear bipartisan majority, but no clear majority in the majority party?

That precise situation may confront us when the DACA/Dreamers issue comes up for a vote. McConnell has promised to permit debate on it this week. Time will tell, and we will have an answer fairly soon.

In the meantime, we must wrestle with the most inexperienced, erratic and downright ornery president in our history—one so unpredictable that Speaker Ryan challenged him to make up his mind on DACA and the Dreamers before agreeing to do anything about them. In the meantime, we must cope with increasing discord and dissension among us, which delight Vladimir Putin, who helped cause them.

The Internet has helped Putin and our own native extremists destroy common sense in our politics. But the Internet also offers us a helpful metaphor: “the wisdom of the crowd.” Isn’t that just what majority rule is, stripped of its modern high-tech clothing?

If we can just somehow return to the days when legislators had mutual respect, socialized together, and even got drunk together, we might capture that metaphor and put it back in our Congress. Then, and only then, could we begin making America great again. We won’t have long to wait to see whether this bipartisan big-spending bill is the start of that process or just a flash in the partisan-extremist pan.

Endnote: The Markets. The markets rose Friday, driven by continuing euphoria and perhaps some hope that one act of governmental functioning might lead to another. Yet this particular act of legislative comity itself bears the seeds of further market turmoil: about a third of a trillion dollars of new government debt. Coming after last year’s $1.5 trillion tax giveaway to corporations and the rich, who didn’t ask for it, didn’t expect it, don’t deserve it, and probably will just invest it, the new budget means that our government will be doing a lot of borrowing soon.

That borrowing will come at a time when our own Fed and central banks worldwide are just closing the “free money” windows and perhaps even raising interest rates to head of wage-price driven inflation. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.

As it when it happens, geezers like me will get tired of trying to guess what next act of intransigence and stupidity on the part of Congress or our president will tank the stock markets yet again. We’ll satisfy ourselves with more normal bond returns and a peaceful senescence free of spasms of greed or fear.

Since there are a whole lot of us geezers in the Baby Boomer cohort, a lot of money will leave the stock market and settle into sleepy, dull bonds. So I wouldn’t count on a sustained recovery of the “Trump Bump” anytime soon—or anytime at all while we have a one-man roulette wheel in the White House and a Congress that defies majority rule.

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05 February 2018

Seven Reasons to Deploy Small Nukes

[NOTE TO READERS: Today’s essay has been in the works for weeks, awaiting a good time to publish it. Today’s front-page New York Times story on the issue marks that time. For comment on our desperate need to save the Dreamers, click here. For my prediction of a coming stock-market crash, click here. For links to popular recent posts, click here.]

Do Good by Doing Well

Is the volatility in our five-day stock-market crash just the usual tussle between greed and fear? Or is it something more?

Much, if not all, of Friday’s drop and Monday’s roller-coaster ride can be attributed to economic and market fundamentals, plus the bizarre effect of electronic trading programmed by financial nerds trying to become real nerds without covering all the contingencies. Yet today’s (2/8) steady drop seems to portend a real correction, even a panic, based on larger fundamentals—a government that is anticompetent and “going all the way.”

The quoted words are from a column that Tom Friedman, the New York Times pundit, published Thursday about a worldwide phenomenon: authoritarian leaders abandoning all restraint. With the President of the United States leading the charge toward recklessness, Friedman opines, only three things can stop the worldwide stampede: “the market, Mother Nature, and human nature."

We can’t do much about the last two. With his global-warming denial, our president is challenging Mother Nature to a duel—a contest that we will surely lose. (At 71, he personally won’t see the worse of the consequences, although he could see Manhattan inundated again.) And the time scale required for evolution—even social evolution—to change human nature is too long for mere mortals to contemplate.

But markets? Yes, markets we can handle.

If looks as if a lot of investors have taken Friedman’s prescription to heart. You can hasten the beginning of the end of Donald Trump’s political reign of terror just by selling out. In so doing, you can save whatever profits the “Trump Bump” gave your family.

You can do good by doing well. But Hurry! Hurry! Hurry! Only the first will save their profits. After that, the usual fear stampede will commence. It’s going to be a wild ride.

1. Our adversaries’ small nukes make our “Doomsday” deterrent impotent.
2. Big nukes, not small nukes, epitomize the genocidal notion of “total war.”
3. Big nukes erase the legal distinction between war and war crimes.
4. A general exchange of big nukes threatens the demise of civilization and even species self-extinction, so we should destroy big nukes first.
5. Small, accurate weapons can give war limited, rational goals.
6. Small nukes can make deterrence personal.
7. The smaller and more accurate the weapons, the lower the risk of accidents and mistakes.

President Obama, not Donald Trump, initiated our small-nuke program on expert advice. But today the whole world has come to confuse the weapons with the men. The notion of nukes—any nukes!—under the control of the likes of Kim Jong Un or Donald Trump rightly strikes fear in the stoutest heart.

But the weapons are not the men. Anyway, Kim and Trump now have big ones. Smaller, more accurate nukes have several advantages over our now-prevailing big nukes and the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction. Here are seven reasons why smaller nukes are a necessity—and an improvement over big nukes—under foreseeable future circumstances:

1. Our adversaries’ small nukes make our “Doomsday” deterrent impotent. Other nations already have small nukes. Russia has thousands. And they are “legal;” the New Start [Disarmament] Treaty, which goes into effect today, doesn’t cover them.

For strategic reasons Russia refused to include them in the agreement. Now it is “validating” that strategy by flexing its military muscles—meddling in our own elections, land-grabbing in Crimea, fomenting a civil war in Eastern Ukraine, and conducting fearsome conventional military exercises near the tiny Baltic states.

China likely has small nukes, too. The Chinese are a practical people. They have always been too smart and too strategic to rely on threats as bizarre as Mutually Assured Destruction (“MAD”) or species self-extinction. Throughout the Nuclear Age, they’ve avoided wasting the money and energy (and polluting their land with radioactive by-products, as we have done near Hanford, WA) to build a nuclear arsenal capable of ending life on Earth. We and the Soviets, now Russia, haven’t been so smart.

As time goes on, more nations will develop and deploy small nukes. The reason is simple: they are far more sensible and flexible than big nukes that serve only as nation- or city-killers.

Imagine that we have no small nukes at all. Then imagine that another nuclear power uses a small nuke to destroy a foreign military base of ours, or a whole fleet of ours sailing in international waters. Imagine that an enemy destroys our Pentagon with a nuke small enough to avoid killing our civilian leadership. What would our leaders’ options for responding be?

Should they file a diplomatic protest? Should they mount a conventional military response?

As you consider conventional options, recall that our last quick and successful general military campaign was Gulf I. The war took only two months, but it took five months for Colin Powell to move half a million troops and their equipment to the theater. In contrast, a tit-for-tat use of a small nuke could take as little as ten minutes. Which would be the more effective deterrent?

In case of a limited nuclear strike on us, our armed forces, or our allies, would we want our only options to be a major ground war, Mutual Assured Destruction, or the release of large parts of our arsenal and the possible extinction of life on Earth? Lest you think the latter is unlikely, recall that we came within minutes of it during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

Even if they haven’t yet done so, our smartest and most capable adversaries will build and maintain small nukes to put us in precisely the position of having no realistic or effective response to their use. If we cannot mount a limited and proportional response, and quickly, we will be left to threaten only the sort of disproportionate catastrophe that no rational leader would allow. Our big, “Doomsday” nukes will be useless to deter a small-nuke attack.

It’s sad that the logic of nuclear weapons conduces to an arms race in small nukes. But it does. On the other hand, a small-nukes arms race won’t be anything like the Doomsday race that we and the Soviets ran during the last century. You don’t need thousands of small nukes to mount a credible, effective deterrent. All you need is enough, at the ready, within striking distance of trouble spots and adversaries’ weak points.

Small nukes don’t threaten our species’ survival. With rational leaders, they don’t threaten any nation’s survival. On the contrary, they will give our nation the most effective and credible deterrent to a strike on us or our allies with small nukes: a quick, proportionate and equivalent response.

The ability to make a proportionate counterstrike presents an enemy making a small-nuke first strike with a clear set of options. There are only four: (1) to call it quits after a tit-for-tat exchange, (2) to expand the nuclear war with unforeseeable consequences, (3) to initiate Mutually Assured Destruction (if the initiator has the capability), or (4) to extinguish our species. A rational leader would take option (1), sacrificing a military base or city in exchange for one of ours.

That’s why no rational leader is likely ever to begin such an exchange, as long as we have enough small nukes and delivery means to mount a credible, proportionate response. Not knowing where the response might come would add power to the deterrent; a leader’s family or most loyal partisans might be there.

2. Big nukes, not small nukes, epitomize the genocidal notion of “total war.” The Germans invented that notion well before the Nazis took over. An obscure dirigible captain in the First World War, Fregattenkapitän Peter Strasser, was the culprit.

Strasser reasoned that civilian populations help the enemy’s war effort and so are fair game for “neutralizing.” So he began the dirigible bombing of civilians in London.

His deliberate targeting of civilians in cities morphed into the Nazis’ V-2 bombing of London in World War II. Later it led to the fire-bombing of Dresden and Tokyo and our nuclear incineration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The reductio ad absurdum was the Cuban Missile Crisis, in which the vast majority of the civilian populations of the United States and the Soviet Union was hostage to war threats until cooler heads prevailed. Doesn’t it make sense to halt this steady progression toward Armageddon and Doomsday, let alone for civilians?

3. Big nukes erase the legal distinction between war and war crimes. Any nuclear weapon with a yield above ten megatons of TNT equivalent is more than 625 times as powerful as the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. Although destructive power is not a linear function of yield, that kind of power has one use only: to kill as many people and destroy as much of cities and civilization as possible.

Using that kind of power necessarily implies civilian targets and invokes the notion of “total war.” It therefore violates two legal prohibitions on war-making, one ancient, one modern.

The ancient principle is the distinction between soldiers and civilians. From the Age of Chivalry through the development of modern firearms, tanks, planes and warships, soldiers have been tasked to fight and civilians have generally been off limits, at least until the last century’s military pathology. Big nukes necessarily violate that principle by putting civilians right at the bull’s eye: Ground Zero. Big nukes are much like the terrorism of 9/11, but on an inconceivably greater scale.

The modern prohibition that big nukes inherently violate is the one against genocide. The logical conclusion of “total war” is that it’s OK to stop or win a war by annihilating your enemy’s civilian population. Today, we recognize that as genocide—one of the starkest and most serious of war crimes. If we as a species are serious about stopping genocide, we have to outlaw big nukes.

4. A general exchange of big nukes threatens the demise of civilization and even species self-extinction, so we should destroy big nukes first. Initially Ronald Reagan was no fan of disarmament. He proposed using our American innovative and productive supremacy to make a nuclear war “unwinnable” for the Soviets.

But he stopped and began to preach disarmament during his second term, after experts informed him that a general exchange of nuclear weapons with the USSR would cause hundreds of millions of casualties. He also knew of our own scientists’ predictions, during the Cuban Missile Crisis: that the “nuclear winter” following any such exchange might extinguish our entire species, or at least destroy most of human agriculture and send us all back to the Stone Age.

In the quest to remove the threat of nuclear weapons forever, it makes sense to avoid the worst cases first. Those are the threats of major-power MAD or species self extinction. The practical way to eliminate them is to transition from big to small nukes and destroy, under international verification, the big nukes first.

If you want to eliminate nuclear weapons, you have to start somewhere. Once major powers have credible and effective nuclear deterrents using small nukes, they can get rid of the big ones without impairing their defenses. Indeed, small nukes will improve their defenses and allow all of humankind to sleep more soundly.

5. Small, accurate weapons can give war limited, rational goals. If Peter Strasser’s “total war” justified insane conclusions like genocide, Mutually Assured Destruction, and species self-extinction, another German had already offered a more sensible approach. Carl von Clausewitz said that “war is just politics by other means.”

What did he mean? Well, the goals of politics are hardly genocidal murder, mutual annihilation, or species self-extinction. As in politics, the primary goal of war is changing an adversary’s behavior. You can do that in several ways: (1) persuasion, (2) coercion, (3) destroying an enemy’s ability to coerce (i.e., his military forces and/or military productive capacity) and (4) killing or disabling the enemy’s leaders, thereby forcing their replacement.

Small nukes are ideal for all these purposes—the smaller, more accurate and more focused, the better. Big nukes, like the ones we have far too many of today, offer only useless and counterproductive overkill.

Only two nations, the United States and the Soviet Union (now Russia), have been so driven by fear, panic, ideology and self-righteousness as to waste vast sums of money on world-destroying nuclear arsenals. Other, more sensible nations, maintain just enough nukes to credibly deter conventional invasion.

These sensible nations include Britain, China and France. We and the Russians would do well to follow their example and downsize our deterrent forces. We can do so by reducing both the numbers of weapons and their sizes.

6. Small nukes can make deterrence personal. Tyrants seldom care much about their people, no matter how large or small the population. Stalin famously opined that “a single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” So attempting to deter a tyrant by threatening his civilian population—even with total annihilation—is futile. Most tyrants consider the “masses” their pawns, analogous to expendable equipment and supplies.

But credibly threaten the tyrant himself—his own life, his family, his immediate entourage, and the tools of his coercion—and you have a much more effective deterrent. That’s what small nukes can do, especially if they are accurate and designed to penetrate armor and deep bunkers.

Of course the international law of sovereign immunity frowns on assassinating others’ leaders. If you try to do that to them, they will try to do it to you. So fears of a terrible reciprocity buttress the law.

But we are not talking about ordinary leaders or ordinary circumstances. We are talking about pathological leaders like Kim, whom the militaries and spies of several nations would kill in a heartbeat but for the dire consequences of trying and failing. Properly designed small nukes can reduce the risk of those dire consequences more than any other weapons.

Today we have little means besides small nukes to deter Kim’s aggression and provocations. He knows that we are not going to start a major ground war, let alone Armageddon, in response to provocative nuclear-weapon or missile tests or small conventional attacks on South Korea or innocent South Korean fishermen. But small nukes, hidden in undetectable submarines, have the ability to take out Kim and his major military assets in a surprise attack.

Even if we never mount that attack, our ability to do so provides an effective deterrent. It’s this deterrent, not Trump’s childish threats, that appear to be moving Kim toward the negotiating table.

7. The smaller and more accurate the weapons, the lower the risk of accidents and mistakes. It’s almost a tautology that smaller nukes threaten less risk of error than big ones. If a ten-megaton weapon goes off course, or if it’s thrown off course in a failed attempt to shoot it down, it can annihilate an entire city or region, even if initially targeting a remote military installation. An entire conurbation like Greater Tokyo, Greater New York, or Metropolitan Los Angeles could literally go up in smoke, along with millions of innocent inhabitants.

What possible rational purpose could that serve, even for an implacable enemy of the target country?

Except for so-called “tactical” field weapons, almost every nuke today has greater yield than the ones that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yet both cities survived their nuclear attacks and are thriving metropolises today.

This is not to excuse or justify those attacks. Only the verdict of future history, if anything, can do that. It’s simply to state the obvious: still smaller weapons might achieve legitimate political goals with less risk to innocent civilian populations. Imagine a nuke small enough to take out Kim and his entourage in their bunkers and leave the rest of Pyongyang untouched, let alone the rest of North Korea.

Conclusion. For decades the threats of MAD and species’ self-extinction have kept the peace. The reason was simple: the size and destructive power of the US’ and Soviets’ (or Russians’) vast nuclear arsenals made their use literally unthinkable.

With MAD as the deterrent goal, an actual exchange of nuclear weapons would have resulted in greater civilian casualties than the entire Second World War. In the worst case, it would have annihilated both “superpowers” or our entire species.

The insanity of either such outcome has led humanity to try not to think about nukes for several decades. Meanwhile, the presumedly declining risk of Armageddon lulled us into ignoring the proliferation of nukes, the near-nuclear war between India and Pakistan in 1999, the growing enmity between the US and Russia, and the stark and explicit nuclear threat of Kim Jong Un. It’s now time to awaken from our Doomsday-induced stupor.

Contrary to popular belief, nuclear weapons need not produce nuclear explosions by accident or negligence. Nuclear explosions require extremely precise and delicate triggering with conventional explosives. We can and do design weapons to be failsafe, with systems that inactivate them unless and until they receive final “go” signals in their ballistic descent phases or their final approaches to their targets.

The problem is not so much unintended nuclear explosions as the risk of the high conventional explosives dispersing radioactive material in an accident. That’s what actually happened in the infamous 1966 incident near Palomares, Spain. There a midair collision of two US planes dropped four powerful nukes, causing plutonium contamination of large areas of seacoast and sea. As a result of that accident and its cleanup, there is still dangerous radioactivity in the area generations later, and many of the (often uninformed) troops deployed in the cleanup suffered disease and early death.

Smaller nukes can ameliorate these risks, too. The smaller the nuke, the less radioactive material it needs, and the lower the risk of contamination in any accident. In addition, smaller nukes can be based on uranium, rather than plutonium, whose chemical properties and long half-life make it the most dangerous radioactive contaminant in large-scale use. (A single tiny particle of plutonium, lodged in a healthy persons’s lungs, can cause lung cancer.)

In any event, the main point is clear. The “insanity” of nuclear weapons inheres primarily in past and current policies for their use as deterrents: the notion of threatening to annihilate an entire nation or region, its population, or even our entire species.

It makes basic common sense to downsize nukes from such nonsensical Doomsday devices to weapons that can take out a tyrant and his entourage or a threatening military installation (including nuclear facilities themselves), or that can decapitate a rogue regime like North Korea’s. Downsizing may make the use of nukes more probable than at present. But for that very reason, small nukes can better deter tyrants as proliferation inevitably continues. They therefore can allow our flawed species to muddle on.

Putting one’s head in the sand has never been an effective solution to global warming or anything else. There will be small nukes. There already are. Russia has thousands. Israel, among others, probably has them, too. The Israelis are smart enough to understand the folly of using Doomsday weapons in their crowded and holy neighborhood. If humanity must have nukes, smaller is better.

We Americans invented nuclear weapons. We have the most innovative society and (but for the recent Russian cyberattacks) the most inventive military engineering in human history. If any nation ought to have the credible, realistic deterrent of small, accurate nukes, it ought to be ours. To think otherwise is to allow our national security and global influence to depend upon the kindness of inimical strangers.

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