Banter M Issue 76: The Technology That Could Save The World

In this issue of Banter M: 

The Technology That Could Save The World - Ben Cohen discusses a revolutionary concept and technology he has been investigating that he believes could genuinely change the world. Has he gone mad, or is there something to it that could radically alter our future? 

Hillary and Bernie Supporters Can't Stop Punching Each Other, And It Needs to End - Bob Cesca appeals to warring factions of the left to stop fighting and work towards a common goal. 

My Autistic Child Deserves a Real Education and So Does Yours - Thanks to Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos, Justin Rosario's autistic son, Jordan Rosario, is at risk of losing the special education he desperately needs. This is his story. 

The Technology That Could Save The World

by Ben Cohen

Part of the problem with writing in public is that your thoughts and ideas get canonized permanently (or at least until the internet burns down). I've been thinking lately that while the joys of writing are plentiful, it is quite easy to get creatively stuck out of fear of judgment. Half thoughts and random ideas I could share with friends rarely get shared in written form and what gets made public can often differ greatly from what I might actually be thinking at the time. I do my best to say what I'm feeling as I feel it, but as a legitimate news source (at least by Google's standards), we have to be careful with what we say because hundreds of thousands of people could potentially be reading it. 

I say all of this because in response to the almighty shit show we're seeing in Washington, I've been looking way outside of the box for solutions to what I can only really define as the beginnings of the end the nation state system as we know it. While I staunchly defend the role of government in industrialized democracies, there is an undeniable feeling amongst many observers that there are forces outside of our control working feverishly to dismantle the current status quo. Donald Trump isn't the problem per se, he is merely the symptom of a much, much bigger problem. While I desperately wanted Hillary Clinton to win and continue building on President Obama's legacy, I've always felt that America, along with every other industrialized capitalist nation, is heading rapidly in the wrong direction. With global warming and environmental destruction threatening to wreck the planet as we know it and potentially extinguish ourselves, fiddling with tax codes by a percentage or two and abiding by clearly insufficient international environmental agreements was never going to cut it. While a Democrat in charge of the White House would have managed to slow down our catastrophic trajectory, they wouldn't have been able to change it in any substantive way. 

The nation state system it seems to me, is in a state of existential crisis. It cannot respond efficiently enough to pressing environmental problems, it cannot redistribute wealth efficiently enough (unless you live in Sweden or Finland), and it isn't providing meaningful lives for the majority of people. We are working longer hours than ever, are more stressed, less happy and in a constant state of anxiety when it comes to the problems we face as a species. Hope for the future is basically non-existent, particularly amongst the younger generations, and we seem stuck in a system controlled by two parties that spend most of the time fighting each other rather than working together to fix problems (and no, I am not claiming "both sides are just as bad" -- Democrats at least want to find solutions to existing problems that don't rely on cutting taxes for the rich).

Nation states exist because we believe in them. International organizations like the UN, NATO, the EU etc exist because we all choose to buy into them. They are creations of our imagination made real by a collective decision to participate in them. Once people stop believing in them, they will cease to exist. The EU is under great threat at the moment because the British public stopped believing in it creating an almighty ripple effect through the rest of the EU members. While it is by no means defunct, there is great unease within other European countries that threaten its long term survival. 

Where is all of this heading? A pessimistic view would be that we are on the way towards another giant global war -- one that isn't far fetched by any means. With the Trump administration's aggressive behavior towards North Korea, Iran and anyone Trump feels he wants to intimidate, the fear of a new globally encompassing conflict is real. But while we should absolutely be sounding the alarm, there might be more constructive things to be doing to work towards a better future that require thinking completely outside of the box. 

Recently, I've become fascinated by the crypto currency Bitcoin and the technology it was built on, the Blockchain. The more I have researched this completely alternative form of 'money', the more I am becoming convinced we are on the cusp of a major, major revolution that could completely change how human societies work and interact with each other. Before you stop reading and conclude I've become a weird libertarian nutjob spending way too much time on the internet, hear me out. 

I confess to having a hard time completely understanding bitcoin and how it works, but the general principle behind it and the technology it is built on are fairly straightforward. As Wikipedia states, bitcoin "Works without a central repository or single administrator," and  "is called the first decentralized digital currency". It is a peer to peer payment system where "transactions take place between users directly, without an intermediary."

The currency exists only online on something called the "blockchain" -- a sort of online spreadsheet that records transactions made in bitcoin (or another cryptocurrency) chronologically and publicly. You can buy bitcoins on exchanges, or mine them with computers, and there are only a maximum of 21 million bitcoins available. 

The blockchain itself is a revolutionary concept that could forever change how we do business -- it lends itself to complete transparency and allows companies to be built and do business in a completely different way. Through what are called "smart contracts" you can exchange money, property, shares, or anything of value in a completely transparent way while avoiding the services of a middleman like lawyers, consultants, accountants etc. You could theoretically (or practically, as some companies are doing) create your entire company on the blockchain cutting start up costs dramatically and avoiding future conflict by having complete transparency. It isn't a perfect system by any means, but it could completely transform the way we think about work. Venture Beat describes what a company of the future built on the blockchain would look like: 

Instead of a board of directors or senior executives, the token holders (aka shareholders) of a DAO [Decentralized Autonomous Organization] have the right to vote “yay” or “nay” on any and every proposal facing the organization.

There are some rules that a DAO institutes to make things as effective as possible and, again, that’s a post for another time.

The bottom line is that, in a DAO, instead of being hired as an employee, you are awarded a contract on a project basis. The Fermat project, for example, calls these ‘Contribution Contracts.” Then, after discussion among the community members, the proposal is voted upon and, when passed, work can commence.

This means no CEO no boss and far more control over our own lives.

This might all sound like a fantasy, but it is already happening -- and quickly. Bitcoin and the blockchain represent a different type of future for all of us, one devoid of centralized control that puts power back into communities and people. A peer to peer financial system would almost completely eliminate the need for central banking providing us with a way of wrestling back control over our lives rather than living in debt and constant fear over the whims of financial markets. Once wealth is localized and democratized, we could envision a very, very different future for ourselves. 

There are of course many other movements and ideas currently taking off all around the world that could have a dramatic impact on how we live as a species, so just take this all as food for thought. I'm not a bitcoin evangelist and I'm sure there are a million problems with it I haven't thought about. But it provides hope for a different model for the future and a practical way of taking back some control in our lives. While I am not giving up on the nation state and won't sit back as Donald Trump and the Alt Right madmen attempt to dismantle if for their own financial gain, I do want to explore back up plans in preparation for a worst case scenario. Humans are at their best in disaster like situations and rather than envisioning a dark, conflict ridden future for ourselves, we might as well dream of something much better and much brighter. Could this be Bitcoin and the blockchain? It is at least in my opinion, a much needed step in the right direction. 

Next: Hillary and Bernie Supporters Can't Stop Punching Each Other, And It Needs to End

Hillary and Bernie Supporters Can't Stop Punching Each Other, And It Needs to End

by Bob Cesca

This is sketchy territory. By addressing it, I'm tangentially inserting myself into the very same bickering and divisiveness I'm criticizing here. Nevertheless, it has to be said: liberal in-fighting with echoes of 2016 has to end. Immediately. And both sides have to start acting like grownups willing to bury old fights and re-focus on the existential threat in the White House. 

You've seen it, I'm sure. It's all over social media and liberal sites. In the face of the biggest internal enemy to our constitutional democracy since the Civil War, the left has chosen to poke Trump with one hand (kinda') while poking fellow liberals with the other. It's careened far beyond a turf war into what could be a counterproductive and highly destructive compound fracture of the left.

Specifically, there are thousands upon thousands of liberals who can't stop re-litigating the Democratic primary fight between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. From what I can gather from observing these shovel fights up close, here are the battle lines: 

Hillary Supporters. Too many Hillary supporters continue to blame Bernie for laying the groundwork for Trump's victory. They also insist Bernie tossed women under a bus by endorsing a mayoral candidate in Omaha, Nebraska with a questionable voting record on reproductive rights -- a Democrat, by the way, who's facing an entrenched Republican opponent, and who was forced to overcome a primary challenger. Other Hillary supporters believe Bernie is a racist and a misogynist. Hillary supporters also supported Tom Perez for DNC chair, while campaigning against Keith Ellison for the same post. "Pragmatic" progressives are also resentful that Bernie is critical of the party, while not remaining a member of it. And finally, Hillary people correctly agree that Russia interfered in the election.

Bernie Supporters. Berners think Hillary supporters are "establishment" shills -- the word "establishment," by the way, has been successfully and unfairly framed by Bernie supporters as perhaps the most scathing insult shy of "Nazis." Bernie people also have purity tests of their own, and even heroes like Barack Obama aren't immune from their wrath. Obama was booked to give a speech on healthcare and he's being paid $400,000 by Cantor Fitzgerald, a Wall Street investment firm, to do so. Naturally, then, he's the devil. The Berners, meanwhile, are anything from skeptical of- to downright hostile toward DNC chair Tom Perez, since he was allegedly the "establishment" (Nazi!) candidate. Some Berners, like The Young Turks, support primarying center-left and moderate Democrats ahead of the 2018 midterms. And Bernie people are generally skeptical of RussiaGate.

That's basically where we are in terms of sides. Bear in mind that my descriptions are generalized and, yes, I realize there are many exceptions. 

Part of the problem here is that both sides think they know what's best for the party, and, not unlike Democrats for centuries, every individual Dem thinks he or she has all the answers. Everyone thinks they're in charge of everyone else, and no one is willing to set aside minor differences in tactics and strategy in order to join forces to thwart the Trump Republicans and his spastic effort to reshape the government into an autocratic, Putin-style kleptocracy. 

Social media has, naturally, exacerbated all of it since the "sports fandom" theory of self-branding is becoming increasingly prevalent. Both sides want to save face, and therefore no one wants to concede a damn thing. They have to cheer for their own team no matter what. Their personal branding forbids concessions -- and the social media jihads against compromise or rationality from either side is enough to shut down any kind of detente.

Honestly, knowing what we know about Trump, is this really the best time to be relentlessly bifurcating the left -- and bifurcating it over a fight that ended nearly a year ago? Obviously not. It's one thing to prioritize what's important, but none of those goals will ever be achieved or sustained if the left is permanently divided. 

Neither side, however, is willing to let go. Neither side is willing to follow the lead of Tom Perez and Keith Ellison who've set aside ideology for the sake of party unity. Put it this way: neither side will budge as long as this battle continues on vitriolic terms, and neither side will fully unite because some activists will simply refuse. The hotheads on social media will always scream, but they need to be marginalized, and soon. Meanwhile, the leaders of both sides, online and off, have a responsibility to find common ground and build from there. Otherwise, the damage from an unchecked Trump administration will only worsen -- in most cases, catastrophically.

On top of everything else, neither Bernie nor Hillary are viable candidates in 2020. 

Sorry. 

All of that said, look at the upsides. Bernie brings millions of new voters to the table. Hillary's side brings money and campaign infrastructure. Combined with the ongoing Trump nightmare, unity on the left in time for 2018 and 2020 will trigger Democratic landslides from mayoral races on up to the presidency. The alternative is too terrible to fully contemplate. 

2016 is over. It's over in terms of the fight between Hillary and Bernie, it's over between the two halves of the left, and it's over in terms of the socio-political factors that made 2016 what it was. It's stupid to plan for the future based on the features of the past -- of what's already been decided and which might not be on the table in 2018 or 2020. To be successful, the Democrats need to forecast what 2020 or 2018 will look like and go from there. The left needs to focus less on what happened a year ago and, instead, what will happen two, four, or 10 years from now -- and we need to start winningat every level of politics. 

Next: My Autistic Child Deserves a Real Education and So Does Yours - by Justin Rosario

Meet Jordan Rosario!

Meet Jordan Rosario!

My Autistic Child Deserves a Real Education and So Does Yours

by Justin Rosario

When asked during her confirmation hearing whether or not all schools that receive federal funding should follow the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Billionaire Republican donor (and future Secretary of Education) Betsy DeVos said, “I think that is a matter that is best left to the states.” 

For anyone unfamiliar with conservative doublespeak, “I think that is a matter that is best left to the states” means "No, I do not want that law enforced." In the mind of super Jesus fan Betsy DeVos, students with disabilities should not be accommodated. Instead, it seems DeVos thinks we should go back to the good ol' days when kids that were "different" were isolated and segregated from "normal" kids.

Meet Jordan John Rosario

Let me tell you about my son. He was diagnosed with autism when he was under 2 years of age (no, vaccines were not involved and shame on you if you asked). He suffers from speech apraxia which means it is difficult for him to speak (sort of like a stroke but without the brain damage) and his autism presents itself as an impediment to deliberate expression in all forms. He couldn't even point to something he wanted because the entire concept of outwardly expressing a desire was alien. For example, if I put a stuffed elephant on a shelf he couldn't reach and asked him to point to the elephant, he could do that because he was identifying something. But if he wanted to play with the elephant, he couldn't point to it because that would expressing a need. He could climb to get it but not point to it and ask. If that's confusing to you, welcome to the world of autism.

Fast forward seven years and Jordan is partially mainstreamed in school, meaning he spends half of his day with neurotypical (or "normal" if you'd like to be insensitive) students. He doesn't have friends the way you or I experience friendship but he has children in his class that help him and keep him focused on his work. They do this not because they are asked to do so, but because they want to. And they're very good at it. They sit with him at lunch. They push him to interact constantly. They're patient as saints when he's in a mood and help him calm down. The first time I heard them say, "Deep breaths, Jordan", I almost cried. Because of this, I do not have to worry about Jordan being bullied or excluded. 

20 years ago, Jordan would have been shunted off to a classroom with other children with disabilities. It would have been slightly better than daycare and his socialization would have been nonexistent. He would not be learning much about geography or math or science. If we were lucky, he would have a speech therapist like he does now but maybe not. Jordan's current classmates would never have met or experienced autism. They would have been deprived of a powerful learning experience and the opportunity to discover that endless wellspring of compassion and empathy that enables them to put so much effort into helping others. For decades, this sad reality played out in tens of thousands of classrooms but IDEA changed all of that.

And now it's at risk.

Why is supporting disabled children even a question?

In a sane world, some questions shouldn't even need to be asked. Should we allow the poor to starve? Should profiting from large scale child labor be legal? Should we execute the mentally ill? The only moral answer is "No, what the hell is wrong with you?" But we do not live in a sane world. We live in a world infected and corrupted by a political movement that is itself infected and corrupted. With DeVos' casual dismissal of IDEA, we are faced with a cruel and inhumane future that is the natural outcome of American conservatism.

But there are millions of disabled children in the United States. Autism alone impacts somewhere between 1 in 68 to 1 in 45 children (depending on which study you use) We must deal with this. These children must be integrated into society whenever possible. The social and financial cost to shun them would be enormous. And, sickening as it is to contemplate, that might be the point.

It's not hard to understand the thinking behind leaving families with disabled children to fend for themselves. You simply have to stop caring for the well-being of strangers. Conservatives have been trained by decades of propaganda to think only of themselves and their loved ones. One of the main talking points for the Trump administration's budget cuts is, seriously, "Why should a coal miner in West Virginia pay for Sesame Street?" You hear this myopic view echoed by Republicans who say men shouldn't have to pay for women to have prenatal care. You hear it when they say feeding the poor is like feeding wild animals. I can never repeat that last one often enough as it perfectly illustrates the depravity of conservative thought.

The answer to these questions, of course, is that a society thrives together or crumbles apart. But that doesn't jibe with the broken worldview of American conservatives.

It gets even worse when you add religion into the mix. While DeVos herself does not appear to subscribe to the "prosperity gospel" in which the rich are God's favored and the poor are scorned, a great many conservative "Christians" do. Turning their back on the disabled fits in quite neatly with their belief system. After all, if God is happy with you, you'll have the money to take care of your own disabled child. If you don't, it's your own fault for being bad so why should anyone else help you? And that's not even getting into the sick belief that autism is a punishment from God.

The bottom line is that DeVos, along with most Republicans, find the idea of the government providing a lifeline to those in desperate need to be ideologically offensive. Considering the influence that the libertarian Kochs and the blatantly sociopathic Mercers have on the party, we'll be fortunate if DeVos doesn't try to have children like Jordan euthanized because they're a burden on society. That may seem like a slippery slope argument but all slopes have a beginning and rejecting the need to help the disabled is more than a few steps down it.

Just like Republican Jesus would have wanted

The most amazing part about DeVos' "let the states decide" stance is that it flies directly in the face of her religion. Even as an atheist, I find DeVos' behavior offensive to the message of Jesus. While it can be argued (if you're so inclined) that the Bible has nothing good to say about homosexuality, it's extremely unambiguous how we should treat the disabled:

He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, - Luke 14:12-13 

You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord. - Leviticus 19:14

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. - John 9:1-3

Yet, all indications point to DeVos getting ready to put enormous stumbling blocks before the least of us. One would think it's impossible to reconcile her plan to make public education a bastion of religious indoctrination with turning our backs on the disabled, but cognitive dissonance is a high art form among religious conservatives. Why is DeVos even contemplating this? Only she can say for sure. But considering how utterly ignorant she is about education on even the most rudimentary level, DeVos' reasoning will be at best uninformed and at worst completely divergent from reality.

Jordan is lucky. We live in Northern Virginia, the deepest blue part of the state. Even if DeVos manages to break IDEA, it will be many years, if ever, before my school district even contemplates short-changing its special needs students. But there are many deeply conservative states and counties that will praise Jesus on Sunday and then happily cut their special needs students loose on Monday to save some money, perhaps to lower taxes a bit more on the rich. It costs upwards of $60,000 a year for all of the therapists an autistic child needs and that's not even including regular schooling so what a great way to lower government spending! Later when millions of autistic adults do not have the social skills to function on their own, these same pious hypocrites will wring their hands about how much it costs for the government to care for those they cast aside 20 years ago.

Perhaps, in time, we'll figure out a way to put them in prison. It's how we handle a lot of mentally ill people today and even though Autism is not a mental illness, will that really matter when they can become a source of profit for private prison companies? And as the epidemic worsens, even more families will be left to fend for themselves in Betsy DeVos' theocratic but somehow blasphemous school system. Praise Republican Jesus™.