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Can a Nation Attack a Company?

    North Korea keeps testing missiles that can reach the United States. China could turn off trade with North Korea, and effectively force them to stop, but that isn’t happening. Why the hell not?

    A story in Newsweek says the bulk of Chinese trade with North Korea involves just ten Chinese companies. The working assumption is that those ten companies are so “connected” and powerful that even the Chinese government can’t influence them, or might not want to try.

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The Turn to “Effective, but we don’t like it.”

    Prior to President Trump’s inauguration, I predicted a coming story arc in three acts. Act one involved mass protests in the streets because Hillary Clinton’s campaign had successfully branded Trump as the next Hitler. Sure enough, we saw mass protests by anti-Trumpers who legitimately and honestly believed the country had just elected the next Hitler. I predicted that the Hitler phase would evaporate by summer for lack of supporting evidence. That happened.

    I also predicted the anti-Trumpers would modify their attack from “Hitler” to “incompetent,” and that phase would last the summer. That happened too. The president’s critics called him incompetent and said the White House was in “chaos.” There were plenty of leaks, fake news, and even true stories to support that narrative, as I expected. Every anti-Trump news outlet, and even some that supported him started using “chaos” to describe the situation.

    Now comes the fun part.

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I’m Not Your Pope (But Thanks for Asking)

    A funny thing happened after my conversation with Sam Harris on the topic of President Trump. An avalanche of anti-Trumpers descended on my Twitter account and insisted I become their moral leader – sort of like their Pope. I have not accepted the job, but I can see the need.

    Let me give you some context.

    Sam Harris’ view on President Trump is that our new leader is a lying, unscrupulous, unethical con man. My view on President Trump is that he’s a skilled persuader who has offered to use his talents on behalf of the country. I have been silent on the ethics and morality questions because I trust people to make those decisions on their own. Personally, I would lie to a terrorist to save your child’s life. Some people would consider that immoral because lying is bad. I say every situation is unique, and we all have to make our own moral/ethical decisions as we go.

    To me, that all seemed clear enough. I completely understand Sam’s criticisms of President Trump’s use of hyperbole and his casual relationship with the facts on the stuff that generally doesn’t matter. (As I like to say, President Trump is consistently “directionally accurate” even when he is playing loose with the facts. Persuasion looks exactly like that.

    Anyway, my critics – who are also President Trump’s critics it seems – called out to me on Twitter to clarify the ethical and moral dimensions of this presidency. I didn’t think my opinion on that topic was useful because no one gets their ethical guidance from cartoonists. I figured people could work out the morality questions on their own. But I was wrong. The anti-Trumpers need a Pope. And apparently they want it to be me. I didn’t see this coming.

    I will consider the job over the weekend and let them know my decision. If you see white smoke coming from the man-cave in my garage, it means I have accepted the position. 

    You might enjoy reading my book because I’m sort of like a Pope to my critics. But without the cool hat. (Not saying I won’t get one.)

    I’m also on…

    Twitter (includes Periscope): @scottadamssays​

    YouTube: At this link.

    Instagram: ScottAdams925

    Facebook Official Page: fb.me/ScottAdamsOfficial

I Tell You How Citizens Can Fix Health Care (Now that Congress Failed)

    Congress just proved something that we all suspected: They are the wrong tool for fixing health care. The topic is too complicated, the politics are too corrosive, and the money interests are too strong. That’s why citizens will step in and fill the gap with their own proposals. I expect to see a number of citizen-created health care proposals emerge soon. To that end, I thought I would get the ball rolling by framing the problem in this short 4-minute video. This is how any large business would approach the problem of spiraling healthcare costs. Here is the graphic from the video clip:

    The advantage American citizens have in 2017, that we never had before, is a populist president who can sell the bejeezus out of a health care plan if someone could come up with one that makes sense. But for that to happen, Congress first had to do a hard faceplant in the asphalt, to show the country they are not the right tool for the job. That phase is complete. Time for the next phase.

    You might enjoy reading my book because Congress is broken.

    I’m also on…

    Twitter (includes Periscope): @scottadamssays​

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International Relations in a Time of Nukes and Plenty

    In olden days, if a neighboring kingdom was prosperous and capable, it was a risk to your security. A rich neighbor can assemble powerful armies to capture your resources and enslave your people. In those primitive times, any powerful empire was a real enemy, and you had to treat them as such.

    Fast-forward to 2017, and some of those old rules have changed. A rich country with nuclear weapons won’t attack a weak country with nuclear weapons. Economics and national defense are somewhat disconnected in modern times. Nukes changed everything.

    Our weapons have improved since the time of kings, but our way of thinking has not fully evolved. Consider Russia. We have every reason to cooperate for mutual economic benefit, and for fighting ISIS. And we have no real reasons for trying to screw each other at every turn. Our “reasons” are entirely in our heads.

    The fancy word for that is cognitive dissonance.

    We believe Russia is our adversary, because they were in the past, so we act as if they are now as well. Russia does the same, for the same reason. When they poke us, we poke back. When we imagine they might poke us, we poke them first, or prepare to be poked. But none of the poking helps either side in any meaningful way. It just feels as if it should. It is more reflex than reason.

    President Trump came to power at an interesting time for civilization. He has exactly the right skillset (persuasion) to reframe our relationships with our traditional “adversaries” to something more productive. You might think prior presidents tried the same thing and failed. But unilaterally acting nice and talking nice isn’t enough. To sell the new frame you need real-world actions that shove all of us out of the old way of thinking. And it has to be a hard shove, mentally.

    The “bad version” of this idea might include (as an example only) a treaty partnering NATO with both Russia and China to act against terrorism and against nuclear proliferation. In the year 2017, why do any of the big three military powers point their weapons at each other? No one has any intention of starting that sort of war. Why act as if we do?

    If Russia wants a warm-weather port, or China wants to extend its military reach to some islands off their shores, those situations feel like problems for the U.S., so long as we regard them as military adversaries. But if we’re on the same team, it doesn’t mean as much.

    This sort of reframing – from military adversaries to friendly competitors who are on a mission to improve life on Earth – wouldn’t work if limited to speeches and punditry. It would need real-world treaties and actions so everyone can see something physical changing. Words wouldn’t get it done.

    In the modern world, the real enemies of the rich countries are some of the poor countries, with their nukes and their terrorists. Rich countries are not much risk to other rich countries in modern times. I think we would all do better if we recognized that reality. 

    This would be a good time to remind you that cartoonists are not good sources of geopolitical wisdom. I present ideas such as this for entertainment, and to educate you on the finer points of persuasion when it applies. If anything I write here turns out to be useful in the bigger world, that would be a lucky benefit.

    You might enjoy reading my book because people keep telling me they got fitter and got wealthier after they learned the difference between systems and goals. (I literally hear that every day now.)

    I’m also on…

    Twitter (includes Periscope): @scottadamssays​

    YouTube: At this link.

    Instagram: ScottAdams925

    Facebook Official Page: fb.me/ScottAdamsOfficial

Why the New Healthcare Bill Will Be a Loser

    People accuse me of imagining that everything President Trump does is brilliant (persuasion-wise) no matter what he does. But I expect the next version of the Republican healthcare bill to be a complete failure. That’s because Republicans seem deeply committed to a losing path, thanks to what might be called the Contrast Problem. 

    Contrast is the driving principle behind all decisions. You have to know how your options differ, and by how much, or else you have no basis for a decision. President Obama solved for the contrast problem by designing Obamacare to cover more people than before. The rest of the details – especially the costs – were hard to predict, so our brains flushed that noise and focused on the greater number of people covered. 

    Everyone knew Obamacare would need future tuning to get it right. That gave us mental permission to focus on the good parts we understood – the greater coverage – and hope the other details would get worked out later. President Obama nailed the Contrast Problem like the Master Persuader he is.

    That was then.

    Now, President Trump and the Republicans have the “going second” problem. The public will compare their proposed bill with Obamacare and conclude that the one metric they understand – the number of people covered – does not compare favorably with Obamacare. The contrast is fatal.

    We know Paul Ryan will do his wonkish best to tell us about all the amazing advantages of this new bill. And we know the public won’t understand any of it. But they sure will know it doesn’t cover as many people. Done. Bury it.

    During the campaign, candidate Trump made some references to taking care of everyone. It sounded like universal coverage, but no one thought he meant it. 

    He did mean it. 

    He meant it because he understands the contrast problem.  Any Obamacare replacement needs to cover more people than Obamacare, or else it is dead on arrival. Any skilled persuader would see that. 

    Paul Ryan doesn’t see the Contrast Problem as important, evidently. 

    I think most trained persuaders would agree that the one-and-only path to a successful replacement of Obamacare should include AT A MINIMUM a plan to reach greater coverage. And the only way to get there is by goosing innovation in the healthcare field. We can’t tax our way to full healthcare coverage. We need to lower the costs. And President Trump also needs to solve the Contrast Problem.

    To that end, I suggest creating a special low-cost (or free) plan for low income people who are willing to accept a bit more risk. If the plan is robust enough, it could provide a path to greater patient coverage compared to Obamacare and solve the contrast problem. As a mental exercise only, the plan might have the following elements:

    1. Online doctors for 90% of routine cases.

    2. Require big pharma to provide free meds for people in this plan as a condition of selling in the United States. The low-income people covered would be the ones who would not otherwise buy these drugs, so the companies would only lose the cost of the materials themselves, which is trivial.

    3. Recruit and approve special doctors for this plan who are by law exempt from any malpractice suits so long as they provide reasons for their decisions. This would allow them to avoid some red tape and also use new and inexpensive medical technology before full FDA approval – but only for the new stuff that common sense tells the doctors would not be especially dangerous. I’m not talking about pills and internal medicine. I’m talking about medical devices, mostly. It would be up to the doctor to decide when it was safe to risk using the new methods.

    4. Patients agree to wear health monitors – the newest prototypes – and to share their medical information (anonymously) for the greater benefit of society. This would allow early detection and treatment. Perhaps the low-cost insurance could be free to those who walk 10,000 steps a day, or something of that nature.

    5. Shine a government light on any medical technology or systems improvements that would lower cost, to guarantee that the good ones are known to doctors and investors. (Then stay out of the way.)

    This is just a starter concept for what a special low-cost plan (with slightly higher risks) might look like. The main point is that you could cobble together a low-cost plan if you had some government muscle behind it to clear out the useless regulations and to focus energy in the right places.

    If President Trump presents us with a healthcare plan that doesn’t cover as many people as Obamacare, but will cover more people eventually, that’s a winning contrast.

    Otherwise, the bill will die on the Contrast hill. And that’s the direction we’re heading.

    As I’ve said before, America can’t make a strong claim to greatness if we can’t do healthcare right. So let’s do it right. Or at least have a plan to get there.

    You might enjoy reading my book because it will keep you healthy. 

    I’m also on…

    Twitter (includes Periscope): @scottadamssays​

    YouTube: At this link.

    Instagram: ScottAdams925

    Facebook Official Page: fb.me/ScottAdamsOfficial

Russia Hacked our Election! (So what?)

    I see a consensus forming that Russia attempted to influence our election with fake news and other social media shenanigans. 

    But why?

    If you start with the assumption that Russia is an enemy of the United States, you probably assume they do bad things to us simply to weaken our power and effectiveness. For example, this article hypothesizes that Russia’s intention was to breed distrust between whoever became president and our intelligence services. I guess that hypothesis sort-of-almost makes sense. But I wouldn’t say it passes my personal sniff test.

    Then there’s the more popular theory that the Russians were colluding with the Trump campaign because Putin thought he could somehow control President Trump via blackmail, or business ties, or something else we’re imagining. I guess that could be true. Sort of. But that doesn’t pass my sniff test either.

    Then there’s the hypothesis that Russia was messing with our democratic system to weaken the country by sowing distrust about the election process, or possibly by electing a president they believed would be less effective. But I have a hard time believing the Russians thought Trump would be ineffective. Maybe they just thought he would be divisive, and perhaps they thought that’s good for Russia in some way.

    I suppose any one of the versions of reality I described could be true. But my brain has to work hard to make sense of any of those explanations. The pieces fit, but only when I hammer them. That raises a red flag for confirmation bias. 

    Just for fun, let’s compare the standard explanations for Russia’s alleged influence on the election with two other hypotheses.

    Hackers and Misdirection

    As Putin accurately pointed out in a recent interview, hackers can make their attacks seem to come from other sources, including Russia. I assume there are hundreds, if not thousands, of Trump-supporting Americans with the skills to hack poorly-secured servers. Even if you assume Putin wanted to hack American servers, he would have needed to get in line to do it. Given all the American hackers who opposed Hillary Clinton, there is perhaps a one-in-a-hundred chance Putin’s hackers (if they exist) got to the DNC and Clinton’s servers before the hordes of non-Russian hackers did it. So even if Putin tried, the odds are low that his team got to the good stuff first. 

    But that’s just the hacking allegation. The “influence” goes further than that, including fake news and other social media shenanigans.

    Fake News and Social Media Shenanigans

    Let’s say Russia did attempt to influence American voters to support Trump. The first question I have to ask is this: Aren’t all the big countries trying to influence elections in all the other countries, all the time? If Russia did try to influence an American election, wouldn’t that be business as usual? Do we imagine the United States is NOT trying to influence foreign elections through our own fake news and social media manipulations? I always assumed we do that sort of thing. I base that assumption on the following observation about human beings:

    If the payoff for bad behavior is high, and the odds of getting caught and punished are low, bad behavior happens every time.

    That describes the situation with influencing foreign elections. The payoff is high (potentially) and one assumes the major intelligence agencies know how to avoid getting fingered. Whenever you have this sort of situation, you always have mischief. 

    But let’s get back to Russia’s presumed payoff for somehow destabilizing the United States. I think we need to check that assumption because Putin seems like a smart guy. It’s hard for me to believe he thinks he would come out ahead by destabilizing the world’s most important military and economic power. And that is doubly true when you are teaming with that country to fight ISIS, put a cap on North Korea, and keep the economy chugging along. It’s hard for me to imagine a scenario in 2017 in which Russia gains by poking America with a sharp stick. The probable outcome seems more bad than good. Who wants a pissed-off nuclear superpower looking in your direction? It doesn’t pass the sniff test. If Putin were an idiot, I could see him wanting to cause this sort of trouble just because he was dumb.

    Putin isn’t dumb.

    Global Democracy Hypothesis

    I’d like to introduce a new hypothesis to explain why Russia might have wanted to influence American elections: They believed a Hillary Clinton presidency would be a disaster to the world, including Russia.

    We’ve been brainwashed by the media and our own government to believe Russia always acts against our interests. I think it would be more accurate to assume Russia always acts in its own best interest, and that can sometimes be in conflict with our interests.

    But not always. 

    There is no rule that says Russia’s best interests have to diverge from America’s. For example, both countries want to defeat ISIS. Both countries prefer a non-nuclear North Korea. Both countries prefer robust trade. And so on.

    As a thought experiment, imagine the United States watching some other country’s election process while believing one of the main candidates would be a disaster for the world, including the United States. Would our intelligence services try to influence that election, even if it was a NATO country?

    Of course they would. At least I hope so. 

    But something much larger than government-on-government influence is happening, and I’d like to call that out in this post. We keep talking about physical border security, but what about influence security? Any country with widespread Internet access is susceptible to the same kind of fake news and other social media influence that we suspect Russia of doing. And every citizen can play this game. For example, if I were highly motivated to influence an election in Great Britain, I’m sure I could move a few thousand votes in any direction I chose. Could it be said in that case that America is trying to manipulate a foreign election? Yes, unambiguously so. And I believe it is totally legal, even if I use fake news as my persuasion.

    From 2017 onward, the democratic process in any country is open to “voting” by the entire world. The foreign “votes” will come in the form of social media influence on the local voters. There is no practical way to stop any of that from happening. And that means political power will migrate from the traditional triumvirate of politicians, rich people, and the media, to individual persuaders who are good at it. In 2017 and beyond, the best persuaders in the world will be influencing democratic elections in every country. And those persuaders will be from anywhere on the globe. Borders can’t stop persuasion.

    While you were watching the news coverage about physical borders between countries, and physical immigration, the democratic process in each country became global. We can (and do) influence politics across borders now, bigly. And fake news is part of the soup, unfortunately.

    Did Putin or other Russian nationals try to influence American elections? I assume so. I also assume America has done the same – in terms of influence on their local politics – to Russia, and to every one of our allies. 

    And if we aren’t doing that sort of thing, why the hell not? Voting is open across borders now. We would be wise to vote in those other countries. That’s what Russia did. Allegedly.

    You might enjoy reading my book because Russia. (See video review here)

    I’m also on…

    Twitter (includes Periscope): @scottadamssays​

    YouTube: At this link.

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    Facebook Official Page: fb.me/ScottAdamsOfficial

How a Systems-Thinking President Can Settle the Climate Science Debate

    This idea in today’s Wall Street Journal talks about creating a “Red Team” to dig into the climate science debate and come up with a conclusion for the public. I call that a good system.

    Systems are better than goals. A goal, in this case, might be to “Convince the public that climate change is a big problem.” That’s a clear goal, but what if it isn’t the best outcome? That’s where a system (such as forming a Red Team) comes in handy. The system will solve for credibility while informing the public of whatever comes out of the exercise.

    You can’t govern better than that. Period.

    We have, for the first time, a “Systems-thinking” president. You see it in everything President Trump does. His go-to system involves lots of A-B testing of ideas, lots of negotiating, strict attention to the psychology of the situation, and pushing forward in ways that increase the odds of success. For example, the first vote on healthcare looked like a failure to “goals-thinking” people. But President Trump referred to the process yesterday as a system in which the bill keeps “getting better and better” as time goes by. And he’s right. That is exactly what we see happening.

    You also see a Trump system in place to deal with North Korea. Instead of creating a goal, such as “Get rid of your nukes by Tuesday,” President Trump has created a system that links China’s future trade deals, and International standing, with their progress in solving for North Korea. That’s a good system.

    You can tell that President Trump is a systems-thinker by looking at what I call his Talent Stack. He amassed an impressive set of complementary skills over his lifetime that would make him successful at almost anything he did, from hosting reality TV shows, to running for president. Notice that he is a good public speaker with a strong understanding of persuasion, politics, business strategy, and more. Add all of that to his sense of humor, his energy, his ability to endure brutal criticism, and his natural intelligence, and you have super-powerful person who can succeed in a lot of different ways.

    For more on systems being better than goals, see my book on that topic.

    Facebook Official Page: fb.me/ScottAdamsOfficial

    I’m also on…

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The North Korea Reframe

    Prior U.S. presidents framed the North Korean nuclear program as a problem between the United States and North Korea, with China as an unhelpful third party with its own interests. That framing was weak and useless. North Korea did whatever it wanted to do.

    President Trump recently changed the frame. Now it’s not so much a problem between the United States and North Korea as it is a branding battle between China and the U.S., with North Korea being the less-important part of the equation. President Trump has said clearly and repeatedly that if China doesn’t fix the problem in its own backyard, the USA will step in to do what China couldn’t get done.

    See the power in that framing? China doesn’t want a weak “brand.” 

    With the new framing, we already see China talking tougher about North Korea. They stopped buying North Korean coal, which is something they said they would do before Inauguration Day. But by then, Trump had already reframed the situation the way I described. And he was weeks from being Commander-in-Chief when he did it.

    The only thing lacking in Trump’s reframing was a credible threat that he would launch a decapitation strike against North Korea. That problem was solved over chocolate cake at Mar Lago when the visiting President of China, Xi, observed Trump give the order to send 59 Tomahawk missiles into a sovereign country that had pissed him off just a few days earlier.

    Then Trump ordered an “armada” of American warships to the vicinity of North Korea just to remind Xi that we have options.

    Trump also suggested that our trade negotiations with China will go a lot better if North Korea is no longer a problem. Trump didn’t go so far as to suggest adding a “North Korea tax” to Chinese imports, to pay for our military presence in South Korea, but I like to think it is an option.

    This is the sort of thing I was hoping to see when the Master Persuader took office. His reframing on North Korea is pitch-perfect. We’ve never seen anything like this.

    Some of you will be tempted to argue that nothing has really changed. But I think the face-to-face meeting between Xi and Trump, and the movement of North Korea to a branding competition between superpowers is a big, big deal. It would be hard, if not politically impossible, for Xi to go easy on North Korea from this point on.

    In related news…

    This has been a good week for President Trump. So far, we have seen:

    1. Sean Spicer (accidentally?) caused the opposition media to argue that Hitler analogies are ridiculous. 

    2. The Syrian attack established Trump as a measured and decisive leader. His popularity will rise. Even many of his critics supported the attack.

    3. Trump solved for the “puppet of Putin” allegation by attacking its client state, Syria.

    4. Trump’s Supreme Court nominee succeeded, albeit the hard way.

    5. The healthcare issue is moving forward after the initial trial-balloon that was more of a negotiating step than a real proposal.

    6. Tax reform is now on hold for healthcare reform, but no one thinks that is a bad way to go. The savings on healthcare are part of any budget and tax plan.

    7. Relations with China look good. Trump and Xi had good chemistry.

    8. China is putting the pressure on North Korea like never before.

    9. The economy is good, and optimism is high, in part thanks to Trump. (Mostly the optimism part.)

    10. Iran is probably a bit more flexible this week after watching the Syrian attack.

    11. News coverage had already mostly evolved from “Trump is Hitler”  to “Trump is incompetent.” The Syrian attack and the North Korean situation moved Trump to “Effective, but some of us don’t like what he is doing” I wasn’t expecting that to happen before the end of the year.

    You can tell me other presidents have had better starts. But I doubt that is the case. Keep in mind that Trump started in the deepest hole of any president, ever. He’s already halfway out of the hole and establishing himself as a strong leader on international issues.

    You might enjoy reading my book because reading books is something you enjoy.

    I’m also on…

    Twitter (includes Periscope): @scottadamssays​

    YouTube: At this link.

    Instagram: ScottAdams925