Saturday, May 12, 2007

From the Sublime to the Ridiculous... to the Just Plain Ugly... Part Four

Returning to finish our series. I started this part a couple of weeks ago. The article mentioned here has already been discussed pretty widely. Still, I think you’ll find my take on it a bit unique.

EXAMPLE #4: A mind that is larger can still be deliberately ugly.

Want to read something infuriating? The court rationalizers have begun getting frantic. No longer able to defend recent power-grabs on the specifics, they are now reaching out for general philosophical justifications for Bushite consolidations of power. Moves that would have driven them into a fury, had Bill Clinton done the same - or far milder - things.

And now, they are even conjuring up John Locke - founder of the Western Political Enlightenment - by tossing carefully twisted slices of his work into a stewpot, along with Machiavelli, Aristotle and Plato, trying to use democracy’s greatest philosopher to justify their inherent and deeply cynical distrust of democracy:

By all means, do have a look at: The Case for the Strong Executive: Under some circumstances, the rule of law must yield to the need for energy. BY HARVEY C. MANSFIELD (Harvard) Reprinted in the Wall Street Journal Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Go ahead and give him a chance, before coming back to my reply.

Gosh, no wonder Rupert Murdoch wants to buy the WSJ. Let me get swiftly to my overall reaction to this pile of erudite drivel.

First: I must amend my earlier missive - “Invite Them Back” - which appraised the way that leftists helped to forge today’s rabid neocons by driving many of them off campus, into intellectual whoredom for the owners of the Heritage Foundation and other aristocratic-private “academies.” Clearly, Mansfield proves that not all of the neocon monsters were driven off-campus, after all. Some stayed put, protected by tenure and by a thick enough skin to withstand sniping jabs from the PC Police.

Second: Cutting through all the convoluted horse-hocky, Mansfield has one tendentious goal, to justify the elevation, above systems of routine legal accountability, a central authority figure who stands above and beyond the rule of law. Mansfield even says this, explicitly, on several occasions!

What fascinates me is pondering why he would even try to make such an argument, so flagrantly in opposition to the fundamentals of the American social contract. Mansfield’s pile of rationalizations, so convoluted and inane, will not convince a majority of Americans - even those who never heard of Locke - let alone the scholars to whom his words are superficially addressed. Evidently, Mansfield’s arguments are not meant to convince a majority, or his peers.

Rather, they appear aimed to achieve a more modest but crucially pragmatic aim - to help stanch the hemorrhage of neoconservatism patronage by educated people in every walk of American life. His aim is not to convince many, but to offer just enough ostrich conservatives a little temporary mantric cover. Propping up some crucial Reagan Republicans, helping them rationalize, so that they may to continue supporting the insupportable for a while longer.

Mansfield does this by nursing a current of patrician fear-of-the-masses, exactly as happened in 1932 Germany, when members of the old Junkers aristocracy talked themselves into backing another “strong executive.”


Oh, Mansfield makes some good micro-points, for example describing how the American Founders wanted an executive capable of applying “energy” to the enforcement of laws - a chief of state and government who is able to take urgent action, when matters are dire and time is short.

(See below, where I discuss the distinction between “emergency room operations” and “elective procedures... an almost perfect metaphor for when the commander-in-chief override power should - or should not - be applied.)

Yes, there are some valid points. But that is Mansfield’s job, as an eloquent shill, to mix five parts reasonable with three parts questionable and one part stark-jibbering-lying-insane. After all, a spoonful of sugary validity helps the cyanide go down.

You can’t believe a Harvard Professor would spew such things? Actually dissing the very notion of the rule of law? I must be exaggerating? Let me offer you a snippet passage:

”Now the rule of law has two defects, each of which suggests the need for one-man rule. The first is that law is always imperfect by being universal, thus an average solution even in the best case, that is inferior to the living intelligence of a wise man on the spot, who can judge particular circumstances. This defect is discussed by Aristotle in the well-known passage in his "Politics" where he considers "whether it is more advantageous to be ruled by the best man or the best laws."

“The other defect is that the law does not know how to make itself obeyed. Law assumes obedience, and as such seems oblivious to resistance to the law by the "governed," as if it were enough to require criminals to turn themselves in. No, the law must be "enforced," as we say. There must be police, and the rulers over the police must use energy (Alexander Hamilton's term) in addition to reason. It is a delusion to believe that governments can have energy without ever resorting to the use of force.

“The best source of energy turns out to be the same as the best source of reason--one man. One man, or, to use Machiavelli's expression, uno solo, will be the greatest source of energy if he regards it as necessary to maintaining his own rule. Such a person will have the greatest incentive to be watchful, and to be both cruel and merciful in correct contrast and proportion. We are talking about Machiavelli's prince, the man whom in apparently unguarded moments he called a tyrant.”


Where does one even begin, trying to answer stuff like this? By pointing out that Machiavelli was the neoconservative turncoat of his day? A once-event warrior for Florentine democracy, who only turned to flattering aristocrats and tyrants when it seemed that his beloved cause was lost? And - well - a guy’s got to earn a living?

Or reminding Mansfield what he well-knows, that the rule of law was established precisely because one-man rule has - historically - nearly always been an open invitation to outright disaster?

Or by asking him how is argument will stand up, when the towering authority figure up-high is someone from a faction he doesn’t like so much? One who doesn’t flatter him, or invite him to the right parties, or make policies that he cares for?

But I get ahead of myself. Russ Daggatt offers a clearcut rebuttal.

According to Bush, Congress doesn't have the power to condition its war funding on a directive to redeploy troops from Iraq. This is just a continuation of his practice of appending signing statements to legislation making it clear that he reserves the right to ignore any laws he doesn't like. Lately, many Administration apologists have been yapping that Congress has no business involving itself in matters like oversight or Foreign Policy at all!

In fact, and as a reminder, Article I of the US Constitution makes it pretty clear that Congress is the branch of government that sets war policy. Among the powers of Congress:

To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

To provide and maintain a Navy;

To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

And if that is not clear enough, it also gives Congress the power,

To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.


Thanks, Russ. Only I feel the best refutation to Mansfield’s screed is to reiterate the key point. One that cuts past every bit of theoretics and returns to the fundamental pragmatism that underlies our Great Experiment in reciprocal accountability as a way of life.

“Again. How will you neocon shills feel, when your words of support for unaccountable presidential prerogative are hurled back in your face by some imperial prexy who you don’t like?

“Are you really such unimaginative boors that you cannot picture your worst nightmare -- some scarecrow caricature of Bill Clinton, perhaps -- saying “gee, thanks for all the nifty rationalizations” and then using it all against you?

“Or do you already have it worked out so that (you think) the pendulum swings of American politics will stop here, with your team on top? Forever?”

That last point... they really think this?

... is the one that should keep us sleepless and worrying at night.

(Return to Part 1 of this series.)


Tony Fisk said...

Mansfield says:
Now the rule of law has two defects... The first is that law is always imperfect by being universal...The other defect is that the law does not know how to make itself obeyed."

I would have thought that the most effective way of making the law obeyed *is* to make its application universal. It's called 'fairness'.

Two wrongs making a right! How about that?

He is missing the point (as someone of his mindset would): law stems from the common will, not some philosopher king. A bad law is not obeyed and is eventually repealed, not because the law has no means of enforcing it, but because it is not widely supported (a previously zero tolerance of sexual deviancy in ~10% of the animal kingdom being a case in point)

I love the way these philosopher fellows can justify their position by jumping from one point to another via an interlinking and unsubstantiated 'therefore'. (Come to think of it, the law's quite big on substantiation, too)

HawkerHurricane said...

When I first read Prof. Mansfield's article, I was reminded of MacDonough's Song by Rudyard Kipling. Now, Kipling was also something of a imperialist apologist, but not the way the NeoConMen are. Kipling spoke from the point of view of the common enlisted soldier, the men who bled and died to make the Empire strong.
But this isn't about Kipling, just the words I found appropriate:

"Whosoever for any cause
Seekith to take or give
Power above and beyond the Laws
Suffer it not to live!
Holy State or Holy King
Or Holy People's Will
Have no truck with the senseless thing
Order up the guns and KILL!
Saying - After - Me

Once there was The People
Terror gave it birth
Once there was The People
And they made a Hell of Earth!
Earth arose and crushed them
(Listen, oh you slain)
Once there was The People
Never let it be again!"

(Now, I'm going by memory, and this is just the ending. I'm sure you can find the whole thing online)

This is the problem that I pointed out in a earlier post: once you decide to give someone power 'above and beyond the law', how do you take it away from him when it turns out he's unworthy? How do you make sure his successor is worthy of the same power? It is far easier (and cheaper) to change a bad law than it is to pry a despot out of power.

Don Quijote said...

“Or do you already have it worked out so that (you think) the pendulum swings of American politics will stop here, with your team on top? Forever?”
That last point... they really think this?

Probably not, but they are pretty confident that they can co opt the opposition. From what I can tell, they are probably right.

Powell's Chief of Staff Proposes Impeachment
On Thursday, May 10, 2007, Lawrence Wilkerson, speaking on National Public Radio, proposed impeaching President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Here's the audio.

A day late (more like a thousand) and a dollar short (more like a trillion).

CJ-in-Weld said...

Sometimes I have to scale things back to the familiar to grasp what a person is really saying. So, considering this passage:

Now the rule of law has two defects, each of which suggests the need for one-man rule. The first is that law is always imperfect by being universal, thus an average solution even in the best case, that is inferior to the living intelligence of a wise man on the spot, who can judge particular circumstances. This defect is discussed by Aristotle in the well-known passage in his "Politics" where he considers "whether it is more advantageous to be ruled by the best man or the best laws.

I am a prosecuting attorney, and I work for an elected District Attorney, and it truly is his constitutional function (and by appointment, my function) to use that "living intelligence of a wise man on the spot, who can judge particular circumstances." (At least we hope for wisdom....) And responding briefly to Mansfield (depending on exactly what he means – I'm not trying to pick a fight), strict universal application of the law would be ruinous. Laws really are too many, too complex and too broad, such that we actually do need a human agency to apply them fairly. The District Attorney is that person, the Executive, if you will, in the criminal arena.

BUT...his power is mainly limited to a fraction of all governmental functions. The voters get to toss him out every four years. The County Commissioners set his budget every year. He is bound by the same rules of professional conduct as any attorney, plus a few extras thrown in just for prosecutors, and can be disbarred. Many of his decisions in individual cases must be approved by a judge. There are alternate avenues (though admittedly rarely used ones) to bring criminal cases where the elected District Attorney declines. The District Attorney can be recalled, if he acts up too much.

So, where Aristotle asks: "whether it is more advantageous to be ruled by the best man or the best laws," the answer is "C" - none of the above.

I'm not making a novel observation when I say that's how our whole system is set up, or supposed to be. I just find it a useful exercise to step back from the epic scale of the global stage, to see if that's really bullshit I smell up there.

David Brin said...

Thanks Don for the ref to Wilkerson's movement toward the light. Is Powell himself testing the waters?

CJ... your raise a strong point. Universal and coldly rigid application of the law does not always serve justice. That is why judges are given some leeway. It is why some laws - like basic torts - allow for redress simply on the basis of a person having been done some vague degree of "harm."

I speak of this elsewhere, when I suggest that civilization's gradual transformation - at least in the Enlightenment Experiment - has been to move from Locke's *implicit* social contract - in which ill-educated masses trust a well-educated king, until he lets them down...

...toward an *explicit* social contract - wherein each highly-educated citizen will be able to negotiate complex deals, not only with neighbors and communities but even with the Commonwealth as a whole.

It is Locke's ultimate, logical fruition and not too far off from the dream of both libertarians and true Marxists, when you get right down to it. (Weird.)

In any event, we seem to have a strong tradition of moderating law by "reasonableness." We all sign waivers and click software agreements without reading them, because we know that no judge will enforce any fine print that "a reasonable person would not expect to find there." Likewise, I concede Mansfield's point that laws must have some "give" that lets accountable human arbiters make exceptions.

NONE of which supports his core point, that the exceptions should be made, willy-nilly, by some towering figure who stands above accountability!

History shows that that prescription leads to overdose and death.

BJ said...

CJ - You're not wrong in smelling BS up there. Even an introductory course in Law or a simple look at the history of English Common Law shows that they've continually found ways to reintroduce human judgment into the process when the weight of codes and precedents became too strict to be fairly applied in all cases.

The other point I noticed in the original article was regarding Locke’s supposed argument for a strong executive.

Thus Locke combined the extraconstitutional with the constitutional in a contradiction; besides saying that the legislature is "the supreme power" of the commonwealth, he speaks of "the supreme executive power."

Admittedly, I’ve never read Locke, but under Westminster-style parliamentary systems, that isn’t really a contradiction. The Executive, the Prime Minister and his Cabinet, are part of the Legislative Branch, all Members of Parliament, not a separate branch entirely as under the US system.

Of course, its not really surprising he would leave out that little fact while trying to shoehorn that argument into a different governmental system.

David Brin said...

Dropping back two postings, to: just_08.html#comments

TwinBeam, when you say we should stop rehashing the war, you miss the point.

The original 2003 invasion is totally relevant and under-examined. Because Neocons keep pointing to it. It is their Example Number One, when they respond to plaints that the Bush team is universally incompetent.

They react by crying "at least the invasion went well!"

But it did not go well. And it is vital to face that fact. It is important that the Tale of the Third Infantry Division be told.

Because there are NO examples of Bushite competence at governing America. Not one.

The chief issue of the moment is NOT:
“How do we get out of this mess?”

That question is a lame attempt by Bushites to put the onus on their opponents, demanding a lame-brained, one-sentence answer.

No the real issue is:

”Given a twenty year history of massive incompetence, dogmatic insanity, total corruption and outright treason, why should you Bushites be in this conversation AT ALL?

“The first step toward fixing this mess is to remove your hands from the tiller of a great nation. Stop you from abusing the professionals. Let them work and let decent men and women start finding a way out of this pit of horrors.”

Rob Perkins said...

My initial impression of Mansfield was that he was blathering on about theory. I studied the same issues in an American Heritage class my first semester in college, lo these many years ago. Every college student should. Heck, every *high school* student should!

I don't agree, though, that the whole essay, taken with the (dry, academic, theoretical, sterile) stance in which I read it, says what you say it says. I certainly wouldn't give an inch if a Bushite were to claim that it was support for their stuff either.

About the farthest I'd go is to claim that the true things he's said are not helpful to a best outcome. Which is David's point, combined with some venom.

A bit of CITOKATE, if you will: David's case against Mansfield would make more sense to me if the "pile of rationalizations, so convoluted and inane," were identified a bit better.

And perhaps my doggerel here is an example of what David thinks the real goal of printing the essay was.

In any case, it might be worth pointing out David's counterexample, that tort judges are arbiters of "energy" which correct the defects in rule of law.

And that social conservatives absolutely hate the application of that energy, when it serves to set back their ideals, such as the MA Supremes and gay marriage, Roe v. Wade, the 9th Circuit Appeals Court, etc. In such situations they cry "democracy! let the people vote!"

You don't even have to wait for a Democratic president or cite a turn-table scenario to topple the first-order misuse of the Mansfield essay.

Brother Doug said...

I gust got finished reading the book imperial life in the emerald city which directly contradicts when Mansfield says “I believe too that the difficulties of the war in Iraq arise from having wished to leave too much to the Iraqis, thus from a sense of inhibition rather than imperial ambition.” Phff! If you read just a few pages of that book and you will realize how wrong Mansfield is.

His general thesis is also contradicted by the recent book Beyond War where the author lists over 50 societies on every continent but Antarctica that do not engage in warfare. Somehow they managed to find the “energy” to form successful communities without a dictator or in most cases any form of government or police.

Also our founders created a figurehead presidency and as recounted in book by Chalmers Johnson. We in the last 100 years have turned into an imperial presidency. In Short Mansfield is living in a fantasy world. It’s about what I expect from the wall street journal. They don’t want to face up to reality. That’s why I encourage everyone to boycott United Sates Treasuries and put your money into municipal bonds. That will force the government to rethink its military strategy.

TwinBeam said...

You're far gone into politically motivated denial. The invasion of Iraq DID go well, and Bush had every reason to expect that the US's vast superiority could take a brute force approach and succeed.

Sure, the US could have cut a deal with Iran - use their troops as cannon fodder to save US lives. Except that would have meant letting Iran conquer Iraq.

No doubt Bush & company rejected the idea simply because it would have meant cooperating with Iran. But since you think it would have been a good idea, you might want to look at a map showing the distribution of Sunnis vs Shi'ites in the region. What would the resulting war by neighboring countries against Iran and the US have meant for the US? Win or lose, the results would have been quite ugly, especially with Bush in charge.

Frankly, if the US had needed to invade Iraq (which I have never believed) the approach taken was probably the best choice from among feasible alternatives.

There are two main paths before us: we convince or force Bush to do something better about Iraq; or we impeach Bush and then Nancy Pelosi needs to do something better about Iraq.

Either way, since Bush and the Neo-cons HAVE proven incapable of answering the question, it truly *is* up to the opposition to propose a more viable alternative. It's only of political benefit to the NeoCons to demand that of their opposition, if the opposition really doesn't have an answer.

So what about it - DO you have a better solution for Iraq, or are you perfectly happy with a Vietnam-style abandonment of the region to chaos?

Andrew said...

If anyone here teaches highschool English, government, or history (or scifi?), it might be a neat class project to tear the Mansfield essay apart.

Stefan Jones said...

The invasion of Iraq did not go well.

There was a clear military victory. Our troops performed brilliantly; they were well led.

But there weren't enough of them, and deliberate choice was made to minimize post-invasion planning. The chaos that accompanied and followed Saddam's military defeat directly led to today's bloody and unwinnable mess. We sent in enough forces to beat Saddam's ramshackle army, but not enough to prevent widespread lawlessness and looting, and to secure military stores. The lawlessness lost us hearts and minds; the looting allowed the insurgency to arm itself.

You can't seperate the two. You'd be an idiot and a fool to do so. An idiot and a fool like Rumsfeld, and Cheney, and the neoconservatives.

* * *

What's the solution? Damned if I know. I think we're well and truly fucked.

In such sitiations, one thing we can do is think ahead and make sure it doesn't happen again.

One way to do this is to make things as uncomfortable, excruciating, untenable and unrewarding as possible for the fools who got us into this situation.

The neoconservatives and G.O.P. strategists got us into this mess. The former for hubristic ideological reasons, the latter for political expediency.

And we're to blame as well, for falling all over again for the same jingoistic bullshit. A suitable punishment for us, for letting our leaders' hubris and blundering set the Middle East on fire, would be the unignorable reality of paying $6.00 for a gallon of gasoline.

Anonymous said...

"Vietnam-style abandonment of the region to chaos?"

Chaos? Is that really what you believe followed our pull-out from Vietnam?

What happened is that the killing ended, and the People were, in general, no more or less free than they had been under our Puppet Government.

They went from the hell of "strategic hamlets" to the hell of "re-education camps". Some better off, some worse off, but overall not much change in human suffering in the years following the fall of Saigon.

Right now, we are failing to stop ethnic cleansing in Iraq that borders on genocide. At minimum, over 100,000 civilians have been killed in the last four years and well over three million people have become refugees and IDPs.

It's chaos NOW.

David Brin said...

TwinBeam, who is in denial?

You say the words “the war did go well” as a mantra, proving that you do NOT know (as I do) anyone in the Third Infantry or the 101st.

All right. Those brave professionals saved the day, pulling victory out of a loony Bushite plan.

And your point is?

What is at issue is not whether our troops made it to Baghdad, but whether that should empower a bunch of clueless amateur meddlers to crow: “well at least the invasion went well! That means we’re not UNIVERSALLY incompetent!”

What happened during the invasion is the same thing that has happened all across America. Professional officers, intelligence agents, justice officials and civil servants have been laboring like mad - just like the men and women of the Fighting Third - to do their jobs despite all the fundie/youngrepublican fanatics who were appointed over their heads during the last six years.

It’s been a heroic effort that has fallen just short of true heroism. The professionals have been gluing and stitching the country together all this time... but more of them need to speak out.

As for Iran, I never claimed that a “Nixon-to-Tehran” was the perfect plan. It might have faults and might be unworkable. But the fact is that the frat boys never considered it, or anything even remotely like using jiu jitsu diplomacy to change the whole tenor of politics in the region.

DIg it, Katami was president of Iran and he ALL BUT INVITED BUSH TO COME! Since then, Condi has routinely rattled the saber every single time a peace offer floated from Iran. Now why would she do that?

I ask Bushite defenders. Has it done any good? Has ONE move toward Iran done a scintilla of good? Can you name one group that has WON more than the Ayatollahs, as a result of all our moves?

TwinBeam, I have several times given my “one sentence” answer for what to do in Iraq.” But my main point is that FIRST we must establish a basis for discussion. Monstrous pyromaniac sadists must first be taken away from control.
Then professionals must be given some slack.
And then the country - including reawakened “true” conservatives” - should start the conversation about new policies.

Stefan, I do want to hammer the point just a bit. The legend of the Third Division is even better hidden than the Saga of Flight UA 93 was, for a couple of years. It has to be told, We did NOT send enough troops. But we did send the best the world had ever seen.

THEY made it “enough.”

(Note, also, that the WAY I put it... by voicing pride in the professionals... I am showing how the dems could couch it in ways that secure their flanks against "cut and run" yammers about patriotism. They MUST wake up to this important change in emphasis!)

Anonymous I have to urge you to not swing too far. The people of South Vietnam were not "just as free" after Saigon fell. Talk to some emigres. Freedom did collapse and there was really nasty shit for a decade. Communism is sick.

But there was not the “bloodbath” we were told to expect. That, too, is important to note.

Look, I will take the strange middle ground, yet again (winning no friends from any faction.) We were right to say to the people of Indochina, as it swung toward Communism, “you shouldn’t do that! It’s a mistake!”. There is a level at which our intentions were “good.”

The mistake was theirs to make, if they wanted!

Certainly, we were in a dangerous game of Containment against an evil empire and deadly-awful meme and that meant drawing some lines in the sand and fighting where we must.

But Vietnam was the wrong place and time.

Anyway, you don’t win great ideological struggles by getting sucked into a brutal and debilitating, nation-dividing, budget-ruining, alliance destroying, military-wrecking and STUPID land war of attrition in Asia.

daveawayfromhome said...

"But in time of war the greater danger may be to the majority from a minority"...

While Mansfield is apparently thinking about those pre-judged "terrorists" held without trial or even the necessity of proof (or perhaps, of rights-mongering liberals held so), I find myself thinking about a certain 28% or so of the population that still supports the President. Certainly the Bush Administration no longer qualifies as "a greater friend than enemy to liberty".
I would agree that " societies should [not] be judged solely by what they do in quiet times; they should also be judged by the efficacy, and the honorableness, of what they do in war in order to return to peace." However, unlike the average Authoritarian Neocon (who admits to no mistakes), that's because I can actually see the mistakes and crimes of this administration and the radical elements of the Republican Party, and hope that they will be so judged.

As for the short answer to how to solve the train-wreck in Iraq, who says there is an answer. It's a huge and very complicated mess, and just because a bunch of pin-heads who insist on seeing everything in black-and-white insist on an easy answer (that they themselves are unable to provide a functional example of) doesnt mean there is one.

TheRadicalModerate said...

I won't support the Mansfield article completely. However, let's perform a couple of not-particularly-novel gedanken experiments:

1) The US gets extremely-high-confidence intelligence that a hostile state is preparing a missile strike on the US. There is a one hour window in which to launch a preemptive strike to eliminate the threat. Does the President have the responsibility to commit the needed hostile act without Congress declaring war?

2) The US gets extremely-high-confidence intelligence that US citizens are to be supplied a nuclear weapon, which they intend to plant and detonate in a city. Intelligence has uncovered the name of exactly one mid-level member of the conspiracy, who is unlikely to know the details of the whole operation. Does the President have the responsibility to issue a finding to permit wire tapping of everybody with whom this person comes in contact? Without what a court would consider probable cause, does the President have the responsibility to hold this person, ignoring habeus corpus orders?

If you're willing to answer "yes" to any of the above questions, then, as G.B. Shaw might say, “We’ve already established what you are, madam; all we are doing now is negotiating a price.” The President clearly should be granted some extra-legal powers. The question--as always--is one of degree. Questioning the author's motives hardly seems like a reasonable way of discussing what that degree should be.

Is it absolutely necessary to engage in these silly all-or-nothing arguments? When I read the Mansfield piece, I found it closely reasoned but I also thought his argument went too far. But, once again, David, you're resorting to an ad hominem attack (seems like you could brush up on the defnition of this term) by questioning his motives, rather than taking the time to argue the substance:

Yes, there are some valid points. But that is Mansfield’s job, as an eloquent shill, to mix five parts reasonable with three parts questionable and one part stark-jibbering-lying-insane. After all, a spoonful of sugary validity helps the cyanide go down.

Sure, such an arguement is more entertaining than a boring old dissection of the issue. But it's unserious. One of the really nice things about this forum is that the participants are willing to take the time to be serious about serious issues. Seems to me you have a responsibility to them to provide something a little less glib.

TwinBeam said...

War never looks good from close up. But the real test of success in war is whether you accomplish your military objectives at the expected cost or better. The drive for Baghdad was accomplished, and at much lower cost than many experts - including retired generals - believed it would.

If you can't see that, you are the one locked into a mantric repetition of "The invasion cannot have gone well, because Bush ordered it". You want to believe that everything Bush has touched has to have come out badly, as further evidence against him. Things in the real world aren't that clear cut.

If NeoCons point to the successful invasion as proof that they aren't incompetent, it's a trivially invalid claim - their role in the invasion's success lay solely in making the error of ordering it. The success was entirely due to the competence of the allied military and relative incompetence of Iraq's military.

As to your one sentence solution - correct me if I've missed something - but all I've seen from you on that point is a claim that the NeoCons want a one-sentence solution, and your non-answer that you shouldn't be expected to have an answer, and that once Bush is replaced, "your" side will certainly come up with a new and improved plan. In short, you don't have a plan (whether one sentence or longer), just faith that someone else must be able to do better than Bush, once he's replaced.

But Democrats are not waiting for the next election, or even for Bush to be impeached - they're trying to cut off funding for Iraq. If they are serious (rather than simply engaging in political maneuvering), their "plan" is to simply abandon Iraq, without thought for the consequences. If there was ever a time to propose and consider alternative solutions, it's now.

Rather than dodge the "What would you do?" question, I've posted my proposal. To put it in the one sentence you say the Neo's want: "If you want to leave, but know an abrupt departure would be wrong, start moving toward the door."

In essence, Bush's "surge" in Baghdad is (typically) getting it backward. We should not be surging into Baghdad, but surging out and turning it over to the Iraqi government, while providing them all the support we can - but from outside of Baghdad.

I may be wrong - maybe that has no chance of working. Well considered criticism is welcome. Refusal to consider the question or proposed answers, just because some NeoCons have asked it, is silly. I'm no Neo, and I'm asking it and trying to answer it, because I want a solution.

And I don't much care whether Bush "fixes" Iraq and gets the credit, or if the Democrats force a good solution on him. I do figure Bush is too dumb to try anything better than more brute force - so what's the Democrats' excuse?

Don Quijote said...

Tougher sell for recruiters: Dad
The percentage of fathers who would support military service for their kids dropped from 77 percent in 2003 to 59 percent by last August, according to defense officials.

It would help if the Elites sent their children into the maelstrom, but they haven't. If it's not important enough for them to risk their children, it's obviously not that important.

As for the number of Soldiers sent to Iraq, it's irrelevant. No matter how many soldiers we would have sent we would still be Christian Crusaders invading a Muslim country to steal their oil.

When they poured across the border
I was cautioned to surrender,
this I could not do;
I took my gun and vanished.

I have changed my name so often,
I've lost my wife and children
but I have many friends,
and some of them are with me.

An old woman gave us shelter,
kept us hidden in the garret,
then the soldiers came;
she died without a whisper.

There were three of us this morning
I'm the only one this evening
but I must go on;
the frontiers are my prison.

Oh, the wind, the wind is blowing,
through the graves the wind is blowing,
freedom soon will come;
then we'll come from the shadows.

Les Allemands e'taient chez moi,
ils me dirent, "Signe toi,"
mais je n'ai pas peur;
j'ai repris mon arme.

J'ai change' cent fois de nom,
j'ai perdu femme et enfants
mais j'ai tant d'amis;
j'ai la France entie`re.

Un vieil homme dans un grenier
pour la nuit nous a cache',
les Allemands l'ont pris;
il est mort sans surprise. [The Germans were at my home
They said, "Sign yourself,"
But I am not afraid
I have retaken my weapon.

I have changed names a hundred times
I have lost wife and children
But I have so many friends
I have all of France

An old man, in an attic
Hid us for the night
The Germans captured him
He died without surprise.]

Oh, the wind, the wind is blowing,
through the graves the wind is blowing,
freedom soon will come;
then we'll come from the shadows.

TheRadicalModerate said...


I have to disagree with you. The test of success or failure in war is whether the political objectives are achieved, not the military objectives.

The true tragedy of Iraq is that the military objectives were oriented around a quick, surgical decapitation of the Iraqi government, while the political objectives were oriented around building a stable, democratic, friendly state on the Persian Gulf. The organizational pathology that led to this disconnect will no doubt be debated by historians for years. Hopefully the final consensus will not contain the words "evil" or "fratboys" in it.

Finally, the problem with all one-line "strategies" for fixing Iraq is that they all depend on the article of faith that they'll just magically work and we'll be able to walk away pretty soon. The only strategy that's going to work in this clusterfuck is one of trial-and-error, and will take years. If you think that the chance of salvaging something advantageous to the West out of this nightmare still exists, or even if you think the consequences of failure are too awful to be borne, then we're stuck. If, on the other hand, you think the consequences of leaving are not so bad, then we should by all means disengage as quickly as possible.

But don't kid yourself that any of the proposed bandaids is going to work without profound resolve and patience.

TwinBeam said...


Yes, I would agree that overall success in war means achieving your political aims. However, the context I was addressing was the invasion itself, not the overall war in Iraq.

I agree that if we are to have any chance of "success" in Iraq it'll require an evolving strategy - that is sort of implicit in my "edge toward the door" recommendation. I.e. it's the first step, not the whole solution.

While I'd much rather we'd never entered Iraq, now that we've done it, I do fear that the consequences of an abrupt withdrawal would be truly bad. Perhaps I could be convinced otherwise - but no one seems willing to even question what those consequences would be.

To me, blindly withdrawing would be almost as bad as blindly charging in.

Nate said...

RM: The President may "need" to have some extra-legal powers, but here's the thing. In either of those situations, the President can go and do whatever, just like any person can break the law if they feel it's needed or justified. But then, after that, the President should have to face the consequences and justify his/her actions. Just like anybody else. That's the point of civil disobedience. It's nothing without being willing to take the consequences.

Lenny Zimmermann said...


Dr. Brin HAS talked about an exit strategy before, he's just assumed you'd bothered to actually read the site to see that he had already done so... several times.

As just one example. So I can understand that he might get a bit annoyed when you (and others who have done so before, like TheRadicalModerate) keep asking him to repeat himself when his answer is all over this blog for everyone who would bother to do the slightest bit of searching to see.

Brother Doug said...

Radical moderate is way off when he says that our political objectives were to create a friendly democratic stable state. The 94 billion dollars of annual profit that the oil companies stood to make was the political objective. They were publicly salivating over this tripling of their profits even before 9/11.

You want a solution that will quell the violence? Here is one. Ask the Iranians Saudis and Syrians for help then get Indonesia and Pakistan to send peacekeepers. They have more young men of military age than the entire nation of Iraq. And don’t even try to argue that they will not come; they want stability there more than we do. But to do so would mean that we lose any hope of denationalizing the Middle East oil industry.

TwinBeam said...

Lenny -

I did search, and found several instances where David's response was a refusal to answer - as I noted in my post, along with a request for correction if I had missed some other response.

The answer you point to is hardly "all over this blog" - in fact it didn't come up in the top 10 of the several searchs I executed, while the non-response I found did come up.

I don't demand that David post links to everything he says he's said - but equally, he should not be "annoyed" if I fail to find the specific item he had in mind when he makes a vague reference.

RandomSequence said...

People don't understand Mansfield because they don't understand his Liberalism. There are two sides to liberalism - those who in fact believe in popular sovereignty, and those who believe in it as propaganda. From the beginning we've had both strands in our society. If you look at the organization of the Continental Army, with elected officers and limited term contracts, you can see that there was a radical democracy at work among those "Founding Fathers".

Unfortunately, few of those "Founding Fathers" are found in our history books. Almost immediately a backlash began, culminating in the US Constitution. Anyone who can't see in the Federalist papers blatant anti-democracy under the cover of the republic is willfully blind. Federalist #10: "Is a law proposed concerning private debts? It is a question to which the creditors are parties on one side and the debtors on the other. Justice ought to hold the balance between them. Yet the parties are, and must be, themselves the judges; and the most numerous party, or, in other words, the most powerful faction must be expected to prevail." In other words, the few rich must be protected against the many poor. Democracy, but only so far as it doesn't threaten special interests. A "guided democracy".

So where is Mansfield? He's a Hamiltonian liberal -- he's a Machiavelli scholar, if you want to see his orientation. He believes in Hamilton's America, and since the 60's (even the 30's), that America has been deeply threatened by unionization, civil rights and women's rights. There has been a threat of real democracy, and all guns have been pulled out to stop it. That's where Mansfield is. That's where Reagan and Bush come from. That's your Scalia and Thomas.

Do you think there's any common ground? Do you see a positive sum problem here? How can there be? It's not about wealth per se, but about sharing the hand on the tiller of state. It's about preserving inequality itself. Just look at the growth in our Gini coefficient since the fight back began in earnest in the 70s, when our common enemy started disappearing.

It's class warfare. The rest is just rationalization and excuses. Philosophers are very good at the latter.

David Brin said...

RM, I do not have to brush up on “ad hominem”. I know that I laced several openly AH remarks in my attack upon a clearcut intellectual shill and paid rationalizer for creeping tyranny. There are conservatives... and even some neocons... with whom I can argue in an atmosphere of respectful contention -- as I can with “lefties” who are decent people.

Sometimes it is possible, however, to see an enemy, right off. I call this fellow names - right off - because he wants to empower his masters to make me a slave. His wish could only be more explicit if he were to honestly come out and say it. In which case I’d respect him MORE.

Alas, in your response, you are doing the same thing in the administration’s playbook. Reframing the argument in order to pretend that the opponent (me) holds a simpleminded and radical position. Your “what would you do if” scenario is silly. Plain silly.

I have repeatedly offered a metaphor that distinguishes between EMERGENCY ROOM actions and foreign policy matters that can be pursued as ELECTIVE SURGERY. These metaphors put it all in perspective.

Clearly, - even if he did not have the power in 1787 - today’s President needs power to act swiftly and urgently - using an expanded “commander in chief” clause, whenever the situation is a genuine emergency. Though there should still be time limits, oversight procedures, and a fierce requirement for a clear paper trail for later accountability.

In any event, Bush invoked “commander in chief” to plunge us into war on the “emergency room” excuse. THAT WAS THE ENTIRE JUSTIFICATION FOR THIS WAR.

And it was bullshit. Even then. Even if the WMD blather had NOT been outright lies.

Dig it. Even if Saddam was developing WMDs, the intelligence community made clear he had delivery systems, nor any immediate plans to use them. There was still plenty of time to remove Saddam on an “outpatient” basis.

Still. WMDs and terror links might be called Emergency Room justifications. Enough for even Hillary Clinton to sign on the resolution. Enough to justify calling up the reserves, reducing our general readiness and ripping thousands of parents away from their jobs and kids. Maybe enough to bypass some contracting rules.

Only... those urgent justifications evaporated! They were outright, deliberate and heinously contrived lies. Realizing this, Colin Powell, in shame and horror, slunk away as soon as he could. And then the truth came out, so...

So, the old switcheroo!

”The whole purpose of our war in Iraq is to do nation building. It is a utopian, idealistic adventure in planting seeds of democracy where they have never grown before, in rocky soil, in a land blind with rage and bitter vendettas, but we can do it and transform the world!”

Speaking as someone who DOES believe in (well-planned) utopian exercises in nation building, I can tell you that choosing Iraq for such an exercise is simply, stark-raving insane. Also incompetent and an excuse to steal a trillion dollars through crony, no-bid contracts. And it is destroying us.


The point is that this utopian-switcheroo justification is - by its very nature NOT AN EMERGENCY!

It is, by its very nature, an example of ELECTIVE SURGERY!

Let me repeat that. “Nation-building” is not an urgent, emergency measure, calling for invocation of the “commander in chief” clause. As a planned and deliberate (if loopy) exercise in assertive foreign policy, it should be subject to scrutiny, to politics, to analysis and normal rules of law.

And thus be supervised by Congress, in all of the ways laid out by the Constitution.

ABove all, elective surgery should only be done with forces that are available above and beyond our readiness needs! Elective surgery should not involve our reserves, in any way. (In my opinion, this is Bush’s biggest impeachable offense.)

An elective endeavor to construct a new Iraq should also be subject to normal ant-corruption inspection and accountancy rules. Our forces should not be ground down, the officer corps harassed, a nation divided, alliances ruined, budget trashed, in order to pursue a utopian fantasy.

Utopian fantasies should be pursued with discretionary extra income, not our grandchildren savings and by stripping down our nation’s defenses.

David Brin said...

I must swing the other way now and disagree with Brother Doug. Friend, you must wean yourself of the Michael Moore lefty explanations for this mess. They don’t work any better than the “incompetent dogmatist fratboys” explanation. Neither of them explain the facts. If the oil had been our goal, we would have got ourselves some!

What we did accomplish is to STOP Iraqi oil production and use up heaps of gas, ourselves, thus driving up world prices. Um. Seems to me that is KINDA related to Michael Moore... but more relevantly paranoid, leading the mind down fresh paths...

Random, Mansfield is arguing for UNACCOUNTABLE executive power-of-whim. That is very different than, say, establishing six year terms in the Senate in order to ride out hot fluxes of brief public passion.

I have already made clear that I can support a strong executive, who has some even-stronger emergency powers... so long as his emergency actions are subject to light and accountability. Accountability that THIS executive bends heaven and Earth to avoid and that Mansfield makes excuses for dispensing-with.

David Brin said...

Aw hell.

Here's one of the places where you can find my "one-sentence" suggestion re Iraq is at:

But I reiterate. Demanding "What would you do?" is the latest Bushite tactic bowwoed straight from Fox News, meant to distract from the REAL issue.

1) We must recognize that the Bush clan has never made even one sane decision that actually assisted the USA. They should have no credibility and should have their hands gently removed from the tiller of state.

2) The professionals in the civil service and intelligence agencies and officer corps should have Bushite boots removed from their necks. That, alone, would automatically improve our chances.

3) Empowering the Dems opens up the POSSIBILITY of good deliberations toward sensible solutions. ANd a certainty that at least contract rules will be enforced, the theft drop in half, some allies return and a diversity of views be heard.

Stefan Jones said...


James Cascio reviews John Robb's book Brave New War.

TheRadicalModerate said...


I agree with about 90% of what you wrote in your response to me. So why are we taking diametrically opposite views of Mansfield's op-ed?

I'm willing to take his words at more-or-less face value. Some of the ideas are useful; others overreach. I hardly think he's a "shill." And even if he is, I feel confident that anybody who actually waded through his screed is willing to form their own opinion.

Meanwhile, you're not arguing against the ideas--you're arguing against whom or what you suppose the author to be. (Actually, your resident anti-federalist, RandomSequence, seems to have done a much better job of identifying the who and the what than you have.)

Polarization occurs when disputation devolves into name-calling. Call me a sucker: Incompetence is rampant, but I think there's a lot more good will out there than you're willing to admit. But you'll never know, because you're not conducting the argument in good faith. It's unlikely to provoke a rational response.

Finally, in re. emergency vs. elective surgery: Who decides which is which? You clearly agree with me that some extra-constitutional presidential power is needed for emergencies. Seems to me that leaves the President in charge of defining what's an emergency and what isn't--doesn't it? So, you trust that the elected President isn't a nincompoop, and occaisionally you get screwed. Meanwhile, Congress still gets to a say in funding the nincompoopery, and the courts get a say in the legality of the nincompoopery. Seems like an imperfect but workable system to me.

David Brin said...

RM, any decent man, who claims "this time I get to scream at an evil shit" -- ought to listen humbly when friends tell him to stop.

I am, after all, not trying for Harlan Ellison here, or Bruce Sterling. Large minds who nevertheless make a high art out of Jeremiads. A trait that is somewhat compensated forby the fact that they are so often RIGHT. As I feel I am right about Mansfield.

Nevertheless, my whole life philosophy is that a screech is less valuable than science or citokate. Fine. I will reconsider.

But you miss my point on another matter. I do not offer any president ANY "extra-constitutional" authority. At all.

What I grant is the powers to act in an emergency. That power MUST be accompanied by checks and balances! Those can take two forms.

1) Witness. Record keeping and the right of Congress and other parties to stand nearby, watching, taking notes, insisting that he deputize high-placed aides who will collate criticism for him, even in the heat of crisis.

2) Later accountability. An assurance that lies and other questionable actions (e.g. emergency, no-bid contracts) be judged in the cold light of a leter day.

3) protection for those who bail.

Note, much of this would be inherent in my proposal for a high tribune, the Inspector General of the United States.

TheRadicalModerate said...


Fair enough. As things stand today, I'd say that emergency authority is extra-constitutional, and the statutory framework for it is pretty flimsy as well. I have no problems with either constitutional or statutory clarifications and agree that transparency is paramount, subject to strategic and operational security provisions. (Although I will assert that there will never be another successful amendment to the constitution. Ever.)


1)Constitutional Congressional oversight needs merely to be enforced to fulfill your "witness" requirement. I agree that it's not working very well currently, although I'd apportion blame equally between the Executive and the Legislature for this.

2) "Later accountability" appears to be working just fine. Earlier accountability would have been great in this one particular case, but there's a balancing act to be performed: It's essential to put enough lag in the system that a policy can actually be executed before the screeching starts. (NB: This implies that the executive has fairly broad emergency powers, i.e., that neither Congress nor the courts be able to interfere during the early stages of an emergency. Yes, this requires that the body politic is forced to trust its president. And yes, it means that serious mistakes can be committed. I don't see any solution for this, short of a hive mind.)

3) For those who bail, what protection do you require? Freedom from prosecution? From government harrassment? From all consequences? Anonymity? Why are whistle-blower statutes inadequate?

RandomSequence said...

Random, Mansfield is arguing for UNACCOUNTABLE executive power-of-whim. That is very different than, say, establishing six year terms in the Senate in order to ride out hot fluxes of brief public passion.

Not at all. The machinery was intended to create the illusion of democratic accountability without it being functional. I don't think you really believe Hamilton's propaganda about his goals, do you? "Public passion" is just rhetoric - it's not a real objective political analysis.

Just like the House of Lords functioned for centuries to keep the House of Commons in line while preserving the facade of universal suffrage, our system of checks and balances is so overwrought that one must assume that Hamilton and Madison knew what they were doing - which was attempting to pull one over on the vets of the American Revolution.

The problem is that end-runs have been made on their system. Earlier examples are the Civil War and the end of state sovereignty. The latest begin in the 30s and culminated in labor unions, women's rights and the civil rights movement.

Mansfield simply understands that the checks against popular participation have failed, and we have to go one step further than before. Read his material online: The manliness of Theodore Roosevelt. He, and some other neo-cons and particular the Straussians, see themselves as defenders of the liberal order, not as attackers. But in their minds, the liberal order is a more gentle way to manipulate the population, a safer way. That is not far removed from an old tradition in American politics going back to the constitutional convention.

Remember, Hamilton was accused of being a monarchist in the 1790's. Some of it may have been propaganda, but we also must trust that people of the time had a better view of the man before his elevation to founding father sainthood. Remember, the constitution was barely passed in most states, at a time where suffrage was already severely limited, due to exactly these fears; and that too was at a time before the constitution had been elevated to sacred text.

As long as we are caught in fantasies about our nature, as long as we hold up our system as sacred rather than practical, we're playing into these folks hands. It's impossible to think rationally about the sacred - that's what it means to be sacred.

RandomSequence said...


We do have a system for accountability following use of emergency powers: impeachment. Unfortunately, that clause has been construed much too narrowly. Once impeachment proceedings begin, whistle-blowers come out of the wood-work, since if they feel they are correct and the big guy is going down, they will be much more likely to stick their neck out a bit.

But impeachment is almost never instituted, even though a political trial after emergency powers are used is exactly appropriate, in the same way that individuals breaking a law for a higher value must defend himself in front of his peers. Two reasons: 1) the two party system makes the results almost always pre-determined, and 2) no one wants to make the "partisan" and political nature of these decisions apparent. We all prefer to exist in a delusion on the nature of our system, particularly those at the top whose power exists predominantly on not getting the populace involved in politics. Impeachment would of course excite those terrible, terrible "public passions", aka public participation in the political process.

Mike Huben said...

Characterizing John Locke as "democracy’s greatest philosopher" is just plain wrong. In his Second Treatise of Government, he only mentions democracy briefly as a possible form of a commonwealth.

Madison would be a much stronger contender for that title.

Pick a different title for Locke.

Brother Doug said...

“David Brin said...
I must swing the other way now and disagree with Brother Doug. …
If the oil had been our goal, we would have got ourselves some!”

Well Brin as much as I respect you I do have to set the record clear about that. What American was after was not the oil but the profits from the oil. If you offer the American oil companies the chance to triple their profits, they will take that gamble! There is no denying that Bush and Cheney are former oil company executives, and that they knew this to be the case. Also my sources are not liberals but former republicans like Chalmers Johnson and Kevin Philips who desperately want to have their republic back.
I get all this information from the books Nemesis and American Theocracy.

The “we did not get any oil” mantra is a deliberate attempt to hide the fact that the profits from the oil is what matters not who actually owns the oil.

Also the nationalized oil companies are a direct threat to our economic system especially since they like Sadam are starting to price some oil with euros’ instead of dollars. I can give more examples of this if you wish, but I think we all know that the US did not invade for purely humanitarian motives.

Or look at your example of Somalia you posted some months ago. Since we last discussed that issue I found new information. Did you know that before we became involved there under Bush Senior American oil companies had four separate options to drill along Somalia’s coast? It also explains why we still do not recognize the functional and non-fundamentalist but sadly inland state of Somali-land. Think about it. It makes perfect sense, but it requires that we acknowledge that our government operates out of selfish motives at most of the time. Some people are not willing to admit that for fear that they might weaken their country or be considered disloyal. But the time for such timidity is past. If we fail to do something about this now we may end up like Russia under Vladimir Putin, officially a republic, but in reality a one party dictatorship.

Brother Doug

Woozle said...

Re how well the invasion went: Dr.B's point, as I understand it (and with which I agree as such), is that it was idiotically planned, but went reasonably well -- if only because the military managed to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

The Neofeudals must not be allowed to claim any credit for it, because the credit is so very not theirs. The "credit" for the subsequent chaos, however, rests squarely in the laps of the willfully ignorant.


I have a concrete answer to the question "what would you do?". It's long, but boils down to a simple idea.

I would study the situation. I would ask the military leaders if they had any ideas. I would use whatever humanpower was available to go out into the field and find out what was going on both on "our side" and among the natives, what the problems are, what the patterns are.

I would read every Iraq-based blog I could find, and blogs based in the general area which might have something to say about the Iraq situation, and blogs by anyone who is in regular contact with anyone in Iraq.

I would ask the generals and the soldiers and a wide sampling of Iraqi people: "What will happen if the US leaves? What do you think the US should do? If the US has to leave, what can we do to minimize the damage?"

I would collect all this information and post it online (with any classified material redacted) and put up forums for discussion, and have a group of people assigned to read the forum posts constantly and to note anything significant -- especially in the areas of (1) anything that supports the conclusions so far reached, (2) anything that contradicts existing conclusions or facts, and (3) any new ideas.

As likely courses of action began to be clear, I would feed those possibilities back to the field agents and get reactions to those particular possibilities. What are the flaws? Do any of them seem like clear winners? What might happen which could turn a workable solution into a disaster? Are there any tweaks we could apply which might turn a merely good idea into a brilliant one?

And finally, I would take a poll of all the most active contributors to the forums. I wouldn't necessarily do what they ended up voting for, but their opinions would weigh very heavily in my thinking.

The main thing, though, is to study and analyze the situation: get feedback, consider multiple possibilities, allow reality to affect your thinking. I would support any plan which started with that basic premise; the details depend on time and other resources.

I never get the impression that Bush has studied diddly, much less that he understands diddly. He just Decides -- and that's how we got here.


Re executive power in an emergency: yes, the President is granted enhanced powers during a crisis -- but congress has the deciding power of when we're in a crisis. This crisis was manufactured out of the same stuff as the Emperor's new clothes.

I'm suspicious of Mansfield -- not so much because of his main argument (which seems legit, maybe), but because of all the little side-arguments he bandies about. They seem almost engineered to be taken out of context and used to support arguments which Mansfield hints at but doesn't actually make -- in support of the Bush power-grab as a legitimate usage of presidential authority.


Also, I think RandomSequence is misinterpreting Federalist #10, though for understandable reasons.

RandomSequence said...


My interpretation is on the theme of the federalist papers. It comes up over and over again, Democracy Bad. That the great danger to the republic is a system that is responsive to the populace. That we must build a system that is so thoroughly factionalized, that only the elite are capable of manipulating the system - of course, the last statement is inferred by me.

All this is of course put into the most beautiful language. I don't doubt that the entire troupe were masterful politicians. But I find it hard to doubt that they were hard-core elitist who were terrified by the developing democracy in this country. The right-wingers are correct to say, "we are a republic, and not a democracy", or in other words, we're a managed democracy.

Just look at the structure: A House of Lords, sorry, I mean Senate. A president selected, I mean elected, by the electoral college with an expected swing into the House of Representatives. A super-super-majority for amendments. And of course an electorate in most states that did not include a majority of the population.

And you're trying to tell me that their intent was unclear? Almost all of the democratic changes to our country were made by extra-constitutional means.

It was a beautiful work, no doubt. They managed to simultaneously build a federal system impervious to "popular passions", while simultaneously undermining local sovereignty which directly threatened to bring on democracy. Once again, the theme runs throughout, about how the small nation is threatened by "popular passions", but with a large state the people are too factionalized to work coherently.

Unfortunately for their goal, such a frozen system has been found unworkable, and so we've basically trashed most of the constitution over the last two centuries, keeping just the titles and the bill of rights. And that last was over the objections of the original crafters! The most wonderful part of our constitution was an appendage, since otherwise the deal was just too blatant to pass.

I'm sure that Mansfield is a great fan of the Federalists, indeed.

Stefan Jones said...

If anyone feels the slightest inclination to feel sorry about Jerry Falwell checking out, read this sermon he wrote back in 1958:

"[I]f Chief Justice Warren and his associates had known God's word and had desired to do the Lord's will, I am quite confident that the 1954 decision would never have been made ... The facilities [for the races] should be separate. When God has drawn a line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line."

Also, Global Warming was cooked up by Satan to delude christians.


A real class-act man of god.

David Brin said...

I join in suggetsing that Random is exaggerating the anti-masses sentiment of Madison et al.

True, they worried about how far Americans had come, along the path that I have described as leading from Locke's IMPLICIT social contract toward the EXPLICIT contract that was the ideal of both Marx and libertarians.

Well? They had good reason to worry. Look what happened in France, just a few years later, But that worry and their focus on precautions never went so far as denying that core sovereignty lay with the Peaopls. If the people PERSIST in pursuing a policy path, nothing in the Federalist is designed to thwart the gradual accomplishment of that determined and patient will.

Proof? There is no Constitutional protection for an idealized right to property. Due process must be used in order to seize it. But that is just an insistence that everyone face the same rules at the same time. Nowhere does it say what those rules must be! Because they left it up to the soeveregns to decide that, in each generation.

To me, the issue is to keep moving along that path from implicit contracts (the only ones that unlettered peasants can engage in) toward the explicit contracts of vastly smart and knowing and computer-assisted uber-citizens. That goal is one that (strangely) sincere marxists and libertarians ought to share. If they would throw off their romantic comrades.


Stefan. Wow. What a piece of work, indeed.

I do not have a vengeful heart. (well, I am human and tempted, but I try.)

So, the one unpleasant sensation that I hope that $%@*$ is experiencing right now is one mutha-load of surprise.

Anonymous said...

"So, the one unpleasant sensation that I hope that $%@*$ is experiencing right now is one mutha-load of surprise."

Like what? Finding out that God is a Falasha?

Tony Fisk said...

If JF is burning in hell, it's clearly the fault of all them gays and libertarians...God's left America!

I thought this would be off-topic but, after the last comment, maybe not:

An article "...that demonstrates mobile phones' positive relationship to economic growth."

(Specifically, the fisheries of Southern India. Energise that, Mr. Mansfield!)

Rob Perkins said...

"So, the one unpleasant sensation that I hope that $%@*$ is experiencing right now is one mutha-load of surprise."

I've no doubt of it, myself. Of course, I think that's the destiny of every single person who dies, no matter the religion. Including me.

Rob Perkins said...

Democracy *is* bad. Pure democracy is a form of rule of will. What the framers were going for was a non-stupid framework for rule of law. Virtually all of the time.

At least, that's the impression I got, reading the Federalist.

David Brin said...

Tony, Stunning article on the impact of cell phones! Thanks!

Asa matter of fact, in a week I will be at a conference with some tome IT mavens, challenging them (“Architechs style”) to come up with “a better cell phone” conceptually, in just 48 hours.

Well? What ideas do YOU folks have for how cells could be improved? Ways that might enhance freedom, markets, accountability, fun, joy....

Rob, of course that’s true, if there’s an afterlife at all. The only possible reason for all the ambiguity has to be that surprise is part of the bargain. But face it, you and I are at least a little bit braced for some surprise. Viciously narrowminded dogmatists are not.

Rob, you are missing a key point. Democracy is one form of negotiating system for working out a social contract. It has positive aspects - wide participation and an open-eyed/informed electorate, capable of applying citokate.

And disadvantages - mood swings can provoke 51% to really hammer their 49% countrymen. Madison et al rightfully feared the flaws while wanting the benefits. But never did they deny that sore sovereignty lies with the People.

RandomSequence said...

If the people PERSIST in pursuing a policy path, nothing in the Federalist is designed to thwart the gradual accomplishment of that determined and patient will.

Are you serious? Social Security is clearly unconstitutional, it clearly has been supported by the popular will for over half a century, and yet nothing has been done to explicitly include it in the constitution. Why? Because it's so exceedingly difficult, that it's best just to make believe that it's constitutional. Not that I disagree - but that's the facts.

What I'm trying to point out is an anachronistic interpretation that we are prone to. The Constitution is a system intended to work on the basis of the consent of the governed. That is completely different from the late 20th century concept of democracy, where the population participates in governing.

The original system was exactly the enlightenment ideal - a system that did not depend on the elite using naked force (a sovereign and his aristocrats bedecked in swords) but one where the system allowed the elite to manage society indirectly. And a great advance it was!

What people want today, though, is not simply consent, a passive lack of resistance, but actual participation. That is what upsets Mansfield, and would have upset the Federalists - a government in fact by all the people, not an abstract "people", but one actually by Whites, Blacks, Indians, working class, middle-class and upper-class. And that seems like insanity to Mansfield - and it would have seemed like insanity to some, but not all, of the Constitutional Founding Fathers.

Stefan Jones said...

Cell phones:

Towers should have solar and wind charged battery backup system.

The system should be able to go peer to peer and decentralized in times of crisis.

There should be the equivalent of a emergency broadcast system . . . highly a localized one. And the messages shouldn't just be "run away!", they could be "come help" or "stand by the road at intersection X and photograph traffic."

(Fictional forebears: Sterling's "Maneki Neko" and Warren Ellis's "Global Frequency.")

There should be *commercial privacy protections* for cell phone users. No using phones to track passers-by so they can get telemarketing calls, or be ID by pricing software. Any such applications should be opt in at worst.

RandomSequence said...

And disadvantages - mood swings can provoke 51% to really hammer their 49% countrymen. Madison et al rightfully feared the flaws while wanting the benefits. But never did they deny that sore sovereignty lies with the People.

Give me an example. A real empirical example of that. I dare you!

That's all nice theoretically. But in the world of facts, you never have a block of 51% that agrees so strongly and acts in total disregard of the 49%. Such a block would be completely unstable, in the real world.

And those abstractions of "sovereignty" are just not terribly meaningful. Practically every state plays lip service to that, and it can mean anything from the Volk to the dictatorship of the proleteriat - no one post enlightenment doesn't use that those terms. The question is functional, not theoretical (or in other words, propagandistic).

steveo said...

@ TheRadicalModerate

In answer to your gedanken post, and something that has not been said, is that the President already had the ability to deal with both of these hypothetical situations within the scope of law.

For your scenario 1: Declaration of war is not necessary for dealing with a "clear and present danger" for a one-of event as you describe. The President orders a cruise-missile or JDAM attack or whatever. Been done many a time before and is a legitimate role of the Commander in Chief. No need to break the law, but hell to pay if you blow up innocent civilians. (As is proper.)

For your scenario 2: Using FISC, there has been an existing mechanism for very quick wire-tapping pre-approval and even after-the-fact approval and oversight. No Presidential finding needed - just a form by the FBI which is virtually never turned down. Leave the known associate in place and rapidly devote FBI resources to the investigation.

So in neither scenario are extra-legal powers needed to perform the necessary actions, and in fact the necessary infrastructure was there pre-9/11. The Administration is, IMHO, breaking the law for no good reason (e.g. warrantless wiretapping when they could have used FICA).

I am sure I could dream up a scenario where the President would have to break the law in order to do the right thing, however. In such case, the President should inform other political leaders what he has decided to do (giving his/her opponents what they need for impeachment if they feel the decision is wrong, gaining advocates from both sides if they feel the decision is correct), and once out of office would bravely march to court to plead his/her case. There should be consequences for making the decision to break the law, even with good intentions. Otherwise, one man or woman is above the law, and that path is one I do not want to follow.

steveo said...

Fingers typed "FICA" above, rather than "FISA." sigh.

TheRadicalModerate said...

Be careful about peer-to-peer transitions in mobile phones (hard to call them cell phones in this case, eh?). The big sticking point in P2P architectures is that they're huge power hogs. Sensor network nodes compensate for this by aggregating telemetry from multiple sources before forwarding it. That's hard to do with voice, or even realtime messaging.

Furthermore, you've got an interesting dilemma: If you drop your phone into P2P mode, you're at the mercy of others using your power to forward voice or data for their own (possibly non-emergency) purposes, which may have life-threatening consequences for you when your power's gone (because the electrical grid is down) and you have a genuine emergency.

TheRadicalModerate said...


I should have said "extra-constitutional" rather than "extra-legal" powers for #1. I understand this is settled law (mostly), but it's kinda one of those nudge-nudge-wink-wink kinds of settled law, don't you think?

As for FISA, it's fine if you are interested in the content of the calls--but you're usually not. I'm about 98% sure that what the NSA has been doing has a lot more to do with traffic analysis than it does with law-enforcement-style wiretapping. That means that if Bad Guy A in Waziristan calls Bad Guy B in Brooklyn, who then calls Bad Guy C and then immediately orders a pizza, and then the pizzeria calls you to confirm your address--you get wiretapped. That's clearly not covered by FISA, which can't scale to that kind of warrant load, even post-facto, and would have probable cause problems even if it could.

None of which changes my basic point: Shit happens, and large organizations are notoriously bad at dealing with events for which they have no SOP. Somebody has to make fast decisions. I agree completely that the Decider (sorry, couldn't resist) needs to be auditable and accountable. But he needs the power to act. This all works much better, of course, when the Decider isn't an idiot.

RandomSequence said...


LBJ may have been many things, but he wasn't an idiot. Yet somehow he managed to make the same parlay, extending an already screwed up situation into a public hoax and miring us into a situation where we lost 50k and killed 3M.

Strong presidential power, even in the hands of a genius, will have a high failure rate. Just like a politburo, directorate or Generalissimo. That very power to react quickly is the power to screw up, and no man or woman is smart enough to adequately integrate all the needed data. Sometimes they get lucky, sometimes they don't - and as the international system grows more complex, their failure rate is bound to go up, and their tendency to use this power for internal control as well.

Maybe we need some kind of futures market on policy?

steveo said...

It seems to me that the President is allowed to be the executive charged with the duty of, "punish[ing] Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations" that Congress is charged to define in Article I Section 8, particularly if it is not state-sponsored and so could be not be construed as a declaration of war. It has been formalized through the years, but I don't think the founders would have been surprised to know a President had ordered a JDAM attack on an imminent threat, just as they would have expected the President to charge the Navy in their time to attack stateless pirates readying the big guns to attack a US convoy in foreign waters. I think this was the intent from the beginning, really. I could be wrong - I am not a constitutional scholar.

I don't see that traffic analysis for a target of interest is outside the scope of FISA. It explicitly allows for "electronic surveillance" and pen registers (who they called), so I would still contend that they could use the existing infrastructure in your scenario. (If data mining all the calls in the US is really called for, then let a commission with oversight be set up to do that.) There is no reason to tap the pizzeria and expanding the tap to them would correctly be prohibited. On the other hand, if they find the target calls a person (maybe the pizza boy is a courier) and the FBI suspects that person in the plot, they can institute surveillance without a court order for a year, which would cover the immediate scenario you pose, stay within the law, and keep oversight.

The executive in a business, or of the US, needs to set an example by conforming to the law, and there is plenty there allowing a President to act to protect the US and US interests. I think there is a danger to our world-view of what the US stands for if the argument of a strong executive prevails. I think that it is our somewhat illusory vision of the US that makes us strive to continuously improve when we fall short of our vision.

I would propose leaving the law (and custom) as it is. If the President needs to break a law to do what is right, notify political leaders of the decision, then let the President plead the case (after their term of office) and take their lumps. It could be that they made the right decision and the charges are dropped. It could be that they made the right decision, but in order to preserve the rule of law and dissuade future presidents from cavalierly treating it as precedent, that the ex-President serves time, albeit in comfort and as a hero. It could be that they made a bad decision in breaking the law and they serve their time.

Responsibility and consequences.

RandomSequence said...

steve_o: I think that it is our somewhat illusory vision of the US that makes us strive to continuously improve when we fall short of our vision.

Well, that's a sure way to shut me up. I doff my cap!

Anonymous said...

Dr. Brin

You're absolutely right that Tyranny of any kind is evil, be it Fascist, Communist, Theocratic, or even without an actual ideology to use for cover.

However, the purges in Vietnam didn't start when we pulled out. The perpetrators and the victims changed hats, but the numbers on that particular front didn't alter much for a decade.

Ask Vietnamese Buhdist monk which was worse...they just look at you like a lost puppy. Both were horrible.

What did end was the arc-lighting of villages, the carpet bombing of Ho Chi Minh city. The Vietnamese death toll dropped dramatically, and there really was very little change in *lack* of freedom.

Instead of village elders being assasinated by CIA funded butchers for buying their peoples safety from the Viet COng with a few bags of rice, wealthy and middle-class French speaking Vietnamese and Hmung who fought for the US were driven out, on threat of death, or killed. It goes without saying (or ought to) that none of these folks *deserved* what they got.

No romance here. Bloody minded Oligarchs friendly to Western Interests on one side battled Bloody Minded Communists friendly to Eastern Interests on the other, and it's hard to find a situation in human history when a people had such perfectly comparable groups of absolutely brutal assholes to choose between.

Operation Pheonix, as you well know, is not tin-foil hat myth.

The political killings and the industrial scale creation of IDPs and refugees continued at a similar scale, but there is no denying that the numbers of civilians dropped when the bombs stopped dropping.

David Brin said...

Random Sequence and others, this round, seem to both weirdly understand... and completely fail to grok the point of several statements.

1. Social Security is a perfect example of where the peoples consensus will took manifest form in a new social compact. The Federalist delaying tactics worked as planned and SS took extra years coming into fruition as a Republican Senate and then a conservative court blocked FDR several times. That IS what Madison wanted to have happen, to test whether the popular will was also persistent.

But once it became persistent, Social Security flowed into law. And it is no travesty that it is not in the Constitution. It is in the social contract.

“What people want today, though, is not simply consent, a passive lack of resistance, but actual participation. That is what upsets Mansfield, and would have upset the Federalists -”

I agree with the former but not necessarily the latter. Please read again what I wrote about the natural progression of Locke’s Wager. From the implicit social contract of peasants to the explicit contract of autonomous super-citizens, in the libertarian/Marxist extreme.

What you describe above is the tension that is causing the neocon backlash. Citizens WILL want cybernetically-empowered movement toward Athenian levels of democracy. And oligarchies will hate it. So? just because Mansfield doesn’t get it, that doesn’t mean Madison didn’t. The process he created does NOT forbid it.

Random continued.

I said: And disadvantages - mood swings can provoke 51% to really hammer their 49% countrymen. Madison et al rightfully feared the flaws while wanting the benefits. But never did they deny that sore sovereignty lies with the People.

RS:Give me an example. A real empirical example of that. I dare you!

Actually there is a well-known curve of passion vs the required majority to get something passed in a functioning democracy. 51% are supposed to only be able to pass a law if the 49% objects to it very mildly or if they get something in a tradeoff. Clearly this has broken down, as Red State America smashes its fist again and again into the faces of their urban and/or ethnic and/or post-graduate educated Blue Brethren. So? It’snot easy making Locke’s Wager work, when zero-summers never understand it.

Good point re power hogging P2P... except that does not apply to text messaging, which is as natural to P2P as vicious nastiness was to Jerry Falwell.

“Strong presidential power, even in the hands of a genius, will have a high failure rate.”

Always, always my chief point.

Anonymous, I do not excuse us for Vietnam. It was the thing that almost brought us down. If you were an enemy, and suddenly controlled our top tier with a Manchurian President, and looked across our history for something to ask that puppet to do, that could bring us down. What example would you have him emulate?

Some sci fi scenarios explain events better than the less paranoid popular theories do.

Anonymous said...

Not sure if you realize this, but Mansfield's piece is not to be taken literally.

matthew said...

More on breaking the military silence on Iraq command decisions. This is a frank statement from the Major General in charge of Northen Iraq saying that he does not have enough troops to do the job.

Gen. Mixon's comments directly:,0,6940484.story?coll=la-home-center

Perhaps the most interesting part of the LA Times piece on Mixon is the speculation that Sec. Gates is encouraging his generals to speak freely to the press.

TheRadicalModerate said...


More on P2P transport.

Remember that these networks are characterized by extremely unstable paths (since every node is a really squirrelly router). This problem is exacerbated in a mobile phone P2P, because the nodes are, uh, mobile. (Sensor nodes don't tend to move much.)

Lots of router flaps means you need a very quickly converging route information protocol, which implies more routing updates, which means more packets. This is also a power hog. (Note how I blithely skipped over all the route information stability issues for P2P, which currently are very popular grist for PhDs all over the world.)

Another popular sensor net trick is to clone lots of packets and jam them down different paths simultaneously, hoping that at least one copy gets there. More packets=more power.

I agree that text is a lot more tractable than voice, but text is still a near-realtime medium, which means that message aggregation isn't very effective. Again, not fatal in and of itself, just (say it with me now) more packets.

Finally, in Wifi, receiving packets is actually more power-consumptive than sending them. (Don't ask me why--je ne parle pas RF.) Not sure if this is true for GSM.

RandomSequence said...

1. Social Security is a perfect example of where the peoples consensus will took manifest form in a new social compact. The Federalist delaying tactics worked as planned and SS took extra years coming into fruition as a Republican Senate and then a conservative court blocked FDR several times. That IS what Madison wanted to have happen, to test whether the popular will was also persistent.

But once it became persistent, Social Security flowed into law. And it is no travesty that it is not in the Constitution. It is in the social contract.

The problem is that it leaves it in contention long after it's become part of the social contract. There's good reasons to be explicit about these things, for the very reason that you yourself have pointed out. Weird that you don't see that follows from your progression from implicit to explicit social contracts. The hagiography is blinding I guess.

“What people want today, though, is not simply consent, a passive lack of resistance, but actual participation. That is what upsets Mansfield, and would have upset the Federalists -”

I agree with the former but not necessarily the latter. Please read again what I wrote about the natural progression of Locke’s Wager. From the implicit social contract of peasants to the explicit contract of autonomous super-citizens, in the libertarian/Marxist extreme.

What you describe above is the tension that is causing the neocon backlash. Citizens WILL want cybernetically-empowered movement toward Athenian levels of democracy. And oligarchies will hate it. So? just because Mansfield doesn’t get it, that doesn’t mean Madison didn’t. The process he created does NOT forbid it.

It's plainly anachronistic to imply that this was a foreseen continuation by Madison or Locke. In hindsight we may know this, but I see no evidence that men more than two centuries ago saw this, or had this as an interest. Maybe you could argue Jefferson - he was a particularly out of the box thinker (Would have written good sci-fi if the market had existed yet).

The fact that Madison et. al.'s system didn't forbid it is evidence of nothing more than that they didn't foresee it, and couldn't conceive of it. Do they have diary entries about the inevitable end of slavery? The development of women's rights? Even Jefferson foresaw the great day when we realized the grave error of slavery, and packed them all back to Africa including our literal brothers and sisters (his literal descendants). Even Lincoln agreed with that sentiment.

David said: And disadvantages - mood swings can provoke 51% to really hammer their 49% countrymen. Madison et al rightfully feared the flaws while wanting the benefits. But never did they deny that sore sovereignty lies with the People.

RS:Give me an example. A real empirical example of that. I dare you!

David: Actually there is a well-known curve of passion vs the required majority to get something passed in a functioning democracy. 51% are supposed to only be able to pass a law if the 49% objects to it very mildly or if they get something in a tradeoff. Clearly this has broken down, as Red State America smashes its fist again and again into the faces of their urban and/or ethnic and/or post-graduate educated Blue Brethren. So? It’snot easy making Locke’s Wager work, when zero-summers never understand it.

Your response is both in line with my point (the passion curve) and supportive about my point regarding the lack of democracy. It's not that 51% of the population is today dominating 49%. The numbers don't go that way at all. Even at his peak Bush didn't get a majority of eligible voters. In 2000, he didn't get a majority of voters, at all, and in 2004 he got a bare majority. And we all know that many, many people don't vote because they believe that the system is rigged or because they don't prefer either candidate. On top of that, polls show that a large proportion of Bush voters actually never understood his platform, from the environment to health care! They were actually voting for a virtual candidate, which our current system supports - instead of focusing on party and policies, we vote "individuals" or in other words personalities. That's not democracy - that's a trick!

And why should they vote? The fact that even when they get a strong majority, their will doesn't stick. Just watch FDR and his legacy go down the drain without a continual, extremely active super-majority! We almost lost social security - if Bush wasn't such a buffoon, he might have passed it over every bit of polling data that we have.

“Strong presidential power, even in the hands of a genius, will have a high failure rate."

Always, always my chief point.

But how can you then say you support a strong presidency? Is it just a sop to conservatives to show your bona fides, or are you serious? Our strong presidents have rarely made an unambiguously good choice, and even when they have they were teetering on making massively bad choices. Why do you think we've been continually at war for most of our Constitutional history? All strong presidency systems have a tendency toward aggression, internal and external; it's even worse in poorer nations. We now have over two centuries of evidence of this, and yet moderates continue to apologize for a system which only has tradition going for it and is actually accelerating in it's tendency to wage aggressive wars.

Someday later I'll delineate our "strong" presidents, and how little we've gained from most, but this post is already getting overlong.

ErnieG said...

David Brin and Random Sequence Where does the rule of law come into your social compacts / contracts?

Example number 1

Social Security which seems to have become a law with a bare majority (your tyranny of 51/49%).

Which was opposed by the supreme court as not being one of the powers delegated to the Congress in the Constitution.

Which had its challenges evaporate after the meaning of Constitution was twisted with a Political interpretation as opposed to an interpretation of the law in the Constitution.

I posit that every time we allow a political interpretation of law it creates the culture war that you talk about.

This is why there are litmus tests on SCOTUS nominees. We are not asking for their knowledge and experience we are asking how they will violate their oaths and decide an issue on a political basis.

I will allow that we may have gone too far, It may take your Athenian Democracy delivered over the internet , in effect one of Jefferson's revolutions.

What say yee?

RandomSequence said...


Well, let's see. In 1932, FDR won with 57% of the vote and all but six states. In 1936 he won with 61% of the vote and carried all but two states. On top of this, we know that at that period we have the entire South where a very large percentage of the population where disenfranchised and would have supported Social Security.

Between 1933 and 1939, the Democrats had 2/3s majority in both houses, or very close to it. Between 1933 and 1945, for FDR's entire set of terms, his party had a significant majority in both houses. He was elected four - 4 - times.

In 1935, Social Security was passed. In 1937, SCOTUS threatened to overturn it, and he bullied them into submission with the support of Congress. Ever since, Social Security has been the favorite program by the US government in every last poll taken.

You want to use that as your example of 51% to 49% bullying? Are you out of your cotton pickin' mind? That's exactly the example of 20% of the population bullying the other 80%, keeping it in limbo for generations, since the system is so, so tilted toward elite interests. That's something that by the sixties we should have fixed, except that the Constitution is functionally unamendable - most amendments have either been a hundred years late or at the end of a gun.

Really, ErnieG, pick a better example. What respect to rule-of-law should there be, when the law is unresponsive to 80% of the people? So what that it's unconstitutional, historically? The rule of law is the rule of tyranny if that's all it is. That's like arguing that the American Revolution shouldn't have happened because it didn't respect British rule of law. Or that slaves shouldn't rise up against their masters and should work "within the system".

David, there's your social compact. We're going to have forever this 29% that will do anything, use any means, to deny the social compact that the majority has accepted. And since it isn't explicitly worked out, they may eventually get lucky. You just can't assume that their leaders are always going to be fools like Bush and his cronies.

Rob Perkins said...

Rob, you are missing a key point. Democracy is one form of negotiating system for working out a social contract.

Pith always misses the point. (A lesson O'Reilly really ought to take to heart, I'm sure you'd agree.)

But be fair; I understand the nuance, having studied federalism at university. I just didn't have time for the eight-pager.

Plus, Madison et. al. said it much better than I could.

Rob Perkins said...

Re Cell Phones:

I know enough about Shannon's Law and Maxwell's equations to know the reasons why WiFi and maybe GSM are more power consumptive at reception, and I don't think it applies to an emergency-mode P2P mobile phone network.

The reason for the extra power has to do with link integrity. In emergency mode, we assume that link integrity is already weak, and simply use opportunistic stateless protocols to pass data along, dropping what is incomplete or corrupt. Sort of like bittorrent, only with much longer seeding intervals (jargon incorrect?) and maybe shorter timeouts.

If you consider a superdome full of cell phones, each of which can transmit one message from the phone and retransmit up to 1000 messages, you just get 'em all chirping at intervals with what messages they have, and storing the messages they receive in picture memory. Plenty of memory in those phones for text messages.

And so forth. It's not rocket science in theory...

ErnieG said...

RS I do not know if what you say is true.
But I will agree it may have been.

Therefore I may have picked a bad example.

Given That, if I stipulate that 80% were in favor, and only 2/3 of Congress or the State Legislatures are needed to propose an amendment or a convention.

Why wasn't an amendment proposed?

And Given that 75% of the states are needed to ratify.
Why was an amendment not added to the constitution?

It seems to me that reading the constitution as a contract and using the reasonable interpretation of a contract that there would have been a majority of people that saw there were constitutional issues with the law.

So my point is where do you draw the line in ignoring law?

Don Quijote said...

Turkish army chases PKK elements

Turkey has recently reinforced its army forces on the Turkish-Iraqi border to chase PKK activists, a report said here Thursday.
Military reinforcements, the largest of their kind in years, have been sent to the border, taking the total number of Turkish forces stationed at the border Sirnak area up to 50,000 soldiers armed with sophisticated weapons, tanks and aircraft, military sources were quoted by Thursday's Turkish Zaman newspaper as saying.
Meanwhile, it was reported that such potential attacks could be greenlit by the US especially following remarks by US Ambassador in Ankara Ross L. Wilson, voicing understanding of Turkey's concern over the PKK's moves in north Iraq, the website pointed out.

And there goes your Kurdish strategy, Dr Brin.

The road goes on and the party never ends...

Stefan Jones said...

Al Gore comes out swinging against The Assault on Reason:

"It is too easy—and too partisan—to simply place the blame on the policies of President George W. Bush. We are all responsible for the decisions our country makes. We have a Congress. We have an independent judiciary. We have checks and balances. We are a nation of laws. We have free speech. We have a free press. Have they all failed us? Why has America's public discourse become less focused and clear, less reasoned? Faith in the power of reason—the belief that free citizens can govern themselves wisely and fairly by resorting to logical debate on the basis of the best evidence available, instead of raw power—remains the central premise of American democracy. This premise is now under assault.

American democracy is now in danger—not from any one set of ideas, but from unprecedented changes in the environment within which ideas either live and spread, or wither and die. I do not mean the physical environment; I mean what is called the public sphere, or the marketplace of ideas."


Don Quijote said...

We have free speech. We have a free press. Have they all failed us?

We don't have a free press, haven't had one for quite a while, what we have is a mass media controlled by corporations shoving their corporate agenda down our throats.

Greed is good! Taxes are bad! Business Regulations are bad! Lawsuits are bad! Taxes on Rich People is even worse! War is good ( for our bottom line, suckers)! etc.. etc..

RandomSequence said...


The Constitution is not a contract. In a contract, I explicitly and freely agree to exchange one object of value for another. The Constitution is a written version of a social accord - completely different. It's like a law.

I never agreed to the constitution. I don't have very much freedom to reject it, as an individual. There's nothing simple or explicit that I give up or receive. Even at its inception, a super-majority of the population was never consulted. The Constitution is simply a written expression of the cultural rules we live by, in order to both avoid killing each other, and to maximize our cooperativeness. When the written form gets too far out of whack with the reality on the ground, it's the written form that must give way, preferably by an explicit democratic process.

Unfortunately, our "founding fathers" had a bit of disagreement about that - and some wanted to shut down the democratic process as much as was feasible, without eliminating the "consent of the governed" - which at that time only included the consent of relatively wealthy white males. The rest of us got the stick.

Why hasn't the Constitution been explicitly amended to empower Congress to enact laws like Social Security, even with super-majorities for more than 70 years? Well, as you said it takes 2/3s of Congress, which means majorities in 2/3s of the districts and states, which is generally a higher number than 2/3s of the people, since a large majority in one state is equal to a bare minority in another. Then you need a majority in 3/4s of the states - with the same problem. And of course, the entire representation system is generally tilted towards rural states, giving the most hide-bound groups outsized representation.

And of course, not all citizens are equal, so wealthier citizens have an outsized representation relative to their poorer countrymen in practice. On top of that, until the 60s, in some states more than a quarter of the population was disenfranchised. And many groups still have problems with registration or disenfranchisement (in Florida, a very large proportion of the Black male population is disenfranchised due to non-violent crimes).

Then you have the question of organization. The media in this, and most countries, is dominated by a relatively small group of owners, and of course their news is going to be consistent with their views. Until the development of the web, their were relatively few outlets for views that weren't filtered by establishment voices.

So what do you have in effect? That only amendments that are acceptable to, first, the entire establishment, and second, almost every enfranchised citizens can be passed. Now, I didn't agree to this system - even if 80% of the citizens haven't agreed to this system, their only options to change it are by extra-constitutional means, such as the judiciary or precedent (or the gun), which of course themselves don't directly correspond to a majority or super-majority.

All three of those methods have been used. The 13th-15th amendments were forced on the South at the end of the gun. Social Security was passed by bullying the judiciary. Environmental laws are effective by precedent in all branches; and so is a large, unified national military - read your constitution, our army is only supposed to be funded on a two year basis. A bit of sophistry with rolling appropriations, and that has long been functionally dead.

The things that have been passed were almost unopposed at the time, like the income tax, lowered voting age, or voting rights for women. At least no one in the elite opposed them - it was clear that the country would grind to a halt without them, and that it would cost them relatively little.

And now? Why should anyone bother to open up that can of worms for Social Security? It's so hard, why risk failure for a program that is almost universally accepted and beloved? It would be a foolish political play. Why even make people aware of the fact that almost our entire legal structure stands on tradition rather than Constitutional authority?

So I don't have a great deal of respect for a technical, legalistic, automated idea of the rule-of-law. When our system is changed to more explicitly and functionally equalize our political representation, and properly reflect all the people actively, and not just passively, I might be more receptive to such a view. But at the end of the day, we have to look at what people want on the ground, and not get too caught up on process. There's a reason why for two-hundred years (starting as far as I know with Jefferson), we've decided to ignore many constitutional stipulations and go instead by a more common-law approach, in practice. And the wisdom of two-hundred years trumps a bunch of old guys over a hot Philadelphia summer. And we the living trump the long dead, buried and decayed.

Tony Fisk said...

'[nations] whom the Gods would destroy, they would first give TV'

'[priests] whom the Gods would destroy, they would first give the internet'

Inevitably, the spinners adapt to the new media, and get to control content and presentation for their own ends. Murrow may have been able to stand up to and expose the monsters of the fifties. Today, he would have got the same short shrift as moveon. (how much of an audience do people like Olbermann have?)

Now, in the dawn.. or least early morning of the new media, we have good things like politicians realising they can access their audience via YouTube for a lot less time and effort than for a similar presentation on TV (hell, they might even have time to turn up at the senate to vote!)

Gore has identified a threat to the internet's independence (the agenda of ISPs), but we have also identified the counter: meshing. How the interaction of these two modes of communication evolve remains to be seen.

ErnieG said...

RS your premise or rationalization may seem a pragmatic solution, but The premise is a two edged sword.
The authoritarians and kleptocrats control the sharper edge. They use your rationalization when it suits them and use the Constitution against the people when they need it.

It leads to signing statements and smirking Attorney Generals. It leads to the Congress giving up all their responsibilities to the hired hand at 1600 Pennsylvania.

The Executive was never supposed to set policy it was only to implement it.

It leads to the government throwing roadblocks in the way of our right to petition for redress of grievences. See the "We the people" right to petition group.

RandomSequence said...


But of course it's a double-edged sword! The world is a complicated place. But it's the only sword we have. You can thank the "Founding Fathers" for that one.

Which was my initial point - that Mansfield isn't so far out of line from the original thinking of many of the founders - he's just trying to update their thinking in the spirit of that tradition. Of course it's regressive - it's like a French philosopher trying to re-create a workable justification for Robespierre-like government in the 21st century. But until we stop worshipping the founders and their works, we will be unable to tame the Mansfields of the world, because in a sense they are being true to the original spirit.

It's like trying to be a modern fundamentalist Christian, or a renovated Quranic Muslim - you will inevitably give birth to Falwell and Bin Laden. It's best to say that the originals were appropriate for their times, but we can do better. We're better educated, have more data, and are even better fed than their societies ever were.

You know that the Takfiri's justification is Islamic Originalism - it's exactly that by bending the Quran, the kleptocrats can take advantage, so they need to follow the original legalistically. The solution is of course to say - we can be inspired by the original, but we need to write our own fundamental law, in the spirit of our age, with all we've learned.

RandomSequence said...

Anonymous: Not sure if you realize this, but Mansfield's piece is not to be taken literally.

That's the feeling I got from watching him sell his book On Manliness on Steven Colbert. He's either a terrible salesman, or the whole thing is a big wink. At the end, Colbert attacks him for not living up to his standards, and says, "so this is all BS?", and Mansfield just makes a face of - "You got me."

But in the end, it's not so terribly relevant if he's a provocateur or not, since those arguments are taken seriously by too many powerful people and their lackeys. If he is, this response is exactly what he would be looking for, rather than an unmasking. Don't give the joke away! That's no fun!

Anonymous said...

RadicalModerate said:
Remember that these networks are characterized by extremely unstable paths (since every node is a really squirrelly router). This problem is exacerbated in a mobile phone P2P, because the nodes are, uh, mobile. (Sensor nodes don't tend to move much.)
See Sensor Sensibility for developments in this area.