Thursday, August 16, 2007

A strange scenario... Ostrich permanence... and start the open mike forum!

My webmaster, the wondrous Beverly Price, has posted a (semi) final version of the Ostrich Papers at http://www.davidbrin.com/ostrichpolitics.html. It may be long, but tell people it’s a handbook of sorts, for explaining to the perplexed.

I am opening up the Comments Section (below) as an open forum. I do not know if I will be able to check in for a while, so have fun, argue away about anything. I may find some way to say hi, from time to time.

Oh... one very brief thought that I may elaborate upon later. About a really amazing kind of jiu jitsu surprise that the Bushites could pull on us, as we crest toward an election year when the American people will supposedly repudiate all they ever stood for.

The standard paranoid scenario asks this. “Why are they pushing so hard for expanded presidential powers that HILLARY might then inherit? Do they know something we don’t?”

The worry is about some ace in the hole. Some October (or much sooner) surprise. Some reason to expect they’ll get to use the powers, not a democrat. The two top thriller plots are:

(1) another terror attack (oh, how convenient) or
(2) a presidential-ordered Air Force “pippity” bombing, run sent to “intimidate the Iranians (who sacrificed a million men fighting Saddam and would follow us home to Laredo.)

Yes, yes, it’s scary either way. These are maniacs, monsters and traitors, so nothing is beyond them. We must be wary... and help awaken the one group of people who could save us all... the professionals.

And yet...

And yet, I have long pondered a real historical tragedy... how Condi Rice could have raised herself from Buchanan levels of future contemptibility all the way to Kissinger levels of historical significance - and effectiveness. As I’ve said before, she could have done this early in the administration, simply by putting her boss on a plane to Tehran.

Just like Kissinger performing a spectacular loop-de-loop that smote the KGB in the face and reconfigured everything, by sending Nixon to China.

Oh, what a fantasy that was, when I offered this scenario at CIA in 2002! Like Nixon to China, the effect of a well-orchestrated Bush to Tehran endeavor would likely stun the world, rattle adversaries (both foreign and domestic) boost the administration’s popularity and dramatically re-jigger the entire geopolitical landscape. If done then, it would also have toppled Saddam with nary a shot (ponder how) and put our real enemies over there on warning. As for the Ayatollahs? Ha! A love offensive could not have hurt! And it might have really given the students and people (and expatriates) the oomph they needed to get freedom and recover the ancient Iran-American friendship.

Well, well. Maybe. Maybe not. But it would have cost almost nothing, zilch, to try.

Oh, but forget 2002, when my audience at CIA thought I was crazy for suggesting this. (Well, I am paid to be interesting and think out of the box, hm?)

No, try an update of the scenario, Look at this NOT as clever international realpolitik... but as a stunner that could rock all of our domestic politics at a shot. Shoving the apple cart at a time when the Bushites really need it. Taking advantage of the power of presidential newsmaking initiative. Only NOT by sending a few dozen bombers to provoke a war with Iran, as so many fear. Right target. But wrong weapons!

Dang. It would re-set everything. Force praise even from those now spitting venom. And give W a sudden shot at an Iraq solution while avoiding the ignominy of passing Buchanan on the “worst president” list!

Oh, it’s just a thought experiment. Half wish and half hoping they don’t. But at least I got it down here, on record. I am paid to find the odd scenario. This won’t happen, of course. Because it presupposes they have three neurons to rub together.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Are We Giving Birth to ...well... "Gaia"?

I want to refer you to the latest paper -"On the Promise of Noopolitik" - by two of the most brilliant social thinkers around, today, David Ronfedlt and John Arquilla, of the Rand Corporation. Unlike many utopian or extropian wish fantasies, they are talking about a simple extrapolation of today's positive trends, via what I have called the :"Age of Amateurs" toward a near era when leveraged individual and "smart mob" and coalescing critical skills will make our sum intelligence something truly and fantastically greater than the parts.

See how they relate all this to the ruminations in 1925 of Teilhard de Chardin, in The Phenomenon of Man. One might also have hearkened to J.D. Bernal's THE WORLD, THE FLESH AND THE DEVIL: An enquiry into the future of the Three Enemies of the Rational Soul, from the same period. (Available online).

A great paper. It is, of course, a topic that we can start talking about, over beers, one day after work... and wake up amid a sea of bottle, wondering what day it is, without even having touched half of the ramifications. Still let me touch on a few very lightly.

1) Of course, what they discuss is something that I described, pretty thoroughly, in the last dozen or so chapters of EARTH. Wherein I am VERY critical of the typical "Childhood's End" notion of how humanity might become part of some future macro intelligence. Whether it is clanking assimilation - as in the Borg - or floating above tatami mats while birds hover - as in Asimov's "Gaia" - or clone based telepathy a la Joe Haldeman - it is still almost always depicted as an either-or dichotomy... a surrender of individuality, in order to gain the benefits of mass intelligence..

In EARTH I portray this coalescence and elevation as something quite different. As a reification, a fulfillment, a celebration of human individuality,


2) This makes sense when you ponder that the noosphere will have to partake in the most successful aspects of its immediate predecessor... the Western Enlightenment.

Indeed, the very success of the Enlightenment is what has brought us to the verge of this new birth. And a very dangerous birthing process it will be. (Look back at the last time this was tried - prematurely, precociously, disastrously - in the great experiment of Pericles.)

Crucial to remember is that none of these possibilities - this condition that is p[regnant with a new kind of humanity - arose out of the mothodologies used by standard,or traditional, hierarchical societies. Priests, preaching rigid rules of good thinking. Nobles punishing any deviations from right-behavior. We reflexively turn to these twin methods, and have for countless millennia. Heck, George Lucas is still preaching them, today! But they have a PERFECT track record of never, ever working.

In stark contrast, the Enlightenment trick - invented by Locke and Smith - is to use rule-based arenas of FAIR COMPETITION (science, markets, courts, and democracy) to elicit the plus-side benefits of joyful creativity out of people, while preventing the brutally repressive, secretive, cheating side of human nature from spoiling competition. Locke and Smith, innovating out of instinct and a sense of pragmatic "fairness", could not have known that they were emulating the very same fecund synergies that we see in evolution, in nature! But the effect is exact and fantastically productive.

In complexity theory, experts call this sort of thing an "emergent property." What is COMPETITIVE at one level becomes visibly and powerfully COOPERATIVE, when viewed at the next higher level. Take healthy ecosystems, for example. "The circle of life." Ecosystems - like markets - will tend to stay balanced until someone gets a huge edge, enough to "cheat." In which case, watch out....are you listening, humanity? (Well, we're the smart ones, trying to TELL OURSELVES to stop cheating. Quite a demand, for folks recently out of the caves.)


3) Since Enlightenment systems rely utterly on RECIPROCAL ACCOUNTABILITY... and thus (viz Hayek) upon open information flows...this means that the Enlightenment - and its offspring the Noosphere -- are fundamentally in conflict with basic drives of human nature. Above all, two human traits: self-delusion and a longing for feudalism. (We inherit the latter because we all are descended from the harems of countless kings.)


4) Hence my key point. The transformation that John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt describe is obvious to society's smartest men and women. Those with vision can see it coming. But their reactions differ greatly.

Some respond to the approaching birth with excitement, by funding research to help it along. Elon Musk, for example. Others look with dread on the pain and potential dangers of the birthing process -- take Bill Joy. In this matter, Arthur Clarke may have had it right.

Finally, there are many, many amid the elites who desperately do not want this new era to happen! They realize that the noosphere is an inevitable outcome of the Enlightenment Experiment, if current trends of citizen uplift and citizen-empowerment continue. And even if the newborn is healthy, they see themselves as losers, because their privileged positions will no longer be assured. Better to reign over a grinding, insipid pyramid than to tumble into mere citizenship in a fecund, spectacular "emergent property."

There is a lot of momentum toward this birth. Thus, the opposition's counter-push cannot merely be obstructionist. It must be actively and radically reactionary. The clock must not simply be frozen. It must be wound backwards. To earlier modes of hierarchical control.

5) The Ronfeldt &Arquilla paper shows awareness of this resistance, but a certain naivete about exactly what's happening. It is not nationalism, per se, that is blocking progress toward a massively synergistic reification of worldwide human discourse. Indeed, some nation states - if left alone - have been friendly midwives to the process. The best example - after state-supported universities - was when the United States of America simply LET GO OF THE INTERNET and gave it to the world. Proof of midwifery. Period. (Today's Libertarianism is both right and horrifically simplistic.)


No, it is NOT nationalism, per se, that is driving the frantic resistance that we are currently witnessing vs. mass-human empowerment and reification. Rather, I see the Enlightenment nation state being hijacked at two levels:

(1) by those alienated against the future on emotional-romantic terms and

(2) by clades of very smart men who see their very last chance to re-institute traditional human social hierarchies, before it is too late.

Ponder, if this is the agenda, then elites in all parts of the world - purportedly divided by language, nationality, religion and official dogma - might see common cause against the thing that frightens them most. The birth of multi-layered, "metazoan" humanity. In that case, they might USE their apparent national and ideological differences to pit citizens against each other and raise fear levels. The surest way to prevent confident embrace of a new way of thinking.

Have I just made myself a target of this lurid-seeming cabal of super-smart but super troglodytic elites?

Fortunately, I have too little influence in this world to be considered a threat.

In fact, I keep waiting for them to offer me a buyout! But then, I may be too small even for that.

Wish me a good trip and keep using comments to keep the community alive.

Visit kos.

db

Finally, I may be putting this journal; on hiatus for a few weeks. If you see nothing from me till early September, never fear. I will leave the comments section, below, as a general forum. There is even a chance that I might ask Stefan to post a "comment-relayed-from-Brin"... from time to time! (He has one of the choicest email addresses ever.)

Also, please drop in at my final "Ostrich Papers"  Also posted on my website. Yes, it is vastly too long (4000 words!) for the scatterbrained...um... multiprocessing generation. Still, I felt that SOMEWHERE there needed to be a "guidebook" for ostrich hunters.

Happy hunting.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Does Being Right Ever Count For Much?

Dousing the overheated political lamp for a moment.... how about another item for those prediction registries?

Remember my Sun-ghosts from SUNDIVER?

Now glance at:
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20264620/

"The new computer simulations suggest that in the gravity-free environment of space, the plasma particles will bead together to form string-like filaments that then twist into corkscrew shapes. The helical strands resemble and are themselves electrically charged and attracted to one another. The computer-modeled plasma particles can also divide to form two copies of the original structure and even "evolve" into more stable structures that are better able to survive in the plasma. "These complex, self-organized plasma structures exhibit all the necessary properties to qualify them as candidates for inorganic living matter," said study team member V.N. Tsytovich of the Russian Academy of Science. "

Huh!

As I recall, there are two wikis to track my predictions (one by Tony Fisk)
http://www.necsi.org/community/wiki/index.php/ICCS06/David_Brin
and
http://earthbydavidbrin.pbwiki.com/

Plus - http://www.technovelgy.com/ tracks modern events/trends that were first mentioned in science fiction

DOes a track record like this actually gain one influence? Ah, human nature. It's amazing there was ever an Enlightenment, at all.

I recently went into one of the wikis to deposit a few of the hits I've collected, just over the last year. Only spent a few minutes, though. Any volunteer who wants to help keep these up to date... maybe cross referencing them... ;-)

The latest hit? The cover story of this month's (8 or 9 2007) Scientific American says that saccades (tiny eye movements) not only allow us to see, but quantify on what we are focused when looking at a scene. Is Citizen personality-testing (as in Sundiver) far behind?

And if so, will this be a tool for some elite to use, to oppress us forever? Or - if we share it - will this keep us from being dominated by monsters, ever again?

Stay tuned.

----

Oh, I am posting an updated Ostrich Paper tonight, on Kos. Please swarm it.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Request for Ostrich zingers...

Urgent request for your favorite hypocritical moments

For my Kos posting of the Ostrich Papers, I want to supplement with a list of favorite YouTube Hypocrisy Moments... short blips that you can force your ostrich to watch in short jolts.

One of you offered The Agonist by Sean Paul Kelly --  a real doozy!

NEEDED! Things I've seen but do not have handy...

Bush standing in front of the MISSION ACCOMPLISHED sign... and then later blaming the sailors for it when the White House had ordered it made.

Bush criticizing Clinton during the Balkans war about needing an exit strategy before committing our men to war.

Bush promising budget surpluses.

ANY neocon claiming that “we lost Vietnam because clueless amateur politicians meddled and bullied professional sodiers....

ANY online site that has all sorts of this kind of stuff.

Thanks guys.

See: The Ostrich Papers: What if Bill Clinton had...

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Ostrich Papers (v2.0)

(All right, most of you have heard all this before. Nevertheless, I have written it anew, trying to refine the message into something that will catch. Suggestions and links are welcome. Tell me if I am getting close to something that may get through... --db)

==========

THE OSTRICH PAPERS: How It Will Take ALL Decent Americans To Restore Decency To America


For some time, I’ve called upon moderate and liberal Americans to gather the fortitude and determination to fight for our nation’s survival where it matters most.

Not by attending rallies, or going door-to-door, or energizing the base, or hanging around like-minded people, or posting livid screeds, or even sending cash to your favorite candidate. Those are all fine things. But they miss the most important fact -- and opportunity -- about this crucial election cycle.

Today’s critical issue has nothing to do with the outdated so-called “left-right” political axis.

With the very survival of Constitutional government and the American Experiment at stake, we cannot afford to leave this to simpleminded partisanship.


Our opportunity - and obligation - is to rip open Karl Rove’s “big tent conservative coalition.” To pry it apart - one person at a time - by approaching millions of decent fellow citizens who were duped into supporting a criminal gang.
One person at a time.

What? Am I really suggesting we should reach out to... conservatives?

Well, yes... some of them.
Absolutely.
Indeed, this is the only possible way to win an overwhelming victory.
Not for liberals or Democrats or even moderates.
But for America.

Ponder this absolute lesson of history.
The surest way to achieve success - in war or peace or politics - is to break up your foe’s alliance.
To strip away his supporters.
In this case, by showing some of them that they’re more at home in our Big Tent.
At least this time around.

At least long enough to save America.

Yes, I know this will be hard.
It can feel so satisfying to demonize others with a single, strawman image.
(Don’t they do it to us?)
Alas, though, it is also self-indulgent and stupid.

Suppose we could succeed in shattering Rove’s coalition, would that not be worth applying a little nuance to our oversimplified stereotype of “conservatives?

The potential benefit? It would not only end the Bush era in a landslide. We might also permanently discredit the neoconservative “revolution” and help to end the bitter, artificial Culture War that was deliberately concocted to tear our country apart.

That final point is crucial.
For, if Culture War continues, even after a Democratic victory, then any Hillary Clinton presidency (for example) will be ashes in our mouths.
Sure, law and openness and respect for truth will return.
Great.
But we will also endure nothing less than a bitter resumption of the American Civil War.
Not her fault, you say? So?
We’ll still be consigned to four or eight years of living hell.

We don’t just need victory for one electoral side, kicking out a set of bums . We need a victory for the very concept of decency and openness and accountability.
And, for that to happen there must be a seismic change on the right.
The dream we should hold out to our neighbors is the restoration of a conservatism that is worth talking to.
A version no longer tied to jibbering loonies and an outright criminal gang.


If we reach out and steal “decent conservatives” from Rove’s Big Tent, we will not only weaken the monstrous, undead thing called neoconservatism, but we may even (to our own surprise) gain new friends.

Neighbors we can argue and negotiate with sensibly, like adults.

Indeed, possibly fellow citizens who (though conservative) may have a good idea or two.

* * *

So, you ask -
“HOW do I help break up the Rove big-tent conservative coalition?”

Here’s how.

1) Recognize that Rove’s “big tent” is filled with contradictions. With people holding their noses.
With constituencies who have never actually received anything tangible from the Bushites, for all their loyalty.
With (for example) libertarians who despise religious fanaticism, but put up with raving fundies, because they imagine that -“the GOP is better for free markets than the Democrats would be.” (Ha!)

We must exploit these contradictions, using blatant truth as a wedge to pry apart groups that shouldn’t be allies in the first place.


2) Go ahead and be proud that moderate-liberalism has been responsible for most of the great American accomplishments of the last 100 years. True enough.

Nevertheless, accept that there is a decent and honorable side to conservatism. The Goldwater version - minus today’s venality and bigotry - that always offered an important balance to the liberal urge to frantically meddle. If we appeal to this better side - describing how Goldwater himself despised the neocon movement - and showing how the Bushites betray even conservative standards, then you may be listened-to. Better than if you scream.

3) The key point. You can do your part, at the grass roots, by choosing one or two “Ostrich Republicans”... decent folks like your crewcut-wearing Uncle Jack, who has a good heart, but watches Fox News and wallows in the delusion that Democrats are ALL like that silly, postmodernist college professor that Bill O’Reilly railed at, last night on the boob tube. (Um... we’re not!)

Poor, deluded Uncle Jack, who actually believes that these thieving, lying, vicious, klepto-manipulative neocon loons are “conservatives” ... just like him.

* * *

”So, I’ve chosen my Ostrich. What do I say to him?”

I’ve spent years trying to refine this message.
Some attempts were too intellectual ... or steeped in history...
...or offered detailed comparisons of the Iraq and Balkans wars, (hint: Bill Clinton was vastly better at war than our current “leader.”)
Or exposing the weird - but indisputable - fact that Democrats guard our borders vastly better than republicans do, despite contradicting rhetoric.


If your ostrich likes that sort of fact-drenched discourse, you could dive deep into the roots of neoconservatism and see how this mad movement fits in the rogues gallery of enemies of freedom, right alongside communism.

Or, if you and your ostrich share a deliciously paranoid streak, you might ponder how deeply suborned the entire political process may have become, given basic flaws of human nature, and by bad men with unlimited resources.

Heck, explore together the comparison of two words... “whitewater” and “blackwater”... (try Google)... and ask him which turned out to be scarier.

Lately though, I’ve come to realize that what’s needed isn’t very complicated.
In fact, it’s simple.
Relentlessness!

If you do heed this call -- if you do pick a few decent-but-deluded Ostrich Americans to go after -- grab their lapels and do not let go!

Start with:

"let's agree this is important. As a patriotic citizen, you should be interested, because these accusations have little to do with normal, left right disputes.

“The issue is whether the country - and the conservative movement - have been hijacked by a criminal gang. If a fifth of these things are true, then you, as a conservative, should be angrier than anybody!

"Decent conservatives like you need to rescue your movement, before it becomes irretrievably associated with monsters."



Of course, once you've said that, you have to follow up.
So heed this fundamental approach:

Learn the art of seeing the world through "decent conservative eyes"... AND THEN ATTACK THE NEOCON MONSTERS IN CONSERVATIVE TERMS!
Use facts that are obvious.
Facts that scream.

* Like the fact that, in Bill Clinton's day, we did not have to lower our recruitment standards, forcing the Army to let in ex-felons... or offer $20,000 signing bonuses to bribe new "volunteers."

* Or the fact that only two (just two!) of our Army's brigades are currently fully trained, equipped and ready for actual war to defend this country! All the rest have been converted into counter insurgency urban swat teams. (One general said "Bill Clinton's U.S. Army could beat our present force with one hand tied behind its back.")

* If Bill Clinton was hiding so much, why did he cut government secrecy in half? If the Bushites are so responsible, why do they run from facts, from testifying, from oversight? Why have they multiplied government secrecy to levels ten times greater than when we were in a life death Cold War struggle against the Soviet KGB?

* In past wars, patriotic wealthy Americans stepped up, accepting the need to help pay for a struggle fought by other peoples’ sons. If we’re now “at war,” how come the top neocon billionaires have just two priorities - increasing their tax cuts and getting no-bid, crony contracts to NOT deliver what’s needed in Iraq?

Oh, the list of conservative reasons to hate the Bush Gang goes on and on. It's not hard to find zingers and statistics.
But keep it simple.
Go right to the heart of what your ostrich already knows.

Try this list of supposedly basic conservative values:

Respect for professionalism?

Fiscal prudence?

Respect for the military officer corps?

Emphasizing military readiness over foreign adventures in “nation building”?

Respect for science?

A belief in openness, transparency and accountability?

A distrust of secrecy?

Gentility and courtesy in argument and discourse?

A dedication to small business?

A belief in free markets where competition is fostered, and not catering to monopolies?

Government contracts that are open and granted to competent low bidders, instead of cronies of the king?

Saving for a rainy day?

Skillful management?

Caution in foreign entanglements?

Maintaining our reserves and respecting the men and women of the National Guard?

Respecting our allies and world opinion?

Protecting our strategic petroleum reserves?

Belief in a nation that is as clean in its habits as we are in our homes?

Practicing what we preach - especially in family values...

...and so on...

Exactly which of these conservative values has not been diametrically reversed by these neocon lunatic traitors?

Dare your ostrich to find one.
Find even one.

* * *


I could go on with this “Ostrich Manifesto”.
There are countless, countless zingers that can stick in the gut of your Uncle Jack... and maybe shake him awake.
For example, try this line.

“What would you have said if Bill Clinton had --”

And then fill in the blank with something any conservative ought to find repulsive, if they did not have their head buried in the sand.

Like “losing” several billion dollars in cash, by the side of an Iraqi road.

Or “losing” a quarter of a million weapons in Iraq without even keeping their serial numbers.

Or “losing” several billion dollars worth of Iraqi oil per month...
...which is vastly more than the right wing screamed about, during the so-called “Oil-For-Food” scandal.


Make a long list and demand -
What would you have said if this happened under Clinton?
If one thousandth of any of this had happened then?”


Hammer home that no administration has been more universally detested by our military officers, or by the middle ranking officers of the intelligence community, or by government scientists, or - indeed - by almost any professional person in the United States of America, than our present band of frat-boy know-nothings.

To reiterate: these are all zingers that argue with your ostrich in conservative terms!

Again, don’t even bother trying to remonstrate with him or her about pollution or torture or global warming or health care!
Their defenses against these issues are up, prepped by Fox News.
Those appeals will flow off their backs.

Where they are vulnerable -- where you can get through -- is by showing your ostrich that no decent conservative American should have anything to do with this gang of monstrous liars, morons and thieves...

...or the awful, awful pack of guys (with the exception of Ron Paul) who are parroting the same crazy stuff, all over the country, right now, while vying for leadership over a party that has simply gone quite, jibbering mad.

* CONCLUSION *

Want to know the real tragedy?
It really is the Democratic Party’s fault.
If they spent just a little time and effort on this kind of plan...
...the way the early neocons did, at the Heritage Foundation...
...there could emerge a fantastic web-based campaign reaching out to “decent conservatives”.
One of potentially staggering effectiveness.

As a side benefit - a huge one - such an effort could also encourage whistle-blowing by civil servants who are sick and tired of the neocon “War Against Professionalism.”

Even better, picture if some democratic candidate -- or a convention speaker -- were to take up this theme. A stirring moment reaching across all our political divides, appealing for a coalition of the honest. An alliance of the sane.

It could turn into the most potent gesture and effective move against political madness since the US Army (in the person of JAG Joseph Welch) finally turned on the infamous demagogue Sen. Joseph McCarthy and demanded “At long last, Sir, have you left no sense of decency?"
Thereupon sending THAT generation’s right wing monster slinking away and letting the rest of us - (conservatives too) - get back to the business of civilization.

All of this could happen.

But only if we are willing to gird ourselves not to play Karl Rove’s game.

He WANTS us to align ourselves left versus right.
That way, all people who see themselves as right-of-center MUST support him, even if they feel ashamed.

We can thwart this vile scheme, but only if we make our Big Tent a coalition based upon a single issue.

Liberal vs conservative arguments - like health care - can and must wait.
We have one job now. Not only to defeat and eject the criminal gang that has seized our nation, but to utterly repudiate it, forever, denying it even a sizeable base to hide in, licking its wounds and swearing vengeance upon the Age of Reason.

Let neoconservatism flutter away into kooky corners and archaic silliness, like communism, with which it shares so many dismal traits. (Remember, the left once went mad, too.)

Sound good? Well, that repudiation can only happen if we enlist millions of decent citizens from all parts of America. Including millions who happen to be “decent conservatives.”

Millions who will stand up for America, if we stay after them, relentlessly asking that they lift their heads out of the sand and see what has been done to the honor of conservatism.

An honor that's been stained and tainted, but that could still be restored... there’s time!

But only if they stand up soon.

If they rise up and join the rest of us.

Helping to rescue this threatened America, our beloved country.


================

“We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men.” Edward R. Murrow

==============

==See a new version posted on my website

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Economic falsehoods...

For this posting, I am simply handing the stage over to my friend, Russ Daggatt, who has compiled more "ostrich ammo"... or irrefutable evidence to push (relentlessly) into the faces of every "decent conservative" you can find. NOT evidence that Bush et al have betrayed America, or decency or honesty or the Enlightenment...

...but evidence that they have betrayed conservatism... dragging it down paths of utter lunacy and irresponsibility that can no longer even remotely be called conservative, by any previous or sane standard.

This should be one of the Democrats' main thrusts. They should assign oe of their convention speakers to stand there and address the decent conservatives of America. It would take a solid hour to finish just a summary list of why decent, life-long republicans should finally stand up and say enough, making temporary alliance with decent moderates and liberals to end this great klepto raid...

...so that we can all get back to arguing in goodwill, among honest folk, HOW to make a better country and civilization and world.

On to Russ:

Let's leave aside for the moment the Iraq war, and the "War on Terror," and illegal warrantless wiretapping, and torture, and the US attorneys purge, and all of the other topics dominating the current list of Bush crimes. Let's go back to the "pre-9/11" Bush administration. Bush's first big initiative was his tax cuts.

Polls at the time, in 2001, showed that the public was not clamoring for tax cuts. If you asked them, yes or no, would you like to have your taxes cut, they said yes. But if you asked them whether you would rather have their taxes cut or ... almost any major spending priority -- balancing the budget, fixing Social Security, etc. -- they strongly favored the alternative to a tax cut. But Bush managed to threaten and cajole ... and lie ... to get his big tax cuts.

Among other things, Bush and his cronies insisted that the tax cuts would not turn the budget surpluses they inherited from Clinton into budget deficits. Remember, the rationale for the tax cuts at the time Bush proposed them was that he was only "returning a quarter of the projected budget surpluses to the American people" -- leaving three-quarters of the surpluses intact.

Almost immediately (a couple of weeks) after Bush forced his tax cuts through a reluctant Congress, the Bush White House changed its forecasts to show ... surprise! ... deficits. Then the rationale changed from "returning a quarter of the surplus" to "the tax cuts will generate so much economic activity that they will pay for themselves in the long run" (the theory that his dad twenty years earlier labeled "Voodoo Economics"). (This practice of changing the rationale for their policies when they fail instead of changing the policies themselves was later perfected with respect to the Iraq War.)

Now Bush and his apologists and enablers claim that his tax cuts “worked” (just like the “surge” in Iraq is “working”). So let’s look at the forecasts in Bush’s FY2002 budget and compare those with what actually happened (Bush reduced the duration of these forecasts from the 10 years that had previously been the case to only five years, so the FY2002 numbers only go out through 2006):

(Note, formatting may not be very good, posting to blogger.)


George W. Bush’s surplus/(deficit)
year . projected
. Actual . Difference

2002 . . $231 . ($158) . ($389)
2003 . . $242 . ($378) . ($620)
2004 . . $262 . ($413) . ($675)
2005 . . $269 . ($318) . ($587)
2006 . . $303 . ($248) . ($551)

Total . $1,307 . ($1,515) . ($2822)

[Source: White House Office of Management and Budget]

By their own measure, they were over $2.8 TRILLION dollars off in their budget forecasts (for just five years). Yet they claim their tax cuts "worked" as planned. Are they lying or merely delusional? It's not a factual question. The numbers aren’t in dispute. Their tax cuts were supposed to stimulate so much economic activity that they would pay for themselves. Clearly, that didn’t happen. But that apparently doesn’t have any effect on their narrative.

[I should note that the deficit has been greatly understated in recent years by netting out the Social Security surplus against the federal government's operational budget. It was less of a problem in past years because the SS surplus wasn't that big. But with baby boomers in their peak earning years, it has increased to where it is quite large relative to the operational budget. The surplus in Social Security and other federal government retirement accounts is currently running around $180 billion/year and is projected to rise to ~ $260 billion by 2011 before starting to head back down. Which means the federal budget deficit should really be increased by that amount. All the more reason it is inexcusable to be running long-term structural deficits six years into an economic expansion after the mildest recession in modern American history and when the baby boomers are in their peak earnings years.]

So, then, did Bush’s tax cuts at least stimulate economic growth? Of course, our economy isn’t a controlled experiment, so you can’t really separate out Bush’s tax cuts and measure their impact on the economy. But you can compare real GDP growth following Bush’s 2001 tax cuts with GDP growth following Clinton’s 1993 tax increases:
GDP1994 4.0
1995 2.5
1996 3.7
1997 4.5
1998 4.2
1999 4.5
2000 3.7
2001 0.8
2002 1.6
2003 2.5
2004 3.6
2005 3.1
2006 2.9

Real GDP growth averaged 3.3% annually during Clinton’s eight years. By contrast, real GDP growth has averaged only 2.8% during Bush’s first five years. [In an over-abundance of intellectual fairness to Bush -- not a practice the right generally reciprocates -- I stuck Clinton with FY 2001 (which included the last recession) even though Bush was president during most of that year. If I take 2001 away from Clinton and give it to Bush, and give Clinton 1993, the numbers are even better for Clinton: 4.2% annual GDP growth vs. 2.5% for Bush.]

Obviously, this doesn’t prove that Clinton’s fiscal responsibility helped the economy or that Bush’s fiscal irresponsibility hurt the economy. But it sure as heck refutes the notion that because the economy has grown under Bush that is proof that his tax cuts deserve the credit.

Oh, and federal spending as a percentage of GDP was 21.4% when Clinton took office and 18.5% when he left, but is now back up to 20.8%. So it is not the case, as the right wing claims, that “if you send the money to Washington they will just spend it” – Clinton raised taxes and reduced the size of government. Nor is it the case that cutting taxes will “starve the beast” and reduce spending – Bush cut taxes and increased the size of government.

How about recent stock market highs? Don't they prove Bush's tax cuts are "working"? The Dow Jones Industrial Average was 3253 when Clinton took office and 10,587 when he left -- for an increase of 325% during the Clinton years. By contrast, the Dow Jones closed yesterday at 13,468 -- for an increase of 27% during the Bush years. Taking a broader measure of the market -- the S&P 500 -- it was 435 when Clinton took office and 1342 when he left -- for an increase of 309%. It closed yesterday at 1468 -- for an increase of 9.4% under Bush.

So, then, what is the factual basis for the assertion that Bush’s tax cuts “worked”? The budget deficit got worse, government got bigger and growth was slower than in preceding periods.

Leaving us with the question that started this discussion: Is Bush (and his apologists and enablers) lying or just delusional? Which is worse? (And is there any discernable pattern that transcends individual issues.)

Meanwhile, what is currently the greatest threat to the economy? An ongoing "credit squeeze." In classical economic theory, federal borrowing results in the "crowding out" of private borrowing. Under Bush, the federal debt has increased by over $3 TRILLION. According to every objective economic analysis I've read, the "crowding out" effect of increased federal borrowing more than offsets any alleged "incentive" effects of the Bush tax cuts, resulting in a net economic loss. We're six years into an economic expansion -- when is this stimulative effect supposed to kick in and eliminate the deficit? But don't worry. According to Dick Cheney, "Reagan proved deficits don't matter." And I suppose the deficits are in their "last throes."

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Oh, what has happened to conservatism?

Who are today's wastrels, living for the moment and spending their grandchildren into poverty?

And who are the new puritans, wagging their fingers at us to "waste not" and to save a "stitch in time"? Preaching what used to be old standard values like "let's try to crap less in our own house?"

While proclaiming "family values" which party is rife with candidates who disposed of marriages like tissue paper, amid betrayal and spite? And which - despite expanding their tolerance of different ways - shows a panoply of leaders who are mostly monogamous-hetero-committed-boring?

Which party now relies on "gut" instinct for just about everything, while bullying or harrassing every professional who dares to disagree... and which one calls for a return to relying upon the advice of apolitical and knowledgeable experts? And which of these images would you have guessed to be "conservative"?

Will no one else notice that roles have reversed utterly, with liberals now the prune-faced, penny-pinching, chiding, earnest believers in most of the old puritan virtues (without the intolerance), while neoconservatives seem to feel that momentary spasms of utter self-indulgence are the way to deal with a world on onrushing change?

Is there ANYBODY out there willing to confront the American people with a little bit of good, old-fashioned irony?

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Gingrich, Denial, and more on the decline of professionalism

First, off the top, will someone please crack open a look inside Newt Gingrich’s soul, for me?

I once nursed some hope that sci fi fan Gingrich might prove to be a brave and adaptable person. That he might rise up and become some kind of “reality-based” conservative, like his purported hero, Barry Goldwater. One with sufficient guts -- as well as loyalty to our Great Experiment -- to stand up like a man and acknowledge (as Goldwater did, in the final year of his life) that “this time it’s the extreme elements of my own side who have gone horrifically mad.”

In much the same way that moderate Democrats did exactly that thing, when they parted sharply with all their old communist friends, in the “Miracle of 1947” Only this time (in my fantasy) it would be smart guys like Gingrich who would openly admit the corrupt and heinous monstrosity that the neoconservative right has become. And the travesty that became of his well intended”Contract With America.”

Gingrich might even (I fantasized) issue a call to that one-third of today’s Republicans who can still be called “decent and sane conservatives,” beckoning them to rise out of their state of ostrichlike denial, leading them back toward re-commitment with the Enlightenment ...

...and thus saving something that can be rebuilt into some kind of a restored conservatism. Something decent and honest enough to be worthy of participating in the grand American process of negotiated pragmatic progress.

Alas, in the last few years, it has grown clear that Gingrich the political animal is just another rationalizer -- a shill for the neo-feudalists -- and one of the chief reasons that Barry Goldwater is spinning in his grave. (See an example, later in this essay.)

Only, now, Newt’s latest sudden veer has thrown that caricature into confusion. Be sure to read about it in Salon’s “The War Room.” (Thanks Stefan.) Oh, this one event is not enough to restore my fantasy, let alone make me trust this fellow. Still, his spectacular shifts and veers and leaps make for entertaining diversion. He does keep me watching.

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http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/02/AR2007080201752_pf.html John McQuaid wrote, in the Washington Post, a national commentary that was inspired by the recent bridge collapse in Minnesota, extrapolating that this one event reflects a general decline in American competence and general can-do confidence.

Of course, at one level this is absurd. In a complex civilization that is filled with elderly infrastructure, “stuff happens.” It would, even if we were well-led.

Nevertheless, at another level, you know that I do not disagree with the author’s core point. Indeed, he reflects an issue that I first raised many years ago -- the apparent decline in modernist, can-do spirit, especially in the United States of America.

See my extended essay about this topic.

As for John McQuaid’s argument, take this snippet:

Even Americans' usually boundless self-confidence has taken a hit. In 2002, a Pew poll showed that 74 percent of respondents agreed with this statement: "As Americans, we can always find a way to solve our problems and get what we want." Five years later, the number has fallen 16 percentage points, to 58 percent. Annual polls taken by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion have found public confidence in the government's ability to respond to terrorist attacks, natural disasters and health crises such as avian flu dropping steadily over the same time frame.

Of course this relates to my ongoing theme concerning the Bush Gang’s War Against Professionalism. After all, the one great trend of the 20th Century was the way people and nations kept investing ever-greater confidence in the power of skilled experts to get things done, far better than they were in the past. In contrast, from the very first weeks of the 21st Century, the Bushite assault upon the professionals of the civil service, foreign service, academia, and the Officer Corps has amounted to nothing less than an attempt to yank us back to the long human epoch when a small, super-empowered caste of mostly inherited lordships could make decisions based upon whim, rather than best-available advice, offered in an atmosphere of open due-process.

I’m not the only one to point this out -- though I doubt anyone has done so earlier or as relentlessly. One ironic nuance that I add, however, is that the same would-be feudalists who are bullying and harrying the skilled experts have ALSO been waging war against a newborn “Age of Amateurs.” The decline in confidence and competence described by McQuaid is just as much about a steady disempowerment of citizenship as it is about demolishing professionalism.

Indeed, despite the simple, reflex dichotomy, professionals and amateurs are not opposites! Think. A professional in one vocation is likely to have several other fields in which he or she has fine levels of avocation skill! The false dichotomy between pro and amateur masks an essential commonality. Indeed, the one thing that our proto-lords must fear, above all else, is that these two vast groups will ever realize their common needs and goals. Especially the greatest need of all. Open access to knowledge.

(Is it any wonder why the Bushites have attempted to shut down knowledge flows with a wave of darkness and secrecy that was never, ever matched, even in the depths of the Cold War?)

More from McQuaid:

Consider our most important national project, the attempt to build a new infrastructure for war ravaged Iraq. An audit earlier this year by the special inspector general for Iraq found that seven of the eight U.S. construction projects it surveyed -- including the generators at 's airport and a medical-waste incinerator and water-purification system in an maternity hospital -- were either broken down, not operating or otherwise substandard. A few months ago, the kitchen staff started cooking at a newly built base for guards watching the U.S. Embassy compound now being built. According to Glenn Kessler of : "Some appliances did not work. Workers began to get electric shocks. Then a burning smell enveloped the kitchen as the wiring began to melt."

These sound like vaguely comic footnotes to the Iraq debacle. They're not. Our principal goals in Iraq -- building a new political system and defeating an insurgency -- are terribly hard jobs. But can't we even hook up stoves for our own guards without something blowing up?


Naturally, the spin doctors are at work. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich calls it a "system-wide" government breakdown that includes health care, defense, intelligence and disaster response. He says the New Deal, Great Society structure of "big government" has, in effect, stopped working.

Ah, but this does not even make sense. Because none of the processes used in this bungled foreign adventure have any relationship to the New Deal, or even Bill Clinton’s era. Indeed, the entire model for Iraq reconstruction - not to mention Hurricane Katrina and its botched aftermath - has been to throw heaps of cash at a few big companies, owned by Bush cronies, under no-bid and un-vetted contracts, without more than a fig leaf of supervision.

Exactly how does this neoconservative model for “efficient outsourcing to private enterprise” bear any relationship, whatsoever, to the processes that built the Interstate Highway System, took us to the moon, built half of the world’s universities and won the Cold War? McQuaid continues:

Bush Administration “...hostility toward the federal bureaucracy has been quite purposeful. The administration has undermined the normal workings of agencies from the CIA to the EPA, in part because they generate facts and opinions that conflict with political goals. The White House has also seeded the government with appointees chosen for loyalty and ideological affinity, not competence. All of this has taken a toll on agencies' ability to process information, devise sound policies and communicate with the public.”

And yet, article author John McQuaid is not 100% partisan in his assessment of the decline in US government competence. In fact, he sees the Katrina Disaster as indicating a longstanding decline of competence by the US Army Corps of Engineers, which in turn reflects a general fall in ability, across government, that preceded even the arrival of Bushites in power. (Science fiction readers might liken this to the grinding decline that Isaac Asimov depicted in the Galactic Empire, in his Foundation series.)


Again, we see the author use just a single example to illustrate a grouchy point. Only in this case, it is a deeply flawed example and a possibly wrongheaded point.

In fact, the problem with preparations made by the Corps of Engineers in New Orleans had little to do with competence (or lack thereof) and much to do with misplaced GOALS. Indeed, the Corps has been struggling valiantly to accomplish something that is inherently impossible. to give the people of New Orleans permanence in a situation that is completely loony, delusional and that faces an intrinsic time limit...

...the inevitable day when the Mississippi river will change its course. If anything, the Corps deserves credit and it is the PEOPLE who are to blame, in this case, for insisting on keeping things exactly as they were, instead of embracing the momentum of change. ANd yes, the American people can be childish-deluded. I never denied that.

Nevertheless, it is a good piece. Not as aggressive as I’ve been. But read by more people, I’ll admit. Such are the advantages of oversimplification.


Other things.


Referring back to my more creative days, it appears that people are still mining EARTH for ideas. (I’m half kidding... and half not ;-) See the latest musings about how “cooperation” may be an emergent property from systematic and well-tuned competition. The chief theme of EARTH.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Non-Political Marvels!

After overdosing on myself, on Wes Clark Jr's "Young Turks" Air America show (watch for the podcast next week!) -- I feel like dousing the political lamp for a time.

First off, in case you all thought “Brin will never write sci fi again...” See a review of my new short-novel SKY HORIZON. A “YA book for all ages, in the Robert Heinlein tradition.” Order a copy and wallow in the good old days, when your favorite author actually wrote, now and then.

The Globalist is an online magazine on the global economy,politics and culture. You can subscribe to a weekly digest. Generally, I find about a third of the articles on-target. But this week’s set is especially cogent and interesting. The articles are brief and - on this occasion - every single one of them is worth a look.

Example: “It is a major paradox: The global image of the United States has never been lower — but the global earnings of U.S. multinationals have never been higher.”

Also... the plight of island Tuvalu amid global warming and redefinition of the middle class.

The first baby created from an egg matured in the lab, frozen, thawed and then fertilised, has been born. Until now it was not known whether eggs obtained in this way could survive thawing to be fertilized. The findings hold particular hope for patients with cancer-related fertility problems.

In an exercise, Princeton students had to come up with a plausible strategy for keeping the 2050 greenhouse gas emissions level equal to today's. Coming up with seven politically feasible strategies is no simple matter.

Rice University researchers want to use the human skeleton to transmit commands reliably and securely to wearable gadgets and medical implants, using frequency-shift-keyed, low-power acoustic waves. (A Brin forecast!)

Los Angeles' driest year in 130 years of record-keeping has just gone onto the books. The nation's second-largest city is missing nearly a foot of rain for the year counted from July 1 to June 30. Just 3.21 inches have fallen downtown in those 12 months, closer to Death Valley's numbers than the normal average of 15.14 inches. And it's much the same all over the West, from the measly snow pack and fire-scarred Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada to Utah/Arizona's shrinking Lake Powell.

process information differently, says Roger Martin, dean of the University of Toronto Business School. "They have the predisposition and the capacity to hold in their head two opposing ideas at once, and creatively resolve the tension between those two idehttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifas by generating a new one that contains elements of the others but... (Dang! I thought I was simply crazy... or “contrary”...)

Ah, but that implies "successful leader" means being successful at perceiving ways for the thing you lead to become successful. It says nothing about "successful usurpers."

Tangible display makes 3D images touchable

Issued by the National Academy of Sciences and sponsored by the space agency, the 116-page report reviews current research into what life is and what it needs to survive, as well as the way life might differ on other worlds. Our investigation made clear that life is possible in forms different than those on Earth," said committee chair John Baross, an oceanographer at the University of Washington, Seattle.

In recent weeks a steady stream of scientific reports from increasingly prestigious sources have all reinforced the same news: the Arctic ice is disappearing three times faster than the worst case scenarios used in the models.

The DOD is developing a parallel to Planet Earth, with billions of individual "nodes" to reflect every man, woman, and child this side of the dividing line between reality and AR.Called the Sentient World Simulation (SWS), it will be a "synthetic mirror of the real world with automated continuous calibration with respect to current real-world information", according to a concept paper for the project. "SWS provides an environment for testing Psychological Operations (PSYOP)," the paper reads, so that military leaders can "develop and test multiple courses of action to anticipate and shape behaviors of adversaries, neutrals, and partners".

Alas... we all know about “gigo” which can slay the best-laid plans. In fact, the greatest wisdom that you can bring to guesstimating the behavior of enemies is this...

“Do not assume that your foes are cowards, who will back down in the face of a slap that would turn YOU into a hero.”

It was the assumption that past adversaries made, e.g. with Pearl Harbor, Ft. Sumter, the Somme, and so on till 9/11. It is the most commonly performed act of self-delusional wish-following, pursued out of pure reflex by almost every national elite, since the beginning of time. And it may soon be pursued by dopes who want to send in a few dozen fighter bombers to “indimidate Iran into backing down.”

Riiiiiiight. Some aerial pinpricks will accomplish what Saddam could not, by slaughtering a couple of million of them?

Oh, I am all in favor of advanced modeling. But again, watch your assumptions when you program that thing. People are ornery. Make that rule number one.


MIT biochemists have identified a molecular mechanism behind fear, and successfully cured it in mice by inhibiting a kinase called Cdk5

Would you give up your immortality to ensure the success of a posthuman world?


The in the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has topped 1,000, a stark reminder of the risks run by civilians working with the military in roles previously held by soldiers. Deaths and injuries among the growing ranks of civilians working in war zones are tracked on the basis of claims under an insurance policy, the Defense Base Act, which all U.S. contracting companies and subcontractors must take out for the civilians they employ outside the United States. Contrary to common perceptions, the majority of civilian contractors in the war zones are not Americans; foreigners have done most of the dying as the U.S. accelerated outsourcing functions previously performed by soldiers.

Our solar system is traveling in a different direction to the rest of the Milky Way, scientists say. The magnetic field ihttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifn interstellar space is propelling our solar system along at a 60-90˚ angle to the rest of the galaxy. That's happening because the part of the interstellar magnetic field that comes closest to our system is not parallel to the spiraling arms of the galaxy, as it appears to be elsewhere.


And here’s some wisdom from a very smart guy (I happen to know)...

More soon...

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Listen to Me Live on Air America

Well... something must be giving at last, because I have been invited to spend 20 minutes on Air America on Friday morning -- 8am Eastern Time (rush hour) -- on a show hosted by Wes Clark Jr., son of the man John Kerry should have chosen as his running mate, back in 2004.

The chief topic will be a drum I have been beating for four years, but only recently getting any echoes... The Bush Administration's War Against Professionalism.

Remarkably, this one phrase subsumes so much that had puzzled us about the neoconservatives' disparate - but always malignant - agenda. The Republican War on Science. Their brutal repression of the brave men and women of the United States Officer Corps. Their suborning and diversion and discrediting of the intelligence and law enforcement communities. Their relentless savaging of the civil service and their studied evisceration of the Foreign Service. And so on.

How else could anyone explain the Hurricaine Katrina debacle? Or the one in Iraq. Suddenly, the right wing, which had spent decades whining that "we lost Vietnam because of meddling by clueless, draft-dodging politicians," seems unable to mouth those same words any longer.

My chief point for years has been that the democrats need this issue. They need it because:

1) It would strike middle-ground and even "decent conservative" Americans as eminently fair, provable, and profoundly apolitical -- standing completely outside of the normal (and lame) so-called "left-right axis."

2) It would offer succor and help to the Bushites' greatest victims, the professionals who have sworn to serve and protect us and to manage a complex civilization with their skill and attention to real law.

3) It would encourage those professionals to stand up to the bullies who have been appointed over them. The partisan attack dogs and brainless, dogmatic hacks who were annointed by this president to badger and berate and over-rule and divert and castrate the people who we pay to keep us a nation of laws.

And if the professionals do stand up? Then more truth will be told, more doors will open and more windows. MORE professionals will feel encouraged to blow whistles. More light will spread...

... and the demons of this long night will recede like the parasites they are...

...leaving decent citizens to get on with the Great Experiment. And Not only liberal Americans! Because (again) this is NOT about left and right, as much as Karl Rove wants it to be. Banishing these monsters won't end conservatism, but rather leave behind a conservative movement that can awaken from its madness, and return to the virtues of - say - Barry Goldwater. Decency and reciprocal respect and fair negotiation and - above all - a willingness to see other Americans as partners you can negotiate with. Not enemies to be stomped flat.

Tune in! Record it for that "ostrich" you've been working on. I don't claim to be a miracle man. But any Cassandra lives for those moments when the Trojans seem to rouse their heads and listen.

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