Sunday, March 02, 2008

Issues that Obama can’t ignore - National Security, Science and the Plight of the Professionals

While some see only bitterness in the final days of the Democratic primary season, I figure the party will re-coalesce behind the eventual winner. In fact, this extended season had benefits, e.g. energetic grassroots movements that should merge impressively for the general election.

As I write this, Barack Obama seems the likely nominee, in which case recent battle bruises may have taught him valuable lessons. With flexibility, when reconfiguring his messages for a nationwide audience, I hope he'll ponder the importance of three issues: National Security, Science and the Plight of the Professionals.

(See below for unusual perspectives on all three.)

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The first of these three issues - national security - is crucial, especially with the not-negligible possibility of some kind of emergency or dire drama occurring, between now and November. (A little advance positioning could help immensely, if tragic events do happen upon us, coincidentally, during that period. Indeed, there could be nothing more crucial.)

More generally, Democrats must overcome a reflex discomfort re: security matters. Instead, demonstrating historical acumen, they might choose to “own” this issue, the way FDR, Truman and JFK did.

National Security is the one area where the public might feel justifiably nervous about Barack Obama’s lack of experience. Democrats should remember that the man Obama is most often compared-to, John F. Kennedy, served in wartime and experienced the grim pain of battle, first-hand. At an early age, JFK wrote a best-selling book about - of all topics - national security and the dangers of allowing a lapse in readiness. If (and only if) Obama were to choose a VP nominee with very credible credentials in this area, then Democrats could make a potent issue of the GOP’s systematic demolition of our readiness, our reserves, our armed forces, our alliances, our moral high-ground, our prestige and our position of leadership in the world.

Those rushing to compare Barack to JFK should remember that this issue was a winner for Kennedy. He wasn’t just all-about the Peace Corps and Civil Rights. He defeated Richard Nixon in large part by preventing the Republican from seizing National Security as his personal property. (I’ll return with more about this, below.)

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The second subject is a hard sell, I’ll admit. Political consultants and pollsters consistently warn candidates against raising matters of science and technology, which the pundits call “almost as boring process issues.”

Nothing could show how reflexively-low politicians rate such matters than the way Congress has lolligagged over re-establishing its own scientific and technical advisory apparatus, which the Republicans tore down way back in 1995, at the start of the Neocon era. In my “Suggestions to the New Congress” I listed several quick and easy ways the Democrats, under Nancy Pelosi, might show themselves staking ground as champions of reason. Indeed, many of those recommended steps President Bush could neither obstruct nor veto! Alas, they have done nothing.

Still, every year, an ever-growing (and disproportionately influential) layer of educated people complain about one aspect of this - and every - flawed U.S. election. How absurd it is for an advanced nation, a purported leader of civilization, to choose new leaders without ever debating issues of technology and science. Sure, consultants shrug this aside as the fixation of a narrow interest group - a pointy-headed, over-educated, boffin elite.

Except let’s note: that same patronizing, know-nothing attitude has been a key attribute of the Republican veer into the dark side. The role of science and technology in decision-making has proved crucial - by its glaring absence from consideration during the Bush Administration’s misgoverning of America.

Indeed, despite still being the party supported by the poor, the Democrats have surged ahead of the GOP in average education levels, a shift that merits close attention. The well-educated in America are forming an ever larger pool (one that has especially come out for Obama, this year). It is a massive group, demographically similar (for the Democrats) to the fundamentalist Christian community (for Republicans). If the fundamentalists can gat at least lip service from GOP office-seekers, then should not educated America get - and demand - the same thing from Democrats?

There is a third reason to boost this issue toward at least a middle burner. A matter of simple self-identity. America did better, as a nation, when it thought of itself as a nation of science. When it took pride in its leadership in forward thinking. When it considered the quest something very close to sacred. I have been promoting this issue for quite some time. Now have a look at -- Making Science a Presidential Priority: “Science Debate 2008” wants to put scientific issues front and center in the Presidential race by hosting a debate among candidates.

Not to say that it is an entirely invisible topic. Every current and recent candidate for president made a stop, during the last year, at Google to be interviewed and create a YouTube event. (See my own Google Tech Talk.) Among all of these events, the one that seemed the least perfunctory was Barack Obama’s, in which he (perhaps with a little pre-coaching) answered the CEO’s routine question about how to perform a massive sort-search, in a fashion that was both impressive and funny.


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As for my third suggested top-issue, well, I confess (as any scientist should) that all the evidence points to my being obsessive and even (possibly) delusional. How else to explain why no other person (to my knowledge) has raised it? Even once? Perhaps my raising the Bushite War Against the Professionals may seem an obsession. Yet, I continue to view it as the most powerful win-win issue of all. A way to highlight the true agenda of the Bush Cabal, a way to win over a million or so pivotal members of society...

...and to turn innumerable silent victims into eager (and skilled) whistleblowers, during a half-year when some brave revelations might decide our nationa’s destiny.

Sure, we hear about “The Republican War on Science.” and a fair number of folks have followed me in denouncing the Bushite “war against the U.S. military Officer Corps.” (Name one person who was earlier.)

There have been glimmers and articles about the active suppression of our civil servants in various departments, quashed relentlessly by political hacks who were appointed in order to prevent our government from fucnctioning well, or according to law. Inspectors General have been harrassed, fired, diverted or suborned. The intelligence community, that we all rely upon to seek out and prevent foreign machinations against the republic, appears to have its morale down around its ankles. And yet, nobody seems interested in tying it all together, into an over arching theme.

Well, nobody but me. And I have to admit, it gets pretty lonely trying to persuade folks to see the forest for the trees.


So I won’t do it here. Not in detail. Except to reiterate. This general pattern -- the general pattern of the entire Bush Administration -- has been aimed at eliminating the United States Civil Service, and other professional services, as credible centers for shining light and accountability throughout our civilization. The top and most blatant outcome, the theft - with apparent impunity - of somewhere toward a trillion dollars, would not have seemed credible if written in a cheap thriller novel! And yet, it stands in front of us, as blatant (and invisible to most) as Banquo’s ghost.

It could be the issue of the election, of the decade. It could turn a millions professionals from brutalized victims into fiercely effective allies, in the restoration of our republic.

But, then, that may be just more paranoid yattering, from the over-active pattern-recognition systems of a... well... an author of thriller novels. Alas.

.
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Addenda on National Security and the “art of waking ostriches...

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Under the category of ostrich ammo - ("What would you Limbaugh dittoheads have said, if Bill Clinton tried 1% of this #%#$@#!?") - try the following on for size:

Since our national guard units are in Iraq, President Bush wants the Canadian military to put down rebellions in the U.S.: "In a ceremony that received virtually no attention in the American media, the United States and Canada signed a military agreement Feb. 14 allowing the armed forces from one nation to support the armed forces of the other nation during a domestic civil emergency, even one that does not involve a cross-border crisis. The agreement, defined as a Civil Assistance Plan, was not submitted to Congress for approval, nor did Congress pass any law or treaty specifically authorizing this military agreement to combine the operations of the armed forces of the United States and Canada in the event of a wide range of domestic civil disturbances ranging from violent storms, to health epidemics, to civil riots or terrorist attacks."

Want another “ostrich addendum”? Of the many factors contributing to the reduction of U.S. casualties in Iraq, none has been more critical than the decision to pay more than 80,000 of Iraq's Sunni Arab insurgents a quarter of a billion dollars a year not to shoot at U.S. forces. Say what? What ever happened to “Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute”? Is it even remotely possible for ostriches to picture what they’d have said if Bill Clinton had engaged in such a practice? Lavishly bribing enemies to (briefly) not shoot at us? Oh, they’ll make excuses. But would they have made the same ones for a Democrat?

And this... The FBI is gearing up to create a massive computer database of people's physical characteristics, all part of an effort the bureau says to better identify criminals and terrorists.

...and... Presidential Directive No. 12, issued by the Department of Homeland Security, directed federal agencies to adopt a uniform badge that could be used by employees and contractors to gain access to government facilities. In order to issue the badges, the government demanded that the scientists employed by Caltech who work at the Jet Propulsion Lab fill out questionnaires on their personal lives and waive the privacy of their financial, medical and psychiatric records. The government also wanted permission to gather information about them by interviewing third parties. In other words, as the price of keeping their jobs, many of America's finest space scientists were being asked to give the feds virtually blanket permission to snoop and spy and collect even malicious gossip about them from God knows who.

And now rumors (passed to me by one or more of you out there) come trickling in that the US Air Force has apparently issued directives that USAF personnel are no longer to discuss, or even mention, Blackwater Security Services, the ultra-secret, ultra-politicized private army that (at lavish public expense) has lured countless serving officers and noncoms into a private mercenary force, accountable to no one except powerful elites. If this is true (help track this down) then it fits with the image of the USAF as by far the most politicized and suborned of our services. (Oh, Democrats, wake up to your duty to save the Army and National Guard. And God bless the Navy.)

Seriously... confront your ostriches and ask them “what will you do if President Hillary does this? If she does anything even remotely like any of this?

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On the other hand...


Want to feel a sense of pride for a change? See a retired military officer talking about how many of our currently-serving men and women have refused to follow the shameful example set by their national leaders, and have instead tried to live up to the proper codes of conduct, maintaining the honor of the United States Armed Services, under almost impossible circumstances.

Of course, this is just one of many, many attempts by both retired and serving members of our nation’s defense community, to help stave off a new dark age that’s been spread across the land, by those at the very top. It takes some savvy to tell just how hard these folks have worked for us. Most people cannot read the signs, but take my word for it that the recent ascent of Admiral Mike Mullen, to the office of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was the strongest evidence, to date, of a counter-attack against Bushite insanity, by the U.S. Officer Corps. In some ways, it seems more significance than even the forced departure of Donald Rumsfeld.

Again, the democrats will be utter fools not to make a front-burner issue of the Republican War Against the U.S. Military... the utter demolition of our alliances, our world stature, our state of readiness, and the steady degradation of the brave men and women of the armed forces? It is a matter of paramount importance and incredible potency...

...though it can be best made if the Democratic presidential nominee has the brains to pick a VP candidate who’s credible. One who can make this attack in the face of John McCain’s war-hero image.

There are two prominent democrats who can do this! Jim Webb of Virginia and General Wesley Clark. One can hope.

95 comments:

Dwight Williams said...

As regards the Bush-Harper deal allowing each nation's troops to cross the border onto the other's soil: I've noticed, given the recent troubles with natural disasters in both our nations, that there's a legitimate case to be made for mutual assistance being expedited...although I'd have thought that agreements such as NORAD or NATO treaties would've been more than sufficient to that end and long in place to boot.

More as I consider it...

Dwight Williams said...

It may further interest you to know that the Canadian news services were not informed by the Harper government of this pact, but had to get word from the US Defence Department to learn that it even existed.

The US government was willing to tell anyone in the world who cared to ask, but not the one in Ottawa.

David McCabe said...

> "Most people cannot read the signs"

How do *you* read the signs, anyways? This stuff seems utterly opaque to me; how does one find out about it?

Best regards,

Robert said...

the Canadian news services were not informed by the Harper government of this pact

All part of the way Harper operates, I'm afraid. Man's a control freak, and his backroom team are the ones who advised the Ontario Tories for years. They have a record for secrecy, as well as a record for making up facts to suit themselves.

tintinaus said...

Be a bit careful about your Ostrich ammo since covert payments have been part of the repertoire for all sides for a long time. The Afghan War Plan you say Bush inherited from Clinton called for payments to warlords to join in or at least stay neutral. Trouble is if you stop paying them they stop being neutral and often become part of the enemy.

Zechariah said...

I don't know if I can bring myself to trust Wesley Clark, after the Priština International Airport incident. I know, I know, he still handled Kosovo better than Iraq, but that seems like a cheap defense to me. You can't call it 'just one mistake' when you're talking about pissing off a nuclear power, because just one mistake is all it really takes.

David Brin said...

Zechariah, in the fog of war, you judge by overall (if messy) outcomes and by what a nation/military tries hard to be like, knowing there will be glaring failures.

The overall outcome in the Balkans was a European continent spanned by peace and law and at least some (flawed) level of democracy, for the first time in 4,000 years. America's popularity (except in Serbia and parts of Russia) soared, even in the Muslim world. Our reputations were high and costs were mostly low.

Judge such things realistically.

Tintinaus, I know that bribery can be a useful tool in such situations... and I don't mind brief uses, if it saves our soldiers while advancing genuine strategic goals. But we have to hit ostrich hypocrisy hard. And we all know how they would have howled, if Clinton had bought off a single Serbian gunman, let alone gushed half a billion $ a year into the pockets of people who BY DEFINITION are enemies, because they must be bribed into now killing our boys and girls.

Jester said...

Personally, I think Webb is the go-to guy, the perfect running mate for a guy like Obama...in any other year.

Clinton has run a scorched earth campaign, with her surragates making repeated claims of sexism (He pull out her chair at the debate! What a beast!) and even going so far as to scream about a leftist media bent on killing her "moderate" candidacy.

I don't know if Obama can win without a woman on the ticket. It's a nasty snarl to be in, I'm sure.

Webb would almost certainly deliver Virginia. That alone would virtually cinch the election...any other year.

'Nam vet, Marine, Reagans Secretary of the Navy, Son in Iraq, Southern Senator, Author of "Born Fighting -How the Scots-Irish Shaped America" and descended from a family which has served in every American war, married to a Vietnamese-American and SPEAKS Vietnamese, Lettered in Boxing at Annapolis, all around Mans Man, life-long hunter, healthy, handsome but not pretty, smart but not egg-heady, great speaker, feet planted solidly on the ground...I repeat myself, I know.

Silver star, two bronze stars, two purple hearts, and the Navy Cross. From 77-81 he worked pro-bono as a Veterans lawyer. He won an Emmy for his PBS documentary on Marines in Beirut.

He opposed the war from the start. He drafted the ammendment to the decleration on Iran which stated that the President still had to come back for congressional authority if he wished to attack.

It just doesn't get any better.

The question is, has Clinton managed to stir up the Ire of enough women who haven't burned their NOW cards yet to make a female VP mandatory?

I dunno. I'm sure there are internal polls.

Tacitus2 said...

David

As always, you set the table with way too many dishes...not sure where to offer an entree of my own!

Regards educational levels of Dem vs Rep, has anyone ever done the more realistic comparison of Dem vs Rep vs Independent? I suppose the latter could either be self described or by some objective standard such as having cast their votes no more than 70% for one party in the last few elections.

This is not a trivial question, as the Indie vote is what swings most national elections in this day and age. And I think it would be interesting.

As a conservative I am enjoying the current political process to no end, and not just to see the Clintons take a few deserved lumps.
You just gotta like the pundits being wrong so consistently. Barring darker conspiracy stuff I see the will of the people actually making things happen.

And if the election turns out in some fashion other than that I personally pull the lever for, well, I have considerable faith in checks and balances.

Cheers

Tacitus2

Robert said...

Spam is not protected under the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment. While this is a good thing in some ways... I do have to wonder if we'll have spurious arrests for "spam" of political literature and the like. It's looking more and more like the anonymity of the Net is becoming an endangered species (though I'm safe, seeing that I sign my real name to most of my posts already!).

Not that it really matters, when it comes down to it. People associate articles with the blog's owner, not the writer. I've had guest articles on my own review site where despite the fact the article is signed by someone else... and I state that the opinions expressed are not necessarily my own (or of my internet host's) the readers just attribute it to me.

Back on topic, I suspect most people (in the U.S.) wouldn't care for the loss of some 1st Amendment Rights if it resulted in the elimination of spam. And that's a sad commentary about Americans these days. A happy medium between the two extremes has yet to be found, unfortunately.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

David Brin said...

Taciutus & Robert, I will defend you both... and you know I'll get the axe before either of you. So consider me your canary in the coal mine.

Tacitus, I spoke much as you did, during the Reagan years. Checks & balances. Shoo be doo- don't you know it's gonna be... all right.

This is different. Our kids now owe three $trillion while Pax Americana has been systematically destroyed, leaving us friendless and without even an army, in a dangerous world.

Our institutions and freedoms are shriveling and our nation is being raped on so many levels that it borders on no longer even being a metaphor.

This is not politics. It is something else, that none of us alive have ever seen, before. Not in North America. But there IS a political implication.

Conservatism needs to contemplate how it will reuild out of this wreckage. And if America does not see conservatism HELPING to turn this tide, then the movement itself - at all levels and interpretations - will bear the brunt of blame.

Robert said...

Oh, I very much doubt I'd ever get the axe, at least not before the country descends into a dictatorship ruled by Emergency Powers to keep the Shrub and his cronies in office past 2008 (even then I suspect that the Canadian military would be too busy putting down armed revolts in the U.S. soil for anyone to care about a writer/reviewer who occasionally talks politics).

I must admit I'm of two minds about the whole anonymity issue. First, I've witnessed firsthand the abuses of anonymity in blogs and forums when people become total and utter jerks when they believe they can say whatever they want without anyone knowing who they are. Arguments descend into personal attacks and baseless distortions of comments and the like. I myself have noticed I occasionally backslide into less-than-polite commentary when talking online. Add in the existence of hate-forums and hate-blogs (ranging from racial or religious hatred to such inanities as raving against webcomics and fanfiction) and I could easily see the excuse to eliminate anonymity on the internet.

Imagine for a moment that a spammer is immediately identified no matter what spambot he uses... and that people could even learn where he or she lives. It could result in deaths considering how much hatred there is against spam and malware. It would be a most effective method of forcing accountability on those people who abuse the internet.

But.

The consequences of the loss of anonymity are profound. If the Swiss bank that recently tried to shut down Wikileaks had access to who sent Wikileaks those documents, then they would go after that person specifically with lawsuits or even worse. People would be reluctant for a far greater part to be whistleblowers. The transparency of governments and corporations would decrease, allowing for further abuses of our own civil and human rights.

Oh, there'd still be whistleblowers. But after a few "accidents" that couldn't be proven otherwise, and only the most extreme situations would lead to people using sites like Wikileaks and the like to stop government and corporate abuses.

In addition, the use of malware and the like allows hackers to utilize other people's e-mail addresses and computers in the dissemination of viruses, Trojans, and spam. It would not be much more difficult for the spammers to find a way to shift the electronic finger to the victims of these programs while avoiding the public's eye.

Again, a happy medium is needed. How this could be achieved is beyond me, though I've not the technical background to handle such coding in any event.

Rob H.

Robert said...

And on another note, I just had a curious thought on how the Republican party could wage a negative campaign against Senator Obama without actively sullying their own hands: taking Senator Clinton's own recent comments about Obama's lack of experience and the like, using quotes from her, and sound-bites from her in various commercials and then summing up with "if Barack Obama's own party has such misgivings about him, do you want to risk him in the Oval Office?"

Basically, it's using comments by Democrats against Obama to muddy the waters and then claiming a veneer of respectability since they aren't responsible for the comments. Instead, Senator Clinton (and her husband) were. If they do manage this, and if the Obama campaign doesn't find a means of efficiently shooting down these allegations, then we could see the Republicans win the White House and continue the Bush/Cheney policies for another four years.

(I don't even think that if Clinton were to refute her own words after the fact that it would help... instead, it risks destroying her own credibility at the same time as her words return to haunt Obama.)

Rob H.

Tony Fisk said...

I don't see the Pax Canadia option going anywhere.

How many Canadian troops would willingly accept being sent into America to put down rebellions, especially on the pretext of a 'secret' deal? (How many troops does Canada have, anyway?)

It would look very strange, and it would highlight the decrepit state of US forces.

wrt USAF personnel forbidden from commenting on Blackwater: Wikileaks is their friend.

SteveO said...

robert said:
"If the Swiss bank that recently tried to shut down Wikileaks had access to who sent Wikileaks those documents, then they would go after that person specifically with lawsuits or even worse."

Actually, he did not release the information anonymously, and in fact the documents had been released to courts in different countries. He asserts that problem was that since the documents had been kept secret from the public, it allowed the bank to harass him and his family. Wikileaks provided the service of releasing the documents publicly in order to stop intimidation tactics.

Read the letter the whistleblower wrote at Wikileaks.

Dr. Brin, I have not yet read the Transparent Society, but it is interesting to me in this case that transparency actually protects the whistleblower, whereas partial anonymity (at least from the public) harmed him.

David Brin said...

Tony, I agree that we will likely never see Canadian troops on American streets. And even so, Id’ prefer them over Blackwater... or the Legions of the Righteous Lord of Revelations.

No, I raise the issue simply because it shows, again, the towering hypocrisy of ostriches... and the ostrich hypnotizers, especially... who accept, blithely, from the Cheneykleps, things that would have made them howl, if Bill Clinton had done 1%.

Robert, there are vastly more bad things said by Republicans about McCain. It will happen. But it worries me less than other things... like Obama mis handling the issues of patriotism and security. See my next posting.

Steveo, this case does seem to be a perfect example of safety through transparency. What I am waiting for, though, is for someone like George Soros to realize that THIS is how less than a billion bucks could decisively and permanently transform civilization. A foundation dedicated to super-sizing Project Witness and Wikileaks -- augmenting them with my “Henchman’s Prize” -- could produce a tsunami of revelations that end all possibility of aristarchy and putting transparency in place. Whistleblower momentum is the one thing that would ensure the Open Society from its enemies.

Alas, all my billionaire chums like my sci fi... but none of them will follow me into territory like this.

Tacitus2 said...

David
For Robert's sake and mine, please stay vigorously healthy. I notice you do not comment on my suspicion that independents might have higher educational achievement than straight ticket voters of either stripe.

Of course, as host you have the prerogative to ignore that which you find either uninteresting or Inconvenient.

Tacitus2

David Brin said...

Nothing deliberate. Just swamped. I have everyexpectation that indies average much higher, simply because they probably lack anywhere as big a "bottom" as either the dems or the gops. In fact, without subtracting the poor and the rednecks, you simply won't be making a fair comparison.

After making that subtraction, my gut tells me sure, indies would officially rank high among the educated, simply because such people resist being pegged. Nevertheless, the dems have a towering advantage among those with degrees beyond masters.

And official party affiliation isn't all that important this year. Heck, military officers tend to be VERY smart and highly educated... and often officially republicans. But they'll be voting for personal and national survival, this year.

Dave Rickey said...

What is truly disturbing about the Bush administration is how they have laid all the groundwork for a future president to stage a takeover. The EO's and laws to sweep aside any pretense of constitutional law, the creation of organizations like InfraGuard, the politicization and discrediting of the mechanisms of internal control intended to prevent abuse of authority, just every single bulletpoint you have to hit is in place.

Bush himself couldn't do it, the military rank and file and the officer corps below flag grade hates him intensely, at least outside the Air Force. But the dangers he's created will just lay there, handles for some future potential dictator to grasp.

That was really the root of my support for Obama. A former constitutional law professor seems like our best hope of fixing that before it gets enshrined.

--Dave

David Brin said...

Obama has to declare a whole set of recisions, as soon as he enters office.

As "Mr. Transparency" I do NOT insist that he blind the FBI etc, withdrawing their new powers of sight and surveillance! That really isn't necessary, at all.

The restoration of the Republic does not require that our professional protectors be limited in what they see. It requires that WE be empowered to look back. Fiercely and thoroughly and effectively empowered. The key word is accountability.

Yes, I am repetitious. But I'll stop sounding like a broken record when it seems that the Good Guys get this one point. Otherwise, they will step into traps and quicksand, even when, with good intentions, they try to restore our rights.

Robert said...

I must admit, my libertarian roots are showing. I feel that these new powers should be rescinded and that the government should be trimmed back. This will free up resources for much more important programs (such as the EPA, NASA, science development, infrastructure, etc.) that will help make America a better place to live in time.

As for Blackwater... I could see a Blackwater-assisted takeover of the U.S. government, especially if either the families of the lower-level soldiers in Blackwater are used as collateral for these people doing what they're told, or the more scifi approach of implanted explosives that will go off if a signal stops transmitting (so to keep them from turning on their own higher-ups). But this is likely more fodder for scifi conspiracy stories than for real life events.

Assuming nothing keeps Senator Obama from getting into office (or Senator Clinton if she manages to get the recent Canadian gaff to stick to Obama), I think the first thing he should do is order the disbanding of Blackwater. It's not needed and indeed should be illegal. Further, it's dangerous. Of course, the truly conspiracy-minded would see this as part of a larger plan... break this group apart, spread them across America, let them build hundreds of small military cells across the nation, and then rise up in eight years or so to seize control of the U.S. for the Neocons. Which just goes to show I've a vivid imagination.

Rob H.

occam's comic said...

The nightmare I have been having lately is:
Obama wins the nomination,
Sometime in September or October he gets assassinated. His supporters get filled with rage, some riots occur and some reprisal murders of right wing pundits and elected Republicans happen. The country freaks out and the culture war gets hot and a state of emergency is declared.

The R'oil's goal is achieved, a greatly weakened and divided America with little hope of confronting the challenges of the21st century.

Anonymous said...

occams comic,

I worry about an Obama assassination at any time (before or after the election, the way the economy has been going.). The democrats need to pick a Veep that can take the hit and keep running. America has a long history of rallying around wounded parties (widows getting elected, etc.).

With a good Veep, I'm sure the Democrats will be able to pull it off.

Robert said...

If it happens before the nomination is finalized, then I see Senator Clinton trumpeting Senator Obama's causes (even if she doesn't believe in them and won't support them once President). I also see the Republicans accusing her of capitalizing on the situation and calling her all sorts of unpleasant things (such as "ghoul").

If it happens before the final election? I honestly don't know what would happen. Would the elections be postponed? Would Senator Clinton be offered the baton to carry on? I suspect that Obama worries about this; he asked for Secret Service protection earliest of the candidates (though technically I suppose Clinton had it all along).

I don't see a plot to pull this off however. If Obama is killed, then he becomes a martyr along the lines of JFK, Bobby Kennedy, and Lincoln. The Republicans would rather do everything in their power to destroy Obama should he get into office and "show" that he's all talk and no substance... and also point the finger at the Democrats for "ruining the country" (despite the fact the Shrub is mostly responsible for that).

The only people liable to go after Obama are sociopaths, anarchists, and terrorists. I very much doubt it would be a part of a greater plot.

Rob H.

Anonymous said...

Robert,

We may be heading into a Depression-like economy. The last time that happened, an armed coup was attempted.

Yes, the proximate cause would be crazy fanatics. But they may have backers...

Robert said...

If that was genuine (and historians question if it was a genuine plot or just supposition on Butler's part) then it was more to eliminate FDR's "New Deal" and anti-monopoly sentiments than something more subversive. Of course, assuming the plot was real and the businessmen managed to pull off the coup d'etat, then it's possible they'd have allowed that power to corrupt them further and turn the U.S. into a Oligarchy.

The problem is that even if there were businessmen willing to do this and even if they had the backing of mercenary groups such as Blackwater, the U.S. public itself would rise up and slaughter the people involved. Considering the number of people with guns, some of them fairly high power, in the country... and the probability of a sympathetic U.S. Military (who might be forced to accede to the demands of the new Oligarchs but who would no doubt chafe at it)... and I cannot see it lasting.

Of course, it would also tear the country apart, and we might not be able to pull the pieces back together. Having pulled down a corrupt dictatorship, would the disparate elements of this country want to just reinstate the U.S. Constitution? Or would they want to create something different? Armed conflicts between differing groups who want different things would risk ripping the country into various segments. While the U.S. military at that point could step in and declare martial law... they might see that as encouraging further violence. It's a rather interesting scenario.

It's in the businessmen's best interests to let the U.S. government stay as is. A dictatorship would not last for long in the U.S., and the struggle to destroy said dictatorship would be very bad for business. So outside of fiction and conspiracy theorists, it's not going to happen.

Rob H.

Woozle said...

I doubt they'd have planned to do anything so obvious as install a dictatorship; more likely, they would simply take steps to undermine the democratic functioning of the government so that the real power would be vested with "the right people" -- rather like the for-show democracy we seem to have lately.

Which is not to say that I think the current situation is a result of the Butler conspiracy having actually taken place; more likely (and this is perhaps my Inner Paranoid Conspiracy Nut talking) it's the result of behind-the-scenes machinations related to 9/11.

David Brin said...

When concocting thriller scenarios, you really have a wide variety to choose from.

For example, the Manchurian Scenario posits that the conspiracy is operated by those with a direct aim of undermining America, the West and the Enlightenment altogether. In that case, you'd use your shills to demolish the constituent parts of Pax Americana -- the military, its alliances, its world stature/popularity, its financial and technological health and its social cohesion.

(The fact that all of these have been accomplished with systematic consistency and great energy, by the Bushites does not necessarily prove the Manchurian explanation. But it suggests that is should not be dismissed, with blithe shrugs, as even most Bush opponents routinely do.)

The Manchurian gambit does have sub-categories, of course. If the plan is long-term, the backers might sacrifice some immediate harms in order to retain some power to keep on wreaking harm, after an electoral setback. If i is opportunistic and ill-planned, then they would accelerate their harm agenda, during the run-up to elections, simply getting as much hurt in as possible, heedless of the consequences to their shills.

One might peer at signs like oil prices in this light. The rise in price won't help the GOP, but it will fill pockets during the long span before a new administration can begin our process of energy recovery.

Naturally, there are other scenarios. The Great Klepto Raid differs from the one called Voracious Predators only in the degree to which a master plan lies behind the theft of hundreds of billions from the US commonwealth. Under the second of these, venality and opportunism are the drivers. Under the former, this has been a detailed and systematic program.

Both of these can overlap with Manchurian scenarios. But with some inevitable tension. For example, homegrown kleptocrats might want to undermine American systems of accountability, and perhaps see Pax Americana power and cohesion eroded. But they might balk at a blatant killing of the golden goose. GAR/FIBM rationalizations will only go so far, if they observe their homeland actually being destroyed. (One could unite these two classes of betrayal a bit closer with liberal use of blackmail.)

Note that none of these cover the Butler Conspiracy, which was (if anything) a simple case of aristocratic self-hypnosis that something had to be done, to prevent communism/socialism from taking over America. Their stupidity was clear on so many levels, e.g. not recognizing that FDR himself WAS the anodyne, preventing a socialist calamity.

Which leaves us with social/psychological patterns for treason or civil war. Certainly Deep Red America has been egged-on by cynical manipulators to the degree that a wing of that movement considers urban Americans barely human. When dems resurge into power, you can be sure that some of our terrorism will return to being homegrown, a la Timothy McVeigh -- bolstered by furloughed Blackwaterites who, even now, must be stockpiling and caching and setting up cells.

David Brin said...

Argh!

This means there'll be pressure for them to unite as Pres and veep. Which means she'll be on the ballot either way. Which means a million extra Republican voters.

Does ANYBODY know a singing/art group that'd love to get famous on YouTube?

Dennis said...

OK now I'm depressed. Bracing myself for what I can no longer see as anything but inevitable: President McCain, four (probably eight) more years of rightwing gloating, fearmongering, anti-Otherness, and a likely war with Iran. Oh, and a return to widespread disinterest among the populace, as they tune out the din of reality and into many more seasons of American Idol. The murmurings of cultural awakening are quelled once again.

Robert said...

So. Do you think Canada's government meddled in the elections with their memorandum that basically put forth the image of Obama as a double-speaking traditional politician? If Obama loses the primary, I have a strong suspicion a lot of people will blame Canada.

This doesn't look good.

Rob H.

Anonymous said...

Robert,

If Obama loses the primary now, I will blame the Democratic machine in the United States. His entire campaign is a walking advertisement for how his presidency will run.

Hillary will not be on the ticket. I believe this deep in my heart -- because there are better choices out there!

Yes, we can have a woman Governor on the ticket, someone active in recruiting sane Republicans into the Democratic Party (Sibelius, from Kansas).

Or we could have Clark, who is firmly in Clinton's debt and a wonderful strategic thinker.

The campaign should be over before Pennsylvania (movement behind the scenes from superdelegates)

tacitus2 said...

Folks.

As Enlightend types you should all be suspicious of a Messiah with sketchy credentials. In fact, I could cook up a counterpoint to David's imaginative scenarios. Oh, something about a telegenic, malleable young pol put forward by a dubious Chicago political machine...Really, a close look at Obama's three electoral "victories" prior to running for Pres has a distinct odor of fish past its prime.
Which is not to say he won't be the nominee, and not even to say that he might not turn out well as Pres. Truman came out of a machine politics background and did well.

Organizations falter and sometimes fail when they forget what they are supposed to be. The Neocon perversion of the GOP is an odiferous example. The DFL insists on an aggressively egalitarian selection process. So be it. It will all work out in the end.

btw, David, I have decided that we disagree on some matters because of our relative focus. You as a Scifi writer are focused on future events, which are infinitely varied. My interest is history, which is hardly cast in stone in the eyes of later interpreters, but decidedly has a different range of possibilities.

Still enjoying the visible workings of Democracy. Still worrying a little about the invisible ones.

Tacitus2

Robert said...

So perhaps the best bet for Senator Obama to reinvigorate his campaign (which must be smarting over this loss, though they seem to have expected it near the end) is for Obama to select a running mate... and that being a female governor that will leech away the female vote from Senator Clinton? The good news is that via delegates and popular vote, Obama is still winning.

If Clinton were to get in, it would give a strong smell of the Bush Presidency in 2000, which despite losing the popular vote managed to pull off an electoral victory. If Clinton pulls that off, then there will be a lot of very angry voters who will vote against Clinton. And the truly sad thing is, Clinton is blind to the damage she's causing to the Democratic party. She is determined to win no matter what the cost. Her attempts to smear Obama's name (and I count her constant pushing of the Rezko real estate deal as one such example, along with waving the Canada memo and all-but-saying "this is the dirt I've been looking for!") alienated the Obama voters from her.

Think of it. If she'd been strategic she would have made sure Senator McCain got ahold of the memo. McCain would have trumpeted the memo without any reservations. Thus McCain would have been the bad guy, and she would have smelled less like fertilizer. Of course, having thought of that scenario, I seriously want to get drunk now. I don't like to see myself in that devious frame of mind.

However, I don't see Clinton out before Pennsylvania. I see her dragging the party through the muck for the next three months, screaming and kicking and insisting she deserves this. Well, not screaming and kicking precisely... but still very insistent and probably pulling more behind-the-scenes tricks to try and force Obama out.

Gods, I detest her and her husband. *sigh* Yes, it's a part of the democratic process and we shouldn't slight any part of it, but there is something about her that just gets under the skin and makes me want to turn my back on politics. I don't care what Obama's experience is. I see him as a catalyst for change. He will bring a new generation of politicians into the fold, people inspired by him. Clinton? Is just more of the same old same old that we've been struggling against for the past thirty years.

Rob H.

Anonymous said...

Clinton built his organization from the bottom up. DC pols hated Clinton -- and thought Gore would be a better president.

That said, don't hate Clinton... she's not in the race now for herself, but for Carville and all the other odious folks that have served the Clintons loyally.

Today's news belongs to Clinton, it appears. Wait until Tomorrow, and you'll see what Obama has to bring to the table (did I hear something about fifty superdelegates?).

Robert said...

Dr. Brin: An Obama/Clinton ticket is detrimental for Obama's chances to get elected president. However, the converse (a Clinton/Obama ticket) is perhaps essential for her chances to get in. Without Obama and the interest he brings out in voters (and his money-making machine), Clinton has little chance of defeating McCain (who has managed to distance himself from the use of negative campaigning, something Clinton no longer can claim). I think she knows that.

The Democratic party is best served with her as a Senator as the Republicans get her seat should she win the Primary. What's more, if she were to lose the general election (which seems quite possible), then it also hands the White House to the Republicans... giving them significantly more power in the Senate and control of the Executive branch. This is a bad scenario for the needed changes to the Republican party.

I truly hope the Democratic higher-ups get together with Clinton and explain the facts to her. She won't win. It is far better for the Democratic Party for her to bow out now, rather than drag this campaign on. I just doubt she'll listen.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Folks, do not despair. Wyoming and MIssissippi will help. The superdelegates will notice something. Most of HRC’s wins were in (1) states the dems take for granted or (2) states where latino votes surged her past the post (but that are largely hopeless in the general election. I mean, Texas?) Obama has a big chance of winning in many traditionally GOP states.

Actually, while here negative stuff has irritated me, in fact, Obama and his peoplre needed to show they could take some rough stuff! I don’t really mind making him prove he can take some punches. What I mind is the growing talk of a combined ticket! Take this:

”Clinton, in particular, projected confidence on the day after her candidacy-saving victories, suggesting she might want Obama as her vice presidential running mate. "That may be where this is headed, but of course we have to decide who is on the top of ticket. I think the people of Ohio very clearly said that it should be me," she said on CBS.”

Ooog. Did you read that closely? My wife said “Hillary would never take the #2 spot.” But that passage above suggests strongly she would! Oh, lordy....

And yet, guys, don’t over-react! She ain’t Satan. Note dennis: I still think Hillary can beat McCain. But what’s depressing is that she can only do so narrowly. The million extra GOP voters that she pulls to the polls will protect hundreds of troglodyte congressfolk, state assemblymen and so on. And She would enter office dooming us to eight more years of total culture war. (Hear Limbaugh and Fox clapping with glee.) Do not get me wrong! I will fight like hell for her. Well, not for her, but for a Democrat who will replace 5,000 corrupt shills with 5,000 skilled professionals, unleashing the civil servants and other officers to do their jobs. But...

I am disappointed in many feminists who say this is “the one chance to see a woman president in my lifetime.” Hell! I am far more of a feminist than that! We Californians have had two self-made senators for many years. Yipes, ladies. Have some perspective and faith.

tacitus: bring the smally fish out, now. Please, we had “he smells fishy” from you guys, about the Clintons, for fifteen years! And not a single thing was ever shown to be true. Not one. That self-hypnosis-delusional stuff has no credibility. But if you know something, spill it now.

(I do share your sub-flesh tremors, though, about a guy we know so little about. My thriller-plot side can conjure a millions worrisome conjectures. But please, Unlike the Bush/Manchurian plot, these fantasy scenarios have NO correlation with known reality... yet. What we DO have is a guy who is the least beholden to anybody since Teddy Roosevelt.)

Tacitus, interesting perspective re our foci. Yes, I am future-oriented. But all SF authors are history junkies and my only SAT 800 was in EuroHistory. I may be a physicist, but history is where I am an infuriating, konw-it-all gourmand. It is the manure out of which our tree grows.

Robert said...

I remember talking to a gaming store owner some fifteen years ago, asking him what fiction he read. He replied he didn't read fiction, because he found history to be far more fascinating. The more I've read into history, the more I see storyline after storyline that was at times lifted whole-scale from the history books and presented as science fiction or science fantasy. Truly, history is more varied and imaginative than fiction... the problem lies with the presentation.

Back to politics for one moment: I'll amend what I said about a Obama/Clinton ticket. While Clinton would draw some significant negative baggage with her to the campaign, it would be not as severe as if she were the presidential candidate. If she were to agree to this sooner rather than later and dropped out of the running within the next week or two in exchange for being Obama's running mate, it would significantly lessen the damage that an Obama/Clinton ticket offers should she fight all the way 'til the very end. Heck, they could even seat Florida and Michigan in that case, with her agreement that they'll toss their votes in for Obama.

The cynic in me sees it as the best chance to stop the damage that will come with Obama launching salvos back at Clinton (with her tossing her hands up in the air and saying she's a victim, oh woe is her!) and he himself being portrayed as a negative campaigner. What's more, Clinton herself could use her ire against McCain while Obama takes the high road.

You know, I really dislike this dark cynical side of myself at times. Especially as it tries to relabel itself as a "realist" instead.

Rob H.

Jonathan said...

McCain has recently uncovered his own disdain for the scientific process.

Incidence of autism is on the rise. The various causes for this are being vigorously debated (the current leader is a change in diagnostic criteria, but this could change at any moment). The first cause proposed, however, was the use of thimerosal, a mercury derivative, as a stabilizer in vaccines.

Subsequent long-term studies carried out by the US, the UK, the Netherlands, the CDC, and the WHO, have repeatedly shown absolutely no correlation between thimerosal and autism. In point of fact, the Netherlands removed thimerosal from virtually all vaccines in 1997 (the state of California followed suit in 2001); autism rates continued to rise, keeping pace with rising rates in the rest of the world.

A few days ago, speaking in Texas, McCain said that there was "strong evidence" that linked thimerosal and autism. Apparently, he had not done even the most cursory review of the available studies before announcing this conclusion.

I don't know what I will do, should we be faced with another four years of deliberate, willful ignorance...

David Brin said...

Look, I am tired of being a jinx. I felt so sure Kerry would save us in 04... despite being pissed off that he chose the useless Edwards.

Clearly Hillary is positioning herself to be the one offering a joint candidacy. Obama as her veep would help her. But she neglects to note that SHE does not help Obama... except by donating her organization, which she should do anyway, veep or not.

Promise her Secretary of State. (BTW, isn't Eliot Spitzer governor of New York? He'd appoint a democrat.... and then accept the post of US Attorney General. Oh, please. Oh, how he'd go get em...)

Wyoming & Mississippi. Who'd a thunk they'd matter so much.

Anonymous said...

Even Texas is hopping mad:

To quote Kos, "With 99% of the votes in, it looks as though the number of votes in the Texas Democratic primary will match-or slightly exceed-John Kerry's Texas vote total for the 2004 general election."

Wowsa. And judging from the reports up on StreetProphets, most Texans are having a hard time deciding between Hillary and Obama (and like 'em both).

Dennis said...

As the day wears on, is declaration of Clinton victory in Texas premature? Sure she won the primary by a 51-48 margin (65-61 delegates), but the caucus results are only 39% reported, and Obama has a substantial lead there (56-44). At least, according to CNN's website at 4pm EST. If that margin holds up, and if I haven't fat-fingered my calculator, that gives him an 8 delegate lead in the caucus and a 4 delegate lead for the state. He could yet pull out a Texas win.

DB, while she's no Satan, she's no Gabriel. I agree with your analysis of what a narrow Clinton win would bring, I just don't see that she can pull it off - the trogs are too passionately against her and as we've observed repeatedly over the last 14 years, highly motivated and active.

David Brin said...

Yes, but the trogs are astronomically unpopular with a big majority of Americans. The diff is that a landslide could force millions of them to re-examine. But a slim HRC victory would only reinforce their post-CivilWar irredentism and lay seeds for McVeigh-style insurrection.

And yes, winning in states like Texas IS THE DREAM. It is the real victory condition. In a true landslide, the Texas legislature could change hands. The dems would go into a frenzy of re-gerrymandering...

...and thus on that issue, they'd become the Evil Empire and suddenly the GOP would be the party of the people! What a swerve! (on just one issue.) And I don't mind the irony one bit. We, the people, would get a chance to redress a horrid class-crime.

Robert said...

The ironic thing would be if the Dems see gerrymandering as a big evil and instead of using it for their own end... work to fairly partition the states so that each district has an actual chance of going either way, thus allowing for more representational democracy. Of course, once the Repubs get back in charge they'll undo that good work... but it would make the Repubs look bad in that case.

Sorry, I'm a fiction writer. I'm used to writing about fantasies. ;)

Rob H.

tacitus2 said...

Glad to oblige.

If I err, perhaps posters from IL can comment. (I am from next door WI.)

But as I understand it, Obama's IL State Sen. primary was effectively decided when defects were discovered in the petitions of all of his opponents. And in a safe DFL district, that's the ball game.

Perhaps you recall that in his US Senate run both his primary opponent and subsequent GOP opponent had messy divorce files unsealed, presumably by judges not unaware of the political impact. The suggestions that the Obama campaign was involved are all "off the record".

Having said all that I would observe that:

A: There is no illegality in any of this. I have not alleged any.
B. this is about par for the course in Illinois politics, and..
C. anybody who treated Seven of Nine so shoddily absolutely deserved political obliteration. And probably Assimilation as well!

I actually have a sincere admiration for Obama as a person(don't know enough yet about his policies). But he is a product of Chicago politics not immaculate conception.

Tacitus2

Michael said...

Tacitus: It doesn't matter.
If he can win the presidency via a "clean" campaign, that's all that matters.

Because that means candidates are going to imitate him in the future...

... and that's a win for all of us.

tacitus2 said...

Micheal
No argument. This appears to be his first campaign in which he has faced significant opposition. And he is running it both cleanly and effectively. His past is worth noting, but I do not hold it against him.
I outline it only at the prompting of Our Host.
Tacitus2

Tony Fisk said...

"The more I've read into history, the more I see storyline after storyline that was at times lifted whole-scale from the history books and presented as science fiction or science fantasy."

Does this mean that those sf writers who *do* learn the lessons of history are doomed to re-write them?

Tacitus, considering the perspectives of history and future you refer to, you and David might appreciate a brief riff from Pink Floyd:

they flutter behind you your possible pasts
some brighteyed and crazy some frightened and lost
a warning to anyone still in command
of their possible future to take care


...as I'm sure you do.

wrt McCain and mudslinging. I don't think he has needed to yet. He has never been seriously threatened by Huckabee. So, see how he goes when he is finally faced with the dem victor. (Hopefully not a pyrrhic victor! Competition works at selecting the most fit. I know it does! But why does it have to be so inefficient?)

David Brin said...

Actually, Tacitus, those stories show a rough but legal willingness to use transparency as a weapon. I'll not quibble... for now.

I do find his general lack of past traumas and defeats slightly troubling, in which case his recent battle with HRC may actually be confidence-building for all of us.

But the flip side of that is something astonishing. A list of political IOUs that is probably the shortest of any presidential candidate in a century. Perhaps ever.

Yes, the dark imagination reminds us that all it takes is ONE IOU to be a calamity, if it is big enough and wrong enough. e.g. the blackmail/manchurian scenario. But really, if the masters are THAT smart... to be able to follow Bush-Cheney with something so deeply-secret-clever-insidious... well, then they are already Orson Scott Card demigods. We might as well give it up.

I'll sleep with one eye cracked open just a slit. But the rest of me will be filled with hope.

Matt DeBlass said...

Well, Obama carried the TX caucus, keeping him at about a 100 delegate lead (NY Times count).

I'm happy to see he took Vermont too, although not surprised. By the way, if you ever want to see direct democracy in the U.S., go to a VT town meeting - basically everybody yells at each other until they reach a consensus, it's a beautiful thing.
If we tried that here in NJ, people'd get shot.

David Brin said...

New England town meetings had a huge impact on western political philosophy. When de Tocqueville saw tradesmen and blacksmiths and farmers wrangling, he had an epiphany and adored it. When the romantic movement saw the same thing, they were appalled and ended their brief love affair with democracy, plunging back into elitism and hatred of rationality.

Alas, HRC's supporters will cry foul over the Tx Caucuses. Don't forget, it means she's winning the "popular vote". They'll raise that...

...even tho his caucus victories show the passionate movement he has lit up. The people who will go after ostriches all summer long. Again, the diff tween squeaking a victory in a long culture war and ENDING it with a tsunami.

Rob said...

Go here. And then read this, for some perspectives on the job of the superdelegates and an excellent distillation, Platonic-dialogue style, of the Obama/Clinton arguments post March-4.

--

I think Clinton's disdain for the caucus process is an emergent, not ideological: She isn't winning at caucus, therefore it is a bad way to nominate. In spite of the fact that nobody has really contested the idea for at least my entire lifetime.

Yes, I'm accusing her of fallacy. I cannot yet detect much of that in Obama's position about the contest which appears much more honest.

And I detect far less insanity on the Republican side with McCain than David alleges. For one thing he's shown he can have an open mind about things.

zorgon the malevolent said...

All this doom and gloom. From the math I've seen, Obama has the nomination locked up, and according to the Huffington Post, Obama already has 50 superdelegates as well as a sizable lead in pledged delegates. I haven't verified the math in detail, but right now it looks like it's game over for Hillary.

Amazing that someone as savvy as Dr. Brin could be so out of touch with the zeitgeist right now. This election cycle shows that national security has become completely unimportant as an issue. Giulinai's total failure proved that. Americans don't give a damn about national security anymore. They're seen through that. They're tired of the fearmongering.

The big issues in this election cycle are the economy, bringing back the rule of law and the constitution, and the other 2 issues Dr. brin hit on, removing ourselves from the dark ages with a return to a respect for science and rationality, and resotring accountability. Dr. Brin calls the latter "the war against professionals," which, while technically accurate, just doesn't have a rally-round-the-flag ring to it. I'd prefer to call it "the war against reality and the rule of law." It's the same thing Stalin did when the 1933 annual census showed a drop in the population of the USSR because of the mass murder of the kulaks and the collapse of Soviet agriculture under Trofim Lysenko -- Stalin disbanded the census bureau. Testing claims against reality and forcing people to face up to the consequences of their actions are crucial.

My sense is that the American people are sick of hatemongering, tired of fear, tired of lawlessness at the highest levels, sick of incompetence and crony c(r)apitalism, sick of lies and divisiveness and religious fanaticism. When McCain futilely tries to play the national security card, my guess is that the American people will give the same reaction they did to Giulinai.

The big problem with our grotesquely outsized military right now is twofold: [1] "capabilities create intentions," as the U.S. Army War College likes to point out. Spending more on the American military than all other countries in the world do on arms combined creates an enormous temptation to use that great big shiny toy to do insanely stupid and destructive things. In fact, that's clearly what happened with Iraq. The obscenely oversized U.S. military functioned like a great big shiny gasoline can and a book of matches with WARNING: DO NOT TOUCH placed in front of a six-year-old. Anybody knows what's going to happen under those circumstances.

[2] But the second problem with our grotesquely bloated U.S. military is even more sinister. When you constantly escalate the military budget, more and more of America's society and industry becomes devoted to the military...and this has the effect of militarizing America, down to the lowest levels. As the militarization trickles down, the constitution goes away. The police become militarized and gradually they no longer need to follow the fourth amendement (no-knock warrants, phoney "confidential informants" used as an excuse) and the sixth amendment (people's property can now be arrested, and since property isn't a person, no trial is required to confiscate people's life savings) and the eighth amendement (cruel and unusual punishment is now standard operating procedure, with police tasering seventh-graders and having their insanely outrageous lawlenessness sanctified as "appropriate behavior"). Unless we start downsizing the U.S. military, there won't be a constitution left, because it's militarizing society.

Right now the biggest threat to the national security of America is the out-of-control army of muggers with badges who can taser, strip naked and assault, rape, torture, and callously sadistically and gleefully murder any innocent child or woman or unarmed man anywhere, with no consequences, for no reason. I'm now a lot more afraid of TSA goons or DHS goons or the muggers wearing police uniforms than I am of any islamic terrorists.

David Brin said...

Sorry, Zorgon, but you are completely and diametrically, 100% wrong in this case.

Under Bill Clinton we had the same size military. It did not beg to be used. The Officer Corps despised being "used" in anything but extremely careful, prudent and adult ways. As they despise the Iraq War.

Your caricature of these men and women show that you simply do not know any of them. You attribute to them motives and goals opposite to those they live by, and thus make the Bushites' main victims into enemies... at the very time when we need to end this silly, Vietnam era leftover split between the left and those who serve.

The VAST increase in military spending has not gone to weapons makers (much) but to "service contractors" who gorge on hundreds of billions while "providing" for the troops and "rebuilding" Iraq. The classic Military-Industrial complex was just as happy building advanced systems during peace as they are doing it during war.. And the military itself was MUCH happier.

And dig it, the world was vastly safer during Clinton. And the reputation of a totally unbeatable US military was, indeed, part of it. The unipolar world of the nineties was better. It was.

Not as good as the era to come, when sanity prevails and militaries diminish and wither out of sheer atrophy of non-use! But a unilaterally weak America is NOT how you'll get there.

Anyway, I want Obama to pick a "strength" veep (who is great in other ways too) because this must be a tsunami. And a guy like Webb will scotch McCain's war cries with simple images of a more mature style of strength.

Andrew said...

Howard Dean weighs in on Michigan and Florida

"...out of respect for the presidential campaigns and the states that did not violate party rules, we are not going to change the rules in the middle of the game."

Robert said...

Which basically torpedoes Clinton's chances of finagling a deal to win the nomination. I honestly have to wonder what she thinks she can prove by continuing her efforts. Is she trying to get Obama to sign her on as VP? Or does she think that she can win the election if she gets the primary through a backroom deal?

I honestly don't know what to think at this point. It's doubtful she can win back the popular vote, and the consequences of pulling a Shrub are horrific. Why then not back out now and save face? Does she not want to let down her supporters? Maybe she feels she owes it to them, even though they're not enough on their own to give her the nomination?

Rob H.

Dennis said...

The main reason I see McCain as near inevitable is that this week's Clinton victories have given her a blood-taste for negative campaigning. I expect she'll now put all her eggs in that basket, and in so doing drag Obama into the pit with her and derail his high-road express. Meanwhile, McCain can sit back, watch the fireworks, and count the money he doesn't have to spend yet.

On a different tangent, I'd like to throw this notion out there to see how it bounces:

Obama/Gore.

Stuart said...

Whatever attack Hillary uses today will lose its shock value before November. Could a strongly negative campaign against Obama now actually be beneficial to him if he wins the nomination?

alan said...

You were mentioned..
http://www.wired.com/politics/security/commentary/securitymatters/2008/03/securitymatters_0306

Robert said...

And the conspiracy-minded - er, I mean overactively imaginative part of myself now ponders if this is part of Clinton's strategy. Air as much of Obama's history as she can as early as she can so that it'll be old cake and uninteresting to the voters when McCain drags it out in the fall.

Meanwhile, Europe seems to consider Obama to be the best overall candidate among the U.S. choices (though McCain is also considered a decent choice by them), embodying the greatest chance of significant change from the Shrub Presidency.

Rob H.

zorgon the malevolent said...

As distasteful as it is to debunk David's flagrantly false faux-factoids and wanton distortions on the subject of military spending and the allegedly "peaceful" 90s, refusing to do would run the risk of appearing to agree with his systematic misstatement of the facts.

Brin claim #1: Under Bill Clinton we had the same size military.

Factually False.

From the New York Times, 4 February 2008:

"The Pentagon’s proposed budget, for instance, is $515.4 billion, an increase of 7.5 percent over this year, meaning that military spending would be the highest in inflation-adjusted terms since World War II."

However, this radically understates current fiscal year 2007 and proposed FY 2008 U.S. military spending because (1) it leaves out the off-budget supplementary appropriations for the Iraq occuption, which add at least another 200 billion dollars per year, and (2) is uses underhanded accounting games to hide the real cost of the Iraq war and current military spending:

"Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate majority leader, issued a statement saying that the budget was “fiscally irresponsible and highly deceptive, hiding the costs of the war in Iraq while increasing our skyrocketing debt.”"

Today's New York Times, op. cit.

Of course, Brin will deny these well-documented facts, so let's cite more sources to beat him over the head with the thoroughly documented reality that U.S. military expenditures have exploded wildly over the past 12 years:

"How astonishing are the budgetary numbers? Consider the trajectory of U.S. defense spending over the past nearly two decades. From the end of the Cold War into the mid-1990s, defense spending actually fell significantly. In constant 1996 dollars, the Pentagon's budget dropped from a peacetime high of $376 billion, at the end of President Reagan's military buildup in 1989, to a low of $265 billion in 1996. (That compares with post-World War II wartime highs of $437 billion in 1953, during the Korean War, and $388 billion in 1968, at the peak of the Vietnam War.) After the Soviet empire peacefully disintegrated, the 1990s decline wasn't exactly the hoped-for "peace dividend," but it wasn't peanuts either.

"However, since Sept. 12, 2001, defense spending has simply exploded. For 2008, the Bush administration is requesting a staggering $650 billion, compared with the already staggering $400 billion the Pentagon collected in 2001. Even subtracting the costs of the ongoing "global war on terrorism" -- which is what the White House likes to call its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- for fiscal year 2008, the Pentagon will still spend $510 billion. In other words, even without the president's two wars, defense spending will have nearly doubled since the mid-1990s."


As much I regret to suggest it, the only explanations for Brin's systematic misstatement of these thoroughly documented facts about the explosion of the U.S. military budget, by a factor of nearly double, seem either dyslexia or dishonesty.

So that issue is settled. The facts speak for themselves. There is no question that U.S. military has blown up in a veritable Big Bang. It's through the roof. Military spending has exploded. It's wildly out of control. The only reason everyone doesn't realize it is that the thugs in the White House are using dishonest accounting games to hide the real expenditures -- the Iraq war and the war in Afghanistan get folded into "supplementary appropriations," expenditures for the military in the war on terror get hidden away in allegedly non-military areas, like DHS, which are actually just more military spending, and the staggering costs of private contractors are taken off-book and not listed as military expenditures, even though paying Blackwater goons in Iraq obviously is a military expenditure.

What the true military expenditures are right now, nobody is exactly sure -- the NYTimes estimates 650 billion per year, but that ignores private contractors in Iraq and GWOT militarization at home, and I guarant-freakin'-tee you that paying M-16 armed flak-jacketed paramilitary units with K-9 dogs to patrol trains throughout America, which is now being started, IS yet another military expenditure. It just isn't listed as one.

Is the true cost 800 billion? 900 billion? I don't think anyone knows, but U.S. military expenditures sure as hell aren't 510 billion per year. That's a flat-out lie told by the pathological liars in the White House because the real amount getting pissed away on the U.S. military today is so staggering that if the average American knew it, they'd erupt in a mass uprising of outrage.

So now that Brin's first bogus claim has been debunked ("under Bill Clinton we had the same size military" -- flatly and provably FALSE, as shown), let's move on to debunk Brin's second provably false claim:

Brins' claim #2:"It [the military] did not beg to be used."

Once again, flatly and provably false. Anyone remember Somalia? The only difference between Somalia and Iraq is that the guy in charge back in 1993 (Clinton) was smart enough to realize it was a disaster and pull out. The idiot in charge in 2003 wasn't smart enough to pound sand, so he stayed in. (Now Brin will point out that Somalia was actually a military action incurred under Bush 41, which is true, but irrelevant. Viet Nam, after all, was actually started under Johnson, but Nixon was just as culpable for continuing it.)

Somalia shows the ongoing problem of a huge Cold War military in a multipolar 4th Generation Warfare world. As long as we have a grotesquely oversized military, civilian leaders will find it too tempting to avoid using it. The solution is to get rid of our obscenely oversized military and cut it down to something rational, say 20% of its current size, if not smaller.

As for the allegedly "peaceful" 90s...anyone remember those concentration camps in central Europe? EUROPE??? Anyone remember Kosovo getting bombed? Anyone remember the genocide and ethnic cleansing? Anyone remember the genocide in Rwanda? THAT was the "peaceful" 90s???

Here again -- our gigantic Cold War military is useless for solving problems like the breakdown of Somali civil society or the Rwanda genocide.. We not only need a much smaller military, we need a very different kind of military from the one we have today.

Brin goes on to set up & knock down a phoney straw man, showing that he didn't even read my remarks:

Misleading Brin claim #3:"The Officer Corps despised being "used" in anything but extremely careful, prudent and adult ways. As they despise the Iraq War.

That's irrelevant. The officer corps does not have a choice in what orders they obey. If the president tells 'em to mobilize, they have to mobilize. That's my point. The danger here arises not from the military, which is generally filled with thoughtful rational people epsecially at the higher levels, but from our civilian leaders, who get picked nowadays by an election process somewhere between the American Gladiators TV show and George Orwell's 2-minute hate.

Clearly Brin's rebuttal here is a total non sequitur, since it completely misunderstands the point I made. A bloated U.S. military is dangerous because it tempts American civilian leaders to use it. Ignorantly foolish civilians like David Frum get drunk on dreams of unlimited power and clowns like Michael Ledeen make insanely megalomaniacal statements like:
One can only hope that we turn the region into a cauldron, and faster, please. If ever there were a region that richly deserved being cauldronized, it is the Middle East today.

You should really read what I'm saying before you fire this stuff off, David.

Brin goes on to belittle himself with a tired ad hominem attack:

Flatly false Brin claim #4: Your caricature of these men and women show that you simply do not know any of them. You attribute to them motives and goals opposite to those they live by, and thus make the Bushites' main victims into enemies... at the very time when we need to end this silly, Vietnam era leftover split between the left and those who serve.

Once again, flagrantly incorrect, since I was not even discussing members of the military. The big problem with an outsized miltary is that it tempts foolish civilian leaders to use it. Military professionals know better -- they're never seduced into deluding themselves that the U.S. is omnipotent just because we have a lot of hi-tech weapons...but fools like Frum and Ledeen and Perle were seduced into that illusion of omnipotent power, and their think tanks swayed everyone else in Washington.

So unless the Joint Chiefs stage a coup, how exactly are they all supposed to refuse an order like the one given to invade Iraq in 2003? That's the problem. Frankly, if we had military professionals calling the shots for our military interventions overseas, I'd worry a lot less about a big military...but that's not our system. And military control of the U.S. would produce lots of other problems, so let's stick with the system of civilian control of the mlitary we've got now. Under that system a big military is inherently dangerous -- and it's not just me saying that. One of the greatest military leaders of the 20th century said it: Dwight David Eisenhower. Read his farewell address. Then try to argue.

Brin goes on to contradict himself:
The VAST increase in military spending has not gone to weapons makers (much) but to "service contractors"... Wait -- I thought you just said the military today is the same size as it was under Clinton? But now you claim mlitary spending has had a "VAST increase"? Which is it, Brin? Is military spending the same as it was under Clinton? Or has there been a "VAST increase"? Were you deliberately misstating the facts then, when you claimed "the military is the same size as it was under Clinton"? Or are you deliberately misstating the facts now?

I don't like putting down the hammer like this, but this kind of shabby distortion of well-documented facts just isn't worthy of you, sir.

Misleading Brin claim #6: The classic Military-Industrial complex was just as happy building advanced systems during peace as they are doing it during war.. And the military itself was MUCH happier.

But this is precisely the problem! The MI-complex kept churning out useless superweapons...eventually tempting a foolish civilian leader to use 'em, deluded with dreams of monipotence. Clinton was too smart. Then we got the fool we have now in the Oval Office. This is exactly the problem Dwight Eisenhower warned us about!

"This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

"We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together."


Dwight D. Eisenhower, farewell address, 1961.

(Boy, talk about a prescient speech!)

Want to tell me Dwight Eisenhower was "caricaturing" the men and women in uniform in a way that showed "he simply does not know them"? Shame on you, sir. For shame.

I'm sick and tired of every single person who suggests that we reduce military expenditures getting smeared as an ignorant commie peacenik.

It's time to CUT THAT CRAP OUT. Now. RIGHT now. At some point the U.S. military budget has got to stop increasing its percentage of the GDP. Anyone who denies this is either drunk, or insane, or brain-damaged. The U.S. military budget cannot continue to increase its share of the budget forever. That's a BASIC FACT. if you deny that, you're unhinged. The U.S. GDP is not infinite, and fairly soon the baby boomers will start retiring, and then fiscal sh*t will really hit the fan. Anyone who doesn't recognize this is either either insane or lying. We cannot continue to double military expenditures after inflation, as we have since the mid-90s, and then double again, and double again, and double again, and again and again and again. It's insane. IT CAN'T CONTINUE.

We just don't have the money for it. That's the reality. And especially consdering that Medicaid and other expenditures on retirees will, withint he next 30 years or so, explode to essentially crowd out every other item in the U.S. national budget, we'd better start preparing for cutting our military expenditures drastically and we'd better start preparing to cut our military now, while we have some discretion, and retiree benefits haven't yet eaten our entire budget.

Brin will of course deny that spending on baby boomers is already skyrocketing, and will soon explode. Time to debunk that distortive misstatement of well-documented facts in advance:

"To illustrate the coming entitlement budget squeeze, consider that combined Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security spending is currently rising at roughly $50 billion every year. But 10 years from now, spending on these three programs without reforms will be rising by more than $100 billion every year.2 Regardless of when the Social Security and Medicare Trust Funds run out, or when these programs start running cash-flow deficits, the financial squeeze begins just a few years from now when the entitlements start consuming ever larger shares of the budget and the nation's gross domestic product.

Congressional testimony by Chris Edwards, 20 January 2004
CBO’s assumptions result in projections that severely underestimate the spending explosion that will result from the retirement of the baby boom generation.[1] "CBO now projects that federal spending as a percentage of GDP will rise from 20 percent today to almost double that (38 percent) in 2050. Even this grim picture is probably too rosy. A more realistic projection shows Washington spending an unsustainable 73 percent of GDP in 2050."

Since these are Cato and Heritage institute projections, they're pessimistic -- but the trends they point to are real:
Forecast: Social Security to be Depleted in 2040

But even that's not the real problem -- the big crunch comes when Medicare exhausts its trust fund in another 12 years. In the 1960s, Medicare/Midcaid had 20 workers for every retiree getting medical benefits -- by 2030, Medicare will have only 3 workers for every retiree who gets medical benefits. Meanwhile:

"In 2007, total national health expenditures were expected to rise 6.9 percent — two times the rate of inflation. Total spending was $2.3 TRILLION in 2007, or $7600 per person. Total health care spending represented 16 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP).
"U.S. health care spending is expected to increase at similar levels for the next decade reaching $4.2 TRILLION in 2016, or 20 percent of GDP."

Project these figures out, and you'll see that by 2040 health care gobbles up somewhere north of 40% of U.S. GDP. There simply isn't room for out current level of military expenditures AND health care for retirees.

I propose the Grand Golden Ostrich Award for Dr. Brin for his ongoing refusal to recognize these clearly apparent facts. Proposing that we maintain military spending anywhere near current levels in view of this looming baby boomer-health care retirement fiscal crisis represnts a retreat from reality that makes Xerxes the Magnificent, who ordered his slaves to whip the ocean when it sank the bridge he tried to build across the Hellespont, look sensible by comparison.

Add in the cogent points Dwight Eisenhower made about the military-industrial complex (which are basically the same as the points I made in my previous post), and it becomes absolutely impossible for a rational person to take issue with these basic realities.

Something has to be done to cut military spending, and soon. The only questions remaining are: Cut by how much? And how soon?

Robert said...

The problem is that a massive wholesale reduction of our military would likely result in war. China is in the process of starting up a new Cold War. Russia has been returning to an authoritarian pseudo-socialist society now that the Great Democratic Experiment failed there. India and various Asian powers are ramping up their militaries in response.

What is called for is not the elimination of our military, but a return to the National Guard system of military, and using the National Guard only within the borders of the U.S. except under extreme provocation (and Iraq doesn't count). The National Guard should be armed as well as the normal military and be kept at home. It should remain a part-time tool meant to protect us at home. The rest of our military can undergo some reductions (though there already have been, such as the retirement of the Iowa-class Battleships from the U.S. Navy) and remain smaller but viable.

But cutting our forces to 20% is plain foolishness and would invite foreign aggression to which the only response would be either surrender or to go nuclear.

Rob H.

Catfish N. Cod said...

http://thinkprogress.org/2008/03/05/fallon-bush-fire/

Now this is just a rumor, but it is a seriously troubling one. As far as I know, since the Goldwater-Nichols reorganization of the military into joint-forces combatant commands, no regional commander has ever been relieved of duty in mid-term. Since matters have -- especially according to Administration rhetoric -- been going exceptionally well in the CENTCOM area of responsibility, political considerations can be the only possible reason to fire Admiral Fallon. It's not as if he's been doing a MacArthur and undercutting National Command Authority.

To fire Admiral Fallon would be the clearest signal possible of the War on Professionalism, as well as the signal that Bush and Cheney will attempt "wag the dog" and start a war with Iran to ensure John McCain's election... a situation completely detestable for such an honorable public servant as McCain. (Unlike certain underlings of Bush and Cheney, who have no such honor.)

David Brin said...

I disagree with Howard Dean. Ad hoc hurried caucuses should be held in FLA & MI! Thus, instead of insulting two important states, they’d be allowed to win their way back into favor, without being rewarded for rule-breaking. Also, the caucuses would attract huge groundswell attention, independents switching parties, development of organizations. A total win-win.

Speaking of independents and switching parties... tell any Pennsylvania indies and/or “decent republicans” they have only 17 days to re-register as democrats, in order to vote in the Decisive Primary! They can’t ask at the polling station!

HRC can only drag down BHO if there’s leverage to drag upon. I don’t mind her doing oppo research and finding the very same things McC will try to use. What I WILL mind is her not doing pennance thereafter, and kissing and making up HUGELY during the general.

Zorgon don’t give me “that’s settled” bullshit. I spoke of SIZE of the military -- whereupn you swerve and swoop and talk MONEY... when I already said the money cost has hugely increased under Bush. And I made very clear the reasons for this. Which have almost nothing whatsoever to do with the size of the military.

Tell me. How many active duty US Army divisions or brigades are there? How many carrier battle groups and Air Force Wings? Do you even remotely care or know? No, because you would rather switch from apples to oranges and then screech “Victory! Yppee! I win!”

Almost NONE of the vast increase in military expenditures has gone TO the military, or even to classic defense contractors. But that fact is of no importance in your eagerness to support a dumb over-generalization. Even though the truth is far more interesting! The use of a war - that the military hates - to steal vast amounts that do not benefit the military -- or us -- at all.

I simply stopped reading when I realized that you were just screeching. You are the one being simpleminded here. You are better than this. I’ve seen it.

Robert, I’ve said before, the misuse of the National Guard is an impeachable offense. It is treason.
And John McCain is complicit, supporting this whole thing all the way down.

Catfish, thanks for word about the possible firing of Admiral Fallon. It will be a real litmus. If he goes, we’re in big trouble.

This is a real example of how lefty-flake thinking is delusional. The men and women of the officer corps are fighting for us right now. And they don’t come better than Fallon. God bless the Navy. And God save us from bright-but obsessively-simpleminded friends

Robert said...

You have to wonder as to what the world's response would be if the U.S. attacked Iran, and immediately afterward the Democratic Congress started impeachment proceedings. Of course, we'd also have to impeach Cheney at the same time... and probably a goodly number of his advisors lest you end up with another Shrub crony who would continue his abuses.

Then again, just by the mere fact that Congress impeached and then removed the Shrub, perhaps even Cheney would step lightly knowing that Congress had had enough.

In this sort of scenario... I don't think Clinton would be able to sooth frazzled nerves. Obama, who has become sort of a figurehead of change in America for a number of countries overseas, might be able to lessen tensions. But I wonder what the final cost to get Iran to stop shrieking would be.

Worse case scenario, the Shrub uses this to enact his special powers, suspends all rights and disbands Congress, and declares the U.S. to be under his direct control. At that point, armed revolution would take place as people on all sides (conservative and liberal) decide to take back the government from the small-minded hack who has squandered so much for his adventurism.

I truly hope the Shrub isn't that stupid. And that whoever is appointed to replace Fallon has the guts to stand up to the Shrub and say "no" to adventurism in Iran. Fortunately, last I heard my friend no longer worked for CENTCOM, so she should be safe from being dragged back to the Middle East and in harm's way.

Rob H.

Big C said...

To Dr. Brin and Zorgon:

You both make good points, but you are talking past each other. Zorgon, I read Dr. Brin's comment as size in terms of military personnel, not budget expenditures (and I see he's already made that point in a recent comment). Otherwise, his later point about increasing expenditures doesn't make sense and is an obvious contradiction, as you pointed out.

Here is a chart and table listing total military personnel in the last 50+ years. And you'll see Dr. Brin's point about the size in terms of personnel (not budget expenditures) is borne out.

Total active duty military personnel in 1996: 1,471,722

Total active duty military personnel in 2002: 1,413,577

Total active duty military personnel as of Jan 31, 2008 (from this document): 1,416,019

However, your points about ballooning military budgets and the military-industrial complex are spot-on (but we can still argue about how much reduction of military spending is needed, although I'm far less informed than either of you). But your ire for Dr. Brin's comment was beating up a strawman.

But Dr. Brin, I think you were smacking down a straw Zorgon too. He's complaining about ever-increasing military spending, and irresponsible civilian leaders recklessly abusing the military; pretty much the same complaints you raise about the war against the Officer Corps.

Erm, so, yeah, chill out, guys. (I'll go back to lurking now)

Robert said...

I've a small suggestion for the Florida and Michigan "redo" primaries that are being bandied about by both states and a growing number of people: have it be paid jointly by the Clinton and Obama campaigns, 50/50. The campaigns could be mail-in to save money and hassle, and held after most of the other primaries so not to unfairly influence events.

This way, the Democratic party isn't paying for it, while the two people this affects the most (Clinton and Obama) are footing the bill. And it would be a nice cooperative gesture.

Rob H.

John Dougan said...

Given what we now know about the Kennedy administration, I'd be careful about too many comparisons of Obama to JFK. From the perspective of 40+ years of hindsight it was a disaster, foreign policy-wise (Bay of Pigs, Missile Crisis, Various CIA manuvers, etc.). And then there are the other, more personal revelations that have come out.

David Brin said...

big c, thanks for attempting to find middle ground. But MY point, about half the Iraqi War money being siphoned off in ways that have nothing to do with the standard "military industrial complex" was the original one raised.

The fact that the military is the same SIZE as under Clinton, though inestimably worn-down, pounded, less-well-trained and generally ruined -- despite huge expenditures -- is the significant one. It can be used as a devastating polemical/political point against the Bush Machine.

The underlying difference is deeper though. My point says to military people and decent conservatives "this crime is against you, too."

Z would repeat the classic liberal seppuku of screaming at the victims and driving them into the arms of the enemy.

David Brin said...

I just ran across this old quote, which reads pretty chillingly now:

"I mean, when was the last time a sci-fi writer was hauled out of his home at 3 a.m. and lined up and shot? If we were doing our jobs, that ought to be a real risk for us." -- Bruce Sterling (5/1988Locus)

Hey Bruce, I'm trying.

Robert said...

Unfortunately, much of science fiction has been diminished by the tsunami of fantasy literature that drowns out the few scifi novels out there (and even then, many of those are more fantasy than scifi). I say this with great love for the fantasy genre, especially as I have planned several fantasy novels. But it seems fantasy has gotten into a bit of a glut that results in fewer fantasy writers using the work to showcase more significant issues in society today.

Though one I did love was an early work by Mercedes Lackey (The Lark and the Wren I think) where she commented on the taxation system and said any system of taxes that hits each level of production with a tax is oppressive (ie, taxing the cow, the leather, the shoe-maker, and the shop-owner). Sadly, the second half of the novel turned into so much Pretty Princess Syndrome (akin to Mary Sueism but without being a fanfic) and leeched any real message the novel had.

Perhaps part of the issue also lies with the slow death of the short story. Short stories are well suited for showcasing sociopolitical issues in a different setting. Larger novels risk losing the message.

Heh. Sorry about that, I slipped into critic mode.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

Woozle said...

Re socio-politically significant fantasy:

The later Harry Potter novels were huge references to GWB's power abuses and propaganda techniques; I think Rowling even said it was deliberate, though I could be misremembering.

Also, right now we're reading the Bartimaeus trilogy as a bedtime story. The first book dealt incidentally with the maintenance and abuse of authority, but the second one is hinting heavily that it may also be an allegory to recent events, e.g. the use of a crisis as an excuse to clamp down on freedoms.

On another topic altogether, somewhat ostrich-related: There's a bumper-sticker popular in conservative circles which says "ANNOY A LIBERAL - work hard and be happy". It has occurred to me that this propaganda presents an opportunity for some talkback; here are some of the ones I've come up with (preface each one with "ANNOY A LIBERAL"):

* be utterly wrong and never ever admit it
* blow trillions of dollars on a pointless war and call yourself "conservative"
* ignore anyone not in a position of power
* unquestioningly obey authority
* support the death penalty but say you're "pro-life"
* support the war but say you're "pro-life"

I'm looking for additional suggestions, with the idea of possibly creating actual bumper stickers (or other merchandise) for sale on Cafepress or similar outlets.

Tony Fisk said...

Some more culture jamming for you Woozle:

Annoy a Liberal:
- veto a tobacco tax to fund child health, and call yourself 'pro-life'.
- explain why working hard and being happy should annoy them.
- explain why annoying them is hard work and makes you happy
- explain why working hard and being happy need to be in the same sentence.
- give them a hug, saying that any friend of John Howard is a friend of yours.

David Brin said...

Well, woozle, those are fine, if the objective is to annoy the other guy back. But I'm hoping to win some of them over. Not the bumper sticker wearers, of course.

Robert said...

The Culture War is alive and well in the Clinton Campaign as the Clinton Camp compares Senator Obama to Special Prosecutor Ken Star because of his recent statement he will be taking a more aggressive stance against Clinton's credentials to be president.

Okay. What the frak?!? Seriously. This is absolutely pathetic. Clinton is allowed to take shots at Obama, but if he tries to air her dirty laundry, he's no better than the Republican Attack Machine? At least it was just one of Clinton's camp, and not Clinton herself who said this. Still, this leaves Clinton with a very bad odor and a feeling that she can't take the heat. And it's two-faced as well. What, is Obama expected to just take all of the mud Clinton throws at him without revealing the Queen's robe is tattered?

I'm almost at the point I'll vote for McCain if Clinton wins the Democratic primary, and I'm positive McCain will drag the world into World War III.

Rob H.

Rob said...

You're misremembering. Rowling's point is wider than a temporally local grab for power. Much, much wider.

matthew said...

For excellent fantasy, try George R. R. Martin's 'A Song of Ice and Fire' series. Basically a re-telling of the War of the Roses (not the movie, the War) with a little bit of magic thrown in.

And then remember that GRRM made his first Hugo (or three) writing *very* good SciFi.

David Brin said...

Whoosh. Contrarian Brin veers and swerves. He attacks the War but defends the military... and now...

...he defends Hillary.

Please. If she wins the nomination and the presidency, she'll make those appointments and save us... and then she'll try to actually be a president. And find that every single day is Culture War hell.

No, even if you dislike here, that's a combination worth seeing. We'll be better off, and she'll wish she'd never run for office.

Woozle said...

Dr.B: you may be right; I'm not always very good at guessing how people will react to things. However, I was thinking that the bumper-sticker method was actually less confrontational than it might seem at first glance -- because it doesn't directly accuse anyone of anything (e.g. "Conservatives always..."); it merely names the sin, and dares you to condone it.

I see 2 possible reactions (from non-liberals).

1. Denial of the accusation -- "Well, I certainly don't do that!" or "That's completely untrue!" In this case, you've now accomplished two things: (1) You've established that X is not a good thing. (2) The non-liberal may start looking for confirmation that it's not true, and may start noticing whenever her/his friends (or favored politicians) do or say things that show they do in fact do X.

2. Denial of the ethic -- "Well, ha ha, what's wrong with that? Sounds good to me!" (This is especially likely if the resemblance to the conservative sticker confuses them at first, and they think this is a sentiment they're supposed to agree with.) Among the conservatives I've spoken with, this seems to be much more the pattern -- which is why the actions named need to be especially scalding, so they can't get away (even in their own heads) with agreeing. They also need to be unarguably consistent, so the non-liberal can't wriggle out by finding a hole in the reasoning.

The point is more to establish certain ethical truths than to accuse anyone of violating them. This is part of the problem with the "culture war" -- each side accuses the other of various inconsistencies and hypocrisies, but for the most part nobody's working on establishing what the standards should be.

Truly, I wouldn't have wasted space posting this here if it was pure rhetorical retaliation, with no chance of getting in under the defenses of a few people. But perhaps I underestimate the conservative ability to dismiss anything which doesn't come through approved channels (hence "ignore or ridicule anyone not in a position of power", but they can still ignore it even as they do it, I suppose).

P.S. Sandy's eldest just joined the Navy (5-year stint) and we're sincerely hoping that all the positive stuff we've been hearing about them (vs. the other services) is true. Reportedly, there were anti-Bush grumblings at the recruitment office, so that's one positive indication...

Robert said...

The American People deserve better, Dr. Brin. If Senator Clinton were President Clinton's brother, then Senator Obama would have won by now. She is being given a pass because she is female and is demanding a pass because of her past.

I think it's time for another "Words, just words" speech. But this time, he should quote several things Clinton's husband said when he was running for office. I mean, were President Clinton's words hollow and meaningless? Let's see Senator Clinton find a way around that.

We have a chance to step away from the precipice and elect a leader who will inspire the next generation of leaders. I do not want that woman to ruin these chances because her ego is too great to accept failure. It doesn't matter how close she comes, if she's in second place at the end of the race, she lost. Working a deal with the judges afterward and awarding her the gold because of her connections is no better than George W. Bush winning the Presidency in 2000. She will be no better than the Shrub.

And if any of Hillary's campaign staff are reading this, you tell her these words. You tell her that she is proving herself no better than Bush. It is time for her to bow out gracefully before she destroys the chances of a candidate who out-maneuvered and out-fought her.

Rob H.

zorgon the malevolent said...

New article in Newsweek that claims Hillary's delegate math is now worse than it was before her OH & TX wins.

(N.B.: I posted a link to a previous Newsweek article called "Hillary's Math Problem," but this is a different article with a similar title.)

Subtitle reads: "Tuesday's big wins? The delegate calculus just got worse."

This is real inside baseball, but from what I can deduce Hillary picked up only 10 delegates on Tuesday while Obama is 134 delegates ahead. As the article points out, "To beat Barack Obama among pledged delegates, Clinton now needs even bigger margins in the 12 remaining primaries than she needed when I ran the numbers on Monday—an average of 23 points, which is more than double what she received in Ohio."

Of course, that's pledged delegates. There are a bunch of so-called 'superdelegates" floating around that will vote at the Demo National Convention, but who aren't assigned by primary wins in individual states. A lot of folks have made much to-do about this, but my sense of the superdelegates is that they will basically vote whichever way the wind blows. If Obama's far ahead in pledged delegates by the time the convention rolls around (which at this point seems all but certain), the superdelegates will proportionately vote for him and Obama has the nomination locked up.
So the bottom line seems to be that Obama is unreachably far ahead. Unless Hillary pulls a total landslide in every primary from here on in (and how likely is that?), Obama is the nominee. From the math I'm looking at, it just looks like a lock for him. I don't see any reasonable way he can't be the nominee.

Now, some folks will probably conjure up hysterical scenarios involving Hillary strong-arming or blackmailing the superdelegates to vote for her even though Obama comes in far head in pledged delegates, but, really...this is tinfoil-hat stuff, folks. If Florida-election-style scams started coming up in the Democratic presidential nomination process, my sense is that there would be a mass revolt by the party regulars. People on the convention floor just would not stand for it. We've been through that back in 2000, and nobody is going to tolerate that again.

The author of the Newsweek article agrees, and provides evidence: I've asked several prominent uncommitted superdelegates if there's any chance they would reverse the will of Democratic voters. They all say no. It would shatter young people and destroy the party. ("Hillary's New Math Problem," op. cit.)

Moreover, I must strongly agree with Dr. Brin once again. Look, this is a win-win scenario here.

Even if Hillary is the nominee, she's going to wipe the floor with McCain. Just imagine the sound bites: McCain singing "Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran," McCain chortling, "I don't think the American people care if we're in Iraq for another 100 years or another 10,000 years." Yeah, those will go over real big with the electorate. Overlay those clips with some stills of McCain hugging the drunk-driving C student in the Oval Office adoringly, and, boy... Would Hillary even need to run a campaign? And if McCain goes negative, great. Even better for Hillary. The American people are sick of lynch-mob swift boat politics. Look what it's done for HIllary against Obama -- she tried going negative and got booed into silence. That's a sea-change in the electorate, folks.

Plus, if Hillary is the nominee, and she wins (which I'm sure she would against McCain), guess what? Hillary knows DC inside and out and she would be even better than Obama at restoring accountability. If HIllary got elected, the first thing she'd do is set loose a flood of adult professional IGUSAs and oversight staffers chosen from the best and the brightest.

You might hate the Clintons personally, but can you say they weren't superbly competent in running the Executive Branch?

Think about it -- how many scandals did Bill Clinton suffer through, aside from Monica going down on him? Did you hear of even one serious corruption charge?

There's a reason for that -- the Clintons excelled at setting up responsible oversight in the government.

So I don't see how this is anything but a win-win for rationality and accountability. If Obama wins, we get it. If Hillary wins, we probably get even more rigorous and experienced oversight and even more detailed accountability. The only scary scenario involves McCain winning...and how would that work? Just what does he have to offer? More of the same, another 4 years of the mess we've been suffering through for the last 8? Does anyone really think the public wants that...?

Also -- my previous demurrer with Dr. Brin about the tired canard of "national security" should not obscure the fact that I think he's dead right & insightful about everything else he posted.

Anonymous said...

Robert,
It seems to me like Hillary would inspire a whole new generation of female leaders, if she were to be president. Which. Won't. Happen.

She has a lottery ticket to the presidency (I.E. can only win if Obama does something jackdamn stupid), and at this point is a darkhorse candidate. Not that the media seems to want to cover her this way.

Robert said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robert said...

Well, that's the problem. The longer this goes, the greater the chance she'll connect that one lucky jab that will put him out of the running. It is what she is banking on. It is the entirety of her campaign. It's also a bit ironic. The candidate who derided the message of hope... is running purely on it. On that once shot of being lucky.

The problem is that whoever wins, they'll be tired and hurting while McCain will be rested and having taken notes all along. He'll drag out all the BS once again and try to disillusion people against the Democrats. McCain doesn't need to get the majority of voters to vote for him. He just has to diminish enough interest for Obama or Clinton so that he wins key states and pulls off an electoral victory.

Clinton's campaign risks that. And sure, she might inspire new female leaders... but I don't want just new female leaders. I want new Black leaders and new AmerIndian leaders and new Asian leaders and new Hispanic leaders and new American leaders. I want everyone to be inspired, be they rich, poor, a majority, a minority, native-born, immigrant, whatever.

Obama's is running on a message of hope. It doesn't matter how good a president he is... what matters is to inspire those young Americans to go out there and run for office and work to change their towns and cities and states and country. He is a catalyst for change... while Clinton is an inhibitor. She brings only a modest change, a directed change. She brings more of the same old same old with a pleasant smile and well-coiffured hair.

For the longest time I've advocated to friends who were feminists, pagans, and other minorities to take small steps because the large leaps are of tremendous risk, and threaten to alienate people. Well, I now understand why they want to leap. What's more, we've taken ten steps back under the Shrub. It will take a leap of faith to get out of the quagmire he has foundered this country in.

Rob H.

(deleted and reposted to fix a name gaff)

zorgon the malevolent said...

Exactly, Robert. Hillary is hanging her whole campaign on the hope of a "John Dean Howl." Or, to go back a lot farther, a "Muskie breakdown." (If you remember that one in '68.) That one hysterical unguarded moment that causes the candidate's entire campaign to implode.

Obama ain't gonna do that. This guy is cool under pressure. When the heat is on, he shines. He's just not as fiery as John Dean, and he's certainly not dumb enough to go windsurfing at a crucial moment like Kerry.

However, I must strongly disagree that "whoever wins, they'll be tired and hurting while McCain will be rested and having taken notes all along." If Hillary wins, she'll be frazzled. But Obama is coasting. He's not breaking a sweat. If (really, when) he wins, he won't have a hair mussed on his head. Meanwhile, McCain will be in deep manure. He's tracked far to the right to satisfy all the kooks and cranks and crackpots who now run the Republican Party, and he's going to have to flail and gibber like a lobotomized trilobite to explain away all his crazy positions on loving the current maldaministration's Katrina and Halliburton and Blackwater incompetence, staying in Iraq for 10,000 years, hating abortion and wanting to see it repealed, adoring warrantless wiretapping, etc. etc. etc. McCain is serious trouble when he becomes the nominee, because when he tacks centerward to capture the general electorate his own party will hate his guts, while if he continues to tack rightward, the vast majority of the electorate will projectile-vomit with visceral repulsion.

I also have to strongly disagree with the conventional wisdom here that a Hillary nomination would unify the Repubs. They're falling apart. It's a civil war in a leper colony over there. James Dobson has already sworn his Christian Coalition will sit out this election because he hates McCain's guts fro ever advocating abortion rights. The lunatic neocons despise McCain too because he's not eager enough to attack Syria, Jordan, Egypt, whatever-the-hell insanity they're dreaming of. McCain is just a little too sane for these guys -- he's seen combat, he's not eager to nuke Mecca. And the William Kristol faction despise McCain because he's refused to lockstep-march like a good little schusstaffel boy walking straight down the ideological far-right line. The Kristol wing of the Repub party has never forgiven McCain for the McCain-Feingold finance reform bill and for his long-time advocacy of abortion rights and his outrageous insistence on denying that torture is part of the constitution. (Although McCain did finally cave and vote for torture, another position that will REALLY come back to haunt him... Can you imagine the campaign commercials? McCain being tortured with a voice-over: 40 YEARS AGO THE NORTH VIETNAMESE SAVAGELY TORTURED JOHN MCCAIN...AND NOW HE VOTES IN FAVOR OF TORTURE. MCAIN: IF YOU CAN'T TRUST HIM ON TORTURE, HOW CAN YOU TRUST HIM WITH THE PRESIDENCY?)

I think the Repubs are going to degenerate into a orgy of mutual throat-slitting. In fact, they already have. Just listen to Limbaugh and Dobson go after Perle and Kristol. It's gonna be a bloodbath. Obama will be the nominee, and he's going to win huge.

NoOne said...

There's an interesting discussion on a Wired article that's quite critical of "The Transparent Society" underway on slashdot. David, you should respond with a top-level blog article.

Robert said...

Obama doesn't need to make the gaff. His staff has twice now been shown to be vulnerable, first with the Canadian NAFTA memo, and now with Monstrous Hillary in Scotland. Fortunately the second gaff had the person in question apologize and then resign from the campaign. Obama's aides are getting upset with the smears and attacks and are by association making Obama look bad. Nor is Obama himself completely cool and collected. He can get frazzled at times, even if he restrains himself from saying something truly stupid.

Clinton is chipping away at the very thing that made Obama big: his support staff. By destroying that, she can destroy him. And by destroying him she destroys the Democratic party and hands the White House over to the worse thing since General MacArthur's supposed aspirations to gain the White House. This, along with the squandering of a tremendous amount of resources that would do far better in targeting the Republicans, is the primary reason that Clinton needs to be stopped.

Rob H.

tacitus2 said...

Setting aside the strictly partisan point of view for a moment, lets give credit where its due.
Obama has to date run a near faultless campaign to overcome the Clinton machine. The minor flaws are mostly indirect, inexperienced staffers not acclimated to the Show.
McCain has to date run a damn good campaign, just to be in a position where a GOP victory is imaginable. No matter what your preference is, there can be no argument that this should be a slam dunk Democrat year.
Hillary has run a better campaign than, er, Fred Thompson and Rudy Guiliani.

Tacitus2

Robert said...

And here is an interesting little article debunking Clinton's claims that only she can win the big states and give the Democrats the White House. Of all the big states, the only ones she wins that Obama might not are Pennsylvania and Florida, both of which are within the margin of error, while she loses Michigan which he would win.

Other smaller states Obama would win include: Colorado, Nevada (or more specifically, some congressional districts as Nevada awards its electoral votes according to district), Washington, Oregon, Virginia, Iowa, North Dakota, and New Hampshire.

Smaller states Clinton nabs that Obama wouldn't include West Virginia, Arkansas and New Jersey.

That also doesn't mention how much closer other states would be as a result of Clinton being the Presidential candidate.

In short, "electability" is not an effective or realistic argument for Clinton to use. "Experience" blows up in her face as McCain can claim superior experience to both. And she sure as hell doesn't have "likability" in her corner pocket.

I sincerely hope that the Democratic higher ups get together and tell Clinton to bow out, sooner rather than later. Let the Mississippi and Wyoming elections go by... but get her out of the race before it gets to Pennsylvania. The money wasted on this campaign is far better used in preparing for the final push to the White House... and to helping other Democrats win seats in the House and Senate.

It's time, Mrs. Clinton, for you to accept the facts and stand down. You fought well, but there is entirely too much damage that can be wrought by this continued infighting. If you have any love at all for your country and the Democratic party, you will stop this insanity and bow out while you still have any standing in the Democratic party.

Robert A. Howard

Dennis said...

Way off topic, and I apologize if this has already been posted in an earlier science-topic thread, but I just stumbled on it and found it cool.

http://www.livescience.com/strangenews/080225-electron-movie.html

Robert said...

Showing that someone in the Democratic leadership is listening to concerns about the partisan attacks between Obama and Clinton, Senator Pelosi has requested the candidates to tone it down. She admits that neither candidate has made direct attacks (well, outside of allusions by Clinton that Obama is Muslim, allegations that he isn't fit to be Commander in Chief, and other minor slights) but that the staff on each side is getting rather emotional.

Unfortunately, I don't know if this is designed to try and rein in these two candidates before the mud truly gets tossed (I can just see tomorrow's editorial cartoons, with Obama and Clinton with handfuls of mud, and Pelosi standing between them, hands out in a "stop" position to both, with a referee whistle in her mouth) or if it's an attempt to protect Clinton from Obama's decision to take off the kid gloves and reveal that Empress Clinton is wearing tattered robes. The optimist in me hopes for the first... the cynic ponders at the timing.

But hopefully the two will listen and be more respectful toward each other. Something hopefully will be salvaged out of this yet.

Rob H.

Jester said...

SurveyUSA isn't a perfect perfect polling firm, but it's been the least wrong throughout this insane primary season.

Don't assume that Primaries indicate who will win in Novemeber, Ohio goes for Clinton or Obama by 10%. Same marigin.

Texas? As of the 6th, Obama trails McCain by ONE POINT.

Obama wins Virginia, without Webb!

Clinton, in the name of all that's holy, manages to lose Washington State.

Clinton has the old "big states" plus Arkansas. She loses just one of her "probables" and she's blown out of the water.

Obama, on the other, will force McCain to mount a vigorous defence...of Texas.

I can't link for squat in this format.

Just search SurveyUSA 03/06/08 McCain Obama Clinton.

David Brin said...

Woozle… I could be wrong about my pro-Navy bias. Partly because I came within a hair’s breadth of becoming a Navy man, back during Vietnam, and one of Rickover’s nuke boys, at that. Biased, perhaps. But all the signs are there. They are immune to political intimidation, undamaged, intellectual, and ready to defend us. God bless em. (And save the Army.)

Robert, although I’ll defend HRC, my patience, is, indeed, starting to get frayed. Your idea of a POSITVE negative ad – showing Bill Clinton’s soaring rhetoric -- then saying “were these ‘just words?’ – is absolutely brilliant! Obama’s folk should do that, because it is utterly jiu jitsu. It disses HRC’s recent behavior and tactics, while actually praising her husband! What a judo move!

No question, some of the rabid/feminist/unltra-culture warriors of the left do view this in hyper-emotional terms, sharing her (natural and human, alas) sense of “my turn” entitlement. They are EXACTLY the people who should not run a judo presidency, the kind that can end culture war. Still, I ask that you ease back a bit.

Again. If she become’s president. I will vomit just once. Then I will look at the 5,000 appointments and KNOW that my/our/mychildrens’ republic has been saved. And then gird myself for the immature culture war BS to come.

For those appointments, I would support a yellow dog. Anyway, Zorgon is right (as often happens). ADMINISTRATIVELY the Clintons were the best president we ever had, even better than Ike.

Still, I hate the idea of her being the nominee or even the veep, because I am thinking about the DOZEN STATEHOUSES AND LEGISLATURES where the GOP might get routed, is she weren’t there dragging millions of ostriches back under Rove’s banner. My motive, ultimately, is strangely nonpartisan, even anti partisan! I want the dems to control gerrymandering almost everywhere, so that (1) the GOP rout will be devastating and (2) the rebuilt GOP will suddenly become the anti-gerrymandering party, and then we can all support THEM for a change!!!

Call that thinking WAY ahead of the curve. Hey, it is what I am paid for.

Robert, I’d rather HRC score that jab now, while the dems can have a fallback position. (Draft Gore.) Than see McC punch that zinger later. Obama needs to show his stuff now. Win-win? Maybe.

Dennis, yow. Any light wave that can photograph an election will only show you where it WAS… before getting hit by the photon!

An aside. The Globalist offers one of the most amazing articles… actually defending what most of us consider the archetype of indefensible US policy blunders, the gringo interventions in Latin America. An oversimplification in the opposite direction than the usual oversimplifications. http://www.theglobalist.com/DBWeb/StoryId.aspx?StoryId=6846

Hawker Hurricane said...

The Navy is the most traditional of the 4 services. And the most innovative too. Zorgon is right, the fleet has been built to re-fight the battle of Midway... and the fleet that won at Midway was built to refight the battle of Santiago (with adjustments to allow for the battle of Jutland). Militaries always prepare to refight the last war; it's the only example they have. But 'tradition' says that you don't stick your neck (and those very expensive ships) into danger without due cause. "The Principle of Calculated Risk" predates the Battle of Midway by generations.

Politically, I agree with Dr. Brin: any democrat, even the proverbial 'Yellow Dog' would be better than what the Republicans are offering BUT Senator Obama offers a chance of moving beyond The Culture War(tm) while Senator Clinton does not. RushCo is pushing Senator Clinton for a cause; he knows that his job depends of The Culture War continuing.

Dr. Brin: interesting coincidence, I missed becoming a (enlisted) member of the Nuclear Navy by one question on the math test. I had to leave 8 questions blank, I hadn't taken calculus and didn't know how to do them. The examining officer was upset, by his calculations if I had guessed I would have gotten one right. But I didn't, and ended up in communications (Thank God! Nuclear Power School would have driven me mad, I saw what the students there went through).

David Brin said...

All right then, Hawker. Now imagine me the nuke officer on a boomer! Either I woulda written novels earlier... or we'd have one fewer Trident!

I'm more useful doing this stuff.