Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Conversation About Political Maturity: Is it possible?

While preparing some other items of importance, I want to share with you an excerpt from a conversation I recently had with a woman I very much respect, Lenore Ealy is one of America's premier theoreticians on the nature and prospects for enlightened philanthropy.  We exchange views with some real sages in an online philanthropy forum where I've been honored to participate as contrarian gadfly.  Naturally, this year, some of the discussions also turned political.

Now, Lenore comes from the background of an older version of Republican Conservatism.  The variety one used to see a lot more of, where capitalism was viewed as not only fecund and productive, but inherently obliged to orient itself with some sensitivity to things like civics and public duty. A view typified by Dwight Eisenhower, Barry Goldwater, Nelson Rockefeller, sometimes Ronald Reagan and - if truth be told - George Romney, the pater familias of Mitt Romney's clan.  In discussions, Lenore admitted that conservatism -- and especially the Republican Party (GOP) -- had been drifting (I say flipped into reverse) away from such traditions, of late, into realms of, well, craziness that have driven away (for example) nearly all scientists and other skilled professionals of intellect. A situation that seems to suit the party's new owners, at Fox, just fine.

I asked Lenore if her reluctance to completely abandon a shred of nostalgic affection for what has by now turned into an undead were-elephant, might be based upon one of conservatism's most endearing traits, a penchant for stalwart loyalty..
Lenore Ealy: Yes, David... loyalty is a conservative trait.  The change we might both wish to see is a matter of each person deciding when loyalty to the ideas of classical liberal Constitutionalism is no longer compatible with loyalty to the GOP.  And beginning to look around for how to exercise political responsibility responsibly.
New "commons" might eventually give rise to new (or renewed) parties.  Though maybe commons could be ends in themselves in a renewed federalist system!?!  The possibility of overcoming a tendency to loyalty, which is on the whole not a horrible human trait, is why I have hope for descendants of the Goldwater Republicans... who voted with their feet before.  But you are right that getting there requires turning off the boob tube and developing a diverse set of news sources.   I am reminded of the challenge Havel posed for his green grocer in the Power of the Powerless.  Small courageous acts gone viral can topple great powers.
By the way, another trait that distinguishes conservatives is an ability to dwell with pluralism and a bit of healthy non-conformity.  No need to accuse folks of false consciousness who are still trying to work out these things for themselves.  Our "tolerances" across the board have been reduced to the point of brittleness and I have always agreed with you that the modern media fuels that.  That's why I don't watch it and don't debate it.  If a tree falls in the forest and no one is listening....
David Brin replies: As usual, Lenore.  You humble me with your articulate wisdom.  You are correct on all counts... with one small cavil.  There are rare times when the right response, for the moderate, reasonable person, is wrath.
Those occasions are rare!  At the National Institutes on Drugs and Addiction I proposed that the worst and by far most destructive "addiction" in American life is found in the millions of "indignation junkies" who have poisoned reasonable discourse in the United States, seizing control over many advocacy groups and demanding that "negotiation" and "compromise" be considered tantamount to treason. (This trend is illustrated in (I hope) a cogently dramatic and entertaining way in my new novel, EXISTENCE.  And let me openly avow that this loathsome addiction is also seen on the far-left!)
Yes, I am aware of the irony, that my outrage over the poisoning of American discourse has itself frothed into an internal drug high of my own.  Perhaps irony protects me from the worst excess! Plus -- the thing I'm fiercely militant about is the defense of rational moderation and pragmatic negotiation, against those whose sole goal appears to be the elimination of those virtues from our continent.
We are in Phase Three of the American Civil War, and nothing less than militant anger will live up to our ancestors who rose up against very similar kinds of madness (with similar geographic roots) in their day, standing up to save their nation and civilization, not from political opponents but from a madness that had taken over their neighbors. And yes, I might be exaggerating!  I admit that - despite clear-eyed view of mountains of evidence supporting the "war" analogy, including the direct manipulation of "red" masses by multiple foreign billionaires, many of then based in the country that attacked us on 9/11.  I  respond by offering tests that pose Popperian/falsifiable questions: like daring folks to name one Bushite major endeavor that did not lead to monumental harm to either the American republic, its citizens or its indispensable world Pax.
So yes, I pray we can return to the America where your wise words are prescriptions for a return to reasoned discourse. But today they will fall upon deaf ears in the very places where they are most-needed.  It will take wrath, of a special kind.
It will take a musical refrain.  Men and women tossing aside the distracting, lobotomizing "left-right" metaphor and instead joining ranks as decent (non-leftist) liberals and decent (non-crazy) conservatives, putting on blue kepi hats and murmuring the Battle Hymn of our desperately threatened Republic, as we march to Rupert Murdoch's and binWaleed's headquarters to trample down that vinyard where the grapes of wrath are stored.
Lenore Ealy: Point taken, David!  But in our wrath we have to be careful to shoot over the barricades and avoid friendly fire.
Since not many of us alone can provide a counterweight to the network media, we do have to find strength in numbers.  But first we have to recognize one another as wearing the same caps and discern whether there is anything that can bind us in common cause.
I suppose there is also a temperamental issue for some of us, who writhe at Battle Hymns borne in triumphalism, preferring the humble walk examining the complexity of all sides captured in Melville's Battle-Pieces to Julia Ward Howe's righteous trampling.   In the end, the work of diplomats continues even while others fight.  So, it's not necessarily true that everyone needs to march.  Even when the power is in the pen... and lets pray it remains in ink more than blood... there are different words that must be spoken in different modularities and volumes to different sorts of people.  Some can hear only a shout.  Others only a whisper.  And most Americans don't think or feel in strict Popperian terms of falsifiability, I think.    ;-))
Your comments and mine may be more of a methodenstreit than a fundamental disagreement over a core vision of free society.  I suspect we would have to dig around very hard into my concept of prudential judgment and yours of pragmatic negotiation to get to the heart of things, as well as into whether by "rational moderation" we actually could mean the same thing.  I think this requires bourbon.
To which wisdom I can only add this coda:  Lenore has proved to me that at least a few members of the Baby Boomer generation are not immature brats, but grownups, possessed of faith in reason and reasonableness.  I honor that.  I hope we can live up to her faith in us.


David Brin said...

Just saw a snappy come-back! Best of the week.

One commenter on FB said the truism:

"Reality has a blue-liberal bias."

Well... hm... yes I agree, at present, during the Fox War on Science. But I find the aphorism irritating and smug anyway. And it sure wasn't true when marxists were around!

So this guy came up with a witty response:

"Spacetime has a well-known Red bias."

Har! If he's republican, he takes me back to the days of Bill Buckley, who had Colbert-level wit and made conservatism look smart, indeed!

Mitchell J. Freedman said...

Aren't Republicans at the same point as Communists were when loyalty was no longer an endearing trait?

Acacia H. said...

Ah, but reality has a red(shift) bias only when looking into the past. ;)

ivan76 said...

If you define "maturity" as synonymous with liberalism then no. Am I the only one who finds it hilarious you're calling for maturity while simultaneously calling the ideology of your opponents things like "an undead were-elephant."

Do you really just lack all self awareness or what?

David Brin said...

ivan76 I am perfectly awar (as I said in my article) of the inherent irony of my position... an irony that might translate as flat-out hypocrisy.


One weakness of Blue America, both today and during the long run -up to the Civil War, between 1852 and 1861, was a tendency to bend over backwards to accommodate. To do what scientists do, reciting the sacred nostrum of science: "I might be wrong."

But there comes a point when that must end. It happened in 1861 and it is also the case now. When you must simply conclude that you are facing stark, jibbering crazy.

FIND for me any remaining scintilla of rationality on today's right! I am eager for hope! TO do so, name for me any clade of intellect in American life that has not been declared an enemy by Fox. Scientists, teachers, journalists, economists, medical doctors, professors.... I can name three but those three exceptions won't help you.

Enough. When negotiation has failed so consistently, the only conclusion must be that it can no longer happen. Because your neighbor has gone around the bend.

Anonymous said...

The issue of loyalty that you and Lenore briefly touch upon is, IMHO, the most important one. While loyalty can have its uses (though I am, in general, not a huge fan), it must, at the very least, be seen as a secondary or tertiary virtue. The problem with the bulk of modern Republicans (who are, by most measures, more radical now, than conservative), is not that they have become crazy, or evil, or stupid, but that they decided to privilege loyalty over absolutely everything else. To a modern liberal, the enemy is asymmetric privilege. To a modern Republican, the enemy is the dissenter and the heretic. It has become a party of litmus tests and pledges. This is a path to extremism – if loyalty to your group is the only thing that matters, the only way for you to rise within your group is by showing yourself to be 'purer' (ideologically) than your peers. Of course, any ideology (as in a set of ideas) taken to the extreme – with every idea in the set individually maximised – is bound to become reality denying and internally inconsistent from a global perspective... and this is exactly what we now observe.

Thus, it is the issue of the primacy of loyalty that must, first and foremost, be challenged. This is not the Civil War – Republicans are not fighting for their own interests (as the South did), they are fighting not to have their peers exclude them from the only group they have an affinity for. My preferred method is to point out that some of their biggest idols – the Founding Fathers – were nothing if not challengers of the status quo. They dared to think for themselves, consequences be damned (and this meant struggling to come up with their own ideas, not simply following the dicta of some, potentially outmoded, 250 year old thinkers). Most expressed the desire for their descendants to do the same. For their descendants to be unable to come up with any better ideas for social organisation 250 years hence is shameful. Surely, we should all dare to endeavour to be as inventive and intelligent as our predecessors? Surely, it is honouring the spirit, rather than honouring the letter that is the true honour?

Jumper said...

Loyalty is a poor explanation of the sounder concept of respect.

Political TroubleMaker said...

Currently working on a short video on the New McCarthyism distributed throughout conservative media outlets. It was inspired by this woman who responded to a 'man on the street' interview by Chris Matthews by claiming that Obama is a communist.

It's been making the blog rounds because Matthews asked for specifics in a few followups and she was completely unable to articulate any reason for her claim.

But she's a symtom, not the cause. McCarthyist demagoguery is promulgated by entertainers like Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Mark Levin, Glenn Beck, and more recently Neil Cavuto, Bill O'Reilly, and Lou Dobbs. All have overtly called Obama either a Marxist or a communist. Representative Allen West recently claimed that the House of Representatives has between 78 to 81 communists holding office as well.

Allen West was my last subject for a blog post and video. This guy is completely crazy. He was ousted from his officership in the army - nearly by court martial but given the opportunity to resign - after having performed a mock execution on an Iraqi detainee. He's also an overtly Christian theocrat who promotes religious war against Muslims, lumping them all together as one 'enemy' (much like Michelle Bachmann).

I have tremendous respect for Eisenhower, and it should be noted that Eisenhower was a prime cause for the demise of Joseph McCarthy's senate career after McCarthy unfairly grilled Brigadier General Zwicker during his hearings on subversives in the Army. McCarthy should have seen that one coming. The leader of his own party is a former Army general and he pokes at that hornet's nest? Idiot.

But this goes to the whole question on divisive discourse in politics and how the crazies have wrested control of the Republican Party from the sane types like Olympia Snowe, Richard Lugar, Kay Bailey Hutchison, and Jon Huntsman. The leadership actively seeks failure of the U.S. government out of an ideological view that any government success for any purpose whatsoever is wrong to achieve - even when they run it (see G.W. Bush). These people can't be reasoned with.

BTW: If anyone cares, my video about Rep Allen West and the offensive things he says.

Neutering American Men

Political TroubleMaker said...

@aepxc wrote:

This is a path to extremism – if loyalty to your group is the only thing that matters, the only way for you to rise within your group is by showing yourself to be 'purer' (ideologically) than your peers. Of course, any ideology (as in a set of ideas) taken to the extreme – with every idea in the set individually maximised – is bound to become reality denying and internally inconsistent from a global perspective... and this is exactly what we now observe.

I think this transition can be pegged to Nixon's Southern Strategy to entice southern Christian conservatives to the Republican party. The old GOP wing thought they would retain control and build a populist front with which to combat Democrats. Instead, Nixon resigned in disgrace, Ford lost in '76 and George H.W. Bush lost in the '80 primaries to Reagan. The consequence of this was an escalating power shift from old school Rockefeller Republican values espoused by the likes of William Buckley.

By the time George W. Bush won, the crazies had taken over. I wonder what his father must have thought of his son's administration. Bush the Sr. ran a fairly moderate administration with a focus on competence in comparison. I expect the two must make for uncomfortable holiday dinners together.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

One commenter on FB said the truism:

"Reality has a blue-liberal bias."

Well... hm... yes I agree, at present, during the Fox War on Science. But I find the aphorism irritating and smug anyway. And it sure wasn't true when marxists were around!

Well, to be fair, I wouldn't have agreed with the sentiment back in my college days in the 80s.

So the present tense is important. Reality has a liberal bias (at this moment). Remember the aphorism is not meant to justify liberalism as it is to justify the (present day) tendency for impartial observers to appear to be partisan against the GOP.

The point of saying "Reality has a liberal bias" is as a counter to the assertion that those impartial observers have a duty to skew their observations rightward in order to be even-handed.

Acacia H. said...

We need one of two things. Either we need the Onion to run a joke news article stating the Republican Party is now forcing Republican voters to take a Litmus Test prior to voting to determine if they are pure enough to vote on the Republican ticket... or we need someone to do a YouTube commentary pointing out all of the things you need to be to be a "pure" Republican... and then point out to voters that if they don't pass that litmus test, they're not pure enough to vote Republican. ;)

Rob H.

Tacitus said...

If we are going to fish the waters where SciFi and politics meet I should mention that I saw Argo last night with my eldest.

Not a bad flick, If Affleck was director in more than name only I give him kudos for a nice tight production...funny in the proper places, tense in the proper ones.

It seemed to be light on political message. It accorded Jimmy Carter a little more credit than he got at the time, but given the ongoing dilemma that is Iran we can give him this in 2012. The message that the US was in some ways culpable, and that redneck mobs and Iranian mobs have similarities was front and center, but if you look closer you can see some sneaky hints...the Iranian protesters hiding walkie talkies for instance.

And, speaking of looking closer I must confess to Nerdom of a high order. In one scene supposedly in the bazaar of Tehran I saw a stone and brick archway.

"Ah HAH!" said I. Not authentic. That is Roman stonework. Bet it was filmed in Istanbul."

Totally was, too.


Acacia H. said...

BTW, Tacitus, did you catch the post (or repost) I did from my Independent friend concerning her views of the Ryan/Biden debate?

Rob H.

Anonymous said...

The problem with conservatives isn't that they listen to lies and hatred everyday, it's that when you confront them with the facts they always have the professional centrists like David Brooks and Andrew Sullivan to rely on by saying the Democrats are just as bad.

Look at any Sunday morning talk show in the US and you will see what one of my favourite bloggers called "The Gingrich Rules."

Because if you don't confront the "both sides are always to blame" centrists and the enablers like David Gregory then you can't even start to talk about having a sane rational discussion about politics.

Tacitus said...


I did. It is somewhat along the lines of what my wife said.

I struggle a little with the notion of how much to post...there are so many folks with active opinions these days. I guess if I am saying something that has already been said better I don't want to waste bandwidth and time.

It is a little ironic to have a post on political maturity and mention that VP debate. Whether you think Biden was telling the truth or just sputtering, it was not a mature display.

This is why I never hit all caps, and never call people names. It detracts from whatever you might actually have to say.

I had earlier in the day had a nice chat with the now retired saintly woman who was daycare teacher for all my sons. She would have gently corrected Mr. Biden's ways.


LarryHart said...


I have been so uninterested in movies for the past 10 years or so that I had not even heard of "Argo" until this past week. But the trailers did make me interested in seeing it, which is more than I can say for most movies post-1985 (or so).

David Brin said...

If Carter had done ONE thing... when our embassy staff was taken hostage, he should have called it an act of war and interned the Iranian diplomats and others... a seaside luxury hotel. (1) the contrast would have been stark and harmful to the Iranian mobs. (2) It would have given Khomeini a face saving way to let the hostages go... in a "swap."

Carter did the "mature" thing by setting an example and sending the Iranians home. It looked weak.

David Brin said...

Aepxc, the "south" did not fight for their self interest in the Civil War. A million poor southern white males marched off to die (with skill and bravery) for the benefit of a few thousand slaveholding aristocrats.

Tony Fisk said...

...and then point out to voters that if they don't pass that litmus test, they're not pure enough to vote Republican.

Somebody who doesn't make the grade should create the 'Rino' party.

Tacitus said...

I suppose that might have worked, but in general totalitarian regimes are not willing to give up too much in the way of prisoner exchanges. Witness the prolongation of the "hot" phase of the Korean war for a year while this sort of thing was dickered over. It only gets worse if some of the Koreans/Iranians etc decide they want to stay here, and frankly who would have blamed them.

As to a state of war, in a sense we have been in an undeclared war with Iran for 32 years now. Mostly through unsavory proxies. Hezbollah for sure. And our backing Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war was no badge of honor for us. Now it is stuxnet and the recent mysterious computer viruses thought to be of Iranian origin. "Botxies" I suppose you could call them.

If my biggest domestic concern is our spending ourselves to pauperdom, my biggest foreign concern is that we not entangle ourselves in new wars. I have sons you know.


David Brin said...

Tacitus, the two fears are related. Of the six causes of our deficit that I just discussed with top Republican economics/investment guru John Mauldin (in fact, he is rapidly becoming a RINO and may hold his nose anmd vote for Obama), John agrees with me that blame should be assigned as follows,

1) The housing/mortgage bubble-mess was the work of both parties. The democrats because they saw it as a social program to get the poor into homes... and the Republicans who *claimed* to have the same reason. The core moment was George W. Bush's "the Ownership Society" speech that then led to passage in the Republican controlled House and Senate -- but with plenty of Democratic votes -- to a major loosening of mortgage rule.

(In a partisan snit, I could point out that the chief beneficiaries were the brokerage houses: GOP allies, but in fact, these measure had bipartisan support.)

2) The removal of regulatory restraint from Wall Street and Banking gambling with depositors' funds. This was a wholly Republican endeavor, resisted by the democrats, tooth and nail. Even now, the GOP's top agenda item (other than "making sure Obama fails") is to prevent the Consumer Finance Protection Agency from becoming fully functional.

Together, items #1 and #2 combined to create an asset bubble (assisted by #3 below) and then to pop it, dumping us into the Second Depression. That depression (since moderated into a deep-long Recession) devastated the economy and the resulting plummet in tax revenues became the biggest contributor to the deficit.

3) will follow...

David Brin said...

3) Huge tax "largesse" gifts to the aristocracy. With tax rates - especially on the rich - already near a 70 year low, the GOP took advantage of Bill Clinton's departure (he had been paying DOWN the debt) to pass the Bush tax cuts. These doubled down on the voodoo called "supply side" economics, a mythology that holds that money flowing into the pockets of the rich will immediately be invested in entrepreneurial new enterprises and the capital equipment needed by old businesses to deliver new products and services, resulting in a burst of prosperity that will then be taxable at the lower rates, erasing the loss to the treasury.

Like most voodoo-cult incantations, there is barely a grain of truth. Sure, the high marginal tax rates under FDR and Ike did not repress economic growth. Indeed, the 1940s and 1950s featured the most rapid rise of the middle class and new business startups in the history of our species, alongside the lowest disparities between owners and workers in U.S. memory, all at very high marginal tax rates. In other words there was no tradeoff, there was a synergy!

JFK did reduce top rates from 90% to 70% and that was probably called for. Reagan's initial supply side experiment, though, plunged us into red ink. Whereupon Reagan did what would have got him drummed out of today's GOP. He raised taxes six times! In order to adjust and fine-tune his tax policy, as any pragmatic person would.

In fact, there has never been proof that supply side cuts have EVER correlated with bursts in economic activity! This is because the rich do not take sudden cash infusions and invest them significantly in entrepreneurial new enterprises and the capital equipment needed by old businesses to deliver new products and services. Ever since Adam Smith's time, we have known what most of the aristocracy do with such largesse, then spend it in LOW VELOCITY ways, on passive securities and land (feeding asset bubbles) on gambling speculation, and on being richer.

All of which explains why #3 -- the giant Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, enacted as soon as Bill Clinton was out of the way, did not erase their own loss from the treasury, they opened up a huge hole and contributed to the asset bubble collapse.

David Brin said...

4) Two multi-Trillion dollar quagmire wars of "nation building" in the worst places on earth to spread democracy. In retrospect, we have to ask, "why didn't anybody warn us that this was repeating the calamity of Vietnam?"

Well, in fact, the Generals and admirals complained like mad ! And many were fired by Bush and Rumsfeld for daring to speak against getting stuck in asian quagmires. Who benefited? Halliburton, of course. Funny, that. Who else benefited? Guess who. Both all of Iraq and half of Afghanistan were doomed from the start to become satrapies of Iran. Was that worth the loss of lives and treasure in both of America's longest wars?

Oh, and the war cost was never put on the books. And anyone would re-hire such people?

So where are we so far? Cause number one of the deficit was bipartisan, though the biggest steps took place when the GOP held all the reins of power. Causes number 2, 3 and 4 were Republican-caused, top to bottom.

But there are other contributors/problems.

David Brin said...

5) Medicare Part D, wholly a GOP program, never ever ever funded but simply slapped into general obligation as an entitlement. (By contrast, Obamacare is funded by hard-nailed tradeoffs.) This part of Medicare could be considered a "Tyler largesse bribe" aimed at voters. I will admit it. But it passed when all three branches of government were completely controlled by the Republican Party.

6) Failure of creative breakthroughs. This is my own candidate for a budget buster. I think it is the biggest. But any economist will at least admit it belongs on the list.

Across the last 70 years, of Pax Americana, the world has seen a boom in prosperity unlike any other, with 70%+ of the planet's population arguably in some kind of middle class, with homes that have electricity and hot water and kids in school. The biggest driver has been the American consumer, buying trillions of dollars worth of crap we never needed. Elsewhere I argue that this trade pattern was established deliberately by George Marshall, by Acheson, Truman and Eisenhower. It has been the world's hope... though ecologically dangerous, unless we innovate ways for a middle class life to impact the world less.

How have we been able to afford endless trade deficits? Science and technology. Each decade saw new American-led advances that engendered enough wealth to let us pay for all the stuff pouring out of Asian factories, giving poor workers jobs. Jet planes, rockets, satellites, electronics & transistors & lasers, telecom, pharmaceuticals... and the Internet. If we had charged just a 5% royalty on the fruits of US federal research, we'd be in the black!

The first decade of the 21st Century -- the Naughty Oughts -- was the first that saw no such technological breakthrough, making America rich enough to buy from the world. As the internet boom petered out, we could have made sustainable energy our next boom. It was proposed, and the rate that China and Germany are getting rich off solar and wind is most impressive!

But that was also the decade when the Fox War on Science hit full swing. I cannot prove that we would have had a renaissance and tech-driven boom, if not for that War on Science. But it is no accident that this lagging happened in the wake of the GOP Congress banishing from its halls all of the advisory panels on sci and tech that had helped Congresses to legislate wisely for 70 years.

David Brin said...

7) Entitlements and Obamacare. Everyone knows that entitlements need to be restructured. In fact, compared to Europe, we are in pretty good shape. Social Security is estimated to be almost able to handle the baby boomers, because past Congresses bit the bullet and passed - in a bipartisan way - graduated increases in the retirement age. In this area, the Europeans are crazy and in denial and badly need to emulate us.

On the other hand, we have been in denial re Health Care, which is inherently not a fungible commodity subject to market forces. When we spend three to four times as much per citizen and still leave tens of millions terrified and not covered, only the delusional can call the US system the "best in the world." Something different from European-style rationing could have been negotiated... indeed, negotiate was what Obama tried to do! By abandoning all of the former democratic proposals and plopping onto the table the Republicans' own plan. A plan that the GOP instantly disavowed and raged-at as socialism.

(Do not cavil over the differences. Those were on the table too. They could have been negotiated, had anybody tried.)

In any event, the range of predictions about the effects of Obamacare on the deficit is so wide, there is really only one reasonable option, since going back to the insane former system is loony. Let's try it and see what happens. Especially since those who foresee the worst happen to also come from the never-ever-right supply side camp.

The crux? Simpson-Bowles and other bipartisan commissions have offered the political protection needed, if we ended Culture War and wanted to negotiate a way to fix entitlements. I believe the collapse of negotiation is rooted primarily in one party, but I will allow this one to be blamed on both.

8) The discretionary budget. Okay, Slay Big Bird in exchange for zeroing out all the generous tax bennies given to GOP donors? I'll go with that. But first add them up. Note how small the benefit to the bottom line? For the most part, screaming about the discretionary budget is an effort to distract from the long list of GOP -created disasters in other areas.

Remember, we paid for Big Bird and the other stuff just fine, under Bill Clinton. If looking for the reasons we're in a mess... look at what changed.

David Brin said...

== So what's the indictment? ==

Eight causes for the deficit.

Can you think of any others? I add them, if you can.

Of the top five contributing causes, one was bipartisan (though GOP-led). The other four were entirely Republican in origin and execution and obstinate refusal to learn from the mistakes.

Number 6, I will argue, is a huge calamity that is also largely GOP made.

Then we get to the parts that get the biggest noise, but in fact have the least impact on the plummet from Clintonian pay-down to Bushite skyrocketing of debt (that has continued under Obama.) Number 7&8 are the stuff that should be argued, openly and calmly and sanely by decent, intelligent men and women, compromising and negotiating plans to deliver the functions of government in lean and effective ways.

How I would love to see that conversation! To assist in Goldwater-style Republicans and Tsongas-styule Democrats working their (and our) way to fiscal solvency. But let's not fool ourselves. So long as we pay no heed to problems # 1-6, we are slapping on band aids.

The lesson from all of this?

Above all, do not re-hire the people who made the mess. Who committed the first half dozen travesties. If you do, you will have only yourselves to blame.

Tim H. said...

Consider how much more revenue would be going towards paying down the deficit if, say the xbox was assembled here, or the mac. Assembly line types don't have tax dodges like Jim Balmer or Tim Cook, but that problem is as much the result of a meme, as "free" trade, and sometimes the meme (Thaqt Americans are expensive and lazy.) has little basis in reality

Stefan Jones said...

Interesting fact about the real-life incident behind "Argo:"

The faux-movie was going to be based on Zelazny's "Lord of Light."

I remember a news story from way-back-then about a theme park based on the books. I wonder if this was a planted item, designed to give "depth" to the cover story.

David Brin said...

wow.... thanks Stefan,

Ever read my intro to the classics edition of Lord of Light?


Tacitus said...

That selection of course was not a random one. "Lord of Light" is the more or less modern translation of Ahura Mazda the Persian(now Iran) god sacred to Zoroastrianism.

A sly dig or a sneaky way in the door...

David your many points are worth pondering but its off to the trenches for me.

But a few "uplifting" thoughts. Hope you can appreciate the tongue in cheek parts!


Ian said...

"Consider how much more revenue would be going towards paying down the deficit if, say the xbox was assembled here, or the mac."

Except nobody outside the US (whch is where the bulk of both Xboxes and Macs are sold) would pay the additonal cost premium.

You might force a few Americans to do so, but the vastly higher cost woudl kill most of the market - and the additional money spent by the lucky few rich enough to buy these products would mean lower consumption of other, mostly American, products.

I'm sure Samsung and Nintendo would approve of this plan, especially since it'd be next to impossible fror Microsoft and Apple to compete with them in new product development once they were locked out of roughly 90% of the world market.

Give it a couple of decades and people would be saying "IPad" the way we used to say "Trabant".

Protectionism doesn't work.

Ian said...

A digression: I'm rereading Lester Del Ray's "The Sky is Falling" - a rather fun humorous sf short novel - and there's an off-the-cuff reference to a project to build a wall across northern Canada.

It's tangential to the main plot but it occurs to me that, maybe, this could work as a form of geo-enginerring.

Yes, this is a ludicrously large project - but then so are most of the geoengineering proposals. The wall wouldn't need to be airtight nor would it need to be massive - just strong enough to withstand some pretty strong winds.

So would a canvas or teflon barrier starting 10 feet off the ground, suspended between towers and extending up a couple of hudred feet have a signficant impact on the total mass of air?

I'm thinking if you build this roughly where the circum-polar vortex circulates you could reduce the amount of intensely cold air coming down out of the high arctic - which would both cool the arctic and reduce the severe winters that have been affecting the northern temperate zone.

Now I freely admit this is a crazy idea - but is it crazier than millions of silvered balloons in the stratosphere or thousands of windmills floating in the ocean pumping water up into the atmosphere?

Tim H. said...

Ian, "Free" trade isn't even being thought out, the oligarchy sees it as magic fairy dust that improves everything, that nice trade representative said so. Seems to me a more equitable implementation of trade policy could've happened, what we got has been very effective at wealth stratification, and driving the Democratic party into the arms of Wall $treet. By the way, think about how well outsourcing worked out on Boeing's 787, at least there, the shareholders got to share the pain of the hourly workers.

DavidTC said...

If by Simpson-Bowles you mean committees _like_ Simpson-Bowles was supposed to be, yes, that could be helpful. Hammer out a deal behind closed doors.

If you mean that _actual_ Simpson-Bowles, that failed horribly. As there were Republicans on it, it decided to wander off into reforming social security and into lowering corporate tax cuts.Neither of which can reduce the deficit.

And, let us all recall before we buy into the propaganda being pushed by one political party, it DID NOT PASS. That committee was set up to require a supermajority of 14 votes to pass something, and it didn't have that. Any time anyone talks about 'Simpson-Bowles' like it is some actual real thing, they are attempting to mislead people. The people on the committee, of course, are free to offer any uncompleted work of the committee as their own proposals in Congress, but should not pretend it is the 'result' of Simpson-Bowles. That committee had no actual result. (And the criticism that the 'President' has not done anything about it is sheer gibberish, hoping the American people have forgotten how bills become law.)

rewinn said...

It is completely mistaken to state "Whether you think Biden was telling the truth or just sputtering, it was not a mature display."

Ryan lied.

Biden laughed in his face. That's a healthy, adult reaction to stupid lies.

The immature display was Ryan's childlike insistence that he didn't have to state which "loopholes" he would eliminate, or even whether the home mortgage interest deduction was off the table. Ryan was the classic kid spouting complete nonsense about cars in Finland and almost complete nonsense about wind turbines in China, and then getting upset when Biden called him on it. Ryan's "We will both be better served if you don't interrupt..." was the most childish remark I've seen in watching decades of Presidential debates.

Extremists don't like to be contradicted. The pundits are trying to make a case about Biden's demeanor, just as they're trying to make a case about the Libya killings, because they don't have a case on the facts.


Lord Of Light could be made as a mini-series, now that the tech is up to it. The bodyswapping would be interesting to cast.


If @Ian's claim that protectionism doesn't work may be assumed to be true, then what is the future for America? We have the same biology as Indians and Chinese; we have a temporary advantage in education and organization but that can be overcome in a generation or two. We will go down or will they come up? I don't know anyone who objects to them joining our standard of freedom and of living (...allowing for rational worries about energy and the environment, but these are solvable problems ...) but I don't think we want to go down. If tariffs won't do it, fine, then what will?

Can we at least agree that it is irrational to give tax breaks for the business expenses associated with shipping jobs overseas?

Acacia H. said...

It just dawned on me how Republicans are going to ban abortion in the United States. It won't be through Federal legislation. Instead, after stacking the Supreme Court with anti-abortion judges, one of the Republican states will pass a law outlawing abortion in the state and a law stating that anyone who provides an abortion to a state resident is guilty of murder... regardless of which state the doctor lives in.

It will be brought to trial... and the Supreme Court will rule in favor of holding doctors accountable. In short, doctors will be put on trial for first degree murder in anti-abortion states, dragged out of their home state to do so, and then likely given the death penalty. It will be the supreme scare tactic to force the will of the Right on Blue States.

It will work, too. No doctor is going to risk giving an abortion or any "day-after" pills or the like for someone even if they have documentation claiming to be from that state because the documentation might be forged and the doctor would be put on trial and then put to death in a Red State. Thus abortion suddenly goes underground once again and women lose their rights big-time.

And yes, I can see this happening. Because one of the clarion demands of the neocon movement is to force their viewpoints down the throats of non-Republicans. (What will be interesting is if Red States then start trying to go after foreign doctors who provide abortions to U.S. citizens... and the international outcry against this which would result in the U.S. being a larger pariah than it was under Bush the Younger.)

Rob H.

Ian said...

"If tariffs won't do it, fine, then what will?"

You might want to take a look at Germany which has higher wages that the US and a successful manufacturing sector.

The key is training and invsting in your workforce so that they're sufficently productive that it's profitable to employ them at developed world wages.

The other point I'll make is that the percentage of the wrkforce employed in manufacturign has been falling all over the developed world for decades (starting well before China's industrialiaation). So has the percentage of peopel employed in agriculture. Getting nostalgic about the loss of assembly line jobs makes as much sense as getting nostalgic about the loss of milk maid jobs.

David Brin said...

Robert, your abortion scenario implies that the masters of the GOP actually mean what they say and act on what they claim to want.

They ran all three branches of government in the first part of this century... and did almost nothing other than open the jugular of our economy and middle class to be sucked by vampires. The christian right's agenda was shouted... and no pushed forward one scintilla.

Likewise, they now scream about entitlements and government waste. Yet they did less about either thing than happened under Clinton.

Of course that may change. If Romney loses, expect the next GOP nominee to be Mike Huckabee, A very likable fellow! And absolutely determined to end the hypocrisy and start the GOP delivering on items from the Wish List.

Paul451 said...

Re: Your uplift/companion-animals post on DoE.
The Service Industry [...] why not replace fast food counter help with cute capuchin monkeys? They can figure out your order with about the accuracy of sullen teenagers and can push the relevant buttons."

But so can I.

I fill up my own car at the service station. I swipe my own card at every EFTPOS terminal. Hell, I scan my own items at the local department store (not yet at the supermarket. A couple have introduced it, but not at their nearest branches.) I order pizza online through their automated ordering system.

Why can't I punch in and pay for my own order on a fast food self service terminal? Hell, even the local drive-through still has a drone shouting though a broken speaker.

Ian said...

But Paul just think how many more jobs you coudl create in the US if you made automatic elevators illegal.

Rob said...

Paul, you must not be from Oregon or New Jersey. (I have no idea why they don't go to self-serve gas.)

Automated fast food ordering systems have been market tested. The end effect, as I recall, was higher IT costs at the stores, customers frustrated at poorly designed touch screen software, and no offset of expenses due to the automation.

It didn't make business sense after all. Besides, if someone bothers to go to your store, the chance they're seeking out human interaction is probably pretty high.

Ian said...

You don't need IT to automate fast food.

I used to work in a menial blue collar job on the ngiht shift. We had an autoteria. The food was placed in coin-operated compartments. There was a microwave oven if you wanted to reheat stuff.

In the US at least these used to be relatively common. (Frederick Pohl descibes in his autobiography how you could make soup out of the free ketchup and hot wter and a 5 cent packet of crackers.)

Human-operated fast food joints are actually a sigg of affluence.

Jumper said...

I think protectionism would work okay if smugglers went to prison. I'm not sure I want a lot of it, and experience shows it's not helpful to get out of a depression. It has been long suggested it be linked to human rights in the manufacturing countries of origin, a proposal which makes lots of sense to my untrained eye. And using U.S. employees to build stuff would not raise the cost that much; but then again analysts say a few pennies affects final costs in ways I don't understand either.

How did the bat-proofing turn out in the end, Tacitus? I thought of hanging monofilament lines; less visible but surely chaffy.

Rob said...

I always wondered where the coin op autoterias went. I remember at university that Food Services would stock sandwiches in vending machines all around campus, and you could get a quick bite

The point I was making was, it didn't work at Burger King etc. Those stores vary their menus so much that you still need humans to get it right. (I dunno about McDonalds...)

Ian said...

"And using U.S. employees to build stuff would not raise the cost that much;"

Chinese wages are rising (a phenomenon that will eventually solve the problem) but currently you're talking about $5 for a 10 hour day versus $20 an hour in the US for skilled manufacturing workers.

That's about a 40-fold difference.

Tim H. said...

It's human nature to do things excessively, and the practice of free trade in the United States is no exception, as Smoot-Hawley was excessively protectionist generations ago. I don't want a return to protectionism, I would like to see moderation, and admission of damage, both social and environmental.

Acacia H. said...

The thing with my scenario, Dr. Brin, is that it only needs the Federal Government to do one thing: put in anti-Roe v. Wade Supremes who feel it is murder. They'll either state it's no longer protected by the Federal Government or even attempt judicial activism (something the Supremes have done fairly often under conservative justices while decrying any such attempts by liberal judges).

It's impossible to get 300+ congressfolk to vote on something so controversial. But we have State governments already working to ban abortion and pushing Roe v. Wade for a rematch. These are the folk who will wage war against doctors and force their views on other states... and if the Supremes allow them to by allowing "abortion is murder" laws to stand, then you'll see abortion legally end in all 50 states - some by law, and the rest because no doctor will dare openly perform one.

The only benefit to this is that you'll likely see widespread adoption of the abortion pills since it's easy to claim "miscarriage" or the like.

Rob H.

BCRion said...


I agree with you everything will balance, but that transient has a fairly long equilibration time. During this, you have a generation or so of individuals who are economically disadvantaged and can never, as an entire generation at least, truly make up lost ground. The so-called Lost Generation never really recovered economically relative to their immediate predecessors and successors. I don't think the deleterious effect of this can have should be dismissed by saying that everything will be resolved "in the long run", because something else is also true about the long run as well.

While I do not argue in favor of protectionist policies -- that really is a dead end for reasons you have already stated -- what do constructive policies do you propose, with your economic background, to help the people who happen to be caught in the midst of this economic trauma?

Catfish N. Cod said...

Robert, they may yet try your tactic (if they don't collapse first), but it would be a horrendous mistake. Yes, it would work temporarily, under the current rules of the Republic. And it would immediately trigger a constitutional crisis.

Your scenario is precisely identical to the Fugitive Slave Act... an act which forced the Northern states to do precisely what they did not wish to do, i.e., enforce the laws of the Southern states in the North when those laws were deeply offensive to their populations. It was an attempt by the minority to force their will upon the majority for the benefit of the minority.

To say that it backfired is one of the great understatements of all history. And I say this as a descendant of those upon whom it backfired.

Abortion is the issue on which there is the most geographic and cultural segregation in this country. Only -- only -- areas which are both deeply culturally conservative and deeply Republican espouse it. Areas where the old Republican traditions still live, like New Hampshire or Minnesota, are disgusted by the whole enterprise.

The people of the Blue states -- the ones with the most population, and the ones that make the money -- would not consent to continue to support the current bargain that makes up the Republic under such a scenario. The show of actually demanding a doctor be remanded across state lines for doing something legal in that state would be as dramatic as the soldiers at Little Rock and Selma. It would take the President ordering the National Guard, or the Supreme Court ordering their own Marshals, to make the extradition happen. It would not happen otherwise.

I can only pray that if that happened an election would be right around the corner... because I am not sure that the crisis could be held off long enough, otherwise. Abortion itself people would not take arms up about. But the implication -- that Team Red could dictate terms to the rest of us -- would be completely intolerable, and the symbolism of life and death would drive the point home. It would be to the knife after that.

David Brin said...


Dwight Williams said...

And if we're to continue the Argo discussion...well, a lot of Canadians of a certain age range have had some bones to pick with the people who made that film, based on the role of our then-Ambassador to Iran, Ken Taylor, his wife, the embassy staff and others in the rescue of those half-dozen Americans. The original closing "narrator" card - since rewritten after conversations between Ben Affleck and Ken Taylor in the wake of Argo's premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival - downplayed that role considerably.

Hollywood tradition, others have noted in response. They're right to remind us of that habit...but it's another argument for the rest of us up here to build up our own film industry. If necessary, in defiance of the MPAA's preference to treat us as a "domestic market" appendage.

David Brin said...

Even worse was the film about submarine enigma machines U-571. A terrible mishmash that grabbed all the cred for the US Navy that belonged to several british crews. Even the advisor aboard was a yank!

--- onward