Thursday, December 26, 2013

A blue ribbon panel recommends fixing NSA: What's cosmetic and what might work

In the wake of Edward Snowden's revelations about the U.S. Intelligence Community -- and the subsequent storm of protest -- President Obama appointed a blue ribbon commission to survey the situation and report back with recommendations.  Headed by Richard Clarke, chief counterterrorism adviser on the National Security Council in the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, it included a lifelong CIA professional and a trio of university professors with experience in both law and security policy (one of whom is a colleague of mine and an expert on privacy matters).  The contents of their report -- just made public -- were certain to raise controversy.
Liberty-security-changing-worldI have neither time nor the paid-pulpit to write for you all a detailed description of the panel's findings. But links to good articles about the panel should suffice. How about you familiarize yourself with their report, then come back here?  I'll wait. You can read their document: Liberty and Security in a Changing World.
Or skim through summaries:
The Right Call on the NSA in the Washington Post.
Protecting Citizens and their Privacy in the New York Times.
== A not-unexpected transition ==
In 1997's The Transparent Society (TS) -- and especially the infamous twilight zone moment on page 206 -- I appeared to forecast the 9/11 attacks with chilling detail, then went on to describe the "ratchet effect" process under which a frightened public and Congress would rush to hand new powers of surveillance over to our Professional Protector Caste (PPC).
I also suggested that, as time passed and fears ebbed, there would come rising calls to turn back the ratchet and reclaim control over the security services. That time has apparently come, spurred in large part by the Whistle Blower phenomenon described in TS.
Still, let's remember the Big Picture Context of it all… that a time will come, someday, when we are terrified, once again.  When all the "Orwellian" talk will seem far less important than handing over to our protectors any powers they claim to need.
Shall we ride this roller-coaster helplessly, oscillating between submission and indignation? Or else, how about this alternative? That we bear that inevitable future trauma in mind now, as we choose which post-Snowden reforms to demand… and which ones have a plausible chance of working?
== What can even possibly work? ==
NSA-WATCHING-WATCHERSMost of you know where I stand in regard to all of this.  I am not very much impressed by the aspect that obsesses others -- finding ways to limit  how much our protectors are allowed to see. This is a futile path for four major reasons:
A. Any surveillance powers we take away from them now will later be given back (as I just said) during the next emergency. And more.
B. It matters far less what members of the PPC see and/or know than what they can do to us. And controlling what they do requires a different set of tools.
C. Any attempt to limit what elites can see or know bears a burden of proof that it is even possible. Not once in human history is there a clear example where society's elite members were effectively barred from using a technology of surveillance, once it became available. As we saw a decade ago, re Total Information Awareness or TIA (2003), forbidding such powers merely chases them to deeper shadows, in a futile game of Whack-a-Mole.  

Today's NSA Imbroglio should be called "son-of-TIA." And whatever gets banished from NSA now will be the "grandson-of-TIA" scandal, ten years farther down the road.
D. What we need is trust, an ability to know that elites are being held accountable to high standards and to obeying their own rules. The minutia and details of wiretapping/traffic-analysis/content sampling will change faster than any regulations that we establish. But knowing that the watchmen are being watched - on our behalf - by savvy and trustworthy representatives of the People… that is priceless and immeasurably important.
== The  Blue Ribbon Report ==
With those (abbreviated) principles in mind, shall we look at the recommendations of the blue ribbon Clarke Panel?
1. Demanding that the NSA et al stop storing bulk phone and internet metadata, allowing instead for it to be cached by some neutral or commercial site… is a minor palliative.  Yes, it would add a step, a party who can ask "where's your court order?"  One parallel is the recent Boston Marathon Bombing, in which the police went door to door, asking to view private security cam footage. In that heinous case, cooperation came swiftly -- but they did have to ask. And a sweep for cam images to, say, catch casual Bostonian pot smokers would meet more resistance.
Oh, I am all for this measure. But this is mostly a sop to the headlines. Given that the FISA Court is a rubber-stamp mockery, the obstacle of a "court order" is meaningless. Anyway, let us suppose that the activists' fond fantasy occurs and that metadata collection is "banned" across the board. And you'd actually believe it? My only response will be a sadly derisive headshake and sigh.

No, the panelists' recommendation is the right one.  Just don't expect miracles.
2. Recommended: that fishing for internet-carried personal data should also require a court order. Okay, fine, the Fourth Amendment and all that. Though this - again - depends upon the words "court order" regaining meaning.  Also… privately, I think only a fool counts on any Internet content remaining reliably secret. Not when every month another massively "secure" database spills like a broken dike. Case in point, last week's spill of 40 million credit card records from retail giant Target. Again, sure, let's do as the panel recommends. But don't assume it matters all that much.
Transparency-System3. Transparency in the system… (all right, there's my word). Allow and require that phone and internet providers announce publicly the general nature and number of disclosure orders they receive from the government. Now we're getting somewhere.  Even without the specifics, we the people will get a better sense of what's going on.  

Though I'd go much farther.  For example, there should be an expiration date on releasing all specifics about who and what was being trawled.  An utter maximum of fifteen years with a "fleet average" disclosure time of five years.
Numbers 4 and 5 and 6 all try to parse distinctions between Americans and non-Americans. Part of this is to reassure foreigners and allies -- a necessary measure if Pax Americana is to retain any leadership cred. These recommendations also attempt to maintain an archaic special status for U.S. citizens, in the context of an equally archaic mission statement for the NSA to aim its gaze only at foreign threats. Finally, the panelists add some rigmarole to require fine parsing of rights not-to-be-spied-on, including promises that foreign data-sifting will only go after Really Bad Things. Okay, sure, why not? If I had been on the panel, I'd have helped write these. Though I find political posturings tedious.
Only now -- at last -- we get to the important parts -- recommendations that might actually matter. Where some actual good might come out of the panel's findings.
7. The panel recommends that "Congress should create the position of public interest advocate to represent the nation’s interests in the protection of privacy and civil liberties before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA). In addition, the decisions of the court should be far more transparent; they should be declassified whenever possible."
Our legal system -- indeed our market economy, democracy and science, too -- are all based on one fundamental premise, adversarial comparison of competing views. Only competition pierces delusions. Moreover, any "court" that is not effectively adversarial is no court at all.
Civil-liberties-privacy-protection-board8. The panel further proposes that "Congress should create a strengthened and independent Civil Liberties and Privacy Protection Board with authority to review government activity relating to foreign intelligence generally, and not only for counterterrorism, whenever that activity has implications for civil liberties and privacy."
These two (numbers 7 and 8) go after the heart of the matter. We should not concentrate on demanding blindness where it cannot ever be verified and where some future panic will reverse every assurance.  Rather, we should act vigorously to end our own blindness to what is going on within the Intelligence Community (IC).
Sure, that community needs tools of secrecy in order to do their jobs.  But it must be TACTICAL secrecy, limited in scope and duration and always under the gaze of savvy, perceptive overseers who are not members of the Club.  Yes, those overseers should be trustworthy, discreet, security cleared and all that… heck almost any American retiree would have been more reliable than the community's own insiders, Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden! But we need assurance that someone nosey, smart and always-questioning will  be looking over the shoulders of these folks we are entrusting with vast power.
Recommendation number seven makes a stab at this by setting up an advocate to make the FISA Court adversarial, instead of a mockery.  But I'd go farther. There should be several such advocates, all of them with proper security clearances of the highest trust, but diversely appointed by and answerable to a variety of elements and stake-holders, including private groups, even perhaps adversarial ones such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation.  Sure, I'd negotiate any degree of vetting that the Community requires in order to ensure that the actual overseers are discreet, but ultimately these positions have to be adversarial in the truest sense, or no trust can be established.
Further, there must be some way to evaluate the Court's performance, its balance and continuing credibility. That means an appeals process that actually looks into complaints and can effectively deter sweeping fishing expeditions or voyeurism. Finally, as I will reiterate and first proposed in my novel EARTH (1989), there must be a clock of expiration on the secrecy of its orders. Without that measure - ending secrecy after its tactical value has expired -- there is no credible accountability at all.
Likewise the membership of any "independent Civil Liberties and Privacy Protection Board" must be eclectic.  Such boards are all-too often captured by the agencies or industries they are charged to supervise.  Its members must be vetted, cleared and discreet, of course. But they must be appointed out of a pool selected from -- (or at least trusted-by) -- as wide a sampling of American interests as possible… or there will be no trust.
Is this a big enough swivel for you?  From ho-hum yawns to flaming radicalism? Can you see the theme? I care less about what our protectors know than what they can do.
I have elsewhere offered a number of additional suggestions for trust-building measures that would assure citizens they have regained supervision powers (even by proxy) over their public servants.
INSPECTOR-GENERAL-UNITED-STATESForemost among these would be to create the high office of Inspector General of the United States (IGUS) who would then take command over the IG inspectorates dispersed everywhere in government, removing them from appointment or pressure by the secretaries and directors they are charged to oversee.  I would also establish panels of well-vetted, cleared and discreet Fair Witnesses chosen from a large pool of randomly picked citizens…
…but by now you well-understand parameters of my militant radicalism. All measures that are actually effective will be at this end, increasing "sousveillance" or the ability of citizens to regain authority and sovereignty, less paranoid about how much our protectors see than watching carefully what they do.
The flip side -- which is, alas, getting all the attention by press, politicians, punditry and public -- telling our PPC not to use new powers to see, is a nonsensical endeavor and doomed to fail. Wagging our fingers and screaming "don't look!" is a puerile and futile distraction… which may be why that side of things gets all the attention.
== The Mavens Finish Up ==
Our panel's ninth recommendation goes back to the fantasy-land called private encryption, promising to keep government hands off and to allow private ciphers for citizens and corporations. Yeah right. Oh, I have no objections to this provision, just cynicism. In the nineties I told the encryption fans that all their fancy algorithms and libertarian fantasies would not matter… nor have they mattered, nor will any of it matter in the future. Yawn.
Point number ten suggests that the Intelligence Community backpedal from the insanely stupid use of 'trusted' contractors, low level military enlistees and other potential leakers. A completely unneeded proposal, as the IC is right now pulling in such contract work as fast as it can, bringing back in-house many of the services that had been farmed out in the 1980s and 2000s fetish to "privatize" - a mania that never delivered efficiencies or cost-savings and simply demolished security. With two upshots:
First, Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden have made sure that it will be much harder for there to be more Bradley Mannings and Edward Snowdens.  That bolt has been shot and - mixing metaphors - all the low hanging revelatory fruit has been plucked.
Moreover, no one in the IC will go to jail for anything that those two revealed, for one simple reason: in fact, nearly everything that they revealed was legal.  Much was embarrassing, and the two henchmen-gone-wild did us a service by restarting this whole conversation! But on the level of heinous illegality, they barely qualified as "whistle-blowers," at all.
Whistle-blower-lawsSecond, and despite that, I have long believed that Whistle Blower laws badly need updating. Manning and Snowden and Julian Assange represent not aggrieved individuals but a personality type that abounds within America and the West. A character trait that we have nurtured and fostered and propelled with three generations of Suspicion of Authority (SoA) memes in nearly every Hollywood film. These fellows serve to represent a general category, one that will not go away. Especially among bright-young-fellers of the kind the IC needs.
Hence, the government and all other elites need to hold meetings and discuss (with the rest of us) how to make lemons into lemonade. How to ensure that this trait keeps shining light on matters that badly need discussion… while by that token convincing a vast majority of potential Snowdens that the system (for all its faults) is listening, and perhaps deserves loyalty for another year.
It is a tightrope act, a striving for balance that is the price of complex, enlightenment civilization. We should now study and discuss just what a whistle-blower is and how we can maximize the benefits of this deeply American impulse to denounce what you think may be wrong, while helping to make sure that future Mannings and Snowdens weigh every factor, and have systemic means to point out errors that will net-benefit the society that fostered them.  There are dozens of clever ways to do this…
… and they must await another time.  Suffice it to say that I'm glad we are engaged in this conversation, and to play my own weirdly radical role in it.
Look. Our parents and their parents passed through crises and adjustments and ructions worse than any that we now face; so why the failure of pragmatic confidence? We are capable of fine-tuning a republic and civilization, even while we are riven by a trumped-up and wholly unnecessary Civil (culture) War. 

We have to believe that we can do this, a chore of perpetually-frustrating and grindingly incremental self-improvement that all the last ten generations somehow managed to achieve. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. It isn't here yet.  But it will be called --
-- civilization.


Orval said...

There is a basic technocratic impulse to regard government as some kind of machine: if you only get the pressure valves and governors and braking/lubricating mechanisms right, you get good government. History does not agree: the old USSR, for example, had, on paper, possibly one of the best constitutions ever written. The multiple, increasingly complex constitutions the French have developed since since the 1790s have never really worked (which Republic are we at these days? 5th? 6th?)

Dr. Brin's proposals very much remind me of the institution of the Tribunes in Republican Rome, a reform intended to address the overwhelming and oppressive power of the patricians. Worked for a while, but in the end, it formed a large part of the legal basis for the principate/dictatorship when the Emperors assumed their powers under the tribunicia potestas.

In the end, no mechanism can be perfected against the corrupting assault of the powerful; it can only be kept in check by an aware and active citizenry, willing to engage through whatever mechanism they choose to create to do so.

Freedom is not guaranteed by perfected law, but by the blood of patriots-- I suspect that the Occupy movement was perhaps a more effective response than any tinkering with the law, or at anyrate perhaps a foreshadowing or omen that the powerful should pay heed to. The public interest, opiated and divided though it may be, is not quite dead yet.

Lorraine said...

Concerning redesigning the system with the assumption that there will be more pretexts for sacrifices of civil liberties:

What needs to be established is what things are understood to operate the same in wartime as in peacetime, and what individual rights ideals are movable goalposts. What ends justify what means. My thoughts on that is that if the framers wanted anything other than quartering of soldiers to be different in wartime than in peacetime, they would have said so, but public taste in security policy tends to have a Hobbesian streak, so freedom is doomed.

Also, we need an objective standard of what constitutes wartime and peacetime. Getting back to the constitutional definition of war as something formally declared by Congress would, I think, be the right thing to do, but is probably not politically feasible. Unfortunately, civil liberties is box office poison when it comes to electoral politics. So perhaps there should be some kind of formally defined kind of "yellow alert" which is not a state of war, but under which the people are expected to put up with an elevated level of information asymmetry on the part of the authorities. These too, should have a firm expiration date, with extensions only through deliberative and open political or legal process.

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

Here's a Socratic question:
What can the NSA learn about Google from its web activity?

Jumper said...

The Report and Recommendations of
The President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies seems designed for retarded children.

Stephen Peterson said...

@Orval, one key difference is that the tribunes had weird mutant niche legislative-executive authority that was often unbounded... i.e., easily exploited by savvy radicals like the Gracchi (and those who came after).

That, and Republican Rome was hardly a fair and balanced system. America has had only *one* civil shooting war.

Maybe we should add "argumentum ad Romanum" (or whatever the correct Latin is) to the list of fallacies, because comparisons between America (or whatever current Pax power) and Rome never seem to stack up right.

Orval said...

@Stephen Peterson -- Of course history doesn't repeat itself, but, as Mark Twain pointed out, it frequently rhymes.

Dr. Brin's Watchers or Inspectors General are by no means the same as the Roman tribunes, but they do represent the same sort of constitutional kluge (with potentially dangerous unforeseen consequences), which ultimately represent a failure on the part of the existing system to function.

In the absence of a Congress willing to exercise meaningful oversight, deriving from a people unwilling to actively and thoughtfully engage in public life, in a republic attempting to run an empire for which it was not designed and with an evaporating middle class (a fairly good rhyme I think between Republican Rome and the current US), perhaps a kluge is the best that can be expected; the Roman Tribunes did in fact function as advertised, at first.

David Brin said...

Orval, I like your overall philosophical attitude, but you fail to recognize the context of which it is a part. Your skepticism does not strike me as today's typical cynicism -- which boiled down to snarky laziness - but rather as the wariness of someone who distrusts pat formulae and can swiftly see the possibility that one solution might offer opportunities for new styles of cheating.

Did I just paraphrase you well? I believe so. At which point -- shame on you -- the answer is obvious. NOT to rely on just one solution or set of guardians, but to set many power centers into rivalry against each other, with all of them appealing for credence and trust from the people.

Um… duh? Division of authority is precisely what Adam Smith recommended and that the American Framers strove to establish. It is an inherently unstable solution, hence every generation must refresh it by breaking up cartels and concentrations of cheaters, restoring rivalry.

So? That's our task. And 200 years shows that it is (never perfectly) quite achievable, if pursued rationally, with determination and calm good will… which is why those exact character traits are under attack by the Cheaters' wholly owned propaganda machines.

LarryHart said...

Stephen Peterson:

Maybe we should add "argumentum ad Romanum" (or whatever the correct Latin is) to the list of fallacies, because comparisons between America (or whatever current Pax power) and Rome never seem to stack up right.

Not to argue, but isn't there something funny and ironic in that statement?

locumranch said...

It may just be the time of the season, but poor David appears to have gone all 'Hogfather' on us, learning to believe the little lies like 'expert rule' as practice so he can believe the big social lies like justice, progress & mercy, all by postulating the existence of a mythical creature, the entirely trustworthy individual, as inhumanly incorruptible as he is trustworthy, non-representative by virtue of 'appointment', deriving authority from divine providence, answerable only to greater moral authority.

Can you say 'King', 'Aristocrat' or 'Noblesse Oblige'?? David (the expert scientist) has revealed himself AGAIN as an elitist snob who would replace the inexpert inefficiencies of the democratic process with a hierarchically appointed AUTOCRAT in the name of Reason & (pffsst) Science'. How illogically 'enlightened'. I'd horrified if Danny Kaye hadn't made the very idea of 'The Inspector General' so comically preposterous in a film by the same name.


Alfred Differ said...

I recommend skipping the summarized 10 recommendations from the NYT and going with the numeration in the original report. They make more sense when split out properly. For example, the recommendations for better representation of public interests in the FISA court is combined with splitting NSA up so the foreign intelligence mission doesn't get entangled with the information assurance mission. They also propose making the NSA director a Senate approved appointee and encourage the President to choose a civilian.

Many of the enumerated recommendations are feel-good statements of principle and don't lead to measurable ways to know if we are following them, but that doesn't mean they aren't worth stating. Some have to do with the distinctions between US and non-US person, but others have to do with the mission goals for surveillance.

sociotard said...

I'm starting to feel like Dr. Brin's assessment is also a bit incomplete. The elites want to watch things, and no force has ever been shown to dissuade them from trying. However, they also want to watch secretly, and no force has ever been known to dissuade them from that.

It wasn't enough for the NSA to record all the metadata, or even have a court that rubberstamped it so it was mostly legit. They also wouldn't admit it to the legislature. They wanted to keep their surveillance a secret, even when they did it legally.

"Make an inspectorate"

Then they will make a new secret spy agency with no inspectorate and not tell the IGUS it exists.

"make that illegal"

that won't work any better than a no-spying law

"set up a post of citizens that can see any secret!"

Again, just don't admit the new spy agency exists. It worked for the NSA for years.

I get that you're saying that the application of transparency is a constant struggle, but here's my challenge:

explain why it is easier to enforce a transparency law than a no-spying law? because the elites don't want either.

Alfred Differ said...

Heh. I was wondering when I was going to see the Hogfather analogy misused here. Ding! Locumranch does it well.

Whether you read it or watch it, it is important to note that the Hogfather myth was powerful in proportion to the belief in the little lies. That belief turned what obviously couldn't be true into a powerful institution in the story.

Dismiss belief in little lies at your peril. Everyone knows reductionism can't really work, yet science has utterly changed the world. There are SO many examples of how the little things add up that it is stunning how we can miss them.

matthew said...

I do disagree with David's assessment that Snowden shares the same personality type as Bradley and Assange.

Both Bradley and Assange spread leaks into the wild without knowing their contents, just wanting to embarrass the US. By all accounts Snowden has been meticulous in only releasing material that he has personally vetted and feels to be germane. Granted, he is appointing himself to make sweeping decisions regarding what he thinks the public should know about US spying techniques and proclivities, but he is bothering to look and weigh what he releases.

The difference between a patriot, willing to do harm to his nation to rectify what he sees as a wrong course, and two juveniles, acting blindly in anger at a system they feel is wrong.

To lump Snowden in with the other two, with his careful moves, his nineteen attempts to work changes within the system before leaking, is to diminish him.

David Brin said...

Sociotard, sorry but you just don't get it. Your problem is rooted in who's this "they" you are talking about.

"They" can only form big conspiracies if they can rely upon their henchmen. Which Snowden/ Manning proved they cannot. At least not in THIS society with THIS set of memes, and not when your security cleared henchmen number in the hundreds of thousands. So they must get smaller. They are doing that…

…and the more measures we enact to install supervision and IGs and to establish whistle blower processes, the fewer and then fewer henchmen they can afford to trust in a conspiracy. You cannot see the process? When you hem in oligarchs and limit their henchmen, you are also hemming in what they can DO to us.

Matthew, without a doubt I respect Snowden more than dozens of Assanges or poor dim Mannings. I still think he is problematic and in several ways wrongheaded and driven by sanctimony. But such are "social; T Cells".

He did us one service… announcing it is time to discuss how to pull back the ratchet. But there is also a fearful aspect. This is exactly when powers might decide to stage something to make us fearful again.

Locum = what a funny fellow. Everything I say is about ensuring flat accountability by creating systems that force all elites to compete with each other and pierce each others' illusions and to accept such critique from outsiders and from below… it is everything I am about…

… but because I definitely AM an "expert" that is all that matters. I am thus automatically a tyrant and disqualified. Ah, kids. I hope he does not need a medical "expert" any time soon.

Edit_XYZ said...

David Brin said...
"Orval[...]Did I just paraphrase you well? I believe so. At which point -- shame on you -- the answer is obvious. NOT to rely on just one solution or set of guardians, but to set many power centers into rivalry against each other, with all of them appealing for credence and trust from the people.

Um… duh? Division of authority is precisely what Adam Smith recommended and that the American Framers strove to establish. It is an inherently unstable solution, hence every generation must refresh it by breaking up cartels and concentrations of cheaters, restoring rivalry."

Division of authority is, indeed, an unstable solution in USA.
Because, every 2 generations or so, the rich gain disproportionate power; the system is set up so they have an easy path to this end.
If the rest of the society, divided as it is, cannot then take away their wealth and power, democracy will collapse, replaced by oligarchy.

All this means that USA's system is fundamentally flawed: if the present or future oligarchs succeed only once, it's bye bye democracy in USA. But, no matter how often they are defeated, the sword of damocles will still be there, undeterred.
Roosevelt saved the american democracy 2 generations ago. But, as even a cursory look at history books shows,leaders of such competence and vision are very rare.

West european democratic systems (with their left-leaning policies) are far better in preventing the emergence of such oligarchic classes.
Meaning, in the fulness of time, democracies in the style of USA's (with their lesser ability to survive) will always be outcompeted by stabler, west european type democracies.

Paul451 said...

Re: Creating newer more-secret agencies each time the old most-secret agency is hobbled.

Perhaps an amendment to espionage laws that specifically says any agency free from oversight of the law is also free from protection of the law. No information from or about the agency can be classified. No actions legally permitted beyond civil law, no subpoena'd information or employee restricted from public court on national security grounds; thus whistleblowers aren't breaking the law; citizens can't be (legally) compelled to obey them or (legally) arrested by them; no companies which break a law (say, privacy laws), or cause actionable civilian damages, can offer the defence that they were obeying a legal order from the secret agency. This lack of enforceable secrecy inevitably puts a limit on the size of the agency, due to David's "henchmen problem".

[This also can be applied to David's IGUS. Since the IGUS would be a stand-alone agency, it would have to ability to assign itself to any agency. Any agency that fails to comply finds uniformed IG agents at their (secret) door... Unless they are too small to find. And that's becomes the trade-off. Size for real secrecy. Or secrecy for legal protection.]

Paul451 said...

What do Google's algorithms know (without any human realising) about NSA's activities?

"Maybe we should add "argumentum ad Romanum" (or whatever the correct Latin is)"

Not to mention, "argumentum ad Latinum."

"West european democratic systems (with their left-leaning policies) are far better in preventing the emergence of such oligarchic classes.
Meaning, in the fulness of time, democracies in the style of USA's (with their lesser ability to survive) will always be outcompeted by stabler, west european type democracies."

I can't see we have any evidence for that. The US is older than every Euro democracy except the UK. We really don't have much of a track record to make such comparisons.

Edit_XYZ said...

Paul451 said...
"West european democratic systems (with their left-leaning policies) are far better in preventing the emergence of such oligarchic classes.
Meaning, in the fulness of time, democracies in the style of USA's (with their lesser ability to survive) will always be outcompeted by stabler, west european type democracies."

I can't see we have any evidence for that. The US is older than every Euro democracy except the UK. We really don't have much of a track record to make such comparisons.""

The evidence is substantial - it's in the wealth and power of society's classes. What DB likes to call it the pyramid society vs the diamond society.

To put it simply, west european democracies are a lot better than USA's democracy at keeping their society diamond-shaped.
USA's society tends to take a pyramidal shape every 2 generations - and this is VERY hard to correct, seeing how you need power (not divided among contentious groups, but united) to dictate to those with concentrated power.

Hell, half the posts in this blog are DB seeing this possibility, this end coming and being impotent to do anything about it.
And even if, this time, this failure mode is averted (hardly certain) - it will be back before long, as long as the american society is set up to encourage the creation of an oligarchic caste which can translate wealth into real power.

In conclusion, given that the american democracy is more unstable, more prone to failure than west european democracies, the USA democratic meme-set will be outcompeted by the west european one - with the inevitability of Darwinian selection.

locumranch said...

Edit_XYZ is only half-right when he says that "USA's (democratic) system is fundamentally flawed". It is fundamentally flawed, but he mistakes its strengths for its weaknesses because the strength of US-style democracy lies in its perceived weaknesses rather that its monolithic strengths.

US-style democracy is a fallible political system that derives authority from fallible human citizens, so it & its representatives are necessarily untrustworthy, corruptible & inefficient, only breaking when some well-meaning expert fools try to stabilize & 'perfect' it ... which, btw, is exactly what David is trying to do with his whole trustworthy, incorrigible & non-representative 'Inspector General' idea.

The NSA is the perfect example of this because it is the personification of David's Inspector General idea. It is an Appointed Non-Representative Agency which was given broad & unchecked authority on the ASSUMPTION of its trustworthiness & incorrigibility, all in order to stabilize a system which was never meant to be stable, which is exactly the wrong cure for an ailing democracy that needs to become MORE inefficient, corruptible & unstable so it can auto-correct with the blood of patriots.

By confusing Expertise with Expertism, a well-meaning David facilitates undemocratic principles, imagining a ruling class composed of well-educated, well-bred (??), incorruptible & infallibly trustworthy Inspector General-style techno-aristocrats who do not answer to the fallible body politic so they can go around 'stabilizing' whatever they see fit (pow, pow, pow), all while exclaiming 'I AM THE LAW' like so many genetically infallible Judge Dredds. It's just more elitist drivel wrapped with a pretty technocratic bow.


Robert said...

Interesting short article on the GOP "war" on the Middle Class, though it seems light on the details.

Rob H.

sociotard said...

"They" can only form big conspiracies if they can rely upon their henchmen. Which Snowden/ Manning proved they cannot. At least not in THIS society with THIS set of memes, and not when your security cleared henchmen number in the hundreds of thousands. So they must get smaller. They are doing that…

And yet the NSA proved that whistleblower or not, you can go decades without being too badly outed. So yes, any new three-letter spooks will eventually get outed by an angry young man. After. Decades.

A) The NSA is measured in tens of thousands, not hundreds
B) I think the shrinking agency thing is driven partly by the ability to shrink them with further automation. Shrinking due to ability to do so, rather than need to do so, since robots are usually more trustworthy than people.

Howard Brazee said...

I like those ideas. But I would give up all of those and more if the opposite would happen with watching the state.

The state has no right to privacy in a democracy. We need to know what the state is doing and who it is working for (follow the money).

Nothing the state does should be secret beyond a short term tactical need.

It's not the people who have the power to be a big threat.

matthew said...

Andrew Leonard in Salon seems to be working toward some of David's points from The Transparent Society here How to Defeat Big Brother

He starts off by pointed out just how surveilled we are, then goes on start talking about more or less universal transparency and the difficulty of anyone keeping secrets.

David Brin said...

Sociotard: "And yet the NSA proved that whistleblower or not, you can go decades without being too badly outed. So yes, any new three-letter spooks will eventually get outed by an angry young man. After. Decades."

Ah alas. Rage and indignation prevent good minds from seeing that there are OTHER ways of interpreting the facts, oh Sociotard. Pause for a second. Can you see a reason why, even employing 500,000 employees and contractors - in what we now see was utterly lax security - no whistle blowers stepped up before Snowden and Manning?

Really? Please pause a few seconds and see if it comes to you. Don't resume reading till it has.

Here's a clue. Out of 300,000 State department memos rel;eased by Manning, NOT ONE revealed an actual violation of US law. One revealed a medium scale embarrassment and a few hundred were embarrassing at a lower level, largely because they showed US embassy staffs HATING the brutal dictators they had to be diplomatic toward. Those revelations, in fact, helped the USG immensely when populations rose up against the dictators! H. Clinton probably wanted to KISS Assange!

Do you get it now? The decade you denounce happened because 99% of NSA ermployees were personally satisfied -- or at a low enough level of outrage -- not to go through the difficulties of blowing the whistle on endeavors they considered more beneficial than heinous. Snowdens level of threshold indignation plus courage plus competence was the first to be crested.

DIg it… I am GLAD Snowden re-ignited an overdue public debate over what we had allowed to become legal! But the conversation is not helped when million like you ignore the good news, too.

David Brin said...

Edit xyz says: "All this means that USA's system is fundamentally flawed: if the present or future oligarchs succeed only once, it's bye bye democracy in USA. But, no matter how often they are defeated, the sword of damocles will still be there, undeterred. Roosevelt saved the american democracy 2 generations ago. But, as even a cursory look at history books shows,leaders of such competence and vision are very rare."

Logically, this would seem so. But I believe we face at least a "mini" version of a singularity… a cusp point when important human factors will take off that help to maintain the Enlightenment… or else crush it forever. When we have a panopticon world, reliable lie detectors and intelligence augmentation, you have a spilt:

1- if we all share these things then corruption vanishes, politicians stop lying and the next generation of citizens can perceive process-enlightenment better.

2- if these are hoarded by elites, those elites become a permanent lordship.

"West european democratic systems (with their left-leaning policies) are far better in preventing the emergence of such oligarchic classes. "

I lived for two years in London and two in Paris. While there are ASPECTS in which their socialism clearly is enviable… there are others in which you are startlingly naive. Especially the supposed lack of a class system. Which in fact is VASTLY worse than ours, though less garishly Gatsby-like.

Locum, alas, is back to blah, blah… counterfactual-blah

Alfred Differ said...

Chapter 6 starts on page 178 and focuses upon organizational change recommendations for NSA. It delves a little into the history of NSA as a signals intellegence group from WWII and how the borders that define its mission have blurred recently. From that, the study argues for changes to adapt NSA and restore it as a foreign intelligence service.

After talking about splitting NSA up and recognizing the distinctions between the military, IA, and SIGINT missions they finally get to the parts related to public trust. These are in recommendations 27 and 28. Number 27 starts on page 197 and number 28 finishes on page 208, so the amount of supporting material to read isn't too bad. You don't have to read the earlier pages in chapter 6 to understand them, but it is important to remember that the NSA they talk about in these two recommendations is the reformed one restricted to the foreign intelligence mission.

It's not hard to spot some of David's transparency suggestions for change.

Recommendation 27
We recommend that:
(1) The charter of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board should be modified to create a new and strengthened agency, the Civil Liberties and Privacy Protection Board , that can oversee Intelligence Community activities for foreign intelligence purposes, rather than only for counterterrorism purposes;
(2) The Civil Liberties and Privacy Protection Board should be an authorized recipient for whistle-blower complaints related to privacy and civil liberties concerns from employees in the Intelligence Community;
(3) An Office of Technology Assessment should be created within the Civil Liberties and Privacy Protection Board to assess Intelligence Community technology initiatives and support privacy-enhancing technologies; and
(4) Some compliance functions, similar to outside auditor functions in corporations, should be shifted from the National Security Agency and perhaps other intelligence agencies to the Civil Liberties and Privacy Protection Board.

Recommendation 28
We recommend that:
(1) Congress should create the position of Public Interest Advocate to represent privacy and civil liberties interests before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court;
(2) the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court should have greater technological expertise available to the judges;
(3) the transparency of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court’s decisions should be increased, including by instituting declassification reviews that comply with existing standards; and
(4) Congress should change the process by which judges are appointed to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, with the appointment power divided among the Supreme Court Justices.

Alfred Differ said...

Chapter 8 gets interesting because it is there where they make recommendations concerning protecting what we DO choose to collect. They point out something pretty obvious regarding security clearances that ties in with David's points around the cooperation of henchmen.

Personnel with Security Clearances (10/12)
[Type | Confidential/Secret | Top Secret]
Government Employees | 2,757,333 | 791,200
Contractors | 582,524 | 483,263
Other | 167,925 | 135,506

Personnel Whose Security Clearances Were Revoked (FY 12)
CIA 0.4%
FBI 0.1%
NGA 0.3%
NRO 0.5%
NSA 0.3%
State 0.1%

Note the low rate at which clearances are revoked. Part of that is due to the fact that little effort is spent (thus little profit is to be made) in determining when someone who was previously cleared has become a risk. Once a henchment, always trusted as a henchmen is the apparent rule if you look at the numbers within the intelligence groups. I don't know if they are similar for DoD and DHS, but I wouldn't be shocked if they were.

Chapter 8 deals with a number of recommendations surrounding what to do about all this. If you read them carefully and have worked in the field you'll see a tsunami of change behind them. If we actually follow them, things are going to get expensive for awhile as we adapt to a world with fewer henchmen, but each henchman will be watched better... supposedly. I'm skeptical they can make this work, but they DO have to try something.

Jumper said...

One equalizer I have been paying attention to, over the course of personal computing evolution, is access to complete law libraries. It's still not easy but soon every individual can view every statute. Smart software will simplify much obfuscatory language esp. in the style of law written "paragraph 2 section 7 shall replace 'shall' with 'may'" etc.

David Brin said...

Good stuff Alfred. thx

sociotard said...

My initial question was "Why would it be easier to enforce a transparency law against elites who don't want it than a no-spying law against elites who don't want it?"

May I interpret your response as "Elites will only be able to avoid the transparency laws if they can rely on their henchmen. If hundreds of thousands of henchmen don't turn to transparency, there probably wasn't anything to reveal?"

So, you are only asking for more transparency laws to make it easier for whistleblowers? Not because you expect inspectors general and so forth to find anything of their own volition?

David Brin said...

Sociotard, as you yourself said, any one approach will be suborned and captured or cheated. We need a wide variety of approaches. Inspectors General will hem in the number of henchmen. So will whistle blower laws. So will crowd-sourcing some intelligence. So will letting a mass population that SEES correlate info on their own and make it hard for bombers or others to do their work.

Moreover, ONLY if you have transparency like that will you stand a chance of enforcing the other kind of law… restricting what protectors are allowed to see. If you don't have transparency and sousveillance, any blind-elites law will be a joke.

But if you have sousveillance and hemmed in henchmen numbers and whistle blower protections… then what NEED do we have to restrict what the protectors know?

None. Not one reason at all.

Brendan said...

David, I hope it is ignorance and not some weird bias, but please stop calling Chelsea Manning 'Bradley'.

David Brin said...

Oh cripes Brendan, please do not judge an old fart for inertia. Besides sh/h was Bradley Manning when the acts were done. SHeeesh.

Alfred Differ said...


I'm skeptical that complete law libraries online will have the impact some think. My brief experience with a need for corporate law taught me that it is the case law layer on top of the regulations and statutes that matters the most. It reminded me of the difference between genetic information and epigenetic expression of that information. You can see this when people in the US focus too much on what our Constitution says and neglect how it has been interpreted over the decades. Those interpretations are encoded as 'test cases' and you have to know them to know what is plausible in Court.

Getting case law online requires more than publishing it. There is a great deal of intelligence required to make use of it because relevance is hard to encode.

locumranch said...

So now I see:

Oligarchs are afraid of laws AND transparency, possibly due to their lack of legislative resources, so we can 'hem them in' & neutralize them with more laws (which they will undoubtedly write for us) & more transparency (which they will welcome with open arms) because such laws (which do not yet exist) must simply be obeyed by all concerned due to the 'rule of law' & whatnot or an inhuman Inspector General may pay them a visit come Hogfather's Eve.

And, one PC question: If unmanning Bradley makes a Chelsea, then does a Chelsea Manning make a Bradley??


Robert said...

Dude. Apologize. That was in tremendously poor taste and was insulting to any LGBT individual.

Rob H.

Tacitus2 said...

"Meaning, in the fullness of time, democracies in the style of USA's (with their lesser ability to survive) will always be outcompeted by stabler, west european type democracies."

Several problems with this notion. You can't cherry pick among Euro nations. They have to be regarded as a unit, and places like Italy and Greece drag them down. Imagine a formerly United States...Silicon Valley would look much better than Alabama. Or the city state of Detroit.

But also there is that "fullness of time" thing. I am not sure you can really start the clock before some time in the 1950s. Prior to that point you get military occupation (Germany, Italy). Further back you get fascism. Further still the Weimar Republic and the Whack a Mole politics of interwar France. Further still you get the toxic mix of vestigial monarchy and rigid classism that gave us World War I.

Lets give Europe a century to show what its got before we compare with our 200 years plus.

Check back with you all in 2055 or so....


Alex Tolley said...

B. It matters far less what members of the PPC see and/or know than what they can do to us. And controlling what they do requires a different set of tools.

D. What we need is trust, an ability to know that elites are being held accountable to high standards and to obeying their own rules. The minutia and details of wiretapping/traffic-analysis/content sampling will change faster than any regulations that we establish. But knowing that the watchmen are being watched - on our behalf - by savvy and trustworthy representatives of the People… that is priceless and immeasurably important.

I've highlighted what I see as the key problem with David's solution.

As we've seen in other contexts, what the rules are and what authorities can do is very flexible. Our whole system completely failed to follow established rules with regards to torture post 9/11. One "lackey" simple gave a legal opinion that some forms of torture, previously forbidden, could be renamed "enhanced interrogation" and therefore legal. Another approach was to simply ship the suspect to a country where torture was routine.

We have already glimpsed the problem of privacy and what can be done with the information in a less critical sphere - social media. Facebook, in particular, keeps changing the rules for what can be done with the information you provide. They also keep changing/undoing your privacy settings, which is pretty much what changing laws or judges opinions do too.

So if we accept David's transparency argument, we can foresee a time when everything will be captured, permanently. Privacy in any sphere will be unknown. But the rules about what can be done with that information will change. If SCOTUS declares a change in the rules, what you once thought innocuous now can be used against you, if not directly, but as a flag for investigation. Congress, continuing to reflect "public indignation" will compliantly create new laws to enable this.

What are the social consequences? Just last week we saw yet another tweet victim lose her job to "public indignation". What are the approaches to avoid this?

1. Don't shout in the public square.
2. Follow the most conservative behavior you can so not to attract attention.

Solution 1 becomes increasingly unavailable. Any conversation you have can be overheard and made public. Call it Twitter sousveillance. We've seen the consequences of that - lost livelihoods, enraged flash mobs. In fact all the things that we thought were overcome by the late C20th, reappearing.
Solution 2 is in effect trying to avoid thoughtcrime. The individual self censors until certain thoughts no longer even flicker in the mind. The ultimate PC world, and which Orwell so carefully warned us of.

It is those 2nd order effects that I worry about, and no IG is going to help because the rules that they are overseeing will change, as David says, with the next real or imagined threat.

If Phil Dick was alive today, he would certainly recognize so much that he had written about in some of his best novels.

Alex Tolley said...

Moreover, no one in the IC will go to jail for anything that those two revealed, for one simple reason: in fact, nearly everything that they revealed was legal.

And yet, both Clapper and Alexander were caught lying to Congress which is illegal. And they still won't go to jail. Which should show how much the scales of justice are tilted in favor of some. Why should any illegal use of resources by the IC caught by the beefed up IG have any different result?

locumranch said...

The self-appointed Inspector Genderall is so quick to take offense. He forgets that (1) every potential thought expressed is literally 'a pensive' and (2) every expressed thought distressed is literally 'a crime'. But, in the spirit of goodwill, I will offer a bad apology because the BEST apology (meaning 'a speech in defense') would be a good 'offense'. I hope the good inspector finds the wisdom to excuse those of us who are too old to 'change' as (literally) being incapable of giving 'a pence' so he may spare us the inanity of 'dudeification' which is (quite literally) a PC hate crime.


Robert said...

Chelsea is a woman. She would not be "unmanned" when she transitions to fully woman (and I don't know if she's even transitioned yet). Transgendered individuals genetically are a different gender than they emotionally and mentally identify themselves as. And she showed considerable courage coming out, seeing that there is a lot of disdain (as evident in your own snide remarks) toward these non-heteronorm people).

LGBT are regularly harassed, abused, and killed by small-minded individuals who refuse to respect the differences of their fellow humans. This holds true for even the United States, as your words show and as the horrific crimes that still occur (and are in some cases hushed up) are evidence of.

So kindly pull your damn head out of your ass, take a minute to consider how disrespectful you are being to these people and how you'd not want to be disrespected for YOUR quirks and beliefs, and give a real apology.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Alex points to the more vexing problem in transparency theory.

1. Clearly, the issue of Big Brother is the greatest danger, since that is where most civilizations failed in the past and BB can put an iron boot on you face. If BB gets the mosquito cams and lie detectors and we don't, then we are screwed. So we should get the cams to look back and catch schemes and lie detectors to aim at politicians and bureaucrats and oligarchs. Duh. Any one who doesn't get that is a dolt… or dogmatist… or a sophist.

2. But what about tyranny by a billion neighbors of "Little Brothers"? The oppression of majority bigotry of a spectre almost as horrid as Big Brother, and in a transparent society that might get awful. So bad that millions would prefer the ILLUSION of privacy that Big Brother would want to foster.

Except I deal with this in The Transparent Society - nd thus, Alex, you prove you have never read it.

The answer to the Little Brother LB problem is all around you. It is there when you look into a mirror. Think about it.

David Brin said...

RobH you are on thin ice by proclaiming "you are whatever you proclaim yourself to be!" I know many women who do not like this sudden new right for a biologically functional male to declare himself to be a "woman" and then start using the ladies room.

… or going to the girl scouts and demanding to be admitted as a troop leader taking 13 year olds on campouts, or teaching girls' gym… or getting a job being the frisker of women at airports.

Politically correct positions are often declared by the quickest and most reflexively indignant, and then the rest of "decent folk" and liberals have to fall in line, without being able to say "hey this is a little complicated; can we discuss it first?"

The premise is that we must always expand tolerance boundaries, and I respect and want that and have fought for it all my life. But there's another, that is based on biology itself. "Males are dangerous." And we ignore that one at our peril.

Robert said...

There is a difference between intelligent caution and respect, Dr. Brin. And the issue of transexual individuals and bathroom rights is admittedly problematic (though having a one-person "family" bathroom for use for dads bringing their daughters to the restroom or changing a baby would allow trans individuals to use a neutral bathroom without concern).

What Locu said was completely disrespectful. Don't let your fondness for him disguise the fact that he showed zero respect for transsexuals and in fact perpetuated the harassment and hatred faced by these individuals.

Words have power. As a writer, you should be well aware of this. The use of words to diminish and dismiss should be avoided. There are better ways. And I don't care who you are or what your beliefs. I believe as a critic and as a person that you show respect for the person even if you don't respect what choices they've made.

(Admittedly, my own comments could be considered disrespectful toward the person behind locumranch. You can call me out on that if you wish.)

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Robert, I am a believer in shrugs and thick skins. I can shrug off locus's rudeness because I have experience with snarky teenagers and I can be amused. I know that others have thinner skins and I will compensate, up to a point…

…where their prickly sanctimony brings out the libertarian in me. Dig it, these folks are NOT helping the liberal-progressive-tolerance movement. Rather, they are giving Sean Hannity ammo and making conservatives more entrenched in their opinion that progressives are oppressive thought police.

Yes, we need to move forward, and yes language can be part of that. So can a thick skin.

Robert said...

Trust me, I have a thick skin. You can call me all the words you want and it won't matter to me. But I do not tolerate bullying. Locu's language is bullying. It is dismissive of transgendered individuals. And you know something? If I have to stand up and say "no" to something? It might as well be the blind dismissal of transgendered individuals. Nor am I a shining knight here - I've my own prejudices and the like, concerning LGBT individuals, blacks, liberals, and more.

Your blanket dismissal of this disappoints me, Dr. Brin. You are tolerating his sophomoric insults to a transgendered person who you yourself don't think highly of. I doubt you'd be as blase if he'd called President Obama a certain word historically used for African Americans.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Robert, I see no pragmatic way that Chelsea Manning's interests were harmed… or anyones'…. by a doofus telling a snark that I did not even get, in a place no one was looking… and with you around to slap him down.

I do not tacitly approve, I DIS approve! But I have time and energy to fight a limited number of battles and battles over symbolism - especially in obscure places, with leeway for self-expression -- interest me very little.

locumranch said...

A thick skin would help, but what really dooms the liberal-progressive-tolerance movement to failure (as well as the religious-conservative-libertarian movement, for that matter) is the prevalence of magical thinking as exemplified by the idea that words have the 'power' to change the very nature of reality, which is (of course) utter bosh, as if changing the name of the snake can transform a serpent into a rose.

As a magical thinker, RobH confuses the literal with the metaphorical and believes ... really believes ... that my bad puns have caused physical harm to the LGBT community. Given sufficient time, I could explain to a reasonable individual that 'unmanning' is an apt & literal description of the male-to-female transsexual surgery -- a surgery with which I have assisted, I might add -- but there is just no reasoning with the muddy intellect of a magical thinker.

And, since building a bridge between Rob & I appears to be out-of-the-question, I will therefore provide 'a fence' because 'good fences make good neighbors'. Or, so I've heard.


Robert said...

All puns cause damage to humanity. I thought all punsters knew that.

And Dr. Brin, allowing hate speech, even inadvertent, to flourish unchallenged is to allow that hate to diminish the community as a whole. Contrary Brin is a community for discussions of how to bring about a better world, be it in the political arena, the socioeconomic one, the scientific field, or more. It is an experiment of sorts that lets the discourse of ideas to grow.

Hate diminishes. And hate language, even done in jest, can harm a community.

I have no regrets for calling him on this. Nor on calling you out on this. Because if no one stands up to these comments then no one will stand up for those in need. And this nation already teeters on the verge of the path toward fascism, of Big Brother watching our every word and thought while turning us against each other so the Powers That Be (or as you put it, the aristocrats) remain in power while factions who could unite and keep them from destroying the Enlightenment.

Rob H.

Orval said...

Dr Brin, you may be interested in Glenn Greenwald's Keynote at 30c3. He talks a fair bit about what amounts to sousveillance in the questions. His speech (via crappy skype because obviously he can't travel) starts at 4:36 (after an exceedingly pompous introduction by some fatuous conference guy). His main theme is the culpability of the media, and he gets into sousveillance in the Q&A (though I don't think he calls it that), and I think you'd like what he has to say.

Randy Winn said...

If "Carol Munch" had simply written

"I intended to give no offense, and I sincerely regret any offense given unintentionally"

...instead of some "Arch Column", we would have avoided an unnecessary angry "Macro Lunch".

Sometimes humor gives offense; own it and move on.

Alex Tolley said...

Except I deal with this in The Transparent Society - nd thus, Alex, you prove you have never read it.

A good example of your poor logic and why your statements are often suspect or incorrect. I really expect better from a trained scientist.

As it happens, I have read your book, and I still have a copy stored in the garage (so I do value it - just not enough to transfer it to the indoor bookshelves at the moment). What you may infer is that at my age and failing memory I cannot recall much more than the overall message of the book, especially after 15 years. :)

David Brin said...

Alex as I have reiterates in many places, the answer to Big Brother is reciprocal accountability. The answer to oppression by a conformist majority of little brothers is …

…enlightened self interest. A cultural habit of recognizing that relaxed tolerance as a society-wide habit will wind up benefiting us all.

It sounds utopian, till you realize it is precisely what's been going on. The more you and we all find out about a previously cryptic group… are they MORE tolerated or LESS tolerated?

Only one factor makes a newly exposed group LESS tolerated… angry hate and willful harmfulness. All other groups that are outed or self-out become MORE tolerated the more we are exposed to them.

This is not a trait of all societies. Indeed, those that react this way are a minority and it is one more reason tat the western enlightenment must "win." But dig this, it answers the little brother problem neatly.

It is also why I feel perfectly justified in resenting political correctness police who - even when they are right (!) leap to enforce conformity of thought. That is not how we progress and it is not helpful.

Randy Winn said...

Going back to OP:

1. What a blessed time we live in, that this should a problem. Certainly massive government spying is a real problem, but it's a result of a massive empowerment of all of us. Past governments shot political opponents, today's government can ... what? ... uncover the identifies of their mistresses? I'm not minimizing the creepiness of TIA and its progeny, and the high likelihood of constitutional violations, but it's hard to imagine that we would, individually or collectively, be measurably better off by limiting data mining. If you have AIDS or a secret lover, corporate America *already*knows*this* [from your shopping records and so forth] and it is not subject to voter discontent.

2. The use of private contractors for high-security operations is a really really bad idea, but it's also big money. Maybe Snowden and the Obamacare website debacles will lead to reform in federal procurement, but would you bet on it?

3. As per the article, FISA courts aren't really courts if there's no-one presenting the other side, so appointing a representative of the public is a good idea. However the precedent in the Gitmo "trials" is not encouraging; the defense lawyers who did their job and presented sound defenses for their clients pretty much killed their careers (according to accounts I've read).

4. It might be interesting to develop institutions outside of government for tracking our rulers.... something like SkyTruth but for politicians. Let
The People know who is meeting with whom, and draw their own conclusions!
I would go so far as to suggest that the same rules that apply to judges should apply to congress, e.g. if an advocate for one position is talking to the senator, it has to be on the record for the other side to know about. Fat chance Congress ever enacting such a reform - but an outside group publishing such information might get support since every Congresscritter has a rival.

Lorraine said...

Going on record here as a member of the allegedly cryptic group in question.

Most painful part of transition was those co-workers devoted to Bible-based Christianity who would go out of their way to phrase something in a way to explicitly misgender me. When called on it, of course, they go all conscientious objector, to the effect that taking me at face value is against their religion. Whatever. One person's religion is another's belly laugh. This was back in the early 1990's. Since then, a small subset of radical feminists and also a cadre of self-styled "realists," to whom "biology is destiny" is axiomatic, have picked up the smell of blood in the water and jumped on the bandwagon alongside the conservative Christians. Sticks and stones.

We are most harshly critical of those we love. That's why Barack Obama doing NDAA feels far more hurtful than GWB doing Patriot Act. People like locumranch I've had to deal with my whole life. As a result I have developed a -very- thick skin. On the other hand, when David Brin gives even superficial credence to certain trans-exclusive talking points, the disappointment is heartfelt.

Brendan said...

Thankyou Lorraine for standing up and proving our host wrong in his contention that his blog is small and unimportant enough that there cann be no negetive consequences from what is said here.

David, you are on record as expresssing great respect for the Officer Corp of the Military so I have a couple of video links featuring two high ranking (Australian) officers.

Lieutenant Colonel Cate McGregor OAM is a Transgender officer in the Australian Army. One point she makes that is relevant here is that one way people who attack her do so is by continuing to use her old male name despite being aware of her transition.

The second is from the current Chief of Army Lieutenant General David Morrison, AO. The message he gives that is germane to each and everyone of us is "The standard you walk past is the standard you accept."

Paul451 said...

"allowing hate speech, even inadvertent, to flourish unchallenged"

Except you challenged it. Why are you still complaining? Unless you actually mean "unsuppressed". You want Locumranch to be forced to make an apology acceptable to you or be banned.

He made a stupid joke, you called it stupid, and I agree with you. That's where it should have ended. Everything you said after that, pushing and whining, dragging David into it, merely turned me against your argument.

"LGBT are regularly harassed, abused, and killed"

Then they have a hell of a lot more to worry about than people making bad jokes.

This is where advocating progress or promoting tolerance becomes the sort of PC nonsense that actually harms progress and reduces tolerance. Indeed, I've seen it so often become a form of bullying itself, excluding anyone who doesn't use this years Correct Terminology and thus demonstrates themselves to be an "outsider", and therefore fair game.

Example, there was a concern in the overlapping skeptic and atheist movements about sexism and potential harassment and exclusion of women. So they reached out to feminist groups to try to build a better culture. One influential woman (with a cult-of-personality) managed to single-handedly destroy the effort through her group's culture of bullying and exclusion, and has now deeply divided the community into an approved in-group minority and unapproved out-group majority. All it did was add a new form of exclusion and harassment, while doing nothing to address the original concerns.

Another example is the women who made the Africa/AIDS twitter comment, who was subject to a global harassment campaign that cost her job, and probably her ability to work again for many years. While the initial outrage was justified, it quickly became just an excuse to "burn the witch". The euphoria of the mob was in having someone to destroy, it ultimately didn't matter to most of them why.

There's something in many humans that joys in having an Pure Enemy who you are allowed to do anything to, being able to act without moral limits. It's heady and addictive, and something that we must always watch out for. The reaction I've seen around the web in the Bradley/Chelsea Manning example shows that the transgender-rights in-group have completely given in to this demon. No one inside the group is now willing or able to criticise the excesses of the group, and no one outside the group is listened to.

Paul451 said...

"the Obamacare website debacles"

Aside: Krugman made an interesting comparison. Amazon and UPS both had a failure in their online orders systems over the Christmas rush (even though these were companies already established in their respective fields.) Yet no one called it proof of a failure of private enterprise as a concept.

But the few months of problems in the backend database (built by a commercial contractor) of a brand new system is seen as proof of the fundamental failure of the very concept the system was built to service. And many critics drew an even broader example, that it proved the failure of the whole concept of government services.

"However the precedent in the Gitmo "trials" is not encouraging; the defense lawyers who did their job and presented sound defenses for their clients pretty much killed their careers"

We'll never get it, but the solution would be to have the "public advocate" pool chosen by some outside group like the American Bar Association. (Duly vetted for security clearance.) Rather than drawing them from the government's own ranks.

David Brin said...

Lorraine I am sorry if I seemed blithe over something that you feel passionate about. I sincerely did not (and still do not) see poor, snide locum's "un-manning" snark as anything more than wince-worthy. Especially in a place that has openly been declared a place for thick skinned discussion of tangibles.

But I will ponder the boundaries, as you ask.

Still, it is far more than that, in a general sense. When the world is adapting to YOU - at long last - and heading rapidly in the direction that YOU want it to go, is it truly wise to obsess on the recalcitrant parts -- fundamentalists… -- that are grouchy along the way?

Or to punish those old-fart, well-meaning liberals like me who are HELPING progress, but who differ slightly over superficial matters of PC symbolism?

Or who scratch their heads over this new PC frontier that "you are anything that you claim to be" no matter what the physical or objective world has to say? Is that new stage really as obvious as you claim it to be?

Yes, I get it, that times of progress can be the most-tense of all… hey I am from the sixties. I recall how the Civil Rights Bill did not lead to celebration in the ghetto, but to riots.

But is it not more wise to treat such times as periods for JOY? To be a good winner and smile, patronizingly, at the fundamentalists and others whose grouchy troglodytism is simply doomed? To pat them on the head and say, simply: "In twenty years you will deny having said any of this, as you now deny having ever been racist or calling ML King a communist. You will change far more than I ever did."

Alex Tolley said...

It sounds utopian, till you realize it is precisely what's been going on. The more you and we all find out about a previously cryptic group… are they MORE tolerated or LESS tolerated?
Only one factor makes a newly exposed group LESS tolerated… angry hate and willful harmfulness. All other groups that are outed or self-out become MORE tolerated the more we are exposed to them.

Again, sweeping generalizations.

I will counter this with:

The sayings "familiarity breeds contempt" and "ignorance is bliss".

Your nostrum works when the cryptic group is an out-group with no power and the reasons for them being an out-group is an irrational fear of "contamination". It wouldn't work if that fear, rational or irrational, results in the in-group strengthening the protection of its norms. There does not even have to be angry hate and willful harmfulness. As Jonathan Haight suggests, disgust (which is culturally determined) will define social responses. To use a trivial but familiar example, seeing little Johnny pick his nose doesn't make him more tolerated than if you suspect/know he does it in private.

Believing that familiarity and even education will change people's minds is a now falsified belief of educated Western (Enlightenment) liberals. The failure of rational argument in the social sphere should be proof enough that a "one solution fits all situations" is wrong.

I cannot think of a better quote than this to describe how I view the Transparency argument as delivered:
"I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.- Oliver Cromwell

Lorraine said...

The cause of transgender rights is an in group? Clearly I didn't get the memo.

FWIW, my outrage rarely reaches the level of attacking someone's livelihood. To me, a firing offense would have to be something way beyond the pale. For me, getting job offers on the table has always been like pulling teeth, even in the supposed boom years, and even then I tend to be consigned to "just a temp" roles. Part of it is probably (if not QUITE provably) anxiety on the part of would-be employers that a transsexual on staff who is less than 110% passable will scare away the customers or whatever, but another part of it is that I am introverted by nature. Double whammy. I have a low opinion of political correctness, but a lower opinion of political incorrectness, which at best is an overcorrection for PC, and too often manifests as political incorrectness for its own sake; a way to make an editorial statement that sensitivity should be considered a character flaw, perhaps. If that's your view, fine. Express it, preferably explicitly. I like it better when people say what they mean and mean what they say.

As for "you are anything that you claim to be," this is not political correctness, but reality. I'll concede that it's more of a subjective than objective reality. When it comes to backing up our claims, we run quite a gauntlet. I would urge replacing "you are anything that you claim to be" with "you are the foremost authority on you."

David Brin said...

Sure, the default should be "you are the authority on you." Still, it is clear that we are stepping into territory where subjectivity and rationalization will reign and all sides will be able to point to limitless supplies of extreme absurdities…

…like a bearded, organically male person claiming to be a woman and to be given a troop of 13 year old girl scouts to manage. My wife says that a person's declarations will not make her any more comfortable with a male in the ladies room.

Look, those are worst cases and I know they should not be applied blankly against self-declared trans-gendered folk. But neither can the opposite extreme be a useful parameter, that "saying always makes it so."

Shall I declare I am twelve and win the junior olympics? Shall I commit a crime and demand to be tried as a juvenile because my mind is child-like? Shall I get free entrance to sea world because I declare myself to be a cetacean?

I am playing devil's advocate and yes, I do hope for continued expansion of tolerance horizons, even if it makes all of us stretch our comfort zones! What I do know is that this is an area where wrathful indignation does not play. People who are scratching their heads in puzzlement are not being oppressively prejudiced jerks.

In this case, the puzzlement is genuine, sincere, and based upon a realm that's murky as a Dickens plot.

Brendan said...

No David, you aren't being Devil's Advocate, you are being willfully and stupidly ignorant and offensive.

Let's look at your points from your last comment.

"you are the authority on you" - Well no, Gender Dysphoria is a medical condition and one you have to have diagnosed before doctors will allow you to start transitioning treatment. And you have to live as a female for 6 months - 1 year before you will be allowed to start on the cocktail of drugs required to help feminise your body. Some you will be on for 2-4 years and some the rest of your life.

Do you have evidence of the "bearded, organically male person claiming to be a woman and given a troop of 13 year old girl scouts to manage"? My google-fu may be lacking but I couldn't find mention of this happening. And anyway, I can't think of a TG person who would want a beard. For a TG female facial hair is a recognition of the body identity they have rejected.

Does your wife know or shared a bathroom at convetions with Cheryl Morgan(winner of multiple Hugo awards and a director of San Francisco Science Fiction Conventions Inc.)? You do know she is a Transgender female right?

Now for some real information, rather than the bilge you have been spouting.

Pecentage of the population identifying as Transgender: 2-5%(although the pecentage who undergo sex-reassignment is much smaller)

Abuse and Discrimination:
Reported verbal abuse
because of gender identity or
gender presentation - 83%
Reported physical abuse - 37%
Reported employment discrimination - 46%
Reported housing
discrimination - 37%

Transgender rate of attempted suicide: 41%

Randy Winn said...

@Paul451 - Certainly I agree with you, Krugman and other fair-minded people that the idea that the Obamacare website problems are way way overblown. However, I had hoped to make a point that is overlooked: federal procurement is awful, but mostly we don't care because we don't see it. Obamacare showed it to us!

In particular the Obamacare federal website does not seem to have been well designed or tested (IIRC the guy in charge of system testing "left for other opportunities") I'm not some kind of anti-gummit idjit, but I do observe that in many cases, government officials doing business with the private sector are outmaneuvered by contractors who, after all, profit by outmaneuvering them. I'm sure you can think of plenty of examples involving products (from toilet seats to tanks) that wasted far more money but was not so visible to the public.

As for the "public advocate" concept, you may be interested to learn that civilian counsel have been involved in many of the Gitmo trials (possibly all; I don't know the numbers). However I don't agree that it is necessary to take the job away from the JAGs. Please notice that, for the most part, they did their jobs, even at the cost of their careers. They seemed to take their oaths to uphold our constitution seriously, and we as a nation may take pride in that.

More generally, I think it would be worthwhile mixing the ranks of prosecutors and defenders, drawing both from the same pool so that in any given trial, the accused and the prosecution have an equal shot at the talent. This would be hard to square with American customs, but it works fine in the world of Rumpole (which may be fiction ... I'd like to find out from our British friends what they think.)

David Brin said...

Brendan I made very clear that I was illustrating extreme cases. And yes I know Cheryl Morgan very well. So does my wife. And we are good friends and your relentless attempts to turn conversation about a puzzling topic into an excuse for sanctimonious rage is exactly the kind of thing that gives progressivism a bad name.

In fact, there is one reductio fact… males are dangerous. And human beings of all kinds are understandable in having a range of reactions, given how dangerous some of us turn out to be.

Notice what an easier time getting acceptance lesbians have had?

But I am through trying to converse with you. You have a crusade and nothing I say will put me in rights. Anything I say at all will only make me more of a bad fellow for you to rat out in other places, making me out to be a nasty oppressor, ….

… instead of a person who has fought for progress and expanding horizons more effectively than you would achieve in a dozen lifetimes.

Lorraine said...

Playing devil's advocate by invoking extreme cases which happen not to be real? It may interest you that hypothetical-but-non-existent threats of the type you describe have been passed off as real by professional media. See here. It is important, when playing devil's advocate, to clearly label such play as devil's advocate, every single time. Just as one's fire extinguisher should be fully charged and ready when one is playing with fire.

David Brin said...

Baloney. Tell men there aren't male perverts out there. By the millions. Tell me they won't try any trick.

Prediction: by 2020 the major feminist agenda will be "what do we do about the sickness called masculinity"?

Now tell me: what is brin's agenda in mentioning this? To try and PREVENT rights for self-declared transgenders? Not one bit. You are trying to police my ability to even raise points of logic and reasonableness here, among friends.

It is like the blanket declaration "gayness is entirely genetic! It has absolute compulsory mastery on-off power over any person!"

Fine, I see the political utility of that stance and its usefulness in ending the oppression of horrid "anti-gay therapy" bullshit. In public I side with the good-guys. But still…

… really? The left declares that humanity has ZERO compulsory genetic on-off switches EXCEPT just one that happens to be politically convenient? And that one is an ABSOLUTELY compulsory genetic on-off switch.

Go ahead and parse it out. Not a single other human trait is allowed to be genetically pre-determined. Intelligence, gender, you name it. But one trait is entirely so?

This bizarre intellectual stance is NEVER examined! Why? Because anyone who raises it, even in a conversation among friends, out of simple curiosity, is suddenly a Very Very Bad Person.

No… just because the Right is the seat of 99% of today's crazy nastiness, do not think they have a monopoly on dogmatic sanctimony.

Dennis said...

David, I have used your post as a springboard for some of my own thoughts on this matter: “Fixing the NSA: Getting Real About What Really Matters”

Randy Winn said...

"Prediction: by 2020 the major feminist agenda will be "what do we do about the sickness called masculinity"?"


Has someone hacked your account?

Cuz the Dr. Brin I'm accustomed to reading knows about fact-based evidence and stuff. Let's see the evidence of the problem of male perverts so hell-bent on raping girls in school bathrooms that they're willing to pose as a TG.
Lorraine may be a bit shrill (... sorry L but that's how you come off...) but at least there is evidence being provided for objective persons to analyze.


The problem with "predicting" the "major feminist agenda" is that the feminist movement doesn't have a Table of Organization. Heck, feminism doesn't even have membership cards or a secret handshake!

I suppose there must be a few people who really hate men out there (on a planet of umpteen billion you can find almost anything) and they probably have "Feminism!!!" bumper stickers on their SUVs, but citing them in support of the proposition that feminism is about hating masculinity is like citing Orson Scott Card in support of the proposition that Science Finction hates gays.

Feminism is just humanism in a pink t-shirt: that is to say, once you accept that "women are people, my friend" then most feminism flows from that.


All this snark, angst and rage flows from one remark, about which a succinct and sincere "If I gave offense then I apologize" would have solved. Truly this is a lesson.

Brendan said...

Thanks Randy for bringing down the heat of the argument here, and I, as you rightly suggest, apologise to David for any hurt he may have felt from my "some weird bias" line in the comment that got this whole ball rolling. It was absolutely not intended as such and it was wrong to even place it up as a posibility.

I would like to say two final things here though.

1: Randy, I find it slightly eye-brow raising that you singled out Lorraine for being "shrill" where I would have judged myself as having by far the more intemperate language. Now you can call it how you see it, but this sort of language bias is something quite often complained about in feminist circles. ;-)

2: David. You, myself and Lorraine seem to have been talking at somewhat cross purposes. Lorraine and I have been talking about people who identify as Transgender and take the necessary steps to correct what they see as a genetic mistake(for biological or phycological reasons) and you have been talking about individuals who go through the motions purely for some nefarious personal gain.

You may be pleased to know that any sexual predator who starts medical transitioning is plumb out of luck. One of the drugs used in the feminisation of a male is also one that is used to chemically castrate people.

David Brin said...

Wrongly posted this on the following thread. I probably won't come back here, so this is my final word:

Sorry Randy, you seem to think that the following:

Prediction: by 2020 the major feminist agenda will be "what do we do about the sickness called masculinity"?"

Is some kind of indictment of feminism. Rather, I think it would be a sign of many feminists coming to their senses and facing the root problem. Way back in 1985 I expressed this in The Postman, based on a radical but uber-sane woman I met.

SOMETHING is gonna have to be done about the proclivities distribution patterns of male humanity. We contain vast numbers and intensities of patterns that were darwinistically pertinent in our evolution and reinforced in the harems of ten thousand spectacularly successful cheater-oppressors…

I happen to believe that the necessary fixes can be 90% cultural and most of the rest handled by means not to be discussed here. But dig this. I will sit calmly and listen to arguments that male humanity was great at building civilization, but bad at living in it. I would argue we are worth some risk, and hold up Teddy Roosevelt as our best ambassador. And Ben Franklin and many others. But in the end…?

"Feminism is just humanism in a pink t-shirt: that is to say, once you accept that "women are people, my friend" then most feminism flows from that."

That simply proves you not only misunderstand me, but diametrically so.


Brendan, folks who actually do the surgery and stuff to switch sexes in my opinion deserve EVERY consideration. They have got tons of guts (tho may I be forgiven for jesting that… no, forget it.) I am totally accepting of that and with them re-gendering.

Likewise cross-dressers are fine… though I'd like to be told. Especially if I were still dating!

It is those who simply declare that while retaining all the old plumbing that they simply ARE the opposite gender and demand instant reconfiguring and renaming that I say we have matters to discuss and anyone claiming that there's nothing to discuss is being a PC-police bully.

I am in favor of horizon expansion and easing the way for all people to pursue their dreams! But it is not right to scream "Shut up you intolerant pig!" at folks who say "Hey, there are complexities here. And at some point we should at least glance at biology and the world."

Just because one "side" is correct a lot more often than their opponents does not make them sacred seats of sanctimonious always-rightness. That is priesthood and I refuse to be bullied, even by the priests of "my side."



Randy Winn said...


I am quick to anger, and therefore may be well-equipped to see it in others. Not myself of course.

Brendan/Lorraine: I intended to gender-based offense with the word "shrill"; I applied it to one and not to the other merely because I was lazy in reading the thread and keeping track of who-said-what. I'm not entirely sure what gender who may be anyway. But if I gave offense, I apologize.

Dr. Brin: While I respect your subsequent necessarily brief analysis of the problems of masculinity, communication is a two-way street; because the ordinary meaning of "masculinity" is not of some sort of dysfunction, your initial positing that a group (any group - not necessarily feminists) would to consider it a serious problem would more naturally be considered to be an indictment of that group than of masculinity itself. I accept that you intended the opposite meaning, but can you not recognize the more natural meaning? This is, after all, not a contest to see whose dictation is longer.

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