Friday, June 12, 2015

Truly Major Issues, helping decide the fate of democracy

I took a break from politics for a while, partly in order to gather breath and pay heed to so many great things that our civilization is doing, in tech and in freedom and rights -- on Earth and in space! It has been a spectacular year...

...the more so in that most of our dolor-addicted fellow citizens seem unable to even notice!  Indeed, all of the good stuff is threatened by the War on Science and by the re-ignited American Civil War.  

Hence… it is back to the political trenches, boys and girls.  And one thing I promise, when we do politics here.  It won’t be stuff you are reading anywhere else.

== Cranking back NSA spying...? ==

Topmost in the news, recently, the shocking ability of the U.S. Congress to actually pass a compromise bill, one that dials back a few of the powers given (since 9/11) to our Professional Protector Caste (PPC) in the Patriot Act.

Congress turns away from post-9/11 law, retooling U.S. surveillance powersTo be clear, this is a modest victory for those who always believed the Patriot Act was over-reach.  Indeed, look at page 206 of The Transparent Society (1997) to see how - back in the 20th Century - I warned about the "ratchet effect" of governmental powers, that moves them forward in a time of crisis, but never unwinds the crank very far, when things calm down.

This particular "unwinding" is a minor one, but symbolically it re-asserts the right of the people to sway their politicians and remind them that our watch-dogs are not wolves.  So why am I holding off any victory dance?  Because, in fact, the news media is filled with lazy folks who aim their gaze at the wrong things.  For example, it does not matter -- nor did it ever matter -- how much the NSA could see.  Indeed, they will be using insiders to do delicate and occasional meta-data sifts, within AT&T and Verizon and so-on. If you think limits on surveillance work, try showing us one example of that happening, across all of human history.  Ever. Even once.

Then go to an amusement park and play the game whack-a-mole. You’ll get what I mean. Fortunately... it doesn't matter.

What does matter are other parts of this law, which we have barely seen reported by media.  Portions that (with Obama Administration support) actually add greater supervision of our PPC. Slightly improving adversarial processes in the FISA Court, for example, so that sweeping data-trawls must be justified with plausible (if not probable) cause…. instead of simply hunches and whims.

Or constraining the formerly unlimited gag orders that were slapped willy-nilly on carriers for unlimited time spans, preventing them from even complaining that power was being abused. That practice was – to put it plain – inherently orwellian.  Indeed, the Obama-generated reforms are welcome -- they transform FISA from a mockery of a star chamber into an actual "court." 

Nevertheless, I want to know who appoints the court advocates who will question government search order requests! These should be chosen by stakeholders like the ACLU... from a pool of highly security-cleared individuals, of course, but civil liberties oriented skeptics after all. If this is not the case – if the adversarial court advocates are not appointed with input from adversarial (though demure) stakeholders, then that is where our scrutiny should go. That is where we should be militant for further reform.

Try, try to grasp this. It is futile to demand that elites not see! What we might be able to do, is force them to be supervised and held accountable, whenever they look at us. The former is a fantasm. A possibly-deliberate distraction. The latter is how we got the freedom we have. And it is how we'll keep from losing it.

== They want to blackmail you! ==

The latest incident of (purportedly) a major Asian nation hacking its way into western networks breached computer systems at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Records of up to 4 million current and former federal employees may have been compromised, giving hackers access to a treasure trove of personal information, including birthdates, Social Security numbers, previous addresses, and security clearances. All that data could help hackers identify information about specific targets, including potential passwords for websites that may be portals to information about weapons systems or other research data.

"They can dig down into that data and learn more about the individuals, what theirhobbies are, what their vices are, what skeletons they have in their closet.”

My own particular interest?  “Investigators believe the hackers sought federal employees’ records for a blackmail scheme,” says an article in the Los Angeles Times.  To which I can only reply: well… duh?

See how this verifies and validates my own oft-mentioned concern – that blackmail – and not tepid/limited bribery -- is one of the top methods used today to influence the modern political caste

Perhaps this will finally teach our most sincere leaders to do the obvious – declare an amnesty on minor sins that might be used for blackmail… on condition that those folks step forward during a one year period and tell-all. (Note this possible historic move you could make in your last year, President Obama! And you could do it yourself.)

 And if a person is already being blackmailed for more major things? Even partial amnesty for those misdeeds should still be good enough to lure victims out of the shadows of fear, letting us hunt down the real villains. The blackmailers themselves. 

Do you think I am making up a “story”? There is no way on Earth this is not already huge. Thwarting this failure mode should be one of our very topmost priorities.  And you civil servants who ignore this… you’ll be remembered for this laxity, when finally the fit hits the shan.

== Speaking of which… justice at last? ==

Oh… oh finally.  Comeuppance for an individual whose direct treason against the United States of America is incomparable since Jefferson Davis. 

“J. Dennis Hastert, the longest serving Republican speaker in the U.S. House, was indicted Thursday by a federal grandjury on charges that he violated banking laws in a bid to pay $3.5 million because of “past misconduct.”  Moreover, we now know that misconduct includes well-supported allegations of child molestation that go way back.

Why did I just go ballistic on the guy? Because he was all holier-than-thou during Bill Clinton’s much milder peccadillos? Nope. Because as speaker he helped thwart investigations of other House member-perverts like Mark Foley, who molested under-age pages? Not even that. 

It is because he created the “Hastert Rule” that now controls every aspect of today’s Republican Party, fiercely enforced by Rupert Murdoch and his Saudi co-owners of Fox News.  The rule that no GOP office holder shall ever negotiate in good faith with a democrat. Ever, under any circumstances -- not even if the dems are offering up the GOP's own plans!  (As happened with Obamacare.)

Moreover, the Hastert Rule commands that the reflex position of the Republican Party should 100% of the time be to oppose and thwart any democratic president, no matter what the issue at hand, going so far as even to stymie the Infrastructure Bill, so that our bridges fall down.  And moreover, that any GOP politicians who violate this sacred commandment shall be punished severely…

…as Hastert and Tom DeLay and other radicals savagely punished Newt Gingrich, in 1996, for having committed the ultimate heresy -- negotiating in good faith with Bill Clinton, delivering us major bills, both Welfare Reform and the Budget Act, for the good of the nation. Yes, Newt was (and remains) at least 40% crazy. But he actually wanted to get stuff done for America (as he saw it.) And we have reason to look back in fondness at guys like him… or Barry Goldwater or even Richard Nixon or Reagan… who were Half-Crazy, too, but who never declared – openly, as Hastert and McConnell etc. have – a wish to tear the country down around them, in the interest of outright civil war.

== The Seven Dwarves expand… ==

Speaking of Republicans, just look at the field of contenders for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.  Seven of them stunningly reactionary sons-of-Hastert…

…and then there’s Rand Paul, whom I deem crazy and hypocritical, but at least he's his own man. Indeed, Paul is the one out of that passel who occasionally says something consistent with the real world.

His purpose, of course, is still vile -- to maintain the illusion-delusion clutched by most libertarians, that the GOP is their “natural” home, and that it will be their “hold your nose” place to vote, in November 2016. Under the "anyone but a liberal!" narrative. That delusion – pure insanity – is decrypted elsewhere.  

And now Huckabee (whom I used to fear, because of his charm, but who thankfully appears to have utterly lost that trait) has joined the pack! …and Lindsey Graham… and Perry… and Trump?  Oh, my.

Only my wife asked an interesting question: “Where is Paul Ryan?”  

Seriously, he’s slightly less demented than most of that pack! With a markedly higher IQ than any of them. Moreover, isn’t he the heir apparent of the Republican Party?  Have we missed something, here? Oh, yes. The less-demented part. And the higher IQ part. I guess it is all-explained, after all. Never mind.

== And finally… =

A very interesting essay, on the 150th anniversary of Robert E. Lee's surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, asserts that: "The Civil War Isn't Over."

The “Union,” and all that it meant to northerners as a kind of shield for liberal democracy against oligarchy and aristocracy, survived. It was transformed through blood and reimagined for later generations. The first American republic, created out of revolution in the late 18th century, was in effect destroyed. A new, second republic took its place, given a violent birth in the emancipation of four million slaves and the re-crafting of the U. S. Constitution in the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. Those Amendments—ending legal slavery forever, sanctifying birthright citizenship and establishing “equal protection of the law,” and creating black male suffrage—in effect re-made the United States Constitution. This comprised a second American revolution.  


Anonymous said...

Like a battered wife who still loves her abuser, so will libertarians always give their support to the Grande Olde Confederate Party. Probably just about keeping their guns. During a brief flirtation with libertarianism I got to know some very smart coworkers who despised virtually everything about the Republican Party, but would they vote for a Democrat (at that time Obama)? Nope, because they were all obsessed with their gun collections and had been convinced that Democrats would take them away.

Anonymous said...

As for blackmail, Allah know what they have on Lindsey Graham! -AJM

Richard Crews said...

The geographical arc starting in OK, sweeping southeast then up the Atlantic Coast until it peters out in NC, closely maps the traitorous Confederacy. This area has the country's most obese. most diabetes, most alcoholism, gun deaths, STDs, teen STDs, teen pregnancies, cigarette smoking and deaths, poor, on and on leading with society's ills and dysfunctions. It is also the MOST religious AND the most Republican. A blight on America in oh so many ways!

Haapi said...

That would be Mark Foley, that Hastert covered for, not Thomas.

Laurent Weppe said...

* "It is because he created the “Hastert Rule” that now controls every aspect of today’s Republican Party"

He certainly systematized the practice that is named after him nowadays, but he didn't invent anything: on my side of the pond, we call it "Democratic Centralism".


* "As for blackmail, Allah know what they have on Lindsey Graham!"

Consider yourself lucky: us French nearly elected Strauss Kahn. Can you imagine such blackmail fodder sitting on top of the world's third largest nukes' stockpiles?

John's Secret Identity™ said...

It seems to me there are rather limited opportunities to blackmail a government employee with information stolen from the government's records. I mean pretty much by definition there's nothing in there they're keeping secret from their employer, or illegal acts they could get fired for.

Paul SB said...

John's Secret ID, while you are probably right - it is doubtful that government agencies keep blackmail files on their employees - all that data could provide clues for intelligence operatives so they know where to dig for such things. Any mention of disciplinary action of any kind, for one thing. I had a roommate once who worked for a private investigation firm, and it was surprising how much information they could pull up with a handful of hints. This may be a case where we don't see the effects until some months or even years down the road.

What Dr. Brin wrote about a ratcheting effect with surveillance powers can be applied to other areas as well. I started buying gas when it was under $1/gallon in the US. Though the price fluctuates much more than anything else out there, it never seems to drop more than a small fraction of each year's big jump. One year it shot up to over $2, then deflated a little to $1.85, then the next year it was up to something like $2.50 then crept down to $2.25. Every time the price drops just a little, people are so relieved, but it never goes back to what it was, and big oil breaks their profit records year after year. Somehow I feel like the Sherman Antitrust Act needs a major overhaul for the 21st Century.

locumranch said...

Since "Blackmail" is commonly defined as "the exertion of pressure or threats in an attempt to influence someone's actions" and/or the "extortion of money or something else of value from a person by the threat of exposing a criminal act or discreditable information", it follows that this principle (blackmail) is the de facto foundation of human civilization, especially when we recognize that the socially acceptable 'Thou shall not' standard presupposes the existence of underlying criminality.

The difference between the criminal and the good citizen is an arbitrary one, the actions of the former and the latter being separated only by the accoutrements of guilt, wherein the 'good citizen' is compelled by the shame that the criminal lacks. Those who possess shame & guilt (and are therefore ever subject to external influence) are said to be 'good citizens' and those who lack in shame & guilt are said to be criminals because they cannot be blackmailed into socially acceptable behaviour.

The possession of shame & guilt are of primary importance to good citizenship.
Although a theoretical requirement, the presence or absence of honesty is merely a secondary concern. Just as honesty makes the (unapologetic) criminal easier to identify, the ideal citizen CAN be 'honest', but only if he also possesses sufficient shame & guilt to make him susceptible to external influence & extortion. The entirely honest individual is problematic. Being 'unapologetic', shameless & devoid of guilt, the entirely honest individual is NOT subject to moral extortion (or blackmail) and he is a 'bad citizen' (aka 'a criminal') because he is uncontrollable.

Henry Fielding makes this distinction in the introduction to 'Jonathan Wilde' and Milton makes a similar argument in 'Paradise Lost': A man can either be considered good, bad or great. Good men are dependable, boring, not bad & rarely great; bad men are not good, less boring, undependable & can be great; and great men (although rare) are neither bad nor good, but uniformly interesting, uncompromising & admirable.

One such Good Citizen & Great Man was the founder of the US Space program. A talented scientist, he was also a NAZI who became great by blowing up British women & children with his V2 rocket. Tom Lehrer sang it best:

Gather 'round while I sing you of Wernher von Braun,
A man whose allegiance
Is ruled by expedience.
Call him a Nazi, he won't even frown,
"Ha, Nazi, Schmazi," says Wernher von Braun.

Don't say that he's hypocritical,
Say rather that he's apolitical.
"Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down?
That's not my department," says Wernher von Braun.

Some have harsh words for this man of renown,
But some think our attitude
Should be one of gratitude,
Like the widows and cripples in old London town,
Who owe their large pensions to Wernher von Braun.

You too may be a big hero,
Once you've learned to count backwards to zero.
"In German oder English I know how to count down,
Und I'm learning Chinese!" says Wernher von Braun.


Daniel Duffy said...

Dr. Brin,

While I find your multi-phase theory of the American civil war to be fascinating, you do leave something out: and origins back story. This is provided by Colin Woodward's "Eleven nations of America":

For the North:

YANKEEDOM. Founded on the shores of Massachusetts Bay by radical Calvinists as a new Zion, Yankeedom has, since the outset, put great emphasis on perfecting earthly civilization through social engineering, denial of self for the common good, and assimilation of outsiders. It has prized education, intellectual achievement, communal empowerment, and broad citizen participation in politics and government, the latter seen as the public’s shield against the machinations of grasping aristocrats and other would-be tyrants. Since the early Puritans, it has been more comfortable with government regulation and public-sector social projects than many of the other nations, who regard the Yankee utopian streak with trepidation.

NEW NETHERLAND. Established by the Dutch at a time when the Netherlands was the most sophisticated society in the Western world, New Netherland has always been a global commercial culture—materialistic, with a profound tolerance for ethnic and religious diversity and an unflinching commitment to the freedom of inquiry and conscience. Like seventeenth-century Amsterdam, it emerged as a center of publishing, trade, and finance, a magnet for immigrants, and a refuge for those persecuted by other regional cultures, from Sephardim in the seventeenth century to gays, feminists, and bohemians in the early twentieth. Unconcerned with great moral questions, it nonetheless has found itself in alliance with Yankeedom to defend public institutions and reject evangelical prescriptions for individual behavior.

THE MIDLANDS. America’s great swing region was founded by English Quakers, who believed in humans’ inherent goodness and welcomed people of many nations and creeds to their utopian colonies like Pennsylvania on the shores of Delaware Bay. Pluralistic and organized around the middle class, the Midlands spawned the culture of Middle America and the Heartland, where ethnic and ideological purity have never been a priority, government has been seen as an unwelcome intrusion, and political opinion has been moderate. An ethnic mosaic from the start—it had a German, rather than British, majority at the time of the Revolution—it shares the Yankee belief that society should be organized to benefit ordinary people, though it rejects top-down government intervention.

Daniel Duffy said...


For the South:

TIDEWATER. Built by the younger sons of southern English gentry in the Chesapeake country and neighboring sections of Delaware and North Carolina, Tidewater was meant to reproduce the semifeudal society of the countryside they’d left behind. Standing in for the peasantry were indentured servants and, later, slaves. Tidewater places a high value on respect for authority and tradition, and very little on equality or public participation in politics. It was the most powerful of the American nations in the eighteenth century, but today it is in decline, partly because it was cut off from westward expansion by its boisterous Appalachian neighbors and, more recently, because it has been eaten away by the expanding federal halos around D.C. and Norfolk.

GREATER APPALACHIA. Founded in the early eighteenth century by wave upon wave of settlers from the war-ravaged borderlands of Northern Ireland, northern England, and the Scottish lowlands, Appalachia has been lampooned by writers and screenwriters as the home of hillbillies and rednecks. It transplanted a culture formed in a state of near constant danger and upheaval, characterized by a warrior ethic and a commitment to personal sovereignty and individual liberty. Intensely suspicious of lowland aristocrats and Yankee social engineers alike, Greater Appalachia has shifted alliances depending on who appeared to be the greatest threat to their freedom. It was with the Union in the Civil War. Since Reconstruction, and especially since the upheavals of the 1960s, it has joined with Deep South to counter federal overrides of local preference.

DEEP SOUTH. Established by English slave lords from Barbados, Deep South was meant as a West Indies–style slave society. This nation offered a version of classical Republicanism modeled on the slave states of the ancient world, where democracy was the privilege of the few and enslavement the natural lot of the many. Its caste systems smashed by outside intervention, it continues to fight against expanded federal powers, taxes on capital and the wealthy, and environmental, labor, and consumer regulations.

The Appalachians have switched sides since the actual Civil War. In the 1860s, the peoples of Appalachia (who mostly did not own slaves) fought against the slave owners of their own states. West Virginia split from Virginia to form a new state. East Tennessee almost became a new state as well.

The descendants of warlike, Scotch-Irish border clans, they had nothing in common economically or culturally with slave owners and did not like being told what to do by snooty Southern aristocrats. They switch sides for the same reason. Today the bulk of our armed forces recruits come from our warrior society of Appalachia. They have nothing in common economically or culturally with secular liberals, and they don't like being told what to do by busybody, federal bureaucrats.

Daniel Duffy said...


Aside from the New France enclave around New Orleans and the Caribbean beach head centered on Miami, the remaining America has also chosen sides:


EL NORTE. The oldest of the American nations, El Norte consists of the borderlands of the Spanish American empire, which were so far from the seats of power in Mexico City and Madrid that they evolved their own characteristics. Most Americans are aware of El Norte as a place apart, where Hispanic language, culture, and societal norms dominate. But few realize that among Mexicans, norteƱos have a reputation for being exceptionally independent, self-sufficient, adaptable, and focused on work. Long a hotbed of democratic reform and revolutionary settlement, the region encompasses parts of Mexico that have tried to secede in order to form independent buffer states between their mother country and the United States.

THE LEFT COAST. A Chile-shaped nation wedged between the Pacific Ocean and the Cascade and Coast mountains, the Left Coast was originally colonized by two groups: New Englanders (merchants, missionaries, and woodsmen who arrived by sea and dominated the towns) and Appalachian midwesterners (farmers, prospectors, and fur traders who generally arrived by wagon and controlled the countryside). Yankee missionaries tried to make it a “New England on the Pacific,” but were only partially successful. Left Coast culture is a hybrid of Yankee utopianism and Appalachian self-expression and exploration—traits recognizable in its cultural production, from the Summer of Love to the iPad. The staunchest ally of Yankeedom, it clashes with Far Western sections in the interior of its home states.


THE FAR WEST. The other “second-generation” nation, the Far West occupies the one part of the continent shaped more by environmental factors than ethnographic ones. High, dry, and remote, the Far West stopped migrating easterners in their tracks, and most of it could be made habitable only with the deployment of vast industrial resources: railroads, heavy mining equipment, ore smelters, dams, and irrigation systems. As a result, settlement was largely directed by corporations headquartered in distant New York, Boston, Chicago, or San Francisco, or by the federal government, which controlled much of the land. The Far West’s people are often resentful of their dependent status, feeling that they have been exploited as an internal colony for the benefit of the seaboard nations. Their senators led the fight against trusts in the mid-twentieth century. Of late, Far Westerners have focused their anger on the federal government, rather than their corporate masters.

Anonymous said...

1. Rand Paul is not a libertarian. By his own admission, he is "libertarian-ish"
2. What libertarians are seeking a "natural home" in the Republican party? I think we have just as much if not more in common with liberals.
I like Ralph Nader's approach to synthesize a "liberaltarian" coalition.

Alex Tolley said...

This is what Wikipedia says about the 'Hastert Rule'. I don't interpret any of it in the way you do. The nearest is Boehner's view, but this was his assertion after Obama was elected and can be argued has nothing to do with the "Rule" at all, but a political tactic.

Alex Tolley said...

What we might be able to do, is force them to be supervised and held accountable, whenever they look at us.

Good luck with that. We have seen first hand that this doesn't happen. Who or what exactly is going to change that? We might need the equivalent of a "Cultural Revolution" to effect change. Who wants that?

David Brin said...

Now that a month has passed I am resuming reading Alex's postings... and alas I first see this: "Good luck with that. We have seen first hand that this doesn't happen."

Gawrsh, I wonder where you've been living, guy. Because that is absolutely ad precisely the experiment in which you grew up and to which you owe the freedom to ignore the obvious.

Compared to the way things ought to be? Sure. Compared to every other human society? Dang, man.

Daniel, while that list of "nations" is fun, it is also so full of it that it is of very limited use.

Alex Tolley said...

And if a person is already being blackmailed for more major things? Even partial amnesty for those misdeeds should still be good enough to lure victims out of the shadows of fear, letting us hunt down the real villains. The blackmailers themselves.

I doubt this will work because politicians depend on voters. Even the smoke of scandal could end a career at the ballot.

Do you think I am making up a “story”? There is no way on Earth this is not already huge.

What evidence do you have?

this verifies and validates my own oft-mentioned concern – that blackmail – and not tepid/limited bribery -- is one of the top methods used today to influence the modern political caste.

Perhaps. But we know money works to influence legislation, and the Fast Trak vote was pretty much smoking gun proof of this. There are enough analyses done to show that campaign contributions by lobbyists work very well. If they didn't, why waste the money?

Alex Tolley said...

@DB Gawrsh, I wonder where you've been living, guy. Because that is absolutely ad precisely the experiment in which you grew up and to which you owe the freedom to ignore the obvious.

Forgetting I grew up British again. How many reminders do you need? But your comment is a red herring. It is irrelevant what may have happened in the past. It is the way government operates recently that matters. If you haven't noticed that none of the protector class elites have in any way been punished for their blatant lying, you must have your filters turned way up. Petraeus got barely a wrist slap, compared to "outsiders" who got long prison sentences for the same crimes.

This looking back is like the GOP always looking back at the 'golden age' of the 1950's, and most older Americans who still see the moral righteousness of the country based on WWII (70 years ago!) and seem to have forgotten the messes of military foreign policy since then.

Tony Fisk said...

I daresay there will be another post on the topic, but I'm more interested in the line-up forming on the other side of politics. Looks like Hillary may not be a shoo-in for nomination. As in 2008, this is a good thing; not because I dislike Hillary, but because this is where the best leader needs to prove themselves.

As for the GOP... Huckabee's 'charm' was blown by that transex quip about wishing he could spy in the girls' change rooms. Keep 'em coming, Mike.

As it happens, Australia has its next Federal election scheduled just before the US. I think of myself as fairly politically neutral, but have nothing but contempt for the clade of smug sociopaths currently ruling Canberra. 2016 is for the ALP to lose. If they do, it will serve them right, and Ungambikula help the rest of us!

David Brin said...

Complete nonsense. The GOP's looking back to the 1950s can be USED against them, since the era they admire so was the product of Rooseveltean reforms and FDR's moderate-scale revolution, which was followed by other revolutions of social inclusion that kept improving society... and in large part through methods of transparency.

To whine "we're losing freedom!" and never admit that there were METHODS that brought about the freedom you see yourself losing is just plain illogical.

Duncan Cairncross said...

I am in two minds on our hosts -
"Compared to the way things ought to be? Sure. Compared to every other human society? Dang, man"

IMHO the USA is NOT the best place to be a "normal" man/woman
It used to be back in the 70's but it's gone backwards (in some things) whereas other countries have gone forwards

I had that choice to make back in 2001 - I left the USA and chose NZ

As far as foreign policy is concerned,
How many millions did the CIA spend interfering with "left wing" and union parties in Europe??
And we were allies!!

How many of our best "Left wing" leaders died early?
Norman Kirk
John Smith
Nothing proven but successful intelligent left wing politicians have seemed to die very young

The USA has a devastating history from treatment of the Native Americans to Hawaii to The Philippines to modern politics

To the undoubted good that the USA has done in bringing war torn Europe and Asia forwards I would have to add the evil that the USA has done in keeping the elites in control

Duncan Cairncross said...

Just to say I'm not just grumping at the USA
The previous empires also did a mixed job
The Old British Empire did a lot of good - and a heap of evil as well!

The biggest grumble with the US empire is it's total lack of self knowledge
The Brits knew and acknowledged that they did bad things,
The USA seems to adopt the "my shit doesn't smell" approach

I watched the Pearl Harbor film
At the end the narrator was using the attack on a military target to justify terror bombing of civilians
With no sign of any sense of irony!

The Iran situation is similar - the Americans do not seem to accept any responsibility for:
Overthrowing a democracy and supporting a blood soaked dictator for decades
Supporting and supplying WMD to Saddam to use on Iran
Shooting down an airliner - then promoting the captain who was in charge!

Instead it's - they hate us because - Freedom!!

Daniel Duffy said...

Dr. Brin "full of it that it is of very limited use."

A comment both unkind and inaccurate.

Of course a society/culture founded by slave owners in Charleston is going to differ considerably from one founded by Puritans in Boston. How could it not?

From my own personal observations travelling this country on business...

The economy and culture of the tobacco South ("Tidewater") differs significantly from the cotton South ("Deep South").

And as someone who spends a lot of time in Appalachia cleaning up coal mines and hazwaste sites I can assure you that Appalachians are an ornery bunch who don't like being told what to do (even its for their own good) and don't give a rat's ass what anyone else thinks. Read "Born Fighting" for a deeper explanation of Appalachian culture and history and how it was shaped by combative Scotch-Irish.

The hippies of the Pacific Northwest (who nowadays do software instead of LSD) are totally different people than the ranchers and farmers who share their states.

The Big Easy (founded by French Creoles/Cajuns) has a totally different attitude to life and politics than the Big Apple (founded by hard driving entrepreneurial Dutch who spiritual and cultural descendants still rule Wall Street).

And so on... These cultural difference pretty much explain our political differences on every issue from Obamacare to gun control to foreign policy. They also explain our ongoing cultural civil war.

For an economic map to match Collin's Cultural map of 11 nations, I would recommend the "Nine Nations of North America_ by Joel Garreau:

"Despite the turbulence in technology, finance, energy, population, mobility and polity, the boundaries still make sense as drawn in 1981 – even where events have gone exactly opposite my expectations. (For example, North Carolina is even more “Dixie” today than when I wrote.) Check out the last few presidential election results at the U.S. county level, and these boundaries still pop right out at you. In Canada, it’s even more striking.

"One explanation for this endurance may be that those boundaries were observed by a network of dedicated amateur anthropologists all over the continent that, by pre-Internet standards, was vast. The network worked!

"But what seems to really endure is culture and values. They are slow to change, and far more so than I originally guessed. The layers of unifying flavor and substance that define these nations still explain the major storms through which our public affairs pass. And “Nine Nations” is also a map of power, money and influence, the patterns of which have only deepened.

Tacitus2 said...

I rather enjoyed D Duffy's synopsis of Regional America. You don't have to agree with the details, or to express a preference for one subculture or another, to concur that America is not a monolithic political entity. Nor for that matter is Red or Blue America such a monolith. Thought provoking, and just the sort of thing that was on the minds of those who created our Constitution. The balance of local, state and Federal power is very much a valid point for discussion.

Alex's take on the Hastert Rule also interesting. If you want to talk about altering the traditional functioning of Congress, is it permitted to consider Harry Reid gutting the filibuster?

Elections where there is no sitting P or VP in the race are historically rare, and now we will presumably have two of them 8 years apart. In some ways '16 could be the isomer of '08.

A party in charge of the executive branch for 8 years inevitably "burns its bench". Many of the capable, up and coming future Presidential candidates become Cabinet Secretaries or legislative leaders. They are required to take the hits for anything that goes awry in their party's agenda. This is neither entirely fair nor at all avoidable. On the other side of the aisle it is very easy to take cheap shots and make points criticizing, which is very easy until you yourself have to run the show. Also, not fair and not avoidable.

So we get the present situation.

On the one side we have a vigorous, diverse bunch of candidates. Lots of ideas. Too many to focus in on in fact. Some, but not all of which are nonsense.

On the other side we have the problematic candidacy of Hilary Clinton and a couple of minor candidates whose main goal appears to just be keeping HC talking about the Correct Things.

I am happy to discuss politics but of course find some themes...traitors, STD ridden hillbillies, etc, less worthy of my time and energy. Said Time and Energy is much needed elsewhere in the immediate future.


Paul SB said...

Tacitus, the point of "hillbillies with STDs" as you put it is to point out the uncomfortable fact that certain policies have failed badly. It's more than just a few hillbillies - all the red states have big cities, and they all have a disproportionately large share of the kinds of horrors most humans would prefer to avoid, and these facts can in many cases be traced to specific policies and to the mentalities (or memes, if you prefer) that conceive them and get them voted for. Everywhere the populace is mostly witlessly reactionary and blindly religious you see massive poverty and human misery. Dr. Brin is right to point out that the great prosperity of the 1950's the conservatives glorify was largely built on the achievements of FDR. However, having said that it would be completely fair to ask what the Dems have done for us since then, given that FDR was more than half a century ago. I don't label myself either liberal or conservative, I just look at the facts, scratch my head and try to see what works and what doesn't.

Since the Reagan Administration the gap has grown, more and more of the people are sinking into poverty, while tiny handfuls of parasites have come to dominate society. While it has been Republican policies that have made that regression to the era of the Robber Barons possible, it doesn't look like the Dems have done much, if anything, to reverse the trend. But this isn't just happening in the US, the same pattern can be seen pretty much everywhere, so it's not just an issue of our politics/economics. It's probably something much bigger and much more subtle.

When Constantine took over, it was pretty clear to most people that the old gods weren't doing Rome any favors. Adopting Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire was a very bright move, within the framework of ancient empires. Polities have always needed gods to control the people, because using real secret police does much more harm than good. The fictitious secret police in the sky have usually been much more effective because they are much less resented. But the switch from the old cult of the emperors to the new cult of Christ only bought the Empire a couple hundred years. It may be that our old cults have failed us worldwide, and that we are going to need some real innovative thinking to get us out of it.

Since I have been teaching for the last 13 years, I have come to understand that the masters who make education policy on both sides of the aisle are fundamentally ignorant of the subject over which they rule. I have little doubt that the same is true of other areas about which I know much less myself. I don't look to politicians anywhere to provide answers. I find more inspiration in people like Frans deWaal, Sarah Hrdy and Robert Sapolsky. The politicians are clueless and deeply entrenched as a profession - we have to look other places for new ideas.

Tacitus2 said...


Reasonable points, sure. But if you are fair about it, there are also some very Blue places...Chicago, Washington DC that are poster children for the whole spectrum of social ills. "uncomfortable....failed badly..." Words I agree with.

Constantine is an interesting figure. But some classic opinion a la Gibbon was that adopting Christianity as the official religion was a poison pill for the Empire. Once you permit the possibility of Higher Authority then mere men look less worthy of our support.
Although the Church did a lot to preserve learning during the Dark Ages, so there is that.

I am with you on several points here. In particular your last one. Current political thought does not have a coherent concept of how we can improve the state of US Education.


David Brin said...

Tacitus made two good points: (1) that the demas aren't much better than gophers on education. The reds want to starve and destroy it and channel it into anti-science lobotomization… while the left's refusal to let us fire bad teachers is a crime against our kids that is almost 1% as crazy as the right. Yes, that crazy.

2) re political parties "burning their bench." At one level, that is a really interesting insight! I must ponder it, Tacitus. Possibly even use it ;-) hmm.

At another level, sorry, it is just more effort at making the parties seem equivalent when they are opposites. The Clintonite "bench" was savagely attacked and yet was the first in US history - after 8 years - to see NOT ONE major official be sentenced, or even indicted, for malfeasance of office. Not one, even down to assistant under-secretaries, and not for lack of GOP trying! Hearings and fox-screeching and Bush Jr. diverting scores of FBI guys -- pre 9/11 -- from anti terror duties to looking for Clintonite smoking guns… all failed. It was beyond all doubt the most elevated and honest administration in US… possibly human… history.

Compared to the Bushite gang of corrupt thieves and morons and maniacs, an encomium which includes virtually every single person both Bushes ever appointed to any office… and the same cadre that will fill any future GOP administration. McCain claimed to be a Maverick but he and Romney surrounded themselves will all the same factotums… and the passage of time is doing no good at all.

"On the one side we have a vigorous, diverse bunch of candidates. Lots of ideas. Too many to focus in on in fact."

While choking and sputtering, I still remind myself that YOU have my respect… and hence, you and a number of other "ostriches" who are decent and smart and fine conservatives-in-utter-denial. And hence, I will choke it down and ask with utter courtesy… examples please? Seriously.

I will admit this. The "hillbillies with STDs" charge is a fair cop. It is rude and nasty of me to belabor those comparisons. And I will stop tomorrow… if and when Red/Fox-America stops hysterically shrieking about how much more moral and real and genuine and American they are than the city folk who pay all the bills and raise vastly cleaner and more moral and more successful and generous kids.

PaulSB… when have the Dems controlled enough branches of govt to do anything? Two years under Clinton and Two under Obama. Period. Given that the GOP is so tightly disciplined that zero legislative compromise will happen… Newt did it during Clinton's 3rd year, we got good legislation, and Newt was punished so severely that it never happened again. (In contrast, Democratic congresses DO negotiate with GOP presidents.)

In contrast, the GOP controlled every branch of government for 6 years under W. Now name any positive accomplishments. Any at all. Even one item on their rant-agenda that they went ahead and enacted. Please?

Hence, i have to say the dems have done what they can. No, I don't mean that. I think Pelosi did a terrible job! They spent 18 months actually actually delusionally trying to negotiate, then frantically in 6 months passed not just Obamacare but Wall Street/Banking reform, CAFE energy standards and several other items… But nowhere near enough.

Dig it Tacitus. We are a complex, 21st Century civilization under rapid flux. Yet the confederates proclaim and actively pursue an agenda of using NONE of our national methods for deliberative negotiated problem solving (except to commit graft and to plunge into insane foreign adventures) …and they are *proud* of this! Propagandizing that the systems of negotiated policy adjustment called politics and government are inherently evil and should be frozen and stymied at all costs!

Our ancestors in the Greatest Generation would be stunned, appalled, and they would call such people traitors.

David Brin said...

PS sure, Illinois and Meryland gerrymander too... and are corrupt as hell. So? In Blue America these are anecdotes. In Red? It is Standard Operating Procedure and doctrine.

LarryHart said...


If you want to talk about altering the traditional functioning of Congress, is it permitted to consider Harry Reid gutting the filibuster?

First of all, remember that it was a very limited "gutting". The filibuster still exists for legislation and for Supreme Court nominations. It was only "gutted" for lower court and cabinet nominations, and then only after Mitch McConnell went back on his word not to filibuster every such nomination. In my opinion, an impasse had been reached where the filibuster had to be "gutted" in order to make the Senate work at all.

Also, please recall that the modern day filibuster, which doesn't require a senator to actually engage in debate or even read from the phone book, is a recent innovation. I believe it emerged in the 70s or early 80s. Before that, a filibustering Senator had to literlly put his mouth where his money was. And it was a tactic for the minority to delay a vote while (hopfully) getting public support on his side in the meantime, not a tactic by which the minority could have a permanent veto over all legislation.

David Brin said...

LarryHart there is a point where it's useless. Every vast GOP crime that dems even slightly respond to is portrayed as a huge DP aggressive act. McConnell blocks more presidential appointments than the entire previous history of the United States... and that is somehow the dems' fault.

Despite the Hastert Rule being OPEN GOP policy, most of the ostrich republicans I know claim it is the dems who refuse to negotiate! Their evidence? "Not one Republican voted for Obamacare."

Um... uh... every time I hear this I stare, stunned, unable to believe I am part of a species that can utter such sophistry. And... you won;t consider the alternative, more plausible and REAL explanation? That today's GOP is the most tightly disciplined political force in US history, and any GOPper who defects, even briefly and out of conscience, knows he will be dead meat within hours?


Alex Tolley said...


Everywhere the populace is mostly witlessly reactionary and blindly religious you see massive poverty and human misery.

A couple of points. There is plenty of poverty to be seen in "Blue states". It isn't religion per se that is the problem, as European countries like Ireland are very religious, yet nowhere near having our poverty levels due to more generous redistribution policies. We should avoid US-centric explanations. What we are seeing today is GOP policies in those "Red states" that are clearly failing and that are punishing the poor for those failures. One has to wonder if that isn't part of the plan as so much of these policy failures could easily be reversed. We should avoid explanations that accord with cozy liberal views and perhaps think more about tribal affiliations.

Dr. Brin is right to point out that the great prosperity of the 1950's the conservatives glorify was largely built on the achievements of FDR

That is debatable. The higher economic growth of the 1950's after the post WWII slump was fueled by the deficit spending of the Korean War, and possibly the GI Bill that raised the education of returning soldiers to take on higher paying jobs. This was aided by increasing consumer demand due rising suburbanization, associated automobile purchases and increasingly available consumer credit.

Laurent Weppe said...

* "Everywhere the populace is mostly witlessly reactionary and blindly religious you see massive poverty and human misery"

I'd say it works the other way around: everywhere massive poverty and human misery reign, the Powers That Be, start rewarding those who display the most craven submissiveness toward their lords and masters, in a type of perverse signaling games which encourage witlessly reactionary behavior.


* "you won;t consider the alternative, more plausible and REAL explanation?"

The problem is that the alternative explanation implies that GOP voters are the de facto lackeys of parasitic bullies.
You simply can't make people accept such mortifying portrayal of themselves simply through rhetorics.

Alex Tolley said...

Given that the GOP is so tightly disciplined (...)

So tightly disciplined that they couldn't get TPA passed with veto proof numbers, causing the TPP package to fail and making Boehner look ineffectual given GOP policy on TTP and TTIP.

Roll Call for House bill on TPA

I think one can say that the GOP is more disciplined than the Democratic Party. If both parties are essentially doing the bidding of our oligarchs, we need a way to break that disciple and reward politicians for actually representing the people, not the money.

Duncan Cairncross said...

re political parties "burning their bench."

This seems to be an American problem -
For a country with massive "competitiveness" you seem obsessed about "taking your turn" in politics
So the same tired old faces appear election cycle after cycle

It seems to me that in the rest of the world a politician gets one chance
If he/she stumbles then he/she is replaced and there are no second chances
There always seems to be a supply of fresh faces

LarryHart said...

Alex Tolley:

So tightly disciplined that they couldn't get TPA passed with veto proof numbers, causing the TPP package to fail and making Boehner look ineffectual given GOP policy on TTP and TTIP.

TPP is one of those issues that actually shows the cracks in the Republican base. The corporatists want it, but the Tea Party purists who hate Obama, distrust Wall Street, and think of TPA as "welfare for unions" aren't going to vote for it. The vote failed for the same reason that GW Bush, after ginning up xenophobia against Arabs for several years, couldn't get a bill passed giving a Dubai-owned corporation control of our port security.

In any case, you are talking about the House. Dr Brin's "most disciplined in history" comment refers more to the Senate, back when the GOP had only 41 Senators and could stil manage to filibuster everything to the point where the idea became engrained in the American consciousness that it takes 60 votes to pass a bill in the Senate.

Alex Tolley said...

DB may be talking about the Senate, but that isn't clear when talking about the GOP generally and invoking his interpretation of the "Hastert Rule" as Hastert was in the House.

Can you show that this discipline was consistently maintained in the Senate, where Republicans voted down party lines, but Democrats didn't? In addition, tyranny by the "Tea Party" to keep legislators in line isn't the same as discipline in my book.

LarryHart said...

Alex Tolley:

In addition, tyranny by the "Tea Party" to keep legislators in line isn't the same as discipline in my book.

No, it's not the Tea Party threats that enforce discipline. Rather, the discipline only breaks down on issues where the corporatists can't keep the Tea Party on their side, as in the case of a vote to cede congressional authority to the wishes of President Obama.

The dissent--open revolt, actually--is the rare exception, not the rule.

LarryHart said...

Alex Tolley:

ut that isn't clear when talking about the GOP generally and invoking his interpretation of the "Hastert Rule" as Hastert was in the House.

The Hastert Rule doesn't require the GOP members to vote in lock-step. It only requires that they never bring to a vote any bill which would pass with Democratic support, but which a majority of Republican members are against. It means all the serious negotiation takes place entirely within the Republican caucus, not between Republicans and Democrats.

Paul SB said...

Tacitus, yes, there are a great many blue enclaves that are foul pits of despair, but I have seen a lot of statistics in the last decade that point to the percentages being far worse in those regions of longer wavelength. And given that the entire global economic system seems to be moving everyone who is not already filthy rich to the bottom of the heap, it should be of no surprise that both sides of the divide are suffering.As far as Gibbon's opinion of Constantine goes, while he was a great scholar in his time I cant agree with everything he wrote. Constantine's switch was really just a variation on an old theme, and the poison had been settling into the Empire long before Constantine say the need to make such a switch. And yes, the Church did preserve a whole lot of ancient writing, though selectively, and they even canonized St. Cyril for burning a library, so the track record on that account isn't perfect.

Dr. Brin, You're right that in the last 40 years the Dems have rarely had full control of the legislative and executive branches at the same time, so it isn't fair to say that the two parties are equivalent. While I have never registered with either party, I grew up disgusted with Reagan and as an adult have been dismayed and horrified by the Bush administrations. I can't name any positive accomplishments of the W Administration because they did nothing but pillage our nation and a few others while they were at it.
"Um... uh... every time I hear this I stare, stunned, unable to believe I am part of a species that can utter such sophistry. " Not only can their leadership utter this sophistry, their base buys it hook, line and sinker.

When I hear Democratic proposals, though, they are often naive and reactionary oversimplifications rather than carefully thought out plans based on verifiable facts and tested methods. They are still, in many ways, more evolved than their Republican Adversaries, and I will vote for the almost any Dem before almost any Repugnant Party offering any election. I would still be happier if we had more than two flavors of politician.

Alex, I agree with your analysis almost in its entirety, but with some added details and explanations. For one, note that I wrote "witlessly reactionary and blindly religious" - not just "religious". The European people I have known have tended to have more mature views of religion than most of my countrymen. They knew their history and were not inclined to ignore the centuries of religious bloodshed done in the name of God's love that wracked their continent. Most Americans seem comfortably ignorant that such things ever happened and have much more black-and-white views. Besides, religions are generally used to codify and justify the prejudices of the times, and to enculturate subsequent generations. Thus before Emancipation many pastors and preachers in the US quoted verse to justify slavery, but now that is no longer socially acceptable those verses are cheerfully ignored to preserve the goodness of the book in todays' eyes (though I have known many a throwback who insisted we should return to that sanctified institution because it features so prominently in the Bible).

On the 1950s economic boom, you are right that the Korean War, and more generally the Cold War, played a huge role, but the GI Bill was signed by FDR in 1944 (though the effects of a bill that increases education would not be seen until several years later). Rising suburbanization and increased automobile purchases are structural changes, but all of those are probable epiphenomena of the Baby Boom.

Laurent, I'll get to your idea later. My kids are pestering me to play Uno with them.

David Brin said...

Look at the legislative accomplishments of Eisenhower, Nixon, FOrd, Reagan and both bushes, when they had dems controlling one or both houses. To claim Dems have EVER treated a GOP president the way Republicans routinely and always treat democratic ones is to engage in denial and delusion that is of hysteria-level.

Recent gopper congresses have been the laziest in the history of the republic and have wages procedural war on Clinton and Obama to degrees never seen. A majority of filibusters and blocked nominations in US history have been against one president.

Meanwhile we await Tacitus's list of "interesting ideas" from the current gang. And an explanation of why the only republican prospect with intellect - Paul Ryan - is never seen.

Er... and deregulation? The GOP owned ALL branches of govt for 6 years. They instituted none of the things they blathered about, except bank dereg and wars and supply side (never-once-true) budget busting gifts to aristos. Name one other thing they actually did? Hence... will they actually do any of these "interesting things"?

Tacitus2 said...


I don't want to be accused of hiding, but this is going to be a week from Hell for me. Think about failing parents, family members on non speaking terms. Add some lawyers. You get the general drift.


I don't know why Paul Ryan is not running. Some people (Think Tip O'Neil) just like being in Congress. Ryan did his part last time and may have found the experience unpleasant. He does have young children to raise up. Perhaps he reads Contrary Brin and you hurt his feelings saying that all R VP choices were unqualified jokes. If I run into him I will ask.

The current R field is interesting firstly for its diversity. You have Hispanic, white, an admittedly anomalous black fellow. A couple of doctors, some Senators, some governors a female businessperson. And probably a few individuals who are holding back but might be surprise VP picks.

At this point in the campaign, naturally, they are all trying to increase name recognition without saying anything that will make the sharks (media gotchas and political operatives...hmmm, a bit repetitious there....on both sides of the fence) streak in and bite fatally.

If you toss out some obvious clowns, I mean really who cares what The Donald thinks, and look mostly at recent statements you do start to pick up a few things.

Listing an idea as interesting by no means brands it as either good or likely to be brought to pass. Health Care Reform in 2008 was both interesting and a good idea, but botched badly on so many levels.

You find little gems like Ben Carlson saying motorcycle riders who don't wear helmets are an unfair burden to the medical system. A gutsy public statement, up there with Carly Fiona opining that ag subsidies should go away. (bet that plays well in Iowa).

You get quixotic but important gestures like Rand Pauls filibuster - a real one btw - against renewal of the Patriot Act. Marco Rubio gets points in my book for his apparently genuine attempt at Immigration reform. Does the fact that he stood down count against him? Or is it a wise thing to recognize that public opinion is "not there yet"?

I note the support for flat tax plans by Perry, Paul and Cruz. Not sure how I feel on that one but the current code certainly could use some improvement.

I like Pataki criticizing the Republicans for too much focus on Social issues and not enough on economic growth and fighting radical Islam. I give him a couple of points for just being able to say the phrase radical Islam instead of whatever PC mush is now in vogue.

Lindsey Graham is most likely a non starter but when you look at his January 2014 predictions on what was going to happen in Syria and Iraq you have to note that he was spot on and in a field with little foreign policy chops that is something.

Now, I really have to be off. Chat all you like but don't make demands on me please.

Oh, and because it is part of my job to toss David cookies, here is one. If Red states have festering, dysfunctional urban blue islands in them, how does that square with the generally more religious bent of the GOP? "My brother's keeper" and "Whatever you do for these the least of mine.."?

going to Battle Stations now


Paul SB said...

Tacitus, hopefully your legal battles will be swift, equitable and not distract family from the more important issues. If we don't hear from you for awhile, it won't be taken as negligence. We all have lives outside the blogosphere.

I do want to take issue with a term you used, though perhaps you won't be back with us until this thread has passed into the archive. I have missed many good conversations that way ...

"PC mush" - the term PC has been used for quite some time now by the right wing to denigrate the left, but this is a clear case of hypocrisy. The right has its own demands for terminological conformity and are no more "honest speakers" than the left. "Border Security" as code for failing to institute immigration policy reform, "creation science" as code for subverting the Separation Clause of the US Constitution, pro-life, compassionate conservative, freedom fries ... need I go on?

Tacitus2 said...


Regards swift and non distracting.... it is far, far too late but thanks for the sentiments. And regarding equitable, probably not. Some situations exist where winning and losing are not much different.

No argument on the PC stuff. There are different species of "weaslespeak" but the dishonest intent and the impoverishment of our political discourse is bipartisan.


David Brin said...

Tacitus, one reason I like you is that you confront my truisms and sometimes make me adjust. Yipe, I had been saying that ONLY Reagan was a GOP prexy candidate with a qualified running mat… who later turned into the worst US President since Buchanan, worse even than his wretched-vile son. But yes, GHW Bush was "qualified," on paper. And yes, I suppose Ryan was also at least marginally qualified, as much so as Obama himself was. Thanks guy. You made me backtrack! (A bit.)

But to call the current GOP field anything but a pack of multi-colored fingers to Rupert Murdoch's sock puppet is, frankly just sad.

I'll admit though that your list does include a few very very minor variations from dogma… and I am willing to chew them all. I just cannot imagine how you deem them to be significant.

Flat tax i ancient and it is just more doubling down on supply side voodoo.

Festering? Most red states… the blue islands within them are their crown jewels and the best places in the states! Austin, Raleigh-Charlotte and so on.

But yes, thanks for engaging. You are at your best right now… even if you remain my (third) favorite Ostrich.

And you know I hold no truck with lefty PC police, who are 1% as crazy and 1% as numerous as the mad Entire Right. Yes, THAT numerous and crazy.

Good luck in family crises. Been there.

Alex Tolley said...

@Larry Hart,
I think we may be have a "common language" issue. When I hear "discipline" what it means to me is that the whips ensure that all party members vote with the party. This is very much how the British Parliamentary system works for crucial legislation.

My example was the failure to to pass "Fast Track" in the house last week, despite it being a rare case of the GOP and the president being in alignment. Wasn't Boehner's job to get it through? He has the majority, so what was the problem? To me, that is "lack of discipline". But the same words do have different meanings depending on experience.

Paul451 said...

Well knock me down with a feather: The crashed Philae lander has woken.

Alfred Differ said...

One small point to make for now...

The data the OPM keeps on us is intended to help THEM discover how difficult it would be for someone else to blackmail us while we serve in our government jobs or contract positions. If someone else is using it for the same purpose now, they will have to be better at it.

The most likely use for that data is fraud, phishing, and identity theft.
Black mail is not high on the list.

Alex Tolley said...

@Alfred The most likely use for that data is fraud, phishing, and identity theft.

I agree. After the spate of lost laptops with personnel databases, isn't that exactly what happened? I'd love to get the stats on the increased likelihood of identity theft that occurred, rather than just anecdotal evidence. That data just get sold to all sorts of criminals looking to squeeze money out of unwary folks.

OTOH, that data breech of the porn social site was being used to blackmail people. Quite blatantly apparently. Perhaps momma could have made more money with blackmail at the Harper Valley PTA :)

On a related note, last month I received my replacement credit card with a security chip. We're only how many decades behind Europe to do this? Was it increasing losses that prompted the change, or new regs? Unfortunately they partially shot themselves in the foot by leaving the magnetic strip in place.

Laurent Weppe said...

* "We're only how many decades behind Europe to do this?"


Alfred Differ said...

The self-inflicted wounding doesn't stop until we get to two-factor authentication and require it everywhere. That won't stop the bleeding (people are still thick-headed about this stuff), but it will slow it enough to matter.

Everything that talks to everything should pass through strict authentication processes or face a vigorous immune response. Identity matters. 8)

Duncan Cairncross said...

The biggest problem with "security" in the USA is that your social security number is treated as some sort of secret identifier
It's NOT - and can't be

IMHO you should make peoples social security number and address available on a public website

This would force the idiots who try and use these as security indicators to stop doing that and use proper passwords and separate verification

Alfred Differ said...

I don't know of anyone who treats it as a 'secret' identifier. I DO know of some who accept it without authentication demands AS an identifier. If it were secret or hard to know, that might work. Obviously it isn't.

Everyone I work with makes a huge effort to avoid collecting that kind of information from the people with whom we interact. Not all agencies can do that for tax reporting reasons, but I'm on the DoD side of the house. We very rarely need to know any PII and prefer to use digital certificates nowadays. There are very strict rules about collecting and storing PII around here, so rather than face the costs of compliance with federal law, we altered our processes to avoid the whole mess.

LarryHart said...

Be well, Tacitus2.

I'll never forget that you gave me some good...I shouldn't use the legal term "advice" in this context, so let's say "guidance", when my wife was succumbing to an illness no one could diagnose, and much as I disagree with you on many political issues, I'll always see you as a mench.

I also went through a father slowly and miserably dying in a nursing home a few years ago. Not sure how that compares to your family situation, but I think I can sympathize, if not fully understand.

You get quixotic but important gestures like Rand Pauls filibuster - a real one btw - against renewal of the Patriot Act.

It rarely happens, but I was compeltely cheering for Rand Paul that day. I have to say I am more comfortable with the existence of the traditional filibuster than with the modern version that makes a 60 vote supermajority a requirement for everything. A real filibuster doesn't last forever, but it can last long enough to swing public support, or failing that, at least to leave a mark on the record which will be revistited later, especially if you were right all along. That's a different thing than a defacto veto by the minority party.

I like Pataki criticizing the Republicans for too much focus on Social issues and not enough on economic growth and fighting radical Islam. I give him a couple of points for just being able to say the phrase radical Islam instead of whatever PC mush is now in vogue.

This is one issue where I don't think leftist PC rules the day. If anything, Islam-bashing has been in vogue since 9/11. I'm reminded of an episode of "The West Wing" during Bartlet's re-election campaign where the ambassador of a fictitious Arab nation told Leo that he (the Arab ambassador) understood that the president had to act conciliatory toward his country in order not to make a political gaffe, and Leo responded that, on the contrary, "The easiest way for him to assure his re-election would be to shoot you (the ambassador) in the middle of Times Square and then walk across the street to Nathan's and eat a hot dog."

To me, that statment reflects reality more than the notion that politicians have to talk nicely about Muslims for PC reasons. If the politicians tone down the rhetoric, not wanting to declare a war against a billion Muslims, I believe it is to avoid creating new enemies where they didn't previously exist, not out of concern for the feelings of the terrorists.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

I don't know of anyone who treats it as a 'secret' identifier. I DO know of some who accept it without authentication demands AS an identifier. If it were secret or hard to know, that might work. Obviously it isn't.

Well, I think that's what Duncan meant by "secret identifier". They operate under the assumption that anyone who knows your name and SSN must be you.

Tacitus2 said...

Larry Hart

From our off forum email I am delighted to hear favorable news on your end...but Dude, don't every use words like "succumbing"!!!! Gonna scare folks, ya will.


LarryHart said...


Sorry about the verbiage, but until she finally got some decent treatment (seven months and six doctors later), she sure seemed to be "s-word"ing. In case I wasn't clear, though, she's much better now.