Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Choices We Face...

"No one can terrorize a whole nation, unless we are his accomplices." - Edward R. Murrow

* At last... the mass desertion by true conservatives appears to have begun. See this by Paul Craig Roberts, of all people, who was Ronal Reagan's Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, associate editor of the Wall Street Journal and contributing editor of National Review.

The-Tyranny-of-Good-Intentions-Roberts-Paul-Craig-9780307396068He is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions: How Prosecutors and Law Enforcement are Trampling the Constitution in the Name of Justice. Like Paul O'Niel, Ben Nighthorse Campbell and a few others, these are not traitors to conservatism; they are angry over an ongoing betrayal of genuine conservatism by a cabal of extremists who have taken over the movement for their own purposes.

* Even more telling and devastating is the conversion of Kevin Phillips, whose book "The Emerging Republican Majority" (published as he began work for Nixon in 1969) first coined terms like the "sunbelt," forecasting the southern and rural GOP strategy that we now think of as "red state culture war." (That deserves a high score, whatever predictions "registry" you happen to be using.)

Like Newt Gingrich, Phillips foresaw the developing neoconservative movement not only as a march back to power, after catastrophic political defeat in 1964. During the subsequent long process of reappraisal and renewal, those who were reinventing conservatism envisioned a values-oriented return to decent American norms... sort of an immune reaction to - and correction of - purported anti-individualism excess by a fetishistically paternalistic Left.

According to this expectation, a broadly populist political uprising on the right would lead to fiscal responsibility, reduced debt, cautious restraint in foreign policy, efficient and limited government, elevated social discourse, electoral and legislative transparency, emphasis on professionalism and readiness, rising personal wealth for most Americans, a renaissance of entrepreneurial small business and the fostering of healthy civil society through a Tocquevillian process that devolves power from elites to the people.

Read that list of expectations over and over again, as many times as it may take for the irony to sink in. Did this fantastically successful American political revolution, seizing nearly all of a great nation's significant institutions of power, accomplish any of its worthy surface aspirations? Any at all?

That is, aspirations other than raw power? For those special few who in effect own the GOP, the active and profound reversal of all stated goals may not matter very much. (After all, power is power.) And other parts of the ruling neocon coalition - Straussian Platonist Mystics and religious fundamentalists - are easily satisfied with symbolic gestures, rather than tangible outcomes.

But for old-fashioned Goldwater Conservatives, who still make up a high fraction of grassroots Republican voters, the betrayal of every principle and desideratum must tear, grind and fester. Logically, this kind of cognitive dissonance should lead to agonized-but honest reevaluation, starting from the ground up. Well, it should. But, alas.

A deep flaw - perhaps the most tragic in human nature - makes delusional hallucinators of us all, blinding our eyes to any evidence that runs counter to our favorite dogmas. (This applies in all directions, to all dogmas, left as well as right.) Even more urgent is the need to find excuses for our side, our team, our tribe. In the face of this core human trait, it takes an awfully big person to admit that cherished, idealistic plans went awry... even diametrically opposite to every fervent hope.


And yet, aren't we praying, right now, for just such a grim admission to emerge out of the festering pain of decent American conservatism? The honest and sincere conservatism of Barry Goldwater, that was based upon a straightforward dedication to rectitude and accountability, arising out of some combination of market forces, law, and a vibrantly empowered, democratically enlightened citizenry? The kind that proudly faced the best of liberalism, ready to negotiate how problems should be solved, not whether they should be ignored?

That notion of conservatism remains valid and continues to deserve a place at-table, even now, after the movement's tiller has been hijacked by monsters. Is there even a slim chance that it can be rescued, before its reputation is permanently ruined by association with monsters?

miracleof1947Imagine how it might help save conservatism - and the republic itself - if a critical mass of decent, conservative paragons were to see their public-spirited duty in time. A clear duty to emulate the Miracle of 1947.

That was when several thousand moderate American liberals - having learned the truth about Stalin's Soviet horror - gathered their courage and resolve, stood up, and admitted that "the radicals of our side can be mad." In a combination of patriotism, pragmatism and idealism, they resolved to separate themselves, from any association with Communism, even at the level of nostalgic sympathy!

Nothing less would have sufficed. A schism of the left was necessary, in order to save the American left as a dynamic force in our national life.

Not only was this move courageous, it proved spectacularly successful. What ensued was not a defeat of American liberalism, but rather its greatest era - that of Martin Luther King and Betty Friedan - when citizens were inspired to redouble every progressive effort, to pass bills, revise laws, change their communities, and above-all to repair deep character flaws of racism, sexism and the shortsighted abuse of our grandchildren's planet. These problems were not completely solved, of course. But few of us regret those strenuous exertions, or call them wasted. Nor could any of it have happened, if honest American reformers had not decisively separated liberalism from a far-left that was deeply sick.


Can anyone doubt that matters are just as serious today, on the American right, as they were for the left in 1947? In much the same way that liberals felt torment over disowning the monsters on "their side," so we now see decent conservatives writhing and twisting, like pretzels, in order to make excuses for rapacious kleptocrats, incompetent thugs, moronic armchair warriors, cynical spin doctors, conniving feudalists and screeching fanatics.

Are they truly loyal to such monsters? Are they kept in rigid lockstep out of some misplaced fealty to a ridiculous "political axis" that was insipid even when the French invented it, in 1789? A left-right axis that offers no relevance or insight or utility for an agile and sophisticated Third Millennium? (Gather a dozen people and no two will even define it the same way!)

In frantic denial, these classic conservatives tell themselves that "at least Clinton was worse..." without ever explicitly showing how he was worse, by even a single rationally explicit metric of human governance!

Such is our human genius for self-delusion. The same deep character flaw that toppled every other great nation, even at its height of power. The character flaw that our pragmatic enlightenment was supposedly designed to overcome.

Will decent American conservatives see their duty in time, the same way that members of the ADA and AFL-CIO and NAACP saw theirs, way back in 1947? Or will we finally see how decisively different these two movements really are, when the chips are down? One with a record of openminded heroism and the other... displaying craven cowardice till the bitter end?

Alas, Newt Gingrich hasn't stepped forward yet. (An in-depth essay 'Should Democrats Issue a New Contract with America'? re-appraises Gingrich's 1994 Contract with America, considering how this masterful piece of 20th Century political polemic might be used by the other side, in the 21st. Indeed, Gingrich might even approve... if his goal remained sincere.)

Nor have many other "decent conservatives" who should rise up and put true patriotism over dogma, declaring greater loyalty to our system than to a side in this contrived culture war. Alas, for the most part, top conservatives have either bought into the madness, or else grit their teeth and excuse it, by pointing to a strawman carricature of liberalism - a version that bears no resemblance to mainstream Democrats. It may be satisfying to yammer about terror-coddling, pornography-pandering, overspending, UN -surrendering, effete naifs, but the difference between the Democrats and the GOP is that the liberals' loony carricatures never had any chance of real power, and never will.

(And yet, George F. Will, like Cato, continues shrieking hysterically at anemic Carthage, while making wincing excuses for a homegrown tyranny.)


kevinphillipsBut let's look at the bright side. Look around for signs of hope. Glimmers like Kevin Phillips who recently came out with American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century. A book that every one of us should go out and buy, for two reasons:

(1) in order to make it a best-seller, and

(2) in order to shove each copy into the hands of at least one honest, sincere and mentally-competent American conservative. (Well, perhaps as a test of mental competence.)

I won't go into the author's arguments here. Not in detail, although it certainly is refreshing to see a "conservative" concede the obvious - for example, that an ingrown, secretive, and historically selfish petro plutocracy is hardly the most credible cabal to trust with a great nation's energy policy, or its foreign policy, for that matter.

Phillips admits that he was shocked by the course that his revolution took, veering in directions that left all of the old goals of empowered citizenship and public rectitude abandoned, in the dust. He never expected the mass-populist neoconservative movement could be so easily -- almost trivially -- hijacked by elements that are anti-freedom, anti-future and anti-enlightenment, taking this route not only out of venial self-interest but also as a matter of fundamental personality.

According to Phillips, those elements include not only the petrocracy, but also religious fanatics, contemptuous media moguls and foreign elements that seek world power in the most efficient and straightforward way possible - by directly influencing American elites.

While focusing especially upon two of these elements - the new theocrats and the petrocracy - Phillips comes closer than anybody else to actually recognizing what's going on... a return to the consistent pattern that dominated nearly every other urban culture in human history. A power-sharing arrangement between resource controlling aristocrats and mystical clerics, who chant justifications for aristocratic rule.

Don't even try to deny that this was the freedom-suppressing formula in every culture, from Babylon to China to Rome... and all the way to the British Imperium that our founders finally rejected, in their daring gamble. A wager instead upon Periclean-Lockean notions of institutionalized reciprocal accountability. (Moreover, it is worth pointing out that the same formula dominated the old Confederate South, which Phillips now calls the ultimate winner of an ongoing Civil War.)

* Just to keep up my reputation of balance, let me point out that the Soviet Union followed this classic pattern in every detail, down to a mutually beneficial alliance where power-holders bent on ferociously enforced rule by an inherited nomenklatura, relied upon quasi-religious Marxian dogmatists to justify the elites' monopoly of power. Everything else - every bit of "egalitarian" Communist rhetoric - was hypocritical, Potemkin window-dressing. *

Far from being a matter of left versus right, what we are seeing today is a renewal of the same battle fought by Franklin, Washington, Lincoln, Marshall and every other great American hero. Every generation of American heroes. A battle pitting the new maturity of accountability, pragmatic self-improvement and rambunctious citizenship against the endlessly recycled power-rationalizations that served tyrants of every stripe. An age-old reflex that's the real enemy of freedom, still calling to us from Egypt and Ur. From the caves. From our genes.


Alas, though Phillips comes closer than anybody else, he still doesn't lay things out this clearly. Amid a somewhat murky morass of near-term details, he never crystallizes the Big Picture... that all ideologies tend to serve the interests of some freedom-stealing cabal. Especially if we let our favorite dogmas get hijacked by monsters.

Liberals (the smartest and best of them) were able to see this, when they performed a miracle in 1947, choosing to side with Franklin, Madison and Marshall. In a similar manner, decent conservatives may yet rescue us from a similarly dire crisis, in 2006, ending "culture war" by the simple expediency of saying "this is not conservatism. No, this is madness."

Will it happen, though?

Let's be clear about this. Patriots of all kinds will stand up and stop the monsters. As our parents and grandparents passed every test, we too will rise up and be counted, in defense of both our republic and civilization. America will be saved. That is not the real issue.

No, the issue is whether enough decent conservatives will rise up, joining this struggle, to save any hope for their movement during generations to come.

If Newt and his friends want a better version of conservatism to survive and thrive, with a reputation for anything other than spineless dogmatism, they will heed the call of history, and stand up. Now, when we need them most.

In doing so, they will make this not a matter of "culture war" between rural and urban America, but a much simpler matter, about ejecting a nasty gang of thieves, in order to let our nation get back to business. In doing so, they will save their own movement. But don't hold your breath.

So far, the pioneers in this conservative turnaround are so few that individual quirkiness dominates over any sense of momentum. From Kevin Phillips to David Brock to Paul O'Neil, the exceptions merely serve to attract Rovean spasms of character assassination, while raising false hopes, that this generation will be able to accomplish its historic mission - preserving the Great Experiment - with significant help from the right.

So far, despite those few exceptions, it seems unlikely.

If we can find any consolation, during this time of darkness, it is in a strange fact... or rather, a bit of inspiring truthiness... that the State of Arizona has started producing copious amounts of clean electricity from magnetic coils that surround the furious spinning in Barry Goldwater's grave.


See more: Politics for the 21st Century

Monday, March 27, 2006

Electoral College redux....

An interesting issue is raised by David Broder of the Washington Post, in a recent editorial titled: "Electoral College foes devise plan for popular vote."

"The question of how we elect a president is up for debate again, with advocates of a majoritarian philosophy having invented a new device for moving to a direct popular vote for the chief executive. 

. . Rather than going through the labors of amending the Constitution to replace the Electoral College system with a national tally for president, which has failed every time it has been attempted, they have come up with a plan for bypassing the required two-thirds vote in the House and Senate and the ratification by three-fourths of the states.

. . Instead, the advocates propose that states with sufficient electoral votes -- 270 of the 538 -- to comprise an electoral majority enter into an interstate compact, pledging to give their votes to the candidate receiving the largest number of popular votes. That action could allow the legislatures of as few as 11 states to change the whole system of electing a president."

Sponsored by former independent presidential nominee John Anderson and former Senator Birch Bayh, it has been endorsed by Hendrik Hertzberg of The New Yorker and, earlier this month, by the editorial page of The New York Times, which called the Electoral College ''an antidemocratic relic."

Broder opposes this endeavor, for reasons that I do not dispute.

Yes, had this system been in place, the national tragicomic farce that began unrolling in 2000 would not have happened. We would have been spared the spectacle of a divisively partisan president claiming "mandate" when his opponent actually got more votes.

Still, I am unimpressed with the argument that a plurality winner who has surpassed his rival by only a few hundred votes - or a few thousand - is thus profoundly and qualitatively endowed with special mandatory grace, especially when "plurality" still means that more people voted against him than voted for him.

It is worth remembering that "majority rule" is not the core element of democracy. Rather it is democracy’s most crass and simpleminded aspect, emphasizing the raw power of larger numbers to impose their will upon smaller numbers. An improvement over rule by bullying minorities of gentry and oligarchs, but not a perfect one.

Indeed, majority rule was held in low esteem - considered a necessary evil - by everyone from Pericles to the American Founders, who went out of their way to emphasize other, more important democratic traits, like balance of power, reciprocal accountability, openness, individual rights and the need for relentless and ongoing negotiation. -- especially with aggrieved minorities. The Electoral College was itself set up in order to add complexity and to modify the crude passions of majority rule.

See: The Myth of Majority Rule.

The Anderson-Bayh proposal coarsely attempts to impose the will of just a dozen states upon the whole nation - not in picking a president, per se (since the plurality-winner is at least as righteous a pick as anybody else), but by imposing a principle of pure majoritarianism... nay pluralitarianism... upon the nation without sufficient discussion or deliberation.

In order to see how foolish this is, try on this thought experiment.

Imagine that a truly powerful run by a couple of third-party candidates were to divide the electorate into tiny fragments, as happened in 1912 and even more so in 1860. Should the winner of as few as 26% of the popular votes automatically become president, without even a chance for the nation to take a breath and think things over? In theory, that candidate might be the hated bottom-choice of the divided 74%. Yet, under pluralitarianism, she or he would become chief executive.

Other countries solve this problem by holding run-offs among the top two vote-getters, something that seemed impossibly onerous and time-consuming in George Washington’s time. But why not today? Or let’s get even more modern. Ideally, in an age of computers, we should be smart enough to use preferential ballots, as they do in Australia, a sophisticated and just system under which Americans would get to rank-order their choices and be guaranteed never, ever to get a president who is hated by a majority. (More on this elsewhere.)

Ah, but as has been widely pointed out, these solutions require Constitutional tinkering that is nearly impossible to achieve, when powerful forces benefit from the status quo. Are we thus doomed forever to worry about rule by some dismal crackpot, put into office by some minority electoral quirk?

What is weird is that the Founders actually thought about this problem. We generally think of the Electoral College as a reflex and automatic vote-allocation system that works according to strict allocation by winner-takes-all in every state. But, in fact, the electors themselves are not required, by the Constitution, to act as complete robots. The word "college" implies some level of collegial deliberation is possible, and might even have been expected, by the Framers. Indeed, within living memory, a few electors have broken from strict partisan discipline and cast their votes in unexpected ways.

Consider the 2000 election, in which the Bush-Cheney team entered office by the margin of just ONE electoral vote, over-riding the pluralitarian will of the people. The mind is tempted to ponder some parallel world in which just one of the Bush-Cheney electors might have taken a notion to help heal a divided nation with a gesture, offering something to the disgruntled majority of Americans who had clearly voted against George W. Bush...

... that imaginative and public-spirited elector might have done this by casting a deciding VICE presidential vote for Joe Lieberman. With a stroke, this delegate to a sovereign constitutional institution might have forced a different, possibly more accommodating tone upon an administration that has made "culture war" its guiding principle. Is that parallel America happier than this one, less divided, less bitter? Would that one elector’s gesture have made any real difference? No one can say. But one thing is for certain. The Electoral College would have never again been viewed the same way.

I have taken too long on this. But let me conclude by saying that Anderson-Bayh almost certainly mean well. They just haven’t thought things out. There are some other possible ways to tweak and improve the Electoral College system, WITHOUT either tinkering with the Constitution or imposing an end-run trick, that out gerrymanders the gerrymanderers.

electoralcollegeI discuss this one such proposal at:

The kernel idea: we tend to assume that all states are required to divvy their electors according to a rule of "winner-takes-all." But familiar process this is, in fact, just another example of state-based gerrymandering. Two states use a different approach, more closely representing the will of their voters.

Is it possible that a simple lawsuit, demanding "one-person-one-vote"- if cogently presented, might persuade even this Supreme Court to banish winner-takes-all across the board? In a stroke, this would force the distribution of Electoral College votes to more closely reflect the popular vote. Imperfectly, but a step in the right direction. That is, if this Supreme Court actually values "one person, one vote."

gerrymanderingFor a more general look at gerrymandering, see:
http://www.davidbrin.com/gerrymandering1.html )

Alas, in the near term, none of these matters will make much difference. We are in a situation that few of us would have imagined, only a decade ago. In a 21st Century that was supposed to be sophisticated and subtle, with educated citizens engaged in even-tempered, complicated, problem-solving discourse, we find ourselves instead waging Culture War across ideological battle lines that would have looked simpleminded even to Huey Long.


For more on politics, see: Politics for the 21st Century

David Brin
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Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Core Issue is Ineptitude

* Fred Kaplan had a good review in Slate of the major mistakes made by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in this war. (SeeT http://www.slate.com/id/2137793/)

The article is devastating from the point of view of someone who (like me) was never opposed to ousting Saddam Hussein. (In fact, I have long felt that we owed his removal to an Iraqi populace that we betrayed in 1991. Or, rather that Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Powell betrayed, by dusting Saddam off and propping him back into power over his terrorized people.)

No, the real issue is not wishy liberal peacenikism, but realpolitik incompetence.

Evidence from the long span of American history suggests that, if something is worth doing, it can often be done virtuously, honestly, honorably, and competently. In contrast, can you name a crisis in our past when a dire situation was BEST handled by people who were demonstrably unable to handle a burnt match? Never was this illustrated better than the present imbroglio in Iraq. Kaplan’s list of horrendous blunders - including disbanding the Iraqi military in 03 -- setting 300,000 well-armed and resentful soldiers loose upon the streets -- is as nonpartisan as it is an overwhelming indictment of blithering ineptitude.

Like all unfit leaders, the administration and its defenders fall back upon classic strategies, for example, maligning critics, resorting to secrecy, questioning others’ patriotism, and intimidation... these have all at least been discussed in the press. But nobody seems interested in probing deeper, to the level of unspoken assumptions.

(For example, is anyone at all willing to discuss the cosmically weird coincidence -- that Donald Rumsfeld held exactly the same job thirty years ago, when he supervised America’s final humiliation in another Asian Land War?)

Oh, but it goes deeper. If this cabal of very silly men has one priority - above all - it is to convince conservative Americans that this whole thing is about political ideology. And therefore, conservative Americans have no choice but to choose between the present gang and “those liberal peacenik pro-terrorist flakes.” Or something like that. By couching it always in either-or terms, they distract anyone from noticing the very large and very sharp axe that could sever this corrupt band from power and save the republic. An axe that could be wielded by Republicans, themselves.

It is a question that they dread ever hearing said aloud.

“Are you honestly telling us that there aren’t OTHER conservatives, out there, who might pursue the same overall values, only more competently, more honorably, more intelligently, more practically and in less bitterly divisive ways?

“What... among a hundred million conservative adult Americans... there are NONE?”

What an indictment of conservatism, if this is true!

In a parliamentary system, any sub-group who had shown themselves to be this foolish, deceitful, corrupt and ineffectual would have resigned by now. Forced out of office NOT by their opponents, but by their own party! A party determined to avoid punishment at the polls by bringing in fresh faces, from a large pool of promising and experienced candidates, waiting in the wings. But today’s GOP seems to be saying that it cannot find anybody else, not even from the back benches. No one who would pursue the War on Terror with Rumsfeld’s vigor, but without his proved record of utter, blithering inneptitude.

Yes, this logic does not hold for President Bush and VP Cheney, who hold Constitutional offices that are bound by time, rather than national confidence. We can argue the pros and cons of that arrangement elsewhere, and I am not necessarily against Madison’s chosen approach. Still, American history is filled with episodes when Cabinet housecleanings were done for reasons of political triage, or for the national good. And if ever there were a time when it was called for.

Here is a test. Try a truly confidential opinion poll of professional officers inside the Pentagon. Many are lifelong Republicans and believe deeply in the general War on Terror. And yet, I would wager that - if offered a chance to pick some other prominent Republican as a new Secretary of Defense, you would find at most ten percent choosing to retain the present leadership. One that has engaged in relentless pressuring, chivvying, meddling, domineering and purging of the skilled and dedicated men and women who make up the United States Officer Corps.

.... More political-relevant snippets.

* Taking Spying to Higher Level, Agencies Look for More Ways to Mine Data http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/25/technology/25data.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

* Ah, but then there’s the problem of digesting information that’s right in front of you:

* As Michelle Bachelet becomes Chile’s first female president, Justin Vogler talks to specialists across the region about the sharp increase in the number of women in South American politics. Most link this trend to the workings of the democratic process. But some are skeptical about how much of a difference more female politicians will make in the lives of everyday women. http://www.theglobalist.com/DBWeb/StoryId.aspx?StoryId=5163

* Average incomes after adjusting for inflation actually fell from 2001 to 2004, and the growth in net worth was the weakest in a decade, the Federal Reserve reported Thursday.
Average family incomes, after adjusting for inflation, fell to $70,700 in 2004, a drop of 2.3 percent when compared with 2001. That was the weakest showing since a decline of 11.3 percent from 1989 to 1992, a period that also covered a recession. In contrast, the average incomes had soared by 17.3 percent in the 1998-2001 period and 12.3 percent from 1995 to 1998 as the country enjoyed the longest economic expansion in history. The 2001-2004 performance was the worst since net worth actually declined by 9.9 percent in the 1989-1992 period.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Notes from The Future

Hear experts discuss cutting edge issues of secrecy/privacy on KPBS Radio...

I had a great time on a panel last night, spending two lively hours exploring the topic of “Surfing the Internet: Who’s Watching? Who’s Censoring?” at the Joan Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice at the University of San Diego. The presentation was recorded and will be heard tomorrow (Wednesday) on KPBS radio, from 9-11 am, live in San Diego but also will be made available as a podcast, as well. Panelists included:

. David Brin, science fiction writer and author of The Transparent Society
. Lance Cottrell, Founder and CEO, Anonymizer
. Pam Dixon, Executive Director, World Privacy Forum
. Lawrence Hinman, Director, Values Institute, University of San Diego

One minor point. I have been slipping, lately in my google placement! The bad news is that I have slid from 15th to 20th place. The good news is that the search criterion is the word “David”. Hrm. I guess being the #20 “David” isn’t too obscure. Yet.

(Of course helpful types could go "David" on google and pick me, a few hundred times... but that's less useful than just leaving a few five-star reviews on Amazon! (nudge wink!)

Misc notes from the the territory ahead...

* Will Japanese Robots Rule the World by 2020? (Actually, a very silly article, ignorant and reflexively anti-modernist. Not up to the usual Globalist standards.)

Now this interesting factoid from the progressive Policy Institute.

Scientific research as percent of GDP, 2003:

Israel: 5.1%
Japan: 3.1%
United States: 2.5%
European Union: 1.8%
China: 1.2%
Russia: 1.2%
India: 0.8%

What The Numbers Mean:

Albert Einstein, visiting the United States for a 1921 lecture tour, attributed America's success to high labor costs. Einstein, who worked as a patent examiner before publishing his 1905 special relativity paper, thought expensive workers made Americans look for efficiency and new technologies; he called labor costs "the stimulus which evokes the marvelous development of technical devices and methods of work." India and China stood in gloomy contrast, as giant but impoverished museum-pieces where "the low price of labor has stood in the way of the development of machinery" and industrial development had come to a halt. Eighty-five years later, a report by the National Academies of Science points to a similar but intensified competition -- Americans "now face competitors who live just a mouse-click away in Ireland, Finland, China, India, or dozens of other nations" -- and worries that America's scientific edge may be slipping.

Optimists can point to lots of working scientists and relatively high spending on research. The United States spends 2.5 percent of GDP annually on R&D, placing America sixth or seventh in the world. (According to the U.N. Development Program, Israel leads the field at 5.1 percent of GDP; Sweden, Finland, Japan, Iceland, and Korea round out the top six. Research rates have risen quickly in Asia since the mid-1990s, though.) The OECD says American industry, together with government and university labs, accounted for $284 billion out of the $680 billion in total rich-world research spending in 2003, and World Bank data show the United States has nearly twice as many scientific researchers per capita as Europe -- 4,500 researchers per million people -- and trails world leaders Japan, Sweden, and Denmark only slightly.

Future-minded observers, though, can look with anxiety at hard-science research and future workforce prospects. Stable overall federal support for research masks a sharp drop in support for physical sciences, chemistry, and engineering, from 0.33 percent of GDP to 0.21 percent, since the 1970s. The stable total level -- of 0.45 percent of GDP -- reflects growing support for biology and medical research.

Meanwhile, the United States has been graduating fewer native-born scientists and engineers than it needs for several decades, and compensating by attracting foreign scientists and students. (As Princeton attracted Einstein himself in 1930.) The National Science Foundation says in 2003, a fifth of all science and engineering graduates working in the United States (and over a third of doctorate holders) were immigrants. Some examples: 57 percent of PhDs in computer science and electrical engineering; 52 percent of PhDs in mechanical and chemical engineering; 37 percent in chemistry and biology; 43 percent in mathematics; 40 percent in physics and astronomy. Many are former students at American universities, as about three-quarters of foreign science students hope for careers in the United States after graduation. But tougher student visa policies cut foreign-student enrollment in the 2003-2004 academic year, and did so again in 2004-2005. NSF says new science and engineering enrollment fell over 10 percent in these two years, with the sharpest drops in new computer science and engineering enrollment.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Predictions, Henchmen and Philanthropy

This is a very long, multi-topic posting.

I want to start with something that serves as an arching theme. A bit self-serving, but bear with me....

EarthHCPredictive hits from the novel EARTH (1989)... so far...

. . Blatant and Obvious

* The Web as a vehicle for personal expression
* Partition of the Soviet Union
* Blogging
* The Web as a vehicle for mass democracy movements
* Privacy as a vanishing commodity
* Global warming and rising sea levels
* Levees breaking and cities flooded on the Mississippi & Gulf Coast

. . Trends and Breakthroughs with Citation

* Purely mental control of electronic devices
* "Dazers" who use biofeedback to alter consciousness in druglike ways without using illegal substances (http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/mar06/3044)
* People adjusting their web "shells" or search behavior to only admit views that fit their preconceptions
* Crotchety elders using high tech to harass kids

. . Trends Needing Citation
(I had the links but misplaced them)

* Subvocal silent input devices.
* Manmade black holes taken seriously
* Crisis habitat arks
* Eyeglass cams
* Eyeglass VR overlays on real environments
* Brain imaging->personality profiling
* Geological-scale sculptures

. . Trends/breakthroughs that are desperately needed, now!

* Prediction registries
* Disputation Arenas
* Henchman Prizes for whistleblowers
* A worldwide uprising by educated citizens against secrecy.

Note that I leave out a lot of stuff... after all, EARTH had everything in it, including every kind of kitchen sink. (e.g. the North American Church of Gaia, whew!) Still, the "hits" have been accelerating, lately, at such a pace that I figure it might be fun to start a running count on this blog list and invite people to contribute. In any event, I could use help filling in relevant links to the hits in category two.

See a collection on Technovelgy cataloguing the predictive hits and misses in Earth.

==Breakthroughs needed now==

What about that last category? Forecasts that we desperately NEED to see come true? Well, I am trying my best!

philanthropy1. there will be news soon about my application for a patent in the broad area of Methodologies for representing interactions between users in future Web and game applications. Hrm. Pretty good news.

2. I continue hoping that an umbrella organization might arise -- possibly funded by some visionary millionaire -- that might help seed some great ideas out there (see Horizons and Hope: The Future of Philanthropy. )

3. Two of the ideas rise to the very top. We need them so desperately.

Henchman-- Henchman's Prizes: This is a generic term for some kind of private foundation action aimed at enhancing, encouraging and protecting whistleblowers. Naturally, this can only be truly effective if accompanied by legislation, especially protecting such a foundation from liability to lawsuits, if they lure accusations that are later deemed actionable. It's a complex endeavor, when examined closely. But can you think of anything that could better help the world that a million dollar prize, plus protection, for whoever blows the whistle on the "worst thing" in any given year?

Can anybody doubt that only fierce threats are forestalling a tsunami of tattles, even now, without any prize?

See the example of Stephen Heller, the man who took 500 pages of internal documents from the Diebold Company to the California Secretary of State, to show that the company deceptively introduced voting machines that did not meet state standards. He now faces prosecution for "theft".

(In fact, I do not take a purist position utterly defending Heller from all punishment. The theory of civil disobedience is a complex one, if you read Thoreau and Ghandi and King. A certain amount of punishment actually honors the protestor and is - in any event - necessary in order to separate heroes from mere opportunists. But clearly the massive felony charges filed by the LA County District Attorney are not being demanded in a spirit of honor. They are meant to repress and terrify. And to deter anyone else from standing up.)

PredictionsRegistry-- Predictions registries: You've all heard me talk about this before. (See Accountability for Everyday Prophets: A Call for a Predictions Registry.)

But Russ Daggatt has given the topic fresh punch:

Weeks after the invasion of Iraq began, Fox News Channel host Brit Hume delivered a scathing speech critiquing the media's supposedly pessimistic assessment of the Iraq War. "The majority of the American media who were in a position to comment upon the progress of the war in the early going, and even after that, got it wrong," Hume complained in the April 2003 speech (Richmond Times Dispatch, 4/25/04). "They didn't get it just a little wrong. They got it completely wrong."

Hume was perhaps correct--but almost entirely in the opposite sense. Days or weeks into the war, commentators and reporters made premature declarations of victory, offered predictions about lasting political effects and called on the critics of the war to apologize. Three years later, the Iraq War grinds on at the cost of at least tens of thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars.

Around the same time as Hume's speech, syndicated columnist Cal Thomas declared (4/16/03): "All of the printed and voiced prophecies should be saved in an archive. When these false prophets again appear, they can be reminded of the error of their previous ways and at least be offered an opportunity to recant and repent. Otherwise, they will return to us in another situation where their expertise will be acknowledged, or taken for granted, but their credibility will be lacking."

Oh, how wise! And oh! How naive! Before such an archive can be built, somebody must fund several man-years of R&D, all toward a system that can be seen as credible even when partisans see their own side proved wrong! That's not easy to do. It will take breakthroughs in the representation of opposing ideas. But the payoff could be stunning.

Till then? Well, Russ Daggatt gathered a handy list of statements from the last few years that ought to be credibility destroyers. Some of them are utter howlers, uttered by neocon shills on Fox and CNN. I will post some of them below, under “comments”, because I have taken more than enough space on the upper level, already.

Good night, and good luck.

good-nightA wonderful movie, by the way! Especially, David Strathairn is terrific as Edward R. Murrow in Good Night and Good Luck. There are flaws. Director George Clooney relies far too much upon our “common knowledge” about the McCarthy era and does a poor job portraying a real sense of the threat and terror. 

 What carries the movie, in fact, is the words of Murrow himself, conveyed brilliantly by Strathairn. And, of course, the staggeringly on-target way that those words apply today.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Universe by Design? Accident? Or Simulation?

Did our universe come about by design? By accident? Or are we living in a simulation?

9780316013338_p0_v1_s260x420Leonard Susskind's new book, The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design pits Intelligent Design against string theory and the megaverse. Susskind, one of the developers of string theory, takes on the 'Anthropic Principle' -- that the universe seems to be perfectly tailored to us: If it wasn't we wouldn't be here to observe it.

Surprisingly, Autodesk founder John Walker, in his review, sides with intelligent design, but not by a deity -- rather by post-Singularity intelligences creating a reality simulation: "What would we expect to see if we inhabited a simulation?"

Yes, I have discussed this in fact & fiction, many times. But the “symptoms” delineated by Susskind are definitely the kind plumbed by theoretical physicists who have a more extensive union card than I do!
reality check
To see this scenario played out in one of my short stories, go to: Stones of Significance  or my story, Reality Check.

From Walker’s posting: . “What would we expect to see if we inhabited a simulation? Well, there would probably be a discrete time step and granularity in position fixed by the time and position resolution of the simulation—check, and check: the Planck time and distance appear to behave this way in our universe.

. . “There would probably be an absolute speed limit to constrain the extent we could directly explore and impose a locality constraint on propagating updates throughout the simulation—check: speed of light.

. . “There would be a limit on the extent of the universe we could observe—check: the Hubble radius is an absolute horizon we cannot penetrate, and the last scattering surface of the cosmic background radiation limits electromagnetic observation to a still smaller radius. There would be a limit on the accuracy of physical measurements due to the finite precision of the computation in the simulation—check: Heisenberg uncertainty principle—and, as in games, randomness would be used as a fudge when precision limits were hit—check: quantum mechanics.

UNIVERSEFAKE. . “Might we expect surprises as we subject our simulated universe to ever more precise scrutiny, perhaps even astonishing the being which programmed it with our cunning and deviousness (as the author of any software package has experienced at the hands of real world users)? Who knows, we might run into round-off errors which “hit us like a ton of bricks”!"

See these topics explored in my essay: Could Our Universe Be a Fake?

---More cool Items...

* Looking toward a bold future: Scientists are now talking about people staying young and not aging. Ray Kurzweil is taking it a step further: "In addition to radical life extension, we’ll also have radical life expansion. The nanobots will be able to go inside the brain and extend our mental functioning by interacting with our biological neurons."

* A computer controlled by the power of thought alone has been demonstrated at a major trade fair in Germany. The device could provide a way for paralysed patients to operate computers, or for amputees to operate electronically controlled artificial limbs. But it also has non-medical applications, such as in the computer games and entertainment industries.

* Google Inc. apparently hopes to persuade everyone with a computer to entrust all their digital data with the online search engine leader, even though the company is having trouble controlling its own internal communications. Plans for a Google service offering "infinite" storage capacity leaked out last week when the company inadvertently shared some information about several projects, including one named "GDrive," on its Web site.

. . Ironically, this endeavor depends upon Google’s “don’t be evil” sense of trust, engendered at great cost over the years... and now threatened by public perception of a “cave-in” to the Government of China, on the issue of censorship. One of the hot topics we should all watch and discuss. 

* Human genes involved in metabolism, skin pigmentation, brain function and reproduction have evolved recently in response to recent environmental changes, according to a new study of natural selection in the human genome. http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn8812&print=true

* Here’s an item that could go in political OR non-political categories: ”Search engine newcomer Kosmix, which lets users look in specific topic areas, recently introduced its politics engine. For any search term, Kosmix organizes results into conservative, liberal or libertarian categories, allowing seekers to explore results associated with a certain political persuasion. Though still in its alpha version, the politics engine is fairly adept at teasing out ideological orientations on the web.”

. . Now, at first sight this looks very much like another predictive hit for EARTH, tools empowering people to filter the world so that the Net will only bring them information that reinforces their pre-conceptions. Great, all we need is more slavish devotion to the crippling left-right metaphor that has taken a sophisticated, 21st Century civilization down the path of 18th Century culture war. Is this the intention? Or is it possible the designers of this system might try to “not be evil” by incorporating methods that provoke re-appraisal of simplistic litmus-nostrums?

. . One way to save this idea might be to encourage users to take questionnaires like the one I have long posted at: http://www.davidbrin.com/questionnaire.html But I don’t have the time/energy to contact these guys.

* In the category of yet another predictive hit for EARTH,, crotchety fools are using high tech to harass kids: ”A high pitched "dog whistle" device is to be used by police in north Staffordshire to stop groups of nuisance youths hanging around shops. The Mosquito sends out a pulsing 80-decibel frequency noise which can usually only be heard by teenagers and those in their early 20s. The device is fitted outside the shop and can be turned on by shopkeepers to move youths on.”

For the first time, scientists have confirmed Earth is melting at both ends, which could have disastrous effects for coastal cities and villages.

and coolest yet....

Scientists have discovered a mutant chicken with a full set of crocodile-like chompers.


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Barack, Gerry, and the brats who lost Iran...

The political lamp is lit...

First off, for those who like very good political humor, see the transcript of Senator Barack Obama’s comedic roast-sketch at the recent Gridiron Club Dinner, which I posted in COMMENTS under the POSTING PREVIOUS TO THIS ONE. “ More Routine Miracles... and dangers...” (I did it that way because the transcript is pretty long, though hilarious.) If nothing else, it suggests that this fellow knows how to hire good writers for his staff. Fun stuff. Especially envisioning those listening to him, who would rather have been elsewhere.

In this edition of Armageddon Buffet, "Wars, Famines & Pestilences" looks at the recent slaughter of Muslims by Muslims; the "Cassandra Report" uncovers who correctly predicted recent developments in Iran, Iraq and Palestine (set aside for “predictions” topic, someday); "Preparations for Armageddon" lists some steps in order to ensure Armageddon; and "Signs & Portents" takes a new look at what it means to consume.

Other political stuff:

Will Rankin writes: “I thought you'd be interested in the Gerry Index, a simple formula designed to work out exactly how gerrymandered your district is, you can find it at

Hm, well, I went online and tried it out. My own heavily GOP district (gerried by a Dem legislature) actually scores a rather low value of perimeter to area ratio of 1.9. I guess a sign that I moved into a pretty uniformly (and boringly) upper middle class area. Sigh.

in contrast, have a look at a few I found randomly. Like the 15th in Texas. The 3rd in Florida and 3rd in Ohio and 3rd in California (“three” appears to be a highly abused number). Overall, the Dems in California have been much less outrageous... that is, overall... than the Gops who dominate those other states. Still there are individual districts that show just how absurd both sides can be.

* Censoring our troops. Haven't verified this yet. The gist is that liberal web sites are blocked by the military but conservative (or neo-con) sites aren't.

* Another item that’s scary, if true. Since fall 2003, 4,387 Army soldiers, 3,454 Navy sailors and 82 Air Force personnel have deserted. Someone verify?

* I am not a blog-troll, so it’s rare for me to know enough about other blogs to link to them. But this guy is worth a glance. Highly recommended is “ The Monolith Crumbles: Reality and Revisionism in Iran” at http://www.chris-floyd.com/ or for specifics:

An excerpt: ” It is a well-known fact – except among the American media, the American government, and about 98.7 percent of the American people – that Iran is not a monolithic state where sheep like masses bray with a single voice in chorus with their demented leaders, but is, on the contrary, a complex society where many conflicting opinions on matters political, religious, social, historical, etc., contend with each other in open debate. True, it does have a government dominated by repressive clerics, who exercise the kind of veto power over secular law that George W. Bush's vaunted "base" dreams of seeing established in the United States; but Iran is far more open than, say, Saudi Arabia or China, just to name two countries where the Bush Family and friends have long engorged their bellies through insider connections with the ruling cliques. Therefore it must have come as a great shock to the system for Americans this week to hear Iran's former president, Mohammad Khatami, rail against the ignorant Holocaust revisionism mouthed by his successor, the hardline flibbertigibbet Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.”

As some of you know, I believe the most cosmic American stupidity in this century has been our adamant refusal to wage the right kind of war against the mullahs in Iran... by relentlessly and adamantly wooing the the restive populace of that complex and sophisticated nation. There are a myriad ways to do that, but the cartoon Axis of Evil mentality of this administration proves that Condi Rice is no Kissinger. Rather, she is sub-par even compared to a college sophomore’s level of international insight. (Oh, America, pissing your Pax away with dippy neocon nostrums and Alcibiadean adventures, when the world needs the “spread of democracy” that this administration of frat jocks claims that it is after.)

. . Re: Iran... it is a calamity that we failed to do the one simple, obvious thing that might have been the worst nightmare of ALL of our foes in that region, including the mullah’s themselves. Restoring the deep and long tradition of friendship between Iranians and Americans. (And if a peace-out failed? Exactly how would we have been hurt by a love-offensive aimed at average Iranians, even if it did not work? Oooooh. Americans made nice-nice and were snubbed! What are we, weak-ego teenagers, or the supposed grownups on this planet? Our stature would only RISE if that happened.)

* This from Russ Daggatt: ”Cheney said this week, "we will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon" and "the United States is keeping all options on the table in addressing the irresponsible conduct of the [Iranian] regime."

Is this guy off his meds, or what? What exactly does Cheney propose to do to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons? (Of course, we wouldn’t expect Cheney to do anything PERSONALLY – the closest he has ever gotten to combat is getting drunk and blasting his old buddy Whittington in the face.)

When Bush took office, Iran’s two biggest enemies and regional rivals were Saddam Hussein, on its one side in Iraq, and the Taliban, on its other side in Afghanistan. On top of that, the Iranian population was young, relatively well-educated and Internet-savvy, largely pro-American and overwhelming for reform and against the country’s clerical regime. Bush managed to take out both Iran’s main enemies and actually make our relationship with Iran worse (MUCH WORSE) in the process. That takes extraordinary diplomatic skill. Bush also managed to strengthen the hand of the clerics, virtually killing all traces of the reform movement (which had been winning overwhelmingly at the polls in Iran) and getting a REALLY extreme hardliner elected president in the process.

Immediately after 9/11, the Iranian government was working with us against the Taliban. This was the PERFECT opportunity to open up the dialogue with Iran and strengthen the moderates. If we are going to take out Iran’s enemies we should at least get some goodwill out of it, right? Instead, Bush gratuitously dissed Iran in his "Axis of Evil" speech, at which point all cooperation between our two governments stopped. As we have gotten further bogged down in the quagmire of Iraq, and more powerless to actually threaten Iran, the intensity of the Bush administration’s anti-Iran rhetoric has just gotten more shrill. (While we aren’t in a position to do much harm to Iran, they could cause us a world of hurt in Iraq.)”

Meanwhile, Halliburton, continues to do business in Iran as it did when Cheney was running the show. Just last year, "…Reuters [reported] that Halliburton "has won a tender to drill a huge Iranian gas field." Also: "Vice President Dick Cheney, who has called Iran "the world's leading exporter of terror," pushed to lift U.S. trade sanctions against Tehran while chairman of Halliburton Co. in the 1990s. And his company's offshore subsidiaries also expanded business in Iran. … While he headed the Houston-based oil services and construction company, Cheney strongly criticized sanctions against countries like Iran and Libya. President Clinton cut off all U.S. trade with Iran in 1995 because of Tehran's support for terrorism."

Can you believe there was a time not long ago when Republicans spent $80 million to investigate a failed Arkansas land deal on which the Clintons actually LOST $46,000? What a quaintly meager sum. And isn't it just like a Democrat to LOSE money on his shady dealings?

It is no wonder than Cheney's approval rating (at 18%) is only eight percent higher than the percentage of people who say they would eat a rat on TV (seriously). And his approval rating is actually BELOW the number of people who think the Catholic Church has handled pedophilia well and that justice was served in the O.J. case.


Tuesday, March 14, 2006

More Routine Miracles... and dangers...

Oh, if only we were still a daring and imaginative people! One of you (fhydra) offered this wondrous news about the warm water geysers of Enceladus, recently, but I had to headline it here at the top level, in case even ONE of you missed it in the news..

Oh, and while we’re checking that out, there’s Titan with its parafin seashores along a gasoline sea.
This sort of thing should have us packing brave ‘nauts into spaceships as fast as we can turn out new models from an assembly line! Who would have imagined that we would become a nation and world of cowards?

More cool stuff: The swarming behavior of ants, bees, termites, and other social insects has implications far beyond the hive. Swarm intelligence — the collective behavior of independent agents, each responding to local stimuli without supervision — can be used to understand and model phenomena as diverse as blood clotting, highway traffic patterns, gene expression, and immune responses, to name just a few.
(Thanks Cobey Shaver)

Britain and France recently announced a plan to use a new tax on airline tickets to fund future development aid funding.

Stealth sharks to patrol the high seas NewScientist.com news service Mar. 1, 2006 ** Engineers funded by the US military have created a neural implant designed to enable a shark's brain signals to be manipulated remotely, controlling the animal's movements, and perhaps even decoding what it is feeling. The Pentagon hopes to exploit sharks' natural ability to glide quietly through the water, sense delicate electrical gradients...

Nanotube networks conjured on crystals NewScientist.com news service Mar. 1, 2006 *** The key to instantly assembling intricate networks of nanotubes has been discovered by scientists armed with some of the most sophisticated microscopes in the world. The phenomenon may some day help material scientists manufacture nano-circuits that channel electrons through tiny tunnels instead of along silicon wires, which have to be etched...

3D plasma shapes created in thin air NewScientist.com News Feb. 27, 2006*** The night sky could soon be lit up with gigantic three dimensional ads, thanks to a Japanese laser display that creates glowing images in thin air. The display uses an ionization effect which occurs when a beam of laser light is focused to a point in air....

Want some other causes for optimism? Well, here’s one. Having been chastened by the voters of California for his earlier, misguided swing toward neocon madness, our Guv Ahnold is now listening to his smart (and beautiful) wife again. One result? California is hyping up incentives for solar energy, in a big way. So much so that VCs are pouring capital into getting us what this planet desperately needs. Affordable photovoltaic rooftops. Given the sheer amount of urban surface area that’s currently wasted, it’s clear that no other possibility could make as much difference -- positive for the Earth and civilization... and negative for our troglodyte Masters. Hence, with the USA mired in a dark age, at least there’s California! Up the revolution. I went outside and ran the bear flag up our 30 foot flagpole.

(Of the 50 states, three have some legal basis to claim a right of secession. Hawaii was independent for 700 years, Texas for seven years, and California for seven weeks. Anyone remember or care to quote the liberation anthem sung by the rock group the Dead Kennedys?) (Oh but the hilarious PAIN in recent weeks, hearing our prexy tout renewable energy while savaging every endeavor aimed at achieving it!)

Now some utterly flaming optimism - Marc Prensky’s book: "Don't Bother Me Mom -- I'm Learning" : How Computer and Video Games Are Preparing Your Kids For 21st Century Success -- and How You Can Help! Yipes. The title alone gives him away as a modernist.

* A fascinating concept from idea-impressario John Brockman: What We Believe but Cannot Prove : Today's Leading Thinkers on Science in the Age of Certainty.

finally... balancing with a little contrarian gloom...

* How hard is it to build your own weapon of mass destruction? We take a crash course in supervirus engineering to find out.

Speaking of "singularities and nightmares....

Sunday, March 12, 2006

toward a new New Deal: challenging the coming wave of pardons...

...political lamp is still lit...

I’m pleased to see online discussion of my suggestion for a “New Democratic Deal for the American People” (http://www.davidbrin.com/contract.html), as a way for Democrats to get their dissipated and disorganized act together.

Can we look into the past and find a moment in recent history that might serve as their inspiration at this crucial time? Let there be no mistake. The Democratic Party’s present situation is very similar to the Republicans’ - just before the mid-term elections in 1994, when both Congress and the Presidency were in Democratic hands. At that time, the GOP faced similar challenges in crafting an appeal to voters that might help them to achieve a dramatic turnaround in power.

Only fools can pretend that the so-called Neoconservative Revolution of that year was not brilliantly handled by its then-leader, Newt Gingrich, who helped the GOP craft its message with crystal clarity. Conveying the impression of a party with righteous and determined ideas, the “Republican Contract With America” seemed to offer a crisp and cogent deal to voters... including an implicit promise to accept punishment in the event of betrayal or failure.

(A promise that today’s GOP fervently wants the same voters to forget!)

Without any doubt, Gingich’s “Contract” was among the most brilliant acts of political polemic in a lifetime. If we are serious about politics, we will not only study it, but look into taking advantage of the Contract’s successes... and its subsequent blatant failures.

My proposed rough-draft of a “New Democratic Deal for the American People.” is deliberately patterned not only to show how that original Contract’s promise to the people was betrayed, but also to use the same breakthrough technique of clarity as a political weapon.

Achieving this goal does not ultimately require that such a “Democratic Offer” must slavishly follow the Gingrich template! (Though I do so in my prototype “offer,” for the sake of clear comparison. Moreover, it allows some dramatic impact.)

Nor is it necessary that such an offer use the specific proposals and issues that I include in my draft example. (Naturally, that expectation would be arrogant, even for me!) Still, I am pleased that many people out there have responded positively to some of the planks that I wrote down, including (for example) the idea of establishing an office of Inspector General of the United States (IGUS).

But let’s focus. Here, in this space, I’d like to address another of those unique proposals. Among the most important promises that the Dems could make would be to vow that they will, upon retaking Congress:

1) Dare the President to swear immediately that he will pardon no more than twice the total number of people pardoned by BOTH previous administrations, combined.

It's a great no-win situation to thrust upon him. First, it turns public attention to this vital issue, showing that we expect an absolute tsunami of pardons from this administration, especially after the 208 elections. Second, it puts him in a terrible spot. He loses if he says yes OR if he says no!

2) Furthermore, a new, Democratic-led Congress will pass a bill DEFINING the process of Presidential pardoning, so that it includes a requirement that all pardoned individuals spend a day testifying, under oath, before a "truth & reconciliation commission," giving all details about whatever it is they’ve been pardoned for. Under this bill, the President’s pardon is defined as applying only to things that the pardonee discusses, in detail!

Of course, this is especially relevant for people who are "pardoned in advance." (An especially nasty kind of get-out-of-jail-free card that almost-certainly the Founders never had in mind.)

Imagine how many guys are out there, currently grinning in blithe confidence and relying utterly on that getting that free pass, as they’ve been promised, in 2008. Not only assured safety from jail, but from ever having to answer questions! How they would plotz upon seeing that bill pass. How many rats would start diving overboard, copping pleas and tattling on each other, if that happened? Perhaps as early as January 2007!

(Or else... might this only trigger the coup early?)

Of course, every magic bullet has its problems. Most notable for this “great idea”... in the past, the United States Supreme Court has ruled that Presidential authority to grant pardons is “unfettered.”

In fact, I do not think this precedent is well thought-out. Nor is it likely that all of the arguments against it have been made in a test case. For example, anyone could easily come up with a thought-experiment about a madman, say 100X worse than Bush or even Hitler-scale, pardoning vast numbers of total monsters, even for committing heinously anti-Constitutional acts. Is the Court condoning ANY extremum in Presidential pardoning? In which case, is not this power, in effect, given primacy over nearly ALL Constitutional checks and balances?

Suppose a president declared that he is PROSPECTIVELY pardoning anyone who violates a particular law he doesn't like. Perhaps the court would strike this down as, effectively, defying the very principle of law. It would be a tougher case if he simply pardoned anyone who HAD violated a particular law during his tenure as president without specifying individuals.

But then, the President doesn’t have to do that. He will have ample time to make a list of names (no doubt, one already exists, growing day-by-day), and fill them into pardon certificates, as part of a pre-planned skullduggery of crony-base quid pro quo.

So, is my suggestion utterly frivolous and futile? I think not.

First, the proposed bill does not actually forbid the President from issuing pardons! Rather, it is an attempt by Congress to DEFINE a PROCESS for presidential clemency. A process that leaves the end result completely unfettered. His cronies will still walk free. Still, it forces him - and the pardonees - to specify in detail what is being pardoned. Where’s the “fetter” in that?

In other words, if you are claiming a get-out-of-jail-free card, you must at least write down details, and answer questions, about what you’re pardoned for.

In any event, even if such a bill were dumped by the court, the utter and obvious fairness of such a demand - that pardoned people at least explain it all - would appear striking to the American people. If nothing else, it would serve to highlight the prospect, just ahead, of a pardon tsunami and prepare them to resent it, deeply, when it hits.

Under those conditions, it would be a black eye for the Administration even to take the matter to the court at all! The theater of this bill can only be overwhelmingly effective. As should several other gestures contained in a new and bold “New Democratic Deal for the American People.”