Tuesday, February 13, 2007

More on the War Against Professionalism in Government

TODAY'S TOPIC: I have long held that the Democrats should focus strong attention upon one of the most outrageous campaigns waged by this administration and the neocons -- a concerted effort (openly planned by the Heritage Foundation) to intimidate, cow, repress and subdue the thousands of dedicated and skilled men and women who make up both the Civil Service and the United States Officer Corps.

Indeed, it is a travesty that liberals have reflexively turned their backs on this tragic betrayal, in some cases because civil servants and officers tend to be "crew-cut" types. This is just dumb. Not only are these fellow Americans who are now in great pain -- in fact, they are the main victims of this administration -- but they would also be terrific allies in helping to solve the problem!

Drop in to see a New Yorker article: “Knowing The Enemy: Can social scientists redefine the “war on terror”?” which details something I have long maintained... that our memic “wars” are much less about superficialities like ideology, Islam, Communism or even nationalism, and much more about deeper psychological drivers. Something that I wrote about way back in the 1980s when I was among the few predicting the imminent fall of the Berlin Wall.

I want to share with you a particularly telling passage: ”Just before the 2004 American elections, Kilcullen was doing intelligence work for the Australian government, sifting through Osama bin Laden’s public statements, including transcripts of a video that offered a list of grievances against America: Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, global warming.

The last item brought Kilcullen up short. “I thought, Hang on! What kind of jihadist are you?” he recalled. The odd inclusion of environmentalist rhetoric, he said, made clear that “this wasn’t a list of genuine grievances. This was an Al Qaeda information strategy.” Ron Suskind, in his book “The One Percent Doctrine,” claims that analysts at the C.I.A. watched a similar video, released in 2004, and concluded that “bin Laden’s message was clearly designed to assist the President’s reelection.” Bin Laden shrewdly created an implicit association between Al Qaeda and the Democratic Party, for he had come to feel that Bush’s strategy in the war on terror was sustaining his own global importance.”

There’s more. Paul Krugman is at the top of his game, riffing on something that I have attacked since day one. (Indeed, before almost anybody else) -- this administration’s war against not only the US Officer Corps, but also the Civil Service and professional competence, in general.

”The blueprint for Bush-era governance was laid out in a January 2001 manifesto from the Heritage Foundation, titled "Taking Charge of Federal Personnel." The manifesto's message, in brief, was that the professional civil service should be regarded as the enemy of the new administration's conservative agenda. And there's no question that Heritage's thinking reflected that of many people on the Bush team.

“How should the civil service be defeated? First and foremost, Heritage demanded that politics take precedence over know-how: the new administration "must make appointment decisions based on loyalty first and expertise second."

Second, Heritage called for a big increase in outsourcing—"contracting out as a management strategy." This would supposedly reduce costs, but it would also have the desirable effect of reducing the total number of civil servants. “The Bush administration energetically put these recommendations into effect. Political loyalists were installed throughout the government, regardless of qualifications. And the administration outsourced many government functions previously considered too sensitive to privatize: yesterday's Times article begins with the case of CACI International, a private contractor hired, in spite of the obvious conflict of interest, to process cases of incompetence and fraud by private contractors. A few years earlier, CACI provided interrogators at Abu Ghraib.

The ostensible reason for politicizing and privatizing was to promote the conservative ideal of smaller, more efficient government. But the small government rhetoric was never sincere: from Day 1, the administration set out to create a vast new patronage machine.”

Indeed, the Times reports that "fewer than half of all 'contract actions' — new contracts and payments against existing contracts — are now subject to full and open competition," down from 79 percent in 2001. And many contractors are paid far more than it would cost to do the job with government employees: those CACI workers processing claims against other contractors cost the government $104 an hour.

Krugman adds ”What's truly amazing is how far back we've slid in such a short time. The modern civil service system dates back more than a century; in just six years the Bush administration has managed to undo many of that system's achievements.”

No Paul. What’s amazing is the capacity of otherwise decent conservatives in America to rationalize away such monstrous trends, never asking themselves, “How would I have reacted, if Bill Clinton had done one-ten thousandth of these things.”

Take this to your ostrich. Be tenacious and do not let go! When an administration commits more graft during any given five minute period, than the previous administration did in its ENTIRE span, and our decent conservative neighbors merely squirm uncomfortably and cover their ears... then we know the locus of the problem.

It is not in the monstrous neocons, the kleptocrats and the dogmatists. It is in those neighbors. The “decent conservatives” who have the power to stand up and help America clean out this nest of parasites and thieves.

 They have the power, but somehow convince themselves that this is not the time to rise up, to do their duty and save American Conservatism ... indeed, America itself... from a cancer at its very heart.

And Finally…

Recently hot on YouTube! A 10-year old speech that I gave at Planetfest '97 - celebrating one of the Mars landings. Sci-fi author David Brin speaks.


David Brin said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mark Brown said...

Dr. B.

It's not only the dem's, it's ORGANIZED EVERYTHING..

Look at Detroit.
You turned me on to the Tesla motors Car (250m per charge)

Look what they announced this week:
40 miles before a charge.
What were they thinking?
It makes me sick.
Our premier industry, and all (even) all the work GM did killing the trolley systems in this country, and we get???
40 miles before needing a charge?

Sigh... At least it's NOT only the politicians in this "denial of reality", we're talking about..

Markb in nj

Anonymous said...

Detroit's offering is a hybrid pluggable - beyond 40 miles, it runs on gas. So long as you drive less than 40 miles between charges, it's an elecric car, same as the Tesla, but without the high price. And of course, for those rare trips over 250 miles, it has the rather large advantage of being able to use gas stations.

Anonymous said...

The sad thing about the GM Volt, and hybrid cars in general, is that they are still using internal combustion engines.

The IC engine does have some wonderful performance characteristics: quick starting, semi-efficient operation over a wide range of power levels, quick throttle response. However, these characteristics are irrelevant for an engine turning an electric generator for the purpose of charging batteries.

I wrote more

Anonymous said...

Dr B. One of the problems of life under the Bushivite regime is the way its general combination of incompetence and malfeasance, coupled with a peculiar, almost subterranean ideology, makes it difficult for good liberals to know where to focus attention. Everywhere one looks, something sickening is hiding in plain sight, distracting attention from something even more disgusting, itself obscuring other outrages. Even under sane administrations, our attention is splintered. For instance, the state of our officer corps has, historically, rarely garnered much attention beyond military specialists. Only later, in reviewing American history, do we talk about, say, the hidebound 1930's officer corps, or the 1830's-40's (Winfield Scott era?) when Grant and Lee were learning the ropes. When I hear the term, it also brings to mind 19th century Prussia as well. In the last year, the only place I've seen any reference to the problem is on your wonderful blog. After discussing it with acquaintances (including ostriches), some new Bushivite instigated outrage doubless laid claim to my attention, pushing the officer corps problem out to the margins. It is a travesty, of course, but not because crew-cut types or bellicose machismo preclude me from even wanting to deal with it. Looking at the problem anew, and excluding the areas of policy and strategy (as well as the corrupt and fetid mire of logistics and intelligence), on a tactical level, it is overwhelmingly demoralizing to see the impediments to progress in the area of tactic caused by the Bushivite de-professionalization of the military. In re: equipment. Rep. Murtha has pointed out the insanity of how little change there has been in armaments and vehicles in a war lasting longer than our involvement in WWII. I doubt we would have won the war in the pacific with P-39's and P-40's, our amphibious capabilities sucked, we went to Africa to fight Rommel with Stuart tanks (I think) and antiquated tactical thinking. In re: tactics: how many checkpoint incidents are necessary before the concept of the manned checkpoint is re-thought? Or, read some of the soldiers' blogs and books that have come out (e.g. Colby Buzzell's "My War") to see how often the troops patrol the same routes over and over at the same times (leading Corporal Buzzell to wonder, when his Stryker convoy was ambushed, whether the officers had ever seen any war movies or tv shows). This gets us to your point, I think, that the tactical swamp in Iraq has been created on purpose, with the sole point of keeping our troops there while the important business of reaming out the professional officer corps can continue apace. And yet, how can this and other long-term problems compete with other, equally compelling issues? You know your audience, so may I presume that the rhetorical move of blaming the left for their reflexes is meant to assure the rational conservative ostriches of your good faith? As a progressive, I'd rather not be impugned by other liberals or moderates. Maybe some gentle chiding?

David Brin said...

very well-written (though more para breaks, next time!)

Still, the blame-casting upon liberals is more than cosmetic.

For one thing, I am deeply angry at the lefty edge of liberalism, for having self-righteously driven away two major groups that were once key allies in reforming America -- the military and churches.

The former had been crucial in ending segregation and the latter in pushing for social justice and escaping the nation-wrecking trap of Vietnam. Moreover, the ruinous error of driving so many conservative college profs off-campus, to seek shelter-whoredom in faux-academic venues like the Heritage Foundation, has got to be one of the great self-destructive insanities of all time.

Nevertheless, it is not the left-wing that I blame so much as the genuinely moderate and modernist liberals of the mainstream Democratic Party. As the one large American institution that is still operated and controlled by its moderate-progressives, the DP is our hope. Realistically, at present, the ONLY hope for America and Western Civilization.

And so, when NONE of its leaders seem able to notice or pick up a "gift" issue like this one, I have to worry that something has gone terribly wrong.

Ponder this. Not only would it be overwhelming, politically, to rescue the Officer Corps and the civil service, but these are the people positioned to save us, should the core Bushcos decide to do something absolutely loony, during their final two years. Like, say, attacking Iran on faked pretext.

Above all, imagine this very likely scenario. That the skilled intelligence analysts in the CIA and FBI have many clues to prove scandalous malfeasance, but are intimidated from putting them together by the layers of bullying political hacks who have been installed above them. If the DP reached out and said "you are protected"...

...might we see a tide of revelations that would finally force the decent wing of American conservatives to wake up? And then stand up? That possibility alone should make this whole issue overwhelmingly obvious as the DP's top priority.

Thousands of skilled investigators, waiting for their chance to simply lay it all down. To do what they are paid to do and trained to do, but prevented from doing, by a surface clade of monstrous morons.

There is no other scenario... no COMBINATION of scenarios... that have a chance of doing the country as much good. And yet this possibility is never mentioned.

Have I reason to be ticked off at the good guys... as well as the bad guys?

You tell me.

reason said...

As a foreigner, I've been worried about the US for a while. But I'm more worried because everybody blames this administration for it. It is more than that. The system is not resilient, it was just waiting to be corrupted. The Democrats should have run less of Iraq and more on how to make the system stink a little less. Maybe it is time for a third party, call it the Democracy Party, that just wants to talk about civics and how to detoxify Washington.

Anonymous said...

You mention WW2 history, fuedalsocialite, so I must step in...

Yes, we did use Stuart tanks in North Africa... and they would be a main 'light' tank through the war. The 'heavy' tank at the time was the M3 Lee... a barely adequate monstrosity that would be replaced by the also barely adequate M4 Sherman. BUT we built a LOT of Shermans... (We built more Shermans that never left the United States than every other nation, enemy and allied, built combined).

For aircraft, the P-39 and P-40 were barely adequate... but the replacements (P-38, P-47, P-51) were already in the works.

For amphibious warfare, the techniques had been invented by the U.S. Marines, the equipment by the Royal Navy, and production was just starting in 1942.

We (the United States) started getting ready for war in 1940... and were just hitting our stride in 1943.

The difference? Well, we didn't get ready for this war beforehand... and, worse, we're still not getting ready. "The sinews of war is infinite money" - and we're cutting taxes. We're spending great gobs of money on weapons that aren't needed. You mentioned P-39's... imagine if that, rather than replace the inadequate P-39, the U.S. built massive concrete fortifications in Omaha Nebraska. That's the sort of spending plan we have...

Right now, the Air Force is buying the world's greatest fighter plane, the F-22 Raptor... and we're fighting an enemy that has no air force. We're building a anti-ballistic missile defense against a enemy with no ballistic missiles. (OK, it might be useful against other enemies. But priorities!)

OK, rant over. Dr. Brin has covered this better than I could.

Anonymous said...

DB, have you submitted this one as a Kos diary entry?

Mark Brown said...

Yes, Dr. B, I agree that our short-sightedness (or perhaps I should say the Democratic party)
Is disgusting...

But they're ATTEMPTING (poorly, I feel) to change, with this attempt in the house to let everyone discuss the non-binding resolution...

Look at what came out last week.
Paul Bremmer (dubious he'll ever ever get a CONGRESSIONAL medal of honor), said they shipped 654 TONS of $100.00 bills and they lost track of a few billion...

And this just slid thru the media.


Done crying. At least we actually achieved something (don't know what yet), by turning the congress on it's side.

Thanks again...

Catfish 'n Cod said...

From the previous thread: the key argument in any discussion of Laffer Curve tax cuts is that, by its very nature, the Laffer trick can work at most once.

I'm willing to entertain the possibility that Carl is right and that the Reagan tax cuts were stimulatory and ultimately garnered positive tax cash flow. What I can't concede is the viability of any further tax cuts. Even by the arguments of the "supply side"'s "voodoo economists", once you've passed the Laffer maximum, tax cuts work exactly the way everyone else agrees: they lower revenues.

Republican tax policies have, since 1985, been at the behest of the upper class. I have seen no other hypothesis that fits all observations.


Thanks, Dr. Brin: I hadn't realized that Heritage had openly advocated the mercenarization of the civil service. Sham arguments about the "efficiency" of private workers over public ones are beginning to fail. I will relate one datum from an "ostrich" conversation with a serving officer, who noted that the support for his base had been summarily subjected to privatization. Not only had this engendered chaos, but the new system was less efficient and more costly.

The Republicans, whose rhetoric proclaims undying support for the military, are instead undermining it with power politics and war profiteering. The military is beginning to realize this, and having realized it, they will not soon forget.


Both FOX and al-Qaeda appear to have learned to "hack" all mainstream media news systems -- American, European, and Middle Eastern -- to disseminate their desired memes. In the last few months even FOX has noticed that something is rotten in the state of Denmark, and the rate of such "hacks" has decreased. The enemy, of course, hasn't let up. I am in hopes that the blogosphere or something similar will become a checking mechanism against such "news hacks". As long as the press remains static in its methods for error checking, they will be vulnerable to being played for a fool.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the "Knowing the Enemy" article: The odd mix of a very serious topic with the "chatty personality profile" appears to target an audience that can only stay interested in a policy issues story if there are "interesting people" involved, made it very long-winded.

Worth the slog - though I came away feeling like 'knowing the enemy' was only half of the needed prescription, and the only other half suggested was something we wouldn't want to do (i.e. fight as the insurgents have been - using assassination, bombings, threats, etc).

David Brin said...

Yes I did cross post at:

Some of you might drop in there. A few Kos-ians posted some interesting links supporting the model of a relentless purge of the civil service. One or two of you might invite some of them to come over here.

The 600 tons of $100 bills, when I first heard of that I realized, IT IS THE PERFECT METAPHOR TO USE ON OSTRICHES.

Ask them, "What would you have cried, if Bill Clinton had lost track on ONE ton of $100 bills?"

Marvelous. And the lack of mention on news channels makes one weep.

Tony Fisk said...

Glad to see some proof of a deliberate policy of defanging the government agencies.

Also nice to see that someone has rumbled Bin Laden's pro-Bush strategies (not that it takes too many neurons to figure that one out!)

But it begs the questions:

*HOW* has such a concerted and organised campaign been able to wreak such damage on your democratic systems in such a relatively short space of time without even a murmur of protest?

(The Officer's corps in particular, should be capable of pushing back, without openly disobeying orders... I thought the lack of clapping at King George's Fort Bragg speech was one example of this?)

*WHY* have all these conservatives become so unable to sense anything beyond the end of their noses that they don't even respond to having said noses tweaked? This isn't about the best way to run the country any more, it's about seeing incompetence, graft, corruption, and subversion for what it is. They can't all be cowed by the prospect of a few bearded sadmen (or even liberals!) establishing a non-christian dominion in the US, surely?

Does the bulk of America really see the world through FOX coloured glasses?

Don Quijote said...

a concerted effort (openly planned by the Heritage Foundation) to intimidate, cow, repress and subdue the thousands of dedicated and skilled men and women who make up both the Civil Service and the United States Officer Corps.

If there is anything the conservatives hate more than Abortion & Gays it's Unions. A good chunk of the civil service is unionized, so why be surprised that the conservatives would try to destroy them.

PS. A main reason conservatives are in favor of School Vouchers is that it would destroy or seriously damage the various Teacher's Unions.

David Brin said...

I will shock all by saying that Don has a cogent point, this time.

But I think it is much simpler.

After having been wrong, and humiliated, over civil rights... and then Richard Nixon and Watergate... and so many other things, American conservatism suffers from -- let's face it -- a profound inferiority complex. These things manifest, generally as overcompensating fury. A desperate need to find some reason for a sense of superiority.

Hence the immense chip-on-the-shoulder hatred -- bilious and raging, to a degree that is not reciprocated -- of all things "liberal." Plus a double standard that beggars even my imagination. e.g. being able to tout a few silly college professors and San Francisco nut jobs as towering threats to civilization.

Or convincing themselves that a few teachers unions and lawyer associations can warp government as much or more than cabals of golf buddy CEO-billionaires ...or r'oil trillionaires.

No, I'll tell you what I fear, looking ahead. Say we do get the goods on these jerks and send scores of them to prison, utterly repudiating the monsters and returning to decent civilization. I promise you, the humiliation will be overwhelming and will trigger truly insane levels of Tim McVeigh rage, roiling with magma heat under the surface.

THIS is one more reason to reach out to decent conservatives. If they join us in rejecting the neocon madness, then a VERSION of conservatism can be offered to millions as an alternative to hunkering down and drinking the koolaid. We do not need red-blue to head down the paths of sunni-shia.

Anonymous said...

The "Knowing Your Enemy" article was indeed very worth the long read. I think if we cross-bred this Austrailian fellow's thoughts with counter-gang work, there may be something useful.

We can't be involved in torture or random killings of civilians. Maybe historically we have, but the notion is not American. Our pride and exceptionalism is based on civics rather than a given race or religion - we are great as a nation. If we tear that up for too long, we may have to default to other bonds like families and individual religious sects - the melting pot would not last long without such a thing.

However, the point is taken. If one side is willing to kill for allegiance, and the other is not able to counter that, then the game is lost.

But, what we can give in that situation is the ability to fight back and defend against the raiders that come in the night. Kind of a "take back the night" but with army forces first, then farmer's sons second. Yet, I am guessing this has been tried many times, and like the training or experience to separate conditions of success and failure.

The below is shaded by 1990's knowledge of con-lib axis:

Re: Honest conservatives and this fight ... what is suggested in the article sounds like a lot of things liberals suggest - build communities, infrastructure, go into communities and deal with their needs and gripes.

The conservative answer seems to be usually to beat the ones that step out of line and build some more prisons.

Of course, the author does also mention balancing the scales of terror, which liberals aren't interested in doing, so who knows?

Floyd Gilmore said...

First off, I have no issues whatsoever with using the new Google management of Blogger. While there are some features that are not plainly recognizable (such as bookmarking a link to this blog from my own account), I've grown comfortable with the procedure.

Now to the subjects at hand, I believe one way to explore the timidity of many individuals and professional organizations is in the light of humility.

In other posts in this blog, Dr. Brin has explored the nature of blackmailing public officials. What do many of these people fear in the exploitation of their secrets? One key issue is the humiliation of said exposure. Please note that this is one aspect, not inclusive of the other social and legal ramifications.

A simple example of someone who has fallen deeply from grace in the public spotlight, yet survived with a significant degree of humility is former president Bill Clinton. His 'sins' were splattered over the infinite wall of the mass media for everyone to revel in.

Yet, in the wake of this orgy of a press and pubic conditioned to a constant diet of shock oriented news, President Clinton has demonstrated a level of humility and sense of self that few other elected political officials have demonstrated of late.

Compare and contrast this to the downfall of former president Richard Milhous Nixon. A far different outcome for a much different personality. While a moral individual, his willingness to embrace the input of his White House staff and their less than moral behavior during his administration left a far different legacy.

I strongly believe that President Nixon spent much of his remaining years unwilling to let go of the hubris that dragged his accomplishments (some very admirable, to be sure) off to the sidelines. Publicly, he never seemed to have anything remotely humorous in his nature, unlike Clinton, who did learn a significant lesson about forgiveness.

What bothers me the most these days is the lack of growth in the individuals who survived in the obscurity of his administration (Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld come to mind...), Rather than learn from Nixon's failures, they are proceeding at maximum speed towards an outcome that concerns many people I know.

If I fear anything at all these days, it is a lack of a consensus on the definitions of the words morality and ethics. We know the words but tend to write our own definitions of the meanings. Something to think about when crossing the boundaries of the myriad social and cultural communities we all exist within.

I feel I need to pull my copy of The Transparent Society out of my bookshelf and go over it for more detailed ideas.

Oh, and one last thing...

I hope no one will mind a quick plug for an event I hope to attend early next month in San Diego.

ConDor is a wonderful science fiction and fantasy convention held yearly in that wonderful city. If you are interested, I'd suggest looking at their website for more details.


A list of the panelists (including our host here) can be found at:


David Brin said...

I believe in jiu jitsu. Do not oppose your enemy across the axis that he expects.

Stewart Brand has been promoting the notion that the environmental movement might get a win-win by offereing a deal over fission power. Two or three new hyper-cautious plants in the US... in exchange for some major concessions on fleet economy standards and sustainables.

A positive sum game of great magnitude and an incredible sidestep, yanking, suddenly, powerful entities out of the opposing alliance and into our own.

Let me tell you what I would add to the table. A lifelong Sierra Clubber and a 20 year member of Greenpeace, I would put q five square mile portion of ANWR - the Alaska Wildlife Reserve - forward as a sacrifice zone that could be used to slant-drill into 100 mi-sq. But only in exchange for just about everything on our eco-wish-list.

This is the kind of deal that would not only bring win-win tangibles, but also intangibles. Like disproving "liberal intransigence" and establishing a tone of positive-sum bargaining and can-do problem solving.

Announce that they can only start drilling when 100 Mi-sq of solar roofs have been built. The flurry would have your head spinning. But the rage from both far left and far right might send us off our axis.

Anonymous said...

DB, we'd need someone like Clinton to pull that off.

GOD, how I miss Clinton.

I really, really miss having a president who didn't have to have his top aids scramble to say that they saw him reading a book. Or who could eat pretzels and breath at the same time.

David Brin said...

Oh, but I am furious with him. He was a bull triple alpha human male of the absolutely top caliber -- maybe on a par with Teddy Roosevelt - and recipient of every advantage society could offer -- including the advantage of NOT being rich...

..and all he could manage was to be a superior president and an excellent manager of the US executive department, with some modest accomplishments on the world stage? Really?

Oh, don't get me wrong. He was easily the best president since Eisenhower... who he resembles in far more ways than he would ever like to hear. Nor do we always NEED greatness! During the confident-creative nineties, the USA was more about "us" than about some towering leader. Anyway, most "great" presidents are made by rough times. I'd rather not take the risk.

Still, a man like that...

...He owed us more. He still owes us more.

You are right, Stefan. Still, he pisses me off.

Anonymous said...

Given Osama's help getting Bush re-elected, why not assume Bush is actually controlled by Osama? It'd explain *so* much!

The 5sq-mi/100mi-sq angle drilling scheme sounds like a reasonable compromise - except it neglects the oil pipeline and service road cutting across 50 miles of ANWR. I suspect it'll be environmental purists, rather than oil companies or conservatives that reject that deal.

But given that the most likely "conservative/big-business" replacement for declining oil supplies would be coal, I'm a little puzzled why it's necessary to demand additional eco-kick-backs before allowing the country to build a new generation of cleaner, safer nuclear power.

And not just a few plants - we need to build enough so we can shut down all the antiquated nuclear power plants now corroding toward failures that'll probably release a little radioactive material, frightening the masses into nuclear ludditism for another 30-40 years.

Or if you must demand a trade-off, why not demand that the new plants be tied to recycling of spent fuel, to greatly reduce the volume and average half-life of spent-fuel waste that has to be stored?

Or maybe tie the new nuke plants to an agreement to provide subsidized fuel and recycling services to every nation that wants nuclear power, destroying Iran's excuse for uranium enrichment?

jbmoore said...

I haven't slogged through all of the posts to see if someone's brought this up, but there's a more insidious reason for the administration to hire private contractors instead of having the federal bureaucracy do it - less accountability. If the Civil Service does the job, a paper trail must be maintained for FOIA requirements. If a private company does it, how do you know whether they did the job or not, or they did a different job for you instead? Same issue with integrating federal databases into private ones and then paying the private companies on a per transaction basis. You do end runs around FOIA and accountability in general and increase your secrecy. Less transparency in government anyone?

Catfish 'n Cod said...

Pragmatic conservative Andrew Sullivan starts to get through to ostrich Hugh Hewitt:


Don Quijote said...

Let me tell you what I would add to the table. A lifelong Sierra Clubber and a 20 year member of Greenpeace, I would put five square mile portion of ANWR - the Alaska Wildlife Reserve - forward as a sacrifice zone that could be used to slant-drill into 100 mi-sq. But only in exchange for just about everything on our eco-wish-list.

I am always amazed at how naive you are, you really think that the Klepto's would keep their word and would not renege any agreement that they have made the minute they were in a position to do so.

And next year you would be putting up another five square miles, and the following another five square miles and so on until there was no ANWR left.

I'm a little puzzled why it's necessary to demand additional eco-kick-backs before allowing the country to build a new generation of cleaner, safer nuclear power.

And not just a few plants - we need to build enough so we can shut down all the antiquated nuclear power plants now corroding toward failures that'll probably release a little radioactive material, frightening the masses into nuclear ludditism for another 30-40 years.

Assuming that the technology exist to build cleaner, safer Nuclear power plants, who is going to build them, where are they going to build them, who is going to own them, who is going to supply the fuel needed to run them and who is going to clean up the waste?

And if your answer is some multi-national corporation head-quartered a few thousand miles away from any nuclear facilities, don't expect any support.

Anonymous said...


If you can find someone else that has $1 B laying around to do the job, good luck.

Some things are just complex enough to require pretty large companies to do the job. Even the "small" space companies have around a hundred employees.

And personally, I would not have a problem with a spent fuel train going through my neighborhood any more than I would a chemical/oil/garbage truck driving near me on the highway. Horrible things could happen, but chances are low enough to be worth the benefits that accrue.

Part of the eco-checklist in my mind though would be to fast track transmutation reactor research, to get the waste as small as possible.

Unknown said...

Dr. Brin,

I wonder if you'd consider changing your blog page format to allow for a wider presentation of your words. By this I mean visually. In other words, is there a way to modify your page so that the words on the screen spread out more horizontally and less vertically? It sure would make it easier to read. I see that other bloggers do this. I wouldn't think it would take all that much page design experience but it may. I design web pages and I know that if you don't have much experience, this may be problematic.

Just a thought I hope you consider.

Geoffrey M. Knobl

Anonymous said...

The problem with going nuclear is that is a questionable energy source for unstable countries (Iran, North Korea). Methinks that it is the job of the rich, whether it be individuals or nations, to finance the development of new technologies. For this reason I think we should be the ones developing safer alternatives.

Solar hot water in the south is a no brainer. Another near no brainer is home cogeneration. It is sad to see fuel oil or natural gas burned simply for making heat, and sadder still to see such fuels burned to make electricity which is then used for resistance heat.

Run the heat through a Stirling engine and use the waste heat to heat water or homes. Do this and you boost system efficiencies into the 80-90% range.

David Brin said...

As a klutz with formatting, I ask if anyone knows how to do what Geoffrey here suggests?

I confess that I have been contrarian in many aspects of presentation, online. My website http://www.davidbrin.com breaks all the "rules" by offering a vast plethora of stuff, instead of big, kindergarten sized banners. My blog uses a white-on-darkblue trademark format that you don't see anywhere else. Am I wrong to try to be distinctive?

Frankly, I'd eventually like to host my blog at http://www.davidbrin.com but have not the time to learn how.

As for DQ's complaint, um, did I not say there'd have to be fierce performance milestones? If a consortium cannot build their 5 sqmi ANWR enclave until they've erected 100 sqmi of solar roofs, that is pretty clearcut. You fear further encroachement? Say, at another 5/100 ratio? And the problem... is? Dig it. ANWR is on the order of ten THOUSAND square miles.

As for nukes, I demand tradeoffs IN ORDER to get win-win. Yes, hyper-modern nukes would help vs global warming. But they will also make some companies very rich. In that case, let em face milestones of their own. Not a shovel turns, before mileage standards double and another 100 sqmi of solar goes up. What? I'm not allowed to win-win?

As for nuclear waste as an issue? Please. The arguments over Yucca mountain are a sci fi joke! You mean the containers are only reliable for 1,000 years instead of 100,000 years? Gasp!

If we haven't boosted civilization in FIFTY years, sufficient so that Yucca Mountain technologies become moot and trivially fixed, then our descendants will have FAR worse problems than a slight rise in background beta in a distant desert aquifer.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Brin
One reason that conservatives have an issue with teachers unions is that, as Tip ONeil observed, all politics is local. We see things in our home town better than those happeing on some private golf course.

I devote a good chunk of my time, at a cost of thousands of dollars of income forgone btw, to a volunteer program in our school system. Teachers and support staff want to help, but the budget is tight. And their union strongly discourages any unpaid work, even in a good cause, even if its really fun stuff. It is a pervasive attitude, do nothing whatsover beyond the letter of the contract, lest we all be cast into some imagined sweatshop doing piecework. Oddly, the teachers lobby is the most powerful political entity in this state, and no Dem candidate dares even mildly suggest anything contrary to their edicts.

Unionization is problematic in public employees, as it has an inherent potential for conflict between public and personal interests. That said, teachers are individually well regarded by both ends of the political spectrum here.

One minor chide. You express dismay at the tendency of conservatives to judge the Dems by the actions of a few "college professors and S.F. nutjobs". But in previous posts you seem to be indicating that the mainstream of the GOP actually believed that Bill Clinton's sins included some dark homicidal conspiracy.

I will agree that Whitewater was a huge waste of time, if you will consider the possibility that those who proposed the darker Clinton scenarios were hardly representative of the mainstream of conservative thought. Search their wallets, you will find not a Pioneer Club fundraiser ID, but an unfilled prescription for thorazine.

This is running on too long, but I will share "what I fear". Has our country effectively become ungovernable by anybody? Perhaps a productive thesis for another day.

David Brin said...

Tacitus, I know that few conservatives believed that Hillary Clinton murdered Vince Foster. So? They put up with that nonsense as a political weapon. And then allowed the nation to get divided-polarized over a billion dollars in "investigations" that resulted in zero idictments or any kind.

None of which was deeply evil, I suppose. But what is inescapably evil is the double standard, once the neocons took power, and, in any five minute period, out corrupt the entire span of the Clinton Administration.

Here in San Diego, a hero federal prosecutor has been fired by the BushAdmin - along with a dozen others nationwide - for doing her job and pursuing just a smidgen of that corruption. Where is the rage at this? Or the sense of shame? Or perspective?

IN TODAY'S NEWS: the Army has further relaxed its limits on accepting ex-convicts as recruits. Former felons now make up 11.7% of enlistees. Which helps explain how the service has managed not to fall even more behind on its recruitment targets.

Mea culpa, in my emphasis on the Officer Corps, I missed this trend.

Tacitus, I will concede that teachers' unions need a give stiff slap to make them more amenable to variety and experimentation. But please understand that to many of us, the tendency of decent conservatives to pose a union of underpaid and hardworking folks who are mostly dedicated givers, as some sort of cancer at the heart of civilization... while ignoring Rupert Murdock & pals... strikes us as a little bizarre.

Especially when the same folks ignore the even more powerful PRISON GUARDS UNIONS. And the private security forces like Blawckater, that are becoming nothing less than full fledged mercenary armies. Black helicopters and all.

Don Quijote said...

If you can find someone else that has $1 B laying around to do the job, good luck.

Does the phrase "Public Power Authority" ring a bell?

As for DQ's complaint, um, did I not say there'd have to be fierce performance milestones? If a consortium cannot build their 5 sqmi ANWR enclave until they've erected 100 sqmi of solar roofs, that is pretty clearcut. You fear further encroachement? Say, at another 5/100 ratio? And the problem... is? Dig it. ANWR is on the order of ten THOUSAND square miles.

And that is how we went from a 35% unionization rate in the private sector in 1945 to under 8% today.

And their union strongly discourages any unpaid work, even in a good cause, even if its really fun stuff. It is a pervasive attitude, do nothing whatsover beyond the letter of the contract, lest we all be cast into some imagined sweatshop doing piecework.

Are you willing to do more work for your boss for free and with no expected financial reward in the future?

Has our country effectively become ungovernable by anybody?

pretty much! We can't even organize presidential primaries.

Rocky Persaud said...

This is not a predictions registry, but it does attempt to keep track of who is claiming what: SourceWatch

ERic said...

BTW -- I love that you're posting on Kos. Not just because it's a great place to get your political ideas out there and have them discussed, but (since I'm reading through Transparent Society) also because it seems to me to resemble some of the ideas you discussed in that book, about reputation being attached to posts, etc.

BTW, any newbies that wander in here (probably won't notice my comment way down the thread like it is) should probably take some time to read Transparent Society if you haven't yet. I'm finding it a great introduction to many of the ideas Dr. Brin brings up here.

ERic said...

One suggestion regarding Kos -- posting in the evening doesn't get as much attention as a morning or midday post. Unless someone does a 'diary rescue' on it. You may want to wait until the morning or midafternoon to post.

...depending on that day's events.

I'm disappointed that your post didn't get more discussion.

Then again, maybe everyone just agreed with you.

Anonymous said...

I knew things were bad, but the Army's down to taking in FELONS? Isn't there a Federal law about felons carrying weapons?

Anonymous said...


I hate to burst your bubble, but some of us conservatives occasionally take a break from mowing down spotted owls with our assault weapons and engage in altruistic activities. The things I don't get paid for would make at least a decent part time job.

Regards your comments on our being unable to get decent candidates through the primary process, I find myself agreeing with you.
Now you have me worried!


David Brin said...

Indeed, let me make clear a very interesting statistic. That "red-staters" donate a much higher fraction of their wealth to charity than blue-staters do.

Yes, much is church tithing. And you start with lower wealth and incomes than city folk (except for the aristocratic owners of the movement, who are FAR less giving than blue billionaires are).

Nevertheless, there are many aspects to salt-of-the-eartch AMerican conservatives that snooty urban liberals never acknowledged. Indeed, in snubbing the crewcut types of the civil service and officer sorps, we laid seeds for the bitter harvest the nation is now reaping.

There are things, traits, ideals that could carry over to a New Conservatism, if people are willing to discuss it. Something honorable that we could all work with.

RandomSequence said...


As for DQ's complaint, um, did I not say there'd have to be fierce performance milestones? If a consortium cannot build their 5 sqmi ANWR enclave until they've erected 100 sqmi of solar roofs, that is pretty clearcut. You fear further encroachement? Say, at another 5/100 ratio? And the problem... is? Dig it. ANWR is on the order of ten THOUSAND square miles.
And that is how we went from a 35% unionization rate in the private sector in 1945 to under 8% today.

No, it was the sellout of the reds by labor. The reds built the labor union over fifty years, socialist, anarchist, and even (gasp) communists. Then, in the grand compromise of WWII to legitimize labor unions and avoid labor strife during the war, the unions expelled the radical left, and left them open to the succeeding McCarthy attacks. In Europe, the radicals were absorbed into the system -- see the Social Democrats in Germany -- instead of being hung out to dry.

Then the labor unions sold out the Air Traffic controllers in their fight against Reagan. It's clear that the power brokers in the unions, for generations, have been willing to sell out their most tireless workers.

Why would anyone run any risk for a movement like that?

David Brin said...

Oh now that's just plain silly. The decline of unions parallels the rise of the service economy, replacing manufacturing as the center-core activity.

ALSO the rise of the middle class and the flattest social order in all of human history (1955-1985) took all of the heat out of class struggle.

In fact, I am proud of the AFL-CIO for what it did in 1947, saving liberalism and preparing it to prevail in the mighty struggles for racial and gender rights. They did PRECISELY what I've been asking conservatives to do. With the difference that they had the guts to do it in 47, while all but a few conservatives have their hands over their eyes and ears now, while yelling "Nah! Nah!"

ON ANOTHER MATTER... a guy wrote in from Kos...

Did you notice that in the State of the Union message the president called for the formation of a private civilian organization to conduct security operations that the military can not handle? Just
what we need an American Foreign Legion that does not answer to the American people through Congressional oversight.


Where are the people who screamed about black
helicopters and "Whitewater" in the nineties. The
combined word is frightening. What godawful hypocrites!

David Brin said...

Another Kosian gave a ref/link:

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2007/2/14/95116/4738. Based on this NYT article:
Here's a report by the Southern Policy Law Center about extremists joining the military: http://www.splcenter.org/intel/news/item.jsp?aid=66

Before Forrest Fogarty attended Military Police counter-insurgency training school, he attended Nazi skinhead festivals as lead singer for the hate rock band Attack.

And before Army engineer Jon Fain joined the invasion of Iraq to fight the War on Terror, the neo-Nazi National Alliance member fantasized about fighting a war on Jews.

RandomSequence said...


I wasn't being exclusive. But there are plenty of countries with very strong labor unions who have gone through the same globalization and changes in industries, but have not seen the same decline in the unions. Don't look at everything from a purely American point of view.

It's pretty simple. Labor unions need to continue organizing new people as industry changes. That's fairly obvious. Those jobs aren't great high-paying jobs, and they're often dangerous. If I owned a company, it would be in my interest to do everything I could to keep organizers out, and if I lacked moral limits, that can get dangerous. So who's gonna do that kind of job? The ideologically committed. The religious folks.

It's no different from an evangelical church. You've got to keep expanding into dangerous territory, so you keep your true believers and send them out into the jungle. It also makes them less dangerous by keeping them out of the hair of folks in settled areas.

The "fanatics" aren't any longer in the labor unions. They generally are historically aware people who know that that's not a safe place to be. In any movement, you need a few nut cases, not too many, but enough to do the unpleasant jobs.

If you look at the hard growth of the labor unions, back at the beginning of the century when folks were being gunned down for striking, you see that it was an entire cultural movements. They had libraries, bands, etc... This is the kind of stuff done by radicals, not your managerial types who think in terms of the bottom line. That's mostly gone now, the union is just a business deal; that makes sense in the short term, but kills them in the long term.

Of course a deal had to be made; otherwise, it's entirely reasonable to suppose that WWII would have come out much worse for everyone. My point was, there was a middle road. Some of the reds may have been dangerous; most were simply idealists coming out of the worst days of the great depression. In Europe, they kept enough folks to keep the movement alive, and show some loyalty to those who did take considerable risks to build the system. Today, Scandinavia has the flattest social system, much flatter than ours has been since the '70s (not 85), with higher rates of class mobility and growth rates at the same level as ours, in addition to almost complete unionization.

The question of whether unions are good or bad, in the abstract, is a separate issue; but the fact that unions did themselves no good by not keeping at least a few radicals in their ranks is hard to argue against, and hardly silliness. Just look at the inability of a limpid democratic party of the 70's-90's unable to mobilize against radicals on the right as they gradually gained power.

Don Quijote said...

I hate to burst your bubble, but some of us conservatives occasionally take a break from mowing down spotted owls with our assault weapons and engage in altruistic activities.

You 're supposed to mow the damn things while driving the biggest hummer you can find.

Get your act together man...

The things I don't get paid for would make at least a decent part time job.

There is a small & subtle difference between volunteering and being volunteered and if you can't tell the difference, I can't help you.

Regards your comments on our being unable to get decent candidates through the primary process, I find myself agreeing with you.

I was not thinking of the candidates but of the process, one in which every state wanting to be influential in the nominating keep moving their primary forward. Instead of having 50 state officials getting together and ironing out a rational schedule, we are going to have presidential nominees in the middle of March and conventions in July or August.

The decline of unions parallels the rise of the service economy, replacing manufacturing as the center-core activity.

And why should service workers not be unionized?

In fact, I am proud of the AFL-CIO for what it did in 1947, saving liberalism and preparing it to prevail in the mighty struggles for racial and gender rights.

What it did in 47 is more commonly known as committing suicide.


You are right, but the key legislative event that did the job was the Taft-Hartley bill.

For now the Dems are on the rise, but within six to eight years, as soon as the right wing propaganda machine has cleaned up the excesses of the Shrub mis-administration and sent the rest of it down the memory hole, they will be back where they were two years ago because they have no organized grass-root constituency.

David Brin said...

Since the decline in org labor did not happen till a whole generation after 47... during which labor helped to utterly transform a formerly racist/sexist society, I'd have to call dq's view simplistic, at best.

RS, you are right that the industrial transformations happened also to Europe. What did NOT happen was the unprecedented flattening of the social order. I've lived in two European countries for two years each, and I must tell you that they NEVER experienced the grand illusion that we boomers grew up with (at least white boomers) of a generally class free society.

To this day, if you were born into an aristocratic or professional or working class family, in Europe, that tends to be your self-identification, even if you go to university, which is one of twenty causes that contribute to 80% of European college students being as silly-lefty as 20% of ours are.

I am torn in my attitudes toward the resultant willingness of Yanks to drop their union affiliations, once they felt part of the Big Middle. I applaud the general sense of flexibility and self-made autonomy...

...and despise the general ingratitude that makes so many of us immune to the lessons of history. Lessons that are playing out right now, as a bona fide classic class system begins to re-emerge and the process of "re-pyramidalization" of this unprecedented society proceeds.

Look, my dad invited the union into his small newspaper and my brother is a union official. Read Eric Flint's wonderful book 1632 to see a guy who remembers (the top heroes are members of the Coalworkers of America.)

There is no doubt what side I will be on, when and if the flattened order goes south. I'll be against the neo-lords who are right now taking advantage of boomer history-blindness in order to mask and suppress natural resentment over what they've been doing.

But dig it, they are the stupid ones, if they think they can (1) mask it forever or (2) reimpose the pyramid upon a population so vastly educated and skilled and empowered with high technology. Only absolute morons would imagine that they could survive, as such easy targets, in a world where the mob will not need tumbrels and guillotines, but trivial tools avilable at any Radio Shack.

The smart zillionaires like Bezos and Gates want the masses to like them. And, in a society that still respects self-made wealth, that should not be too hard to do.

David Brin said...

Followup. See the Progressive Policy Institute's latest trade fact. Surprising insights about manufacturing.


American factories shed 3 million workers during the 2001-2002 recession. At least on a net basis, they have hired none back. Populists of various stripes, led by CNN anchorman Lou Dobbs, conclude that the U.S. is "de-industrializing" and "losing its manufacturing base." PPI's latest paper, , disagrees. Looking at five basic measures -- total production, investment, manufacturing share of the U.S. economy, U.S. share of global manufacturing, and exports -- the paper concludes that American factories are remarkably strong. Some highlights:

• Production up: American factory output nearly doubled in the last 15 years, (in constant 2000 dollars) from $0.9 billion in 1992 to $1.5 trillion in 2005. (Data for 2006 is not yet available.)

• Investment healthy: More money goes into U.S. manufacturing from abroad than goes from the United States to foreign lands. From January 2005 to September 2006 (again the most recent figure available), U.S. manufacturers invested $78 billion in foreign facilities; foreign firms put $100 billion into American manufacturing facilities.

• Share of U.S. economy stable: In real dollars, manufacturing made up 12.9 percent of the U.S. economy in 1992, and as of 2005, accounted for 13.8 percent. (Still down, though from a 14.5 percent peak in 2000.)

• Share of global manufacturing stable: The U.S. share is slightly down, but only slightly -- from 21.4 percent in 1993 to 21.1 percent in 2005 -- as the shares of China, Korea, and some other developing countries rose sharply

RandomSequence said...


There's quite a bit of variety in Europe. Britain is still massively stratified, Greece is hopeless, etc... But I was shocked to read that GERMANY has higher social mobility than the US, and Scandinavia towers above is in that respect. I was sucked in by our self-image; it's just not true, no matter how much we want to believe it.

Our economic stratification and lack of social mobility isn't quite down to Latin American levels, but it ain't much better. In all kinds of wealth and equality indicators, we're only marginally better than Chile -- child mortality, education, life expectancy... even though we have four times the per-capita income, we don't live any better.

It looks like this all began in the '70's, statistically, both here and in Britain simultaneously, where basically the grand compromise was abrogated; the same trends are not visible in France, for example. And few have seemed to notice it, at least until recently. That's what makes me pessimistic about Americans recognizing re-pyramidification. We haven't so far, as CEO salaries have gone from 40x to 170x the average worker; what's changed? I wonder if we lack the guts of earlier generations.

I'm not sure that re-unionization is practical, even though it has started among Hispanic service workers over the last year or so. Despite libertarian claims, freedom is impossible without at least a modicum of equality.

A Scandinavian once gave me an interesting comparison to US labor practices, which were fairly counterintuitive. He said firings were easy, since the folks likely to be fired were just as happy to sit at home drunk collecting welfare. He didn't see the same number of people doing dazzling work, but on the other hand, he didn't see as many people barely scraping by at work. The two ends just kinda average out.

The inequality in pay seems to maximize both end of the spectrum, since much work motivation doesn't come from cash, but those emotional intangibles that get destroyed by feeling exploited. At the end of the day, you get about the same growth, same unemployment, etc; it's mostly what kind of environment you like --- hyper-competitive, or laid-back, time at work, or time with the family. I'm not sure which I personally prefer, but I worry about the social costs we all have to carry.

Don Quijote said...

The smart zillionaires like Bezos and Gates want the masses to like them. And, in a society that still respects self-made wealth, that should not be too hard to do.

When your mommy is a member of the board of IBM, you can be called many things but self-made isn't one of them.

And more good news

MSNBC - U.S., Britain ranked last in child welfare

The Netherlands, followed by Sweden, Denmark and Finland, finished at the top of the rankings, while the U.S. was 20th and Britain 21st, according to the report released Wednesday by UNICEF in Germany

Yeah, we 're not the worst... :(

RandomSequence said...

Ok David,

You win. I wasn't paranoid enough.

From Reuters today:
Controversy over a possible missed U.S. opportunity for rapprochement with Iran grew on Wednesday as former aide accused Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice of misleading Congress on the issue.

Flynt Leverett, who worked on the National Security Council when it was headed by Rice, said a proposal vetted by Tehran's most senior leaders was sent to the United States in May 2003 and was akin to the 1972 U.S. opening to China.

Speaking at a conference on Capitol Hill, Leverett said he was confident it was seen by Rice and then-Secretary of State Colin Powell but "the administration rejected the overture."

Rice's spokesman denied she misled Congress and reiterated that she did not see the proposal.

The Iranians offered us and Israel peace, and we spat on it. The thriller scenario must be true, because any one acting in their own interest would, at least, have investigated it. Or am I to believe that an offer of peace from the "Axis of Evil" just didn't manage to make it to the Cabinet?

Didn't Iran consider invading Afghanistan back in 2000 to remove the Taliban, and Osama? Maybe even the Manchurian candidate is true.

RandomSequence said...

So here's the scenario:

The Iranians offered a comprehensive peace, which was forwarded to the administration. Either 1) the administration ignored it or 2) the administration secretly began negotiations.

If 1) then they intentionally avoided the best-case scenario for a winning negotiation while we held the upper hand in 2003. They have intentionally and maliciously attempted to provoke a war that can possibly kill millions.

If 2) then either the negotiations were successful or a failure. If they had been a failure, we would know because that would be part of a justification of the irreconcilability of the Iranians. So, if 2) they must have been successful. In which case the bloodshed we've seen in Iraq due to the low-intensity conflict between the US and Iranians is an intentional negotiation tactic in finalizing some grand secret accord (which has, historically occurred). In that case, our leadership is at the moral level of Stalin and Hitler. They are risking the results of case 1) for negotiating advantage.

In either case, it's clearly not in the best interest of the US. Now, the explanation that they are the worst poker players in human history can't wash, because incompetent poker players don't reach the position of leading the world's most powerful nation, so it must be intentional.

What is their goal? I doubt the Manchurian hypothesis. The big world power brokers are here. So I suggest that the administration, and their backers recognize the problem of techology/weapon proliferation, oil depletion and global warming. They expect a failure of the current system, and are trying to burst the bubble while they still have the upper hand, to create some sort of feudal system with them in charge.

What is particularly monstrous about this is some of the players. One could argue that Bush with his privileged background imagines that he and his ilk are the best possible patrons in such a system, since he has no experience being on the receiving end of such a hierarchy. But Condi Rice? Colin Powell? Folks with direct experience of such vast inequality? They would have to be complete sociopaths to cooperate with such a plan.

Well, there's my thriller. Before I was worried. Now I'm frightened. Someone, please, explain how my rant is insane, and that I should get back on my meds.

Naum said...

While this is an outstanding post and is totally on the mark, have to take issue with this comment… …the origin of Gates wealth is far from "self-made", considering that (a) he was granted opportunity denied to 99.9% of all other Americans who could not afford the high cost of computing time and were not blessed with affluent parents that could secure such a luxury for a young mind to feed on and (b) a great deal of Gates initial work was done on the public dime…

Not to say Gates is not a shrewd genius that built an empire, but this notion of him being an anyman tinkering in the garage and propelling himself to entrepreneur extraordinary from the humblest of origins paints a totally inaccurate picture…

The smart zillionaires like Bezos and Gates want the masses to like them. And, in a society that still respects self-made wealth, that should not be too hard to do.

Anonymous said...

Legend has it that the second richest man in Seattle is Bill Gates Sr. And he was the richest until Jr. passed him. And Bill Sr. is a patent lawyer... how much of Microsoft's wealth has been made by copying other's patents?

That said, I think it's wonderful that Bill Sr. and Jr. seem to be on the side of progress... they're filthy rich, they didn't come by it honestly, but at least they aren't trying to keep us peasants down.

Squandering Resources said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Squandering Resources said...

Hi all,

This is my first post to this blog but I have been Lurking for quite some time (basically to convince myself that there are some people in the US who believe in the future).

Any how I was the power of nightmares documentary over at Google video and thought it was highly appropriate. Basically it is a concise documentary explaining a lot of what has been discussed over the past year or so in David’s blog. The history, aim and methods used by the neocons to gain control of the US are neatly explained (the motivation of the movement is a bit weak but I guess the makers did not want to go into speculation). Given it is a video it might be useful for the ‘adopt an ostrich’ program – it is easier to lure an ostrich with moving pictures.

I am an Australian and so hate to admit that the US has the greatest power for both good and evil on earth (we are almost as parochial as you). It is up to you, as thinking progressive US citizens, to gain control of your nation and help steer the world through the challenges that face humanity in the next few decades in a positive and equitable way.

reason said...

bicton boy...
It is remarkable how many of Aussies there are reading this site. I seem to remember David hat some survey information about modernism and Australia scored pretty well. Interesting.

I remember being the US (in the 80s) and being mostly appalled by the ignorance and narrow mindedness. The exception was the west coast. I felt almost at home there. Must be something about the Pacific.-)

Anonymous said...

RandomSequence: Interesting that the increased stratification began in the 70s, after the Great Society programs were implemented.

naum: the real interesting question is why Bill Gates stays so incredibly rich. At first, it was because he had a combination of technical knowledge and marketing savvy that his competitors lacked. (UNIX was too expensive for the masses, Apple computers lacked expandability/flexibility, OS/2 Warp sucked (at least for me), etc.)

Methinks he stays so amazingly rich because the capital markets are broken. (Thank you SEC.) Without a wild and wooley penny stock market, it takes connections or initial wealth to get startup capital. IPO and venture capital costs are way higher than the capital costs of retained earnings. For a new company to compete with Gates, you have to be more than better, you have to be WAY better.

Anonymous said...


I'm not entirely sure the SEC deserves all your blame for making capital hard to obtain (after all, most if it will still be locked up in massive pension funds, investment bankers and the like). However, your notions of making capital easier to obtain do very much intrigue me.

What kind of sizes of capitalization are you thinking of here? The whole gamut? Or in a range of something like ones to tens of millions?

Anonymous said...

I am thinking of something that works on the order of millions or tens of millions.

Some problems:

1. Maintaining accounting/reporting up to full big corporation standards is a huge overhead for the little guys.
2. It is easy to play evil games (short squeezes, pump and dump, etc.) with small cap stocks.
3. A startup needs multiple rounds of capital as it proves itself, so a cheap open SPO mechanism is critical.

Some ideas:
1. In return for less reporting requirements, put stronger limits on insiders: caps on salaries, trading etc. until higher standards of reporting are possible.
2. No margin buying or short selling allowed. Covered options are allowed. (Puts allow one to take a short position without unlimited liability.)
3. Reporting by electronic means only.
4. Shareholders get an electronic idea for ongoing stockholder discussions.
5. Voting for board members by this electronic means.
6. IPO and SPOs solds as blocks vs. per share price. That is, say 100K shares is put up on the market. Purchasers say how much they want to purchase in terms of dollars. After bidding ends, bidders get shares in proportion to their bids. This way, the company gets more capital, vs. the investment bankers getting higher windfall, should excitment cause a high IPO/SPO surge.

RandomSequence said...


You're one track, ain't cha? If stratification was due to Great Society, you would think that the social democracies in Europe would show an even more pronounced trend toward stratification, but no, the +delta is the US and GB. Just about the time that the right started making strides in both countries after 30 years of being locked out.

On the point of Gates, I think it's fairly simple. Warning: I am not a fan of MS. Operating systems are like road standards. Once any OS has gained some critical (unknown) market share, that market share is self-stabilizing, in the same way that once enough people start driving on the right-hand side of the road, that would be self-stabilizing. And that's regardless of the quality of the product, which by the way I think is atrocious. I doubt that issues of capitalization have much to do about it --- not everything need be "economic" in that sense.

I can't think of a single "innovation" that MS has brought to the market. But they were there at the right time at the right place, riding the wave of commodity hardware. C'est la vie.

Anonymous said...

Microsoft's big innovation was getting something out the door cheap, and then refining it incrementally. Also, supporting wide ranges of hardware, something Microsoft did well before DOS.

Go back in time a bit, and you will find Sun requiring tens of thousands of dollars for their very cool machines. Apple made expensive inflexible machines that were very difficult to expand. The UNIX world had software that was either cheap or thousands of dollars. Nothing in between.

Microsoft focused on that in between, making software that was better (for the typical user) than the free stuff, but cheaper than the software targeted at big corporations and academia.

Be Inc. had an OS that had the potential to be competitive, but they ran out of capital. Linux is just an incrementally improved clone of a product developed at Bell Labs in the 70s. The free software model works well for cloning and improving existing products. It has proven less impressive at true innovation. Exception: scripting languages, which are apparently small enough projects originally for one person to manage.

There are notable differences in how the Great Society programs were designed vs. the European welfare states.

RandomSequence said...


I've got to disagree. Here go the OS wars. Yes, I agree, MS did first go to commodity hardware --- CP/M could have, but messed up their IBM negotiations. Before IBM started the PC, commodity hardware, as a class, didn't really exists. Every system was basically a custom job, to some degreee or other. But that was an IBM innovation, not an MS innovation.

A number of OS existed just around that time that would have been just as useful, CP/M being the first example. If I remember correctly, Gates also had some systems out at the time with cheap, usable components --- but the hardware was not mass produced by a giant. At the end, only one company could get lucky, since IBM didn't see a significant profit from the OS end of things. And standardization was going to propel that company to the stratosphere.

Sometimes the market just randomly picks one from a class; you see the same thing in genetics, where it's not always the fittest, but just a random selection of the fit enough, that survive -- drift, founder effect, etc.

If you want to call that innovation, well of course you're free. But it doesn't reach my standard. I think the best way you can measure it is with their subsequent performance. They've always, always been behind the curve, and have run significant risk due to that. Apple ate away at them in the 80's, and in the 90's they were unable to penetrate the server market. Netscape almost ate their lunch, as an application platform. A bit of foresight would have lessened risk without costing them unduly --- they've spent most of their history over-capitalized, so a bit of effective R&D would have been reasonable.

The problem in open source isn't innovation. A whole lotta very cool stuff is developed very early as open source. Developer tools were all innovated in open-source (see Emacs). Pluggable, user-space, file systems. Encrypted mail. I can go on and on.

The problem is in marketing. A very focused effort (and a fairly boring job) is required to develop the user interface (by which I mean naive user interface). So that's much slower in open source, only catching up significantly recently. On top of that, actually selling the system quickly to the naive user requires concentrated capital. The advantage in the underpinnings is that that work can be done by diffuse capital, small amounts volunteered intermittently by individuals and corporations, which is its very disadvantage for marketing.

This is exactly parallel with the blogosphere. The most innovative media, both good and bad, is the distributed, free information exchange available on the intertubes. But the large corporations have a huge advantage in selling much more predictable ideas as the MSM, because they can afford to advertise during American Idol, and piggy back on prior success. Those who don't have knowledge have huge transition costs to switch to the superior data collection of the web, as opposed to CNN et. al.

On the issue of the Great Society, I still have to say it goes beyond that. Between the 80's and today, much of that program has been dismantled; the equivalent has occurred in Britain. But we haven't seen a return to the relative equality of the 50's and 60's. I may not be competent to diagnose the disease, but I can affirm that it is deeper than the Great Society, and I am loathe to put it, primarily, at the feet of the left.

Anonymous said...

Much of the Great Society has been dismantled???? Last I checked we still have food stamps, Medicare, Medicaid, anti discrimination laws, environmental regulations, mass transit subsidies, PBS, NPR, Head Start... A few of the Great Society programs have been replaced, but many of those were simply merged into other programs or resurrected under another name.

Chronic deficit spending began with the Great Society. Deficit spending is a subsidy to the rich. Also, inflation pushed working class people into higher tax brackets. (Tax adjustment for inflation is a Republican innovation, BTW.)

Public schools regressed during this time. I was there. New Math did teach theorem proving to an extent, but did a horrible job of teaching useful arithmetic. I recall going backwards a year in spelling when we "upgraded" to new, colorful, stupid spelling books from the decaying, difficult books left over from the 50s.

The growth of regulations did help clean the environment and curb various abuses, but they also added overhead to doing business. High overhead leads to economies of scale. (With simplifications such as specifying requirements vs. design, we could reduce overhead while still getting the benefits of said regulations.)

If the 50s were indeed the halcyon days for equality, why not back to them? I bet you'll get a LOT of conservatives allies for that project!

(Personally, I think we can do better than the 50s, both in terms of unobtrusive government and equality...)

RandomSequence said...

Spending on welfare may have continued (don't know the levels), but the programs themselves have been cut. Yes, Medicare/Medicaid have been extended, but that's a long-term project coming out of the New Deal. PBS increasingly gets its funding from advertisement; just watch the commercials from McDonalds on Sesame Street -- the quality has suffered, and now their trying to convince the babies to jam their mouth full of crap.

Chronic deficit spending came not from Great Society per se, but the fantasy of guns and butter -- that we could fight Vietnam and have massive social spending simultaneously.

Of course, the fifties weren't utopian, or even very pleasant. There was, however, greater economic equality, at least as far as white folks were concerned; my intuition says that there's a connection there between civil rights, and people's willingness to accept repyramidalization.

I agree, we can do better and in both senses -- less govt interference and greater equality. But first, we have to recognize what hasn't worked. And simply removing supports at the bottom has done a great deal of damage.

My beef with libertarian critiques is they never seem to scale well. I'd agree, small businesses should be minimally regulated. Short term problems should be left in the hands of short term corrective forces. But long term projects, and large scale projects are different. Finding a local minima is just not sufficient; we can travel down a meta-stable pathway that leads ultimately to terrible results, without some form of organization (not necessarily traditional govt) that has inherent long term interests, and wide vision.

I think that at the bottom, the problem is our very success as a country. You can see here, and all over the web, and traditional media, all kinds of innovative solutions coming from the left and right. But none go anywhere --- all we get is is the same old stuff, with different names. On the left, we've get the same public school programs that have not succeeded. On the right, we get even worse --- the failed ideas of the twenties re-warmed.

We've become an ossified society, culturally. Not at the surface, but underneath, our success makes us afraid to try anything significantly new particularly at the upper levels where significant decisions are made. And like anything alive, if you don't keep moving, you're going to start to rot.

Anonymous said...

RandomSequence: I will agree with you 100% that the simplistic libertarian program of "any cut in government is a good cut" is a bad programme. I advocate something rather different on my web site and in my Free Liberal editorials.

It may well require a new party to break out of the current rut. The reform of the LP is not progressing to my satisfaction. I find far more support for my proposed programme outside the LP than within it.

Then again, a new party may be premature. Experiments are ongoing...

Don Quijote said...

On the issue of the Great Society, I still have to say it goes beyond that. Between the 80's and today, much of that program has been dismantled; the equivalent has occurred in Britain. But we haven't seen a return to the relative equality of the 50's and 60's.

And we won't, because the source of the problem is not government but the market.

I may not be competent to diagnose the disease, but I can affirm that it is deeper than the Great Society, and I am loathe to put it, primarily, at the feet of the left.

Most people depend on their labor as their primary source of income/wealth, two major trends have been reducing the value of labor over the last thirty years, one is technology (the US produces twice as much steel today as it did in the seventies with a labor force that is half the size) and the other is globalization which has dumped a couple of billion people into the available labor pool, why hire an American to do a low skilled manufacturing job at $10 an hour or a Mexican at $10 a day when you can hire a Chinaman to the same job for $3 a day?

Manufacturing is shipped to China, Mexicans jump the border illegally and get low skill jobs in the US driving down low skill wages, and corporations keep trying to up the number of H1B's coming into the US to drive down skilled wages while doing every thing they can to prevent unionization.

Supply and Demand,a large supply of labor with a relatively small demand for labor. Until societal norms change to deal with the fact that we have a huge surplus of labor, or until globalization is shut down, the value of labor in industrial countries is going to keep going down and therefor inequality is going to keep going up.

RandomSequence said...


I checked out your website. I'm trying to digest, but EEGADS man -- the colors -- all the colors. I thought I was having a flashback!

I'm sure it's great intellectual stuff, but my epilepsy medicine is going to have to kick in first. ;)

Anonymous said...

Well, I think the biggest shift in labor-capital ratio was not a steady progress of technology, but a sudden lurch when the world opened up to us via the Internet.


Essentially, the world's labor market doubled nearly overnight (within a couple of decades).

However, in the long term, try this on for an interesting experiment. Natural resources are limited. It is my personal belief (although there are many counterexamples to challenge it) that the majority of the population is satiable. Eventually, we will figure out that increasing physical living standards beyond a given point will not make us any happier. (Now, aiming to strike rich to dominate a hierarchy is a different matter)

So, between the limited supply of material, and the limited eventual demand for material goods, we have an exponential growth in productivity. There will be three big options: reduce the working hours that define "full time," idle a portion of the labor force either through welfare or starvation, or give one small group a big vacation while flogging everyone else. Now, we have so far taken the "let people work for cheap electronic gadgets" but the novelty may wear off.

Just for fun, I would call this a neo-Marxist scenario, where there is no more great need for further capitalization (everyone has what they need), and instead everyone takes a whole butt-load of leisure time.

A hard turn in the conversation, but just wanted to play around.

Anonymous said...

One other big change happened in the Labour Force between the 50's / 60's and now

- women entering the workforce in large numbers -

this had the duel effect of again increasing the labour supply and increasing a class of labourors who had tradiotionaly been paid less for equivalent work driving down real wages further

(this is observation not critisism)

from a UK perspective this would have a higher impact on the labour force than imigration (in the 80's and 90's anyway)

Anonymous said...

Just a few points to throw into all this. Labor is caught between the double whammy of cynical republico-corporacratic globalization strategy and taxation policy. For the latter, simply put, my investment income is taxed at a lower rate than my wage income. I break no sweat and use less brain power in maintaining a conservative personal investment strategy; certainly it represents my nest-egg for the uncertain future, but, of course, most Americans are not so blessed. On the other hand, I break a modicum of sweat and have to use my noggin on the job, but I'm taxed more for the wage income. One can argue about the intention of the policy all you want, but it appears to devalue my labor, (no it's not very physical but does require a great deal of sitzfleisch). It appears likewise even to my local decent and/or sometimes rational conservative acquaintances. The rise in social-economic inequality is aided and abetted by this tax policy.

On recent economic history. In general I know more about pre-modern agrarian economies, so feel free to hammer away at my suggestion. When I glance over at the economic historians, I see a growing consensus that the key date in the change from general post-war prosperity to this new post-industrial period was 1973. Surprise. I don't believe in single causes for complex events any more than most of the perspicacious readers of Dr. B's blog, but 1973 points directly to middle east politics, oil companies, and the other usual suspects.

My only thoughts on globalization, (and please, Sgr. Quijote, refrain from terms like "Chinamen" because it undercuts what might be a reasonable argument) is to note that eventually the European Community had to come to grips with its own version of an imbalanced labor market. In the 80's they decided that opening borders to the free flow of capital had to succeeded by demanding uniform labor, safety and environmental regulations. I don't see why we can't start this beginning with NAFTA. We could give Mexico a decade to comply.

On the other hand, my brother-in-law now works in Windsor, Ontario for a large Indian call-center. The day, my friends, has arrived. India is starting to outsource its jobs to the (North) American midwest. (And some midwesterners speak English almost as well as the Indians).

What with the deprofessionalization of our government, the change from military-industrial complex to militry-entertainment complex, the decimation of our educational system (and with it the decline of Enlightenment ideas and values), it's beginning to look like a return to the Ancien Regime. Gotta get me a little of that American Baroque decadence before it's too late.

Anonymous said...

Desperate to show who's the real Conservative, John McCain throws in with Creationists.

The Discovery Institute, as some may know, is behind the flagrantly anti-modernist "Wedge Strategy."

Sidereus said...

The lastest humbling, STUNNING, photo from Hubble, "Hubble Illuminates Cluster of Diverse Galaxies"


Anonymous said...

Hearkening back a bit...

Right now, the Air Force is buying the world's greatest fighter plane, the F-22 Raptor... and we're fighting an enemy that has no air force. We're building a anti-ballistic missile defense against a enemy with no ballistic missiles. (OK, it might be useful against other enemies. But priorities!)

A friend of mine is about to go to Iraq. His unit has been training with the Land Warrior system, which uses a decentralized network to link the soldiers together, for more rapid dissemination of battlefield information. (Imagine being able to give a command to an entire brigade without raising your voice, just as in Heinlein's novel Starship Troopers - and, even better, sending each soldier an image of the tactical map, viewable on a small screen on the helmet...) This technology has had the effect of making their brigade far more effective in combat than they would have been otherwise.

The Pentagon has recently announced that while units already training with Land Warrior will deploy with that technology, no new units will use it, and development of the system has been canceled. It's "too expensive."

Meanwhile, the AF is still buying F-22s, and the Pentagon is still bent on developing an antiballistic missile shield to defend us from an enemy that no longer exists in any practical sense...

Anonymous said...

It seems strange to me that the DoD would be so hung up on ballastic missile defense when it is quickly becoming apparent that *theater* missile defense is much more important. Especially with Navy ships and such that may square off with a Chinese military with rockets like our own.

And yes, I agree that military spending priorities re: land v. air are woefully misplaced at the moment. Especially focusing on destroying land targets from the air ... we are already quite good at doing this. It's all the boot work that comes afterwards that can use some extra support.

It would be a sad thing if the Army has to lobby Lockheed to buy up some armor production mills just so that the DoD will buy the equipment that is actually needed.

Anonymous said...

Begin rant...

What do we need to destroy targets from the air...

A plane big enough to carry a laser guided bomb, and a guy on the ground with a laser designator, and a radio so the the two can communicate.
Stealth? The current enemy doesn't have radar. Anti-aircraft missiles? Fly high enough, and the shoulder fired missiles the enemy has can't reach you. Give me a aviation machine shop, and I can rig any comercial aircraft that can carry 1,000lbs of cargo to do the job in Iraq that the Air Farce says they need a billion dollar B-2 Stealth bomber for.

I've seen it time and again... the military decides they need some fancy toy to do a certain mission, and when the mission goes away, the toy doesn't. And the Poor, Bloody Infantry (PBI) ends up trying to make the toy do the mission they have.
end rant mode

I like the idea of the 'land warrior' system you describe. Sounds like just the thing for a PBI to do his job better. Except... can some guy sitting in a office in, say, Washington D.C. moniter this by sattelite and give 'suggestions'? Just asking.

And speaking of priorties...
The Department of Homeland Security has given grants of money to various cities. National City, CA, is using the money to instal a camera survielance system to watch a street famous for its streetwalkers... I'm not sure if the NCPD thinks that the streetwalkers are a terror threat, or threatened by terrorists.

RandomSequence said...

My only thoughts on globalization ... is to note that eventually the European Community had to come to grips with its own version of an imbalanced labor market. In the 80's they decided that opening borders to the free flow of capital had to succeeded by demanding uniform labor, safety and environmental regulations. I don't see why we can't start this beginning with NAFTA. We could give Mexico a decade to comply.

Two points: 1) The other side of uniform standards across the EU is subsidized infrastructure. The EU basically pulled Spain and Greece from the early twentieth century to the late twentieth century in a few decades via a massive infusion of subsidies. If we are going to have a common market with Mexico under the current system, it seems fairly obvious that we would have to pull their infrastructure up to our level. Otherwise the economic gradients are going to inevitably lead to a leveling down of the living standards of a chunk of our population, while inducing mass migration and social instability.

2) I ask again, why did the stagnation in wages occur in the anglophonic world, specifically the US and Britain, and not in equivalent continental societies (and I believe Canada)? Britain actually gained in some respects from the oil crisis with the development of North Sea oil reserves. I can only suggest that it has more to due with our adaptive responses, than the external stimuli.

Anonymous said...

We face not just a war against professionalism, but a war against rationality itself:


RandomSequence said...

We face not just a war against professionalism, but a war against rationality itself:


I think you mistake differing principles with rationality. The flat-earthers are rational alright -- they just start from the first principle: The Bible is innerant. Any empirical data that supports that fact is therefore admissible, any that disputes that is, a priori, inadmissable. Not irrational, just insane --- two different things.

An example from anthropology: The Kukuli (I believe, going from memory) of the New Guinea highlands believed that there was no such thing as a natural death. Now, they weren't irrational or blind. They saw folks die all the time, often with no visible external cause. Did that cause them to rethink their position? No, it was a first principle. What they did instead was posit that there were witches magically killing those who appeared to succumb to natural death. Perfectly rational, but ultimately wrong and ungeneralizable, system of belief.

This is important when debating those folks. You have to know where to attack them -- and it can't be on their rationality, but the very basis of their system.

Anonymous said...

Here is the actual memo that Anonymous refers to:

Evolution, the Big Bang theory, and heliocentrism are a Jewish conspiracy.

Catfish 'n Cod said...

"It seems strange to me that the DoD would be so hung up on ballastic missile defense when it is quickly becoming apparent that *theater* missile defense is much more important."

But theater missile defense is a mostly solved problem. Therefore it can't feed thousands of contractors the way ballistic defense does.

With the troop supply problems in Iraq and the procurement priorities, I'm beginning to wonder if the Pentagon and the troops in the field really belong to the same Armed Forces anymore. The main purpose of the Pentagon at this point seems to be more to fund defense contractors than to support the troops. A lot of the Pentagon is now worse than unnecessary; some procurement is now better done by field quartermasters ordering off a secure network than by paper-pushers. If field people had more of a say in weapons development, I suspect a lot of these problems would evaporate.

Anonymous said...

Here's how the procurement system works...

A officer is assigned in the Pentagon to a project. He'll be on the project for a normal tour of duty, about 3 years. If the project is cancelled during this time, it becomes his fault. Never mind if the project doesn't work, it's his fault if it's cancelled. Even if it's cancelled by Congress, it's his fault. So, he tries real hard to not have it cancelled.
Also, he'll write a series of memos that will point out all the flaws in the project and hide them in his files. IF the project fails after he leaves, he'll use these as 'proof' that it wasn't his fault, he pointed out the flaws...
If successful (Project uncancelled), at the end of his three years he'll move on and some other officer will take over. At the end of the officer's career, the manufacturer (if happy with the officer) will make him a job offer. Remember, a military man's carreer ends after 20-30 years... for a officer, that means he's between 42 and 52 years of age, plenty young enough to start a 2nd carreer as a member of a company selling stuff to the military!

(This system predates Bush. It goes back to Eisenhower.)

So, yes, the Pentagon exists to make sure defense contractors get paid.

JuhnDonn said...

re: RandomSequence and Bill Gates success.

One thing to remember is that Bill Gates' Mother was on the national BoD of United Way, along with the IBM VP in charge of their nascent PC division. When she heard they were looking for an operating system, she suggested they contact her son. Now, give IBM their due, they did try to get in touch with CP/M authors but they blew off the meeting.

IBM contacted MicroSoft (manufacturers of BASIC interpreters and other software apps) and they said they could have an OS for IBM post haste. They did their deal with the writers of QDOS (Quick and Dirty Operating System-$25,000 I believe), filed down the rough edges and then they cut one of the best licensing deals eveh.

Gates was also instrumental in the idea of licensing software and prosecuting others for distribution of software at the Homebrew Computer Club.

Having a billionaire father patent attorney might have influenced this.

DrGaellon said...

I worry very much that the emasculating of the current officer corps reflects the simultaneous steeplejacking of the Air Force Academy, and the Pentagon as a whole... and I see Heinlein's vision in "If This Goes On-" rapidly coming to fruition.