Monday, June 16, 2008

Cool Signs of an Ongoing Enlightenment

Dousing the Politics Lamp - a bit - here’s a survey of what progressive innovators, entrepeneurs etc are up to! Remember, leader-politicians are important, but they can only help a civilization and citizenry who are helping themselves!

But first, a challenge and a puff item:

Whatever your politics... sign a petition for the great big National Science Debate! Make the candidates tell us how they’d make the U.S. once again a leader in science & tech-innovation for improving the future.

Also see the winners the still-image part of the “Uplift” Computer Graphics Challenge. There’s a LOT of vivid, skilled and imaginative talent out there! Check Michael Dashow’s 2nd place winner. It’s not a scene from any book of mine, but it’s uplift! And way fun. And now I have an idea for this story....

Next to be judged - the "video trailers"... promos for science fiction films that have never been made... yet...

....and now more cool items... plus some "brinmaterials" at the very end.

IEEE Spectrum’s special issue on “The Singularity” is singularly worth a look. With deeply insightful articles by my friends Vernor Vinge, Robin Hanson and Ray Kurzweil... and an interactive article letting you add bionic components to a futuristic “shopping cart”... it is exceptionally useful & entertaining.

Dave McCabe writes in to say “There’s a group having a stab at doing something like your Disputation Arenas.” Another approach to improving online argument is this worthy effort. Of course this is the focus also of my Google Tech Talk. We can hope that projects like this get some leverage.

Meanwhile, GadgetTrack and other technologies that let your possessions communicate across the web are having the incidental effect of catching thieves. Ah transparency.

Brin heads into space! No... a different Brin. Google Cofounder Sergey Brin will also take a personal step into space as one of two space tourists on a 2011 private Soyuz flight. Brin has already put down a $5 million down payment towards his future flight as the first member of the newly established "Founding Explorer" group. "I am a big believer in the exploration and commercial development of the space frontier, and am looking forward to the possibility of going into space," Brin said in a press statement. (Huh! Well, maybe I can get him to take one of my books along. Grumble. “Brin in space.” Have fun Sergey! ;-)
Stefan reminds us... Sign the petition for the great big national Science Debate! Get the candidates to step forward and discuss how to make this country, once again, the leader in science and technology and innovating for the future.

Kevin Kelly’s latest article on the advantages of an era when information is infinitely copyable... and how to still make a proft.

Have a look at a summary of this year's Future in review Conference (FiRe), where Vinod Khosla was delightfully contrarian optimistic about our coming ability to develop cellulosic fuels and solar thermal energy.

"It is not every day that you get to hang out with Noble prize winners, top climatologists, renowned science fiction authors, CTOs of Fortune 100 companies, top researchers in medicine, broadband, environment, and fuels, #1 VC on the planet, friend of every Chinese leader since Mao, and more – and all within 48 hours. Well, Future in Review (FiRe) conference last week in San Diego provided such a thrill." Alas, the author of the writeup only mentions one "famous science fiction author" -- guest Bruce Sterling, who was entertainingly ornery, interviewed (by my arrangement) by the great tech artist Sheldon Brown. Um, the SF writer in residence at ALL of these conferences, organized the "Architechs CTO Innovation Challenge"!

Some fascinating companies touted or highlighted at the recent FiRe Conference?,,, To see these events as podcasts, from by the FiRe site, drop by over the course of the next few months. And see the FiRe site for more...

But seriously, are we a community or not? If Khosla is right (and he often is) then we should be looking very closely at solar thermal companies and trying to figure out which ones are the winners. Because Khosla thinks this field will boom like crazy in just three years. Go research & report back! (Otoh, Elon Musk sees a coming surge in photovoltaics. Let’s hope this rivalry between optimists really goes!

------- behave boys! A study shows that a big part of the flight of well-traiuned women from science and technology-related fields (where trained workers are desperately needed) is not just the old choice between career/family. No, around ages 30-40 much of it seems to revolve around workplace sexism, which may be worse among nerds than in the military! So watch the jokes and innuendos and ham-handed flirting, guys. Turns out it’s unpatriotic as well as uncool.

---- Other cool horizon techs.

- an aluminum-gallium alloy which, when combined with water, releases hydrogen for energy use. Basically you buy this compact energy source, then any supply of water can be poured in to become hydrogen fuel. Although the technology is still in its infancy, envision its use as a supplemental source of energy in hybrids and diesel-electric freight trains.
- using carbon credits to cut greenhouse gases through financing the installation of anaerobic digesters on dairy farms across the U.S. The digesters capture methane (currently 10% of all greenhouse gases) released by cattle and turn it into electricity for farm use.
- new computerized pen, which captures and digitizes written text with the option of translation into other languages. Go back and touch the pen to anything it wrote (even on a regular paper pad) and it will playback any sound recorder when that text was first scribbled. I kid you not.
- cell phones will soon use their cameras to scan barcodes , which will bring up information about a product via mobile Internet, along with the ability to wirelessly purchase and ship that product.
- an Intel team in Beijing that has developed a parallel app that watches television, for those who don’t have enough time to watch TV, saying that Tivo goes only so far. The computer can create a highlight reel...
- Sensors/implants, such as “smart wireless band-aids” – biosensors in a peel & stick package with a radio and processor – can be applied throughout the body and can then talk to another device, such as a mobile phone, another piece of medical equipment, or an access point on a wall in a hospital.

----------- Refreshing candor from a capital player Anyone who thinks all capitalists are dogmatic fools should have heard Bill Janeway of Warburg-Pincus: ”People who have been [complaining] about politics and politicians and the political process, and why don’t we just let the market solve it all, are again in the process of learning why we have politicians, why we have political processes, so that there are avenues of appeal from the market – not just for the losers, when the market works well, but for everyone, when the market ceases to work at all.”

Also sobering: “We do not know how deep and long the recession will be. We know that in Japan, it was 10 years, not two years – 10 years of slump, of rebuilding the financial health of the banking system, which is still somewhat problematic... with massive amounts of bail-out money for corporations.” The crux? Markets are marvels of the Enlightenment and the greatest generators of positive-sum wealth ever seen. But they not magical and they do not work well “blind.” FIBM (Faith in Blind Markets) is armwaving Juju, incanted by fools, or else by manipulators who really want less government-based accountability, but want plenty of government handouts and assumption of costs and risks.

Other insights

Ricardo Salinas-Pliego reminded us to consider the “bottom of the pyramid” and the millions upon millions of people who inhabit it, especially in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. His suite of companies, Grupo Salinas, is focused on bringing this demographic into modern financial systems, beyond microcredit, including offering accessible payment and savings systems. This is a demographic that also needs broadband, Internet access, and social action.

There are about 300 billion square feet of buildings in the U.S., and at least another 150 billion are expected to be built in the next 30 years. Additional projections: 50 billion will be demolished and 150 billion renovated – meaning that 75% of our built environment will be new or renovated. Now consider that buildings today consume 50% of energy in the U.S. in construction, operations, and maintenance, so if we can reduce demand by 50%, it will be like removing the entire transportation industry (25%) from the equation. Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Architects, of which Mark Foster is a Partner, is working hard to push the concept of “net zero” energy use. The annual energy budget for your building or site will be the annual incidence of its solar radiation. “Live with that,” as Mark phrased it, with good cheer. Your annual water budget will be the precipitation that falls on your site.

From 60 year China hand Sidney Rittenberg: “In 1943 Mao had applied to come to Washington to meet with President Roosevelt to talk about postwar China. An intense nationalist, he had never previously left Chinese soil. And here he was, appealing to us, to invite him to go to Washington, during the war, in 1943. And to all of this, we turned a deaf ear. We rejected his request for an invitation; we wouldn’t talk with him about loans, or about anything else. I think that if we had not been so ideologically driven – so narrow – we would not have had to fight the war in Korea or the war in Vietnam.”

We just gotta do better at foresight. At not letting dogma drive us. At believing we can make a more open and better world.

--- Ah, but in the short term?

A key hint to what’s going on is the disappearance of scores of oil tankers. Not in some thriller or sci fi plot. They are simply waiting, full, near ports. Speculators seemed to be storing oil in very large tankers and "slow steaming" them to port in a bet that prices would rise. When everyone is on the same side of the trade, the time is right for a reversal. This is especially true when there is a large potential supply sitting on the sidelines. It seems a good bet there’ll be an oil price plunge sometime soon, though a “dip” may be more like it. I wonder if it will be timed in oder to make it seem Bush or McCain were somehow responsible. Analyst John Mauldin also thinks that regulators may discourage some of the speculation that has driven up other commodity prices.

----- Critical Matters from the Transparency Front

A brilliant activist shared this confidentially: Researching chemical surveillance turned up a federal project called SensorNet. The following information was taken off the web and not yet otherwise verified, but the overall pattern is clear. The system is not merely proposed; it is being actively tested. SensorNet is planned to be the information infrastructure for a nationwide sensor web collecting of a wide variety of information with complete data integration and access by law enforcement and other government personnel at all levels: "a standards-based comprehensive incident management system available to Federal, state and local governments and the private sector for the real-time detection, identification, and assessment of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive (CBRNE) hazards." [2]

Purposes listed include terrorism detection, environmental monitoring, enhanced weather analysis and prediction, traffic control, aircraft surveillance, inventory tracking, earthquake monitoring, and the measurement of atmospheric gases in urban areas. [2] Locations planned include government buildings or bases, commercial facilities [3], and other "strategic sites" such as national parks and sports arenas [4]. Some sensing would be limited in time; other locations would perform continual sensing. In the "near future", the mobile version of SensorNet will be made as small as a PDA or cell phone.

Initial testing has been carried out at "numerous" sites including Washington, DC; New York; Nashville; Knoxville; Oak Ridge; Chattanooga; Memphis; and Fort Bragg, NC. Similar tests have been done in Boston, San Francisco, and Miami. Sensor technologies are expected to include nanotechnology and MEMS; the chips to be used are planned to detect "thousands" of substances. Communication/software technologies and tools being used, or planned to be used, include Linux, XML, Java, digital certificates, peer-to-peer networking, SourceForge, Web 2.0, Second Life VR software, and wikis.

Deployment cost has been estimated at $2 billion over four years to deploy in 120 major U.S. cities. The cost is relatively low and the time relatively short because much of the proposed infrastructure is already in place (e.g., cellular towers and cellular basestations).Although the system is described as "open", this appears to refer to the architecture, not who has access to the data.

Now tell me this. If this frightens you, how do you plan to stop it? Ban or delay it, and it will only return again with sensors that are harder to detect. "Privacy laws simply make the bugs smaller." -- Robert Heinlein.

Anyway, each time something bad happens, the government will blame it on not having been able to see. These sensor nets WILL come. The only question is who will have access and who will be empowered. Again and again I explain -- the only way we'll keep a little privacy is (ironically) if we all can see. Oh, and that is how our protectors will be able to see enough to do their jobs, while remembering they are guard dogs, not wolves.

=== Misc stuff! ===

Doritos' 2008 contest winning space-ad entitled 'Tribe' was voted for by the British public The message is being pulsed out over a six-hour period from high-powered radars at the EISCAT European space station in the Arctic Circle, directed at a solar system just 42 light years away from Earth, in the 'Ursa Major' or Great Bear Constellation. The cleverly created advert features a tribe of Doritos escaping from the pack and sacrificing one of their own to the God of Salsa, as soon as there are no humans around. It can be viewed online from today at

Oooog. What an image to represent us! Fortunately, to detect the signal, ET would need an antenna 25km across. Idiots.

But Bandit reports: “..just for fun ... they even have pocket protectors!!“

---- The Lifeboat Foundation discusses ways to ensure survival of human civilization vs “existential threats.” Now they are looking for a safe, capacious and reliable server to host their increasing website traffic.

Speaking of which... energy fears looming, new survivalists prepare, a la The Postman?

Along ironically related lines... are there still uncontacted tribal peoples on Earth? I have to really doubt it. Still, have a look at this.

And here are some clues as to how we might fail with a whimper. Journals Find Fakery in Many Images Submitted to Support Research. Related, of course, to what I said in The Transparent Society about “the end of photograpohy as proof.”

But then, some things Can’t Be Copied... or so Says Kevin Kelly, who explains eight "generatives," things that can't be copied and so still hold value on the Internet: Immediacy, Personalization, Interpretation, Authenticity, Accessibility, Embodiment, Patronage, and Findability.

See a plan to create autonomous, extranational retreats for the rich, in the open ocean. And yes, this is reminiscent of the "Sea State" in Earth... and an item for the prediction wiki... though the version that I envisioned was propelled by the poor and disenfranchised, while this one is apparently an endeavor by some of the world's richest men to both continue to benefit from and (when convenient) abandon global civilization. (To see another (more interesting) attempt to begin deep oceanic fish farming in a big way... with giant, 200 meter buckeyball enclosed habitats.

In my new novel-in-progress, "shoresteading" is a refuge for some of the poor... laying claim to abandoned beachfront mansions, lost to rising tides.

See the nightmare “author” who runs a small POD (publish on demand) empire produing “books” that compile public source documents into tomes on narrow subjects... 200,000 of them so far.

First time an orbiting spacecraft ever caught a snapshot of another one landing.

For the Predictions wiki... "A Japanese brewery Tuesday said it was planning the first "space beer," using offspring of barley once stored at the Space Station. Researchers said the project was part of efforts to prepare for a future in which humans spend extended periods of time in space -- and might like a cold beer after a space walk." Well, it’s not exactly the “Slingshot” brew I describe in “Tank Farm Dynamo,” but still....

---- Hugh Pickens writes "Researchers report that brain activity can be used to predict the likelihood of someone making an error about six seconds in advance, with gradual changes starting as much as 30 seconds ahead of time. The team used an imaging machine to scan the brains of a group of volunteers who performed a task in the presence of distracting information. When performing correctly the volunteers' brains showed increased levels of activity in those parts associated with cognitive effort, as would be expected. However, these areas gradually became less active before errors were made and at the same time another set of regions in the brain became more active. These regions are part of a so called "default mode network" and show increased use when people are resting or asleep[PDF]. While imaging machines are far too big and complex to be used in workplaces to monitor the brain activity of people engaged in important tasks, the team hopes to correlate errors to changes in electrical activity in the brain with electroencephalography (EEG), using electrodes placed on the scalp. If EEG features can be found that correspond to the change in brain activity, then a hat that gives warning of an imminent mistake might one day become reality. Could of used that hat while dating! Brrrrr!

------- If you aren’t an Ayn Rand fan, but have done the requisite reading (because she IS important enough to read), you will find this astonishingly consistent and cogent and biting and well worth the time. If you are a devotee... you may not be amused.

Blogunity member Tracy McSherry does motion-capture animation. See his latest - a funny satire of the Clinton-Obama debates.

And that will just have to do for now...

"If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich." JFK - January 20, 1961


ADDENDUM of brin-focused matters:

While we're at it, like audio-told tales? A bright and fun site for science fiction audio podcasting is Tony Smith’s Starship Sofa where one of my shortest works (precisely 250 words long) has just been posted. To hear just the (very short, but complicated) story, click.

Meanwhile, one of my speeches has been podcast. In this one -- between allergy sniffles -- I talk about "Horizon Analysis" while dealing with a world of accelerating change.

Were any of you among those I sent copies of Colony High part one: Sky Horizon, (by email) to critique? We’re still interested and if you finish that one, a select few will get to read an early draft of New Mojave.


Tony Fisk said...

You contemplate wearing strange, flashing headgear to tell you when you're about to make a faux-pas on a date, and then wonder why women are fleeing the nerd-dominated sciences??

The annual energy budget for your building or site will be the annual incidence of its solar radiation.
So much for skyscrapers...

Good natured snarking aside, do you have a link for the story about oil tankers? I have the following:
Iran & Venezuela use oil tankers to manipulate global markets. This being the case, it would be ve-r-y interesting if the prices come down in October.

wrt photographic fakery: Scientific American has an interesting article on how fakes can be detected.

Dave Rickey said...

John Mauldin (who I suspect is Dr. Brin's source, since he gets a mention in the last page) has an article on this. Basically, there's a rush to get US dollars turned into something immune to inflation and exchange rate changes by buying dollar-denominated commodities that can be sold for other currencies. There's simply too much capital flooding out of the US for the currency markets to absorb directly. That's feeding speculators to hoard those same commodities, with the intent of dumping them when the market tops out.

It gets worse than that, however. I knew about "Shadow Government Statistics", a service that recalculates economic data using the original formulas and the raw data, then sells the reports to financial operations around the world. What I didn't know about until recently, buried in their site, were these graphs. Pay especially close attention to the first one. M1, which is the measure of actual cash and checking account balances, is stagnant bordering on shrinking. M2, which is M1 plus saving accounts and money market funds, is growing steadily and seemingly normally, but because M2 *includes* M1, that means there is actually a fairly large amount of money being poured into retail money markets.

M3 is the kicker, and a story in itself. In 2006, the Fed and Treasury stopped reporting M3. It's the combination of M2, plus *institutional* money markets, plus short-term "repurchase agreements". There are only two ways that M3 could be growing so quickly, either an incredible amount of funds are being poured into the major money market funds, or an even more incredible amount of assets are being leveraged as a bet that we are about to have a major inflationary spike.

Speaking of inflation, look down the page, at CPI (Consumer Price Inflation). If you remember the 70's, you remember what inflation can do to the economy. Well, in fact the CPI measurement that was used in the 70's would say our inflation is now at 12%, a number we haven't seen since 81.

Now look at the one above that, GDP, as calculated using the formula from 1980. Yes, we've actually been in recession for all but 1 quarter, the entire time Bush has been in office except for one quarter in 2004. In fact, we are in a *depression*.

Now, what does a combination of massive debt, capital flight, GDP shrinkage, and a huge latent money supply make the recipe for? Can you say "Hyperinflation"?

Rob Perkins said...

I don't like hearing about rogue nations (or anyone) hoarding oil from the global supply, but I think they're shooting themselves in the foot by doing so; both due to the efforts at conservation which are beginning to take shape in the United States, and to the fact that oil is (I think) an inflation driver, which means that all this wealth they're supposedly gathering is devaluing itself the longer they keep the prices this high.

The only people who will suffer for this are the subsistence level poor these rogue leaders claim to champion.

I'd want to know a lot more about the cost to produce the Al-Ga alloy, as well as the full cost of recycling the oxidized byproduct, before hoping much. But for what it's worth the technology was on display at a recent conference of some kind. Was it the Maker Faire? I can't remember, but CNET showcased it.

Even so, it costs about $2/gram, purified. ( 1/15 the price of gold, but still...

I absolutely *love* the Ayn Rand snark. Rand is important to read because so many people bought into her swan song, but man, soooo easily refuted. Fun stuff.

Tony Fisk said...

More on the Aluminium-Gallium 'water cracker' here (NB the article is about a year old, but it lays out how the process works pretty clearly. 2Al + 3H20 = 2Al2O3 + 3H2 + bang. And, of course, 3H2 + 1.5O2 = 3H2O + bang). The gallium is used to prevent the oxide forming an impermeable skin.

The overall process could be made even more efficient if you used the heat generated from the Al oxidation to drive your cylinders as well as the hydrogen burning (can you say 'stirling engine'?)

It reminds me of a similar idea to use arc-welding to burn aluminium underwater, some twenty years ago. Funny how these ideas get 'buried'.

The cost of gallium is less restrictive when you realise that it is completely recyclable. The only hassle being to reduce the oxidised aluminium (ie pump the energy back in)

Anonymous said...

The two winners of the CG Challenge were pretty cool, but then I get to the honorable mentions and almost none of them are Uplift Related in any way.

Running through submissions, it turns out there were at least enough decent, Uplift related submissions to round out the Honorable Mentions.

Are they just running a Talent Search? Why are submission COMPLETELY unrelated to the Uplifit Universe even left up in the submissions list?

The second place was a great "painting", and REALLY got what the "Uplift Universe" is all about.

Anonymous said...

I don't like hearing about rogue nations (or anyone) hoarding oil from the global supply, but I think they're shooting themselves in the foot by doing so; both due to the efforts at conservation which are beginning to take shape in the United States, and to the fact that oil is (I think) an inflation driver, which means that all this wealth they're supposedly gathering is devaluing itself the longer they keep the prices this high.

Anonymous said...

It is an inflation driver, but that doesn't devalue the oil in the ground or in the tankers.

They're breaking the dollar as an oil fiat currency. They'll still get a damn fine price for that Euros.

Where will that leave us? A super-power with a junk currency. How did that work out for the USSR?

Doug said...

Hyperinflation -- yes, that's a concern. I find it hard to imagine that most corporate entities would be willing to acknowledge that they have to pay workers enough to keep up with inflation, especially as its clear they haven't been over the last decade or so.

I personally think it's too late to prevent this, but what could, or has been done, to stem it before we're using virtual wheelbarrows to pay for things?

Cliff said...

"No, around ages 30-40 much of it seems to revolve around workplace sexism, which may be worse among nerds than in the military!"

It would be interesting to see if sexism comes from a particular age group, or if it's a broad spectrum of ages.
I'll say flat-out I think it's the older gents, but I may very well be wrong. But during my time at engineering school I noticed that most of the girls were either scary-smart or incredibly hard working, and most of my classmates gave them their due as well.

Also way to encourage people to get into science and engineering. Calling all tech-folk "nerds" will work real well. ;)

David Brin said...

For a year, the only mutual fund in my SEP that invests in US denominated stocks has been Fidelity's Export fund. Oh, and a real estate fund that has somehow stayed flat and never dropped. (They must have been VERY sensible.) All the rest went into foreign. Hence I've seen tepid growth instead of drops.

What I'd like to find is a general Canada fund. Anyone who sells BOTH oil AND food has got it made.

Oh, where is Julian Symon now? He collected $$$ from Paul Ehrlich in2000 because commodity prices had not shot up. Um... maybe late counts?

David McCabe said...

Alright, folks. I have some savings I'd like to keep. Buy another currency, because the dollar is failing? Or would that be selling low and buying high? Wait for things to get better? Any advice? Evidence I can understand? Thanks.

David Brin said...

Any of you interested in tickets to this year's Gettysburg battle re-enactment? July 6 3 adults and 2 child tickets WITH grandstand seating (total value $150)

A wonderful show!


We were rained out two years ago and now we can't use the rainchecks. We'll take offers, or else suggestions of a fast turnaround charity...

Dave Rickey said...

@David McCabe

Foreign-market mutual funds or money-market funds are the safest bet and the easiest to get in and out of if you don't have megabucks. Don't buy gold or precious metals, it's way up because everyone is buying gold. If you are feeling really paranoid, buy a few thousand worth of gold and bury it in the woods somewhere.

If nothing else, those will hedge you against US inflation and exchange rate slippage. Definitely stay away from CD's, the rates are crap right now and they'll lock you into holding them if things go sideways. You probably want to talk to a financial planning professional, just be really clear you don't want anything dollar-denominated.

Dave Rickey said...

Re-reading that, let me be more specific: If you're talking about an amount of money that is significant to your future, you should *definitely* talk to a professional. I'm not an economist or broker, either, I just read way too much on a lot of things.


Anonymous said...

Investment Advice:

How much risk are you looking for?
If you just want to keep the money, try silver ETFs.

How much rate of return do you want?

If you're the betting type, short the market. If not, keep your money in bonds until the market stops falling (if you're worried you won't know it, listen to bonddad), then invest green. Obama's administration won't be as easy to predict as Bush's was, but by all accounts that's a good thing!

Anonymous said...

NY Times - Deals With Iraq Are Set to Bring Oil Giants Back

BAGHDAD Four Western oil companies are in the final stages of negotiations this month on contracts that will return them to Iraq, 36 years after losing their oil concession to nationalization as Saddam Hussein rose to power.

Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP — the original partners in the Iraq Petroleum Company along with Chevron and a number of smaller oil companies, are in talks with Iraq’s Oil Ministry for no-bid contracts to service Iraq’s largest fields, according to ministry officials, oil company officials and an American diplomat.

The deals, expected to be announced on June 30, will lay the foundation for the first commercial work for the major companies in Iraq since the American invasion, and open a new and potentially lucrative country for their operations.

David McCabe said...

Off-topic: Can any fellow typography nerds tell me what technology was used to print The River of Time?

Anonymous said...

Julian Simon has gone down the Keynsian Trap Door ("What will be the effects of the policies that you promote in the long run?" "In the long run, we'll all be dead"), so he isn't around any more and doesn't have to deal with the outcomes of the imbecilities that he, in the face of all evidence and sense, supported so strongly. I suspect that he knew that he wouldn't live long enough to see the bill come due.

- Lars

Unknown said...

That's it. Game over. The constitution has now been officially suspended.

The new bill not only gives retroactive immunity for massive violations of the 4th amendment by the telecom companies (retroactive immunity is itself illegal and prohibited by the constitution), it legalizes warrantless surveillance. Routinely violating the constitution is now legal. But we already knew that, with all the torture and illegal kidnapping of non-combatants to black prisons overseas. Guantanamo is only a small part of the vast worldwide CIA-run "black prison" network. Soon, you and I will disappear into it, only to re-emerge years later with our minds destroyed by torture and tearfully reciting our contrition for opposing Big Brother before the ever-watchful eyes of the telescreens.

America was a good place when we lived under the rule of law and prohibited atrocities like torture. Now it's over. Prediction: anyone who posts on this forum and doesn't leave this country within 5 years will wind up in a black prison being tortured to death for bogus non-crimes like "insulting the dignity of the state" and "willful hooliganism." There is no more rule of law. Every atrocity is now legal, and no one will publicly stand against it. I thought Obama would, but he won't. So it's over. From now on, the unconstitutional torture and surveillance and kidnapping and repression of dissent only get worse.


Anonymous said...

Tasty stuff, but the portion size is a bit large! I imagine that most guests wander in here out of a fascination with the possibilties of technology.

The SensorNet has been around in embryonic form for quite a while. A couple of years back a gent who goes on my annual Canadian fishing trip was recovering from radioactive implants for prostate surgery. Dang, when the vehicle rolled up to the border crossing all hell broke loose! Finally a hand held sensor determined that Bin Laden was unlikely to be hiding in the pants of an 81 y.o. WWII Vet!
Glad someone is keeping track of at least a few possible threats.


Anonymous said...


I'll stay here in the libertarian paradise on the other side of the Pacific:


They can't possibly find me here!


David McCabe said...

People are saying that, in Obama's statement on the FISA compromise, he comes down on the wrong side. But I don't see it. I read that Obama is against retroactive immunity and against warrantless wiretaps. He begins with a generic remark about the importance of national security, then explains his opposition. What's the problem? Am I missing something?

Dave Rickey said...

Telco immunity is a really big deal to the netroots, and it was never about the telcos themselves, it was about exposing the illegal spying engaged in by the Bush administration, some of it apparently starting *before* 9-11. They wanted to shine some light on it, force the telcos to say what they had done for the administration and when, since Congress certainly wasn't going to (this all started before the 2006 elections, for what that turned out to be worth).

The reason why they're mad at Obama is that the House wouldn't have passed this if the votes in the Senate hadn't already been lined up. The "split vote" is just a device to let some Democrats (like Obama) vote against the immunity (and fail to strip it out), while still voting for the overall bill (and therefore not opening themselves up to the GOP 527's). So unless Obama was willing to expend some political capital and twist some arms, this will go through.

The fact that this round started in the House is telling, too. There wasn't time to organize a resistance, and the Senators are far less exposed precisely because they're more exposed, the netroots doesn't dare risk tipping it back into GOP control. So now, it's all about extracting some punishment, the various pieces of the netroots are looking at the list of Democratic "yes" votes and picking a few Blue Dogs to throw to the wolves, set them up to be beat by their GOP opponents.

To the netroots, Obama's lukewarm "I won't vote for immunity, but I won't stop the bill if it still has it" is a betrayal. Perhaps an inevitable one, but it's going to cost him.

Unknown said...

Shorter David McCabe:
The constitution is just a goddamn piece of paper!

The constitutation of the united states prohibits retroactive laws and it also prohibits undue search and siezure. This bill violates both those parts of the constitution.

Yell ya what, Dave...if detest our constitution so much, emigrate to North Korea. The rest of us actually believe our government should follow the law.

Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master. -- George Washington

David McCabe said...

Read what I wrote, Zorgon.

matthew said...

I am disappointed, angry, and scared by the FISA capitulation ( passing the House, and I am furious with the Dem leadership for allowing this to occur.

*But* a careful reading of the bill shows a very interesting little ray of hope. Note that the telcom amnesty is for "post 9/11" crimes. Remember that BushCo approached Qwest *before* 9/11?

From the NYT 2007:
"In a separate N.S.A. project, executives at a Denver phone carrier, Qwest, refused in early 2001 to give the agency access to their most localized communications switches, which primarily carry domestic calls, according to people aware of the request, which has not been previously reported. They say the arrangement could have permitted neighborhood-by-neighborhood surveillance of phone traffic without a court order, which alarmed them"

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised no one has raised the possibility that the extra tankers parked in the Gulf are "sitting ducks" - i.e. the hostages that have been keeping Bush from bombing Iran. Losing that many tankers all at once would make current oil price inflation look tame.

Anonymous said...

Oh, a couple Carriers and butt-load of tankers.

I think the Iranians are keeping multiple tankers full of oil in port, in part, for defense.

"Let's see those Marines come ashore flammable" - proper spills would reduce their front by over a third.

We eff with Iran, it will be ugly.

Anyway, anyone else think Osama Bin Laden will be captured late this October, and his capture will be attributed to information obtained through a combination of illegal wiretaps and water-boarding?

Dave Rickey said...

The oil tankers as economic/environmental hostages line doesn't work too well. For one thing, it's not just the Iranians that are doing it, there's a world-wide shortage of tankers because a fairly large number of them are sitting anchored out there.

For another, the Iranians don't own or crew most of those tankers, if any. They can't really control what happens to them in the event of a war.

We actually start a shooting war with Iran, it will send the price of oil through the roof, not only because it will take Iran's oil off the market but it will increase the risk and difficulty of getting at Kuwait's and much of Saudi Arabia's. Those tankers will be irrelevant to that.

Anonymous said...

It seems like Hillary Clinton has a debt of $22.5 million from the primary campaign, and $23 million in donations from her supporters for the GE which she cannot use to retire her debt. The GE funds she is obligated to return to the donors if they wish it, unless they authorize her to use it for other purposes, like her a future Senate reelection bid (should she not gain any post in an Obama administration).

Any Clinton supporter might ask her to do so regardless of this suggestion, but for those concerned about Hillary´s debt from the primaries, they might ask other Democrats to choose to donate to Hillary (to retire the debt) in exchange for a dollar for dollar authorization to give those GE funds to the DNC for use during the general election or the convention, perhaps even for use buying ads to support Obama. Any amount not matched could go towards Hillary´s Senate reelection.

I´m not an expert on the campaign financing rules, but it seems this might be a solution that would do a lot for party unity.

Anonymous said...

Didn´t Obama say that the FISA bill gives immunity to the telcos from civil charges, but not criminal charges? Is that not a hint of little poison pill that could be used to support the Constitution?

Anonymous said...

This may get conservatives to reconsider their "military is the only real approach to terrorism" :Some right wing racist tries to assassinate President Obama, he doesn't go with Clinton's law enforcement approach, he pulls a Bush and declares a war on the radical right. How badly do you think that will go?; Will he use the extrodinary that have been given to Bush and goes for the military option and go after "the radical right".
Now part of me feels that would be poetic justice but the rational part of me knows that it would be bad,very bad for all Americans.

Unknown said...

There is no constitution. We live in a dictatorship. There is no law.

Doesn't that [FISA compromise bill] actually endorse and extend to private actors the Nixonian view that if the president says it's legal, it's legal, regardless of what the law says and the Constitution says? Wouldn't that set an awful precedent that an administration could get private actors to do whatever they wanted including breaking the law?" -- Laura Rozen, Washington Post

David McCabe said...


I limited my words last night because I was angry. Now I must object to your accusation.

Remember that this is still new news and that not all of us have had time to read everything yet. So when I say, "wait, it says here that Obama opposes immunity", even though on closer inspection his opposition is doubtful, this only indicates that I am not yet familiar with every aspect of this political activity.

That you would take this, what amounts to confusion on the meaning of Obama's statement, and run to where you're run with it... Zorgon, all of us here love the Enlightenment. Your affront is not only outrageous but stupid, flying off the handle without taking a moment to comprehend. It is unworthy of you and of us to make offensive accusations that, you could have figured out yourself, were almost certainly false.

Look, it's no surprise if you're mad as hell. I can hardly bring myself to believe that we're really losing this. But be more careful with your words in the future. You've said some of the worst things you could say about me, with absolutely zero justification. Don't do that.

David Brin said...

Guys... guys... once again we are distracted into panic over non-issues, while the real ones are ignored.

The issue is NOT whether the federal government should get to see better -- acquiring new powers of vision in some mythical tradeoff between their ability to protect us and our eroded freedom, if government agents can surveil.

This is crazy!!!!!

There is no such tradeoff, and even if there were, the fight is NOT over preventing the goveRnment from seeing or surveiling better. I DO NOT GIVE A FLYING FIG ABOUT WIRETAPS! Because:

1) My freedom is not threatened by what the government knows. My freedom is threatened by what the government can do, especially what it can do in secret, or unsupervised, or unaccountable to the light of day.

2) Anybody who thinks that ANY law will prevent the mighty from seeing, listening and surveiling ever-better in coming years, has got to be out of their gourd.

3) Even if you stymie government vision with some well-meant law, that law will be over-ridden the next time some crisis, trauma or panic sends us back through this cycle once again! For heaven's sake, READ P 206 OF The Transparent Society.

4) All of this hurrow over arcana of wiretap rules ignores the REAL crisis... whether we can reclaim the power that really matters... our right to see, surveil, supervise and hold accountable government. Our ability to look back!

THAT is what has eroded most dangerously in recent years. That is where the real threat lies. If the ACLU and our other supposed guardians had three neurons to scrape together, they would stop worrying about silly, insipid distractions, like carrier immunity and wiretapping rules, and fight to reinstate citizen powers of souseveillance. Fight to make the inspectors-general independent. Fight to carve away secrecy and to make government agencies and other institutions mutually skeptical and eager to pounce on each other, on our behalf.

THAT is where the crisis is, fellows and gals. ANd nobody... NO ONE... is aiming public attention that way. If Obama did, then he would convert me from a mere wary friend to a true believer.

Unknown said...

With all due respect, David McCabe, your claim that we should respect Obama because he said he was against retroactive immunity and then voted for a bill that confers it, insults our intelligence.

Here's my suggestion:

When a home invader breaks into your house and steals your wallet at knifepoint and cuts your fingers off, you'll scream, "Stop it!" and he'll reply, "Crime and violence are important issues. I am against violence and robbery."

And what will be my response?

"He begins with a generic remark about the importance of violent crime, then explains his opposition. What's the problem? Am I missing something?"

Then when the home invader rapes your wife and you howl, "What are you doing?" he'll reply, "Sexual assaults against women are a grave concern today. I am against rape."

And what will be my response?

"He begins with a generic remark about the importance of rape, then explains his opposition. What's the problem? Am I missing something?"

Then when the home invader kills both your children slowly using acid and a blowtorch and you wail for justice, he'll reply, "Violence against children is a terrible problem in our society. I am opposed to hurting children."

And what will be my response?

"He begins with a generic remark about the importance of violence against children, then explains his opposition. What's the problem? Am I missing something?"

Now do you get it?

David McCabe said...

You're still not listening, Zorgon. Is it truly unbelievable naivete to jump from the statement that Obama opposes X, to the conclusion that he's going to vote against X? Naivete, sure, but you're pretty dense if you don't understand that that's exactly what I did. By comment #2 I knew better, and indicated this. Now you should know better than to throw feces.

Unknown said...

Shorter David Brin:

I don't care whether the president violates the constitution and flagrantly breaks the law, as long as I get surveillance of him doing it.

Shame on you. For shame.

David McCabe said...

Dr. Brin, this is partially about the wiretaps themselves, mostly about the fact that our president and both parties in Congress are cooperating to unquestionably violate the constitution. The fact that they are doing this IS out in the open. If it's out in the open and we still can't stop it...

David Brin said...

Z is being just plain silly.

If we can watch and sousveill and supervise and hold them accountable, then we can hammer on anyone who either breaks the law or who even behaves unreasonably. BECAUSE WE'LL SEE IT.

You, on the other hand, are screeching over an arcane detail of whether a wiretap is -- or is not -- first approved by some special "judge" who may (or may not) be a rubber-stamp shill. And I should trust that "judge" to decide whether my rights are protected or not?

Dig it, if not for the relentless and overwhelming secrecy and subornation, Bush would probably have been impeached and thrown out by now.

ANY line in the sand that you draw right now will be (1) bypassed in secret by government surveillors... UNLESS secrecy is cut way down... AND (2) be bypassed later, in some national trauma. Our only protection is to end the secrecy. To strip the mighty naked... that they must behave themselves while they strip us naked. And boys, that is gonna happen anyway.

Unknown said...

Dr. Brin just doesn't get it.

This isn't about the unconstitutionality of this particular illegal wiretapping, and it's not even about the fact that congress knows it's unconstitutional and isn't doing anything about it.

This is about a long long line of clearly obvious and public violations of the constitution by a presidency that has gotten away with so many brazen public violations of the constitution that the constitution no longer has any power.

Torture violates the 8th amendment. This administration never made any secret of torturing people. It's been brazenly public about loving torture, and no one has stopped it. Not congress, not the newspapers, not the public.

Extraordinary rendition violations the 6th and 5th amendments. This administration never made any secret of kidnapping people and hauling 'em off to Gitmo, the whole Bagram airbase prison and the Guantanamo bay prison were celebrated publicly and widely publicized. No one has stopped it -- not congress, not the newspapers, not the public.

This white house continues to keep troops in Iraq in flagrant violation of the War Powers Acts. They've been entirely public about it. No one has stopped it -- not the public, not the newspapers, not congress.

In violation after violation of the law, no one has ever held this maladministration to account. So from now on, any president who follows can publicly proclaim, "I can torture anyone I want to, because the previous guy did, and no one held him accountable." And any president can now say, "I can order anyone anywhere kidnapped and held forever without trial and without charges, because the previous guy did, and no one held him accountable."

And any president can now say, "I'm going to refuse all requests for oversight from congress with bogus claims of executive privilege, and when you issue subpoenas and demand documents, I'll ignore you, because the previous guy did, and no one held him accountable."

So there is no rule of law. The precedent has been set: the president and the congress are above the law. The constitution means nothing. We're now back in the jungle, and the best we can hope for in America from now on is to have a guy in charge who's in a good mood the way Caligula was when he made a horse a senator... And not in a bad mood, the way Commodus was when he tortured prisoners to death in the Colosseum by imprisoning them in giant hollow brass bulls and setting fires underneath 'em so that the prisoners died slowly, screaming in agony, while the crowd delectated in the sounds of their suffering.

Anonymous said...

The shorter Zorgon:
The accountability system for our government is obviously broken and its freaking me out.

(I agree with Zorgon by the way.)

Boot said...

I agree with the ethics of David Brin. This may be due to some extent that I have little to no "dark closet" from which to dig. Transparency really is the tool which could solve the problems we are having.

Unfortunately human nature steps in and screws it up. I believe it is obvious to the majority of Americans that the current Administration is guilty on All accounts. Despite this existing transparency, America has not responded as most would have liked.

We cling to our pleasures and shy away from unhappy truths. The Republic has failed when it no longer represents the people.

I'd like a discussion on how we can change this or our other options. Let's stop bitching and build our own system to affect change.

(Sigh. This is exactly the type of step which will realize Zorgon's fears. If change from being passive dissidents to becoming active, we risk.)

Anonymous said...

In other unrelated news, our beloved Worldchanging just instituted this ridiculous new policy:

"Climate "skepticism" is not a morally defensible position. The debate is over, and it's been over for quite some time, especially on this blog."

"We will delete comments which deny the absolutely overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change, just as we would delete comments which questioned the reality of the Holocaust or the equal mental capacities and worth of human beings of different ethnic groups. Such "debates" are merely the morally indefensible trying to cover itself in the cloth of intellectual tolerance."

This is absolute bollocks, to be perfectly frank, and does show a complete lack of intellectual intolerance (in addition to being a flagrant violation of Godwin's Law). In addition, Steffen goes on to poison the well with comments to the effect that a skeptic could only possibly be in the position for immoral reasons.

Matthew Dallman had an apt response here:

"What a joke. The quality of this argument is evident in how it resorts to wildly illogical “guilt by association” analogies to the Holocaust and racism. Note, too, how these assertions blur the line between climate science and morality. Almost every sentence is a logical fallacy."

"Websites like this make you realize just how much environmentalism is actually a religion. Which you would expect when the industrial age, the mass media age, and educational romanticism have worked in concert to beat down traditional values."


David McCabe said...

This is also terrible tactics: O'Reilly is going to pick this up and it'll be so much the better for denialism.

Unknown said...


Read it and weep, buckaroos.

House of Representatives Resolution 362 calling for a naval blockade of Iran.

1st amendment, 4th amendment, 5th and 6th amendments, 9th and 10th amendments are now gone, wiped away by legalized fiat as the spineless Demos stand by and do nothing. Next step: air bombardment of Iran.

After that? Who knows?

Will those hundreds of empty FEMA internment camps begin to fill with liberals and antiwar dissenters, courtesy of Dr. Brin's marvellous "transparency"?

We don't know. Will there be an election in November? Shortly after U.S. attack on Iran begins, will we hear an announcement that the upcoming presidential election "has been postponed for the duration of the emergency"?

Only time will tell.

"Arrests are in progress; the prisons begin to fill. In every city and province, lists of the disloyal have been drawn up. Tomorrow they will learn the terrible cost of their folly..." -- Marcus Licinius Crassus, from the film Spartacus, 1960.

David Brin said...

Oh what silliness. These things happen in INVERSE proportion to the degree the average american becomes aware of them.

I note that Z addressed NONE of my main points. Not even remotely.

He has no plan - other than moaning "it's all over folks!"

He doesn't even remotely show how arcane changes in wiretapping rules matter even remotely as much as the demolition of whistleblower protections... the thing we should REALLY be scared about.

As for worldchanging, well, that policy is misguided. Instead, there should be set aside a corner table where crackpots may continue to politely pose objections (discourtesy is ejectable) alongside believers in the Easter Bunny.

The adults in the room should each be drafted to spend one day a month slumming down there with the infants. FOr the sake of fairness and to get practice dealing with such things.

And because, 1/100 crackpots are sometimes on to something. And we're fools to get too smug.

Dave Rickey said...

I tried to respond to Zorgon several time. In the end, all I can come up with is "There, but for the grace of god, go I." I need to remember to keep my paranoia in check.

Zorg, if the shit was truly hitting the fan, if we were truly passing a point of no return, ranting about it would be the *least* appropriate action. Either there's still hope, in which case we should pursue it, or there isn't, in which case it's time to be preparing contingencies.

Anonymous said...

Dave Rickey -

Read up on the Tanker War phase of the Iran-Iraq war.

Understand - a serious (more than dozen plane raid) attack on Iran will cause them to entirely pop their cork. They will not engage in any sort of "gradual escalation" that allows for their air defense and missle locations to be exposed and target once they're hit hard on home soil.

A dozen man crew on a tanker in an Iranian harbor is not going to stop them from towing that tanker wherever the hell they want and punching some holes in it.

Neither will the name on the ships title.

Unknown said...

David Brin: Z is being just plain silly.

If we can watch and sousveill and supervise and hold them accountable, then we can hammer on anyone who either breaks the law or who even behaves unreasonably. BECAUSE WE'LL SEE IT.

Ignorant twaddle. Brin wholly ignores the depressing reality that transparency proves meaningless when both the major political parties show no willingness to hold anyone accountable. Transparency only works if someone stands up and forces the people in power to pay for their crimes, and since no one in either party is doing that, transprency merely offers us a new form of reality TV -- we get to watch unconstitutional crimes committed in the open, right in front of us, and we cluck our tongues and shake our heads and make tsk tsk noises, but nothing gets done to stop 'em.

David Brin: Oh what silliness. These things happen in INVERSE proportion to the degree the average american becomes aware of them.

I note that Z addressed NONE of my main points. Not even remotely.

Thank you for telling that ignorantly foolish lie, Dr. Brin. It's always tremendously helpful when debating opponents tell these kinds of laughably foolish lies because it eliminates the work I would normally have to do to discredit their claims. When someone lies outright, thay discredit themselves.

History shows that the Nazis and the Bolsheviks took power openly, in full view of the public, by proposing legislation which effectively destroyed the rule of law...just as is now being done in America, as Naomi Wolf has pointed out in "Fascist America in 10 Easy Steps." The problem with democracies dismantling themselves and turning into dictatorships, history shows, isn't that it gets done in smoke-filled rooms in the dead night -- it's that when democracies dismantle themselves, the whole affair takes place in bright daylight at high noon and the vast mass of the people cheer themselves hoarse for it. The Enabling Acts were passed with huge popular approval in Germany after the reichstag fire, just as the Patriot Act and other unconstitutional depredations have been passed with huge popular approval in America after the 9/11 attack. And since I have repeatedly pointed this out, Dr. Brin is simply lying when he claims I haven't addressed his points.

However, Dr. Brin has never addressed one of my points, preferring instead to indulge in name-calling. Brin has never addressed the fact that corporations are fundamentally totalitarian hierarchies which make a poor fit with dmeocracy, yet today 29 of the 52 largest global financial entities are corporations, not nations; Brin has never addressed the fact that globalization is relentlessly driving wages down, for the bottom 80% of Americans, down and down and down to an unsustainable and unsurvivable level as the result of global wage arbitrage; Brin has never addressed the fact that the behavior of corporations rates the same as that of serial killers according to the Hare Sociopathy checklist; Brin has never addressed the fact that one of the biggest issues facing us remains the unchecked growth of corporate power, which, with the passgae of insane laws like the PRO-IP act, have now co-opted the government and police to act in enforcing unsustainable and failed private business models.

Brin has never addressed the fact that we are seeing continual "mission creep" with the Patriot Act first used to search for terrorists, but now being used to search peoples' laptops at the border for pornography -- something the government has no business doing. Soon enough, Patriot Act surveillance will be used by local city councils to identify and punish litterbugs and people who let their dogs poop on the sidewalk. If that sounds ridiculous and wildly delusional, bear in mind that this is exactly what is happening in Britain. And it's on track to happen here in America, just slightly slower, as the example of the Patriot Act being misused to search for porn on people's laptops shows. In fact, your laptop won't just be confiscated for porn at the borders -- I'm now hearing from friends (to which this has happened) that if you have a non-standard operating system like Linux with which the TSA officers aren't familiar, that by itself is enough to get your laptop confiscated, and it won't be returned. So we now have a corporate fascism in full swing -- if you use a free open source OS on your laptop and refuse to pay for Windows or Max OS X, the penalty is that your laptop gets legally stolen by the government. In effect, the government is now enforcing a private business monopoly on computer operating systems. Corporate fascism with a vengeance, in which the powers of the state get pressed into service to support private business monopolies in restraint of trade.

Brin has of course addressed none of these issues, preferring instead to spout the mindless mantra that anyone who cites these grave structural problems with American democracy as it degenerates today into a corporate fascism is "being silly."

As it happens, I'm not the only person being silly.

You might want to take a look at the cover story of the latest issue of HARPER'S magazine. It's called "HIGH NOON FOR THE REPUBLICAN PARTY: WHY THE G.O.P. MUST DIE." But the thrust of the article is that the GOP isn't dying, and the Demos aren't offering any substantive change.

From the article:

Increasingly it seems that the political parties themselves are among the greatest obstacles to civic renewal. Eight years of Republican rule have led to economic chaos, ruinous war, and unprecedented despair. Every electoral indicator points to a massive defeat. Yet few believe that the Democratic Party possesses the strength of purpose to drive the Republicans into the well-deserved oblivion of the Anti-masons and the Know-Nothings. Mindful of the Democreats' shortcomings Harper's Magazine gathered together a panel of political thinkers to consider how the deed might be accomplished, and what be the consequences of failure.

LUKE MITCHELL: We seem today to be involved in a kind of trench war, in which the two sides battle in election after election over just a few inches of ground -- say, Ohio and Florida -- with no real long-term results other than the further degradation of democracy. (..)

KEVIN PHILLIPS: The problem entrenchment and atrophy. The Democrats and the Republicans are now among the oldest parties in the world. Their origins bear no relation to much of anything else, and as a result they are mostly interested in the people who give them money. (..)

THOMAS SCHALLER: The founders' expectation was that regions would nominate many candidates, each representing very parochial interests. They expected such a glut of sectional parties that they created the electoral college -- not in order to make any kind of final selection but simply to winnow the choices down to a couple of finalists. They assumed the election would be thrown into the House of Representatives, with the result that an elite institution woudl pick the ultimate winner. But in fact the system has been funded and redistricted and gerrymandered into a sort of muscle-bound dupoloy. It's nonresponsive. (..)

KEVIN PHILLIPS: Well, the public showed that it can produce a significant swing in 2006, in electoral terms. But the issues on which they supposedly voted are not being addressed. How do you vote to get everybody out of Iraq, for exmpale? Vote for the Democrats? That hasn't worked so far.

SCOTT McCONNELL: And it cuts both ways. The people who have been voting Republican for the past thirty years on cultural rthare than class issues -- ie., culturally conservative Reagan Democrats -- have gotten nothing for their votes either. But there is no evidence whatsoever that they are going to stop voting Republican.

KEVIN BAKER: It's like you have this weird inversion of Tammany. They don't get you out of jail, they don't give you a turkey at Crhistmas, they dont' do anything for you, and yet somehow they keep winning. (...) The sitution is not unique to the United States. In I taly, the 2006 election was a near stalmate, at least in terms of votes, and within a couple of years Silvio Berlusconi was back in power. The French socialists actually fell out of the top ten in the 2002 election, and Nicholas Sarkozy, another conservative, shows up in 2007, also for a win. I think this has to do with a strange global capital consensus whereby the elites of all of the controlling parties have accepted what they feel are the limits of globalization, which will inevitably drive down wages and realign all kinds of economic forces. This consensus creates a huge dissassociation between what is being promised and what is being delivered, and that really frustrates people. Why vote for the left when even they don't believe in liberalism?

KEVIN PHILLIPS: The Democrats could easily get trapped in Iraq, the way the Republicans under Nixon were trapped in Southeast Asia. Back then, the Democrats were capable of shifting shamelessly on the Vietnam issue, and Nixon was stupid enough to give them a chance to do it. He should have just pointed out that he Democrats were the party that built up the war and also bungled it. If the Democrats keep the current war going, the Republicans could try to reinvent themselves on Iraq, and in so doing lock the Democrats into a 2009-2012 version of Nixonizing the war.

KEVIN BAKER: It almost seems inveitable that that is going to happen, doesn't it? (..)

SCOTT McCONNELL: Let me back up and try to define the impasse. When I think back historically, I thin of the American party system as a success story -- not tremendously successful, but successful compared with teh way men were governed in most of the world for most of history. The system has been strong enough to withstand a significant degree of muddling through. The country has been pretty much a democracy most of the time, grown economically, fought its wars, and won most of them. yet I have the feeling now that we are poised at aprecipice of governmental failure. We need good government leaders in a way that we haven't for a while, but the parties are not producing leaders who are likely to solve problems. (..)

LIKE MITCHELL: The most likely scenario appears to be that the two parties will prop each other up just long enough to ensure the failure of American experiment. (..)

KEVIN BAKER: Maybe one of the reasons we can't come up with a scenario in which one party forces the other into a major realignment is that both parties are skirting the central issues facing up, much like the Democrats and the Whigs did in the years leading up to the Civil War. The only way to break that deadlock was to risk blowing up both national parties. And in the end, the issue of slavery did indeed blow them both up. The Republicans were able to triumph only because the blowup was so all-encompassing. That's a pretty big risk for a practical politican to take. More likely, the two parties will continue to what politicans usually do, which is wait on events to force a decision.

SCOTT McCONNELL: The United States is currently on an unsustainable track, and if ths election doesn't knock us off it, then sometthing else in bound to, likely within the next decade.

LUKE MITCHELL: What happens if it doesn't knock us off track?

SCOTT McCONNELL: If they next president orders the military to invade or bomb Iran or some other country, I would probably welcome it if some key generals said, "No, Mr President, not this time," and went over the head of the President for congressional and popular support. At this point I put at much trust in the judgment and patriotism of a high-ranking military officer as in that of a politican who has spent decades catering to the fabulously rich men who finance both major parties. That's one way the current stasis could be broken -- our version of a Gaullist coup.

KEVIN BAKER: I have to admit that I wrote in Harper's five years ago, "In the end, we'll beg for the coup."

LUKE MITCHELL: Do you still believe that?

KEVIN BAKER: I'm not so sure. I'm beginning to wonder if America today isn't more like Oliver Wendell Holmes' "wonderful one-hoss shay" -- a contraption so finely constructed that it will never break down but will just wear out. The things we are doing are so unsustainable -- occupying an enormous chunk of the most fractious piece of Asia until it learns democracy, driving the working wage relentlessly down, draining our natural resources as fast as we can -- that we simply won't be able to do them any longer.

Cliff said...

I know this thread is probably dead now, but I have to say:

I share Zorgon's alarm on the FISA bill and the unsustainability of America's activities. Maybe not to quite the same degree as Zorgon, but I don't feel that the FISA bill should be downplayed so easily.

From what I've gathered of Dr. Brin's responses to Zorgon, he seems to feel that transparency is a seperate issue from FISA and telecomm immunity. But it strikes me that they are very closely related - we don't KNOW eactly what the telecomms did, and now, thanks to the impending immunity, no one will get a chance to force them to reveal that.

And that's part of a broader trend. It's common sense that in order to make the Bush Administration accountable, we have to know and prove exactly what transpired. And so Bush & Co. are working around the clock to cover that up. The FISA legislation is a smaller battle in that greater war.

Anonymous said...

I think what Brin has written about politicians being blackmailed and the Bush pardon tsunami also applies to the telcos and wiretapping. Telcos past law breaking makes them susceptable to blackmail (continue spying or we will expose you). Right now it appears that the telcos are pushing hard to get pardons (immunity) for their past behavior.

At this point, I rather have these things exposed than have them punished.

I recommend offering amnesity intead of immunity. The amnisty is only covers the specific they provide details for (i.e., no blanket amnisty). They can be prosecuted (or sued in civil court) for anything they don't specify. I would also make this offer of amnesty time limited (say 30 days).