Thursday, February 04, 2010

The Admiral as Hero

 Where is that Predictions Registry, when I need one?

Did I holler with joy across cyberspace, back when Adm. Mike Mullen became Chairman of the Joint Chiefs?  People said, "Calm down David, it's not the Second Coming!" But I felt it was damn close to a kind of salvation.

You see, I knew that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney held no truck with the United States Navy, the service that had resisted most fiercely their relentless efforts to geld, politicize and even proselytize our military. If an admiral was about to become chairman, then it meant that the recent elevation of Robert Gates to replace Donald Rumsfeld as Defense Secretary truly was what I had hoped, a prying of ideologue-politician hands from around the throat of the U.S. Officer Corps.  This, even more than Rumsfeld's resignation, was clear (if circumstantial) evidence that some kind of careful, legal but forceful action must have been taken -- behind the scenes -- by the men and women who had earned stars in our service, restoring intellect and professionalism to the running of our vital defense, in the face of banal-dullard dogmatism.

(Was it a threatened mass-resignation?  We may not know for years, such is the circumspection of this corps.  But added evidence later confirmed my general hypothesis, when both Gates and Mullen were retained by the incoming Obama Administration.)

Years earlier, I had derided liberals for going along with a ditzo-lefty notion that people in uniform are somehow automatically on the other side.  The Officer Corps is the third best-educated clade in American life, just after professors and MDs. Responsibility and adult care come naturally to most of those who rise to flag rank.  They are the grownups in any room. (well, most of them are.) And I have always viewed them as the #1 victims of the Neocon Putsch, the lunacy that has taken over and perverted American conservatism, sending Barry Goldwater spinning in his grave.

 (Disagree that they were the top victims?  Who else has seen their professional advice so consistently spurned, and then had to hold their surrogate children -- their soldiers and marines -- in their arms while they died in a bungled war? Have you?)

I've long urged Democrats to notice the Betrayal of Conservatism as THE killer issue, since it makes plain that Red America is also a victim, its core values savagely stomped and the ruin then covered over by a thin veneer of populist propaganda.  Populism that diverts Red ire away from the cronies and thieves, instead sending all that good-ol' rage blazing toward all of the clades in American life who actually know stuff.  The true and underlying agenda of the entire Fox propaganda machine.

Will anyone, ever, make political hay of the fact that members of the GOP now have a much lower average education level than democrats, despite the latter still representing the poor?  Or the fact that only 5% of scientists still call themselves republican?

Such figures aren't available for the Officer Corps - most register independent - but a similar exodus is anecdotally evident.  It is also seen in the blue candidates that are feared most by sitting republicans -- retired military guys with the savvy-conservative looks, but also intelligence, compassion and common sense, of, say, New York State's Eric Massa. (  More of them, please!  Only their type can follow the monsters into gerrymandered GOP districts across America and beard them in their dens. And win, as Massa did.

(Liberals take note: even if fellows like Massa are "blue dogs" so what? At least their species is honorable, progressive and smart.  Their kind of mild "conservatism" can be negotiated with.)

All of which brings us to yesterday's testimony, in the U.S. Senate, by Defense Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen, supporting an end to the policy known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."  Suddenly, Mullen is the lion of the left!  People who were cluelessly wedded to their stodgy-reactionary mental portraits of military men and women now want to hang his picture up there next to ML King! 

I have to sigh, since he's been my hero for years.  (I'd send him signed books, if I thought he had a moment to spare.)

 But whatever.  They'll turn on him when they learn that gays will still be asked to do some special things in the military, to keep their comrades at ease.  (All males must learn circumspection around the sex they desire.  But the kind of mild overture that Corporal Jane shrugs off as background-level, sub-harassment noise can turn Private Bubba into a panicky over-reactor. Hetero males are like that and sensitivity training will only go so far.  So take the extra steps, Sergeant Lance, draw clear lines and be super-reserved around your hyper-testosteroned comrades. But stand up for yourself too.)

No, I'm not surprised at Mullen and Gates for "coming out."  They are adults and pros and it is clearly time for the next step.

No, I am a bit disappointed instead at pundits and comics like John Stewart, for missing the Big Zinger...

...that the very same GOP Senators and Congressmen who now call "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" a sacred institution and forecast collapse of the republic, if it is removed...

...ten years ago predicted doom and hell on earth if "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" were to be implemented! 

C'mon, Stewart.  There's plenty of footage.  Go for it.


learner said...

Thanks, David, for your faith in the Officer Corps.

JuhnDonn said...

Further evidence: Academy chapel to add outdoor circle to worship areas

1/26/2010 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- The Air Force Academy chapel will add a worship area for followers of Earth-centered religions during a dedication ceremony, which is tentatively scheduled to be held at the circle March 10.

The circle, located atop the hill overlooking the Cadet Chapel and Visitor Center, will be the latest addition to a collection of worship areas that includes Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist sacred spaces.

Tech. Sgt. Brandon Longcrier, NCO in charge of the Academy's Astronautics laboratories, worked with the chapel to create the official worship area for both cadets and other servicemembers in the Colorado Springs area who practice Earth-centered spirituality.

I'm agnostic but, Cool!

Oh yeah, we may all be living in a hologram on a giant credit card. Or something like that.

For many months, the GEO600 team-members had been scratching their heads over inexplicable noise that is plaguing their giant detector. Then, out of the blue, a researcher approached them with an explanation. In fact, he had even predicted the noise before he knew they were detecting it. According to Craig Hogan, a physicist at the Fermilab particle physics lab in Batavia, Illinois, GEO600 has stumbled upon the fundamental limit of space-time - the point where space-time stops behaving like the smooth continuum Einstein described and instead dissolves into "grains", just as a newspaper photograph dissolves into dots as you zoom in. "It looks like GEO600 is being buffeted by the microscopic quantum convulsions of space-time," says Hogan.

Acacia H. said...

I find it saddening that the conservatives are claiming the End of Days are here because the military is rightfully allowing "Earth Religions" to have a place to worship, even though these same pagans are putting their lives on the line, just as Christian, Islamic, Jewish, and other "mainstream religions" do. Just about every single Fox News article on this quotes Christians saying bad things about this... and ignore such things as... oh, say, Freedom of Religion and the like?

That's not to say that pagans are without fault. There are a lot of knee-jerk reactionaries among the pagans who hate anything Christian or Conservative, due to the repression or discrimination they've faced or even just heard about. And stories grow out of context, until you have millions of dead witches burned at the stake and all sorts of idiocy like that.

In many ways, I see the decline of Don't Ask Don't Tell as akin to the increased respect shown toward pagans in the military. Perhaps part of this is because the pagan faiths embraced the bisexuals and gays out there, seeing kindred spirits who are discriminated against for who and what they are. No doubt a number of gays found acceptance in pagan circles after their own Churches disowned them.

It will be interesting to see if the Democrats can capitalize on the advantage before them... to take in another group who have been betrayed by the Neoconservative movement (that being the Military). If they do, if they can overcome their own historic prejudice... then this may be the final nail in the coffin of the Republican Party... and hopefully the eventual birth of a proper moderate-conservative political movement to replace the rabid beast that the Republican Party has become.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

P.S. - Dr. Brin, you might actually find that webcomic I linked previously, City of Reality, to be rather interesting. It appears to be a deconstruction of the Utopia concept, and on the "Mary Sue" style of character. I just finished a review of it earlier today. RH

Rob Perkins said...

I suppose I've never had an opinion about DADT. Seems to me that if the military maintains its professionalism, (still one of the top three militaries in the world by that metric, and the top all-volunteer one, in my opinion) the UCMJ can probably cover anything else.

Tony Fisk said...

Now, all the boys in blue have to do is plant a willow tree (of souls) in the middle of it, and gather round...

Each to their own.

One more crack in the Darwinist evolution *SCAM*: in the wake of REVELATIONS about the role that mechanisms other than natural selection have played in the CREATION of man in the past comes news that half your DNA comes from viruses!

The cross-overs continue to this day, with such things as Ecco the fruit bat!

In other news: the amateur ants get to work in Haiti

disessa: the process by which disease rearranges your future prospects.

TCB said...

David, I've been reading your blog ever since I detected you talking about this topic. Who else even noticed? The events of 2006, not only Rummy's debacle but the Iran-war dog that didn't bark, demanded to be explained, and nobody else even seemed to think there WAS anything to explain.


TCB said...

Oh, and re: DADT, I just recalled something rather amusing from a great bio of the Duke of Wellington, "Wellington, The Years of the Sword" by Elizabeth Longford (evidently a descendant of his). Seems British soldiers in those days slept naked and two to a bed, basically to save room. Wellington thought bunking two "great brutes" in this way was a "beastly practice" and sought to end it.

While I have the book before me and can't easily find that passage, I do discover this on page 218:
"To Lord Liverpool, an unrelenting Tory, he (Wellington) sent a special request for no generals with political prejudices. 'I only beg you not to send me any violent party men. We must keep the spirit of party out of he army, or we shall be in a bad way indeed.'"

I'm a Wellington fan; he was an intelligent general in an age when intelligent generals were very rare (advancement usually depended more on money than merit).

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Tony,

Why is an additional mechanism for genetic change any type of crack in Darwin's theory?
And how is one of the most useful scientific ideas a "Scam"

Tony Fisk said...

Beats me, Duncan!

You're quite right, 'transverse evolution' is a mechanism orthogonal to Darwin's theory, and they can co-exist quite happily, as far as I can tell.

But I'm sure some spin doctor, somewhere, can provide the necessary 'air of artistic verisimilitude' to the scam theory.(Think of it as a prediction of my own!)

stinges: as I was saying...

rewinn said...

To follow up Tony's reply, I propose the following logic:

A) A theory that has to be changed is wrong, because you would not change a theory that isn't wrong
B) Just about every scientific theory that ever was has to be changed, because new evidence comes along (such as the transgenetic stuff Tony links to)
***THEREFORE: Just about every scientific theory is wrong!!!

Contrast this to (many, I will not say "every") religion:

* Just about every religion has a theory of the origin of the universe, morality, etc.
* Most religious theories cannot be proven wrong, e.g. you cannot PROVE the earth wasn't created in 4004 BC (you can only say it was created with fossils, radiation that appears to be in transit from the edge of the universe, etc)
*****THEREFORE: religion theories are truer than scientific theories!!!!!!

See how simple it is?


As to Dr. Brin's post, it is the recognition that one of the groups of Americans who have been most injured by our land wars in Asia are our troops & their families that motivated me & many others to reach out in support of legal aid etc to our warrior community. It's been a very educational process!

Jacob said...

Hi rewinn,

That only holds if you define truth as that which cannot be proving wrong. A better definition of truth is that which people generally agree upon. Sure that doesn't fit the 'official' definition, but it speaks to how humans consider truth.

Religions have a hard time getting general agreement. Science has a much easier time as it uses tests which can be repeated with similar results each time.

Ultimately we will decide that most of our current Science is incomplete because we are only looking at a few dimensions of a figure which has many more sides. As we explore outside of constants we take for a given, we will have to evolve the formula in order to regain general agreement and therefore "truth".

Ilithi Dragon said...

Hrmmm... Republican demands on Obama's fiscal commission sound an awfully lot like what Obama already planned to do in the first place...

And then this last bit here just made me facepalm. Twice.

But Republicans feel the commission will be used by the Democratic majority to push through tax increases without cutting spending.

Yeah, at least it's better than a certain other majority pushing through tax decreases without cutting spending...

Acacia H. said...

It's because they're trying to recapture their old theme. The problem is, they lie. They are not the government of less spending and smaller administration. They are the government of bigger deficits and significant tax cuts for the rich, at the expense of everyone else.

Of course, the Democrats aren't much better. They will gladly raise taxes... and then not see any problem with increasing spending, while keeping the National Debt high. Some of them see the truth... but the old mantra has been chanted for so long that the brainless masses believe the words Republicans chant despite these words being blatant lies.

Rob H.

John Kurman said...

"Years earlier, I had derided liberals for going along with a ditzo-lefty notion that people in uniform are somehow automatically on the other side".

As liberal, I never subscribed to that particular ditzo-lefty notion, nor to my knowledge do any of my fellow ditzo-lefties - especially the ditzo-lefty veterans who served this country.

I'd be careful with the blanket generalizations and pigeon-holing, o stodgy, plodding, ponderous, cold-blooded reactionary dinosaur living on the wrong side of history.

Ilithi Dragon said...

My roommate would fall into the group of people Dr. Brin is chastising in his OP. During the SotU address, she complained about the joint chiefs sitting in stoic silence through the whole thing. I pointed out that they were just doing part of he admiral/general thing - they're soldiers, there to do what they're told, and remain apart and detached from politics, not involved in them, but I don't think she really bought that.

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

Regarding Tax/Spend differences between Rs and Ds, a large failing of the democrats is to distinguish the difference between fiscal responsibility and size of government.

Republicans actually believe in smaller government if you take out the Military and 'their own district' subsidies. However they are completely fiscally irresponsible. Democrats believe in bigger government that is helpful to the people. But they actually follow fiscal responsibility.

Democrats simple need to develop their message to something like "We want to improve our children's future while republicans want to tax it." The statement is more or less accurate if you look at modern (1980s on) practices.


I do think its fair to say that many liberals favor reducing spending on defense which can put them into a position of opposition with the military.

rewinn said...

Oh Jacob, if you're going to be all logical and stuff, we're never gonna get anywhere with figuring out why science is wrong.

If you don't accept my definition of truth, then you must be wrong because otherwise *I* am wrong, and we know that cannot be the case.


As to fiscal responsibility, I suggest we look at the Jan 28 2010 PAYGO vote- certainly a reasonable idea and one which was broadly supported by many of the Republicans who voted against its reinstatement a few days ago. I don't know whether it is knowable where they don't actually believe in fiscal responsibility, or ACTUALLY do in the abstract but felt it was more important to try to block the Democrats from BEING fiscally responsible; that is to say, whether they are stupid or irresponsible.

Adding to the fun is the fact that it was an amendment to the raising of the debt ceiling, but not the raising of the ceiling itself. Failing to raise the ceiling would cause our nation to start defaulting on certain financial obligations, which would be A Very Bad Thing. One may wish to restrict the growth of the debt, but if so, PAYGO is a small but necessary step. Once again: stupid or irresponsible?

(We can of course entertain ourselves with many examples of Democrats who are also irresponsible but that doesn't excuse the PAYGO vote.)

Jacob said...

(chuckles in agreement with rewinn being right)

The Pay as you Go vote does illustrate the point I was trying to make about the republicans being irresponsible. I'd guess that was just a political stunt to say they are against increasing the national debt when they are responsible for creating it.

Perhaps another way to build the message is Rs are irresponsible in their pursue of Small Government. Democrats are responsible in their pursue of Big Government. Although that isn't as biting as the earlier comment.

Unknown said...

Looks like some Christians didn't like the idea of an Air Force-sanctioned pagan worship site. They stuck a giant cross on it!

(At least they didn't set it on fire.)

TwinBeam said...

I guess I'd rather have PAYGO rather than NOPAYGO - but putting it in with a bill to raise the debt ceiling nearly $2T feels a bit like saying "OK - just this ONE last trip to Vegas, and then BY-GOD this house is going on a BUDGET!"

Yeah, right.

As long as they were going to get no support from the R's anyhow, why didn't they at least cut all discretionary spending in heavily Republican states?

If the Rs want their programs back, all they'll have to do is raise taxes or cut spending elsewhere. But to do that, they'll need the cooperation of the majority ever could they get that, I wonder? Talk about sending a message!

R-heads would explode, as they tried to decide whether to claim the D's are being big spenders OR squeal about the D's pushing them away from the hog trough.

Ian Gould said...

Back on SETI fro a second.

Her's a more hopeful answer to the Fermi Paradox: Maybe everyone's waiting for us to give up and decide we are alone in the universe before jumping out and shouting "Surprise!".

sociotard said...

Google is getting into bed with the NSA after getting slapped around by China.

Steve said...

Thank you for expressing your confidence in the Officer Corps of the United States. It's good to enjoy the approval of those we serve.
On the issue of gays in the military, we all know they have served honorably in the ranks from the beginning. What difference will it make if they're allowed to admit who they are?

Ian said...

Continuing the theme of the ongoing battle between the Republican Party and reality, there's a standard meme that says the United states economy outperforms other developed economies because of lower maximum marginal tax rates, a smaller welfare state and a more pro-business environment.

Btu for the period 1990 to 2007 (which bans runs from the end of the Reagan bubble to the end of the bush Bubble), annualised economic growth in the United Kingdom, Spain, Canada and Australia was HIGHER than in the US.

Of course, GDP is only a crude measure of material well-being and its growth can be influncend by factors like the rate of population growth.

A better measure of the rate of change in people's living standards is growth in GDP per capita which measures how much the resources available to the average citizen change.

On that measure the US is beaten by all the countries I just mentioned and also by Austria; Belgium, Denmark and Norway. (Both lists of fully developed social democratic states with faster rates of economic growth than the US are incomplete BTW).

the US outperforms France, Germany, Italy and Japan but not by a huge margin.

Germany of course had to deal with unification over this period and Italy and France were impacted by the fact that Germany is one of their largest trading partners.

Ian said...

But at least Americans enjoy lower tax rates right?

Not if you include state, local and federal income tax along with social security contributions and take out deductions and money paid back from the government.

Average tax rate for a single American on average weekly earnings:


Equivalent figures for some other OECD member countries;

Japan 29.5%
Canada 31.3%
Australia 26.9%

The rich in America pay dramatically less tax than rich people in other developed countries.

Average single Americans pay about the same in tax as people in the rest of the English-speaking world but admitted considerably less than in much of continental Europe.,3343,en_2649_34533_1942460_1_1_1_1,00.html#trs

Click through to tables 1.5 and 1.6.

Table 1.6 looks at four different families and how much tax they pay as a percentage of income.

For a family of four (one working adult, two children), the US family still pays more in tax than a similar family in Spain, Canada, Australia or New Zealand.

Ian said...

One final thought: US GDP per capita is significantly higher than for many other OECD countries.

But GDP is the total of the market price of all good and services produced.

There's little to no evidence that Americans receive much of anything at all of real value for the extra $3-4,000 per person per year they spend on health care.

That would drop the US nominal per capita GDP to roughly the same as France's or Australia.

I wish this stuff weren't true but I'm not making these figures up.

LarryHart said...

A better measure of the rate of change in people's living standards is growth in GDP per capita which measures how much the resources available to the average citizen change.

On that measure the US is beaten by all the countries I just mentioned and also by Austria; Belgium, Denmark and Norway.

The problem with understanding the GOP meme arguments is that you (and I) are not on the same page with them. I think they would measure success by the resources available to the WEALTHIEST citizens.

Their talking points start to make a certain amount of "sense" if you keep that in mind.

Tacitus2 said...

Regards Paygo.
Uh, correct me if I am wrong, but it did pass, no? There was no filibuster and the Dems put up 60 votes.
So, it is now the law of the land? Or is it on the way to the House?There are two possible scenarios here.
1. Paygo passes both branches of Congress and is signed into law. It requires balanced budgets.
2. Its a Kabuki sham, put forward to enhance the political flailings of the current majority party. Sub possibilities here include
--never makes it through the House
--so vague and mushy it means nothing anyway

As you may have guessed, I have a fairly low opinion of the Dem congressional contingent. Not that the Republicans are any great prizes either.

In fact, I can only muster about 10current Reps./Sens. for whom I have even a modicum of respect.

public opinion polls agree, current approval rating is iirc about 24%.

This fall we may well see one of the final bedrock facts of American politics questioned, that being the disconnect between general revulsion at Congress, and a more favorable opinion of your own districts baconbringer.


Acacia H. said...

Two bits. First, glancing back at the cross/pagan site thing...

I'm of two minds about it. First, it could be seen as disrespectful of Paganism in its varied forms. But... seeing a cross, alone on the jumbled plains... was artistic. Especially the shadow of the cross in the picture. It was reminiscent of the stories of Christ's struggle carrying the crucifix uphill and all of that... and of the loneliness Christ undoubtedly felt in that moment. And there are things that could have been done to destroy the site. Putting a cross that could be removed up there is fairly low key.

Second, as of the popularity of Congress as put forward by Tacticus just now...

That number means nothing. Look at the number of people unhappy about their personal Representative and Senator. I'm sure you'll find those people have considerably higher approval ratings. It's a matter of the old axiom "I hate those bums, but my Rep looks out for us."

In short, the same bums get in over and over again because it's easy to hate the Other if you ignore the fact that your own Congressmen are also a part of the Other.

Rob H.

Acacia H. said...

BTW, I make that comment about the cross on the pagan site as someone who is not Christian, mind you. So I should be up in arms about this. But I see it as something not to be concerned about. At least until someone starts carving crosses into every single boulder up there.

Rob H.

Tacitus2 said...

If you read my last sentence I was saying that perhaps that old axiom is going to be tested...
When you have a Republican being elected to the "Kennedy seat" the previous realities, or illusions that pass for same, have to be questioned.
Polls suggest Reid is likely going down.
Locally, my Rep. a very powerfull committee chair and 20 term incumbant, is facing a serious challenge. The president's former seat in IL looks to be in play. Clearly, something is not playing well in Peoria!

rsynnott said...

Not only that, he _twittered_ about it:

Ah, this modern world we live in...

Predictably the lunatic-fringe right is enraged, both due to the treating homosexuals as real people aspect, and due to him making policy statements on Twitter, which is apparently self-evidently forbidden.

rewinn said...

About GDP vs. standard of living, it's worth noting that American families work more hours and take less vacation than most Euro families.

Time spent relaxing with your family or sitting quietly reading a book may not add to GDP, but probably improves your standard of living (... depending on the family ...)


@Tacitus - "...There was no filibuster and the Dems put up 60 votes...."

There was no filibuster because the Dems got 60. Current GOP practice is to filibuster everything they can regardless of the merits.

Paygo.... It requires balanced budgets.

I think you misspoke. Paygo requires that new expenditures be balanced by some combo of cuts elsewhere or increased income (typically taxes, but tariffs, licenses etc could also be included). Far from kabuki, it was an important part of the balanced budgets of the 1990s; while not a complete solution it's a basic 1st step on a part with "In a hole? First, stop digging!"


About Harry Reid: the poor fellow has been completely ineffectual, especially compared to his predecessor. With his departure, the GOP may acquire a seat and the Democrats may acquire a leader. Everybody wins!

On a related note, the filibuster may not be long for this world, if the American public is unimpressed by its use to block any action however rational. The filibuster is bad enough when it requires a supermajority to do anything (and thus enables the '60th vote' to dictate the terms of any legislation - yes, Joe Liebermann, I'm looking at you) but it also allows the "hold" to prevent the executive branch from staffing itself ... which "in time of war" is at best irresponsible).

The Senate is sufficiently undemocratic (small 'd') without granting a single Senator to power to block all Senate action in order to get more bacon for his state and for foreign corporations such as Airbus (yes, Senator Shelby, I'm looking at you)

T said...

your negative feelings about the GOP congress and mine about the Dems do not strike me as incompatable world views!

Unknown said...


PAYGO is not a law per se - it's a House Rule. (Although rather confusingly at least for a foreigner the amendment to the rules has been passed as part of an Act.)

A Rule is binding on the House that passes it even if the other House doesn't pass it. The need for legislation to pass both Houses means that if either House has the requirement final legislation should be required to meet it. Apparently te Senate already has a similar rule.

But, PAYGO can be set aside or avoided in various ways.

PAYGO was reinstated in 2007 after te Democrats retook control of Congress but Congress then passed an emergency resolution exempting the bail-out Bills for PAYGO.

Tacitus2 said...

I do appreciate the civics lesson! An outsiders perspective is often instructive. I always read British press when I can access it. (you are Aussie though?).
For the record, I would love to see a law with teeth that requires any spending come with funding spelled out. Its the disconnect between the two that has soured a large portion of the population on Congress.
Are they sour enough to be unbribeable with pork? Remains to be seen.

Acacia H. said...

And on a slightly more worrisome note, there's an effort to get Judges to rule some religions are more equal than others. This rather Animal Farm-ish description is deliberate on my behalf. If by some bizarre twist the people behind this succeed, then it's only the beginning. It isn't even "Separate But Equal." Instead it's stating "you are subhuman and thus do not deserve rights."

Hey, if pagans and non-monotheistic religions are inequal under the Constitution, then what about Gays? What about any other minority group not specifically protected under the Constitution? And even then... might it not be argued that some people are more equal than others?

The truly sad thing is, I'm sure these assholes believe they're doing this to "protect" pagans and the like from themselves. That they know what's best for everyone else, and that if people don't do as they're told... well, something needs to be done. To protect society. To protect the right people from these heathen scum.

What's even more pathetic? We need to allow them to speak their minds. Even if we find it offensive. Because even hatemongers and people who try to force their will on others... should be protected by the Constitution. No matter how narrowminded and hatefilled their speech.

Rob H.

Tim H. said...

Now if christians would put as much work into dealing with the followers of mammon, but that might endanger the building fund.

opit said...

Since I'm a 'furrin national' I expect I notice the dysfunction more : the likes of Democrat John Kerry, for instance, do not strike me as unconscious leftists unaware of military reality. Then again, the U.S.A. doesn't HAVE 'leftists' : no matter what you may think of Noam Chomsky,for instance. Two parties offering fealty to the military industrial complex and the God of War do not differ in essence.
The gang at will give you a badly needed eye opener on just how real Democratic military culture is...with no acceptance of the idea that the draft dodgers that constituted the Bu$h Brigades offered any remotely acceptable treatment of those who sacrificed themselves to military service.

rsynnott said...

"Then again, the U.S.A. doesn't HAVE 'leftists' : no matter what you may think of Noam Chomsky,for instance."

Chomsky is far to the left by any definition; he just doesn't really fit in well with the common form of the left-wing found elsewhere. The US doesn't really have socialists (of the actual socialist type, as opposed to the definition used by Fox News et al), which is not terribly surprising; it's the only thing that the modern US has really treated at thoughtcrime.

opit said...

I leave the 'left-right' orientation to those who don't realize that Liberty and its loss to promoters of Absolute Power are the only considerations worth noting.
There are far too many governments in love with a War Measures Act...for Peacetime.

Acacia H. said...

Your friend Daggatt is at it again with an intelligent and insightful look at how broken the filibuster is in the Senate. Except I think he's got one thing wrong. What we need is not to eliminate the Filibuster. What we need is to pass a Constitutional Amendment to eliminate the Senate in its entirety.

Think of it for a second: the Senate is contrary to Democratic rule. It is a House of Lords for a nation without nobles. If we eliminate the Senate and added an extra hundred seats in the House instead... then we'd have an equal amount of representation, in essence, while breaking up existing powerbases where parties get elected to specific seats without competition due to the dynamics of the seat in question.

And when you get down to it, it's not a matter of "State Rights" vs. "Federal Rights" any longer. There are no State Rights. We are one nation, not fifty. If we want to see how the latter works (or doesn't), just look at the European Union and their recent fiscal crisis (with PIIGS as the nations in question are being called - how pleasant, no? You've a budgetary problem due in no part because of the banking blowup, and your nation is called a "pig" because of it?) and the refusal of certain states to come to the aid of their other brethren.

No, a federal nation run democratically is better in the long run.

Rob H.

Acacia H. said...

And on the same page here, I think there is a simple solution to this. On national television, a Senator (preferably Democrat) should stand up, look at Shelby, and state "Have you no shame, Senator?" And then turn and tear apart the Senate as a whole over the whole filibuster bullshit, and how the use of this is destroying the very foundation of Democracy, which is the will of the majority. And if any Senators claim "it's not the will of the majority" then the senator can say "then let the voters decide when we come up for reelection."

Hell, if someone would pay my plane-fare to go out there, I'd say it myself in front of those bastards. Except I doubt I could get that moment in the sun.

Rob H.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Hmm... Articles on Palin's appearance at the Tea Party convention are containing rumblings of a potential run for president by Palin... Scary as hell, the idea of her winning, but I'm finding myself actually hoping she'll give it a serious try, because, while she can stir up some fervor in the Tea Baggers, I'm fairly certain that there's enough people out there who recognize just how bad of a candidate she would be for Prez. Worst case scenario, she runs for the GOP nomination, and either gets shot down in the primaries, or blown out of the water by Obama in the run-up to Nov. (and I'm finding myself very interested in seeing a presidential debate between Obama and Palin - it would be quite amusing, I'm sure). Best case scenario, ship splits from the GOP, shooting for a new "Tea Party" ticket, rending the conservative vote into two or three (or more) pieces, and resulting in a landslide win for Obama.

BCRion said...

A Constitutional amendment is not necessarily required to overturn the filibuster. In fact, it is probably the most difficult way to go.

The filibuster is on constitutionally shaky ground as it is. Clearly, the Constitution allows for each body to make its own rules of operation. What it does not allow, however, is to have these rules violate provisions of law. For example, it would be illegal for the Senate to only allow leadership positions to go to white Protestants of Anglo descent.

It also clearly states in the US Constitution that a simple majority (with the VP acting as tie breaker) is all that is required to pass legislation. The US Senate cannot create a rule that says you really need 60 votes. It is quite clear from their writings the Founders intended for a simple majority.

A supporter of the filibuster would claim the 60 vote rule is purely a procedural one and the Constitution only applies to actual votes on the law itself. This argument is correct by the letter, but it does not change the reality that 60 votes are required, not 50. This is a de facto extra-Constitutional power that the Senate has granted itself, whatever legal chicanery its defenders want to hide behind.

If the Senate wants to modify the Constitution, we have a process for that. Using Senate rules to bypass pieces of the Constitution that are inconvenient is not one of them. Thankfully, the courts have precedent for recognizing that de facto effects of laws (Separate, but Equal anyone?) are as important as the laws themselves. Now if we can only get someone, perhaps an Obama nominee, to file suit against the US Senate for violating his right to a confirmation hearing that is mandated by the Constitution.

BCRion said...

"What we need is to pass a Constitutional Amendment to eliminate the Senate in its entirety."

Not just no, but hell no. Your point is taken, the Senate is undemocratic under some set of definitions. However, the same arguments for the Senate discussed in the 1700s are still valid today. The interests of California, New York, Texas, and Florida are not going to be the same as those of North Dakota, Rhode Island, Wyoming, and Alaska.

Clearly, the Founders were concerned with tyranny by the majority. Populous states with different interests should not be able to steamroll bills into laws that benefit them and possibly do harm to small ones. There needs to be some check on their power to prevent disenfranchisement of people from, say, Montana or Hawaii. Ensuring they cannot be routinely ignored is wise as doing so has been known to breed contempt and eventually rebellion.

So yeah, we are one nation, but hardly homogeneous. In the end, politics is local and there are different interests all around. The Founders did not seek to create a homogenous nation, and probably realized that it was impossible. Rather, they put into place a system to try to take into account the heterogeneous system (as inadequate an arbitrary as the unit called a state is) that we have ensuring the appropriate checks and balances for those interests.

Rob Perkins said...

Eliminating the Senate is a Bad Idea, with a capital Bad.

Eliminating a Senate Rule which obviates the Vice President, on the basis that faction caucuses have become too ascendant, that's a Really Good Idea.

The rationales put forth in the Federalist, near as I can recall, would not have supported regular and tactical use of the filibuster, most especially in the service of a single centrally controlled faction.

And, it's a misuse of the intent of the rules to begin with, anyway. Isn't filibuster an "emergent property" arising out of nothing more evil than the Senate's unwillingness to put a time limit on debates?

Considering the fact that the Senate is at least three times the size of whatever the Founders thought the United States would actually become, though, it's more of a surprise that the Senate works at all, let alone poorly.

Michael C. Rush said...

Considering that the Democrats lack both tactics and a strategy, such a missed opportunity hardly surprises.

Minor corrections: I couldn't find a source for the 5%-of-scientists-self-identify-as-Republicans claim. The closest I found was this link ( to a Pew Survey which gives a 6% figure.

And it's Jon Stewart, not John. :)

David McCabe said...

The seven nations of the USA: data mining Facebook profiles shows seven regions with relatively little friendship between them.

Brother Doug said...

It was Ben Franklin that thought the senate was a bad idea but lets be honest the whole constitution is a joke and we would be better off copying the governing documents of Australia or new Zealand.

Brother Doug

Ian Gould said...

"we would be better off copying the governing documents of Australia or new Zealand."

I don't know enough about New Zealand's political institution to offer an informed opinion but as far as Australia goes:

Gods, no!

I like preferential voting, I like how the balance of power in our
senate has evolved.

But an Australian Prime Minister has more power than virtually any other head of state of a democracy, no direct mandate from the people and they can serve indefinitely.

Brother Doug said...

Interesting I agree no president should have that much power. You should amend the constitution. There were no term limits on our president until after 1940's. But at least Australia has real debates and not the joke we see on public access cable here in the USA. And despite what I would agree as excessive power in the executive Australia has less corruption and greater transparency according to the ngo transparency international

Tony Fisk said...

Well, two out of three ain't bad! How hard is it to introduce a limit? (after all the limit on the US presidency is only recent)

A fair point about PMs, though, and this also appears to produce a 'power vacuum' when a long running PM, or premier, finally steps down: ten years after Kennett and the Victorian libs still aren't particularly credible, even though Labor needs a swift kick in the pants to wake them up!

At the federal level... well, Abbott's pro-active antics currently puts him on the ascendency (although I'm thinking 'Mark Latham')

rewinn said...

"...The interests of California, New York, Texas, and Florida are not going to be the same as those of North Dakota, Rhode Island, Wyoming, and Alaska...."

Why should dirt have any rights at all?

PEOPLE have rights. LAND does not.

To say that Wyoming should have as much influence as California is either to elevate dirt to the status of humans, or to say that there is something magic about living in Wyoming that gives such a resident more rights than a resident of California ... or something about California that gives residents there LESS of a voice that those who live in Wyoming.

I understand all about how our USofA is a confederation of states not of people ... when it was founded. It should no longer be. People move between states freely and without really considering their state citizenship. If the people of Wyoming have interests different from those of California, well and good ... they can fight it out on the basis of one-voter-one-vote.

It seems simple enough to every other democratic nation on earth.

Ian Gould said...

Australia has been lucky that, in general, we've selected competent and moderate men as Prime Minister.

The ones who weren't - Hughes, Gorton, Whitlam - tend not to last very long.

But just in the past 20-odd years, we've had the likes of Hanson, Bjelke-Petersen and Latham as potential contenders for the job.

Tony Fisk said...

It's been called 'the lucky country', but I'd hope that the selection of PMs has got a little more to do with then luck!

swargnal: A seat where the vote is tied. A really good swargnal involves a dozen or so candidates!

Ilithi Dragon said...


The problem is the concentration of the population in certain areas, which would give those areas greater voting power than the less-populated areas. Even splitting the districts up based on an arbitrary population count, so that each district always has between, say, 100,000 and 150,000 number of residents, you would still have a problem with the concentration of voting power into a very small region. Wyoming, for example, would have four or five representativies, but NYC alone would have 55-85 representatives. While that is an accurate representation of the populations, it makes it very easy for the NYC reps to push through legislation that heavily favors them and their constituents, at the cost of the Wyoming constituents, and the Wyoming reps wouldn't be able to do anything about it, because they wouldn't have the votes.

So that's why the Senate's there, to provide a check against the tyranny of the majority that can arise from just a pure population-count representation system.

soc said...

Sorry, this is off topic but I thought Dr. Brin would find this relevant:

"Schippers was approached by senior FBI agents in late July 2001 complaining that their investigations into an imminent al-Qaeda terrorist attack targeting the ‘financial district’ of ‘lower Manhattan’ were blocked from Washington. Schippers’ story was corroborated by investigative journalist Greg Palast , who reported for BBC Newsnight and the Guardian that pre-9/11 FBI investigations into the terrorist connections of Saudi royals and the bin Laden family were also blocked ‘for political reasons’. Gagged FBI translator Sibel Edmonds, whose courageous whistleblowing on US intelligence corruption was also featured in a Vanity Fair cover-story, has similarly said that the FBI had ‘real, specific’ advanced warning of the 9/11 attacks. Documents she translated clearly ‘showed that the Sept. 11 hijackers were in the country and plotting to use airplanes as missiles. The documents also included information relating to their financial activities’ - contradicting Condoleezza Rice’s now notorious pretence that US intelligence knew of no ‘possibility that terrorists might use airplanes as missiles’"

It's from an article defending Vidal against Hitchens

soc said...

I know Dr. Brin has said that Bush pulled FBI agents off terrorism duty to go after Clinton, but the quote I've provided above suggests something more.

BCRion said...

"I understand all about how our USofA is a confederation of states not of people ... when it was founded. It should no longer be."

I see your point, but I totally disagree. States serve the function of making coherent blocks based on regions of people with, hopefully, similar needs and concerns. I understand this is not always the case, but it seems to work well enough. The people of Connecticut and Georgia have very different issues. Just because you have more people in your camp does not, I feel, entitle you to disregard the needs of other camps. Such is a recipe for disaster.

I think the status quo is fine, albeit far from perfect, in this respect. We'll just have to be adults and agree to disagree on that I guess.

"...they can fight it out on the basis of one-voter-one-vote."

It's all well and good to say this, but I do propose a not unrealistic situation: What if the delegation from California pushes through a policy that gives a disproportionate amount of federal benefits to their state. What resource do the people of North Dakota have to ensure they get treated fairly under this system?

I ask this in all sincerity. I truly want to know what check you would have to balance out multiple groups with different needs where one group is significantly larger. Do you even feel we should try to prevent tyranny of the majority?

Jacob said...

Hi BCRion,

Are you considering other possible counters for the tyranny of the majority? The Senate has the flaw of giving unbalanced power towards minorities. It's perk is that it helps balance the majority.

Acknowledging that will help the conversation towards exploring other possible balances. After we've examined them, we can/might conclude that it is the best solution among the options.

I would find that exercise interesting. Hopefully we can come mostly to agreement or potential come up with a solution that doesn't have the negatives of the one currently implemented.

I would also note that states work on the same principles. Often the urban area competes with the rural areas in philosophy thought we consider them red or blue states.

I'll think of it and suggest an alternative in the near future.

BCRion said...

"Are you considering other possible counters for the tyranny of the majority? The Senate has the flaw of giving unbalanced power towards minorities. It's perk is that it helps balance the majority."

Certainly there are others. One could envision a unicameral system with the only the House of Representatives where a delegation from one state could unanimously vote to nullify all the votes of another on a specific bill. That would ensure that a few more populous states could not dictate laws to the people of smaller ones.

Whether the Senate is unbalanced is a matter of debate that will largely come down to values about how much one should adhere to principle that each person should be represented nearly equally. If you feel strongly for that, the Senate is bad. If you feel that geographic units are most important, then the Senate is good. I'm going to get the feeling such debate is going to depend on the value assumptions.

At least in the US, we sort of have both representation by region and population accounted for. While not even close to perfect, it has worked amazingly well for over two centuries.

As fun as such a discussion would be, it is ultimately one of fiat. Dissolving the Senate is currently too radical to be an acceptable solution to very many and serious short term problems. Not saying it's bad to have the discussion, just that we have to be realistic in what can be accomplished in the short term.

Brother Doug said...

Sigh, Come on the US senate is a joke. It mainly serves a a place for corruption to flourish. Places like Alaska and Rode island get twice as much money as they pay in federal taxes. It miserably failed to prevent the conspiracy to falsify war intelligence. The founders were completely wrong. Even our neocon Iraq's puppet government declined to accept a version of the us consitution and took the europian model insted.

Rob Perkins said...

The Senate gives the hinterland an inherent slight advantage (the filibuster rules have to be stopped, of course, now that they're faction tools).

The advantage is enough to keep them from seceding. You want that, because the alternative is not having food unless there's a war to go get it.

Okay, that's hyperbole, but you shouldn't assume that the idea of America will stick around, if people feel shortchanged by a majority tyranny. We can solve the current minor tyranny-of-minority by simply vacating the filibuster.

Duncan Cairncross said...

In My Humble Opinion
As a non American, (Joint British and New Zealand) who has lived and worked in your country the issue is not the Senate so much as the paymasters.

Money talks everywhere but not as much and as blatantly as the US.

I have one vote - rich people have more

You desperately need to take the money out of the equation

I would like a situation where my leaders as servants of the people are paid ONLY by the people

This would require a substantial pay-rise followed by a total ban on earing while a ""Servant of the people.
Any money coming in (shares, interests) would be paid to a charity (a real one)

I would even extend that to a period (two years??) after somebody lost an election
It would be cheaper than the appearance of corruption

This would then leave the election expenses,

I would suggest that all elections have strict financial limits and that anybody laying down a deposit could run and get public funding
If you started getting lots of candidates - the more the merrier

I would like that here! in New Zealand

Citizen James said...

In defense of the Senate, it is a lot harder to gerrymander. And until we actually fix that problem it does provide a counterbalance. It was a scant few years ago that the senate worked to prevent the worst elements shoved through the house (which was run in a nearly dictatorial manner through a number of procedural abuses). The house is far from perfect in it's implementation as well.

As for the old saw that money buys elections - I don't buy it. I've seen plenty of contests where the less funded candidate won. What money buys is exposure. Elections can be lost for lack of funds (people won't vote for you if they don't know who you are or what your positions are), but after a certain point there are greatly diminishing returns on spending.

Tony Fisk said...

@Duncan: hence the angst ove rthe recent US supreme court decision to lift the cap on corporate campaign contributions.

Elections can be lost for lack of funds (people won't vote for you if they don't know who you are or what your positions are), but after a certain point there are greatly diminishing returns on spending.

In a straight 'eyes on the prize' race, perhaps. Not necessarily in one where competitors can get run off the course.


Whilst I'm here, you might want to spare a shekel or two for, not killer bees, but mirror bees. Louis Friedman sounds quite enthusiastic about it, partly because it seems a mature, working hypothesis, and partly because it resonates with the Planetary Society's next attempt at solar sailing.

LarryHart said...

As for the old saw that money buys elections - I don't buy it. I've seen plenty of contests where the less funded candidate won. What money buys is exposure. Elections can be lost for lack of funds (people won't vote for you if they don't know who you are or what your positions are), but after a certain point there are greatly diminishing returns on spending.

You are correct that (after a point) money doesn't buy election RESULTS.

What money buys is the politicians' actions once IN office. Because a senator or representative seems to see his first concern to be the raising of campaign money for the next election. By "donating" that money to the incumbent, one helps him satisfy that requirement, and in doing so has the incumbent beholden to you. Therefore, he will pass legislation favorable to you and squelch legislation that you don't want passed. Otherwise, the campaign "donations" will dry up.

Note that this (disfunctional) system "works" even if you've funded both the candidate AND his opponent in the last election. The idea isn't that your donations caused him to win--merely that your donations allowed him to run in the first place. It's a system of barely-disguised bribery, by which the politician benefits from funds generated by legislation he has helped push through (or helped prevent).

This is a remarkably stable system (it perpetuates itself quite effieicntly) which does NOT do the job it is intended to do. To me, that is the essence of "disfunctional". A solution must come from outside the system, which is why I think Dr Brin is spot on with his Civil War metaphors.

Jacob said...

It is my impression that we elect people off of name recognition and our feelings/impressions of the candidates. Television is the dominate media by which people get their information and form their opinions. We can change the system by shifting to a different form of information gathering. Whenever we move from TV to 'something else' we have the chance of serious political evolution. Unfortunately the internet is allowing for more echo chambers than unifying disagreeing groups.

Acacia H. said...

However, there is another way. It's not exactly viable for the U.S. Senate, but if a candidate goes out and starts meeting with people, goes to various homes in person to meet the people, and basically walk the beat itself... then that candidate has a better-than-expected chance of getting elected, because the voters have actually met that person and been able to come up with a gut impression.

So you have to start small. Build up your base and expand upon it - starting as a Representative and then expand further. And if you can make a name for yourself, if you either utilize the internet or the media to push your views and beliefs, then you can often succeed without needing a lot of money.

The problem? That takes a lot of time and effort. So people take the quick and easy route... and end up beholden to the Powers That Be and to the corruption that has become endemic to the system.

Rob H.

LarryHart said...


However, there is another way. It's not exactly viable for the U.S. Senate, but if a candidate goes out and starts meeting with people, goes to various homes in person to meet the people, and basically walk the beat itself... then that candidate has a better-than-expected chance of getting elected, because the voters have actually met that person and been able to come up with a gut impression...

The problem being that your way might work for those who are truly motivated to enter politics by a desire for public service.

Those who are motivated by a desire to get rich might as well do it the quick, easy way.

So the latter group has an easier time getting elected than does the former group, and therefore, the former group is winnowed out of the system by evolution. What's the point of slogging through twenty years or so building a name and reputation when, after all that time, your opponent will receive a gift of a billion dollars from (say) the pharmacutical industry to blow your chances out of the water. Or worse yet--the tv networks will receive the windfall to portray you in the worst possible light if at all.

The problem? That takes a lot of time and effort. So people take the quick and easy route... and end up beholden to the Powers That Be and to the corruption that has become endemic to the system.

At the risk of antagonizing our host with a "Star Wars" reference...

The dark side isn't stronger, but it's quicker and more seductive?

Acacia H. said...

There's nothing wrong with Star Wars that smacking George Lucas upside the head with the Timothy Zahn novels wouldn't cure. =^-^=

rewinn said...

Instead of all these theoretical arguments about the dreadful things that would happened if we eliminated the Senate, and went to an equal representation system, why not simply look at real world data. How does it work in nations that have the fairer system?

For example, Canada. Somehow the various regions manage to battle for their share of the pie. I don't think Canadian politicians are intrinsically smarter than American ones.

Alternatively, I have a proposal. Mercer Island is seriously discriminated against. Give us two Senators or ... ya know what ... I'll settle for just one. Then we can have our interests represented in the Senate. Is it a deal?


The question about money buying elections is framely excessively deterministically. Money does nt determine the outcome in every case, but it is beyond argument that it weighs the dice.

"The race is not always to the swift, nor the contest to the strong, but that is definitely the way to bet."

CJ-in-Weld said...

"Instead of all these theoretical arguments about the dreadful things that would happened if we eliminated the Senate, and went to an equal representation system, why not simply look at real world data."

How about, instead of all these theoretical arguments about eliminating the Senate, we concentrate on things that we can actually accomplish politically. Because eliminating the Senate will never, ever, ever, ever happen.

Acacia H. said...

Oh? If 2/3rds of the States approve of a Constitutional Amendment to disband the Senate and distribute their seats among the House of Representatives (or even just to give every state two extra Representatives to represent specific state interests, thus giving smaller states a greater piece of the representational pie) and if the House of Representatives approves it, then the Senate itself will find itself in a very hairy position. Do they disband? Or do they allow the anger of the populace which had its will thwarted result in their ouster in two, four, and six years?

If the Senators managed to negotiate that they themselves would inherit those two seats in the House (and then run for election in two years), then they may accept the will of the people. Especially if the will of the people has otherwise turned against them.

Rob H.

Jacob said...

Ultimately, I failed my own challenge of coming up with a better system in the last day. I focused on the idea of having the constituion state that the majority cannot dictate the actions of the minority unless that minorty is victimizing someone. But following that line of thought through will lead to policies which are only instituted in the area where the votes passed. Our federal government isn't well designed to have regional policies at the moment.

I like the idea of localizing government with Federal and State governments working to help those that opt into their programs. Unfortunately I think its somewhat off topic and would be a distraction.

TwinBeam said...

RobH -

The 9 largest (pop.) states have over 50% of the population.

Any expectation that the other 41 would vote to end the Senate is pure fantasy.

They'd be more likely to shut down the House - which will also never happen!

CJ-in-Weld said...

Rob H., remember that it takes two-thirds of both houses to propose an amendment, and then three-quarters of the state legislatures would have to approve it to take effect. The way you have it framed, the Senate gets it last and then somehow gets shamed into voting for its own nonexistence. But they have no shame!

David Brin said...

Having just returned from Cape Canaveral (wow) I feel ever-more strongly how important it is that a point be made about progress.

Sure, the democrats have to ask the Republicans, again, to come to the table.  But it must be from a position of strength.  And I see just one  way to do that.

If the House democrats, on a majority vote, were to pass the Senate's health care bill, then Fox and the Gops and many liberals and the press would scream about "cramming it down our throats with a trick."  But it would then be the fait accompi.  The basis upon which negotiations would then take place.

Obama could then say "come and help amend and change it.  We won't filibuster your suggestions, but let them come to a straight vote."

This is a simple, absolutely straightforward action.  In a shot it would say "Stop F*#king around."

If Pelosi cannot do this, she should be replaced, pure and simple.

David Brin said...



John Kurman, I make a very clear distinction between classic liberals and actual leftists. There are many actual intellectual, moral and psychological distinctions, Moreover, if you and your fellow liberals honestly include no flaky lefties, as you claim, then either you are blind to the distinctions or you are a very fortunate and enlightened collection or bright, progressive blues.

Me? I have seen the bilious nastiness of leftwing anti-military sputum decline gradually, since Vietnam. But what's left is harmful and only feeds the fox-limbaugh propaganda machine. Worse, it spurns potential allies from a very important and very smart cohort.

Rob H... the first two phases of the US Civil War ended with diminished states rights. Funny thing is that Bush Jr directly assaulted states' rights and centralized power tremendously, a fact that I urged dems and liberals to punce upon... and again, not a single pundit or politico paid the slightest attention.

Still, the likely outcome, if Blue America prevails in Phase III, will again be a lessening of power in Red-Rural America.

Ilithi... 2012 is the year of Nehemia Scudder. Any numberalogical or horoscope parallels with Sarah Palin?


David Brin said...

Aussies are unusual in many ways. They know they are lucky. Except for Sydney, they've had a chance to actually plan some of their cities, for example, learning from metropolitan errors elsewhere. Their strange mix of shrugged socialism and rugged individualism makes American dogmatists of left or right completely crazy.

Soc said: "Schippers was approached by senior FBI agents in late July 2001 complaining that their investigations into an imminent al-Qaeda terrorist attack targeting the ‘financial district’ of ‘lower Manhattan’ were blocked from Washington."

I had predicted a "pardon tsunami" as the Bushites left office and a wave of scandal-revelations once the civil service was released. Neither happened... an admitted failure of prediction. I can think of only three possibilities:

1) My perception of Bush era mass-corruption and malfeasance was exaggerated. But how could that be? Just the corruption in the US managed Iraq Oil Ministry and the disappearance of billions in raw cash, in Iraq, should have sent heads tolling, and these are just two out of hundreds of blatant tales.

2) The neocons had excellent attorneys who pre-excused hundreds of malfeasances behind technicalities. The biggest was the use of "emergency clauses" to over-ride contracting rules. Hard to prosecute. But why hasn't the Justice Department found a few where they slipped up - to make examples of?

3) Blackmail or collusion. Bush got assurances, before the election, and hence felt no need to pardon. Gawd, I'd rather it were #1 and I was simply wrong, a partisan polemicist with over-the top paranoia. If it is #3 then we are screwed.

Have another look at:

"I know Dr. Brin has said that Bush pulled FBI agents off terrorism duty to go after Clinton, but the quote I've provided above suggests something more."

Again, I am depressed.

BCRion, yes, some degree of regional protection was inherent in the meaning of the Senate. ANd I don't think it is irrelevant... though some states should be combined, perhaps. The Dakotas should never have been two, nor should New Mexico have been divided.

In fear of losing that senatorial regional protection, the South fought for new slave states before the Civil War and for filibusters afterward. This is precisely the same struggle as before, for mostly the same psychological and social reasons. Exacerbated by the bitterness that Red-Rurals feel over seeing their best and brightest graduate from local high schools and then rush off to become Blue cityfolk as fast as their feet will carry them.

I watch Engvall and Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy because they are very very funny and charming as all get-out, with their brand of hilarious self-effacing humor. The charm is real and the aw shucks I'm-so-dumb schtick wins over any real guy, (since all of us know -- despite even having a PhD -- that we are redneck doofuses, at heart. It's right there on the Y chromosome.)

And yet, there is a bitter, inner core to it all, that says "actually, I am BRAGGING that rednecks are like this. We are BETTER BECAUSE we don't know anything. The polemical message is the same one promoted by Fox. Leveraging natural American suspicion of authority, and distracting it toward hatred of smartypants. Because the smart men and women are the real threat to the aristocracy's ascension to ultimate power.

The Reds are doing the same thing they did in Civil War Phase One... marching off to fight for the elite power of their oligarch/plantation/aristocrat masters, all the while yelling about how free they are.

Citizen James said...
In defense of the Senate, it is a lot harder to gerrymander.

Right on! Though regionalism does that for us.

rewinn said...

"...How about, instead of all these theoretical arguments about eliminating the Senate, we concentrate on things that we can actually accomplish politically. Because eliminating the Senate will never, ever, ever, ever happen."

Heh-heh; point made I suppose. Or maybe not.

Pointing out that the Senate is perniciously unrepresentative serves at the very least the useful purpose of justifying measures to neutralize its worst features. Only once we achieve consensus that the Senate is broken, is reform possible. At the very least, the filibuster has to go; if the Dems hold on to it in the petty hope of using it when the GOP regains the Senate, one must ask where they were during the reign of the Gang of 14 and the Nuclear Option.

Democrats need a leader in the Senate to filibuster, and they haven't had one in living memory.

The Senate, er I mean Emperor, really does have no clothes. The theoretical dangers of wearing pants doesn't change the naked truth.

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

Re: corruption, what is the U.S. military paying for a gallon of gasoline in Iraq TODAY?

BCRion said...

Rewinn, I would like you to answer my question, because I feel it important. I'll requote it.

"What if the delegation from California pushes through a policy that gives a disproportionate amount of federal benefits to their state. What resource do the people of North Dakota have to ensure they get treated fairly under this system?"

I fully admit that the divisions are arbitrary, but I do not feel them worthless. If you want Mercer Island represented in such a way, petition the US Federal Government for statehood.

David Brin said...

New combo-states:



New AriMex





Leave Utah alone because its own special weirdness deserves a state.

Now we have 42 states, none of them ridiculous. And 84 senators may be few enough to be collegial again. Blue America has made some sacrifices too.

That should suffice, though a second wave might include

Missabama and
Appalachia (TennKentuckWVa) also make sense.

We've down to 39 so let Texas split and let Dallas be the capital of TexArkanHoma and cut California into NorCal and Newer Mexico (where I live)...

For an even forty states. There. That oughta work.

Tony Fisk said...

In the interests of preventing ties, 39 (Washegon) or 41 (NY/NY) might be better.

(and I think you know that, too!)

parsomen: the art of seeing signs in random strings (like liff-capcha)

David Brin said...


Obviously NevadUtah!

Oh, DelaRhodeConnect doesn't work

Delamary combines Delaware and Maryland

What's our count now? Anyone care to make a map? Is the population distribution fairer now... while still leaving each regional type represented?

David McCabe said...

Can NorCal take some of our right-wing wackos, please?

Quoth Brin: The charm is real and the aw shucks I'm-so-dumb schtick wins over any real guy, (since all of us know -- despite even having a PhD -- that we are redneck doofuses, at heart. It's right there on the Y chromosome.)

I would find the aw-schucks sexism shocking if it weren't so pervasive. In a world where most college graduates are women, do we really have to disparage either half of the human race? How can it be justified?

David McCabe said...

I take that back; wouldn't want to lose Ashland.

Ian Gould said...

A few suggestions from afar, hopefully not too presumptious.

1. US Congressional Districts are huge compared to electorates in most other democracies. This contributes greatly to the cost of being elected and makes it next to impossible for voters to influence their Representatives.

The US Constitution provides for regular increases in the size of Congress but no increase has been authorised since the early part of last century.

A graduated increase to around 600 Congressional seats would have a coupel of effects - it would greatly reduce the power of the small states in the Electoral College making it hugely unlikely you would have a President elected without a popular majority.

It would alos mean each seach represented rounghly 500,000 people, about the population of the smallest current states effectively abolishing the gerrymander in their favor.

2. Rather than amalgamating states, split several of the larger states into two or more smaller states. This would mean, for starters, that the current inland areas of Calfornia and Washington would no longer be stuck with de facto permanent Democratic state governments and two Democrat Senators to represent their majority-republic areas. Ditto in reverse for the liberal areas of Texas.

3. Amend Senate rules to lower the cloture threshold to, say, 55%.

4. Rather than having purely symbolic joint sittigns of the House and the Senate have actual working joint sessions where legislation can be passed by a simple majority. Don;t od it all the tiem but do it, say, once every two years when new members are seated.

That way the Senate can slow down but not completely block legislation that has strong support in the House.

Ian Gould said...

On a Vegan forum I visit, someone had an interesting idea.

Rather than trying to develop vat-grown meat, why not try to genetically engineer plants to produce a meatlike fruit?

At worst we'd end up with Triffids, which would at least be entertaining.

Tim H. said...

So, Missouri gets to be it's own special weird? That fits, though we'll never admit that to Kansas.

David Brin said...

Meat-like fruit. Lazy cro-magnons. Neanderthals would call us pathetic... even if it did save the world.

Oh, latest news. Rice that can be prepared just by soaking, not boiling. Another world saver.

Missouri has enough populations to stay a state... especially if you include the biomass weight of all the flying insects.

Tim H. said...

Too true, motorcyclists are well advised to ride with mouth shut. From personal experience, a katydid at 45 mph is awfully messy and a grasshopper at 60 mph stings.

rewinn said...

If we're going to re-draw the states (a fun and instructive exercise) why limit ourselves to geography?

Why not go all the way and have voluntary associations be the basis of "state" citizenship? Right now, I can change from "Washington State" to "Oregon" by moving; I would much prefer to switch from "Represented in the Senate by Patty Murray" to "Represented in the Senate by Bernie Sanders" just by changing my voter registration or some such. Bernie represents my interests much better than Patty does (no offense Patty!) but I don't want to move geographically (no offense Vermont!)

This would have many benefits, starting with empowering actual 3rd parties. I wouldn't be surprised if the Libertarians and the Greens could scrape up a couple Senators, if they weren't geographically dispersed.

To implement this, all we would need would be to persuade the states and the Big Two Parties loosen their grip on the Congress. And surely they will give way to the irresistible force of logic!

rewinn said...

BCRion said...
Rewinn, I would like you to answer my question, because I feel it important.

Only because you insist. I'll rename the states to purify the argument.

1. If GigantiState (GS) has 50.1% of the legislature, I would agree that the system is disfunctional, but that's a boundary condition we can safely ignore for this analysis.

2. If GS has amassed a coalition that infringes on fundamental rights, e.g. enslaving the residents of TinyState (TS), then we have another boundary condition; traditionally TS has recourse to our courts. This sort of dispute is not representative the vast majority of interstate disputes.

3. Where GS has less than a majority in Congress and is not infringing on fundamental rights, the problem reduces to what recourse does the losing party in an election have in a democracy, when the losing party feels it is being treated unfairly?

3.1 Beyond the boundary conditions, the word "unfairly" has no useful meaning. For example, earmarks for your districts represent corruption but for my district represent necessity. I think it's unfair that giant farms get subsidies; they think it's unfair that Seattle gets freeways. Everybody's equally unhappy! that's why we have elections to work these things out.

3.2 If TS insists on a recourse, the first thing is to just grow up, accept the fact that they didn't scrape together a majority, and try forming a coalition with others with common interests.

3.3 If TS isn't content with democracy, there's all sorts of ways to game the system; for example, small states that tend not to launch their senators toward the Oval Office have returned the same Senators for decades, giving them seniority all out of proportion to representation and, as a result, massive inflows of Federal dollars.

3.4 TS can go to the courts and/or the executive, two places where claims of unfairness are sometimes worked out.

3.5 TS can argue in the public sphere that its citizens are traditionally entitled to special rights, whereas citizens of other political units (e.g. notoriously Republican Orange County in notoriously Democratic California) are not.

3.5. TS can demand that, even though its faction lost the election, it should be able to run things. We see this argument most frequently in claims that people from sparsely populated areas form a natural ruling class, based on the old gameinschaft/gesellschaft distinction (or City Mouse/Country Mouse if you prefer) such that the noble farmers and small town people are just better at figuring out what to do that are than the dirty, violent, thinkanista city folk. This is a popular meme in fiction, particularly political fiction.

3.6. TS can secede. Buh-bye and good luck! TS's agricultural products sell into a world economy so I don't think the other 49 states will go hungry.


Let me repeat the real answer: TS needs to learn how to advance its interest without some sort of geographical Affirmative Action. In particular, there are extensive Country interests in states with large cities; representatives from Great Plains farms and Yakima Valley farms could and do band together productively.

Those who insist on rejecting the just cries for Senate representation on the part of Mercer Island appear to be saying "We got our special privileges first; tough on you." Justifying one form of unfairness on the basis of antiquity would seem to violate many principles of natural justice. If Wyoming gets two Senate seats because its interests differ from California's, then New York City and Houston should each get two Senate seats because their interests differ from those of Upstate New York and of Rural Texas.


To argue "the system has worked amazingly well" is Panglossian. Today our entire Congress is paralyzed because Senators representing about 11% of our population have that power.

The evidence of other national legislatures suggests this is not the best of all possible worlds.

Rob Perkins said...

Are you people all forgetting that all this rancor and divisiveness is still devoid of any bullets? That we're still solving our problems with words and courts, and that the world is still beating down our door to get in and be a part of it?

Think about that.

Also, as an expatriate Utahn, I tell you you'll never successfully combine Utah and Nevada. I suggest taking the area from Rexburg, Idaho, south along I-15, going east to roughly the Donner Pass and west to the Rockies summit, and south until about 20 miles north of greater Las Vegas, and naming it "Mormania".

Tim H. said...

rewinn, United States government does fall a bit short of ideal, but I suggest tweaks and adjustments. Get rid of the fillibuster, or blunt it. A constitutional convention could very well give big money an opportunity to talk very loud, what the servants of mammon might do with the chance to remake the constitution in their image doesn't bear thinking about.

Jacob said...

Hi rewinn,

While I love the idea of political associations without boundaries, it will not work. Ultimately government should be designed to do two things: accomplish tasks for the people and to protect the people. Tasks include education, transportation, social securities, economic growth, etc. Protection includes military spending and laws that prevent people from becoming victims to murder, theft, and discrimination.

If you choose to associate yourself with Oregon you would be taxes for programs there. That means the roads, schools, and services in your area would decay. (Assuming everyone around you choose the same.)

To answer BCRion's basic challenge, you change the constitution to say...

Tax revenues cannot flow out of their region of collection unless it is done so at the will of the area giving them.

An example might be a regions giving revenues over to poorer regions so they can reach the American "minimun" of acceptable Education, Safety, etc.

David Brin said...

You guys are alluding to the truest form of representative democracy and that is Affiliative Representation.

Say there's a 600 member US legislature. Then any group of 500,000 people can gather their votes together and have a congrtesscritter.


#1 justice. the 40% blues in a gerrymnandered Red district (or vice versa) are no longer disenfranchised forever.

#2 Real representation for people just like you.

Disadvantages are small, but

#1 can only be done with computers/internet/agility, hence only nw+.

#2 SUPER self-gerrymandering, though totally fair, will mean that Congress will contain a dozen or so totally wild-ass crazies, representing self-selected clades of total psychopaths.

#3 some issues are orthogonal, so your affiliation group rep may not represent you on side matters.

Hence there should be THREE HOUSES.
One- for general policy affiliation
One ->demarchy... the people vote directly.

(I'd start with that last one being advisory-only... for a few decades, till maturity is proved!)

Rob Perkins said...

I wonder if our government's constitution (in the sense of an Athenian or Roman Republic constitution, not in the sense we usually use it) is as complex today as it was for those smaller entities back in classic or Roman times.

That would take into account entities like the Federal Reserve Board, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and so forth.

I say this because, man, for such small areas, the organization was positively... um... byzantine. :-)

David Brin said...

Few moderns know that the Roman tribal popular assemblies could over-rule the Senate, almost to the Imperial era. Tribunes and all that weird stuff.

Jason Block said...

The main problems with three houses would have to do with getting all three to agree in any kind of timely manner. And who is the executive, is he a super/prime member of one of the houses and if so which one? Each scenario there has it's pros and cons. I tend to think that our own House (basically at it's genesis a 'house of commons') satisfies geographic representation well enough, in that each state gets at least one representative even if nobody lives there. If the Senate was no longer tied to the individual states, maybe the House would take on the conservative 'stabilizing' role that the Senate has. Maybe you could jigger around with term length and limits to facilitate that.

Ian Gould said...

Let me throw out another concept: interactive representation.

Candidates run for election as they do now, based on geographic localities.

The top 2-4 vote-getters in the election are eligible to be seated in Parliament. Each representative does not have equal voting weight - they have as many votes as the number of people who voted for them at the election. (2-4 as an example because you'd have both a floor and ceiling. There'd always be at least two candidates eligible to be seated even if the outcome was 90:10 in favor of one, a maximum of four because you'd need to get over a hurdle of, say, 5% of the vote to be elected.)

Now's the really different part - there's a confidential register of who voted for which candidate and every three to six months voters can choose to transfer their support to another candidate - either one currently in the house or someone who has registered their desire to run.

If a representatives support falsl below the threshold, they lose their seat and either there's a special election or if there's a candidate for election who has above the 5% threshold they're elected.

So no more gerrymandering and virtually every voter is likely to have a member who reflects their political views (and who knows their job is on the line if they piss off enoguh people.

Ian Gould said...

Indonesia actually had a "Third House" during the Suharto era. Unfortunately like the rest of "Guided Democracy" it was a sham.

David Brin said...

on to next....