Monday, December 03, 2012

A call to new public officials, representatives etc... beware of blackmail!

This is an open message to all incoming Representatives, Senators, state and federal officials. * If you know any folks who fit that description, pass this warning on to them!

First, congratulations on your achievement, drawing enough votes to be deemed the lawful delegate of your state or district, or winning appointment to an office of public trust. That trust is worth discussing. In an era that's awash in money and special interest groups, there's been a rising sense of cynicism.  Crimes like gerrymandering make us feel that its not so much a contest between parties or doctrines as it is between the political caste and the rest of us.

No doubt you are heading to Washington (or your state capital) stoked by righteous eagerness to end all of that!  Brimming with determination to restore both honesty and common sense, you see the path ahead as crystal clear, free of complexity or compromise with evil forces. Some will call that naive and at one level... it is! Life is complicated and if you truly want to govern, it will involve give and take. Negotiation, even compromise...

...but that's not what I've come to warn you about. Nor about the temptations or flattery, or campaign contributions, or promise of higher office, or even outright bribery.  Either you are a person of character, or you aren't.  If you are one, then you will strive to reduce the role of money in politics. You will cultivate arguments that are fair and complex and that involve listening -- maybe even a little attention to scientific fact -- no matter what party you are in.

No. I am not here to warn you about traps that a person of good character can struggle against and generally (despite some lapses) avoid. I'm talking about something far more insidious that can reach out and snatch you in a single moment, permanently transforming and wrecking all your idealistic goals, your career, even your life.  A failure mode that we can see before us right now, illustrated in the news.


I describe this calamity elsewhere in much more detail. But here's the distilled gist:

There are powers out there who would love to own their own politicians, legislators, bureaucrats. Name whichever side of the political spectrum that you loathe. Now name one that you like. It doesn't matter! There's somebody at the extremes, or some foreign power, or some mercenary or criminal interest, who will seek to collect their own secret-servants in Washington.  The methods that get the most attention are lobbying, campaign donations and outright bribery. But there's a problem with all of these methods. A drawback for those use use them.

Satiation. A representative or senator or civil servant might accept some lobbyist favors, even some contributions, then draw a line: "I've helped you up to this point, but no further. That's enough for this year."

You might say no out of a sense of honor, or self-preservation, or to avoid the stain being too obvious. Or not wanting to admit it to yourself. Or cynically, in order to keep your price up.

Blackmail is different. Blackmail is forever. And once you give in to it - even once - they can blackmail you over that!

Do you think I am the first to think of this? Imagine how it often gets started. Take some starry eyed idealist, newly arrived in DC and determined to clean up the town. Invite him or her to a high-class party on a yacht.  Flattery, movie starlets. Slip him some drugs or cater to some brief-bad impulses, snap some incriminating images, and you’ve got him in your pocket!

== Examples in the News ==

Are you saying it can't happen to you? Why do you think General David Petraeus had to swiftly resign as director of the CIA, after it was revealed that he had a minor, brief, consensual sexual affair with his biographer?  By 21st Century standards, if you confess that in public and if your wife, standing next to you, conveys genuine forgiveness, then your chances of political survival aren't zero! Such redemption may lie in the general's future...

...but not for the job of CIA Director. The intelligence community is extra, extra sensitive about the possibilities of blackmail. That was the sub-text speeding things along. And note, in this case there wasn't any actual blackmail going on!

The lesson?  If a super-straight arrow can get in trouble like that, you had better take this seriously. Guard your back and front. Hire a staff whose advice about these things is wise, experienced and listened-to. Take your spouse along.

== The worst case? It's widespread! ==

Truly, envision the forces in this world that you consider to be evil. Why would they not try to do this? And what's to stop them from having succeeded, time and again, in a climate as florid, egotistical and money drenched as Washington? Shouldn't you stay alert for signs that it has already happened to some of your comrades?

Moreover... if the blackmail gambit really is being used heavily, by many nefarious forces, then envision three things:

1) how it fits what has happened to American Politics in the last generation, and

2) how they must be wringing their hands over the recent arrival of so many middle-aged women in high elective offices! and

3) how desperate they must be to hold on to gerrymandering. (But I cover that crime elsewhere.)

== If this happens to you, don't give up! ==

All right, that's my warning to newcomers, the freshman congressfolk and all, coming to town brimming with zeal and suddenly invited to every sort of party.  Be wary. Be circumspect.  Don't drink strange beverages at "discreet" galas thrown by powerful interests or let yourself be suckered into that hot tub or that orgy. And if you suspect something, there are FBI and other agencies who have skills to help you.

You wanted power? Wield it as an adult.

But what if it's too late?

Too late? Yes, I'm talking to you. Not my regular readers, but you, the one who feels a burn of shame, while reading these words.  Yes, you, the already-fallen.

Here's some good news.  There is probably still a away out. A hard and risky path to redemption. Above all, it is vital that you realize that you are very probably not alone!

They want you to envision yourself not only trapped and helpless but isolated. Only, think about it. What if you are but one in a house of cards... and you were the one to bring it down? Imagine how the country would feel about a sullied person... who then tore the masks off villains far worse than himself. The first person to do that... well... he'd earn a lot of forgiveness.

I go into more detail in my earlier posting about blackmail.  I hope you'll read it carefully and consider how great you'll feel, if a way can be found to turn the tables on your Masters!

A way to escape the Prisoners' Dilemma and come out the other end of a sewer, almost clean.  Not only a partial winner, but a kind of hero.

Perhaps even with honor and the thanks of a country that truly does often forgive flawed characters.

Especially when -- in the long run -- they finally do their duty.


* This is the first of a series of "Suggestions for Congress and the President." In the effrontery and delusion that perhaps something found on these pages might be useful, worthwhile, noticed, or even seen by those who could use some fresh ideas in helping to guide civilization back on track.


Hans said...

I haven't checked to see if this is off topic or not.

However: See the editorial by Hajnal and Horowitz in the Times today.

Lorraine said...

Reading this has been surprisingly similar to reading this. Perhaps being blackmailed isn't too different from being recruited as an informant.

David Brin said...

Hans... link please?

Ahcuah said...

I'm guessing that Hans means this.

duncan cairncross said...

Interesting article,
Explains that poor minorities do much better under Dems
- So they vote accordingly

The question must be why poor white people - who also do much better under the Dems - don't vote sensibly

David Brin said...

Lorraine that is truly a fascinating posting about "snitches". rather sanctimonious and hypocritical... but still very informative...

David Brin said...

The time s piece is misleading. EVERYBODY does better under democratic administrations. The margins of improvement for blacks and the poor are not as huge as they imply.

infanttyrone said...


For one perspective on why poor white folks don't vote sensibly, try Deer Hunting with Jesus by the late Joe Bageant.
Or read some of his many related essays at

Tim H. said...

Expanding on the prosperity under the Democrats theme, a small business is likely to look to working class clientele, if they have more to spend, your business does better. The large businesses also. The continued effort to reduce the earning power of labor would have an anti-competitive effect, like sawing halfway through the lower rungs of the ladder

Bytowner said...

This will be true of many nations. Adapt to your own national circumstances as needed.

Lorraine said...

Tim H., this anti-competitive effect of which you speak, I think, is a genuine "tragedy of the commons." Surely we all have heard news stories of a company's share price going up after announcement of mass layoffs, yet the overall stock market goes down in response to increased unemployment in the macro economy. It would be good for business and labor alike if businesses regarded each other's mass layoff events as the moral equivalent of pissing in the well...

Another approach is deliberately countercyclical civil service hiring (and of course firing), but since it's so fashionable to want to do everything in the private sector, better to cultivate anti-layoff social norms in the business community...

Hans said...

Sorry about not posting a link. I read the opinion piece in the actual dead trees version of the paper, so a link to that would have been kind of weird: http:\\

Anyway, thanks to Ahcuah for providing it for me.

Carl M. said...

Here is a perfect example.

Larry C. Lyons said...

I'm reminded of what happened in the 60's to one French diplomat who was caught in a honeypot trap. A KGB agent came up to him with a set of very explicit and incriminating photos of the diplomat and the woman agent.

The diplomat riffled through the photos and said "I'll take this one, and this and this. You can have the rest, they're not very good." The poor KGB blackmailer retreated in confusion.

The only solution to blackmail is to come clean. It may be briefly painful but much less painful when the whole sordid mess is exposed later. said...

There two other related evils which are much more pervasive.

The first is campaign contributions, especially during the legislative session. It has always seemed to me that such contributions to vote for or against legislations is nothing more than legalized bribery. Perhaps I'm too much of a purist but I believe legislators should make decisions based on the soundness of the reasons for or against legislation.

The second and just as pervasive is the problem of Group Think. I suggest readers read Irving Janis book by the same name. We saw this in the election when the Team Romeny bought into those pollsters who told them what they wanted to hear.

The problem with group think is appeals to decision makers existing world view and values. It is done in the open and only time, critical thinking and diversity of opinion can overcome it.

Alex Tolley said...

My ex once told me that in Texas they set up promising future public servants early, so they could control them later, or even deny them office. Way too late to think about this after being electrd.

Aren said...

I think one of the …advanced techniques employed are the increasing steps in black mail - you start by something innocuous, something a politician could survive, though with a blemish on hir vest.

One uses this first material to give some little advises to the subject on how to vote/behave/decide, but don't lean to strongly yet.

After having gained some measure of confidence, lure or convince the subject to step up, incrimante hir with something stronger.

Keep repeating that until the possible blemish is too big to ignore and you got the subject in the sack and can force it most ways. If you're sensible you provide some matter they can reason their behaviour.

Alfred Differ said...

There are a lot of jobs besides those in elective offices that are vulnerable to blackmail interests. Civil service people should think about this too. Most information collected by the bad guys is freely available and digitally managed. If they have an interest in filling gaps in that data they can focus on particular people to get it. Those people often don't think they are in positions of power because they feel like a small cog in a big machine, yet the information they have is useful as missing puzzzle pieces.

The elected officials are the obvious targets, but we should all contemplate the fact that our knowledge, when accumulated, can help focus the attention of our opponents making their power plays much more effective.

Alfred Differ said...

I suspect paint-ball guns will sell well when these get deployed some day.

Jumper said...

There are no men of bad morals in the various police forces.

This seems to me to be a dubious proposition but I think it is often an unexamined supposition in arguments on surveillance in general. It's why the innocent really have a reason for privacy.

sociotard said...

I am comforted, though, that the drones appear to be legal for the public at the moment. Sousveillance still has a chance.

Ian said...

Having been in a reasonably sensitive public service position which would have been a priem target for blackmail or bribery, I think all of your concerns are vastly overstated.

I'm sure both problsms are real - kind of like serial killers.

But most likely considerably less common.

Acacia H. said...

John Stewart spoke up briefly on the War on Thanksgiving. Or more specifically on how Christmas is eating other Holidays... and Halloween better watch out. ;)

I just thought Dr. Brin would find this amusing. (Though I will admit, I'd love to see someone who has Stewart's ear to ask him to go into more depth on the War on Thanksgiving.)

Rob H.

David Brin said...

I loved the Stewart Thanksgiving bit, when it first aired. Hilarious. You should all watch it!

Alfred Differ said...

There are many people who think the problem is overstated, and for most people it is actually true. The problem is that most people don't know if the bits of information they happen to know are the missing puzzle pieces needed by bad people. They might never know if the easiest way to collect that data involves criminal activity they can't detect or are unlikely to connect to the real purpose.

I pick on this stuff because some of the puzzle pieces involve how to get useful people into compromsing positions.

gregory byshenk said...

An update on previous discussion regarding high-speed trading, at High-Speed Traders Profit at Expense of Ordinary Investors:

"Using previously private data, Mr. Kirilenko’s team found that from August 2010 to August 2012, high-frequency trading firms were able to reliably capture profits by buying and selling futures contracts from several types of traditional investors."

locumranch said...

From a Game theory perspective, Moral Complicity & the potential for blackmail is the backbone of the human social contract.

Derived from the adage that 'we cannot trust an honest man,' we (aka 'society in general) institute flawed, unworkable or Catch 22- like social standards in a deliberate fashion.

Once these rules are instituted, then we are all 'rule-breakers' who are bound together in a mutual conspiracy of silence that some call 'social interdependency' but others call 'moral complicity'.

The game then plays out as follows:

You & I are 'bad men' that break the rules, so we must all hang together or we will all hang separately. Our sins include (but are not limited to) cynicism, wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, gluttony and fornication, but I won't tell anyone that you cheat on your taxes if you don't spill the beans about my sexual proclivities. But if you tell on me, baby, then I guarantee that I will tell on you, too. The, we will surely hang together.

In this sense, Petraeus was an socially upstanding, trustworthy & model citizen, mostly because he was appropriately dishonest, acceptably sinful and (therefore) subject to external social control. He was a team player, a good soldier, whose military competency threatened our increasingly political culture. Now that he is properly disgraced, though, we can allow this General to come home. Otherwise, we would have had to kill him off like Patton in a 'mysterious' Jeep accident.

Lord protect us from honest men.


David Brin said...

Protect us from honest and JUDGMENTAL men. One flaw of sousveillance and transparency is that it MIGHT lead to tyranny by 51% who are nosy and judgmental and who put forward honest puritanical types as leaders.

Huckabee anyone?

In The Transparent Society I show reasons why we might avoid that. It is NOT the universal deterrence of reciprocal blackmail that locumranch posits. But something else.

Doris said...

1. The officials most prone to blackmail are the hypocrites. Ever notice how often virulently anti-gay politicians are caught in gay scandals? Who knows how many of their votes were pressured by a blackmailer before they were caught and outed (by an undercover cop, for example, or a jealous partner)?

2. If drones may be flown by private citizens, when will we have the first drunken droning accident?

Lorraine said...

Interesting article, Greg Byshenk

Clearly the operative phrase is "Using previously private data"

If it's possible for a researcher of academic pedigree to get historical stock market data "declassified," that is worth something. Next step (or more realistically, several steps later)? Maybe every trader/investor reading from the same ticker. The raw feed, in realtime, "trickling down" all the way to the retail investor, instantaneously (or at least concurrently with all other recipients). This, it seems, would be a more direct fix than tax incentives to "slow down" the pace of trading.

Another thing the article did is remind me of something I already knew, but needed brought to the front burner--the fact that all derivatives are technically contracts. This mass production of "contracts" seems reminiscent of Arthur Anderson LLP's mass production of "partnerships" in the management of Enron's affairs.

Perhaps the courts should take a dim view of such "contracts."

Paul451 said...

Now witness the power of this fully-formed and operational White House petition:

That's no moon.

Alfred Differ said...

If we continue to tolerate majoritarian rule when it comes to determining what constitutes unjust behavior we will be tolerating a potential instability that I think will undermine the rule of law. Look at how we actually determine what is unjust and I think you'll find we demand much more than 51%.

Hayek's suggestion (late in life) was to split the legislative function into two parts. The part that draws the most risk of corruption is the part that handles the most money. It's function is to determine the rules that determine the business of government. That would be run by majoritarian rules. The other part decides the rules for what constitutes immoral behavior that the vast majority of people agree is immoral. They would use a super-majority vote to add new rules.

The idea behind his concept was to recognize the distinction between nomos and thesis for rule making in different types of social orders cosmos/taxis. When you write rules to direct the business over government, you design order. When you write rules to constrain social behaviors you recognize the existence of an emergent order.

Obviously this stuff isn't politically feasible, but there was a time when Democracy wasn't either.

locumranch said...

A judgmental Brin makes it sound like universal deterrence to reciprocal blackmail is a bad thing. Instead, it's just another name for good citizenship.

As Doris puts it, only the immoral, hypocrites & falsifiers need fear blackmail because the honest & open individuals are largely immune to its correction. That's true. Unfortunately, there are at least 2 major problems with Honesty.

First, an honest individual is an uncontrollable individual. The honest man is remorseless: He remains true to himself; he speaks according to personal preference; he acts according to personal belief and/or inclination; he believes that his beliefs and actions are both honest & justified; and he is immune to external correction. He is the modern equivalent of the untouchable. He is a sociopath in a very real sense.

Second, our societal fabric, being intrinsically unfair and preferential, is best navigated by the hypocritical & immoral.

Our ideal citizen must have the capacity to embrace 2 or more mutually exclusive concepts at the same time, believing himself sinful & righteous in a simultaneous fashion. He favours law and fears justice. He regrets honest pleasures and accepts painful correction. Believing that violence is always unacceptable, he will resort to violence when provoked. He always compromises; he never says 'I told you so"; and he has the moral memory of a squirrel. In a very real sense, he is a moral relativist. The ideal citizen is the dishonest citizen.

The only way out of this societal mess is true libertarianism -- a limited morality where very little is defined as either right, good, bad or wrong -- where blackmail is unfeasible, honesty is rewarded and individuals settle their grievances in the street with decisive violence. And, judging by the legalization of pot, unlawful sex and same-sex marriage, we are already headed in that direction. Van Vogt & Heinlein be praised.

But Violence is Bad & Society is Good, okay? So I must be bad for disagreeing, speaking honestly and/or out-of-turn. So feel free to brutalize me, shun me or savage my opinion. You are in your rights, you upstanding citizen, you. As am I.


locumranch said...

Or, to put it in a less colorful way:

Reciprocal Accountability = the universal deterrence of reciprocal blackmail

This definition is confirmed by Brin in "A Parable about Openness" who states that 'few people are mature enough to hold themselves accountable" which then leads to the mutual (moral) complicity of reciprocal blackmail or social contract.

Either "Don't tell on me and I won't tell on you",
Or "Let's tell on each other".

ERic said...

A little sad that the Death Star petition has gotten way more votes that really useful, sensible petitions. Yeah, cute. Sadly indicates where Americans are now. But maybe I'm just getting to be a grumpy old man, and amusing would've always trumped seriousness.

Acacia H. said...

locumranch, you are preaching cynicism. The honest man is not the threat. The threat is the dishonest man who keeps repeating the lie until it is accepted as the truth. Mitt Romney was a prime example of this. He told lie after lie after lie after lie during the 2012 Presidential Campaign. When called on it, he lied again. Finally people stopped calling him on the lies... and other people started calling his lies the Truth and the truth as lies.

To put it another way, it would have been as if Bill Clinton had said "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" over and over again until finally people gave up on it... oh wait. He did. ;)

And yet my point stands. Blackmail has no effect on the liar who is able to force his view of the truth down people's throats. If a popular Republican had been caught with his pants down and was in the favor of Faux News, might we not see the lies repeated until finally people give up and let those lies become the truth?

(There is in fact a U.S. President who is commonly believed to be one of the worse out there... who was the subject of slander after his death with both obituaries and history books written that falsified his record. The end result is that for many decades people believe this guy was far worse than he was. Because this one historian had it in for this president and decided to smear his name.)

Rob H.

P.S. - BTW, new topic is up.

Jumper said...

locumranch, you are cracking me up. Good show.