Sunday, April 13, 2014

Money flows that might prevent new World Wars

Syria-Russia-Iran-IraqVeteran U.S. diplomat and Middle East expert Dennis Ross made some interesting points about President Obama's trip to Saudi Arabia in an L.A. Times editorial: "Next Test for Obama: Soothing the Saudis." He referred to the Saudis biggest concern, the rise of militant Shiite Islam and an axis of Iran-Iraq-Syria that now includes an aggressively revanchist Russia. A problem that some have referred to as "World War Four".

Alas, Mr Ross ignores the elephant in the room. That the Saudis are not the victims in any of this. Their relentless push to establish fiercely conservative Wahhabi madrassas all over the Sunni Muslim world helped to create Al Qaeda and most of the 9/11 attackers. Their own textbooks declare the west to be an evil place, to be tolerated only while necessary. Above all, they have striven, since 1948, to stymie peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. By pushing to keep Palestine as an open wound, they ensured only that the Levant region would remain embroiled and steeped in pain, never achieving what the Saudis' Hashemite rivals once dreamed-of -- an alliance between Arabs and Jews that could strengthen all concerned.

One wonders, as the generations pass along, if the admittedly brilliant grandsons of Abdulaziz ibn Saud might be flexible enough to envision how that long-deferred option is worth trying, at long last. That Israel and the Levant and Egypt and Arabia have potential far beyond mere oil, especially if all parties were to help foster synergies, instead of trumped-up enmities.

Saudi-aid-PalestinianThe Saudis, especially, have the wherewithal to offer aid and investment – a deal that would be impossible for the Palestinian side to refuse. And such an offer would corner Israel with an economic carrot that transcends any and all sticks.

Above all, such a jiu jitsu move by the Saudis would render the Russo-Shiite axis futile… almost cute in its impotence, next to the scientific/technological/economic superpower that would blossom in the Sunni-Israeli zone.

(Don't bring us the purported Saudi "peace offer" from a few years ago.  It was tepid, amounting merely to an acceptance of the world consensus that Israel in here to stay. It took none of the expensive and memically painful steps necessary in order to boost the moderates on both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli gulf.)

 All of these benefits await, but are only perceived by those of flexible mind.

Alas, Mr. Ross shows us no hint of any of that.

== A “Helvetian” scenario? ==

SMUGGLE-DEVELOP-COUNTRIESIt's hard to build your country when the money keeps slipping away. Foreign capital flight has been a problem for developing countries this year, but a bigger problem might be the funds smuggled out by tax evaders, corrupt officials and criminals — $946.7 billion in 2011. Nearly a trillion dollars, according to the latest estimates released today by a team of economists at the non-profit Global Financial Integrity, an increase of more than 10% over the previous year. For comparison, total foreign aid to developing nations in 2011 was just $141 billion.

"The nations most hamstrung by illicit flows are in Africa, where illicit flows are the equivalent of 5.7% of GDP; the average developing country lost 3.7% of GDP in 2011. That's a huge amount of money to lose that could otherwise be invested in private or public enterprise that might improve the lives of people living there. Instead, it winds up in tax havens—including the United States and the United Kingdom. "This isn't really just a developing world problem it's facilitated by developed country banks and tax havens," Brian Leblanc, one of the economists behind the study, told Quartz."

"Indeed, with six times more money leaving developing countries illicitly than entering them as aid, advocates for these nations might do well to back policies to block these flows. Promoting tax-haven crackdowns and convincing powerful multinationals to submit their transactions to more scrutiny is hard to do, but it could pay dividends for development down the line."

MIDDLE-CLASS-RISEIn EARTH I portray a dozen developing nations having suddenly realized that several trillion dollars -- ripped off from poor countries by former kleptocratic lords -- sits in Swiss and other bank haven accounts.  When all else failed, they declared war on Switzerland -- in the 2020s -- in order to use the rights of belligerent powers to seize assets all over the world and to coerce return of enough money to save millions of children.

Things needn’t come to that! In fact, a deal might be worked out in which developing nations agree to keep the restored funds deposited in Swiss banks! Only with interest and collateral value now going to the nation’s children, not former klepto-presidents. Such a deal would, in a shot, restore hope and trust… and guarantee the bankers against the kind of comeuppance they think (right now) can never come.

History disagrees. It can come. Cut the deal.

==Creditors or Debtors?==
In this recent report -- The Missing Wealth of Nations: Are Europe and The U.S. Net Debtors or Net Creditors? -- analyst Gabriel Zuchman shows evidence that around 8% of the global financial wealth of households is held in tax havens, three-quarters of which goes unrecorded. Meaning that this is about much, much more than just the developing world. "On the basis of plausible assumptions, accounting for unrecorded assets turns the eurozone, officially the world’s second largest net debtor, into a net creditor. It also reduces the U.S. net debt significantly."  

It's flagrant! "... (worldwide) more investment income is paid than received each year…" and "...many European securities, in particular, have no identifiable owner…"  

Clearly this relates to my longstanding proposal -- for worldwide transparency of ownership.  It is completely non-socialistic and would probably result in taxes upon honest families going down.  All it would do is ensure that those yelling the loudest in defense of open capitalism actually live by it. 

== Grabbing, hand over fist ==

And finally -- related news that just hints at the scale of the oligarchic putsch…

Rupert Murdoch’s media group received a $882 million tax rebate from Australia last year in a revelation that is likely to reignite the debate over how much tax is paid by international corporations. Again, this generation is the savviest and most knowledgeable in history.  Do you guys honestly think that -- when it becomes radicalized -- there won't be repercussions?


Acacia H. said...

Concerning the comment on Gerrymandering at the end of the previous thread... there is a simple and effective method of reducing Gerrymandering among ALL states. Increase the number of Representatives. The original Constitutional mandate would have tens of thousands of Representatives, which is unwieldy. Doable, however, is increasing the total number of Representatives to 1,000, with each Rep responsible for around 314,000 people. Rather than collect all those lawmakers in one area, have them remain in their home states and telecommute to the House.

This destroys current Gerrymandering efforts by increasing the number of Representatives by nearly 2.5 times. You can have these extra Reps based from the State Houses or even from their homes and set up secure systems with no input cables or wifi capabilities - their Voting and Telecommuting Computer would be dedicated only for voting and participating, and would include cameras so that they would be observed doing their job.

This would destroy Gerrymandering on both sides. Democrats would lose their advantage in specific regions (Massachusetts would likely start having a couple Republican Representatives for more rural areas, for instance) while Republicans would find their own advantages likewise vanish. And more importantly, it makes things more fair and balanced because each Rep would represent a smaller number of people.

Add in that these Reps need to purchase their own health insurance and use Social Security for their pension fund, and the costs won't be too much higher, especially as they won't need to pay for lodging in Washington D.C.

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Tacitus2 on the previous thread:

Also that the Supreme Court, highest law in the land, disagrees with Your Brin-ness on the legitimacy of President Gore.

As I recall, the USSC ruled that the recount in Florida should be halted because its continuation would do harm to the plaintiff in the case, George W Bush. That is, a recount which might show that he lost the election would harm his claim of winning the election.

Something died that day.

And, what you consider voting suppression others view differently.

Here, I would love to learn from you--what this issue looks like from inside your head. Because to me, it is so blatantly obvious that Repulbicans are being anti-democratic (small-d) and therefore anti-American when they insist on making it more difficult for (legitimate) voters to vote. I fully realize that Democrats tend to gain from larger turnout, and so Democrats' support for easier voting could be seen as partisan. But I think that says more about the Republcian party (in a bad way) than it does about the process of voting. If their party is not attracting enough votes, the legitimate response is to change their platform, not to restrict voters' rights.

If you're going to defend voter suppression on the grounds that it combats fraud, I'm going to have to ask you what evidence of fraud you are aware of. Contrary to the currently popular image, lack of a picture ID requirement doesn't allow anyone off the street to vote. If I were to walk into your precinct in Wisconsin, claim my name was "Mickey Mouse", and attempt to vote, I would not be able to do so. First, they would look up Mickey Mouse on the roll of registered voters. If one happened to exist by that name (and if I could bull my way to plausibly represent myself as living at his registered address), my signature would have to match. And I'd have to be sure that Mickey hadn't already voted that day, or that he isn't waiting in line behind me going "No, that guy isn't me!"

The chances of someone pulling off such a method of fraud seems infinitessimal.

Lack of a picture id requirement just means that the authorities can accept other means of proof that you are the one registered to vote under your name--signatutre, perhaps. In the old days, and probably still in small communities, the election officials know you personally, and that's good enough. Voter id laws are not designed to prevent fraud--they are designed to allow officials to deny someone the right to vote.

At least that's the way I see it. If you or anyone else can morally defend voter supporession laws as something "others view differently", I would truly love to know how.

David Brin said...

LarryHart it is even simpler. In fact, I would have nothing against gradually rising voter ID requirements,even though almost no election day false voter fraud has been reported in 30
years. Sure, we should all be prepared to show who we are… I think those opposing this IN PRINCIPLE are short sighted and partisan.

There is only one test to see if it is a "reform" or if it is blatantly partisan voter suppression:

"Has the state accompanied the new voter ID law with substantial funding to help under-documented but legal US citizens to get the ID they need and to get registered?"

If a state has sincerely done that, then I will admit that the demand might be honest and due to the rationalized declared reasons.

Alas, NOT ONE red state that has passed such laws has allocated a penny to help poor citizens of the state, or the elderly or the young, to comply with onerous new restrictions on their franchise. Not even fig-leaf funding.

In other words, they are exposed as lying-hypocritical, outright-cheating election thieves. And the same goes for anyone who defends this foul crime against democracy.

ADDENDUM: Think Progress reports that as of November 5, Texans must show a photo ID with their up-to-date legal name. It sounds like such a small thing, but according to the Brennan Center for Justice, only 66% of voting age women have ready access to a photo document that will attest to proof of citizenship.

This is largely because young women have not updated their documents with their married names, a circumstance that doesn’t affect male voters in any significant way. Suddenly 34% of women voters are scrambling for an acceptable ID, while 99% of men are home free.

Carl M. said...

I question your Helvetian scenario based on history. I suspect most of the funds that went to Switzerland found their way back into their home country. I think the banks serve the function as backdoor treasury to pay those who actually run the respective countries vs. those who nominally run said countries.

History has many precedents. Think of Andrew Jackson's kitchen cabinet. I'm a bit rusty on this but I think the kings of England developed a backdoor spending account through the privy seal or some such as they lost control over the exchequer. Iran Contra.

Then there is the history of the Holy Roman Empire. The emperor had to pay massive bribes to hold the top office. The kings of Spain squandered the loot from the New World trying to buy the emperorship.

If third world dictators were looting their countries for the money, how come they NEVER voluntarily retire to foreign lands to enjoy their ill gotten gains? Those who enjoy wealth build palaces at home.

Sure, they keep some abroad for insurance, but I think you way overestimate what's in those bank accounts.

David Brin said...

Carl M… are you sure that's you? Your postings are generally far less lame.

You "believe"??? Based upon what evidence. ALL developing nations report arterial capital outflows. ALL outsiders doing business in such nations report arterial gushers of graft going into klepto pockets and it… does… not… get… invested… at… home.

Except in the ways Adam Smith described… buying up land and rent-seeking properties and public resources that can then be sold off personally, forests and oil lands.

Seriously? You ask why a man who is a tyrant, able to take anything and any woman he sees, and rake in another $100M each year in office, don't just hustle off to Geneva for the rest of his life? Are you a member of… um… which species? Clearly you do not know human males.

Duncan Cairncross said...

"Seriously? You ask why a man who is a tyrant, able to take anything and any woman he sees, and rake in another $100M each year in office, don't just hustle off to Geneva for the rest of his life?"

Not to mention losing the forces that defend him from the vengeance of various grieving family members and others

That book - Treasure Islands - is one of the most depressing (but wholly believable) books I have ever read

Tacitus said...

I have a suggestion. Not that this is the target audience here. Since there seem to be some major donors to both parties out there, why not a challenge?

For every dollar donated to the effort to reduce voter fraud, donate another dollar to a non partisan group whose sole purpose would be helping people get the proper ID and get to the polls. This might benefit the GOP more, but not exclusively. Old folks need help for instance.*

Challenge the Dem heavy hitters to match it dollar for dollar. In Wisconsin there was a noteworthy lack of enthusiasm among public employees to help folks get the free state ID that they would require. Sort of a combination of Passive Resistance to the whole plan plus the endemic DMV torpor.

Also kind of like increasing the number of Reps. Robert's other suggestions also worthy.


*had a spiffy case of voter suppression here in Wisconsin back in '04. Bunch of vans rented by the GOP to help old folks get to the polls had their tires slashed. As it happens they apprehended the offenders. One of them was the son of a Milwaukee congressperson.

Tacitus said...


Misspoke above. A bipartisan entity that aided all comers in obtaining ID and making it to the polls would seem more likely to benefit the Dem side of things. Or not, who knows.
But good would ensue in either case. Our voter turnout rate is shameful. And I think any election with higher turnout and a more definitive result would be a better one.
When partisans - and both sides do it - claim that "I wuz robbed" it lessens the legitimacy of the governance and reduces the odds of anyone making needed changes as members of the Loyal Opposition.


David Brin said...

TAcitus, your side is using the power of the state to deny citizens access to the polls. You do NOT get to wriggle out by demanding that Warren Buffett then pay for a vast campaign to get citizens credentialed!

If the state is upping the requirements, the state should make sincere efforts to help citizens to meet those requirements. It is called compliance and the right screams for compliance help whenever THEY see a new regulatory burden.

No, you may not wriggle out of this. Those who are pulling this blatant vote-crushing and cheating racket have universally refused to help the poor,women, minorities and anyone else to get the IDs they need… and which would help them beyond the voting booth, to not be victims of loan sharks and to get bank accounts and to open businesses…

In all ways, this exposes the utter venality, corruption and cheating evil of this campaign. It is proved, top to bottom. There are no rationalizations. It is pure cheating Evil.

And you know it.

locumranch said...

So now 'cheating (is) evil'? What a crock of predestined excrement.

Is it 'evil' to cheat death with antibiotics, to cheat winter with central heating, to cheat the desert with irrigation, to cheat ignorance with science?

'Cheating is (our) baseline'. It is the one universal human trait ... to betray the natural order, to seek & secure advantage, to avoid consequence, to leverage destiny, to bend the rules for individual or group advancement.

Cheating is human nature ... which is why we have courts, gods & guns.


David Brin said...

yadda - chatter - blah blah


Paul451 said...

David Brin,
"Your postings are generally far less lame."

I thought we were trying to tone it down a little?

Carl M,
"If third world dictators were looting their countries for the money, how come they NEVER voluntarily retire to foreign lands to enjoy their ill gotten gains?"

Why would they need to? You don't need to live in Lichtenstein to enjoy Lichtenshein's secret banking.

[Most third-world dictators have specific tribal groups within their countries that support them, they typically retire to their "tribal strongholds". Despot depots.]

"But good would ensue in either case. Our voter turnout rate is shameful. And I think any election with higher turnout and a more definitive result would be a better one."

True. Well said. And I would suggest this view is fairly common amongst conservative-identifying voters, but it is the opposite of the openly stated view of many Republican party leaders and thinkers. Doesn't that bother you?

Those things aren't "cheating", except in the loosest metaphorical sense.

You can't actually "cheat death", unless you really believe that death is an anthropomorphic being, mit robe und scythe.

Paul451 said...

"The original Constitutional mandate would have tens of thousands of Representatives, which is unwieldy."

Not necessarily. It's just a matter of adding another layer. Ie, if you had ten thousand representatives, in regions of 30,000 people each, it would be those regional reps who directly elect the official House reps. Since the final House-elected representative would only be campaigning to an average of 200 district reps, it would drastically lower the cost of running for office. (California would have 1200 elector-reps, Wyoming would have 20.)

Alternatively, you could also have a pseudo-direct democracy, where people assign their vote to a representative on an on-going basis. The assignee-representative then votes on legislation in proportion to their assigned votes. The assignees can also re-assign their votes, on an ongoing basis, to a higher representative. And those higher-reps who accumulate more than a minimum number of total votes get a seat in the House, where they can vote not only on legislation, but on other matters that the House has authority. This would, I believe, encourage groups outside of the traditional party structure. People would generally assign their vote based on a cause, not a "party". Green, NRA, farmers, unions, religion, etc. There would also be no geographic representation, although you would see geographic-based groups, some state or city centric, some multi-state. There would be no formal elections, but there would be a constant low-level begging for people to change their assigned votes to a new rep.

[That said. Personally, I'd like to see the "Doge of Venice" demarchic system introduced. For example, divide people into regions of 10,000 each. They elect 30,000+ reps in the normal manner. These direct-reps are divided into 100 groups of around 300 each. Each group then uses the Doge-of-Venice pattern of multiple rounds of random selection alternating with voting, to finally elect a single regional representative. Those are your House representatives. It should be a chamber of wise elders. If it works, you can have a referendum to lengthen terms to perhaps a decade. Allows long term management by people not beholden to a single party.]

Paul451 said...

"And I'd have to be sure that Mickey hadn't already voted that day,"

No, only that they haven't voted at that polling station. (Unless the US has switched to real-time updated electronic roll books.) Analysis after the fact might show that Mickey voted in every polling station, say a hundred times all up, but there's no way to tell which votes were Mickey's in the final tally. Thus no way to detect it as it happens, or remove the fraudulent votes afterwards.

"or that he isn't waiting in line behind me going "No, that guy isn't me!" "

The easiest way to do that is to compare lists of dead with registered voters. Compile a list of people who dead but haven't been cleared off the rolls yet. Then vote in the name of the dead. (Sounds better in Spanish: Votando en nombre de los muertos.) But, as with the method of multiple-voting, it'd be easy to document its existence afterwards (even if you couldn't do anything about it).

A riskier, and harder to spot strategy, would be to compile of list of people who have registered but never voted. Make one extra vote for each name on the list. Very difficult to detect unless your voter-surrogates are distinctive looking, or make no effort to conceal their re-voting under different names. And of course, the hours spent in line at each polling place will limit the number of illicit votes per team-member.

Like Tacitus's tyre-slashing, all of these are high-labour, high risk strategies that have a minimum effect on the actual outcome. Much easier, and more effective, to just close polling stations in other-party-dominated districts, arbitrarily strike eligible voters off the rolls, and give contracts for computer voting to your friends. And, of course, bring in ID laws that make it increasingly inconvenient (or expensive) for undesired demographics to vote, while ensuring that your own favoured demographics have an easier time; and hamper efforts to sign up new voters.

locumranch said...

Despot Depot. I like that.

My point is that all these 'rules' are arbitrary, either selectively followed or selectively enforced, so why pretend that competitive cheating is either 'evil' or a 'sin' against nature?

Abide by the rules or change the rules, this right is yours & mine.


Anonymous said...

For an atheist, you sure moralize and talk about EVIL a lot. Don't you realize how ridiculous you sound?

Acacia H. said...

Because terms like "good" and "evil" exist outside of religious ideology. If a person were to order the wholescale slaughter of millions of people because of their ethnicity, what words would you use to describe it? When you use a word such as "evil" then you are able to evoke a specific image which is something authors often try to do.

So you complain about the use of the word "evil" while said speaker is atheist, but what you are doing is censoring atheists by saying "you're not allowed to use that word because you're not religious." It's the same level of thought as "you're not allowed to use the word marriage because you're gay and marriage is about a man and a woman." Or "you're not allowed to use the word poor because you're Republican and are only out for rich people." Or even "you're not allowed to use the words equality or fairness because you're a man and you're part of the problem."

You do see the idiocy of those examples, I trust. Thus why browbeat an author for using the English language effectively and to its fullest while not being religious?

Heck, you'll be saying next "[Religious Group X] can't write about Christian characters in their stories because they're not Christian." Which is one step away from saying "you can't write science fiction because it's not real and you have no idea what aliens are like or what future technologies could be like."

Rob H.

Tacitus said...

Ok David, time for a little of that thickened skin we hear about.

What I "know" is that:

In my state an official ID is free. Turn up at the DMV and it happens for you. My suggestion was that interested parties (Partys) could go the extra mile and help with rides and so forth. Right now it is zero cost. I believe translators available. You want it And can you suggest a better way for Buffet, or Adelson, or Koch, or whoever to spend their money?

Paul 451 correctly points to one way to cheat on voting. It would be difficult to catch. You of course get individuals who no amount of challenge will keep from the polls (like that woman in Michigan who had been dead in her garage for years). But in trying to be a fair minded citizen I have to concede that systemic, election changing fraud has not been proven. But we should keep a close eye on it. The recent North Carolina fuss is noted, but is probably not as bad as it looked at first.

You of course know, or should know, that voter ID is supported by about 75% of Americans, and at that has bipartisan support.

Also, same poll, that a higher percentage of Americans thought voter fraud was a major problem (49%) than voter suppression (41%).

If your goal is to increase the acceptance of the voters for sometimes challenging outcomes you ignore their concerns at peril to the system as a whole.

And really, if you get right down to it, the issue is not keeping minorities away from the ballot box. It is keeping non-citizens from voting.

Ah,ya got me riled today. I can't speak for the rest of the nation but here in Wisconsin if you want to vote nobody is going to suppress you. And honestly, no outreach efforts made by the state of Wisconsin will ever be deemed sufficient by you. I see you as being far more set in your opinions than I.

I rather liked the notion that some of the ludicrous amount of cash pouring into our electoral system might do something for the general good, most of it now is wasted on flyers that end up in the gutter and in robocalls that simply make the citizenry more jaded and hostile to the political process.


Carl M. said...

I'm not denying the existing of monstrous graft by any means. I believe based on human history that the money has been mostly spent.

Read the history of Europe. Kings and dukes were nearly always winding up in debt. Various banking houses made a killing lending to the kleptocrats of the day.

Look up King George III. His main power came from bribing members of parliament. Modern presidents do something similar to buy off Congressmen, which is one of the reasons why the richest nations on earth is nearly bankrupt.

Methinks the money has been mostly distributed to armies of henchmen and overpriced foreign contractors. Imagine paying military contractor prices for just about everything. That's what dictators of primitive nations do to live in first world high style.

Anonymous said...

Great LSE blog article mirroring a lot of David Brin's points about Adam Smith being the first liberal:

locumranch said...

I suspect that Mr. Anonymous is a Saudi who, by virtue of being 'religious', has the right to use the term 'evil' to describe the West and the terms 'good' & 'godly' to describe himself, whereas those who disagree with his analysis, by virtue of believing differently, do not.

This is a non-productive line of argument at best, a circularly irrational one at worst, that 'begs the question' of relative merit through the corrupted use of definition for the purpose of limiting choice or outcome.

Or, perhaps Mr. Anonymous Judge Smails (Caddyshack) with his own self-important definition of 'goodness' to which we all must reply 'I want to Good'.

Happy Holidays

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Tacitus

Voter Fraud is a non-existent problem - but it can be argued that it could be a problem although the same people who require photo ID for elections cry police state if anybody talks about universal photo ID

But there is no possible justification for the other prongs on the fork
Reducing the voting period
Eliminating same day registration
Limiting the number of voting machines/stations

That is pure voter suppression

LarryHart said...


"And I'd have to be sure that Mickey hadn't already voted that day,"

No, only that they haven't voted at that polling station. (Unless the US has switched to real-time updated electronic roll books.) Analysis after the fact might show that Mickey voted in every polling station, say a hundred times all up, but there's no way to tell which votes were Mickey's in the final tally. Thus no way to detect it as it happens, or remove the fraudulent votes afterwards.

I'm not sure how it works where you live, but in Illinois, if I vote on election day, I have to show up at my assigned polling place. I can't cruise the state voting wherever I please.

I have more latitude of polling places during early voting, but once I early-vote, the database knows that I have voted, and I'm not allowed to vote again in a different place.

If what I'm saying here was not true, then a real registered voter would be able to cheat by voting multiple times in different locations, so I'm not sure how voter-ID laws address the problem in any case.

Again, we're talking about a restriction at voting time, not at registration time. Proving one is a citizen (and therefore has a right to vote) makes sense as a requirement for registration. An ID at voting time is just for proving you are the one whose name/address you are claiming to be at voting time. That person has already been declared eligible to vote--you are simply proving you are who you say you are. So the idea that you can pretend to be someone else in order to cast a vote as them--I'm not saying it can't happen ever, but it seems like such a small likelihood that it hardly rates the draconian response of disenfranchising actual citizens.

So my claim is that voter-ID laws are not designed to combat fraud, but to disnfranchie voters. And the Republcians who enact such laws don't even try hard to hide the reasons they are doing so.

LarryHart said...


And really, if you get right down to it, the issue is not keeping minorities away from the ballot box. It is keeping non-citizens from voting.

That's the ostensible purpose. The way the laws are designed are to make it harder to vote period.

If the non-citizen has already somehow gotten registered to vote, how will voter-ID prevent him from doing so? If he hasn't, then how is he going to vote at all? Pretend to be a specific registered voter? Again, not impossible, but it doesn't seem like a likely threat.

Ah,ya got me riled today. I can't speak for the rest of the nation but here in Wisconsin if you want to vote nobody is going to suppress you.

Same in Illinois, and I suspect in California. But not so much in Ohio, North Carolina, Texas, and maybe Pennsylvania.

BTW, how much snow are you getting this afternoon? It's coming down pretty good here.

David Brin said...

No rationalization or contortion can eliminate the basic fact. These GOP run states engage in both extreme gerrymandering and voter suppression. The coincidence merits a presumption of a desperate will to cheat.

To a moderate who is willing to see gradual ramping up of voter ID, the "tell" is whether the state takes action to help affected populations with compliance. The ABSOLUTE lack of any such efforts -- even fig-leaf ones -- is absolute proof of evil intent and action.

The fact that such efforts would assist the lives of the poor, women, minorities etc in other ways than voting make this as black as night.

Acacia H. said...

How about this: concerns that the other side (Democrats) are so much worse that if you allow them to get control, it will cause the country to fall into ruin. Thus you need to do everything possible to ensure that the Good of the People overrides the Will of the People.

Before you handwave this away, consider that until recently the majority of people were all for persecuting gays and lesbians. Or discriminating against minorities. Or ensuring minorities have no rights at all. School segregation was the Will of the People. And yet a minority forced their beliefs down the throats of the citizens of the United States for their better and to make them a better people.

How is what the Supreme Court did with forcing this nation to stop treating its minorities as third-class citizens any different than what the Republican Party is trying to do now? It is ultimately going against the Will of the People to bring about an end.

It is the writers of history who end up vilifying one and glorifying the other.

Rob H. who feels ending school segregation was a good thing as was the civil rights movement... but can also see how going against the will of the majority goes both ways.

Tacitus said...

Paul 451
Yes, the difference between being conservative and republican is known to me. And of course the difference between being a Wisconsin conservative and an Arkansaw one.
LarryH...I can't discuss the present and looming weather here without breaking down into a sobbing, broken shell of a man curled into a fetal position.

Regards the main topic header.

I think the Saudis have some hurt comin' at 'em. There have always been rumors that they overstate their oil reserves. The US is out front with increased production and there are a lot of other places with accessable reserves using the same technology. The Saudis have poorly educated their young. Not much for the women and too much Wahabbi for the young men. Their work ethic makes even our slacker teens look like rugged pioneers. One assumes Iran will go nuclear and other nations will follow.

I shed no tears for the House of Saud. But as we have been seeing in Russia in recent times, a wounded and declining power is the most dangerous kind. Even without a possible Fundie takeover they will be problem child in the decades ahead.


Alfred Differ said...

There are three possible centers for empire in the Islamic world and the Saudi's are not one of them. Egypt, Turkey, and Iran are all that matter. They are the only nations with populations large enough and recent histories rich enough to make it happen.

My bet is on Turkey by mid-century. They will fill the partial vacuum left behind by the retreat caused when the Russian Federation collapses one last time which I'm guessing is about 15 years away at most.

Paul451 said...

"Paul 451 correctly points to one way to cheat on voting. It would be difficult to catch."

But as I also pointed out, it's difficult to do. It's an incredibly labour intensive method for just a handful of fraudulent votes.

OTOH, changing the laws themselves can affect millions of votes with the stroke of a pen. Vastly more cost effective way to steal an election.

Notice that all the anecdotes of voter fraud you hear about are singular. One dead person, one fake vote. Whereas the examples of voter suppression are always acts that disenfranchise thousands at a time. A single district in Florida which wrongfully purged 4600 names from electoral rolls before an election, which no-one knew about until they were denied the vote on election day, because the official violated their own laws by failing to notify anyone that they were being purged. That one official in that single district stole orders of magnitude more votes than all the documented in-person-voter-fraud put together. (Or officials who shut down half the polling places in minority-dominated areas to increase lines and transport costs, and thus discourage voting. (FL.) Or closed polling stations near universities. (NC.) Or changed the laws to refuse to accept student ID cards as ID (but accepting gun permits). (FL/NC/WI/TX.) Or cancel early voting on the Sunday before the election, when they discovered that it was mainly poor black people who used it, doubling up on their Church transport. (WI.) Etc etc.)

"In my state an official ID is free."

Only because the Supreme Court (in earlier naive times) ruled that any fee for voter-ID was a "poll tax" under the 24th Amendment. So they shifted the cost to the next level, the cost of providing the ID necessary to get the voter-ID card. (About 10% of people don't have the ID necessary to get the "free" voter-ID cards.) If that cost is ruled unconstitutional, they'll find another level to add the cost

"but here in Wisconsin if you want to vote nobody is going to suppress you."

"I am not willing to defend them any more. [...] I'm embarrassed by this. It's just, I think, sad when a political party — my political party — has so lost faith in its ideas that it's pouring all of its energy into election mechanics. And again, I'm a guy who understands and appreciates what we should be doing in order to make sure every vote counts, every vote is legitimate. But that fact is, it ought to be abundantly clear to everybody in this state that there is no massive voter fraud. The only thing that we do have in this state is we have long lines of people who want to vote. And it seems to me that we should be doing everything we can to make it easier, to help these people get their votes counted. And that we should be pitching as political parties our ideas for improving things in the future, rather than mucking around in the mechanics and making it more confrontational at the voting sites and trying to suppress the vote." - Sen. Dale Schultz (R), Wisconsin. [Schultz isn't recontesting his seat after being challenged by a Tea Party candidate because he wasn't "conservative" enough for them.]

Paul451 said...

"[voter ID] You want it"

Well... Here we get sent one-time-use voter-ID cards in the mail a couple of weeks before every election. Voters don't have to do anything except keep their address up-to-date, which we're supposed to do anyway, and can do over the phone. When you vote, if you remembered to bring the card, they take it from you and let you vote. (So you can only vote once.) If you forget to bring your card and have no other accepted ID, they make you do an absentee ballot (which is then handled like a postal ballot.) Unlike voter-suppression states in the US, you do not have to return "within 7 days" to validate your identity if you vote absentee, and all absentee and postal votes are counted at the same time in the same way. It's up to the AEC to show fraud (such as multiple votes in the same name) and must demonstrate to the state Supreme Court (acting as the Court of Disputed Returns) that your vote was fraudulent before they can discard it. (And you get notified and given an opportunity to fight the claim.)

But like the US, we had almost no voter fraud, only fake hysteria put on by the local conservative party. The AEC brought in the voter-ID card to to try to appease them. It won't, of course, because, as in the US, the hysteria isn't over genuine fear of voter fraud; it's a cover for the real voter fraud which happens at the legislative level.

In summary:
We do not have to provide any additional ID beyond that required when we registered to vote.
We do not have to go to ServiceSA (DMV) on the one day a week when they issue voter-ID cards, instead they send it to us.
We do not have to return with our ID to an AEC office (Board of Election Commissioners), wherever the hell that is, within 7 days if we forget our voter-ID card.
The AEC cannot arbitrarily refuse to count our absentee ballot.
And there's no such thing as a "provisional" ballot. A vote is a vote is a vote.

[On the flip side: the AEC has developed a nasty habit of losing entire boxes of votes. But there seems to be nothing sinister behind it, it hasn't favoured any side. Just old fashioned incompetence.]

Aside: Sorry to hear about your dad. Lost Mum recently. Cancer is an evil thing, but Alzheimer's may just be worse. Given how bad things were, I'm not sure I could have handled seeing that one.

Paul451 said...

"I'm not sure how it works where you live, but in Illinois, if I vote on election day, I have to show up at my assigned polling place. I can't cruise the state voting wherever I please."

I can directly vote anywhere in my electorate (read:district). At the last election there were about a dozen available polling places. So I could make a maximum of 12 votes under each name I'm able to fake. (For the record, once is enough, thank you.)

If I vote further afield, I would do an "absentee ballot", which goes in an envelope like a postal ballot. If I tried to multi-vote using absentee (or postal) ballots, presumably it would be caught before they separated the actual ballot papers from the envelope, keeping me from actual cheating the vote.

"so I'm not sure how voter-ID laws address the problem in any case."

They wouldn't stop multiple voting unless they take the card away after the first vote (as they do here). It might make it harder to mimic others.

Aside: I mentioned in my long rant at Tacitus2 about Australia having virtually no voter fraud. But there is one form that is common: Thousands of members and volunteers of all major parties fraudulently register their addresses in marginal electorates (ie, swinging districts). You'll have 30-50 people all claiming to live in a 2 bedroom flat owned by the local member (because he doesn't live in the electorate either.) But the conservative politicians and talking-heads who rave on about "rampant voter fraud" say nothing about this very real form of election law fraud, nor do they ever propose to do anything about it.

LarryHart said...


How is what the Supreme Court did with forcing this nation to stop treating its minorities as third-class citizens any different than what the Republican Party is trying to do now? It is ultimately going against the Will of the People to bring about an end.

I'm not entirely discounting your point, but there is an answer to "How is it different?" The rights of the citizen are enshrined in the constitution. The right to bribe government officials is not.

rseed42 said...

I really wish you wouldn't make these text pictures. They give this blog a distinct crackpot tinge. If I haven't read your books and I didn't know that you are a well-respected author, I most certainly would have labelled you a conspiracy nut on first impression :).

Acacia H. said...

You can be a respected author and still be a conspiracy junkie. I've been trying to break Dr. Brin of that sad habit. I'm going to have to fill the squirt bottle with more water, it's about dry.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Rseed You don't like the images? I thought they were tastefully well-made and concisely distill what's going on, in the passages. Hm.

Robert, you know very well that I diss most conspiracy theories of left and right, I do believe the Bushites were "manchurian" in the classic Hollywood-paranoid sense, because of something called Occam's Razor…

…because no other theory can explain the endless chain of decisions that universally had ill effects upon the US and Western Civilization. Except for the campaign to fight AIDS in Africa, can you cite for me one Bushite endeavor that had positive outcomes?

I mean for the US & West. Plenty for the Saudis, Iran and Bush family companies. And the Murdochs.

Seriously, are you saying there ARE no conspiracies? Ever?

Acacia H. said...

Not on the scale you claim. Oh, there's cover-ups and attempts to obfuscate various issues like cigarettes and climate changes, but in order for conspiracy to exist, you either need an organization with complete loyalty and no leaks, or a very small conspiracy consisting of one person. There is not the deliberate malice out there on a large enough scale. Further, by crying wolf all the time, you distort and diminish the word until it has no meaning at all.

Seriously, do you want to be placed alongside the Young Earth and the Moon Hoax groups? Because your constant claims of conspiracy put you on that level.

Rob H.

Tacitus said...

Paul 451

Thanks for the kind sentiments.

Oh, the 20 campaign staffers living in a single flat have something of a US equivalent. In some states you can show up with several other voters and vouch for their bona fides. Maybe they live where you say the do, maybe not.

Obviously this is not a way to generate tens of thousands of votes. But on occasion there is a race so close that a few hundred may be decisive. The Minnesota Senate Race in 2008 effectively transferred political power from the Republicans to the Democrats. It was decided by under 500 votes. An after the fact study by an admittedly partisan group found 2803 suspected ineligible voters, with 113 actual convictions for fraudulent voting. This study looked at convicted felons, and the issue is whether they knowingly voted ineligibly. Could there have been enough to swing it? Probably.

But the bigger issue is public respect for the outcome of elections and therefor for the integrity of governance. A few years back my liberal friends were much a-snit regards the possibility of Diebold voting machines being rigged. While evidence for systemic voter fraud is scant (some say it is not being looked for with diligence) evidence for corrupt voting machines is afik even less. Although when I think of the folks who advocate "internet voting" I get a cold chill.....

The commentator who found Dr.Brin's conspiratorial bent offsetting has a valid point.

It will prove to be an interesting election seems pretty heated even at this early stage.


Oh, random Aussie question. In the US most allegations of voter fraud center on large urban centers with histories of corrupt political machines. Chicago. Tammany Hall. Does Oz have any equivalents?

rseed42 said...

@David Brin

I think that the quality of the insets will improve markedly if you don't convert it to a wildly colored 3D text that exudes the aforementioned crackpot feeling. Using them more sparingly may
also diminish the amateurish factor somewhat. As a reference, consider the following WIRED article:

That's just my 2 cents though. I enjoy reading your blog now and again.

rseed42 said...

@David Brin

Don't get me wrong, I am not accusing you of being a conspiracy theorist. You raise many valid points. I am just concerned how people may perceive the site. While we are on topic:

Alfred Differ said...

The point to the text boxes probably has something to do with the fact that some of us gist his posts first before deciding whether to dive deeper. The images are useful for this.

Heh. Apparently it is possible to offer a useful service and not quite get it right, though. This is probably just a matter of style and with a little fine tuning, the gisting can continue with low risk.

matthew said...

Regarding voter suppression, I think that we have the right antidote here in Oregon: vote by mail. Hard to commit fraud, hard to suppress, higher voter "turnout." But then, we are a pretty reliably blue state, aren't we...

Tony Fisk said...

Tacitus, vote fraud is not a common feature in Oz. The closest we've had is the recent loss of 1500 WA senate ballots that triggered a re-run. That can be put down to a stuff-up rather than a stuff-out.. definitely no winners from *that* one!
While on the senate ballot. The sheer number of candidates prompted the AEC to introduce voting 'above the line': you can either mark each candidate 1-99(!)., or mark one party and follow their voting preferences. This had led to some bizarre outcomes purportedly brokered by 'the vote whisperer', and calls to (duh!) allow voting 'along the line': preference by party.

Actual 'fraud' usually takes the form of dirty tricks in the campaign. eg pamphlets purporting to come from a candidate but misrepresent them.

Since voting is compulsory, voter suppression only takes the form of cutting out registration by 18 yos via 'snap' elections: not very systematic even if it's deliberate. Since being on the electoral roll is a form of verification, there is an incentive to be on it. Besides, compulsory voting instils a community habit.

David, the only comment I'd make about the text boxes is that you occasionally overdo them and they lose a little impact. They're perfectly OK with me otherwise. One man's meat...

David Brin said...

Jumping jujubees! Rob H has a thing going on me. But since his plaints have to do with abstractions, I guess I'll keep it there and assume I've not done anything personal.

As for conspiracies… um… aren't I the one who talks about the sliding scale of henchmen, and how difficult it is to maintain maga conspiracies that require nefarious action by hundreds of skilled professionals? I have aimed that refutation at garish nonsense from UFOs to Spare Change to Black Helicopters and across the spectrum. You learned that one from me.

So? There are conspiracies that do not require massive numbers of betrayer henchmen.

(1) When the conspiring side has social cohesion and a sense of mission: e.g the Manhattan Project or the Saudi Royal House. And even so, there are occasional defectors.

(2) when the conspiracy has layers. The outer ones can be propelled by dogma and the inner consists of very few.

Specifically, GW Bush did not need anyone but Cheney to be in on any "manchurian" scenario. He was freaking President of the United States, clothed in immense power. Even without the full Manchurian, it was a "conspiracy" to sign executive waivers of all competitive bidding for Iraq and Afgh war contracts and simply hand them over to family companies.

As for the Full Manchurian… when you surround yourself with yes-men, how hard is it to say "I want a war, find me a n excuse."

But I don't have to rationalize to you. FIND ME one exception to the perfect record of harm to the West and to the United States. One. One exception. And if you cannot, then do you know the meaning of the term Occam's Razor?

David Brin said...

PS the challenge above is also for Tacitus, whom I respect. He was the one who found one positive outcome from the Bush presidency… substantial progress vs AIDS in Africa!

And there you have the difference between me and a conspiracy nut. I am pointing out POSSIBILITIES that are UNDER_discussed! I am not declaring it settled that GW Bush was a Manchurian President. I am pointing out that it is the simplest explanation for a regime that did absolutely nothing but relentless and unmitigated harm to America and Western Civilization, without a single exception.

Are you freaking kidding me? Under those circumstances, I am not allowed to even BROACH the possibility that this fellow, who was a drunken party-lout carousing on the yachts of petri-prince "cousins" might not have given them plenty to both blackmail and bribe him with?

Who's the close-minded one, here?

Tacitus said...


Compulsory voting. An interesting concept. Might be a hard sell in the US. When I am traveling in the UK (countdown at ten days!) I tell my mates in the pub that to understand American politics just visualize dealing with Scottish rugby players.

Maybe the only way it could be done here would be a radical change....make voting a once a year affair with the ballot to be submitted along with your tax return. Oh, and happy 15 April to one and all.

Imagine the change in our body politic if everyone had their say - cause you file even if you owe nothing- and if rendering unto Caesar was right in front of you when you filled out your choices!

David I have spent enough time in the past on your challenge. There used to be one other unambiguous plus to the W. administration. A higher than ever rate of home ownership. Of course that proved to be a fatal illusion.

My disappointments with the current admin notwithstanding I do not hope for, but I do fear, that some of Obama's triumphs will prove equally hollow and false.


off to work in the New Era of Healthcare. Looks a lot like the old btw

Keith D. Halperin said...

We've heard what Australia does to Minimize voter fraud. Don't/didn't they have mandatory voting, too? What do other wealthy democracies do to encourage voting and minimize fraud?

LarryHart said...


In the US most allegations of voter fraud center on large urban centers with histories of corrupt political machines. Chicago. Tammany Hall. Does Oz have any equivalents?

Waukeshau County. Don't forget my favorite.


Tony Fisk said...

I forgot that proportional voting is a peculiarity of Oz. Both it and compulsory voting do seem to fix a number of tricks.

The Institute of Public Affairs is a long standing conservative think tank who had a number of policy suggestions (75) for Abbott. The ones relevant to the current discussion are items 22-25. You might ponder why these were suggested.
(For the record, they haven't been raised in parl't . Yet. Others certainly have.)

Keith D. Halperin said...

@ Tony: Thank you. It sounds like the Institute is advocating repealing measures which I think we should have here.

Tony Fisk said...

I should add that the IPA is closely associated with Rupert and that other bastion of western democracy, Gina Rinehart.

Paul451 said...

"random Aussie question. In the US most allegations of voter fraud center on large urban centers with histories of corrupt political machines. Chicago. Tammany Hall. Does Oz have any equivalents?"

As Tony said, actual voter fraud is virtually non-existent.

There have been examples of hugely corrupt governments, such as Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen in Queensland. Rampant corruption combined with a gerrymandering so distorted they kept government even when their primary vote dropped to 21%. Other than Sir Joh, "corrupt political machines" tend to be Labor (centre-left). They dominate many local councils, which they use to raise "donations" to fund the higher level elections, every so often it leads to networks of corruption particularly with land developers. The Libs (centre-right) do the same thing when they control a local council, but it never seems to get as bad (or maybe they're just better at covering it up.)

Re: Compulsory voting.
In practice it's "compulsory turning up", they can't compel you to vote because we still use pencil-and-paper ballots. [US machine-voting could make voting actually compulsory, which I wouldn't support. There must be a way of just voting "present".] It's also easy to get out of paying the $50 fine. I'm told it's easier to get out of than jury duty. Just sign a declaration saying you were stuck looking after a sick kid, or had to work all day.

Tony Fisk,
Re: Voter suppression.
The Libs/Nats have long opposed compulsory voting. Not only because they believe compulsory voting favours Labor, but also once they end compulsory voting, it opens the system up to other forms of voter suppression. In the same way that the US Right tries to block efforts by Dems to "get out the vote"; and would go into paroxysms if someone tried to introduce compulsory voting over there.

IMO, compulsory voting and simple preference voting (or approval voting) would solve a lot of problems with the US system.

Re: Postal ballot fraud.
The problem with postal ballots is that I can stand over you while you fill it out. Or fill it out myself and make you sign it. This apparently happens during Russian "elections", bosses will force their staff to vote in front of them. Refuse, lose your job.

Paul451 said...

rseed42 & David,
Re: Text-picture boxes
I always saw these as no different to the text/quote boxes in any magazine or newspaper column. Usually it's one box per major subject change, which is a nice visual marker. Mostly I tune out the actual breakout-text. Looking back at this particular column, the boxes may be a little more "shouty" than usual, but that's more the subject than the format.

Re: Presidential conspiracy theories.
There's a left-wing conspiracy theory that claims when Obama took office the CIA director leaned in and whispered "JFK, RFK, MLK... BHO." Startled, Obama looked up at the head of the Secret Service, who smiled and made pistol-fingers. Since then, Obama's done whatever he's told.

Personally, I think both Obama and Bush2 are just weak men. Easily manipulated, in different ways. Bush by his desire for simple black and white clarity, Obama by his desire for nuance and negotiation.

Acacia H. said...

One thing?

A $300 tax rebate for everyone who filed their taxes as part of a stimulus effort after 9/11. It didn't matter how little or how much you made, you got that $300 check (though I'm not sure if people who owed money got said money or just had a reduction in what they owed).

Quite a few people went out and spent that $300 on various things. It put money back into the economy and helped, if only a tiny bit.

Now consider just for a moment if Obama had taken a page from that book... and the Bailout of the Big Banks was done instead by creating bank accounts for every single U.S. citizen who files taxes, with $7,000 (or however much we all owe as a result of that clusterfuck) put in bank accounts. Each citizen would be able to withdraw up to $1,000 per year. The banks would pay interest for those accounts.

The end result? It's a bail-in for the big banks. They don't suffer huge losses. The American People now have a bit more money, and can immediately spend $1,000 of that money if they so choose. And you'd have seen quite a few people praise this program and say really good things about Obama.

Sadly, that was not how it played out. And the only people happy with the bailouts were the bankers.

But anyway, you said one thing, I showed you one thing, and I even showed how this policy could have been used by other administrations.

Rob H.

Alfred Differ said...

The problem with that lovely little gift is we were going to war in the region of the world where empires go to die. How smart was that combination?

Acacia H. said...

That wasn't what was up for debate. What Dr. Brin asked for and received was the one exception to the perfect harm Bush was doing to the West. I gave him one.

I detest Bush. I hate him for making Clinton look good, for wasting so many opportunities, for his Supreme Court selections, and so forth. But I also hate Clinton. And yet Dr. Brin was able to get me to admit Clinton wasn't nearly as bad as I claimed him to be.

Rob H.

Tacitus said...

Oh, I try to avoid snark, I try so hard.
But imagining the Secret Service threatening the President....what, they drunk again?
On a less petty note, thanks for the insights into Australian politics. Different, yet familiar.


Paul451 said...

Blue sky night,
Rovers delight.
Red Sky day,
Shepherds shouldn't raise sheep on Mars.

Paul451 said...

Sometimes when you're all alone in the big dark between the planets, there's just you and your thoughts.

David Brin said...

Tacitus, of course Obamacare looks a lot like the old system. It was designed to accomplish a limited set of goals. To get millions out of the emergency rooms and make things a bit more orderly and perhaps control costs a little. (But forbid the govt to negotiate price deals.)

2- get millions into insurance companies, some of them taxpayer subsidized, INSTEAD of just cutting out the middlemen (Canada.)

3- give the GOP its own damn plan in (futile) hope they would accept the gesture and negotiate improvements and move on to other things.

1&2 were modest and tiny steps and 3 was an utter failure. So? Let's reiterate. It's your own damn plan.

As for BHO… American would never have elected him if he had one angry, combative bone in his body. He is a born negotiator, trapped in an era when negotiation is dead.

David Brin said...