Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Does the fallout of Panama blow to ... Helvetia? Radical Economic Transparency

Does the fallout from Panama blow toward ... Helvetia?

It's like a nuke, going off in the world of secret wealth. And downwind effects will stretch to the Alps and far beyond.

Right now I am dealing with press over the Panama Leaks, which eerily resembles a scenario from my novel EARTH (1990).  The question of whether this could lead to an unraveling of secret wealth is interesting. Already being called “the Wikileaks of the mega-rich,” the Panama Papers show how many powerful people around the world have used offshore and secret accounts to dodge taxes and sanctions, or to launder money.  

Does this sound increasingly like the prelude to the “Helvetian War,” from EARTH? Oh, rest assured, I’ll have more to say about this, soon.

== Transparency as a tool ==

How Technology will expose corporate secrets: A fascinating article on the Fast Company site reveals how much information from legally open sources now flows through new data-handling groups who empower savvy investors to judge whether companies are worthwhile. This goes far beyond what a corporation must reveal in its financial and stockholder statements. For example “startups like Planet Labs and BlackSky Global have launched hundreds of shoebox-sized, orbital satellites that regularly photograph store parking lots, mining sites, plant smokestacks, storage depots, and distribution warehouses. This raw data captures a big chunk of companies' external operations footprints. …" 

Spaceknow analyzes traffic of all of the world’s trucks and ships among mines, depots, and warehouses to deliver what they term "radical economic transparency." Hedge fund traders can subscribe to companies like RS Metrics, which uses imaging to monitor retail traffic and predict sales at chain stores in advance of earnings reports.”

Again, if your reflex is to only see all this in Big Brother terms, then you have the wrong reflexes. These info-flows only become Orwellian when they are clutched unequally by cheating elites.  But when they empower an eco-NGO to catch and record every illegally harvested hardwood tree or illegally dumped toxin, exactly what will be your complaint then?

Soon, algorithms will sift and track this data.  If we have open access and honest regulations and regulators, then the outcome should be better capitalism and better activism, with less waste and more efficiency. 

Another area where transparency can help: Many federal and state lands agencies are critically underfunded, often unintentionally so... sometimes unable to report things like changes in flowering time due to climate change, or to inventory plant species. There is an increasing movement to get big groups of amateurs to descend on areas of public land and document everything they can over a day or a weekend - they call these activities bioblitze

It's part of the movement toward Citizen Science that goes back a century, that I forecast burgeoning in EARTH, and talked about here. And hereiNaturalist.org in particular has burgeoned - as of right now there are 1,791,935 observations with locations marked on the map. Check it -- and possibly have fun while doing good for your planet. 

To foil poachers...Can we teach wild elephants to use webcams?   

More efficient than hours of stakeouts, police put GPS trackers on cars, bikes, packages to catch thieves.

Wearables pioneer and transparency/sousveillance scholar and public artist Prof Steve Mann says: "My recent Instructable teaches you all how to see radio waves! A truly transparent society where technology is made transparent."

== Saved by surveillance? ==

One of the reasons we are alive today is that Dwight Eisenhower eventually got his way.  Ike knew that the top cause of war between great powers has always been fearful miscalculation of the other side’s abilities and intentions.  In the 1950s CIA and others always way-over-estimated Soviet  military strength – numbers of bombs and missiles – resulting in U.S. expenditures that, in turn, frightened the USSR leaders into maintaining a hair-trigger.  

Ike tried to persuade Moscow to accept “open skies” so that we each would be able to see each others’ capabilities and calm down. This wan’t going to happen, given Russian paranoid tendencies exacerbated by the recent second world war, plus Cold War tensions.  Indeed, the Politburo doubled down on secrecy and went into a tizzy when Eisenhower tried sending U2 Spy planes, to find out what they were doing. (The Soviets never had that problem with us.  They had only to subscribe to Aviation Week.)

We were saved, the whole world was saved, ultimately, by spy satellites – they are why you are alive right now, boyz-n-girlz – which stabilized the world.  Diametrically opposite to the lesson preached by Howard Hughes’s favorite flick, “Ice Station Zebra.”

When the Cold War thawed a bit, a series of treaties were signed to reduce nukes and back away from the brink… and finally Ike’s Open Skies treaty was signed, giving NATO and Russian planes the right – under careful conditions – to overfly each others’ territory with cameras.   Now Russia seems intent on acting on that right.  "One of the advantages of the Open Skies Treaty is that information — imagery — that is taken is shared openly among all the treaty parties," a spokesman said at a joint hearing of the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services committees in December. "So one of the advantages with the Open Skies Treaty is that we know exactly what the Russians are imaging, because they must share the imagery with us." Still, military and intelligence officials have expressed serious concern. And Russian restrictions have limited our own views.

== Surveillance - Sousveillance ==

Could the Third Amendment be used to fight the surveillance state? Yes, the one you've scarcely heard of, because it has not been invoked in a century.  I am skeptical.  But then, my favorite is the Sixth. The one that truly prevents tyranny.

An interesting site suggests that Jeremy Bentham’’s Panopticon concept for top-down surveillance can fairly smoothly be transformed into laterally accountable sousveillance.  Since these words are both French, it is interesting to see a French thinker’s approach to all this.  Although the English translation is a bit awkward and rough, M. Ganascia makes several interesting points with his examples…

… while failing to address the key question of why these are the two only choices that we have – either (1) submitting to one-way watching by elites – and thus Big Brother forever… or else (2) taking on the citizen duty for all of us to watch – and thus ensuring Big Brother Never. Instead, M. Ganascia offers a series of interesting, brief anecdotes and examples of how we seem to be heading for #2, whether we like it or not.

One example: “Since he has been elected, President Obama has promoted the 'Government 2.0' (Gov 2.0) or the Open Government by making all the public data transparent and easily accessible to everybody. Through the Gov 2.0, President Obama has wanted to reconnect “we, the people of the United State” and the government. For instance, since February 2009, all the informations about the way public founds are used, about the frauds and the abuses and about public policy are given in the recovery.gov web site that is intended to “Track the Money” and to show, on maps, “where the Money is Going”. In a similar spirit the website data.gov provide access to all the data bases that are used by public services. For instance, data about toxics release inventory or clinical trials of drugs are now accessible to all citizens who can exploit them by themselves or with machines. The promoted Gov 2.0 is a typical case or sousveillance, that has been generalized to the administration of the overall state of the biggest and more influential nation in the world.”

== More on Transparency ==

A researcher in Russia has made more than 48 million scientific articles from journals - a good fraction of the peer-reviewed paper ever published - freely available online on SciHub, and refuses to shut it down, despite a court injunction.

One idea to beat the surveillance state: radical transparency: Hasan Elahi bares his life for all to see... a uniquely modern and with-it approach, if you have the guts. (He cites The Transparent Society .)

Much discussed lately is “tyranny of algorithms.” The tendency of even a well-meaning political and civil service system to rely upon coded procedures and weighting systems to decide budgetary allocations, or social security payments, or when a prisoner comes up for parole.  Do we need better systems to vet these algorithms and make sure they aren’t in grievous error?
Samsung has confirmed that its "smart TV" sets, with voice activation are listening to customers' every word, and the company warns customers not to speak about personal information near the TV sets, as the sets can share information, including sensitive data, with Samsung as well as third-party services.
== Announcements ==

Bard College’s Hannah Arendt Center proclaims: “We're excited to announce that edited footage from our eighth annual fall conference "Why Privacy Matters: What Do We Lose When We Lose Our Privacy?" is now available on our Vimeo account. You can watch all of the panels, including Edward Snowden's keynote on "Why Privacy Matters" and David Brin's talk on The Transparent Society, by accessing the Bard conference's video collection here.

The PBS broadcast The Human Face of Big Data nationwide in February (now available on Amazon), focusing on both the promises and perils of the Big Data revolution.

Interview on Hearsay Culture: here I speak on transparency and cyber-utopianism with David S. Levine.

And yes, I'll soon be going to Panama!  Well, thematically.  Yipe.  How right does a guy have to be, before CNN calls?


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

@Dr. Brin - BlackSky Global & Planet Labs look intriguing. Curiously opaque financial and operational reports for entities that might become mechanisms for transparency...but ultimately, either someone discovers a way to profit from sousveilance, or it will never amount to much.

"These info-flows only become Orwellian when they are clutched unequally by cheating elites. But when they empower an eco-NGO to catch and record every illegally harvested hardwood tree or illegally dumped toxin, exactly what will be your complaint then?"

The exercise of power is more "who you know" and less about "what you have/where." Putin's father-in-law didn't earn millions from his vast art collection.

Catch an illegally harvested hardwood tree red-handed? Leonardo diCaprio might scream about it, but folks won't really care - until someone can profit from stopping the harvest. So too with the toxic dump: people don't care about a dump in someone else's backyard, unless they are torts lawyers who can earn a buck from contesting it.

How many Syrians did America let into our country after watching some toddler corpses wash ashore? Would we let more in if we saw daily horrors in refugee camps? If we saw civilians dying in gas attacks? Did we do it in 1938, when we couldn't see it so clearly? Nothing is changed by the prevalence of imagery - we're still the same human beings, caring about the same limited frames, mostly that which provides our livelihood or meets our needs matters - all else is irrelevant. How can sousveillance protect us if nobody cares, save those who profit from the caring? Those who do care burn out from the caring, or sell out, or strike out and wander about (or in my case, all three).

That said, even in a reduced state of apathy, one can offer something. I've criticized your reliance on the 6th, but get the fetish; the 3rd is equally unlikely, esp. given the progeny from the last case to make a passing reference to it (I've mentioned Griswold -> Roe v Wade before). Your cause, even if I'm skeptical that it will make much difference, will be better served by leaning on the 1st + the legislative process, largely because many people profit from defending free speech, and fewer profit from fighting problems they don't generally perceive (well, one might feel that the government spying in your house is akin to 'quartering Redcoats' in your telephone - but most folks shrug at that...).

Jumper said...

I invented LoJack and gave it away. Now I'm not wealthy. Sometimes it bothers me.

Acacia H. said...

Actually, donzelion, India is using small rewards and mobile apps to help stop illegal dumping and the like. And it's working. In essence, rather than citizen science, it's citizen policing. And let's face it... that might be far more effective for policing than the current police state the U.S. is descending into.

Rob H.

Alfred Differ said...

@donzelion: Nothing is changed by the prevalence of imagery...


Alfred Differ said...


Offered here not because I support the viewpoint, but because it might help provide a trans-uranium contribution. 8)

donzelion said...

@RobH - "India is using small rewards and mobile apps to help stop illegal dumping and the like. And it's working." The experiments I've read about are fascinating, but I'd say the jury is still out. I'm too well-versed in the dramatic "successes" of the microcredit lending revolution, which lifted a billion Indians out of poverty and led them to displace America and China as a superpower...except it didn't. Or the effort that ended 75% of corruption in India by handing out 0 rupee notes with Gandhi's face on them - except it didn't. In India, everything always works (and the images prove it). Except for India itself (and the images prove that too).

@Alfred - ah, Vietnam, the case that proves "images change things." How many thousands of images of did it take to change American policy in that war? Pentagon Papers are published in '71 - but even then, aside from showing who knew what and when, there wasn't that much new information. So long as the bulk of the troops fighting didn't look like Donald Trump (e.g., they were poor, or minorities, or chose their parents less wisely), the war ground on, and on...

My point is that images alone mean nothing. After the Holocaust, Americans (who turned their backs in '38 to "European refugees" who were overwhelmingly Jewish) turned their backs - some in the well-meaning media (and I once counted myself in that group, in a manner of speaking) thought it would make a difference if we saw the images. Then we saw the images from Rwanda, and turned our backs on that - so we assumed video was needed. Then we produced video from Syria of people choking to death - and Americans still don't care.

We need incentives other than well-meaning intentions, or we do nothing at all no matter what the images show us.

Acacia H. said...

It's not the images alone.

It's the stories with them.

For instance, the Syrian father whose son drown when they tried crossing into Europe. If it was the image of a child being dead, few would care. But then we got a story, a family. They were not just static images. They existed. And then people cared.

That is why storytellers are so powerful. They bring the world to life to people who otherwise close it out.

Rob H.

donzelion said...

@RobH - "It's not the images alone. It's the stories with them....If it was the image of a child being dead, few would care. But then we got a story, a family. They were not just static images. They existed. And then people cared."

Hmmm...let's measure that "caring" by objective criteria. In 2014, America admitted about 1000 Syrian refugees fleeing the war, to great controversy. In 2015, we admitted about 1200. So we cared about 20% more than before (more likely, nothing changed whatsoever - and the increase was just that applications that started in 2013 had finally been processed).

Let's see: in August 2013, Assad's troops gas Damascus, killing hundreds. America votes to do nothing, despite the images. Maintaining a longstanding Republican policy of doing nothing when a nasty dictator uses chemical weapons against civilians (except mocking people who want to do something and saying how weak they are).

Yes, storytellers are powerful: but far more storytellers get paid telling tales of Trump's potency than get paid saving Syrian babies from drowning. In such a world, with such a species, how can we expect transparency to fix problems? The stories must be told, but in a forum where something can be done about them - or they go nowhere, becoming only so much background noise in besieged psyches deluged with so many stories as we want to process.

locumranch said...

The Panama Leak** makes six things clear:

(1) The Rule of Law is fiction; (2) Corruption is universal; (3) Everyone is guilty of some crime at some time; (4) The Rich & Powerful are now vulnerable; (5) The Poor lack any recourse whatsoever; and (6) Surveillance spares no one.

There's no help from the 3rd Amendment either, the key phrase being 'No (imposition) without the consent of the owner' because the Western 'We' has already consented & welcomed tyranny into our homes with every Patriot Act, Goggle query, cellphone contract, death pledge, credit card application, Xbox console, Samsung Smart TV & accepted end-user agreement.

We have met the enemy and he is us.

**And other scandals like Freddie Mac, Gazprom, LIBOR & FIFA.

Alfred Differ said...

@donzelion: Nothing is easy that isn't already being done and even then it often isn't. Adam Smith's point about a man caring more about the well being of his little finger than the deaths of millions in an earthquake on the other side of the world still stands.

However, I doubt anyone here will make anything more than a strawman argument suggesting images will magically fix problems. David doesn't, but you have to read his Transparency book to see that since he doesn't go into depth here.

The mental test I use is to try to imagine how much longer it would have taken the US to exit Vietnam WITHOUT the images. No one can really answer that. I can imagine arguments suggesting vets might be better off in that alt.world. Still... I'm hard-pressed to imagine the US leaving in defeat without the images. I find it easier to believe we would have escalated things a few more times.

Alfred Differ said...

@donzelion: Personally, I find it embarrassing that the US chose to do nothing after the gas attacks, but I also admit that I don't know what we SHOULD have done had we chosen to act instead. I see a moral imperative to act, but no clear vision of how to act. What I DO see is many, many, many ways for us to make it worse.

donzelion said...

@Alfred - well, there is a point to be made re Vietnam and transparency, separate from the mental guess as to how much longer it would take the U.S. to exit with images v. without. That sort of guess can be nothing more than a guess. However, after the Pentagon Papers were published, the U.S. body count dropped dramatically. Coincidence?

Thing is, back in '71 when they were published, the NYT was a money-making entity: they were among the biggest, most opaque and hierarchical creatures in corporate America. They published the papers expecting to make a substantial profit. That incentive drove the NYT to become a defender of American community against a government that had for years lied and misled the public.

If sousveillance is a purely "citizen-based" enterprise to achieve something similar, some similar impetus must be at work. But what?

David Brin said...

Whether images of pain elsewhere stir empathy is a matter of serious contemplation. Do they stir empathy enough? Of course not. Do they stir empathy more that in other eras without such media? Of course they do.

What frustrates me is the inability of fellows like donzel to look at HIMSELF as evidence on the opposite side of his own argument. His dissatisfaction with our level of general empathy is shared by millions. Millions who, like him, HAVE been stirred to greater empathy.

poor locum. The more evidence there is, that his "side" is a cesspit of science-hating, cheating and corruption, the more he has to sink into declaring everybody sucks! Better that all of humanity is an irredeemable sewer tnhan to consider the possibility that his loyalty was misplaced, all along

Alfred Differ said...

@donzelion: I get your money making concern. It certainly does help when people are paid to investigate and write about the things we need to know. That isn't always necessary, though, and an entire industry lies effectively dead because we proved it with...


Anonymous said...

It was C.S. Lewis who held that this society depends in the last resort on observation, so carcinogen sticks lobbing spysats sounds like more of the same--good for the few who will play that game, and rampant indifference from the rest. Another observation is that burning the night skies is perhaps not the brightest of ideas, and completely contrary to the way things were over the last 6,000 years--or so--but what are you going to do about it? Certainly not to turn off those gleaming beacons of progress. Or are you ready to eliminate the airlines, on the observation that aerosols mask even more warming to come? No? Nanobot cheerleading time, or more distractions of space? Now, rampant observation does have some pluses; the ritual sacrifices that define this rather stratified society can now be replayed at whim, with doubtless the hope that future progress in technology will bring yet more viewing angles--perhaps even VR!--to the sacrifice of, say, the children of Raquel Nelson. Observation, and transparency.


Ain't it grand?

raito said...

Dr. Brin,

"Again, if your reflex is to only see all this in Big Brother terms, then you have the wrong reflexes."

I'd say that it's more like, 'you have insufficient reflexes'.

The Big Brother reflex is useful, because it ought to turn one away from that outcome. But if that's all one has, then the natural result is to attempt to shut it down.

Whereas, if you also have the reflex that it could be useful if allowed for all, then the natural result is to fight to keep it open.

I think it takes both reflexes, one against the negative and one in favor of the positive.

Lorraine said...

It is good that the phrase "radical economic transparency" should be popularized, although I wonder if it would be better if there were a frank understanding that "nonproprietary data" is part of the very definition of "radical economic transparency." I mean, really, look how thoroughly the term "sharing economy" got co-opted.

Lorraine said...

@donzelion: "either someone discovers a way to profit from sousveilance, or it will never amount to much"

That's probably true, but how do you monetize (basically, DRM) sousveillance without flipping the switch that turns it into surveillance?

Anabelle said...

The progressive PM of Iceland seems to be the only western head of state implicated here. I seem to recall Mr. Brin stating that Iceland had done exactly the right thing in response to the 2009 crash. Maybe not so much now?

David Brin said...

Our anonymous troll strings many polysyllabic terms together! Even mentions 6000 years! Then rails at our "stratified society" without ... um... pausing to compare it to stratification in every single other society across those 6000 years, yippee!

Or show the sapience to note that calling "stratified" a BAD thing is something only a member of THIS society would do, since all those others took it for granted as natural.

Or that it is only such a value set that criticizes stratification that can lead to its lessening, as has clearly been accomplished, despite the current, right wing oligarchic attempted putsch.

As for rejecting the benefits of spy satellites, e.g. in calming cold war tensions and saving all our lives-- well, all that shows sir is that you are deeeply deeply stooooopid.

locumranch said...

Whether images of pain elsewhere stir empathy & horror is a matter of serious contemplation: Such imagery may stir empathy in SMALL doses; however, the same images may have the opposite effect in LARGER doses, leading to desensitization, adaption & acceptance.

In quite recent memory, it is important to note that the West once condemned the homosexual minority as aberrant, immoral & repulsive yet, through its repeated & unceasing exposure to desensitizing homosexual tropes, imagery & memes, an adapted West now accepts homosexuality & sodomy as the new 'normal'.

This is ALWAYS true:

Any oft-repeated emotional trigger may lead to desensitization, adaption, acceptance & normalisation. You exhaust your neighbours empathy if you cry 'wolf' too many times; you create the sexist & misogynist if you use those epithets to bludgeon each & every male into submission; the general surgeon is quite literally bored by entrails & abdominal gore; horrifically violent slasher films serve to inure the frequent viewer to both violence & horror; and, political & financial malfeasance becomes the new normal when it occurs in an all-too-regular fashion.

This, then, is the inherent flaw with Radical Transparency.

After a while, outrage is unsustainable & nobody cares any more.


Jumper said...

I am unsure if I should believe (according to my own code, once I have more facts) that every instance of the offshore banking reports are signs of corruption. I have like most, a supposition that many or most instances of the hidden money are foul play, but without more facts, it's all vague. I predict loud lamentations, from that sector of the left which is not averse to exaggeration and innuendo, will rather than clarify matters, muddy them longer than otherwise.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

Personally, I find it embarrassing that the US chose to do nothing after the gas attacks, but I also admit that I don't know what we SHOULD have done had we chosen to act instead. I see a moral imperative to act, but no clear vision of how to act. What I DO see is many, many, many ways for us to make it worse.

The Republicans are slamming President Obama for not acting, playing off of the emotional tug you just described and willfully ignoring the fact that the nation's leaders should think more and knee-jerk less.

Doubtless, had he in fact acted in haste (as they claim he should), they'd be self-righteously channeling the later part of your admonition above.

LarryHart said...


We have met the enemy and he is us.

Well, one of us has, anyway.

Acacia H. said...

It's interesting that Sanders seems to have stumbled with an interview where he didn't have answers to various questions on how he'd enact some of his ideas. It's always a good thing to learn if a politician has thought things out fully ahead of time, though I do have to wonder: was Obama any different? Did he have his ideas hammered out as well? Or did Obama stumble in the Presidency because he had a message but no firm gameplan for what to do once he was President?

If Obama had a better game plan going into the Presidency, he might have been more strategic in enacting policies. Going with immigration reform before Obamacare alone has been one thing some people have stated would have been a better tactic for him, though I do understand he was trying to push it through before Kennedy died.

Though I do know Obama doesn't like being compared to an old Jewish chap. ;)

Rob H.

Anonymous said...

look how thoroughly the term "sharing economy" got co-opted

That's one of the things that really bugs me about Uber and its ilk — the way they use misleading language. Sharing my ass — it's piecework by another name.

Up here we've had problems with people buying houses and converting them into (unlicensed) hotels for AirBnB. (With no staff on site and no way to find out who owns the numbered company listed as the property owner.) I'm waiting to find out what happens to the people injured when an Uber car got totalled last month. And now a car-share company has announced that they are going to ignore parking regulations so their members can just park anywhere even if they don't have a permit. It seems that since Uber got away with ignoring local laws, other companies feel they can as well.

Alfred Differ said...

@LarryHart: The way I remember the time right after learning of the gas attacks, it was pretty clear that our fellow American's were in an isolationist mood. We didn't really want to act on what we learned, but it looked like Obama thought he had to in order to avoid setting a bad precedent. As events unfolded, he was offered a way to avoid both.

I'd like to adopt a black and white rule that deals out death to those who use WMD's, but that kind of rigidity isn't smart in a part of the world where genocide doesn't appear to be an evil concept. I'd rather, instead, suffer them than become like them.

Alfred Differ said...

@Rob H: I don't think Obama had his ideas hammered out any better. I suspect they were even more vague than Sanders due to his youth. I remember clearly him ducking some interview questions offered from the 'left' that got into details. He got away with it by charming them. I remember it clear as day. 8)

David Brin said...

I remember Obama being very wonkish and well-versed in his wonky answers. Very few of which actually ever came true. Bernie seems more passionate than wonkish. Like my dad.

“the same images may have the opposite effect in LARGER doses, leading to desensitization, adaption & acceptance.”

Perhaps this is so, sir… in you.

Some degree of image -sensory desensitization happens in all, it’s true. But you assume others do not continue to shift their priorities under the influence of continuing-incoming information. New versions may not convey the same shock but other humans DO keep paying attention to the fact of that new input, reinforcing their decision to prioritize solutions.

All of which is a dry way to say that some people have consciences. If they sold them off the shelf, I would recommend trying one.

Acacia H. said...

More interesting... it seems the newspaper itself bungled the interview and thought Sanders was wrong - at least, concerning breaking up big banks. Hell, they called him the Mayor of Vermont.

If he was in charge of all of Vermont, he'd have been Governor. And people don't seem to have a problem with Governors running for President. ;)

Just food for thought. Seems we need to consider the news media... isn't what it once was.

Rob H.

Alfred Differ said...

heh. One of those charming events involved an interview with Rachel Maddow. She wanted to go in a particular direction regarding detail and he pushed back in a charming way basically telling her that he knew what he was doing. She thought he'd get more votes with more detail. He obviously thought he was winning it on less. If we had looked at whatever he had in mind (if he indeed did) we might have burst the Hope incantation that was in effect.

I couldn't quite tell if she understood what he had done, but it didn't look like it. Experienced politicians can be fun to watch when they exercise their REAL skills. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

mmm... regarding desensitization I'll just point back at the Vietnam War era. Those images were refreshed daily and didn't exactly numb everyone. I suspect many were numb to a point, but it only takes a small segment of our communities to get upset before there are consequences. Staying numb is difficult when your neighbors put the issue in your face.

The fact that some ARE desensitized is not a flaw of Transparency. The key point to remember is that ONLY SOME are desensitized. SOME are also radicalized. Our tolerance of diversity makes many seemingly exclusionary statements simultaneously true.

Acacia H. said...

And now the Reavers from Firefly/Serenity take on an entirely different meaning.

Rob H.

Alfred Differ said...

Indeed. 8)


... a lesson in how our overlords will(?) actually control us. Gotta love a good conspiracy theory.

Jumper said...

Thank you, Robert! I had wondered too about that Treasury / Fed point. I guess he was too polite to call them idiots (which they are, on an ongoing basis).

Luís Salgueiro said...

When the images of the refugees started playing on TV several of my countrymen left everything and went to Greece to help

When the news of Guernica reached America volunteers flocked to fight the fascists https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lincoln_Battalion

Before the US entered WWI and WWII US volunteers joined the RAF and Canadian air forces... what happened to this generation of Americans?

Acacia H. said...

You have people sneaking out of this country to join ISIS.

You have others joining the Peace Corps and other organizations to help fight without weapons.

Just because the news media doesn't bother showing pictures of hordes of Americans helping out does not mean it is not happening.

Rob H.

Midboss57 said...

The problem with the Middle Eastern situation (of which Syria and Iraq are just a small part of) is not so much apathy but just the fact that people have given up on the idea that there was anything the West could do that would not make things worse.
Tried removing the dictator and building a regime (Iraq and Afghanistan). That was an epic fail.
Tried just providing air support to remove the dictator and letting the locals build a regime (Lybia). That was also an epic fail.
Next we just tried ignoring it (Syria). And that is also failing.
Middle East, an interesting game. There is no winning move, not even refusing to play.

Anonymous said...

The Helvetian War was a rather drastic way of solving the problem of offshore banking and in Dr. Brin’s novel, it did not completely eliminate hidden money. In the story, Switzerland was nuked out of existence and although that might give a fleeting sense of satisfaction, I do not think going that far would be necessary. Most of these tax havens are attached to our allies so military force would be ruled out and it seems that legal means are too slow and leave too many loopholes to be effective. Pressuring them to become transparent is a lost cause because most of the tax havens have only one industry to support their economies. Without offshore banking, most would fall into real third-world status and they are not going to do that.

If we can’t invade them nor cooperate with them then what can we do? The Panama Leaks are an example of semi-legal action. The newspapers can get away with what is, in principle, against international law because of free-press rights. The names and connections were published and it is now up to each individual country’s tax and law-enforcement authorities to follow up or not.


Since you are a lawyer, perhaps you can help me on this.

I am concerned about the legality of publishing the Panama Leaks even if I applaud its purpose. The papers acquired the data either through hacking or through a whistle-blower and both are illegal in tax-haven countries. In this case, the source would be arrested and condemned if he is found. If the source is outside the country, then could he be extradited? If hacking was used then could an international arrest warrant be issued against the hacker? Should we give a “safe haven” status to the source and if yes, then why should we not do the same for the WikiLeaks founder?

Marino said...


Anabelle said...
The progressive PM of Iceland seems to be the only western head of state implicated here. I seem to recall Mr. Brin stating that Iceland had done exactly the right thing in response to the 2009 crash. Maybe not so much now?

please notice that the Icelandic Progressive Party, happens to be a conservative right-of-center party, check at least the wikipedia entry before attempting slander about "progressives". The ones Mr. Brin wrote about then lost at the polls.

Tony Fisk said...

Wikileaks have been pointing out that the docs released so far have a bias towards non-western oligarchs. I'd note that, in addition to the Iceland PM, David Cameron's father has also been mentioned.

Anonymous said...

Tony Fisk,

Mathew Ingram of the Süddeutsche Zeitung when asked why so few Western names were mentioned said "Just wait for what is coming next" From that I would assume that further documents will be coming forth with American and European names. It is far from over.

A.F. Rey said...

How right does a guy have to be, before CNN calls?

Maybe you should try being wrong for a change, Dr. Brin. Then Fox will call. :)

locumranch said...

So far, only Jumper has noted that the actions revealed by the Panama Leak were LEGAL, so much so that Mossack Fonseca & the Oligarchs represent the 'Rule of Law' & Civil Order while the Wikileaks & Radical Transparency advocates are tantamount to Civil Corruption & terrorists.

If we look beyond the smoke & mirrors of this false scandal, we then see that Civil Society operates along the lines of a Crooked Las Vegas Casino, rigging the games in order to maximise House Profit, offering random intermittent rewards (winnings; pay-outs) just big enough to keep the Players (aka 'Marks & Citizens') playing, knowing (statistically) that the citizen must necessarily lose everything by remaining at the gaming table.

According to Mario Puzo's 'Fools Die', however, what the Casino fears more than anything is the Player who attempts to keep his winnings, 'cash-out' & walk away before the House has had the chance to recoup its losses (and then some). Luckily for the House, very few Players are bold enough to just 'walk away'. Some 'Winners' are kept at the table by the offer of freebies, comps & special privileges; the few that are overly bold wind up buried in the desert (guilty of 'stealing', no less); yet, still other players behave in a troublesome manner by 'pigeon-holing' (hiding) just enough of their winnings in a pocket, tangible asset or foreign bank account.

The so-called 'crime' revealed by the Panama Leak is this: In a purely LEGAL fashion, some of Society's 'Winners' (in China, Iceland & other locales) have had the temerity to try to keep their (rightful) 'winnings' by pigeon-holing & hiding them, thereby depriving Civil Society of even higher House Profits.

Soon though, this Criminal Loophole will be slammed shut by the numbers:

(1) Globalism will ensure that there is only ONE HOUSE & ONE SET of RULES;
(2) Society will become 'Cashless' so that any potential 'winnings' are (literally) Immaterial & Non-Existent;
(3) Radical Transparency will eliminate the possibility of 'Pigeon-Holing', Hold-Outs & Asset Hiding;
(4) Any & All Winnings (those deemed 'inappropriate') can be confiscated by the House with a few keystrokes;
(5) All Players (aka 'Wage Slaves') will be forced to remain at the Gaming Table until they lose their only Real Asset (LIFE); and
(6) The House BOOT will reign supreme, stamping on a Human Face FOREVER.


Jumper said...

Mmm - not quite, loco. some of it is legal, and a lot of it definitely violates the laws of the countries it originates in. I'm pretty sure Putin's hidden stashes violate Russian law big time. In addition a lot of bribery has been shown to be involved, definitely against many countries' laws, including U.S. law.

What the U.S. press has been avoiding saying is that this country is on par with Panama and other money haven countries such as the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, etc. Nauru has apparently changed, but these records go back some years.

I expect to see Mitt Romney's name come out, and something related to the Afghan heroin trade. And some Mexican involvement. Perhaps some of the Port Authority's pals as well.

David Brin said...

The Helvetian war starts mild, with a dozen developing nations declaring that a state of official war exists so they can seize assets under belligerent rights.

It escalates.

locumranch said...

Different Houses have Different Laws, and all of Mossack Fonseca's actions were LEGAL in accordance with Panamanian Law.

To apply US, Russian, Chinese & EU Law to the legality of Mossack Fonseca's actions is to argue that these Nations (Gaming Houses, really) retain legal 'Ownership of their Monies' in the same way that the Casino retains property Ownership of their Chips, even after those money equivalents have been awarded to the Player, Gamer or Citizen, which is the equivalent of saying (ultimately) that

(1) National Currencies are analogous to Company Script, redeemable only for those approved purchases made available by the Company Store,

(2) The Citizen (and/or Player) do NOT own anything in actuality that cannot be claimed by the House, including themselves,

(3) The Player & his Winnings belong to the House rather than the Player,

(4) To be Company Owned is to be a Slave (in fact), and

(5) The Wages of Slavery & Sin are Death.

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store


anon said...

Imagine Putin as Judge Dredd: "I AM THE LAW", he snarls.

matthew said...

There are few US citizens named in the Panama Papers because the USA *is* a tax haven. Only rubes use offshore in the US.



matthew said...

This article in Slate on the UN meetings regarding automated weapon systems touches on some points about AI that David has raised, though it fails to mention HST AI systems. Interesting nonetheless.


LarryHart said...


The Helvetian War was a rather drastic way of solving the problem of offshore banking and in Dr. Brin’s novel, it did not completely eliminate hidden money. In the story, Switzerland was nuked out of existence and although that might give a fleeting sense of satisfaction, I do not think going that far would be necessary.

In reading the book, it wasn't clear to me that the fallout came from outside. I was under the impression that Helvetia's own tactical nukes might have been the cause.

David Brin said...

Misdirection! Hey Locum, show me where anyone is talking of prosecuting the Panamanian Law Firm! I haven't seen it, though boy do I want international treaties to ban every single thing they do.

As is, it is up to each country to decide if its own citizens who used those services broke their own laws. Jeez man. Focus.



Anonymous said...

If we wanted to get serious about the tax havens, there are much easier ways to take them down without resorting to military action. They seem to be safe but in reality, they are very fragile. 95% of the money in them is not physical money. It is just electrons in a computer. You just need to completely isolate them by preventing any electronic communication with the outside world and then use a Stuxnet-type virus to destroy all their data and the backups. The clients and the corporations would suddenly find that their money has been erased and that there is no longer any record of who owns what. There would only be paper records and it would take years to reconstitute them. It would show the clients of these offshore havens that their money is not safe there and that using a tax haven is not worth the risk.

I doubt that any large country would actually do something like this because it is cyber warfare and you don’t know where that will lead but I can see “cyber guerillas” attempting something like this on a much smaller scale. Even if it is only a partial success, it would make clients wonder if using tax havens is really worthwhile.

David Brin said...

Deuxglass you are just describing phase 2 of the Helvetian War.

Now onward