Tomorrow Happens

...trends slamming at us from the dark

David Brin

David Brin
San Diego, California, USA
October 06
Bio David Brin’s novels have been translated into more than twenty languages, including New York Times Best-sellers that won Hugo and Nebula awards. His 1989 ecological thriller, Earth, foreshadowed cyberwarfare, the World Wide Web, global warming and Gulf Coast flooding. A 1998 Kevin Costner film was loosely adapted from his post-apocalyptic novel, The Postman. ............................................ Brin is a noted scientist, futurist and speaker who appears frequently on television (Life After People, The Universe), discussing trends in the near and far future, on subjects such as surveillance, technology, astronomy, and SETI. His non-fiction book, The Transparent Society, deals with issues of openness and security in the wired-age. ............................................. David Brin web site: Twitter: Facbook:

JANUARY 11, 2012 4:53PM

Politics Redux: Transparency and the latest WikiLeaks mania

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First a note to Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry.  There's a point that your surrogates ought to be making - (with SuperPac deniability for you, of course!) Remind folks that New Hampshire is a Blue State. About as blue as they come. And hence, if the hybrid-type republicans of the Granite State prefer Mitt Romney... what does that say about him?  Redmeat for red South Carolina.

Oh, but now on to things I actually know something about...

== The Return of WikiLeaks ==

Last month, WikiLeaks launched its latest campaign, releasing nearly three hundred documents that reveal the extent of sophisticated surveillance technology that has been used by both oppressive rulers and Western democracies -- devices that enable governments or law enforcement agencies to track and monitor individuals via their cell phones, e-mail, and Internet browsing histories.

This is clearly the sort of transparency that - while it may short-term inconvenience some western governments - could help the secular trend toward an open world that (in turn) fosters and strengthens enlightenment nations and people.  In other words, embrace this! The answer to most modern problems may boil down, time and again, to a more aware citizenry.

Heck, shouldn't earlier phases of the WikiLeaks affair have taught the US government a valuable lesson? Answer me this riddle. What was the biggest overall effect of Julian Assange's leak of 250,000 State Dept cables? Who benefited most?

It was U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, getting exactly what she needed, when she needed it!  Scores of those leaked memos revealed US diplomats candidly despising Ben Ali and Mubarak and other Arab dictators they were forced to deal with. These revelations - secret, and hence credibly sincere - showed US envoys and apparatchiks expressing profound sympathy for oppressed people and holding their noses, forced by unpalatable circumstance to dicker with tyrants. Revealed precisely when the Arab Spring was brewing, those cables could not have been better timed to show youth in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and so on that "at worst America isn't our enemy... and maybe they're more with us than we thought."

A bizarre assertion? Well, did anybody notice the near- total lack of anti-American themes during the Arab Spring?  It may not have been Assange's intent... but that felicitous outcome was the exact thing that he wrought, and maybe our leaders should ponder the lucky break.

More important. They should contemplate the value of this overall, secular trend toward a generally more open world. Light can only - occasionally - inconvenience us.  For villainous regimes, it is lethal.

=== And while we’re on transparency...  ===

A Missouri judge ruled the FBI does not need a warrant to secretly attach a GPS unit to a suspect's car and track his public movements for two months.

My reaction?  Let me surprise you. Mr Transparency is yawning. This simply replicates what would happen if the FBI tracked the fellow with a classic "tail." He was publicly  visible the whole time.  If a tail was okay, then why not save us money?  Yes, yes, this may lead to "them" knowing where we are all the time?  So?  That's coming.  Protest it? Protest the sunset. Both are inevitable.

What matters to me is looking back. And I mean looking back hard. Watch the watchmen. Supervise them intensely, then let them do their jobs. Let’s pick our fights and make them count.  Sousveillance!

=== And why transparency won’t be enough ===

Members of the House and Senate regularly buy and sell stocks even while considering major bills that will affect those companies. Yet there have been no insider trading cases brought against Congress members. Nor is it likely, for Congress makes its own rules – and those rules are silent on insider trading. “They have legislated themselves as untouchable as a political class,” writes Peter Schweizer, who has documented the money made by Congress members, in his book, Throw Them All Out. (This despite the promise, in Newt Gingrich's 1994 Contract With America to make Congress fully accountable.)

Both parties are guilty of dubious trades that anticipated the effect of changing government policy--buying or unloading stock just before changes took place.  Alas, Schweizer's prescription - to "throw them all out" - won't happen because of another self-serving strategy by the politician-caste.  Gerrymandering.

Look, I favor some politicians over others, naturally.  The party that’s less disciplined, more diverse and willing to negotiate strikes me as better than one that is the most tightly disciplined and dogmatic political force - and the most fiercely anti-science - in American history, controlled by a media empire owned by unfriendly foreigners.

Nevertheless... at another level, we the people have to recognize that we are being preyed upon by the entire political caste.  Money has to be taken out of politics.  Transparency must be augmented, exponentiated.

And we must start with Gerrymandering!  An ugly, scheming job security program that has radicalized most members of Congress into raving partisan lunatics. Take a look at this outrageous example, as redistricting in Texas comes before the Supreme Court.

Only here’s the thing. A mass public rebellion against gerrymandering is already underway!  The practice has lately been banned by referendum in a number of states, most recently and powerfully in California -- a blue state whose largely democratic voting population nevertheless voted to end democrat-leaning gerrymandering.  (If only all states had such vibrantly patriotic citizens.) See my article on Gerrymandering.

(Alas, not a single red state has joined the rebellion.)

Well, maybe it’s gathering momentum! A nationwide insurrection against this abuse by the political caste! In 28 other states, lawsuits have been filed against this foul practice.  A racket imposed by politicians against their natural enemy.  Voters.

Now... if only the Court were on our side...

=== Some Political Miscellany ===

* OWS Fights Back Against Police Surveillance by Launching "Occucopter" Citizen Drone. In response to constant police surveillance, violence, and arrests, Occupy Wall Street protesters and legal observers have been turning their cameras back on the police. I am no lefty or radical. Sometimes the cops are right. But this right to look back must be absolute and inviolable. Mr. Transparent Society is radical about this!

* Techies are now figuring out how to attach sensors and cameras directly to insects and powering the devices off the creatures' own movements.  Similar to the "mosquito cams" that I spoke of in The Transparent Society (1997), these will tilt the balance of power toward whoever has the best ability to see... including ability to detect mosquito-cams!  Our only hope in such a world is NOT to ban the things - that cannot conceivably work.  But to make sure we all have them.  And hence that we can catch the peeping toms.

* Three GOP candidates stand above the others, when it comes to intellect, having interesting things to say, and departing (in spots) from pure, Know-Nothing trog-populism. Let's dismiss John Huntsman. He actually wants calm, moderate, pragmatic negotiation - in other words, his chances of getting the Republican nomination stand between nil and hopeless.

The other two? I've praised Gingrich as 1/3 fascinating/smart... if 2/3 crazy. Now see Ron Paul at his libertarian best!  If only his crazy-ratios weren't the same as Newt's.  Well-well, these are the three I’d at least buy a beer and expect, during the conversation, to hear some interesting (if at least half jibbering loopy) things.

* Is the US Private Sector dying?  Because the “accountants are in charge”?

== And finally - the most important quotation you can cite this year ==

"There is nothing which can better deserve your patronage, than the promotion of Science and Literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of publick happiness."
- President George Washington, State of the Union address, 1/8/1790

Science and technology were responsible for half of US economic growth since 1945. Those who are demonizing science... and disparaging every other knowledge profession... are at-best fools and at-worst the genuine enemies of hope for the republic. Or for human civilization.  Don't take it from me.  Take it from George Washington.

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Since the crooks are in charge it seems rather unlikely, barring a real violent revolution, that the obvious reforms advocated will take place. Hillery Clinton may have benefited from the Wikileaks releases but her open reaction was to call for the imprisonment and perhaps execution of the leaders which does not bode well for sensible comprehension. Governments all over the world including the USA are working very hard to suppress honest information circulated through the internet and people are regularly imprisoned and punished for whistle blowing on the nefarious actions of government and huge corporations (which are more and more becoming identical) The results of tight surveillance are more and more becoming the strict areas for government and police leading to a very tight police state and not open freedom. To expect that all the criminals now in power will be tossed out is in the same area as expecting the Mafia will become law abiding. A delightful fantasy worthy of a Disney production.
* Is the US Private Sector dying? Because the “accountants are in charge”?

Yes. That was the central theme of The Reckoning, a book by David Halberstam that came out in 1977. It was eerily prophetic about the effects of financialization on auto companies.

Not by the way, 1977 was the Year of the Prophet. That was the year Graef Crystal exposed the obscenity of executive compensation in his book In Search of Excess. It was also the year in which writer Paddy Chayefsky, in the movie Network, lamented corporatization and entertainment "news". The Jensen Speech from that movie is absolutely chilling. That movie also gave us the phrase which seems to be the central theme of both the Teapartians and the Occupiers: "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!"
It's being reported that the Mafia is now the largest lender in Italy. Not sure that's exactly news. What will be news, if ever it comes to light, is organized crime's involvement in financial bubbles in this country. I believe a good place to start the investigation -- if anyone is brave enough -- is with Joseph Cassano, former head of AIG's Financial Products Division aka the London Casino.