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Seasonal flame bait

I'm off to do a reading in a few hours, and it's chilly outside, so I feel like turning up the heat. Therefore:

My view of contemporary US politics, which is that of an outsider and obviously incomplete (and possibly faulty, and subject to change) is as follows:


1. The USA is already a functional oligarchy. (Or, more accurately, a plutarchy.) It has been functioning as such for some time — since 1992 at the latest, although the roots of this system go back to before the Declaration of Independence — it's a recurrent failure mode. Historically such periods last for a few years then go into reverse. However, this time the trend has been running since 1980 or even earlier. What we're now seeing are the effects of mismanagement by the second generation of oligarchs in power; the self-entitled who were born to it and assume it to be the natural order of things.

2. It's impossible to be elected to high office without so much money that anyone in high office is, by definition, part of the 0.1%; even if they're an outsider to start with, they will be co-opted by the system (or neutralized — usually before they are elected).

3. Public austerity is a great cover for the expropriation of wealth by the rich (by using their accumulated capital to go on acquisition sprees for assets being sold off for cents on the dollar by the near-bankrupt state). But public austerity is a huge brake on economic growth because it undermines demand by impoverishing consumers. Consequently, we're in for another long depression. (The outcome of this new long depression will be the same as that of the first one: the main industrial power — then it was the UK; now it's the USA — will lose a lot of its remaining economic lead over its competitors and be severely weakened.)

4. Starving poor people with guns and nothing to lose scare the rich; their presence in large numbers is one major component of a pre-revolutionary situation.

5. Worse, the poor have smartphones. (Or will, within another couple of years. By 2020, today's iPhone 4S will be a cereal-packet-freebie grade toy. $10 for an equally powerful device, sold on a pre-pay tariff, via WalMart.) Which means a former constraint on civil unrest (media channels are expensive to run, so the oligarchy can maintain an effective choke-hold on mass media while trumpeting their support for freedom of speech) no longer holds true. See also the "Twitter revolution" (RIP) in Iran.

6. The oligarchs are therefore pre-empting the pre-revolutionary situation by militarizing the police (as guard labour). Note also that the prison-industrial complex remains profitable as long as there's a tax base on which to pay for the prison guards — or to use as collateral for loans to cover the guards' wages.

7. Modern communications technologies (including the internet) provide people with a limitless channel for self-expression (not to mention distraction— endless circuses without the bread). They also provide the police state with a limitless flow of intelligence about the people. Note also that it's possible to not merely listen in on mobile phone calls, but to use a mobile phone as a GPS-aware bugging device, and (with a bit more smarts) to have it report on physical proximity (within bluetooth range — about 20 feet) to other suspects. The flip side of social networking is that the police state knows all your acquaintances.

8. So I infer that the purpose of SOPA is to close the loop, and allow the oligarchy to shut down hostile coordinating sites as and when the anticipated revolution kicks off. Piracy/copyright is a distraction -- those folks pointing to similarities to Iranian/Chinese net censorship regimes are correct, but they're not focussing on the real implication (which is a ham-fisted desire to be able to shut down large chunks of the internet at will, if and when it becomes expedient to do so).

(Obligatory supplemental reading: The Execution Channel by Ken MacLeod.)

What am I missing?

349 Comments

1:

I'm a little surprised that the new National Defense Authorization Act (the one where the military can detain, arrest without trial US citizens suspected of terrorism) isn't getting the sort of press that SOPA is - even though it is a lot closer to getting passed. Maybe it's because geeks fear losing access to their stream of "free" TV/Movies/Games/Music more than they worry about being locked up indefinitely.

2:

That's largely correct. The main detail I disagree with is how the rich expropriate wealth.

Some small part is asset sales, such as oil or timber leases at low prices. Recently, the main vehicles have been lower tax rates and payments by the government.

The finance sector received enormous government benefits during the financial crisis, such as direct payments, loans at way below market rates, guarantees, etc. This transferred vast amounts from the public to the rich that the public would have received at market pricing.

Many industries receive subsidies, most by cash payments or tax benefits, which flow to the rich. There is no economic difference between a payment and a tax break.

A major current effort by the rich is to lower government payments and lower tax rates on the best off. This is a top method for transferring resources from the population to the rich.

The government spends money on social programs (social security, medicare and the like), military, interest on the debt and everything else, in about that order. Hence the attack on social programs under the rubric of austerity and claims they are unaffordable.

Austerity leads to low growth leads to unemployment leads to lower wages. This, plus anti-union efforts and related programs, lowers the bargaining power of labor, tilting more towards the rich. You might think low growth hurts the rich (it cuts portfolio profits), but they either don't understand this or are happy with a larger share of the pie.

The increased wealth leads to more political power, making the entire endeavor easier. The recent Citizens United Supreme Court decision (allowing unlimited spending influencing politics) was a major step in the program to give the rich yet more political power.

3:

NDAA is a great catch-all; it allows for use of military force and detention without trial of "terrorists", and it appears the threshold for someone to be accused of terrorism is a movable feat that is dropping all the time -- pretty soon the Occupy movement will be in serious danger.

But when the police have armed drones as well as armoured personnel carriers and machine guns, who needs the army for regular counter-insurgency ops? (Except the army is a lot bigger ...)

4:

Looks fairly well put.

Expanding on your comment on the "prison-industrial complex" - many states are privatizing their prison systems now. Other states are using prison labor to compete in the open market. Florida, for example, uses prison labor to remanufacture auto parts. While legitimate rebuilders are furious, it's "non-news".

Other states are renting educated inmates to tech support companies.


I have a 1940s book called "Patterns of Soviet Power" that claims 30% of the Soviet economy was based on gulag labor. I find the modern American trend for for-profit incarceration to be disturbing.

5:

It's worth noting with respect to the GULAG that Lenin inherited a vast forced-labour penal camp system from the Tsarist regime. It expanded hugely under Stalin, but it was there in embryo before the communist revolution.

Each generation in power builds on what it inherits. It would be unsurprising to see the Deep South build on a tradition of forced labour.

6:

I think you're very correct in that this is how some regard SOPA. However, I don't think it holds true for all people pushing for it.

The establishment is not homogenous; the 0.1% are not homogenous. (Just look at the infighting historically going on in any nobility.) There is no overall conspiracy here; it is just that multiple goals convene in SOPA, so that many people are pushing for it for different reasons.

The copyright industry want the ability to kill alternative distribution channels. Some in the copyright industry do this out of the motive to stop unauthorized copying. More strategic people in that industry do it to prevent artists from sidelining them.

But as for the security profiteers and how they look at the bill -- there, I think you are right on the money.

Fair winds,
Rick

7:

This?
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16037798

Once the supr rich lived in the same cities as us, we got typhoid, they got typhoid, the same doesn't seem to apply here: "But the real victims of the financial collapse in the US state of Alabama's most populous county are its poorest residents - forced to bathe in bottled water and use portable toilets after being cut off from the mains supply."

8:

> police have armed drones

Those drones are highly vulnerable to simple countermeasures. Any largeish hobby shop in the USA will sell you a radio-control model airplane that can be modified to take out a drone. Or you can look at any of the many online forums for building amateur rockets.

We're talking "hobby" tech, available to anyone for the price of a nice evening out for two, perhaps.

Even PDs have budgets, and if the drones become too much of a drain, they'll quit buying them. The expense of buying the drone vs. taking one down is highly asymmetrical.

With all that said... various PDs have used light aircraft for surveillance since the 1950s that I know of. In Los Angeles, the code enforcement office used aircraft to detect illegal garden sheds and barbeque grills for at least a decade. Now they use Google Earth.
Drones are cheaper than manned aircraft, but Google Earth is free.
Nobody seemed much worried about either, so I'm at a loss as to why people are suddenly so excited over UAVs. They not only missed the boat, they're probably not even on the right riverbank.

9:

Drones are cheaper than manned aircraft, but Google Earth is free.

Google Earth is not in real time, and it's symmetrical (ie. we can see it too).

10:

Adding to what I wrote above:

Regardless of the motivations behind it, which are diverse depending on who you ask, perhaps the most important thing is how it will be used in the scenario you describe.

And in that, you're exactly spot on. We saw it in Iran, we saw it in Egypt, we've seen it in China, and we will see it in the United States.

11:

There are so many cognitive errors implicit in that screed that it's barely worth responding.

Put it another way: if hobbyist takedowns of police RPVs becomes a noteworthy event, it will result in those hobbyist gizmos becoming "terrorist equipment". And those RPVs are backed up by guys in patrol cars, with guns. This already nearly happened to amateur rocketry in the UK post-9/11; and look what happens whenever some idiot shines a laser pointer at a police helicopter.

12:
More strategic people in that industry do it to prevent artists from sidelining them.

Piracy benefits corporations directly and indirectly. Directly those who engage in it (Megaupload, rapidshare, etc) indirectly those who benefit from it (Telcos have been selling internet access to largely pirated content since the beginning of the internet) and finally, artists/creators who want to go solo are forced into itunes, steam, etc walled gardens that offer protection from the wilderness. I don't know if you've ever seen an indy creator try to object to piracy of his work, it usually ain't pretty.

13:

"...and it appears the threshold for someone to be accused of terrorism is a movable feat that is dropping all the time"

Probably old news to Mr. Stross but I thought it pertinent and others might have missed it: http://uk.news.yahoo.com/police-include-occupy-movement-on-‘terror’-list.html

So yeah, kinda slippery slope to say the least.

14:

This is more of a brain dump than a criticism but I find point one highly problematic. You're making distinctions based on terms that were relevant to city-state politics and applying them to nations. Even at the most populous extreme Athenian democracy was so tightly exclusive that your same characters keep popping up across sources, such that you're left with the impression of a bunch of influential men making narratives that celebrate each other.

I reject the idea that we can meaningfully distinguish between democracy, oligarchy etc in modern politics because those are ideological rather than meaningful terms. So if we want to project where American politics are really headed we need to abandon those terms and better identify the changing trends. Not lump them under misleading headings.

There will be a lot of forthcoming political manoeuvres in the near future, however, as politicians, corporations and the traditional media attempt to outpace the changes which are led by networked social media.

(Ever tried to dam a stream as a kid? You always try to drop in big stones to stop it, which the water will flow over and around. To dam flowing water you need to understand the mechanics of water flow: legislators don't yet understand the internet, so they drop in a lot of giant, ineffective measures. In the coming decade, I think they'll become more savvy in their social engineering.)

15:

You, your blog commentators and your Facebook friends will be arrested and deported to the USA on charges of subversion and incitement to terrorism.

16:

So, foosion, the main thrust of your argument is that the rich are Machiavellian selfish bastards who organize all to their ends... *but* who are too stupid to realise that when growth falls, so does portfolio income and hence their profits?

I think there's a little problem in your logic there. I think the rich are as caught in this economic bust thing as any of us -- they didn't want it -- but now that it's happening, by damn they mean to make money off that too.

You don't need a conspiracy here. Plain and simple greed and shortsightedness will do.

17:

Er, yeah, you do get in trouble if you shine a laser pointer at a police helicopter. You get in *much worse* trouble if you shine one at an airliner, so this isn't the police getting special treatment. It's a "you tried to blind the pilot of many tons of airborne metal, you bastard" penalty.

18:


We all know the US and our own kleptocratic Governments have an obsession with public sector debt. It is patently obvious the UK economy needs stimulating and the Tories only excuse for £120 billion of fiscal tightening in the teeth of a stalled economy is that There Is No Alternative. Same in the US and Eurozone. 

The crazy thing is that there obviously is an alternative. Sitting in a wholly publicly owned subsidiary of the Bank Of England called the Asset Purchase Facility (APF) is £200 billion - over a third - of the UK Governments outstanding debt.

Cancelling the debts would be straightforward. The APF just retires the Government debts it is holding by communicating that the gilts no longer exists. Job done. No effect on the UK money supply. No raised inflation. No effect on investor confidence. You and I, the tax payer, just don't have to suffer another £200 billion of "austerity".

The only way not to monetise the debt is for the APF to opt to sell the gilts it is sitting on back into the private sector at some point in the future. And here is the kicker - to then cancel the cash it receives for selling the debt by ripping up the money paid to it. This would nullify the £200 billion of QE lent to it from the Bank of England to buy the gilts in the first place but is obviously an act of treason and total insanity. What kind of people contemplate ripping up £200 billion of publicly owned money?

The Bank of course emphasises that as a principle it will not monetise the gilts the APF owns. Again and again the Gov'nor pleads that he is not being forced to create money in order to cover the gap between the government's tax income and its spending commitments. Very sensible of the Bank to emphasise this as if this was what was happening, it would be a violation of Article 123 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Rather, the Bank promises us that it is undertaking quantitative easing in order to meet its inflation target and will sell the government debt back to the private sector once the economy recovers, thus unwinding the original increase in the money supply.

Apart from this being treasonous and insane the flaw in this argument is that there is absolutely no prospect of the Bank selling the gilts in the APF in the future.

Leaving aside that the Bank is currently trying to widen the money supply be BUYING gilts rather than narrow the money supply by SELLING them, how on earth could the Government fund its future normal gilt issues when the Bank was simultaneously dumping an additional £200 billion worth of gilts from the APF onto the market? Leaving aside the nonsense that Governments can run surpluses as a routine policy, the APF certainly won't be able to dump its stock of bought up gilts whilst the UK Government is running a deficit.

So if the unwinding of QE can't happen whilst the UK Government will still need to borrow, can it happen in a hypothetical future when the deficit is paid off? In this impossible future the private banking sector will have to be creating enough lending to allow the money supply to widen at its normal rate. Dumping an additional £200 billion of interest bearing gilts out on the market is at best futile and at worst could be either inflationary or restrict growth if timed badly .

So for now we are left with a ridiculous situation where the Tories are moaning about the huge and "unaffordable" government credit card bills. At the same time over a third of the debt they are moaning about is stuck in the Government owned Bank of England with no hope of it ever being anything other than cancelled and retired. To add to the hilarity the Treasury, through a wholly government owned agency called the Debt Management Office pays interest on the £200 billion in the APF to the wholly government owned APF. This money is just building up and will eventually (as all profits for the Bank are) be returned to the taxpayer. You couldn't make this up.

Is this the future you want - where the Bank sells Government debt back to the private sector at some point in the future, causing excess inflation, and then simply rips up any cash it receives in order to demonstrate a point of principle?

It's not as if anyone would advocate doing QE to allow higher Government spending as a matter of routine. But if, as we are being told, QE has been undertaken only in the extremis of a liquidity trap in order to ensure growth, shouldn't the QE be used to some advantage - clearing government debt by "magic" and thereby allowing fiscal loosening to stimulate demand?

19:

The mega-rich people I know (wealth > £100m) are currently preparing for a feeding frenzy as prices on stuff drops. Their investments are in "real" estate eg land, food, minerals, oil etc. They do not have mortgages or bank loans they cannot pay off.

20:

Charlie- will we see you at one of the "occupy" events, ukuncut or trade union rallies? You would be a very welcome face.

21:

I would also add that the prisoners are mostly non-violent offenders who can be used to work outside the prison walls.

In the southern states, this means taking over for our migrant labor in the fields. Now, we must look at the racial component in all of this. The brown person is deported; fruits rot in the field; the black person is arrested, usually on spurious charges, and sent to pick the fruit. Food prices rise because somewhere there is a disconnect between this "free labor" and the market. But, and most importantly, the South gets to have their slaves back.

22:

Another small complication - and something I think the oligarchs are actively working to neutralise - is what takes shape in the US as the "Occupy" movement.

A violent revolution isn't really that much of a threat to a functional oligarchy, because one of the key characteristics of violent revolutions is they don't actually achieve genuine shakeups in the regime. The majority of the historical evidence points to the unfortunate truth that the most which gets achieved by a violent revolution is a shakeup of the people at the top of the political hierarchy[1]. Here comes the new boss, same as the old boss - and the new boss is just as likely to be corruptible and easily swayed into perpetuating the old system (after all, most of the time the new boss was just a discontented member of the upper middle classes who wanted a boost into the top jobs).

The oligarchs of the USA aren't running the political side of things[3]. They're much cannier than that. They're controlling the corporate and financial side of things, sequestering their assets, and more than likely moving their immediate family members and trusted cronies to safe places outside the US borders[2]. A historical analogue would be the escape of French aristocrats over the border into neighbouring countries (including England) at the onset of the French revolution. The ones who were caught by the mob were the ones who were too slow to move, or who weren't able (for reasons of politics, comparative poverty, or lack of empathy) to get far enough away fast enough. A surprisingly large amount of French aristocrats survived the Terror and the revolution. A lot of them went right back to their ancestral estates and their ancestral roles once the whole mess had died down.

So violent revolution won't worry the true oligarchs. What does worry them is the notion of genuine social change, because genuine social change isn't predictable. And one of the things about the "Occupy" movement is that it's one of those things which is capable of catalysing genuine social change, should it be allowed to work unhindered. This is why there's so much work going into hindering it, and into attempting to push the "Occupy" people into becoming just another social protest group with a defined clear leadership structure (preferably a group of white, educated, upper-middle class males), clear policy statements (what the policies are doesn't matter, they just have to be clear enough to subvert), and clear goals which can be subverted and subsumed into the corporate machine. Or, alternatively, if that isn't achievable, there's the counter-effort to push it into the other possible failure mode for such a movement: armed insurgency and violent rebellion. Each of these failure modes are understood things, in so far as they're situations the oligarchs are able to deal with, and work around.

What's much more scary is the notion of these social networks being used to subvert the roles that the oligarchs have set themselves in. The role the oligarchs have been taking, for most of the past couple of centuries, is that of gatekeepers - they shape public opinion, they shape public culture, they choose the directions that things are allowed to go, and they control society through basically controlling who and what we're allowed to think of as important. Why else would we all be focussing so hard on US-style two-party "democracy" as though it actually got anything done? Why else are the British allowed to keep their monarchy (and why else would the British press be so keen on retaining the monarchy as a topic of "news")? Why else have the cult of celebrity?

The internet (and more particularly the range of social structures which have sprung up as part of the first wave of internet culture) threatens to dismantle their gatekeeping role. By allowing people to connect with one another across cultures and continents without needing to have their communications facilitated by the narratives and structures created by the oligarchs, the internet makes it possible for unhindered exchange to occur. It makes it possible for Joe and Josephine Q Public of Anytown USA to hear from Ulf and Ulfrida Citizen of Back-of-Beyond, Norway about how an actual socialist system works. It makes it possible for Bluey and Sheila Aussie of Upper Gumtree to get a perspective on how good a health care system we have here, and what the actual cost of the alternative might be. It makes it possible for information to be shared at the proletariat level, and for people to recognise that the way things are done in MyTown.us is different to the way things are done in TheirTown.uk, and that maybe there might be alternatives to the way things are.

It's conceivable that the internet could be much more useful as a networking tool than people are currently considering. For example, consider a Grameen-style micro-banking system administered via online means, where mini-donations are solicited, accumulated, and paid back a little at a time, all run by ordinary consumers at grass-roots level. If such a thing is feasible, why have a large-scale banking infrastructure at all? The blogging revolution is starting to have serious inroads on "serious" (scare quotes deliberate) journalism, while Twitter and Facebook are starting to really put dents into "serious" (again, scare quotes deliberate) reporting of news - scoops are fast becoming a thing of the past, because the readership is just watching the trending topics on Twitter and moving to those. The entertainment industry were among the first to feel the pinch, because their gatekeeping role became obvious when all a band, performer, director, writer or author needed in order to be "discovered" was a website and a download link.

Imagine a world with no gatekeepers. That terrifies the oligarchs much more than the notion of poor people with guns.

[1] Another small point: the new regimes which get put in place by violent uprisings tend to strongly resemble the old regimes they displaced. The first British Commonwealth back in the 1600s was very similar to the Tudor/Stuart monarchy (right down to Cromwell occasionally dismissing parliament) - to the point where the decision was taken to invite the Stuarts (in the person of Charles II) back to run things when it became clear that Richard Cromwell was to Oliver Cromwell as Charles I had been to James I/IV of England and Scotland. The Russian Communist revolution quickly settled down into a pattern which closely resembled the height of Imperial Russia (Stalin was a good analogue for Ivan the Terrible, after all). The Chinese Communist revolution quickly dropped into another equivalence to the existing "bad emperor is replaced by good emperor" paradigm which runs through Chinese political history. Even the Terror and the height of French revolutionary bloodshed wasn't that different to the height of the French monarchy.
[2] To tell how seriously the US oligarchs are taking rumours of armed insurgency in the USA, check the level of US investment in places like Australia, New Zealand, the UK and the Scandinavian group of countries. Or in other words, politically peaceful, economically stable, civilised nations where there isn't the same cultural risk of armed insurgency. If there's a sudden uptick in investment in these countries, then it might be a good idea to cancel any travel plans you had including the USA for a bit.
[3] If proof of this is needed, just take a look at the current mess which is the Republican primary process. I would seriously doubt any of the current candidates are in a position to provide a worthwhile leadership role for the USA, but the point is that they don't need to be. They won't have the power to do anything major, so they can be distracted by the chase for the brass ring of the Presidency, and allow the serious thinkers and the serious oligarchs to get on with the serious business of controlling the corporate sector.

23:

How is your country different? I can think of three differences, but your summary of the situation looks generally applicable.

Your police are somewhat less militarized, but the state always has military options in putting down unrest. In America, we have the national guard at Kent State, you have Peterloo.

Your political campaigns require a few orders of magnitude less cash than ours, but the interests of the wealthy are dear to the hearts of all two and half major parties.

Finally, I think the UK has gone much further in embracing deflationary austerity than the US. I'd also note that the opportunity to snap up public assets cheap is larger in the UK, which has had a functioning social democracy in the past. But deflation is in general good for people who are owed money and bad for those who owe, so there's an advantage for the rich in either case.

24:

nix, that was not the main thrust of my reply, but as to your point, the rich are reorienting institutions to their benefit. They're willing to pay a short-term price in lower profits for long term benefits. Once the new laws and mores are in place, we can go back to growth. Given the structure of our government (three branches, filibuster, etc.) and the political power of money, it will be very difficult to reverse the changes being made.

25:

Charlie Stross: That doesn't make sense.

You seem to be thinking of SOPA as the U.S. government taking for itself the power to censor web sites. In fact, it already has that power. SOPA is the government agreeing to use that power in the service of Big Copyright. Doing so offers absolutely no benefits if your goal is suppressing unrest or countering revolution—quite the opposite!

If that were your goal, you should instead cultivate your power to censor, and perhaps more importantly to spy through, the Internet without drawing attention to it.

So your thesis here is completely wrong.

26:

Sounds more right everyday.

27:

My issue with this analysis is that it's simply midgame. The ecological conspirator sees the endgame as exclusion of The Poor from The Game, leaving more resources for The Real Players (in that, 7b mouths is a lot to feed, but 500k is more manageable by 400 or so). Massive holes in that plan, but it fits the keynotes of the usual suspects dragged into the discussion.
Far more likely, there is no planned endgame. These aren't remarkably bright people, much less strategic geniuses - their main problem-solving technique is to throw a lot of money at it. In fact, far more money than would be necessary if they bothered to think, plan, and develop the field assets in a sensible way. A semi-random protestor will likely be very willing to set off a smoke bomb packed into a camera case for nothing but the lulz - just switch the payload and you have instant suicide bomber without promising anything or reparations to the family until far after the fact. Setting up small businesses in targeted areas with an established socio-political agenda buried in the mission statements gives a strong hook for political appeals, public recruitment to the cause, and might even prove slightly profitable. Even buying political influence is easier than the convoluted PAC/SuperPAC mess that exists now - offer them goods and services in indirect form that has direct consequences for the politician's good. That fact that I can rattle these off before finishing my first cup of coffee while watching the first real snow of the season strengthens my point - you don't need to be a rocket scientist to be more effective than these clowns...
As to NDAA, the language in it is clear - habeas corpus still stands here and it applies to no Citizens or Lawful Residents. Granted, that's simply what the law says. What the law does is another matter...

28:

The amazing stupidity is that the US oligarchs are all acting as if the economy is a zero sum game. Instead of seeing public programs as means to a more productive country, it's simply a cost that someone has to pay.

Consider health insurance. National health insurance would externalize a major cost for employers, make the labor force healthier, and eliminate one of the biggest impediments blocking entrepreneurs - inability to care for family when self-employed. How could any pro-business type be against it, unless they imagine the economy is zero-sum?

Likewise education - it's obvious to anyone but an idiot that a well-educated workforce will make you more money than the same number of ignorant peasants farming turnips. But if the economy is zero-sum, education is just a cost.

Your theory of second gen oligarchs unable to manage what they've inherited is more credible than any other theory I've heard recently. G. W. Bush is their poster child, of course.

29:

In reply to Red Deathly,

I'm a Canuck transplanted to the American Deep South (specifically, Birmingham) and I've been studying the joint intently (to the point that most of my student papers have been on southern subjects as I use them as excuses ^er^ reasons for learning about "why things are the way they are").

When the Reuters/BBC article posted two days ago, I fired off email to one of our local blogger/NPR civic affairs commentators/journalists, Kyle Whitmire at Weld for Birmingham, http://weldbham.com. He pointed out that the greatly increased sewer rates mentioned in the BBC article, while high, have not yet reached Atlanta's levels and there is likely more going on than initially reported in the story. This is not to excuse the situation (it disturbs me) but my past two years experience in the city inclines me to go with Kyle's judgement.

The Birmingham metro possibly one of the most poorly organized metropolitan areas in the United States, with low levels of co-operation between individual suburban municipalities, in part a legacy of racism (in the form of white-flight to newer housing stock in the suburbs) and in part a result of a state constitution which makes it extremely difficult for the municipalities to enter into service agreements with one another.

Historical context, not mentioned in the article, is that the county's sewer project ended up being as large as it was, in part, to build out sixty years worth of catch-up infrastructure to the city's wide-flung suburbs and in part to service a large bank of land held by U.S. Steel's subsidiary real estate company, USX. (The land was originally acquired for mining early in the 20th century, but when U.S. Steel reduced operations in Birmingham after exhausting the commercially viable iron ore deposits, they realized that they had a lot of land that had potential for future real estate development. EPA regulations coming into effect required that they have sewer service, so USX was extremely keen to see sewer service extended up to their lands (which ended up dictating the scale of the project)) Toss in some inadequate engineering supervision and a local inclination to try to "save money" by cutting corners plus some local corruption and you have a recipe for a boondoggle.

Coming back to the individual gentleman's situation; it can be difficult to connect with local social services as it is a confusing ad hoc system which is stretched to the max. If I remember correctly, there is utility assistance available for families with children, but I'll be darned if I can find it myself.

30:

The bit you missed?

The oligarchy don't believe in the future.

Landed aristocrats were - and still are - embedded in the economy that they have looted: having concentrated *most* of the wealth into their own hands, their future wealth depended on stimulating and maintaining economic activity with the remainder.

Capitalism depends on the availability of capital for investment, and on circulating cash to maintain consumption: hoarding capital in gold, or exporting it to countries where all industry is controlled by a narrow aristocracy, starves the beast and can, in circumstances like a credit crunch, kill it like a heart attack.

The oligarchs have shown no interest in maintaining the system in an expanding state, or even in a steady-state economy like the aristocracy of old. They are utterly focused on concentrating wealth into their own hands: that means taking *all* of it, selling up the bombed-out shells of the factories and the intellectual property to China, and flying out on a private jet to Switzerland, The Hamptons, or the Caribbean.

Yes, we're going to get tedious shills replying to this - and to our host - calling the oligarchs the 'Wealth Creators'. But their record in this century is one of wealth becoming concentrated, capital and jobs exported, and of a steady contraction of *net* consumption - that is to say: consumption fuelled by productive economic activity, rather than by borrowing, which is a steady transfer of middle-class investors' and high-value workers' wealth into the hands of the elite...


...Who do *not* recirculate or reinvest this wealth in the economies that produced it.

So the future is wealthy noblemen* in Asia, employing serfs at starvation wages in factories that are slowly running out of consumers to sell their goods to, unless they liberalise their capital in exactly the way that America freed itself from the static economic aristocracy of England after independance.

Unless, that is, they do exactly the opposite to what the American economy is doing today.

Meanwhile, the future in America (and, probably, in Europe) means a series of extremely damaging 'credit crunch' events: the end stages of the economic contraction due to our steadily-diminishing pool of available investment capital are not proceeding as a smooth decline.

We are going to see entire cities turned into giant Hoovervilles, dependent on soup kitchens, as each city, in its turn, loses the last major employer and the banks redline the place. In the total absence of external capital - and who would invest in a place with no consumers and no infrastructure? - and in the absence of a middle class with skills and petty capital to start small businesses, those places are going to stay poor.

That's the bit I think that Charlie saw, as a possible dystopian future. The bit he missed is that this is the oligarchs' view of our future, too, no matter how damaging this might seem to their own 'long term' interests: they are not embedded in the economy that is enriching them and they are happy to fly out, with the money, and have a different future somewhere else.

And this is - for them - the only game in town.

*It amuses me that these hereditary noblemen are known as 'Comrade Secretary', and 'Peoples Representative' instead of 'My Lord, his Grace the Duke'.

31:

"(The outcome of this new long depression will be the same as that of the first one: the main industrial power — then it was the UK; now it's the USA — will lose a lot of its remaining economic lead over its competitors and be severely weakened.)"

Quibble: The UK hadn't been the main industrial power since at least the end of WW I (and, if you look at the data, from around the turn of the century when their Current Account surplus was actually negative if you remove "intellectual property"). The Great Depression "only" confirmed the lack of real assets and growth. (Note also that the five extra years of World War [1914-1917, 1939-1941] didn't help the UK's competitive position, either.)

Any parallel to Iraq and Afghanistan and spending more than all other countries combined on an industry with an ROI of -30% in the best of times is deemed coincident.

32:

To understand the USA, it's important to spend some time living somewhere in the vast central region far from either coast. This country is really several countries in one. Much of it is still so sparsely populated that kids have to spend two hours a day on the school bus. They grow up in closely knit religious communities, where if you move twenty minutes away you've "left town." They are brainwashed by Fox News and other propaganda of the wealthy, who convince them that so-called "moral issues" are more important than health care.

If you live in such a place, it's easy to see why they fall for this. How can you look forward to education when all you've ever known is a mind-numbing bus ride to a crumbling schoolhouse with underpaid undereducated teachers?

BTW, just for the record, UK has a few problems with the rich too. And maybe a few other countries.

33:

With regard to political activism being considered terrorism, see this article.

34:

On point #8, I think if the US government was considering censoring the 'net to suppress dissent and revolution, they wouldn't be tipping their hand by debating the methods openly. Much more effective to make things *look* open and free, while keeping censorship up your sleeve for when it's needed. And they could find adequate justification and methods for that censorship on a moment's notice, with or without SOPA.

35:

Throughout most of history, the rich/powerful have had virtually no interest in other people - except as servants.

But for a while, it was obvious that the middle class produced the wealth that the powerful needed for competitive advantage against their peers. So the middle class had power. This was discovered first in Europe, where geography kept states small, but became bigger in the industrial age.

But that advantage is smaller in a smaller world, where the resources can be gotten from around the world. And they can disappear entirely with automation in the future.

If the powerful don't see any big advantage in having a strong middle class - why have it at all?

Of course, the middle class pays for government - so that part of government that doesn't help the powerful needs to go.

36:

Nile- your prescription looks right to me except about the money supply. That can always be expanded. If banks aren't doing it with credit creation then Central Banks step in

For example last week central banks across the World (the Fed, Bank of England, Japan, Switzerland, ECB) all agrees to lOan to investment banks as much money as they want at 0.5% interest. The money loaned out by the central banks is of course created out of thin air through reserve crediting. Banks are able to put up anything at all as collatoralised ( no matter how crappy the asset offered). Banks are then free to take the money given to them and buy end less amounts of Givernment bonds at much higher interest. Forcexamplr - borrow at 9.5% interest and buy Italian debt at 7% interest. This is a huge transfer of wealth from tax payers to bankers to ensure they get their million pound bonuses.

They only get away with this badness as so few people realise what is going on. Central banks could just as easily credit places like the Debt Managemnt Office and allow governments to cancel the austerity program's that ate causing the depression.

This is corrupt and evil.

37:

Thanks for this. Some of us have been tracking this Neo Con Man job since yes, the early 80s (specifically The Contract On America/American Enterprise Institute) but no one wanted to listen; "you're paranoid" "No, they really don't mean that."

Well, yes they did; and the same men play behind the curtains in every Administration; think tanks make long-term goals and plans. Now it's here and to undo 30 years of Constitutional rape and legal precedents is going to take... a lot of bad mess for many.


The attack on the net has been going on since at least the Electronic Communications Act of 1986, Operation Sundevil and the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Given what is happening, SOPA, PIPA and the rest are acts of desperation to close the open communications network and control the media/propaganda once more. It is the most critical issue to watch/fight, Without open communication, nothing else is possible; that is why despotic regimes always seize the means of communication as their first step.


regarding drones: shredded tinfoil, monofilament kite strings on mylar kites, "badly-made" RF emitters... creativity always finds a way, and usually a cheap, common one.

38:

I suspect you're right, we Americans will be drinking this cup to the bitter dregs. An unlikely alternative would be the conservative voters realizing that the establishment really doesn't share their concerns and the fruition of the oligarchs designs will result in more dead babies than their worst fears of pro-choice. Unlikely to happen in time to preserve this republic, sigh...

39:

The fact that the "financial" economy is something like 100 times larger than the "real" economy was a real eye opener for me... it feels like we're letting people who play with monopoly money determine who lives and dies in the real world.

We need to sidestep the whole mess. Some kind of open source computerized barter system, maybe.

40:

I don't think WWI was a feature of the late Victorian era, which was when the Long Depression occurred.

Oh, you didn't check the supplied link to see when the Long Depression actually was? Whoops!

41:

Charlie, you're making a simple fundamental mistake. Do not attribute to malice anything that can be explained by stupidity. And you're also making the mistake of having a narrative and trying to jam everything into the narrative whether or not it belongs there.

SOPA has nothing to do with the 99 percent/1 percent struggle. SOPA is Big Media's attempt to stave off the inevitable, nothing more, nothing less. It is in the long like of a number of such bills to hold off the tide of progress. It doesn't fit into the narrative of an elite fearful of smartphone empowered masses. The basic problem with your theory there is that our elected leaders are nowhere near that sophisticated about the Internet.

It's comforting on some level to assume that our overlords are evil but intelligent. The bad news is that our leaders tend to be more evil but incompetent instead. The fact is that the 1 percent isn't as sophisticated as you would like them to be on a narrative level (intelligent and competent opponents are much more interesting than stupid and/or incompetent ones).

If you're really interested in American politics, the most interesting stuff is not happening at the federal level but at the state level. The war between the Democrats and the Republicans has gotten the most bloody at the state level, with the Republicans trying to crush unions and restrict voting access. And the Democrats are waking up and fighting back. And they're also winning a large number of battles. The Republicans won at the state level big in 2010 but they've been overreaching and abusing their power and a number of key initiatives by the Republicans have been blocked and at least one Republican governor elected in 2010 is likely to be facing a recall election in 2012, and his numbers, like so many Republican governors is at an all time low.

You also may be unaware that the Republican establishment, composed of those who represent the interests of the 1 percent, are in a state of despair these days over the fact that they've been losing control of the Republican base. A number of seats that the Republicans should have won in 2010 were lost because the Republican base turned their back on the Republican establishment candidates for office in the party primaries and tried to elect loons to office who failed miserably in the general election.

The Republican Party is in a state of civil war, and while the establishment may win in the primary battle to select a Presidential candidate, they may well lose the war as the base is getting increasingly fed up with their own party leaders. And the party leaders need the base to go out and vote for them. The whole Mitt Romney versus Newt Gingrich battle is a war between the Republican establishment and the Republican base that hates the establishment candidate.

To my mind, the Republicans smell desperate. The Republican base is aging. The Millenial generation, the new American boom generation, voted almost two for one for Obama in 2008. The Republicans are trying to restrict voter access, especially for students and non-white people because they know that demographics are dooming them for this political cycle (2006/8 marked the start of a new 30-40 year political cycle in American politics, and one that favors the Democrats in the long term over the Republicans). I see what is going on now as the Republicans desperately trying to do what they can while they still have the power to do it.

42:

Ummm, yes and no.

One of the big problems we've got now is that it's not clear whether there's any major power (Brazil?) that's not in trouble, thanks to globalization.

I'd point to a couple of other problems: one is that the economic structure is currently built to extract wealth from the middle class, at the same time that it is making it harder to pay for the middle class. The money extraction bit is called consumerism, combined with the idea of everyone owning their own home, and privatizing retirement assets. Paying for the middle class means high-wage jobs (now largely off-shored or automated) and health care.

The middle class, at least in the US (and apparently in Europe) has shot its bolt and now has to pay off its debts, while the Earth can't support the same level of consumption in China or India.

Couple that with the housing bubble inflating in China, rampant corruption in India (I don't know whether there's bubble there or not), somewhat less corruption in the US and the southern EU states, and we've got a global problem.

This is the problem with a globalized world. We're too interconnected now, and we all bubble together.

Another issue is that, so far as I can tell, there's simply too much money in the world. This is a problem because the financial sector keeps trying to make more of it. If the financial sector has enough money to buy the world three times over, that means that 2/3 of the money is effectively surplus. By various games, we've kept this from turning into rampaging global hyperinflation (mostly by socking it away in inaccessible accounts to make still more money), but it tremendously warps the economic system. Right now this surplus is driving politics.

I'm one of the people that believes that our fiat money isn't real, in the sense that you can't eat it or use it for anything. It's part of a transaction, waiting to happen. When there's a lot of it lying around waiting to be used up, it warps every transaction.

If you step back and look at it from an ecological system view for a second, the system's solution is obvious: most of this non-existent money (most of which is data in computers anyway) will go away in some fashion, just as a surplus of any fungible resource either gets absorbed into the system or socked away as a surplus underground (as with coal storing carbon). That's already happening, in places like the big US banks who are still sitting on a bunch of bad loans from the last decade. They don't know how much they're worth, and the banks seem to be playing BS with their financial statements. A lot of that paper is probably worthless, and once we get it sorted out, I suspect that a lot of money will suddenly vanish.

43:

Aren't you attributing the GOP's machinations to malice?

Not that I'm disagreeing.

44:

They don't really have the technical infrastructure to do it now. USGOV tried to start shutting down 'piracy' sites illegally, but the best they could come up with was taking the domain name, so piracy has moved to non US domain names now (and would do the same with any other kind of censorship). SOPA will let them build the framework to try and shut things down harder.

Emphasis on try, I think the reality is SOPA is going to trigger new technologies and the expansion of them, and by the time they want it for political censorship everyone reading anti government material will be on whatever the successor to TOR is anyway.

Though, I will not be surprised if the next step is to start blocking all unapproved encrypted communication.

45:

It strikes me, as an outsider but someone that reads a lot about the US in various fora, that the USA is possibly the only country (certainly the only one that springs immediately to mind) that considers wealth to be directly proportional to social status and power.

In the UK, by comparison, there is a broadly asymptotic curve, but someone earning £200M, even without a huge personal fortune. Someone earning about £20k can cause rewrites of major government strategies (I know, I've seen it done first hand), with many millions of funding poised to go.

No one thinks law lords are poor, nor the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, but they wield a lot of power and influence, far more than their personal wealth would suggest.

Add to that a country that has a significant amount of support for a rather Puritanical, judgemental attitude to poverty - if you're good you can get rich, if you're poor, you can't be good - leading to really fragmented social welfare programmes and legislation to protect perceived wealth-creating methods are inevitable and to some extent unchecked.

But as someone else commented, the methods seem odd. They are odd. The people making the choices, lobbying for the changes, trying to protect their old models of wealth creation, are products of their environment. Make more money now is their main focus, not consider the challenges for 10 years hence and how to be making money then. In times of economic growth that might even make you more money in 10 years time because you can invest the more money now to have even more in a decade.

Regardless of SOPA and whatever else, delivery and consumption of media is changing and will continue to change. Someone (my crystal ball says the successor to Amazon rather than Amazon) will work out how to monetize that best. And in a decade the media presentation market will all look very different. There will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth between then and now, but it will happen. SOPA is part of the old guard wailing and gnashing their teeth. Sometime soon it will be more like gnashing of gums though.

46:

It's worth noting with respect to the GULAG that Lenin inherited a vast forced-labour penal camp system from the Tsarist regime.

There is very big difference between Tsarist and Soviet prisons in 1930-1950ies :

1) Russian prisons before revolution (and in USSR up to the end of 1920th) was never intended to be profitable

2) Nor they had any significant part in the economy

3) In Tsarist prisons the food ration not depended on the labor output. The ration based on the labor output was the main cause of terrible death rates in the GULAG camp system (they was bigger than death rates in colonial Vietnam prisons, near the German Buchenwald camp at 1940th and some American South lease labor prisons of 19th century; 1/6 of GULAG prisoners dies at 1933).

4) The absolute number of prisoners in Soviet Union was 15 times of imperial Russian ones. The biggest Tsarist labour camp (at Amur railroad construction) had 5000 prisoners, typical GULAG camp - 200 000 with total prisoners number about 2 500 000.

In few words - the Russian prison system around 1900th was a typical European prison system. The Soviet prison system in 1930-1950 was a significant part of state economy based on slavery and over-exploitation of imprisoned.

All numbers are from this great research (unfortunately it is in Russian).


Speaking about American prisons of 2010th I don't think that slavery/prisoners exploitation can be profitable on itself nowadays, but if prisons get payed (by government?) on per-prisoner-head principle they get stimulus to increase prisoners number.

47:

Okie-dokie...

Points 2, 3, 4, 5, and 7 I agree with.

Point 1 is broadly true, but lower classes retain the ability to penetrate the oligarchy, often through massive profits stemming from a technological innovation (think Google, Apple). Granted, they often end up as second-class oligarchs, but it's hard to tell if that's from deliberate exclusion or the persons in question not wielding their power effectively.

Point 6 leaves out the War on Drugs and the War on Terror, which have been going on through economic times both good and bad and are the main causes for the militarization of our police force. That they might be useful in suppressing domestic uprisings is a "happy" coincidence; the main reason the police are militarized is that they regularly get massive influxes of funding for anti-drug and anti-terror equipment, because it's a political win-win for their representatives. (Pensions are a different matter, especially for Republicans.)

Lastly, point 8 attributes malice to stupidity, as @41 Martin suggests. I recommend you watch a recording of the hearings on SOPA; it should become obvious fairly quickly that the people debating this legislation have no idea how the Internet works or how SOPA would impact it. It may be true that one or two representatives are supporting it with an eye towards squashing Occupy Wall Street or similar; it's highly unlikely the bill will ever pass on that basis.

I do think we're in for a bad economic year in 2012, especially if the Eurozone collapses. I'm not willing to speculate on what that might lead to, but I can't imagine it will be anything good.

48:

The US hasn't exactly been a lot better since the 80s. What we're seeing now, much more than being a result of financial manipulation or the like, is the result of 30 years of hollowing out the economy via offshoring, prison labor, and wage stagnation (and since 2000, flat out falling wages, even before considering inflation).

The US economy is only 'strong' because we've been duped into thinking that metrics of corporate health and the ability to manufacture without using well paid labor are somehow useful indicators. In reality, our economy is based on consumption, the indicator that matters most is household purchasing power, which isn't exactly stellar (and was really only being propped up before by women entering the workforce increasing household income).

49:

A fair point. I suppose I should back down from that and simply say that the American power oligarchy isn't as competent as it looks. Their actions while looking bad, are more stupid and shortsighted than competent and farsighted. Stupid evil rather than intelligent evil.

50:

It is perfectly reasonable for someone from the outside to make comments about the United States. The sad fact is that our media is horrible and we have a poor picture of the state of our own nation and we have almost no understanding of how the international community views us. I don't believe an American would express such opinions for fear of being considered subversive or a conspiracy theorist. We have an entire system set up for discrediting subversives.

51:

It does seem rather likely that the US will, sadly, erupt into violence in the next decade. And that the result of this will be very little change for the level of destruction and suffering that results.

But more worrying is what comes after that. The economic output of the world has become less industrial and more entertainment. It is no longer difficult to feed and house the bulk of the population in the developed world. We don't do such massive public works projects any more, because most places already have roads, trains, and power plants - and anyway, building those things causes climate change to get worse, so we're trying to cut back. A disturbingly small piece of our economy is still focussed on research and engineering, and technological progress has begun to stall (in part because we've done most of the easy research already, and everything now costs substantial amounts of time and money).

China's going strong on the back of the public works projects that kept western economies booming for much of the past century, but they'll eventually hit the same plateau.

What can our economy accomplish besides selling each other entertainment and luxuries? That kind of decadence cannot be sustainable, and I don't see any ways out.

52:

"We" don't do massive public works projects anymore because a loud minority squawk about taxes every time something like that is considered (peace be upon the Free Market), and because of ecological impacts, and NIMBYism.

When you restrict that to WPA-like programs to get the poor employed, it's entirely about taxes, which is as myopic as it sounds.

53:

If the government really wanted more tools to put down an insurrection they'd just pass more laws against terrorists. The indefinite detention bill passed with an overwhelming majority. There was no real stink about nonjudicial execution orders for US citizens associated with terrorism.

Basically, anything directed against terrorism would likely pass with veto-proof (as if it mattered) bipartisan support. Why bother with a smokescreen?

54:

One of the dangers Charlie has made clear in his books is that of the automated lawsuit. Imagine that you run a record label. You have your engineers design a piece of software which will continually download from YouTube (or anyplace else) any independently produced music you can find. Then you match the characteristics of the downloaded song with any of the tunes your company currently controls. When a particular threshold of matching is reached, the lawsuit server is automatically notified and an independent producer gets automatically sued, his website is automatically taken down, etc.

55:

Just in case I didn't make it clear, the comparisons between the downloaded independent music and the record company's songs are automatic too.

56:

I think that you are misreading the nature of American plutocracy: rather than being a product of a dysfuctional aristocracy -- incompetents who gained power by some kind of inheritance -- I think that it stems from American populism. While some of it may be simple opportunism by our politicians, a large portion is a legitimate expression of the electorate's native bigotry and ignorance.

Of our last ten presidents, only three were from wealthy or politically powerful families. There may be a better case to make for plutocracy in the legislature, but I don't think that's any kind of recent development (the senate was CONCIEVED as a plutocratic body, specifically to temper the more populist tendencies of the house of representatives. Senators weren't directly elected until 1913!)

57:

"Flame bait"?

Mr. Stross, the only thing in your post that I have the slightest disagreement with is that description.

Seriously, excellent summary.

58:

Oh, come Now ! .." Machiavellian selfish bastards " You have actually Read " The Prince " haven't you? Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli was a Sensible Man who had a Firm grasp upon the Political Reality of His Time and of Ours ..some things don't change and politicians motivations remain much the same whether they are of Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli' s Time or our own .... READ THE BOOK !!!


" The Prince is sometimes claimed to be one of the first works of modern philosophy, especially modern political philosophy, in which the effective truth is taken to be more important than any abstract ideal. It was also in direct conflict with the dominant Catholic and scholastic doctrines of the time concerning how to consider politics and ethics.[4][5]"


More people should actually read this sodding book rather than excoriating Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli with ... MACHIAVELLIAN !!! EVil $$£££ !!

59:

Yes, All Right Charlie I did Fall For Flame Bait ...Happy Now?

60:

While imaginging violent uprisings or predicting gloom and darkness are emotionally engaging narratives, I'm afraid the future of the American political scene is nowhere near that exciting or pessimistic.

The Republican Party is melting down. The primary tool of corporate interests in America is starting to turn on its wielder. It's in a state of civil war between the base and the establishment and the fact is that while people like to paint the one percent as a unified whole, the problem for the American elite is that Rupert Murdoch is persuing his own agenda at the expense of the Republican establishment. He's not on their side. He's on his own side. He's doing what is in the interests of his own business interests, even when that is taking its toll on the Republican base. And Murdoch is not farsighted enough to see that what he's doing is costing the Republican Party and for that matter, NewsCorp in the long run.

The current Republican Presidential Primary is a power struggle between Murdoch and the Republican establishment. Murdoch for whatever reason does not like Mitt Romney and it's been in the interest of FOX to be pushing these anti-establishment challengers to Mitt like Bachmann, Perry, Cain and currently Gingrich. While the establishment is probably going to win due to Gingrich having these flaws, there's going to be a real problem getting the base to be enthusiastic about Mitt and getting them to vote.

The Republicans lost at least one senate seat in 2010 because they lost control of the base in Nevada. The Senator running for reelection was very unpopular and an easy defeat for a sensible candidate. Unfortunatley the Republican Primary picked a total loon to run against the Democrat and the Democrat managed to hang on to their seat. Delaware also selected an unelectable challenger to the Democrat and also lost. The Republican establishment is losing control of their party to a bunch of people who only watch FOX News and let Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes tell them how to think and vote.

The mess in Alabama is another case of the base versus the establishment. Corporate interests have always favored making it difficult for illegal immigrants to become legal immigrants because they like haivng a cheap pool of labor that can't appeal to the law against exploitation. They've pushed an anti-immigration line with the Republican Party and the party has agreed in part because legalized hispanics vote Democrat. Unfortunatley, FOX in the name of ratings has whipped up xenophobic frenzy that Alabama passed an insanely harsh anti-immigration law that is having the unfortunate effect of actually driving illegal immigrants out of the state and destroying the state economy. The corporations have always talked an anti-immigration line but they've never actually wanted anything effective done about it for that reason.

And as I said before, the Republican base is much older and whiter than the Democratic base. Demographics are favoring the Democrats for the 2008-2040 political cycle, much as they were favored for the 1932-1968 political cycle. The Republicans made wins in 2010 only because they were more effective at driving out their voters. That advantage is gone for 2012, which is not a midterm election and there are tons of steamed off Democrats all over the place due to Republican overreach in the wake of the 2010 election. Plus the fact that if the Republican establishment does ram Mitt Romney through, the base is not going to be enthusiastic about voting for him. The Republicans either have to pick someone who will alienate the independents but fires up the base, or someone who can appeal to independents but the base doesn't like at all.

The more realistic scenario is slow but steady increasing Democratic wins despite anti-union, voter registration and gerrymandering tactics. There's going to be slow but steady corporate reform. FOX News can scream to bloody heaven and try to fire up the base but they're going to be steadily electing more and more unelectable anti-establishment candidates who are going to be increasingly out of touch with the younger non-white America that is growing in political influence and favors the Democrats. Income inequality and corporate excesses are going to be falling under voter outrage and Democrats growing steadily in influence. The Republicans go back into the wilderness as they did for 1932-1968.

What's really interesting is what is going to happen in the 2040s with the next political cycle and a shifting of the political base of both parties in a serious way. But for now, demographics is to some extent destiny and the demographics long term point against the Republicans.

61:

The end result might not be all that different, but Martin has it on evil vs stupid.

The extent to which we Americans vote counter to our own self-interest has always demonstrated an unusual idealism (or stupidity, depending on your level of cynicism). A very substantial share of the bottom 50% opposes raising taxes on the top 0.1%. Nothing new there...but what’s going on at the top is fascinating and demonstrates that a massive shift is going on in our politics. The Republican establishment has always been about the oligarchy and the preservation of the wealth-power system. But the party has moved away from that, especially at the national level. It is now pursuing policies directly counter to the preservation of the system. Austerity policies that tear at the social contract antagonize and raise anger among the lower classes and sow the seeds of discord and revolution. Oddly, it’s oligarchs with the most to lose that have co-opted the Tea Party movement and are leading this assault on basic social stability. The Republican establishment was always smart enough to not allow that to happen, but they’re not in control anymore.

On SOPA, the notion that Republicans in Congress are doing anything more than simply carrying water for Big Media is giving them way too much credit. Again, the end result that law enforcement will have a beefed up Big Brother capability is true, but that’s not something that motivates the members of Congress pushing SOPA. And the idea that there is an oligarchy-driven lobbying push outside of Big Media whose motive in SOPA is to build up the police state for their own self-preservation is, I believe, completely off base. I work in Congress...it always amuses me the way outsiders tend to believe that the body is even capable of far-reaching conspiracy theory-type stuff!

Charlie, your choice of 1992 as the year of rebirth of American oligarchy is interesting and I think I agree (although 1980 is the more obvious choice). In 1992, Reaganomics lost, the billionaire right-wing oligarch was defeated, and our nation began the early stages of a broad-based telecom boom that proved the American dream wasn’t completely dead. But. It was also the year in which the Democratic party took a large (and lasting) step to the right…a jump it needed to make in our system, arguably, if it was going to compete for the corporate/Wall St money needed to win big elections.


62:

" If the government really wanted more tools to put down an insurrection they'd just pass more laws against terrorists. "

Not necessarily ..have you noticed the steady increase in the number of news reports of non -lethal anti Riot weapons? As, at the lower end of Crowd Control, the ever so cute and lovable British Bobbies ..


" British police are set to test a new piece of crowd control equipment that can temporarily dazzle a person at a range of up to 500 metres, using a laser designed by a former Royal Marine commando.


http://www.thinq.co.uk/2011/12/12/uk-police-considering-laser-anti-riot-weapon/


Or there's the Soon to Come to a Street near YOU ..


http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn6014-sweeping-stun-guns-to-target-crowds.html


You will have noticed that most of Journalistic Reports - of Arab ..ish Spring suppressions by Powerful Elites have concentrated on the employment Lethal Snipers and Arrests and Hauling victims away to the Torture Chambers ? All right then ; imagine a future in which the Powers That Be simply STUN the Crowds of protesters and then wait for them to recover ..Stir and Repeat.

So ... What do the forces of The Revolution do then?


http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn6014-sweeping-stun-guns-to-target-crowds.html

STORM THE Winter-ish Palace ? And then you are Stunned by the Oligarchy ..Gently Wakened and told to GO Home and be Good by the Para Medical Forces of Oppression.

Just what do you do if the Powers That Be don't Kill You and thereby make you a martyr but just make you go to sleep for awhile?

63:

Sigh. I was hoping for something outrageous about Christmas with that title. I'm trying to give up politics...
MKK

64:

A farm woman in Alamogordo, NM made herself a cell phone purse out of duct tape, and reports that when it's inside the purse, it can neither send nor receive calls, so therefore, nobody can track you with it. She found that out in action, not just as a thought experiment.

65:

If you're British, it's not quite giving up politics, but you can rant about our glorious leader claiming we're a Christian country in light of all the evidence to contrary.

66:

SOPA has nothing to do with the 99 percent/1 percent struggle. SOPA is Big Media's attempt to stave off the inevitable, nothing more, nothing less.

Or it might be both.

67:

I think Charlie's analysis is close to the mark. As for the question of evil vs. stupidity, note that the politicians we see pushing the passage of bills like SOPA are not themselves members of the plutocracy; they're henchmen, hired to implement policies given to them by lobbyists who were hired by the plutocrats. Don't be surprised by their ignorance of the subject matter, or their willingness to be beholden to more than one master (it so happens that Big Media's corporate interests and the 1%'s repressive agenda have common short-term objectives).

Some additional points that I think are related to those of the original post (edited from comments on Charlie's similar post at Making Light):

  • One of the useful techniques that the oligarchy has developed is to allow the proles enough freedom of speech that they have outlets to vent. These outlets allow channeling that venting into venues and topics that are controlled by the oligarchs and relieve frustration at the increasingly dire economic and political situation. But they don't allow useful dialog or cooperation on effective rebellion. Hence the Tea Party and the hot air vent that is Talk Radio.
  • Portions of the military have been captured by the evangelical/political propaganda and social structures of the extreme right-wing. This renders them largely immune to the plight of the civilian population; dissenters can be portrayed as enemies of the white, evangelical, conservative, privileged "majority", and targeted by military forces if necessary.
  • The Federal law enforcement agencies have been largely retargeted away from investigating white collar crime, which might affect the members of the oligarchy, and investigating domestic terrorism, which might affect the evangelical extremists who are useful in spreading the FUD that obscures so much of the real political situation from the populace. Agents and task forces who remain true to their professional duties have been distracted by witch hunts like the search for pedophiles; the more easily corrupted have been used in surveillance and suppression of political dissenters or in the War on Some People Who Use Some Drugs and on the red herring of undocumented immigrants (and on that note, can someone explain to me why ICE, which is a subdepartment of Homeland Security, is enforcing copyright law?).
  • I have been wondering why the (quite sensible) proposal to add to the wireless networks the ability pass peer-to-peer SMS messaging between phones if the towers go down has taken far longer to be approved than even the normal time for inter-agency cluster-f*cking. The idea is that emergency messages could be sent and received during disasters. It's such an obviously good idea that I've had a lot of trouble understanding why the bureaucratic process has been even slower than normal just getting to the point of a pilot program somewhere. Clearly this would be a good thing only from some points of view; there are those who would be most upset at the capability for individual citizens to go around the power of the central controllers to turn off communications.

68:

Replying to "point 8 attributes malice to stupidity, as @41 Martin suggests. I recommend you watch a recording of the hearings on SOPA; it should become obvious fairly quickly that the people debating this legislation have no idea how the Internet works or how SOPA would impact it. It may be true that one or two representatives are supporting it with an eye towards squashing Occupy Wall Street or similar; it's highly unlikely the bill will ever pass on that basis."

That assumes that the representatives have anything to do with either writing the laws or deciding on how vote on them. Most laws in the US get written by lobbyists collaborating with congressional staffers. The lobbyists tell the representatives how to vote. The representatives only have time for raising money and running for office. That's why they look so stupid on TV. If you asked them about raising money or running for office, they would not sound so stupid.

69:

Hum, interesting but there does appear to be a steady build up of an aristocracy in the US of A ...

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/12/opinion/12madoff.html

The UK's Aristocracy has long had links to the Moneyed Classes of The US of A ..Eldest Son Inherits The Title and Lands and the rest go Fortune Hunting.The Gels of The Family are of course bargaining counters but Eldest, Aristocratic, Son can marry into the US of A vians moneyed classes and thereby Win. Its all a game.

The idea is that you - the Rulers - fade into the background, control the levers of power and then pass them on to your heirs ..simples! Of course this may well mean that you have to breed like mad and have several sons on either side of any given power struggle, but,if someone is going to lose in any given power struggle then, with luck and foresight, your family IS going to win.

Are the Aristocratic Families of the Old West starting to marry into China or from China to Old Power in Europe/America? If not give them time for they are very patient.

70:

What did you miss? Not much, not much.

71:

It's interesting that so many "non-lethal" weapons in development or deployment are designed not to sedate, tranquilize, or render immobile🃏, but instead stops people with intense pain, blindness, or physical shock. It's almost as if the police and military leaders who are setting the requirements want to make sure they inflict as much suffering as possible without actually killing their victims (or only killing a few of them under deniable circumstances).

🃏 Like the frictionless foam that prevents walking on any surface.

72:
The mega-rich people I know (wealth > £100m) are currently preparing for a feeding frenzy as prices on stuff drops.

"Don't ya get it? Potter's not selling! Potter's buying!" T'was always thus, and thus it will ever be.

73:

All right then ..I'll admit that I was veering a bit toward the Humane Side.I'm not always nasty you know!

So instead of go to Sleepy-bys Little Insurgents and then be gently woken by the Para Medics of Peace ..who will then direct you towards ' Re-education ' hows about " You think that it HURT YOU this time you little buggers? Well the Immobilisation is INCREMENTAL ... and if you appear in any future Demo it will hurt MUCH More ..so there and BOO to You!

Mind you I do think that an advanced crowd zapper would be aimed at sleep and then re-education ..BIG Person is not only Watching but does Understand You and Shares Your Pain in a quasi Religious sort of way and so Sleepy Byes and Wake to a Bright Neo World of Wonderfulness.

Be Good Dear People ..Pats on Head in an Avuncular Fashion...for WE do CARE about you.

74:

Hi Charlie,

I would say you're certainly in the right neighborhood, with a couple exceptions. The comments on stupidity versus malice are, or course, on target, but the main thing I'm seeing as I look at the 1% is sheer spoiledness. We're looking at 3rd and 4th generations of very privileged people who have not inculcated their children with the slightest sense of responsibility or the idea that they have any obligation whatsoever to their fellow human beings. Anything that happens to the 99% in the next ten years won't be so much a planned and considered repression as a gigantic tantrum.

I frequently relate the behavior of the 1% to the Harkonnens from Dune, where one character says, "I thought you were going to kill them all and bring in new stock." The character is talking about the total population of the planet and not only doesn't care about the moral issues, but has no idea that there might be a moral issue at all.

On the issue of SOPA we're dealing mainly with stupid record and movie companies, but a really ugly copyright regime can be used to strangle all kinds of dissent. This will mainly be a side-effect however.

For the most part, however you're absolutely correct, though I tend to prefer the term "Kleptocracy."

75:
So violent revolution won't worry the true oligarchs. What does worry them is the notion of genuine social change, because genuine social change isn't predictable.

The only quibble I have is with that last part; genuine social change is worrisome because if you're at the top of the heap the only way you can go is down. At best you maintain your position.

But yeah, the biggest problem we have here is the voters, imho. Not all of them are enlightened, technically savvy, well-educated readers of science fiction :-) I'd point out with some glee that fortunately the trends are against this set, as they tend to the older people dying off in ever increasing numbers . . . but I'm one of those old guys.

76:

The developed world's current economic pathology must also be viewed in a demographic context. In addition to the second-generation idiot oligarch problem, there is also the very large cohort of aging boomers who are both extremely selfish and at the age where the human mind turns from rationality to conservatism.

A democratic majority of aging and elderly conservatives will naturally press to abuse the state to protect their interests at the expense of everyone else. Note how effectively ring-fencing benefits for elderly while gutting infrastructure and education spending (both of which benefit the young) serves boomer interests perfectly. Note also how deflationary monetary policy benefits not only the extremely rich but also anyone who has assets--including retirement savings--rather than debt and income. Note also the legal emphasis on protecting business models (DMCA, SOPA, ACTA, investor protection components of trade agreements) and rentier income streams that made old people rich at the expense of preventing startups or market shakeups.

It's telling that the first developed economy to fall down the deflationary, hard copyright, hole--Japan--was also the first developed economy to hit the aging bubble first.

There's probably no elite conspiracy here. It's just the boomer generation asset stripping society with the expectation that they'll die before the costs are felt by them.

77:
I think that it stems from American populism. While some of it may be simple opportunism by our politicians, a large portion is a legitimate expression of the electorate's native bigotry and ignorance.

Yeppers. Exactly right, unfortunately :-(

78:

Re: 56: Of our last ten presidents, only three were from wealthy or politically powerful families.

It's Congress and Senate that run the U.S., not the President and it should be their make-up/backgrounds that get a closer look. Specifically, 71% of the 111th Congress came from politics while only 29% who worked in any other type of job/industry. I believe the demographic profile of the Senate is similarly skewed toward career politicians. And while the US President has considerable power on paper, a President’s tenure is fixed to a maximum of 2 terms (8 years). Neither Congress nor Senate has any maximum terms, which means they can sit back and out-wait any inconvenient Presidency. And, because Congress/Senate are set up as perpetual vote-getting machines, they’re also much likelier to overtly (and without that much legal interference) maintain strong ties with their financial backers. If you want to fix the US government/economy, fix the real problem - an aging, out-of-touch, entrenched Congress and Senate.

Consider that if Congress/Senate tenure had ceilings, chances are members of both houses would be in better touch with what’s actually going on economically and technologically simply because of the on-going injection of new blood. Members of both houses would probably also be less attractive targets for industry/lobbyists and might even have more sympathy for the day-to-day reality of the 99%.

To me, it seems that increasingly, the Presidency serves as a convenient shield for these two bodies as well as a focus for negative sentiment which can then be redirected at/extended to whichever house is in the media's (mostly Faux News') spotlight.

79:

Bruce, that's a technical problem. It's easy to inflict pain without much damage (my favorites for this are here). Conversely, it's really hard to sedate or tranquilize someone without having a trained medic to monitor them while they're down. The effective dose depends largely on weight, and overdoses are often fatal. Even when they're not fatal, they take time to take effect, and they can have little problems like, oh, interfering with thermoregulation.

A recent example of this was that autodarwinator who released all those big cats in Ohio last month. They they had to kill most of the animals, because they didn't know how much the animals weighed or where they were, and in the one case where they tried to dart one animal, it didn't work.

As for restraints, it's quite possible to get out of many restraint holds with relatively little training (that from experience), and effective physical restraint often takes >>1 cop/person. Things like the sticky foam they tried to use in Somalia are easily overcome, and super-slippery stuff makes it hard to arrest people within the skid zone. Even something as desirable as closing an illegal trail to mountain bikers is quite difficult, because you need to stop a fast-moving cyclist (or steer him away from someplace he really wants to go) without causing him to crash hard.

Personally, I have mixed feelings about pain compliance. Things like the Defender (see above) are less damaging than, say, using a knife on an opponent. As self-defense weapons, they are quite useful, and even a small child can use one to beat off an attacker. Unfortunately, they can be easily be used to torture people. Ronson's The Men Who Stare At Goats actually spends quite a lot of space discussing how less-lethal and non-lethal measures were twisted into torture techniques in Iraq and Guantanamo.

In sum, we don't have good stunners, and absent some massive tech breakthrough, we're not going to have them. Even the taser is arguably a pain compliance device. Pain compliance seems to be the most useful area for non-lethal weapons, problematic as that can be.

What I really don't like is that cops have gotten the idea that, because they have more less-lethal weapons, they can use them in place of their brains or mouths. That's a goon's mistake, and we're all going to pay for it.

80:

Nix @ 16
"You don't need a conspiracy here. Plain and simple greed and shortsightedness will do"
CORRECT

Eloise @ 65
Agree, unfortunately.
UGH.

Generally:
How about malice AND stupidity?

Secondly, what proportion of the US population is now on food-stamps?
I think it's about 12% (!!)
And they still vote against their own interests - you what?

81:

I think you're assuming the Kleptocrats have a need for large numbers of proles. I don't think that's the case. Many of the working class jobs have been outsourced by now, many more will follow in the near future. All the rich and powerful need is chauffeurs, gardeners, house cleaners, cooks, whores, and security guards. And the fewer unemployed proles are left around, the fewer guards they will need (though they'll always need a few to guard against assassination by rivals).

It reminds me of the movie Metropolis where the capitalist villain has a robot designed to replace the workers in his factories, and then plans to kill off the workers so they won't clutter up his new utopia.

82:

@80:

14% of Americans--including 25% of American children--are on food stamps.

48% of all Americans are in poverty or are near-poor.

Source: http://www.financialarmageddon.com/2011/12/just-as-ugly-with-less.html

83:

IIRC, the original initiative for non-lethal weapons, which was promoted by Chris and Janet Morris was mostly for non-pain-related weapons. While I think you're right that pain is much easier to create and control, I wonder if much effort has been put into alternatives, because pain is attractive to the people paying for the development.

84:

Hi Charlie,

I'm an American and am also very concerned about our polarized politics, wealth inequalities, Fox, etc. etc. But I guess I'll be the optimist in thinking that there are openings now for more positive change.

Nothing about the current moment strikes me as particularly unique to this moment of American history. We've always had to contend with these issues, often with far worse political violence than we have now. In the 1920's the KKK marched in massive numbers on Washington DC while engaging in a systematic terror campaign (lynchings) across the South. That was awful, but fortunately political dynamics moved away from KKK's favor.

Similarly, I also think lots of things are up for grabs right now. While the Right has successfully channeled discontent toward hostility to the Federal Government (to chip away at safety-nets, and the governments role in mitigating some of the worst externalities of Capitalism), the Right's continued success is not a forgone conclusion. On the contrary the Right is somewhat hysterical about the Occupy Movement. The Occupy movement continues to poll well and has raised a lot more attention to populist concerns than I thought possible.

The Congress (Tea Party) is highly unpopular, much more so than Obama. While most American's identify as "conservative", they don't necessarily buy Republican ideology. Republican positions are highly unpopular (taxing the rich more is a much more popular position). The Republican Party itself is actually a zombie, highly motivated, self-destructive and dangerous, but mindless and totally lacking in intellectual substance. They can bully, obstruct, throw temper tantrums, but not really inspire. Most Americans see something is very amiss with wealth and big business. They just don't trust Democrats, government, or anyone else to fix it, which dampens enthusiasm for the Democratic Party, unless of course you look at Elizabeth Warren's genuine (and popular!) populism.

While America has a clear history of far-right extremism, it can also provide fertile ground to Populism, especially of a muscular sort (I'm thinking Teddy Roosevelt). Yes the country tends to be far more religious and gun-loving than any other Western state, but that does not mean that Americans have an infinite capacity to be passive dupes to Fox News propaganda.

So I'll be optimistic. I think this historical moment could just as easily bring about a powerful new form of Progressivism just like the late 19th Century. Not that Prgressives were always that great (Prohibition, Isolationism), but we're in an era of transition where lots of old political forms have lost legitimacy, and I think new and better ones have yet to emerge.

85:
There's probably no elite conspiracy here. It's just the boomer generation asset stripping society with the expectation that they'll die before the costs are felt by them.

I see this point has been brought up multiple times in various guises - Charlie's point eight presupposes some sort of coordination and we don't appear to see that generally speaking. What we see, they (rightly) point out, seems to be the weighted decision of several blocks pursuing their own agenda. I think Ken's comments at 28 are a clear statement of this contradiction:

Consider health insurance. National health insurance would externalize a major cost for employers, make the labor force healthier, and eliminate one of the biggest impediments blocking entrepreneurs - inability to care for family when self-employed. How could any pro-business type be against it, unless they imagine the economy is zero-sum?

Wait a minute here; there's a good reason why health care hasn't been rationalized despite the abundance of clear and well-supported reasons for doing so (in fact, of all the other big policy proposals out there, health care reform is one of the most justifiable on the grounds of pure economic theory, theory that both salt water and fresh water schools agree on, ironically.) But while it is in the collective interests of the point-one-percenters to as a group to improve health care delivery, it is very much against the interests of certain subgruops of that tribe, who very rationally (from an economic standpoint) oppose it. The system being what it is (think of the systemic impediments to raising taxes in California despite the obvious need to do so), the determined opposition of a minority group win the day and any attempt to Take Their Stuff is successfully fought off.

Now contrast this with:

Your theory of second gen oligarchs unable to manage what they've inherited is more credible than any other theory I've heard recently. G. W. Bush is their poster child, of course.

See what's happening here? In the first case, what's going on can be explained by a model that divides the clan of oligarchs into reasonably justified and distinct subgroups. The goal of any taxonomy, be it zoological or otherwise :-) No such division occurs in the second case, where a general incompetence is inferred from the evidence at hand.

So what's really the best description - one that implies an organizational malevolence, or one that looks at a collection of atomized, selfish individuals? Well, given the procedural setup in American politics, isn't this a bit like electron drift in a current-carrying conductor? The thermal contribution to an electron's velocity is something on the order of almost a kilometer a second. Otoh, that part of the electron's velocity responsible for electrical current is something on the order of a tenth or a hundredth of a millimeter per second. Yet this is the part that dominates since thermal components are in all different directions and in opposing one other, largely cancel out.

So it is in politics, imho, and so it is that Charlie's description is correct and accurate even as individuals blunder about. Sure most of their efforts are directed at their own narrow aggrandizement, and sure the system is set up so that a determined minority can effectively block initiatives that would benefit a majority at their own expense. And sure the cumulative outcome of those opportunistic maneuverings often result in something that looks like spectacular incompetence. But the one thing most of these point-one-percenters do agree on is that the Little People shouldn't be allowed to interfere in the affairs of their betters. So while controlling any resources the revolting classes would need for a credible rebellion might be a secondary motivation, in fact, more like an afterthought and funded accordingly, it's that motivation that collectively triumphs in the end when passing legislation like SOPA.

And yes, it is deliberate.

86:

Archaeopteryx, not only did you fall for the flame bait, but you were horribly wrong in the process. Machiavelli was a notable Republican of his day, and vigorously opposed to the aristocracy. "The Prince" by Machiavelli is a polemic against princes; imagine "How to be a Liberal" by Rush Limbaugh and you have the idea.

87:

Let's add a medium-future view: all of this unhappiness is a temporary thing, caused by misdirected education and ineffective propaganda.


Admittedly, the slack-jawed peons who drool their way through life informed by Fox and by consumer advertising are unhappy: but they are, at least, complicit in their misfortune in supporting (and voting for!) the policies that act against their interests.


Propaganda has improved beyond all recognition, and it can only continue to do so. That's the *near* future.


The medium future is a paradise of chemically- or electronically-induced happiness for all, no matter the objective circumstances of their lives. Or maybe skilfully-conditioned 'learned helpessness', compliance, docility and apathy.

In short: obedient and productive servants of the oligarchy, free from the clamour of representative democracy, dissent, and inconvenient expectations of 'rights'.


Productive?


With pharmaceutical or surgically-implanted electronic assistance, battery-farming is a socially-sustainable model of industrial production. Of course, you'd need a small technocratic class to maintain the technology: but feudalism was stable for centuries with serfs, the aristocracy, a tiny technocratic class of armourers and clerks, and craftsmen for the luxuries consumed by royalty.


And, of course, an army. That period was marked by periodic rebellions and insurrections by the peasants; but they were put down easily by states with *tiny* standing militias who were not, as now, so well-armed and trained as to be an order of magnitude more lethal than peasants armed with implements of agriculture. The modern aristocracy does not need a large, or even a small, middle class to keep the population in compliant servitude. It does need a standing army but, with better weapons and mobility than the peasants, this need only be a single-figure percentage of the population.


Of course, it could all go wrong; there is only so much time remaining before we lose the human capital embedded in the educated middle class. But I think thet there is just sufficient time remaining, although inventing and perfecting the technology may well turn out to be the final gift of America's last generation of innovative technically-educated high-value middle-class employees.


Few of their descendants will be capable of following instructions from the manuals, and none of them will understand the underlying principles. But enough of them, today, will work for options in the startups that develop it, believing it'll happen to 'other people' and, just like America's sales of surveillance technology to repressive regimes today, tomorrow's oligarchs will pocket the profits, silence the debate, and instruct their senators to implement it in the USA a year or two after it is happening in China.


Selling the technology will be easier than you think: I doubt that there has ever been an innovation whose time can be said to have come, with such intensity of unrealised demand from the powerful, especially in the giant factories of Asia, but also in the favelas of South America and, soon, the North.


The North American recipients will, by and large, clamour for its adoption and persecute the holdouts - after the popular backlash against affordable healthcare, I cannot imagine them voting or acting against anything that their masters choose to broadcast - and the rump remaining of the middle classes will be terrorised into complicity by newscasts of 'unmedicated' underclasses rioting and trashing safe, white suburbs.


Pretty much anyone will acquiesce to a nonviolence or 'national loyalty' implant, pharmaceutical or electronic, 'for their own protection' or 'to be a better worker', in a world of unremitting danger, unemployment, and time-limited foodstamps for the non-compliant. *You* might say that you'd rebel - and I'm sure that you would, today - but give it a decade of being ground down by danger, poverty and desperation, and by the effect of living among people who are influenced by *effective* propaganda, and I think that you, too, would queue in the rain, sign (or thumbprint) the disclaimer, and fight for the privelege of being medicated.


Or maybe, to save your pride, let's say that you'll be one of the defiant final five percent who had to be forcibly medicated for the benefit of the majority and, as you will *afterwards* agree, for your own damn' good.


Feel free to offer reasons why this wouldn't happen; but there are economically-compelling reasons why it would, even if it shouldn't.


Forget the long-term future of 'transhuman' transcendence: the future is subhuman.

88:

So or an entertaining thriller novel re: a revolution - you then need to be able to take out large numbers of police and prison guards - how, poison?

89:

Instead of an oligopoly, I think that the US political system operates more like a fast food franchise operation: set menu (agenda), franchisee agrees to financially share in the overhead costs of the entire corporation, franchisee needs to provide initial capital for start-up/purchase of existing franchise, supply chain (national funding support) is entrenched and only a small fraction of supplies can be sourced locally provided local suppliers do not compete directly with preferred national supplier, franchise license can be rescinded/sold off if current franchise holder does not comply with corporate policies and/or does not protect/grow market share, franchise can be passed on to family with permission of head office, etc.

The difference between the above and an oligopoly is that the franchise model allows both the political party and its financial backers some flexibility to change who they support/fund. If you’re a potato supplier (big oil) and McDonalds (US) starts to lose market share, you try to negotiate a contract with Wendy’s (China) in addition to McDonald’s. Similarly, if you’re McDonald’s and your consumer market decides it prefers corn tacos (electricity) to French fries (oil), you expand your sourcing to include corn flour (domestic nuclear power corps) in addition to potato suppliers. Hopefully, you didn’t have a minimum-purchase or 99-year clause in your potato contract.

90:

>>We need to sidestep the whole mess. Some kind of open source computerized barter system, maybe.

and void all current wealth in the meantime -- that would be a good idea.

91:

This already exists, content owners provide digital signatures to sites like youtube, who then are notified if a user uploads a video containing a match.

Your scenario perpetuates the misconception that copyright protection is primarily about persecuting transformative work (Different music by different authors that sounds similar? You really think you can sue someone for that?)

Here's an example, the full 2007 anime movie Highlander, the search for vengeance on youtube. With a notification stating "Contains content from: Starz Media LLC". When I found this I wondered what exactly it meant, as it seemed to imply it was authorized. Turns out, when a match is found the uploader and ip owner are notified, and it seems in this case the latter didn't do anything about it (Perhaps they enabled the ad sharing option, or the intern who was to send the DMCA takedown forgot). Which means google, as safe harbour, is sitting pretty.

It is my understanding that SOPA doesn't remove the safe harbour provision, so the claims that "ALL SITES WILL BE DESTROYED!!!11!" are a little overblown, afaik. I do have the full text open in another tab but I'm loath to study the law of a country I don't live in just to argue about it on the internet :)

92:

I don’t think many of you understand the magnitude of the crisis America faces. We are not the same nation we were in the 1930’s, and are unlikely to survive another depression. I believe America is going to break up along natural ethnic and cultural lines, and that the revolt of the Republican base is essentially a tribal revolt against the whole trajectory of American society over the past 50+ years. Those who make triumphal statements about demographic trends don’t seem to get it; people are arming themselves for revolution, and won’t simply lay down and accept their demographic disempowerment. And this isn’t only an American issue; what I see are progressive projects collapsing worldwide, religious fundamentalism and tribalism on the rise, and a new dark age falling across the world.

93:

With laws like SOPA the question to ask is: What is the most malicious and perverse interpretation of the law possible?

94:

Regarding investment, low wages, and who wants to invest in a place so poor it doesn't have many potential consumers, that may be the case in the USA, but less so in Europe. Still, the point seems to be that international capital can surf round the world on a wave of investment. Over the period of years and decades, some countries will be comparatively poorer than others, making them worth investing in for low wages and plentiful workforce. After a while their economies grow and the capital zooms off to cheaper less developed countries, and the ones left behind do ok for a while before running into trouble and becoming less well developed, ready for the next wave of capital to swamp them.

Of course the small problem with this simplistic view is that it doesn't take into account resource depletion, nor what happens if your country degrades enough after being left behind by the investment money that no amount of capital can sensible bring it up to new standards, and because of the degradation the politics, legal and educational side of things are in no state to support the growth. Then you have a problem...

96:

An angle to SOPA/Protect IP that no one has mentioned is the voter suppression implication. Protect IP makes file sharing a felony. If the law is used to pursue wholesale felony convictions against file sharers, the Republican party will have a very powerful weapon to disenfranchise large numbers of Democratic voters under 40.

(Anyone who thinks it's crazy talk to suggest the GOP works to reduce voter turnout among Democratic demographics needs to do a little Google research into "voter caging.")


@Anonymous #92:

Agreed 100%. The Republican party has become a fascist movement. If semi-fair elections stop going their way, they'll decide to stop having semi-fair elections.

97:

I think it has. There are quite a few dead control-related technologies out there. Try finding an example of a kubotai, for example.

The general problem with control is that it requires something quite sophisticated. Pain doesn't. For example, imprisoning someone for a year (a control punishment) costs ~US$50K. Giving them 100 lashes is much cheaper. This is a weird example, but seems to be the general rule. You need to have a black belt in aikido to non-violently control an attacker, but you need a couple of rocks or a stick to cause enough pain for him to go away.

A good stun gun (like a Star Trek phaser) requires a sophisticated knowledge of the attacker's physiology, and it requires you to get that information in seconds. Loading a shotgun with rock salt (or air soft pellets) is much simpler. Tasers are so far the only thing anyone has come up with that provides instantaneous control, and even that causes pain and occasional fatalities.

And so it goes.

Note that some of the technologies that Colonel Alexander and the Morrises proposed (such as use of sound) didn't involve pain compliance, but they were still used for torture. Remember the whole episode of playing the Barney Theme Song at Iraqi prisoners until the broke?

Since I happen to like some of Brusso's defenders, the one thing I should say is that the pain is momentary. Those suckers really do hurt when you're hit by one, but the pain goes away quickly, and it's hard to get a regular defender to leave even a bruise. I'm willing to call that humane, so long as it's used for self-defense. That same feature undoubtedly makes it a dandy torture tool.

98:

The House and Obama say they will veto the new National Defense Authorization Act. I think its a vote trap. Much of the GOP's Patriot Act was wanted by our Bill first. The GOP said it was a liberal take over, then the one they passed for Bush was a takeover. And it was used a club to get Democrats out because they proved they hated America by voting against it. I think this is more of the same.
14% of Americans- American are on food stamps. So kill food stamps. It's more Socialism, right. I said RIGHT!!
The R/W GOP and some Democrats want to march us all back to a Good Old days that never was. By sabotaging the very Government they are trying to drive voters to them.

If you have a memory you know that most of the of the High Frontier gang and the Star Wars people gave ammo to get the weak liberals out. They said America was now the only supper power and must act strong not weak. They won.

99:

One thing to never forget about US politics is that to describe it, you first need to come up with a term for whatever the opposite of a socialist is (autist? The Greeks would have said idiot, but that has connotations now).

The US has a fair percentage of people who simply do not want to coordinate and cooperate with other people to solve collective problems...and in fact, may deny the existence of collective problems.
Call it a form of social anarchy- the ideal wouldn't be a nation without a government, but it would be a nation without a society. A series of zip codes, with law enforcement.

I'm not entirely sure why this is...perhaps people who got along really well with their neighbors on a large scale didn't hop a boat across the Atlantic.
Another issue might be either religion or capitalism- iirc, Aristotle postulated that human beings are defined by their relationships with other people, but we in the US frequently define ourselves by our relationship to a religion, or to a bank account, or even to some other ideology- people take second place (at best) to that.

100:

Yes, but you need to take it steps on from the obvious.

What do you do when there is a whole segment of society who aren't required to work, have been harvested such that they have no money to buy as consumers, and could potentially cause civil insurrection?

Further, what do you do when the available oil is decreasing, and the economy is running down?

Best case is the wealthy run away - somewhere like Bolivia. Worst case the undesirables are ghettoised, and either disposed of in-place, or shipped out in cattle wagons. Got to use that military and paramilitary police for something...

You can get rid of a lot of problems with starvation and disease. Watch for the poor to be concentrated, much easier to put a fence around them if they are already in a small area.

US with 100 million people is probably sustainable, post peak.

101:

They won't want to get rid of the poor. Without a lot of out of work people, there's no surplus in labor supply and they have to start paying higher wages again. Instead they will further gut protections against losing your job, and will cycle the underemployed through the low wage sector (despite the fact that this ruins their ability to provide good services) in order to ensure that wages stay low.

102:

"But when the police have armed drones as well as armoured personnel carriers and machine guns..."

Remember, the US isn't Britain- many more of our criminals have the option of shooting back and the inclination to do so. You do have to be better armed than the people you're trying to arrest.

As for forced labor, that's passe- you just link welfare benefits to a requirement to work, and then offer buses to agricultural regions.

103:

As a British expat whose been living in the USA for a decade I think what you're missing is what a chaotic mess governance is in this country. Nobodys in control and no coherant policy is ever produced. Most of what you see is organizations and individuals taking advantage of the chaos to push through laws that are in their own short term interest (looting). The idea behind is that over the long run you get a "wisdom of the " situation where over time the chaos leads to solutions, but I haven't seen this happen yet.
Its not like the UK where the prime minister announces he will do something, passes a law that does what he says and then watches the beaurocracy impliment it as he intended.

104:

Parliamentary government vs. the US version, perhaps- in the US, a congressman or senator has no obligation to keep anyone happy except his own constituents. There's no government to dissolve and reform if agreements can't be reached. You can have permanent impasses.

The other trick, I think, is that government in the US accurately represents the population of the US. It's surprisingly hard to find issues that a great majority of the people agree on. No matter what anyone thinks, having 50% plus one guy isn't enough to implement policy.

I suppose the UK equivalent would be to imagine if 40% of the population were Liberal Democrats, 40% liked the National Front, and the remaining 20% would side with either party depending on the noisiest issue when the election came 'round. Picture what government under those conditions.

105:

Yeah, that works. In the US, we're still stuck with cheap food, which means that few people other than (illegal) immigrants are willing to be paid for the amount of work needed to harvest the field. Nor do most Americans have the skill needed to make a decent living in the fields.

We've sadly deteriorated as a society. Someone said that the baby boomers on forward are the most helpless generations in history, and there's a lot of truth to that.

As for the chaos in Washington, my simple solution is to send ALL the congresscritters back through that boot camp they all have to go through when they enter Congress, AND to make them sit and bunk together, Republicans and Democrats alike. I think even the party leaders need a major refresher on how the Congress and the Senate are supposed to work.

(trivia challenge: anyone know which Speaker of the House first segregated the freshmen congressmen, so that they learned in classes separated by party and never interacted?)

106:

A whole lot of commentators seem to have missed the point. Our elected officials are *not* the oligarchs -- or at least, those elected officials who qualify as members of that particular ingroup aren't more than a fraction of it. Folks like the Koch brothers (for instance) are -- people who find public office to be *far* less expedient day to day for accomplishing their desires than simply having bought politicians on hand to multiply their influence on that elected body. Some elected officials are members of that group, but some are merely in their pockets, and moreover a lot of them who aren't directly-so wind up in practice doing them a lot of unintended favors because of the degree to which they're able to spin what discourse reaches the political class in this country.

107:
Different music by different authors that sounds similar? You really think you can sue someone for that?

That boat has already sailed.

108:


Another interesting trend is the private-sector's reverse engineering of failing (or nonexistent) state systems.
-Charter schools and homeschooling to replace public schools
-Health Partnerships to replace socialized health care (http://www.co.missoula.mt.us/phc/mission.htm)
-couriers to replace the post office
-Neighborhood watch
-401(K) accounts to replace social security

Another path social evolution might take is for these grassroots organizations to coordinate with each other and form the safety net that the federal government no longer provides. Of course, once established, this bottom-up government will develop its own interests, which might not mesh with the interests of its citizen/clients.

109:

Not sure about linking the "replacement" functions- most of those examples you listed are considered more beneficial because of their relatively small scale and therefore the greater level of control that the individual participant has over them, despite the loss of efficiency from scale. They're personal, and that's part of the appeal.

Only kicker is that you have to be able to shell out the somewhat greater amount of dough to compensate for that loss of scale.

110:
John Lennon expressed his doubt of the notion of "subconscious" plagiarism: "He must have known, you know. He's smarter than that. It's irrelevant, actually—only on a monetary level does it matter. He could have changed a couple of bars in that song and nobody could ever have touched him, but he just let it go and paid the price. Maybe he thought God would just sort of let him off.

The original post had digital signatures being used as a mechanism for indiscriminate musical suppression, I don't think it's really applicable in this case where even a friend of Harrison's like Lennon figures it was plagiarism. In any case, it doesn't work like that digital signatures don't parse the content itself, just look for pattern matching.

Takedown requests could be automated, but a spurious DMCA takedown can open you to litigation, and lawsuits are expensive, time consuming (This example took 10 years) and can result in a loss.

Here's an interesting article on fair usehttp://copylaw.com/new_articles/fairuse.html that might clarify some concepts.

Also, please note there is a viable case if $RICH_AUTHOR plagiarizes you, as you can extract large amounts of money from him, the opposite scenario makes no practical sense outside totalitarian fear mongering scenarios. Or if the author in question is Prince, I guess :)

111:

I was so tempted to be very rude about what koolaid you've been drinking.

There are a lot of other ways to introduce local influence without decentralising and losing the efficiencies of scale. Many schools in the UK manage this pretty well - they're part of fairly large organisational entities for purchasing, wages and the like with efficiency of scale, but each school has its own board of governors - a mixture of staff, parents and local government officers who make a lot of decisions about the specifics of that school and both its strategic and day to day running and planning.

Our hospitals are less good at this, but try.

And I'm sorry, but neighbourhood watch to replace the police just scares me. That's not just efficiency of scale issues - I'd far rather someone with clear authority from outside the community to police it. Intra-community politics make for horrible policing conflicts of interest far too often IMO.

112:

There is a theory (by some respected historian, but forget the name at the moment), that the real change in Russia was around 1895. Czarist Russian had always had quite draconian laws, but they could not be and were not enforced. Add in some late 1800s German social technology and voila, instant police state. In this theory, 1917 mostly just changes the hands on the levers.
Some interesting parallels to the way that garbage-in-garbage-out computers intensify enforcement and make rules more rigid. A generation ago, you could find someone to do an override for you, but now the computers are programmed more to prevent that. In the US, this shows up in the purest form in universities.

113:

Also, for example, Microsoft is better off with people using pirated Windows rather than Linux.

114:

Influence is one thing, but I was talking _control_. Nitpicky control of as many details as possible to get the precise result you, personally, like.

The neighborhood policing vs. outside control issue doesn't seem like much difference- the laws that policeman follows are subject to just as much idiosyncrasy as those of a local watchman...but changing neighborhoods is easier than changing states.
You know the outlook of the people you'll be dealing with rather than being subject to the whims and fears and oddities of people miles and miles away. Reference Sacco and Vanzetti for one example of that.

115:

The real problem is effective action. Democracy is broken. Protest is not a game changer for the oligarchy. It doesn't affect their profits enough. They just switch the politicians, make some superficial changes or engage in a diversionary tactic like a trade war or a real one. Conventional solutions look short on the ground. But this might help:
http://directactionnetwork.tumblr.com/

Its the blog for a new tech project which is engineering a web-based mass-action network tool for defeating the capture of democratic processes by the oligarchy-plutocracy.

The project is in its infancy but it looks like it could give us the most effective way of dealing with the corporate coup d'etat. Its a way for the 99% to make changes without going through gov.

Once it gets going it could suck the all the power out of the corpocracy and re-orientate the corporations so that they act in the interests of the 99%. It would also stop the bad synergy between elected government and the oligarchs. Its also a way of freeing government from being hostage to the corps. Worth a look I thought.

116:

"What am I missing?"
The signs that deeper historical forces are at work.
Is there any first world country that is more free, more equal now than it was 30 years ago?
The US has moved farther and faster than the rest of the developed world, but everyone is moving in that direction. Right now, southern/peripheral Europe in particular. The Long Depression is not going to be just in America, given the current direction of the Eurozone.
So if the entire first world is moving in the same direction, something other than American historical/cultural forces must be at work.

My own theory is that the economy needed to move into centering on knowledge production* some time around 1965-1970 (which is why the 60s happened), but no one is capable of that leap socially, so things have stagnated and decayed since then. This also means a transition from a society built on competition to one built much more on cooperation and the rebirth of the new Commons.
In this reading, the current US elite is an opportunistic infection, not the real cause. Although to the suffering patient, the difference may not matter short-term.

(*To make the leap, we have to be able to simultaneously turn knowledge totally loose and compensate knowledge producers. Doing one or the other is not so hard. Doing both, not yet possible. Advertising-based payment is a partial solution but also highly corrupting for an information-driven economy.
IP and all of that which we have in actually existing capitalism is a pale twisted shrunken imitation of what a real knowledge production centered society will be capable of. Current IP is to orcs as real knowledge production will be to elves.)

117:

So if the entire first world is moving in the same direction, something other than American historical/cultural forces must be at work.

Growth of international trade and other new methods of commerce over the last three decades is my guess. It's not so much that the richest fraction of society took wealth away from the poorest and middle-class, but the tremendous economic growth since 1980 utterly missed the lowest quintile or two.

Put it this way- if you mopped the floors of an office building in 1980, and you're still mopping the exact same floors now...why would you be making a huge amount more? On the other hand, if you went from selling knicknacks in a single storefront in 1980 to outsourcing their production to a factory in China and selling them on the internet across a continent your income could expect to well outpace inflation.

Sadly, if what you do can't exponentially grow, you're stuck.

118:

but I'm loath to study the law of a country I don't live in just to argue about it on the internet :)

Just argue about without studying it. Everyone else does.

119:

Perhaps. But if increased international trade is the driver, why the descent into oppression rather than something analogous to unionization and solidarity in the US in the 1930s?
Also, at least in the US, large parts of the population have not just stagnated but lost income. For them, it is not about still mopping the floor, but going from a unionized factory job with good pay and benefits to mopping the floor.

120:

Thanks for that link.
We in Zero State are doing something similar, but from more of an economic POV. However, it will not be ready until mid 2012 most likely.

121:

"Sadly, if what you do can't exponentially grow, you're stuck."

Which is at least 99% of people. When automation starts to hit the "skilled" classes like lawyers and doctors we will see a revolution of one sort or another.

122:

As for forced labor, that's passe- you just link welfare benefits to a requirement to work, and then offer buses to agricultural regions.

I watched Threads again recently, and it's interesting that the mechanisms appeared to be in place for the civil power with military support to control all food stockpiles and not allow people to eat if they didn't work on the land farming.

Not that farming would be much fun in a nuclear winter with no UV protection...

123:

That's true, if filesharing was as altruistic as it presents itself, open source alternatives should have a better showing. What happens in practice is that price implies value and what is free to start with often has zero value in people's eyes.

I don't think it's something that can be complained about though, proponents of filesharing always say it benefits indirectly, so if say warez photoshop solidifies the program's dominance in it's sector then this is a desired outcome both for adobe and the pirates.

But this is veering off topic from the point of the thread, so I'll close it off by saying that I agree copyright can be used for censorship but that the discourse on the SOPA matter on the web is often far too one sided and simplistic, and that there are legitimate arguments for it that are hardly ever considered.

124:

Because compared to last time (i.e. the 19th century), people are more divorced from each other by the effects of mass entertainment, suburban living, propaganda (not all mass entertainment on tv is propaganda, but if production of culture has been taken over by centralised corporations that also gets in the way of neighborhood solidarity because you don't meet at the church/ theatre/ stair cleaning), mobility in search of work, anti-union laws, and finally the American dream of independence.

125:

There is also the time factor. In the UK it took decades to form an effective union movement in the 19th century. Unrest of various forms had occured for years of course, but they were fighting an uphill struggle against a legal system which viewed organisational activity by the working class as subversion aimed at overthrowing the natural order of society. Suppression doesn't necessarily last forever, but it is damned effective for a while.

126:

A lesson governments forget at their peril - when someone has nothing to lose, they have nothing to lose.

127:

Perhaps. But if increased international trade is the driver, why the descent into oppression rather than something analogous to unionization and solidarity in the US in the 1930s?

Because the role of populism in all this is to generate xenophobic paranoia and justify the erection of impermeable barriers to the free movement of labour. Capital is free to move wherever labour is cheap, but labour has to obediently stay where it is and wait for an offer of employment.

The tragedy of the betrayal of international socialism in July 1914 echoes to this day ...

128:

Incidentally, I missed a point (9):

The role of the UK in all this is to be ruled by an elite whose passionate desire in life is to be the Mini-Me to the US oligarchy's Dr Evil.

Any arguments?

129:

That doesn't matter if you can make people apathetic enough, the well known crushing of the spirit. There is only a window of opportunity in which to sucessfully rebel against the opressor in that way.

130:

Free movement of labour is really only feasible if you allow the immigrants to starve in the street as an encouragement to leave when the work dries up. A social security system like we have is just an invitation to a few billion people to move here because being on unemployment here is better than anything back home.

131:

The "why" is something I do not understand

132:

Charlie @ 128
Nice try, but no banana.
Yes, some sections of the supposed "elite" such as the authoritarian right of the Tory party, and the Labour christians would lurve to go that way.
But the Brits are STILL far to contrary, onery and okerd to swallow it for any length of time.
Could be an interesting fight, though.

133:

You seen to have missed the point. It's not about the people, it's about the rulers. The British people *may* be independent-minded (although I think you are too optimistic), but our rulers and their masters are so far down Atlantic Avenue they are driving on the right.

134:

An interesting post. There are many that share this view . Yet, how does this explain the continuing passing of laws and regulations that do nothing but hamper big business and in turn the rich? Look at the FDA obstacle course for the approval of new drugs. The EPA for restrained business expansion. If a true Plutarchy were in charge wouldn't these oversight organizations be eliminated? Look at the blocked AT&T merger. Why would a Plutarchy stop this. This is also overlooking the myriad of social programs that do nothing for business nor the rich. Are these programs just a pacifier for the masses?

On a side note I had a discussion recently with friends where I proposed that true democracy was doomed to fail. I couldn't think of a large successful organization that uses democracy as it's decision system. Imagine Apple computers asking all the workers of their retail stores to weigh in on the future moves of the company. Let's say for argument sake that 30% don't know anything about the computer business yet have the same weight in votes as those who are knowledgeable. Would this be an effective way to run a company?
It seems to me that throughout history the greatest economic booms happened under the watch of a few in power that really didn't have to answer to many. Even the United States in it's greatest expansion was led by a few rich white men.

So what works? True Communism? No, I think that has proven to be ineffective. The Chinese have an interesting blend of capitalist communism. As it stands now theirs might be close to what I imagine to be a successful system. The Benevolent dictator scenario. The better the country does. The less people care what is happening behind the scenes.

I'd love to hear if you think I'm off my rocker.

135:

"Yet, how does this explain the continuing passing of laws and regulations that do nothing but hamper big business and in turn the rich? "

It does not hamper the rich. It's raises the bar to any competition that is just starting out. If you came up with a drug that cured cancer and reversed aging there is no way you could do anything about it unless you went to "them". Not unless you have a few tens (hundreds?) of millions of dollars of your own to get it through the paperwork.

136:

What happened in the 30's came at the end of decades of left wing organization and struggle, which started in America back in the 19th century. There isn't that kind of momentum in place this time around.
Maybe we're seeing the start of a similar cycle with the OWS movement, I certainly hope so.

137:

I'd like to point to something that I consider to be a really, really positive sign. Charlie called this post flame bait, but where are the hordes of angry right wingers with their copy and pasted, multi paragraph talking points?
If this same topic had been posted 5 years ago we'd be knee deep in them by the 10th comment.
And its not just this blog, I've noticed it in a lot of other forums (slashdot comes to mind) also. And when they do turn up it seems like the left wing response is much more ferocious (and less intelligent) than it used to be.
They still cluster on the main US political forums such as CNN but I'd say the fact that they can't drown a blog like this one anymore points to a lack of manpower and fervor.

138:

I think you are missing two things Charlie:

The first thing you are missing is that the science and technology of manipulating the masses have been vastly improved over the last couple of somewhat-similar situations.

If you look at the carefully tuned "angling" of the Fox news channels, they are much more efficient in deflecting anger towards token-victims such as "benefit-cheats" than any means of mass-manipulation any ruling class ever had before.

The other thing you are missing is that the 1% has realized how cheap a means of insurance the "in the tent pissing out, instead of the opposite" principle is.

If you keep an eye on it, there is a very distinct pattern of some person levelling a very competent charge against $BIGCORP, only to be soon offered a job as "special liason to ..." or some similar created-to-purpose job non-function, simply to get them to sign an NDA for the relatively modest price of a decent salary.

OWS and similar is nice and carthatic, but will have absolutely no impact until and unless it causes an uncontained outbreak of humanism and morals inside the 1%.

139:

Well, comrade Stross, this isn’t flame bait but a really nice try to motivate yourself into writing a modern version of Jack London’s “The Iron Heel”. I wish you luck on this because I really liked The Iron Heel”.

What have you forgotten, you ask?

1. The US has a totally chaotic plutarchy. The 1% is not cohesive enough. They have no class spirit. They all deeply hate each other or deliberately ignore each other. Their upper “class” is like a lumpenbourgeoisie or a lumpen – aristocracy because they are so lacking in class consciousness. Yes, a lot of them go to Harvard but by then it’s too late to foster a notion of class. They think of themselves as rugged individualists by the time they reach any of the Ivy League universities. But I think you can get around that by going far enough in the future where they have sent all their children in net-connected private schools at an early age and have thus acquired such a consciousness.

2. The federal system and the devolving of power right down to counties and towns in the US makes it possible to get elected to important, locally powerful (in my country as well as in the US towns and cities have an incredible amount of power over our daily lives) public office without large amounts of money. But I think you can get around that by going far enough in the future where those right wingers who want to retain local control have lost to the right wingers who want to give more control to nascent centralized bureaucracies like the DHS.

3. Public austerity does not apply to the F-37 or the future bomber program or the future strategic assets, or to anything having to do with the preservation of the social and technological infrastructure which sustains them. They will not sell this for a few cents to the dollar. And again on the state and local level not every state will go in for this. They won’t let go. I’m not sure how you can get around that either. But I think you can.

4. The Rich are scared of anyone who does not have their skin color, have. If this is a pre-revolutionary situation it is one which has existed since the end of WWII, when blacks and Hispanics started to have enough money to buy firearms in general and rifles in particular. We’re having this “situation” drag a bit too long to be credible. The whole notion of a pre-revolutionary situation depends in part on its brief intensity and sixty years is a long time. I’m not sure how you can get around that either. But I think you can. At least I hope.

5. The poor have smartphones but they don’t know how to use them, as an organised force. Also the digital nature of the system (the provider switches are nothing but huge computers) makes selective control possible. The authorities can see no menace there. The only menace could come from constant organisation of the poor, so that they could (among other things) switch to the non-cell hunting radios (aka walky talkies) that are sold next to hunting rifles in nearly every hardware / sporting goods store in the US. But the poor in the US form a huge lumpenproletariat, even though they are much richer than the destitute masses that inspired that term, in 19th century England and Germany. Like the 1% they have absolutely no class consciousness and they hold a strong belief in their absolute individualism and personal liberty. Organise themselves in militias? Only as a joke. Only the more delusional of the 1% can feel menaced by them. But then if you’re thinking of doing a humoristic version of “The Iron Heel”, that would be great.

6. The police forces in the US are militarizing themselves willingly without any direct push from above by forming yet more and more SWAT teams and by gladly accepting the indirect incitement by the US government programs to integrate surplused military vehicles and weapons in their operations. These are not heavily used, knackered out pieces of equipment. They’re the best of the remnants of Iraq. They’re all in fine shape and ready for use. This gives a lot of ultra violent potential to local municipal or county governments, but it’s quite the opposite of an oligarchy placing more direct controls on them. I’m not sure how you can make a farce out of that. But I think you can. Heck, you’re even talented enough to come up with a figure resembling Jean Jaures to the dot, and to turn his murder into a comic act instead of the tragic event it was, within the dissolution of worker solidarity in 1914.

So, good luck with the bigger, better version of “The Iron Heel”

140:
It's impossible to be elected to high office without so much money that anyone in high office is, by definition, part of the 0.1%; even if they're an outsider to start with, they will be co-opted by the system (or neutralized — usually before they are elected).

Most of that money is spent/wasted just to get people's attentions. As someone who ran for election in 2008 (it was for a small state level position), my biggest problem wasn't money, it was just getting the attention of the voters. Our race was "so small" that the newspaper coverage was pretty much "$CANDIDATE is $AGE and works as a $JOB". Voters care so little for our race that about half the people casting votes quit voting by the time they get to our race on the ballot, and who is listed first is almost always the winner.

The big federal races have so much riding on who wins (for Presidential and Congressional races) that massive amounts of money are spent trying to influence every possible voter. Obama's 2008 campaign was very innovative, and as much as I'd like to get a copy of their campaign handbook and training manuals, I've been unable to do so.

141:

Good news, America already sees the UK that way!


As to piracy of costed items compared to free items, I think a lot of that comes down to marketing. When somebody goes looking for free stuff, the better marketed product is probably already known to them, the (legally) free one isn't.

If Big Media/software etc manages to stamp out piracy without also eliminating small media's ability to use those distribution networks while chasing money from non direct sales then they will suffer badly, free (or very cheap) is really good marketing when competing against expensive, and big media loses its strongest advantage if small media can market effectively.

*With a few exceptions, TV already has a free/cheap to the consumer model to work with, and would probably benefit from users being forced to watch ads again, and some markets don't have an alternative to direct sale income at the moment, I'm not exactly about to run out and buy a Laundryverse T-shirt.

142:

Alain
How, then does the "recall" option fit into this scenario?
I understand that at least two Congresscritters are now up for recall, because of their ultra-right lunacies (Wisconsin?)

Generally, it's not the 1% - that is way too large a group.
It's the 0.1% =~ 300 000 people in the US (and even that is too big, really, to be cohesively organised)

143:

A conspiracy does not have to be cohesively organized if all the "conspirators" have common aims and all work in the same direction.

144:

I note this:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Defense_Authorization_Act

" Section 1031 allows for the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens without a trial or hearing"

Just waiting for Obama's signature to turn the USA into a police state.

145:

I think that democracy is being able to choose your preferred level of participation in governance, typically by being able to choose who speaks for you, and not necessarily by actually participating in moment-by-moment governance. Although real-time online surveys could actually allow moment-by-moment governance by the population - discussion and voting.

146:

President Obama should veto it, as he threatened to do with a previous version.

Unfortunately, I have a feeling that he's going to sign it, thinking that a signing statement to the effect that he's not going to enforce sections 1031 and 1032 is enough.

147:

Obama has already refused to release prisoners that were acquitted, he has no interest whatsoever in not enforcing this.

148:

Recalls are state level (the Wisconsin guy is the governor), they don't exist for congress, the only way to get rid of someone other than voting for the other party is the primary process, which is far too difficult to achieve and usually organized by the lunatic fringe when it happens.

149:

Some things you're not quite getting-

1)Fundamentally, there's a lot more vigorous action at the state level than the federal one. The Tea Party movement is mostly suburban/rural that keeps looking the large urban areas in horror-they're seeing unpunished fraud (welfare, political, etc) that they are being asked to pay for due to taxes on their business and personal lives. These taxes mean they have to cut back on their plans, not hire new employees or give the ones they have raises, or take market risks. They're seeing environmental regulations that come out of big cities that have never had to make payroll, make an industrial product, or till a field that are driving them out of business-and forcing us to do things like buy steel from China that is even "dirtier" in terms of the environment and anywhere between a third to a half of it has to be rejected at the dockside before it leaves China because of quality control issues.

They're having to work until 65 to claim benefits, 401K (that might lose value in the meantime), and a piss-poor salary while unionized state and federal employees can (theoretically) work until they hit 55 and they get a pension that can cover about 80%+ of their working salary. Which they wouldn't mind for police, fire, and EMT people-but not for somebody that works the local DMV window.

There are many people in Illinois that would just want to wall off Chicago and it's politics-mostly machine Democratic-from their lives-mostly small "r" Republican. And, in other places...you see a lot of urban Democrats that are pretty extreme in comparison to a lot of "flyover"/suburban/rural "small-to-medium r" Republicans.
2)The morass of welfare poor, many of whom are muti-generational, many of whom will not look for or actually work short of forced labor or actual starvation. That, and the welfare system penalized anybody that actually gets any sort of work that isn't criminal/"under the table"-causing an embrace of a tribal fraud-based culture that pretty much states that if they can con their way for it, it's theirs-and everybody else can clean up the mess.
3)A tax system/structure that needed reform in the '80s, needed to be burned to the ground in the '90s, and needs to be nuked now. Many of the "1%" are doing all they can to hide their money because they keep seeing any attempts at wealth generation that isn't directly backed by political patronage faced with taxation that could be called "armed extortion" if you or I did it.
4)The "Occupy" movement in the US-at least-seems to be more college-age white children of privilege that are "slumming it" to prove that they are not their wicked parents (i.e. teenage rebellion extended out to their 20's or so), fearing that their degree in Underwater Basket Weaving/"Social Justice" that they got in college via usurious student loans (that cannot be discharged via bankruptcy now) will not give them instantly the high five-to-six figure salary they were expecting, and that the world is a lot more complicated than they expected.
5)The American rich/upper classes are odd in a lot of ways. Quite a few of them are more apolitical than anything-they really don't give a load of dingo's kidneys about who's in charge as long as they can make money with a minimum of stress. If they have a political relationship, it tends to be more personal (i.e. to a particular politician/friend) than ideological.
6)People that voted for Obama on the scale of him being the Obamaessiah to "anybody but a Bush retread for four years" have been very, very disappointed by him. He probably did inherit a lot of issues from the Bush Administration, but people are tired of that excuse. They have not seen any improvements, a level of detachment/arrogance from Obama and his people that leave them cold, and a general air of "not quite getting it" on a number of issues (immigration reform, corruption, etc) that frustrates them. I suspect that if the Democrats thought they could get away with it, they'd run another Presidential candidate-but, that would be electoral suicide for 2012.
7)Whenever you listen to Newt Gingrich, just realize that he's the Jeremey Clarkson of Republican politics. Keep that firmly in mind.

Of course, that also does appeal to many Republicans, whom keep seeing the rest of their contender choices as being so grey and uniform and mildly wishy-washy. They really want another Regan-somebody that they know will draw lines in the sand and will say "this far, no farther" and do so in a manner that actually somewhat friendly.
8)A deliberately overheated real estate/mortgage market via Federal aid that allowed people that shouldn't have been anywhere near houses or long-term loans to price quite a few people out of the house/condo market that would have been more determined to maintain their status. And the Fed response-to dig the hole that they got themselves in twice as fast.
9)SOPA is one of those "hard button" items that is going to be a dead letter item in some way. If it dies in Congress or gets challenged and beaten in the Supreme Court, it's going to happen. The Big Media companies are seeing their value as the gatekeepers wither away and they're trying to hold on as fast and as hard as they can. That, and Big Media is seen in flyover country as very liberal (witness the rise of Fox News) isn't helping any.

If anything, 2012 is going to be political year in the US that looks like 1980 minus the Cold War but plus with a lot other disasters (the Eurozone collapse, terrorism issues raising their heads, etc) happening. It's going to be chaotic.

150:

Put the keyboard down, go talk to people. Occupy isn't white whiners. Taxes don't limit jobs that much (although regulation does.) This D/d R/r stuff is playing the name the enemy game, when all are enemy. Obama is ABB and we're out of Iraq with official military (still very present with mercs) and he's got single payer on the way, and tax reform under the door with the SuperCommittee (SuperSnarlofProcedure.)

Highly recommend dumping your current news sources, zakuins, and going to direct experience and non-usmilitary machine source, which rules out all US broadcasting conglomerates, run as they are by PR machines.

Good luck!

151:

What President Obama actually does, and what he believes he can put in a signing statement to cover his actions are two completely different things. What I was trying to say was that just attaching a signing statement isn't enough, the whole thing needs to be vetoed.

My apologies for not making that clear.

152:

The veto isn't enough either, he is *already* doing these things, the bill is to protect his (and his cronies) ass if things shift back to them being intolerable by the country.

153:

"Parliamentary government vs. the US version...."

Canada might give clues to what the US with a parliamentary government would be like. It's culturally similar to the US, and there's been a fair amount of population movement back and forth.

154:
As to piracy of costed items compared to free items, I think a lot of that comes down to marketing. When somebody goes looking for free stuff, the better marketed product is probably already known to them, the (legally) free one isn't.

Indeed, but you forget the other aspect, the for-profit pirates ride on the back of said high budget marketing in order to obtain traffic and ad impressions.

What's going to bring in more traffic and impressions, a page offering Shrek, or Sintel? A page offering Photoshop or Gimp? Decisions, decisions.

155:

The problem is not that capital can move so much more easily than labor. The problem is what it can do when it gets there: evade environmental and labor regulations. Letting UK or US workers move to Guangdong wouldn't fix anything. Global standards to protect workers everywhere (rather than undermine any power other than capital) would.

156:

America is stuck. It can't move. Freeman Dyson says that is a very dangerous thing because people will do anything to be un-stuck. He used England as a example.
I knew we were in trouble when I read that Ronnie Raygun's Ad Agency handled Coke. And Jimmy Carter's did Gensu knifes. They were the only ones who would work for what the Democrats could pay. After that labor and working people were dumped by the Dems and they started really sucking up to the new, not the old, rich. Now its just the rich. But the GOP and the Dems are still not the same. One stinks and the other reeks. The fact is Obama can't get the votes to even put bills up to be voted on. Too many Dems go with the R/W. This goes back to the 60's when anti-war Dems took power from the party bosses.
We had a golden age after the WW-2 and the Nam vets come home to make things right. As in the rest of our history the power of money took power back.
The devolving of power down really means that instead of going to war with one guerilla of a Federal Government to get what you want, you can buy fifty chimps, one at a time cheaper.
It was known back in the 1800's that America was in danger of being a oligarchy. My favorite robber baron, Carnage wanted as much of a total estate tax as possible to hold back the compounding of inherited money and power. Then as now today's GOP wants to do away with any estate taxes.
Canada has fewer people in it that California. I don't think they can work the same as the USA.

157:
The US has moved farther and faster than the rest of the developed world, but everyone is moving in that direction. Right now, southern/peripheral Europe in particular. The Long Depression is not going to be just in America, given the current direction of the Eurozone. So if the entire first world is moving in the same direction, something other than American historical/cultural forces must be at work.

Well, you might ask yourself if the situation as it presents today was predicted by anyone thirty-odd years ago, and if so, on what did they base their predictions.

And the answer to the first part of the question is "Yes". In fact, many people were saying back then that if these laws are enacted, these treaties signed, these policies implemented, etc., then this would be the probable outcome: the world as it is today.

So you've got to ask yourself why those particular decisions made that seem to have landed us in such a pickle. I don't think you have to go with anything so baroque as a coordinated international conspiracy ;-)

158:

Dirk @ 144
Section 1031 is SURELY "Unconstitutional" ??
I assume someone will bring a test-case IF it is signed into supposed "law" ??

Requia @ 148
Thanks - much clearer now (unfortunately)

159:
Perhaps. But if increased international trade is the driver, why the descent into oppression rather than something analogous to unionization and solidarity in the US in the 1930s?

Are you suggesting that the people responsible for those trade policies actually care if that sort of thing happens?[1] Or that the guys objecting to the new trade treaties on the strength of this outcome being a likely one didn't plead with negotiators to at least put in some clauses to protect the workers should this outcome - unlikely as the negotiators deemed it - ever come to pass? Because I distinctly recall this to be the case. Admittedly, my recollections could be wrong :-)


[1]Or that in fact the whole point of those treaties was to break the power of labor (such as it was) to extract concessions from capital? Maybe that sort of cat-stroking evilosity is a little bit too cartoonish for you, but back in the day when all this was going down, there were many people - some of them quite respectable (for various values of respectable) - making just these sorts of accusations.

160:

The veto doesn't stop extrajudicial killings and detention, but it does stop it from being codified into law and made legal.

And tell me, how, besides cynicism, were people supposed to know that President Obama was going to escalate the War on Terror the way he has, and that he lied about closing the secret prisons.

The way that the vote went, that shows there is no recourse through the current legislature. It's unlikely that the Supreme Court would overturn it, I suspect that any attempt for the ACLU to bring it to trial would be thrown out on standing.

Besides protest, there is no peaceful option left besides hoping that President Obama listens to his conscience. (Which is admittedly a thin reed of a hope at this point.)

161:

Judging by the behaviour of Blair and the Condems, you are, within the limitations of expression given by the words used, mostly correct.
Not all of the elite wish such a thing, but enough already think that is the best outcome, or desire similar or can be persuaded, that it seems likely to me.
(And I've met a few people socially who work in the city/ own large chuncks of land/ have titles. But more towards the true conservative side than the actual moneyed power hungry international elite who seem to be in charge these days)

You can see this in the attack on work and pensions of government employees, on the continued privatisation of public services, on the bodged and expensive model of NHS reform, on the proposed destruction of the workers legislation etc etc.
Interestingly enough though they are stupid enough to do all this whilst cutting police numbers. Who do they think will enforce their new capitalist utopia and keep the underclass from rioting?

162:
Because compared to last time (i.e. the 19th century), people are more divorced from each other by the effects of mass entertainment, suburban living, propaganda . . .

I think this point about suburbia is vastly under-appreciated when it comes to the difficulties of coordinating an effective pushback at the grass-roots level. Remember that back in the days when the seminal events we read about in U.S. history classes - the Pullman strike, the coal strikes, disasters like the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, etc. - there weren't any suburbs. No cars! Or not for most people at any rate, this anywhere from the 1890's on up to maybe the early 1920's.

So it was (imho) easier for these workers to get a sense of how things were playing out in their lives, easier for them to rally and to rally more spontaneously, etc. Heck, even in my early childhood the suburbs were smaller and more close knit. The usual routine after the day was done was for the parents to hang out on the front porch (no air conditioning, right?), usually drinking beer with or playing cards with or shooting the breeze with their neighbors while their kids swarmed the neighborhood with little regard for whose lawn they were damaging. And as far as I can imperfectly recall, there was a lot more coordinated community action back then because of this sort of face-to-face interaction. I strongly suspect that it is precisely because we have better air conditioning, "better" entertainment on the tube, and a lot less in the habit of any sort of neighborly interactions like car pooling - even if the original motivation, to economize, still holds - that you see such a decline in people taking action as a community.

Yes. I know. The internet. Well, here's the thing: despite all those wondrous advances in communications technology that theoretically facilitate these sorts of interactions, the fact is, I barely know who my neighbors are, let alone talk with them for any length of time on a weekly basis. Heck, I talk with people like Dirk Bruere or heteromeles more often than I do with my neighbors directly across the street.

So while putting people out in the suburbs while making it easy for them to get along without ever knowing their neighbors might not have been part of some vast overarching conspiracy, dividing and isolating your opponent's forces is a proven and effective strategy for defeating them. And the fact is, however the situation came to be, the residents of modern suburbia are isolated in ways they never were in the past.

163:
The US has a totally chaotic plutarchy. The 1% is not cohesive enough. They have no class spirit. They all deeply hate each other or deliberately ignore each other.

I don't think you need much in the way of cohesion to explain legislation like SOPA - or to impute it's advocates with any other overriding motive other than the desire to use it as a tool to shut down popular opposition. It all comes down to levels of description, and when to switch back and forth between levels.

Yes, Big Oil hates the Tech Sector, they both hate Insurance, and so on and so forth. And yes, even if the first two make common cause on the third to promote the bottom line, say rational health care delivery, the procedural realities of our government ensure that determined opposition on the part of the minority party can thwart any but the the largest and most implacable allied power. It's that 2/3 thing ;-) No need to resort to elaborate conspiracy theories. But what this comes down to is really some sort of political vector addition. That is, even if group A is pushing for x by +10 and and group B is pushing for x by -10 (that is, opposing x to the same degree that A is pushing for it), so that there no significant movement on x, if both happen to be for y by +1/2 eventually you'll see a significant change in y . . . even though y is something of an after-thought for both groups.

As I said earlier, the electrons in your household wiring is a good analogy. At the individual level, the component of an electrons motion corresponding to electrical current is quite small in comparison to the component arising from thermal agitation. In fact, by a factor of thousands or even millions to one. But because the thermal vectors randomly point every which way, their contribution to the group behaviour of millions (actually of course, quadrillions) of electrons is effectively zero. And it is precisely that tiny bias which alone is responsible for the outcome you want - useable power.

So yeah, while the Big Boys spend most of their energy duking it out with one another, the one thing they do agree on is that at all costs the influence of the little people in their affairs must be strictly controlled and limited. And over time - say thirty years or so - that drift in policy can be quite significant.

164:

Ah, here's something interesting: I wasn't entirely sure if I was remembering events correctly after I posted, so I did a quick bit of looking to check my dates on important labor events. And from the wiki:

Coal Strike of 1919

The United Mine Workers under John L. Lewis announced a strike for November 1, 1919.[31] They had agreed to a wage agreement to run until the end of World War I and now sought to capture some of their industry's wartime gains. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer invoked the Lever Act, a wartime measure that made it a crime to interfere with the production or transportation of necessities. The law, meant to punish hoarding and profiteering, had never been used against a union.

Well whaddaya know? Another bit of tough but well-meaning legislation that just happens to used as a club to put down labor.

Do I sense a pattern?

165:

Britain has a higher level of freedom than it did thirty years ago. Since then we have had the Human Rights Act 1998 (incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law), the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (reforming police procedure to eliminate abuses). Reduction of the gay age of consent to 16, Civil Partnerships (gay marriage in all but name). &c.

166:

Hey Charlie --

Here's the guy I mentioned the other day, who comes round from the very conservative side and ends up basically agreeing with you. He's also a very accurate prognosticator because he thinks in a 500-year timeframe.

Bill Bonner of the Daily Reckoning. Example article:
http://dailyreckoning.com/the-natural-course-of-the-us-empire/

167:

Charlie, you might have expected flaming and instead you got pretty close to unanimous agreement.

One thing most folks have not really noticed is the ability of the American oligarchy to use Goebbels-like propaganda to persuade vast numbers of people to vote against their own self interest. Much of the explanation for this lies in what's been said above. Suburbanization, Bread and Circuses and failure of the commons are the most important. These have been perfectly mated with Horatio Alger mythology; don't tax rich people (or their estates) because you might be one.

Thus, the oligarchs have created a "perfect storm" of right wing success.

Nothing short of full blown depression is likely to awaken people to their true situation. Unfortunately, oligarchical control of all media may well prevent even that. Blame the immigrants/socialists/Muslims/whatever.

As for the Internet's potential for altering this? Well, the rulers are quickly destroying that with technology (Great Firewall anyone) and new laws (NDAA, SOPA and its many brethren) to turn spokespeople of the opposition into "terrorists".

Maintaining even medium and short term optimism is difficult.

168:

According to this:

http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL30016.pdf

Recall is impossible but expulsion might be undertaken. Note that it sure isn't easy.

169:

Dirk Zero State looks interesting but kind of different. More educational. As far I can see the Direct Action Network project is creating an economic & political tool for world wide protestors to enable them to take control of change rather than just protesting to governments and waiting for them to act on it, or not (not is more likely).

170:

- Agree with #1 and #2 - the setting, the state the US is currently in.
- Agree with #3 first part, but disagree about another long depression. Stagnation perhaps (been in one for a decade+ already). Agree that US economic power will erode some more, but with continental Europe in the mess it's in and China fixing to crash (IMO), the leadership loss is still decades away yet.
- #4...Poor people will likely never starve here (for the short-medium term anyhow). Food stamps and other subsidies/transfers here are actually quite generous-if you've got kids. All this will remain *because* the rich are ALREADY scared!
Check out: http://thelastpsychiatrist.com/2010/11/the_terrible_awful_truth_about_1.html
Remaining points... we shall see...anything could happen...

171:

1)"The Tea Party movement is mostly suburban/rural that keeps looking the large urban areas in horror-they're seeing unpunished fraud (welfare, political, etc) that they are being asked to pay for due to taxes on their business and personal lives."

I'm sure they probably do believe that. Of course, tax money flows from urban areas to rural ones, so reality unfortunately doesn't meet their paranoia.

"They're having to work until 65 to claim benefits, 401K (that might lose value in the meantime), and a piss-poor salary while unionized state and federal employees can (theoretically) work until they hit 55 and they get a pension that can cover about 80%+ of their working salary. Which they wouldn't mind for police, fire, and EMT people-but not for somebody that works the local DMV window."

So, they're bitter that some people are doing well? Helpful.


2)"The morass of welfare poor, many of whom are muti-generational, many of whom will not look for or actually work short of forced labor or actual starvation."

Ah welfare queens. Of course. This is a major problem, naturally: I mean look at all the countries that have much generous welfare programs and how they all have much higher unemployment than the US.

Good luck with that.

4)"The "Occupy" movement in the US-at least-seems to be more college-age white children of privilege that are "slumming it" to prove that they are not their wicked parents"

As opposed the noble goals of the Tea Party: paying less taxes while preserving the government progras directing them.

5)"The American rich/upper classes are odd in a lot of ways. Quite a few of them are more apolitical than anything-they really don't give a load of dingo's kidneys about who's in charge as long as they can make money with a minimum of stress. If they have a political relationship, it tends to be more personal (i.e. to a particular politician/friend) than ideological."

Um, that IS a political position, the ultimate effect of which is the notion that if the gubment would get out of the way of business, everything would be terrific.


8)"A deliberately overheated real estate/mortgage market via Federal aid"

If this comforting explanation were actually responsible for the financial crisis. It isn't.

172:

Early next year Zero State will be launching a pan-European political party. The paperwork in the UK (first nation on the list) is in the process of completion right now.

173:

If China crashes it will be because the EU and USA have crashed first

174:

Interestingly enough though they are stupid enough to do all this whilst cutting police numbers. Who do they think will enforce their new capitalist utopia and keep the underclass from rioting?

This is why I say "spoiled." There is no planning here. There is simply the expectation that we will obey.

175:

Y'know, the elephant in the room is the military. Off the cuff, I can't think of a revolution that succeeded without either the country's military switching sides (or standing aside) to the revolutionaries or losing to a military or militia the revolutionaries had (possibly with outside assistance).

Basically, if the Occupy movement actually tries to go the "aux armes, citoyens!" route, they wind up dead and probably vilified. The US military tends to be modestly conservative, and _very_ into order.

176:
Section 1031 is SURELY "Unconstitutional" ??

Well, I think so, but I"m not sure that the current Supreme Court would agree with me. I'm certain that at least 4 of them wouldn't, and it only needs one more to surprise me.

177:

The military is not monolithic, and in fact it's less monolithic than it has been in some time, because large parts of the Air Force (the Academy, NORAD, and much of the continental air defense system) have been captured by militant evangelical Christian sects, while the Army remains somewhat independent from politics, and the Navy seems to be politically conservative, but religiously and socially moderate. There's also a greater generational gap between junior and senior officers (and between the field grade officers and the general staff) than in the last few generations. The result could be a balance of forces that keeps the military on the sidelines in a revolution that doesn't immediately attack DC or any military targets.

178:

Charlie, you're right: you just don't understand American politics.

Incidentally, the US government (the federal lands aside) doesn't -have- any substantial assets to be privatized. This isn't Europe. Even the railways and the telephone/telegraph system were never government-owned.

Like any capitalist democracy, the US has -always- been run by various factions of rich people.

This is true virtually by definition, because power and money are like magnets and iron filings. One gets you the other.

Does anyone really think that FDR and his cronies -weren't- a faction of rich people?

Furthermore, and this time unlike most European countries, the US does not have and never had a Socialist or Labor party of any significant size.

This is because there has never been any substantial dissent on -fundamental- economic issues, questions of system, since slavery was abolished.

As opposed to often quite bitter disputes over how to -manage- the system.

There is an astonishingly broad degree of consensus on basics in American politics among everyone who really matters, combined with a good deal of the "fetishism of small differences".

Eg., check how much actual, as opposed to rhetorical, difference there has been between the foreign policy of the current Administration and its predecessor. The Secretary of Defense was a Republican holdover for -years-. The current heads of Defense and the CIA could just as easily have been appointed by Bush, or could just as easily be appointed by Romney in the future.

On domestic policy, somewhat more in the way of differences, but not all that much.

People who think that Democrats are, or ever were, socialists of even the mildest sort or even Social Democrats are either crazed, or have very weird standards of judgment, or both. The left-most wing of the Democratic party are rather mild Social Democrats, and that's as far left as mainstream American politics gets.

Or to put it in UK terms, Obama is substantially to the right of Cameron and he is as far left as it's possible to imagine anyone being and still being electable in the United States.

There has never been a revolutionary situation in the US, not since 1860/61, at least. 1932 was the closest approach and it wasn't close at all.

Americans are a profoundly conservative people; extremely nationalistic, deeply religious, and with the assumptions behind capitalism built into their bones.

For example, when polled, 20-30% of Americans always think they're in the top 1% of the income pyramid. Usually 40-50% think they will be at some point in their lives. The current financial crisis has made government -less- popular vs. a vs. business. And I could go on and on.

Things will just jog along, with the usual ups and downs but no fundamental change, for the forseeable future.

Sorry to be undramatic.

Now, if you want to see a country with every indication of a prerevolutionary crisis setting in, try China.

179:

I don't know if it was your intent, but it sounds like you've described the US military as running a spectrum from moderate to right-wing.

180:

See flamethrower - raise firehose.

The relatively absolute check and balance on all this is that the democracy of the US - while subvertable via populism and various oligarchical means - is rather systemically stable.

People who lose elections are out of power, rather consistently and effectively.

People who - be they malfeasant, corrupt or merely despite being good people and wise and just rulers lose public support - lose elections, and thus power.

The Tea Party and the Occupy movements indicate that grassroots dissent still does thrive here, and that if it reaches certain levels will break out with widespread publicity. Even the heavyhanded crackdowns on the Occupy movement aren't shifting that it represents a fair number of people's frustrations and aspirations.

The two movements there are asymmetrically politicized (political system engagement) so far, but I expect that to shift over the upcoming year.

I don't personally like or advocate relatively mindless populism, but it serves a rather important purpose in the overall checks-and-balances scheme we have here. There are numerous countries where it takes a lot more than 50% plus one of the vote for effective change to happen. The economic and sociopolitical problems with the US would be far more dangerous in one of those countries.

The Arab Spring has shown what the results are of not having a functional escape valve within the system. Eventually someone says "enough" with a rifle, then an army and rocket launchers, and eventually someone's retirement to Switzerland is interrupted with a pistol on the way to the seaport.

Our election system and checks and balances seem to robustly work. The rifles, army and rocket launchers, and eventual pistol are much less likely as a result.

181:

Several folk have mentioned the power of the Horatio Alger mythos on American politics- that the poor don't care to tax the rich lest they join them- and that's a powerful force to be sure. I've spent many months in a state of political indigestion over studies suggesting that a far creepier force might dominate- last place aversion. It turns out that the sector most likely to be opposed to any sort of social spending aren't actually the wealthy- they are the denizens in the bracket just barely above that which will receive the spending, perhaps because of pure semantic fear that they are now in the last bracket, or the sense that their degree of personal comfort was earned and raising others to their level violates essential principles of fairness. In any case, it maps to some interesting realities of American politics, like that the urban poor vote Democrat and the slightly better off rural poor vote Republican.

The more you consider this particular wrinkle, the more it makes your skin crawl- apparently, there exists a cohort of the poor who would oppose sensible taxes on the rich in order to maintain a permanent lower-than-low underclass. Little do they notice the ratchet runs the other direction, too...

182:

One question that stands out is:
America is a land of immigrants, what would it take for Americans to emigrate?
What is keeping you there?
Where would you move to?

183:

Charlie's original comment #1 "recurrent failure mode" - yes, but there was another period where the run was towards an oligarchy for well over 30 years ... brought to an end by the election of Theodore Rossevelt.
I agree that Obama has not handled it well, and the brainwashed mode of the country against their own self-interest is strong, but... I wonder.
Whover wins in 2016, and the then-current mood of the USSA is what will matter, I suspect.
Any thoughts?

S. M. Stirling @ 178
This is because there has never been any substantial dissent on -fundamental- economic issues, questions of system, since slavery was abolished.
Really?
T. Roosevelt and anti-trust?
FDR & New Deal - and the attempted coup that failed?
I note you mention 1932, but I thought the failed coup was slightly later.
Come to that "Civil Rights" (?)
"deeply religious" - not any more - the atheists are gaining (slowly).
For example, when polled, 20-30% of Americans always think they're in the top 1% of the income pyramid. Usually 40-50% think they will be at some point in their lives.
You what? That is so insane I find it hard to believe - are they deilberately deluding themselves, or what?

Not buying it.

Diito G W H @ 189
"Checks & Balances"
What checks and balances when you [ the state] are about (maybe) to have a law permitting unlimited, uncharged incarceration of your own citizens without trial?
That is the DEFINITION of a tyrrany.
Unless you are, as described above, deluding your self.
Your final sentence shows this delusion.
Because, if the protestors can all be jailed indefinitely without trial .....
Well?

184:

My guess that doesn't happen much for this reason- if you would be better off in another country, you can't afford to move and you don't have the skills for them to let you in as a citizen.
If you can afford to pick up and move overseas, the US is probably too comfortable for it to be worth the effort.

The US is a really nice country to be comfortably well off in- there's lots of space to live, you can pick your climate (political, social and weather), taxes and costs are generally comparatively low...and as for healthcare, you can buy a plan that'll give you service comparable to national healthcare systems (I think the BMJ had an article back in 2002 comparing the NHS to Kaiser Permanente of California...Kaiser had a trifle lower cost, but patient outcomes were similar).

Now, if you're in the lower half of the population income-wise, you're generally screwed. But Canada probably won't take you, and Mexico is _not_ an improvement...and anywhere else requires some very involved relocation by ship or plane.

185:

The Forgotten Treason: The Plot to Overthrow FDR
by Emily Lacy Marshall
"A Marine General by the name of Smedley D. Butler had been approached by a group of corporate leaders to lead a “treasonous plan” against President Franklin D. Roosevelt." A secret Congressional committee ending in WW-2 found that there was some truth to Butler’s allegations, "that J.P. Morgan, the DuPont family, and the Goodyear Tire Company may have been involved." All the named people left the USA so much could not be proved.
Butler had trouble getting anyone to pay attention but it came out in 1934. There are other accounts but I think this is the best and truest history.
NOT BY ME! "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism …by Naomi Klein
"In this groundbreaking alternative history of the most dominant ideology of our time, Milton Friedman's free-market economic revolution, Naomi Klein challenges the popular myth of this movement's peaceful global victory. From Chile in 1973 to Iraq today, Klein shows how Friedman and his followers have repeatedly harnessed terrible shocks and violence to implement their radical policies. As John Gray wrote in The Guardian, "There are very few books that really help us understand the present. The Shock Doctrine is one of those books."

186:

I'm pretty sure the reason you don't see hordes of angry right-wingers posting here has nothing to do with whether or not they agree with this post and everything to do with the fact that Mr. Stross simply doesn't allow them to post. You may not realize this, but there is fairly heavy moderation at work here which tends to discourage dissenting voices from posting. Unfortunately, this tends to create an echo chamber environment rather than a place for truly challenging and interesting discussions.

187:

Hello again, Mr Sock-Puppet, and please remember to take your meds before posting this time or you will be moderated!

188:

(Note for non-regulars: we have a persistent ... odd ... personality who drops in every few weeks and gradually goes nonlinear in tiresomely predictable ways, ending with a torrent of abuse that triggers moderation. I'm pretty sure it's the same guy, using various random handles. I suspect a bipolar cycle is at work.)

189:

Also a note: these days, more than half the comments posted are pure and simple spam. The reason readers don't see it very often is that the automated filters catch it. These filters are getting pretty good, but they do seem to have noticed that one thing: something like 90% of all spam is coming from 'Anonymous', and pretty much no ham. So posting as 'Anonymous' is almost designed to get caught by the filters.

Get stuck in the spam trap as 'Anonymous', and there's a pretty good chance none of the moderators will notice. So, by all means be anonymous, but come up with some name. Even without the filters, few things are more confusing than multiple posters under the same screen name: at worst, it looks like multiple personality disorder.

190:

A lot has been made of how the rise of smartphones and the internet and the freedom to choose your own news sources (and not be forced into seeing a very small set of viewpoints) are going to be great drivers for revolution (whether peaceful and democratic or not) a la the Arab Spring.

I think that quite the opposite is true in Western democracies.

I think it's a given the most people in the West (particularly the UK and US) are not inherently political -- observational evidence suggests that the average man in the street (as much as any such creature exists) does not spend a significant portion of his time thinking deeply about politics. I don't have much fear of contradiction either when I say that most people don't like to have their assumptions and their worldview challenged (I see less evidence of this in regular posters here, but almost everywhere else on line and off, it is true).

The upshot of these two facts (for a given value of "fact") coupled with the present choice of information sources, suggests that people will choose news sources that reinforce their worldview and assumptions, that will make them feel comfortable and cosy in their current life -- people prefer to be made to feel good about a bad situation rather that put in the effort to actually go and change it (again, just observational evidence here).

Take the Occupy and Tea Party movements as an example. How many people looked for real information on what these movements represented or wanted? How many fewer actually went to speak with them? How many fewer went and joined? How many more (by orders of magnitude, I suspect) were happy to find a source that supported their assumptions about these movements, and left it at that -- taking the sources they liked and were comfortable with as the whole of the truth?

Caveat: All this is opinion. I haven't gone door-to-door with a questionnaire, most of it is just based on observing peoples' behaviour, on line and off line. In particular, I have lost count of the number of times that I have read and heard lazy characterizations and generalities passed off as the absolute be-all-and-end-all truth about the core message/principles of either the Occupy or Tea Party movements; similarly about Democrats and Republicans; conservatives and liberals; and so on.

Perhaps I'm just too damn cynical, I do hope so ...

191:

We do not forgive
we do not forget
expect us...

...in your spam trap

I blame 4chan for making being a cypher in a faceless mob cool.

Might want to make that explicit in the posting template or the moderation policy at least.

192:

Dave the Proc
Au contraire.
For the fist time EVER I expect to "spoil my paper"/"none of the above" @ the next General Election.
There has always been a just-about-least-worst candidate ... not any more.
And I've been voting for over 35 years, and I don't think I've missed any election, at any level yet.

That is how bad it is getting.

193:

Possibly off-topic
A VERY interesting comment form a conservative and usually fairly right-wing paper, the Torygraph:
Mr Draghi's commitment to Hooverite monetary policy ("liquidate labour, liquidate stocks, liquidate farmers, liquidate real estate… it will purge the rottenness out of the system" said Hoover's Treasury Secretary) reminds me of those Jehovah's witnesses who refuse blood transfusions before dying. It puts principle ahead of all practicality.

If a paper with their opinions is saying this sort of thing, it does make one wonder - doesn't it?

194:

I agree.
Neither file-sharing nor patents/copyrights are the answer by themselves. File sharing turns knowledge loose but doesn't compensate knowledge producers and undermines production. Patents/copyrights compensate producers but cripple knowledge and in that way also undermine production.
We need something that does both. The transition will be as deep as the Neolithic revolution, I think.

195:

I agree, Greg, that it is getting bad, don't get me wrong about that; and the very fact that you're here and responding to my thoughts shows that you don't fall into the masses that I'm rambling on about.

But I still think that the masses (not the best word, but best I can think of right now) would prefer to self-anaesthetize with the glut of skewed-information and non-information that modern media provides, and modern media delivery platforms gives such easy access to.

How representitive is the cross section of posters here (particularly regular posters like yourself) who are willing to really think these issues through? How many more are happily swapping inanities on Facebook and Twitter, or parroting whatever media outlet reflects their assumptions, and will continue to do so until it's too late to do anything else?

Again, total cynicism, but I really can't help it!

196:

Interesting article, thanks for posting the link.

My understanding is that U.S. government funded medicaid/medicare is supposed to help the poor/lower class while user-funded HMOs (and similar orgs) are supposed to help the middle class access healthcare. Data are available regarding government medicaid/medicare, but I'm unaware of any data regarding the actual costs versus services rendered for HMO-type programs. Has anyone outside the HMO/medical insurance industry actually analyzed the cost/benefit of such programs? As an outsider relying entirely on U.S. media coverage on this topic, my perception is that HMOs are money sinks for insurance companies and in fact primarily serve to block access to healthcare while draining moneys out of middle class Americans thus further eroding their health and savings.

197:

I'm just waiting for the attack on Iran and oil to hit $300 a barrel.

198:

"How representitive is the cross section of posters here (particularly regular posters like yourself) who are willing to really think these issues through? "

Sometimes I feel that the real 1% vs 99% is those willing to think things through (1%) versus those who go along to get along, that there is a kind of osmotic pressure toward mediocrity and unoriginal thought and action. I seem pretty arrogant to myself when I feel this way, but that doesn't mean it is completely incorrect.

199:

I almost included that analogy myself!

As they say: Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they're not out to get you!

200:

Tally ho back to the 18th century, with no police force and the use of troops and local militia to keep order! BUt everything will be fine because the masses know their place and parish charity will deal with any poverty.

201:

You must be referring to the Paramount version of "Metropolis", which (oh the irony) was recut and adapted for U.S. audiences.

In the original German version, the "John Masterman" character's intention was to consolidate his power over the workers, by having the robot stand in for the girl Maria (taking out the middle-man, so to speak).

The robot inventor's intention, however, was to sow strife both among the workers and the upper crust, leading to Metropolis' downfall. The guy had an axe to grind with the "John Masterman" character, whom he blamed for the death of the woman he used to love.

Maybe there's an easily digestable moral to all of this...

202:

The way to fight a giant is to blind it.

203:

I've read the reason for U.S. government funded health care was the huge number of drafted in WW-1and WW-2 who were not healthy enough to serve. Mostly it was small things that could have been cured easily when they were younger. I've read the US Army was was just used up by the last of the war in Europe. Mostly thanks to the Battle of the Bulge and the General who was put in charge. Otherwise it would have never been any of the governments business, they would have said.

204:

Damn, I knew I was approaching Skyrim wrong. I was skulking in a cave entrance and skewering them with arrows.

205:

Nope, it was the British who were running out of men by that stage, not the Americans.
Also the healthcare because of poor quality army recruits thing was a political issue in Britain after the Boer war, or was it WW1? Anyway, an example of conservative imperialist thinking.

206:

I apologize if anything I have to say has already been broached in the 204 replies; I haven't read all of them.

Regarding the defense bill: I just read an article at Mother Jones saying that, while it's certainly an ugly expansion of executive power, it doesn't quite offer the President the power to detain citizens without trial, it leaves that question up to the courts. And while I've certainly got my issues with the courts, they've generally proven to be a pretty good check against the greatest excesses of the other two branches.

Regarding SOPA: I'm outraged by it but in the end I don't think it's going to have any more effect than any of the other overbearing copyright laws the US has passed in the past couple of decades. Technology moves faster than Congress or the courts; SOPA will simply lead to a much greater reliance on foreign DNS servers and a tendency to bookmark sites by IP instead of domain. It WILL burn whichever people are unlucky enough to actually get prosecuted under it, and quite possibly ruin their lives -- and I don't mean to trivialize that this is a terrible thing and totally unacceptable. But in terms of actually having any kind of lasting censorship effect on the Internet, I don't buy it for a second.

On a complete tangent regarding your point on militarizing the police, have we reached a point yet where the name "Joe Arpaio" has any meaning outside of America? He's finally getting some national media attention as a corrupt racist (instead of his usual lovable "makes inmates wear pink underwear" image), but I was wondering if his past scandal-a-day week had actually managed to attract worldwide attention.

On a related topic: private prisons are another growing concern in my state and country. That nasty anti-immigrant bill we passed last year was primarily pushed by our private prisons. This could probably have some overlap with your earlier post about private security for the 0.1%.

207:

"... it doesn't quite offer the President the power to detain citizens without trial, it leaves that question up to the courts."

So something that was originally totally unconstitutional is now on the table and can be implemented. Non trivial.

208:

Considering that the legal apparatus seems to be in order for the emergence of a Police State (from Patriot Act to the most recent aberration that's the National Defense Act...), and that the rampant militarism has always been a part of the USA, how much worse has the current economic downturn get before the USA succumbs to fascism?

And, once it does, how fucked is the rest of the world?

209:

But it's always been true that there are far more people who don't spend any time or thought on politics because they're too busy getting through the day than people who do think about it routinely. Even in Egypt during the demonstrations in Tahrir Square most people stayed home. That's always been a problem for activists in any time or place: getting some minimum number of people to become politically active. That motivates one of the strategies of any oligarchy: keep the people busy, make it as hard as possible just to get through the day, and they won't have time to agitate. Make dissent painful by denying dissenters employment and a place from which to speak, and use police and military force as the ultimate deterrent to dissent.

The problem for the oligarchs is that human reactions aren't linear: at some point when you put people's backs to the wall in their daily lives the perceived cost of continuing to obey becomes higher than the cost of dissent for some people. That's when revolutions start.

210:

I'm not at all sure that the US military is going to be capable in the future of the kind of adventurism of the last decade. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have seriously damaged the readiness of our ground troops, and practically destroyed our National Guard (which is the service that would be called to put down internal civil unrest). And a very large proportion of the defense budget has been sunk into expensive weapons systems like the F-22 and F-35, which are not only beside the point for the kind of "counter-insurgency" warfare we'd be fighting, but are not even really combat-ready at the moment.

The only capability of the military that will strongly enable fighting imperialist wars is the increasing number of armed drones in use. That's already allowed the CIA to become a de facto arm of the active military, which is far outside its original purview. But I don't think that drones alone can complete the kinds of missions that the military will want to perform: they can blow up a lot of cars and houses and kill a lot of civilians, but despite the CIA's propaganda the ability of a drone to kill the real targets is dependent on gathering good intelligence on the ground, and the US foreign intelligence apparatus is still rather bad at that.

✌ Because despite all the propaganda put out by the US government and military, we haven't even been following our own Field Manual on how to fight a counter-insurgency, not even when that was in fact the kind of conflict we were in (as in Iraq for part of the 7 years we were there, and not in Afghanistan most of the time).

✈ The entire F-22 fleet was grounded for 4 months this year, because more than a dozen pilots suffered from anoxia. Since returning to service in November, 2 more pilots have had "incidents" with their life support. The F-35 fleet (as yet only 20 aircraft because of delays and cost-overruns of more 300%) has been grounded twice now, once for software problems and once for the failure of a valve that broke the generator that's used to start the plane's engine.

211:

Just some food for thought... what if the economy *is* a zero-sum game, and the oligarchs know it?

There's a certain amount of energy that comes into our planet daily from the sun. That energy is converted (inefficiently) up through the food chain and ends with human effort doing all kinds of things which we invest in.

This has a couple of interesting corollaries:

1: There is a hard upper limit (about 5%, the last time I heard of any real numbers being done on this) of return you can expect on any investment. Anything in excess of that limit comes by screwing somebody you'll probably never meet, such as the workers in the Chinese factory that made your new smartphone, and provided the shareholders for that smartphone company with a return on investment.

2: We have been pretending for a very long time that point #1 isn't true, and at some point in the not-too-distant future (30 years or so), we will *all* pay the piper. The planet is simply not capable of sustaining the current quest for never-ending exponential growth. Large numbers of people are going to die, as we have seen, as climate change takes hold, and we see more hurricanes, droughts, famines, etc, and as food and clean water becomes even harder to come by.

I don't think the oligarchs are clear on either of these two points, and of those who see these changes coming, I don't think they have any plan better than "I'll buy my way out of being killed in the next drought/famine/revolution."

I don't think that plan will leave them any better off than the rest of us, but I'd suggest to every human being in their 30's or younger now that we all need to start learning to practice small scale gardening and local production of goods.

Regardless of what political changes occur, we will need those two things to be in great supply in 10-15 years.

212:

I do not think your analysis is true.
As long as we can generate cheap energy we can continue onwards and upwards

http://transhumanpraxis.wordpress.com/2011/11/28/limits-to-growth/

213:

You'll certainly get no argument from me.

Here's the statement at the end of the MJ piece I linked: "In case it's not clear, I still think the president should veto the bill. What it does is bad enough. It just doesn't do what a lot of people are saying it does."

It's bad news, but it could be worse -- which is probably about the best thing I can say about absolutely anything that comes out of this Congress.

214:

Like what the heck? I am seeing amazing little flaming and hysterical US nationalist denouncements here. Imagine this post 3 years ago, Charlie would have had a national ban on his amazing books organized by the other antipope, Bill O Reilly hisself.

Instead I see predominantly discussion on collapse, state repression, corporate/oligarchic control and the US being in varying degrees going to hell and beyond.

Times are a changin? Consensus among the Cogniscienti?

I wonder what the Githyanki would think of this.

215:

I agree that you can indeed only push people so far, I'd be foolish to disagree as history is so replete with examples, but the big question is: How far is too far? Particularly in the case of Western democracies. What do most people (focusing in on US and UK here) consider the necessities of life? What can be taken away and be left with that will stay short of fomenting revolution? I think it's a long long way to go before there is anything like broad enough support for revolution, even of a relatively peaceful kind, in the US or UK.

Of course, I could be utterly wrong here. We are into history incognito in a way (pardon the mangled Latin).

216:

Sort of agree with you.

Physical goods including energy and resources have been overtaken by financial instruments as the largest and most important component of post-production economies. The G8 are in the marketing economic life cycle stage and while they still need physical goods/resources, most of their wealth is in financial instruments even though most economic models still focus on production stage economies. Unlike physical goods or services, there is no upper limit on the rate of growth or the size of intangible goods (financial instruments), nor are there any market brakes (comprehensive government restrictions/policies) controlling it.

Just look at the total value of traded stocks (associated with probably less than half of total worldwide goods and services production and is only one component of all financial instruments) which is orders of magnitude LARGER than total global GDP.

Financial instruments are no longer merely measures of an economy, they're a key contributing component of the economy. They have their own life. (By financial instruments I mean any type of monetizable trade terms, not just paper stocks, bonds, etc. associated with a specific product/service/organization). This is a substantive change in function and seems to be ignored in most economic policy models put forward by Western economies, until now (maybe). We're actually in the midst of hyperinflation but don't see it because we've gotten used to thinking of "financial instruments" purely as a production performance measurement device and not as a commodity in its own right.

217:

This puts me in mind of the changes in the patterns of TV programmes in the UK.

When I was a young man, the main news bulletins were at 9pm and 10pm, and there were serious political programmes timed before the news.

The similar programming today is after a 10pm news programme, and eating into the necessary sleep time for somebody who has to get up next morning to go to work.

This is partly masked by the growth of 24-hour news channels. The general news bulletin is easy enough to find.

If you want to find news coverage with a mix of the bulletin and the analysis, here in the UK you can get Al Jazeera, in English. Yes, it has a bias, but the sneaky oriental gentlemen are piping in their propaganda while their targets are awake. This is rather a good strategy.

It doesn't challenge the Koch brothers, this is a news source backed by the rich and powerful of the Arab world, but it isn't a stupid mouthpiece for a single brand of politics. And it isn't caricature-Islamic: the women reporting on Syria or Libya or Egypt are far more likely to be wearing bulletproof jackets than any veil.

It is more like the BBC was than the BBC is.

218:

I hear all the cool Skyrim kids are putting buckets on people's heads. I don't know if there's a bucket big enough for a giant as I haven't played the game yet. I used to have a computer with a good enough graphics card, until it took an arrow in the knee.

219:

The other issue is that global society right now has many of the characteristics of a bubble. If this bubble deflates, a lot of people lose their comfortable lives quickly, and that's a social problem. Couple that with a large and growing informal economy and flashy communications (in the flash-mob sense), and things could become very interesting, very quickly.

One other thing that concerns me is that honest discussion of both localism (locavores, buy local, etc) and sustainability run the risk of being hijacked by far-right fascist groups who see this as good cover for their various agendas. I'm trying to avoid Godwin's Law here, but an English permaculturalist has run into this problem, and I wouldn't be surprised if some of the skinheads and compound crazies here in the US don't jump on the local-is-good bandwagon if things go south.

220:

Boer War.

During the 3rd Boer War the army needed volunteers, but was rejecting around half of all applicants because of bad teeth. (A soldier with bad teeth is a soldier who can't eat properly; a soldier who can't eat is a soldier who can't march: a soldier who can't march is useless.) Then during WW1 a large number of volunteers -- and later, conscripts -- were rejected due to rickets. At which point, food quality suddenly turned into a pressing military issue of strategic importance.

Guess what? Rickets is again becoming an issue in the UK among young people ...

221:

Indeed. I was expecting rather less agreement; it's highly suggestive of a major attitudinal shift, isn't it?

222:

Ah but this time the ruling class doesn't care as there are plenty of people spare, and anyway modern weapons systems are more of a capital investment. Anyway we aren't going to fight anyway! Of course we don't need that non-working aircraft carrier for anything at all, and all those troops, why, we don't need them, not even 13,000 of them for security at the Olympics. No, no, of course not.

Given the security paranoia for the Olympics, it will be the ideal time for a bit of rioting and looting in the provinces or farther end of London. All the coppers, private security, american FBI agents with itchy trigger fingers, SAS etc, will be in the East end of London.

223:

Either that or a lot of places are cycling through a period of low right wing attendance due to the first crop being bored/ having something better to do. I've noticed a certain lack of more right wing posters on a number of places, from David Brin's place through to Making Light. At this stage I can't tell if it is because the atmosphere in the places is not conducive to the more intelligent nice right winger hanging around for discussion, or these people are too busy working 60 hour weeks to keep their heads above water in the current economy.

224:

All that is needed for a revolution across Europe is for the apathetic to vote - "the wrong way". Youth unemployment at 50% in Spain.

225:

I one word: Yes. I'd heard of Sherrif Joe before, but then I pay far too much attention to the US of A

226:

I've been following the Al Jazeera English website since the beginning of the Tunisian rebellion. The usual Western suspects were either not covering what was going on or were clearly mentally crippled by the "common wisdom" that no revolution could have any real effect in the Arab worlds (and that if one could, it would be a catastrophe for world peace, because it would sweep militant Islamism into power, resulting in MORE TERRORISM OMG!) Since then I've seen more objective reporting of the non-Western world in general there than anywhere else, and even quite a bit of reporting of US news that looked more accurate and unbiased than any of the US reporting. I grant that Al Jazeera has to be affected by official opinion in Kuwait, but it looks to me as if they're trying hard to avoid that in their day-to-day reporting.

228:

@148 To add some more data from a Winsconsite. There are currently petitions to recall 1) the state governer, 2) the lieutenant governer, and 3) four of our state congressfolk.

If press releases are to be believed we've almost reached the required 540k-ish signatures to trigger the recall election for #1 and #2 with about two weeks to spare.

229:

Thanks for responding in a calmer manner than I'd have managed :)

He does have a point about the government pensions however - I'm in San Diego and we got completely screwed by a tag-team of Republican mayor (Susan Golding) and the police/fire/municipal unions - most of the workers can retire on more than 100% of their salary after 35 years service, which is clearly wrong and unsustainable. A 60% cap would be a more equitable limit. Bankruptcy to restructure is pretty much inevitable.

All the fly-over states seem to think they are subsidizing the coasts, rather than the real picture, which is the other way round.

As for moving on, Australia is definitely intriguing - we're going to apply, we have the points to emigrate. Apart from the casual racism which is hideously grating, it seems to be a nice place to live.

230:

To be fair, I've stopped hanging out on the Libertarian/Right Wing blogs which I used to read (mostly because they had a related space news interest)... I was thinking about this the other day. For me, it's partly I'm too busy to waste time with them, and mostly because I'm completely tired of reading "facts" which are patently wrong.

I've been wondering if there's an inverse effect going on, where the right are getting tired of saying the same things over and over again and getting the same lines thrown in their faces.

i.e. Fannie and Freddie caused the financial crisis being thrown out there, and, er... they broke the British and Irish housing markets too? And how come there's another $600TR in unfunded bond liabilities too? etc...

I like Paul Krugman's current line on inflation and where is it - his Wingnut quota is way down on just a few months ago...

231:

All the fly-over states seem to think they are subsidizing the coasts, rather than the real picture, which is the other way round.

This was a subject of a conversation at lunch. We were remarking that this also can affect certain states. King County subsidizes pretty much most of Washington State with all the horrid, tax paying, liberals who live there and stop the rest of the state getting what they want.

Of course, those tax paying liberals also basically fund the entire state and would be much better if WA State was just King County.

232:

"it was the British who were running out of men" Well I was not there. But ones who were, said wounded who would have been sent back to England and America were patched up and told to walk back to the front. I think we were drafting 17 year olds, giving them a few weeks of training and dumping them at to the front to sop up lead. I'd say we were both used up. But it was the way the Battle of the Bulge was run that really hurt us. Patton would have done it better. I once read the reason Stalin kept so much land at the end was we were glad that was all he wanted. We could not have stopped him if he wanted more.
ALL OVER AMERICA BLUE PLACES ON THE MAP FUND THE RED PLACES. But they will never believe it. That's not what Rush says.

233:

"Indeed. I was expecting rather less agreement; it's highly suggestive of a major attitudinal shift, isn't it?"

I dunno Charlie. I reckon they just aren't looking here. I think the people with the exepected attitude are still around - I offer the current microcosm of nerd-rage regarding a re-print of a boardgame called Fortress America ... in the revised back-story, the US was turned into the villain. For all of a few hours, until it was shouted down. Look it up. The whole thing is less than 48 hours old.

234:

Here is an account of the US Army's manpower problem in WW2. To some extent, the British Army was much more aware of potential problems. The British WW1 casualties amounted to 2.19% of the population, compared to 0.13% for the USA.

235:

Yes, that article is about right, from what I know of the history. As an American Jew, I was raised to believe all the propaganda he mentions, but I started smelling a rat after Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated for daring to try to make peace with the Palestinians, and the behavior of the IDF and the Israeli settlers in Palestinian lands afterwards convinced me that US and Israeli policy towards the Palestinians in particular and the Arab peoples in general was both morally corrupt and not in the best interests of either the US or Israeli people. They haven't done anything since to make me change that judgement, though the Western press has tried hard to make their actions look well-intentioned.

236:

We have a similar situation here, where about 1/3 of the population of Oregon resides in the Greater Portland area, much of which is blue, and the rest of the state (except for Eugene and Astoria which are not large cities ) is red. And the largest school district in the state is Multnomah County, in Portland, yet people from other parts of the state are angry that so much of our taxes go to that school district (or used to; the state is running such a deficit just now that the austerity programs being imposed are stripping the schools of just about everything).

237:

And it's the red state/blue state conflict, and the fact that the blue states are carrying the red states economically while being told how evil they are that leads me to believe that a regional breakup into red and blue successor nations is a likely medium-term outcome of the political situation as potentiated by the coming Not So Lesser Depression.

238:

It's been long believed that many right wing attack trolls are paid propagandists. If there is a reduction in wingnut activity on peripheral sites it may be due to the troll paymasters diverting their resources towards attacking other candidates standing in Republican primaries.

I expect the wingnuts--both paid and unpaid--to ooze out of their fever swamps as election day approaches, however.

239:

I'm a "Right-Winger" and I agree with everything you said! Censorship, prison-industrial complex, a shadowy elite oligarchy- these are NOT the American ideals of liberty by any means. Free speech is supposed to be the heart and soul of this country- how did America ever come to this sorry state where something as un-American as SOPA could actually become law?

240:

Interestingly, I've been accused of being a paid adversary there to lead right thinking people away from the truth with all those "facts" - they didn't realize it was actually because I had time on my hands...

241:

I'd be very very careful about ANYTHING Seamus Milne writes.
He has his own agenda.

And, of course, he very very carefully omits to mention the other main cause of death and suffering in the "Arab" nations - religious factionalism within islam.
The Sunni/Shi'a death-toll since 661 (CE reckoning) is truly scary.
Has anyone else noted, that today, the Iraqui guvmint has split, seriously, on factional lines, for instance?
For more information, a beginning may be made HERE and HERE TOO

242:

Holy cow, that was an interesting blog post. Now going to suck the rest of my morning away, reading his other posts.

243:

It may be pure paranoia, but I begin to suspect that the sole role of SOPA is to give social networks a thing to bash while the NDAA gets voted unnoticed.

244:

It is so nice to find once again that no political discussion is ever complete without mentioning the evil Zionist occupation...

245:

"Has anyone else noted, that today, the Iraqui guvmint has split, seriously, on factional lines, for instance?"

Whereas previous to the invasion...
Nice work in handing Iraq over to Iran.

246:

Thanks, that was interesting. From what I've read recently (Mostly from the British), the Americans had a tendency to be more wasteful of their troops in combat anyway, which wouldn't help. Of course being 100% green was bad as well.

Another important lesson from WW2 is that you can't just snap your fingers and expect to have 20 trained divisions and an air force, you need to plan and build for 3 years at least and it'll take another one or two before everyone knows what they are doing. Something that todays politicians could do with learning.

247:

AIUI by December 1944, the British Army had no reserves. None whatsoever -- they were all committed. That's partly why Arnhem was such a disaster: the paras landed on top of an SS panzer division that wasn't supposed to be there, and there were no ground forces available to relieve them. Also: memories of 1918 would still be vivid -- anyone at general officer rank in 1944 had probably seen action in the first world war, and the lessons of that conflict would be fresh in memory. (Not only that, but the lessons of 1914-18 as experienced by junior officers.)

In contrast, the US army build-up in late 1944 was still in progress -- the U-boats had been mostly kicked out of the North Atlantic so the convoys could run in relative safety. Which I suspect would lead to a different attitude on the part of their commanding officers on the ground.

248:

I thought the resurgence of rickets in the UK was due to medical scare stories garbled by the media: "Sunlight is a Deadly Carcinogen", and "Fat is Poison", thereby, for kids with concerned parents, cutting off the main sources of Vitamin D.

249:

The way I would phrase it, based on what I've been reading (CHurchill, Montgomery, eye witness accounts) is rather that Arnhem failed because the ground attack couldn't get there in time as well as the well known intelligence failure of not noticing the SS division. Arnhem was an operation on the sly, at the end of extremely stretched lines of supply. IIRC by that time they were still trying to open Antwerp and Brussels, so all supplies had to come from Normandy or the south of France, thus they were a bit short in men and material. Montgomery was knowingly being careful with British troops because he knew we were running out, but we hadn't specifically run out by that stage - there were men to replace losses but they weren't at the front at the time of Arnhem.
This sort of problem was exacerbated by the American strategy of general advance on all fronts, rather than sharp deep attacks on a narrow front.

Regarding Russia and the amount of land occupied by them, the allies were punctilious about taking their share as agreed before the end of the war. By the end the German high command were desparate to surrended to the USA and Britain, and generals were desperately offering to surrender in the west whilst still fighting in the east. Mind you just after or before it finished Churchill (iirc) was ordering that they stockpile German army weapons in handy locations just in case Stalin didn't keep his side of the deal. The split between the allies was exacerbated by Stalin being a megalomaniac despot, and a covert german propaganda campaign aimed at splitting the allies which was underway throughout the latter part of the war.

250:

What are you missing? The resistance to cell phone having P2P networking capability, thus bypassing the internet.

251:

People may be thinking of the media storm back in early 2010 about vitamin D, but the story is of course more complicated, this NHS article says why:
http://www.nhs.uk/news/2010/01January/Pages/Rickets-on-the-rise.aspx

The newspapers as usual took things out of context and avoided discussing the matter properly. The authors of the paper they quote had not done actual research, but were discussing possible reasons why a large part of the UKpopulation had low vitamin D levels. One of the more obvious reasons includes an icnerasing proportion of people wigh high melanin living here which means they get less vitamin D especially in winter. As well as of course people spending mor time at work and play indoors.

Unfortunately it is a little harder to find actual information on the incidence of rickets, and naturally I am not looking at known incompetents such as the newspapers.

252:

... I grant that Al Jazeera has to be affected by official opinion in Kuwait ...

They're actually based in (and owned by the government of) Qatar.

(In fact, the government of Kuwait has twice shut down Al-Jazeera offices in Kuwait, once in 2002 and more recently a year ago, for reporting on the beating of demonstrators by Kuwaiti police and then carrying an interview with an opposition politician.)

253:

By some measures, half the people in Britain are Vit D deficient.

254:

Arnhem was a gamble right from the start.
If it had paid off the war would have been considerably shortened. Just bad luck it failed.

255:

I agree that blaming everything on the West is quite cheap, especially since:

a) They were hardly the only players in town, see Russia with regards to Persia. And of course Ottomans to Arabs, Arabs to minorities, minorities to other minorities...

b) Blaming it on the victims is cheap, too, but then, there is always the question why the West became so technologically dominant.

Still, when dealing with the remnants of the Ottoman Empire et al., there is plenty of hypocrisy; for starters, compare reports on massacres by the Mahdi etc. to reports on massacres in the course of the Greek revolt...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massacres_during_the_Greek_Revolution

Then, don't get me started on Balkan nationalism ("Why is there a forward to 'Live Organ Transplants' unter "Sectarian Political and Religious Leader" in your dictionary, pops?")...

BTW, there was somebody who likened Osama bin Laden to Che Guevera, where I somewhat agree, but not to the glory of the Fish Feed...

In retrospect, the standard option when dealing with reports from the Middle Eastern is not who is right, but who is lying to you why. Err, wait, that was the standard option in history all along. Even when trying to apply somewhat uniform standards, e.g. Hague Convention, which are a mess themselves, let's just say everything humanitarian with a czar in it gets an extra token for questionable, there is the problem all sides have a somewhat interesting way of interpreting international law, err, summarising it with "it protects only us, and it punishes only the other side" is somewhat off the mark, but not much. E.g. 'How dare they shoot civilian areas and hospitals? Well, we shot some missiles from there, but well, you don't tell me international law cuts both ways, or?' and 'Of course you can't transfer your population into occupied territory, but there was no gouvernment there, so we don't occupy it. Oh, and on the question why we have our military forces there to control the populace...'[1]. But then, blaming this on this area is somewhat hypocritical, too, if you look at Greece's ideas about the Balkan and who's allowed to call themselves Macedonian etc. ...

With regards to religious violence, problem is that religious groups are quite affiliated with sociocultural, ethnic etc. diversions in most parts of the world, which are somewhat of a proxy for economic and political interests. I somewhat doubt most members of the Byzantine mobs could explain what theotokos etc. meant, the definitions Chalcedonians (Greek and the rest), Nestorians (Somewhat centered on the Eastern side, it's not nice to be a Sassanid subject when your religion has the enemy monarch at its head) and Monophysites (Copts, which roughly translates to 'Egyptian') used for their stance on the natures of Christ are somewhat interchangeable, but when you look at the Geographic distribution, well, just maybe Egyptian regional independence and identity building in the area of the luke-warm war that were the Byzantines and the Sassanids had something to do with it. Going back a hundred years in European history, and you find religious backed parties in many Western nations, e.g. the German Zentrum and the various Protestant rightist parties of the German Kaiserreich. Er, that's not to say the situation in Iraq etc. is not backward, it's just to say that the situation in quite some bits of the Enlightened(tm) World is backward, too[2].

About the idea that disbandment of the old regimes in the Arabic world is going to lead to an increase in violence, well, likely, but then, traditionally gouvernments' and militaries' role in holding back mob sentiments seems to have been something of a "let's set the house on fire so we show them they really need firemen", e.g. when using antizionistic rhetoric bordering on antisemitism etc.

In the long run...

a) We're all dead.

b) Either Islam is really able to modify the behaviour of human beings on all levels, thus showing that nurture can really trump nature, in which case I call dibbs on digging out the idea of the Atheistic, Communistic and Free Workers' and Peasants' Paradise(tm), 23rd try[3]. Or it's biochemical, social and economic forces that drive us to behave in certain ways that look like we act according to some traditional/secular religions. In which case, well, nice try, towelheads, huns, tommies, crackers etc.

[1] Oh, since both of these examples involve this little strech of coastel area (25,000 km^2) where discussions about the Arabic World (Arabic League: 13,333,296 km^2) tend to devolve to this one...

Travelling into the Holy Land is really going to spiritually awaken you. To the fact that Stephen Weinberg was right when he said that

"Religion is an insult to human dignity. Without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion."

(please substitute religion with various forms of hacking hominid behaviour for big groups.)

[2] As thelastpsychiatrist, an American blogger and not really on oh those dirty hairy hippies, said about honor killings:

"They're not associated with Muslim countries, that's what they're called when they are associated with Muslim countries. When they're associated with rich black guys, they're called OJ Simpson."

[3] Leaving aside the monstrosity that is extreme leftist cultural relativism, funny thing some of the conservative guys who argue some culture make you act in certain ways are the same that used to say communism doesn't work because it's against human nature. But then, don't get me started on our pundits...

256:

"On point #8, I think if the US government was considering censoring the 'net to suppress dissent and revolution, they wouldn't be tipping their hand by debating the methods openly. Much more effective to make things *look* open and free, while keeping censorship up your sleeve for when it's needed. And they could find adequate justification and methods for that censorship on a moment's notice, with or without SOPA."

OTOH, this provides for 'policing', against 'crime', against which only criminals or crimesymps would fight :)

Then, once the laws/procedures/policies/plans/people/software/hardware are in place, and periodically exercised to fight 'crime', the next steps are easy.

257:

"Point 1 is broadly true, but lower classes retain the ability to penetrate the oligarchy, often through massive profits stemming from a technological innovation (think Google, Apple). "

'lower classes' in the sense of 'not in the top 1%. My impression was that the stories I hear of making large fortunes usually start off above median income, and usually in the top 25% or so (as in the old saying that 'Gates didn't just drop out of college, he dropped out of Harvard').

258:

Yes, Bill Gates Jr III, from those barely scrapping by Gates of Preston, Gates and Ellis...

Although to be fair, apparently locally they were considered to be "new" money, not to be confused with the real Seattle money from the Nordstrom's, Benaroya's and Boeings...

259:

"So or an entertaining thriller novel re: a revolution - you then need to be able to take out large numbers of police and prison guards - how, poison?"

Conversion is a good mass 'neutralizer'. Surprise is another, and if the revolution starts with a swiftly-spreading mass disturbance, the police are caught by surprise and overwhelmed by chaos.

260:

Charlie Stross: "But when the police have armed drones as well as armoured personnel carriers and machine guns..."

C: "Remember, the US isn't Britain- many more of our criminals have the option of shooting back and the inclination to do so. You do have to be better armed than the people you're trying to arrest. "

Yes, shooting back at an armed drone a few kilometers away. One of several, with sensors.

As for the ground troops, I believe that in the end Americans don't have the toughness or stubbornness that Iraqis do.

261:

"Another interesting trend is the private-sector's reverse engineering of failing (or nonexistent) state systems.
-Charter schools and homeschooling to replace public schools
-Health Partnerships to replace socialized health care (http://www.co.missoula.mt.us/phc/mission.htm)
-couriers to replace the post office
-Neighborhood watch
-401(K) accounts to replace social security"

Which all have poor records.

262:

Massive DDoS, as in: "Cross the street in spite of red light, one at a time. Calling them out to your own parties in residental areas[1]. Be creative." In the long run, this will make for a criminalization of such behaviours, but on short notice...

[1] There was a time when we used to say any good party got at least 3 visits by the police; now I've grown older and start to see young people partying as offensive. Come on, they don't invite me!

263:

Barry @ 259
Get the troops to defect to "your" side ...
Glorious Revolution of 1688, Cairo (1st time) this year, Petrograd Spring 1918 ... etc.
Get foreign aid, if it looks like a real war - the USSA would never have made it 1776-82 without FRENCH assistance .....

& @ 260
Small hand-held laser will blind a drone ....

264:

Or as happened in England in August, lots of hooded youths running around breaking into shops, gathering in large groups and chasing policemen.
I note that some people have written in the enquiry that it would actually be legal to shoot someone who is about to throw a petrol bomb into a building. And that the met and others are talking about water cannon now.
It is also important to note that thanks to cutbacks, a lot of court-hours have been lost, so processing of criminals will be slowed down unless you either cut what they are charged with and start using fixed penalty fines more, or reverse the cuts or start dismantling the judicial system, more specifically the bits about due process. On the other hand, the cop blogs complain a lot about the CPS being unwilling to press charges, incompetent at paperwork and pleading which means that thugs get away without prison for crimes which anyone of any political persuasion would demand jail time for.

265:

You know cell phones have been shut down at places where there was trouble over here.
The Congressional Budget Office, the best source of data on the cost of healthcare reform, estimates that new government costs associated with reform between 2010 and 2020 will add up to about $1.2 trillion. That's the figure cited by critics of the plan. But GBO also says those costs will be offset by more than $1.3 trillion in cost savings and new revenue, which will lower the national debt by about $170 billion over that time period--not raise it. Funny, most do not know this.
Obama wanted health care to be free. The GOP would not let it go to a vote till making people pay the insurance companies money was added. Then it was voted on, and the GOP started yelling about making people pay for the GOP's insurance payments deal. I forget who it was, but one of the new R/W top dogs in congress picked up tens of thousands of dollars of depressed heath care insurance stocks. Ten days later Congress said public funding of heath care was dead. People would have to pay for heath care insurance.

266:

As for the ground troops, I believe that in the end Americans don't have the toughness or stubbornness that Iraqis do.

It is worth noting that Iraq had a mass conscription-based army, and lots of small arms to equip them ... stored in depots which were thoroughly looted at the end of the war before the occupiers even considered locking them down. And then the occupiers, who had 600,000 trained Iraqi soldiers sitting in barracks, stopped paying the soldiers to sit there and sent them home unpaid.

Want to start an insurgency? Piss off two-thirds of a million ex-soldiers (3% of the gross population -- equivalent to 10 million in the USA) in a country where policing has just broken down and there's one AK-47 per five head of population floating around (not to mention ammo and heavier stuff like those 206mm mortar rounds that gave so much grief to the occupiers).

267:

I had a friend spend 2005 in France and come back to the disorienting realization that her opinion of George Bush was no longer a minority view.

I think most people are inherently self-centered and not likely to complain (much) about their government until faced with clear, direct, unavoidable evidence that Something Is Wrong.

The turning point for Bush was the catastrophic flooding of a major American city. The turning point for business and government in general was the 2007 financial collapse.

More cynically, though, that's not the reason Bill O'Reilly isn't vocally denouncing everyone who criticizes the government.

(Me, I never expected Obama to be the great liberal savior who some people did. But I expected him to be competent.)

268:

I think a significant factor in the British riots was the behaviour of the police. They allowed themselves to become confused by their own communication gear, and there is a also a suspicion that on the first nights they held back to show what might happen if police budgets were cut too much. That's obviously not the whole story - Mark Duggan's hardly the kind of working class hero I'd follow.


re:WW2 - in my opinion British forces were already fairly well stretched at the beginning of 1944 - I believe a majority of the engineers at Anzio(*) in January 44 had been called up from protected occupations - one of my grandfathers was "recommissioned" at the end of 1943 having spent 1941-3 making bricks. The other grandfather was a farmer who was turned into a dispatch rider 1943-6. From what I've heard, half the farms in Britain had to make do with children and Land Girls, and half the horses, from about 1943.

Of course other countries had it worse - I've heard the entire last potato crop went to fuel the V-weapons. And if that isn't true it should be. (Just as I will continue to believe that by 1965 over 5% of the steel in the Soviet Union was in the form of barbed wire).

My personal opinion of Arnhem is that it's easy to have a big push, much harder to hold it without a reserve. Both sides went for that sort of stupidity fairly often. And Montgomery's reputation as a great commander is being challenged now more is known about the doings at Bletchley Park. Good, maybe but great, no. And sometimes he seems to have been a total dick.

(*)More famous people at the same battle include Denis Healey, Audie Murphy and Alan Whicker. And Roger Waters' dad saw some of it.

269:

Well confused by your own communications gear isn't quite what I have read. Certainly communication failures, because the airwaves saetup is old fashioned, run as a public privat partnership and many forces get charged per minute on air or something silly like that. Basically a clusterfuck.
On the first nights the senior officers, who we'll call managers from now on, seem to have been rather confused.

Re Montgomery, part of the issue is pushing back against what seemed necessary at the time, i.e. the morale factor apparently requiring an all conquering general. Now I'd like people not to be so childish, but it seemed important and unavoidable at the time, and if you read period accounts you'll find quite a few people were making restrained applause and relevant critiscism. But things were not helped by Montgomery being a right man, who has to be right all the time.

270:

Sorry about that last non-input, getting used to Mac Lion.

Charlie, that was a great response about pissing off 10 million vets.

I was also reading and waiting for people to discuss our heavily armed general population. It is a reality, and with the upgrading of even campus police to paramilitary level due to the homeland security crap, we have a street war in the making.

We are also lying to ourselves if we think that most of this recalcitrance in the Congress is NOT due to the fact that we have a bi-racial president. Too many people are still just as racist as they were when I was marching in the 60s.

271:

I'm not sure the senior managers on the ground were all that confused. I think they saw a potential career limiting clusterfuck in full swing and threw that up the pole to the regional commanders who tossed it over the wall to the yard, who, in turn called the Home Office who, seeing the same nightmare, called Teresa May and made it her problem.

Classic management really.

272:

My problem is with the Israeli government and its actions over the last 30 years or so. In the first place, it represents perhaps 40% of the Jewish population, as a result of some really fancy coalition politics, and doesn't represent the Arab population at all to speak of. But it's the actions of the IDF in the Palestinian lands and the government's support and cover for the illegal land grabs by Israeli settlers in land owned by Palestinians that really offends me. As far as I can see, those actions have made any sort of peaceful settlement absolutely impossible. The only "solutions" to the problem of Palestine and Israel that I think are at all probable involve the deaths of thousands or possibly even millions of people. This makes it very difficult for me to listen to people who tell me that, as a Jew, I have to support the actions of Israel.

273:

"But it was the way the Battle of the Bulge was run that really hurt us. Patton would have done it better."

In my world, Patton was heavily involved in the Battle of the Bulge.

274:

"It is worth noting that Iraq had a mass conscription-based army, and lots of small arms to equip them ... stored in depots which were thoroughly looted at the end of the war before the occupiers even considered locking them down."


Far, far worse. There was a French camera crew following a guerrilla group around. They'd go onto a military base, to the ammunition area, knock a padlock off, and stock up. Not a cover stash, but the clearly marked ammunition area on a large and known base.

They'd do so in the daylight, because it was too dangerous after dark.

This was in November, 2003, ~6 months after Saddam's statue fell. I don't think that US forces even tried to lock down such things until months after they'd already been looted.

275:

Well, on the battle of the Bulge, there was a small problem in that although they had some itnelligence, it appeared the senior american officers in the area either didn't hear about it or didn't believe it. Add that to the Germans taking great care about not leaking signals, including not using enigma, and they achieved suprise. Apparently for some reason the Americans hadn't pushed scouts out front either, which would have given them a bit more warning.

So they were taken by surprise. But on the other hand the americans in the area did put up a good fight, proving once and for all that Hitler's idea that Americans were soft useless people was wrong. There was some critiscism later that the americans didn't like retreating though, even although it would be tactically advantageous to do so.

276:

Where are most American soldiers recruited? Poor and working classes. Who are they likely to be turned against - the very same people! From before the Romans, rulers have known that you use one oppressed group to oppress another - so you use Chinese soldiers from the south to put down rebellions in the north and vice versa. To not do so can cause your army to join the very people they are trying to oppress. Could/would American soldiers actually be used in this way? I know its easy to refer to Kent State and other 60s actions - but I think it would be harder today - particularly as many military officers are also from the so-called lower classes.

I think the American 'narrative' and mythology continues to be a strong unifying element. We sophisticated Europeans (or Australians in my case) might cringe at the hand on heart, tear in eye at Old Glory (Land of the Free, Home of the Brave) and the Star Spangled Banner - but it remains very strong. It is also part of their ideology - far open plains, boundless opportunity. America was blessed with massive resources and space - which perhaps contributed to inertia which has resulted in the current problems. Its a self-reinforcing paradigm, with strong underlying mythology and ideology - which means that any change is seen as a criticism of an institution handed down/built by the Pilgrim/Founding Fathers/Signatories to the Constitution etc. Nothing short of blasphemy or communism! Which of course leads to a sort of institutional stasis which we see today.

It was this ideology which meant that collective action - like union activity - has always been harder in the US than in other equivalent Western democracies. The rampant individualism, combined with the idea of unlimited space/resources and that everyone - if they work hard enough - can become a millionaire. Unionised workers were selfish people who wanted to take food out of the mouths of their bosses families!

If you read American history - the state as it existed in the 19th century was very decentralised. Decentralised enough to allow something like the Civil War to happen - which was effectively a conflict between the old Jeffersonian American political model and the centralising trend that gave more and more power to Washington.

People always talk - perhaps with a bit of schadenfreude and jealousy - about a breakup of the US. I think it is extremely unlikely.

277:

In contrast, the US army build-up in late 1944 was still in progress -- the U-boats had been mostly kicked out of the North Atlantic so the convoys could run in relative safety. Which I suspect would lead to a different attitude on the part of their commanding officers on the ground.

As best I recall from my readings. The BotB in December 1944 exposed a problem with US forces. They were basically all used up. At least the front line fighting forces with infantry training. In the US forces only about 1 in 10 was trained to shoot a weapon. Everyone had been through basic but only 10% to 20% had training for combat. The rest were electricians, file clerks, machinists, truck drivers, etc... And in early 1945 they had to start converting them to infantry to fill the gaps. And the results were not, well, pretty. Combined with the worst winter in, what 50 years, it wasn't until the weather started to break in February/March that the allies were able to make much headway again.

My father was trained as a ball turret gunner on B24s. He got to England in the fall of 1944. By then they had removed the ball turrets in England to make room for another bomb bay. So they had 1 extra man per crew. But instead of re-training them for something else, say infantry, they just rotated with the waist gunners so between the 3 of them on each crew they only flew 2 missions out of 3. It WAS more efficient in terms of overall costs but I'm sure the ground generals would have liked to have had those guys re-trained for infantry when they arrived to no job.

278:

who needs the army for regular counter-insurgency ops? (Except the army is a lot bigger ...)

There's a very very strong acceptance in the military for the constitutional mandate for them to not operate as police in the states. Very strong.

Especially since the real end of the civil war operationally with the elections of 1876 and the conversion of all territories in the continental North America to states.

279:

It's easy to see a conpiracy when you can't get what you want. And as you said "flame bait".

Much of what you describe has come and gone on a large scale once in our history. Founding to mid 1800s. Then the civil war sort of tore it all apart and it came back together but not a strong for a while. Then starting about 1890 populism rose up and had a major influence on things, good and bad, with some major reversals starting around 1980. Now some on the right want to take us back to 1900 via the objectivist/libertarian route. And the occupy folks, many of the vocal ones, want to have the hippy movement of the 60s/70s rule government. Both are a bit nutso IMNERHO.

Some of the local occupiers, who said they were anarchists, decided they wanted better than tents so they broke into an empty, but not abandoned, warehouse and setup camp. Something like 20 or 30. So when they refused to leave police when in not knowing what to expect and dressed and armed accordingly. Now they are getting yelled at as showing (not using) too much force. Sorry but I don't get see it. And these police are from what 99% of the state would consider the 2nd most liberal town in the state.

But yes the US has a problem just now. One side says the government can spend X and tax the rich to pay for it. But the numbers only add up to X*.5. But they refuse to admit the math doesn't work. And the other side says we can cut government spending by 1/2 to 3/4 of current levels and most people would do just fine. But they are not willing to say what such cuts would really mean.

So we have two side lying to each other and their supporters. Now will the supports of one or both figure out the lies before things get violent? Charlie is postulating no. I say yes. But as much because I believe it as I really don't want to live through the result if not.

280:

Greg. Tingey writes:

Diito G W H @ 189 "Checks & Balances" What checks and balances when you [ the state] are about (maybe) to have a law permitting unlimited, uncharged incarceration of your own citizens without trial? That is the DEFINITION of a tyrrany. Unless you are, as described above, deluding your self. Your final sentence shows this delusion. Because, if the protestors can all be jailed indefinitely without trial ..... Well?

Sure, that could happen. The US Air Force could be issued orders to bomb Occupy sites with JDAM bombs and kill them all before the election, too. But nobody's going to obey that order.

A lot of what the police work with and around is "Is it legal for us to use this or that to try and find evidence on / arrest / convict this guy?". They don't throw caution to the wind and just go nail people - they work within prescribed limits to gain convictions. It's not vigilantism, it's a system they believe in.

The military are the same way. Some bad apples, sure, and some will get bamboozled, but if they're ordered to do outright wrong things they're trained to say no and intervene to stop it.

The FBI's greatest asset is its generally good reputation with the public, and they are loath to do anything that risks that. Same with most police agencies - not all, not all the time, but as a rule.

The absolute worst case interpretation of the recent law would lead to an Orwellian situation, if nobody stood up to say "enough" and put a stop to it. Sometimes one can find groups that nobody stands up in, but as a rule that doesn't go very far in a 300-million-plus person society.

The law's pretty bad on a bunch of levels. But it's not the end of the world either. I heartily support it being overturned and repealed for moral, constitutional, ethical, and practical reasons, but I doubt it will be abused to any significant degree.

281:

There was a political reason why thing were so sloppy in the Bush-2 war. The big mouthed R/W that knew everything had been maddened over the time and troops Bush-1 took to go to war. After all why pay attention to the military instead of what they knew. They just knew the lower races would run from the red, white and blue. So they used far fewer people the next time. It did not work that well. They did not have the people to control what they captured. SH had arms pooled in public places, for anyone to take. There was no one to guard or pick it up. It and things that happed later were from the R/W thinking nothing could go wrong,go wrong, go wrong. And not having the manpower to fix things when it did. Ike would send any America back to the States if he said anything bad about any Brit. Here we may be going back to what Ike stopped because few American students of the War have much use for Montgomery. Most have more respect for the General he replace in North Africa, who made the Army Montgomery used. Among other things he would wait till the Germanys had time to bring up more troops and build better defenses. He kept going for big pushes that did not work. And left Americans out in the wind.
Patton was going to pinch off the German troops at the Battle of the Bulge and use artillery and then tanks on them. Montgomery got Ike to give him command and he pushed back the German troops back inch by bloody inch. At the end the Americans were just used up. And were right back where they started.
The Arnhem drop worked fine and they built defenses instead of useless scouting. They held out far longer than now seems possible. The only road going there was one tank wide and mud kept them on it. But it was wide open. Before the last, I read a American was sent down the road to find the tanks. The book said he found them with the CO having tea. And the American lt. could not get the Brit. CO to move. If so, how many tea breaks were there going to Arnhem? The Americans and others did not retreat, they were waiting for the tanks they were told were coming till it was too late.

282:

WOW. HOW DID I DO THAT!

283:

SOPA

Haven't read everything here yet but it has been delayed in committee till next year.

And to be honest I suspect this is one that will die at the feet of the Supremes if it gets passed in anything close to its current form. It totally blows away due process and has big censorship issues and I can't imagine the left or right on the court going along with it. For very different reasons but none the less it seems most all would be against it.

Due process is a really big deal in the US. I have no idea about the UK. But I have a real problem understanding these super injunctions in the UK that stop people from talking about things. Some things are very different when we cross the big pond.

284:

Believe me, a lot of us non lawyer types find it pretty astonishing too. And the whole phenominum of Liable Tourism.

"British Justice. The best money can buy."

With attacks on legal aid (a system which reputidly needds overhalling anyway, rather than slashing.) The non wealthy are being further excluded from legal recourse, for regular stuff, like employment tribunals.

285:

"Due Process" is important here, too.
"Super" injunctions are effectively dead, as of now, because of various court cases - starting with "Trafigura" (look it up).
We have an ongoing problem with the European Arrest Warrant - it is against our basic law, as in the 1689 Bill of Rights. It's still being used, but I don't think it is going to last - sooner or later, someone will take the guvmint to court for multiple £millions for wrongful arrest & unlawful imprisonment.
I'm suprised it hasn't happened already over a well-known "Greek" case - I suspect there was a secret pay-off to avoid embarassment.

As for B L Montgomery - you do all realise he was the SECOND choice?
Gott was the preferred man, but was unluckily killed. And "Monty" had a brilliant subordinate - whom I remember from 50's TV - he was a "natural" presenter - Lt-General B Horrocks - who led the Brit tanks towards Arnhem, damn nearly made it too!.

Guvmint forces firing on people in the US: am I correct in thinking the US posters here are saying NOT the "National" Forces, it's the State guards you have to watch?
However, given the comments here & elsewhere about the ultra-Right indoctrination of (parts of?) the USAF, I do worry.

286:

Kent State seems quite consistent with what your suggesting about class similarities and differences. Yes, I know these things are not what they are in the UK, but National Guard against College Students suggests a certain amount of difference.

It makes me wonder about Campus Police. They're outsiders too, approximating to foreign mercenaries.

287:

I have a real problem understanding these super injunctions in the UK that stop people from talking about things.

So do we, believe me.

I think the best way to view it is: the US legal system encodes a powerful, constitutionally-mandated and overriding right to free speech; at the same time, it has a rather tenuous, constructed-implicitly-on-the-back-of-other-laws right to privacy that is hard to nail down and enforce. In the UK, it's exactly the opposite way round.

288:

The issue with the European arrest warrant is that, with a flat and frictionless economic zone, the scope exists for all sorts of cross-border crime within the EU -- consider VAT carousel fraud, for example. So some sort of mechanism for prosecuting crimes that are clearly violations of EU trade law in every member state is needed. But then the implementers went right over the top and decided that, because all EU members are supposed to conform to some basic legal niceties (declaration of human rights, no death penalty, etc) then their legal systems are of course equivalent. Which they are not. As witness Poland issuing extradition warrants for parking tickets, or Italy overturning roughly 50% of murder convictions when they hit the court of appeal (never mind the procedural differences between the Napoleonic inquisitorial system and the English common law system or the Scottish Roman law system) ...

289:

Charlie @ 228
Other people may be grateful for that explanation of the EAW, but ...
The real problem is that people, including our own citizens, can be (and are) hauled off for a "trial" that may involve YEARS in jail before a actual trial happens, without ANY prima facie evidence being presented, or even available.
This is directly in contravention of our own law, especially the "Bill of Rights", plus large amounts (this being England) of Custom & Practice.
As already mentioned, there have been one or two high-profile gross abuses of this practice.
And, quite frankly, it's got to stop.

290:

"The military are the same way. Some bad apples, sure, and some will get bamboozled, but if they're ordered to do outright wrong things they're trained to say no and intervene to stop it."

That's not true of just about every military in the world, and I do not see why the US is an exception. Historically it is not.

291:

The libel laws ought to be scrapped in favor of a simple "equal prominence right of reply".

292:

One of my ideas of how to help deal with the media in this country is that errors and libel cases and similar against, for example, a newspaper, have to be reported in the same location and headline size as the original. Seeing headlines "We got it wrong again about X" every week might help put off purchasers and make it more clear how badly the newspapers were being run.

293:

Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Conduct makes it a crime for a US serviceman or woman to disobey a lawful order.

The key word there is lawful, and there have been hundreds (if not thousands) of cases where the "I was only following orders" defense didn't work, reportedly dating back to 1799. Yes, this is part of their fundamental training.

I'll admit I'm pretty pissed off about the new powers that the defense authorization act gave the president and military. Now that they've been approved, we're going to have to wait for the terrorist threat to subside before we can get the executive branch to rescind them. Given that we're no longer freaking out about, say, Japanese or Anarchists (against whom laws were promulgated last century), I'd say that it will be possible, eventually, to get these laws rescinded. Hopefully we won't have too many preventable atrocities under them.

294:

Kent State seems quite consistent with what your suggesting about class similarities and differences. Yes, I know these things are not what they are in the UK, but National Guard against College Students suggests a certain amount of difference.

Unless my memory fails me Kent State was about the National Guard/Reserves and were under the control of the governor at the time. And the guys in uniform were almost if not entirely ex active duty vets serving out their time commitment. And many if not all were Vietnam vets. Who most likely got drafted. So don't think of them as "upper class". Most were likely more from the ranks of the "working stiffs".

It makes me wonder about Campus Police. They're outsiders too, approximating to foreign mercenaries.

Then all police are mercenaries. Campus police are mostly just what their name says. Police. They mostly go through the same training as the regular local police, typically at one of the local government police facilities. The locals don't want to deal with a transient population of 5K to 40K with different rules about what to enforce than the off campus area. Plus pay for it. So most campuses in the US have their own police force. Hired and led by the university heads.

295:

The key word there is lawful, and there have been hundreds (if not thousands) of cases where the "I was only following orders" defense didn't work, reportedly dating back to 1799. Yes, this is part of their fundamental training.

Yep. In the US you are supposed to wreak your career before obeying an unlawful order. The honorable ones do.

Then problem is that in these cases your career is likely over no matter which way you go.

296:

" So most campuses in the US have their own police force. Hired and led by the university heads."

Why? The rest of the world does not AFAIK

297:

I answered the why. The locals mostly don't want the job. Especially with the tax situations. Most school don't pay into the local tax base. So for the locals to provide a reasonable level of support the schools would have to pay the locals for doing the work. Which would then really make them mercenaries.

298:

It's not an entirely true statement.

Many colleges and universities belong to the state; those tend to have their own branches of whatever police force is appropriate. (E.g., UCLA has state police, not Los Angeles Police Department.)

Some universities are large enough that they get their own districts or even cities -- Stanford University, for example. Since between staff and resident students, they may have populations in the tens of thousands, having a police district often makes sense. But they have the same politics as a city council, so they have influence on who gets hired. But they don't pay for them directly.

However! Most universities also have their own security people. Just like malls do. These are not police officers, but they can arrest you (citizen's arrest). These are paid for by the university. Just like mall cops are paid for by the mall, without being real cops.

299:

More tangentially on topic - G4S has gotten a contract with Lincolnshire police to run back office stuff, custody and IT. And they'll be expecting to get lots more work with other forces. All because they need to make 20 million in cuts, I wonder how much it costs putting it out to tender in the first place?
The creeping privatisation of even government functions such as security has been seen to have flaws in the USA/ IRaq already. The ultimate flaw has already been covered in Mcleod's book "The star fraction". In the meantime it provides another method of ratcheting the wages of the workforce down whilst upping pay of senior managers. As in the USA, it isn't clear how companies expect consumers to consume if their pay is lower, nevertheless this continued contracting out nonsense has to stop.

300:

Just to fill in some information that may be peculiar to the US. Many major universities are NOT in urban areas. So you get places like Univ of NC which is in Chapel Hill or Penn State where the student body is a significant portion of the local population. For UNC the population is north of 58K with UNC enrolling about 30K students. If you really want some ugly politics let the local police be in charge of the student areas. I think that these places are much better off with their own forces. In general. But at times, to be blunt, they use too much discretion. Especially in sex related cases.

And again, having a dedicated campus police force augmented by the state police in most cases makes dealing with events of 25K to 100K+ easier than tossing the local police in the mix. As I understand things in the EU sports are not really tied to colleges like they are here in the US.

301:

One thing about Kent State. Not long out of the Army I was in a rage. After a time I noted that most of the killed and wounded were far back from the demo's who had trapped a bunch of kid Guardsmen I think the Lt. was 22. Some of whom, like one of the dead, were throwing rocks. And rocks are no joke. I am as sure as I can be that the most of kid National Guardsmen fired well over the heads of the demos. And hit people who were going about their business far away.
Young fools in love with revolution should note what happened.

302:

errr Not that long out of the Army I was in a rage OVER KENT STATE THAT IS. I don't remember many of the demos being from Kent State. And like most Guardsmen, I bet they were just trying to stay out of Nam.

303:

There's plenty of blame to go around on all sides over Kent State. Several of the Guardsmen testified that they were in fact firing at specific targets (one said he fired at a student who was giving the Guard the finger). There was no investigation of the incident by the Guard chain of command, the federal government, or the state government; all government agencies stonewalled for years, and prevented any investigation by outside organizations. At this point we have no idea how the shooting started or why, and the fact that even the actions of the Guard are not clear from the film we have of the event is a strong indication that the chain of command was fragile at best, and may have completely broken down. The film does show that the some Guardsmen pointed their weapons at the demonstrators for some seconds, but did not fire, then stood down; at the same time another group of Guardsmen was in a huddle, talking about something. To the best of my knowledge, though rocks had been thrown, none were thrown in the period from the time the Guard pointed their weapons at the crowd and the time minutes later when they marched up the hill to the top and then 28 of the more than 70 men turned and opened fire.

304:

@ 294
PRIVATE POLICE in UNIVERSITIES?
Waht sort of complete insanity is this?
From a uk perspective, the USSA idea that all universities are "dry" is even further proof of complete, total insanity!

The rule is:
One law for all the people

Private police forces break that essential rule

305:

Er Greg, for quite a long time, and for all of the twentieth century we had private campus police in at least two universities in the UK. Guess which two?

306:

Well, it looks to me like we now know the reason behind this years NDAA:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/too-late-to-contain-killer-flu-science-say-experts-6280399.html

Pathogens. The US government wants to be able to clamp down on things real fast if there's an outbreak of some absurdly lethal airborn virus.

And I have to say... I agree with them for once. I don't see any solution for an outbreak of weaponized avian flu (or similar) that doesn't involve martial law. I'd prefer to have a less greedy and selfish bunch in power, but it unfortunately looks like this bunch will have to do.

307:

I'm guessing you're from the EU. But maybe I'm wrong.

In many EU countries a national police force may seem natural. Given how long national governments and most major cities have existed.

Over on the west side of the pond things have evolved differently. From 0 Europeans for all practical purposes to millions in date ranges of 300 to 100 years. So we have a incredibly complicated mix of national (FBI, ATF, Treasury, Marshals), State, Local (Counties, Cities, and others) police setups. Those Texas Rangers you heard about in old movies became the state police of Texas and are still called rangers.

Here in NC and in many other states we have things like the capital police who specialize in dealing with the state legislature and executive offices. Some of this is a hold over from a century or more ago but getting rid of government agencies over here is hard. But what this means is that within a few blocks in downtown Raleigh you have jurisdictions covered by the Wake county sheriff and deputies, the city of Raleigh police, the state capital police, the state police, the FBI, US Marshals, and I suspect NC State University police. And Treasury and/or the ATF if counterfeiting, interstate guns, or tobacco smuggling is involved. Or a President shows up like they do about every 3 to 6 months.

If starting over again today would it likely be done differently? Yep.

308:

All mostly true as far as I remember.
We were all in for six years. two, or more, in the Army, two in the active reserve and two in the inactive reserve. Trust me, they did not want real Vets around but for a head count or two. Over here we have always gone to a lot of trouble NOT to have a national police force!

309:

@ 305
Are you referring to the University "Bulldogs" @ Oxbridge?
Except they did not have full police powers, especially in the modern sense ....

d brown @ 308
And what are US Marshals (& the FBI) if NOT a "national police force" ??

310:

As a one-time student of the Cambridge Establishment, I have to say that I was pretty well oblivious to their very existence. As far as I was concerned, they might as well not have existed. I was vaguely aware of members of the University having certain privileges regarding arrest (or lack of) by the town police, and logically there would then have to be someone empowered to make arrests on CU premises, but it was the local police who were visible, and who were recognised as such.

That Cambridge has no campus per se means that students and townsfolk intermingle most of the time.

The two forms of police not part of the local constabularies that I do see are the Transport Police, and the local MPs that I see wandering around our local Tesco (we have some training barracks a couple of miles north).

311:

And what are US Marshals (& the FBI) if NOT a "national police force" ??

It's more complicated than that. One reason we have the FBI is that bank robbers would cross state lines to avoid being actively chased by police. I'm sure others can clarify some of this but unless you are in something like "active pursuit" you don't cross jurisdictional boundaries. And while there is some cooperation between groups (and some famous non cooperative situations) the FBI doesn't really deal with state or local laws. Only national laws. And the marshal service is a part of the judicial branch of the federal government so they deal mostly with people already arrested or convicted or similar.

I'm on shaky ground with some of the above details but the point is that we do things a bit differently over here due to our history.

312:

According to Wikipedia, Cambridge University still has it's own constabulary

The US does like to have lots and lots of local or specialised police forces. Where I live (in suburban New York) we have our own village police, town police (for the town the village is nominally part of), county police and finally state police. In practice day-to-day policing is by the village police, who are directly under the village adminstration - so an independent police force for a community of about 18,000 people. I'm unclear as to whether the town police have any jurisdiction over us; the county police mainly police certain highways, and the state police are mostly highway patrol too.

Also there are several varieties of state police. We have a state park that runs through the village, and that's supposed be under the jurisdiction of the state parks police, who are separate from the main state police. Confused? You will be! Oh, and there's also the MTA police who are responsible for the local railway station, but I guess that's not so different from the BTP in Blighty.

In New York City, most policing is done by the NYPD (who also cover the subway, not the MTA police), but even there there are lots of specialist forces too - there's even a sanitation police who deal with fly-tipping and the like. A lot of the specialist police departments are effectively the security guards for their sponsoring organisation though.

This multiplication of police forces might seem wildly inefficient, which I'm sure it is, and outsiders might even feel it's sinister, but in practice it does mean that, outside the large cities at least, the local police are quite close to the community - people know who the local police chief is, and the police answer directly to the local community. This can lead to Dukes of Hazzard style corruption in places, but on the whole I think it's better than the increasingly centralised UK system. How many British people can even name their local chief constable, let alone have met him/her?

313:

Well I live in the real world and run a real business.
I would say economically I am a Minarchist and in USA terms both hard left and hard right depending on the issue. So pro-gun and pro-abortion, against marriage restrictions of any kind, etc. So pro personal liberty to the max.I don't really care for either side and tend I vote Libertarian and throw my vote away on principle every time.
I talk to people everyday of every stripe in my job. I don't care what the poles say here is what I think is going to happen over the next year.
Obama is going to get CRUSHED. HE IS HATED at the street level. I don't mean disagreed with like Clinton but still liked(and admired for getting some hot chicks at at sixty or whatever). I mean HATED and blamed for things over which he has no control.
The lunatic right wing progressives led by Romney or Gringrich are going to swarm into power. NEWT GINGRICH IS NOT anti-establishment what kind of an idiot would even thing something like that. He is a right wing progressive former DEMOCRAT who just changed parties to get elected.
Europe is going to blow apart in the debt crisis.
The war state is going to kick into high gear everywhere in the world.
Then I think we are headed for a major war. Maybe tripped by an "attack" by Iran on Iraq or Israel or both. Then the world spins into war and we get some real killing this time not like WWII but billions killed as the war spreads out.
By the way if OWS dose go violent the will get killed for sure. But what is going to happen is they will get frozen out in January when a big blizzard hits New York. All that has kept then going this long is the warm snowless December cause by El Nino January will get cold and it will snow and that will break them.
This whole mess is hopeless.
I am voting for Ron Paul in the primary. Though I have no hope left that things will change.

314:

You're voting for Ron Paul but you say you're pro-choice?

I think you ought to do some research -- and then some hard thinking about where your priorities lie.

315:
Well I live in the real world and run a real business.

Implying that none of us do? You might get a little more respect for your ideas if you showed your audience some respect. Me, I just assume that anyone who talks like that is an asshole who doesn't know jack about "the real world".

316:

They might have done things differently in Cambridge as they often do (using quads as car parks, etc) but the Oxford "Bulldogs" - the Oxford University Police - were real police established in 1825 - 4 years before the Met.

Universities Act 1825: "every man so sworn shall have full power to act as a constable within the precincts of the university for which he shall be appointed, and four miles of the same university"

They carried warrant cards and had full police powers within 4 miles of Oxford centre. In 2002 they were described as "not accountable to any public authority" by a group of Oxford traders who objected to being told to move some vehicles, and in 2003 they were "disbanded" - renamed "Proctors's Officers", and today carry on as private security without the original police powers.

They were strange, elliptical men. Asking one if something was forbidden, instead of an answer I got a 20 minute lecture on the difference betwen canon, statute and common law, which left me none the wiser. I'm sure that was his intention.

@313: I live in a socially-constructed, engineered and largely fictional world. Don't most of us?

317:

@ 313
Another thing, apart from Charlie's recommendation is to read another post from "Stonekettle Station"
HERE OK?

318:

I am aware of Paul's position on abortion and his position is that he is personaly opposed to it but wants the issue left to the States. I agree with that.
I was not implying anything about anyone and I am not trying to be an asshole. I am just telling things as I hear them everyday as I travel the county. I knew Obama was done the day I heard some cashiers in a Dollar General going ballistic over the health care bill.
I will say I have no use for either major party and I am generally for the fedgov being taken down to it's enumerated powers in the Constitution. So we would get oh I would say 90% redution in spending. That would kill the education/welfare/war/national security state. Destory those bubbles and end the debt slavery of student loan bubble.

319:

I think you ought to do some research -- and then some hard thinking about where your priorities lie.

Like many of us on this side of the pond who refuse to pull a party level of any flavor, we look around the see who smells bad the least. And if elected will not make things worse over the next 5 to 10 years.

Been voting since 72 and am still waiting for the day that everyone I vote for is registered with the same party.

But I have a hard time imagining ME ever voting for Ron Paul. Gold standard and all that.

320:

Personally, I'm in favor of Newt Gingrich for Presidential Candidate, Ron Paul for VP candidate.

That way, we can have the Newt-Ron Bomb...


321:

"the USSA idea that all universities are "dry" is even further proof of complete, total insanity!"

Rest easier, that isn't very true.

The dorm I lived in for some time at the University of Washington in Seattle allowed alcohol under the same rules as any residence in the US. Our silly 21 year old drinking law ostensibly applied, but the university police did not try to enforce it. They did use it as a threat to end parties when they decided to do that.

The research and office facilities were certainly not dry, we had alcohol at most office party type events. In theory one was supposed to get some kind of permit, in practice only large catered events actually did that.

I'm not sure if the university sold alcohol anywhere on a regular basis... maybe in the faculty club and the one fancier on campus restaurant?

So, certainly less alcohol than in most of the western world, but not 'dry'.

Federal labs are dry, but I think the only federal universities are the few military academies.


BTW wikipedia indicates Canada also commonly has "university police".

The University of Washington Police web page has a "history" page which goes through the history of that 110 or so year old organization.
http://www.washington.edu/admin/police/about/history.html
In that case it started with one office in 1902, which would have been shortly after the university moved out to what was then the edge of town. I suppose it had basically moved out of range of Seattle police. It sounds like it became more of a real police force in the 60's and 70's.
So in that case it had existed for a very very long time. Almost a frontier relic.

I believe some university police forces were created to get the local police off campus during the 60's as they had been behaving badly.

322:

We are currently experiencing La Nina induced weather conditions.

In regard to Obama, I think you are running a very strong filter. His approval rating is close to 50%. This coincides with what I hear from people here in south central Texas. What is very obvious is the clear racist motivation of the folks in Texas who do hate him. There are a lot of people here who would re-fight the civil war tomorrow if they could.

A full third of Texans want to secede from the union. The Texas economy is heavily dependent on the federal government. There are many large military bases in the state and the economy would be crippled if they went away.

It appears to me that libertarianism is able to exist because of the nearly infinite human capacity to take for granted the benefits we derive from the government while, at the same time, resenting what is spent to benefit anyone else.

323:

2012, and half the candidates sound like Nehemiah Scudder. Not good.

324:

The last thing from me about Kent State and the like. To get in the National Guard your daddy had to have real pull In your state back then. The NG are not part of the Army normally and were not then part of the lower classes. They were just well off kids who did not want to go to Nam. I can't see any way they were a part of some deep plot. If I remember right, they backed into a fence at the top of the hill and were trapped and freaked. It was all State business not Federal or Army. And I think the daddies pull had a lot to do with nobody wanting to find out what happened. Not the Feds. I just came from a VA hospital and I can say most of the Vets I talked to do not hate Obama. They know the GOP is sabotaging the country to drive people into the R/W. THERE IS A HARD NUT OF PEOPLE WHO ARE TRUE BELIEVERS AND CAN'T SEE OR THINK.

325:

The amazing thing to me is that, even though the EU is providing a wonderful example of what happens with a weak executive trying to fix states' collective monetary policies, we still have libertarians who say this is a good idea.

I'm trying to remember what that EU type of organization is called again. A confederacy? Is that why it's so appealing in the American south?

326:

"2012, and half the candidates sound like Nehemiah Scudder." Bingo. From "IF THIS GOES ON"

327:

I agree that there's absolutely no evidence that the Kent State shootings were the result of any sort of conspiracy. It looks to me like a sticky situation that was allowed to escalate for far too long without adult supervision (someone really should have spanked the mayor for that tantrum he threw) resulting in a classic clusterfuck. If only the federal government had had the brains to see that an honest investigation would probably absolve the Guardsmen (though not necessarily their chain of command) and put at rest some of the misinformation that made that incident such a sore point for both sides in the blame game.

328:

Chalk me up for another who lives in the real world and runs a real business.

That Obama has a 50% approval this far out with this much economic mess AND a billion dollars in the bank... I'd take those odds.

As for the healthcare issue... I think people are starting to notice that a) the world hasn't ended, and b) things have actually improved for them. Obviously not as much as single payer but never mind.

Oh and as a small business owner I WISH we had had single player. It's still the most likely reason I'll not retire in the US.

329:

Well, one putative POTUS candidate seems to have screwed himself - Ron Paul.
His murky views on race seem to have surfaced.....

330:
1. The USA is already a functional oligarchy. [...] It has been functioning as such for some time [....]

How very kind of you to imply that it's 'functional' to any extent or 'functioning' in any manner.

I'll take what I can get...which is why I'll vote for Obama, conservative corporatist though he is---at least he is a politician.

331:

Lester Thurow is (WAS) Professor of Economics and Management at MIT and the former Dean of the Sloan School of Management. He is the author of The Zero-Sum Society, Head to Head, and The Future of Capitalism. He was one of the many who warned us of what was coming. Back in the 70's or early 80's he wrote that we would soon see if America was going to be a democracy or a oligarchy .

Paul Krugman was a firm believer in the iron laws of economics and disagred with him about what people could do, good or bad, to the economy. Soon after BUSH-1, he said they could not count on their fingers and toes and started writing many of the same things as Thurow had.

332:

Ok so maybe it would be "interesting" to see what happened in the US if a riot were to kick off now, say in L.A. and residents of nearby cities were to take the same attitude that was taken in the UK when a riot in one part of London spreads. So to start with its a bit of opportunistic looting here, a bit more opportunistic looting there and then what happens if people with a cause (other than stealing some shoes) do actually get organized, just a little. What would happen when a bit of ripping off your local wallmart turns into burning down the houses of the rich, maybe with a few incidental deaths, hell maybe even someone famous or even a political death. I mean do people seriously see police being deployed to protect the Malibu beach houses of the rich and famous over shops?
Are the oppressed masses in the U.S. actually oppressed enough to do anything? Other than steal some nice trainers.

333:

You are the second to comment that you live in the "real world" as if the rest of us don't. I think some of the rest of us here have a range of experiences broader that any that you have had.

I've worked for a company of three people and I've also worked for what at the time was the 36th largest corporation in the world. I think Charlie's experiences as a self employed writer give him a kind of experience that amounts to a crash course in how the business world works.

I just get tired of people claiming that their particular experience is some how definitive of the real world. It's the same button that is pushed when Sarah Palin talks about Real Americans.

334:

The new Nike shoes came out. At a mall not that far from me the security cameras just showed, a not poor looking mob, ripping down the doors before the store was open to get to the shoes. That's the only kind of action we are likely to see.
The R/W will beat a horse to death and then stuff it so they can keep beating it. Oh, like say, Obama's health care. Some off them must know what they are posting is not true. But they must think it should be.
The Congressional Budget Office, the best source of data on the cost of healthcare reform, estimates that new government costs associated with reform between 2010 and 2020 will add up to about $1.2 trillion. That's the figure cited by critics of the plan. But GBO also says those costs will be offset by more than $1.3 trillion in cost savings and new revenue, which will lower the national debt by about $170 billion over that time period--not raise it. Funny about the posters who do want to not know this.
Obama wanted health care to be free. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, got tens of thousands of dollars of depressed heath care insurance stocks. Ten days later Congress said public funding of heath care was dead. Then it was allowed up for a vote

335:

I think Charlie's experiences as a self employed writer give him a kind of experience that amounts to a crash course in how the business world works.

Ahem: I've worked in the NHS, the largest employer in Europe. I've worked for an American software multinational. I've managed a shop (badly) and been a code-monkey in a start-up (it succeeded, either because of or in spite of having me as programmer hire #1). And for all of that time, I was the only member of my family who wasn't self-employed or running a company.

Which is to say, I come from a long line of serial entrepreneurs, and attribute my success in the business side of writing to having that background (rather than having acquired my business skillz, such as they are, from being a writer).

Yes, I'm in favour of socialism. I'm old enough to remember what the pre-1979 UK system was like, with a Gini coefficient of 0.25 (compared to the current 0.40). I'd willingly pay much higher taxes if we could get back to that [much lower] level of inequality. You may draw your own conclusions.

336:

ADMINISTRATIVE NOTE d brown's most recent comment got to languish in the moderation trap for a few hours because they unwisely made reference to the Winged Victory of Samothrace, or maybe a cold-war era nuclear-tipped surface to air missile, or the emblem of the University of Victoria. Or a vendor of cheap sweat-shop produced sports shoes, take your pick.

This is because the spam volume is getting out of control -- 6700 in the past 30 days -- so we've got some keyword traps in place. The trademarks associated with fashion items that show up in your spam filter should clue you in as to what they are: I dread the moderation headache that will ensue if we ever hatch a thread that discusses viagra, cialis, crocs, ugg boots, karen millen dresses, and dolce and gabanna.

So if you really need to use those words (and aren't a moderator who can un-spam-trapify your own comments) please stick an asterisk in place of one of the vowels. M'kay?

337:

OK, GOOD ON YOU FOR THIS BLOG. I THINK ITS THE BEST I'VE READ.

338:

There were 15 spam comments between your comment and this one.

Just saying that you might not want to look like spam, even when it's funny. (Which it was; I laughed.)

339:

Lester Thurow quotes
“No country without a revolution or a military defeat and subsequent occupation has ever experienced such a sharp a shift in the distribution of earnings as America has in the last generation. At no other time have median wages of American men fallen for more than two decades. Never before have a majority of American workers suffered real wage reductions while the per capita domestic product was advancing.


Beside falling real wages, America's other economic problems pale into insignificance.

340:

"If I remember right, they backed into a fence at the top of the hill and were trapped and freaked. "

IIRC, they weren't trapped, they weren't under threat, there was no crowd near them. The nearest person shot was 100ft(?) away.

341:

In all of this discussion of oligarchy/plutocracy in the U.S.A., and in much discussion of macro-economics and political science in general, there is an unexamined, and, I think, largely unjustified assumption that undermines the analysis (Megpie71 in #22, for example, but I'm not trying to single anybody out): the assumption is that the oligarchs/plutocrats/technocrats/whatever are pursuing rational goals by rational means. In fact, I think, most oligarchs or plutocrats (I'll leave technocrats out, for the moment) are just as panicky and irrational as anyone else. Much of what passes for political ideology in the U.S.A. is, in fact, nothing but religious/moral prejudice dressed up in a veneer of (psuedo-)economics.

Sure, to some degree, the reason that the ruling classes pursue policies that go against their own monetary interests may be because either a) they don't care so long as they get a bigger share of the smaller pie, or b) they have other strategic goals that are satisfied (e.g. union-busting), but I suspect that there is a frighteningly large amount of simple delusional thinking at work, as well: the ruling classes may simply be pursuing policies that fit with some (externally) irrational (but internally consistent) moral philosophy. This is precisely what is going on with the Libertarian/Randriod contingent: they simply believe that poor people are morally (if not GENETICALLY) inferior and not only deserve to be poor, but deserve any other punishment or suffering that we can manage to heap upon them.

Don't be fooled into thinking that this kind of moral myopia is a failing reserved for the lower classes. I can tell you, from my vantage point in the upper middle class, that plenty of folks subscribe to the same brands of hoo-hah at and around this income stratum. We have anecdotal evidence to suggest that people at the highest levels of government and industry are similarly deluded (belief in apocalyptic christian theology is well attested to in the upper echelons of business and government).

The wealthy and powerful are, by and large, not any more intelligent than anybody else (they may, in fact, be less intelligent, because their wealth and power have insulted them from the consequences of their own stupidity, but that's an argument for another time). Most of them got their power and money entirely by luck. Of the remainder who worked for their wealth, the technical skill that propelled them to their success didn't necessarily endow them with any greater social or political insight than anyone else (e.g. Bill Gates or Steve Jobs: smart, hard working people, who, nevertheless, are/were flawed and fallible human beings). Even the few people I know of who seem genuinely intelligent, well educated, informed on matters of politics and economics, and of fairly good intent, get a lot of stuff wrong a lot of the time (e.g. Brad DeLong, former Deputy Asst. Sec. for Economic Policy, U.S. Dept. of Treasury, now professor of Economics at U.C. Berkeley, has a long list of Shit He Got Wrong), so it seems a stretch to assume that many of the indolent rich are anything more than marginally competent, or even sane.

342:

"they simply believe that poor people are morally (if not GENETICALLY) inferior and not only deserve to be poor, but deserve any other punishment or suffering that we can manage to heap upon them." That's exactingly what iI have been hearing from the local New Right for years. Like slaves, trying to better them is a waste. The old Right believed it too I think, but they were careful as to who heard them. For the New Right it's away of showing pack loyalty. Sort of flying their freak flag high.
The very rich and how they got that way is only part of it. PAUL KENNEDY wrote THE RISE AND FALL OF THE GREAT POWERS. It was so true that every body knew it was. After a short time the Far Right moved on it. Yes they said its true about all those other countries. But not America. We are exceptional. God showed his love for is and we can keep makings war and God will protect us. In fact saying that someone doesn't believe in American Exceptional is a kiss of death to the right. No matter what we do God will save us. As long as we do what the right hick Preacher says he wants. If we don't, God will show how disappointed he is by killing us. AND THIS IS NO JOKE.

343:

Speaking of spam, I just checked the bin (which auto-empties after 30 days): we are now holding over 7200 spams, which corresponds to 240 a day, or ten an hour.

344:

Yup, you're right across the board, and it's a point that needs emphasizing. People get rich for a variety of reasons, but even if they worked hard for it they usually had to get a lucky break at a time when they were in a position to exploit the breakthrough before they made their pile. However, people who have become rich tend to take their current status as confirmation of their pre-existing belief system about how to get rich. And nobody likes to think they've become wealthy and powerful through sheer blind luck.

Add to this the courtier syndrome -- that rich people attract sycophants who feed them what the courtiers think they want to hear, in order to curry favour and profit hereby -- and I suspect your average billionaire exists in a deafening echo chamber.

345:

Sounds like a variation on fundamental attribution error- if you're rich, you attribute it to skill. If you're poor, you probably attribute that to bad luck.
Might be easier to find rich people who attribute it to luck than poor ones who claim they are poor because of their own laziness and stupidity. (And yes, just as some rich people didn't get that way by their own merits, some poor people did earn their poverty)

346:

30 days? I think it's actually 60 days - currently back to the end of October.

Looking at the level back then, it took about 10 days to get 800 spams. It's a measure of how much it has accelerated over that period that we are now getting about 240 per day. Thank goodness for the automated filters taking out 99+% of them.

347:

Has anyone thought what would happen if more people had more money?

Consumerism would consume the world in a day.

The most important feature of the economy is to KEEP MOST PEOPLE AS POOR AS POSSIBLE to prevent over-consumption. (As if it isn't bad enough already.)

348:

What would happen if more people had more money?

Consumerism would consume the world in a day.

The most important feature of the economy is to

KEEP MOST PEOPLE AS POOR AS POSSIBLE

to prevent over-consumption. As if it isn't bad enough already.

Most people being poor is good for everyone - except the poor, but no one except yourself is preventing you from getting rich. So everything is in order. Move on.

349:

Not that long ago there was a survey of very successful people. Most of them said they were lucky. That's to say they had what was needed, but others did too. They said they were at the right place at the right time and that's what made the difference. But they did have to be ready with what was needed. Well good for them.

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on December 17, 2011 11:51 AM.

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