We Need the Bricker Amendment; The Future of Work

View 840 Tuesday, August 26, 2014

“Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.”

President Barack Obama, January 31, 2009


I just saw this, and words fail me:


Obama Pursuing Climate Accord in Lieu of Treaty


WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is working to forge a sweeping international climate change agreement to compel nations to cut their planet-warming fossil fuel emissions, but without ratification from Congress.

In preparation for this agreement, to be signed at a United Nations summit meeting in 2015 in Paris, the negotiators are meeting with diplomats from other countries to broker a deal to commit some of the world’s largest economies to enact laws to reduce their carbon pollution. But under the Constitution, a president may enter into a legally binding treaty only if it is approved by a two-thirds majority of the Senate.

To sidestep that requirement, President Obama’s climate negotiators are devising what they call a “politically binding” deal that would “name and shame” countries into cutting their emissions. The deal is likely to face strong objections from Republicans on Capitol Hill and from poor countries around the world, but negotiators say it may be the only realistic path.

“If you want a deal that includes all the major emitters, including the U.S., you cannot realistically pursue a legally binding treaty at this time,” said Paul Bledsoe, a top climate change official in the Clinton administration who works closely with the Obama White House on international climate change policy.

Lawmakers in both parties on Capitol Hill say there is no chance that the currently gridlocked Senate will ratify a climate change treaty in the near future, especially in a political environment where many Republican lawmakers remain skeptical of the established science of human-caused global warming.

“There’s a strong understanding of the difficulties of the U.S. situation, and a willingness to work with the U.S. to get out of this impasse,” said Laurence Tubiana, the French ambassador for climate change to the United Nations. “There is an implicit understanding that this not require ratification by the Senate.”

American negotiators are instead homing in on a hybrid agreement — a proposal to blend legally binding conditions from an existing 1992 treaty with new voluntary pledges. The mix would create a deal that would update the treaty, and thus, negotiators say, not require a new vote of ratification.

Countries would be legally required to enact domestic climate change policies — but would voluntarily pledge to specific levels of emissions cuts and to channel money to poor countries to help them adapt to climate change. Countries might then be legally obligated to report their progress toward meeting those pledges at meetings held to identify those nations that did not meet their cuts.


There is more. I knew that Harvard Law School was capable of allowing people to graduate without learning as much as was taught in pre-law in other universities, but that a man so separated from the law of the Constitution and its purpose and spirit could be a lecturer at the University of Chicago – a lecturer in Constitutional Law – tells me a great deal about the present management of the University of Chicago.

A long time ago when Senator Bricker proposed an amendment to the constitution that – well, here is a reasonable summary

The best-known version of the Bricker Amendment, considered by the Congress in 1953–54, declared that no treaty could be made by the United States that conflicted with the Constitution, was self-executing without the passage of separate enabling legislation through Congress, or which granted Congress legislative powers beyond those specified in the Constitution. It also limited the president’s power to enter into executive agreements with foreign powers. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bricker_Amendment

I recall the debates. President Eisenhower, with the solemn agreement of many Democratic and Republican scholar and leaders, assured the nation that this was needless, and the Constitution would never be threatened by Presidential Executive Agreements. The Amendment failed in the Senate by one vote, largely due to Eisenhower’s opposition.

It is now clear that reviving the Bricker Amendment should be a major business for the Republican Party: it is all too clear that whatever the assurances from President Eisenhower in those times, the danger is very real today.

Whatever one’s beliefs regarding Man Caused Global Warming Due to Increased CO2 – my own is that we do not have any valid theories on climate, the Earth having been both warmer and colder than now in Anno Domino historical times well before human industrial activities raised the CO2 level – one thing is certain: unilateral actions by the USA, or USA and European Union, will have great effects on the economies of those countries adopting the restrictive measures, and very little effect on CO2 levels since China and India have set out to exploit all energy sources available to them. Massively. And Africa is far behind them only because they do not yet have the capital for such development – but if they can get capital they’ll build fossil fuel electric plants in great quantities. The effect of the US slowdown on atmospheric CO2 won’t be noticed. CO2 n=may be a problem, but its solution is to find ways to get it our of the atmosphere, not to wreck the economy of the only country that cares much about it.

But whoever is right on the science/engineering, destroying the work of the Framers and the Convention of 1787 – the Constitution of the United States with its separation of powers – will be a far worse tragedy for mankind than a twenty foot rise in sea level, and to make it worse, if the Warmer Believers are correct, there is nothing the US can do in the way of restricting its economic growth to prevent it anyway.

Not cleverly said, I am sure. Words do fail me.


A further chapter in my experiments with large SD cards, particularly Micro SD cards. I am now pretty well up on what’s going on here. When SD cards were introduced, the maximum could be only 2 GB, and devices built in that period didn’t have drivers that recognized anything larger than that. Moore’s law was inexorable, and soon 4 GB SD cards became available. Some drivers were rewritten, some not, and there wasn’t a lot of standardization. A number of protocols were developed.

My camera was designed and built during the time of the 2 GB SD max; and so far as I know there has never been a firmware update for the camera. I’ll make it all clear in the column.

Peter Glaskowsky told me he suspected that I could find the cable that certainly came with the camera, it would be interesting to see if that would work properly. But, he said, being that it was Chaos Manor he could understand that it was lost. Which got me to thinking that the reason this is Chaos Manor is that we seldom throw anything away. We certainly would not have thrown away the cable that came with the camera. I didn’t recall ever using it, so where would it be not thrown away, and a great light dawned. I went to the back room to search for the Lumix Camera box, and lo! there it was, and inside was the cable. I connected the cable to the camera – it has a plug much smaller than the micro USB plug – shoved the USB plug into the nearest computer, and instantly the system – Windows 7, the same one that had wanted to reformat that very disk when it tried to read it through the Belkin 15-in-1 Media Reader Writer – saw a 2 GB disk and all its files. Since I had all those pictures transferred to that machine already (through the Kingston gizmo that turns a micro SD directly into a component of a USB thumb drive) I didn’t transfer any more, but I did test by opening a couple of the pictures at random. So the problem is solved, and the quest was worth while in that I now understand the situation, and it gives me a nice story for the column.


The Future of Work


You asked, "…is there now something new under the sun? The productivity of man and machine seems to be going up exponentially. The labor theory of value is irrevocably ended for the modern era so long as the technology endures."

By way of answer, something I’ve had in mind a long time is this quote from the book of Ezekiel (16:49):

"Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy."

That ancient denunciation of Sodom seems almost tame compared to the, shall we say, traditional view of the sin of Sodom, but I find it far scarier. The United States would seem to strike out for at least three of the four. (We certainly give a great deal of attention to the poor and needy, though I do wonder how much of that attention actually strengthens them. And, granted, we’re not all idle yet. One wonders what the tipping point is.)

Witness especially the combination of "fulness of bread" and "abundance of idleness". The citizens of Sodom didn’t need to work for their food. The reason was likely different then than now, but does it matter? However we arrive at it, "idle hands are the devil’s workshop" would seem to be a valid Copybook Heading.

One conclusion I derive is that human productive energy must go somewhere, whether into useful work or not. A modern outlet for that energy, however, is virtual worlds. I’ve played massively-multiplayer online games, and I’ve witnessed people spending a great deal of time doing what can only be described as working in those worlds for virtual paychecks.

I wonder if a possible future for the productive energy of "economically useless" people is to be economically valuable in a virtual economy. Perhaps in such a society the chief function of government would be to maintain virtual game worlds in which most of the nation’s population spend their time. The dole demanded by the citizens would not be physical goods or food, but virtual goods and currency (which have the advantage of infinite creation). Elections would be about who promises better expansions to game worlds.

I could go on, but in short, in a world where bread is certain, circuses rule. Given human nature, that may be more of a dystopia than a utopia, but it would almost certainly make for interesting sci-fi. 🙂 (And I did write a short story based on that kind of world.)


That is about the same conclusion that many political philosophers of the mid Twentieth Century came to: technology will make man useless, and with no goals man will put his energies to mischief. It is clearly happening here. There is very little of the old grinding poverty that was said to drive men to crime in the Depression. The lowliest inhabitants of Ferguson would be considered wealthy beyond avarice in much of the world. They are in poverty only by comparison to those not in poverty. Now it is true that many of their practices leave them with less disposable income than what they get, and it is here that conflict comes, and debate about deserving and undeserving poor, and the rest; but it is very difficult to say that the high crime rates associated with places like Ferguson are due to grinding poverty where one must steal to get one’s daily bread.

Nor is it impossible to get out of there: certainly far easier than for a child of the slums in Central America.

Any city, however small, is in fact divided into two, one the city of the poor, the other of the rich; these are at war with one another; and in either there are many smaller divisions, and you would be altogether beside the mark if you treated them all as a single State.

– Plato,
The Republic , Book IV

And apparently it remains true even if the poor in one city of the poor have more of the goods of fortune than the rich of the city of the rich in another country. But it is no longer fashionable to talk about the undeserving poor. Lisa Doolittle’s father would be appalled.

I don’t know the solution to all this; but it is clear enough to me that in thirty years well more than half the population will be unable to do anything that someone else would pay them money to have done. Perhaps they can be paid to enjoy the bread and circuses and 774 TCV channels on their 50 inch screen…

Science fiction writers have been doing these stories for a long time. I encountered Fahrenheit 451 as an undergraduate, about the time I encountered other works, including one by Poul Anderson, on the perils of really high automated productivity. I believed than that technology would get us out of the trouble by providing so much wealth that the poor would be rich. That looks to be coming. But I also thought that well more than half the population would be useful. Now I think that is not true. And that is frightening.

And while a world of people working in a virtual world – I have seen that phenomenon as well – is preferable to a world of bread, dope, and circuses, is it not a world that would have thrilled the old gods.  Perhaps religion will solve it.  If you no longer need to earn bread by the sweat of your brow, what is your obligation to God and man?


Sale of human flesh

Dr. Pournelle:

One of your many quotable aphorisms is that [I’m writing from memory]: Unrestricted capitalism results in the sale of human flesh in the marketplace.

You are once again proven correct. A company is trying to sell cloned celebrity flesh for consumption.


Cannibalize your favorite star!

— Pete Nofel

Not quite what I had in mind, but it’s a long slippery slope…

And Chinese organlegging is quite real. You can buy any organ, young from a freshly killed subject of appropriate blood type, if you have the money. And do not forget the research that indicates you can halt aging – eternal youth, anyone – if you replace all your blood with the blood of a younger person at frequent intervals. Consent of the donors is not a requirement. But that’s still in research.


This is from a long time friend and subscriber:


Below find a narrative explaining my experience with United Airlines at the Oklahoma City Airport.

On August 14, 2014 I arrived at the airport and obtained my boarding pass. It said the flight was to depart at 8:31pm. I am pretty sure at that time the airline knew the flight was going to be late but printed an incorrect time anyway. I don’t have the resources to prove that, of course.

When I got to the gate I found the departure time was after 11pm, which was about an hour after my connecting flight was to depart. No one was to be found at any gate to explain.

Eventually I managed to find an agent helping another customer but was off duty and could not help me once he had finished with the current customer. He did say there should be someone at the gate I was to depart from. Whereas I commend his dedication to helping the other customer even on his own time, this did not help me.

When I arrived back at the gate, no one was there.

I managed to access the airport computer network with my laptop and obtained a telephone number for reservations. I called that number to try to get this matter resolve, the agent on the telephone said there were no other United Flights available for me, and I had to ask if there were on another airline. There were not. It was about this time an agent showed up at the gate and made a loud announcement over the loudspeaker. The agent on the telephone said there was a direct flight from OKC to The Dalles (kept pronouncing it Dallas) Oregon which is in the rough vicinity of where my final destination was, but it was going to leave in 3 minutes and he did not know what gate it was. I hurriedly asked this flight be booked and showed the flight number to the agent at the gate explaining I had an emergency and please tell me what gate this was and it was to leave in 3 minutes. The agent directed me to the American Airlines area. No one was there. I tried to find the flight on the display and it was not there. I returned to the agent at the gate who was helping someone else. After some time the agent left and while we were walking I asked why she lied to me about the flight. She replied I had asked for American Airlines. I had not. I said I had showed her the flight number, she said it was too far away to read. My reply was the answer was to ask me to bring it closer, her reply was that if I kept following her she would report me to Airport Security. I asked her name, she said Michelle, but would not give me her last name.

I found out later this was not an American Airlines flight, but a UA flight and it arrives in Washington DC, not Dallas or The Dalles.


My original flight kept being delayed, so I decided to forgo the trip and the aggravation. On my way out of the airport I was questioned by airport security. They threatened to bring charges against me unless I discussed the matter with them. So I briefly explained what had happened and that I was going home.

I was not arrested.

The next day I called the airlines about this matter and asked for a refund of my ticket price. I have an email saying that was confirmed, but due to the unreliable information I have from the staff at United, I am going to wait until I actually have confirmation from my bank. I also asked to speak to a supervisor. The supervisor directed me to a website for customer care. The web site asked for a lot of information, I am fighting Carpal Tunnel so this was something of a daunting task. It would not accept my address even though I have been getting mail here for over a year. I attempted to correct the address (leaving off the apartment) and when I pressed return it erased the form. There was a phone number at the bottom of the form indicating ‘feedback’ – a voice mail inbox. I called that and got to talk to a person who was very pleasant; this is the only foul up on this matter that worked to my favor. In the middle of the conversation it occurred to me to try the ‘back’ button on the browser. That got me back to the incorrect address page. I managed to correct this and submit the form.

The next day after returning from breakfast I found a message fragment on my answering machine from a United Airlines number. Returning the call, they had no idea what it was about and I don’t either.

My comments below.

What is United Airlines going to do to mitigate this matter? After all I missed my class reunion and there is no way to undo that event.

Has my name been added to a no-fly list of some kind or am I going to be subjected to undue scrutiny of some sort?

I want to see the police report of this incident so I can decide what to do if I ever go back to the airport.

Can United have their access to the Airport reviewed and consider another airline with a better record of customer service taking over their flights?

Can I have a written apology from this Michelle for my shabby treatment?

Where would be a good place to share this with people having experiences similar to mine?

Is it standard practice for United Airlines to direct the airport police to deal with people who ask for an explanation of their situation?

I have little experience with United Airlines, and nothing of this sort ever happened to me; indeed my latest airline travel experiences reflect on the credit of US Air employees, enough so as to erase my long time resentment of their buying California’s wonderful PSA and incorporating it into their organization. Had this happened to me I’d certainly want people to know it.

Another long time subscriber says


I have had horrid experiences with United Airlines, including a round trip to Colorado where United Airlines forgot to file flight plans on the outbound and the return trips and another where they did not put enough fuel in the aircraft to safely make the destination, causing a diversion.

As far as I can tell, they are the most incompetent major airline in the United States, barely able to fly their planes.

As it happens, when I was flying a million miles for Boeing, Aerospace, the Pentagon, and then later for BYTE, I didn’t take United often enough to notice.  In those days of semi-regulated prices, airlines competed by giving better attention, particularly to business flyers.  Out favorites were PSA (within California; it didn’t go outside the state so avoided many federal regulations), then Continental and American in that order.  United you had to take to get to Boston, and as it happens I didn’t get there too often until BYTE (in Peterborough NH) and some MIT lecture appearances.  I don’t remember any particular problems but they didn’t fly out of Burbank, and no on I know prefers LAX to much of anything…

But with deregulation came competition on price and the loss of services.  In my day, if you had a problem and you had one of those lifetime airline lounge cards, you went there : the agents there were elite and could get anything done for you.  Not so much now…

Unrestrained capitalism will always seek the lowest common denominator, and the niceties go by the board.  Or such has been my experience. The next Quarter Report is all that matters, and long term relationships vanish.  Amazon has made a publisher revolution out of not worrying about next year’s profits, but being concerned with the next decade; we’ll see how long Wall Street allows that to last.



Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.




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