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Strengthening Congressional Independence from Corporate Lobbyists (elizabethwarren.com)
315 points by evo_9 26 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 332 comments



Excellent, excellent idea.

What's interesting about all this isn't that this is a new idea by Warren – it's that the Government had an office like this but it was closed down by Republican leadership in the mid 90s.

I have a (truly genuine) question for Republican techies here (really, really not trying to point fingers or start a political argument) – when you see that Newt Gingrich closed the OTA office, what do you feel? Maybe he did the right thing, you'd like to learn more why? Or Newt Gingrich was wrong? Or what?


Not sure what the reasoning was at the time, but I can provide some personal thoughts on the idea - so don't take it as representative of everyone who is center-right like myself.

I don't trust a government entity to be "independent" or "non-partisan." The rule of thumb I use is "would I trust this government entity if my respective political party is only in control ~50% of the time?"

Some other folks in the threads already mentioned this, but as one example: the Obama campaign was pretty close to the Facebooks / Googles of the world - meaning that there could be a scenario that this OTA office was staffed fully with ex-Googlers or the like, almost like a lobbying firm would do. On one hand, they're fully qualified and (probably) very knowledgeable; on the other hand, I wouldn't trust that the office would provide a fair assessment into regulating those tech companies.

EDIT: grammar / more precise vocabulary


As a DC Area resident for 25+ years, I have met many federal government employees, some in professional settings, and many in casual settings.

They remind me of Journalists. Most journalists I've met are not centrists in their personal lives. But in their professional lives, they try (they're not perfect, they are human) to stay impartial, but some of your bias will definitely leak into things.

But most federal agencies are simply too large and bureaucratic for individuals to push their own political agendas. (Not talking about the leadership that's appointed by each administration, but career employees). And it's been my informal experience that their hands are too often (rightly) tied by the laws and regulations of the day, in exactly what they can do. So this idea of non-partisan people truly being partisan is often true at an individual level, but generally false at an agency level.

And they do take the non-partisan side of their jobs very seriously.


As someone who grew up in D.C. I disagree with this. Federal government employees try not to be overtly political, but they have a world view that is not necessarily representative of the country as a whole. You're going to find a lot more anarchists in Texas or Oregon than D.C. You're going to find a lot more religious people in Iowa than D.C. Folks in D.C.--on both sides of the aisle--tend to be predisposed to believing in the superiority of the educated upper middle class, seeing government as the solution to various problems, etc.

I'd say the same thing about journalists. 90%+ of journalists are democrats. (Overwhelmingly, white and male democrats.) They try to chart a course of "objectivity" within an overall left-leaning Overton window. For example, 32% of Democrats are "extremely proud to be an American" versus 74% of Republicans: https://news.gallup.com/poll/236420/record-low-extremely-pro.... It is impossible for such differences in world view not to affect your article selection and tone when it comes to areas like foreign policy, terrorism, national security, etc.

I should point out that I'm not talking about blatant partisanship. Judges, for example, seek to be objective. That doesn't mean that their world views don't affect their decisions. Justice Kagan has said that American judges--across the spectrum--are textualists most of the time. How would they approach deciding a Constitutional case in the U.K., which doesn't have a written constitution? Policymaking and reporting are no different. Everything you write that has any substance at all must have an internal logic. It will makes assumptions, and inferences about cause and effect. It is impossible to be "objective" with respect to that reasoning process or those assumptions.

For example, what is an "objective" article on AOC's new proposal for nationwide rent control? Do you think someone who believes deeply in markets would write the same article on that proposal as someone who believes that governments can legislate outcomes? I think a market-oriented person struggling to write an objective article about that proposal would either come across as partisan, or would have to write something utterly vacuous. It's one thing not to expressly take sides. It's entirely another to divorce yourself from your own modes of reasoning and assumptions about how the world works.


> I'd say the same thing about journalists. 90%+ of journalists are democrats.

I can't believe in all the responses nobody has challenged this statement. What is your source for this? Based on exit polls, in aggregate white men are heavily republican, and college educated white men are still republican by over 20 points. This seems like an extraordinary claim.

And for one tangible data point, in 2012, wikipedia shows 158 newspaper endorsing the democratic candidate, and 112 newspaper endorsing the republican candidate [1]. Obviously not a perfect metric, but that is ~58% of newspaper endorsing the democratic candidate.

Even in 2016, when the Republican candidate was specifically anti-journalists, only 69% of newspapers endorsed the democratic candidate [2].

1: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newspaper_endorsements_in_the_...

2: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newspaper_endorsements_in_the_...


I mis-remembered the statistic a bit. (Sorry too late to edit, but breaking down the numbers here.)

7% of journalists identify as republican, versus 28% identifying as democrat. The majority identify as independent: https://www.politico.com/blogs/media/2014/05/survey-7-percen....

So 80% of journalists who disclose a political affiliation identify as Democrat, and 20% identify as republican.

To put that into perspective: nationally, 27% of people identify as republican, versus 29% as democrat: https://news.gallup.com/poll/15370/party-affiliation.aspx. Among the general population self-identified republicans and democrats are roughly evenly represented, but among journalists democrats outnumber republicans 4:1. I would expect the independents to break along the same proportions when it comes to voting.

Another way to look at it is to compare journalists to various demographic groups: https://www.people-press.org/2018/03/20/1-trends-in-party-af.... Journalists are less likely to self-identify as republicans than: urban voters, jewish voters, millenials, asian voters, and hispanic voters.

That is particularly interesting because journalists are more likely to be white and male than the general population, or democrats as a group. Therefore, their party identification is particularly unusual when compared to other white men.

On other metrics: a Texas A&M poll of finance journalists found that 58% described themselves as very or somewhat liberal, versus 4.4% saying they were very or somewhat conservative: https://www.dailywire.com/news/462-financial-journalists-wer....

Nationally, however, 37% of people say they are very or somewhat conservative, versus 24% who say they are very or somewhat liberal: https://news.gallup.com/poll/188129/conservatives-hang-ideol.... That makes the polled financial journalists 2.3x more likely to self-identify as liberal, and 1/8 as likely to self identify as conservative as the general population. That means the ratio of conservatives to liberals is 20x higher in that pool of journalists than in the general population.


While we are picking apart your statistics, I wondered about your claim that journalists are "Overwhelmingly, white and male democrats".

From what I can tell journalists at major US papers have about a 60:40 male to female ratio: https://www.statista.com/statistics/625800/newspaper-journal.... I also found this interesting source which seem to say that most newsrooms are about 80% white: https://googletrends.github.io/asne/.

My quick conclusion is that if we thus assume that male, white, and Democrat are independently distributed, we find that 60% * 80% * 30% = 15% of journalists are white males that identify as Democrats. While this is probably the most common combination of these particular characteristics, it doesn't feel particularly overwhelming.


> 7% of journalists identify as republican, versus 28% identifying as democrat. The majority identify as independent

> So 80% of journalists who disclose a political affiliation identify as Democrat, and 20% identify as republican.

That is an exceptionally misleading way of presenting/interpreting that data. 50% if journalists identify as independent. That is a political affiliation. You can't just ignore that group.

I find it encouraging that over half of journalists don't identify with the two main, polarized, often extremist political parties.


Your 2016 reference states Clinton 500, Trump 28. (plus 30 "Not Trump") Not sure how you get 69% from that.

>> What is your source for this?

On an individual level, more than 90% of journalists' personal donations went to Clinton. $382,000 to $14,000. https://www.cjr.org/covering_the_election/campaign_donations...


In the 2016 campaign I referenced Clinton endorsements vs total endorsements. "No endorsement" received over 3x as many endorsements as the republican candidate. Also don't oversample from the 2016 election. One of the candidates literally referred to journalists as "enemy of the state". Probably not shocking that many journalistic outlets would rather endorse nobody than a candidate like that. Even going back 4 years you did not see that pattern.

According to Wikipedia, in 2004 the democratic candidate got 52% of the newspaper endorsements. In 2008 the democratic candidate got 62%. These are far from perfect measures but again, if 90% of journalists were in fact democrats then my guess is the number of newspapers that endorsed democratic candidates would be much closer to 90%, and it clearly isn't.

The total donations really aren't really convincing because clearly the vast majority of journalists donate to nobody, so you really don't know exactly what the preference is for the median journalist. I'd also be interested in the stats for 2012, 2008 and previous elections before making any conclusions.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newspaper_endorsements_in_the_...

> As of November 4, 2008, Barack Obama had received more than twice as many publication endorsements as John McCain; in terms of circulation, the ratio was more than 3 to 1, according to the detailed tables below.

By circulation, it was like > 75% Obama versus McCain. Assuming journalist employment is roughly proportional to circulation, that suggests that a similar percentage of journalists are Democrats.


> Folks in D.C.--on both sides of the aisle--tend to be predisposed to believing in the superiority of the educated upper middle class, seeing government as the solution to various problems, etc.

This is spot-on. They also tend to think that their high level of visibility into their highly focused sector of government bureaucracy (wherever it is they happen to work) has granted them broad and trenchant insight into the right answers for domestic and foreign policy. This attitude tends to come with a healthy side portion of disdain for the ability of non-DC people to comprehend any degree of political nuance.


Good point on the AOC proposal. I don't know, since I haven't heard of it, nor have I read too many articles about that specific proposal.

Everything I've read about rising home prices has to do with supply/demand and the disruptive nature of AirBNB etc.

But if you as a journalist are talking about AOC's proposal, your main job is to communicate her proposal to the masses, your secondary job is to talk about why it may or may not work.

It's similar to any Republican counter proposal, if there were one that wasn't just based on dogmas like supply-side economics or "market will fix everything". You communicate the proposal and then talk about potentially how parts of it wouldn't work.

Tribalism is shit and really ruins a lot of these interesting debates. But I don't see true tribalism in places like the NYT. My bigger complaint with institutions like the NYT is that they're made of the same elites they're reporting on, so they aren't able to be truly objective.

Organizations like the Intercept do a much better job of "fuck you everyone, I'm going to expose you" than someone like the NYT. But that's not a republican/democrat thing. That's a lack of diversity (diversity of background, not skin color) problem in their staff.


But if you as a journalist are talking about AOC's proposal, your main job is to communicate her proposal to the masses, your secondary job is to talk about why it may or may not work.

Journalists don't believe it's their job to talk about why something may or may not work, but they really want to. They have a couple of ways to do that.

One is to select "experts" to comment on a story who agrees with the journalist. For any topic of enough importance you can usually find people who will present things your way, even if others would disagree.

Another is to use a library of common phrases that create an impression in the mind of the reader without actually committing to anything concrete. For instance:

• Mr Smith was under fire last night after proposing <X>

• A new idea from Mr Smith has been creating excitement after he launched <X> last night

• According to experts, <Y>

• <Z>, according to analysts

etc etc.

It'd be more honest if journalists wrote "X said Y and I think he's a douchebag because Z" but that'd make them, in their eyes, mere bloggers, so they rely on more subtle manipulations instead.


This sounds related to the whole "Republicans pounce" [0] thing.

[0] https://www.commentarymagazine.com/politics-ideas/when-repub...


It's absolutely a journalist's job to talk about why something may or may not work. News without context or analysis isn't journalism. Journalists have a duty to inform, and a basic retelling of facts is about as informative to the public as a basic retelling of statistics to non-statisticians. Framing this analysis as "subtle manipulations" is disingenuous regardless of how flawed/biased news analysis may be, which is about as flawed/biased as any analysis can be.


> Framing this analysis as "subtle manipulations" is disingenuous regardless of how flawed/biased news analysis may be, which is about as flawed/biased as any analysis can be.

But it is subtle manipulation. How many articles have you read about failing schools or school funding challenges, and how often have they mentioned that the U.S. spends among the most in the world per student for K-12 education? As you say, presenting news without context or analysis isn't journalism. But the minute you start picking facts for context, or analyzing the facts, you're inherently incorporating your personal views.


> But the minute you start picking facts for context, or analyzing the facts, you're inherently incorporating your personal views.

That's not "subtle manipulation", that's bias. Calling it "subtle manipulation" disingenuously implies that journalists unscrupulously distort or change the news. Context & analysis is inherently biased, no surprises there, but you're approaching substance-free cynicism when you say stuff like "Journalists don't believe it's their job to talk about why something may or may not work, but they really want to."


Journalists are qualified in nothing and can't possibly have any weight on the question of whether something will or will not work. That's why they always speak through experts. Why would anyone care what a journalist thinks? Their job is to journal, not tell people what to do.


They don't tell people what to do. Even your example doesn't show journalists telling people what to do or show them sharing their personal thoughts on the matter. Journalists are qualified in reporting, which includes collecting, analyzing/contextualizing, and presenting relevant new facts, which is exactly what they are correctly doing when using your common library of phrases. Naturally, such reporting is prone to bias, and you may not agree with what is presented, but that isn't the same as "subtle manipulation", and it isn't the same as telling people what to do or think.


> I'd say the same thing about journalists. 90%+ of journalists are democrats. (Overwhelmingly, white and male democrats.)

> For example, 32% of Democrats are "extremely proud to be an American" versus 74% of Republicans

Disregarding for a moment that this is a super weird question to use as a barometer, this is not sound statistical reasoning. Journalists make up a very small, and very biased (in the statistical sense), cross section of the democratic party. Therefore, their answers to a given question won't move the overall answers very much.

It is like observing that 99%+ of iPhones are sometimes used to browse the web, and that a majority of web-browsing devices run Google Chrome. You can't infer from this that a majority of iPhones run Chrome (or, at least, not very strongly).


I suppose the question is not whether these people are a completely accurate representation of the country as a whole, but whether they will effectively serve as a dampening factor on corporate lobbyists. We shouldn't compare them against an unreachable ideal, but ask if they'll be an improvement on what we have now. I think they probably will.


Do we want them to "serve as a dampening factor on corporate lobbyists?"

https://news.gallup.com/poll/187919/big-government-named-big...

> When asked to choose among big government, big labor and big business, Americans overwhelmingly name big government as the biggest threat to the country in the future. The 69% choosing big government is down slightly from a high of 72% in 2013, the last time Gallup asked the question, but is still one of the highest percentages choosing big government in Gallup's 50-year trend.

As of 2015, 70% of Americans viewed big government as the "biggest threat" versus just 25% listing big businesses.


>As of 2015, 70% of Americans viewed big government as the "biggest threat" versus just 25% listing big businesses.

Wherever the government tries to "regulate" - unprecedented wealth transfer from ordinary people to special interests follows: the health-care(?) mafia, the higher education mafia, etc. Always sold as "think of the elderly/children".

Big Government -> Lobbyists (corruption) -> Corporatism

(In the US, Europe is a bit different, because lobbying is not as predatory)


The problem as it's explained is that those being regulated are the ONLY ones presenting informed commentary on the issue.

Surely hearing a perspective from someone striving (at the very least) to be objective rather than ONLY hearing from someone who has clear bias on the issue (the corporation to be regulated) is more likely to be a good thing than a bad thing.


Big business can be easily qualified. But how do you qualify big government? What is not a big government? Is there such a thing as an objectively small government i.e. not attached to a political ideology?


> Is there such a thing as an objectively small government i.e. not attached to a political ideology?

Many local governments are like this, with explicitly non-partisan elections (although partisanship may be implicit). More likely, the powers and resources of the local government are limited such that there's no "slack" for partisanship, and they are literally just trying to keep the lights on.


There is no evaluation without a worldview, such a thing is preposterous. However, there is something to be said for having advisors that are not literally being actively paid by the people you are trying to regulate. Ideology is one thing (it's at least honest and heartfelt), not having any advice is another thing.

Using Google's people is like using the lawyer of the guy you're suing.


I feel much the same. D.C. and even a lot of political positions are a bit divorced from common life. In my experience it is seen as a lack of knowledge of the cost of things, and the hardships of most of the US.


When making complex decisions affecting the lives of millions, or handling issues that require deep subject matter expertise, is an educated upper middle class not better at making decisions than an uneducated lower class? (or any uneducated person)?

That isn't to say the lower class has no say in their government - it is why "democracy is the worst form of government, besides all the others". But having an intellectual, technical team of "trying-not-to-be-partisans" helping elected officials make decisions is a good thing, and you make it sound like a bad thing.


> Federal government employees try not to be overtly political, but they have a world view that is not necessarily representative of the country as a whole.

There's also the simple incentives argument: Why don't people trust lobbyists? Because they're paid by people/companies/organizations/etc who have (at the very least arguably) a vested interest in a given outcome, so it's hard to trust their motives. Wouldn't the same be true of a government office of "experts"? Wouldn't they have the same incentives to advance the agenda of those who keep them employed?


You should be a little bit more careful generalizing from that Gallup poll; fewer Democrats are "extremely proud" to be American now, for pretty obvious reasons, but the gap was far smaller a few years ago.


> As someone who grew up in D.C. I disagree with this. Federal government employees try not to be overtly political, but they have a world view that is not necessarily representative of the country as a whole.

That's not what the comment was referring to in the slightest. You're disagreeing that water is wet because fire is hot. They aren't completely different things.


Within the actual, global spectrum of political philosophies, the difference between American Democrats and Republicans is remarkably small, especially in comparison to many European parliaments. Just look at the consensus about and subsequent lack of accountability for the Iraq War as an example.

What do you think is an actual, meaningful consequence of something like “90% of journalists being Democrats.” In all the domains you cite, I see a general consensus around a right-wing perspective about America‘s place in the world.


Not only are they biased, most of the bias crosses party lines so that many opinions are never represented there? That would be worse rather than better, wouldn't it?


I think the trope that Americans are categorically right-wing compared to Europe is false. Just in 2017, the party that came in second in the Dutch elections proposed to ban the Quran and shut down all mosques. Le Pen, whose party is the offshoot of an actual Nazi party, won a third of the French vote. In the US, the idea of making English the national language is not something even Republicans push these days. In France, the idea of French as the national language is nearly universally supported. New Zealand and Ireland recently got rid of birthright citizenship. Attitudes that are part of the "mainstream right" in much of Europe would get you labeled a white supremacist in the U.S.

On the economic front, U.S. Democrats are to the left of the European (and Canadian and Australian) center in many respects. Macron is a "socialist" that is trying to privatize SNCF. Sweden is extremely market oriented, has school vouchers, etc. The EU keeps pressing forward on privatization efforts in various sectors like rail and utilities. Trump was late to the game compared to France, Germany, Sweden, etc., in terms of cutting corporate taxes.


> Attitudes that are part of the "mainstream right" in much of Europe would get you labeled a white supremacist in the U.S.

That’s because Europe has a different historical and political context than the US though? Many of those policies would be correctly described as white supremacist if advocated for within the US context because the US is historically a white supremacist country and has organized much of its politics along those lines. In Europe, they would probably be understood as “fascistic” because, as you’ve correctly identified, many of their advocates descend from this ideology and its history on the continent.

> On the economic front, U.S. Democrats are to the left of the European

Historically, Democrats have supported charter schools, privatization, and kept in place corporate tax cuts passed by Republicans, so I’m not sure this bears scrutiny. While there is an emergent left flank of the Democratic party, it is deeply at odds with the party elite, their institutions, apparatuses, and is stymied by them at most turns.


> That’s because Europe has a different historical and political context than the US though? Many of those policies would be correctly described as white supremacist if advocated for within the US context because the US is historically a white supremacist country and has organized much of its politics along those lines.

That’s a weird bit of bootstrapping. France colonized Muslim countries in North Africa, and then when people came to France from those countries the French insisted they learn French, banned religious symbols like hijab, etc. French language and cultural purity absolutely is a sort of at least cultural supremacy.

Likewise the success of right wing parties in Europe. They’re putatively nationalistic, but the strong anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiments make clear they rest heavily on cultural and ethnic supremacy.

> Historically, Democrats have supported charter schools, privatization, and kept in place corporate tax cuts passed by Republicans, so I’m not sure this bears scrutiny. While there is an emergent left flank of the Democratic party, it is deeply at odds with the party elite, their institutions, apparatuses, and is stymied by them at most turns.

Democrats have a strong “party of FDR” trend, which is an anti-market, pro-regulation viewpoint. I’d characterize Clinton and Obama as exceptions, with the “Green New Deal” being a return to the norm. Meanwhile, Canada, Australia, and the EU have pushed ahead with deregulation and privatization under both liberal and conservative governments.

Canada, for example, is basically an example of Clinton/Gingrich’s government trimming and “welfare to work” being applied for 30 years: https://encrypted-tbn0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn%3AANd9GcTNKL...

Trudeau, a liberal, continues to promise corporate tax cuts and deregulation. Public transit in many european cities is opened up to competitive bidding. Stockholm’s subway is privately operated. I’m not aware of any privately operated subways in the US. France has extensive privatized water utilities. Europe continues to embrace markets and deregulation at a level Democrats have not done since Clinton.


Also, the same policy can occupy a different place on the right-left spectrum in different countries. For example, as an American that's lived in France for a short time, I oppose English as the official language in the US, but I support French as an official language in France (although I might argue that other languages, like Occitan, should be given equal status as well).

Why? Well, I don't think English is in any danger. People are learning English all over the world, and I've never in my entire time in the US had someone try to speak any language other the English to me. On the other hand, French, while still a very important language, is clearly on the decline compared to where it was a couple hundred years ago. Lots of French musicians these days write songs mostly in English. I'd be sad if the French language lost its central position in French society, and I think it actually is important for the government to try to stop that from happening.


The person you're replying to was saying that range of political views between Democrats and Republicans is smaller than the range of views in Europe. As you've noted, there are some Nazi-adjacent parties winning elections in Europe. There are also some communist parties that have seats in European assemblies. That seems to support the idea that the difference between Republicans and Democrats is relatively small.

Also, I don't think that even the "we want to shut down mosques" right-wing of Europe wants to eg. get rid of socialized healthcare.


No offense but Le Pen party is absolutely not an offshoot of a nazi party. The idea that you could casually label a third of France as nazy is strongly offensive.

Le Pen actually tried to join the resistance as a teenager. It is a strongly nationalist and protectionist party which used to be/is xenophobic but it has nothing to do with the Nazi. Trump idea are more radical in a lot of way. Let's not forget he suggested actually building a wall at the border. Also Macron is rightfully seen as center right in France and certainly not as a socialist.

French has been the official language of France since 1539. Having French as the official language is hardly a rightwing position. The question of having an official language is only seen as rightwing in the USA because it's done to spit the large part of the population speaking Spanish. This is purely cultural. It's a bit like supporting gun regulation which is seen as left wing in the USA while not supporting it is seen as being a lunatic in the rest of the world.


Le Pen's father, the founder of the French National Front party, was a Holocaust denier who was forced to pay settlements over his statements. There's not "no" nexus between Le Pen and Nazism.


Le Pen father is an antisemite, a racist and a generally despicable person who thought and was condamned for saying that the Holocaust is a mere "detail of history", not a denier.

That doesn't in any way make his party a offshoot of the Nazi party especially in its modern form. You might be a mere American and therefore throwing the word Nazi casually like a low grade insult. That doesn't justify implying that a third of France is voting for the Nazi party.


https://www.ft.com/content/967daaae-2412-11e7-8691-d5f7e0cd0...

> The National Front party leader warned over the Easter weekend that French “civilisation” was under threat as she pledged to suspend all legal immigration and protect the French way of life, toning down her plan to take France out of the euro.

> “Give us France back, damn it!” the far-right candidate demanded at a rally in Paris on Monday night as her supporters chanted: “This is our home!”

> In comments clearly aimed at France’s Muslim population, she said: “In France, we drink wine whenever we want. In France we do not force women to wear the veil because they are impure . . . In France, we get to decide who deserves to become French.”

Who are the people whose home France is?)


[flagged]


Your view of modern republicans is outdated. Many Republicans are non-religious like myself and align themselves closer to the views of the founding fathers. We simply see the rampant corruption in government and propose it is a better solution to limit governmental power as opposed to increasing it.

If I were to paint democrats in a similar manner they would all be bike lock wielding liberal arts professors and that would be unfair.


The difference is that these things are written into Republic party platforms and are not merely the views of individual Democrats, and the average Republican voter absolutely picks up on this. Thus, even if bureaucrats considers themselves Republican, they appear to be Democrats to these voters.


What party platform document are you referencing? I've never seen that.


I believe he is refering to this[1]. Each party publishes one each election year.

[1] https://prod-cdn-static.gop.com/media/documents/DRAFT_12_FIN...


Care to quote the passage? Its 60 some odd pages long.


"religious individuals and institutions can educate young people, receive government benefits, and participate in public debates without having to check their religious beliefs at the door."

"The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a political mechanism, not an unbiased scientific institution. Its unreliability is reflected in its intolerance toward scientists and others who dissent from its orthodoxy."

The scientists like Spencer and Legates who "dissent from its orthodoxy" that the GOP trots out for its voters actually dissent due to their religious beliefs. https://www.cornwallalliance.org/2009/05/01/signers-of-an-ev...


> "religious individuals and institutions can educate young people, receive government benefits, and participate in public debates without having to check their religious beliefs at the door."

That's not directed to science. It's directed to the separate issue of public education being a vehicle for eliminating religion from childrens' education, and replacing religious social values with government values developed by education boards. It's a legitimate concern when the government is deciding how you socialize your kids, and leaves you few avenues for opting out. (Also, it's a model that's by and large uncontroversial in most of Europe.)

As to your second quote, it appears 10 pages later. Is there some sort of connection you're trying to draw between the two?


> As to your second quote, it appears 10 pages later. Is there some sort of connection you're trying to draw between the two?

Both are examples of pushing faith above science, which is the whole point of my argument.

> public education being a vehicle for eliminating religion

Public education does not do anything to eliminate religion except where they disagree, as in evolution vs. Biblical creationism.


That seems a little post hoc and doesn't mention teaching creationism in public schools. I get there are things in there that people disagree with but I was looking for the point made previously. Simply citing a large document and not having read it isn't arguing in good faith.


I didn't cite that large document. Claiming that I did is not arguing in good faith.

The particular example of creationism comes from the Texas GOP's platform. https://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2012/06/28/the-texas-repu...

You can certainly see echoes of it in the national platform. That is no mistake.


That article is from 2012 and is about the Texas GOP. It seems like this claim was not true.


I never claimed it was in the national platform. You are once again arguing in bad faith.


I don't live in Texas in 2012, so that isn't part of my parties platform. I suppose you agree with every element of every state democrat platform ever published. Well post Jim Crow of course.


Texas is the largest GOP state, and as the other poster showed, that faith based stuff is mirrored at the national level.


> Many Republicans are non-religious like myself and align themselves closer to the views of the founding fathers. We simply see the rampant corruption in government and propose it is a better solution to limit governmental power as opposed to increasing it.

Surely the nomination of Donald Trump in 2016 should call into question how large of a subset of the Republican party this represents.


Republicans wouldn't elect the Trump that Democrat media outlets show, they would elect the Trump that Republican media outlets show. Listen to a Republican describe Trump and you'll hear about someone a sane person could plausibly vote for. Would a Republican vote for a womanizing Russia-serving friend of Epstien? No way! A charismatic business-oriented people's man? You bet!


> Would a Republican vote for a womanizing Russia-serving friend of Epstien?

If the alternative is a Democrat? You bet.


A Republican would probably be willing to vote for a Democrat as Democrats perceive them, but not a Democrat as Republicans perceive them.


Probably not. I grew up during Clinton’s “welfare to work” and continuing Reagan’s deregulation and trimming federal employment rolls. I always thought it was ridiculous that Republicans called Democrats “socialists.” Now when you have the crowd boo-ing candidates for saying socialism isn’t the answer, I’m not sure Republicans are wrong about what Democrats want. Maybe it was just the shadow of Reagan and Newt Gingrich that kept things on the rails for a couple of cycles.


Those booing crowds don't even know what socialism is and have likely confused it with Scandinavian-style social democracy. I can count on one hand the number of actual socialists I have ever met in the US, so that position is absolutely fringe.


A Democrat who sold uranium to Russians and whose husband is a womanizer and of a very good friend of Epistein no less.


> A Democrat who sold uranium to Russians

The Democrat you're referring to never owned any Uranium to sell.

> whose husband is a womanizer and of a very good friend of Epistein no less.

A fault of association with a womanizing friend of Epstein vs. a fault of actually being a womanizing friend of Epstein's does not seem like a very strong reason. The real reason they voted for Trump is the R next to his name.


>The Democrat you're referring to never owned any Uranium to sell.

Yet millions flowed to her foundation upon the completion of that sale[0], getting paid for something you don't own is worse.

https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/24/us/cash-flowed-to-clinton...


Millions flowed to her foundation before the sale, too. Claiming she was paid for that deal is conspiracy theory lunacy, no different from Biblical creationism and climate science denialism. https://www.factcheck.org/2017/10/facts-uranium-one/


> But most federal agencies are simply too large and bureaucratic for individuals to push their own political agendas.

I think I agree with you, both in principle and from similar anecdotes I have from friends & colleagues in the area.

The leadership piece to which you allude worries me, but also the idea that to have a successful non-partisan government office you need to invest a lot of tax dollars to make it SO big & bureaucratic that any individual can't have significant impact makes me a tad nervous from a perspective of favoring smaller government.

Therefore, if the trade-off is between massive, expensive government office that can have some non-zero probability of corruption OR relying on the responsibility of States & Representatives from those States to hire consultants / experts / research the issues, I'd opt for the latter.


I don’t understand the faith in state governments. I’ve seen just how awful they can be to trust them over the federal government, in the trend. The federal is a much larger sample of people. In order to function every part of it must pass some basic acceptability requirements from the entire voting public. Meanwhile, state governments can be outright hostile toward one locality at the benefit of another through their own laws and voting practices and budgets. State and local governments are much smaller than the fed - meaning corruption and influence are bought at much lower prices than the federal. I’ve personally lived through economic downfalls brought on by local governments outlawing and fighting new industry for political power and easy votes.

I also saw my university’s tuition revenue taken from it and given to a smaller university in the state capital. All because the surrounding population hated the city hosting the university.


It's not that state governments have better people in them, it's that there are more of them and they have more competitive pressure. If a local government is too corrupt then people and businesses will start moving away. Which is much easier for them to do than to move to another country. And since the local government doesn't want that, they have an additional incentive on top of voting to keep the local people happy.

You also end up with more policy diversity, so that if you really hate living under the rules in one place, you at least have the option of going somewhere else. Consider whether you would rather have gay marriage legal in California and illegal in Mississippi than to have it uniformly either legal or illegal in all places, but the uniform policy is chosen by a coin flip and if it doesn't go your way then you can't override it with local policy.

The result is that some places will be more corrupt or have rules you can't stand. But some places will be less corrupt and have rules you love that you wouldn't have been able to make into national policy. And if you live somewhere with a policy you can't stand, it's much more feasible for you as an individual to actually affect the local policy. And if that's still hopeless then you have the option to move somewhere else with a different policy, which isn't possible when you impose a federal uniformity that makes 45% of people unhappy.

> State and local governments are much smaller than the fed - meaning corruption and influence are bought at much lower prices than the federal.

That's not really true, because the influence you get is in proportion to the size of the government. If you capture 1% of the federal budget, that's ~50 times larger than 1% of a state budget, so it's worth spending ~50 times more to capture it. Worse, then the regulatory capture gets greater economies of scale and becomes proportionally more available to large players than smaller ones, allowing huge corporations to more easily steamroll over small businesses and individuals. And then the rules entrenching huge incumbents are uniform so you can't avoid them by moving your small/medium business to the next town over.


> have more competitive pressure

That's the theory, but in practice I think states have less competitive pressure. VA for example shifts massive amounts of funding from the northern part of the state. This has worked due to continuous gerrymandering that allows one party to maintain control despite statewide elections being far more competitive. In practice VA almost can't mess things up, simply by because it's so close to DC.

National elections on the other hand regularly shift power around. That provides constant pressure to adapt and improve. People may not like the FBI, but few feel it’s ineffective.


> That's the theory, but in practice I think states have less competitive pressure. VA for example shifts massive amounts of funding from the northern part of the state. This has worked due to continuous gerrymandering that allows one party to maintain control despite statewide elections being far more competitive.

You're talking about competition between parties rather than between states. And gerrymandering is a problem exacerbated by strong national parties, because the opposition party is then laden with positions from their party's national platform that may be locally unfavorable. Otherwise they could tailor their platform and message to something which is locally competitive in light of how the district lines are drawn, and respond accordingly if they change, reducing the incentive to redraw the lines by making it less effective.

Even then, it only moves the debate to within that party and effectively makes the primary the election. You can still get individual representatives to change their position for fear of losing their seat, with much more ease than doing the same thing at the national level.

> In practice VA almost can't mess things up, simply by because it's so close to DC.

That's kind of the point. DC is a huge outlier created by federal activity.

And it's all relative. Nothing the government of Topeka does is ever going to turn it into New York City, but they can make it better or worse than it is, which is a thing that the local people who elect them or choose to live or do business there will certainly care about.

Whereas if a change in federal policy makes things worse for the people of a given state when all of that state's federal representatives were already from the opposing party, all they can really do is whinge about it and suffer from the negative impact.

> National elections on the other hand regularly shift power around.

That's half the problem. Instead of having many localities with many different policies that are largely locally stable, allowing each person a choice in which rules they prefer to live under, you have national policy that flip flops back and forth based on who is currently in power so that at any given time some 40+% of the people are unhappy with the latest national rules, and the uncertainty makes it difficult to plan for the future.

> People may not like the FBI, but few feel it’s ineffective.

The percentage of US citizens who ever have any interaction with the FBI rounds to zero, and their role is enforcement rather than policy-making.

There are a lot of people who think the current EPA is ineffective[1][2]. And the FCC[3], and the FAA[4], and the FDA[5][6], and so on. What's the approval rating of the US Congress? Still somewhere between Comcast and dog poop?

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/sep/26/trump-epa-ca...

[2] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/trump-plans-to-revoke-californi...

[3] https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20190702/09221042510/killi...

[4] https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/09/24/faa-bo...

[5] https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/08/29/my-irb-nightmare/

[6] https://www.cnn.com/2019/09/27/perspectives/vaping-epidemic-...


>The federal is a much larger sample of people. In order to function every part of it must pass some basic acceptability requirements from the entire voting public.

What is the mechanism for this acceptance passing? If the VA mistreats its veterans, or has a black mold problem in a facility housing elderly patients and then covers it up how does the public vote on that. A considered response should outline both 1) how that selection might work in principle, and 2) and how it might work in light of the fact that voters care about competing interests, e.g. whether or not candidate X has a position commensurate with voters line on abortion, global warming, if the candidate has a familiar last name, if they would like to have a beer with the candidate, etc.


Outrage on cnn or twitter, for one.


You quickly hit massive bureaucracy at the national scale without actually being that expensive. Let’s say 4,000 people, which seems like massive overkill, costing 250k each (salary + benefits + office space etc). That’s 1 billion a year out of ~7630B total government spending.

It’s still a cost benefit analysis, but a technology equivalent to the GAO or arguably the FDA could provide significant value.


I find all the talk about bureaucratic waste disingenuous when there are never reductions in the parts of governmental spending that benefit business directly. Ie private prisons and industrial complexes.


Well stated, can confirm. You are far more likely to encounter fiscal corruption than partisanship in most agencies, appointed leaders aside.


As someone who grew up in DC and lived there for an adult I cannot disagree with this more.


> The rule of thumb I use is "would I trust this government entity if my respective political party is only in control ~50% of the time?"

I'm surprised that you'd use 50% as the threshold. I would use 0%.

There are plenty of government agencies and functions that I trust even though my affiliated party is never in control.


The UK has what are called "Non-ministerial government departments"[0]. These are government departments who aren't overseen directly by the government because they are deemed issues that live outside of the domain of the current governing party. This is in part to avoid the kind of "50% control" problems.

Does the US not have some kind of similar element?

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-ministerial_government_dep...


> Does the US not have some kind of similar element?

Not on such a widespread basis, no (exceptions exist). For example, Wikipedia lists the Crown Prosecution Service as one such UK government department, but in the US the Attorney General directly governs the Department of Justice. This led to the then-chronic debate about just who had the authority to oversee/direct the Mueller investigation.

Even when an organization is set up outside the traditional Cabinet hierarchy, its leadership is still typically appointed by the President (often with Senate confirmation), such that a new administration should quickly expect to appoint a working majority of directors.

This can also directly cause problems of governance. The Federal Election Commission (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Election_Commission) is an independent agency that is responsible for administering elections law, but because of Presidental/Senate deadlock the board no longer has a quorum required to take official actions.


Eh, Supreme Court justices, court of appeals judges, and district court judges are all lifetime appointees. Part of the theory for that is to decouple their decisions from a fear of political backlash like they might face if they had to get reelected.

Despite their many failings, I actually think this system works pretty well, and I'm always impressed at the reasoning behind supreme court rulings --even those I don't agree with.


Almost everything winds up as a department under the executive branch, headed by a political appointee. But exceptions exist, like the Post Office and TVA.


I don't trust a government entity to be "independent" or "non-partisan."

This is unfortunate perspective, but I can understand why many would have this view.

As others have stated, for the overwhelming majority of the career Civilian and Military workforce, partisanship is a third rail topic at best.

I've been in government service as a military officer or civilian for about half of my working life and being vocally partisan is just not something that is institutionally tolerated, is actively frowned upon and in certain cases unlawful.

I wonder how we could change that perception.


This idea that people who worked for a company can't be critical of it seems pretty unlikely to apply to Google, given all the internal political controversy they've gone through?

Maybe we should judge people for their own actions rather than who they once worked for?


I think it depends who you're getting from those companies. We've seen a lot of Googlers standing up and publicly denouncing the company's practices. I suspect a lot of people would be inclined to regulate the crap out of their old employers if they were sufficiently divested. But if you're getting people who want to basically rotate to the government for a couple years and rotate back to Big Tech, that's not going to go great for us.


I have some sympathy with this view. My main concern is that business will always try and fill the vacuum. Who would you rather is informing politicians on climate change, the oil companies or government scientists?


It seems highly unlikely that because a President is elected an entire agency is replaced with people of their political belief overnight, or even in 8 years.


it may not have to be the entire agency, just the people in charge, to have a potentially quick impact.


> I don't trust a government entity to be "independent" or "non-partisan."

so do you worry about the post office not delivering your mail if it's of a political nature, the fire department not showing up to put out a fire at your political parties' headquarters, cops not showing up if you're known to be of "that party" ? do these people all act in a partisan fashion throughout their day jobs ?


I know “I don’t trust the government” is a very popular trope in the US, but I am a bit curious how the solution to this lack of trust is always diminsishing government power instead of say trying to figure out how to properly compartmentalize or divide it?

As somebody who grew up in the german language area (Central Europe) and dealt with Nazi history and extremism for half his life, I am quite sure that a too strong government without proper division of forces is equally dangerous to a weak government that can be taken over too easily by political movements like Germany was in the late 20s.

The whole history of how the Nazis came into power is really something people should study, because I am convinced similar things could easily happen today in multiple democratic nations.

Power is after all fluid and if you weaken your elected government just enough it will flow somewhere else. And if you are unlucky that somewhere else is even more out of the control of the citizen than a government would be.


Well we do have methods to enable division / compartmentalizing it - the biggest two concepts are:

1) The three branches of the federal government & the checks / balances system, each with their own sub-divisions (e.g. legislative having the Senate + House)

2) States Rights - whatever powers not dictated by the Constitution to the federal government are guaranteed to the States.


> I am a bit curious how the solution to this lack of trust is always diminsishing government power instead of say trying to figure out how to properly compartmentalize or divide it?

If we had a German civil service system instead of the orcs we're actually afflicted with, that would seem like a reasonable thing to do. When an American with historical sense looks at government regulation, we see Tammany Hall, defense contractors, the Clinton family's net worth (a considerable fortune made entirely from political graft) and guys like former SF Mayor Willie Brown wearing $40,000 suits when his job as Mayor pays him $35k a year: overt graft at the highest levels is as part of the fabric of society as Mom and Apple Pie. Usually reducing regulation is wanted by people who are not plugged into the power structure but would like to get their way.

FWIIW I think the OTA was a pretty good government agency, and though I am pretty right wing, Newt Gingrich was an evil jackass and almost everything he did was horrible for the country. I'm guessing they got the axe because they made the mistake of dabbling in policy rather than sticking with their mission, but it's just a guess. Bob Park would know. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_L._Park


Why the Clinton’s specifically being mentioned? Yes they are very wealthy and in my opinion, unfairly so, but isn’t every senator a millionaire?


The people who talk about reducing government are the same types who enjoy the status quo and don’t want wealth redistribution even though this nation, unlike Germany, has still yet to pay reparations for its greatest sins.

Your comment above is quite rare and I agree we must find a middle ground where we can distrust government but still empower it enough to resolve what is best for the nation. The status quo is not what is best for the nation and we should empower conservatives to think bigger than they have been. Maybe conservatives don’t need to dismantle government like an anarchist. Perhaps they could be augmenting it so it can be conserved and saved from revolution.


That question should be "is this better than the alternative if my respective political party is only in control ~50% of the time?"

An argument can be made that a biased OTA is better than no OTA.


I think you mean non-partisan.

Government is inherently political.


People use the terms interchangeably. Also a lot of government jobs make the distinction between "career" and "political".


I believe the distinction you’re looking for is Civil Service vs Appointed positions. The Civil Service is composed of employees who are hired and managed competitively (to the extent allowable by the unions and massive red tape...). Appointed positions are executive roles filled by the whim of the president, or the whim of someone the president delegates to. The most powerful appointed positions require Senate confirmation.


> I don't trust a government entity to be

Is this feeling or sentiment, or can you give reason why private enterprise providing the same service would be less partisan?


I trust the GAO and the GBO even when the party I do not normally vote for has a majority in both houses and the presidency.


For those of us who didn't know about this:

>The Office of Technology Assessment's (1972-1995) purpose was to provide Congressional members and committees with objective and authoritative analysis of complex scientific and technical issues. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Office_of_Technology_Assessmen...


isn't this the purpose of FFRDCs like Mitre?


Hmm...I thought Mitre was part of the military industrial complex?


That’s a meaningless statement.

> Federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs) are public-private partnerships which conduct research for the United States Government. They are administered in accordance with U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, Title 48, Part 35, Section 35.017 by universities and corporations. There are currently 42 recognized FFRDCs that are sponsored by the U.S. government.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federally_funded_research_and_...

FFRDCs have a special legal ability to provide “neutral” input on technical matters. In theory Congress could hire Mitre or other FFRDCs to perform this service for them. That might take some tweaks to the law because FFRDC contracts seem to be aligned to specific executive agencies.

Personally, I’m a big believer in Federal in-sourcing combined with civil service reform. Using contractors for public interest positions, even contractors with special designations like FFRDCs, clouds the issue with contract management.

Of course, it’d be very difficult to design Civil Service reform properly and politically impossible to implement it, so creative contracting is probably the way to go for now.


Why does the government need another office to provide this commentary? The onus is on those seeking change to explain why its necessary not on those for the status quo.

Government 'independent' offices are not immune from political spin. Congressional committees are ultimately the ones tasked with making policy and they have authlrity to call whomever they want to testify. If the OTA wouldn't say what they wanted to hear, they'd just call someone else.

The United states does not suffer from a dearth of scientists. We should be able to get everything we need from the OTA via private commissions and private subpoenas.


Well even if you favor the status quo being informed is kind of neccessary for everyone doing their job directly for evaluating arguements properly. Trusting the source with a conflict of interest?

While it may be in the congressional authority to do their own research having a shared resource helps all do so and acts as a well of institutional knowledge which makes the system less dependent upon incumbent's assembled teams.

Plus one upside of bueracracies is that they are an anti-spoils system by being harder to sway in a "he who pays the piper sets the tune". If they are wrong then their own private researchers should be able to make a case refuting it.

Willfull ignorance is still unfortunately always possible but having one removes the cover and excuses from bad actors.


> Well even if you favor the status quo being informed is kind of neccessary for everyone doing their job directly for evaluating arguements properly. Trusting the source with a conflict of interest?

You do not need a government office to provide expertise. There is a large private market economy to provide skeptical research regarding all sorts of topics. Banks and financiers regularly pay outside companies to conduct critical research regarding investments, etc. There is no reason the government cannot pay outside, private scientific research firms to provide expert advice on particular topics. Congress in particular has absolute authority over the federal checkbook, so they have no excuse that they are unable to come up with the funds.

> Plus one upside of bueracracies is that they are an anti-spoils system by being harder to sway in a "he who pays the piper sets the tune". If they are wrong then their own private researchers should be able to make a case refuting it.

When someone tells me something like this with a straight face, I am forced to conclude that they must have so far lived their life without having ever met someone who may not think like them. Government bureaucracies are literally the epitomy of spoils-based systems. They rarely ever are eradicated. Once government agencies fulfill their initial mission, they are forced to come up with yet more fake problems to justify their continued existence, and government bureaucrats typically enjoy better pay and benefits and job stability than their private sector counterparts. Aside from extreme lobbying by the government employees, there is no way to explain this discrepancy. It is ridiculous. I suggest reading a bit of Thomas Sowell. You may end up hating the man, but at least you will be exposed to someone who may not think like you, and you won't make these kinds of absolute statements without sufficient justification.

> Willfull ignorance is still unfortunately always possible but having one removes the cover and excuses from bad actors.

Oh right, I forgot that having a Congressional budget office means that Congress always passes a reasonable budget that reduces the public deficit of the United States!


> The onus is on those seeking change to explain why its necessary not on those for the status quo.

The issue is that those who listen to the arguments and make the decision may not know enough to counter the arguments.

Any tech company can come up with some argument to explain why a given change is necessary.


> The issue is that those who listen to the arguments and make the decision may not know enough to counter the arguments.

Sure. Congresspeople are neither scientists nor technologists. I get that. Congresspeople do have the power to spend government funds though, and they are more than capable of commissioning an outside research agency with expertise in the given area to provide commentary. In fact, this is better than a government agency with only 140 employees.

First of all, not all 140 of those employees are researchers. Assume -- generously -- that 120 are. That is still only 120 researchers. The idea that 120 people can be enough to exhaustively provide expertise on all possible ranges of technology and science, etc, is ridiculous. 120 people would barely be able to offer expertise on all the various computer science topics, much less physics, climate science, etc.

Instead of pretending that this limited office could actually be an expert in everything, it's much better to be realistic, and just pay someone else to prepare a study, and testify, like an expert witness would. If you are worried about bias, make it so that commissions have to hire two agencies -- it's probably still cheaper than funding a government bureaucracy and giving them all pensions anyway.


For the same reason "user consent" is inaccurate when used as an argument by big tech: big tech can't fully inform people because they have a conflict of interest. Moat of the time, it's not unethical or something, it's just a true, unavoidable, conflict of interest.


I'd be more interested in why Obama didn't re-form this office since it was so great, given the google/facebook anti-trust issues metastasized under his administration.


His administration benefited a ton from Facebook. You can look up his old campaign manager's tweets about Facebook telling them that they were on their side, and that if anyone else had scraped as much info as they did, they would have been blocked.


Citation needed.

One person's claim is not that whole story.

https://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2018/mar...


Obama did basically what Cambridge Analytica did. To this date I don't understand why the media reacted so differently to both situations.

Edit: See link in response for an explanation. IMO I'm still uncomfortable with how they got data of friends, but that's about it. However, this does not refute the above point that Obama didn't heavily benefit from Facebook.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/feb/17/obama-digital-...


>> Obama did basically what Cambridge Analytica did.

Only in the sense that a car and a bus are the same thing because they both have four wheels.

As with all things technical though, it's the details that matter:

https://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2018/mar...

>> The people signing up [for the Obama campaign's app] knew the data they were handing over would be used to support a political campaign.

>> The people who downloaded the app used by Cambridge Analytica did not know their data would be used to aid any political campaigns. The app was billed as a personality quiz that would be used by Cambridge University researchers.

There were also substantial differences with regards to how the collected data was used.

"Facebook friends lists, tags and photos allowed Obama operatives to identify a person’s close friends, which they then matched with offline public records. (Was this person likely to vote for Obama, but unlikely to get out to vote?) They then told the app users which of their friends they should send campaign messages to.

Cambridge Analytica dialed up what Karpf called the creepiness factor. They combined the survey results with the Facebook data to create psychological profiles they then sold to campaigns. The idea was, if the firm could discover how these people thought, they could target ads toward them.

Cambridge Analytica then sent targeted ads to the users on their database as well as users with similar profiles, identified by Facebook’s Lookalike tool. The friends of the app users weren’t being targeted by their friends, but by the campaign itself. In other words, the consenting middle man was gone."


What difference does it make if someone willingly gives up your personal information, or someone is tricked into giving up your information? Either way, people who didn't consent had their information collected by a political campaign, which is what everyone was upset about with Cambridge Analytica.


>>What difference does it make if someone willingly gives up your personal information, or someone is tricked into giving up your information?

We must really have gone off the deep end here, because I can no longer tell who is trolling and who is posting for real.

I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and answer your question in good faith: whether you willingly give your information, or are tricked into giving it, makes a world of difference.

The only thing in common between the way the Obama campaign utilized Facebook data and the way Cambridge utilized the data is that, in both cases, the users sharing the data (whether willingly, or without realizing) also unwittingly provided access to their friend's data.

That's where the similarities end.

But no, the real reason most people were angry at Cambridge Analytica is that it (quite possibly illegally) obtained the data from Aleksandr Kogan, one of the researchers in Cambridge University who developed the original app. Furthermore, when Facebook noticed this and told them to delete the data, they did not.

THAT is the real scandal.


>I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and answer your question in good faith: whether you willingly give your information, or are tricked into giving it, makes a world of difference.

The comment you're replying to is positing that question in the context of other people giving up your information, not you yourself giving that information up.

In both cases, the users giving the data knew they were giving that data to someone on the Internet. Their friends, however, didn't. The friends of the (either willing or tricked) participants had their data given up, too. Those friends did not consent in either case.

In that case, I don't think it matters whether your data was given away willingly by your friends or whether your friends were tricked into giving it away. It's just splitting hairs over who is at fault when it's wrong in both cases.


> I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and answer your question in good faith: whether you willingly give your information, or are tricked into giving it, makes a world of difference.

No, not your information, their information. The post you're replying to is about the friends of the person using the app. In one case, the app user is tricked, in the other case the app user consents, but in both cases the vast majority of the data is from friends of the user, who had no say either way.


How many people agree that Facebook is a severe privacy violation, even though you've "willingly given consent"? Did people really, understand what was being used of their data? Vast majority of people didn't even know what targeted ads are (obviously no longer the case, hence CA outrage).


False equivalence. Using models on a MySQL database is different than exploiting Facebook APIs and sharing voter information with foreign agencies.


Simply not true, at all.


I was there, and we did not.



Among other google-able sources, https://twitter.com/cld276/status/975568208886484997


If you're thinking I'm going to disagree on that note, you're wrong.

But the Obama administration also created the US Digital Service and 18F (after the healthcare.gov debacle), which are doing stellar work and continue to do so in the federal gov under the Trump Administration.

Obama also did create the Office of Science and Technology Policy, so maybe this was the successor of what this office would've been. But they were more science focused.

But that doesn't address my question about this particular office.


Congress created OSTP in 1976 after Nixon disbanded the National Science Committee.


The executive branch already has technological experts to lean on. Obama was never particularly interested in giving up leverage the executive branch had over Congress, especially when his party wasn't in control there for most of his presidency.


sounds like it is a congress thing


Barack Obama was so closely associated with Google, it isn't even remotely funny. The amount of interaction between Google and his administration is unprecedented; he could've been considered an employee.

Suffice to say, he wasn't going to introduce a way to give the government objective understanding of issues around Google's monopoly.


I really had to chuckle when a coworker of mine called him "Barry" and then it turned out she had worked for him and that's what he asked his closest workers and friends to call him.

Then I had to chuckle when several of my coworkers took leaves (fully supported by the leadership) to help out running the Obama infrastructure under Eric Schmidt. At times they got to fly between Chicago and SF on Eric's personal plane. Eventually several of those people ended up working for him (it's always weird when your ex-manager ends up leading a government department).


True, he hired his CTO straight out of Google. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megan_Smith


At first I thought you had a typo, but I'll be damned, I didn't even realize that was a position in the Executive branch.. I have now found my afternoon research project for the day.


My kneejerk reaction is that the Google of 2008, even 2012, isn't the same Google of 2019. Maybe that's political bias talking.

All the same, not crazy about politicians and corporations being so cozy, regardless of affiliation.


Newt's rallying cry was always to reduce the size of government. The only way to do so was lean on the private sector, as things still needed to be done.

While the hope is those private contractors will just follow the contract and not let any bias seep in, it's inevitable. For the time, and to his agenda, closing the OTA seems like the correct move (for him and the party). Not sure if it was the best move overall, but, it did follow the mood and spirit of the Republicans at that time.

I'm no Warren fan (center/right so there is no one I actually support in 2020 right now - and I don't expect there will be) but it seems to me to ensure the people regain control of our government we (the American populace) must place less reliance on the private sector for such specialized tasks. The private sector use should be more towards the mundane tasks of government. Such specialized areas like tech have to separated from the firms who would benefit from whatever actions and effects they make upon our government.


The smallest government possible without collapsing into anarchy is preferable. So any government agency getting the axe is good news.


Half of Newt's career was built on minimizing government (or at least that's the claim). So, it fits the pattern.

As far as how I feel about it, my political views are closer to Ron Swanson than Leslie Knope, so I'm not too unhappy about it.


Not necessarily a republican techie but what if that office or other government offices satisfy a need but one that's bursty -- maybe we really only need them for six to nine months every seven or eight years?

I'm not saying that's the case here but it seems like an interesting challenge to somehow leave an agency intact but be able to spin up and down like that. People in general prefer a lot more consistency in their careers.


What I'd love to see is something like the National Academy of Sciences, where you have an organization that year-round advises Congress, and you are elected to it by your peers.

So like the NAS has a lot of Nobel Prize winners, etc... this new "Academy" would have IEEE/ACM recipients, others that have a much longer view, pretty much what a lot of "distinguished engineers" or "fellows" do at private companies.


We've been doing exactly that every ten years for the census, so it's not exactly an unsolved problem.


The federal government has plenty of bursty offices. The census bureau hires like crazy each decade for temporary jobs. There are government advisory positions that academics take for a summer or just go to DC for a week every four months. These things are not impossible.


I like the idea putting expiration dates on most government entities like this (at least the ones not spelled out by the Constitution). I'd even go as far as putting expiration dates on many laws, regulations to force politicians to reconsider their necessity.


Well, the regular debt ceiling fiasco maybe shows the failure of putting that idea into practice?


Yeah, good point. But the process around that allows for it.


This is a good idea, but terms in the OTA should be time-limited so that professionals staffing it need to get jobs (or start companies) in the private sector again after 4-5 years. Tech moves quickly, and technical knowledge becomes stale in about that time period. The last thing we need is a government bureaucracy of career civil servants that mandates best practices that were current 40 years ago.


Personally, I feel Gingrich was an idiot.

From my short stint in Government service (the Executive Branch), most employees are a bit too busy trying to do what they can with what they've got to really play the partisanship game. There is also a heavy inertia constituted by the fact that making the decision isn't your responsibility. Collating information is to make the decision well informed is.

When I learned the OTA existed and was dismantled a few years ago, I was extremely upset. I'd sign up to act as a fact finder/researcher for policy makers in an instant. Lobbyists cannot be trusted to have the safeguarding of the public's liberty at heart, whereas a Legislative Research Division has one goal. Collect and parse information to impartially feed the policy making process.

When I heard the justification for getting rid of it (I.e. always being at odds with lobbyists) I had to unplug for a couple days to try to figure out how my model of the world could be so inaccurate.


Reading the Wikipedia entry on it, the apparent charge to remove it was "unnecessary agency"[0] - that the scope of its responsibility was handled by other agencies, but doesn't elaborate what those other agencies are.

Does anyone know what agencies are being alluded to?

[0] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Office_of_Technology_Assessmen...


If you read more closely, the book Fat City: How Washington Wastes Your Taxes was the one which stated that it was an "unnecessary agency" and the Regan admin liked the book. Newt Gingrich was the one who spearheaded the closure of the OTA.


It's harder to accept telecom bribes when you have an official agency telling you how terrible they are.


Throwaway for obvious reasons. This is not an appropriate role of government and I'm glad Gingrich closed it down.

The government is not "us" as former president Obama and many HN readers believe. It is a entity separate and apart from the people it claims to represent and therefore its size and role should be extremely limited. Any representation it claims to provide can be easily proven wrong under scrutiny, if only the educated elite would bother to do so.


I'm troubled by it, but I'm troubled by a lot of things both parties have done, happens to be I agree with most of the objectives of the republican party over the objectives and platform of the democrats. So until there is one party that does everything I like and nothing I don't like I'm gonna continue to vote my conscious on each ballot. I don't think I've ever voted a straight ticket before.


It’s definitely good that people are thinking about this but like with many thing, the devil is in the details.

I think there are a lot of parallels to banking & financing and the regulation and oversight of those industries.

Definitely it’s good to do something rather than nothing, and many good things happen because of oversight etc.

But just like in banking, don’t expect this to be a panacea and things are going to happen very slowly.


I'm not a "Republican Techie" (I would classify myself as "left"-leaning), and I am suspicious of this because of that.

For me, I look at analogous examples where we have tried to build technical expertise in the government. One such reference point is the US Patent Office. Although they don't have a "small" workforce in absolute terms, they are overwhelmed with the number and kind of filings they get. You basically need to remain an expert in the field in order to do that job well, but it is very hard to remain an expert in the field if you are working at the USPTO instead of the field. It is also difficult to keep people in this position where if they are particularly creative or knowledgable they could alternatively be doing exciting meaningful work in the field. The result is ultimately what many of us complain about: nonsense patents getting through, patent trolls pushing people around, and a new vested interest in exploiting the patent office. Importantly, this is not to say that an ideal patent office wouldn't be a meaningful job: I think many of us here wish that we had "the best" working there to prevent these sorts of lapses (and potentially allow "good patents" -- not meaning to get into a discussion as to the validity of software patents in general, just saying that the hypothetical version of the patent office diverges significantly from the one we actually have).

I have a hard time believing this organization wouldn't work similarly. Would they coincidentally have a an expert on lattice encryption when quantum computers become a realistic threat to current schemes? Would the general leanings of career-members of the OTA (who thus have a somewhat "frozen" view of technology from whenever they started) create the opportunity to form some sort of regulatory capture? I don't know. Ultimately the solution is "if we had a group that really cared about the public good, then...".

My point is that I'd like for something like the OTA to be good, but I think practically speaking it won't have the effects we think it will. I am much more in favor of trying to create an adversarial counter-balance (or ideally multiple adversarial counter-balances). If I could somehow snap my fingers and grant the equivalent budget that this OTA would have to the EFF for example, I'd take that immediately. This is because things like this become issues maybe in one election, but ultimately get drowned out for a much more popular issue later. The forming of some government agency to "fix this" makes people feel like it is thus "fixed", instead of realizing that it is a constant battle we need to be actively engaged in -- that's what makes me feel like supporting groups like the EFF is more important and potentially more effective than creating some organization that could easily just be disbanded just like it was in the 90s and completely undone.


I was a very young child in the 90s and I think this is the first I've heard of this incident so I don't have a strong opinion. I will say, in general, I don't like executive agencies and would not have a problem with most of them being abolished.


Because the government is, or becomes, terrible at everything. All it takes is one super republican or democrat or socialist in leadership to start padding the office with their own people. Add to that, a lot of government jobs are stable, regardless of how awful you are(DMV, anyone?). I just don't trust it to keep fresh, and not fill with aging folks who haven't paid attention in years.

I'd probably be more OK with the idea if there were mandatory term limits, like the USDS, and the vetting process had oversight from a committee of congress.


Libertarian here.

How did I feel? Step out of the box, and imagine for a second that business and profit are not inherently evil. This is what we are told, every day by people like Warren. I believe profit is a reward for providing something people want for a lower price - and absolutely necessary to be in business. Profit is a function of efficiency.

The question rests in the in the notion that Government, (not motivated by the ability to make something people want for a lower price) will be able to do a better job than the free market in making tech policy decisions. It seems silly that a small team of government hired employees would know better than tens of thousands of Google, Amazon or Facebook experts.

Libertarians could view this small group of government employees as corrupt. Using their personal politics and authoritarian power to pick winners and losers - rather than let the free people pick real winners and losers.

So it depends on your perspective. Do you personally believe the Government can do a better job than the people?


That certainly depends on the task and what 'better job' means.

For example, private enterprise can certainly make a lot of money providing health care but I'd be very disappointed if my country switched to privatized health care. I personally believe that the Government can do, and does, a better job than "the people" in providing me with health care.


The Libertarian perspective on healthcare is that it is the most regulated portion of the economy, so if other areas of the economy become as regulated, their prices would go up. We see this in Bay Area housing markets.


> Step out of the box, and imagine for a second

Well, what you said is entirely true...from the perspective of someone using their imagination to form their world view.

In the world I can observe, business is neither inherently good or inherently evil. It tends to take on the morality or immorality of its owners and directors. I'll leave it to the reader to decide what kind of people tend to rise into those positions, and thus what kind of morality their businesses assume. Business is motivated by all kinds of incentives not necessarily related to "lower prices". Left unchecked, without guidance from the general public, those incentives will always converge on "profiting and growing" to the exclusion of everything else. I don't think this view requires imagination, but happy to be shown otherwise.


> Business is motivated by all kinds of incentives not necessarily related to "lower prices"

I would posit that business is virtually never motivated by "lower prices" and always motivated by "profiting and growing". Not that profiting and growing is inherently evil, but I think the idea that businesses strive to lower prices for consumers is truly fantasy.


At its best, business provides a utility for exchange thats worth more than the sum of its parts, by specializing and scaling. At its worst, business grows large and powerful enough to control all access to that utility, and becomes an abuser of that power.

This is the same for government. The worst is when both work purely for power together - the pharmaceutical industry being one, the military industrial complex being another. I frequently see people who advocate for smaller government be fine with absolutely abusive industry, thinking that with less government (IE regulation) the industry will fix itself. I don't think this is the case, since you're not really addressing the power disparity. The same can be true with industry - making industry smaller (anti-trust) won't fix the government.


I don’t see that as a one or the other decision. I think of it as a continuum, where decision making on either side is grounded in knowledge of history. Should the government decide if Nike or Addidas make better shoes? No, let the market do that. But if one company makes cheaper and better shoes by offloading toxic waste into aquifers that feed large cities, the market is not good at weeding that out until the damage has been done. Enter regulations created in and of the public interest.


> profit is a reward for providing something people want for a lower price

How do monopolies work with this? If I am a car manufacturer and I buy up all the steel and steel mills, and then jack my prices up, I get more profit, and also am protected from competitors. If there are no power or resource disparities, I could see this working, but at the very least government is (to a much larger extent than the private sector) accountable to people.


> It seems silly that a small team of government hired employees would know better than tens of thousands of Google, Amazon or Facebook experts.

Those tens of thousands of Google/Amazon/Facebook experts are not going to provide the government with objective recommendations, they're going to provide the government with recommendations that favor them. The idea of the government office of experts is to help make decisions that are objectively in the best interests of the people, not the corporations that are going to be affected by those decisions.

I work for a government office that, fortunately, is not hated by Republicans because it supports the military. But in this office our job is to ensure that private companies are giving the government good value and not feeding us a bunch of crap. I see the kind of shoddy workmanship they try to sneak past us all the time.

Is the libertarian perspective really that the government should just de facto trust all private companies and not try to provide oversight?

> Do you personally believe the Government can do a better job than the people?

The government is made up of people too.


> Those tens of thousands of Google/Amazon/Facebook experts are not going to provide the government with objective recommendations, they're going to provide the government with recommendations that favor them.

Do you have a factual basis for this claim? To me it seems like a form of projection that is common among right-of-center people. It's no wonder they want smaller government.


I'm not right of center and I don't want smaller government. The fact that employees of corporations will provide the government with recommendations that are favorable for those corporations is exactly why I think the government needs a technology office to advocate on its own behalf.


As someone that works for a living for a YC company. I want my company to advocate for itself


Precisely. And the government should have a group with the proper qualifications to judge the merits of the advocacy of these other companies and advocate on the government's and people's behalf.


When considering additional regulations, the weight of biased political workers should have zero weight. Advocacy is most often a defensive action against business killing overreach.


Tell me which ones would be favored for hiring and retention - experts which provide what they want presented or ones which present inconvenient facts?


I want to note you asked for an honest answer of my perspective and this was down-voted.


downvoted again. lol. This place is not tolerant of non-left wing view points.


Sorry to hear that. I posted a somewhat disagreeing response to you, but felt your response was reasonable and respectfully put. I have never downvoted anyone due to simple disagreement--that is what replies are for. Downvoting, imho, is for content with an improper tone or context--abusive, off topic, or what have you.


Tech based businesses didn't have half as much money/sway back then as they did now, so from a budgetary perspective i think it made sense at the time. Short sighted, but makes sense.

My concern, is the massive amounts of failed promises Warren has made in efforts to shut down things like Robocalls, and for her to be auditioning for her next job before she's completed her current one bothers me.


The reason why companies like Google care to do things like lobby is that those companies get the majority of their power from the government, so of course they want to petition the government for more of it. It doesn't make sense to get into an arms race in this way. Instead, let's eviscerate copyright and patent protections, and let's take a wack at the corporate veil too. That will chop companies like Google down to size and make their lobbying irrelevant and/or useless while simultaneously weakening their power to control the rest of us.


Newt Gingrich != the Republican party. I'm sure I can cherry-pick some Democratic politician to get the point across if I cared, but I don't because your post is trolling.


Errr he was the LEADER of the Republican Party, literally the Speaker of the House.


So, like Harry Reid was for the Democrats? Yeah, we got baddies on both sides, especially in positions of authority.


Newt Gingrich was the leader of the Republican Congress that closed the OTA, not a cherry-pick. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Office_of_Technology_Assessm...


who signed that budget?


In the 90s, I taught retraining courses to government computer programmers (e.g former COBOL programmers) Let’s just say “they’re not sending us their best people” roughly describes my experience. That is, people who had previously held jobs writing code by the government didn’t even know what “parenthesis key” meant or where it was located which largely led me to believe that many of the people in my class were collecting paychecks but didn’t really know how to use computers.

Unless the government radically raises salaries and benefits for these positions to attract top talent, I’d be concerned with it being stacked with a bunch of people who don’t have much developer or engineering experience.


The issue is perhaps not salaries and benefits. Often a lot of effort is taken to try to fill a position internally. This would explain your anecdote -- after some staff churn people were promoted to a position they had no business occupying.

I say this as various friends at times worked for government agencies and sought promotion. They could have filled extant positions due to their experience, but they were denied before becoming a public servant due to lack of public service and then denied after for lack of seniority (even when asking to be considered as an external hire).

Coming from them, jobs often seemed to open up after a person had retired and were catered towards an individual.


In addition, the restrictions on government agencies for who qualifies can be restrictive in ways that exclude the top talent.


That's very interesting, haven't heard this complaint before. Do you have an example of such a restriction?


not OP but I've seen preference given to candidates familiar with a particular technology only used by a single government office built exclusively for them.

Must be certified in (X) where certification courses are only available to government employees of a single government office.

Must hold clearances is by far the most common though and the only reason/way to get clearance is to already be working for the government.

I'd say by far the number one thing that keeps the cycle of nepotism going in government though is access to information.

Sure, an agency might be required to publicly post an RFP, but there are like 50 undisclosed qualifications considered and timing and whether you have a personal relationship with a particular individual within the agency plays a huge role. Often the only way around this is to bid so ridiculously low on your proposal that the agency head would be called out for not going with your proposal. This leads to a race to the bottom where people are climbing over each other to provide the lowest quality service to the government often overpromising and under delivering just to get a foot in the door.


As an aside, I think the clearance and seniority requirements are the most detrimental. If you aren't of a specific mindset at a specific time you will probably never enter into a form of service that permits you to advance in government work, and this, I think, leads to a massive disconnect in the type of person who works in the public sector (especially DC) and the average person.


Very insightful, thanks. I was familiar with the problems you covered regarding RFPs and vendor contracts, but had not considered the issues regarding access to information for an individual seeking a programmer role.


I’ve worked for campaigns, as a contractor for a small firm exclusively catering to a single agency, for a larger firm that did incidental government work, and I’ve got several friends who are high up in tech working directly for agencies.

My impression is that government tech = All the problems of Enterprise + Academia, all the recognition and support of a non profit, the culture of Uber, and the ethics of Facebook.

It’s just a maelstrom of most developers idea of hell.

And if you were born in hell and they hand you a pitchfork, hey, why not have a go?

But don’t go down there thinking you’re gonna install air conditioning and escalators.


Citizenship requirements, criminal background checks, and drug tests, for example.


USDS & 18F seem to have been huge steps in the right direction. A future administration that cares about getting this right should look to them as a model.


I do wonder if "sent to retraining" selects for a bad audience?

Anyone competent enough to retrain and retool could've done so, obviating their need for your training.


I mean, that was also the 90s - I’ll bet there are quite a few good programmers within government. Your point stands that salaries and the gov value proposition isn’t competitive - to me it’s almost like a charity job.


As a dev coming from private sector and now in government, your comment rings true to my experience so far.

It's true that there are many programmers in government who were promoted from within, learned on the job, and are limited on technical knowledge we would expect from a CS grad or a seasoned "software engineer" from industry. In many cases the code is written by contractors under the watch of a government employee who is responsible for delivering the system.

But I have found some aspects very rewarding: guiding new programmers who are eager to learn modern languages and techniques; introducing industry tools and practices to leadership who are excited to modernize/replace legacy systems.

Of course, for every ColdFusion developer who is humble and motivated update their toolbelt, there is one who resents all new technology and technologists. Not talking about the groans about going "agile", I mean people who say "react is silly, I can do all this with jquery! New devs don't know how to do it the 'real' way".

Overall, there is a powerful current within these organizations that is pushing toward new tech and better talent. But I don't know how leadership will manage to bring in new grads and private sector talent while still honoring its promise to promote those in non-technical jobs after years of service.


Fantastic, though the whole aspect of lobbyists (corporate shrills whose sole job is to peer-pressure government officials) just irks me, as I'm sure it does others.

Whilst companies should have a say, the general feeling of myself and again, I'm sure others - is that they monopolise the perspective of some officials. Then you have, `donations` and for want of another way of expressing that - it is just bribery and corruption with legal window-dressing.

This only leads to angst in the populus, who end up rising up and acting in ways that get heard, but equally demonised. For example - Anonymous raised many fair issues in their days, valid points. Albeit in a way that was to some extent - extreme, but when you drive people to the edge and the fall off, you can't blame them all the time.

Again, this is an excellent initiative and whilst Google may not be the worst offender, they are no angel.

[EDIT - that grammar and spelling error you just spot after you hit send, even though you read it thru before hitting send]


Oh, yes! Government employment, with all of the overhead that entails, like drug testing etc? And the job is to explain to ULTRA clueless users things they need to know and don't want to learn. People complain about supporting doctors, who assume their focused competence extends to all human knowledge. Politicians assume often their charm and power can substitute for understanding.

If i felt the need to do civic duty, I think I'd rather join the Army than take that job. At least there's the chance of shooting someone who deserves it there.

(Perhaps I'm still a little PTSD from my time supporting users)

* Edit: Calmer now; I have to say it's a great idea that Congress (and whoever else in government) could have a resource to tap for specialized knowledge in technical fields they currently lack coverage of. I can't imagine they can make the job attractive enough for me


When I applied to the USDS a few years ago, the interview process left me with the impression that "explain[ing] to ULTRA clueless users things they need to know and don't want to learn" was the core of the job, since the interview seemed to be testing that in lieu of actual technical skills. Left me wanting to go anywhere is, 18F, or any similar government program.

Of course, I also have 14 years of dealing with the DOD in technical capacities, so that didn't help.


Hard pass.

This would be a fragile suture over the gushing wound that is corporate lobbying. It's literally allowing wolves in the hen house.

If we're going to keep doing this whole Democratic Republic thing, along with the Constitution, we need to adhere to the spirit of the framework and not just the letter of it.

The federal government was set (what was at the time) far away from everyday life so that our representatives would not be swayed by salesmen and their snake oil.

So, if you want to make a difference Liz, do something about the root problem and help us defeat corporate lobbying.


Part of her platform is to curb the influence of corporate lobbying. I'm not an expert and I'm sure there are places to go for more details than this, but for example: https://elizabethwarren.com/plans/congressional-independence


That example is resourced under "plans" but doesn't offer one. It doesn't list steps or actions that can be taken to stop corporate lobbying, just a vaguely worded closing sentence about giving congress the "tools" to combat lobbying.

The business of lobbying has grown to over $3 billion per year according to OpenSecrets.org [1]. That doesn't include campaign contributions. It's impossible for so much money to make its way through individuals with their own self interests and result in a sustainable government beneficial to the people. Money will always win whenever it makes an appearance. We can't combat lobbying with tools, we have to prevent it.

So, it's a non-starter until she lays out actual actions to consider or commits to ending the practice.

1. http://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/


The Constitution was designed 240 years ago, when travel along the Boston-DC route took days or weeks. Communications took as long as people could move. The uneducated masses weren't expected to play an active role in government. Gerrymandering was considered, but not a problem (certainly not to the ultra-optimized state it is today). Firearms didn't carry nearly the destructive power they do now. The Supreme Court wasn't so consistently divided along partisan lines.

Almost every facet of our country could use re-evaluation. Health care should be a right for the people. Basic living conditions should be provided for all. The country has the money, the space and the food.

We could be so much better than we are now - and we're pretty good now.


Your vague plan of just stop corporate lobbying immediately fails because the negative incentives for someone in congress vastly outweighs the positive.


There's nothing vague about it.

RFPs work in every industry. Depending on the bill, Congress should request proposals or maintain a list of credentialed experts overseen by a watchdog agency outside of their control. Or they could be nominated by professional organizations and guilds.

Either way, no, Google, Shell, et al should not be allowed to spend X dollars sending former members of Congress or others to advocate for them, especially when experts in those fields, or scientists, contradict them.

Regardless, throwing our hands up and shrugging it off is absolutely the wrong course of action.


We have literally been there before, it's not a solution. An army of nerds hired into a government funded office has the effect of burying the issues out of the public eye. Over time, with a financially incentivized industry lobby vs a government office doing a thankless task (because it is out of the public eye), you create political imbalances (with the nice-for-some side-effect of employing a few people). The NRA (boo), EFF and Amnesty International have effective models, because their efforts remain in the public eye.

I think that if you really care about this issue, it's most effective if you donate to a special interest group like the EFF, and stay informed.


If you don't think there's a problem with google and our government, I'd read this: https://www.googletransparencyproject.org/articles/the-curio...


This feels to me as if the politicians have recognized that they need some technically competent people to even understand how to legislate in these matters.

However, if the top-level politicians, who remain technically inept, are the ones giving the orders, confusion will remain.


> However, if the top-level politicians, who remain technically inept, are the ones giving the orders, confusion will remain.

The converse would also be true though; a technologically adept leadership that didn't understand society's principles would also lead to confusion, likely worse confusion.

Deeper still, a militarily adept leadership, or any other narrowly adept leadership, that didn't understand society's principles would also lead to confusion.

Politicians have to deal with society as a whole, and as long as no one can master every area of expertise, they need to have someone doing analyses on their behalf.


If you think they’re going to end up with “technically competent” engineers I have some bad news for you: they’re all gainfully employed. What they’ll end up with is the same thing committees always up with: bureaucrats who wouldn’t be able to hack in the private sector.


So your argument is that there's nobody both technically competent and willing to work in an important role for the government? I can tell you for a fact you're wrong, and if you don't believe me, you may want to widen your social circle.


I think there’s an abundance of capable and willing people for government positions, but bureaucrats don’t select for these people. They select for other bureaucrats.


Sure, but establishing this office includes setting out staffing procedures, so there exists a mechanism for this issue to be addressed. Whether it will be or not is another question.


Like most government positions, I'm not sure I would trust anybody that actually wants to take that position. It's going to skew heavily towards either activists or the corrupt.

In theory, anyway, I'd push for appointing people to such roles by sortition, although that would never work in practice. Politics as a duty rather than as a career.


There's plenty of people with the necessary skills outside of the private sector or outside of the SF/SV tech bubble. The key will be how they select the experts, if it's a revolving door from FAANG then we know it was all a sham.

Sortition from what pool? I'd favor educating congresspeople (and citizens) but where's the incentive to make that happen?


Just pay more. I can guarantee you there are plenty of software engineers currently coding dark patterns and rigging Candy Crush or what have you that would prefer to work for the government if they paid competitively.


Current senior software engineer positions at a FANG company pays better than the president of the United States.


That's fine, it will represent the views of people who don't see technology primally as a way to extract wealth from fellow residents.


OTA is just a government agency that existed some time into the academic computing phase, where lots of theory and conjecture was thrown around but no broad enterprise or consumer application was possible. Think like blockchain in 2019. It was defunded when those applications were just taking off in the 90s.


s/politicians/executives and you'll see that good decisions can be made by non-technical people, as long as they have been adequately informed by technical folks.


I went to a recruiting event for the United States Digital Service. It was a complete joke. It seemed to be a mix of early social media employees who had made their millions and now wanted “to give back” and government staffers. The rest of the technical staff was low quality (& low paid). They made a point of telling me that I’d have to take a huge pay cut and work with out of date equipment, and deal with extreme amounts of red tape. They tried to sell it as a “challenge” but all I could see was some people from the government trying to find gullible people to take advantage.

At the event in SF they had stale sugar cookies & bottles of water for refreshments. Several people (myself included) got up half way during their pitch and left.

Not sure I’d ever want to work for the federal government after that experience.


I did a tour of duty with the USDS and you are so far from the truth its painful. There are very few individuals there who made millions in social media, and the technical staff is so far beyond any other organization I have ever seen.

Most of the engineers there looked around at the country and felt there was simple things that would make life so much better for their neighbors and friends, and they knew they were wasting their time trying to make people click on advertisements. For my part my father is a veteran who had to deal with the VA for his doctors appointments and benefits and his experience was beyond bad ( which is something you can hear from lots of veterans ). When I got the opportunity to join the USDS and work at the VA with the Secretary of the VA and the Senior Executives I also felt it was a fools errand, but I figured if I didn't at least try how could I expect anything to get better for my dad. I joined a agency that was struggling to get even basic IT systems working, and with the help of world class engineers and dedicated public servants we helped millions of veterans and literally saved lives. I have had veterans break down crying telling us how much better their life is now that they can actually engage with a agency who was trying to provide them services.

Quite frankly the people who staff the USDS are not only the most technically competent, but their dedication to service is so strong, and their ability to succeed in impossible situations though sheer force of will and dedication so overwhelming they have radically changed how this country operates, and there is still individuals there who are continuing on the mission.

What did you do with your life? If your concerned about the pay cut and poor working conditions then stay at your job and see if you can manipulate people into clicking on ads better, but just know those people who you just looked down on are making a difference.

* Also for the record my tour of duty ended two years ago, and I am no longer associated with the USDS, I am just a huge fan who's life was changed by what I saw while I was there.


> What did you do with your life?

Unrelated to the original topic, but I want to point out that this question and it’s cousins are a massive red flag for me.

Being content with life is hard. For many people who are still in the early stages of figuring it out, this question is poison.

It attacks a specific insecurity and is always only used to recruit young people into a workforce that is otherwise hard to staff (militaries, rebel causes, government services etc)

When “what have you done with your life?” is replaced with “Do x, and your life will be more meaningful”, the advertising tactic becomes more visible. But the people who want to find such answers must seek therapy, not enroll for whatever job opportunity is being nefariously advertised.


I agree with you generally that this kind of question can be used to manipulate, however I also feel those of us in the Technology sector need to answer it. So many of us are spending our lives without thinking about what we are doing. We just do whatever pays the best or gives us the nicest life. Meanwhile there are _huge_ problems that need to be solved, and we are ignoring them.

So it is a loaded question, but I feel its one people in the tech industry need to ask themselves.


It's fine if you ask that question in a way that makes it clear you're asking it in general. But if you're talking to a specific person and you say that, many if not most readers will hear it as a personal attack, so please don't bring it up that way on HN.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


> I did a tour of duty with the USDS

> * Also for the record my tour of duty ended two years ago

Is there some official marketing for the USDS that uses this term "tour of duty" to refer to a civilian government job? This comment uses that exact phrase twice, and I've seen other people use it with reference to the USDS as well.

It's honestly a huge turnoff, more than anything else GP mentioned. There are some situations under which I'd be willing to work for below-market rates. But the last thing i would ever want is for my work to be associated with the culture and goals of the military, or for my coworkers to view our job in that light.


The way they hire people you can only stay there for four year max. After that you are required by law to leave, so it very much is a temporary job. So to describe it they use that term as it pretty accurately describes what you are signing up for


> The way they hire people you can only stay there for four year max. After that you are required by law to leave, so it very much is a temporary job. So to describe it they use that term as it pretty accurately describes what you are signing up for

There are lots of jobs, both in the government and in the private sector, which have fixed terms. Very few refer to this using the militaristic language "tour of duty".


If you don't like it, blame the USDS, they're the ones that use this language: [0] "Our staff comes from all corners of the technology industry, nonprofit world, and government to serve ‘tours’ of service, bringing a steady influx of fresh perspectives into government. Tours typically last between six months and two years, with a maximum length of four years."

[0] https://www.usds.gov/how-we-work


I'm fine with blaming the USDS. There's no need to invoke military concepts, the Peace Corps calls their service intervals "programs."


> If you don't like it, blame the USDS, they're the ones that use this language: [0] "Our staff comes from all corners of the technology industry, nonprofit world, and government to serve ‘tours’ of service, bringing a steady influx of fresh perspectives into government. Tours typically last between six months and two years, with a maximum length of four years."

Thanks for answering the question. So it is, in fact, a conscious decision by the USDS, which doesn't reflect well on their work culture IMO.


It does seem a choice of words that would rankle on people who do a real tour of military duty. I get they want to make the work sounds important, the people that do it as part of an important mission, but I'm not sure that's the best way.


Agreed. I always found military jargon to be self important sounding on top of that. Using this language to attract civilian knowledge workers is bizarre and probably hurts their recruitment


In the military a “tour of duty” is a deployment overseas to a combat zone. Using it for civilian employment in an office at home is pretty weird.


You did not do a 'tour of duty', you worked a comfortable, air-conditioned, white collar job for a few years. Co-opting the language of actual military service is downright offensive.


I heard this same story at the recruitment event. Something about creating a PDF document translator for the VA? It seemed like grunt work to me that was lauded as making a difference when it reality it likely didn't matter.

The problem is, I'm not willing to work below market rate -- for anyone. The government has a lot of resources, they are just used inappropriately. I'm not willing to work for beans for the government, and billing it as a "service to your country" is just a way to get people to feel like they aren't being taken advantage of. Pay people what they are worth. Be honest. Provide a good working environment. Treat people with respect. Put a little effort into the recruitment events like you actually care about people.

If the government wants to attract good technical talent, they need to offer the same or similar benefits that tech companies do, and they need to pay people what they are worth. Who would have thought?


It's not an uncommon topic here on HN that people give up pay or other things to work at a "mission driven" organization, like SpaceX for example, where pay may not be as great and hours might be long etc., but you get the feeling of doing important work. In short, that work fulfillment is in demand, so organizations selling it can "charge" more for it by paying employees less.

And from the sound of it, the USDS is attracting good talent. What you're saying is that they need to put in more effort if they want to attract you. But you may exist at that nexus of talent that is good, but also wants to be wooed a bit. There's a problem with that though: It wouldn't be selling the reality of working with the USDS. As a group they may be great, but you're dropped into areas, like the VA, that may be dysfunctional. They can't try recruiting people like you who want the slick office spaces and amenities and fancy recruiting events, because you're not a good fit for the environment you'll be working in. Your work would be part of the effort to improve that situation, but it takes people willing to put up with it.


I think those are wrong too. I used to believe that way, but having worked in the tech industry for over 10 years now, I've been around the block and I see it for what it really is -- taking advantage of others. You can try and wrap it up however you want with a pretty bow of "changing the world" but if you have to take advantage of people as a business or institution, it's still taking advantage of people. At best it's hiding the true cost of something by not paying people what they are worth.

Pay people what they are worth! You don't have to pay Netflix salary but it at least needs to be in the range of market rate.

It disturbs me that there are those here on HN that seem to fetishize suffering when there are so many resources. People don't need to suffer needlessly to do good work and get things done and "change the world". In fact, when you allow people to live a decent life you'll find they are happier and more productive employees.


I'm not sure why you're getting downvoted. I disagree somewhat with the idea that "mission oriented" jobs must pay the same amount, but it's not an unreasonable idea. Personally I don't think of it as such jobs paying less: I view that more as the baseline. I mean, fulfilling work should be a given. When it isn't, a pay increase acts as a sort "hazard pay" premium.


There was a project to convert a PDF to a website that enabled millions to get health care, so yeah maybe grunt work, but grunt work to give millions of people access to health care ( and not theoretical million, we kept metrics and had a score board ). However that wasn't me, I was tasked with moving the VA out of its 300+ data centers and into the public cloud providers. We designed and architected the cloud deployment for the entire VA ( the worlds largest hospital chain, insurance company, and benefits organization all wrapped into one ). We had to throw out the plans that the AWS and Microsoft Engineers presented us with because they were trash and wouldn't actually work and then a handful of engineers from the USDS designed the system, showed the VA how to use Terraform and Ansible to provision and secure their systems, deployed it, and got an ATO for it. If that weren't enough since one of the values of the USDS is "Create Momentum" we took one of the "mobile applications" that was almost non-functional and running in a legacy data center costing millions, and used it as a showcase as to how you can take a legacy application and move it to the public cloud to both improve its usability and reduce the cost by a factor of 10.

People who are driven by personal gain, and comfort will never make it at the USDS. The work is hard and thankless, its exhausting and there are never enough people for the amount of work that needs to be done. The hours are long. You have no tools, and really odd and limiting restrictions you have to deal with. If you are concerned about any of those things stay away, you are not good enough to join. You need to have unquestionable technical credentials and the mental fortitude to deal with whatever gets thrown at you. You have to be able to stand up to Secretaries, Generals, Members of Congress, and Presidents and tell them what should be done. Its ok if you can't do it there aren't many who can, but if you can you will change the world.


> If you are concerned about any of those things stay away, you are not good enough to join.

Who is your target audience with this little speech? 14 year old boys? I'm asking, because I stopped responding to "Prove you're not yellow, you coward" nonsense about that age, and I was pretty slow...


Its not some kind of reverse psychology. Having one bad employee can ruin years of work by a team to build trust and goodwill. Having to rebuild trust after someone burns an career executive because they were disgruntled about pay or working conditions can take years. If you know you are motivated by pay or working conditions then don't join, you won't be happy. This is the same thing I tell people who are thinking about joining a startup, if you are just in it for office perks go join Facebook, they have great BBQ.


You've convinced me, I'll avoid government jobs.


> running in a legacy data center costing millions, and used it as a showcase as to how you can take a legacy application and move it to the public cloud to both improve its usability and reduce the cost by a factor of 10.

Hahaha ... what? You reduced the cost by moving into one of the most overpriced hosting options? Or are you telling me that the government is getting massive discounts?


Yeah, there were two major factors. First its not cheap to run a professional data center, this isn't even a government thing almost all big companies are making this calculation and moving towards the big cloud providers. Second when you run your own data center you need to plan for the surge capacity. In this case they had well over 10x the amount of capacity they needed provisioned so they could handle a surge of traffic. In AWS we just set up an auto scaling group with a ansible baked AMI and only pay for what we needed.

Its expensive, but in this case the savings were massive ( saved almost 20m per year )


Can you explain exactly how this cost savings project is "changing the world"? You did a cost savings job on the cheap for a large government and didn't get paid for it is all I hear. They could afford to spend $20 million per year on a datacenter but can't afford to pay their workers in this program market rate salary??


That application we moved over was used to schedule doctors appointments. Before we got involved it was being used to schedule about 100 appointments a month. The failure rate of people trying to use it was over 95%. By moving to the cloud, using modern tools and better design we increased usage to 10,000 per week.

Veterans could get appointments to see their doctors. The number one kind of appointment was mental health. That is how it was changing the world. What we did with that one application can now be done thousands of times over for their other projects. We wrote the playbook.


Good for you, you did your job and fixed a broken system. Note that this does not require anything other than average technical competency. It's expected that people know how to do their jobs. And my original question still stands -- how are they able to afford spending $20 million on a broken system, but not able to pay their employees a fair, market rate salary?


To continue with what you're saying. The government doesn't just pay people like they're not valuable but also treats them like they're not valuable. Expecting market value is about more than just what you're paid.

ajross 26 days ago [flagged]

> I'm not willing to work below market rate -- for anyone.

So your argument is that the USDS is bad because you personally don't want to work there?


"Please respond to the strongest plausible interpretation of what someone says, not a weaker one that's easier to criticize. Assume good faith."

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


But... but... I swear I was. It wasn't a quip, there's an expanded version already downthread, and it was there before you flagged my comment.

Sometimes, I gotta be honest, I don't think I can get a break with you. I just don't see you taking this tact with anyone else. The forum is filled with single-line responses like this.

And I... well, I gotta be honest, I don't see you making this kind of correction to other posters. There really does seem to be something about me specifically that's setting you off. How can I fix that?


I appreciate your saying this, because I really don't want you to feel like I'm picking on you personally. In this case, all I looked at was your reply to the GP. The GP comment was too irritable to be a good HN contribution, but reducing it to "USDS is bad because you personally don't want to work there" seemed like an obvious violation of the plausibility guideline (which is basically just the principle of charity). So I replied with the guideline, as I often do [1, 2]. It's really a shallow and mechanical response, which frankly most HN moderation responses are, and which I suppose most things are that one repeats so often.

For us most moderation interactions are stateless, because we do thousands of them, which sandblasts the brain [3] and scrubs it of previous state. That creates an asymmetry: because individual users interact with moderators only rarely, they're more likely to remember the interactions. Plus there's the authority thing: it sucks to be reprimanded by authority, no matter how mildly, even on a trivial playground like an internet forum, so inevitably that impresses itself on the memory, usually with a lot of extra torque. None of us is immune from that psychology. We try to mitigate it but we're not perfect, plus we can't mitigate what we're not conscious of.

Then there's the quantity issue: even if we never slept, we could never moderate every violation of the site guidelines or even read all the comments to find them all. So every regular reader of HN is going to run across comments that should have been moderated but weren't. It's irresistible to give that an interpretation—nobody looks at it and says to themselves, "Ah, randomness". Instead they see confirmation of whatever bias they fear the moderators are secretly governed by—usually a political or ideological bias, sometimes a personal one, occasionally something on the long tail of beyond-weird.

In reality, all we see is a random sample of comments plus the ones that readers bring to our attention by flagging and/or emailing. That leaves a large corpus of unmoderated material that provides way more than enough sourdough-starter for every perception that is out there to feed on. The natural human response is to construct a story about what happened: what the moderators did, why we did it, what we were thinking and feeling when we did it. These stories are basically all made up, because making up stories is what we all do all day; the brain is a compulsive curve-fitter, and there is almost never more than a handful of beans for data.

I can tell you that, to the extent that I recognize your username, I associate it with someone who has improved their HN commenting style over the years—which FWIW is a high-praise bucket in my mental hashtable. But if you really want to be relieved of the issue that "I don't see you making this kind of correction to other posters", the surest way would be to read backward through https://news.ycombinator.com/threads?id=dang until you can stomach no more of it.

1. https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=false&qu...

2. https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=false&qu...

3. https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=true&que...


My argument is that progress made by asking people to work for less than what they are worth for a large institution like the government who has the resources to pay people a fair wage, is wrong on first principles.

If your entire operational model relies on taking advantage of others, asking people to make huge personal sacrifices because you don't want to properly fund a program, there's something wrong.

It's the classic "ends justify the means" argument.


Doesn't that rule out intern positions too? Apprenticeship relationships? Formalized pay grade schemes like the military's? Collective bargaining? Minimum wage laws? "Cost of living" wage adjustments for location?

You're making this kind of absolutist argument that to my eyes is just ridiculous on its face. Different people want different things, and are willing to accept different raw salary numbers for them. The whole point of having an employment market is precisely to allow different people to make these choices and come to an appropriate equilibrium.

If you personally don't want to work for the government for lower pay than you could get in the private sector, that's fine. But that's not a principled argument about wage structures, it's just your choice. And empirically, it's not everyone's.


Interns and apprenticeships should be paid too. They should be paid a market rate that is enough to live comfortably on.

Not sure how you can argue against the simple fact that people need to be paid a decent, fair wage. At all levels of your career, including your first job. A startup doesn't get a pass just as the government shouldn't get a pass for "mission based" worked. Everything and everyone has a mission, but that is separate from the fact people need to be paid (& treated) fairly.


Seems likely that other people feel the same.


> They made a point of telling me that I’d have to take a huge pay cut and work with out of date equipment, and deal with extreme amounts of red tape.

> stale sugar cookies & bottles of water for refreshments

Well, that's what the government runs on. Old tech, low pay, and minimal perks. But there is impactful work to be done and some people are motivated by that.


Serious question: with how big the federal budget is for... pretty much everything... why is this the case? Is there truly not enough funding? How much money goes in and where does the money go?

I feel like time and time again I read how private sector can do better than the public sector, in all sectors.


> Serious question: with how big the federal budget is for... pretty much everything... why is this the case? Is there truly not enough funding? How much money goes in and where does the money go?

By the time we're talking about non-military discretionary spending it's 15% of the total. https://www.nationalpriorities.org/budget-basics/federal-bud...

> I feel like time and time again I read how private sector can do better than the public sector, in all sectors.

The private sector has its own problems. Do we want the government to be more like PG&E and Comcast? Consider the difference in outcomes between for-profit universities and state schools. The topic is too in depth for a random internet comment, but things really need to be taken on a case by case basis. It's all about incentives.


In discussions like this I feel there's a big bias in favor of what's called "institutionalism". This is a theory that the attributes of the institutions people work in, such as budget, governance, size, etc., most determine outcomes.

While there's a lot of truth to this, I think it's overused as an explanation because blaming the institution is less painful when there's a failed outcome.

Talent, on the other hand, is less used as an explanation because when there's a bad outcome, it hurts more to blame those, even partially, who were executing towards the goal.

However in some endeavors talent matters a lot, and software is one of them. The Mythical Man-Month is a great book that examines software project failure, whose conclusions are that "institutional" solutions to software problems, such as more staff or more budget, aren't as good as "talent" solutions, such as hiring the best person in the world for an absurdly high salary and having them do most of the work.

That's a long-winded answer to why the private sector is better than the public sector at some things: it does a better job at rewarding, and thus attracting, talent. The public sector, by contrast, is more likely to promote based on seniority and base political values, which in a democracy include equality and solidarity.


Depends on what your values are. If you think you could make this country better by giving your service, that is to some people, more valuable than getting paid a decent tech wage. If enough talented people were willing to sacrifice to reform the system, it might be be better off for the children of tomorrow.


Whenever I read people's thoughts on this I think of the saying/rap lyrics:

"Money, power, respect. It's the key to life."

Which has also been described as the three main rewards that people value (sometimes in combination).

(I often equate respect with fame in the examples below)

e.g.

College Professor:

- low money

- medium power

- high respect

HFT Trader:

- high money

- low power

- low respect/fame

Mid level government bureaucrat that manages the budget of an important project:

- low money

- high power

- low respect

Not everyone is driven by money (or at least, by money alone).


I am curious what you wanted from them? They aren't overflowing in cash.


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