On November 2, 2004, the two party system in the United States effectively collapsed. One party, a party that it notoriously hostile to civil rights, remarkably ignorant about technology, inclined to view such technology principally as a means either to wage war or control the populace, now controls all of the political organs of our state - the executive branch, the legislative branch, the legal branch, the military and intelligence services, and an overwhelming majority of all governorships, and to a great extent the media.
This party is not the GOP - though they were the agents through which this takeover was affected. The people who wield the power within this organization are students of a particularly virulent brand of nationalism that was last adopted by the German National Socialists, the Nazis ... as they came to be known. It is a philosophy of empire, of hegemony, of conquest for the sake of power and control, a philosophy that has learned to cloak itself in Madison Avenue friendly soundbites and wrap itself in the mantles of the cross and the flag, but it is friendly neither to people strong in their faith nor strong in their patriotism.
I voted for Kerry, not because I found that his ideas would have radically improved things, but because the party that Bush represents is making things far worse. Many of you, no doubt, will disagree with me ... and I welcome such disagreements - that is the spirit of honest debate. However, there are many indications that such honest debate will become much rarer, as will the spirit of innovation which is so critical to this field, as we become a nation under surveillance, so fixated on the enemy without that we do not see the enemy within.
A democracy needs two things to survive: a system of checks and balances and free and fair elections. We no longer have the first - the people in power can make pronouncements and judgements without the threat of what would in the academic community be called peer review - the ability to provide a second set of eyes to determine whether a given law is really good or whether it simply represents the desires of the person who makes the law for personal gain or aggrandizement.
In programming circles, the equivalent concept is code review. The Open Source Software community understands the value of this - in many ways OSS is essentially code review write large. No company worth its salt should ever accept software that's passed directly from the developer to the company at large (or their customers/clients) without at least two more sets of eyes looking at it; companies that fail to do this will not stay in business for long. The analogy holds true in government as well.
Were the elections free and fair? I personally do not believe so -- there are simply too many abberations at all levels, some due to human intervention, some due to machines either badly or maliciously programmed, and an overwhelming number of them favor the Republican party. Again, in statistics, a sufficiently large number of random errors will be distributed along a Gaussian Bell curve, such that errors usually tend to cancel out, not heavily favor one candidate or another. This will not change who gets inaugurated in January, but it does bode ill for the faith that one can place in the election process, not just now, but for the foreseeable future. Given that this faith is the cornerstone of democracy, the belief that each person within the society has a vote of equal value to all other people in that society, to compromise it to this degree begs the question of whether the United States is in fact a democracy anymore.
Many people in IT tend to be libertarian, and are either passionate about politics or supremely indifferent about it -- there is no middle ground. Thus to talk about it in a programming forum is often considered to be in bad taste. However, to those who see no relationship between the two, consider that with this election, several things are now set in motion that will have an impact upon both IT managers and programmers:
- Enforcement of such legislation as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act will be tied much more closely with federal agencies, with the strong potential to restrict the free flow of all information (throttling the Internet) in the name of chasing pirates.
- A concerted effort will likely be made on the part of several corporations to declare the Gnu Public License (the GPL) invalid, possibly along either DMCA or anti-competitive means. Patent cases under this administration have been settled overwhelmingly in favor of the largest busines interest ... expect this trend to continue.
- There is already something of a brain drain going on as academics and high end developers leave the country, fearful of what they see already coming down the road and frustrated as universities become simply extensions of corporations because federal funding is drying up. Additionally, as corporations in the US have become leaner and meaner, they have typically slashed or eliminated outright their key R&D centers, expecting that they can buy the innovation on the open market. I see this assumption as being facile and short-sighted.
- There is an increasing reluctance on the part of world standards bodies to want to deal with American corporations in light of political and military actions of late. I've been to a number of standards conferences in the last year or so, some in the US, some outside of it, and find that there are fewer and fewer Americans drawn into them. The heighened military posture of the US has also meant that certain American companies, such as Microsoft, are increasingly being seen as proxies for American intervention, and are losing business in Europe, Asia, and South America because of it. I personally don't think this belief is necessarily valid, but there is definitely a backlash building against US products because of that perception, with software being a major part of that.
- I'm keeping my focus here strictly on what I see as the most conservative impacts that the new administration will have solely upon the IT sector. I think there will be many bigger effects, including a fairly severe recession by mid-to-late 2005 which will also affect the industry (though not as badly as the 2000-2003 Nuclear Winter did), but there are too many unknowns to make such guesses with any certainty.
Moving one's family to a new country (even one only a few hours drive away) is always a momentous decision; moving because your own country is undergoing what could be a dark and dangerous transformation is heartbreaking, because you have to struggle with the question of whether staying would make a difference. It is a decision I am still weighing, and would gladly welcome comments from others on both sides of the divide.