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Politicians Have Poor Grasp of Technology? 349

Alfred Lee Deon writes "Chris Patten, a former EU Commissioner, was speaking at the three-day conference in Nice, France, on European business and technology. 'Many politicians don't understand the technology issues that could affect government IT schemes,' he said.' Politicians have no sound grasp of technology issues — but politicians don't necessarily have a profound grasp of any issue.' He was especially critical of UK's government's ID card scheme — a scheme he felt would not achieve one of its possible objectives of making borders more secure."
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Politicians Have Poor Grasp of Technology?

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  • by chroot_james ( 833654 ) on Friday October 27, 2006 @10:36AM (#16608794) Homepage
    What can be done about it? None of those people are reachable like they claim and everyone who goes against the norm (lobbyists) will be discarded as a radical...
  • New blood (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BWJones ( 18351 ) * on Friday October 27, 2006 @10:36AM (#16608796) Homepage Journal
    It is not just a problem in the EU and UK. We have major IT issues related to privacy, government and oversight here in the US and this is why we need to start populating the political system with politicians who *understand* some of the political issues. People like Pete Ashdown [] who is running against Orin Hatch (the guy who wanted to remotely destroy computers of those who download music) in Utah are the types of folks that we need to elect. Pete owns one of the first ISPs in Utah and has been at the technological forefront for a number of years. He understands how technology impacts government and business and effects the lives of private citizens.

    Populating the political landscape with technologically savvy folks will eventually happen as a matter of statistics, but right now we are dealing with lawyers, jocks and business people as politicians who it seems frequently rely on their staff to even read and answer their emails, much less actually possessing an understanding of more complex technological issues or their wider implications. However, with issues like the massive cost overruns and failure of projects like the FBIs agency wide computer system, loss of privacy and government intrusion into our lives sought by those in the Republican party (OT: what happened to the Republicans? They *used* to be about smaller government, less intrusion into our lives, lower taxes, and a strong military. They are now 180degrees off from all of those issues), we need a new generation of politicians who will be responsive to the people they represent, will understand some of the complex technological issues and all of the social, political and economic implications that technology brings.

  • true.... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by zxnos ( 813588 ) <> on Friday October 27, 2006 @10:39AM (#16608848)
    ...most politicians are geezers in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and sometimes 90s. so the current crop is ignorant, but in once the current crop starts to really turn over, those politicians should be more up to date. that said, i know some people in that age range that have a good grasp, and other who do not. the latter outweigh the former. additionally, i know a good portion of my classmates on campus are ignorant of technology as well. eh.
  • by MrLizard ( 95131 ) on Friday October 27, 2006 @10:39AM (#16608856)
    ...except how to hold on to power. That's their job, really, and the good ones do it well. No one ever lost an election because they didn't understand the things they were supposed to be making laws about. See also ?/archives/117-The-Know-Nothing-Party.html/ []
  • by w.p.richardson ( 218394 ) on Friday October 27, 2006 @10:44AM (#16608900) Homepage
    A politician is nothing more than an empty suit that travels from fundraiser to fundraiser. There is no real understanding of any issue, technology included, at a deeper level than bumper sticker sloganeering.

    A person who gets involved in politics may begin as an ideologue on one or more issues, but with the massive amount of issues that a politician must deal with, it's difficult if not impossible to keep up with them all. Thus, interest groups can influence pols by aligning with political parties to affect whatever outcomes they desire.

    Unfortunately, as long as there is an expectation that a government should be involved in every issue, this is the way things will be. A perfectly reasonable solution to the problem would be to ignore these buffoons, and the problem will eventually go away. At the very least, vote for someone who will be ineffectual for a couple of years and routinely toss them out. Or, just vote for a drunken pirate [] for the laugh value.

    Because, in the long run, we are all dead.

  • Lawyers (Score:4, Insightful)

    by rlp ( 11898 ) on Friday October 27, 2006 @10:44AM (#16608906)
    For the most part - politicians in the US are lawyers and tend to be from the boomer generation. As such, they tend to have no training and little exposure to technology. Their technological background ranges from ignorance to neo-luddite. Is it any wonder when they turn out absurd policies regarding science and technology. I suppose we should be grateful that they're not still using quill pens.
  • by mmell ( 832646 ) on Friday October 27, 2006 @10:49AM (#16608980)
    I am a technologist (well, a UNIX System Administrator with a strong background in programming and electronics). I have no clue how to garner votes, please constituents, enact legislation, etc. - and I don't expect professional politicians (we may as well call it a profession, as those people generally earn their living exclusively from politics) to be conversant in the intracacies of my profession.

    For them to enact legislation pertaining to my profession, it is necessary for them to acquire a generalized understanding of it, but I wouldn't expect a politician to be able to author a BitTorrent client before attempting to pass legislation about it, any more than I would expect them to be able to perform surgery before passing legislation pertaining to the medical industry. I'm afraid a politician's only possible interest in passing legislation has to be pleasing the greatest number of his/her constituents, regardless of how wrong-minded industry professionals may find that legislation.

  • Re:New blood (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hyfe ( 641811 ) on Friday October 27, 2006 @10:49AM (#16608982)
    this is why we need to start populating the political system with politicians who *understand* some of the political issues
    Yes, more people to get the treatment Al Gore and his 'You could say I helped the invent the Internet' quote did?

    There are more profound problems in a country where a misquote can be made into that big a deal, or somebody changing one bloody opinion over a 5 year period can be branded a 'flip-flop'er (or rather, 'not retarded' as we others call it).

  • by t0rkm3 ( 666910 ) on Friday October 27, 2006 @10:58AM (#16609082)
    Interesting that you posit the "No Child Left Behind" bill as GWB's responsibility. Need I remind you that it was primarily authored by Dems... including Kennedy. Accountability will always be problematic for educators, but they should audited as closely as possible to prevent the waste of tax money.
  • Re:Obviously... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jandrese ( 485 ) <> on Friday October 27, 2006 @10:58AM (#16609092) Homepage Journal
    Because it made it clear that the guy who was supposed to be in charge of this stuff for the government was about half way to step 1 on understanding the nature of what he was writing laws about. The guy was giving a talk that was at a level we might have given grade school children in 1995, in 2006, to the US congress. One got the impression that he had just finally read up on how the whole thing worked a week before that speech.
  • by east coast ( 590680 ) on Friday October 27, 2006 @10:59AM (#16609098)
    From a lot of the "political" comments on /. it's fairly apparent that most IT people/geeks have no real grasp on governmental affairs.

    It's fantastic when slashdotters throw around terms like "censorship" when censorship is not really involved (thus proving said posters have no grasp on politics) but god fucking forbid a guy call it "the google".

    It's sad how much we sit around here patting ourselves on the back for being so 31337 when the fact is that most of us are severely unqualified to do much more than post on slashdot.

    I wonder if on some political site they're discussing how slashdotters have no grasp on politics.
  • Re:Tubes (Score:2, Insightful)

    by XenoPhage ( 242134 ) on Friday October 27, 2006 @11:01AM (#16609126) Homepage
    For as stupid as the Senator sounded when he made those statements, he's really not too far off. I've used the idea of pipes (specifically water pipes) to explain how the internet works as well. In fact, it comes in handy explaining ATM terminology as well.

    No, he did not get everything correct, but it was a valiant effort. I think the most obvious problem was his improper use of terms. And I'm sure that if I were to try some political speaking and screwed up the terms, I'd receive the same or similar response. That is, if I was in some sort of public position...

    That said, I don't necessarily agree with his views. However, it seems to show that he did put a little effort into it. Personally I think these guys should, at the very least, have someone on their staff to explain these things in detail so they can truly understand what's going on.

    Of course, noone expects a technologist to be a perfect political speaker, and likewise, noone should expect a politician to have a complete grasp of technology. Regardless, however, if they plan on delving into the subject, they should be doing some due diligence..
  • Re:Obviously... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Andrew Kismet ( 955764 ) on Friday October 27, 2006 @11:02AM (#16609164)
    Yes, "tubes" is alright if you're using it as an analogy to explain congestion of a single server. He was using it to imply that when there's so much high-media content on the internet, it makes the entire internet slow.
    That's why people are harsh on it - he used the wrong analogy, in the wrong situation, pushing an unpopular viewpoint.
  • Re:New blood (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Friday October 27, 2006 @11:15AM (#16609346)
    It's not that off-topic :) Political topics are a free-for-all.

    The simple answer is that Republicans were for smaller government because they were the minority party. A smaller federal government would give them and their constituency more power on the local level. Now that they control the entire federal government, they see that it is at the federal level where it is most efficient to advance their agenda.

    Demographics have played a big part in the Republican's rise to power. They play big on the family values crowd... they "get" the Southern constituency. If it causes them to lose votes in the North, who cares? The north's population is stagnant - the South is where the population is growing. If they keep playing the family values card they might even be able to woo the conservative black and Hispanic voters, assuming they can shed the image of being the party for racist assholes. This will be hard as long as their base includes racist assholes :)

    Of course, Democrats won't stand still (though they have so far). I expect them to eventually cast off the social liberals in their party to again appeal to Southern voters. Whether this results in a North and West vs. South split within the party or a creation of a more radical third party, I don't know. But they have to embrace the Southern values if they ever want to control the federal government again. Things like gay marriage will get them votes in the North and the West, but not in the South. Ditto abortion and gun control.

    Of course, Southern culture could change and make my whole argument a big pile of nonsense.
  • by Himring ( 646324 ) on Friday October 27, 2006 @11:31AM (#16609632) Homepage Journal
    It's a lack of represented professions. It's lack of not enough of everyone, or anyone, besides a lawyer. Plain and simple, and old as hat, government is ran by lawyers. Few are from any other profession. No, this is not another lawyer bashing, it is pointing out the fact that the masses would benefit from a more even, representative, spread of professions and knowledge-bases than are currently represented.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 27, 2006 @11:39AM (#16609710)
    The whole problem is that we have professional politicians. Their entire purpose is to get themselves (re)elected and that is all they know how to do. They are damn good at it too. Which means once they are (re)elected they are utterly useless. They spend their time pandering to their constituents petty demands (someone think of the children) or selling their souls to some multi-national corporation/organisation who would like their own laws and are willing to pay for them.

    No I don't expect them to be able to write a bittorrent client before they get to develop laws to govern them but I would expect them to have basic computer literacy and actually have some idea of what a bittorrent client is before the make laws governing them. Technology is pervasive in the modern western world and if our politicians cannot even understand very basics of modern technology they shouldn't be in a position to make laws about anything.

    Voting options are limited and most voters as clueless about technology as the people they vote for. So what you gonna do? Stand yourself I guess. Sadly you will likely be standing against someone who is very good at getting votes and little else so don't expect to win.
  • Re:Oh Please... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mevans ( 791269 ) on Friday October 27, 2006 @11:45AM (#16609784)
    Can I just say that I thought of all people, the President would have better access to spy satellites and maps, and would be the least likely candidate to need to use Google Maps? I mean, are they plotting out wars with Google Earth?
  • Re:New blood (Score:2, Insightful)

    by jamstar7 ( 694492 ) on Friday October 27, 2006 @11:51AM (#16609862)
    The simple answer is that Republicans were for smaller government because they were the minority party. A smaller federal government would give them and their constituency more power on the local level. Now that they control the entire federal government, they see that it is at the federal level where it is most efficient to advance their agenda.

    Actually, the Republican platform of smaller government was due more to the percieved 'common wisdom' that the Democrats never saw a social program they didn't like, complete with entrenched bureacracy and ever increasing budget items. At the time, conservatives thought very highly of self-reliance, and reacted with horror to 'entitlements'. They also knew that the less government you had, the less it cost to run it, which meant a lighter tax load. The Democrats loved to point at the new entitlements and say, 'See? See? We WILL take care of YOU, vote for us!' Course, they never bothered to mention that our grandkids will end up paying 200x what it cost us for the same 'entitlements'.

  • They don't? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by benhocking ( 724439 ) <> on Friday October 27, 2006 @12:07PM (#16610090) Homepage Journal
    Private schools have to actually do a good job or they don't stay open.
    Exactly! And how do they do a good job? By paying their teachers more? No. Smaller class sizes? That definitely helps. Partly, however, it's because they can "cut off poor, misbehaving, lazy, underperforming students". Emphasis primarily on misbehaving, as I understand it. Do you really believe this doesn't happen? As someone who used to teach in a public school, I can tell you how much easier my job would have been if I could have gotten rid of 5 misbehaving kids from each of my classes with 30+ students in them.
  • Re:New blood (Score:4, Insightful)

    by BWJones ( 18351 ) * on Friday October 27, 2006 @12:25PM (#16610420) Homepage Journal
    Actually, Reps are still about strong military and lower taxes, but they are now fine with larger government and greater intrusion.

    If the Republicans really *are* for a stronger military, then it would be hard to imagine given the cutbacks in VA funding for veterans in the face of tens of thousands of returning vets with significant wounds and lost limbs from the current Middle East conflict. If the Republicans really *are* for a stronger military, then it would be hard to explain given the increasing movement towards giving military jobs out to private contractors (and paying the contractors more). If the Republicans really *are* for a stronger military, then it would be hard to convince the Pentagon who has much less control and power over it's own affairs after Donald Rumsfeld has gone through and consolidated control away from the current flags. If the Republicans really *are* for a stronger military, then it would be almost impossible to justify in the face of decreasing educational programs within the military.

    As to taxes, the only structures the Republicans are for lower taxes on is large corporate America. As a middle class citizen, my taxes have actually gone up. Factor in higher inflation rates, higher fuel costs, higher healthcare costs, fewer tax deductions for the middle class and a stock market that is only now climbing back to where it was six years ago and where are you?

  • by EComni ( 998601 ) on Friday October 27, 2006 @12:28PM (#16610464)
    IT people aren't in the position to make good decisions to affect millions (or dare I say, billions?) of people, and, most importantly it's not their job. Politicians are SUPPOSED to make good decisions. Whether that requires them to learn something or get people that do, that IS their job. This post is like responding to a situation of a coach of a losing team by saying that some complaining players on the losing team don't know anything about coaching.
  • Re:New blood (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ppanon ( 16583 ) on Friday October 27, 2006 @12:38PM (#16610604) Homepage Journal
    Some politicians, however, do have a good understanding of technology.
    True. Too bad libertarians "balance" that with a thorough and naive mis-understanding of human psychology, social dynamics, and economic theory.
  • by krell ( 896769 ) on Friday October 27, 2006 @02:55PM (#16613168) Journal
    "We already have that. Such schools are called public schools"

    If any school is (by your definition) a "public school" just because it admits everyone, then none of these vouchers would go to private schools due to my "clause" that would require all private schools on vouchers to take everyone. Hey, they'd all go to public schools!

    "Vaucher solution makes about as much sense as saying "Graduate students are smarter, so let's admit everybody to graduate school" or "Olympic runners are thin, let's send all the fat kids to run in the Olympics"

    Only if you think that a good education is the right of only a tiny handful of elite achievers.

The shortest distance between two points is under construction. -- Noelie Alito