Archive for December, 2011

From Orwell, Remy and "Grandma Got Indefinitely Detained Now, Trying to Come Visit Christmas Eve!"

December 21st, 2011 No comments

Christmas fun at YouTube, from!

Remy: Grandma Got Indefinitely Detained (A Very TSA Christmas)

In seasons past, Grandma only had to worry about getting run over by a reindeer. With “Grandma Got Run Over by TSA,” web sensation Remy gets us in the holiday mood with a song about Christmas, Homeland Security, and the joys of civil rights abuses.


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Great discussion of banking and monetary issues by Larry White of the Mercatus Center at Guatemala's "University of Free Marketers"

December 21st, 2011 No comments

I just ran across at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center a helpful video featuring Lawrence H. White, professor of economics at GMU, discussing “Thoughts on Monetary Policy, Free Banking and Financial Crisis”.

In watching the video, I noticed that White’s inerviewer was Fritz Thomas, head of the School of Economics at the Universidad Francisco Marroquín, an institution I hadn’t heard of.  A little more digging shows this to be a relatively new (founded in 1971) but highly regarded private university in Guatemala founded by a student of Austrian economics, “Muso” Manuel Ayau.

Ayau, who died on August 4, 2010, was a businessman, educator and politician, a member and President of the Mont Pelerin Society, on the board of directors of the Liberty Fund and a trustee of the Foundation for Economic Education. In Guatemala, he was a member of congress from 1970–74, a presidential candidate in the 1990 elections, and served in other public capacities. Ayau founded Samboro,the largest tile producer in Central America, was the founding president of Guatemala’s stock exchange and served on the boards of IBM Latin America and of Guatemala’s central bank. Ayau also founded the Centro de Estudios Economico-Sociales; CEES grew into UFM, but remains extant and is now housed at the Ludwig von Mises Library on the UFM campus.

UFM, which is nicknamed the “University of Free Marketers,” describes its mission as “to teach and disseminate the ethical, legal and economic principles of a society of free and responsible persons.” Earlier this year posted a brief description of UFM and a 9 minute video: “Universidad Francisco Marroquin (aka University of Free Marketeers)” Says Reason, “In other words, the people at UFM want the people of Guatemala to be free. This is, of course, no small task in a country that has been plagued by political corruption and socialist policies for so long.

These days, the same can be said of the United States, though it is not so clear how much US citizens themselves want to be free.

More on UFM and Ayau at this 2010 article in the Latin Business Chroncle and in this 2008 article in the Los Angeles Times. Here is a link to the Manuel F. Ayau Society, which has been established to honor his memory.

Lawrence White is a distinguished expert on monetary theory and banking history. More on his background  here.

And here, at last, is the link to the 41-minute video at UFM!

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Great Tom Woods video addressing the unconsidered, reflexive fears by some progressives of Ron Paul

December 20th, 2011 No comments

On August 29, Tom Woods posted at YouTube a 9-minute video response to an article “5 Reasons Progressives Should Treat Ron Paul with Extreme Caution.”

Woods’ video, entitled War Is Better Than Ron Paul, Say (Many) Progressives, is below.

Woods has also posted a few “resource pages” with videos and extensive links that respond to various other attacks on Ron Paul’s purported positions:

For more videos, subscribe to Woods’ YouTube channel, and keep up with hiswriting and other activities via Facebook and Twitter.


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A movement to amend the Constitution is ALREADY underway. See Harvard Law School's Larry Lessig on why we need to call for a Constitutional Convention

December 18th, 2011 No comments

HLS Professor Lawrence Lessig delivered his “Keynote from the Left” at the Conference on the Constitutional Convention on Sept. 24-26, 2011. The conference was co-sponsored by the Tea Party Patriots.

Lessig presented his speech again at Google on November 16, 2011; this is the speech/presentation posted below.

Lessig is the director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University and the Roy L. Furman Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. He co-founded RootStrikers (originally Change Congress (2008) and Fix Congress First!), which aims to reduce the influence of private money in American politics. Lessig is very well known for his work on maintaining an open Internet, but since joining Harvard several years ago has focussed on corruption and politics.

Lessig has joined with a new organization that just launched called United Republic. It is another coalition of people from the right, center, and left tackling the problems of money in politics. 

Lessig is the author of a new book, REPUBLIC, LOST;  How Money Corrupts Congress — and a Plan to Stop It. The NYT reiew of his book is here; here is another review at Bloomberg

Lessig’s collection of his speeches is here. His blog is here.

More on the movement to call for an Article V Convention to amend the Constitution is here.

For more, see “How to sober up Washington”—an essay by Lessig and Mark McKinnon on corruption in Washington, voters’ disillusionment, and the need for an Article V convention.


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What if Cato held a conference on how the War on Drugs was a massive FAILURE, but no one noted that the Feds and others BENEFIT SPECTACULARLY from all the costs?

December 18th, 2011 1 comment

It might be unfair to judge just from the short clip below (put together by that’s making the rounds, but it appears to be the case that no one at Cato’s Novermber 15 conference (“Ending the Global War on Drugs“) – law enforcement, politicians, journalists, liberals, conservatives, libertarians and foreign officials, all presenting a litany of damning evidence about the tremendous costs of the “War on Drugs” –  little attention was paid to what should be a sad but very evident fact:

the War on Drugs has been a smash hit for our Federal government, in its 230+ year battle to wrest power from the states, fo the politicians who campaign and parade around on “Law and Order” issues, for a host of government agencies (not the least our CIA and Defense and State Departments) and for, of course, a deep pool of contractors.

How can anyone with any understanding of regulatory capture, moral hazard and “public choice” understandings of the workings of indivuduals’ incentives and institutional dynamics fail to see that, for those benefitting from the steady expansion of the War on Drugs that the need to ramp-up in response to its disastrous consequences are not failures or “bugs”, but “features”?

The erosion of civil liberties after 9/11 that has been justified as necessary to keep us safe during a long “War on Terror” were all already well-underway as a result of our War on Drugs.

But a Police State is not a simple necessity, but something that benefits certain groups of people, at the cost of others.

If we ever hope to rein in policies that are destructive to most of us, we need to focus on naming, blaming, shaming and otherwise standing up to and imposing costs on those who benefit from them.

We used to think that we needed a Constitutional Amendment in order to federally prohibit the use of and trade in alcohol – note that tobacco, pot, cocaine and heroin were all untouched at that time. That the Constitution now provides essentially NO check on the Federal government is a good indication of how far we’ve come from those days,  and leave one wondering — do we now need a Constitutional Amendment not only to overturn the ridiculous and radical Citizens United (states can create “corporations” but not limit their ability to finance elections) decision (Senator Bernie Sanders has introduced such an amendment; Larry Lessig thinks a state-convened amending process is needed), but also to prevent the Federal government from regulating certain parts of the economy?

Clearly the Federal Government and those benefitting from it have no intention to relinquish policies that enhance its power.

Here’s the clip:


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Interesting piece in Al Jazeera: A continuing decline in trust in the Japanese government fuels political unrest and regionalism

December 18th, 2011 No comments

Trust is an essential piece of social capital; difficult to build, easier to lose, but essential to solving collective action problems.

Increasingly, in Japan and elsewhere, people are starting to see that their trust in ‘government’, politiicians, bureaucrats and big business has been misplaced, that these institutions and people have instead been DAMAGING social capital, and that citizens need to hold government more accountable and to take more power back into their own hands. 

I just ran across this interesting essay by Michael Cucek in Al-Jazeera  (December 9, 2011) . Cucek is author of the Shisaku blog on Japanese politics and society. and a Tokyo-based Research Associate of the MIT Center for International Studies.

Excerpts below; emphasis added:

Is Japan cracking up?

Mainstream parties in Japan are losing the trust of the people as renegade politicians gain support.

Tokyo, Japan – “Is Japan cracking up?” The question seems ludicrous, regarding one of the planet’s most homogenous, stable and violence-free nations. However, in the aftermath of the late-November victories of a regional party in the gubernatorial and mayoral races in Osaka, Japan’s second city, the next steps in Japan’s political evolution may be along regional, not national lines.

The elections of Toru Hashimoto as mayor of Osaka City and Ichiro Matsui as governor of Osaka Prefecture on the Osaka Isshin no Kai (Association for the Renewal of Osaka) ticket were predictable, given the huge proven political drawing power of Hashimoto. A former television personality and a lawyer, Hashimoto had during his time as governor built up a huge following among the voters by taking on targets of public disdain: the prefectural assembly, prefectural civil servants, the governments of the prefecture’s smaller municipalities and the teachers’ unions and the Board of Education.

He hacked at public salaries and reduced municipal spending, racking up the first budget surpluses in years. In the municipal elections of 2010, Osaka Isshin no Kai – a party that Hashimoto assembled at the last minute – won a plurality of seats in the prefectural assembly, shocking the large national parties.

Control of Osaka, however, was not enough for Hashimoto, who has a grandiose plan to transform the prefecture into a metropolitan district such as Tokyo. The capital’s shining image is a huge psychological weight on Osakans, who are defensive about their national and international status. However, the mayors of the prefectures’ cities stood in Hashimoto’s way, the most prominent of which was the mayor of Osaka.

He argued that, in order for the Osaka prefecture to fulfill its destiny as a great world metropolis, the government of the city of Osaka would have to be destroyed. Hashimoto resigned as governor to run for mayor, placing himself in the position of leading the municipal government’s dismantlement from within. Meanwhile, this left the governor’s office open for Ichiro Matsui, the secretary-general of Hashimoto’s party.

On Sunday November 26, voters handed Hashimoto the keys to the mayor’s office, and elected Matsui as governor.

The battle of Osaka, however, was not just between Hashimoto and his main opponent Kunio Hiramatsu, the incumbent mayor of Osaka, a mild-mannered and avuncular former television announcer. The contest was also between Hashimoto and the national parties, particularly the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and the main opposition party, the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan (LDP). The LDP and the New Komeito, the political party of Japan’s largest religious congregation, had supported Hashimoto when he ran for governor in 2008. But soon after his election, Hashimoto turned his back on his former political allies, attacking many of their sacred cows. As for the DPJ, it saw Hashimoto’s populism as a threat to the DPJ’s own reputation as a reformist party.

Decay in public’s trust

So it was that the main political parties worked together to halt the Hashimoto juggernaut. Even the Communist Party of Japan, which never sides with the other parties and always runs one of its own candidates in major elections, did not put up a candidate in Osaka City, in order to increase the chances of victory for the incumbent mayor.


The failure of the mainstream traditional parties to elect their candidates, even when cooperating to an unprecedented degree, opens a window onto the decay in the public’s trust in traditional politics. The DPJ and LDP, the two parties that can become parties of government, have seen their support sink to the level where they can each count upon receiving only 20 per cent of the vote. The New Komeito, drawing on the votes of the huge Soka Gakkai religious organisation, can count upon receiving between four and six per cent of the final vote. The other parties are really micro-parties, each with three per cent support or less.

Half the voting public does not consider itself affiliated with any party. It is this floating electorate that Hashimoto and those such as him are targeting.

The election of Hashimoto and Matsui to the main executive posts in Osaka puts Japan’s three main population centres under the control of renegades. The Tokyo Metropolitan District has Ishihara Shintaro, of The Japan that Can Say “No” fame, as its governor. A former member of the LDP, he quit the party and his Diet seat, saying that he was sick of the party’s policies. He struck out on his own, winning the governorship of Tokyo when he saw the traditional parties nominating grey and inoffensive candidates. He recently won his fourth election as governor, after promising he would quit after three terms, deciding to run again after he saw how bad the other candidates were.

In Aiichi Prefecture, the home of Toyota Motors and Japan’s third-largest urban area, the city of Nagoya and its suburbs, independents Hideaki Omura and Takashi Kawamura are governor of Aiichi and mayor of Nagoya, respectively. Kawamura, a former member of the DPJ and a flamboyant buffoon, was in perpetual warfare with his city’s assembly after his election in 2009, as the assembly resisted implementing Kawamura’s reforms, including deep tax cuts. A stalemate lingered until earlier this year, when Kawamura arranged for his own re-election, the election of his ally Omura and the recall of the assembly, all in one swoop

Omura and Kawamura see Hashimoto and his Isshin no Kai colleagues as soulmates. Omura, a former LDP Diet member, has indeed promised he will formally link his supporters to Hashimoto’s.

Rogue politicians

The successes of these rogue regionalist politicians have forced the main political parties to examine what they can learn from them in order to boost their own fortunes. But the traditional parties are finding out that they can’t borrow very much. The emerging regional parties (for example, there is a Hokkaido party, Shinto Daichi) are basically the vehicles of larger-than-life individuals, who combine their own personal fame with a call for re-emphasis on regional identity.

On the subject of governance, they have brought the national discussion on the role of bureaucrats down to the prefectural and municipal level, promising economic improvements from radical reductions in the pay and personnel of local government. Hashimoto, for example, claims there will be great cost savings from eliminating the redundant services currently provided by both Osaka’s municipal and prefectural governments.

Emulating the rogue politician’s slash-and-burn governance style would undermine the patronage and election networks that underpin the support of many of the traditional parties. For the ruling DPJ, which was elected on a platform of radical reform, the rogues are reminders of what the DPJ wishes it could do on the national scale – but the realities of macroeconomics and the lack of a singular, charismatic leader prevent the party from doing so.

Hashimoto’s political star has been rising and those of the traditional parties falling, in part because of Osaka’s declining economic importance and vitality. Some 60 per cent of those who supported Hashimoto in the mayoral election said that they did so because they expect him to improve the economic climate of the city – a desire that Hashimoto will be hard-pressed to satisfy.

Despite the difficulties faced by Hashimoto and those like him, the national parties should still be worried. The electorate is clearly shopping around for persons or parties able to deliver on promises, particularly in terms of the performance of the economy, the security of the pension and health systems, and the ending of government waste. In 2009, the majority of the public thought it had found the answer in the DPJ, tossing out the LDP after the party had run Japan for more than 50 years.

The voters have since become disillusioned with their choice, for reasons both fair and unfair. National elections do not have to be held until 2013, giving the major parties some time to align themselves more closely with voters or to find a champion. 


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Post-Fukushima, signs that 'Arab Spring' and #Occupy movements have arrived as Japanese seek to wrest control of civil society from Government.

December 16th, 2011 No comments

[Note: Kiyoshi Kurokawa, one of the co-aothors of the op-ed described below, headed up a recent and criticasl report regarding the Fukushima accident.]

Have the concatenation of the Fukushima meltdows on the heels of the Tohoku earthquaketsunami disaster FINALLY spurred ordinary Japanese to act after nearly three decades of disastrous bungling and irresponsible economic management by the Japanese government? The answer appears to be a modest yes.

The Japan Times ran an interesting article on December 1, by two policy wonks at Japan’s National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (Hiromi Murakami, assistant professor and Kiyoshi Kurokawa, M.D., an academic fellow) (emphasis added):

Fukushima crisis fueling the third opening of Japan

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s announcement that Japan would join talks on a Pacific free trade agreement (FTA) triggered a nationwide debate over whether to open Japan’s market.

While this is certainly a useful discussion, the issue facing Japan is far larger. The Fukushima nuclear power plants crisis further exacerbated the problems Japan already had: an aging society, the hollowing out of manufacturing industries, a huge fiscal deficit, a widening income gap, and the sustainability of its governing system.

The fundamental question is thus not one of joining FTAs. Rather it is how we Japanese can carry forward a third “opening” and depart from our aging, dysfunctional system.

The Fukushima disaster has shaken the foundations of our system as it has proven all of its fundamental assumptions false. Fukushima turned Japanese citizens from believers into skeptics of the government.

Deep disappointment in the government has transformed people from apathetic bystanders to proactive citizens, creating innovative financial schemes without relying on the government and committing themselves to energy conservation and reduced dependence on nuclear energy by shifting their priorities and preferences.

Neither the shock of the Lehman bankruptcy, the asset and stock bubble collapses, nor 20 years of stalled economic growth, have had much of an impetus to change, but Fukushima ignited in Japan a great transformation at the grass-roots level. Just as the “Spring” movements have been demanding change in the systems of Arab countries, so civil society has finally started to blossom in Japan. Because Japan’s rather unhealthy one-party-dominated “democracy” has lasted over a half-century, the country is still inexperienced in translating fragmented individual voices into balanced public policies. Thanks to the spread of tools like Twitter and YouTube, and the catalyst of foreign nongovernment organizations, linking these voices may eventually lead to long-overdue domestic reform, altered voting patterns and changes in Japan’s outlook.

Since the Meiji Era, we have had complete confidence in our bureaucratic system and the strong policymaking institution of the “Iron triangle,” backed by strong economic growth. This iron triangle continued to survive until today partly because people continued to trust in bureaucracy and political/social institutions. This myth was completely broken after the Fukushima disaster, which revealed to everyone that there was no functioning system in place to deal with the crises. People watched as politicians produce lists of excuses for not cooperating and bureaucrats fought for jurisdiction while failing to make decisions, terrified of taking risks in such an unprecedented situation.

Instead of relying on the government, people started to act independently through grassroots and civil movements in various parts of Japan. In other words, the third opening, or the great transformation in values and social norms, is finally occurring in Japan.

Led by the governing class of samurai, Japan experienced its first opening during the Meiji Restoration, triggered by the threat posed by Commodore Matthew Perry’s Black Ships. The second opening was led by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, when the Allied occupation government initiated reforms and political purges after our disastrous defeat in World War II. While the past two openings were driven by external factors in a top-down fashion, the third opening has been triggered internally by the Fukushima disaster. It is a civil-sector-driven, bottom-up transformation.

While the authorities failed to deliver substantive action, individuals started to act. Many donated money for the first time and participated in voluntary activities; scientists gathered to offer credible information and explanations via Twitter; voluntary individuals in various regional areas monitored radioactivity levels and gathered data through the Internet that they made immediately made public; and parents organized and demanded that the authorities measure ground and food radioactivity levels in kindergartens and schools, which quickly became the norm. Japanese citizens now strongly demand transparency, so that they can judge how to protect themselves.

Energy shortages due to the Fukushima disaster have had a profound impact on individuals’ priorities and lifestyles. Households and corporations achieved 18 percent energy conservation last summer in Tokyo through various efforts. How to better preserve the environment for future generations has now become a part of our thinking. LED lights, expensive household fuel cells and wood-burning stoves are selling surprisingly well; and the demand for solar panels is exceeding supply.

Innovative trials are now taking place that will have even greater effects on a larger social and economic scale. The “2:46 Quakebook,” promptly published online worldwide, established new ways to donate money to Tohoku. Innovative microfinancing schemes have been operating to help small businesses that are desperately in need of cash at a time when traditional financial institutions are reluctant to take risks. The Tomodachi Initiative, a public-private partnership led by the governments of Japan and the United States, whose programs include the fostering of entrepreneurship, is also making an impact.

Fukushima gave us a great opportunity to transform our way of life and recognize that individuals can make difference in the society if they act together. Long-overdue reforms are possible today as established barriers weaken and room for innovation emerges. For its democratic system to truly function, Japan’s infant civil society still needs to learn from other societies by establishing horizontal links in various sectors, including NGOs, researchers and scientists. This is a chance to get globally connected and gather global expertise.

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#Occupy: journalist-turned-entrepreneur Kirk Cheyfitz says "one dollar, one vote" plutocracy is mobilizing to put down what Gen. Martin Dempsey calls "our Arab Spring"

December 16th, 2011 No comments

I recently ran across some interesting ancedotes and thoughts on the “Occupy” movement and the response to it from elites by investigative journalist-turned-new media consultant Kirk Cheyfitz. Cheyvitz is CEO and Chief Editorial Officer of Story Worldwide, a new media ad agency he founded in 1999. He is also author of the back-to-basics business leadeship book, Thinking Inside the Box: The 12 Timeless Rules for Managing a Successful Business (2003).

With permission from the author, here is his December 5 piece at Huffington Post (emphasis added):

How Much Does America Really Love Democracy?

As police began wholesale attacks on the Occupy Wall Street protests in early November, I attended a dinner party at “the scene of the crime,” as many Occupy protestors call it — the New York Stock Exchange. Hosted by NYSE and arranged by a group called wf360, the event was billed as a night of conversations around questions beginning with “What if…?”

My 200 fellow dinner guests were mostly senior executives, mostly from the financial industry, mostly (seemingly) Republicans. A lot of what was said, however, sounded little like the empty rhetoric out of Washington or cable news. There was widespread disgust with government paralysis and both political parties. More surprising, there was widespread sympathy for the problems of ordinary Americans and a broad appreciation of a central message of the Occupy movement — the message cable news can’t seem to get — that the US needs to get money out of politics and end corporate control of government.

Reflecting the spirit of the evening, one diner, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, rose to ask, “What if the Occupy Wall Street protestors are our Arab Spring?” He added, “What if they are moving the line between the governing and the governed?”

Arab Spring” holds special meaning for Dempsey. He has spoken with palpable awe of the popular revolutions rearranging Middle East politics. He credits the downfall of Egypt’s Mubarak to “Facebook and social networking, a leaderless organization that rose up and we call the Arab Spring,” Agence France Presse reports. Speaking about these “viral” uprisings to world military leaders in London in June, he said, “I think our imaginations are just beginning to touch the edges of what it might mean….”

Continuing that theme back home, Dempsey stood in a private dining room of the New York Stock Exchange contemplating the rise of such a “leaderless organization” in America. In public and private conversation, he seemed to sway between his military duty to put down insurrections and his devotion to the idea that America stands for the unquestioned goodness of democracy.

When I think about the last few months in American politics, I think about the clashing themes Dempsey conjures. Our support for democracy, in the abstract, and for the growing democratic protests across the world is counterbalanced by our fear of democracy in action and our official tolerance of police violence in multiple US cities against peaceful protesters. In these and other ways, the Occupy movement confronts America with our contradictions.

Let’s look at a few of those contradictions: We live in an America where the bedrock promise of opportunity for all is contradicted by the widening gap between rich and poor; the promise of democracy is contradicted by the dominance of money and corporate interests in our politics; the promise to support freedom is contradicted by our historic support of repressive dictators like Mubarak and our ambivalence about majority rule in the Middle East; our promise of free speech and free assembly is contradicted by use of rubber bullets, pepper spray, beatings and arrests to put down protesters here at home. This list could go on, but that’s a start.

It is obtuse, I fear, not to interpret recent police violence in the US as a sign of intentional and coordinated opposition to the Occupy movement by official America, whether you call that group the 1%, the Establishment, the ruling class or any other name.

For those fond of obtuseness, please remember that Oakland Mayor Jean Quan told the BBC she decided to evict her city’s protesters after discussing the matter with 18 mayors on a conference call. Many of these mayors executed similar evictions and mass arrests immediately after that call, all citing what they termed health and safety concerns. That same week, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes reported on a memo in which a large DC lobbying firm proposed that its client, the American Association of Bankers, pony up $850,000 to create “negative narratives” about Occupy and the politicians who support the protests.

Are the rights of the Occupy movement being violated by the American establishment or are police merely enforcing the law? Assuming that the protestors were, in fact, breaking the law, how should our democracy react to non-violent civil disobedience? Isn’t such lawbreaking enshrined in the founding of the nation and the modern American notion of free expression?

When considering these questions, it is important, first, to see the context. At the heart of what’s going on in our politics is something that left and right broadly agree about: We are in a long-standing crisis and our government isn’t doing anything about it.

In case you are in the tiny minority that disagrees with that statement, let’s remember that the middle class has been shrinking for 35 years as the gap between rich and poor has been widening. There are now 100 million Americans living either in poverty or just fractionally above the poverty line while the top 1% of American earners have seen their outsized share of total wages nearly triple and they now control 40% of the country’s total wealth.

Meanwhile, among the other 99%, misery spreads. Seriously delinquent mortgages started rising again in September, up to 4.9% of all mortgages, according to the New York Fed and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. This is roughly half what the rate was at the end of 2009, happily, but still nearly three times the delinquency average for the three decades prior to the crash of 2008. Unemployment, of course, sits at 8.6%, a recent low, after a welcome half-point drop in early December. But for youth it’s double that, for Hispanics it’s more than double and for African-Americans it’s more than triple that. If you are a typical American, you see the majority of America in crisis while the rich keep getting richer and Congress does absolutely nothing to turn things around.

Times are so hard that most Americans now question the country’s longest-running mythical narratives about hope, hard work and social mobility — the bedrock social contract that we call the American dream. Pew’s Economic Mobility Project, in fact, finds that a majority of Americans (54%) now feel the government helps the rich “a great deal,” but only 6% say it helps “people like me.” In short, by a 9-to-1 margin, Americans see the game is rigged against them.

It is in this context that Occupy Wall Street sprang up in Manhattan two months ago with a central message about the essential unfairness of America — the growing disparity between rich and poor; the escalating clash between the rights of flesh-and-blood persons with the expanding rights accorded to money itself and to legal-fiction persons known as corporations. (Harold Myerson recently referred to the Citizens United decision as “one dollar, one vote.”)

My point is simple: the protests are actually about something (or a set of somethings) very seriously wrong with America. The protests are about things that many of us agree deserve our serious attention. The substance of the protestors’ complaints are so serious and widespread, in fact, that they have given rise to the kind of “leaderless organization” that is bringing down governments in other parts of the world; so serious that America’s highest-rankling military leader wonders out loud about the similarities among Cairo, Tripoli and Oakland.

I make this point because we should acknowledge that if the First Amendment was meant to protect any kind of speech at all, it certainly was meant to cover what the Occupy movement is doing: identifying inequities, agitating for redress and dramatizing the need for change. We need to acknowledge that the First Amendment is a safety valve that actually protects the 1% from revolution by allowing for political change.

So I am troubled, to say the least, by official America’s intolerance of free speech, particularly when the speech addresses subjects so central to our expressed national beliefs and so important to our political process. I think we should all be troubled.

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Reclaiming Social Capital: Matt Taibbi's Nov. 10 post at Rolling Stone: Occupy is "a rejection of what our society has become."

December 16th, 2011 No comments

Matt Taibbi’s post last month in Rolling Stone is worth a read:

How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the OWS Protests

Taibbi is still unable to put his finger on what I think the Ocuppy movement is about – a manifestation of the desire by hopeful people to rebuild meaningful civic life and social capital in the face of erosion by corporatism, and to insist on greater accountability at a local level of both business and government – but he’s at least making an honest effort.

I recommend the whole post. but I excerpt below (emphasis added):

… The first few times I went down to Zuccotti Park, I came away with mixed feelings. I loved the energy and was amazed by the obvious organic appeal of the movement, the way it was growing on its own. But my initial impression was that it would not be taken very seriously by the Citibanks and Goldman Sachs of the world. You could put 50,000 angry protesters on Wall Street, 100,000 even, and Lloyd Blankfein is probably not going to break a sweat. He knows he’s not going to wake up tomorrow and see Cornel West or Richard Trumka running the Federal Reserve. He knows modern finance is a giant mechanical parasite that only an expert surgeon can remove. Yell and scream all you want, but he and his fellow financial Frankensteins are the only ones who know how to turn the machine off.

That’s what I was thinking during the first few weeks of the protests. But I’m beginning to see another angle. Occupy Wall Street was always about something much bigger than a movement against big banks and modern finance. It’s about providing a forum for people to show how tired they are not just of Wall Street, but everything. This is a visceral, impassioned, deep-seated rejection of the entire direction of our society, a refusal to take even one more step forward into the shallow commercial abyss of phoniness, short-term calculation, withered idealism and intellectual bankruptcy that American mass society has become. If there is such a thing as going on strike from one’s own culture, this is it. And by being so broad in scope and so elemental in its motivation, it’s flown over the heads of many on both the right and the left.

The right-wing media wasted no time in cannon-blasting the movement with its usual idiotic clichés, casting Occupy Wall Street as a bunch of dirty hippies who should get a job and stop chewing up Mike Bloomberg’s police overtime budget with their urban sleepovers. Just like they did a half-century ago, when the debate over the Vietnam War somehow stopped being about why we were brutally murdering millions of innocent Indochinese civilians and instead became a referendum on bralessness and long hair and flower-child rhetoric, the depraved flacks of the right-wing media have breezily blown off a generation of fraud and corruption and market-perverting bailouts, making the whole debate about the protesters themselves – their hygiene, their “envy” of the rich, their “hypocrisy.”

The protesters, chirped Supreme Reichskank Ann Coulter, needed three things: “showers, jobs and a point.” Her colleague Charles Krauthammer went so far as to label the protesters hypocrites for having iPhones. OWS, he said, is “Starbucks-sipping, Levi’s-clad, iPhone-clutching protesters [denouncing] corporate America even as they weep for Steve Jobs, corporate titan, billionaire eight times over.” Apparently, because Goldman and Citibank are corporations, no protester can ever consume a corporate product – not jeans, not cellphones and definitely not coffee – if he also wants to complain about tax money going to pay off some billionaire banker’s bets against his own crappy mortgages.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the political spectrum, there were scads of progressive pundits like me who wrung our hands with worry that OWS was playing right into the hands of assholes like Krauthammer. Don’t give them any ammunition! we counseled. Stay on message! Be specific! We were all playing the Rorschach-test game with OWS, trying to squint at it and see what we wanted to see in the movement. Viewed through the prism of our desire to make near-term, within-the-system changes, it was hard to see how skirmishing with cops in New York would help foreclosed-upon middle-class families in Jacksonville and San Diego.

What both sides missed is that OWS is tired of all of this. They don’t care what we think they’re about, or should be about. They just want something different.

We’re all born wanting the freedom to imagine a better and more beautiful future. But modern America has become a place so drearily confining and predictable that it chokes the life out of that built-in desire. Everything from our pop culture to our economy to our politics feels oppressive and unresponsive. We see 10 million commercials a day, and every day is the same life-killing chase for money, money and more money; the only thing that changes from minute to minute is that every tick of the clock brings with it another space-age vendor dreaming up some new way to try to sell you something or reach into your pocket. The relentless sameness of the two-party political system is beginning to feel like a Jacob’s Ladder nightmare with no end; we’re entering another turn on the four-year merry-go-round, and the thought of having to try to get excited about yet another minor quadrennial shift in the direction of one or the other pole of alienating corporate full-of-shitness is enough to make anyone want to smash his own hand flat with a hammer.

If you think of it this way, Occupy Wall Street takes on another meaning. There’s no better symbol of the gloom and psychological repression of modern America than the banking system, a huge heartless machine that attaches itself to you at an early age, and from which there is no escape. You fail to receive a few past-due notices about a $19 payment you missed on that TV you bought at Circuit City, and next thing you know a collector has filed a judgment against you for $3,000 in fees and interest. Or maybe you wake up one morning and your car is gone, legally repossessed by Vulture Inc., the debt-buying firm that bought your loan on the Internet from Chase for two cents on the dollar. This is why people hate Wall Street. They hate it because the banks have made life for ordinary people a vicious tightrope act; you slip anywhere along the way, it’s 10,000 feet down into a vat of razor blades that you can never climb out of.

That, to me, is what Occupy Wall Street is addressing. People don’t know exactly what they want, but as one friend of mine put it, they know one thing: FUCK THIS SHIT! We want something different: a different life, with different values, or at least a chance at different values.

There was a lot of snickering in media circles, even by me, when I heard the protesters talking about how Liberty Square was offering a model for a new society, with free food and health care and so on. Obviously, a bunch of kids taking donations and giving away free food is not a long-term model for a new economic system.

But now, I get it. People want to go someplace for at least five minutes where no one is trying to bleed you or sell you something. It may not be a real model for anything, but it’s at least a place where people are free to dream of some other way for human beings to get along, beyond auctioned “democracy,” tyrannical commerce and the bottom line.

We’re a nation that was built on a thousand different utopian ideas, from the Shakers to the Mormons to New Harmony, Indiana. It was possible, once, for communities to experiment with everything from free love to an end to private property. But nowadays even the palest federalism is swiftly crushed. If your state tries to place tariffs on companies doing business with some notorious human-rights-violator state – like Massachusetts did, when it sought to bar state contracts to firms doing business with Myanmar – the decision will be overturned by some distant global bureaucracy like the WTO. Even if 40 million Californians vote tomorrow to allow themselves to smoke a joint, the federal government will never permit it. And the economy is run almost entirely by an unaccountable oligarchy in Lower Manhattan that absolutely will not sanction any innovations in banking or debt forgiveness or anything else that might lessen its predatory influence.

And here’s one more thing I was wrong about: I originally was very uncomfortable with the way the protesters were focusing on the NYPD as symbols of the system. After all, I thought, these are just working-class guys from the Bronx and Staten Island who have never seen the inside of a Wall Street investment firm, much less had anything to do with the corruption of our financial system.

But I was wrong. The police in their own way are symbols of the problem. All over the country, thousands of armed cops have been deployed to stand around and surveil and even assault the polite crowds of Occupy protesters. This deployment of law-enforcement resources already dwarfs the amount of money and manpower that the government “committed” to fighting crime and corruption during the financial crisis. One OWS protester steps in the wrong place, and she immediately has police roping her off like wayward cattle. But in the skyscrapers above the protests, anything goes.

This is a profound statement about who law enforcement works for in this country. What happened on Wall Street over the past decade was an unparalleled crime wave. Yet at most, maybe 1,500 federal agents were policing that beat – and that little group of financial cops barely made any cases at all. Yet when thousands of ordinary people hit the streets with the express purpose of obeying the law and demonstrating their patriotism through peaceful protest, the police response is immediate and massive. There have already been hundreds of arrests, which is hundreds more than we ever saw during the years when Wall Street bankers were stealing billions of dollars from retirees and mutual-fund holders and carpenters unions through the mass sales of fraudulent mortgage-backed securities.

It’s not that the cops outside the protests are doing wrong, per se, by patrolling the parks and sidewalks. It’s that they should be somewhere else. They should be heading up into those skyscrapers and going through the file cabinets to figure out who stole what, and from whom. They should be helping people get their money back. Instead, they’re out on the street, helping the Blankfeins of the world avoid having to answer to the people they ripped off.

People want out of this fiendish system, rigged to inexorably circumvent every hope we have for a more balanced world. They want major changes. I think I understand now that this is what the Occupy movement is all about. It’s about dropping out, if only for a moment, and trying something new, the same way that the civil rights movement of the 1960s strived to create a “beloved community” free of racial segregation. Eventually the Occupy movement will need to be specific about how it wants to change the world. But for right now, it just needs to grow. And if it wants to sleep on the streets for a while and not structure itself into a traditional campaign of grassroots organizing, it should. It doesn’t need to tell the world what it wants. It is succeeding, for now, just by being something different.

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The cart, or the horse? A ‘bleeding-heart’ libertarian (who missed Block) blames the Left for Crony Capitalism

December 15th, 2011 No comments

I recently ran across a blog post Jason Brennan entitled: Dear Left: Corporatism Is Your Fault, at the “Bleeding Heart Libertarians” blog. The blog hosts the writings of various “Left Libertarians”, such as Roderick Long and Gary Chartier, who “believe that addressing the needs of the economically vulnerable by remedying injustice, engaging in benevolence, fostering mutual aid, and encouraging the flourishing of free markets is both practically and morally important.”

The post is worth a read; no doubt quite a few of you will like it. I didn’t, and left my comments at the bottom:

Brennan is Assistant Professor of Business and Philosophy at Georgetown University. He is the author of The Ethics of Voting (Princeton University Press, 2011), and co-author of A Brief History of Liberty (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010).  He earned his PhD in philosophy from the University of Arizona.

I excerpt liberally from the original post (emphasis added):

1.  Dear Left: Corporatism Is Your Fault

… Dear members of the moderate left,

America is suffering from rampant, run-away corporatism and crony capitalism. We are increasingly a plutocracy in which government serves the interests of elite financiers and CEOs at the expense of everyone else.

You know this and you complain loudly about it. But the problem is your fault. You caused this state of affairs. Stop it.

Unlike we libertarianish people, you people actually hold and have been holding significant political power in the US over the past 50 years. [ What have you done with this power? You’ve greased the corporatist machine every chance you’ve gotten. You’ve made things worse, not better. Our current problems are your fault. You need to stop. …

You complain, rightly, that regulatory agencies are controlled by the very corporations they are supposed to constrain. Well, yeah, we told you that would happen. When you create power—and you people love to create power—the unscrupulous seek to capture that power for their personal benefit. Time and time again, they succeed. We told you that would happen, and we gave you an accurate account of how it would happen.

You complain, perhaps rightly, that corporations are just too big. Well, yeah, we told you that would happen. When you create complicated tax codes, complicated regulatory regimes, and complicated licensing rules, these regulations naturally select for larger and larger corporations. We told you that would happen. Of course, these increasingly large corporations then capture these rules, codes, and regulations to disadvantage their competitors and exploit the rest of us. We told you that would happen.

It’s not rocket science. It’s public choice economics. You recognized, rightly, that public choice economics was a threat to your ideology. So, you didn’t listen, because you didn’t want to be wrong. Public choice predicted that the government programs you created with the goal of fixing problems would often instead exacerbate those problems. Well, the evidence is in. You were wrong and public choice theory was right. If you have any decency, it is time to admit you were wrong and change. Stop making things worse.

You spent the past fifty years empowering corporations and the most unscrupulous of the rich. You created rampant moral hazard in the financial sector. You created the system that socializes risks but privatizes profit. You created the system that creates a revolving door between Obama’s staff and Goldman Sachs.

You balk: Isn’t the problem the regressive pro-market post-Reagan politics? Please, people. Let’s be serious a moment. Reagan used a bunch of pro-market, pro-liberty, anti-big government rhetoric, but the man was no libertarian, and he did little to make the country more libertarian. Reagan spent and spent, and thus ran up the debt. He doubled the number of imports with trade restrictions. He pursued militaristic foreign policy. He increased rather than decreased the size, scope, and power of government. Reagan ramped up the war on Americans civil liberties drugs. He wasn’t even a big deregulator—that was Carter. Look past rhetoric to reality. Reagan was in practice just a more militaristic version of one of you.

Unlike we libertarianish people, you members of the moderate left will continue to hold and exercise power. So, learn some public choice, and use what you learn in practice.

2.  My comments:

Jason, your position is understandable, but unfortunately your history of corporatism is myopic and thus deeply flawed and your unwillingness to attack both the Right and the crony capitalists themselves is regrettable.

The regulatory state is a result of citizens demanding that their governments “Do Something!” about corporate abuses that arose proximately from the bestowal of favors on wealthy capitalists by states, through the creation of limited liability corporations. The limited liability served to shift risks of loss for damages to public victims and away from owners, thus creating institutionalized moral hazard, agent-principal problems and growing risk externalization.

“The Left” wrongly believes that more government is the answer to the problems created by corporatism, but you can hardly blame the Left for the creation of our corporate Frankenstein monsters in the first place.

More thoughts here:



3.   As for Walter Block, see this short post regarding his views on the rise of environmentalism.

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