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Archive for the ‘government’ Category

A few days ago I mentioned that centrally planned economies can’t work, but neither can capitalist economies unless there are rules that redistribute the tokens to the consumers and workers who generate wealth rather than allowing them to accumulate unfettered in the hands of owners of capital. At which point someone says, “well, the only way to do that is tyranny!”

What, in the 1950’s the United States was a tyranny? For real?

Then there’s the argument, “the rules will always be hijacked by the rich and powerful. How are you going to prevent that?”

My answer is democracy. The large number of young people looking at democratic socialism as the answer, which is where democracy is used to re-write the rules to favor redistributing the tokens back to the masses rather than letting them accumulate in the hands of a rentier class, shows that democracy can be self-correcting over time. Democracy is not Orwell’s boot pressing the face of man into the ground forever, it has the capacity for change, albeit sometimes the change happens depressingly slow and takes forms at times that are equally depressing. Is democratic socialism “the” answer? Not in its purest form, certainly, but it is a natural reaction to rentier capitalism and is the direction we must go if we don’t want a Mexico North with a huge impoverished class and a tiny but stupidly wealthy upper class and nothing inbetween. Mexico is not a nice place to live for the majority of people there (and the fact that they’re no longer coming to El Norte should tell us something too about where our nation currently is). If democratic socialism takes us away from that, sign me up!

– Badtux the Somewhat-socialist Penguin

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“I’m an aspirational anarchist. Society’s not ready for it, not close, but it’s the direction I’d like to see us head toward.” — a SF writer

The central problem of power is the central problem that anarchy theory correctly defines but the solution proposed — eliminate all power structures that could allow one person to impose power upon others — is nonsense if we are talking about humans. There are always humans who are more physically powerful than others, there are always humans who end up in control of scarce resources needed by others and thus are in a position of power over others, and the sociopath problem has no solution in anarchy theory, the sociopath problem being where those with the least compunction for harming human beings always rise to the top unless there is some other power structure to prevent them from doing so. I basically have not come up with any solution to this problem of power that in any way resembles traditional anarchy solutions that require consensus because they fall prey to the Liberum Veto problem where sly people use the need for consensus as a tool for obtaining power.

The only way I can see to make anarchy work is the unlimited resources and the (literal) deus ex machina of the AI “Minds” of Iain Banks’ “Culture” novels. And even there, we have seen Minds go insane and space their entire human contingent before heading off into the wilds of the galaxy to do whatever. Making anarchy dependent upon a deus ex machina in order to work properly in short isn’t a perfect solution, though I’d far prefer life in Banks’ “Culture” to life here.

So what can we do? Well. Democracy is the best solution we have thus far to the central problem of power. Unfortunately what we have seen is that democracy requires an educated, involved, and informed populace or else it is susceptible to being hijacked by rich jerks using propaganda and lies. Still, what is your alternative? Anarchy? Anarchy doesn’t work. Everywhere that it has been tried, it has turned into rule of gun as the most venal and ruthless gain followers and use concentrated force to impose their will and concentrate wealth in their own hands. In a sense the current state of Russia is a result of the anarchy that occurred after the fall of the Soviet Union. If there had been a smooth transition to a functional democracy after the fall of the Soviet Union, it is unlikely that Russia would currently be ruled by a strongman who maintains power by jailing and/or killing opponents.

Fuck anarchy, in other words. Everywhere it’s been tried, it’s ended up with strong man rule where armed thugs impose their will upon those who are less ruthless. Either it has been ineffective at fighting the armed thugs due to the liberum veto problem, or the people end up rejecting it in favor of the armed thugs because the armed thugs at least keep the common criminals in check. If you have a counter example, let me know about it. But thus far the only “anarchy” I’ve seen that actually works, works only because it’s embedded in a system that’s *not* anarchy. Which is sort of not a solution to the general problem of power, yo.

– Badtux the Anarchy Penguin

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A science fiction writer of my acquaintance claimed that he was an anarcho-capitalist. I pointed out that he was ignoring the central problem of anarchy theory. And that central problem of anarchy theory is the problem of power.

“Pure” anarchism wants to remove anything in society that could be possibly a source of power. Unfortunately people have inherent power due to their physical abilities, and thus inherent differences in power, a large man skilled in fighting has much more power than a small woman not skilled at fighting. Add in weapons and weapons skills and character traits like sociopathy and ruthlessness (a ruthless sociopath will always win a gunfight, because he’ll just shoot you in the back without a thought before you even know you’re in a gunfight), and clearly there must be power structures to regulate all of this, otherwise you have the most ruthless and vicious sociopaths ruling everything at gunpoint. Anarchists do a lot of hand-waving about voluntary self defense associations yada yada, but that’s not what has ever happened. Instead you get warlordism, rule by the most ruthless and vicious sociopaths ruling everything at gunpoint, because the ruthless sociopaths are the ones willing to shoot their way through innocents to get to the top.

Now, add in capitalism, which is yet another source of power — power grows from the barrel of a gun, as Mao put it, and capital buys lots of guns — and the need for power structures to regulate everything becomes even more dire. Now, what is that power structure going to look like? The only way to do it without rule of gun (which leads to atrocity since only the most ruthless and vicious win that leadership contest) is to get buy-in from the majority of the people, i.e., democracy. At which point you no longer have anarchism, since people then vote for things that will make more comfortable for themselves and their neighbors and relatives — as they should, since that’s sort of the whole point of a society.

All of which is just a long way of saying that pure anarcho-capitalism cannot work as a system because it would end up with warlordism, like in Somalia or Afghanistan. And since warlords get their power by being vicious sociopaths, it’s generally not a happy fun time for the population involved. Capitalism is good because it is the best way we have of creating wealth, and wealth is good for people and for a society (both Dan and I know the former from personal experience), but it is also a source of power, and like all sources of power has to be regulated. At that point the anarcho is gone, and what you have is just capitalism.

– Badtux the Capitalist Penguin

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A former ICE chief counsel is facing prison time for stealing immigrants’ identities.

ICE defends America from the Singing Children of Mass Cuteness.

ICE commits 1,600 violations of the Constitution of the United States of America.

ICE has been violating its own policy as well as a court order and the Constitution by failing to exercise individual due process and instead doing mass incarceration. Turns out that due process requires that you make individual determinations, not a blanket “all of group X will be incarcerated”. Who coulda figured?!

Am I saying that a massive paramilitary organization with almost no oversight has ended up being a huge problem, overstepped its authority wildly, and turned into a terrifying force that threatens to permanently damage our democracy by trampling on our most fundamental rights at every opportunity? No way. Surely nobody in Congress could have seen that coming. It’s so unexpected. SNRK.

It’s built into the agency’s genome, people. By creating an agency that has only a single purpose — deporting as many people as possible — the Homeland Security Act created an agency that has an incentive to trample people’s rights in a lawless rush to deport as many people as possible (like, duh?). ICE is irredeemably corrupt. The agency should be abolished and re-established as a new combined entity with USCIS as INS, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, with a director who is as committed to naturalizing new citizens as he is to deporting wannabe-citizens. Having an entire department that is only about deporting immigrants — and not at all about naturalizing immigrants — gives them an incentive to trample on rights in order to deport as many people as possible, whereas a more balanced agency’s incentives work differently.

But hey, as long as it’s brown people having their rights trampled on, who cares, right? Right?!

– Badtux the Sadly Snarky Penguin

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I mean, this isn’t even controversial. It’s a warning right there when you log into a government computer that anything you do there is a public record. Note that confidential information has to go onto a separate confidential network that has different protections, but if it’s not confidential information, it’s a public record, and can be retrieved via FOIA request by *anyone*.

Let’s not forget how Wikileaks got Hillary Clinton’s emails: A FOIA request by a VICE reporter. Not by hacking her server. Nope. Just by scraping the emails off the State Department’s servers as they publically released them in response to Jason Leopold’s FOIA request. Jason Leopold isn’t law enforcement. Jason Leopold is just an ordinary citizen who files requests for public documents. And gets them, albeit sometimes having to sue to get them.

If you are a law enforcement officer, getting access to public documents is even easier. You show up with your badge and say you need them for law enforcement purposes. They hand you what you ask for. That’s it. Because they’re public documents. There isn’t a need to get a warrant to get access to information already owned by the public, especially information that could be FOIA’ed. About the only thing that requires additional paperwork is if there are privacy rights involved — e.g., if you’re requesting records that have been deemed “private” under various privacy acts, you’ll need to file paperwork saying that you need the information for law enforcement purposes. You still don’t need a warrant, because it’s still information the government already has — you only need a warrant for information the government *doesn’t* have. None of that privacy stuff even applies to emails sent to or from government computers. You explicitly waive all privacy rights when you log on to a government computer. It’s right there in the notice that you’re forced to sit through. Anybody can file a FOIA request and get those emails. Anybody. Doesn’t require a badge, or anything, just two working brain cells and a fax machine (yeah, most departments require FOIA requests to be faxed. Hilarious, huh?).

None of which is brain surgery, and anybody who has ever been a government employee knows all of this. Well, except the Trump administration. Which claims that Mueller’s request of emails sent by Trump administration officials on government computers was “improper”. Because they’re fucking morons. Duh. Look, it’s been over twenty years since I was last a government employee, and even *I* remember that anything I generate using government equipment is a public record! Fuck, now that Mueller has these emails, it’s time to get Jason Leopold on the case again, because I’m curious to see what’s in them. The only real question is whether Wikileaks (which appears to be an arm of the Russian government) will throw off their reputation as Russian stooges and publish the emails…

– Badtux the Not-moron Penguin

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Did the economy do better under Ronald Reagan than under Jimmy Carter? There’s lefties who argue that Republicans are *always* worse than Democrats, but then Republicans shout, “Jimmy Carter!”. Was it true?

Technically yes. According to the St. Louis Fed, GDP in chained billions of dollars was 5732.462 in on 1/1/1977, and 6635.726 on 1/1/1981 when Reagan took office, for an average increase of 3.9% per year. GDP in chained billions was 8831.544 when Reagan left office, for average increase of 4.1% per year. So yeah, technically, you’re right, Reagan’s economy performed better than Jimmy Carter’s, but it’s like claiming that your guy will give us 11 cents rather than the other guy’s 10 cents. Nobody’s going to get too excited about the minimal difference there.

When you look at wages, on the other hand, things look different. In inflation adjusted dollars (taking Bureau of Employment Statistics numbers and feeding them into the official inflation calculator), average hourly wage for non-supervisory workers fell from $21.82 in January 1977 to $20.07 in January 1981, or an average of 2% per year. From there they then fell to $19.35 in January 1989. So: average hourly wages for non-supervisory workers fell by 0.45% per year under Reagan, as versus 2% per year under Carter.

In both cases the working class was fucked. But they were fucked less under Reagan than under Carter.

So I call foul on the notion that Republicans are *always* worse for the economy (and for wages) than Democrats. It is true that Clinton and Obama did better than any Republican president back to Eisenhower, but Jimmy Carter is the counter-example that proves that the rule really isn’t a rule.

On the other hand, Reagan’s policies decidedly set up today’s situation where wages are in free-fall for everybody who’s not one of us technology elites, so this isn’t saying that Reagan was a great President or anything. I mean, real wages fell during his Presidency. You can’t say a President is great if real wages fall during his presidency. On the other hand, he was not the Worst president of the past fifty years. That honor falls on Jimmy Carter, a nice man who tried (and tries) to do right, but a lousy President.

– Badtux the Numbers Penguin

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People with Type 1 diabetes are having to turn to the black market for the insulin they need to stay alive. This is especially true if they’re allergic to the particular bacterium genetically engineered to produce the specific brand of insulin that their insurer covers. The new genetically-engineered insulin was supposed to solve the allergy problem that faced some users of the pig or cow insulin because it’s people insulin, not pig insulin or cow insulin. Instead it created its own allergy problems because some of the proteins of the bacteria that produced the insulin end up in the insulin, and allergies happen due to those proteins, too.

And to top it all off, because these are genetically engineered insulins, the vendors raised the price to outrageous sums. Meanwhile, the cheap animal insulins are no longer available on the U.S. market — the only way to get cheap insulin now is to import it illegally on the black market from Canada.

The core problem here is that insurers and drug makers are quite willing to kill Americans suffering from Type 1 diabetes in order to increase their profits. If you suffer from Type 1 diabetes and don’t get your insulin when you need it, you *die*. But insurers and drug makers don’t care. They don’t have to. It’s not as if there was some entity called “government” that had the power to regulate them and force them to bring cheap animal insulin back on the market again, after all. This “government” thing? It must be imaginary, right?

Say hello to Libertopia, folks, where drug makers are quite happy to kill people for profit because they don’t care and they don’t have to.

– Badtux the Disgusted Penguin

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