Volatility

September 28, 2010

Assaults on Food and the Internet (Leahy, Food Bill, Copyright)

 

Judiciary Committee chairman Pat Leahy is a typical US senator, which means he consistently wages war on the people. He’s been especially busy lately, spearheading assaults on internet democracy and food freedom. These two bills are his babies.
 

To us, COICA looks like another misguided gift to a shortsighted industry whose first instinct with respect to the Internet is to try to break it.

 
That’s the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s summary of the “Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act”, or COICA. (That acronym sounds dirty, for some reason.) I don’t know how it’s possible to have online counterfeits. I thought digital ones and zeroes are digital ones and zeroes, but then I’ve never been much of a tech nerd. Go figure; I’m sure Congress would never be tendentious in its bill titles.
 

This is a censorship bill that runs roughshod over freedom of speech on the Internet. Free speech is vitally important to democracy, which is why the government is restricted from suppressing speech except in very specific, narrowly-tailored situations. But this bill is the polar opposite of narrow — not only in the broad way that it tries to define a site “dedicated to infringing activities,” but also in the solution that it tries to impose — a block on a whole domain, and not just the infringing part of the site.

 
The two powers this bill bestows are:
 
1. It empowers the “Justice” Department to shut down whole sites with a court order, for even a localized infraction.
 
The Attorney General has to show that the site is “dedicated to infringing activity”, including anything that can “enable or facilitate” infringement. This could apply to any site which includes user-generated content no matter how punctiliously moderated.
 
As Public Knowledge put it:
 

Another overly broad definition lies in who exactly can get an order from the Attorney General telling them to stop doing business with the accused site. The section-by-section explanation for the bill specifically mentions ISPs, but the bill’s language itself mentions

a service provider, as that term is defined in section 512(k)(1) of title 17, United States Code, or other operator of a domain name system server.
Not only does this include any DNS server operator at all (which could also include small ISPs like colleges, libraries, and independent third-party operators), but section 512(k)(1) also defines a lot more than just ISPs. In fact, it includes any “provider of online services or network access, or the operator of facilities therfor.” That scope has been interpreted to include far more than ISPs, including online hosting services, websites, blogs, and more. The breadth of this definition in the bill leaves nearly any online entity subject to an order from the Attorney General not to serve traffic to a site associated with a particular domain name, from a massive backbone Internet provider to a website run off of a creaky Pentium.

 
2. Without any court oversight, the DoJ can establish a blacklist of anyone it deems to have anything to do with infringement. They don’t directly shut down anyone on this blacklist, but it’s intended to intimidate ISPs into dropping them. It gives legal immunity to any ISP who does shut down a listed site.
 
So that’s just an end run around judicial review and court orders. It launders the state power through a private deputy. A typical “libertarian” trick.
 
This end run includes allowing ISPs to break existing contracts with listed sites. So much for the “sanctity of contract” where Big Brother authorizes you to break contracts with arbitrarily designated outlaws.
 
Meanwhile anyone who ignores the blacklist may incur secondary liability for copyright infringement. If one fails to dishonor America by honoring the blacklist, that could be used as evidence by a parasitic copyright litigant.
 
The EFF describes the broad effects.
 

COICA is a fairly short bill, but it could have a longstanding and dangerous impact on freedom of speech, current Internet architecture, copyright doctrine, foreign policy, and beyond. In 2010, if there’s anything we’ve learned about efforts to re-write copyright law to target “piracy” online, it’s that they are likely to have unintended consequences.

 
That quote included these links. I would only dispute that these consequences are unintended.
 
Internet advocates fear that the bill will undermine the very architecture of the Internet. Apparently a blocked site will simply become an unsite (probably returning an innocuous, contentless error message) from the point of view of most attempts to find it. Or perhaps the attempt will be hijacked and rerouted. This is also likely to lead to a race to the bottom of unilateral censorship regimes worldwide. Once the US becomes the standard-setter for institutionalized censorship, most other countries are likely to follow.
 

Problem 4: DNS Blocking and Unintended Consequences
There’s also real problems attending the way that the bill proposes to have ISPs and other DNS providers to “take reasonable steps that will prevent a domain name from resolving to that domain name’s Internet protocol address.” This seems to be a roundabout way to say that these entities would have their DNS servers point request for a domain elsewhere. This would mean more conflicts among DNS servers than there already are, as the Attorney General runs about issuing orders to various ISPs and other DNS operators located in the US. Meanwhile, these conflicts, as well, I’m sure as the lure of getting to domains barred by the larger DNS providers, can easily drive users to third-party systems of varying degrees of savoriness. ICANN has previously warned of the harms that DNS redirects can do to the Internet, and tampering with the reliability of that system even more could destabilize that system even faster…..

Another thing to be avoided globally is the fragmentation of addressing, something that can happen when court orders start mucking about with the DNS. Imprudently broad orders, or orders directed at the wrong targets (would root servers be included in the scope?) would have massive effects. More than that, though, a branch of the government restricting DNS resolution for foreign servers could invite retaliation, increasing the tangle of redirects.

And finally, there’s a constant anxiety in many international forums about the United States’ role with respect to the Internet and the memorandum of understanding between the Department of Commerce and ICANN. ICANN is located in the United States, just as Network Solutions (which manages the top level domains .com, .net, and .org). Exercise of US jurisdiction over these entities, with global effects, is often too readily portrayed as the US trying to “take over the Internet,” with associated diplomatic headaches.

 
The existing DMCA already gives vastly more power than is needed to reasonably enforce copyright law. Instead, the real purpose of this bill is political and anti-competitive censorship. ( I’ve previously called this secondary censorship, as opposed to the economically structural primary censorship involved in attempts to gut net neutrality.)
 
This is all being done for the sake of monopolist anti-innovative IP rent-seeking. Once again the government’s the hired thug. This goes alongside the campaign to gut net neutrality and the attempts to trump up a bogus “cyberwar” scare to be placed alongside the Drug War and the Global War on Terror as fraudulent machines of tyranny, terror, and looting. Actual intellectual creators do not benefit from IP law, only monopoly corporate interests. We who want a benevolent disposition of creative output advocate that everything go into the Creative Commons, where the creators and the people benefit while the copyright rentier is euthanized.
 
So there’s part of Leahy’s handiwork. At the same time he’s trying to make us all play whack-a-mole, the stakes being our very freedom over our own food supply.
 
The current Food Tyranny bill (S510) remains stalled in the Senate thanks to the Democrats’ cowardly unwillingness to override Tom Coburn’s hold. As usual the Dems are malevolent in intent and cowardly in execution.
 
But they’re trying another tack, with Leahy sponsoring the different but equally bad S3767. Activists have forced some changes in it (the record of these food bills is that citizen pressure can force mild improvements, unlike with things like the sham finance bill), but it remains a bureaucratic assault on our food freedom, undertaken at the behest of corporate agriculture, the FDA’s real constituency.
 
One of these citizen groups, Health Freedom, proposes a very different ideal in the form of a Food Freedom Amendment:
 

Food Freedom Amendment

“No provision of Federal Law giving regulatory oversight to any Federal department or agency shall be deemed to apply (a) to any home, home-business, homestead, home or community gardens, small farm, organic or natural agricultural activity, (b) to any family farm or ranch, or (c) to any natural or organic food product, including dietary supplements, as protected under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994.”

 
This represents the opposite of everything the food tyranny bills are trying to impose: It would empower small producers and distributors against oligopolists, encourage and enforce citizen control over our own food instead of seeking to subvert and destroy it, and restore food authority to communities where it belongs rather than letting a tyrannical government kidnap it in order to destroy it completely and replace it with the brute coercion of concentrated corporate power.
 
So there’s two smoking battlefronts. The enemy will never cease from this assault on freedom, democracy, and the people, for as long as he has the power to keep attacking. We can never “reform” or “regulate” the enemy, only destroy him completely and forever.
Advertisements

September 24, 2010

2010 and the Future of Democracy (Chomsky and the 1994/2010 Elections)

 

I found this Chomsky piece on the 1994 election. Very interesting, in light of the upcoming election. It exposes every hack lie about the Democrats, what happened in ’94, what the Democrats “need” to do, what the people want, how this is allegedly a “center-right” country, the cult of “voting” in itself, blaming the victim. Most of all it’s clear on the irremediable tyranny of the “two”-party system, how this is not “representation” and how representation cannot work under these circumstances. The majority knows this and wants, as Chomsky discusses here, to “disband both parties”. I think 2010 will be the beginning of the end for the Democrats. It’s long been true that the electorate doesn’t affirmatively choose either party, but only rejects the one currently in power. (The people would choose Democrats’ proclaimed values over Republican values, but Obama has laid bare once and for all how the Democrats are nothing but liars where it comes to those values.)
 
So for these changeovers to keep recurring requires that the party in power be willing to relinquish it. But in my next prediction, I say that the Republicans will never again willingly relinquish power. I think the moment they get the Congress back they’ll end the filibuster and revamp the rules to guarantee that permanent majority, no matter how much they have to trample the Constitution. They’ll flout any court decision against them. (Whether or not there’ll even be such adverse decisions is questionable.)
 
And once they retake the presidency they won’t give it up again. They’ll brazenly rig any subsequent election, and if even that doesn’t work, they’ll simply refuse to recognize the results. But once they’re back in the White House they won’t leave short of being physically blasted out. Everything I see in the Republican Party tells me that. And everything I see in the Democrats tells me they’ll submit. The Democrats would certainly rather meekly cling to whatever permanent minority status the Republicans condescended to allow them rather than lead any sort of revolt against the disposition of power. After all, a surface “political” revolt could easily metastasize into a true structural upheaval against the neoliberal disorder itself. Any good Democrat soldier would rather be a slave within this disorder than run any risk of upsetting it.
 
Which leads to a final observation. If we think in terms of future constitutional crises, we must consider how even those who would be willing to fight are likely to fall into the picayune mindset of the proper changing of the guard, how the constitutional “process” must be observed and so on, without seizing the opportunity to turn the crisis into an existential criticism and rebellion. They’re not likely to proclaim, for example, that such a crisis was proof of the fundamental corruption of the existing system, and demand that the fight must be for a complete change from the proven failure of pseudo-democracy to true positive democracy; that the “Federalists” of 1787-88 have been proven wrong and the original “Anti-“Federalists have been proven right (and that these names should by rights have been reversed).
 
So new citizen activists will have to do it. We’ll have to lead the charge for a new Convention whose proclaimed goal, publicized and affirmed going in, is to truly federalize (decentralize) all economic and political power, including smashing anti-constitutional corporate power, and restore America to the path of its original Revolution, the path the people truly and always fought for, no matter how much our prior “elites” have always sought to traduce, subvert, hijack, and destroy that Revolution.
 
The redeemed Constitution must disempower these elites, proven liars and robbers all, and affirmatively empower the people, once and for all. We must finally embark upon the path of democracy.
 
Here’s Chomsky:

Democracy and Markets in the New World Order
A good place to start is in Washington, right now. The standard picture is that a “historic political realignment” took place in the congressional elections of 1994 that swept Newt Gingrich and his army into power in a landslide victory, a “triumph of conservatism” that reflects the continuing “drift to the right.” With their “overwhelming popular mandate,” the Gingrich army will fulfil the promises of the Contract with America. They will “get government off our backs” so that we can return to the happy days when the free market reigned and restore “family values,” ridding us of “the excesses of the welfare state” and the other residues of the failed “big government” policies of New Deal liberalism and the “Great Society.” By dismantling the “nanny state,” they will be able to “create jobs for Americans” and win security and freedom for the “middle class.” And they will take over and successfully lead the crusade to establish the American Dream of free market democracy, worldwide.

That’s the basic story. It has a familiar ring.

Ten years before, Ronald Reagan was re-elected in the second “conservative landslide” in four years. In the first, in 1980, Reagan won a bare majority of the popular vote and 28 percent of the electorate. Exit polls showed that the vote was not “for Reagan” but “against Carter” — who had in fact initiated the policies that the Reaganites took up and implemented, with the general support of congressional Democrats: accelerated military spending (the state sector of the economy) and cutbacks in programs that serve the vast majority. Polls in 1980 revealed that 11 percent of Reagan voters chose him because “he’s a real conservative” — whatever that term is supposed to mean.

In 1984, there were great efforts to get out the vote, and they worked: it increased by 1 percent. The number of voters who supported Reagan as a “real conservative” dropped to 4 percent. A considerable majority of those who voted hoped that Reaganite legislative programs would not be enacted. Public opinion studies showed a continuation of the steady drift towards a kind of New Deal-style welfare state liberalism.

Why the votes? The concerns and desires of the public are not articulated in the political system — one reason why voting is so sharply skewed towards privileged sectors.

When the interests of the privileged and powerful are the guiding commitment of both political factions, people who do not share these interests tend to stay home. William Dean Burnham, a leading specialist on electoral politics, pointed out that the class pattern of abstention “seems inseparably linked to another crucial comparative peculiarity of the American political system: the total absence of a socialist or laborite party as an organized competitor in the electoral market.” That was fifteen years ago, and it has only become more pronounced as civil society has been even more effectively dismantled: unions, political organizations, and so on.

In the United States, “the interests of the bottom three-fifths of society” are not represented in the political system, political commentator Thomas Edsall of the Washington Post pointed out a decade ago, referring to the Reagan elections. There are many consequences apart from the highly skewed voting pattern. One is that half the population thinks that both parties should be disbanded. Over 80 percent regard the economic system as “inherently unfair” and the government “run for the benefit of the few and the special interests, not the people” (up from a steady 50 percent for a similarly worded question in the pre-Reagan years) — though what people might mean by “special interests” is another question. The same proportion think that workers have too little influence — though only 20 percent feel that way about unions and 40 percent consider them too influential, another sign of the effects of the propaganda system in inducing confusion, if not in changing attitudes.

That brings us to 1994, the next in the series of “conservative landslides.” Of the 38 percent of the electorate who took part, a bare majority voted Republican. “Republicans claimed about 52 percent of all votes cast for candidates in contested House seats, slightly better than a two-point improvement from 1992,” when the Democrats won, the polling director of the Washington Post reported. One out of six voters described the outcome as “an affirmation of the Republican agenda.” A “more conservative Congress” was considered an issue by a rousing 12 percent of the voters. An overwhelming majority had never heard of Gingrich’s Contract with America, which articulated the Republican agenda and has since been relentlessly implemented, with much fanfare about the popular will, and less said about the fact that it is the first contract in history with only one party signing, and the other scarcely knowing of its existence.

When asked about the central components of the Contract, large majorities opposed almost all, notably the central one: large cuts in social spending. Over 60 percent of the population wanted to see such spending increased at the time of the elections. Gingrich himself was highly unpopular, even more than Clinton, whose ratings are very low; and that distaste has only persisted as the program has been implemented.

There was plenty of opposition to Democrats; the election was a “vote against.” But it was nuanced. Clinton-style “New Democrats” — in effect, moderate Republicans — lost heavily, but not those who kept to the traditional liberal agenda and tried to activate the old Democratic coalition: the majority of the population who see themselves, correctly, as effectively disenfranchised.

Voting was even more heavily skewed toward the wealthy and privileged than before. Democrats were heavily preferred by those who earn less than $30,000 a year (about the median) and ran even with Republicans in the $30,000-$50,000 range. The opinion profiles of non-voters were similar on major issues to those who voted the Democratic ticket. Voters who sensed a decline in their standard of living chose Republican — or more accurately, opposed incumbent Democrats close to two to one. Most are white males with very uncertain economic futures, just the people who would have been part of a left-populist coalition committed to equitable economic growth and political democracy, were such an option to intrude into the business-run political arena. In its absence, many are turning to religious fanaticism, cults of every imaginable kind, paramilitary organizations (“militias”), and other forms of irrationality, an ominous development, with precedents that we remember, and that now concern even the corporate executives who applaud the actions of the Gingrich army in its dedicated service to the most rich and privileged.

Nevertheless, despite the propaganda onslaught of the last half century, the general population has somehow maintained social democratic attitudes. Substantial majorities believe the government should assist people in need, and favor spending for health, education, help for the poor, and protection of the environment. As I’ve already mentioned, they also approve of foreign aid for the needy and peacekeeping operations. But policy follows a radically different course.

September 22, 2010

The Violent Corporate State (Monsanto and Blackwater, Perfect Together)

Filed under: Corporatism, Food and Farms, Global War On Terror — Tags: , — Russ @ 4:39 am

 

 

 
We know that among Obama’s and HRC’s (Hillary Ribbentrop Clinton) favorite corporations are Monsanto and Blackwater.
 
Even after Blackwater’s long, proven record of mass murder, thuggery, embezzlement, and incompetence, Clinton’s State Department continues to hand them new contracts. In this case, it’s an 18 month, $120 million handout for “protective security services” in Afghanistan. The contract was given to a Blackwater subsidiary called “The US Training Center”. (The mother corporation has been renamed from the tarnished aggressive name “Blackwater” to the intentionally bland “Xe”. Now honcho Erik Prince wants to sell it while he absconds with with the millions he stole to the overt slave society, the UAE.)
 
(In addition to how evil and corrupt such contracts are from the point of view of the public interest, this is also yet another example of Obama’s utter incompetence even from the point of view of partisan politics. Prince is a longstanding Republican operative and Bush fundraiser. Indeed Blackwater was set up in the first place with the business model of lobbying for fat corporate welfare gigs, to cash in as Bush came into office. It was never for a single day a legitimate entrepreneurial, “capitalist” outfit. It was always an embezzlement racket.
 
But evidently being a de facto extension of the Republican Party and self-defined exterminationist Christian crusader doesn’t disqualify one from service in the Obama administration.)
 
And what about the ongoing DoJ attempt to indict Blackwater murderers for the Nisoor Square Massacre? What about the allegations and indictments for theft? A State Dept. flack cheerfully chirped that none of that matters:
 

“Under federal acquisition regulations, the prosecution of the specific Blackwater individuals does not preclude the company or its successive companies and subsidiaries from bidding on contracts,” the spokeswoman said. “On the basis of full and open competition, the department performed a full technical evaluation of all proposals and determined the U.S. Training Center has the best ability and qualifications to meet the contract requirements.”

 
Evidently while the 1st Amendment is to be gutted for phony examples of providing “material assistance” to terrorists, and while RICO provides for severe penalties for most forms of money laundering to known organized crime outfits, neither of these forms of abetting are to apply in the case of the known terrorist and mafia gang “Blackwater”.
 
Meanwhile, in another example of how Obama loads his administration with corporate operatives, he has sought to install Monsanto cadres in positions of power over our food supply. Thus Michael Taylor, Monsanto executive and lobbyist, was appointed FDA Deputy Commissioner for food. Another Monsanto name which was widely vetted was Dennis Wolff. Wolff is a notorious thug who as Pennsylvania secretary of agriculture wanted to ban milk producers from labeling their product hormone free, on the grounds that it would “confuse” consumers. (Monsanto markets rBGH, and Wolff as a government cadre saw his job as to serve Monsanto against the public interest.) Governor Ed Rendell had to override this anti-democratic power grab in the face of massive public outcry.
 
Monsanto has a long history of seeking nothing but to poison, loot, and dominate the world. It once hired Arthur Anderson (of Enron notoriety) with this commission: Monsanto wanted world domination of the food supply through control of all seeds. They asked AA to reverse engineer a strategy: How do we get there from here? Here’s a harrowing tale of Monsanto’s legalized thuggery, with the full collaboration of the rigged law and corrupt courts, all the way up to the Canadian “supreme” court.
 
Both of these corporations must be called fascist, not as anti-corporate rhetoric but by any objective, reasonable measure. Both are authoritarian and violent and operate with open contempt for democracy and the public interest. Both are unproductive, parasitic leeches off the corporate welfare state. Both propose to use brutal force to entrench that state.
 
And now they’re working together. According to documents uncovered by journalist Jeremy Scahill (who has specialized in educating the public about Blackwater), Blackwater has conferred with Monsanto about setting up a Nixon-style dirty tricks outfit and god knows what else:
 

“The relationship between the two companies appears to have been solidified in January 2008 when Total Intelligence chair Cofer Black traveled to Zurich to meet with Kevin Wilson, Monsanto’s security manager for global issues.

“After the meeting in Zurich, Black sent an e-mail to other Blackwater executives, including to [then-president Erik] Prince and [former CIA paramilitary officer Enrique] Prado at their Blackwater e-mail addresses.

“Black wrote that Wilson ‘understands that we can span collection from internet, to reach out, to boots on the ground on legit basis protecting the Monsanto [brand] name…. Ahead of the curve info and insight/heads up is what he is looking for.’

“Black added that Total Intelligence ‘would develop into acting as intel arm of Monsanto.’ Black also noted that Monsanto was concerned about animal rights activists and that they discussed how Blackwater ‘could have our person(s) actually join [activist] group(s) legally’….

“…Wilson confirmed he met Black in Zurich and that Monsanto hired Total Intelligence in 2008 and worked with the company until early 2010. He denied that he and Black discussed infiltrating animal rights groups, stating ‘there was no such discussion.’”

 
This is chilling in itself, as well as typical of the kind of corporate collaboration and Mussolini-style corporate-state collaboration which we see everywhere we look. Just a few days ago the people learned of the same dirty tricks at something called the Pennsylvania Homeland Security Agency. (Do all states have those? Is there no end to the “war on terror” police statist and corrupt bureaucracy gravy train? Typically, not a peep from the allegedly anti-bureaucratic tea partiers and “libertarians” on this one.) A government thug there proposed a secret surveillance campaign using taxpayer dollars on behalf of shale-drilling “stakeholders”. The private goons hired this time were an Israeli outfit called ITRR. (The Israelis are the real pros at this kind of parasitic thuggery. The likes of Blackwater just imitate them, often hiring Israeli cadres to teach them.)
 
Rendell swooped in to the rescue again, ordering the contract canceled. (But the bureaucratic criminal hasn’t been fired, so far as I can see.) Is this recurring theme of Rendell overruling “abuses” starting to look like a pattern? It’s the same thing as with Facebook’s assault on privacy, and so many other examples. Push as far as you can, then when you go too far and bring down too much heat, backpedal and claim it was a mistake. Wait for the heat to die down and resume the assault. (This was also a common tactic of Lenin and Stalin in their war on the peasants.) Rendell clearly knows the game plan.
 
So Blackwater and Monsanto now blandly dismiss the significance of these contacts, just as Monsanto claims it has no interest in the food bill, just as Prince says he’s sick of the security business and is getting out (he wanted Xe to become some kind of paper pushers or something), just as Google says it has no plans to use the “managed services” VIP lane to run parallel to the Open Internet, it’s all just so much ennui, isn’t it? Nothing to see here, move along. The MSM does its part by seldom talking about any of it, and abetting the theme of downplaying everything when it does.
 
Although this is all slated to end with a bang, the sheep are expected to go with a whimper.

September 21, 2010

The Disintegrating Mortgage Front

 

Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism continues her documentation of the mortgage system unraveling. As I’ve written about several times before, the sale and securitization system has devolved, with mortgage mills set up to evade many layers of local and state taxes while the mortgages themselves are disintegrated into a mind-boggling atom-smasher of tranches of CDOs and CDOs of CDOs. The physical note often disappears somewhere along the way. Nobody could legitimately figure out who actually owns these mortgages, in many cases. The mortgages themselves have effectively ceased to exist.
 
This reads like a satire on a land distribution system where the physical land is viewed abstractly even by those who physically squat on it and call themselves “owners” (but are really debtors). But under today’s legal system the land is really owned by the parasite finance sector.
 
But as Smith has extensively written, even according to their rigged law they’ve been abdicating this “ownership”. Legal ownership is anchored in the note. But where the note can’t be produced, as is happening more and more, no one can legitimately claim this ownership, or any right to foreclose or sell. As debtor advocates say, Always make them produce the note!
 
None of this was a problem as long as the bubble was inflating, prices were always going up and foreclosures were rare. But like with so many other things (it’s simply astounding how much lawlessness was let ride during the bubble inflation), as soon as the bubble burst everything started coming undone. There’s been an avalanche of foreclosures, which would have been hard to deal with even under circumstances where legal practice was on the up and up. But in today’s disaster there’s also the chaos of uncertain legal right for any particular actor to do anything. It seems that in many cases the foreclosing bank itself doesn’t know whether or not it actually has legal ownership and therefore any right to foreclose. Needless to say, they don’t care, and in many places the court system is looking for ways not to care as well.
 
Here’s a summation of recent developments, especially in Florida.
 
Florida is one of the states hardest hit by the collapse of the housing bubble. Everywhere underwater debtors are walking away or being foreclosed upon. It’s such a landslide that an oligopoly of three mills has been churning out foreclosure paperwork night and day. The state has called judges out of retirement to set up a special foreclosure tribunal with the proclaimed goal of processing foreclosures as fast as it can, usually without being overly diligent about the actual legality of any given foreclosure.
 
The cries of abuse and lawlessness have become so universal that state attorney general Bill McCollum, certainly not known as a friend of the people, has felt constrained to initiate an investigation of the mortgage mills.
 
Meanwhile Naked Capitalism recently divulged how big banks like Wells Fargo are trying to wash their hands of the mess they presided over by forcing buyers of foreclosed properties to absolve the bank of any responsibility in case the foreclosure turns out to have been fraudulent because the foreclosing party didn’t actually own the deed. The banks want to shift all the risk onto the buyer (the pain is of course sustained by the foreclosed debtor), and if necessary the legal blame onto a lower-level servicer.
 
In response to McCollum’s investigation, Florida congessman Alan Grayson has written a letter to the Florida supreme court asking it to suspend the operations of the quasi-legal mortgage tribunals. The state itself has acknowledged there may be a structural problem with the legality of the mortgage and foreclosure disposition, so how can the state continue to stampede the foreclosure process like this?
 
Not coincidentally, on the same day as Grayson’s letter was publicized Bloomberg reported that GMAC has suspended all foreclosures in 23 states, including all but one of the judicial recourse states. This follows upon allegations of systemic and systematic fraud on the part of GMAC officers. On its face it seems that GMAC is massively exposed to liability for fraud and is scrambling to retrench before it continues going before judges under oath. (I don’t know how the perjury system works on signed affidavits in non-judicial states, but it sounds like there’s less danger there.)
 
GMAC responded to the Bloomberg story claiming that it’s only suspending ongoing foreclosures, not halting new ones. We’ll see what that means.
 
As we see, not only is this land distribution illegitimate in both moral and practical terms. The banks in their greed and carelessness have also inadvertently abrogated their “ownership” even according to their own corrupted law. Now the system has to try to do what it does everywhere else – scramble to bail itself out, to cobble together a temporary kludge to keep itself propped up just a little while longer. So they’ll have to somehow find a way to retroactively legalize this lawlessness, or at least politically normalize lawlessness just as they’re trying to normalize permanent mass unemployment.
 
Even as it sways with greater vehemence in the rising wind, the Tower of Babel keeps being built higher, each layer more heavy than that below it. Even as they must prevent the bubble from deflating further, they must try to reflate it and keep it inflating forever. Even as they try to reflate the bubble they find its very legal basis devastated, and must try to construct a passable pseudo-law to pose as the real one. And they must do all of this as they struggle to maintain political control.
 
I hope the efforts of bloggers and rare MSM reporters like the NYT’s Gretchen Morgenson will get these stories and the truth they convey out into the public consciousness. It’ll help toward weaning people from the “ownership society” scam, one of the most pernicious scams encouraging debtors to cling to their debts, that is to the system itself, against their own interest. The HAMP scam was founded upon this goal. But eventually the entire scam must founder and fail.

September 20, 2010

Food Tyranny Bill In Limbo

 

The Senate’s Food Tyranny bill, S. 510, is being held up by Tom Coburn. Reid would have to call for a cloture vote if he wanted to use that vaunted Democratic majority, but he’s evidently too cowardly and lazy to do so. Typical Dem behavior.
 
Given how this is yet another corporate assault on the people which would likely be unpopular if its true nature were better publicized, it’s unsurprising that the electorally endangered Reid isn’t willing to put his neck on the line even for this corporatist project.
 
Coburn’s stated objections include the bill’s likely hostility to small producers and distributors as well as how it will only intensify the existing bureaucratic chaos (familiar to Hannah Arendt’s readers as a trait of a totalitarian situation), but his main objection is the bill’s cost. While I’d turn that list of objections rightside up, I still agree with all of them. And although we know Coburn, like any Republican, is our enemy in general, he’s still providing a service here.
 
This bill, like the health racket bailout, has so many objectionable features that it’s one of the growing number of examples of where citizen advocates and Republicans who have any shred of principle can find some common ground, while only the vile Democrats are 100% against the people in principle and practice.
 
Still, before I continue with wanting this bill (and its far worse 2009 House counterpart) defeated, I need to confront the question of what kind of new regulation, if any, we do need. This isn’t like exotic financial products or most consumer crap where we’d be better off if it ceased to exist at all. We do need food, and the food supply needs to be as safe as it reasonably can be. So what kind of food authority should there be, both in the current society and in any future one? (Perhaps lately I’ve been a little punchy in dismissing some thoughts about the current society in favor of stating what I want the future one to be. But I do recognize we need a dual track in many cases.)
 
So what should we advocate in this society, right now? Given the continuing existence of Concentrated Animal Farming Operations (CAFOs), or factory farms, the overwhelming burden and preventive enforcement of proactive regulation must be on them. (Our real demand here is to ban them completely.) We can have reasonable regulations for small outfits, but there the emphasis should be more on penalties for negligence leading to any kind of outbreak rather than proactive regulation and costly planning. (Since any outbreak from a small, locally-oriented producer is likely to be minor and localized, and the culprit easily identified, that ought to be sufficient. But all the real outbreaks – large-scale, catastrophic – come from the industrial food chain.)
 
We need far better labeling of agricultural products, especially of GMOs and of what was factory farmed. We the people have an automatic right to this information. It’s our property. In addition, since this is our economy and our polity, we have the right to decide what kind of agriculture we want to support for these economic and political reasons. Therefore we have the right to truth in labeling. There’s also the fact that CAFOs are absolute cesspools of germs. Only ever more massive infusions of antibiotics keep the always-sick animals alive at all, and this in turn generates an ongoing biological arms race between Big Drug and the microbes, who are always building new resistances, and do so faster and faster. CAFOs are unregulated bioweapons labs. When (not if, but when) one of them is the vector for a lethal pandemic, the executives, shareholders, and their politician, media, and academic flacks will be guilty of premeditated mass murder. The prospect for GMOs isn’t better. We know almost nothing about the health effects of this monstrosity inflicted upon us by science at its most greedy and berserk. So in these cases we also have a public health right to this labeling.
 
So what does the FDA, our alleged public servant, and in whom so much new power is supposed to be reposed according to these bills, say on this issue? Not only does it refuse to require GMO labeling, but it wants to forbid any labeling to the effect that “This product contains no GMOs.”
 
This provides a stark lesson in the FDA’s priority and who it sees as its client and master. The FDA, like most other agencies, is completely captured by kleptocracy and has become a traitor. We the people must look upon it as our enemy, and see any proposal to increase its power over our local food and our small food businesses as an assault.
 
(I’ll have more to say about this labeling in an upcoming post on unconstitutional information monopoly. I’ll also add here how we again have proof of what liars the elites and their economists are when they laud their “free market” of information. The fact is that they never want anything but a total monopoly of information, and the market information lie, like every other Orwellian aspect of Chicago economics, is nothing but a Big Lie.)
 
Any bill should also be stripped of all reference to anti-sovereign, unconstitutional globalization cadres and “treaties”. But this bill would explicitly subordinate our entire food supply to rootless, stateless totalitarians.
 
The people’s goal is to ban all CAFOs, all GMOs (and continue to resist approval of all proposed GMOs), all patenting of seeds and plants, end the antibiotics arms race, end the herbicide and pesticide arms race, and the tyranny of monopolies there as well. The earth belongs to us all, and its produce belongs to those who produce it. None of it belongs to any corporation or “stakeholder.” None of it. So there’s the ideal, and while nothing enacted over the short term is likely to come close to this, that’s still the measure.
 
In this case, the status quo isn’t good. Corporate-caused food outbreaks become ever more frequent. But these proposed bills would do little or nothing to address this problem. They’re instead search and destroy missions against our attempts and our dreams of liberation from the corporate food tyranny. Just as the “health care reform” process never had any intent of reforming anything but only of setting up a more effective extortion procedure for the insurance rackets, so these bills have no intent of making the food supply more safe. Indeed they want to make it less safe, as the effect of further empowering reckless corporate ag.
 
So although the status quo isn’t good, it’s still better than what these bills would impose. Some groups think that a Senate bill which has its worst razor edges filed down a bit would be better than the status quo. But I question this on three grounds.
 
1. It’s not clear to me that the negotiated amendments and even the proposed Tester amendment completely strip all the most offensive provisions. This still seems to leave the goons with far too much discretion.
 
2. Even if a semi-decent Senate bill passed, that’s the main political hurdle right there, and it can only get worse, far worse, in conference. The health racket and sham finance “reform” bills are object lessons. Even the few decent parts were expunged in conference, while in many cases the bad parts were made worse. Prudence and common sense dictate that we assume any legislative process under kleptocracy will undergo the same effect. Only a pollyanna who understands nothing about rational hypothesis would think happy thoughts about any particular bill.
 
3. We don’t want to set any more precedents for extension of government power. This is a kleptocracy intent on tyranny. The only bills which are acceptable to us are bills which would explicitly roll back government power. Since this food bill, like every other bill, proposes to extend the government’s role as hired thug and bagman, that in itself is sufficient reason to oppose it, even if amendments did nominally defang it.
 
Beyond the Congress, looking ahead to the future, we need to start planning for an ever larger informal economy and black market. This is definitely going to be imposed by the Depression as it really sets in, and Peak Oil will impose it as well. We’ll be increasingly trying to live in this informal economy even as the government tries to stamp it out with police state tactics and debt enslavement. So it would be best for us if we plan ahead, trek toward the future armed with an economic relocalization plan and growing practice, as well as the plan and practice of passive resistance and Sun-Tzu style subversion.
 
Meanwhile the food supply, to the extent we can regain control over it, will become more safe as it becomes more local, more organic*, less factory-produced, less processed, less zombified by the cycle of jolting the dead soil with fossil-based fertilizer and slathering fossil-based poisons on the crop to kill everything else. That Kill ‘Em All mentality is a universal. It’s not possible to compartmentalize it. Anyone who views the soil and what it grows in those homicidal terms views the entire earth that way, including humanity. That’s where this Congress is coming from.
 
*”Organic” simply means that production reverts to the pre-fossil fuel historical norm. It’s common in this language to represent the most natural, rational, normal thing as exotic and even weird. Thus the brutal assault and ghoulish technocracy of industrial production, an ahistorical monstrosity temporarily propped up by cheap oil and scientistic psychopathy, is blandly called “agriculture” and “food”, while the historical norm and rational holistic practice gets the special name “organic”, a name often derided as some arcane luxury. It’s the same as how the system refers to the produce of industrial monocropping as “commodity crops”, while fruits and vegetables are relegated to the picayune category of “specialty crops”. It might as well all be arugula for effete liberals, right?

September 17, 2010

The Question’s Being Asked

Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism has an interesting post up this morning, Truth Or Consequences: When the Music’s Over.

Instead of racking my brain for appropriate Doors quotes (I’m sure they’re in there, but these days I can’t recall which was which between “When the Music’s Over” and “The End”), I focused on Yves’ concluding question:

I wonder what answers readers can provide to AK’s question: “Should we continue in the attempt to bring the truth of transgressions to the public, or would our efforts be better spent preparing ourselves for the forthcoming panic?” Or are there other options you regard as more fruitful?

Since my reply was on the same subject we’re discussing here, I thought I’d post it here: 

Our predicament is terminal. Its causes are the end of cheap, easy fossil fuels, and the neo-feudalist strategy the elites have deployed to meet that challenge (going off the gold standard [discussed in the OP] was an effect of this, not a cause of anything; they had to financialize and shift to an exponential debt economy according to the neoliberal battle plan). But even among those who are aware that there’s any problem at all, the two most common kinds of response are dysfunctional.

At one extreme we have those who think the problems of the system are just normal political problems which can be solved by “reform”, and besides, “technology will save us”.

The opposite are those who recognize the truth but disdain any cooperative response or despair over the possibility of one, but who instead think they’re going to be able to ride it all out hiding in a hole somewhere. That’s the survivalist mentality in its purest form.

There are gradations of both of these, and plenty of Peak Oilers and other radicals who run toward one extreme or the other.

But the truth is that this system, a terminal kleptocracy and entrenched, congealed oligopoly, cannot be reformed. And no technology is going to replace cheap oil. Energy consumption must resume its normal historical level.

And while we don’t yet know how capable the elites will be of imposing fascism and feudalism during the energy descent, we do know their malevolent intent. So to plan to hide and hope they’ll just collapse on their own is folly.

The only viable course of action is to reclaim the real economy while purging the false, and build a new polity, doing both of these from the soil up. We have to recognize that the only viable human system left would repose all power at the council level, where all the decisions would be made.

History has proven that the people can manage their own economies and politically rule themselves, and that the elites are without exception both malign and incompetent and have no legitimacy (that includes the elitism of “representative” pseudo-democracy).

This is the only option which can redeem and maximize our freedom, justice, morality, and dignity.

Direct democracy, full participatory democracy, is the only option left which can work (all others are now proven failures), and the only option which retains any moral credibility.

Relocalization is also the only viable practical response to the practical constraints the end of easy oil will impose on our societies.

Finally, organizing toward this goal is also the only way to defend ourselves against the depredations of the barbarians who afflict us. We need to break free of their top-down constraints, and find bottom up solidarity to fight back at whatever level of resistance is necessary. Hopefully passive resistance and non-violent civil disobedience will be enough.

So this is what we need to do. To finish by returning to the original question, we must prepare, and part of the preparation is the ongoing public education campaign. But this campaign needs to become better coordinated.

September 15, 2010

Some Ideas – What We Need To Do

 

How to get the message out there? We’ve discussed the refinement of online activity – a new website, web TV. (There are already sites out there which seem to some extent aligned with the basic goal, and people have suggested that we try to systematically post to those.)
 
Then there’s also the offline front – getting out into the community. Forming sustainability groups, community gardens, local economy intitatives, other community volunteering and activism, becoming involved in local politics on a sustainability and anti-system basis. Again, there are templates out there. I’ll compile and post a list when I get the time.
 
Little by little this process has been organizing itself from the bottom up, from people everywhere taking the initiative on their own. Then recognizable organizations like Transition Towns and Slow Food start to form, which provide some of those templates and perhaps an organizational umbrella. I don’t think people need to start seeking umbrellas yet (if ever), since the vitality of this movement is grounded in its indigenous spontaneity. When I talk about unified campaigns, I’m presupposing a critical mass of existing groups who can then coordinate according to ideas which have meanwhile been promulgated. I suppose I see myself as trying to help with the task of formulating and propagating the ideas.
 
Here’s one possibility for idea coordination, which could also have many other benefits. Are readers familiar with Toastmasters? It’s an organization for the practice of public speaking. I’ve never been to a meeting myself (the times I checked there was no chapter within a convenient distance), but I’ve read about it. I guess the members are mostly careerists looking to hone their business and backslapping skills. But we could use these skills as well.
 
So my idea was that people who share a dedication to a political cause could form their own such groups. Nominally it would be a public speaking/book discussion group. But it could also serve as the vehicle for coordination of ideas and messaging, including people taking on particular tasks.
 
The way I just described that involves meeting in real life, wherever there were enough people within driving distance of one another. But something similar (of course without the public speaking component) could be done online as well. FireDogLake has its regular book salons, to give one example.
 
So that’s one idea.
 
The overall strategy: Affirmatively, relocalization and direct democracy. Negatively, in terms of resistance, passive resistance, coordinated toward mass civil disobedience. For example, we should start to come up with a game plan for how to resist paying the health racket extortion mandate. (I operate taking for granted that the “regulations” and “subsidies” in the bill will never manifest, and wouldn’t suffice even if they did, so the paper we’re forced to buy will be worthless. This should be obvious from the entire trend of bogus regulation and the fact that the same criminals who are trying to gut Social Security as we speak are not telling the truth when they promise to add a new public expenditure. There are more specific proofs as well. But I should prove it just for the record, so I’ll soon dedicate a few posts to that.)
 
We should look at how an idea like MMT is spreading in the blogosphere, how eager and thirsty people are for new ideas, new ways of looking at things, new prescriptions for how to break out of the trap. (Unfortunately the first wave MMTers are implicitly or explicitly reformist and not radical. So the second wave will have to adapt this tool for use as part of a radical prescription. I haven’t yet written posts on MMT, but that’s upcoming as well. Anyone looking for a good historical treatment of the idea’s potential should consult Lawrence Goodwyn’s The Populist Moment for its discussion of greenbacker advocacy among the radical farmers. I also recommend it as a great book on movement-building, period.)  
 
We also need to encourage the debt jubilee. Since the prevailing idea can be summed up as:
 
1. The banks rightfully own the land;
 
2. The housedebtor has an obligation to pay the mortgage;
 
we need to start by counteracting these. I have many posts on this, under the category Land Recourse and the tags Strategic default (a bogus term I’ve since retired; I should change the name to “walking away”) and Fannie and Freddie.
 
Here’s a few:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The truth is:
 
1. The banks never legitimately owned the land, we the people own it.
 
2. Even if they had, and however we look at it, since the Bailout we the people own the banks. So all their “property” including the land reverts to us anyway.
 
3. Even according to their own rigged “legality”, with the MERS system having dissolved unified ownership and in many cases lost the physical note, the banks have abdicated this ownership, inadvertently dissolved it.
 
4. As for the mortgage contract, if it’s non-recourse then walking away is a perfectly sound, by-the-book provision of the contract.
 
5. Since the banks stole everything they have to begin with, since they intentionally plunged the economy into this incipient Depression and used the crash they intentionally caused to loot even more trillions, we also have the moral right to stop paying but stay in the house as long as we want. This is an example of bottom-up direct restitution.
 
6. Such squatting is actually positive for the community. In many regions the banks simply let the foreclosed or abandoned property rot, to everyone’s detriment.
 
So there’s a basic outline of the argument for debt jubilation.
 
Those are a few ideas I have, pieces of the overall picture. I’ll try to get it all out there as best I can. So do people reading this agree with some or all of it? Reject any of it? I think it’s all on the same wavelength, headed in one direction on one trajectory. I’ve tried to weed out ideological inconsistencies and principle-tactic mismatches. It’s not complete yet, but I think it’s getting usably close.

September 14, 2010

The Brainstorming So Far – Why We Fight

 

I thought I’d sum up just some of the ideas we brainstormed so far in the prior post and comment thread on what we need to do.
 
We agreed that a clarification of principles is needed. For today I’ll just expand a bit on what I think is the dividing line of our age and all its struggle. The previous delineation of left-to-right is no longer adequate. Those who still invoke it are engaging in misdirection. Needless to say, this is even more true of Democrat vs. Republican. I’m speaking specifically of America, although the dynamic is broadly the same throughout the West. Everywhere neoliberalism* is on the march against democracy and humanity. This is what defines for humanity today the conflict of post-civilizational barbarism** vs. civilization and humanity.
 
[*Neoliberalism: Is there any question about this term? It’s Mafia gangsterism dressed up as a pseudo-respectable ideology. It refers to the broad onslaught of direct corporate aggression and indirect corporate aggression via corrupt governments. These combine to form kleptocracy. The basic procedures are privatization of public property (giving it away for nothing while saddling the public with any costs), gutting all regulation, cutting all public interest government spending while ratcheting up government looting of the taxpayer in order to convey the loot to corporate interests, overturning the rule of law so that the courts are inaccessible to the people while the law strips them of all protection and instead becomes the strong-arm thug of their corporate assailants, and in general the government alienates all sovereignty, all legitimacy, all authority, setting up a Hobbesian void over the land into which lawless, stateless corporate and elitist power rampages with infinite malignity. Globalization opens up all corporate, money, and cheap labor flows while interning all public interest and elite labor flows in the equivalent of concentration camps. I’ve referred to this as a kind of “secession”, in that the rich and elite are able to secede from the law and from any responsibility to “the country”, which indeed ceases to exist as a public entity. Instead all their robbery is ratified by the abdicated government and law as the new state of nature, and at that point the social contract is broken on the robbers’ terms. Thus the entire span of civilization turns out to have been one big fraud, one big scam, one big equivalent of the accountant who promised to conscientiously manage your money absconding with it.
 
Except in this case that accountant uses the money to hire thugs to force you to labor for him going forward as a slave. Similarly, these legally and nationally seceded elites still intend to maintain every physical monopoly over us. They’ve repudiated all citizenship and all responsibility, but they still intend to exercise an infinite prerogative and what they call a “right”.
 
There’s no such thing as a right except as preceded by and contingent upon having and fulfilling a responsibility. But today’s elites neither nave nor fulfill responsibilities. They’re both evil and useless. They are post-civilization barbarians.
 
**I distinguish between what I call the barbarians of ascent, those still physically vigorous, culturally latent, spiritually uncorrupted, those headed upward toward civilization, like the Huns, Goths, Mongols, Vikings, and today’s barbarians of decadence.
 
They have a total sense of entitlement and “rights” but refuse to work or take responsibility. They’re loutish and stupid in victory, whining and cowardly and demanding a bailout the moment they face any kind of  adversity. They’re aggressive but physically cowardly, hiring mercenaries to fight their wars of aggression (not to mention to perform all physical labor for them; needless to say they lowball everyone). They’re culturally exhausted, by now reduced to needing ever louder, more flashy jolts of stimulation merely to stay awake, they’re so mentally inert and moribund. They’re spiritually rotten to the core, combining the most gutter nihilism in action with the most shallow yet obnoxious proclamations of “values” and “principles”. They exemplify hypocrisy as not even a compliment vice pays to virtue, but as an insult to virtue, as virtue would never wish to be complimented by such mean, wretched, paltry, snivelling vice.]
 
So the struggle of barbarism vs. civilization plays out along these lines: It’s centralization vs. decentralization, concentration vs. rational and equitable distribution, corporatism vs. anti-corporatism, democratic federalism vs. Bigness itself, in two words democracy vs. elitism.
 
All large structures – corporations, the government, the MSM, academia, most if not all large advocacy groups – are on the wrong side of this divide. They’ve all become corporatized, kleptocratized. Even the most well-meaning cadres (what few there may be) within this structure still want elitist monopoly, elitist collection of all the social wealth, and for some of it to then trickle back down. Anyone who wants this is the enemy. 
 
Why is this the core line of principled struggle?
 
1. Concentration and elitism is an affront to freedom and justice (I’ll do more to define these terms in subsequent posts, though what I’m writing here is a start). By definition we can’t have freedom if we can’t participate in all decision making, and we can’t have justice if we’re dispossessed, disenfranchised. This would be true even under “benevolent despotism”. That’s what partially honest elitists like Hayek, Lippman, and Mises claimed to represent. Of course their trickle-down promise was a Big Lie, but at least they were to some extent honest about their elitism. By contrast today’s total liars claim not only to be benign but to be democratic.
 
2. As has been empirically proven after decades of neoliberalism’s freedom to perform its alleged trickle-down magic, all its effects are bad. Jobs, income, quality of life, social feelings of comfort and security, community health and psychological well-being, medical health – by these and many other metrics all its promises were lies. So even if one is by nature a conformist slave who would be happy to live under trickle-down, one would if one were honest still have to call it a failure since it doesn’t work the way it was promised anyway.
 
In a day or two I’ll write up some of the ideas on strategy and tactics.

September 11, 2010

One Way It’s Been Done Before

 

We face the tyrannical attack of organized crime having hijacked the government, which now allows the syndicates and gangs to rampage and loot across the land. The worst examples among corporatized government power assaults are the health racket bailout and the looming food tyranny bill. These are two affirmatively aggressive policies. There’s also the passively aggressive intent to allow net neutrality and the vision of democratic broadband access to be destroyed, thus dooming the Internet as a space for economic innovation and as the last consistently democratic space in this corporate enclosure zone we call a “country”. The assault on civil liberties is a hybrid of the active and passive. All of this takes place under the blackened skies of the bank tyranny and the Permanent War.
 
“If taxes are laid on us in any shape without our having a legal representation where they are laid, are we not reduced from the character of free subjects to the miserable state of tributary slaves?”
 
That’s Samuel Adams in Boston’s 1764 official Instructions to the Representatives to the Massachusetts Legislature, as the attempted British power grab was gathering force. The basic argument and tactic was the same throughout: Parliament could not represent the colonists, and therefore had no constitutional authority over them, and therefore they must refuse to cooperate even the slightest bit, lest this concede the principle.
 
Today the matter is clouded because “our” legislature isn’t geographically removed over the ocean, and we have modern communications. So it might seem that we don’t have as strong an argument of lack of representation and sovereignty. And yet the fact is every bit at true as in 1764. This government, having been corrupted by the purchase of stateless, alien interests, including the corporations which are literally unnatural and therefore monsters which can have no legitimate role in the human experience, has been abstracted from us every bit as surely as if it had been removed to another planet and was cut off from all communication. As Citizens United symbolically cinched, we the people are not represented*, and therefore cannot legitimately be taxed or subjected in any other way.
 
[*Nor does “representative” pseudo-democracy itself any longer have any legitimacy, having been empirically proven not to work. But that’s a matter for later posts. For today it’s sufficient to say this set-up can’t tax the citizens. The criminals and parasites, on the other hand, would be a different story.]
 
We must be clear that the health racket bailout is a severe tax. The government itself says so. It’s an arduous poll tax to be imposed on the citizen as the penalty for his very existence. This tax is intended to pay for no public service whatsoever. It’s intended to bring zero benefits to the victim. Instead, its practice and intent is to extort huge payments for a worthless piece of paper, which we can metaphorically call a Stamp. This protection money is earmarked for the personal luxury of insurance racket gangsters and the politicians they bought in order to have this hideous crime enacted in the first place. In every way this is our Stamp Act.
 
Speaking more broadly, the Stamp Act is everywhere a rent is extracted or police state “papers” are demanded. The health racket bailout is the poster child of it, but it all ramifies from the big banks, whose goal is to force each and every economic transaction down to the most miniscule through their toll booths. That’s why they cherish the goal of abolishing cash, and are working assiduously toward it.
 
So we have the broad stamp ideology and assault, as well as the proximate Stamp Act, which is the health racket bailout and perhaps the food tyranny bill. Whether it’s best to just reserve the term for the insurance mandate, I’m not sure. For a general audience, probably yes.
 
What can be done? How was it done the first time around?
 
In 1765 the proposed Stamp Act galvanized long-festering colonial resentment and grievance into systematic resistance. In Grenville’s plan to spread the burden of taxation as widely as possible he only succeeded in rendering resistance coherent among diverse interests who had previously often been at odds. Amid the spring agitation the patriots took the name “Sons of Liberty” from a fiery Isaac Barre speech in Parliament which was widely reprinted in the colonies. Over the next few months the agitators organized under this name. In June James Otis called for an intercolony Stamp Act Congress to convene in October, one month prior to the Act’s taking force, to coordinate message and resistance action. They agreed upon a broad campaign of passive resistance. They agreed to refuse to import British manufactures. They called this “Non-Importation”. Samuel Adams opined that no amount of British might could force the colonists to use the stamps or to buy British goods, and that the British wouldn’t try. (He also called for building an indigenous manufacturing economy to permanently replace the imports, but this didn’t get much response.)
 
The Bostonians frequently rallied under a big elm they christened the Liberty Tree, and the park under and around it they called Liberty Hall. All over the colonies activists named their own Liberty Trees. On August 14 they hanged an effigy of putative stampmaster Andrew Oliver, who was persuaded to pre-emptively resign that post. Other aspiring thugs were similarly persuaded throughout the colonies until by the time the Act took force there was no one to enforce it. Stamps were delivered but warehoused. Publication and business continued as before, stampless, in open flouting of the law. After a period of hesitation the courts reopened, without using stamps. That the colonial courts of law would now function in an openly (but just technically) illegal manner was an eloquent symbol of the Act’s own illegitimacy.
 
The British were powerless to enforce what had become a quixotic symbolic assertion even before it went into action. They had to capitulate, and the Act was repealed in March 1766. But the simultaneously passed Declaratory Act, while widely derided in the colonies as a pathetic face-saving squeak, portended further trouble. Within a few years the British would try again with the Townsend duties and suffer the same defeat.
 
Then, in a misguided attempt to succor a financially troubled corporation (sound familiar?), the British East India Company, the UK agreed to a tea-dumping monopoly scheme. They thought they could bail out a rich interest while finally getting their long-sought precedent, that the colonists had to pay duties on British demand.
 
Samuel Adams had already convinced Boston to take the lead in organizing Committees of Correspondence with neighboring towns at a vote on November 2, 1772. (He first had this idea back in 1764.) The idea was first to coordinate proclamations of principle and political messaging, to present a united front, and eventually to coordinate strategy and tactics. Although Adams’ fellow Bostonians were dubious at first (what if they got a poor response? it would be a big PR setback), the response was emphatic beyond even his expectations. Many towns demanded stronger language than even Boston had proposed.
 
The Committee idea spread through the colonies. In March 1773 the Virginia Legislature publicly read and approved the Boston resolution. The rebellious ideal became general. From here the fuse was lit, and it was only a matter of time.
 
The colonials had many advantages. They had a basically homogeneous and socially compact population; their legislature was their own (vs. the alien overseas Parliament); the interests of freedom and their commerce were clearly concurrent.
 
Today we have a fragmented and atomized populace. And while it remains equally true that our freedom and our economic prosperity are complements, it’s far more difficult to make that clear amid the propaganda smoke machines spewing lies about “growth”, the “free market”, “capitalism”, “libertarianism”, and all the other slogans perverted from any real meaning to the criminal interest of the elites.
 
As I’ve mentioned before, we also lack a geographical center of economic and political gravity comparable to Boston in 1765 or 73 or Paris in 1789.
 
So what must we do? It seems right that we must propagate the right ideas. It seems simple enough:
 
1. Understand and declare our principles.
 
2. Identify the enemy and analyze his attack.
 
3. Settle on the strategy and tactics of defense and counterattack.
 
4. Do it.
 
If anyone criticizes: “Who are you to speak for the people?”, the answer is, who else is going to? Who are we waiting for? Paul Volcker? Alan Grayson? Elizabeth Warren?
 
I think, whatever we are, we’re it. That means we in the blogosphere. So maybe that means we must coordinate and systematize our agitation. We’re still just “writing”, as some scoff, but trying to break out to a broader audience.
 
That’s the big question – how do we expand our activity beyond the Internet democracy? How do we get the truth to the masses? How do we break out of the blogosphere and either force ourselves on the MSM or find an alternative megaphone? This question is especially critical given the precarious fingerhold of net neutrality. As Samuel Adams wrote under the name “Populus”, one of his many pseudonyms:
 
“There is nothing so fretting and vexatious, nothing so justly TERRIBLE to tyrants, and their tools and abettors, as a FREE PRESS.”
 
Since the corporate media has abdicated, gone to treason, and become just a vile pack of abettors, here too the full responsibility is upon the citizen journalists of the blogosphere. We’re the torch bearers of truth, and we must find a way to bring this fire to illuminate the darkness the criminals have cast upon us all.
 
In the light, all will become clear, and we’ll find the path to our redemption.

September 9, 2010

Housing Divided

 

There’s been considerable buzz lately on the doomed attempt to sustain and reflate the housing bubble. Should policy capitulate to the real free market and let prices deflate? Which is another way of saying, should we let prices move closer to reality? Housing became absurdly expensive, way beyond any historical measure, as a result of the bubble. Reality now wants to deflate.
 
This would contradict the government’s commitment to propping up the zombie banks, as their fraudulent balance sheets are dependent upon reflating the bubble. This has been the basic contradiction from the start of the Bailout: Corruption vs. increasingly insistent reality. It defines how the Bailout, even leaving aside its criminality, is a policy of fantasy and insanity.
 
That’s why every phony mortgage mod plan was intended only to continue to extract payments while preventing prices from continuing to decline. That’s why cramdowns are anathema. That’s why the nightmare scenario would be large numbers of people making the rationally and morally correct decision to walk away* from underwater mortgages. That’s why the desperation position, including that floated a month ago as a rumor about upcoming GSE policy, would be to really renegotiate payment schedules but not write down the principal (the HAMP was a lie which promised to do this).
 
[*Among the non-rich there’s no such thing as a “strategic default”. Even those who could at the moment afford to pay have to take into account the precariousness of their situation. No one who isn’t rich can say with confidence that he’ll be able to keep paying indefinitely, or that his payments now won’t end up having been an irrational mistake in retrospect. If there’s any doubt at all about one’s negative equity, we have to assume we can’t afford to maintain it. So if the definition of a strategic default is to “walk away while you can still afford to make payments”, then for the non-rich there’s no such thing as a strategic default.]
 
This week two NYT articles expressed the elite ambivalence. They struggle in the contradiction. The reality of asset deflation stares them in the face, but given that the Bailout cannot coexist with this reality, and given that they’re nevertheless committed to the Bailout…..
 

Caught in the middle is an administration that gambled on a recovery that is not happening.

“The administration made a bet that a rising economy would solve the housing problem and now they are out of chips,” said Howard Glaser, a former Clinton administration housing official with close ties to policy makers in the administration. “They are deeply worried and don’t really know what to do.”

 
Streitfeld describes the policy follies, talk of another destructive housedebtor tax credit, administration cadres contradicting one another, empty proclamations, “stakeholders” like Bill Gross still pimping the rumor about really doing rate reductions (but not principal cramdowns), the administration still resisting….it’s all very stupid.
 
I won’t bother documenting all the lies and editorializing in the piece. There’s as much as you’d expect from an NYT piece on this subject, because it too is committed to the Bailout and the permanent zombification of those fraudulent balance sheets.
 
But I must emphasize the falsehood of this line of propaganda:
 

The unexpectedly deep plunge in home sales this summer is likely to force the Obama administration to choose between future homeowners and current ones, a predicament officials had been eager to avoid.

 
Nobody “chose” current housedebtors. The corrupt politicians chose to prop up prices as part of the bank bailout. The housedebtors are just an occasion for that.
 
Here’s the editorial core:
 

A small decline in home prices might not make too much of a difference to a slack economy. But an unchecked drop of 10 percent or more might prove entirely discouraging to the millions of owners just hanging on, especially those who bought in the last few years under the impression that a turnaround had already begun.

 
So according to the NYT the current propensity of housing prices to fall is a minor glitch in the big scheme of things, and not at all a major symptom of the core insanity and unsustainability of the exponential debt/growth economy itself.
 
So letting prices fall in compliance with reality would really be just “choosing to do nothing” in the face of an annoying but fixable SNAFU, and this capitulation would have nothing to do with restoring reality-based economic balance. Meanwhile, it would badly hurt those still clinging to the American Dream.
 
The desired implication is obvious – the reader should demand forceful action to prop up housing prices. In this way the NYT hopes to astroturf unwitting “bottom up” support for the Bailout.
 
Streitfeld’s colleague Leonhardt takes a different tack, discussing whether housing was and is actually overpriced at all, and what that ought to mean. Of course, this is simply inventing a false debate by taking those who state the obvious, pairing them with mercenary hacks, and pretending there’s a real question being asked and answer being sought.
 

No one doubts that prices rose roughly with incomes from 1970 to 2000. The issue is whether that period was an exception. Housing bears like Barry Ritholtz, an investment researcher and popular blogger, say it was. The government was adding new tax breaks for homeownership, and interest rates were falling. These trends won’t repeat themselves, the bears say.

As evidence, they can point to a historical data series collected by Mr. Case’s longtime collaborator, Robert Shiller. It suggests that house prices rose no faster than inflation for much of the last century…..

The second, less bearish group of economists doesn’t buy this. This group includes Mr. Case, Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics and Tom Lawler, a Virginia economist who forecast the end of the housing boom before many others did. They say they believe that house prices rise nearly as fast, if not quite as fast, as incomes, and that real estate is no longer in a bubble.

 
The inclusion of Zandi says it all for where the “less bearish” are coming from.
 
Leonhardt does ask a question which goes to the core, far deeper than he intends.
 

I can’t claim to clear up all the uncertainty. But I do want to suggest a framework for figuring out whether you lean bearish or less bearish: do you believe that housing is a luxury good and that societies spend more on it as they get richer? Or do you think it’s more like food, clothing and other staples that account for an ever smaller share of consumer spending over time?

 
He means of course that given the neoliberal rigged-market and Social Darwinist parameters, “is this the way things behave?”
 
But the real answer is always the prescriptive, not the descriptive. So the answer to the question is that in a healthy society housing “prices” would act in the latter way, and that’s the society we must rebuild. Since we all need housing, if we have to “pay for” it then no one has the right to treat it and pay for it as a luxury. That’s coercion and assault against those who can’t afford to pay luxury prices for a necessity.
 
That brings us back to the core issue here. These articles represent the housing quagmire as an isolated policy mess. They emphasize how painful asset deflation may be for housedebtors. But this is doubly false.
 
Housing policy has nothing to do with the good of the householder and everything to do with propping up insolvent banks and enabling them to continue their rent extractions. And reality’s compulsion toward asset deflation isn’t some accidental thing floating around which policy is free to choose to deal with or not. It’s the result of structural gravity, of the physical (Peak Oil) and economic unsustainability of infinite growth, which has reached its limit.
 
Underwater housedebtors can’t be removed from their predicament by any top-down policy short of cramming down the principal, which would directly contradict the reflation imperative of policy. They can remove themselves by walking away from the self-destructive debt. Or if they surrender to their plight and wait for policy to help them, that’s simply committing fiscal suicide, since sooner or later policy will be overwhelmed by reality. But in the meantime their passivity just enables the Bailout, just enables their own debt enslavement, and portends the enslavement of us all. In that sense underwater debtors who don’t jubilate are a kind of scab.
 
So however painful in the short term jubilation and capitulation to deflation may be, it’s the only way. You can’t appease fascists, and to genuflect before the neoliberal version by continuing to play its debt game by remaining the good little sharecropper is just another pre-doomed attempt at appeasement.
 
Housing divided by the banks can never be united through compromise with the banks. A house divided by class war can’t be united except by fighting hard and following through to the bitter end, for only there can we break through and beyond to freedom.
Older Posts »