Due to a death in my family, I will be offline for a few days. Back next week.
Friday, July 31, 2009
Thursday, July 30, 2009
What are called "free markets" by the various defenders of State Capitalism are parts of a system whereby the wealth of individual subjects is confiscated and redistributed upward to state-subsidized, -favored, and -protected corporations. These corporations in turn complain publicly that onerous regulation and taxation prevent them from succeeding as they otherwise might, although to any objective observer the state regulatory and tax structures are plainly designed to subsidize business, reduce the threat of lawsuit, gut the power of labor, etc.--privilege corporations over real individuals. These poor, overburdened corporate citizens must therefore lay everyone off, or pay them lousy wages, or cut their benefits, or overcharge their customers. When the corporate economy falters and the credit afforded their indentured servants, i.e. employees, dries up, individuals may begin to chafe slightly under the burden of having no actual, tangible personal wealth with which to purchase life's necessities, less yet the small luxuries that make life decent and worth living. They may rumble with inchoate demands that something be done to at least provide them with the bare necessities of contemporary life, and as they see their own wages stagnate and their own jobs become ever more precarious and temporary, they may look askance at certain insanely high levels of profitability in certain corporate circles.
Fortunately, there are shills!
This attitude was wrong in 2006. It is wrong now. High profits are excellent news. When corporate earnings reach record levels, we should be celebrating. The only way a firm can make money is to sell people what they want at a price they are willing to pay. If a firm makes lots of money, lots of people are getting what they want.In the case of health insurers, of course, many people are not getting what they need, and those who do purchase insurance are buying what is necessary at a price they are obligated to pay.
To the country, profit is a benefit. Record profit means record taxes paid. But put that aside. When profits are high, firms are able to reinvest, expand and hire. And profits accrue to the benefit of those who own stocks: overwhelmingly, pension funds and mutual funds. In other words, high corporate profits today signal better retirements tomorrow.
Another reason to celebrate profit is the incentive it creates. When profits can be made, entrepreneurs provide more of needed goods and services. Consider an example common to the first-year contracts course in every law school: Suppose that the state of Quinnipiac suffers a devastating hurricane. Power is out over thousands of square miles. An entrepreneur from another state, seeing the problem, buys a few dozen portable generators at $500 each, rents a truck and drives them to Quinnipiac, where he posts them for sale at $2,000 each -- a 300 percent markup.
Based on recent experience, it is likely the media will respond with fury and the attorney general of Quinnipiac will open an investigation into price-gouging. The result? When the next hurricane arrives, the entrepreneur will stay put, and three dozen homeowners who were willing to pay for power will not have it. There will be fewer portable generators in Quinnipiac than there would have been if the seller were left alone.
But let's not get ahead of the example. The catechism of state capital, reiterated above by Stevie Carter, holds that when businesses do well, they hire and expand. This is plainly not the case, as in the post-industrial economy real wages have declined, personal indebtedness has spiked, and low unemployment has been maintained by shifting a formerly middle-class workforce into low-wage "service industry" jobs. In order to prop up consumption, the system of state capital expanded credit instead of raising wages--in essence, reinventing the company store for the age of electronic commerce. Record profits at financial service industry firms, or energy conglomerates, or technology companies do not spark national trends of hiring and upward mobility. They are ultimately job-neutral or job-negative. Consider that now, as firms announce profits and the major stock exchanges see gains in their measuring indexes, unemployment continues to expand unabated, despite the extravagant claims of the Obama administration.
Carter's disaster-relief case is a fine example of this extortionist's game; there is no reason, of course, that a functioning public entity, a civic organization, a disaster-relief collective, a local government, hell, an insurer, what have you, can't buy its own generators at the wholesale cost of $500 and provide them free to community shareholders in times of catastrophe. The manufacturer and wholesaler are still making profits in this scenario. The only person cut out is the price-gouging middleman distributor who is taking advantage of a natural disaster to make a 300% profit (we should all be in such a business, with such margins!) and blackmailing those poor people by threatening to withhold future service if they don't pay up now. In other words, running a protection scheme.
There are, by the way, models of free exchange and property that address such iniquities.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
All I'm saying is this: if I'm having a cop and a black guy over to my house for a beer, I don't want any women around to prevent, you know, a perfectly natural and normal occurrence in a single-sex environment where alcohol is being consumed.
The reason that the 9/11 Truth Movement, specifically, is ignored as thoroughly as possible is that in order actually to debunk its various absurd conclusions, you must engage in a whole troubling, complex, and hidden (if in plain sight) history of post-war American neocolonial policy throughout the Middle East and Islamic world, so that while one one hand one can ultimately conclude that shape-shiftying-Annunaki-stargod-reptilian-alien Dick "Dick" Cheney did not actually fly holographic planes into buildings rigged for controlled demolition in a Reichstag-fire moment preceding the round-up of citizens and their mass relocation to FEMA-run concentration camps, on the other hand your Ward Churchills were basically right when they said that 9/11 represented "chickens coming home to roost." I mean, let's just put it right out there. If we are going to pretend that there is such a thing as just war, legitimate violence in self-defense, etc., then the attacks of 9/11 were more morally defensible than the American invasion of Iraq. Needless to say, these are not the sorts of propositions that nice liberals want to talk about in WaPo online chats.
This is irredeemably terrible, but as is always the case where America is involved, the unbelievable dumbassery that erupts from spokesmen after the fact turns the sad movie into what Hollywood likes to call a tragicomedy:
Spokesmen for the U.S. military in Iraq did not respond to requests for comment. But the military has previously said that looting would have been far worse had it not been for the presence of its troops.So. America invades and destroys civic and military authority. In the immediate, chaotic aftermath, thieves loot valuables and artifacts. But the presence of the invading army that was itself the proximate cause of looting is also a restraint on looting. Now, if we hadn't invaded, there'd have been no looting, but since we didn't not invade, it could not not not have been . . . uh . . . worse? Help me out, here.
First they came for my psychological archetypes,
But I wasn't part of the collective unconscious and I said nothing;
Then they came for my orgone accumulator,
But it was a clear day and there were no clouds for busting;
And when they came for my Rorschach blots,
There were no more crackpot psychological theories to bilk my patients with.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Obviously nobody has explained to Matt Taibbi that we must continue to elect more and better Democrats. It is true that they have "a political majority in congress and a popular president armed with oodles of political capital and backed by the overwhelming sentiment of perhaps 150 million Americans," but this is really immaterial. Our first goal has got to be 100% Democratic appointees on the Supreme Court, unanimous control of the House and Senate, majority control of every state legislature, a majority lock on at least 2/3 of county council and executive seats nationwide, the mayoralties of all American cities with populations exceeding 50,000, and a congressional seat for the District of Columbia. Once accomplished, we can turn our eyes on the change we need.
Radley Balko wrote an article on the limits and abuse of police powers as well as a subsequent blog post in which he found Renowned Conservative Homunculus Jonah Goldberg chewing on his own deference to authority "nom nom nom give cops the benefit of the doubt for a host of reasons nom nom nom." Radley concludes:
The only explanation I can come up with for the contradiction is that conservatives are more sympathetic to the targets of regulators (businesses, mostly) than they are to the targets of police and prosecutors (people accused of committing crimes). But that doesn’t change the fact that police and prosecutors are subject to the same trappings of power as other government employees, and so ought to be viewed with the same amount of skepticism. Moreso, actually, given that your average bureaucrat isn’t empowered to arrest you or put a bullet in your chest.Yes, well, the only conclusion that I can come up with is that Jonah Goldberg is a Big Fat Idiot, the Federalist Society is a front organization preparing for a fascist putsch, and Ted Olson is a Nazi. Are we gonna split hairs?
For decades now (How long, Joe Biden? Literally decades, literally), reasonable and intelligent people of all political and philosophical stripes have mused the old imponderable: how do soi-disant American conservatives reconcile their enormous hard-on for an expansive police and military establishment with their rhetorical commitment to "limited government"? Like campus wits who delight in calling out Christians on their salad-bar interpretation of Leviticus, they miss the point entirely. Reconciliation is not the point; the ideology is demonstrably incoherent. It isn't that conservatives like Goldberg have some gaping intellectual blind spot, not as if they've simply failed to notice the contradiction. It's that they don't give a fuck because they are For Real Too Stupid. The principle targets of police ire are poor people, black people, bad people, people Not Like Us, hippies getting tazed at John Kerry rallies . . . The typical targets of military aggression are Abroad and Other. Try to tell Jonah Goldberg that the police exist as an enforcing agency of state power, an institution through which the state monopoly on "legitimate" force and violence is exercised against its citizen-subjects, and his eyes will glaze as quickly as a teenage girl whose DVR of The Hills was secretly switcherooed with I, Claudius. How dumb is he, Joe Biden? He is literally as dumb as a rock, literally.
The desire to extend the benefit of intellectual doubt and to locate in America's various and sundry political clubs some iron-nickel core of principles from which the exigencies of real world behaviors and commitments can be extrapolated is either admirable in its generosity or idiotic in its overestimation of human beings. Needless to say, I lean toward the latter. In a nation where a plurality of Americans do not accept evolution, cognitive coherency, sound reasoning, and analytical consistency are hardly universal traits. Yes, it is wholly ridiculous to imagine that the EPA represents an unbearable exemplar of coercive government force while universal police prerogatives and a vast military complex are merely tolerable, even desirable norms. Yes, we have no bananas. These men believe in nothing. Nothing.
Oh my. "Bob Herbert is off today." Ahem. In his place, David Brooks discovers a commenter at Marginal Revolution speculating on what is more or less the premise of a P.D. James novel. No one seems to realize that they are speculating on the premise of a P.D. James novel, even though it very recently became an acclaimed Alfonso Cuaron movie. Everyone discovers that The Children Are Our Future. Exeunt. Fin.
As if this were not foolish and useless enough, Bobo crowbars a goofy and incorrect description of both Judaism and Christianity into the middle of his peroration:
Both Judaism and Christianity are promise-centered faiths. They are based on narratives that lead from Genesis through progressive revelation to a glorious culmination.A semantic quibble: Judaism is not about a promise, but a covenant--a distinction with a difference. Judaism is also not a religion of "progressive revelation," although one can certainly understand Brooks desire to cram explicitly Christian theology backward in time and history in order to make the classic Western cryptozionist case that there is something--a culture, a civilization?--that can be described as "Judeo-Christian," when in fact on matters of cosmogony, epistemology, moral philosophy, metaphysics, etc., Christianity's far more ancient forebear ranges from markedly different to wholly alien. Even Jewish messianism, which Christians of the Brooks vintage view as a precursor to their own, is very different. The incorporation of the so-called Old Testament into Christian scripture does not actually make Christianity a new version of Judaism; Judaism is the remnant tribal religion of a gang of near-Eastern clans from the pre-Hellenic age, whereas Christianity is a sort of synecretic neo-paganism. Look it up! There's a reason all those holidays fall on old Roman and Celtic festivals.
Believers’ lives have significance because they and their kind are part of this glorious unfolding. Their faith is suffused with expectation and hope. If they were to learn that they were simply a dead end, they would feel that God had forsaken them, that life was without meaning and purpose.
Aside from that, the phrase "progressive revelation" reeks of Dispensationalism, a charismatic notion thoroughly rejected by mainline protestant sects, Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity. Dispensationalism is a sort of scifi millenarian religious casuistry in which infidelity to various biblical injunctions is rationalized against sola scripta claims by positing a kind of forward-rolling cosmic pseudo-cycle in which only certain parts of the divine writ obtain at any given time. You may consider this description bowdlerizing, but in reality I am giving undue deference to the most crackpot "spiritual" system this side of the Hale-Bopp comet.
Monday, July 27, 2009
If you are naturally inclined to view each new American administration as a full death-and-reincarnation in the great coo-coo cosmic karmic cycle of America, then perhaps it will surprise you to hear the insane flakes currently occupying Washington spouting the same pernicious, retarded, bloodthirsty nonsense as their immediate predecessors. If not, not. As I've already noted once or twice, even I find myself modestly surprised by the degree of tonal as well as practical continuity between the once and current kings. Hillary Clinton is an altogether steelier and more terrifyingly hawkish persona than Condi Rice ever was, and her locutions are becoming steadily more Rumsfeldian. What do you mean, a defense umbrella in the Middle East, Secretary Clinton? "We are not talking in specifics. You hope for the best; you plan for the worst."
Joe Biden, that grinning emissary of the eschaton, has a blowzy manner that seems to distinguish him from his terse predecessor, until you listen to him:
“They have a shrinking population base,” Mr. Biden told The Wall Street Journal. “They have a withering economy. They have a banking sector and structure that is not likely to be able to withstand the next 15 years. They’re in a situation where the world is changing before them and they’re clinging to something in the past that is not sustainable.”Ha ha. Joe Biden says that Russia is a cranky old drunk who hasn't cleaned his shotgun in fifty years. You kids, get off my yard! No, make us, old man! Well, it worked for Eastwood. Clinton, uh, walks it back, although we all know that "strong, peaceful, and prosperous" is Washintonienne for "reliable regional client state."
Asked whether Mr. Biden’s message was that “the U.S. now has the upper hand when it’s dealing with Russia,” she replied, “No, and I don’t think that’s at all what the vice president meant.”
“We want a strong, peaceful and prosperous Russia,” she said.
I just can't wait until China puts nukes on the moon and puts a stop to all of this nonsense in the name of harmoniousness.