Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Propertied Class is Way Bigger than you Think

In The Guardian (July 19, 2017), George Monbiot describes the impact of James McGill Buchanan, who has helped orchestrate a program to enable the political supremacy of the wealthy. Monbiot describes the roots of Buchanan's philosophy:
Buchanan was strongly influenced by both the neoliberalism of Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, and the property supremacism of John C Calhoun, who argued in the first half of the 19th century that freedom consists of the absolute right to use your property (including your slaves) however you may wish; any institution that impinges on this right is an agent of oppression, exploiting men of property on behalf of the undeserving masses.
James Buchanan brought these influences together to create what he called public choice theory. He argued that a society could not be considered free unless every citizen has the right to veto its decisions. What he meant by this was that no one should be taxed against their will. But the rich were being exploited by people who use their votes to demand money that others have earned, through involuntary taxes to support public spending and welfare. Allowing workers to form trade unions and imposing graduated income taxes were forms of “differential or discriminatory legislation” against the owners of capital.
Any clash between “freedom” (allowing the rich to do as they wish) and democracy should be resolved in favour of freedom. 
But these ideas aren't simply likely to appeal to the wealthy. They have appeal for anyone who owns property. In fact, they are more likely to appeal to people with little property, because any impact on their property rights is more keenly felt than would be the case for a large property owner. Tell Ted Turner he can't do something on his land and he'll just go somewhere else. Tell a farmer or small rancher the same thing and it may cripple his operations. The answer to the question, "what could ordinary homeowners possibly have in common with the 1% is simple; they both own property. So just how many people in the U.S. own property?

There's a word for these people: "bourgeoisie." Used nowadays in a manner roughly synonymous with "middle class," but the original French sense of including the middle and upper classes is actually more accurate because property owners tend to have values and interests in common. In those days the middle and upper classes were far smaller than the lower class. The bourgeoisie are held in deep contempt by Marxists, who see them as hogging all the resources and means of production, and by intellectuals, who see them as having tastes that are, well, bourgeois. (Or "philistine," a term that reveals the user's historical ignorance, since the Philistines were actually a lot more culturally advanced than the Israelites.) In Russia, many of them were kulaks, affluent peasants who were often summarily imprisoned or executed by the Bolsheviks. Because you can't become affluent if everyone is being oppressed, can you? Causes bad cognitive dissonance.

Understanding the notion of "bourgeoisie" goes a very long way toward answering the pesky question why so many less affluent voters "vote against their best interests." To many of them, preserving their property rights are their "best interests." Once people own property, however modest, they stop identifying with the proletariat and identify with other property owners. In fact, their allegiance is likely to be all the stronger simply because their foothold in the propertied class is so precarious.

So why don't they unite against the "real" enemy, the wealthy who pay skimpy wages? Because the wealthy are not direct threats. The actions of the wealthy might cause them to lose their property, but indirectly. A factory might close, jobs might be eliminated, but only rarely do the wealthy confiscate property directly. All the direct attacks on property rights come from the government. If a business takes a piece of property to expand a factory, the taking will be done by the government, not by the business. If a law is passed that undercuts property rights, it will be the government that does it. All the most direct threats to bourgeois property rights come from the government, frequently in the name of "social justice."

How Big is America's Propertied Class?

It is extremely difficult to find out just how many properties exist in the United States. In addition to individually owned properties, there are jointly owned properties, and corporate properties. The closest thing to an answer is the Census Bureau's tally of 75 million homeowners. Homes exclude factories, shopping malls, apartment buildings, warehouses, and restaurants. On the other hand, it is probably safe to assume that people who own those properties, or major interests in them, also own their own homes. Farms and ranches are likely to include homesteads as well. So people who own large properties are likely to be homeowners as well, and of course many people own homes but no other properties. For the purposes of estimating how many people identify with propertied interests, Archie Bunker's tiny lot in Queens counts just as much as Ted Turner, who owns 2 million acres, So that figure of 75 million is probably a decent first approximation.

The problem with low wages is that they amount to taking the only economic means of production an individual owns - his time - and failing to pay enough in return to buy the necessities of life. But there is a similar problem with liberal policies. These amount to seizing control of the only wealth that many people have - their property. Liberal restrictions on property rights limit the ability of property owners to use their property to maximum advantage, shunt the risks and costs of social policies (for example, providing handicapped access) onto property owners, endanger the future ability of property owners to get the best return on the sale of their property, and effectively, through property taxes, charge people rent for their own property. So when we ask why so many people "vote against their best interests," that question concentrates on issues like wages and benefits, but neglects attacks on their property. Fundamentally, it's an elitist question because it assumes that people don't know their own best interests.

An urban or suburban homeowner faces things like zoning restrictions, neighbor problems, and possible sanctions for not renting rooms equitably, but the real impact on property rights shows up in those sparsely populated flyover states that show up as bright red on electoral maps. Property owners may be a mile or more apart, but can find themselves in deep legal trouble if they build over a slushy patch of ground ("wetland") or disturb an endangered animal or plant. Their ability to control pests or harvest timber is limited. Not surprisingly, there is strong sympathy in many of these areas for a strong interpretation of the Fifth Amendment's requirement that the Government compensate property owners for property "taken" for public use.

If you tell Ted Turner he can't do something on a part of his land, he might just shrug and go someplace else. If he does decide to push back, he'll farm the task out to his attorneys and pay the bills out of petty cash. If you make the same demand on a small farmer or rancher, the impact on his property rights is far greater and his financial ability to fight back is far less. Opponents of a strong "takings" interpretation point out that such an interpretation was never held by the courts. That may be true, but it misses the point that, had any of today's restrictions on property rights been enacted and challenged in the 19th century, they'd have been thrown out of court without a second glance as violations of state sovereignty.

To the small suburban or urban property owner, one danger stands out above all others: crime. All  the Marxist fever dreams of uniting the marginalized under one grand proletarian red banner crash headlong into the simple fact that many of the most direct threats to property security for small property owners come from sociopathic individuals. As long as liberals insist on defending criminals as "oppressed" or "disadvantaged," they will be class enemies of property owners, and it won't matter how appealing their platform of health care or family leave is.

Well then, who will speak for criminals? How about nobody?




















Reference

George Monbiot; A despot in disguise: one man’s mission to rip up democracy, The Guardian (July 19, 2017).



Sunday, July 23, 2017

Flipping Russia

When the school bell rang, we knew what to do. File out into the hallway, crouch down, head to the wall, and wait for the all clear. It was the Cold War and we were preparing for a nuclear attack. Our century old brick building would probably not have fared well against a modest nuke to downtown Bangor, Maine (or "Bangah"), but the real strategic target was Dow Air Force Base on the outskirts of town just three miles away. A large thermonuclear strike there would probably have swept our school away. Dow Air Force Base is long closed, leaving as a legacy an 11,000 foot runway that can handle literally anything that flies. It was even designated an emergency landing site for the Space Shuttle. Bangor International Airport does quite nicely as a stopover and refueling point for trans-Atlantic aviation, as well as an emergency airport when Boston and New York are choked up.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union was the Evil Empire. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed for selling secrets to Russia (but not for treason, which is very narrowly defined under the Constitution and very rarely invoked. Espionage, on the other hand, can land you in a world of hurt.) Hollywood was in dire danger of being subverted by Communist propaganda. Russia was pictured as infiltrating America on every front, undermining traditional values with rock'n'roll, comic books, left-leaning movies, sex and liberal college professors.

Now Donald Trump is a fan of Vladimir Putin and conservatives seem scarcely perturbed at the possibility that Russia tried to influence the 2016 Presidential election. Admittedly, Russia's efforts were mostly aimed at people already favorably disposed toward Trump and against Clinton, making the propaganda mission as hard as selling vodka in Siberia in the winter. But how is it that conservatives went from utter loathing of Russia in the 1950's to acceptance, and even seeing them as allies, 60 years later?

Why not Communism?

First and foremost, Communism was a threat to private property and social order. In the late 19th Century it was abhorred for its calls for worker control of industry. After the Bolshevik Revolution, with its wholesale purges of the wealthy and middle class, Communism's place as a mortal threat to Western society was secured. The fact that Communism styled itself as "socialist" contributed to widespread conflation of the two, aided in no small part by the craven failure of socialists to reject Communism's appropriation of their name. For every modern liberal who objects when conservatives equate socialism and communism, you had your chance to object every time the Soviet Union called itself "The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics."

Communism's attempt to unite workers and marginalized groups was part of the threat. They also sought to champion minority groups. The threat level of that effort is best gauged by the darkly humorous story of the abortive Soviet film "Black and White" [1] whose climactic scene had hordes of white factory workers descending from the North to aid oppressed Southern black workers. It betrayed a level of understanding of American racial politics that can best be described as "unhinged."

The view of property widely held at the time was that freedom implied absolute liberty to use private property without restrictions. So labor unions were seen as criminal conspiracies to usurp control of private property, and socialism and communism, as broad political movements, were even worse. To a political theorist there are important differences between socialism and communism. To someone who sees them as assaults on absolute private property, the differences are merely pedantic. They amount to the difference between being robbed by a suave highwayman with a cape and rapier, versus being bludgeoned in a dark alley. And if you're on the losing end, it makes little difference whether Robin Hood gives to the poor, or spends it on drugs and hookers.

Almost equally important was Communism's assault on religion. Pre-Bolshevik communism was hostile to religion, seeing it as a diversion from secular social activism, but under Bolshevism, churches were closed and clergy imprisoned or executed. The Russian Orthodox Church was allowed to function, politically neutered and muzzled. Religion wasn't banned outright - it would take Enver Hoxha's lunatic regime in Albania to do that - but it was ostracized and subject to discrimination. Cardinal J√≥zsef Mindszenty of Hungary became a symbol of Communist oppression of religion during his imprisonment and later asylum in the U.S. Embassy. Mindszenty achieved the impressive feat of being imprisoned by both fascists and Communists.

But probably the most sinister threat from Communism was its pervasive secret police and informant apparatus. Merely keeping silent about Communism wasn't sufficient; it was a crime to fail to inform on others who criticized it. Ultimately the version of Marxism practiced in the USSR was one of the grandest crackpot conspiracy theories ever put into action. Having assured themselves that history followed invariable deterministic paths, Marxist theorists felt wholly justified in silencing all meaningful criticism. Like fundamentalists, the fact that an idea conflicted with the accepted view made it ipso facto wrong. No doubt Josef Stalin was happy to have intellectuals who might otherwise cause trouble frittering away their energies on trivial debates about Marxist minutiae, "mental masturbation" of the purest sort. (In The Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn relates the tale of one Party secretary who was arrested by the KGB while typing up the minutes for the most recent Party meeting. She was so preoccupied with transcribing pointless bickering over policy that the KGB men finally had to tell her to go say goodbye to her children. I had one acquaintance who visited Russia frequently and who was convinced that much of the endless round of Party meetings and other political activities served the very prosaic end of keeping the populace sleep-deprived.)

Mikhail Gorbachev, a former KGB officer, was in a position to know just how serious the decay had become and attempted to launch reforms through his "perestroika" (rebuilding) program. But events followed the all too familiar pattern of Russian history where reforms were delayed too long for fear of losing control, and when the pressure became overwhelming, events spiraled out of control and control was lost anyway. (Russian wags dubbed the aftermath of Gorbachev's reforms "perestrelka" - crossfire.)

From Communism to Kleptocracy

In theory, Communism should have been a class-less society free of crime. So where did Russian organized crime come from? While there is a huge amount of material on the growth of Russian organized crime since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, organized crime did not appear suddenly like mushrooms after a rain, and there is much less on the history of organized crime under theoretically clean and honest Marxism. It seems certain that organized crime must have been far more pervasive than anyone suspected during the Soviet era, and the Russian security apparatus must have been deeply involved. The KGB could have shielded criminals from prosecution in return for bribes, or quite possibly employed them for other -services.

One interesting summary [2] says:
Russia's historical cycle runs roughly as follows: Catastrophe strikes the centralized state and the social order is shattered; a "white rider" comes along to pick up the pieces and restore power to the state, only to come up short and yield to a "dark rider" willing to do whatever is necessary regardless of moral implications; and an era of decline follows until the next catastrophe strikes and the cycle begins anew. 
Organized crime is just as beholden to Russia's historical cycle, with its power inversely related to the power of the state. When the Russian state is in a crisis, organized crime spreads and becomes the functioning arbiter of state affairs. Once power is restored to the state, organized crime never fully disappears but recedes into the background, usually cooperating to some degree with the state, until another catastrophe hits and allows it to expand again.
The analysts point out that one seminal event was Stalin's death and the abrupt release of millions of prisoners from the Soviet Gulag. While many of these were hapless political dissidents or people sentenced on the flimsiest of pretexts, many others were criminals. Since criminals were essentially allowed free rein over the camps [3] the Gulag served as a finishing school for Russian crime. Russian criminals dominated the black market (the only free market), set up supply chains to bring smuggled goodies into Russia, which they made available to favored Party officials in return for protection. Other criminal affiliates gained political office to shield the mob from prosecution and to advance their own enterprises.

The collapse of the Soviet Union not only created a vacuum for criminals to exploit, it left a lot of KGB agents and police without paychecks. Many of them either joined the mob or shielded it from prosecution. Many other highly educated Russians joined the mob because of the almost nonexistent prospects for prosperity, let alone advancement, in the impoverished Russia of the 1990's.

The Right Flips for Russia

For some time after the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was, and continues to be, a school of thought that holds that the end of Communism was a fake, engineered to lull the West into a false sense of security. It attributes to Russia the typical suite of super-villain powers common to fringe conspiracy thinkers: the ability to engineer a vast coordinated plan with no leaks whatsoever, the deliberate unleashing of forces otherwise deadly to the conspiracy, which the conspiracy will seamlessly co-opt and roll back, again with no leaks whatsoever. It's like arguing that the Civil Rights Movement was really a secret plan by the KKK to fool blacks into thinking they had rights, while the KKK hid in its secret volcano lair engineering a secret resurgence of white rule. Keep an eye on your white Persian cats.

Nevertheless, a little study of Russian history reveals long-term themes in Russian strategy that are unlikely to disappear for good:
  • Russia will continue to see itself as the "Third Rome," the bulwark of righteousness against the corrupt and decadent West.
  • Russia will continue to see itself as hegemon and protector of the Slavs.
  • Russia will continue to try to assert control over Central Asia,
  • Meaning that Russia will try to rebuild the Soviet Union either in fact, or de facto by means of alliances, puppet regimes, and control behind the scenes.
  • Russia will seek to secure its approaches. It will covet the Baltic States in particular, maybe a bit more of Finland.
  • That dream of warm-water access will not go away. 
These are Russian goals, not Communist, Orthodox, democratic, or tsarist. Russia will aspire to them regardless of who, or what system, is in power.

Once Russia abandoned its overt war on private property and religion, it became effectively a right-wing dictatorship. It's a sign of how completely hollow Marxism had become in Russia that there was almost no meaningful Marxist protest over the abandonment of two central Marxist ideals. But once Russia launched its privatization programs (doesn't it make you wonder where people in an egalitarian and classless society got all the money to buy large State businesses?) and opened up to religion, it became far more palatable to the American Right.

Tsar Peter the Great neutered the Church in Russia by refusing to name a successor to the Patriarch when he died in 1700. The post remained vacant for two decades and was finally replaced by a Synod. The tsar had the power to appoint bishops.  Ironically, the post of Patriarch was re-established after the Bolshevik Revolution, though religion was almost exterminated under Bolshevik rule.  But effectively, the Church in Russia is subservient to the State. American religious conservatives are aghast at the idea of the Church being subservient to the State on liberal issues, but are perfectly comfortable with Church and State working hand in glove to advance conservative issues, like restricting abortion and gay rights. So the relationship between the Russian Church and the government, where the Church takes a strong line on traditional morality but stays out of social morality, is not especially different from the role of Church and State in, say, Texas or North Carolina. Meanwhile the Russian government either actively or passively permits the persecution of gays.

So Russia has morphed into a kleptocracy where every State function is up for bid, and religion is a tame and toothless tiger that growls about personal morality but is silent on social and governmental morality. What's not to like?

References

  1. Jack El-Hai, "Black And White And Red;" American Heritage, 1991, Volume 42, Issue 3.  http://www.americanheritage.com/content/black-and-white-and-red
  2. Stratfor Worldview; "Organized Crime in Russia; April 16, 2008. https://worldview.stratfor.com/analysis/organized-crime-russia
  3. Alexandr Solzhenitsyn; The Gulag Archipelago. ISBN  0-06-013914-5

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Time for a Digital Galt's Gulch?

Galt's Gulch

In Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, the "creative" people of the world go on strike and retire to a hidden valley called Galt's Gulch. A real world version of Atlas shrugging is pretty unlikely. The people who would go there have corner offices and flunkies fawning over them. And loads of power sex. What are these people going to do in Galt's Gulch? Sit on the porch and whittle? And even if they do drop out, there are a hundred equally capable people waiting in line behind them eager to take their jobs. They won't be missed. And that, as much as anything, will deter them from dropping out - their superfluity will be starkly revealed.

The really creative people will go on working in their labs and computer terminals and machine shops. Because what motivates creative people is the chance to do something creative. They'll probably be happier than ever when all the self-described "creative" people move to Galt's Gulch.

On the other hand, a digital Galt's Gulch might be just what the world needs to clean up the Augean Stables of the internet. A separate internet, which anyone can view but where the ability to contribute to it is strictly controlled. Anyone with privileges on the new internet can still post on the old one. Call them Internet 1 and Internet 2. If the Dark Net can run on the same system as everything else but be hard to access, there's no reason we can't build an Internet 2 the same way.

Paying For It

Obviously any such Internet 2 will cost money. There are a lot of reasons it should be on a subscription basis. Independent funding would help keep it free of government meddling. Much more importantly, it would be possible to ban advertising. Most important of all, having to have some serious skin it the game would help deter the denizens of the slimier corners of the internet. For openers, I suggest $100 per year. 

Remember, there will still be an Internet 1. Anyone who can't afford to get onto Internet 2 can still post their rants and cat videos on Internet 1.

There is, of course, a lot of money to be made by allowing "trusted advertisers" to have access to the net, or purchase user information. So the by-laws have to specify in exquisite detail that no such practices are permitted, as well as making modification or repeal of the restrictions all but impossible. A super-majority of all users might be one way. Every subscriber gets a non-transferrable vote.

Anonymity

Well, this one is simple. None. Every post identifies the real name of the author. If you want to create a dozen accounts, subscribe a dozen times. But every account will identify you by name.

This isn't Tor. If you want to take down a regime from within, stick to Internet 1. If you want to be snarky about your boss or neighbor, Internet 1. If you want to post something controversial, well, if you can't take the heat, stay out of the kitchen. But, we also need very strict rules about abuse, retaliation, threats and so on. Any action that contributes to retaliation beyond the confines of Internet 2 costs you your privileges. Send a nasty personal e-mail, bye-bye. 

Any attempt to use Tor or other re-routing systems to conceal your identity gets you banned. Any spoofing gets you banned.

Abuse

Since there's no anonymity, no report of abuse is anonymous, either. Strict due process. If you report someone for abuse, you'd better be prepared to describe, explicitly and in detail, what's abusive about it. And if it's frivolous or retaliatory, you will be held accountable.

Who Can Join?

One place to start is that any member of a professional organization can join. A good practice would be to make subscribing to Internet 2 a regular part of the organizational dues. In addition to selecting various journals, members can also select a subscription to Internet 2.

All material posted to academic or government sites should automatically be archived on Internet 2. All tax-supported research should be archived as well.

After that, anyone else who agrees to the terms of service and pays for a subscription is in.

Security

This point pertains to advertising as well, but since it's a security issue, too, no pop-up ads, and no content whatsoever that restricts the user's ability to view the page. No fade-outs, no queries about using ad blockers, no banners blocking the view, none of it. No insertion of anything onto a user's computer.

No release of personal data. None. No site on Internet 2 may require users to create an account. The only information Internet 2 should have are your identity plus some minimal authentication information, and of course, whatever you publish on your own.

No probing any site to see what a user is running. 

Advertising

This one is easy. A professional organization can advertise its meetings and publications on its pages. A private author can plug his book. But no third party advertising of any sort. All income from third-party advertising (and any spam that leaks through) belongs to Internet 2.

Businesses? Why not? Tell us all about your new cars, your computer, your software, your dog food, your latest movie. On your own site. You just can't splash it onto someone else's pages.

Also, every page that invites a user to subscribe to a service must include a buttton on that page that allows the user to unsubscribe. Click and you're done. No ifs, ands or buts.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Trump, Fascism and Democracy

100 per cent agreement, he’s a fascist.

Is Trump a danger to democracy? From your point of view, maybe. But to his supporters, they finally have a politician who is doing what he said he would. Up until 1925, the Supreme Court had held that the Bill of Rights applied only to Federal actions. That year, in Gitlow v. New York, the Court began ruling that the Bill of Rights protections extended to state and local government. Up until then, reactionaries had complete control over local affairs. And they want it back. Now, for the first time in their lives, they have a real shot at it. From their perspective, Trump (and even more so, Pence, if Trump is removed) is a triumph of democracy. They always had to settle for the “least worst” alternatives. Now have finally gotten what they were voting for all these years.

Gotta say I have scant sympathy for liberals (and I voted Obama in 2012 and Clinton this time). The anger on the Right has been building for decades and there has been no shortage of commentary explaining it. Liberals never bothered reading it, and if a hard line conservative popped up on a site they did read, they blew him off as a troll or racist, and very likely flagged and banned him. None of that “free speech” or “challenge viewpoints” stuff here, thank you. Well, ignore a problem and it will go away. Then it will come up behind you and have you for lunch. So now you have Trump. Was it really worth going to court to get that Nativity scene out of the city park, or hassling that bakery that refused to do a gay wedding cake? How many Trump voters did you create? Well, now they’ve voted to smack you down. Oppression to you, democracy at its finest to them.

Hitler never received a majority of the vote. But he did get a large minority, from people who wanted what he was selling.

Remember Star Wars?. When Vader and Obi-Wan face off, Obi-Wan tells Vader “Strike me down and I will become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.” Now imagine the roles reversed and Vader saying it. Strike Trump down in court, but remember he has one Court vacancy to fill, and probably one or two more in the future. And he’ll have Sessions for AG. And he can play to his base. He won’t be politely critical like Obama (one of the things that infuriated Obama’s opponents was precisely his discipline). He’ll rage against the Liberal Machine. His supporters will change the voting rules in Congress (killing the filibuster is long overdue — it has has a shameful history of stifling constructive legislation — how ironic that Trump’s minions may kill it.) Look up something called “jurisdiction stripping.” He doesn’t feel any need to be deferential or reverent toward the courts. And his base will lap it up. They’ve been frustrated for years at seeing laws they support, and in many cases voted for as referenda, struck down by non-elected judges at the behest of a handful of opponents. Strike them down now, and they will become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.

Trump’s hard core followers despise the courts. From their perspective, the courts rubber-stamp regulations on the responsible and productive, while protecting criminals, sociopaths and social deviants. You may be horrified, but they will be deliriously happy to see a President rip into the Supreme Court.

Three things you need to look up
  1. Barron v. Baltimore 1833. The Supreme Court ruling that ruled the Bill of Rights only applied to the Federal Government
  2. Incorporation Doctrine. The principle that the “rights and immunities” clause of the 14th amendment extended Bill of Rights protections to the State and local level. Not all at once, but only as relevant cases arose, because that’s how the legal system rolls.
  3. Jurisdiction stripping. The power granted by Article 3, Section 2 of the Constitution for Congress to limit jurisdiction of the courts. The most telling, to me, is the legislation authorizing the Alaska Pipeline that said, in effect, “We’ve reviewed this every which way. There will be no further litigation.”
The Constitution. Read it, people. Sheesh. It says what it says, not what you think it should say.

Don't Even Think About Going There

A piece on The Establishment is titled "Why Punching Nazis Is Not Only Ethical, But Imperative." They don't have a comments section, making me wonder how likely they will be to confront fascists physically if they don't dare confront them verbally. Anyway, the following is offered as a public service.

You. Do. Not. Want. To. Go. There. For reasons:
  1. History. When leftists and fascists mixed it up in 1930's Italy and Germany, who won all the fights? The only fascist I know of who got killed was Horst Wessel, who was actually killed by his girl friend's former(?) pimp. Fascists have a far greater psychological willingness to inflict violence.
  2. Who has all the guns? Not the ACLU or English professors with tweed jackets and patches on their sleeves. Much more likely they're owned by fascists and their wannabes. If attacking them becomes routine, expect them to bring guns to a fist fight.
  3. Stand Your Ground. If you sucker punch a fascist, and he comes back with far greater force, then claims self defense, well, two words: Treyvon Martin.
  4. It doesn't work in reverse. If you attack someone, and he retaliates, don't expect to claim self defense. You don't get to claim self defense if you provoke the fight, especially if he's done nothing to provoke it.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Wall to Wall Denial Games

Here's how to get banned from Wonkette. Post this (a bit modified in light of later events). To an article titled "F*** you America." And it's only been two months. I'm sure they'll answer my query eventually. 

Consider the irony. In response to an article where roughly every third word was a f-bomb, I point out that Trump's opponents are hip-deep in denial games - and get banned for it. Could they possibly prove my point more vividly?

=======================================================================

Everything I’m seeing is wall to wall denial games. Trump’s supporters are racist. They’re deplorable. Trump appealed to the worst in people. They hated a black president and the idea of a woman president. They voted against their “best interests” - look for an uptick in sales of What’s the Matter with Kansas? (Samuel L. Jackson has “snakes on a plane,” Schwartzenegger has “Hasta la vista, baby” and Frank has “voting against their best interests.” Nobody seems to be wondering what they did to cause this.Well, it’s not really hard. Go to all the right wing sites and look at posts from before the election. Read what people were angry about. Then stop doing that stuff. 

Quit the juvenile attacks on religion. If you want a religious establishment issue, look into the obstruction of observatories on Mauna Kea because some groups arbitrarily declare the mountain “sacred.” Quit speaking for terrorists (Noam Chomsky) and criminals (Making of a Murderer, anyone?) Quit solving social problems, like gun violence, by taking rights away from everyone else. 

Quit the petty bureaucratic micromanagement. Here's a local item from Seattle from just the other day. The city bought data from some demographics firm, pulled out all the information on people buying pet supplies, matched it to the dog license list, and sent people notices that they'd be fined if they didn't register their dogs. Does it get any more petty than this? First of all, why does any city even NEED to license animals? These days, with chipping, returning lost pets isn't that much of a problem. How much money is involved? It's chump change. No, it's all about enforcing petty micromanagement on everything. Tell me again why I should be so worried about the NSA when local governments pull this crap.

Another example: The tragic fire in Oakland California in December 2016 that killed 36 people. The building was almost literally connected by an extension cord (the only non-literal aspect is they probably used actual cable) and run off the meter of an adjacent building.
The building was a maze of safety hazards but hadn't been inspected in 30 years. Now, in those thirty years, how many homeowners in Oakland got citations for petty issues like peeling paint or having their garbage cans in the wrong place. Hundreds? Thousands?

Yet another example. In January, 2016, Kansas game wardens shot a deer that had become something of a family pet. "It might have had chronic wasting disease" was one excuse, though it was hardly more likely to be sick than any other deer. It's fascinating that, despite all we hear about how much Brownback's policies have devastated Kansas, Kansas still has money to keep idiots on the payroll. 

[Note to the "citations" crowd. All of these episodes got mainstream news coverage. If you're as informed as you pretend to be, you'd know about them already. And if you don't, you're unqualified to be in this discussion.]

A few years ago my street was torn up to replace sewers. I watched the work avidly. It was carefully planned and well done, and they kept obstructions to a minimum. It cost me $1500 and I think it was good value. The curb-laying machine that extrudes the curb like Play-Doh was amazing. And hitherto, sump pumps had been haphazard. Now everyone had to have a line to the storm sewers. It didn't take much to make me decide having someone dig the trench was the way to go. The trencher is like a chain saw on steroids, and the $300 was worth it.Now somebody explain what I got for the $600 for the permit. I watched the work and it was well done. Nobody from the city came by. The permit did me absolutely no good whatsoever. I didn't need it. It was purely a ripoff. They need the money to fund the inspection office? Let them hold a bake sale or take a second job if they think it's that vital.What’s driving Trump supporters more than anything else (and I voted for Clinton) is the desire for what Justice Lewis Brandeis called “the right to be let alone.” If people are not harming anyone else, they believe they have no obligation whatsoever to report or justify their activities to the government, get a permit or license, or have their rights circumscribed for the sake of the sociopathic. Oh, if you really want to drive people to the right, make voting mandatory. Get millions of people angry about government mandates, and send them to the polls.The denial games seem to come in three types:
  • We weren’t liberal enough. Need more cowbell. Sorry, I mean more Bernie Sanders.
  • Things will be okay once we enlighten the rubes. Teach them not to be racist, sexist, etc. It reminds me a bit of all the Hitler rant parodies. In the real movie, Hitler says everything will be all right once a counterattack begins. Then someone says there will be no counterattack because the general doesn’t have enough men, and Hitler loses it. (“Mein Fuehrer, the rubes are still racist and deplorable.” “DAS WAR EIN BEFEHL!!!”)
  • Denial squared. Yes, they are racist and deplorable, I don’t care what they think, screw them. Than you for proving my point.



Saturday, January 7, 2017

Time to call B.S. on Private Censorship

Public and Private Censorship


The Constitution applies, for the most part, only to government. It's illegal to hold someone as a slave, but that's because there are laws specifically forbidding it, laws passed under the authority of the Constitution. It can be illegal to search someone's locker. Schools are bound by the law because they're government institutions, and employers may be bound by union contracts to observe due process. You can't be arrested or fined for just saying something, but very often you can be fired for posting something or banned from a Web site. 

Web site operators accused of censorship fall back on the idea that the Web site is their private property and they have a right to ban anyone they choose from using it. Many of them would froth at the mouth if someone else tried to defend barring gays or minorities from their business on the grounds of private property.

It's time to call B.S. Private censorship is still censorship. A public blog is a public accommodation every bit as much as a motel or gas station, and it should be subject to the same civil rights laws.

Suppression of Public Speech

This one is so obvious as to need little comment. Interfering with someone's ability to speak, or someone else's ability to hear him, by shouting the speaker down, is a violation of their civil rights, and should be punishable the same way any other violation of civil rights are punishable.

The same applies to barring someone from going where they have a right to go. Sit-ins that blocked access to buildings, so popular in the 1960's, were violations of the civil rights of people who were barred from going about their  business. Anti-abortionists who tried it at abortion clinics were slapped with RICO prosecutions. Any obstruction of people's movements is a violation of their Federal civil rights and should be punished at the Federal level.

In many cases, high profile events set up "free speech" zones where protestors can congregate. Activists object that the zones keep them out of public view. But anyone who wants to hear what they have to say (and that would be just about nobody) can easily go and hear them. If you want to object to someone, wear a T-shirt, carry a placard, but when they're talking, SHUT UP.

Blogs

Content on blogs brings the free speech rights of the blog owner into conflict with those of the poster. 

A site doesn't have to invite comments. More and more sites don't, and while I may find that slightly disappointing at times, I absolutely understand why. This site doesn't, for example, and for a very simple reason. I just don't give a flying firetruck what you think. If you don't like my content, go someplace else.

And if the owner of the site decides to delete a comment as inappropriate or offensive, or simply irrelevant, they have a right to control the expression of their site. But few sites have such a small volume of traffic that they can be individually moderated.

Complete lack of moderation is not an option. There are places that go that route and they're widely regarded, except by the denizens of those sites, as the septic tank of the internet.

No, the real problem is sites that simply delegate moderation to readers and self-appointed content flaggers. And there have been myriad cases where that capability has been systematically abused. Repressive regimes have hired writers to blitz pieces by authors hostile to the regime. In some cases, those writers open dozens of dummy accounts to multiply their impact. On some sites, merely casting a large enough number of downvotes is enough to get a piece pulled or a writer banned. Recently, far rightists have gone to book sites and systematically downvoted any books by authors they find offensive.

The solution is relatively simple: due process. Any time someone is banned from a site, they must be told what specific post led to the ban, and told in detail what specific aspects of the post violated policy and why. And there must be a process of appeal. And the response must be prompt and timely.

And there need to be sanctions for people who file frivolous objections to posts. If they flag a post and their objection is overturned, they lose their flagging and voting privileges, maybe even get banned themselves. Better would be to not extend those privileges at all until the reader has a substantial  track record of responsible commentary.

Social Media

There have been tons of cases of people being fired for what they post on social media. Unless the person specifically identifies their employer (cops or other employees in uniform, the workplace clearly identifiable in the video, or whatever) this practice needs to be flatly banned. Your kid's English teacher has a lingerie ad on line, but she's not wearing school colors? Tough. Lucky kid.  None of your business. Your local dog catcher posts a politically incorrect rant, but he's off duty and wearing civilian clothes? First Amendment. Someone recognizes him as the dog catcher. So what? If the post doesn't otherwise violate any laws, like incitement to violence or treason, and the person's institutional connections aren't evident in the medium itself, social media should be absolutely immune from adverse actions. Especially, people should be absolutely immune to adverse actions for anything they posted before being hired.

Lots of people have posted approval of people getting fired for saying things on line, saying that the freedom to say things doesn't guarantee immunity from consequences. Well, ma'am, there's a new sheriff in town. See how you like it when people start getting fired for expressing sentiments you approve of.

Free Market, Free Speech?

"We are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it."
- Thomas Jefferson writing to William Roscoe, December 27, 1820
Jefferson's vision of free speech was basically a free market of ideas where ideas lacking merit would be driven out of the intellectual marketplace. Unfortunately, "reason was free to combat" error only as long as it took someone to file a libel suit against someone who criticized him. 

Long before the internet, I had noted that crank movements tended to live in a self-contained bubble. In those days, the "information" circulated as Xeroxed pamphlets and pulp magazines. Believers in a young earth or massive UFO visitations never encountered any real counter-evidence. Nowadays, keeping track of cranks is like mopping up a tsunami with a Q-Tip. And the internet is a completely solipsistic world, where each bubble concocts its own facts.

Maybe the ultimate solution is a kind of digital Galt's Gulch, a new and restrictive internet open only to people with real credentials. Anyone can read it, but the vetting process for contributing to it is severely strict.

The Courts

As the comment below notes:
It's already been ruled unconstitutional to force other people to publish your speech, see Miami Herald Publishing Company v. Tornillo, 1974.
Ignoring for the moment the near universal confusion between the Constitution and what the courts say about it, that's not exactly what the ruling says. The case challenged a Florida law that required newspapers to provide equal space for rebuttals of political editorials. The court ruled that, since newspapers are limited resources, requiring a paper to provide free space for rebuttals might discourage papers from printing editorials, the so-called "chilling effect." (The idea that the "chilling effect" is one of the stupidest legal concepts around is left for another essay. In fact, Jefferson's quote above makes it clear that free speech can only be effective in the presence of a "chilling effect.")

Interestingly, in cases involving broadcast media, the courts have used the very same scarcity argument to compel broadcasters to grant access to people who want to rebut opinion pieces. In those cases, the argument has been that the broadcast spectrum is a finite resource belonging to the public, that broadcasters are merely licensed to use part of it, and the government has the right to impose requirements on licensees. With cable and internet media, the limited resource argument isn't as critical.

The reality is that it has not been ruled unconstitutional to force other people to publish your speech. The Department of Labor site on Workplace Posters (https://www.dol.gov/general/topics/posters) has a long list of government-mandated posters that employers must post, whether they agree with them or not. They include posters on the Federal minimum wage, equal opportunity, OSHA rules on workplace safety, and labor relations. Not surprisingly, a number of these rules have been challenged as "compelled speech." So far none have reached the Supreme Court.

Sooner or later, anti-gay rights activists will quit using the doomed argument of "religious rights" (Which was demolished by Reynolds v. United States (1878). The Court upheld a bigamy conviction, saying that beliefs were inviolate but actions could be punished). It will be interesting to see what will happen when someone argues that being forced to provide a service for a gay wedding amounts to "forced expression."

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

What Would a Conservative Star Wars Look Like?

The new Star Wars installment in the canon, The Force Awakens, Rolls Over, and Hits the Snooze Bar, drew the ire of some on the Right for having a woman heroine and a black Storm Trooper. The spin-off, Rogue One, generates more of the same because it's even more ethnically diverse. (Not to be confused with the film about the Mary Kay lady who goes over to the Dark Side, Rouge One.)

Since a lot of the themes in Star Wars, like the notion of heroic resistance trying to overthrow an oppressive empire, lend themselves to liberal political themes, the suspicion has arisen that Star Wars is essentially liberal propaganda. So what would a conservative Star Wars look like?

The Empire are the Good Guys

There's an alternative Lord of the Rings story, The Last Ringbearer, originally written in Russian by Kiril Eskov, that posits that Mordor was the civilized part of Middle Earth and that its overthrow represented the triumph of the superstitious, ignorant and backward outer world. Think about it. All we know about Middle Earth is what the trilogy tells us, and history is written by the victors. What if it's all Elvish and Gondorian propaganda? What if the "cleansing of the Shire" (an add-on mercifully left out of the already ponderous films) was actually a last gallant attempt by Saruman to establish an outpost to preserve a remnant of civilization?

So turning Star Wars on its head makes sense. All we know is what the Rebels have told us in the films. What if they lied? What if it's all Rebel propaganda? Remember how Obi-Wan described Mos Eisley as "a wretched hive of scum and villainy?" What if that describes, not just one backwater spaceport, but the whole of the Galaxy? Here are a few scenarios in which the Empire might be the good side. Note that these aren't mutually exclusive.

The Empire is Bringing Civilization to a Backward Galaxy

Early in A New Hope, Luke grumbles about being stuck at his uncle's farm instead of being able to enroll at The Academy. Exactly what Academy isn't made clear, but it's obvious that on these backwater worlds, chances for advancement are slim. (We ought to bear issues of scale in mind. A well-developed planet would be richer and more advanced than Earth, and probably quite capable of having its own MIT or Harvard.)

We could picture the Empire as a sci-fi British Empire, deposing corrupt local governments or co-opting them, imposing the rule of law and civilized customs. Naturally, die-hard adherents of the old regime seek refuge outside Empire-controlled space. They might engage in guerrilla raids for revenge, for profit, or as part of a larger strategy to recapture their homelands. Needless to say, the Empire would have to, er, strike back. And in a modern twist, we might find anti-colonialists opposing the Empire simply for being an Empire.

The Empire is Stamping Out Criminal Warlords

Two words: Jabba the Hutt. What? You want to count "the" as a word, too? Okay, fine, whatever, pedant. Jabba pretty much runs Tatooine. So we've got a planet under the thumb of a criminal overlord. Now multiply Tatooine by however many other planets in the Galaxy and you can see what the Empire is up against.

Law and Order: Galaxy. Courageous Imperial expeditionary forces swoop down on criminal lairs, rescuing hostages, freeing slaves, and wiping out criminal gangs. Or the SVU version, where we see the breakup of rings trafficking in sexy alien slave girls. No Miranda, no lawyering up, and they do have ways of making you talk. Sure, a civilization advanced enough to have star ships should also be capable of getting information by brain scans or really effective drugs, but the rough trade is more fun.

The Empire is Fighting Murderous Religious Fanatics

The Jedi base everything on the religion of the Force, and they slice and dice people handily with light sabers. Sounds a lot like ISIS. Also the Jedi don't convert everyone but keep their secrets among a select elite. So it's a cult, too. Ferreting out covert Jedi agents would make for some good plot lines. The Jedi don't marry, so we can imagine they'd impose a pretty puritanical society, ruled by embittered and sexually frustrated Jedi. Sounds more and more like ISIS all the time.

Now portraying the Empire as agnostic or even secular wouldn't be conservative enough. They need a religion more palatable to American tastes. It would have to believe in a Supreme Being and would have to reinforce what conservatives view as acceptable conduct. Picture something like the 1966 film Khartoum, where Victorian Brits face a fanatical army led by the self-styled Mahdi.

The Empire is Breaking up an Ossified Bureaucracy

Look at episodes II and III, where we get a serious look at Coruscant. The entire planet is a city. A breeding ground for crime and government handouts. 

Check out this dialog from A New Hope:

Governor Tarkin:

The Imperial Senate will no longer be of any concern to us. I have just received word that the Emperor has dissolved the council permanently. The last remnants of the Old Republic have been swept away.

General Tagge:

But that's impossible. How will the Emperor maintain control without the bureaucracy?

Governor Tarkin:
The regional governors now have direct control over their territories. Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battle station.
How libertarian can you get? We need a bureaucracy to govern. No we don't. We just let local government run everything. Billions of bureaucrats are thrown out of work. Many, embittered, join rebellions.

Maybe There's Something Worse than the Empire

The Yuuzhan Vong, for example. This was an extragalactic race that revered pain and death and hated mechanical technology. All their own technology was biological. Their professed reverence for life didn't stop them from killing 365 trillion sentient life forms when they invaded the Star Wars galaxy. (A semi-canon race: see Wookieepedia)

You can pretty much see that willy-nilly destroying all the inorganic technology on a planet would condemn most of that planet's population to death. Taken to its logical conclusion, even a stone scraper would be forbidden.

On the other hand, imagine collaborationist movements yearning for a return to an imaginary pre-technological Eden. You'd have the collaborationists and the Yuuzhan Vong spouting the most chiched eco-babble, all the while merrily slaughtering all opposition. And the Empire would be the Good Guys in this war, while defending against extremist environmentalists.

The Empire are the Bad Guys

Face it, it's always more fun rooting for the underdog, plus we're so used to seeing the Empire portrayed as evil that it would be a serious shock to start thinking of them as good. So have no fear, there are ways to make the Empire evil but liberal.

The Empire is Communism Resurgent

Communism managed to roll up everything conservatives abhor, like opposition to private property, opposition to religion, stifling dissent, and bureaucracy, plus elevating groups that were considered inferior. So all that really needs to be done is spin the Empire as standing for those things. Make it sound as if there's some grand theory behind the Empire to make it clearer just what the Empire is. As one Marxist advised, screenwriters should try to get a few minutes' good Marxist content into each film. Well, that can work both ways. Portray the Empire at its most ruthless, and "get a few minutes' good Marxist content" in as well to drive the point home. They're not incinerating Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru because they're mean, but because Owen and Beru are reactionary, revanchist, anti-social elements. Uncle Owen's moisture farm is taken over and run as a collective. (And eventually wrecked, since ideological correctness takes precedence over technical competence and nobody is accountable for damages.)

Coruscant, once hub of a prosperous Republic, now becomes a grim Marxist prison state, permeated by a secret police, its proud buildings crumbling under neglect and inefficiency. Innovation and scientific inquiry are stifled, with researchers blacklisted if they fail to follow party orthodoxy with sufficient fervor. 

The unifying philosophy of the Empire might be the Sith, now out in the open and preaching some mishmash of pseudo-populist and social welfare notions. Recruits who actually have The Force are trained as Sith, those who don't become informants, secret police or privileged party functionaries.

The Republic (and the Empire) are Bureaucratic Morasses

The Republic ruled everything from Coruscant, and its fall was merely the inevitable result of a bloated government collapsing under its own weight. The Empire broke up the central bureaucracy, throwing billions of bureaucrats out of work. What happens to them? Maybe they starve because the Empire lacks resources or the interest to save them. Maybe vast areas of Coruscant become shanty towns, or once occupied government buildings are taken over by squatters. Maybe they're sold as slaves, or just dumped on some empty planet someplace.

Meanwhile, the Empire, somewhat leaner but still just as mean, continues to run things business as usual. Planets as populous as Earth are still run the way the Republic ran them. So the outlying planets are free of Coruscant but still as bureaucratic as ever. Picture an episode where a colonist is expelled from his land because he can't pay his taxes, meet some regulatory standard, or maybe some protected species lives there. With his life's work stolen from him, he joins the Rebellion. Or he objects to the way the Empire educates his children and flees with his family to an outlying, Rebel-controlled system.

So the "separatist movements" in The Clone Wars are really the Good Guys. They're not interested in toppling the Empire, but merely in being left alone.