Conservative Political Commentary

Anti-socialist, anti-communist, anti-globalist, pro-Constitution,
and usually with an attempt at historical and economic context

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Today’s Robber Barons and Socialists Practice Plunder and Dislike Liberty

Some books deserve to be read and reread because of the principles and ideas they present. One such book is French economist, author, and statesman Frederic Bastiat’s small 1850 masterpiece The Law. A careful reading of this little book will show the cause of many of America’s economic and social problems today. In a word, the problem is government. Government stepping far beyond its proper boundaries to impose its will on citizens.

Governments have always done this. The record of history is a record of slavery and oppression, dire poverty, discontent, and the general futility of human aspirations. All of which has been and is being paid for by the citizens, especially those who are not members of a favored group.

America historically has been something of a relief from this terrible vicious cycle. Government activism has been up and down, with consequences accordingly. Usually, whenever government makes a law, people’s freedom is diminished. Whenever the government feels a “philanthropic” urge to help someone, it does so, unjustly, at the expense of someone else.

President Barack Obama’s view of government, do not doubt, is the same as that which Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) expresses here:



That is, contempt for the citizens and, especially, the Constitution. This brazen arrogance and oppressive mentality must be stopped in the elections of 2010 and 2012. If it isn’t, there will be hell to pay. Citizens of America are not yet the docile socialist subjects one may find in other countries, and are not yet willing to become such. There is a line which the government cannot safely cross, and the “ruling class” is heading toward it at considerable speed.

But Obama’s contempt for the hated founding documents reflects attitudes that long predate these documents. To Obama and the “progressives,” the population represents a passive mass of ignorant and helpless guinea pigs on which the greatly enlightened and highly-educated (in the elite schools) elite may work their social experiments.

These experiments include Obama’s fascist-socialist agenda (with programs such as Obamacare) which calls for getting everyone in line with the state’s great program at the expense of their individual interests, and also for the trampling of individual rights. It calls for forced redistribution of income and wealth under the assumption that the rich got that way by mistreating the poor, and it’s time the rich (other than Obama’s big supporters) found out what it’s like to do without. And to hell with the economy. If people are without jobs, that must be the fault of the previous administration, which gave tax cuts to the rich.
Fascists like Obama believe that individual rights are dispensed by government as the rulers may desire.

Patriotic Americans recognize that their unalienable rights come from God and not man. Government cannot take away these rights, they can only try to force people not to exercise them. To the regime that’s in power now, it is not necessary to observe the rule of law, only to manipulate things so as to twist the law to their own desire. Thus we have government takeovers, trampling of the rights of states (such as Arizona, but also Texas and others, with more to come). If one of their pronouncements is overturned in court, they simply make another similar pronouncement worse than the first (as with the offshore drilling moratorium).

Many Americans are waking up to the fact that government must be watched and kept in check. The Tea Party movement is perhaps the most visible evidence of this. With the current government merrily spending its (and our) way to fiscal hell, people are beginning to question whether endless debt is a good idea. Pete Stark, who fancies himself to be some kind of economist (maybe like Paul Krugman) believes debt only demonstrates wealth:



How does this insufferable person keep getting elected?

Be that as it may, here you have Keynesianism in a nutshell, complete with the arrogance.

Bastiat’s The Law explains the way government plunders the people:
Sometimes the law defends plunder and participates in it. Thus the beneficiaries are spared the shame, danger, and scruple which their acts would otherwise involve. Sometimes the law places the whole apparatus of judges, police, prisons, and gendarmes at the service of the plunderers, and treats the victim – when he defends himself – as a criminal. In short, there is a legal plunder…. [1]
This is the situation we have with both government takeovers of industry and with corporate welfare. Those who execute these things and those who end up operating the taken-over or “benefited” entities are the robber barons of our day, whether they are Obama and the new board of directors and executives of GM or Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones getting the taxpayers to finance his business, or any number of less publicized examples. As I have repeatedly said (in agreement with Ayn Rand – video here), economic abuses in the private sector almost always involve collusion with government. This includes labor unions as well. These things fly in the face of justice, not to mention the free market.

The American Republic has been history’s most successful attempt at a nation that recognizes and protects rather than denies and violates individual liberty (although with a good many notable failures), in contrast to the rest of the world, some nations of whom have seen America as a great example.

We are not as far from tyranny as we need to be. The next few years are going to require some very astute and bold decisions and actions on the part of patriotic Americans if we are to keep the liberty we’ve enjoyed for so long. Even now it is being seriously eroded. One Nation under God (who gave us our rights) needs to confront the ruling socialists and fascists who recognize no rights but their own.


[1] Frederic Bastiat, The Law (originally published in 1850), translated by Dean Russell, New York: The Foundation for Economic Education, 1950, 15th printing, 1990, page 21.
Picture: Portrait of Frederic Bastiat found at Wikipedia. (Public domain)
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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

If This Passes, Internet Freedom Is Gone – Not an Exaggeration

I’m sure everyone has been quite interested in the lengthy negotiations for the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) – Oh, wait, they’ve been conducted in secret, with the public excluded, although entertainment industry folks and their lobbyists have been there to provide “input.”

Gennady Stolyarov II quotes Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged villain, Dr. Floyd Ferris, as follows:

There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What's there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced or objectively interpreted — and you create a nation of law-breakers — and then you cash in on guilt. [1]

This appears to be the position of President Barack Obama and his administration, as well as their co-conspirator negotiating partners. This is in line with the federal government’s trend, of the last 30 years or so, of criminalizing more and more normal activities of citizens as well as violations which were formerly civil matters, such as copyrights.

ACTA is wrong in so many ways, whatever good intentions it ever had are completely overshadowed by its evil dark side, and it will have dire consequences for many, intended or not, if it is allowed to stand. Some of its awful features, as to process and content are listed below.

Stolyarov describes it thusly:

It threatens to undo the accomplishments of the great Internet revolution and to thrust humankind back to a time when individuals had no public voice and no countervailing power against politically privileged mercantilist institutions. ACTA tramples on essential rights that have achieved even mainstream recognition: innocence until one is proven guilty, due process, personal privacy, and fair use of published content. Moreover, because of its designation as a trade agreement, ACTA could be imposed on the people of the United States by the president, without even a vote of Congress. [2]

This proposed treaty reinforces the perception that Barack Obama has strong disdain and disrespect for the U.S. Constitution and freedom for American citizens.

Secret Negotiations
The negotiating process has been secret, and an early draft was leaked (available here),and an official preliminary draft was finally released on demand of European authorities (available here).

Freedom of Information Act requests for information were denied on “national security” grounds. [3]

David Bollier at On the Commons, also notes

Obama declared, My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.

Yet here we have the White House Office of U.S. Trade Representative declaring that the terms of the proposed IP treaty are essentially a state secret and that backchannel policymaking, insulated from any public scrutiny, is fine, just fine. [4]

So, if we didn’t already know, Obama’s transparency promise was and is some kind of bad joke.

Provisions Highlights, or more properly, Lowlights

Styled as a “trade agreement,” this monstrosity does not require legislation.

Further,

[T]he institutional issues around ACTA remain a huge concern. This is explicitly an attempt to circumvent WIPO [World Intellectual Property Organization] and the more open, transparent, and inclusive international process. The implications are very significant for all countries as this undermines the ability for many countries to have their concerns heard. Instead, many will face demands to comply with a treaty from which they were completely excluded during the negotiation process. [5]

American University Washington College of Law has published a document summarizing the bad features of ACTA, and the document carries numerous endorsements by members of parliaments of EU and negotiating countries, numerous academics and organizations. An excerpt of its excellent summary follows:


FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS
ACTA would authorize or encourage private and government enforcement measures that would:
curtail enjoyment of fundamental rights and liberties, including domestic and internationally protected human rights to health, privacy and the protection of personal data, free expression, education, cultural participation, and right to a fair legal process, including fair trial and presumptions of innocence.

THE INTERNET

ACTA would
• Encourage internet service providers to police the activities of internet users by holding internet providers responsible for the actions of subscribers, conditioning safe harbors on adopting policing policies, and by requiring parties to encourage cooperation between service providers and rights holders;
• Encourage this surveillance, and the potential for punitive disconnections by private actors, without adequate court oversight or due process;
• Globalize 'anti-circumvention' provisions which threaten innovation, competition, free (freedom-respecting) software, open access business models, interoperability, the enjoyment of user rights, and user choice…. [6]

The document also lists serious problems of possible prevention of access to medicines due to travel in international commerce through countries in which certain medicines are prohibited. [7]

If put in place, ACTA would subject innocent citizens to search, seizure of goods, and possible criminal prosecution. They would be presumed guilty until proven innocent.

ACTA strongly encourages “graduated response” such as “three strikes” for removal from the internet of anyone who receives complaints about copyrighted material. Not proven instances, mind you – simply complaints. Also the treaty would place upon internet service providers the responsibility of policing the web for copyright violators. At present, ISP’s enjoy a “safe harbor” status that removes from them this responsibility.

The following videos, the second from, of all places, Russia Today, help explain the ACTA plan:





Who Wants ACTA?
Who would want all this? Other than governments (such as Obama’s) who are enamored of worldwide Big Brother-type control: Among others, entertainment industry organizations such as RIAA and MPAA, and large content providers such as Time Warner and various politically-connected others. Wikileaks has information on this and suggests as follows:

Who is really behind ACTA? Follow the money:

Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA)
Top four campaign contributions for 2006:
Time Warner $21,000
News Corp $15,000
Sony Corp of America $14,000
Walt Disney Co $13,550
Top two Industries:
TV/Movies/Music $181,050
Lawyers/Law Firms $114,200

Other politicians listed also show significant contributions from IP industries:

[Others listed are Rep. Mary Bono (R-CA), Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN).] [8]

Conclusion
Probably few people outside the entertainment and internet world have heard much about ACTA. I hadn’t, until an article about it showed up in my email, Mises Daily, from Mises.org. Strong efforts have been made to keep it secret. The serious issues connected with ACTA make it imperative that American citizens who don’t want to lose important freedoms contact their senators. This is one of the sneakiest things yet attempted, but it’s right in line with President Obama’s habit of secrecy about issues affecting our lives.


[1] Quoted by Gennady Stolyarov II, “ACTA: The War on Progress, Freedom, and Human Civilization,” 08/03/2010, Mises.org.


[2] Stolyarov, see [1]

[3] David Bollier, “Et tu, Obama? Open Government Suffers Another Blow,” 03/12/2009, On the Commons.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Michael Geist, “ACTA Draft Text Released: (Nearly) Same As It Ever Was,” 04/51/2010, Michael Geist.


[6] American University Washington College of Law, “Text of Urgent ACTA Communique – English,” 06/23/2010, American University Washington College of Law.


[7] Ibid.

[8] Wikileaks, “Proposed US ACTA plurilateral intellectual property trade agreement (2007), Release Date May 22, 2008, Summary,” Wikileaks.


Photo: Dreamstime.com
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Does Double Dip Have To Happen?

A map of the 12 districts of the United States...Image via Wikipedia
Economists of various persuasions see trouble ahead for the U.S. economy. We’re already in a tough spot and it seems little is being done to improve it. On the plus side, our economy is historically strong and resilient, and more so the less government does. Today, some banks and businesses are awash with cash. A lot of people are available for work and want to work. And people want to buy things. So what’s the problem? Government and the Fed.

Some significantly bad things are happening or may be or are about to happen, such as:
1. Government’s anti-business attitude.
2. Tax increases: Expiration of the Bush tax cuts, new Obamacare taxes, and possible carbon taxes and food taxes.
3. More large-scale regulations. In addition to the new financial regulations, there will also be HHS and EPA regulations on CO-2, and tightened auto emission standards.
4. The BP oils spill may prompt the Administration to seek new restrictions and taxes on the oil companies. Already, thousands have been put out of work by the ill-advised offshore drilling moratorium.

The Fed has pumped trillions of dollars into the economy ($1.2 trillion announced in March 2009, bringing their asset total to more than $3 trillion at that time [1] and currently about $2.308 trillion, down from $2.315 trillion the previous week [2]) to “stimulate,” but instead of stimulating, it has artificially propped up certain sectors, and when that support is withdrawn, recession/depression/collapse, or some combination of these appears likely. If the same level of support is maintained, there will be serious inflation and damage to the value of the dollar.

We are in virtually immediate danger of a “double-dip” recession. The recovery is quite weak. The second dip may well be worse than the first. And the Fed and government are running low on ideas to fix it. Some commentators, such as the American Enterprise Institute’s Desmond Lachman think the second dip will bring deflation:


As the Federal Reserve puts a brave face on the recent spate of weak U.S. economic data, one has to hope that it is not underestimating the very real risk of a double-dip U.S. recession by early next year. A double-dip recession now appears all too probable and such an occurrence would more than likely tip the U.S. economy into deflation. A Fed once again behind the policy curve would only exacerbate the long-run damage that such deflation can wreak….

If Japan’s experience with deflation offers any guide, one must expect that allowing deflation to take hold would highly complicate the prospects for a renewed meaningful economic recovery. It would do so by increasing the real cost of borrowing, inducing consumers to defer spending, and increasing the real-debt burden of households and corporations. [3]


Others are inclined to think that inflation is inevitable and that the Fed won’t be able to hold down interest rates much longer. Some believe that these artificially low interest rates are a big part of the problem, and are partly responsible for the financial crisis. Peter Schiff, financial industry CEO and Senate candidate, thinks the “recovery” has actually been harmful to the economy:



Besides the fact that the Fed has poured money (created out of thin air) into the system, banks aren’t lending accordingly, but, as mentioned, are keeping large amounts of excess reserves, receiving a rate of 0.25% from the Fed. Even though it looks like other assets would be more profitable, the prospects are not good enough to persuade banks to increase lending.

There is still bad news expected from the housing sector in terms of falling prices and more foreclosures. So banks must be especially cautious not to be caught with too many bad real estate loans. With unemployment remaining high, confidence of and about consumers is not strong.

President Barack Obama’s administration seems to have the following strategy for dealing with the economy:

1. Try to get Congress to pass more “stimulus” bills.
2. Blame the Bush Administration for everything that’s gone wrong or may go wrong. Oh, it’s all so much worse than we thought, so we can’t be held accountable for not fixing Bush’s mistakes.
3. Don’t worry about unemployment, just tell the people you feel their pain, the stimulus is working, and things will get better.

If we put aside the suspicion that the Fed and the Administration are deliberately weakening the economy to strengthen government and protect big bankers, it certainly seems that the government and the Fed have painted themselves (and us), economically, into a corner. Based on current policies, there seems to be no good or quick way out.

However, several things could be done to greatly improve the situation fairly quickly:

1. Change the rhetoric and practice from being hostile to business to being friendly, starting with extension of the Bush tax cuts. This would increase revenues to the government.
2. Clear up uncertainties about regulations and coming changes.
3. Require more disclosure from the Fed about their activities and plans.
4. Disavow any new carbon or energy tax.
5. Repeal or scale back Obamacare and associated taxes.
6. Take responsibility and stop blaming Bush.

If these things, or even most of them, were done, we would see some real growth. Businesses and banks would have a better idea of what to expect from government and the Fed. Lending and business expansion and hiring would be encouraged. Unemployment would soon be substantially reduced.

The prevailing public attitude of fear and hostility toward government needs to be seriously addressed, and not by more taxes, regulations, and obnoxiously ignoring the will of the people. It’s not rocket science.


[1] Neil Irwin, “Fed to Pump $1.2 Trillion Into Markets,” 03/19/2009, WashingtonPost.com.


[2] Burton Frierson, “Update 2 – US Fed’s balance sheet shrinks in latest week,” 07/29/2010, Reuters.

[3] Desmond Lachman, “Dipping and Deflating.” 07/29/2010, The American.


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