Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Link of the Week: Media Giving Torture a Pass

This article says it all and doesn't need much more to say from me.  I just wanted to highlight this because I was angry with this "but what would Jack Bauer do in this situation?" horsecrap in the media back when the subject of torture was taking front stage last decade, and I'm just as angry about it now.  To use a fictional show and extreme examples of worst-case terror threats as a justification to give the authorities a free pass to torture people for information strikes me as an extraordinarily dangerous and misleading narrative to sell the public on.  Here's my take: if there actually is a situation that comes about with an extremely high risk and high urgency threat, the people holding the captive with the supposed information have to decide whether the threat warrants such an extreme action, and if they truly think it does they act as their conscience dictates and accept the consequences for doing so!  Such situations are special case by their very nature; let the judicial system weigh the case and the extraordinary circumstances accordingly in the sentence they carry out.  All the evidence seems to point that torture is not helpful in most cases anyway in getting reliable information, but assuming there was a time where it is the only way to save many lives, I would accept prison time as a likely consequence and so should the authorities.  Anyway, here's the article:

U.S. TV Provides Ample Platform for American Torturers, But None to Their Victims

By Glenn Greenwald

"I’ve written previously about the transformative experience of meeting and hearing directly from the victims of the abuses by your own government. That human interaction converts an injustice from an abstraction into a deeply felt rage and disgust. That’s precisely why the U.S. media doesn’t air those stories directly from the victims themselves: because it would make it impossible to maintain the pleasing fairy tales about “who we really are.”

When I was in Canada in October, I met Maher Arar (pictured above) for the second time, went to his home, had breakfast with his wife (also pictured above) and two children. In 2002, Maher, a Canadian citizen of Syrian descent who worked as an engineer, was traveling back home to Ottawa when he was abducted by the U.S. Government at JFK Airport, held incommunicado and interrogated for weeks, then “rendered” to Syria where the U.S. arranged to have him brutally tortured by Assad’s regime. He was kept in a coffin-like cell for 10 months and savagely tortured until even his Syrian captors were convinced that he was completely innocent. He was then unceremoniously released back to his life in Canada as though nothing had happened.

When he sued the U.S. government, subservient U.S. courts refused even to hear his case, accepting the Obama DOJ’s claim that it was too secret to safely adjudicate.

There are hundreds if not thousands of Maher Arars the U.S. media could easily and powerfully interview. McClatchy this week detailed the story of Khalid al Masri, a German citizen whom the U.S. Government abducted in Macedonia, tortured, and then dumped on a road when they decided he wasn’t guilty of anything (US courts also refused to hear his case on secrecy grounds). The detainees held without charges, tortured, and then unceremoniously released from Guantanamo and Bagram are rarely if ever heard from on U.S. television, even when the U.S. Government is forced to admit that they were guilty of nothing."

Read the rest of the article here.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

False Narratives on Population and Resource Depletion

"Choosing to have a child you can't take care of is like farting in an elevator. Sure you got it out, but now it's everyone else's problem."  -Richard Jeni

This article I came across depresses me in so many ways.  It's a clear example of the kind of mindset that's leading all of us into a world of hurt.  I'm not really sure if this author truly believes his own BS or if this is more of an intentional propaganda piece to reinforce the idea that the status quo is stable (I suspect more of the latter given the tone and status-quo friendly nature of the piece), but either way it's a perfect example of the uselessness of the mainstream media in general, and CNBC in particular:

“We just learned that the U.S. birthrate fell for the sixth straight year in 2013 to an all-time low.
Pardon me for sounding a bit alarmist, but this is really bad news for our economy, our society, and all of civilization.
Let's start with the economy. I know a lot of us have been brainwashed into thinking that our natural and manufactured resources are shrinking. We're often told that we have a choice of either radically reducing our consumption or our population or we'll eventually run out of water, energy, and food.
Excuse me, but this is hogwash.
That's because we heard the same thing in 1714, or 1814, and probably the year 10,000 B.C.  And they were wrong then too.”

Actually in many cases, they weren’t wrong.  Does he not realize how many civilizations, some of them rather complex, have collapsed at least in part because of lack of resources or resource depletion?  Try looking into Jared Diamond's book "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed" for starters.  If our energy supplies are not in danger of eventual depletion, perhaps the author could explain why we are drilling in more expensive and difficult oil formations (shale, tar sands, and deep-water), or mining lower quality (and ultimately dirtier) coal for power generation?  These companies don't do these things on a whim or for the mere challenge of it, they do it because there are less of the easy or high quality resources available.

The idiocy continues:
“What's the biggest reason that the doomsayers about the end of the world's resources have always been wrong on?
The answer is that some members of those growing populations decided not to give up and came up with new ideas, technologies and resources to replace and improve living conditions. I'm talking about the people who have come up with the technologies to desalinate water, terrace mountainsides, drain swamps and fight disease with vaccinations and sewage treatment. I'm talking about the people who came up with kerosene to replace whale blubber, petroleum to replace kerosene, natural gas to replace petroleum, and so on and so on.”

Is that desalinization ‘miracle’ helping out the California farmers being devastated by drought?  For that matter, name one example of a usable energy source on the horizon that is not only as transportable and energy dense as oil, but is able to meet just half of our total energy needs?  You can’t because it doesn’t exist.  And those people who harp on about a ‘hydrogen economy’ solving our power needs seem blissfully unaware that on our planet hydrogen is ultimately a form of energy storage, and that still needs to be created from other forms of energy.  I like solar energy, but it cannot fulfill all our energy needs by a long-shot.  Even the most promising technologies, such as nuclear energy using thorium, have inherent limitations.  Technology cannot create energy, it can only help harness existing forms of energy or transform said energy to other forms of energy.  Technology is great in that it can help us better utilize what we HAVE, but it can’t create energy out of nothing.  And in case the author is unaware, as big as it is, the Earth is a finite system with ultimately finite resources.  The only way to get to truly have growth that lasts centuries is to have most of that growth occur beyond the boundaries of our planet, and even that has a multitude of extraordinary challenges, most of which we aren't ready for yet (partly because of politics and partly because some advances simply take time to mature).  We should be stretching beyond the boundaries of our planet, but not because of unthinking adherence to the 'growth is good' mantra.

And notice how the author equates having less children as ‘giving up’ on coming up with new ideas, technologies, and ways to harness resources?  This ‘less children bad, more children good’ kind of black and white thinking totally ignores the other social and economic factors that play into technological progress and breakthroughs.  What's better for technological progress... a planet with maybe 5 billion people where half of them are intelligent and/or motivated enough to advance technological progress, or a planet of 15 billion people with only 5% of said 'thinkers and doers' and the remaining 95% of them having the intellectual and social graces of Clevon from Idiocracy?

He goes on to say:
“All of the above came courtesy of humans. Reduce their number, and you also reduce your chances for the great innovations that make life better for the humans already on the planet and make life more comfortable and possible for billions more to join us.
In short, people are our greatest resource. Economic growth cannot occur without human growth. And this is not a problem that can simply be solved by increasing immigration.”

Aha, so here we get to the real issue… economic growth requires human (population) growth.  The author is correct here more or less, but I bet he never asks himself WHY we need economic growth or even if it’s always a good thing.  The real reason that economic growth is so important to us is that our current debt-based monetary system requires constant and exponential growth in order to stay stable.  So in essence he is saying we need population growth to sustain economic growth, which is a requirement only because of the particular debt-based monetary system we use.  The problem is we operate in a finite environment, and while technological cleverness can make us more efficient or introduce substitutes for certain requirements, eventually you will run out of something.  Silly notion here, but why can’t we simply change our monetary and economic system to suit the reality of our situation (i.e. that our world is ultimately finite and sometimes stability or even reduction in size of our economies might be called for)?  I would rather have more resources spread amongst a smaller population than less resources to distribute amongst a huge population.  But if the author thinks that's still a good thing, I invite him to replace his steak, chicken, or pork with bugs, because that might be what's for dinner if we pursue growth at all costs.

The author continues:
“That's because there's a societal price we're paying in this country for having fewer children later in life. Just about every parent I know will tell you that the moment their first child was born was the moment they truly accepted the responsibility of their own adulthood to the fullest. That's a moment I'm willing to delay for teenagers — we generally don't want them becoming parents that young. But when we start seeing more 25- to 45-year-olds who clearly haven't yet grown up yet, I get concerned.”

Horse***t!  Having a child does NOT universally instill greater sense of maturity or responsibility.   In SOME people like myself it may reinforce an existing sense of responsibility, but there are a hell of a lot of people who don’t do anything differently and act like the same irresponsible jackasses they always were.  And besides, there are many paths to maturity and responsibility besides raising a child.  I would argue that starting and running a business could be just as or more conducive to promoting responsibility and maturity.  And even should we accept the author’s assertion as a hard fact, then a couple having just one child is enough.  Two or three or more children wouldn’t make an appreciable difference, would it?

And that's not all. Our growth as a society is stunted when fewer children are around to induce maturity and better behavior in the rest of us — even if we're not parents. Don't we all endeavor to behave a bit better and safer in front of kids? Fewer children means more aimless and purposeless young adults, more violence, and more war. The excellent novel-turned-feature film "Children of Men" featured a chilling portrayal of a world with no birth rate and how it would descend into a nuclear holocaust.”
Again more black-and-white thinking, this time with a large helping of slippery-slope thinking and a garnish of fear.  If less children leads to more violence and more war, how do you explain Japan or South Korea or Singapore?  Their birthrates have become rather low, and I don’t see those societies breaking out in widespread violence and criminality, do you?  Yet much of the Middle East and central Africa, where there are high birth rates in excess of the world average of 2.5 children per woman, are increasingly violent and war-torn regions.  Yes there are other factors at work, but that is my whole point that the author's assertion is extraordinarily weak in the face of other trends and social factors.  The author is simply talking out of his ass here.  Especially considering his only ‘evidence’ comes from citing a fictional story portraying an extreme example of a near-zero birthrate.  

Later in the article the author goes off on family-friendly policies and social welfare and all that.  He has valid points on some of those, but those are tangents that lead off into the political weeds.  My primary criticism is the implicit assumption that growth is always good and it should be our top priority.

Before the accusation is leveled at me, I am not a proponent of population control by any stretch.  I want people to have the freedom to make their own informed decisions, and I think that with a better informed population, most people will voluntarily make family choices that lead to the global population stabilizing.  I'm also not anti-kid and not one of those handful of douchebags that looks down on the couples they call 'breeders'.  I have two children myself and I do feel richer having them in my life.  But my wife and I have these children because we can afford to raise them, and we also choose to stop at 2 kids because that's the number we're comfortable with financially and in regards to the larger issue of population growth (in terms of being under the population replacement fertility rate of ~2.1 children per woman in the developed world).  If a couple doesn't want kids for whatever reason, I respect their choice and I think others should too.  If a couple wants 3, 4, or more children AND it is within their means and their local environment to support that, more power to them as well.  But to encourage people to have more children simply because the monetary and economic system we are using needs that to stay stable?  That is irresponsible on an epic level.

The author has a right to publish his opinion, and even though I heartily disagree with his article, I would not advocate censoring him.  Even when it appears to be more of a propaganda piece meant to keep people ignorant.  But I sure as hell will exercise my right to expose this article for the irresponsible and factually-deficient piece of propaganda BS that it is.

On a final note, I think cartoonist Berke Breathed of Bloom County, Outland, and Opus fame says it best here:

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Link of the Week: Podcast featuring David Collum

In the theme of my ‘Year of Chaos’ series of posts, this week’s link is a Peak Prosperity podcast featuring David Collum.  He’s actually a scientist (in the field of chemistry if I remember right) rather than a professional economist or pundit or political wonk, but in my opinion I think that works in his favor.  He has a discerning eye for spotting patterns and the ‘big picture’, as well as having a knack for cutting through the BS in an entertaining way.  

An excerpt below from peakprosperity.com:

“To me, the global economic theme is existential risk. That's a phrase I use repeatedly throughout my Year In Review. Things now seem to be coming to a head.

A metaphor that I came up with, that I just love because I know the game well, is that we're engaged in a global game of Tetris. For those unfamiliar with the game: you place these pieces methodically, and then the game starts accelerating. You start placing pieces faster and faster, until you reach some point where you simply can no longer successfully place the pieces in time.

And it feels like the authorities, the monetary authorities, the geo political authorities -- all of those people who are really calling the shots around the globe --are playing that game, and it's accelerating now.

The end of the game is called 'topping out'. And I’m wondering when that topping out is going to occur.”

The fact he also seems to sense a pivotal year ahead makes me feel both encouraged (because it helps confirm I’m not totally nuts) and concerned (because if we’re right it means the world is going to go apesh*t).  And BTW, props to him for the Tetris reference, the time-sink of choice for many people my age back in the first days of the GameBoy....
You can find the podcast at the link here or you can copy and paste the link below.


Friday, December 19, 2014

2015 as a 'Year of Chaos', Part 1: The Trends That Are the Prelude to a Wild Year

Disorder is inherent in stability. Civilized man doesn't understand stability. He's confused it with rigidity. Our political and economic and social leaders drool about stability constantly. It's their favorite word, next to 'power.'
'Gotta stabilize the political situation in Southeast Asia, gotta stabilize oil production and consumption, gotta stabilize student opposition to the government' and so forth.
Stabilization to them means order, uniformity, control. And that's a half-witted and potentially genocidal misconception. No matter how thoroughly they control a system, disorder invariably leaks into it. Then the managers panic, rush to plug the leak and endeavor to tighten the controls. Therefore, totalitarianism grows in viciousness and scope. And the blind pity is, rigidity isn't the same as stability at all.
True stability results when presumed order and presumed disorder are balanced. A truly stable system expects the unexpected, is prepared to be disrupted, waits to be transformed.”  ― Tom Robbins

"Two dangers constantly threaten the world: order and disorder."  - Paul Valery

As much as part of me loathes to do so, I am going to make a general prediction for what we will likely see next year.  The quick summary of it goes something like this: 2015 will be a historical turning point that dwarfs the events of 2008-2009 or the late 1960's,  and just possibly on the same level as the events in 1914.

The two quotes above do a fair job of describing my reasoning for this expectation.  Simply put, the architects and the ‘managers’ of the economic and political systems that dominate the world have been working so hard at maintaining the status quo and inhibiting change that disorder is not only expected, but the severity of the disorder will be proportional to the magnitude of previous and current efforts made to prevent it.  I don’t expect every country in the world will experience the effects equally, but I do expect that taken as a whole it will make the ‘Arab Spring’ of several years ago look like a college keg party.  I am not saying that I WANT this level of highly disruptive change, I am only saying that it is what I EXPECT to happen.  It would be nice if changes could be introduced or occur on a more gradual basis so people and societies have more time to adjust, but the intense efforts made by the status quo to prevent any meaningful change have pretty much baked serious unrest and major disruption in to the cake.  Mass civil unrest, collapsing economies, multiple regional wars, revolutions.... these are the kinds of things we can expect in the years to come, and from the warning signs I see I expect next year will be when these things begin to rear their ugly heads.  Some such events may not reach their ultimate climax until some years later, but I believe that next year will be recognized as the start of this era of disruption.

A list of some of the warning signs we are seeing, in no particular order:

The funny thing is that these trends are hardly new and they're not exceptionally grave or apocalyptic in scope.  We've experienced these kinds of things many times before, and while they've been disruptive, most societies largely worked their way through them.  In the present day, however, we are in a different situation.  The true danger today lies not in these trends, but rather in that the economic, political, and social systems in much of the world (particularly the Western world) are now too fragile to handle any significant stress.  Much of the world has simply borrowed too much money, exposed themselves to too much financial risk, built too much dependency in their citizens, and depended way too much on top-down (i.e. political) solutions to their problems.  In an earlier era where our economic, political, and social systems were more resilient, these kinds of trends would be painful and problematic but ultimately the systems would bounce back.  Now, however, we have introduced so much fragility and dependency in our lives and societies that these trends pose a systemic risk, not just a period of pain.  And that fragility will shape our responses to the events to come, and those responses, whether they are economic, social, political, or military in nature, will be what makes the next year exceptionally chaotic.  Of course, it doesn’t help that we’re dealing with these troubling trends all at once rather than one or two or three at a time.  The late 1960's were way before my time, but my understanding of the trends, events, and social mood at that time is that everything seemed to be happening or going crazy all at once, quite similar to my expectations for next year and the years to follow.  Of course as flawed as some aspects of society were then, it was more resilient than what we have today.  So the people that think we'll get by this time with some small changes and adjustments like we did then are going to be in for a rude awakening.

Already we've seen heavy-handed and extreme responses made to inhibit change and maintain the status quo, with said responses ultimately increasing the fragility in our social and economic systems and in some cases feeding the very disorder it's meant to quell. We see it in the epic levels of money-printing/money-creation going on in the US, Japan, China, and elsewhere.... done in large part to prop up the financial status quo and in some cases to enrich powerful banking interests.  We see it in the increased aggressive nature in foreign policy and the increase in military actions and threats across the world (the US being a huge part of it but hardly the only party to blame).  We see it in the militarization of the police in America and the ballooning of surveillance targeting ALL US citizens, not just the so-called 'terrorists'.  And we see it in political systems and mainstream media outlets that focus public attention on issues that aim to divide us on racial, class, religious, and generational lines so we don't notice the thievery and corruption taking place at the highest levels.  Expect the responses from the status quo to only escalate from here.

Now of these trends, the most prominent of them (in terms of potential impact) I believe are the oil price collapse, the accelerating deterioration (and expanded money-printing) in Japan’s economy, and the growth in civil unrest and disorder.  All these trends are important, but I expect these will be the ones that hit us hardest next year.  Stay tuned for Part 2 of this topic next week, where I discuss the types of events and responses stemming from these trends that I see as likely to emerge and shake things up.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Link of the Week

As much as I try to not be judgmental of others’ quirks, hobbies, or fetishes, I find the whole idea of ‘Furries’ to be funny as hell.  And for those who say “chemical attacks are no laughing matter”…. sorry but you’re wrong, because this is bloody hilarious.  The only thing that would make this better is if the president had been forced to reference this incident in some kind of anti-terrorism statement.  What's the matter Obama?  Willing to push for war with Syria over a staged chemical attack they weren't responsible for, but won't lift a finger to help some law-abiding, if freaky, citizens in your own home town?  For shame....

In a particularly vicious alleged chemical attack, thousands of MidWest FurFest "Furries" - the term for people who dress up in expensive animal costumes and role-play (sometimes sexually) as anthropomorphic critters - were evacuated when chlorine gas was released in the Chicago Hyatt hotel in which they were nesting. As AP reports, authorities are investigating the release of a gas that sent 19 "people dressed like dogs and foxes," as a criminal matter - as someone apparently intentionally left chlorine powder in a ninth-floor hotel stairway, causing the gas to spread. Does give one paws for thought though, eh?”

Read the rest of the article at the link here.

Well well... might we have a suspect?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

More on “The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity” – Part IV: The ‘Bandits’

“In a closed society where everybody's guilty, the only crime is getting caught. In a world of thieves, the only final sin is stupidity.”  - Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

It’s that time again to talk more about “The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity”.  Having already discussed the ‘Intelligent’ and the ‘Stupid’ groups at length, let’s dig down and discuss the ‘Bandit’ group and the people that fit in that category.

In the context of these Laws of Human Stupidity, the definition of a Bandit is a person who makes a gain while causing a loss to another.  Though I prefer the description found in Wikipedia, that Bandits are people who pursue their own self-interest even when doing so poses a net detriment to societal welfare.  Yet as I described in previous posts, there is variability in this group and differences in the proportion of how much gain one receives compared to the loss they incur on others.  The ‘Intelligent’ Bandits tend to receive more of a gain than the losses they incur on others, whereas the ‘Stupid’ Bandits tend to receive a gain significantly less than the loss or damage they incur on others.  

Intelligent Bandits

Good examples of an Intelligent Bandit would be the merchant or salesman who overcharges his/her customers through various schemes (advertising a product as something better than it really is for example), or a toy manufacturer who makes additional profit by quietly substituting various components in their product with substandard parts.  In both cases the consumer incurs small, subtle losses while the Bandits tend to receive more direct financial gains for themselves.  Perhaps an even better example of an Intelligent Bandit would be some of the more shrewd politicians out there.  The kind that talks big but tends to do relatively little in office (thus causing less damage), yet manages to enrich themselves through trading stocks on insider knowledge, capitalizing on social and business connections made in office, and influencing legislation in ways that turn a profit for them.  Their ‘cost’ to others is in the form of salary and benefits and in some cases bits of legislation that incurs a small net loss to the country or the people, but they manage to leverage that into gains far more substantial than said salary, benefits, or questionable minor legislation.  Heck one can argue (I certainly will) that many voters ‘vote’ like Intelligent Bandits, voting in politicians promising to direct tax money to whatever government program or industry that personally benefits them, even though it has a small negative impact to the rest of the taxpayers and the country as a whole.  It’s important to note, however, that such voting behavior shifts definitively into the Stupid Bandit column once the effects depart from the modest siphoning of taxpayer money, and instead introduce or promote major instability or fragility into the system.  

Some of those who still buy in to the whole left vs. right, Democrat vs. Republican paradigm may heavily disagree, but I think one of the better, more recent examples of an Intelligent Bandit politician would be Sarah Palin.  She didn't really have much impact as governor one way or the other and her bid as Vice President didn't come to fruition (hence her direct 'take' from the taxpayer and society was small), but she's managed to leverage a short political career into lucrative book deals (I saw her book on sale in a bookstore in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia of all places), commentator gigs on cable news, and speaking engagements.  Say whatever you like about any more fundamentalist Christian beliefs she may have and/or panders to, but the way she's managed to enrich herself to a greater proportion than the amount she took as governor of Alaska and Mayor of Wasilla demonstrates an Intelligent Bandit leaning.

Stupid Bandits

A Stupid Bandit might be typically described as the garden-variety thief, such as the kind of person who smashes a $250 car window to snatch a $150 car stereo that he’ll sell for $35.  Unfortunately it’s not the typical burglar or thief that creates the most damage to society, even though they usually get the most attention from police and the media.  The truly dangerous Stupid Bandits include such people as corrupt bankers, companies, bureaucrats, and politicians.  Think of the banks who made billions facilitating unethical & risky real estate deals and bundling them up into mortgage-backed securities to sell to investors as AAA safe investments, eventually creating a crisis that has cost into the TRILLIONS in damage to the economy and direct costs to taxpayers for bailouts.  Or the groups of corporations that have essentially formed cartels (most often in collusion with the politicians to whom they give campaign donations) in critical industries like health care, aerospace & defense, banking, and energy sectors, enriching themselves at great expense to the consumer, the taxpayer, and the free market.  Or the shills and stakeholders in the military-industrial complex working the political process to encourage unnecessary and expensive military intervention around the world so billions of taxpayer money will be directed towards military spending (and in the process also throwing away the lives of thousands of Americans and even greater numbers of foreign noncombatants).  Or the politicians on the more sociopathic end of the spectrum, who not only enrich themselves through their office but also bankrupt the country and destroy personal freedoms of ALL their constituents merely to amass more power and wealth for themselves.  And lastly, the people who donate to and vote for the aforementioned sociopaths because of campaign promises to keep the government money rolling in to benefit themselves, whether they get it in the form of direct government assistance, special tax breaks, or government favoritism to certain companies or industries or unions.  All of these people and entities are akin to locusts…. devouring so much in their greed and unbalanced self-interest that they destroy the very environment they depend on.

I'm hard-pressed to find the best recent example of a Stupid Bandit politician in the US, since there are so many to choose from.  But given the events of the past few days, I'd say said example includes every douchebag who voted yes to approve the Cromnibus bill that will put the taxpayers potentially (though I'd say almost definitely) on the hook for over $300 TRILLION in derivatives bets held by the big financial institutions.  I say to these people enjoy your 30 pieces of silver while you can, because whatever compensation you received will be absolutely dwarfed by the scale of damage done when the big financial institutions decide to take even more risks which will lead to this derivative bomb being even more destructive than if it should blow up now.  It is stunts like this that lead to violent revolutions and civil unrest.

The Trend Towards Banditry

It would be simple to think that a proportional increase of the Stupid group would be contributing to America’s decline, but it’s my opinion that the increase in Bandit-like behaviors and the growing acceptance of these behaviors is far more to blame (I also think Helpless behaviors are also heavily contributing, but that’s a topic for a later post).  And to be honest, it’s not really a surprise to see the Bandit group growing in number.  After all, consider the examples from big business and government that we are given:

- Unethical corporate bankers make billions in crooked deals in the real estate market last decade which led to an epic bust and economic crisis, yet are fined a small proportion of the profits they made on said dealing and NONE of the big fish responsible went to jail (see Matt Taibi's piece in Rolling Stone for more).
- The extremely politically well-connected former NJ Governor Jon Corzine led his company MF Global in an epic campaign of speculative trades and misuse of segregated customer funds, which led to the bankruptcy of the company and customers losing millions of dollars (the last of whom finally got paid back only this year).  No jail time for him or anyone at the company, and not even a bloody FINE for Corzine.  Hopefully the civil lawsuits against him gain traction, but given how much responsibility he's been able to avoid thus far, I wouldn't bet money on the lawsuits winning.
- Certain police & sheriff’s departments as well as the federal government routinely engage in the form of legalized theft innocently referred to as ‘civil forfeiture’, where they can confiscate money and assets on the mere suspicion (no proof needed) that said money or assets are involved in a crime. Said departments most often deliberately target people that don’t have the resources, time, or ability to mount a legal defense (immigrants, out-of-towners, people on the fringes of the economy, etc.).  A percentage of said confiscated funds go the police department in question, creating a perverse incentive to engage in the practice.
- Elected officials in Congress until very recently were legally allowed to indulge in insider trading, a practice which would land the rest of us in jail, and many were getting extremely wealthy from it.  And while it’s technically against the rules now, imagine the total lack of surprise when Congress AND the ‘transparency president’ Obama quietly undid much of it, making the risks of elected officials getting caught much lower.
- Huge corporations give bribes… er, campaign money…. to politicians to influence the political process and regulatory agencies so they can form de-facto cartels, reduce competition, and cripple the free market to benefit themselves.

So what are people inclined to do when they see people in positions of power and/or authority getting away with Bandit behaviors?  Well most people tend to be followers rather than either leaders or independent spirits, so most people will tend to follow the example they're given.  Is it right?  No…. in the long term it's not even smart, as any society can only support so many Bandits and an overabundance of them will lead to that society's decline.  But the growing acceptance of it means more people will take the easy road regardless.  When the system one operates in is corrupt, it is only natural that this influences the behavior of those in that system.  We see this in spades in the American political system.... surely at least some of the politicians were not so jaded and corrupt when they got elected or appointed, but the time spent in that system tends to compromise their ethics and values for the sake of 'going along to get along'.  American society is seeing that to a more subtle extent, and while it is not as obvious it is still no less pervasive.  So I challenge everybody to examine the actions and decisions you make as well as that of those around you.... many of us are Bandits, and some even Stupid Bandits like our Congress, and not even aware of it.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Link of the Week

“There are stories — legends, really — of the “steady job.” Old-timers gather graduates around the flickering light of a computer monitor and tell stories of how the company used to be, back when a job was for life, not just for the business cycle. … The graduates snicker. A steady job! They’ve never heard of such a thing.”  ― Max Barry, Company

While this Link of the Week is generally about the potential perils of a prolonged collapse in oil prices, what I found valuable was the author’s personal anecdote of getting caught in the shake-out of the oil industry in the 80’s.  While I’m not 100% certain this collapse in oil prices will be prolonged enough to create this kind of disruption, I DO expect that we will have some kind of crisis in the next few years that will create this level of economic disruption in many peoples’ lives.  The trigger event could be almost anything, but ultimately it’s not that important ‘what’ causes it, only that the fragility and instability of our financial systems and economic infrastructure makes a significant disruption inevitable.  Work to increase your resilience and self-sufficiency so you don’t have to be one of the unfortunates caught unprepared without savings and a backup plan. 

"In a casual conversion with family the door was opened to me as to move to Texas and work for my Uncle who owned a business primarily focused on the oil business. i.e., welders, riggers, etc. The promises of a real change and all it entailed finally moved me past the point of inertia to finally saying, “Screw it, Why not.” And I made the arrangement to leave just weeks later. (the operative word there is “weeks.” Keep that in mind)
When I arrived it appeared to be everything they expressed it to be. However, within a few weeks of my arriving you could sense a shift in the air. The phones at the office went from ringing almost on cue to near dead silence.
Within about 8 weeks of my arrival my Uncle’s business went from all the appearances of wealthy oil business owner to a near solo operation on the brink of bankruptcy daily.

So bad did it get, so fast, that I was asked to find employment elsewhere if I was to stay. They themselves along with everyone else in the “oil business” at that time were in the same straits. And it wasn’t getting better. As a matter of fact, is was growing exponentially worse for many of them by the day, let alone week.

In an effort to find work for the first time in my life I stood outside an oil refinery with hundreds (yes hundreds) of other people in the same straights I was, filling out employment applications about every 1/2 hour as they would call looking for a person to fill a certain position.

Over a loudspeaker you would hear: “Accepting now for 3 welding positions” and anyone who ever seen a welder let alone worked with one would rush to the office trailer and fill out an application listing anything remotely to do with a welder hoping (and some praying) it would be enough to get to the next step – a 10 minute interview for a yay – nay vote.

No applications were reused. Need a welder – fill out an app. Need a janitor – fill out another. Rinse repeat every single time – even for the same position if it came up more than once during the day.

There were husband and wife welding teams, same for electricians, cooks, you name, for everyone suddenly was unemployed and they would take anything. I did this for a week – 8 hours a day, it was one of the most demoralizing times in my life. And just in-case one forgot – less than just 90 days prior, it seemed like Dallas was the new OZ. Now 90 days later I was feeling like I was a pariah both to myself as well as my relatives.
Finally, within less than 4 months since arriving I was called into a meeting with my Aunt and Uncle and was informed I needed to move out and find my own place to live. (they had a beautiful huge ranch styled home where they gave me for all intents and purposes my own apt.) The reason why I had to leave? They were going to lose it. They were just about to lose their business, and it wasn’t long for the house would be next. There was no way they were going to able to keep themselves afloat if things kept up the way it was going and this was my only “heads up” on just how bad things had turned. I was stunned."

Read the rest of the article at markstcyr.com here.


Friday, December 5, 2014

“The Empire Proactively Strategizes Back”: The Life of a Corporate Peon in the Empire

For those that are new here, I currently work for a large corporation on a government contract, as I did in my prior jobs going back to 2005.  In my final months here before I strike out on my own next summer, I've tended to do a lot of random pondering and look a little more closely at the quiet desperation that exists in some of my coworkers.  One such thought took an odd turn to a comparison with Star Wars.  As US foreign policy continues to get more aggressive and more revelations come out about the terrible things being done here and abroad by the US government, I can’t help but think, “Is this what the office peons working for the Empire in Star Wars felt like?”.  Granted we're not blowing up entire planets, but our government's complete lack of scruples when it comes to its near-total indifference to civilian collateral damage, its treatment of its own citizens as tools to be monitored and controlled, and its destabilization of foreign nations for short-sighted policy objectives is still pretty malevolent, even if on a lesser scale.

Would the underlings in that fictional universe, like myself and some of my coworkers, question one’s place in working (even indirectly) for an organization whose primary motivation is constant growth and the acquisition of power by any means?  For that matter, would they experience the same combination of mind-numbing tedium, BS bureaucracy, and idiotic and/or selfishly scheming management?  Wouldn’t most of them simply be regular people like us trying to get by in the day-to-day office grind?  

Before one dismisses this as absurd, just think about all the types of jobs and skills required to support a massively powerful government like the Empire.  As Randal from the movie Clerks points out, the Empire’s entire workforce can’t all be storm troopers…

Taking Randal’s argument and applying it to the entire Imperial government, one would expect the number of bureaucrats, support personnel, and other civilian workers would be massive in order to support the Empire’s government and war machine.  To paraphrase Randal, what would a storm trooper know about server administration, setting up a LAN, or configuring firewalls?  So I figure there would have to be office drones much like us.  Not evil people who believe in galactic domination, but simply regular people who just want a decent job and paycheck.  People that are too busy and distracted by the bureaucracy and the daily grind to sit up and object to the Empire’s enslavement… er, ‘extraordinary rendition’… of the Wookies, or the complete destruction of Alderaan (“but wait, the Empire said Alderaan was behind 9/11 so it’s ok, right?…”).  Millions, if not billions, of regular people just trying to hold down a job, support their families, and make it through life.  Heck, Luke himself pretty much echoed that sentiment to Obi Wan Kenobi early in Episode IV: "I can't get involved! I've got work to do! It's not that I like the Empire. I hate it! But there's nothing I can do about it right now."

How many of us feel that way about the NSA domestic spying revelations, or the unreasonable level of civilian casualties due to our drone programs, or the arming of any rebel group in Syria that can say the word “moderate”, or big banks and big government working together in committing & covering up crimes that would get any one of us little people life sentences?  How many feel that sense of hopelessness in their ability to change anything, and in the end just keep their mouth shut and cross their fingers hoping they won’t be the next in line to be screwed.  In the Empire, the peons desperately toe the line hoping to get through life without falling on the wrong side of the internal power struggles or getting force-choked by Darth Vader.  In the USA, the peons desperately toe the line hoping to get through life without losing their job or retirement funds & 401k’s or ending up a target of the government bureaucracy through no fault of their own.  Either way, the decision to remain a peon is up to you.  Find your way to independence and take control of your life, or end up like this guy...

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Link of the Week

This Link of the Week is an interview with one Dmitry Orlov, a Russian-American engineer and blogger who’s probably most known for his comparisons of the situation the USSR was in shortly before and after its collapse and the situation that America faces now and (in his view) is likely to see in its own near future.  I have my own thoughts and opinions when it comes to his analysis and conclusions on that, but I’ll save those for later and simply say that his point of view is worth reading and/or listening to (you can find that comparison “Closing the Collapse Gap” here).  At any rate, this podcast interview is excellent and offers a perspective into the Russia-Ukraine situation that isn't really touched in the American mainstream media.  My take is that while Dmitry has some slight bias towards Russia (understandable given his background), it’s not nearly as bad or blatant as the pro-West bias seen in what passes for American news.  I expect somewhere in the middle lies the truth, and in my opinion it's closer to Dmitry Orlov's take than what the US (and European) mainstream media is telling us.