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    • Exchange Rates 101
      In light of the collapse of the Ruble I think it’s worth revisiting what controls exchange rates. Supply and Demand. Yeah, if you know something about the subject you’re probably shaking your head. Supply and Demand doesn’t set prices in many cases in the way that an Economics 101 course tells you. Such texts will [...]
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My Voting Strategy: Rocky Anderson for President

Why do we need a voting strategy?  What does it mean to have a voting strategy?  Doesn’t a voting strategy imply that we are trying to protect ourselves against something?  Is that the right attitude that a citizen should have towards her elected officials?  I’ll get back to this question in a minute.

The other day, Governor Christie announced mandatory gas rationing.  Brooke asked me what did that mean and how did it work as we were driving to Philadelphia.  I explained how the license plate scheme worked and told her about the time in the early 70’s when I was younger than she is now when we did gas rationing on a national basis.  I couldn’t remember why we had to do it.  Was it a Saudi oil embargo?  That was the year Detroit invented locking gas caps to prevent your neighbor from siphoning gas from your tank in the middle of the night.  It was the year that we had extended daylight savings time well into the winter and we trudged to school in the dark and watched the sun come up during second period.

Back then, the so-called experts and scientists told us that there would only be enough oil to maintain our modern lifestyle for another 50 years or so.  We had about 200 years of coal in the ground but it was dirty fuel.  There was a real sense of urgency for a few years to make cars smaller, and resentment from the driving public about having to give up the big American highway boats for tiny Japanese death traps.

Then Ronald Reagan chased the malaise away and suddenly there was an oil glut in the 80s and people forgot.  And the CAFE standards got stuck and the cars got big again until the 2000’s when you could write your Hummer off your taxes as a business expense and fuel efficiency was measured in gallons per mile.

But some things make an impression on young minds and gas rationing made an impression on mine, as did Watergate and the end of the Vietnam War.  I never trusted Ronald Reagan or George Bush Sr.  How could a country forget so quickly?  Or maybe it was just one party.

But 2007-2008 dispelled the notion that the forgetfulness was confined to just one party.  By that time, I had taken my passion for politics to the next level, writing for DailyKos about various and sundry things, including the differences between American and European infrastructure.  I was making trips to Europe on a more frequent basis and noticing how much easier it was to get around without a car.  The trains were fast and plentiful, the urban transit systems state of the art, especially in France.  And even though I resolved to take public transit in any American city I visited, I found it hard.  Americans do not know how hard we have made our own lives.

In Chicago 2007, I got to ask Hillary Clinton a question at her break out session at YearlyKos and my number one question was about public transit and infrastructure.  And she had an answer with multiple paragraphs and sub-headings and funding mechanisms.  And her emphasis was going to be on better broadband.  Last week, I tried to imagine what life would have been like post Sandy if we had had better broadband and how we tend to see our internet connection as a commodity instead of a public utility and a part of our infrastructure.

I’ve tried to reason my way through my voting strategy in the past couple of days and I think I am just burned out from playing this game of strategy.  The last week has shown me how badly this country has suffered under the people who we trust with our safety, infrastructure and future.  While Europe and other developed countries like South Korea learned from the oil embargo of the 70s to reconfigure the way they lived in such a way as to be less dependent on foreign oil, we ignored all that and trapped ourselves in a mid 20th century infrastructure.  It’s no longer modern.  It’s decaying- rapidly.  We may still see the USA in our Chevrolet but the landscape is starting to look like the rural south in 1965 with broken powerlines, poor telecommunication, bad roads and a clear separation between the rich and the poor.  And there doesn’t seem to be a reasonable strategy behind our public utilities investments of the past several years.  In 2009, PSEG spent millions and millions of dollars affixing solar panels to the overhead power line poles.  How much chaos and disruption last week might have been avoided if the power companies had used that money to bury the power lines and concentrate the solar panels on unused public land, like the acres of unused property in my own township that used to be an old Army depot?  Where was the thought and strategy behind the design?

In the last couple of days, I have read the consternation of the left as they see the evangelicals and other right wing followers get behind their Mormon.  It’s as if the left has forgotten all of the studies by Bob Altemeyer and lessons learned from John Dean about the nature of the authoritarian follower.  But it’s even weirder than that because although the right has made it a badge of honor to decouple cause from effect, ignore evidence and discourage reasoned thinking in its followers so that the world looks to them like a violent, chaotic place, I never thought I would see the same sort of behavior rising in the left.  The left indulges in its own form of wishful thinking.  It started five years ago.  It suspended its disbelief and trusted its most dearly held beliefs to the candidate who stubbornly refused to materialize for it until after the election.  They refused to understand his nature even as he ignored them.  They don’t seem to get that he is the agent of the people they blame for the destruction of the past four years.  They have decoupled evidence from reality.  Somehow, it’s all going to work out even when all of the signs say that it will not.  They ignore the pleadings from their natural allies to wake up and fight back.  How are they different from the people in Kansas they are always holding up as examples of voting against their own best interests?

There’s a peculiar strand of selfishness embedded in American culture.  It’s not enough to succeed.  The success must come at the expense of other people.  We love the rascals who exploit us.  And religion is of a harsh Calvinist variety. The work ethic is praised above all else to the point where we don’t feel worthy of decent wages and dignity even if we work until we drop or snap.

The other day, JerseyJeffersonian said something that caught my attention in the comment section of my rant on the gouging of the telecomms in the Sandy impacted area.  I had called ourselves consumers and said how unfair it was that consumers were always being exploited, as if we were crops whose disposable income must be harvested instead of human beings.  (S)He said:

Ah, you said the magic word…”consumer”. I, for one, knew that the Republic was in dire straits when Our Exalted Leaders found the term, “consumer”, to be an adequate substitute for “citizen”. This was a tell, as they say at the poker table. When in the past you were referred to as a “citizen”, you were somebody who had reason to expect that your interests might be respected and addressed by THEM in their capacity as our representatives. But when they began preferentially to denominate us as “consumers”? Well, we had been identified as mere clients of their true masters.

In its own right, this should be seen as indicative that Our Exalted Leaders have decided that civil society is a archaism – “quaint” They might call it – and that servicing the needs of the Free Market is now the imperative for them. In that light, our appeals to our representatives for help and redress have become the moral equivalent of praying to a saint for intercession with the Almighty. Hmm.

This Weltanschauung is quite appropriate in a world where government, far from answering to the “citizenry”, is there to deliver us all up to the tender mercies of the Corporatocracy through the craven assistance of a captured government. Elected officials, legislative or executive, financed in their electoral campaigns by the rich and powerful; civil servants in regulatory agencies cowed or corrupted through the power of the so-called regulated to call the shots with the active connivance of their agencies’ politically-appointed leaders; judges selected by legislators and executives who are made men of the Corporatocracy, and therefore pre-disposed to pick Federalist Society hacks for positions on the bench to avoid the inconvenience of having their cabal brought up short by people who take their oath to defend the Constitution seriously.

I’ve never liked the term corporatacracy because I think it ignores the proper role of the corporation and how it can benefit stakeholders as well as shareholders but otherwise, JerseyJeffersonian’s point is very good.  Americans have been “delivered up” to the forces who exploit.  Those forces do it without any strategy of their own and without much thought to the industries or segments of society that they are destroying. They do it because they can. Inevitably, they are sowing the seeds of their own destruction because amassing great fortunes does not equal innovation or creativity.  It merely impoverishes the very people who need to buy their stuff and makes it harder for people with life saving technology and good ideas to be funded and their work respected.

But it’s worse than that.  I missed the visual impact of the news last week, mostly because I was living part of it, but what I heard on the radio disturbed me greatly.  I heard Mike Bloomberg give a couple of “everything is under control” press conferences and then leave the people of Lower Manhattan to their own devices as he planned a marathon and fretted over how to get the bankers back to Wall Street.  There was something of a Scrooge-esque “they had better die and decrease the surplus population” attitude about his ability to tolerate so much misery in much of his city.  If Jonathan Swift were alive today, he’d feel right at home.

Wasn’t it Mike Bloomberg who sicced the police on Occupy Wall Street?  Wasn’t it Bloomberg who rolled his eyes at those protestors and tolerated them as if they were minor irritants?  And didn’t he and Barack Obama brutally suppress them?

Is the whole of Manhattan one big private space now?  And if that’s true, doesn’t that reduce the “citizen” to a “vassal” who has no rights on private property?  Who owns the city now?  Does ownership give the wealthy and well connected the right to do what they like to suit themselves and the privilege to ignore the plight of other people?

Anyway, I’m rambling.  At the present time, the “very serious people” seem to be bogarting the microphone about denying us the benefits we pre-paid.  There may be a crisis on the horizon regarding Medicare but it’s solvable, just like other countries have solved their health care problems.  The answer is to force cost cutting measures on the providers.  But the providers belong to the class who believe there are no limits to what they should be able to harvest from their consumers and government has abandoned any efforts to see that citizens are protected from injustice and exploitation.

But the government is not some abstract entity.  It’s not the faceless bureaucratic borg that tells us “resistance is useless”.  The government is *us*, or it should be.  It’s trite to go on about the founders and the constitution and all that patriotic crap and I’m not going to indulge in it now.  But at the core of that exercise in self-government is the idea of self-government.  If you’re going to do it, you have to put away the notions of strategy and protecting yourself from your elected officials’ bad ideas and kowtowing to the rich and well connected.

If you want to govern yourself, you need to stop accepting bad government.  It really is that simple.  You need to say, “enough”.  Enough of the excuses and the pandering and the enormous amounts of money wasted in elections.  You need to say, “I believe in certain unalienable rights” and that those rights belong to all citizens.  You need to say that it doesn’t benefit any of us for one group of people to be above the law and unaccountable to the rest of us.  You need to say that it is unjust to throw people into prison without trial indefinitely and to use that threat to suppress political speech.  You need to say that you are not afraid to defy the party structures.  You need to be able to take their power away when they refuse to work for you and the common good.  You need to say that the abandonment of any citizen to their fate after a catastrophic natural disaster is unacceptable.  You need to say that an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere.  We can not permit unaccountability.

Well, at least I can’t.

I don’t have a strategy this year.  All I have is a vote.  And I refuse to give my vote to either party candidate, especially the one that masqueraded as a Democrat four years but who now has been unmasqued as the hand of the 1%.  I am not afraid of what will happen if he loses.  Indeed, we have more to fear for what might happen if he wins.  But I have to put fear aside and vote for my values, not strategy.  So, this year, I am voting for Rocky Anderson.  In less than a year, the Justice party has formed out of the void.  I want justice for all citizens and that is what I am going to work for from now on.  I’ll vote for the people who I think can advance that goal. This year, that means down ticket Democrats. But as new emergent parties start fielding downticket candidates in the future, the Democrats won’t be able to count on my vote.

I’m through with chiding the people who got us into this mess of 8 years of bad government on top of the 8 preceding years.  I’m not really interested in hearing their condescending lectures on climate change in the wake of Sandy even if I agree with them.  It’s a bit like blaming the victims and not terribly helpful when their houses are a wreck and it’s freezing outside. And based on my limited term in public politics I am less likely to pay attention to people who sermonize than those who recognize the problem and have a list of practical, visionary and possible solutions.  Besides, it sounds like Democratic operatives are trying to tap into the zeitgeist of a younger generation who is keenly aware of climate change, using the misery of Hurricane Sandy to nudge them to the polls to vote for Obama.  It’s political opportunism by exploiting the devastating visual imagery and it’s sick.  They offer us no solutions. We knew 40 years ago that this day would come and we failed to prepare.  The time for playing Stratego is over.

One more thing: The Democratic party loyalists who are getting on Matt Stoller’s case because he refuses to compromise his values for the party that betrayed him should be ashamed of themselves.  They’re sacrificing their principles to a party that can’t or won’t deliver and they’re cowards.  There are many areas where Matt and I disagree but I’m glad that we’re finally working for the same goals.  I don’t know what the heck the rest of you are working for.

The Ring of Gyges or Why Study the Classics at UVA or Why anti-Regulators are full of $#*!

About 2500 years ago, the philosopher Plato told a story that even the most dedicated Fox News viewer can understand.  Here it is in text form:

According to the tradition, Gyges was a shepherd in the service of the king of Lydia; there was a great storm, and an earthquake made an opening in the earth at the place where he was feeding his flock. Amazed at the sight, he descended into the opening, where, among other marvels, he beheld a hollow brazen horse, having doors, at which he stooping and looking in saw a dead body of stature, as appeared to him, more than human, and having nothing on but a gold ring; this he took from the finger of the dead and reascended.

Now the shepherds met together, according to custom, that they might send their monthly report about the flocks to the king; into their assembly he came having the ring on his finger, and as he was sitting among them he chanced to turn the collet of the ring inside his hand, when instantly he became invisible to the rest of the company and they began to speak of him as if he were no longer present. He was astonished at this, and again touching the ring he turned the collet outwards and reappeared; he made several trials of the ring, and always with the same result–when he turned the collet inwards he became invisible, when outwards he reappeared.Whereupon he contrived to be chosen one of the messengers who were sent to the court; where as soon as he arrived he seduced the queen, and with her help conspired against the king and slew him, and took the kingdom.

Suppose now that there were two such magic rings, and the just put on one of them and the unjust the other; no man can be imagined to be of such an iron nature that he would stand fast in justice. No man would keep his hands off what was not his own when he could safely take what he liked out of the market, or go into houses and lie with any one at his pleasure, or kill or release from prison whom he would, and in all respects be like a God among men. Then the actions of the just would be as the actions of the unjust; they would both come at last to the same point.

And this we may truly affirm to be a great proof that a man is just, not willingly or because he thinks that justice is any good to him individually, but of necessity, for wherever any one thinks that he can safely be unjust, there he is unjust. For all men believe in their hearts that injustice is far more profitable to the individual than justice, and he who argues as I have been supposing, will say that they are right. If you could imagine any one obtaining this power of becoming invisible, and never doing any wrong or touching what was another’s, he would be thought by the lookers-on to be a most wretched idiot, although they would praise him to one another’s faces, and keep up appearances with one another from a fear that they too might suffer injustice.

The Greeks go on to say that King Croesus, you know, the guy who had more money than God, was a descendent of Gyges.

Now, the more zealous whip kissers out there will ask why even bring up this stupid story.  I mean, it’s not even in the Bible, right?  I have no way of knowing for sure but I suspect that Jesus would have gotten around to it eventually but his career was cut short by the anti-Occupy forces of the Roman Empire.  You know how it goes, some rowdy bunch of activists for social justice and equality who sleep outdoors and make noisy spectacles of themselves in public places and carry out unpermitted marches into Jerusalem are reported to the authorities for disrupting the peace, keeping everyone up at night, and making everyone uncomfortable and, before you know it, someone gets crucified and the whole group scatters.  So many parables, so little time.  Still, Jesus was totally into shepherds so I think he was leading up to it.

The Ring of Gyges story is pretty easy to understand and there is a reason why we call stuff like this “the classics”.  The classics never go out of style and say something that is universally true.  So, let me give you my spin on this and why the Ring of Gyges should be invoked whenever some politician starts using the evils of “regulation” to persuade others to vote for him.

The power that the ring gives the user is the ability to do what he wants without accountability.  Gyges gets away with murder and seduction and theft because no one can see him.  In other words, shit just happens. Mistakes are made.  We don’t know who.  Maybe Gyges did it, maybe someone else did it.  We can’t hold anyone responsible because no one is able to see or use indirect methods of seeing who did what.  That is, there is no way to measure who went in and out of the palace that doesn’t rely on our own eyes.  There’s no safeguarding person watching over the treasury who has the power to see through the ring’s power and detect Gyges robbing the bank.

The moral of the story is if there’s nobody watching, no justice system in place that is able to hold you accountable, and even the most honest and ethical person can become corrupted.  It is human nature to desire things and if there is no way to hold you accountable for taking what you desire, then you might as well take it.  In fact, you’re going to look like a fool if you have access to unlimited power and the things you desire and don’t take full advantage of it and the power you have over others.  If you don’t have access to the ring, well, you’re just a fricking loser.  Keep that in mind when you listen to this act from a This American Life episode called “Crybabies” about Happy Hour on Wall Street. Try to ignore the fact that Adam Davidson is reporting. The piece is actually quite good and illustrates the power of the ring of Gyges perfectly:

Wall Street: Money Never Weeps

Plato couldn’t have written that act any better.  Isn’t your blood boiling?  Don’t you want to hurt those bankers?  I know I do.  I think, who the f^*$ do those assholes think they are?  Oh, yeah, they’re the guys (and they’re almost always guys.  Women rarely get away with behaving badly.) who think they don’t have to answer to anyone.  They can do pretty much whatever the hell they want because no one can do a thing about it.  And they attribute their success to their smartness.  They’re just smarter than you losers who work at a regular job.  But that’s not why they’re so amazingly successful.  No.  They’re so successful because we have removed just about all the regulation from the financial industry.  There’s no oversight.

Oversight-1.a : watchful and responsible care b : regulatory supervision <congressional oversight>

In other words, those bankers are invisible to the justice system.  They can do what they want because no one can see what they’re doing.  No one can see what they’re doing because they keep telling everyone that regulation is bad.  They convince voters that regulation is bad by focusing the voters’ attention on the plight of small business owners.  And it probably is bad for small business owners.  But the effect of deregulation virtually never benefits small business owners.  It almost always benefits the guys at the top with the ring.  And the more money they get with their rings, like Croesus, the more money they can spend on advertising and Fox News and bribing politicians to make sure that no oversight is ever imposed on them.  Remember Elizabeth Warren?  She was supposed to head up a new oversight commission for the consumer financial products.  But the bankers wouldn’t have any oversight so Obama never appointed her.  Therefore, they can do whatever they want to consumers without oversight.

This is the real story of Elizabeth Warren and what she stands for.  She should be using that against Scott Brown.

And here is the most recent manifestation of the power of the ring of Gyges as explained by Matt Taibbi and Eliot Spitzer with regard to the fraud that Goldman-Sachs perpetrated on unsuspecting pension fund managers.  Goldman-Sachs is negotiating its way out of prosecution with the consent of our US attorney generals.  Matt says:

I was trying not to be too obvious in making the point that Spitzer is an example of the kind of guy you would want looking at that Goldman case. Not only did I not want to look like a suck-up, but I wasn’t sure how, “As you know, Eliot, a prosecutor is supposed to be kind of a dick!” would go over. Because I would have meant it in the most complimentary way possible. And it has nothing to do with politics. If you read James Stewart’s Den of Thieves you can see that Rudy Giuliani had some of the same key qualities. A good prosecutor should look down the barrel of a bunch of millionaire lawyers at Davis Polk or White and Case and feel turned on by the challenge of combat. Making a deal with any devil should burn him at the core, keep him awake at night.

But that’s exactly who Eric Holder and Lanny Breuer haven’t been, exactly who Bob Khuzami at the SEC hasn’t been. Instead of being fighters, they’ve been dealmakers and plea-bargainers. They’ve dealt out every major financial scandal, from Abacus to the Muni-bid-rigging cases (they prosecuted a few low-level guys at GE but let the big players at the big banks skate) to the Citigroup fraud settlement that was so bad a judge threw it back at the govenment’s face. In that latter case, amazingly, the govenment is now fighting not for its constituents, but for its right to give out crappy deals to repeat-offender banks without judicial review.

I’m not surprised that the Obama administration’s justice department has been reluctant to use regulation to its benefit and prosecute the criminals with the full force of the law.  It was evident early on (April 2009, to be exact) that this was the approach that Obama would use when it came to Wall Street.  All of the “oversight” would come in the way of ad hoc deals, each company getting a custom made solution that allowed them to skirt the law and get away with a slap on the wrist.  That’s because Obama doesn’t have any principles that he isn’t willing to bargain away on the negotiating table and he always starts his bidding on terms that are heavily favorable to the other side.  It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.

It goes without saying that you don’t have to be of any particular political persuasion to be incensed that the banking industry is getting away with murder and theft without any oversight.  It goes without saying but for some reason, I feel compelled to say it anyway.

Just because people on the left are the most vocal and angry and disappointed and irate about the fact that the financial industry is going unpunished doesn’t mean they are wrong.  Just because a bunch of Occupiers are calling attention to the financial industry and how the fact that it is not accountable screws all of us doesn’t mean that they’re bad people.

What I wonder is why it is that so many people on the right are focusing all of their attention on abortion and gay rights and how unemployed and poor people are unconscionable deadbeats but giving the real parasites in the finance industry a pass.  And I can only come to two possible conclusions: 1. The people on the right are easily lead and gullible and respond well to authoritarian messaging because it is all over the place or 2. It’s because they hope to *be* part of that privileged group of power ring owners in the future so that they can have all of their desires met without accountability.

Now, I will be the first one to mock the left for their crazy ass beliefs about GMO crops and homeopathy and nuclear energy and that the pharma industry is trying to poison them (because they’re not and anyway, it’s just another way for the trial lawyers to sink their fangs into the money stream. The left has its own unaccountability problem.)  But if you’re on the right or leaning right, or used to be a Democrat but are so pissed off about what Obama and the DNC did in 2008 that you’re letting your anger blind you to what these criminals on Wall Street are doing now, then you need to do some soul searching and get to the bottom of your orneriness because it’s really not helping.

It’s the right that relies on religion to keep everyone in line with threats of hellfire if you’re sexually active and not married.  You can always count on the religious to condemn everyone who doesn’t believe strictly in the Judeo-Christian version of the ten commandments.  They have a holy fit if you’re an atheist.  But they seem to be perfectly Ok with giving Wall Street a pass.  It’s like, “there’s nothing we can do.  They’re evil and we’re scared of them because they have all the power to make our lives miserable.”  Bullshit, of course there’s something you can do.  Stop voting for the politicians who keep asking for fewer regulations.  It doesn’t get any simpler than that.  Unfortunately, they’re also the politicians who hide behind religion or pander to religious people.  Show me a religious politician and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t believe in regulation.  That’s all there is to it.  They want to let the criminals operate without boundaries.

If these wealthy, unaccountable assholes continue to do what they’re doing without oversight, they’re going to bring the entire world’s financial system down.  That’s what happens when you can’t stop yourself from taking whatever you want and no one else has to power to interfere.

It doesn’t matter if you are on the right or the left, everything you own, everything you planned, your health, your retirement, your entire future, is at risk.

Can Honour Killing In Muslim Communities Be Ended Through Islam?

Recent events in the United States and Canada, in which fathers and families treat their daughters in an inexcusable manner, compel me to release this draft of an incompletely distilled paper. I apologize for its length, but the topic is not amenable to a series of posts, and it may offer some understanding as to why these practise exist and what might be done to change them.

Aqsa Parvez was strangled to death in her Mississauga home, Peel police said today.
An autopsy revealed the cause of death as “neck compression.” The 16-year-old was taken to hospital Monday morning after a man called police and said he killed his daughter. She died later that night. Friends told reporters that Aqsa fought with her Muslim family over whether or not to wear the hijab. She often stayed overnight with friends, afraid to go home, they said. Her father, Muhammad Parvez, 57, appeared in court today and will face either a first- or second-degree murder charge. He was denied bail and remanded into custody until a hearing via video link on Jan. 29.

Why did Aqsa Parvez’s father strangle her to death? Why is the honour killing of women, over perceived or actual improprietous conduct, a feature of practice among some Muslim communities? Why do these communities enforce such rigourous and strict regulation of women’s conduct? Given that many of these killings violate both the word and the spirit of the Koran and the prophet, why does the practice persist? In this brief essay, I sketch the physical and social conditions that lead to the emergence of the structures that control women’s conduct within the Muslim communities that practice honour killing. I show that the more stringent control structures are artifacts from pre-Islamic Bedouin communities. Furthermore, I demonstrate that the gender-based honour killings that are features of these structures violate Islamic principles and law. In fact, much of the structure of social control goes against the principle that the practice of Islam is a matter of internal conviction. Continue reading

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