Archive for June, 2013

Police Invade to Make Arrest Over the Grass Length

Apropos of yet another jkpodcast, Plastic Bags and the Foundational Principle of Government. I stumbled across the Youtube clip embedded below. To sum up, the podcast is how people think anarchists are joking when they contend that the law is ultimately backed up by the ability of the state to kill you.

The fact that something so obviously true and vitally important has never occurred to most people is telling; even the simplest statue, such as banning the retail use of plastic bags, or mandating an appropriate height for grass, is premised on the claimed legitimacy of people calling themselves “government” to rob, cage or kill the people around them.

Police barge into home to make arrest over the length of grass caught on video – YouTube.

Historically, the nature of the relationship between “the people” and “the government” has been occluded behind polite notes, “reasonable” fines, proposed payment plans, and lots of additional non-threatening warnings and helpful opportunities to submit and obey served up by a polite and courteous constabulary[1]. This, and state “education”, explains why most middle-class people haven’t conceived of the notion that the institution of government is predicated on violence.

Inevitably, as the cancer of government reaches its terminal stage, the “gloves come off” and we all see the violence inherent in the system. I doubt very many warrant were being served by squads of officers in the 1970s. Now we see this kind of thuggery every day.

Here’s the jkpodcast linked to above:
Play

  1. [1] Characterization of state power may not apply for the poor, minorities, immigrants, etc.

The Limits of Science

Apropos of Kevin’s and my recent podcast, an article on the limits of science.

No rulers! Except for measurement! Science is pretty sweet, though.

In the podcast, we discuss logic as an essential tool in determining how one’s beliefs track reality. However, perfect Aristotelian logic can generate perfectly crafted non-sense given incorrect premises.

Similarly, science is the best means of testing hypothesis and incrementally bringing beliefs about reality in line with the natural universe (a.k.a., the universe).

Regardless of how rigorously one pursues knowledge with the correct application of the methods of science, and regardless of how large the body of scientific understanding becomes, it can never answer the questions it is so frequently purported to answer:
“Is this new drug safe?” “Is that amount of pollution too high?” “Are wages for those workers too low?” “What’s the minimum number of days of paid vacation that workers should get annually?”

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These questions are not, exclusively, about the objective world. They incorporate the subjective; they can’t be answered except by each individual for her own circumstances. Appeals to evidence can be made to persuade someone to take action, but there is no amount of evidence that legitimizes coercion in these matters. Any appeal to science in the name of politics, or any other form of violence, is an appeal made on false premises and an indication of intellectual, if not moral, corruption.

Update: I just figured out that I could do this, here’s an embed to Kevin’s and my podcast on the limitations of logic.

Play

NSA, NDAA and the Relative Risk of “Terrorism”

You are 17,600 times more likely to die from heart disease than a terrorist attack. You are 12,570 times more likely to die from cancer, 1000 times more likely to die in a car crash, 87 times more likely to drown, 12 times more likely to accidentally suffocate in bed.

Each day, we fend off death in ways both large and small, we expend our time and energy gathering resources to prevent hunger, thirst, and to protect from the elements. We invest in things to make our houses and transportation safer and more reliable. We buy healthier food and exercise to reduce the likelihood of disease. We choose to spend the “health and safety” portion of our resources on those things likely to threaten our health and safety.

We needs 3/4 million concrete bunkers because . . . TERRORISTS!

There is a vanishingly small chance that you will die from a terrorist attack. More specifically, there is virtually no chance at all that you will die in an attack that would be prevented by military expeditions, national intelligence agencies, domestic surveillance, increased policing powers etc. Almost entirely none. Barely non-zero.

It’s not a new thought and is probably best presented by master of all things security Bruce Schneier, but I find it especially striking with something like this recent NSA “scandal” pops up how much money is going to defend against a complete non-threat.

Putting aside for the moment the epic loss of life and the hyper-Orwellian annihilation of privacy and human rights, the squandering of precious, finite resources is simply staggering.

The amount of wealth that is just being “pissed away,” as my dear old dad would put it, is beyond the mind’s capacity to fathom. Trillions of dollars spent doing abso-fucking-lutely nothing. Just piles of money set on fire in the name of preventing something that doesn’t happen anyway.

The worst part of this epic destruction of wealth is that it comes from people who actually have real things they need to spend money on! People who have actual health and safety concerns are prevented from using their labor to improve their chances at a long and healthy life. Their money is taken from them and spent on multi-billion dollar NSA data centers and Homeland Security headquarters, which will help the citizens of the country not at all.

From the 1960s to the 1980s, the country of Albania built 750,000 concrete bunkers seemingly randomly around the countryside. They were lead by a lunatic, Enver Hoxha, who had everyone convinced that foreign invasion was just around the corner so this tiny piss-poor country build these useless structures instead of anything that would be of any benefit to anyone. That makes no less sense than the absurd, do-nothing, ongoing, “defensive” boondoggle, that is defended at every turn by both political parties and the media.

Seriously. Seriously. This shit is ridiculous. People have real problems to deal with and real dangers to avoid (police are 8 times more likely to kill you than terrorists). I understand that nothing’s going to change–anybody who decides to do something useful with their money instead of funding this worthless police state will be surrounded by well paid and heavily armed men and taken one of the ample prisons that are currently being filled up.

But can we please drop the pretense that it does anything? Can we at least be honest with each other about the value of the “service” we’re involuntarily subscribed to? Listening Harvard educated millionaire (from defense contracts) government functionaries tell me about how scary the “bad guys” are and how we need money to help the “good guys” protect us is beyond insulting.

Now that I’ve matured, I understand that people have deep-seeded emotional needs for safety and protection and that the bullshit illusion of the national security state fills that need. I understand that verbal abuse isn’t helpful and that a peaceful dialog that respects their human desires is what is required to have a win-win conversation.

But between us, this is one of those things where I just want to be like, “YOU’RE FUCKING WRONG AND SHIT IS FUCKED UP BECAUSE YOU’RE SOOOOO FUCKING WRONG!” Alright, alright. I know that’s over simplifying, the inability to see the fucking painfully obvious is only one aspect of a complex and multi-faceted problem . . . deeeep breaths . . . and dialog. Baby steps. We’ll get there. Thanks for reading.

Multinational Corporations: The Roving Band of Armed Thugs Argument Writ Large

I’ve introduced Jim Rigby in a post before. He’s a thought provoking writer and an open-minded conversationalist. He posted recently in support of a Noam Chomsky article. I responded to the shared post on Facebook (I think it’s a public post). In short, I’m responding to Chomsky’s point, reiterated in Jim’s article, that the state is the correct means to keep corporate power in check:

. . . the idea that increasing the power of the state would somehow decrease the power of the corporations that are protected and funded by the state requires some explanation at the least. To imagine that by voting, petitioning, protesting, etc., the government can be made to protect people from concentrations of capital and privilege requires deviating from all historical precedent . . .

Skipping down a bit to where Jim responds, with his usual politeness:

Jad, I am certainly happy to discuss where we disagree. I just didn’t want seem like your excellent arguments were unwelcome. I see corporations as concentrated private power. They are undemocratic and so unaccountable to the people. The state may create the legal definition of a corporation, but those private powers would still exist if we were to shut down the US government tonight. It is true that a corporation like Monsanto would not have to go through the charade of getting around government regulations, and they wouldn’t get government funding were there no government, but they wouldn’t not whither and die in my opinion. I believe they would simply take what they want as they do all over the world where governments are weak and cannot protect their people. If like some foreign corporations they hire their own private army, there would nothing to stand against them. However bad our situation is in the States, it is infinitely worse in nations where corporations are stronger than the local governments. The smaller the government the more tactics like capital flight make it impossible for people to collectively stand against corporate tyranny.

Here beginneth the actual post:

The power of concentrated corporate wealth is astounding, terrifying, and is a daily menace to the well being of humans all across the globe. No informed person with any empathy or degree of integrity can defend the existence of these behemoths who are, as you rightly note, undemocratic and unaccountable to . . . well, anybody–other than, perhaps a heavily invested shareholder.

It’s true, as well, that, were the United States government shut down tonight, Monsanto wouldn’t simply go away. But it would begin a very rapid decline. Contrariwise, since the US government isn’t likely to shut down any time soon, Monsanto will continue to grow in size and strength. Even if GMO’s fall out of favor, Monsanto has reinvented itself before (after DDT and PCBs became unpopular). It’s essential to understand that the unimaginable amounts of capital that Monsanto and the few thousand largest corporations have gathered didn’t come to them overnight. It’s been assembled, almost entirely through political means and specifically war profiteering, over the last 100 years.

One paragraph, super-brief history: After it’s founding at the turn of the 20th century, Monsanto grew rapidly as the fledgling American Empire found the need to assemble and enshrine a domestic chemical manufacturing base as it faced war with its suppliers in Europe. As the American war machine grew and spread around the world, Monsanto was contracted by the United States government to help develop the nuclear bomb and build the cold war nuclear arsenal. They also made a fortune selling DDT which the US military sprayed all over in Europe and the South Pacific to protect invading soldiers from disease. Monsanto was also an important manufacturer of Agent Orange during Vietnam. Despite not having almost no success in creating products for consumers, Monsanto has become one of the largest concentrations of wealth on the planet.

Besides channeling wealth from the working class to the war profiteers, the federal government provides key protections without which Monsanto and its ilk would quickly disintegrate. Perhaps the most important is protection for intellectual property. The United States legal system and enforcement apparatus recognizes Monsanto’s absolute ownership of certain genetic patterns. Independent farmers using non-GMO seeds are sued and have their land and products seized when Monsanto crops cross-pollinate. Other farmers who choose to stay out of the Monsanto GMO supply chain face a constant threat of losing their livelihood should an unfortunate wind blow.

The decisions of legal system are enforced, not by the private armies that you fear, but by federal agents. US corporations get their private armies, intelligence services (CIA) and diplomatic corps (State Department) without even having to pay for them. The relevant power dynamic isn’t between the corporation and the weak national governments, as you mention above, but between the weak national governments and the US government. Monsanto has an “in” anywhere around the world where the US government has influence over the local government. This global enforcement of “free trade” is paid for by the working class here at home, while the corporations reap the profits and the poor around the world suffer the side-effects.

Click to enlarge: An unweildy but informative graphic showing the degree of “regulatory capture” Monsanto holds over the Federal state.

Corporate concentrations of capital and power do not obtain despite government interference; they would not have been achieved without government interference. Precisely the same is true for most of the monstrosities that sit astride the chest of humanity: GE, Dow Chemical (very similar trajectory to Monsanto), Exxon, Shell, General Motors, and so on.

This is not to say that everything produced by chemical processes and industrial manufacture is a priori bad. The organic nature of production for things of general (accountable, democratic) use to humanity is extraordinarily decentralized. This is wonderful for consumers, who can hold small, localized entities to account, but terrible for a centralized, militarized state, who needs single points of audit and control to drive industry in particular ways.

Gabriel Kolko demonstrates this rigorously in The Triumph of Conservatism. His evidence was among the most important in convincing me that there was no golden age of government regulation. The history of regulation is the history of eliminating small, local businesses and manufacture to assist in the ascendency of todays awful multi-national corporations.

If you’ve read this far looking for a reference to The Roving Band of Armed Thugs Argument, there it is. In short, a common argument for the necessity of a centralized, powerful monopoly on violence is that, without it, we’d be overwhelmed by crudely armed bad actors (roving bands of armed thugs). Because of that abstract (and fairly absurd theory), most folks put up with, encourage and pay for roving bands of armed thugs which actually are a plague in most metropolitan area (the police) and around the world (the US military). Similarly, in the name of preventing unaccountable accumulations of private wealth, most folks put up with encourage and pay for an agency of force that expropriates or destroys small accumulations of wealth and channels the resources, protections, and patronage into a few hands. Thus, in both cases, people are bamboozled into accepting something precisely the opposite of the actual solution to the problem they imagine.