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Journal Journal: gilded age

"Consider the difference in accountability between individuals unable to pay their debts and corporations that default on their pension plans. Under the new bankruptcy law enacted last year by a Congress eager to reward their campaign contributors in the credit industry, the vast majority of common folk saddled by unmanageable debt--usually because of severe misfortune, such as medical emergencies, job loss, or divorce - will be deemed to be in possession of "excess income" and will no longer be permitted to wipe the slate clean. Instead, they'll be put on an accelerated payment schedule for a 3-5 year period at a much higher rate of interest and forced to pay for "fiscal management" classes in addition to lawyers' fees. How poor will you have to be to avoid this fate? Let's put it this way. A couple each earning measly minimum wage for a total of $21,840 per year with no dependents? According to the new "means test," that couple is $9,720 over the so-called poverty threshold, or stated similarly, earning 80.2% "excess" annual income. Those sluggards will just have to pay up. But it's an entirely different story when corporations fail to meet their financial obligations to their workers--which is increasingly the case. As Roger Lowenstein notes in a recent article on the end of pensions, "Corporations were happy to offer rich retirement plans to their workers as long as accounting tricks and federal insurance made it easy to delay the day of reckoning." And why not? When the day of reckoning comes, the firm won't sell off its assets to pay for the failed plan or garnish the wages of the CEO (who, on average, earned $9.84 million, or 358 times the average worker's pay last year). Debt from the failed plan becomes the responsibility of the government's pension insurer, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC)--currently in the red to the tune of $23 billion (and estimated to bloom to $200 billion within two decades). Which means that average taxpayers like you and me will pay the corporation's debts while it goes merrily on its way. Because that's what "personal responsibility" really means to this administration. When it comes to covering bad debt from corporations that underestimate how much they need to put away to keep their commitments, it's on us. Ditto for when businesses game the system by exploiting lax rules that allow them to get away with inadequately funding their pension plans. Or promise the world to their workers, knowing that there's a safety net if they ever get in too deep. And when it comes to shouldering debt from bad individual luck, that's on us too."

"I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed."- Abraham Lincoln
User Journal

Journal Journal: Too big to fail, and Monopoly law. 1

Various corporations around the world have recently been in danger of collapse because of poor financial choices. However they were deemed "too big to fail" and were bailed out by taxpayers, because the failure of said companies was deemed a great danger to the global economy. Now let us turn to ideas behind anti-trust law and see what light this shines on companies whose influence is so great that their failure could endanger the global economy.Now anti-trust laws came to be in order to deal with companies that controlled such a high percentage of a commodity, that they could unfairly influence or destroy other businesses trading in that commodity, and that they could restrict supplies to the public in such a way that would allow for price gouging or denial of that resource to the public. Standard Oil had such a monopoly, both on oil and on jobs in the oil industry. They would use unfair influence and market leverage to destroy or absorb competing companies and they would use their control of the oil job market to unfairly manipulate their workforce. They controlled the flow of oil and they held hostage the jobs in the oil industry. Standard Oil controlled roughly 88% of the US refined oil market. But is such a high percentage of control necessary to present those same dangers when the commodity in question is money itself, and what percentage of the GDP does a company need to present a national or international danger if it were to suddenly go bankrupt?

I'm far from the first person to ponder such things. Some say that you cannot disallow banks to be too-big-to-fail " since substantially all the major banks are at this point TBTF. And you can't just break up a bank like you might break up a monopoly, along natural lines of business, since even if JP Morgan spun off its derivatives desk into an independent trading house, that independent trading house would still be TBTF."
While others argue "the anti-capitalist large corporations are not monopolies - they are oligopolistic that can still extract profits through their ability to distort the free market. Is the fact they are not a monopoly really that relevant? Enforcing rules that prevent businesses from using their size and power to extract outsized profits is the right thing to do. Anti-trust laws are the proper tool." Being forced to buy up the bad investments of those companies (because of their size) isn't all that different then the use of size to extract outsized profits, or simply extorting money from the taxpayers.
Regardless of whether the market would have corrected itself had those companies been allowed to collapse, the situation we are in now has made every giant corporation a potential liability to the taxpayer. Does that liability justify maximum limits on the economic size of a corporation? Does that mean that Communism has achieved the same kind of victory that Capitalism did in the 80's, proof of superiority through the economic collapse of the opposing ideology?

Kevin Phillips wrote in his book, Wealth and Democracy: "The current of extreme economic disparities are simply not sustainable without serious damage to the country's productivity patterns and performance." Perhaps this collapse is just a symptom of a terribly unbalanced system.

This economic implosion was predicted back in 2002.
User Journal

Journal Journal: The national security oxymoron 2

So often these days we are presented with measures that claim to be for "National Security" which claim that we must surrender various rights to protect our nation. But to determine the veracity of these statements we must carefully consider: What is our nation? Certainly the president is a big part of our nation, but only for four years at a stretch. Maybe Congress is the core of our nation, for a few decades of service from the most successful congressmen. Maybe the nation's core is our people, although we have such a wide variety of viewpoints and beliefs and they change throughout our lifetimes. So what is the lasting core of our nation? The Constitution is that thing that makes America the place that is. If the Constitution read like Mao's little red book, then America would be like the PRC rather than the country we have. If China had been operating for the last 200 years with the US Constitution as it's government's foundation, then China would be a vastly different place.
Ok so the Constitution (and rule of law) is the core of America, why does that matter? We still have to stop the terrorists. Well it matters because of National Security. If the core of our nation is the Constitution, then the foremost objective of National Security should be ensuring that the Constitution remains undamaged as the driving force of our government. National Security should be protecting the rights and protections and balances of the Constitution from fear of Nazis or fear Communists or fear of Terrorists. Allowing those fears to distort or weaken the Constitution does far more damage than bombs or bullets. People die. Building crumble. New people are born, and new buildings are built. But a wound to the Constitution will endure throughout the duration of America's existence as a country.
Some may say: "In extreme times we must damage America to save America." It cannot be done, there have always been and will always be "extreme times". There will always be a foreign danger, there will always be internal struggles. There are some who may say: "I will do what ever must be done to protect my country, the law be damned." What is the damage you are protecting us from that is so huge that you must diminish the rule of law to overcome it? Let us imagine that you must protect us from something as terrible as ICBM Nuke hitting New York City. Well what would happen? 10 million people (3% of our population) would die earlier than they would have otherwise. The global financial world would take a huge hit. A major cultural center would be lost. It might an entire generation before enough new business leaders and artists and capital grew to replace that lost to a nuked NYC. But America would recover so long as we all held fast to those things which make us American. But what is lost when the power of the Constitution and the rule of law is diminished? Well, on average, the rule of law explains 57 percent of countries' intangible capital while schooling accounts for 36 percent. The World Bank has devised a rule-of-law index that measures the extent to which people have confidence in and abide by the rules of their society. An economy with a very efficient judicial system, clear property rights, and an effective government will produce higher total wealth. So when our Constitution is damaged, we loose some of our intangible capital, that's not so bad is it? Take a look at the transition Zimbabwe has made in the last ten years if you want to know what a major loss of intangible capital will do. Once the protections and rights of a people are seized by the government they do not ever return under that power of that same government. So either America will crumble or every following generation will suffer the loss when government agents act in ways which diminish the rule of law. This isn't the place to do a cost benefit analysis of the CIA, but I have no doubts that we would have won the Cold War without their help, and we would be far more loved and respected in the world community if they had never existed. And we would have more intangible capital, and we would be a wealthier and more free nation.
User Journal

Journal Journal: Bill proposed to make anonymous internet posting illegal

Soon the law might require that your name and address would be attached to your goatse troll, +5 insightful or anything else you care to contribute to any online discussion.

Do you really want your online persona to be visibly connected to your real life home address?


Journal Journal: The death of Fair Use and Internet Radio 1

From Reason Magazine, we get the history of the pay-per-listener fees that are now going to kill all Internet Radio. "October 1992, when President George Bush signed the Audio Home Recording Act, which taxed digital audio equipment and media in order to "pay back" copyright holders for their added risk in this brave new digital era. Next, the World Intellectual Property Organization debates of the mid-90s advanced the idea that the United State had to "normalize" its copyright rules to the rest of world. A world that, interestingly enough, lacked either fair use or a First Amendment."

But apparently that is just the tip of the liscensing iceberg."Make no mistake, the death of Net radio is merely a means to an end--the end being the rollback of any notion of fair use of copyrighted digital content. The goal is nothing less than a licensing regime for all digital music that recognizes no ownership rights, fair or otherwise."
User Journal

Journal Journal: OneVoice = peace for the people. 1

As many people realize, the existance of a "common enemy" is an excellent political tool for gaining power. It is used the world over, both to polarize the masses and to silence dissent. has taken the approach of bypassing the "leaders" and connecting the people to affirm want everyone wants: peace and prosperity. All this from a YouTube Video. Could a similar approach be used to mend America/Iraqi relations, and diffuse the attack/counterattack cycle?

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