Archive for October, 2015

Raise Your Voice Against Censorship And Oppression

Posted October 16, 2015 By Steve

“When you have strict censorship of the internet, young students cannot receive a full education. Their view of the world is imbalanced. There can be no true discussion of the issues.” — Ai Weiwei

Raise Your Voice!
Today, 16th October 2015, is Blog Action Day, and this year’s theme is “Raise Your Voice”. That means this year we’re remembering bloggers whose mission is to bring critical information to the world, but have imprisoned and silenced by oppressive regimes.

To that end, I’d like to send a shout out to the Electronic Frontier Foundation and their new project, called Offline. As they explain:

Around the world, repressive governments have arrested, imprisoned, and tortured coders, technologists, and bloggers. EFF’s new project, Offline, raises awareness of these digital heroes to ensure that—even as they are locked away—their voices can be heard. The first five highlighted cases include free software developer Alla Abd El Fattah (Egypt), web developer Saeed Malekpoor (Iran), online columnist Eskinder Nega (Ethiopia), and the Zone 9 Bloggers (Ethiopia). Right now, we’re trying to raise as much awareness as possible about free culture advocate Bassel Khartabil, who has been transferred from a civil prison in Syria to an unknown location.

Many parts of our world are improving year by year. Progress is out there. But there is still oppression and censorship in many places. These people are trying to make it better. Don’t forget them.


Corporatism

This is a reaction to Inequality Is Not Inevitable by Joseph Stiglitz, who among other things has won the Nobel prize for economics.

The problem is that the power system we have today is a mixture of big business and big government. This leads to errors from critiques from conservatives and libertarians in that they see the problems caused by government, but are often ideologically blinded to those caused by business. But similarly, it leads to errors in leftist critiques like this one, in that they see the problems caused by business, but not government. Two things in particular highlight Stiglitz’s lack of understanding here. (And yes, I’m aware of his lofty credentials.)

The first is when he says, “Corporate interests argued for getting rid of regulations, even when those regulations had done so much to protect and improve our environment, our safety, our health and the economy itself.” All too often, larger businesses want regulation, because they know they can afford to absorb its costs, whereas smaller companies (especially entrepreneurs and their startups) cannot. By cooperating with government policymakers, executives of large businesses end up with a regulatory regime that shields them from competition at the expense of everyone else.

The second is the references to bankers as “among the strongest advocates of laissez-faire economics”. This is completely ridiculous, and while I realise that Stiglitz is an hardcore ideologue, he really ought to know better than to say something like this. Our system is nowhere close to being laissez faire. It’s solidly corporatist, with a powerful central government whose policymakers work to advance the interests of corporations large enough to participate in the system of collaboration. The financial system is at the very centre of this web of patronage, and its pulsing heart, the Federal Reserve, is the world’s most powerful public-private partnership. So the last thing bankers want is laissez faire.

The thing that frustrates me about critiques like this is that both sides actually perceive part of the problem, but neither sees all of it. And since conversations between left and right about the power system in our society are shouting matches rather than dialogues, people who should be working together against a common problem of corporatism instead are squabbling like children. Stiglitz refers to TARP, which is a prime example. The Occupy Wall Street movement and the Tea Party movement both initially started as a reaction to bank bailouts. Obviously left and right do not agree on most things, but that sort of corporatism is one of them and it’s arguably the biggest problem of them all.

A final thought, this word “inequality” has become increasingly popular in this era of Bernie Sanders populism. The problem there is that most people talking about it are upset about inequality of outcome, when it’s much more important to care that everyone has a baseline equality of opportunity. Let the wealthy have their yachts — in a system without corporatism they’ll have earned them and saying otherwise is simply class envy. Let the ceiling be sky high, the higher the better! What matters is where the floor is.

The Perils Of Seeking Free T-Shirts

Posted October 2, 2015 By Steve

“You don’t ask, you don’t get.” — Bernard von NotHaus

Commonwealth One Federal Credit Union logo
I was at the credit union this morning and saw that they were having a promotion there where all the tellers and other people at the branch were all wearing really cool t-shirts. One of the lessons I’ve learned along the way is that if you want something you may as well ask for it, because generally the worst thing that can happen is that you’ll be told no. And maybe laughed at a little. So I asked whether there were any extras, just in case there were a few still in the back or something. I knew the likely answer was, “Nice try, but no.” Still, I’m always happy to shoot for a free t-shirt.

Well, things spiralled out of control. Despite my protestations that it was merely an idle question, the lady took my information to pass on to Ashley B., their marketing manager, who later called me to say that she would be happy to get me one of the cool COFCU sporty t-shirts — but in return she’d like to photograph me in it and use the pictures in social media.

It would have seemed awfully rude to have asked that and then been unwilling to do anything in return, and besides, I’m actually happy to help them out. Most of the banks I’ve ever dealt with have screwed me sooner or later, but the people at the credit union have always done their best to bend rules or make exceptions if they were unnecessary and were between me and my money. And Ashley seemed really nice. So I told her that I couldn’t imagine how using a picture of me could possibly not chase prospective members away, but that sure, she was welcome to take some if for some reason they thought it would help.

So I suppose now I’ll prepare for my fifteen minutes of fame as a D-list local credit union celebrity. And I’ll have to amend that life lesson: If you want something you may as well ask for it… but be careful what you ask for, because you may get it.

And as a message from our sponsor, if you live, work, or shop in or near Alexandria, Virginia, and you’d rather own a small piece of a credit union than be owned piecemeal by a bank, check out Commonwealth One Federal Credit Union, and tell them the t-shirt guy sent you.