Emergent Chaos: Romney/Ryan for America!

We here at Emergent Chaos have long been frustrated with the Obama Administration. Their failure to close Guantanamo, their failure to prosecute war crimes including torture, their choice to murder American citizens (never mind without due process), their invocation of the state secrets privilege, their persecution of whistleblowers, their TSA running rampant, the list of disappointments runs long.

But we’ve been waiting to see real evidence of a decisive and predictable leadership style from Mitt. We’ve been waiting for a real and demonstrated commitment to civil liberties. Now, with the combination of Paul Ryan and Clint Eastwood, we think he’s over the top.

We know that a vote for Romney/Ryan may leave many folks wondering what they’re voting for. Are they voting for mandatory health care for all that Romney passed in Massachusetts, leading the state to legalize gay marriage or are they voting for the Romney who rails against his plan being taken national with Obamacare? Or are they voting to put Ryan and his voucher-ization of Medicaid one heartbeat away from the Presidency? It’s rare that we see this kind of chaos emerge at the top of a ticket.

Chaos like that is close to our hearts, and four years ago, that was enough to win us over.

But stakes are higher today, and we’ve seen a scary degree of staying on the latest message from Mitt and his advisors. So we needed a high-stakes decision, one taken at a moment of obvious gravity and impact, one taken at the very top, to really help us judge if the velvet glove has forged Willard Mitt Romney into the sort of man we want commanding the most powerful military ever seen on the planet.

Romney decided he wanted a surprise at the convention, and chose Clint Eastwood. Now, as a rock-ribbed, gun-totin’, pro-abortion, pro-gay-marriage, pro-ERA Republican, we think he’s the sort of libertarian Republican who should be making the attendees’ days. He’s the sort of Republican who should be addressing the convention, hearkening back to the big-tent party that Ronald Reagan led.

But, traditional thinking in politics has become that conventions are tightly managed. That’s why RNC Chairman Reince Priebus changed the rules on the convention floor to lock out Ron Paul’s delegates. He wanted to show that the GOP stands fast in its commitment to the rule of law and the importance of democracy, not running a convention where anyone who just happened to have committed delagates can show up and hope to win their party’s nomination.

That’s the sort of strategic thinking that led Romney’s most senior advisors to not ask Clint for a rehersal. And, apparently, their commitment to free speech led them to just toss him a list of talking points and not worry about it. (No, really, go read it, and consider what it means about decision making.) And that’s the sort of emergent chaos that we can’t help but nervously endorse.

So months from now, if you want chaos in the financial markets or chaos on the international stage like we saw chaos on the convention stage, the choice is clear. If Romney/Ryan can let chaos like that into their moment to shine, just think about the chaos that will happen when they’re blindsided. So if you want more leadership like that, if you want to live in interesting times, vote Romney/Ryan. We’re not sure what we’ll get, but we’re confident it will be exciting.

It’s a Lie: Seattle Taxpayers Will Pay for a Staduim

The Seattle Times carries a press release: “Arena plan as solid as it looks?

The intricate plan offered for an NBA and NHL arena in Sodo hinges on the untested strategy of building a city-owned, self-supporting arena, without the aid of new taxes, and with team owners — not taxpayers — obligated to absorb any losses.

This not only a lie, it is a blatant lie, contradicted by statements later in the article:

…Seattle and King County would finance $200 million — likely in bonds — to cover construction costs. The city would recoup its money through lease payments and the taxes on everything from tickets to concessions from the arena.

Let me translate that into plain English. The taxpayers of Seattle and King County would sign a bond. We’d be obligated to pay it back if or when the Supersonics new team leaves town. Also, let me comment that the use of “would” is inaccurate. The word that the writers sought and were unable to come up with is “might”, as in: “the city might recoup its money…”

One more quote:

It’s hard to argue against the idea of an arena that pays for itself.

It’s even harder to guarantee it, though.

Actually, it’s easy to guarantee that the arena pays for itself, or at least that the taxpayers don’t pay for it. The builders finance the arena. See how easy that is? They issue the bonds, they reap the profits. Then the people of Seattle and King county are guaranteed to not be on the hook.

Pretty simple, if the Seattle Times would stop relaying lies about who’s on the hook for bonds issued by Seattle or King County.

Look, while I’m opposed to having to sit in traffic for yet more sporting events, I shouldn’t have a say in how these folks spend their money. The arena backers should feel free to spend their money, plus as much as anyone will loan them, to build a stadium, buy a team, or hold a parade. That’s what freedom is about. But the people of Seattle should not carry any of the risk. The money should be entirely private.

Maybe the plan can’t work without Seattle bearing some of the risk. If that’s the case, that’s because this isn’t the sure thing that its backers want us to think. It means that the bankers see this as a risky thing, and want to transfer that risk to some sucker. I don’t want to be the sucker who’s paying for a failed deal. Do you?

The Pre-K underground?

Not my headline, but the New York Times:

Beyond the effort was the challenge of getting different families to work together. When matters as personal as education, values and children are at stake, intense emotions are sure to follow, whether the issue is snacks (organic or not?), paint (machine washable?) or what religious holidays, if any, to acknowledge. Oh, and in many cases, forming a co-op school is illegal, because getting the required permits and passing background checks can be so prohibitively expensive and time-consuming that most co-ops simply don’t. (“The Pre-K Underground“, The New York Times, December 16)

Read the whole thing, and then give some thought to how effectively those policies, combined with the drug war, are de-legitimizing governments, and convincing people that to live their lives involves avoiding government rules. Eventually, even legitimate and necessary functions of government like courts will fall apart.

Think I’m exaggerating?

“There’s a fairly stringent code and byzantine process for getting certified and code-compliant,” said City Councilman Brad Lander, a Democrat from Brooklyn, whose office held a meeting over the summer for any co-ops interested in pooling their resources and securing permits. “Some are genuinely for the safety of kids, and some are more debatable.”

There’s a city councilman driving doubt over the system. What does that do to the legitimacy? What happens to the social contract?

Will the war on coop kindergardens join the war on drugs?

What’s Wrong and What To Do About It?

Pike floyd
Let me start with an extended quote from “Why I Feel Bad for the Pepper-Spraying Policeman, Lt. John Pike“:

They are described in one July 2011 paper by sociologist Patrick Gillham called, “Securitizing America.” During the 1960s, police used what was called “escalated force” to stop protesters.

“Police sought to maintain law and order often trampling on protesters’ First Amendment rights, and frequently resorted to mass and unprovoked arrests and the overwhelming and indiscriminate use of force,” Gillham writes and TV footage from the time attests. This was the water cannon stage of police response to protest.

But by the 1970s, that version of crowd control had given rise to all sorts of problems and various departments went in “search for an alternative approach.” What they landed on was a paradigm called “negotiated management.” Police forces, by and large, cooperated with protesters who were willing to give major concessions on when and where they’d march or demonstrate. “Police used as little force as necessary to protect people and property and used arrests only symbolically at the request of activists or as a last resort and only against those breaking the law,” Gillham writes.

That relatively cozy relationship between police and protesters was an uneasy compromise that was often tested by small groups of “transgressive” protesters who refused to cooperate with authorities. They often used decentralized leadership structures that were difficult to infiltrate, co-opt, or even talk with. Still, they seemed like small potatoes.

Then came the massive and much-disputed 1999 WTO protests. Negotiated management was seen to have totally failed and it cost the police chief his job and helped knock the mayor from office. “It can be reasonably argued that these protests, and the experiences of the Seattle Police Department in trying to manage them, have had a more profound effect on modern policing than any other single event prior to 9/11,” former Chicago police officer and Western Illinois professor Todd Lough argued.

Former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper gives his perspective in “Paramilitary Policing From Seattle to Occupy Wall Street“:

“We have to clear the intersection,” said the field commander. “We have to clear the intersection,” the operations commander agreed, from his bunker in the Public Safety Building. Standing alone on the edge of the crowd, I, the chief of police, said to myself, “We have to clear the intersection.”

Why?

Because of all the what-ifs. What if a fire breaks out in the Sheraton across the street? What if a woman goes into labor on the seventeenth floor of the hotel? What if a heart patient goes into cardiac arrest in the high-rise on the corner? What if there’s a stabbing, a shooting, a serious-injury traffic accident? How would an aid car, fire engine or police cruiser get through that sea of people? The cop in me supported the decision to clear the intersection. But the chief in me should have vetoed it. And he certainly should have forbidden the indiscriminate use of tear gas to accomplish it, no matter how many warnings we barked through the bullhorn.

My support for a militaristic solution caused all hell to break loose. Rocks, bottles and newspaper racks went flying. Windows were smashed, stores were looted, fires lighted; and more gas filled the streets, with some cops clearly overreacting, escalating and prolonging the conflict. The “Battle in Seattle,” as the WTO protests and their aftermath came to be known, was a huge setback—for the protesters, my cops, the community.

Product reviews on Amazon for the Defense Technology 56895 MK-9 Stream pepper spray are funny, as is the Pepper Spraying Cop Tumblr feed.

But we have a real problem here. It’s not the pepper spray that makes me want to cry, it’s how mutually-reinforcing up a set of interlocking systems have become. It’s the police thinking they can arrest peaceful people for protesting, or for taking video of them It’s a court system that’s turned “deference” into a spineless art, even when it’s Supreme Court justices getting shoved aside in their role as legal observers. It’s a political system where we can’t even agree to ban the TSA, or work out a non-arbitrary deal on cutting spending. It’s a set of corporatist best practices that allow the system to keep on churning along despite widespread revulsion.

So what do we do about it? Civil comments welcome. Venting welcome. Just keep it civil with respect to other commenters.

Image: Pike Floyd, by Kosso K

Slow Thoughts on Occupy Seattle

Corporate ThievesI headed down to Occupy Seattle before a recent vacation, and have been mulling a bit on what I saw, because the lack of a coherent message or leadership or press make it easy to project our own opinions or simply mis-understand what the “Occupy” protests mean, and I wanted to avoid making that mistake. I think I saw two big themes there: an anti-war theme, and a combination of anti-capitalism and anti-corporatism. I think the second is more interesting, because it’s a combination of views, some of which I support, and others I think are somewhat foolish.

I think capitalism is a good thing. I’ve taken a salary from (venture) capitalists who were able to pay me because they captured “surplus value” from startups, and ploughed some of that profit back into more startups. I use the Marixst term of “surplus value” because I understand the Marxist critique, have lived it, and still think it’s a better system than all those others that have been tried from time to time. (I also think that Marx’s critique of capitalism is excellent, and even more so in light of the poorness of his suggested fixes.) The accumulation of capital in private hands greatly expands the range of entrepreneurship, allowing new products and services to emerge. And for those new products to succeed, they need to serve needs better than what preceded them. So we all benefit to a degree from the capital that accumulates in the hands of investors (even with the costs of creative destruction and externalities.)

At the same time, I think that there’s an emergent system of what we might call corporatism that I think is incompatible with a free society, and is in fact incompatible with free markets. By a free market, I mean one in which people contract with each other and with companies, and the court system enforces fair and predictable limits on those contracts. Fair limits might include that the parties came to a genuine meeting of the minds before exchanging value, that contracts are severable (so no indentured servitude or slavery), that interpretation favors the party that received the contract (rather than the drafter), and that neither party engaged in deceit in advertising their services.

Corporatism, at its heart, involves twisting the free market via government intervention in a number of ways:

  • Lobbying for rules that allow the company to exclude competition. See, for example, AT&T’s gradual re-monopolization of the phone system.
  • Manipulations of the contract system in ways which prevent fair redress. These include mandatory binding arbitration, prohibition of class action suits, clauses that allow the contract to remain in force even if the drafter puts in many clauses which shock the conscience of a court.
  • Un-knowable systems (in particular, the American credit system) in which companies work together to ensure that you do what they demand, even if it’s wrong, because if you don’t, they will destroy your ability to contract with anyone else on fair terms.
  • Convincing the government to take all the downside risk and none of the upside of the banking crisis, and then failing to prosecute those who enriched themselves via a game they knew full well was rigged.

Corporatism comes from the discovery that rules and meta-rules (the rules that are used to set the rules) are manipulatable. Of course, this is nothing new:

“People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices. It is impossible indeed to prevent such meetings, by any law which either could be executed, or would be consistent with liberty and justice.” (Smith, “The Wealth of Nations.”

There were a good number of frankly anti-capitalist signs and groups at Occupy Seattle. It’s a free country, they’re entitled to their opinion, and I can disagree.

But they were not the only signs. I saw lots of signs which seemed to take aim at the unaccountable: the bankers, the corporations (“I won’t believe that corporations are people until Texas executes one”). And I think that responses to currently unaccountable corporatism is going to be one of the key outcomes of the Occupy Movement.

It’s not TSA’s fault

October 18th’s bad news for the TSA includes a pilot declining the choice between aggressive frisking and a nudatron. He blogs about it in “Well, today was the day:”

On the other side I was stopped by another agent and informed that because I had “opted out” of AIT screening, I would have to go through secondary screening. I asked for clarification to be sure he was talking about frisking me, which he confirmed, and I declined. At this point he and another agent explained the TSA’s latest decree, saying I would not be permitted to pass without showing them my naked body, and how my refusal to do so had now given them cause to put their hands on me as I evidently posed a threat to air transportation security (this, of course, is my nutshell synopsis of the exchange). I asked whether they did in fact suspect I was concealing something after I had passed through the metal detector, or whether they believed that I had made any threats or given other indications of malicious designs to warrant treating me, a law-abiding fellow citizen, so rudely. None of that was relevant, I was told. They were just doing their job.

It’s true. TSA employees are just doing their job, which is to secure transportation systems. The trouble is, their job is impossible. We all know that it’s possible to smuggle things past the nudatrons and the frisking. Unfortunately, TSA’s job is defined narrowly as a secure transportation system, and every failure leads to them getting blamed. All their hard work is ignored. And so they impose measures that a great many American citizens find unacceptable. They’re going to keep doing this because their mission and jobs are defined wrong. It’s not the fault of TSA, it’s the fault of Congress, who defined that mission.

It’s bad enough that the chairman of British Airways has come out and said “Britain has to stop ‘kowtowing’ to US demands on airport checks.”

The fix has to come from the same place the problem comes from. We need a travel security system which is integrated as part of national transportation policy which encourages travel. As long as we have a Presidential appointee whose job is transportation security, we’ll have these problems.

Let’s stop complaining about TSA and start working for a proper fix.

So how do we get there? Normally, a change of this magnitude in Washington requires a crisis. Unfortunately, we don’t have a crisis crisis right now, we have more of a slow burning destruction of the privacy and dignity of the traveling public. We have massive contraction of the air travel industry. We have the public withdrawing from using regional air travel because of the bother. We may be able to use international pressure, we may be able to use the upcoming elections and a large number of lame-duck legislators who feared doing the right thing.

TSA is bleeding and bleeding us because of structural pressures. We should fix those if we want to restore dignity, privacy and liberty to our travel system.

Dear England, may we borrow Mr. Cameron for a bit?

Back when I commented on David Cameron apologizing for Bloody Sunday, someone said “It’s important to remember that it’s much easier to make magnanimous apologise about the behaviour of government agents when none of those responsible are still in their jobs.” Which was fine, but now Mr. Cameron is setting up an investigation into torture by UK security services. (“
Britain Pledges Inquiry Into Torture
.”

And yes, it’s certainly more fun to investigate the opposition, but…I’d really like to bring Mr. Cameron over here for a little while. Some investigations would do us, and our fight against al Qaeda, a great deal of good.

The Next Unexpected Failure of Government

In looking at Frank Pasquale’s very interesting blog post “Secrecy & the Spill,” a phrase jumped out at me:

I have tried to give the Obama Administration the benefit of the doubt during the Gulf/BP oil disaster. There was a “grand ole party” at Interior for at least eight years. Many Republicans in Congress would have tried to block nominees for Interior who were committed to environmentalism. But the more I read about the controversy, the harder it gets to excuse current players for their actions.

Now, if you had told me six months ago that the Minerals Management Service was critically messed up, I might have searched a bit and said “sure, ok.” There are a lot of government agencies which are poorly run. Prioritizing between them is hard. Had you told me that their failure would cost a billion dollars, I’d have been more skeptical than usual.

Government is too big to clean out; at each level, you get appointees who are less likely to be interested in pursuing the President’s interest, and more likely to be interested in featherbedding. That’s not to say that all agencies are mis-run. There are still people out there who consider themselves civil servants who aim to run their agencies (or areas) well. I don’t have enough data to know what fraction of agencies are well run, but I expect that you could graph it and it would look a lot like a bell curve. Some good, some bad, most middling.

The agencies that are well run don’t get attention. The problems they face are ‘managed’ and don’t descend into crisis very much. Unfortunately it’s hard to tell, a-priori, if an agency is well run or lucky.

For any Administration to dig deeply into each of the government agencies could easily become an all-consuming issue. And it’s unclear if it would do any good. Agency executives are expected to be able to present a pleasant picture with a few things that need fixing.

This is a structural and systematic issue which emerges from how big government is and how much it tries to do. The only way to clean things up will be to reduce the size of government, so that prior oversight becomes a reasonable expectation.

Otherwise, we can look forward to the chaotic universe helping us discover where the problems emerge.