Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Collectivist Cult at Occupy Atlanta Protest

How creepy is this?

So basically Congressman John Lewis showed up to address these people and after chanting back and forth for ten minutes, they decide not to let him speak because "no human being is more valuable than any other."

But that's not the whole story. One woman did get a chance to (very slowly...very slowly) make the case that allowing the congressman to speak would not violate the group's extreme egalitarian ethic. The vast majority of people raised their hands--they clearly wanted to hear him speak.

Then another woman proposed that he only be allowed to speak at the designated time for public speaking (which apparently was after they finished "the rest of the agenda"). There was some confusion on what this proposal actually was, and the leader repeated it. About a third of the people raised their hands, but this same third had already voted to hear the man speak.

Then, the dear leader proposed a "compromise" to his confused group: "It seems to me...that the group is very divided...about this issue...It seems unlikely...that we are going to come...to consensus quickly...therefore...I propose...that we continue...with the agenda." (The crowd re-chanted each phrase).

Amazingly, the crowd agreed with this proposal. They don't let the congressman speak, even though they all clearly wanted to hear him just a few seconds before. There were a few baffled voices in the crowd as Lewis left, and one man stood up in protest, but he was quickly shouted down by the leader and the crowd obediently repeated after him.

I've never seen a more blatant instance of crowd manipulation and mindless group think.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Michael Moore's Nightmarish World

Today I came across a YouTube video of Michael Moore complaining about how the Occupy Wall Street movement isn't getting enough attention, and I decided to google him, which I haven't done in a while. Maybe, I thought, his rantings would help me better understand the angry leftist mindset that is driving these protests. I found his old 1997 book, Downsize This, available for free, and I had a chance to read through it (it's only 122 pages long).

This man is motivated by anger, and he fantasizes about taking revenge on his political opponents. In my favorite chapter he complains that the Germans haven't sufficiently atoned for their crimes during World War II and the Holocaust. Not only did they kill a lot of people, he writes,
The map of the world is forever screwed up by World War II, and whether it's Bosnia or the Middle East or skinheads terrorizing the residents of Idaho, you can trace the roots of these conflicts back to what the Germans did.
And now (after they've ruined Idaho and convinced Saddam Hussein to invade Iran, apparently) the Germans have had the gall to become rich. Even worse, many of the dirty krauts who were alive during World War II have had the nerve to move to Florida.

This brings us to one of Moore's fantasies. Florida, you see, is a bad place because it's hot and it has lots of bugs, people with guns, and those rotten Cuban exiles who dared to flee Castro's paradise. So actually it's good that
all these ex-Nazis are moving there to terrorize the people of Florida. Serves them right. The Right-Wing Cubans versus the Geriatric SS in a fight to the finish! I'd pay money to watch that one on Pay-Per-View.
From peaceful immigration to televised gladiatorial death matches in a few paragraphs.

It's probably obvious that Moore hasn't had any dreams of old members of the KGB and the Stasi fighting each other to the death. On the contrary, he admires communists. The Red Chinese, for example, put on great show trials, and he likes to dream about the show trials he'd like to see. In these fantasies, the accused stand on the fifty yard line in Giants Stadium while eighty thousand "rabid citizens" demand blood (or, as Moore calls it, "justice"). In one of the dreams, after the gun lobby is found guilty of committing crimes against humanity,
the board of directors of the National Rifle Association are given a five-second head start. A gang of disenchanted youths whips out its automatic weapons and chases the NRAers across the field with a spray of bullets. 
That's the gist of the book. It's supposed to be funny. Aren't you laughing? 

In another particularly "funny" passage, Moore denounces William Safire for calling Hillary Clinton a liar and for daring to have written speeches for Richard Nixon. "In a more just world," he writes, "weasels like Safire would be spreading manure on a collective farm somewhere in North Dakota."

I guess a lot of people think he's kidding when he writes this stuff, but there's no punch line.

I have little doubt that if this man got the chance, he would gladly serve as America's Lenin. Then all his dreams of a "more just world" would come true.

Protesting Wall Street and Warping History

In a recent speech to the Occupy Wall Street protestors in New York, Naomi Klein presented a thoroughly warped interpretation of recent political and economic history.

She begins with the undeniable observation that the establishment exploits crises for its own gain. This is obviously true. The government took advantage of the post-9/11 panic to pass the Patriot Act, launch two major wars, and establish the Department of Homeland Security. It took advantage of the recent economic crisis to pass two huge economic "stimulus" bills, create dozens of new regulatory boards, and give even more power to the Federal Reserve. The government is far larger and more powerful as a result.

This graph clear illustrates the Federal government's growth over the last ten years:

And this graph shows the trend over a longer period:

Yet, according to Klein, the establishment uses crises to "push through their wishlist of pro-corporate policies: privatising education and social security, slashing public services, getting rid of the last constraints on corporate power." I'll address these claims one at a time.

First, public schools rule throughout the United States, and that's not going to change anytime soon. Judging from Klein's past writings, she seems to have in mind the rise of charter schools in New Orleans during the aftermath of Katrina. Charter schools, however, are not private. While they are exempt from some of the statues that apply to other public schools, they are publicly funded and are still subject to government oversight. Charter schools in New Orleans, for example, are part of the Recovery School District (RSD), which is administered by the Louisiana Department of Education. If something is administered by a department of some government, it is not private.

Second, public pension and entitlement plans at both the state and federal level are humming along at their current unsustainable rates. If these programs are not changed, all levels of government will consume 60 percent of the country's GDP by 2050. They have not been slashed; they have not been privatized.  

Third, the regulation of corporations has not abated in recent years. There was never any serious deregulation during the Bush or the Clinton years; on the contrary, the amount of money spent regulating corporations--Wall Street in particular--has been steadily rising for decades. In 1960, the federal government spent about $190 million on banking and financial regulation (in constant 2000 dollars). By 2000, it was spending $1.9 billion, a 1000% increase. By 2008, it had risen to $2.3 billion.

Sometimes progressives point to the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act as an example of the kind of "deregulation" that supposedly led to the financial crisis of 2008. But this Act, which loosened some of the restrictions that strictly separated investment and commercial banks, had nothing to do with the financial crisis. Even Bill Clinton argues:
it wasn't a complete deregulation at all. We still have heavy regulations and insurance on bank deposits, requirements on banks for capital and for disclosure...I don't see that signing that bill had anything to do with the current crisis.
That "heavy regulation" encompasses the entire economy. The Federal Register, the annual catalog of the federal government's regulations, was 81,405 pages long in 2010. Yet Klein somehow believes that the political establishment is dismantling the "last constraints on corporate power."

I shudder to think how many pages there would be in the Federal Register if Klein got her way.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Leftists "Protecting" Philadelphia

Emulating the Wall Street protesters in New York, a few hundred leftists have gathered today in Philadelphia around City Hall to vent their anger at Corporate America. (One of the most prominent signs was for the "Democratic Socialists of Pennsylvania").

This morning, one of the local Fox reporters interviewed an organizer of the protest, a Ph.D. student in musical composition at Temple University. "What's so bad about life?" he asked, "You're a student, you're married, what do you have to be upset about?"

After repeating some collectivist platitudes about social justice and whatnot, she said, "My parents raised me to protect others."

Who, I wonder, specifically asked her for protection from Corporate America?

I'm not normally a poetic person, but I immediately remembered a piece Leonard Read once quoted in his speech, "How to Advance Liberty." It goes:
And so I hold it is not treason
To advance a simple reason
For the sorry lack of progress we decry.
It is this: Instead of working
On himself, each man is shirking
And trying to reform some other guy.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Those New Obama-Durbin Debit Card Fees

Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and J.P. Morgan Chase have announced that they will soon begin imposing monthly fees for the use of their debit cards. Others banks will likely follow suit.

Obviously, people are angry. And Obama is angry. This is not a good business practice, he said, “[Banks] don’t have some inherent right just to, you know, get a certain amount of profit...” (I wonder how much of a profit he thinks his government has an "inherent right" to.)

Contra Obama, banks did not just suddenly realize that they could be more greedy. There is a reason banks are imposing these fees almost all at once--the president's own regulatory agenda. The Durbin Amendment to the Dodd-Frank financial reform law gave the Federal Reserve the power to set limits on the fees banks could charge retailers for swiping their debit cards, which will end up costing banks almost $14 billion a year.

Since all banks subject to the regulations know that their competitors are also looking for ways to recoup the new costs, they can introduce these new fees on debit cards confident that other banks will do the same.

There are two possible explanations for Obama's reaction. The first is that he is an economic ignoramus and was genuinely surprised when the cost of a financial regulation he signed into law was passed on to consumers. Political leaders always get angry when they realize that they cannot overrule economic law. The second possibility is that Obama knew that the banks would pass the costs of his regulations on to consumers and planned all along to jump on the opportunity to blame them for the fee increases.

Incompetent or Machiavellian...why is it always so hard to tell the difference between the two?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Thought of marrying your iPhone recently?

According to Martin Lindstrom, people love their iPhones. Like in the same way they love their friends and families.

In a study he recently conducted, he used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) tests to observe his research subjects' brain activity as they were exposed to 16 different images and sounds of  iPhones. The most striking result, he writes, was
the flurry of activation in the insular cortex of the brain, which is associated with feelings of love and compassion. The subjects’ brains responded to the sound of their phones as they would respond to the presence or proximity of a girlfriend, boyfriend or family member.
He concludes:
In short, the subjects didn’t demonstrate the classic brain-based signs of addiction. Instead, they loved their iPhones.
Reading this article I can't help but wonder if Lindstrom knows what an iPhone does. An iPhone, you see, allows people to talk and write to each other from a distance. Maybe the reason subjects’ brains responded to the sound of their phones as they would respond to the presence of a girlfriend, boyfriend or family member is because, 90 percent of the time their phones ring, they are about to talk to their girlfriend, boyfriend or family member. Maybe people don't love their iPhones. Maybe people love those who call and text them on their iPhones.

Strangely, Lindstrom doesn't consider these explanations. Instead, he wildly jumps to the conclusion that
As we embrace new technology that does everything but kiss us on the mouth, we risk cutting ourselves off from human interaction. For many, the iPhone has become a best friend, partner, lifeline, companion and, yes, even a Valentine.
That's right. If you talk to too many people on your iPhone, you risk cutting yourself off from human interaction. And because you think of your girlfriend when you hear her custom ring tone, your phone has become your Valentine.

This is what happens when you try to interpret human behavior based on some blobs on an MRI scan.