Freedom and Liberty
Is it driven by fear?
Jonathan Turley, writing in the Washington Post, says that much of the West is becoming increasingly intolerant of certain speech.
But now an equally troubling trend is developing in the West. Ever since 2006, when Muslims worldwide rioted over newspaper cartoons picturing the prophet Muhammad, Western countries, too, have been prosecuting more individuals for criticizing religion. The “Free World,” it appears, may be losing faith in free speech.
Among the new blasphemers is legendary French actress Brigitte Bardot, who was convicted last June of “inciting religious hatred” for a letter she wrote in 2006 to then-Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, saying that Muslims were ruining France. It was her fourth criminal citation for expressing intolerant views of Muslims and homosexuals. Other Western countries, including Canada and Britain, are also cracking down on religious critics.
Tolerance, it seems, is only reserved for speech which praises tolerance. If, instead, the speaker is intolerant of things for which the state believes they should be tolerant, there is no tolerance.
Heh … yeah, fairly convoluted but it certainly appears to be the case. And, of course, not all religions are equal in that regard. Speak of Islam or Muslims as Bardot did in France and face charges. Say similar things about Christianity, and expect your speech to be greeted with … tolerance.
There’s a movement within the UN to ban religious defamation. It is backed by such paragons of religious freedom as Saudi Arabia. Imagine the fate of someone like Christopher Hitchens should such a resolution pass – it would certainly limit his ability, and most likely his desire, to travel, unless he’s willing to risk being jailed in some backwater theocracy for blasphemy and the defamation of religion.
As it turns out, it doesn’t even have to be a backwater theocracy for that to happen any more:
While it hasn’t gone so far as to support the U.N. resolution, the West is prosecuting “religious hatred” cases under anti-discrimination and hate-crime laws. British citizens can be arrested and prosecuted under the 2006 Racial and Religious Hatred Act, which makes it a crime to “abuse” religion. In 2008, a 15-year-old boy was arrested for holding up a sign reading “Scientology is not a religion, it is a dangerous cult” outside the organization’s London headquarters. Earlier this year, the British police issued a public warning that insulting Scientology would now be treated as a crime.
And, of course, you remember the infamous Canadian Human Rights Commission “trail” of Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant for daring to speak ill of Islam.
And, of course, this caught my eye in Turley’s article:
No question, the subjects of such prosecutions are often anti-religious — especially anti-Muslim — and intolerant. Consider far-right Austrian legislator Susanne Winter. She recently denounced Mohammad as a pedophile for his marriage to 6-year-old Aisha, which was consummated when she was 9. Winter also suggested that Muslim men should commit bestiality rather than have sex with children. Under an Austrian law criminalizing “degradation of religious doctrines,” the 51-year-old politician was sentenced in January to a fine of 24,000 euros ($31,000) and a three-month suspended prison term.
No doubt, then, this is just fine by the Austrians. After all, it is merely the implementation of the “religious doctrine” they feel compelled to protect by suppressing free speech:
A Saudi judge has refused for a second time to annul a marriage between an 8-year-old girl and a 47-year-old man, a relative of the girl told CNN.
The most recent ruling, in which the judge upheld his original verdict, was handed down Saturday in the Saudi city of Onaiza, where late last year the same judge rejected a petition from the girl’s mother, who was seeking a divorce for her daughter.
Why should Austria say nothing about this?
“We hear a lot in the media about the marriage of underage girls,” he said, according to the newspaper. “We should know that Sharia law has not brought injustice to women.”
That’s right – because pointing out this outrage against children would be considered a “degredation of religious doctrine” and the Gestapo state would prosecute you and put you in jail.
It’s a sad day for free speech when speaking out against blatant child abuse and, more likely, pedophilia, can be considered a crime punishable by jail, isn’t it?
In fact, it is a sad day for free speech when – in the name of “tolerance” and “acceptance” for things which have never been tolerated or acceptable in Western culture – speech is suppressed and punished.
But here we are.
This is, at least to me, an example of the entitlement mentality which has been fostered in this country:
When the woman who calls herself Queen Omega moved into a three-bedroom house here last December, she introduced herself to the neighbors, signed contracts for electricity and water and ordered an Internet connection.
What she did not tell anyone was that she had no legal right to be in the home.
Ms. Omega, 48, is one of the beneficiaries of the foreclosure crisis. Through a small advocacy group of local volunteers called Take Back the Land, she moved from a friend’s couch into a newly empty house that sold just a few years ago for more than $400,000.
Michael Stoops, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, said about a dozen advocacy groups around the country were actively moving homeless people into vacant homes — some working in secret, others, like Take Back the Land, operating openly.
The entitlement mentality is further enabled by morally misguided groups that confuse legitimate civil rights concerns with outright theft:
In addition to squatting, some advocacy groups have organized civil disobedience actions in which borrowers or renters refuse to leave homes after foreclosure.
I have some empathy for those who find themselves in a situation where they are forced from their homes because they can’t afford to pay what they agreed to pay (and I’m especially sympathetic to those who have children). But I cannot condone activities which assume a “right” to something they don’t own. And I certainly don’t define actions to secure what isn’t rightfully theirs as “civil disobedience”.
It’s theft. Property rights are a fundamental building block of a free society. Allow the subversion of those rights and the society won’t be free for long.
And groups and “community organizers” that encourage such subversion or enable the thieves are accessories to theft and should be treated as such.
Instead, they’ll most likely receive federal “stimulus” money.
The big Econo-boys are weighing in on the state of the economy, and providing a consensus opinion on the coming economic recovery. According to the Wall Street Journal:
Economists in the latest Wall Street Journal forecasting survey expect the recession to end in September, though most say it won’t be until the second half of 2010 that the economy recovers enough to bring down unemployment.
Gross domestic product was predicted to contract in the first and second quarters of this year by 5.0% and 1.8%, respectively, on a seasonally adjusted annualized rate. A return to growth — a modest 0.4% — isn’t expected until the third quarter. In the fourth quarter of 2008, the most recent period for which data are available, the economy contracted 6.3%.
The outlook for employment isn’t quite as good, though.
Just 12% of the economists expect the unemployment rate to fall some time this year. More than a third of respondents expect the jobless rate to peak in the first half of 2010, while about half don’t see unemployment declining until the second half of 2010. By December of this year, the economists on average expect the unemployment rate to reach 9.5%, up from the 8.5% reported for March. They do see the rate of decline slowing, forecasting 2.6 million job losses in the next 12 months, compared with the 4.8 million jobs lost in the previous period.
I’m a bit more negative on the above. As of today, weekly initial unemployment claims are still at 650,000 per week. If that keeps up, we’ll continue to see 0.5% increases in unemployment on a monthly basis. We might be at 9% by next month, nevermind December.
I’m also concerned about the implications of the rabid expansion of the monetary base over the last 7 months, during which it essentially doubled. If that impacts signifigantly on inflation by the end of the year, then we’ll be between a rock and a hard place with a weak economy, and signifigant inflation. Any Fed moves to contract the monetary base will crater the economy, in much the same way that Paul Volcker’s Fed did in causing the back to back recession of 1981-1982.
There are still treacherous shoals to navigate for the economy before I begin to get bullish on economic growth again.
This should disturb a good number of you – it certainly did me. It shows you how effective the indoctrination of our youth has been. Don’t forget the radical students of 1969 are the tenured professors of ’09. It also demonstrates something else just as disturbing that I’ll get too at the end of the post:
Only 53% of American adults believe capitalism is better than socialism.
The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 20% disagree and say socialism is better. Twenty-seven percent (27%) are not sure which is better.
Adults under 30 are essentially evenly divided: 37% prefer capitalism, 33% socialism, and 30% are undecided. Thirty-somethings are a bit more supportive of the free-enterprise approach with 49% for capitalism and 26% for socialism. Adults over 40 strongly favor capitalism, and just 13% of those older Americans believe socialism is better.
Investors by a 5-to-1 margin choose capitalism. As for those who do not invest, 40% say capitalism is better while 25% prefer socialism.
As you’ll note, the older someone is, the more likely they are to understand what socialism is and how it is inferior to captialism. The under 30 crowd, with no wisdom and little practical experience outside of academia – not to mention having not yet completly traded their utopian fantasies for the best practical system which has been shown to work – have a large group who either believe socialism is better or just aren’t with it enough to have an opinion.
Once past 30, and having put a few years under their belt in the real world, suddenly the utopian scales begin to fall from their eyes and they have a bit of an epiphany. As for those over 40 being so strongly for capitalism, most of them remember the old USSR and how well socialism worked there.
As you might imagine, there’s an ideological divide as well:
There is a partisan gap as well. Republicans – by an 11-to-1 margin – favor capitalism. Democrats are much more closely divided: Just 39% say capitalism is better while 30% prefer socialism. As for those not affiliated with either major political party, 48% say capitalism is best, and 21% opt for socialism.
Compare the results above to a poll taken in December of 2008:
As the incoming Obama administration and the Democratic congressional leadership scramble for ways to right the U.S. economy, 70% of U.S. voters say a free market is better than one managed by the government.
Just 15% say a government-managed economy is best, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. Fifteen percent (15%) are undecided.
Question: In the intervening months, what system and what players has the Obama administration demonized?
Answer: Capitalism and capitalists.
Gee, I wonder why?
In what I can only surmise is the latest talking point to emerge from JournoList, Glenn Beck has replaced Rush Limbaugh asthe token leader of the Republican Party, against whom all manner of mud will be slung. Reminiscent of the Clinton years, talk radio hosts are being assailed as the progenitors of hate, and even being blamed for recent shootings such as that in Pittsburgh. All of this nonsense, of course, but the smears will be cast about by lefty cohorts just the same.
The most recent offering is from Michael A. Cohen writing at Politico, entitled “Extremist rhetoric won’t rebuild the GOP”:
Watching Fox News’ new sensation Glenn Beck is not for the faint of heart. It is a disquieting entree into the feverish mind of a conspiracy theorist who believes, among other things, that the government wants to remotely control our thermostats, that the relaxing of the ban on stem cell research — as well as efforts to prevent global warming — is reminiscent of Nazism, that the Federal Emergency Management Agency might be setting up concentration camps and, finally, that the country is on the path to socialism or possibly fascism but definitely some “-ism” that should be avoided.
Frankly, that is all you really need to read of Mr. Cohen’s piece to understand what he is on about. The short version is that rightwing leader, Glenn Beck, is spreading dangerous conspiracy theories that hurt the GOP and the nation. The problem, as always, is that the charges just aren’t true.
Taking them one by one from the cited paragraph, here is what Cohen asserts are the product of “the feverish mind of a conspiracy theorist”, and why his assertions are false:
(1) “the government wants to remotely control our thermostats”
I don’t know to which Beck comments Cohen is referring, but the fact is that the California government proposed exactly such a law:
Next year in California, state regulators are likely to have the emergency power to control individual thermostats, sending temperatures up or down through a radio-controlled device that will be required in new or substantially modified houses and buildings to manage electricity shortages.
The proposed rules are contained in a document circulated by the California Energy Commission, which for more than three decades has set state energy efficiency standards for home appliances, like water heaters, air conditioners and refrigerators. The changes would allow utilities to adjust customers’ preset temperatures when the price of electricity is soaring. Customers could override the utilities’ suggested temperatures. But in emergencies, the utilities could override customers’ wishes.
Clearly, it takes no “feverish mind” to grasp the fact that such programs are being considered.
(2) “the relaxing of the ban on stem cell research — as well as efforts to prevent global warming — is reminiscent of Nazism”
Well that does sound pretty bad. At least, until you track down what Beck actually said. In an interview with Professor Robert George of Princeton University, Beck rehashed why allowing progressive political interests to be in charge of steering “science” in the name of the public good was not necessarily desirable:
GLENN: I tell you, it’s so disturbing. I’m getting a lot of heat today because yesterday on television I talked about this and I said, you know, it was the progressives and the scientists that brought us eugenics. The idea that science — if evolution is true, then science should be able to help it along, and it was the guys in the white jackets. It was the scientists and the doctors that brought us the horrors of eugenics and it’s because –
PROFESSOR GEORGE: Glenn, can I fill you in a little bit? Because you are absolutely right. Let me tell you a little bit of the history. It’s fascinating. Those guys in white coats were not even during the Nazi period. These weren’t guys working for the Nazis. This was years before the Nazis during the Weimar Republic.
GLENN: It was here.
PROFESSOR GEORGE: When progressive, as they were then called, doctors and lawyers and others, decided that there were some lives unworthy of life. And two scholars, a guy named Bending and a guy named Hoka (ph) who were not Nazis who were opposed to the Nazi federy and so forth, they saw them as really sort of lower class thugs. But these two guys, a law professor and a medical professor, wrote a book called Lebens unwürdig von Leben, life unworthy of life which was a roadmap for taking the life destroying the lives of retarded people, people regarded as inferior because of their low intelligence or physical impairment or so forth. That was the roadmap. It was before the Nazis. You are 100% right.
GLENN: And a lot of this stuff, I mean, started here originally, did it not? Didn’t some of the original thinking –
PROFESSOR GEORGE: Well, it didn’t just begin in Germany. It’s certainly true that there was a strong eugenics here among the elite, among the progressive, the people who regarded themselves as the forward thinkers. Just the name, one figure from my own field of philosophy of law, Oliver Wendell Holmes, the great American jurist and philosopher and eventually Supreme Court justice who was with the program entirely of eugenics before the Nazis gave it a bad name. So it was here in America just as it was in Germany.
GLENN: So here’s what I’m afraid of and, you know, call me crazy, but whenever you unplug from ethics and you put science at the top and then you surround it with a bunch of progressive elitists, that usually doesn’t spell, you know, spell out anything that’s good.
With respect to the dangers of separating ethics and embryonic stem cell research, the conversation also included this tidbit:
GLENN: The guy who started embryonic stem cell research, I heard a quote from him yesterday, said if you haven’t — if this whole concept of research on embryos hasn’t given you pause, then you haven’t thought about it enough.
PROFESSOR GEORGE: Oh, yes, that’s Jamie Thompson you are quoting who was the first person to isolate human embryonic stem cells. He is a research scientist at the University of Wisconsin. And he said that in explaining why he had done path-breaking work, very important pioneering work to create alternative sources of pluripotent stem cells, pluripotent just means like embryonic stem cells, cells that are able to be manipulated to become any sort of cell tissue so they would be very useful in regenerative medicine if all things work out. But Thompson was explaining why he went down another path and created a technology for which he’s likely to win the Nobel Prize called induced pluripotent stem cells which can be created without using embryos or destroying embryos or killing embryos. So yes, even somebody like Thompson recognizes that there’s a huge ethical issue here. But President Obama’s just swept past it, just swept past it.
To be fair, whenever Nazism or fascism enters the fray, noses are sure to get bent out of shape and even clearly expressed thoughts will be missed. However, as easily surmised from the snippets of conversation above (much less the whole thing), it’s quite clear that Beck was not comparing stem cell research to Nazism, but instead warning against allowing progressive scientists to drive the debate without regard for the ethical issues. By referencing an historical consequence of blindly following such advice, Beck is simply making a useful comparison to illuminate his point. Nowhere does he compare stem cell research to Nazism.
(3) “the Federal Emergency Management Agency might be setting up concentration camps”
Of all the accusations leveled at Beck by Mr. Cohen, this is the most egregiously false. In my opinion, the charge would fairly support a suit for defamation against Cohen, even under the heightened “actual malice” standard set forth in New York Times, Co. v. Sullivan. Far from asserting that FEMA was setting up concentration camps, Beck actively and thoroughly debunked the conspiracy theory [HT: Allahpundit]:
How Cohen could make the assertion he did is simply bewildering. Even the barest amount of research would have shown how wrong he was. If nothing else, Cohen should immediately retract his claim and apologize to Beck.
(4) “the country is on the path to socialism or possibly fascism but definitely some “-ism” that should be avoided.”
After delving into pure libel, Cohen quickly steers into idiocy. The assertion here is that Beck’s opinion that the Obama administration policies are grounded in statist/collectivist ideology is a conspiracy theory. Missing from Cohen’s analysis is any mention of the last eight years of BusHitler! droning. Nor is there any explanation as to how an opinion regarding the underlying ideology of the President’s governing philosophy could be a conspiracy theory. Typical of liberals nowadays, Cohen simply likens any mention of similarities between Obama’s agenda and actual socialist/fascist/statist policies as fear-mongering worthy of no examination, and what’s wrong with socialism anyway? Apparently ignorance of recent events is not Cohen’s only forte, as he is also seemingly unaware of anything that has happened over the last century or so.
Regardless of how one might feel about Glenn Beck, and whether you agree with him or not, he is being unfairly smeared by Mr. Cohen. The sorts of attacks set forth above will only broaden in scope unless confronted, and they will be used to discredit any similar veins of thought no matter how tangential to Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, or any other strawman leader the left chooses to hang around the necks of those opposed to statist politics. Hit these rhetorical bullies in their lying collectivist mouths now, or face the unfortunate consequences of letting them drive the agenda and control the language of the debate.
While some may want to make this a story about “Islam”, it’s not really. It is a pretty standard story in which some who disagree with what others choose to do, although perfectly legal, attempt to pressure the law to have their belief imposed on others use of their property.
On one side of the disagreement is a Muslim mosque, and some of its worshippers are unhappy about plans for a new restaurant that will serve alcohol.
On the opposing end of the clash is a business owner who says he’s invested $1 million to upgrade a blighted building and has tried to accommodate Muslim worshippers during spiritual holidays.
The two entities – The Hill restaurant and the Anoor mosque – are a mere 191 feet apart.
According to the local law they should be at least 300 feet apart for the establishment to get a beer and wine license. As it turns out, front door to front door they’re probably pretty close to that distance. But the distance is arbitrary anyway. And really, it’s not about the distance, it is about the desire to control behavior. The distance just gives cause to that desire.
The possibility that the restaurant could serve as a local drinking hangout bothers mosque attendees like board member Nadeem Sidiqqi.
Islam prohibits the consumption of alcohol, but Sidiqqi said the protest isn’t an attack on drinking in general, just a call for buffer zones for religious establishments.
“People may say ‘we may not want to go to this mosque’ if it’s not a good environment,” Sidiqqi said. “You want an area where you can bring your kids or your family.”
Sure are a whole lot of assumptions going on in those three paragraphs, aren’t there? And you’d like to believe this isn’t really about “drinking in general”, but obviously it is. Otherwise, there’d be no call for a buffer zone, would there?
As you’ll see in the story, as you read it, the mosque is in a walled in court yard, and the restaurant has taken a building which was a neighborhood eyesore and rehabilitated it. The restaurant owner seems willing to accommodate the mosque during its holidays.
But the petition signing continues. Because, you see, those on the one side want those on the other side to do what they believe is the right thing, even though there’s nothing wrong with what the other guys want to do nor is there any evidence that what they want to do will have an effect on the others.
As it turns out, it probably won’t matter anyway. Apparently if the state of Tennessee grants the restaurant a liquor license, the 300 foot requirement is waived (again showing you how arbitrary and meaningless the number is).
Of course, my guess is, that won’t sit well with the other bunch, and, unfortunately, this is just the beginning of the attempts to shut the restaurant down.
Oh, the location? Knoxville, TN – trust me the fact it is a mosque and not a church is only a matter of random circumstance. But it does point out that as much the cultural landscape is changes, it really remains pretty much the same.
No surprise to some, but a complete surprise to others I’m sure:
The Obama administration is again invoking government secrecy in defending the Bush administration’s wiretapping program, this time against a lawsuit by AT&T customers who claim federal agents illegally intercepted their phone calls and gained access to their records.
Disclosure of information sought by the customers, “which concerns how the United States seeks to detect and prevent terrorist attacks, would cause exceptionally grave harm to national security,” Justice Department lawyers said in papers filed Friday in San Francisco.
Kevin Bankston of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a lawyer for the customers, said Monday the filing was disappointing in light of the Obama presidential campaign’s “unceasing criticism of Bush-era secrecy and promise for more transparency.”
The promise of transparency has been the most consistent casualty of the Obama administration. No bills thus far have been posted on the web 5 days prior to signing. The Treasury Department refuses to disclose how TARP money has been spent. And now this – something, as the EFF points out, which was unceasingly criticized by candidate Obama when the Bush administration was in power.
Now, that said, perhaps what the Obama Justice Department has discovered is argument the Bush administration was making at the time were valid. The case in question is an extension of the September case:
Like the earlier suit, the September case relies on a former AT&T technician’s declaration that he saw equipment installed at the company’s San Francisco office to allow NSA agents to copy all incoming e-mails. The plaintiffs’ lawyers say the declaration, and public statements by government officials, revealed a “dragnet” surveillance program that indiscriminately scooped up messages and customer records.
The Justice Department said Friday that government agents monitored only communications in which “a participant was reasonably believed to be associated with al Qaeda or an affiliated terrorist organization.” But proving that the surveillance program did not sweep in ordinary phone customers would require “disclosure of highly classified NSA intelligence sources and methods,” the department said.
It would appear the Obama Justice Department has examined the case and the evidence and, amazingly, has come to the conclusion that what the Bush administration claimed – that the taps were aimed only at al Qaeda and/or affiliated organizations – was correct, and is now defending that. They’ve also concluded that disclosure of the information involved in the case would be harmful to national security.
What I now wonder is if “secrecy” suddenly is ok? And since it is the Obama administration – the increasingly opaque Obama administration – saying the taps were used only on bad guys, are they now ok? And will that be enough to mollify those on the left who were so outraged when the Bush administration was accused of doing all of this?
And finally, I wonder if the NYT will devote the time and space to this defense of what it termed “illegal wiretapping” in the past as it did when it surfaced during the Bush administration?
Al Gore may have ‘invented’ it, but the Congress may give Obama control of it. The report is from Mother Jones:
Should President Obama have the power to shut down domestic Internet traffic during a state of emergency?
Senators John Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) think so. On Wednesday they introduced a bill to establish the Office of the National Cybersecurity Advisor—an arm of the executive branch that would have vast power to monitor and control Internet traffic to protect against threats to critical cyber infrastructure. That broad power is rattling some civil libertarians.
The Cybersecurity Act of 2009 (PDF) gives the president the ability to “declare a cybersecurity emergency” and shut down or limit Internet traffic in any “critical” information network “in the interest of national security.” The bill does not define a critical information network or a cybersecurity emergency. That definition would be left to the president.
The bill does not only add to the power of the president. It also grants the Secretary of Commerce “access to all relevant data concerning [critical] networks without regard to any provision of law, regulation, rule, or policy restricting such access.” This means he or she can monitor or access any data on private or public networks without regard to privacy laws.
So you have an unelected Secretary of Commerce able to access all of the data on the private or public networks without regard to privacy laws – yeah, no possibility of abuse there, huh?
The bill could undermine the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), says CDT senior counsel Greg Nojeim. That law, enacted in the mid ’80s, requires law enforcement seek a warrant before tapping in to data transmissions between computers.
“It’s an incredibly broad authority,” Nojeim says, pointing out that existing privacy laws “could fall to this authority.”
It will be interesting to see if we hear the same sort of outcry from the left pertaining to warrants as we heard about FISA if this passes.
“We must protect our critical infrastructure at all costs—from our water to our electricity, to banking, traffic lights and electronic health records—the list goes on,” Rockefeller said in a statement. Snowe echoed her colleague, saying, “if we fail to take swift action, we, regrettably, risk a cyber-Katrina.”
And apparently the possibility of a “cyber-Katrina” means that any Constitutional right you may have to privacy can be waived.
The siege against capitalism continues unabated. Yesterday, leaders of the 20 largest national economies reached a consensus that they needed to reel in unfettered free markets, which they all agreed was the cause of the world’s economic crisis. The medicine consists of further funding of the IMF (to the tune of an addition $1 Trillion) and an increased regulatory state.
Setting aside differences in philosophy and national character, at least for now, the leaders agreed to make available more than $1 trillion in new lending to spur international growth. While leaving it to individual nations to enact, they promised tough new regulations aimed at banks and other financial institutions whose freewheeling activities sparked the crisis. And they vowed renewed support for trade and more help for the globe’s poorest countries.
“The world’s leaders have responded today with an unprecedented set of comprehensive and coordinated actions,” Obama said, in the spotlight on his first overseas trip as president. “Faced with similar global economic challenges in the past, the world was slow to act, and people paid an enormous price. . . . Today, we have learned the lessons of history.”
For some reason, the bulk of the reporting on the G-20 conference outcome is limited to describing how wonderful everyone feels about the loose agreements, and how industrious they all were to come to terms with one another. Very little press has been devoted to the actual agreements. The media seem to be under the collective impression that the most important aspect of these meetings is the conduct of the diplomacy. They could not be more wrong:
FINANCIAL market “cowboys” who wreaked havoc on the world economy will be brought undone by the G20 agreement, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says.
Mr Rudd says the $US1 trillion ($A1.4 trillion) deal agreed on at the G20 summit in London, will benefit “tradies”, young people and small business with real commitments against real timelines.
“Today’s agreement begins to crack down on the sort of cowboys in global financial markets that have brought global markets undone with real impacts for jobs everywhere,” Mr Rudd told reporters at the conclusion of the summit overnight.
The summit has agreed to a restructure of the financial regulatory system, reform of and a trebling of funding for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to $US750 billion ($A1.08 trillion), an extension until the end of next year of a ban on nations introducing trade protection measures, a curb of excessive executive payouts and agreement to co-ordinate further economic stimulus.
Make no mistake. What the G-20 leaders (as stated by PM Rudd above) are saying to world is that none of this would have happened if they had been in charge. “Financial market cowboys” (meaning US and UK bankers), the faces of capitalism, are entirely to blame for the woes of the world. If only there had been more government involvement, according to this theory, then the financial crisis would have been averted or severely curtailed. Accordingly, the G-20 have decided that the way to fix this mass is to assert greater control over the world economy. The immediate targets of this new world order? Tax havens of course:
Switzerland, Singapore, the Cayman Islands, Monaco, Luxembourg and Hong Kong are among 45 territories blacklisted on Thursday by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and now threatened with punitive financial retaliation for their banking secrecy.
Among the sanctions being considered by the G20 are the scrapping of tax treaty arrangements, imposing additional taxes on companies that operate in non-compliant countries, and tougher disclosure requirements for individuals and businesses that use shelters.
Illegal tax evasion through offshore shelters has been a long-standing irritation for Gordon Brown, President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. An estimated $7 trillion of assets are held offshore and, according to pressure group Tax Justice Network, developed countries lose $180bn a year in evaded taxes.
Under the OECD definition, countries will be considered non-compliant if they have less than 12 bi-lateral agreements to exchange tax information with foreign governments on request. “Authorities should have access to the information to effectively crack down on tax evasion,” Andrew Watt, director at law firm Alvarez & Marsal Taxand, said.
Jeffrey Owens, director of the OECD’s centre for tax policy said: “This is the major breakthrough we have been trying to get for 13 years. If you intend to evade tax through offshore bases, you will think hard about it now you know tax authorities can trace you.”
Mr Sarkozy added: “Sixty percent of hedge funds are registered in tax havens. Putting hedge funds under supervision isn’t going to generate jobs in the textile industry. But we have to put behind us the madness of this time of total deregulation.”
The reactions of Owens and Sarkozy are like being annoyingly puzzled at why the whipping boy continues to move, seeking to avoid the lash.
Clearly the aim here is not at fixing anything other than the ability of wealthy nations to collect taxes. Small countries typically designated as “tax havens” tend to have one thing in common: they have no other means of competing in the world market place other than in the area of business taxation. If the economies of these countries were all dependent upon growing and selling corn, then the G-20 actions would be met with a much different response. Instead, companies that wish to minimize their tax burden, so that they may instead fund R&D, expand (create jobs), or re-invest, are treated as outlaws, unworthy of little more than scorn. And the small countries that have been willing to host these companies as a means of boosting their own economies, are labeled pariahs to be sanctioned by the wealthiest nations in the world. The message: “Don’t muscle in on our territory. That’s our tax money and we’re here to collect.”
In addition to punishing tax havens, the G-20 decided that the favorite whipping boys of statists needed to be better restrained so as to prevent their squirming:
Leaders agreed to craft tighter controls over hedge funds and establish more rigorous regulations to prevent the buildup of toxic assets that poisoned the U.S. financial system in and spread overseas.
The leaders agreed to set benchmarks for executive pay and make accounting standards more uniform across borders. Most would be drafted by a new Financial Stability Board, where central bankers, regulators and finance ministers from the more than 20 nations represented at the summit will eventually hash out the details.
Credit agencies — whose top-notch ratings of instruments linked to bad U.S. subprime mortgages gave false indications of their relatively safety — would be subjected to new oversight and regulations. But there was no call for a global regulator that could overrule decisions made by individual countries.
While I’m glad to see the ratings agencies (whom have inexplicably been absent from public criticism and ire) taking their turn at the post, everyone should be dismayed at what these sorts of agreements portend. The collective effort to rein in “cowboy capitalism” is little more than a barely disguised effort to place the European bit in the mouth of American (and, to a lesser extent, British) mouth. Business decisions are no longer to be made in the interests of the shareholders, but in favor of “public good.” What constitutes the “public good” will be determined by the special interests who exact the most influence upon, and best line the pockets of, the political forces in charge. In short, consumers no longer rule the market place; bureaucrats do.
As with all movements based on collective will, such as that which the G-20 has furthered, an unfettered free market is featured as the main culprit. America is widely considered to be an economic jungle where the capitalist beast roams freely, devouring the innocent and maiming cautious outsiders. Ironically, Leviathan himself has identified capitalism as an unrestrained beast in need of controlling. Yet, we have nothing like an uncontrolled free market here. It only appears that way because the remainder of the world has cloaked their industries in thick blankets of protectionism and shackled their businesses with an alarming array of bureaucratic chains. Comparatively, America does look like a free market jungle.
But therein lies the problem. As the Washington Post stated it:
Along with declarations of optimism came the recognition of at least a temporary shift in attitude away from two decades of intense reliance on free trade, deregulation and market-knows-best policies that fueled stunning growth across the planet.
Brown — the leader of a country closely associated with that philosophy — declared “the Washington Consensus” over, using a term that recognizes the American roots of an economic system seen by many in the world as unfair and unhealthy.
As far from a pure free market as we are, it is our relative distance from the nanny-statism of Europe and beyond that props up the economies of the world. That stunning growth was made possible precisely because of what the rest of the world refers to as “cowboy capitalism” and they were all happy to join in the ride. But now that woe times betide us, thanks primarily to government meddling (e.g. CRA, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Fed policy, etc.), the world is ready to chop down the last pillar of capitalism, and assert government control over everything. With that final support gone, the capitalist beast will be brought to heel, confined to the zoo where it will live its remaining days as little more than a novelty. Unfortunately, it will take its wealth producing powers with it.
“For anyone who questions why the President has offered this plan, these pledges will be the answer.”
Obama’s army of cultists is very hard at work.
Like (I assume) most other news junkies who closely followed the election, I am still receiving emails from Obama’s political action people. Much of it is aimed at getting the recipients to participate in the “Organizing for America” politicking. It has always seemed a little creepy to me because the election is over. I mean, why the endless campaign unless the real purpose is to propagandize the voters? But I also figured that my biases made it seem worse than it really is. That is, until viewing this video:
Neo-neocon provides an excellent analysis of why this sort of White House driven organizing just seems wrong. For example, she notes the rather troublesome fact that the Obama administration intends for people to simply pledge blind support to his agenda:
Some of the most disturbing things about this video are its vagueness, its focus on Obama himself in what I can only call his cult of personality, and its use of the word “pledge” (at minute :56, note the words, under “The Pledge” and next to a check box, “I support President Obama’s bold plan….”)
The vagueness comes from the fact that whatever people are pledging to support is never described in any detail whatsoever. The petition, or pledge sheet, or loyalty oath, or whatever you want to call it, is very short. It appears that each policy area—energy, health care, education—has but a single sentence describing it.
Think about this for a moment: people are blindly pledging loyalty to policies about which they know virtually nothing except the fact that Obama is behind them, and he says it’s for our own good.
Moreover, reasonable dissent from Obama’s agenda is not possible according to the training video:
The trainer gives only one reason that “the establishment in Washington” would oppose this: opposition to change. Never mind principled opposition; there is no such thing where Obama is concerned. Never mind the cost of these policies in a recession.
Never mind; just sign on the dotted line. And is anyone else as perturbed as I am by this statement: For anyone who questions why the President has offered this plan, these pledges will be the answer.
I think that definitely qualifies as creepy, biases or not.
[HT: Bird Dog]