Re: The free market is an impossible utopia

[Note:  This comment comes from friend Bob Frankston.  DLH]

From: “Bob Frankston” <Bob19-0501@bobf.frankston.com>
Subject: RE: [Dewayne-Net] The free market is an impossible utopia
Date: July 20, 2014 at 9:06:46 EDT
To: dewayne@warpspeed.com

My problem is the opposite. Whence this magical thinking – the idea that
markets will just heal themselves and will also give all us the results we
each want as if there is no ambiguity or conflicting expectations but just
one singular perfection? There many related notions — such as looking at
the national debt purely in terms of money owed to bondholders but not
including money owed for maintenance of infrastructure. (let alone social
debts)

The free market is an impossible utopia
By Henry Farrell
Jul 18 2014
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2014/07/18/the-free-mark
et-is-an-impossible-utopia/>

The End of ‘Genius’

[Note: This item comes from friend Bob Frankston. Bob's comment: 'This is one reason I’ve started to use DIO (Do It Ourselves) rather than DIY to emphasize the power of cooperation and the value of infrastructure.' DLH]

The End of ‘Genius’
By JOSHUA WOLF SHENK
Jul 19 2014
<http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/20/opinion/sunday/the-end-of-genius.html&gt;

WHERE does creativity come from? For centuries, we’ve had a clear answer: the lone genius. The idea of the solitary creator is such a common feature of our cultural landscape (as with Newton and the falling apple) that we easily forget it’s an idea in the first place.

But the lone genius is a myth that has outlived its usefulness. Fortunately, a more truthful model is emerging: the creative network, as with the crowd-sourced Wikipedia or the writer’s room at “The Daily Show” or — the real heart of creativity — the intimate exchange of the creative pair, such as John Lennon and Paul McCartney and myriad other examples with which we’ve yet to fully reckon.

Historically speaking, locating genius within individuals is a recent enterprise. Before the 16th century, one did not speak of people being geniuses but havinggeniuses. “Genius,” explains the Harvard scholar Marjorie Garber, meant “a tutelary god or spirit given to every person at birth.” Any value that emerged from within a person depended on a potent, unseen force coming from beyond that person.

As late as the Renaissance, people we’d now consider quasi-divine creators were more likely to be seen as deft imitators, making compelling work from familiar materials. Shakespeare, for example, did not typically dream up new ideas for plays but rewrote, adapted and borrowed from the plots, characters and language of previous works. “Romeo and Juliet,” as Mark Rose, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, notes, is an episode-by-episode dramatization of a poem by Arthur Brooke.

Of course, theater is inherently collaborative. But the Elizabethan stage was more like the modern film industry, where the writer is generally less an auteur than a piece of a machine. Surviving records show three or four or even five playwrights receiving pay for a single production, according to the Columbia professor James Shapiro. The irony is that Shakespeare, whose world serves so well to illustrate a collaborative (or networked) idea about how good work is made, would become the icon of the solo creator.

The big change began with Enlightenment thinkers, who sought to give man a dignified, central place in the world. They made man’s thinking the center of their universe and created a profoundly asocial self.

Meanwhile, as the feudal and agrarian gave way to the capitalist and industrial, artists needed to be more than entertaining; they needed to be original, to profit from the sale of their work. In 1710, Britain enacted its first copyright law, establishing authors as the legal owners of their work and giving new cultural currency to the idea of authors as originators.

This is when we start to see the modern use of “genius.” In an essay published in 1711, Joseph Addison cited Shakespeare as a “remarkable instance” of “these great natural geniuses” — those lit up by an inner light and freed from dependence on previous models.

But it was during the Romantic era that “the true cult of the natural genius emerged,” Ms. Garber writes — with Shakespeare as its signal example. He was a convenient case; so little biographical material existed that his story could be made up.

[snip]

The Secret Government Rulebook For Labeling You a Terrorist

The Secret Government Rulebook For Labeling You a Terrorist
By Jeremy Scahill and Ryan Devereaux
Jul 23 2014
<https://firstlook.org/theintercept/article/2014/07/23/blacklisted/>

The Obama administration has quietly approved a substantial expansion of the terrorist watchlist system, authorizing a secret process that requires neither “concrete facts” nor “irrefutable evidence” to designate an American or foreigner as a terrorist, according to a key government document obtained byThe Intercept.

The “March 2013 Watchlisting Guidance,” a 166-page document issued last year by the National Counterterrorism Center, spells out the government’s secret rules for putting individuals on its main terrorist database, as well as the no fly list and the selectee list, which triggers enhanced screening at airports and border crossings. The new guidelines allow individuals to be designated as representatives of terror organizations without any evidence they are actually connected to such organizations, and it gives a single White House official the unilateral authority to place “entire categories” of people the government is tracking onto the no fly and selectee lists. It broadens the authority of government officials to “nominate” people to the watchlists based on what is vaguely described as “fragmentary information.” It also allows for dead people to be watchlisted.

Over the years, the Obama and Bush Administrations have fiercely resisted disclosing the criteria for placing names on the databases—though the guidelines are officially labeled as unclassified. In May, Attorney General Eric Holder even invoked the state secrets privilege to prevent watchlisting guidelines from being disclosed in litigation launched by an American who was on the no fly list. In an affidavit, Holder called them a “clear roadmap” to the government’s terrorist-tracking apparatus, adding: “The Watchlisting Guidance, although unclassified, contains national security information that, if disclosed … could cause significant harm to national security.”

The rulebook, which The Intercept is publishing in full, was developed behind closed doors by representatives of the nation’s intelligence, military, and law-enforcement establishment, including the Pentagon, CIA, NSA, and FBI. Emblazoned with the crests of 19 agencies, it offers the most complete and revealing look into the secret history of the government’s terror list policies to date. It reveals a confounding and convoluted system filled with exceptions to its own rules, and it relies on the elastic concept of “reasonable suspicion” as a standard for determining whether someone is a possible threat. Because the government tracks “suspected terrorists” as well as “known terrorists,” individuals can be watchlisted if they are suspected of being a suspected terrorist, or if they are suspected of associating with people who are suspected of terrorism activity.

“Instead of a watchlist limited to actual, known terrorists, the government has built a vast system based on the unproven and flawed premise that it can predict if a person will commit a terrorist act in the future,” says Hina Shamsi, the head of the ACLU’s National Security Project. “On that dangerous theory, the government is secretly blacklisting people as suspected terrorists and giving them the impossible task of proving themselves innocent of a threat they haven’t carried out.” Shamsi, who reviewed the document, added, “These criteria should never have been kept secret.”

The document’s definition of “terrorist” activity includes actions that fall far short of bombing or hijacking. In addition to expected crimes, such as assassination or hostage-taking, the guidelines also define destruction of government property and damaging computers used by financial institutions as activities meriting placement on a list. They also define as terrorism any act that is “dangerous” to property and intended to influence government policy through intimidation.

This combination—a broad definition of what constitutes terrorism and a low threshold for designating someone a terrorist—opens the way to ensnaring innocent people in secret government dragnets. It can also be counterproductive. When resources are devoted to tracking people who are not genuine risks to national security, the actual threats get fewer resources—and might go unnoticed.

“If reasonable suspicion is the only standard you need to label somebody, then it’s a slippery slope we’re sliding down here, because then you can label anybody anything,” says David Gomez, a former senior FBI special agent with experience running high-profile terrorism investigations. “Because you appear on a telephone list of somebody doesn’t make you a terrorist. That’s the kind of information that gets put in there.”

[snip]

NASA wants commercial space companies to help new Mars missions communicate

NASA wants commercial space companies to help new Mars missions communicate
By MARIELLA MOON

Jul 24 2014

The relay radios on two Mars science orbiters are making it possible to communicate with NASA’s robots, rovers and landers on the red planet. But these spacecraft might be out of commission soon, and NASA believes one possible solution is to purchase services from commercial space companies that plan to launch orbiters of their own. See, the rovers and landers on Mars communicate with the ground crew by using a severely limited direct link or by using the Odyssey and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as relay stations. Sadly, the agency has no plans to launch more orbiters of its own at the moment, and this could disrupt communication in a few years’ time.

Thus, the agency has asked for the detailed investigation (a process called Request for Information or RFI) on the feasibility of paying for the services of commercial orbiters to communicate with robots on Mars beyond 2020. To be clear, NASA hasn’t talked to contractors and companies about anything concrete yet, and it’s also working on other projects that could solve the issue, including LADEE, which transmitted data to the moon via laser beams in 2013. Using orbiters as relay stations has been really cost effective, though, so the space division’s hoping to make it work for future missions.

Forget too big to fail. Banks bro-down to borrow, and it may cause a new crash

Forget too big to fail. Banks bro-down to borrow, and it may cause a new crash
Regulators need to stop telling bedtime stories about mortgage derivatives and start telling Wall Street to get over itself
By Heidi Moore
Jul 24 2014
<http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jul/24/too-big-to-fail-banks-borrow-regulators>

On Wednesday, Congress celebrated the fourth anniversary of the Dodd-Frank financial reform act in its custom, by holding a completely pointless hearing. Even former Rep Barney Frank, whose name is on the bill, could barely stand the boredom.

Halfway through, Rep Michael Capuano directed a jovial question at Frank, slumped in his chair at the witness table even as legislators were throwing praise on him. The exchange went like this:

Capuano: Bahney, do ya miss us?

Frank: What?

Capuano: Ya miss us?

Frank: No.

It’s hard not to feel for Barney Frank. In four stultifying hours of dead-eyed posturing, it became clear that the Congressional talk about financial reform is not a debate any more; it’s a ritualistic chanting of calcified ideas.

Except, in this American saga of the financial crisis, there are no real heroes and the story has no action.

Wednesday’s exercise in Washington illuminated our troubling national obsession with talking about “too big to fail” instead of doing something about it: we have admitted that we’re powerless over the financial system, that we have given up on improving banks and focused, instead, on what we should serve at the wake. The conversation about the financial crisis now centers around the funeral rites of banking – government bailouts and wind-downs, bankruptcies and living wills. As a result, what we call financial reform is becoming a death cult around banks.

We can turn this conversation around. What we talk about when we talk about financial reform should be how banks live: the best regulations and the most efficient ways to move money around the country, from bankers to people to companies, without destroying anything along the way.

Too big to fail is not a real problem. Banks are too interconnected to fail. They aren’t so vulnerable to panics and crises because bankers and traders are reckless, cocaine-brained cowboys destroying whatever stands in the way of a great bonus. (Although that’s clearly an issue for some.)

One real problem is called short-term funding, and it’s really what we should be talking about if we want to get past the bedtime stories about mortgage derivatives. At Lehman Brothers, it helped throw the entire financial system into disarray.

Here’s the issue: Banks don’t work in a vacuum. They borrow from each other every day. They have to: banks, by their nature, lend money on long-term projects and securities, and the money isn’t always in the bank at the end of every day. It’s also cheaper to borrow money and securities for short periods of time; the interest rate is lower that way, like how a short-term car loan has lower interest rates than a 30-year mortgage loan. So banks borrow, overnight, from each other, to settle accounts and save themselves some money.

This day-to-day borrowing is how every single major bank gets through each day. In many cases, short-term borrowing can make up 70% of a big bank’s daily book, according to Reuters. It defines the survival of the big banks: they use short-term money to extend daily loans to companies. You and I also benefit from short-term funding every day if we have investments in money-market funds, which are supposed to be as secure and short-term as cash … yet still suffered a kind of bank-run panic after the collapse of Lehman.

[snip]

The GOP’s real shame on the border: ignoring an industry that makes billions off immigrants to give to politicians

The GOP’s real shame on the border: ignoring an industry that makes billions off immigrants to give to politicians
Private prisons have taken up immigration as a profit center, based on assembly-line ‘justice’ of the Bush era – and kept alive by Republican presidential contenders who look the other way
By Ana Marie Cox
Jul 22 2014
<http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jul/22/gop-shame-border-private-prison-industry-immigrants>

High-profile Republicans, from Governors Rick Perry and Rick Scott to even Chris Christie, have gone hoarse these past few weeks in denouncing the overflow of migrant detention centers at the US-Central American border as “the federal government’s failure.” All of them have ignored – or blissfully forgotten – that privatization, not government overreach, lies at the heart of America’s suppurating arrest and deportation policy.

Despite growing evidence that the private prison industry is neither humanenor cost-effective, for-profit incarceration has increased dramatically in the past 10 years, and nowhere has the boom been more obvious – and had more devastating impact – than along the United States’ border.

The tragedy of prison privatization is well-documented. For-profit institutions allows states to pass on overcrowding problems rather than solve them. There is lax attention to government regulations. This is a system designed for thebenefit of its owners, not in the best interests of the state – or the prisoners themselves.

But almost half of all detainees held by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and US Marshall Service were held in private prisons as of 2012, and the rate of private incarceration of immigrants has grown at rateshundreds of times faster than the rates at government-run prisons. Go ahead, call in the National Guard and complain about the US border patrol. But the US Bureau of Prisons spent about $600m on private prison contracts in the last fiscal year, as private prisons have become the beneficiaries of ICE’s diversion of illegal immigrants to “civil detainment”, or housing for those not suspected of additional crimes.

Indeed, it is President Obama’s enforcement of Bush-era deportation policy, not the “amnesty” granted to so-called Dreamers, that’s created the overcrowding and hellish conditions that so define the lives of border detainees.

In 2005, the Bush administration introduced bulk proceedings – unrelated immigrants tried and sentenced at the same time – and mandatory detention for illegal border-crossers, under a program known as Operation Streamline. This assembly-line justice, with up to 100 immigrants tried in a single court in a single day, continued under Obama, and eats up the time and resources of immigration lawyers and judges. (No wonder the children waiting at the border today are suing for representation.) Industrial justice leads to industrial detention: Operation Streamline funnels 30% of all those convicted into the waiting beds of detention centers run by one of the county’s three largest for-profit prison operators.

Those not caught in the cookie-cutter courtrooms, and found guilty in a traditional hearing process, usually wind up in one of the country’s Criminal Alien Requirement facilities. Every single one of them is run by private operators. And so almost every cry for “enforcement first” immigration reform – or “enforcement only” non-reform – puts a dollar into the pockets of private prison companies: In 2005, prior to the Bush administration’s swift and harsh border policy, the federal government paid out $400m to GEO and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the two largest gaolers; in 2011 alone, those companies billed the US for $1.4b, with immigrants generatingabout $250,000 a day. And the long-term outlook is rosy: Federal government spending on immigrant detention in private centers has gone from $760m in 2002 to upwards of $1bn annually today.

[snip]

Isis orders all women and girls in Mosul to undergo FGM

Isis orders all women and girls in Mosul to undergo FGM
UN says ‘fatwa’ issued by militant group in and around Iraqi city could affect 4 million
By Reuters
Jul 24 2014
<http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/24/isis-women-girls-fgm-mosul-un>

The militant group Islamic State (Isis) has ordered all girls and women in and around Iraq’s northern city of Mosul to undergo female genital mutilation, the United Nations says.

The “fatwa” issued by the Sunni Muslim fighters would potentially affect 4 million women and girls, the UN resident and humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, Jacqueline Badcock, told reporters in Geneva by videolink from Irbil.

“This is something very new for Iraq, particularly in this area, and is of grave concern and does need to be addressed,” she said.

“This is not the will of Iraqi people, or the women of Iraq in these vulnerable areas covered by the terrorists,” she added.

No one was immediately available for comment from Isis, which has led an offensive through northern and western Iraq.