Category Archives: Government

Obama and the permanent terror war

By now some of you have heard about or read the recent Washington Post story by Greg Miller about the Obama administrations efforts to make permanent its powers to kill anyone on the planet in the name of the war on terror. Glenn Greenwald, talking about the Post story and citing work by the ACLU of Massachusetts on the government's continuing attempts to increase their surveillance of us all, paints this chilling picture:

What has been created here – permanently institutionalized – is a highly secretive executive branch agency that simultaneously engages in two functions: (1) it collects and analyzes massive amounts of surveillance data about all Americans without any judicial review let alone search warrants, and (2) creates and implements a "matrix" that determines the "disposition" of suspects, up to and including execution, without a whiff of due process or oversight. It is simultaneously a surveillance state and a secretive, unaccountable judicial body that analyzes who you are and then decrees what should be done with you, how you should be "disposed" of, beyond the reach of any minimal accountability or transparency.

As if this were not bad enough, we know we have entered new territory in the destruction of our rights when a government official likens drone strikes to swatting flies as in this quote from Micah Zenko's Council on Foreign Relations post, Institutionalizing America’s Targeted Killing Program:

“It really is like swatting flies. We can do it forever easily and you feel nothing. But how often do you really think about killing a fly?”

Will you are I be a fly to some future administration? If we are, as Spencer Ackerman at Wired noted, we can thank Obama for that.

As PBS extolls arbitrage, is wealth looting next?

I didn't intend to have my next post focus on arbitrage and rentiers, but as I prepared to deal with several items I have put off in favor of sleeping the last few days, I just couldn't resist.

Last night, my wife was watching Market Warriors, a PBS show that seems to have been spun off from Antiques Roadshow. Various intermediate buyers/sellers comb flea markets and try to get the best price they can on the antiques they buy so in order to sell them at auction for a higher price. They have various constraints they have to abide by. In between the haggling, the narrator makes comments on the buying/selling process, negotiations and something about the items the participants have chosen.

They should have just called the show Arbitrage, as striped of the commentary, that is all the participants are doing. As they Marxists' M-C-M' equation says, they are using money to buy commodities to make more money. Watching stock or bond traders negotiate their deals would have been far more exciting and illuminating about the inner purpose of financial capitalism.

Which brings me to the latest Q&A with Michael Hudson about his book The Bubble and Beyond: Fictitious Capital, Debt Deflation and Global Crisis. In the Q&A, he ties the huge debts (especially private debts) we have developed since 1980, with the increasing amount of money the financial sector is siphoning off from the goods economy. The following excerpt summarizes our current march on the road to debt servitude:

But instead of supporting productive industry by extending credit to increase tangible capital investment, the banking system has extended credit mainly (about 80 percent in the United States and most English-speaking countries) to buy real estate and load it down with debt. The result is that rental income is used to pay interest to the banks rather than to pay taxes. This forces governments to tax wages, profits and sales. That increases the cost of living and doing business, on top of the interest charge.

In search of this loan market, banks have come to back untaxing real estate and deregulating monopolies, so that their economic rent can be paid to the banks as interest by customers eager buy these rights – and charge even higher rents or raise prices even further without making a new capital investment of their own. Instead of financing industry, U.S. banks don’t make loans for what can be produced in the future. They make loans against collateral already in place – including entire companies with high-interest “junk” bonds. The target company is obliged to pay the debt that the corporate raider takes on. The raider then is “free” to downsize and outsource the work force, squeeze the budget and hope to come out with a capital gain after paying off the banks and bondholders. The process is more extractive than productive.

While the financial industry has led the way in extracting economic rents from their customers and other sectors of the economy, other sectors are catching up.  Increasingly we see patents being used to extract economic rents, whether with the Apple-Samsung ruling or with patent trolls, rather than by actually innovating and creating more useful products. 

With artbitrage covered, perhaps PBS will come up with a new show that extolls the virtues of rent seeking.  I think Wealthy Looters would be a good title.

The question for us, though, is whether we want an economy that encourages invovation and spreading the wealth we all create as widely as possible or whether we want a rentier tollbooth economy controlled and milked by the wealthy.

UPDATED: 2007 State, Local & Federal Tax Rates by Income

A while ago I put together a spreadsheet of the tax rates that people at different income classes paid and kept meaning to post it once I looked at similar data from the 1950s or 1960s, when the actual tax rates that the wealthy paid were much higher.  However, with the latest Romney clandestine video, it seemed a fitting time to post it.

The data is from 2007 and it includes Federal, State and Local taxes.  My sources were:

You can find my google spreadsheet with all of the numbers (as well as some extrapolations if you remove certain tax breaks) here.  I had to do some calculations to break out some of the higher income ranges for the Federal data, but the computations are pretty straightforward.

Before I go to the charts, a bit of commentary.  

State taxes, especially sales and property, are regressive and that helps to skew the taxes so the poor pay more and the wealthy less.  Some states have a high enough income tax to offset that disparity, but many states do not have an income tax, or have a flat tax, such Massachusetts.

FICA (Social Security, Medicare, etc.) taxes are payroll taxes that only apply to wage income, but the total amount a tax payer has to pay is capped at $110,100 of income (as of 2012).  However, the Earned Income Tax Credit helps to offset the FICA taxes and you can see that from the Federal tax rate chart below where income tax rates are negative for those earning less than $18,000.  Also, the long-term capital gains taxes are paid at a flat rate that is not progressive, unlike Federal income taxes which rise with the income of the tax payer.

These issues, as well as others, ensure that the tax rates the wealthy pay are not that much higher than someone in the middle class.  

On to the summary charts.

State, Local & Federal Tax Rate by Income Range

State & Local Tax Rate by Income Range

Federal Tax Rate by Income Range


I see via Ezra Klein (via friends on Facebook) that Citizens for Tax Justice already has this info in a summary form for 2011. I'll poke around and see if they have the rates for the 1950s and 1960s.


Senate CISPA Up For A Vote, Help Stop it!

Posting from the Massachusetts Pirate Party web site.

The Senate will have a final vote on the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 (S 3414) soon.  They just passed the cloture vote for it.  This bill is the Senate version of CISPA, and remains a solution looking for a problem.

Thankfully, the Senate has listened to the outcry over CISPA and has made a bill that better protects our privacy.  However, it still authorizes companies to use cybersecurity as an excuse to engage in monitoring of user data and could prevent users from using privacy-tools such as TOR over their network.

This bill has the support of the White House, so we cannot count on President Obama to veto it.

We need you to tell both Senators to oppose S 3414.   Please call the numbers listed below or fill out their contact forms.  Thanks!

Scott Brown
(202) 224-4543

John Kerry
(202) 224-2742

Is there an instance where an armed citizenry prevented US government oppression?

One of the assumed truths in the US is that an armed citizenry will prevent the US government from becoming oppressive and taking away our liberties.  Recently I have seen people state that the Tea Party folks brought guns to their rallies and the police were respectful of their rights to assemble, but the Occupy movement (and various left-oriented movements in the past) didn't have guns and so got attacked by the police.

I am curious about this line of reasoning and have been seeking an actual instance of when an armed citizenry prevented government oppression. 

I can think of examples where an armed citizenry didn't stop government oppression such as:

Indeed that the anarchists or Black Panther party had weapons (and sometimes used them in self-defense) were used as excuses to use overwhelming government power and surveillance on them, which is part of the reason nonviolent tactics proved more effective

Are there instances where firearms really did stop government oppression or did they only serve to bolster the power and privileges of the (generally) white wealthy power structure?  I know some of you will think the question is loaded, but I am seriously trying to find an instance where firearms did stop government oppression.

ACTA is Dead!

Reposted from the Mass. Pirate Party blog.
In a 478-to-39 vote, the European Parliament rejected ACTA. For all intents ACTA is dead. Without EU support and with other countries rejecting it, ACTA is unlikely to go anywhere.
No doubt parts of it will reappear in other secret draft treaties, especially the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement. But on this Independence Day, we thank all who voiced their opposition to ACTA, especially the European Pirate and Green Parties!

I’ll be at the Liquid Feedback Hackathon this Sunday, 3pm

The German Pirate Party created Liquid Feedback over a year ago to allow party members to debate and decide on their platform and other issues. They have been using it successfully. Here is a video explaining it (in English):

On Sunday, 7/1, I will be helping with the Massachusetts Pirate Party’s hackathon to get our own copy of Liquid Feedback running. We will start at 3pm and will go until we are done or until asked to leave, whichever comes first.  The hackathon will be at 45 Bromfield #2, Somerville 02144.

Please sign up if you want to help so we know who will be there.

If you cannot make it in person, then you can join us on the #masspirates irc channel at  We will also post our progress at the #masspirates twitter hashtag.

Links 6/26/2012

Links 6/25/2012

Links 6/22/2012

  • Doug Henwood‘s Behind the News interview with Yanis Varoufakis, on the Greece & Euro Zone crisis. Turns out Yanis Varoufakis started work at Valve Software. When Doug stated that Valve was run along anarcho syndicalist, I went looking for more and found:
  • The Valve manifesto – which is the first thing that comes up when you search for valve software anarcho syndicalist on google. Sounds like a human place to work and L loves their games, but that two of the founders are multimillionaires, at least, seems to limit the ability to apply their model to other, less well financed, businesses
  • Copyright and “intellectual disobedience – Cool interview with cartoonist Nina Paley on free culture: “Intellectual disobedience is civil disobedience plus intellectual property,” Paley explained. “A lot of people infringe copyright and they’re apologetic … If you know as much about the law as, unfortunately, I do, I cannot claim ignorance and I cannot claim fair use … I know that I’m infringing copyright and I don’t apologize for it.”
  • Also, the Techdirt summary
  • The Scam Wall Street Learned From the Mafia – Matt Taibbi on more fraud by Wall Street banks: “But when added to the other fractions of a percent stolen from basically every other town in America on every other bond issued by Wall Street in the past 10 to 15 years, it starts to turn into an enormous sum of money. In short, this was like the scam in Office Space, multiplied by a factor of about 10 gazillion: Banks stole pennies at a time from towns all over America, only they did it a few hundred bazillion times.”
  • Julian Assange’s right to asylum – Glenn Greenwald
  • Washington’s 5 Worst Arguments for Keeping Secrets From You – a great list from Wired’s Danger Room blog
  • Atheists, Muslims See Most Bias as Presidential Candidates
  • Hark, a Vagrant: Idler – Remixing cartoons from very old illustrations