Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Can a Low Productivity Congress lecture values to us?

For a decade and more, I have pointed out that Republican members of the Senate and House do not work very hard.  Completely apart from issues of fanaticism or craziness or left-versus-right, there is the quantifiable matter of work ethic. Take for example this item that's much in the news: this U.S. Congress has seen bills become law at the slowest pace in 100 years, even as this president has used the veto power hardly at all.

(REVISION: a re-calculation shows this was in error. The present Congress has - in fact - been the least productive ever, of any in the history of the American republic.)
LawmkersIn the Senate, the reason for such low productivity has been filibusters, with the last 5 years containing 90% of the filibusters that ever happened across the entire history of the United States.  That is the doing of the GOP minority.
In the House,  the problem is that the GOP is the majority.  The minority has zero power in the House.  The onus at all levels and in all ways for what happens there falls on the majority. (See: Lawmakers in Name Only? Congress Reaches Productivity Lows.)  Hence, the Republican Party is responsible for a Congress that makes the famous "Do Nothing Congress" of 1948 seem frenetic.
Consider this statistic to be a fluke? Ever since the far more active, Republican-led Congresses headed by Newt Gingrich gave way to the New Republicans controlled by Rupert Murdoch, every chamber led by Republicans (House or Senate) has broken records for lowest numbers of days in session, fewest hours attended by majority members, fewest committee hearings and fewest subpoenas issued.  That last statistic is especially telling, for a party that screams publicly about corruption in the Obama administration, yet holds almost no investigation hearings and calls almost no witnesses. Other than re Benghazi.
even-worse-than(Recall such screams earlier - that the Clinton Administrations was "the most corrupt in U.S. history"? During the first 6 years of G.W. Bush's tenure,  when every branch and lever of government was in GOP hands and FBI agents were diverted from counter-terror duties to search for Clinton era corruption "smoking guns," not one senior Clintonite official was ever even indicted for any kind of malfeasance of office. Not even one -- the first time that has happened, ever. Talk about calling white black!)

To put this productivity in context, the annual salary of each Representative is $174,000. The Speaker of the House and the Majority and Minority Leaders earn more: $223,500 for the Speaker and $193,400 for their party leaders. This excludes benefits like excellent health care and generous pension vesting, plus promises of jobs with lobbyists, when leaving office.
By the way, the recent dismal Congressional inactivity record would be even worse, if you remove the nearly FIFTY times the US House of Representatives has passed futile and pointless bills to cancel Obamacare, knowing they would get nowhere. The Senate passed a budget. The House has not only failed to do so, it has refused more than twenty invitations to attend House-Senate Budget Reconciliation talks, which the Constitution prescribes as the method (not shut-downs and sequesters) for getting our fiscal home in order.
During the Gingrich Era, such meetings worked. Why not now?  (Hint, it has to do with the reason that Rupert Murdoch had Newt fired.)
Now the response of any Republican who has read this far is predictable. The cant on the far right is to proclaim that government rigor mortis is a gooood thing! 
Determined to ensure that government of the people, by the people SHALL perish from the Earth, the New Confederates, adore deathlike inactivity, even though it is the most hypocritical thing imaginable.
deregulateThink! If government is too big, then the agenda should be to pass bills that aim to simplify and to deregulate. Um… duh?  And on that basis, democratic offers to reduce the number of tax loopholes should be something that any non-hypocrite conservative would be willing to discuss… along with other simplifications that bring more efficiency to entitlements.  In other words -- Simpson-Bowles, the deal that has been on the table for 6 years, under which deficits would be erased and tax fairness increased. Newt and the old-less-insane republicans wanted to do this.  Rupert says -- no way.
Let us make this very clear for those crying their love of small government. For all their howling against Big Government, the GOP never brings forward any bills to actually de-regulate or simplify.  ALL of the major acts of de-regulation in our lifetime -- e.g. elimination of the horrid/captured Interstate Commerce Commission, or the Civil Aeronautics Board, or telecom deregulation, trucking… and the greatest deregulation of all… the unleashing of the Internet -- every one of these deregulations were performed by Democrats.
If you want to trim - judiciously and with care - there is only one party for you.
Deregulate-WordOh but there's one exception to the pattern I just mentioned.  One industry that the Republican Party has taken the lead in deregulating, not once but over and over again, across the last 40 years, stripping the power of the peoples' agencies to oversee and watch for excesses by banks, SandLs, Wall Street and so on.  The Finance Industry. In that one narrow field, the Republican Party at least thirty times pushed through active bills stripping away supervision. And time and again the results were the same… another giant rape-raid of the middle class.
Sorry, this is inconvenient, fellows.  And double sorry that it is not "argument by pithy FaceBook-posted jpeg."  But dig this.  Not one of my objections or denunciations above -- or elsewhere -- had a single aspect that was "leftist." I push people to read Adam Smith more than anyone else alive!  Indeed, it is the way that the Koch-Murdoch-Sa'udi owned and insane new version of the GOP has betrayed Adam Smith's capitalism that makes me infuriated.  That and the utter refusal of today's "ostrich" conservatives to face the simple fact that can then lead to hard-healing. To admit that:
"My side has gone stark, jibbering insane."
== Such noble tactics ==
Right wing activists have been distributing links and tools to perform Denial of Service (DoS) attacks on the Healthcare.gov website through social networking, as pointed out by Information Week, and other websites.  Calling it civil disobedience, the aim has been to prevent shoppers from using the site to compare competitive bids to purchase their own policies from commercial insurance companies.  In other words - socialism.
"This program continually displays alternate page of the ObamaCare website. It has no virus, Trojans, worms, or cookies. The purpose is to overload the ObamaCare website, to deny service to users and perhaps overload and crash the system," reads the program's grammar- and spelling-challenged "about" screen. "You can open as many copies of this program as you want. Each copy opens multiple links to the site."
Just to be clear, keep in mind that this "socialism" was the Republican Party's own plan - designed by the Heritage Foundation, pushed by the Gingrich Congress, implemented by Mitt Romney in Massachusetts (where it has worked well) and then proposed by a Democratic President in the delusional belief that offering his opponents their own damn plan would result in open and rapid negotiation. (What naiveté!)
Consider what we're seeing -- activists who are sabotaging what boils down to a way for uninsured people to escape the Emergency Room by paying for their own commercially-competitively offered commercial insurance policies is not exactly "letting it fail on its own, in a fair test."  Especially since the exchanges run by a dozen blue states (New York, California, etc) are working just fine.
Hence, the poor people who are being hurt by sabotaging HealthCare.gov are mostly in red states that refused to set up their own exchanges where commercial insurance companies can competitively bid for new customers under the (Republican designed "socialist") Affordable Care Act.
Ah, facts are inconvenient to the narrative.
== A Republican governor to watch ==
Two Republican governors have bucked the mania of their party in order to actually care about their people.  One you know about, Chris Christie of New Jersey.  Here's another.
Keep your eye on Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval. "Sandoval is the only Republican governor whose state is both running its own health insurance exchange this year and expanding its Medicaid program under the health law. He’s arguably doing more to put the Democrats’ signature law into place than any other Republican. But in fully implementing Obamacare, Sandoval faces a double-edged sword: He’s helping bring health care coverage to a state with the second highest uninsured rate in the country, while he may be hurting his national ambitions because he’s not actively blocking the president’s law."
Hm. Governor of a deeply purple state with extremely high rates of uninsured… Now let's suppose he helps solve that, proves his independence… and now let's further suppose that Obamacare actually… winds up working.  (After all, it works fine in Massachusetts.) Then who will have the last political laugh?
Sandoval would be -- especially as a Hispanic -- in a position to help Republicans claim "the fight over Obamacare is ancient history!"  Exactly the agile tactic they have used over every other time they were wrong wrong wrong. (Remember George W. Bush?  They don't! Nor opposing Social Security, Medicare and Marin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.))
In fact, what's obvious is that in a few years, suddenly, the Republican Party line will be "it was our plan, all along!" (In fact… it was.)
Watch this fellow.
== Is a Big Deal in the Offing? ==
End-Government-ShutdownOkay… now let's look back into the past at an earlier riff of mine and you can judge for yourself whether I was naive.  The following passage was posted on October 5.
Yipe. The following is from Fox. It is very harsh, factual, on-target... and from Fox. Could Rupert be asking "what have I done?" and seeking a way out?  --  begin quote:
"“Compromise,” to these demagogues, is to mandate that Democrats scrap President Obama’s signature domestic legislative accomplishment, which was passed by Congress, signed into law by the president, upheld by the Supreme Court and ratified by voters who returned its architect to the White House last November."
"Senate Democrats, of course, had been begging for a budget compromise for months – ever since the senate passed its budget last spring. But Republicans rejected this attempt at compromise 18 times, refusing to allow the Senate and House of Representatives to go to a budget conference to hammer out a deal that would have put an end to this cycle of continuing resolutions."
To be clear, what this means is that the House Senate conference committee on the budget was invited to meet 18 times since April and it was always the GOP that refused to meet and negotiate. Every single time. And to be clearer, the House Senate conference committee on the budget is exactly where ALL of this was, is and always should be thrashed out, instead of with loony threats and shut-downs.
Moreover, the deal that was on the table, ready to be hammered out in the conference, was clear, bipartisan and probably what Speaker Boehner will ask for, next week.
(1) An end to sequester and shutdowns and debt limit threats.
(2) A substantial set of reforms to make entitlement programs more efficient and -- in a few ways -- more tight-fisted. The big Democrat concession.
(3) Repealing a set of maybe forty outrageous tax breaks for fat cats and specific profitable industries that never needed subsidies (e.g. oil companies) allowing some revenues to rise without raising tax rates.
Shutdown-ShowdownIt is a deal that the vast majority of moderate Americans would back and we know it from huge responses in opinion polls.  Only Tea Partiers who have signed the Norquist Pledge have blocked the deal, declaring they do not want to return to the Clinton Era surpluses... what they want is to strangle government in principle.
Hence my ongoing prediction.  The Speaker will announce that President Obama has "caved" and "allowed" the budget conference committee to meet "at last!" And because of that huge democratic "concession," Boehner will now allow a vote on the continuing resolution on a straight up-down basis instead of under tight party (Tea) discipline, ending the shutdown and the threat of a debt ceiling crash.
And Fox will sigh with relief, then peddle that message verbatim... but without the well-deserved and apropos finger-quotes.  Sigh.

So how did that October prediction do?

On the plus side, almost no one else predicted that a compromise would actually happen… and one has!  Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wis) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) have presented a budget bill that will evade a new-stage sequester by narrowing deficits just enough, by reducing federal employee benefits and adding a few fees. It certainly does evade a crisis and moves somewhat in the right direction… 

Only it's more like a mini-bargain. And all the missing elements are absent precisely because the yawning ideological rift between Washington Democrats and Republicans makes it impossible to get to the Grand Bargain that both sides had worked out years ago -- Simpson Bowles.  You know what's changed over the years.  Rupert has created a monster he can no longer control.

But still, as prediction. it probably deserved a solid B.  Maybe a B-minus.


Carl M. said...

Stop putting the Kochs and Murdoch in the same basket. They are VERY different. The Kochs favor gay marriage, an end to the drug war, and bringing the troops home.

sociotard said...

(Recall such screams earlier - that the Clinton Administrations was "the most corrupt in U.S. history"? During the first 6 years of G.W. Bush's tenure, when every branch and lever of government was in GOP hands and FBI agents were diverted from counter-terror duties to search for Clinton era corruption "smoking guns," not one senior Clintonite official was ever even indicted for any kind of malfeasance of office. Not even one -- the first time that has happened, ever. Talk about calling white black!)

This is one of your favorite lines, and you keep repeating it. Do you really not care about Larry Summers?

In 1993 Summers was appointed Undersecretary for International Affairs and later in the United States Department of the Treasury under the Clinton Administration. In 1995, he was promoted to Deputy Secretary of the Treasury under his long-time political mentor Robert Rubin. In 1999, he succeeded Rubin as Secretary of the Treasury.

IOW, a Clinton official.

And he was at the center of the mess you described thusly on your blog:
If this is even ten percent true, then you have to conclude that the world's master connivers are nowhere near as smart as they think they are, since the only possible place for this to lead is tumbrels. "The Memo confirmed every conspiracy freak’s fantasy: that in the late 1990s, the top US Treasury officials secretly conspired with a small cabal of bankers." The less this mess is attributable to conspiracy, the more it has to be stupidity.

David Brin said...

Sociotard I never said all Clintonites were GOOD GUYS! I just said none were convicted or even indicted of malfeasance of office.

CarlM. The Kochs are financing their dad's John Birch Society reborn. They own and operate the think tanks creating Goebbels-level lies for culture war, especially climate change denialism and anti-science campaigns.

sociotard said...

"Clintonites may have been crooks, but at least they were never convicted" seems like a very odd brag.

David Brin said...

Sociotard, I never said that, It is your interpretation. Mine is that the entire apparatus of the US government focused on the Clintons, when Bush entered office, and found abso freaking lately zilch. You know they wanted to.

It does not prove ZERO improper behavior. Just low levels by very smart people. Exactly what you want.

Acacia H. said...

Here's the thing. And please note, I do not like the Clintons and for the longest time until Dr. Brin challenged me not to just act in a knee-jerk reaction concerning the Clintons I felt that Clinton not being tossed out of office was a crime against my tax dollars (seriously, I'm helping pay for his pension. I'd rather he didn't have one).

The Republican Party did everything in their power to demonize and mud-rake Clinton and everything associated with Clinton. Did Larry Summers commit any actual crimes? Was he guilty of any actual conflicts of interest or the like? The Republican Party never got anything sound on him. This suggests one of two things. Either he's clean... or he's smart enough that he didn't leave any evidence that would convict him.

This means that either he had some idiot policies and the like but was not actually a criminal... or that he was a criminal mastermind that managed to outwit plenty of people who'd gleefully politically shank him just to get at Clinton. And if it's the latter, I have to salute Clinton for getting someone that smart into office. I suspect it's the former. Because there are plenty of stupid people who just happen to get into places of power because they know the right people, have the right connections, and perhaps were promoted out of lower level positions to minimize their damage (much as a number of middle managers are) and then "lucked out" because of that.

Rob H.

Anonymous said...

The earlier thread asked about links supporting the claim of land seizures by the Founders during the American Revolution.

Links follow, but the point I wanted to make was that my grandmother use to always tell stories about all the land that was stolen from our family during the revolution. So not only did it happen, but there are those in reasonably modern times that remember it!



Anonymous said...

Clarification, by "remember it" I don't personally, but that that historic seizure was still a facet of their psyche and influenced their politics.

locumranch said...

But members of Congress DO represent the most important of American Values, those of Hierarchical Expertism, the expectation that anyone, through dint of education & hard work can acquire a specific skill set, become an expert in that field and then demand higher pay for less strenuous work.

And, make no mistake about it, members of Congress are Experts in every sense of the word. Like Ted Cruz, most have climbed to the top of the educational and professional totem pole: All of them were elected by public acclaim; almost 50% of Congresspersons possess Doctorates in Law (JDs); most have attended prestigious Ivy League Universities; most are professional politicians (having practiced no other profession besides politics); most are Millionaires (acquiring their wealth either before or after their election); and many have even been bred for politics, being the offspring of hereditary political families.

As Experts (established members of the meritocracy), these expert politicians DESERVE higher pay for less work and, strictly speaking, the less they accomplish then the more they make according to a Cost/Benefit Ratio, and this principle of 'Higher Pay for Expertism' is basis of the American Dream, begging the following question:

How is David qualified to comment on congressional productivity?

Certainly, he is NOT an expert in politics; he does NOT possess a JD; he did NOT attend an Ivy League University; and he was NOT born or BRED to rule. Being a mere untrained amateur, David the Non-Expert is only left with 2 options:

(1) He can SHUT UP because he is not Qualified to give an expert opinion about our political system; or

(2) He can condemn the very system of hierarchical expertism which holds him up, gives him his claim to fame and has crowned him EXPERT in his limited discipline by granting him his doctorate.

Wink, wink ... which one WILL he choose???


Joel said...

I don't think a war on Switzerland or any other tax haven is required.

1) In 2010 the US passed FATCA which requires any FFI (foreign financial institution - including any pension, insurance company, mutual fund, bank, etc) to report on anyone who has "US indicia" - US phone numbers, addresses, birth place and demand proper documentation (W8 or W9)... or else have 30% of all US income to that bank be withheld at source and given to the IRS.

In 2017, it changes so that 30% of all Gross Proceeds will be withheld if that Foreign Financial Institution (FFI) does not comply (black-listed). So if a client of that blacklisted bank sells their house and receives US funds, the other bank will withhold 30% of the house price.

2) More importantly, the US is entering into reciprocal IGA agreements with Canada, Australia, France etc etc where all Financial Institutions in the US must provide Canada/Australia/UK/etc revenue agencies (IRS equiv) with the same information.

Tax evaders have no place to hide anymore.

If you're religious, you might equate FATCA with the mark of the beast in Revelations (sorry - can't resist).

But at the very least, you're getting your "Declare Your Ownership" rule in the previous post.

Alex Tolley said...

@Joel - that is what I was alluding to in the previous thread. David is so hung up on his "Helvetian War" from 1991's Earth that he hasn't appreciated that the conditions have changed.

When I worked in a tax haven, there were ways to hide the investors so that if the US authorities came fishing, there was deniability that $Mrs.X had an account with our bank.

Do you know if obfuscation is still usable, or will the FATCA regs eventually unmask all tax haven accounts?

Joel said...

"Do you know if obfuscation is still usable, or will the FATCA regs eventually unmask all tax haven accounts?"

I can't see how. The law takes aim at every account and every beneficial owner that controls or benefits from that account - and where's there obfuscation, the FFI must assume its an American tax payer (encouraging people who aren't to just self-certify).

Examples that are called out:
Address is "In care of"
Address is P.O. Box
Any sort of US indicia
"Every beneficial owner of each account must be identified and classified"
Where documentation cannot be found for a set of accounts, they can "Elect to be Withheld Upon" and get hit with 30% for only those accounts, rather than the whole bank.

The best way to avoid FATCA (temporarily) is to invest only in Grandfathered bonds (although any material modification will cancel their exemption from FATCA) or sell the bond just before Pay Date (and then buy it right after). But if your bank suspects you're of doing this to avoid FATCA, they're under an obligation to hit you up (or else become blacklisted).

Welcome to the New World Order!

Acacia H. said...

Locu, you're so full of shit you better take some Exlax and sit down in a bathroom, lest you explode and shower the environment with solid (and semi-solid) waste.

A person is not an expert just because they have a job in the field. There are plenty of charlatans who have held jobs they are unqualified for in a multitude of careers. The fact that Congress is full of charlatans should be no surprise to anyone with half a brain.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Alex and Joel you just aren't paying attention. The Swiss are giving in to the US and Europe because they have to, in order to placate those powers, so that something much worse does not happen, which is universal transparency that would expose that vastly greater amounts that are deposited by 3rd world kleptocrats and sovereign wealth funds.

The Helvetian War was (will be) declared by DEVELOPING NATIONS who have no other recourse.

David Brin said...

Robert, leave him be. Sixteen year olds need their purist "gotcha" dichotomies. They also ten to like Plato. SOme of them outgrow it and the rest simply are made silly by how little their dichotomies resemble reality.

Alex Tolley said...

" vastly greater amounts that are deposited by 3rd world kleptocrats and sovereign wealth funds"

If you have some privileged information concerning these amounts that should be unknown almost by definition, what is your source data for this assertion? Sovereign wealth funds are owned by the state, even if kleptocrats have some control over them, so thay cannot be hidden.

"you just aren't paying attention"

Perhaps you aren't fully thinking through the situation. The source of kleptocrat wealth may ultimately be due to international loans. Since many of these loans have been defaulted on, there is some probability that the ownership of hidden funds does not reside with the pilfered countries. Countervailing the repatriation of kleptocrat funds, nations have raised the idea that bad actors should be quietly asked to leave their states with all their funds intact in return for not being ousted forcibly by military action. It's win-win all around, even if the funds are lost. It may be cheaper to just simply provide replacement funding to the new government.

Time to drop the "Helvetian War" meme, Helvetian banks are not the enemy here.

David Brin said...

Sorry, that is just plain silly, Alex. Yes sovereign wealth funs are officially legitimate. Most of them still depend on secrecy, however, because they are controlled by the top royal or other families in the particular country and the last thing they want is for the people back home to know the amounts.

Your rationalization that all the money stolen from developing nations came from loans is startling. Where on Earth would you get such a thing? Tax revenues and sold off national resources are the vast hog trough. Um, on what collateral do you think the loans were made?

Tacitus said...

The unexpected budget deal and its smooth passage in the House probably say two things:
-Republicans are willing to let their more activist partisans fume a bit.
-Democrats are willing to sign on for some unpopular provisions without fear of the current administration.

The actual deal is complex, I can't claim to have its full measure. Hey, most of us have lives and stuff.

But Paul Ryan has my respect. Patty Murray I know less of, but in general I have said that the women in congress - a few exceptions of course being made - seem to be more sensible.

We were probably headed for a prolonged lame duck administration anyway. The incompetent* implementation of legislation so central that the president encourages his name be a synonym for it will make that valley wider and deeper.


*yes, incompetent. I have a long history here of advocating a sensible if austere single payer plan. The current admin misjudged the electorate then tried to fudge through a plan that by its complexity and internal contradictions could never work in the real world. It would have taken considerable transparency and executive competence to even get this aerodynamic anvil off the ground. I have no animus towards Mr. Obama. But next time around lets not consider novelty candidates with no executive experience, ok?


locumranch said...

Robert does bring up an interesting problem in epistemology: How do we separate the expert from the charlatan ??

The short answer is we can't, not in a status culture that values expertism over ethics. The longer answer springs from David's disposable comments about 'silly (unrealistic) dichotomies' because, for all intents & empiric purposes, there is NO difference between the two.

Like Bernie Maddoff, our charlatans are experts AND our experts are charlatans, the separation between the two being a mere matter of belief or 'credulity' -- the source word for 'credentialing', btw -- which is why we cannot separate our 'Do Nothing Congress' from a broken political system originally designed for Democracy (literally 'rule by the COMMON people) rather than rule by a professional or 'Expert Class'.

The fault, dear David, lies not in our Ethics but in our SYSTEM. Democracy, or 'Rule by the Common People,' cannot exist in a system that favours 'Rule by Experts'. Similarly, the difference between 'Rule by Experts' and Oligarchy is largely imaginary. So tell again how the Expert Class -- or, better yet, a tribunal of Scientists -- should dominate, rule and decide for us because they know so much more than the demo or commoners.

Can you say 'Credulity' ??


Acacia H. said...

You're wrong, locu. The problem is not with the democratic form of governance. It is with the methods by which oligarchs have captured the democratic form of governance in Western nations. That said, if campaign finance was reformed so that all candidates were forced to use the same pool of resources with no external (or self) funding then we could very well see a true democratic republic return to this country.

The problem being, of course, how to avoid a glut of candidates. If anyone can run for office then you risk having campaigns bankrupt the system. And you also risk a political party sending ringers out to overwhelm the message of those people who could honestly make a good difference.

In addition, you'd have to block out external messages which would probably be overthrown by the Supreme Court as in violation of 1st Amendment Rights. Sadly then you have external forces flooding the airwaves with messages destroying and mudraking candidates they dislike who could make a difference.

What ultimately is needed is a Constitutional Amendment for campaign finance reform that would block editorializing over the airways during political campaigns but allow free and rampant political discussion AFTER the campaign has ended... and then cut it off for that candidate or seat one year before the campaign.

In that situation you might need then to extend the stay of Representatives to four years, Senators to eight years, and Presidents to six years. That way you can still have political discussion for quite some time.

It would take a wiser mind than mine to figure out how best to balance this. Perhaps others here could start discussing it and see if we can find a way to bring this about while stopping the influx of oligarchical moneys designed to destroy independent candidates who could make a difference.

Rob H.

Alex Tolley said...

@DB - You ignored my request for the data supporting your assertions and then tried to deflect it with a strawman argument (read what I actually said, not what you think I said).

Regarding sovereign funds. Rulers cannot just siphon off funds under the mask of secrecy. While citizens don't have access to fund accounts, the moment a change of government occurs (as in a successful uprising) the information then becomes available. So no need to attack secret banks, just the local government.

As regards loan collateral. Again, what data do you have to support the claim that nationalized state assets and taxes are the big sources of wealth that are used to collateralize loans? You may infer that world bank loans with institutional reform implies some of this, but I don't believe that you have the data to support it. If loans were all carefully collateralized, there wouldn't be a need to write of development loans, would there? But again, read what I said more carefully, because I most definitely did not say kleptocrats wealth came from stolen loan money.

However, most of this is a gigantic red herring that you are using to support your meme of a "Helvetian War". This meme is based on an outdated understanding of international finance (if was ever in date is debatable). The options that global banks and institutions have to undo secrecy, freeze funds and otherwise undermine kleptocracy are becoming wider every year simply because of the connectedness of banking business and the reach of international law.

In a related note, exposure of secret tax haven accounts by ex bank employees and whistleblowers should be lauded by you as it accords with your sousveillance meme and the offer to "henchmen" to expose illegal activities. Much cheaper to offer $100m for secret account info and then taking action on those accounts than declaring "war" on Swiss banks.

Alex Tolley said...


Could a US citizen have an account in a tax haven that is only accessible by a code phrase and account#, with dummy personal information that makes it look like the account holder is a non-US citizen? A layer's office in e.g. Brazil for an address and a deceased Brazilian to supply all relevant details should be sufficient to hide the account from US authorities, shouldn't it? This all seems too obvious, so clearly FATCA must be stronger than I am understanding it.

Anonymous said...

While conservatives might desire to roll back change, in the absence of the power to do that, doing absolutely nothing seems in line with conservative principles.

Joel said...

Trying unsuccessfully to keep this short:
1) FATCA will not stop dictators from stashing billions in numbered accounts in Switzerland. Tax evasion is not their aim. FATCA will simply identify those who are avoiding their taxes, starting with the residents in the US and expanding to everyone else.

2) A bank that offers a tax evading 'service' takes on a considerable amount of risk - first by an audit, second by a tax evader coming clean (thus identifying that the bank didn't report something). The risks are far greater to the bank than to the tax evader - it could lose access to the SWIFT network and its cash transfers (and cease to be a bank effectively), be blacklisted, lose depositor insurance and then watch as it loses all their 'documented' accounts as customers vacate and shareholders jump ship. Tax evaders will find it much more expensive to pay off the bank to carry that risk.

No, the easier route for evasion is to simply have a Client Manager who goes rogue in exchange for kick-backs. Access to decent forgers who create fake passports or have access to dead Brazilian's personal info - they take that information and set up the evader as a properly documented Brazilian. The client "self-certifies" as Brazilian with a proper W8 and get taxed under treaty rates as if they were from Brazil.

Except Brazil announces an IGA with the US (Nov 2012). The bank automatically sends a report with all Brazilians to the Brazil government that uses their SSN (equivalent) to cross-reference with known tax filers. Strangely, one of those comes up deceased (repeatedly) and an investigation ensues.


So the Client Manager finds a country without an IGA and re-files the W8. Those non-IGA countries will increasingly be looked on with suspicion. Also realize the governments outside the IGA network are not benefiting from the reporting that is being done by their own banks. A few countries are left: North Korea, Iran, maybe Venezuela.

Automatically, any banks with those types of customers will be doing Enhanced Due Diligence (EDD which is a part of FATCA) on those clients. The rogue client manager will be found out, fired and all accounts will undergo a review.

David Brin said...

Tacitus, early in the Obama Admin I wrote begging that they use the slender time owning both houses "solving" the health care thing with what YOU would probably like as a single -payer system. It would have been so sweet. SImply (1) Add every American younger than 25 to Medicare, and (2) lower the Medicare age to 60… then start a ratchet where it would go down yearly to 50… and rise to 30. They could have done that… and watched as Americans between 35 and 50 became radicalized, demanding "why not us??"

It would have worked! But Obama chose a far more delusional approach: "Let's offer the Republicans their own… damn… plan…" The fool had no idea how crazy things had become, since Murdoch fired Gingrich, the last republican who was more than 30% both smart and sane. (Alas, he is 50% plumb loco! But I like the other half!)

Paul Ryan differs is a rare modern republican officeholder who has snippets of brains. What he lacks is even a scintilla of scruples.

locum: blah blah blah blah blah. We set up enlightenment systems in order to ensure that no elites can escape accountability and criticism. My famous aphorism CITOKATE reflects this and YOU have all the reflexes of a person who has that meme embedded in his bones. Your sophomoric railings against "experts" -- and yes I am, if far more ways than you will ever achieve -- is so dichotomy hungry that you hallucinate that expertise MEANS evasion of accountability and interrogation.

SInce my life and all my works ABOUT the very opposite, not trusting ANY elite, all I can answer is that you are a very (insert four more "very") silly person.

David Brin said...

Speaking of which, Alex you are really in a spiral. Say What??? "Citizens" have the right to inspect sovereign wealth funds? Hm… let's spread the good news to the "citizen" owners of the funds for Russia, Iran, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Dubai, Emirates, Algeria… heck they haven't even been able to audit -- or even FIND -- the looted sovereign wealth funds for Libya and Tunisia. Hummmmm I wonder where the money might be hidden…

"what data do you have to support the claim that nationalized state assets and taxes are the big sources of wealth that are used to collateralize loans?"

Now I am simply shaking my head in utterly boggled perplexity. WHERE do you -- as a kleptocratic lord of a country -- get money? Good lord. Taxes and sold-off resources like Cocoa or iron ore or diamonds or other commodities are THE sources of government revenue. Moreover, outsiders will not lend money without access to those things.

What? You envision "loans" as these floating clouds that flutter in and make rain happen?

As for enticing whistleblowers… great! I have long called for that. In fact, before anyone! But knowing who has the money is one thing. Getting the havens to let it go is another. The havens are buying off the Euros & americans, thinking that poor nations will have no power to make demands.

Tony Fisk said...

In other news, Lee Barnett (aka 'budgie') is embarking on a challenge to write 12 200 word stories using a title and a word provided by 12 writers. First off is Jamais Cascio, who suggested 'The Misanthropic Principle' with 'shenanigans', and got a take on the Big Question.

David Brin said...

Thanks Tony, I will tout the Budgie!

locumranch said...

I understand that David supports democratic principles in a big way. Unfortunately, it impossible to add elitism (and/or expertism) to the political mix without corrupting Democracy or Rule by the Common Man.

The over-riding principle of Expertism (elitism) is that some people are 'better' than others, which is undoubtedly true as far as certain skill sets go, but extremely undemocratic (remembering that 'demos' means 'common') unless you construe 'better' to mean 'more common', excessively 'average' or (perhaps) extremely representative. This is why Expertism quickly devolves into aristocracy, meritocracy & oligarchy

Look no further than our financial system. By definition, our financial experts are those who have proven that they KNOW money & wealth by possessing, making, maintaining, husbanding & increasing it which means ... surprise, surprise ... that these financial 'experts' are (most) often wealthy oligarchs. As if anyone would credit financial expertise to a poor, penurious or bankrupt Warren Buffet !!

Elitism and Egalitarianism are incompatible systems (Oil & Water) and David, Rob & others delude themselves if they think they can mix one with the other. One does not mix with the other; and oil always rises to the top to spread like oligarchic pond scum on the metaphorical ocean that is democracy.


David Brin said...

Thank heavens a whole bunch guys who were VASTLY smarter than locus decided not to accept is sophomoric zero-sum thinking and show that we can take advantage of one of humanity's greatest breakthroughs -- the rapid discovery of taken and allowing it to flower into expert specializations…

…plus a system in which no authority goes unquestioned and experts are sicced upon each other and subjected to criticism and churn makes each expert triumph ephemeral.

Yes, poor lad is unable to wrap his head around this. Alas, poor thing. And yes… it fails damn often, and might fail completely, if pyramids return.

But other sophomores abound. Many of them much smarter. And they will get it, participate, and solve problems.

locumranch said...

So sayeth the unquestionable authority.


locumranch said...

Sorry. That was juvenile. But it does remind me of my favorite game in medical residency. I called it dueling experts.

I will choose a plan of therapy, then I would consult the cardiologist who would choose different therapies as superior from a cardio perspective. I would then consult the pulmonologist who would countermand the cardiologist's orders as being lung unfriendly. I would also consult the nephrologist who would choose the best therapy for the patient's kidneys, countermanding both the cardiologist & the pulmonologist as potentially harmful.

And these disparate experts would fight like cats & dogs or (better yet) mix like oil & water, allowing me to reinstitute my original treatment plan.


Jonathan S. said...

Well, yes, locum, but how often does it turn out that "bleeding with leeches" actually was the optimal plan?

David Brin said...

The fact that I enjoy having locus around, and answer him instead of snubbing him, is all the proof needed that I live by my philosophy, and that his dichotomy is just… plain… dumb. Go bring us another, son.

Acacia H. said...

Personally I'm theorizing that he IS your son and that he's just on here trolling you.

Rob H.

Tacitus said...

Still trying to get my head around the concept of locumranch MD. Could be I suppose. Perhaps the moniker refers to working locum tenens?

What say ye, Dr. L?


Jumper said...

There is a difference between an expert and one who uses appeal to authority in argument. It's useful to have citizens able to discern the difference.

Robert, you just made me laugh.

On a topic David has expressed an interest in, this article on autism is worth reading.

I found that from the very good Knight Science tracker, now bookmarked, which I recommend doing.

I don't have problems estimating who are the experts here.

LarryHart said...


Personally I'm theorizing that he IS your son and that he's just on here trolling you

Another possibility is the Son of God. "Whatsoever ye do to the troll, you do unto Me" or something of that sort.

In that case, Happy Birthday, locum (almost).

locumranch said...

Tacitus shouldn't be so surprised. After all, EVERY physician considers themselves to be an 'expert', including those who graduate at the bottom of their class. I was upper middle, btw.

And, speaking of experts, is anyone else old enough to remember 'Jimmy the Greek,' a well-respected sports handicapping expert & US television celebrity from the 1970s ?? He would use his sports expertise to set the odds on sporting events, picking winners & losers, and he had a fanatical following even though he was WRONG 80% of the time.

Now, most of you would conclude that he was either a fraud or a charlatan because of that 80% error rate, but statistics would prove you wrong because a charlatan (who picked winners & losers randomly) would be wrong only about 50% of time. We must therefore conclude that Jimmy the Greek was an expert at picking losers. He was also a liar.

Interestingly, most economists are similarly talented as statistics show that they pick wrong when it comes to the Stock Market (also) about 80% of the time, yet we still believe & trust them as experts even though statistics show them to be liars, expert liars, which is why the smart money always bets against them.

Expertism is one thing; Trust is another. Do not confuse the two.

Trust at your own risk.


doctor joke said...


Duncan Cairncross said...

but statistics would prove you wrong because a charlatan (who picked winners & losers randomly) would be wrong only about 50% of time.


That would only be true if there were only two possible outcomes,

Here on Planet Earth there are normally many possible outcomes - for a simple thing like a game there are three - win/lose/draw

Sports handicappers would normally be predicting events inside those three possibilities like goals scored, team members who scored the goals....

On the financial side you would want to predict not only which companies go up or down in value but by how much - a 1% rise is not equivalent to a 300% rise

That is not to say that a chimp could not outperform a financial wiz-kid
But showing that it does takes more effort than saying 50%!!

David Brin said...

ALas, Locum was just cogent and made a rational argument… BO-ring compared to his usual rants.

Acacia H. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alfred Differ said...

I remember Jimmy the Greek. It would be a stretch to call him a liar, though. He was a showman. 8)

Those of us who lived in Vegas when he had a show would watch him and watch what his followers did and adjust accordingly. I don't remember him being wrong 80% of the time, but it was high enough over the expectation of randomness that he was useful. If you watched him carefully you could usually tell when he was putting it on the thickest too. THAT was most useful and part of why I'm not so sure he was lying.

Alfred Differ said...

Sorry. Forgot to finish the thought.

The one to watch the most, though, was Frank Rosenthal. If you paid attention to him AND the others you could begin to pick out what was going on.

Those were the days... BOOM!

David Brin said...


Howard Brazee said...

The primary value demonstrated by a do-nothing government is that we shouldn't have a country. Let the elite do what they want.