Sunday, July 31, 2011

America's minority party, the Republicans, are "governing" by Extortion

Steve Benen puts into words what we have recently seen from Republican politicians in America. They can't get their policies voted in by majorities, so they have resorted to a form of politics not ever seen from an American major party before - Extortion Politics.
Republicans aren’t just radicalized, aren’t just pursuing an extreme agenda, and aren’t just allergic to compromise. The congressional GOP is also changing the very nature of governing in ways with no modern precedent.

Welcome to the normalization of extortion politics.

Consider, for example, the Republican decision to reject any and all nominees to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, regardless of merit, unless and until Democrats accepted changes to the agency’s structure. Traditionally, if the GOP wanted to alter the powers of the CFPB, it would write legislation, send it committee, bring it to the floor, send it to the other chamber, etc. But that takes time and effort, and in a divided government, this “old fashioned” approach to policymaking probably wouldn’t produce the desired result.

Instead, we see the latest in a series of extortion strategies: Republicans will force Democrats to accept changes to the agency, or Republicans won’t allow the agency to function. Jonathan Cohn wrote a good piece on this a couple of weeks ago, noting the frequency with which this strategy is utilized.
Republican threats to block nominees to the consumer board are of a piece with their opposition to Don Berwick, Obama’s first choice to run the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services; to Peter Diamond, whom Obama tapped to sit on the Federal Reserve Board; and most recently to John Bryson, Obama’s nominee to take over the Commerce Department. It’s nothing short of a power grab by the Republican Party — an effort to achieve, through the confirmation process, what they could not achieve through legislation. And it seems unprecedented, at least in modern times.
Republicans effectively tell the administration, over and over again, that the normal system of American governance can continue … just as soon as Democrats agree to policy changes the GOP can’t otherwise pass.

The traditional American model would tell Republicans to win an election. If that doesn’t work, Republicans should work with rivals to pass legislation that moves them closer to their goal. In 2011, the GOP has decided these old-school norms are of no value. Why bother with them when Republicans can force through policy changes by way of a series of hostage strategies? Why should the legislative branch use its powers through legislative action when extortion is more effective?
The Great America that the Republicans are working so hard to destroy became great because it was operated democratically with legislation passed through majority votes. Today's Republicans are destroying America by destroying America's democratic process in which the nation is governed through rational legislation passed by majority ovtes.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The disastrous American economy which Republican want to make worse

This is from Steve Benen today:
In early May, Macroeconomic Advisers, one of major firms providing economic modeling and forecasting, released its projection for economic growth in the second quarter, and things looked pretty good. The firm projected that the U.S. economy was on track to show 3.7% growth in the second quarter, which would be evidence of a pretty healthy recovery.

Soon after, the projections were lowered. Then lowered again. Then lowered some more. As Europe struggled with debt crises, Japan struggled with the aftermath of a natural (and unnatural) disaster, state and local governments continued to scale back, and congressional Republicans took a sledgehammer to the American political process, the prospects for the second quarter kept getting worse.

Today, those fears were confirmed.

The economy grew less than expected in the second quarter as consumer spending barely rose amid higher gasoline prices, and growth braked sharply in the prior quarter, a government report showed on Friday.

Growth in gross domestic product — a measure of all goods and services produced within U.S. borders - rose at a 1.3 percent annual rate, the Commerce Department said. First-quarter output was sharply revised down to a 0.4 percent pace from 1.9 percent.

Economists had expected the economy to expand at a 1.8 percent rate in the second quarter.

It’s worth emphasizing that economic growth data for the previous two quarters were also both revised downward — by quite a bit. We thought the first quarter (January through March) was weak, but the revised number, 0.4%, suggests the economy barely grew at all. By that measure, the second quarter’s 1.3% may even look like progress.

But make no mistake, this is anemic growth. Coming out of the deepest recession in generations, we need much stronger and more robust growth to help get us back to where we were.

And that’s precisely what makes the current debate in Washington so infuriating. Instead of looking at the GDP numbers and rising unemployment as evidence of an economy that needs a boost, policymakers are engaged in a deliberate effort to take money out of the economy and focused on a debt crisis that doesn’t exist.

And with that, here’s another home-made chart, showing GDP numbers by quarter since the Great Recession began. The red columns show the economy under the Bush administration; the blue columns show the economy under the Obama administration.
This is from Ezra Klein today:
Plenty of conservatives are peeking at this morning’s grim GDP numbers, as well as the downward revisions to previous years, and concluding that the stimulus clearly must have failed. “But remember,” snarks James Pethokoukis, “no matter how bad the economy is, Obama stimulus still created 3 million jobs, right?”

That’s one way to look at it. Another is to dig a little deeper into the new GDP numbers, which tell a different story. As Moody’s chief economist Mark Zandi told me this morning, the revisions suggest that the recession following the financial crisis was much, much more severe than we’d thought—the economy actually shrank at a 8.9 percent annual rate the fourth quarter of 2008 and 6.7 percent in the first quarter of 2009 (earlier estimates had shown a smaller, 5.9 percent annualized drop across the two quarters).

Then, Congress passed the stimulus bill, the fall in growth dwindled to 0.7 percent in the second quarter, and, by the third quarter of 2009, we had 1.7 percent growth. “We went from negative to positive at precisely the time that the stimulus was providing maximum benefit in terms of tax cuts and spending increases,” Zandi says. “The numbers actually reinforce the importance of the stimulus in jump-starting a recovery.” What the stimulus didn’t do, however, was raise employment to the levels that the White House had predicted — partly because the economy was in worse shape than anyone, even the official data-crunchers, knew.

Of course, the stimulus only lasted two years, winding down in the end of 2010. And what happened then? As Dean Baker, an economist at the Center on Economic and Policy Research observes, “The downward revision to the first quarter data coupled with the revision of the fourth quarter growth to 2.3 percent from 3.1 percent, suggests that the winding down of the stimulus has seriously dampened growth.” Zandi agrees: “If fiscal policy had simply stayed neutral, the numbers suggest we would have had around 2 percent growth these past two quarters, which isn’t great, but it’s a lot better than what we actually had.” Except fiscal policy wasn’t neutral—it was shrinking. The stimulus wound down, that extra government spending started disappearing, and, with it, economic growth dwindled.

Face facts, folks. The Republican economic policies are designed to destroy the economy, not to fix it. And the Republicans are succeeding in destroying the American economy.

The Republican Party has become a major security threat to the American nation!

At last someone is speaking the truth! This is from Steve Benen this morning. He very accurately entitles it ‘A self-inflicted wound of monumental stupidity’.
Here’s Time’s Joe Klein yesterday, before last night’s breakdown in the House.

[S]o, here we are. Our nation’s economy and international reputation as the world’s presiding grownup has already been badly damaged. It is a self-inflicted wound of monumental stupidity. I am usually willing to acknowledge that Democrats can be as silly, and hidebound, as Republicans-but not this time. There is zero equivalence here. The vast majority of Democrats have been more than reasonable, more than willing to accept cuts in some of their most valued programs. […]

The Republicans have been willing to concede nothing. Their stand means higher interest rates, fewer jobs created and more destroyed, a general weakening of this country’s standing in the world. Osama bin Laden, if he were still alive, could not have come up with a more clever strategy for strangling our nation.

That last line was of particular interest, because it echoes a recent point from Nick Kristof. Indeed, the NYT columnist recently argued that Republicans represent a kind of domestic threat, possibly undermining the nation’s interests from within: “[L]et’s remember not only the national security risks posed by Iran and Al Qaeda. Let’s also focus on the risks, however unintentional, from domestic zealots.”

The Republican Party has been taken over by insane "tea party members" and is run by wealthy self-centered greedheads. Top examples of the leading greedheads are the Koch brothers and their puppet, Grover Norquist. These people, practicing their "Starve the beast" strategy to destroy the American government and the middle class, are far and away more dangerous to America than is al Qaeda.

After WW II the Allies declared the Nazi Party a criminal organization, one in which membership was proof that a person was a criminal. The same decision should now be made for all active members of the Republican Party. They are criminals and traitors to America!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The insanity of S&P threatening to downgrade US credit

Kevin Drum has a very different take on the so-called debt "crisis."
There's something deeply weird going on here. Wall Street is allegedly worried over a default that's not going to happen, or else it's worried about the fiscal opinions of some rating agency analysts who don't know anything more about the financial future of the United States than anyone else. And those opinions don't even make much sense. The United States remains highly productive; the deficit of the past three years is completely justifiable; our long-term healthcare problems are exactly the same as every other advanced country in the world and exactly the same as they've been for years; and the current stalemate in Congress is — what? Six months old? They're talking about a downgrade of 30-year sovereign debt from the safest, most powerful country in the world based on a political spat that's been going on for less than a year?

This is crazy.
When it is stated this way it becomes completely clear that the entire thing is about the Republican crazies (A minority in the minority party) trying to force the majority of Americans to swallow libertarian economic and social prescriptions that will devastate the American middle class very quickly.

The Republican party was somewhat crazy under Nixon, quite crazy under Reagan and George H. W. Bush, utterly insane when they took over Congress in 1994, and became destructive of almost everything important in America when Bush/Cheney stole the 2000 Presidential election. Since then they have gone downhill. If they hadn't had the southern racists, FOX News, and some extremely rich and very weird families like the Koch brothers supporting them while the mass media has undergone a disastrous decline in revenues, no one would pay any more attention to the tea baggers than they do to beggars in the street in the poorer parts of a big city.

But those idiots are getting the attention they don't deserve, and as a result America is moving rapidly downward into the second tier of industrial nations as a result.

I see no chance that America will wise up and again become one of the premier nations in the world any time soon.

More on the effort to shut down the ATF investigation into firearms trafficking

Yesterday I questioned whether the public relations offensive that is currently being conducted was designed to take the pressure off the Sinaloa Cartel. Someone at the Houston Chronicle is at least looking at the investigation called "Fast and Furious" to see what its actual purpose was rather than just using it as a stalking horse to attack the ATF itself. Here is the report:
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent in charge of the agency’s controversial Fast and Furious investigation on Tuesday defended his unit’s actions, telling lawmakers that “it was not the purpose’’ of ATF to permit firearms trafficking to Mexico.

William Newell, who oversaw the Phoenix field division when Fast and Furious was conceived in late 2009, told lawmakers that he helped plan the operation and that its intent was to help bring down a criminal organization involved in drug trafficking and gun smuggling.

Members of the House Oversight and Government Reform are probing Operation Fast and Furious, in which ATF Phoenix-based agents, instead of interdicting weapons destined for Mexico, were instructed to follow the gun trail of straw purchasers buying on behalf of Mexican drug traffickers.

A portion of the weapons slipped through to Mexico where they helped fuel Mexico’s escalating drug violence. Two of the weapons were recovered at the site in Southern Arizona where Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was murdered in December 2010.

“Fast and Furious was . . . designed to identify purchasers, financers, transporters, and decision makers in a Mexican cartel-based firearms trafficking organization,” Newell said in his opening statements. “It was not the purpose of the investigation to permit the transportation of firearms into Mexico.”

“Was there an explicit plan by which you’d follow where those guns went after’’ cartel middlemen took them from straw purchasers who bought the weapons at gun stores in the Phoenix area, asked Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt.

“To the best of my knowledge we did everything we could (to follow the weapons trail) with the resources we had in the field,”
Newell responded.

In a particularly heated moment, Newell said “We didn’t sell firearms, sir,” when the committee’s chairman, Rep. Darryl Issa, R-Calif., questioned him on how guns got from firearms dealers to purchasers and then on to the cartels.

“Well, you came pretty close,” Issa replied. “You told the firearm dealer to go ahead and sell them. You knew who the buyer was . . .and you knew where they were ending up.”
The ATF were trying to get to the organizers of the gun smuggling. Issa is still trying to attack the ATF with anything he thinks will tar them in the press. Issa is doing the job the leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel want done. The only thing not clear is if Issa is actually carrying water for the cartel or if he is simply such a rabidly blind right-wing zealot that he'll do and say anything to make the ATF look bad and he doesn't care that the cartel benefits from his ideological warfare.

It would have been impossible to track the firearms through the smuggling channels and not lose some of them. To stop those weapons at the first stage in the process would simply stop a few firearms, all of which could be easily replaced by another straw buyer. But letting them go offers the chance to get real evidence against the organizers of the purchasing and smuggling process in Mexico.

It's totally clear on the face of the entire media effort. The current media effort in America to attack the ATF benefits primarily the Sinaloa Cartel who is organizing the purchase and smuggling of the weapons. Issa is a key person in trying to shut down the ATF investigation before any upper level cartel member is caught.

The endgame on the debt ceiling games.

This is the best description of what the idiots in Washington have really accomplished - nothing.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Fineman and O'Donnell agree that it is going to come down to August 1 and we'll get an increase in the debt ceiling on a clean vote.

I really suspect that is too optimistic. I think it'll be a stalemate even at the end, with both sides blaming the other and the economy going to hell as they are paralyzed.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Bill Maher is less optimistic. I agree with him.

In the meantime no one is doing a damned thing to increase jobs. That's the accomplishment of the Republicans with Obama's help. As Bill Maher says, in Nov ember 2012 the economy will have gone to crap (even worse than now) and the voters will have forgotten the lost Summer of 2011. Instead they are going to say "We elected a Democrat as President and we got a disaster."

I'd rather not be right on this.

Truthout exposes how 2004 vote was hacked for surprise Bush win

It looks very much like the electronic vote counting in Ohio in 2004 was hacked in order to change a Kerry win to Bush win. This is from Truthout based on documents provided to the court in a lawsuit.
A new filing in the King Lincoln Bronzeville v. Blackwell case includes a copy of the Ohio Secretary of State election production system configuration that was in use in Ohio's 2004 presidential election when there was a sudden and unexpected shift in votes for George W. Bush.

The filing also includes the revealing deposition of the late Michael Connell. Connell served as the IT guru for the Bush family and Karl Rove. Connell ran the private IT firm GovTech that created the controversial system that transferred Ohio's vote count late on election night 2004 to a partisan Republican server site in Chattanooga, Tennessee owned by SmarTech. That is when the vote shift happened, not predicted by the exit polls, that led to Bush's unexpected victory. Connell died a month and a half after giving this deposition in a suspicious small plane crash.

Additionally, the filing contains the contract signed between then-Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell and Connell's company, GovTech Solutions. Also included that contract a graphic architectural map of the Secretary of State's election night server layout system.

Cliff Arnebeck, lead attorney in the King Lincoln case, exchanged emails with IT security expert Stephen Spoonamore. Arnebeck asked Spoonamore whether or not SmarTech had the capability to "input data" and thus alter the results of Ohio's 2004 election. Spoonamore responded: "Yes. They would have had data input capacities. The system might have been set up to log which source generated the data but probably did not."

Spoonamore explained that "they [SmarTech] have full access and could change things when and if they want."

Arnebeck specifically asked "Could this be done using whatever bypass techniques Connell developed for the web hosting function." Spoonamore replied "Yes."

Spoonamore concluded from the architectural maps of the Ohio 2004 election reporting system that, "SmarTech was a man in the middle. In my opinion they were not designed as a mirror, they were designed specifically to be a man in the middle."

A "man in the middle" is a deliberate computer hacking setup, which allows a third party to sit in between computer transmissions and illegally alter the data. A mirror site, by contrast, is designed as a backup site in case the main computer configuration fails.

Spoonamore claims that he confronted then-Secretary of State Blackwell at a secretary of state IT conference in Boston where he was giving a seminar in data security. "Blackwell freaked and refused to speak to me when I confronted him about it long before I met you," he wrote to Arnebeck.

Read the email correspondence here [pdf].

The conservative Republicans are a voting minority. Any win they have on a mass basis probably involves a stolen election. This is another indication of their criminal behaviors.

A Man-in-the-middle attack is a classic method of hacking into a system and changing or stealing data.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Is Rep Issa's anti-ATF witch hunt supporting the Sinaloa Cartel?

Is Congressman Darrel Issa working with the Sinaloa Cartel to shut down an ATF investigation that threatens the cartel's top leaders? His witch hunt against the DEA/ATF operation "Fast and Furious" could well be interpreted that way.

There seems to be a major public relations effort, largely centered on leaks and statements from Rep. Issa's office, that would stop effective investigations that might get top leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel. Rep. Issa may simply be working to advance his own political career without direct collusion with the cartel, but his efforts appear to be to their benefit.

There has been a lot of controversy in the media about the ATF's operation "Fast and Furious." Yesterday the Washington Post provided a lengthy report on it. Here is a sample:
On his first day undercover, John Dodson, who had been an ATF agent for seven years in Virginia, sat in a Chevy Impala with Olindo Casa, an 18-year veteran from Chicago. They watched a suspected gun trafficker buy 10 semiautomatic rifles from a Phoenix gun store and followed him to the house of another suspected trafficker. All of their training told them to seize the guns.

The agents called their superior and asked for the order to “take him.” The answer came back swiftly, instructing them to stay in the car. The message was clear: Let the guns go.

This was all part of an ambitious new strategy allowing Fast and Furious agents to follow the paths of guns from illegal buyers known as “straw purchasers” through middlemen and into the hierarchy of the powerful Sinaloa drug cartel.

But Dodson and Casa were confused and upset. ATF agents hate to let the guns “walk.” Yet it happened again, day after day, month after month, for more than a year.

They feared the worst, and a year later it happened: A Border Patrol agent was killed in an incident in which Fast and Furious guns were found at the scene. And it was later revealed that the operation had allowed more than 2,000 weapons to hit the streets.

It is the agency’s biggest debacle since the deadly 1993 confrontation in Waco, Tex. What began as a mutiny inside ATF’s Phoenix office has blown up into a Capitol Hill donnybrook that is rocking the Justice Department.

"it is a mistake that could have and should have been prevented,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, (R-Calif.) chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which is investigating the operation.

The battle has hobbled Fast and Furious, a case that individuals inside ATF say held the promise of becoming one of the agency’s best investigations ever.

“We have never been up so high in the Sinaloa cartel, the largest and most powerful drug cartel in the world,” said a federal official involved in the case who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “This is an open, ongoing investigation. It is so unfair.”
Which is "Fast and Furious?" An ambitious investigation that let's some guns and straw buyers escape justice in order to identify the higher-up leaders in the Sinaloa Cartel and shut them down, or a case in which the ATF simply failed to prevent the straw buyers buying guns from shipping them across the border into Mexico?

There is no question that many of the guns used by the Mexican cartels are bought in Texas, Arizona and other Southerwestern states and shipped across the border into Mexico. Here is an earlier news report:
As Mexico drug violence runs rampant, U.S. guns tied to crime south of border

'Outfitting private armies'

By James V. Grimaldi and Sari Horwitz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, December 15, 2010; 1:14 PM

No other state has produced more guns seized by police in the brutal Mexican drug wars than Texas. In the Lone Star State, no other city has more guns linked to Mexican crime scenes than Houston. And in the Texas oil town, no single independent dealer stands out more for selling guns traced from south of the border than Bill Carter.

Carter, 76, has operated four Carter's Country stores in the Houston metropolitan area over the past half-century. In the past two years, more than 115 guns from his stores have been seized by the police and military in Mexico.

As an unprecedented number of American guns flows to the murderous drug cartels across the border, the identities of U.S. dealers that sell guns seized at Mexican crime scenes remain confidential under a law passed by Congress in 2003.

A year-long investigation by The Washington Post has cracked that secrecy and uncovered the names of the top 12 U.S. dealers of guns traced to Mexico in the past two years.

Eight of the top 12 dealers are in Texas, three are in Arizona, and one is in California. In Texas, two of the four Houston area Carter's Country stores are on the list, along with four gun retailers in the Rio Grande Valley at the southern tip of the state. There are 3,800 gun retailers in Texas, 300 in Houston alone.

"One of the reasons that Houston is the number one source, you can go to a different gun store for a month and never hit the same gun store," said J. Dewey Webb, special agent in charge of the Houston field division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. "You can buy [a 9mm handgun] down along the border, but if you come to Houston, you can probably buy it cheaper because there's more dealers, there's more competition."
So what is going on in the ATF investigation? Should the ATF be trying to enforce the inadequate gun laws that are letting straw buyers purchase guns and ship to Mexico or should the ATF be trying to reach into the Sinaloa Cartel itself and bring down the top leaders of the very deadly drug organization? (About the Sinaloa Cartel, see also this Google Search. Especially significant is this NPR Reports stating that the Sinaloa Cartel appears to be getting protection from elements of the Mexican government.
An NPR News investigation has found strong evidence of collusion between elements of the Mexican army and the Sinaloa cartel in the violent border city of Juarez.

Dozens of interviews with current and former law enforcement agents, organized crime experts, elected representatives, and victims of violence suggest that the Sinaloans depend on bribes to top government officials to help their leader, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, elude capture, expand his empire and keep his operatives out of jail.

"I work in the police and because of this I know the government is protecting Chapo Guzman. It's hitting all the cartels but Chapo," said Luis Arturo Perez Torres, 25, until recently a federal police officer stationed in a suburb of Mexico City.

Guzman is the world's most wanted drug lord. His home base is the Pacific coastal state of Sinaloa, known as Mexico's "Sicily." It's the premier narco-state, with a long coastline for smuggling cocaine from South America, and rugged mountains to hide cannabis crops.
)The real issue, it seems to me, is whether the ATF should be wasting its time trying to stop a small percentage of straw buyers of guns on the American side of the border or if they should be observing the (admittedly criminal but very low level and effectively unprosecutable) actions of those straw buyers while using the information they develop to go after the big guys in the Cartel?

This witch hunt by Congressman Darrell Issa is itself quite suspicious. Is he taking an incident in which a gun that the ATF let through so that they could collect information on the Cartel processes and bosses an effort by Issa to shut down an investigation that the Sinaloa Cartel is afraid might get serious? His history of making money from a border line loan shark foreclosure and his efforts to advance his political career by attacking government and the Obama administration make it quite clear that he is not an ethical individual. If he could get ahead by doing the bidding of the bosses of the Sinaloa Cartel and not get caught I have no doubt that he would happily do so.

I can see the reasons why the ATF and the DEA would want to go after the top guys in the Sinaloa Cartel rather than the low-level straw buyers. The straw buyers are protected by the efforts the National Rifle Association to stop the passage of laws that make gun trafficking to Mexico a felony, who stop the ATF from keeping records on gun purchases for over 60 days, and stop the ATF from issuing regulations that require gun sellers to report purchases of military style weapons to the ATF.

If the ATF/DEA investigation in fact was threatening the top members of the Sinaloa Cartel I can see why they would be making efforts to shut that investigation down. If Darrel Issa were to think it would advance his political career (by pleasing conservative NRA voters, for example) I can certainly see him using the unfortunate death of the Immigration Office in Monterrey, Mexico to attack the ATF. Conservatives have ideological reasons for hating the very existence of the ATF. But I can also see that it would be to the advantage of the Sinaloa Cartel to fan that ideological hatred and to encourage Issa to attack the ATF for any reason, valid or not. Issa is, in my opinion, a person who would put his own personal advancement over the good of the American and the Mexican nations as he worked to shut down an ATF investigation that threatened the top leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel.

Is Darrel Issa working to support the Sinaloa Cartel? His "investigation" certainly appears to be having that effect, and so far as I can see has no basis beyond the fact that the ATF could have stopped the movement of the gun that killed ICE Agent Jaime J. Zapata . Was the information that the DEA/ATF could obtain by letting the firearm that killed him worth his life? How many lives - Mexican and American - have been lost to weapons the leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel have purchased in Texas, Arizona and California? Should the American investigative agencies be trying to stop the flow of all the weapons or should they be castigated for letting a few through that they knew about so that they could understand the overall purchasing and smuggling system?

Perhaps the media could ask Rep. Issa why he wants to protect the Sinaloa Cartel so badly? Is it really just his hatred of the ATF and of President Obama that is motivating his witch hunt or are there deeper motives behind his unethical actions? While I have no evidence that Issa is in direct knowing collusion with the cartel, his actions could certainly be interpreted as benefiting them and the results of his witch hunt have certainly not been sufficient to show why the ATF managers were wrong to make the investigative decisions they made.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Free Market? What free, unregulated market exists?

FireDogLake offers an interesting discussion with Bernard Harcourt, author of The Illusion of Free Markets: Punishment and the Myth of Natural Order.

The moderator offers this introduction to the book discussion:
The book advances several claims that go to the heart of libertarian ideology. For FDL readers probably the most important claim holds that belief in the efficacy of unregulated markets naturally to secure maximum economic and social well-being has as its counterpart the assertion that the role of government is properly confined to the spheres of criminal justice, national defense, and the protection of private property. Harcourt considers it no coincidence (Comrade, as we used to say in my cell), that the nation where free-market ideology is most pervasive has the world’s highest rates of penal incarceration by an order of magnitude, and that the rising incarceration rate since the mid-1970s is synchronous with the ascendance of an exceptionally rabid free-market ideology.

There is a deeper set of intellectual issues at play, however. What exactly do we mean by ’free markets’? In what specific sense are they free? What logical or empirical grounds warrant the belief that market outcomes are ’natural’ in the sense of being consequences of the operations of Natural Law? (Those of you who have done a basic philosophy course will recall that the distinction between Natural Law and man-made law is a distinction between laws making it illegal to jay-walk and a law that prevents you from walking on water). The thing about Natural Law is that it is a fixed point in discourse. If market outcomes are natural we are not permitted to place value judgments on them, just as we are not permitted to place a value judgment on the law of gravity. It follows that government interventions which interfere with the workings of the natural law of markets produce logically inferior outcomes, and should therefore be eschewed.

Harcourt argues that this view of the free market as “natural” in the above sense is categorical confusion, that the distinction between ’free’ and ’regulated’ markets is impermissible because all markets are regulated. To illustrate this point he contrasts the eighteenth-century Parisian grain and bread markets, which were heavily regulated by the state to ensure ‘fairness’ in trade and a modicum of price stability in times of crisis, and the Chicago Board of Trade options market. Both are in fact deeply regulated, with rules determining who can trade, when they can trade, and what they can trade. Yet history has determined that the Paris market was ‘regulated’ and ‘unnatural,’ while we consider the Chicago options market to bean exemplar of a ‘free’ market. Why is this? How did this happen
This is a key distinction. Libertarians are arguing that the so-called laws of economics in free markets are natural laws, so any interference with them has to produce a less efficient outcome. But the fact is that property itself is a social convention that only exists when the society it is in enforces it.

Also, the power of the seller and the buyer in any market exchange makes a big difference in how either of the two can negotiate with the other, so a powerful seller selling to a weak buyer can demand unreasonable prices. The powerful buyer can have similar effects as the history of WalMart has demonstrated. Power is is a social convention, not a description of a natural force. There is no element of the market for anything that is not socially defined, so markets cannot be described as natural law.

So why would libertarians argue for the existence of natural law in the markets? Because the advocates for libertarianism are those who get the benefit over those they sell to or buy from under the existing social rules. They are fighting for no change in such rules because they have an unreasonable advantage as the markets they are in are currently structured.

Which is my argument, not that of the author of the book or the moderator as far as I know. Go read the postings at FDL to see what they have to say.