== Bank Secrecy ‘ending’ at last? ==
“Bank secrecy is essentially eroding before our eyes,” says a recent NPR article. “I think the combination of the fear factor that has kicked in for not only Americans with money offshore, countries that don’t want to be on the wrong side of this issue and the legislative weight of FATCA means that within three to five years it will be exceptionally difficult for any American to hide money in any financial institution.”
In one sense, this would appear to be vindication of my forecast, in EARTH, that banking secrecy would become a major issue by the second decade of the 21st Century and that it would go extinct soon thereafter, propelled via anger by the rising worldwide middle classes plus the basic needs of democracy and true capitalism. Do I feel predictive vindication? Sure.
But at another level all of this is far less substantial than I depicted. The banking havens are retreating in good order, making deals and protecting what has become their core business — sheltering lucre stolen from developing nations by their kleptocratic leader-castes. Those klepto-depositors aren’t American or European citizens and hence need not be reported. Moreover, the amounts involved — especially if you include so-called “sovereign wealth funds” — vastly outweigh the deposits of a few U.S. and Euro mere-billionaires. Indeed, Western governments have been complicit, so eager to reclaim tax revenues from their own citizens that they have given assurances not to go after more general transparency.
The real scenario from EARTH, has yet to be played out. When citizens in Congo and the Phillipines, in Myanmar and Mexico and Malaysia and so on become radicalized and start demanding true international transparency of ownership…
… that is when we’ll see such a crisis as I portrayed in the “Helvetian War.” This ain’t over by a mile.
== Tentative Good News ==
In September, with most members out on the campaign trail, the House of Representatives approved final passage of the long-awaited Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (S. 743), a set of 10 reforms intended to clarify the difference between policy disputes and whistleblowing. Sponsored by Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, it would expand the types of employee disclosures of violations of laws, rules or regulations that are protected and beef up employee rights. It also would broaden coverage to employees of the major intelligence agencies and the Transportation Security Administration, prohibiting the revocation of a security clearance in retaliation for a protected whistleblower disclosure. And it would expand the rights of the Office of Special Counsel to file friend-of-the-court briefs.
The bipartisan bill would strengthen authority for reviews by the Merit Systems Protection Board and provide whistleblowing employees with more access to their agency’s inspector general. It would establish whistleblower protection ombudsmen to educate agency personnel about whistleblower rights. The bill now returns to the Senate, where it is up for consideration in a November lame-duck session. In the previous Congress, a version of the bill died in a December session.
* Someone out there please report to us all — what’s the status on the legislation? *
This could be almost as important as last year’s victory for transparency and civilization, when Illinois courts struck down a law banning the taping of police. No civil liberties matter was more important to our future. On this – no compromise, ever.
== Transparency in The Central Kingdom ==
As we speak, openness advocates are struggling for basic press freedom at China’s Southern Weekly. This is not something I mention out of hostility but in hope that the rulers of that rapidly developing nation will come to see the benefits of light – the only possible corrective medicine for corruption – and find the courage to return to their earlier plan.
What earlier plan? Why, to let freedom at the local level clean up corruption where it does the most damage, in exchange for a social contract to leave top national power alone (in oligarchic hands) for a generation. It was a highly plausible plan and would have derived the top benefits of freedom — accountability and prevention of abuse, crime and errors — while still managing overall development from above — the neo-Confucian solution. (Note: I disagree with all forms of oligarchy, but that version could have worked.)
Alas, it was a compromise they found inconvenient in countless ways (freedom often is) and so it fell aside. Overcome by the impulse, imbedded in human nature, to try to control everything. I hope they will prove their vaunted high intelligence and go back to it, because, in reality, it is their only hope.
== Then there’s Big Brother on the Bus ==
According to Wired: “Transit authorities in cities across the country are quietly installing microphone-enabled surveillance systems on public buses that would give them the ability to record and store private conversations, according to documents obtained by a news outlet. The systems are being installed in San Francisco, Baltimore, and other cities with funding from the Department of Homeland Security in some cases, according to the Daily, which obtained copies of contracts, procurement requests, specs and other documents. The use of the equipment raises serious questions about eavesdropping without a warrant, particularly since recordings of passengers could be obtained and used by law enforcement agencies.”
Again, how will you prevent this? By banning them? So that (as Heinlein said) the bugs simply are made smaller? Better have these things in the open… and insist that WE can zoom into the control room and watch the watchers.
== SMBC Rocks transparency and philosophy! ==
Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal captures much of the essence, how look-back “sousveillance” is our only recourse.
Then an oldie…but excellent explanation of the Prisoner’s Dilemma.
How many of you know someone who has done this? Used this cop-out? I know several.
== Update re HFT or High Frequency Trading ==
I’ve spoken of calamities far worse than the multi-billion dollar “oops!” mistakes already made by HFT systems… leading all the way to “terminator” problems with emergent AI… by far the most likely way the Singularity could go very badly wrong.
Now Greg Trocchia: “One of the about high frequency trading concerns I voiced, as a Software Quality Assurance (SQA) professional, is that even a rigorous software development process could not preclude emergent pathological behavior on the part of the algorithm that might occur in unpredictable sets of circumstances. It now seems that things are even worse than I had realized. In certain cases, at least, even the most elementary software engineering precautions were absent: Chicago Fed Study Blasts lid off of High Frequency Trading. I am aghast that software of such critical importance should be treated with such cavalier disregard of the hard-learned lessons of SQA.”
== Transparency and Guns ==
Finally… Jon Stewart’s riff on gun control touched most of the bases. Especially (and incredibly) he paid attention to the deep-underlying motivation of gun enthusiasts. One that needs to be addressed, if we are to calm them down enough so that the moderates join us in conversation. That may demand some mental adjustments on our part. Watch his episode then see my nuanced and careful logic about this: The Jefferson Rifle: Guns and the Insurrection Myth.
Here’s Stewart’s bit: http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/tue-january-8-2013/scapegoat-hunter—gun-control
Alas, the Gun Lobby devotes far too much faith in the protection of the Second Amendment, a slender reed that will bend at some point, when, amid some future crisis, a Court will turn to the “well-regulated militia” part of the 2nd and interpret it in ways the gun fellows will not like. I say this not out of hostility… indeed, I support core gun rights! Rather, I point it out as a futurist who knows his game. You guys need another amendment. And my essay offers you one that liberals would help you to pass! It would be a shoo-in, if you’d stop panicking and negotiate. (And that holds for you lefties, too.)
How does transparency relate to gun control? Simple. As I point out in The Transparent Society – almost all of the advantages and almost none of the disadvantages of personal firearms are available to us if we all go around armed (as we will!) with cameras. All of the ability to hold others accountable… plus little of the ability to wreak tragic havoc the instant we fall prey to Homo-erectus rage. Rage that – with cameras – one might later apologize for. With a gun, it can bring regret for the rest of your life.
I am not for banning all personal weapons! Read my proposal, which is logical and preserves a certain level with safety. But try being openminded, and know that the new era will depend less on gunpowder and more on light.
And now pause… I’ll have more transparency-related news, next time.