Friday, July 21, 2017

Libertarian Neo-cons


Reason has gone full-blown neocon.  Recently I commented on a call to war with Russia by Cathy Young, published at Reason.com.  Now it is another piece at Reason, written by Steve Chapman and entitled “Trump Forces a GOP Retreat On Russia.”  Chapman doesn’t consider the so-called retreat to be a good thing.

He begins by favorably citing Mitt Romney from three years ago, calling out Obama for his naiveté regarding Russia:

“…the president wasn't able to shape the kinds of events that may have been able to prevent the kinds of circumstances that you're seeing in the Ukraine, as well as the things that you're seeing in Syria.”

Ukraine being right next to Russia; Syria, where Russia was legally invited by the president of the country to help put down a terrorist revolution.  These are, somehow, the business of the United States government, according to beltway libertarians.

Romney continues:

“This is not Fantasyland. This is reality where they are a geopolitical adversary.”

Because libertarians think in terms of geopolitical adversaries?  On what planet?  Apparently, on planet beltway.

Republican voters are dolts according to Chapman, after all…

One recent poll found that only one in four thinks Russia should be treated mainly as a threat—with the rest preferring warmer ties.

Warmer ties with a nuclear armed country.  Why talk when you can bludgeon?  This is what the beltway libertarians have come to.

And republicans in congress have had to become apologists for Trump:

…most of the party's members of Congress have done their best to downplay or excuse Trump's strange fondness for Vladimir Putin.

Maybe it’s just fondness for not starting a war that has the potential to destroy life on earth.

Citing the “collusion” by Trump, Jr., with a Russian lawyer who claimed to have damaging information on Hillary (who doesn’t?), Chapman suggests that only two republican senators got it right:

Only a few longtime Trump critics, notably John McCain and Lindsey Graham, were vocally disgusted by what they had learned.

Yes, the two warmongers who never saw a country that they didn’t want destroyed.  The beltway libertarians at Reason are pleased with their “disgust.”

Life was better when presidents talked tough toward Russians (and the Soviet Union, which, it seems, never went away in the minds of the infantile):

The standard for presidents used to be higher.

In the past, the GOP demanded that presidents recognize the threat posed by the Russian government, understand the policies needed to counter it and have the backbone to stand up to any challenge. Trump, by their own criteria, has failed each of these tests.

The president must stand up to any challenge, because it is libertarian to think in terms of geopolitical adversaries and search out ways to foment war – even better if it is nuclear war. 

Just ask Reason.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Redeemer Nation



Matthew 5:14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.


Just one verse of perhaps the most stream-of-consciousness-what-it-means-to-follow-Christ passages offered straight from the-Son-of-God’s lips to man’s ears.

This thought was foundational to the birth of the American colonies (I have edited the text for easier reading):

…for we must Consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us; so that if we shall deal falsely with our god in this work we have undertaken and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword through the world, we shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God and all professors for God’s sake; we shall shame the faces of many of God’s worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into Curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whether we are going…


Unfortunately, America has taken to the form of only one tidbit from Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, and none of the substance.  In any case, who is John Winthrop?

John Winthrop (12 January 1587/88 – 26 March 1649) was an English Puritan lawyer and one of the leading figures in founding the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the second major settlement in New England, following Plymouth Colony. Winthrop led the first large wave of immigrants from England in 1630 and served as governor for 12 of the colony's first 20 years. His writings and vision of the colony as a Puritan "city upon a hill" dominated New England colonial development, influencing the governments and religions of neighboring colonies.

Over the course of several months, I have listened to a series of interviews of Michael Vlahos by John Batchelor; Vlahos speaks of this idea of the United States as the redeemer nation.  Who is Michael Vlahos?

Michael Vlahos, PhD, has taught in the Global Security Studies program at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Arts and Sciences since 2011. He is a professor in the Strategy and Policy Department at the US Naval War College, a position he has held since 2010.

A recent interview of Vlahos by Batchelor offers an excellent summary of Vlahos’ view.  I find his arguments to be compelling.  I will offer only a few brief snippets here.  As there is no transcript, what I offer is not an attempt to capture his words – more like a summary; I suggest listening to the entire interview, it will take less than 20 minutes of your time.

Key points include:

The United States has always held onto the narrative of the redeemer nation; the story Americans tell themselves about the purpose of their nation.

Certainly since the end of World War Two it has taken on this role internationally – after a failed attempt by Woodrow Wilson to do the same after the Great War.  Harry Truman is the one who successfully implemented this global role, as the indispensable nation.  He successfully turned the religious mission of World War Two into a narrative that continued through the Cold War.

The narrative has existed from the beginning; it has only evolved and increased, but it has never changed.  America is God’s hand in world affairs.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States has gradually been losing this narrative.  America’s narrative of completing God’s mission was achieved.  George H.W. Bush offered a coda, a ceremonial war against Iraq, as demonstrating America’s achievement.

There are now competing narratives – both within and outside of the United States.  Actual people in actual places have become restless.

The narrative power has been lost; the narrative is being pushed by others: China, Russia, Muslims, even Europeans…but not Americans.

Does America drift for a while, or do we accept that we are no longer exceptional?  For the US to cease to see itself as something exceptional will take something like what Japan and Germany realized in World War Two.

A concrete example is happening now in the South China Sea: as America is challenged, there is no story about what the US needs to do.  There is no longer a narrative that allows the US to intervene.

As an aside, Vlahos points to Japan’s aggressions in China in the early 1930s; Japan acted with US support to have an army in China.  (I have commented on this history in the past.)

Conclusion

Let’s hope Vlahos is wrong about America not going down quietly.  Observation tells me, unfortunately, that my hope is misplaced.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Safety of the Cold War



Ahhh…the good old days: the Soviet Union and the United States; the Warsaw Pact and NATO; East and West.  And nukes…tens of thousands of nukes.  I look back fondly at the relative safety of the time.

Sure, tensions were high.  Cuban missile Crisis, proxy wars, Iron Curtains, Checkpoint Charlie.  But at least then the two sides would talk; at least then the two sides took steps to ensure some level of openness and cooperation; at least then one could suggest calls for diplomacy with the Soviet Union.

I recently came across the history of one such example, the history of military liaison missions in Germany:

The military liaison missions arose from reciprocal agreements formed between the Western allied nations (the US, the UK and France) and the USSR shortly after the end of the Second World War. The missions were active from 1946 until 1990.

Basically the four Allied Powers, victorious in the war, openly allowed spying on the other side of the curtain.  Those assigned in these missions held something approaching diplomatic status; this did not prevent high speed car chases, shootings, and a couple of deaths.


The Military Liaison Missions arose from reciprocal agreements formed immediately after the Second World War between the Western allied nations (U.S., UK and France) and the USSR. The missions were active from 1946 until 1990.

The agreements between the allied nations and the Soviet Union permitted the deployment of small numbers of military intelligence personnel — together with associated support staff — in each other's territory in Germany, ostensibly for the purposes of monitoring and furthering better relationships between the Soviet and Western occupation forces….The MLMs also played an intelligence-gathering role.

Each of the three western powers had access to East Germany; the Soviets had access to all western zones of Germany.

The missions' initial tasks were genuine liaison tasks. These included repatriation of Prisoners of War (PoW), location of allied service personnel graves, looking for Nazi war criminals and witnesses to Nazi atrocities as well as monitoring the distribution of food and fuel etc. In BRIXMIS' [The British Commanders'-in-Chief Mission] case, the intelligence gathering role was only authorised by the UK Government in 1948 during the period of the buildup of the Berlin Blockade.

The MLMs were granted access to large areas of the Soviet Zone of Occupation. PRAs (Permanent Restricted Areas) around military installations and TRAs (Temporary Restricted Areas) during military exercises were marked on special maps issued to the MLMs. The primary task of the MLMs became surveillance and reconnaissance of the Soviet Forces on the ground and by air. The estimation of Soviet troop strength, observation of new equipment and military exercises became the daily routine. The Mission's role can't be overestimated as they were the first to tell a large maneuver from a buildup of troops which even could have resulted in a nuclear conflict.

On every single day of the Cold War, several teams of the US mission were active.  Each team was comprised of two members, travelling in a nondescript four-wheel-drive vehicle.  The teams carried items such as notebooks, binoculars, night vision goggles, and tape recorders, but no weapons.

The targets included Soviet or East German garrisons, temporary deployment areas, field training areas, air-ground gunnery ranges, communications sites, river crossing areas, railroad sidings, and virtually anything else of military value in the country.

The enemy's capabilities were only part of the problem; the MLM was also tasked to look for indications of intent to use those capabilities. [Major General Roland La Joie, a former commander of the USMLM] writes: "On every single day throughout the Cold War, eight or more Allied tours were roaming the countryside of East Germany. Every day, all night, each tour looking exactly for signs of imminence of hostilities."

Conclusion

Like I said, the safety of the Cold War.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Thank You



From an email, offered in the middle of the Gary North attack:

…as I have often thought, you can be proud of your commenters, and of the whole Bionic community you've created.

My reply:

The best group of commenters that I regularly read was at the Daily Bell in the first couple of years – seven or eight years ago – even better than the comments behind any paywall.

As Anthony Wile started flopping around both in the site's focus and its interaction with commenters, that changed for me.

I keep that early community in mind when I write and how I deal with comments. I don't want to lose that.

A few of you have been around since those days at The Daily Bell; those that were there would understand my sentiment about that site at that time.

I have mentioned before that one of the main reasons I write is that it forces me to think critically, to organize my thoughts in a manner that is reasonable and logical.  In other words, I write to better myself.

The reason I write publicly is to learn.  As those of you who have been around for more than a few months recognize, I have grown since the time bionic was born – at least I sure hope I have.  To the extent this is true, it is because of your feedback.  I truly enjoy and welcome the feedback, but only if I can keep the community that I hope to keep.

And I thank you all for your contributions and support during this journey.

Friday, July 14, 2017

The “Why” of Liberalism



Taken from a discussion in the comments from my post, My Journey So Far.  The discussion begins with a comment by Anonymous July 12, 2017 at 6:52 AM; the dialogue proceeds to include the ideas of utilitarian vs. moral considerations as the basis of libertarian philosophy.  The dialogue concludes (at least for now) with a comment from gpond July 13, 2017 at 8:42 AM:

bm, I don't recall if Mises spoke of good and bad law. I do know that he did not agree with Rothbard regarding objective ethics.

The essay I will link is the best write-up on Mises' utilitarianism that I have ever come across. It may at least whet your appetite for understanding Mises' position on such things.

The essay is written by Daniel Sanchez, which inherently means it is well written and thorough.  The essay begins:

"The only fully Misesian economists are Rothbardians, and most Rothbardians have abandoned Mises's entire approach to the 'why' of liberalism."

Heaven help me…. I recall when I first stepped into the subject of immigration and open borders; I found the very disparate views of Hans Hoppe and Walter Block.  I addressed this in a post entitled Dances With Elephants.  Given the two named individuals, you can understand both the title and my trepidation.

That was nothing compared to this…. Mises and Rothbard…. I will say up front, I will not dive deeply into this topic; I am so immensely unqualified to do so – I have read two essays by someone expanding on the comments of Mises.  I have read not much else form either Mises or Rothbard on this topic, or to the extent I have I do not intend to dig through it for this post. 

But I have an even more over-riding reason to not dive deeply into the topic, and this will become clear by the end of the post.  Let’s just say no argument will change my view.  If you call this a “religion,” you would be both figuratively and literally correct.

The essay suggested by gpond led me to an earlier essay by Sanchez, to be found here.  I have read, via Gary North, that it was Rothbard that placed a moral foundation under Austro-libertarian theory.  After having read these two essays, I have some understanding of what North was getting at.

To me, the second essay was very clarifying; both must be read to better grasp the meaning.  As background for the essays, Mises offers a utilitarian argument as to the “why,” but it isn’t the utilitarian argument most of us think of when we dwell on this question.  Rothbard offers a moral argument, based on natural rights.  Sanchez develops Mises’ arguments; he suggests that Mises’ position is both misunderstood and a more appropriate foundation.

For the purposes of this post, I offer the following from the second essay as my version of a summary / conclusion of Sanchez’s argument:

People develop the custom of abiding by general rules (including the rules of justice) because of a general recognition that when both the long-run and short-run are taken into account, any given individual is likely to be better off, according to his own preferences, with the rules, than without them.

The general expediency of certain codes of conduct are recognized by thought leaders in society. These thought leaders convince others, who in turn convince still others. Over time, and as codes of conduct are passed across generations and intellectual strata, consciously formulated customs gradually evolve into blindly imbibed folkways.

And if a general awareness of the relative inexpediency of a custom arises, this will erode the utilitarian basis of its social acceptance, and it will eventually topple.

I will put my thoughts in a very simpleton form:

Mises, as he considers the term “utilitarian,” says killing and stealing would not be chosen because these decrease social cooperation, and under social cooperation all would be better off in the long term.  We would therefore act accordingly and adopt customs against killing and stealing.

But what if it can be shown by thought leaders that a little killing and stealing (death penalty, abortion, preventative war, low levels of taxation, regulations on food and drugs, pollution standards) that we would all be better off under these rules.  What if the thought leaders could convince enough people of this “truth”?  Would this make killing and stealing appropriate?

Pragmatists (to avoid the term “utilitarian”) say killing and stealing are wrong as these introduce artificial restrictions to free markets, and only under free markets can each individual achieve his highest utilities. 

But what if it can be shown by thought leaders that some issues are too big for markets (national defense, control of money and credit), and only government action (a little killing and stealing) can solve such problems and that we would, therefore, be better off under these rules?  What if the thought leaders could convince enough people of this “truth”?  Would this make killing and stealing appropriate?

Moralists, at least in my definition of the term, say killing and stealing are wrong, full stop.  They require no justification for this view beyond holding it; therefore no argument by thought leaders can shake them from this view.

Now…I describe my view and analysis as “simpleton” because I find little reason to consider anything more than what I have described as the moralist view; this allows me to hold to a position that cannot be swayed by thought leaders.  I guess this puts me somewhere in the Rothbardian camp, albeit perhaps due to a different foundation. 

And this foundation is my traditional Christian foundation.  Of course, if others conclude that killing and stealing are wrong based on a different foundation, I don’t complain.  But I don’t find the reason of thought leaders to be as stable a foundation.

If traditional Western Christian civilization can’t keep this morality in focus for Western civilization, no other argument meant to avoid killing and stealing has a chance to succeed.

In other words, perhaps this is where liberalism leads.