Friday, January 31, 2014

It Ain’t Paranoia If It’s True

Cass, Cass, Cass…why do you serve up such softballs?

1. Psychiatry.  a mental disorder characterized by systematized delusions and the projection of personal conflicts, which are ascribed to the supposed hostility of others, sometimes progressing to disturbances of consciousness and aggressive acts believed to be performed in self-defense or as a mission.
2. baseless or excessive suspicion of the motives of others.

Cass Sunstein apparently believes that speaking truth to power and exposing the lies in government is paranoid behavior:

In a recent essay in the New Republic, Princeton University historian Sean Wilentz contends that Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald and Julian Assange reflect a political impulse he calls “paranoid libertarianism.”

Are there lies buried in the allegations of these gentlemen?  If Snowden is lying, why is Obama pretending to act?  These gentlemen have certainly been ridiculed by the mainstream and the politicians; however, I have not read a refutation of any meaningful portion of the government abuses as exposed.

Wilentz claims that far from being “truth-telling comrades intent on protecting the state and the Constitution from authoritarian malefactors,” they “despise the modern liberal state, and they want to wound it.”

Why not both truth-telling and a desire to wound the modern liberal state?  If, in fact, the accusations are correct, isn’t a little reputational wounding in order?  Should not such a state, and the actors behind it, be despised?

Sunstein moves beyond the three named “paranoids,” and to the larger group of libertarian paranoids.  He identifies five characteristics of this breed:

The first is a wildly exaggerated sense of risks -- a belief that if government is engaging in certain action (such as surveillance or gun control), it will inevitably use its authority so as to jeopardize civil liberties and perhaps democracy itself.

One need look no further than events in Boston after the marathon bombing.  Civil liberties were more than jeopardized – they were ignored.  Or what of reports that data from the massive NSA surveillance system is subtly handed over to prosecutors to be used in convicting defendants of non-national-security crimes? 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Leading by Example

I have previously written about the Spanish Civil War, through the eyes of José Maria Gironella and his novel, “The Cypresses Believe in God.”  I am now reading the second installment of his trilogy, “One Million Dead.”

I have only started the novel; I have come across a very good passage – a statement by Ignacio, oldest son of Matías Alvear and his wife Carmen Elgazu.  The statement is made to David and Olga – his teachers during high school, and a married couple with whom Ignacio had at one time become quite close.  As background, from my post on the first novel:

Gironella describes the activities of the private teachers – David and Olga – socialists with a vision of indoctrination for schoolchildren.  In the fragmenting and rebuilding of society, they find an uneasy home with the communist Republicans.

David and Olga have taken sides with the reds – the communists.  It is this side that overran Gerona in the wake of the coup – which failed in the region, although successful elsewhere.  David and Olga have developed teaching methods – indoctrinations – which are seen as favorable by the communists, hence being placed in authority over the education methods in the district.

It is the communists that fired the bullet that took the life of César, Ignacio’s seminarian brother, in the first nights of the war.  Ignacio held great love for his brother, whose attitude to life can be best summarized in a statement he made in the past to Ignacio: “What gives me the greatest pleasure is to feel that I love.”

With this background out of the way, what is this passage so worthy of note, the statement by Ignacio to his former teachers David and Olga, teachers now affiliated with those who killed his brother and want to do the same to others close to Ignacio and his family?

“You’ve spent years laying down the rules in the district and almost throughout the city.  Your attitudes are the law to many; they were to me in the past.  So that if Olga strikes a nun in the Rambla, then poor Santi, and with him all the poor Santis in Gerona – and they are legion – automatically discovers not only that nuns can be slapped, but that it must be healthy to do it, a sign of security.  And so the chain begins…”

The authority sets the example.  The application to the envy and murder of the hearts of many people today can best be found in the following statement by Frédéric Bastiat, in the opening paragraph of “The Law”:

The law perverted! The law—and, in its wake, all the collective forces of the nation—the law, I say, not only diverted from its proper direction, but made to pursue one entirely contrary! The law become the tool of every kind of avarice, instead of being its check! The law guilty of that very iniquity which it was its mission to punish! Truly, this is a serious fact, if it exists, and one to which I feel bound to call the attention of my fellow citizens.

I know that teachers are not the same as monopoly law enforced by civil government.  However, when individuals see behavior by those in authority that violates moral behavior (call it the non-aggression principle, if you wish), it is reasonable to expect that many will be swayed by such examples.

I need not provide examples, I think.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Stalin, Communism, and World War II

The standard, accepted story of World War II, especially for those in the west, goes as follows: Hitler wanted to take over the world; Japan committed an unprovoked and despicable act by bombing the US at Pearl Harbor.  The United States, minding its own business until the day that will live in infamy, was forced into war against all efforts of Roosevelt to the contrary.  The United States then saved the world from Nazi and Japanese tyranny, and then altruistically aided in the rebuilding efforts of former enemies.

It is a fantasy that lies behind the emotion shed at sporting event during the singing of the national anthem and the flyover of military jets; it undergirds countless July 4, veterans day, and memorial day parades.  It was the good war.

Over the years, I have worked to shed myself of this dream.  Much of that work is buried in dozens of posts in this blog.  One of the more complete, summary examples is here.  Most of my effort has been focused on the perspective of the west generally – the culpability of Britain, France, and the United States in the century of war.  Of course, there is much culpability to share amongst actors employed by these three states.

There are, of course, other viewpoints.  Perhaps the first one I looked into was one from Germany, through a book by Gerd Schultze-Rhonhof, “1939 – The War That Had Many Fathers.” I have written several posts on this topic; for those unfamiliar with this work and interested in the perspective, I offer my introductory post to this work.

So, now on to Suvorov.  His perspective is from the view of the Soviets and Stalin.  I will likely write several posts on this book and this topic; I will also use details from this book to update my running “Timeline to War.”  However, for now, I will offer the summary version of this book (in this summary, I will not go into detail from the book; I will develop this in subsequent posts).

Monday, January 27, 2014

The NY Times Hack Job and Milquetoast Libertarians

By now, most of you are likely aware of the NY Times commentary over the weekend, and especially the jabs taken at the Mises Institute, Ron Paul and Lew Rockwell.  Lew Rockwell himself has addressed the issue, with a post cross-published at both Mises and LRC.  Mr. Rockwell wears the criticism, considering the source, as a badge of honor – coming from the home of Krugman, Friedman, and the like, a rational decision on his part.  Robert Wenzel has also addressed the issue at EPJ.

The NYTimes piece has brought out waves of praise from various milquetoast libertarians – those who are working really hard to influence policy in the federal government.  You know the type: “Sure, if we could only get them to listen…and they might even like us!”

The piece revolves around Rand Paul, and the potential of his run for the office of president in 2016.  It seems to offer a template for the positions Rand must distance himself from if he wishes to be taken as credible by the mainstream – in other words, the Times is pointing out the landmines for Rand (perhaps another sign of his acceptability to the mainstream?).  One of the landmines is his father, Ron; another is everything associated with the Mises Institute.  (As I do in pieces where I will discuss this father and son, I must revert to first names to avoid confusion.)

As Rand Paul test-markets a presidential candidacy and tries to broaden his appeal, he is also trying to take libertarianism, an ideology long on the fringes of American politics, into the mainstream.

Of course, Reagan spoke such a language as well (as an actor, much more eloquently than Rand or almost anyone else could) – and followed with…nothing – no reduction in spending, no closing of departments.  Nothing libertarian.  This should offer a clue to the milquetoast libertarians out there…but I get ahead of myself.

In the months since he commanded national attention and bipartisan praise for his 13-hour filibuster against the Obama administration’s drone strike program…

I applauded this filibuster.  Sadly, Rand ended it based on a nothing promise from Holder.

…Mr. Paul has impressed Republican leaders with his staying power, in part because of the stumbles of potential rivals and despite some of his own.

Yes, Mr. Christie.  Those in control must ensure a large enough pool of acceptable suits to fill the chairs in the puppet shows that pass for debates and elections – not that the results of the elections will matter to any significant degree (all roads lead to a larger state).  This should offer another clue as to where I am headed, but again…not yet.

“Senator Paul is a credible national candidate,” said Mitt Romney, who ran for president as the consummate insider in 2012.

Isn’t this one endorsement enough to scare the life out of the milquetoast libertarians? 

In an email, Mr. Romney added that the votes and dollars Mr. Paul would attract from his father’s supporters could help make him “a serious contender for the Republican nomination.”

This will be interesting to watch.  It seems clear to me that Ron Paul attracted the popular attention that he did because of his consistency; because he never wavered on positions regardless of the consequence. It is not at all clear to me that Rand is generating the same fervor.  Rand made a different choice.  We will see if the bulk of his campaign money comes from the same types of individuals / groups that were drawn to Ron, or from the types of individuals and groups that were drawn to Romney.

Now to the crux of the issue, the hack job:

But if Mr. Paul reaps the benefits of his father’s name and history, he also must contend with the burdens of that patrimony.

Friday, January 24, 2014

CATO Questions the Fed

Don’t worry, Koch brothers; no one stepped out of line…

In a commentary entitled “Bernanke’s Monetary Mess,” Steve Hanke dissects Ben Bernanke’s performance during his tenure at the Federal Reserve:

Most who have graded Prof. Ben Bernanke’s twelve years at the Federal Reserve have issued marks which range from A to a gentleman’s C. I think those marks are much too generous. Indeed, I think a failing mark would be more appropriate.

How Mr. Hanke comes to this conclusion, I will get to shortly.  First, who is Steve Hanke?

Steve H. Hanke is a Professor of Applied Economics and Co-Director of the Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Troubled Currencies Project at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C.; a Senior Advisor at the Renmin University of China’s International Monetary Research Institute in Beijing; a Special Counselor to the Center for Financial Stability in New York; and a contributing editor at Globe Asia Magazine. Prof. Hanke is also a member of the Charter Council of the Society of Economic Measurement and the Financial Advisory Council of the United Arab Emirates.

In the past, Prof. Hanke taught economics at the Colorado School of Mines and the University of California, Berkeley. He served as a Member of the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisers in Maryland in 1976-77; as a Senior Economist on President Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers in 1981-82; and as a Senior Advisor to the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress in 1984-88. Prof. Hanke also served as a State Counselor to both the Republic of Lithuania in 1994-96 and the Republic of Montenegro in 1999-2003. He was also an Advisor to the Presidents of Bulgaria in 1997-2002, Venezuela in 1995-96, and Indonesia in 1998. He played an important role in establishing new currency regimes in Argentina, Estonia, Bulgaria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ecuador, Lithuania, and Montenegro. Prof. Hanke has also advised the governments of many other countries, including Albania, Kazakhstan, and Yugoslavia.

Sorry for the long biography, but I think it is worthwhile to consider the background of the analysts utilized by the Cato Institute.  These are policy wonks, advisors to central banks and governments throughout the world.  Now I know there are countless thousands of such individuals; sadly, too many are associated with an organization supposedly devoted to liberty:

The Cato Institute is a public policy research organization — a think tank – dedicated to the principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets and peace.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Jeffrey Tucker and Liberty Me

My inbox is flooded with emails from Liberty Me, the new endeavor by Jeffrey Tucker.  I first heard of Tucker’s latest via an interview he did at Lions of Liberty. 

Based on the interview, I took a look at the website.  The frozen picture in the embedded video on the first page turned me off, without even watching it – I guess I am not such a fun-loving guy?  Shortly thereafter, the emails began to arrive: endorsements from a few heavyweights in the Austrian / libertarian / gold community and the like.  Also, an email from Mr. Tucker, with a linked essay: “TUCKER’s DO’s & DON’Ts for Talking Liberty.”

In it, Mr. Tucker offers five “don’ts” and five “dos”:

1. Don’t Be Belligerent
2. Don’t Presume Hatred of Liberty
3. Don’t Presume Different Goals
4. Don’t Presume Ignorance
5. Don’t Regard Anyone as an Enemy
6. Do Inspire
7. Do Look for Love of Liberty
8. Do Have Confidence in Your Beliefs
9. Do Speak the Language of Your Interlocutor
10. Do Suggest Great Literature

Throughout this essay, Mr. Tucker seems to believe in better intentions in the enemies of liberty than I do.  Further, he approaches liberty from a pragmatic viewpoint: it works better than the alternatives.  For me, the issue is moral although certainly this does not have to be so for everyone. 

I applaud all efforts to reach out and expand the message of liberty.  Mr. Tucker’s approach suggests the acceptance of a certain worldview, leading one to incorrect conclusions and therefore potentially less-than-optimal strategies.  (But who am I to say?  That’s why we have a market!)

Yet, I will say; I will walk through a few such examples from his article. 

Don’t Be Belligerent

Righteous anger at the state of the world is a feature of the libertarian mind. It was probably the reason for the initial interest in the ideology.  When a person makes the link between war, mass killing, lies, and government power, the result is overwhelming….Another example might be economics related. When a person discovers that the Fed is the reason for inflation, the business cycle, and the skyrocketing debt, the effect is shock and anger and the desire to make history right.

This is all completely understandable. The problem is to remember that others do not share in this anger because they have not been made aware of the cause and effect here.

I believe it is true that there are many who have not made the proper connection of cause and effect.  The problem is, there are many who have – and they still favor continuing down the same path.  When “cause” hits too close to home – be it for the recipient of welfare benefits, the executive at a large money-center bank, or someone with a privileged position within government, most choose to care not for the “effect.” 

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!"

The issue is not “because they have not been made aware of the cause and effect here.”  The issue is because the worst rise to the top, and too many are envious – wanting something for nothing.  They do not care about the “effect” that their “cause” has on the rest of us, as long as they are getting theirs.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Things You Don’t Say in Polite Society

I was listening to a podcast by Keith Preston at Attack the System regarding the question “Who are the Power Elite?”  If I recall correctly, I found this podcast through the good efforts of Charles Burris.

In this podcast, and I will paraphrase as best as I can, Mr. Preston suggested certain ways that the elite control the population.  For the lower economic classes, control is achieved through various laws that allow for an overly aggressive police – drug laws, prostitution, and the like (see William Grigg for a few examples of the methods). 

For the middle and especially upper economic classes, control is achieved through enforcement of political correctness – the avoidance of certain views found to be unacceptable in polite society.

Michael Rozeff asked an interesting question: “Why trust a government that supplies narratives at variance with the facts, or alters its narratives contradictorily from one year to the next?”

“Narratives at variance with the facts.”  It strikes me that this is the key characteristic of politically correct views, views that are acceptable in polite society; one accepts, or at least does not openly question, “narratives at variance with the facts.”

This seems to be more the case the higher one goes in economic and intellectual circles.  One need look no further than the so-called bastions of intellectual purity – the top colleges and universities – to find this to be the case.  How many students regurgitate the acceptable answer instead of the correct one – no matter how well they defend their position?

It is interesting that the brightest minds have, in many ways, been captured by the system – whether the owners of those minds understand this or not.  Consider, the top researchers, economists, financiers, academicians, journalists; all hold privileged positions much more lucrative than would likely be the case in a free market.  The brightest minds – the ones best able to question the very system that controls them – are beholden to that same system for their oversized positions.

While the internet has helped to put a crack in this armor of political correctness, the acceptance of “narratives at variance with the facts” still holds tremendous power to control – or, worded another way, the questioning of “narratives at variance with the facts” still holds tremendous power to chastise.

Consider any of the following – each topic comes with its own, very strong, politically-acceptable view:

September 11, Pearl Harbor, dropping the atomic bombs, Ron Paul, central banking, global warming (or climate change), the two-party system, an independent press, honor the troops, Franklin Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, the Good War, the gold standard, Iran, Israel, Austrian economics, .

You hold one of these privileged positions – perhaps a nice research position at the NIH, or a high-profile position with a major newspaper or nightly news broadcast; an employee of a central bank;  an eight-figure-a-year-bonus banker; an executive at a defense contractor.  You are a cog in polite society.

Go to your next cocktail party, and question the politically acceptable view of any of these topics.  I don’t mean one-on-one, where your counterpart’s views will not be heard by others.  No, say something to the crowd of five or six standing by the cheese table, where each member of the group must be concerned about witnesses.  You won’t do this too often before you are no longer invited.

Put faces on the people at the party: Warren Buffet, Ben Bernanke, Jamie Dimon, Jeff Immelt.  Have you heard any such individuals question an official narrative – one at obvious variance with the facts?  How about the news anchors, business journalists?  Maria Bartiromo?  Do you think you will be invited to Davos after such an indiscretion?

I am trying to remember my internal explanation for the existence of “political correctness” prior to hearing the above-mentioned podcast.  I cannot remember it – the explanation given by Mr. Preston was one of the bigger light-bulb moments I have had in quite a while; it has erased any thinking from my memory that I had about this concept before.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Best of the Best? MAD gone Mad

This would be hilariously funny if the subject was not so serious – say something only on the order of a terrorist attack on a major city killing thousands of people who have just arrived at work, or some other similarly trivial matter….

The Air Force is investigating an unprecedented exam cheating scandal involving dozens of officers responsible for launching nuclear weapons, the latest in a series of embarrassments for the military’s nuclear forces.

Air Force leaders said they stumbled upon the cheating on nuclear proficiency exams while investigating a separate drug-abuse scandal at six different bases.

All I can say is thank God for the officers involved in the drug abuse scandal, else this cheating scandal might never have been found.

The disclosures come less than a month after the Air Force revealed that a two-star general in charge of nuclear missiles went on a drinking binge and fraternized with suspicious foreign women during an official visit to Moscow last summer.

Only men of the highest character – that’s what is demanded when the position involves the potential annihilation of every living thing on earth.  A drunk general in Moscow – is that a problem?

Despite those problems, as well as other shortcomings involving nuclear crews in recent years, the Air Force’s top general and civilian leader sought to reassure the public Wednesday about the security and reliability of their land-based arsenal of 450 intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Even total imbeciles, charlatans, and other sorts of moral degenerates cannot damage the security and reliability of these omnipotent weapons, it seems.  Can they apply this trick to drunk drivers?  Or my car mechanic?

“The nuclear missile force remains ready and able to accomplish its mission,” Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, the Air Force chief of staff, told reporters at the Pentagon.

Yes, this is the scary part.

Welsh and James said they learned of the cheating problems last weekend. They said they immediately ordered all 600 Air Force officers who work in missile crews to be retested on the proficiency exam by Thursday. So far, 97 percent of those who have taken the test again have passed, a normal rate, Welsh said.

Wait a minute – the non-cheating pass-rate is the same as the previous, cheating pass-rate?  And is a three percent error somehow acceptable when the fate of the world hangs in the balance?

“The operational capability to conduct the mission is not impacted at this point in time,” Welsh said.

Like I said, that’s what scares me.

Of course, these are isolated instances.

In August, the Air Force relieved a colonel in charge of a nuclear-weapons unit at Malmstrom, citing a “loss of confidence” in his leadership.

Well, except for that one.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

It’s Good to be King

Obama, speaking to reporters during a cabinet meeting at the White House, foreshadowed his upcoming State of the Union address and what appeared to be a new messaging strategy by emphasizing his ability to take executive actions without approval from lawmakers. 

Laws without lawmakers.  I like the “without…lawmakers” part…. 

"We are not just going to be waiting for legislation in order to make sure that we're providing Americans the kind of help that they need," he said. 

Waiting for legislation?  No; that would be too, oh…what’s the word…Constitutional? 

"I've got a pen, and I've got a phone. And I can use that pen to sign executive orders and take executive actions ... and I've got a phone that allows me to convene Americans from every walk of life," he said. 

I don’t find a Constitutional amendment replacing Congress with a pen and a phone…. 

Do they swear to uphold the Constitution, or do they swear at upholding the Constitution?  

Grievances against King George, from the Declaration of Independence: 

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people. 

Not that the US Congress demonstrates any “manly firmness” these days (that’s not what I mean), but you get the point…. 

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever. 

Damn those Patriots.  Thanks for nothing.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The State is Dead; Long Live the State?

Kshama Sawant is the new, socialist (with emphasis on the word socialist) member of the Seattle city council.  Following are extracts of a recent speech.

It is interesting to note: several of her complaints are exactly the same complaints that are made by libertarians / Austrians, for example:

…the lives of working people, the unemployed and the poor grow more difficult by the day.

The cost of housing skyrockets, and education and healthcare become inaccessible.

This is the product of the gigantic casino of speculation created by the highway robbers on Wall Street.

Despite recent talk of economic growth, it has only been a recovery for the richest 1%, while the rest of us are falling ever farther behind.

In our country, Democratic and Republican politicians alike primarily serve the interests of big business.

There will be no backroom deals with corporations or their political servants.

It is in the solutions where differences – profound differences – are to be found:
This city has made glittering fortunes for the super wealthy and for the major corporations that dominate Seattle's landscape.

Of course, cities do no such thing – individuals do, by serving the needs and desires of their fellow man.

This is the reality of international capitalism…. Capitalism has failed the 99%.

It isn’t capitalism that has caused the disparities, but government intervention in the market in support of favored interests.

I will do my utmost to represent the disenfranchised and the excluded, the poor and the oppressed - by fighting for a $15/hour minimum wage….

This will certainly increase the number of unemployed in and around Seattle.

…working people need a new political party, a mass organization of the working class, run by - and accountable to - themselves.

Political parties are the problem, not the solution.

Join with us in building a mass movement for economic and social justice, for democratic socialist change, whereby the resources of society can be harnessed, not for the greed of a small minority, but for the benefit of all people.

Society holds no resources – individuals do.


Respect the individual.

I by no means intend to suggest that common complaints might offer a basis for common understanding – not with those who hold such beliefs so fundamentally.

This type of thinking represents either complete cognitive dissonance or the intent to perpetuate evil.  The state is dead – and all of the points of complaint raised by Sawant are proof of its passing.  Yet, her solution demanded is to raise an even more powerful, coercive state.

I have a better idea: the state is dead; put a stake through the heart just to be sure!