Tuesday, March 29, 2016

God of War

I mean by “myth of redemptive violence,” in a nutshell, the quasi-religious belief that we may gain “salvation” through violence.  People in the modern world (as in the ancient world), and not least people in the United States, put tremendous faith in instruments of violence to provide security and the possibility of victory over their enemies.  The amount of trust people put in such instruments may be seen perhaps most clearly in the amount of resources they devote to preparation of war.

-        Ted Grimsrud, “The Good War That Wasn’t – and Why it Matters.”

I hope in this post to tie together two different threads running through my mind.  One is based on this idea from Grimsrud, cited above.  The other is inspired by the recent attacks in Belgium.

Redemptive Violence

Grimsrud uses the words “faith” and “trust” to describe the view held by many toward this myth – this god of war.  Certainly it is not based on science or reality.  It is obvious to all but the most willingly ignorant or willingly blind that the violence “over there” is easily paid back “over here.”  Call it blowback, because that is what it is.

Does this stop the standing ovations at sporting events when military veterans are paraded out like saints?  Does this stop worshipful treatment in every public venue?  No and no.  As if we are thanking them for the blowback they have caused.

Part of the effectiveness of this myth stems from its invisibility as a myth….We think we know as a simple fact that violence works, that violence is necessary, that violence is inevitable.  We don’t realize that, instead, we operate in the realm of belief, of mythology, of religion, in relation to the acceptance of violence.

Citing theologian and social critic Walter Wink, to understand how this redemptive violence works toward achieving “salvation”:

“Violence is the ethos of our times.  It is the spirituality of the modern world.  It has been accorded the status of a religion, demanding from its devotees an absolute obedience unto death.”

Wink offers that this “spirituality” is more reflective of the Babylonian creation myth than anything deriving from Christianity: “It, not Christianity, is the real religion of America.”

The Babylonian creation myth, according to Wink, teaches that subduing chaos and establishing order requires violence.  Let’s take a look:

The Enûma Eliš, is the Babylonian creation mythos (named after its opening words).

This epic is one of the most important sources for understanding the Babylonian worldview, centered on the supremacy of Marduk and the creation of humankind for the service of the gods. Its primary original purpose, however, is not an exposition of theology or theogony but the elevation of Marduk, the chief god of Babylon, above other Mesopotamian gods.

To make a long story short, there is an epic battle of the gods:

Monday, March 28, 2016

A Fine Line

US Code - Section 879: Threats against former Presidents and certain other persons

(a) Whoever knowingly and willfully threatens to kill, kidnap, or inflict bodily harm upon
(1) a former President or a member of the immediate family of a former President;
(2) a member of the immediate family of the President, the President-elect, the Vice President, or the Vice President-elect;
(3) a major candidate for the office of President or Vice President, or a member of the immediate family of such candidate; or
(4) a person protected by the Secret Service under section 3056(a)(6); shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.

When will the various threats against Donald Trump cross the line into “knowingly and willfully threatens to kill, kidnap, or inflict bodily harm”?

Just wondering when the arrests will begin.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

By Their Fruits You Will Know Them

Matthew 7: 15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.  16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?  17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.”

It is generally accepted by historians that the Paris treaties at the end of the Great War – and especially the Versailles (so-called) Treaty imposed upon Germany – directly contributed to the Second World War.  The treaties further earn criticism for events of calamity even today.

These treaties certainly deserve criticism.  I do not intend to provide even a sample list.  I only suggest juxtaposing the resultant “peace” after the Great War with that created after the inevitable World War II that followed twenty years later.  Further, I intend to consider the process by which peace was made in each case.

At Versailles, three relatively great powers (Britain, France, and the United States) were in control, more or less, of the process.  That there were three necessitated many compromises amongst them – where would lines be drawn on maps, where would elections be held to determine government power, which factions from which regions would have a seat at the table, which of the numerous and conflicting promises made during the war would now be respected? 

The answers were derived via these compromises.  No one government was in charge, no single entity could control or dictate the outcomes.  One could (if feeling overly generous) suggest that this necessity of compromise contributed to the disasters that followed.  Whatever blame there was to come out of these treaties was (and is) to be apportioned.  Who to blame?  It is all gray.

There is nothing gray about who imposed the “peace” after World War II.  As described by Ted Grimsrud in “The Good War That Wasn’t – and Why it Matters”:

When the Japanese gave up the fight in August 1945, the United States stood as the world’s one great global power.

Grimsrud looks also at the Soviet Union, left standing at the time.  In the Soviet Union, he sees a country that has lost tens of millions in the war with industrial production significantly harmed; the United States lost relatively few men in the war and came out of the war with industrial production completely intact – a uniquely powerful position among virtually all industrialized countries around the world.

The Soviet Union was also basically a land army, confined to the geographic regions which it had occupied during the war.  In the meantime, the US had those land forces surrounded – east, west, north, and south – with strategic naval and air force capacity sufficient to encompass the globe.

So the answer to the world’s main question – what kind of peace will follow this terrible war? – lay largely in America’s hands.

Of all of the powers in the war, the world had reason to hope due to the fact that it was America in this position – far better than the Soviets, Nazis, or Japanese.  The world had in mind the statements in the Atlantic Charter, as just one example, of the moral high ground that America seemingly stood upon. 

The Charter stated the ideal goals of the war: no territorial aggrandizement; no territorial changes made against the wishes of the people, self-determination; restoration of self-government to those deprived of it; reduction of trade restrictions; global cooperation to secure better economic and social conditions for all; freedom from fear and want; freedom of the seas; and abandonment of the use of force, as well as disarmament of aggressor nations.

The world saw sheep’s clothing.  Yet, was there something underneath?  Wolf or sheep, how does one know?  By their fruits. 

What “fruits” were born from this tree?

Monday, March 21, 2016

Timeless Myths

The popular notion that an increase in the stock of money is socially and economically beneficial and desirable is one of the great fallacies of our time. It has lived on throughout the centuries, embraced by kings and presidents, politicians and businessmen. It has shattered numerous currencies, inflicted incalculable harm, and caused social and political upheavals.
-          Hans F. Sennholz

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard has written a piece entitled “The Yellen Fed risks Faustian pact with inflation.”  In it he calls on Faust, Mephistopheles, and the Sword of Damocles.  A deal with the devil is an appropriate analogy.  As to Damocles, please pass a pair of scissors; I will do the honors.

It is clear that the US Federal Reserve is now trapped.

Most certainly.  A mere 0.25% increase in December sent markets into a frenzy.  Additionally, Ambrose notes that offshore markets are buried under mountains of USD-denominated debt – more than five-times higher than the levels in 2000.  Further, debt ratios are 36 percentage points higher (compared to GDP) than pre-Lehman.

The Fed has been forced by circumstances to act as the world's central bank, nursing a fragile and treacherous financial system struggling with unprecedented leverage.

To the extent one agrees that the Fed is “forced by circumstances” to do anything, the circumstances are entirely of the making of those employed by the Fed.

They are searching for excuses not to tighten, either by discovering yet more “slack” in the shadows of the penumbras of the remotest corners of the jobs market, or by dismissing the inflation data as spikey, transient, and unreliable

…however well-intentioned, the Fed’s policy is fast becoming untenable.

When the Fed’s policy was slowly becoming untenable, voices in the Austrian community were saying so.  Ambrose regularly would mock those voices (here and here); he hasn’t stopped, even now:

…this time the warnings are coming from people who know what they are talking about.

According to Ambrose, before the policy became “untenable” the warnings were made from ignorance; only when it is too late, the smart people finally see it.  I will remind readers that Ambrose was cheerleading those supposedly smart people all along, admittedly, knowing that this cheerleading was based on his faith in magic.

With all of this said, I agree with Ambrose on one point:

In the end, the bond vigilantes will dictate Fed policy by pushing long-term bond yields much higher. The spread between 10-year US Treasuries and the real yield on 10-year TIPS has already climbed by 35 basis points over the last month.

"We think a marked acceleration in inflation will force the Fed to raise rates much faster than is widely appreciated," said Steve Murphy from Capital Economics. He expects four rate rises this year, whatever the Fed's own 'dot plot' purports to say.

Which might cause one to ask: if a central bank will only act when forced by the markets to act, why have a central bank?

End the Fed.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Crocodile Tears

Thousands of US government employees under permanent surveillance are being investigated for signs of “greed”, “ego”, money worries, disgruntlement or other flaws in the hope of intercepting the next big official leak, according to a document obtained by Chelsea Manning.

The government has already put about 100,000 military and civilian employees and contractors under what it calls “continuous evaluation”…

Oh, this is so terribly sad.  Poor government employees, the ones who fly drones from the comfort of air-conditioned offices 10,000 miles from the war-zone, the ones who travel 10,000 miles to do the killing, those who make the weapons with which they kill, the ones who enforce the tax code, those play monetary gods at the Fed, and especially those who are paid to spy on the rest of us…those poor souls are being spied on by their cubicle mates.

I am getting all verklempt.  Please give me a moment while I compose myself.

OK, that’s better. 

I have one word of advice for those being put upon in such a manner by their employer:


Saturday, March 19, 2016

Libertarians and Trump

There are a wide variety of opinions amongst libertarians regarding Donald Trump.  I do not intend to examine the entire spectrum, and doubt this is possible in any case.  I will touch on two of the more vocal groups: libertarians who are afraid of a Trump presidency, and libertarians who are enjoying the show.

I know that generalizing is dangerous, so consider the following as painted with a very broad brush.

Fearful Libertarians

The president can make a fundamental difference in the way Washington works.  Serious engagement in politics is the only effective way to make change.  This sums up my view of the fearful libertarians. 

Pass the Popcorn

On the national stage, I don’t recall anyone at this level poking so much fun at establishment politicians and the mainstream news media in my lifetime.  Whether Trump is sincere or merely an actor for a much larger game, who knows?  But his actions can only help serve to de-legitimize politics and politicians.  There is everything good about this and nothing bad.


I don’t think the individual who sits in the chair of the president makes that much of a difference.  The system will continue to move along until it can’t – and it can’t when the funding available can no longer meet all the promises made.

In the meantime, every action that de-legitimizes the state and politicians is a helpful action.

As to Trump: Where a president can act with little or no congressional approval necessary – foreign policy and wars – Trump at least offers some hope.  It is precisely in wars that the most egregious violations of the NAP are to be found.

Where Trump seems to be craziest – building walls and banning Muslims – congress has more control (for whatever that’s worth).

Friday, March 18, 2016

Oh What a Tangled Web…

Caught in a Web
Removed from the world
Hanging on by a thread
Spinning the lies
Devised in my head

The Fed is trapped.

The official data on both unemployment and consumer price inflation suggest the Fed has met its policy objectives and should not be hesitant to raise rates.  Of course, when they increased rates by a measly 0.25% in December, the markets went haywire.

So, Steve Liesman asks Janet Yellen (from Zero Hedge):

Madam Chair, as you know, inflation has gone up the last two months. We had another strong jobs report. The tracking forecasts for GDP have returned to two percent. And yet the Fed stands pat while it's in a process of what it said at launch in December was a process of normalization.

So I have two questions about this. Does the Fed have a credibility problem in the sense that it says it will do one thing under certain conditions, but doesn't end up doing it? And then, frankly, if the current conditions are not sufficient for the Fed to raise rates, well, what would those conditions ever look like?

Yellen responds with 261 incomprehensible words (Zero Hedge counted, I didn’t).  After the video clip of this Q&A, CNBC went to an exchange between the aforementioned Liesman and Rick Santelli.

It should be explained: Santelli is as close as CNBC dares get to calling BS on just about every government manipulation.  Liesman might as well be a Fed mouthpiece.

With that:

Santelli: Steve, could you understand any of it? Any of it seriously? Just a yes or no.

Liesman: Not much, it was not precisely responsive to the question I asked.

Even the acolytes cannot pretend anymore, it seems.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Trump is Hitler: Fiction and Fact

The press – mainstream and otherwise – is going over-the-top on Trump-Hitler comparisons.  Some are direct, some more subtle.  I offer an examination of this comparison – what is fiction, what is fact?


Let’s look at the history of Hitler prior to becoming German Chancellor, and see how Trump measures up.  Admittedly, this isn’t an exhaustive listing (just the highlights), but hopefully it will suffice:

In 1923, he attempted a coup in Munich to seize power.

What was this coup?

The Beer Hall Putsch, also known as the Munich Putsch, and, in German, as the Hitlerputsch or Hitler-Ludendorff-Putsch, was a failed coup attempt by the Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler — along with Generalquartiermeister Erich Ludendorff and other Kampfbund leaders — to seize power in Munich, Bavaria, during 8–9 November 1923. About two thousand men marched to the centre of Munich, where they confronted the police, which resulted in the death of 16 Nazis and four policemen. Hitler himself was wounded.

After two days, Hitler was arrested and charged with treason.

Trump?  Any “coups” in his background – the deaths of dozens, charged with treason?  Nope.

While in prison, Hitler wrote Mein Kampf:

Hitler wrote "the nationalization of our masses will succeed only when, aside from all the positive struggle for the soul of our people, their international poisoners are exterminated" and in another passage he suggested that "If at the beginning of the war and during the war twelve or fifteen thousand of these Hebrew corrupters of the nation had been subjected to poison gas, such as had to be endured in the field by hundreds of thousands of our very best German workers of all classes and professions, then the sacrifice of millions at the front would not have been in vain."

Has Trump called for extermination of anyone – “international poisoners” or otherwise?  Nope.  Has he called for poison gas for tens-of-thousands?  Not to my knowledge.

Well, he has gone back and forth on possible war-mongering ways.  But it isn’t for these that the Hitler comparison is made (well, they don’t like the “back,” just the “forth”).

In Mein Kampf Hitler openly stated the future German expansion in the East:

And so we National Socialists consciously draw a line beneath the foreign policy tendency of our pre-War period. We take up where we broke off six hundred years ago. We stop the endless German movement to the south and west, and turn our gaze toward the land in the east. At long last we break of the colonial and commercial policy of the pre-War period and shift to the soil policy of the future.

If we speak of soil in Europe today, we can primarily have in mind only Russia and her vassal border states.

Has Trump talked about invading Canada or Mexico?  I don’t think so.  Closer to the opposite, actually.

Trump is no Hitler; not even close.  Those who suggest it are both ignorant of history and disrespectful of Hitler’s victims – Jew and Gentile alike.

So much for the fiction, what about the fact?

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Calling out a Hit on The Donald

It must be my week for posts about Trump….

Ross Douthat has written a piece for the New York Times: “The Party Still Decides” (HT LRC).

Calling on Lenin

From Ross:

POLITICAL parties are mentioned nowhere in the Constitution….

You would think this would end the conversation – well, in some countries maybe.  Not in banana republics.

What did some of the founding fathers (for lack of a better term) think about political parties?

There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.


However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.


Well, there is the “con” side of the argument.  Will anyone speak for the “pro”?

A party is the vanguard of a class, and its duty is to lead the masses and not merely to reflect the average political level of the masses.


OK then.

Back to Ross:

…there will be a lot of talk about how all these rules and quirks and complexities are just a way for insiders to steal the nomination away from him…

Well, they have already said they are planning to do this, so…yeah…I guess we can talk about it.

We can expect to hear this case from Trump’s growing host of thralls and acolytes. (Ben Carson, come on down!)

Are Rubio’s supporters described as “thralls and acolytes”? 

But we will also hear it from the officially neutral press, where there will be much brow-furrowed concern over the perils of party resistance to Trump’s progress….

Finally, an open admission from a writer at the Times – as we will NOT hear this from the Times, there is no reason to continue pretending that this fish-wrap is “officially neutral.”

Murder, He Wrote

Ross goes on to predict (or suggest?) Trump’s fate:

Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, for one:

Coriolanus is the name given to a Roman general after his more than adequate military success against various uprisings challenging the government of Rome. Following this success, Coriolanus becomes active in politics and seeks political leadership. His temperament is unsuited for popular leadership and he is quickly deposed, whereupon he aligns himself to set matters straight according to his own will. The alliances he forges to accomplish his own will result in his ultimate downfall and death.

He is murdered for his supposed betrayal of Rome.

George Wallace for another:

He was a U.S. Presidential candidate for four consecutive elections, in which he sought the Democratic Party nomination in 1964, 1972, and 1976, and was the American Independent Party candidate in the 1968 presidential election. He remains the last third party candidate to receive a state's electoral college votes.

A 1972 assassination attempt left Wallace paralyzed, and he used a wheelchair for the remainder of his life.

Huey Long for a third:

Huey Pierce Long, Jr. (August 30, 1893 – September 10, 1935), nicknamed The Kingfish, was an American politician who served as the 40th Governor of Louisiana from 1928 to 1932 and as a member of the United States Senate from 1932 until his assassination in 1935.

One fictional character, two flesh-and-blood humans; this pretty much covers everything that is Trump – and about in the right ratio.

An Adolf by Any Other Name…

To add insult to assassination, Ross throws in a Hitler comparison – not directly, because that would not be “neutral.”  Instead, he offers Sinclair Lewis’s Buzz Windrip:

…the novel describes the rise of Berzelius "Buzz" Windrip, a populist United States Senator who is elected to the presidency after promising drastic economic and social reforms while promoting a return to patriotism and traditional values. After his election, Windrip takes complete control of the government and imposes a plutocratic/totalitarian rule with the help of a ruthless paramilitary force, in the manner of Adolf Hitler and the SS.


You have to be a pretty good writer to draw on the politics of Lenin, call three times for an assassination attempt, and make a Hitler comparison – all without saying so directly even once.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Backlash on Open Borders

Germany had several state elections over the weekend.  The big (relative) winner was the AfD – Alternative for Germany (Deutschland) – party.

The party is led by an individual who has suggested German border guards should open fire on illegal immigrants.

This is consistent with one of my contentions: open borders in a world of decisions forced by the state leads to conflict and a reduction in liberty.  A state with the power to shoot illegal immigrants (as if this isn’t horrendous enough) has the power to shoot you. 

It is easy to talk about open borders in theory (albeit open borders is bad libertarian theory).  Applying libertarian theory in this world – a world with borders managed by states – presents many challenges.  I argue that there is no “pure” libertarian answer possible.

But “open borders” is not even consistent with libertarian theory.  I don’t know about the rest of you, but I manage the borders to my property.  I cannot think of any interpretation of libertarian theory that comes to another conclusion.

The only alternative to open borders isn’t closed borders.  And neither of these two respects the right – grounded in libertarian theory – for the property owner to decide.

In any case, the AfD is one backlash.