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Hey Uncle Sam, Hands Off Our Social Media!

Hey Uncle Sam, Hands Off Our Social Media!

Rep. Matt Gaetz made a pair of bizarre tweets recently calling for the Department of Justice to issue injunctions against Facebook and Twitter for “trying to silence the President.” This is a strange demand from anyone claiming to be a proponent of small government. Whether you agree with social media companies banning content or not, their actions do not break any laws.

Gaetz’s tweets remind me of several conversations I have had recently with several self-described libertarians and small government conservatives. Oddly, these people argued that the government should step in and punish social media companies for being biased. A bizarre wish for people that spend much of their day arguing against leftists infringing on private businesses. Perhaps some of their confusion comes from the misguided “platform vs publisher” argument, an idea that’s based on the incorrect notion that Section 230 requires social media companies to be neutral. Or perhaps their ideas are based on a lack of constitutional knowledge. Social media is full of bad legal takes that claim the First Amendment somehow protects speakers from private organizations. In reality, the First Amendment only protects speakers from the government. Some will incorrectly state that that social media are modern “public forums” but courts have rejected this argument on numerous occasions.

There are also those that know social media companies are not doing anything illegal, and therefore seek to create new laws that would make their actions illegal. One such person is Senator Josh Hawley. Social media and Section 230 are to Josh Hawley as Iran is to Tom Cotton. That is how much Josh Hawley hates social media and Section 230. Hawley has introduced at least four bills that would strip social media companies from their Section 230 protections. Not only are Hawley’s moves for further regulation, not small government conservativism, but they are also counterproductive. As Reason’s Jacob Sullum pointed out, these bills would increase censorship. If companies are worried about liability, they will restrict content even more than they do now.

There is an ideological argument against censorship by businesses. It is understandable to oppose a business deciding to shut down political discourse or to silence opinions they disagree with. On a personal level, I dislike companies attempting to cancel anything they dislike. On a policy level, I would rather have the company censor content than have the government force fairness. Social media are still private entities, and they have their rights as well. They have free speech rights and the right to decide what content they keep and what content they discard. Government forced speech is compelled speech and the opposite of free speech. You cannot argue that a Christian baker cannot be forced to bake a cake with a message that he disagrees with, but social media must host statements they disagree with.

If you dislike what a social media company is doing, you should use the free markets to punish them. Refuse to use their service. Deprive them of clicks and ad revenue. Maybe even find a competitor and use their service. We should use our freedom to choose products and services to get things done instead of having the government impose restrictions to get it done for us. That is the capitalist, small government, and libertarian way.

Rob Faust holds a Bachelor of Science in criminal justice, served four years in the United States Air Force, and has worked as a defense contractor in the greater Washington D.C. area for eleven years. This experience and education motivate him to write about criminal justice and national defense policies.

The Oklahoma City Bombing Surveiled: What Do the Videos Show?

The Oklahoma City Bombing Surveiled: What Do the Videos Show?

The April 19th, 1995 Oklahoma City bombing was recorded on surveillance camera footage that was captured by an array of cameras positioned in downtown Oklahoma City. The first reports concerning the surveillance camera footage were aired on CNN within days of the bombing. One early CNN report stated that “the FBI says that it has surveillance camera video of the bomb site.

Just days after the bombing it was reported that “the FBI says that it has obtained videotapes from security cameras in the vicinity of the blast and may have tape of the Ryder rental truck used to house the enormous bomb.” Eight days after the bombing, the existence of surveillance camera footage was confirmed at a preliminary hearing held in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma.

By the time of the April 27th preliminary hearing, the primary suspect — Timothy McVeigh — was in custody. The purpose for the preliminary hearing was to show probable cause and a reasonable basis for proceeding in case No. CR-95–98, the United States of America vs. Timothy James McVeigh. Leading the charge in the government’s case at the hearing was principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Merrick Garland, a top aid to Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick. Garland’s chief witness at the hearing was FBI Special Agent John Hersley, who would go on to give testimony that would serve to confirm that the FBI had in it’s possession multiple surveillance camera recordings.

Special Agent Hersley would recount that he had seen video and still-image photographs (video frames) taken from surveillance recordings seized by the FBI. Hersley testified that one of the photos he had seen depicted a Ryder truck driving east on 5th street. This photo was sourced from a surveillance camera that was trained on 5th street, identified as having come from the Regency Towers apartment complex. The Regency Towers was located less than a block from the Murrah Building and would have had an obstructed view of the front face of the building.

Hersley’s testimony is worth citing here because it is so specific concerning footage that the FBI had seized during their investigation:

Q. So you say there is film available that shows the — a Ryder Truck in an easterly direction, that is traveling in an easterly direction on Fifth Street?
A. Yes.
Q. Is it past the street that we know as Harvey?
A. I am not — I have not studied that film in detail. It’s in that general vicinity right in there. It may be the video that I saw. I believe it is just before — well, I am not sure. I better not say that.
Q. Well, Harvey Street —
A. I don’t know.
Q. Harvey Street is the street that is immediately west of the Murrah Building?
A. That is correct.
Q. Are the photographs that you saw or, is it still photo or film?
A. What I saw was the still photos.
Q. Is it a still photo that has been removed from a film?
A. Yes.
Q. So it was a close-up more of the truck than it’s location?
A. It wasn’t a close-up photo, it was taken from a camera off one of the buildings in the vicinity.
Q. Did you make a determination of what building it came off of?
A. No, I did not myself.
Q. Okay, did anyone?
A. I believe one of the other agents was able to determine that it came from one — one of the filmscame from the Regency Tower Apartments.
Q. Was there a time indicated on the picture of the film that you saw?
A. Yeah.

Agent Hersley’s testimony clarifies that the FBI had in it’s possession multiple surveillance camera recordings from the area. When Hersley stated that “one of the films came from the Regency Tower Apartments,” his use of the word “films,” plural, indicates there was more than recording. In addition to having seen photos taken from a surveillance video depicting a Ryder truck on 5th street, Hersley testified that he had seen photos depicting another location—a parking lot next to the Journal Records Building. Hersley testified at length about a key witness who had seen Timothy McVeigh—and another suspect—speeding away from an alley adjacent to the Journal Records Building and that this vicinity had been covered by the surveillance footage.

Hersley’s testimony concerning the Journal Records building and associated surveillance footage is excerpted:

Q. Where did this witness see the yellow Mercury speeding away?
A. Over in the direction — in the parking lot, in an area where the witness I had previously testified about said that the individual he identified as Mr. McVeigh was walking in a northerly direction towards.
Q. Where is that parking lot, sir?
A. Over on the north side of Fifth Street, close to the Journal Record Building.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
Q. This particular male witness has indicated that he saw the — a yellow Mercury speeding away?
A. Yes.
Q. Did this particular witness indicate to agents of the FBI how many persons were in the speeding yellow Mercury?
A. Two.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
Q. I assume speeding away on Fifth Street; is that correct?
A. Well, I think it is actually the alley area that would be immediately north of Fifth Street.
Q. Immediately north of Fifth Street is a parking lot there. Are you talking about the —
A. The north side of that parking lot.
Q. So the alley between the Journal Record Building and the parking lot? I’m sorry to interrupt you, I didn’t mean to.
Are you talking about that area, that alley?
A. I’m talking about the area on the north side of the parking lot that we have been speaking about.
Q. That’s where you are telling the Court that the yellow Mercury was speeding through that particular alley?
A. Yes.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
Q. In your review of the surveillance photos, did you find any surveillance photos of that parking lot across the street from the Murrah Building?
A. Yes.
Q. Have you been shown a photograph of that particular parking lot, sir, across the street from the Murrah Building that includes the speeding Mercury in the photograph?
A. We don’t know for sure yet. Those photographs are not real clear. They are taken from a pretty good distance away. There appears to be a light-colored car in the very vicinity where this witness testifies — or provides the information was speeding away from. We are not able to determine yet if that is in fact the yellow Mercury.
Q. The pictures that you saw of that particular parking lot — now I’m talking about the parking lot across the street from the Murrah Building — in a northerly direction, that parking lot, there is a film of that parking lot prior to the time of the explosion?
A. Yes.
Q. Correct?
A. Yes.
Q. Is it time-stamped so that you can tell a particular time of day on the 19th of April that that camera is viewing, scanning that parking lot?
A. Yes.

In addition to confirming that the FBI had in it’s possession surveillance camera footage, the April 27th preliminary hearing also makes it very clear that the FBI had multiple eyewitnesses to Timothy McVeigh—with an accomplice—in downtown Oklahoma City that morning. Agent Hersley testifies no less than three times during the preliminary hearing words to the effect that “our primary focus right now is to try to determine the identity and the location of the other subjects.” Agent Hersley also testifies at length concerning the eyewitness accounts of Gary Lewis, Rodney Johnson, Dena Hunt, and Mike Moroz. All four of these witnesses saw McVeigh with another person in downtown Oklahoma City. One of them, mechanic Mike Moroz, picked McVeigh out of an FBI lineup in downtown Oklahoma City within days of the bombing. Moroz saw and spoke to McVeigh up-close, giving him directions from Johnny’s Tire about 20 minutes before the bombing. According to Moroz, there was a passenger in the Ryder truck with McVeigh when he spoke to him that morning. That passenger has come to be known as John Doe #2.

The other suspect—John Doe #2—has never been captured and the FBI today denies that he exists. The man’s identity remains a controversial subject, the basis of much speculation. What can be said with certainty is that many witnesses observed Timothy McVeigh with another person in downtown Oklahoma City and the surveillance footage of the bombing, described in the April 27th preliminary hearing, may depict that other suspect. Fueling speculation about this other suspect is the fact that Associate Deputy Attorney General Merrick Garland issued objections during the preliminary hearing whenever direct questions were asked concerning the surveillance camera footage or John Doe #2:

Q. Who are those agents that are tasked with the responsibility of reviewing photographs and film footage?
MR. GARLAND: Objection, Your Honor. This is now purely speculative.
THE COURT: Overruled.
A. The agent that showed me the photographs was Walt Lamar.
Q. And is he the one that you inquired as to whether or not there were any photographs of the accused, Mr. Timothy McVeigh, in possession of the government, at or about the Ryder Truck? You asked him that question I assume; did you not?
A. I did not inquire of Agent Lamar about these photographs. He brought it to my attention because there is a possibility of a particular car being involved in one of those photographs that he was showing me. We are continuing investigation to try to determine the actual identity of that car.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
A. I know there was at least one male that observed the Ryder Truck and the occupants of the Ryder Truck. That person also advised that the individual in the truck closely resembled the individual depicted in composite one.
Q. Did you tell me he saw occupants of a Ryder Truck and there were more than one?
MR. GARLAND: Objection. The only person on trial at this hearing is Mr.McVeigh. It doesn’t matter whether there were two or a hundred people in that truck as long as there was somebody representing Mr. McVeigh there. It is discovery and totally outside the scope of this hearing.
MR. COYLE: May I respond? I think it is important to see if we distinguish it as the same truck or not. I think it is very important to the credibility of the witnesses and credibility of the evidence and what they saw as to whether or not the next person saw three or five or six or —
THE COURT: Objection overruled. Go ahead.
A. This witness advised that there were two individuals in the truck. The individual resembling Mr. McVeigh was the driver.

None of the surveillance videos mentioned in the CNN broadcasts or the April 27th preliminary hearing were shown at the McVeigh and Nichols federal trials in 1997 and 1998. It was as if they simply did not exist. This made little sense—if the FBI had videotape showing McVeigh in Oklahoma City, that would constitute “best evidence” that could put McVeigh at the scene of the crime. So, too, would the eyewitnesses who saw McVeigh in downtown Oklahoma City be damning evidence. Yet, none of those eyewitnesses were called to testify at trial. This could be because every one of these witnesses saw McVeigh with another person.

It was four years after the bombing, after Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols had both been convicted, that the full scope of the FBI’s surveillance footage of the bombing emerged. In 1999, during a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, it was revealed that the FBI had in fact taken into possession nearly two dozen recordings from surveillance cameras in the downtown Oklahoma City area.

FOIA Lawsuits Over Secret Footage

A 1999 Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by investigative journalist David Hoffman revealed that the FBI had twenty two video surveillance recordings of the Murrah building and surrounding area stored at the FBI’s Oklahoma City field office. Curiously, a single surveillance tape was listed as housed under lock and key in Washington, D.C. at FBI headquarters. The central issue of Hoffman’s lawsuit was that the FBI had conceded to the existence of the surveillance camera footage but refused to release it pursuant to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. During Hoffman’s FOIA suit, FBI lawyers filed multiple motions for summary judgment—essentially asking the judge to throw the case out in their favor. Each subsequent motion filed by the Department of Justice cited entirely different reasons for withholding the material, seemingly coming up with new excuses each time. These motions were summarily dismissed with increasing criticism from the judge presiding over the case, U.S. District Court Judge Wayne Alley. Alley wrote that the FBI had put forward insufficient “justifications for withholding all materials in its investigative files concerning the Oklahoma City Bombing” and further stated that the FBI had exhibited “shoddy conduct” during the litigation.

Judge Alley wrote that “the court would be inclined” to compel the FBI the release the surveillance footage, however, ultimately, the Judge ruled that he was unable to do so. A previous order issued by Judge Richard P. Matsch, presiding judge in the McVeigh and Nichols Federal trials, deemed that the surveillance camera footage from the bombing investigation was under seal while the McVeigh and Nichols trial convictions were subject to appeal(s). As a result, Judge Alley ruled that “the Court is presently powerless to grant plaintiff relief under FOIA” in view of Judge Matsch’s ruling. Judge Alley would add, however, that Hoffman “raises a legitimate point” that the federal criminal case against bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols was nearing end and thus Matsch’s order to seal the evidence would presumably expire as those cases and subsequent appeals ended. Judge Alley spells out this position by writing that the FBI’s “justification for its shroud of secrecy may likewise soon end.”

Hoffman’s suit wouldn’t be the last time the FBI would face legal challenges concerning the highly-secret footage. The video recordings seized by the FBI during the OKC bombing investigation have once again become central to a legal battle. A FOIA lawsuit concerning the tapes is currently being litigated by Salt Lake City attorney Jesse Trentadue. The FBI had sent Trentadue a batch of 30 recordings following a Freedom of Information Act request. However, Trentadue noted that the footage the FBI produced was of little value—it shows absolutely nothing of interest. The recordings released by the FBI don’t show anything whatsoever prior to the 9:02 AM blast. Jesse Trentadue says the tapes are clearly incomplete. “Four cameras in four different locations going blank at basically the same time on the morning of April 19, 1995? There ain’t no such thing as a coincidence” Trentadue told the Associated Press after receipt of the incomplete footage.

The FBI claims that the security cameras failed to record the moments leading up to the blast because “they had run out of tape” or, improbably, because “the tape was being replaced” during the minutes and hours prior to the April 19th, 1995 bombing. Trentadue noted that “the interesting thing is [the tapes] spring back on after 9:02 AM” and that “the absence of footage from these crucial time intervals is evidence that there is something there that the FBI doesn’t want anybody to see.”

The surveillance tapes released to Trentadue appear to be incomplete and this can be reasonably demonstrated based on what has previously been written about the surveillance recordings in FBI and Secret Service documents from the bombing investigation. These supporting documents have been introduced as exhibits in Trentadue’s FOIA lawsuit currently being litigated in Salt Lake City. Additional insight as to what appears on the tapes can be gleaned from statements by FBI agents and law enforcement personnel who have seen the footage.

FBI and Secret Service Officials: We Had McVeigh On Tape

Danny Coulson was the FBI Special Agent in Charge of the Dallas Field Office and founder of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team. Coulson was one of the commanders of the OKC bombing investigation, in charge of the crime scene. In 1999, on a BookTV (C-SPAN) broadcast where agent Coulson is promoting his book No Heroes, Coulson says point blank “we had the videotape of the truck being pulled up a couple minutes before nine” and that “we had him [McVeigh] on video tape.”

Supporting Coulson’s statement is a Secret Service timeline which states “security video shows the Ryder truck pulling up to the Federal Building then pausing (7–10 seconds) before resuming into a slot in front of the building.”

Yet another entry in the Secret Service timeline says that security video tapes from the area show the truck detonation 3 minutes and 6 seconds after the suspects exited the truck.” This is a startling degree of specificity — “3 minutes and 6 seconds after the suspects exited the truck” strongly suggests that the footage was such that it had a time-code or could otherwise be used to measure the passage of time in relation to what appears on the footage.

Oklahoma City ExcerptAdditionally, an FBI inventory log of seized surveillance camera footage that was reviewed by FBI SA Pamela Matson for footage deemed “positive” in terms of evidentiary value denotes two recordings as “positive” — that is to say, they show the bombing, the suspects, and/or the suspects’ vehicles. Those two recordings are the footage from the Journal Records Building and the footage from the Southwestern Bell building. Additionally, both of the security cameras denoted in the FBI evidence log as having recorded footage deemed positive happened to be positioned in areas where key eyewitnesses described seeing Timothy McVeigh and other suspects in the moments before and after the blast.

For example, witness Gary Lewis told the FBI that he observed Timothy McVeigh and another man in a Mercury Marquis speeding past the Journal Records building moments before the blast, and what he saw would presumably appear on the Journal Records building tape deemed positive. Similarly, witness Germaine Johnston told the FBI that she spotted McVeigh and another man standing next to the Mercury Marquis in an ally adjacent to the Southwestern Bell building immediately following the blast. Cameras position at the Southwestern Bell property would likely have recorded the ingress and egress points of the property, capturing the bombers on film. Likewise, surveillance cameras trained on 5th street would have captured the delivery of the Ryder truck bomb as described by agent Coulson, thus showing what was described in such specific detail in the Secret Service timeline.

News Reports Cite Law Enforcement: Passenger Appears on Tapes

Oklahoma City Excerpt 2In addition to the FBI evidence log and Secret Service timeline, there are contemporary news media accounts published after the bombing where law enforcement sources familiar with the recordings describe what appears on the footage. An October 28th, 1995 Associated Press report headlined “Surveillance Tape Shows Shadowy Passenger in Bomb Truck” quoted one law enforcement official stating that the surveillance footage shows a passenger in the Ryder truck with McVeigh. The source of that footage was identified a security camera mounted on a nearby apartment building. This is presumably the camera on the Regency Towers apartment building, cited by FBI agent Hersley in the April 27th, 1995 preliminary hearing.

Yet other law enforcement officials saw surveillance footage taken from two cameras positioned near 5th street. These sources told a Los Angeles Times reporter and Oklahoma News Channel KFOR-4 TV reporter what they saw on the recording(s).

KFOR reporters Kevin Ogle and Brad Edwards relayed what their sources told them in a broadcast that aired on KFOR-4 TV news in October 1995:

“A Ryder truck with two men inside of it parked at the bomb site in front of the Murrah building.

The driver’s side door opens and McVeigh steps out, and walks away towards 5th street and the Journal Records building.

The passenger stays inside the cabin for a period of time, then exits on foot in the same direction as McVeigh.”

Attempted Illegal Sale of Tapes to Dateline: NBC

In a shocking development, an FBI agent tried to sell a copy of the Oklahoma City bombing surveillance footage to a major TV news program in the fall of 1995. FBI documents dated October 27th and October 30th detail how a Los Angeles based FBI agent tried to sell the surveillance footage to Dateline NBC for over one million dollars.

A confidential source at the network contacted the FBI, and a report based on that contact is worth reproducing here in full:

“The source related that “Dateline,” an NBC television show, had been contacted by an unknown attorney representing a Los Angeles Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). On behalf of the agent, the attorney offered to sell a copy of the surveillance tape recovered from Oklahoma City which shows the activity outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building just prior to the bomb blast.

It was represented that the video tape would contain time-lapse photography of the arrival and then departure of a UPS truck. Then a Ryder truck pulls up and a male resembling Timothy McVeigh is seen exiting the driver’s side of the Ryder truck and then walking away. The second male then walks away in the same direction as the first male.”

A December 1995 report published by Media Bypass magazine described the attempted sale and added additional details from FBI sources familiar with the investigation. As a result of the FBI agent’s attempted sale of the footage, the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) opened an investigation. The investigation would seek to document the “chain of custody” for the FBI’s seized surveillance footage and identify agents with access, and to identify the agent who attempted to make the sale. The Media Bypass report indicated that it was determined a Los Angeles FBI agent who possessed the footage was not assigned to the FBI’s OKBOMB case and was therefore not authorized to possess the footage. An FBI source who spoke to Media Bypass said that the agent attempting to profit from the tragedy “apparently obtained a copy of the video from a fellow agent in Oklahoma City.”

A Texas-based FBI agent familiar with the investigation told Media Bypass that another FBI agent, based out of Oklahoma City, was under investigation after he allegedly “ran off at least 12 copies of the video tape for friends and co-workers.” The agent said that “there may be dozens, if not hundreds of these surveillance videos now in circulation” and that “everyone is waiting for (the footage) to show up on ‘A Current Affair’ or ‘Hard Copy.’”

The Media Bypass feature on the attempted sale quotes an Oklahoma private investigator, Robert Jerlow, whose attorney, Randy Shadid, was representing the agent attempting to sell the tape. Jerlow told Media Bypass that the FBI agent screened the surveillance tape for Dateline at an Orange County deputy sheriff’s home in October of 1995. An FBI document from investigation of the attempted sale seemingly confirms this, stating that “Dateline was able to view the video tape at the home of an Orange County Deputy Sheriff.” The 19-minute VHS tape was composed of video sourced from multiple surveillance cameras–“shot from several angles” by cameras mounted on buildings along 5th Street, including footage showing the truck pulling up to the Murrah building a couple minutes before 9:00 A.M. According to the investigation, the tape concludes with footage that shows the “actual initial detonation of the truck bomb.”

Ultimately, the sale of the surveillance footage to Dateline NBC never occurred, and no word on what happened to the FBI agent attempting to make the sale has emerged. However, it’s incredibly likely that the FBI was able to determine the identity of the FBI agent who tried to sell the footage; the Media Bypass report and FBI documents from the investigation provide enough identifying information about the LA-based agent to determine his identity.

Information provided by the FBI’s confidential source reveals numerous details about the agent who attempted to sell the footage to Dateline:

  • The agent was based out of the Los Angeles Field Office.
  • The agent was a GS-13. (pay grade)
  • The agent was a 16 year FBI veteran in 1995.
  • The agent was between the ages of 38–42 in 1995.
  • The agent was a former sniper instructor at Carlos Hathcock School.
  • The agent served in the U.S Marine Corps from 1982–1988.

During the course of their investigation, the FBI would have recovered any extant unauthorized copies of the tape, though the possibility remains that at least one person out there still may have a copy today.

Conclusions

The FBI’s release of incomplete footage and their assertion that footage depicting the bombing doesn’t exist is simply not credible in light of the known facts concerning the surveillance tapes. FBI agent John Hersley testified about two different recordings that produced still images of the Ryder truck and McVeigh’s Mercury Marquis during the April 27th, 1995 preliminary hearing. Reports published in the L.A. Times and by the Associated Press in October of 1995 indicate that surveillance footage exists which shows a Ryder truck with two people in the truck. A Secret Service timeline states with an incredible degree of specificity that footage exists showing the Ryder truck park in front of the Murrah building. FBI agent Danny Coulson’s statements support this, with him having said “we had video of the truck pulling up a couple minutes to nine.” FBI agent Pamela Matson denoted at least two tapes being “positive” in terms of evidentiary value in her review of seized surveillance recordings. What all of this indicates is that these tapes exist, but that there is something on the tapes that the FBI doesn’t want people to see. The question then arises, “What do the tapes show? Why is the FBI seeking to suppress this surveillance footage?”

The only conclusion that can be reached is that the surveillance footage shows McVeigh was not alone the morning of the bombing—thus introducing the notion that others were involved who were never apprehended. This is a conclusion that is reasonable, based at least in part on what the witnesses in downtown Oklahoma City saw that morning. FBI agent Danny Coulson told the BBC in 2007 that “we know there were 24 people that were interviewed by the FBI that said they saw Mr. McVeigh on April 19th with someone else. They told the agents what they saw, and the agents wrote it down. If only one person had seen that, or two or three…but twenty-four? Twenty-four people say, yes I saw him [McVeigh] with somebody else? That’s pretty powerful.”

Consider this: if the surveillance footage had shown Timothy McVeigh, alone, then it probably would have aired on every news network across the country. The fact that this footage has never seen the light of day, in spite of having been documented at length, raises serious questions about the bombing which to this day have not been answered.

It’s time to release the tapes — in full, without redaction. Judging by the FBI’s past actions relating to these tapes, that is unlikely to occur. Perhaps one day, someone out there who still has a copy of the footage will come forward to settle the case once and for all. However, even if that were to occur it would be unlikely to settle the case with any level of certainty. After all, with DeepFake technology and the increasing sophistication of CGI, there remains the possibility that any footage released today could be of unknown provenance, that is to say, any copy produced by authorities today could have been subject to material alteration.

If any footage is produced at this late date that is alleged to show the bombing in full and without redaction, what appears on the tape would necessarily need to match up with what has been described in Secret Service documents and news reports produced in 1995: a Ryder truck parks in front of the Murrah building, and two men get out of the truck. 3 minutes and 6 seconds after the suspects exit the truck, the truck bomb detonates. Should a tape miraculously appear and it shows something other than this, critics will rightly point out that what appears on the newly-produced footage does not match up with what has been documented about the tapes.

Ultimately, there exists so much evidence concerning these surveillance tapes that experts know what to expect should footage be released, and we also know what would not appear on such a tape: McVeigh, alone.

Sources/Further Reading

The story of the Murrah Federal Building surveillance tapes comes from a variety of sources, primarily CNN network news, contemporary accounts from newspapers, with specific details about the tapes found among FBI and Secret Service documents from the Oklahoma City Bombing investigation.

Find here list of sources and links where you may examine the evidence for yourself.

TV News Reports:

  • April 1995 CNN broadcast <link> reports that “the FBI says that it has surveillance camera video of the bomb site”
  • April 1995 CNN broadcast <link> reports that “the FBI says that it has obtained videotapes from security cameras in the vicinity of the blast and may have tape of the Ryder rental truck used to house the enormous bomb”
  • October 1995 KFOR-4 TV Oklahoma City NBC affiliate news broadcast <Link>
  • BookTV: “Inside the FBI’s Secret Counter-Terror Force.” C-SPAN, 1999. <Link> — at 1hr 1m 30 seconds, FBI SA Danny Coulson says “We had videotape of the truck being pulled up at a couple minutes toward nine.

Newspaper and Magazine Reports:

  • Michael J. Sniffen. “License Plate of McVeigh Caught On Tape, Vehicle Believed Used In Suspect’s Getaway.” The Buffalo News, 29 Apr. 1995. <Link>
  • ”Surveillance Tape Shows Shadowy Passenger in Bomb Truck.” Associated Press, 28 Oct. 1995. Print. 3A. <Link>
  • Lawrence Myers. “A Closer Look.” Media Bypass, December 1995. Print. <Link>
  • J.D. Cash and Jeff Holladay. “Videotape Won’t Help Theory.” McCurtain Daily Gazette, 12 Sep 1996. <Link>
  • “Some Witnesses Leery of Bombing Grand Jury.” Daily Oklahoman, 10 August 1997. Print. <Link>
  • Don Harkins. “Final Report Reveals FBI Has Fingerprints of John Doe #2; High Quality Pre-Blast Surveillance Tapes.” The Idaho Observer, 12 Dec. 2001. <Link>
  • James Patterson. “Time to unseal videotapes of Murrah Federal Building.” Indianapolis Star, 16 Nov 2002. Print. <Link>
  • John Solomon. “Document: Oklahoma City Bombing Was Taped.” Associated Press, 19 Apr. 2004. <Link>
  • Tim Talley. “Attorney: Oklahoma City Bombing Tapes Appear Edited.” Associated Press, 28 Sept. 2009. Print. pp. A3; <Link>
  • Dennis Romboy. “FBI Explanation of Missing Oklahoma City Bombing Tapes Not Credible, Judge Says.” Associated Press, 21 Mar. 2012. <Link>
  • “Witness: More Oklahoma City bombing videos may exist.” Associated Press, 30 Jul. 2014. <Link>

Court Records:

  • U.S. vs. Timothy McVeigh, № M-95–98-H (Western District of Oklahoma.) Preliminary Hearing, 27 Apr. 1995. <Link>
  • U.S. vs. Terry Nichols, № 96-CR-68 (D. Colorado), testimony of Germaine Johnston on 5 December 1997.
  • Hoffman v. DOJ, № 98–1733 (Western District of Oklahoma.) Order, 15 Dec. 1999 <Link> — This FOIA lawsuit over the surveillance tapes reveals the FBI has 23 recordings of the Murrah Building and surrounding area.
  • Hoffman v. DOJ, № 98–1733 (Western District of Oklahoma.) Order, 10 Jul. 2001 <Link> — Judge Wayne Alley’s ruling on the sealed surveillance tapes.

FBI and Secret Service Documents:

  • Secret Service document — OKBOMB timeline, 5/1/95, pp 73 <Link>
  • Secret Service document — OKBOMB timeline, 5/1/95, pp 79 <Link>
  • FBI document, inventory log, #174A-OC-56120 LCN #12649A, by SA Pamela A Matson <Link> — This inventory of seized surveillance footage deems at least two recordings “positive” — that is to say, they show the bombing and/or the bombers and the “bomb truck.”
  • FBI document, 302 report, #174A-OC-56120, D-4553, 4/19/95 interview Danny Payne w/ SA John Hippard re: Journal Records Building surveillance footage. <Link> Payne told Hippard tapes “may have obtained photographs of the persons responsible for the bombing.”
  • FBI document, 302 report, #174A-OC-56120, D-140, 4/19/95 interview [REDACTED] re: Southwestern Bell surveillance footage. <Link>
  • FBI document, 302 report, #174A-OC-56120, D-245, 4/22/95 interview Gary Lewis w/ SA Leslie E. Harris <Link> — observed McVeigh + JD2 in Mercury driving past Journal Records building.
  • FBI document, 302 report, #174A-OC-56120, D-1705 LCN #5654, 4/30/95 interview Gary Lewis. <Link> — observed McVeigh + JD2 in Mercury driving past Journal Records building.
  • FBI document, 302 report, #174A-OC-56120, E-8508 10/27/95 — Dateline NBC attempted sale of surveillance footage <Link>
  • FBI document, 302 report, #174A-OC-56120, E-8507 10/30/95 — Dateline NBC attempted sale of surveillance footage <Link>

Richard Booth is an independent citizen journalist and member in good standing with the Constitution First Amendment Press Association (CFAPA). A student of the OKC bombing case since 1995, Richard began researching the Oklahoma City bombing case in earnest in 2012 and is currently writing a book, John Doe #2 and the Oklahoma City Bombing. Richard has appeared on podcasts to discuss his interest in this case, highlighting areas that warrant additional research and expressing the need for more students to actively research this case. In April 2020, Richard donated his archive of research materials—thousands of news reports, articles, magazine pieces, FBI documents, ATF documents, court records and trial transcripts to The Libertarian Institute. You can find this archive here. You may contact Richard at rbooth@protonmail.com

This article was originally featured at Medium.com and is republished with permission.

How State Governments Can Fight the Federal Reserve

How State Governments Can Fight the Federal Reserve

If you want to end unconstitutional, overreaching federal power—end the Fed. It’s the engine that drives the most powerful government in the history of the world.

But Congress will never abolish the central bank. It can’t even come up with the will to audit the Fed.

So what can we do?

Even though state action can’t end the Fed, there are steps states can take that will undermine the Federal Reserve’s monopoly on money. By passing laws that encourage and incentivize the use of gold, silver and cryptocurrency in daily transactions by the general public, state action has the potential to create a wide-reaching impact and set the foundation to nullify the Fed’s monopoly power over the monetary system.

Over the last two years, a number of states took concrete steps in this direction.

Repeal Taxes on Sound Money

The first step is to repeal taxes on gold and silver.

Imagine if you asked a grocery clerk to break a $5 bill and you were charged a 35 cent tax. Silly, right? After all, you were only exchanging one form of money for another. But that’s essentially what a sales tax on gold and silver does.

Sales tax and capital gains taxes treat gold and silver as a commodity instead of money. They also create a barrier to using gold and silver in everyday transactions. Repealing taxes is a crucial first step toward the use of specie as money.

Last year, Kansas and West Virginia both repealed their sales tax on the sale of gold, silver and other precious metal bullion. This is an important first step toward creating currency competition and breaking the Fed’s monopoly on money. They joined at least 37 states that have already done the same.

While repealing state sales taxes on precious metals may seem like a relatively small step, it removes one barrier to owning gold and silver and eliminates a penalty on the use of sound money.

Gold Bullion Depositories

Establishing gold bullion depositories that facilitate the use of sound money is another step states can take to undermine the Fed’s monopoly on money.

Gov. Greg Abbott signed legislation creating the state bullion and precious metal depository in June of 2015. The facility began accepting deposits on June 6, 2018. The depository provides a secure place for individuals, businesses, cities, counties, government agencies, and even other countries to store gold and other precious metals.

You don’t have to be a Texas resident to use the depository. Any U.S. citizen can set up an account online and then ship or personally deliver metal to the facility. The Texas Bullion Depository accepts gold, silver, platinum, rhodium and palladium.

The law also creates a mechanism to facilitate the everyday use of gold and silver in business transactions.

While the depository does not currently have a system in place to facilitate everyday transactions with gold and silver, it remains part of the long-term plan. According to an article in the Star-Telegram, state officials want a facility “with an e-commerce component that also provides for secure physical storage for Bullion.”

Ultimately, depositors will be able to use a bullion-funded debit card that seamlessly converts gold and silver to fiat currency in the background. This will enable them to make instant purchases wherever credit and debit cards are accepted.

By making gold and silver available for regular, daily transactions by the general public, the new depository has the potential for a wide-reaching effect. In practice, the Texas Bullion Depository will operate much like the privately-owned UPMA already established in Utah.

In 2019, Texas passed a constitutional amendment and enabling legislation that exempts precious metals stored in the Texas Bullion Depository from certain taxes. Enactment of this law ensures there won’t be any barriers to using gold and silver stored in the depository for everyday financial transactions.

The Crypto Alternative

Gold and silver aren’t the only currency alternative. Cryptocurrency could also crowd out federal reserve notes.

In 2018, Wyoming enacted several laws to facilitate and encourage the use of cryptocurrency, positioning itself to become the national leader in cryptocurrency and blockchain sectors.

In 2019, the state followed up with three more laws to support and encourage the use of cryptocurrencies in the state.

The first law created a legal framework for chartering “special purpose depository banks” tailored to serve cryptocurrency and blockchain businesses. The second law specifies that digital assets are property within the Uniform Commercial Code and authorizes security interests in digital assets. The law also clears the way for banks to serve as crypto custodians. A third bill signed by the governor enables securities to be issued in a tokenized form in Wyoming. “Normally, a stock certificate is a piece of paper…If you want to use a blockchain token to represent a stock certificate, [that would be] legal in Wyoming. [It would be] a legally issued security,” the sponsor of the bill said.

In combination, these laws have not only set Wyoming on the path toward becoming the cryptocurrency capital; they also take an important first step toward generating currency competition.

If other forms of money, whether it be cryptocurrencies or gold and silver, gain a foothold in the marketplace against Federal Reserve notes, people will be able to choose them over the central bank’s rapidly-depreciating paper currency. The freedom of choice expanded by these laws helps allow Wyoming residents to secure the purchasing power of their money.

All of these state efforts open the door for a serious push-back against the Fed and its monopoly on money. But state action alone won’t accomplish the goal. Ultimately, it will be up to everyday people to take advantage of these state laws and actually start using gold, silver and cryptocurrency as money.

For more details on state efforts to undermine the Federal Reserve’s monopoly on money, make sure you read our latest State of the Nullification Movement report. You can download it for free HERE.

This article was originally featured at the Tenth Amendment Center and is republished with permission.

Televised Brutality: Cops Raid Man’s Home For Benefit of TV Cameras

Televised Brutality: Cops Raid Man’s Home For Benefit of TV Cameras

The controversial reality TV show “Live PD” was recently taken off the air, as the country is beginning to rethink its relationship with police, and how they are being portrayed in the media. Just like the show’s predecessor “COPS,” Live PD has been accused of crossing ethical boundaries in order to get their footage.

In one case, the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office in Texas is being accused of intentionally passing up an opportunity to arrest their suspect, Asher Watsky, while he was in court, just so they could raid his home for the television cameras a few hours later. The court appearance and raid happened in May of 2019, but is just now getting new attention after the cancellation of the show.

“The second I saw the cameras, I’m aware of the Live PD program, I figured out right then, I had a feeling what was going on,” Asher said.

Gary Watsky, one of the occupants of the home, says that the SWAT raid was “all for show.”

“It was all for TV,” he said.

Watsky was wanted on a warrant relating to an assault charge that he faced from a fight that he got into with his roommate. He was fulfilling all of his court requirements for the initial charge, but for some reason, the police filed an additional charge against him, but didn’t activate it until after he appeared in court.

Williamson County District Attorney Shawn Dick was among many people involved with the case who felt that Watsky could have been arrested peacefully when he was in court less than four hours before the raid.

According to KVUE, Dick said that officials with the sheriff’s office admitted that they removed Watsky’s warrant from the record system so no one in the court would see it that day and try to arrest him.

They reportedly claimed that a SWAT raid on his home would be safer than arresting him after he passed through security in a courthouse. Dick has also identified at least five other cases where the Williamson County sheriff’s office used excessive force while cameras were rolling for Live PD.

Three former officers with the department have said that it was common for supervisors to push for arrests to happen during Live PD recordings, instead of off-camera where more peaceful interactions might be possible. One former officer, Gil Unger, complained to his supervisors but says that no one listened to him.

Law enforcement officials and legal experts insist that the tactics used in the Watsky raid are highly unusual.

National law enforcement consultant Jeff Noble said that this raid may not have been necessary, and he fears, “That this was staged for the value of live television.”

“That is not the type of situation to take lightly but, at the same time, it is not the type of situation I would expect a SWAT team to enter a home to make an arrest,” Noble said.

Both Live PD and Cops were taken off the air earlier this year in response to the growing protests against police brutality—when they encourage cops to do things like this, only good can come from it.

In June, TFTP reported on a similar instance with a much more tragic ending. Javier Ambler, a 40-year-old postal worker, was on his way home from a friendly poker game when he allegedly made the mistake of failing to turn off his brights when passing another vehicle.

Ambler’s last moments alive were captured on police body camera footage as well as footage from the crew from A&E’s reality show “Live PD.” He never resisted, posed a threat to cops, or attempted to attack them, yet he was thrown to the ground, repeatedly tasered, and the air squeezed from his body until he fell unconscious and died.

John Vibes is an author and researcher who organizes a number of large events including the Free Your Mind Conference. He also has a publishing company where he offers a censorship free platform for both fiction and non-fiction writers. You can contact him and stay connected to his work at his Twitter.John just won a 3-year-long battle with cancer, and will be working to help others through his experience, if you wish to contribute to his treatments consider subscribing to his podcast to support. This article was originally featured at The Free Thought Project and is republished with permission.

The Fed and the Road to QTM

The Fed and the Road to QTM

Milton Friedman famously said, “Inflation was always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon.” But Friedman didn’t live through the QE years here in the U.S. and blatantly ignored the twenty plus years of Japanese deflation despite QE and insane levels of money printing during the latter years of his life.

Because Friedman, like a lot of modern economists, adhered strictly to the Quantity Theory of Money (QTM).

And as an Austrian economics kinda guy I somewhat agree with the QTM. I agree with Ludwig von Mises on this, as you would expect. So, how do we square the QTM with the evidence that QE in all of its guises has resulted in deflation, as expressed by the general price level, where ever it has been tried?

Martin Armstrong ask this question all the time and is openly hostile to the QTM. And his arguments have some merit, because, as he rightly points out the QTM only looks at the supply side of the money equation.

It cares not about the demand side. He’s right about that. What he’s wrong about is that the Austrians, like von Mises, haven’t considered this either.

Demand for money is just as important as the supply of it. And during a crisis, the demand side of the equation for any particular currency may, in fact, be more important.

This is what the Fed has struggled with for the past twelve years. The demand for the U.S. dollar has far outstripped the increase in supply, causing a far lower aggregate price rise than anticipated by the QTM.

But money, like all commodities, goes to where it is most demanded by thos that obtain it. And Bernanke’s QE post-2008 crisis didn’t go to the people, it went to the banks and the banks and the government who did what they thought was best with it.

In trying to prop up asset values the Fed, however, blew bubbles in no only equities but also home prices, cars, education, health care, government regulation etc.

Offsetting that has been the destruction of price in things like food and energy, which are now far cheaper in real terms (and as a percentage of disposable income) than they’ve been in decades.

And this dynamic couldn’t change in the post-Lehman years under Bernanke if the Fed, like the Bank of Japan before them and the other major central banks today, allowed the money printed to actually circulate.

The QTM seems to fail because the money never circulated.

Bernanke ‘sterilized’ the new money, paying banks not to lend but rather hold the money on reserve with the Fed paying a nominal interest rather than engaging in traditional lending.

Because if he had done that the QTM would have risen up to bite him in the ass.

Bernanke understood that he had a demand problem. There was too much demand for dollars to service non-performing debt. But if he had let those trillions circulate it would have touched off an inflationary spiral as most of the money wouldn’t have gone to debt service but to bid up the price of base commodities.

So he chose to slowly bleed out the excesses of the previous credit-induced boom through time and attrition, just like the Bank of Japan, and slowly build the unavoidable inflation through the expansion of the money supply while demand returned to normal.

While the QTM ignores the demand side of the money equation, when the definition of the money supply and, more importantly inflation itself, doesn’t accurately describe reality the QTM becomes a hindrance to understanding what’s going on.

This is summed up in the question, “If Bernanke printed all these trillions, why is there no inflation?” To which Gary North, writing for Lew Rockwell all those years ago answered, “IOER.”

IOER = Interest on Excess Reserves.

To Bernanke he beat the QTM by paying IOER. Previous to Bernanke, excess reserves hovered around zero. The market always paid a better return than the Fed’s 0.25%.

But North was on it at the end of 2009:

The Federal Reserve can re-ignite monetary inflation at any time by charging banks a fee to keep excess reserves with the FED.

Anyone who predicts an inevitable price deflation does not understand that the present scenario is the product of legitimately terrified bankers and the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors. At any time, the FED can get all of the banks’ money lent. But the FED knows that this will double the money supply within weeks. This will create mass price inflation.

Bernanke paid the banks not to lend and therefore most of the money printed didn’t circulate. It wasn’t part of the supply and therefore couldn’t cause inflation.

Moreover, credit money was contracting at that time. The top of Exter’s Pyramid was collapsing and Bernanke was trying to widen the base of the Pyramid by printing trillions in base money.

Exters PyramidBack then it was there was a fight pitting the inflationists led by Peter Schiff versus the deflationists led by Harry S. Dent, and to a lesser extent Martin Armstrong.

Some of that money circulated through the growth in government spending and the returns generated as second-order effects of rising stock prices, the so-called ‘wealth effect.’

In the end we got what the Austrians would expect. Asset bubbles in the things people buy on time at zero-bound rates—cars, houses, medical bills, college degrees, military weapons, war—and deflation in legacy maturing financial assets and high depreciation cost assets like infrastructure through capital starvation, waste and fraud.

The Yellen and Powell years were marked by them hoping to withdraw these ‘temporary’ funds from the banking system by raising rates and doing QT—Quantitative Tightening.

It didn’t work at all, precipitating a credit collapse last year thereby, again, invoking the threat of the QTM. Because now the world was used to these assets at zero-cost of carry, zero-bound rates, which inflated their prices..

And those prices were way too high relative to that old supply of money. Withdraw the funds and watch the money markets seize up.

This is why we Austrian types kept saying the “Fed was trapped!” There was no way to go back to the way things were because while the Fed may have run out the clock on the 2008 toxic asset pile, it created an all-new even bigger pile of toxic-assets-in-waiting by the time we get to 2020…exactly as predicted.

Worse than that the Fed internationalized that pile, spreading the cancer out the world over, by turning the dollar into the ultimate carry-trade currency.

The real pandemic we should be scared of in 2020 isn’t COVID-19 it’s the immense pile of un-payable loans of all types, commercial or otherwise. With the rise of MMT now we’re just openly admitting the debts aren’t payable.

And the Fed has done nothing so far to say that it has any cures for this disease other than mo’ money.

It may be the first bit of honesty we’ve ever gotten from them.

So, color me not shocked when I see the latest proposal to come out of the Fed to stave off the deflationary vortex, directly pump money into everyone’s bank account.

From Zerohedge:

The response was striking: they two propose creating a monetary tool that they call recession insurance bonds, which draw on some of the advances in digital payments, which will be wired instantly to Americans.

As Coronado explains the details, Congress would grant the Federal Reserve an additional tool for providing support—say, a percent of GDP [in a lump sum that would be divided equally and distributed] to households in a recession. Recession insurance bonds would be zero-coupon securities, a contingent asset of households that would basically lie in wait. The trigger could be reaching the zero lower bound on interest rates or, as economist Claudia Sahm has proposed, a 0.5 percentage point increase in the unemployment rate. The Fed would then activate the securities and deposit the funds digitally in households’ apps.

As Potter then elucidates, “it took Congress too long to get money to people, and it’s too clunky. We need a separate infrastructure. The Fed could buy the bonds quickly without going to the private market. On March 15 they could have said interest rates are now at zero, we’re activating X amount of the bonds, and we’ll be tracking the unemployment rate—if it increases above this level, we’ll buy more. The bonds will be on the asset side of the Fed’s balance sheet; the digital dollars in people’s accounts will be on the liability side.”

Bringing us right back to Milton Friedman and, more importantly, von Mises and the QTM. Because now the Fed is not talking about injecting sterilized reserves into the money supply to create fictions of bank balance sheets.

Because, as Mises pointed out, once there are no more vacancies at the debt hotel now the QTM can be fully expressed. More supply equates to more inflation.

Now Friedman will be proven prophetic.

Because the Fed would be injecting money directly into the economy to stimulate aggregate demand because there are no more places to hide it and get any kind of future return.

Most of the world’s debt trades at a negative yield. IOER is 0.10%. National budgets are running at 20% to GDP deficits. Pension systems are trillions in arrears.

Now we’re at that moment where the old thought exercise of what happens when you inflate the money supply by 10% prices occurs. The answer is prices will go up by 10%.

Critics of the QTM, like Armstrong, argue that the Fed et.al. are obsessed with creating 2% price inflation in a deflationary environment. That’s not completely true. Because if they charge those excess reserves they can create whatever inflation rate they want in a heartbeat.

What they are obsessed with is doing that and bailing out the banks at the same time.

That they can’t do without destroying confidence which is a nice way of saying they are scared of the QTM calling their bluff.

Because no matter how you try to hand wave the arguments away, more money chasing the same number of goods is inflationary. One look at home, car, health care and education costs tells you exactly where all the inflation went.

Bernanke dreaded that scenario just like Dr. North said which is why he paid IOER while destroying the middle class through rising prices for real goods and wage stagnation.

He created trillions in latent inflation based on the U.S.’s capacity as the world’s reserve currency, stuffing the world with reserves it didn’t need to maintain asset prices it couldn’t sustain.

He undermined the validity of every other currency in the process to save the dollar. They’ve had to deal with the QTM biting them, but we only care about ourselves.

In an environment where most people’s time preference is short because they are literally fighting for their economic lives, this new stimulus money will go right into the things people needs right now—food, clothing, shelter.

Things are so bad for so many Americans now that they saved their first stimulus checks and only spent them on the bare necessities, forgoing any thought of paying down debt.

They used what’s left of their credit rating to feed themselves now on someone else’s dime and let the bank choke on their mortgage when the credit card is maxed.

This next round of stimulus money will circulate. The Fed will finally do what Bernanke tried desperately to avoid, print helicopter money.

Zerohedge is right, the Fed finally admitted that QE is deflationary because it signals to the markets that conditions are still too fragile after 12 years to invest in the future because there is no future.

Therefore the money given to the banks is hoarded as excess reserves because the potential return on investment is lower than IOER. Today Jay Powell stopped paying IOER, it’s 0.10% lower than Bernanke’s 0.25% and he still can’t get the money moving.

Excess reserves are rising again. Same playbook, worse results.

Execess ReservesThat was the first phase of this crisis.

Now that we’re past that part and if the Fed adopts this policy, it will hand us money to keep asset prices from falling by creating fake demand. All that will do is undermine the confidence anyone holding dollars abroad has in the U.S., the dollar and our leadership.

And then the QTM will be our problem, not theirs. Because demand for dollars will collapse and the circulating supply will rise. Gold is sniffing this out now.

Then, and only then, will the Fed achieve its inflation target…and beyond. And Milton Friedman will look down and say, “I was right.”

And Mises will look back at him and say, “Yes, eventually.”

This article was originally featured at the Gold Goats ‘N Guns blog and is republished with permission.

Regarding Seth Rogen: Some Feelings Ought to Be Hurt

Regarding Seth Rogen: Some Feelings Ought to Be Hurt

When actor Seth Rogen, an atheist of Jewish heritage, announced that he no longer supports Israel — “I was fed a huge amount of lies about Israel my entire life” — he was criticized for his apostasy. (Being an atheist does not constitute Jewish heresy, but breaking with Israel does.)

Then, during a call with Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog, Rogen learned that “many Israelis and Jews around the world were personally hurt by his statement, which implies the denial of Israel’s right to exist.” Herzog says Rogen apologized, explaining that his comments were meant to be humorous.

But Rogen has “distanced himself from a statement from the Jewish Agency that claimed [he] had ‘apologized,'” the Times of Israel reports. That must mean he wasn’t just trying to be funny.

I stand with Rogen. His comments about Israel were spot on. I too was told lies about Israel growing up (“a land without a people for a people without a land”) — but I hasten to add that the people close to me did not know they were lies. I’d bet Rogen would say the same thing.

I am also happy to hear that he did not apologize for his comments. Why should he? The State of Israel came into being through the systematic dispossession and oppression of the Palestinians. Many Jews know this and criticize Israel for it. Not only that: many Jews would have been uncomfortable with the idea of an exclusivist Jewish state even if Palestine really had been a land without a people. (Rogen expressed the same view.) Reform Judaism was explicitly founded in the 19th century in opposition to the ideas of Jewish exile, diaspora, and separatism.

But what I most want to focus on here is Herzog’s statement that Rogen had “personally hurt” Jews and Israelis. I assume he meant that Rogen had hurt their feelings. My question is: if someone’s feelings are hurt by condemnations of injustice, why should anyone care? Are some people’s feelings more important than other people’s very right to live free and dignified lives? I don’t think so. Some feelings ought to be — need to be — hurt.

This preoccupation with not hurting feelings is at the root of the ominous cancel culture and the burgeoning informal PC constraints on free thought and free speech. If you look hard enough you will find that these unfortunate things originated in attempts to inhibit good-faith criticism of Israel and support for the Palestinians by stigmatizing the speakers as anti-Semites.

As long as we’re talking about feelings, let’s do a full accounting. Yes, I’m sure Rogen hurt some people’s feelings. But I’m also confident his courage to speak also made Palestinians, anti-Zionist Jews, and other champions of justice feel more hopeful. Why don’t their feelings count?

COVID-19 Controversies and Communitarianism

COVID-19 Controversies and Communitarianism

The ongoing controversies swirling about COVID-19 continue to confound me. Not the fact that questions have been posed and “conspiracies” rejected but, rather, that many parties on both sides of every COVID-19 divide—regarding lockdowns, masks, vaccines, whether children should go to school and healthy people should go to work, etc.—appear to be thoroughly convinced that the truth is on their side and that those who disagree with them are “nut cases.” Of course, the same is true about most any dispute on social media today, but when it comes to COVID-19, the adherents to various “self-evident tenets” have achieved a new and more vicious degree of smug sanctimoniousness.

On the one hand, we have people who seem truly to be convinced that those who don masks are Jesus-like characters who engage in “radical acts of kindness,” as one person on my Facebook timeline characterized them, including, apparently, herself. On the other hand, we have people who guffaw at the sight of face-masked persons sunbathing on a vast expanse of sandy beach or while driving all alone in their cars, windows rolled up. Surely there are facts, grounded in science, to consider, but proponents of masks are so convinced that The ScienceTM is on their side that they facilely (and fallaciously) slide between interpretations according to which those who refuse to wear masks are evil, selfish, stupid and/or ignorant. Common sense would certainly seem to dictate that illnesses can be transmitted through saliva—is that not in fact why restaurants sterilize glassware and eating utensils? But the COVID-19 mask controversy was considerably exacerbated by the government’s own mixed messages on the topic. Even pandemic guru Anthony Fauci appeared in an early 2020 YouTube clip in which he stated that masks were unnecessary and mainly for show, serving to make people feel better psychologically. Later, after the video had already gone viral, Fauci’s claim was clarified as an attempt to mitigate a PPE shortage among health professionals.

I am less interested in questions such as whether masks diminish the incidence of disease (obviously surgeons wear “surgical masks” to prevent sepsis in the persons into whom they slice), or whether molecules do in fact disperse and diffuse rapidly in open volumes of air (see: Chemistry 101), than in why people are so vehement in their disagreement over whether and where masks should be required by law. From the beginning, the characterization of COVID-19 as a “pandemic” seems to have conjured in many people’s minds images of wheelbarrows rolling through the neighborhood to collect corpses. (I suspect that to this day some people continue to check their bodies for oozing boils.) Nothing of the sort has of course occurred, and the risk of death to anyone under fifty years of age is lower than the risk of death associated with all sorts of activities in which we regularly engage. No wonder young people are not worried. They are not being reckless at all when they go out with friends. Are they being selfish, as the mask brigade maintains?

At one point I attempted to reason with some people on Facebook who were denouncing as “evil” (in a refrain reminiscent of ancient Greek tragedy) those who do not wear masks. Among other things, I observed that, in fact, contrary to the apparent beliefs of the pro-mask chorus, not everyone who does not wear a mask lives in the United States and worships Donald Trump, who famously “opted” not to wear a mask for months. This was met with a flurry of denunciatory responses, until I revealed that I myself had in fact been wearing a mask, at which point I became “evil, stupid, ignorant, and/or selfish” for entertaining the possibility that other people might hold slightly different beliefs. RIP civil discourse in the twenty-first century world of social media. Alas, as virtual and physical reality converge, fueled by an amorphous blob of pseudo-information, fake news, propaganda memes, omissive charts, incommensurable data and, above all, emotive outbursts, the verbal violence has been acted upon by some. Mask shaming in the states now takes the form of people attacking people who call out the unmasked and, for their part, mask wearers joining forces to shout people out of stores who dare to enter without what are regarded as appropriate prophylactic coverings.

I was in Austria for more than half of 2020, at the height of the Coronapocalypse, where the incidence of the virus has been quite low and the death toll still hovers just under 700. I know, I know: 700 dead people who need not have died, if only… (If only what? If all men were not mortal, perhaps?) Why was the situation so much less dire in Austria than in Italy, Spain, or France? My best guess is that the powers that be effectively locked down their elderly care facilities and did not, as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo did, send persons infected with COVID-19 into nursing homes to convalesce, thereby directly causing thousands of excess deaths. No one intended to kill those people, of course, but given the precedents in Italy and Spain, where healthcare workers proved to be the primary transmitters of the disease, having not been tested unless they exhibited symptoms, it seems not unreasonable to characterize Cuomo’s action as negligent, at best.

Cuomo is not alone in having imposed government measures which will end by increasing the rate of death of some of the persons supposedly being protected. When for months hospitals refused to admit or treat any patients who did not exhibit acute COVID-19 symptoms, they were turning away thousands of persons with heart problems, minor strokes, and developing cancer whose lives will end earlier than they might have, had they received medical treatment in a timely way. In other words, not all of the excess deaths recorded will be due to COVID-19 itself; some will have been caused by government policies implemented in response to the disease. Small wonder that the latest U.S. stimulus bill will contain broad immunity clauses preventing lawsuits regarding COVID-19.

In Austria, the situation seemed to be largely under control by June, at which point the mask requirement in indoor places was lifted, allowing me to travel happily about the country as a tourist without having to deal with the usual summer mobs, as places of business were open, while the borders remained closed. Masks continued to be required on public transport, but it was plain to see by mid-June that many people in Vienna were not at all concerned about COVID-19, for they often stepped onto trains and trams with no mask anywhere near their face. They might take five minutes fumbling around finding their mask in their bag, then fumble around some more while getting their mask on. In some cases, they would then proceed to remove the mask, in order to eat a piece of pizza or some other snack. They talked and laughed and sometimes coughed with their friends as they entered the closed space (and while munching), with no apparent recognition that the whole purpose of the mask requirement was to prevent their saliva from infecting fellow passengers with the dreaded disease. I must say that I find it somewhat amusing that there were three simple ways legally to evade the mask requirement in Austria while avoiding the risk of a 50 euro fine: always be eating; always be drinking; or, oddly enough, always be smoking. So a non-smoker could always get around the mask requirement by spending time in a smoking area. I’ll leave that one for you to parse.

I also noticed that in the markets, museums, and shopping centers, almost no one actually observed the government’s ongoing recommendation to adhere to social distancing or “Abstand,” despite the brightly colored circles glued on the floor nearly everywhere to indicate how far people were supposed to be staying away from one another. (Does anyone have any idea where and how all of those circular floor stickers were produced and applied, apparently all over the world, during the lockdowns? Just curious.) I noticed the lack of adherence to social distancing guidelines especially on escalators, which are probably the easiest place to gauge whether anyone is making any attempt whatsoever to keep their distance, given that it is so straightforward to do in that case. I tend to mount an escalator two or three steps behind the person in front of me anyway, because I find it rude to breathe down someone’s neck, but in the midst of the “global pandemic” said to necessitate the closure of all European borders, both internal and external, people were there, right behind me on the escalator, unmasked and breathing down my neck. The idea that such persons might be evil, stupid, ignorant and/or selfish never crossed my mind. They simply did not believe that they were in any real danger, nor that they were endangering anyone else.

Even more strident than the “I am Jesus” mask wearers are those agitating for universal vaccination. This is another source of ongoing perplexity to me, as many of those who sing the praises of vaccines as the only solution to the crisis also vociferously maintain, sometimes in the very same breath (filtered through a mask), that herd immunity is not possible with COVID-19, because of its mutating quality. This is conclusively demonstrated, they say, by cases in South Korea where recovered patients became ill again with COVID-19 later on down the line. So let me get this straight: herd immunity is not possible, but the bars in Massachusetts will remain closed until such time as an effective vaccine exists? (Is this some sort of sly backdoor route to reinstating Prohibition, I have to wonder?) In pointing out that vaccines are in effect a fast-track to herd immunity, and so, if the latter is not possible, then the former is a pipe dream, I appear to have upset some people on Twitter, one of whom abruptly announced that he would no longer be continuing our discussion because he disagreed with my view on vaccines. What? Who knew that I had “a view” about vaccines? Is it really all or nothing? May I not express a modicum of skepticism about the prospects for a COVID-19 vaccine while simultaneously affirming that I am indeed glad that I got the yellow fever vaccine before going to Ghana (even though I was quite ill for about five days), because then once in Africa I knew I was safe from that disease? No, apparently a person who raises questions about the feasibility of an experimental vaccine for dealing with a virus for which some claim herd immunity cannot be achieved must be categorically denounced as an anti-vax “nut case.” My aim was not to denounce universally the very idea of vaccines, but to make a much more modest, purely logical, claim: not (p & not-p). Either herd immunity is possible, in which case the surge in cases across the United States suggests that we are well on our way to achieving it, or it is impossible, in which case the prospects for an effective vaccine seem quite dim, no matter how many dozens (hundreds?) of companies may be aggressively recruiting volunteers for experimental trials of what they hope to be the miracle eradicator of the dreaded disease.

In several contexts, I have heard seniors lashing out against “selfish” young people for congregating together in public places—at concerts, on beaches, in clubs and parks, and … at work!—which naturally raises yet another quandary in my skeptical mind. Who is being selfish here, really? My impression is that elderly persons, who are quite right to stay home in order to protect themselves, appear to misunderstand the nature of the world which they have created and are leaving behind for young people. What could be more selfish than to destroy the livelihood of millennials who have been eking out their existence in what has become a piecemeal gig economy—with no house or pension anywhere in sight, and short-term contracts to earn just enough money to survive while whittling slowly away at their quasi-eternal student debt? If all of the people attempting to go back to work had neither rent payments nor student debt, then it might be reasonable to ask them to take even more time off. But when financial insecurity reaches the point where even having a roof over one’s head becomes tentative, when the tent industry becomes a hot stock option, then that is where it seems time to draw the line.

To reiterate: those who are at a substantial risk of death from COVID-19 should, by all means, stay at home (which many of them do in fact own). They can freely decide for themselves whether visiting with young family members is worth the risk of being infected by the disease, given its specific targeting of advanced seniors. But how does preventing young people from living their lives offer any extra protection to those who are already in reclusion, terrified as they are (and in some cases rightly so) to step outside? Answer: it does not. If you are disinfecting everything which comes your way and refusing entry to anyone into your home, then why should you care whether other people go back to school and return to work?

Now it does sound as though I am taking sides. But what I have concluded after a great deal of reflection is that the extreme measures taken by governments the world over to protect a tiny portion of the population fly in the face of the more general ethos of modern-day Western society. For better or for worse, we have found ourselves in a world where people are held responsible for their failures and given credit for their success. We do not live in a communitarian society, where economic equality is imposed and maintained by the state or by mutual agreement of the group. In our liberal capitalist society, when the government itself prevents people from succeeding, by making their only possible source of gainful employment illegal, then those people are doomed to fail, not due to their own moral flaws but because they have been prohibited from doing what they would otherwise have done.

The untenable scenario in which young, healthy people have found themselves is what I take to be the best explanation for the magnitude and range of indiscriminately violent protests across the United States. People are not looting Chanel boutiques in search of bread or criminal justice. Rather, communities all across the United States are literally exploding under pressure. They have nothing to lose and so are striking out in outrage, not so much because of the murder of George Floyd (why did these riots not happen, to this extent, in response to the many African Americans killed by police officers before George Floyd?), but in an expression of frustration and anger and, above all, fear about their uncertain future. Millions of persons (hundreds of thousands in California alone) are at serious risk of being evicted from their homes. While some states have implemented measures which will allow rent and mortgage payments to be postponed, they will have to be paid eventually, which means that those who were only barely getting by will not be able to catch up.

Whose interests matter most, in the end? When the advanced seniors with empty vacation properties decide to share their resources (in “acts of radical kindness”) with the people being impoverished, and in some cases rendered homeless, as a result of government measures designed to protect those most vulnerable to COVID-19 at the expense of everyone else, then they will be practicing the communitarianism which they preach. I don’t see that happening in my lifetime.

Is Sweden’s COVID-19 Response a Cautionary Tale or a Model to Follow? It’s Complicated

Is Sweden’s COVID-19 Response a Cautionary Tale or a Model to Follow? It’s Complicated

In the ongoing debate about lockdowns in the US, Sweden has become the battleground.

To mainstream media outlets, Sweden’s experience is cited as a cautionary tale. CBS writes that Sweden has become “an example of how not to handle COVID-19”.

Meanwhile, to those who have been skeptical of the lockdown policy all along, Sweden’s results are occasionally cited in glowing terms. For instance, Jeffrey Tucker of AIER tweeted this out last week, showing that Sweden’s daily death toll has slowed to a crawl:

2020 07 20 Jeffreyatucker Sweden Daily Deaths Trend

So which version is true?

Did Sweden’s less restrictive approach to COVID-19 usher in the hellscape that US public health officials have warned us about? Or is it actually a model for the rest of us to follow?

It’s too soon to know for sure. But the data we have so far suggests the answer is not black-and-white.

The Problem of Cherry-Picking
In the CBS article, they point to the per capita COVID-19 death toll in Sweden to declare it a policy failure. Writing last month on July 17, CBS notes:

…the death toll from Sweden’s outbreak is now the fifth-worst in the world, per capita. The country’s mortality rate from the coronavirus is now 30% higher than that of the United States when adjusted for population size.

On that date, this was true. It is missing some important context, however.

For starters, if Sweden was fifth-worst in the world, why is the article about Sweden? If the point is to identify some COVID-19 policies that clearly failed, there would seem to be at least four candidates just as worthy of criticism.

Excluding the tiny nation-states of Andorra and San Marino, the four European countries that had experienced higher per capita death tolls than Sweden at the time of CBS’s piece were Belgium, UK, Spain, and Italy. In the last two weeks, Peru has also overtaken Sweden in terms of per capita death tolls.


All of these countries imposed lockdown policies, and still experienced death tolls higher than Sweden. Italy might have an excuse as the first major hotspot in Europe, but what accounts for the others?

This selective criticism of Sweden by mainstream media has been called out elsewhere with good reason. This is classic cherry-picking–finding facts to fit a predetermined narrative.

To be fair, Sweden’s proponents can also be guilty of omitting context.

In the tweet noted above, Tucker points to very low rates of new deaths as a sign of success. This is good news, but it doesn’t tell us much. It’s widely understood that viruses will burn themselves out eventually. The lockdown debate is about how best to mitigate the damage in the meantime.

In another example, this tweet from Yinon Weiss, favorably compares the experience of Sweden to New York. The comparison is correct–Sweden has fared far better than New York on a per capita basis. However, this is better evidence of New York’s extreme failure rather than Sweden’s success. If we draw sweeping conclusions from this data point, then it’s just cherry-picking in the other direction.

2020 07 12 Yinonw Sweden Vs. New York Covid 19
Obviously, writing a tweet is different than writing an article. Twitter isn’t exactly built for nuance.

The point is that, so far, Sweden’s results are mixed. They don’t warrant a victory lap for anyone.

Voluntary Versus Coercive
While Sweden seems to be viewed by the rest of the world as a radical experiment when it comes to COVID-19, that’s not how Sweden sees itself.

Speaking to Nature magazine early on in the pandemic, Sweden’s state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell explained bluntly, “I think it has been overstated how unique [Sweden’s] approach is.”

For Tegnell, Sweden’s policy objective is the same as for most other Western countries–flatten the curve to avoid overrunning the healthcare system.

 
The primary difference is in Sweden’s laws. As he explained in the interview (emphasis added):

The Swedish laws on communicable diseases are mostly based on voluntary measures — on individual responsibility…This is the core we started from, because there is not much legal possibility to close down cities in Sweden using the present laws.

By itself, this almost implies that Sweden would have been just as coercive as other countries if they had the authority. (And as an American, it sounds extremely odd to hear a national government official acknowledge any legal constraints on their power. But I digress.)

However, in a separate April interview with Haaretz, Tegnell argued that the voluntary approach has strategic advantages over coercion. In particular, Tegnell noted that the voluntary measures could be kept in place for an extended period of time. In his words, “We believe that what we are doing is more sustainable and effective in the long term.”
 
The Importance of Sustainability
Like most other countries, Sweden’s experts share the view that the virus will only stop being a threat once herd immunity is reached or an effective vaccine is developed. “Every other solution is temporary,” Tegnell told Haaretz.
 
Since both of those solutions are likely months away, the sustainability of the policy response is critical. This is why Sweden’s approach might ultimately prove more successful than its peers.
 
Although Tegnell doesn’t say this outright, the subtext of Sweden’s approach seems to be that all countries’ COVID-19 policies will look like Sweden’s eventually.
 
The lockdowns cannot eradicate the virus on their own and cannot be kept in place indefinitely. That means that when the lockdowns are inevitably relaxed, the virus is still around and able to spread.
 
When the virus starts to spread anew, the authorities in most democratic countries won’t have the political ability to reimpose lockdowns. So their only real option is to impose lighter, mostly voluntary measures like Sweden has done from the start. 
 
Unfortunately, this is how things have played out in many places..
 
Consider the United States. Many states closed down before they had significant spread and reopened while new infections remained at low, but nonzero, levels. Now cases have surged in several states, and the lockdown measures being reimposed are far less strict than those enforced early on. Noncompliance is also on the rise. 
 
Today, most states’ lockdown policies are still more restrictive than Sweden’s. But this does show the unsustainable nature of the prior approach. Given that the states have landed on less restrictive policies anyway, the utility of the initial authoritarian policies is unclear. The collateral damage of those policies, on the other hand, is visible everywhere.
 
Premature Conclusions
While Sweden states that its policy goal is to flatten the curve like most other countries, it’s clear that they have taken a less aggressive approach. 
 
It follows that Sweden’s virus curve should be steeper than the curve seen in lockdown jurisdictions. We can see this visually in the chart below (adapted from PBS):
 
 
(Since Sweden is taking some measures to slow the spread, it’s likely that the relative steepness of their curve wouldn’t be as radically different as what this graphic implies. But it does illustrate the nature of the difference we should expect.)
 
This presents a major challenge for gauging the success of the different approaches while the pandemic is still underway.
 
The total deaths experienced by the countries in the chart above would be found by taking the area underneath the curve. Because Sweden has accepted a steeper curve, it should experience more total deaths early on. But the number of new daily deaths in Sweden should also drop to near zero earlier than it will elsewhere.
 
That’s what these curves would suggest, and it’s consistent with what has actually happened.
 
Now we can see the problems with some of the condemnation and praise of Sweden’s results. Yes, Sweden has experienced more deaths than many of its peers. And yes, for now, the pandemic in Sweden seems to be mostly over even as it rages on elsewhere. Neither of these outcomes should come as a surprise.
 
To consider the question settled right now is rather like declaring victory based on the score at halftime. It’s not the end of the story.
2020 08 02 Sweden Pandemic Curve Illustration
 
 
Where We Go From Here
As I write this, the virus looks to be mostly contained in Europe, but continues to spread significantly in the US. Based on the data we have so far, it is unlikely that Sweden or any other large country has reached true herd immunity. Promising vaccine headlines get published regularly. But even in the most optimistic scenario, we’re a few months away from a vaccine being proven safe and effective, let alone mass produced.
 
If current trends persist, the nationwide US per capita death toll is likely to catch and surpass Sweden in the coming months. In just the last two weeks, the gap between Sweden’s death toll and the US’s, has fallen from 30% higher to 19%. Virus cases have shot up in the most populous states (California, Texas, and Florida) that had been largely spared until this point. Increasingly, it looks like the US shutdown caused massive collateral damage without any lasting containment benefit. In a strictly US context, the Swedish approach is looking pretty good.
 
This conclusion is less obvious when looking at the results of countries in Asia, Europe, or the South Pacific. Countries like South Korea and Taiwan managed to slow the spread of COVID-19 with targeted quarantines instead of all-encompassing lockdown restrictions. Europe has several countries like Austria and Switzerland that locked down and then reopened quickly without reigniting a major new outbreak of the virus so far. In the South Pacific, New Zealand’s more comprehensive lockdown and travel restrictions managed to eliminate COVID-19 locally, and a major new outbreak has not yet occurred.
 
It’s too early to say which strategy will look optimal in the long run. The final analysis will also need to consider more holistic data points such as excess mortality and economic outcomes. That data isn’t available in real-time like the official COVID-19 statistics, but it will be necessary to properly compare the costs and benefits across countries.
 
For now, Sweden’s policy isn’t a panacea or a disaster. It remains a crucial control group for the lockdown experiments of 2020.
Should Libertarians Work With “Commies” and “Fascists”?

Should Libertarians Work With “Commies” and “Fascists”?

Over the last several weeks, we have seen some libertarians participating in Black Live Matters protests against police violence. This has led to criticism. Should libertarians be linking arms with “Marxists” even if they have a common cause?

This raises a broader strategy question: should libertarians work with people ideologically opposed to their broader principles if the partnership can lead to an incremental shift toward liberty? For instance, should libertarians work with Black Lives Matter to fight against the growing police state? Or right-wingers to fight gun laws? read more…

Hey Feds: Hands Off Our Cities

Hey Feds: Hands Off Our Cities

The violence and the utter disregard for basic human rights displayed by the Left in recent years—combined with its support for war crimes when a Democrat is president—have made me inclined to play nice with conservatives these days. At least conservatives aren’t planning to torch my neighborhood any time soon, and at the moment they’re no worse than the Left on foreign policy.

On the other hand, sometimes even the relatively less bad guys (for now) come to some very dangerous conclusions.

Specifically, some authors at conservative publications are now demanding that the president send in federal agents and troops to make arrests and intervene in local law enforcement to pacify rioters in Portland and other American cities. These pundits are claiming that since local officials allegedly aren’t responding with sufficient alacrity to rioters, it’s time to send in federal troops.

It is questionable that the president has the legal authority to do this. But even if he does have this power—legally speaking—basic commonsense principles of subsidiarity and decentralization inveigh against federal intervention. In other words, a basic respect for the principles behind the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence ought to cause one to reject the notion that it’s a good idea to send in federal troops to “solve” the crime problems experienced in American cities.

Here’s one example: in an article titled “It’s Time to Crush the New Rebellion against Constitution” at Real Clear Politics, author Frank Miele claims “the president is designated as the commander in chief” and therefore “shall be expected to act during a crisis of ‘rebellion or invasion’ to restore public safety.”

Miele addresses two legal questions. The first is whether or not federal troops or agents can act independently when protecting federal property—such as a federal courthouse. The second question is whether or not federal troops can intervene even when no federal property is under threat.

Arguably, in the former case federal agents would be well within their prerogatives to protect federal property as a security guard might do. This, however, does not necessarily empower them to make arrests or assault citizens outside the federal property itself, on the streets of a city well outside the federal compound. The so-called constitutional sheriffs movement—which the Left hates—has it right on this. Local law enforcement ought to be the final authority when it comes to making arrests.

Clearly, however, Miele will not brook such limitations, and he supports the idea that federal troops can intervene “where no federal property is involved.”

And what are the limitations on this federal power? Basically, there are none, in Miele’s view. So long as we define our adversaries as people fomenting a “rebellion” nothing is off the table. Not surprisingly, Miele strikes a worshipful pose toward Abraham Lincoln’s scorched-earth campaign against the Southern states of the US in the 1860s. Those people were “rebels,” you see, so the president was right to “tak[e] bold action” even if it meant “skirting the Constitution.” Because “there was never any doubt where [Lincoln’s] allegiance lay,” it was perfectly fine when he abolished the basic legal rights of Americans, such as the right of habeas corpus.

The use of the word “rebellion” is central to understanding the profederal position here. Authors like Miele (and Andrew McCarthy at National Review) have routinely used words like “insurrection” or “rebellion” in order to support their claim the current unrest requires a Lincoln-like response, including a Lincolnesque abolition of half the Bill of Rights.

The Moral Case for Local Control, Made by American Revolutionaries

As a legal matter, of course, I have no doubt that federal judges and supporters of federal meddling could find a way to slice and dice the Constitution so as to make it say whatever they want. As a moral and historical question, however, it is clear that sending in federal troops without an invitation from local leaders is blatantly contrary to the provisions of the Declaration of Independence and is contrary to the Tenth Amendment.

As I explained here, the Declaration lists that the misuse of the executive’s (i.e., the king’s) troops was a reason for the American rebellion of 1776. These troops must receive the permission of local lawmakers:

The American revolutionaries and those who ratified the US constitution…thought they were creating a political system in which the bulk of land-based military power would rest in the hands of the state governments. Standing armies were to be strenuously opposed, and the Declaration of Independence specifically condemned the king’s use of military deployments to enforce English law in the colonies and “to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.” These principles go back at least as far as the English Civil War (1642–51), when opposition to standing armies became widespread.

Thus, any attempt to send in British troops without the approval of the colonial legislatures was an abuse. This same principle was later applied to the state legislatures in relation to federal power.

Sending in federal troops to override local officials is in direct opposition to the moral underpinnings of the American Revolution. But this doesn’t stop Miele, who then insists that Article IV of the Constitution authorizes federal invasions because the text says “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government.” According to Miele, the “republican form of government” here “means government of the people, by the people and for the people—not the mob.”

This definition of a republic is something Miele apparently just made up. This is hardly a standard definition of “republic,” especially in the eighteenth century—the context most relevant for our purposes here. In those days, “republic” mostly meant “not a monarchy” and something like a decentralized state ruled by a commercial elite.

The idea that the president can send in troops anywhere whenever we decide that a local government is not guaranteeing a “republic”—based on whatever idiosyncratic definition of “republic” we might choose—is dangerous indeed.

In another example, we find authors Joseph diGenova and Victoria Toensing insisting that “Because state and local Democrat officials refuse to restore order, the federal government must…Enough is enough. Those responsible for this new wave of insurrection must face the full force of federal law. ”

Note the language about “insurrection”—as if a minuscule clash between some left-wing and right-wing demonstrators in Denver—an example the authors use to justify their position—requires a federal invasion.

Specifically, DiGenova and Toesing want federalism thrown out the window, because Michelle Malkin’s supporters were “battered” by baton-wielding thugs before she could deliever a speech in Dener. Presumably governments are expected to intervene to prevent this sort of thing from happening.

But which government shall do that? It’s a safe bet that the authors of the Declaration of Independence would say that a scuffle in Denver clearly lies within the authority of the government in Colorado. After all, the American patriots fought a war—and many died in it—to ensure local control outside the hands of a powerful executive in command of a standing army thousands of miles away.

It is indeed true that the rights of those who wished to see Malkin speak were violated. But here’s the thing: the rights of Americans are violated every single day in every city of America. Murders, rapes, thefts, and even gang warfare are not unheard of across this nation, year in and year out. Moreover, the data is clear that police agencies are really quite bad at bringing these criminals to justice.

So, should we call in the feds to solve these problems? There were more than fifty homicides just in the city of Denver last year. There were many more assaults and attempted murders. Doesn’t this level of bloodshed constitute a sort of “insurrection” against the decent people of the city? Certainly if we’re going to be free and loose with terms like these, as is now apparently the MO of advocates for federal intervention, our conclusion could easily be yes. We might conclude the local police are unwilling to do what it takes to “establish order” and do something about these terrorists and thugs. Will sending in the FBI or the Department of Homeland Security solve this problem?

Fortunately, cooler heads have somehow prevailed, and “sending in the feds” is not a run-of-the-mill policy option. This makes even more sense when we remember that there is zero reason to assume federal cops are better at bringing peace to a city than the state or local officials. These feds are the same people and organizations that have been running a failed and disastrous war on drugs for decades. These are the people who daily spy on law-abiding Americans, in blatant violation of the Bill of Rights. These are the people who were blindsided by 9/11 in spite of decades of receiving fat paychecks to “keep us safe.” These are the people (i.e., especially the FBI) who have conspired against Americans in order to unseat a democratically elected president.

Unfortunately, old habits die hard and the myth prevails on both the left and the right that if we’re not getting the result we want from politicians, then the answer lies in calling in other politicians from somewhere else to “solve” the problem. But just as it would be contrary to basic notions of self-government and self-determination to call in the UN or the Chinese government to “protect rights” in the United States, the same is true of calling in federal bureaucrats to “fix” the shortcomings and incompetence of state and local bureaucrats. The American revolutionaries created a decentralized, locally controlled polity for a reason. Abolishing federalism to achieve short-term political ends is a reckless way to go.

Reboot Government? No, Dismantle It

Reboot Government? No, Dismantle It

Imagine my intrigue at seeing this subtitle kicking off a recent op-ed in USA Today:

Why do Americans hate Washington? One reason is that it makes us feel powerless.

Americans hating Washington? An article exploring how the state makes its citizens feel powerless?

Sign me up.

It didn’t take long, however, for me to be disappointed.

The article started out promising, by citing “discontent” toward government coming from “both sides.”

“A survey in 2018, for example, found that almost two-thirds of Americans favored ‘very major reform’ of government, almost double from 20 years ago,” the article noted.

“Political leaders sow division” it continued.

Bingo.

The article next itemized some obstacles to reforming some of society’s pressing problems. Police unions stand in the way of firing bad cops. Red tape gummed up the response to the spread of coronavirus.

Disappointingly, however, the article quickly squandered an opportunity to educate readers how a significant reduction in state power and influence would be the best recipe to heal much of society’s division. Instead, it hits readers with this line:

“Americans need to feel that government can make things better.”

This turn for the worse should have come as no surprise, given the author of the piece, Philip K. Howard, is the head of an organization called “Campaign for the Common Good.”

Any group or person claiming to be working toward the “common good” immediately should raise a red flag for libertarians. Of course, we know there is no such thing as the “common good,” but rather an extremely diverse set of individuals with varying wants and differing plans on how to achieve happiness.

So, how do we achieve this common good and overcome citizen’s sense of powerlessness, according to Mr. Howard?

“Let people take responsibility again. Give officials and citizens alike goals and guiding principles, and then let other people hold them accountable,” he recommends.

Who should “give” officials and citizens their goals and guiding principles goes unanswered.

Moreover, Howard states that overcoming powerlessness involves “letting” government officials do their job, including suggestions such as “Let local public health officials respond immediately to the pandemic,” “(L)et designated officials issue infrastructure permits after reasonable review,” and “(L)et teachers maintain order in the classroom.”

Such suggestions may be great for government officials, but doesn’t do much for citizens. Indeed, his suggestions further entrench the state as problem-solver for society, removing opportunities for free citizens to responsibly solve problems through voluntary cooperation.

To his credit, Howard criticizes the government’s overly-complex law books that allow for little discretion on the part of public officials or citizens, and calls for a process of simplifying and stripping them down.

He supports this notion, however, in part because it will “reactivate(s) our link to government.”

The last thing we need is a greater link to the oppressive and divisive leviathan government.

“Governing isn’t this hard,” Howard assures us. “America needs a new public operating system that re-empowers people with responsibility to deal sensibly with the situation before them.”

But a “new public operating system” will still carry with it the immoral baggage of the old one. It will be funded by taxes stolen from citizens. Its decrees will still be enforced by threats of force by an organization with a monopoly on violence.

Howard is focused largely on making government more efficient in carrying out its functions, and uninterested in limiting its size and scope. This won’t reduce the division that he expressed concern over. The state sows division because if forces some to fund others through welfare and wealth redistribution schemes, and it compels people with vastly different preferences to live under the same arbitrary rules having nothing to do with protecting people’s person and property.

Amazingly, Howard concludes with the statement, “The best cure for alienation is ownership.”

But that starts with self-ownership, not reducing red tape to allow government agents to more swiftly enforce their decrees or spend stolen taxpayer money.

Citizens feel powerless because the state is empowered to initiate force against them, with no repercussions. Powerlessness is not felt because government contractors are slowed from starting their tax-funded projects due to red tape.

Mr. Howard largely gets the diagnosis right. More people are getting frustrated with government and recognizing it as a source of division. Disappointingly, he gets the cure wrong.

Instead of a “reboot” of government, society needs a radical rollback of its power.

Bradley Thomas is creator of the website Erasethestate.com and author of the book “Tweeting Liberty: Libertarian Tweets to Smash Statists and Socialists.” He is a libertarian activist who enjoys researching and writing on the freedom philosophy and Austrian economics. Follow him on Twitter: @erasestate.

The Ruinous Results of ‘Maximum Pressure’ Sanctions on Iran

The Ruinous Results of ‘Maximum Pressure’ Sanctions on Iran

Iran’s economy is imploding. And American hawks are celebrating it as an opportunity for Washington to turn the screws on the Iranian regime. To the hawks’ credit, they’re not wrong: sanctions have broken the Iranian economy. By one analysis, Iran’s inflation rate jumped 30% just this month. But is crushing the Iranian economy with sanctions a policy goal we should strive for?

Is American policy best promoted by limiting cancer drugs and delaying the delivery of coronavirus testing kits? American hawks seem unfazed by these effects, callously likening the sanctions to “tightening the noose.” But observers have noted sanctions’ effects in preventing the import of pharmaceutical drugs. It’s un-American—and inhuman—to “tighten the noose” by blockading an entire nation with a siege that prohibits the passage of medical supplies.

What is the metric of success of sanctions in the first place? To inflict damage on the Iranian economy, or to prompt a better deal than in 2015? This is the critical question. If the metric of success is to produce wanton poverty and despair during a pandemic, then Mike Pompeo’s “maximum pressure” campaign has been a resounding success. If, however, the goal is to prevent Iran from enriching uranium for a nuclear weapon, then maximum pressure has been a resounding failure.

Economic sanctions typically don’t work in the first place. Iran in particular seems particularly resistant to these measures. Iran’s first Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, when confronted with rapidly increasing food prices, famously said the revolution was not done for the sake of watermelon. Likewise the current Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has ruled out any negotiation with the United States. Two years of maximum pressure and the economic squeeze of a pandemic has not brought Iran to the negotiating table.

With the prospect of negotiation out, the sole motivators for continuing sanctions are malice or regime collapse. But the internal collapse of a country leads to humanitarian catastrophes and massive refugee outflows, as seen in Syria and Venezuela. Does the president who opposed the “forever wars” and is working to limit the inflow of refugees want to increase the instability of the Middle East?

We can examine the record to see how maximum pressure has fared so far. In May 2018, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the agency tasked with monitoring Iranian nuclear enrichment, found that Iran was not pursuing any uranium enrichment beyond the levels agreed to in 2015. Fast forward to June 2020, after the U.S. left the Iran deal, and the IAEA has confirmed that Iran has begun enriching uranium past those levels. Mike Pompeo and his Washington allies are responsible for that. Despite Trump’s pledge to negotiate a better deal, so far none has materialized. And Iranians with no connection to the Iranian government have suffered for it.

Moreover, Iranians, much like Americans, tend to rally around the flag. A 2018 poll by the University of Maryland found that only 1.4% of Iranians supported further nuclear concessions if President Trump pulled out of the Iran deal. Hawks don’t seem to acknowledge that Iranians are not imminently threatening to revolt and overthrow the current regime. In fact, as a result of current U.S. actions, the hardliners in Iran are winning. Maximum pressure has only emboldened the very elements we fear. Abandoning this failed strategy isn’t only the moral decision during a pandemic; it’s the prudent thing to do if we want to prevent Iranian aggressiveness.

Make no mistake, this is not an apology for the Iranian government; it’s an appeal to the decency of the American people, who are better than this. Even former Obama administration officials from Joe Biden to Chuck Hagel have advocated for these same pandemic relief measures. The reality is that the U.S. does not stand to gain anything from this strategy, and the world stands to lose much. Maximum pressure is the highway to minimal success. The sanctions were foolish before, and they’re cruel now.

Geoff LaMear is a recent graduate of the University of Chicago and a proponent of a restrained and principled American foreign policy. Email for correspondence: Geoff1769@gmail.com.

Can Lockdown Learning Liberate Male Students?

Can Lockdown Learning Liberate Male Students?

The COVID-19 cloud hanging over North American universities may contain a ray of sunlight. It may ease what is called “the boy problem” in education—a significantly reduced number of male students and of male achievement in colleges. As bleak as isolated learning may seem to some, it may be more male friendly than many campuses.

Critics denounce off-campus learning as a lesser service being offered at full price. Certainly, the college experience can be enhanced by direct interaction with professors, other students, and organizations. But a radical left ideology dominates the university system, and it is sustained by an army of administrators who implement policies of social control, from speech codes to sexual mores. This often leads to stifled opinions, preferential treatment of some classes of student, accusations of misconduct, speech police, campus hearings with no due process, and punishment with no appeal. There can be advantages to a stripped-down version of learning without the social justice and social control that turns the benefits of interaction into cruel dangers.

An October 2018 article in the New York Times, “Think Professors Are Liberal? Try School Administrators,” complained,

The ideological bent of those overseeing collegiate life is having the biggest impact on campus culture…I received a disconcerting email this year from a senior staff member in the Office of Diversity and Campus Engagement at Sarah Lawrence College, where I teach. The email was soliciting ideas…for a conference, open to all of us, titled “Our Liberation Summit.” The conference would touch on such progressive topics as liberation spaces on campus, Black Lives Matter and justice for women as well as for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual and allied people.

The conservative professor objected to the political polarization of this campus conference and the power of the administrator. Those who reject any tax-funded conference can sympathize, not because of the politics involved but because of the taxes. The fact that “those overseeing collegiate life” push their own orthodoxy is insult added to injury.

The silver lining of at-home learning: students who attend class in pajamas have little occasion to encounter social justice warrior (SJW) bureaucrats. In on-campus life, they seem to be everywhere.

In 2017, Todd J. Zywicki and Christopher Koopman of George Mason University published a study entitled “The Changing of the Guard: The Political Economy of Administrative Bloat in American Higher Education.” They found,

Universities have increased spending, but very little of that increased spending has been related to classroom instruction; rather, it is being directed toward non-classroom costs. As a result, there has been a growth in academic bureaucracies, as universities focus on hiring employees to manage or administer people, programs, and regulations. Between 2001 and 2011, these sorts of hires have increased 50% faster than the number of classroom instructors. This trend…has become ubiquitous in…American higher education. (p.2). [Data draws on WSJ article “Deans List: Hiring Spree Fattens College Bureaucracy—And Tuition.”]

Focusing on a narrow field of administrators offers a glimpse of the harm these bureaucrats inflict. Consider the impact of one branch on one student population: Title IX on male students, who have been called “the new minority” at colleges. This is particularly true of males from low-income families.

Jim Shelley, the manager of the Men’s Resource Center at Lakeland Community College in Ohio, explains one reason why; campuses feel hostile to them. They feel that college is geared toward protecting and promoting females.

“Not only are there not programs like ours [on other campuses] that are supportive of male students, but at most college campuses the attitude is that men are the problem.…I’ve had male students tell me that their first week in college they were made to feel like potential rapists.”

A great deal of attention in the last decade has been directed to “the boy problem” in education. A few examples include:

Logically, administrators seem to be ideally placed to ensure that campuses are welcoming to and not hostile environments for males. In reality, they do the opposite. Just one example are sex specific scholarships that overwhelmingly favor female applicants—often prohibiting male ones—even though Title IX’s implementing regulation, 34 CFR 106, prohibits federally tax-supported scholarships that, “On the basis of sex, provide different amounts or types of such assistance, limit eligibility for such assistance which is of any particular type or source, apply different criteria, or otherwise discriminate.”

A broader overview reveals how badly administrators may be failing or actively harming male students. The overview involves taking universities at their word and examining the makeup of staff, such as Title IX administrators. A popular campus idea is that only another member of a specific gender or race understands the experience of that gender or race; only blacks understand the black experience, etc.

This argument is used to push for a so-called diversity of hiring that gives female students access to female counselors and mentors, for example. Again, this approach leads to preferential hiring based on gender or race—that is, quotas—which are anathema to any system of merit. Nevertheless, socially engineered quotas are normal at universities. If applied even handedly, this should result in a population of administrators that roughly mirrors the population of students. This seems especially important for Title IX administrators who are supposed to ensure non-discrimination based on sex.

What is the gender mix of the student populations? It varies from campus to campus, of course, but an October 2019 article entitled The Degrees of Separation Between the Genders in College in the Washington Post renders a fair sense of it. The article states, “Fifty years ago, 58 percent of U.S. college students were men. Today, 56 percent are women, Education Department estimates show.” This is a commonly cited statistic.

CaptureOne would expect Title IX administrators, therefore, to be half-female and half-male, or something roughly close to this ratio. A review of the websites of the largest public university in each state, however, reveals a huge gender gap in Title iX staff. In the 51 universities, there were 168 female staffers to 48 male, or 3.5 times more females.

If this gap resulted from free market factors, then it would be an interesting and harmless anomaly that probably reflects how employment preferences differ between the genders. No solution would be required because no problem would exist. But universities are socially engineered institutions. They receive Title IX funding and other federal benefits on the specific condition of non-discrimination. If blacks constituted 44 percent of a student body while 3.5 times more whites than blacks occupied highly paid positions of authority, there would be a cry of “racism!” No one cries out for male students.

Administrators will not give up their positions easily, simply because they are highly paid and bring status. According to the 2012-13 “Administrators in Higher Education Salary Survey” by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, the average annual salary of a “Chief Executive Officer of a System” in a two-year institution was $291,132; in a four-year institution, $370,470; in a doctoral context, $431,575. By contrast, a 2015-16 report from the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) found the average salary of a tenured professor at a public college was $78,762. Again, this is not a hard comparison, but it renders a good general sense of the scope of the problem and why the administrators will not easily cede their authority.

Ultimately, the solution is to privatize colleges and run them as businesses in which owners make decisions, usually according to market feedback. In the absence of this and the presence of tax-funding, however, it is blatantly wrong to privilege one class of human being and discriminate against another class in employment and opportunity. It is especially hypocritical to do so within a program that allegedly champions non-discrimination.

If the lockdown of universities loosens the death grip that anti-male administrators have on college campuses, then at least one benefit will come from it. If SJW social justice bureaucrats are shown to be irrelevant, perhaps cash-strapped universities will consider a return to academia and cease to be petri dishes of social experimentation.

Imagining a Memorial for the Veterans of the Global War on Terror

Imagining a Memorial for the Veterans of the Global War on Terror

Memorials are intrinsically meant to be a community fixture. There is a reason they are placed in the public square, made the focal points of parks and included alongside bustling streets instead of being kept away for private eyes or individual observance. Memorials are a collective means of commemorating and honoring past events, leaders, and sacrifices.

This utility of unity has been contradicted in the past decade as monuments from the previous century have aroused a maelstrom of controversy and sometimes vandalism. The primary examples are monuments to the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus and memorials to Confederate soldiers and leaders, although recent months have seen street action against statues of the American founding fathers.

This necessitates taking a perspective on new and yet to be constructed memorials: how will images and symbols chosen today be interpreted in fifty years, or even a century? Is it the responsibility of those of us in the present to select the most non-offensive, universal designs? Or rather should we construct concepts that strike particular (and accurate) emotions, the sensibilities of some hypothetical future be damned?

Perhaps the best example of public attitudes changing about a memorial is for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall. Officially established in 1982, more than a thousand proposals were submitted by design firms, sculptors, and architects. Judging blindly, a committee selected a winner, whose identity would contribute to the acrimonious reception.

“The designer was a young, Yale architectural student named Maya Lin who was Asian, and a woman, and young. There were certainly these people who didn’t respond well to just these cues,” explained Professor Christopher Hamner of George Mason University, who specializes in war and American society.

The memorial, a long black wall inscribed with the names of American dead, was an expressive break from traditional memorials which carry more positive connotations. “There was a very vocal group of Vietnam veterans who were opposed to it on that basis,” said Hamner. “That it, rather than celebrating the courage and sacrifice of people who bravely went forth at their country’s behest and almost 60,000 of them didn’t come home, it prompted this invitation to think deeply about what the war meant to the country.”

“One of the spokesmen of the Vietnam veterans in opposition wrote a famous editorial where he referred to the proposal as ‘a black gash of shame.’ It became a kind of famous way to describe the memorial among those who thought that it sent exactly the wrong messages,” he said.

But from this contentious opening, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial has become one of the most cherished sites in Washington D.C. Veterans, and the families of veterans, have formed an almost mystic connection to the wall; it has become an interactive, with people regularly leaving flowers, or six-packs, or personal mementos near their loved one’s name. Its initial boldness has created a significance that separates it from other memorials on the National Mall.

Despite this reversal of fortunes, the designers of the World War II memorial in the early 2000s were very conscious to avoid being embroiled in the same quarrels of their predecessors. It’s a grand, very traditional memorial that latches onto the mythos of “the Greatest Generation” fighting “the Good War.” Its use of foundations and columns are purposefully meant to deflect criticism by not asking its audience to think hard about World War II.

In a recent article at The American Conservative, I spoke to relevant voices about the efforts to create a memorial for the veterans of the Global War on Terror on the National Mall. In these conversations, inevitably the question of what such a memorial would look like was asked. And one particular likeness evoked incredibly thoughtful responses: the battlefield cross.

A battlefield cross is a symbolic marker erected by soldiers to honor a brother-in-arms who has been killed. Although earlier examples date to the nineteenth century, the practice became more common in the Korean War and after, and through heavy use in media has become primarily associated with the War on Terror. In the modern conception, a battlefield cross is a pair of boots, a rifle with its barrel jammed into the ground, with sometimes a pair of the fallen soldier’s dog tags hanging around the stock of the rifle, and a helmet placed on top.

“[I]t’s…just iconic. That was a picture in 2003, in 2004, in 2005 that was everywhere. It was hundreds of these, this was the tribute people would pay,” recalled Hamner. “And it made for a great shot; if you picked up Time magazine or the Wall Street Journal you were likely to see something like that.”

Examples of memorials utilizing the battlefield cross, typically constructed at the county level, can be located throughout the U.S. “That seems to be what we’ve seen pop up throughout the country in regards to Global War on Terrorism memorials that have been built locally,” said Marina Jackman, Director of Operations at the Global War on Terror Memorial Foundation. The foundation has been designated by Congress as the organization to coordinate and fundraise the construction of the memorial on the Mall.

“Obviously those [battlefield crosses] have a lot of meaning due to the dog tags, obviously we’ve seen that image everywhere,” continued Jackman. “I don’t really know how to incorporate that into the design at this point, but obviously the feelings that those portray and reflect are pretty significant and a good depiction of this war for sure.” The foundation is still a minimum of two years away from considering design proposals.

Major Danny Sjursen, who served tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan before becoming a vociferous pen in the antiwar movement, believes that the battlefield cross carries an alternative message. “I’ve often looked at that over the years as almost a mercenary memorial,” he said.

As a former soldier who participated in erecting battlefield crosses, Sjursen finds the image both “appealing” and “appropriate,” but emphasizes that it robs the public consciousness of the bigger picture. “[It] is completely depoliticized, decontextualized. It doesn’t matter where they died, what they fought for. It’s all about the brotherhood,” he explained.

“In some ways that’s also the quintessential story of the War on Terror, where you have a professional, non-draftee army—really the first volunteer force to fight this kind of extended war—that’s become more and more like a Praetorian Guard. Loyalty to unit and regiment, almost like the British Army, has become more important than any notion of victory or what the hell we’re doing,” Sjursen said, pointing out that a battlefield cross doesn’t even include the American flag, or a representation of whatever cause the soldiers are meant to have died for.

“Most soldiers at this point aren’t even talking about victory anymore, they’re not talking about the cause anymore. It’s just become a job. A very dangerous job,” Sjursen added. “And there’s something there that’s disturbing about the volunteer force and the total ditching of the citizen soldier.”

While Sjursen supports the memorial, former Sgt. Dan McKnight is adamant that no construction take place until the official conclusion of the wars in the Middle East. McKnight served for ten years in the Idaho National Guard, including an eighteen-month deployment to Afghanistan, and is the founder of the veterans organization Bring Our Troops Home. He also has strong opinions about the battlefield cross.

“That image itself is such an internal, emotional image for the men who have served,” McKnight said. “[It brings] up a sense of reverence and respect for the sacrifice that was made.”

“If that’s what [had been] done if the war would have ended in a timely manner, with proper oversight, proper supervision, and proper strategy from our military leaders, I think that type of memorial would have been very tactful and powerful,” McKnight commented. “But now that we’ve gone into a multi-generational war, I think a more powerful image would be something of multi-generational imagery. A son, a father, a daughter, a mother fighting the same war would be more applicable, more appropriate because we have people now fighting a war that started before they were born.”

This imagery is reminiscent of a new bronze relief that is scheduled to debut in Washington DC’s Pershing Park in 2024. Titled “The Weight of Sacrifice,” it will be a visual representation of the hero’s journey narrative: we see a soldier saying goodbye to his family before marching to war, encountering both the fighting and damage incumbent in conflict, and returning home, presumably changed. If a memorial can show the passage of time in the life on one soldier, then it could do the same for generations of soldiers, as McKnight suggests.

Whatever form an eventual Global War on Terror veteran’s memorial takes, it will carry a message, either subtle or explicit. Taking a page from the successful memorials of the past, the message ought to be indelibly human, bonding an otherwise disparate public. If it can do that, it’ll be conscious of its own legacy in the American mind.

Hunter DeRensis is Assistant Editor at the Libertarian Institute. You can follow him on Twitter @HunterDeRensis.

2020 Has Killed the State’s Claim to Legitimacy

2020 Has Killed the State’s Claim to Legitimacy

The American political system may be on the eve of its worst legitimacy crisis since the Civil War. Early warning signals indicate that many states could suffer catastrophic failures in counting votes in November. The election will occur amidst the vast economic devastation inflicted by a political class that responded to COVID by seizing almost unlimited power. And Deep State federal agencies have already proven that they will trample the law to sabotage election results.

America could soon see a hundred-times worse replay of the Florida presidential balloting 20 years ago in the Bush-Gore showdown. Some Florida counties had antiquated voting equipment while others had harebrained ballot designs that confounded voters. The Florida Supreme Court ordered a manual recount of disputed votes but the Supreme Court, in a 5-to-4 decision, stopped the recount because it could result in “a cloud upon what [George W. Bush] claims to be the legitimacy of his election,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote. Two days, the same Supreme Court majority blocked any subsequent recounting because it was “not well calculated to sustain the confidence that all citizens must have in the outcome of elections.” Unfortunately, “legitimacy via blocked recounts” may also be the epithet for the 2020 presidential election.

Because of the pandemic, many states are switching primarily to mail-in voting even though experiences with recent primaries were a disaster. In New York City, officials are still struggling to count mail-in ballots from the June primary. Up to 20% of ballots “were declared invalid before even being opened, based on mistakes with their exterior envelopes,” the Washington Post noted, thanks largely to missing postmarks or signatures. In Wisconsin, more than 20,000 “primary ballots were thrown out because voters missed at least one line on the form, rendering them invalid.”

Some states are mailing ballots to all the names on the voting lists, providing thousands of dead people the chance to vote from the grave. President Trump claims that the shift to mail-in voting could result in “the most corrupt vote in our nation’s history.” Trump is often wrong on issues but even a New York Daily News article tagged the recent primary results a “dumpster fire.” Delayed election results and potentially millions of disputed ballots could minimize support for whoever is designated the next president.

Elections supposedly choose which candidates are selected to follow the law and uphold the Constitution, but COVID shutdown dictates vividly how political power is now practically unlimited. Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer prohibited “all public and private gatherings of any size” (prohibiting people from visiting friends) and also prohibited purchasing seeds for spring planting in stores after she decreed that a “nonessential” activity. Oregon Governor Kate Brown banned the state’s four million residents from leaving their homes except for essential work, buying food, and other narrow exemptions, and also banned all recreational travel – even though much of her state had almost zero COVID cases.

In the name of reducing risks, politicians entitled themselves to destroy tens of millions of jobs. Permitting governors to shut down churches was not on the ballot but that didn’t stop many states from banning worship services at the same time politicians cheered mass protests that scorned “stay-at-home” orders.

The media has often whitewashed the damage from COVID power grabs in part because every restriction was supposedly justified by “science.” After New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo dictated that nursing homes must admit COVID patients, more than 6,000 elderly nursing home residents were killed by the coronavirus. Cuomo has yet to reveal which “science” textbook spawned this policy (which several other states also imposed). Were those state governments grossly incompetent or were they murderous? It doesn’t matter because Trump made rude comments about N.I.H. honcho and media darling Anthony Fauci. What’s the point of voting for politicians who merely need to invoke dubious statistical extrapolations to sow death and economic devastation?

Finally, does the presidential election even matter? Deep State federal agencies are a Godzilla that have established their prerogative to undermine if not overturn election results. The FBI has achieved saint-like status among many liberals for its efforts to topple Trump. For almost three years, the nation’s political life was roiled by an investigation driven by false allegations that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia in the 2016 election. As George Washington University professor Jonathan Turley observed last week, the media continues to ignore “one of the biggest stories in decades. The Obama administration targeted the campaign of the opposing party based on false evidence.” Obama officials who exploited the CIA and other intelligence agencies to illicitly target Trump campaign officials have laughed all the way to million-dollar book advances.

During the Trump impeachment effort, the establishment media openly cheered the Deep State. New York Times columnist James Stewart assured readers that the secretive agencies “work for the American people,” New York Times editorial writer Michelle Cottle hailed the Deep State as “a collection of patriotic public servants,” and Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson captured the Beltway’s verdict: “God bless the Deep State!” The media has almost completely abandoned its watchdog role, and its veneration will make it easier for the FBI, CIA, and National Security Agency to ravage not just elections but also Americans’ rights and liberties in the coming years.

Even before the voting starts, surveys show that for the first time “a majority of Americans (55 percent) are dissatisfied with their system of government,” the Atlantic reported. The percentage of Americans who “expressed trust in government in Washington” has fallen from 73% in 1958 to only 17% now, according to the Pew Research Center. But those numbers could quickly become far more ominous for our political ruling class.

What happens if Trump continues to repel many if not most potential voters, and then Biden comes across in the presidential debates as clueless and doddering as did Special Counsel Robert Mueller in a congressional hearing last July? How many Americans will feel forced to choose between a scoundrel and an idiot?

Many pundits and professors presume that a Biden victory in November will magically re-legitimize the American political system. But almost all the problems of recent years will continue or intensify. The Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration, both of which horribly botched the nation’s response to COVID, will continue bollixing public health crises. U.S. foreign policy will continue to be reckless and self-defeating, with American pretensions to global hegemony becoming ever more ludicrous. Deficit spending will continue to spin out of control, spiraling closer to the day when the Federal Reserve’s sorcery fails to entrance financial markets. Unfortunately, both Democrats and Republicans appear willing to bankrupt the nation to perpetuate their own power.

Federal legitimacy hinges on the Constitution, but there is not a snowball’s chance in hell that either Trump or Biden will “make America constitutional again.” As Thomas Jefferson declared in 1786, “An elective despotism was not the government we fought for.” What’s the point of voting if “government under the law” is not a choice on Election Day? American political legitimacy will continue plummeting as long as politicians scorn any legal and constitutional limits on their power.

What Libertarians Must Learn from Duverger’s Law

What Libertarians Must Learn from Duverger’s Law

A recent episode of Michael Malice’s “Your Welcome,” featuring guest Dave Smith, lamented Libertarian Party politics. Malice notably despises the party and made a great point that it is easier for libertarians to get elected and make some noise from within either the Democratic or Republican Parties than to change much through a third party—namely, the Libertarians.

One reason for this unfortunate circumstance of American politics is Duverger’s Law. In the 1950s, sociologist Maurice Duverger noticed that electoral systems with plurality, single-member district (SMD) voting tended to have two dominant parties. As we know from our civics lessons, the 435 members of the House come from such districts. The Senate is similar, with one Senator being chosen at a time, even though there are two per district (state).

The one politician elected in any one district needs to get a plurality of the votes. The second, third, or fourth party in the contest receives zero seats. Accordingly, a party that finishes third consistently and uniformly across the board will find itself with zero influence in the legislative process. Consider the thought experiment where there are three parties in the U.S. Let’s say the Libertarian Party garnered 20 percent support from across the country, while the Democrats and Republicans split the vote 40/40. Even though the LP might have huge support evenly across the country, the LP would win precisely zero seats if that same proportion existed in each district. In reality, there are geographic pockets of support for Democrats, Republicans, and Libertarians. But you get the picture.

Third parties are disadvantaged in a system like ours because voters do not want to feel like they are throwing their votes away for a party that they know will lose, and it is difficult to garner a plurality of support in any one district to elect one representative to try to make a splash in the legislature. Even in SMD systems where strong third parties do take hold—like with the Liberal Democrats in the UK—their influence is far less than their actual support across the country. It would be better for third-party support to be concentrated in one region of the country rather than spread thinly and evenly.

Contrast this process with a proportional representation system (PR), where the number of seats given to a party is proportional to the number of votes cast for that party. In our example above, the Democrats and Republicans would each be awarded 40 percent of the seats, and the Libertarians would be awarded 20 percent of the seats. Under PR systems, Duverger noticed, multiparty legislative bodies tend to emerge.

This law can explain a lot about American history. With a few exceptions, American politics has been characterized by two dominant parties. These parties have changed forms, but the Republican/Democrat split has been fully entrenched—or institutionally sticky—for a century and a half.

I am writing this piece because it seems like a lot of LP optimists are decreasingly so and without a reason for their misery.  Lest the LP completely overtake the Republican Party or the electoral system is completely overhauled to a more PR system (Germany has a mixed PR/SMD system in the Bundestag), there is little hope in any significant electoral progress. Granted, there is a burgeoning movement that seeks to use the LP as a public relations instrument for the liberty movement. These words do not speak to that wing, but we should know that the electoral system itself places all third parties at a disadvantage from the get-go, despite the noble efforts of getting ballot and debate-stage access.

Scott Duryea is Associate Professor of Security and Global Studies at American Public University.  He can be reached at sduryea@protonmail.com. He also hosts the Freemix podcast.

A Strategy for Forcing the State Back

A Strategy for Forcing the State Back

As libertarians, we like to discuss two things: what could be and what is wrong with society today. Some of us are intrigued by the promises of a free society, no matter if we advocate the total abolishment of the State or wish to radically cut back on its powers. It kind of sets your mind free to dream of all the things that could be weren’t it for the welfare-warfare State.

Some libertarians feel the adrenaline flowing when talking about the injustice caused people by the State: about immigrants being forced back to torture because they are not the “legal” kind; about poor people kept out of the labor market by minimum wage laws; about small business owners forced into bankruptcy because of totally unnecessary regulations and restrictions; about average Joes being forced off their property for the “common good”; about people literally being taxed to death.

Yet others can’t help themselves discussing either of the two.

But there are few of us who wish to discuss the strategy. We are usually stuck in the “is” or “ought” — but wish to avoid the “do.” It is rather obvious that we need a good strategy to get to there from here, i.e. to “ought” from “is.” Some of us get involved in political activism in established parties or a libertarian such. But whatever we are doing doesn’t seem to work, does it? The Libertarian Party doesn’t even get one percent of the votes in Presidential elections and the libertarians involved in the Republican or Democrat parties obviously cannot change the set course of their parties.

To me, it seems politics isn’t the right way. Actually, most of the things we’re doing don’t seem right — they aren’t very efficient; they are at least not efficient enough. Even though the numerous libertarian clubs, societies, institutes, and organizations around the world are very professional and seem very successful, they aren’t successful enough. Yes, the Soviet Union is gone, but that’s not really thanks to us. And in our own countries in Europe and North America we’re not really heading in the right direction.

So what can we do? I believe we need to practice what we preach — we cannot be “verbal libertarians” and expect people to trust we’re right. We need to show people it is the right way; we need to show them that it is possible to break free and do it without much danger to self and family. I’ve discussed this elsewhere (e.g. here, here, and here) rather vaguely and theoretically, but there is great guidance from great writings by great men. The problem is, it seems most people don’t know these treasures even though they are written by libertarians for libertarians. (I’m sorry I didn’t find these great texts much, much sooner.)

What I’m proposing is a mix of two somewhat known recipes that are really liberating in two distinctly different ways. The first recipe provides instructions for how to break free vertically through building a decentralized infrastructure for free communities avoiding the State and its centralized “solutions” altogether. The other recipe advocates breaking free horizontally through making use of one’s personal network of friends and colleagues, and doing business out of the State’s reach. One might also call these recipes or strategies the introvert and extrovert solutions to our methodological problem.

The basis for both theories is the understanding of life at a micro level rather than seeing the world only from above. It is not necessary to focus on the federal government and how to force it back. You cannot win taking the State on mano a mano so why even bother? But it is quite possible to break free small-scale and doing it for yourself. I have no idea why libertarians seem to wish to liberate “the whole nation,” instead of doing what’s best for yourself and your kin first. It isn’t very individualistic and libertarian to think of the collective population first, with the sole result being you are yourself left in chains. (I usually refer to this as the “Savior Complex” or “Messiah Complex,” the strange conviction that one has to liberate all of mankind in order to liberate oneself.

The Vertical or Introvert Strategy

As has already been briefly stated, this strategy consists of falling out of the large structures of the State in order to at a much smaller scale build infrastructures and technology to support one’s community. I’m calling this the vertical strategy since it literally means stepping away from the centralized mode of the State in order to supply for one’s life and well-being in a decentralized, local manner. It is in the same sense introvert in that it says we should be looking at what is and not what is not, i.e. to use the resources available rather than pursuing the unattainable.

What this means in real terms is to create local or neighborhood networks for self-reliance, where people in the vicinity get together to find ways to produce whatever is necessary for survival and a good life. It means creating local production facilities and markets with no effective State regulations and without the State’s knowledge.

Karl Hess discusses the enormous possibilities of this approach in his excellent but small book Community Technology. In the book, Hess discusses his own experience in creating local networks for creating free and independent neighborhoods through replacing State “services” with community technology and voluntarily partaking in neighborhood activities and projects producing vegetables on rooftops and breeding fish in basements.

Hess’s experience is that one can provide for a whole neighborhood’s demand for vegetables through setting up greenhouses on a fraction of the available rooftops. Also, through using the pumps from old washing machines and left-over construction materials, the people in this neighborhood community were able to set up a fish-breeding facility producing hundreds of pounds of fish annually.

This might not sound like your cup of tea, but these are just two examples of the enormous possibilities of getting together to provide solutions for the community. This specific Hessian project was carried out in Washington D.C., which shows it is possible to create a somewhat sovereign and independent community even in very urban areas. A neighborhood not dependent on the State for supplies is a neighborhood not easily subdued. Also, such a community is not as easily punished by the government if its independence is discovered and the threat considered real. A community does not suffer from government refusing to supply its services if it isn’t first wholly dependent on such services.

The point I’m trying to make here is not that we should all go rural, live like cavemen, and grow our own vegetables. I’m saying we should stop thinking in terms of centralization and large-scale production. Hess stresses the fact that most, if not all important technology is equally or better suited for small-scale use on a family or community level. We do not need to rely on global corporations or the nation-state to get our hands on what we treasure in life. Community Technology shows just that.

The Horizontal or Extrovert Strategy

The other strategy simply means taking part in and actively creating networks and structures for black markets. I call this the horizontal strategy because it is simply the free market in action — individuals trading voluntarily with each other. It is also an extrovert strategy in that it does not necessarily focus on the neighborhood or community, but can easily be stretched throughout a city or state and work in parallel with the coercive structures of the State.

What it basically proposes is to trade with people you know and people who are recommended to you. This can all be done at whatever scale one finds appropriate, using available technology such as the Internet and e.g. E-bay for communication and money transactions. A first step could be to hire the children next-door to mow the lawn or baby-sit. It does not have to be very sophisticated at first.

This approach should come naturally to libertarians, since it simply means exercising trade without bothering with State regulations or paying taxes. Most people are willing to exchange goods and services without registering the sales tax, which is a good start. Some of them will also find it in their interest to do this on a larger scale, producing and distributing goods and services without ever paying taxes or following unnecessary government regulations and controls. And most people don’t really care about government standards if they trust their supplier.

There are probably a few libertarians in every town who are interested in starting a private network for free trade. This network can grow and find other networks to trade with and thus cover a multitude of goods and services and large areas and perhaps whole continents. The beauty of it is that it all comes naturally, it is intuitive for people to exchange favors, goods, and services without first asking the State’s permission.

This strategy was originally proposed by agorist Samuel Edward Konkin III, author of The New Libertarian Manifesto (online here), in which he elaborates the strategy of counter-economics. Konkin’s strategy supposedly starts locally and evolves into regional, state, and national inter-networks of free trade. When big enough, which isn’t necessarily very big at all, a demand is created in these networks of free traders for protection and contract enforcement services. Thus, eventually this strategy would, through the spontaneous and voluntary mechanisms of the market provide services competing with the State’s “core” functions and services. This undermines the power of the State and could easily replace it.

It is easy to see the beauty and power of Konkin’s idea of counter-economics as a means for revolutionary change, especially because of its simplicity and its intuitiveness for libertarians. It puts the libertarian principles into practice through individual action and while doing so it undermines the powers of the State.

Combining the Two

Even though Konkin’s idea is simple, powerful and principally superior to the alternatives, it is not necessarily applicable to everybody and always. For some people it would perhaps be advantageous to not take active part in trading in the so-called counter-economy (i.e. all human action not sanctioned by State), perhaps because they have certain personal convictions or to a too great degree rely on products dependent on State services. In this case, it would beneficial to begin with community technology.

Even though Konkin’s concept encompasses such actions and local networks for self-reliance, it does not stress their importance. While the community technology approach is applicable to a certain area in which people live and work, counter-economic action is not necessarily geographically bound; and while a strong local community does not need to trade with the “outer” world, there is no assurance that the practice of counter-economics would identify the advantages of providing important services locally.

Counter-economic networks would grow much stronger if combined with the insight of Karl Hess that people are able to and benefit from taking over the production of essential goods and services locally. Imagine the web of counter-economic actors combined with sovereign communities with production of foodstuffs and technology exceeding their internal demand. That combined counter-State movement for personal benefit and profit would provide a powerful adversary to the State.

It would also benefit from the great advantages of libertarian, non-hierarchical organization (i.e. the horizontal web through market transactions). States function only as centralized structures of power and rule and cannot fight an enemy as diverse and individually motivated as such a counter-economic movement based partly on community technology and sovereignty.

What this combined strategy all boils down to is a decentralized, voluntary, spontaneous, and for-profit web of actors doing what they perceive as beneficial and thereby replacing most or all of the State’s functions. It provides also a solution to the problem of discussing only what’s wrong and what should be — through doing right where the State does wrong. It means action where it is most important and where it is most beneficial.

It does not really matter if we as libertarians advocate the total abolishment of the State or to radically cut back on its powers; the solution seems the same. We are all pretty sure individually of what we want to do and how things should work out were it not for the State, and we are sure what is wrong with the world of today: State coercion.

The only problem we’re having is how to get there and how to get along with whatever we end up with. The solution actually solves both issues through providing a base for personal profit and creating whatever solution you want — while undermining State power. So what are we waiting for? Just do it.

Video: Cops Kill Six Year Old While Attempting To Shoot Unarmed Woman

Video: Cops Kill Six Year Old While Attempting To Shoot Unarmed Woman

In December 2017, the Free Thought Project reported on the tragic death of 6-year-old Kameron Prescott whose life was stolen from him when police opened fire on an unarmed woman suspected of stealing a car. In June of 2018, the family of the little boy who was gunned down by police found out that the cops who killed their son all went back to work. Then, in March of last year, the family found out that none of the officers responsible for the death of her son would face charges. After the system refused to hold itself accountable, the family filed a lawsuit against Bexar County [Texas] and have been getting the run-around ever since.

This month, the family announced in a letter that it is now calling on Bexar County to settle the lawsuit. According to KENS5, in a 16-page letter sent to county commissioners, attorneys for Prescott’s father and mother, Christopher and Rubi Prescott, laid out what they had discovered since filing suit against the county, writing that while they are “confident in our case,” the Prescott family is “willing to accept, at this time, a fraction of what a jury would likely award as damages.”

The letter reveals new details of Prescott’s killing, including the release of a video which proves a DPS trooper informed the officer that the woman police were shooting at, had no weapons. Also, the letter states that police falsely claimed the suspect, Amanda Jones, was involved in a vehicle burglary which they claim prompted the chase. In reality, according to the letter, a bounty hunter had tipped off police that Jones was in the area.

“What we had was a case where a call from a bounty hunter led to a two-hour police chase of a non-violent suspect, and it resulted in that suspect fleeing and standing in front of a mobile home where there was a child’s bicycle on the porch and a car in the driveway and a 6-year-old boy playing inside that had nothing to do with this police chase,” said Tom Crosley, an attorney for Kameron Prescott’s father, Christopher Prescott. “And deputies in this case fired 20 rounds from assault rifles. And one of those rounds killed this innocent young child.”

In December 2017, the incident received widespread coverage as the mainstream media reported that Kameron was hit with a “stray bullet.” However, this bullet was anything but “stray.” The shot that killed young Kameron was deliberately fired at an unarmed woman. In fact, he was hit twice.

The officers’ guns did not accidentally go off. Deputies John Aguillon, George Herrera, Jesse Arias and Johnny Longoria all deliberately shot at an unarmed woman, and their fear, poor judgment, and carelessness led to the death of an innocent child.

Court documents state Jones walked into Christopher Prescott’s home and that he immediately told Jones to leave the house, to which she responded, “you have kids and I do not want trouble.”

When Jones turned around to leave the home, cops opened fire on the unarmed woman with AR-15s, dumping 20 rounds into the occupied home, killing Jones and little Kameron.

The newly released video shows a DPS helicopter informing the deputies below that Jones was unarmed, just before they opened fire on her.

Although Kameron didn’t live in the home in which he was gunned down by police, it was his father’s house and he was visiting him after getting out of school early on that fateful Thursday for Christmas break.

According to KENS5, Christopher Prescott told them the last words he heard his son utter were “ouch daddy, ouch.” After they killed his child, deputies, he said, placed him in handcuffs and hauled his son off to a hospital where he later died. The letter states the toy Kameron Prescott was toting prior to the gunfire was found near his blood, still blinking.

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Had a regular citizen opened fire on an unarmed woman and killed an innocent child in the process, rest assured that they would be sitting in a jail cell right this moment. However, because the people who killed this unarmed woman and child are police officers, there will be no #JusticeForKameron.

Naturally, the sheriff’s department claimed the officers acted appropriately—by opening fire on an unarmed woman—and killing her and a child in the process. Longoria swore under oath that he saw Jones’ pistol smoking—but there was no pistol. Police then claimed she was holding an object when she walked out of the trailer—which was never recovered.

Herrera was wearing a body camera during the shooting, but police claimed it wasn’t turned on.

In a disturbing move, the county has been acting behind the scenes to dismiss the Prescotts’ lawsuit, claiming they didn’t mean to do it.

“They’re taking the position that because they didn’t mean to shoot Kameron, they really meant to shoot this woman, and that because he was an innocent bystander, they shouldn’t be held responsible for causing his death,” Crosley said. “We think that’s a ridiculous position for the county to take.”

It is not only ridiculous but it speaks to the nature of the state which can kill with impunity and face no consequences.

“Why did it escalate to this?” the letter states “Why did a bounty-hunter-initiated event result in the death of a child in an entirely different neighborhood? Why did our deputies (who were the only people that actually had guns) end up firing twenty rounds at an unarmed person and an obviously-occupied mobile home—a structure that would provide no meaningful resistance to gunfire? Does the County really believe almost twenty rounds fired at an occupied home was ‘only the amount of deadly force necessary?’”

Matt Agorist is an honorably discharged veteran of the USMC and former intelligence operator directly tasked by the NSA. This prior experience gives him unique insight into the world of government corruption and the American police state. Agorist has been an independent journalist for over a decade and has been featured on mainstream networks around the world. Agorist is also the Editor-at-Large at the Free Thought Project. Follow @MattAgorist on TwitterSteemit, and now on Minds. This article was originally featured at The Free Thought Project and is republished with permission.

The Threat of a Digitized Currency

The Threat of a Digitized Currency

If some Congress members get their way, the Federal Reserve may soon be able to track many of your purchases in real time and share that information with government agencies. This is just one of the problems with the proposed “digital dollar” or “fedcoin.”

Fedcoin was initially included in the first coronavirus spending bill. While the proposal was dropped from the final version of the bill, there is still great interest in fedcoin on Capitol Hill. Some progressives have embraced fedcoin as a way to provide Americans with a “universal basic income.”

Both the Senate Banking Committee and the House Financial Services Committee held hearings on fedcoin in June. This is the first step toward making fedcoin a reality.

Fedcoin would not be an actual coin. Instead, it would be a special account created and maintained for each American by the Federal Reserve. Each month, Fed employees could tap a few keys on a computer and—bingo—each American would have dollars added to his Federal Reserve account. This is the 21st century equivalent of throwing money from helicopters.

Fedcoin could effect private cryptocurrencies. Also, it would limit the ability of private citizens to protect themselves from the Federal Reserve-caused decline in the dollar’s value.

Fedcoin would not magically increase the number of available goods and services. What it would do is drive up prices. The damage this would do to middle- and lower-income Americans would dwarf any benefit they receive from their monthly “gift” from the Fed. The rise in prices could lead to Congress regularly increasing fedcoin payments to Americans. These increases would cause prices to keep rising even more until we face hyperinflation and a dollar crisis. Of course, we are already on the path to an economic crisis thanks to the Fed. Fedcoin will hasten and worsen the crisis.

Fedcoin poses a great threat to privacy. The Federal Reserve could know when fedcoin is used, who is using it, and what they use it for. This information could be shared with government agencies, such as the FBI or IRS.

The government could use the ability to know how Americans are spending fedcoin to limit our ability to purchase goods and services disfavored by politicians and bureaucrats. Anyone who doubts this should recall the Obama administration’s Operation Choke Point. Operation Choke Point involved financial regulators “alerting” banks that dealing with certain businesses, such as gun stores, would put the banks at “reputational risk” and could subject them to greater regulation.

Is it so hard to believe that the ability to track purchases would be used in the future to “discourage” individuals from buying guns, fatty foods, or tobacco, or from being customers of corporations whose CEOs are not considered “woke” by the thought police? Fedcoin could also be used to “encourage” individuals to patronize “green” business, thus fulfilling Fed Chair Jerome Powell’s goal of involving the Fed in the fight against climate change.

Fedcoin could threaten private cryptocurrencies, increase inflation, and give government new powers over our financial transactions. Fedcoin will also speed up destruction of the fiat money system. Whatever gain fedcoin may bring to average Americans will come at terrible cost to liberty and prosperity.

This article was originally featured at the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity and is republished with permission.

America’s Hobbesian Tyranny

America’s Hobbesian Tyranny

Almost 400 years ago, English philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote a book scoffing at tyrannophobia—the “fear of being strongly governed.” This was a peculiar term that Hobbes invented in Leviathan, since civilized nations had feared tyrants for almost 2000 years at that point. But over the past 150 years, Hobbes’ totalitarianism has been defined out of existence by apologists who believe that government needs vast, if not unlimited power. Hobbes’ revival is symptomatic of the collapse of intellectuals’ respect in individual freedom.

Writing in 1651, Hobbes labeled the State as Leviathan, “our mortal God.” Leviathan signifies a government whose power is unbounded, with a right to dictate almost anything and everything to the people under its sway. Hobbes declared that it was forever prohibited for subjects in “any way to speak evil of their sovereign” regardless of how badly power was abused. Hobbes proclaimed that “there can happen no breach of Covenant on the part of the Sovereign; and consequently none of his subjects, by any pretense of forfeiture, can be freed from his subjection.”

You can read the rest of this article at The American Conservative.

It Is Time to End Federal Executions

It Is Time to End Federal Executions

Last week the federal government executed three inmates. These marked the first federal executions in 17 years. The long lapse in executions may make this seem like a non-issue to some people but all executions are inherently wrong.

The Attorney General’s directive makes federal executions a new priority for the Department of Justice, which means there are likely more to come. Luckily, there’s a bill that has been introduced in the House of Representatives that can put an end to this practice at the federal level. In this article, I will highlight the moral, fiscal, and practical reasons to oppose capital punishment.

From a small-government stance, the death penalty is about as bad as it gets. There is no way the government can be more intrusive than to take someone’s life. By allowing the government to take someone’s life, we are giving it a form of ultimate power. Far too much power to give to the state. The government’s role in criminal justice should be to protect the populace, not to seek an eye for an eye. When a convicted criminal is in imprisoned, they are no longer a threat to the public. There is no additional value or an increased measure of safety by going even further and taking their life.

Not only is capital punishment a pointless gift of power to the state, but it also comes with the very real likelihood that someone innocent could be executed. A 2014 study estimated that at least 4% of people on death row are innocent. It is immoral to continue a practice that we know kills innocent people.

This argument is not to say that it is wrong to want some form of retribution or that murderers do not deserve punishment. The problem with seeking execution as a form of punishment is that allowing the government to decide who lives and who dies, outside of protecting someone from an immediate threat, can open up a Pandora’s box of government authority that can lead to a slippery slope of abuse.

We also must remember that the irreversible nature of capital punishment means we cannot get a life back if a wrongfully accused person is executed. A wrongfully convicted person’s right to life outweighs another person’s desire for retribution. Until we have a system that can guarantee that every convicted person is without a doubt guilty, the death penalty will not be a moral option.

One of the main arguments people make for supporting capital punishment is the fact that they don’t want to pay to feed and house convicted criminals for the rest of their natural lives. They believe that capital punishment is saving them money. This idea is wrong. It is far more expensive to put someone on death row than it is to sentence them to life in prison. The trials alone can cost hundreds of thousands more than a life sentence trial due to the increased man-hours for both prosecutors and public defenders. Then there is the cost of appeals and extra housing costs for death row inmates. A 2016 report by Susquehanna University found that on average a death penalty inmate costs $1.12 million more than a general population inmate. The fiscal argument in support of capital punishment falls flat on its face.

Not only is the death penalty immoral and expensive, but it is also inefficient as a deterrent. There is no evidence that the threat of execution deters violent crime. Evidence suggests that it has no effect on violent crime. A 2008 poll found that over 88% of criminologists do not believe the death penalty is a deterrent. Additionally, a 2010 report by Dartmouth University concluded that capital punishment does not lower homicide rates. If executions do nothing to reduce homicides, there is no real reason to continue them.

There is no moral, fiscal, or public safety argument for the death penalty. One cannot support concepts like limited government and fiscal responsibility while supporting capital punishment. Everyone that believes in these concepts should write to their representative and tell them to cosponsor H.R. 4052. An easy to use tool that helps you craft a letter can be found here.

Rob Faust holds a Bachelor of Science in criminal justice, served four years in the United States Air Force, and has worked as a defense contractor in the greater Washington D.C. area for eleven years. This experience and education motivate him to write about criminal justice and national defense policies.

A Lost Year – Where Do You Go From Here?

A Lost Year – Where Do You Go From Here?

The point of no return may have been reached. The effects of the government-mandated shutdowns due to Covid-19 on businesses—especially small businesses—may not be known for months, even decades, but anyone who is paying attention is beginning to realize we are somewhere new. A place no one could’ve predicted at the beginning of 2020 when onlookers were just anticipating an ugly election year. They got more, much more.  

Leaving aside an economy that is at best questionable: the culture, interactions amongst family members and strangers, have been negatively affected in an already insane age where one’s character is judged by whether they believe Donald Trump is “literally Hitler,” an amusing deviation, or the Messiah who has come to deliver us from the Left.” This cultural phenomenon was already in full swing before the war between the “masked” and “unmasked,” or those who believed CV-19 will “have people dying in hospital parking lots,” and those who look upon it as just a “spicy cold” started. 

As if all of this wasn’t enough, in May a video was released of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin with his knee forced onto the neck of a prone George Floyd who died during the 8 minute and 46 second assault. Protests, rioting and looting immediately sprung up in Minneapolis which spread all over the country and continue to the day this is being written. Calls for various sorts of police reform have largely gone ignored by those with the power of change. 

Some students of history may look at the past several months and see a government that is out of control. A few may see one that is at the top of their game, especially at the state and local level. Others might see a dying wild animal, losing power and lashing out; a sort of death throes. No matter how it is being interpreted by the onlooker, something big has to happen next. Solutions have to be presented.  

Shortages of certain items have already occurred but they are finding their way back onto shelves. But what if another lockdown is ordered? Production precedes demand and if production is further hindered, those shortages that were warned of could become a reality.  

It would not be unfair to ask if civility is dead. If people are willing to threaten each other’s livelihoods and, in many cases, yell at strangers in public for everything from politics to how to handle the CV-19 crisis, how does one cope? 

If there are dangerous, violent mobs in the streets, how is one to feel safe? If those mobs include the police, is there any reason to be optimistic about the future? 

Counter-Economics and Networking 

Samuel Edward Konkin III developed the idea of agorism. Many people now call themselves “Agorists” but agorism is something you do. The idea of counter-economics, doing business outside of the government approved market is nothing new. Sam was just the first to give it a name and develop it as a strategy. 

Sam’s vision was that if enough people can start to operate outside of the “white market,” interactions where taxes aren’t collected and delivered to the overlords, eventually the State could be starved, and subsequently toppled and replaced by a truly free market. As economist Per Bylund once put it, “agorism in action creates its own institutions and builds the institutions of a free society within the shell of the old. When people start offering services, they create markets and prices. When they have conflicts, they find means to arbitration and protection. That’s what’s so beautiful with counter-economics: by withdrawing your support (stop feeding the beast) and start acting economically in freedom, you bring about the market institutions we will need (and must rely on) when the state fails.” 

In the age of forced government lockdowns and potential shortages of bare necessities, the “black” and “gray” markets may become essential for survival. Constantly communicating with your local stores is a good idea. If a store owner feels like a shortage is coming, they may hold back supply for themselves so starting a relationship with them in which they may allow you to buy some of that supply for yourself is smart. For those who can access private farms the same kind of friendship would be prudent for in the experience of this author farmers are more apt to participate in such activities. 

Preparation is key and can in many cases save you in a time of hardship. 

Counter-Economics and Income 

At this point it is no longer just people who are “extremely-online” who are familiar with the putrid phrase “cancel culture.” A few short years (months?) ago it presented itself mostly in the online arena where someone who was making their living in the media or arts said or wrote something that a certain group found so offensive that they made it their goal to get that person fired and to make sure they were not re-hirable anywhere in their industry. A popular example is former Google engineer James Damore who wrote an internal memo where one of the things he suggested was ways tech could appeal to a more diverse demographic, especially women. More recently numerous employees of Cisco were fired for posting “All Lives Matter” on internal message boards. 

At a time when even private companies are bending the knee to the mob and destroying people’s livelihoods for having an opinion contrary to an incredibly small minority, it has never been more important to start a side-hustle outside of your day job. Quality 3D-printers can be had for under $300. There are free files all over the web that allow you to make wallets, statues and trinkets that can be sold on eBay, Poshmark, Etsy and other sites that will allow you to bring in tax-free income. People who live in apartments can grow potatoes in 55-gallon drums on their porch and sell them to friends or at the local farmer’s market. Again, untaxed income.  

Whatever you come up with just start doing it. Get moving. Protect yourself and your family in these extremely uncertain times. 

Counter-Economics and Safety 

Contrary to popular opinion the police are not there to protect you. If you are in the process of suffering a home invasion and the closest officer is five minutes away, that can be the longest five minutes of your life. Or it could be the end for you. The protests that have turned into riots and lootings clearly show the police are not only not willing to protect private citizens but, in many cases, they are abandoning their own precincts and allowing the mob to take them over.  

If you own firearms get training. In the experience of this author, most firearm instructors work counter-economically. Meaning, they will accept cash in exchange for their services. Many will even teach you how to buy a weapon privately and off the books (no taxes collected) if that is legal in your area. 3D-printers must be mentioned along with CNC machines as they will allow you to manufacture a quality weapon in the privacy of your own home. 

That there are still people out there who have experienced the last four months and are relying on the government for necessities, security and safety is a testament to how well the State has convinced us that they are mommy and daddy. The time for begging for scraps and calling for them to act is over. If we are to survive this chaotic epoch, it is incumbent upon the individual to act, that he or she takes matters into their own hands and becomes as independent from the system as they can. Many lives have already been lost or irreparably damaged due to either the action, or inaction of the State. Make a decision to cast them aside and live free. Death is on the table. 

To Annex or Not to Annex — Is the Question Moot?

To Annex or Not to Annex — Is the Question Moot?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who remains under a cloud of personal corruption, had more or less promised to annex some of the West Bank in July. He’s let his deadline slip, we’ve been told, because he doesn’t want to proceed while his buddy Trump is preoccupied with other matters. He must need the cover, which is interesting in itself. Meanwhile leading Jewish Democrats like Sen. Chuck Schumer are uneasy with annexation talk, perhaps because his party is no longer solidly in Israel’s corner.

So who can say when and if a formal annexation will occur? I prefer to ask: does it matter? If the state of Israel does nothing, the Palestinians of the West Bank will remain without rights, ruled under an apartheid regime either by Israel directly or by Israel’s subcontractor for security, the authoritarian Palestinian Authority.

As the indefatigable Norman Finkelstein often reminds us, Israel has already de facto annexed the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which is just a big open-air prison. Under international law, when a government occupies an adversary’s territory during a war, it is obliged to regard the occupation as strictly temporary. Keeping it and moving citizens into it are indisputably illegal acts. The law makes no distinction between offensive and defensive wars, although the 1967 war, in which Israel seized the Palestinian territories (which Jordan had occupied since 1948), was not defensive.

In 2004 the International Court of Justice reaffirmed this aspect of international law when it condemned Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, the Jewish-only settlements, and the wall of separation as illegal.

By now, after 53 years, we are entitled to notice that Israel’s occupation is not temporary. And that means the territories’ status is not one of occupation but of annexation. It won’t do to say that Israeli governments have tried to negotiate with the Palestinians according to the land-for-peace formula called for by the postwar UN Resolution 242. Israel has often pretended that it would be willing to give up some land for peace, but it is hard to take those gestures seriously. Every so-called “generous” Israeli offer contained so many conditions and Israeli prerogatives that the Palestinian territories would have been nothing more than a scattered archipelago of vassal districts. This is no less true of Trump’s grand plan for Israel and Palestine.

The Palestinians have been victims of a cruel Israeli (and American) joke — often with the complicity of what are laughably called their rulers, who have put their personal interests ahead of the people they claim to represent.

No wonder Netanyahu is in no hurry. He’s already got what he wants. If he were to formally annex some of the West Bank, he would get flak both from those who support the long-suffering Palestinians and from his domestic right-wing, which will complain that he did not annex enough.

So as I say, what’s his hurry?

Myths and Hoaxes of Sexual Abuse Stoke ‘Politically Useful’ Fear

Myths and Hoaxes of Sexual Abuse Stoke ‘Politically Useful’ Fear

“[S]ince love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved.”—Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, 1513

For those who want to control a population, fear is more useful than love and far easier to elicit. A culture conditioned to feel knee-jerk fear allows political power to rise on a tide of emotions without the need for arguments and evidence. When the adrenaline of fear hits, people cry out for social control in the belief that government can protect them. Those who want to verify a crisis before acting on it are seen as part of the problem because they obstruct or delay the “solution.” For decades, a fear response has been embedded into society through constant cries of “danger!” Many alarm bells have been manufactured, however, because they are politically useful to those who want to produce legislation or funding.

The issue of “sexual violence and women” illustrates this process. Women have received the unrelenting message that they live in danger from men, and only government can save them from it. Predictably, many politicians support and promote this process and conclusion.

The dynamic can be glimpsed through a phenomenon that has become commonplace within feminism: declaring an “awareness month” for specific issues like domestic violence (DV). There is nothing intrinsically wrong with doing so. But the “awareness” declared usually promotes a myth that is propped up a hoax.

Consider one such event: National Stalking Awareness Month (January).

When stalking involves genuine threats of harm, it is a problem that should be legally addressed. But awareness advocates use the term so broadly that criminal behavior is lumped together with totally legal activities.  The National Center for Victims of Crime (NCADV) defines stalking as a “pattern of behavior that makes you feel afraid, nervous, harassed, or in danger” which can be physical or verbal contact, unwanted gifts and communication. This subjective definition furthers the myth that common and innocuous behavior, such as repeatedly emailing someone after a breakup, is a criminal matter. Anyone who questions whether persistent emails deserve legal intervention or who suggests a private solution instead is accused of promoting violence against women.

The myth is then given urgency by hoax statistics such as “one in 6 women (16.2%) and 1 in 19 men (5.2%) in the United States have experienced stalking victimization.” The alarmingly high rate of victimization is understandable when it is seen to include unwanted communication. “Repeatedly receiving unwanted telephone calls, voice, or text messages was the most commonly experienced stalking tactic for both female and male victims of stalking (78.8% for women and 75.9% for men).”

A myth joins a hoax and together they seek government support. First recognized in 2004 by the NCADV, National Stalking Awareness Month has received Congressional approval and a Presidential Proclamation. The harm the myth does becomes official. The discussion of stalking now focuses almost entirely on women as victims and men as victimizers. The expanded definition introduces immense subjectivity into the enforcement of laws and policies. The alleged pervasiveness of stalking encourages oversensitivity and fuels fear. Sensationalized rhetoric does much the same. The NCADV, for example, views stalking as a first step toward femicide.

What is the solution to this first indication that women may be murdered? The NCADV offers a list of them—every one of which involves more government intervention. “Ask your legislators to update the federal domestic violence firearm prohibitor to including misdemeanor dating violence and misdemeanor stalking” is one suggestion. Laws and policies increase dramatically, as they have over past decades, but the problem never goes away. It is too politically useful to go away.

Gradually, a climate of fear becomes the cultural norm, especially on college campuses where awareness campaigns and sexual myths are popular. But the panic hits Main Street, as well.

On April 6, the New York Times published an article entitled “A New Covid-19 Crisis: Domestic Abuse Rises Worldwide.” Lockdowns trapped women in close proximity to abusive men, it maintained, and this situation resulted in soaring rates of DV.  The conclusion was based upon warnings from DV activists, whose salaries usually depend upon the public attention given to this issue, and upon any reported increase in calls to DV hotlines—calls which were handled as though they were confirmed cases.

In an earlier article for the Libertarian Institute, I observed that police reports are more reliable sources by far, for several reasons. “People access DV hotlines…for  many non-DV issues…but they report this crime to the police. The same person may phone a hotline many times, but a police report is…‘one person, one case’. The funding of a DV service often depends on its volume, which encourages overstatement. Police accounts also ground DV in reality, with real names and verifiable details rather than anonymous reports.” The rate of police reports during the lockdown in many or most cities has shown a decline or little change.

Nevertheless, mainstream media around the world echoed the New York Times article. The UK Independent (April 15) stated Domestic abuse killings appear to double during UK’s lockdown,” for example. The main source cited was an anti-DV “campaigner, who is chief executive of domestic abuse charity Nia.”

Meanwhile, other newspaper accounts indicated that crime in general was sharply down in UK during the same period. This does not mean murders were down, of course, but it raises questions, even if the Independent’s account is accurate. What was the general rate of murder? Did the crime increase for both sexes and, perhaps, more for men than for women? Can murder, which has many motives, be automatically ascribed to DV? Was the murder done by a male partner, as most articles suggested, or was a stranger or a woman the perpetrator? How can the last question be answered if those accused have not been tried?

In America, where murder rates have generally soared since the lockdown, a substantial number of police departments reported a decrease in DV. This should give pause to those reporting on the issue. Instead, the data was strangely interpreted. A recent headline in The Financial Post captured the gist of it, “No surge in domestic violence cases during COVID-19 lockdown—that doesn’t mean it’s not happening.” In short, reports of decline are reason to worry about an increase. Counter-evidence did not discourage fear mongering. Remember, it serves a political purpose and fits an established narrative.

The myths and hoaxes continue to block the possibility of genuine solutions emerging. A big step toward a genuine solution to stalking would be a definition that includes only harm or threat of harm to person and/or property and that includes men equally. A big step toward solving DV would be to credit only investigated cases and to acknowledge that both sexes are victimized at roughly the same rate.

All victims benefit from the truth. Unfortunately, the truth suffers from the disadvantage of being far less politically useful.

News Roundup

News Roundup 8/10/20

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