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F.A. Hayek’s Conception of Private, Fiat Money

F.A. Hayek’s Conception of Private, Fiat Money

The most famous Austrian economist is 1974 Nobel laureate Friedrich Hayek. Because of his moderate views excusing state interventions in various circumstances, hardcore Rothbardians tend to regard Hayek as less than pure in many areas.

However, one area where Hayek is certainly more radical (though perhaps not correct!) than even Murray Rothbard is monetary institutions, as detailed in his fascinating (1978) pamphlet The Denationalisation of Money.

When it comes to the free market’s handling of money, the typical Austrian argument is over fractional reserve banking (FRB). Some think FRB is perfectly legitimate (so long as the banks do not receive special privileges from the government), while others consider it inherently fraudulent. But both groups agree that fiat money is a horrible creation of the state and that the free market would always settle on a commodity (such as gold) as the underlying base money.

Inasmuch as many of the participants in the FRB debate are far more radical than Hayek on most policy issues, it is quite surprising then that Hayek’s proposal calls for privately issued, competing fiat currencies. That is, Hayek proposes that individual firms issue pieces of paper that are not backed by any production or consumption good. In a sense, Hayek wants to privatize central banking.

As the reader can imagine, this proposal strikes almost everyone—even modern Austrians—as absurd; we will deal with some of the major objections below. But partly because of this near-unanimous rejection, and partly because the analysis in any case is instructive, I will attempt in this article to give Hayek’s case the best possible defense.

Hayek’s Proposal

Hayek argues that, if only government obstacles were removed, the free market would provide the optimal quantity (and variety!) of monetary products. Just as the forces of competition lead to low prices and superior quality in every other line, so too would competition in the “fiat money industry” lead to monies that were infinitely better than their government-produced counterparts. For example, the private monies would be far more stable in their purchasing power, would be harder to counterfeit, and would be available in more convenient denominations.

Although one can imagine an equilibrium situation given that the public is already holding vast quantities of such private currencies, it is difficult to conceive of how they would “get off the ground” in the first place. Here is the most ingenious part of Hayek’s proposal (which naturally I am adapting for a modern exposition):

A private firm could initially print up, say, 1 million pieces of paper (that of course would be difficult for an outsider to reproduce) with a cute picture of Friedrich on them. The firm then contractually pledges to redeem each “Hayek,” at any time, for either $10 or 80 Chinese yuan. Assuming that the firm has substantial assets and that everyone is fully confident of their redeemability, the Hayeks at auction will sell for somewhat more than $10. This is because they will always be worth at least $10, but they might (in the not too distant future) be worth more, if and when the Chinese government lets the yuan appreciate against the dollar. (In that case, investors could redeem each Hayek for ¥80, which would exchange for more than $10.) For the sake of argument, let’s suppose that the firm initially auctions all 1 million Hayeks for $12 each.

Thus far the proposal involves nothing too radical; each Hayek is really just a derivative asset. How, then, would the issuing firm get the public to start treating the Hayeks as money? On the night of the initial auction, after the market price of the Hayeks had been ascertained, the issuing firm would specify a commodity basket (consisting of bread, eggs, milk, and other goods relevant to consumers) that cost, say, $60 at Wal-Mart. Then the firm would announce to the public the following nonbinding pledge: “We will use our firm’s assets to adjust the outstanding supply of Hayeks such that 5 Hayeks will always (insofar as it is humanly possible) have the purchasing power to buy this specified commodity basket.”

Now, as time went on, the US dollar and the Chinese yuan would depreciate vis-à-vis real goods and services. In particular, the dollar price of the specified commodity basket would increase. So long as the Hayeks were still being valued solely because of their tie to dollars and yuan, their value as well would begin to drop; the Hayek price of the commodity basket would start to rise from 5 to 5.05, etc.

At this point the issuing firm would need to prop up the value of its fiat currency. It would need to enter the market and buy back Hayeks from those marginal holders who were most anxious to sell. In this way, the issuing firm could (at least temporarily) maintain the purchasing power of the Hayeks such that 5 Hayeks could still buy the relevant commodity basket at Wal-Mart, even though the dollar price of that basket has risen above $60 (as the US government continued to print new dollars).

Here is where the theory ends and we are stuck with an empirical question: Would the firm eventually buy back all 1 million of the Hayeks? Or, at some point before this happened, would the record of stability of the Hayek (in terms of its purchasing power vis-à-vis the specified commodity basket) allow for a self-fulfilling prophecy in which people begin holding Hayeks not because of the underlying legal redeemability, but because of its expected purchasing power in the future?

Problems

Hayek’s proposal was understandably treated with suspicion. Murray Rothbard1 argued that it violated Mises’s “regression theorem,” which demonstrated that all money—even government fiat currency—must ultimately derive its purchasing power from a historical tie to a commodity that was valued in a state of barter. However, this objection overlooks the fact that Hayek’s proposal does contain an initial link to an underlying asset in order to get off the ground.

Rothbard also objects that not all government functions should be privatized, in particular tax collection, torture of prisoners, and the issuance of fiat currency. The point may be conceded, but Hayek’s proposal would certainly be legally permissible in a libertarian society. Even those who consider fractional reserve banking as fraudulent could find no violation of property rights in Hayek’s proposal;2 they would simply have to argue (and a compelling argument it is!) that any firm attempting to circulate its own fiat currency would go bankrupt.

A different problem is that, in the world Hayek envisions, there would be no single money, and hence the benefits of a common medium of exchange would be curtailed. To this I would respond that it is possible that even under a 100 percent commodity standard, some groups use gold, others use silver, and others use cows as a medium of exchange.

Yes, there would be forces tending to promote the emergence of a single money throughout the entire world, but this would not be instantaneous, as conditions differ greatly from region to region. So long as each of the local monies could be freely exchanged against one another, modern currency markets (aided by computers) would significantly reduce the transactions costs involved. By the same token, we cannot say that the benefits of a single money outweigh all other considerations and that therefore Hayek’s system must be rejected.

Another objection (raised by Selgin and White) is that a private “central bank” would, just as its government counterpart, always find it most profitable to hyperinflate. It is true that this would cause the public to abandon the currency, but so what? If 5 Hayeks currently exchange for so many eggs, milk, etc., why not print up 2 billion of them and buy as many real goods as possible? Surely this one-shot move will earn more than the present discounted value of responsible management of the supply of Hayeks.

This fear overlooks the fact that the Hayeks (in our example) are always legally redeemable for $10 or ¥80. That places a floor below which their value cannot sink (without draining the reserves of the issuing firm).

Pete Canning acknowledges this fact and refines the objection by pointing out that, eventually, the government currencies will have depreciated so much that this check will soon be impotent. Ironically, here is where another of the alleged deficiencies—namely the multiplicity of currencies—comes to the rescue. Precisely because each issuing firm will only provide the money held by a fraction of the public, one firm’s decision to hyperinflate would not be nearly as disastrous as when a monopoly government does so.

Moreover, if a major firm ever did decide to hyperinflate, the public would demand measures to prevent a recurrence. For example, in addition to pledging to redeem Hayeks at any time for $10 or ¥80, our hypothetical firm might also legally pledge “We will never increase the supply of Hayeks by more than 100 percent per year.”3

Benefits

Let me close by pointing out some of the overlooked benefits of Hayek’s scheme. First, in principle privately issued fiat currencies could prove more stable than even commodity metals in terms of their purchasing power. The whole job of the firm issuing Hayeks (in our example) is to closely monitor the financial markets to fine tune the exchange value of the Hayeks, such that five of them always purchase the specified commodity basket at a major grocery store. This is not true when it comes to gold; the exchange rate between gold and the commodity basket would be far more volatile (though of course much more stable than the exchange rate between government currencies and the basket).

Another benefit is that the firms could change the composition of the commodity basket to reflect the preferences of the holders of their monies. For example, some people may not care about the price of eggs and bread, and would prefer a money that had stable purchasing power in terms of a basket of aluminum, platinum, etc. A firm could fill that niche.

Another interesting feature of Hayek’s system is that holders of money would themselves reap the advantages of inflation of the currency, rather than the issuing firm. Consider: if the public ever did accept Hayeks (and Lachmanns etc.) as media of exchange, over time the market would increase the production of eggs, butter, etc., and hence there would be a tendency for their Hayek price to fall. Therefore, in order to maintain the stated purchasing power, the issuing firm would need to print up and distribute additional Hayeks periodically.

Now if the firm were a monopoly, naturally its owners would spend the new Hayeks themselves. But because of competition, the firm can only keep the public using Hayeks if, in addition to the incredibly stable purchasing power, holders of Hayeks receive new units in proportion to their holdings. That is, the firm would have to periodically increase the supply of Hayeks at large in order to maintain a constant purchasing power, but it would need to give the new units to its customers. (An easy way to achieve this would be for the firm to also act as banker and pay dividends on deposits.)

Finally—and I admit this is quite fanciful—suppose that in the distant future, humans develop the Star Trek capacity to reproduce (within limits) any type of physical item. In that case, no commodity could serve as a useful medium of exchange, because people would simply mass produce it at virtually no cost. In such a world, money would probably become mere numbers on computers.

Yes, if governments were expected to responsibly run such a system, all would be lost. But it is at least worth exploring whether a system based on Hayek’s ideas could provide sound media of exchange in that futuristic environment.

Robert P. Murphy is a Senior Fellow with the Mises Institute. He is the author of many books. His latest is Contra Krugman: Smashing the Errors of America’s Most Famous Keynesian. His other works include Chaos TheoryLessons for the Young Economist, and Choice: Cooperation, Enterprise, and Human Action (Independent Institute, 2015) which is a modern distillation of the essentials of Mises’s thought for the layperson. Murphy is cohost, with Tom Woods, of the popular podcast Contra Krugman, which is a weekly refutation of Paul Krugman’s New York Times column. He is also host of The Bob Murphy Show. This article was originally featured at the Ludwig von Mises Institute and is republished with permission.

Israel Demands F-35s As Part Of $8 Billion Military Aid Package

Israel Demands F-35s As Part Of $8 Billion Military Aid Package

With the United States set to use the peace treaty as a chance to sell F-35 warplanes to the United Arab Emirates, Israel has been pushing for a bunch of free U.S. equipment based on pledges for a region-wide qualitative edge. On Wednesday, Israel offered its first list of demands.

The way Israel envisions this going down, they’ll get some $8 billion in equipment, mostly advanced U.S.-made aircraft. This would include an entire squadron of F-35s, the very plane that was supposedly the cause of all this.

While Israel was previously objecting to the sales to the UAE as threatening their military edge, officials are now revising it, based on the reality that they’re not going to get their way on blocking sales.

Now, Israeli officials say that the F-35 sales are expected to start a new region-wide arms race, and it is the arms race for while they need all these new arms. They did not elaborate on this, but also said that they expect leadership changes in some Gulf countries.

Israel offered nothing publicly on why they would expect an arms race, or who would be involved. The reality is that the UAE doesn’t have a lot of military rivals, especially not the sort that would be able to afford an arms race. Though Iran is the catch-all excuse, Iran would never be able to afford a slew of advanced warplanes to counter the F-35s, nor would they be likely to try, given their military doctrine is based on deterrence and retaliatory capabilities.

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

Abolishing the Police in the Anarchist Tradition

Abolishing the Police in the Anarchist Tradition

The tragic murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department has provoked a national conversation about police—their role in society, their protection from accountability, the unique danger they pose to civil society. That conversation has begun to pose a radical question, one that, if it seems novel, has been explored by libertarians and anarchists for generations1The anarchist communist Albert Meltzer went so far as remarking, “Nobody but the Anarchists wishes to abolish the police,” which is of course not the case.: could we get along entirely without the police, without the set of practices and institutions today associated with them? Put more simply, could we abolish the police?

The True Function of the Police

We might note at the outset that police departments as we know them are conspicuous in their absence from almost all of human history. Indeed, upon the introduction of modern police forces, they were met with suspicion and resistance, regarded as incompatible with traditional freedoms. Policing as we know it emerges only in the modern era, embedded in a broader system of government associated with high modernism. As historian Paul Lawrence observes, Michel Foucault has been perhaps the most influential among those who argue “that the rise of the modern state necessitated a wholesale transformation in the administration of justice,” ushering in “new, bureaucratic criminal justice mechanisms” in which power “functions like a piece of machinery.”2Paul Lawrence, “The Historiography of Crime and Criminal Justice” in The Oxford Handbook of the History of Crime and Criminal Justice, edited by Paul Knepper, Anja Johansen page 22

The professionalization of the police under the modern state tracks “the wider scope of intervention of public authorities” more generally.3“New Threats or Phantom Menace? Police Institutions Facing Crises” by Jonas Campion and Xavier Rousseaux in Policing New Risks in Modern European History edited by Jonas Campion and Xavier Rousseaux) Foucault recognizes the centrality of professional policing in the development of the modern state, the modern state’s rationalistic lust for monitoring and gathering information on the citizen in a systematic way, and the replacement of the tort system by the criminal system.4John C.P. Goldberg and Benjamin C. Zipursky, The Oxford INtroductions to U.S. Law: Torts (OUP 2010). Indeed, we may say that the appearance of the professionalized police force coincides with the full maturity of the state.5Adam Crawford, “Plural policing in the UK: policing beyond the police,” in Handbook of Policing, Tim Newburn, ed. (Routledge 2011), page 147.

And it turns out to be much less than clear that the establishment of professional policing was even intended to protect citizens and their rights rather than “simply provid[ing] a means of state oppression geared to class interests.”6Alan Wright, Policing: An Introduction to Concepts and Practice, Routledge 2013, page 6. Indeed, the history of professional policing is the history of attempts to violently control the marginalized and underprivileged—the history of creating and maintaining parallel legal and judicial systems, with a second class of citizens defined by race and economic station. As Alex S. Vitale writes in The End of Policing, “It is largely a liberal fantasy that the police exist to protect us from the bad guys.” Liberal thought about police is a proxy for their thought about the state and political power more generally, the idea being that their use of force is legitimate and in service to the greater good. As a matter of historical fact, though, the police and the state power they represent have preyed upon the people far more than they have protected them and seem to have been instituted for just those predatory purposes. The primary purpose of government‐​operated professional policing has been to enforce social control and discipline through fear and systematic violence, to protect a particular political and economic status quo.

Incentives, Institutions, and Historical Context

Police abolitionists are confronted with the question of how a peaceful society could hope to function and endure without police. But, turned on its head, the question becomes much more interesting: if human beings are in fact so dangerous, so naturally inclined to crime, then the important social theoretic question is not how we could maintain safety without police, but how we could possibly maintain safety with them. After all, with the police system as we know it in the United States, it would seem that we’ve created conditions ideal for abuses of power, for predation and violent crime. Ordinary citizens are, at the very least, not given license to commit crimes, not held above accountability and punishment. But this is exactly how the political and legal systems favor police officers. It is not a bad apple problem; it’s a classic incentive problem, just the kind that we should expect to arise naturally and inevitably from such an inequality of legal status, whereby a comparatively small group is given a carte blanche to use force, even deadly force, in the most arbitrary and abusive ways. If human beings are as naturally prone to wrongdoing and barbarity as we’re assured, then we should expect that especially violent and antisocial people will self‐​select into such a system, aware that it will offer them opportunities to get away with viciously brutalizing others. It only stands to reason that anyone inclined to violent behavior and bullying should be uniquely drawn to such an occupation. And, indeed, this is just what we see. We have no reason to think that this system, the system of modern professional policing, should do anything but make ordinary peaceful citizens less safe, subjecting them to unaccountable violence. Ceteris paribus, it’s supporting modern professional policing—not police abolition—that should seem to us extreme, outlandish, unworkable, that should strike us as not seriously accounting for the fact that people may want to hurt others, steal, etc.

Though this analysis is highly suggestive of a general trend, it does not explain the very different data on policing practice in other developed countries, particularly in rich, northern and western European countries. The incentives created by the rules within which police operate, however important, are not the only variables bearing on the functioning of modern police forces. A number of more or less intangible factors also inform this functioning, with a policed population’s confidence in legal and governmental institutions not least among them. We find, for instance, “a broad correlation between trust in others, and trust in the different public institutions.” In many European countries, police don’t even carry firearms, and they’re trained to de‐​escalate potentially dangerous situations, with some countries even requiring officers to obtain permission before shooting at a suspect. America’s unique history of racial slavery certainly plays a role in the hostility and violence that marks the relationship between the police and the policed. Americans, particularly American people of color, have little confidence that legal and governmental institutions like the police and the courts will treat them fairly, with wide racial gaps in answers to questions of whether, for example, police are doing a good job or using force appropriately and proportionately.

We ought to note at this juncture that this lack of confidence in institutions, far from being the ill‐​founded conclusion of a people committed to perceiving themselves as victims, is in fact consistent with all of the available evidence about the disparate treatment of minority Americans, Black Americans in particular. If it is a cold fact that Black Americans are systematically mistreated by police, the courts, and the criminal justice system generally—and it is — then their distrust in the police simply stands to reason, the natural, appropriate result of a fundamentally unjust and racist system. That polling data suggests Black communities actually want to retain current levels of policing in their local areas points to a paradox: “Although Black Americans seem about as comfortable as Americans overall with the amount of police presence where they live, they differ markedly in their perceptions of how their local police might treat them if they were to interact.” Black Americans, apparently because they perceive their own neighborhoods as dangerous, don’t want to see the cops abandon them entirely, but neither do they trust them without reservations.

Because Black Americans have, for generations, seen their families destroyed by a police and prison system that continues directly from the Jim Crow system in the South, we must consider these phenomena—police and prisons—in tandem. As Maya Dukmasova noted in 2016, “The idea of police abolition can’t be understood separately from the wider prison abolition movement.” The call for prison abolition responds to the fact “that prisons can’t be reformed, since the very nature of prisons requires brutality and contempt for the people imprisoned,” that the whole edifice must be dismantled and substituted with new models based on an entirely new way of thinking about and discussing crime, reconciliation, and community. The police and prison systems are practically and historically inextricable, and the entire system of American policing and prisons is predicated, as Angela Davis observes, on “racialized assumptions of criminality,” which themselves follow directly from the country’s history of slavery (critics of the U.S. police and prison system have frequently noted the historical connection between modern policing and slave patrols). Prison systems in other advanced nations, particularly in some of the places we have already mentioned, are significantly different in both the level of comfort afforded the imprisoned and their underlying goals. In incremental moves toward outright abolition, Americans should look to these countries’ prison systems as waypoints in the road to freedom from prison and its warped ideologies. When we consider whether we ought to abolish the police and begin to establish peaceful, community‐​driven alternatives, it is not an idealized hypothetical of peace and justice that we should envision, but a reality of centuries‐​deep injustice along racial lines, an authoritarian reality of police brutality and mass incarceration. Accordingly, we should look honestly at the nature of police work: as so many others have observed, actual police work is quite unlike what most Americans—particularly conservatives, vocally supportive of police officers—imagine it to be. Importantly, it is far less dangerous than cops lead us to believe, characterized by long stretches of boredom, with only the very rare call to respond to a report of violent crime. On‐​duty police deaths have been on a steady decline for decades, with police officers being “many times more likely to commit suicide than to be killed by a criminal.” According to a 2019 report from the Vera Institute of Justice, less than 5% of arrests are made in connection with serious violent crime. The propagandistic “thin blue line” narrative, which casts police officers as embattled and underappreciated heroes, just doesn’t square with the empirical reality of policing.

Replacing—Not Remaking—The Police

The question now arises: what will replace the police? The short answer is nothing. The police don’t need replacing and should not be replaced or recreated. Anarchists and libertarians foresee a variety of spontaneously‐​emerging, decentralized answers to the question of crime, recognizing, as Benjamin R. Tucker observes, that the state is “the chief invader of person and property” and “the cause of substantially all the crime and misery that exist.” It is important to remember that the burden is not on police abolitionists, who ask only for an end to a very violent, dangerous species of special privilege, one that has resulted in almost unimaginable injustice and disrupted the very balance of American society. Tucker’s social and economic determinism, inherited from Josiah Warren, is apparent in his argument that the state’s creation and sustainment of privileges functions to “disperse poverty and ignorance among the masses,” creating inequality that is “directly proportional” to levels of crime.7Tucker writes, “[Our prison] are filled with criminal which our virtuous State has made what they are by iniquitous laws, its grinding monopolies, and the horrible social conditions that result from them. We enact many laws that manufacture criminal, and then a few that punish them.”

Individualist anarchists (and, later, anarcho‐​capitalists like Murray Rothbard) have advanced a system in which defensive associations would compete with one another in a legitimate free market to provide protection against theft, murder, and other crimes recognized by libertarians (that is, crimes with victims). Sketching this individualist anarchist system in his book Voluntary Socialism, Francis Dashwood Tandy argues, like Tucker, that “solv[ing] the economic problem,” that is, abolishing monopoly and the special privilege upon which it is founded, would “trim the claws of private enterprise,” rendering competition socially beneficial. For Tandy, genuine competition is the mechanism that ensures accountability, there being no fundamental reason that there couldn’t be, quoting Tucker, “a considerable number of defensive associations … in which people, even members of the same family, might insure their lives and goods against murderers and thieves.” Such a system grants no extra rights or privileges, but is rather one in which each individual is merely outsourcing her individual right to self‐​defense. Where the state arbitrarily grants new rights—more accurately, privileges—to specially appointed people, whose badges give them the power to murder with impunity, a libertarian system of competing defense associations would mean only the delegation of a right every individual already possesses, nothing further. Whether such a system of competing defense agencies amounts to police abolition is, of course, a point of contention; many, probably most, anarchists (including Meltzer, mentioned above) would contend that the competing defense agencies of Gustave de Molinari, Tucker, and Tandy nowise represent the genuine abolition of police, but only a capitalist recreation of the injustices we find today.

Conclusion

Where libertarians part sharply from the left (the rest of the left, perhaps), is in the Jacobin left’s unthinking worship of the total state, which, at bottom, is just police—as every law or stricture must be enforced by police. Libertarians are more careful and historical in their thinking, more systematic: we can’t believe that a state like the one contemplated by modern‐​day Jacobins could be anything but a Nazi Germany, a Fascist Italy, a Communist China, a Soviet Russia, that is, a full‐​blown police state. Libertarians believe the move in the direction of a free society must be based on a proper understanding of libertarian ideas—that is, that the abolition of police is one part of a broader whole. Recognition and respect for the ideas precedes any practical or policy change, as it must. Libertarians should engage with the police abolitionism conversation from this standpoint, that ideas are primary and a proper recognition of the worth of every individual must be at the foundation of sweeping change.

This article was originally featured at Libertarianism.org and is republished with permission.

President Trump Labels Generals as Pawns of the Military-Industrial Complex

President Trump Labels Generals as Pawns of the Military-Industrial Complex

Once again, the whispers of phantoms masquerading as administration officials have attempted to put Donald Trump on the defensive only two months before the fall election. And in typical fashion, the roused president has gone on an immediate rhetorical offensive.

Trump has doubled down on his affirmations towards the U.S. military and the American soldier, while simultaneously confronting the class of generals who command them. “I’m not saying the military’s in love with me—the soldiers are,” Trump said at a Labor Day press conference. “The top people in the Pentagon probably aren’t because they want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy.” 

This is a dramatic shift in perspective from the man who spent the first two years of his presidency surrounding himself with top brass like Michael Flynn, John Kelly, H.R. McMaster, and James Mattis (along with almost being beguiled into nominating David Petraeus as Secretary of State). Perhaps Trump learned the hard way that the generals of the forever wars don’t measure up to the twentieth-century soldiers he adulated growing up. 

For instance, when George Marshall oversaw the deployment of 8.3 million GIs across four continents in World War II, he did so with the assistance of only three other four-star generals. In retirement, Marshall refused to sit on any corporate boards, and passed on multiple lucrative book deals, lest he give the impression that he was profiting from his military record. As he told one publisher, “he had not spent his life serving the government in order to sell his life story to the Saturday Evening Post.”

Contrast that to the bloated, top-heavy military establishment of today, where an unprecedented forty-one four-star generals oversee only 1.3 million men and women-at-arms. These men, selected and groomed because of their safe habits, spend years patting themselves on the back for managing wars-not-won, awaiting the day they can cash in. According to an analysis by The Boston Globe, in the mid-1990s nearly 50% of three- and four-star generals went on to work as consultants or executives for the arms industry. In 2006, at the height of the Iraq War, that number swelled to over 80% of retirees.

The examples are as endless as America’s foreign occupations: former Director of Naval Intelligence Jack Dorsett joined the board of Northrop-Grumman; he was later followed by former Air Force Chief of Staff Mark Welsh; meanwhile, former Vice Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff James Cartwright went to Raytheon; former Chairs of the Joint Chiefs—the highest ranking position in the military—William J. Crowe, John Shalikashvili,, Richard Myers, and Joseph Dunford went on to work for General Dynamics, Boeing, Northrop-Grumman, and Lockheed-Martin, respectively. 

General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, in between his forced retirement from the Marine Corps and appointment as Secretary of Defense, joined the board of General Dynamics where he was paid over a million dollars in salary and benefits. Returning to public life, Mattis then spent two years cajoling President Trump into keeping the U.S. military engaged in places as disparate as Afghanistan, Syria, and Africa. “Sir, we’re doing it to prevent a bomb from going off in Times Square,” Mattis told his commander-in-chief. Left unsaid was that a strategic withdrawal would also lead to a precipitous decline in Mattis’ future stock options, which he regained after he rejoined General Dynamics following his December 2018 resignation.

That resignation might have been premature, however. It was only a matter of weeks before Trump’s announced withdrawal from Syria, the impetus for Mattis’ departure, was reversed. Hundreds of U.S. soldiers continue to illegally occupy the north-east of the country. That’s in addition to the thousands of Americans still kicking dust in Iraq and Afghanistan, contrary to the president’s “America First” pledge. 

And Trump is as guilty as any of his subordinates when it comes to coddling the military-industrial complex, gushing over billion dollar arms deals and their manufactured jobs numbers. It remains to be seen whether his latest announcement of a partial withdrawal from Iraq by the end of the month will turn out as phony as the others.

Whether meaningful or empty, Donald Trump’s words remain a significant departure from the norm. He is one of the first prominent figures in living memory—and certainly the first president, ever—to connect the controlling influence of the military-industrial complex to the actions and advice of U.S. generals. For this he has been compared to the man who first coined the term, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, although even Ike never impugned the motivations of his fellow four-stars.

Trump’s language more closely resembles that of Major General Smedley Butler, who at the time of his death was the most decorated marine in U.S. history. “The professional soldiers and sailors don’t want to disarm. No admiral wants to be without a ship. No general wants to be without a command. Both mean men without jobs. They are not for disarmament. They cannot be for limitations of arms,” Butler wrote in his 1935 book War is a Racket.

To eliminate this corrupting influence, Butler advocated an egalitarian price control to prevent the arms industry—and their pet generals—from profiting off the blood of American boys. “Let the officers and the directors and the high-powered executives of our armament factories and our steel companies and our munitions makers and our shipbuilders and our airplane builders and the manufacturers of all the other things that provide profit in war time as well as the bankers and the speculators, be conscripted—to get $30 a month, the same wage as the lads in the trenches get.”

Today that would be the equivalent of $1,733 a month, the same as a first year private in the army. It’s a far cry from the $96 million the CEOs of the Pentagon’s top five contractors—all listed above—were collectively paid in 2016. 

Let’s call it a starting point.

This article was originally featured at The American Conservative and is republished with author’s permission.

Traffic Lights, Risk Assessment, and Social Distancing in a COVID-19 World

Traffic Lights, Risk Assessment, and Social Distancing in a COVID-19 World

The summer in America’s South was somewhat incredible. People were refusing to wear masks, refusing to socially distance, and COVID-19 cases were increasing tremendously. Many hospitals were stressed and sending patients to other hospitals, then to other states. As the problem grew, with some version of it appearing in Texas, Arizona, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Florida and hints of the problem in Arkansas, Georgia, and the Carolinas, the obvious question was, “Where will we send overflow patients now?” This is the biggest concern with COVID-19. Not its raw death rate, but its ability to infect widely and quickly. If hospital services run out, the death rate would certainly increase, possibly catastrophically. Yet, again, something somewhat incredible happened.

Almost everywhere, just as hospitals hit capacity, the rate of new cases began to decrease. It was a peak everywhere. Many theories have been created to explain this, and many of them aren’t very good. There are people out there who claim that once around 20% of a population gets infected with COVID, the number of new cases begins to die off. Some people claim, rather assert, that herd immunity explains this phenomenon. Those advocating this theory want to also assert that this a protective herd immunity which will prevent additional crises in the future. The reality is that this theory has no evidence to back it up. In measurable, isolated settings the virus does seem to quickly spread to the known herd immunity threshold of 80-90%. There’s only circumstantial evidence that protective immunity has anything to do with the declining cases that appear at this vaunted 20% mark. In addition, in Japan where I live, for example, peaks have occurred nowhere near the 20% mark. It can’t be herd immunity.

In spite of the lack of evidence for herd immunity occurring, it is very interesting that there are examples of places around the world with vastly different government policies and local socio-economic conditions where the same phenomenon occurs. A spike of cases hits around the 20% threshold, then rather than becoming an exponentially steep explosion of new cases requiring field hospitals and the like, the cases start to taper off. Sometimes this happens quickly, sometimes it’s more of a long plateau. Although the evidence isn’t clear yet, there could be a profoundly interesting story about human behavior explaining some of these examples.

One premise of libertarian thought is that the effects of human action, of society’s behavior, are always much greater than whatever direct influence the government has. It is sometimes said that laws are changed post-facto, reflecting the consensus which has already emerged in society. That people break laws willfully, or engage in behavior voluntarily, before laws are repealed or made. There’s probably a lot more nuance to that and also reasons why the government does what it does (in terms of incentives). However, the idea that society’s private behavior is regulated by what’s on the law books is absurd.

With COVID case increases and declines, there appears to be a story of people changing their behavior. I will propose, in a speculative manner, that voluntary behavioral changes have had the greatest effect on COVID outcomes. There seems to be an information mechanism which most greatly affects these behavioral changes. Therefore, attentiveness to the amount and quality of information could be the most impactful way to address the pandemic, no matter the country. The same principle could also apply to other issues that involve trust and public commons. It could be that we don’t need laws or rules to govern most of these commons, but we do need information. Creating, providing, and promoting information and data could be a constructive and productive action for libertarians seeking to find non-coercive ways to better manage public commons.

Social Distancing Makes The Difference In Pandemics

I hypothesize that the greatest impact on outcomes with the virus during this current pandemic comes from voluntary behavioral changes (as opposed to government policies or surprise immunity conditions). I also hypothesize that information and perceptions have the greatest impact on these behavioral changes.

Although completely intuitive, there is now clinical evidence from Johns Hopkins that confirms that people who practice stricter social distancing spread SARS-CoV-2 less. SARS-CoV-2 is a respiratory illness. You catch it by breathing the same air as people who have it. If people are not going to places where they share the same air with other people, the virus simply won’t spread. What is less intuitive is the direct breakdown of the degree to which we are mixing socially with other people, on a country-by-country basis, even among different professions and cultures within the same city. Some cultures have large, multi-generational households. Some cultures throw large house parties or gatherings frequently. Other cultures, such as in Sweden or Japan, have an extraordinarily high rate of single-person households. In Sweden’s case, business have accommodated work from home to a tremendous degree.

An immunologically naïve population can be compared to a dry field of grass during wildfire season. Some fields are all grass, all dry. Some places have patches of water, or trees and rocks. Some places are suited for the fire to spread evenly, but many places aren’t. The places where people are breathing the same air—that’s where the dry grass is. Some situations are like California, in that respect. Others are more like Kentucky (where a lightning strike might burn a few trees before it’s over). Understanding why COVID is spreading or not in certain places first and foremost requires us to ask, “What’s the terrain like?” Lockdown policies, hand sanitizing, and temperature checks, even masks don’t really matter as much as simply who is meeting with other people, how much, and how often.

This is an unprecedented global event in the sense that people are not socializing. They’re staying home, not breathing the same air as each other to a degree that has never happened before in history. For every doubter who scoffs at COVID restrictions and fears, and ostensibly lives an approximation of normal life, there are certainly that many more people—rationally or not—simply staying home far more than they did in 2019. Sure, lots of people are saying, “I’m over it,” and going to movies. Yet, go to the theater, I dare you. You won’t find a lot of people there, not compared to before. Yes, it may be low risk, buts that’s partly because of how many people still refuse to go out—keeping the rate of spread low.

Sweden is upheld as an example of why we should not be social distancing, by some. They claim that some version of herd immunity has occurred. The reality is, while Sweden might be praised for not having repressive lockdowns, the country has produced declining case numbers through social distancing and summer weather. Sweden is a fairly socially distanced society; just listen to what they have to say about it.

Widespread behavioral changes are greatly impacting outcomes, but small, manageable behavioral changes can matter too. A CDC study has linked dining at restaurants with increased COVID-19 transmission. This study doesn’t say that eating at restaurants will make you sick, but it is saying that there’s a correlation between certain behavioral patterns and outcomes. I’m not pointing this out to be judgmental. Think of a throttle or gas peddle. There are daily choices that can be made, and if enough people make certain small choices, the virus will spread more. This is part of my hypothesis.

A final piece of evidence that social distancing really makes a difference is that the flu seems almost unable to spread in the socially distanced environment we’ve created for COVID. Numerous examples from the Southern Hemisphere, which experiences a winter flu season in the middle of the year, show that social distancing has had a huge impact on the spread of the flu. That is, it hasn’t spread. Some authors, perhaps overzealous in arguing against lockdowns, have tried to claim that social distancing itself is a waste of time. Distancing’s impact on the flu shows that it’s quite effective. SARS-CoV-2 is just that bad, that it still spreads when many people are social distancing.

The importance of social distancing in explaining outcomes with COVID-19 leads me to a conclusion about how the crisis can be managed without relying on coercive policies. I have a hypothesis which explains why exponential case growth in places like Arizona didn’t happen this summer.

I believe that as hospitals became full in places like Arizona, that even people who were formerly defiant with their personal behavioral choices finally decided to play it safe. I also concede that within specific communities and even neighborhoods it is possible that some level of herd immunity was reached. In other words, lack of social distancing led to a near hospital collapse, but then public fears inspired social distancing which finally reduced new cases. Social distancing would have been the main causal variable, even if herd immunity helped a little at the margins among persistently defiant communities, or essential workers unable to distance. Even though folks were behaving rather inconsistently, the outcome remains remarkable.

When presented with clear information that risk levels were rising meaningfully, the people of Arizona probably changed their behavior voluntarily. Enough to change the outcome. This raises the question: how much more could the outcome be improved if the quality of information had been better from the beginning?

Red Light, Green Light

It’s a story heard around the world. Governments gave conflicting information about this pandemic. This is true in spite of country, party, political orientation, expert, non-expert—all of the above. Many in the libertarian sphere would complain that COVID is overly hyped by elements of the government as some sort of scam. However, it’s also true that governments have downplayed the severity of the crisis in many circumstances, to avoid negative scrutiny. This downplaying has certainly contributed to negative outcomes. Is it now okay for the government to lie to us to the detriment of our health? I suppose it depends on what you believe is best for your health. The fact that we all believe different things matters profoundly in this discussion, but the government has no business lying or obfuscating data.

One example of an information problem created by a government comes from Texas. The public data concerning COVID cases in Texas has been presented in a very inconsistent and difficult to interpret way. Even now, in the United kingdom, the government with its vaunted national health system simply cannot scale up testing. Although this stands as commentary about government, the point is that even outside of lockdowns and distancing policies, governments can’t even get the basic information flow right.

Somewhere beyond the political debate around this virus are normal people seeking one way or another to evaluate their personal risk. Knowing whether the virus is spreading in your particular community or neighborhood would be one way to evaluate risk. Yet it seems that we are not producing information that is useful for this purpose.

I would like to present another hypothesis, or rather, more of an proposed axiom of behavioral economics. I don’t believe that people are using data to evaluate the risks of the virus itself. I think that people are calculating risk as it pertains to the behavior of other humans around them. That is, before going out to eat, people don’t add up case fatality percentages in their head. Instead, they consider the loose probability of whether other people around them are behaving in risky ways. It’s the unpredictability of other people that’s the true stumbling block in evaluating risk, not the unpredictability of the virus.

There are two risk evaluation problems associated with this pandemic, not just one. The first problem, of course, are the risks to health associated with catching the disease. However, the other problem is that, absent clear information which can help evaluate risk adequately, people will take a conservative approach and assume the worst. Businesses whose services are, in theory, not incredibly risky depending on the circumstances, are losing customers and going out of business.

There isn’t just a health problem, there’s a risk evaluation problem. We don’t have good information that helps us evaluate risks generated by the behavior of other people. We are unable to accurately predict their behavior.

When the virus is spreading a lot, we don’t have the right information to convince us to social distance early. There are times when social distancing is just unnecessary from the perspective of personal health risks. However, when the virus begins to spread in a community, quick and strict distancing can stop the spread before it grows to eventually lead to real health risks. In this case, the social distancing is tied to a selfish motive, but the effectiveness of the practice depends on the choices of other people in the community and an assurance that they are as community minded as you are. We can’t necessarily create this situation every time, but in many cases a community might already possess the intelligence and values to do something like this. What they would lack is clear information to establish trust. Clear information would tell people that if they are choosing to distance early, maybe others are as well.

On the other side of things, once new cases have peaked in a community, there’s a question of when it would be appropriate to start taking risks again. This is also a trust problem. Everyone starts off knowing that it’s a risky time, but when do we decide that the social distancing isn’t needed? There have been many examples of distancing that ended too quickly, leading to large new outbreaks. On the other hand, there’s everyone thinking that they don’t know what’s going on, so they’re just going to stay home in the long-run. Both situations are bad. Ultimately, even a perfectly coordinated society following expert advice could screw this up. Perfection isn’t the goal, just outcomes tomorrow that are better than today.

For situations where outbreaks have recently begun, and in situations where the peak has already passed, there will be different groups of people with different opinions and behavioral patterns. We should expect that there will never be perfect consensus and coordination. What is needed is clear information that allows us to make predictions and risk calculations about all these other groups of people and whether or not we trust them. We don’t need to trust them, we only need to trust that we can predict what they’re doing.

There’s a perfect metaphor which explains how risk evaluation in the public trust commons can affect behavior, and how information can improve the situation.

Consider the traffic light. Red means stop, green means go.

Have you ever been stopped in the middle of the night at a red? No one’s around, so why not go? It is said that, “There are two kinds of people in the world.” Perhaps there are people who would run the red, and those who wouldn’t.

Probably, the strongest emotional response would come from the red light runners. “Why wouldn’t someone go, if no one’s around? Scaredy-cats!” they might say.

Here’s why I’m not a red-light runner. If red doesn’t mean stop, green can’t mean go. Green means go. If I see green, I don’t slow down or double check if someone’s running a red. I just go (unless I’m on a motorcycle, in which case I try to keep track of the traffic in every intersection no matter what). When people run reds, they ruin that.

Sure, someone stops in the middle of the night at a red. No one’s around, so they go. Except, oops, they didn’t see that one tall bush in the dark and didn’t realize the road curved as much as it did. Maybe this person, by happenstance, is also just kind of an idiot. Maybe they’re tired and stressed from work, more than usual. More than they realize. They have decided, unilaterally, that they are qualified to make a risk judgment.

Then, along comes someone cruising past the green. It’s green, so they didn’t slow to check behind the bush. Green means go. The red light runner never asked Mr. Green Light if he was okay with Mr. Red Light’s ability to unilaterally judge risk at that moment. Crash!

This might be hard to hear for many in the libertarian community frustrated by the change in the social environment caused by the pandemic, but if you make a risk tolerance decision for yourself, but your actions also increase risks for other people, that’s an act of aggression. In the case of COVID-19, certainly unenforceable. Even so, libertarian ethics is pretty clear that we have a duty to consider the negative rights of others in proportion to our desire to have them respect our rights. This is the basis of the non-aggression principle. It is not adequate, ethically, to declare that you are willing to tolerate the risk of an infectious disease, when your behavior increases risks for other people whom you didn’t ask. Still, this is libertarianism. There are a lot of things that are the, “Right thing to do,” which can’t be coerced.

Returning to the allegory, imagine what happens if a group in society suddenly decided to run red lights, even during the day. Even if there is traffic. These people would decide that they are qualified to know when there’s enough space in the flow traffic to safely run the red. Imagine now that, even if rare, many accidents do occur because of this. From time to time, some people make bad judgments about when it’s safe to go. How long until people start slowing down as they approach green lights. Have you ever been driving behind someone as they slow down before a green? Isn’t it frustrating?

In this situation, the red light runners may not be increasing the risks of accidents by that much. In proportion to total traffic, the number of accidents might be very low. A libertarian could argue that coercive fines for running red lights is an aggression, considering how little damage is actually done by red light runners. Even so, let’s consider what changes once red no longer means stop.

What the red-light runners have done is made calculating risk much more difficult. Previously, green light goers would know that the chances of someone running a red was so low that they didn’t have to worry about it. Now, you never know who’s sitting at that red. The consequence is a massive shift in behavior that makes driving significantly more frustrating. Accident risk isn’t much higher, but predictability is significantly lower, therefore behavior changes significantly. It changes out of proportion to the risk. The reason is that now you have stressful split-second maneuvers at green lights preventing a lot of accidents, which, if they didn’t occur, would lead to many more accidents. The red light runners haven’t greatly increased actual accident risk, they’ve just made driving profoundly more stressful.

Traffic light designers seem to have solved the information and trust problem associated with situations where running red lights is common. This is the blinking yellow and blinking red light. The blinking red light does require a full stop before proceeding, but unlike a red it does not require drivers to sit and wait at an intersection. This means that if you judge that no one’s around, you can go. Consequently, green no longer means go. The blinking yellow means you don’t have to stop, but there could still be people crossing the intersection, so slowing down a little and checking is merited.

The blinking yellow and blinking red lights are profound. In one sense, it’s almost like a 4-way stop sign. There’s one key difference. By providing information to the public commons about how one direction of traffic is required to stop, and the other direction of traffic is not required to stop, then a relatively high rate of flow can be maintained. This is much more convenient than stop signs at every intersection, but it also is a situation where everyone knows the risks are a bit higher at the intersection, so a little extra caution is merited.

In other words, the blinking yellow and red lights provide a single piece of clear information that takes a chaotic free-for-all and transforms it into a much more convenient situation by creating a clear picture of risk around which people can modify their behavior. The setup better allows drivers to predict each others’ behavior.

I propose that this principle represents the most effective path for mitigating the COVID-19 situation. This solution doesn’t get rid of COVID. It doesn’t address whether or not COVID is “just the flu.” Simply put, all else being equal, whatever happens, the best available option for producing the most constructive and impactful outcome is clear public information.

A System Of Testing; Consistent, Accurate, Precise

Social distancing behavior affects the rate of spread of COVID-19. Perception affects distancing choices (one example here). Information, when inconsistent, devalues future information. If clear information is going to make the pandemic situation better, it has to be consistent.

One of my hypotheses is that public behavior when influenced by risk evaluation considers predictions about the behavior of others more than it considers the discrete, scientific risk of a situation. That is, people want to feel that they know how others will act. Based on their perceptions of others’ behavior, people will change their behavior accordingly. Therefore, if public information is going to change behavior, people won’t only think about the information itself and how they feel about it. People will also think about who in the community around them is receiving and reacting to the same information. People need to observe the information, then observe the reaction of others, in order to learn a full pattern of risk. If the information is not presented to the public in an incredibly consistent way, then people will not be able to build a system of risk evaluation.

The information has to be accurate. It has to be credible. It shouldn’t be used to provoke behavioral changes. It should simply exist, and then society gets to settle upon a tapestry of reactions which in turn will lead to second-order behavioral changes. It’s game theory. People don’t only react to situation, they also react to each other. If the government tries to tailor information to provoke outcomes, they’ll only disequilibrate the game. Optimal outcomes in games occur when there is predictability.

There are many kinds of COVID tests. There are tests which test for antigens—the active presence of the virus or even dead virus particles in your body. There are antibody tests, which indicate whether your body might have been exposed to the virus in the past and has a memory of it. Many of these tests are inaccurate. Some produce false positives but not as many false negatives. Some produce false negatives more than false positives. Some are very sensitive and can pick up small amounts of what they’re testing for. Some take time to process, others are rapid. Even within the same category of tests, there are older, slower machines, and newer machines. There are private labs, government labs, contracted labs, university labs and so forth. It’s all a mess. Unless some version of this can be sorted out into a neat and tidy pattern, the information won’t be useful. Here’s a discussion on some of the issues with testing. Even so, it can be sorted out.

The right mix of testing, presented consistently in an information platform, can provide precise insights. There are sewage tests which are excellent at detecting the beginnings of an outbreak in a small community, and do so at lower cost with no disruption to our lives and routines. Rapid testing isn’t as accurate, but it’s cheap and fast. It’s not appropriate for proving that everyone coming into a house party isn’t infected. However, it is appropriate for catching early signs of an outbreak. It is appropriate for realizing there might be a cluster at an office or school, and that more precise tests are needed. Having a testing algorithm, or system, is needed for any of this information to be helpful.

This is the solution: an information platform that publishes testing data. It must publish location, occasion and time. Maybe also details about the person (demographics, job, health background—if available, anonymously of course). It must be paired with a rubric, a kind of industry standard testing protocol. A recommend mix of testing, and information about whether different localities are conforming to that mix or not (that is, the degree to which they are conforming). The platform isn’t government. There are no policies or lockdowns associated with it. There are no mandates about who must or must not be tested, etc. It’s a publishing platform, and a testing rubric. As more organizations combine to join compatible platforms and meet the same standards, then information consistency, accuracy, and precision can be achieved.

Rather than waiting until thousands die and hospitals nearly collapse to start social distancing (great job Texas, Florida, New York etc.), we can know when to start doing it a little earlier. We can know this on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis so we don’t socially distance for no reason, when it’s not necessary yet. When outbreaks die down, or before they arrive in our neighborhoods, we can trust that the risks of not social distancing are low. We can live more normally.

Undoubtedly, there would be red light runners in this situation. But with a blinking yellow light, we can maintain a decent flow of traffic anyway.

Winter Is Coming

I don’t think that COVID-19 is a hoax. It has the potential, in my opinion, to be genuinely catastrophic and deadly. However, this would only occur as medical care is overwhelmed. This condition has occurred, for example in La Paz, Bolivia, where people were dying who didn’t need to, because there was no more room in hospitals. Even so, a kind of exponential case growth rate never quite manifested. Thousands, not millions, died.

In my opinion, medical care will never be completely overwhelmed while exponential case growth continues indefinitely. The reason is because people are social distancing. Eventually, people socially distance, and it makes a difference. Even in skeptical states like Arizona, when things get truly bad, people seem to change their behavior. Social distancing is making a difference even in poorer nations, who may be doing it more because they’re more worried about risks to their medical system. That’s great news: maybe the virus will never become truly deadly at its full potential. However, the price for avoiding this fate are the costs associated with social distancing.

People who think COVID-19 is a hoax lament the so-called fear of people who stay home. That’s the irony. They’re right when they say risks are pretty low in some cases. The social distancing of people who are worried may play a big role in why risks get low.

We don’t have to agree with either side of the COVID debate. Some people refuse to be worried. Some people will always be worried. The key is, how do we manage our decisions in an environment where different people are making different choices? By having predictability, through clear information. Testing. That way, without having to settle the debate, we can still achieve the best possible outcome available under the circumstances.

Clear and consistent information which provides people with the ability to predict each others’ behavior can serve to order the public commons. Above and beyond the pandemic situation, this principle could be very useful for future libertarians who seek to constructively address commons problems.

In the recent heyday of the ethno-nationalist movement, an argument was put forward about trust. The alt-righters claimed that the only way to avoid a leviathan police state was to have a strong public trust commons. Supposedly, some libertarians who are opposed to strong government were swayed by the argument that only an ethnically similar population with a common tribal and familial commitment to each other could generate a public trust commons sufficient to avoid the need for a strong hand of government.

We don’t need to trust each other, nor do we need a heavy hand of government. What we need is to be able to consistently predict each others’ behaviors. This could be the great keystone of a pluralistic libertarian society. However, the predictability can only come from the lever of clear and consistent public information.

What if there was a platform that displayed data on crime and police behavior? Not the data itself, but a publishing platform. The design of the platform would matter. What particular information is presented consistently, and how the fidelity of data is handled in a decentralized environment are key problems to solve. In theory, such a platform could do more to change outcomes in policing and crime than specific policy changes.

What if you knew when it was more likely that a cop would shoot you? What if, somehow, you could identify a simple behavior you could change to avoid that outcome? What if cops realized that people are acting differently, and so now they have more room to change? What if cops know that more people are watching very specific situations much more closely?

Right now it’s chaos. TikTok videos, outraged retweets. Cops do bad things. Then again, sometimes the whole story isn’t told in a single Facebook post. People who already want to think the cops are good guys find every reason to doubt that cop killings is a real problem. We can’t change people, and in many cases, we can’t really change policy. Imagine, though, if all the same people all saw the same set of crystal clear information, and all slightly changed their behavior accordingly. It seems this is how big changes occur in a complex society. Adding up gains at the margins. You have to know where they are. Like Aikido, or Judo.

Even if testing isn’t the way out of COVID-19, and nothing comes of my observations, the value of information is still an important lesson for libertarian activism.

As for COVID itself, I know that many people are skeptical about whether it’s really a big deal or not. Common cold coronaviruses are known to be extremely seasonal (that is, they produce much more severe outcomes in the winter). Some believe that because COVID-19 has been spreading in the summer, that it isn’t seasonal. However, case outcomes have improved substantially since the beginning of the pandemic. There are many theories for this, but one possibility is that this is certainly a seasonal virus, it’s just so bad that it continues to cause problems in the summer. If you don’t believe in this thing, fine. But please, for the sake of your family, just hang on until the end of this winter. After that, maybe we can all move on.

For the sake of information precision, I’ll repeat that the months of concern seem to be December through March. Some headlines claim that fall and winter could be dangerous. If it’s still October, hey, maybe going to that movie is just fine.

Debt Without Integrity

Debt Without Integrity

“You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” — Matthew 7:5

I grew up going to numerous youth group events, Christian summer camps, weekly chapels at my Christian high school, and of course church services once a week (or more). A common theme of so many evangelical speakers in my youth was the importance of integrity. It is the concept that you do what you do and behave the way you behave because it is who you are. It is your character. It is how you would act whether your peers see you or not. “Behind closed doors” was a phrase I heard often. If you act differently behind closed doors, when your Christian peers (or family, pastor, etc.) can’t see you, you lack integrity.

If you act one way on Sunday and another way the rest of the week, then you are a person of low integrity.

Another way of thinking about it is whether one’s behavior and thinking and principles are the same regardless of whether it personally benefits them or not. Standing firm on the right thing when it benefits you doesn’t necessarily reveal integrity. It’s when you continue to stand firm on it—unwaveringly—despite that stance being detrimental to your personal self-interest that your behavior demonstrates true integrity.

I also grew up and came of age in an evangelical culture that feared and loathed the ever-mounting national debt, seeing it mostly as a result of liberal largesse—never the fault of conservative Republicans, of course. (Never mind the continual push for more and more military spending. That’s necessary, and totally worth going into deeper debt.)

Back in 2011, in the middle of Barack Obama’s first presidential term, it was all the rage in conservative Christian circles to talk about not just the danger but also the immorality of the debt. As Obama’s 2012 budget was being debated, evangelical leaders warned against the immoral proportions that the $14 trillion national debt had reached. (Oh, that it could still be a trifling $14 trillion!) I still remember the genuine anxiety, the head-shaking, the “can-you-believe-this?”-type questions exchanged between adults.

Evangelical leaders stoked this unease. “America’s growing debt is a not just a financial issue, it’s a spiritual one,” said Jerry Newcombe, host of a Christian TV program, “The Bible is very clear about the moral dangers of debt.” Historian and author William Federer, a guest on Newcombe’s program, added, “Proverbs 13:22 says a ‘good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children.’ Right now, we’re not leaving a very good inheritance.”

Back then, I was entering my third year of college and largely apathetic to politics, otherwise I might have noted Christian conservatives’ previous disinterest in the ballooning national debt during George Bush’s presidency. Amidst two expensive wars on the opposite side of the globe, each of which was waged on some thin connection to 9/11 or another, the national debt doubled in Bush’s eight year term. I don’t remember hearing any panic about the debt from Fox News or Christian news sources back then. Instead, I heard many trite and alogical sayings about “supporting the troops” and “fighting them over there so that we don’t have to fight them here.” Nothing about the dangers of the mounting debt—not even while acknowledging in the same breath the virtue and necessity of the wars.

I realize now that even the relatively brief fiscal battle between the likes of President Obama and Paul Ryan was a byproduct of the election cycle. In the wake of the Great Recession and with the tailwind of a Tea Party wave in Congress, Republicans whipped up fear of the Democrats’ spending spree. Deficit reduction as a policy priority peaked among Republicans in the election year of 2012, declining thereafter.

Ft 19.02.20 Deficit DeficitreductionAfter the GOP loss in 2012, elected Republicans had less and less use for anti-deficit rhetoric, especially as Medicare and Social Security benefits increased as a percentage of federal spending. Seniors, the beneficiaries of these gargantuan entitlement programs, are reliable GOP voters. Hence, Donald Trump’s campaign promise in 2015 not to touch entitlement spending—and his subsequent victory in the GOP primary—should be seen as the continuation of a trend, rather than as a sudden break from trend. It was a reversion to the pre-Obama mean.

When GOP leaders don’t make the national debt a priority or emphasize the danger of it, neither do conservative media figures or evangelical leaders. Even in the midst of a pandemic, anxiety about deficit spending has continued to fall. According to Pew Research, 55% of US adults called the fiscal deficit a “very big problem” in the Fall of 2018, while only 47% did in June, 2020.

This comes as the United States passes several major debt milestones. Publicly held federal debt (not held by government programs) will surpass 100% of GDP this year. Total private and public debt will almost certainly shoot above 400% of GDP, cresting the previous peak reached in 2008. And this year’s fiscal deficit is projected to be $3.7 trillion—about as much as the deficits of the last six years combined.

National Debt ProjectionNaturally, a populist cynicism about the national debt has crept into the political landscape that views anti-deficit arguments merely as underhanded attempts to suppress the spending goals of the other party. It doesn’t help that economists’ arguments about the (eventual) negative effects of a national debt buildup have consistently been wrong.

The CBO and other nonpartisan organizations have warned for years and years that rapid growth in the supply of Treasuries on the market would overwhelm demand from savers and lead to a sharp rise in interest rates, thus sparking a debt crisis. That hasn’t happened for three reasons: first and most importantly, as demonstrated by the Bank of International Settlements and others, national debt buildups beyond a certain percentage of GDP weigh on economic growth, which then lead investors back to the safe yields of Treasuries. Second, the US enjoys the privilege of issuing the world’s primary reserve currency, and plenty of foreign credit market participants issue debt in US dollars—meaning that they continually need more of them over time. Third, partially as a result of the weak economic growth brought on by excessive debt, US population growth has been slowing for decades, which has made the massive Baby Boomer generation (or their pension fund managers) more dependent on a scarce supply of interest-bearing assets to fund their retirement.

Despite the skyrocketing national debt, the worst effects of it won’t be a spike of interest rates or inflation (at least in the short term), but rather an extremely weak recovery from the pandemic and ever-slower economic growth thereafter. Eventually, it will lead policymakers to adopt Modern Monetary Theory as an excuse to print money for fiscal spending, rather than going through the debt markets. That’s when we’ll see inflation begin to spike, and interest rates will follow it higher (because who wants to be paid interest that can’t keep up with rising prices?). And in our heavily indebted economy, the mass defaults and debt restructuring brought on by a spike in interest rates will be incredibly painful.

The chickens, as they say, will finally come home to roost. (I’ve written at length about this process that I call the “Monetary Death Spiral” herehere, and here.)

Republicans could have done something to stop or at least curb this trajectory, but instead they turned a blind eye to it. They elected Donald Trump, who has ushered in a new branch of nationalist conservatism that is unapologetic about spending on such issues as a border wall, massive infrastructure projects, and any number of other pet projects. Meanwhile, the “GOP’s rank deficit hypocrisy is empowering liberals who view concerns about fiscal soundness as barriers to political and policy success,” writes Peter Suderman for the May, 2020 issue of Reason Magazine. “Republicans under Trump [have] … made it even harder to find a politically plausible way of righting the nation’s fiscal trajectory.”

I still think that Christian conservatives meant it when they warned about the “immorality” of the rising national debt. They knew, more so than the average liberal, that you can’t live beyond your means forever. Eventually, your credit runs out and the bill comes due. But more important to them was to protest the speck in Democrats’ eyes. “Behind closed doors”—when it benefited them politically to look the other way—the planks in their own eyes (massive debt expansion under a GOP president) didn’t matter—or else they were genuinely and willfully blinded to them. The debt crisis that will come at some point down the road lost priority to the here and now. Short-term thinking prevailed over discipline, delayed gratification, and self-restraint. Political power took precedence over moral principles.

At some point, like a ship with decaying structural integrity, the lack of integrity among Christian conservatives and other fiscal hawks when it comes to the national debt will have destructive consequences.

Austin Rogers is a graduate of Biola University, where he studied Cinema & Media Arts, Philosophy, and Biblical Studies, and Western State Colorado University, where he earned a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. He is the author of The Third Temptation: Rethinking the Role of the Church in Politics, and he writes regularly for the finance and investment website, Seeking Alpha, under the pseudonym “Cashflow Capitalist.” He lives in Texas with his wife, Heather, and their two terrier mutts. This article was originally featured at the Libertarian Christian Institute and is republished with permission.

CENTCOM Commander: No Evidence For Russian Bounties on U.S. Troops

CENTCOM Commander: No Evidence For Russian Bounties on U.S. Troops

Months after The New York Times reported that Russia secretly offered bounties to the Taliban to kill US troops in Afghanistan, a top US commander says a detailed review of all available intelligence found no corroboration of the story.

Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of U.S. CENTCOM, spoke with NBC News about the matter. “It just has not been proved to a level of certainty that satisfies me,” McKenzie said. “We continue to look for that evidence. I just haven’t seen it yet.”

An unnamed military intelligence official also told NBC News that after reviewing the intelligence of attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan over the past several years, none had been linked to any Russian bounty payments.

McKenzie’s comments reflect statements made by other top military officials shortly after the Times story broke. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper took the position that the Pentagon did not have “corroborating evidence” to support the Times report back in June.

In a hearing in front of the House Armed Services Committee in July, Esper said all the defense intelligence agencies have been “unable to corroborate this report.” In that same hearing, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley took the same position. Both Milley and McKenzie vowed to keep investigating the intelligence, and now, two months later, there is still no evidence to back up the claims.

Other intelligence agencies have strongly dissented from the claim that Russia was paying bounties to the Taliban, most notably the National Security Agency (NSA). The National Intelligence Council produced a memo in July that showed the NSA only gave “low” confidence to the Russian bounty intelligence.

Intelligence agencies use confidence levels to reflect the scope and quality of the intelligence they are assessing. There are three confidence levels, “high,” “moderate,” and “low.” The same memo that said the NSA gave the bounty intelligence “low” confidence also revealed the CIA gave it “moderate” confidence, which still leaves plenty of room for doubt.

Dave DeCamp is the assistant news editor of Antiwar.com. Follow him on Twitter @decampdave. This article was originally featured at Antiwar.com and is republished with permission.

What We Can Learn From ‘The Untouchables’

What We Can Learn From ‘The Untouchables’

The 1987 film ‘The Untouchables’ starring Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, and Robert DeNiro is perhaps for law enforcement what ‘Rocky’ is for boxing. It is the Hollywood tainted story of Elliot Ness, the United States Treasury agent who helped to bring down Al Capone (played by DeNiro) during the 1920s prohibition era in the United States. It is a perfect good versus evil action film. The good men of law enforcement do what they must while the villains are cold killers, evil and unredeemable. In the end, Capone is caught and arrested.

We are introduced to DeNiro’s sinister Capone in a brutal manner, as he bashes a fellow gangster to death with a baseball bat. Seated at a dinner table before many other well-dressed men, he is violent, murderous, and cold blooded. Meanwhile Costner’s Ness is a family man, who is peaceful, relatable, and vulnerable. He has a wife and child. We know that he is like the viewer. Ness sacrifices a happy household so that others may enjoy order and safety.

Life is complicated. Men like Capone can be evil, but they grow in the petri dish of laws. Men like Capone can also operate soup kitchens and employ scores of in-need individuals. Prohibition made Capone a household name, immortalising him for better and worse. He was the tyrant of Chicago, but he could only exist because of the very laws that a man like Ness swore to enforce. In the end Capone was not brought down in an epic blaze of glory like Bonnie and Clyde but in a court of law for tax evasion. Ness and his ‘Untouchables’ managed to get the bad guy; not for the murders, torture, or even rum running but because he had not paid an income tax.

At the films end, the untouchable law man Elliot Ness is asked by a reporter, “They say they’re going to repeal Prohibition. What will you do then?” To which Kevin Costner’s Ness replies, “I think I’ll have a drink.” The real-life Ness was a heavy drinker. He was a contradiction. In the movie he and his fellow law enforcers bashed and killed in the pursuit of their aims of keeping the USA ‘dry.’ And because the gangsters were detestable—in one scene a young girl is blown to pieces, the collateral damage in an explosion from a bomb laid by a Capone goon—anything that Ness and his men do is righteous.

It is with hindsight that we can all look back and see how much of a failure the prohibition laws were. The lingering effects still cause harm to this day. The ‘good men like Ness enforcing those laws were never in doubt as they did their job. The film weighs in such a way that it only shows the enforcers hurting the gangsters, not the common every day citizen. It does not show the harassment and destruction of small and large business in the name of another moral crusade. It does not show the private citizen being bullied and beaten into submission because of the powers that the laws granted ‘good’ men like Ness.

Into the late twentieth century a new era of prohibition invigorated the self righteous law enforcer, in both life and fiction. The War on Drugs spurred the violence both from those breaking and upholding the law. Don Johnson’s fictional character in the TV show Miami Vice would be the new type of Elliot Ness. The depiction is much the same. The War on Drugs could be sexy, dressed in pastels, where even the baddies are seductive with their flash, wealth and lifestyle, but just as deadly and evil. The heroes of the law are always under-resourced and fighting against insuperable odds in an urban frontier, slways for a greater good. Either the drink or the drugs always mange to get through though. The laws, the means in which they were imposed on the common person are never shown to be destructive or intrusive.

In the modern era across the globe the laws are ever expanding. A social tumor that kills and transforms cultures. Most things in life are subject to regulation and law. It is almost impossible to truly know what is ‘allowed.’ New laws are conjured up and with every crisis they are pushed through with safety, health, and security in mind. It takes ‘good ‘agents like Ness who make sure that the common person is protected. But in the real world from what? Themselves?

When laws against ‘planking’ (laying belly down on the ground, usually in random locations), Pokemon Go, unpasteurised milk, the fidget spinner, dressing up as a clown on Halloween, the ‘silk road’ and so on are created, who is the Al Capone in such a morality tale? We have the endless armies of people like Ness, with means at their disposal and just like in the film they are without doubt when it comes to their importance to law and order. The law enforcers are deemed as being a better class of person, keeping the citizenry safe, even if the crime is simply planking. All that matters is the law and obedience.

It is a cliché to refer to Nazi Germany and the legal nature of its many atrocious conducts or to point to the Soviet Union and its horrible infringements on liberty. They are the extremes but from within such tyrannical empires existed the good family man, who was merely doing a job, serving the state by enforcing the laws. Many were likely ideologically empty, not a Communist or Nazi party member, just a good law enforcer. In doing so they destroyed lives, and with no compassion they spread fear and hardship.

Like all things in life, reality defies simplicity. Many who are in law enforcement are there because it is in their minds important. They joined because they wanted to be the strong person that a child clings to in a crisis, the thin blue line that stands between the innocent and wicked, to somehow rectify the injustice on this Earth. It is a romance that belongs in fiction. Pragmatism and a mercenary’s servitude reveals a compromised and destructive character that does not lean on the side of rights for the individual but instead works to ensure that the state or a status quo is preserved.

Men like Ness in the film do exist. The many men and women of law enforcement are not all violent dog killers and power hungry domestic abusers. The dilemma is in the lack of wider understanding of repercussions. It does not take a genius to understand that in passing more laws, that inevitably more criminals will exist. If one continues to impose too many rules—a great deal of which are intrusive and arbitrary—then individuals will become lost inside a dysfunctional society uncertain as to what is a good and bad law. Which in turn will bring law enforcement into contact with individuals in negative and harmful ways. The police officer is already a multi-function tool being wielded by the state will have less time ‘serving’ and ‘protecting’ as the lay person assumes them to exist for. And in turn the added stress and less focus on what many consider to be ‘real policing’ will in turn lead to a bloated and indifferent force that ultimately serve a very few.

The Elliot Ness as portrayed by Kevin Costner is not concerned with partisan political parties or even economic and ideological theory. His philosophy is direct and simple: enforce the law. The zealotry to do such a deed is what makes the world writhe in so much misery. These good actors only following orders makes so much possible for the most perverse. That’s whether directly in obvious circumstances or as was illustrated in the film, or indirectly by growing a black market filled with terrible gangsters like Al Capone.

Across the planet ‘good’ cops like the Ness in the film make rule possible. They are those imposing questionable lockdown’s in Melbourne, the agents arresting journalists, or the armed enforcers knocking down household doors at three in the morning because some one may have ingested a prohibited substance. They are the loyal enforcers of a prison state like North Korea and make it possible for despots like Idi Amin, Joseph Stalin, and Augusto Pinochet to stay in power. And when popular consensus turns on the laws and politics catches up they will be without a seed of responsibility to move on. When the tyrant is over thrown they will help the new regime rule.

No matter how extreme the examples of police abuse are, there will be inside the public those who defend such acts. They will write beneath the videos in boot ink their opinions, blaming the victim and shielding the officers from any responsibility. Suddenly the rule of law cited by those who cling to government goes out the window and an officer can become an instant executioner. It is a deep belief that the present model of law enforcement is crucial to society. That without such individuals then we would have no freedoms and safety, even as they encroach on both. The thin blue line is the shoreline before the ocean of carnage. The laws that these men and women enforce are never considered as being crucial in causing the carnage and discontent. Ness is never shown challenging the wisdom of prohibition.

The prohibition laws that Ness enforced came from the moralist Temperance movement, a reaction to a real issue: violent and ill disciplined individuals who could not handle their liquor. The instinct was to punish all, to deny the nation the right to drink alcohol. The unintended consequences were hard to imagine until it was too late. In 1917, with the U.S. entry into the Great War, those ‘dry’ anti-alcohol advocates managed to influence policy more effectively, with anti-German laws against beer. Freedom is always sacrificed when a health crisis appears. Add in the threat to national security and liberty will be caged indefinitely. The War on Terror, married to decades of the War on Drugs, plus all forms of puritan morality and now the recent COVID-19 pandemic, means those enforcing laws have many masters, from health officials to think tanks that have never seen a war they did not like.

In the end it does not matter who you vote for, or what extremes of politics you come from. Those who enforce the laws will continue to do so. They will act with the conviction of a zealot, not to the ideals of those who direct them but, in their obedience, to upholding the law. The law is absolute and pure. It is a meal ticket and a line in the sand that separates the civilised from the savage. It is a deep romantic illusion, “I do not make the laws” is the safe declaration of the uniformed representative of those who make them. “I just enforce them” is the moral shield an amoral cowardice. Once the apprehension of the criminal is over, it is then for the legal system to do its job. The separation of responsibility from the law enforcer is complete. And in the end, the modern-day Ness, like his fictionalised depiction can say some day, “I think I’ll go have a joint.”.

Like most films based on true stories it is one that is massaged for an entertaining narrative. Not all cops are stoic, self-sacrificing ‘untouchables,’ and they are not all power-hungry corrupt beasts. They are often doing a job as public servants that get to play dress up and who act as a link in a chain. They are members of a team, a massive network that ensures that the state functions and remains the most important and intrusive part of the individual’s life, even if they think otherwise. The day that those who enforce the laws refuse, is the day that the elites, the rulers, are revealed as just being flab hidden beneath a suit. Without the armed muscle no horrible law or reactionary public policy could be possible. And in the end, even Al Capone went to jail for a victimless crime: tax evasion.

A 19 Year Retrospective on the War on Terror

A 19 Year Retrospective on the War on Terror

Nineteen years after the 9/11 attacks, the War on Terror is still the biggest sham of this century. President George W. Bush promised to “rid the world of evil” and instead unleashed war and carnage. American troops are now fighting in 14 nations as part of an endless crusade against “extremists.” President Obama provided massive military aid and other support to Al Qaeda-linked terrorist groups in Libya and Syria—and the Trump administration continued the Syrian idiocy and has repeatedly veered close to war with Iran. Trump talks of “ending endless wars” but he has failed to deliver on one of his most important 2016 campaign promises.

The terrorist watchlist has over a million names compiled in a process that is a parody of due process. The feds claim a right to treat every American like a terrorist suspect every time they buy an airplane ticket. The National Security Agency has ravaged Americans’ privacy but supposedly the real villains are Julian Assange and Edward Snowden.

Will America ever politically recover? Politicians have perpetually exploited 9/11 to kill foreigners and to repress Americans. Will this constitutional travesty never end?

This is the 17th anniversary of the publication of Terrorism and Tyranny: Trampling Freedom, Justice, and Peace To Rid the World of Evil. The last sentence of the first chapter asked: “What are the prospects for the survival of American liberty from an endless war against an elusive, often ill-defined enemy?”

Here is a link to the transcript of my C-SPAN Booknotes interview on that book.

Here is a link to the Introduction chapter of Terrorism & Tyranny.

Here are the reviews the book spurred.

Here’s some of the epigrams from the book:

*The Patriot Act treats every citizen like a suspected terrorist and every federal agent like a proven angel.

*Most of the homeland security successes in the war on terrorism have been farces or frauds.

*Nothing happened on 9/11 that made the federal government more trustworthy.

*The worse government fails, the less privacy citizens supposedly deserve.

*The U.S. government is far more efficient at making enemies than at defending Americans.

*Killing foreigners is no substitute for protecting Americans.

*Perpetual war inevitably begets perpetual repression. It is impossible to destroy all alleged enemies of freedom everywhere without also destroying freedom in the United States.

*A lie that is accepted by a sufficient number of ignorant voters becomes a political truth.

*Citizens should distrust politicians who distrust freedom.

*In the long run, people have more to fear from governments than from terrorists. Terrorists come and go, but power-hungry politicians will always be with us.

*The word ‘terrorism’ must not become an incantation that miraculously razes all limits on government power.

***

From the Bush Betrayal (St. Martin’s, 2004)

There are no harmless political lies about a war. The more such lies citizens tolerate, the more wars they will get.


The myths of 9/11 continue to threaten American safety.

Following are some of my early attacks on the War on Terrorism:

Investor’s Business Daily October 2, 2001

Government Trust Grows Despite Its Inability to Protect

by JAMES BOVARD

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Americans’ trust in government is soaring after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The number of people who trust the government to do the right thing has doubled since last year, and now is more than three times higher than in 1994. According to a Washington Post poll released on Sept. 27, 64% of Americans now “trust the government in Washington to do what is right” either “just about always” or “most of the time.”

Ronald Brownstein, a Los Angeles Times columnist, declared on Sept. 19: “At the moment the first fireball seared the crystalline Manhattan sky last week, the entire impulse to distrust government that has become so central to U.S. politics seemed instantly anachronistic.” Brownstein’s headline – “The Government, Once Scorned, Becomes Savior” – captured much of the establishment media’s response to the attacks.

It is puzzling that trust in government would soar after the biggest intelligence/law enforcement failure since the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. At least in the first weeks after the attack, the federal government’s prestige appears higher than at any time since the start of the Vietnam War.

The Post poll also revealed that the disastrous attacks of Sept. 11 greatly increased Americans’ confidence that government will protect them against terrorists. From 1995 through 1997, the results consistently showed that only between 35% and 37% of Americans had “a great deal” or “a good amount” of confidence that the feds would deter domestic attacks by terrorists. In hindsight, the public was far more prescient than were the Washington policy-makers who chose not to make defending against such attacks a high priority. In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, confidence in government’s ability to deter terrorist attacks has soared – clocking in at 66%, almost double the percentage in the most recent previous Washington Post poll on this question in June 1997.

The bigger the catastrophe, the more credulous many people seem to become. The worse government failed to protect people in the past, the more certain most people become that government will protect them in the future.

Prominent liberals are capitalizing on the new mood to call for razing the restraints on government power. Wall Street Journal columnist Al Hunt says it’s “time to declare a moratorium on government-bashing…. For the foreseeable future, the federal government is going to invest or spend more, regulate more and exercise more control over our lives,” he rejoices.

“There is no real debate over expansion (of government power) in general.” Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland snipped, “Ideologues on the right saw government as an evil to be rolled back.” In a breathtaking leap of logic, he reasons: “The terror assaults on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon … should profoundly shake the less-is-more philosophy that was the driving force for the tax-cut politics of Bush and conservative Republicans.”

But there is no evidence that Osama bin Laden targeted the U.S. because of ire over George Bush’s proposal to reduce the estate tax. Hoagland’s effort is reminiscent of liberal efforts after the assassination of John F. Kennedy to paint right-wingers everywhere as unindicted co-conspirators in Kennedy’s killing.

It is difficult to understand how the failures of the CIA, the FBI, and the Federal Aviation Administration could generate a blank check for all other federal agencies to exert more control over 270 million Americans. The success of the disastrous attacks of Sept. 11 were due far more to gross negligence and a shortage of competence than to a shortage of power. The federal government needs sufficient power to protect Americans against terrorist attacks and to harshly punish the perpetrators of the recent attacks. But such power shouldn’t place a golden crown on the head of every would-be bureaucratic dictator, from the lowest village zoning enforcer to the most deluded federal agency chieftain.

The blind glorification of government, now popular, puts almost all liberties at grave risk. At least for the time being, people have lost any interest in government’s batting average – either for actually protecting citizens or for abusing power. The best hope for the survival and defense of liberty is that enough Americans will recall the type of history lessons that public schools never teach.

At this time of national crisis, we must forget neither our political heritage nor the inherent limits of any governmental machinery. Government has a vital role in defending Americans from deadly foreign threats. But nothing that happened on Sept. 11 or since changed the fundamental nature of American government.

James Bovard is the author of “Feeling Your Pain: The Explosion & Abuse of Government Power in the Clinton-Gore Years”(St. Martin’s Press, 2000).

+++

In late September 2001, Reason magazine asked a handful of folks “to discuss which civil lliberties they thought were most at risk in what has been called America’s first 21st century war.” They published the responses in an article entitled, Guarding the Home Front: Will civil liberties be a casualty in the War on Terrorism?” in their December 2001 issue.

Here was my take a few weeks after 9/11:

Lessons Never Taught Jim Bovard

The blind glorification of government currently prevailing puts almost all liberties at grave risk. Most of the media and most of the politicians are stampeding behind the notion that the greatest danger is any limit on federal power. The Justice Department wish list of remedies invokes the danger of terrorism to seek sweeping new powers to be used against all classes of alleged criminals.

The determination of some members of the Bush administration to use the terrorist attacks to wage wars against a laundry list of “rogue nations” could mean that aggressive military action continues indefinitely–along with the pretext to suppress Americans’ freedom of speech and movement. And if there is another successful terrorist attack that kills many Americans, the pressure for severe crackdowns will probably be irresistible–regardless of how badly government agencies screwed up in failing to prevent the attack. At least for the time being, people have lost any interest in government’s batting average–either for actually protecting citizens or for abusing power.

The best hope for the survival of liberty is that Americans will finally learn the history lessons public schools never taught.

Jim Bovard is the author, most recently, of Feeling Your Pain: The Explosion & Abuse of Government Power in the Clinton-Gore Years (St.Martin’s Press).

USA TODAY, January 10, 2002

Don’t bed down with tyrants to fight terrorism

By James Bovard

President Bush recently declared: “So long as anybody’s terrorizing established governments, there needs to be a war.” Bush rightfully sought international support for the campaign to put the al-Qaeda terrorist network out of business. But the war on terrorism threatens to become a license for tyranny.

The United Nations is concerned that an expansive call for governments to crack down on terrorism — a crime that is not clearly defined — is spurring a surge of oppression around the world. Los Angeles Times writer William Orme detailed some of the ways governments are exploiting the new war to repress their citizens:

The Cuban government, as part of its war on terrorism, added a new law allowing the death penalty for anyone who uses the Internet to incite political violence.

Zimbabwe’s war on terrorism includes a proposal to criminalize any critical comment about President-dictator Robert Mugabe.

Syria bragged to the U.N. that financial support for terrorists was effectively curtailed by the absence of any private banking system or independent charities, Orme reported. In other words, a government that totally destroys freedom expects to be applauded as an anti-terrorist superstar.

Bacre Waly Ndiaye, a chief U.N. human-rights officer, recently complained: “In some countries, non-violent activities have been considered as terrorism, and excessive measures have been taken to suppress or restrict individual rights, including the presumption of innocence, the right to a fair trial, freedom from torture, privacy rights, freedom of expression and assembly, and the right to seek asylum.”

Here at home

Many of these complaints, in fact, apply to the actions of the Bush administration. A new law decimates individual privacy by giving the FBI the de facto right to vacuum up practically anyone’s e-mail. Permanent resident aliens who publicly criticize the U.S. government’s war on terrorism can be banned from re-entering the United States. Some have floated the suggestion that permitting the torture of suspects could help avert future terrorist attacks. And Bush’s executive order for military tribunals threatens to bring unsavory aspects of Third World “justice” to American shores.

A myopic focus on private-sector criminals risks giving a green light to more dangerous government abuses. A core fallacy of the war on terrorism — as opposed to attacking and destroying al-Qaeda — is that terrorism is worse than anything else imaginable. Unfortunately, governments have committed far worse abuses than al-Qaeda or any other terrorist cabal.

Official murderers

Mass murder was the most memorable achievement of some 20th-century governments. The Black Book of Communism, a 1997 scholarly French compendium, detailed how 85 million to 100 million people came to die at the hands of communist regimes in the Soviet Union, China, Cambodia and elsewhere. In Death by Government, R.J. Rummel declared that some 170 million people were killed in one of “the myriad ways governments have inflicted death on unarmed, helpless citizens and foreigners.”

By raising terrorist attacks to the pinnacle of political evil, the war on terrorism implicitly sanctifies whatever tactic governments use in the name of repressing terrorism. But, in the long run, people have far more to fear from governments than from terrorists.

Bush’s labeling of attacks on any “established government” as a justification of counterterrorism ignores the fact that some governments are little more than criminal conspiracies against their victims. The United States was created as a result of popular uprisings and attacks on an established government that was far less oppressive than many current regimes in Africa and Asia.

The Bush administration must find a way to fight terrorism without sanctifying tyranny. The word “terrorism” must not become an incantation that miraculously razes all existing limits on government power. The fact that governments such as Syria and Zimbabwe can justify their oppression by invoking the war against terrorism is an embarrassment to anyone who both opposes terrorism and favors human rights.

James Bovard is the author of Lost Rights and Freedom in Chains.

+****

Playboy April 2002

HEADLINE: Terrorizing the bill of rights.

BYLINE: BOVARD, JAMES

How do you find a needle in a haystack? Set fire to the haystack.

Following the September 11 attacks, Congress joined the largest manhunt in history by passing a 342-page bill called the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act. The bill’s acronym, USA PATRIOT, revealed the depth of feeling, if not thought, that had gone into the measure. In support of the bill, House Judiciary Committee chairman James Sensenbrenner declared, “The first civil right of every American is to be free of domestic terrorism.”

USA PATRIOT rewrote laws that had been put in place to curb past government abuses. It gave Attorney General John Ashcroft powers that would have been unthinkable a few months before. Lawmakers claimed they were bringing the Bill of Rights up to date, allowing law enforcement to operate efficiently in the age of the cell phone and laptop.

Thanks to USA PATRIOT and the flurry of executive orders that have followed, our government now can more easily conduct secret trials, listen to privileged conversations between prisoners and their counsel, imprison people indefinitely on minor charges without even confirming they are being held, eavesdrop on any telephone that a suspect may use (including those in public places such as airports), sort through thousands of private e-mails while promising not to read “content” (a term left undefined), conduct “sneak and peak” searches for physical evidence without notifying the suspect at the time, rummage through school records of foreign students and appoint bank clerks and employers as deputy counterterrorists (with no training). The CIA and other intelligence groups have been allowed back into the domestic arena. All manner of checks and balances, of oversight, have been tossed onto the bonfire.

In some cases, agencies seeking wiretaps in criminal investigations no longer need establish probable cause. A month after Bush signed USA PATRIOT, the administration went even further. It proposed “fill-in-the-blank” wiretaps on suspects when federal agents do not know the person’s name. The Bush administration also wanted to allow agents up to 72 hours after conducting an “emergency” wiretap or search to request ex post facto permission from a judge for the intrusion.

USA PATRIOT is a classic bait and switch. Although its stated purpose is to defeat domestic terrorism, the government’s new power reaches far beyond box cutters. For starters, the law defines domestic terrorism as activities involving “acts dangerous to human life” that, among other things, may “appear to be intended to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion.” Perhaps the lawmakers saw only images of airliners flying into skyscrapers, but the language is broad enough to encompass many less-extreme activities. It may take only a few scuffles at a rally to transform a protest group into a terrorist entity. The new thinking would allow the government to drop the hammer on environmental extremists (even those who are not spiking trees), anti-trade fanatics (even those who don’t trash Starbucks) and anti-abortion protesters (even those who don’t attack doctors). Even if the violence at a rally is initiated by a government agent provocateur–as happened at some Sixties antiwar protests–the feds could still reap the power to treat all of a group’s members as terrorists.

And it will not be necessary to have participated in a rowdy street demonstration to be indicted under this act. If you provide a demonstrator with a place to sleep, you could be found guilty of aiding and abetting terrorism. Likewise, if you donate to an organization that may in the future be classified as a terrorist entity–including Greenpeace, the Gun Owners of America and Operation Rescue–you could face prison. Are such concerns far-fetched? Unfortunately, no. The Philadelphia Inquirer examined terrorism prosecutions from 1997 to 2001 (before the definition of terrorism was expanded). Among the supposed acts of terror were a tenant who impersonated an FBI agent in a call to his landlord protesting an eviction, an airline passenger who got drunk on a flight from China and demanded more liquor in an unruly fashion and a guy who asked his shrink for medicine because voices were telling him to kill George W.

Many of the bill’s provisions are not bound by definitions of terrorist. New powers can be used against those suspected of breaking a criminal law, be it wearing the fur of an endangered species or being less than truthful to an IRS agent. As for the roving wiretaps and e-mail surveillance, you don’t even have to be a suspect to have your right of privacy sacrificed.

The idea that sacrificed civil rights are the price we pay for security in times of crisis is hardly new. Such thinking seeks to justify the perpetual detention of terrorist suspects and the incarceration of those who criticize homeland security or disagree with Ashcroft’s designation of certain groups as terrorists. There are historical precedents. President John Adams used sedition laws to lock up dissenting newspaper editors and the occasional congressman. Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War. World War I gave us the Espionage Act, which made it illegal to “willfully utter, print, write or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous or abusive language about the form of government of the United States.” And the list goes on. How far will we go?

The Bill of Rights does not distinguish between citizens and immigrants; it protects individual rights, not those of a privileged class. But the Attorney General now needs only to certify that he has “reasonable grounds to believe that the alien is engaged in any activity that endangers the national security” to detain an alien. But, we were proud to learn, those who are in custody still have some rights. When the Justice Department refused to disclose the names of its detainees, Ashcroft explained that the silence was necessary to protect their privacy.

Speaking before Congress, Ashcroft defended the secrecy of military tribunals thusly: “Are we supposed to read them their Miranda rights, hire a flamboyant defense lawyer, bring them back to the U. S. to create a new cable network of Osama TV or what have you, and provide a worldwide platform from which propaganda can be developed?” Well, yes. Better that than taking them into a soccer stadium and executing them without a trial, without evidence–or, worse, with secret evidence. The Bill of Rights was designed to protect individuals (not just citizens) from such overzealousness–or is it arrogance?

USA PATRIOT treats every American as a potential suspect, every federal agent as an angel. It asks us to ignore such dark episodes as the surveillance of Martin Luther King Jr., Cointelpro, the murder of Black Panther Fred Hampton and the Red files of the McCarthy era. Ashcroft scoffs at criticism and says simply, “Trust me.” But already, the definition of the enemy has changed. In the hearing before Congress, the attorney general chastised potential critics, saying, “To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America’s enemies and pause to America’s friends.”

The Bush doctrine that “you’re with us or with the terrorists” has come home.

This article was originally featured at James Bovard’s blog and is republished with permission.

The Lie of Rwanda

The Lie of Rwanda

When Barack Obama launched his war against Libya in 2011, a war that resulted in a bloody chaos that continues to this day, Susan Rice and Samantha Power both invoked the memory of Rwanda as justification. According to them, Muammar Qaddafi was on the verge of committing genocide against the people of Benghazi, and the United States couldn’t just sit by waiting for “another Rwanda” to happen.

The conventional narrative is that between April and July of 1994, hundreds of thousands of Tutsis were victims of a genocide perpetrated by Rwanda’s Hutu government. As the official story goes, this was predictable, yet the UN and the Western powers did nothing. As a result, they say, preventative intervention in cases of imminent humanitarian crises must become the norm.

This misunderstanding stems from the common mistake of failing to account for historical context when it comes to world events. The truth of what happened during those bloody days can only be found through an understanding of the quagmire that precipitated the tragedy.

Prior to the “Scramble for Africa,” Rwanda was a feudal kingdom in which the Tutsi minority (approximately 10-20% of the population) ruled over the Hutu majority (approximately 80-90% of the population). The Tutsis were cattle herders and landowners while the Hutus were peasants and serfs living under Tutsi overlords. When German imperialists arrived in 1885, they empowered the Tutsi monarchy and used them as proxy rulers. After Germany lost World War I, Belgium took control of Rwanda but continued the same practice of empowering and ruling via the proxy of Tutsi kings.

While the preceding years of Tutsi-controlled feudalism had been bad enough for the Hutu majority, the addition of foreign imperialism only exacerbated tensions between the two groups. In 1956, with their foothold becoming tenuous due to these tensions, Belgium held democratic elections. With more than 80% of the population, the Hutus won easily and took control of Rwanda’s new government. Newly empowered, the new Hutu rulers began violently taking out their long-held, pent up frustrations against the Tutsi minority who fled en masse to neighboring countries, including Uganda and Burundi.

During the “Inyenzi Wars” of 1960-1967, Tutsi exiles launched at least seven cross-border attacks against the new Hutu-led Rwanda regime. On July 1, 1962, the UN granted independence to Rwanda, but this did little to change the situation on the ground. The cross-border attacks continued, while those Tutsis who remained in Rwanda continued to be victims of reprisal killings.

Meanwhile in Burundi, Rwanda’s southern neighbor with roughly the same demographics, a Tutsi monarchy remained in power. In 1972, to protect their rule from the Hutu majority, the Burundi army began systematically killing the literate Hutu population. In all, more than 100,000 Hutus were killed, and many of the survivors fled across the border to Rwanda.

On July 5, 1973, the Rwanda National Guard, led by General Habyarimana, overthrew the government, and took power.  Habyarimana, a Hutu, was generally supported by the Tutsi minority and the period from 1973-1990 was a time of relative peace.

The history of Uganda, Rwanda’s neighbor to the North, is also vital to understanding what happened during those infamous months in 1994. Colonized by the British in 1894, Uganda gained independence in 1962. The period between 1962 and 1986 was a time of chaos and violence as a series of governments came to power only to be quickly overthrown and replaced. The Rwandan Tutsis who had earlier fled to Uganda were treated poorly, used as pawns, and many were forced to return to Rwanda.

In 1986, Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Army (NRA) came to power and Museveni took control of the country. His army largely consisted of Rwandan Tutsi exiles. Since coming to power, U.S. taxpayers have unwittingly provided his regime with more than $20 billion in development aid, vast military aid, and more than $4 billion in debt relief.

In Museveni’s 30+ (and counting) years of rule, Uganda would be more aptly described as a military dictatorship than a democracy. He controls an unofficial security force that operates solely at his discretion. It controls arsenals, overrides local legislation, and closes NGOs, newspapers, and radio stations. During elections, it is common for voting stations to be surrounded by tanks, teargas trucks, and soldiers in body armor wielding high-powered weapons. Those who speak out in opposition often wind up in prison or a body bag.

The Rwandan Tutsi exiles residing in Uganda, in large part the former ruling class and their offspring, had long sought a “right to return” to Rwanda. Unsurprisingly, the Hutu government was not eager to let that happen. When the Cold War ended, Western powers took notice of the Tutsi refugees and began pressuring Habyarimana’s government to allow them to return.  Finally, at a UNICEF meeting in New York on September 28, 1990, where Museveni was also present, Habyarimana announced that all Rwandan refugees could return, no questions asked.

The Uganda-based Tutsis weren’t satisfied. They wanted power more than they wanted passports, and they had been trained how to fight by Museveni. Two days later, a large contingent of Museveni’s army, comprised of Rwandan Tutsi exiles who called themselves the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), invaded Rwanda intent on reclaiming control of the country. This sparked a war that ultimately led to what has become known as the “Rwanda Genocide.” While Habyarimana rushed back to Rwanda, Museveni remained in New York, seemingly unconcerned with a large portion of his army having apparently gone rogue.

The RPF soon came to be led by Paul Kagame, a Rwandan Tutsi born in southern Rwanda whose family had fled to Uganda in 1959 when he was two years old. Kagame, as Chief of Military Intelligence in Museveni’s NRA, had plenty of experience in brutality. At the time, Kagame was in the U.S. studying field tactics, psyops, and propaganda techniques at the U.S. Army Command & General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth. Upon learning of the invasion, he left immediately to join the fight with no objection from the Americans. His junket to the U.S. for military training was common among Museveni’s military officers, and many of those officers ended up, like Kagame, fighting with the RPF in Rwanda.

When the RPF invaded, hundreds of thousands of Hutus fled the invaders who were conducting a scorched Earth campaign that was killing, abducting, and raping their way south. It wasn’t just the Hutus who were fearful of the RPF. Many of the Tutsis who remained in Rwanda were also quick to flee the violence, and were rightly concerned with the prospect of resultant reprisal killings. Millions of innocent Tutsis and Hutus alike were killed and displaced during the years that followed. More than a civil war, this was an invasion by a foreign army against a democratically elected government.

Ostensibly to quell the violence, the UN placed an embargo on arms shipments into Rwanda. This embargo was fiercely enforced in the case of Habyarimana’s government, but ignored almost entirely in the case of the RPF invaders. Uganda routinely shipped people, arms, and money across the border to their former military comrades. If anything, this violation of the embargo was actively encouraged. In the three and a half years following the invasion, U.S. aid to Uganda doubled. In 1991, Uganda bought more than 10 times the weapons they had bought in the previous 40 years. Many of these arms came from the U.S., and a large number of them found their way to the RPF.

The heavily enforced arms embargo against the Rwandan government made it extremely difficult for them to fight. The RPF, on the other hand, invaded with machine guns, mortars, rocket launchers, rifles, cannons, and sophisticated radio communication equipment. Their supplies were continuously re-stocked by Uganda, so there was never a shortage of the arms and equipment necessary to continue their violent campaign.

To the south in Burundi, Melchior Ndadaye became the first democratically elected Hutu president of the country in July of 1993. Three months later, members of the Tutsi-dominated Burundi army assassinated him, sparking cheers from the RPF.  Ties between the RPF and the Burundi army increased, and Habyarimana’s government found itself surrounded. After the death of their president, nearly 375,000 Burundi Hutus fled to Rwanda where they joined more than a million internally displaced Rwandans.

In the midst of the war, Western powers, not satisfied with Habyarimana’s agreement to allow Tutsi refugees to return, began to insist that he implement a system of multiparty politics to give the RPF a seat at the table. These parties were introduced in 1991, and a multi-party government was sworn in April 1992. Many of these new opposition parties, seeing which way the Western powers were leaning, established direct ties to the RPF with hopes of receiving financial & political support. Leaders of these parties, at the behest of U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Herman Cohen, met with RPF leaders in Brussels during the summer of 1992. They were effectively forming a coalition with an invading army with the full support of Western powers.  Habyarimana’s regime was now facing enemies from Uganda, Burundi, and from inside its own government.

In August 1993, the United States, United Kingdom, and Uganda held the Arusha Peace Accords. At the time, the UK had no embassy or consulate in the country and had no diplomatic relations with Rwanda. Those involved with the accords decided that: Habyarimana should be stripped of his powers; a “neutral” international force should be deployed to Rwanda; the RPF should be integrated into the Rwandan military; and a RPF battalion should be deployed to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.

This neutral international force became known as the UN Aid Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) and was led by Canadian General Remeo Dallaire. Between the end of 1993 and the beginning of 1994, 2,500 international soldiers arrived in Rwanda.  The troops were to speak English despite Rwanda being a largely French speaking country. At the time, since France had a relatively good relationship with Habyarimana’s government, the French offered to act as mediators, but that overture was refused. In fact, French troops that were in the country (who supported Habyarimana) were forced to leave, while the mostly Belgian troops that were sent by the UN supported the RPF.

The first action of these UN forces was to escort six hundred RPF soldiers from Mulindi in northern Rwanda to the capital city of Kigali. Meanwhile, they trained, provided logistics to, and fed RPF soldiers. Foreign embassies began working with the RPF as if they had already seized power and told Habyarimana he had to go.

Throughout the war, Western powers and their NGOs issued human rights declarations and reports that served as propaganda to make the RPF look like the good guys.  One of the most influential was the “Report of the International Commission of Inquiry into Human Rights Violations in Rwanda Since 10/1/1990,” which was issued on March 8, 1993. William Schabas, a member of this commission, began to use the word genocide in reference to Habyarimana’s government at the end of January 1993, after the commission had completed its investigation, but before they had issued their final report. The RPF used this as an excuse to launch a massive “punitive” attack in early February 1993 that resulted in thousands dead and which pushed the total number of internal refugees to over a million.

The groups sponsoring this commission were either founded by the RPF or had been infiltrated by it. One such group was the “Association rwandaise pour la défense des droits de l’Homme,” which was founded on September 30, 1990, the day before the RPF invasion. It was founded by Alphonse-Marie Nkubito, who later became Minister of Justice when the RPF took control of Rwanda’s government after winning the war in July of 1994. Because the report was constrained to a narrow timeframe, it purposely omitted the biggest crime of the whole conflict, the RPF invasion on 10/1/1990.  When asked about this, William Schabas, along with fellow commission member Andre Paradis, admitted that the timeline was chosen by the sponsoring human rights organizations.

Of the ten commission members, six admitted to knowing nothing about Rwanda prior to traveling there, and that they had to look for Rwanda on a map. None spoke Kinyarwanda. Those who wrote the report spent only two weeks in Rwanda. During those two weeks, only two hours were spent in RPF occupied territory, which, according to Schabas, was to “demonstrate our impartiality.” While Habyarmina’s government allowed the commission full freedom to investigate and interview witnesses, the RPF only allowed the commission to meet witnesses in the presence of armed soldiers.

In January 1994, General Dallaire sent a fax to UN authorities citing information from a “Jean-Pierre,” who said that Habyarimana’s government was planning to provoke a civil war by assassinating Tutsi political leaders and Belgian troops. This fax also stated that he suspected lists were being compiled of Tutsis to be killed, and that the Habyarimana government had plans and weapons ready to go. In exchange for this information, he wanted protection from the UN for him and his family. The official narrative states that the UN leadership did nothing, ignored the fax, and genocide raged.

In reality, Dallaire’s fax was based on hearsay. He never personally met with Jean-Pierre. The information was relayed to him by Faustin Twagiramungu, leader of one of the opposition parties. Jean-Pierre, whose real name was Abubakar Turatsinze, had been a driver for Habyarimana’s MRND party, but was fired in November 1993 after being suspected of peddling information. Twagiramungu, like Dallaire, never personally met with Jean-Pierre. When Twagiramungu passed this second-hand information to Dallaire, Luc Marchal, Belgian commander of UNAMIR troops in Kigali, was sent to investigate. Marchal found few weapons and no lists of Tutsis to be killed. Nevertheless, Dallaire sent his infamous fax to the UN.

Untold in the conventional narrative is that Dallaire’s fax was not to inform about an impending genocide, but instead to ask for advice as to what to do given the lack of credible information. The only advice he received back was to warn Habyarimana that such a plan for inciting a civil war (that was already in progress) was a bad idea. In the years since, Twagiramungu has stated that he thinks Jean-Pierre’s story was totally false. Unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped those pushing the “genocide” narrative from citing this as proof that the Western world knew what was about to come, yet sat on their hands and did nothing.

The tipping point in the conflict came on April 4, 1994, when President Habyarimana’s plane was shot down on its approach to Kigali airport. The Rwandan President died, along with Cyprien Ntaryamira, President of Burundi, in what for years was only ever officially described as a “crash.” The death of President Habyarimana sparked what has become known as the Rwanda Genocide.

Prior to Habyarimana’s death, UNAMIR had shut down a runway of Kigali airport, making it so incoming planes could only approach from one direction. For anyone wanting to shoot down a plane, this action by the “neutral” international forces made it a lot easier.

Panicked Hutus, fearing a return to serfdom, chose extremism. Between April 4 and July 2, 1994, hundreds of thousands of innocent Tutsis, with no relation to or involvement with the RPF, were brutally murdered by Hutu militias. During the same period, the RPF killed tens of thousands of Hutus per month, dumping many of the bodies in rivers. There are some estimates that more Hutus were killed during this period than Tutsis.

This “genocide” came to an end on July 2, 1994 when the RPF took control of Kigali, overthrew the government, assumed power, and effectively won the war. Back in control of the country, the RPF rebranded itself as the RPA (Rwanda Patriotic Army). Paul Kagame, one of the top leaders of the RPF, became the de facto leader while serving as Vice President and Minister of Defense, and became President of Rwanda in 2000.

After their rise to power, millions of Hutus fled to refugee camps. One such camp was called Kibeko, located inside Rwanda.  The RPA attempted to close this camp in 1995, but the Hutus living there, fearing for their safety, refused to leave. In response, the RPA massacred them. Local aid workers counted 4,000 dead bodies before they were ordered to leave the area.

Other camps were set up just a few miles across the border from Rwanda in what was then known as Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). Of the hundreds of thousands of inhabitants, the vast majority were women and children, though approximately 30,000 were former members of the Rwandan Armed Forces and other Hutu militias who had fought against the RPF.

Between 1995 and 1996, Zaire’s President Mobutu provided these former Rwandan soldiers with arms to re-take Rwanda. Numerous “hit-and-run” attacks took place from within these refugee camps. At the same time, Mobutu allied with anti-Museveni Sudan-backed rebels to fight against Uganda. In 1996, the RPA raided the refugee camps in Zaire and herded Hutus back into Rwanda to live in camps under their control. To escape such a fate, hundreds of thousands of Hutus fled further into the jungles of Zaire.

Zaire is home to an estimated $24 trillion of cobalt, uranium, oil, gold, diamonds, coltan, chrome, and platinum. Africa is thought to contain 78% of the world’s chrome, 59% of the world’s cobalt, and 89% of the world’s platinum, and Zaire is considered the most mineral-rich country in Africa.

It is these resources that perhaps best explain Washington DC’s generosity to Yoweri Museveni. The U.S. saw Museveni as a “brilliant military strategist.” After all, his army overthrew the much stronger Ugandan national army when he came to power in 1986, and he was seen as a partner in securing access to Zaire’s plentiful resources.

Rwanda’s RPA, after raiding the Zaire-based Hutu refugee camps, chased the Hutus who had escaped their initial attack further into Zaire, as well as into Burundi, Tanzania, and elsewhere. Those they caught up with, regardless of if they were among those who had fought against the RPF during the 1990-1994 war, were dealt with brutally. The RPA routinely strangled, shot, bayoneted, bashed in skulls, and hacked to death any Hutu they were able to track down. U.S. Special Forces were actively involved in training those RPA commandos, and remain trainers of the RPA to this day.

In 1997, the U.S.-trained RPA, together with the U.S.-supplied Ugandan army, and a Congolese rebel group known as the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of the Congo (which had been trained and armed by Uganda and Rwanda) marched to Kinshasa, toppled Mobutu, and installed their own strongman, Laurent-Desire Kabila. It was then that Zaire became known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

With a puppet in power across the border, Museveni’s army occupied a mineral-rich swathe of the DRC, and his generals looted more than $10 billion of gold and other precious resources. Meanwhile, Museveni continued to back local Congolese rebel groups who murdered and raped local Congolese while helping themselves to the country’s resources. When, eventually, Laurent Kabila turned on his supporters and made moves toward nationalizing resources, he was assassinated. Kabila’s son Joseph took power, and Uganda’s army has remained in the country virtually unmolested ever since.

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, founded in November 1994, was tasked with finding those responsible for the “genocide” as well as any other serious violations of international law. Effectively, the ICC’s tribunal for Rwanda functioned in much the same way as the Versailles Treaty following World War I. It placed all the blame on one side while exempting the other from any fault whatsoever.

Perhaps most notable is their treatment of the plane crash that killed President Habyarimana. An investigation by Michael Hourigan in 1997 found it likely that Kagame was behind the assassination and that the RPF was foreign sponsored. When Hourigan submitted his report to Louise Arbour, ICC prosecutor for this tribunal at the time, she was initially enthusiastic about the report until Madeleine Albright intervened in the matter. Hourigan’s report was subsequently killed, and he was given a gag order. Ever since, Arbour has avoided questions about the plane crash. Several high-ranking members of the RPF have since confirmed Hourigan’s investigation and have gone so far as to explain how they executed the assassination with Kagame’s assistance.

Backing up Hourigan’s findings, Charles Onana, a Cameroonian investigative journalist, published a French book in 2002 titled “Les Secrets de Genocide Rwandais.” Paul Kagame sued him, but then dropped the case when Onana was willing to go to trial. Additionally, a seven-year investigation into the matter was conducted by French anti-terrorist Judge Jean-Louise Brugiere. He found evidence that the plane crash was indeed an assassination, and that Kagame and the RPF had planned, ordered, and carried out the attack. He also found evidence of CIA involvement. That investigation has been smothered and is rarely, if ever, mentioned in any media or official channels.

Also notable are the prosecutors of the tribunal, all of whom were chosen by the U.S. government. First was Richard Goldstone, who was fed information by the CIA to form his indictments and who was quick to compliment Madeleine Albright. UN Secretary General Boutros Ghali was concerned about Goldstone’s closeness to the Americans, citing his “cocktail schedule.” These concerns led quickly to his removal and replacement with Louise Arbour who was handpicked by Albright.

Carla del Ponte, who became a prosecutor for the tribunal in 1999, actually had some independent ideas. She began criminal investigations of RPF officers, and reported that Louise Arbour had suppressed Hourigan’s investigation into Habyarimana’s plane crash. During her time as prosecutor, the Rwanda RPF government disallowed prosecution witnesses from attending, and the RPF and U.S. Ambassador Pierre-Richard Prosper both argued that the RPF alone should be responsible for investigating RPF war crimes.

In 2003, an “agreement” was reached in which del Ponte was relieved of all investigative authority, required to hand over all collected evidence, and removed from her post. In what could have only been coincidence, del Ponte’s removal came at the same time that President George W. Bush was planning his invasion of Iraq and was looking for international partners to sign bilateral agreements that would exempt U.S. soldiers from prosecution of any potential war crimes. Rwanda’s RPF was the first African government to become such a partner. Throughout the entire history of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which continued until December 2015, nobody from the RPF was ever prosecuted, much less indicted.

The prevailing narrative paints a simplistic picture of what happened in Rwanda in the early 90s. It serves to provide cover for the military-industrial interests that profit from war, and acts as useful propaganda for convincing the people to support inhumane wars of aggression in places like Kosovo and Libya.

A sober look at the history of Rwanda reveals that tensions between the Tutsi and Hutu tribes had existed for centuries. Far from sitting on the sidelines and doing nothing, it was decades of Western imperialism and interventionism that exacerbated and inflamed those tensions. It wasn’t a genocide, but rather a war that was precipitated by an invasion from a foreign army armed with U.S. military equipment, led by men who had been trained at U.S. military bases. Both sides committed unspeakable atrocities, but the RPF invaders started it.

Jared Wall became convinced of and passionate about the philosophy of freedom and liberty during the Ron Paul presidential campaigns. Since then, he has focused on the issue of war and peace, especially as it relates to Central and Eastern Africa. He can be reached at jared@anarcholand.com. 

America’s War on Terror Has Displaced Millions

America’s War on Terror Has Displaced Millions

The wars the U.S. government has fought since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, have forced 37 million people—and perhaps as many as 59 million—from their homes, according to a newly released report from American University and Brown University’s Costs of War Project.

Until now, no one has known how many people the wars have displaced. Indeed, most Americans are likely unaware that U.S. combat operations have taken place not only in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, but also in 21 other nations since President George W. Bush announced a global war on terror.

Neither the Pentagon, the State Department nor any other part of the U.S. government has tracked the displacement. Scholars and international organizations, such as the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, have provided some data about refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) for individual countries at war. But this data offers point-in-time counts rather than the cumulative number of people displaced since the wars started.

In the first calculation of its kind, American University’s Public Anthropology Clinic conservatively estimates that the eight most violent wars the U.S. military has launched or participated in since 2001—in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, the Philippines, Somalia, Syria and Yemen—have produced 8 million refugees and asylum seekers and 29 million internally displaced people.

Displaced Static Final R2 0907 703x1024The estimated 37 million displaced is more than those displaced by any war or disaster since at least 1900, except for World War II, when 30 million to 64 million or more people fled their homes. Thirty-seven million exceeds those displaced during World War I (approximately 10 million), the partition of India and Pakistan (14 million) and the U.S. war in Vietnam (13 million).

Displacing 37 million people is equivalent to removing nearly all the residents of the state of California or all the people in Texas and Virginia combined. The figure is almost as large as the population of Canada. The United States’ post-9/11 wars have played an overlooked role in fueling the near-doubling of refugees and internally displaced people globally between 2010 and 2019, from 41 million to 79.5 million.

Millions have fled air strikes, bombings, artillery fire, house raids, drone attacks, gun battles and rape. People have escaped the destruction of their homes, neighborhoods, hospitals, schools, jobs and local food and water sources. They have fled forced evictions, death threats and large-scale ethnic cleansing set off by the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in particular.

The U.S. government is not solely responsible for displacing 37 million people; the Taliban, Iraqi Sunni and Shia militias, Al-Qaida, the Islamic State group and other governments, combatants and actors also bear responsibility.

Pre-existing conditions of poverty, global warming-induced environmental change and other violence have contributed to driving people from their homes. However, the eight wars in the AU study are ones the U.S. government bears responsibility for initiating, for escalating as a major combatant or for fueling, through drone strikes, battlefield advising, logistical support, arms sales and other aid.

Specifically, the Public Anthropology Clinic estimates the displacement of:

  • 5.3 million Afghans (representing 26% of the pre-war population) since the start of the U.S. war in Afghanistan in 2001;
  • 3.7 million Pakistanis (3% of the pre-war population) since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 quickly became a single war crossing the border into northwest Pakistan;
  • 1.7 million Filipinos (2%) since the U.S. military joined the Philippine government in its decades-old war with Abu Sayyaf and other insurgent groups in 2002;
  • 4.2 million Somalis (46%) since U.S. forces began supporting a UN-recognized Somali government fighting the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) in 2002 and, after 2006, the ICU’s breakaway militia wing Al Shabaab;
  • 4.4 million Yemenis (24%) since the U.S. government began drone assassinations of alleged terrorists in 2002 and backed a Saudi Arabia-led war against the Houthi movement since 2015;
  • 9.2 million Iraqis (37%) since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and occupation and the post-2014 war against the Islamic State group;
  • 1.2 million Libyans (19%) since the U.S. and European governments intervened in the 2011 uprising against Moammar Gadhafi fueling an ongoing civil war;
  • 7.1 million Syrians (37%) since the U.S. government began waging war against the Islamic State in 2014.

Most refugees from the wars in the study have fled to neighboring countries in the greater Middle East, especially Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. About 1 million reached Germany; hundreds of thousands fled to other countries in Europe as well as to the United States. Most Filipinos, Libyans and Yemenis have been displaced within their own countries.

The Public Anthropology Clinic used the most reliable international data available, from the UNHCR, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, the International Organization for Migration and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Given questions about the accuracy of displacement data in war zones, the calculation methodology was a conservative one.

Statistics for refugees and asylum seekers easily could be 1.5 to 2 times higher than the findings suggest, yielding some 41 million to 45 million people displaced. The 7.1 million Syrians displaced represent only those displaced from five Syrian provinces where U.S. forces have fought and operated since 2014 and the beginning of the U.S. war against the Islamic State in Syria.

A less conservative approach would include the displaced from all of Syria’s provinces since 2014 or as early as 2013 when the U.S. government began backing Syrian rebel groups. This could take the total to between 48 million and 59 million, comparable to the scale of World War II’s displacement.

The clinic’s 37 million estimate is also conservative because it does not include millions displaced during other post-9/11 wars and conflicts involving U.S. forces.

U.S. combat troops, drones strikes and surveillance, military training, arms sales and other pro-government aid have played roles in conflicts in countries including Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia (linked to Yemen’s war), South Sudan, Tunisia and Uganda. In Burkina Faso, for example, there were 560,000 internally displaced people by the end of 2019 amid a growing militant insurgency.

The damage inflicted by displacement has been profound across all 24 countries where U.S. troops have deployed. Losing one’s home and community, among other losses, has impoverished people not just economically but also psychologically, socially, culturally and politically. The effects of displacement extend to host communities and countries, which can face burdens hosting refugees and those who have been displaced internally, including increased societal tensions. On the other hand, host societies often benefit from the arrival of displaced people because of greater societal diversity, increased economic activity and international aid.

Of course, displacement is just one facet of war’s destruction.

In Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and Yemen alone, an estimated 755,000 to 786,000 civilians and combatants have died as a result of combat. An additional 15,000 U.S. military personnel and contractors have died in the post-9/11 wars. Total deaths on all sides in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and Yemen may reach 3–4 million or more, including those who have died as a result of disease, hunger and malnutrition caused by the wars. The number of those injured and traumatized extends into the tens of millions.

Ultimately, the harm inflicted by war, including on the 37 million to 59 million displaced, is incalculable. No number, no matter how large, can capture the immensity of the damage suffered.

Key sources: David Vine, The United States of War: A Global History of America’s Endless Conflicts, from Columbus to the Islamic State (Oakland: University of California Press, 2020); David Vine, “Lists of U.S. Military Bases Abroad, 1776-2020,” American University Digital Research Archive; Base Structure Report: Fiscal Year 2018 Baseline; A Summary of the Real Property Inventory Data (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Defense, 2018); Barbara Salazar Torreon and Sofia Plagakis, Instances of Use of United States Armed Forces Abroad, 1798–2018 (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, 2018).

Note: Some bases only occupied for part of 2001–2020. At the height of U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there were over 2,000 bases abroad.

This article was originally featured at the Investigative Reporting Workshop and is republished with permission.

Making Politics More Like a Free Market

Making Politics More Like a Free Market

Free-market capitalism is the most successful economic system in history, as it has brought unprecedented prosperity and powered vast improvements in all aspects of human well-being.

However, in spite of capitalism’s success, the application of economic ideas to politics is limited—which is very unfortunate, for many of the challenges characterizing contemporary politics could be solved if we apply the principles underlying free markets, such as free competition and dispersal of power. Making politics more like free markets would improve the quality of governance by making people’s lives less dependent on a divided and perpetually gridlocked national capital and empowering localized decision-making and spirit of free competition. 

Free Competition

Competition should be not only between political parties, but also layers of authority. Thanks to free competition, consumers obtain goods and services at the lowest prices possible, as there are many competing players. In politics, however, the state does not face any competition, and thus has little incentives to improve. 

Nevertheless, there is greater competition at the local level, between states, municipalities, and neighboring communities, of the kind that the central authority does not face. This is because people can relatively easily migrate to another state or city, but not to another country. Thus, competition is possible only in a system where power is decentralized and is distributed among many actors. 

When states and municipalities have more sway over people’s lives than the central government, citizens can “vote by their feet” and migrate in case they are dissatisfied with the local situation. As Milton Friedman wrote in Capitalism and Freedom, “if government is to exercise power, better in the county than in the state, better in the state than in Washington.”

This is happening in modern California, from which many people and companies are fleeing because of high taxes, burdensome regulations, etc. Likewise, following the adoption of racially discriminating laws in the American South, a lot of African-Americans moved to the North. 

Small-Scale Experiments

The intrinsic feature of a free market system is continuous and relentless technological progress. After all, the majority of technological advances have come from independent innovators rather than government-led projects—the most prominent examples being the Wright brothers, James Watt, Thomas Edison, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, etc. Experimentation and trial and error are essential to innovation in a free market system—and therefore need to be introduced to the political system as well. 

Colorado’s legalization of marijuana, for instance, brought more revenues, reduced crime and led to the drop in the use of the drug among teenagers. On the other hand, there is California’s failed approach towards homelessness. These experiences can serve as valuable lessons when crafting policies on a national level.

In a decentralized country, local and state authorities have enough independence to be able to carry out what Karl Popper called small-scale social experiments, thereby creating a national laboratory for new ideas. “It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system,” the Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote in 1932, “that a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” Piecemeal social reforms are small changes to the system aimed at resolving social ills; they are limited in their scope and impact, hence allowing us to scientifically analyze causes and effects of such changes and learn from experience. 

Dispersal of Power

In a free-market economy, decentralization of economic decision-making power reduces the likelihood of failure in the system as a whole. For instance, if one bread-producing company becomes bankrupt, the supply of bread won’t disrupt, because there are plenty of other competing firms. Decentralization also prevents the abuse of power by a single producer; no one can legally arbitrarily increase prices in a free-market economy. 

In politics, just like in free markets, dispersal of power, by making the system less susceptible to failures, will mitigate the negative effects of misguided decisions of the federal government and prevent the abuse of power by a single agent.

The government is the biggest player in society, and it is not infallible. The more power the central government has, the more the effects of its decisions, both positive and negative, will be felt across the country. By limiting the size, scope, and power of the government, the mistakes made by the center will have less adverse effects on the citizens. Distribution of power will also limit the government’s ability to abuse its power—the federal government, state and local authorities will act like checks and balances against each other. 

Decentralized Decision-Making

There is another benefit stemming from the dispersal of power: utilization of available knowledge is more effective when decision-making process is dispersed.  

In his seminal work The Use of Knowledge in Society, economist F. A. Hayek argued that the free-market system is successful because it distributes the process of economic decision-making among many participants rather than concentrates it in the hands of the state. 

Individuals are free to make their own decisions based on their intimate “knowledge of circumstances of time and place,” the “knowledge of people, of local conditions, and special circumstances” which cannot be conveyed to the central government in any form. As Hayek wrote, 

…the shipper who earns his living from using otherwise empty or half-filled journeys of tramp-steamers, or the estate agent whose whole knowledge is almost exclusively one of temporary opportunities, or the arbitrageur who gains from local differences of commodity prices, are all performing eminently useful functions based on special knowledge of circumstances of the fleeting moment not known to others.

Put differently, knowledge necessary for the wise wielding of power is decentralized; therefore, in order to effectively utilize available knowledge, power should be dispersed between many players as well. The recognition of the fact that the central authority is unable to collect and analyze “knowledge of the circumstances of time and place” is the reason for the decentralization of economic decision-making in free-market economies. 

The same principle should underpin political decision-making. Especially in big and diverse countries, smaller units can adapt to the local peculiarities and specifics of their situation—unlike the central government. Local authorities, who are closer to the facts of the situation, should be endowed with power to make decisions themselves because they are better familiar with the peculiar circumstances and the needs of the citizens. Indeed, according to the polling by Gallup, while only 35 percent of Americans trust the federal government, 72 percent have “great deal” or a “fair amount” of confidence in their local government.

And small groups, since they meet face-to-face, are more likely to reach compromise on local issues, as opposed to polarized Washington. Face-to-face interactions with other humans are restrained by our physical closeness to them, while with big imaginary entities, like the state, there is no such physical feeling of responsibility. At the top, all societal problems seem abstract, and we do not grasp the abstract as efficiently as we do the emotional and the physical.

Concluding Remarks

In free markets, truth is arrived at by the combination of multiple views, and fallibility inherent to each of them ultimately cancels out, thereby making prices, rather than the whims of a central planning board, indicators of the true worth of a particular commodity. Likewise in politics, no one is infallible; this is why political power is dispersed and limited, and the best solutions usually result not from unilateral decisions but continuous interactions aimed at the attainment of consensus by multiple participants. 

In both economics and politics, we need free competition and the dispersal decision-making power, since they encourage better governance by allowing people to “vote by their feet,” limit the influence of the center on people’s lives, allow for small-scale social experiments, and empower local communities.

Sukhayl Niyazov is an independent author and researcher whose work has been published in Areo magazine, Human Events, Global Policy Journal, Merion West, and others.

ATIXA: Willful Non-Compliance With Title IX?

ATIXA: Willful Non-Compliance With Title IX?

Just because a law is passed does not mean it is enacted. Implementation requires a bureaucracy willing to carry out the law rather than obstruct it.

A new Title IX regulation was published on May 6; this section of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 prohibits schools that receive federal financial assistance from discriminating against students on the basis of sex. The new regulation was meant to bring transparency to sexual misconduct hearings and due process to those who are accused of misconduct. To most people, these seem to be worthy goals.

The new rules have been subjected to legal and bureaucratic attempts to negate or lessen their impact, however. An example of legal obstruction: In January, the gender equity National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) sued the Department of Education (DOE) to block the changes. In June it sued again.

An example of bureaucratic obstruction: The College Fix documented how the highly influential Association of Title IX Administrators (ATIXA) tried to “work around” the transparency requirement of posting the training materials used by Title IX administrators. ATIXA is “a professional association for approximately 4,500 thousand Title IX coordinators, investigators, and administrators,” with the mission of “helping to advance gender equity in schools and colleges”; since 2011, it has trained and certified “more than 7,250 Title IX Coordinators and more than 23,550 Title IX investigators. ATIXA President Brett A. Sokolow admonished the membership to refuse because the materials were copyrighted. The College Fix interpreted this instruction to mean “ATIXA will sue colleges for following a legally binding regulation.” Sokolow backed down, however, when the DOE’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) caught wind of the obstruction and doubled down on its demand for transparency.

This did not end ATIXA’s work-arounds. And the efforts to obstruct have been co-ordinated. ATIXA co-signed a March 25, 2020 letter, for example, in which the NWLC called to suspend the then-preliminary regulations. The dynamic is a fascinating snapshot of how bureaucracy works to block the implementation of laws that it believes embody the ‘wrong’ politics. And to do so behind the scenes as well as or more than on center-stage.

True to his commitment to non-transparency, Sokolow wrote on the ATIXA Member listserv, “SAVE and OCR will be watching carefully for end-runs…SAVE is also clearly worried about work-arounds, but I distinguish ends-runs [sic] from work-arounds. End-runs violate the regs, or their spirit. We encourage all members to avoid end-runs. Work-arounds take clever advantage of areas where OCR left holes or gaps, and fill those not with abusive deviation, but with best practices and approaches that are wholly in keeping with the spirit and purpose of Title IX.” In short, do not break the law, but find ways to non-comply.

ATIXA simply defines the purpose of Title IX differently than does DOE Secretary Betsy DeVos who has returned the measure to its original purpose; prohibiting sexual discrimination. ATIXA’s agenda was expressed in 2011, when a Dear Colleague Letter from the Obama administration instructed colleges to use Title IX to pursue the far broader goal of “gender equity.” The term can be defined as the state in which all students enjoy equivalent rights, benefits, obligations, and opportunities. This requires more than equal treatment under law and policy. In fact, it often requires different treatment if the student involved is a minority or viewed as oppressed. Female students are seen as vulnerable to sexual abuse and, so, accused male students have been disadvantaged in the resulting investigations and hearings. Accused males were denied the basics of due process, such as a presumption of innocence or the right to question an accuser; sometimes, they could not even learn the accuser’s name. Predictably, the number of sex discrimination complaints increased from 17,724 (2000-2010) to 80,739 (2011-2020). Lawsuits against universities by those accused increased sharply as well.

On August 14, the DeVos regulation went into effect after a federal judge denied an legal attempt to stop it. ATIXA’s attempts to block it continue. After all, ATIXA embraces an “always believe the female accuser” position. Its Annual Virtual Conference in October, for example, features Tarana Burke, the founder of the ‘me too’ movement, as its keynote opening speaker.

The organization has issued The ATIXA Members’ Comprehensive 2020 Title IX Regulations Implementation Guide. The manual advises, “This guide will help you to confirm your institutional commitment to sex/gender equity and continue the important work you’ve undertaken in recent years, while making the required changes to re-emphasize and ensure due process for all parties. ATIXA endeavors to help you to steer a course that is compliant with the new federal mandates, but that does not unravel your current progress in doing so.” In other words, it instructs members on how to comply on the surface while working-around the new rules in practice.

Perhaps the most interesting document, however, is ATIXA’s 11-page position statement: Compliance with the 2020 Title IX Regulations Will Require a Formalized and Expanded Title IX Team. Although the DeVos regulation greatly simplifies and clarifies what constitutes sexual misconduct and limits the scope of hearings, the position statement calls for “a new and/or expanded” bureaucracy to handle “dramatically expanded due process protections, transparent sharing of all evidence collected during an investigation, formal live hearings, advisors, sophisticated rules of questioning and evidence, and mandated appeals.” Perhaps, the call for expansion was predictable as bureaucracies always seek to grow, not shrink. Again, predictably, the position statement calls for more funding.

A particularly interesting section is “Might the Regulations Just Go Away Soon?”; it could have been titled “What to Do While You Are Waiting for DeVos to Go Away.” The section opens, “Some of you may have been told to wait it out, in the hopes that these regulations will be shot down by the courts, or rescinded next year by a Biden administration.” ATIXA advises against this. For one thing, “even if the regulations are enjoined by a federal judge, a partial injunction, which would affect only some parts of implementation, is much more likely than a full injunction.” For another, if Biden wins the presidency, “it will easily be a year or more…before any significant action is taken with respect to replacing the regulations.” ATIXA expresses the source of its resistance; the new rules “swing the pendulum too far, and will likely compromise rights that Title IX was meant to protect. Compliance…has the potential to deepen oppositional stances between those who identify with the rights of survivors and those who identify with the rights of respondents.”

How about identifying equally with the rights of everyone involved?

Unfortunately, campus bureaucrats and allied organizations are here to stay. In 2017, Sokolow said that Title IX officers are prepared for whatever may come. “I’m playing a long game and looking at this [new Title IX rules] as a cyclical retraction,” he said. “Title IX is 45 years old. It’s waxed and waned. It isn’t going anywhere. We just have to figure out how to navigate it.” If due process and transparency—the bulwarks of justice—have to choose a nemesis, bureaucracy ranks high on that list.

Public Letter, Signed By Prosecutors, Judges, and Cops, Demands Congress Expunge All Marijuana Convictions

Public Letter, Signed By Prosecutors, Judges, and Cops, Demands Congress Expunge All Marijuana Convictions

The organization formerly known as Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), now known as Law Enforcement Action Partnership, along with the National Black Police Association, and Fair and Just Prosecution have signed onto a revolutionary letter to Congress urging the federal government to legalize marijuana and expunge all past convictions relating to marijuana. In addition to the three major groups signing on to the letter, dozens of current and former prosecutors, judges and police officers. Cook County State Attorney Kim Foxx and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison (D) also signed on.

The letter went out last month and is addressed to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). It calls on House lawmakers to “swiftly bring” the bill, dubbed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, to the floor for a vote this month.

The group accurately portrays the problem created by the war on marijuana and how it degrades trust in police.

A significant driver of public distrust in law enforcement is our focus on low-level marijuana arrests. As the most visible part of the justice system, we police are already met with animosity every day. Our effectiveness and morale should not suffer unnecessarily. If marijuana had never been criminalized, many more Americans would greet us with warmth and cooperation rather than fear and malice. Without the trust of the people we serve, we lose a valuable crime-fighting resource. When community members refuse to talk to us, fail to present evidence or even to report crime, our jobs become much more difficult. Legalizing marijuana will help alleviate this tension and allow us to focus on our shared priorities: responding to emergencies and curbing serious crime.

The resources used to enforce marijuana law violations could be shifted and used to more effectively tackle serious and violent crimes. Americans were arrested for marijuana seven million times between 2001 and 2010, the vast majority of which were just for possession. Even as more states legalize marijuana, police made more than 663,000 marijuana arrests—92% of them for possession—last year alone. Meanwhile, homicide and sex crimes units struggle to get evidence examined in a timely manner. While that evidence sits in storage for years collecting dust, predators roam free to harm more innocent people. This misallocation of resources is disgraceful. By legalizing marijuana at the federal level, we will send a message to every police department in this country about our real priorities. Our allegiance lies with crime survivors and would-be victims, not with marijuana prohibition. By focusing on serious crime and creating safe neighborhoods—rather than arresting people for a drug most Americans think should be legal—we will be able to solve more crimes and earn back the trust of our communities.

This letter contains no new information. However, the fact that it is receiving coverage in the mainstream and is directed at Congress is encouraging. This conversation is long overdue and it needs to change now as the war on drugs fosters a violent and criminal society.

It should go further, however, and move to decriminalize all substances, not just marijuana.

As readers of TFTP know, America has the largest prison population in the world. It is estimated that victimless crime constitutes 86% of the federal prison population. That means the only reason that these individuals are incarcerated is because the state deemed their non-violent personal choices, “illegal.” The majority of that 86% is for illegal drugs only.

Most of the people who are thrown in prison are non-violent. However, when they are locked in cages with society’s worst and treated like cattle in a factory farm, they come out forever changed. America is breeding a torturous and violent environment, and they have the audacity to call this the “justice system.”

This system—whether or not the right wants to admit it—disproportionately targets minorities, fostering a violent and tyrannical environment. The research cited in the letter also points this fact out.

If you honestly believe that black lives matter, it is your duty to call for an end to the drug war. Ending the drug war would have profound effects on police interactions in black communities.

No longer would cops be able to launch fishing expeditions in an attempt to catch black people with a substance deemed illegal by the state. This would drastically reduce the amount of police interactions as a whole. What’s more, as the letter points out, it would decrease crime by eliminating the monopoly on drug sales held by organized criminal gangs. It would defund the gangs and remove much of the incentive to wage violence in their community.

To understand why this would have such a drastic effect, you have to realize that when the government makes certain substances illegal, it does not remove the demand. Instead, the state creates crime by pushing the sale and control of these substances into the illegal black markets—usually monopolized by gang members in poor communities. All the while, demand remains constant. Because this market is not regulated by free market principals, safety and child possession fall to the wayside. The authors of the letter understand this and point out how legalization would curb this problem.

Regulation reduces youth access and keeps adult consumers safe. Criminalizing marijuana has been a boon to the illegal market where there are no regulations, product testing, etc. Resourceful teenagers do not usually have trouble accessing marijuana when it is illegal. Underground sellers do not have to obtain age verification before making a sale and may sell
other far more dangerous substances. Legalizing marijuana shrinks the size of the market available to teens, which simultaneously reduces their exposure to criminal activity in general.

A profitable underground market supports the high demand for marijuana, much as it did during the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s and ‘30s. Calling marijuana a “controlled” substance is illusory; where it is illegal, we have no control. We cannot ensure the purity of the product, require the use of childproof containers, or determine who can buy and sell it. Over time, marijuana legalization will drive out the underground market, just as alcohol bootleggers disappeared after repealing alcohol prohibition. Right now, the underground market still flourishes because marijuana is legal in some places and not others. The most impactful way to take marijuana profits away from criminal organizations and reduce youth access is to regulate marijuana similarly to how we regulate alcohol and cigarettes.

The illegality of drug possession and use is what keeps the low-level users and dealers in and out of the court systems, and most of these people are poor black men. Black people are more likely to receive a harsher punishment for the same drug crime as a white person.

This revolving door of creating and processing criminals fosters the phenomenon known as Recidivism which is the tendency of those who are processed into the system and the likelihood of future criminal behavior.

The War on Drugs takes good people and turns them into criminals every single minute of every single day. The system is set up in such a way that it fans the flames of violent crime by essentially building a factory that turns out violent criminals.

The system knows this too!

As stated by the law enforcement experts in their letter, when drugs are legalized, gang violence drops—drastically. Not only does it have a huge effect on the localized gangs in America, but the legalization of drugs is crippling to the violent foreign drug cartels too. 

Until Americans educate themselves on the causeof this violence, uninformed and corrupt lawmakers will continue to focus on controlling the symptoms.

We will see more senseless killings and more innocent lives stripped of opportunity by getting entangled in the system. We must end the drug war now.

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.

How to Misuse Global COVID-19 Statistics

How to Misuse Global COVID-19 Statistics

Have you heard about Somalia’s COVID-19 policy?

In the official statistics, Somalia has just 3,362 confirmed infections and 97 confirmed deaths from COVID-19. On a per capita basis, the country has a death toll just barely above New Zealand, and below other widely reported success stories like South Korea, Japan, Norway, Germany, etc.

Yet, my guess is you probably have not heard much about how Somalia defeated the coronavirus. Why is that?

The reason is that, implicitly, no one thinks Somalia’s statistics reflect the underlying reality. Still the recurring target of US drone strikes and dealing with internal conflict, Somalia–like many other impoverished or conflict-torn countries around the world–has little capacity to deal with COVID-19.

Thus, their numbers probably aren’t low because they came up with a uniquely successful strategy. They’re low because they aren’t counting.

The Implications of Incomplete Data

All of this may seem obvious. However, the implications of this observation are routinely forgotten in reports on the coronavirus.

The problem is two-fold: First, Somalia is not an isolated example. There are numerous countries around the world with extremely low case numbers that are almost certainly caused by a lack of testing and counting, not actual policy success. Second, all of these same statistics roll up into the official global COVID-19 totals.

While everyone seems to recognize that numbers from Somalia and others are not real, they forget that this necessarily means that the global totals are also compromised.

We see versions of this error constantly, but here are a couple examples to watch out for.

CNN: The US has 4% of the world’s population but 25% of its coronavirus cases

Depending on the date of the article and metric chosen (cases vs. deaths), the second percentage in this claim will fluctuate somewhat. The point is to show that the US accounts for a disproportionate share of damage caused by the coronavirus. That general claim is valid, but the uncritical use of global statistics greatly exaggerates the disparity.

According to Worldometers, approximately 1.5 billion people live in countries where very limited testing (less than 1% of population) has been done. Additionally, some large countries like India only recently ramped up their testing program, and still have totals well below the US for the moment.

This line is a standard inclusion in many stories on the coronavirus. The article used above is slightly unique only because it led with it in the headline.

NYT: America’s Death Gap

Here, The New York Times can be commended for at least making a passing reference to the old missile gap canard. Hopefully, this tipped readers off to the fact that what they were about to read was not true.

In the piece, the Times offers the following thought experiment:

If the United States had done merely an average job of fighting the coronavirus — if the U.S. accounted for the same share of virus deaths as it did global population — how many fewer Americans would have died?

The answer: about 145,000.

That’s a large majority of the country’s 183,000 confirmed coronavirus-related deaths.

The problem with this is not that their math is wrong; the problem is that they’re relying on figures that everyone–including them–knows or should know to be unreliable.

As of this writing, the official global average COVID-19 death toll is 114 per 1M people. But this figure is severely diluted by all the countries that have large populations and limited testing.

If we were to treat this global average as a real number, we are left with some rather implausible conclusions.

Yes, the US is much worse than official average with 583 deaths per 1M. Fair enough.

But the same goes for countries like Canada and Switzerland which have 242 and 232 deaths per 1M, respectively. Does anyone think Canada has performed twice as bad as the average country in this pandemic?

Likewise, oft-praised countries like Germany (112)  and Denmark (108) appear to be only marginally better than average. Are we to believe these countries weren’t very successful after all?

No one thinks these other conclusions are true, but it follows from the Times’ line of analysis. The absurdity of the global average only becomes obvious when it’s compared to the results of other countries that are known as success stories.

Conclusion

The point here is not to defend the US’s track record on the coronavirus. It has performed abysmally on every conceivable metric, albeit not literally the worst. (That dubious honor belongs to Peru, with Belgium a close second.)

Rather, this is an argument for basic data literacy. If the details of a data set are unreliable, they don’t magically become reliable when you sum them up or pass them through an econometric model. Garbage in means garbage out.

We live in a time when almost every politician and pundit says we need to “follow the data”. Perhaps we should start by understanding its limitations.

New Report on the Nullification Movement in America

New Report on the Nullification Movement in America

Available formats (right-click to download):

“Let us remember that if we suffer tamely a lawless attack upon our liberty, we encourage it, and involve others in our doom!”

Writing as Candidus in the Boston Gazette on Oct. 14, 1771, Samuel Adams recognized an important and timeless truth. Turning a blind eye to an attack on liberty only guarantees that more attacks will follow in the future.

The same goes for violations of the Constitution, which the Founders often referred to as “usurpations,” or the exercise of “arbitrary power.”

History bears out this truth. Step-by-step, the federal government has expanded its own power and chipped away our liberties as most people turned a blind eye.

In his 1791 Opinion on the Constitutionality of a National Bank, Thomas Jefferson agreed with Adams in principle when he wrote:

“I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground: That ‘all powers not delegated to the United States, by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States or to the people.’ [10th Amendment] To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specifically drawn around the powers of Congress is to take possession of a boundless field of power, no longer susceptible of any definition.”

Today we face a federal government that has taken literally hundreds of thousands of steps beyond the boundaries drawn by the Constitution.Here at the Tenth Amendment Center, we will never turn a blind eye, and step-by-step, we’re pushing the feds back.

But turning things around from a government with tens of thousands of unconstitutional “laws,” regulations, rules and orders on the books isn’t going to happen in a single step either.

As Thomas Jefferson put it in a 1790 letter to the Rev. Charles Clay:

“The ground of liberty is to be gained by inches, that we must be contented to secure what we can get from time to time, and eternally press forward for what is yet to get. It takes time to persuade men to do even what is for their own good.”

To be blunt, anyone promising a silver bullet is lying to you.

Step-by-step. Inch-by-inch. Brick-by-brick. That’s how we build a strong foundation for the Constitution and liberty.

This report tells the current story of our efforts.

We like to think of it as a prospectus, of sorts—an “investor’s guide” to our work here the Tenth Amendment Center.

Our membership program has allowed us to do more than we ever thought possible. We’ve seen more nullification bills introduced—and PASSED—in the last few years than at any time in our history. With your help, we’re going to build on that in 2020 and the years to come.

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

A Protected Class: Police Union Issues ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ Cards to Civilians

A Protected Class: Police Union Issues ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ Cards to Civilians

Known as blue privilege, there is an unwritten law among police officers: when they catch their fellow cop, or even their fellow cop’s family member or friend breaking the law, they are let go without consequence. Situations that have led to the murder of minorities and poor people end far differently when its police and their families caught committing the same crimes. A recent report out of Vice shows that this corruption runs so deep that police unions actually issue courtesy cards to friends and family of cops that allow them to get out of minor infractions.

The cards are issued by the Police Benevolent Association, or other police unions and they are known as “courtesy cards.” They have the issuing officer’s name and signature on the back, along with a phone number for the ticketing or arresting officer to call to verify the relationship.

As Vice reports, the cards are designed to be presented in a low-stakes police encounter, like a traffic stop, as a laminated wink-and-nudge between officers that says, “Hey, would you mind going a little easy on this one?” When a cop is handed a PBA card, they can call the number on it to verify the relationship between the cardholder and the issuer, then decide whether it means they should give the cardholder a break.

Vice interviewed a man identified only as Mike, who told them he’s been a courtesy card carrier for decades. Mike told Vice of one police encounter in which he was driving a car that was not his, had no license plate, and was illegally driving on the shoulder through a police check point when he was stopped. Despite Richard breaking numerous laws in front of police, when they stopped him, he pulled out the card and he was sent on his way.

“That was probably the tightest spot I could’ve been in,” Mike said. “Because [the offense] could’ve been ‘driving without a plate,’ ‘driving with no registration…’”

The PBA isn’t even trying to keep it a secret. As Vice reports, New York City’s largest police union issues these courtesy cards—nicknamed “get out of jail free cards”—to its members on a yearly basis. Members can pass the cards out to whomever they choose to provide them with a little extra protection.

While cops don’t have to necessarily abide by the card and can use discretion either way, the fact that the cards exist highlight a glaring problem with police.

TFTP has reported on countless cases in which minuscule traffic infractions have led to brutal beatings, shootings, and killings of otherwise entirely innocent people.

One prominent example of this is Philando Castile—who was executed by police—despite breaking no law. On July 6, 2016, Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez pulled over a 32-year-old African American male named Castile for a broken tail light. During the stop Castile informed Yanez he had a legal fire arm in his vehicle. The admission caused Yanez to issue a rapid sequence of conflicting orders resulting in Yanez “fearing for his life,” and subsequently killing Castile, despite the fact that he had committed no crime—other than the alleged vehicle infraction.

Yanez was cleared of all wrong doing in the execution of Castile. Had Castile been carrying a PBA card, he would likely be alive today. But we’re guessing these cards don’t make their way to the hands of too many poor and minority people.

This list of police killings for minor infractions goes on and on.

The odds weren’t in Walter L. Scott’s favor. Reportedly pulled over for a broken taillight, Scott—unarmed—ran away from the police officer, who pursued and shot him from behind, first with a Taser, then with a gun. Scott was struck five times, “three times in the back, once in the upper buttocks and once in the ear — with at least one bullet entering his heart.”

Samuel Dubose, also unarmed, was pulled over for a missing front license plate. He was reportedly shot in the head after a brief struggle in which his car began rolling forward.

Levar Jones was stopped for a seatbelt offense, just as he was getting out of his car to enter a convenience store. Directed to show his license, Jones leaned into his car to get his wallet, only to be shot four times by the “fearful” officer. Jones was also unarmed.

Bobby Canipe was pulled over for having an expired registration. When the 70-year-old reached into the back of his truck for his walking cane, the officer fired several shots at him, hitting him once in the abdomen.

Dontrell Stevens was stopped “for not bicycling properly.” The officer pursuing him “thought the way Stephens rode his bike was suspicious. He thought the way Stephens got off his bike was suspicious.” Four seconds later, sheriff’s deputy Adams Lin shot Stephens four times as he pulled out a black object from his waistband. The object was his cell phone. Stephens was unarmed.

Had any of the aforementioned individuals been given one of these PBA cards, they would likely be alive today.

The sad part about this is that the connected class’s preferential treatment through the issuance of these cards allows them a pass when they can actually pay the fines imposed on them through these traffic stops. The majority of traffic citations in most areas, however, go to poor people and minorities who often cannot afford to pay them. When they fail to pay their citations, arrest warrants are issued and these folks get processed into the system ensuring a lifetime of suffering.

The solution here isn’t to start ticketing more rich people, it’s to stop predatory policing all together and usher in a society where a police union get out of jail card is moot because cops stop extorting people for being unable to fix a broken tail light.

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.

A Rejoinder to the Looters: It’s More Than ‘Just Property’

A Rejoinder to the Looters: It’s More Than ‘Just Property’

It’s now become fashionable on the left to defend looting as a means of redistributing wealth from allegedly unworthy business owners to the more deserving looters themselves.

“It’s just property!” is the refrain, with the implication being that property owners should not defend their property with coercive means—such as calling in the police or using privately owned weapons against looters.1Perhaps the most famous case of this is the “rooftop Koreans” who defended their shops with handguns, rifles, and shotguns during the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

This is the philosophy behind a recent declaration from a Black Lives Matter organizer. As the New York Post reported on August 11:

“I don’t care if somebody decides to loot a Gucci’s or a Macy’s or a Nike because that makes sure that that person eats. That makes sure that that person has clothes,” [BLM organizer] Ariel Atkins said at a rally outside the South Loop police station Monday, local outlets reported….“That’s a reparation,” Atkins said.

A more full apologia for looting now comes in the form of a new book titled In Defense of Looting by Vicky Osterweil, who identifies herself as “a writer, editor, and agitator based in Philadelphia.”

In an interview with National Public Radio, Osterweil states:

When I use the word looting, I mean the mass expropriation of property, mass shoplifting during a moment of upheaval or riot….

It tends to be an attack on a business, a commercial space, maybe a government building—taking those things that would otherwise be commodified and controlled and sharing them for free.

Osterweil then goes on to assert that looting is basically a poverty relief program and that it liberates the looters from having to work for a living:

It gets people what they need for free immediately, which means that they are capable of living and reproducing their lives without having to rely on jobs or a wage.

And most fundamentally of all, looting is an attack on private property itself. If only there were more looting, we could all “have things for free”:

[Looting] attacks the idea of property, and it attacks the idea that in order for someone to have a roof over their head or have a meal ticket, they have to work for a boss, in order to buy things that people just like them somewhere else in the world had to make under the same conditions. It points to the way in which that’s unjust. And the reason that the world is organized that way, obviously, is for the profit of the people who own the stores and the factories. So you get to the heart of that property relation, and demonstrate that without police and without state oppression, we can have things for free.

This sort of thing may seem convincing to those who prefer to live in the realm of pure theory. Big words like “commodify” and “oppression” might strike beginner-level dissidents as impressive. But once we start to look at the real-world details of how looting works, we quickly find that looting your local auto parts store or Nike outlet isn’t going to bring down Wall Street hedge funders any time soon. What it will do is hurt ordinary people who own businesses and work in shops that are targeted by looters. Moreover, once the smoke has cleared, we’ll find that low-income neighborhoods have suffered the most.

Specifically, there are three reasons why looting will only serve to hurt exactly the ordinary people for whom looting advocates pretend to be champions.

One: Regular People Work at Looted Businesses

Retail stores provide jobs to ordinary working people, including those who lack formal education. What’s more, these jobs are often desirable jobs, offering a workplace that’s air conditioned, clean, and far safer than more dangerous jobs like driving a bus or construction. This is especially true of high-end retail shops. But selling handbags and gadgets to rich clients doesn’t make the salesperson wealthy even if it can provide a decent living.

When looters destroy these stores and remove their merchandise, among those most impacted are the ordinary staff members. Without any merchandise, there’s nothing to sell. And with nothing to sell, there’s no revenue that can be used to support a wage for the sales staff.

Looters may pat themselves on the back for “liberating” these workers from their “wage slavery,” but it’s unlikely the newly unemployed workers will see things this way when they show up in the morning and find their place of work torched and ransacked.

Two: Looting Victimizes Immigrant Families and Others Who Aren’t Exactly Members of the Ruling Class

Although many news stories about looting in recent weeks have focused on the looting of high-end retail outlets in places like Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, the fact is that looting more often occurs in neighborhoods where residents are working class or low income.

And in these neighborhoods, the owners of the local shops and small businesses tend to be immigrant families and other ordinary small-time entrepreneurs who are hardly members of the Wall Street elite. According to a report on entrepreneurship in low-income areas by the Small Business Administration, self-employed workers in low-income areas are “less likely to be U.S. citizens and English speakers” relative to other areas and have less formal education. Higher proportions of the self-employed are black and Hispanic relative to other areas as well. Moreover, “The vast majority of self-employed workers in low-income areas operate a business in their area of residence.”2Maurice Kugler, Marios Michaelides, Neha Nanda, and Cassandra Agbayani, “Entrepreneurship in Low-Income Areas” (Columbia, MD: IMPAQ International, 2017), p. 21–22 These business owners tend to face hardship themselves. Part of the reason they live and work in a low-income neighborhood is because they have relatively less access to working capital and business loans than people in higher-income neighborhoods.

Lower-income neighborhoods are not entirely without advantages. Competition is often less robust in lower-income neighborhoods, as many larger firms prefer to not take on the added risk of placing their offices and stores in these areas. This leaves more room for smaller, independent firms where owners are more willing to take on the risk in exchange for lower rents and lower up-front operating costs. The downside comes from the higher potential for crime, including robberies, looting, and vandalism. But because they have few other choices, many entrepreneurs in these areas choose to take their chances. When they are successful, they bring to their neighborhoods more employment and greater access to goods and services for residents.

But it is precisely these immigrant-owned, minority-owned, and family businesses that tend to be most victimized by looters.

Three: Looting Hurts Low-Income Neighborhoods the Most

Naturally, at the level of the independent business, looting can be disastrous for business owners. The notion that looting is “no big deal” because businesses often have insurance is tone deaf to the point of being laughable. Most businesses in lower-income areas can barely afford the premiums necessary to cover the replacement value of their businesses—if they can afford them at all. Many businesses are underinsured. Nor is the recovery process effortless. Months after businesses were torched in Minneapolis’s riots, “Just 20% of all riot-related insurance claims have been paid so far.” Moreover, insurance premiums are higher in areas where there is high risk of crime and looting. Premiums will be even higher following the latest round of riots and looting.

This, is why businesses often tend to shut down and leave riot-affected neighborhoods after being looted. Insurance doesn’t just make a business owner’s problems go away. Looting and rioting also signal to other businesses to stay away.

Over time, this means fewer businesses, fewer employers, and more urban blight. It’s why after the 1977 blackout and looting in New York City countless businesses packed up shop and never returned. These areas remained economically depressed for decades afterward.

Put another way, looting and riots lead to “divestment” in lower-income neighborhoods.3High-risk neighborhoods are caught in a cycle of low capital investment thanks to the perceived risk. As noted in an April 2019 story by National Public Radio: “You have a cycle that kind of perpetuates that neighborhood being less friendly to business,” says Spencer Cowan, the researcher who compiled the data. “Businesses don’t get started. So employment stays depressed. The job opportunities aren’t there in the neighborhood. Businesses that are there don’t expand.”

Needless to say, looting doesn’t help the situation. And it only makes poverty worse for those who think they’re liberating themselves and others by ripping off iPhones and athletic shoes.

This goes beyond just the neighborhood level as well. The recent looting in Chicago—even the looting in posh business districts—only serves to cut citywide tax revenues:

“This downtown base of residents and business generates almost $2 billion for the City of Chicago,” [Magnificent Mile Association spokesman Adam] Skaf said. “If those types of retailers leave in the future, that leaves a huge hole in our tax base downtown and that affects the whole city.”

Those business don’t need to have locations in Chicago. There are plenty of other markets in America where looting is much more rare or even nonexistent. So, many business may simply leave, and this means less tax revenue for spending on infrastructure, public transportation, and social services. In other words, it means less spending on just the sorts of programs and amenities that defenders of looting tend to want.

No, looting stores is not something about which we just shrug our shoulders and say “Golly gee, it’s just property. No one got hurt. Lighten up!” Looting hurts lots of people: especially the poor, and especially those who do the most to bring capital, employment, and prosperity to lower-income neighborhoods.

This article was originally featured at the Ludwig von Mises Institute and is republished with permission.

What Bernie Goetz Can Teach Us About Vigilante Violence

What Bernie Goetz Can Teach Us About Vigilante Violence

How many times can something be divided before it permanently breaks? In a matter of months, the edifice of a United States has become more and more cracked, after repeated blows from a pandemic virus, state-imposed lockdowns, mass unemployment, police shootings, and subsequent riots. The national mood is one of exhaustion and frustration, if not outright anger.

On August 25, Americans were given another thing to divide themselves over. In response to yet another contested police shooting, riots erupted in the city of Kenosha, Wisconsin. During the ensuing chaos, video was taken of an individual in possession of an AR-15 rifle being chased by a group of people, falling to the ground, and then shooting three of his pursuers (one of whom was armed with a handgun). The shooter, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, was permitted by police to leave the scene, while two of the other men lay on the ground, dead.

Twitter threads, Facebook feeds, and newsrooms are at vitriol capacity as they argue the merits of the shooting. In conditions marked by social upheaval, and as burning buildings lick the background of city streets, the contentious issues of vigilantism and self-defense are being relitigated. The discussions happening right now are downright déjà vu.

Kyle Rittenhouse and the Kenosha shooting could prove to be a contemporary version of the 1984 New York City subway shooting, but with much more deleterious social consequences. 

City dwellers still recount horror stories about the New York City of the 1970s and 1980s, when “Fear City” became synonymous with the dangers of urban living. At the start of the period rapes and burglaries tripled, while by the end of the 70s the percentage of fires started through arson had septupled. The homicide rate fluctuated between 21 and 25 murders per 100,000 residents, and by 1980 the New York City subway had become the most dangerous transportation system in the world. 

It was in these circumstances that millions of New Yorkers struggled to go through their daily lives, including a mild-mannered electrician named Bernhard “Bernie” Goetz. After an attempted mugging left him injured and his assailants unpunished, Goetz resolved that he would not again be the victim of such routine criminality. When the city rejected his request for a concealed carry permit, due to “insufficient need,” Goetz purchased a 5-shot .38 caliber revolver out-of-state and smuggled it back home. 

On December 22, 1984, three days before Christmas, Bernie Goetz sat in a New York City subway car when four black teenagers—three 19-years old and one 18—approached. Surrounding him, one of them demanded, “Give me five dollars.” Goetz pulled out his revolver and proceeded to shoot all four teens, two of them in the back. He fled the train, and then the state.

Three of the teenagers had previously been convicted of crimes (the other only arrested), and all four were already scheduled to appear at either a trial or criminal hearing. Sharpened screwdrivers were found on their persons, although Goetz was unaware of this. Months after the incident one of the boys confirmed to a reporter that they had intended to rob Goetz. Mistaking him for “easy bait,” the confrontation left all four wounded and one paraplegic. 

Stories about “the Subway vigilante” swept both the New York City media and the public’s imagination. Comparisons were instantly made to the 1974 film Death Wish, where after the rape and murder of his family, Charles Bronson’s Paul Kersey goes on a one-man killing spree to clean up his city—including shooting attempted muggers on the subway. 

Instead of tips to help catch the at-large shooter, police hotlines were inundated with hundreds of calls of support for the still unidentified Goetz. New York Governor Mario Cuomo condemned this “vigilante spirit” among the public. “In the long run, that’s what produces the slaughter of innocent people,” he said. On December 31, Bernie Goetz surrendered himself to authorities. He was charged with several offenses, including attempted murder.

Sympathy for Goetz’s actions was widespread among the contemporary public. Working class New Yorkers, both black and white, knew what it was like to walk in fear on the streets of their own city. In the perception of citygoers, Goetz became a figure of cathartic retribution, and the four teenagers became cutouts for the petty harassment and crime that had enveloped New York.

Others could not overlook the racial aspect of the incident. ”I’m not surprised that you can round up a lynch mob,” said Benjamin Ward, the first black Police Commissioner of New York City, regarding Goetz’s supporters. ”We were always able to do that in this country. I think that the same kind of person that comes out and applauds the lynching is the first that comes out and applauds someone that shoots four kids.”

“In this country, we no longer employ firing squads,” said future Mayor David Dinkins, who believed that Goetz’ actions went far beyond anything appropriate in the criminal justice system.

Bleeding hearts had difficulty comprehending the public enthusiasm. “Don’t they know the danger that’s unleashed when someone starts shooting in a crowded place, when someone takes the law into his own hands?” asked a rhetorical New York Timeseditorial, diagnosing a fed-up public. “Of course they do, but they also know something else, bitterly. Government has failed them in its most basic responsibility: public safety. To take the law into your own hands implies taking it out of official hands. But the law, on that subway car on Dec. 22, was in no one’s hands.”

It is difficult not to come to a similar conclusion today. Police forces nationwide seem incapable of performing at an expected standard. On one hand, police are satisfied to lord over citizens who easily submit, as they regularly bully, harass, and brutalize legions of law-abiding and respectful Americans. But on the other hand, when their authority is challenged, police are quick to drop their “protect and serve” mantra and abandon whole neighborhoods to the mob’s torch. When the state fails, we should not be surprised when individuals act to fill the void.

“This was an occasion when one citizen, acting in self-defense, did what the courts have failed to accomplish time and again,” wrote New York Senator Al D’Amato. “The issue is not Bernhard Hugo Goetz. The issue is the four men who tried to harass him. They, not Mr. Goetz, should be on trial.”

In February 1985, a grand jury declined to prosecute Bernie Goetz for attempted murder. Outside the courthouse, some people protested the leniency, chanting “Bernhard Goetz, you can’t hide; we charge you with genocide.” In fact, the only charge brought against him, which he was later convicted of, was carrying an unlicensed firearm. He was sentenced to one year in prison, of which he served eight months. 

Thirty years after the subway shooting, I was attending a major libertarian social event in the Big Apple. During a break between scheduled speakers, the MC took to the stage to spontaneously announce that Bernie Goetz, “the Batman of New York City,” was in attendance. I was unaware of who Goetz was at the time and could only identify him as the man on the other side of the room who was suddenly being rushed by people wanting to shake his hand.

We don’t know how Kyle Rittenhouse will be received thirty years hence. After crossing the state line (like Goetz) to his native Illinois, Rittenhouse was arrested on Wednesday and charged with first-degree (premeditated) murder. More details about what preceded the video tape and ignited the confrontation can be expected to come to light in the coming days.

The helplessness that New Yorkers felt decades ago has, due to the untampered riots, exploded in every part of the country. Except now, the political left and right fear each other more than they do an anonymous specter of crime. The broad public sympathy that Goetz received will not be given to Rittenhouse, who is already being labeled either a rightwing terrorist or a man rightfully defending himself.

And now, on Saturday night, a Trump supporter in Portland was shot and killed for unknown reasons. Was the vigilantism in Kenosha just the beginning?

This article was originally featured at The American Conservative and is republished with permission of author.

Police Reform In Congress Is All Talk, and No Action

Police Reform In Congress Is All Talk, and No Action

A friend, and reader of the Libertarian Institute, asked me a few questions recently. Why did a group of protestors demand that Rand Paul say Breonna Taylor’s name when he was the senator that introduced the Justice for Breonna Taylor Act? Why do we see very little media coverage of bills, like the one introduced by Reps. Amash and Pressley, that could actually create criminal justice reform? Are politicians even interested in criminal justice reform, or do they only want to use it as a campaign talking point to seek votes and control? The answer to these questions is the fact that many people place importance on symbolism instead of substance and words instead of actions. This article will address each question in detail.

Why do some protestors seem completely ignorant of policing reform bills? If people cared about criminal justice reform, you would think they would pay attention to legislation. You would think they would know which legislation is being introduced and who is introducing it. If someone wanted justice for Breonna Taylor, they would likely follow reform bills like the Justice for Breonna Taylor Act, which would prohibit the very type of no-knock raids that led to her death. They would not tell a politician that sponsored the bill to “say her name.” Saying her name is a relatively empty gesture, while a criminal reform bill can make real change.

The emphasis on empty symbolism can be seen in a recent incident in which BLM protestors heckled D.C. diners and demanded that they raised their fists. Getting people to raise their fists may look great but it does absolutely nothing to create change. Forcing someone to raise their fist is not going to end qualified immunity or bust up police unions. It is an example of empty symbolism mixed with bad PR.

Why doesn’t the media give more coverage to policing reform bills? While it is on the individual to educate themselves on issues, the media is partially to blame. There are several bills that have been presented that work towards criminal justice reform. These bills get extraordinarily little media coverage. It’s not that there is zero coverage; you can find articles on the bills if you look, but you would think that a bill that could help decrease police violence would be just as important a story as the police violence itself and the related protests. Yet, you will not see any front-page articles on these bills, and you will not see many primetime interviews with the politicians that sponsor them. Maybe those stories don’t sell. Maybe legislation is too boring for the average news consumer. People want to see drama and that is what the media sells. You can see footage all day of a protest but almost no coverage of a bill that fits the protestor’s demands. The media covers a problem and the aftermath but barely touches on the solution. It is a great disservice to their readers and viewers.

Finally, why have politicians done so little in pushing policing reform bills? There have been several bills recently presented that would address policing. The Ending Qualified Immunity Act that was introduced by Rep. Justin Amash (L-MI)and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), the Reforming Qualified Immunity Act introduced by Senator Mike Braun (R-IN), and the Justice in Policing Act introduced by House Democrats.

While it is great that these bills were introduced, there is still a lot of empty talk from politicians. The House did not hear the Ending Qualified Immunity Act, but they did pass the decent but flawed Justice in Policing Act. It’s commendable that House Democrats introduced the bill, but it wasn’t without the accompaniment of some embarrassing, symbolic photo ops. Empty gestures and pandering always come first. The Reforming Qualified Immunity Act was introduced by a Senate Republican, but most Senate Republicans opted instead to support the much weaker JUSTICE Act, a bill that does not touch qualified immunity. Republican Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) has stated that ending qualified immunity is a nonstarter for the GOP. The self-proclaimed champions of limited government do not actually care about limited government or accountability.

It should be noted that no major party has decided to tackle the issue of police unions and their influence on fighting accountability and transparency. Qualified immunity was created in 1967 and no-knock raids have been around since the inception of the war on drugs. So why are politicians just now beginning to care? A few politicians seem interested in making some real changes, but many just use criminal justice reform as a talking point to get votes.

Recent actions, and honestly actions for several decades, prove that many people care more about symbolism than substance. To some, a virtuous image is the real goal. We see celebrities and athletes making statements on social media, but we never see them comment on legislation. It would be nice to see someone with millions of fans use their fame to inform voters about important bills that are being introduced. It would be nice to see politicians go after powerful police unions that protect bad officers. It would be nice to see protestors demand votes on reform bills, instead of harassing the people that introduced the bills. That would require that people place emphasis on change and substance. When people start realizing that symbolism doesn’t make real change, maybe they can start working towards real actions and maybe pass some laws that could save lives.

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.

Jerome Powell Is Stealing Your Wealth

Jerome Powell Is Stealing Your Wealth

The Federal Reserve has doubled down on its policy of devaluing your money.

During a speech in Jackson Hole last week, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell announced a shift in the central bank’s inflation policy.

In the past, the central bank has targeted a 2 percent inflation rate as measured by CPI. Now it will follow a policy of “average inflation targeting.” In effect, the Fed will allow the CPI to run “moderately” over 2 percent “for some time” to balance out periods where it runs under that level.

“Many find it counterintuitive that the Fed would want to push up inflation. However, inflation that is persistently too low can pose serious risks to the economy,” Powell said during prepared remarks at the summit.

The notion that falling prices are bad for the economy is ridiculous to begin with and is nothing more than Keynesian claptrap. But when you define inflation correctly—as an expansion of the money supply—it is anything but “too low.” In fact, it is at the highest level in history. But based on the consumer price index (CPI), “inflation” has been well below 2 percent for many years. In effect, this new policy means that the Fed will likely hold interest rates at zero for a significant amount of time—probably years—even if (when) CPI runs above 2 percent.

Fed inflation policy has evolved over time to allow for an ever-increasing devaluation of the dollar. The natural tendency in a healthy economy is for prices to decline. So originally, the Fed’s goal was “price stability. Early on, the central bank simply tried to keep prices from rising or falling. Eventually, it shifted to a 2 percent ceiling. It didn’t want rising prices, but it would tolerate them as long as they stayed below 2 percent. But eventually, 2 percent shifted from the ceiling to the target. And now the Fed has moved the goalposts once again with its 2 percent average.

The question is why does the Fed want inflation to begin with? Why does it think that falling or even stable prices “pose serious risks to the economy?”

Because without money printing (true inflation) and the accompanying price inflation, the U.S. government cannot borrow and spend to excess. The Fed is the engine that powers the biggest, most powerful government in the world.

The federal government could never get away with spending trillions every year on the welfare and warfare state if it had to directly tax Americans to pay for it. Instead, it pays for its profligacy through a hidden tax—inflation. It devalues the dollar and keeps interest rates artificially low to enable government borrowing.

The Fed doesn’t literally run off dollar bills in the basement of the Eccles Building. In practice, the Fed monetizes U.S. debt through the purchase of Treasury bonds on the open market with money it creates out of thin air. This creates artificial demand for U.S. bonds and holds interest rates artificially low. The Fed monetized trillions in debt after the 2008 financial crisis and held interest rates at zero for 7 years.

But the Fed has backed itself into a corner with its loose monetary policy. It can’t fight inflation. That requires rising interest rates. When former Federal Reserve Chair Paul Volker defeated stagflation that ran rampant in the 1970s, he allowed interest rates to rise to 20 percent. Given the amount of debt in the economy today—both government and private—a 20 percent interest rate would collapse the economy. In fact, the Fed couldn’t push rates above 2.5 percent after the Great Recession before the stock market crashed and the central bank pivoted back to rate cuts and money printing.

Since it can’t realistically fight inflation, the Federal Reserve has to keep redefining its inflation policy to justify rising consumer prices. It’s not because it’s “good for the economy.” It’s because it can’t let interest rates rise without popping the economic bubble. It can’t keep inflation constrained while maintaining the monetary policy necessary to sustain government spending. So, it simply moves the goalposts in order to justify continuing its money-printing and artificially low interest rate policies without having to explain why inflation is running hot.

Meanwhile, your purchasing power continues to diminish, the value of your savings dwindles, and the dollar flutters ever-closer to the edge of a cliff.

Because this can’t go on forever. At some point, the Fed will completely lose control of inflation. Now that the genie is out of the bottle, she’s not going back inside. Money printing can only go so long before inflation starts to run out of control. If the central bank still fails to act, it runs the risk of hyperinflation.

Many people believe the U.S. can escape hyperinflation because the dollar enjoys special status as the world reserve currency. That certainly makes it easier for the Fed to print with abandon. But there is no guarantee the dollar will always remain at the top of the monetary pile. In fact, Goldman Sachs recently warned the dollar could be in danger of losing its reserve status.

“Combined with a record level of debt accumulation by the US government, real concerns around the longevity of the U.S. dollar as a reserve currency have started to emerge.”

Eventually, economics always wins.

Even without hyperinflation, the constant devaluation of the dollar erodes the average person’s wealth. And the money-printing enables the government to continue growing. If you really want to limit the government, it’s imperative to end the Fed.

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

Toxic Partisanship: A Gateway Towards Authoritarianism

Toxic Partisanship: A Gateway Towards Authoritarianism

For years a consistent refrain in American politics has bewailed an increasingly polarized political atmosphere.

As the Pew Research Center observes, for the first time in almost 25 years, “majorities in both parties express not just unfavorable but very unfavorable views of the other party.” Americans, the Pew study shows, now look across the aisle with fear, anger, and contempt, committed more strongly than ever to their respective teams. On college campuses, disagreements that might have been thoughtful, even friendly debates have erupted into violent melees, ending in injury and damaged property. Attacks and intimidation, it seems, have become a part of American political life.

But the conspicuousness of America’s political polarization belies a counterintuitive insight: the belligerents of the nation’s social and political war are actually very much alike. Culturally and aesthetically, the groups appear quite different, yet their political philosophies share a common heritage, rooted in the anti-Enlightenment ideas of the first half of the twentieth century.

Gripped by reductionist groupthink, a toxin generated by the United States’ acrid culture-war politics, left and right are moving—regressing, in fact—toward their most crudely authoritarian incarnations. Their declension recalls the totalitarian communist and fascist ideologies of the early twentieth century.

Classical liberalism effectively sidelined, the familiar battles of that period are reborn in the violent confrontations between the MAGA alt-right and black-clad antifascists, both groups equally enthralled by collectivism and intolerance.

President Trump, protectionism his gospel, has successfully conjured the old arguments for internal self-sufficiency, or autarky, so central to the rhetoric of the Italy’s Fascists and Germany’s National Socialists. The goal was to possess all that was economically necessary within the borders of the homeland.

If conquest and empire were essential to that nationalistic end, then they were the proper goal of the state, its right and destiny. History seems poised to repeat itself given the current political climate.

In the early twentieth century, the various socialist schools outstripped classical liberalism as the dominant idea on the Continent, their message capturing European hearts and minds. Communists and fascists fought each other for converts and for political power. As historian Mary Vincent observes, “[T]he battle for the streets was very real. In an age of genuine mass politics, street violence became the leitmotiv of interwar Europe.” Vincent explains that the “new politics,” divided between fascism and communism, “filled public space with disciplined, uniformed bodies,” ready to advance the collective goals of party and state.

These warring authoritarians, socialists all, shared a common disdain for the Enlightenment’s liberal conception of freedom, namely the freedom of the individual to live out her life autonomously, un-coerced and pursuing goals of her own imagining.

Modernity required something more of the individual—that she be absorbed into the body of the total state, the consecrated instrument variously of the nation, or the proletarian revolution, or even history itself, depending on the socialist school.

The new conception of freedom, deeply embedded in today’s politics, reflects this submersion of the individual, the Hegelian idea that the state precedes the individual in importance.

Superficial differences notwithstanding, both the leftmost and rightmost spaces of today’s political spectrum, as popularly understood, seem to have absorbed Hegel’s idea of the organic state, the state as “the Divine Idea” and source of the individual’s “spiritual reality.”

This wrongheaded way of thinking about the nature of political power has metastasized through the body politic. As before, both sides represent authoritarian populism, even as they vie for control of the governing apparatus.

Indeed, it may be that the family resemblance between the two sides is somewhat ironically to blame for much of their mutual hostility. Developing the work of the English anthropologist Ernest Crawley, Sigmund Freud labeled such antagonism the “narcissism of small differences”—enmity based on the propinquity of two groups.

This theory offers a useful lens through which we can view and better understand the prevailing political conversation, “to explain,” as social psychologist Siamak Movahedi suggests, “the battle between in-groups and out-groups.”

At present, group identity and its insignia are an all-consuming obsession of both the left and the right, just as they were of the fascists and communists who marched in the streets, eager to spill each other’s blood. Both sides carry and carefully guard the kind of sustained righteous indignation that comes with certainty of the religious kind.

That kind of certainty is dangerous to a free society; once it takes hold, the virtues of the cause, held beyond any doubt, seem to excuse any crime committed in their pursuit. Orders must be followed, because the ends justify the means.

A free and open society requires the round rejection of both left and right flavors of failed twentieth-century authoritarianism, the restoration of the classical liberal ideas that transformed the world and yet were never given their due.

This article was originally featured at the American Institute for Economic Research and is republished with permission.

An American Withdrawal From Iraq Must Be More Than Words

An American Withdrawal From Iraq Must Be More Than Words

Earlier this month, while meeting with the Iraqi Prime Minister, President Trump reaffirmed his intent to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq. “We were there and now we’re getting out. We’ll be leaving shortly,” the president told reporters at the time.

Although President Obama should never have sent U.S. troops back into Iraq in 2016, it is definitely well past time to remove them as quickly as possible.

Over the weekend, the administration announced it would be drawing down troops currently in Iraq from 5,200 to 3,500. That’s a good start.

One big roadblock to finally leaving Iraq alone is President Trump’s de facto Secretary of War, Mike Pompeo. Although he’s supposed to be the top U.S. diplomat, Pompeo is a bull in a china shop. He seems determined to start a war with Iran, China, Russia, Venezuela, and probably a few more countries.

Unfortunately there is a pattern in this Administration where President Trump announces the withdrawal of troops from one of the seemingly endless conflicts we are involved in and an administration official—often Pompeo—“clarifies” the president’s statement to mean the opposite of what the president has just said.

When the president was questioned over the weekend about a timetable for the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, he turned to Pompeo for an answer. Pompeo’s response did not inspire much hope. “As soon as we can complete the mission,” said Pompeo. What is the mission? Does anyone know? Aside from “regime change” for Iran, that is.

At his speech accepting the Republican Party’s nomination for re-election last week, Trump declared, “unlike previous administrations, I have kept America OUT of new wars—and our troops are coming home.” That sounds good, but how can he achieve that goal if the people he hires to carry out that policy not only disagree with him but seem to be working against him?

The U.S. invasion of Iraq 17 years ago was correctly described at the time by the late NSA Director Bill Odom as “the greatest strategic disaster in American history.” After a relentless barrage of lies about former U.S. ally Saddam Hussein having “weapons of mass destruction,” the U.S. attack and destruction of Iraq did not bring the peace and prosperity promised by the neocon war promoters.

Instead, the U.S. “liberation” of Iraq killed a million Iraqis, most of whom were civilians. It destroyed Iraq’s relatively prosperous economy. It did not result in a more peaceful or stable Middle East. The U.S. had no idea how to remake Iraqi society and in picking and choosing who could participate in post-invasion Iraq the U.S. helped facilitate the rise of al-Qaeda and ISIS. A secular Iraq had been turned into a sectarian incubator for terrorists and extremists. And the biggest winner in the war was Iran, who the U.S. has demonized as an enemy for over four decades.

Yes, General Odom was right. It was a strategic disaster. Turning the U.S. into a global military empire is also a strategic disaster. Trump’s promise to bring troops home from overseas wars sounds very good. But it’s time to see some real action. That might mean some people who disagree with the president need to be fired.

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

Unpleasant Times

Unpleasant Times

If Ludwig von Mises were alive today he would be viewing our current predicament with alarm but not surprise. He lived through something similar about a century ago.

In response to inexcusable police brutality, some outraged people who’ve taken to the streets have crossed the sacred line between peaceful protest and violence. Recent months have brought vandalism, arson, and injury in Kenosha, WI, and Portland, OR, and now intimidation of innocent bystanders in Portland and Washington, D.C. Now comes the ominous response.

This escalation by people who pose as friends of social justice (I don’t doubt the sincerity of the nonviolent others in the streets) is both immoral and dangerous, both in its own right and also because it feeds those, like Trump, who might like nothing better than to bash a few heads before election day. Those among the protesters who perpetrate street violence are playing with fire, and they well know it, hoping that the state’s reaction will serve their cause. But they are wrong. Whatever their cause, unless it’s violence for its own sake, the result will be a strengthening of the worst aspects of the state–with the support of most people in the country.

Mises would have recognized what is going on because he’d seen it before. Have a look at chapter 10 of his book Liberalism, “The Argument of Fascism,” for his observations in 1927 on what had taken place in Italy from about 1919 to 1922, when Mussolini took power and established a one-party dictatorship. That something even remotely similar to those events is now happening in America would have horrified and saddened him.

In that chapter Mises discussed the extended violent confrontation between communists/socialists and fascists in the streets of Italy. As the foremost champion of peace, freedom, and social cooperation (including economic exchange) of his day, Mises was horrified by the events. He noted that previously the antiliberal Italian right-wing nevertheless had reluctantly paid some slight homage to liberalism and its restraints on power, which it despised, because it was so central to Western civilization. But when the Italian Socialist Party began to achieve political success and make Bolshevik-type demands for fundamental social change, and when communists and socialist–emboldened by the state terror and mass murder in Russia–violently clashed in the streets with the right-wing “black shirts,” Mussolini’s budding fascist movement found their excuse to do what they had wanted to do all along: abandon token deference to liberalism, which it condemned as pacifist and weak, and embrace the so-called glory of violence without restraint. Mises wrote:

One must not fail to recognize that the conversion of the Rightist parties to the tactics of Fascism shows that the battle against liberalism has resulted in successes that, only a short time ago, would have been considered completely unthinkable. Many people approve of the methods of Fascism, even though its economic program is altogether antiliberal and its policy completely interventionist, because it is far from practicing the senseless and unrestrained destructionism that has stamped the Communists as the arch-enemies of civilization. Still others, in full knowledge of the evil that Fascist economic policy brings with it, view Fascism, in comparison with Bolshevism and Sovietism, as at least the lesser evil. [Emphasis added.]

Then Mises added, just so there would be no mistaking his meaning: “For the majority of its public and secret supporters and admirers, however, [Fascism’s] appeal consists precisely in the violence of its methods.” Fascism was antiliberal in every respect, Mises noted, including its nationalist and militarist foreign policy, which “cannot fail to give rise to an endless series of wars that must destroy all of modern civilization.”

Mises pointed out that liberalism was not opposed to the use of violence when it was necessary to thwart violence. But again, to make sure he was understood, he quickly added:

What distinguishes liberal from Fascist political tactics is not a difference of opinion in regard to the necessity of using armed force to resist armed attackers, but a difference in the fundamental estimation of the role of violence in a struggle for power. The great danger threatening domestic policy from the side of Fascism lies in its complete faith in the decisive power of violence.

For Mises, the use of violence for the propagation of ideas was both wrong and counterproductive. Stifling the ideas of opponents gives them a credibility they might not otherwise earn: “Resort to naked force—that is, without justification in terms of intellectual arguments accepted by public opinion—merely gains new friends for those whom one is thereby trying to combat. In a battle between force and an idea, the latter always prevails.”

He continued:

Fascism can triumph today because universal indignation at the infamies committed by the socialists and communists has obtained for it the sympathies of wide circles. But when the fresh impression of the crimes of the Bolsheviks has paled, the socialist program will once again exercise its power of attraction on the masses. For Fascism does nothing to combat it except to suppress socialist ideas and to persecute the people who spread them. If it wanted really to combat socialism, it would have to oppose it with ideas. There is, however, only one idea that can be effectively opposed to socialism, viz., that of liberalism.

I will next reproduce the controversial conclusion to Mises’s chapter; if I don’t, someone else will:

It cannot be denied that Fascism and similar movements aiming at the establishment of dictatorships are full of the best intentions and that their intervention has, for the moment, saved European civilization. The merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally in history. But though its policy has brought salvation for the moment, it is not of the kind which could promise continued success. Fascism was an emergency makeshift. To view it as something more would be a fatal error.

No liberal–libertarian, that is to say–can read this with joy, but it would be unfair to interpret Mises, as some have tried, as harboring even a speck of illiberal sentiment. (See his 1944 book Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War for his view of, among others, Nazi Germany. Mises, whose heritage was Jewish, had to flee Austria and then Europe altogether because of Hitler.) Look at things from Mises’s vantage point: he saw horrendous violent clashes in the streets and the looming threat of a Bolshevik state in western Europe draped in the garb of universalism and egalitarianism. (In contrast, militant Italian nationalism hardly had universal appeal.) Liberalism, unfortunately, was not on the agenda. So he had to decide which was the greater threat to Western civilization–which side if triumphant would have a smaller chance of surviving beyond the short run. Let’s not forget who was on the socialist side: people who were inspired by Lenin and Trotsky, architects of the 20th century’s first one-party terror state. So who can say Mises was wrong? I can’t.

Of course we’re not living in analogous circumstances. Notwithstanding increasing hyperbole from both wings of the establishment, we don’t face a choice between Bolshevism and fascism, although I am aware of Trump’s authoritarian disposition and Biden’s devotion to the all-service state. Still, it’s too close for comfort. We now are now seeing violent street confrontations–and the potential for bystander casualties–between two sides each with a predilection for violence, even if neither one has a fleshed-out program. (Apparently, the clashes are an all-white affair.) If things get further out of hand, the public will likely and reasonably demand a restoration of order, and many in power will be only too happy to comply–and then some. What will come next?

I don’t want to exaggerate–the worst incidents have been confined to a few cities–but I fear for the future.

News Roundup

News Roundup 9/18/20

US News Senate Democrats announced a new bill that will spend $350 billion to counter China. The bulk of the money will be used to fund tech in the US, and $125 million is for weapons. [Link] Trump says he will sign an executive order to promote “patriotic education.”...

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Your Security Force: Just a Bunch of Terrorists

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Episode 469: Richard Grove Talks About 9/11/2001

75 Minutes Some Strong Language Richard Grove is the proprietor of TragedyandHope.com, the man behind "Ultimate History Lesson w/ John Taylor Gatto," and is the creator of Autonomy. Richard joins Pete to talk about events leading up to, during and after 9/11/2001. Get...

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Propaganda Analysis – Libertarians Hate Community!

https://youtu.be/3j50q_4sAQg ... in a world of voluntary social cooperation through mutually beneficial exchanges, where one man’s gain is another man’s gain, it is obvious that great scope is provided for the development of social sympathy and human friendships. It...

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Are We Witnessing A Color Revolution?

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127: MK Ultra and the Digital Age

Tommy has spent the last few weeks working on accumulating articles and information on the CIA activities of the Cold War and modern day to see how different their methods of activities today compare with their human experiments of the 1950's and 60's. Anatomy of a...

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