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The Solutions To Police Brutality Politicians Aren’t Giving You

The Solutions To Police Brutality Politicians Aren’t Giving You

Since the George Floyd protests began last week, they have since morphed into a much broader movement which is now exposing a problem this country has suffered from for a long time. The system of law enforcement in this country has morphed into a militarized standing army, preying on the poor, and rife with corruption. Naturally, people are pissed.

As we have stated from the beginning of the riots, this reaction was inevitable. Minorities and the poor have been pushed into a corner and ignored as the state preyed on them through a system of extortion and violence. One can only be ignored for so long before they eventually lash out.

Remember when football players were peacefully protesting by taking a knee, and the country—including the Commander in Chief—collectively lost their minds telling them to shut up and sit down? Trump even called for them to be fired for this. Now, because these folks were ignored and told to shut up during their peaceful protests, the inevitable non-peaceful protests have begun.

For decades there has been a perfect storm brewing in this country as minorities and poor people have their doors kicked in and are terrorized by cops during botched raids for substances deemed illegal by the state and watch helplessly as their family members die in video after video at the hands of cops. Now, we have record unemployment, lockdowns, cops murdering people on video and facing no immediate charges, and those in charge sit at the top and point fingers.

Because the system will always refuse to accept responsibility for the situation it has forced onto the people, the blame game always comes next. Instead of realizing the error of their ways, government is now blaming the riots on Antifa, White Nationalists, the Alt-right, “thugs,” and any other scapegoat they can find to blame besides taking responsibility. They are even blaming Russia now. You cannot make this up.

Naturally, this will never lead to any positive change. It will only prolong suffering, create more divide, and perpetuate a system of injustice for decades to come. Those who want to incite peaceful change, however, have been pushing these ideas out for a long time. Now, people may finally listen.

To lower the likelihood of future chaos, America’s system of law enforcement needs radical change. Instead of threatening to execute suspected looters with no due process—the discussion we should be having right now is how to fix this broken system. It is not difficult, it is based in logic and reason, and its effects would be significantly felt almost overnight.

Over the years, TFTP has been proposing these solutions and below we have compiled a list of five main actions that could affect this much needed change, right now.

The first and most significant solution to this pain and suffering would be to end the war on drugs—today. Legalize every substance out there.

Richard Nixon, in his effort to silence black people and antiwar activists, brought the War on Drugs into full force in 1973. He then signed Reorganization Plan No. 2, which established the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Over the course of five decades, this senseless war has waged on. At a cost of over $1 trillion—ruining and ending countless lives in the process—America’s drug war failed, miserably, and has created a drug problem that is worse now than ever before.

This is no coincidence.

For years, those of us who’ve been paying attention have seen who profits from this inhumane war—the police state and cartels.

The reason why the drug war actually creates a drug and violence problem is simple. And those who profit most from the drug war—drug war enforcers and cartels—all know it. 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. All the while, demand remains constant.

We can look at the prohibition of alcohol and the subsequent mafia crime wave that ensued as a result as an example. The year 1930, at the peak of prohibition, happened to be the deadliest year for police in American history. 300 police officers were killed, and innumerable poor people slaughtered as the state cracked down on drinkers.

Outlawing substances does not work.

Criminal gangs form to protect sales territory and supply lines. They then monopolize the control of the constant demand. Their entire operation is dependent upon police arresting people for drugs because this grants them a monopoly on their sale.

It is incredibly racist too. 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. As Dr. Ron Paul has pointed out, 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. Recidivism is a fundamental concept of criminal justice that shows 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.

It also creates unnecessary police interactions—disproportionately carried out on black people—which leads to resentment, harassment, civil rights violations, and even death. When drugs are legal, there are far fewer doors to kick in, fines to collect, profit prisons to fill, and money to steal.

Secondly, we need to end qualified immunity for police.

When it comes to police accountability, one overarching question remains. ‘Do we want to live in a society whereby law enforcement officials can completely violate a person’s constitutional rights and get away with it?’ For our society to be free, the answer to that question must be a resounding, powerful, unwavering, ‘Hell No!’

Unfortunately, however, this is the case most of the time thanks to law enforcement personnel’s use and abuse of Qualified Immunity.

For those who may be unaware, qualified immunity is a legal doctrine in United States federal law that shields government officials from being sued for discretionary actions performed within their official capacity, unless their actions violated “clearly established” federal law or constitutional rights.

The Supreme Court created qualified immunity in 1982. With that novel invention, the court granted all government officials immunity for violating constitutional and civil rights unless the victims of those violations can show that the rights were “clearly established.”

As Anya Bidwell points out, although innocuous sounding, the clearly established test is a legal obstacle nearly impossible to overcome. It requires a victim to identify an earlier decision by the Supreme Court, or a federal appeals court in the same jurisdiction holding that precisely the same conduct under the same circumstances is illegal or unconstitutional. If none exists, the official is immune. Whether the official’s actions are unconstitutional, intentional or malicious is irrelevant to the test.

An example of this would be the family of George Floyd attempting to seek compensation for his death. Because there has never been a “clearly established” case of a cop kneeling on a man’s neck until he dies being declared unconstitutional, a judge in Minnesota could easily dismiss their case.

It is essentially a get out of jail free card for cops and it perpetuates the problem of police violence by giving bad cops a free pass.

After removing a cop’s ability to trample rights without consequence, it is time to hold them liable. That’s where personal liability insurance comes in.

As the Free Thought Project has reported extensively, police officers, even when found at fault for their abusive actions, are almost never held personally liable. It is the taxpayers who foot the bill. However, all that can change overnight by requiring cops to carry personal liability insurance.

Imagine, for a moment, the result of all police officers being held personally liable for their actions and forced to pay their victims. In nearly every other profession on the planet, if someone hurts someone else while on the job, they are held liable — personally. Why can’t cops carry personal liability insurance just like doctors?

As instances of police brutality and police killings continue to be exposed, there is no doubt that the US is in dire need of reform. The simple requirement for police to be insured for personal liability is an easy fix—especially to remove repeat offenders from the force.

All too often, when a tragic death such as George Floyd occurs, later—as was the case with Derek Chauvin—we find out that the officer should have never been given a badge and a gun in the first place because of their past. However, insurance companies, who can’t fleece the taxpayers to pay for problem cops, would have to come out of pocket to pay for them and would make sure that these officers are uninsurable.

If the officer becomes uninsurable, the officer becomes unhirable—simple as that.

There are likely many cops out there right now who would be denied insurance coverage by any company, due to their track records. A requirement for personal liability insurance would, quite literally, weed out problem officers—almost overnight.

The fourth solution to preventing police brutality and violence would be to bring predatory policing to a halt.

All too often we hear the ridiculous statement from the police apologist crowd saying, “If you don’t break the law, you have nothing to worry about.”

However, that statement couldn’t be further from the truth.

Former NSA official William Binney sums this myth up quite accurately, “The problem is, if they think they’re not doing anything that’s wrong, they don’t get to define that. The central government does.”

Attorney Harvey Silverglate argues that the average American commits three felonies a day without even knowing it. Most of these crimes have no victim either—like possessing marijuana, driving a car with dark windows, or a burned out license plate light.

While most everyone in America commits these same infractions designed for revenue collection instead of safety, most of the people targeted by police for these crimes are the poor, minorities, and the mentally ill.

As the 2014 death of Mike Brown in Ferguson exposed, in 2013, African-Americans accounted for 86 percent of traffic stops, while making up only 63 percent of Ferguson’s population.

For those too poor to pay their tickets, routine traffic stops in Ferguson ended up in repeated imprisonment due to mounting fines. Ferguson was running a de facto debtors’ prison.

Revenue collection, persecution of the poor, and debtor’s prisons take place in every county, in every city, across every state. This institutionalized cruelty is little more than a day’s work for the millions of bureaucrats involved in the racket.

Sadly, until this system of wealth extraction is defunded or brought to a halt through radical policy changes, cases of cops preying on the poor will continue at an ever increasing rate until the whole country is one big prison—or, burned to the ground.

Lastly, we should end the monopoly that American police have on law enforcement.

Simply put, police officers can be corrupt, kill with impunity, and are rarely held accountable because Americans have no other choice. We are stuck with them. In any other job market on the planet, if they had a death toll of 1,000 Americans a year, they would be out of business overnight. However, because cops have a monopoly on law enforcement in America, the death toll keeps rising.

By allowing competition in law enforcement, the incentives for policing would drastically shift. Violent police departments would be fired and replaced with less violent ones. Cops would have an incentive to serve their communities by solving real crimes like rape and murder instead of kidnapping and caging people for victimless crimes.

If this sounds like a pipe dream to you, then you’ve probably never heard of Dale Brown.

Dale Brown of Detroit’s “threat management center” has shown that crime can be stopped and lives can be saved by independent people using nonlethal tactics.

In areas of Detroit where police don’t answer 911 calls, Dale Brown took matters into his own hands and started taking those calls himself, and because Dale was not “above the law” as police officers claim to be, he had to solve these crimes without hurting people, because he would actually be held accountable for his actions.

Yes, businesses pay for these services. However, as a side effect of providing businesses with security, Dale has also been able to provideservice in poor neighborhoods for free, by financing his business through providing security for high-income areas.

Instead of policing from a place of fear, self-preservation, and extortion, Brown polices through love. He offers of some timeless advice that we could all use right now. “The cornerstone for protection is love, not violence, not guns, not laws, you cannot truly protect anything that you do not love.”

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

The State’s Priority Is Protecting Itself, Not You

The State’s Priority Is Protecting Itself, Not You

Murray Rothbard pointed out in his book Anatomy of the State how the state is far more punitive against those that threaten the comfort and authority of government institutions and workers than they are against crimes against citizens.

This, according to Rothbard, exposed as a myth the notion that the state exists to protect its citizens.

“We may test the hypothesis that the State is largely interested in protecting itself rather than its subjects by asking: which category of crimes does the State pursue and punish most intensely—those against private citizens or those against itself?” Rothbard wrote.

“The gravest crimes in the State’s lexicon are almost invariably not invasions of private person or property, but dangers to its own contentment, for example, treason, desertion of a soldier to the enemy, failure to register for the draft, subversion and subversive conspiracy, assassination of rulers and such economic crimes against the State as counterfeiting its money or evasion of its income tax.”

Boy how recent events have proven Rothbard right.

For weeks, we saw police aggressively pursuing and punishing peaceful people merely violating arbitrary lockdown orders to go surfing, cut hair, or host a child’s play date.

But in the first nights of the George Floyd protests, police allowed rioters to run amok destroying property, with political leaders dismissing the damage as unimportant.

This stark contrast in police responses dramatically underscores Rothbard’s point.

Take the first nights of rioting in Minneapolis. As reported by the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, the source of the “police stand-down order that allowed his own city to burn,” merely “shrugged off responsibility and minimized the damage.” Moreover, according to the report, “Frey kept repeating that the destruction was ‘just brick and mortar.’”

And consider the example of Raleigh, North Carolina Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown, who said:

When the greater risk is of injury to the officer, and I had five injured last night – a building? A window? A door? The property that was in it can easily be replaced. But for a person who has had officers shot. And more recently than not, I will not put an officer in harm’s way to protect the property inside of a building. Because insurance is most likely going to cover that as well but that officer’s safety is of the utmost importance.

Got that? The officer’s safety is the primary concern, not the property of citizens. Agents of the state whose sole job is supposedly to protect the people and their property instead refuse to do their job at the first hint of danger.

Worse still, as Ryan McMaken pointed out in a recent article at Mises.org, “A failure to protect taxpaying citizens from violence and crime in a wide variety of situations is standard operating procedure for police departments that are under no legal obligation to protect anyone, and where ‘officer safety’ is the number one priority.”

McMaken further notes that it is “now a well-established legal principle in the United States that police officers and police departments are not legally responsible for refusing to intervene in cases where private citizens are in imminent danger or even in the process of being victimized.”

Police absence during riots is nothing new. As McMaken wrote: “During the 2014 riots that followed the police killing of Michael Brown, for example, shopkeepers were forced to hire private security, and many had to rely on armed volunteers for protection from looters. ‘There’s no police,’ one Ferguson shopkeeper told Fox News at the time. ‘We trusted the police to keep it peaceful; they didn’t do their job.”’

As the violence of the riots intensified, mayors instructed police forces in cities across the nation to step up their presence.

But their initial reactions are the most telling.

The contrast between police actions against peaceful lockdown “violators” and the rioters is striking. The instincts of the political class was to haul mothers in parks and hair stylists away in handcuffs, while standing down and allowing private property owned by citizens to burn.

The former involved disobeying a government order, an act which would threaten the perceived authority, no matter how arbitrary, of the state. The latter involved violation and destruction of citizens’ property.

As Rothbard would have predicted, the state was far more interested in preserving the illusion of its authority than the property of its citizens.

Putting a tragic, but fine, point to Rothbard’s point: George Floyd was choked to death by a police officer sent to detain him for the “crime” of using a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes.

The state is not us. It does not exist to protect our person or property. It exists first and foremost for its own benefit and to exert power and control over its subjects.

Events of the past several weeks should make this crystal clear.

Bradley Thomas is creator of the website Erasethestate.com and is a libertarian activist who enjoys researching and writing on the freedom philosophy and Austrian economics. Follow him on twitter, @erasestate

Native American Boys: Forgotten Victims

Native American Boys: Forgotten Victims

A recent study by the Nebraska State Patrol and the Commission on Indian Affairs should change how the media and lawmakers view violence against Native Americans. They should look carefully at male victims, but it is far from clear that they will.

The Omaha World-Herald offers a surprising statistic, “The greatest percentage of Native American missing persons are boys age 17 or younger, accounting for 73.3% of all Native American missing persons in Nebraska.” In fact, they account for 59.6% of missing people in the state. The data is even the more remarkable because it resulted from LB 154, a state bill to “require a report on missing Native American women in Nebraska.” The 21-line bill that authorizes the study mentions “Native American women” six times; men and boys are not mentioned at all.

At long last, male victims of violence may receive the same attention as female ones. Or will they?

Some telling comments conclude the study. Under “Important Related Information,” it states, “During the period of this investigation…there have been several tragic events involving young Native women in Nebraska: the cases of Ashlea Aldrich and Esther Wolfe. These alleged crimes against Native women make plain” why the study and “its ongoing follow through are vitally important.” State Senator Tom Brewer, who co-sponsored LB 154, is quoted: “We need all law enforcement to communicate and work together to address the exploitation and victimization of Native women.” The concluding words of Judi M. Gaiashkibos, Executive Director, Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs, speaks only of “women and children” and laments “actions and policies” that “have displaced women from their traditional roles in communities and governance and diminished their status…leaving them vulnerable to violence.”

Men and boys are nowhere. Nor does the media seemingly note even the possibility of male victims. A Lincoln Journal Star article that anticipated LB 154 was entitled “Senators want to step up investigations of missing or abused Native women.” And a word commonly applied to violence against Native American women is “epidemic.” These women deserve every bit of attention and compassion they receive, but so do males.

Lawmakers also ignore male victims. The latest Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which awaits reauthorization, is an example. It sets the national standard on how sexual abuse is handled, including “Standardized protocols for…missing and murdered Indians.” (Sec. 904) Native American women is one of the Act’s core issues with TITLE IX—Safety for Indian Women addressing the problem. Title IX opens, “More than 4 in 5 American Indian and Alaska Native women, or 84.3 percent, have experienced violence in their lifetime”—a statistic drawn from a National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey entitled “Violence Against American Indian and Alaska Native Women and Men.”

The statistic is appalling, but VAWA makes a curious omission in quoting it. Immediately after the 84.3 percent figure, the Survey cited reads, “More than 4 in 5 American Indian and Alaska Native men (81.6 percent) have experienced violence in their lifetime.” In other words, Native American men experience only 2.7 percent less violence than women. A few lines later, the  Survey states “55.5 percent” of women and “43.2 percent” of men “have experienced physical violence by an intimate partner,” figures that differ by 12.3 percent. And, yet, this data does not make it into VAWA.

It is difficult to avoid concluding that VAWA slants important evidence in order to champion female victims and dismiss male ones. In theory, the programs VAWA administers are available to both sexes even though the language is gendered for females. In practice, VAWA is widely accused of making only a tiny portion of its considerable resources available to men.

The plight of male victims must be well known to lawmakers who appear to be passionate about issues like domestic violence (DV). A 2019 article in Indian Country Today, “Breaking the silence on violence against Native American men” cites “a recent study by the National Institute of Justice”; it reported that “more than 1.4 million American Indian and Alaska Native men have experienced violence in their lifetime.” The total may be an understatement. Males victims of DV ”are often reluctant to seek help or tell friends or family out of embarrassment and/or fear of not being believed. They may worry that they—and not their partner—will be blamed for the abuse.”

The blind eye to male victims is not limited to Native Americans, however, but pervades most discussions of DV. Consider the VAWA provision that allows battered immigrants to petition for legal status. In 2016, Attorney Gerald Nowotny called out the provision’s unfairness to men. Nowotny wrote, “The irony is that when it comes to the perception of domestic abuse, the focus is almost exclusively on men as the perpetrators of violence and abuse. The statistical reality is that more men than women are victims of intimate partner physical violence and psychological aggression.” Nowotny’s assessment derived from a 2010 national survey by the Centers for Disease Control and U.S. Department of Justice that found more men than women experienced physical violence from an intimate partner and over 40% of severe physical violence.

But the assumption of mainstream media and lawmakers seems unshakable: men commit violence against women; men are not victims. What if this gender bias were a racial one? What if VAWA was the Violence Against Whites Act? There would be and there should be outrage. The same people should be as outraged as by the suffering of men who too often remain silent for fear of being ridiculed or not believed. In this regard, male victims today resemble female ones from decades ago; they are revictimized by a system that does want to hear their voices.

 

Why Its Hard To Fire Abusive Cops

Why Its Hard To Fire Abusive Cops

What does it take to fire a cop? In comparison to several other high-profile cases in which a police officer has killed someone on video, things have moved remarkably fast in the George Floyd case. The other four officers involved in his arrest were fired from the Minneapolis Police Department the following day. By comparison,

  • Fellow Minnesota officer Jeronimo Yanez, who on July 6, 2016, shot and killed Philando Castille in his vehicle after Castille informed him that he was armed, was not relieved until after he was acquitted for manslaughter and reckless discharge of a firearm on May 30, 2017. He was given a $48,500 buyout to leave the St. Anthony department.
  • Cleveland officer Timothy Loehmann, who shot twelve-year-old Tamir Rice on November 22, 2014, was also fired on May 30, 2017. However, his firing was due to withholding information on his job application rather than killing a child who held an airsoft gun.
  • NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo, who killed Eric Garner over not paying taxes on cigarettes, was not fired until August 19, 2019, a full five years after the latter’s death on July 17, 2014. He plans to file an appeal to get his job back.
  • Philip Brailsford, who shot Daniel Shaver while he lay prone in the hallway of a hotel in Mesa, Arizona, on January 18, 2016, was fired in March of that year. However, he was reinstated in August 2018 for forty-two days in order that he could be medically retired for PTSD (due to his shooting of Shaver) and receive a $2,500 monthly pension.

What I would like to emphasize here, however, is that a police officer being fired is often not the end of the story. Even though the officers involved in Floyd’s death have been fired, they may not stay fired. Many officers, through their collective bargaining agreements and statutes, enjoy the right to appeal their termination to independent arbitration, which often results in their reinstatement.

Mark Iris, a researcher at Northwestern, studied years’ worth of police arbitration decisions in Chicago and Houston and found that in both cities arbitrators overturned disciplinary decisions half the time. Tyler Adams analyzed every published arbitration decision regarding a police officer’s discharge between 2011 and 2015, finding them overturned 46.7 percent of the time. One notable finding from Adams’s research is that an officer’s disciplinary record was raised by one or both parties in nearly every analyzed decision, with those with positive work histories being more likely to be reinstated than those who without them. A potential difficulty with this is that many police union contracts require that misconduct be removed from an officer’s record after a certain period. According to Stephen Rushin’s analysis of one hundred seventy-eight of the largest cities’ police union contracts, eighty-seven (including Minneapolis’s) contain such provisions. Some, such as that of Columbus, Ohio, even prohibit the use of an officer’s history as a factor in determining the propriety of disciplinary action in later investigations.

The ability to appeal to arbitrators has led to many questionable reinstatements. One was Pittsburgh officer Paul Abel, who on one night in 2008 consumed four beers and two shots of liquor. After leaving his wife’s birthday party, Abel claimed to have been sucker-punched in his car while at a stoplight. He retrieved his Glock from the trunk of his car and drove in pursuit of his attacker. Driving around the block, he spotted Kaleb Miller, whom he knew from the neighborhood and believed to be the person who had punched him. Abel then pistol-whipped Miller on his neck and accidentally shot him in the hand. Witnesses testified that the assailant who punched Abel was not Miller. Despite being arrested and fired, Paul Abel successfully appealed his termination. In this respect, Abel is not alone among Pittsburgh police officers:

In December 2009, Eugene1It is interesting to note that Paul Abel and Eugene Hlavac were, respectively, the ninth and first most highly paid employees of the city of Pittsburgh in 2012, according to the Pittsburgh Business Times. was accused of slapping his ex-girlfriend (and his son’s mother) so hard that he dislocated her jaw. And in November 2010, Garrett Brown was accused of running two delivery-truck drivers off the road in a fit of rage—an allegation similar to those made against Brown in at least one other late-night traffic encounter.

Each of these men, who were all Pittsburgh Police officers at the time of the incidents, shares a common experience: They all were fired, charged criminally, cleared of those charges…and then got their jobs back through arbitration. And they’re not alone. Nine officers were fired by the city between 2009 and 2013, but five of those terminations were overturned by an arbitrator….In cases where terminations were appealed by the police union through arbitration, officers got their jobs back close to 70 percent of the time.

We should expect that the officers involved in the arrest and killing of George Floyd will also appeal their termination. Should they be unsuccessful in this, however, they may be able to find employment as police officers elsewhere. Although most states have some kind of standardized training and licensing of police officers, decertification of fired officers can be notoriously difficult, leading to the phenomenon of the “wandering officer” who goes from department to department. I will discuss this in a future post.

Tate Fegley is a 2018 Mises Institute Fellow, and winner of the 2018 Grant Aldrich Prize for Best Graduate Student paper at the Austrian Economics Research Confernce. He is currently a graduate student at George Mason University. His CV can be found at TateFegley.com. This article was originally featured at the Ludwig von Mises Institute and is republished with permission.

Defense Secretary Esper Calls on States to ‘Dominate the Battlespace’

Defense Secretary Esper Calls on States to ‘Dominate the Battlespace’

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper used the term “battlespace” to describe protests in US cities in a phone call with governors on Monday. “I think the sooner that you mass and dominate the battlespace, the quicker this dissipates and we can get back to the right normal,” Esper said.

Over 17,000 troops in 24 National Guard jurisdictions have been activated to deal with the civil unrest sparked by the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. The troops are also being used to enforce curfews across the country. More than 40 cities have set curfews in place.

President Trump also spoke with the nation’s governors on Monday and called on the states to “dominate.”

“The president says he wants to dominate the streets with National Guard, with a police presence,” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said at a briefing on Monday, explaining the president’s comments.

In the phone call, Trump also said he was putting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley “in charge” of the protest response. Gen. Milley is technically the highest-ranking military official in the country. It is not yet clear exactly what his role will be.

“General Milley is here who’s head of Joint Chiefs of Staff, a fighter, a warrior, and a lot of victories and no losses. And he hates to see the way it’s being handled in the various states. And I’ve just put him in charge,” Trump said.

Taking things a step further than bringing in the National Guard, Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) called on President Trump to invoke the 1807 Insurrection Act, which would allow the president to deploy active-duty troops to cities across the country. The act was last invoked in 1992 as a response to protests and looting in Los Angeles after the Rodney King incident.

“If local law enforcement is overwhelmed and needs backup, let’s see how tough these Antifa terrorists are when they’re facing off with the 101st Airborne Division,” Cotton said on Twitter. President Trump retweeted Cotton and said, “100% Correct. Thank you Tom!”

Press Secretary McEnany said the Insurrection Act is an option for Trump. “The Insurrection Act, it’s one of the tools available, whether the president decides to pursue that, that’s his prerogative,” McEnany told reporters.

Speaking at the White House Monday evening, President Trump said, “if a city or state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.”

Trump went on to address his plan to deal with protests in Washington DC, demonstrations that drove the president to seek shelter in an underground bunker on Friday. “As we speak, I am dispatching thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel, and law enforcement officers to stop the rioting, looting, vandalism, assaults, and the wanton destruction of property,” Trump said, speaking of measures he is taking in Washington.

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

Three Ways Not To Analyze COVID-19 Statistics

Three Ways Not To Analyze COVID-19 Statistics

The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns continue to cause unprecedented devastation of everyday life in the United States–approximately 100,000 deaths, tens of millions unemployed, and countless plans, activities, and goals put on an indefinite hold.

In this context, news outlets, politicians, and consumers are closely following the trends in the COVID-19 statistics, trying to answer the most pressing questions. Are things getting better or worse in the US? Have we succeeded in the flattening the curve? Are the reopened states seeing a surge in new cases that many have feared?

These are important questions. Unfortunately, much of the reporting on the COVID-19 data obfuscates the underlying reality. In most cases, the problem is not that the reporting is literally false. But it typically focuses on the wrong metrics and fails to account for the severe limitations in the underlying data. The end result is that readers–and perhaps policymakers–come away with a more optimistic or pessimistic understanding than is actually warranted.

With that in mind, here are three errors to watch out for in discussions on COVID-19 data.

1. Focusing on the number of newly reported positive cases

This problem has become more common, particularly since some states have started to reopen. Here are some examples of recent headlines that commit this error:

Virginia Reports Highest One Day Increase in Coronavirus Cases After Gov. Ralph Northam Criticized For Not Wearing Mask – Newsweek, 5/25/2020

Texas sees highest single-day hike in coronavirus deaths, cases – Texas Statesman, 5/14/2020

Intuitively, it seems like the number and trend of newly confirmed COVID-19 cases must be an important number. But by itself, it doesn’t tell us much at all. To properly understand it, we also need to know the number and trend in total COVID-19 tests conducted over the same period.

As an illustrative example, let’s consider two random days of test results from Virginia. All results that follow are originally sourced from The Atlantic’s COVID Tracking Project:

With these facts alone, it would appear May 25 was a much worse day than April 13 for Virginia when it comes to the coronavirus. Over three times as many people were confirmed as positive. Surely, must mean the virus was spreading wider and was more out of control on May 25–after the reopening–than it was in mid-April during the lockdown, right?

Well, not quite. When we add the context of the number of tests performed and the positivity rate (the rate of positive tests out of total test results reported), a very different picture emerges. See below:

From this, we can see a more compelling explanation for why positive tests on April 13 were so much lower–namely, far fewer tests were conducted.

Based on these figures, there’s very good reason to assume the virus situation was actually worse on April 13. The high rate of positives suggests that they were unable to test enough people. So if they had had enough resources to test all suspected individuals, it’s likely that the number of positives would have been much higher.

But if you only focus on the positive cases, this reality gets completely turned on its head.

A similar version of this general error can be observed in many reports on record increases in daily cases. Confirmed cases are indeed continuing to rise throughout the US. But the good news is that in most places, the total number of tests is rising at an even faster clip.

2. Focusing on the percentage growth rate (or the doubling rate) of confirmed cases

A related analytical error gets made when media outlets report on the percentage growth rate. Examples of this error in the wild can be routinely found in Bloomberg Radio news updates. Last week, they were reporting around a 1.1% increase in cases, which varied slightly depending on the day.

For a print example, I offer this highly neutral take from Willamette Week in Oregon from May 21, “A Rise in COVID-19 Cases in Deschutes County Tests Whether the State Will Close Bars, Restaurants Again. (So Far? No.)”:

The number of COVID-19 cases in Deschutes County has increased over the last seven days. On Wednesday, the county reported nine cases—more cases than it has on any other single day.

 

Those increases raise the question of whether the state will order the county to shut down the bars, restaurants and hair salons that reopened just six days ago…

 

A 5 percent increase in COVID cases is the benchmark the state set for reviewing the status of a county and possibly shuttering it again. [Health Researcher Numi Lee] Griffith pointed to a 27 percent increase in cases in Deschutes County during the week ending May 20. (emphasis added)

This article is interesting for a couple reasons. First, we see that it actually starts out by committing error #1, reporting a record increase of nine cases without providing information about the number of tests.

(Later on, the article even notes that many of the new cases were actually identified proactively through contact-tracing rather than simple symptomatic testing. If anything, that’s actually a positive indication about the county’s preparedness to mitigate the virus, not a cause for alarm.)

But I digress. The key points in the Willamette Week article are that a) Oregon has actually built this metric into its reopening guidelines and b) Deschutes would have violated it with a 27% increase.

The reason people tend to focus on the growth rate (or in some cases, the days-to-doubling) is because we know that the virus naturally spreads at an exponential rate. One person gives it to three people who each give it to three more people and so on.

In theory, the growth rate is useful because it could offer a window into how quickly the virus is spreading currently, and whether the curve has been sufficiently flattened.

But here’s the problem. One of the key features that makes COVID-19 harder to deal with is that many people who contract the virus, experience no symptoms at all. And while this is not entirely proven, it’s generally believed that these asymptomatic individuals are still contagious and thus contribute to the exponential spread of the disease.

The challenge is that testing capacity has been so limited that states have not been able to conduct the kind of widespread random testing that would be needed to identify all of the asymptomatic cases. The other way to plausibly identify all or most asymptomatic cases is through a robust contact-tracing system like that of South Korea or Taiwan. But the US’s capabilities here are still limited. Instead, COVID-19 testing around the country has been prioritized for people with symptoms and healthcare workers.

The upshot of all this is that the growth rate is not a useful proxy for the thing we’re actually trying to measure. What we want to know is the true rate of spread for the virus, in real-time. But due to testing limitations, the growth rate mostly reflects a) the growth rate in testing capacity and b) the growth rate in symptomatic patients.

This error actually cuts in both directions. Early on in the COVID-19 crisis in February–when the CDC was hard at work developing a faulty test and the FDA was simultaneously preventing others from creating a better one–the nation was testing virtually no one. So most metrics looked good.

Then in mid-March as testing capacity finally got built out, the number of positive cases quickly exploded. Positive cases were doubling every two to three days, as this chart shows:

And then, starting in mid-April and continuing to the present, the growth rate and doubling rate slowed back down. Perhaps this can be partly explained by the voluntary precautions and the lockdowns. But clearly, the more important driver is this: While the virus may grow exponentially, US testing capacity does not.

At each point in the process, including today, these metrics have not been meaningful in the US. In March, they offered a belated confirmation that the virus was already spreading widely. And now, they suggest that virus is slowing down, in part because testing capacity can only grow so fast.

3. Citing the case fatality rate as a meaningful statistic

As its name implies, the case fatality rate (CFR) is calculated by taking the total number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 and dividing by the total number of confirmed cases. The calculation is straightforward, and but the result is worse than useless in the case of COVID-19, as we’ll see.

The most high profile example of bad reporting on the CFR comes from the World Health Organization, whose director said this on March 3:

Globally, about 3.4% of reported COVID-19 cases have died. By comparison, seasonal flu generally kills far fewer than 1% of those infected.

This shockingly high 3.4% figure was used as one of the reasons to justify widespread lockdowns. And yet, the statement itself offers a clue about the problems with this metric.

In that quote, the WHO is comparing the then-calculated CFR of COVID-19 to the infection fatality rate (IFR) of seasonal influenza. These are not the same metric.

In effect, the CFR is what we can easily observe and calculate. The IFR is what we actually care about, but it’s harder to determine. The difference between the two metrics is the denominator. The CFR divides by total confirmed cases, and the IFR divides by total infections.

Since confirmed cases are a subset of total infections, the CFR will always be higher this the IFR. This doesn’t mean that COVID-19 is the same as the flu. But it does mean that comparing the CFR of one disease to the IFR of another is unlikely to provide useful information.

To be fair, it’s conceivable that the gap between the CFR and IFR will not be significant for some diseases. If there was a well-known disease and widespread testing was available, it’s likely that the number of confirmed cases would approximate the total number of infections and thus the CFR would be close to the IFR. However, this is not remotely true for COVID-19 now, and it was even less true at the beginning of March.

For COVID-19, there have been testing shortages all over the world, with a few exceptions. As a practical matter, this meant that tests were generally prioritized for people with severe symptoms and healthcare workers. This prioritization was necessary to try to treat patients more effectively and reduce spread in the hospital environment. But it also compromises the value of a CFR calculated off the resulting data.

The first problem is selection bias. If you’re primarily testing patients that already had severe symptoms, then the population of confirmed cases is skewed towards those that are going to have worse health outcomes from the disease. In turn, this will systematically push up the CFR.

A related problem is that limited testing obviously means the number of confirmed cases will be far lower than the total number of infections. By contrast, the COVID-19 death count, while imperfect, should at least be less understated. The reason is that some jurisdictions, like the US, now include “probable” cases of COVID-19 in the death counts, even without a confirmed test. Thus, although limited testing will effectively cap the number of confirmed cases reported, it does not cap the number of deaths reported. This reality will also tend to systematically inflate the CFR.

The final problem with the CFR occurs simply because COVID-19 is a new disease, and there’s a significant time lag between when someone contracts the disease and when they might actually pass away as a result. At any given time, some percentage of the total confirmed and active cases, relate to individuals who will eventually die from the disease. This will cause the CFR to be artificially lower than reality (though the effect is diluted as the disease progresses over time).

As we see, the errors in the CFR are considerable. And while they point in different directions, there’s every reason to believe that on net, the CFR significantly overestimates the true lethality rate of COVID-19.

The problem is not that the CFR is literally false. The CFR for COVID-19 is being calculated correctly, it’s just not a meaningful number.

“Follow the Data”

These days, it seems like we are constantly being told by pundits and politicians that we need to “follow the data” when it comes to COVID-19.

By itself, that’s not bad advice. But too often, these people act as though the data provides a script. We just look at the data, put it in our model, and voila! enlightenment rains down upon us.

It would be nice if it worked that way. In reality, “The Data” doesn’t tell us anything. People interpreting the data tell us about their conclusions, and they’re not always right.

Coming Apart at the Seams

Coming Apart at the Seams

It doesn’t have to be this way

America is burning. Quite literally. The most destructive riots in America in a very long time have hit more than two dozen cities, as opportunistic thieves and arsonists hijack massive peaceful protests and acts of peaceful civil disobedience sparked by the senseless murder of a man named George Floyd by Minneapolis police on May 25. The riots are a tragedy not just for those who have lost or been hurt – a few were even shot during a protest in Louisville, Kentucky on Friday – but for the protesters’ cause which is their righteous anger at unaccountable police violence running rampant through our society. The enemy is the state, but the rioters only make others feel grateful for the enemy’s protection. What is the sense in destroying the property and endangering the lives of innocent people? There is no sense in it, it’s mob-action stupidity and will almost certainly guarantee that the “great silent majority” of Americans continue to side with the “thin blue line” against them.

Even worse it provides the excuse for the further use of emergency tactics by police and could end up being cited to put the U.S. military on American streets. Already at least eight cities have declared curfews and almost one-third of American states have called out the national guard. The president has threatened to send in U.S. army forces as well. So much for limiting abusive police power.

And such limits are long overdue. Please go sign up for the afternoon email alert from the Free Thought Project site. You will see that every single day – virtually with no exceptions ever – Americans are killed by police. In a major proportion if not majority of these cases, the cops’ violence is obviously completely unwarranted. For example, Austin police murdered an innocent man just the other day. Note, as always, the local media spin on behalf of the cops against an innocent dead citizen, “officer-involved,” “shoot at.” There are thousands more.

Take the case of Breonna Taylor, a young, heroic EMT, slain in her own home by Louisville police on a paramilitary SWAT Team night raid on the wrong home, looking for evidence of supposed contraband violations by a man who had already been taken into custody in another location. For weeks the cops, in conspiracy with the compliant local news, smeared the innocent dead young woman as a “suspect” and her boyfriend as an attempted murderer of the heroic police. In fact, the boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, was the brave hero as well as innocent victim in the situation. These cops, pretending to be Navy SEAL Team 6 at war, did not announce their identities as police as they smashed down the door with a battering ram. Walker shot one officer in the leg. The cops then all opened fire, hitting Ms. Taylor 8 times, killing her.

Listen to the 911 call. After the cops apparently temporarily withdrew, Walker called the police for help, still unaware that it was the police who had committed the murder. Weeks later, after the story finally achieved wide publicity, the charges against Walker were dropped. Just another case of collateral damage in the tragedy-farce of the war on drugs.

It isn’t just the drug wars. America’s militarized war on guns is the same way. Even when not killed in paramilitary night raids like what happened to a young man named Duncan Lemp in Maryland last month, tens of thousands of Americans, maybe more, mostly poor and racial minorities, have been captured and locked in cages like animals not for using a firearm in any criminal way, but simply for having one when the state had commanded otherwise. Of course the alleged possible presence of firearms at a suspect’s location is the primary excuse for the use of deadly paramilitary teams in “no-knock” raids in the first place.

Another major problem beyond prohibition is the doctrine of “qualified immunity” for all law-enforcement officers, which after having been invented out of whole cloth by activist judges, has now evolved into an almost-blanket protection for murderous cops, serving as a license to kill and an always-get-out-of-jail-free card. For you to kill there must be no choice. For them it must only be “reasonable.” And reasonable means whatever they say. The suspect made a “furtive” movement! Blast him! He reached to pull up his sagging pants – “waistband!” Dead man. Two weeks paid vacation. Cops can even outright steal money from innocent people and the judges serve only as their accomplices. When they murder their own loved ones while off the clock, their partners only cover for them.

The same right-leaning patriots who are railing against police enforcement of the Covid lockdowns have got to ask themselves how they would feel if a cop did this to their father.

And what if it was almost certain they would all get away with it too?

In this case the cop who had his knee on Floyd’s neck, Derek Chauvin, has actually been fired and arrested, but only after the massive outcry, and almost certainly because of it. Even then, Chauvin, the cop seemingly most-responsible out of the three who were holding Floyd down, was only charged with little-old third-degree murder which carries a light sentence even if he’s convicted, which is unlikely anyway. The prosecutors had every incentive to “do something” like arrest him now to calm people down, but they also have every incentive to botch the case and let the killers all go free later on. In the charging documents the accusers themselves open up reasonable doubt in the form of autopsy results that say it was not damage to Floyd’s neck that killed him, indicating that it was the prone position of the victim as well as pressure to his back that made the difference instead. While far less than reasonable doubt, with the other men not charged, it’s almost certainly enough wiggle room for a cop to squeeze through.

The rest of America should try look past the stupidity and destruction of the riots in response to police violence and demand a serious change now. We need an end to all drug and gun prohibition, a permanent ban on all SWAT Team night raids, to shutdown the military’s 1033 and Homeland Security’s militarization of local police programs and federal militarized Joint-Task Forces, and most of all we need a massive new consensus to force the Supreme Court to overturn their made-up, Old World-style, qualified immunity doctrine. If government is above the law, then it is not law at all, only edicts of tyrannical men.

This is an emergency. These changes must be made immediately.

In the midst of all the virus, lockdown, police state and economic crises, take note, this society is in no position whatsoever to impose its “benevolent empire” on the rest of the world. We’re still a million miles from perfecting our own union. If it is to hold together at all, factions will need to do a better job learning to see things from others’ point of view. If no one can agree on what is to be done, let us then at least agree on what to stop. Roll back this government and let freedom reign instead. There’s no need to fight over our differences if we can be free to maintain them.

Scott Horton is editorial director of Antiwar.com, director of the Libertarian Institute, host of Antiwar Radio on Pacifica, 90.7 FM KPFK in Los Angeles, California and podcasts the Scott Horton Show from ScottHorton.org. He’s the author of the 2017 book, Fool’s Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan and editor of the 2019 book, The Great Ron Paul: The Scott Horton Show Interviews 2004–2019. He’s conducted more than 5,000 interviews since 2003.

Scott’s Twitter, YouTube, Patreon.

No Matter What Happens, the World Only Watches

No Matter What Happens, the World Only Watches

A police officer pushed his knee into the back of the neck of a man until he died. Murder. But we watched. A mob stomped a store owner into the pavement as he protected his property. Attempted murder. Again, we watched. A gunship blew journalists and then a family—including children—to pieces. Murder. We watched. We are good at watching. We hear the blasts from the whistleblowers, but we already have our own eyes and despite what we see, we ignore. We do not care. And should we claim to care. It is never enough to challenge the comfort. Even if what we watched was for a time uncomfortable.

For most that read this they were raised in a land of democratic governance; the liberal ideal that in electing one’s representatives, that freedom, security, and order will find some balance. Harmonizing society is the modern religion, with the belief that the sacrifice of millions of innocents is enough so long as we believe hard enough in a rule of law. If we vote regularly, all will be well in the world and when we watch the weeds of this system—the government that we apparently control—we do nothing. Instead we willingly watch the murder go on in our names.

The present protests tearing many parts of the United States apart were ignited initially by a murder. It was not just that slaying of a man that sparked such an eruption. The powder keg was already waiting. But as we watch on, social media blatherers and a clickbait army of journalists speculate and drive narratives. They blame contemporary political matters and merging them with ancient human ills such as racism. All may be to blame and yet none. The consistent theme however is that the state in its many forms is responsible. The protesters are not all looters and rioters. Many in fact are defending private property and protecting people. Some are paid shills doing violent deeds, others are criminal opportunists, and some are undercover police officers instigating violence. But as we watch through the straw of social media, we are told what we are seeing, and it is simplified in narratives.

While most people focus on the riots inside the United States, they do not see the deadly riots elsewhere, from India to Chile. The unrest that has hurt millions in far more impoverished nations was not a simple case of ‘racist police.’ It is for a myriad of reasons, but ultimately the dissatisfaction with the state. It is its present form of austerity measures, where the hungry and jobless rely on the state monopolised services. Or it is because of repression and far more sinister democide and torture. All we can do is watch, and as Adam Curtis once said, ‘exclaim Oh Dear!’ because we can’t explain or understand that much with simple explanations. Instead we can only watch.

Whether a lone police officer murdering a man with the arrogance that only costumed authority could safeguard, or a drone operator peering at human life through the cold gaze of a monitor, the calculation to murder is afforded by the legal mandates of a brutal monopoly. Sometimes scapegoats are sought, and events are segregated from the wider calamity of policy. And other times we, the powerful voter, watch and then move on to something else. Perhaps that vote really does not matter in the end. Instead it enables, legitimizing the murder and misery. Because in voting, we sanction it. The protests and unrests re-emerge. But it lets us feel as though we have a say or have control.

Standing Rock was a powerful moment of defiance for a time and now it is forgotten by those who are not hurt by the outcome and those bitter moments of policy. Those who watched on and formulated an opinion of distance do not care about the injustice that spurred the protests. They could not care about the legacy of betrayal and deceit; they would not know the history that led to that moment. The 1970s Wounded Knee standoff is almost ancient now and robbed in its significance by more recent acts of domestic defiance. The many nations of original Americans know the pain of defeat and the lies of the federal government, while the rest of us watched. Soldiers who massacred women and children still have the medals of honour to their names, while the victims’ graves were robbed of any justice. Then people read and celebrated an end to the West and the frontier. Civilization bathed in the blood of the innocent. Like now, except few read any more and only watch.

Was George Floyd murdered because of racism? Who knows what was in the mind and heart of the uniformed killer. But would it have mattered? Individuals of all races, genders, and ages are murdered by the state in similar ways. Failed no-knock home invasions that lead to the murder of the innocent, bombs dropped onto city blocks from helicopters to defeat a gang, women shot in their bed as they sleep. We can watch on as a homeless man sits in his wheelchair and is gunned down in daylight or a man is tasered and then shot because he did not have a camping permit. Their skin color less important than that they are all individuals lost in time at the hands of agents of the state. That is the distinction. The power to murder without repercussion is afforded by the authority of the state.

While the siege at Waco and the execution of a family at Ruby Ridge may lead to the horrendous violence of the Oklahoma City bombing, the original evil is not suddenly cured because another act of wickedness was committed in vengeance. Even as we watch on, we can attempt to rationalize. Some can blame the victims when they suffer beneath the brutality of the state, despite what we watched. The mass murderers that masterminded the attacks of 2001 on the United States did it because it was a stab into their powerful enemy that they saw as responsible for so much horror inside the lands that mattered to them. Destroying many parts of the world in response was another cycle of misplaced vengeance. The innocent died as we all watched on. But the images of the burning and then collapsing Twin Towers of New York City was more important in some minds than watching Iraq or Afghanistan bleed for decades.

When people inside Iraq protest outside the American embassy, many cheer when the U.S. military blows an Iranian envoy to pieces while they are in an airport on a diplomatic mission. The protests were blamed on a foreign nation; they could not organically spark, the narrative claimed, even if thousands of people were desperate in their anger. As we watched on, we had the murders explained to us. The dead were evil men, the killing was justified. Yet it solved nothing. The people in Iraq are still suffering and desperate. We can watch them cry in agony as mutated babies die and smoke pollutes the playgrounds of violence left as a result of a self-righteous foreign policy. We can blame Iran, but it was the coalitions of distant and willing nations that have been bombing Iraq since 1991.

In months and years from now, when the present protests die down, the narrative will be simplified. As the LA riots of 1992 or the Watts riots of 1965 have become memories, it is clear the lessons were not learned. Sensitivity training and better public relations has not stopped the increase in laws, the violence, and the murders. It can be called racism or a class struggle but, in the end, it is the government exercising authority despite the claimed limitations of its own laws. Regardless of a sniper blowing a hole through a mother holding her baby or the bombs destroying peasants in distant lands, we are told to be angry when a man does not stand for a flag and a song before a football game.

The 1989 Tiananmen protests did not end the grip of the Chinese government’s rule. It made the CCP wiser and ensured that they installed greater controls from censorship to surveillance. The Hong Kong protests will no doubt only further these tightening grips, added with the Covid-19 pandemic and the availability of pervasive technology. Dictatorships will find it easier to control and rule. They will cite the calamity and violence of social disharmony as justification. The pandemics that have spread fast and taken lives as a key factor for public health and controls on the individual. And many more will dob and report to the authorities despite the AI and software that already monitors us. Despite the repression, the organ harvesting, executions and symbol of the ‘Tank Man,’ we take money from that government and visit the nation as happy tourists, omitting the images we watched.

This is the coming fate for liberal democracies. We have seen it with the COVID-19 lockdown and pandemic. The average person was diligent in their obedience, reason be damned. Science is politicized and massaged according to the latest meme that someone viewed. Feelings and mob instincts for control, to dabble in a neighbour’s or stranger’s life, is fueled with sense of entitlement. More authority, more government is called for by the self-righteous voices. And as a flock of ‘Karens’ scream at a woman who is shopping with no face mask on, many will cheer and applaud them. If their belief in the mask is enough many may some day bludgeon the maskless too, like that shop owner who was left for dead by looters, and we will watch.

Those who have caused the chaos, whether in foreign lands littering them with bombs and depleted uranium, or in crippling industry through regulation and taxation, or in waging a war on human ingestion, or to enforce medical lockdowns each time a flu arises, have only been allowed to because we all watched it happen. We were, in the end, indifferent. We are told that each vote matters and yet we never seemed to vote for anything that ever mattered. Instead the voter only votes on want, not need. A want for welfare, subsidies, grants, contracted jobs, and entitlements. All at the expense of dignity and other people’s rights. The mob never seemed to need freedom. And when it is taken away, those who cry out are called selfish. Yet those taking it, those wanting comforts or entitlements at the expense of strangers and familiars, claim to always be in need.

The violence of policy is on all of us. No militant junta or imperial democracy ever existed without the obedience of thousands or millions of willing killers. No tyrant is so powerful that they could rule without others doing their deeds. When Nicolae Ceausescu, the communist dictator of Romania, was executed by the very men who served him, they did so because the tide had changed. The killers now served the mob and not the tyrant. It is no different anywhere else. The killers will kill for whoever is in authority.

And without that authority, the killers are no longer protected. They no longer have the excuse of orders and policy to cower behind. When a policeman brutalizes an unarmed child, instead of filming it—protect the child. We have watched that scene enough. When a gang of fiends bash a man into the pavement—save the man. And perhaps instead of thanking a military person for their service, treat them as just another person. Because if it was not for that collective service, we would not have so much misery in those desperately poor parts on this Earth.

Perhaps we need to stop simply watching, we should begin to think for ourselves and stop blindly obeying the unjust. Perhaps next time you are watching murder, stop seeking a narrative that blames the victim and absolves the killer and act according to your dignity and justice. The answer is not in a ballot box or in mass carnage but by thinking, living, and discussing with liberty in mind. Perhaps we need to stop being afraid of disobeying unjust laws.

Never forget that there is never a reason to kill a non-threatening person in your care. That is murder and it defies the apparent principles of law and order under which the rest of us are forced to abide. Human dignity tells us it is wrong, even if narratives and ideologies grant it an exception. Dropping bombs on unarmed civilians or blowing a school bus full of children is always wrong. No matter who does it. A song, a flag, an ideal is never important enough to conceal that fact. There is never a context for murder. Tt is a shared insanity we keep allowing to occur. There is no greater perversity in watching the murder of others. We have too many snuff films that we can access and yet we do nothing but keep watching on.

Should something happen to you, don’t be surprised if the world just watches on.

New Global Data Shows Economic Lockdowns Have No Impact On Coronavirus Spread

New Global Data Shows Economic Lockdowns Have No Impact On Coronavirus Spread

The United States and much of the world may have initiated a business shutdown—resulting in tens of millions of unemployed domestically, along with all of unemployment’s other negative side effects—for no statistically measurable benefit in tamping down COVID-19. (See Figure 1 )

Figure 1A multivariate analysis of the 95 countries which had their first COVID-19 infection on or before March 15 and whether they had a “non-essential business” shutdown before April 7 yields a smaller infection rate coefficient for non-shutdown countries even after controlling for variables such as population density, percent of urban population, income levels and Asia-Pacific cultural differences (which includes higher proportional mask-wearing). Nor is there a statistically significant increase in death rate from COVID-19 among non-shutdown countries, though many nations with large elderly populations did experience higher death rates. (See Figure 2)

Figure 2While non-shutdown countries actually had lower infection rates, the study did not find that this difference was statistically significant (See Tables 1, 2 and 3 in the data discussion portion of this article below).

Much of the world panicked under inaccurate near-doomsday scenario theoretical models, shutting down businesses deemed “non-essential” in March and early April. But several dozen countries took the different path of engaging in social distancing and canceling large venues but leaving most businesses to operate with more modest restrictions.

The modeling scenarios predicting millions of deaths in the U.S. were predicated upon the unrealistic expectation that Americans would stupidly act socially precisely as they had before the virus, as if COVID-19 was no threat. However, even before regional shutdowns were imposed across the United States in the middle of March, large venues such as the NBA had canceled events, and Americans had begun mask-wearing even as officials such as CDC official Dr. Anthony Fauci and the World Health Organization were still counseling Americans not to wear masks when venturing out in public.

In short, the American public led the state and federal government response to the virus, providing an example of how decentralized individual responsibility make the country safe while government officials are still oblivious and providing bad advice in order to hoard masks.

With several months of data, it’s now possible to scientifically measure the results of the shutdowns. Since we now possess real-world data on the impact of the shutdowns, there’s no excuse to fall back on theoretical models or the patchwork historical Spanish Flu data from 1918 to run a study of the impact of business shutdowns. There’s never a scientific reason to dismiss the factual for the counter-factual. Indeed, to fall back on the old theoretical models at this point would be statistical malpractice: good scientists never discard actual results for a failed theoretical model or a tangential issue.

Of the six variables analyzed in the global data, only “percent urban population” and “advanced economy” registered as statistically significant (a 95% confidence that there is a positive affect). Both of these may be related, as the virus is transmitted primarily through human contact. Urban populations tend to have more personal interactions, and advanced economies are more likely to travel internationally. In general, advanced economies received their first infection earlier than lesser developed countries.

This study also attempted to isolate mask-wearing culture in the Asia-Pacific variable, and although Asia-Pacific nations tended to have lower infection coefficients, the differences were not found to be statistically significant.

An analysis of the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, three of which didn’t engage in a business shutdown (Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming), yielded a negative coefficient on a two-variable analysis (Tables 4) but a five-variable analysis yielded a positive infection coefficient for states that didn’t shut down (Tables 5 and 6). But like the global data the business shutdown, neither was statistically significant with regard to infection rates.

Data Discussion: Methodology, Sources, and Tables

The goal of this paper is to study whether the shelter-in-place orders in the early months of the break out of COVID-19 in the United States saved lives in comparison with established scholarly research that opioid deaths increase by 0.19 per 100,000 population in the U.S. with a one percent increase in the unemployment rate. This amounts to 629 additional opioid deaths per year, per one percent increase in the unemployment rate in the United States.

This study measured only the marginal impact of “stay-at-home” orders and closure of “non-essential” businesses at the global, national, and U.S. state levels, not the impact of closure of schools, social distancing practices, prevalence of mask-wearing or mandatory closure of large venues such as sporting events, worship services, and concerts. The latter have largely been universal, and these latter restrictions clearly will also result in substantial long-term unemployment. The former—encompassing three U.S. states and at least 23 foreign countries—are also believed to be responsible for substantial unemployment, including substantial long-term employment.

In measuring which countries are “shutdown” countries and which are not, the following criteria were used:

Only countries that had their first COVID-19 infection before March 15 were considered in this study, countries with their first infection after that time were discarded in order to have approximately 8 weeks of infection data to measure (i.e., the beginning of the outbreak when—presumably—there was little time to accommodate scarce hospital beds and ventilators for the infected in the breakout).

“Shutdown” countries are nations (or states) that imposed national or regional closure of what were deemed “non-essential” businesses on or before April 7, according to a metric published by the BBC on April 7 (and hand-collected data by the author for U.S. states). Three nations had imposed shutdowns (including China) early in the outbreak but lifted them well before April 7, and they therefore count as “non-shutdown” nations. The lone exception to this rule of following the BBC story list is Singapore, which was listed as a non-shutdown nation on the BBC story, but imposed its first shutdown on April 7, just too late for the BBC press deadline, so it is included as a shutdown nation. The idea behind using April 7 as a metric was that the BBC provided a handy guide, and it would give more than a month of data on the spreading of the virus after a shutdown had been imposed.

The hypothesis to be tested is the following: “The economic shutdowns in the United States saved lives because they prevented at least an additional 627 COVID-19 deaths in the US with a 95% confidence level.” This hypothesis was rejected, though it is still statistically possible that the shutdowns did have a small positive impact in the infection rate. Note: The working assumption for this study is that the purpose of the shutdown is not to stamp out the disease, but to prevent a spike in deaths related to hospital capacity—i.e., the assumption that the number of infections (as opposed to deaths) will be the same whether the curve is a spike or a long, flat curve unless it involves over-capacity hospitals. Moreover, it is presumed that the closure of non-essential businesses will contribute to at least a one percent increase in the unemployment rate for at least one year.

Regarding hospital capacity, the United States had a relatively high level of capability compared with the nations of the world, leading the world in per capita intensive care beds. Moreover, because hospital ICU capacity was generally at 60% before the COVID-19 crisis, health care experts suggested that “if the infection rate is only 20 percent (low end of current estimates), we would largely be able to meet the needs for inpatient care if we flatten the curve to 12 months.” None of these capacities were exceeded in the actual infection, nor are any of them expected to be exceeded without a shutdown.

Country and state data was gathered from Worldometers.info and matched to a list of shutdown/no-shutdown nations published by the BBC April 7. 95 nations for which COVID data and shutdown information met the criteria, including 72 that had shutdown orders by April 7 and 23 nations that did not. Other information regarding percent of urban population or population density were gathered from the World Bank or the U.S. Census Bureau (2010). The “advanced economy” dummy variable was manually created by the author using the International Monetary Fund’s list of “advanced economies,” and the Asia-Pacific dummy variable was created by the author for nations on the Asia-Pacific rim or in Southeastern Asia.

All of the statistical regressions used for this study were run on Stata (version 16), and the graphs were generated using that software program (though the labels were enhanced using a graphics program). The working spreadsheets used for this study can be found here (world) and here (states/DC). The Stata commands used to generate the results can be found here.

Table 1. World data through May 20 – 2 variables

  TotCases/MilPop  Coef.  St.Err.  t-value  p-value  [95% Conf  Interval]  Sig
 No national or regional shutdown order -412.231 312.202 -1.32 0.190 -1032.202 207.740  
 Constant 1041.014 176.066 5.91 0.000 691.381 1390.647 ***
 
Mean dependent var 941.211 SD dependent var 1439.202  
R-squared 0.015 Number of obs 95.000  
F-test 1.743 Prob > F 0.190  
Akaike crit. (AIC) 1652.787 Bayesian crit. (BIC) 1657.895  
 
*** p<0.01, ** p<0.05, * p<0.1  

 

Table 2. World data through May 20 – 6 variables

  TotCases/MilPop  Coef.  St.Err.  t-value  p-value  [95% Conf  Interval]  Sig
No national or regional shutdown order -245.001 280.258 -0.87 0.384 -801.869 311.866  
Advanced economy (IMF) 1618.017 370.701 4.37 0.000 881.44 2354.591 ***
Asia-Pacific -102.237 69.230 -1.48 0.143 -239.795 35.321  
Percent urban population (World Bank 2018) 12.153 4.313 2.82 0.006 3.583 20.723 ***
Population density (people/sq. kilometer) -0.085 0.048 -1.78 0.078 -0.180 0.010 *
 Constant -217.357 221.373 -0.98 0.329 -657.221 222.506  
 
Mean dependent var 941.211 SD dependent var 1439.202  
R-squared 0.423 Number of obs 95.000  
F-test 7.888 Prob > F 0.000  
Akaike crit. (AIC) 1610.042 Bayesian crit. (BIC) 1625.365  
 
*** p<0.01, ** p<0.05, * p<0.1  

 

Table 3. World data through May 20 – Side-by-side table – 6 variable regression

  (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)
   TotCases/MilPop  TotCases/MilPop  TotCases/MilPop  TotCases/MilPop  TotCases/MilPop
           
No national or regional shutdown order -412.2 -543.3 -492.6 -242.6 -245.0
  (-1.32) (-1.81) (-1.61) (-0.86) (-0.87)
           
Percent urban population (World Bank 2018)   29.93*** 31.04*** 12.28** 12.15**
    (5.05) (5.06) (2.85) (2.82)
           
Population density (people/sq. kilometer – World Bank)     -0.0484 -0.0916 -0.0850
      (-0.99) (-1.95) (-1.78)
           
Advanced economy (IMF)       1631.8*** 1618.0***
        (4.40) (4.36)
           
Asia-Pacific         -102.2
          (-1.48)
           
_cons 1041.0*** -844.7** -903.0** -254.0 -217.4
  (5.91) (-2.85) (-2.98) (-1.16) (-0.98)
           
N 95 95 95 95 95
           
t statistics in parentheses      
=”* p<0.05  ** p<0.01  *** p<0.001″    

 

Table 4. US States and DC Two-variable linear regression

  TotCases/MilPop  Coef.  St.Err.  t-value  p-value  [95% Conf  Interval]  Sig
 No statewide shutdown order -507.375 984.315 -0.52 0.609 -2485.430 1470.680  
 Constant 3580.708 549.649 6.51 0.000 2476.147 4685.270 ***
 
Mean dependent var 3550.863 SD dependent var 3674.961  
R-squared 0.001 Number of obs 51.000  
F-test 0.266 Prob > F 0.609  
Akaike crit. (AIC) 985.015 Bayesian crit. (BIC) 988.879  
 
*** p<0.01, ** p<0.05, * p<0.1  

 

Table 5. US States and DC through May 27 –  5 variable linear regression

 TotCases/MilPop  Coef.  St.Err.  t-value  p-value  [95% Conf  Interval]  Sig
  No statewide shutdown order 670.906 918.241 0.73 0.469 -1176.357 2518.170  
Population density people/sq. kilometer (2010 US Census) 0.454 0.238 1.91 0.063 -0.025 0.934 *
Percent urban population  (2010 census) 10260.014 3672.727 2.79 0.008 2871.439 17648.589 ***
 Constant -4259.323 2318.506 -1.84 0.073 -8923.556 404.910 *
 
Mean dependent var 3550.863 SD dependent var 3674.961  
R-squared 0.246 Number of obs 51.000  
F-test 6.555 Prob > F 0.001  
Akaike crit. (AIC) 974.670 Bayesian crit. (BIC) 982.397  
 
*** p<0.01, ** p<0.05, * p<0.1  

 

Table 6. US States and DC through May 27 – side-by-side table

  (1) (2) (3) (4)
   TotCases/MilPop  TotCases/MilPop  TotCases/MilPop  TotCases/MilPop
         
 No statewide shutdown order -507.4 -211.6 670.9 996.6
  (-0.52) (-0.22) (0.73) (1.21)
         
Population density persons per sq. kilometer   0.784** 0.454 0.304
    (2.77) (1.91) (1.55)
         
Percent Urban population (2010 US Census)     10260.0** 7781.4*
      (2.79) (2.62)
         
Tests/Mil pop       0.140**
        (3.31)
         
_cons 3580.7*** 3273.8*** -4259.3 -6357.6**
  (6.51) (6.33) (-1.84) (-2.80)
         
N 51 51 51 51
         
t statistics in parentheses =”* p<0.05   ** p<0.01  *** p<0.001″    

For multicollinearity


Table 7.
Variance inflation factor check for world data

    VIF   1/VIF
Advanced economy (IMF) 1.552 .644
 Percent urban population (World Bank 2018) 1.529 .654
 Population density (people/sq. Kilometer – World Bank) 1.148 .871
 No national or regional shutdown order 1.078 .928
 Asia-Pacific 1.02 .98
 Mean VIF 1.266 .

 

Table 8. Variance inflation factor check for 50 states and DC

    VIF   1/VIF
 Percent urban population (2010 centus) 1.178 .849
 Population density persons per sq. kilometer 1.127 .888
 Tests per 1 million population 1.077 .928
 No statewide shutdown order 1.027 .974
 Mean VIF 1.102 .
Maryland’s Coronavirus Self-Destruction

Maryland’s Coronavirus Self-Destruction

Maryland politicians have destroyed more than four hundred thousand jobs in dictatorial responses purporting to thwart the coronavirus pandemic. “Nearly one in five Maryland workers have filed for unemployment” compensation, theBaltimore Sun reported. The situation is so bad that even the Washington Post recognized that Maryland’s COVID “restrictions have crippled the economy and paralyzed daily life since mid-March.”

Shaky extrapolations of predicted infection rates sufficed to nullify limits on state and local government power. On March 20, Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican, ordered the shutdown of all “nonessential” businesses. Ten days later, Hogan issued a mandatory “stay-at-home” order for all Marylanders. At that time, roughly a thousand Marylanders had tested positive for COVID and eighteen had died from the virus.

Despite the shutdown, Maryland has had over forty-eight thousand COVID cases and more than twenty-two hundred fatalities. If the shutdown had been effective, the transmission rate should have plunged after the fourteen-day incubation period for coronavirus. Didn’t happen. The shutdown utterly failed to stop the pandemic but inflicted collateral damage that will hobble the state for many years and probably permanently blight thousands of lives.

From the beginning, Maryland’s response epitomized iron fist progressivism—one overreaching decree after another. Piety repeatedly trumped safety.

For instance, on April 9, Montgomery County’s chief health officer Travis Gayles decreed that any grocery store customer who failed to wear a mask would be fined $500. Gayles discouraged local residents from acquiring and wearing the most reliable protection, such as surgical masks or N95 masks, which the county said “should be reserved for health care workers.” Hogan later followed up with a similar statewide mandate.

But some risks were too sacrosanct to reduce. Hundreds of grocery workers nationwide have been infected by the coronavirus and at least thirty have died. One of the biggest sources of contagion in grocery stores is ratty old recycling bags that customers drag along to tote their purchases home, which some states and cities have banned for the duration of the pandemic. Montgomery County imposes a five-cent tax on each plastic grocery bag, despite one food workers’ union calling for an “end to the disease-transmitting bag tax.” A majority of county council members sponsored a bill to suspend the grocery bag tax to “minimize risk,” because “the health and safety of all Montgomery County residents must come first.” The Sierra Club protested that suspending the bag tax will leave “the public with a false sense of security in encouraging single-use plastic shopping bags,” which “are difficult to clean.” But that’s why they are called “single-use” bags. The council quickly caved to the environmentalist demand but pretended to give a damn about grocery workers by encouraging residents to wash reusable bags after each visit to the grocery store—which is as likely as hell freezing over.

When Hogan announced that anyone who violated his “shelter-at-home” order could face a $5,000 fine and a year in prison, he ludicrously declared, “Every Marylander can be a hero, just by staying home.” As of early May, Maryland police had arrested more than a hundred people for violating the order and responded to more than three thousand reports of violations. It is unclear whether the percentage of Marylanders who turned into informants was higher than the rate in former East Germany.

Private parades are strictly prohibited during the lockdown. But Montgomery County police conducted at least three police car parades in front of local hospitals to show their support for healthcare workers. At the same time, the county police exploited the pandemic to justify refusing to provide any information on a brutal predawn, no-knock raid on March 12 in which Duncan Lemp, a 21-year-old libertarian-leaning gun rights activist was killed as he slept in his parents’ home in Potomac, Maryland. When Lemp family members signaled their intention to attend a planned protest over their son’s killing at the police headquarters, a county prosecutor speedily threatened any family members who attended the protest with a $5,000 fine and jail for violating Hogan’s shelter-in-place order.

Politicians talked as if any large gathering of people would be tantamount to mass murder. But there was a tacit exception for anything that trumpeted the majesty of the government.

A military jet flyover tribute to local hospitals in the Washington suburbs was Security Theater at its best. The Montgomery County Police Department announced on Twitter: “Please adhere to @GovLarryHogan social distancing order and do not congregate at any hospitals in the County to view the flyover as we must keep the hospital areas clear for healthcare workers.” Twitter user @LibertyLockPod replied, “The roar of the jets will give me strength while I cower indoors. Thank you government!” Another Twitter user groused, “Some hospitals in Montgomery County are out of hand sanitizer, supplying that would be a great way to honor them.”

When the US Navy Blue Angels did a heavily publicized flyover of Suburban Hospital in Bethesda on May 2, hundreds of people squeezed into the hospital parking lot and elsewhere to see the show, social distancing be damned. At least one county council member joined the crowd in blatant violation of the governor’s “shelter-in-place” order, while a second council member stood near the throng. But the media, except for the online Rockville Reports, ignored the high-profile hypocrisy.

Government officials justified the lockdown by endlessly claiming that their decisions were based on “science” and “data.” But the data is available only to those authorized to enter the Inner Temple of Maryland Politics, apparently. The online activist group Reopen Maryland complained that

Hogan has provided no transparency about the process through which models were consulted and used in Maryland’s decision-making to justify state and county closures. Reopen Maryland again calls upon the Governor to make his task force and recovery team minutes and records public. Taxpayers deserve to know how and why these destructive decisions were made.

The state government denied a request for such information under Maryland’s Public Information Act.

Maryland is busy hiring a thousand “contact tracers” to track down anyone who might have interacted with anyone who tested positive for COVID. Privacy will be no excuse for failing to disclose personal contacts. However, at the same time, the Maryland Department of Health ordered local county health departments to cease disclosing which nursing homes have been ravaged by COVID outbreaks, claiming that such information “‘serves no public health purpose’ and violates privacy laws,” as WJLA TV reported. Most COVID fatalities statewide have occurred in nursing homes. One would think that sons and daughters would have a legitimate interest in knowing where their parents faced the greatest risk of dying, but no such luck in the Free State.

Why the secrecy? Reopen Maryland requested and was denied “information on whether…the state forced nursing homes to accept COVID-19 positive patients discharged from hospitals, as suggested by the Governor’s April 5 executive order and corresponding directives from the Maryland Department of Health.” Similar policies in New York and Pennsylvania contributed to thousands of nursing home deaths.

As elsewhere in the United States, Democrats are far more enthusiastic about perpetuating the lockdown than are Republicans. On May 15, Governor Hogan rescinded the statewide stay-at-home order. That dictate never made any sense for much of the state. Garrett County, for instance, has had only ten COVID cases and no fatalities, but its schools and businesses were shuttered at the command of Annapolis.

Media-favored experts shuddered at Hogan’s premature release of 6 million people from de facto house arrest. Joshua Sharfstein, vice dean at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, lamented, “People wonder if it’s necessary, if it’s not necessary. When people receive mixed messages, they’re not going to do what they need to protect themselves.” Without Hogan’s dictate, every Marylander would presumably rush out into the street and hug everyone they saw. Actually, Marylanders responded to the pandemic by voluntarily “social distancing” even before Hogan’s stay-at-home order. Unacast, a company that created software to track social distancing via cell phone data, rated Maryland an “A” and one of the best in the nation.

Hogan’s announcement ending the state shutdown sparked a political pity party by Democratic officials in the Washington suburbs and Baltimore area. “All of us were taken aback by his announcement. We were hung out to dry,” whined Montgomery County executive Marc Elrich, who faced the burden of justifying perpetuating the lockdown for the million residents in his county. Elrich lamented that that “makes it sound like it’s an arbitrary decision.…[Hogan] kind of ignited this rebellion against what we were doing.”

The Washington Post summarized Elrich’s response: “Montgomery County rushed to create its own data dashboard last week, so elected leaders could justify to constituents why they remain stuck in a coronavirus shutdown.” But county officials are apparently being slippery, relying on arbitrary selection and manipulation of data to justify perpetuating arbitrary power. Maryland daily COVID fatalities have fallen by more than 50 percent, and the hysteria is becoming harder to perpetuate every week. Anne Arundel County struck bureaucratic gold when it declared that its pandemic emergency would continue until “health equity” was achieved—whatever the hell that means.

Most Maryland residents live in the Baltimore-Washington corridor, and most of the media coverage in that area has been both pro-panic and progovernment. As a result, Maryland politicians may face few consequences for the destruction and pointless subjugation they imposed. But the Great Pandemic Follies of 2020 may prove a fertile breeding ground for anarchists, libertarians, and unregenerate cynics across the nation.

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

Beyond George Floyd: A Look at the 400 Americans Killed By Police in 2020

Beyond George Floyd: A Look at the 400 Americans Killed By Police in 2020

As the nation reels from the horrifying murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN, it is important to remember that there were more than 400 others who’ve lost their lives at the hands of America’s police force. Like many of the folks who had their last moments alive captured on video as they were gunned down or beaten to death, their lives mattered. Sadly, however, their deaths—which were no less or more significant than Floyd’s—spark no protests and are swept under the rug.

Earlier this month, TFTP reported on the story of 42-year-old Michael Ramos whose death was caught on video. Just before he was shot, Ramos had his hands in the air and showed police he was unarmed. Riots never ensued.

“We went back and searched the area, we brought in K-9s that are trained to find firearms and searched the area, but there was no firearm located,” Austin Police Chief Brian Manley confirmed earlier this month.

“Mike Ramos does not appear to threaten but ends up dead. There’s got to be a better way,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler said in a statement at the time. “I’m very disturbed.”

Before Ramos, a friend of the family of 20-year-old Jesse Cedillo shared a hard to watch video with the Free Thought Project showing his last moments alive. While being pursued by police, Cedillo appeared to have his hands in the air before a Pueblo Police officer opened fire on him, shooting a total of 13 rounds, including several after he had fallen to the ground and was not moving. Cedillo was no angel, but he did not deserve to be executed.

In January, William Green, 43, of Washington, D.C., was shot seven times by Cpl. Michael Owen Jr., a 10-year Prince George’s County Police force veteran. Green was in handcuffs and seat belted into the officer’s cruiser, posing no threat whatsoever, when Owen opened fire on him, murdering Green in cold blood.

Before Green there was Randall Goodale, also murdered in January, who was killed in his own home and his death covered up by cops. As TFTP reported at the time, on Jan. 13 police were serving Goodale with an arrest warrant for felon in possession of a handgun. Police claimed that when officers pulled up, Goodale “started ramming into occupied police vehicles.”

At an interview on the scene of the crime that day, SAPD Chief William McManus did not stutter when he said, “Well, he was ramming the cars, for one. And there were officers in the vehicles whose lives were being threatened by that.”

But this simply wasn’t true at all. Goodale’s vehicle never rammed the cars until after cops killed him and he either fell on the gear shift or the accelerator. Also, the cops weren’t even in the vehicles.

What actually happened is clear from the video. Police are seen rolling up to Goodale, who was reportedly working on his truck in the driveway. Within seconds of arriving, police open fire on him—executing him in broad daylight.

The cases are endless and the victims are often innocent—even children.

While some of the citizens who’ve been killed by cops were armed and dangerous and likely deserved it, others were innocent, unarmed, and include small children. Daniel Shaver—who was killed by police in 2016—was one of these people whose life was brought to a screeching halt as he begged on his knees for police not to shoot him. Despite being innocent and unarmed, this father of three was murdered in cold blood by Philip Brailsford who was never held accountable and allowed to retire from the police force with his pension.

Jeremy Mardis was another one of these citizens who was gunned down in cold blood by two killer cops. Mardis was just 6-years-old when he was murdered by these killer cops—one of whom was released last year after serving less than two years for his role in this innocent child’s death—that included putting bullet holes in him.

The list goes on. Yet despite its increasing length, most American citizens think that reining in America’s deadly police problem is somehow “unpatriotic” or “un-American.” Instead of the right realizing the threat to freedom caused by cops who can kill thousands with impunity, they blame the left. Instead of the left realizing the threat to freedom caused by cops who kill with impunity, most of them blame guns.

The result of this complacency and failure to address the actual problem has been less freedom and more killing.

Thanks to independent watchdog groups who have decided to document this number on their own, we have a total number of citizens killed by police and its total is staggering. Given that America has roughly 765,000 sworn police officers, that means the police-against-citizen kill rate is more than 145 per 100,000.

Pew StatsThe police kill rate is nearly 30 times that of the average citizen, yet somehow people still call for disarming citizens and say nothing about the police. And no, the citizens are not becoming more violent. In fact, humanity is at its safest time in history—ever—and, in spite of the lunatic terrorists shooting up public places, violent crimes as well as all crime continues to drop, significantly.

The bottom line is that George Floyd’s life mattered. The outrage over his death is justified and people should be in the streets. This is a natural reaction to watching agents of the state murder a handcuffed unarmed man in broad daylight and the only consequence they faced was losing their jobs. But the 400 other folks whose lives came to an abrupt halt in the first five months of 2020 also mattered.

Every unnecessary killing by police should outrage you. Floyd’s, Ramos’, Goodale’s, Green’s, and the countless others who have lost their lives to senseless acts of police violence all had lives that mattered. We need to start acting like it. If we want to truly want to change this paradigm of police officers shooting first and asking questions later, we need to start talking solutions.

Imagine for a moment, the result of all police officers being held personally liable for their actions and forced to pay their victims. In nearly every other profession on the planet, if someone hurts someone else while on the job, they are held liable — personally. Why can’t cops carry personal liability insurance just like doctors?

As instances of police brutality and police killings continue to be exposed, like Floyd’s, there is no doubt that the US is in dire need of reform. The simple requirement for police to be insured for personal liability is an easy fix — especially to remove repeat offenders from the force.

All too often, when a tragic death such as Tamir Rice occurs, months later we find out that the officer should have never been given a badge and a gun in the first place because of their past. However, insurance companies, who can’t fleece the taxpayers to pay for problem cops, would have to come out of pocket to pay for them and would make sure that these officers are uninsurable.

If the officer becomes uninsurable, the officer becomes unhirable—simple as that.

101308772 2588051481513227 5089621071364096000 NThere are likely many cops out there right now who would be denied insurance coverage by any company, due to their track records. In fact, the cop who put his knee on George Floyd’s neck until he died, Derek Chauvin, was one of these cops. Throughout his career, he had a sustained record of misconduct and multiple deadly force incidents. Yet his department gave him a pass…until he killed Floyd.

A requirement for personal liability insurance would, quite literally, weed out problem officers — almost overnight. And, had it been in place in Minneapolis, George Floyd may still be alive today.

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

The Pernicious Legacy of the Mueller Investigation

The Pernicious Legacy of the Mueller Investigation

Anyone who reads newspapers, watches cable news, or frequents social media newsfeeds is well aware that, over the last few years, allegations have snowballed both from the United States government and commercial news media that Russia directly interfered in the 2016 United States presidential election to benefit the Republican candidate, Donald Trump. On April 18, 2019 the long trail of these allegations culminated in what is almost universally considered in our news media as the ultimate guilty verdict: the 448-page redacted report released by ex-FBI Chief Robert Mueller, who was appointed by Congress as a nominally independent investigator.

The purpose of this paper is not to rule out these allegations. If anything, it’s easy to imagine that Russia could have had some motivation to influence our elections given the foreign policy differences between the two candidates; one who voiced support for working with Russia, and the other who likened Putin to Hitler. One also cannot forget that, when our country had analogous interests in the outcome of Russian elections in 1996, there is evidence that we openly interfered to get our preferred candidate elected.

Rather, based on the available evidence, much of it systematically ignored by the U.S. commercial and State media, this paper is simply a citizen’s effort to assess the integrity of a congressionally-authorized investigation—allegedly independent and impartial—that could potentially have a major impact on the relations between the world’s two largest nuclear superpowers. Given that, as of this paper, the U.S. ranks no higher than 48th among countries of the world in freedom of the press, the integrity of American media coverage of the Mueller Report also has to factor into this assessment. Despite what has been implied in the liberal media, critics of Mueller are not just from the far fringes of the political right and left wing. They include seasoned ex-diplomats, professors from reputable universities, alumni of our national security agencies, and respected journalists outside of commercial media.

Among those at the forefront of dissent is a group calling itself the Veteran Intelligent Professionals for Sanity (VIPs) that has included 23 alumni, some highly placed, of the FBI, CIA, NSA, and military intelligence. The most prominent member of this group is William Binney, a Technical Director who has over 30 years of experience at National Security Agency and actually developed some of the software the agency uses to detect cyber intrusions. Much of the narrative in this paper is based on the testimony of the above sources.

Where “Russiagate” Started

Speculation as to how growing demonization of Russia started in the first place will vary depending on the political orientation of the observer. Adherents of the so-called “realism” school of international relations (for example, Harvard University professor Stephen Walt and University of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer) will likely see Russiagate at least in part as just the latest chapter in the history of American interventionism with the objective of dominating and isolating Russia ever since the fall of the Soviet Union. As noted by Princeton and NYU Professor Emeritus of Russian Studies Stephen Cohen, adherents of the political right wing (for example, Fox News) will likely see the genesis of Russiagate in the Democratic Party’s efforts to dig up dirt on Trump in Russia. Conversely, the liberal community (for example, The New York Times and MSNBC) will likely see the starting point of Russiagate in the vigilance of the FBI when it apparently detected possible collusion between one of President Trump’s advisors, George Papadapoulus, and alleged Russian proxies offering dirt on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Libertarians and those on the farther left have even speculated about former CIA Director John Brennan’s role in stirring up conspiracies about Russia to bring down President Trump. A case could also be made that the issue goes back to the 2012 Magnitsky Affair that resulted in U.S. sanctions against Russia based on allegations surrounding the death of a whistleblower in a Russian prison (as of this paper, the narrative regarding this affair is in some controversy).

Where We Are Now

Whatever Russiagate’s origins, and the continuing disagreements between Democrats and Republicans as to the Mueller Report’s claims of collusion and obstruction of justice by the Trump Administration, the entire spectrum of both political parties accepts as fact that Russia hacked into the Democratic National Committee (DNC) computer server during the 2016 presidential campaign. Further, there is bipartisan consensus that Russia recruited Wikileaks, an international organization well known for its disclosure—long under U.S. criminal investigation—of classified documents, to release emails damaging to presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Certainly all Democrats and at least some Republicans (mostly those opposed to Trump) accept as fact that Russia also flooded social media with engineered “fake” posts, memes, newsfeeds, and tweets intended to benefit Donald Trump’s campaign. In their view, these manipulations may have actually affected the outcome of the election and at the very least aggravated polarity between American citizens, undermining their faith in “our democracy.”

Lingering Questions

To sidestep accusations of “whataboutism,” I’ll put aside the argument that, since the United States appears to have interfered in the elections of some 80 countries in its history, any similar operations by Russia can be dismissed as just covert business as usual. I’ll also overlook the possibility that the American public had every right to know about the information released in the stolen DNC emails. The fact is that, based on international law and simple ethics, suspicion of undue meddling by a foreign power in democratic elections is a serious matter meriting investigation and, if appropriate, retaliatory action. In this case, however, two questions come to mind:

  1. What specific demonstrable evidence—including forensic analysis—would the United States be able to bring to the table if it were to prove its case against Russia in any respected international tribunal?
  2. If key evidence of election interference is classified and can’t be revealed, to what extent can claims by the U.S. security community be realistically taken at face value?

In keeping with the Mueller Report format, this paper addresses hacking and social media issues separately.

The Russian Hacking Allegations

What Normally Happens when a Hack Is Discovered in Government Computer Networks

The story leading up to the Mueller Report might as well begin on April 29, 2016 when the DNC first discovered a cyber intrusion in its servers and alerted the FBI. At this point standard practice would have dictated that the FBI take immediate possession of the servers and conduct its own forensic analysis to determine the immediate cause of the intrusion and neutralize its threat. But protocol would normally not stop there.

According to Jack Matlock, former U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union during its last days, the FBI’s role would normally only be an understudy in this kind of investigation unless the cyber intrusion were related solely to domestic law enforcement. At the very least, any cyber intrusion impacting national security would require input from the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) of the State Department. With primary expertise in military affairs, the DIA would be the choice to weigh in on whether an intrusion came, as has been alleged, from Russian military intelligence (GRU). On the other hand, the INR’s participation would normally be mandatory in assessing foreign intentions and political activity. When it comes to identifying hacking, the NSA’s expertise would be applicable, since it monitors all data flowing in and out of the United States. All in all, input from the above agencies would both diversify expertise and allow for possible inter-agency disagreement requiring resolution.

Unfortunately, little evidence appears to have emerged that any of the above protocol was in fact followed.

What Actually Appears to Have Happened: The Commercial Sector Takes over

First, under pressure from the DNC, the FBI never took possession of the affected servers but allowed the DNC to delegate forensic analysis to its own hired cybersecurity companies, primarily Crowdstrike. FBI Director James Comey even acknowledged that the FBI violated its best practices by this lapse but justified the decision based on his confidence that Crowdstrike was a “high class entity” that could be trusted to fill in for the FBI. Diverse critics of this assessment, however, have cited the following:

  1. Relying on an entity already retained and paid by the DNC to conduct “independent” analysis is in itself an obvious conflict of interest. We saw a similar instance leading up to the 2008 financial crisis when bond ratings agencies gave impeccable grades to questionable bonds issued by the very companies that hired the agencies in the first place.
  2. According to security researcher, Claudio Guarnieri, private security firms can identify and expunge cyber intrusions but, unlike government security agencies, they are not in a position to do more than speculate as to the ultimate origins of the cybertrails. Based on the testimonials of cybersecurity experts, tracing a cybertrail accurately to its source is extremely difficult, all the more, since, as shown by Wikileaks’ revelations of the classified CIA “Vault 7” program, the CIA itself is certainly capable of fabricating a trail littered with false fingerprints. As a result, verifiable technical forensic evidence is critical to back up any accusation of hacking by foreign sources.
  3. As reported by Jeffrey Carr, CEO of Taia Global, Inc. (a cybersecurity company), part of Crowdstrike’s claim as to Russian hacking rests on the detected malware, Agent X, that collects and transmits hacked data to computers seeking to steal it. This malware has in fact been associated with Russia in the past, but, according to Carr, Crowdstrike overlooked that its use had spread to other parties including anti-Russian Ukrainians.
  4. Diverse sources have noted that the founder of Crowdstrike, Dmitri Alperovich, can hardly be considered impartial, since he’s been cited as a virulently anti-Putin Russian-born American and a member of the anti-Russia, predominantly neoconservative Atlantic Council (it’s worth noting that the keynote speaker at one of the Atlantic Council’s conferences was the interventionist Elliott Abrams, who was convicted for lying to Congress about his role in the Iran/Contragate affair).
  5. As reported by Scott Ritter, a former Marine Corps intelligence officer and journalist, Crowdstrike’s record is far from that characteristic of a “high class entity.” The organization has in fact been cited for substandard work, contradictory statements, and false claims. Aside from characterizing Russian hacking as one of the most sophisticated operations it had ever encountered and then citing what seemed like obvious signs of sloppiness by the Russians, Crowdstrike made highly publicized claims in December 2016 that it had uncovered Russian hacking into Ukrainian military equipment. Following dissenting analysis by other cybersecurity companies, Crowdstrike was forced to retract these accusations.
  6. Ritter also reported that in 2011, Alperovich, then working for McAfee, had also boldly claimed to have discovered that multiple hackings of private industries were part of an espionage campaign, which he named “Shady Rat,” originating in China. While this claim also generated considerable publicity in the U.S. media and even Congress, independent cybersecurity firms including Symantec conducted their own analysis of Alperovich’s methodology and ultimately characterized it as basically fraudulent and designed simply to promote his reputation.
  7. Ray McGovern, former CIA analyst and Deputy National Intelligence Officer, reported that, at the trial of Roger Stone (a Trump campaign aid accused of colluding with Assange and eventually convicted in November 2019 on a variety of charges, including witness tampering and lying to investigators), Crowdstrike never submitted a final report of its forensic analysis to the FBI and limited itself to three redacted preliminary reports.

Outside of its footnotes, the Mueller Report makes no mention of Crowdstrike.

Second, as reported by the VIPs and Ambassador Matlock, the national security community’s follow-up to Crowdstrike’s claims was not the broad based investigation that it should have been based on standard protocol. Instead, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper apparently hand-picked 12 staff members solely from the CIA, NSA, and FBI for this purpose. While this change of protocol in itself does not necessarily invalidate the integrity of an investigation, history has shown that “hand-picked” operatives are often more than aware of the results their superiors are hoping to find. For an example, we need only look back to intelligence justifying the invasion of Iraq.

Far from being an impartial party, Clapper has political leanings obvious to any viewer of MSNBC, where he has appeared, and his integrity has already been in question given Edward Snowden’s disclosures that Clapper had lied under oath to Congress in March 2013 about the CIA’s involvement in surveillance and torture. As a result, Clapper had to retract his claims in June 2013. It is also worth noting that Ambassador Matlock reported that he had been informed by a senior official that the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research did, in fact, have a different opinion regarding the hacking but was told not to express it.

The Plot Continues

With this background, we can now return to the unfolding story immediately following the DNC’s discovery of a cyber intrusion. After being hired by the DNC on May 4, Crowdstrike claimed to have discovered the hacking on May 6. It’s common practice for cyber security operatives to use the standard terminology APT (Advanced Persistent Threat) to describe serious cyber intrusions—especially if they’re believed to come from state sources. As Yasha Levine, an investigative reporter, noted, the first step in these cases is normally to analyze the breach’s data trail, which includes such items as source codes, language settings, compiler times, time zones, and IP settings. If the breach follows a pattern similar to that of a prior and well-known threat, the operative may assign a pre-existing APT number and, to add a little color, give the APT a more evocative name.

In this case Crowdstrike’s anti-hacking software, Falcon, detected two intrusions, which appeared to have similar characteristics to two older APTs 28 and 29, both alleged to have been associated with Russia but, as characterized by more than one observer, on extremely thin evidence. Crowdstrike named APT 29 “Cozy Bear” with the claim that it could be traced to the Russian FSB (Russian Federal Security Services) and then named APT28, “Fancy Bear” with the claim that it could be traced to the GRU (Russian Military Intelligence). These allegations are what appeared in the Mueller Report. It should be noted that, as per Binney, Crowdstrike did nothing to neutralize these intrusions until June 10, 45 days after the last DNC email message was copied, on the pretext that taking any action would have alerted the intruders to abort their effort. This rationale has understandably been cited as a gross violation of standard practices to protect confidential data.

The “Fancy Bear” malware was allegedly implanted in three instalments, the last one after Crowdstrike had installed its Falcon software. Falcon claimed to have identified the IP address to which the hacker was sending exfiltrated data but, as per Adam Carter, a British cybersecurity expert, overlooked that the address had been inoperational since an earlier hacking in the German Parliament. It’s worth noting that Binney had been puzzled why NSA couldn’t pinpoint the IP address and only offered “moderate” confidence in the FBI and CIA’s assessments about hacking origins, since NSA would normally have been the best positioned to track hacking back to its source.

In any case, as reported by Scott Ritter, the DNC legal counsel agreed at some point after May 6, 2016, that the intrusion should be disclosed to the American public. Ironically, Crowdstrike felt that the message would have more impact coming from the FBI, but the DNC rejected this suggestion and instead disclosed the alleged hacking to the Washington Post which ran articles on June 14 and 20, 2016. Shortly after the articles came out, a hacking cyberpersona calling itself Guccifer 2.0 came from out of nowhere and claimed to be responsible for the breach. It has been speculated that Crowdstrike was taken by surprise at this development and simply assumed that Guccifer was a front for the GRU based on some Russian “fingerprints” it detected (more clarification on these to follow).

The National Intelligence Community Takes over from Crowdstrike

Following Crowdstrike’s analysis, national intelligence and security agencies issued three successive reports:

  1. On October 6, 2016 the Office of Homeland Security and Director of National Intelligence issued a one page Joint Statement simply expressing confidence that the DNC intrusion could be traced to the Russian government and warning election officials to be vigilant for any future intrusions.
  2. On December 29, 2016 the Office of Homeland Security and the FBI then issued a Joint Analysis Report providing more technical detail regarding allegations and also recommending remedial and protective measures for potential victims to take. Its accusations were limited to pointing out that the release of DNC emails was consistent with methods and motivations of Russian hacking in the past.
  3. On January 6, 2017 the CIA, NSA, and FBI issued the Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) by repeating the same charges as before but now with a much higher degree of certainty. Even the ICA, however, acknowledged the difficulty of identifying the origin of cybertrails of this kind and clarified that “high confidence” does not preclude error. To put this claim in perspective, Ambassador Matlock reported that, based on his experience, any claim based on irrefutable evidence would be stated as fact, while “high confidence” is what most normal people would call “our best guess.” “Moderate confidence” means “some of our analysts think this might be true.”

Aaron Maté, an independent journalist writing in The Nation, Real Clear Investigations, and other publications, also reported that the speedy ICA production schedule itself seemed to be a red flag. He referenced a statement made by former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy, who, while testifying before the House Intelligence Committee, indicated that an assessment characteristic of the ICA’s would normally take months if not a year and that there appeared to be a rush to produce it within a matter of days.

As noted by Daniel Lazare, an independent reporter writing in Consortium News, the ICA allocated some 7 of its 13 pages vilifying RT, the Russian state-owned media newsfeed, for its role in both spreading disinformation to sow discontent in the U.S. and also producing videos highlighting defects in the United States. I can add that this theme was amplified in 2018 by our entertainment media in the highly popular Showtime espionage series, Homeland, in which a Russian-fabricated video is portrayed as having needlessly provoked a gun battle between the FBI and right-wing survivalists that killed innocent people including children.

In search of corroborating evidence to validate the ICA’s claims, anyone taking the time to browse through RT will of course find a) bias and some outright propaganda not unusual for state-owned networks (The Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and Radio Marti come to mind) and b) some tabloid trash designed to attract viewers. At the same time, especially in its wide variety of interview and news analysis programs, RT features reputable international journalists reporting and commenting insightfully on diverse global issues. As accused, much of the commentary does in fact focus on the United States’ less admirable features (many of which are systematically ignored by our commercial media), but the content of the programs is more often than not totally valid.

For the cold warriors still among us, it can be agreed that in the Soviet days, no self-respecting American short of an outright communist would be caught dead working for Pravda, the hallmark of Russian propaganda. However, rarely mentioned in the commercial media is that RT seems to be an acceptable platform for a variety of benign American media personalities (Larry King, for one) as well as journalists who left U.S. news networks they felt were inhibiting their ability to pursue truly investigative reporting (Chris Hedges from The New York Times and the late Ed Schultz from MSNBC come to mind).

For all the above reasons, claims by our intelligence community that the sole purpose of RT’s reporting is to corrupt American citizenry with undue negativity about our country and sow discord is flat out insulting to Americans and would be greeted with incredulousness in any international court of justice, especially given the highly biased, selective, and at times even false reporting that can be found in U.S. commercial media.

Beyond the above reports, Mueller indicted 12 Russian intelligence agents on July 13, 2018, charging them with interference in the American presidential election by hacking into the DNC server and distributing the stolen emails to Wikileaks. This indictment provided more detail—much of which made its way into the final Mueller Report—as to how these intrusions were alleged to have taken place. As noted by both Aaron Maté and former FBI Special Agent Coleen Rowley, however, the unequivocal charge in the indictment that Russian GRU officers “stole thousands of emails” was watered down to “officers appear to have stolen thousands of emails” in the final Mueller Report.

The Infamous Steele Dossier

The above dossier needs to be included in this paper, since it appears to have played a significant role in the growing charges against Russia in 2016. While acknowledging it as unverified and in some cases erroneous, the Mueller Report otherwise barely touches on the circumstances surrounding it.

As reported by journalists Joe Lauria in Consortium News and Jackson Lears in the London Review of Books, the legal counsel for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, Mark Elias, was paid in April 2016 to hire Fusion GPS, a commercial research and strategic intelligence firm (which oddly Mueller was unable to identify in his congressional testimony) to conduct “opposition research” that might connect Trump with Russia. Seeking what it considered the most informed source, Fusion contracted with Christopher Steele, a former British MI6 intelligence officer, who claimed to have contacts in the Russian government and ultimately provided the DNC with 17 reports between June and December 2016 allegedly from these sources.

The dossier eventually made its way into CNN’s hands but was not published, since, as noted above, its questionable sourcing included unverified claims and outright falsehoods (for example, allegations that Michael Cohen, Trump’s lawyer, had met with the Russians in Prague). After the dossier surfaced in the White House, however, Buzzfeed, the news and entertainment website, released it on January 10, 2017, drawing criticism from some observers for what they considered a lapse in journalistic ethics given the dossier’s flawed content.

As was noted even in the commercial media in December 2019, the dossier nevertheless formed the basis of the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court) authorization for the FBI to investigate Carter Page, a Trump advisor, for links with the Russians. It also does no credit to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff that he referenced the dossier as if it were an authoritative source in his opening remarks at a March 20, 2017 congressional hearing about Russian election interference.

Mueller’s First Two Prime Suspects: Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks

According to the Mueller Report, the GRU had set up a website by April 19, 2016, referred to as DCLeaks, before Guccifer appeared on the scene. This site was alleged to be the release point of various stolen documents from the DNC, many of which were encrypted so they couldn’t be made public until the timing was deemed by the GRU to be strategically appropriate.

At the same time, without appearing to offer forensic evidence, the Mueller Report claims that Guccifer was a stealth online persona designed by the Russians to appear as a rogue Romanian (named after the original Romanian Guccifer who was jailed in 2016) but who was actually a front for the GRU to hack into the DNC. This persona was alleged to have employed “spearphishing” (a technique that normally uses an email to divert the recipient to a website poised to install malware) to break into the DNC server and exfiltrate (extract) confidential files that were ultimately released to Julian Assange, Wikileaks editor and publisher.

Mueller’s claims as to Guccifer’s identity and role have been challenged by a variety of observers, first and foremost, the VIPs, for the following reasons:

  1. Binney’s forensic analysis of public data issued by Guccifer suggests that it intentionally added the Russian “fingerprints” noted above including a) characters in the Cyrillic alphabet and b) references to the founder of the dreaded Cheka, the forerunner of the KGB. Common sense alone of course questions whether these obvious giveaways would in any way be commensurate with an attempt at covert activity.
  2. Based on Adam Carter’s consultation with a linguist, it also appears that Guccifer’s speech contained errors uncharacteristic of any Russian speaker, and, as even acknowledged by a mainstream media outlet, The New Yorker, the documents Guccifer released with the intention of proving that it was the hacker turned out to be unrelated to the DNC and largely benign compared with those that Wikileaks.
  3. Further, Binney detected what he considered suspicious features in the data itself, indicating that Guccifer had applied an algorithm to make a single file appear as two different files released on two different dates, July 5 and September 1, and changed the hourly stamp on each file.

In Binney’s assessment, all the above considerations made it difficult not to conclude that Guccifer was in fact a fraud.

Hack or Leak? Internet Transmission or Thumb Drive?

One of Binney’s major arguments against the Mueller Report’s hacking claims was that the transmission speed of the alleged data infiltration was too fast for the Internet. To test this belief, Binney analyzed publicly available files released on July 5, 2016 (including such varied data categories as author, title, time, etc.) that Guccifer claimed to have hacked. To verify transmission speed capabilities achievable in 2016, Binney and an associate conducted a number of transmission tests from remote locations to the U.S. The fastest speed obtainable was from Britain to New Jersey and amounted to 12 megabytes per second. The speed that Guccifer actually achieved was close to 50, which, according to Binney, is fully in keeping with leaks to external storage devices like a thumb drive. Binney cites the above evidence to suggest that the DNC email disclosures were not due to remote hacking but to a local leak.

As reported by Politico, it should be noted that, when transmission speed issues were brought up at the above-cited trial of Roger Stone, prosecutors pointed out that file data flagged by Binney could have been released by Russian intelligence officers after the hack took place. Binney did acknowledge the possibility—remote as it was—that there could have been a Russian agent with access to the computers, who, with the help of outside hacking, was able to access the emails and download them into an external storage device. At the same time, this scenario not only appeared unlikely but also contradicted the self-certain claims in the Mueller Report and has been unsupported by any offered evidence.

To maintain fairness, it also needs to be noted that there was some dissent within the VIPs as to whether the cited transmission speeds in fact precluded hacking. These dissenting views were given some coverage in the September 1, 2017 edition of The Nation magazine that featured opinions from various sources considered as expert. At the same time, in response to several of his challengers, Binney presented counter arguments and stood by his claims. No further evidence came forth refuting him.

Apart from transmission issues, Binney also noted that the Guccifer data used a simple filing system called a File Allocation Table (FAT) that rounds each time stamp of a message up to the nearest even number. Again, as per Binney, this system is only used in external storage devices, while data transmitted through the Internet would only show random odd and even time stamps.

Given the tremendous global implications of Russiagate and Mueller’s conclusions, the debate in The Nation only underscores the critical importance of open ended analysis of evidence from expert sources rather than from solely a private cybersecurity company with glaring vested interests and questionable past performance. Despite vague references to the contrary coming from the intelligence community, observers have apparently failed to find evidence that any of these agencies ever conducted their own forensic analysis of data.

Mueller’s Third Prime Suspect: Julian Assange

Prominent among the accused in the Mueller Report for collaborating with the Russians in the release of emails stolen from the DNC is Julian Assange, the editor and publisher of Wikileaks. One of the most persuasive pieces of evidence in the Mueller Report is its reproduction of intercepted communication between Assange, DCLeaks, and Guccifer. At first glance, this communication, cited on various pages of the report, appears to prove collusion. When lined up chronologically and submitted to additional scrutiny, however, the thread has been characterized by several observers as raising troubling questions.

First, as reported by Aaron Maté, intercepted communication between Guccifer and DCLeaks took place on a Twitter account, a highly unlikely social media platform for espionage professionals given how easily monitored it is.

Second, as reported by Mueller, Assange announced on June 12, 2016 that he had “upcoming leaks” related to Hillary Clinton. But this announcement took place before cited communication between Assange and both of the alleged Russian fronts, and Assange received nothing from these counterparties until July 14. While Mueller notes that the FBI may have had limited access to this correspondence because of Assange’s efforts to hide it, the lack of evidence for earlier communication between the above parties still raises questions.

Most importantly, Mueller reports that Assange released 30,000 documents on July 22, 2016, only four days after he allegedly received them from Guccifer. In the sections of the report in which Assange is quoted (under the heading “Dissembling”) it was not mentioned that he categorically denied ever having released any of the documents that were received from Guccifer on July 18. His reason was that he already had the desired documents, and there was no time to validate the accuracy of the material, especially considering the questionable source. However one may fault Assange for unsavory personality traits and visceral antipathy to Hillary Clinton, it has been pointed out that Wikileaks’ journalistic reputation rests solely on the accuracy of its released documents. The discovery of any fabrication would have ended Assange’s career, and it therefore defies credibility that he would have released 30,000 documents for the most part sight unseen.

As noted by the VIPS, Assange’s attorney had been in negotiation with the Department of Justice on March 17, 2016 and offered to share evidence regarding the leaks but was rebuffed by Mark Warner, the Vice Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. However suspect Assange’s credibility may have been at that point, could there have been any harm in meeting with him on the chance that admissible evidence might be forthcoming? Similarly, Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan and an associate of Assange, claimed to know the source of the DNC disclosures but was never interviewed.

Mueller Finally Makes His Case in Public

For most Americans, Mueller’s much anticipated appearance to present his report and respond to questions before Congress on July 24, 2019 was all about Trump’s culpability or exoneration regarding Russian collusion and obstruction of justice. In keeping with the intent of this paper, however, I focus only on what evidence Mueller provided at that hearing beyond what was already in his released report regarding evidence of direct Russian interference in our election. Largely true to his word, Mueller added very little new information at the hearing and only raised questions by what he avoided in his presentation and responses to questions.

Based on reporting by Joe Lauria, Mueller’s case was not helped by his dodging legitimate questions as to whom he failed to interview in his investigation and why. For example, Joseph Mifsud was a somewhat mysterious Maltese academic with alleged Russian connections who approached George Papadapoulos—a foreign policy advisor to Trump—with an offer of dirt on Hillary Clinton. Mueller refused both to explain why Mifsud was not charged despite his having lied in testimony to the FBI and also to address allegations that Mifsud might have been a U.S. asset for the State Department and FBI. As reported by Daniel Lazare, Mueller’s silence also applied to other alleged Russian “assets” who appeared to have U.S. government connections, including Felix Sater, Henry Oknyansky, and Konstantin Kilimnik.

Lauria also reported that Mueller was guilty of a false accusation in characterizing Wikileaks’ release of DNC emails as a violation of the law, since the emails were not classified, and Wikileaks was never accused of stealing them.

Finally, Mueller refused to discuss anything associated with the Steele Dossier, which was of course implicated in the December 2019 revelations of FBI flaws in the Russian collusion investigations.

Closing Observations Regarding Russian Hacking Allegations

None of the above narrative of course proves that Russian hacking didn’t take place nor denies that there is circumstantial evidence that it in fact did. However, the above does raise questions as to whether the Mueller Report, its related investigations, and its associated media coverage were commensurate with minimal standards of impartiality and thoroughness, especially when it came to addressing dissent. If Russia were a defendant in a courtroom, would it matter how airtight the prosecutor’s case was if no defense attorney were allowed to participate?

Allegations Regarding Russia’s Attack on Our Social Media

What We Know for Sure

Only a cyber security expert can credibly weigh in when it comes to hacking allegations, but an average citizen with common sense can certainly assess the validity of many of the accusations leading up to Mueller’s claim that the Russian government orchestrated social media interference, at worst altering the course of our election and at best aggravating political polarization to the detriment of our democracy. At this point we can overlook the technicality that the U.S. is not a democracy but a republic and skip over the possible claim that domestic threats to our democratic institutions are far worse than anything coming from abroad.

Everyone agrees that a shadowy organization with the comically deceptive name of Internet Research Agency (IRA) acted as a “troll farm” polluting our social media with tens of thousands of newsfeeds, posts, memes, and tweets that fabricated the identity of the parties originating them. At issue is what the IRA’s intent was and what effect its intrusion had on either election outcomes or social conflict among our citizens. In other words, is there substantial evidence precluding the possibility that the IRA’s social media campaign was nothing more than a clickbait scheme to exploit gullible Americans and take their money?

The Story behind the IRA

The most thorough reporting I encountered that challenges the prevailing narrative about the IRA’s likely intentions in its social media manipulation comes from the investigative website, Moon of Alabama. This source has a long history of insightful and well-documented analysis of world current events and has been attributed with more than sufficiently credible sourcing to be taken seriously by even the watchdog website Media Bias/Fact Check. Much of the copy below draws from MoA.

The owner of the IRA, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has been characterized by several sources, including The Wall Street Journal, as a somewhat sketchy food service entrepreneur who was awarded contracts with the Russian military and school system. His career in manipulative social media apparently started when parents, outraged by his substandard school cafeteria food, wrote scathing comments on schools’ websites. In response, Prigozhin thought to hire people to impersonate parents and flood the comment threads with testimonials praising the food.

Viral Attack or Clickbait?

The above strategy apparently proved remarkably successful and, as per more than one observer, would have logically provided the motivation to expand into international clickbait operations. In fact, it’s been pointed out that there’s nothing in the Mueller Report ruling out the possibility that the IRA’s intrusion had little to do with elections and a lot to do with fleecing the American public. For example, most of the IRA’s alleged legal violations would seem to be in line with the following standard practice for clickbait:

  1. Research niche target markets including puppy lovers, evangelists, minorities, the LGBT community, etc. and determine the kinds of posts that would attract viewers and encourage them to share the posts.
  2. Find Americans or create phony identities to serve as fronts for PayPal accounts to transfer money to Russia.
  3. Engineer such social events as political rallies to further expand interest and build more viewers.

In fairness to Mueller, his report did claim that some IRA employees had verified that their intent was to influence the election, but there were neither specifics offered nor speculation as to why the IRA would have invested so much of its resources in initiatives that had nothing to do with the election. It’s of course reasonable to assume that Prigozhin, a staunch Putin supporter, would have been averse to posting anything that could aid Hillary Clinton’s campaign, but it also appears that, despite a preponderance of posts implicitly favorable to Trump, the political affiliations reflected by the IRA posts covered a wide range.

Needless to say, the most effective targets for clickbait would be groups holding mutually hostile views and likely to be provoked by inflammatory posts. But to conclude that the intent of the posts was to “sow discontent” and “undermine our democracy” seems not only farfetched but also an insult (maybe some would say partially deserved) to the American people for the following reasons:

  1. There is already an avalanche of toxic and inflammatory social media in our midst compared with the miniscule presence of IRA posts, and, second, it’s hard to imagine that, given the divisive passions already rampant in our society, any meme or image would prompt anyone to make a radical change in their pre-existing political views.
  2. It can be convincingly argued that Americans who’ve relinquished any responsibility to check out sources of dodgy and juvenile posts and instead take them at face value are the real problem.
  3. Would Russian intelligence, which would seem to rely on sophisticated techniques developed over decades, delegate a major social media campaign to a discredited food service entrepreneur? Would Russian intelligence rely on highly juvenile, crass, and often primitively designed posts (for example, Jesus comforting an adolescent boy trying to stop masturbating) to sway an election involving over 100 million people?

Beyond the above considerations, it has been pointed out that knee-jerk outrage over Russian posts could open the door to criminalizing any controversial opinions expressed by foreigners in our social media.

Assessing the Likely Damage to Our Elections and “Democracy”

Probably the most commonly referenced piece of verified data used to prove potentially damaging Russian interference in our elections is that, as disclosed by the Facebook general counsel in congressional hearings, the IRA released some 80,000 posts and news feeds in Facebook that reached 126 million Americans over two years including the period of the 2016 presidential election. This fact has been cited again and again in newspapers, cable news media, the Mueller Report, and most conspicuously in the congressional Mueller hearings by Jackie Spier, congresswoman from California, who characterized the intrusion as “an attack.”

At face value, the data is of course alarming, especially as the recipients of the fabricated items add up to the total number of voters in the election. A review of the transcripts of the same hearing also reveals, however, that a) 126 million Americans “may have received” these posts, b) there’s neither an indication of what percentage of the received posts are generally viewed by the average Facebook user nor how many of the 80,000 had anything to do with the election (only 7% of the posts apparently mentioned Clinton or Trump), and c) most significantly, the total number of news stories circulated during this time period amounted to a jaw-dropping 33 trillion or so, which means that the IRA posts amounted to .0000000024% of the total news stories.

The Mueller Report also alleged that the IRA created 3,814 Twitter accounts reaching 1.4 million people during the election campaign, but even the report conceded that more than 90% were not election-related, and the 15,000 tweets that the IRA released contrasted with 189 million coming from all sources.

A revealing postscript to the above narrative took place on February 16, 2018, when Mueller indicted 13 people and three companies associated with the IRA. Hardly expecting any of the defendants to appear, Mueller’s team was apparently taken by surprise when one of the companies, Concord Management Consultants, showed up on May 18 and, after hiring a Washington lawyer, asked for its day in court. Initially, Mueller apparently attempted to brush off this challenge by claiming that the defendant had not been properly served, and when that effort fell short, prosecutors tried to limit Concord’s access to evidence owing to its “sensitivity.” But a hearing was ultimately held under seal on May 28, and by July 1, 2019 the presiding federal judge, Dabney Friedrich, issued a ruling directing Mueller to cease and desist in claims of any connection between the IRA and the Russian government simply because there was no legally admissible evidence to support the claim. In fact, Mueller’s proof was limited to references to an article in The New York Times and photos of Prigozhin shown together with Putin.

It is a sign of the hysteria surrounding this issue that, despite a clear reference to this ruling by one of the Republican congressman in the Mueller hearings on July 24, 2019, the ruling was systematically ignored by all the Democrats, first and foremost Jackie Spier, who continued to accept the claims as fact.

Adding to the cyber intrusions, the Mueller Report cites numerous divisive rallies and protests fomented by fake posts. It appears, however, that these events were for the most part sparsely attended, sometimes by fewer than 10 people.

Closing Observations Regarding Social Media Intrusions

As was true for the hacking controversy, the above evidence does not preclude either that the IRA’s social media intrusion was in fact intended to influence the presidential election or that it could have conceivably had enough impact to sway election results in closely contested states. At the same time, even if it could be shown that the IRA’s intent was to help Trump, research released in October 2019 by American, Danish, and Norwegian academics focusing at least on Twitter intrusions did not find any evidence that they had any effect on the election. Putting that data together with Judge Friedrich’s ruling and a measure of common sense, it’s hard to imagine Mueller’s allegations getting far in any reputable international court of justice.

Trust with Verification?

The above pages should provide at least some reasonable responses to the first question raised in this paper regarding the persuasiveness of the evidence the U.S. can provide to prove its case to the world. The second question regarding appropriate trust for the validity of classified information can be addressed much more briefly.

It seems fair to say that U.S. intelligence and security agency assessments of any threat to our country should be taken with a high degree of seriousness. At the same time, given at least some of these agencies’ long history of deception, covert operations, and in some cases, outright atrocities, can any truly investigative reporter take such assessments on faith without demonstrable forensic evidence? For that matter, can any member of Congress briefed on classified intelligence regarding cyber intrusions, but otherwise lacking knowledge of cybersecurity, really be qualified to weigh in definitively on these matters either, especially if that member has connections to the interests of the military-industrial-security complex?

I have yet to hear it remarked in our commercial media that, after years of strongly criticizing and even demonizing our security and intelligence agencies for their excesses, the liberal community has suddenly come to regard these same sources as champions of truth and justice, not only because they seem to have aligned more closely with the Democratic Party’s interventionist drift but also because they happen to be largely opposed to President Trump. The large number of alumni of these agencies who appear either as guests or regular contributors on liberal cable news outlets only reinforces this observation.

It therefore seems reasonable to give high credence to our security and intelligence community when it provides sufficient disclosure of evidence to stand in a hypothetical court of law. It does not seem reasonable to accept the community’s redactions when they are basically saying to the public, “You’ll just have to trust us.”

Mueller’s Allies and America’s “Open Society”

Freedom of the Press?

Volumes have already been written about the integrity of our country’s print and digital news media, but, as noted early in this paper, a “citizen’s assessment” of the Mueller Report can’t avoid directing major scrutiny to the media for its largely unquestioned support of the report’s Russian interference allegations with only rare acknowledgement of any legitimate dissent.

When acknowledgement does take place, it most often appears as a disingenuous façade of journalistic ”balance.” For example, a couple of years ago I was surprised to see that Professor Emeritus Stephen Cohen, a strong critic of Russiagate, was briefly interviewed on MSNBC off prime time by an anchor, Ali Velshi. While Velshi deserves credit for extending due respect to Professor Cohen’s policy positions and even subsequently sharing them with a panel of MSNBC regulars, the panel almost immediately changed the subject, and, as further discussion wore on, Professor Cohen’s interview might as well have never taken place. Similarly, as a daily reader of The New York Times, I can barely remember instances of this newspaper acknowledging Russiagate dissent other than when it attributed it to such obviously fringe sources as 4chan or the online message board Reddit.

The above examples suggest why the U.S. ranks so low in the world when it comes to freedom of the press. It’s certainly not that our country lacks admirable constitutional protections for free speech; rather, it’s that the combination of a) corporate media ownership and subsidies, b) media funding from large corporate advertisers, and c) government influence virtually controls almost all of American mainstream print and digital news sources. In this environment, newsfeeds can pass fact checking with flying colors and still be advancing falsehoods simply by virtue of information omitted.

Emblematic of the media hysteria directed toward Russia is also the number of news items that have been retracted, refuted, or at least strongly questioned. On March 23, 2019 Matt Taibbi, a journalist with The Rolling Stone, listed examples of such news stories (in some cases shown as actual headlines below) featured in such commercial media outlets as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and CNN:

  1. Russian operations hacked a Vermont utility
  2. Trump campaign aides had repeated contacts with Russian intelligence
  3. Email pointed Trump campaign to WikiLeaks documents
  4. After Florida school shooting, Russian ‘bot’ army pounced
  5. Some of the emails released by Wikileaks were forgeries
  6. Maria Butina, suspected secret agent, used sex in covert plan
  7. Paul Manafort met with Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy
  8. Tulsi Gabbard, a Democratic Party presidential candidate, is backed by the Russians

Like the Mueller Report, most of the media appears to be functioning as the prosecutor to the exclusion of the defense attorney.

Guardian Angels or Propaganda Factories? Democracy, Progress, Values, and Integrity on the March

In addition to media bias, a disturbing if not surprising trend serving to reinforce unquestioned belief in Russia’s nefarious attacks on “our democracy” is the proliferation of seemingly non-partisan, independent think tanks, advocacy groups, and websites—all with lofty, progressive-sounding names promoting democratic values—that function as facades for blatantly anti-Russian and often interventionist policy positions. Representatives of these groups appear regularly on liberal cable news programs and newspaper columns, while, as noted above, rarely seen are any legitimate dissenters. Below is by no means a complete list of these “guardian” entities.

National Endowment for Democracy – A federally funded organization established in the 1980s to provide what has been characterized as a more respectable face for the kind of international covert activities, including elections interference, that had given the CIA a bad name.

Alliance for Securing Democracy – A security advocacy group with the specific mission of countering Russian subversion of “our democracy.” Its members include the neoconservative Bill Kristol, and the CIA has been cited as a source of funding. This organization is housed under another similar group, the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

National Democratic Institute – an allegedly non-partisan organization that claims to work with partners in developing countries to increase the effectiveness of democratic institutions. It is funded in part by the NED and the notorious USAID. A member of the NDI, Michael McFaul, former ambassador to Russia and a Putin critic, once contested the Russian President’s charge that the NDI had CIA connections but failed to mention that it functioned as an arm of the Democratic Party funneling millions of dollars toward what many observers have characterized as a U.S.-orchestrated regime change in Ukraine.

Center for American Progress – an advocacy and research organization with strong connections to the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign that blamed Russia for turning the election against the Democrats.

The Atlantic Council – A veritable who’s who of security state, military, and corporate interests. Past members include Henry Kissinger, James Clapper, Samantha Powers, and Rupert Murdock. The organization is funded by Arab Gulf oil producing countries, NATO, and the weapon industry. The Atlantic Council sponsors Bellingcat, allegedly a citizen’s investigative organization that has in fact been accused by a wide variety of observers of spreading significant disinformation, much of it directed against Russia.

Integrity Initiative – A charity funded by the British foreign office, NATO, and rightwing donors whose stated purpose is to expose the Russian threat to Western democracies. The organization has been accused of spreading disinformation and apparently recently lost its charity status.

Oxford University Computational Propaganda Project and Graphika – research organizations with funding from tech companies, media, and government agencies. Most significantly, they were commissioned by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee to study alleged Russian intrusion into U.S. social media and concluded that Russia launched a sustained effort to manipulate the American public and undermine democracy. Graphika has state and military connections.

New Knowledge (now known as Yonder) –a research and cybersecurity organization with links to the German Marshal Fund and the Alliance for Securing Democracy and funded in-part by venture capital. The organization’s activities have included alleging Russian influence in Tulsi Gabbard’s 2020 campaign, and they drew widespread scrutiny for staging a false flag operation that implied the Kremlin was working to defeat the Democratic candidate in the 2017 Alabama special election for the U.S. Senate.

Propornot (contraction of “Propaganda or Not”) – a shadowy website featured on the November 24, 2016 Washington Post front page, which gave credence (later retracted) to the website’s claims (based on alleged “expertise”) that some 200 newsfeed websites (which it listed by name) were unduly influenced by Russia, either wittingly or unwittingly. Many of these websites were in fact nothing more than sources of dissenting views to prevailing narratives in our media regarding domestic and foreign policy issues, and at least several of the websites were taken off the list after they protested.

European Values – a security think tank in the Czech Republic funded by various European government sources and the embassies of the United States and Israel. One of its major programs is Kremlin Watch, which “aims to expose and confront instruments of Russian influence and disinformation operations focused against Western democracies.” Similar to Propornot, European Values has also cited newsfeed websites allegedly under Russian influence. Not long after the Washington Post Propornot feature, European Values released a report, The Kremlin’s Platform for ‘Useful Idiots’ in the West, that criticized some 2,000 “idiots,” including respectable journalists and politicians, for appearing on RT.

The Open Society?

In 1945 the philosopher Karl Popper wrote a book, The Open Society and Its Enemies, in which he took to task the philosophers Plato, Hegel, and Marx for being, in his view, latent authoritarians who laid the groundwork for future totalitarian regimes on both the right and left. While there are reasons to disagree with much of Popper’s interpretation, certainly a truly “open society” with guaranteed rights exemplified by those currently in our Constitution, including freedom of speech, is a time honored ideal central to the cherished beliefs of most all Americans. It’s nevertheless telling that one or two of the philosophers that Popper demonized believed that, for all their admirable qualities, “pluralistic” systems like ours are also vulnerable to becoming facades behind which increasingly powerful interests exert more and more control without the public even being aware of it. While in no way invalidating the legitimacy of the democratic model, neither are these risks are imaginary if one looks at developments in our country.

Mandatory for any open society is a truly well-informed public with constant exposure to diverse news reporting and analysis without the necessity of exploring the obscure corners of the internet to get a full story on public policy issues. The Mueller Report and its unquestioned support by practically the entire American mainstream journalistic universe (at least when it comes to charges of Russia’s “attack” on our freedoms) do not appear to fit well into that scenario. It can be further added that even access to dissenting websites has been progressively suppressed by the manipulation of algorithms in search engines, as evidenced by the increasing difficulty of such reputable forums as CounterPunch to meet fundraising targets. Of course, it can’t be overlooked that some of the politically motivated attacks on the Mueller Report, especially those coming from the Trump administration, can also be regarded as a threat to the open society. Trump’s portrayal of the entire news media outside of right-wing outlets as “the enemy of the people” is a direct attack on freedom of the press.

At the same time, the self-aggrandizing claims of the liberal media to be guardians of “the truth” (as shown, for example, on full page ads in The New York Times) ignore that approaching the real truth requires that all credible evidence along with its historical context be examined before a conclusion is reached, especially on subjects with potentially major impact on world peace. As noted above, scoring well on “fact checking” is not enough, and one of the dangers in liberal media bias is that it’s more subtle and easily overlooked than the tirades coming out of the right-wing media.

It’s ironic that, at a time when accessible, well-sourced information is almost limitless on the internet, so much of the American public is retreating into isolated bubbles of self-justifying news narratives. It’s also ironic that some news sources like The New York Times that have their own obvious problems with impartiality are sponsoring educational programs for detecting “fake news.”

To avoid applying a double standard, I of course can’t escape that my own biases and the sources for this paper may be subject to their own “bubbles” and that there may be refutations of at least some of the evidence presented above. I can, however, hope that this paper will at least serve as a case study documenting the critical importance of allowing dialog and well-sourced dissent their rightful place in public discourse worthy of the open society that Popper defended.

Addendum: May 27, 2020

Since the completion of the above paper in early March 2020, Russiagate has been largely dormant and understandably pre-empted by the coronavirus pandemic. In recent weeks, however, there have been new Russiagate developments important enough to merit further reporting.

The Crowdstrike Transcripts

The most important of these developments relates to Crowdstrike, the private cybersecurity company whose claims appear to have formed the basis for the Mueller Report’s charges that Russia hacked into the Democratic National Committee computer server in 2016. Yet, as was noted earlier, the company’s name does not appear anywhere in the Mueller Report other than in a few footnotes referencing an article written by the company’s founder. More than two years after the Report was released, however, Crowdstrike’s role in the Russiagate investigation became abundantly clear when, on May 7, 2020, the House Intelligence Committee released 53 declassified transcripts of Russiagate-related interviews it held between 2017 and 2018. One of these happened to be with Shawn Henry, Crowdstrike’s president.

In what came across as evasive and barely articulate testimony, Henry clearly admitted that Crowdstrike had only uncovered suggestive evidence rather than anything concrete to implicate Russia in hacking the DNC server. Further, he acknowledged that, while the stolen DNC data was “set up to be exfiltrated,” there was no evidence that “it actually left” the server. As per Ray McGovern, “exfiltrate” means either transferring data out of a computer through hacking or copying it onto an external storage device. Given this distinction, Henry’s statement suggests that the data did in fact go to a storage device because if it had gone through the internet, Crowdstrike would have been able to track its departure. More detail about Henry’s testimony are found in articles by Ray McGovern and Aaron Mate here and here.

As to the identity of the suspected hackers, Henry again relied on suggestive evidence when he said, “There are other nation-states that collect this type of intelligence for sure, but…what we would call the tactics and techniques were consistent with what we’d seen associated with the Russian state.” The transcript also revealed that a) Perkins Coie, the law firm that hired Crowdstrike to investigate the intrusion into the Democratic National Committee server was one and the same that hired Fusion GPS to pursue the largely discredited Steele Dossier and b) Henry had previously served in the FBI Cyber Division under Robert Mueller.

It has been pointed out that Henry’s admissions were a possible explanation for why the language in the 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) that the Russian GRU officers “stole thousands of emails” was watered down to “officers appear to have stolen thousands of emails” by the time it got to the final Mueller Report.

Of course even suggestive evidence is enough to raise suspicion of Russian hacking and warrant further investigation, but the troubling implications of the transcripts are obvious. As noted earlier, I’ve found no indications that U.S. intelligence agencies had any forensic evidence of hacking other than what Crowdstrike provided to the FBI in redacted reports. Unless the House Intelligence Committee had access to a smoking gun that is yet to be disclosed, Committee Chair Adam Schiff’s unequivocal claims of Russian guilt over the years would seem to be at odds with the forensic evidence that Crowdstrike presented to the committee.

This apparent disconnect also raises some suspicion as to why Henry’s testimony remained hidden for so long, since it could have at least corroborated some of the Mueller Report’s critics. Based on public records and official correspondence, the circumstances leading to the delay in the transcripts’ release are somewhat complicated, but they appear to boil down to a dispute between the White House and the House Intelligence Committee, which had come under Democratic control after the November 2018 mid-term elections.

Going back to September 2018, the Committee had agreed to release the transcripts as soon as the Office of the Department of National Intelligence (ODNI) completed its declassification review of their contents. The dispute began when, having itself cleared all the transcripts, the ODNI informed the committee in March 2019 that the 10 transcripts containing testimony from members of the Trump administration were being withheld. The reason for this delay was that the Executive Office of the President wanted to check the transcripts for possible conflict with executive privilege.

The ODNI attributed this request to standard protocol, but, in a letter to the ODNI, Schiff maintained unequivocally that the recorded testimonies were solely the property of the Intelligence Committee. His position was that, since the transcripts had been cleared by intelligence agencies, any further review by the White House would be an unwarranted intrusion into the committee’s investigations. It wasn’t until May 4, 2020 that ODNI Acting Director Richard Grenell released the 10 transcripts after the White House withdrew its request

I’ve been unable to find clear guidelines as to which branches of government outside of intelligence agencies would have been entitled to advance review of the transcripts, and it’s possible that Schiff is justified in blaming the White House for the 11-month delay. At the same time, I also haven’t seen any compelling explanations as to why the Henry transcript couldn’t have been released in March 2019, since it was never requested for review by the White House.

It’s worth noting that a search on The New York Times website for coverage of the above transcript yielded no results and that a broader internet search revealed coverage that was almost exclusively from right-wing news outlets.

The Prosecution of General Flynn

The second major development that merits reporting relates to the prosecution of General Michael Flynn, President-elect Trump’s incoming National Security Advisor during the post-election transition period in late 2016 and early 2017. While not directly related to alleged Russian hacking or social media manipulation, the Flynn affair is worth exploring, since it raises issues associated with the FBI’s practices during the Russiagate investigations.

Background

In one of several phone calls, Flynn spoke with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States on December 29, 2016. Unbeknownst to Flynn, the call was intercepted by the NSA, presumably in keeping with its surveillance of Kislyak.  Among the requests Flynn made on the call was that Russia refrain from retaliating to sanctions that the Obama administration had just imposed for alleged interference in the 2016 presidential elections. On January 24, 2017 Flynn was interviewed by the FBI and ultimately charged with lying to the agent who questioned him. However, a plea bargain was reached on December 1, 2017 based on Flynn’s commitment to cooperate with the FBI and admit that he had lied during the interview.

In June 2019 Flynn changed his legal team and withdrew his guilty plea, citing what he considered inadequate prior legal counseling and also improper FBI conduct based on new information. In February 2020 Attorney General Willian Barr appointed a lawyer to review Flynn’s case, and on May 7 the Department of Justice filed a motion to dismiss the case altogether based in part on the claim that Flynn’s lying was immaterial to any “legitimate FBI investigative basis,” especially given that the FBI had earlier recommended that the investigation be closed. As of this addendum, the case is on hold pending response from the case’s presiding judge Emmet Sullivan.

Flynn’s “Unmasking”

Following the interception of the 2016 phone call, one of the first controversies to arise regarded the justification for the disclosure or, as it came to be known, “unmasking” of Flynn’s identity as a participant in the call. “Masking” occurs when, for example, a national security agency surveilles a foreign terrorist and intercepts email correspondence between the terrorist and an American citizen. To avoid possibly unwarranted incrimination of the citizen, the agency will normally not disclose the citizen’s identity when it issues reports about this communication to other branches of government. However, if any of the recipients (normally other security agencies but in some cases political leadership) of the report feel they have compelling reasons to know the citizen’s identity, they can request that the citizen be “unmasked.” If the reporting security agency agrees with the applicant’s rationale, it will comply with the request.

The issues surrounding Flynn’s possible unmasking through this process are too complicated to address fully in this paper, but the controversy began when Flynn’s identity as a party to Kislyak’s phone call was revealed to the public on January 20, 2017 in a Washington Post article by David Ignatius, who cited a senior U.S. government official as the source. The controversy only intensified on May 13, 2020 when Richard Grenell released a document listing some 27 names of officials—including Vice President Biden and the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Powers—who had requested Flynn’s unmasking between November 2016 and January 2017. Grenell’s cover letter indicated that he could not confirm whether these officials actually had been granted their requests, and it has been pointed out that, given their timing, at least some of the requests may have been related to issues unrelated to Flynn’s phone call with Kislyak.

In any case, among the arguments made to justify disclosing Flynn’s identity are, first, that he was obviously colluding with Russia, an adversary, to undermine pre-existing U.S. policy and, second, that he was in violation of the Logan Act prohibiting unauthorized private citizens from negotiating with foreign powers regarding disputed matters.

Among opposing arguments are that, first, as a transition team member, Flynn was not out of line contacting a foreign leader, especially to defuse a potentially explosive situation affecting the incoming administration; second, that his position as incoming security advisor pre-empted his status as a private citizen; and, third, that the Logan Act has never been used as the basis for a prosecution.

Flynn’s Interrogation and FBI Best Practices

In the wake of newly disclosed information, questions about FBI practices throughout its investigation and the prosecution of Flynn are, if anything, even more controversial. In the days following the DOJ’s motion to drop the case, The New York Times coverage of this issue was largely limited to emphasizing Flynn’s character flaws and citing a variety of legal experts who condemned the DOJ’s decision. Links to some of the Times’ articles during this period can be found in Patrick Lawrence’s May 11 article in Consortium News.

On May 15, however, the Times finally saw fit to publish an article acknowledging possible overreach in the FBI’s prosecution of Flynn and addressed the following developments:

  • In 2016, FBI Director Comey took it upon himself to send agents directly to interrogate Flynn despite unresolved deliberations at the time being conducted by acting Attorney General Sally Yates as to whether the White House legal team should be consulted first. Comey’s action apparently angered Yates, and Comey later acknowledged that he probably wouldn’t have taken his action under normal circumstances. Citing legal experts, however, the Times indicated that this lapse was not sufficient to invalidate the case against Flynn.
  • On April 29, 2020 U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan unsealed eleven pages of FBI emails and handwritten notes that raised troubling questions about how the FBI planned to conduct Flynn’s interview. Given that the FBI was already in possession of the transcripts of the phone call between Flynn and Kislyak, the unsealed notes show some ambivalence within the FBI as to its most defensible approach in this matter. The notes’ key statements, presumed to be by Bill Priestap, then assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, were,  “What’s our goal, truth/admission or get him to lie so we can prosecute him or get him fired?…We regularly show subjects evidence with the goal of getting them to admit their wrongdoing.” As it turned out, the FBI decided to take what critics consider the low road and “get him to lie” by withholding the transcripts from him. In addition, the FBI discouraged Flynn from bringing White House attorneys to the meeting, and, contrary to standard practice, Flynn was not alerted prior to questioning that lying about the phone calls would be a prosecutable crime.

While acknowledging flaws in the FBI’s conduct, the Times indicated that, based on testimony from legal experts and former law enforcement officials, the FBI had complied sufficiently with the rules surrounding voluntary interviews and that it was standard practice for the FBI to test subjects accused of telling lies and wait to see what they would say.

By having withheld the above-cited unsealed documents, the prosecutor assigned to Flynn’s case violated protocol required by the presiding judge to disclose evidence that could be useful for the defense. These documents were only shared with Flynn’s defense team after Attorney General Barr appointed an outside prosecutor to investigate the situation. The Times indicated that, despite this violation, some former law officials disagreed that the notes would have sufficed to exonerate Flynn.

Much stronger criticism of the FBI’s conduct, however, comes from Coleen Rowley, a retired FBI special agent who was named one of Time Magazine’s persons of the year in 2002 because of her exposure of the FBI’s pre-9/11 failures. In a May 18, 2020 article in Consortium News, she draws from her own long-standing experience with the FBI to contrast the agency’s conduct in the Flynn case with the protocol emphasized in the earliest days of her FBI training.

In her account, Flynn was asked to have a “friendly chat” on January 4, 2017 in which he was told that he would not need a lawyer present. Rowley underscores that the intent of the applicable Title 18 US Code 1001 relative to FBI interrogations is that, to encourage honest responses to questions, suspects should be cautioned in advance not to lie. She adds that lying to the FBI in itself would almost never be prosecuted, simply because most suspects will at least bend the truth if not outright lie if only to avoid embarrassment.

Another FBI policy violation that Rowley brought up was the way the interview was recorded. Unlike most state and local law enforcement authorities, the FBI does not make use of audio-recorded transcripts. Instead, it relies on a form (FD-302) to be filled out by questioners giving an account of the conversation that can be used in court. While this form has been criticized by defense lawyers as inviting abuse, Rowley emphasizes that, to ensure the highest possible accuracy, agents are trained to limit themselves to verbatim transcripts free from editing by supervisors, especially those not present at the interview.

It turns out that this protocol was violated after FBI Agent Peter Strzok conducted the interview, and agent Joe Pientka took notes. As reported by Rowley, text messages show that Strzok and his FBI colleague and paramour, Lisa Page, who was not present at the meeting, edited the 302 form following the interview. It’s also worth mentioning that Strzok, who is virulently anti-Russian, was later fired for texting inflammatory messages about President Trump.

Rowley also notes that, based on her experience, an FBI agent’s court testimony as to what a defendant said is considered more useful to the prosecution than simply a recorded interview simply because in the event of conflicting testimony, the jury would be more likely to believe the FBI agent. She also added that, had Strzok and Pientka asked for Flynn’s consent to be tape recorded, he would have been immediately alerted that the interview was far from a “friendly” discussion regarding counter-intelligence about Russia. While Rowley makes it clear that she is not “a fan” of Flynn, she adds that “wrong is wrong.”

A final note relating to FBI protocol in Flynn’s prosecution was that, while, in its article, The New York Times acknowledged that Flynn’s lawyers advised him to plead guilty because of concern over the consequences of doing otherwise, it did not mention that the FBI threatened to prosecute his son if Flynn didn’t cooperate.

This paper is of course in no position to weigh in legally as to whether the DOJ’s motion to drop the Flynn case was justified, and there is certainly a substantial community of legal authorities who strongly believe it was not. At the same time, it appears that both the FBI’s conduct in the Flynn matter and the House Intelligence Committee’s handling of the Henry transcript only add to questions about the overall integrity of the Russiagate investigations.

Social Media Manipulation during the 2016 Election

A third development worth reporting is that, as of March 16, 2020, the Department of Justice dropped all charges against Concord Management, the one defendant that actually asked for its day in court after Mueller indicted 13 people and three companies associated with the IRA for manipulation of social media during the 2016 presidential election. In brief, the basis for the ruling was that the case promoted “neither the interests of justice nor the nation’s security.” Two of the stated reasons for this ruling, however, were that Concord a) had been “eager and aggressive in using the judicial system to gather information about how the United States detects and prevents foreign election interference” and b) as a foreign entity, had “no exposure to meaningful punishment in the event of conviction.” As reported by The New York Times, “department officials denied that the decision to drop the charges was intended to dismantle Mr. Mueller’s work, noting that prosecutors are still pursuing charges against the 13 Russians and the Internet Research Agency.”

Several issues surrounding the above ruling come to mind. First, neither the dismissal motion nor The New York Times article mention that, in a June 2019 hearing related to Concord, the presiding judge ruled that there was no legally admissible evidence to support Mueller’s charges against Concord. Second, an indictment seems hardly valid if it prohibits the defendant from standard due process because of anticipated national security issues. Third, the rationale that a defendant is immune from punishment only adds to the belief that the indictment was issued because it was assumed that the trial would never take place.

A Look at Fatherland and Us

A Look at Fatherland and Us

The book (written by Robert Harris) and film Fatherland are exciting crime thrillers set in 1964, after the Third Reich won the second world war. It is a book that does not delve too deep into the Nazi ideology or push the intellectual boundaries of alternate history. Instead it tells the story of a detective who solves not just a murder but the mass murder of millions of innocent civilians. The conclusion focuses around the birthday of Adolf Hitler when the protagonist, Xavier March, reveals the evidence of the genocide of the Jewish people. It is a bombshell that in the story would somehow unsettle the people’s faith in the Reich and chill the arriving American president’s warmth towards the Fuhrer, shattering the alliance between the U.S. and Germany. But, should this moment in history have occurred, would it have made a difference what Xavier March revealed?

In the real world we know that the terrible Nazi regime ended, but only after millions had perished. The nature of the crimes was not the reason the allies united and defeated the Axis powers. Many in its service were no doubt unaware of the extent of the atrocities committed by the government that they served. And if they had been aware, how much would it have changed their obedience? Especially should they personally profit from the State itself. It is easy to question the powers that be during obvious hardship, but in prosperity, after a great victory and during a unified crisis the questioning of authority becomes far less welcome. Especially for the patriotic.

A Backstory for Murder

It was with little condemnation that the Belgian empire was able to destroy and reap misery throughout its territories in Africa, murdering and mutilating millions of individuals. The atrocities inspired Joseph Conrad’s book ‘Heart of Darkness.’ While many were aware and reported on the mayhem of imperialism suffered by the African subjects of the Belgian King Leopold II, none rallied to overthrow him or even directly intervened. Late into the genocide, protests and pressure were applied and the King’s own Congo Free State was turned into the Belgian Congo. No justice was found for the victims; instead the Belgian Empire would be viewed as a victim just over a decade later in World War One.

For the other belligerents of the Great War, notably Germany and the Ottoman Empire, it was with genocide that they each conducted themselves inside of their own colonial possessions. Brutal repression was exercised by the German government in its African colonies for decades leading to a mass extermination of hundreds of thousands in what is now known as Namibia. Many of those administrators and executioners of racialist imperialism would find influence and authority inside the new Nazi Regime. At Versailles in 1919, for all the venom that the allies spat in the German direction, the crimes committed in Africa were not considered.

The Ottoman Empire, already at the ends of its tether by the time World War One was waged, ruled over vast territories full of unique peoples. The Turkish dominated empire oversaw a vicious genocide of Armenian and Greek civilians. They killed millions, a mass murder that has not been officially acknowledged to this day. After the war many involved in implementing and planning the genocide found themselves in the post-war government. The Young Turks were not condemned or viewed as a pariah nationalist entity to be associated with the extermination of a people. No justice was found for the victims of the Turkish government’s genocide. ‘Young Turk’ is now viewed as a positive progressive term, despite the genocide and tyranny that they oversaw.

“Who still talks nowadays of the extermination of the Armenians?” Adolf Hitler asked his Wehrmacht commanders on August 22, 1939.

The bloody revolution in Russia was soaked in the corpses of the innocent as differing communists fought among themselves and then against the ‘Whites,’ united with the Western allies. After the Bolshevik victories in the Russian Civil War, decades of brutal tyranny would lead ultimately to the unimaginable horror rule of Josef Stalin. Slavery, torture, and murder were the instruments by which Soviet Russia improved itself before an observing world. The very Western nations that had tried to quell the growth of the communist empire were now enabling it with grants and assistance.

Just as many of the Gulf states in the modern era enjoy an influx of Western advisors and consultants, just as migrant laborers die around them, pushed to the bone in what is legal slavery, the Soviet Union ‘employed’ millions to build and electrify its empire. Many people dying was a valid sacrifice for the central planners. The price of modernity. The Holodomor, where millions would die of starvation and executions in mostly the Ukraine, was also ignored and dismissed despite good journalists such as Gareth Jones, reporting on the event as it unfolded. The Soviet regime was still embraced and supported, not condemned or challenged. Scores of credible journalists knowingly concealed and downplayed the atrocities. The reader could choose who they wished to believe.

“What are the causes of the famine?” wrote Gareth Jones in the Financial Times, on April 13, 1933. “The main reason for the catastrophe in Russian agriculture is the Soviet policy of collectivisation. The prophecy of Paul Scheffer in 1920–30 that collectivisation of agriculture would be the nemesis of Communism has come absolutely true.”

Even through the purges of the late 1930s, where hundreds of thousands were killed and just as many sent to gulags, the world observed with little action or sway. The communists in most nations blamed the victims. The ideal of the communist utopia was far too great for the ideological romantic. The millions who had perished to help create this fictional dream be damned. The Soviet Union would become an ally. Joseph Stalin, with his murderous history on full display, embraced as Uncle Joe by the supposed champions of freedom.

The blood dripping from these champions claws as well: the mass bombings, vileness of empire, and rationalization of killing thousands of civilians to achieve a strategic end or even to merely terrorise enemy morale. The enemy, being any subjects of the government being opposed, were credible targets of warfare. It would lead to the millions of dead in Korea and South East Asia as the exceptional empire waged its wars there. It is the methods of slaughter that intellectuals and legal scholars would debate. Bayoneting a baby inside the walls of Nanking is criminal while dropping napalm on babies in Vietnam is seen as valid. Chambers of gas killing civilians based upon their racial identity is a crime against humanity, while detonating atomic bombs above a city of civilians based upon their national identity is a legal method of war fighting.

It is the arbitrary nature of intelligent people that view mass murder through the lens of civilised destiny that is best exhibited in the film “Conspiracy,” depicting the 1942 Wannsee Conference where key officials and members of the Nazi party conceive the plans that would lead to the extermination of the Jewish people inside the occupied lands. It is with calculation and intellect that men of great power conceive the justification for mass murder. It is with a similar grasp of numbers and calculation that men like Robert McNamara would become prominent for. The context only being that victory justifies what those numbers represent. Human life taken in the game of greater cause. This is the nature of the regime that has won the war. All war. These men were aware of the crimes that the Belgian, Turkish, and Soviet governments had committed. They were most certainly aware of the Kaiser’s regime and its genocide in Africa. The past taught them that no justice would find them, perhaps even if they lost.

Scandal revealed

For Xavier March in the book Fatherland, the dossier and photos of the death camps are the direct result of those conspiring to solve what they consider to be a great problem. His heroic revelation, however, would have done little. The WikiLeaks cables, Pentagon Papers, and Afghanistan Papers all have done little to check the very entity that the protagonist in the book hopes to sway, the United States government. The U.S. government would likely already have known; it would have been an admitted omission of wider diplomacy. When President Nixon shook Chairman Mao’s hand, he did not raise his knowledge of the millions murdered by the Maoist regime leading to that moment. Just as Winston Churchill and FDR did not call Joseph Stalin out on any of his government’s atrocities. Great Men in history stand upon the unmarked graves of millions.

Such bloody omissions are the facts of doing business and trade. It is polite among killers to ignore the death camps so long as the business can continue to go on. This is the pragmatism of politics. The conduct of evil. It is an ever-rolling stage act performed for the sometimes-voting mob that really does not need such theatrics. Many are compliant regardless of the deception. Scandals and great revelations certainly effect administrations and destroy political careers but they do not take down the apparatus. Instead others are welcomed to replace the corrupt so that they can then use the playground of institutions to enjoy power, to rule.

It is likely the Nazi regime in 1964 would have been a Fascist welfare state. Public works, public education, public health, grants for the corporations and assistance across the empire to build a great society where none are left behind. Many individuals gain from such a short term euphoria of wealth and comfort. Such means are bribery. The silver slipped to turn the gaze away from the deeds that are required to maintain rule. Those dissenting disappear and in an age before the ‘Karen,’ those quick to rat out neighbors always existed. Then just as now ‘the Karen’ is the dithering maid of tyranny.

Would those who benefit from such welfare, who are employed inside the apparatus of government and those working for private concerns that enjoy the government contracts, have cared that millions of Jews were murdered? Do many now care about those murdered beneath the fleets of bombers of their own national government? Do they care about the intimate bullet to the head inside a sandy house in Central Asia performed by a brave of their government, or the random menace of a missile from a drone blowing to pieces women and children because a lone man may have sent a text message? The justifications for such violence are never without end.

For Xavier March, what was the best outcome that his revelation could have reached? For him to commit suicide or stand trial. Would he become the Julian Assange, his time lost inside the prison of self-serving litigation, or would he go on the run like an Edward Snowden, never to return to his home country again? He would be a traitor. For a regime that had massaged away the memory of war and genocide so easily on a no-doubt willing to believe populace, it would have been no trouble turning such a man as Xavier March into a discredited being. The evidence he shared would have been labelled simply as Fake News.

In the end of the fictional story the alliance with the United States ends and the Hitlerian vision of Germany collapses. Clean and simple. A happy ending for a noble sacrifice.

Perhaps in dealing with the subject of Nazi Germany it is important for a fiction writer to be careful in your story telling so as not be called a sympathizer or romanticist, since that regime is forever pariah to the ages. The complex reality of what may have occurred afterwards does not fit a clean narrative for a satisfying conclusion. But as a reflection to our own world it is a bitter reminder that we are all romantics, naïve in our belief that justice will prevail so long as the truth is unveiled.

Unfortunately, justice is not the one that is blind. It is the millions that enable the tyranny, found in their indifference and obedience. It is a desire to believe in something that never was noble. An ideological quest for equality that spins liberty and freedom into the web of evil. It is when security and safety are placed above all else and when the bribery of entitlement and welfare intoxicate many into a state of leisure. Anything that challenges such, even a brutal truth about the past and present, becomes in the end the enemy. This is true now as it ever was, and it is why for many the Fatherland is more important than its crimes.

“’What do you do,’ he said, ‘if you devote your life to discovering criminals, and it gradually occurs to you that the real criminals are the people you work for?’” asked Robert Harris, through the voice of Xavier March.

Socialists Backstab Workers By Supporting Economic Lockdowns

Socialists Backstab Workers By Supporting Economic Lockdowns

Leftists support the lockdowns, conservatives oppose. With a few exceptions, pandemic policy has lined the tribes up with impressive neatness, and while many factors contribute to any ideological divide, the socialist influence on the broader left is here playing a crucial and unexpected role.

While the trademark of progressives has long been the grand social engineering project, the socialists’ motivation for supporting such policies (and allying with the rest of the left) is their stated goal of helping the workers. Workers’ movements, centered around workers’ issues, sign on to progressive methods and policies as a means to an end: They hope that the scientific management the progressives install will benefit the group they represent.

But with lockdowns costing millions of workers their jobs, depriving them of necessities and devastating small businesses and family savings, the socialist movement within the left is providing an essential service to the progressives who imposed this policy. How can the costs of such a desperate experiment be justified? The real, crushing costs are borne by the vulnerable, not concentrated on the affluent like a Sanders tax plan. Regardless of the necessity of the policy, or its benefits, facing up to tradeoffs is to be avoided in politics, especially when those tradeoffs amount to ruining the lives of millions. A frank reckoning along the lines of “x thousand lives saved is worth y million livelihoods destroyed,” is unlikely, even with the most favorable numbers.

And it is here that the intellectual influence of the American socialists comes to the aid of the progressive cause. How can we minimize the impact of tens of millions of unemployment applications? How can we look upon the livelihoods wrecked, not by natural disaster, but by our deliberate policy, as a small enough thing to ignore? By denigrating the notion of “livelihood.” The democratic socialists who celebrated driving Amazon’s headquarters out of New York must look at jobs in a very different light than do job applicants. If jobs and businesses are viewed as the means by which the masses feed their children, their destruction is a tragedy, but if workers have nothing to lose but their chains, it is no such matter. Inflicting losses on workers is ironically sanitized by an ideology committed to defending workers, because it insists they have nothing to defend. In regarding jobs as exploitative, and economic freedom not as opportunity (as in the view of immigrants actively pursuing it) but as a predatory struggle, the socialist blinds himself to the interests of living workers.

The persistent problem for American socialists is the disconnect between their image of the impoverished worker, wages suppressed by the iron law, barely surviving at all, and the lived experience of a large mass of American workers. That workers should succeed and elevate themselves by working in “exploitative” employment relationships, or competing in the “dog-eat-dog” world of small business, forms no part of the socialist’s vision of the world. But for those workers who do succeed on their own terms in the market, that success is a matter of personal pride and identity that will not be wrenched away without a fight. The welders, mechanics, machinists, framers, nurses, electricians, plumbers, roofers, (and on and on into more trades than I could name) who have improved their conditions of life and fed their families by doing these jobs are absolutely hostile to a socialist pitch that involves treating them as charity cases. It insults their personal achievements, and erases their identity, to be treated like Russian serfs needing political liberation as a gift from Bernie Sanders. The successful worker is as repelled by this condescending kind of socialism as the unemployed are drawn to it.

It is the size of this class, the successful workers (success being defined in terms of the aims of each individual worker) that will decide the fate of the American socialists’ dreams. Where workers succeed by working, they have no need for a “Workers’ movement.” Where the dreams of the individuals are stifled, by disaster or by policy, there is hope for the socialists to be welcomed when they come rushing in with their political interventions. But in the calculations of the socialists themselves, the size of this class is always claimed to be zero; the worker is always the victim, or else he himself has become an exploiter. When this view is perhaps close to reality (as in post-Ming China or Tsarist Russia) the socialist’s theories guide him well enough and he can expect good success for his political movement. Where Chinese peasants stream by millions with nothing but the shirts on their backs, and in three generations have climbed to statistical affluence, the Marxist theory, and the socialist movement, are both seriously confounded.

A lockdown policy which devastates the independent livelihoods of Americans thus erodes an important base of mass resistance to socialism (even if it is a mass the socialists refuse to acknowledge), as do occupational licensing, business regulations, and tax withholding (more hated on payday than any boss). Politicians will view this as a feature or a bug, depending on their hopes for the socialist movement; they may seek to protect the livelihoods of the workers as a defense against socialism, or they may go on trying to impoverish and destroy the dreams of families in order to pave the way for their better world. G.K. Chesterton explicitly warned his contemporaries about this very issue nearly a century ago, in arguing against the Inclosures in England:

…in so far as the peasant proprietor is certainly tenacious of the peasant property, is concentrated on the interest or content with the dullness, as the case may be, he does, in fact, constitute a solid block of private property which can be counted on to resist Communism; which is not only more than can be said of the proletariat, but is very much more than any capitalists say of them. I do not believe that the proletariat is honeycombed with Bolshevism (if honey be an apt metaphor for that doctrine), but if there is any truth in the newspaper fears on that subject it would certainly seem that large properties cannot prevent the thing happening, whereas small properties can.

(The Outline of Sanity, 1927)

The fact that leading defenders of capitalism in Chesterton’s age sneered at the “rustic” small property holders and allowed cronyism to eat away at the property and security of a large class of Englishmen seemed to him a tactical error as well as a moral outrage. To excuse violations of property in the name of “modernization” is not only hypocrisy, but also, in Chesterton’s view, destroys the best bulwark against the open violations of socialism: Millions with their own independent stakes in private property, and personal motive for its defense.

The ultimate fate of America’s class of small property holders, independent livelihoods, or successful workers, is yet to be seen. Certainly the presence and size of this class has been an intrinsic element in the American standard of living, in spite of America’s lagging behind other nations in “essential” worker protections like unionization, regulation, and welfare. America has a centuries-long tradition of unusually high real wages under conditions of unusually inactive (though not absent) economic policy. Marxists put this down (when they admit it at all) to a “labor shortage,” while economists credit it to a large capital stock, which is a more sensible way of saying the same thing. In any case, the home of relative laissez-faire has been the most fertile of ground for penniless families to take root and flourish, and about the most stubbornly barren for socialist movements. These two facts are not unrelated.

Look to the Constitution, Not ‘Necessity’

Look to the Constitution, Not ‘Necessity’

I hear a lot of bad constitutional arguments justifying this or that federal action. One common justification for expanding federal power is: “This thing is necessary! It needs to be done.”

But it doesn’t follow that the federal government has to do the thing. In fact, the founding generation expected that the states and the people would do most of the “necessary things” – not the federal government.

Tench Coxe was a prominent and influential advocate for ratification of the Constitution and a delegate for Pennsylvania to the Continental Congress in 1788-1789. He later served as Secretary of the Treasury. He wrote three essays published in the Pennsylvania Gazette in early 1788 under the pen-name “A Freeman.”

In these essays, Coxe offered some of the most forceful arguments asserting the limited nature of the federal government under the proposed Constitution. He insisted that many, if not most, of the “necessary” things for society would be taken on by state and local governments, not the federal government. He wrote:

“It will be found, on a careful examination, that many things, which are indispensibly necessary to the existence and good order of society, cannot be performed by the fœderal government, but will require the agency and powers of the state legislatures or sovereignties, with their various appurtenances and appendages.” [Emphasis added]

Why can’t the federal government perform these things? Because as James Madison explained in Federalist #45, “The powers delegated to the federal government by the proposed Constitution are few and defined.” [Emphasis added]

Coxe drove his point home by listing ten broad areas where the federal government has no authority to act. Several of these are self-evident, but the long list included in the tenth point drives home the extremely limited nature of the federal government supporters of the Constitution promised.

“They cannot interfere with the opening of rivers and canals; the making or regulation of roads, except post roads; building bridges; erecting ferries; establishment of state seminaries of learning; libraries; literary, religious, trading or manufacturing societies; erecting or regulating the police of cities, towns or boroughs; creating new state offices; building light houses, public wharves, county gaols, markets, or other public buildings; making sale of state lands, and other state property; receiving or appropriating the incomes of state buildings and property; executing the state laws; altering the criminal law; nor can they do any other matter or thing appertaining to the internal affairs of any state, whether legislative, executive or judicial, civil or ecclesiastical.” [Emphasis Added]

In his second essay, Coxe approaches the issue from the other side, enumerating “what the state governments must or may do.” Again, many of the items Coxe lists as the exclusive purview of the states reveals just how far the federal government has usurped state authority.

“The several states can create corporations civil and religious; prohibit or impose duties on the importation of slaves into their own ports; establish seminaries of learning; erect boroughs, cities and counties; promote and establish manufactures; open roads; clear rivers; cut canals; regulate descents and marriages; licence taverns; alter the criminal law; constitute new courts and offices; establish ferries; erect public buildings; sell, lease and appropriate the proceeds and rents of their lands, and of every other species of state property; establish poor houses, hospitals, and houses of employment; regulate the police; and many other things of the utmost importance to the happiness of their respective citizens. In short, besides the particulars enumerated, every thing of a domestic nature must or can be done by them.” [Emphasis Added]

So yes – a lot of things are “necessary.” But that doesn’t mean the federal government can do them. The federal government remains limited by its delegated powers. “Necessary” isn’t a constitutional argument.

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

Background Checks Lead to Gun Confiscation in California

Background Checks Lead to Gun Confiscation in California

Since last July 1, California has required background checks for those purchasing firearm ammunition. As we noted, by December 2019 the state had run 345,000 background checks and rejected 62,000 Californians legally entitled to purchase ammunition, including off-duty sheriff’s deputies purchasing shotgun shells to hunt ducks. Officials blamed glitches in the system, but for Ari Freilich of the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the system was working as intended, as a “red flag” law allowing seizure of weapons from those who have committed no crime. As it turns out, Freilich was on to something.

Last month, the state Department of Justice mounted “a dozen operations to confiscate firearms and ammunition possessed by owners who failed background checks,” the Sacramento Bee reports. Agents seized 51 firearms, 28,518 rounds of ammunition and more than 120 magazines, and there was more. They also found 116 grams of methamphetamine and a whopping four grams of heroin. No word on whether those who possessed the drugs were part of any legal needle exchange program like the one in San Francisco.

Read the rest of the article at the Independent Institute.

Did We Actually Flatten the Curve?

Did We Actually Flatten the Curve?

“The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly…it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.”- Adolf Hitler (Mein Kempf, Chapter 6: War Propaganda)

From the start of the COVID-19 panic, we have been met with admonitions from roadside signs, from well-meaning friends, from talking heads on TV, and from trending hashtags on social media. These pleas have generally had the same form, albeit using different words. Some of them said, “Stay Home and Save a Life.” Some of them were more aggressive, with “Stay The F*&K Home!” All of them were predicated on the belief that by taking individual action we could “Flatten The Curve and Save Lives” during the COVID-19 Pandemic. This author has attacked that premise in multiple essays. As a mathematical and statistical fact, flattening the curve can possibly save lives in one case and in only one case: if there is overloading of the hospital resources. Given that these resources were not overwhelmed, at least outside specific pockets, we did not save any lives by attempting to flatten the curve.

What if the curve was not flattened? Here is my assertion: Not only did we not need to flatten the curve, we did not actually do much, if any, flattening of it. This despite the aggressive marketing and puffery used to convince the populace to “Stay Home. Save a Life.” While this is not an indictment of the concept of social distancing—particularly intelligent, voluntary approaches—it is an attack on the approaches marketed during the current pandemic. It is intuitively attractive to think staying home and away from everyone who could transmit the disease must necessarily lead to you not being infected. Further, if we lock up an entire population, the spread of a virus should be stopped. If those two points are true, why should it be that locking down as much as possible would not help slow the spread and/or prevent at least the sequestered from getting sick? Well, as a game show host might exclaim, “I am glad you asked!” The answer comes down to three factors:  Timing, Methodology, and (maybe surprisingly) Epidemiology.

Timing:  The mainstream media (MSM) has been vocal about the timing of the U.S. response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The liberal arm of the MSM has been particularly unrelenting in its assertion that POTUS acted too late in calling for social distancing generally and supporting lock-downs in particular. Jacquelyn Corley writes in Fortune Magazine:

As the data…show, the U.S. government was slow to respond and hesitant to escalate the stringency of its public policies compared to other countries in similar situations. One can’t help but think of the lives that might have been saved had we responded the way other countries, like South Korea, did.

Despite the fact that this author is no fan of Donald Trump, such arguments are specious. My previous articles discussed the statistical fact that flattening the curve via social distancing and lock-downs cannot be expected to save lives unless there is overloading of the medical system. There was no widespread overloading, so Ms. Corley’s premise is incorrect. (Ms. Corley must have missed the fact that South Korea did not impose a lock-down.) The data shows that the United States was something like 40 days late in aggressively embracing curve-flattening strategies. How then does one account for the fact that few, if any, of the expected negative outcomes occurred? Again, almost universally, hospital overcrowding was not a factor.

Not that there have not been hotbeds during the COVID-19 outbreak. In New York City the conversion of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center into a field hospital resulted in about 2/3 occupancy at peak. Interestingly, New York is one of the “heavy lock-down” states. However, most other locales saw no such need—including another heavy lock-down state, Pennsylvania. Dr. Steven Shapiro, chief medical and scientific officer of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, was quoted as saying:

We indeed saw a steady stream of patients but never “surged.” At peak in mid-April, COVID-19 patients occupied 2% of our 5,500 hospital beds and 48 of our 750 ventilators. Subsequently, admissions have been decreasing with very few patients now coming from the community, almost all now being from nursing homes. Of note, in the 36 UPMC-owned senior facilities we have had zero positive cases.

This is far from the only example. Seems we can conclude that few people, if any, died due to lack of availability of care. How does it happen that the U.S. was simultaneously slow in beginning to flatten the curve yet also benefited from it being flatter? Maybe it was already as flat as it was going to get.

Consider a hypothetical scenario. A couple decides to have a child, and sets about having routine sex for six weeks straight. At some point, they change their minds. They begin to use a condom. At the end of eight weeks total, can any conclusion be drawn about the efficacy of the condom? If the woman is pregnant, was it the fault of the condom? If she remains not pregnant, was it because the condom was the key? That is exactly where the U.S. was regarding timing, the effects of social distancing, and curve flattening.

Methodology. The skin biome of a typical human is a cornucopia of bacteria, virus, mites, and all manner of other biological and inert material. When we say, “that made my skin crawl,” not only do we not know how correct we are, we are also a tad late with the admission! Put in the terms of a cartoon, although admittedly somewhat overstated, one could think of the Peanuts character “Pig Pen” and that floating cloud of dirt that surrounds him. Do you think having Pig Pen put on an N95 mask changes that cloud enough to worry about? A similar conclusion regarding one’s skin biome and the presence of a homemade mask seems apropos.

Early on as the pandemic moved through the U.S. population, there was little concern about social distancing, with even luminaries like Dr. Anthony Fauci suggesting that such measures were unnecessary. Then later, even shaking hands became too dangerous according to the good doctor. As recently as April 23, 2020, Bill Bryan of the DHS science and technology directorate shared the results of a federal study indicating that coronavirus is weakened by exposure to sunlight, heat, and humidity. So why were events such as running races, typically enjoyed by healthy adults and held outside, subject to closure? The methodology employed to mitigate the transmission was in the wrong direction.

Statewide mandates in places such as New York, supported by CDC recommendations made in mid-March, made it illegal to hold events with greater than 250 people. Then it became 10 people. At some point, it became blanket cancellation of all group activities and lawful opening of only businesses deemed “essential.” The rubric for establishing which businesses were non-essential varied state-to-state, with some states (like New York) including liquor stores, and some states (like Pennsylvania) characterizing liquor stores as non-essential. (No real science to be found, just guessing—and politics.)

What about widespread use of masks? The typical COVID-19 virus particle is supposedly 0.125-micron sphere, with a range of 0.06 microns up to 0.14 microns. An N95 mask filters down to 0.130 microns. One does not need to be a math whiz to see that COVID-19 virus particles are actually smaller. However, studies suggest that the N95 mask is approximately 95% effective. The size of the holes in the overwhelming majority of homemade masks are orders of magnitude larger than the N95. Even with multiple layers, a cloth mask will be approximately 2% effective in stopping virus flow according to the same study. Even surgical masks are ineffective in stopping virus flow, performing in the range of 55% effectiveness.

What about reports from places (such as Hong Kong) where it is believed that usage of masks made the difference? Some have suggested that this must be true since the only continued outbreaks were from 1: a restaurant where everyone eats from the same tray and 2: a Buddhist shrine where everyone takes their masks off. It seems safe to assume that the typical mask-wearer touches both his mask and his face repeatedly during the day and during each wearing.

Consider the typical pre-operation protocol. Every attempt is made to mitigate the unintended transmission of biological material. Despite this protocol, there is still debate about how much biological material could be transferred from doctor to patient. Writes Chris McCullough:

Another study, “Disposable surgical face masks: a systematic review,” published in 2005, also identified ways that masks might contribute to surgical site contamination. The conclusion of their systematic review was that, “it is unclear whether wearing surgical face masks results in any harm or benefit to the patient undergoing clean surgery.”

Not exactly a ringing endorsement. Further in Mr. McCullogh’s piece he cites an NIH paper, entitled “Reducing Surgical Site Infections: A Review,” by Drs. Reichman and Greenberg, wherein they reviewed a number of studies and concluded:

Several other practices, such as the standard use of “scrub suits,” surgical caps, and shoe covers have never been definitively demonstrated to reduce rates of surgical infection, although surgical site infection (SSI) outbreaks have been traced to hair or scalp organisms (regardless of whether a cap was worn), and increased foot traffic through the operating room has been demonstrated to increase ambient microbial levels and ensuing infection risk.

Multiple studies show that even in an operating room, with strict protocols followed by trained practitioners, there are still SSI outbreaks with “no definitive demonstration of reduction” despite the protocols noted above. Contrast that with our typical social distancing experience at any store. You pull up to a parking spot, having driven a bacteria-laden car. You reach into your bacteria-laden pocket with your bacteria, virus, mite-laden hands to get your bacteria-laden homemade mask, which you inoculated with virus the last time you wore it. You place that mask about your face, inoculating the outside of the mask with the plethora of bacteria and viruses present on your skin. How can such haphazard measures possibly “stop the virus in its tracks” rather than actually help spread the virus? Add to that the fact that mask use was mandated even later than was strict social distancing! There was not the application of a consistent, scientifically-supported methodology over the course of the virus progression through the population.

Let us return to our hypothetical. What if some of the condoms used by our couple had a hole in them? Again, can any conclusion be drawn? If the woman is not pregnant, is it because the condom worked anyway? If she is pregnant, was it the condom’s fault?

In fact, timing, biology, and methodology are confounded (to use a statistical term) in this analysis of the response to COVID-19. Given the lack of a consistent application of a measurably effective technique, the biological make-up of humans, and the admittedly late implementation of strict social distancing, making any assertion about how much the curve was flattened seems suspect. What if we compare epidemiological models to the actual data collected during the pandemic? Maybe the curve was just the curve?

Epidemiology. What if the virus was already relatively prevalent? This is exactly what people such as Sunetra Gupta, Professor of Theoretical Epidemiology at the University of Oxford, have concluded. Even more interestingly, Dr. Gupta’s initial model did not support the draconian response embraced after the Neil Ferguson model drove many politicians crazy. Her model was released one week after Ferguson’s. More recently, and in stark contrast to depending upon a model to be predictive, she is using emergent data to confirm her model. Dr. Gupta notes on a recent interview for UnHerd.com:

In almost every context, we’ve seen the epidemic grow, turn around and die away—almost like clockwork. Different countries have had different lockdown policies, and yet what we’ve observed is almost a uniform pattern of behavior that is highly consistent with the SIR Model. To me that suggests that much of the driving force here was due to the build-up of immunity. I think that’s a more parsimonious explanation than one which requires in every country for lockdown (or various degrees of lockdown, including no lockdown) to have had the same effect.

Apparently, the progression of COVID-19 though the population was typical for a virus already present and not a function of purposeful curve flattening via social distancing or lock-downs. Seems clear that continued reliance on so-called strict social distancing via lock-downs, needs to stop. An immediate reversal of any shelter-in-place orders or draconian closures of non-essential businesses, not a step-wise release, is warranted. Returning to Dr. Gupta:

Remaining in a state of lockdown is extremely dangerous from the point of view of the vulnerability of the entire population to new pathogens. Effectively we used to live in a state approximating lockdown 100 years ago, and that was what created the conditions for the Spanish Flu to come in and kill 50 million people.

Not only does remaining in lock-down hurt the economically vulnerable, it could hurt the entire population going forward. It seems clear that the damage done because of the lock-down has far outstripped even the imagined benefit from flattening the curve.

The problem is that while quarantining the sick has a long history in fighting a contagion, the approach of locking down the healthy is not nearly as tried-and-true. In a blog post from April 5, 2020, Tucker Goodrich cited a 1951 paper from the Journal of School Health:

Anderson and Arnstein in “Communicable Disease Control,” 1948, in discussing poliomyelitis, say: “School closure, as well as closure of moving picture theaters, Sunday schools, and other similar groups, is frequently attempted in response to popular demand that ‘something be done.’ Although tried repeatedly, it is of no proved value, never altering the usual curve of the epidemic: nor has the disease been more prevalent or persistent in those communities with the courage to resist those demands.”

The data indicates that Italian compliance with the lock-down orders was far higher than in the U.S. Yet, the progression of the disease showed no impact due to those lock-downs.

No one wants to minimize the current danger of COVID-19 or the deaths that have already occurred. Certainly not this author. Frankly, the severity with which the virus attacks an individual can appear to be random, with cases of healthy people with no underlying conditions being severely stricken. That said, our immune system was all we had at our disposal for the 6 million years since humankind began walking upright.

This is all we had at our disposal since the start of the COVID-19 panic. Fortunately, it appears—at least in the overwhelming majority of cases where underlying conditions are not present—to be enough. Let us do all we can to enhance it. Let us stop thrusting half-assed behavioral approaches, in some cases supported by a high school science experiment, upon the population as if they worked, despite a dearth of supporting evidence, and despite the massive longer term danger of further extending the lock-outs.

Wilt AlstonWilt Alston [send him mail] lives in Rochester, New York, with his wife and three children. When he’s not training for a marathon or furthering his part-time study of libertarian philosophy, he works as a safety engineer in transportation safety, focusing primarily on the safety of subway and freight train control systems.

Memorial Day: Remembering the Political Lies that Spurred Mass Killing

Memorial Day: Remembering the Political Lies that Spurred Mass Killing

On Memorial Day, the media do their usual sacralizing of war. Instead, it should be a day for the ritualized scourging of politicians. During the last 70 years, their lies have resulted in the unnecessary deaths of almost 100,000 American soldiers and millions of foreigners. And yet, people still get teary-eyed when politicians take the stage to talk about their devotion to the troops.

On Memorial Day 2011, for instance, the Washington Post included numerous touching photographs of graves, recent widows or fatherless kids by the headstones, and stories of the troops’ sacrifices. The Post buried a short article in the middle of the A-Section (squeezed onto a nearly full-page ad for Mattress Discounters) about the U.S. military killing dozens of Afghan civilians and police in a wayward bombing in some irrelevant Afghan province. The story’s length and placement reflected the usual tacit assumption that any foreigner killed by the U.S. military doesn’t deserve to be treated as fully human.

The Washington Post celebrations of Memorial Day never include any reference to that paper’s culpability in helping the Bush administration deceive America into going to war against Iraq. When Post reporters dug up the facts that exposed the Bush administration’s false claims on the Iraqi peril, editors sometimes ignored or buried their revelations. Washington Post Pentagon correspondent Thomas Ricks complained that in the lead-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, “There was an attitude among editors: ‘Look, we’re going to war, why do we even worry about all this contrary stuff?’”

The Post continued aiding the war party by minimizing its sordidness. When the Bush administration’s claims on Iraq’s nuclear-weapons program had collapsed, the Washington Post article on the brazen deceits was headlined, “Depiction of Threat Outgrew Supporting Evidence.” According to Post media columnist Howard Kurtz, the press are obliged to portray politicians as if they are honest. He commented in 2007, “From August 2002 until the war was launched in March of 2003 there were about 140 front-page pieces in the Washington Post making the administration’s case for war. It was, ‘The President said yesterday.’ ‘The Vice President said yesterday.’ ‘The Pentagon said yesterday.’ Well, that’s part of our job. Those people want to speak. We have to provide them a platform. I don’t have [sic] anything wrong with that.”

The Post was not alone in its groveling to war. Major television networks behaved like government-owned subsidiaries for much of the period before and during the Iraq War. CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan explained a month after the United States attacked Iraq, “I went to the Pentagon myself several times before the war started and met with important people there and said, for instance, at CNN, ‘Here are the generals we’re thinking of retaining to advise us on the air and off about the war,’ and we got a big thumbs-up on all of them. That was important.” Jessica Yellin, a CNN correspondent who formerly worked for MSNBC, commented in 2008, “When the lead-up to the war began, the press corps was under enormous pressure from corporate executives, frankly, to make sure that this was a war that was presented in a way that was consistent with the patriotic fever in the nation and the president’s high approval ratings.” NBC news anchor Katie Couric stated that there was pressure from “the corporations who own where we work and from the government itself to really squash any kind of dissent or any kind of questioning of it.”

Before the war, almost all the broadcast news stories on Iraq originated with the federal government. PBS’ Bill Moyers noted that “of the 414 Iraq stories broadcast on NBC, ABC, and CBS nightly news, from September 2002 until February 2003, almost all the stories could be traced back to sources from the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department.”

But this record of servility and deceit has not slackened the media’s enthusiasm to drench Memorial Day with sanctimony.

In reality, Memorial Day should be a time to remember the government’s crimes against the people. Politicians have perennially sent young Americans to die for false causes or on wild-goose chases.

Over the past century, war memorials have become increasingly popular. However, most of the memorials do little or nothing to inform people of the chicaneries or deceits that paved the way to or perpetuated the war. It would be a vast improvement if each war memorial also had an adjacent monument of major lies—such as an engraved plaque listing the major deceits by which the American public were swayed to support sending American boys off to die for some grand cause.

The Vietnam War memorial in Washington, for instance, lists the names of each American killed in that conflict. If that memorial could be complemented by excerpts from the Pentagon Papers—or from some of the major admissions of deceit by some of that war’s policymakers—the effect on the public would be far more uplifting.

General Patton said that an ounce of sweat can save a pint of blood. Similarly, a few hours studying the lessons of history can prevent heaps of grave-digging in the coming years. President Trump has saber-rattled against Iran, North Korea, Syria, and other nations. His bellicose rhetoric should spur Americans to review the follies and frauds of past wars before it is too late to stop the next pointless bloodbath.

Memorial Day can benefit from the creativity of free spirits across the board. Tom Blanton, the mastermind of the website Project for a New American Revolution, proposed in an exchange on my website changing Memorial Day to make it far more realistic:

It used to be that Memorial Day was to honor dead soldiers. In recent years, we are asked to also honor veterans (who already have a day) and active duty members of the armed services. This may be an indication that the politicians feel there aren’t enough dead soldiers…

I think Memorial Day should simply be renamed Tombstone Day and people should decorate their yards with styrofoam tombstones like they do for Halloween. True-believers might even consider a few flag-draped coffins made of cardboard and maybe hanging dismembered arms and legs made of rubber from their trees.

Blanton’s proposal would provide a shot in the arm for party stores during the slow period between Valentine’s Day and Halloween. And it would be a spark for conversations that were far more substantive than the usual flag waving.

I would favor celebrating Memorial Day the way the British used to celebrate Guy Fawkes Day. Fawkes was the leader of a conspiracy in 1604 to blow up the Parliament building in London. Until recently, the British celebrated the anniversary of that day by burning Guy Fawkes in effigy. (Government officials have recently banned such burnings on the grounds that something bad might happen because of the fires. The movie V for Vendetta probably made some bureaucrats nervous.)

It would be appropriate to celebrate Memorial Day by burning in effigy the politicians whose lies led to the deaths of so many Americans (and innocent foreigners). Those whose images deserve to be torched run the gamut from Lyndon Johnson to Defense Secretary Robert McNamara to Richard Nixon to Bill Clinton (Kosovo) to George W. Bush (Iraq, et cetera), to Barack Obama (Afghanistan, Libya, et cetera). Donald Trump’s warring has primarily resulted in the killing of foreigners, but they are also worthy of remembrance and lamentation. The burnings could be accompanied by recitations of the major offenses against the truth and liberty that each politician committed.

The best way to honor American war dead is to cancel politicians’ prerogative to send troops abroad to fight on any and every pretext. And one of the best steps towards that goal is to remember the lies for which soldiers died.

Three Ways the Coronavirus Is Benefitting Political Decentralization

Three Ways the Coronavirus Is Benefitting Political Decentralization

The coronavirus pandemic, and resulting government response, has created one of the greatest disruptions to daily life in modern American history. With much of the country now focused on “reopening,” pundits and policymakers have focused their attention on what the “new normal” of a post-COVID America looks like. Although much of the attention has been focused on the future of massive public gatherings and changes to American work environments, the most significant change to American societies may be faith in our governing structures.

The policy response to the coronavirus has already led to dramatic changes to policy. In the positive, both federal agencies and state governments have waived or altered many traditional regulatory requirements to bypass disastrous delays in medical testing and to better facilitate delivery of services. In the negative, the Federal Reserve has massively escalated its interventionist policies, highlighting how radical these institutions have truly become.

Beyond specific policies, however, the most significant change may be the degree to which the COVID response changes the public view of centralized political power. In particular, there are three relatively unique aspects of this pandemic that may be the precursor to significant realignments going forward.

State Governments Have Taken the Lead in Public Policy

In spite of rhetoric from President Trump about the White House having “full authority” over state governments, the current administration has been largely content with allowing governors to lead the way in responding to the pandemic. This has led to significant differences in the severity of economic lockdowns, testing behavior, and even authorized treatments between states.

Given the hypertribalism of modern politics, it’s easy to simplify this into a typical “red state-blue state” division, but this overlooks significant differences in approach from governors and state legislatures within the same party. For example, although Michigan, New York, and California are high-profile examples of blue states with strong lockdown policies, Colorado is an example of a state with a Democratic governor who has largely followed the reopening guidance promoted by the Trump administration.

The significant differences in policy between states (such as New York and Florida) has meant greater attention, from both the press and the voters subjected to unprecedented restrictions, toward their state capitals and away from the usual circus of Washington. Many governors have seemed to relish this move, such as Governor Gavin Newsom of California, who proudly declared himself leader of a “nation-state.” The power of state governments has even led to some governors engaging in the sort of executive overreach that has become the norm in the national level, such as Colorado governor Jared Polis taking control of federal aid money against the wishes of the state legislature.

The stark contrast between state responses, coupled with differences in outcomes—both in terms of economic and public health measures—is an important lesson in the power of federalism that has been eroded in American politics. The precedents being set today may further embolden the growing trend of state rejection of federal authority that we’ve seen with such issues as drug laws and immigration enforcement. When we factor in the hyperpartisan environment, and a predictably polarizing presidential election later this year, the future of American politics may increasingly be defined by a battle of federal and state authority.

The State Battle over a Federal Bailout

As Ryan McMaken has noted, state budgets are going to face major shortages as the devastating impact of lockdowns limits tax revenue. Although no state will be spared from the economic fallout, this revenue shock will be particularly devastating for those already on particularly unsound economic footing.

Already we’ve seen this begin to play out in Washington, with Republicans pushing back strongly against Democrat calls for a $195 billion bailout of state and local governments. The Wall Street Journal this week summarized this growing conflict with the question, “Why Should Florida Bail Out New York?,” highlighting the differences in governing philosophy and economic health between the two similarly sized states.

Although it’s obvious that Congress has no stomach for any sort of fiscal restraint when it comes to national economic aid or stimulus programs, the more the debate focuses on state—and partisan—differences, the more we are likely to see the federal representatives of fiscally prudent states hunker down against bailouts in their own interest. Already we’ve seen blue state leaders like Governor Newsom threaten their own version of Washington Monument syndrome, stating that police and first responders will be the first victims if Washington doesn’t bend to his bailout demands.

This could easily erupt into the sort of state-on-state legislative battle we haven’t seen play out in Washington in a long time.

Shared Experience and National Unity

Lastly, one of the aspects of the coronavirus that has driven a lot of the radical differences in narrative and policy between states has been the difference in its severity around the country. In past national tragedies, there has usually been a trend toward national unity, as the event created a common experience among all Americans. Although New Yorkers dealing with the aftermath of 9/11 or Gulf Coast residents during Hurricane Katrina experienced these events in a more personal and intimate way, everyone witnessed them on television and with a similar appreciation for their significance.

This is clearly not the same with the coronavirus.

I recently had a good friend who is a nurse in northern Louisiana visit, and he was shocked at how laxly residents of north Florida were taking the virus. Although the city he currently lives in is very red and culturally Southern, it was an early hot spot for COVID-19, and the scars from that had majorly impacted much of the community. In Panama City Beach, Florida, the greatest fears in the last few months came from the impact that lockdowns were having on a local economy so dependent on tourism and the service industry.

Considering that common experiences can shape national unity far more powerfully than government institutions can, it’s possible that the cultural consequences of the coronavirus will fuel divisions between states in a way that disagreements on marijuana laws never could. It is both reasonable and natural for a resident of New York City, which has suffered nearly twenty thousand coronavirus-related deaths, to be far more traumatized by the virus than residents of Houston, which has suffered fewer than two hundred.

Considering that a major question for political fallout going forward will be the degree to which the economic damage inflicted on this country was “justified” by the threat of the virus, the differences in experience make it unlikely that the coronavirus will build anything resembling a national consensus.

The lasting impact of the coronavirus going forward—alongside the devastating economic consequences that we have yet to truly face—could be deepening a regional, cultural, and political polarization that has been building in recent years. These are also precisely the sort of differences that are only escalated by centralized political power, and that will only be fueled by the upcoming theater of the 2020 presidential election.

Although national tragedies tend to bring a country together, it seems clear that the coronavirus will leave America as divided as it has been in modern history.

Tho Bishop is an assistant editor for the Mises Wire, and can assist with questions from the press. Prior to working for the Mises Institute, he served as Deputy Communications Director for the House Financial Services Committee. His articles have been featured in The Federalist, the Daily Caller, and Business Insider. This article was originally featured at the Mises Institute and is republished with permission.

Danny Makki to the ‘Dark Side’? Joins Charles Lister At Middle East Institute

Danny Makki to the ‘Dark Side’? Joins Charles Lister At Middle East Institute

Sun Tzu, or if you prefer Al Pacino as Michael Corleone in “The Godfather” gave the wise advice: Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.

Listerfile

There’s much more going on under the surface than meets the eye regarding Danny Makki’s joining the Middle East Institute’s Syria Program as a non-resident fellow.

Of course, the pro-Syria crowd along with independent journalists piled on in response to Danny’s very unexpected announcement on Wednesday, “Delighted to be joining @MEI_Syria as a non-resident scholar, look forward to covering Syria in-depth and working with some great talent.”

I myself piled on in knee-jerk reaction too, but then deleted a couple Tweets. Many understandably were shocked, considering this “great talent” on the team includes none other than Charles Lister as editor and program director.

Lister’s record speaks for itself, so no need to dig into that horror show. But also recall that when Danny Makki himself was co-organizer of the British-Syrian Society 2016 Damascus conference which for pretty much the first time invited a large group of mainstream media journalists into the country to get the government’s perspective, Lister led the charge of essentially trying to blacklist any of the independent journalists on that trip or subsequent ones (predictably the NYT and BBC and other MSM individuals on the trip were spared). I was on the same trip and attended the supposedly controversial conference, and was viciously attacked and smeared, especially when I wrote this.

Here’s the reality: long before a number of prominent indy voices “discovered” Syria, Makki was among the small group of analysts involved deeply in the country pre-war (and of course he’s both Londoner and Damascene, also with family in Syria) and even rarer was reporting from the ground the whole time. When the same indy journalists now so quick to proclaim he’s gone to “the dark side” would go to Damascus often for the first time, who was the very fixer greeting them at the airport?

Danny has been the “man on the ground” for years, even before the war.

Makkifile2

Do you really think the very man who remains among a tiny number of West-based pundits with rare direct access to Assad and his “inner circle” — who has often set up equally rare interviews with Assad for outside journalists — has suddenly jumped on the pro regime change bandwagon? (I might add that, yes, there are a number of Damascus and externally-based people always trying to “bring journalists” into Syria for this or that reason.)

Do you really think one of a handful of Damascus’ official fixers is going to suddenly ‘switch’ to the roll of sellout ‘traitor’ propagandist… all for a few bucks and the “recognition” of a non-resident scholar for MEI?

People are much too quick to view this simply as a well-known Damascus voice being co-opted and compromised under Lister & company’s influence (with the wheels greased via UAE money etc..), but consider that it’s actually the other way around.

Since the start of the war there’s been a long-running internal debate within Syrian government circles and their allies over media strategy (or one might even say there was no proper strategy at all early on): for brevity’s sake let’s describe it simply as “engagement” vs. “go the trenches” type information warfare. Understandably, given the ground war was for years bolstered by an equally fierce US-UK-Gulf propaganda media war, Damascus long stuck to the latter.

But now militarily things have been decisively settled: the Syrian government is here to stay, the Western propagandists and their beloved “rebels” have lost. And as one insider (who I shall not name) who dialogues with US National Security Council officials on behalf of Damascus assured me just this week: “Trump’s generals view the armed opposition as basically jihadists and terrorists, and therefore accept that Assad must stay.” This is the reality even if no one within the D.C. defense establishment or the brass at MacDill AFB publicly voices it.

How do you think NSC and top admin officials have come to such a conclusion? What played out behind the scenes that ultimately got Trump to reportedly dump the CIA’s likely multi-billion dollar covert regime change program in 2017? Over the past couple years, the “regime” has opted for engagement. It has paid off.

Suffice it to say that there’s long been a small group of intermediaries straddling Damascus and London/Washington using “mainstream creds” to influence decision-makers in the right direction on Syria, especially military circles, against all odds.

This effective “lobbying” campaign has been carried on very far behind the scenes, with almost zero reporting on it and its players, only some of its tangential effects have exploded on the US domestic politics scene (think for example of Gen. Flynn’s “Syria confessions” in 2015 and the ‘deep state’ war, if you will, subsequently unleashed).

Funny enough, the old national security hawks and neocons of the Bush-Obama era still have sour grapes about it, as is occasionally demonstrated when they randomly emerge from their dusty beltway basements to rant at some nobody on Twitter:

The Danny Makki saga actually demonstrates that the very Western/Gulf based pundits and think tanks that helped to destroy Syria in the first place are now forced to sing a somewhat different tune.

They are now starved of information in a new phase of the war where it’s clear that “engagement” with Damascus is the only option left. The Charles Listers of the world are actually the ones who were slowly forced from their own extreme position (of essentially blacklisting and shunning any and all contact with Damascus, or those who dared to engage).

The tables have turned. It’s a permanent state of things. Damascus “insiders” hold the cards.

Lister has been forced to compromise by inviting Makki in, not the other way around. Simply watch Makki’s careful words as he writes now and in the future — you’re not going to see some sort of “compromise” play out.

The ‘information war’ has entered a new phase. Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.

TGIF: Replace Your Divots

TGIF: Replace Your Divots

I am not, nor have I ever been, a golfer. I did golf once, just before the turn of the century, and I disliked it. Nevertheless, I live by a cardinal principle in golfer etiquette: Replace your divots.

A divot, of course, is a chunk of turf that is dislodged by a golf shot, leaving a hole on the course. Golfer etiquette requires that you should put the divot back in the hole if that’s possible. This is a common-sense act of consideration for other golfers because a ball in a hole is hard to hit.

We can readily see that Replace your divots is simply an application of the principle Be considerate of others. And that’s another way of saying, Respect others. You can easily find many appropriate applications of the principle in everyday life.

We can go a step further. If Replace your divots is a worthy principle, then Avoid creating divots in the first place if you can is a worthy corollary. Off the golf course, avoid creating divots would include covering your nose and mouth when you sneeze and cough even when you’re not in the middle of a serious pandemic.

We might be tempted to place this principle within rights theory. For example, the owner of the golf course probably has a rule, a term of use, that you must replace your divots. As a contractual matter, then, you are obligated to do so. Failure to comply is to violate the terms of your contract and hence a violation of the rights of the property owner. This reasoning is also used to show why falsely shouting fire in a theater is wrong.

I have no beef with that take, but there’s more to the story because even if it were not a violation of someone’s contractual rights, it would still be wrong to ignore your divots or falsely shout fire when it could endanger people. (You may shout fire, however, in a crowded online chat room. Context matters.)

Can this moral point be proved? Well, yes, in the sense that Aristotle thought ethics could be validated. Whenever we act we aim at an ultimate good: happiness, the good life, flourishing — call it what you will. We can’t help it because the idea of an ultimate end is baked into the very notion of action, which is the means that gets you there. (Sounds like praxeology, doesn’t it?) “Every art and every kind of inquiry, and likewise every act and purpose, seems to aim at some good: and so it has been well said that the good is that at which everything aims,” Aristotle wrote to launch his Nicomachean Ethics. “If then in what we do there be some end which we wish for on its own account, choosing all the others as means to this, but not every end without exception as a means to something else (for so we should go on ad infinitum, and desire would be left void and objectless),—this evidently will be the good or the best of all things.”

What plausibly (or intuitively) appears to advance flourishing you may reasonably presume to be good. But such presumptions are in principle defeatible by evidence or by a clash with other well-founded moral principles. A Socratic inquiry would uncover such conflicts.

In the Aristotelian and Spinozan sense, the flourishing of rational social animals — that’s us — is advanced by, among other things, reason-based relationships with other people (that is, no force, no injustice). I’m better off surrounded by people who live by reason (even if only by semi-conscious habit) than by irrational people. So I want to encourage other people to be rational, which in part means dealing with them on the basis of reason and respect. QED.

For more, I recommend Roderick T. Long’s important monograph Reason and Value: Aristotle versus Rand and my “What Social Animals Owe to Each Other.”

Do Lockdowns Save Lives?

Do Lockdowns Save Lives?

Appearances are of four (4) kinds:

  1. Things are as they appear to be;
  2. Things neither are nor appear to be;
  3. Things are, but do not appear to be;
  4. Things are not, but yet appear to be.

     ~ Epictetus, Phrygian Philosopher

Despite what seems to me incontrovertible data that lockdowns not only did not help, but also were destructive, people on social media are still trotting out the “How many people do you want to kill?” false choice. (To my credit, this author has yet to block anyone for asking such a question. Baby steps!) The thing that troubles me, and in full disclosure this insight only recently occurred to me, is that we all appear to be debating the wrong issue. The people who support lockdowns seem to think they directly save lives. The people who decry lockdowns seem to be arguing against that specific point as if it were a valid question, given the stated purpose of lockdowns specifically and social distancing generally, which is slowing the progression of a disease through a population.

Whether or not lock-downs save lives is actually a straightforward data analysis exercise. Statistician William Briggs has presented a ton of data and analysis in this regard. In a podcast this author would highly recommended, from Ivor “The Fat Emperor” Cummins, Dr. Michael Levitt provides similar context around the issue. The bottom line: If one compares country-to-country and lockdown versus no lockdown, the data is completely mixed together. That is, there is no functionality showing that lockdowns prevent deaths.

This is not actually surprising if one understands one additional factor. There is no mechanism for lockdowns to change the number of deaths, unless and only unless, there is hospital over-crowding. Stated differently, the probability of a person dying from COVID-19 is not a function of when that person was infected, whether or not there was a lockdown, whether that person wore a mask, or any of that. Unless the laws of statistics regarding the fact that the area under a normal distribution is not effected by kurtosis—the length of the tails—there can be no effect on deaths due to curve flattening. (We covered this previously, in another article.) Comfortingly for the math geeks among us, the results (i.e., the actual data) bear this out. In a subsequent article, this author hopes to examine if what this author will term, ‘infection rate’—the rate of progression across the population, particularly in the U.S.—was significantly changed, despite all the social distancing marketing and puffery. For the time being, the focus of this article is on deaths after infection.

What are the results when one compares country-to-country with respect to strict social distancing via lockdowns? (One can assume, for the purposes of being fair, that it is entirely possible that people in some locales voluntarily practiced social distancing, despite all large gatherings and non-essential businesses not being forced out of existence by government edict.) Still though, one should see some obvious functionality between places that locked down and those that did not. Did we? The chart below is instructive.

Lockdown GraphThe Y-Axis on the left side (the vertical axis) is Population Density in People per Square Kilometer. The bars correspond to these values and show countries along the bottom. The Y-Axis on the right side (also a vertical axis) is Death Rate, i.e., Deaths per Million of Population, and is shown with the line. On that same line, a “Y” or an “N” indicates if a locale imposed a lockdown. The Death Rate values are shown on a Log10 scale, since the range between deaths per million is so large. The bars show Population Density in People per Square Kilometer for the countries listed. (Again, hat-tip to statistician William Briggs for making this data available. He also provides a similar set of charts using different variables on his site. Same conclusion.) This author downloaded Population Density data from another website and cross-referenced it by country. The data above is sorted so that countries that did not impose a lockdown are plotted separately from countries that imposed a lockdown, both ordered by Case Fatality Rate within each subgroup. Finally, fifty countries are shown on the chart.

Despite this author’s repeated attempts with different plots, there does not appear to be functionality with respect to lockdown. There does not appear to be functionality with respect to population density. One might ask if population density for a country is indicative of the population density for cities within a country—such as New York City or São Paulo—but if there was an effect from locking down, it should still be obvious. This author will stop short of suggesting that not only did lock-downs do no good, but also that they were harmful, as argued Briggs in the post noted above.

It seems clear that imposing a lock-down was not the magic bullet that certain control-enthusiast governors and presidential advisors have claimed. No improved performance, i.e., reduced death rate, is obvious from this data, and if lockdowns helped, it should be. (Similar data is available that compares U.S. states that imposed lockdowns to those that did not. Same conclusion. Similar data is available for Europe. Same conclusion.) Then again, for the reasons covered earlier, this should not be surprising. In recent days, as several states opted to “open up” critics have cried out that these states would see spikes in reported cases and resultant deaths. So far, not so much, although this data is emergent.

One other important factor which is worth understanding—and which Dr. Levitt also mentions in the podcast cited above. There is a necessity to reach virus saturation in order for us to move past this panic. Full, or almost full, population exposure is a necessity, regardless of whether there is corresponding manifestation of symptoms. We already know from the experience on the USS Theodore Roosevelt, that everyone will not manifest symptoms, regardless of exposure, and as Dr. Levitt mentions, when they may have been exposed. Writes William Sullivan for American Thinker:

The USS Theodore Roosevelt had a crew of 4,800. Given the acute sample, testing was holistic. This yields an actual infection rate of roughly 23 percent, and among those infected, the fatality rate is 0.09 percent. Among the Roosevelt’s entire crew of assumedly healthy and able-bodied sailors, on a floating Petri dish, during the thick of viral outbreak that shut down all schools and placed healthy citizens across America under house-arrest, the fatality rate was .002 percent.

In deference to the leadership of Dr. Levitt, this author is being careful not to use the somewhat loaded term, “herd immunity,” but the fact of the matter is, full exposure is necessary unless we plan to maintain the lockdowns for years. Furthermore, and with apologies for beating an ailing horse, the models used up to this point apparently assumed this. The only question was if virus saturation would happen so quickly as to “outrun” the number of beds, ventilators, and healthcare resources, given the percentage of those who were both symptomatic and needing advanced care. That did not happen.

As a final thought exercise, consider this question:  Has anyone ever died from AIDS? (Admittedly, this is something of a trick question.) AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. A person who succumbs to AIDS actually dies from one of many opportunistic infections. Agents that are present all the time cause these infections. The reason there is not widespread societal affliction with Karposi’s Sarcoma is that our immune system is up to the task. This is fortunate. Incidentally, this is also the primary reason that not everyone on the USS Theodore Roosevelt came down with COVID-19. As was posted on Twitter a few days ago, “The virus is tough. But humans are much, much tougher.” This despite knee-jerking politicians acting like saviors.

Wilt AlstonWilt Alston [send him mail] lives in Rochester, New York. When he is not training for a marathon or furthering his part-time study of libertarian philosophy, he works as a safety engineer in transportation safety, focusing primarily on the safety of subway and freight train control systems.

New York Times Hurts Survivors With Falsehoods About Domestic Violence

New York Times Hurts Survivors With Falsehoods About Domestic Violence

The dominant narrative on domestic violence (DV) during COVID-19 hurts survivors, like me. Decades ago, I was blinded in my left eye by a man who said he loved me even as his fist hit my face. I’ve tried to make sense of that insanity ever since. Why did he do it? Why did I stay? The one thing that anchors me to answers is reality—what is true of DV?—not what is emotional or political. The media delivers the opposite.

“Domestic Violence Calls Mount as Restrictions Linger: ‘No One Can Leave’” by Julie Bosman appeared in the New York Times on May 15 and addressed DV in Chicago; the article hurt rather than helped survivors to heal. Its central claim was that “the problems [of abuse] have only deepened since stay-at-home orders were first imposed. In Chicago, the number of people seeking help has increased significantly in recent weeks.“

The NYT article is typical of a DV meme that is spreading quickly through the media and may soon be embedded in legislation. The assumption that stay-at-home orders are increasing DV must be questioned because it is deeply flawed and takes survivors away from the reality they desperately require.

First, the article is factually inaccurate. It states, for example, “The Chicago Police Department said that domestic-violence related calls increased 12 percent during a period from the start of the year through mid-April, compared with the same time period in 2019.” This comparison is invalid on its face. Illinois’ stay-at-home order was implemented on March 21, and data from approximately three months prior is irrelevant to an analysis of the order’s effect on DV. Either Bosman is unaware of when Chicago’s stay-at-home order came into effect—the article does not state the effective date—or the numbers are misrepresented through sloppiness or deliberately. Since the article spins off these statistics, the skewed calculations are nontrivial.

More precise data offer a different picture. The Marshall Project examined police reports of DV since May 8 in three major cities, including Chicago, and stated, “reports of domestic abuse in three cities have dropped.” In Chicago, calls to the DV phone line increased while police reports declined; “Domestic violence [in police accounts is] down 23 percent” in recent weeks.

The article speculated that the difference between police reports and hotline accounts “may be because it’s harder for victims to get help during the pandemic.” This is possible, although dialing 911 should be no more difficult than dialing a hotline. The National Domestic Hotline (NDH) report for 2019 reveals another possibility. Hotline callers often inquire about peripheral issues, such as housing or immigration status. The NDH states, “14,590 contacts experience Housing…up 217% from 2018.” It is not clear whether an account of immediate abuse accompanied the housing query; it is clear that the hotlines are used to address a wide range of problems, especially when so many people are losing their housing and jobs. This is one reason why police reports are a more accurate measure of DV.

Table 9Bosman’s assumptions are also deep biased; for one thing, she refers to DV survivors as exclusively female. This is a false and harmful assumption. Estimates of male DV survivors vary widely, partly because men are notoriously reluctant to report abuse for fear of being ridiculed or dismissed. Nevertheless, the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2015 Data Brief reports 4,255,000 males experienced physical violence from an intimate partner in 2015 [Table 11] compared to 3,455,000 females [Table 9]. Data sources differ on the numbers, but they do not differ on presenting males as a significant percentage of DV survivors.

Table 11The bottom line: Men endure a high and, perhaps, an equal rate of DV abuse as women. If stay-at-home confinement increases violence against women, then confined men would be equally vulnerable. To leave out abused males, let alone to imply that males are the perpetrators, takes the reader far from what is real about DV. An analysis that does so deserves no more credence than would U.S. homicide statistics that acknowledged only white deaths.

Bosman mentions stay-at-home children as being at greater risk, along with women. As evidence, she refers to unnamed doctors who are “hearing accounts” of people “lashing out, particularly at women and children.” The clear implication: males are endangering women and children. It is impossible to disprove hearsay accounts from unnamed sources, of course, but hard statistics indicate a different picture. Data on child abuse is difficult to collect and verify, but a 2006 report from the Department of Health and Human Services found that 70.6% of abused children were brutalized by mothers, and 29.4% by fathers. Female abusers are unlikely to have disappeared since then, and it does children a great disservice to distort the reality of their abuse. It makes the abuse harder to address, for one thing.

Getting the facts straight on DV is not an academic matter. There are human beings crying out in pain. Moreover, the media spotlight on DV and shut-in order may be a prelude to a legislative push; laws could embed harmful bias and distortion into public policy under which we all live. Certainly, DV funding for women only was included in the last coronavirus relief (CARES) bill. The first package included funding for the National Domestic Violence Hotline and $45 million for other DV programs. An April 13 letter from 41 Senators from 29 states called for future relief bills to allocate an additional $413 million to programs that address the “horrifying…surge” in DV. The primary vehicle for dispersing funds and services would be the controversial Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which is widely accused of ignoring male survivors.

Survivors deserve better than what the media is delivering. All that survivors ask  for is an unprejudiced and factual view of an important issue. Nothing is more important than knowing the truth because this is where any hope of a solution begins.

Pennsylvanians Pushback Against Overbearing Coronavirus Lockdown

Pennsylvanians Pushback Against Overbearing Coronavirus Lockdown

As in the rest of the country, life in Pennsylvania has been greatly disturbed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the chaos that has resulted from the state government’s attempts to handle the situation. On March 16, Governor Wolf ordered that all “nonessential” businesses be closed for at least two weeks. They are still closed today, and as a result, 1.8 million Pennsylvanians have filed for unemployment. At the end of December of last year, the state estimated that there were roughly 6 million employed persons in Pennsylvania. If we set aside all the workers whose incomes have been reduced through pay cuts or reduced hours, or who for various reasons have not filed for unemployment, still nearly a third of people who were working in December are now out of work.

Such an astounding figure is truly hard to comprehend, and its consequences likely haven’t been fully understood. It is therefore very understandable that Pennsylvanians around the commonwealth are eager to return to work and salvage the situation as much as possible before we are all left destitute. However, Governor Wolf, having assumed emergency powers, seems loathe to let that happen on anything other than his administration’s opaque and poorly understood timetable. Under the current plan, all counties are currently categorized as either red, yellow, or green, with red counties having the strictest restrictions and green ones allowing all businesses to reopen. By May 15, thirty-seven of Pennsylvania’s sixty-seven counties will officially become yellow zones. These counties will include nearly all of western and north-central Pennsylvania.

From the beginning, the entire shutdown process has been wracked with confusion over which businesses are essential and which ones need to apply for waivers to keep running. The waiver process has not been very transparent, and it is little wonder that the granting of a waiver to Wolf Home Products, the furniture manufacturer formerly owned by the governor, caused an uproar. As of May 10, the state had only processed 70 percent of the unemployment claims it had received.

There is not only confusion regarding the economic shutdown rules, but also over the public health approach as more and more data becomes available. On May 6, it was revealed to lawmakers during a phone briefing that of the roughly 3,100 virus deaths by that date, 68 percent had occurred in nursing homes and similar care facilities, that the average age of those who had passed was 79 (in a state where the average life expectancy is 78.5 years), and that 84.4 percent of the victims suffered from one to four comorbidities.

These shocking figures are even more tragic in light of the fact that the state’s aggressive plan for protecting nursing homes was never fully implemented. The state government’s incompetence is even more egregious considering the fact that the state health department issued a memo on March 18 stating that “Nursing care facilities must continue to accept new admissions and receive readmissions for current residents who have been discharged from the hospital who are stable….This may include stable patients who have had the COVID-19 virus.”

Although the administration apparently lacked the ability to enact their own plan for protecting nursing homes, Wolf did have the time to make sure to include radical progressive demands in his state recovery plan, such as an increase of the minimum wage to $12 which would be set to grow to $15 and an expansion of mandatory paid leave policies.

With such chaos, confusion, and incompetence in the background, it is little wonder that there is a growing sense of rebellion among both the inhabitants and local government officials throughout the state. All of southwestern Pennsylvania was declared free to move from red- to yellow-level restrictions on May 15 except for Beaver County. This exception, the county government believes, is largely due to the county’s stats being skewed due to a particularly lethal outbreak at a nursing home in the county that killed at least seventy-one residents. As a result, they declared that as far as the county government and law enforcement were concerned the county would be moving to yellow-level restrictions along with all of its neighbors on May 15. Local officials also pointed out that many residents who work in the surrounding counties will be free to travel in and out of Beaver to work, defeating the entire purpose of keeping the county locked down. This is not an insignificant number of people given that Beaver is part of the greater Pittsburgh area. What’s more, the district attorney announced that his office would not be prosecuting any violations of the shutdown orders and had advised all local police departments to not get involved in state enforcement orders.

This defiance was echoed by two other counties in the central part of the state, including Dauphin County, where the state capital of Harrisburg is located, whose officials released statements effectively saying that they would no longer participate in the enforcement of the red-level shutdown orders. The county sheriffs of two additional central counties also released statements saying that their offices would not participate in any enforcement activities. A few days later, these counties have been joined by an additional eight counties that are variously demanding that the state let them move on to the yellow phase or simply declaring that they are planning to do so. With nearly a third of the state now out of work, such rebellion is not surprising in the least.

Of course, Governor Wolf did not take such defiance lightly and unleashed a torrent of threats and abuse on the recalcitrant offenders, declaring that they had “decided to surrender to the enemy” and that they were “choosing to desert in the face of the enemy, in the middle of a war.” He then threatened to withhold any discretionary federal funds from any counties that rebelled, and then went even further, warning businesses that he would unleash the regulatory goons on them to make them bend the knee. Restaurants’ liquor licenses would be suspended, any business that reopened in defiance would no longer have business liability insurance, and they could risk losing certificates of occupancy and health certificates.

However, having already pushed thousands of businesses to the brink of extinction, it seems unlikely that Wolf’s threats have much persuasive power. The state simply doesn’t have the resources to hunt down every rebellious business owner, so at the worst, an owner is taking a gamble between going out of business for sure if the shutdown continues and facing regulatory headaches in the event that the state authorities actually manage to find out about it. Although the state department of health has set up a complaint form for people to inform on businesses, even state lawmakers have likened it to the East German secret police, and the form has reportedly been inundated with online trolls submitting bogus reports.

The situation in Pennsylvania is continuing to evolve, but it seems clear that Governor Wolf’s authority is collapsing by the day. The whole affair serves as an important reminder of the lesson at the heart of Étienne de la Boétie’s short book The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude: all political authority in rulers is, in the end, derived from the ruled. When such power is withdrawn, political authority is revealed to be impotent.

The governor may issue all the orders he desires, but without the cooperation of the lower levels of government and the people themselves, they are toothless. In the unlikely event that he desired to escalate the situation to enforce his emergency decrees, he would lack the resources to realistically do so, having only forty-seven hundred state police under his control who could not hope to replace the local police across the nearly forty-five thousand square miles that make up the state. Even if he tried, local district attorneys have already indicated that they will not prosecute such cases.

Pennsylvania has no shortage of problems and onerous laws and regulations, but we are very fortunate that our governance structure is decentralized to the extent that it is. With the third-highest number of local governments in the country, Pennsylvania is ideally suited for the kind of recalcitrance that is currently materializing against the centralized emergency decrees from the state government. Hopefully such resistance will lead not to chaos, but to more realistic policymaking that recognizes that disemploying a third of the workforce by decree is not a sustainable solution to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Zachary Yost is a Mises University alumni and freelance writer. This piece was originally featured at the Mises Institute and is republished with permission. 

News Roundup

News Roundup 6/4/20

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