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‘Serve and Protect’? Eighty Percent of Criminal Charges Are for Misdemeanors

‘Serve and Protect’? Eighty Percent of Criminal Charges Are for Misdemeanors

A recent meeting by a North Carolina state government task force underscored that the mission today of American police forces may well be less to “serve and protect” and more to “harass and extract.”

“Of North Carolina’s 1.9 million criminal charges, 1.6 million of those are misdemeanors,” reported the N.C Insider (subscription required). This statistic was revealed by Jessica Smith, a professor of public law and government at the UNC School of Government, to members of the N.C. Task Force on Racial Equity in an August 20 meeting.

Smith told the work group that only 6.7% of those misdemeanors were considered violent. “I would say that the justice system is largely a non-violent misdemeanor system,” Smith added.

According to the news account of the task force meeting, Smith said that “the majority of the nonviolent misdemeanor charges are traffic, including speeding, driving with a revoked license, expired registration or not having an operator’s license.” Moreover, the article continued, Smith noted that “outside traffic violations, the most charged misdemeanors are larceny, possession of drug paraphernalia, possessions of a half-ounce of marijuana and possession of marijuana paraphernalia.”

Clogging up the state’s court systems are cases of minor victimless offenses, according to Smith.

Smith pointed out some of the most absurd misdemeanors consuming the state court system’s time. These included “not having a city dog tag, leash law violations or having tinted windows,” according to the news report.

North Carolina’s trends mirror the national data.

In this 2019 Equal Justice Initiative article, former federal public defender and legal scholar Alexandra Natapoff “estimates that misdemeanors comprise approximately 80 percent of all arrests and 80 percent of state dockets, based on arrest data from the FBI and other statistical reports.”

Natapoff concludes from her research that, “Misdemeanors are moneymakers for local jurisdictions,” adding that “Because they fund courts, probation offices, public defender and prosecutor offices, and even the general budget in some jurisdictions…misdemeanors function as a regressive tax policy that shifts costs for basic services to the poorest citizens.”

Legislators create more and more violations, making it virtually impossible for the average citizen to make it through the day without violating one of them. This is on top of the laws, like drug possession, that prohibit “unapproved” behavior in which there is no actual victim. The criminal justice system has been turned into more of a cash cow extracting fines and penalties from peaceful citizens than an institution protecting its citizens from the aggression of others.

Overcriminalization has led to overpolicing. It’s become so ludicrous, that according to a 2019 report by the Vera Institute of Justice, an arrest is made every 3 seconds in America.

The report notes that “fewer than 5 percent” of the arrests are for serious violent crimes, and furthermore “the authors of the study suggested that arresting large numbers of people for minor offenses for nonviolent or comparatively minor offenses can effectively undermine the trust and legitimacy that effective law enforcement requires.”

The mass levels of arrests and police interactions with citizens amazingly come at a time when violent crime has been decreasing. This 2019 Reason article noted that the violent crime rate fell another 3.3 percent from 2017 to 2018, after a “reduction of violent crime by roughly half since 1993.”

Because of the rising trend of overcriminalization, Reason reported that “about 6.4 percent of Americans born before 1949 have been arrested, compared to about 23 percent of those born between 1979 and 1988.”

Unsurprisingly, Reason noted that “Drug arrests have grown increasingly common, now representing 9 percent of arrests for men and 8 percent for women,” and further that “11 percent of arrests of women and 16 percent of those of men are for underage drinking.”

Being arrested for even such petty, non-violent transgressions can cause long-lasting damage to the lives of those being charged. Stiff fines can put low-income people in to debt that takes years to climb out of, and adding a misdemeanor to one’s record can create significant barriers to employment.

And of course, having so many interactions between citizens and police increases the odds of more interactions turning violent or deadly.

We are taught in elementary school that our government exists to secure our rights to “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.” Police are to be deployed as a means to protect us from those that would violate such rights.

Sadly, we are way beyond that point. Legislators create countless laws to restrict or mandate behaviors having nothing to do with protecting our basic rights. Police are dispatched to enforce these rules, making criminals out of peaceful people who never aggressed against anyone.

The criminal justice system has turned into a money-making machine, punishing millions of victimless misdemeanors to collect fines to pay the people running and enforcing the system. Like everything else it touches, the state has turned the criminal justice system into a means to enrich itself at citizens’ expense.

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

New Evidence Indicates Police Provoked Violence In Kenosha

New Evidence Indicates Police Provoked Violence In Kenosha

Serious violence unfolded in Kenosha Tuesday night during protests over the shooting of Jacob Blake. The violence mentioned below, however, was not between police and protesters. It was captured on video and it was between citizens. Two people were killed and a third victim was taken to hospital with non-life threatening injuries after shooting began in a residential area of the city. Some of it was captured on video.

Much of the violence took place in the area of 63rd Street and Sheridan Road in the city, where eyewitness video purports to show heavily armed civilians defending local businesses from suspected looters and arsonists.

Police say they have no details about the shootings, but videos of some of the shootings and the aftermath were all over Twitter Wednesday morning.

Many of the individuals who were heavily armed were claiming to be there to protect private property from those who have been laying waste to the city over the past several days. This is a theme that plays out time and again during protests, up to and including the LA riots when the Korean neighborhoods defended themselves with gunman on rooftops.

The gunman in the video above was filmed before that shooting, describing himself as one of these folks. Prior to shooting, the gunman said he was there to protect the property of citizens.

We do not know what happened prior to the video above, so we will reserve judgement. We do see several people chasing him down and then jumping on top of him before he opens fire. However, we do not know if he provoked the attack.

As the following video shows, however, several BLM activists and other militia-style citizens were discussing what could’ve set this off and their answer was shocking—the cops.

As the video below shows, BLM activists and several armed men who were their protecting property are having a cordial discussion about what unfolded that night.

These two groups, who the media says are supposed to be enemies, were not at war with one another. Instead, they were figuring out why things became so violent.

“We fully support what you all are doing out here tonight,” the militiaman says to the BLM acivtist.

The BLM activist who was confirmed to be filming was telling the militiaman that they “left the city open,” in an apparent attempt to criticize the job they were doing “protecting private property.”

But the militiaman answered back, telling the man filming that this was extremely difficult, considering a business is on fire behind them.

“You know what the cops told us today, we’re gonna push em down by you, and you’re gonna deal with them, and we (the police) are gonna leave,” the AR-15 toting young man said.

Another AR-15 carrying man chimes in saying, “the second the shots were fired, I had to tell like six people it wasn’t from you guys (BLM).”

According to the people having the discussion in the video above, there may be some bad actors out there attempting to provoke violence among the protesters and the people protecting property. And, according to the people having the discussion in the video above, those doing the provoking, are the police.

The video above is a brief clip of the much longer one below in which BLM activists and militiamen peacefully gather together to discuss what caused the violence and how to prevent it further. The interaction begins at the 20:00 mark.

With all the hatred and violence being doled out by all sides of the political and racial spectrum, videos like this one are quite heartening to see.

https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=303231960743213&set=pcb.303232124076530

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.

Hezbollah Bomb Plots: The Latest In Mossad Disinformation

Hezbollah Bomb Plots: The Latest In Mossad Disinformation

This article was originally featured at The Grayzone and is republished with permission.

Israeli officials have exploited the massive explosion at the Port of Beirut this August to revive a dormant propaganda campaign that had accused the Lebanese militia and political party Hezbollah of storing ammonium nitrate in several countries to wage terror attacks on Israelis.

The Israeli intelligence apparatus had planted a series of stories from 2012 to 2019 claiming Hezbollah sought out ammonium nitrate as the explosive of choice for terrorist operations. According to the narrative, Hezbollah planned to covertly store the explosive substance in locations from Southeast Asia to Europe and the US – only to be foiled repeatedly by Mossad. In each one of those cases, however, the factual record either contradicted the Israeli claims or revealed a complete dearth of evidence.

The narrative first debuted in the Israeli press after a June 2019 story in the British pro-Israel daily The Telegraph on alleged Hezbollah storage of the explosive around London. The Times of Israel introduced for the first time the much broader theme that Hezbollah planned to use the explosive for “huge, game-changing attacks on Israeli targets globally.”

Next, “new details” appeared in the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth from “unnamed Israeli intelligence officials,” disclosing how Israel had supposedly stymied ammonium nitrate-based terror plots by Hezbollah in London, Cyprus and Thailand.

Following the calamity of the Beirut explosion, the narrative story was opportunistically revived in the Israeli media, with The Times of Israel summarizing an Israeli Channel 13 report citing an “unsourced assessment” that Hezbollah “apparently planned to use the ammonium nitrate stockpile that caused a massive blast at Beirut’s port this week against Israel in a ‘Third Lebanon War’.”

A review of the supposedly open-and-shut cases in both Thailand and Cyprus, however, reveals serious questions about the evidence used to accuse Hezbollah suspects and the role of the Mossad in those cases. It also shows that an alleged Hezbollah plot involving ammonium nitrate in New York City was contrived by the FBI and Justice Department without any real evidence.

Thailand: Muddling the Issue, Bending the Law

The arrest of Hussein Atris, a dual Swedish-Lebanese citizen, in Bangkok on January 13, 2012 occurred after the Mossad received a report that a terrorist attack was due to occur in the middle of that month. The Israeli intelligence agency had given the Thai police a list of 14 or 15 suspects – all Iranian or Lebanese – to be placed under surveillance, including Atris.

But it was Atris who received the bulk of attention. After his arrest, he told police about goods he had stored in a commercial building in Bangkok. Shortly after his arrest, he was taken out of his cell to a house where he was interrogated by three Mossad agents, as was typical of Mossad operations in countries where Israel cultivated close relations with law enforcement. On January 17, Thai police visited the commercial building near Bangkok and reportedly found 4.8 tons of urea fertilizer and 40 liters (100 pounds) of ammonium nitrate.

Atris was immediately charged by the police with “possession of prohibited substances.” But in fact, the ammonium nitrate that Atris had stored in the building was not illegal; it was merely a component of frozen gel packs for sore muscles commonly bought and sold wholesale and retail all over the world.

The boxes of gel packs were stored along with electric fans, slippers and copy paper on the second floor of the building. And as Atris explained to his interrogators and to a reporter from the Swedish daily Aftonbladet who interviewed him in jail, he had been purchasing various goods in Asia and exporting them to other countries like Liberia. He had already arranged for a freighter to ship the goods he had stored there, as the chief of Bangkok metropolitan police confirmed in an interview with the New York Times.

The Mossad interrogators refused to accept the explanation by Atris and accused him of lying about his business. Further clouding the picture, police found two tons of urea fertilizer in bags labeled as cat litter on the same floor as the cold packs. But Atris told an interviewer he had never dealt with fertilizer in his business, and that he believed “it must have been placed in our storage facility by someone, probably Mossad.”

Mossad and its Thai allies were committed to the idea that Atris was a Hezbollah operative from the beginning, even though they apparently had no actual hard evidence to back it up. The claim of Hezbollah membership was nevertheless sold successfully to cooperative local and national news media. A Reuters story headlined “Thailand: Hezbollah man arrested in terror scare.” When he was brought to trial in 2013, Atris firmly denied any links to Hezbollah, and the court ultimately found that there was no evidence to support the contention by the police and Mossad that he was in any way involved with the Lebanese movement.

International press coverage of the case blurred details in a way that incorrectly suggested terrorist intent. When Atris’s case went to trial in July 2013, Agence-France Presse falsely reported that he and “unidentified accomplices” had “packed more than six tons of ammonium nitrate into bags,” thus confusing the already commercially-packaged cold packs with the urea fertilizer, which was not an illegal substance under Thai law and which he specifically denied owning. Time magazine distorted the case more seriously by referring to the bags of urea fertilizer as “chemicals being assembled into explosives…in bags labeled as kitty litter.”

In the end, Atris was convicted of “illegal possession” of ammonium nitrate, which was a banned substance under Thai law. However, the country had not intended for the provision to apply to frozen gel packs for pain relief, which are commonly traded in bulk internationally.

Despite the absence of any evidence that Atris was either a Hezbollah agent or a terrorist, the US State Department bowed to its Israeli allies and declared him to be “a member of Hezbollah’s overseas terrorist unit.”

Cyprus: The Mysterious Appearance of Ammonium Nitrate

In 2015, the Cypriot government’s prosecuted Canadian-Lebanese Hussein Bassam Abdallah for allegedly being part of a Hezbollah ammonium nitrate terrorist plot after police found 420 boxes of the fertilizer in the house where he was staying. Yet virtually no details about the case were ever released because the entire legal process took place behind closed doors. What’s more, Abdallah’s defense was never made public.

Furthermore, information from the Kuwaiti daily Al-Jarida, which Israelis have often used to disseminate propaganda into the Arab Middle East, raises serious questions about the origin of the ammonium nitrate found in the house where Abdallah was staying. The newspaper published a story citing a “private source” who said that Mossad agents had been tracking Abdallah, following his every movement and intercepting all his phone calls from Cyprus. The Mossad surveillance continued, according to the story, “until he obtained the materials and fertilizer, after which Cypriot authorities were informed [and] raided his place of residence and arrested him and seized two tons of [ammonium nitrate].…”

By reporting an apparent Mossad account that the ammonium nitrate was not at the house until just before Mossad tipped off the police, the Al-Jarida account obviously suggested that the timing of its appearance was not merely coincidental.

This was not the first time that Mossad-related evidence against one of its targets turned out to be highly suspect. Two Iranian men who were visiting Mombasa, Kenya in 2012 were charged with having buried 15 kg of the explosive RDX on a golf course. However, they had been interrogated – and one of them allegedly drugged – by three Mossad agents. Though Kenyan police had supposedly been carrying out constant surveillance on them for the entire length of their stay, no direct evidence of the Iranians ever possessing RDX came to light. That anomaly resulted in the case against the Iranians being thrown out by Kenya’s Court of Appeal , and suggested that Mossad itself had planted the explosive on the golf course.

In Abdallah’s case, the evidence also indicated the use of a classical prosecution tactic was employed to force him to admit to a Hezbollah ammonium nitrate terrorism plot: forcing a plea bargain on him by the threat of a much longer sentence if he refused to plead guilty.

After the first week of interrogation, a Cypriot security official told a journalist that Abdallah denied all charges against him and was not “cooperating” – meaning he was not admitting what both Israel and Cyprus wanted him to. Weeks later, however, following a trial closed to the public, Abdallah admitted to all eight charges against him. The semi-official Cyprus News Agency reported he had given the police a statement that the ammonium nitrate was to have been used for terrorist attacks against Jewish or Israeli interests in Cyprus. In return he was given a six-year sentence instead of the 14 years he would have received without the deal.

Abdallah’s defense lawyer, Savvas A. Angelides, pressed his client to accept the plea bargain, advancing the political interests of Cyprus as a close ally of Israel. For his part, Angelides had his eyes on a high-level national security posting in his country’s government. Sure enough, in early 2018, the lawyer was appointed Defense Minister of Cyprus.

The idea that Hezbollah obtained ammonium nitrate for use in New York City – another Israeli contention – was not supported by any evidence whatsoever. In this case, a Lebanese-American named Ali Kourani stood accused of hatching a Hezbollah terror plot. But the closest the US Justice Department could come to linking to ammonium nitrate was a statement in its criminal complaint against him.

It claimed that in May 2009, Kourani “entered China at an airport in Guangzhou, the location of Guangzhou Company-1, i.e., the manufacturer of the ammonium nitrate-based First Aid ice packs sized in connection with thwarted IJO attacks in Thailand and Cyprus.” The suggestion that a trip to Quangzhou somehow counted as evidence of an effort to procure ammonium nitrate for Hezbollah terrorism was patently absurd.

London and Germany: Mossad’s Phantom Hezbollah Explosives

The next apparent Israeli intel dump arrived in the form of a June 2019 story in the Telegraph UK, a right-wing Murdoch-owned daily which loyally follows Israeli propaganda lines. According to the report, in 2015, the UK MI5 intelligence service and London’s Metropolitan Police were tipped off by the Mossad about thousands of ice packs containing three tons of ammonium nitrate in warehouses in Northwest London. The Telegraph revealed that London police had arrested one man “on suspicion of plotting terrorism” but had eventually released him without charges. That detail was the giveaway that the British had come to realize that they had no evidence linking cold packs or their owner to any Hezbollah terrorist plot — contrary to the Israel narrative.

The Telegraph’s suggestion that MI5 decided not to prosecute to disrupt the threat isn’t credible, because no one was ever prosecuted. And its implication that the British government kept quiet about the episode because it was protecting the Iran nuclear deal did not apply once Trump tore up the agreement in 2018. The British government, which banned Hezbollah in February 2020, has never suggested that the Lebanese militia had been plotting to use ammonium nitrate from warehouses in the UK to carry out terrorist attacks.

According to a report this May by Israel’s Channel 12, days before Germany announced its banning of Hezbollah from the country, Mossad had gathered information on alleged Hezbollah terrorism-related activities in Germany. The supposed plotting consisted of the identification of warehouses in southern Germany where the Mossad said Hezbollah was storing ‘hundreds of kilograms” of ammonium nitrate.

After the information was presented to German intelligence and law enforcement agencies, according to the report, the German Interior Ministry announced in April 2020 that it was banning Hezbollah. It simultaneously raided four mosque associations accused of being close to Hezbollah. But German law enforcement never announced any action regarding warehouses supposedly holding ammonium nitrate, indicating that the German government found nothing that backed up the claims by Mossad.

Hoping to seize the Beirut explosion as a historic propaganda opportunity, the Israelis clearly believe they can fashion a new and more powerful narrative by knitting together false claims related to these episodes. Their objective is to achieve their longtime objective of forcing Hezbollah out of the Lebanese government by implicating it in the calamitous blast. So far, Western corporate media appears inclined to accept the baseless Israeli claims on face value. The day after the blast in Beirut, the Washington Post reported that Hezbollah “has long shown an interest in acquiring [ammonium nitrate] for use in a variety of terrorist plots.”

Are We About To See A Troop Withdrawal From Iraq?

Are We About To See A Troop Withdrawal From Iraq?

Hubris, hypocrisy, and sanctimony are all constants of U.S. foreign policy. All came together in George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Most foreign policy analysts, other than the neoconservative war enthusiasts who dominated Bush administration decision-making, recognize that America’s unjustified aggression was a horrid bungle.

The U.S. broke international law, vilified European allies, wrecked Iraq, triggered sectarian war, victimized religious minorities, and empowered Iran. The human toll was hideous: Washington’s war killed thousands of Americans, wounded tens of thousands of U.S. personnel, killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, and displaced millions of Iraqis. The invasion spawned murderous al-Qaeda in Iraq, which morphed into the even more brutal Islamic State. Seventeen years later Iraqis are still dealing with their broken, sectarian government, bedeviled by powerful militias allied with Iran.

And American military forces are still occupying Iraq. Nominally there to prevent a revival of ISIS, they have been used by the Trump administration to confront Iran, the president’s myopic fixation. Although the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action limited Tehran’s nuclear opportunities and instituted an intrusive inspections regime, the administration killed the agreement and reimposed sanctions to destroy Iran’s economy. The president insisted that Tehran would soon surrender after acknowledging U.S. (and, indirectly, Israeli and Saudi) suzerainty to win financial relief.

Read the rest of this article at The American Conservative.

A Question of Motives

A Question of Motives

People who regard themselves as members of the ideological environmental movement may or may not have good science on their side in any particular matter, but they do themselves no service when they speculate wildly about the motives of their opponents.

I frequently hear such environmentalists characterize their opponents as people who want to make the planet uninhabitable for human beings and other living things. I suspect I’m not alone in finding that motivation highly implausible, and I’m surprised that those who traffic in such accusations don’t realize that they undermine their own cause when they try to sell that implausible story to the public. It may explain why they have yet to close the sale after all these years.

Note what I am not saying. I am not saying that those environmentalists accuse their targets of being in denial or of being ignorant about the alleged dangers of their policy preferences. No, they accuse them of wishing to destroy the planet. If you don’t believe me, watch this video in which Noam Chomsky, a bright guy who has made many important intellectual contributions, does just that. (In this video Chomsky says that Trump is more dangerous than Hitler was because Trump seeks an end to life on earth.)

Are we really to believe that the individuals named as public enemies seek an end to life or just don’t care if human life becomes impossible in the near or distant future? Do these people have no children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, or friends with such? Even in the unlikely case that the answer is no, what motive could they possibly have for not caring about what happens to humanity after they die? Greed? Don’t many of them think they have enough money–or are we to believe they’re all Scrooge McDucks?

My point is not to take the side of the alleged public enemies in this or that matter. It is only to insist that the environmentalists need a more plausible story for their opponents’ policy preferences. But I’ve yet to encounter one offered by the environmental movement. Simply portraying the enemy as nihilist is inexcusable, not to say (as a friend put it) lazy. I have a hard time believing that anyone on the fence would find the standard claim convincing.

I suspect that the reason for this ridiculous tack is that to assume good-faith disagreement would violate the environmentalists’ take-no-prisoners attitude. If they allowed for good faith in their opponents, they might then have to acknowledge that much of the environmentalists’ apocalyptic claims are disputed by reputable and well-credentialed scientists–which is something ideological environmentalists are loathe to do. They’d much rather portray their adversaries as greed-crazed or religiously fundamentalist or ideological monsters, if not all three, however incompatible those things might be. Or nihilistic.

The principle of charity holds that you should take on your opponents’ strongest case, even if no opponent makes that case himself. Lazily conjuring up the most malevolent case will fail to convince any decent listener. All it will do is reinforce the feelings of those already convinced. If the goal is to actually effect beneficial change, where’s the gain in that?

That question may answer itself. Perhaps the goal is not to effect change but rather merely to engage in holier-than-thou self-pleasuring.

Will the New Title IX Be Sabotaged?

Will the New Title IX Be Sabotaged?

On August 14, a change of kind occurred in how educational institutions address accusations of sexual misconduct if they wish to receive federal funding. A controversial new Title IX regulation went into effect. Or did it?

In today’s extraordinarily partisan times, there can be cognitive disconnect between official policy and actual practice. One reason: the so-called “right wing” heads most government agencies while a “left wing” bureaucracy often dominates the implementation of policies. In both active and passive-aggressive ways, the bureaucracy constitutes what is called “the resistance.”

Which is going to win? The new Title IX regulation that redefines sexual expression, due process, and free speech on campus? Or the liberal academics,  administrators, and politicians? The conflict offers a fascinating glimpse into the ideological civil war that has broken out within so many government agencies and institutions.

The starting point for discussion is Title IX. Enacted in 1972, Title IX is the Department of Education (DOE) statute that prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded educational programs or activities. It became an ideological flash point in 2011 when the Obama DOE altered it to embrace the much broader goal of gender equity. To do so, the key term “sexual harassment” was expanded to include verbal misconduct like telling bad jokes. Accused students and faculty were “prosecuted” through sexual misconduct hearings which denied them the basics of due process, such as a presumption of innocence. The number of sex discrimination complaints on campus increased from 17,724 (2000-2010) to 80,739 (2011-2020).

The 2011 rules created an ideological divide. One side took a #MeToo approach that demanded accusers, who were and are overwhelmingly female, to be automatically believed; due process, like the right to question an accuser, was viewed as a slap in the face of victimized women. (Note: some surveys find that males report being assaulted at rates comparable to females but they are far less likely to file official complaints.)

The other side took a traditionally Western approach to justice, with due process being its foundation, and to freedom of speech as being essential to academia. Due process advocates pointed to the extreme damage inflicted on people when they cannot defend themselves against possibly false accusations. In political terms, the conflict breaks down basically along Democratic and Republican lines.

After Trump’s election to the presidency, the Obama rules were revoked in 2017. On May 6, 2020, after years of furious debate in public and Congress, new rules were enacted which pushed Title IX back closer to its original intent. The definition of “sexual harassment” was narrowed and due process returned. But front-stage and behind-the-scenes maneuvers have continued between policy and implementation.

The most visible field of battle is the courts, with the most recent lawsuits being called in favor of the Trump DOE. Federal courts in both D.C. and New York declined to block implementation of the new Title IX. The D.C. case was the more significant one because it was brought by 18 Democratic attorney generals.

The legal questions may not be over, however. The preliminary injunctions were denied because plaintiffs failed to demonstrate a likelihood of success, irreparable harm, or damage to the public interest. This means plaintiffs are free to beef up their cases and pursue permanent injunctions. It is unusual for a court that denies a preliminary injunction to grant a permanent one, but it is not unknown.

The courts also offered the “resistance” a potential weapon. The DC federal court noted, “Even though certain conduct may not constitute sexual harassment under the Rule…schools still retain the authority to address and discipline such behavior through their own codes of conduct. As the Department [DOE] stated in one of its filings…’the Rule creates a grievance process only for conduct that falls within the Department’s definition of sexual harassment: if an allegation of misconduct does not fall within that definition, the Rule does not require or prohibit anything of schools regarding whether or how they must respond’.” Educational institutions have wiggle room to develop their own definitions, policies, and protections on sexual harassment, as long as they do not clearly violate Title IX or state laws.

Translation: implementation is now the battleground, and this is where passive-aggressive resistance thrives. In a January 15 op-ed for Inside Higher Education, Brett Sokolow—president of the Association of Title IX Administrators (ATIXA)—advised: “About 20 to 25 percent of the (new Title IX) regulations are potentially very detrimental to the cause of sex and gender equity in education, and we will need… to work within those requirements, challenge them in court or find clever work-arounds.” [Emphasis added.]

ATIXA is the main source of national training and legal interpretation for Title IX, with the self-stated mission of “gender equity in education.” It attempted one “clever work-around” a few months ago by challenging a new rule: Campuses must post “all materials used to train” anyone who facilitates a resolution process. There must be transparency. This may seem common sense and a basic to justice, but many of those accused have had to sue to access the colleges’ guidelines used in their own hearings.

The College Fix reported on ATIXA’s reaction to the transparency requirement. At a May 11 webinar, Sokolow told more than 4,200 participants to publish only the title—not the content—of training materials. Why? “Materials from ATIXA…are proprietary and copyrighted,” he explained. “Those materials cannot be posted…because it will violate our copyright. People…are not permitted to have a copy,” which could be reviewed only in an administrator’s office. Objections were to be sent to ATIXA, and the materials would be made available under “comfortable” circumstances. Colleges that comply with the DOE’s transparency requirement, he stated, would “get a letter from us kindly asking to make sure” the materials “are removed.”

The College Fix concluded, “The implication is clear: ATIXA will sue colleges for following a legally binding regulation.”

The DOE swiftly responded. The College Fix reported “a blog post” reiterated “that Title IX training materials, among other ‘important information,’ must be posted on schools’ websites—no exceptions.” Its regulations do “not permit a school to choose whether to post the training materials or offer a public inspection option…If a school’s current training materials are copyrighted or otherwise protected as proprietary business information (for example, by an outside consultant), the school still must comply with the Title IX Rule.”

ATIXA has backpedaled since then, but if Sokolow’s webinar session had not been publicized, would ATIXA’s obstruction have been addressed so quickly…or at all?

ATIXA is undoubtedly planning similar “clever work-arounds” to obstruct the implementation of the new Title IX. An article in Education Drive quotes Sokolow extensively and indicates that the key obstructive strategy will be to argue that the new regulations are too difficult and complex to be instituted. The article refers to “complex new federal regulations.” The following are some of Sokolow’s claims with a brief analysis included in italics.

  • The new “faux tribunal” has a “slow and stilted” pace, and could stretch for days. The current system of investigation and hearings can stretch for many days. Moreover, hearings that determine a young person’s future should be cautious and thorough.
  • “It will take skilled litigators to manage all this.” As opposed to unskilled litigators or adjudicators?
  • Title IX administrators are “irate” because they spent years adjusting to the previous rules, and “now a grenade was thrown in all their efforts.” Regulations often change, and it is the job of administrators to implement them. If they cannot or will not do their jobs, then they should resign.
  • The new regulation is vague. The new rule is less vague than the previous one.
  • Accusers will not want to pursue formal investigations; this discourages them from coming forward. If an accuser does not want an accusation to be examined objectively, then the case should not be pursued in the first place.
  • Adapting the existing system during the health crisis is difficult. This is counter-intuitive. Surely, the best time to overhaul a system is when campuses are empty and there are no active hearings.
  • Both parties will be represented by an adviser, who can be a lawyer, which will advantage rich students. This is a problem throughout society. In the current system, however, an accuser is backed by powerful, tax-funded institutions; an accused is denied representation.
  • The makeup of the hearing panels will vary according to an institution’s discretion. It varies now, and this discretion merely allows institutions to tailor the process to what may be unique needs. This is a strong point.
  • The regulation allows the panel to consider only testimony given during the hearing. The ability to question witnesses is an integral part of due process.

The foregoing are a few of the objections raised in a single article—all of which depict the new regulation as complex and unworkable in order to set up a framework for obstructing its implementation. (Interestingly, arguments from justice or morality are disappearing.) This is a glimpse into the resistance within the huge network of organizations that constitute academia. Multiply the passive-aggressive scenario by tens of thousands of educational institutions. Then apply this resistance to almost every agency in government.

On paper, the Trump DOE has won the Title IX struggle, and its impressive victory should not be diminished. In practice, however, it is unclear whether the Sokolows of the world and of government will prevail. The DOE is the machine; Sokolows are the sand in its cogs.

How State Policy Reducies Access to Hospital Beds

How State Policy Reducies Access to Hospital Beds

We can all repeat the mantra without missing any beat: the lockdown was required to flatten the curve so that our hospital resources would not be overwhelmed during the pandemic. That argument is, by the way, quite correct. Anyone looking at the footage of the hospital wards in Lombardy would want to avoid that overcrowding and misery. But now the worst of the pandemic is over. It appears we have dodged that bullet, and some thoughtful people have been asking if the lockdown actually hurt more than it helped. That is a point that should be debated.

But there is another issue that has received almost no attention and, I believe, is even more important to discuss. A 2016 journal article while describing the 1968 influenza pandemic notes that “surges in hospitalizations caused problems in some areas, with an excess hospitalization rate of 150% reported in Portland Oregon, for 1968–1969, relative to 1970–1971. Hospitalization was significantly more likely among the elderly, and occurred at a rate that would be impossible to accommodate today. This is because, in general, hospital bed capacities have either decreased or not increased sufficiently to keep pace with population growth rates.” How did our hospital resources get to where they could be so easily overwhelmed?

Decline in Hospitals and Hospital Beds in the United States

Year US population (millions) Hospital beds (millions) Beds/1,000 people No. Hospitals
1965 194 1.70 8.8 7,000 (est.)
1985 238 1.32 5.5 6,872
2005 295 0.94 3.2 5,756
2016 325 0.89 2.7 5,534

Source: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (Healthcare Resources: Hospital Beds; accessed Aug. 24, 2020), https://stats.oecd.org/index.aspx?queryid=30183except for the number of hospitals in 1965, which is estimated from the number registered with the American Hospital Association in 1966.

The table above shows how the number of hospital beds in the United States has changed since 1965; the trend is relentlessly downward. Neither patients, nor physicians, nor hospitals asked for this reduction. So why did it happen? Changes in the practice of psychiatry caused some of the decrease, because more patients were treated as outpatients. However, this factor could not account for the continued decline, nor could it explain the relentless decrease in the number of hospitals, which includes many general hospitals.

On July 30, 1965, President Johnson signed amendments to the Social Security Act that became known as Medicare. It was a major intrusion by the federal government into the practice of medicine. For hospital practice, utilization review committees had to be formed (42 CFR 482.30). Although started under the rubric of quality assurance, utilization review committees were forced to consider “medical necessity” and “level of care.” The former allowed bureaucrats to challenge the judgment of the attending physician; the latter added the need to assess where the patient could be cared for with minimum cost (as opposed to where was best for the patient).

On December 29, 1973, President Nixon signed the Health Maintenance Organization Act, a major purpose of which was to “blunt” the increasing aggregate cost of medical care, fueled in part by Medicare. One can infer that utilization review committees were not draconian enough, because about this time the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA), now called the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), funded research into a scheme to pay hospitals a fixed fee determined by the discharge diagnosis rather than a line-item bill for services. By 1982, the scheme (diagnosis-related groups [DRGs]) was ready for prime time, and it was signed into law by President Reagan as part of the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act in 1983.

The federal government now held all the cards. If they disagreed with a hospital’s discharge diagnosis (especially if it pays well), they could accuse the hospital of fraud. If a patient was admitted with chest pain and after a big work-up it turned out to be heart burn, the hospital would be out of luck. Big hospitals that could afford to hire accountants to track and triage cases according to reimbursement survived; smaller community hospitals closed by the dozen. Did HMOs (health maintenance organizations) and DRGs contain costs? Well, in 1985, healthcare expenditures were 10.7 percent of GDP; in 2018 they were 16.9 percent. If hospitals are disappearing, why are aggregate medical costs rising? For the purposes of the article, suffice it to say that crony institutions like pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) sprang into existence and are now among the most lucrative businesses in the United States.

So the result of the federal government’s intrusion into the practice of medicine is that the number of hospitals and available beds fell while the population increased, which brings us to the covid-19 pandemic.

One resource was continually being assessed: the number of hospital beds. In March 2020, one study projected: “If the infection curve is not flattened and the pandemic is concentrated in a 6-month period, that would leave a capacity gap of 1,373,248 inpatient beds [nationwide].” Halting elective procedures to free hospital beds would help somewhat. But ultimately politicians were convinced that “stay at home” orders were required.

If the numbers had been frozen at those of 1965, we would have had roughly eight hundred thousand more beds and a thousand more hospitals to deal with the pandemic. If the numbers had increased after 1965 in proportion to the population, we would have 1,950,000 more hospital beds today than we do, and the predicted gap of 1,373,248 beds, as hysterical as it was, would not have been a problem. Just as in 1968, we could have accommodated the excess hospitalizations without overwhelming the hospitals’ resources.

Government interventions did not save money, but they did reduce hospital resources. Even if the government’s foray into medical practice had reduced costs, the current damage to our economy would have wiped out those “savings” in a month. So the real reason why we had to flatten the curve is because the federal government hollowed out our hospital infrastructure over the past fifty years while creating a way for well-connected cronies to extract money from the cash flow.

Dr. Frank Greco has practiced medicine in Massachusetts for over 35 years. This article was originally featured at the Ludwig von Mises Institute and is republished with permission.

Bitcoin is Unbeatable

Bitcoin is Unbeatable

Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies are headline news again. DeFi—Decentralized Finance—tokens like LINK and others have exploded in recent weeks, capturing speculators’ imaginations.

But more importantly, given the day-to-day fragility of the capital markets and the political reality they reflect, governments are scrutinizing cryptocurrencies harder.

From the U.S. to China to Russia, governments are drafting laws and rewriting rules to disadvantage the use of cryptocurrencies. This is the main argument against them by hard money advocates and others who maintain that all that has to happen to destroy bitcoin is for the governments to make them illegal.

If that were to happen bitcoin would drop to $10 overnight, they say. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this coming from the mouths of men who, honestly, should know better.

Because I have three words for you that blow open big gaping holes in that argument.

The Pirate Bay.

Can’t Stop the Music

For twenty years peer-to-peer networks have been the bane of the digital entertainment industry. Fire and brimstone have been hurled at the bittorrent community for more than a decade. However, a quick perusal of the major torrent sites reveals that everything the big media companies want you to pay top dollar for is still available.

Slap all the warning labels on the blu-rays you want. Redefine ‘victimless crimes’ in ways that do violence to not only language but the very concept of property rights but it doesn’t matter.

People, always, respond to incentives and the internet, which is vital to the state’s ability to maintain any semblance of control, was built to resist control.

All governments can do is put up artificial barriers to commerce to direct people differently, create perverse incentives and raise costs.

Has that truly ever worked? Has raising the cost of cigarettes stopped people from smoking? No. Health education has. All the taxes did was make government more powerful to feed the dominant political religion of the age, technocracy.

Look around the cryptocurrency space today. Look at the tax code in the U.S. and soon to be Russia, with the pending version of the Digital Currency law.

Classifying cryptocurrencies as property places it in the most disadvantageous category of asset for tax purposes imaginable except for where gold is.

It means every transaction in bitcoin is tracked for capital gains taxes, necessitating filing a 1099-B just like any stock trader, calculating cost basis for every single purchase you make with them.

Buy a candy bar with bitcoin, pay capital gains tax on top of everything else.

If you don’t think that’s tantamount to making it illegal to transact in bitcoin then I really think you need therapy, because it is. It is the ultimate perverse incentive to hold bitcoin rather than spend bitcoin.

This is the reason why Amazon doesn’t take Bitcoin, even though before the IRS classification it was experimenting it. It’s the reason why it doesn’t circulate.

Gresham’s Law is quite simple. Overvalued money (the dollar) drives undervalued money (bitcoin, gold) out of circulation. And, no Martin Armstrong, it is just as true today as it was when money was coins.

And that feeds the next bad argument from those who are smart enough to know better. Driving an asset underground only raises its price rather through a shortage of liquidity and hoarding rather than lowering it.

Liquidity and access to a commodity drives prices down, not up. It’s that pesky free market thing.

Bitcoin v. Gold – False Choice

Today’s bitcoin and cryptocurrency markets operate in an environment that is designed to keep normies out of them. And yet the prices of these assets keep rising and explosively.

Bitcoin Weekly ChartYes, that environment retards demand for these safe-haven assets, in effect capping the price. But all that price-capping can do is slow down demand, not wipe it out. Because people are rightly worried about the state of our society and the government’s ability to make good on its promises.

So, that also drives those demand for them as stores of value. Remember, all government edicts do is misdirect capital flow to the nearest substitute, not quash demand for the thing.

The counter argument to bitcoin is, of course, gold. “Buy gold not bitcoin,” say these monetary Luddites. Gold is real, bitcoin isn’t. And I agree with them, buy gold.

But, remember, gold is taxed as a collectible in the U.S. This is as disastrous a classification as you can get and yet, the hard money guys keep telling you to buy gold, even though the tax rate on selling gold is 28% rather than bitcoin’s 12% on capital gains.

No one in this community says not to buy gold then? 28% taxes on capital gains is as perverse an incentive as one can get.

Gold you can’t spend in the real world is, in effect, no more a ‘real’ money than a ‘digital’ bitcoin you can’t spend in the real world. Men whom I respect greatly fail to see this basic point that it the issue isn’t reality vs. digital.

The core argument is counter-party risk. That’s what drives demand for these assets. People demand things without counter-party risk during times of chaos.

And that is why the governments are in a classic Catch-22 and are only delaying the inevitability of their currencies’ demise. Everything government does increases counter-party risk while simultaneously driving up demand for assets without it.

I don’t believe for a second that this time around governments banning or outlawing gold will do anything. In fact, they won’t ban gold again not when they can simply, like with bitcoin, raise captial gains taxes to the point where there is almost no incentive to sell it.

Banning them is tantamount to admitting failure. Governments ban things to stifle competition and maintain its power. Banning bitcoin will only increase marginal demand in the long run, increasing the available capital for the cryptocurrency advocates to build systems resistant to the next phase of government intervention.

So, to recap so far.

  • Peer-to-peer networking is government intervention proof.
  • Bitcoin and gold have been driven underground by rules and tax schemes which make it prohibitively expensive to do anything other than buy and hold them. This, by the way, perfectly satisfies Gresham’s Law.
  • This dries up available supply making marginal demand ever more price inelastic. Low supply amid a marginal uptick in demand equals explosive price moves.
  • Bitcoin and gold are in the early stages of massive price appreciation.

The Dollar Strikes Back

This week the Fed put out its June meeting minutes and that gave markets an excuse to sell off, extending the weakness in the precious metals and capping the breakout in bitcoin above $12,000, which right now seems to be the latest Maginot Line (see chart above).

At some point you knew the Fed had to counter market expectations that they wouldn’t defend the dollar. They weren’t sufficiently dovish and that was all the markets needed to take some profit off the table.

I’ve been very clear in recent posts (herehere and here) that this weak dollar wave was being exploited for political advantage as much as anything else.

And I never wavered in thinking it was anything more than a counter-trend rally due to end when the reality of a sick global economy made its way back into the news.

Friday’s big news is that Europe’s economic rebound hit a snag. It won’t help that its political leadership are hellbent on locking their economies down to extend the fiction that COVID-19 is still a thing to cower in abject fear to.

That sent the euro down below $1.18 and it looks like the rally’s best days are behind it. Watch for a daily close there below $1.1722 for a sign of further weakness into September.

Because the dollar is still the U.S.’s most powerful weapon and the Fed will move to defend it for as long as it can. And that is the weapon they will use to break gold and bitcoin, not the legal system.

The Revenge of Logic

There are two further contradictions between the argument that governments can simply kill bitcoin by outlawing it.

The first is simple. It is predicated on the idea that government edicts are all-powerful. They are not. If they were then the Pirate Bay wouldn’t still be a thing and gold would still be $35 per ounce, per the Bretton Woods agreement.

The same people who argue for the beauty of competition and free markets and who embrace technology obviating out-dated systems refuse to accept that those same basic economic principles can be applied to money.

They want to fall back on tradition, gold, while denying that technology may have a better solution to the problem of government-issued credit.

Second, they argue for gold as a safe-haven asset which calls the bluff of central planners and technocrats. They also agree that we’re in a phase of the cycle where faith in governments is failing which is why gold is rising.

But they still cling to the idea that all governments’ have to do is point guns at us and we’ll stop being bad. They can decree a thing verboten and it will become so.

I guess their argument is that gold has magic fairy dust and bitcoin doesn’t. Or maybe, just maybe, they don’t understand the technology anymore than the people in charge do.

And that is why they fail.

Look, I know that the State is scary and, right now, awesome in its power. I have no doubt that it will do anything and everything to protect that power. We’re seeing that play itself out daily in our ridiculous media-frenzy-driven, hyperbolic politics.

But that, like so many things, is a short-lived, meta-stable state of being. The transition state from the current monetary system to then next will be messy.

Big Bitcoin

But taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture of Bitcoin today I see something that dwarfs that transition state, because, as a technology it portends a very different future.

Bitcoin Quarterly ChartThis half-log quarterly chart of Bitcoin is all you need to see where we are headed. It’s not rocket science. You don’t have to have a Ph.D in charting to see what’s what.

If bitcoin closes Q3 above $10482.60, the Q4 2019 high, that’s a two-bar reversal of a three quarter shallow downtrend within a three year consolidation pattern. It sets up a Q4 move toward the 2019 high around $14,000 and a break above that starts the move to $100,000.

Even if $14,000 holds for another two to three quarters, bitcoin’s base only gets stronger, not weaker. And with demand far outstripping available supply, the probabilities are higher for a move sooner rather than later.

We are three years into one of the most explosive consolidation patterns ever. The last one of this length saw bitcoin rise two orders of magnitude.

With Stock to Flow rising, meaning the rate of inflation is falling while the total hoarded pile is rising, marginal demand can easily push prices to levels that make even the most ardent bitcoin bull blush.

Governments are, as I said earlier, in a Catch-22. If they ban bitcoin demand goes underground, people simply buy and hold it. They acquire it however they can and new technologies come in (decentralized exchanges) come in to replace current ones (Coinbase).

If they don’t ban it then they allow the demand for it as a store of value and financial asset to flourish. It exists in a gray-area where you can use it but you really don’t want to. That allows another relief valve for capital to exit the dying debt-based system and wait for the storm to pass.

Either way, bitcoin and cryptocurrencies win.

Breaking the Law!

There is no upside in banning it because then governments can’t take some advantage of the situation, i.e. collect taxes in a time when tax hunting is the raison d’etre of broke governments.

So, to conclude Bitcoin has already beaten The Man. What happens next is exactly what is just beginning to happen now and what happened in gold in 2011 and Bitcoin in 2017. They will manage the price rise of them while the crisis they can’t avoid unfolds.

This will slowly build into a speculative mania in all of these assets, far above any sustainable supply and demand fundamental.

Then they will change the rules to trap late-comers filled with FOMO in unprofitable positions as they break the market in the short-term. This is what happened in gold in 2011 when they created a $500 billion central bank swap fund and in 2018 when cash-settled futures began trading on the COMEX.

Notice how neither time they changed the law, just the rules of the financial system.

And when that next break in these markets comes, which it will, they will collect obscene taxes when a lot of folks are forced to sell.

But the war for monetary independence will continue until they are no longer relevant.

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

How Privatizing the Roads Would Help Stop Police Brutality

How Privatizing the Roads Would Help Stop Police Brutality

Advocates of a free society so frequently field the objection “Who will build the roads?” or some variation thereof that it’s become a meme. Much effort has been put into answering this question, including books on the privatization of roads and highways. What has received relatively little attention is what effect road privatization would have on the role of government police, which is surprising given the existing relationship between roads, police, and drivers.

Indeed, most of what police do is related to the road. According to the US Department of Justice’s most recent report on contacts between the police and the public, over half are traffic stops, and an additional 14.6 percent are in relation to traffic accidents. When not otherwise engaged, officers spend around 74 percent of their time engaged in patrol, typically in a car. Over 9 percent of arrests recorded in the 2018 FBI Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program data are for driving under the influence. Unfortunately, the UCR does not specify what percentage of the 1,147,050 drug possession arrests in 2018 were the result of searching vehicles, but there is little doubt that it was a significant portion. Making arrests based on pretext stops (the act of pulling someone over ostensibly for a minor traffic infraction in order to investigate some other crime, conduct a search, or to determine whether the vehicle’s occupants have any outstanding warrants) is considered good policing and is endorsed by the US Supreme Court. The long-running erosion of the right to be secure in one’s vehicle, as codified in the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, is well documented in Sarah Seo’s Policing the Open Road.

In addition, revenue from traffic citations can constitute an important source of municipal funding. One example (though definitely an outlier) is the town of Randolph, Missouri (pop. 47), which issued 3,132 traffic fines, collecting an estimated $148,000 of their $270,043 total revenue in 2009. Besides traffic citations, an additional source of revenue for police on the roads is civil asset forfeiture. The Texas town of Tenaha (pop. 1,100) had seized millions of dollars in forfeitures from traffic stops before being sued in 2009. Without the pretext of traffic stops, there would be many fewer opportunities for police to separate individuals from their cash and other possessions.

Based on these considerations, it would appear that the privatization of roads would be of interest for the purposes of police reform alone. In light of calls to “defund the police,” police activities on roads have received more attention. Economist Alex Tabarrok has suggested the “unbundling” of police from traffic enforcement:

The responsibility for handing out speeding tickets and citations should be handled by a[n] unarmed agency. Put the safety patrol in bright yellow cars and have them carry a bit of extra gasoline and jumper cables to help stranded motorists as part of their job – make road safety nice.

While such a reform certainly sounds like an improvement over the status quo, the question is to what degree it changes the practices above. On some margins, state agents fully dedicated to traffic enforcement may make things worse, particularly without changing the incentive governments have to milk drivers of funds. Pure traffic patrollers would be less expensive to train than sworn police officers, making it cheaper to put more of them on the road. They would not have to respond to the non-road-related calls that police officers are expected to handle, giving drivers less reprieve from their constant presence. Furthermore, there is little evidence that traffic enforcement significantly improves road safety anyway. But even if it did, there is still a tradeoff between road safety and other ends, such as arriving at one’s destination quickly. By getting in a vehicle, we demonstrate that we are not willing to sacrifice all other ends for that of safety.

However, if unarmed traffic patrollers lack other police powers, such as the ability to warrantlessly search a vehicle, seize assets they believe may have been used in the commission of a drug crime, or engage in pretext stops, such a reform has the potential to result in positive outcomes for those who consider liberty to be important. A big question, though, is whether governments would be willing to forgo what has been such a large source of revenue, as well as one of their primary means of drug interception.

Leaving the roads in the public domain, even if they are policed by nice traffic safety officers rather than the cops, still has a number of disadvantages related to traffic enforcement. The state still makes the rules, licenses the drivers, decides what insurance is required, and decides how rules are to be enforced. Because the roads are not privately owned and the payment and use of them are not voluntarily contracted, economic calculation is not possible. The government is in the dark in negotiating the aforementioned tradeoffs between safety and other ends. There is no competition between road providers that would prevent overzealous enforcement of traffic laws or the opposite. If roads (and other transportation infrastructure) were privatized, road entrepreneurs would seek the optimal tradeoff between safety and other ends, and consumers’ ability to choose different roads or means of transportation would enable this to occur.

Thus, even setting aside gains in efficiency or reductions in highway fatalities, the case for the privatization of roads has much to recommend it solely in terms of how it would affect the power of the police to detain us, search us, and seize our property.

Tate Fegley is a Postdoctoral Associate at the Center for Governance and Markets at the University of Pittsburgh. This article was originally featured at the Ludwig von Mises Institute and is republished with permission.

COVID-19 and Collateral Damage: Killing vs. Letting Die

COVID-19 and Collateral Damage: Killing vs. Letting Die

The question of killing versus letting die has long been a source of puzzlement to me, particularly as it arises in rallies for so-called “humanitarian” wars abroad. Wealthy nations regularly “allow” people to die all over the world—of disease and starvation, as a result of natural disasters, etc.—so how, I have often wondered, does the professed desire to improve the lot of nonnationals serve to rationalize the dropping of massively destructive bombs upon their homelands? Assuming the most charitable of all possible scenarios (as unrealistic as that may be), even if leaders have the best of intentions, some of the innocent people living in places being bombed will die as a direct result of the military intervention, not the danger allegedly necessitating the use of deadly force abroad. Such deaths are written off as “collateral damage” and the policymakers thereby exonerated in the minds of nearly all of the people who paid for the bombing campaigns.

The case of COVID-19 has begun to raise the question of killing versus letting die, for some of the persons allegedly being protected by the government are being or will be killed not by the disease but by policies enacted to combat the disease. Notwithstanding the stentorian outcry of government interventionists thoroughly convinced of the necessity of lockdowns, closed borders, universal vaccination and face masks, the situation is not at all black-and-white. Indeed, it is quite complex. Everything turns on the contentious concept of “preventable deaths.”

The number one killer in the world, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) is heart disease. No one chooses to die of a heart attack, but is heart disease a case of sometimes preventable death? Obesity is a major contributing factor to heart disease, so one might not unreasonably suppose that if people were permitted to eat only lean proteins, vegetables and fruits, along with whole grains, if they were prevented from consuming fatty foods and highly processed sugar-laden snacks with no nutritive content (beyond calories), then the incidence of death by heart disease would diminish. This could be accomplished most straightforwardly by outlawing the offending foods and imposing government-enforced portion control. No state has to date prohibited or limited the production and consumption of fried foods, ice cream, and doughnuts. Which is not, however, to say that no one has ever tried something along those lines. When former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg attempted to outlaw large volume sodas (defined by his administration as exceeding 16 ounces), the law was struck down as unconstitutional. In free societies, it is up to individuals, not executives, to decide what and how much to eat and whether the risk of dying of complications arising from obesity—not only heart disease but also diabetes and other problems—is worth the freedom to choose what to consume.

One meme circulating around the internet shows a severely obese patient in a wheelchair wearing a mask and lashing out at a young, thin person for not wearing a mask. The meme is intended as a not-so-gentle reproach of those who created the negative health conditions which make them personally vulnerable to COVID-19. The insinuation is that severe lockdown and quarantine measures are problematic in a free society in part because some of the people vulnerable to COVID-19 have health-risk factors to which they themselves contributed. Obviously no one should hold octogenarians and nonagenarians “morally responsible” for the age-induced fragility which makes them more likely to succumb to respiratory infections than are younger, hardier persons. But surely there are also some people who suffer from obesity, diabetes, and other risk factors for which they, too, are not fully responsible, given their backgrounds and, in some cases, genetic predispositions. Bad choices are bad choices, but when they are made in part because of how one was raised, say, by parents who made similarly bad choices (and going back perhaps generations…), then there is some cause for restraint in judgment.

On the flip side, some people should not wear masks; not only young children but also persons with asthmatic and other respiratory conditions. While in the Dublin airport, where I had to fly in order to get to Wales (absurdly enough—because the Austrian government had decreed the United Kingdom a red zone), I noticed placards around the bathrooms pronouncing that “Not all disabilities are visible.” The signs were most likely intended to prevent anyone from upbraiding persons using handicapped bathroom facilities who by all appearances are perfectly normal. But it applies now, too, to people who do not wear masks because of their pre-existing health conditions, to which only they and their doctors are privy. Angry mask-wearers who shout shoppers out of stores for not covering their faces simply assume that they are not doing so because they are selfish or stupid (or evil or ignorant), when in at least some cases those people should not be wearing masks because doing so would be more dangerous to them than is COVID-19.

No matter what people do, death by disease cannot be fully eradicated, but other categories of death would seem to be preventable. Take the obvious example of traffic accidents, which has been discussed quite a bit on social media in recent months. If there were no cars, then there would be no car accidents and, therefore, no fatal car accidents. Make driving illegal, and road traffic injuries, which account for more than a million deaths each year worldwide, would come to a screeching halt. Despite knowing the risks involved, people choose to continue to drive vehicles. Despite the evident perils of motorcycles, which afford no protection in collisions with cars and trucks, people continue to choose to ride them. In some places, seat belts are required by law and motorcyclists must wear helmets (on pain of punishment for refusal to comply). Yet there are people who ignore those laws, unconcerned as they are about the increased risk of death which they will thereby face, and knowing that they will likely be fined if they are caught. Those are the rogues, of course, but even some of the people who do wear seat belts and helmets will be killed in traffic accidents, not to mention the many pedestrians who endanger themselves every time they cross a street. These activities are inherently dangerous to greater or lesser extents, depending upon the place and population density, but rather than outlaw all personal vehicles everywhere, governments permit individuals to assume the risk involved in activities which may tragically end in their deaths.

New Zealand has been heralded by some as a “success story” in the global battle against COVID-19, for the country imposed a complete lockdown of residents and slammed its borders shut with the result that hardly anyone in the country has succumbed to the disease—as of August 19, 2020, the grand total of deaths ascribed to COVID-19 is twenty-two. This makes New Zealand an interesting case to consider in thinking about the analogy to fatal traffic accidents. I say this because, in recent years, debate has raged over fatal auto accidents in New Zealand caused by foreign drivers. Like COVID-19, such cases tend to command a great deal of media air time, contributing to the perception of grave danger to the people of New Zealand. In 2016, there were twenty-six fatal accidents in which foreign drivers appear to have been at fault, and by 2019 the total number of traffic fatalities approached 400. At least some of those deaths were caused by foreign drivers, even if the perceived danger is higher than the reality.

The government of New Zealand might have prevented at least some of the fatal accidents by placing a moratorium on nonnational drivers, preventing them from renting cars and exacting severe penalties upon those who borrow cars from their friends and those residents who furnish cars to visitors. But this has never happened. Before COVID-19 (which we may in the future refer to as “B.C.”), despite knowing that foreign drivers from places where traffic flows down the right-hand side of the street do occasionally drift over the line on the sometimes steep and windy roads of New Zealand, thereby directly causing head-on collisions culminating in preventable deaths, the government of that nation has, at least up until now, permitted foreigners to rent vehicles and drive, even while knowing that some Kiwis (New Zealand nationals) will die as a result.

Now, with the sudden appearance of COVID-19, most foreigners are no longer allowed to drive in New Zealand for the simple reason that they are no longer permitted to travel to New Zealand. There were no doubt visitors around when the borders closed, and some may have decided to hunker down and wait for the virus to go away, but the moratorium on new tourists means a sudden and significant reduction of foreigners renting cars and killing Kiwis in New Zealand. Win-win! Well, except for the thousands of poor souls who are now out of work because twenty-two people in New Zealand died of a virus. The thinking among the powers that be, of course, is that if not for the severe lockdowns and restriction of liberties, many more people would have died there by now. Unfortunately, despite the refusal of Sweden to lockdown, we do not have as a test case any place where elderly care facilities were competently protected while the rest of the populace was allowed to roam free. Note, however, that Sweden’s per capita COVID-19 death rate is still lower than that of some countries which did impose months of severe lockdowns.

After the recent discovery of an outbreak of a few new cases (not deaths, mind you, but cases), the New Zealand government extended its lockdown of Auckland again and went one step further down a slippery slope, adopting as a national policy forcibly to place persons who test positive for COVID-19, along with their families, in quarantine camps. National elections have been postponed for a month as well. Authoritarian habits die hard, and one might surmise that once bureaucrats begin crunching the numbers of actual deaths caused in New Zealand by foreigners, they will eventually conclude that if ever they are permitted to return there for vacations, they should not be permitted to drive. In reality, that would and could happen there—and, frankly, everywhere—if and only if all of the new COVID-19 czars had some sort of consistent principles and worldview, which clearly they do not.

For example, while in Austria for more than half of 2020, I was surprised to find that smokers were permitted to puff away in public places, even though it was impossible to do so while complying with the Mund-Nasen-Schutz (face mask) requirement imposed in response to the arrival of COVID-19. Apparently, then, it is fine with the Austrian government for people today to induce in themselves lung cancer in the years to come, while endangering other residents with both second-hand smoke and COVID-19 simultaneously, but healthy nonsmokers not at significant risk of death from the virus are required by law to don face masks. If the risk aversion demonstrated by government bureaucrats in the face of COVID-19 were applied consistently, then cigarettes and personal automobiles would need to be altogether banned, in order to save people from themselves.

At first glance, smoking might seem to be a more straightforward case than obesity, for no one needs to smoke to survive, while all people must eat. Many human beings succumb to death by lung disease each year, usually as a result of having smoked. The dangers of smoking have been well-documented, and this information is now clearly printed on every pack of cigarettes, along with accompanying photos frightening enough to be screen shots from a horror film. And yet, some people continue to choose to smoke, and many continue to die each year of lung cancer and emphysema induced or exacerbated by smoking. Who is ultimately responsible when citizens die of such preventable deaths? Is it the manufacturers and distributors of cigarettes? Is it the government? Is it the voters who elect the government? Is it those who stand idly by watching others act in ways which endanger their own and in some cases other people’s health? Or are not individuals themselves ultimately responsible for what they do and thereby become?

The truth is that we never really know how and why people became the way that they became, nor why they do what they do. This is equally true for those who choose to smoke, to overeat, to ride motorcycles without helmets, and to drive while intoxicated or on steep mountain roads overhanging cliffs even when the traffic rules are the opposite of those to which they are accustomed. Given the many complex factors involved in our choices, each one of which contributes to who we finally become, the default position is generally regarded as one of personal responsibility, at least in Western liberal societies, where people are free to drink themselves to destruction or to gamble their lives away in other ways, whether literally or figuratively.

Contradictions abound in the Animal Farm-esque world of COVID-19 because different government officials the world over, and within large countries such as the United States, have very different views on what is and is not reasonable to ask of citizens. Quarantine, border restrictions and testing requirements change on a daily basis, and it is difficult to resist the suspicion that much of what is going on since the height of the crisis, in the spring of 2020, is purely the result of opportunistic politicians’ attempts to do something, do anything, so that they can take credit when the virus finally disappears.

In the current terror-tinged global pandemic milieu, where self-proclaimed “experts” are a dime a dozen, I continue to puzzle over why people are not simply being permitted to act on their own beliefs. Is not that the very basis of conscience? If anyone is truly terrified of being in the presence of unmasked persons, I would heartily exhort them to stay at home and do all of their shopping online. Just as in the case of drunk drivers and motorcyclists with no helmets, there will always be people who do not do as they are told—or as you believe that they should. If you decide to interact with those people (for example, by driving), that is a choice which you make. To those who would protest that, in the case of COVID-19, many people are ignorant of the relevant scientific literature, or “The ScienceTM,” I would counter that the very same argument would lead to the conclusion that representative democracy should be abolished. Certainly the manifest ignorance of both voters and elected officials in interpreting statistical data has become undeniable in recent months, with apparently intelligent people reading “death rates” of critically ill persons already in hospital intensive care units as applicable to the population at large.

Plato observed more than two thousand years ago that democracy is the second worse form of government—after tyranny, which is the system under which an executive is free to issue arbitrary edicts at his own caprice. The last bulwark against tyranny today remains a republican constitution—and the insistence of some people to uphold that constitution. The clear and present danger is that of citizens permitting themselves to be transformed into subjects, which can however be achieved through inducing a widespread fear of death—whether warranted by the facts or not.

In thinking about killing versus letting die, the case of COVID-19 is no less complicated than the cases of driving, eating, and smoking, all activities with built-in dangers and which are easy to abuse. Despite the strange, sudden and surprising near-unanimity of federal governments worldwide in deciding to implement a range of draconian policies intended to save the lives of those vulnerable to the disease by restricting the liberty of everyone else, and prohibiting normal activities in which healthy people would otherwise engage, the unsavory truth is that governments are in fact increasing the risk of death for many people who are in nearly no danger of dying from the virus itself.

Among the more drastic policy measures implemented in response to the appearance of COVID-19 is that of restricting access to medical services for anyone who does not exhibit acute symptoms of the dreaded disease. In this way, the new virus has been given a much higher priority than notorious killers such as cancer, heart disease, stroke and suicide. Hospitals all over the world have put “elective” surgeries on hold, postponed cancer treatment and refused admission to anyone not clearly suffering from COVID-19. This is tantamount to claiming that death by COVID-19 is somehow worse than death by cancer, heart disease, stroke, or suicide. But why should anyone believe that to be the case? The answer appears to be that because COVID-19 has been labeled a global pandemic, it is supposed to be worse than every other cause of death taken together. The numbers tell quite a different story.

In Italy, the average age of persons said to have succumbed to COVID-19 has been about eighty. Many people in that age cohort die of the flu every year. Fewer people are dying of the flu in 2020, because some of them are dying, instead, of COVID-19. So the question is not whether death is fully preventable in all of those cases, for it is not. Sometimes one’s number is just up. The question becomes, instead: is the rate of death by other causes being significantly increased for other age cohorts as a result of efforts to prevent COVID-19 deaths in persons over seventy years of age? It will take some time to sort out the data, which is an ever-shifting sandcastle of poorly reported and misleadingly presented statistics. The United Kingdom, for example, recently reduced its official COVID-19 death toll from 46K to 41K, when it was discovered that people who died of other causes but tested positive for the virus nearly a month earlier had been included in the tally. In New York, critically ill patients sent from nursing homes to hospitals (where many died) were not counted as elderly care facility deaths. In some hospitals, workers were instructed to write “COVID-19” on death reports, even when the patient had never been tested and may well have died of something else.

Amidst all of this murkiness, one thing is clear: from the moment when COVID-19 was christened a “pandemic,” people have been conflating the effects of Covid-19 (illness and death from the disease) with the effects of government policies implemented in response to the disease. COVID-19 did not itself cause the collapse of the tourism and entertainment industries. Healthy people in those sectors stopped working not because they were ill or moribund, but because their governments made it illegal for them to do so. The mass unemployment around the globe of persons prohibited from working during the lockdowns, many of whom will not be returning to their jobs because they have been eliminated as businesses have either permanently shuttered due to insolvency, or jumped on the fast-track to downsizing via automation, will have ramifying health effects, both physical and psychological, in some cases culminating in suicide.

Millions of people in the United States alone are at risk of homelessness as a result of having suddenly lost, through no fault of their own, their source of income. Homelessness will increase the risk of all forms of illness (including COVID-19), to which some of those persons would not otherwise have been vulnerable. Formerly healthy persons may succumb to alcoholism, excessive drug use, and other forms of bodily harm and disease as a direct result of no longer having adequate shelter. None of these effects will have been caused by COVID-19 but by government policies implemented in response to COVID-19. Will the government administrators who created the conditions resulting in excess deaths be held responsible for the sudden spike in suicides, the cancer deaths caused by late-detection and the deaths from strokes and heart attacks which might have been treated? That seems unlikely, for politicians are busy appending immunity clauses to COVID-19 legislation underway.

When it comes to wars fought abroad, the populace tends to accept whatever their leaders say, so long as they profess to be acting with good intentions. We should expect, then, that the concept of “collateral damage”, invoked so often in excusing the inexcusable, the annihilation of innocent people by self-proclaimed good-doers who kill rather than protect them, will be dusted off in the case of COVID-19. Death is death, at the end of the day, and the dead have no interest in the intentions of their killers. But “collateral damage” is a trope devised to absolve those who kill, under the assumption that good intentions wipe the moral slate clean. In this way, the policies being implemented to combat the new virus raise a much more general question about the power of governments to destroy the lives of people whom they claim to be protecting. Now, however, in contrast to bombing campaigns abroad, it’s personal.

Why and how are governments being permitted to enact policies which endanger so many of their constituents in the name of the few? It’s no longer just a barrel of “bad apple” cops who kill some of the very people who summon them for help or are walking unarmed down the street or fall asleep in parked cars. Millions of citizens in countries all over the world are experiencing an unprecedented level of insecurity caused by the very governments whose raison d’ȇtre it is to protect them. Tragically, the people who could and should be protected have not been (see the case of Governor Cuomo in the state of New York), while those who never needed protection have had their lives upended, and some will die as a result. Citizens have no difficulty forgetting about the carnage committed in their name abroad, but what happens when the government wreaks massive havoc in the homeland? We are in the process of finding out.

Ron Paul: The Untold Story of the Man Who Helped Inspire a New Generation of Liberty Lovers

Ron Paul: The Untold Story of the Man Who Helped Inspire a New Generation of Liberty Lovers

If you’re under the age of 40 and you’re reading this, chances are very good that your interest in the liberty movement was sparked by three-time presidential candidate and veteran Texas Congressman Ron Paul. Paul inspired an entire generation of Libertarians, Constitutionalists and limited-government Conservatives with his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns.

It might surprise you to learn that Paul is not originally from Texas, but Pittsburgh, where he was born to a dairy farmer and his wife. He graduated from Gettysburg State College in 1957, with a degree in biology. He earned his medical degree from Duke’s School of Medicine in 1961. From 1963 to 1965, he was a flight surgeon in the United States Air Force, before moving over to the Air National Guard from 1965 to 1968. Upon discharge, he relocated to Texas to start a private practice in obstetrics and gynecology.

While he had been reading Austrian economics and Libertarian political philosophy for years beforehand, he finally decided to run for Congress when President Richard Nixon took the nation off of the gold standard in 1971. He lost his first attempt at public office in 1974, but won a special election in 1976, losing the regular election later that year by a mere 300 votes. He defeated his opponent in 1978, serving until 1985, then again from 1997 to 2013.

The Beginning of Ron Paul’s Political Career

While in Congress, Paul spoke in favor of a return to the gold standard with Senator Jesse Helms, as well as against a reinstatement of the draft favored by President Jimmy Carter and the majority of Republicans in Congress.

He retired from Congress in 1984 to run for Senate, losing the Republican primary to Phil Gramm.

After his time in Congress, he focused on the private promotion of liberty, publishing the Ron Paul Survival Newsletter and the Ron Paul Freedom Report with Lew Rockwell, who had previously been his congressional chief of staff. He also sold precious metals under the auspices of Ron Paul Coins.

In 1988, he made his first run for the presidency as a Libertarian, defeating Native American activist Russell Means (who had previously seconded Larry Flynt in his bid for the Libertarian Party line) and coming in third nationwide. He considered running again in 1992, but instead decided to back Pat Buchanan’s campaign against President George H.W. Bush.

Coming Back to Congress

Ron Paul: The Untold Story of the Man Who Helped Inspire a New Generation of Liberty LoversPaul returned to Congress after a 1996 election with a huge assist from friends Nolan Ryan, Steve Forbes, and Pat Buchanan.

However, it was his 2008 presidential campaign that began to change the world of liberty. There is arguably no one more responsible for the spread of the liberty movement than Ron Paul, whose 2008 campaign electrified young people who would likely have largely been Democrats previously. The average Ron Paul supporter in 2008 was not the country club Republican or movement Libertarian one might have pegged, but more likely to be a tech-savvy college kid than anything else.

Thus, throughout the 2008 primary season, the acolytes of Ron Paul dominated political debate on the Internet and social media, the latter of which was still in its infancy at this point. Ron Paul’s campaign was the most searched for and his YouTube channel had even more followers than Barack Obama’s.

None of this translated into a terribly successful campaign. His highwater mark was a 25 percent second-place showing in Montana. He chose not to enter the general election as a third-party candidate, but did not endorse the eventual nominee, John McCain. Paul often claimed that he did not run as a third-party candidate because he had signed a binding agreement preventing him from doing so. He chose instead to endorse the four major third-party candidates: Green Party nominee Cynthia McKinney, Libertarian Bob Barr, the Constitution Party’s Chuck Baldwin, and independent Ralph Nader.

In 2012, Ron Paul was still considered an outsider, but had considerably raised his national profile since 2008. He remained hot on the heels of front-runner Mitt Romney throughout the entire Republican primary, but once again came up short of the nomination. Much like in 2008, he refused to endorse Mitt Romney and even refused to give a speech at the convention because it would have to be vetted by Romney’s team.

Ron Paul’s Criticisms of the Republican Party

Ron Paul: The Untold Story of the Man Who Helped Inspire a New Generation of Liberty LoversWhile Paul was a life-long Republican, he was often highly critical of the party and its leadership. Indeed, he was one of the only Republicans to vote against Ronald Reagan’s 1981 spending bill, despite being one of the first elected officials to endorse Reagan in both 1976 and 1980. He even had some extremely harsh words to say about Reagan while running for president in 1988. He called the Reagan administration “a dramatic failure,” continuing by saying that “Reagan’s record is disgraceful. He starts wars, breaks the law, supplies terrorists with guns made at taxpayers’ expense and lies about it to the American people.”

Since retiring from elected office and the presidential race, Ron Paul has become a fierce critic of the NSA and surveillance, as well as a supporter of Edward Snowden, whom he considers to be a great hero and champion of freedoms for Americans. He also founded the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity underneath the broader umbrella of his Foundation for Rational Economics and Education. He offers the Ron Paul Curriculum (developed by Gary North) free for homeschooled children from K-5 and paid for 6-12.

The Ron Paul Liberty Report has received more than 17 million views as of April 2019.

In 2016, Ron Paul became the oldest person to ever receive an electoral vote when a faithless elector in Texas voted for him.

Veterans of the Ron Paul rEVOLution are active in the liberty movement today. And how great is it that a man who has never smoked a cigarette in his life inspired a generation of pot-smoking techies to join the fight for liberty?

You can bet your last Ron Paul Dollar (remember those?) that Dr. Paul will be speaking hard truths, bucking the system and standing his ground until the day he dies. Libertarians will likely never find a champion quite like him.

The War State: Summary, Analysis, and Commentary

The War State: Summary, Analysis, and Commentary

The War State: The Cold War Origins Of The Military-Industrial Complex And The Power Elite, 1945-1963, by Michael Swanson

Not too long ago, a deluge of hysteria surrounded President Trump amid his threat to declare a national emergency in order to secure funding for a border wall. Alas, those simpler times of alleged fascism have come and gone and a new hyper hysteria has reared its head via the global outbreak of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. All bets are off now with executive orders and emergency declarations being handed out almost daily, the most egregious of these being the invoking of the Defense Production Act to force a private company into manufacturing ventilators or the deployment of Federal troops to quell riots in Portland. This is far closer to fascism than any other previous actions, cloaked in the usual propaganda of being out of absolute necessity for the preservation of the “good of the people.” If nothing else, perhaps these executive actions might have many questioning the powers vested in the Executive Office, but the use of emergency declarations based on dubious claims of necessity and fear is nothing new. 

It has been de rigueur for presidents to establish new executive powers under the guise of national security for well over a century. Many point the finger at an out of control executive branch, surely this is the most visible and relatable, Orange Man Bad and all, but more correctly, it should be pointed at the continuous government, an unaccountable beast lying just under the surface. Although it operates behind the scenes, it typically manifests itself most visually through the ugly business of war. This continuous government of war, or more simply put, the War State, is enabled to exist through an unelected bureaucracy which stays firmly in place from administration to administration and is the apotheosis of government colluding with businesses and cartelizing markets.

Although the rise of the War State enabled a massive expansion of the executive branch, in one of those strange quirks of history, it would also be its downfall. Inevitably, the War State consumed and all but eliminated any true powers of the President. Enter the vapid figurehead as Leader, who offers nothing more than slogans and empty promises that have no bearing on the actual day to day operations of the continuous government. Despite this, many still manage to hang on to every vacuous phrase and will argue vehemently for their guy to take back the reins and straighten things out for the better.

In The War State, author Michael Swanson addresses an ever expanding question, a wormhole that opens up many avenues for investigation and exploration. That question, simple as it may be, is this: given that, “the federal government gave birth to large military budgets and mass income taxes at the same time and both live on together today as twin siblings of the war state, does this big-money spending lead to corruption?” (p.15)

To find out, Swanson takes the reader on a whirlwind journey, one where expert opinion molders attempted to convince big business and the American public to align with government and to foster a confident belief in its ability to execute any plan, if only given the necessary funding (voluntary or otherwise), time and requisite secrecy. With a belly full of propaganda, the masses were willing to believe in the War State’s necessity and indeed, became willing participants in the process of embedding the very bureaucracy that would forever exclude them from any preconceived notion of participation in the democratic process that they held so dearly. Bloated budgets became the norm and black operations became business as usual and all the while well connected businessmen lined their pockets without risk. 

The War State thrives in times of fear and paranoia and to speak out against it is tantamount to treason, for this must mean that you are anti-American and that you want Americans to lose their manufacturing jobs or even worse, lose their life fighting for your freedoms! The War State is a deep-seated entity well over one hundred years in the making and at the most basic level, it is a crony capitalist venture, fascist at its core, with the average citizen being merely a pawn on the global chessboard. The War State is deeply embedded in the American psyche and there is no easy way out. The multifarious ill effects of its existence will be ever reverberating for centuries to come. But fear not! There is a silver lining: the War State enabled a situation that gave rise, as it were, to the miniskirt. Hooray?

The Pretense of Knowledge and Belief In Necessity

The state, despite its claim of being for the people, exists solely to feed itself and to obtain more power. It works the same under any form of government, be it communism or representative democracy. Both will feed the population with lies to prop up the belief in its necessity. Indeed, the common view held by the U.S. population is that the War State was an entity that grew out of necessity to handle a threat, one that could only be handled by an omnipotent military-security apparatus to plan, direct, and navigate an increasingly complex world of international geopolitical tensions.

Swanson casts aside this narrative in lieu of an interpretation focusing on the alliance with, and cartelization of, big business, manufacturing, government and perhaps most importantly, the opinion-molding military experts, who have ushered in an era of American exceptionalism, where destabilization and regime change has become the norm, inherently making the world less safe for the democracy that they proclaim to be tantamount to all other objectives. These so-called experts were able to convince not only an entire generation of independent minded civilians of the necessity of the War State’s existence, but they were able to convince a majority of supposedly infallible top government officials of its necessity as well. This alliance of business and government was a natural progression of the cartelization that became common throughout the Progressive Era, most explicitly evidenced by the railroad, petroleum, iron and steel, and sugar industries. And lest we forget, the granddaddy of all monopolies, the government education system, as emphasized by historian Thaddeus Russell on this recent podcast.

As with all things history, where does one start? Although the book’s subtitle indicates the Cold War origins of the Military-Industrial Complex, I contend that there are origins to be explored going back to the turn of the century in order to analyze some of the societal conditions that paved the way for a deference to authority that the War State required. Beginning in the Progressive Era and extending into the interwar period, a foundation was laid by a puritanical group of people who professed to have the ability to organize society in a manner far better than if people were left to their own devices; a self-proclaimed pretense of knowledge.

According to the standard narrative, the Progressive Era is broadly defined thusly: it was a period of widespread social activism and political reform across the United States that spanned the 1890s to the 1920s. The main objectives of the Progressive movement were addressing problems caused by industrialization, urbanization, immigration, and political corruption. Seems harmless enough, right? But more specifically, this was a movement of the intelligent class, who were educated at elite universities and who took it upon themselves to be the moral guardians guiding the unassimilated immigrants as to how they should think and act, and encouraging them to cast aside their individualistic predilections and assimilate into the greater culture. It is true enough that the Progressive Movement was a response to the massive flood of immigrants to the U.S. during the 1880s to the 1920’s, wherein the population roughly doubled with Irish, Jewish, Italian, Slavic and German immigrants (among others) arriving on the shores. Naturally, they all brought with them their extended families and their individual cultures.

The Progressives sought to change this via a process of assimilation and this is a foundational moment for the War State (more on this in a bit). A fusillade of approaches was used to enforce and achieve the Progressive worldview; the proper view. This can be evidenced most noticeably through the myriad settlement houses, as defined by historian Thaddeus Russell on this podcast, that were created to teach the immigrants how to speak English, how to work in a factory (for the men), how to be a housewife (for the women), how to dress properly and generally taught them the good and proper customs that were required to be a part of society, by their Progressive standards, of course. Beyond these literal assimilation factories, other means to achieve their goals included the war on opiates (a precursor of the modern drug war), the elimination of religious schools in lieu of secular English speaking government schools and the lobbying for, and enactment of, alcohol prohibition laws enforced by government guns. 

What does this all have to do with the War State? 

For any ruling entity, it is of necessity to prevent the citizenry from being individualistic. It is of necessity to modify the habits of the immigrants from the old world such that they abandon their cultural roots and fall in line with the rest of good society. A ruling entity needs a common identity to enforce an us-versus-them mentality. It needs to eliminate the mind that would rather think of sex or jazz. It needs to glorify going to work every day and to not be drunk all the time. It is of necessity to have a good and productive, yet docile citizenry, for a distracted and wandering mind does not bode well in a factory, and a factory, naturally, needs dedicated workers to build weapons of war. That is the importance of the Progressive Era. That is the cultural foundation of the War State.

On top of all the moral postulating and cultural genociding of the Progressive Era, there was a massive layer of government propaganda urging the masses to support a war that they largely opposed. Indeed, a song from 1915 titled, “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to be a Soldier,” was wildly popular among isolationists, socialists, pacifists, many Protestant ministers, German Americans and Irish Americans. The song begins as follows:

Ten million soldiers to the war have gone, Who may never return again.

Ten million mothers’ hearts must break, For the ones who died in vain.

Head bowed down in sorrowin’ her lonely years, I heard a mother murmur thro’ her tears:

I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier…

This type of sentiment, of course, did not sit well with the ruling class. Interventionists and militarists like former President Theodore Roosevelt beat the drums for war preparedness and although President Woodrow Wilson ran on a platform of, “He Kept us Out of War,” once he was re-elected he didn’t hesitate to send the boys off to slaughter. And what of the song? In responding to the song’s popularity, Roosevelt indicated that he was not a fan and he suggested that the place for women who opposed war was, “in China—or by preference in a harem—and not in the United States.” If you don’t fall in line with our worldview, then you must be excommunicated and forced to live a horrible life against your will. Nice guy.

Although the concept of government propaganda was not new, with the advent of the moving picture, radio shows and the influence of increasingly consolidating news services, the conditions were ripe for a pro-government media barrage, delivered in unison and with an air of authority in order to sway the masses to support government programs and ultimately, war. This trio of media, coupled with the government propaganda machine, made up another sinister aspect of the Progressive Era: the monopoly of information. Indeed, a willing extension of the government propaganda machine in the World War I era were some, but certainly not all, Hollywood stars who were eager to not only produce moving pictures in support of the war effort, but charismatically stood in front of their fellow citizens and promoted the buying of war bonds, as did Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford. 

To gather some additional context on this monopoly of information and how it was deployed upon the masses in the United States, one must first take a slight detour to the other side of the pond. In Britain, throughout World War I, a massive propaganda campaign was employed to bolster public support for a largely unpopular war. Back then, the British propaganda machine constructed outlandish stories that were so brazenly false, that many grew weary of the propaganda, especially in the interwar period. As recounted in this Guardian article, “Britons discovered that there was no substance to most of the more lurid atrocity stories—about crucified soldiers, raped nuns, dismembered babies and notoriously, about the German factory [that rendered] corpses into fat.” The parallels to modern day claims of WMD’s (Weapons of Mass Destruction) or Iraqi soldiers tossing incubator babies to the ground are striking. Patently false in retrospect, they were effective in the short term to achieve their propagandistic goals. 

In the run up to World War II, the U.S. government, in realizing the follies of the outlandish British propaganda machine during World War I, had to be a little more tactful so as to alleviate any doubtful public scrutiny. Trust was established through the creation of numerous new agencies and programs throughout the Great Depression. These programs included infrastructure projects, but also cultural projects including art, music, and writing. These programs served to solidify a faith in government taking care of the people (with an underlying intent of assimilation to promote a common culture) and by far, one of the most effective projects was President Roosevelt’s intimate radio broadcast fireside chats. Of course, this was not unique to the U.S., for a similar thing was occurring in Germany, as conveyed in the aforementioned Guardian article, “Hitler communicated with hypnotic directness through the new media of radio and cinema. Hitler could never have won widespread support if he had not been able to exploit the multiple miseries of the Depression. After 1929, Germans were receptive to his assertion that their sufferings were the evil fruits of the rotten Weimar system.” Sound familiar? Economic depression? Evil people out to get you? Government will save you.

While the U.S. population was distracted and riding high throughout the Roaring Twenties, the monopoly of information services were hard at work burying and downplaying the atrocities occurring in the Soviet Union. As conveyed in this Reason article, in reference to two terrible occurrences of this era, “One is Stalin’s deliberate infliction of a famine on the peasants of the Ukraine that killed between four million and seven million of them. The other is how Western journalists, particularly those of The New York Times, deliberately covered up the mass murder.” Indeed, as conveyed in this article regarding the Times’ covering up of atrocities, “Stalin suborned western journalists such as Walter Duranty, who famously wrote of the Ukraine famine in The New York Times: ‘There is no actual starvation, but there is widespread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition.’” Well, the Times reported it, I guess we’re in the clear!

And if that wasn’t bad enough, there’s more. Not content with merely burying stories of famine, the Times downplayed the existence of the horrific political show trials in the Soviet Union and conveyed them as a fair process back in the U.S. These show trials forced many false confessions under threat of imprisonment or death, based on the most flimsy or falsified evidence or even coerced testimony by relatives or friends. These show trials were used by Stalin to purge any dissenters and allowed him to gain absolute control of the government. Seems like a good thing to support?

Perhaps the interwar era is summed up best by this passage in the previously referenced Guardian article regarding propaganda measures, “Where it did not convince, it confused. It muddied the wells of knowledge and polluted the sources of understanding. It sanctioned the suspension of belief and disbelief. Propaganda helped to make the 1930s an age of obfuscation, of darkness at noon.” Given this situation, who will save you? Who could sort all of this out? With the myriad monopoly of information entities and progressive elites eschewing morality and alleged knowledge, what chance could one have? Consider too, that many newly landed immigrants from Germany, Ireland and countless other locations, were tacitly forced into broadly supporting the wars and other pro-government measures, lest they give the existing U.S. population any additional fodder with which to persecute them based solely on their country of origin (for more on that, see this article on the plight of the Volga Germans). The stage was set for the War State to inherit from its inception the societal framework of deference to political authority.

Funding Big Business – the Buildup

Although the book’s subtitle indicates a timeframe of 1945-1963 for the Cold War origins of the War State, the author takes us on a brief analysis of the relationship between the state and taxes going back to the World War I era. It is critical to the War State’s existence for it to have a continuous flow of funds. This was lacking in the era prior to World War II, where only the wealthiest individuals and corporations paid any income tax. Indeed in 1939, 93% of workers were not compelled to pay federal income tax. World War I had largely been financed through the sale of war bonds to the public, but the sheer magnitude of the cost of World War II proved this method of financing to be insufficient. Government sought to rectify this situation and “by 1943, the government started to deduct money out of people’s paychecks…[and by] the last year of the war, personal income tax receipts surpassed corporate income tax as the largest source of revenue…the size and power of the government grew as its revenue growth exploded by a factor of 8.8 from 1939 to 1945.” (p.14)

Taking the lead from President Woodrow Wilson during World War I, which saw an explosion in the number of new executive programs, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) ran with that concept and further expanded all aspects of government. This is to say nothing of his predecessor, Herbert Hoover, who was no stranger to government spending, despite the textbook claims that he was a, “strict supporter of laissez-faire economics [who] believed the government should never interfere in the economy,” as debunked by historian Tom Woods in the book 33 Questions About American History You’re Not Supposed to Ask (p. 180).

In reading the standard history books, FDR is typically described as an enemy of business. While stumping on the campaign trail, FDR often attacked businessmen who were popular scapegoats in the post-depression era. This business bashing continued into the first few years of his presidency, but incentives matter, so how does one convince businesses to co-mingle with government after berating them year after year? The answer for FDR was to create a cartel and guarantee profits for select businesses. Swanson recounts this process as such:

“…before the war started there weren’t a bunch of large plants owned by big companies just sitting around and waiting for orders. Big war production was a new thing and the federal government itself often paid for and built the factories used in the defense industry and then gave them to the companies for free once the war ended. Of the twenty-six billion dollars spent during the war to build plants, seventeen billion was financed by the government. Taxpayer money financed the growth of the private defense industry.” (p. 18) 

You’re welcome? Simply put, the concept was to build factories through coercive taxation, hand them over to businessmen and eliminate competitive bidding for government contracts, effectively removing the moral hazard of risk taking that a normal business would typically incur. Indeed, Swanson states that, “all of a contractor’s working capital is provided for by the federal government and payments are often made well in advance…this makes for a form of corporate socialism in which all risks are placed on the shoulders of taxpayers while profits are given to privately owned and well-connected corporations.” (p.20)

To be sure, from a broad conceptual level, there was nothing new about the government awarding money to defense contractors, but the difference was that prior to World War II, the government accepted competitive bids from numerous companies and typically awarded the contract to the lowest bidder. After the creation of the War Production Board, “within a few months 74 percent of the contracts were simply awarded after negotiation and not through competitive bidding.” (p.18)

Who would want to give up that kind of a business relationship? The War Production Board was all encompassing and fascist at its core as, “the board had the power not only to decide on the allocation of war contracts but also to prohibit production that it deemed unessential to the war effort…It even regulated the amount of fabric that could be used to make clothes, one effect of this being that women’s skirts had to be made shorter.” (p.17) Perhaps it was all worth it, eh? 

Of course, there have always been entangled alliances between government and business and one can look to the U.S. in the 1830s for an example, where obtaining corporate status involved getting a specific grant from the state legislature. This would in turn confer upon an entity an artificial person status that would grant limited liability and other legal benefits, as described in this article by historian Anthony Comenga, in discussing the locofocos and the Free Soilers movements. This process unquestionably opened the door for corruption between business and government. The War State would build on this precedent and day by day, it’s power and influence would continue to grow.

Feeding the People and Sending Them Off to Slaughter

Once big business found itself sucked into government dependence, the everyday people just trying to put food on the table would follow suit with little complaint. If there is no job other than a government job, what choice does one have? Speaking of government dependence, the parallels to our current situation of dealing with the economic fallout of the government imposed shutdowns are staggering. Stories abound with respect to the masses of people calling for the government to take over businesses if they choose to accept bailout funds and the calls for the government to “put the people to work,” are never far away given the 40 million people (changing daily) filing for unemployment on account of the shutdowns.

The concept of putting the people to work has its roots in the Depression Era and two of the most commonly referenced programs are the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the Public Works Administration (PWA), which were established in the 1930s under FDR. In classic government fashion, the similarity of the acronyms is confusing and the two are often interchanged in normal conversation. Although there are some definite overlaps, they are separate and distinct entities. The WPA was set up to provide jobs and income to the unemployed and unskilled citizens during the Great Depression, a seemingly benevolent government program of more or less local, community projects set up for the betterment of society.

These projects included broad categories of infrastructure projects, recreational projects, government buildings and health and safety uses for the greater community (roads, bridges, municipal buildings, schools, parks, water supply and sewage treatment facilities, etc.). Another aspect of the WPA was more culturally focused (albeit a culture that government deemed appropriate) and was implemented through five different sub-categories including the Federal Art Project, Music Project, Theatre Project, Writers’ Project, and Historical Records Survey. These five categories fell under the ominous title of Federal Project Number One, in which the government provided direct funding support instead of providing grants to private institutions. 

A majority of the population is familiar with the work of the WPA with respect to the construction of public works projects, but it is lesser known that some of the work included the construction of military related projects. This is where the overlap begins with the WPA and the PWA. It’s important to emphasize again that the WPA was a direct government payment process; the worker was paid directly by the government. The PWA, on the other hand, awarded contracts to private companies, who in turn hired workers and completed the work (with the oversight of the government, of course). Although military bases were the primary expenditure, perhaps more visually impactful were monumental architecture projects in major cities, all seemingly orchestrated and guided by a charismatic president, boldly leading the way to prosperity. This imagery has been firmly ingrained into the psyche of the American populace. 

Coming off the heels of U.S. involvement in World War I, the U.S. populace was largely anti-war and if, according to government rhetoric, the country was ostensibly opposed to fascism and willing to send young men off to die to fight against it, how could one institute a fascist takeover of industry and implement a massive military build-up in one’s own country to take on fascist dictators half a world away in World War II? The answer was to let these projects be seen as a private process, where one’s paycheck comes from a private company who is building for the good of the country! Nothing untoward happening here, citizen! Hitler understood this and he infamously stated that, “the great strength of a totalitarian state is that it forces those who fear it to imitate it.”

It’s no stretch to argue that civil liberties are lost during wartime and it’s a rather odd statement to say that one must limit civil liberties to protect civil liberties, yet that is exactly what happens during a total war scenario. As conveyed by Dan Carlin in a recent episode of Hardcore History (20:00 min mark), scientist Alex Comfort echoed this sentiment, during a debate with George Orwell when he stated that, “if Hitler wins, then political fascism is victorious; if any country wants to defeat fascism, they must assimilate as much of it’s philosophy as one can.” As such, Hitler was set to win either way. Try out that line of argument at your next dinner party, that ought to ruffle some feathers. Indeed, Hilter and Mussolini marveled at FDR’s fascist programs and the book Three New Deals provides wonderful context for this process. 

Although it is tempting to go down the conspiracy rabbit hole and expound on a nefarious globalist entity that was planning, via top secret meetings, to expand military installations through crony capitalists ventures and get the people to pay for it, it wasn’t all that hidden. In fact, many publications were issued in support of the endeavors. Documents such as America Builds and Millions for Defense laid it out as plain as day. These plans included government funding that would inherently work their way into every nook and cranny of the economy. Also, this necessarily expanded a regulatory state which would verify proper usage of the funding, but more importantly it gave a pretext for citizens to turn on each other for alleged violations of government imposed mandates. Citizens turning against each other for alleged state violations was a regular occurrence in Stalinist Russia or Mao’s China, but similar occurrences have happened throughout U.S. history.

One specific example occurred during the 1930s amid the programs and regulations established under the National Recovery Act (NRA). Established under FDR, the alleged goal was to “eliminate cutthroat competition” by aligning business and government to set price controls and establish fair labor practices. Chief among these fair practices were minimum wages, maximum hours, and establishing minimum prices for which goods could be sold. Although participation in the NRA was, in theory, voluntary, many business owners felt the pressure to “do their part” and institute the central control policies with respect to their business operations. Those who chose to participate were encouraged to display the NRA Blue Eagle emblem on their storefronts. An alleged symbol of pride, it was often used against businesses who chose to skirt the established regulations, as citizens were encouraged to report violations. History rhymes, sometimes, as we are well into the COVID era of turning in mask ordinance violators or businesses who stay open beyond government dictated hours of operation. Beyond turning in businesses who violated NRA regulations, many good society folks flat out avoided or boycotted businesses who chose to not participate in the NRA programs. This essentially made participation in the programs mandatory in order for businesses to have a chance at survival in the inter-war era.

Alas, all good things come to an end, right? In 1935, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the NRA laws were unconstitutional. Huzzah! The NRA quickly ceased operations, but many of its labor provisions quietly reappeared via the National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act) passed later that year, a long term result being the growth and power of unions and government for the foreseeable future. 

Most speak of the World War II era as a time when the greatest generation went off to fight in a great battle between good and evil. “Our boys” went overseas to fight against a leviathan entity that was attempting to dominate and control the world in it’s own image. Many went off to war confident that they were fighting to eliminate dictators and ensure the sovereignty of free people the world over. Little did they know, they were laying the groundwork for conflicts abroad that are still being dealt with today. It sounds simple: topple a dictator, draw new boundaries, install a new “democratic” leader and the people will greet us with flowers! The reality is that what fills the void is chaos owing to the fact that the installed leader is typically an adversary to the natural order and is beholden to the almighty U.S. government. The population becomes dissatisfied and revolts, which conveniently provides the pretext for continued intervention.

Back home, however, what had spawned was the framework of a continuous government apparatus, a hidden dictator completely devoid of any influence by a largely good-intentioned and anti-interventionist American populace. Indeed, in the book Hirohito’s War, as relayed by Dan Carlin on Hardcore History Episode 63 (1:04:00), “a poll conducted one month after war had broken out…as quoted by Francis Pike, ‘95% of the U.S. population wanted to stay out of war.’” 

Under the veil of security, the continuous government embedded itself into every aspect of American life such that its elimination, or even talk of its elimination, would be met with such fierce debate and faux outrage that none dared question its existence. Once established, the bureaucracy and all knowing central planning of the state would take it from there.

Author Michael Swanson described it thusly:

“World War II gave birth to today’s military-industrial complex. Yes, the United States had mobilized to fight in several major wars in its prior history, such as the Civil War and World War I, but after all of them, the country reduced its military industry to nothing. With President Truman’s approval of NSC-68, a permanent war industry became established in the country. With each passing year, its influence grew. By the end of Eisenhower’s presidency, it became the most powerful special interest group in the nation, with powerful tentacles reaching into the economy, the defense bureaucracies, and dozens of congressmen. It transformed the federal government of the United States into a war state. President Kennedy would discover how entrenched and dangerous it had become.” (p194)

NSC-68, Propaganda, and Bureacracy

Written by and presented to President Harry Truman in 1950 by the Department of State and Department of Defense, NSC-68 was a top secret National Security Council (NSC) policy paper that described the threats and challenges facing the United States in cataclysmic terms that involved the destruction of not only the republic, but the whole of humanity as well, if certain government and military interventions were not implemented. For many Americans, the existence of the Constitution guarantees a means to reign in overreaching executive actions and maintains the checks and balances that keep wayward government entities from running wild with power. Once NSC-68 was put in place under a veil of secrecy, this unseen mechanism would determine courses of action outside any modicum of authorization or pretense of representation.

Far beyond mere planning, it enabled unelected experts to dictate to military leaders and the general population what was best for their security and well being. Edward Bernays foresaw this in his book Propaganda, where he argued that, “the conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.” (p. 129) Indeed, there is no truer example of this than NSC-68, which was implemented outside any formal review or referendum by the people. In The War State, author Michael Swanson described the process thusly:

“Without any explanation to the American people, the United States made the move from a policy of containment to one of global empire during the Truman administration. This decision was codified in NSC-68, which claimed that no nation on the planet could be neutral in the bipolar, East-versus-West world. Therefore, NSC-68 saw part of the world in the hands of the Soviet Union and Communism and the rest of it under the leadership of the United States. This was a policy of empire, because it meant that any nation that tried to maintain an independent line from that of the United States but was not under the control of the Soviet Union became a target for CIA operations, ranging from propaganda activities and the bribery of officials to ‘covert’ wars.” (p. 392)

New Enemies, Real and Imagined

One might expect that after World War II peacetime would resume and military expenditures would be drastically cut given the defeat of the evil enemy, but alas, a new boogeyman was created to fill the void. The great adversary to come out of World War II targeted by NSC-68 was the Soviet Union, who was portrayed as a grave threat to the U.S. and for democracy writ-large.

Having suffered tremendous casualties during World War II and with an economy stretched beyond thin, claiming that the Soviet Union was the greatest threat to the U.S. would be a tenuous argument for the public to believe, but a veritable tsunami of propaganda was about to broadside the unsuspecting populace, who were well trained in deference to government omniscience. This deluge of propaganda promulgated a culture of fear, which became the norm for the foreseeable future. The message was clear: the only entity that could protect anyone from the unseen evildoers in a faraway land, was a massive military-security apparatus.

Swanson described it thusly:

“Thanks to exaggerations in news stories and pure propaganda, Americans lived in the 1950s in a state of terror over nuclear war when the Soviet Union didn’t even have the capability to launch a missile that was able to reach the United States until the 1960s. Nor did it have a viable bomber force. In the 1950s, Air Force General Curtis LeMay said he had the ability to order SAC [Strategic Air Command] bombers to attack the Soviet Union and destroy all of its war-making capabilities ‘without losing a man to their defenses.’ Americans were completely safe, but they lived in constant fear.” (p. 394)

The propaganda easily worked on the average citizen, but it also influenced government and military officials’ decisions to build military installations all across the U.S. under the guise of absolute necessity. A prime example of this is the now abandoned Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex, in Nekoma, North Dakota, which encompasses 470 acres and contains 46 underground missile silos in addition to a massive concrete pyramid. Construction on the project began in the 1960s and was not complete until 1975. The discs on the side of the pyramid were state-of-the-art radar technology that, in theory, could be used to detect multiple incoming missiles simultaneously without having to maneuver a more traditional large mesh dish. It was purported to be able to provide a six minute warning and the missiles could hit a target within thirty seconds. The construction of this gargantuan building and surrounding military complex exceeded six billion dollars, but the facility was only active and in operation for three days (for more on the Nekoma facility, see this article). Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

Mind you, this was one facility in a veritable sea of military construction expenditures for the United States. Of course, massive military expenditures were not unique to the U.S. in this era, for enormous nation states naturally tend to expand and will come up with any excuse to necessitate construction of ever larger military bases in the name of security. To wit, the Soviet Union was no stranger to this desire as can be evidenced by this long abandoned air base for the 126th Fighter Aviation Regiment, located on the edge of the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, a full 2,700 miles from Moscow. Both the Nekoma facility and the Gobi Desert air base were recently covered on separate episodes of the Science Channel show “Mysteries of the Abandoned” and the imagery is striking, but any criticism of the War State is eerily left out of the discussion, leaving the only mystery being how the war time propaganda is still in full force, some sixty years after their construction and subsequent abandonment.

Perhaps one of the best takeaways of the book is the realization that such a small percentage of opinion molders were able to convince the bureaucracy and the average citizen that there was an imminent Soviet threat that could only be addressed by a massive military apparatus. Swanson provides some context regarding the standard assumptions with respect to Soviet military capabilities of the era:

“The Soviet Union, however, was not as powerful as the American politicians, reporters, and national security bureaucrats linked to the military-industrial complex claimed it was. NSC-68, written and approved as the guiding national security document for the United States in 1950, argued that if the country did not vastly increase its defense spending, then in just a few years Russia would be on track to produce enough conventional and nuclear weapons that they would be able to completely run over Western Europe and defeat the United States in an atomic attack. During the Eisenhower administration, politicians, such Senator Henry Jackson of Washington, linked to Boeing and other defense contractors, claimed that the Soviet Union had produced so many bombers that a ‘bomber gap’ existed, while the Gaither Report [a committee tasked by President Eisenhower] claimed that by 1960 Khrushchev would have the ability to launch a first-strike missile launch that would cripple the ability of the United States to retaliate. Such claims helped complete the transformation of the United States into a permanent war state by the end of the 1950s, but none of them were even close to reality.” (p. 264)

Continuing on, Swanson clarifies for the reader that:

“Yes, in 1955, the Soviet Union had plenty of nuclear bombs and was more than capable of exploding them in tests, but it had no way to deliver any of them as a weapon against an American city. The American B-52 bomber could fly 7,343 miles when refueled, which was far enough to reach the Soviet Union, but the Russia M-4, called the Bison bomber by NATO, couldn’t reach the United States, because its designers couldn’t figure out an easy way to refuel it in the air. The M-4 could only fly five thousand miles, which was too short for it to reach either coast of the United States from the closest point of the Soviet Union.” (p. 265)

As with all things in communism, the illusion was better than the reality, but the War State couldn’t fool the people by itself, it needed help. With only three major TV networks and a handful of newspapers of record providing the news coverage, the rigged game continued with the full participation of the press. An astonishing example of this was that although the Soviets only had four M-4 bombers, “when the Russians put on a major air show, they took the four bombers and had them fly around in wide circles to give the impression that there were dozens of them. Khrushchev was pleased when American newspapers reported on a supposed ‘bomber gap’ thanks to the Bison bomber. They saw what they wanted to see.”  (p. 265)

So much for all that fourth estate, junior high textbook definition of the media keeping a watchful eye on the government. Indeed, the in-depth recounting of the true capabilities of the Soviet military is one of the great takeaways from the book. This was all hidden from the American public and the myth of the necessity of a massive military buildup in order to deal with an embellished threat took hold and continues today. Swanson dismantles this mythology: 

“In reality, the Soviet rocket program was pitiful. The R-7 could barely function as a viable weapon. It weighed three hundred tons and operated on liquid oxygen fuel. That made it so that when the rockets were fueled up they were in danger of exploding. American missiles used solid fuel, which enabled them to be launched on about ten minutes’ notice. The Russians, though, couldn’t keep their missiles fueled up all of the time. That meant it took them hours to prepare them for launch, making them very vulnerable to attack.” (p. 266)

Of course, the standard objection is, ‘but how were we to know?’ It turns out, it didn’t matter, the agenda was already set, facts be damned! This is an all too familiar occurrence within the standard operating procedure for government. Look over there! A threat! We must act immediately! For example, take the infamous declaration of President George W. Bush when he said that, “we have to abandon free market principles to save the free market system” or, “we must pass the bill to see what is in the bill,” as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi declared in 2010. Perhaps more to the point would be the Afghanistan Papers, where U.S. officials and their media lapdogs willingly misled the American people regarding progress, or lack thereof, in Afghanistan.

In the end, when the reality of the situation is brought to light, those “looking out for the people” newsmen, after years of willingly misleading the public, will downplay the situation under the well worn guise of, they were just following orders, doing their best, how could they have known, etc. It’s just another random side note in a never ending war that the general public will have easily forgotten when the next faux crisis emerges. Just remember to stand and pledge allegiance, otherwise everyone will get all fired up. Invade and occupy a county on false pretenses for eighteen years and kill thousands upon thousands? Meh. The War State prefers that you are at odds with your fellow man, since it inherently requires a distracted populace.

Although it was kept secret from the general population, the CIA and the government knew about the pitiful state of Soviet military capabilities, as Swanson recounts to the reader that “…after twelve failed launches, the CIA put into space its first spy satellite code-named Corona. It passed over Russia and found that their few intercontinental missiles were all at one launch facility, which made them vulnerable to a surprise attack. They also now had 200 bombers with questionable ability to reach the United States and seventy-eight missiles on about a dozen submarines that spent almost all of their time in port. The United States had more than an overwhelming nuclear strike advantage over the Soviet Union. Yes, there was a missile gap, but it was in favor of the United States.” (p. 296) The threat was fabricated; a blatant and outright falsification of data and if it could be done in this scenario, it could be easily done elsewhere. The stage was set for the CIA to run wild.  

The CIA and Less Than Powerful Pieces of Paper

The implausibility of being able to centrally plan an entire economy made up of 327 million individual actors is akin to the implausibility of trying to reign in the War State. The mythological telling of an infallible system of checks and balances is laughable and any alleged constitutional limitations or constraints are most easily dispensed with. Rank and file bureaucrats, military leaders and most certainly the presidents are given plausible deniability and benefit of the doubt far beyond what any average civilian would receive during even the most routine investigation of the most basic crime.

When a black ops adventure goes awry, the president can and will deny giving authorization for that particular overreach and the military can and will claim that they thought the original authorization gave them the authority to proceed. It’s a win-win for both entities, for how can you question the heat of the moment decisions that a soldier made? He is just doing the best he can! This has been and continues to be the status quo when it comes to covert operations. Swanson explains it it in this passage:

“In theory, the CIA does not engage in any covert activity without the approval of the president and the oversight of Congress. In reality, there is so little oversight over agency activities that often the leaders of the agency itself do not know everything that is going on. The president often approves one covert operation only to have it spawn even more operations that no one at the top is responsible for. How can this be? As Clark Clifford, who served as an aide to Harry Truman and as secretary of defense for Lyndon Johnson explained, ‘on a number of occasions a plan for covert action has been presented to the NSC and authority requested for the CIA to proceed from point A to point B. The authority will be given and the action will be launched. When point B is reached, the persons in charge feel that it is necessary to go to point C and they assume that the original authorization gives them such a right. From point C, they go to D, and possibly E, and even further.’ This led to some bizarre results, and, when investigation is started, the excuse blandly presented was that the authority was obtained from the NSC before the project was launched.” (p. 100)

Lest one think that that is all in the past and that the U.S. has learned from its mistakes over the years, just this May, as recounted on this Antiwar.com article by Thomas Knapp, “a group of around 60 mercenaries attempted an amphibious landing at Macuto, on Venezuela’s Caribbean coast. They were quickly defeated and 13 of them—including two Americans, Airan Berry and Luke Denman—[were] captured.” Predictably, President Donald Trump has denied any association with, knowledge of, or involvement in the affair on the part of the U.S. government. Indeed, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The Constitution is unable to prevent or guard against these situations, yet isn’t that what everyone has been trained to say: the soldiers are over there defending our freedoms, our way of life, our Constitution? The CIA operates in an extra-constitutional manner everyday. Some may say that it’s just the fog of war and we should just get over it, but Swanson has an answer for that too, because it isn’t just CIA operatives taking the operation to an unauthorized level, it’s a systematic process of looting the American public:

“The agency funneled ten million dollars out of the Marshall Plan and laundered it through various bank accounts of American Italians, who in turn ‘donated’ the funds to CIA front organizations and the Christian Democratic political party in Italy as charitable tax deductions.” (p. 117)

It seems a little complicated, but this procedure had several justifications:

“…it enabled the individuals who agreed to assist the CIA to do so without violating United States tax laws and it gave the CIA an internal audit procedure to provide a check on the flow and amount of money.” (p. 117)

This is just one declassified example, there are no doubt countless other operations buried in classified archives. If it was all on the up and up, one would expect for it to have happened out in the open, under the watchful eye of Congress, but it remained a secret until well after the Cold War ended. Untraceable cash, who wouldn’t want that?

Author Michael Swanson isn’t the only one to observe this, as Tim Weiner stated in his book Legacy of Ashes: the History of the CIA:

“It was a global money-laundering scheme that stayed secret until well after the cold war ended. Where the plan flourished in Europe and in Asia, so would American spies. ‘We’d look the other way and give them a little help,’ said Colonel R. Allen Griffin, who ran the Marshall Plan’s Far East division…Secret funds were the heart of secret operations. The CIA now had an unfailing source of untraceable cash.” (p. 32)

Now let’s take a step back and think of George Floyd, murdered in the street for trying to pass a counterfeit note, or Eric Garner, murdered on the sidewalk for selling loose cigarettes. When the average citizen is purported to have committed a crime, the police descend, swarm, and pounce. There is no law so trivial that, if broken, one could die at the hands of the police, but when the government commits a similar crime on an exponentially greater scale? It’s no big deal; it’s business as usual. 

Swanson recounts a myriad of CIA black operations the world over and specifically reminds us of the countless operations in South America, an all but forgotten era for a population overwhelmed with, and raised on, continued and never ending wars in the Middle East. Just like the CIA adventures in South America, the current Middle East adventures will be but a mere blip on the sordid historical map of U.S. interventions. There is no sphere of influence in which the War State will not participate and regardless of the outcomes of continued misadventures the funding is continually expanded regardless of the rhetoric of the parity in power.

The Permanent Government

The permanent government might seem to be a misnomer to the lay reader. Of course, one might proclaim, we need a permanent government! We should be permanently governed, for without government there would be chaos! This sentiment is odd indeed, given the daily news cycle confirming that we are surrounded by chaos. I can hear the common argument that without government, problem ‘A’ would exist, so easily forgetting that that problem already exists in the current government controlled paradigm.

One can see the permanent continuous government in action with President Trump’s decision to pull troops out of Syria, do you remember that? It wasn’t that long ago, but critics across the political spectrum were quick to come out of the woodwork to lambast the President on this decision. It is when you are getting attacked from all sides that you know you are getting to the heart of the matter. We are only a few months removed from this situation and many have already forgotten the hysteria surrounding the decision after being quickly guided to the coronavirus hysteria and non-stop coverage of rioting in the wake of the murder of George Flyod by the knee of a Minneaplis police officer. The United States is still killing people in the Middle East, in Africa and countless other countries the world over; the war machine rolls on even in the midst of a global pandemic and racial unrest.

In conclusion, I’ll leave you with a stunning admission from an unlikely source, a person whose job it was to advance and enable the War State and the State writ large in the name of American Exceptionalism, court historian, Arthur Schlesigner, Jr: 

“The permanent government soon developed its own cozy alliances with committees of Congress, its own ties to the press, its own national constituencies. It began to exude the feeling that Presidents come and go but it went on forever. The permanent government was, as such politically neutral; its essential commitment was to doing things as they had been done before…” inevitably, this surrendered, “presidential government to the permanent government.“ (p. 245)

Onward to the next war. Given the current circumstances surrounding police power and government regulatory overreach in the Covid Era in the United States, perhaps a new chapter needs to be written: The War State Comes Home.

Matt Taibbi on the Origins of the Russiagate Hoax

Matt Taibbi on the Origins of the Russiagate Hoax

From left, FBI Director James Comey, CIA Director John Brennan, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper sit together in the front row before President Barack Obama spoke about National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance in this Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, file photo at the Justice Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) ** FILE **

A New Whistleblower Exposes the ‘Cambridge Four’

This interview was recorded August 13, 2020. The computer garbled the audio terribly, but at least the auto-transcriber was able to make sense of it. The following is edited for clarity and minor mess-ups.

Scott Horton:
Alright you guys, introducing Matt Taibbi, formerly at Rolling Stone and now just doing his own thing over there at Substack. And of course, he also runs a podcast with Katie Halper called Useful Idiots, which is great. I watch it semi-regularly, at least. He’s got a brand new piece, “Our Man in Cambridge,” that goes along with this companion piece by Steve Schrage called, “The Spies Who Hijacked America.” Welcome back to the show, Matt. How are you doing, sir?

Matt Taibbi:
Good, how are you?

Horton:
I’m doing great. And you know what? I’m so glad that you’re focusing again on “Untitled-gate” here. I was pretty sad when you sort of abandoned that project for other things because I am just so curious about the origins of this gigantic Russiagate hoax, which, as my friend Dave Smith says, is as big a deal as if the accusations had been true. If everything they said about Donald Trump was true, the fact that it wasn’t is as big deal as that would have been. That’s what a crime it is that the FBI and the CIA falsely accused the president of treason for three years.

Taibbi:
Yeah, it’s funny when the story first broke in, I guess it was the end of December of 2016 when it first started becoming really a big, big deal. I remember saying to another journalist, “if this is true, it’s the biggest story ever. And if it isn’t true, it’s the biggest.” Because there was no other explanation as either as to be historic setup or, you know, historic kind of espionage tale. So it looks like the former.

Horton:
Yeah, absolutely. A lot of us knew from the very beginning. If people want to check the archives, I first interviewed Jeffrey Carr, the computer security expert, in July of 2016 about how CrowdStrike and/or the FBI don’t know who hacked into servers. The only people in the world who could know who hacked them is the NSA because they have God-like omniscient power of being able to rewind the entire internet and trace every packet wherever they want. No one else can do that. And no expert examining the server can tell you for sure who had been there, because it’s too easy to fake it. In this case, the tracks they left were so obvious, where they had references to “Iron Felix” and all these Cyrillic letters dumped in there and all this stuff. Pretty obviously, you know…

Taibbi:
From from a journalistic standpoint, the idea that we identify the source of the hack by somebody writing “Felix Edmundovich” in the code, it’s pretty ridiculous. It’s as if somebody wrote “Allen Dulles” in the middle of the Stuxnet code

Horton:
(Laughs) Right.

Taibbi:
You know what I mean? It would be very silly to think that would actually happen, you know?

Horton:
So anyway, So we have the different parts of this. And I sure would like to see your very meanest work on the hacking and leaking of those emails. I know this is a subject that you have not really focused the most on. But you know, your most recent work here, of course, is about the Steele Dossier and the group of retired old spies at Cambridge University and all of this. Steele was a part of that also, involved essentially in the framing of Page and Papadopoulos. Certainly Page. I don’t know about Papadopoulos. That’s, I guess, a different question. But anyway, so you have this new whistleblower. And so I guess I want to ask you just first of all, if you can explain who is Stephen Schrage? And why is it that it took him so long to come forward and tell the story here?

Taibbi:
Yeah, so Steven Schrage. He was a former State Department official, also was the chief of staff from Senator Scott Brown in Massachusetts. He was, you know, a fairly senior official in the Romney campaign in 2008, left government after he left the Brown office in the early two-thousand-tens, decided to go into academia and ended up pursuing a doctorate under Stephen Harper, who is the central figure in the old “Spygate” narrative, right? So he was the retired quasi-retired FBI-slash-CIA person who was teaching at Cambridge. And Schrage worked for Halper, and in fact is the reason that Halper met people like Carter Page, because he invited Page to a conference in circumstances that are quite humorous. We can get into that later. But to answer your question of why it took him so long to come forward, his take on this is that he didn’t know until Halper was named in the news, which I think was in May of 2018, that any of this had had any kind of like FBI significance to it. And he felt that he was a little bit conflicted, he said. He says he felt that his best shot to bring this story forward would be to go to the authorities. He did go to the Durham investigators last year, and then he came back again this year, and he decided to go public when he became concerned that perhaps that investigation was not going to end up being effective.

Horton:
I think he kind of accidentally unearthed this old audio that…

Taibbi:
Yes. So his relationship with Halper has deteriorated over the years, Halper being his doctoral advisor. And he says that with Halper’s permission, he had begun taping exchanges with with Halper as early as 2015, so that really so that he could go back and point out to him inconsistencies in his academic advice, I think is the idea. So he has lots of tape of Halper talking, and the two of them during these conversations. And after he met with the Durham people, the first time, he went back and reviewed some of those conversations, and some of them he didn’t expect to hear anything terribly interesting. But in one of them, it was two days before the big leak involving Michael Flynn. If you remember that story, the one that was written in the Washington Post involving reporting to David Ignatius, and he’s asking Halper, “Hey, do you think would be a good idea for me to go try to work for Michael Flynn who is now the National Security Advisor?” This guy had a long record of working with Republican politicians, you know, why not? And Halper says, “No, I don’t think he’s going to be around very long.”

Horton:
In fact, let’s just put that conversation here.

Horton:
So what did we just hear?

Taibbi:
Okay. Yeah. So basically this is January 10, 2017, and that’s two days before the Washington Post came out with this story that ended up having enormous consequences because the January 12 story said that Flynn had been on the phone with the Russian ambassador, Sergei Kislyak. And as a result of that leak, which incidentally was an illegal leak of telephonic surveillance, the FBI decided to re-interview Flynn. It was a result of that re-interview that they built their false statements charge and prosecuted Flynn. So the notion that somebody would know two days before that leak happened that Flynn was in deep trouble that he was not going to be around for very long, and that “if you know how these things work,” and that his opponents and so-called enemies are going to “turn up the heat” and all that stuff, it’s very suggestive of, you know, perhaps foreknowledge that something bad was going to happen to Flynn. From Schrage’s point of view, in the way he puts it was like, “I would have thought that the last person who would have job security issues in the Trump administration would be Flynn because he one of the only people who have real experience in Trump’s inner circle.” But, you know, the tapes incident suggests otherwise.

Horton:
David Ignatius, for people who aren’t familiar, he’s widely known as the CIA’s man at the Post. One of many, I guess. But when he writes, he’s always very, you know, keyed into what the intelligence community is saying, is really sort of the Mouth of Sauron for them in that way kind of, right?

Taibbi:
I can’t speak to his background. But certainly the idea that he’s very plugged into the CIA is kind of a known thing in the business.

Horton:
And we already know, right, that James Clapper, who right up until then was the Director of National Intelligence, I forget now the context of how we know that he had ordered this hit piece in the Post and said “now is the time to take the kill shot.” So from there, it seems like Ignatius, Halper and Clapper… that’s another sort of confirmation, right that Halper really knew something and wasn’t just making a wild guess here, and that then that would mean the director of the National Intelligence was in on it as well.

Taibbi:
Yeah, well, I believe the “killshot” quote came from Flynn’s second lawyer, Sidney Powell, who talked about… who theorized the leak traveled…

Horton:
Oh, I’m sorry about that if I screwed that up. I could have swore that was what I had read, that somebody had essentially caught Clapper giving that order.

Taibbi:
Yeah, so no, it came from Powell’s court filing.

Horton: For some reason I thought that that was what Clapper had told Ignatius. “You know what, pull the trigger on that article we’ve been waiting on here.”

Taibbi:
Yeah, but she just described it as Clapper. So yeah, “Powell also referenced a purported conversation between former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Washington Post reporter David Ignatius, claiming Clapper told the reporter words to the effect of ‘take the kill shot on Flynn,’ after he reportedly obtained the transcript of Flynn’s phone calls.” And then Clapper denied it.

Horton:
I gotcha.
So, what other indications do we have other than this guy…

Taibbi:
Steven Schrage.

Horton:
Okay, and what all indications do we have of, you know, other than just the way Halper sounded on that audio, that Halper was not just doing this with his friends, but was in league with the American intelligence agencies or even British MI-6?

Taibbi:
Well, he, he didn’t know that at the time. He only found out subsequently. At least that’s his story. But, you know, if you’re putting two and two together. And remember, Powell, who was Flynn’s lawyer, had theorized that the leak had gone through the Office of Net Assessment, which is a Pentagon office that was Halper’s employer. They paid Halper enormous sums of money, like over $400,000 during this period for these mysterious reports. So the theory is that the leak goes from somebody to the Office of Net Assessment to perhaps Halper. Or at least I think that’s what’s being suggested there.

Horton:
Yeah, I mean, well, you know, the Pentagon was certainly paying him all that money all that time for something. No other apparent publications by him at that time or any other thing, right, so seems pretty cut and dry.

Taibbi:
So, no, I mean, that’s a pretty that’s actually quite a funny subplot two this whole thing is how the whole Office of Net Assessment thing works. You know, it appears to be just a way to funnel money to informants and other people who are useful to the government. And essentially what they do, and I actually talked to some people who contributed to some of these reports, the ONA will pay somebody like $50,000 for a report on say China’s position in the world right now, right? And, and what the American will do is they will call up some person in a foreign country and offer them peanuts to put together basically a bunch of text around open source material, they send it back to him, he compiles it into a big document, sends it back to the Pentagon, does basically zero work and makes probably 10 times what the highest paid journalist in the world gets paid to do that same kind of stuff. So it’s pretty amazing. It’s amazing little subplot to the whole thing.

Horton:
Although, I mean, in this case, it doesn’t even seem like he was turning in those phony reports. He was getting paid. It seems like there’s a very good chance it was for this.

Taibbi:
Well, yeah, superficially, you can make the argument and there’s a whistleblower case involving this that’s coming out right now unrelated to Schrage, but there’s somebody in the Office of Net Assessment, who was claiming essentially that these payments were exactly for that kind of activity. If you’re interested in looking for this kind of thing, for instance, you can look for a document called “China: The Three Warfares,” and that’ll be online somewhere. You’ll see Halper didn’t really write anything in it, but I think he got paid something like $47,000 for this.

Horton:
What a racket.

Taibbi:
Yeah.

Horton:
All right now, so this guy, Schrage, he coined this new term, “the Cambridge Four,” it’s not just Halper, but it’s also Richard Dearlove — and of course Dearlove, the former head of MI-6 is most famous for having compiled the Downing Street Memos about the meeting at the so-called Crawford ranch in July of 2002, about how “we’ve decided that the policy is that we’re going to war and the facts are being fixed around the policy.” That was his job there.

Taibbi:
Yeah.

Horton: So, anyway, that’s what we know about Dearlove from before. He was the head of MI-6 at the time that the British helped lie us into war. And then there’s also of course Steele, he groups into this, and so maybe that’s an opportunity to talk a little bit more about his background as well. And then there’s this other guy, Christopher Andrew, who I think is would probably be the least known of the four. And you know, in terms of the broader public in terms of his role in all of this, but you guys both make the case that these four really were kind of working together throughout 2016 to gin this thing up. I think as you put it, then something really bad happened: Trump won anyway. This was supposed to stop him. And then once Trump won, now they’re in real trouble. So do they back down? No, they double-down. Right?

Taibbi:
Exactly. Yeah. It’s funny, though a lot of people, when they look at this scandal, imagine that it was this overwhelming, devastating conspiracy that involves, you know, really intense planning and tons of resources. And I don’t really think it played out that way. I think what you have here is a group of people who had an immediate financial interest in producing research. So somebody along the line and this is the part that we don’t really know yet. Somebody got it got it into their heads in 2015 or early 2016 that the Trump campaign had some kind of untoward relationship with the Russians. And at some point, the Democrats got interested in that topic and decided that they wanted to make political hay out of it, at which point they hired Fusion GPS and instructed them essentially to really look into the Russia issue. Fusion GPS, then hires Steele who was a former officer who had been stationed in Russia and had some expertise there, ran this private investigatory firm called Orbis, but he also had a relationship with Dearlove who was at Cambridge, and Dearlove had a relationship with Halper. So the two big wings of the pre-election investigatory effort involves Steele, who is getting paid very significant sums of money to produce research suggesting that Trump had all these relations with the Russians, and then there was Halper, who was also getting paid a lot of money to do the surveillance on Trump figures. And the interesting thing here is the sort of cross-pollination between those two plotlines. One seems to be ending up confirming the other and vice-versa. Carter Page gets invited to Cambridge by Schrage, Halper and Dearlove sees him there and then a week later Carter Page appears in Steele’s reports for the first time. And nobody even knew who this guy was before that. So that’s what’s interesting about this whole thing is that a lot of the stuff that ended up in the news later on really had their roots in just a couple of characters in this British University.

Horton:
We’ll get back to Papadopoulos here in a minute, but we know now, we found out relatively recently that the FBI discounted the Papadopoulos thing right away. I think the IG report said they decided “forget the Papadopoulos, we’re going to go with this Page thing.” So they really hung the FISA warrant applications and all of that on Page and his alleged connections to the Russians. And then this ought to be the biggest scandal of all, it almost always goes unmentioned, is the CIA told the FBI, “this guy belongs to us,” and the FBI blacked that out of their FISA application and pretended to not know that. And then think about this Matt: for three years, all those leaks from all those spooks to all those newspapers and TV stations, and nobody ever leaked that “Page belongs to the agency. He’s a loyal American patriot and when he met with the Russians, he came straight to us and told us everything.” They never leaked that in three years. We only found that out this spring in the IG report, right?

Taibbi:
Yeah, absolutely. That was outrageous on multiple levels. It was outrageous that that nobody mentioned any of the news reporters that Michael Flynn had told his agency about his planned trip to the RT dinner, and seems to have done a little little bit of reporting back to the DIA during that trip. And I think what’s most outrageous is the thing that you mentioned up top, which is that in August of 2016, the FBI concluded — this is literally within weeks after they commenced this investigation — they concluded, the direct quote is, “the evidence didn’t particularly indicate that George Papadopoulos was having any kind of interactions with Russians.” So they were admitting within weeks of starting the investigation that the entire predicate for the investigation was incorrect. And was for that reason that they moved on to Page, and as you say, they suppressed the evidence that might have might have exonerated him, or or prevented the surveillance from from going forward. And there’s some stuff that Schrage has on that too, by the way. But yeah, absolutely. The scandal here is not only that they they did all that stuff, but they kept telling reporters to dig into these questions years after they’d already moved on from them.

Horton:
Right. I mean, that really goes to show how dirty it all was that they were completely over it and continued anyway. You mentioned about how it doesn’t seem like Brennan and Comey and a couple others had a big meeting and said, “Okay, we’re going to frame Trump for treason with Russia,” in this kind of over-the-top way. But the way that the conspiracy developed, essentially was that the FBI counterintelligence division and the CIA were pretending to believe this stuff, right? Like in the case of Papadopoulos , they couldn’t even pretend to believe that anymore. So they threw that out. But I know you’ve mentioned this numerous times. To me the first thing- I didn’t even finish reading the Steele Dossier when it first came out because as soon as I got to the part that said that the Russians offered Carter Page a 19% ownership stake in the Russian state government-owned oil company Rosneft, which would have been worth billions of dollars, on the successful accomplishment of him seizing control of America’s sanctions policy from the Congress and getting all the sanctions on Russia lifted, I thought that’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.

Taibbi:
(Laughs.)

Horton:
And I’m supposed to believe that Comey read that and was really concerned? And he had his guys go to the FISA court because of this unheard of Benedict Arnold action by this active CIA asset. And I want to be clear, not “officer.” He wasn’t a CIA officer. He was a CIA asset, literally speaking, working for the CIA, as he’s going on his regular trips to Russia to meet with business people, right?

Taibbi:
Yeah. I don’t know what the term technically would be. But yes, he was giving information to them and had been for a couple of years and was in good standing with them. So the whole thing is preposterous. Yeah, the first time I read the Steele Dossier, there were so many red flags in there, that it just read like a really ridiculous piece of fiction. To me, it reminded me a lot of the Graham Green book Our Man in Havana, which is about a vacuum cleaner salesman who becomes a spy and decides to just send pictures of giant vacuum cleaners back to the home office in London, making them think that the Cubans are building one in the jungle. And they buy it, you know, and that’s what happened here. It was a bunch of goons are sort of making up a bunch of stories, but the the irony is that, yes, it turned into a real investigation. They bought it.

Horton:
And they ruined the lives of so many people, like this lady, Svetlana Lokhova.
Have you talked to her? Tell us about that. Because I think this was one of the more harmful aspects of this. It didn’t get too much play in the media, I don’t think, but it did get played in terms of how it affected Mike Flynn in his job, or in the case against him, right?

Taibbi:
Yes. This is a very dark story and I’ve worked on this and haven’t been able to really tell all of it, but the outlines of it are as follows. In February of 2014, Michael Flynn who was then Barack Obama’s the head of the DIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, he visited Cambridge, and he was at an official dinner, and during that dinner he was sitting at a table where he was surrounded by two of these figures, Christopher Andrew and Richard Dearlove, and then a fourth person was this woman Svetlana Lokhova who was a doctoral candidate under Andrew. And at that dinner she showed Flynn an old postcard written by Stalin that she had uncovered during a trip to Russia to look through the old NKVD-KGB archives, and they had a conversation lasting about 10 minutes. The entire thing was supervised and surrounded by these sort of luminaries of British intelligence. And nobody said anything about it for two years. And then after all this nonsense started in the summer of 2016, suddenly Halper — who was there that night, although he wasn’t at the dinner — Dearlove, and then later also Andrew ended up sounding the alarm and saying that that Flynn had been seduced by a Russian national at that dinner. And this is something I know for a fact, which is that multiple members of the U.S. media were told by American sources that Flynn was actively having an affair with a Russian agent around that time. And if you go back and look you’ll find that at that time there were a series of news stories that started to come out in December 2016. And then in March of 2017, about Flynn’s interaction with this woman. And it all came from this idea that these these goofballs cooked up that Flynn had been seduced in that five or ten minute conversation by a Russian, because it was the only conversation with a Russian that anybody could think that he had, which is crazy.

Horton:
Yeah, and as Schrage says in his piece about this, this woman, as you just mentioned, was Andrew’s student. And he says at that time in 2014, she was a brand new mother and they just drag this woman through the mud saying that she is a spy, a honeypot, working for Vladimir Putin to suborn Mike Flynn and compromise him in all this treason. I guess you said you talked to her. This really destroyed her life to a great degree, right?

Taibbi:
Yeah, absolutely. And it was completely sociopathic on the part of all these people. And I talked to a bunch of the journalists who covered the story…

Horton:
Like who?

Taibbi:
It was all off the record. You can guess by looking at the bylines. There were only five or six major characters who covered this thing. But they all said the same thing. Basically, they were approached by Americans in late 2016. And told, you know, without any hesitation, that Flynn was having an affair with a Russian. This was this was big enough news that American reporters were flown over to London to cover it. And they dug, they tore through this woman’s personal life and they eventually put her name out there. And they never had any kind of real indication that anything had happened.

Horton:
Well, and they didn’t just pick up the phone and call DIA and say “When this guy was your boss, did you guys have any indication that he was sleeping with the enemy?” How about that for a dog that didn’t bark?

Taibbi:
Well and he had passed security clearances multiple times after that, which tells you that whatever these informants thought, they certainly didn’t raise any alarm about it for a significant period of time, for years at least. So the whole thing was was absurd on its face, and I think that a good reporter would have run run screaming in the other direction from the story because there’s just there’s no there there, you know, but they did it anyway. And what was amazing about that is that it led ultimately to the exposure of Halper because he was one of the people who alerted the FBI to this nefarious connection between Flynn and this woman. And his name eventually came out in the newspapers, but they were far more concerned about protecting the identity of Halper than they were about Svetlana Lokhova. So the whole thing was crazy.

Horton:
Yeah. And then, but, you know, it really is just like the Iraq war. You made that comparison in your writing before, where, you know, the case for the war against Iraq was about 10 or 15 points long, and every single one of them was zero.

Taibbi:
(Laughs)

Horton:
But a hawk could keep talking all day about why we have to do it. It’s just at the end of his talk, 15 times zero is still zero. None of it’s true. It’s all lies, but it’s like 15 lies. And so it’s the same kind of thing with this: people talking about, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” But it’s not smoke, it’s steam. It’s hot air. It’s all bs, but there’s so much of it, when people want to believe, there’s enough there for them to believe in. You know, we saw the way people got caught up in this. The entire cult of not the left, but the liberal sort of centrist Democratic Party types in this country, by the 10s of millions got caught up in this thing.

Taibbi:
Yeah, and I think it really speaks to, you know, kind of a problem that we have with the way we do investigative journalism in this country. There’s sort of a loophole that you can drive through with national security stories, which is if somebody from one of the spy agencies or from the FBI calls up and tells you like a shaggy dog story, but says, “Hey, I’m sorry, I got to keep my name out of this,” the newspapers will very frequently just run with that stuff anyway. So the normal fact checking process that we would go through to check all kinds of other things, we just don’t do that with this kind of story, which is one of the reasons the Iraq thing happened. Right. So it looks somebody in the military tells Judith Miller that, “Hey, we know we’ve got something just over the next hill that proves he’s got the WMDs,” but it’s a nameless, faceless source, right? That stuff ends up in the newspapers with amazing frequency. That happened over and over and over again with this Russia story. You know, they just kept driving through that loophole.

Horton:
Yep. And then of course, the other thing is, you have to have two sources. But who’s to say they’re not, you know, coming up with a list together of “here are the journalists we’re going to lie to. I’m going to call him on Tuesday. You call him on Wednesday, and we’ll have it in the paper by Thursday.”

Taibbi:
Right. Yeah, exactly. Or the classic construction of an intelligence source who tells a somebody in a congressional committee that’s like the House or Senate Intel committees. And so the congressional source tells their source to call up the reporter, and then puts the person in touch with the original source, but it’s a game of telephone. It’s not like you’re getting the story independently confirmed by another source. It’s just the same story that ran through two people. And that’s the problem that you have with these kinds of stories is that when the names aren’t made public, you can’t tell whether it’s just one narrative that’s been passed around an office, or whether it’s something that actually multiple people can confirm.

Horton:
Yeah. And we actually had the argument ad-absurdum on this sort of thing just recently with the story about the Russians paying for American scalps in Afghanistan, where the next day after the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post put out this story, on Twitter all the reporters were telling each other “my story is confirmed by his story, which is confirmed by the other story.” And yet all they say is “anonymous sources tell us.” They have no evidence and no compelling narrative whatsoever. In fact, over the next couple of weeks, as they tried to create a compelling narrative, it all completely fell apart. And no one was willing to stand by the story and so it was all dead. But Charlie Savage really thought that when Warren Strobel wrote the same thing, that “See, I’m right.” And he didn’t even know how foolish he sounded. And I pick on Charlie Savage because I used to respect him a little bit.

Taibbi:
Yeah. Actually, I often thought that he was one of the better reporters that the Times had. But you know, this is an example. That story is a prime example of how this stuff works. Who among the American press corps, is going to be able to confirm that some warlord in Afghanistan got a bag of money to go assassinate Americans? That’s an unconfirmable story. The only way we’re going to ever get to that story is, is by the Americans who actually came up with it. And it could be the same anonymous source talking to five different newspapers. So they’re not confirming each other. They’re just confirming that they heard a story.

Horton:
Yep. And in fact, one more I’m sorry, It just came to mind and is so important, I think. Although I’m not sure how much of an impact it made, but last Saturday, the New York Times in the weekend magazine ran a 10,000 word hit piece on Donald Trump, essentially by the CIA. And I gotta tell you that I bet you a third or two thirds of it is true about how completely stupid Trump is. You can’t even talk to him in pictures anymore. And all he wants to talk about is his inauguration crowd size again, and this kind of garbage. I more or less believe it. But at the same time, what the hell is going on here? Another giant hit piece with what, 15 different CIA people went and talked to this reporter for this gigantic weekend magazine expose on Trump. And all it is is CIA guys complaining about the president. Who the hell do they think they are, these people? You know?

Taibbi:
And Bernie Sanders.

Horton:
Yeah, of course.

Taibbi:
That story, right? They talked about the NIE. Yeah, and I think what bothers me is somebody who kind of grew up in this business is that there was a time period where the normal attitude of somebody who worked in the news media was to be at best distrustful of people who work for the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, to a lesser extent. It was less of a thing back then. But now it’s like these people are the biggest stars in the world, and whatever they say is like gospel. And it’s not only that they get to say whatever they want in these newspapers, basically without any pushback, that, you know, they leave these agencies and immediately get million dollar positions on television and cable news. It’s like, you know, there’s just no skepticism that’s built into the media system about about information that comes from these folks anymore. And that’s that’s really depressing.

Horton:
Yeah, well, and you can see why people believe Earth is flat, or God knows what, because the same people who told them the Earth is round are the same people who lie to them about everything. And so they don’t know where to draw the line. They don’t understand. They know that it’s not the way TV and the newspapers say. So maybe it is this Q-Anon thing. Or maybe it is Vladimir Putin. Or maybe it’s some off-the-wall explanation because whatever it is, the common narrative delivered to us daily doesn’t make sense. You know? It doesn’t hold up, and so if these are the people we have to rely on, you know, people turn their back, but then which way do they go? Next thing you know they’re having a protest burning masks, or whatever it is because they’re caught up in who knows what.

Taibbi:
Yeah. And I think you brought up a good example there with the press attitude towards the Covid coverage. We went through these amazing stages right where they they first they were they were furiously angry at anybody who went outside to protest the lockdowns. Then during the Black Lives Matter protests, these the exact same sources, the exact same op ed writers simply said that it was more important to protest than it was to worry about the pandemic. And then they went back to the first thing a few weeks after that. So what’s the ordinary news consumer supposed to think watching all this? “Should I say inside? Or if I think it’s really important, can I go outside? I have no idea.” And I think people in this business underestimate the impact of those kinds of inconsistencies.

Horton:
Well, and you know, I’m sorry, because I hate the media so much, and you’re so good at talking about that. But I wanted to touch on a couple of more details here real quick if it’s okay. The recent revelations just in the last few weeks about declassified testimony from the House and Senate hearings on this stuff, where we found out finally who Christopher Steele’s sources were after being told they were high-level Russian government employees and people who work for powerful oligarchs and all this stuff this whole time. It turns out that what now? Where did he get this stuff?

Taibbi:
From a Washington-based analysts from the Brookings Institution named Igor Danchenko, who didn’t live in-country. He did travel to Russia for the story, but in an affidavit the FBI released where they interview him, he says he didn’t have any contact with any senior intelligence or any intelligence officials, that part of his M.O. was to drink heavily with the sub-sources that he talked openly about his sub-sources trying to monetize their relationship with him. It’s absurd that anybody ever took any of this stuff seriously. And if you read the FBI’s interview with this guy, you realize he was just kind of selling wolf whistles the whole time. He was openly going around telling people they can make money by giving him information. And they guessed what he wanted and gave him some information, but it’s not reliable.

Horton:
Can you refresh my memory on when it was the FBI had created… It must have been right away, or early in the investigation, when they got the Steel Dossier in the summer of 2016, they created this big spreadsheet where they crossed everything off the list as possibly being reliable information, or found that anything in there that was true, had been published in the Washington Post two days before and so we know that that was where they got it, the little kernels of truth here and there. Because that was even before they had gone to the FISA court, or at least back the second time or something, right?

Taibbi:
I’m not sure exactly when they did that process. I know that in the IG report, the Horowitz report, they talked about doing an analysis of how much of the original reporting in the Steele reports can be trusted, and the conclusion they essentially came to is that the true stuff in here has already been publicly reported. So (laughs) I don’t think they found anything original that turned out to be right in the report.

Horton:
Now, so the part about this that is to me the most interesting is the very few sporadic reports… And somewhere in the back of my head, I think you had mentioned in this, in some of your “Untitled-gate” reporting, that some of these contacts with the informants and the Trump people went back even to 2015. I can’t remember if that involved Halper or Papadopoulos. But also I don’t know the role of the Misfud and who originally put Misfud on the case of Papadopoulos. I guess the most I know about the Papadopoulos thing is from Michael Tracy’s interview with him where he talks about how he went and got this job and how immediately they were trying to set him up and figure out a way to put pro-Russian words in his mouth or some kind of thing. But who exactly was Misfud? And what was his role in this? And beginning when? I guess are to me the biggest questions. And same for Halper. What was the very first time that they started this put-on?

Taibbi: We don’t really know. My theory about how this began early-on was was based on some things that I heard a couple of years ago that I haven’t been able to really suss out since. We know for sure that by late July of 2016, that people were actively trying to approach both Papadopoulos and Page. Schrage’s account, you know, this is the guy that I’m talking to now, in his telling basically, they don’t start getting interested in Page until the second week of July 2016. And that’s basically when Dearlove runs into Page at this conference at Cambridge. And suddenly it seems like everybody’s interested in Page and any other Trump contacts. But the question of Misfud is really still one of the outstanding mysteries of this whole thing. Like where is this guy? Who is he? It’s pretty clear that the even the FBI didn’t believe that he was actually a Russian agent. He was in the U.S. briefly. I believe it was January of 2017 and released, interviewed and let go. So he couldn’t possibly have ever really been a suspected Russian spy. And yet they constructed the entire investigation based on the idea that he was one. So the whole thing doesn’t make any sense. I mean, it seems like it was much ado about nothing from the start.

Horton:
And, you know, this is not concrete. But I think the timeline is pretty indicative of a set-up here where Assange announced on I think June 14, that “Yeah, we’ve got some Hillary emails coming out here soon,” this kind of thing. And that gave the CIA three days heads up to come up with this Guccifer crap to try to sort of insinuate, you know, Russian, I guess, Cyrillic letters as part of it from from Guccifer’s thing. Wikileaks never published that stuff, but it’s sort of like with the Flynn accusations with this woman. “Well, it could be true… Men and women do have sex sometimes,” or something. So yes, it could be true that these emails all come from the same source, it sort of seems that way. And then that was right around the same time, the beginning of summer 2016. Seems like they decided “Whatever we can do to bring up the word Russia in the context of Trump, we’re going to try to do that, and blame them for the sabotage of Hillary Clinton.”

Taibbi: Yeah. The other time was really interesting. I have to admit that that’s part of the story that I haven’t looked at a whole lot. To be honest, the reason I haven’t is because my technical chops are not so hot in terms of being able to assess who is and who could have and who maybe didn’t try to hack the DNC, but certainly the all the release testimony that came out, suggests they had, they never had anything like a concrete indication that there was any kind of relationship between the Russians, this hack, Guccifer and Julian Assange. They never concretely established any of that. It was all a series of pretty thin assumptions. Obviously, the other amazing thing about that is that they never interviewed Assange about it, which tells you that they weren’t interested in the answer or, you know, I don’t know. I don’t know what that means.

Horton:
Yeah, I was actually pleasantly surprised by the language in the Muller report where some lawyer somewhere said “No, we have to go ahead and admit that we have nothing here.” And so they say they believe the Russians did the hack, but they don’t demonstrate that. And then they admit they can’t demonstrate a chain of custody to WikiLeaks. You know, after three years of “the Russians gave it to WikiLeaks,” Robert Mueller admitted that he had no causal chain, sorry.

Taibbi:
Yeah, there’s just mountains of testimony and investigation of the question of you know, whether or not there was foreknowledge or whether or not there was a relationship there, but they’ve never actually come up with anything that proves any of that story. And also, that was all going on independently of these of these other two prongs of the story with Steele and the spying. Like, I don’t know, to what degree that they might have been connected. But, you know, either way, it was all seemingly pretty absurd.

Horton: Yeah. You know, the whole thing about the Logan Act, we’re now and this is where Joe Biden comes in, is that Biden apparently was the one who brought up “Hey, maybe we can use the Logan Act as an excuse against Flynn here.” And Sally Yates at DOJ also said, “Oh, yeah, when I read the transcripts of the conversation between Flynn and Kislyak, and then I knew what he had said to the FBI, I thought ‘Oh, no! Now the Russians have compromised him because he’s breaking the Logan Act and lying about it, and so now they’ll have this over him.'” Even though the Logan Act might as well not even exist at all. And in this context, we’re not talking about a businessman from Houston making a separate deal with the UAE or something like that. We’re talking about the designated incoming national security adviser of the president elect of the United States, not in the summer, we’re talking about after the election, after the Electoral College has voted. This guy is the designated national security adviser. I mean, they might as well bring up child abuse or whatever. They’re just pretending to have a legal pretext at that point, right?

Taibbi: Yeah, especially in the context of all the other stuff that was going on with that investigation. The fact that they investigated Flynn for all these other things. They have this whole absurd Crossfire Razor sub-investigation that had come up dry. They were recommending, the people on that case were recommending that they give it up. And, you know, some folks didn’t want to, and they decided to hold on to the idea of of dirtying Flynn through this preposterous interpretation of this call to Kislyak. And the crime here, the idea that the Logan Act was violated is far less serious crime than the actual one, leaking the telephonic communication which is a felony, and that definitely happened. And you’re absolutely right that the Logan Act, even if it was something that we were ever going to prosecute, and we never have, it was not intended to cover the incoming national security adviser who was weeks away from taking power and essentially was telling the Russian ambassador, “Hey, you know, don’t overreact. Chill out.”
Like, that’s really what happened. So the whole thing was absurd.

Horton: Yeah, I mean, that is such an important point too. What was the secret big deal communication here is he was saying, “Don’t overreact in a tit for tat over Obama’s new sanctions, because after all, he’s on his way out. And we want to strike a better note.” And, you know, this goes back to what you’re saying about Flynn at DIA. This was a three star general, who was the head of the DIA and had this whole, you know, years-long liaison relationship with the Russian military. Not that he was a traitor supported by them. He was an American three star General, who had a pretty good relationship with some powerful people in the Russian military, which is the kind of thing that all other things being equal, and no Russiagate hoax involved, is the kind of thing that all Americans ought to celebrate. And think of it, probably the best thing about this kook, Mike Flynn, who after all, is sort of a Michael Ledeen co-author, Iran hawk, nutball, who said a couple good things about Syria one time. He said a couple of good things about Russia, but is otherwise a pretty dangerous character. And yet, he gets along with the Russian military. That ought to be a bright spot in the mind of all 7 billion people in the world. Isn’t that what we want, for America and Russia to get along, no matter what?

Taibbi: Absolutely, and I think a lot of the genesis of the Democratic Party frustration and the Obama administration frustration with Flynn was that he had had an open disagreement with that administration about some pretty serious strategic questions that among other things involved the Russians. Flynn was the subject of some reporting by Sy Hersh. And essentially was going public with this idea that the Obama administration was making a mistake by trying to make allies of so called moderates in Syria, who was saying we’re not really moderates, they were more like al Qaeda, and that the preferable way to go was to team up with the Russians to to combat those kinds of extremists. And, you know, there was disagreement about that. But I could understand both the arguments for both sides of that. But the notion that he was doing something that was treasonous is crazy. It was a strategic idea that he had that you could agree with or disagree with it, but it’s certainly not outside the pale of normal behavior.

Horton: And Susan Rice pretended — again going along with this narrative that it must be treason. She said that she had a conversation with Flynn, where he should’ve just humored her. What an idiot this guy. But instead he decided to get in an argument with her about how, “Nah, Russia’s fine. Russia’s no big deal. It’s China that we’ve got to worry about.” And then Rice said, “When I heard that I thought, ‘Oh no, it must be true. He really is a traitor under the control of some foreign power, because how could any American think that?'” Actually, a lot of people think that. I’m not one of them. But that’s a point of view. In fact, Trump said, “I went and talked with Henry Kissinger. And I said, ‘Henry, I think we ought to get along with Russia because the real enemy is China.’ And Henry Kissinger told me ‘You’re right, Trump go with that.'” So he’s supposed to be the longest gray beard of all. This is a strategic question: Which side of the Sino-Russian split are you on? We’re all Richard Nixon playing Risk here. Only when Trump and Flynn do it, it’s high treason.

Taibbi: Yeah, it’s amazing. I think some of that comes from Americans not having a real clue about what Russia is, you know, Russia is a geographically massive country with a pretty big military. But economically, it’s like somewhere between Italy and South Korea. It’s not a major power, it’s got very, very serious internal problems. It’s nowhere near the level of geopolitical rival that the Chinese are. Now you could say that they have a terrible government. And you could say that Putin is not a good leader. And I certainly have been very critical of him in the past. But I wouldn’t put Russia in the same category as, say, China in terms of the size of the rivalry there.

Horton: I know you lived there for many years and that kind of thing. For most of us, Russia is a place in our imagination. We don’t really know anything about it. And on one hand our government, say John McCain for example, who said “Oh, come on, Russia is a gas station with a border. It’s not even a country at all.” Obama ridiculed them and said, “Russia is a regional power at best.” But then they turn around and say, “Actually Russia’s intelligence agencies are responsible for the election results of every country everywhere in a world where we don’t like how they turn out. And they’re about to take over and conquer all of Eastern Europe again, like back in the bad old days.”

Taibbi: Right. I mean, in 2012, Obama was essentially saying the Russia “is the gnat on the bottom of an elephant,” which I thought was a pretty good description, having lived there. The old description of the Soviet Union, that I think Henry Kissinger said, was that “Russia is Upper Volta with rockets.” You know, it’s a country with a big military, it’s powerful in that sense. It certainly exerts a lot of influence on the countries that are on its borders, but internationally, it’s just not this chaotic juggernaut that they’re making it out to be in the press. And it doesn’t have anywhere near the economic power of China.

Horton: Alright, so then one last thing here is about the effect of this have on Trump. Say, for example, if they had never cooked up this Russiagate thing in the first place. And the President had been free to pursue this Russia policy in the same way that any other president would have been. I mean, for that matter, Reagan negotiated with Gorbachev, when he was the, you know, Supreme Leader of the Soviet Union and General Secretary of the Communist Party, and all of these things. And so, nevermind the opportunity costs of just what could have been in terms of progress, but just think of how backwards everything is going. You know, I interviewed Branco Marcetic from Jacobin magazine last week about all the anti-Russia positions that Trump has taken over and over again, and to a great degree, even in his own words, to protect himself from these attacks. “They keep accusing me of being soft on Russia. Well I’m not soft on Russia. I’ve done this, this and this.” Including he’s pulling troops out of Germany, but he’s moving them to Poland, which is even worse. And, you know, I’m sure you’ve got something to say about what might have been here if we, if our government was not caught up in this crazy narrative that they themselves have generated about Russia here.

Taibbi: Yeah. You know, I was not a fan of Donald Trump. I didn’t vote for him. I don’t think I’ll be voting for him again, but the the degree to which all of this handicapped his presidency and all the things that happened, particularly during the transition period, when there are all these leaks, was about Flynn or about the pee tape, or handing Trump the Steele report. He entered the presidency basically from day one facing a DEFCON 5 emergency. And you know, I would argue that this is a person who, under the best circumstances would have had a difficult time doing a great job because he probably, you know, he doesn’t have the experience and it would have been a rough ride anyway. But with this going on, I think it was inexcusable. What the press and all these these creatures in the intelligence services did to handicap the presidency — I get not liking Donald Trump, but this is also the country you know, that suffered when all this took up all of our time for three years. You know, it was was really ridiculous. And so yeah, you’re right on that.

Horton: There’s got to be some kind of accountability. I can’t imagine someone publishing Jane Mayer again, for example, or David Corn. We’re going to continue to use people who, you know went so far out on the limb with this garbage? — and boy there’s exhaustive list of them. I guess I should say exhausting.

Taibbi: There’s a long history of failing upward in the journalism business, right? Like the people who were the most wrong on Iraq tended to get promoted upward. I mean, look at who’s editing The Atlantic magazine right now. You know, people like Jonathan Chait and the editorial page editor of the Washington Post who got so much wrong. I mean, basically Judy Miller was the only one who paid. Everybody else kind of got away with it. And that’s another thing. We talked about this earlier, that’s the thing: that the public sees the stuff. You know, people in journalism think that the audiences aren’t paying attention, but they do pay attention. When we screw things up there has to be some kind of reckoning, or else we lose our credibility.

Horton:
Although, you know, what you talk about in your book, about all the different “silos” of information, you can see that there are huge swathes of the liberal side who still believe in this stuff because they were never made to confront the failure of the story when it all came out. They kind of had a narrative that “well, Bob Muller gave an old man rambling testimony to the Senate,” but they didn’t break down here’s what the report actually said about all that stuff that we said. They just let it go. And so you see on Twitter, of course, but really everywhere you see Democrats still believe that, in the words of recent rando I saw that, “Vladimir Putin sure got his money’s worth with Trump.” As Nancy Pelosi said, just in the recent Afghanistan scalp story, that “all roads lead back to Putin.” She said the same thing during the impeachment. They really still believe this stuff.

Taibbi: I know. You know, there was a woman who recently resigned from MSNBC, Ariana Pekary, and she wrote a note publicly saying part of the reason she she quit is because she had come to the conclusion or she quoted one of her co-workers basically saying that, “we’re not in the business of informing, we’re in the business of comforting our audiences.” So, you know, they believe the Russia thing, and there’s news that comes out that contradicts it, they just don’t put it out there because they know it’s going to upset their audiences. So they just allow them to kind of wallow in their ignorance, which is, I think a disservice.

Horton: Alright, well, listen. Thank you so much for coming back on the show, Matt. It’s always great talking to you and reading your great journalism.

Taibbi: Thanks Scott.

Horton: The book is Hate Inc., and you’ve got to subscribe at Substack — which, by the way, can I ask you a favor? Is there a way that I can get you to turn off the paywall on “Our Man in Cambridge,” for a couple of days so we can link to it at Antiwar.com?

Taibbi: (Laughs.) I’ll try, yeah. I’ll ask the Substack guys to do that.

Horton: We ran “The Spies Who Hijacked America” by Steven Schrage there as our Spotlight the other day and I’d like to Spotlight “Our Man in Cambridge” as well.

Taibbi: Okay.

Horton: But you gotta subscribe. He’s independent from Rolling Stone, now at Substack.com. And of course you can follow him on Twitter and all those great things. And again, his show is called Useful Idiots with Katie Halper. And thank you again. Appreciate it.

Taibbi: Alright, thanks. Take care.

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.

As More Children Learn From Home, The State Is Cracking Down on ‘Virtual Truancy’

As More Children Learn From Home, The State Is Cracking Down on ‘Virtual Truancy’

As remote learning creates more distance between school districts and students, school and state officials are clinging to control however they can. From sending Child Protective Services (CPS) agents to investigate charges of neglect in homes where children missed Zoom classes last spring, to proposing “child wellbeing checks” in homes this fall, government schools and related agencies are panicking over parents having increased influence over their children’s care and education during the pandemic.

A front page article in yesterday’s Boston Sunday Globe describes the experiences of several parents who were interrogated by CPS agents last spring when their children missed remote classes or failed to submit homework assignments amidst pandemic-related school shutdowns. Some parents didn’t have Internet access and were blindsided by the CPS investigations of “virtual truancy.” One Latina mother featured in the Globe story is Em Quiles, who, like many parents last spring, scrambled to care for her children and continue to work during tremendous upheaval and uncertainty. According to the Globe:

Then in June, Quiles was stunned to receive a call from the state’s Department of Children and Families. The school had accused Quiles of neglect, she was told, because the 7-year-old missed class and homework assignments.

“I couldn’t believe it,” she said.

Quiles lived one of the worst nightmares for a parent: A neglect charge, if substantiated, can lead to removing a child from their home.

While most of the parents featured in the Globe story were ultimately exonerated, previous interaction with CPS, even if unfounded, can act as a Scarlet Letter for parents, haunting them for years to come. More troubling, parents singled out for CPS enforcement are disproportionately low-income and minority, often lacking the resources to defend themselves against government overreach. According to the Globe: “Most of the families caught up in remote learning allegations are Latino or Black, groups that are likely to be overrepresented in state foster care at all times.”

School districts across the country have a history of activating CPS against parents who stray from a district’s command and control. An in-depth 2018 investigative report by The Hechinger Report and HuffPost revealed that schools increasingly use child protective services as a “weapon against parents”—especially parents who lack the means to fight back.

Truancy has long been a trigger for CPS investigations, and now virtual truancy seems poised to accelerate these practices during the pandemic. This is particularly concerning because, just as in typical truancy cases, virtual truancy is often prompted by factors other than parental neglect. Special needs students and students with disabilities or health conditions may have more school absences, and they may find virtual learning to be uniquely challenging. A 2019 HuffPost article entitled The Human Costs of Kamala Harris’ War on Truancy, found that strict truancy laws and enforcement terrorized families, with parents being pulled out of their homes in handcuffs and sent to jail.

Cheree Peoples, one of the parents spotlighted in the HuffPot piece, whose daughter missed school frequently due to sickle cell anemia, was awakened in the early hours by police officers who arrested her for truancy. She told the HuffPost: “You would swear I had killed somebody.”

The HuffPost article, revealed that then Democratic presidential candidate and now the presumptive Democratic vice presidential nominee, Kamala Harris, was responsible for much of the heightened aggression toward parents regarding truancy. As California’s attorney general, Harris was a crusader against truancy and was instrumental in toughening criminal prosecution of parents whose children missed too much school. According to HuffPost, Harris “persuaded the state legislature to adopt harsher penalties for truancy. Under the new law, the parent or guardian of a young, truant child could face a fine of $2,500 or more—or one year in jail. Harris pushed hard for the law as she was running for attorney general, and it passed just as she won the election. ‘We are putting parents on notice,’ Harris said at her 2011 inauguration.”

Criminal investigations of child neglect tied to virtual truancy are set to skyrocket this fall, as school districts across the country adopt remote learning plans. Worried that parents can’t be trusted to care for their own children, some education officials have proposed large scale “child wellbeing checks,” by government agents. Last week, the Tennessee Department of Education announced that it would be performing these wellbeing checks on children across the state. This plan created such an uproar among Tennessee parents and conservative lawmakers that the proposed initiative was withdrawn and its guidelines removed from the education department’s website.

Despite this immediate victory, all parents should remain on alert. School and state officials, aided by high-profile academics, will likely seek to increase CPS involvement in family affairs during remote learning and beyond. Elizabeth Bartholet, the Harvard Law School professor who made headlines last spring when she called for a presumptive ban on homeschooling, spoke out last week in favor of increased CPS action this fall. In an interview with Harvard Law Today, Bartholet said: “My overall general recommendation is that educators and CPS agencies need to recognize the level of problems that kids at home are now facing in terms of risk of both education and maltreatment, and come up with some creative new solutions.”

In the interview, Bartholet acknowledged the heightened interest in independent homeschooling, as more parents choose to forgo district learning this fall and consider separating from their school district going forward. According to Bartholet: “Roughly three percent of the population is now homeschooled. Let’s say that increases to six percent post-COVID. Legislators and other policymakers may look at that and say, ‘Wow, now this is a big phenomenon, it may continue to grow. Of course, it shouldn’t be just this lawless world out there with no rules and regulations and oversight. Of course, this should be part of our overall regulated educational system.’”

As I’ve written previously, homeschooling should not be part of the overall regulated education system. It is a form of private education that is separate and distinct from state schooling, and many parents are now finding that they prefer homeschooling over other education options. Parents are pulling their children out of school this fall in record numbers, dissatisfied with school reopening plans and aiming for greater educational freedom and flexibility. So many parents submitted online intent to homeschool forms in North Carolina last month that it crashed the state’s nonpublic education website. Perhaps not surprisingly, a recent report by a law professor at North Carolina’s Duke University called for greater regulation and oversight of the state’s growing ranks of homeschoolers.

As parents pull away from state-controlled education and assume greater responsibility for their children’s learning, the state will hasten efforts to maintain and expand its authority through its monopoly on the use of force. From virtual truancy claims and increased CPS investigations that disproportionately target poor parents and families of color, to calls for child wellbeing checks and more homeschooling regulations, the state will not willingly yield control of children’s education to parents.

Parents should strongly reject these heavy-handed efforts to interfere with family life during and after the pandemic, and be especially vigilant about helping low-income and minority parents to resist as well. Minimizing state power while maximizing individual liberty is the hallmark of a free society. Now more than ever, parents are exercising and securing their freedom to raise and educate their children as they choose. Parents may have been put on notice, but they are pushing back and opting out.

This article was originally featured at the Foundation for Economic Education and is republished with permission.

The Constitution Is Not Your Friend

The Constitution Is Not Your Friend

One of the biggest misconceptions I hear about the Constitution is that it was written to “protect our liberty.”

It wasn’t. At least not in a direct sense.

The confusion likely arises from the words of the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

It’s true that the Constitution was written during a time when protecting unalienable rights was widely viewed as the primary role of government. But the Constitution is not a philosophical document. It is a legal document that formed a political union and created a central government.

That’s all it does. Asking it to “protect your rights” is really asking too much. That wasn’t why it was written or ratified.

Now the Constitution does reflect the philosophy espoused in the Declaration in that it established a general government of limited, enumerated powers. The decentralized nature of the political system it created was intended to encourage liberty.

By strictly limiting the authority of the general government, the founding generation hoped it would never possess enough the power to intrude on our rights.

But there isn’t any provision in the Constitution that actually empowers the federal government to protect our liberty. In fact, the founding generation would have almost certainly considered that too much power for a general government to wield.

In practice, this means the federal government really doesn’t have any responsibility to “protect your rights” beyond staying within its constitutionally delegated powers. Its obligation isn’t to act in order to protect liberty, it is to not act outside of its legitimate authority.

In the same way, the Bill of Rights was never intended to empower the federal government to protect your rights. As the preamble to the Bill of Rights makes clear, it was intended to add “further declaratory and restrictive clauses” to the Constitution “in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers.” I have often said it would be better named “The Bill of Restrictions.”

A lot of people want the Constitution to deliver something it never promised. They want the government to serve as a liberty enforcement squad. This is a dangerous proposition. In order to protect your liberty, the government must define your liberty. The best thing the government can do is stay out of the way. The Constitution created a limited federal government for that purpose.

But it’s ultimately up to us to hold it within its limits. Unfortunately, by insisting that the government “protect their rights” they are doing the exact opposite.

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

Western Europe Puts Free Speech in the Crosshairs

Western Europe Puts Free Speech in the Crosshairs

As Murray Rothbard, writing in Power and Market, noted: “Democracy may be thought of, not so much as a value in itself, but as a possible method for achieving other desired ends…Democracy, after all, is simply a method of choosing governors and issues, and it is not so surprising that it might have value largely to the extent that it serves as a means to other political ends.”

In several western countries, the legal framework protecting individual rights is challenged. Political activists and intellectuals are taking advantage of the social and economic discontentment to promote centralized forms of governance as a solution to societal and economic problems. They argue that this unprecedented reinforcement of centralized power should inevitably come with a redefinition and reduction of individual rights. In this context, individual rights, such as private property rights and freedom of speech, are purposely named “negative” rights because those are individual rights which protect a person against the aggression and coercion of others. These “negative” rights are increasingly constrained and progressively replaced with “positive” or “social” freedoms that may only be guaranteed with more government planning and redistributive control to ensure that individual action remains confined within the collective of the society as defined and enforced by the government.

Free Speech in Europe: Always More Regulations and Constraints

The Republic of France for instance has enacted more than 400 laws to regulate and restrict the right to express opinion. Those laws are often sponsored by advocacy groups to influence public discourse on sensitive topics. Their objective is to promote the viewpoints considered as admissible while using the legal framework as a weapon to censor non-compliant opinions. Recently, the French government attempted to go a big step further in their campaign of censorship with the “Avia law” that was proposed to strengthen the fight against “hate speech” online. To summarize the core principles of this law, it suffices to say that it was based on a system that any visitor of an online platform could use to flag “manifestly illegal” content (among a long pre-set list of offenses). Once this happened, the notified online service provider was required to remove it within 24 hours or could face a penalty of 250,000 Euros and up to one year imprisonment. A deadline of one hour was given by the administrative authority to remove illegal terrorist content.

A particularity of this law was that no judge or any other third party would have been involved in the evaluation of the “illegal” character of the incriminated contents. It is the administrative authority that promoted the law which would have acted as judge. As it was not enough, ensuring the application of such law could have been done only by following rather broad subjective criteria because, from a legal perspective, the concept of “hate” is not even formally defined in the French legal system. The law faced fierce opposition and was invalidated by the French constitutional court after representatives of the French Senate requested a detailed review of the case.

The attempts of the French government to regulate and censor what is left of “free speech” are not restricted to France. French authorities have been championing their law enforcement model against illegal online content at the European Union level with the support of Germany. Those initiatives got noticed and France was recently flagged as no less than a major threat against free speech by U.S. representatives.

The Case for Amending the U.S. Constitution

In the United States, one observes waves of criticisms targeting the constitutional amendments considered by some activists and intellectuals as anti-democratic abnormalities preventing societal changes to come into effect. Calls for removing or modifying the first amendment to shut down hate speech are louder than ever but still considered with skepticism. The right to keep and bear arms, i.e. the right of citizens to safeguard themselves, and private property rights are also under threat. Intellectuals do not hesitate to deny the importance of property rights and this makes activists requesting their abolition or restriction more confident.

Since targeting “negative” rights that guarantee individual freedoms is not enough, proponents of larger constitutional changes also focus on what they named the “non-democratic” nature of the U.S. Constitution in order to make a case that would see it amended.

The Citizen Climate Convention: A Trojan Horse Against Individual Freedoms?

In France, amending the constitution is considered a perfectly legitimate means to support and strengthen an ideological agenda. The latest attempt of this type was made by the “Citizen Climate Convention” (CCC) which suggested rewriting the first article of the French Constitution as follows: “The reconciliation of rights, freedoms and principles cannot compromise the preservation of the environment, the common heritage of mankind.” The CCC was an experiment of “direct democracy” established under the auspices of the French President to answer some of the demands made in the wave of the public protests which have been taking place in major French cities during the last months. The CCC was constituted of 150 citizens “randomly” selected to work on topics related to the societal impacts of climate change.

The role of the CCC was to provide recommendations to guide the transformation of the society and its transition towards eco-friendly energy sources. The members of the CCC were accompanied by a Governance Committee providing guidance and counseling. All members of this committee came from the left of the political spectrum with members of left-leaning unions and think thanks, ecologists, and NGO activists included. No representative of the private sector were to be found, and while supporters of renewable and green energies were well represented, representatives of the other sectors of the energy industry were not invited to participate in the discussions.

This lack of diversity of thought and opinion became apparent when the report of the CCC was released. This report, organized around 150 propositions, was a concentrated mixture of coercive measures and restrictions of all kinds accompanied with economic recipes such as rent and price controls, with new taxes and regulations joined together in a call for more central planning policies. It is worth emphasizing that the rewriting of the constitution suggested by the CCC was rejected by the President who argued that “protection of the environment cannot be placed above public freedoms.” This statement makes explicit that, on a long term basis, even the initial promoters of the CCC feared that this amendment would have lead to either the suppression of individual freedoms in the name of environmental causes or to their subordination to policies which could have been voted on the basis of this amendment.

Conclusion

Fundamental laws safeguarding the equilibrium between the prerogatives of the state and the fundamental rights of the citizenry are being questioned by proponents of constitutional changes which would give even more power to already intrusive governmental and administrative authorities. Higher constitutional institutions have taken their responsibilities to prevent the most radical of these demands from coming into effect but one can reasonably assume that new attempts will be made to force and accelerate those changes.

Brice M. Vanhaelen is a scientist from Belgium.

Debunking Marx’s ‘Iron Law of Wages’

Debunking Marx’s ‘Iron Law of Wages’

Does a competitive, free market capitalist system drive down wages for the common man?

That’s the question I was confronted with in a recent exchange I had with a Marxist on Twitter.

My original post stated that “Free, competitive markets don’t drive down worker wages, as Marx argued.”

“Instead,” the post continued, “markets drive up wages because entrepreneurs must bid against one another to acquire and retain the workers they need.” This led me to my ultimate point that “government intervention that limits competition will repress wages.”

The take home point, of course, was to illustrate that when the state interferes with the market it harms the working class; in contrast to the excuses of statist interventionists who insist their interventions are designed to help the common man.

That conclusion was unacceptable for our friendly social media Marxist, however. He replied with the following comment:

This is a common objection raised by Marxists, and a pillar of Marx’s economic analysis. Marx claimed that competitive, capitalist market economies would drive down wages of workers for the reasons stated above. Namely, that the labor force outnumbers the amount of available jobs, putting workers at a grave disadvantage and forcing them to accept ever dwindling wages if they are to be hired. Employers have no reason to pay anything more than “starvation wages” because the supply of willing and desperate workers far outstrips the supply of jobs.

Employers can drop wages as far as they want and still find willing takers, according to the theory, because if one person refused to work for such little pay, there will be a significant pool of desperately unemployed people willing to accept the crumbs. This tendency for competitive capitalist markets to drive wages down to bare subsistence levels is often referred to as the “Iron Law of Wages.”

This is an argument still relevant to policy discussions today, so it’s important to address why this argument is wrong.

What Determines Wages?

For clarity, it is important to first gain an understanding of what determines wages. A highly useful insight can be gained from political scientist David Osterfeld’s essay in the 1993 book  Requiem for Marx, edited by Yuri Maltsev:

Wage rates on the unhampered market do not depend on the individual worker’s ‘productivity’ but on the marginal productivity of labor. And the marginal productivity of labor is a product of savings, on the one hand, which creates additional capital and, on the other, entrepreneurial activity which directs this additional capital into the production of those goods and services most urgently desired by consumers.

The marginal productivity of labor, in short, is the value added to the production process of the next additional worker added to that process. And, as Osterfeld notes, the value added of that next worker will be determined largely by the amount and type of capital goods, i.e. machines, tools, technology, provided by the entrepreneur to aid the worker.

More specifically, wages will tend toward the present value of the marginal productivity of the worker. Say, for instance, an hour’s work adds $20 toward the value of a finished product that will likely be sold one year from now. That worker’s wages today will tend toward the estimated present value of $20 one year from now.

Importantly, the marginal productivity of labor in one line of industry heavily influences wage rates in other industries. In an unhampered, competitive market labor will flow to the highest wages made available for which they are qualified.

This means, as Ludwig von Mises pointed out in his 1956 book The Anti-Capitalist Mentality, that improvements in the marginal productivity of labor in some lines of industry that drive up wages will spur wage increases in seemingly unrelated industries.

Mises noted that there are many jobs in which the productivity of the worker has remained unchanged for centuries. For the barber, the butler, and basic agriculture work, for instance, worker output has remained roughly the same for generations, but wages have nevertheless risen.

Mises observed, “the wage rates earned by such workers are today much higher than they were in the past. They are higher because they are determined by the marginal productivity of labor. The employer of a butler withoholds this man from employment in a factory and must therefore pay the equivalent of the increase in output which the additional employment of one man in a factory would bring about.”

In short, because marginal productivity in other lines of work have increased and driven up those wages, employers must increase their pay in order to keep worker from seeking the alternative lines of work that pay more.  As the opportunity costs to workers rise, i.e. the wages they are passing up to stay employed in their current job, so too will their actual wages.

As a result, the competitive market has a tendency toward driving up wages, even for lower-skilled sectors of the labor market.

Lump of Labor Fallacy

A fallacy many fall prey to when believing that the wages of the average worker will be driven down to subsistence levels is the “lump of labor fallacy.” This fallacy is based on the faulty premise that the number of jobs in the economy is fixed.

Indeed, viewing the labor market through the lens of supply and demand but limited by the lump of labor fallacy may lend credence to the “iron law of wages” theory on its surface. Outside of those with skills highly demanded by the marketplace, their argument goes, the majority of average Joes and Janes would be forced to accept low and dwindling wages because jobs are more scarce than workers.

Of course, in a competitive market entrepreneurs are constantly looking to either expand or start new ventures, creating new job opportunities. Employers must compete with each other for the needed labor for their endeavors.

As Osterfeld observed, “Wages rise because, in order to take advantage of new profit opportunities provided by additional capital, entrepreneurs must bid workers away from their current positions.”

What those limited by the lump of labor fallacy further overlook is that demand for labor is heightened not only by business expansion and new market entrants, but also by the threat of new entrants in the market who may come along and bid away workers.

Reality Shows That Wages Continue to Rise

It would of course be naïve to claim that employers increase wages out of the goodness of their hearts. As Mises observed in his book Human Action, “Each entrepreneur is eager to buy all the kinds of specific labor he needs for the realization of his plans at the cheapest price.”

These wages, however, “must be high enough to take the workers away from competing entrepreneurs,” he added. In other words, the competition of an unhampered market more than offsets the employers’ desires to drive wages lower.

As evidence, consider that even with an extremely hampered economy in the U.S., wages for the average worker have steadily risen.

According to this recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report, employer costs per hour (wages plus benefits) for average compensation for all private industry workers increased from 2004 to 2020, a time plagued with one of our nation’s harshest recession, from $23.29/hr to $35.34/hr (see pg. 191 of report, figures taken from March of each year). The rise marked an increase of 51.7%, well ahead of the inflation rate of 37.2% during that time.

Clearly, the ‘iron law of wages’ is being broken.

Minimum Wage

If my Marxist critic were correct, and the average worker has such little bargaining power, then wouldn’t a significant share of workers be working for the minimum wage?

As Marx wrote in the Communist Manifesto, “The average price of wage labor is the minimum wage, i.e. that quantum of means subsistence which is absolutely required to keep the laborer in bare existence as laborer.”

Today, instead of a measure of “subsistence” to which average wages would fall, there is a government-mandated legal minimum wage.

Aside from those with highly valued skills who will see their wages bid up, the majority of workers will have to compete for the remaining jobs. Thus, according the Marxian theory, there’d be no reason for employers to pay any more than the legally-mandated minimum for a vast number of jobs, because the number of those competing for such jobs would far outstrip the jobs available.

Of course, reality once again serves to dispel this faulty notion. This 2019 Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows that just 2.1 percent of hourly workers above age 16 earn “wages at or below the federal minimum.” Of those, 47 percent were ages 16 to 24. So indeed it’s only a very small fraction of workers compelled to work for the minimum wage, and of those nearly half are young people probably in their first job.

Conclusion

One of the key criticisms of free market capitalism is that workers have little to no bargaining power, because the supply of labor exceeds the demand. As such, employers can leverage this advantage to steadily grind wages down to a bare subsistence minimum.

This theory, however, suffers from some major shortcomings. First is the fact that workers have opportunity costs, and employers need to pay wages sufficient to keep them from seeking work in alternative fields. So the increase in marginal productivity even in only select industries can still provide overall upward pressure on wages.

Secondly, the argument suffers from the lump of labor fallacy, which falsely assumes the number of jobs in the economy is fixed. Expansion of current businesses and new business startups is a regular feature of a market economy, however, which grows the number of jobs available.

Contrary to Marx and modern-day Leftists, it is not competition of the market that drives down wages, but restrictions on competition. For instance, barriers to entry for new entrants and other market interference that protects incumbent firms from competition would make it easier for them to pay lower wages.

An unhampered, competitive market economy is the working man’s best friend; and government interference their enemy.

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

Sam Eagle vs. The Feds

Sam Eagle vs. The Feds

The Michigan State Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (and drive through donut joints, but that doesn’t fit in the title) has the job of patrolling the shores and skies over Lake Michigan. This summer, an “environmental quality analyst” was operating a $950 drone, examining the natural conditions under his purview. It was going fine, until the bald eagle showed up.

It began with a poor connection being reported between the control device and the drone. The operator sent the return command. The video feed showed the drone turn widely back towards the beach from which it had been launched. Then, the feed showed the drone suddenly spiral down towards the earth.

The operator’s eyes darted to the skies. The drone was nowhere to be seen. Conspicuously, a bald eagle flew past. A nearby couple reported seeing the eagle strike an object in the air, while the drone was never recovered. Experts believe the attack was likely a “territorial squabble” between the eagle and the drone.

Is this a metaphor? Why not take it literally? The bald eagles are at war with the government.

Remember in January when Trump blasted Qasem Soleimani from the face of the Earth? Maybe Iran should employ the services of a few bald eagles. We know what side they’re on.

Trump seems to have taken Obama’s drone war and is now continuing it except with less accountability than ever. This March, a drone strike in Somalia took out a group of terrorists. Or, well, according to local images and family members, they were just regular people. Who cares one way or the other, right?

A national myth says Ben Franklin wanted the turkey to be the national bird, not the eagle. As it turns out, the myth is just that. The story arises from Franklin criticizing the look of the bald eagle on the national seal, complaining that it looked like a turkey. Foreshadowing.

Between the turkey who was flying the drone around Michigan and the bald eagle, the eagle won. The storied U.S. military, now just a bunch of turkeys continuing to blast poor black people from the Earth with no rhyme or reason at all. The bald eagles couldn’t care less.

The eagle was an important symbol in ancient times. It was a battlefield portent, a representative of Jupiter. The founders, who admired Rome, somehow never put the pieces together and acknowledged what a bloated mess that horrific slave empire became, nor considered the absolute terror of life after its—probably inevitable—collapse.

I don’t imagine anyone ever saw a bald eagle on a battlefield signaling anything. What do these birds do? They mind their business. They stick to their territory and go about their lives. They feed themselves and their young. They were here before all of us. They live in nature, out there in North America. No bald eagle ever accidentally killed a dozen people on the other side of the ocean for no clear reason. There are no bald eagles flying over battlefield Somalia.

But, for those keeping score, on another battlefield—Bald eagle: 1, Michigan Department of EGLE: 0.

The War Party Aims For Regime Change in Belarus

The War Party Aims For Regime Change in Belarus

It seems that whoever wins the presidency, United States foreign policy will keep chugging away at intervening across the world, including via “regime change” efforts. Over the last couple decades, targets for U.S.-government-supported overthrow have included Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ukraine, and Venezuela. Belarus also appears to be in the U.S. government’s crosshairs. If its government holds back through January the effort seeking to topple it, Belarus looks sure to remain a U.S. target for regime change during either a second term of President Donald Trump or a first term of President Joe Biden.

On Monday, as revolutionaries in Belarus capital Minsk attempted to oust the Belarus government, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Democratic Party presidential nominee Joe Biden issued interchangeable statements regarding Belarus and U.S. policy toward it. Both Pompeo’s statement and Biden’s statement condemned the government of Belarus, called fraudulent the country’s recent national election in which President Aleksander Lukashenko won reelection by a wide margin, and made demands upon the Belarus government.

The statements of Pompeo and Biden may not seem so threatening if you imagine them coming from the government of a country of average population, economic strength, military power, and tendency to intervene in other countries. The comments could then just be understood as politicians spouting off or being relatively harmless buttinskis.

It is different when the pronouncements are made by a top foreign affairs official of the US and the potential next president of the U.S. The U.S. presides over a large population country with major economic resources. The U.S. has military bases and ships, as well as covert operatives, across the world. The U.S. has a long and ongoing history of pursuing, and often achieving, the overthrow of governments through actions including invasions, assassinations, sanctions, election meddling, and the financing and coordinating of coups and revolutions.

In 2015, during the Barack Obama administration in the U.S. and after another wide-margin reelection win by Lukashenko in Belarus, Ron Paul Institute Executive Director Daniel McAdams discussed the U.S. government’s disdain for Lukashenko and the Belarus government. McAdams wrote in part:

Lukashenko has been a favorite punching bag of the U.S. and western neocons for a number of years because he has not shown the required level of deference to his would-be western overlords compared to, say, the Baltics. He routinely wins re-election even as the U.S. government has funneled millions of dollars into the political opposition in hopes of somehow fomenting a regime change.

Don’t believe the sanctimonious comments, whether from the Trump administration or the Biden campaign, about the U.S. seeking to promote democracy and human rights in Belarus. This is about power. The U.S. has let slide and continues to let slide democratic and human rights shortcomings of countries across the world where benefit can be obtained. Dictatorship? No problem. The expression of concern about democracy and human rights is propaganda selectively applied to stir up support for, or at least quell opposition to, U.S. intervention abroad.

Pompeo and Biden’s statements regarding Belarus help make clear that overthrowing governments appears set to remain a feature of U.S. foreign policy no matter if Trump wins a second term or Biden defeats him in the upcoming November presidential election.

Adam Dick is a Senior Fellow at the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity. He previously worked as a legislative aide to Rep. Ron Paul from 2003 to 2013. This article was originally featured at the Ron Paul Institute and is republished with permission.

A ‘Sound Money Caucus’ Has Launched On Capitol Hill

A ‘Sound Money Caucus’ Has Launched On Capitol Hill

As the political and central banking establishment in Washington continues to bail out the economy and markets by creating trillions of unbacked pieces of paper and electronic digits, a handful of congressmen hope to shine a new spotlight on the devastating effects of this runaway financial profligacy.

Congressman Warren Davidson (R-OH) recently announced the creation of the Congressional Sound Money Caucus. According to Congressman Davidson’s office, the caucus exists to promote sound fiscal and monetary policy in the United States with the goal of preserving the purchasing power of the U.S. Federal Reserve Note.

Monetary policy, especially since the 2008 financial crisis, coupled with the recent federal fiscal response to coronavirus has re-inflated nominal asset prices and contributed to the wealth gap, while weakening the Federal Reserve Note in relation to the world’s other fiat currencies.

Reps. Alex Mooney (R-WV), Andy Barr (R-KY), Kevin Brady (R-TX), Ted Budd (R-NC), and Lee Zeldin (R-NY) also joined the caucus.

For several years, Congressman Mooney has been a leader on the sound money issue, hammering away at manipulation in the gold market and counterfeiting—and Mooney has introduced several pending bills to audit America’s gold reserves, remove income tax on the monetary metals, and resume some form of gold backing to our currency.

Congressman Davidson introduced the Sound Money Caucus on the floor of the House by saying:

“We already have a great core group of members who are leaders in this area, who understand how important it is for the U.S. dollar to be an enduring store of value and an efficient means of exchange. I look forward to hashing out policy solutions to address the economic distortions of monetary inflation, so that monetary and fiscal policy can help rebuild the middle class, restart the American economy, and get us on a path for sustainable growth.”

In an era where even so-called “conservatives” are adding trillions to the federal deficit, sound money is more important than ever. Sound money is the linchpin of a prosperous society because it protects capital and creates stability.

Individuals and civilizations thrive under a sound money regime because uncertainty is reduced, and savings are respected and preserved. People can plan, save, and invest for the future without the fear of their money being manipulated and weaponized for political purposes.

Further, sound money acts as a bulwark against big government and runaway levels of debt. Unfortunately, the United States government has proven that they can’t be trusted with an unchecked monetary monopoly. It’s no surprise that severing the tie between the U.S. Dollar and gold has resulted in frivolous, debt-funded spending by the political left and the right, depleting the value and general confidence in the U.S. Federal Reserve Note.

After being driven out of the public conciousness over the past century, sound money is an idea whose time has come (again). Americans and even Fed-bugs are grappling with the immutable truth that governments can’t print society into prosperity.

Jp 2Jp Cortez is the Policy Director for the Sound Money Defense League, a non-partisan, national public policy organization working to restore sound money at the state and federal level and publisher of the Sound Money Index. Cortez’s articles and analysis have appeared in the Washington Examiner, Huffington Post, Mises Institute, Foundation for Economic Education, and more, as well as appearing on podcasts and national radio shows.

 

Trump’s Last Chance at Reelection: End the Wars!

Trump’s Last Chance at Reelection: End the Wars!

Four years ago, Donald Trump electrified campaign audiences by denouncing “Trigger Happy Hillary” Clinton. Trump bragged in 2016 that his advisers knew “how to avoid the endless wars we are caught in now” but he has yet to deliver on what many voters believed was his most important campaign promise. Can he revive his faltering reelection bid by boldly withdrawing American troops from much of the world?

Perhaps Trump did not recognize how steeply the deck is stacked in Washington. For more than a hundred years, starting with Woodrow Wilson, presidents have lied America into foreign wars. In the landmark 1971 decision permitting The New York Times to publish the Pentagon Papers, Justice Hugo Black declared that a free press has “the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers & foreign shot and shell.” Unfortunately, especially since the 9/11 attacks, the establishment American media has been among the biggest warmongers in the nation, dishonestly promoting wars in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and championing perpetual U.S. intervention practically everywhere. The same media that perpetually slams Trump canonized the late Sen. John McCain, the patron saint of Know-Nothing Bombing.

“Consistent” is the least likely description for Trump’s foreign policies. Prior to taking office, Trump vigorously opposed the Afghan war. In 2013, Trump declared that the U.S. “should leave Afghanistan immediately. No more wasted lives.” By the time Trump took office, Afghanistan was America’s longest war and had dragged on longer than World War I, World War II and the Korean War combined. Thousands of U.S. troops had been killed there with nothing to show for their sacrifice except flags to drape their caskets.

However, in August 2017, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster persuaded Trump to announce a “surge” of new troops in part by showing him a 1972 photo of women in miniskirts in Kabul. Trump appeared to have gotten rolled by the Pentagon on this issue the same way that President Barack Obama was rolled to support a much larger Afghan surge in 2009. Trump’s surge did nothing to stop the advance of the Taliban. The Pentagon continued violating U.S. law by ignoring the pervasive child rape by Afghan forces subsidized by U.S. taxpayers. The Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction concluded that U.S. policymakers had been brazenly lying about progress in the war almost from its start. The United Nations reported last year that “more civilians are being killed by Afghan government and American forces than by the Taliban and other insurgents.”

In his 2019 State of the Union address, Trump reversed course on Afghanistan, declaring, “As a candidate for president, I loudly pledged a new approach. Great nations do not fight endless wars.” Shortly before the speech, the vast majority of Senate Republicans voted for resolution rebuffing Trump’s attempt to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Syria. The resolution non-ironically praised U.S. troops for “protecting human rights” and warned that “withdrawal … could allow terrorists to regroup, destabilize critical regions, and create vacuums that could be filled by Iran or Russia.” But Trump proceeded with negotiations with the Taliban, resulting in an announcement in February 2020 that U.S. troops could be withdrawn within 14 months.

Congress was outraged. Last month, Wyoming Republican Representative Liz Cheney partnered with Democrats to craft a resolution denouncing “a rapid [sic] military drawdown” and blocking spending any tax dollars for troop withdrawals from Afghanistan unless a list of damned unlikely benchmarks are first achieved. Almost all the Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee voted for Cheney’s amendment. Cheney named her legislation the Afghanistan Partnership and Transparency Act, which was a hoot, considering that the U.S. government has perpetually covered up its Afghan debacles. There was a smattering of congressional opposition but, as journalist Glenn Greenwald noted, it was “no match for the war machine composed of the establishment wings of both parties and the military and intelligence community that continue to use selective, illegal leaks to sabotage any plans to reduce the U.S. military presence around the world.”

Syria is the biggest and least recognized U.S. foreign policy debacle of the past decade. In 2013, as the Obama administration was ramping up support for mythical “moderate rebels,” Trump tweeted: “We should stay the hell out of Syria.” Obama’s policies were such a tangled mess that Pentagon-backed Syrian rebels were openly battling CIA-backed Syrian rebels. However, after taking office, Trump was swayed to support continued U.S. meddling. In April 2017, Trump launched a missile attack on the Syrian government based on less evidence than required for a jaywalking ticket in New York City. The following year, Trump launched another round of missile attacks based on even flimsier allegations that the Assad regime had used chemical weapons. Top officials with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons leaked information showing that the charges against the Syria government were false but the U.S. media and American politicians mostly ignored their evidence.

Trump eventually again recognized the folly of U.S. intervention and announced last October that he was shifting some U.S. troops out of eastern Syria. Trump’s political opponents quickly portrayed the move as the moral equivalent of giving Alaska back to Russia. Congress showed more indignation about the troop pullback in Syria than it has over the loss of American soldiers’ lives over the past 18 years in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. The House of Representatives quickly voted 354-to-60 to condemn President Donald Trump’s pullback as “beneficial to adversaries of the United States government.” But the U.S. intervention has been a disastrous failure that perpetuated a civil war and provided zero benefit for the Syrian people.

But Capitol Hill’s biggest anti-Trump absurdity was yet to come. Seventy-five years after Gen. Patton’s Third Army crossed the Rhine, Congress is panicking about Trump’s proposal to shift 12,000 U.S. troops (out of 34,500) out of Germany. The House Armed Service Committee voted 49-to-7 last month to prohibit “lowering troop levels below current levels [in Germany] until 180 days after Pentagon leaders present a plan to Congress and certify it will not harm U.S. or allied interests.” Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney denounced Trump’s proposal as “a gift to Russia” and a “slap in the face at a friend and ally.” The Soviet Union has not existed for almost 30 years, yet congressional policymakers apparently cannot give up the fantasy of hostile tanks facing off across Checkpoint Charlie.

In considering Trump’s foreign policy record, recall that the finest hour—or perhaps finest minute—of his presidency occurred in June 2019 when he canceled just before launch a barrage of Tomahawk missiles against Iran. After the Iranians had shot down a U.S. drone either over international water (according to the U.S.) or over Iranian territory (according to Iranians), National Security Advisor John Bolton and a neoconservative chorus howled for massive retaliation. Bolton later denounced Trump’s refusal to start a war with Iran as “the most irrational thing I ever witnessed any President do.” Trump groused that if he had listened to Bolton, “we would be in World War Six by now.” Trump hugely blundered by appointing Bolton, but firing him and refraining from a massive escalation with the Iranians were two of the most positive signs from his presidency.

Trump’s attempts to withdraw troops have been vehemently opposed by the type of Washingtonians whose only “combat experience” consisted of having their lunch money stolen in elementary school. But America can no longer afford to indulge its laptop bombardiers. We are spending money we don’t have to fight conflicts we don’t need to impress people who despise us.

Can Trump save his presidency by running against the warmongering Washington establishment, which includes most of Congress, as well as Joe Biden and his brigade of bellicose advisors? Would voters trust and reward Trump if he carried through with his initial preference for pulling out all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by Election Day?

This article was originally featured at The Daily Caller and is republished with permission.

Crony Capitalist Execs Cheer Selection of Kamala Harris as Dem VP

Crony Capitalist Execs Cheer Selection of Kamala Harris as Dem VP

With the prospect of longtime bank critic and progressive Sen. Elizabeth Warren being chosen as Joe Biden’s running mate now officially dead, Wall Street executives are openly applauding the presumptive Democratic nominee’s selection of California Sen. Kamala Harris as a signal that the top of the party’s ticket in November will be sufficiently “moderate” for their liking.

Charles Myers, the founder of financial advisory firm Signum, told CNBC after Biden announced the California Democrat as his vice presidential pick that his “clients really wanted to know if Biden was going to stay in the center, and his pick of Harris reinforces that.”

“While certain to generate excitement and to invite additional scrutiny of Harris’ record, we see this choice as a net positive for the Biden ticket,” Myers wrote in a note to clients late Tuesday. “Harris, who generally could be called a centrist, will not push Biden to the left or the right on major policy issues. She will be supportive of Biden and the Democratic Party’s policy platform.”

Other Wall Street executives echoed Myers’ assessment in interviews with CNBC, pointing to Harris’ experience as a senator and California Attorney General as well as her fundraising abilities. “I think it’s great,” said Marc Lasry, the CEO of investment firm Avenue Capital Group. “She’s going to help Joe immensely. He picked the perfect partner.”

Ray McGuire of Citigroup and Blair Effron of investment firm Centerview Partners also hailed Biden’s choice of Harris as “great.”

“She has a strong and active fundraising organization,” said Mike Kempner, founder of corporate public relations firm MWWPR. “She will be an important and immediate addition to the Biden fundraising effort. She is a fundraising star. Her experience as a prosecutor makes her uniquely qualified to deliver the case against Trump.”

Biden’s selection of Harris as his running mate comes months after Wall Street executives and other corporate donors warned the former vice president against picking Warren, a frequent and fierce critic of big banks and advocate for the interests of consumers.

“She would be horrible,” one anonymous Wall Street executive and Democratic donor told CNBC in April. A longtime Biden fundraiser said “a lot of the donor base, on board and coming, would prefer almost anyone but Elizabeth.”

Veteran progressive organizer and radio host Jim Hightower suggested nothing about the choice of Harris should be surprising, but said the selection only makes more clear the road ahead for those wanting much bolder social change:

While vocally opposed by corporate big-wigs, Warren was widely reported to be among the finalists in Biden’s VP search and polled as the most popular option among Black and progressive voters in a Morning Consult survey released in May. A survey of MoveOn members that same month found that 73% would be more likely to vote for Biden if Warren was his running mate.

Warren applauded Biden’s final choice in a statement Tuesday evening, saying Harris “will be a great partner…in making our government a powerful force for good in the fight for social, racial, and economic justice.”

“I will do everything I can to ensure Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are elected in November so they can get big things done for the American people starting January 2021,” Warren added.

Jake Johnson is a staff writer for Common Dreams. Follow him on Twitter: @johnsonjakep. This article was originally featured at Common Dreams and is republished with permission.

Who Helped Timothy McVeigh Blow Up Oklahoma City?

Who Helped Timothy McVeigh Blow Up Oklahoma City?

Cassville is located in the extreme southwest of Missouri, sitting adjacent to the northeastern Oklahoma and southeastern Kansas state borders. It’s about an hour away from the nearby cities of Joplin and Carthage and about two and a half hours, 130 miles, from Elohim City, Oklahoma.

It was in Cassville that William Maloney operated a real estate brokerage office. In the fall of 1994, Maloney had advertised for sale forty acres of property in the Ozark Mountains. Sometime from October 25th to 27th, 1994, Maloney’s office received a phone call inquiring about that property.

The caller expressed an interest in purchasing the property and Maloney wrote down the caller’s name. Maloney recalled that he asked the caller to repeat his last name, and that the caller told him “McVeigh.” Maloney spelled the name back to the caller, saying “M-C-V-E-Y.” According to Maloney, the caller responded “That’s close enough.”

Thus begins William Maloney’s fateful encounter with Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. The phone call wouldn’t be the last time that Maloney heard from McVeigh. In fact, he would come face to face with the bomber and co-conspirator Terry Nichols, with a third accomplice, in the first week of November.

Oklahoma City Excerpt 3William Maloney and Joe Davidson were working at Maloney’s realty office on the morning of November 2nd, 1994 when three men in a white late 70’s model Monte Carlo pulled into the parking lot. One man remained in the vehicle while the other two got out and went inside.

The two men who went inside the office introduced themselves to Bill Maloney as Bob Jacquez and Terry Nichols. Maloney related that “they was just nice and calm,” just a couple of potential buyers as far as Maloney was concerned. After a few minutes of discussion the third man who had stayed in the car at first finally came into the office and introduced himself as Tim. The group was there, they told Maloney, to discuss their mutual interest in the forty acre parcel in the Ozarks that McVeigh had called about two weeks prior.

During the conversation, Maloney observed that it appeared Jacquez was the leader of group, saying “Jacquez was very articulate; he was smart. He did about all the talking, and during that period of time, he was in charge. He was the boss man.” Maloney’s business partner, Joe Davidson, was equally observant of the scene, saying “He [Jacquez] seemed to be the one that was in control and in charge of what was going on.” The unusual trio of supposed buyers did not tell Bill Maloney why they were interested in buying land that had been advertised as “in the middle of nowhere, at the end of a rough road, at the bottom of a hollow” with the addendum that “there may be a cave.”

Maloney said that at the time he was curious what the men were interested in, asking the question Were they looking for a place to hide?” Joe Davidson noted that the men chuckled at the question but provided no verbal response. Later, Oklahoma FBI agent Bob Ricks would express a similar sentiment to a documentary film crew:

Oklahoma City Excerpt 4“The theory there was that Timothy McVeigh was searching for a place to perhaps have a hide-out and Robert Jacquez was utilized to perhaps obtain property in Missouri. It’s very remote terrain, it’s terrain familiar — there are a lot of right wing groups around there, from Elohim City Oklahoma to other groups in Arkansas to the Ozarks in Missouri which would be the perfect type spot.”

In discussing the geography surrounding the for-sale property, Maloney had Jacquez handle a new laminated topographical map of the area and afterwards he put the map in his safe. Maloney provided the map to the FBI during his first interview, hoping it may turn up fingerprints that could identify the man he saw as being in charge that day. It is unknown what became of this map: once it was in the FBI’s hands, it disappeared. As with the Murrah building surveillance tape videos, Maloney’s map with its possible fingerprint evidence has disappeared from the investigatory record, never to appear at trial.

Maloney told FBI Special Agent Bill Teater that Robert Jacquez was a muscular man with large biceps and a bulging neck, standing about 5’11 and said that “he looked like a military guy. I spent a long time in the service and I can pretty well spot ’em. He was real muscular; he looked maybe like a weightlifter.” Maloney’s description, given during his witness interview, was documented by the FBI in what is called a 302 report. In general, an FBI 302 report contains information about what a witness said to the interviewing Special Agent and includes whatever details the interviewing agent deems relevant to an investigation. Maloney’s 302 report details that Jacquez was wearing black pants, a black t-shirt, and olive colored hiking boots with small “suction cups” on the soles. He had a tattoo visible on his left forearm that had wings or some sort of insignia, possibly military. Jacquez had a short “flat-top” type haircut and a dark tanned complexion, described as “possibly American Indian.” This detail is notable — McVeigh was, by all accounts, a white-supremacist as were the vast majority of other potential suspects suggested as possible co-conspirators within alternative accounts of the bombing. Who was this dark skinned man, described as the evident “boss” of McVeigh?

The FBI considered Maloney and Davidson’s account significant enough to submit Maloney to a polygraph test, which he passed. The FBI also took the unusual step of placing Maloney’s secretary, Nora Young, under hypnosis in an effort to recall potentially more details about the encounter. They commissioned the “OKBOMB” task force’s sketch artist, Jean Boylan, to produce a sketch based on Maloney’s description. There was an unusual level of secrecy surrounding the sketch of the suspect, with an FBI teletype about the suspect containing the disclaimer “CAUTION: SENSITIVE INFORMATION: THIS SKETCH OF JACQUES IS ON A “NEED TO KNOW” BASIS AND HAS NEVER BEEN RELEASED TO THE PUBLIC, THE MEDIA, OR EVEN OTHER LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES. PROTECT.”

Oklahoma City Excerpt 5Unlike the other sketches produced for the task force, this one was not widely circulated and appears to convey a level of sensitivity and significance that is uncommon in the bombing case. One source told this writer that Associated Press Washington Bureau Chief John Solomon interviewed a senior Customs Agency rep at OKC for the investigation, and that he told Solomon that the FBI were not real concerned about John Doe #2 reports, but they were really worried about John Doe #3, or “Robert Jacquez,” getting media attention. This is obvious enough from the bureau’s unusual disclaimer that is plastered all over November 1995 teletypes concerning the suspect. The notion that Jacquez could have been connected to some sort of sensitive operation comes to mind when you consider the unusual level of secrecy surrounding the sketch, and FBI investigators’ worry over the suspect receiving media attention.

Oklahoma City Excerpt 6The Manhunt for “John Doe #3”

The timing of the Jacquez visit to Cassville was reason enough for FBI investigators to suspect the man was a key conspirator in the bombing plot: just three days after the visit to Cassville, McVeigh was checked into a hotel in Kent, Ohio attending the Niles Gun Show while accomplices were busy carrying out the robbery of gun dealer Roger Moore in Royal, Arkansas.

Just five days after the Cassville visit, Terry Nichols rented a storage locker in Council Grove, Kansas where many of Roger Moore’s stolen firearms were kept. The Moore robbery was directly linked to funding the Oklahoma City bombing, with $60,000 worth of guns and precious metals stolen to raise funds for the bombing.

At the time of the Cassville visit, McVeigh had spent the previous month gathering bomb components: three 55-gallon barrels of nitromethane and 2,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate had already been sourced and secured in storage lockers. So, too, had McVeigh and Nichols burglarized a quarry for over 350 pounds of Tovex high explosive and blasting caps. Clearly, whoever this Jacquez figure was, he was with McVeigh and Nichols in the middle of the bombing operation when central actions were being carried out in furtherance of the bombing conspiracy.

FBI lead investigator Danny Defenbaugh would continue the Robert Jacquez investigation for five years, much longer than the FBI’s prematurely aborted manhunt for John Doe #2. This indicates that the FBI believed that John Doe #2—a man seen at Elliott’s Body Shop with someone witnesses identified as Timothy McVeigh—was a separate and different person than the man witnesses described as Robert Jacquez and it also indicates that the FBI considered Jacquez to be of great importance given the length of time and man hours invested in investigating him.

The results of a Rocky Mountain News investigation into the Jacquez manhunt was published in the fall of 1998 and revealed that in the three years since the bombing, the FBI had been relentlessly looking for the suspect. Investigative journalist Kevin Flynn wrote that “No other name investigated in the bombing consumed nearly the time and effort the FBI spent turning the nation upside down to find him” and Flynn provided many examples, some recounted here:

  • Over a three year period, the FBI performed hundreds of background checks on people whose last names are Jacks, Jacques, Jacquez or Jocques.
  • FBI agents fanned out through 39 states, interviewing people and performing records searches related to any people whose names were variations on the name “Jacquez”
  • The lengths to which the FBI went when investigating Jacquez are exemplified by the investigation of a woman named Linda Jacquez from Percy, Illinois. The FBI examined records of over 1,000 personal calls made from her home in 1994. Similar records analysis was likely performed on the other hundreds of subjects whose names were Jacquez or variations thereof.
  • A man named Jacquez who lived in Colorado Springs was interviewed by the FBI in August 1995 because agents had found his name on a motel registration card at a Days Inn in Rogers, Arkansas dated September 5th, 1994. While the man was found to have had no connection to the bombing, some clues regarding the FBI’s interest emerge from the details: Rogers, Arkansas is located just 35 miles from Cassville, Missouri. Additionally, and perhaps significantly, a group of bank robbers that FBI investigators at one time linked to the bombing had been through Rogers, Arkansas casing armored car routes.
  • The FBI subpoenaed Newsweek for its subscription records on anyone named Robert Jacks, Jacques or Jocques. Other contemporary news magazines were probably similarly the recipients of targeted subpoenas.
  • It appears that the FBI’s all-encompassing investigation was in some respects superficial: the FBI investigated every person and conceivable record that might feature the name “Jacquez” (and variations thereof) even though “Jacquez” was probably a fake name that the man had used. Surely FBI investigators would have realized this, but nevertheless continued to track down any and all details they could related to the phony name.

Unresolved Leads and Dead Ends

Among the details uncovered when investigating Jacquez was that McVeigh buddy Michael Fortier’s former neighbor and associate Jim Rosencrans once shared a post office box with a “Robert Jacquez” in Odessa, Texas. This fact did little to contribute to understanding the man’s true identity—only denials were offered from Rosencrans with him saying that he had never heard of anyone using the name Jacquez in spite of evidently having shared a mail box with the man. Thus, this possible lead remains unresolved to the satisfaction of anyone curious enough to consider the lead possibly relevant. Who was it, and why wasn’t Rosencrans more thoroughly “motivated” to provide answers? Was the mailbox detail a red herring?

Yet another bizarre fact emerged concerning Jacquez as it relates to suspects in the investigation: the FBI discovered an address book in Terry Nichols’ home which featured the name “Jacquez” written out multiple times with variations on the spelling: Jacques, Jacquez, Jacks. The handwriting on the paper was thought to belong to Marife Nichols, Terry Nichols’ mail order bride from the Philippines, because the address book belonged to her. However, what exactly Marife (or someone else) was doing writing this name down on an otherwise blank page in her address book remains unknown and incredibly suspect. When interviewed about this unusual detail by Kevin Flynn of the Rocky Mountain News, former FBI lead investigator in the bombing case, Weldon Kennedy, claims he wasn’t even aware of the notebook or the writing found within it. This fact either shows a stunning level of ignorance and possible incompetence by the OKBOMB task force’s supposed leader, or, dishonesty. Kennedy would add “For the life of us, we were never able to pin (the Jacquez sighting) down.” Consider the fact that Weldon Kennedy lied about a significant detail of the investigation in his book, On Scene Commander, where Kennedy wrote that “the case would primarily be based on forensic evidence because there were no eyewitnesses.” Contrast that with the established fact that there were over 24 eyewitnesses in downtown Oklahoma City who saw Timothy McVeigh and a judgment about Weldon Kennedy’s honesty can be rendered.

Ultimately the Jacquez leads were followed up on exhaustively over at least five years with no identification of the suspect being made. One of the obvious problems with the FBI’s seemingly exhaustive investigation was that the focus appeared to be on potential suspects whose actual real names were “Robert Jacquez” or variations thereof when it’s highly probable that the name was just an alias that the mystery man had used. This fact would prove to be the likely reason FBI investigators were stymied when trying to identify the man. Contributing to this failure is the fact that certain leads appear to not have been examined more aggressively: the Rosencrans lead, the notebook found in Nichols’ home, and finally, the fingerprint evidence.

Though Maloney turned over a laminated map with the “Jacquez” fingerprints on it, the FBI doesn’t appear to have compared those fingerprints to the 1,035 fingerprints collected in the case from key locations such as motel rooms. This is known due to the testimony of FBI fingerprint expert Louis Hupp who testified at the Nichols trial. Hupp’s testimony reveals that none of the 1,035 fingerprints collected had been run through the NCIC or FBI fingerprint database for a match. Worse, they failed to check to see if any of the 1,035 fingerprints matched with one another. Doing that would have allowed the FBI to determine if one or more persons were present at multiple locations, placing that person with McVeigh during the bombing conspiracy and confirming that the prints belong to a likely accomplice. Shockingly, Hupp testified that the bombing task force’s leadership had decided that attempting to identify the other fingerprints “would not be necessary.” This failure of diligence is an outrage and can only be explained by two possibilities: incompetence or, the FBI had reason to not want to identify the other suspects. The latter explanation brings with it a host of uncomfortable questions.

The FBI’s failed Jacquez investigation would later cause McVeigh’s execution to be delayed after it was discovered that the FBI had withheld from defense attorneys the full facts concerning the five year manhunt. On May 9th, 2001, the FBI officially disclosed to Timothy McVeigh’s defense attorneys—just six days before his execution date—that it had failed to turn over around 3,000 pages of documents during McVeigh’s trial. A week later, it was reported that many of the withheld documents were “witness statements and photographs relating to a mysterious person known as Robert Jacquez.”

Possible Identification?

At one point during the FBI investigation the Robert Jacquez sketch was compared by FBI investigators to sketches of suspects from a bank robbery investigation called “BOMBROB.” A November 1st, 1995 teletype from the St. Louis field office sent to the director of the FBI and eight field offices details the comparison.

The teletype describes an October 1995 broadcast of “America’s Most Wanted” which featured sketches of bank robbers responsible for a series of bank robberies that were under investigation. Agents assigned to the OKBOMB investigation noted a strong similarity between one of the bank robber sketches and the Jacquez sketch.

The bank robber sketch depicted a suspect from an August, 16th 1995 robbery of a bank in Bridgeton, Missouri. The robbers who had carried out the Bridgeton, MO robbery had left a newspaper clipping about Timothy McVeigh in the back-seat of the drop car they had used for the robbery, further igniting suspicions among the investigating agents. That bank robber would later be identified as Richard Lee Guthrie, founder of a white supremacist terrorist group called “The Aryan Republican Army.”

The investigators asked: was Jacquez the same man being sought in the bank robbery investigation? Take a look for yourself, and ask, are these suspects one and the same?

Oklahoma City 7The November 1st teletype also makes additional comparisons between the “Jacquez” suspect’s distinctive jungle boots—described in detail by Bill Maloney—and the distinctive boots worn by bank robber Richard Guthrie when he purchased a getaway vehicle in Alton, Illinois in December of ’94.

Was “Jacquez” the same person who robbed the bank in Missouri who had left a clipping about McVeigh in the back seat of the robbers’ drop car?

Nearly a year after the November 1, 1995 teletype, the Oklahoma City Bombing task force investigators would continue to examine possible links between Jacquez and the bank robbery gang that Guthrie had belonged to. Examining FBI interviews with one member of the bank robbery gang, Kevin McCarthy, shows that apparent interest. A September 20, 1996 FBI interview by SA Bill Teater shows that McCarthy was asked about “any knowledge he may have regarding individuals involved in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.” SA Teater was the same FBI agent who had interviewed the witnesses at Maloney Real Estate, and was thus the point man in the Jacquez investigation.

During the interview, McCarthy was asked about people he associated with or had seen at Elohim City, a racial separatist compound. Guthrie had visited Elohim City throughout the early to mid 90s and was well known to McCarthy, having participated in numerous bank robberies with him.

During McCarthy’s interview, SA Teater asked McCarthy if anyone he knew had ever traveled to Missouri for the purpose of locating rural property, or if he knew anyone that might have been ex-military. He was shown the sketch of Robert Jacquez and asked if it looked like anyone he knew. Teater asked McCarthy if he knew anyone named “Robert or Bob Jacquez.” The FBI 302 report of the interview says that McCarthy “thought for a few moments and replied that he really could not think of anyone he personally knew by that name” but added that “the name was one he had heard before.”

The most illuminating part of the interview comes from Teater’s line of questioning regarding Jacquez’ appearance. Recall that witness Maloney described Jacquez as dark-skinned and “possibly American Indian” while another witness, Barbara Whittenberg, had said that the man she saw with McVeigh and Nichols on April 15th (speculated to be the same person as Jacquez) was dark skinned and “possibly Hawaiian.” By all accounts the muscular Jacquez figure was not Caucasian. Teater asked McCarthy if he knew anyone matching this description, or if anyone like that had been at Elohim City. McCarthy answered that he did not associate with people matching that description and that “anyone matching that description would not have been welcome at Elohim City.”

Indeed, the bank robbery suspect whose sketch resembled the Jacquez sketch—Richard Guthrie—was a Caucasian. Though he sometimes had a tan, it stretches the bounds of credibility to think that he would be mistaken for an American Indian or a Pacific Islander. Likewise, a person fitting that description would be an unlikely figure to be found among the white supremacists to be found at Elohim City and within McCarthy and Guthrie’s social circle.

Ultimately, Guthrie just doesn’t fit the description of Jacquez in spite of similarities between his sketch and the sketch of Jacquez. For example, Richard Guthrie did not look like a body builder, did not have a “thick neck” or a powerful build. He was 5 foot 7, where Jacquez was described as near 6 feet tall.

After an examination of the facts, it appears that Guthrie can be ruled out as having been Jacquez. Like the Rosencrans lead, the possible identification of Guthrie as Jacquez would become a dead end.

Other Witnesses to the “Jaquez” Suspect

The FBI’s OKBOMB investigation uncovered multiple witnesses whose statements to the FBI indicate that the man Maloney and Davidson saw with McVeigh and Nichols calling himself Robert Jacquez may have been seen by other people in the days and weeks prior to the bombing.

For example, a man matching Maloney and Davidson’s description(s)—in both physical appearance and behavior—was seen the day before bombing by Oklahoma City postal workers Michael Klish, Debbie Nakanashi, and Karen Reece. Nakanashi told the FBI that the day before the bombing, McVeigh and another man had been at the post office branch across the street from the Murrah building. Nakanashi’s account is important to reference here because Nakanashi’s memory of the man’s behavior and appearance so closely matches that of the man calling himself Robert Jacquez that Maloney and Davidson had encountered just five months prior. Nakanashi told the FBI that the man with McVeigh “walked with a military bearing.” Using words almost identical to those used by Maloney to describe the man, Nakanashi said that “it was obvious to me this other man was the one that was in control of the situation, he was the boss.”

Another witness who may have encountered the enigmatic “Robert Jacquez” was restaurant owner Barbara Whittenberg. Whittenberg was the proprietor of the Sante Fe Trail diner located just off route 77 in Kansas. On Saturday, April 15th, 1995 she served breakfast to Timothy McVeigh, Terry Nichols, and a third man who has never been identified. Noting a Ryder moving truck in the parking lot, Whittenberg asked the group if one of them was moving, and where to. The third man replied, telling her “Oklahoma City.” Whittenberg replied that she had relatives in a town south of Oklahoma City, making friendly small talk with the group. According to Whittenberg, the remark immediately stopped the conversation dead in its tracks—“McVeigh looked at him and you could feel buckets of ice being poured over our conversation. I got out of it.”

When Whittenberg was shown the “John Doe #2” sketch, she said that the third man she served breakfast to that morning looked different, saying “his face was thinner, his cheekbones more prominent, and his nose wider than what the sketch depicted. However, when she was shown the sketch of “Robert Jacquez” she made a more positive identification, telling a CNN reporter “Yes. This is the closest picture I’ve seen yet!” Using language almost identical to Bill Maloney, Whittenberg recalled that the man she had seen was “darker skinned” and had a “thick neck,” looking “like a bodybuilder.” She said that the man was “possibly Hawaiian,” accounting for SA Bill Teater using that descriptor when asking bank robber Kevin McCarthy about Jacquez.

It is important to note that Whittenberg’s account of what she had seen appeared in reports from The New York Times in the fall of 1995, the Washington Post in April of 1996, a May 1996 issue of The New American magazine, the June 4th edition of McCurtain Gazette, followed by a citation and quote in the June 23rd 1996 edition of the Kansas City Star. The Associated Press would issue a syndicated report throughout all national newspapers on March 9, 1997, and the same month Whittenberg’s account would feature prominently in a TIME magazine article. Whittenberg’s media exposure, and the thus the exposure of the reality of the third suspect she had seen, was at an apex in 1997. That’s when the death threats started. Yes, death threats.

Whittenberg would later testify in 1997 before the grand jury impaneled to investigate the bombing that she began receiving death threats telling her to keep her mouth shut. At that time she told a Daily Oklahoman newspaper reporter covering the grand jury proceedings that “I’ve started to regret I ever said a thing,” adding, “I don’t do telephone interviews any more. I used to not be that way. I’m sorry.”

Who was this man, described by witnesses as the evident boss of McVeigh? His identity was sensitive enough for FBI teletypes to issue a disclaimer noting that the sketch was sensitive and on a “NEED TO KNOW” basis, to be withheld from newsmedia and other law enforcement agencies and media exposure about the man caused at least one witness to receive death threats. Terry Nichols, too, would express apparent fear concerning the identification of these other suspects.

Nichols Fears for His Life, Stonewalls

Additional confirmation that this Jacquez figure was a sensitive suspect emerges after an analysis of a batch of FBI documents stemming from 2005 interviews with convicted bomber Terry Nichols. In 2005, Nichols was interviewed by the FBI numerous times in relation to explosives and other evidence that he revealed were preserved and buried under his former Herington, Kansas home. Some of the revelations gleaned from those 2005 interviews as they relate to Robert Jacquez and John Doe #2 are relevant to the “Robert Jacquez” story but they offer more questions than they do answers.

During the 2005 interviews, Nichols told the FBI where they could locate explosives he said were buried under his former Herington home. During the interviews concerning these explosives, Nichols would tell the FBI that John Doe #2 exists and that he knows his identity, but would not reveal it out of fear for his family’s safety. Nichols said that the man’s name had not been revealed or mentioned by anyone at that time, and implied that the man or those whom he represents presented an immediate threat to his life and that of his family members.

Nichols was equally evasive about the enigmatic Robert Jacquez. Nichols said in his interviews that he had visited Missouri looking to buy real estate, but that only he and McVeigh had been there. Nichols’ description of the visit entirely omits Robert Jacquez from the narrative as if he wasn’t there. Assuming the 302 report is accurate, what prompted Nichols to exclude Jacquez from the narrative? The man clearly exists based on the solid accounts from Bill Maloney, Joe Davidson, and Nora Young. So, too, did the existence of a slip of paper recovered from Nichols’ home with the name “Jacquez” scrawled on it raise serious questions about the likelihood that the man was involved in a criminal conspiracy with McVeigh and Nichols.

Ultimately, what can be concluded based on the witness testimony, polygraph results, and FBI documents is that Robert Jacquez was involved with McVeigh and Nichols—perhaps on more than one occasion—and that for some reason, Terry Nichols is covering for this person in denying his presence. Like John Doe #2, Nichols may be fearful of the man or who he represents, and this may account for his silence on the matter. And so it remains a key mystery in the case whose answers may lie locked away with Terry Nichols.

Who was the man who called himself “Robert Jacquez,” seen with Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols in November 1994? What became of the fingerprint evidence that Maloney turned over to the FBI and why wasn’t it compared to the fingerprints collected in the case? Was the man spotted by Maloney and Davidson the same man seen with McVeigh the day prior to the bombing by Debbie Nakanashi? Was it the same man spotted with McVeigh and Nichols by Barbara Whittenberg on April 15th? Why was Nichols so evidently fearful concerning these suspects? Why did the FBI enact such secrecy surrounding the Jacques sketch, and fear subsequent media coverage of the suspect? Just who the hell was Robert Jacquez?

Sources/Additional Reading

News Reports:

Many of the details concerning “Robert Jacquez” were sourced from a handful of media accounts concerning the suspect that emerged in 1997–98, and again in 2001 when accounts concerning withheld documents emerged. Here is a suggested reading list for students of the case curious about this suspect:

  • “Report: FBI Looking for Man Seen With Bombing Suspects.” Associated Press, 9 Mar. 1997. [link]
  • “FBI Searches For Third Man.” CNN, 9 Mar. 1997. [link]
  • “FBI Reportedly Looking For Man In Bombing.” Associated Press, 10 Mar. 1997. [link]
  • “3rd Man Sought in Bomb Probe.” Associated Press, 10 Mar. 1997. [link]
  • “Man Linked to McVeigh Nichols During Land Inquiry Is Sought.” Buffalo News, 10 Mar. 1997. [link]
  • “Mystery Man Linked to McVeigh Broker Believes Trio Sought Hideout.” Cincinatti Post, 10 Mar. 1997. [link]
  • “Report: FBI Searching for McVeigh Cohort.” Daily News [Los Angeles], 10 Mar. 1997. [link]
  • “FBI Reportedly Seeks Man Seen with McVeigh, Nichols.” Dallas Morning News, 10 Mar. 1997. [link]
  • “FBI Looking for Man Who Sought Hideout With Suspects in Blast.” Houston Chronicle, 10 Mar. 1997. [link]
  • “FBI Seeks Man With McVeigh.” Spokane Spokesman-Review, 10 Mar. 1997. [link]
  • “Man Linked to McVeigh, Nichols During Land Inquiry Is Sought.” The Buffalo News, 10 Mar. 1997. [link]
  • “FBI Seeks Suspects’ Companion.” The Salina Journal, 10 Mar. 1997. [link]
  • “Who Is Robert Jacquez?” TIME, 17 Mar. 1997. [link]
  • “OKC Case Still Missing a Link.” Rocky Mountain News, 21 Apr. 1998. [link]
  • “John Doe 2 It’s Still an Open Question.” Kansas City Star, 4 Jun. 1998. [link]
  • “Conspiracy Theory Lingers in Oklahoma City Attack.” Kansas City Star, 6 Jun. 1998. [link]
  • “More McVeigh Files Found: FBI Orders Massive Search.” Los Angeles Times, 15 May 2001. [link]
  • “Were There Others?” ABC News, 30 May 2001. [link]

Books:

Gumbel, Andrew, and Roger Charles. Oklahoma City: What the Investigation Missed — and Why It Still Matters. HarperCollins, 2012, pp. 212–216, 255, 309

FBI Documents:

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

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

 

Two For the Price of One: War Party Charges Both Russia & China With 2020 Election Interference

Two For the Price of One: War Party Charges Both Russia & China With 2020 Election Interference

Almost four years of Democrats and liberal mainstream pundits hysterically blaming President Trump’s 2016 victory on Russia has done enormous damage to U.S. political discourse. Besides the immense danger of ramping up tensions with another major nuclear power, Russiagate has also influenced Republicans and right-wingers to use the same tactic to bash Trump’s opponent for 2020, and ramp up tensions with another nuclear power—China.

Of course, Russiagate would not be possible without help from the intelligence agencies who feed news outlets flimsy claims about Russian meddling and produce reports and assessment on the topic. Both sides were handed a gift last week when National Counterintelligence and Security Center Director William Evanina released a statement that said the Intelligence Community assessed that Russia is hoping Donald Trump is reelected, and China and Iran prefer a Joe Biden victory in November.

“We assess that Russia is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment,’” the statement reads. The only example Evanina uses in the statement is the fact that Moscow and pro-Russian Ukrainian lawmakers have criticized Biden for his role in the 2014 coup in Ukraine, and the corruption that followed, which are entirely legitimate grievances.

Concerning Beijing, Evanina’s assessment says, “We assess that China prefers that President Trump—whom Beijing sees as unpredictable—does not win reelection. China has been expanding its influence efforts ahead of November 2020 to shape the policy environment in the United States, pressure political figures it views as opposed to China’s interests, and deflect and counter-criticism of China.” The statement lists things China has criticized the Trump administrations for, like its actions in Hong Kong, the South China Sea, and more, all areas where the administration has been extremely aggressive.

Evanina’s statement also warns of Iran, and says the Islamic Republic “seeks to undermine U.S. democratic institutions.” The statement says Iran’s efforts “probably will focus on on-line influence, such as spreading disinformation on social media and recirculating anti-U.S. content.” It is no surprise that Iran would prefer a Biden victory in November since the Trump administration has been incredibly hawkish towards the country. And Biden was part of the administration that negotiated the 2015 nuclear deal, a deal Trump scrapped when he reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran in 2018. But there is no indication that Iran is working to “undermine” democratic institutions in the U.S., which is demonstrated by Evanina’s lack of evidence for the claim, and the inclusion of the word “probably.”

Ultimately, this assessment is a whole lot of nothing. But not surprisingly, Russiagaters jumped on the statement and twisted it to fit their narrative.

Writing in The Washington PostJennifer Rubin insisted that while Evanina’s statement mentioned China and Iran, their influence was nothing compared to big bad Russia. Rubin said the inclusion of China and Iran in the assessment “seemed to be a transparent political effort” to level the playing field for Trump. “Only one power is engaged in ongoing actions to influence the election, and that is for the benefit of one candidate, Trump,” Rubin wrote.

When discussing the new intelligence, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi took the same line as Rubin and said Russian and Chinese interference are not equal. “Russia is actively 24/7 interfering in our election. They did so in 2016, and they are doing so now,” Pelosi said. “The Chinese, they said, prefer Biden—we don’t know that, but that’s what they’re saying, but they’re not really getting involved in the presidential election.”

While Pelosi, Rubin, and the entire Democratic establishment still peddle Russiagate, the narrative has entirely collapsed. The conspiracy that the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow fell apart with the release of the Mueller report. More recently, it was revealed by declassified House testimony from 2017 that the private cyber-security firm CrowdStrike had no proof that Russia hacked the DNC and liberated the emails that were published by WikiLeaks.

But these facts do not stop Pelosi and her ilk from framing every move Trump makes as a “gift” to Russian President Vladimir Putin, no matter how hawkish his actual policies are towards Russia. For example, the recent announcement by the administration that 12,000 U.S. troops are being pulled out of Germany was framed in the same fashion, with CNN saying the pullout might be Trump’s “last gift to Putin before the election.” This analysis ignores the fact that about half of the troops leaving Germany are being moved to Poland and the Baltic states, closer to Russia’s border. “We are moving many troops further east, closer to Russia’s border, to deter them,” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said in a recent interview.

While the Democrats try to downplay China’s role in election interference, the Trump administration is trying to hype it up. On Sunday, in an interview with CBS, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien said Chinese hackers have attacked election infrastructure. “They’d like to see the President lose,” O’Brien said. “China—like Russia, like Iran—they’ve engaged in cyberattacks and phishing and that sort of thing with respect to our election infrastructure, with respect to websites and that sort of thing.”

O’Brien’s claims sound familiar. Russia was accused of hacking election infrastructure in 2016. The allegation originally came from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and was later included in a Senate Intelligence report that said Russia targeted the electoral websites of about 21 states. The report explains how only one of the 21 state websites was actually penetrated by a hacker, and the others were only scanned and probed.

After the DHS announced that they notified 21 states of Russian hacking that allegedly took place during the 2016 election, interviews with state officials in The Washington Post revealed these types of intrusions happen all the time. An official from Oregon said her team blocks “upwards of 14 million attempts to access our network every day. These attempts come from all over the world, including Russia, with the largest number from the U.S.”

“This was a scan, and many computer systems are regularly scanned,” a Colorado official said. “It happens hundreds, if not thousands, of times per day.” The one state that was breached was Illinois. Both the Post and the Senate Intelligence report said there was no evidence any votes were altered; only personal information of registered voters was exposed. A DHS official testified before Congress in 2016 and noted that the Illinois hack was “possibly for the purpose of selling personal information,” since the data was stolen and not altered.

As far as attribution, the DHS said they identified where the hacks came from by identifying an IP address, and the Senate Intelligence report said this IP address “provided some indications the activity might be attributable to the Russian government [emphasis added].” Not exactly a slam dunk.

The frequency of these types of scans and attacks and the difficulty of finding out where the hackers are located—let alone if they are state-affiliated—shows O’Brien’s statement about China attacking election infrastructure does not carry much weight.

Playing into the narrative that China wants to see a Biden presidency, President Trump said on Tuesday that if he loses, China will “own” the U.S. “If I don’t win the election, China will own the United States — you will have to learn to speak Chinese,” Trump told radio host Hugh Hewitt. Trump’s top donors also like to accuse Biden of being China’s favorite candidate. A major pro-Trump Super PAC, America First Action, funds the website Beijingbiden.com, a site dedicated to attacking the former vice president for his “weak stance” on China.

While the president did not exactly accuse China of interfering in the election, it is an accusation he’s hurled at Beijing in the past. “Regrettably, we found that China has been attempting to interfere in our upcoming 2018 election, coming up in November,” Trump told the UN Security Council ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, offering no evidence for the claim.

The Biden campaign seems to be just as hawkish on China as they are on Russia. The coronavirus pandemic has caused the Trump administration to sharply increase hostile rhetoric towards China, with the president and many officials accusing Beijing of a “cover-up.” But according to the Biden campaign, Trump has not been tough enough on China. The campaign released an ad in April that said Trump “rolled over for the Chinese” and praised China too often at the beginning of the outbreak. “Trump praised the Chinese 15 times in January and February as the coronavirus spread across the world,” the ad said.

Andrew Bates, a Biden campaign official, had harsh words for Trump in response to the president’s recent comments about Americans “speaking Chinese” if Biden wins in November. “Trump has been the weakest president in American history with respect to China. As the most devastating public health crisis in 100 years rapidly spread, he echoed Chinese Communist Party propaganda to downplay the threat and justify inaction,” Bates told Business Insider.

In recent months, the Trump administration has acted against Beijing in all different arenas, sinking U.S.-China relations to possibly their lowest point since Richard Nixon’s trip to the Asian country in 1972. The administration has sanctioned Chinese officials over Hong Kong and Xinjiang, formally rejected China’s claims to the South China Sea, signed orders to ban Chinese-owned apps TikTok and WeChat, and sent a U.S. official to Taiwan in the highest-level visit to the island since 1979. Along with the change in policy towards the South China Sea, the U.S. has drastically increased its military presence in the waters, sending two aircraft carriers to the region and breaking records for the number of military flights near China’s coast in July.

This idea that Trump has been the “weakest president” in history on China coming from the Biden campaign ignores these enormous provocations, the same way Russiagate forces many to ignore the administration’s frequent provocations towards Moscow. If both sides are willing to out hawk each other on China and Russia, the intelligence agencies will happily play along and provide ammunition in the form of dubiously sourced assessments. It is not clear if we will see a Biden victory or a Trump victory this November, but either way, it will be a win for the War Party and the new Cold Warriors in Washington.

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

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