Turning the Handle on the Door They Can’t Breach

Turning the Handle on the Door They Can’t Breach

Space monkeys, art exhibits, Operation Latte Thunder – that was the plan anyways.  Nameless members of Project Mayhem set out to destroy a piece of art and a coffee bar.  It was all part of Tyler Durden’s plot to begin, as Caitlin Johnstone aptly puts it, “disintegrating patterns.”  Things were going as planned until a trigger-happy security guard shot a retreating “space monkey” in the head.  His name was Robert Paulson. Back then, that became the rallying cry for the remaining misfits hellbent on sewing discord in our personalized fishbowls as Fight Club climaxed.  Today, his name was Duncan Lemp.  The new name memorialized after the 21-year old became yet another shooting death in the police-pillaged countryside called The Land of the Free.  Lemp’s last tweet hangs eerily prescient, “the constitution is dead.”  Whatever the investigation bears out, freedom has yet again proven to be nothing more than décor for our fishbowl.

The Siege of Internet Freedom

For now, there remains a final bastion against the eroding waves of bureaucratic ink and jackboots.  The world wide web. On the internet, communication and information dissemination has altered the course of human society completely.  Every relevant inch of guard rail on the “superhighway” is encrypted, or functionally digitally impenetrable. That security is becoming increasingly undervalued as both user privacy demands and bad actors multiply.  Amid the collective fever-dream of the novel coronavirus, the Senate was furiously crafting the EARN IT Act to quietly begin removing the last safeguard to American internet privacy: end to end encryption (E2EE).  E2EE is the code that digitally obfuscates data being sent between two parties so that only they can view it, and has been a thorn in the side of federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies for years.  Passage of the EARN IT Act would be the legislative equivalent to siege towers landing on the wall, allowing for an endless stream of lawmen to pore over your digital private life. 

The Communications Decency Act was passed in 1996.  Section 230 of which has served as the legal cornerstone for internet privacy, ensuring that website owners are not held legally liable for the content their users publish.  In 2018, President Trump signed the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) into law, making sites liable if their platform facilitated trafficking, even unwittingly.  This forced sites to make drastic adjustments to ensure compliance, most notably seeing Craigslist remove its Personals section and Backpage being shut down just before passage.  This had the unintended consequence of forcing sex workers offline and back to the streets, unprotected from the rampant violence they often endure.  FOSTA met significant resistance from tech and privacy advocates, but a “watershed” testimony secured its passage, surprising the bill’s opponents per Protocol

The EARN IT Act is the brain-trust alternative to issue-based Section 230 carve outs, mandating a compliance checklist for online companies regarding children.  A newly minted 19-member National Commission on Online Sexual Exploitation Prevention would create a list of “best-practices” co-signed by Homeland Security, the Attorney General, and the Federal Trade Commission.  This list would be made available so, “providers of interactive computer services may choose to implement,” them, or lose Section 230 immunity for their users content. The scope includes anything from comment sections to private messaging, meaning companies like Facebook would be forced to monitor otherwise E2EE protected data.  In other words, tech will be forced to forge the “back door” the feds have long waited for or be hauled into court.  

Children as Human Shields

Child sex crimes facilitated or committed online aren’t trivial – which is precisely why we shouldn’t want Lindsey Graham and Joe Biden sniffing around.  As we well know, government has a history of fostering unintended consequences, or achieving precisely the opposite of their stated goals.  We shouldn’t expect anything different with child sex trafficking regulations for online businesses.

The fight to undo encryption isn’t a new one.  When the phone data of Rizwan Farook – the San Bernadino gunman who killed 14 – couldn’t be accessed by the FBI, they asked Apple to assist in unlocking it.  Apple CEO Tim Cook refused, sparking public debate and a federal lawsuit before the FBI eventually dropped the case; they found a shadowy third-party who could open it.  Cook’s argument for E2EE, it turns out, was evergreen, “Our smartphones are loaded with our intimate conversations, our financial data, our health records. They’re also loaded with the location of our kids in many cases. It’s not just about privacy, it’s also about public safety,” Cook said. “No one would want a master key built that would turn hundreds of millions of locks … that key could be stolen.”  What Tim fails to realize – or perhaps wisely omits – is that the most dangerous hands for such a key to fall into belong to our very own government. The EARN IT Act will necessarily does just that, as co-sponsor Lindsey Graham has said, “Facebook is talking about end-to-end encryption which means they go blind,” Sen Graham said, later adding, “We’re not going to go blind and let this abuse go forward in the name of any other freedom.”  The master key would never be palatable without a chorus of weeping eyes, and no shield from criticism has been more tried and true than victimized children

More “Actionable Intel” Means More Violent Action

From embarrassing revelations of “LOVEINT” where NSA contractors were using systems to spy on lovers to the Snowden revelations that saw forgetful intelligence director James Clapper committing perjury before Congress, the public track record of abuse and dishonesty is terrifying.  With transparency only brought to the surface by leaks and painstaking probes, how deep does the rabbit hole go? Without whistleblowers like Snowden, the American public would still be completely in the dark on intelligence secretly shedding light on our private lives.  Any law that even potentially expands their reach should be roundly rejected. 

American policing is a critical lesson in metastasizing practices and power.  SWAT use has increased 15,000% since the late seventies to now, with 80% of the 50,000 annual raids being warrant executions like the one that killed Duncan Lemp.  The transformation of state and local police into soldiers stems, in part, to the distribution of surplus military gear from the global war on terror, allowing for images of “kitted-up” cops patrolling streets and raiding houses that look plucked straight from Fallujah c. 2004.  As local police agencies continue accessing technology spun out of federal research labs, like drones and social-media geolocating, there’s no doubt that weakened encryption will inflate frontline police capabilities and targets. 

Mission Creep to a Home Near You

As the master key dangles before Congress and their army of spies, American’s are faced with a choice.  They can continue to watch with eyes glazed over as an unrestrained militarized bureaucracy turns the handle to the last unbreachable door, or they can “ride out and meet them.”  The war outside our encryption refuge will rage on no matter the outcome of EARN IT.  Lemp was right, “the constitution is dead,” and has been a long time.  His death is the consequence of a perpetually growing state codified by a legal system equipped to make criminals of us all.  Losing the protection of encryption spells the definitive end to privacy and the age of thinkpol.  Tomorrow, our time in quarantine can be used to dream up paths to victory in this intellectual war.  Today, the EARN IT Act must be defeated, and legislative attempts on encryption along with it.  

 

Corona Crow is a Feast Fit for Kings

Corona Crow is a Feast Fit for Kings

Sympathy and hope for “fear and loathing” in these uncertain days

If only the chemically constricted pupils of Hunter S. Thompson could see us now.  I wonder if he’d look up from his gourmet-plated cocaine and through the smokescreen of cigarettes and imperceptible acid inputs to tell us to keep our fingers out of our mouths.  At least then we’d have some comic relief served alongside this never-ending buffet of uninformed opinions, conspiracy mongers, and fear jockeys endlessly feeding us during the coronavirus outbreak. 

With 2019-nCoV spreading globally, our newsfeeds serve as something like a cross-section of American’s gut reaction to the outbreak.  Accounts range from paralytic fear to complete apathy, multinational-elite conspiracy to deep-state biological war against Donald Trump.  American’s response to the coronavirus has been the accidental analog to the government purportedly representing them; clunky, devoid of nuance, unqualified and skeptical.

I’m not, by any means, a subject matter expert on dangerous pathogens or medicine.  I am, however, a second-year emergency nurse who spent the six years before nursing working full-time on an ambulance.  That experience has given me profound insight into how people react to stress, how people interface with medicine, and most of all, how staggeringly weak health literacy is among the general public.  But it’s the social media age, with its cornerstone feature being an easy-to-use drop box imploring you to tell the world, “what’s on your mind?” It shouldn’t be any wonder we have a wellspring of meme-takes feigning a kernel of truth.  

Are We There Yet?

A common thread among so many consuming the constant breaking news headlines seems to be akin to impatient kids eager for their porch light after a long road trip whining, “are we there yet?”  Whether generally fatigued by the excitement of all of this, or completely skeptical of the “official narrative” streaming endlessly, it seems just about everyone is ready to get back to business as usual.  As if media-alchemists that can turn any lowly molehill into mountains for our viewing pleasure is going to stop covering the first global coronavirus pandemic. Any overzealousness for a return to regularly scheduled monotony needs to take a breather (preferably through the elbow).

One of the major question marks still lurking over this situation is how transmissible the coronavirus is when infected people have no symptoms.  This fact overlaid onto a globe made smaller than ever by travel and commerce is reason enough to pause. If people are unwittingly transmitting this virus, it will be even harder to contain.  Even if that’s not the case, our recent nCoV is still projecting to infect millions in the US based on its documented behavior so far. Unlike a typical flu season, nCoV-19 isn’t going to take the warmer months off, meaning measures to suspend public gatherings like sports and Broadway, or state-wide school cancellations and work reprieves are not going to stop the spread of disease, but will put the brakes on a little.  Slowing the spread and “flattening the curve” will soften the ultimate projections, per the CDC and independent researchers, but the world appears poised for long-suffering nonetheless.  So, for those among you who can’t hit “share” fast enough when side-by-side comparisons of influenza (now at the tail end of its season) and the coronavirus (likely just beginning to gain global traction) show that flu afflicted more people and didn’t cause a stir, take solace in knowing you won’t be dining alone this evening.

In the meantime, scoffing at the only bull market left in Charmin and Quilted Northern is low-hanging fruit.  My readers are above that, but their friends list certainly isn’t. If reports for Connecticut wintery-mixes leave grocers picked clean, “pandemic” seems at least worthy of extra toilet paper for the prudent.  After all, with the kids stuck home eating tv-dinners through their gas masks, demand is surely to rise.

Corona Crow

I’m taking for granted there’s enough of a coronavirus common knowledge at this point that a review of “social distancing” and droplet precautions isn’t necessary.  There are so many disheveled assertions, predictions, and Q-breathed theories built on that collective foundation, though, I’m seeing stars.  Let’s review a nightmarish distillation of my newsfeed:

  • COVID-19 was done or is being used to crash the economy or impeach Trump.”
  • COVID-19 was done to force globalization protestors from the streets.”
  • COVID-19 was done to dramatically expand federal, state, and local powers to implement an endless totalitarian police state.”
  • COVID-19 was made to drive depopulation while simultaneously furthering the plot to, “evolve the human race to interface with the Deep State’s advancing information technologies utilizing 5G and the Cloud, and the Silicon Valley’s most promising “PROMIS”-like software, for optimal permanent control over civilization.” Jeff Epstein and Bill Gates are bankrolling it.
  • COVID-19 was funded by Bill Gates with the express purpose of infecting the population, thus making them reliant on a vaccine he’s already discovered.” 

The list, unfortunately, goes on.  

I’ve come to think of conspiracy theorists like internet chihuahuas.  They bark at everything, and on the off chance they’re right, it’s nice they were there to alerted us.  But we’re so used to hearing them yelp incessantly at everything that moves, that anything genuinely noteworthy doesn’t get our attention.  Conspiracies often grow from founding myths that aren’t falsifiable, like the existence of a global superrich cabal of string-pullers. When major narratives like coronavirus develop, they can be neatly fit into these elastic stories seamlessly, because the scaffolding doesn’t exist apart from them.  

Whether it’s a hoax or not, downplaying the coronavirus potential is dangerous.  Much like the hopelessness that drove Thompson to snort and slosh is way through life, there’s an underlying uniformity emerging in the response to COVID-19: you’re being swindled.  From the web chihuahuas to the upper crust eye-rollers, so many among us aren’t buying what they perceive is being sold. In the age of the internet, with truth like an elusive object that must be unearthed at the end of a harrowing epic, information consumers have self-segregated towards their own personally tailored outrage caves for treasure.  Just as in fantasy, dragons are always just around the corner, and worse than the town crier could have imagined. Every meme can be the crumb that leads you along the path to ambush, or to the preferred oasis. The fearful and the loathing – an inadvertent group of fellow travelers – will be forced to eat “corona crow” by the time this contagion plays itself out. 

In Defense of Fear and Loathing

I’ve found myself surprisingly sympathetic to the broad spectrum of internet responses, regardless.  I can understand the fear for yourself or your loved ones – young and old – that drives irrational stockpiling and white-knuckled commutes.  An unknown pathogen sweeping the globe is a terrifying prospect, even if the survival rate is high. That fear should be balanced by the same inclinations that drive our loveable Q folks, though. The government knows to, “never let a serious crisis go to waste.”  Public fear is political capital.  

Since the outbreak we’ve seen federal bureaucracy has been a significant hurdle to responding appropriately.  When they’re not outright fumbling over themselves and do manage to get their governing tool kits open, it turns out it’s as sparsely populated as national medical supply reserves.  Outside of dramatic stimulus spending, inane partisan policy victories, and draconian-infused state of emergency declarations, the feds are left to rely on individuals to make rational choices.

Of those loathing, I’m all ears.  Consider me thoroughly unconvinced that a contagion of known-origin was manufactured and deployed by government spooks, though.  Pandemics aren’t unprecedented, and neither are unfounded conspiracy theories regarding them.  Any skepticism towards government is better than none; but walking the edge of Occam’s Razor is almost always the better course.  A cynical, poorly managed, underqualified and overfunded bureaucracy trying to be “creative” and capitalize on public panic is much scarier than that same bureaucracy secretly carrying out intricate orders from despotic pedophiles.  Both will fail, but one boot thinks its benevolent. Those are the villains I’m worried about.

Importantly, sweeping disregard of critical voices isn’t the right response either.  The “state-loathing” crowd has a substantial argument on offer. First, the media landscape has learned a lot about keeping an audience captive since the Trump era began, turning panic and outrage into profits.  From fallacious cycles like Russiagate to the Iraq War fear-blitz of old, training a critical eye for headlines is wise.  That, coupled with the incestuous nature of intelligence nomenklatura like John Brennan – who lied to Congress and the press during his tenure but still enjoys his freedom making TV appearances with Rachel Maddow – makes news consumers rightfully skittish. Compounding that is a fact the US government has made crystal clear: there is no bridge too far when the chips are down.  From Operations Northwoods and Mockingbird, back to Iraq, to the torching of Waco, NSA’s domestic surveillance program, or the poisoning of prohibition-era alcohol,  the government has shown an expectation for individuals and their rights to die on the altar of institutional wisdom.

Take A Day Off

With the coronavirus making its way around the world like the memes that doubt it, just take a day off; from work, from worrying about infection, and from media.  This virus is likely going to be a new paradigm for our lives for the foreseeable future. During that time away, we can reflect on the success and failures of media, on government abuses of power, on our own sacred cows and what they yield, and how rational actors can starve the state of vital nutrients.  Beyond prudent preventative measures, there’s not much more you will do to change what’s to come of COVID-19.  With such a sudden shock to our lives, to our personal security, and to the structural safeguards we believe in, there is fertile ground ahead.  We can choose to sew radical new seeds for change, or we can stay the course, hoping there’s enough crow to go around. 

Capital Punishment’s Sockdolager

Capital Punishment’s Sockdolager

Asa’s story is the quintessential tale of rags to riches coupled with a class-defying love affair. A rural “savage” who’s left a wealthy estate by a distant family member, only to run up against envious schemers from polite society, Asa falls in love with a poor dairymaid and wins the day, the estate and the girl.

That was the plan on April 14th anyways, until Lincoln had a derringer explode at his head.  Our American Cousin ceased for the evening and the United States, still wracked by a national war, began whirling with inquiries into the murder of its president.

One apparent casualty of political jurisprudence and celerity was Mary Surratt.  Mary owned the inn that the assassin and co-conspirators frequented. This wasn’t a capital crime.  There was tenuous evidence of Mary being guilty of anything but a supporter of the southern cause, who loved her confederate soldier son and supported the confederate army with the means available to her.  The military tribunal, of all things, concluded that Mary allowed spies operating within a local network safe-haven in her boardinghouse, casting her amongst the other convicted conspirators to die.

The crime of quartering comrades and having a photograph of John Wilkes Booth, an apparent friend of her sons, was enough to hang her by her neck until she was dead.  With a steadfast, sober adherence to law and order, carrying out sentencing took less than three months. This included a personal rejection of clemency and writ of stay of execution by the newly-ascended president Johnson.  A presidency mired in conflict and a blood-drenched homeland ended with splattered upholstery and a highly spurious hanging; this death unaccounted for in the atrocious so-called civil war.

Interestingly, the federal government had decided July was enough deliberation for the hanging of Mrs. Surratt, but not enough time for shows to continue where Lincoln was shot. Three days after Mary stopped swinging, soldiers arrived at the Ford theatre by order of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, whose apparent grief made him, “opposed to its ever being again used as a place of public amusement.”  The tenderhearted men of the administration couldn’t bear the thought of another laugh being loosed where Lincoln bled. If only such magnanimity were extended to those in the gnashing gallows.

Bureaucrats have a nasty tendency of doing just this, though; making special allowances for their own circumstances without extending the same to “their people.”  Presidents and their administrations have left red-streaked memories on the corridors of American history as the body of liberty is dragged behind them since practically their beginning. It’s this ‘classism’ above all else that makes capital punishment impracticable in American society.  How can we grant the state special permissions to kill, with their record of expedient desecration of supposedly sacred individual rights? As for fellow Christians, any opportunity to exercise restraint should be seized upon; our collective history from the gladius and bulls in Roman stadiums to recent pocket knives on Egyptian shores should be reminder enough the threat that authoritative strong-men can pose to believers.  Assuredly we shouldn’t be enthusiastically voting for the potential guillotine on our children’s necks.

It was another night in April where this conversation begins to come full-circle.  On April 19th, 1989, Trisha Meili was brutally raped and beaten, and 8 others were attacked around New York City.  The ensuing events are well-known to most, as 5 young black men were wrongly accused of the crimes. The spectacle arrested the attention of Manhattan and the U.S. at large as opposing sides of increasing racial tensions drew their respective battle plans up and began to execute.  Amidst the clamor for justice was real estate mogul Donald Trump’s full-page ads in four separate papers demanding, “BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY! BRING BACK THE POLICE!” Without reference to the now-dubbed Central Park Five, the message was plain nevertheless.

Trump’s view on the death penalty is curiously one of the few fast-held opinions of a man residing on seemingly every side of every issue.  At a 2015 New Hampshire police union event, Trump affirmed that, “One of the first things I’d do in terms of executive order if I win would be to sign a strong, strong statement that will go out to the country, out to the world, that anybody caught killing a policeman, policewoman, police officer, anybody killing a police officer: death penalty. It’s gonna happen. OK? We can’t let this go.” As a rare-found matter of fact, he means it.

Conventional wisdom is standard issue for ordinary-minded leaders – and their followers – despite party affiliation or supposed principles.  In that same spring of ’89, Trump parroted the oft-cited adage that murdering murderers makes murderers murder less. It’s basically science. Summating statements from then-NYC mayor Ed Koch on the Central Park jogger case, Trump voiced his protestations, “he has stated that hate and rancor should be removed from our hearts. I do not think so. I want to hate these muggers and murderers. They should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, should be executed for their crimes. They must serve as examples so that others will think long and hard before committing a crime or an act of violence. Yes, Mayor Koch, I want to hate these murderers and I always will. I am not looking to psychoanalyze them or understand them, I am looking to punish them. If the punishment is strong, the attacks on innocent people will stop.” Science.  Except the science says precisely the opposite.

One of the tangible problems with left-wing hysterics about Trump’s “blatant racism” or “Russia loving” is that they push a president already tenuously attached to principles far afield in the hopes of proving the media narrative negative.  Regarding Russia, he’s been far more politically boisterous and inflammatory than any president since the Cold War.  In regards to racism, he’s calling for summary killings of “hate crime” perpetrators to separate himself from the racist, hate-filled manifesto of the El Paso shooter, Pittsburgh and Charlottesville.

“Hate crimes” are probably reasonably well-intentioned legislative efforts to make race or religiously motivated crimes more severely punished, however, they offer an extensive range of additional crimes to the police and judicial systems tool kit for charging  various offenders.  Making hate crimes worthy of capital punishment will undoubtedly supply an endless drove of fodder for the state’s chambers.  The Justice Department has already stated they will be resuming federal capital punishment under the Trump administration just last month, there’s no reason to think Trump is just bandying about with calls for expanding the offenses worthy of death.

States have traditionally handled most capital crimes, and that’s bad enough; nearly 3,000 are currently on death row nationwide in state judicial systems.  There are currently around 60 inmates on federal death row, whose sentences will be enthusiastically carried out with this new presidential edict. Ceding capital punishment to D.C. do-gooders and their acolytes means an even greater potential for politicization of government killings, with a central body to push the proverbial plunger.

John Wilkes Booth crouched in wait for the hit line of Our American Cousin before he loosed his shot at Lincoln, knowing it always drew raucous laughter.  The terminology may be lost on contemporaries, with Asa crying, “Don’t know the manners of good society, eh? Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal — you sockdologizing old man-trap!” A sockdolager is an archaic way of saying a knock-out punch, a final blow.  For capital punishment, the indefensible shot that always finds its mark is simply this: considering the myriad examples in history of government regimes stuffing its people through the meat grinder, often within the letter of their respective laws, how can we guarantee we are not painting the next canvas of state-sanctioned mass murder in red, white, and blue? American’s have been plummeting from their lofty political principles declared long ago at near freefall speed. Let’s hope we don’t find ourselves face-up on the executioner’s sterile table, strapped at the limbs and staring at fluorescent floaters when we land.

‘Blowback’ and the Frustrating Necessity of Rebutting David French

‘Blowback’ and the Frustrating Necessity of Rebutting David French

David French is one of my least favorite people on Twitter. Former Major in the US Army, Iraq War vet and columnist for National Review, French spends his day’s online hand-wringing about the need for “realism” in foreign policy, ergo an enormous military, all to keep American’s safe at home. Sound familiar?

In his most recent article, French develops the “frustrating” nature of occupying sovereign nations in perpetuity, drone bombing poorly established targets under the auspices of precision, and hemorrhaging trillions of dollars because of an abundantly obvious existential threat to red, white and blue Americanism: radical jihadists.

The idea that radical jihadists are a threat to the American way of life or the general safety of individual Americans, is simply preposterous. Remember, at the height of ISISs “reign” we were warned of sleeper cells and hidden training camps dotting the contiguous United States. All of that turned out to be the fever dreams of corporate hawks, much like the cold warrior warnings of ‘missile gap’ or Ruskies in your Cheerio’s. As the Council on Foreign Relations reported, America is an empirically safe place. How many neighbors, coworkers, fellow churchgoers or friends have you heard stories from about people they know who have been killed by their falling television? None? The probability is equal to that of being killed by a terrorist since 9/11 in the US.

The US spearheading combat operations in “far-flung” places throughout the world, as Dave puts it, does not elucidate the growth and evolution of our forces through 20 years of a global war on terror, but rather vastly increases the likelihood of domestic terror attacks. This, unlike the following points to be discussed, is abundantly obvious. If you and your family were tortured regularly by the sound of buzzing drones, with the threat of ordinance dropped any moment constantly looming, you’d harbor ill will towards the perpetrators regardless of their justifications. If that ordinance blew up your kid brothers bus, killed your sister and her new husband on their wedding day, or caved in your family room while you were away, it would be no wonder that that person might seek revenge. This concept of “blowback” isn’t a new one, and the seeds of resentment have been sewn in dramatic fashion. Conservative, verifiable estimates place civilian casualties around 500,000, and that’s only in Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

French’s First Point

French first asserts that a sect of radical Muslims exists for the express purpose of killing Americans and destabilizing the nation “for the emergence of a new jihadist power”. Contrary to the unfurling of the “JV team” or “nihilist” banner on their behalf like former President Obama, French does something more insidious rhetorically regarding ISIS. After a cacophony of demands to recognize them as ‘Islamic extremists’, self-aggrandizing “conservative” foreign policy academics reject the existence of the fundamentalist eschatology advanced by Salafists like bin Laden and Baghdadi; that the “armies of Rome” will be met in the fields of Dabiq and defeated, ushering in the apocalypse. ISIS has no desire in establishing a ‘jihadist power’, nor the resources. Their greatest windfalls have been directly from US taxpayers through weapon and vehicle caches as well as money funneled to them from the “moderates” we sponsor in Syria anyway. They want to draw Western armies (sometimes specifically the Vatican) into battle in Syria, not have us leave.

Al Qaeda recognized the war of attrition they had to fight in occupied regions to expel the Western armies by making the wars expensive and politically untenable, but in a true display of American exceptionalism, we soldiered on.  But ISIS wants us to stand and fight, they don’t care about American domestic stability.

French may concede his prognosticating on a “jihadist power” may be deluded, but jihadists have, in fact, killed swathes of Americans.  That’s true.  It’s also true that they told us why.  Osama bin Laden himself spelled out various, tangible grievances with the US, namely, the stationing of troops in their holy Saudi Arabia. He also goaded a western military response to 9/11 thinking it would help his recruitment efforts, something French himself concedes in the piece is one of the many ‘challenges’ to our war-making efforts and left bin Laden looking nearly prophetic.

This ‘chicken or the egg’ question about who started the conflict between al Qaeda and the US is a Sisyphean affair.  On September 11, 2001, AQ was something like 200 members relegated to the Afghan/ Pakistan border. Today, there are tens of thousands worldwide. Regardless, then, of who began the fight, the Salafists are winning it ideologically through a much better-tailored hearts and minds campaign. A basic objective measure for the safety of Americans would be the number of enemies we have, and that number has increased 100-fold in direct response to a US foreign policy trying to combat them.

French warns about lumping the policies of the last three presidencies together.  But Bush, Obama and Trump’s administrations have all directly supported Sunni-based insurgencies comprised of jihadists in their fights against various states. The mujahideen in Afghanistan was another such well-known example from the 1980s. This financial and military support of radical Islamists for proxy wars and geopolitics is directly bolstering the enemies we are fighting now, and yet David French brains of the world warn of the secular dictatorships of Shiite and Alawite nations that combat Sunni radicals on the ground day in and day out. Obviously, those policies collectively are doing far more to help the perceived existential threat of jihadists than leaving the region entirely ever could.

Second Point

In anticipation of these points he posits that it was not because of sterile US policy drafted by our brightest minds that drives the jihadist of today; rather “an ancient, potent systematic ideology”. He leaves out that a massive caliphate existed for 600 years that didn’t wither and die until the end of World War I, and yet “Muslim extremism” is somehow a phenomenon of the last century. Of course, violence was perpetrated by Muslim states, sometimes with expressly religious ends, but that was not unique to jihadists or Muslim nations. Osama bin Laden had a bit to say about western meddling in the Middle East and the move towards insurgencies and terror after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and subsequent drafting of the Sykes-Picot lines. This remaking of the Levant and the wider spread Arab nations was viewed as an oppression of potentially theocratic Muslim states by European powers, a far more relatable ax to grind, however.

Third Point

The safe haven myth and the dangers associated with it is a seemingly evergreen fear tactic. Firstly, the idea that sovereign nations quartering, abetting or simply having within their borders people we consider enemies justifies their occupation in perpetuity is outrageous. In Pakistan we have the tenuous permission to conduct various operations there against supposedly established threats, however, we do not have such permissions in Syria. We invaded a sovereign country hoping to depose their seated government without Congressional approval or the knowledge of the electorate using a small contingent of air power and special operators all while that secular dictator fought against the jihadists French is now warning us about.  It’s a fragile sweater he’s wearing, so pull on that thread carefully.

Our policies in Iraq and Syria created the power void and resentment for the rise of ISIS.  While collecting our military caches left across the Iraqi desert like it was Fortnite, the Islamic State’s war in Syria raged on.  DIA documents show the US explicitly backed the rise of an Islamic State against the Assad regime while supplying weapons to Sunni-based insurgencies.  Despite that, today ISIS is nearly defeated and the vestiges remaining will be crushed by the victorious Assad coalition.

Meanwhile, countries like Afghanistan have endured an 18 year US military occupation and somehow the Taliban controls 55% of the territory and rising per the IG. But that is granting too much. “Safe havens” could range from a basement to a 60 acre-beet farm in Scranton, PA and we’d be none the wiser. It’s not as if every terrorist organization raises a black flag and starts streaming work out videos with Kalashnikov’s to LiveLeaks. The concept of a safe haven is simply a base of operations for a small group looking to do harm. That could be functionally achieved literally anywhere, and much to the chagrin of French, we cannot bring all peoples under our dominion for the sake of national security.

Even if we were to sate the jihadi bloodlust of French and his NatRev compatriots, that wouldn’t change the disposition of the ideology.  Former FBI agent Ali Soufan, who drafted an early report warning of Osama bin Laden in 1998, says ISIS won’t die, they’ll just shapeshift.  Sending legions of men to their deaths tends to sew discord, so driving the survivors underground to lick wounds and console their tragedy-struck neighbors won’t serve American interests particularly well either.

It’s also well documented by former CIA officer Robert Grenier who was the oversight for the Pakistan-based drone program that US actions, particularly drone strikes, are working against our long-term stated goals of national security because they, “kill too many civilians, provoke anti-American hatred, and could inadvertently create terrorist safe havens.”  Again showing our policies work completely contradictory to their stated goals.

What’s Remaining

French goes on to tout “lessons learned” over the last 17 years as having culminated to our lean operation in Syria and Afghanistan today.  Certainly, US casualties are low and costs are less than the invasions and surges, but civilian casualties are on the rise per the IG report in Afghanistan.  Besides, the costs of the invasions can’t simply be strewn aside as being in the distant past and therefore unrelated.  It wouldn’t be “throwing it away” to leave these countries today any more than it would be a “waste of all those good years” to leave an abusive relationship.  The fact remains that the campaigns are unproductive in maintaining security long-term, cost millions even in their current state and kill a lot of innocent people.  That level of collateral damage for a Frankenstein monster we largely built is simply unacceptable.

The most telling aspect of this piece is the conclusion.  Framed as an argument from first principles we never hear, French believes we must remain militarily in several sovereign nations until the Salafist’s stop believing, take their ball, and go home. Or forever.  He says, “No functioning government that abdicates its duty to protect its citizens from hostile attack can remain legitimate. Preferably self-defense is maintained by deterrence. But when deterrence fails, a failure to engage the enemy doesn’t bring peace, it enables the enemy to kill your people.”

So, if we could develop a well-thought-out plan to drastically reduce the threat of Islamic extremism occurring at home, it would be in our best interests, no, it would be our duty to oblige?

Then it’s time to bring the troops home and end the wars in the Middle East, David.

 

White Coat Cartel

White Coat Cartel

Abstract: The question over the validity of centralized medical occupational licensing isn’t exactly at a fever pitch in modern America’s dialectic, nevertheless, it warrants rehashing whenever possible.  Though presumably well-intentioned by the various contemporary participants, medical licensing and its expansion has often been the result of mundane, droning political inertia, whose ripples touch every hospital bed and family in the United States. In the wake of a 2016 study and subsequent letter to the CDC by Dr. Martin Makary of John Hopkin’s University, where he posits that medical error deaths may be responsible for more than 10% of American deaths annually, now is as good a time as any to advocate for the abolition of centralized medical licensing. To be clear from the outset this is not an advocacy piece for the end of medical standardization, scientific research or inquiry, or pay-based models for health care provision. Rather, we’ll explore from a bird’s eye view the history of medical occupational licensing and the various interests that gave birth to today’s cartel of physicians acting as bridge troll for budding providers and consumers alike, and the implications of said licensing on the health industry; wrought with malformations seen nowhere else in the economy or, professionally speaking, in the rest of the developed world. The collective pit in our nation’s stomach is the question of health care provision, and the to-be-discovered tonic is better than most imagine.

French economist Frederic Bastiat asked, “if the natural tendencies of mankind are so bad that it is not safe to permit people to be free, how is it that the tendencies of these organizers are always good? Do not the legislators and their appointed agents also belong to the human race? Or do they believe that they themselves are made of a finer clay than the rest of mankind?” (Bastiat). The tale of American physicians and their licensure isn’t, on its face, as gripping as it may sound. On the contrary, the predation of reconstruction-era physicians on competitors within regular medicine, as well as upon unorthodox providers, laid the groundwork for much of the health care industry woes currently facing the US.  Regardless of its profound impact on the early trajectory of governments now-incestuous relationship with health care providers, the question over the state licensure of physicians has always been a forgotten footnote in the history of the modern American healthcare system.

The history of occupational medical licensing, physicians particularly, is summed up by the following: “The economic condition of the profession being what it was in the 1870’s, with no restrictions on entry into the field, a host of competing medical schools eager to graduate doctors in greater numbers, and heterodox medicine contending for the patient’s dollar, regular physicians increasingly felt the need to effectively organize. Their goal was to enlist the support of government as a means of regulating the number and qualifications of physicians. The aims of orthodox medicine and its most effective and tireless spokesman, the American Medical Association, were threefold: (1) the establishment of medical licensing laws in the various states to restrict entry into the profession and thus secure a more stable economic climate for physicians than that which obtained under uninhibited competition; (2) the destruction of the proprietary medical school and its replacement with fewer, non-profit institutions of learning, providing extensive and thorough training in medicine with a longer required period of study to a smaller and more select student body; (3) the elimination of heterodox medical sects as unwelcome and competitive forces within the profession” (Hamowy).  In resounding agreement, Dr. Stanford Chaille, Professor of Physiology and Anatomy at the University of Louisiana in the mid-19th century, wrote to the American Medical Association that, ‘“the profession has good reason to urge that the number [of medical graduates] is large enough to diminish the profits of its individual members,’ he writes, ‘and that if educational requirements were higher, there would be fewer doctors and larger profits for the diminished number”’ (Hamowy).

The Philadelphia 1847 meeting that eventually launched the American Medical Association (AMA) was the beginning of what would become a spurious campaign to agitate state governments for restriction of entry into the medical profession under the auspices of improving ‘public health’; this at a time when bloodletting was standard for just about every disease, and lead, arsenic and mercury were regularly given in various forms for treatment (Greenstone).

This is not an uncommon practice, the established in an industry will often use the power of government to limit entry into their field therefore protecting their market share, precisely what Dr. Chaille was advocating. He was hardly the only one though, Dr. Perry Millard, Vice President of the AMA and member of the Minnesota State Medical Examiners Board, said in 1887 in an address to the AMA that the “noblest” of professions, medicine, had been too long “left to a competition that is intolerable to an educated man. Had we been alive to our interests our present environment would offer better inducements to the educated masses today.”  He went on, “let me insist upon a renewal of our zeal in behalf of our material interests, and cooperate in obtaining at the hands of the legislatures of the different States such regulations of the practice of our profession as will place the standard thereof upon a citadel of greater strength and power” (Millard). Dr. Perry Millard had also lauded the passage of the Minnesota Medical Practice Act of 1887 by asserting that, “Minnesota possesses a smaller ratio of physicians to the population than any State in the Union. Instead of one physician to every 750 inhabitants, the last medical census shows but one to every 1,300. Through the courtesy of the Secretary of the Minnesota Board, I am permitted the first public announcement of these figures. I may state, however, that they are not made public with a view of promoting emigration. It is a pleasure to announce that both the profession and the public are quite uniformly supporting the law” (Hamowy).

I venture to guess the people probably weren’t ‘uniformly supportive’ of a 40% reduction in healthcare providers, both orthodox and otherwise, in two years. Nationally the story was much the same. From 1850 to 1900 there was an almost 11% reduction in physicians per 100,000, from 176 to 157, out of approved medical schools, in addition to practitioners of heterodox medicine. This is best contextualized when compared to dentists over the same period, increasing from 13 to 33 per 100,000, a 65% increase (Vital Statistics, US Census). In a period when virtually no legislative restrictions were imposed on dentists and many states began adopting medical examining boards to limit physician entry into the profession, the reason for the disparity is no mystery.

‘Of course,’ Dr. Millard and Dr. Chaille would retort, ‘contrary to their appearances, it’s not for personal material gain or stifling of our competition that we write these speeches and letters advocating for such regulation. Our sterile interest is simply the public health.’  That may be true, in part. It may be that limiting the supply of physicians to meet an ever-increasing demand while technology plods ahead is simply a noteworthy side effect.  However, in looking back at the last 130 years of historical data and legislation, it’s nearly impossible to believe.

To do so, it’s first important to reckon with the rivalry between homeopaths and allopaths; to see the animus of 19th century orthodox physicians with the bludgeon of state licensing in their hands. When homeopathy began gaining traction in the US, it’s practitioners began the first American medical society in 1844, the American Institute of Homeopathy. Significant tension had already been building between the two medical communities, and two years later, the allopathic American Medical Association was founded.  Interestingly, many medical doctors of the time considered themselves both ‘orthodox’ providers and homeopaths, as homeopathic medicine was, and is, seen as an attempt to support the bodies healing efforts rather than treating symptoms, an approach that utilizes more natural remedies and low dose, single medication treatments at a given time. Then, the driving force behind advocating allopathy over homeopathy was not empirical; entrenched establishment clinicians, alongside dissatisfied groups like apothecaries who received far less income from local homeopaths, dug in their heels against homeopathic providers. The motivations were obvious, and probably best expressed at a 1903 AMA meeting, “We must admit that we never fought the homeopath on matters of principles; we fought him because he came into the community and got the business” (Kaufman). Generally, multiple competing schools of thought bodes well for consumers, with the winner rising from the ashes by way of meritocracy; but the gloves were off for the AMA. In tandem with their pursuit and eventual development of state medical examining boards, the AMA began purging unorthodox providers from their ranks. At the time, non-members would lose their state licensure and thus the ability to practice within the confines of the law (Kaufman). The weaponization of these licenses to batter competing ideologies out of polite society, out of regular practice, and out of the marketplace did not even require the rationalization of being for the public good. Rather, these campaigns were marshalled from private, smoke-filled rooms with the assurance of state support expressly to limit competition.

Today, the landscape is certainly different, but not better.  The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education serves as the gatekeeper for future doctors by setting the annual number of medical school seats and the number of residency slots permissible. In the US, unlike other countries, residency must be performed in the US (with a 2011 law allowing for Canadian transfer with substantial obstacles). This system allows for leading physicians to ensure a steady but low supply of future physicians for the markets demand, thus guaranteeing overinflated prices. It’s no wonder that unlike other wealthy nations where two thirds of doctors are general practitioners, two thirds of American physicians are specialists, who earn a premium over their foreign counterparts, regardless of generally equal outcomes across national lines (Baker). Doctors and legislators make excellent bedmates, with licensing serving as the cornerstone of their union. Without it, governments would be unable to administer over large swathes of the health care industry, and doctors of allopathy would be required to compete against peers and reprobates in unorthodox schools of thought.

It’s clear that despite the persistent claim to the contrary, the advent and perpetuation of centralized licensing was and is not for the public’s benefit, but private interests. Mandated training is far removed from the tangible impact on health or whatever conception of ‘public good’ is being used. For example, emergency medical technicians (EMT’s) require licensure in every state and DC but very little state mandated training. “The number of days of required education and training varies from zero (District of Columbia) to 140 (Alaska), with most states requiring between 26 and 39 days, for an average of 33 days. All 51 jurisdictions also require cosmetologists to be licensed, but the education and training necessary is vastly different. The states demand various periods of education and training for cosmetology licensing, ranging from 233 days (Massachusetts and New York) to 490 days (South Dakota), with an average of 372 days. In other words, on average a budding cosmetologist needs to complete more than 11 times the education and training necessary to serve as an EMT” (Larkin). As a matter of fact, EMT’s require less training for licensure on average nationwide than cosmetologists, barbers, interior designers and manicurists. This gross misuse of state licensure often unrelated to the purpose of bettering the public welfare is commonplace: trades like traditional African hair-braiding, a topic not even covered in cosmetology curricula, must complete 3,200 hours of cosmetology training to be certified in states like Mississippi (Kramer).  Twenty-one states require travel agents to be licensed, with Nevada education requiring 733 days and the certificate costing $1500 (Brookings). Medical or otherwise, these cases are less the exception and more now the national rule, with Brooking’s Institute finding that 30% of all American service providing industries now require government occupational licensing, an astonishing figure when considering only 5% existed in 1950, making occupational licensing the fastest growing American labor field since World War II (Hershbein). Of course, then, the license does not serve simply as a requisite baseline in a field, but also as an exclusionary, state-imposed parameter, where the state gets their due. For even if one were to provide evidence of completion of the required training by the state, they would not be permitted to practice until the bureaucratic bridge troll received its toll, typically on a regular basis for as long as they wish to ‘cross’ into the working world.

Broadly, this is the story of the cartelization of the American economy, with various special interests petitioning legislatures for market share protection, not of a measured approach to protect the “public’s interests”. More specifically, if ‘public health’ were the true thrust of physician required licensure, how is it that free health advice is not illegal, but only becomes so when you attempt to sell it? Just as much, if not more, harm can be done by free medical advice than by that which is for sale. It becomes much clearer then, that these regulatory burdens are meant to restrict competitive forces, not safeguard anyone (Rothbard).

Not surprisingly, the expected outcomes of a national system of health provision, more or less devoid of competitive forces, are rife in the current domestic medical landscape. US doctor salaries are almost twice that of other wealthy nations, totaling over $100 billion a year in wages alone (Baker). According to the WHO data on physicians per capita, the US, a leading medical nation in terms of innovation and provision, comes in around the middle of the global pack, amidst countries like Saudi Arabia, Romania and Uzbekistan (WHO). These numbers are generally trumpeted by those unfurling the banner of ever-grander and more ‘scientific’ state interventions, mandating lower wages for doctors (Flavelle) or other sweeping, empirically bad, price-fixing schemes. There’s nothing more intellectually lazy than simply voting and hoping for the right bureaucrat to come along and make the way straight, though. The answer is a complete about face: a gradual but thorough untethering of the system of health care from state certification to allow responsive industry to stand in the gap.

Today, a license serves, at least in part, to bolster the confidence of the consumer in a given field. Being officially certified demonstrates an acceptable level of competency, presumably decided upon by unbiased experts with authority in the profession. This demonstration is supposed to signal to the consumer that the service provider can be trusted, and that a lack of technical knowledge in the field doesn’t preclude you from receiving sound service. But with centralized, or state administered, certifying boards there is no recourse for dissatisfied customers. Dr. Martin Makary of John Hopkin’s University published a staggering report in 2016 regarding deaths related to medical error, and the gross misrepresentation of cause of death statistics. He asserts that deaths expressly due to medical error as defined as “an error in judgment, skill, or coordination of care, a diagnostic error, a system defect resulting in death or a failure to rescue a patient from death, or a preventable adverse event” (Makary) resulted in at least 251,454 deaths in 2013. For reference, that year the deadliest category, heart disease, was responsible for 611,104 deaths while cancer was the cause of 584,881, followed by respiratory disease at 149,205. Importantly, these projections don’t include any out-patient deaths or those that occurred at home as a result of medical error.

Considering those numbers, it’s amazing that people aren’t more acutely aware of the dangers associated with hospitalization or receiving medical care; due, I suspect, in large part to state administered medical licenses. Consumer’s believe that when a wrong is committed, the state medical board will adjudicate the matter properly; but that just isn’t the case. In its 2018 report, the Federation of State Medical Boards released its aggregate numbers from each state’s board on disciplinary action, the first report since Dr. Makary’s letter to the CDC. There were 8,813 medical board actions in 2017, including restrictions, ‘reprimands’, and administrative alerts. 4,081 physicians were disciplined in total, 711 put on probation, 656 suspended and 248 had their license revoked. There are 970,090 licensed physicians nationwide; that means physicians have a 1 in 40,000 chance of being disciplined on an annual basis, with 6% of those resulting in license revocation. Based on the numbers of medical errors, even if over-inflated ten-fold, there are enormous discrepancies between patient injury and physician accountability.

What about a private alternative for licensure, where the mystique and authoritative prudence people superimpose on government actions were replaced by a healthy skepticism of corporate dealings? When buying diamonds, for example, I trust that the GIA certification stamped on the product ensures its legitimacy and quality as someone who knows nothing about gems or how to assess their worth. Companies like GIA have their entire reputations staked to those approvals or certifications and must ensure they do everything possible to maintain that or their firm suffers. Despite those lofty consumer demands, GIA has been around since the 1930’s completely innovating the world’s gemological certifying criteria with their “4 C’s” for diamond assessment, and over 80 years of various other important works in the field of gemology. How can it be that Americans spend millions of dollars on diamonds across the national economy annually, and yet people would find it absurd to call for government to regulate gemological certification (GIA)? Furthermore, imagine the scorched-earth response by consumers and talking-heads alike if Dr. Makary’s findings on medical error deaths were instead linked to a GIA-like agency for certifying providers, surrounded by competitive forces and subject to profit and loss calculations, instead of to a collection of faceless, droning central planners.

Medicine is not due special regard by its very nature. Medical education and provision require the same competitive forces to remain accountable to consumers, innovative and cost conscious. A state license, theoretically, serves the purpose of an acceptable minimum for quality assurance and consumer protection, however, the preponderance of evidence suggests something like the opposite in practice. Regardless of original intent, state licenses were almost immediately used by established medical firms to block heterodox competitors and limit supply in the name of public health. A century later we find ourselves amidst a health care crisis, with medical error projected to attribute to 10% of American deaths annually, physicians facing practically no consequences for such errors and health care costs and physician’s salaries dramatically higher than other wealthy nations, while physicians per capita remain far lower. Yet, somehow state medical licensing is considered as natural a human advancement as medicine itself, opposed only by troglodytes, quacks and enemies of society. We can all recognize, almost innately, the gross malformations of our health care system; and there exists no shortage of prognostication in the name of treating it. The cure isn’t the handling of one symptom or another though, the cure is to cut off what is harmful and rotten: to excise the entangled interests of corporate health care and the state apparatus, allowing entrepreneurs and industry experts to grow in their place.

References

WHO: Density of Physicians (total number per 1000 population, latest available year). (2018, February 22). Retrieved from http://www.who.int/gho/health_workforce/physicians_density/en/


BIO: 
John is a former marine and Afghan war veteran currently working as an ER nurse.  With writing as a passion project, John writes on free markets in health care and against the war state.  IG: sackclothcenturion

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