Feds Out of Portland

Feds Out of Portland

Maybe no one would have noticed if Trump had sent in some FBI guys just to help guard the federal courthouse in Portland, but Trump lives by the motto “Be ominously obnoxious or go home.” So he sends in unidentified agents from customs, the border patrol, and other such agencies to scoop demonstrators off the streets. Now he’s threatening to do the same thing in other cities, including Chicago. State and local officials in Oregon and around the country are concerned.

Trump may like the optics in this election season. To many of us, however, it looks bloody fascistic. Let local communities work this stuff out. The last thing they need is an escalation of trouble compliments of an invading federal force.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So as I say, what’s his hurry?

Feds Out of Portland

Free Speech Is Sadly Controversial

In the topsy-turvy world we live in, this otherwise unremarkable letter calling for respect for free speech, published in Harper’s and signed by 153 writers, etc., has set off a nasty firestorm of statist-left criticism. It seems that some people are so insecure about what they think and who they are that they cannot tolerate a world in which others are free to say and write what they like. The hell with that. I’ll take John Stuart Mill.

TGIF: Mises, Ryle, and Me

TGIF: Mises, Ryle, and Me

In 1949, the first year of Harry S. Truman’s only elective presidential term, three things happened that were of huge importance … at least to me. Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) published Human Action. Gilbert Ryle (1900-1976) published The Concept of Mind. And, oh yeah, I was born. The connection here is that Mises’s and Ryle’s books are two of the most influential things I have ever read.

What’s also interesting is what else the books have in common. Human Action sets out the logical structure of all purposeful action as well as its socioeconomic implications. Mises called the study of human action praxeology. Thus while Human Action is one of the most important books on economics ever written, it is so much more.

Ryle’s book is also about human action, but his philosophical accomplishment was to show that our purposeful pursuits require no “ghost in the machine” — no soul, spirit, or mind conceived as a nonmaterial organ — to explain them. (The ghost explanation in fact creates philosophical problems rather than solves them.) Ryle went a step further and showed that, contrary to determinists, neuroscientists, and the like, human action also would require no exemption from the laws of physics to exist. In other words, Ryle set out to solve the old mind-body problem that had plagued philosophy at least since Descartes, and he did it without dismissing purpose, which we all understand in our everyday lives, or objective reality. I’m not aware that the two men ever encountered each other or commented on each other’s work.

Here’s a morsel of Mises:

Human action is purposeful behavior. Or we may say: Action is will put into operation and transformed into an agency, is aiming at ends and goals, is the ego’s meaningful response to stimuli and to the conditions of its environment, is a person’s conscious adjustment to the state of the universe that determines his life. Such paraphrases may clarify the definition given and prevent possible misinterpretations. But the definition itself is adequate and does not need complement of commentary.


Conscious or purposeful behavior is in sharp contrast to unconscious behavior, i.e., the reflexes and the involuntary responses of the body’s cells and nerves to stimuli. People are sometimes prepared to believe that the boundaries between conscious behavior and the involuntary reaction of the forces operating within man’s body are more or less indefinite. This is correct only as far as it is sometimes not easy to establish whether concrete behavior is to be considered voluntary or involuntary. But the distinction between consciousness and unconsciousness is nonetheless sharp and can be clearly determined….


The field of our science is human action, not the psychological events which result in an action. It is precisely this which distinguishes the general theory of human action, praxeology, from psychology. The theme of psychology is the internal events that result or can result in a definite action. The theme of praxeology is action as such….


Action is not simply giving preference. Man also shows preference in situations in which things and events are unavoidable or are believed to be so. Thus a man may prefer sunshine to rain and may wish that the sun would dispel the clouds. He who only wishes and hopes does not interfere actively with the course of events and with the shaping of his own destiny. But acting man chooses, determines, and tries to reach an end. Of two things both of which he cannot have together he selects one and gives up the other. Action therefore always involves both taking and renunciation.


…Wherever the conditions for human interference are present, man acts no matter whether he interferes or refrains from interfering. He who endures what he could change acts no less than he who interferes in order to attain another result. A man who abstains from influencing the operation of physiological and instinctive factors which he could influence also acts. Action is not only doing but no less omitting to do what possibly could be done.


We may say that action is the manifestation of a man’s will. But this would not add anything to our knowledge. For the term will means nothing else than man’s faculty to choose between different states of affairs, to prefer one, to set aside the other, and to behave according to the decision made in aiming at the chosen state and forsaking the other….


It is true that the changes brought about by human action are but trifling when compared with the effects of the operation of the great cosmic forces. From the point of view of eternity and the infinite universe man is an infinitesimal speck. But for man human action and its vicissitudes are the real thing. Action is the essence of his nature and existence, his means of preserving his life and raising himself above the level of animals and plants. However perishable and evanescent all human efforts may be, for man and for human science they are of primary importance.

We need not ask if human action exists. As human beings, we know it does “from the inside.” Mises called this knowledge a priori because we don’t first discover human action “out there.” In fact, one obviously would demonstrate the existence of human action just by attempting to prove or disprove its existence. To ask if human beings act is in itself to act.

And now Ryle:

The fears expressed by some moral philosophers that the advance of the natural sciences diminishes the field within which the moral virtues can be exercised rests on the assumption that there is some contradiction in saying that one and the same occurrence is governed by both mechanical laws and moral principles, an assumption as baseless as the assumption that a golfer cannot at once conform to the laws of ballistics and obey the rules of golf and play with elegance and skill. Not only is there plenty of room for purpose where everything is governed by mechanical laws, but there would be no place for purpose if things were not so governed. Predictability is a necessary condition of planning…. [Thus] there is no need for the desperate salvage-operation of withdrawing the applications of [biology, anthropology, sociology, ethics, logic, aesthetics, politics, economics, historiography, etc.] out of the ordinary world to some postulated other word, or of setting up a partition between things that exist in Nature and things that exist in non-Nature. No occult precursors of overt acts [e.g., volitions] are required to preserve for the agent his title to plaudits or strictures for performing them, not would they be effective preservatives if they did exist.


Men are not machines, not even ghost-ridden machines. They are men — a tautology which is sometimes worth remembering….


Questions of … patterns are properly asked of certain chain-processes. The question ‘What makes the bullet fly out of the barrel?’ is properly answered by ‘The expansion of gases in the cartridge’; the question ‘What makes the cartridge explode?’ is answered by reference to the percussion of the detonator; and the question ‘How does my squeezing the trigger make the pin strike the detonator?’ is answered by describing the mechanism of springs, levers and catches between the trigger and the pin. So when it is asked ‘How does my mind get my finger to squeeze the trigger?’ the form of the question presupposes that a further chain-process is involved embodying still earlier tensions, releases and discharges, though this time ‘mental’ ones. But whatever is the act or operation adduced as the first step of this postulated chain-process, the performance of it has to be described in just the same way as in ordinary life we describe the squeezing of the trigger by the marksman. Namely we say simply ‘He did it’ and not “He did or underwent something else which caused it’.

TGIF — The Goal Is Freedom — appears on occasional Fridays.

Feds Out of Portland

It’s Beginning to Make Sense

So now, if Trump says he’s going to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan, he’ll be accused of turning tail before the Russians. I wonder if there’s a connection,

Feds Out of Portland

Regarding the Latest in Russophobia

I might believe the latest Russia story (about bounties for American scalps in Afghanistan) when I see a headline like this:

Russian Fiscal Conservatives Blast Putin for Paying for What He’s Already Getting for Free

Feds Out of Portland

Bostock v. Clayton County, Ga.

This week the U.S. Supreme Court, in Bostock v. Clayton County, Ga., ruled 6-4 that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bans workplace discrimination on the basis of various categories (race, religion, color, sex, etc.), by implication also covers discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (i.e., homosexual and transgender persons). The case was really two cases, one involving the county government, the other a private company.

The ruling has brought the usual conservative gnashing of teeth about unelected justices’ making law rather than doing their proper job, interpreting law. Note this delicious fact: the majority opinion was written by Justice Neil “But” Gorsuch, Trump’s first pick for the court.

If I am asked what I think of the ruling, I will say this: I favor repeal of Title VII (and other parts of the law that restrict private persons), but I also favor the ruling. That will strike some as incoherent, but it’s not.

Gorsuch held, “An employer who discriminates against homosexual or transgender employees necessarily and intentionally applies sex-based rules.” He noted that the employers “seem to say when a new application [of a law’s language] is both unexpected and important, even if it is clearly commanded by existing law, the Court should merely point out the question, refer the subject back to Congress, and decline to enforce the law’s plain terms in the meantime. This Court has long rejected that sort of reasoning.”

That seems right: sexual-orientation discrimination is sex discrimination — even if those who wrote and voted for the bill did not understand this. We often fail to see implications of the positions we hold. (Pointing that out was Socrates’s occupation.) In the case of legislation, why should we be bound by the narrow understanding of its authors and those who voted for it? Thomas Paine would call that being ruled by the dead.

Most people don’t understand that in the 18th century, free press meant freedom from prior restraint, not freedom from ex post punitive action by the government. Should we have stuck with the narrower meaning? I don’t think so. (But conservatives might.)

I say all this as one who rejects the state and its monopoly court system. But as James M. Buchanan liked to say, we have to start where we are. Sorry, abolishing the state isn’t on today’s menu. So what do we want that we can have? And what do we do?

Of course I would repeal the 1964 Civil Rights Act as it applies to private persons. I despise bigotry and invidious discrimination, but we don’t need the government to fight it. On the other hand, such discrimination by governments ought to be banned. The 1964 act struck down state Jim Crow laws, which mandated racial discrimination in both the private and government sectors.

But repeal of that law is not on today’s menu either. Yet that should not keep us from applauding the court for recognizing the clear fact that sex discrimination includes sexual-orientation discrimination regardless of what some political hacks might have thought in 1964. (Maybe they just didn’t think.)

By the same reasoning, good-faith libertarians should oppose removal of individual categories from Title VII. Who would favor striking out race or sex from the list if it were proposed on ostensibly libertarian grounds? Not I.

Feds Out of Portland

When “Defund the Police” Will Turn Serious

Defunding the police is only a small part of only one side of the equation. All anti-vice laws must be erased, and the people, individually and in voluntary combination, must be freed — including freed from taxation — to see to their own security, their own education, their own health care, their own this, their own that, and their own the other. When that stuff enters the discussion, it will have gotten serious.

TGIF: Replace Your Divots

TGIF: Replace Your Divots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feds Out of Portland

Cuomo’s Wager

Pascal’s Wager is a familiar idea. It goes something like this: regardless of what you may think about the existence of God, rational cost-benefit analysis says you should sign on. After all, if you do and you’re wrong, what have you lost? But if you don’t and you’re wrong, uh oh — you’re in big trouble, buster. (I’m not saying this makes sense, by the way.)

Something similar has gone on with the coronavirus pandemic and the draconian economic policies embraced by many governors in the United States, best exemplified New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and California Gov. Gavin Newsom. They have made a wager sort of like this: if we don’t shut the economy down and the pandemic fulfills the worst-case scenario, we are all in big trouble; but if we do shut the economic down and the pandemic falls closer to the best-case scenario, what will have been lost?

For those with their eyes open, the answer to this last question is simple: a lot. Forbidding most economic activity has to impose substantial hardship — material and otherwise — on countless people, not to mention future generations. I won’t go into detail, and I shouldn’t need to. Just think about it for a few moments. (See David Henderson’s “End the Lockdowns Now.”) And I haven’t mentioned the future harm from government’s so-called solutions: enormous deficit spending, money creation by the Federal Reserve, and the ratchet (specifically, the Higgs) effect from precedents set..

The point is that it’s easy to “reason” to the policy outcome you want if you list only the real and imagined benefits and ignore all the burdens. This was what Frédéric Bastiat was getting at in his brilliant essay “What Is Seen and What Is Unseen.”

The blunt-instrument policies adopted by many governors were chosen in the dark. Flawed statistical models seemed to shed light, but knowledgeable people questioned the validity of those models from Day One. At any rate, we know more now (though not nearly enough), so it’s time for the lockdown orders to be lifted, liberating society’s widespread entrepreneurial problem-solving process to do its thing.

Book Foolssm

Fool’s Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan

by Scott Horton

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The Great Ron Paul

by Scott Horton

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No Quarter: The Ravings of William Norman Grigg

by Will Grigg

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What Social Animals Owe to Each Other

by Sheldon Richman

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Coming to Palestine

by Sheldon Richman

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