Politics

US Tensions Post-RBG Ep. 130

US Tensions Post-RBG Ep. 130

Oh boy, are we in for a rough six weeks. In this episode I discuss the effect of Ruth Bader-Ginsburg’s death on the upcoming election in light of growing political division.

Episode 130 of the Liberty Weekly Podcast is Brought to you by:

The Liberty Weekly Podcast is now on Bitbacker.io Support with crypto!

The Liberty Weekly Amazon Affiliate Link

The Liberty Weekly Patreon Page: help support the show and gain access to tons of bonus content! Become a patron today!

Become a Patron! 

Please Consider Supporting Projects on DonorSee

Show Notes:

The Conspiratorial Corruption of the Constitution Ep. 2

Liberation Library [2]: Reclaiming the American Revolution: The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions and Their Legacy

Business Insider: Late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s ‘fervent’ last wish was that she ‘not be replaced until a new president is installed’

*CORRECTION* It was Justice Rebecca Bradley who authored a wonderful dissent to Wisconsin’s State Order suspending jury trials

The Atlantic: The Violent Defense of White Male Supremacy

Making Politics More Like a Free Market

Making Politics More Like a Free Market

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

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

Free Competition

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

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

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

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

Small-Scale Experiments

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

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

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

Dispersal of Power

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

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

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

Decentralized Decision-Making

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Concluding Remarks

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

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

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

Toxic Partisanship: A Gateway Towards Authoritarianism

Toxic Partisanship: A Gateway Towards Authoritarianism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

 

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.

Democide: Understanding the State’s Monopoly on Violence and the Second Amendment

Democide: Understanding the State’s Monopoly on Violence and the Second Amendment

second amendment and democide
Gun control is predicated on the belief that private citizens cannot be trusted with firearms. That the state should have a “monopoly on violence” because it is less violent than individuals. And that firearms should be taken away from private citizens because only the state is responsible enough to handle them.

There is, however, a major problem with this: States are statistically far more violent than individuals. After all, in the 20th century alone, 262 MILLION people died at the hands of their own governments.

The term for this sort of atrocity is “democide.” It is one of the reasons the Founding Fathers included the Second Amendment in the U.S. Constitution – to allow citizens some form of protection against agents of a tyrannical government meaning to do them harm, as the Founders were forcibly disarmed as colonists by the British prior to the American Revolution.

What Is Democide?

Democide is the murder of any person or people by their government. It’s an important concept, as it is more expansive than the better-known term genocide. While the largest genocide in history is widely thought to be the Holocaust, Adolf Hitler’s work pales in comparison to that of Josef Stalin or Mao Zedong. In fact, one aspect of Stalin’s terror was the “Holodomor,” the intentional mass starvation of Ukrainians, which killed over seven million victims in less than two years (compared to six million Jews over the four years of the Holocaust).

Soviet Union leader Joseph Stalin
Sometimes democide is ethnically motivated, as in the Holocaust. In other cases, like Stalin’s Great Purge, having the wrong politics is enough to get one killed. In the Ottoman Empire’s persecution of its Greek and Armenian populations, religion was the motivating factor. However, in all of these cases, it’s difficult to ascertain where the political, religious and ethnic motivations begin and end.

Rather than splitting hairs, democide is a more inclusive term. Government killings tend to have mixed motivations, as religion, ethnicity and politics often overlap. And, after all, do the motivations even matter? Democide treats all mass killings at the hands of one’s government as a single crime, allowing us to better compare apples to apples.

A Brief History of the Concept of Democide

Democide might be a practice as old as time, but it reached new depths in the 20th century. This is when warfare became mechanized and, as pointed out by anarchist philosopher Hans-Hermann Hoppe, war shifted from being about property disputes over pieces of land into ideological crusades. Democracy vs. monarchy or liberalism and communism vs. fascism are great examples of this.

While the act of governments killing their own citizens is not unique to this century, the concept of democide was first formulated by Rudolph Rummel, a late professor emeritus of political science at the University of Hawaii and frequent Nobel Peace Prize nominee. He studied the political violence of the 20th century with an eye toward doing all he could to end it. In doing so, he quickly noticed that not all mass killings committed by governments fell under the heading of “genocide.” Further, as stated above, the differences between mass killing for religious, political and ethnic reasons are often difficult to separate from one another. Rummel found a far more elegant term in “democide,” which could easily refer to all of this and more.

Rummel’s conclusions were based on empirical study over a period of 15 years. He penned six books on the subject, publishing his abstracts and statistics on his website as a free resource for all to read. The major conclusions that Rummel came to were that despite their other shortcomings, Western liberal democracies excelled over all other forms of government in two major respects:

  • Democratically elected governments were the least likely to kill their own citizens.
  • Democratically elected governments do not wage war against one another.

Rummel employed a broad definition of democide, which included not just lining people up and shooting them, but also deliberate neglect, intentionally poor policy or forced labor. Hence, the Holodomor, a planned famine which is widely agreed upon to have been the result of deliberate Soviet policies directed against Ukrainians, fits squarely in the camp of democide. Although he was an outspoken proponent of international liberal democracy and a critic of communism, Rummel did not support going to war for the sole purpose of replacing a dictatorship with a democracy.

Communist Party t-shirt graphic
Far and away, the worst offenders in the world of democide are communist regimes. The Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia all enter in the “million-plus” club and rank among the most democidal regimes in human history. Other forms of dictatorships, ranging from fascist to quasi-Marxist Third World nationalism, also rank high – with the autocracy of the Ottoman Empire being a relative outlier. The other major example of democide from a monarchy is the Belgian colonial authority in the Congo, which took place at the hands of a constitutional monarch (not an absolute one).

While Western liberal democracies are by no means beyond rebuke, they’re comparatively innocent when it comes to democide. What’s more, most democidal deaths at the hands of democratic powers tend to happen during times of war – such as the firebombing of Dresden. Western democracies have been known to act with undue care or even blood lust with regard to rival nations. They’re not known for wholesale mass slaughter of their own citizens or that of other nations.

While this certainly doesn’t make the victims of modern liberal democracies any less tragic, it does result in an overall body count that is much less than totalitarian regimes and military dictatorships. Incidents like the storming of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco or Ruby Ridge are noteworthy as aberrations – shocking scandals precisely because of how far they fall outside of democratic norms.

Democide: The Tale of the Tape

Chinese Chairman Mao and yuanWhile Hitler is often the symbol of ultimate evil in human history, he only gets the bronze when it comes to democide. The worst offenders were on the other extreme of the political spectrum, with the top two spots being occupied by communist governments. So who are the most blood-soaked dictators in human history? Here’s a look by the numbers:

  • Communist China under the stewardship of Mao Zedong holds the ignoble honor of being the most democidal regime in human history to the tune of 65 million people killed, including 30 million during the Great Leap Forward alone.
  • Second is the Soviet Union, with 29 million deaths. This breaks down into 20 million under Stalin, 9 million under Lenin and 7 million in the Holodomor.
  • As stated above, Hitler comes in third with official estimates of the total dead ranging from 10 million to 12.5 million.
  • Ten other countries killed somewhere between 1 million and 10 million of their own people between 1900 and 1987:
    • Japan under Emperor Tojo
    • Russia during Lenin’s Bolshevik Revolution
    • Pasha’s Turkey
    • Pol Pot in Cambodia
    • Kim Il-Sung’s North Korea
    • Mariam’s Communist regime in Ethiopia
    • Gowon in Nigeria
    • Bangladesh under Yahya Khan
    • Saddam Hussein in Iraq
    • Vietnam under Ho Chi Minh
    • Idi Amin in Uganda.
  • Nearly half – 46.6% – of all deaths in China between 1900 and 1987 were the result of democide.
  • Five different regimes have killed over 10 million people, with two of them based in China: The People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China under Chiang Kai-hek. The other three are the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and the Congo Free State.
  • China, in one form or another, has been responsible for fully one out of every three democide deaths.
  • The top five democidal regimes are responsible for a combined 219 million deaths.

Though restricted by geography, democide is the leading non-natural cause of death in the 20th century. For example, while the chances of death by government in China were almost half during the 20th century, they were near zero in the United States and Canada.

Hitler, the Holocaust, and Gun Control

The link between gun control and the Holocaust is not clear-cut, despite it being a go-to example of gun control proceeding democide. In fact, the Nazi government loosened gun control for most German citizens, while restricting access to Jews.

The post-World War I Weimar Republic passed intensely strict gun control laws between the wars. In interwar Germany, gun ownership was effectively banned for private citizens. There were two reasons for this: First, post-war Germany was a hotbed of revolution and reaction, often teetering on the brink of civil war. Second, it was a form of compliance with the terms of the 1919 Versailles Treaty, which Germany signed upon surrender – requiring massive disarmament of the entire nation.

In 1928, the Weimar Republic relaxed the laws slightly with the Law on Firearms and Ammunition. This law instituted a strict firearms licensing system, while continuing to restrict gun ownership to private citizens deemed “trustworthy.”

Five years later, Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany. In 1938, five years after his election and well into the Third Reich, the government passed a new weapons law in March of that year, which made it easier for most private German citizens (again, those deemed “trustworthy”) to obtain firearms, with one caveat – the law explicitly stated that “No (gun) permits may be given to Jews.”

While Hitler was liberalizing gun ownership restrictions in Germany for “trustworthy” citizens (and, it’s worth mentioning, to support the German weapons industry), he was also actively disarming people termed “unreliable.” In particular, Jews in Germany. Not only were Jews prohibited from owning firearms, they weren’t even allowed to work in their manufacture.

In November of 1938, Hitler’s government went one step further, prohibiting Jews from owning any kind of weapons, including swords, which were popular souvenirs of the First World War. This law came one day after the “Night of Broken Glass,” during which Nazi mobs attacked Jews and destroyed synagogues.

German Jews represented less than one percent of the overall German population, so it’s unfair to say that had the Jews been armed, they could have prevented the Holocaust. They were vastly outmanned and outgunned. The 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was mercilessly crushed, and at a time when German military resources were being drained elsewhere on two fronts.

Gun Confiscation and Democide

There are a number of cases where a wave of gun confiscation and registration directly presaged a democidal outbreak, including a history of gun control and genocide. Examples of this include:

  • In Turkey, gun control was tightened prior to the Armenian genocide.
  • The Soviet Union instituted gun control in 1929, disarming the formerly heavily armed Soviet populace.
  • China’s gun control program was rolled out by the Republic of China in 1938.
  • Guatemala started gun control in 1964, prior to killing 100,000 Mayan Indians.
  • Uganda’s gun control program began in 1970, almost immediately before an eight-year program of exterminating Christians began.

The question of democide’s relation to gun ownership becomes more complex when we look at which countries own the most guns. Arguably the nation with the longest-standing tradition of personal freedom, the United States, also has the highest rates of gun ownership. Beyond that, things start getting less clear. Switzerland, like the U.S., has a longstanding tradition of both freedom and gun ownership, though far fewer citizens have ammunition than have firearms. Finland, Norway and Sweden are other countries in the top ten classified as “Free” by Freedom House, with high levels of gun ownership, along with Uruguay. However, also in the top ten of gun ownership we find Iraq, Yemen and Saudi Arabia, all of which are rated as “not free” (the last of which has become a bit of a symbol for countries lacking in basic freedom and human rights).

The other end of the spectrum – correlating gun control with a lack of freedom – is much more clear. Most countries without much in the way of freedom also have gun control. However, no one would accuse South Korea, Japan or Ireland of being totalitarian states ripe for democide, despite the extreme difficulty of owning weapons and the near impossibility of owning handguns. While the Imperial Japanese government committed a slew of atrocities during the Second World War, it’s almost certain that no one would place a bet on them to take that up anew any time soon.

Gun confiscation is neither necessary nor sufficient for democidal atrocities. Remember the case of Nazi Germany, where some people had their gun rights restricted, but others had them expanded. However, as we can see from the above cases, removing guns from the populace also removes at least one major obstacle. Consider, as a thought experiment, the chances of the United States government exterminating the people of Coastal California (where citizens owning firearms is frowned upon) versus their chances of doing the same in Greater Appalachia. Also consider that democide against an armed population isn’t necessarily more difficult in this day and age – especially with newer military technologies like directed energy weapons.

Perhaps one thing is uncontroversial: If you don’t resist a democide, your chances of death are almost certain. And if you do choose to resist, you’ll need something sterner than rocks and empty bottles. Firearms, at the very least, provide a fighting chance against the very real possibility that your government decides your group is the next Ukrainian kulaks – or against the far more tangible threats to your daily existence, like street crime or home invasions.

Democide: Understanding the State’s Monopoly on Violence and the Second Amendment originally appeared in The Resistance Library at Ammo.com.

Anatomy Of A Monopoly

Anatomy Of A Monopoly

Anyone who has ever tried to start a business knows the difficulty in just getting it off the ground. Ignoring licensing, etc., consider that most potential entrepreneurs start off in a financial hole. If you have to hire employees this will be your biggest expense. The necessity of a brick and mortar location adds another hurdle to success. Then, most importantly, what are you offering? Most will have to provide a good or service that the public wants or needs to stay in business and climb out of the “red.” This can take months but in many cases the timeline is longer. Much longer. 

But what if there were another way. What if one had the power to force people to consume their good or service. And not only that, but could dictate whether competition could rise up to challenge them. Imagine that they held a monopoly on the biggest guns so that anyone who would question their authority would be crushed under their feet. That might be obvious to people though. The subjects may question whether they were living under tyranny. What if some of the brightest minds in the “agency” came up with a plan to educate their “customers” from the time they begin to speak that without their services there are people who want to kill them and that their organization would be the only one capable of protecting them from the “barbarians at the gate.” 

Of course, these services will not be free so the “agency” will require payment. But don’t worry about having to come out of pocket for it, you won’t even notice because before you get paid by your employer, they will extract just the right amount they need to “service” you. They will allow you some control over the amount extracted per pay period but you will have to offer an accounting at the end of the year. If you miscalculate you will have to write them a check for the amount you tried to hold back or face consequences. And since they have the “big guns” you will comply.  

There may come a time when this “agency” decides that they cannot provide these “services” properly; that they need more help. So, they may go on a hiring spree. These are new workers that will have to be paid. Since these new employees are working for your “benefit,” the amount the agency requires from you will have to be increased. Do you have a say in this? Well, you can say something, but ultimately this is a required service and their people need to be compensated. 

The “agency” allows for businesses to register with them so that these businesses can provide services that they don’t (in some cases they may even allow competition, but on their terms). By doing so, these “non-agency” businesses submit to certain guidelines that must be followed or they suffer the wrath of the “agency.” If one of these “approved” businesses becomes successful they too will have to pay the “protection service” fees. In many cases at a greater rate than an individual.  

The smart, approved business will realize that one of the most important things it can do is get on the “agency’s” good side. So, they will send their representative to members of the “agency” and offer them additional (private) fees in exchange for special “privileges.” What kind of “privilege” would an approved business want? Since the “agency” decides who can do business and not, they may make it so that the approved business can operate with no competition. The “agency” may pass laws that say that only “approved company A” can operate within a certain land mass. In addition, the “agency” may grant members of “approved company A” certain immunities if their business were to harm one of their customers. “Approved company A” may be held liable but the person or persons within who made the ultimate decision that resulted in damages are not.  

In some special cases, especially if “approved company A” is doing business on behalf of the “agency,” the “agency” may make it so that “approved company A” cannot be held liable at all. The “agency” may decide to take on the burden of the liabilities for “approved company A.” Of course, this expense will have to be funded from somewhere so the agency will probably increase the fees charged to individuals. Again, do you have a say in this? Not likely. 

To go back to where we started, what choices does the enterprising individual have within such a system? The “agency” has obviously placed obstacles in their way that can be overcome (but in many cases such as “approved agency A,” the individual may not be able to even open a business in his location). What if the individual’s business were to interfere with “services” offered by the “agency?” They will either be denied access or forced into “going into business” with said “agency.” 

In the worst-case scenario, if the individual has a breakthrough product, one that could change the world, but the “agency” denies “permission” for it to be produced, what can the entrepreneur do? 

When faced with such obstacles that need to be overcome, is it any wonder that so few even bother trying? In the scenario of facing down a monopoly, especially one with the license to end your life, one may ask how innovation happens at all. 

Three Observations on the Second Wave of COVID-19

Three Observations on the Second Wave of COVID-19

The long-feared second wave of COVID-19 in the United States appears to have arrived. National case numbers are making new records and two states have started to move back towards quarantine.

Since news reports on the virus continue to emphasize the wrong metrics, some important facts about the new wave often get missed. Here are three things to know about the new rise in cases.

1. The recent rise in cases cannot be explained by increases in testing.

This is an important point because the onset of a second jump in cases has been declared prematurely several times before now. These types of reports came in different flavors. Sometimes, they calculated percentage growth rates off extremely small numbers (at a county level for instance) to report an eye-popping rate of growth. More commonly, they failed to highlight the fact that total testing was increasing faster than new cases–suggesting the virus was probably just as common as it had been days earlier, but the state was able to confirm more cases.

This time is different. Many states are experiencing both a rise in absolute cases, and a rise in the percentage of cases that is coming back positive (the positivity rate). This is a clear sign that things in these places is getting worse with respect to the coronavirus.

As of June 27, these are all the states that was seeing both a positivity rate above 10% and weekly rise in that rate. The original data for the table below comes from The COVID Tracking Project:

So, while not all of these states are in crisis right now, it is correct to say we are seeing a pronounced jump in cases in many places. It’s not just a figment of the data / reporting like it had been before.

2. The rise in cases is primarily occurring in places that were not hit hard before.

When you look at a chart of the national numbers of new cases, you can clearly see the second wave that’s occurring. Using the data through June 27, our weekly figures of new cases is rapidly approaching the previous peaks set in April.

The trend below shows rolling 7-day positive cases for the US (all states plus DC and Puerto Rico) per 100,000 people:

On a national basis, the second wave description looks appropriate. But this obscures very different trends at the state level. In reality, the places where cases are rising did not experience much of a peak earlier on the crisis.

Consider the trends below for four states that have been making headlines in the past few days: Texas, Florida, California, and Arizona.

In this data, we see that Texas experienced a slight uptick in April, but it was much smaller than what we’re seeing now. For Arizona, Florida, and California, the recent rise they are experiencing is their first serious increase when adjusted for population. Conversely, states like New York and New Jersey saw their large increase in March and April, but are now seeing stable or declining cases.

This pattern demonstrates one of the many problems with demanding a nationwide lockdown in a country as large as the US. In effect, all states shut down (to varying degrees) based on the experience of New York, New Jersey, and a couple other hotspots. They did this without regard to whether the outbreaks they were experiencing could possibly warrant such dramatic action.

Now that some of these same states are facing a real outbreak close to home, they’re starting to do a new round of limited restrictions. In the face of an economy on life support, widespread social unrest, and an election year, it’s unclear much people will tolerate or comply with another aggressive attempt at quarantine.

3. So far, the second wave appears to be less lethal than the first wave.

Another important characteristic of the second wave is that, at least so far, it looks like to be less deadly than the earlier spikes.

Some commentators have made this point by looking at the trends in death counts for the new hotspots. However, this is not a good way to evaluate the lethality of the second wave at this point.

Deaths are a lagging indicator in this data. According to facts summarized by Our World in Data, death typically occurs between 2 weeks to 8 weeks after the onset of symptoms, which in turn show up several days after initial infection. Many of the cases being discovered now will eventually prove fatal, but they won’t be counted for several weeks. Looking at death rates today in the new hotspots risks providing a false sense of reassurance.

A better way to evaluate the likely lethality of this second wave in real time is to look at the trends in hospitalized COVID-19 cases.

We saw previously that the rise in new cases is now above the levels seen in April. Fortunately, for now the hospitalization data is not following the same trajectory.

In the chart below, we see the national trend in per capita positive cases combined with per capita hospitalization:


Here, we see that national hospitalization data has stabilized but has started to move upward, but is not accelerated at the same pace as total cases.

When we look on a state-by-state basis, a similar pattern emerges. Below, we present the hospitalization trends for current and prior hotspot states. (Florida is omitted due to a lack of reliable hospitalization data.):

Of the new epicenters, Arizona again shows up as an outlier on hospitalization. But even so, it’s still a ways out from the extreme per capita hospitalization levels seen earlier in the northeast. Meanwhile, the other states are on a slight upswing, but still low in terms of overall numbers.

There are several different reasons that might help account for the lower hospitalization rates in this cycle.

One explanation is that the average age of COVID-19 individuals is lower than it was in the first wave of cases. CNN recently reported on this rise in infections among young people as a cause for alarm…

“It’s a little bit of a disturbing trend, and what frightens me is not only that they are younger, the potential of them infecting other people, particularly parents and grandparents,” Dr. Robert Jansen, chief medical officer at Grady Health System, told WSB.

…but in fact, it’s much better than the alternative. If more people are going to be infected, it’s obviously preferable that the people with the lowest chance of serious illness are the ones that get it.

It’s worth remembering that one of the reasons that New York and New Jersey fared worse than other states is that they had a policy which inadvertently increased the probability that older, more vulnerable people would be infected. In an attempt to preserve hospital capacity, these governments required hospitals to discharge COVID-19 patients back to nursing homes before it was confirmed that they no longer had the virus. The result was that the virus was effectively being reintroduced in nursing homes, spreading widely among a high-risk population.

Another reason for lower relative hospitalization rate in the new epicenters is that the testing is far more widespread. When New York was dealing with its peak in April, testing capacity was still being ramped up. This meant that the tests had to be reserved for healthcare workers and people with severe symptoms. In turn, we know that the total confirmed cases in April for New York and other states significantly understated the true number of cases. We just don’t know how large the understatement was.

Since the virus is hitting states like Arizona later, the testing limitations are not as severe. In all probability, this means that the confirmed case count in Arizona today is closer to the true number of infections.

This is not to suggest hospitals will have the capacity they need. When new cases are concentrated in specific parts of a state (as is occurring in Houston, Texas), hospitals will again be strained beyond their normal limits.

The point is that, at least for now, the trend is not nearly as dire as what the northeastern states saw previously. That nuance is easily lost among a sea of news headlines about record new cases.

Why Did The Police Abandon Their Posts?

Why Did The Police Abandon Their Posts?

The riots and looting that have taken place in the aftermath of a Minneapolis law enforcement officer suffocating a man to death — which was caught on video by a bystander — has people questioning the idea of policing and how it is done. Should police be taught de-escalation tactics? Would it be prudent for them to live in the area they patrol? Why is law enforcement still performing “broken window policing?” In the wake of the murder of George Floyd by Derek Chauvin these are all things to ponder. 

Taking all of this into consideration, people aren’t asking why it is that police are abandoning their precincts, leaving them to the mob, and suffering no consequences for this action. A few have asked why the police aren’t protecting the public and its property but one would think that in the least the cops would protect “their own house,” right? It is apparent that people learned nothing from the Parkland school shooting when it comes to “law enforcement” being the “security force” of the people. Even after it was determined that the officers who cowered outside had “no duty to protect,” the public still didn’t grasp the message the courts were sending. 

The idea that law enforcement is there “to serve and protect” individual members of the public has been ruled against over and over again, and the facts surrounding some of the most famous cases are particularly heinous. 

Warren v. District of Columbia (1981) 

Warren v D.C. is probably the most cited case when it comes to the fact that police aren’t mandated to protect the individual. 

The details of the case are terrifying: 

In the early morning hours of Sunday, March 16, 1975, Carolyn Warren and Joan Taliaferro, who shared a room on the third floor of their rooming house at 1112 Lamont Street Northwest in the District of Columbia, and Miriam Douglas, who shared a room on the second floor with her four-year-old daughter, were asleep. The women were awakened by the sound of the back door being broken down by two men later identified as Marvin Kent and James Morse. The men entered Douglas’ second floor room, where Kent forced Douglas to perform oral sex on him and Morse raped her.  

Warren and Taliaferro heard Douglas’ screams from the floor below. Warren called 9-1-1 and told the dispatcher that the house was being burglarized, and requested immediate assistance. The department employee told her to remain quiet and assured her that police assistance would be dispatched promptly.  

Warren’s call was received at Metropolitan Police Department Headquarters at 0623 hours, and was recorded as a burglary-in-progress. At 0626, a call was dispatched to officers on the street as a “Code 2” assignment, although calls of a crime in progress should be given priority and designated as “Code 1.” Four police cruisers responded to the broadcast; three to the Lamont Street address and one to another address to investigate a possible suspect.  

Meanwhile, Warren and Taliaferro crawled from their window onto an adjoining roof and waited for the police to arrive. While there, they observed one policeman drive through the alley behind their house and proceed to the front of the residence without stopping, leaning out the window, or getting out of the car to check the back entrance of the house. A second officer apparently knocked on the door in front of the residence, but left when he received no answer. The three officers departed the scene at 0633, five minutes after they arrived.  

Warren and Taliaferro crawled back inside their room. They again heard Douglas’ continuing screams; again called the police; told the officer that the intruders had entered the home, and requested immediate assistance. Once again, a police officer assured them that help was on the way. This second call was received at 0642 and recorded merely as “investigate the trouble;” it was never dispatched to any police officers.  

Believing the police might be in the house, Warren and Taliaferro called down to Douglas, thereby alerting Kent to their presence. At knife point, Kent and Morse then forced all three women to accompany them to Kent’s apartment. For the next fourteen hours the captive women were raped, robbed, beaten, forced to commit sexual acts upon one another, and made to submit to the sexual demands of Kent and Morse.  

Warren, Taliaferro, and Douglas brought the following claims of negligence against the District of Columbia and the Metropolitan Police Department: the dispatcher’s failure to forward the 6:23 a. m. call with the proper degree of urgency; the responding officers’ failure to follow standard police investigative procedures, specifically their failure to check the rear entrance and position themselves properly near the doors and windows to ascertain whether there was any activity inside; and the dispatcher’s failure to dispatch the 6:42 a. m. call. 

The women sought to sue the District of Columbia and several individual members of the Metropolitan Police Department on two different occasions. The results were: 

“In a 4–3 decision, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals affirmed the trial courts’ dismissal of the complaints against the District of Columbia and individual members of the Metropolitan Police Department based on the public duty doctrine ruling that the duty to provide public services is owed to the public at large, and, absent a special relationship between the police and an individual, no specific legal duty exists. The Court thus adopted the trial court’s determination that no special relationship existed between the police and appellants, and therefore no specific legal duty existed between the police and the appellants.” 

Town of Castle Rock v. Gonzales 

The importance of Castle Rock v Gonzales cannot be overstated since, unlike Warren, this case was taken to the Supreme Court of the U.S.A. for its ruling.  

The events that precipitated the ruling are tragic to say the least: 

During divorce proceedings, Jessica Lenahan-Gonzales, a resident of Castle Rock, Colorado, obtained a permanent restraining order against her husband Simon, who had been stalking her, on June 4, 1999, requiring him to remain at least 100 yards (91 m) from her and her four children (son Jesse, who is not Simon’s  biological child, and daughters Rebecca, Katherine, and Leslie) except during specified visitation time. On June 22, at approximately 5:15 pm, Simon took possession of his three daughters in violation of the order. Jessica called the police at approximately 7:30 pm, 8:30 pm, and 10:10 pm on June 22, and 12:15 am on June 23, and visited the police station in person at 12:40 am on June 23. However, since she from time to time had allowed Simon to take the children at various hours, the police took no action, despite Simon having called Jessica prior to her second police call and informing her that he had the daughters with him at an amusement park in Denver, Colorado. At approximately 3:20 am on June 23, Simon appeared at the Castle Rock police station and was killed in a shoot-out with the officers. A search of his vehicle revealed the corpses of the three daughters, whom it has been assumed he killed prior to his arrival. 

Gonzales filed suit against the Castle Rock police department and three of their officers in the U.S. District Court of Colorado claiming they didn’t protect her even though she had a restraining order against her husband. The officers were declared to have “qualified immunity” and thus, couldn’t be sued. But, “a panel of that court… found a procedural due process claim; an en banc rehearing reached the same conclusion.” 

In this case, the government of the town of Castle Rock took the decision against it to the Supreme Court of the U.S.A. and got the procedural due process claim reversed, finding 

The Court’s majority opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia held that enforcement of the restraining order was not mandatory under Colorado law; were a mandate for enforcement to exist, it would not create an individual right to enforcement that could be considered a protected entitlement under the precedent of Board of Regents of State Colleges v. Roth; and even if there were a protected individual entitlement to enforcement of a restraining order, such entitlement would have no monetary value and hence would not count as property for the Due Process Clause.  

Justice David Souter wrote a concurring opinion, using the reasoning that enforcement of a restraining order is a process, not the interest protected by the process, and that there is not due process protection for processes. 

Lozito v. New York City 

This one was saved until the end because, unlike the previous cases, the officer in this one admitted under grand jury testimony that the reason he didn’t come to the aid of Joseph Lozito is because he was scared that Lozito’s attacker had a gun. 

On February 11thMaksim Gelman, started a “spree-killing” by stabbing his stepfather, Aleksandr Kuznetsov, as many as 55 times because he refused to allow Gelman to use his wife’s (Gelman’s mother’s) car. Gelman would end up killing 3 more while injuring 5, the last injured person being Joe Lozito on a northbound 3-train while on his way to work.  

The facts of the Lozito attack are startling: 

“Joseph Lozito, who was brutally stabbed and “grievously wounded, deeply slashed around the head and neck”, sued police for negligence in failing to render assistance to him as he was being attacked by Gelman. Lozito told reporters that he decided to file the lawsuit after allegedly learning from “a grand-jury member” that NYPD officer Terrance Howell testified that he hid from Gelman before and while Lozito was being attacked because Howell thought Gelman had a gun. In response to the suit, attorneys for the City of New York argued that police had no duty to protect Lozito or any other person from Gelman.” 

Lozito had heard of the previous cases stating that the police had “not duty to protect” but decided to go to court representing himself.  

The court would have none of it: 

“On July 25, 2013, Judge Margaret Chan dismissed Lozito’s suit, stating that while Lozito’s account of the attack rang true and appeared “highly credible”, Chan agreed that police had “no special duty” to protect Lozito.” 

As segments of the country continue protesting, rioting and looting as a “response” to the George Floyd killing, and local governments are questioning funding their enforcement agencies, people should retreat a few steps and take a macro view of their “protection services.” While some are rightly railing against police brutality and aggressive policing, they should go back to the beginning and ask whether any of these “fixes” are going to work if the most basic assumption when it comes to “serving and protecting” is a farce.  

If the police are just there as a clean-up crew, or historians after the fact, why not designate them as such. If in the overwhelming amount of cases they get there after a crime has been committed, it’s time to take that 2nd Amendment seriously and remove the barriers that keep many people, especially those in high crime areas, from protecting themselves. “Armed” with the knowledge that those you have falsely believed were there to protect you are in fact serving another purpose, rational individuals should be looking for realistic options when it comes to protecting yourself from any threat that may come your way; public or private. 

Three Ways Not To Analyze COVID-19 Statistics

Three Ways Not To Analyze COVID-19 Statistics

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

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

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

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

1. Focusing on the number of newly reported positive cases

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Citing the case fatality rate as a meaningful statistic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Follow the Data”

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

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

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

How Members Of ‘Gun Culture’ View The Ahmaud Arbery Killing

How Members Of ‘Gun Culture’ View The Ahmaud Arbery Killing

There has been another controversial shooting of an unarmed man. The Ahmaud Arbery case is currently being litigated on social media by the usual suspects who plan on using this to further their “pet” agenda. Whether it be the “law and order” crowd who have their statistics at the ready to copy and paste, or the “race-baiters” who make their living off incidents like this, they are both champing at the bit to make their point. 

At this point, many libertarian/voluntaryists/anarchists may be confused as how to interpret the incident. Some may have already sided with Arbery, and some may be on “Team McMichael.” When you are trying to interpret an incident that happened within a statist framework, it is easy to get your thinking clouded.  

With all of that being said, the libertarian/anarchist/voluntaryist crowd looks to a future where there is no monopoly on force and violence, one where property rights backed by the non-aggression principle are legitimate as opposed to statutory mandates made by elected officials who suffer no consequences for their actions and mistakes; one where customs and cultural norms would be the status quo rather than diktats handed down from above. 

In the case of people grabbing their guns and hunting down someone they suspect of committing a crime, there already exists a subculture in the United States that has unwritten rules when it comes to such incidences which they follow to the letter. This author’s home state of Georgia has one of the largest gun forums on the internet that includes well over 40,000 members. The members overwhelmingly lean conservative and pro-Trump. Some members would call themselves libertarian. There are even a few who fly the democrat banner proudly, yet are adamantly pro-gun rights (yes, weird).  

Before we get into what this author has witnessed as to gun culture’s take on this situation, it is important to point out that the overwhelming majority of these same people took George Zimmerman’s side in the Trayvon Martin case before, during and after. That is good context for what is mentioned going forward. 

‘An Unwritten Rule’ 

“Don’t pull your gun unless you absolutely have to and only to defend life.”  

The “gun culture” in Georgia is strict about this. A man on the forum mentioned above once bragged that he was in downtown Atlanta when a homeless man approached him to beg for change. He crowed that he pulled his gun and waved it at the homeless man causing him to run off. The braggard was subjected to an onslaught of insults. The majority of them mentioned that he was not in fear for his life and that a gun should never be used to intimidate.  

It’s true that just pulling a gun can make a mugger run away. But in the case of serious gun owners we only pull our gun to protect life. If you pull it because of a robbery, you should be justified in pulling the trigger. Choosing to not pull the trigger is fine, your prerogative, but make sure the event justifies deadly force. 

This rule should be important to people who center their thinking and worldview on the non-aggression principle. Threatening and coercing is what the State does. If it’s not appropriate for a State actor, why is it for the individual? 

What Are These People Saying? 

It’s important here to give examples of how most in this subculture are commenting. This first quote is from a former police officer this author has known for years. Mind you, he left the job because he realized he was doing more harm than good. He explains: 

If there is no more to the story then the two should be prosecuted and jailed for life. The guy was clearly not trying to confront them. He runs miles and miles every day and lived nearby. However, one thing gives me pause is that even The NY Times is hedging somewhat. They stated that the man was seen running from inside a home under partial construction, the home owner called 911. BUT even that wouldn’t constitute the use of deadly force in this case. If this was a LEO shoot, he would have been charged.  

Another commenter: 

The kid wasn’t carrying anything. Those two confronted and went looking for a fight. Definitely not justified in my meaningless opinion. Real sad. 

Again: 

Based on that video, the shooters ought not stand in the sunshine anytime soon. But we know what ‘should’ happen and what does happen aren’t always related. 

Encore:  

Maybe he was takin a leak…? I dunno, this d-bag PI wannabe and his kid sound like some straight up cowbois ta me… “citizens arrest”, and armed pursuit lol… I wouldnta stopped either. 

They keep coming: 

I saw zero justification for use of force in that situation regardless of the jogger’s previous actions. This looks to be some straight up redneck justice profiling bull****. One has to wonder if they’d just shot him in the back had he tried to keep running. 

More: 

I don’t give a damn what the circumstance was. Based on the video those scumbags murdered that young man. 

One last comment: 

I prefer to let relevant and current facts determine the circumstance rather than digging up old articles to try and sling mud to make my predilections justified. The fact he was a high school athlete or attended college or what his specific career aspirations were, are irrelevant to the FACT he was unarmed and shot dead by two redneck wanna be cowboys who thought they had an in on the cover up with one of their former bosses the DA. Their plan sucked, now they get to win stupid prizes. Won’t bring him back but he died pretty quickly. They get to sleep with one eye open for a long, long, time… I’m sure they’ll be well received in a south Georgia prison. 

If you happen to be making excuses for the father and son, and the arguments above are being thrown in your direction, you are probably dealing with someone in a subculture with rules that obviously value safety and justice. As a reminder, these aren’t even big “L” Libertarians for the most part, but run of the mill conservatives and constitutionalists. They just have a set of guidelines that they live by and consider those to be more important that what the actual law is, while at the same time, abiding by it. 

Why is this something that libertarians/anarchists/voluntaryists should care about? Those groups seek a society without a central power. Under this structure customs and unwritten rules backed by the non-aggression principle will be the norm. It is beneficial to look at how subcultures, especially ones that are enforcing the NAP without realizing it, now operate. 

It is readily apparent that while many liberty lovers proclaim their support for gun rights, they are ignorant of what the culture is. A lot of people I know don’t own firearms and It is incumbent upon those of us educated on these customs to communicate them properly. They are not vigilantes who if they believe a thief is in our neighborhood will grab their weapons and go on the hunt. No, that is not how it’s done. The idea that you don’t pull your weapon until you absolutely have to exists for the reasons stated above. They are logical, and NAP consistent. People should look at what the McMichaels did, and ask if it would be acceptable to them in a libertarian social order. The ideas behind NAP-based self-defense already exist and are practiced. It would do many who think they know what those in gun culture are all about to spend some time learning from those living it. Your life and freedom in the current society may depend upon it. 

Using Bad Math, Media Claims No State Has Met the Reopening Guidelines on New Cases

Using Bad Math, Media Claims No State Has Met the Reopening Guidelines on New Cases

As the debate over lifting the lockdowns in the US intensifies, key data points on testing and infections are routinely mischaracterized.

Consider this summary from Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday on May 3:

As we said, about half the states — more than half the states have started in some way, shape, or form, reopening. But we’ve crunched the numbers, Doctor, and not a single state has met the White House gating guidelines of two weeks of steady decline in new cases.

It’s not just Fox News that is describing the data in this way. Here’s how NBC News reported it on April 28:

As a handful of states begin to ease stay-at-home restrictions, no state that has opted to reopen has come close to the federally recommended decline in cases over a 14-day period…

 

Some states, such as Colorado and Kentucky, have reported fewer new cases in the past week. But no single state has had a two-week decline in case numbers.

The guidelines being referenced here are the White House’s “Opening Up America Guidelines”. The document offers criteria in three different areas that states should meet before reopening, but the reports above are focused only on the standards related to new cases. These are the official criteria on new infections:

Downward trajectory of documented cases within a 14-day period

 

OR

 

Downward trajectory of positive tests as a percent of total tests within a 14-day period (flat or increasing volume of tests)

So what’s going on here? Is it really true that no state in the US is on the down-slope of the COVID-19 crisis?

No, it’s not.

In fact, a quick analysis of publicly available data shows that a full 40 states met one of the suggested criterion on new cases as of May 2. (Specifically, 22 meet the documented cases criterion and 37 states fit the alternative positive test percentage criterion.)

The disconnect arises because the White House guidelines don’t directly spell out the calculation they have in mind when they ask for a “downward trajectory” within a 14-day period. Instead, different people apply their own calculation and reach different conclusions about the exact same data and exact same guidelines.

Worse still, the media outlets cited above are choosing to interpret the guidelines in a way that will be very difficult for any state to meet prior to outright eradication of COVID-19.

As Chris Wallace says in the quote, no state has had a steady decline in new cases over a two week period. If we assume a “steady decline” would require that a state report fewer (or flat) new cases every day compared to the prior day, then this is technically true. But it’s also a really bad standard to use when dealing with data that is expected to have natural variation from day-to-day.

To see how this fails in practice, consider the state of Alaska. As of May 2, this is what Alaska’s last 14 days of test results looked like, using data from the COVID Tracking Project:

Alaska Daily Cases

In total, Alaska had 51 new cases over the two-week period that ended on May 2 out of nearly 12,000 people tested, for a positivity rate of under 0.5%. Even accounting for Alaska’s smaller population, this data strongly suggests that Alaska has the virus reasonably under control. (For comparison, New Jersey’s stats over this same period was around 42,000 new positive cases and a 42% positivity rate.)

That said, under the “steady decline” standard used by Fox (and NBC*), it would still fail. May 1 saw cases jump from 0 to 9, and broke a 2-day streak of declines. As it happens, the previous day with 0 positive cases also had 0 total tests, highlighting the extreme volatility in daily testing data at a state level. These types of wild fluctuations in daily test counts mean that any daily calculation is bound to be unreliable.

Alaska’s data also shows us why this standard requires almost complete eradication before it can be met. During this period, Alaska had one day (April 25) with 0 positive test results in spite of many new tests being run. Thus, if they were to report even 1 new case in the next 13 days, it would still fail to meet the extreme “steady decline” standard. Clearly, this is not a reasonable requirement and is also not the intent behind the reopening guidelines.

The more appropriate way to do this calculation is to compare the total results from two sequential two-week periods against each other. This prevents volatility in any single day  from distorting the result, and provides a much better picture of the trend. Here’s what the results look like for Alaska under those conditions:

Alaska 2 Week Cases

In this view, we can see that, while Alaska never experienced much of a spike, its cases do appear to be on the decline. Despite tripling the number of new tests, they still reported fewer cases. The positivity rate shows a precipitous drop accordingly.

Stepping back from the details of Alaska, we can see this same trend play out across numerous other states. The table below shows the key data points for all states for the last two sequential two-week periods using the approach I discussed above. It also identifies which states would currently meet the case component of the White House reopening guidelines based on those results:

All State 2 Week Analysis

Of course, none of this means that the White House reopening guidelines are a good standard, nor that the lockdown policies are even desirable in the first place.

But, if journalists and public officials are going to treat these guidelines as a reasonable standard for phasing out the lockdowns, it’s important to get the math right.

 

*Note: The NBC article cited above includes a correction indicating that they misstated the guidelines as requiring daily declines. But even though they changed some of the wording in their article, they apparently didn’t rerun the analysis and still concluded no states met the guidelines. That is not true now, and it was not true at the time of their article.

This Market Never Closes

This Market Never Closes

It is perfectly fine to be afraid that you or a loved one will catch a potentially life-threatening virus, and at the same time deride the government’s reaction, especially when it comes to shutting down a significant portion of the economy. That section consists of mostly the service sector, but even then, the government has chosen which services are “essential” and which are not. The consumer has been given no say in this, and in many cases, has been barred from purchasing certain items from stores the state has deemed worthy of continuing to operate.  

As of this date, the states have been inundated with 22 million new unemployment claims due to government mandates upon said businesses. The lasting impact of preventing millions of people from generating income may not be realized for months, even years, but for right now we see politicians scrambling to find a way to placate the masses that they are responsible for putting out of work, and almost certainly, destroying any savings they may have accumulated. The $1,200 “hush money” hasn’t hit many bank accounts yet and there is already talk of turning this into a $2,000-a-month “stimulus check” for the unforeseeable future.  

The question has been asked many times in the last month as to whether this reaction is worth it. Many have queried as to whether the resulting economic devastation would be warranted if Covid-19 could potentially end 250,000 lives. How about a million? Or two million? These questions will continue to be asked, and those who are adamantly in favor of locking everything down will persist in accusing those who don’t of wanting to kill grandma.  

Many have argued, especially since the election of Donald Trump, that there are two Americas warring against each other and that only a great threat could bring people together. Those people were dead wrong. In the face of people suffering from a Novel Coronavirus it is business-as-usual for the left/right paradigm warriors.   

But some people have no time for that. Many have entered the only truly “free market” to serve, or continue serving, their fellow men and women. The Agora stands up against these intrusions into the market and provides for those needs that State interference has caused a shortage in. Whether it be the “gray market,” which straddles the line between “legal” and “illegal,” or the “black market,” which provides those things governments strictly forbid, there is no stopping the entrepreneur who sees a societal want or need, and rushes to meet it. 

A Shortage of Masks 

When it became apparent that masks were going to be useful, if not mandated, to prevent the transmission of Covid-19, many rushed to Amazon or their local medical supply store and drained their inventory, which, if we’re being honest, are not normally an item in high demand outside of certain professions.  

By the time the “experts” in government finally admitted that masks would help prevent the spread of the virus — after saying for weeks they would not — they were all but gone from most inventories. The Agora would not allow that to stand. Etsy.com became one of the main outlets for many home designers and seamstresses to meet a market demand while replacing the income the government has prevented them from earning.  

The 3D-printing crowd even joined in with their own do-it-yourself designs, and have impressed the State’s monopoly so much that the FDA has taken to approving their first reusable 3D-designed PPE.   

Protecting and Feeding Yourself in a Pandemic 

Former White House chief-of-staff to Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel, was famously quoted as saying, “Never let a crisis go to waste.” Many politicians have taken that advice to heart in the era of Covid-19.  

When Massachusetts governor, Charlie Baker, handed down his dictates for how his state was going to be dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, he originally mandated that gun stores would be considered “essential” businesses. On April 1st he reversed that ruling effectively leaving citizens devoid of their 2nd Amendment rights.  

Given that we now live in a world where 3D printers can be ordered off of Amazon and delivered to your doorstep in a matter of days, and the files to print everything from AR-15 lower receivers and various Glock frames are free for download on many sites including torrents, one may ask why the State even bothers anymore. The “gun control debate” has ended. The ruling class either hasn’t figured it out yet, or they’re keeping up appearances for “anti-gun Karen.” 

One silent war that has played out, most famously in Michigan, is the banning of seeds being sold even in stores that remain open. There are many theories as to why people would be prevented from gardening on their property in a global pandemic but that is a discussion for another time.  

But, once again, the market provides as sellers on eBay are happy to pick up that business and most aren’t even selling them at a premium. 

Entertainment 

This one took several texts and direct messages to get a grasp on but it seems the “black market” in areas where certain substances people like to put into their bodies are “illegal” has not slowed down one bit. Cannabis, for example, is readily available in most areas that were surveyed and a few people mentioned that cannabis, and other drugs such as MDMA, have helped them get through the boredom the lockdown has wrought upon so many.  

No one in Appalachia was asked but this author assumes that his mom’s family has not abandoned their stills and are providing clear liquor to their town as they have done for over 100 years. Yes, the market provides even when the state forbids it. 

The states have done something unprecedented in the last month that has caused not only material loss for countless millions, but potential psychological damage that has led to self-harm and abuse of family members. Shortages of many staple items has been rampant and have led people to improvise or go without. But the true market, the “gray and black,” have been there for people’s needs. They are always there when government interferes in the lives of the people and they are ever present, and contributing, when those empires fall. The person who looks upon these heroes with scorn and derision has made a choice to champion monopoly over innovation. Please remember these entrepreneurs the next time the state deprives you of wants and needs. 

FDR, Demagogue Champion of Leviathan and War

FDR, Demagogue Champion of Leviathan and War

Sunday was the 75th anniversary of the death of Franklin Roosevelt.  Roosevelt was sainted by the media even before he died in 1945. CNN last week trumpeted FDR as “the wartime president who Trump should learn from.” A 2019 survey of historians ranked FDR as the third greatest president. President George H.W. Bush praised him for having “brilliantly enunciated the 20th-century vision of our Founding Fathers’ commitment to individual liberty.”

Roosevelt did often invoke freedom, but almost always as a pretext to increase government power. FDR proclaimed in 1933: “We have all suffered in the past from individualism run wild.” Naturally, the corrective was to allow government to run wild.

FDR declared in his first inaugural address: “We now realize… that if we are to go forward, we must move as a trained and loyal army willing to sacrifice for the good of a common discipline, because without such discipline no progress is made, no leadership can become effective.” The military metaphors, which practically called for the entire populace to march in lockstep, were similar to rhetoric used by European dictators at the time.

Roosevelt declared in a 1934 fireside chat: “I am not for a return of that definition of liberty under which for many years a free people were being gradually regimented into the service of the privileged few.” Politicians like FDR began by telling people that control of their own lives was a mirage; thus, they lost nothing when government took over. In his re-nomination acceptance speech at the 1936 Democratic Party convention, Roosevelt declared that “the privileged princes of these new economic dynasties . . . created a new despotism. . . . The hours men and women worked, the wages they received, the conditions of their labor—these had passed beyond the control of the people, and were imposed by this new industrial dictatorship.” But if wages were completely dictated by the “industrial dictatorship”—why were pay rates higher in the United States than anywhere else in the world, and why had pay rates increased rapidly in the decades before 1929? FDR never considered limiting government intervention to safeguarding individual choice; instead, he multiplied “government-knows-best” dictates on work hours, wages, and contracts.

On January 6, 1941, Roosevelt gave his famous “Four Freedoms” speech, promising citizens freedom of speech, freedom of worship—and then he got creative: “The third [freedom] is freedom from want… everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear . . . anywhere in the world.” Proclaiming a goal of freedom from fear meant that the government henceforth must fill the role in daily life previously filled by God and religion. FDR’s list was clearly intended as a “replacement set” of freedoms, since otherwise there would have been no reason to mention freedom of speech and worship, already guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Roosevelt’s new freedoms liberated government while making a pretense of liberating the citizen. FDR’s list offered citizens no security from the State, since it completely ignored the rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment (to keep and bear firearms), the Fourth Amendment (freedom from unreasonable search and seizure), the Fifth Amendment (due process, property rights, the right against self-incrimination), the Sixth Amendment (the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury), the Eighth Amendment (protection against excessive bail, excessive fines, and cruel and unusual punishments).

FDR perennially glorified government as the great liberator of the common man. In a 1936 message to Congress, he denounced his critics: “They realize that in 34 months we have built up new instruments of public power. In the hands of a people’s government this power is wholesome and proper. But in the hands of political puppets of an economic autocracy such power would provide shackles for the liberties of the people.” Because FDR proclaimed that the federal government was a “people’s government,” good citizens had no excuse for fearing an increase in government power. The question of liberty became totally divorced from the amount of government power—and instead depended solely on politicians’ intent toward the governed. The mere fact that the power was in the hands of benevolent politicians was the only safeguard needed.

Roosevelt sometimes practically portrayed the State as a god. In his 1936 acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, he declared, “In the place of the palace of privilege we seek to build a temple out of faith and hope and charity.” In 1937, he praised the members of political parties for respecting “as sacred all branches of their government.” In the same speech, Roosevelt assured listeners, in practically Orwellian terms, “Your government knows your mind, and you know your government’s mind.” For Roosevelt, faith in the State was simply faith in his own wisdom and benevolence. Roosevelt’s concept of the State is important because he radically expanded the federal government— and most of the programs he created survive to this day.

FDR declared in 1938, “Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.” Did  Japanese-Americans round themselves up for concentration camps in 1942, or what?  Did the people who owned the gold that FDR forcibly confiscated in 1933 secretly will that they be stripped of any defense against the inflation that FDR intentionally ignited?

FDR’s perpetual deceits on domestic policy are grudgingly recognized by some scholars but his brazen lying on foreign policy has not received its due. in 1940, in one of his final speeches of the presidential campaign, Roosevelt assured voters, “Your president says this country is not going to war.”  But FDR was working around-the-clock to pull the United States into World War Two. Once the U.S. was engaged in fighting both Germany and Japan, FDR was determined to demand unconditional surrender from both nations. That demand severely undercut German generals who were reaching out to strike a deal with the Allies that would have toppled Hitler much earlier than April 1945. Thomas Fleming’s The New Dealers War vividly explains how FDR’s war demands perpetuated the fighting and cost the lives of far more Americans, Germans, and others.

Two months before he died, FDR met Stalin and Churchill for the infamous Yalta conference.  Roosevelt had previously praised Soviet Russia as one of the “freedom-loving Nations” and stressed that Stalin is “thoroughly conversant with the provisions of our Constitution.” FDR agreed with Stalin at Yalta to move the border of the Soviet Union far to the west—thereby effectively conscripting 11 million Poles into Soviet citizenship.

Poland was “compensated” with a huge swath of Germany, a simple cartographic change that spurred vast human carnage. As author R.M. Douglas noted in his 2012 book Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans After the Second World War, the result was “the largest episode of forced migration… in human history. Between 12 million and 14 million German-speaking civilians – the overwhelming majority of whom were women, old people, and children under 16 -were forcibly ejected from their places of birth in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, and what are today the western districts of Poland.” At least half a million died as a result. George Orwell denounced the “relocation” as an “enormous crime” that was “equivalent to transplanting the entire population of Australia.” Philosopher Bertrand Russell protested: “Are mass deportations crimes when committed by our enemies during war and justifiable measures of social adjustment when carried out by our allies in time of peace?”

In a private conversation at Yalta, FDR assured Stalin that he was feeling “more bloodthirsty” than when they’d previously met. Immediately after the Yalta conference concluded, the British and American air forces turned Dresden into an inferno, killing up to 50,000 civilians. The Associated Press reported that “Allied air bosses” had engaged in the “deliberate terror bombing of great German population centers as ruthless expedient to hasten Hitler’s doom.” Ravaging Dresden was intended to “‘add immeasurably’ to FDR’s strength in negotiating with the Russians at the postwar peace table,” as historian Thomas Fleming noted.

Almost all the tributes to FDR this month have omitted his dictatorial tendencies or his bloodthirsty warring. There were good reasons why Friedrich Hayek labeled FDR as “the greatest of modern demagogues.” The canonization of Franklin Roosevelt is a reminder to Americans to beware of any “lessons of history” touted by an establishment media that is vested in the perpetuation of Leviathan and all its prerogatives.

Evil Blossoms Where Conscience Shrinks: The Unforgivable Tragedy of Bush’s Iraq War II

Evil Blossoms Where Conscience Shrinks: The Unforgivable Tragedy of Bush’s Iraq War II

During Iraq War II (2003–2011), in addition to thousands of American soldiers and contractors who died, more than 100,000 Iraq civilians were killed. This number is consistent with independent counts as well as leaked Pentagon data (sources available at Wikipedia). However, more sophisticated studies which combined data sets and methodologies from multiple independent efforts have produced a total estimate of deaths (from 2003-2018) of 1.5-3.4 million people. This does not count the combatants who died fighting against what many consider to have been a foreign invader conducting an illegal occupation (or those fighting in unavoidable civil conflict caused by the invasion).

There’s no question about this war being a massive human tragedy, a catastrophe of choice, a milestone of unholy slaughter in the early history of the 21st century. This slaughter is intimately associated with the leader who started it: George W. Bush. The question remains, how could one man be so evil?

Bush’s guilt can be evaluated by examining his motives. Why did he do it? Did he really believe that WMDs were in Iraq? Did he want to avenge his daddy? There is in fact a clear answer to this question.

The purpose of the Iraq war was to flex American muscle. The neoconservative vision of American hegemony seeks to use American military power to enforce its desired policies abroad. Neocons believe that if the military is never used in pursuit of American policy objectives then it’s a waste of money and a sign of weakness that would invite predators of their ilk from other powers to prey on the so-called free world. In the post-Cold War environment where America had emerged as the world’s sole superpower, Iraq was the ideal opportunity to show the world that America means business. This rationale is cold, cynical and indifferent; neoconservatism is a policy position, possessing a realist morality that washes its hands of any concern for common people.

According to neoconservatism, the harm caused to common people by military intervention is morally unimportant. Neoconservatives believe that people who live in geopolitical problem areas would face moral deprivations from their own bad governments anyway. They believe that it doesn’t matter – really – whether one dies by Saddam Hussein’s secret police, or by an American bomb. To neoconservatives, the world is a better place when America is in charge. With a single rationalization, neocons willfully exclude concern for common people from their policy formulations.

The cynical moral view of Neoconservatism is consistent with Hannah Arendt’s notion of, “The banality of evil.” This phrase comes from a book Arendt wrote about the Jerusalem crimes against humanity trial of Holocaust facilitator Adolf Eichmann, an SS officer who coordinated the logistics of moving populations of Jews into eastern camps. In the book, she points out how average Eichmann was. He did not possess high intelligence and lived his life as a joiner. He was not particularly anti-Semitic, showed no signs of psychopathy and generally got along well with other people. He had carried out his role in the Holocaust purely out of a quiet commitment to his bureaucratic duty in the larger society in which he took part. Arendt calls evil banal because it is, in this case, neither a product of psychopathic or hateful intent nor can the mild-mannered conduct of Eichmann be remotely morally justified. In the end, Arendt claims that Eichmann’s evil is connected to his profound moral stupidity.

Hannah Arendt’s analysis of Eichmann’s moral status provides insight into George W. Bush’s moral guilt.

With perhaps over a million innocents dead because of a policy-driven, unnecessary war, Bush has the status of a moral monster. Yet, Bush’s evil is particularly banal. This kind of evil would not be recognized by its vicious fangs or wicked scowl. It is an evil that is unassuming, bungling even. Preventing this kind of person from having power requires special attention to what makes them so evil.

In 2013, Ron Fournier penned an article in The Atlantic arguing that George W. Bush was a good man. During a 2002 press conference, Mr. Fournier and a colleague stood to mark Bush’s entrance to the room, while other journalists and foreign press remained seated in smug protest. Bush handwrote a note to each man, thanking them for at least honoring the dignity of the office of the Presidency. Bush was known for small gestures of respect, from punctuality, to requiring a simple dress code for the Oval Office. Fournier argues that Bush had a sense of decency, not wanting to interrupt Fournier’s family time for an interview, for example, and also taking time to visit with the families of slain soldiers.

It seems incredible that a man guilty of such crimes against humanity could be perceived as decent. This represents a clue to understanding banal evil. The gestures to which Ron Fournier refer hardly absolve George W. Bush of his status as a possible moral monster, but they do hint at the possibility that Bush has some sort of moral compass. What’s the relationship between Bush’s crimes and that compass? If Bush truly has any sense of decency, how could he have launched the Iraq War? Philosophy can provide an answer.

Stanford University’s philosophy department runs an online encyclopedia of philosophical definitions. One entry discusses the conscience, or moral compass.

Through our individual conscience, we become aware of our deeply held moral principles, we are motivated to act upon them, and we assess our character, our behavior and ultimately our self against those principles.

Conscience involves one’s own self-awareness of one’s deeply held principles. Being aware of some moral principles does not imply that one would be aware of all possible moral principles. Everyone has a unique moral self-identity, a sense of what’s right and good, and a sense of where one stands on the spectrum of good and evil. Conscience is a connective tissue. It relates the moral principles in which one believes, to one’s perception of one’s own identity. Through conscience, one constructs a sense of identity out of chose moral principles. A moral compass serve not only to guide choices, it also is a tool for self-reflection.

Our moral beliefs also contribute to how we perceive others. We judge others based on where we believe they stand on the spectrum of good and evil, and in some cases we use our perception of others to reflect back on our own sense of moral identity.

More recent psychological studies have suggested that people tend to link the identity of others not so much to their memories, as traditionally believed, but to their morals: it is the loss of one’s moral character and moral beliefs, rather than of one’s memory, that leads us to say that a certain individual is not the same person anymore (Strohminger and Nichols 2015). These findings provide empirical support to the idea that conscience is essential to one’s sense of personal identity and to attributions of personal identity.

According to the psychological research discussed above, one’s sense of identity can have less to do with actual actions, and more to do with one’s chosen moral beliefs. If someone could associate their own identity with the identity of others holding a particular moral worldview, then one could calibrate their moral compass to reflect differently on their own life. If you tie your identity to those you morally admire, you can partially absolve yourself of a degree of moral accountability. You concede moral responsibility to a larger group, which also means conceding moral reasoning – including feelings of guilt or accountability – to that group. When confronted with the guilt of your particular actions, you simply defend the tribe’s power, and ignore morality.

In recent years, George W. Bush has taken up painting at a hobby. This past autumn, some of Bush’s paintings were displayed at an exhibit at the Kennedy Center. These painting featured scenes of America’s military veterans, including many wounded warriors. This Portraits of Courage exhibit demonstrates Bush’s quiet obsession with the men and women wounded in wars, many of whom he sent off to fight.

Command Sergeant Major Brian Flom was wounded in the face by a rocket attack in Iraq in 2007.

“‘That was the easy part,’ he said, standing beside a painting in which he appears with fellow military personnel, one of dozens of works on display at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

“‘The challenging part was the TBI [traumatic brain injury] and the post-traumatic stress that accompanied a lot of time spent in a combat zone.’

“Recovery is ‘still going on – it’s an everyday process, right, and some days are better than others.’

“Flom was selected to go on a mountain bike ride with Bush in 2015 and has now met him ‘many times,’ including dinner at the former president’s house.

“Bush ‘decided one day to paint people that he had a connection with and meant something to him, and here I am.’

Bush is spending his retirement connecting to the people who were wounded in wars. This connection is interesting, because it relates to the perceived moral identity of these people. These paintings are a way for Bush to tie his identity to the moral status of veterans.

Bush’s painting hobby began much earlier. Infamous among leaked images of the former president’s early paintings are bizarre self-portraits of the man in the bathtub and shower. The images portrayed are toes sticking up from the water, and also one in which the back of his head is shown, his face barely appearing in a mirror. These paintings show a sense of detachment, unclear identity, and a desire to wash away something unclean.

It’s possible that ‘W’ himself has been facing a small crisis of conscience, and uncertainty about his own moral identity, spurred by a sense of moral guilt. The paintings might have been a therapy, to concretize the feelings. As he developed the hobby, Bush sought to relate to the moral identity of the soldiers he admired. 

By connecting to the moral values of those who sacrificed themselves in war, Bush heals his own guilt. Bush is guilty of crimes against decency, by ordering a war – he is a warmonger. However, wounded veterans have a different perceived moral relationship to war. War provides veterans with honor through valor. Their sacrifices are interpreted as a form of service to the greater society. By connecting to an identity that valorizes war, Bush can reframe the relationship of his own identity to war.

Starting a war made Bush into a monster, so he seeks to heal his conscience by surrounding himself with those his war has made into heroes.

It’s pathetic that a man who held as much power as George W. Bush would attempt to free ride off of the moral status of those his wars has harmed, all to make himself feel a little better about himself. Showing some love to a few veterans couldn’t hardly make up for the pain Bush caused. Yet, all that matters in this case is Bush’s own sense of identity in the context of his own moral values. Evil doesn’t usually take the form of a comic book villain. A person can have a sense of decency, a moral compass, commit acts of compassion, possess empathy, and still be evil. To diagnose Bush’s evil, one has to first examine the history of his moral self-identity.

During the campaign for the 2000 Presidential Election, the Washington Post ran an article exploring Bush’s youth, his past and his values. George W. Bush’s simple and idealistic view of his own father, George Herbert Walker, seems to have been the anchor of his worldview.

Today, of course, Bush has embarked on trying to duplicate his father’s greatest accomplishment – becoming president of the United States. Relationships between fathers and sons are never simple, but the close parallels between their two careers, Bush’s fierce loyalty to his father and his thin skin whenever his father is criticized suggest something particularly complex.

Bush 41 was a paragon of moral rectitude to 43. 43’s sense of right and wrong was entirely received from his father, with very little personal effort devoted to developing his own independent view of the world.

One of the things that Bush often talked about was his family, especially his father. Several of the Bonesmen said Bush described him in ‘almost God-like’ terms.

“‘I can remember one instance of him using his Dad as an example of resilience, saying my father had a great disappointment in not winning the Senate seat, but this is what you do, you bounce back. So you’re down, you just get back up. His attitude was you gave it your best shot. And he used his dad to show this,’ recalled Robert McCallum, now an Atlanta lawyer.”

Even Bush Sr.’s position on war was uncontroversial, simply correct to Jr.

“‘He believed that his father’s position was correct – we’re involved, so we should support the national effort rather than protest it,’ recalled Robert J. Dieter, a Yale roommate for four years who is now a clinical professor of law at the University of Colorado.

George W. Bush was a social creature, but he didn’t seem to be a boundary pusher. His time at Andover private school showed him to be extroverted.

Within months of his arrival, Bush was seen as a campus mover, not on the strength his intellect or his athletic achievements, but by sheer force of personality. Bush was nicknamed ‘Lip’ because he had an opinion on everything – and sometimes a tongue sharper than necessary.”

At Yale, he partied, but not too hard.

“‘George was a fraternity guy, but he wasn’t Belushi in ‘Animal House,’’ recalled Calvin Hill, who was in DKE with Bush and went on to play professional football. ‘He went through that stage in his life with a lot of joy, but I don’t remember George as a chronic drunk. He was a good-time guy. But he wasn’t the guy hugging the commode at the end of the day.’” 

Bush was known to think of others, and act according to an internal sense of dignity.

Like his father, Bush could display good breeding along with his rough Texas edges. Several former classmates recall him going door to door with a sympathy card for a classmate from the West Indies – one of the few blacks on campus – who had lost his mother. Another classmate who hailed from a public school said he was struck by Bush’s efforts to reach out beyond his social circle.”

Bush, a famous Skull and Bones member, was a joiner.

“‘George moved seamlessly among all the different groups,’ recalled Ken Cohen, today a dentist in Georgia. At the same time, Cohen noted, ‘he was a Bush and he had a sense of who he was … his family tradition. He was not a rebel.’”

During the chaotic years of the Vietnam War protests, Bush seemed unphased. His attitude was conventional and maybe even disinterested.

In a recent interview, Bush said he has no recollection of any anti-war activity on campus during his undergraduate years – an extraordinary statement considering that [Reverend] Coffin was by then a leader of the national anti-war movement and was arrested for aiding and abetting draft resistance during Bush’s senior year.

Altogether, the portrait of George W. Bush painted by his history is very clear. He was a relatively simple man, uninterested in the depths of political thought. He respected his father and upheld him as the quintessential example of what respectable thought and behavior looked like, but he himself never deeply considered what that meant. He was a social guy, a clear extrovert, but hardly a remarkable social presence.

Bush was a boring guy. Friendly, social, possessing a mild sense of dignity, but ultimately having a forgettable character. He held a belief that morality and respectability were important, because of his father, but he never deeply examined the question beyond this conviction.

As a regular man, Bush was not a monster, but neither was he a giant. He was kind of a chump, a man who does have a conscience, but one about which nothing special can be said. He took all of his moral cues from his social superiors. Bush is a lot like Adolf Eichmann.

Eichmann was described as a profoundly average man of profoundly average intelligence. His intellectual conception of the world relied on clichés and official bromides. He deferred his moral thinking in all things to the system and his superiors. He had no particular interest in these questions himself and no real ability to generate his own personal insights about them. He was a joiner and liked to belong to groups where others could feed him a sense of identity and meaning. When he noticed his social betters endorsing seemingly evil plans, he consoled himself that as a lesser man this surely absolved him personally of any guilt. Consequently, he hardly had any guilt. Eichmann even bragged about what he did, oversold his own role, valuing notoriety and his sense of belonging — to Nazi social circles which no longer existed. He was able to live in the moral worldview of those he admired, unwilling to exercise any meaningful personal conscientiousness. He believed that conceding moral responsibility to others was a good enough excuse to absolve himself of personal moral accountability.

George W. Bush does possess a sense of guilt, or at least a little regret. He has at least some moral injury and seems to seek to heal it. As a simple person, his paintings and meetings with soldiers seem sufficient as therapy. Bush’s moral worldview permits him to feel guilt, just not in proportion to the great evil he has perpetrated. Bush’s evil lies with the fact that he is a man who is capable of guilt and regret, who is not a psychopath, but who is simultaneously able to remain completely unconcerned or uninterested in the trauma his choices have caused in millions of innocent lives.

Bush’s guilt recalls the fictional Colonel in Apocalypse Now who burned down a village in order to go surfing. Despite the monstrosity of the act, this colonel goes out of his way to provide water and empathetic comfort to a mortally wounded Viet Cong soldier. While the Colonel here is no Eichmann level mental midget, the literary metaphor refers to selective morality driven by contrived moral self-identity. It is an absurdist take on evil, but banal evil is somewhat absurd.

Bush’s evil is not the product of a person with a wicked heart. Rather, like Eichmann, Bush’s evil is a product of his stupidity. As a profoundly average man, a joiner who never questions much and concedes all moral and intellectual accountability to his social superiors, Bush simply allowed evil to happen. He is accountable for this, he is deeply guilty. However, his moral self-identity will never process that guilt. He is capable of understanding that his war has harmed brave soldiers whose lives he values, but because the world of his social and intellectual superiors – his father, the writers at National Review – does not care about Iraqi lives, neither does Bush. Make no mistake, this is profoundly evil, a profound moral lapse. Yet, the cause is Bush’s profoundly average nature. 

Bush is worse than a monster, he is middling.

Altogether, George W. Bush’s conscience stands as a refutation of the Great Man or chieftain theory of national leadership. Conscience is a powerful force within humans. However, conscience is not built to bear the guilt of a nation. Conscience doesn’t process the magnitude of suffering caused by war. There’s a reason why it is said that one death is a tragedy, but one million deaths is a statistic.

Gut instinct, the heart and the individual conscience alone are not sufficient tools to evaluate the propriety of a given war. Humans are not qualified to make moral judgments of this magnitude. It’s making Sophie’s Choice a million times over for people we’ll never know. It is above our pay grade. 

Instead, we humans should seek to avoid war, and pour our wealth and energy into actions which serve as alternatives to war. We should never trust human authority figures to have the moral capacity to make reasonable, good judgments about when to go to war or not.

In my opinion, Eichmann’s banal evil is actually a prototype for all evil. Men like Eichmann and Bush exemplify evil in its purest form. Humans are moral beings, and the concession of moral responsibility to others is the greatest form of surrender of which a human soul is capable. The social superiors who created the monstrous policy in which Bush and Eichmann merely operated — they may be smarter, more psychopathic — nevertheless are guilty of the same banality. They all hold a middling moral self-identity, and their moral world view is held deliberately narrow. 

Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz all. They all have a little Bush in them. Joiners, team members. The idea that sweet cool ninja spec-ops teams will solve world social problems is stupidity. The idea that you can start a little war, make some oil bucks in Iraq, then just move on is willful ignorance of the condition of and dynamics affecting other people. Thinking that a mere purple-fingered election will make immediate, deep changes to a centuries-old culture — more stupidity, on its face!

I’d be inclined to think that the truly wicked — the real psychopaths — tend to fit into the world with the rest of us much better than the idiots. They’re usually smart enough to know the limits, to understand that you have to pretend to be good around most people most of the time to get by in life. This type will order quiet assassinations, wipe villages off of maps in ways such that no one would notice. They’re the types that quietly execute the Salvador Option, and for better or worse restore stable conditions without history noticing. They’re evil too, they’re insidious, but their impact is less.

The truly evil who kill millions are always bungling idiots. Bush, the tantrum throwing Hitler types, the self-satisfied Roosevelts of history, joiner Truman, bone-brained Mao — all a bunch of morons, smug Idi Amins, who caused immense damage every time they were allowed to set policy direction in lieu of their subordinates. These subordinates, evil psychopaths like Curtis LeMay, or Reinhard Heydrich, they never started any wars, they didn’t appoint themselves, they didn’t carry out their own orders. Psychopathy limits itself. The stupid idiots, the banal evil, is what gives license to psychopathy.

Hitler was a self-aggrandizing, bungling chump. Eichmann was a midget of a man. Heydrich was evil, but his evil needed Hitler and Eichmann. LeMay bombed 1 million Japanese to death, but he needed Truman and the naïve, ever unrepentant farm-boy pilots on both sides of his psychopathy. Psychopathy is the seed of evil, but stupidity is the fertile ground in which it grows.

In Bush’s mind, he did the best job he could as president of an America which he views as an always good country, which has to fight wars sometimes. In his heart, he regrets that people he respects faced harm. He surrounds himself with people that are in all ways better than him, the soldiers he sacrificed. He feeds off of their valor to heal his moral injury. Yet, there seems to be very little concern in his heart for the true victims of his wars – the hundreds of thousands of dead innocents from foreign lands. Bush is an average man whose conscience is not equipped to conceive of that guilt. He is profoundly evil, because he is stupid.

The only justice Bush will ever face must come from the lessons we learn from him. One lesson stands out. Only idiots start wars. Another is that evil blossoms where conscience shrinks and shirks.

Why Do We Trust Politicians to Run Our Lives?

Why Do We Trust Politicians to Run Our Lives?

I became a journalist because I love to write.

In fact, most people tend to pursue career paths related to things that interest them if they have any choice in the matter. A person who likes to bake might become a baker. A person who likes numbers might become an accountant. A person who loves animals and biology might become a veterinarian.

So, what does a person who likes to control other people do?

Become a politician. read more…

Liberty and Slavery

Liberty and Slavery

Among the common beliefs of libertarians, opposition to slavery is one of the least controversial. Yet, the moral argument against slavery is one of libertarian philosophy’s most enlightening topics. Considering the “why” of libertarian opposition to slavery is profoundly instructive. Libertarianism approaches the question of individual rights in a unique way. 

In my opinion, the cornerstone of libertarian philosophy lies with its answer to the is-ought dichotomy presented in David Hume’s skepticism. From the far right, idealism is an absolute that tramples upon those who are different. From the far left, anti-idealism destroys morality, community and tradition – leaving behind an unprincipled bureaucracy that tramples in the name of expediency and arbitrary intellectual fashions. The best course lies with a balance, where absolute idealism and subjectivity exist only in context with one another. This context can only be found within the individual mind.  Morality, therefore, is a product of individuals reconciling the rational and emotional within themselves, and then confronting the consequent social reality. Libertarianism proposes a social environment where personal morality is respected and reconciling the individual right to moral self-determination between people with different beliefs and ideas is the core principle of politics.

The reconciliation of is and ought was a project of the Scottish Enlightenment, in the school of Common Sense (Thomas Reid). This school was heavily influential among the French liberals who later influenced both Bastiat and eventually the Austrian school of economics. The Common Sense school also served as the intellectual and religious foundation of New England’s revolutionary liberty movement. 

The American revolution must be seen as an alliance between Virginia old England aristocrats, seeking to maintain ancient yeoman rights, and New English Christian anarchists who possessed a religious ideal of human liberty. The former felt that society’s rights were protected in its Anglo-Saxon traditions and were to be defended existing, enlightened aristocratic social structures. They conceived of the US Constitution’s form without perceiving a need for enumerated rights. The State was the political society – the tobacco lords and their custom of mutual political equality. Jefferson broadened the notion by conceiving of a yeoman farmer class related to a romanticized vision of England’s past and Virginia’s present. 

New England, on the other hand, saw individual rights as derivative of holy truths discerned by the heights of enlightenment and Christian thought. They demanded the Bill of Rights.

The school of Common Sense led to a short-lived tradition within British liberal Christianity which held that science and religion must, according to the nature of each, exist in perfect harmony. If science and religion stood in contradiction, it meant that the interpretation of evidence or scripture must somehow be flawed. Out of this thinking, the Common Sense school developed a sophisticated moral science with an extensive vocabulary describing a person’s moral duties in the context of unalienable rights given by God. As science and religion ultimately diverged in the late 19th century, this philosophy fell out of favor.

Common Sense philosophy and the moral ‘science’ of the so-called Christian Enlightenment should be more widely appreciated within libertarian community. The content of this ‘science’ applies to modern questions, so long as one possesses a key to interpret the religious concepts in secular terms. This isn’t very difficult to accomplish, since the Christian Enlightenment was already quite ameliorable to science.

The question of is-ought is simply a question of mind and soul. Reason and emotion. The answers of the Common Sense school are self-evidently superior, and the reason for its decline in popularity is clear.  The question of soul and mind is one philosophy grappled with, using great energy, for two hundred years before the question was finally swept aside by the great and terrible intellectual winds that accompanied imperialism.  Imperialism, the systemization of pure war, the categorization of all into a utilitarian, all-consuming whole; a system of mortal contest between powers, a race to the bottom, a fiendish quest to consume, destroy, repeat. This gave us the atomic bomb and the Holocaust, among other outcomes.

In contrast to 20th century’s outcomes, the spirit of 1776 was fueled by a philosophy of freedom. The people learned from New England preachers teaching of the unity of mind and soul within the individual, who stands as a moral self-sovereign. The importance of liberty was self-evident to them, as real as the green grass and God above.

The philosophical spirit of 1776 is the same spirit that abolished slavery. This does not refer to the American Civil War. While it’s true that the Civil War was fought in the context of slavery, it was a war over tariffs and power. Its concern with slavery was related to the treadmill of empire building, as a more efficient, modern version of empire overthrew an earlier less efficient system of slavery and exploitation. 

In this political environment, it was the moral philosophy of the anti-slavery movement which made ending slavery an absolute condition of the Empire’s progress. We can disdain empire, but we ought to respect the manner in which it was compelled to extend rights to freed slaves. The Emancipation Proclamation freed few slaves, as those areas under federal control were not subject to emancipation. It was the 13th Amendment which freed the slaves, and it was the moral stubbornness of the anti-slavery movement that mandated the necessity of the 13th Amendment.

Whether in the American anti-slavery movement, or in the efforts of William Wilberforce in the UK, it was the moral and philosophical foundation of the British Christian Enlightenment which made slavery morally and politically anathema. Never before in history had an absolute moral argument against slavery been made. Even the New Testament apostles didn’t condemn the practice utterly. The basic foundations of anti-slavery, democracy and human rights are found in the Christian Enlightenment of British Liberalism. 

Although the world today couldn’t care less about liberty, the so-called ‘liberal world order’, pretentious as it is, derives from the Christian Enlightenment. The moral science derived from Common Sense more or less conquered the world. While Locke might speak of civil and property rights, John Stuart Mill of personal liberty, it is Common Sense that speaks of the moral worth and essential spiritual equality of man. 

William Ellery Channing was a New England preacher from the early 19th century. He was a Unitarian, and was trained in the moral science of the Common Sense school of philosophy – the staple teaching at Harvard University before the arrival of continental (Prussian) influence. He was the key figure of his movement in the age just prior to Unitarianism’s digression into bizarre Transcendentalism. He took the moral science of the Common Sense school and the liberal interpretation of Christianity to their absolute heights. Naturally, he had things to say about slavery.

Channing’s thoughts about slavery, penned somewhat early than any major political tensions emerged surrounding the issue (outside of Massachusetts high society), were recorded in a sermon treatise released in 1833 simply titled, Slavery.

Channing’s argument against the practice of slavery invokes some of the core principles of his moral philosophy. I will review what he wrote and relate it to modern day society. Although the subject is slavery, which is non-controversially bad, the arguments against it serve to defend against modern day political ideas which are sometimes quite popular. By understanding the moral argument against slavery which was used by Common Sense school philosophers, one can have a deeper comprehension of the philosophy of individual rights.

Lofty and Pure Sentiment

As Channing begins his treatise on slavery, he frames the core belief behind his argument: the central importance of human morality, it being derivative of a power greater than any which can be constructed by man.

There is but one unfailing good; and that is, fidelity to the Everlasting Law written on the heart, and rewritten and republished in God’s Word.

Whoever places this faith in the everlasting law of rectitude must of course regard the question of slavery first and chiefly as a moral question.

There are times when the assertion of great principles is the best service a man can render society.

A community can suffer no greater calamity than the loss of its principles. Lofty and pure sentiment is the life and hope of a people.

Such ought to remember that to espouse a good cause is not enough. We must maintain it in a spirit answering to its dignity.

Although the introductory portion of Channing’s argument invokes religion, the philosophical point he hopes to convey is central to his entire critique of slavery. His religious belief equates that which is written on the heart to that which is recorded in religious scripture. In Unitarian moral philosophy, the conscience is the center of all moral decision making. The conscience represents the union of rational thought with sentiment. It combines the oughts of life – our desire for happiness – with the logically deduced principles and rights which support happiness. Devotion to morality, or “the Everlasting Law,” is nothing more or less than a principled commitment to the rational pursuit of that which motivates us as individuals, including that which we have in common between us as human beings.

Channing claims that a community can suffer no greater, “…calamity…,” than the loss of its principles. Later in his sermon, he exalts the moral worth of a society above its material and economic worth. He argues that wealth serves a higher cause, and that it has no inherent value beyond the cause which it serves. While for some the cause of life might pertain to a higher supernatural plane, in Channing’s moral science the principles and aspirational sentiments associated with what we call heaven can be expressed and achieved also on Earth (not meaning to build heaven on Earth, but to strive to be nearer to worthiness of heaven while on Earth). This comports to an easy secular interpretation.

Life’s value is ineffable. We can’t scientific prove why it matters or not. However, most of us place value on living life. We aspire and experience longing. Though the object of our longing differs in form from person to person, the essence of longing is the same. We live life in search of something which is valuable to of us. That thing, that value, and the longing for it in the form of sentiment, represent the lofty and pure heights to which we aspire. Channing’s moral argument is that if a society cannot resolve to devote itself with clear mind and conscience to whatever it is we long for, then our life is a waste.

Only societies which prioritize moral principles as bedrock values will be worthy of obtaining the object of their longing. By stating this, Channing sets out stakes. If slavery cannot be considered moral, it cannot be permitted by a society which hopes to thrive.

Why Humans Can’t Be Property

Channing’s first substantive topic is about property. Here he argues that a human cannot be property. He presents the notion as a fallacy, reviewing many reasons why the concept of ownership of humans is morally and logically incorrect.

His first argument proposes that slavery depends upon a contradictory principle, relying on a notion of inequality which is not present in the Lockean philosophy of property rights.

It is plain, that, if one man may be held as property, then every other man may be so held.

If there be nothing in human nature, in our common nature, which excludes and forbids the conversion of him who possesses it into an article of property; if the right of the free to liberty is founded, not on their essential attributes as rational and moral beings, but on certain adventitious, accidental circumstances, into which they have been thrown; then every human being, by a change of circumstances, may justly be held and treated by another as property.

The consciousness of indestructible rights is a part of our moral being. The consciousness of our humanity involves the persuasion, that we cannot be owned as a tree or a brute. As men we cannot justly be made slaves. Then no man can be rightfully enslaved.”

This argument applies especially to Americans, who had in living memory defended their natural rights against a tyrant (the treatise was written in 1833). The American assertion to liberty invalidates the logic of slavery. If some men can be enslaved, then any man could be; in an environment that permits slavery, American claims to liberty and rights are invalid.

The natural rights associated with American liberty come from the philosophies of British Liberalism, which has all but died out among governments and academics and is dying out among Western professional organizations. However, the formal world order is ironically grounded in these same principles as the foundation of the premise of universal human rights. 

The flaw of modern political trends lies with their overreliance on experts wielding power, which contradicts the premise of universal human rights. Any technocratic order which seeks to deny rights to people via removing their privacy, taxing them without recourse, denying them the right to self-defense and so forth, must nevertheless be led by a class of experts. Human rights, in this environment, must be gifted by the experts. The clear implication is that human rights can be modified if the experts deem it necessary. 

The depravities of communist regimes give plentiful examples of the principle of conditional rights. If American society will go towards a direction where more and more elements of society are managed by technical experts, then it must do so while preserving individual self-determination. If experts aren’t managing at the pleasure of the managed, then human rights can’t exist. Human rights assume a fundamental moral equality between humans, and the concept of expert rule flies in the face of that assumption.

Channing’s next argument references rights. It is a bit archaic. In Southern slavery, slaves were considered nevertheless to be men who held rights. For instance, it was illegal to murder slaves. Channing takes for granted that his audience has already conceded some rights to slaves.

A man cannot be seized and held as property, because he has Rights.

Now, I say a being having rights cannot justly be made property; for this claim over him virtually annuls all his rights. It strips him of all power to assert them. It makes it a crime to assert them. The very essence of slavery is, to put a man defenceless into the hands of another. The right claimed by the master, to task, to force, to imprison, to whip, and to punish the slave, at discretion, and especially to prevent the least resistance to his will, is a virtual denial and subversion of all the rights of the victim of his power.

This argument is more profound than it first appears. Generalized, the argument says that if some rights are possessed by a man, then he must possess all the rights which are natural to all men. Later, Channing discusses rights in greater detail, devoting an entire chapter to them. He includes a deeper discussion of where rights come from. Suffice it to say that rights are purposeful. Rights are not entitlements, being only a stronger version of privileges. In Channing’s moral worldview, rights are instruments or tools which pertain to the purpose of man’s being. Rights exist to provide man a means to carry out that purpose. If one ounce of that purpose is acknowledged, if any means to accomplish that purpose are permitted, then one must permit them all, or else invalidate the both the man’s purpose and existence.

If a man doesn’t exist to fulfill his own happiness within his means, then his life is null. To enslave a man is to murder a man, from the perspective of the moral guilt of the perpetrator. It is to deem the fulfillment of happiness of one person to be irrelevant, while simultaneously pursuing one’s own fulfillment of happiness. It is a moral contradiction that can only persist in an environment of unmoderated lusts and unlimited violence. While slavery in its heyday purported to be within a moral framework, the abundant rape and violence committed by slavers against slaves, without punishment, is proof of the harms stemming from slavery’s contradiction of moral principles.

The principle of moral consistency supports the notion of the equality of man. There is no scientific proof that life matters. Consequently, the value of life exists only as a subjective assertion on the part of any individual human. Logically, morally and legally, the assertion of life’s value from one man to the next is inherently equal. Human inequality cannot be supported morally, and systems that assert moral inequality can only be sustained through perpetual violence.

Channing explains why even outward differences between men, in ability and birth, do not abolish the fundamental moral equality of men.

Another argument against property is to be found in the Essential Equality of men.

All men have the same rational nature, and the same power of conscience, and all are equally made for indefinite improvement of these divine faculties, and for the happiness to be found in their virtuous use. Who, that comprehends these gifts, does not see that the diversities of the race vanish before them? Let it be added, that the natural advantages, which distinguish one man from another, are so bestowed as to counterbalance one another, and bestowed without regard to rank or condition in life. Whoever surpasses in one endowment is inferior in others. Even genius, the greatest gift, is found in union with strange infirmities, and often places its possessors below ordinary men in the conduct of life. Great learning is often put to shame by the mother-wit and keen good sense of uneducated men. Nature, indeed, pays no heed to birth or condition in bestowing her favors. The noblest spirits sometimes grow up in the obscurest spheres. Thus equal are men; and among these equals, who can substantiate his claim to make others his property, his tools, the mere instruments of his private interest and gratification? Let this claim begin, and where will it stop? If one may assert it, why not all?

Who of us has no superior in one or the other of these endowments: Is it sure that the slave or the slave’s child may not surpass his master in intellectual energy or in moral worth? Has nature conferred distinctions which tell us plainly, who shall be owner? and who be owned? Who of us can unblushingly lift his head and say that God has written ‘Master’ there? or who can show the word ‘Slave’ engraven on his brother’s brow?”

The equality of man, taken together with Channing’s point about rights, proves that government must serve at the mercy of the people. Government cannot legitimately defend a vision of society that it synthetically imposes upon that same society. The progressive notion of shaping society in a better direction (coercively) is immoral. It establishes an inequality, where one class of intellectual superiors arbitrarily designates those with whom they disagree as lesser, who only exist to serve the aspirations of their betters. Even when the aspirations of the betters purportedly include the betterment of the lessers, the principle still holds. 

One may not keep a man in slavery simply because one asserts it is for the slave’s own good. Likewise, a coercive progressive state has no right to impose whichever intellectual fashion of the age upon the masses. This notion is morally indefensible, and again the progressive state truly realized will always collapse into violence and tyranny.

The foibles of the ‘uneducated’ must be tolerated by a moral society. They have a moral right to their ignorance. The harm that ignorance causes to society must be addressed in non-coercive ways. The experts also, from the perspective of the future, are themselves perfectly ignorant. There is no moral proof that the latter may rule over the former. We are all striving to do our best, and all of us are failing, though some of us may be ahead of others. Mutual betterment can only occur cooperatively.

Persuasion, rights-respecting boundaries and assertion of rights all serve as tools with which the more enlightened can interact with the less endowed. Both parties have rights, and within the scope of those rights, both are free to act how they choose.

Channing’s next argument relates to the theory of property itself.

That a human being cannot be justly held and used as property is apparent from the very nature of property. Property is an exclusive, single right. It shuts out all claim but that of the possessor, What one man owns cannot belong to another. What, then, is the consequence of holding a human being as property? Plainly this. He can have no right to himself. His limbs are, in truth, not morally his own. He has not a right to his own strength. It belongs to another. His will, intellect, and muscles, all the powers of body and mind which are exercised in labor, he is bound to regard as another’s. Now, if there be property in any thing, it is that of a man in his own person, mind, and strength. All other rights are weak, unmeaning, compared with this, and in denying this all right is denied.

This argument speaks for itself in a straightforward manner. A man and his body already belong to himself, his very birth the act of homesteading. No system which respects property rights can infringe upon this self-ownership and be taken seriously.

Even so, Channing exposits the principle beautiful. In his explanation, there are foreshadowed hints of Ayn Rand’s better angels, among parallels to the ideas of libertarian property theorists. Channing’s argument, though, adds a moral dimension. Property exists to serve man’s moral purpose, which is higher than his economic purpose. His moral purpose is the ultimate aim of his life as he sees it, the purpose for which he lives. By placing economic rights into the greater moral context, Channing shows that the greater right – moral self-determination – trumps any property right.  Property in context only serves moral purpose.

Contextualizing property rights within moral self-determination represents an interesting argument that is not usually discussed in libertarian philosophy. Most property theory derives from the pure logic which results from examining a conflict situation. Property is simply the outcome of applying logic consistently to the nature economic behavior and conflict resolution. We must take an extra step, however, to ask why we care about pure logic. It’s true, the answers come easy: we want a peaceful, orderly society, among other arguments. Still, Channing’s answer is also very compelling.

Channing presents economic activity – what Austrian Economics calls human action – as an outcome of moral purpose. Channing presumes a longing – an ineffable ought – behind human action. The Austrians are somewhat ambivalent here. They admit that there must be some force behind human action, plainly acknowledge it, but they are neutral about what it must be. Channing’s worldview is at least substantively neutral. We are permitted to long for what we choose to long for. Yet, Channing introduces his own sentiments, assuming that there is some common feeling which can be observed as common between people. It is a sense of universal love and aspiration towards personal betterment. Regardless, even he would admit that he himself only wishes for this to be the outcome of society. It was his aspiration to establish a common sense of universal love in the human heart. His pursuit of this aim was through persuasion, not force.

Irrespective of the object of human longing, the presence of a greater, moral impetus behind human action slightly modifies libertarian thought. We can’t just take human purpose for granted and evaluate human action neutrally. Instead, we can observe the consequences of human action, and evaluate whether these consequences are consistent with whatever moral purposes were behind the action. It is a more holistic approach. 

In politics and law, we establish systems to achieve ends. Political thought is rife with discussions of means and ends. However, rarely do we hear about motives. Channing’s worldview focuses first and last on motive, not neglecting means or ends.

Isn’t the slave motivated by the same feelings as the slave master? Do not both aspire to personal happiness as they see fit?

In libertarianism, our belief in freedom of the markets, in combination with the materialistic emphasis of our focus on rational thought, cause most of us to place great weight on the value of material wealth. We shouldn’t make the mistake, however, of thinking that it is material well-being which primarily motivates us as libertarians. 

The values which motivate us as libertarians – or ought to: the commitment to moral self-determination – are why we support free markets and rational thought. The importance of wealth is derivative of economic freedom and reason. 

If wealth must conflict with permitting moral self-determination, we must remain true to our principles. Moral freedom trumps. This is true for an obviously controversial practice such as slavery, but also true for subtler practices. Perhaps there are times when the landlords’ rights might not always trump the squatters’, or at least times when the landlord might discover a heart full of charity.

Libertarianism is odd among economic philosophies in that it values the principle of wealth more than wealth itself. Certainly, this attitude does always not contribute well to the movement’s influence in society.

Slavery in antebellum America existed in a context where the slave trade was considered immoral and abhorrent. There were self-serving reasons why the Southern slavers banned new slave imports (it increased the value of domestic slaves). Even so, the official moral position of the slaver society was that the creation of new slaves was illegal and immoral. Many defenders of slavery insisted that theirs was an inherited, unwanted stewardship over a lesser, unruly people. Even those who saw Africans as essentially equal to Europeans still concluded that the conditions of being raised in slavery would prevent a population from safely integrating into the American system of personal liberty. The slavers argued that they were ultimately guilty of no crime, and the only guilt lay with the original perpetrators who first engaged in the slave trade. Channing addresses this argument.

We have a plain recognition of the principle now laid down, in the universal indignation excited towards a man who makes another his slave. Our laws know no higher crime than that of reducing a man to slavery. To steal or to buy an African on his own shores is piracy. In this act the greatest wrong is inflicted, the most sacred right violated. But if a human being cannot without infinite injustice be seized as property, then he cannot without equal wrong be held and used as such. The wrong in the first seizure lies in the destination of a human being to future bondage, to the criminal use of him as a chattel or brute. Can that very use, which makes the original seizure an enormous wrong, become gradually innocent?

The principle of moral philosophy espoused above deals with chains of guilt. It is an anti-conservative argument. If a situation derives from a crime, some restitution of the original crime, in proportion to that crime, must be undertaken.

In my opinion, calls for federal cash to be doled out as slavery reparations is absurd. However, a more aggressive level of social assistance to impoverished black communities is morally appropriate. From a moral point of view, American society was guilty of coercively immigrating black slaves, then perpetually reaffirming the minority status of their descendants on the basis of skin tone. That deserves a moral redress. It should occur or should have occurred in the form of more engagement. The current strategy for reconciling cultural differences within America takes the form of welfare checks and long-term prison internment, along with various forms of discrimination, nasty and subtle, combined with probably ineffectual academic support.

Much can and should be said about academic affirmative action. The political state of academia is miserable. Affirmative action in education is meant to improve the socio-economic conditions of an underserved community. Instead, young minority students have their resentments intellectually entrenched, while they receive expensive training that is unlikely to improve their future economic condition.

The majority community in America fails both to show mercy and penance adequately, while simultaneously lacking the ability to be tough. Persistent racism clashes with overly agreeable idealistic denial of endogenous problems facing minority communities. Even so, Channing’s appraisal of slavery’s moral status provides us with a moral solution this conundrum.

Morally, most of the problems within black communities have to be solved by black communities. However, it is appropriate to argue that it is impossible to morally disentangle black endogenous guilt from the moral history of the majority community which effectively created the condition of black society within America. It might be easy to say that enough time has passed, that it is now appropriate to leave the black community to solve its own challenges. Yet, the creation of black American society itself is the product of never addressed moral guilt. If immorality was ignored in the past, it cannot also be ignored in the future. Irrespective of the policy questions, the majority culture in America has a special moral obligation to not turn a blind eye to minority struggles.

Generalized, libertarians should not invoke individual rights as a moral absolution of the responsibility to be concerned with the condition of other people. We may not legally owe money or property to redress past social injustices, however, we do owe our concern and effort to help other humans. The spirit of charity should be morally inherent in libertarian philosophy. The reason is simply that justice is imperfect. While we would never go as far as John Rawls does, demanding legal institution of perfect justice, we can acknowledge that history and life are full of messy moral guilt. Therefore, in general, it is good to be charitable to one another. Rawls is partly correct.

The reason why Rawls is wrong lies embedded in Channing’s logic. Past guilt must be redressed in proportion. If modern day practices are just, and we argue that the injustice of past circumstances is the cause for reparations, then we can just as easily argue the reverse. Some portion of past actions may indeed have been perfectly just, and so the existence of some past injustices should not be license for present injustice. Rawls’ logic supports the morality of a general spirit of voluntary charity, as an important personal principle. It doesn’t support coercive reparations.

To reiterate, coercive charity is against libertarian principles, but a spirit of charity as a personal moral impetus ought to be a fundamental aspect of libertarian morality. Again, the reason is that the past is far too messy for anyone to make any absolute claims about justice. There will have been injustices, and will continue to be injustices, and that proposes a moral obligation on all members of society to do what they can to redress what they can.

Rights

Another argument against the right of property in man may be drawn from a very obvious principle of moral science. It is a plain truth, universally received, that every right supposes or involves a corresponding Obligation. If, then, a man has a right to another’s person or powers, the latter is under obligation to give himself up as a chattel to the former. This is his Duty.

He is bound to be a slave; … because another has a right of Ownership, has a Moral claim to him, so that he would be guilty of dishonesty, of robbery, in withdrawing himself from this other’s service. … Ought he not, if he can, to place himself and his family under the guardianship of equal laws? Should we blame him for leaving his yoke? Do we not feel, that, in the same condition, a sense of duty would quicken our flying steps? Where, then, is the obligation which would necessarily be imposed, if the right existed which the master claims? The absence of obligation proves the want of the right. The claim is groundless. It is a cruel wrong.”

If a man must be whipped and chained so that he remains a slave, doing what his master commands, then one cannot say that these commands represent the slave’s duty. The way Common Sense philosophy conceives of duty, it is intrinsic and related to rights as a natural foil. If people possess rights themselves, then intrinsically they have an attendant duty to respect the rights of others. 

In libertarian philosophy we focus on that which is coercive. If so-called duty has to be enforced through coercion, then rights can’t exist. In short, no government can claim a moral right to tell anyone what their purpose is, or what they must do to be happy. Progressives claim a moral high ground, believing expert-run government to have a moral impetus to improve society. The unspoken implication is that humans must, by way of moral duty, support and sustain the government’s efforts to create the common good. However, if government doesn’t respect the moral self-determination of its citizens, then citizens have no conceivable obligation to sustain the moral authority of the government. It’s a matter of simply consistency and equality.

Channing, in a later chapter on rights, dismantles the government’s pretense at moral authority. Specifically, he discusses whether claims at improving the common good can supplant rights.

Rights are made to depend on circumstances, so that pretences may easily be made or created for violating them successively, till none shall remain. Human rights have been represented as so modified and circumscribed by men’s entrance into the social state, that only the shadows of them are left. They have been spoken of as absorbed in the public good; so that a man may be innocently enslaved, if the public good shall so require.

Still the question will be asked, ‘Is not the General Good the supreme law of the state? Are not all restraints on the individual just, which this demands? When the rights of the individual clash with this, must they not yield? Do they not, indeed, cease to be rights? Must not every thing give place to the General Good?’ I have started this question in various forms, because I deem it worthy of particular examination. Public and private morality, the freedom and safety of our national institutions, are greatly concerned in settling the claims of the ‘General Good.’ In monarchies, the Divine Right of kings swallowed up all others. In republics the General Good threatens the same evil.

What, then, are the consequences of making the building of the “General Good” the supreme law of the land?

It is a shelter for the abuses and usurpations of government, for the profligacies of statesmen, for the vices of parties, for the wrongs of slavery. In considering this subject, I take the hazard of repeating principles already laid down; but this will be justified by the importance of reaching and determining the truth. Is the General Good, then, the supreme law to which every thing must bow?

Yet, if the common good is not to be the supreme aim of the state, what ought to be?

The supreme law of a state is not its safety, its power, its prosperity, its affluence, the flourishing state of agriculture, commerce, and the arts. These objects, constituting what is commonly called the Public Good, are, indeed, proposed, and ought to be proposed, in the constitution and administration of states. But there is a higher law, even Virtue, Rectitude, the Voice of Conscience, the Will of God. Justice is a greater good than property, not greater in degree, but in kind. Universal benevolence is infinitely superior to prosperity. Religion, the love of God, is worth incomparably more than all his outward gifts. A community, to secure or aggrandize itself, must never forsake the Right, the Holy, the Just.

Moral Good, Rectitude in all its branches, is the Supreme Good; by which I do not intend that it is the surest means to the security and prosperity of the state. Such, indeed, it is, but this is too low a view. It must not be looked upon as a Means, an Instrument. It is the Supreme End, and states are bound to subject to it all their legislation, be the apparent loss of prosperity ever so great.

Channing boldly asserts what might be called the deontological argument over the consequentalist view of libertarianism. Yet, I believe he transcends the debate. By framing morality as an end, not a means, naturally Channing’s view opposed consequentialism. Yet, in Channing’s perspective moral rectitude is almost an economic product. It is not material, and yet, it is the outcome of a life dedicated to laboring for self-improvement. A society must labor, through education, endurance, mutual support and amidst material activity, to uphold moral principles. In this light, his argument is partly consequentialist. Since morals are the desired product and outcome of society, then moral consistency is the means to produce them. Moral rectitude is a consequence of moral self-improvement. 

This argument may appear pedantic, even tautological to committed philosophical skeptics. Even so, the aim of Common Sense philosophy is to harmonize is and ought and consider them together. Morality is not merely perfecting our obedience to an arbitrary set of rules, to Common Sense thinkers, morality is harmonizing natural laws with inborne desires, and self-derived aspirations. Morality is inclusive of material ends, contextualizing them with human motives that inspire, incentivize and produce material ends.

If we exalt morality as the great End of human action, we are merely exalting our motivation for pursuing material ends along with the ends themselves.

My questions for all communists who wish to build heaven on Earth is: and then what, for what purpose, and, how do you know? The same can be said concerning the frailty of the consequentialist position.

Channing continues his discussion of society’s purpose and why the state’s infringement of rights cannot be justified by appeals to the common good. He addresses the idea of the state using its power to support national economic well-being.

“National wealth is not the End. It derives all its worth from national virtue. If accumulated by rapacity, conquest, or any degrading means, or if concentrated in the hands of the few, whom it strengthens to crush the many, it is a curse. National wealth is a blessing, only when it springs from and represents the intelligence and virtue of the community, when it is a fruit and expression of good habits, of respect for the rights of all, of impartial and beneficent legislation, when it gives impulse to the higher faculties, and occasion and incitement to justice and beneficence. No greater calamity can befall a people than to prosper by crime. No success can be a compensation for the wound inflicted on a nation’s mind by renouncing Right as its Supreme Law.”

It is interesting that Channing’s frame of the moral background to national wealth so closely refers to early 21st century economic malaise in America. Wealth which has accumulated contrary to the virtue of the nation, via empire, exploitation and greed, leads to negative outcomes. In other words, exploitative systems are fragile, unsustainable, and only benefit a few. So-called virtuous wealth is gained when a system is anti-fragile. Channing correlates his notion of virtuous wealth to a well-developed level of human capital, balanced institutions, a healthy distribution of wealth, and so forth. Even a consequentialist or a minarchist libertarian would agree that de-centralized economies with strong human capital are more likely to produce a better standard of living.

In Common Sense morality, virtue and consequence are harmonious concepts. That which is good is that which is natural and vice versa. Channing doesn’t propose a list of arbitrary moral precepts which must be followed. His morality requires that moral precepts must be continually adjusted to remain in harmony with natural consequences. Morality is the great End, but it is meant as a product of what is naturally right, and should contribute to what is naturally good.

After discussing the importance of putting morals before money, Channing discusses the dangers of doing the opposite. In doing so, he offers a stunning rebuke of policy wonkery and state economic intervention – over a century before public choice theory, and a half-century before laissez-faire economic theory.

Let a people exalt Prosperity above Rectitude, and a more dangerous end cannot be proposed. Public Prosperity, General Good, regarded by itself, or apart from the moral law, is something vague, unsettled, and uncertain, and will infallibly be so construed by the selfish and grasping as to secure their own aggrandizement. It may be made to wear a thousand forms according to men’s interests and passions. This is illustrated by every day’s history. Not a party springs up, which does not sanctify all its projects for monopolizing power by the plea of General Good. Not a measure, however ruinous, can be proposed, which cannot be shown to favor one or another national interest. The truth is, that, in the uncertainty of human affairs, an uncertainty growing out of the infinite and very subtile causes which are acting on communities, the consequences of no measure can be foretold with certainty. The best concerted schemes of policy often fail; whilst a rash and profligate administration may, by unexpected concurrences of events, seem to advance a nation’s glory. In regard to the means of national prosperity the wisest are weak judges. For example, the present rapid growth of this country, carrying, as it does, vast multitudes beyond the institutions of religion and education, may be working ruin, whilst the people exult in it as a pledge of greatness. We are too short-sighted to find our law in outward interests. To states, as to individuals, Rectitude is the Supreme Law. It was never designed that the Public Good, as disjoined from this, as distinct from justice and reverence for all rights, should be comprehended and made our end. Statesmen work in the dark, until the idea of Right towers above expediency or wealth. Wo to that people which would found its prosperity in wrong! It is time that the low maxims of policy, which have ruled for ages, should fall. It is time that Public Interest should no longer hallow injustice, and fortify government in making the weak their prey.

In summary, Channing says that people are stupid and planners never get it right. To base a government off of planning for the public good is to see plans fail, and in this vacuum, special interest assert itself. For this reason, governments are only really equipped to protect rights, and let the people use them to create the common good on their own. For Channing, morality is that which is common and clear.

What about pragmatism?

Perhaps it will be replied to all which has now been said, that there is an argument from experience, which invalidates the doctrines of this section. It may be said, that human rights, notwithstanding what has been said of their sacredness, do and must yield to the exigencies of real life, that there is often a stern necessity in human affairs to which they bow. [During a crisis] All rights are involved in the safety of the state; and hence, in the cases referred to, the safety of the state becomes the supreme law.”

If rights are conceded to the state, then the state’s self-preservation and self-serving interest are made supreme. If a crisis becomes too big for society to solve, it’s unlikely the state itself – with its coercive power – would be any better at solving it. When civil society faces a crisis, it seeks to save itself. If it fails to do so, it may turn to the state. However, the state would react in the same way – it will act to save itself. The state will not save civil society, if civil society itself gives up.

After his discussion of property, including how rights relate to humans-as-property, Channing devotes an entire chapter to rights themselves. This section is the most instructive of his treatise.

First, Channing defines rights as intrinsic to man’s nature as a moral being. As previously discussed, rights are not meant to be thought of as entitlements, but rather as instruments or abilities. He connects rights and duties as unified, co-dependent concepts. A basic conception of general rights can be used to deduce specific rights.

Man’s rights belong to him as a Moral Being, as capable of perceiving moral distinctions, as a subject of moral obligation. As soon as he becomes conscious of Duty, a kindred consciousness springs up, that he has a Right to do what the sense of duty enjoins, and that no foreign will or power can obstruct his moral action without crime.

The sense of duty is the fountain of human rights. In other words, the same inward principle, which teaches the former, bears witness to the latter. Duties and Rights must stand or fall together. It has been too common to oppose them to one another; but they are indissolubly joined together. That same inward principle, which teaches a man what he is bound to do to others, teaches equally, and at the same instant, what others are bound to do to him. That same voice, which forbids him to injure a single fellow-creature, forbids every fellow-creature to do him harm. His conscience, in revealing the moral law, does not reveal a law for himself only, but speaks as a Universal Legislator. He has an intuitive conviction, that the obligations of this divine code press on others as truly as on himself. … Accordingly there is no deeper principle in human nature than the consciousness of rights. So profound, so ineradicable is this sentiment, that the oppressions of ages have no where wholly stifled it.”

I have always felt that individualism is less selfish than collectivism. Individualism is not egoism. It, instead, perceives humans in general as having an individual existence. The implications of individualism to the self pertain also to all other human beings. An individualist who demands certain rights would also intrinsically accede those same rights to all others. Collectivists on the other hand, are quick to harm and hurt individuals in the name of a common good. The collective good is meant to benefit individuals, and yet, great harm to individuals is a frequent product of efforts to establish the collective good. Anecdotally, collectivist societies tend to be more superficial and face oriented. Charity is a phenomenon that applies when others are looking. Individualist societies tend to express charity even when no one is watching.

 

What are our rights? Channing offers an answer.

Volumes could not do justice to them; and yet perhaps they may be comprehended in one sentence. They may all be comprised in the Right, which belongs to every rational being, to exercise his powers for the promotion of his own and others’ Happiness and Virtue. As every human being is bound to employ his faculties for his own and others’ good, there is an obligation on each to leave all free for the accomplishment of this end; and whoever respects this obligation, whoever uses his own, without invading others’ powers, or obstructing others’ duties, has a sacred, indefeasible right to be unassailed, unobstructed, unharmed by all with whom he may be connected. Here is the grand, all-comprehending right of human nature. Every man should revere it, should assert it for himself and for all, and should bear solemn testimony against every infraction of it, by whomsoever made or endured.

Rights are related to the non-aggression principle. As stated at the beginning of this article, the value of human life is a product of an individual subjective assertion. Logically, all subjective assertion is equal, and so the value of all human life must also be equal. Our own promotion of our own and others’ happiness is a choice that is equally valid between all humans, thus we have a right to it, and also a duty to honor others’ right to it.

Channing also explains how this principle can lead to the derivation of specific rights, concluding with a condemnation of slavery for violating them.

Having considered the great fundamental right of human nature, particular rights may easily be deduced. Every man has a right to exercise and invigorate his intellect or the power of knowledge, for knowledge is the essential condition of successful effort for every good; and whoever obstructs or quenches the intellectual life in another inflicts a grievous and irreparable wrong. Every man has a right to inquire into his duty, and to conform himself to what he learns of it. Every man has a right to use the means, given by God and sanctioned by virtue, for bettering his condition. He has a right to be respected according to his moral worth; a right to be regarded as a member of the community to which he belongs, and to be protected by impartial laws; and a right to be exempted from coercion, stripes, and punishment, as long as he respects the rights of others. He has a right to an equivalent for his labor. He has a right to sustain domestic relations, to discharge their duties, and to enjoy the happiness which flows from fidelity in these and other domestic relations. Such are a few of human rights; and if so, what a grievous wrong is slavery!

A government or system which does not leave man free to pursue his own happiness has no moral justification. Moreover, not only must man be free, but specifically he must be permitted broad and particular freedoms which relate directly to that pursuit. The implication of freedom to pursue own’s own happiness is a set of uncountable shackles on government.

Channing describes the ideal government.

That government is most perfect, in which Policy is most entirely subjected to Justice, or in which the supreme and constant aim is to secure the rights of every human being. This is the beautiful idea of a free government, and no government is free but in proportion as it realizes this. Liberty must not be confounded with popular institutions. A representative government may be as despotic as an absolute monarchy. In as far as it tramples on the rights, whether of many or one, it is a despotism. The sovereign power, whether wielded by a single hand or several hands, by a king or a congress, which spoils one human being of the immunities and privileges bestowed on him by God, is so far a tyranny.

Democracy is not inherently good, and Channing explains why representative government even matters at all from the perspective of liberty – something American liberty lovers, and liberty lovers around the world ought not forget.

The great argument in favor of representative institutions is, that a people’s rights are safest in their own hands, and should never be surrendered to an irresponsible power. Rights, Rights, lie at the foundation of a popular government; and when this betrays them, the wrong is more aggravated than when they are crushed by despotism.”

If a people lose the ability to withdraw consent from a governmental system, then that system is not consistent with liberty. The degree to which a government relies on voluntary consent rather than coercion, is the degree to which it is consistent with liberty. Wherever one stands on the spectrum of support for state power, this principle is true. A government can always be either more free or less free than it presently is simply by becoming less or more coercive in achieving its ends.

Conclusion

Channing concludes with his most powerful argument against the holding of men as property. He assumes, as always, the equality of men in determining for themselves what is right. However, he also injects his own aspirational hopes for how men should use their moral agency, as part of his subjective interpretation of what men are by nature. In contrast to modern day progressive politics, Channing’s desire for society to improve is based on hopeful aspiration combined with persuasion, through appealing to a common hope in equally morally sovereign fellow human beings. By emphasizing the moral sovereignty of human beings – himself counted among them – he obliterates any possible argument that defends slavery.

I come now to what is to my own mind the great argument against seizing and using a man as property. He cannot be property in the sight of God and justice, because he is a Rational, Moral, Immortal Being; because [he is] created in God’s image, and therefore in the highest sense his child; because created to unfold Godlike faculties, and to govern himself by a Divine Law written on his heart, and republished in God’s Word.

Into every human being God has breathed an immortal spirit more precious than the whole outward creation. No earthly or celestial language can exaggerate the worth of a human being. No matter how obscure his condition. Thought, Reason, Conscience, the capacity of Virtue, the capacity of Christian Love, an Immortal Destiny, an intimate moral connexion with God,—here are attributes of our common humanity which reduce to insignificance all outward distinctions, and make every human being unspeakably dear to his Maker.

The capacity of Improvement allies him to the more instructed of his race, and places within his reach the knowledge and happiness of higher worlds. Every human being has in him the germ of the greatest Idea in the universe, the Idea of God; and to unfold this is the end of his existence. Every human being has in his breast the elements of that Divine, Everlasting Law, which the highest orders of the creation obey. He has the Idea of Duty; and to unfold, revere, obey this is the very purpose for which life was given. Every human being has the Idea of what is meant by that word, Truth; that is, he sees, however dimly, the great object of Divine and created intelligence, and is capable of ever-enlarging perceptions of Truth. Every human being has affections, which may be purified and expanded into a Sublime Love. He has, too, the Idea of Happiness, and a thirst for it which cannot be appeased. Such is our nature. Wherever we see a man, we see the possessor of these great capacities. Did God make such a being to be owned as a tree or a brute? How plainly was he made to exercise, unfold, improve his highest powers, made for a moral, spiritual good! and how is he wronged, and his Creator opposed, when he is forced and broken into a tool to another’s physical enjoyment!

Such a being was plainly made for an End in Himself. He is a Person, not a Thing. He is an End, not a mere Instrument or Means. He was made for his own virtue and happiness. Is this end reconcilable with his being held and used as a chattel? The sacrifice of such a being to another’s will, to another’s present, outward, ill-comprehended good, is the greatest violence which can be offered to any creature of God. It is to degrade him from his rank in the universe, to make him a means, not an end, to cast him out from God’s spiritual family into the brutal herd.”

Channing exalts man’s consciousness of morality and hope, invoking what in my opinion is actually a double-edged sword of moral consciousness. A tree or rock has no happiness, no sense of purpose, no agency and consequently no rights. There is no inherent moral crime in chopping a tree or smashing a rock, nor do either protest. Humans, on the other hand, are quite upset when their lives are threatened, and tend to act aggressively to protect their own existence. Humans perceive a meaning to life, and the possibility of happiness. Nevertheless, the human desire to live and the human sense of happiness only exist within the human mind as a subjective assertion, and only matter because human will self-asserts the importance of human life. Take away the subjective human agent, and human life has no meaning. In other words, human life is meaningless until humans assert life’s meaning.

Philosophically, asserting meaning for life when that meaning is found only from within (and not out in nature), is an act of creation. In this sense, even a secular mind can appreciate the metaphor that man is in God’s image. Human action itself is an assertion of meaning, the creation of meaning – taking internal truth and attempting to externalize it. Human action is therefore sacred. 

If human action is not sacred, then nothing on Earth can be sacred. Therefore, to take a man who is capable of divine action – the conception and pursuit of meaning – and deny him his own path to that meaning is a nullification of meaning itself. To say that a man cannot create meaning, is to admit that you yourself must also not be so able. To say that man creates meaning, but to deny him that right, is ugly sin.

The deeply religious should understand the meaning of man being in God’s image. Nature – creation – was born and will die, it is temporal, dust, and must fade. The goal of the religious is to seek both eternal life and union with God’s presence, and this goal is nothing short of aspiring to higher meaning that transcends that which is temporal or arbitrary. In philosophy, it is simply a quest to justify the idea that life is at least something more that totally meaningless.

Channing’s emphasis on religious, lofty sentiments is appropriate to his task. In arguing against slavery, he saves his best argument for last. Channing connects the lowest aspects of human nature to its highest. He proves that the conditions which might justify moral coercion cannot exist. Though many humans are brutish, ignorant, low and so forth, they possess a spark of awareness that objects and creatures do not. 

Humans perceive meaning to life and seek out the fulfillment of life’s purpose. This connects them automatically to the highest possible aspirations any mere man could conceive. While the ignorant might not consider lofty philosophy in their daily choices, nevertheless, there is nothing that the greatest philosopher or sermonizer could invoke that is outside of the scope of what the lowest man can connect with. The implications to morality are clear. Men are equal.

The simple way of summarizing Channing’s argument is to say that human life is sacred. Life includes the individual perception and pursuit of life’s meaning, since it is individuals who self-endow their lives with a sacred character. The desire to live is all it takes. Likewise, the desire to be free is all that is required for a man or creature to deserve freedom. It’s a take-it-or-leave-it proposition for anyone who asserts their own freedom. 

Any slaver or government which denies the human desire for freedom and moral independence, denies the fundamental value of human life. Human life becomes arbitrary. That’s no way to go.

It is interesting that Channing, in arguing against slavery by invoking moral principles, so often digresses through the same reasoning to rebuke what is now called progressive politics. Libertarians should come to understand that the same moral reasoning which argues against slavery also argues against progressivism. By the same logic, progressive morality ultimately could justify slavery. The progressive opposition to slavery lies entirely with an inconsistent and logically detached appeal to empathy, focusing on the subjective pain and distress felt as part of the experience of being a slave. If, then, slavery could facilitate the comfort and pleasure of the slaves, would progressives support it?  The answer must be yes.

Progressivism is slavery exactly, if we imagine a non-existent world where slaves, by having their material needs taken care of, were consequently happy. Yet, there’s a reason why slaves experienced physical pains and emotional distress, which is intimately connected to the moral nature of slavery. As discussed at length in this article, moral self-sovereignty is the right to pursue happiness no more nor less. Abandon that principle, and power inequality will, through violence and accidental outcomes, develop systems of exploitation where happiness is crushed. Whether we observe this in systems of slavery or within communist states, it is the same. Progressivism is merely the first step on the path.

In understanding rights, libertarians perceive an important truth. With is and ought reconciled inside the individual, the common truth of society is clear. Economic action services moral action. Moral action is sacred, inviolable. This is should be the basis of libertarian thought, and the guiding principle of human society.

 

Outraged at Thomas Massie?  You Shouldn’t Be

Outraged at Thomas Massie? You Shouldn’t Be

Thomas Massie, U.S. House of Representative from Kentucky’s 4th District, took a lot of heat for trying to force a voice vote on the House floor to pass the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.  In a glorious show of bipartisanship, both sides of the aisle poured out their vitriol on the double-degreed MIT graduate. 

Rep. Peter King, (R-N.Y.) said in a tweet Friday morning: “Because of one Member of Congress refusing to allow emergency action entire Congress must be called back to vote in House. Risk of infection and risk of legislation being delayed. Disgraceful. Irresponsible.” 

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) told the NY Post, “It was not cool, not cool at all.  We’ve all got to wait 14 days to see what happens. Hopefully, none of us get ill. If it weren’t for him, we wouldn’t have had to come [back]. He put people in jeopardy, there’s no question about it.”

John Kerry said, “Breaking news: Congressman Massie has tested positive for being an ass*&@#.  He must be quarantined to prevent the spread of his massive stupidity. He’s given new meaning to the term #Masshole.” 

Never one to pass up a Tweet-able moment, President Trump tweeted, “throw Massie out of [the] Republican Party!” Later, he supported, via Twitter, a the Kerry authored tweet aimed at Massive when he said, “Never knew John Kerry had such a good sense of humor! Very impressed!”

For his actions, Massie stands on pretty sure constitutional grounds.  Article 1, Section 5, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution says: “Each House shall be the Judge of Elections, Returns, and Qualifications of its own Members, and a Majority of each shall constitute a Quorum to do Business; but a smaller Number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the Attendance of absent Members, in such Manner, and under such Penalties as each House may provide.”  

In defense of his actions Massie said the following on Twitter:

I  swore an oath to uphold the constitution, and I take that oath seriously.  In a few moments I will request a vote on the CARES Act which means members of Congress will vote on it by pushing “yes” or “no” or “present.”

The Constitution requires that a quorum of members be present to conduct business in the House. Right now, millions of essential, working-class Americans are still required to go to work during this pandemic such as manufacturing line workers, healthcare professionals, pilots, grocery clerks, cooks/chefs, delivery drivers, auto mechanics, and janitors (to name just a few). Is it too much to ask that the House do its job, just like the Senate did?

Massie went on to say:

I am not delaying the bill like Nancy Pelosi did last week.  The bill that was worked on in the Senate late last week was much better before Speaker Pelosi showed up to destroy it and add days and days to the process.

This bill should have been voted on much sooner in both the Senate and House and it shouldn’t be stuffed full of Nancy Pelosi’s pork- including $25 million for the Kennedy Center, grants for the National Endowment for the Humanities and Arts, and millions more other measures that have no direct relation to the Coronavirus Pandemic. That $25 million, for example, should go directly to purchasing test kits. The number one priority of this bill should have been to expand testing availability and creation of tests so that every American, not just the wealthy and privileged, have access to testing. We have shut down the world’s economy without adequate data. Everyone, even those with no symptoms, needs immediate access to a test.

This brings us to the crux of the matter and why you, as an American citizen, should direct your outrage at everyone but Rep. Massie.  The CARES act is, on its face, unconstitutional. Where in the U.S. Constitution does it authorize Congress to conjure up $2.2 trillion dollars, then hand it out to the American people?  Notice the response that politicians (or more accurately) statesmen gave in response to calls for aid during an earlier part of the country’s history.  

1794: Congress undertook to appropriate $15,000 ($352,740 in today’s dollars) to assist French refugees.  In response, James Madison, one of this country’s founding fathers, said, “I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.”  

1796: U.S. Representative William Giles of Virginia was not in favor of extending relief to fire victims saying that Congress didn’t have a right to “attend to what generosity and humanity require, but what the Constitution and their duty require.”  

1854: President Franklin Pierce vetoed an appropriation bill to assist the mentally ill saying, “I cannot find any authority in the Constitution for public charity.”  

1887: President Grover Cleveland said, “I find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and the duty of the General Government ought to extend to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit.”  Cleveland said this as part of his vetoing of a bill appropriating money to aid farmers in Texas who were suffering from a severe drought.  

What the House and Senate did in passing the CARES Act is bad enough.  President Trump invoked something called the Defense Production Act.  

Today, I signed a Presidential Memorandum directing the Secretary of Health and Human Services to use any and all authority available under the Defense Production Act to require General Motors to accept, perform, and prioritize Federal contracts for ventilators.  Our negotiations with GM regarding its ability to supply ventilators have been productive, but our fight against the virus is too urgent to allow the give-and- take of the contracting process to continue to run its normal course.  GM was wasting time.  Today’s action will help ensure the quick production of ventilators that will save American lives. (emphasis added)

Enacted by the 81st Congress on September 8, 1950 in response to the Korean War, the act was put in place to: establish a system of priorities and allocations for materials and facilities, authorize the requisitioning thereof, provide financial assistance for expansion of productive capacity and supply, provide for price and wage stabilization, provide for the settlement of labor disputes, strengthen controls over credit, and by these measures facilitate the production of goods and services necessary for the national security, and for other purposes.  The act basically gives the president broad and sweeping control of the economy for the purposes of national defense (i.e. during war time). He can compel, with the full force and weight of the federal government, private companies to do as he says (in the name of national defense) in direct violation of said companies’ property rights. And I have yet to mention the fact that the government will need to create trillions of dollars out of thin air and borrow trillions more to fund CARES Act relief. The money creation and government borrowing will ultimately decrease American citizens’ standard of living through ballooning price inflation and a diversion of resources from businessmen and women.

For the umpteenth time, unscrupulous, unprincipled, and downright deceitful politicians managed to manufacture an overreaction to the coronavirus using it to justify harming the country by their passage of unconstitutional legislation.  Our so-called “public servants” truly never let a crisis go to waste.  

As an American citizen you ought to be outraged.  However, your outrage should be directed at Trump, his administration, and Congress, not Thomas Massie.  

The Deep State’s Demolition of Democracy

The Deep State’s Demolition of Democracy

“Thank God for the Deep State,” declared former acting CIA chief John McLaughlin while appearing on a panel at the National Press Club last October. In 2018, the New York Times asserted that Trump’s use of the term “Deep State” and similar rhetoric “fanned fears that he is eroding public trust in institutions, undermining the idea of objective truth and sowing widespread suspicions about the government and news media.”

But barely a year later, the Deep State had gone from a figment of paranoid right-wingers’ imagination to the great hope for the salvation of American democracy. Much of the media is now conferring the same exulted status on the Deep State that was previously bestowed on Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Almost immediately after its existence was no longer denied, the Deep State became the incarnation of virtue in Washington.

The Deep State commonly refers to officials who secretly wield power permanently in Washington, often in federal agencies with vast sway and little accountability. A New York Times article in October gushed that “over the last three weeks, the deep state has emerged from the shadows in the form of real live government officials, past and present … and provided evidence that largely backs up the still-anonymous whistle-blower” on Donald Trump’s phone call to the president of Ukraine. New York Times columnist James Stewart declared, “There is a Deep State, there is a bureaucracy in our country who has pledged to respect the Constitution, respect the rule of law…. They work for the American people.” New York Times editorial writer Michelle Cottle proclaimed, “The deep state is alive and well” and hailed it as “a collection of patriotic public servants.” They were echoing earlier declarations by Washington Post columnist Eugene Roberts and former top Justice Department official Preet Bharar: “God bless the ‘Deep State.’”

Former CIA Director John Brennan, appearing on the same panel as McLaughlin in October, declared, “The reason why Mr. Trump has this very contentious relationship with CIA and FBI and the deep state people is because they tell the truth.” Much of the media coverage of the Trump impeachment is following that dubious storyline.

“We lied, we cheated, we stole.”

Five years ago, John Brennan’s CIA ignited what should have been a constitutional crisis when it was caught illegally spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which was compiling a massive report on the CIA torture program. After 9/11, the CIA constructed an interrogation regime by “consulting Egyptian and Saudi intelligence officials and copying Soviet interrogation methods,” the New York Times reported in 2007. Secret Bush administration torture memos “set the C.I.A. loose to slam suspects’ heads into walls up to 30 times in a row, to deprive suspects of sleep for more than a week straight, to confine them to small dark boxes for hours at a time … and to suffocate them with water to induce the perception that they are drowning,” Georgetown University law professor David Cole noted. But the only official who went to prison was John Kirakou, a former CIA analyst who publicly admitted that the CIA was waterboarding.

Is the Deep State more trustworthy when it is killing than when it is torturing? Brennan declared in 2016 that “the president requires near-certainty of no collateral damage” before approving a drone strike. Confidential CIA documents revealed that the CIA had little or no idea whom it was killing most of the time with its drone attacks in Pakistan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Yemen, and other nations. Salon.com summarized an NBC News report: “Even while admitting that the identities of many killed by drones were not known, the CIA documents asserted that all those dead were enemy combatants. The logic is twisted: If we kill you, then you were an enemy combatant.” Lying about drone killings quickly became institutionalized throughout the Deep State. The New York Times reported in 2015, “Every independent investigation of the [drone] strikes has found far more civilian casualties than administration officials admit.”

The Deep State is practically designed to destroy privacy while enabling government officials to deny sweeping abuses. Former National Security Agency analyst Edward Snowden declared in 2014, “There’s definitely a deep state. Trust me, I’ve been there.” The NSA’s credibility was obliterated in 2013 when Snowden revealed the NSA can tap almost any cell phone in the world, access anyone’s email and web-browsing history, and crack the vast majority of computer encryption. But the NSA’s definition of “terrorist suspect” was ludicrously broad, including “someone searching the web for suspicious stuff.” Snowden also revealed that each day phone companies turned over tens of millions of phone records of average Americans to the feds. A few months before Snowden’s revelations, National Intelligence director James Clapper lied to Congress when he denied that the NSA collects “any type of data at all on millions, or hundreds of millions of Americans.” The fact that Clapper was not charged with perjury did nothing to burnish the credibility of the Justice Department.

Impeachment proceedings have been spurred in large part by disputes over Donald Trump’s phone call to the president of Ukraine. The House Intelligence Committee heard testimony from Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the Ukrainian-born officer who listened in to the call while serving on the National Security Council. Vindman was “deeply troubled by what he interpreted as an attempt by the president to subvert U.S. foreign policy,” the Washington Post reported. Which provision of the Constitution gives junior military officers sway over foreign policy? Because Vindman objected to Trump’s efforts to decrease tension with Russia, the Washington establishment quickly hailed him and thus encouraged other military officers and government officials to pull strings to subvert policies of which the media disapprove.

It is naive to expect the Deep State to provide an antidote to the sordidness of American politics. The Friends of the Deep State talk of certain federal agencies as if they exist far above the sordid details of political life — or even of human nature. Former CIA boss McLaughlin declared, “This is the institution within the U.S. government that … is institutionally committed to objectivity and to telling the truth. It’s whole job is to speak the truth — it is engraved in marble in the lobby.” But historically, atrium engravings have proven a weak surety for bureaucratic candor. In reality, the CIA and other Deep State agencies are notorious for suppressing convicting truths about themselves. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently described the CIA’s modus operandi when he was director: “We lied, we cheated, we stole. It’s like we had entire training courses.”

Power and truth

Promises that the chiefs of the CIA and other intelligence agencies will “speak truth to power” have become a Washington ritual in the years since the 9/11 attacks. No matter how brazenly political appointees lie, members of Congress assure the media and constituents that the next nominee will be as honest as George Washington. The “speak truth to power” bromide was recited after Trump nominated Gina Haspel as CIA chief. At her confirmation hearings, the public heard plenty about Haspel’s meeting with Mother Teresa but almost nothing about her key role in the CIA torture scandal — including the illegal destruction of recordings of torture sessions.

Another reason to distrust the Deep State is that its arch practitioners are honored regardless of their iniquities. Former CIA bosses McLaughlin and Brennan were speaking on a panel sponsored by the Michael V. Hayden Center for Intelligence, Policy, and International Security, named after the former chief of the National Security Agency and the CIA. As Trevor Timm noted in the Columbia Journalism Review in 2017, “Hayden has a long history of making misleading and outright false statements, and by the estimation of many lawyers, likely committed countless felonies during the Bush administration.” Hayden set up the illegal, unconstitutional wiretapping program after 9/11 that the New York Times exposed in late 2005. When the Senate Intelligence Committee released its report on CIA torture in 2014, it included a 36-page appendix filled with Hayden’s “testimony to Congress, next to the actual facts showing statement after statement he made was inaccurate, misleading, false, or outright lies,” Timm noted.  At least George Mason University did not call it the Torquemada Institute, after the Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition. Naming that Center after Hayden simply reflects the prevailing Deep State aggrandizement in the Greater Washington Metropolitan area.

The Deep State has an appalling record of abusing the whistleblowers who are now being acclaimed. A draft Intelligence Community Inspector General report last year found that intelligence agencies refused to recognize retaliation against whistleblowers in 99 percent of cases. A 2017 report by Foreign Policy magazine concluded that “the intelligence community’s central watchdog is in danger of crumbling thanks to mismanagement, bureaucratic battles, clashes among big personalities, and sidelining of whistleblower outreach and training efforts.” After CIA Inspector General John Helgerson compiled a condemnatory report on the CIA’s post–9/11 interrogation program, CIA chief Michael Hayden launched a major investigation of Helgerson in 2007, provoking outrage on Capitol Hill. (The CIA managed to delay the release of Helgerson’s report for five years, thereby keeping both Congress and the American people in the dark regarding shocking abuses.)

The Trump–Deep State clash is a showdown between a presidency that is far too powerful versus federal agencies that have become fiefdoms that enjoy immunity for almost any and all abuses. Most of the partisans of the Deep State are not championing “government under the law.” Instead, this is a dispute over who will be permitted to break the law and dictate the policies to America and the world. Former CIA and NSA boss Hayden proudly proclaimed, “Espionage is not just compatible with American democracy, espionage is essential to American democracy.” And how can we know if the Deep State’s espionage is actually pro-democracy or subversive of democracy? If they told you, they would have to kill you. The Founding Fathers never intended for covert agencies to trumpet a right to correct voters’ verdicts.

Neither the White House nor the CIA, NSA, nor other Deep State agencies should enjoy immunity from the law or deserve blind trust from average Americans or the establishment media. A wayward president (especially a first-term president) can eventually be checked at the ballot box. But who or what can check the Deep State?

Reprinted from The Future of Freedom Foundation

Politicians Have Used This Crisis to Remind Us They’re Mostly Wannabe Dictators

Politicians Have Used This Crisis to Remind Us They’re Mostly Wannabe Dictators

The virus has unleashed petite tyrants to haunt their tiny jurisdictions, using the cover of crisis to arrogate powers belonging to the people.

Witness Robert J. Taylor, mayor of Ostrander, Ohio (population: 643 in the 2010 census), who just declared his village to be in a “state of emergency.” Along with this declaration, the self-righteous mayor instructed constituents to get their news from “trusted sources, which may not include social media in many cases.”

In addition, he admonished them to “Also, please look out for your neighbors and the elderly, in particular.”

Sure, petty nonsense from a petty man. But he also added this, “As warranted, additional measures may be taken until the threat from this virus has subsided.”

So, should our equally petty governor adopt enabling acts and deputize mayors, so to speak, Taylor will gleefully nail decrees on the telephone poles lining either side of main street (really, the only street in his village). And, should those decrees not be given the respect he deems sufficient, he will employ the full force of the apparatus of coercion and compulsion: the state. Measures must always be enforced.

As Hayek showed in his seminal work, Road to Serfdom, “the worst” rise to the top in centrally planned states. However, those trying to move up in a burgeoning centrally planned state can be as evil, given the chance. So, in many ways, the difference between the evil leader on top and those deeper in the nomenklatura is not one of degree, but of opportunity.

I have no idea what drives folks like Taylor—what is truly in their hearts. Nevertheless, the study of human action allows me to assess his actions as means to achieve desired ends. Folks like Taylor use politics as the means to their personal ends. What those ends are, I can only guess, although I do know that he is acting for a reason—a reason, I claim, that does not consider the best interests of his constituents.

Maybe, in an attempt to position himself for the next higher office, he is playing to the media, looking for a guest spot on some local news show—he is already getting local newspaper headlines. Maybe he has aspirations to be county commissioner or governor. Who knows? We do know that he acted, and acted for a reason.

You may object that Taylor really hasn’t instituted some quarantine lockdown or shuttered business, as Ohio governor DeWine has. Taylor is just a shout in the wind. Yet, I believe there is more here. And I fully expect a viral outbreak of similar declarations from other petite officials.

Taylor most certainly read pronouncements from big city mayors. And, if you are in the minors and want to play in the big leagues (should the big leagues ever be allowed to play again), you always need to hit to the fence. Home runs get you noticed, not the odd grounded single. And if each swing further annuls liberty, it’s the old eggs to omelets shrug. Nothing else.

Years ago, I was a petite (possibly petty as well) elected official. I witnessed “the worst” rise to higher office. I always wondered how my fellow school board members would have acted if provided a slightly longer leash. For some, I think, Taylor serves as an example.

Maybe I would have acted the same way with a longer leash, or, better yet, a longer leash and a “crisis” with panicked, loud voices crying for leadership and action.

Yes, Hayek was right, “the worst” rise to the top. However, I believe that there is a codicil as well. Many of “the worst” on their way up are constrained by their current office. Likely, they will not see the top. But that doesn’t mean that, given the opportunity, they would not mimic those who have made it all the way.

The solution, even in a time of “crisis,” is not a haunting state and its officials, petite or otherwise. It is liberty.

Reprinted from The Mises Institute

News Roundup

News Roundup 9/18/20

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

Blog

Your Security Force: Just a Bunch of Terrorists

Here they try to steal a senile old woman's home over what they claim is a property tax bill of six cents. The mayor says it's the computer's fault and no human man is responsible. You can't hot tar and feather a computer. A mayor however...

The Scott Horton Show

Free Man Beyond the Wall

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

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

Conflicts of Interest

19 Years After 9/11 Americans Still Live in Fear

On Conflicts of Interest #6, Kyle and Will outline the legacy of the September 11 attacks on their 19th anniversary, including years of war, torture, and mass surveillance carried out in their wake. The Pentagon has awarded a $13.3 billion contract to Northrop Grumman...

Don't Tread on Anyone

Propaganda Analysis – Libertarians Hate Community!

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

Year Zero

Are We Witnessing A Color Revolution?

Tommy explores the left and right claims that the other is in the process of instituting a coup. https://traffic.libsyn.com/secure/strangerencounterspodcast/are_we_witnessing_a_coup.mp3

127: MK Ultra and the Digital Age

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

Support via Amazon Smile

Get your official Libertarian Institute Merchandise!

Order Today!

Book Foolssm

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

by Scott Horton

Book Paulsm

The Great Ron Paul

by Scott Horton

Book Griggsm

No Quarter: The Ravings of William Norman Grigg

by Will Grigg

Book Animalssm

What Social Animals Owe to Each Other

by Sheldon Richman

Book Palestinesm

Coming to Palestine

by Sheldon Richman

Pin It on Pinterest