Citizens United and Twelve Years of Unjustified Resentment

Citizens United and Twelve Years of Unjustified Resentment

It was 12 years ago this week that the Supreme Court handed down it’s notable, even infamous ruling in Citizens United v  Federal Elections Commission. Even after 12 years those who vilify the case are completely unable to accurately describe the legal questions at play, the Court’s primary holding, or what effect this decision has had in any applicable area of law or politics.

What was the Citizens United case was about? Well, the organization Citizens United challenged a Federal Elections Commission violation they were hit with. What FEC regulation did they violate? Did they bribe a politician? Did they give donations without disclosing them? Were they spending money that originally came from foreign governments? No, Citizens United got in trouble for showing a movie.

That’s right, “Hillary: The Movie” was a 2008 political documentary produced by the nonprofit organization. The movie was offered as an on-demand video on cable before the 2008 Democratic primaries and therefore it was considered electioneering. And the money that was spent on the film qualified as an independent expenditure. According to the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, or McCain-Feingold, a corporation, including a nonprofit corporation, cannot advocate for or against a candidate running for office 30 days prior to a primary election, or 60 days prior to a general election. So under this law, a group of people needed the government’s permission regarding whether or not they could show a film critical of Hillary Clinton. That’s the law that the Citizens United case nullified and Citizens United is the case seemingly everyone on the left seeks to overturn.

Many of you likely didn’t know those details. Most people don’t. It’s one of the most misunderstood things in all of American politics. Most people think that this Court decision established that money is speech and that corporations are people. Amazingly enough, those two specific phrases that everyone associates with the case never actually appeared in either the decision or the dissent. Second of all, neither the concept of corporate personhood nor the connection between money and speech were ever disputed by either party to the case.

Most commenters, though not all, grounded their opposition to the Supreme Court’s ruling in two rather absolute principles; (1) corporations are not persons and therefore have no First Amendment or free speech rights and (2) money is not speech and therefore restrictions on how money is spent cannot violate the First Amendment’s free speech clause. What makes those arguments so bizarre is that none of the nine justices, including the four dissenting justices, argue either of those propositions or believe them. To the contrary, all nine justices, including the four in the dissent, agree that corporations do have First Amendment rights and that restricting how money can be spent in pursuit of political advocacy does trigger First Amendment protections. As Justice John Paul Stevens who wrote the dissent says,

“Of course, speech does not fall entirely outside of the protection of the First Amendment merely because it comes from a corporation and no one suggests the contrary.”

Justice Stevens also wrote, “that even though the expenditures at issue were subject to First Amendment scrutiny, these restrictions on these expenditures were justified by compelling state interest.” In other words, Stevens believes that spending money on speech is covered under the First Amendment. Congress just has an interest in regulating it in some situations.

You see, the legal concept of corporate personhood goes back hundreds of years. Remember, a corporation legally speaking is just a group of people. Yes, it includes large, multinational for-profit corporations like Walmart and Exxon Mobil. But it also includes labor unions, nonprofit corporations like the ACLU, (which endorsed the Citizens United decision), and the Libertarian Institute itself is a 501(c)(3) that benefits from the First Amendment protections of this case—as well as small, limited liability corporations.

Granting these entities constitutional rights is simply predicated on the idea that individuals don’t sacrifice any of their civil liberties when they form into groups. So, to pose a simple question to all those who are against Citizens United and wish to see it overturned—and anyone who claims that since corporations are not persons, they have no rights under the Constitution—do you believe the FBI has the right to enter and search the offices of the ACLU without probable cause or warrants and seize whatever they want? Do they have the right to do that to the offices of labor unions? How about your local business on the corner which is incorporated? The only thing stopping them from doing that is the Fourth Amendment if you believe that corporations have no constitutional rights, because they’re not persons. What possible objection could you voice to Congress empowering the FBI to do these things? Can they seize the property, the buildings, cars, and bank accounts of those entities without due process or just compensation? If you believe that corporations have no constitutional rights, what possible constitutional objection could you have to such laws and actions?

Now to the point of money and speech. This is just the idea that engaging in speech in any meaningful way (anything more sophisticated than standing on the street corner and yelling) costs money, therefore regulations on the money somebody can spend on speaking is regulating speech by proxy. Think about it; printing a newspaper costs money, hosting an online news show costs money, placing a television ad costs money and so forth.

Regulating the amount of money someone can spend, where they can get that money, when they can spend it, and where they can spend it undoubtedly jeopardizes the speech itself. All nine justices of the Supreme Court at the time agreed. This actually goes back to the 1976 Supreme Court case Buckley v. Valeo.

Here, the majority ruled that limits on expenditures are necessarily at odds with the First Amendment because restrictions on spending for political communication necessarily reduces the quantity of that expression. The funny thing is, the Citizens United critics acknowledge this. So for Senator Bernie Sanders or Justice Democrats this is actually part of the point of their campaign finance efforts. In their understanding, if money is speech then the more money you have, the more speech you have. And if corporations are people, people who have a lot more money than you or I (ie corporations) have a lot more speech than the rest of us.

They think that it’s unfair that some candidates can purchase more advertisements than others and that needs to be corrected in Citizens United. The dissenting justices never said that money isn’t speech. What they did argue is that Congress had a compelling state interest in regulating it on the grounds of preventing corruption. So does this money in the system cause corruption? That’s what critics emphasized, arguing the Court’s ruling will produce very bad outcomes, primarily the exacerbation of corporate influence on the republic. Even if that is true, it’s not really relevant. Either the First Amendment allows these speech restrictions or it doesn’t. In general, a law that violates the Constitution can’t be upheld because the law produces good outcomes, or because its invalidation would produce bad outcomes.

Many think that America is too far gone in terms of corporate control of politics. I think it’s a very overrated problem. But it is a problem. And our current campaign finance regime contributes to that problem. But that’s not relevant to the speech question. We also have racism in this country. And that’s a problem too, and allowing the Ku Klux Klan to hold one of their stupid rallies contributes to that problem. That doesn’t mean they don’t have the right to hold it, and invoking the state interest isn’t really persuasive either. Virtually anything can be justified by that rationale. And that argument has been used to curtail civil liberties in other contexts. So when people talk about limiting independent expenditures, they’re actually talking about limiting your ability to engage in political advocacy.

Citizens United simply doesn’t stand for what many people say it does. Their erroneous lamentations are well characterized by President Obama’s famous statement during his 2010 State of the Union Address:

“The Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates of special interests—including foreign corporations—to spend without limit in our elections.”

In that one sentence, the former law professor made four errors that are all too common.

First, Citizens United didn’t reverse a century of law. The president was referring to the Tillman Act of 1907, which banned corporate donations to campaigns. Such donations are still banned. Instead, the decision overturned a 1990 precedent that upheld a ban on independent spending by corporations. That 1990 ruling, Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, was the only time the court allowed a restriction on political speech for a reason other than the need to prevent corruption.

Second, the “floodgates” point depends on how you define those terms. In modern times, nearly every election cycle has seen an increase in political spending, but there’s no indication that there’s a significant change in corporate spending. And the rules affecting independent spending by wealthy individuals, who are spending more, haven’t changed at all.

Indeed, much of the corporate influence peddling in Washington that has reformers concerned has nothing to do with campaign spending. Most corporations spend far more on lobbying lawmakers already in Washington than they do in political spending to choose which politicians come to Washington.

Third, Citizens United said nothing about restrictions on foreign spending in our political campaigns. In 2012, the Supreme Court summarily upheld just such restrictions.

Fourth, while independent spending on elections now has few limits, candidates and parties aren’t so lucky. Even last year’s decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, which struck down aggregate—not per‐candidate—contribution limits, only affected the relatively few bigwigs (about 600 in the 2012 cycle) who had hit the $123,200 cap. The amount that an individual can give to a single campaign remains untouched.

And so, if you’re concerned about the money spent on elections—though Americans spend more on Halloween—the problem isn’t with big corporate players. Exxon, Halliburton, and all these “evil” companies (or even “good” ones) aren’t suddenly dominating the conversation. They spend little on political ads because they don’t want to alienate half of their customers.

On the other hand, smaller players now get to speak freely: groups such as the National Federation of Independent Business, Sierra Club, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the National Rifle Association. Even if we accept “leveling the playing field” as a proper basis for regulation, the freeing of associational speech achieves that goal.

People don’t lose rights when they get together, be it in unions, advocacy groups, private clubs, for‐profit enterprises or any other group.

By removing limits on independent political speech—spending by people unconnected to candidates and parties—Citizens United weakened the government’s control of who can speak, how much, and on what subject. That’s a good thing.

News Roundup 1/27/2022

News Roundup 1/27/2022

Covid

  • The Navy has now removed 45 sailors for failing to take the covid vaccine. [Link]
  • The US donates 900,000 Pfizer covid vaccine doses to Laos. [Link]
  • The US will send two million Pfizer covid vaccine doses to Kenya and Morocco. [Link]

US News

  • In the first half of 2021, Twitter received fewer requests from governments for information on users but complied with the requests more often. When US law enforcement made informal requests for information, Twitter gave the info 68% of the time. [Link]
  • The Pentagon wants to accelerate its development of hypersonic missiles. [Link]
  • The Army will begin testing anti-aircraft lasers on Strykers. [Link]

Latin America

  • One body was found and 38 people are missing after a migrant boat capsized off the Florida coast. [Link]
  • The Coast Guard intercepted nearly 200 Haitians attempting to sail to the US. [Link]
  • Cuba asks the US to restaff its embassy after a CIA report on ‘Havana Syndrome’ found no diplomats were attacked by a foreign power. [Link]

Russia

  • Some large US companies lobby the Biden administration and Congress for waivers to continue business in Russia if more sanctions are imposed. [Link]
  • Germany offers Ukraine 5,000 military helmets. Some Ukrainian politicians felt insulted by the German aid. [Link]
  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken says Americans should strongly consider leaving Ukraine. [Link]
  • Ukraine says the number of Russian troops near its border is insufficient for a large-scale invasion. [Link]
  • Ukraine and Russia agreed to uphold the ceasefire in the Donbas during ‘Normandy format’ talks that included Germany and France. [Link] 
  • State Department Spokesperson Ned Price says Nord Stream 2 will not move forward if Russia invades Ukraine. [Link]
  • The US delivers its written response to Russia’s security proposal. [Link]

China

  • China says it is dissatisfied that the US is allowing embassy staff to leave China because of strict lockdowns. [Link]

Korea

  • North Korea test-fires two short-range ballistic missiles. [Link]

Middle East

  • Jeff Flake became the US Ambassador to Turkey. [Link]
  • US special forces continue to have an active role in the fight against IS. [Link]
  • The SDF claims to have regained control of a prison that holds alleged IS members and 700 children after IS captured the facility six days ago. At least 70 were killed in the fighting. [Link]
  • The Houthi threaten to attack The Dubai Expo. [Link]

Africa

  • France leads a group of 15 countries demanding Mali allow Danish troops to remain in Mali. [Link]
  • At least 20 Congolese soldiers were killed in an attack by M-23. [Link]
In Ukraine, Biden Reaps What He Sowed

In Ukraine, Biden Reaps What He Sowed

Then-Secretary of State Colin Powell is given credit for popularizing the “Pottery Barn” rule of foreign policy. Though he denies using that exact phrase, in arguing against what became the disastrous 2003 U.S. attack on Iraq Powell made the point that, as in Pottery Barn, “if you break it, you own it.”

Bush and his neocons—ironically with the help of Colin Powell himself—did indeed break Iraq and the American people as a result “owned” Iraq for the subsequent 22 years (and counting). It was an idiotic war and, as the late former NSA chief Gen. Bill Odom predicted, turned out to be “the greatest strategic disaster in American history.”

Attacking and destroying Iraq—and executing its leader—not only had no value in any conceivable manner to the United States, it had negative value. In taking responsibility for Iraq’s future, the U.S. government obligated the American people to pick up the tab for a million ransacked Pottery Barns.

There was no way out. Only constant maneuvering and manipulation to desperately demonstrate the impossible—that the move had any value or even made any sense.

So it is with Ukraine. In 2014 the Obama/Biden Administration managed to finish what Bush’s neocons started a decade before. With the U.S.-backed overthrow of the Ukrainian government that year, the U.S. came to “own” what no one in their right mind would ever seek: an economic basket case of a country with a political/business class whose corruption is the stuff of legend.

Rather than admit what a colossal blunder the whole thing had been, the U.S. foreign policy establishment doubled down.

“Oh, this might be a neat tool to overthrow our own election: let’s pretend Trump is Putin’s agent!”

In fact Trump was impeached because a certain Col. Alexander Vindman—himself of Ukrainian origin and doing the bidding of a Ukrainian government installed by Washington—solemnly testified to Adam Schiff and his Democrat colleagues in charge of the House that Trump was clearly Putin’s puppet because his lack of enthusiasm for continuing to “own” Ukraine went against “the Inter-Agency Consensus.”

We “own” Ukraine and there is no way back—at least if the U.S. foreign policy establishment has its way.

That is why our hapless State Department today continues to peddle the fiction that Russia is about to invade – and thus “own”—Ukraine. U.S. foreign policy is one of projection: accuse your rivals of doing what you yourself are doing. No sane country would want to “own” Ukraine. Except the Beltway Think Tank class, thoroughly infused with military-industrial complex money.

That is why the U.S. government, though its Embassy in Kiev, is bragging about the arrival of $200 million in lethal aid, all pointed directly at Russia.

That is why the U.S. State Department is maintaining the fiction that Russia is about to launch a ground war to occupy Ukraine by dramatically announcing an “evacuation” of all “non-essential personnel” from its Embassy in Kiev.

It’s just too bad that we don’t share the opinion of who are really “non-essential” State Department personnel in Kiev: the last person out could be asked to turn off the lights.

By overthrowing an elected government in Kiev in 2014, the U.S. government disenfranchised millions of voters in eastern Ukraine who voted for the overthrown president. Those voters unsurprisingly came to view the U.S.-installed regime as illegitimate and sought self-rule under the concept of self-determination. As ethnic Russians, many of these successfully sought Russian passports.

Russia has been clear for a long time about Ukraine: it will not allow an armed invasion of eastern Ukraine that would result in the deaths of thousands of Russian citizens. Were the shoe on the other foot, the U.S.—and any country—could be expected to react the same way.

The U.S. is nearly the last country on earth that still holds to the WWII-era concept of war for territorial gain. Russia wants to “own” Ukraine like most people want to “own” a 2003 Saturn. That is why despite neocon/neo-liberal hype, magnified by the lock-step U.S. media, Russia is not about to invade Ukraine.

This fantasy is being pushed by those who desperately need to continue to gin up enthusiasm for a thoroughly idiotic and counterproductive imperial enterprise.

Biden while vice president sowed the regime change winds in Ukraine. Now his inept Administration will reap the whirlwind of that continuing train wreck and eventual dissolution of the country. No matter what Antony Blinken peddles to the contrary.

Even the comedian Zelensky knows this is a really bad joke.

This article was originally featured at the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity and is republished with permission.

1/21/22 Annelle Sheline on Why Yemen Matters

Scott is joined by Annelle Sheline of the Quincy Institute to discuss Yemen. Sheline wrote an article recently about the shifting balance of the war. One year after Biden announced an end to U.S. support for offensive Saudi operations, the bombing campaign remains as brutal as ever. Sheline argues that, while all sides have committed atrocities, the scale of the Saudi coalition’s brutality has outshone all others. Further, the war can only happen with continued U.S. support, which puts it on Americans themselves to stop this tragedy.  

Discussed on the show:

Annelle Sheline is a Research Fellow in the Middle East program at the Quincy Institute and an expert on religious and political authority in the Middle East and North Africa. Follow her on Twitter @AnnelleSheline.

This episode of the Scott Horton Show is sponsored by: The War State and Why The Vietnam War?, by Mike Swanson; Tom Woods’ Liberty Classroom; ExpandDesigns.com/Scott; EasyShip; Free Range Feeder; Thc Hemp Spot; Green Mill Supercritical; Bug-A-Salt and Listen and Think Audio.

Shop Libertarian Institute merch or donate to the show through Patreon, PayPal or Bitcoin: 1DZBZNJrxUhQhEzgDh7k8JXHXRjYu5tZiG.

News Roundup 1/27/2022

News Roundup 1/25/2022

US News

  • The Massachusetts Department of Health reports that about half of people hospitalized with covid have incidental covid infections. [Link]
  • The US donated 150,000 doses of the Pfizer covid vaccine to Kyrgyzstan through Covax. [Link]
  • Seven sailors were injured during a landing accident on the deck of the USS Carl Vinson. [Link]
  • The US deploys two aircraft carrier strike groups to the South China Sea, including the USS Vinson. [Link] 

Russia

  • Cyber Partisans – a ‘pro-democracy’ hacker group – claims to have carried out a ransomware attack on Belarus’ rail system to prevent the transportation of Russian weapons. [Link]
  • Ukrainian separatists warn the government is planning to invade the breakaway Donbas region. [Link]
  • Ukraine is unhappy with the US withdrawing staff from its Kyiv embassy. [Link]
  • The Department of Homeland Security warns Russia could launch a cyberattack. [Link]
  • Without providing details, NATO announced it was moving additional aircraft and warships to Eastern Europe. [Link]
  • The US places 8,500 troops on heightened preparedness to deploy. [Link]

Iran

  • Iran rules out any preconditions – including releasing American prisoners –  for returning to compliance with the JCPOA. The US recently suggested Iran would have to release American prisoners to return to the nuclear deal. [Link]
  • Iran says it is willing to engage in direct talks with the US. [Link]
  • The Deputy Iran Envoy, Richard Nephew, leaves the nuclear deal negotiation team. [Link]

Middle East

  • Airstrikes in Iraq killed ten militants, and three soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb. [Link]
  • The US carried out airstrikes on a prison in northeastern Syria. The prison is run by the US-backed SDF but was taken over by IS. Fighting for control of the prison continues. [Link]
  • CENTCOM reports it used Patriot missile interceptors to defend the UAE. [Link]
  • The UAE-backed Giants Brigades say they have halted their offensive in Marib. [Link]

Africa

  • Mali calls on Denmark to withdraw its special forces. [Link]
  • Burkina Faso soldiers claim they have captured the country’s president. [Link]
  • Three protesters were killed by security forces in Sudan. [Link]
COI #221: Biden Must Make Concessions to Defuse the Ukraine Crisis

COI #221: Biden Must Make Concessions to Defuse the Ukraine Crisis

On COI #221, Kyle Anzalone discusses the Ukraine crisis. Biden has overextended American commitments and now must make concessions to defuse the crisis. Even if it leads to war, the Blob will demand that Biden hold firm against Putin. While the US continues to take aggressive positions against Russia, behind-the-scenes talks could be working towards a deal to prevent such a war. 

Kyle talks about the U.K. High Court’s ruling that Assange can appeal his extradition to the U.K. Supreme Court. The decision is key in the Wikileaks founder’s fight for freedom. However, Assange will remain entangled in the UK justice system for months. 

Kyle updates Saudi’s brutal war in Yemen. Following a Houthi drone strike on the UAE, the U.S./Saudi air war on the people of northern Yemen accelerated. After knocking out the internet, Riyadh dropped American-made bombs on a youth soccer game and a migrant detention center.

Kyle looks at the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. Since the Taliban took control of the country in August, the U.S. levied a brutal economic war on the Afghans, sending millions to the brink of starvation. The U.S. is talking with the Taliban this week. The Taliban, as well as the UN, are pushing the U.S. to unfreeze Afghan government accounts. 

Kyle breaks down the career paths of former Trump defense officials. Many are joining smaller tech firms’ boards. The smaller firms give more control to the former officials to direct the companies.

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Unmask America

Unmask America

Enough is enough. It is time to stop wearing masks, or at the very least to eliminate mask mandates in all settings.

This is especially urgent for children in schools and universities, who suffer the effects of masks for long hours each day despite being at exceedingly low risk for death or serious illness from COVID.

We have a responsibility, once and for all, to reject the ludicrous, ever-shifting narratives underpinning masks as effective impediments to the spread of COVID infections.

Seriously people—STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus

—former US Surgeon General Jerome Adams in February 2020.

The story changed from “masks don’t work,” to “masks may work,” to “masks work and you must wear one.” Now the narrative switches yet again: “cloth masks don’t work, so you should wear a surgical or ‘well-fitted’ mask,” or even wear two!

Note that even as COVID evolves into a less dangerous omicron variant, we are supposed to increase the hysteria level by wearing masks intended for surgeons maintaining a sterile environment over open wounds. We are told this by the same political, medical, and media figures who have been “frequently wrong but never in doubt” about all things COVID over the past two long years. And they spoke with just as much bogus certainty then as they do now.

Perversely, the Biden administration recently ordered 400 million surgical N95 masks for distribution across the country. Since N95 masks are considered disposable, and meant to be worn at most perhaps 40 hours, it is unclear what happens in a week or two when 330 million Americans run out of their “free” personal protective equipment.

The UK has sensibly ended its mask mandates, both in public places (offices and other workplaces, bars, restaurants, sporting events, theaters) and thankfully schools. One young university student broke down in tears at the news, lamenting the inhumanity of her experience over the past two years. As British Health secretary Savid Javid stated, “We must learn to live with COVID in the same way we live with flu.”

Amen.

The arguments against masks are straightforward.

  • Masks don’t work. Or at least cloth masks don’t.

Even the CDC now admits what Dr. Anthony Fauci told the world in February 2020: cloth masks don’t work and there is no reason to wear one:

“The typical mask you buy in the drug store is not really effective in keeping out virus, which is small enough to pass through material. It might, however, provide some slight benefit in keep out gross droplets if someone coughs or sneezes on you.”

I do not recommend that you wear a mask, particularly since you are going to a very low risk location.

CNN’s dubious medical expert Dr. Lena Wen, previously an uber-masker, now tells us cloth masks are “little more than facial decorations.” And heroic skeptic Dr. Jay Bhattacharya cites both a Danish study and a Bangladeshi study which found cloth masks show little efficacy in preventing COVID.

Are we seriously prepared to wear tight and uncomfortable surgical masks all day to evade omicron?

  • Masks are filthy.

Humans lungs and our respiratory system are designed to inhale nitrogen and oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is literally a waste product, removed from the blood via our lungs. Masks may not trap injurious levels of carbon dioxide against our nose and mouth, but they certainly get filthy very quickly unless changed constantly. They also encourage mouth breathing, which can cause “mask mouth” symptoms including acne, bad breath, tender gums, and lip irritation.

Why would we ever interfere with natural breathing unless we felt sick, displayed symptoms, and were worried about infecting others? And in that case, why not just stay home?

  • Masks are dehumanizing.

Humans communicate verbally and nonverbally, and masks impede both forms. Masks muffle and distort our words. Our facial expressions are important cues to everyone around us; without those cues communication and understanding suffer. Infants and toddlers may be most affected, as a lack of facial engagement with parents and loved ones impedes the human connections and attachments formed during childhood.

Perhaps most disturbing, however, are the symbolic effects when millions of Americans dutifully wear masks based on flimsy evidence provided by deeply unimpressive people. Facelessness—the lack of individual identity, personality, and looks—is inherently dehumanizing and dystopian. Like prison or military uniforms, masks reduce our personal characteristics. Mask are muzzles, symbols of rote acquiescence to an ugly new normal nobody asked for or voted for.

  • Risk is inevitable.

Risk is omnipresent, and heavily subjective (e.g., COVID risk varies enormously with age and comorbidities). Nobody has a right to force interventions like masks onto others, just as nobody has a right to a hypothetical germ-free landscape. Exhalation is not aggression, short of purposefully attempting to sicken others. People wearing masks arguably shed slightly fewer COVID virus particles than those not, but this does not justify banning the latter from public life. As always, the overwhelming burden of justification for any intervention—including mask mandates—must rest on those proposing it, not those opposing it.

In sum, Americans are not children. Tradeoffs are part of every policy, whether government officials admit this or not. We know how to coexist with flu, just as we live with countless bacteria and viruses in our environment. We will similarly coexist with COVID. The goal is not to eliminate germs, and zero COVID is an absurdity. A healthy immune system, built up through diet, exercise, and sunlight will always be the best frontline defense against communicable disease. But diet, exercise, and sunlight cannot be outsourced to health officials or mandated by politicians.

Whatever slight benefits masks may provide are a matter for individuals to decide for themselves. People who feel sick with symptoms should stay home. We can all wash our hands frequently and thoroughly. Otherwise it is time for Americans to assert themselves against the dubious claims and non-existent legality of government COVID measures.

It is time to get back to normal life, and that starts with visible human faces.

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

News Roundup 1/27/2022

News Roundup 1/24/2022

Covid

  • A federal judge in Texas blocks Biden’s vaccine mandate for federal employees. [Link]
  • The US donates three million covid vaccines to four African countries through covax. [Link]
  • The US donates nearly two million Pfizer covid vaccine doses to Egypt through Covax. [Link]

Haiti

  • The judge overseeing the investigation into the assassination of President Moise quits. [Link]

Russia

  • The Biden administration notified Congress of its plan to transfer Mi-17 helicopters to Ukraine. [Link]
  • The US delivers 90 tonnes of weapons – from a December aid package – to Ukraine. [Link]
  • The Baltic States’ arms transfers to Ukraine include Javelin anti-tank missiles and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles. [Link]
  • Fewer than one in six Americans support sending US troops to Ukraine to prevent a Russian invasion. [Link]
  • The US will allow non-essential staff at the embassy in Ukraine to leave the country. The US ordered the family of staff to leave the country. [Link]
  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Vienna. The US agreed to give Russia a written response to its security proposal. The two diplomats will meet again next week. [Link]
  • Blinken asked Russia to release two US citizens who were convicted of crimes in Russia and serving prison sentences. [Link]
  • Germany, France, Ukraine, and Russia will send political advisers to Paris for talks this week. [Link]
  • German Chancellor Olaf Scholz declined an invitation to speak with Biden about the Ukraine crisis. [Link]
  • The UK says Russia is planning to install a new government in Ukraine. [Link]
  • Blinken rejects calls to sanction Russia now. He explained that sanctions cannot work as a deterrent if they are already in place. [Link]
  • Biden is considering applying the ‘foreign direct product rule’ – cutting off semiconductors and related technology – to Russia in response to an invasion of Ukraine. [Link]
  • Biden is considering plans to deploy between 1,000 and 5,000 troops to Eastern Europe and the Baltic States. [Link]
  • Blinken says there are a number of areas for the US and Russia to work together. [Link]

China

  • Taiwan reports 39 Chinese military aircraft entered its Air Defense Identification Zone. [Link]

Afghanistan 

  • The Taliban will meet with officials from Western governments in Norway. [Link]
  • ISIS-K claims it is behind a bombing in Afghanistan that killed at least six. [Link]

Iran

  • Shipments of thinning agents from Iran have allowed Venezuela to double its oil exports over the past year. [Link]
  • US and European officials warn time is running out in Iran nuclear talks. [Link]
  • Iran and Russia are in talks to upgrade Iran’s nuclear power plant. [Link]
  • The US Envoy to Iran Robert Malley says it is unlikely the US will return to the nuclear deal if Iran continues to hold four American prisoners. [Link]

Yemen

  • Saudi Arabia bombed a Houthi-run prison in Yemen, killing at least 80 people. [Link]
  • Shards from an American-made bomb were found at the prison. [Link]
  • The US claims it intercepted a ship transporting Urea-based fertilizer in the Gulf of Oman. The US alleges it was headed to the Houthi in Yemen. [Link]

Middle East

  • Israel’s cabinet voted to launch an investigation into the “submarine affair” that could implicate former prime minister Netanyahu. [Link]
  • The UAE bans civilians from using drones. [Link]
  • The UAE says it intercepted two ballistic missiles. [Link]
  • Eleven Iraqi soldiers were killed in an IS attack. [Link]
  • Nearly 200 people have been killed in three days of fighting between the US-backed SDF and IS for control over a prison in Syria. [Link]

Africa

  • A top Ethiopian military official says his army will attempt to eliminate the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front. [Link]
  • Aid groups warn the people of Mali will pay the price for the sanctions recently imposed on the country. [Link]
  • A French soldier was killed in Mali. [Link]
  • Reports from Burkina Faso say several soldiers have mutinied against the government and a possible coup is underway. [Link]
COI #220: Can Biden Reverse America’s Failed Ukraine Policy?

COI #220: Can Biden Reverse America’s Failed Ukraine Policy?

On COI #220, Kyle Anzalone discusses the recent talks between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. While no deal was reached, the two diplomats were able to make progress on limited issues. However, after the talks ended, America resumed its hostile policy by promising more weapons to Ukraine. 

Kyle breaks down the recent CIA report on Havana Syndrome. The report – much to the displeasure of the mainstream media – finds HS is not caused by a foreign power. 

Kyle updates the fallout from Obama’s Libya War. Chaos and war have spread through Africa’s Sahel in Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, and Chad. America has long backed France’s terror war in the region. Biden sought to pull the U.S. from France’s fight to maintain control over its former colonies. Though the administration ultimately increased America’s support for the war to appease France after the AUKUS deal scuttled Paris’ submarine agreement with Australia. 

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1/21/22 Richard Hanania on American Power, Public Choice Theory and the Rise of China

Scott interviews Richard Hanania of Defense Priorities. They discuss the reality of how the American military’s presence impacts global events. Hanania argues that, if it were true that the U.S. was out there defending its allies, you’d expect those countries to want U.S. troops present more than the U.S. wants to have troops stationed there. But in reality, we often find the opposite. Hanania also gives the reasons he thinks China is all but certain to become the dominant power in East Asia but that right-wing fears over a global Chinese takeover are overblown. 

Discussed on the show:

Richard Hanania is a research fellow at Defense Priorities and a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University. His work focuses on political psychology, the causes of civil war, and the effects of interest groups on U.S. foreign policy. Follow him on Twitter @RichardHanania

This episode of the Scott Horton Show is sponsored by: The War State and Why The Vietnam War?, by Mike Swanson; Tom Woods’ Liberty Classroom; ExpandDesigns.com/Scott; EasyShip; Free Range Feeder; Thc Hemp Spot; Green Mill Supercritical; Bug-A-Salt and Listen and Think Audio.

Shop Libertarian Institute merch or donate to the show through Patreon, PayPal or Bitcoin: 1DZBZNJrxUhQhEzgDh7k8JXHXRjYu5tZiG.

1/19/22 Zaher Wahab: Afghanistan is Starving and Nobody Cares

Scott interviews Zaher Wahab of the Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education about the economic catastrophe taking place in Afghanistan. Although the U.S. Government claimed it was working to develop Afghanistan, Wahab explains that what it really did was prop the country’s economy up until it left. Now, in the midst of the collapse, the people of Afghanistan are starving. And the American hawks and pundits, who only four months ago were screaming about the wellbeing of Afghan civilians, now don’t seem to have a care in the world for them. Wahab fills us in on this situation, its causes and what needs to change. 

Discussed on the show:

Zaher Wahab is a Professor Emeritus at Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education. He was a senior advisor to the education ministry in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2006. He then taught at the American University of Afghanistan until 2019. 

This episode of the Scott Horton Show is sponsored by: The War State and Why The Vietnam War?, by Mike Swanson; Tom Woods’ Liberty Classroom; ExpandDesigns.com/Scott; EasyShip; Free Range Feeder; Thc Hemp Spot; Green Mill Supercritical; Bug-A-Salt and Listen and Think Audio.

Shop Libertarian Institute merch or donate to the show through Patreon, PayPal or Bitcoin: 1DZBZNJrxUhQhEzgDh7k8JXHXRjYu5tZiG.

The ‘Zero COVID’ Strategy Was a Losing Bet From the Start

The ‘Zero COVID’ Strategy Was a Losing Bet From the Start

The Chinese regime is doubling down in its “zero COVID” strategy. In recent weeks, new covid cases have been detected in several cities. In a world of the more-contagious omicron variant, this is to be expected.

But what has been the Chinese state’s response? It’s more of the same. Lockdowns, travel suspensions, and more. NBC reports:

Tianjin, which detected China’s first community spread of Omicron on Saturday, is rolling out a second round of mass testing on its 14 million residents on Wednesday…The outbreak has already spread to Anyang, a city in Henan province some 300 miles (482 kilometers) away, prompting a full lockdown…Tianjin officials said at a news conference Tuesday that all bus services to Beijing had been suspended…On Wednesday, 425 flights were canceled at Tianjin Binhai International Airport, accounting for 95% of all scheduled flights…Tianjin authorities on Sunday ordered citizens not to leave the city unless absolutely necessary. Those who want to leave must present a negative Covid test taken within 48 hours…

It’s hard to believe that anyone still believes that covid will go away if government authorities just “lock down harder.” But China is hardly the only example of how this delusion can win many adherents among the technocrats and the expert class.

After all, let it not be forgotten that much of the world had adopted a zero covid policy early on, and this absurd policy endured for months. In Europe, of course, millions upon millions of people were virtually locked in their homes for months on end. As Philipp Bagus reported from Spain in spring of 2020, one wasn’t allowed to go outside without facing the wrath of state enforcers.

In America, the “experts” frequently spoke out in favor of zero covid, stating that lockdowns could eradicate the disease and that people would have to stay on lockdown until that time. For example, on April 2 of 2020, Anthony Fauci endorsed this idea, stating that social distancing requirements could not be relaxed until there are “essentially no new cases, no deaths for a period of time.” Hawaii explicitly embraced zero covid, and adopted a policy in 2020 based on the idea that public schools would never reopen until there was no longer any “community spread” and “no new cases” were detected over a period of four weeks.

Needless to say, those were totally unrealistic goals. They reflected only the plans of technocrats who were more concerned with living out their bizarre fetishes for lockdowns and border closures that with gaining a better grasp of the situation or with respecting basic human rights. Even Australia—an island nation that could perhaps plausibly hope to actually close its borders—has given up on the idea.

In other words, the “experts” in America wanted to recreate Chinese despotism in America. They adopted a lockdown policy that had already long been rejected. Lockdowns were already expected to bring long term side effects, such as surges in mental health problems—some of the worst of it among the young—now being reported by hospitals. The WHO even concluded that lockdowns ought to be rejected because “there is no obvious rationale for this measure.”

But perhaps the media and government officials were so successful at sowing panic in the general population in the spring of 2020 that the health technocrats saw their chance to try a new experiment in social engineering that they had previously considered unfeasible.

Fortunately, though, by the middle of 2020, it became clear that lockdowns simply weren’t going to be tolerated by much of the general public. Most state and local governments in the US abandoned zero covid rapidly, although the usual totalitarians in the media bemoaned the end of the policy, insisting that the abandonment of lockdowns would drench the non-lockdown jurisdictions in blood. This was predicted for US states like Georgia, and for countries like Sweden—where lockdowns were quickly jettisoned or not imposed at all.

As time went on, it became obvious that the non-lockdown jurisdictions did not fare significantly worse than the locked down ones. Some areas—Sweden, for instance—fared better. Some of the world’s harshest lockdown regimes—such as those in Peru, Argentina, the UK, and New York—also had some of the worst rates of deaths per million.

For the zero-covid crowd, reality got in the way.

Neo-Zero COVID: The Pivot to Vaccines

The zero covid mentality endures, however. The second wave of the zero covid mentality came with the idea that with universal vaccination, covid would disappear.

And, of course, once vaccines began to appear, it was hailed as a magic bullet that would ensure that the vaccinated would be unable to spread the disease. This ideology was expressed in a rant by Rachel Maddow who back in March 2020 harangued her viewers with the “fact” that “virus stops with every vaccinated person.” She continued: “A vaccinated person gets exposed to the virus, the virus does not infect them, the virus cannot then use that person to go anywhere else.”

This was all a complete fabrication. The vaccine never stopped the spread, and with the advent of the omicron variant, it’s now apparently the case that the vaccine doesn’t even slow the spread. The virus is quickly spreading among vaccinated.

It’s no longer possible to even pretend that vaccination prevents transmission. The only argument left to supporters of the vaccine mandate is that vaccines help against serious disease and death. That’s excellent, but it has nothing to do with public health because it’s clear the unvaccinated aren’t the reason the disease has not been eradicated.

And then there is the fact that vaccination has, in part, likely contributed to new covid mutations. This isn’t new with covid. The idea that treatments can lead to new mutations is not new, of course, and it’s long been known that under a variety of situations, leaky vaccines can produce vaccine resistant mutations.

This is also known to occur in the case of covid. For example, in an article for the Journal of Physical Chemistry (December 2021), the authors note “vaccine-breakthrough or antibody-resistant mutations provide a new mechanism of viral evolution.” And specifically on covid, they write how mutations are often more common in places with higher vaccination rates:

we reveal that the occurrence and frequency of vaccine-resistant mutations correlate strongly with the vaccination rates in Europe and America. We anticipate that as a complementary transmission pathway, vaccine-breakthrough or antibody-resistant mutations, like those in Omicron, will become a dominating mechanism of SARS-CoV-2 evolution when most of the world’s population is either vaccinated or infected.

This can make things even worse when coupled with other covid mitigation measures. As Vivek Ramaswamy and Apoorva Ramaswamy explained in the Wall Street Journal last week it’s simply not realistic to think vaccines can be constantly adjusted to keep up with new variants. And,

Meanwhile, mask mandates and social-distancing measures will have created fertile ground for new variants that evade vaccination even more effectively. Significant antigenic shifts may create new strains that are increasingly difficult to target with vaccines at all. There are no vaccines for many viruses, despite decades of effort to develop them.

That is, vaccination isn’t making covid go away. The politically correct version of the narrative also completely denies that the failure of vaccines to prevent the spread is even a significant factor in the spread of new mutations. The purveyors of the narrative still insist that only the unvaccinated have any responsibility in the continued existence of the disease. Consider, for example, a recent mainstream media report quoting a doctor who dutifully repeated the political orthodoxy that “Without a large percentage of people being vaccinated, the virus has been allowed to mutate.” Specifically, he further claimed that if “roughly 70% of the population” were vaccinated or naturally infected, this would bring the spread of the disease to a halt through “herd immunity.” But—as the doctor now intones in a forlorn voice—that can’t be achieved because there hasn’t been enough vaccination.

But given his criteria, we should expect places with at least 70% vaccination rates to have halted the spread of disease, right? Not surprisingly, this has not happened. In Portugal, for instance, the fully vaccinated rate—is at 90 percent. In Chile, it’s at 87 percent. It’s 75 percent in France. So, surely the spread of covid has been stopped in all these places? The answer is no. New cases are raging in Portugal, Chile, and France, with all these countries hitting new highs in recent days.

Whether we’re talking about vaccine mandates or lockdowns, it’s clear the zero covid strategy has been an abject failure. They’re still trying it in some places like China where government propaganda is largely unquestioned and where people practice unquestioning obedience to the regime at a scale that makes the all-too-complacent West look downright rebellious by comparison.

Don’t expect the “experts” in any country to give up on their slogans any time soon. But it is clear that reality will eventually catch up with them. Whether or not any respect for human rights remains at the end of it all is another matter.

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

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