Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Blog

Star Wars Titles

So the title for Episode VIII has been released, but it’s all wrong. The Last Jedi. The wife of course zeroed in immediately on the problem. The symmetry of the whole thing is missing:

A New Hope, The Phantom Menace, The Force Awakens;

The Empire Strikes Back, Attack of the Clones, [The Last Jedi]

Return of the Jedi, Revenge of the Sith, [something, something]

Anyway, so the point being obviously that the title for the second act of this next three act jam should be The First Order Explodes Stuff or The Dark Side Does Something.

I mean I guess after 7 who cares anyway, but I want to. And I like Rogue One so I guess that means that the fact that it’s Disney wasn’t the problem, just J.J. “George Lucas” Abrams.

Mattis Celebrates First Day At Pentagon By Bombing ISIS

Trump very well may be reluctant to continue overthrowing secular dictators, but you can bank on permanent terror war against al Qaeda and ISIS for another 8 years.

Lions of Liberty Interview

Marc Clair asked me about Trump’s new war cabinet.

News Roundup 1/23/17

  • Trump’s CIA pick Mike Pompeo says he is open to waterboarding and other forms of torture. [Link] Pompeo has not yet been confirmed by the Senate. [Link]
  • David Hastert demands that money he paid to a man that he sexually abused be repaid. Hastert gave the money to a man in returned for the man not reporting the sexual abuse. The man received the money, and the sexual abuse was discovered by authorities.
  • The EPA denies damage claims totaling $1.2 billion dollars. The claims resulted from the EPA polluting US waterways with toxic chemicals. The EPA does not deny being at fault for the damages but claims immunity. [Link]
  • Police responding to a robbery, shot the homeowner and not the robber. [Link]
  • Trump uses a targeted drone strike for the first time. It is reported the strike killed three al-Qaeda members in Yemen. [Link]
  • The US has spent $11 billion in its war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. [Link]
  • Trump will not be sending a delegation to attend the Syrian peace talks. Trump reports this is due to the transition and being unable to deal with the Syrian peace talks at this time. The US Ambassador to Kazakhstan will attend the peace talks. [Link]
  • Egypt will continue to provide military support to Saudi Arabia’s war against Yemen. [Link]
  • Over 75 people were killed in Yemen over the weekend. Most were killed in fighting in SouthWest Yemen. [Link]

Queer, Unapologetic Libertarianism

Between the giant teddybear in the corner and all the tits bouncing around in the dark, I knew I was in the right place.

Four hundred miles and a city full of state worshipers behind me, I walked up to the registration table at the Arizona Libertarian Party’s 2017 Anti-Inaugural Ball with a huge smile on my face. Phoenix was a breath of fresh air to clear my head of all of Los Angeles’s sickening, endearing, tortuous bullshit. This party, put on by the Radical Libertarian Caucus, was a welcome reprieve from the starving-artist life I’ve been leading in relative solitude.

It’s been a while since I associated with any group in large volume, let alone my fellow libertarians. What’s more, this weekend’s was no ordinary assortment. Nowhere did I find the straight-laced conservatarians I once came to regard as the norm in this movement. (Among the many delusions from which I suffered while living in Washington, D.C. a few years ago was the fear that I might be the only queer, ethnically ambiguous, artistically-inclined libertarian in existence.) In their place were weirdos in tall hats, neon women with their tits out and, yes, a 93-inch plush bear in the corner of the bar.

I now know there is no norm, and I don’t need to pretend to be something I’m not. Some people I met were curious about me, and they wanted to know how I fit into the libertarian scene. By the third time someone asked me how I identified, I told them this: “Small-l libertarian, big-L LESSSSBOOOWE.” My interlocutor nodded in quiet approval and maybe even a little amusement. It occurred to me that this level of cheeky forthrightness never would’ve gone over as well with anyone I met, libertarian or not, during my D.C. days.

The best part about this weekend was that I could be myself; neither flamboyant nor repressed, but decidedly sapphic and somewhere in-between. It’s a very cool thing that the radical caucus did, to put this event together in queer, unapologetic opposition to the inauguration of this dying empire’s next soulless overlord. If it did nothing else, it inspired this young anarchist to be a little more queer — and a little less apologetic.

Trump’s Trade Ethics vs. Prof. Boudreaux’s

Professor Don Boudreaux of George Mason University says that Trump’s trade policies are unethical.  Boudreaux, who is one of my favorite free-market economists, should stick with economics instead of veering into ethics.

Boudreaux is correct that free trade is an overall positive for America, that trade restrictions and tariffs are an overall negative, that trade deficits can be both good and bad, that creative destruction is good when driven by comparative advantage and true competition, that mercantilism and other forms of political interference in markets is almost always bad, and that President Trump’s stated trade policies are a mishmash of contradictions that will harm working-class Americans.

Now for a big “However…”

However, Boudreaux is not necessarily correct about the ethics of trade.  In a recent letter, for example, he wrote that individuals have a right to buy goods and services from whomever they want, at whatever price they want.  Therefore, he went on to say, it is unethical for the government or Donald Trump to tell them what they can do with their money.  He uses an analogy of a neighbor pointing a gun to your head and telling you that you have to hire his son to cut your lawn instead of using a lawn service across town.  (The letter is reprinted at the end of this commentary.)

Of course a next-door neighbor isn’t a nation state, or a democratically-elected government, or the rule of law.  And economics is not a moral philosophy.  Economics is just one of the social sciences and no more important in understanding human interactions than sociology, psychology, anthropology, and political science.

For a different view of the ethics of trade, consider the cotton trade under slavery, keeping in mind that cotton was a global industry in the nineteenth century that rivaled the oil industry of today in economic importance.

The English bought American cotton produced by slaves, and in the process put tens of thousands of East Indians cotton workers out of work.  Later, New England cotton mills also bought slave cotton, enriching Brahmin families with fortunes that were subsequently passed onto succeeding generations, including some of the current generation of left-liberals who still live on the tainted wealth yet sanctimoniously preach about social justice and fairness.

Was it ethical to buy slave cotton?  Should the British government have stopped cotton merchants from buying it?

Or how about buying rubber from the Belgian Congo during the reign of King Leopold II of Belgium?  Was that ethical? Consider that Belgian colonists inflicted a genocide on natives in the Congo that was worse in sheer numbers than the Holocaust.

Or how about buying goods today from mercantilist China or oil from mercantilist Saudi Arabia?  Does it matter in terms of ethics that neither of these two states is a liberal democracy that protects civil liberties, but both are autocratic states that punish citizens who depart from the party line and social norms?

Or to go back to Boudreaux’s example, how about the ethics of using a lawn service that has a workforce of children kept in chains and flogged mercilessly?

Boudreaux might respond that these aren’t good examples, because his ethical principle is based on perfect competition and total individual freedom, and not on conditions of slavery and genocide—or any other coercion for that matter.  Of course perfect competition is a theoretical construct and not a reality, and individuals don’t live in Galt’s Gulch or some other anarchist fantasyland without any government.

The point is that the ethics of trade is not as black and white as the professor would have us believe.  That’s why volumes have been written on the subject and on moral philosophy in general.

The question of the ethics of trade is further complicated by two other realities.

The first reality is that much trade is conducted by corporations, not individuals.  Take the steel industry.  Individuals don’t buy slab or sheet steel coming out of steel mills; corporations do.

How have corporations done with respect to steel?  Not well.  First, the American steel industry was coldcocked by the rise of the steel industry in mercantilist Japan after the Second World War, when American steel companies had grown fat, lazy complacent and inefficient.  Decades later, the American steel industry was coldcocked again by mercantilist China, which made massive malinvestments in excess steel capacity.  The result was a drop in worldwide steel prices, a gutting of the U.S. steel industry, and the firing of tens of thousands of American steelworkers, who didn’t have much say in the matter.

Economists correctly state that cheaper steel benefits the corporations that buy steel, such as automobile companies.  Likewise, cheaper steel also benefits consumers who buy final products containing steel, such as cars, which would be more expensive if steel were more expensive.  They also say that if other countries want to beggar their own citizens by underpricing steel and other products, that’s good for American consumers, who can import goods at lower prices and spend or invest the savings in more beneficial ways.   No doubt, the same argument was made by the English when they bought cheap cotton produced by American slaves.

This leads to the second reality:  that all trade is not mutually beneficial.  There are winners and losers from some trade, especially trade with mercantilist countries.  In the case of steel, for example, auto buyers have won and steel workers have lost.  Or stated differently, society as a whole has benefited while a segment of society has lost.

But there is a cost to society that is not part of the standard economic calculation.  Taking the steel example again, formerly thriving steel towns are in decay and have seen a plummeting of incomes and a corresponding skyrocketing increase in drug use, divorces, school dropouts, and welfare dependency—all of which are a cost to society at large.  It’s easy to be cavalier about this when one is securely ensconced in George Mason University, which is located near the Imperial City of Washington, D.C.  But it’s impossible for those experiencing the decline firsthand to be cavalier about it.

Which brings us to a final question:  If society has benefited from workers in the steel industry and other industries losing their jobs, doesn’t society have a moral obligation to help these same workers?

Contrary to what Boudreaux seems to think, this is not a question that can be answered by economics.

* * *

Addendum:  Letter from Boudreaux to a Reader

Mr. Eddie Nunez

Mr. Nunez:

Thanks for your e-mail.

You say that while I might be correct that Donald Trump doesn’t understand the economics of trade, I am “out of bounds to write as though it is unethical for our new President to favor additional trade restrictions.”

I disagree for many reasons.  But I’ll here offer only my chief one.  Mr. Trump’s ethics tell him that he (or other state officials) have the right to restrict the ways in which I may peacefully spend my own income.  But my income belongs to me; it does not belong to Trump; it does not belong to the government; it does not belong to the country or to ‘the People’; it does not belong to American corporations or to American workers.  It belongs to me and to me alone.  And of course what’s true for my income is true for the income of every other peaceful person.  Yet Trump bellows as if it is not only appropriate, but downright noble, for him to interfere in my and others’ peaceful commercial affairs, conducted with our own incomes, for the sole reason that some of those affairs are with non-Americans.  Such interference is unethical.

You likely doubt me, so let me ask: If your next-door neighbor, Jones, pokes gun at your head to order you to pay to him a fine if you continue to have your lawn mowed by a company located across town rather than by his teenage son, would you not immediately understand such coercion to be unethical?  Of course you would.  Now I challenge you to explain to me how Donald Trump’s actions on the trade front differ in any essential ways from those of this hypothetical Jones.

I can think of no essential difference.  Sure, Trump was elected to a grandiose political office.  So what?  Suppose that a majority of your neighbors vote to empower Jones to threaten you with violence in order to discourage you from buying your lawn-care services from someone outside of your neighborhood: would you then think that Jones’s actions are ethical?  I wouldn’t.

I understand that government has long interfered, and in many different ways, in the peaceful affairs of private citizens, from telling blacks where they could and couldn’t sit on buses to confiscating large chunks of citizens’ incomes for transfer to corn farmers, airplane manufacturers, and other politically powerful groups.  I regard all such interference to be unethical.  But because Trump trumpets so loudly and so proudly his promise to interfere in Americans’ commerce with non-Americans – and for no reason other than to enrich some Americans at the expense of other Americans – I focus much of my attention on this particular instance of vile, inexcusable behavior.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
and
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

We’re All Nationalists

That’s the inescapable conclusion after observing the quite impressive turnout for demonstrations around the country today.

The marches today are in support of women’s rights and anti-Trump, both entirely sensible positions.

But to put a finer point on the matter, we must concede that the marches are really just in support of American women’s rights.

Why?

Well, it should go without saying that Trump, like Obama and Bush before him, represents a much greater threat to the rights of women in other countries than he does to the women in America. The women (and men and children, for that matter) in Libya, Yemen, Iraq, and Afghanistan have suffered, and continue to suffer, immensely as a direct result of US foreign policy. And the right that US foreign policy has threatened and violated in those places is the most fundamental of all–the right to live.

Yet even though this threat is undeniably real and severe, I can recall no commensurate protests against it in the Obama years. The reason for that is nationalism.

What today’s demonstrations show us is that, for many people, the perceived and possible threat to women’s rights in America presented by Trump is more important and worthy of dissent than the senseless deaths of thousands of innocent women in the Greater Middle East during the Obama years.

The only upside is that there were massive antiwar protests when Bush was overseeing the destruction instead of Obama. Perhaps now that a Republican has returned to the White House, US foreign policy will be worth protesting again.

News Roundup 1/21/17

  • Trump cancels a .25% cut in mortgage insurance premiums that was scheduled to go into effect 1/27/17. The cut would have taken rates from .8% to .65% on FHA issued loans. [Link]
  • Trump’s first executive order was to give agencies the power to roll back parts of Obamacare. The order did not specify what parts of Obamacare will be targeted. The order said that Trump plans to promptly repeal the law. [Link]
  • The Senate approved Trump’s pick for Secretary of Defense, James Mattis and Department of Homeland Security, John Kelly. [Link]
  • Senate Democrats lead by Ron Wyden block the confirmation vote for Trump’s CIA pick Mike Pompeo. [Link]
  • Isaiah McCoy spent six years on death row and is now free after a judge decided he was not guilty during his retrial. The retail was granted after the prosecutor from the first trial was found to have threatened McCoy then lied to the judge about it. [Link]
  • Russia extends Edward Snowden’s visa through 2020. In 2018 Snowden will have the ability to apply for Russian citizenship. [Link]
  • Newly released CIA documents shed some light on the US torture program that started after 9/11. [Link]
  • Over Obama’s 8 years as president, he ordered 542 targeted drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Those strikes killed at least 324 civilians. [Link]
  • Air Wars reports that over 450 Iraqi and Syrian civilians have been killed by the US coalition’s airstrikes since October 17th. [Link]
  • The Turkish Parliment passes a bill that will strengthen the position of president. The bill still needs to be approved in a referendum that will take place in the coming months. Erdogan is currently president but would need to be reelected if the referendum passes. [Link]
  • At least 20 people were killed in a market explosion in Pakistan. The Pakistani Taliban are claiming responsibility for the attack. [Link]
  • On Thursday, Obama ordered B-52 bombers to destroy al-Nusra targets in Syria. The Pentagon has reported that 100 militants were killed. [Link]
  • Doctors Without Borders reports that 10 children were killed by an explosion in Yemen. [Link]

Listen to the Weekly Freedom File Podcast where I break down some of the biggest news stories in the past week with the podcast’s host. This week we discuss the NATO, the budget resolution, and Chelsea Manning. LISTEN HERE

Strangle the Bastard Child of Prohibition: Abolish the ATF (and the FBI, and the DEA, Too)

 

The entity known as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (commonly called the ATF)  was born as the Bureau of Prohibition – a brief experiment in federal behavior control that was made possible by the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution. When that amendment was repealed, the agency lost any rationale for its lawful existence – yet rather than being abolished, it was rechristened and given an even more expansive mandate.

Over the past 25 years, the ATF has been consistently mired in misconduct, often of a murderous nature. The April 1993 slaughter of the Branch Davidians in their sanctuary outside Waco, Texas began with an unnecessary ATF armed raid called “Operation Showtime” – which was staged to deflect attention from an internal corruption scandal. More recently the agency was involved in the “Operation Fast and Furious” imbroglio, in which it pressured federally licensed gun dealers to sell weapons to agents of Mexican cartels in a supposed sting operation.

In ways both grand and petty, the ATF has plagued and persecuted its betters. In one telling but long-forgotten episode more than a decade ago, a college student in Georgia found himself surrounded by a thugscrum of ATF chair-moisteners – one of whom planted his knee upon the victim’s neck, placing the full measure of his tax-enhanced girth behind it – because he was seen wearing a ninja costume as part of a campus event. Unfortunately for the victim, that campus was temporarily infested by ATF hirelings who – no doubt between visits to the local brothels – were undergoing “Safe Streets Training.”

The ATF is an appendage of the Leviathan that exists without so much of an echo of a whisper of a hint of constitutional legitimacy, for the sole purpose of providing secure, albeit socially useless, employment for reprobates, criminals, and degenerates. No provision of the US Constitution authorizes any agency of the federal government to regulate alcohol, tobacco, or explosives, and the Second Amendment explicitly forecloses federal infringement of the right to own and carry firearms. This means that the ATF is literally a bastard agency carrying out an illegitimate mission.

The only useful activity for federal legislators consists of repealing existing statutes and abolishing federal agencies. Wisconsin Republican Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, in defiance of all rational expectations for denizens of the political class, has made himself modestly useful by proposing a bill called the ATF Elimination Act that would impose an immediate hiring freeze at the agency and order its administrators to prepare a report on transferring its existing functions to the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and other departments.

“The ATF is a scandal-ridden, largely duplicative agency that has been branded by failure and lacks a clear mission,” declares Representative Sensenbrenner. Abolishing the ATF would be “a logical place to begin draining the swamp and acting in the best interest of the American Taxpayer.”

Regrettably, Sensenbrenner’s bill would channel the institutional feculence of the ATF into two other federal agencies that are badly in need of abolition.

 

If Cops Can’t Kill Mundanes on a Whim, What’s the Point of Having Police?

To the ears of reasonable people, the expression “de-policing” would refer to the process of abolishing police departments – not the exercise of restraint by police officers in the use of lethal force by police officers. The latter would be described as “de-escalation,” an approach that was once taught to, and expected of, officials whose formal designation, after all, is “peace officers.”

De-escalation is incompatible with the militarized mindset of police who have undergone “Bulletproof Warrior” and “No More Hesitation” training that indoctrinates them to view the public they supposedly serve as an undifferentiated mass of menace.

Ken Casaday, President of the Austin Police Association, used the term “de-policing” to explain why officers who responded to a bar fight confiscated a firearm from one of the antagonists, rather than summarily executing him. The man returned later with two weapons and was fatally shot by officers.

Rather than lamenting what may have been the necessary use of deadly force to deal with a violent offender, Casady is distraught that the officers refrained from taking that action until it became necessary – and he blames critics of police misconduct for that initial reluctance.

“They could have used that force earlier, but they didn’t,” whined Casaday in an interview with a local ABC affiliate KVUE. “Officers are feeling so much pressure from the scrutiny the media have put on them. They just are just not making the stops and taking the risks that they used to.”

The problem is not that police are less willing to take risks – or that their occupation has become more dangerous, a claim not borne out by available data.  In personal terms, police have always been risk-aversive, placing officer safety above everything else. Because of increased accountability, they may be required to expose themselves to risk, rather than killing people needlessly in the expectation that their actions – however criminally irresponsible in the eyes of reasonable citizens – would be ratified under the “reasonable officer” standard.

Unlike some police union commissars, Casaday doesn’t even bother to pretend that he’s concerned that the public is placed at risk when police become inhibited in the use of deadly force. His concern, KVUE summarizes, is that “one day, the caution officers are exercising may end up costing one of them their lives.” (Emphasis added.)

For Casaday and other proponents of the “(Only) Blue Lives Matter” worldview, if police cannot kill Mundanes on a whim, the profession might as well be abolished. We really should take them at their word.