Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Mass Transit "Subsidies": Just Theft By Another Name

A very frustrating read indeed: SEPTA riders overwhelmingly take the bus and subway. Why does Regional Rail receive more funding?  Why is it frustrating?  Simple: without government subsidies, aka your tax dollars, the system would not run.  Period.  This is true for most mass transit systems in the country after having been collectivized by governments across the country in the 1960s and 70s.  Few remember and even less know these systems were once privatized, and existed only on the whim of the customer, that is, on fares alone.

SEPTA is Philadelphia's mass transit system.  Let's start with this fact from the article:
Most of SEPTA’s operating subsidy comes from the Commonwealth (78.9 percent). The local subsidies make up just 11.2 percent.
So, let's do the math, shall we?  90.1% of the money to operate SEPTA comes from taxes - sorry, I meant subsidies.  Clearly then, without taxation - damn, I did it again - without subsidies, SEPTA would not operate.  Period.

Next, let's do some geography and demographics.  The population of Pennsylvania is over 12.8 million people (source).  Five counties "contribute" (i.e., give away other people's money) to operate SEPTA, and they are (along with their populations): Philadelphia (1.5M), Bucks (627K), Chester (515K), Montgomery (819K) and Delaware (564K).  The total population of the five counties is just over 4M.  That means that approximately 8.4M people in the Commonwealth do not use SEPTA, yet they subsidize it.  The most dense population in the state is in the SE and hence the "SE" in SEPTA: the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority.  This fact is often used to justify the confiscation of taxes from the poor souls in Erie county for example.  This is the county that gives the state its distinctive "key" shape, hence the motto: the Keystone State.

Back to the operating subsidies.  SEPTA's 2017 operating subsidy is "assumed" to be $869,989, and the Commonwealth's 78.9% "contribution" is $686,615 (which doesn't "round" correctly when actually DOING the math vs the reported data). Source: Page 30 The federal government "provides" $82K, so that means that all those not living in the Keystone State are likewise paying for something they do not use. 

Funding realities.  Using the same source, SEPTA's revenue, i.e., what it takes in via fares, is $537k.  It's total operating expenses are just over $1.4M.  So, as they call it, the "deficit before subsidy" is $870K.  This means, as I mentioned before, that without "subsidies" SEPTA could not exist.  In other words, it receives a yearly "bailout".  These bailouts have been going on for decades.

I could go on, but I'll leave it be. 

For more on the troubles with mass transit, please read Mark J. Perry's Who’d a-thunk it? Like most central planning, public transit systems are very costly and often don’t serve the public very well?

And another: 10 Reasons to Stop Subsidizing Urban Transit 

You're Surprised To Learn That ...

California’s Single-Payer Health Care Plan Would Cost More Than the State’s Whole Budget?   Really?  Of course, reality and basic economics have never stopped progressives, socialists, etc. from believing they can get something everything for nothing.  While I recommend reading the entire piece, here is the interesting conclusion:
There's also this analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation, which shows how support for single-payer health care declines when there is a price tag attached to the idea.

When free health care provided by the state government isn't free, it's a much more difficult sell. Progressives in California have their work cut out for them.

Worthy (and Scary) Reads

Even though I have Charles Hugh Smith's blog "Of Two Minds" on My Blog List above, he'll often pen a piece that I feel must be pointed out and the two below are worthy & scary reads.  The first is on the failure of Keynesian economics/central banking and the second is on the notion of "free money" and its destructiveness to the economy. 

The Keynesian Cult Has Failed: "Emergency" Stimulus Is Now Permanent

TINA's Legacy: Free Money, Bread and Circuses and Collapse

Just About Covers It

Obama had the balls to call Trump a "bullshitter".  True of course, but so is the man known for "Hope and Change".  Being a bullshitter is a required "skill" in politics.

"War Is Big Business"

So it is.

From John Whitehead's The Republic Has Fallen: The Deep State’s Plot to Take Over America Has Succeeded [SHORT]:
America is a profitable business interest for a very select few, and war—wars waged abroad against shadowy enemies and wars waged at home against the American people—has become the Deep State’s primary means of income.
After all, war is big business.
In order to maintain a profit margin, one would either have to find new enemies abroad or focus on fighting a war at home, against the American people, and that’s exactly what we’re dealing with today.
  • Local police transformed into a standing army in the American homeland through millions of dollars’ worth of grants to local police agencies for military weapons, vehicles, training and assistance.
  • The citizenry taught to fear and distrust each other and to welcome the trappings of the police state.
Had the government tried to ram such a state of affairs down our throats suddenly, it might have had a rebellion on its hands. Instead, the American people have been given the boiling frog treatment, immersed in water that slowly is heated up—degree by degree—so that they’ve fail to notice that they’re being trapped and cooked and killed.
“We the people” are in hot water now.

The Impact of Paperwork

Been saying this for a long time: regulations and their accompanying paperwork are detriments to the economy.  In fact, at the moment, I have a small project in my yard that I'm likely to bag altogether because of the paperwork, which means that a concrete contractor won't get the $1100 I had planned to spend, nor will the shed contractor receive his $2000.

I've challenged people over the years to convince me that their home is indeed their home.  I believe it's not and in fact, I know it's not.  Why? Simple: property taxes.  You could own your home outright, but you'll still have property taxes and non-payment will eventually lead to eviction in most places.  Trying doing work to your house.  You'll soon discover you need the approval of many others to often do even basic repairs.  Anyway, here's Bryan Caplan's The Behavioral Econ of Paperwork[read #2 below - that's me. It's not that I can't get the permits needed, it's just such a pain, especially the time consumed/lost]
Next month, I'll collect my final payment from my Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account - and I couldn't be happier.  I hate filling out paperwork.  Though it only takes a couple hours to save thousands of dollars, I resent the process. 

I'm not alone.  Education researchers, for example, find that many students leave free money sitting on the table because they fail to fill out the proper forms.  Furthermore, modest help with form completion markedly raises uptake.   Some highlights:
Some students receiving college financial aid could be getting more. Others fail to qualify for aid entirely: each year, more than one million college students in the United States who are eligible for grant aid fail to complete the necessary forms to receive it. Bird and Castleman (2014) estimate that nearly 20 percent of annual Pell Grant recipients in good academic standing fail to refile a FAFSA after their freshman year, and subsequently miss out on financial aid for the following academic year.
Additionally, the complexity of the financial aid application confuses and deters students (ACSFA 2001, 2005). To determine eligibility, students and their families must fill out an eight-page, detailed application called the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which has over 100 questions. King (2004) estimates that 850,000 college students who were eligible for federal grant aid in 2000 did not complete the forms necessary to receive their benefits
Since I think education is extremely socially wasteful, I'm glad that so many students fail to game the system.  But - as Robin Hanson pointed out at a seminar on this research - there's probably something much bigger at work.  What researchers have learned about students and FAFSA is probably just a special case of the fact that humans hate filling out paperwork.  As a result, objectively small paperwork costs plausibly have huge behavioral responses.*

Consider a few possible margins:

1. A small business-owner decides not to hire a worker because he doesn't want to fill out tax and other regulatory compliance forms.

2. A home-owner decides not to improve his home because he doesn't want to get the necessary permits and inspections.

3. A traveler decides not to visit a country because he doesn't feel like applying for a visa.

4. An unemployed worker (note the low opportunity cost!) doesn't apply for unemployment insurance because the process is aggravating.

5. A childless couple decides against adoption because the bureaucracy is hellish (or, in the case of international adoption, hellish squared).

Many people's knee-jerk reaction will be, "Let's cut red tape!"  But the craftier response is, "Let's manipulate red tape."  If X is good, we can noticeably encourage it by modestly simplifying the paperwork.  So yes, cut red tape for employment, construction, travel, and adoption.  If X is bad, though, we can noticeably discourage it by modestly complicating the paperwork.  Indeed, complexity is a viable substitute for explicit means-testing: If you lack the patience to fill out ten forms, you probably don't really need the money.

* Of course, if someone fills out paperwork full-time, they might become inured to the drudgery.  But we'd still expect oversized behavioral effects of paperwork for everyone who can't cheaply delegate such tasks to a trusted professional.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Another Quote of the Day

"When people have the knowledge and feel the costs of their actions, they make better decisions – for themselves and for the environment.  Since 1972, our environmental policy has been built on the opposite assumption. We put power in the hands of government agencies far from the problem. We gave control to bureaucrats who do not feel the cost of their failed policies." - Todd Myers, Moving Beyond Economy-Sapping 1970s Environmentalism

Quote of the Day

"Health care consists of goods and services produced and delivered by highly specialized providers in exchange for monetary compensation. Overall, it’s a commodity, for which the terms “right” and “privilege” are largely meaningless. In an economic sense, health care is no different than markets for other commodities, such as food, vehicles, fuel, and so on. The ability to purchase goods and services depends on the resources one has for compensation for their delivery in most cases.

Progressives insist that health care is so critical to existence that it must be considered a right, and that government has to guarantee access to it regardless of the ability to pay for it. That, however, doesn’t make it a right, nor is health care the only commodity for which that argument applies. For instance, water is even more critical to existence than health care, but even while most water systems are run by the government, people who don’t pay their bills will get it turned off. Grocery stores are not required to distribute food without proper compensation, and those who take without paying get prosecuted for theft." - Edward Morrissey, Right or Privilege? What Everyone Gets Wrong About Health Care

Partisan Politics - They're a Feature, Not a Bug

I once heard this (paraphrased) in a podcast: "There are two parties in the United States, one is evil, the other stupid and sometimes they get together and do things that are really evil AND stupid!"  Anyway, here's a brief description of how the purpose of partisanship in politics: to thwart the will of the majority.  Please, read and pass on Kyle Scott's Blocking the Will of the Majority Is a Fundamental Feature of the U.S. Constitutional System:
We all benefit from the ability of a political minority to stifle the will of the majority. The U.S. Constitution restricts the power of the majority because an unchecked majority can be just as threatening to liberty and justice as a dictator or tyrannical oligarchy. Unfortunately, partisan leanings keep many people from understanding this subtle but essential point. Recognizing the role of a minority’s check on the majority’s power helps explain the behavior America’s two polarized parties, for each party is sometimes in the majority, sometimes in the minority.
For example, Democrats oppose the Republican minority’s check on power at the national level while appealing for judicial intervention at the state level when Republicans use their majority in state legislatures to pass voter ID laws, redraw congressional districts, and pass laws that restrict abortion and same sex marriage. Republicans, on the other hand, oppose judicial intervention into these matters and deride judicial review as anti-democratic.
At the national level, where Democrats enjoy a majority in the Senate and control of the White House, the Republicans are the minority, controlling only of the House of Representatives. The Republicans are able to leverage their control of the House to keep Democratic policies from being enacted. It may seem perverse for the House to block legislation, but the ability to do so is the foundation of the system of checks and balances that the Constitution provides.
Usually, whether one supports the ability of the minority to frustrate the will of the majority depends on whether one is in the majority or not. But the issue is about political peace and justice, not just power politics. A pure democracy can no more guarantee rights than a monarchy. From the beginning of our nation’s history, this principle was fundamental. In “The Federalist Papers,” James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay defended the Constitution’s checks on the will of the majority as its primary advantage over a pure democracy.
This argument was inherited and extended by John C. Calhoun in the nineteenth century.
Calhoun represented South Carolina in the U.S. Senate, served as secretary of state under John Tyler, secretary of war under James Monroe, and vice president under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. Calhoun was also a political philosopher whose posthumously published books share a great deal with, and improve upon, the published works by those whom we typically think of as the great political thinkers in American history.
Calhoun argued that a constitutional government is the only form of government that could prevent despotism. Even a democracy — perhaps especially a democracy — could turn despotic. “The truth is,” he wrote in an 1843 letter, “the Government of the uncontrolled numerical majority, is but the absolute and despotic form of popular governments.” Because democracy cannot prevent the majority from trampling the minority, a veto on the power of the majority is needed. “It is this negative power,–the power of preventing or arresting the action of the government,–be it called by what term it may,–veto, interposition, nullification, check, or balance of power,–which, in fact, forms the constitution,” Calhoun declared in his famous “Disquisition on Government.” If the minority were not given a check on the power of the majority, there would be nothing the majority could not do.
One can imagine Calhoun today coming to the defense of Sen. Mitch McConnell and the Republicans in the Senate who now use the filibuster beyond its original intention. As he did in his speeches and writings, Calhoun might employ examples from Poland and the Roman Republic to bolster his argument for the feasibility and desirability of a minority veto.
On the other side, one might imagine Abraham Lincoln opposing this use of the filibuster and defending majority rule. As Lincoln made clear in his First Inaugural Address, the minority cannot have the right to rule for doing so would be despotic. Furthermore, if the minority were given veto power over every decision made by the majority, the nation would collapse into anarchy, given the shear impossibility of ever gaining unanimous support for a measure to pass.
Regardless of where we stand on the political spectrum, we have all benefited from this delicate constitutional balancing act: both the majority’s right to rule and the minority’s right to protect itself against majority tyranny. What the nation needs today is an appreciation, independent of current policy debates, of what the roles of the majority and the minority ought to be in our system of government. As it stands now, the discussion over whether there should be judicial review, a filibuster, or whether a state can refuse to implement a national law is too clouded by transient policy implications.
We are at a point where we must restate what republican principles are and how our nation ought to uphold them.

Regressive Taxation and Sugar

Congratulations to Santa Fe!  Common sense, and, Economics 101 win a small battle. but it's a win nonetheless!  Santa Fe's rejection of soda tax a win for public health:
Record numbers of voters turned out on May 2 to say no to a soda tax in Santa Fe, New Mexico. By proposing a two-cent-per-ounce tax on sugary soft drinks, policymakers meant to encourage healthier consumption choices. What soda tax advocates don't realize, however, is that a soda tax might actually encourage worse eating and drinking habits.

Santa Fe's decisive defeat of the soda tax (11,533 no votes versus 8,382 votes in favor) is a win for public health even if it seems like a loss at first glance. It’s also true, though, that governments around the world could do more to improve their citizens’ health.

The tax seems brilliant in its straightforward logic. People buy less of a good when its price goes up, and so higher after-tax soda prices should lead individuals to consume less sugary soft drinks, thereby avoiding the scourges of obesity, Type II diabetes and tooth decay, or at least that is what the supporters claim. But simple thinking isn't enough. Individuals react in more ways than politicians can anticipate and are ingenious when it comes to finding ways around obstacles between them and their favorite vices.

Philadelphia's experience with a 1.5-cent-per-ounce soda tax demonstrates how easy it is to find ways around a tax confined to one city. It took retailers located outside Philadelphia only a few days before they advertised their locations to pull in soft drink shoppers. Guides to soda sellers just outside the bounds of the taxing jurisdiction quickly emerged on social media.

Even when soda taxes increase prices, as Econ 101 teaches, it doesn't mean that healthier options will be chosen instead. Research shows that people substitute salty and fatty foods when faced with a half-cent-per-ounce soda tax. Moreover, the effect of the tax on obesity is vanishingly small: the same researchers concluded that the tax likely would cause less than a two-pound weight loss in low-income individuals over the next decade.

Less than a two-pound weight loss over ten years is a far cry from the health benefits promised by the soda tax's advocates, but the tax's effects don't stop there. People naturally choose healthier options and are more likely to exercise as their incomes rise. So a regressive soda tax is a bad way to promote health because it reduces the disposable incomes of those it is meant to help. In fact, economic research shows that “sin taxes” like those proposed for soda may even exacerbate income inequality.

If soda taxes boosted economic growth, then maybe their defenders could claim they will help individuals make healthier choices. But the number of reasons to think soda taxes hurt the economies of cities that enacted them is growing. Take the case of Philadelphia again. Only two months after implementation of Philadelphia's 1.5-cent-per-ounce tax, Philly’s supermarkets and soda distributors reported 30 to 50 percent drops in beverage sales and announced layoffs — likely because of cross-border shopping. We can only hope that the Philadelphians who lost their jobs found new employment in nearby towns.

Soda sales dropped by ten percent in Berkeley, Calif., in the months following the enactment of a one-cent-per-ounce tax there, but they rose by seven percent just beyond the city limits.

The lost jobs and the sugary, fatty and carbohydrate-laden foods individuals consume when soda prices rise supposedly are “unintended consequences” of the seemingly simple soda tax. The evidence is accumulating, however, that such consequences are foreseeable and likely create negative health effects of the same magnitudes as the ones policymakers are attempting to prevent.

The failure of soda taxes to promote healthy choices doesn't mean that governments are incapable of helping people live healthier lives — it's just that the right path to that goal isn't through social engineering.

Instead of bludgeoning the already poor with regressive taxes, policymakers should try to get out of their way and allow them to improve their own lives. Easing occupational licensing restrictions and clearing out the tangled web of regulations that impede small-business startups and innovation are great places to start.

Quote of the Day (On France)

"The state sector in France is much too large - a whopping 57 percent of the economy - thus making taxes horrendous." Ivan Eland, Did the Outcome of the French Election Merely Postpone Le Pen?

Peace Is Free

Walter Williams once again keeps it simple and to the point in How to Live in Peace:
Millions of people love Apple computers and wouldn't be caught using a PC. By contrast, there are many millions of PC users who feel the same way about Apple computers. Many men like double-breasted suits, but I wouldn't be caught dead in one. Some people swear by Cadillac cars, but my favorite is Mercedes-Benz.

Despite these strongly held preferences, there's no conflict. We never see Apple computer lovers picketing firms that serve PC lovers. Mercedes-Benz lovers don't battle Cadillac lovers. In free markets, people with strong differences in preferences get along and often are good friends. The reason is simple. If you like double-breasted suits and I like single-breasted suits, we get what we want.

Contrast the harmony that emerges when there's market allocation with the discord when there's government allocation. For example, some parents want their children to say a morning prayer in school. Other parents are offended by that idea. Both parents have a right to their tastes, but these parental differences have given rise to conflict.

Why is there conflict? The answer is simple. Schools are run by government. Thus, there are going to be either prayers in school or no prayers in school. That means parents who want their children to say prayers in school will have to enter into conflict with parents who do not want prayers in school. The stakes are high. If one parent wins, it comes at the expense of another parent. The losing parents have their preferences ignored. Or they must send their children to a private school that has morning prayers and pay that school's tuition plus property taxes to support a public school for which they have little use.

The liberty-oriented solution to the school prayer issue is simple. We should acknowledge the fact that though there is public financing of primary and secondary education, it doesn't follow that there should be public production of education. Just as there is public financing of M1 Abrams main battle tanks and F/A-18 fighter jets, it in no way follows that there should be government production of those weapons. They are produced privately. There's no government tank and fighter jet factory.

The same principle should apply to education. If state and local authorities annually spend $15,000 per student, they could simply give each parent a voucher of that amount that could only be used for education. That way, the parent would be free to choose. If you wanted to send your children to a school that does not have morning prayers, you would be free to do so. And I could send my children to a school that does. As a result, you and I would not have to fight. We could be friends, play tennis and have a beer or two together.

Free market allocation is conflict-reducing, whereas government allocation enhances the potential for conflict. But I'm all too afraid that most Americans want to be able to impose their preferences on others. Their vision doesn't differ from one that says, "I don't want my children to say morning prayers, and I'm going to force you to live by my preferences." The issue of prayers in school is just a minor example of people's taste for tyranny.

Think of the conflict that would arise if the government decreed that factories will produce either double-breasted or single-breasted suits or that there will be either Cadillacs or Mercedes-Benzes built or that there will be either Apple computers or PCs built. Can you imagine how otherwise-peaceable people would be forced into conflict with one another? Government allocation is mostly a zero-sum game, in which one person's win necessarily means another person's loss. The great ignored and overlooked feature of market allocation is that it is what game theorists call a positive-sum game. In positive-sum games, you get what you want, say an Apple computer, and I get what I want — a PC, in this case. My win does not come at your expense, and your win doesn't come at my expense. And just as importantly, we can be friends.

Just About Covers It

Monday, May 22, 2017

Facts on The U.S. National Debt

Who Owns the U.S. National Debt?:

As of May 11, 2017, the total public debt outstanding of the U.S. government exceeds $19.8 trillion.
Political Calculations provides a summary of the major interests to whom the U.S. owes all that money, as of the end of the U.S. government’s 2016 fiscal year on September 30, 2016, when the national debt total stood at just shy of $19.6 trillion:
One of the crazier things about the U.S. national debt is that it often takes a lot of months after the end of a given fiscal year for the U.S. Treasury to sort out who the U.S. federal government owes money, particularly when when that money is owed to foreign entities.
So here we are, just over halfway through the federal government’s 2017 fiscal year, before we have a good idea of how much U.S. government-issued debt was held by its major foreign creditors at the end of the U.S. government’s 2016 fiscal year, which ended on 30 September 2016! The following chart reveals who the biggest holders of the U.S. national debt were as of that time:

FY 2016: To Whom Does the U.S. Government Owe Money?
Officially, the U.S. government’s total public debt outstanding is divided up into two parts: the “Public” portion of the national debt....

And the so-called “Intragovernmental” portion of the national debt, where the latter category represents money owed to various trust funds established and operated by the U.S. government.

Right now, we can see that Social Security’s Old Age and Survivors’ Insurance Trust Fund accounts for a little over half of the Intragovernmental portion of the U.S. national debt, which works out to be nearly $2.8 trillion, or about one-seventh of the U.S. government’s total public debt outstanding.

If Social Security’s Trustees are right, that number will steadily shrink to zero over the next 17 years, as that debt is cashed in to pay retirement benefits to Social Security recipients. When that number does reach zero, Social Security’s Trustees have indicated that the program will be forced to revert to the program’s original Pay-As-You-Go basis, where benefits can only be paid out of the payroll taxes that fund Social Security. When that happens, they predict that all Social Security benefits will need to be cut by 21%, unless Social Security’s payroll taxes are increased from 12.4% of earned income (which is currently equally split between employers and employees) up to 15.78% of earned income.
If you would like to see more detail on who the U.S. government owes money to, and also what countries owe the U.S. government money, Jeff Desjardins of Visual Capitalist has an interesting infographic that explores that data.

History Revisited

Here's a story few people know and one that few can fathom.  Here's Not Remembering the USS Liberty: [emphasis mine]
It is safe to assume that when President Donald Trump lands in Israel Monday, he will not have been briefed on the irrefutable evidence that, nearly 50 years ago – on June 8, 1967 – Israel deliberately attacked the USS Liberty in international waters, killing 34 U.S. sailors and wounding more than 170 other crew. All of Trump’s predecessors – Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama – have refused to address the ugly reality and/or covered up the attack on the Liberty.

It is not too late for someone to fill Trump in on this shameful episode, on the chance he may wish to show more courage than former presidents and warn the Israelis that this kind of thing will not be tolerated while he is president.

A new book by Philip Nelson titled: Remember the Liberty: Almost Sunk by Treason on the High Seas, is a must-read for anyone wishing to understand what actually happened to the Liberty and to contemplate the implications.

As I wrote in the book’s Foreword: Even today, scandalously few Americans have heard of the deliberate Israeli attack on the USS Liberty, because the cowardly US political, military, and media establishments have managed to hide what happened. No one “important” wanted to challenge Israel’s lame “oops-mistake” excuse. Intercepted Israeli communications show beyond doubt it was no “mistake.”

Chief Petty Officer J.Q. “Tony” Hart, who monitored conversations between then-Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and Sixth Fleet Carrier Division Commander Rear Admiral Lawrence Geis, reported McNamara’s instructive reply to Geis, who had protested the order to recall the US warplanes on their way to engage those attacking the Liberty. McNamara: “President Johnson is not going to go to war or embarrass an American ally (sic) over a few sailors.”

The late Adm. Thomas Moorer after interviewing the commanders of the US aircraft carriers America and Saratoga confirmed that McNamara ordered the aircraft back to their carriers. Moorer called it “the most disgraceful act I witnessed in my entire military career.”

Thanks to this book, those who care about such things can learn what actually happened 50 years ago:

(1) On June 8, 1967, Israel attempted to sink the US Navy intelligence collection ship USS Liberty and leave no survivors. The attack came by aircraft and torpedo boat, in full daylight in international waters during the Six-Day Israeli-Arab War;

(2) The US cover-up taught the Israelis that they could literally get away with murder; they killed 34 US sailors (and wounded more than 170 others); and

(3) As part of an unconscionable government cover-up, the Navy threatened to court martial and imprison any survivor who so much as told his wife what had actually happened. (This, incidentally, put steroids to the PTSD suffered by many of the survivors.)

One Stab at Truth

The only investigation worth the name was led by Adm. Moorer, who had been Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He led a blue-ribbon, independent commission to examine what happened to the Liberty. Among the findings announced by the commission on October 2003:

“…Unmarked Israeli aircraft dropped napalm canisters on the USS Liberty bridge, and fired 30mm cannon and rockets into the ship; survivors estimate 30 or more sorties were flown over the ship by a minimum of 12 attacking Israeli planes. …

“…The torpedo boat attack involved not only the firing of torpedoes, but machine-gunning of Liberty’s firefighters and stretcher-bearers. … The Israeli torpedo boats later returned to machine-gun at close range three of the Liberty’s life rafts that had been lowered into the water by survivors to rescue the most seriously wounded.”

Shortly before he died in February 2004, Adm. Moorer strongly appealed for the truth to be brought out and pointed directly at what he saw as the main obstacle: “I’ve never seen a President … stand up to Israel. … If the American people understood what a grip these people have on our government, they would rise up in arms.” [As quoted by Richard Curtiss in A Changing Image: American Perception of the Arab-Israeli Dispute.]

Echoing Moorer, former US Ambassador Edward Peck, who served many years in the Middle East, condemned Washington’s attitude toward Israel as “obsequious, unctuous subservience … at the cost of the lives and morale of our own service members and their families.”

And the Six-Day War? Most Americans believe the Israelis were forced to defend against a military threat from Egypt. Not so, admitted former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin 35 years ago: “In June 1967, we had a choice. The Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai approaches do not prove that [Egyptian President] Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.” [The New York Times quoting an August 1982 Begin speech.]

Adm. Moorer kept asking why our government continues to subordinate American interests to those of Israel. It is THE question.

The War in Syria

Fast forward to the catastrophe that is now Syria. US policy support for illusory “moderate rebels” there – including false-flag chemical attacks blamed on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – can only be fully understood against the mirror of US acquiescence to Israeli objectives.

New York Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief in 2013, Jodi Rudoren, received an unusually candid response when she asked senior Israeli officials about Israel’s preferred outcome in Syria. In a New York Times article on September 6, 2013, titled “Israel Backs Limited Strike Against Syria,” Rudoren reported the Israeli view that the best outcome for Syria’s civil war was no outcome:

“For Jerusalem, the status quo, horrific as it may be from a humanitarian perspective, seems preferable to either a victory by Mr. Assad’s government and his Iranian backers or a strengthening of rebel groups, increasingly dominated by Sunni jihadis.

“‘This is a playoff situation in which you need both teams to lose, but at least you don’t want one to win – we’ll settle for a tie,’ said Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli consul general in New York. ‘Let them both bleed, hemorrhage to death: that’s the strategic thinking here. As long as this lingers, there’s no real threat from Syria.’”

Obama may have read or been briefed on Rudoren’s article. In any event, last year he told journalist Jeffrey Goldberg how proud he is at having resisted strong pressure from virtually all his advisors to fire cruise missiles on Syria in September 2013. Instead, Obama chose to take advantage of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s offer to get the Syrians to surrender their chemical weapons for destruction, verified by the U.N., aboard a US ship configured for such destruction. President Trump, in contrast, chose to go with his “mad-dog” advisors. It is not yet clear whether he was successfully mousetrapped, or whether he saw the April 4 chemical incident in Syria as an opportunity to “retaliate,” and get a bump in popularity.

There are wider ramifications of rank dishonesty and cover-up, at which Establishment Washington excels. Have we not seen this movie before? Think Iraq. Once again, the “intelligence” is being “fixed.”

Back to the Liberty, Adm. Moorer is right in saying that, if Americans were told the truth about what happened on June 8, 1967, they might be more discriminating in seeing through Israel’s rhetoric and objectives. Moorer insisted that we owe no less to brave men of the USS Liberty, but also to every man and woman who is asked to wear the uniform of the United States. And he is right about that too.

This book makes a huge contribution toward those worthy ends.

[For more on this topic, see “Navy Vet Honored, Foiled Israeli Attack”; “Still Waiting for USS Liberty’s Truth”; “A USS Liberty’s Hero’s Passing”]

How Socialism Really Works Is Quite Inconvenient for Progressives

Ever wonder why Sean Penn isn't in the news any longer praising the wonderful government of Venezuela?  Same thing for Pope Francis: while he can bemoan the morality of capitalism, he certainly hasn't jumped on his plane and gone to Venezuela to lend help to his flock.  Michael Moore? same thing.  Anyway, stop wondering and read Ryan McMaken's Why the Left Refuses to Talk About Venezuela:
During the 2016 presidential election, Bernie Sanders refused to answer questions about Venezuela during an interview with Univision. He claimed to not want to talk about it because he's "focused on my campaign." Many suggested a more plausible reason: Venezuela's present economy is an example of what happens when a state implements Bernie Sanders-style social democracy. 

Similarly, Pope Francis — who has taken the time to denounce pro-market ideologies for allegedly driving millions into poverty — seems uninterested in talking about the untrammeled impoverishment of Venezuela in recent years. Samuel Gregg writes in yesterday's Catholic World Report:
Pope Francis isn’t known as someone who holds back in the face of what he regards as gross injustices. On issues like refugees, immigration, poverty and the environment, Francis speaks forcibly and uses vivid language in doing so.

Yet despite the daily violence being inflicted on protestors in Venezuela, a steadily increasing death-toll, an explosion of crime, rampant corruption, galloping inflation, the naked politicization of the judiciary, and the disappearance of basic food and medical supplies, the first Latin American pope’s comments about the crisis tearing apart an overwhelming Catholic Latin American country have been curiously restrained.
This virtual silence comes in spite of the fact that the Catholic bishops who actually live in Venezuela have denounced the regime as yet another illustration of the "utter failure" of "socialism in every country in which this regime has been installed."

Thus, for many Venezuelans, the question is: "Where is Pope Francis?"

As with Sanders, it may very well be that Francis has nothing to say about Venezuela precisely because the Venezuelan regime has pursued exactly the sorts of policies favored by Bernie Sanders, Pope Francis, and the usual opponents of market economics.

It's an economic program marked by price controls, government expropriation of private property, an enormous welfare state, central planning, and endless rhetoric about equality, poverty relief, and fighting the so-called "neoliberals." 

And, as Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro has helpfully explained, "There are two models, the neoliberal model which destroys everything, and the Chavista model which is centered around people.”

The Chavista model is simply a mixture of social democracy and environmentalism which is easily recognizable as the Venezuelan version of the hard-left ideology espoused by a great many global political elites both in the United States and Europe. Neoliberalism, on the other hand — as I've noted before — is a vague term that most of the time really just means a system of relatively free markets and moderate laissez-faire. 

Indeed, no other regimes in the world, save Cuba and North Korea, have been as explicit in fighting the alleged menace that is neoliberalism. 

For this reason, as Venezuela descends into chaos, we are hearing a deafening silence from most of the left, as even some principled leftists have noticed. 

In an article at Counterpunch, for example, Pedro Lange-Churion points out:
Venezuela was news while it was good news and while Chávez could be used as a banner for the left and his antics provided comic relief. But as soon as the country began to spiral towards ruination and Chavismo began to resemble another Latin American authoritarian regime, better to turn a blind eye.
Nevertheless, as a dedicated leftist, Lange-Chrion unfortunately still mistakenly thinks that the Venezuelan problem is political and not economic. For him, it's merely an unfortunate coincidence that the implementation of the Chavismo economic agenda just happened to coincide with the destruction of the nation's political and economic institutions. 

But here's the thing: it's not a coincidence. 

In fact, it's a textbook case of a country electing a leftwing populist who undoes years of pro-market reforms, and ends up destroying the economy. 

This has been going on for decades in Latin America where, as explained by Rudiger Dornbusch and Sebastián Edwards, the cycle repeats itself again and again. 

It's happened in Argentina and in Brazil most recently, and it goes something like this: first, a relatively neoliberal regime comes to power, moderately reduces government spending, somewhat restrains government power, and ushers in a period of growth. But, even with growth, middle-income countries like those of Latin America remain poor compared to the rich countries of the world, and large inequalities remain. Then, populist social democrats convince the voters that if only the regime would redistribute more wealth, punish greedy capitalists, and regulate markets to make them more "humane," then everyone would get richer even faster. And even better, the evil capitalists would be punished for exploiting the poor. Eventually, the economy collapses under the weight of the new social democratic regime, and a neoliberal regime is again elected to clean up the mess. 

Venezuela is in the midst of this cycle right now. After decades of relatively restrained government intervention, Venezuela became one of the wealthiest nations in Latin America. During the most recent twenty years, though, the Chavistas were able to take that wealth and redistristribute it, regulate it, and expropriate it for the sake of "equality" and undermining capitalist evil. But, you can only redistribute, tax, regulate, and expropriate so much before the productive classes give up and the wealth runs out. 

To the leftwing mind, the explosion of poverty that results can't possibly be the result of bad economic policy. After all, the Chavismo regime got everything it wanted. It redistributed wealth at will. It "guaranteed" a living wage, health care, and plentiful food to everyone. "Equality" was imposed by fiat over the cries of the "neoliberal" opposition. 

The only possible answer, the left assumes, must be sabotage by capitalists or — as the Pope reminds us — too much "individualism." 

The problem the global left has in this case, though, is that this narrative simply isn't plausible. Does Colombia have fewer capitalists and individualists than Venezeuala? It almost certainly has more. So why do Venezuelans wait hours in line to cross the Colombian border to buy basic food items not available in the social-democratic paradise of Venezuela? Has Chile renounced neoliberal-style trade and markets? Obviously not. So why has Chile's economy grown by 150 percent over the past 25 years while Venezuela's economy has gotten smaller

The response consists largely of silence. 

This isn't to say that what the left calls call "neoliberal" is without its faults. Some aspects of neoliberalism — such as free trade and relatively free markets — are the reason that global poverty and child mortality are falling, while literacy and sanitation are rising.

Other aspects of neoliberalism are odious, particularly in the areas of central banking and crony capitalism. But the free-market answer to this was already long-ago voiced by Ludwig von Mises, who, in his own fight against the neoliberals, advocated for consistent laissez-faire, sound money, and far greater freedom in international trade. 

For an illustration of the left's answer to neo-liberalism, however, we need look no further than Venezuela where people are literally starving and will wait hours in line to buy a roll of toilet paper. 

And if this is what the the left's victory against neoliberalism looks like, it's not surprising the left seems to have little to say. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Evil Incarnate

Allen Dulles.  Please, read David Talbot's book, The Devil's Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America's Secret Government.  I recommend simultaneously reading The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War by Stephen Kinzer as I believe that Allen cannot be understood without his brother, John Foster, the Secretary of State, and vice versa.

"The Allen Dulles story continues to haunt the country.  Many of the practices that still provoke bouts of American soul-searching originated during Dulles's formative rule at the CIA." - David Talbot.

Below is a video well worth the 10 minutes. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Quote of the Day

"Today's academic climate might be described as a mixture of infantilism, kindergarten and totalitarianism." - Walter Williams, Sheer Lunacy on Campus

Monday, May 15, 2017

Quote of the Day

"People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.”Søren Kierkegaard

No, It Never Will

Washington Is Never Going to Get Healthcare 'Right'.  A statement of the obvious, yes, but I have to keep repeating it.

So True

America Doesn’t Need Global Perpetual War to Prove We Love Liberty

American Geography

Damn disgrace, really.  This should be something from The Onion, but it's not.  1,746 American Adults Were Asked To Point Out North Korea On A Map: This Was The Result.  Doesn't matter where "there" is - we'll bomb'em anyways!!

Geography Certainly Does Matter

Geography Is Policy by Bryan Caplan:
For the last twenty years or so, Jeffrey Sachs and co-authors have been arguing that institutions and policy matter less than most economists think.  The harsh reality is that geography has a huge effect on countries' economic success.  From what I've seen, the Geography Matters camp is on to something: Even after correcting for national ancestry, high absolute latitude and coastal access continue to have huge economic payoffs.  In fact, geographic effects are much more robust than the effects of national ancestry

Social scientists who accept the power of geography tend to get pretty pessimistic about development.  If poor countries adopted the institutions and policies of rich countries, they still wouldn't do very well.  Few go full fatalist.  But they do lose hope that economic reforms can quickly transform the world.

And that's where the geo-centric economists are completely wrong.  Contrary to their own self-image, their view is radically optimistic.  Consider the extreme scenario where geography is the sole determinant of national prosperity.  Is there anything mankind could do to swiftly raise per-capita GDP?  Absolutely: Move people from poor countries to rich countries.  Is that the kind of thing that policy can change?  Again, absolutely: Legalize movement from poor countries to rich countries.  How much would that accomplish?  Given the draconian regulations now on the books, such deregulation would swiftly transform the world.

In the real world, of course, geography isn't the sole global problem, so deregulating migration isn't a full-blown panacea for global ills.  But if Sachs is remotely right, this deregulation is the closest thing to a panacea we've got.  Bad geography only retards human progress insofar as humans remain in locations with bad geography.   And once it's legal, humans will vacate the bad areas on a massive scale

To be fair, Jeff Sachs has written in favor of freer migration:
When high-income, high-productivity countries close their national borders to migration, they are denying the rights of individual migrants to seek improvement in their own conditions, and are also blocking a vital channel for improved global productivity. A global migration regime should favor migration both on account of the global efficiency gains and on account of the human right of individuals to seek their preferred residences (see Carens 2013, for a cogent ethical analysis from a human-rights perspective).

The global regime should pay special attention to emigration from the world's most impoverished regions, with special attention to those suffering from intrinsic barriers to development due to geographical, ecological, climatological, or other intrinsic factors. Migrants from such regions face the greatest need to emigrate but also the greatest obstacles. They tend to be poor, less educated, and with few familial or business contacts in high-income countries to facilitate their migration. These are the boat people drowning in the Mediterranean.
But to the best of my knowledge, Sachs never quite makes the fundamental point: Migration policy is the co-factor that makes geography important.  "Geography matters a lot" does not imply "Policy doesn't matter so much."  Instead, it implies that "Migration policy matters a lot."  Geography is not destiny, but opportunity.

While We're On The Subject of Planning ...

Very interesting read from Richard Ebeling on Political Planning versus Personal Planning by Everyone

Tell Me This Is Fake News

Can this really be true? Germany Confiscating Homes To Use For Migrants.  I read and re-read the article, looking for The Onion logo, but ...  If it's true, this is some truly scary sh*t, seriously. 

Friday, May 12, 2017

More Fallout from Government-Run Health Care

Insurance giant Aetna announced yesterday that it would cease selling health coverage in Obamacare's insurance exchanges entirely.

The reason, according to a statement from the company, was the projection of continued massive financial losses, and the poorly designed structure of Obamacare's exchanges. The company, which had already announced plans to scale back participation in the law, said it was projecting losses of about $200 million this year, and that "those losses are the result of marketplace structural issues that have led to co-op failures and carrier exits, and subsequent risk pool deterioration." The individual market created by Obamacare relies on the participation of both individuals and insurers. But Aetna, at least, is arguing that the market is fundamentally flawed—and refusing to participate as a result.

Aetna's exit is yet another reminder of the growing instability that exists within the individual market system created under Obamacare, and the long term problems the program's shakiness is likely to cause under nearly any circumstance.

Obamacare's individual market has been under strain for years. Most of the non-profit insurers created under the law have failed and shut down. Beyond Aetna, most of the nation's major insurance companies have scaled back participation in the exchanges. In states such as Maryland, Virginia, and Connecticut, health insurers have already put in requests for large rate hikes during the coming year. In much of the country, there is only one insurer selling plans under the health care law.

Whether or not Obamacare's exchanges are in a death spiral, technically speaking, it's clear that there is a tremendous amount of volatility in the system. That volatility is likely to result in widespread disruption to individual health coverage arrangements, whether through higher rates or lost coverage and forced plan switching. What that means is that Obamacare is almost certainly not sustainable in its current form, because the politics of health care revolve—arguably more than anything else—around the disruption of health coverage and services. If current levels of instability persist, public dissatisfaction will almost certainly force change on the system.

This is one reason why the House GOP's legislation, which would rewrite Obamacare while leaving the core structure of its individual market mechanisms in place at the federal level, is so problematic. Its reforms would do little to quell Obamacare's instability. It might even exacerbate the health law's existing problems. And it would do so in a way that addresses few if any of the deeper structural issues with the American health care system.

But the same dynamic can also prevent change, as Republicans facing protesters angry about the passage of the House health care bill this week are discovering. At the same time, the complexities of health care politics also make it equally difficult to imagine permanently propping up Obamacare via additional government funding. Any effort to do so would amount to simply funneling money to health insurance companies—in effect, buying them off in order to stay in the exchanges and keep rates low. The Trump administration, for example, has prevaricated about whether or not it will continue to fund Obamacare's cost-sharing reduction (CSR) subsidies, which are paid directly to insurers in order to offset the costs of lower-income beneficiaries. The uncertainty about whether or not those payments will be made is now priced into the system. It is making insurers less inclined to participate, and more inclined to charge higher premiums when they do.

But uncertainty about those payments would exist even if Hillary Clinton was in the White House. That's because congressional Republicans filed suit against the Obama administration for making the payments, and a federal judge agreed with the GOP that the payments, which were not appropriated by Congress, violated the constitutional separation of powers. That lawsuit was put on hold after Trump won the election, but it would almost certainly be proceeding if Clinton had won—meaning that insurers would have been working under the threat of losing those subsidies via judicial order.

Moderate levels of instability are built into Obamacare's core policy scheme. From the beginning, that instability has been exacerbated by the political environment in which it was passed and implemented. Niether Republicans nor Democrats appear to have a workable solution in the pipeline. So in the long run, even moderate levels of instability are likely to prove crippling.

Enemies: They're Good for Business ...

... says the military-industrial-congressional-security (MICS) complex. Here's a good read from Colonel Ann Wright (retired), America's Ready Supply of Enemies.

Amazon's Impact on Retail

Two excellent reads on the massiveness of Amazon.  One question I've been asking for quite some time: when will the U.S. government and/or the EU go after Amazon?  Not that I want them to, but, remember what happened to Microsoft: everyone's darling until it wasn't. 

How Amazon Killed The Department Store, In Five Charts

Retail Sales Miss Across The Board; Grow At Slowest Pace Of 2017


On Conspiracy Theories

Nothing can demonstrate intellectual laziness as does demonstrated condescension in any form upon the discussion of conspiracies.  There is nothing odd, crazy or stupid about being skeptical or otherwise questioning the account or narrative of any event.  I have found it hard to articulate this position and now I don't have to try and do so any longer!  Jacob Hornberger has saved me in this regard!  Here's his latest, On JFK and Conspiracy Theories in which he uses the actions of the U.S. government itself to legitimize the acceptance of conspiracies!: links to a 12-minute video commentary called “Conspiracy’s Grip,” which focuses on various conspiracies and conspiracy theories, including the JFK assassination. Among the people who are featured in the commentary is Jefferson Morley, a former reporter for the Washington Post who runs the JFK Facts website and who will be one of the speakers at our upcoming conference “The National Security State and JFK.” Morley is the author of FFF’s bestselling ebook CIA & JFK: The Secret Assassination Files; Our Man in Mexico: Winston Scott and the Hidden History of the CIA; and (upcoming in October) The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton.

A fascinating aspect of the video commentary is how it lumps the JFK conspiracy with a host of other conspiracies, some of which are bogus. While the commentary appears to be simply an analysis of conspiracy theories in general, I got the distinct impression that the real purpose of the commentary was to suggest that the notion of conspiracy in the JFK assassination is as bogus as, say, the conspiracy in what has become known as Pizza-gate.

I was particularly struck by the statement at the end of the video by a man named Robert A. Goldberg, who is professor of history at the University of Utah, who, after referring to President Trump, lamented, “We are going to have a great deal of difficulty rooting conspiracy thinking out of the American mainstream.”

I find Goldberg’s type of mindset absolutely fascinating. Why would anyone want to root out conspiracy thinking from anyone, especially people whose minds orient toward critical thinking and do not automatically defer to authority?

Let’s start with an indisputable fact, one that might make people like Goldberg very uncomfortable: There are conspiracies happening on a regular basis, or at least allegations of conspiracies. If you don’t believe me, walk into any federal courtroom in the land. Ask the U.S. District Court Clerk to show you copies of pending federal indictments. I will guarantee you that the very first count of the vast majority of those indictments alleges … yes, conspiracy. In drug cases, it might be conspiracy to possess or conspiracy to distribute, but you can bet your bottom dollar that in most federal criminal indictments there will be an allegation of conspiracy.

What’s fascinating is that no one ever makes a big deal out of this. Here you have the Justice Department regularly accusing a vast number of people of conspiracy and there isn’t anyone out there exclaiming, “Conspiracy theory!” or calling U.S. Attorneys and assistant U.S. Attorneys conspiracy theorists.

Why is that? It’s because everyone recognizes that there are, in fact, lots of conspiracies taking place in society at any given time. The number of criminal indictments and convictions for conspiracy attest to that phenomenon.

What is a conspiracy? It’s really nothing special or extraordinary. A conspiracy is simply an agreement between two or more people to engage in an unlawful or nefarious act. That’s it. If a person does it all by himself, it’s not a conspiracy. If he does it in concert with one or more people, then it’s a conspiracy.

Thus, for the life of me, I have never been able to understand the mindsets of people like Goldberg. Why would anyone want to “root out conspiracy thinking” when conspiracies are nothing special and happen all the time, as reflected by all those federal criminal indictments and convictions. Does Goldberg want to root out conspiracy thinking within federal prosecutors?

Most of the time, those federal criminal indictments involve conspiracies between private individuals. But the fact is that there are also conspiracies that periodically take place within the government. As much as some people have convinced themselves that Watergate was the only conspiracy ever engaged in by federal officials, such is clearly not the case.

A good example is the Chilean coup of 1973, especially since it bears some similarities to the Kennedy assassination.

In 1970, a man named Salvador Allende was elected president of Chile. Allende, who had been a Chilean physician, believed in socialism and communism, much like former U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders does. Allende received a plurality of votes in the election, which meant that the Chilean parliament would decide who would be president. They elected Allende, who served 3 years of a 6-year term, until he was violently ousted in a coup in 1973 that was engineered by the Chilean national-security establishment.

If anyone in 1973 alleged that the U.S. national-security establishment might have played a role in the events leading up the coup, people like Goldberg would have undoubtedly exclaimed, “Conspiracy theory! We need to root out conspiracy thinking among the American people.”

But what oftentimes happens in cases like this is that there are people whose minds orient toward critical thinking and who don’t automatically defer to authority. They notice anomalies and inconsistencies in the official story that don’t make sense. They pull on a strand and keep pulling. They press for answers and explanations for what seem to others (i.e., those who don’t have critical mindsets and who automatically defer to authority) to be picayunish things. It is those people whose perseverance and determination ultimately bring to light the truth and the facts of the actual conspiracy.

That’s in fact what happened in Watergate. If it hadn’t been for Woodward and Bernstein, Watergate would have been just another “conspiracy theory,” one that today would be poo-pooed by those whose minds do not orient toward critical thinking and who lean toward deference to authority. It was because Woodward and Bernstein kept pulling on those stands that didn’t make sense, despite the objections of those who were claiming that there wasn’t a conspiracy, that the conspiracy to obstruct justice finally came to light.

In 1973, CIA Director Richard Helms testified before Congress about events in Chile. He told Congress under oath that the CIA had played no role in bringing about the Chilean coup. At that point, there were undoubtedly people like Goldberg, who exclaimed, “See, I told you so, another conspiracy theory, as Helms has testified! We just have to root our conspiracy thinking among the American people!”

But there were those strands, the anomalies and inconsistencies that didn’t make sense. And there were those with minds engage in critical thinking and who don’t automatically defer to authority. Ignoring the pleas of those who wanted the entire matter dropped as some sort of conspiracy theory, they kept pulling on the strands and kept pressing for answers and explanations.

Because of them, the entire U.S. conspiracy about Chile came to light. And, yes, it was a conspiracy. Actually, it was a big conspiracy in which many smaller conspiracies were enveloped.

The fact, as discomforting as it might be for some people to accept, was that Helms had lied. He had committed perjury before Congress. He might even have agreed with others, especially within the CIA, that he was going to lie, which would make it both perjury and a conspiracy to commit perjury.

The big conspiracy, which Helms and others were trying to keep secret, was to secretly bring about regime change in Chile, one that would oust Allende from power and replace him with a brutal “pro-capitalist,” anti-communist rightwing military dictatorship.

As part of the big conspiracy, some U.S. officials conspired to bribe members of the Chilean parliament to vote for someone other than Allende. Bribery of government officials is a felony. That conspiracy took place partly here in the United States and partly in Chile. No one was ever indicted for it.

Another conspiracy involved convincing the Chilean national-security establishment to “save” the country by initiating a violent coup that would install a military dictatorship over the country. A military coup was illegal under Chilean law and the Chilean constitution. No one was ever indicted for it.

Another conspiracy involved one to violently kidnap the commanding general of the Chilean armed forces, Gen. Rene Schneider, who, having taken an oath to support and defend his country’s constitution, was opposed to a coup. U.S. officials, both here in the United States and Chile, conspired to have him kidnapped. Both kidnapping and conspiracy to kidnap are felonies. Schneider was killed in the kidnapping attempt. That made the conspirators guilty of the crime of felony-murder. No one was ever indicted for conspiracy to kidnap and murder Rene Schneider.

Another conspiracy involved the cover-up of the CIA’s role in Schneider’s kidnapping and assassination. The CIA, undoubtedly operating on orders from people in Washington or Virginia, paid hush money to the kidnappers-murderers to keep them silent and repossessed the high-powered weapons that the CIA had smuggled into the country for the kidnapping. No one ever was ever indicted for that conspiracy.

Another conspiracy was to have the CIA engage in actions intended to bring economic suffering, possibly even starvation, to the people of Chile. For example, CIA officials bribed Chilean truck drivers to go on strike so that they wouldn’t deliver food to people around the country. The aim was to cause the Chilean people to suffer so that they would call for or welcome a coup. No one was ever indicted for this conspiracy.

Another conspiracy involved the murder of two American men, Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi, both of whom were leftist, socialist, or communist. Teruggi’s ideological situation was made worse by the fact that he had opposed the Vietnam War, which the U.S. was losing in 1973. Horman’s ideological situation was made worse by the fact that he had discovered U.S. participation in the coup and intended to disclose it. The U.S. conspiracy to have both men murdered by Chilean national-security officials was later revealed in a secret State Department memo, which stated that U.S. intelligence had played a role in their murders, a memo that some U.S. officials conspired to keep secret. Since it is highly unlikely that U.S. agents on the ground in Chile would have ordered the murder of two American citizens without approval from Washington or Virginia, that means that the conspiracy to murder Horman and Teruggi extended to the United States, where it is a crime. No one was ever indicted for conspiracy to murder Horman or Teruggi.

As it turned out, Helms had lied to Congress, intentionally. The people who were poo-pooing suspicions in the early 1970s that the U.S. government was involved in the events leading up to the Chilean coup were proven wrong. Thanks to those people who engaged in critical thinking, who refused to defer to authority, and who demanded answers to unexplained anomalies and inconsistencies in the evidence, the entire conspiracy to effect regime change in Chile, as well as all the subsidiary conspiracies, ultimately came to light.

It’s no different with the Kennedy assassination. Those with mindsets that are unable to engage in critical thinking or who automatically defer to authority simply exclaim, “Conspiracy theory!” But when you ask them to explain a strand of circumstantial evidence that cries out for explanation, they stare at you blankly. Their minds simply are incapable of doing that.

For example, if I were to ask Goldberg or any other person who shares his mindset to explain Saundra Spencer’s testimony before the Assassination Records Review Board, my hunch is that he would answer, “Who is Saundra Spencer?” The question would probably seem unimportant to him, an annoyance.

U.S. Navy petty officer Saundra Spencer was in charge of the White House Laboratory at the Naval Photographic Center in Washington. In that position, she dealt regularly with classified information and worked closely with the White House.

During the weekend of the assassination, Spencer was asked to develop the autopsy photographs of President Kennedy, on a top-secret basis. She complied with the request.

Thirty years later, in the 1990s, Spencer was summoned to testify before the Assassination Records Review Board. The ARRB was the commission established to secure release of long-secret records of the CIA, the Pentagon, the FBI, the Secret Service, and other federal agencies that related to the assassination of President Kennedy. Congress called the commission into existence as part of the JFK Records Act in response to the outcry over continued secrecy generated by Oliver Stone’s movie JFK, which posited that the Kennedy assassination was a regime-change operation based on “national security.” (See FFF’s best-selling ebook JFK’s War with the National Security Establishment: Why Kennedy Was Assassinated by Douglas Horne, who served on the staff of the ARRB.)

During her sworn testimony before the ARRB, Spencer was asked to identify the autopsy photographs that are in the official record. After examining the official photographs, she stated directly and unequivocally that the autopsy photographs that are in the official records were not the ones that she developed during the weekend of the assassination. She stated directly and unequivocally that the photographs she developed showed a large exit-type wound in the back of Kennedy’s head, which would connote having been shot from the front. The autopsy photographs in the official records depict the back of Kennedy’s head to be fully intact.

A person like Goldberg might say, “Oh, no big deal. That’s just a minor point. Let’s move on. We’ve got to root out conspiracy thinking in the American people.”

Not so to someone whose mind orients toward critical thinking and who doesn’t automatically defer to authority. That’s an anomaly that cries out for explanation. It’s a strand that needs pulling.

It would be virtually impossible to find a more credible witness than Saundra Spencer. The possibility that she would falsify evidence, especially relating to the assassination of a president of the United States, was, for all practical purposes, non-existent.

Yet to this day—and certainly not at the time she testified, no member of the Pentagon, the CIA, or any other person has ever offered any explanation for Spencer’s testimony. To my knowledge, no one has ever accused her of lying or being mistaken about what the photographs she developed–and certainly not at the time she testified and was still alive to refute any adverse accusations. If she were lying or mistaken in what she told the ARRB under oath, wouldn’t you think that someone in the Pentagon or the CIA would have openly objected at the time, approached the ARRB, and said, “Spencer is either lying or mistaken. We have to get to the bottom of this and clear it up”?

If Spencer was telling the truth and if she wasn’t mistaken, that can lead to but one conclusion: someone or some group of people substituted a different set of autopsy photographs into the official record.

But a critical mind doesn’t stop there. It would start pulling on the strand and ask more questions. Why would they do that, especially on the very weekend of the assassination? What would be their purpose? Why would they keep that secret for decades? Why did they never accuse Spencer of lying or making a mistake? What was their overall aim?

(For more information on Saundra Spencer, see my article “The JFK Autopsy Cover-Up: The Testimony of Saundra Spencer.”)

And that’s not the only strand that researchers have been pulling on in the Kennedy assassination. They are many others, as I set forth in my ebook The Kennedy Autopsy.

For example, everyone agrees that a large portion of Kennedy’s brain was blasted away by the gunshot that hit him in the head. Yet, the autopsy report reflects that Kennedy’s brain at the time of the autopsy weighed more than an average person’s brain. How is that possible? A brain cannot regenerate itself, especially after a person is dead. There is absolutely no possibility that Kennedy’s brain, much of which was blasted away, could weigh more than a regular person’s brain at the time of the autopsy.

For some people, something like that is just no big deal. For someone whose mind engages in critical thinking, however, it’s an enormous deal. It cries out for explanation, especially given that the official autopsy photographs in the record — the ones that Saundra Spencer said were not the ones she developed — depict a full-sized, albeit damaged, brain.

This year in October the National Archives is required to release tens of thousands of assassination-related records that the CIA and other federal agencies have succeeded in keeping secret for more than 50 years. The only thing that can stop the release is if President Trump grants a request by the CIA or other agency for an extension of time for more secrecy.

Some of us believe that the CIA is most definitely going to request an extension of time for secrecy, based on “national security.” No, not because there might be some confession of guilt in those records but because the records will likely contain even more anomalies and inconsistencies and strands to pull on, much like what happened in the Chilean regime-change operation several years after the Kennedy assassination.

Quote of the Day

"The federal government and the state governments have intervened haphazardly in the health-care insurance business so pervasively and for so long that by now the whole setup is nothing but a gigantic mess that flies in the face of the insurance principle and dictates a host of requirements that make no sense except as answers to the prayers of special-interest groups and rent seekers." - Robert Higgs, The Health-Care Insurance Quagmire as a Linguistic Problem

Note: read the piece!

A Monetary Policy Primer

I love it when an expert like George Selgin can take what many people want to convince the public is a complex subject, in this case, monetary policy, and reduce it to its simple, essential elements.

A Monetary Policy Primer, Part 1: Money

A Monetary Policy Primer, Part 2: The Demand for Money 

 A Monetary Policy Primer, Part 3: The Price Level

 A Monetary Policy Primer, Part 4: Stable Prices or Stable Spending? 

A Monetary Policy Primer, Part 5: The Supply of Money

A Monetary Policy Primer, Part 6: The Reserve-Deposit Multiplier

A Monetary Policy Primer, Part 7: Monetary Control, Then*

 A Monetary Policy Primer, Part 8: Money in the Latest Great Muddle 

A Monetary Policy Primer, Part 9: Monetary Control, Now 

New:  A Monetary Policy Primer, Part 10: Discretion, or a Rule?

Bonus Post: On "Shadow Money" by Julien Noizet

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Just About Covers It

HT: The Lonely Libertarian

Health Care "Reform" That WILL Work

I've said it before on this medium: the way to improve health care services while driving the price down ("impossible" says so many people) is to allow more people to PROVIDE the services, that is, look at the SUPPLY SIDE of the equation.  In other words, make it a truly free market system, not this crony-medical-capitalism system that's in place today. I called for more medical schools as well as the elimination of the AMA, which controls the number of people who can become doctors.  Also, I want more clinic-like facilities that operated on cash, not insurance.  How about those "certificate of need" protectionist requirements which requires new hospitals to seek the approval of EXISTING hospitals in the area!  There is so much that can be done to drive costs down while improving quality.  Likewise, let's take the system out of the hands of 3rd parties altogether (except for REAL insurance requirements) and where insurance is concerned, let's at least allow people to purchase insurance across state lines. 

Here's a quick read from David Henderson, Supply-Side Medical Reforms:
Whatever one thinks of the recent health care bill passed by the House of Representatives, one of my biggest disappointments is the lack of discussion of supply-side initiatives among even health economists who know many of the facts.
One refreshing exception is Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, who advocates allowing more doctors to immigrate. Back in February, in a short post titled "Why Do Proponents of More Immigration Never Mention Doctors?", he wrote, in response to the question in his title:

It really is hard to understand, the potential gains are enormous. If we got the pay of our doctors down to the levels in other wealthy countries it could save us close to $100 billion a year. Our doctors average more than $250,000 (that's after paying for malpractice insurance and other expenses), with doctors in places like Germany and Canada getting about half of this amount.

The barriers may not be as large in other highly paid professions (we prohibit foreign doctors from practicing here unless they complete a U.S. residency program), but the economy would benefit enormously from exposing all the highly paid professions to international competition. It is bizarre that this topic never gets raises even in pieces like this one in the NYT touting the virtues of immigration.

I'll match him and raise him. How about even letting more people already here become doctors, nurse practitioners, etc.? Does it really take 8 to 10 years of school and training after high school for someone to learn to be a good proctologist? Hard to believe. How about letting people get certificates certifying that they know how to do certain things?

We can have competition of certificate providers who have an incentive to establish a reputation. Look at almost any doctor's office wall today and you'll see that we already have that--certificates that they are trained in certain areas. But let's cut out the requirement that they go to medical school and allow competing certifiers. Milton Friedman wrote about this long ago in Capitalism and Freedom. There's just as strong a case for it now.

And while we're at it, let's get rid of the certificate-of-need laws that say that companies have to get government permission to start hospitals, expand hospitals, build stand-alone surgery centers, etc.
Do all these reforms, and you could well cut health care prices by 50% or more.