Friday, December 2, 2016

Tools for Killing: Truly Scary Sh*t

My, what a Buddhist I'm becoming!  At one time I would have found this so cool, but now, I reflect upon the wasted brilliance that goes into designing systems that kill. I've been told that my belief in peace is "utopian", "unrealistic" and even "dangerous".  Also, I've been told that my perspective on peace is a "first world comfort", which I find interesting because most of this state's killing is conducted in Third World countries, but I suppose I'm just missing the point. 

A Discomforting Read

The upcoming Italian elections (December 4, 2016) could lead to "the most violent economic shock in history".  Granted, likely hyperbole to a large extent, yet, an impact will definitely be felt.

To The Generation That Has Never Been Told "No": Grow Up

Daniel Hannan nails the evils of "virtue signaling" in two minutes:

Electoral College - Again

Though I still maintain the need for the Electoral College, I was surprised to read Ivan Eland's opinion that it should be abolished. My belief is that it provides a protection or should I say, a counterweight, to majority rule.  Given that our country is one of multiple states, a popular election would look like this:

In my non-expert opinion, a majority does not necessarily represent what's right, and in fact, that is why our country was founded as a republic. 

I also enjoy reading Randy Barnett, whose most recent book, Our Republican Constitution: Securing the Liberty and Sovereignty of We the People, focuses on the very important meaning and interpretation of the phrase "We the people".  Barnett believes the Electoral College is essential, while Eland does not, and I believe the difference is rooted in how the latter interprets "We the people": does the "we" mean "we as individuals" or "we" as a collective?  I think Eland believes in the latter. 

Does the Fed REALLY Have Control of Interest Rates?

I used to think so, but after reading George Selgin's Has the Fed been Holding Down Interest Rates? I'm not so sure.  Though I've long been a fan of Selgin's work, this particular piece has just destroyed my "understanding" of the Fed's influence on the actual interest rate.  What I find abhorrent about the NIRP and ZIRP is that in effect, low rates result in pushing people into becoming nothing less than speculators in the equity (stock) markets since saving cash in CDs or traditional savings accounts result in zero interest being earned and thus, in order to earn a return, people must buy stocks which results in a portfolio that certainly looks attractive yet could vanish in a flash should equity markets crash.  Anyway, I love learning and I have to dig deeper, but Selgin is one of the best sources of information available today!

India's War on Cash

The situation in India is just short of horrific and yet it's getting so little MSM air time (no surprise really).  As Cyprus was the test bed to see how the populace would react to bail-ins and thus determine how other countries in the West could enact similar programs, India is being watched for the reaction to its new policies regarding eliminating large denominations of cash, a precursor to eliminating cash altogether.  Below is a series of posts on this terrible situation in India.  Of course, the government claims their actions are intended fight corruption, but given that much of the population does not participate in traditional banking and is in fact, based in cash and functions as a shadow economy, their actions are destroying the savings and livelihoods of millions.

Scenes Of Panic In India As Gold Price Skyrockets After Currency Ban:
97% of the Indian economy is cash-based. With 88% of all outstanding currency no longer usable, the economy is coming to a standstill. The daily-wage laborer, who leads a hand-to-mouth existence in a country with GDP per capita of a mere $1,600, no longer has work, as his employer has no cash to pay his wages. His life is in utter chaos. He is not as smart as Modi — despite the fact that Modi has no real life experience except as a bully and perhaps in his early days as a tea-seller at a train-station. He has no clue where his life is headed from here.

These people are going hungry, and some have begun to raid food shops. People are dying for lack of treatment at hospitals. Old people are dying in the endless queues. Some are killing themselves, as they are unable to comprehend the situation and simply don’t know what to do. There are now hundreds of such stories in the media.

Small businesses are in shambles, and many will probably never recover. The Hindu wedding season has just started and people are left with unusable banknotes. Their personal and family lives are now an utter disaster.
Lacking moral and rational anchors, and hence compassion, members of the salaried middle class are unperturbed. Their salaries get taxed and most of the bribes they are getting end up in gold or property investments. In their minds, poor people and small businesses don’t matter. In the hypocritical culture of India, as long as the middle class is not suffering — for the time being — they prefer to take what they believe to be the higher moral ground. 

India’s Demonetization–What is Next?

India Surprises with a Wealth Tax on the Black Market

Indian Economy Grinds To A Halt After Cash-Ban: "Faith In System Shaken"

"Brace For Economic Disruption" SocGen Sees "Sharp Rise In Gold" As India Plans Cap On Cash Holdings:
At around 8pm on 8 November, India’s PM Modi announced, in a broadcast to the nation, that India’s INR500 and INR1000 banknotes would no longer be recognised as legal tender from midnight and that citizens would be able to exchange their existing notes of these denominations for other available (and legal) tender until 31 December 2016. The aim of the action was to counter tax evasion, counterfeiting and corruption. The idea of eliminating large denominations is that it makes it harder to hide large amounts of cash.

The problem with the move is that, in one fell swoop, just over 86% of all banknotes in circulation became just paper. Fact is, high percentage of transactions take place in cash in India, especially in the rural areas. The potential fallout from such a nationwide measure could have been averted if the government had been better prepared to handle the contingencies. However, the need for the government to keep the move a secret — so that tax evaders wouldn’t be alerted before the demonetisation took place — affected preparedness. Even Finance Minister Jaitley admitted that it would take two to three weeks to reconfigure the ATMs to handle the newer and larger notes. Given that India currently has about 202,801 ATMs all over the country, it could potentially take longer.

India Uses Helicopters, Air Force Planes To Deliver Freshly Printed Cash:
In other words, the Indian "demonetization" was merely a quick and easy way to eliminate some tens of billions of sovereign debt, while at the same time "cleansing" the economy of cash whose source can not be documented. It is likely that should India's experiment prove to be successful, it will be followed in many more cash-rich nations.

India's War On Cash Is Forcing The Rich To Beg The Poor For Help

India's Modi Admits Plan Shifting Nation To "Cashless Society"

Indian Government Seeks To Quell Panic: "No Plan To Restrict Gold Holdings"

When Money Dies - India's Demonetization Is A "Massive Man-Made Disaster" 

Indian Currency Crashes To Record Low As Cash Exchange Of Old Notes Suspended

India’s Currency Cancellation: Seigniorage and Cantillon Effects  

(Excellent Reads) from Shikha Dalmia: RIP India's Economic LiberalizationThe end of India's economic liberalization

New:  Angry Mobs Lock Up Indian Bankers As Cash Chaos Soars: "We Are Fearing The Worst"

The Times, They Are a Changing, Indeed

A worthy read from Justin Raimondo entitled A World to Win.  While I agree with the piece for the most part, I am disturbed by the term "new nationalism" to describe the changes underway in the world.  I'd rather it be called "new libertarianism" or "new sovereignty" as I am opposed to nationalism in all its forms.  Others refer to the trend underway as "popularism" which I likewise find disturbing, as in my opinion, it reflects majority rule, and of course, the potential for a destructive and/or ignorant majority is very high indeed.  Words matter.

Privacy In America Has Been Taken Off Life Support - RIP

The impact of this cannot be understated.  I have officially moved my copy of Orwell's 1984 from the fiction side of my library to non-fiction.  Whatever vestige of privacy that existed in this country is gone.  My father was so right: some prisons don't have walls.  Broad Expansion of FBI’s Hacking Authority Begins Today: [emphasis mine]
Lest we incorrectly assume that the United Kingdom stands alone in expanding surveillance power, today a controversial rule change granting the FBI much broader authority to remotely hack into computers comes on line.

Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure was updated earlier in the year, but didn't come into force until today, which gave Congress time to stop the rule change if it so wanted. This update to the rule allows federal law enforcement to seek permission to hack into large numbers of computers in any jurisdiction with a single judge's permission. Before today a judge could only authorize hacking into computers within his or her own district.

What's the big deal about this? Understand that this isn't just about hacking into computers of suspected criminals. It's about hacking into any computer that is connected to any sort of criminal investigation, and that potentially (and very likely) includes completely innocent parties who have had their own computers hacked and/or unwittingly installed malware to give a hacker access.

Tech companies and privacy activists have been critical of the broad scope of the rule change and are concerned about the potential consequences. From USA Today:
Opponents of the new rule, including Google and other big tech companies, say it would hurt crime victims twice by letting the government hack them after they've already been hit by criminal hackers. The government could potentially damage victims' computers and smartphones and destroy their data, critics say.

Federal agents must make "reasonable efforts" under the new rule to tell law-abiding Americans that their devices have been hacked by the government, but privacy advocates said that requirement is weak and victims may never be told about the intrusion.

"We can't give unlimited power for unlimited hacking — putting Americans' civil liberties at risk," [Sen. Steve] Daines said.
Daines and a small group of bipartisan legislators had been trying in Congress to delay the rule's implementation, but they failed.

So be warned. If you end up getting hacked somehow, the FBI may well be poking around inside your machine looking for the culprit without you even noticing.

More: Starting Tomorrow, Feds Can Hack Millions of Devices with One Warrant

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Bryan Caplan: Ten Points on the Wrong Side of History

Ten Points on the Wrong Side of History: (did I ever say how much I like this guy?!)
In the last few weeks, several critics have told me things like: "History will not be kind," "History will judge you," and "You are on the wrong side of history."  My initial reaction is sheer puzzlement.  If my critics can't persuade me with the evidence they currently possess, do they really think they can persuade me with evidence they claim they're going to acquire in the future?  One carefully-tailored bet would be worth a thousand of their Cassandra cries.

My considered reaction, though, is more elaborate.

1. "History," an abstract object, never thinks or says anything.  So if these claims are meaningful, they're about historians.

2. The underlying assumption of these warnings is: What historians think in a century is a very strong predictor of what's actually true.

3. This is a reasonable claim for narrow factual matters.  The passage of time doesn't just give historians more opportunities to collect evidence.  It also cools their emotions.  This is why I'd far rather read history than news.

4. For the Big Picture, however, historians' consensus is questionable at best.  Most obviously, their liberal bias is overwhelming, with over 30 Democrats for every Republican at top U.S. history departments.  And while you could argue reverse causation, you can't argue it with a straight face.  The vast majority of historians were very liberal years before they began seriously studying history.

5. When I actually look at historians' Big Pictures, they're even worse than their liberal bias suggests.  Economic illiteracy is rampant.  Social Desirability Bias rules the day.  And moral relativism reigns supreme.

6. Historians take little notice of me today, and I expect future historians will do the same.

7. If current or future historians did notice me, they would probably assess me negatively, because my Big Picture starkly diverges from their Big Picture.

8. But since I disrespect historians' judgments on such matters, why would I care?

9. If my critics really wanted to get my attention, they would predict that I myself will eventually revise my views.

10. I'm happy to bet against such claims, though admittedly my critics have to trust my honesty for such bets to work.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Podcast with Bryan Caplan

Well worth the 44 minutes of your time is this podcast from The Politics Guys with my favorite thinker/economist, Bryan Caplan.

Quote of the Day

"After the end of the Cold War, interventionists didn’t know what to do. Many of them held on the communists and communism as their official enemy and undoubtedly would have continued doing so if the 9/11 attacks had never happened.

But then came 9/11, which began as an anti-terrorist crusade but quickly morphed into an anti-Muslim crusade. Soon, interventionists transferred all their fears, anxiety, and negativity that they had had for commies to Muslims."

"When a foreign regime is killing people, especially children, most of whom happen to be Muslims, it shouldn’t surprise anyone when retaliation time comes, those who are retaliating are likely to be Muslims. So, once that happened, the interventionists seized on the opportunity to blast Muslims and Islam rather than point out and oppose the root of the problem — U.S. interventionism in the Middle East." - Jacob Hornberger, The Problem Is Foreign Interventionism, Not Muslims

Quote of the Day

"If you give advice, you need to be exposed to losses from it." - Nassim Taleb, Commencement Address, American University in Beirut, 2016

Note: Please, read the link.  It's short yet extremely powerful.  For the record: I have very much disappointed my 18-year old self.

All Good Reasons For Not Freaking Out (about Trump)

Once again, Bryan Caplan brings sanity to an insane world in his latest, Why I'm Not Freaking Out:
Until recently, I thought I'd steered clear of what Scott Alexander calls, "the toxoplasma of rage."  Now, sadly, I'm at the point where people are getting angry at me for failing to be properly angry about Trump's election.  This will probably only make them angrier, but in case anyone's genuinely curious, here's my thinking.

1. Policy will be terrible under Trump.  But in my view, policy is always terrible.

2. Policy will probably be even more terrible under Trump than it was under Obama, or would have been under Clinton.  As a champion of open borders, he has given me many reasons to fear he will make U.S. immigration policy even more draconian than it already is.  And as a pacifist, Trump's odd blend of dovish and hawkish statements, combined with his extreme inexperience, make me fear he will murder an unusually large number of innocent people for a U.S. president.

3. But I could be wrong - and not in a cop-out, "I can't be absolutely sure" kind of way.  I think there's a 20% chance Trump will, in the end and overall, be noticeably better than Clinton would have been.
4. How can I say such a thing? 

For starters, there are the generic reasons: Presidents promise a lot more than they even try to deliver, the U.S. political system has severe inertia, the world is complex. Furthermore, disasters are very rare, and our ability to forecast them is poor

For Trump, we have more specific doubts: He's a reality t.v. star who adopted most of his political "convictions" quite recently.  If he'd promised to adopt policies I favor, I would not trust such a man fulfill his promises.  So why should I trust him to fulfill his promises to adopt policies I oppose?

5. If you think I'm in denial, I'm open to bets.  Indeed, if you want to change my mind, the mere offer to bet is vastly more persuasive than emoting on me.

6. But how can I be so blase?  To repeat: In my view, policy is always terrible.  So I have to choose between being miserable all the time, or striving to be happy when policy is terrible.  I have long made the latter choice.  I will continue to make this choice even if additional very bad things happen to mankind.

7. How can anyone with my bleak view of the world possibly be happy?  By creating a Bubble - a small corner of the world that works the way I think the whole world should work.  Futile anger has no place in my Bubble, but nobility does.

8. What if very bad things happen to me or my family personally?  Then I'll cope as best I can, taking concrete actions likely to protect my family.  Getting angry about U.S. politics plainly doesn't qualify.

9. But don't I sympathize with the potential victims of Trump's policies - the immigrants he'll deport, the would-be immigrants he'll exclude, the Middle Eastern civilians he'll kill?  Of course I sympathize.  If I could save them, I would.  But I almost certainly can't.  All I can do is hope for the best.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

On Fidel Castro

From the best, George Will in Fidel Castro and dead utopianism:
With the end of Fidel Castro’s nasty life Friday, we can hope, if not reasonably expect, to have seen the last of charismatic totalitarians worshiped by political pilgrims from open societies. Experience suggests there will always be tyranny tourists in flight from what they consider the boring banality of bourgeois society and eager for the excitement of sojourns in “progressive” despotisms that they are free to admire and then leave.

During the 1930s, there were many apologists for Joseph Stalin’s brutalities, which he committed in the name of building a workers’ paradise fit for an improved humanity. The apologists complacently said, “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.” To which George Orwell acidly replied: “Where’s the omelet?” With Castro, the problem was lemonade.

Soon after Castro seized power in 1959, Jean-Paul Sartre, the French intellectual whose Stalinist politics were as grotesque as his philosophy was opaque, left Les Deux Magots cafe in Paris to visit Cuba. During a drive, he and Castro stopped at a roadside stand. They were served warm lemonade, which Castro heatedly said “reveals a lack of revolutionary consciousness.” The waitress shrugged, saying the refrigerator was broken. Castro “growled” (Sartre’s approving description): “Tell your people in charge that if they don’t take care of their problems, they will have problems with me.” Sartre swooned:

“This was the first time I understood — still quite vaguely — what I called ‘direct democracy.’ Between the waitress and Castro, an immediate secret understanding was established. She let it be seen by her tone, her smiles, by a shrug of the shoulders, that she was without illusion. And the prime minister . . . in expressing himself before her without circumlocution, calmly invited her to join the rebellion.”

Another political innovator, Benito Mussolini, called his regime “ennobled democracy,” and as the American columnist Murray Kempton mordantly noted in 1982, photographs of Castro “cutting sugar cane evoke the bare-chested Mussolini plunged into the battle for wheat.” Castro’s direct democracy was parsimonious regarding elections but permissive of shrugs. It did, however, forbid “acts of public destruction,” meaning criticism of communism.

This charge condemned Armando Valladares, then 23, to 22 years in Castro’s prisons. Stalin’s terror was too high a price to pay for a great novel, but at least the world got from it Arthur Koestler’s “Darkness at Noon.” And although Castro’s regime, saturated with sadism, should never have existed, because of it the world got Valladares’s testament to human endurance, his prison memoir “Against All Hope.” Prison food was watery soup laced with glass, or dead rats, or cows’ intestines filled with feces, and Castro’s agents had special uses for the ditch filled with the sewage from 8,000 people.

On April 15, 1959, 15 weeks after capturing Havana, Castro, then 32, landed in Washington at what is now Reagan National Airport. He had been in the United States in 1948, when he studied English and bought a Lincoln. This time, on April 16, in a concession to bourgeois expectations, he dispatched an aide to buy a comb and toothbrush. His connections to communism? “None,” he said. He endorsed a free press as “the first enemy of dictatorship,” and said free elections were coming soon. Then he was off to a Princeton seminar and a lecture in the chapel at Lawrenceville prep school, well received at both places.

By July red stars were being painted on Cuban military vehicles. Three years later, Soviet ballistic missiles were arriving. A year after that, a Castro admirer murdered the U.S. president whose administration had been interested in, indeed almost obsessed with, removing Castro.

U.S. flings at “regime change” in distant lands have had, to say no more, uneven results, but the most spectacular futility has been 90 miles from Florida. Castro was the object of various and sometimes unhinged U.S. attempts to remove him. After the Bay of Pigs debacle, the Kennedy administration doubled down with Operation Mongoose, which included harebrained assassination plots and a plan skeptics called “elimination by illumination” — having a U.S. submarine surface in Havana harbor and fire star shells into the night sky to convince Catholic Cubans that the Second Coming had come, causing them to rebel against Castro the anti-Christ. Nevertheless, Castro ruled Cuba during 11 U.S. presidencies and longer than the Soviet Union ruled Eastern Europe.

Socialism is bountiful only of slogans, and a Castro favorite was “socialism or death.” The latter came to him decades after the former had made Cuba into a gray museum for a dead utopianism.

Us and Them

Walter Williams' Let's Fight Tyranny:
For more than a half-century, it has become abundantly clear that our nation faces increasing irreconcilable differences. At the root is the fact that there is one group of Americans who mostly want to be left alone and live according to the rule of law and the dictates of the U.S. Constitution while another group of Americans wants to control the lives of others and ignore both the rule of law and constitutional restraints on the federal government. Should those Americans who favor the rule of law and constitutional government fight against or yield to those Americans who have contempt for the rule of law and constitutional government? Let's look at a few of those irreconcilable differences.

Some Americans prefer to manage their own health care needs. Others wish to have the federal government dictate their health care. Some Americans want their earnings to be taxed only for the constitutionally mandated functions of the federal government, which are outlined in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution. Others think American earnings should be taxed for anything on which Congress can muster a majority vote. Though there is no constitutional authority for federal involvement in public education, some Americans want the federal government involved. The list of irreconcilable differences among the American people is nearly without end. These differences survive because of the timidity of those offended and the brute power of the federal government.

I think reconciliation is impossible; therefore, separation is the only long-term peaceful solution. Separation and independence do not require that liberty-loving Americans overthrow the federal government any more than they required Gen. George Washington to overthrow the British government in order to secede or required his successor secessionist, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, to overthrow the U.S. federal government.

You say, "All those government acts that you say violate the rule of law and the Constitution have been ruled constitutional by the courts!" That's true. The courts have twisted the Constitution, but Thomas Jefferson warned, "To consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions (is) a very dangerous doctrine indeed and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy."

State governors and legislators ought to summon up the courage our Founding Fathers had in their response to the fifth Congress' Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798. Written by Jefferson and James Madison, the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798 and 1799 stated that those states' legislatures considered the Alien and Sedition Acts unconstitutional. They said, "Resolved, That the several States composing, the United States of America, are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their general government ... and ... whensoever the general government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force." The 10th Amendment to our Constitution holds, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

The federal government should not be permitted to determine the scope of its own powers. Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist No. 28, said, "The State governments will, in all possible contingencies, afford complete security against invasions of the public liberty by the national authority." One response to federal encroachment is for state governments to declare federal laws that have no constitutional authority null and void and refuse to obey them. In other words, they should nullify federal laws that violate the Constitution. In good conscience, liberals could not object to nullification. There are hundreds of so-called sanctuary cities in the U.S. — liberal places that have chosen to nullify federal immigration laws and harbor immigrants who are here illegally.

Former slave Frederick Douglass advised: "Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them. ... The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress." We Americans appear to have very limited endurance in the face of tyrannical oppression.

So It Is

The Obama administration has decided to stretch the 15-year-old congressional authorization for war against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, or those harboring them, to include an illegal war against a group in Somalia – al-Shabab – that wasn’t even in existence at the time of the attacks in 2001.

In fact, as with many of its Islamist terrorist opponents worldwide – including the original al Qaeda, the perpetrator of 9/11 that arose from U.S. arming of Mujahideen guerrillas against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s and al Qaeda in Iraq, which arose to combat the US invasion there and morphed into ISIS – the United States inadvertently helped create al-Shabab in the first place. Al-Shabab did not arise until after 2007, long after 9/11, when the US sponsored an Ethiopian invasion of Somalia to wrest control of the country from a milder Islamist council. The more virulent al-Shabab was rose to attempt to repel this foreign invasion.

More generally, after 9/11, rather than following the congressional authorization and focusing like a laser beam on countering the original al Qaeda group and their patrons, the Afghan Taliban, the George W. Bush administration launched a general "war on terror," which covered all terrorist groups of international scope, regardless of whether or not they focused on attacking US targets. In the end, this massive Bush administration violation of the narrow 2001 authorization led to illegal US drone wars and airstrikes in countries all over the Middle East and Southwest Asia, Somalia (against al-Shabab), Yemen (against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula), Pakistan (against the Pakistani Taliban), and Iraq, Syria, and Libya (against ISIS). The Obama administration then accelerated all these unconstitutional wars. Now Obama is trying shore up the already thin legal fig leaf, so that it can pass such travesties – which actually make Islamist groups more rabid each time the US intervenes – onto the incoming Trump administration. When Obama took office, he complained that he inherited from the Bush administration an economic meltdown and a military quagmire in Iraq, but he in turn is bequeathing a legal quagmire to his successor.

Ambiguities in the US Constitution do exist, but which branch of government was given the war power is not one of them. In 18th century Britain, the prerogative of deciding to go to war was the king’s. Having been a victim of this prerogative, debates at the American Constitutional Convention of 1787, the Constitution that resulted, and actual practice in the republic for almost two centuries until the Korean War in 1950 demonstrate conclusively that Congress – the people’s branch – gets to initiate war, not the executive. The Constitution specifically gives Congress the power to commence war; the debates at the Constitutional Convention indicate that the only exception is for urgent self-defense – that is, when US territory is under sustained attack, thus preventing the Congress from convening. Even then, the Congress should meet at the earliest possible time to ratify any moves in self-defense made by the president, as commander in chief. Very early in American history, even in the informal and sporadic war at sea with France (the Quasi-War) in the last few years of the 18th century, the Congress was in the driver’s seat in conducting the war and President John Adams complied with its desires.

And in contrast to presidential claims of an expansive commander-in-chief role since the Korean War, the Constitution’s framers intended, and normal practice till 1950 confirmed, that the president’s role in that capacity was taken narrowly to mean only commanding troops on the battlefield after war had already been initiated by Congress – not commanding the entire nation, in times of crises or otherwise.

Yet since 1950, presidents have claimed powers to start wars even without any authorization from Congress – either getting none (for example, Bill Clinton in his war to separate Kosovo from Serbia in 1999 or Barack Obama in overthrowing Muammar Gaddafi in Libya in 2011) or claiming that they needed to do so only as a courtesy, which was primarily a gambit to win increased political support for their military escapades (for example, both Bushes in each of their misadventures in Iraq).

Another trick is what Bush and Obama have done with the aforementioned drone wars – trying to blatantly fold wars against other only tangentially-related "Islamist" groups in countries far from Afghanistan into the congressional authorization for war against the perpetrators of 9/11 – the original al-Qaeda group and their hosts, the Afghan Taliban.

Such legal gymnastics must stop. During the Trump administration, the many drone wars either must be made legally legitimate, with specific approval for each of them from the people’s houses of Congress, or they must be stopped. The latter solution would be preferred – because those counterproductive foibles are making the threat from Islamist terrorism more virulent with each US military intervention – but even the former option would at least put the wars on a much sounder constitutional footing.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Fidel Castro

Scumbag extraordinaire! While I don't rejoice his death, I do rejoice his passing.  The outpouring of accolades from those on the left/progressive side of the political continuum is disgusting to say the least, but then again, it is to be expected.   Here's a fine post from David Henderson which just about covers it regarding the Cuban murderer, Fidel Castro's Monstrous Behavior:
I learned about flash mobs early on in my life. One of my aunts was particularly religious. She and I end up going to church one Sunday morning probably in late 1961 or early 1962. While the mass is taking place, a mob of anti-Catholic protesters gathers around the church and blocks all exits. The angry mob makes the parishioners walk through a long serpentine of insults, screams, and spit as they exit the church.
This is from George Borjas's heartfelt post in which he remembers living in the hell hole of Fidel Castro's Cuba.
 Another excerpt:
In the days before credit cards and electronic transfers, all transactions were made in cash. Castro quickly found a simple way of confiscating "excess" cash. The currency was changed overnight. And everyone had to turn in their old paper currency for the new paper currency, with some limits being imposed on the amount of the transactions. There was a miles-long line on what I think was a Saturday morning, as the entire Cuban population was turned into beggars for the new currency.

Notice the connection between the government's total control of the money supply and the degree of economic freedom.
By the way, George Borjas wrote the piece on immigration for my Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. It's here.
I disagree with George's recent statements against allowing a lot of immigrants into the United States. But I'm SO glad that George got in.

HT2 Greg Mankiw.

Bryan Caplan on Fidel Castro

Absolutely love this guy!  How Castro Is Like the Minimum Wage:
How many people did Castro murder?  The authoritative Black Book of Communism blames him for 15-17,000 executionsMore speculative estimates put the blood of another 80,000 Cubans on his hands - everyone who perished trying to flee his doleful paradise.  And the man was guilty of many other evils.

Still, by the bloody standards of Communist dictators, Castro's rule was mild.  Castro's Cuba doesn't even look like the biggest charnel house in modern Latin America.  The Guatemalan Civil War (1960-1996) probably claimed more innocent lives.  Indeed, multiple U.S. Presidents have killed more civilians than Castro - though of course they had the power to murder vastly more.  Why then should we dwell on the horrors of Castroism - or make a point of dancing on Fidel's grave?

Here's why: Because Castro is a symbol of larger evils - evils that claimed many millions of lives - and could do so again.  Castro symbolizes the idea that backwards countries can and should take the following path to modernity:

1. Wage civil war by any means necessary to overthrow existing regimes.

2. After victorious civil war, hand total power over to Marxist intellectuals.

3. Cheer while these Marxist leaders expropriate business, expel foreign investors, and try to run the whole economy.

4. Use this centralized economy to build up a mighty military.

5. Deploy this military (and military-industrial complex) to help Marxist intellectuals in other countries copy your path to modernity.

Any person of common sense would have foreseen the fruits of this demented recipe: mass murder, slavery, war, famine, and poverty.  But common sense is, alas, not so common.  The horrific Marxist-Leninist "experiment" spread from Russia to Eastern Europe, China, southeast Asia, Africa, and Castro's own Latin America.  And while most of these regimes were far worse than Cuba, Castro did great evil - and continues to do evil - by charismatically inspiring sympathy for this psychopathic path to a glorious future.

In my mind, then, Castro is a lot like the minimum wage: something we must stubbornly decry even though there are far greater ills in the world.  My words: 
The minimum wage is far from the most harmful regulation on the books.  Why then do I make such a big deal about it?  Because it is a symbol of larger evils.

From the standpoint of public policy, the minimum wage is a symbol of the view that "feel-good" policies are viable solutions to social ills: "Workers aren't paid enough?  Pass a law so employers have to pay them more.  Problem solved."...

We need to get rid of the minimum wage.  But that's only a first step.  Our ultimate goal should be to get rid of the errors that the minimum wage has come to represent.
We need to get rid of all sympathy for Castro.  But that, too, is only a first step.  Our ultimate goal should be to get rid of the errors that Castro has come to represent.  Castro was a villain straight out of 1984.  And in a just world, Orwell's words would adorn his tombstone:
One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Quote of the Day

"The euro was one of the biggest mistakes in modern European history. It represents a classic example of technocratic overreach---the Greeks would say hubris. The core problem with the euro is that it's an experiment, which was set up in a fashion that is extremely difficult to undo if it fails. There is no possibility of a quick Italian devaluation; the more likely result is a massive government default, and a banking crisis." - Scott Sumner, The Third Domino?

Damn Right: Come And Get'em If You Dare

It seems obvious: Restrict gun access, and people will be safer.

Indeed, in all four presidential debates, Hillary Clinton and running mate Tim Kaine have pushed for background checks on private transfers of guns. Clinton says this will “keep guns out of the hands of those who will do harm.” But theory and practice don’t always match. Too often, gun bans or background checks don’t stop criminals and instead disarm law-abiding citizens, particularly poor minorities. This only makes life easier for criminals.

There are already 300 million guns in circulation, and more than 12 million enter the market each year. With 3-D metal printers, more people will be able to make weapons that are indistinguishable from those purchased in stores. It would be almost impossible to remove those weapons from circulation. Getting rid of these weapons would require a door-to-door campaign by law enforcement officials, and even that would be of only limited effectiveness.

It’s also not clear that it would help. When countries like England, Wales, Ireland and Jamaica banned guns and handguns, they saw a subsequent increase in murder rates. Even these island nations, which have relatively easily monitored and defendable borders, have faced fivefold or sixfold increases in murder rates after guns were banned. Some of the biggest spikes in murder rates corresponded with increases in drug gang violence.

Some think that background checks are the answer. Indeed, after each mass public shooting, President Obama calls for background checks on the selling of guns through private transfers. But these new rules wouldn’t have stopped the attackers. Since at least 2000, all of America’s mass shooters obtained guns without going through private transfers. Some of the attacks occurred in states that already have these background check laws.

As I show in my book, “The War on Guns,” there is no evidence that expanded background checks reduce rates of violent crime including mass public shootings, suicide, murder of police officers or domestic violence against women. (Gun-control groups contest this claim.)

Meanwhile, other law-abiding citizens are left in a lurch. People who have been mistakenly stopped from buying guns are forced into a costly appeals process that frequently requires them to hire lawyers. These “initial denials” affect certain racial groups more than others. Hispanics are more likely to share names with other Hispanics, and the same is true of blacks. Because 30 percent of black males are forbidden to buy guns because of their criminal records, law-abiding black males are especially likely to have their names confused with those of prohibited people.

And these background checks are costly. In D.C., checks on private transfers add $125 to the cost of a gun. That fee can put guns out of reach for the most likely victims of violent crime: poor blacks living in high-crime, urban areas.

Other gun laws, like gun-free zones, can create targets for mass shooters. One need only listen to the wiretapped recording of an Islamic State supporter who was planning an attack this spring. His target was one of the biggest churches in Detroit. In the recording, Khalil Abu-Rayyan explains: “A lot of people go there. Plus people are not allowed to carry guns in church. Plus it would make the news.” Fortunately, the man’s father alerted the FBI. Mass public shooters often perpetrate violence in public places where permitted concealed handguns are banned.

Since at least 1950, every single one of Europe’s public mass shootings has occurred in a place where general citizens are banned from carrying guns. In America, there have been four exceptions to that rule.

In late 2013, the secretary general of Interpol — essentially a global version of the FBI — proposed two ways of preventing mass shootings: “One is to say we want an armed citizenry; you can see the reason for that. Another is to say the enclaves [should be] so secure that in order to get into the soft target, you’re going to have to pass through extraordinary security.”

But Noble warned, “You can’t have armed police forces everywhere.” He also suggested that it is essentially impossible to stop killers from getting weapons into these “secure” areas. He concluded by posing the question, “Is an armed citizenry more necessary now than it was in the past, with an evolving threat of terrorism?” The answer is an emphatic yes.

Correction: An earlier version of this piece mis-characterized the research of gun control groups and the error rate of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

The Electoral College: A Necessary Check on Mob Rule

As Walter Williams states, democracy is little more than mob rule.  Everyone's fine with being in a majority - until they're not.  The Electoral College always takes its share of abuse, however, it is a necessary requisite for the republic that is the United States.  David Harsanyi has penned a fine post on the subject, Ignore the Mob - Long Live the Electoral College:
This week, anti-Trump protesters hit the streets in big cities around the country, chanting "This is what democracy looks like!" Yes. That's the problem.

For many Democrats, the greatest political system is the one that instills their party with the most power. Now that it looks like Hillary Clinton will "win" the fictional popular vote over Donald Trump, people—not just young people who've spent their entire lives being told America is a democracy, but people who know better—are getting hysterical about the Electoral College. Not only is it "unfair" and "undemocratic" but like anything else progressives dislike these days it's also a tool of "white supremacy" and "sexism."

If liberals truly believe majoritarianism is the fairest way to run a government, then why shouldn't 50 percent of states be able to repeal constitutional amendments?

(Democrats only run only 13 state legislatures. But you know, when it's convenient.) Why should a bunch of white men from the late 18th century have any say in how contemporary Americans live? If proportional government is unfair, why do we even have two senators from each state? Why not 20 from California and one from Wyoming?

Why have states at all? Maybe we should have a series of referendums instead of relying on Congress.

Maybe we should let protesters overturn elections?

Granted, because of our childish propensity to use the word "fair," I understand that the Electoral College must seem like a relic that undercuts the sacramental notion of "one man, one vote." As if a losing vote ever counts anyway. But if you still generally believe the Founding Fathers did a decent job setting up the conditions for material prosperity and individual freedom to guarantee a stable government and dispersed political power, you should be a big fan of the Electoral College.

If it needs repeating, in the United States of America, we have an Electoral College, wherein the president and vice president aren't elected directly by the voters, but rather by electors who are chosen through the popular votes from each state. Your state's portion of electors equals the number of members in its congressional delegation—one for each member in the House of Representatives plus two for your senators. We have 51 separate elections. This is done so that every part of the nation has some kind of say over the next executive. The president, after all, is not a monarch. He does not make laws. Not even President Barack Obama was supposed to do that. Voters need to view the system as a whole to understand why this is "fair."

Diffused democracy weakens the ability of politicians to scaremonger and use emotional appeals to take power. It blunts the vagaries of the electorate. So, naturally, the left has been attacking the Electoral College for years—including talk of a national "compact" to circumvent smaller states.

Need it be repeated again, the Electoral College, and other mechanisms that balance democracy, create moderation and compromise—they stop one party from accumulating too much power. It is certainly possible that Obama's unilateral governance over the past eight years had a lot to do with the pushback of three consecutive losses in the Senate and Congress, and the election of Donald Trump.

To some extent, the Electoral College impels presidents and their political parties to consider all Americans in rhetoric and action. By allowing two senators for both Wyoming, with a population of less than 600,000, and California, with a population of more than 38 million, we create more national cohesion. We protect large swaths of the nation from being bullied. We incentivize Washington, D.C.—both the president and the Senate—to craft policy that meets the needs of Colorado as well as New York.

Moreover, besides protecting the rights of Americans who reside in those states, it should also remind us that smaller states have industries and functions that outweigh a measurement in population alone—the agriculture sector of a state, for instance. In a world with increasing productivity, this matters more than ever. Smaller states are laboratories for ideas, as are bigger ones. If they become marginalized and then coerced to embrace the policies favored by the people in urban areas, the nation loses valuable resourcefulness, imagination and brainpower.

It's also worth remembering that the dynamics of this election would be completely different if the popular vote actually mattered. The election is geared toward winning states, not people. There is no guarantee that Hillary Clinton would have won. There are tons of conservatives in blue states, for instance, who do not vote because they understand that the majority around them have a different political outlook. A direct national election would mean focusing on blue-state Republicans and red-state liberals. I'm not sure that setup works out for Democrats exactly as they imagine.
And just for effect, The 'United' States Of America (Without The Electoral College):

Trump's Next Step: Filling The Cabinet Positions

Much of President-elect Trump's future success, not to mention the future of the country, depends on his Cabinet appointments.  First, if he fills it with all white, Ivy League males, we're all screwed.  Secondly, if he fills it with Bush acolytes, we're all screwed.  I believe he needs to distance himself as much as possible from Establishment icons.  Names I've seen mentioned absolutely disgust me already: Newt Gingrich; John Bolton; Rudy Giuliani ...  Let's face it, any African-American, any Latino and any woman who is asked to join will face such harassment from their peers, I worry for the lack of candidates willing to give it a go.  Third, and this is critical: absolutely do not keep anyone from Obama's Cabinet.  If he's going to "clean the swamp", it starts here.  This being said, reaching across the aisle is highly recommended and desired, but do not appoint either an Obama or Clinton person.  If Chris Christie is actually leading his Transition Team, that's already one bad sign.

Below are the positions he needs to fill, along with the current occupant.  The bold italicized underlined name or comment are my iconoclastic recommendations:  (I'll continually update)

Vice President of the United States
Joe Biden 
Mike Pence

Department of State
Secretary John Kerry
Ron Paul

Department of the Treasury
Secretary Jack Lew
David Stockman needs to be in the Cabinet in whichever role he can do the most, either Treasury or his old role under Reagan: OM&B

Department of Defense
Secretary Ashton Carter
Candidate?  First order of business is to get out of NATO; South Korea; Japan and the Middle East

Department of Justice
Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch
Andrew Napolitano
Trump's Pick:  Jeff Sessions - Scumbag.  Grade: F

Department of the Interior
Secretary Sally Jewell
Eliminate the department

Department of Agriculture
Secretary Thomas J. Vilsack
Eliminate the department

Department of Commerce
Secretary Penny Pritzker

Department of Labor
Secretary Thomas E. Perez

Department of Health and Human Services
Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell

Department of Housing and Urban Development
Secretary Julián Castro
Set a timetable for the elimination of this department, giving this area back to the States.

Department of Transportation
Secretary Anthony Foxx
Randal O'Toole and mandate he eliminate the department. 

Department of Energy
Secretary Ernest Moniz
Eliminate the department

Department of Education
Secretary John King
Eliminate the department

Department of Veterans Affairs
Secretary Robert McDonald
Candidate?  However, the person must be charged with housecleaning the VA Hospital mess - immediately

Department of Homeland Security
Secretary Jeh Johnson
Eliminate the department and abolish the TSA

The following positions have the status of Cabinet-rank:

White House Chief of Staff
Denis McDonough

Environmental Protection Agency
Administrator Gina McCarthy
Eliminate the department

Office of Management & Budget
Director Shaun L.S. Donovan

United States Trade Representative
Ambassador Michael Froman

United States Mission to the United Nations
Ambassador Samantha Power
Trump's Pick: South Carolina Govenor Nikki Haley. Grade ? TBD - more research necessary.

Council of Economic Advisers
Chairman Jason Furman
Daniel Mitchell Bio

Also on the Council: Walter E. Williams; Thomas Sowell

Small Business Administration
Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet
Eliminate the department

The Latest from Walter Williams and Thomas Sowell

Walter E. Williams: 

Blacks and Politicians

Trump and College Chaos:
What lies at the heart of multiculturalism, diversity and political correctness is an intolerance for different opinions. 

Thomas Sowell: 

What Now?

What Now?: Part II

Backward-Looking 'Progressives'

Just About Covers It

Source: Sense of Events

Very appropriate at this time ...

Gone, But Unfortunately Not To Jail

James Clapper, perjurer, is finally gone.  He should be heading to Leavenworth but one step at a time. Here's 5 Reasons America Should be Happy to See James Clapper Leave His Post:
After what CNN reports as "months" of anticipation of quitting, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper submitted his resignation today (something all current administration high officials will also be doing during the administration change).

From past Reason reporting, let's remember just five reasons America should be quite happy to see the door hitting Clapper on his way out, and hard.

1) Most importantly, Clapper believed that any sort of warrant requirement for scouring citizens' electronic records was untenable as it would hobble the government's ability to find and prevent terror attacks—and used as evidence for this a list of terror attacks that existing surveillance powers did nothing to uncover or stop—while engaging in lobbying Congress to make sure it didn't do anything to actually protect America's liberties and to further empower his own job.

See Ronald Bailey's reporting on the above.

If the Trump administration is so against citizen or business interest lobbying, I hope, but do not expect it to, take a firmer stand against executive branch officials lobbying Congress to expand their ability to violate Americans' constitutional rights.

2) Clapper's a confessed perjurer about his assaults on Americans' rights, lying to Congress about National Security Agency's privacy violating practices, as Ronald Bailey noted-with-alarm.

Here's the video. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), bless him, believed Clapper, rather than quietly retiring, should have maybe faced jail time for that.

3) Clapper's best defense when his perjury became obvious was that, as director of national intelligence, he was so incompetent in any role as a watchful and efficient executive that he just forgot the massive metadata electronic surveillance program covering pretty much all Americans existed when asked about it, as Scott Shackford reported.

4) Clapper presided over a national system in which our intelligence workers got to enjoy and share embarrassing private information gathered about Americans, because their systems and methods made differentiating targetable foreign actors from Americans pretty much impossible, as J.D. Tuccille reported.

5) According to his own boss President Obama (who chose not to fire him for it), the intelligence operations Clapper managed did a shoddy job understanding and relaying relevant facts about radical Islam (which, whether or not you agree, the U.S. government sees as our most pressing actual military problem demanding good intelligence) in Syria and regarding ISIS in Iraq.

Clapper is going to be gone, and that's good. What is not good is that the powers, and the vision of the proper use of those powers, that the next DNI will control will almost certainly be the same as Clapper's, if not worse.

What we know about Trump's attitude toward whistleblower Edward Snowden who made the existence of such surveillance systems undeniable—that is, that he's a traitor who deserves death—there is little reason to believe any Trump appointee will be any better. This is not a guy who seems to think anything should hobble him or the government it now controls in pursuit of his perceived enemies.

The departure of an abuser of power is cause for a small moment of glee. That the abuse of power inherent in the job is going nowhere is cause for that eternal vigilance we are always hearing about.

A Letter To the Angry People

Love Bryan Caplan!  If the Angry Could Hear What the Calm Do Not Say:
Dear Angry Person,

I can tell that you're angry at me again.  I think I understand your complaint, though I have trouble understanding why this specific issue is upsetting you on this specific day.  But based on past experience, asking for clarification will only make you angrier, without helping me avoid your future anger.  As usual, then, I plan to appease you.

But in the silence of my mind, I've got a question for you.  In all the years we've known each other, how many times have I expressed anger at you?  By my count, the answer is... zero.  Question: Do you think that's because your behavior is above reproach?  Do you imagine I'm entirely satisfied with the way you've treated me?  Well, I'm not.  Your emotional abuse aside, you've failed to meet my expectations more than once.

So why haven't I ever raised my voice at you?  Indeed, why do I normally act as if everything you do is unobjectionable?  Seven main reasons.

1. Nobody's perfect.  I take a moderate amount of bad behavior for granted, and count myself lucky it's not worse.

2. Assessing behavior is surprisingly ambiguous.  Real life is not a math exam.  While bad behavior plainly exists, even decent people frequently see the world differently - an insight that inspired game theorists to develop the notion of trembling-hands equilibria.  In such an environment, interpreting people's actions charitably is advisable - especially people with a long, admirable track record.

3. While getting angry often changes behavior for the better, getting angry also often changes behavior for the worse.  Net effect?  Unclear. 

4. Getting angry is far from the only way to change behavior for the better.  So in the subset of situations where anger is an effective motivator, you still have to ask: Does it motivate better than these alternatives?  The answer, once again, is unclear.

5. Even when anger is the best short-run strategy, it damages long-run relationships.  And I value these long-run relationships more than I value winning any specific dispute.

6. Getting angry clouds your thinking, leading to intellectual and moral error.  And two of my chief life goals are being right and acting rightly.

7. All else aside, getting angry is aversive for me.  I don't "love to hate" anything or anyone.  I wish to live in harmony with others, especially people I know personally.

As I rattle off these points in my head, I nervously visualize you getting angrier.  So as usual, I'm not going to tell you what I'm really thinking.  Still, after making full allowance for (2), here's a harsh truth: When you kill the messenger, your ignorance is culpable.  Your obliviousness to my concerns is a vice.  Calm People like me deserve better.


Calm Person


George Will at his best, yet again in his latest, Higher education is awash with hysteria. That might have helped elect Trump:
Many undergraduates, their fawn-like eyes wide with astonishment, are wondering: Why didn’t the dean of students prevent the election from disrupting the serenity to which my school has taught me that I am entitled? Campuses create “safe spaces” where students can shelter from discombobulating thoughts and receive spiritual balm for the trauma of microaggressions. Yet the presidential election came without trigger warnings?

The morning after the election, normal people rose — some elated, some despondent — and went off to actual work. But at Yale University, that incubator of late-adolescent infants, a professor responded to “heartfelt notes” from students “in shock” by making that day’s exam optional.

Academia should consider how it contributed to, and reflects Americans’ judgments pertinent to, Donald Trump’s election. The compound of childishness and condescension radiating from campuses is a reminder to normal Americans of the decay of protected classes — in this case, tenured faculty and cosseted students.

As “bias-response teams” fanned out across campuses, an incident report was filed about a University of Northern Colorado student who wrote “free speech matters” on one of 680 “#languagematters” posters that cautioned against politically incorrect speech. Catholic DePaul University denounced as “bigotry” a poster proclaiming “Unborn Lives Matter.” Bowdoin College provided counseling to students traumatized by the cultural appropriation committed by a sombrero-and-tequila party. Oberlin College students said they were suffering breakdowns because schoolwork was interfering with their political activism. California State University at Los Angeles established “healing” spaces for students to cope with the pain caused by a political speech delivered three months earlier . Indiana University experienced social-media panic (“Please PLEASE PLEASE be careful out there tonight”) because a Catholic priest in a white robe, with a rope-like belt and rosary beads, was identified as someone “in a KKK outfit holding a whip.”

A doctoral dissertation at the University of California at Santa Barbara uses “feminist methodologies” to understand how Girl Scout cookie sales “reproduce hegemonic gender roles.” The journal GeoHumanities explores how pumpkins reveal “racial and class coding of rural versus urban places.” Another journal’s article analyzes “the relationships among gender, science, and glaciers.” A Vassar College lecture “theorizes oscillating relations between disciplinary, pre-emptive and increasingly prehensive forms of power that shape human and non-human materialities in Palestine.”

Even professors’ books from serious publishers are clotted with pretentious jargon. To pick just one from innumerable examples, a recent history of the Spanish Civil War, published by the Oxford University Press, says that Franco’s Spain was as “hierarchizing” as Hitler’s Germany, that Catholicism “problematized” relations between Spain and the Third Reich, and that liberalism and democracy are concepts that must be “interrogated.” Only the highly educated write so badly. Indeed, the point of such ludicrous prose is to signal membership in a closed clerisy that possesses a private language.

An American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) study — “No U.S. History? How College History Departments Leave the United States out of the Major,” based on requirements and course offerings at 75 leading colleges and universities — found that “the overwhelming majority of America’s most prestigious institutions do not require even the students who major in history to take a single course on United States history or government.” Often “microhistories” are offered to history majors at schools that require these majors to take no U.S. history course: “Modern Addiction: Cigarette Smoking in the 20th Century” (Swarthmore College), “Lawn Boy Meets Valley Girl” (Bowdoin College), “Witchcraft and Possession” (University of Pennsylvania).

At some schools that require history majors to take at least one U.S. history course, the requirement can be fulfilled with courses like “Mad Men and Mad Women” (Middlebury College), “Hip-Hop, Politics and Youth Culture in America” (University of Connecticut) and “Jews in American Entertainment” (University of Texas at Austin). Constitutional history is an afterthought.

Small wonder, then, that a recent ACTA-commissioned survey found that less than half of college graduates knew that George Washington was the commanding general at Yorktown; that nearly half did not know that Theodore Roosevelt was important to the construction of the Panama Canal; that more than one-third could not place the Civil War in a correct 20-year span or identify Franklin Roosevelt as the architect of the New Deal; that 58 percent did not know that the Battle of the Bulge occurred in World War II; and that nearly half did not know the lengths of the terms of U.S. senators and representatives.

Institutions of supposedly higher education are awash with hysteria, authoritarianism, obscurantism, philistinism and charlatanry. Which must have something to do with the tone and substance of the presidential election, which took the nation’s temperature.

The Future of American Foreign Policy

Justin Raimondo will be posting a series of pieces on what America's Foreign Policy should be under Trump.  Here's the first one in which he focuses on Russia:

What Would an ‘America First’ Foreign Policy Look Like?

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Time To Think About Credibility

As always, Bryan Caplan makes me think - deeply - Memory of Credibility:
The more I learn, the more I'm amazed by people who claim to base their views on "the data alone."  It's a noble dream, but ponder these harsh realities:

1. Carefully studying data is enormously time consuming and question-specific.  If you really hold yourself to this standard, you won't be able to responsibly hold opinions on more than a handful of questions.

2. As a result of #1, people who claim to base their views on "the data alone" end up outsourcing most of their data work to others.  There's nothing fundamentally wrong with this, but note the bait-and-switch: People who claim to rely on "the data" are in fact relying on their own judgments about which sources are credible

3. Data analysis and credibility assessment are radically different skills.  Yes, you could perform a careful audit an expert's data work on one issue, then broadly trust whoever performs well.  But that's only one approach.  We're at least as likely to evaluate credibility based on demeanor, word choice, and mood.  And this seems reasonable.  I delete spam because the senders radiate crazy, not because I carefully audit any of their statements.

4. On further thought, direct data analysis and credibility judgments rest on a more fundamental faculty: memory.  Even people who conduct their own data analysis don't re-do their work before speaking.  Instead, they rely on what they remember about their data analysis.  The same goes, of course, for credibility.  When we decide to trust someone, we rely almost exclusively on our memory of their trustworthiness.

5. The big lesson: Truth-seekers spend far too little time assessing the tools that underlie almost all of their judgments.  Data analysis is great, but knowing who's credible is even better - and measuring the reliability of your own memory is paramount.

6. Betting simplifies this seemingly Sisyphean process in two keys ways. First, betting is a good, clean way to evaluate credibility.  Second, betting constrains selective memory: If you want to objectively judge a person's reliability - including your own reliability! - don't go with your gut.  Check out his life-long betting track record.  It's not the best possible measure, but it's probably the best feasible measure.

Looks Like It

Will New Bosses Be the Same as the Old Bosses?

The Status Quo is No Longer The Status Quo (Hopefully)

Here is one of Justin Raimondo's best pieces, ever!  How We Will Win: [note: I do not agree with his perspective on free trade, but that's another topic for another day]
What the libertarian theorist Murray Rothbard dubbed the welfare-warfare state has held sway in the US, and in the West generally, since the run up to World War II. The “welfare” part of the equation describes the growth of the State as the source and guarantor of social equity, while the “warfare” side describes the role of the State – in this case, the American State – as the source and guarantor of the “international order.”

For the past half century or so this system has proved impregnable to would-be challengers. Indeed, the solidity and seeming permanence of this state of affairs was so convincing that certain of its champions theorized that we had reached, at long last, “the end of history” – that future developments in political and social science would merely refine and perfect the social democratic status quo, which would slowly but surely spread over the entire globe.

Yet history stubbornly refused to recognize its supposed endpoint. Things kept … happening, until, today, this supposedly immortal status quo is threatening to break apart in the face of populist rebellions from below.

The populist revolt currently shaking the American political landscape, and similar eruptions in Europe, herald the same sea change, albeit with somewhat different degrees of seismic intensity. In the United States, where a right-wing populist movement led by now President-elect Donald Trump has scored a major upset, the insurgents have stormed the fortress, and seized the inner sanctum of the ruling elite – the White House.

Trump defeated his Republican opponents and Hillary Clinton by attacking what he called their “globalist” agenda, and promised to put “America first” – a slogan that described his anti-Establishment politics to a tee. “Globalism,” or the idea of the American welfare-warfare state as the epicenter of a world system, perfectly encapsulates the ideology of the political class at “the end of history” – and captures the hubris that was their undoing.

Having supposedly achieved socioeconomic and moral perfection, our rulers embarked on a crusade to export their achievement to the rest of the world: and yet this was hardly a new idea. A similar crusade was undertaken by Woodrow Wilson in his war to “make the world safe for democracy,” and his successors continued the same mischief through World War II and the cold war.

This ongoing campaign for global uplift took on a new urgency with the fall of Communism in the former Soviet Union. Under the pretext of avenging the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and “draining the swamp” of the Middle East, the administration of George W. Bush undertook what many of his neoconservative cheerleaders saw as the final offensive against the last remnants of opposition to what Bush the Elder had called the “New World Order.”

That this ended in utter disaster did not deter the interventionists in the least. While ordinary people caviled at the monetary and human costs of perpetual war, the political class – secure in the certainty that both parties were safely in their hands – charged ahead. Their goal: eliminating the last vestiges of opposition to their international hegemony. This would eventually have to mean a confrontation with the two big holdouts: a new cold war with Russia, and the encirclement of China.

The presumed success of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign was supposed to have been the launching pad for this grand project – but something unprecedented happened on the way to the victory parade.

The welfare-warfare state has been held together politically by the fact that the two major parties were engaged in a tradeoff. The Democrats, who bought off entire constituencies with tax dollars, were allowed to expand the welfare part of the equation in exchange for giving the Republicans a free hand to bloat the other half of the equation beyond all rational definitions of “national defense.” The political term for this is “logrolling,” or, in layman’s terms, you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours.

This deal was sealed and justified by the respective ideologies of the two parties: the Democrats with their social-democratic conception of the State, and the Republicans with their internationalist foreign policy. And while the two parties had ostensible differences, these were more a matter of degree than of principle: and after decades of logrolling, the Republicans basically abandoned their formal devotion to small government, and the Democrats ditched their peacenik pretensions. In effect, the two parties became the Uni-party of the welfare-warfare state.

Trump overturned this cozy arrangement. By challenging the ideology of globalism, and the domestic policies that are the offspring of the globalist project, he overthrew the ideological and electoral foundations of the status quo.

His first target was the widely misunderstood “free trade” policies of the business and foreign policy elites – which have nothing to do with free trade, and everything to do with the severing of the political class from any real connection with our country.

Trump attacked the “bad deals” we have been making with the low-wage export-dependent colonies of the American Imperium: not only Mexico but also the “Asian tigers,” Japan, South Korea, and now Vietnam. The basic template of the deal American policymakers made was this: in exchange for the free passage of goods in one direction, the colonies had to agree to either the military occupation of their territories, or, at the very least, the complete subordination of these favored nations to the exigencies of US foreign policy. Thus, US troops occupied South Korea, and Japan was forced to give up Okinawa to the tender mercies of rampaging US soldiers: the “hearty welcome” given to US ships in the former American base at Cam Ranh Bay portends Vietnam’s developing future military alliance with Washington. The dropping of the arms embargo, Obama’s visit to Vietnam, and new trading relationship – more uni-directonal “free trade” – adds our former Communist enemies to the outer fringes of the Empire. The deal with Mexico was more complex – since military occupation was out of the question, given the sensitivities of the Mexican public – but essentially the same: the free passage of goods and people was permitted, as long as American business lobbied on behalf of what was essentially an open borders policy and the Mexicans didn’t go Chavista on us.

The pattern is clear enough: we allow our colonies, awash in cheap labor, to hollow out our industrial base, while the only products we ship to them are weapons, software, and cold hard cash. Indeed, under President Obama we led the world in arms exports, up 27 percent during this administration.

The winners in this arrangement are the military-industrial-congressional complex, the banks, Silicon Valley, and the Davos crowd. The losers: the working men and women of this country.

This isn’t “free trade” – it’s legalized looting carried out under the rubric of “national security,” i.e. empire-building. Trump recognized this, and also saw that it’s an empire of a peculiar sort, the kind where everything goes out and nothing comes in.

In the past, all empires were founded on the principle of “to the victor goes the spoils.” Yet the American Empire has reversed this historical tradition. In the Bizarro World of our enlightened rulers, it’s to the conquered go the spoils. We defeated Germany in a war in which millions perished – and yet, today, our troops stand on their soil, protecting them from a largely nonexistent threat from the East, while US military bases enrich the surrounding countryside. Japan enjoys the same luxurious accommodations.

Reminding the voters of our $20 trillion national debt, Trump dared to ask: Why are we doing this? Oh, but NATO protects the West from Russia, was the answer from the foreign policy “experts,” who scoffed that a major party candidate would ever call that sclerotic institution “obsolete.” Trump’s answer rocked their world: “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could get along with the Russians?”

“Treason!” cried the militarists. He’s a “Russian puppet!” screeched Hillary. A puzzled people listened in wonder: was it Russia that had taken away their jobs? Was the Kremlin behind the hollowing out of American industry? Was the threat of Putin turning “Red Dawn” into a reality the biggest threat to their personal livelihoods?

The welfare-warfare state could continue only so long as 1) The two parties played their assigned roles, and 2) The accumulated capital and productivity of what had once been the mighty American economy continued to grow and create. When the latter started to stall and sputter to a virtual halt, the former began to break down.

After fighting a series of wars that emptied the Treasury, and pouring trillions more into one social engineering project after another, the accumulated seed corn of generations was gone. In the hollowed-out core of what was once the world’s greatest industrial power opiod addiction spread, along with a sense of hopelessness and dislocation, while the financialization of the economy – generated by the Federal Reserve’s pump-priming – enriched the coastal elites at the expense of Flyover Country.

The stage was set for the rise – and ultimate victory – of one Donald J. Trump.

Having announced his candidacy, GOP orthodoxy demanded that he endorse the aggressive internationalism of the neoconservative foreign policy “experts.” It was also expected that he would carry the “free market” banner of neo-liberal austerity policies, which require their adherents to advocate throwing little old ladies off Social Security — while negotiating trade deals that deprive their grandsons of any job outside of McDonalds. But Trump wasn’t playing by the rules.

He challenged the neocons’ foreign policy orthodoxy, while taking it a step further – famously declaring that we were lied into the Iraq war, questioning the utility of the NATO alliance, and wondering aloud why we continue to send billions to Ukraine, Uganda, and Lower Slobbovia, while our veterans are dying in the streets of America’s decaying cities.

Sweeping aside the neoconservative pygmies (and Rand Paul) who clotted the GOP primary debate stage, Trump sent them scurrying to the sidelines one-by-one – and then took on not only Hillary, but also the media, the pollsters, the leadership of both parties, academia, and the Money Power.

And he won.

Libertarians cavil at his domestic program: big infrastructure projects, no cuts to “entitlements,” and his dubious commitment to civil liberties. Yet what they fail to understand is that his proposed dismantling of the “New World Order” – America’s role as world policeman – would, if put into effect, represent the biggest rollback of State power since the American Revolution. As Ron Paul has often remarked, if only we let go of the Empire, and brought all that money home, the financial crisis of the welfare state would disappear overnight. Which means we could have that debate about how to fund a Social Security system fast approaching bankruptcy without the threat of grandma being thrown out on the street.

Furthermore, without our endless series of foreign wars generating fresh waves of recruits to terrorist groups, the need for a system of universal surveillance would gradually disappear. While our rulers would not voluntarily recognize this change, and give up their power to spy on us, they would have a much harder time justifying it.

Without the albatross of empire hanging around our necks, so many resources would be freed up that the country would be renewed, both financially and spiritually. The long history of the process by which the State advanced on the private sector, and co-opted so many institutions that used to be the province of free Americans, would be reversed. For if you look at the history of the past 100 years, one thing is clear: each great leap forward of State power has been preceded and justified by war. Both world wars, and the cold war succeeded in centralizing and increasing government activism, all in the name of “national security.”

This, indeed, was the pretext the cold war conservatives used to justify their capitulation to the growth of State power. William F. Buckley, Jr., the founder of National Review and the godfather of the modern conservative movement, gave their game away in a 1951 essay for Commonweal, wherein he denounced the growing State power as “aggression,” but bemoaned the unfortunate fact that the alleged threat from the Soviet Union required “the extensive and productive tax laws that are needed to support a vigorous anti-Communist foreign policy.” He went on to write that the “thus far invincible aggressiveness of the Soviet Union imminently threatens U.S. security," which meant that:

“[W]e have got to accept Big Government for the duration — for neither an offensive nor a defensive war can be waged … except through the instrumentality of a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores.”

Conservatives, he wrote, must therefore support "large armies and air forces, atomic energy, central intelligence, war production boards and the attendant centralization of power in Washington — even with Truman at the reins of it all.”

This wasn’t true then – communism was an unsustainable system that had to collapse of its own impossible weight. And even if this is arguable, the idea that we must embrace “a totalitarian regime within our shores” seems a bit overwrought, to say the least. Be that as it may, the external “threat” to the United States is much less credible today – indeed, it is virtually nonexistent. The only real existential threat we face is that which comes from within – the threat of bankruptcy, of decline, of overreach brought on by the hubris of our rulers.

Trump saw this – and launched a crusade to “make America great again.” Not by vanquishing some foreign bogeyman, but by challenging and defeating a decadent elite that is draining the country dry with its foreign wars, its war on American workers, and a subversive allegiance to transnational entities that owe no loyalty to this country.

Trump may stumble on the road to success: his appointments may fly in the face of his declared goals; his policies may be wildly inconsistent; he may even take us into another war or two. Yet the fact remains that ideas rule the world, and determine the course of nations – and of history. The ideological challenge to the elites stands, even if Trump falls by the wayside. The working “deal” between the two parties is broken: the structural supports that have held up the welfare-warfare state all through the twentieth century and into the first two decades of the twenty-first have failed. Like Samson bringing down the temple, Trump has wrecked it all, and he has done it single-handedly. For that we owe him a great debt – although many if not most libertarians either don’t know it or are unwilling to acknowledge it.

Back in 1992, in the last years of Murray Rothbard’s life, the brilliant founder and leading theoretician of the modern libertarian movement gave a speech before the first meeting of the John Randolph Club, a convergence of libertarians and paleoconservatives. Entitled “A Strategy for the Right,” it outlined the means by which a united paleo-libertarian movement could take back the country. I won’t try to summarize what he said in that seminal talk here, except to say it was vintage Rothbard, and that it ended on a characteristically optimistic note in which he seemed to foresee the possibilities that are opening up before us today:

“When I was growing up, I found that the main argument against laissez-faire, and for socialism, was that socialism and communism were inevitable: ‘You can’t turn back the clock!’ they chanted, ‘you can’t turn back the clock.’ But the clock of the once-mighty Soviet Union, the clock of Marxism-Leninism, a creed that once mastered half the world, is not only turned back but lies dead and broken forever. But we must not rest content with this victory. For though Marxism-Bolshevism is gone forever, there still remains, plaguing us everywhere, its evil cousin … well, let’s just call it ‘Menshevism,’ or ‘social democracy.’

“Social democracy is still here in all its variants, defining our entire respectable political spectrum, from advanced victimology and feminism on the Left over to neoconservatism on the Right. We are now trapped, in America, inside a Menshevik fantasy, with the narrow bounds of respectable debate set for us by various brands of Marxists. It is now our task, the task of the resurgent right, of the paleo movement, to break those bonds, to finish the job, to finish off Marxism forever.”

Referring to an influential book, The Radical Right, edited by Daniel Bell, a prominent neoconservative sociologist, Rothbard continued:

“One of the authors of the Daniel Bell volume says, in horror and astonishment, that the radical right intends to repeal the 20th century. Heaven forfend! Who would want to repeal the 20th century, the century of horror, the century of collectivism, the century of mass destruction and genocide, who would want to repeal that! Well, we propose to do just that.

“With the inspiration of the death of the Soviet Union before us, we now know that it can be done. We shall break the clock of social democracy. We shall break the clock of the Great Society. We shall break the clock of the welfare state. We shall break the clock of the New Deal. We shall break the clock of Woodrow Wilson’s New Freedom and perpetual war. We shall repeal the 20th century.

“One of the most inspiring and wonderful sights of our time was to see the peoples of the Soviet Union rising up last year to tear down in their fury the statues of Lenin, to obliterate the Leninist legacy. We, too, shall tear down all the statues of Franklin D. Roosevelt, of Harry Truman, of Woodrow Wilson, melt them down and beat them into plowshares and pruning hooks, and usher in a 21st century of peace, freedom, and prosperity.”

While historical analogies necessarily lack precision, in the broader sense they are often on the mark, and in this case comparing the electoral insurrection we are witnessing today to the series of upsurges that overthrew the Russian Czar is not entirely out of place. In this context, the Trumpian Revolution is the 1905 upsurge that overthrew Nicholas II, the last of the Romanovs – and paved the way for the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. While Trump is no Kerensky – a weak, vacillating character, soon swept aside by the tides of revolutionary activism – this is all the better. For only a strong leader with more than a touch of the demagogue about him could have broken the power of the oligarchs and set us on the road to freedom.