Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Purpose of Government

I pause when people write, "The purpose of government is to protect life, liberty, and property." What are those words worth? If we judge by history, it appears that the purpose of government is exploitation of the industrious classes for the benefit of some ruling class. The root of the confusion is that governments traditionally have accorded some measure of protection for life, liberty, and property through police, courts, and defense against invaders. But this is perfectly consistent with the exploitation theory. Why wouldn't the ruling class want the industrious classes to be dependent on government for protection against criminals and for peaceful resolution of disputes? And why wouldn't it want to keep out invaders so that it may have unrivaled access to the revenue extracted from the subjugated population?

So why overlook the fundamental and seek government's purpose in secondary things?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Israeli Foreign Minister Wants Palestinians Punished

From the Middle East Monitor, September 22:
Israel's Foreign Minister has warned Benjamin Netanyahu that the governing coalition will fall part if the Prime Minister doesn't take punitive measures against the Palestinian Authority for its decision to bid for independent statehood at the United Nations. A report in Israel's Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper claims that Avigdor Lieberman has demanded that Netanyahu responds to the unilateral Palestinian step by cancelling the Oslo Accords, annexing the large West Bank settlement blocs and withholding tax transfers to the Authority.

Earlier reports said that Lieberman had threatened the Palestinians with "very serious" consequences in the event of a UN vote in favour of an independent state. Israel, claimed Lieberman, "won't stand still" if a Palestinian state is recognised by the UN. Lieberman's deputy, Danny Ayalon, backed the call for punitive measures, although he expects the UN to reject the Palestinian application.

According to Netanyahu's deputy, Silvan Shalom, the Palestinian bid constitutes a violation of the agreements signed between the two sides.

Antiwar Radio Interview on Palestinian Statehood

[UPDATED September 27, 2011]

Scott Horton, the great host of the great Antiwar Radio, interviewed me last week about the Palestinian bid for UN recognition as a state. Download the MP3 here.

[CLARIFICATION: I am reminded by Joe Lauria that Palestine is not seeking recognition as a state by the UN but only full membership as a state. Since Palestine declared independence 23 years ago, 128 countries have formally recognized it as a state, including nine current members of the UN Security Council, the number required, in the absence of a veto by a permanent member, to win recommendation for full membership to the General Assembly. The United States does not recognize Palestine, which today has only "observer mission" status at the UN.]

I'd like to amplify a few points and fill in a gap or two. First a correction: I misstated when the Palestine Liberation Organization, in its Declaration of Independence, relinquished claim to 78 percent of Palestine, that is, what today is Israel. That Declaration, which concomitantly and formally recognized the State of Israel, was made in November 1988, not earlier, as I state in the interview. This relinquishing of the claim was no morally empty gesture on the PLO's part. In the creation of Israel in 1948 and the War 0f Independence that followed, over 700,000 Palestinian Arabs (out of 1.3 million) were driven from their homes in response to the violence the Hagannah and other Zionist military forces inflicted on the inhabitants of Arab villages in the future Israel. Hundreds of towns and villages were wiped from the map, their names buried and their place taken by Jewish villages with Hebrew names. (Read about the Deir Yassin massacre, a key event.) Those refugees and their children had hoped to return; many still carry the keys to their former homes. But they were forbidden to return. (Meanwhile, any Jew, no matter where he or she was born, may instantly become an Israeli citizen.) Thus for the Palestinians' purported representative organization to agree to settle for just 22 percent of their former homeland was no minor concession. Israel's supporters constantly talk about Israel's generous offers to the Palestinians, but this major Palestinian concession is ignored and unappreciated on the rare occasions it is acknowledged. (I must leave aside here the libertarian objection that no organization can relinquish an individual's valid claim to his or her property.)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Op-Ed: Peace Prize-Winner Obama Savages Somalia

A human catastrophe is taking place in Somalia, the result of drought, famine — and the savage war conducted by the Obama administration, complete with a CIA training facility and prison....
The catastrophe is often attributed to natural conditions, but neighboring areas are not experiencing the same threat.

The difference is Obama’s war. In the guise of fighting terrorism the U.S. government, beginning under George W. Bush and continuing with a vengeance under the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Obama, has turned Somalia into a hellhole. If Americans knew what was happening in their name, they would hang their heads in shame. Or would they?

Read the full op-ed: "Peace Prize-Winner Obama Savages Somalia" here.

TGIF: Elizabeth Warren's Non Sequitur

If you spend any time on a social network, you’re bound to come across this video of Elizabeth Warren, who’s running for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts. In her remarks she says:

There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

Just goes to show, you can start with a valid premise and end up with an invalid conclusion.

Read the full TGIF: "Elizabeth Warren's Non Sequitur" here.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Happy Constitution Day




Lysander Spooner

The Constitution has no inherent authority or obligation. It has no authority or obligation at all, unless as a contract between man and man. And it does not so much as even purport to be a contract between persons now existing. It purports, at most, to be only a contract between persons living eighty years ago. And it can be supposed to have been a contract then only between persons who had already come to years of discretion, so as to be competent to make reasonable and obligatory contracts. Furthermore, we know, historically, that only a small portion even of the people then existing were consulted on the subject, or asked, or permitted to express either their consent or dissent in any formal manner. Those persons, if any, who did give their consent formally, are all dead now. Most of them have been dead forty, fifty, sixty, or seventy years. And the constitution, so far as it was their contract, died with them. They had no natural power or right to make it obligatory upon their children. It is not only plainly impossible, in the nature of things, that they could bind their posterity, but they did not even attempt to bind them. That is to say, the instrument does not purport to be an agreement between any body but "the people" then existing; nor does it, either expressly or impliedly, assert any right, power, or disposition, on their part, to bind anybody but themselves. Let us see. Its language is:

Read the rest here.

TGIF: "Government Is Force"

Some pundits really don’t understand why libertarians dislike government and therefore want it to do little, if anything at all. Unable to grasp the reason, the pundits assign bad motives to those who disparage government: They don’t like poor people, or workers, or the sick, or education.

But what’s so hard to understand? Government is significantly different from anything else in society. It is the only institution that can legally threaten and initiate violence; that is, under color of law its officers may use physical force, up to and including lethal force — not in defense of innocent life but against individuals who have neither threatened nor aggressed against anyone else. “Government is not reason. It is not eloquence,” George Washington reportedly said. “Government is force; like fire it is a dangerous servant — and a fearful master.”

That’s not a controversial description of the State. Even people enthusiastic about government would agree.

Given this unique feature, then, why isn’t everyone wary of the State?

Read the full TGIF: "Government Is Force" here.

Op-Ed: "Stimulus II Won't Work, Either"

President Obama won’t use the “stimulus” label to describe his nearly half-trillion-dollar jobs bill, but that refusal can’t hide the fact that he has no idea how economies recover from recessions. “Stimulus” is a tainted label because his $800 billion bill in 2009 was a failure. His economic team promised that passing that bill would keep unemployment from exceeding 8 percent. The bill passed, and unemployment climbed to more than 9 percent and has stayed there ever since.

With election day only 14 months off, one can readily see Obama’s desperation for a job program.

Read the full op-ed, "Stimulus II Won't Work, Either," here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Limbaugh’s Creative Accounting

I understand Rush Limbaugh has nominated George W. Bush for the next vacancy on Mount Rushmore because “the United States” has not been attacked since 9/11.  Okay, if you ignore the fact that more Americans have been killed in aggressive foreign wars since 9/11 than were killed on the day the World Trade Center and Pentagon were hit and that Osama bin Laden got what he was after: American imperial overreach and a financial hemorrhage that won’t be stanched.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Lessons Plus

Ten Lessons, Plus One, We Should Learn from 9/11:

1. Killing one or many innocents, regardless of one's grievances, is monstrous. This elementary principle would seem to apply to George Bush, and now Barack Obama, as much as to Osama bin Laden. Can someone say why it doesn't?

2. Despite all its guarantees -- contrary to its ideological justification for existing -- the state can't protect us -- even from a ragtag group of hijackers. Trillions of dollars spent over many years built a "national security apparatus" that could not stop attacks on the two most prominent buildings in the most prominent city in the country -- or its own headquarters. That says a lot. No. That says it all. The state is a fraud. We have been duped.

3. The shameless state will stop at nothing to keep people's support by scaring the hell out of them. (Robert Higgs writes about this.) That people have taken its claims about "why they hate us" seriously after 9/11 shows what the public schools and the mass media are capable of doing to people. But the people are not absolved of responsibility: They could think their way out of this if they cared to make the effort.

4. Blowback is real. Foreign-policy-makers never think how their decisions will harm Americans, much less others. They never wonder how their actions will look to their targets. That's because they are state employees.

5. As Randolph Bourne said, getting into a war is like riding a wild elephant. You may think you are in control -- you may believe your objectives and only your objectives are what count. If so, you are deluded. Consider the tens of thousands of dead and maimed Iraqi and Afghanis (and dead Pakistanis and Yemenis and Somalis and Libyans). What did they have to do with 9/11?

6. No one likes an occupying power.

7. Victims of foreign intervention don't forget, even if the perpetrators and their subjects do.

8. Terrorism is not an enemy. It's a tactic, one used by many different kinds of people in causes of varying moral hues, often against far stronger imperial powers. Declaring all those people one's enemy is criminally reckless. But it's a damn good way for a government to achieve potentially total power over its subjects.

9. They say the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Maybe, maybe not. But it seems abundantly clear that the enemy of my friend is also likely to be my enemy. See the U.S.-Israel relationship for details.

10. Assume "your" government is lying.

11. Politicians will stop at nothing to shamelessly exploit the memory of the American victims of blowback if it will aggrandize their power. No amount of national self-pity, self-congratulation, and vaunting is ever enough.

(Adapted and re-posted from 2006.)

Friday, September 09, 2011

It Makes One's Head Spin

President Obama’s jobs program calls for cuts in both sides of the payroll tax. That tax finances Social Security and Medicare. Social Security and Medicare are already taking in less money than they need to pay retirees. So they will have to cash in more of the Treasury IOUs left behind when previous surpluses were used to finance general expenditures. But the Treasury is also already running a trillion-dollar-plus deficit. So it will have to borrow more in the capital markets in order to pay back the Social Security and Medicare funds. Unless Obama makes up the lost revenue by changing the tax code. But then money will be withdrawn from the economy in the form of higher taxes so it can be put back into the economy through the payroll-tax cut. Somehow that’s supposed to stimulate the economy.

Got all that? There’ll be a quiz later.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Ron Paul & Immigration: A Speculative Theory

Ron Paul’s position on what I’ll call unauthorized immigration—or immigration sans government permission--is indeed strange. He calls for “secure borders” but opposes employer sanctions, Real ID, and a border wall (which he says could be used to keep people in as well as out). He also minimizes the importance of unauthorized immigration by saying it wouldn’t be such an issue if the economy were healthy (people are worried about jobs now) and the welfare state didn’t exist.

That odd mix leads me to wonder if Ron Paul is actually for open borders but doesn’t want to say it. (He was for open borders when he was the Libertarian Party nominee for president in 1988.) True, there are arguments against my speculation. His website says, “A nation without borders is no nation at all,” he’s against birthright citizenship, and he opposes amnesty, which it claims “will only encourage more law-breaking.” (I oppose amnesty too. There’s no need to forgive people for doing what they have a perfect right to do.)

But can one really be against unauthorized immigration if one opposes steps that seem necessary to even begin to stop it? Who wills the end, wills the means, it is said.

Hence my suspicion that Ron Paul secretly favors open borders. That may be the good news. The bad news is that if it is so, it doesn’t speak well of the candidate. Why not say what you think—that people, no matter where they were born, have a natural right to move in freedom? Imagine what a splash he would make with such a statement at a debate.

What does he have to lose? He's not even running for reelection to Congress.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

A Better Fit

For the life of me, I can't see why "capitalism" fits the hitherto-unrealized free market better than it fits the actual American system of business privilege favored by Hamilton, Clay, Lincoln, and their successors up to the present.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Labor Day: Not What You Think

Thaddeus Russell, author of A Renegade History of the United States, has the lowdown on Labor Day here. It's not what you think. Clue: President Grover Cleveland, who sent the military to Illinois, over objection of the governor, to break the Pullman strike, signed the bill. (Several workers were killed "at the hands of the U.S. military and U.S. Marshals."
[Cleveland] and its sponsors intended it not as a celebration of leisure but as a promotion of the great American work ethic. Work, they believed, was the highest calling in life, and Labor Day was a reminder to get back to it. It was placed at the end of summer to declare an end to the season of indolence, and also to distance it from May Day, the spring event that had become a symbol of the radical labor movement.
I note that Wikipedia says:
Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1894 after the [Pullman] strike when President Grover Cleveland and Congress made appeasement of organized labor a top priority. Legislation for the holiday was pushed through Congress six days after the strike ended. Samuel Gompers, head of American Federation of Labor, which had sided with the government in its effort to end the strike by the American Railway Union, spoke out in favor of the holiday.
As Russell writes:
When President Cleveland signed Labor Day into existence in 1884, the conservative American Federation of Labor endorsed the new holiday. In deliberate contrast to “slackers,” union members used their government-approved day off to march in their work clothes alongside floats showing off the tools of their trades. They carried signs declaring the “honor” and “nobility” of work. Labor Day marches were praised by the press as “sober, clean, quiet” demonstrations of “the honest American workingman.”
Bottom line: Labor was being co-opted with promises of a junior partnership in the corporate state long before the New Deal and National Labor Relations Act.

TGIF: Ponzi Unmasked

Social Security: Ponzi scheme or not? I think we have to say it once was, but is no more, because Social Security was unmasked as a coercive transfer scheme long ago and critics remind us of that fact constantly. If everyone knows (or can easily find out) something is a Ponzi scheme, it’s no longer a Ponzi scheme. Anyone who thinks Social Security is insurance just isn’t paying attention.

Caveat adsiduus. Taxpayer beware.

Read the full TGIF: Ponzi Unmasked.

Op-ed: Libya Is Nothing for Obama to Be Proud Of

Barack Obama will no doubt list the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi in Libya as one of his foreign-policy triumphs. But anyone paying close attention will realize that Obama should be ashamed of what he did. Indeed, Congress should be inquiring whether he committed an impeachable offense.