Available Now! (click cover)

America's Counter-Revolution
The Constitution Revisited

From the back cover:

This book challenges the assumption that the Constitution was a landmark in the struggle for liberty. Instead, Sheldon Richman argues, it was the product of a counter-revolution, a setback for the radicalism represented by America’s break with the British empire. Drawing on careful, credible historical scholarship and contemporary political analysis, Richman suggests that this counter-revolution was the work of conservatives who sought a nation of “power, consequence, and grandeur.” America’s Counter-Revolution makes a persuasive case that the Constitution was a victory not for liberty but for the agendas and interests of a militaristic, aristocratic, privilege-seeking ruling class.

Friday, December 19, 2014

TGIF: Monopoly and Aggression

The concepts monopoly and aggression are intimately related, like lock and key, or mother and son. You cannot fully understand the first without understanding the second.
Read it here.

Friday, December 12, 2014

TGIF: "And the Pursuit of Happiness": Nathaniel Branden, RIP

The binding together of “perfection” (virtue, or excellence, in the Greek sense) and liberty (internal and external) with the pursuit of happiness is noteworthy.
Which brings me to Nathaniel Branden.
Read it here.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

I Love Loosies and the People Who Sell Them

The cops who ganged up on Eric Garner, got him into a chokehold, and mashed his face into the sidewalk didn’t intend to kill him. They intended only to show him who’s boss on the streets of Staten Island — and show him in a way he would never forget.
As a Facebook friend of mine put it, instead they showed him in a way he will never remember.
This pretty much explains the cops’ reckless disregard for Garner’s life that day, and it is what makes the grand-jury sham especially appalling.
Read it here.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Who's the Boss?

The NYC cops did not intend to kill Eric Garner. They intended only to show him who's boss in a way he would never forget. Hence their reckless disregard for his life.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Don't Pray for Peace

Something else bugs me about Wounded Warrior Project commercials -- besides their use of "warrior" as a term of honor: The song says, "Say a prayer for peace." Don't say a prayer. Find a way to act. Also, stay out of the military or refuse immoral orders. 

If prayer could change things, it would be against the law. (I'm sure Emma Goldman wouldn't have minded.)

TGIF: Tackling Straw Men Is Easier than Critiquing Libertarianism

Maybe I’m being unreasonable, but I think it behooves a critic to understand what he’s criticizing. I realize that tackling straw men is much easier than dealing with challenging arguments, but that’s no excuse for the shoddy work we find in John Edward Terrell’s New York Times post, “Evolution and the American Myth of the Individual.”
In his confused attempt to criticize libertarians (and Tea Party folks, whom I’ll ignore here), Terrell gets one thing right when he says, “The thought that it is both rational and natural for each of us to care only for ourselves, our own preservation, and our own achievements is a treacherous fabrication” (emphasis added).
Indeed it is. Unfortunately for Terrell’s case, it’s his treacherous fabrication.
Read it here.

The Logic of Resisting Arrest

One cannot resist an arrest that is not being attempted. Cops and politicians should stop arresting nonviolent people for victimless "crimes." PS: Governments should NOT be construed as the victims of free exchange in black markets.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Nathaniel Branden, 1930-2014

Nathaniel Branden, Ayn Rand's original partner in the Objectivist movement, died December 3. Branden was a complicated man, a big mixture of virtue and vice. I may write more about him later but for now, I will just say that I am thankful that I did not discover Objectivism until just after the Rand-Branden split occurred in 1968.

Here's Brian Doherty's obituary for Branden.

In 2006 I published "Szasz and Rand" in the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (unfortunately not online), a review essay of Szasz's Faith in Freedom, which contains critical chapters on Rand and Branden.

The Not So Grand Jury

The grand jury may have begun as a check on state abuse, but it has long been a cover for state abuse -- confirming a Rothbard maxim: Principles ostensibly intended to limit government power will morph into justifications for its expansion.

The Ferguson Distraction

Ironically, the shooting death of unarmed black 18-year-old Michael Brown by white Ferguson, MO, police officer Darren Wilson is a distraction from the racist police brutality that ravages America.
Whether or not Wilson shot Brown unjustifiably, and whether or not Brown provoked the shooting by grabbing for Wilson’s gun, the police — and the government officials who employ and arm them — are a big problem in this country. (The Eric Garner chokehold killing has none of the ambiguity of the Brown case.)
Unfortunately, it takes a shooting such as the one in Ferguson to spotlight the problem. And that presents its own problem. The claim that the police are routinely dangerous to innocent people — mostly blacks and Hispanics — appears to stand or fall with the headline case of the week. But that can’t be the correct way to judge the bigger issue.
Read it here.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Nuclear Monopolists Will Be Nuclear Monopolists

The Associated Press reports:
The U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly approved an Arab-backed resolution Tuesday calling on Israel to renounce possession of nuclear weapons and put its nuclear facilities under international oversight.
The resolution, adopted in a 161-5 vote, noted that Israel is the only Middle Eastern country that is not party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. It called on Israel to "accede to that treaty without further delay, not to develop, produce test or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons, to renounce possession of nuclear weapons" and put its nuclear facilities under the safeguard of the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency.
The United States, Canada, Palau and Micronesia joined Israel in opposing the measure, while 18 countries abstained.
The US position: What's sauce for Iran is not sauce for Israel. The difference is that Iran has no nukes and has never tried to obtain or build them.

Poor Israel

Since Israel's rulers favor chaos in the Middle East -- the better to persuade Americans to forget the Palestinians and focus on the "tough neighborhood" that Israelis live in -- it's good to see a little chaos within the Israeli government.

Ferguson, continued

Any analysis of Ferguson and police brutality that falls short of anarchist is bound to be inadequate. The root of the problem is top-down centralized monopolistic (dare I say socialistic?) law making and enforcement.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Ferguson, continued

Turning the Michael Brown case into something it's not serves only to discredit the movement against police abuse and racism.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Ferguson

In shootings by police, fully independent and public adversarial inquiries should be conducted. There's no getting around the fact that in such cases, the prosecutor is also likely to be the de facto defense counsel.

Good editorial in the New York Times.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Uber: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

UPDATED Nov. 25, 2014
Cheryl and I had our first Uber experience yesterday and thought I'd report on it. The experience itself was first-rate. Things went just as widely reported -- but better. I wanted a ride from my home to the tobacco shop that I frequent, about seven miles away. I launched the app on my phone, which immediately located me via GPS. I entered the destination, and in a split second I was informed that a car was three minutes away and that the estimated fare would be $18-$22. Two points about the fare: 1) I'm told this is what the regulated monopoly taxicab company would have charged; 2) I knew that the ride would be free because Uber is giving away its service until it gets clearance from the city government. (That's another story.)

Friday, November 21, 2014

TGIF: Unjust Immigration Law Is Not Law

I know better than to think that Obama’s executive order is the start of something big. But that is no reason not to rejoice. Because of his action, some human beings won’t be torn from their children by jackbooted immigration thugs. I can’t see how that’s not a good thing.
Read it here.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Familiar Bedfellows

Hillary and Henry sitting in a tree. K-I-S-S-I-N-G-E-R!
It says a lot about former secretary of state and presumed presidential aspirant Hillary Clinton that she’s a member of the Henry Kissinger Fan Club. Progressives who despised George W. Bush might want to examine any warm, fuzzy feelings they harbor for Clinton.
Read it here.

Friday, November 14, 2014

TGIF: Free-Market Socialism

The freed market would give traditional leftists what they say they want: a society in which free, voluntary, and peaceful cooperation ultimately controls the means of production for the good of all people.
Read it here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Stop Those Who Would Stop Uber

The nerve of some people! Imagine coming to a city and doing business without first asking permission from local officials! 
That’s what Uber has done in cities all over the United States and Europe, and it’s created quite a storm among politicians and licensed taxi drivers, who have held up traffic in, among other places, Boston, London, and Paris just to stamp their feet at the high-tech competition. 
What is Uber? It’s an innovator, and you know what means. It disturbs the regulatory landscape where protected firms have long settled in safely and comfortably. Suddenly, the advantage of being an “in” flies out the window. No wonder the regulation-spawned monopolies are upset.
Read it here.

Friday, November 07, 2014

TGIF: The Political Sterility of Jon Stewart

Political satire has a long and honorable history: Aristophanes, William Shakespeare, Jonathan Swift; W.S. Gilbert; George Orwell; Tom Lehrer, David Frost, and That Was the Week That Was; George Carlin; Spitting Image, Yes, Minister; the Smothers Brothers; the early Saturday Night Live, Dave Barry, The Onion, and so many more. Unfortunately, while it would be a slight exaggeration to say that political satire is dead in America, it’s been on the critical list for some time. That’s too bad. We need it more than ever.
Read it all here.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Election 2014: The Good News and Bad

The 2014 midterm election delivered both good news and bad. The good news is that the losers lost. The bad news is that the winners won.
Read it here.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

The Day After

"Every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods." -- H. L. Mencken

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

TGIF: Nothing Is More Local and the Individual

There is no better example of how government treats adults like children than the laws governing beer, wine, and spirits. The range of regulation, all the way to prohibition, is large, but in no state is alcohol free of regulation.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Rough Day


"By the decree of the angels and by the command of the holy men, we excommunicate, expel, curse, and damn Baruch [Benedito] de Espinoza, with the consent of God, Blessed be He... Cursed be he by day and cursed be he by night; cursed be he when he lies down and cursed be he when he rises up. Cursed be he when he goes out and cursed be he when he comes in. The Lord will not spare him...."

That's what I call a rough day at the synagogue. The cherem, or excommunication, happened on July 27, 1656, at Talmud Torah congregation in Amsterdam.

Abolish the Income Tax and IRS

For some time now we’ve lived with the scourge of civil asset forfeiture, under which the police can seize a person’s property on the mere suspicion it was used in a crime and without having to charge the owner with an offense. Since the authorities have no burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the burden of proving innocence falls on the hapless citizen who wishes to recover his property.
Amazingly, people describe as free a society that features this outrage.
Now it comes to light that the Internal Revenue Service does something similar. The New York Times reports that the IRS seizes bank accounts of people whose only offense is routinely to make deposits of less than $10,000. If you do this enough times, the IRS may suspect you are trying to avoid the requirement that deposits of $10,000 or more be reported by the bank. The IRS keeps the money, but the depositors need not be charged with a crime.
You read that right.
Read it here.

Friday, October 24, 2014

TGIF: The State Is No Friend of the Worker

The election season is upon us, and we’re hearing the usual political promises about raising wages. Democrats pledge to raise the minimum wage and assure equal pay for equal work for men and women. Republicans usually oppose those things, but their explanations are typically lame. (“The burden on small business would be increased too much.”) Some Republicans endorse raising the minimum wage because they think opposition will cost them elections. There’s a principled stand. 
In addressing this issue, we who believe in freeing the market from privilege as well as from regulation and taxes should be careful not to imply that we have free markets today. When we declare our opposition to minimum-wage or equal-pay-for-equal-work legislation, we must at the same time emphasize that the reigning corporate state compromises the market process in fundamental ways, usually to the detriment of workers. Therefore, not only should no new interference with the market be approved, but all existing interference should be repealed forthwith. If you omit that second part, you’ll sound like an apologist for the corporatist status quo. Why would you want to do that?
It's all here.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Obama Still Does a Good Imitation of Bush

We really should be used to this by now. After almost six years in office, President Obama is far more like George W. Bush in national-security matters than he led the American people to believe.
For example, the New York Times’ Charlie Savage reports that Obama has yet to decide whether the international ban on torture applies to U.S. government conduct outside the United States.
Read it here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Webinar: The Anti-Militarist Libertarian Tradition

Here is the video from my Future of Freedom/Liberty.me webinar on the anti-militarist libertarian tradition.
 

Leonard P. Liggio, 1933-2014

I lost one of my favorite teachers this week, as did so many other libertarians, not to mention the freedom movement as a whole. Leonard P. Liggio, 81, died after a period of declining health. Leonard was a major influence on my worldview during the nearly 40 years I knew him. While I had not seen him much in recent years, I have a hard time picturing the world — and the noble struggle for liberty — without him. He was one of my constants.
Read TGIF here.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Politicians Are Scaring You Again

They are doing it again. “They” are the war-party politicians, Democrats and Republicans. “It” is scaring you into supporting another war in the Middle East.
Read the full op-ed.

Webinar: The Antimilitarist Libertarian Tradition

Next Tuesday, Oct. 21, at 7 p.m. central, I'll conduct a webinar on "The Antimilitarist Libertarian Tradition," for The Future of Freedom Foundation and Liberty.me. Below is a preview.
 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

We Have Lost a Giant: Leonard Liggio, RIP

I'm sad to report that Leonard P. Liggio, the indefatigable globetrotting builder of the modern libertarian movement, whose encyclopedic knowledge of history astounded even seasoned historians, died today at age 81. Leonard was the quintessential gentleman and scholar. No one was more generous with his time or more interested in helping young libertarians in their intellectual careers. He was an amazing fount of knowledge and advice, leaving his mark on every institution and individual with whom he came into contact.

I believe I met him in 1978 at the first Cato Institute summer seminar at Wake Forest University. (It's possible I was introduced to him a year earlier in San Francisco.) In the second half of the 1980s I worked with him at the Institute for Humane Studies. He was immensely helpful to me in many instances as I was writing and struggling to understand some historical episode. From IHS, Leonard went to the Atlas Network as executive vice president of academics.

He could talk authoritatively about the most obscure events in history -- always with insight, amazing detail, and humor. It is hard to imagine anyone knowing more about the struggle for liberty throughout the ages. All his life he was dedicated to peace, as an intellectual, as a teacher, and in earlier days, as an activist. He was truly unique, the quiet radical.

Leonard was known and admired by countless libertarians the world over. They mourn his departure now. It was an honor to have known and learned so much from him. I will long remember his beaming eyes and smile, his soft voice, and his gentle ways.

Rest in peace, Leonard.

Read the Atlas Network's obituary.
Watch this video tribute to Leonard.
Listen to A Conversation with Leonard Liggio.
Read the obituary by Brian Doherty at Reason.
Watch Tom Palmer's discussion of Leonard's life and work.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

A Foreign Policy By and For Knaves

David Hume (1711-1776) was no hardcore libertarian, but he was a provocative thinker and a key figure in the development of liberalism. Hume helped make the Scottish Enlightenment the important period it was. He also can be fun to read. Observe this from his essay “Of the Independency of Parliament”:
Political writers have established it as a maxim, that, in contriving any system of government, and fixing the several checks and controuls of the constitution, every man ought to be supposed a knave, and to have no other end, in all his actions, than private interest. By this interest we must govern him, and, by means of it, make him, notwithstanding his insatiable avarice and ambition, co-operate to public good. Without this, say they, we shall in vain boast of the advantages of any constitution, and shall find, in the end, that we have no security for our liberties or possessions, except the good-will of our rulers; that is, we shall have no security at all.
Read it all here.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Is Obama Trying to Alienate Muslim-American Youth?

A 19-year-old Chicago-area man was arrested last weekend for attempting to help the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The U.S. government says Mohammed Hamzah Khan, an American citizen, faces 15 years in prison because he was at an airport with a ticket to Turkey and had left references to ISIS and a note to his parents saying he was going to Syria.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration says it will step up outreach efforts with American Muslims to counter ISIS’s campaign to attract young Western Muslims to its cause.
Is this any way for the government to keep the turmoil in Iraq and Syria from washing up on America’s shores?
Read it here.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Libertarian Socialism?


Some people have a hard time seeing how a libertarian could call himself or herself a socialist. I understand the confusion. But in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this was far less a mystery. In market anarchist Benjamin Tucker's day, socialism was more an umbrella term than it is today. It essentially included anyone who thought the reigning political economy -- which they called capitalism (and saw as a system of state privilege for the employer class) -- denied workers the full product they would have been earning in some alternative system. The Tuckerite socialists' alternative was full laissez faire -- without patents, tariffs, government-backed money/banking, government land control, etc. The collectivist socialists had some nonmarket system in mind. The point is that socialism was more a negative statement -- against capitalism -- than a unified positive agenda on behalf of a specific alternative system.

Some might say that the common element for all these variants of socialism was a belief in the labor theory of value. But it may be more precise to say that the comment element was more general: namely, that workers were cheated by the reigning system. That need not commit one to the labor theory. (On the relationship between cost of production and price in Austrian economics, see my "Value, Cost, Marginal Utility, and Böhm-Bawerk.") In fact, Austrian economics contains an implicit exploitation theory, which was made explicit by Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk. As I wrote in "Austrian Exploitation Theory":
Böhm-Bawerk was merely applying the more general exploitation theory held by free-market thinkers at least back to Adam Smith: Monopolies and oligopolies (suppressed competition) harm consumers and workers through higher prices and lower wages. For Smith monopoly was essentially the result of government privilege. This largely has been the view of later Austrians, also.
This should be uncontroversial. In the corporate state, government privilege restricts competition among employers in a variety of ways and -- just as important, if not more so -- forecloses or raises the cost of self-employment and other alternatives to traditional wage labor. So worker bargaining power is reduced. The difference between what workers would have made in a freed market and what they actually make represents systemic exploitation.

I'm not saying that libertarians should call themselves socialists today. That would not communicate well. But this semantic history has its value.

Friday, September 26, 2014

TGIF: The "Boomerang Effect": How Foreign Policy Changes Domestic Policy

The late Chalmers Johnson, the great analyst of the American empire, warned that if Americans didn’t give up the empire, they would come to live under it.
We’ve had many reasons to take his warning seriously; indeed, several important thinkers have furnished sound theoretical and empirical evidence for the proposition. Now come two scholars who advance our understanding of how an interventionist foreign policy eventually comes home. If libertarians needed further grounds for acknowledging that a distinctive libertarian foreign policy exists, here it is.
Read it here.

Will American Ground Troops Be Sent to Fight ISIS?

With the United States dropping bombs on yet another Muslim country, we might benefit from a close look at President Obama’s anti–Islamic State strategy.
Obama and his spokespeople are always quick to make two points: first, that no American ground forces will be sent into combat against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and second, that the United States will merely be part, albeit a leading part, of a broad coalition of Arab and NATO countries.
Read it here.

Friday, September 19, 2014

TGIF: The Antimilitarist Libertarian Heritage

With the United States on the verge of another war in the Middle East — or is it merely the continuation of a decades-long war? — we libertarians need to reacquaint ourselves with our intellectual heritage of peace, antimilitarism, and anti-imperialism. This rich heritage is too often overlooked and frequently not appreciated at all. That is tragic.
Libertarianism, to say the least, is deeply skeptical of state power. Of course, then, it follows that libertarianism must be skeptical of the state’s power to make war — to kill and destroy in other lands. Along with its domestic police authority, this is the state’s most dangerous power. (In 1901 a libertarian, Frederic Passy, a friend of libertarian economist Gustave de Molinari, shared in the first Nobel Peace Prize.)
Herbert Spencer, the great English libertarian philosopher of the late 19th and early 20th century, eloquently expressed radical liberalism’s antipathy to war and militarism. His writings are full of warnings about the dangers of war and conquest.
TGIF is here.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Liar, Liar!

Calling President Obama's ISIS plan a "counterterrorism operation" is a lie to pacify the American public. ISIS is not a terrorist group (though it's capable using terrorism as a tactic.). It's a nonstate conquering army that is taking and holding territory in order to build a formal state.

P.S.: If Obama really thought ISIS presented a significant threat to Americans at home, would he rule out sending ground troops?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Is the Foreign-Policy Elite Clueless?

The American foreign-policy elite seems to have no idea what it’s doing.
Americans may believe the government — especially the foreign-policy side — is at least minimally competent, but when one surveys decisions from the last few decades, one has to wonder. 
The current crop of policymakers, like earlier ones, know what they want to do: make the world safe for American leadership — or, less euphemistically, American hegemony: No rivals for American influence or access to resources and markets can be tolerated. As 
President George H.W. Bush said, “What we say goes.”
Even by that standard, the policy architects and executors look incompetent — or unbelievably cynical.
Read the full op-ed here.

Monday, September 15, 2014

TGIF: Ownership and Ideas

Like many libertarians, I’ve learned a lot from Murray Rothbard on a wide variety of subjects. Of course, no one gets everything right, especially someone as intellectually ambitious, multidisciplinary, and prolific as Rothbard. Nevertheless, reading the work of the man who left such a mark on the modern libertarian movement is as profitable as it is pleasurable. 
While rereading For a New Liberty (first published in 1973) recently, I confess I was puzzled, which is not the frame of mind Rothbard normally leaves me in. In deriving property rights, he used the example of a “sculptor fashioning a work of art out of clay and other materials.”
Read TGIF here.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

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 the late Osama bin Laden and now Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his ilk. 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 government's 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 and those who suffer "collateral damage." 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 Iraqis 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 05, 2014

TGIF: Does Freedom Require Empire?

In a startling article, Daniel McCarthy, the admirable editor of The American Conservative magazine (TAC), writes, “Successive British and American empires created and upheld the world order in which [classical] liberalism could flourish.” In other words, as he writes in “Why Liberalism Means Empire,” “Liberalism and empire reinforced one another in manifold ways.” Therefore, if we want an enduring liberal democratic society, we must acknowledge the necessity of a U.S.-enforced global empire.
Read all of TGIF here.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Let's Have Candor from the NATO Summit

Don’t hold your breath, but it would be refreshing if NATO leaders meeting in Wales this week spoke candidly for once about Ukraine.
Read it here.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Wrong, Hillary

Hillary Clinton says there would be no Islamic State had her advice been taken about arming the "moderate" opposition in Syria. To which Stephen Zunes replies:
In reality: 1) Much of ISIS's weaponry has come from overrunning FSA [Free Syrian Army, i.e., the "moderate" opposition's] positions and from fighters who left FSA and joined ISIS; 2) The FSA consists of hundreds of independent uncoordinated militia of largely untrained fighters, additional arms would not have made them effective; 3) Their [the Islamic state's] coming to power in northern Iraq is a direct consequence of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, which Clinton supported and Obama opposed.

TGIF: "The Police Force Is Watching the People"

Political philosophy — the libertarian philosophy included — can take you only so far. The libertarian philosophy provide grounds for condemning aggression, that is, the initiation of force, and along with some supplemental considerations, it identifies in the abstract what constitutes aggression, victimhood, and self-defense. But the philosophy can’t identify the aggressor and victim in particular cases; relevant empirical information is required.
Read TGIF here.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Mission Creep in Iraq

There are several reasons not to intervene militarily in another country’s conflict, even modestly. One is the potential for mission creep.
We already could detect the signs of mission creep in Iraq. Now, with the stepped-up U.S. airstrikes after the Islamic State’s horrific execution of American reporter Jim Foley, the signs are clearer than ever.
Read it here.

Friday, August 15, 2014

TGIF: American Liberty during World War I

There’s always plenty for libertarians to complain about in our troubled world, but in many respects, things could be much worse. I’m thinking particularly of how the U.S. government punished dissent before, during, and even after America’s participation in World War I. Although it will be a few years before we observe the centenary of Woodrow Wilson’s idiotic decision in 1917 to plunge the country into the Great War, this seems like as good a time as any to review his administration’s, Congress’s, and the courts’ shameful conduct.
TGIF is here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

She's Wrong Again

Unsurprisingly, Hillary is wrong: "Don’t do stupid stuff’ is an organizing principle -- for government.

Mental-Health Gnomes

The sad death of Robin Williams has brought out the usual mental-health gnomes. Here's a summary of their message:

Phase 1: Bad brain chemistry
Phase 2: ?
Phase 3: Suicide.

If only life were that simple. Persons are more than the sum of their parts.

Out of Iraq, Etc.!

Nearly a century ago, after four bloody years of World War I, British colonialists created the state of Iraq, complete with their hand-picked monarch. Britain and France were authorized — or, more precisely, authorized themselves — to create states in the Arab world, despite the prior British promise of independence in return for the Arabs’ revolt against the Ottoman Turks, which helped the Allied powers defeat the Central powers. And so European countries drew lines in the sand without much regard for the societies they were constructing from disparate sectarian, tribal, and ethnic populations....
History alone does not tell us what, if anything, outside powers should do now; there’s no going back in time. But we can say that without foreign interference, even a violent evolution of the region might have been far less violent than it has been during the last century. At least, the violent factions would not be seeking revenge against Americans.
It's all here.

Friday, August 08, 2014

TGIF: The 100th Anniversary of the Great State Crime

This week marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, the four-year bloody nightmare that claimed 16 million lives — 7 million of them noncombatants — and wounded over 20 million people.
That would have been bad enough, but the conflict was merely Act One in a much bigger war. The “peace” settlement vindictively branded Germany uniquely culpable and imposed border adjustments that made Act Two a virtual certainty. The so-called Second World War, which began after the 21-year intermission from 1918 to 1939, claimed at least 60 million lives, at least 19 million of which were noncombatants.
Read TGIF here.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Real Days of Infamy



Today is the 69th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima, one of President Harry Truman's acts of mass murder against Japan in August 1945. Some 90,000-166,000 individuals were killed. The anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing (39,000-80,000 human beings killed) is August 9. (It has come to my attention that the U.S. military bombed Tokyo on Aug. 14--after destroying Hiroshima and Nagasaki and after Emperor Hirohito expressed his readiness to surrender.)

There isn't much to be said about those unspeakable atrocities against civilians that hasn't been said many times before. The U.S. government never needed atomic bombs to commit mass murder. Its "conventional" weapons have been potent enough. (See the earlier firebombing of Tokyo.) Nor did it need the bombs to persuade Japan to surrender; the Japanese government had been suing for peace. The U.S. government may not have used atomic weapons since 1945, but it has not yet given up mass murder as a political/military tactic. Presidents and presidential candidates are still expected to say that, with respect to nuclear weapons, "no options are off the table."

Mario Rizzo has pointed out that Americans were upset by the murder of 3,000 people on 9/11 yet seem not to be bothered that "their" government murdered hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians in two days. Conservatives, ironically, were among the earliest critics of Truman's acts of mass murder.

As Harry Truman once said, "I don't give 'em hell. I just drop A-bombs on their cities and they think it's hell." (Okay, he didn't really say that, but he might as well have.)

Rad Geek People's Daily has a poignant post here. Rad says: "As far as I am aware, the atomic bombing of the Hiroshima city center, which deliberately targeted a civilian center and killed over half of the people living in the city, remains the deadliest act of terrorism in the history of the world."

Other things to read: Anthony Gregory’s “Hiroshima, Nagasaki, andthe US Terror State,”  David Henderson’s “Remembering Hiroshima,” and G.E.M. Anscombe's "Mr. Truman's Decree."

Finally, if you read nothing else on this subject, read Ralph Raico's article here.

[A version of this post appeared previously.]

The U.S. Government Still Tries to Subvert Cuba

When I saw the headline about the U.S. government and Cuba in my newspaper the other day, I thought I’d awoken in 1961. It was a Twilight Zone moment for sure: “U.S. program aimed to stir dissent in Cuba.” I expected Rod Serling to welcome me to “another dimension.”
But it was 2014. The AP news report said President Barack Obama and presumably then–secretary of state Hillary Clinton had plotted to incite a popular uprising — to “gin up opposition” — against the Cuban government by sending in young Latin Americans masquerading as tourists and health workers.
Read it here.

Friday, August 01, 2014

TGIF: I Can't Help If I'm a Libertarian

It’s not easy being a libertarian. I am not looking for sympathy when I say that. I just mean to point out that rejecting the conventional wisdom on virtually (do I really need this adverb?) every political question, current and historical, can be wearying. Life could be so much simpler if it were otherwise. No doubt about that. I really don’t like conflict, especially when it can quickly turn personal, as it so often does. (I embrace the advice that one can disagree without being disagreeable.) But for a libertarian, disagreement with most people is not an option. We can’t help it.
It's all here.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Borderlands: What's Happening to America?

The U.S. government regards a large part of the country as close enough to a border or coast to justify treating individuals — citizens or not — as though they have no rights whatsoever. People have been beaten and had their personal belongings seized — without warrant or charge — just because they resented being treated like criminals. This should alarm anyone who thinks America is the “land of the free.”

 Read the full op-ed.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Police State America

Eric Garner was murdered by police in Staten Island on July 17. See Will Grigg's account.


    

TGIF: Jane Cobden: Carrying on Her Father's Work

Among libertarians and classical liberals, the name Richard Cobden (1804–1865) evokes admiration and applause. His activities — and successes — on behalf of freedom, free markets, and government retrenchment are legendary. Most famously, he cofounded — with John Bright — the Anti–Corn Law League, which successfully campaigned for repeal of the import tariffs on grain. Those trade restrictions had made food expensive for England’s working class while enriching the landed aristocracy....

Cobden’s legacy is much appreciated by libertarians, but one aspect of it is largely unknown. (I only just learned of it, thanks to my alert friend Gary Chartier.) Cobden’s third daughter and fourth child, Emma Jane Catherine Cobden (later Unwin after she married publisher Thomas Fisher Unwin), carried on his work. Born in 1851, she was a liberal activist worthy of her distinguished father.
Read all of TGIF.

The War Against Gaza: The Background in Three Quotations

"The slogan 'Jewish state' (or commonwealth) is equivalent, in effect, to a declaration of war by the Jews on the Arabs." --Judah Magnes, founder, chancellor, president, the Hebrew University, Jerusalem

‎"Why should the Arabs make peace? If I was an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country.... We have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that?" --David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister

"Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I do not blame you because geography books no longer exist, not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either. Nahlal arose in the place of Mahlul; Kibbutz Gvat in the place of Jibta; Kibbutz Sarid in the place of Huneifis; and Kefar Yehushu'a in the place of Tal al-Shuman. There is not one single place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population....

"Let us not cast the blame on the murderers today. Why should we deplore their burning hatred for us? For eight years they have been sitting in the refugee camps in Gaza, and before their eyes we have been transforming the lands and the villages, where they and their fathers dwelt, into our estate." --Israeli Gen. Moshe Dayan, hero of the June 1967 war.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

In Foreign Affairs, Not Doing Anything Is the Thing to Do

The heartbreaking violence in the Middle East, Ukraine, and elsewhere carries many messages, but here’s one Americans shouldn’t miss: The United States — no matter who the president is — cannot manage world conflict. The corollary is that when a president tries to manage it, things will usually get worse. Foresight is always defective, and tragic unintended consequences will prevail.
The full article is here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

John Blundell, RIP


John Blundell, 61, who led influential classical-liberal organizations and published several books, died on July 22 of cancer. I worked for John at the Institute for Humane Studies (IHS), 1985 through 1990, and observed up close his deep dedication to liberty and free markets. He also ran the Atlas Economic Research Foundation and later the UK's Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA). He was a board member of the Mont Pelerin Society. In these capacities, he tirelessly promoted free-market ideas and young scholars looking to make careers studying and teaching liberty in academia, as well as aspiring journalists. After his organization work, John turned to writing and editing books. Among his works are Margaret Thatcher: A Portrait of the Iron Lady and Ladies for Liberty: Women Who Made a Difference in American History. He was also keenly interested in seeing new pro-market institutions established, and in that connection he wrote Waging the War of Ideas. Most recently, he led a Liberty Fund/Liberty Matters discussion of the contributions of Arthur Seldon, a mentor of his who helped found the IEA.

I first met John at an IHS advanced seminar at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. The tall, reserved, good-humored Englishman made an immediate impression with his knowledge and dedication.

John is survived by his wife, Christine, and two sons, Miles and James.

He will be missed.

The Atlas obit is here. Steve Davies wrote an appreciation at the IEA site.

Monday, July 21, 2014

James Garner, RIP

James Garner, one of my favorite actors and star of one of the best antiwar movies ever, The Americanization of Emily (1964), has died at 86. If you have not seen Emily, do so. It was Garner's favorite movie, and he never was better, although he gave sparkling performances in many other movies and in his successful television series, Maverick and The Rockford Files. His characters, perhaps without exception, preferred to talk their way out of tough situations rather than fight. Wits and wit beat muscle. His charm with a touch of cynicism carried this off brilliantly.

See David Hart's piece on Garner here.

Israel's War on Gaza: The Context

Updated July 29, 2014

Any discussion of Israel's war on Gaza that does not focus on 1) the Zionist military's and Israel's systematic ethnic cleansing of Palestinians through roughly 1948 (that's how Palestinian refugees ended up in the Gaza Strip); 2) the military conquest of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967; 3) the Israeli/Egyptian blockade of the Gaza Strip since 2007, following the Israeli withdrawal in 2005 (yes, the occupation ended, but Gaza remains a prison camp -- as though guards left a prison but maintained strict control over who and what -- food, medicine, infrastructure supplies, etc. -- could enter and leave); and 4) the exploitation of the kidnapping and murders of three young Israeli residents of an illegal West Bank settlement (one a 19-year-old soldier) to rout Hamas (which denied responsibility; it normally claims credit for his acts) in the West Bank (Israeli forces rearrested several hundred West Bank Palestinians, including some who had been released in an earlier prisoner exchange; political leaders stirred up revenge fever and one Palestinian youth was burned to death, while another was severely beaten by police) [See update below.]-- any discussion that fails to take all these things into account is worse than worthless. It is crudely dishonest. (Compare the reaction to the murder of the three Israelis with the murder by Israeli soldiers of two Palestinian youth on May 15 while peacefully commemorating the 1948 destruction of Palestine, known as the Nakba.)

Hamas is wrong to fire rockets at civilians (though few hit their targets), even considering that the villages those civilians live in were once Palestinian villages that Zionist/Israeli forces seized during the 1947-48 ethnic cleansing. The rocketing, however, is a sign of weakness versus Israel, not strength, and must not permit us to overlook this background of brutality against Palestinians. This year Hamas agreed to join the Palestinian Authority's coalition government (after the Israeli government, again, made a mockery of "peace talks") signaling an endorsement of the PA's agenda -- including recognition of Israel. Was this a welcome step for the Israeli government? No. It immediately set out to punish the Palestinians for this new unity -- it prefers a divided Palestinian community and a Hamas it can demonize. (Years ago, the Israeli government nurtured the emergence of Hamas precisely because it could serve as a religious rival to the popular secular Fatah.)

Hamas, it is true, maintains a charter that calls for the destruction of Israel, but that has not kept it from issuing statements over the years -- joining the coalition is only the most recent -- indicating a willingness to accept Israel as part of a two-state solution. It is Israel that has broken truces with Hamas. Its soldiers have often killed and injured Gazans minding their own business on their own side of the fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel, while Hamas leaders have been assassinated by the Israeli government following offers of a truce. It is clear that Israeli leaders do not want a Hamas they can make peace with, just as they don't want an Iran with which they can have normal relations. They need the specter of an "existential threat" to maintain their iron rule. In particular, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must push this intransigent line especially hard to keep the members of his coalition government who are further to the right than he is (yes, further) on the reservation.

Israeli leaders and spokesmen continually say that their only goal in this war is "peace and quiet" for the people if Israel. Maybe a decent goal would include justice for the long-suffering Palestinians. This is not about Hamas, an organization that endangers the innocent people it claims to champion with futile yet criminal activities like the rocket fire. This does not let the Israelis and their brutal response -- underwritten by American taxpayers and supporter by their rulers -- off the hook, however. Ont the contrary, since Israel created and maintains the open-air prison, it is responsible for all the evils that go on inside. Its hard-line policies embolden the most extreme elements and undercut the moderate voices. Has the "peace process" even slowed the building of illegal settlements on Palestinian land in the West Bank?

No, it's not about Hamas; it's about the Palestinians, who do not deserve this punishment at the hands of the Israelis.

For further discussion of the larger context, see Ramzy Baroud's "Ravaging Gaza: The War Netanyahu Cannot Possibly Win." Also worthwhile are Nathan Thrall's "How the West Chose War in Gaza" and Neve Gordon's "On 'Human Shielding' in Gaza." And Omar Baddar's "Debunking the Myths about Gaza: The Truth Behind Israeli and Palestinian Talking Points."

UPDATE: BBC reporter Jon Donnison says that Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told him that the perpetrators of the kidnapping/murders were a Hamas-affiliated cell that did not take orders from the Hamas leadership and that had defied the leadership in the past. According to Max Blumenthal, the Netanyahu government early on had reason to know who the perpetrators were, but used his broad accusation of Hamas as a pretext for cracking down on the organization in the West Bank, arresting hundreds of members in a mass sweep and holding them without charge, a move that could in no way be related to legitimate law-enforcement investigation into the kidnapping-murders. (Also see this Mondoweiss report.)

Friday, July 18, 2014

TGIF: War, Peace, and Murray Rothbard

With wars raging in the Middle East, it seems like a good time to revisit a classic work by Murray Rothbard (1926–1995), the economist, historian, and political philosopher who had a lot to do with the birth and evolution of the modern libertarian movement. His “War, Peace, and the State” is something that all peace advocates — not just self-conscious libertarians — ought to be familiar with.
Read it here.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Again, the Isolationist Smear

It doesn’t take much to be smeared as an isolationist by leading Republicans. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who appears to be running for president again, and former vice president Dick Cheney — not to mention Sen. John McCain, Gov. Chris Christie, and other members of the GOP establishment — can always be counted on to drag out that insult whenever they sense a threat from anyone not as hawkish as they are. If they thought that 30,000 U.S. troops should be sent somewhere, and someone recommended sending only 10,000, we could count on Perry, Cheney, et al., to condemn the other person as an appeasing isolationist.
UPDATE: Yikes I forgot the link. The article is here.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Setting the Record Straight on Palestinian Youth

Irfan Khawaja has an excellent post at the Austro-Athenian Empire responding to the usual negative portrayal of the Palestinians, especially the youth. I highly recommend it.

Friday, July 11, 2014

TGIF: Speaking to Nonlibertarians

If libertarians want to change how nonlibertarians’ think about government, they will need to understand how nonlibertarians think about government. By “nonlibertarians,” I mean the majority of people who spend little if any time pondering political theory, or what Murray Rothbard called political ethics. They may focus at times on particular government programs and actions, or on proposals for new programs, but rarely about government as an institution.
Read TGIF here.

No Mere Blunder

When year in and year out, for more than six decades, a group of politicians does things that objectively encourage their most violent adversaries and discredit their most conciliatory interlocutors, we are entitled to conclude that this is a calculated policy. Blunders don't persist for 66 years and counting.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Let the Immigrants Stay

Virtually all commentary about the influx of unaccompanied Central American children into the United States, which some say could rise to 90,000 this year, misses the point: no government has the moral authority to capture these kids and send them back to the miserable situations they have escaped.
The op-ed is here.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Israel and Due Process

You have to admire Israel, "our" closest friend and ally in the Middle East, the "only democracy" in the region, for its commitment to due process, not to mention individual rights. Three Israeli teens were kidnapped and murdered, inexcusable crimes. So the Israeli government declared Hamas guilty without public evidence or trial. (Hamas, which denies responsibility, typically engages in prisoner exchanges rather than the killing of captives.) Then the IDF bombed the Gaza Strip, the densely populated open-air prison, killing innocents, and blew up the family homes of so-called suspects -- collective punishment. Nothing new here. It's how the Israeli government has acted as a matter of policy. The demolition Palestinian homes is so prevalent that Israeli Jews founded an organization to stop it.

Meanwhile in Jerusalem, a Palestinian teen was beaten and burned to death by Israelis, apparently in reprisal, and his cousin, a resident of Tampa, Fla., was beaten apparently by two masked  soldiers in uniform.

Just another day in the lives of the subjugated Palestinians.

The murders of the Israeli teens were atrocities, of course, but they can in no way justify, retroactively or prospectively, the systematic violence perpetrated against Palestinians that the state of Israel constitutes at its core. (For a disturbing report on how religious authorities justify the killing of non-Jews by Jews, see Allan  Brownfeld's article "Resistance Is Growing to Zionism’s Corruption of American Jewish Life," especially the section headed "The King’s Torah."

UPDATE: Israel announced the arrest of six suspects in the murder of the Palestinian teen. No word yet on whether the authorities destroyed their families' homes or bombed Israeli neighborhoods.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Hobby Lobby Ruling Falls Short

As far as it went, the Supreme Court generally got it right in the Hobby Lobby-Obamacare-contraception case. Unfortunately it didn’t go nearly far enough.
The court ruled that “closely held corporations” whose owners have religious convictions against contraceptives cannot be forced to pay for employee coverage for those products.
I wish the court could have said this instead: (1) No one has a natural right to force other people to pay for her (or his) contraception or anything else (with or without the government’s help), and by logical extension, (2) everyone has a right to refuse to pay if asked.
For people about to celebrate the Fourth of July, these principles ought to be, well, self-evident.
Here's the rest.

Friday, June 27, 2014

TGIF: Smedley Butler and the Racket that Is War

From 1898 to 1931, Smedley Darlington Butler was a member of the U.S. Marine Corps. By the time he retired he had achieved what was then the corps’s highest rank, major general, and by the time he died in 1940, at 58, he had more decorations, including two medals of honor, than any other Marine. During his years in the corps he was sent to the Philippines (at the time of the uprising against the American occupation), China, France (during World War I), Mexico, Central America, and Haiti.
In light of this record Butler presumably shocked a good many people when in 1935 — as a second world war was looming — he wrote in the magazine Common Sense:
"I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism [corporatism]. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents."
Read the full article here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

U.S.-Egyptian “Historic Partnership” Reeks with Hypocrisy

Largely overshadowed by events in Iraq and Syria, the Obama administration is dropping its pretense at displeasure with the military junta in Egypt and restoring full support for the regime that so recently quashed the country’s faltering attempt at democracy.
Read the full article here.

Friday, June 20, 2014

TGIF: The Middle East Harvests Bitter Imperialist Fruit

The wall-to-wall coverage of the disintegration of Iraq ought to carry this credit: This bloodshed was made possible by the generosity of British and French imperialists.
The stomach-wrenching violence in Iraq — not to mention the horrendous civil war in Syria, the chronic unrest in Palestine/Israel, and problems elsewhere in the Middle East — are direct consequences of the imperialist acts of the British and French governments at the end of World War I, the history-altering catastrophe that began 100 years ago this August 4.
Read the full article here.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Noninterventionists Told You So

Contrary to popular belief, there is no satisfaction in being able to say, “I told you so.” This is especially so with Iraq, where recent events are enough to sicken one’s stomach. Yet it still must be said: those who opposed the George W. Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq in March 2003 — not to mention his father’s war on Iraq in 1991 and the sanctions enforced through the administration of Bill Clinton — were right.
The noninterventionists predicted a violent unraveling of the country, and that’s what we’re witnessing. They agreed with Amr Moussa, chairman of the Arab League, who warned in September 2002 that the invasion would “open the gates of hell.” There was no ISIS or al-Qaeda in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq before the U.S. invasion.
Here's the entire article.

Monday, June 16, 2014

I Can't Get No Satisfaction

It's funny. You'd think there'd be satisfaction in being able to say "I told you so" on Iraq. There isn't.
American critics of U.S. foreign policy (as well as some neoconservative supporters) often refer to the United States as an empire. This is not an emotional outburst but a substantive description of the national government’s role in the world. But what exactly is an empire? This question is all the more relevant today with Iraq is being consumed by sectarian violence and calls for renewed U.S. intervention here are increasingly louder.
In 1952 the journalist and novelist Garet Garrett (1878–1954) took up this question in contemplating post-World War II America. The resulting essay, “The Rise of Empire,” is included in his anthology, The People’s Pottage. It bears close study today.
The article is here.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Press TV Interview

Press TV interviewed me about U.S. policy toward Ukraine. You can listen here.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

News Coverage Misleads American on the Bergdahl Swap

In national-security matters, the news media couldn’t do a better job misinforming the public if they tried. The latest example is their portrayal of the five Taliban officials traded for Bowe Bergdahl.
The media of course have an incentive to accentuate controversy. In the Bergdahl deal, this includes portraying the five Taliban prisoners as, in Sen. John McCain’s words, “hard-core jihadis responsible for 9/11.” McCain is wrong, but the major news outlets don’t care. Over and over, the five are identified as terrorists. Facts take a back seat to drama and conflict.
The full article is here.

Friday, June 06, 2014

TGIF: The Disaster that Is U.S. Foreign Policy

We live in angry times. For evidence, turn on any news program. An awful lot of people, led by right-wing politicians and radio and TV entertainers, are angry at Barack Obama for trading five Taliban officials, who have been held for years without charge in the Guantánamo prison, for an American soldier, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who apparently walked away from his outpost after having a change of heart about the Afghan war. The Right is apoplectic.
To make matters worse for the right wing, Obama had the nerve to embrace — on the grounds of the White House no less — the soldier’s parents, who themselves are under suspicion by the Right. Bergdahl’s father, after all, wears an ominously bushy beard (is the Calvinist really a Muslim?) and spoke to his son in Pashto, the language of the son’s captors. Worse yet, he was so desperate to rescue his son that he tweeted to a Taliban spokesman, “I am still working to free all Guantánamo prisoners. God will repay for the death of every Afghan child, ameen.” (The tweet was later deleted.)
The full TGIF is here.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Sgt. Bergdahl and the Fog of War

The “fog of war” is a reference to the moral chaos on the battlefield as well as the rampant confusion. Individuals kill others for no other reason than that they are ordered to. Things deemed unambiguously bad in civilian life are authorized and even lauded in war. The killing and maiming of acknowledged innocents — in particular children and the elderly — is excused as “collateral damage.”
No wonder that some individuals thrust into this morass sometimes act differently from how soldiers behave in romantic war movies. The hell of war is internal as well as external.
We might remember this as the story of Sgt. Bowe Robert Bergdahl unfolds.
Read the full article here.

Friday, May 30, 2014

TGIF: Trivial Dispute: Obama Versus the Interventionists

American politics is largely a series of debates over unimportant details. These debates are conducted far above the fundamental level because the supposed contenders share the same premises. Where they disagree is at the level of application, and so the disagreements end up being fairly minor, especially if you think the premises are wrong.
This is an especially pronounced feature of what passes for foreign-policy debate within the accepted range of opinion.
TGIF is here.

The Danger is Intervention, Not "Isolation"

A lot of people are warning against America turning “isolationist.” We can dismiss the warnings—special pleadings, really—emanating from other countries, where people have free-ridden on American taxpayers for decades. If Europeans are worried about defending themselves, why are they cutting their military budgets? Not that we should mind if they do, but they should not look to us to pick up any slack.
President Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel are the latest to express concern that the American appetite for managing foreign conflicts is waning. In his West Point speech, Obama said the military is the “backbone” of American leadership, even as he claimed that force is not the first answer to every problem. And Hagel recently told some foreign-policy wonks in Chicago that it would be “a mistake to view our global responsibilities as a burden or charity.” How would he propose that we taxpayers view them? As a privilege?
Find it here.

UPDATE: I've appended this note to the article:
[Correction: I've removed a sentence which stated incorrectly that President James Monroe and Secretary of State John Quincy Adams intervened in a Greek civil war. In fact, while Monroe expressed sympathy for the Greeks, who were revolting against Turkey, in his annual message in 1822, Adams and key members of Congress opposed intervention.]
 ​

Monday, May 26, 2014

Revisionist History Day, 2014



Today is Revisionist History Day, what others call Memorial Day. Americans are supposed to remember the country's war dead while being thankful that they protected our freedom and served our country. However, reading revisionist history (see a sampling below) or alternative news sites (start with Antiwar.com and don't forget to listen to the Scott Horton Show) teaches that the fallen were doing no such thing. Rather they were and are today serving cynical politicians and the "private" component of the military-industrial complex in the service of the American Empire.

The state inculcates an unquestioning faith in its war-making by associating it with patriotism, heroism, and the defense of "our freedoms." This strategy builds in its own defense against any criticism of the government's policies. Anyone who questions the morality of a war is automatically suspected of being unpatriotic, unappreciative of the bravery that has "kept us free," and disrespectful of "our troops," in a word, un-American.

To counter this common outlook, which people are indoctrinated in from birth and which is shared by conservatives and Progressives alike, we should do what we can to teach others that the government's version of its wars is always self-serving and threatening to life, liberty, and decency.

In that spirit, I quote a passage from the great antiwar movie The Americanization of Emily. You'll find a video of the scene below. This AP photo is a perfect illustration of what "Charlie Madison" is talking about.
I don't trust people who make bitter reflections about war, Mrs. Barham. It's always the generals with the bloodiest records who are the first to shout what a Hell it is. And it's always the widows who lead the Memorial Day parades . . . we shall never end wars, Mrs. Barham, by blaming it on ministers and generals or warmongering imperialists or all the other banal bogies. It's the rest of us who build statues to those generals and name boulevards after those ministers; the rest of us who make heroes of our dead and shrines of our battlefields. We wear our widows' weeds like nuns and perpetuate war by exalting its sacrifices....

My brother died at Anzio – an everyday soldier’s death, no special heroism involved. They buried what pieces they found of him. But my mother insists he died a brave death and pretends to be very proud. . . . [N]ow my other brother can’t wait to reach enlistment age. That’ll be in September. May be ministers and generals who blunder us into wars, but the least the rest of us can do is to resist honoring the institution. What has my mother got for pretending bravery was admirable? She’s under constant sedation and terrified she may wake up one morning and find her last son has run off to be brave. [Emphasis added.]
Enjoy the day. I'll spend some of it reading revisionist history and watching Emily.




Here's an all-too-incomplete list of books in no particular order (some of which I've read, some of which I intend to read):
  • We Who Dared to Say No to War: American Antiwar Writing from 1812 to Now, edited by Murray Polner and Thomas E. Woods Jr.
  • The Failure of America's Foreign Wars, edited by Richard M. Ebeling and Jacob G. Hornberger
  • America's Second Crusade, by William Henry Chamberlin
  • Great Wars and Great Leaders: A Libertarian Rebuttal, by Ralph Raico
  • Why American History Is Not What They Say: An Introduction to Revisionism, by Jeff Riggenbach
  • War Is a Lie, by David Swanson
  • War Is a Racket, by Smedley D. Butler
  • WartimeUnderstanding and Behavior in the Second World War, by Paul Fussell
  • Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men: A History of the American Civil War, by Jeffrey Rogers Hummel
  • The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, by William Appleman Williams
  • Empire as a Way of Life, by William Appleman Williams
  • The Civilian and the Military: A History of the American Antimilitarist Tradition, by Arthur Ekirch
  • The Politics of War: The Story of Two Wars which Altered Forever the Political Life of the American Republic, 1890-1920, by Walter Karp
  • The Costs of War, edited by John Denson
  • Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq, by Stephen Kinzer
  • All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, by Stephen Kinzer
  • Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, by Chalmers Johnson
  • The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic, by Chalmers Johnson
  • War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, by Chris Hedges
  • A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, by David Fromkin (This book has serious flaws, but it nonetheless shows the cynicism of the European imperialists.)
  • The Gun and the Olive Branch: The Roots of Violence in the Middle East, by David Hirst
  • Faith Misplaced: The Broken Promise of U.S.-Arab Relations, 1820-2001, by Ussama Makdisi
  • Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, by Max Blumenthal
  • Genesis: Truman, Jews, and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict, by John B. Judis
  • The Rejection of Palestinian Self-Determination, by Jeremy R. Hammond
  • The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, by Ilan Pappe
  • The General's Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine, by Miko Peled
  • Assault on the Liberty, by James N. Ennes Jr.
  • Wilson's War: How Woodrow Wilson's Great Blunder Led to Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, and World War II, by Jim Powell
  • American Empire: Before the Fall, by Bruce Fein
  • Endless Enemies: The Making of an Unfriendly World, by Jonathan Kwitny
  • The Emergency State: America's Pursuit of Absolute Security at All Costs, by David C. Unger
  • The War State: The Cold War Origins Of The Military-Industrial Complex And The Power Elite, 1945-1963, by Michael Swanson
  • Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, by Nicholson Baker
  • Pearl Harbor: The Seeds and Fruits of Infamy, by Percy Greaves
  • Infamy: Pearl Harbor and Its Aftermath, by John Toland
  • Day of Deceit: The Truth about  FDR and Pearl Harbor, by Robert Stinnett
  • Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers, by Daniel Ellsberg
  • The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, by Nick Turse
  • "War is the Health of the State," by Randolph Bourne
  • War, Peace, and the State, by Murray Rothbard
  • “‘Ancient History’: U.S. Conduct in the Middle East Since World War II and the Folly of Intervention,” by Sheldon Richman
By the way, if you can't help but think of this day as "memorial day," then at least spend part of it remembering how the U.S. government has caused the deaths of so many people.

Magic

Are we so desperate for explanations of horrific acts like Elliot Rodger's murder spree that we are willing to accept scientistic pseudo-explanations? Saying that Rodger killed because he was mentally ill is like saying David Copperfield can make things disappear and reappear because he has magical powers. It explains nothing, though it appears to. It's a placeholder where a real explanation should be. A sign of growing up is the rejection of pseudo-explanations and the demand for the real thing.

Behavior has reasons not causes. Persons are not reducible to brain chemistry.

This is what the late Thomas Szasz spent years courageously trying to explain to us. He was routinely misunderstood, misstated, and maligned. Contrary to common misconception, Szasz did not deny that people do "crazy" things, only that action -- purposive conduct -- is illness. He did not rule out that some people who do "crazy" things may have brain illnesses, even ones yet to be discovered. But he rejected "mental illness" as a category mistake because the mind is not an organ. ("Mind is a verb not a noun," he he once told me.) He liked this passage from the philosopher Gilbert Ryle in The Concept of Mind:
A myth is, of course, not a fairy story. It is the presentation of facts belonging to one category in the idioms belonging to another. To explode a myth is accordingly not to deny the facts but to re-allocate them.
Szasz spent his life restoring the facts of human action to the category in which they belong. For an unlimited number of reasons, people are capable of drawing conclusions about the world and themselves that in their view justify evil actions. To say they are sick is to tell us nothing about them, although it tell us much about the speaker, who seeks comfort and security, not understanding. The obvious danger in this is that proposals to prevent mass murder by the "mentally ill" will lead to greater violations of the civil liberties of people who are no threat to anyone. (Involuntary "medication" and "hospitalization" are common in the land of the free.)

If you want to see what Szasz had to say, you can start with The Medicalization of Everyday Life: Selected EssaysThe Manufacture of Madness: A Comparative Study of the Inquisition and the Mental Health Movement, or Psychiatry: The Science of Lies. If you want to get in more deeply, I recommend Insanity: The Idea and Its Consequences, Schizophrenia: The Sacred Symbol of Psychiatry, and the book that started it all, The Myth of Mental Illness: Foundations of a Theory of Personal Conduct.

TGIF: Immortal Keynes?

Whatever you may think of Keynesian economics, you have to give it credit for one thing: its staying power.
 Read about it here.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

A Further Thought for the Day

Here's a passage I've always liked from Albert Jay Nock's Memoirs of a Superfluous Man:
Another neighbour, a patriarchal old Englishman with a white beard, kept a great stand of bees. I remember his incessant drumming on a tin pan to marshal them when they were swarming, and myself as idly wondering who first discovered that this was the thing to do, and why the bees should fall in with it. It struck me that if the bees were as intelligent as bees are cracked up to be, instead of mobilising themselves for old man Reynolds’s benefit, they would sting him soundly and then fly off about their business. I always think of this when I see a file of soldiers, wondering why the sound of a drum does not incite them to shoot their officers, throw away their rifles, go home, and go to work.

Thought for the Day

“When men hire themselves out to shoot other men to order, asking nothing about the justice of their cause, I don’t care if they are shot themselves.” --Herbert Spencer, during Britain's second Afghan war.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Op-ed: More U.S. Intervention in Libya?

Except for the 2012 deadly attacks on the U.S. diplomatic mission and CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya has dropped out of American news coverage since President Obama and NATO’s so-called humanitarian intervention in 2011. The American public has been led to believe that except for that terrorist outburst, things have been going pretty well in the country formerly ruled by Muammar Qaddafi.
So it might come as a surprise that Obama has sent over 200 marines along with Osprey aircraft to Sicily in case the American embassy in Tripoli has to be evacuated.
Read about it here.

Friday, May 16, 2014

TGIF: Rothbard's For a New Liberty

In 1973, nine years before he published his magnum opus in political philosophy, The Ethics of Liberty, Murray Rothbard issued a comprehensive popular presentation of the libertarian philosophy in For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto, first published by the mainstream publisher Macmillan.
 The full article is here.

The Neoconservative Obsession with Iran

Americans could be enjoying cultural and commercial relations with Iranians were it not for U.S. “leaders,” who are more aptly described as misleaders. Because of institutional, geopolitical, and economic reasons, Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan,George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton were not about to let that happen. They thought America needed an enemy, and Iran filled the bill.
President George W. Bush appeared to follow in his predecessors’ footsteps, Gareth Porter writes in his important new book, Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. But Bush added his own twist: the neoconservative zeal for regime change in the Middle East, a blind fanaticism about the magic of American military power that overwhelmed all sense of realism about the world.
Read it here.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Liberty.Me

Liberty.me is a "digital city" dedicated to furthering the discussion of libertarianism. But that hardly begins to describe this project launched by Jeff Tucker. Check out Liberty.me for yourself. And visit my personal section, where you'll find an archive of my writings.

Enjoy!

TGIF: Rothbard's The Ethics of Liberty: Still Worthy After All These Years

In 1982 Murray Rothbard published his magnum opus in political philosophy, The Ethics of Liberty. It is a tour de force, a remarkable presentation of the moral case for political freedom. What a complement to Man, Economy, and State and Power and Market, Rothbard’s towering contributions to our understanding of free markets!
The first striking feature of Ethics is that the opening five chapters, which comprise part 1, seek to establish the validity of natural law, an approach to moral inquiry based on the distinctive nature, faculties, and tendencies of the human being;
 The full article is here.

Bill Clinton and the Bogus Iranian Threat

Tragically, President George H.W. Bush passed up a chance for a rapprochement with Iran because, after the Soviet Union imploded, the national-security apparatus needed a new threat to stave off budget cutters in Congress. Iran became the “manufactured crisis,” according to author Gareth Porter’s new book by that title.
Doubly tragic, Bush’s successor, Bill Clinton, compounded the dangerous folly by hyping the bogus threat. Why? That might be a good question for progressives to ask possible presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who enjoys basking in her husband’s supposed presidential successes.
Read all about it here.

Friday, May 02, 2014

TGIF: Libertarianism Rightly Conceived

The debate on thick and thin libertarianism continues, and that’s a good thing. Libertarians can only gain by the discussion. Often one comes to appreciate one’s own philosophy more fully in the crucible of intellectual argument.
So I, for one, welcome the debate — so long as it is a real debate and not merely a series of unsupported denials of the proposition on the table.
Read the article here.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

In Defense of John Kerry, Sort of

I hate being in the position of having to defend Secretary of State John Kerry, but defend him I must. Sort of.

Israel's supporters are running around with their hair on fire because of this statement by Kerry:
A two-state solution will be clearly underscored as the only real alternative. Because a unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second-class citizens—or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state. Once you put that frame in your mind, that reality, which is the bottom line, you understand how imperative it is to get to the two-state solution, which both leaders, even yesterday, said they remain deeply committed to.
The first thing to note is that no one would be shocked by such a statement in Israel. This view is expressed often, even by some staunch Israeli chauvinists, who don't want to live with Palestinian Arabs. Only in America do people act as though the sky were falling whenever a bad word is uttered about Israel, even if the word is framed within a hypothetical. Kerry said that if Israel maintains control of the occupied territories, it has two alternatives: a fully secular democratic country with a majority Arab population -- but then how can it remain a "Jewish State"? -- or a state in which a minority defined in ethnic or (pseudo-)racial terms rules a majority of people who don't and can't qualify as members of the in-group. Kerry could be faulted for not including in his list of alternatives Bill Kristol's preferred choice: the status quo. But many reasonably doubt that the status quo -- military rule of the West Bank and outdoor-prison status for the Gaza Strip -- is sustainable.

What do Kerry's pro-Israel critics think will happen if the Palestinians are not set free? Do they want them set free under any circumstances? Maybe Sens. Ted Cruz and Barbara Boxer favor the Kristol option of continued occupation and subjugation. If so, they should say so.

Aside from the status quo and an independent Palestinian state, logic seems to dictate that the only other choices, as Kerry says, are a secular democracy -- which means no Jewish State -- and something resembling apartheid. I favor secularism, liberalism, decentralization, real federalism, and local autonomy -- if I can't have market anarchism.

The only correction I'd make for Kerry is that "apartheid" is not the quite right word for what Israel would become, and actually is now: let's not forget that the Arab minority in Israel are treated like second-class citizens and always have been. Israel differs from a South African-style apartheid, as Gilad Atzmon points out, for the following reason: in South Africa, the ruling white minority wanted the majority black population to remain in the country to do the menial and dirty work. The ruling Israeli Jewish view is that Israel would be better off if the Arabs just left. Many Israeli Jews would love to see the Palestinian Arabs expelled (to Jordan), if that could be pulled off without international outrage.

Kerry is hardly a sympathetic character. His so-called peace process was a sham from the start, as we can see in his appointment of former AIPAC figure Martin Indyk as his chief negotiator. No doubt Kerry would like a "peace agreement" for legacy purposes, but if he got his way, it would have nothing to do with justice for the Palestinians.

Nevertheless, he had no reason to apologize for his remarks.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Welfare State Brings Out the Thickness in Thin Libertarians

There are libertarians who apparently feel they must protect the movement from the thick libertarianism that I and others espouse. (It's also been called "humanitarian libertarianism.") Thickness denotes the idea that the same principles which commit us to  nonaggression also necessarily commit us to other values not directly related to nonaggression.

However, some thin libertarians display a surprising thickness from time to time.

Take the welfare state. Libertarians who shun thick libertarianism seem to have no trouble damning the welfare state for its corrupting effects on its recipients. I understand that some thins have even defended Cliven Bundy's "analysis" of the welfare state's harm to black people.

But that is not how consistent thin libertarians should talk about the welfare state -- unless they declare that for this purpose they are taking off their libertarian hats. Why do I say this? Because no one is forced to accept welfare, food stamps, or any other government handout. Being a welfare-state client is entirely voluntary and thus in itself has no thin-libertarian implications. If libertarianism is only about force, as thin libertarians insist, then they should have nothing to say about any bad effects on welfare-state clients. All thins can and should object to is the taxation that produces the revenue distributed to recipients.

Look at it this way. If the welfare state did not harm its recipients, libertarians would still oppose it because it relies on the aggression of taxation. So why do thin libertarians focus so much attention on what they should regard, respecting libertarianism, as an irrelevant feature?

Maybe the thins are thick after all, at least when it suits them.