What the ‘Dumpster Fire’ D.C. Metro Says About Federal Bureaucracy

What the ‘Dumpster Fire’ D.C. Metro Says About Federal Bureaucracy

07/10/2018James Bovard

The District of Columbia Council voted in June to impose a tax increase of almost 500 percent on Uber and Lyft users to help fix the Washington Metro transit system.  Anyone who summons a Lyft or Uber ride inside D.C. will now be hit with a 6 percent fee to bankroll a subway that a top Obama administration official aptly labeled an “ongoing dumpster fire” two years ago....

The skewering of Uber and Lyft riders was spurred by the D.C. government’s promise to ante up $178 million a year in “dedicated funding” for the subway system. Virginia and Maryland are also chipping in massively for this “solution” that threw the Washington Post editorial board, which retains boundless faith in the magic of government spending, into ecstasy. Metro managers had long claimed that dedicated funding would sway passengers from comparing the subway to Dante’s Inferno. But as soon as the funding deal was done, Metro stunned riders with plans for a vast array of new service disruptions, including shutting down subway lines south of Reagan National Airport for more than three months.

Much of the prolificacy and inefficiency in local transit systems is the result of federal mandates. As a Heritage Foundation analysis noted, “Federal subsidies decrease incentives…to control costs, optimize service routes, and set proper priorities for maintenance and updates.” Transportation scholar Randal O’Toole observed, “Innovative solutions are bypassed and high costs are guaranteed because of the requirement that transit agencies obtain the approval of their unions to be eligible for federal grants.” And the unions often don’t give a damn about the traveling public. Unions representing DC Metro workers blame riders for the system’s problems and denounced as “diabolical” a plan to contract out custodial jobs. But union campaign contributions make politicians happy, which trumps reducing costs.

If money could solve Metro’s problems, the heavily-subsidized system never would have commenced a death spiral.  But neither the feds nor local politicians have the courage to compel radical changes to curb the power of unions, end anti-work rules, and vastly reduce a bureaucracy that makes endless excuses for the system’s other failings. Nor is it likely that Metro employees will even learn the art of non-shiftless shovel leaning.

Read the full article at The American Conservative 
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All Hail Halloween

10/31/2018Ryan McMaken

[Originally published October 31, 2009 at LewRockwell.com.]

Damian Thompson, writing in the UK’s Telegraph, recently noted that "This is the only time of year when I become seriously anti-American." The reason? He hates Halloween.

Apparently, Halloween is one of "America’s worst exports" according to Thompson, and he is at least the second British writer just this year that I’ve noticed going on a tirade against this venerable American holiday.

Now, I don’t fault Thompson (who is one of my favorite religion writers) and his fellow Brits for hating Halloween at all. The dreary streets of London suburbs simply don’t mesh with the spirit of Halloween, and I’m reminded of the one Halloween I spent in Rome where tiny children wandered through the streets (all dressed in identical witch or ghost costumes) and begged shopkeepers and restaurateurs for some kind of treat that I couldn’t identify.

So no, Europeans don’t know a good Halloween any more than they know a decent hot dog, so I don’t begrudge Thompson or his brethren on the continent who also apparently have their own reservations about Halloween.

But what a magnificent American festival it is. The smell of candles burning inside pumpkins, the sound of crunching leaves beneath our feet, and the chance to dress up and beg for free candy are all a recipe for childhood memories that easily rival the fun of even Christmas.

It’s the trick-or-treating that the Brits seem to hate the most, but in America, the act of going door to door to beg for treats is as American as candied apples and pumpkin pie. Indeed, going door to door for treats was once considered the thing to do on numerous holidays. Thanksgiving especially was once considered a day for treat-hunting throughout the neighborhood, and for impromptu and raucous parades of strangely dressed citizens looking for a fun time.

Over time, these door-to-door parades were quashed by the guardians of the respectable middle classes who thought such activities too working-class and too un-bourgeois to be tolerated. Thus, they invented the Thanksgiving turkey dinner and the Thanksgiving football game rituals out of nothing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in an attempt to replace the more spontaneous celebrations of the common folk.

But Thanksgiving was a cynical creation of government, and Halloween has never been a government-sanctioned holiday, so it is all the more encouraging that trick-or-treating thankfully survives in spite of all the efforts of fear-mongering suburbanites and crazed religious devil-fighters who do their best to ruin the holiday every year.

And what a testament to the inherent goodness of humankind that trick-or-treating survives. Every year, millions of Americans go out and drop quite a bit of money on treats for children, and then give it away for free. And, in all these years of trick-or-treating there are no documented cases of poisonings of children by strangers. Yes, some sick people have poisoned the Halloween candy of their own children, but the risk of being poisoned by some nut in your neighborhood is just about zero.

In spite of what the guardians of decency may have us believe, most people simply aren’t interested in poisoning children. Instead, we Americans take great joy in handing out free stuff to people who ring our doorbells and demand candy.

If foreigners can’t appreciate the sheer fun and exhilaration of such a festival, so be it. I can’t stand it when Americans act like there’s no such thing as a uniquely American culture. Maybe the average American has become too ignorant and classless to know it, but American civilization is simply among the best in both music and in English-language literature. And it’s been that way for well over a century.

And it’s some of that excellent literature that informs what we think of our best secular holiday. The entire mise-en-scène of Halloween comes to us from Americans.

While the idea of the jack-o-lantern may come from an Irish version made from turnips, the modern jack-o-lantern, made from pumpkins, which are native to the Americas, is as American as they come.

And when we think of the elements of Halloween with its dark forests and headless horsemen and gothic freaks and menacing ravens, we are taking a page from the works of writers like Washington Irving and the inimitable Edgar Allen Poe who is the undisputed father of the American horror movie, the ghost story, and the American folklore behind haunted houses and masquerade balls.

Yes, tales of werewolves and monsters, and even Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster come to us from Europeans, but that unique feel of Poe-ish gothic creepiness within a chilly North American autumn is what we all strive to re-create every 31st of October.

What Halloween is complete without a recitation of "The Raven?" And who would let a Halloween go by without carving a jack-o-lantern? Hopefully few of us would be so thankless as to let such a great American opportunity pass.

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A Serial Killer Called "Socialism"

10/30/2018Rafael Acevedo

Socialism has killed more than 100 million people worldwide. Socialism came to Venezuela 60 years ago and has proven to be the worst form of government under which to improve the quality of life. Ludwig von Mises once said that every socialist is a potential dictator, and the history in Venezuela supports his statement. My country is now ruled by one of the most tyrannical, vicious, and corrupt regimes in the world and — as a dedicated socialist regime — it could not be anything else.

On October 5, a leader of the political party Primero Justicia, Fernando Alban, was murdered by these enemies of freedom. He was held and tortured by the SEBIN (the Venezuelan intelligence agency) and his injuries were so severe that he ultimately died from them. After his death his body was thrown from a 10-story building and immediately, and officially, ruled a suicide. This was a blatant attempt to direct blame elsewhere. Venezuela's “Chief Prosecutor” has declared there will be consequences to anyone who publicly says or insinuates that the SEBIN assassinated Alban.

Alban is just the most recent victim of this regime. The opposition party is of no help and is part of the problem because they don't do anything to stop what is going on and  only want political power and control of the economy. In 2017, the security forces murdered more than 150 people that had protested against the regime, the majority of those people were young students that wanted a country where they could live in freedom.

The classic socialist tactic of eliminating ones adversaries — no matter the price — is common and repeated constantly.

On October 12, retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Rafael Ernesto Díaz Cuello was jailed. The reason given by Jorge Rodriguez  — one of the Regime's Capos — was that Diaz Cuello is guilty of treason to the homeland. Díaz Cuello is not a traitor. I know because I have had the opportunity to talk and share the stage with him as a speaker. He is just a retired military officer who speaks out against the regime and the crisis looming currently in Venezuela. Of course, he is a military man and comes from that background, but one of his proposals makes the government very uncomfortable. He advocates a transitional government to steer Venezuela out of its current crisis by adopting a Swiss-like government structure with the support of international security forces or the replication of Singapore’s experience.

However, Díaz Cuello is not the only military man in jail or accused of treason. In June, the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional reported more than 99 military officers and personnel were in jail or discharged from their duties because of treasonous activity and conspiracies against the regime, two generals are among the incarcerated. In addition, there is the case of Oscar Pérez, an ex-police officer who was leading a group of rebels that was massacred — despite the fact that they had already surrendered. This sort of thing is without precedent in Venezuela.

So, when people analyze the real history of socialism, it is important to understand the many systems that are swathed in blood. People, especially the young idealists, must recognize that "social democracy," "progressivism," or "social Christianism" often ends in the destruction of life and liberty for untold numbers of people. To open one's political and economic system to such a threat is like opening one's house to a serial killer. 

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Paul Volcker's New Memoir: A Broadside Against his Successors?

10/30/2018Jeff Deist

Paul Volcker, the cigar smoking former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, literally and figuratively towers over his successors (he is reportedly 6'7"). Mr. Volcker is the the last Chair under whose tenure American savers could earn a decent rate of interest, the last Chair who demonstrated any meaningful political independence (clashing with presidents Carter and Reagan), the last Chair who really hated inflation, and the last Chair who eschewed the technocratic management of monetary policy. He's the last of the old-guard central bankers who saw monetary policy as a regulator and not a stimulus machine. As bad as he was on gold—as an undersecretary in Nixon's Treasury department he advocated the suspension of gold convertibility— Volcker was a gut-level banker who understood complex markets but also the concerns of average people. He was never a policy wonk with his head in the clouds. 

Still active and robust at 91, he's written a new memoir documenting his long tenure at the central bank. If his comments (excerpted from the book) in this recent Bloomberg opinion piece are any indication, it should be a welcome refutation of technocratic monetary policy by his successors—particularly when it comes to the current bizarro-world understanding of inflation and deflation: 

More recently, a remarkable consensus has developed among central bankers that there’s a new “red line” for policy: A 2 percent rate of increase in some carefully designed consumer price index is acceptable, even desirable, and at the same time provides a limit.

I puzzle about the rationale. A 2 percent target, or limit, was not in my textbooks years ago. I know of no theoretical justification. It’s difficult to be both a target and a limit at the same time. And a 2 percent inflation rate, successfully maintained, would mean the price level doubles in little more than a generation.

Who else in the world of central banking even mentions inflation these days, other than to tell us it's not a problem? Do any Fed or ECB economists think doubling prices on consumer goods every couple of decades is a good thing? Why do today's policy makers think prices are rising too slowly, a position totally at odds with the public? Volcker points out the absurdity of their thinking:

Yet, as I write, with economic growth rising and the unemployment rate near historic lows, concerns are being voiced that consumer prices are growing too slowly — just because they’re a quarter percent or so below the 2 percent target! Could that be a signal to “ease” monetary policy, or at least to delay restraint, even with the economy at full employment?

Certainly, that would be nonsense. How did central bankers fall into the trap of assigning such weight to tiny changes in a single statistic, with all of its inherent weakness?

Perhaps an increase to 3 percent to provide a slight stimulus if the economy seems too sluggish? And, if 3 percent isn’t enough, why not 4 percent?

I’m not making this up. I read such ideas voiced occasionally by Fed officials or economists at the International Monetary Fund, and more frequently from economics professors. In Japan, it seems to be the new gospel. I have yet to hear, in the midst of a strong economy, that maybe the inflation target should be reduced!

He also provides some very clear thinking about the bogeyman known as deflation. Systemic crises, in the form of deep recessions, are the danger—not falling prices. Of course deep recessions are deflationary, as banks, businesses, and households shed debt and lower consumption. But loose monetary policy, not Volckerian rate hiking, creates the biggest risk of a future systemic crises: 

The lesson, to me, is crystal clear. Deflation is a threat posed by a critical breakdown of the financial system. Slow growth and recurrent recessions without systemic financial disturbances, even the big recessions of 1975 and 1982, have not posed such a risk.

The real danger comes from encouraging or inadvertently tolerating rising inflation and its close cousin of extreme speculation and risk taking, in effect standing by while bubbles and excesses threaten financial markets. Ironically, the “easy money,” striving for a “little inflation” as a means of forestalling deflation, could, in the end, be what brings it about. 

Mr. Volcker's memoirs hopefully will serve as a much-needed corrective against the inanity of monetary policy today and a warning against the folly of what Nomi Prins calls "financial alchemy," the false belief that central bankers can conjure up prosperity using technical wizardry. Production, productivity increases, profit, and investment are the only way to create a truly prosperous and sustainable economy, and no amount of policy tinkering can change this. Volcker is not an Austrian, but he is someone who understands the threat to America's economic future posed by disconnected central bank policies. Fed officials, current and former, would be well-served to worry less about Donald Trump's tweets and more about their own reputations. As R. Christopher Whalen reminds us in this excellent analysis, "the greatest threat to the central bank’s existence is the tendency of Fed governors and economists to pursue abstract economic theories that make no sense in real world terms and often do more harm than good."

Let's hope Jay Powell reads Mr. Volcker's book.

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Reuters Poll Shows Hispanics Support Secession More than the General Population

10/30/2018Ryan McMaken

Released to not much fanfare, Reuters has posted some very interesting interactive poll data on surveys showing the level of support for "the idea of your state peacefully withdrawing from the USA and the federal government."

Nationwide, overall opinion is heavily against with, among all people polled, 58 percent in opposition, and only 22 percent supporting. (Back in 2014, a poll showed 23.9 percent of Americans supporting secession.)

Results vary by region, however, with more than 60 percent opposing secession in the Southeast, Rocky Mountain, Great Plains, Great Lakes, and New England regions.

In the Far West (which includes California) and in the Southwest only 51 percent and 49 percent oppose secession, respectively.

The Southwest's numbers are bolstered significantly by the presence of Hispanics who apparently are much more sympathetic toward secession than the "white" (presumably "non-Hispanic white," since half of Hispanics consider themselves to be white) population.

Nationwide, 36 percent of Hispanics support secession while 42 percent oppose.

Looking just at Hispanics in the southwestern part of the country that have 20% or more Hispanic population (which therefore includes California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, and Nevada, support is 35 percent and opposition is 42 percent.

But, in spite of the "Calexit" effort, it appears California Hispanics are more inclined to oppose secession than Hispanics in other states of the region.

If we exclude California (and thus measure Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, and Nevada), 35 percent of Hispanics support secession, while only 38 percent oppose.

Of course, the data doesn't tell us the reason that Hispanics support secession more in this data. It's likely that the reasons vary.

Pew data has shown that among Hispanics polled, nearly as many self-identify as "libertarian" (11 percent) than is the case for Anglos (12 percent). Assuming that someone who self-identifies as libertarian is more likely to support decentralization and secession (something that isn't always true) then there's nothing shocking about these numbers.

Moreover, support for secession is higher among Hispanics regardless of whom they supported in 2016. Among those Hispanics who supported Clinton in 2016, support for secession is 33 percent in support of secession and 47 percent in opposition. Among everyone else, 22 percent support, and 63 percent oppose.

Nor is that all being driven by California Hispanics. Excluding California from these numbers, support for secession among Clinton-supporting Hispanics is even higher: 36 percent support, and 45 percent oppose.

And, among Trump-supporting Hispanics (which was 28 percent of voting Hispanics in 2016), secession almost wins a plurality: 45 percent support, and 47 percent oppose. But among non-Hispanic Trump supporters, support for secession is abysmal: only 19 percent support and 69 percent oppose.

It's hard to see any unifying theory here, although I'm old enough to remember the days when panicked Anglos spread the theory that most Mexican-Americans were plotting to secede and "rejoin Mexico" or found the new country of "Aztlan" which would be a ethno-state of Hispanics. (The fact that Mexican-Americans have an extremely varied racial make-up, however, is usually ignored.)

Given that all my maternal relatives are Mexican-Americans, though, I always found this little theory to be laughably tone-deaf. For the most part, the only Mexican-Americans who have interest in some sort of Mexican ethno-state or Mexican re-unification are University ideologues in Latino Studies departments. Among man-on-the-street Mexican-Americans, the level of support for a plot to "rejoin" Mexico is likely a tiny minority.

On the other hand, it is entirely possible that More Mexican-Americans (most of which are native-born, of course) simply have a more international view of things, and haven't quite imbibed the mythology of the US as "indispensable nation" (whether viewed through a left- or right-wing prism) to the same degree that the Anglo population has. It could be the idea of a future in an independent country or something independent from Washington, DC doesn't fill Mexican-Americans with the same terror it apparently fills Americans in the Southeast or New England.

In any case, I've just focused here on the Hispanic numbers in this Reuters survey because it interests me. Check it out, as you can also filter the results by a number of other variables, including religion, income, and more.

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Bolsonaro Elected in Brazil

10/29/2018Ryan McMaken

"Right wing" Jair Bolsonaro has been elected president of Brazil, which extends a significant shift rightward from the days of Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff. In Latin America — and especially Brazil, which is itself distinct from Hispanophone Latin America — "right wing" can mean many things, and it certainly isn't the same thing as we mean in the US. Laissez-faire economics — even in rhetoric — isn't necessarily part of the equation.

There does seem to be a distinct lean in favor of the income-and-wealth-producing middle classes with Bolsonaro, and that may be a good thing.

Not surprisingly, then, the media is telling me that Bolsonaro is pretty much the modern incarnation of Hitler, just as they did with Trump. And while I'm hardly a Trump booster, the guy obviously ain't Hitler, either — or even Mussolini. (Never mind that both those guys heavily pushed their countries in the direction of socialism and central planning...)

In any case, the electorate of Brazil has apparently tired of the status quo which is one of terrible crime and sky-high homicide rates, rampant corruption, and a steady drumbeat for more and more economic regulation and intervention.

While much of Latin America (not Venezuela, of course) is seeing dropping violence coupled with steady economic growth (see Peru, for example, where homicide rates are a small fraction of Brazil's and where economic growth is far more steady than in Brazil) Brazil appears to spinning its wheels.

For a good take on Bolsonaro from one of our writers, see Brazil-born Alice Salles on "Understanding Brazil's Donald Trump."

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Is the Fed's Leading Dove Aiming to Replace Jay Powell?

10/26/2018Doug French

Perhaps Neel Kashkari is angling for the Fed Chair job, should Donald Trump attempt an Eccles palace coup and oust Jerome Powell for his tightening ways. General Mattis may be sending troops to the border to head off the “caravan” enroute from Guatemala (or was it the middle east?), but he can certainly redirect them to Federal Reserve HQ to suppress President Trump’s “biggest risk.”   

Mr. Kashkari, the president of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank, has hopscotched through various positions after being hired by then Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson. He’s worked at PIMCO, he’s run for governor of California, and he administered the much beloved TARP program during the financial crisis.  

Today his op-ed appears in the Wall Street Journal urging the Fed’s home office to lighten up on the interest rate hikes already.  The President must be pleased.  The 2 percent inflation target, which tall-Paul Volker writes in his new book, “I puzzle at the rationale. A 2 percent target, or limit, was not in my textbook years ago. I know of no theoretical justification,” is, according to Kashkari, “symmetric” not a “ceiling.”     

The Minnesota Fed man writes, “In 2015 the FOMC estimated unemployment could not go below 5.1% without triggering inflation. Its current estimate is 4.5%; the actual unemployment rate is down to 3.7%, and wage growth and inflation are still muted.”

Inflation is muted, except if you calculate it the way it used to be calculated.  John Williams does that for us at shadowstats.com and he says CPI is 6 percent using the 1990 method or 10 percent using the 1980 approach.   

 

Courtesy of ShadowStats.com

“Every time we do something great, he raises the interest rates,” Mr. Trump told reporters from the Wall Street Journal, adding that Mr. Powell “almost looks like he’s happy raising interest rates.”

During his meeting with the WSJ reporters, Trump, “pushed a red button on his desk, summoning an iced cola delivered to him on a silver platter.”

I can imagine Idi Amin did that.  

He also talked like Amin or other dictator. The reporting crew from the WSJ write, 

He referred to economic gains during his time in office as “my numbers,” saying, “I have a hot economy going.” He described his push for growth as a competition with former President Obama’s record, saying that increases under his Democratic predecessor were skewed because of low-interest rates.

Mr. Kashkari, himself, questions the government’s numbers to make the case to stop the interest rate music from being turned up too loud. 

And the formal unemployment rate only counts people actively looking for work. By another measure—the percentage of prime-age Americans who are employed—nearly a million adults are still missing from the job market relative to 2006, and more than 2.5 million fewer are working relative to 1999. How many more of those missing workers would re-enter the labor force if wages picked up? We don’t know.

All of that is true, but typically not uttered by government employees of any sort of rank. Evidently, it doesn’t matter what you write from the distant Minneapolis Fed outpost.

And, how about this from Kashkari,

Critics argue the tax cut is delivering a Keynesian sugar high, that modest growth rates will return once the high has worn off, and that taxpayers will be left holding $1.8 trillion in additional outstanding debt. Who’s right? It will take time to find out.

“Keynesian sugar high? Did he really take the Lord Keynes’ name in vain?

The former TARPmaster closes with,

But until inflation or inflation expectations get meaningfully higher, the Fed should allow the economy to continue to strengthen, so as to allow as many Americans as possible to participate in the recovery.

That sentence, even grammatically, sounds Trumpian. 

Trump feels as if Powell lied to him. “He was supposed to be a low-interest-rate guy. It’s turned out that he’s not.”  

Of course, it’s all about Trump v. Obama.  Michael C. Bender, Rebecca Ballhaus, Peter Nicholas and Alex Leary write,

Mr. Trump demurred when asked under what circumstances he’d remove Mr. Powell, whom he selected for a four-year term that started in February. “I don’t know,” he said. “I’m just saying this: I’m very unhappy with the Fed because Obama had zero interest rates.”

Wah, wah, wah. Mr. Kashkari, your next office may be in the Eccles Building.  

Originally published at DouglasInVegas.com
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Europe's War on Free Speech Continues

10/26/2018Ryan McMaken

A European court has ruled that people can be fined and prosecuted in criminal court for saying things about religious figures. Specifically, saying things about the Muslim prophet Mohammad is verboten, and state punishment is appropriate:

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled a woman convicted by an Austrian court of calling the Prophet Mohammed a paedophile did not have her freedom of speech rights infringed.

The woman, named only as Mrs. S, 47, from Vienna, was said to have held two seminars in which she discussed the marriage between the Prophet Mohammad and a six-year old girl, Aisha....Mrs S. was later convicted in February 2011 by the Vienna Regional Criminal Court for disparaging religious doctrines and ordered her to pay a fine of 480 euros plus legal fees.

The court's primary reasoning, it appears, is that the woman's comments ought to condemned because they might "stir up prejudice and threaten religious peace..." Notably, however, Mrs. S is not accused of saying anything that encourages violence either generally or in any specific way.

In other words, human rights go right out the window if the exercise of those rights might cause other people to feel bad.

This sort of thing is shocking to Americans, of course, but it's old hat by now in Europe (and Canada) where one can face large fines , and even imprisonment for saying unpopular things.

Just some examples include:

  • A candidate in the European elections was arrested in Britain for quoting a passage from Winston Churchill about Islam.
  • Gert Wilders, a politician in the Netherlands, was tried on five counts including “criminally insulting Muslims because of their religion.”
  • Both Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant were dragged in front of the Canadian Human Rights Commission on charges of being “Islamophobic.”

Moreover, it reflects a larger disdain for private property that is so widespread in Europe. Consider, that the comments made by the woman in question were apparently made at "two seminars." Presumably, no one who didn't wish to listen to the ideas of Mrs. S was forced to do so. And there is no claim that Mrs.S trespassed on anyone's property to express these ideas.

As noted by Murray Rothbard, the right to free speech is not a special right, but is intimately connected to property rights. If Mrs. S was expressing her ideas in a place and in a way that did not violate anyone else's property rights, then she was acting peacefully and in a way that respects the rights of others.

In other words, it appears that there was no coercion or violence of any sort involved in Mrs S's expression of her ideas.

The Court, however, has decided that the proper response to her peaceful activities is to use violence — by imposing fines.

Moreover, the court appears to be unconcerned as to whether the facts relayed by Mrs S, relating to Mohammad's marriage to a young girl, are accurate or not. This would appear to be important to most reasonable people, but presuming that Mrs S comments about Muhammad's child bride are accurate — which they appear to be — the court is basically taking the position that stating well-known historical facts constitutes some sort of hate speech.

The larger goal, it appears is to pander to certain interest groups at the expense of basic freedoms. One is left wondering, however, if the Court would react with equal enthusiasm to equally disparaging remarks about Christianity or Christians.

State-directed punishments of this sort, of course, ought not be confused with non-governmental efforts at silencing critics. While Americans certainly are fond of launching campaigns to get people fired or ostracized when they say unpopular things, these actions are nonetheless qualitatively different from being hauled into civil or criminal court by government officials, and then threatening the accused with thousands of dollars in fines, or even a jail term.

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Trust in Government at Historic Lows

10/26/2018Ryan McMaken

As an addendum to yesterday's post in civility in government, and the Era of Consensus, take a look at new data released from Pew on faith in government .

The percentage of those polled who say they trust the government in Washington hasn't exceeded 25 percent in ten years.

trust.JPG

On the other hand, the amount of trust in government as shown in the 50s and early 60s is astounding. According to this data, at least, nearly 80 percent of the population said it trusted the government in Washington.

It's little wonder then, that the US government had a free hand to carry out thinks like The Great Society, the Vietnam War, price controls, and a variety of massive spending programs. And all the while, the population droned on with "we're the greatest country in the world!"

Conversely, its unclear how long a regime can continue when only one-fifth of the population says it trusts the national government.

But, it's also clear that the government doesn't like it. This is why politicians so regularly lecture the population to vote, and tell us that "cynicism" about the government is a terrible thing — as Obama insisted the other day .

What the regime wants is enthusiastic support, and political participation — i.e., voting and little else — that can be used to claim various "mandates" for more government action.

Naturally, what the regime wants is a repeat of the 50s and early 60s, when a supermajority of the population trusted DC. The pretended posturing toward radicalism is really just a get-out-the-vote strategy. No one in DC wants turbulence. The want to re-create the calm and deferential trust Americans had in the mid-20th century.

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Trump's Haters Claim His Fed Criticism Is Dangerous - They're Wrong

10/25/2018Tho Bishop

One of Donald Trump’s gravest sins in the eyes of financial punditry has been his willingness to openly criticize the actions of the Federal Reserve. According to the Serious People in Washington and New York, the President voicing his opinion on monetary policy is a dangerous challenge to the independence of the central bank. In fact, the preserving the appearance of a central bank beyond politics is so important it is held up as the leading argument against a full audit of the Fed.

Interestingly, an excerpt from an upcoming memoir written by former Paul Volcker offers a reminder of how ridiculous this view is. As they mention during a New York Times interview with the former Fed chair:  

Mr. Volcker recounts being summoned to meet with President Ronald Reagan and his chief of staff, James Baker, in the president’s library next to the Oval Office in 1984.

Reagan “didn’t say a word,” Mr. Volcker wrote. “Instead Baker delivered a message: ‘The president is ordering you not to raise interest rates before the election.’” Mr. Volcker wasn’t planning to raise rates at the time.

“I was stunned,” he wrote. “I later surmised that the library location had been chosen because, unlike the Oval Office, it probably lacked a taping system.”

Of course this is not the first time a former Fed chair has admitted to receiving pressure from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. In his own memoir, Arthur Burns wrote about how Richard Nixon – who he described as his “best friend” – constantly lobbied for more accommodative monetary policy. Volcker successor, Alan Greenspan, has also said that he received input from the various administrations he served under “all the time.” “You'll find every president has an insight into how the markets work and where interest ought to be, which is always superior to that of the Federal Open Market Committee," he told CNBC last week.

Once again we see that the real issue beltway pundits have with Trump is a matter of style over substance, Trump’s sin is doing publicly what past presidents have done in private. While I prefer candidate Trump’s Fed criticism over President Trump’s, the public scrutiny of the central bank’s decision should be seen as a positive. While the Federal Reserve’s track record with monetary policy leaves a lot to be desired, it has been extraordinarily successful at promoting itself through a network of journalists and academics that have all helped sell the myth central bank is beyond politics. It’s not and has never been.

It’s time to acknowledge that fact and to not allow the Fed to avoid a proper audit. Or – better yet – competition.   

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35th Anniversary of Biggest Pre-9/11 U.S. Antiterrorism Debacle

10/24/2018James Bovard

This week is the 35th anniversary of one of the biggest antiterrorism disasters in American history.  President Reagan sent U.S. troops to Beirut in the chaotic aftermath of the 1982 Israeli invasion. 243 Marines were killed on October 23, 1983 when a lone terrorist drove a truck bomb past the poorly-guarded perimeter and detonated his vehicle in the lobby of the Marines’ headquarters.  That debacle helped spur Reagan to withdraw U.S. troops from Lebanon. Unfortunately, Reagan and subsequent presidents later blundered more deeply into Middle East quagmires. A third of a century later, it is easier to find bomb rubble than lessons learned by US politicians.

The Reagan Roadmap for an Antiterrorism Disaster
by James Bovard | Counterpunch, October 23, 2003

In his televised speech to the nation on September 7, President Bush declared, “In the past, the terrorists have cited the examples of Beirut and Somalia, claiming that if you inflict harm on Americans, we will run from a challenge. In this, they are mistaken.” There are many parallels between the 1982-84 U.S. deployment and decimation of U.S. troops in Beirut and the current Iraqi situation. None of them bode well for the success of Operation Iraqi Freedom or the life expectancy of American troops.

Few Americans remember the bitter details of one of Reagan’s biggest foreign debacles. Lebanon had been wracked by a brutal civil war for seven years when, in June 1982, Israel invaded in order to crush the Palestinian Liberation Organization. U.S. troops were briefly deployed in August in Beirut to help secure a ceasefire to facilitate the withdrawal of the PLO forces to Tunisia.

U.S. troops exited Beirut after the PLO withdrawal was largely completed. However, in mid-September 1982, the massacre of more than 700 Palestinian refugees threatened to plunge Lebanon into total chaos. Lebanese Christian Phalangist militia butchered residents of the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps; the militia was armed, aided, and fed by the Israeli Defense Force, which surrounded and blockaded the camps.

The Lebanese government appealed to President Reagan to send American troops back into Beirut as a stabilizing factor, and Reagan quickly obliged. As fighting escalated between Christians, Muslims, Syrians, and Israelis in Lebanon, the original U.S. peacekeeping mission became a farce. The U.S. forces were training and equipping the Lebanese army, which was increasingly perceived as a pro-Christian, anti-Muslim force. (Most Lebanese are Muslim).

On April 18, 1983 a delivery van pulled up to the front door of the U.S. embassy in Beirut and detonated, collapsing the building and killing 46 people (including 16 Americans) and wounding over a hundred others. The U.S. embassy was a sitting duck for the terrorist assault: unlike many other U.S. embassies in hostile environments, it had no sturdy outer wall. Newsweek noted: “Delivery vehicles are supposed to go to the rear of the building. Why Lebanese police guarding the embassy driveway would have made an exception in the case of the black van remained a mystery.” The attack lacked novelty value, since the Iraqi and French embassies had been wrecked by similar car bomb attacks in the preceding 18 months.

Five days later, on April 23, 1983, Reagan announced to the press: “The tragic and brutal attack on our embassy in Beirut has shocked us all and filled us with grief. Yet, because of this latest crime we are more resolved than ever to help achieve the urgent and total withdrawal of all American forces from Lebanon, or I should say, all foreign forces. I’m sorry. Mistake.” But the actual mistake was a U.S. policy that would cost hundreds of Americans their lives.

By late summer 1983, the Marines were being targeted by Muslim snipers. In the same way that some Bush administration officials are shocked by the Iraqi resistance to American troops, Reagan administration officials seemed surprised at rising attacks on American soldiers.

The Reagan administration responded to sniper potshots and scattered mortar attacks on U.S. troops with a massive escalation. On September 13, Reagan authorized Marine commanders in Lebanon to call in air strikes and other attacks against the Muslims to help the Christian Lebanese army. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger vigorously opposed the new policy, fearing it would make American troops far more vulnerable. Navy ships repeatedly bombarded the Muslims over the next few weeks.

At 6:20 A.M. on Sunday morning, October 23, 1983, a lone, grinning Muslim drove a Mercedes truck through a parking lot, past two Marine guard posts, through an open gate, and into the lobby of the Marine headquarters building in Beirut, where he detonated the equivalent of six tons of explosives. The explosion left a 30-foot-deep crater and killed 243 marines. A second truck bomb moments later killed 58 French soldiers.

Colin Powell, who was then a major general, commented in his autobiography: “Since [the Muslims] could not reach the battleship, they found a more vulnerable target, the exposed Marines at the airport.” A surprise attack on a troop concentration in a combat zone does not fit most definitions of terrorism. However, Reagan perennially portrayed the attack as a terrorist incident and the American media and political establishment accepted that label.

Reagan administration officials scrambled to assert that the administration was blameless. White House press spokesman Larry Speakes declared on the day of the attack that the bombing “definitely was a difficult situation for us” since “people come out of nowhere and perform these acts.” Vice President George H.W. Bush rationalized: “It’s awfully hard to guard against that kind of terrorism.” Defense Secretary Weinberger announced that “nothing can work against a suicide attack like that, any more than you can do anything against a kamikaze flight.” Actually, during World War II, the U.S. Navy quickly responded by placing rows of antiaircraft guns on the sides of its big ships.

In the aftermath of the Marine barracks bombing, Reagan’s creativity with the facts matched George W. Bush’s Iraq tales. In a televised speech four days after the bombing, Reagan portrayed the attack as unstoppable, declaring that the truck “crashed through a series of barriers, including a chain-link fence and barbed-wire entanglements. The guards opened fire, but it was too late.” Reagan claimed the attack proved the U.S. mission was succeeding: “Would the terrorists have launched their suicide attacks against the multinational force if it were not doing its job? . . . It is accomplishing its mission.” He warned that a U.S. withdrawal could result in the Middle East being “incorporated into the Soviet bloc.” Reagan also declared that the U.S. was involved in the Middle East in part to secure a “solution to the Palestinian problem.”

Reagan sent Marine Corps commander Paul X. Kelley to Beirut. Kelley quickly announced that he was “totally satisfied” with the security around the barracks at the time of the bombing. Upon returning to Washington, Kelley was summoned to Capitol Hill and bragged to Congress: “In a 13-month period, no marine billeted in the building [destroyed by the truck bomb] was killed or injured” from incoming fire. Kelley inaccurately testified that the Marine guards had loaded weapons and that two of them had been killed in the attack. When congressmen persisted questioning, Kelley became enraged and shouted: “We’re talking about clips in weapons, but we’re not talking about the people who did it. I want to find the perpetrators. I want to bring them to justice! You have to allow me this one moment of anger.”

Even though there had already been numerous major car bombings in Beirut that year and scores of other suicide attacks, Kelley told the committee that the truck bombing “represents a new and unique terrorist threat, one that could not have been anticipated by any commander.” Kelley denied the Marines received any warning of an impending attack. However, on the morning of Kelley’s second day of testimony, the New York Times reported that the CIA specifically warned the Marines three days ahead of time that an Iranian-linked group was planning an attack against them.

Other military officials involved in Lebanon also denied any culpability. Vice Admiral Edward Martin, the commander of the Sixth Fleet, declared: “The only person I can see who was responsible was the driver of that truck.” Martin stressed in an interview: “You have to remember that prior to Oct. 23, there hadn’t been any real terrorism threat.” A New York Times investigation concluded: “Marine officers in Beirut and the admirals and generals in the chain of command above them did not consider terrorism to be a primary threat even after the embassy bombing, and even though Beirut had been full of terrorists for years.”

Shortly after the bombing, Reagan appointed a Pentagon commission headed by retired Admiral Robert Long to investigate. The commission report, finished in mid-December 1983, concluded that military commanders in Lebanon and all the way back to Washington failed to take obvious steps to protect the soldiers. The commission suggested that many fatalities might have been prevented if guards had carried loaded weapons. The report stated that the only barrier the truck overcame was some barbed wire that it easily drove over. The commission also noted that the “prevalent view” among U.S. commanders was that there was a direct link between the Navy shelling of the Muslims and the truck bomb attack.

When the White House saw the final version of the commission’s report, they issued a stop order. The Washington Post reported that the White House “delayed release of the report for several days, allowing Reagan to respond to its criticism before it became public, and then attempted to play down its impact by vetoing a Pentagon news conference on the document.”On December 27, 1983 Reagan revealed that “we have never before faced a situation in which others routinely sponsor and facilitate acts of violence against us.” Reagan sought to make the report “old news”: “Nearly all the measures that were identified by the distinguished members of the Commission have already been implemented and those that have not will be very quickly.” Reagan announced that the Marine commanders in Beirut “have already suffered enough” and should not “be punished for not fully comprehending the nature of today’s terrorist threat.” Reagan then effectively declared that no one would be held accountable: “If there is to be blame, it properly rests here in this office and with this president,” he announced, just before leaving Washington for a vacation in Palm Springs, California.

The Reagan administration blamed its antiterrorist failures on the Carter administration. White House press spokesman Larry Speakes announced: “We don’t quarrel with the fact that the CIA and other intelligence-gathering agencies have been crippled by decisions of the previous administration, and we are in the process of rebuilding capabilities. But it takes time . . . to re-establish our intelligence-gathering methods.”

The following September, shortly after a suicide bomber again obliterated much of the poorly-defended U.S. embassy in Beirut, Reagan blamed the debacle on Carter administration CIA cutbacks: “We’re feeling the effects today of the near destruction of our intelligence capability in recent years before we came here.” Reagan falsely asserted that the Carter administration had “to a large extent” gotten “rid of our intelligence agents.”

Reagan quietly withdrew U.S. combat troops from Beirut in early 1984. During the 1984 presidential election, the Reagan administration also responded to its Beirut debacles by attacking the patriotism of Democrats. In the vice presidential candidates debate, George H. W. Bush denounced Democratic candidate Walter Mondale and his vice presidential pick, Geraldine Ferraro: “For somebody to suggest, as our opponents have, that these men died in shame, they had better not tell the parents of those young marines.” Neither Mondale nor Ferraro had said that the Marines “died in shame.” Bush denounced Mondale for running a “mean-spirited campaign”: “We’ve seen Walter Mondale take a human tragedy in the Middle East and try to turn it to personal political advantage.” But Mondale’s criticisms of the Reagan administration’s failures in Lebanon were less strident than Reagan’s criticisms of Jimmy Carter for the Iran hostage crisis during the 1980 presidential campaign.

Muslims also responded to U.S. troops by seizing American hostages. Reagan sent military equipment to Iran as a means to entice the Iranians to exert pressure to get hostages released. After the “arms for hostages” deal became public (along with the illegal funneling of the proceeds to the Nicaraguan Contras), Reagan’s credibility was devastated. Reagan went into such a tailspin after the crisis broke that his new chief of staff, Howard Baker, briefly examined invoking the Twenty-Fifth Amendment to remove Reagan from office because of medical unfitness. The Tower Commission report on the debacle concluded: “The arms-for-hostages trades rewarded a regime that clearly supported terrorism and hostage-taking.”

The 1982-84 deployment of U.S. troops in Beirut achieved nothing. And, contrary to the arguments of today’s hardliners, a larger, longer deployment would have merely boosted the number of body bags arriving at Dover Air Force base. The Israelis were far more aggressive against perceived opponents in Lebanon than were the American troops. But even the Israelis were effectively driven out of Lebanon over a decade and a half later, after failing to suppress Hezbollah and losing more than twice as many soldiers there as it lost during the 1967 Six Day War.

The Reagan administration paid no political price for its Beirut debacle. Reagan and Bush Sr. succeeded in falsifying, blustering, and smearing their way out of political trouble. Now, two decades later, the only “lesson” that seems to be recalled is to stick resolutely to floundering policies – at least until the number of dead soldiers threatens to become politically toxic.

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