Friday, May 31, 2013


Been having a good time with the Month of Five Scandals, Gentle Reader? Slavering over the possibility of bringing down the most corrupt, most tyrannical regime ever to bestride these United States? Looking forward to a Glorious Electoral Revolution in 2014?

Party's over, pal. Actually, it ended some time ago.

It is now the policy of the Department of Justice that speech it deems "inflammatory against Muslims" is unprotected and will be prosecuted:

DOJ: Social Media Posts Trashing Muslims May Violate Civil Rights

In its latest effort to protect followers of Islam in the U.S. the Obama Justice Department warns against using social media to spread information considered inflammatory against Muslims, threatening that it could constitute a violation of civil rights.

The move comes a few years after the administration became the first in history to dispatch a U.S. Attorney General to personally reassure Muslims that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is dedicated to protecting them. In the unprecedented event, Attorney General Eric Holder assured a San Francisco-based organization (Muslim Advocates) that urges members not to cooperate in federal terrorism investigations that the “us versus them” environment created by the U.S. government, law enforcement agents and fellow citizens is unacceptable and inconsistent with what America is all about.

...Evidently that was a precursor of sorts for an upcoming Tennessee event (“Public Disclosure in a Diverse Society”) that will feature the region’s top DOJ official [Bill Killian], who serves as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee, and an FBI representative. The goal is to increase awareness and understanding that American Muslims are not the terrorists some have made them out to be in social media and other circles, according to a local newspaper report. The June 4 powwow is sponsored by the American Muslim Advisory Council of Tennessee.

The area’s top federal prosecutor, Bill Killian, will address a topic that most Americans are likely unfamiliar with, even those well versed on the Constitution; that federal civil rights laws can actually be violated by those who post inflammatory documents aimed at Muslims on social media. "This is an educational effort with civil rights laws as they play into freedom of religion and exercising freedom of religion," Killian says in the local news story. "This is also to inform the public what federal laws are in effect and what the consequences are."

[Citation courtesy of Doug Ross @ Journal.]

Like that? Dare to say anything Bill Killian deems "inflammatory against Muslims" and he'll bring the full weight of the federal government down on you. At the very least he'll threaten it, as he did in the statement above. The whole point of his "educational effort" is to pre-deter anyone whom he would later have to prosecute.

Mind you, Killian doesn't have to win such a case. He doesn't have to put an Islam-defamer behind bars, or compel him to pay a fine, or even compel him to apologize. He just has to threaten prosecution to get what he wants -- the silencing of adverse opinion -- because the anxiety, distortions, and expense involved in defending oneself against the federal government, which has essentially infinite resources with which to hound its targets, are punishment enough to deter nearly anyone, no matter what the verdict should prove to be.

What was that about freedom of speech? Apparently it's trumped by Bill Killian's opinions about whether you're being sufficiently deferential to the sensitivities of the savages who subscribe to Muhammad's violent, imperialist, misogynistic, pedophilic, totalitarian, and utterly hateful creed.

What creed, Mr. Killian? It's Islam, Mr. Killian, and I dare you to prosecute me for saying so. I'll cite the Koran in my defense -- I'll read the whole BLEEP!ing thing into the court records if I must -- and I'll hold press conference after press conference denouncing you, Holder, Obama, and Islam for daring to infringe on my Constitutionally protected rights.

Go ahead, Mr. Killian. Make me your test case. Let's see how you like being a nationally reviled advocate for totalitarianism.

I'm an old man with very little to lose. I'm willing to risk it all to make plain what these scum are doing to the country I love. Win, lose, or draw, the case itself would be sufficient cause for a real, flying-lead revolution. At the end, either America's remaining patriots would all be dead, in prison, or permanently cowed and disarmed; or Killian, Holder, Obama, and all their henchmen would dangle from the lampposts of Washington, D.C.

Either Americans' last vestiges of freedom or the Obamunist regime would die.

We are fast approaching the stage of the ultimate inversion: the stage where the government is free to do anything it pleases, while the citizens may act only by permission. -- Ayn Rand

A very intelligent friend, in the aftermath of a personal tragedy, said to me that "We tend to think of dying as an event. It's not. Dying is a process."

My friend's observation is as important as it is insightful. Death is a condition; dying unfolds over time. That's what makes it so painful. If it were a discrete event, over in an instant, like the fall of a guillotine's blade, it wouldn't be nearly as painful as it is. It would shock us who survive, but it wouldn't exhaust us. We would still mourn the loss of a loved one, but it wouldn't wring us dry of strength and tears the way it does.

America is in the process of dying as we speak.

It's been observed many times that freedom is seldom, if ever, lost all at once. A free people must be subjugated little by little; their rights must be flensed away slice by invisibly thin slice. The usual metaphor is the frog in the pot of water being heated ever so gradually to a lethal boil. Though the comparison might be inexact, the procedure itself is horrifyingly effective.

But because it's a process rather than a binary event, dying can sometimes be halted and reversed. It's seldom possible at zero cost; it usually takes will, effort, expenditure, and acceptance of risk.

It's been a long time since Americans were truly free. What we have today is not freedom but a few, sharply limited and tightly constrained freedoms. The right to freedom of expression, which Bill Killian has decided to threaten on behalf of his Muslim friends, is one of the very last remaining -- and if you've been following the Scandal Times, you're aware that it's under attack from more than one direction.

The process is near to its conclusion: the point at which dying produces the condition of death, which really is irreversible. Either we stand and fight now, with what resources remain to us, or we accept fetters we will never remove...which will pass from us to our children and theirs, until better men than we, in some future unimaginable by us of today, should rise to the task as we have not.

Yes, there's an alternative: to go underground. You can make yourself small, live like a rat in the walls of a prison, feeding on crumbs dropped by the slaves inside, hoping never to be noticed by the exterminators of the Omnipotent State. It is possible to live awhile in the midst of death ubiquitous. After a fashion, at least.

The hour of decision is upon us.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Journalism, Politics, And Aristotle

Courtesy of Jerry at the most excellent Common Sense and Wonder comes this Ed Morrisey observation of ongoing political skullduggery:

Thanks to the Obama administration's attacks on the Associated Press and its representation in federal court that Fox News' James Rosen is a spy for asking questions, one has to wonder whether the First Amendment applies to anyone in the Age of Hope and Change. Fox News host Chris Wallace asked Senator Dick Durbin whether Barack Obama's promise to have Eric Holder look into cases of abuse that he personally approved represents a conflict of interest, but Durbin dodges that question and talks instead about the shield law proposed repeatedly over the last few years as the appropriate Congressional response to the scandal. However, Durbin asks what exactly "freedom of the press" means in 2013, and wonders aloud whether it would include bloggers, Twitter users, and the rest of the Internet media:

Here's what the First Amendment actually says: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." Press at the time would certainly have meant newspapers, which were the high-tech information revolution of the day. It would also have included pamphleteers, perhaps even more than newspapers, as pamphleteers helped drive revolutionary sentiment. Their modern-day analogs would arguably be bloggers and Twitter users, those who reported news and proclaimed opinions outside of the establishment press.

However, Durbin's asking the wrong question. The question isn't who gets protected, but what. Journalism is not an identity or a guild, but an action and a process — and anyone engaged in that activity must be treated equally before the law. A shield law based on membership via employment in privileged workplaces or certified by guilds doesn't protect journalism, it becomes rent-seeking behavior that ensures that only the large players get protected, as I wrote ten days ago.

Durbin's question isn't even the biggest non-sequitur in this argument. The biggest non-sequitur is the shield law itself, which wouldn't have even addressed the Rosen or AP situation. And considering that the Obama administration ignored existing statutes in both cases, why should we believe they would obey a shield law when it got in their way?

Exactly correct in all particulars. The most important of the implications, though, is one the casual reader could easily miss:

A shield law based on membership via employment in privileged workplaces or certified by guilds...becomes rent-seeking behavior [Emphasis added]

Let that sink in for a moment while I pour more coffee.

The rise of the occupational guild was one of the most consequential developments of the Middle Ages. During their heyday, guilds dominated virtually every occupational specialty in Europe. They were not State-sanctioned; with one or two exceptions, they did not enjoy State protection. But they wielded considerable influence over the development of market-oriented economies: negative influence that took centuries to dispel.

The overt purpose of a guild was to conserve and expand the expertise of its members. The covert purpose was to ensure that that expertise remained closely held -- that it would not "leak" to persons or organizations outside the guild. As with the unions of our time, the covert purpose was much the more important of the two.

Guilds were as restrictive about the admission of new members as any contemporary union; it normally took the unanimous consent of all members in good standing to grant entrance to a new member. They attempted to retain control of their specialties by enforcing a rule of succession upon their members: that the expertise and skills of a member were to be transmitted solely to other members, or to the member's male children.

A member found to have violated his guild's rule of succession was usually expelled. Though in most domains he could not legally be prevented from plying his trade, his former colleagues could inflict boycotts on anyone who did business with him. It was a threat which, in the embryonic market societies of the late Middle Ages, carried a considerable wallop.

Presently the royal houses of Europe discovered the "special-interest politics" of their time: they learned to barter political favors to the guilds for economic favors from the guilds. Over time, guilds acquired the overt collaboration of the State at enforcing their occupational monopolies, through royal charters and occupational licensure. In this fashion, the Crown could exert pressure on a recalcitrant noble house by directing critical guilds to deny their services to that house, its retainers, and its common subjects. It was among the era's most effective techniques for the centralization of power.

The politics of the Twenty-First Century have tended to replicate those of the late Middle Ages in several ways. Governments have laid heavy emphasis on "stakeholders" -- in the economic sphere, unions and occupational associations reminiscent of medieval guilds -- in the allocation of political favors. "Stakeholders" that have cooperated with the State have done well by it; those that have not fallen into line with the trend have seldom prospered.

Thus, we can easily see that when it sets out to extend its powers into some new sphere of human activity, the State will prefer to grant its protection to a "stakeholder" association rather than to the activity itself. The protected association becomes a client of the State: to retain the favor of the State, it must agree to a price, usually in the form of licensure rules and fees. In return, it acquires the power to profit by restricting admission to its numbers: classic second-order rent-seeking. Over time, such a "stakeholder" will find that its interests become ever more coincident with those of the State, verging on indistinguishable. Those on the outside are, of course, left out of the game.

There is nothing more important to protecting the interests of any State than the control of the dissemination of information. To keep its subjects subservient, a State must persuade the overwhelming majority that there are no alternatives to its rule, or at least none preferable. Indeed, it's widely held that the explosion of new information conduits was what brought down the most powerful tyranny of all time, the Soviet Union. In this regard, journalism will be the highest-priority target of any aspiring tyranny. Inasmuch as there will be some reportage even in the most tightly regulated societies, it will strive to create a protected class of journalists subservient to the State, and to deny entry to the occupation to persons outside that class.

Now reflect afresh on the gambit of the Dishonorable Richard Durbin. Could there be any doubt about his endgame, especially given the subservience the Main Stream Media have already exhibited toward the political Left?

The Western approach to ratiocination as a field for study begins with Aristotle, first of the classical philosophers to conceive of how men form abstractions -- categories -- and deal with them through logic. Aristotle's key insight lies in the process by which we form definitions, which are indispensable to all other aspects of abstract reasoning.

Though the process of definition embeds several assumptions, for our purposes this morning we can skip over all but the most important two:

  • That shared characteristics will correlate with shared consequences;
  • That significant shared differences are sufficient to form divisions between categories.

(Yes, there are other assumptions buried in that word significant. But that's a trail to be followed at another time.)

Those assumptions give rise to the Aristotelian approach to definition:

  • A category to be defined will have a genus: that is, an enclosing category all of whose significant characteristics its members share.
  • But to be distinguished from the genus, the members of the category to be defined must possess shared differences from the genus: ways in which the members of the new category differ from the enclosing one. This is the new category's differentia.

To approach journalism as a definable category, we would first locate its genus category, and then compose its differentia: the ways in which journalism differs from the genus.

Journalism might thus be defined as:

  • Genus: The activity...
  • Differentia: ...of collecting and disseminating emergent information about immediate or recent events (i.e., "news").

By that approach, we would deem journalism something anyone could do, whether continuously or sporadically. But another approach is possible: to make the actor prior and superior to the activity he pursues:


  • Genus: A person who...
  • Differentia a member of a recognized association of journalists.

That second definition has several logical flaws -- "Recognized by whom?" being the most important one -- but politically, the aspiring tyrant would favor it over the first one.

Durbin's gambit about whether the First Amendment protects bloggers and so on is a sly attempt to privilege the second definition over the first. He hopes to establish as a matter of law that:

  1. Journalism is something journalists and only journalists do;
  2. Washington will decide who is and who isn't a journalist.

Never doubt that such a guild would be at once co-opted and managed by the ruling regime.

Words matter. The words in which we couch our statements and our arguments for them matter critically. The words politicians use matter more than most, as their product is entirely in words. Never doubt that they choose their words with the utmost care. Indeed, that's the source of the gag definition of a gaffe: when a politician accidentally tells the truth.

Beware. The current regime, as power-hungry and freedom-hostile as any America has ever suffered, has repeatedly attempted to redefine the words we use for our most important concepts. If we want to retain any confidence in the veracity of the "news" that reaches us, it is vital that we deny the State that privilege.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

You're Getting Colder!

Today at Forbes, we have an excellent article by Peter Ferrara on the recently confirmed trend toward global cooling. The data, the correlations, and the grudging concessions by various powerhouses of global-warming alarmism leave no doubt that that house of cards, which always stood upon a shaky foundation of closely held temperature data and dubious computer simulations, has utterly collapsed.

But then, Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW) was always a political cudgel rather than a serious scientific hypothesis. It was designed to chivvy the semi-free peoples of the West into surrendering what remains of our freedoms, in the name of "combating global warming." That's why whenever one of CAGW's advocates got his face in front of a camera, he'd trumpet repeatedly that "the science is settled," when there was no science at all behind the warmistas' claims.

Back at Eternity Road, I summarized the clinching arguments against the CAGW hypothesis as a scientific contention:

1. A thesis that can't predict is no thesis at all.

A genuine scientist will tell you that knowledge is confirmed by a chain of successful predictions. It's not enough to get it right just once -- that is, to perform a single experiment, get the expected results, and claim that one's hypothesis is verified on that basis alone. Your thesis must be tested repeatedly, by multiple agencies, in objectively reproducible settings, without a single failure of prediction.

Successful predictions by the warmistas, including every "scientist" who's ever signed onto the proposition: NONE.

2. If the data is kept secret, it isn't science.

Warmista "scientists" have repeatedly refused to release their raw data, or to define the mechanisms by which that data was captured, or to commit themselves to an error bar around their measurements. In a handful of cases, these "researchers" have admitted that they can't produce their raw data -- that it's somehow been lost. This is "the dog ate my homework" masquerading as scientific procedure.

It wouldn't fly for Michael Bellesiles, and it won't fly for the warmistas.

3. Heterogeneity in the data.

Heterogeneous data sets are incapable of proving anything.

Two data sets can be unsuitable for combination for a variety of reasons. One such reason is wide variation in the measuring techniques and instruments used. If temperatures were measured in recent years by thermometers placed in locations X with uncertainties E0, while the measurements from earlier years came from thermometers placed in greatly different locations Y, or with greatly different uncertainties E1, there is no statistically valid way to use them as inputs to a single computation.

The warmistas' data sets are so heterogeneous that they don't dare to describe them accurately. Deep-past temperature "measurements" are inferred from tree rings. The more recent past "measurements" come from several thousand thermometers of unknown quality. Immediate-past temperature data comes from a much smaller number of thermometers of better quality, but which are nowhere near the sites of earlier measurements, and in a great many cases are situated in or near heat islands such as cities or airports.

To suggest that data that heterogeneous can be made into a basis for long-range inference is to trade in fantasy. It's about like predicting the average and distribution of human foot sizes based on their comparison to a human thumb -- and in every individual case, to some new person's thumb.

4. Deliberate omission of contributing factors.

In part, this hearkens back to the heterogeneous-data-set problem, but it also addresses the deliberate omission of explanatory factors such as solar input. The Earth's energy influx is not constant, because the Sun is not constant. The Sun's output varies by about 4% from its mean, and is also influenced by sunspots and other anomalies in the photosphere. Such variations are neither predictable nor easily accounted for in predictions of Earth climate conditions. But the warmistas refuse to accept that solar input can have a significant effect on global climate.

Also, with the recent increase of sea-bottom exploration and activity, particularly in the Arctic Circle, there have been a number of releases of methane gas from ocean-floor concentrations of disturbed decayed matter. The overall size of these releases is unknown, as facilities for measuring them have only become available very recently. However, since methane is itself a "greenhouse gas," and more potent in that connection than CO2, these releases introduce additional uncertainty into all studies of heat-trapping by atmospheric gases.

5. Tendentious computer simulations.

A simulation of conditions that cannot be produced deliberately, which is the sort of simulation on which the warmistas rely, can only demonstrate what would come of those conditions if the assumptions and mechanisms built into the simulation were correct. Therefore, it can only be used as an argument for a given hypothesis if:

  • All the initial conditions required by the simulation come to pass simultaneously;
  • No extra contributors, or factors that would disturb measurements, are introduced by Mother Nature;
  • The outcome reached by Nature matches that produced by the simulation.

To this point, those three requirements have never been satisfied -- the warmistas' simulations have yet to attain any standing for climate-change prediction.

6. The importance of deceit and motivation.

Many of the best known warmista "scientists" have been caught red-handed lying about their data, their techniques for "adjusting" it, and the reproducibility of their measurements. Additionally, as the East Anglia CRU documents make plain, these persons are not averse to using bullying tactics to deny dissenters a public voice. As the warmistas are the beneficiaries of large amounts of government funding that would come to a halt if their hypotheses were conclusively refuted, they have powerful reasons to shout down those who disagree. As their opponents have far smaller resources -- no access to public treasuries -- they are fatally hobbled in any contest of volume, despite their considerable numbers and eminence.

That's as thorough a destruction of the CAGW hypothesis as a scientific contention as was possible at that time (February, 2010). The warmistas never improved their methods, their claims, or their ability to predict. Neither did they ever allow that any sort or quantity of evidence could cross-cut their claims. In short, they insisted that we accept CAGW on faith -- faith in them.

Any who invested their faith in the warmistas are now on notice that they've been conned.

The whole episode stands as a lesson to the credulous and the gullible. When the Main Stream Media's drums began to pound out the CAGW march, we should have been especially skeptical, in the best sense of that word: unwilling to commit in the absence of extensive evidence and successful predictions confirmed by multiple disinterested reviewers. Journalists love a "crisis," and the CAGW hypothesis provided them with one they could hardly resist. But journalism is not science, not even at its very best. It's merely a service of variable quality, vended to an audience in the hope of making money. Its claims must always be assessed in that light, especially when it aligns itself with persons and institutions screaming for totalitarian power over every kind and degree of human action.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Did lazy Americans kill those 1,127 Muslim garment-workers in Bangladesh?

Once upon a time, we tried to go cold-turkey.

After all the reading I needed to do for the following piece, I was left with a feeling of nostalgia and some sadness. What a shame for our once-great nation to be brought to its financial-knees in part for the sake of cheap (and increasingly tawdry) fashions, and other "stuff." I'll bet the ChiComs could figure out how to get all the abandoned American factories dotting the countryside up-and-running again... 

My 3400-word essay, Did Westerners cause the Bangladesh apparel factory collapse, will expose a unique angle on how we, as a nation, got hooked into the fashion-by-slave-labor industry, as well as offer 3 1/2 all-American solutions. I hope it’s sufficiently provocative to begin to awaken my fellow consumers; whether they’re young, practically born with an internet-connected cellphone in their hand, or more mature – and have quickly adopted the same distraction by glitz & glamour disorder.

From the essay:
Once upon a hippy-er time…a pocket-sized green dragon was summoned. Raised by Keynesian-channeling bureaucrats and called, innocuously, paper-currency. This new sovereign crawled forth from the depths of the earth and it stood momentarily, like any usurper, on the fresh grave of the just murdered, hastily buried, Gold Standard it was designed to supplant. It was hungry, so it went hunting; tiptoed innocently across the country at first. You see, that original green dragon was quiet as a tornado the day before it’s born, but as it traveled, it kicked off the last traces of gold; grew insatiable; grew more menacing with every step, as tornadoes will, once set in motion.

"Memorial Day"

Today is the legally designated Monday set aside mainly as a late Spring paid non-working day for most Americans to engage in seasonally appropriate outdoor diversions. This humble blogster thought it appropriate to urge his fellow citizens to spend a few minutes being reminded of some things of which our society has become bereft:
 On this Memorial Day it is appropriate to memorialize a number of long-dead American institutions (RIP). The first would be the main principles of the Declaration of Independence, beginning with the notion that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. The Lincoln administration destroyed that principle long ago when it responded to the withdrawal of consent by eleven Southern states by waging total war on their civilian populations for four long years, killing as many as 400,000 Southerners according to the latest research, while bombing, burning, and looting Southern cities and towns.

 The Declaration of Independence also declared in its closing paragraphs that the states were "free and independent" of any other government. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! At the time, "free and independent states" meant that Virginia, Massachusetts, New York, etc. were considered to be free and independent states in the same sense that Great Britain, France and Spain were free and independent states.

 Treason in the U.S. Constitution is defined as "only" levying war upon the states, or giving aid and comfort to THEIR enemies. This of course is exactly what the Lincoln regime did, while redefining treason to mean exactly the opposite of what it means in the Constitution: opposition to the federal government.

The notion of "limited constitutional government" is also long dead, thanks to the victorious Hamiltonian nationalists in American politics. It was Hamilton himself who invented the notion of "implied powers" of the Constitution almost before the ink was dry on the original document. In Hamiltonian language, "implied" means "unlimited." Jefferson believed that the Constitution could "bind" the government in "chains." His nemesis Hamilton was of the opposite opinion that the Constitution could be used to rubber stamp anything and everything the central government ever wanted to do as long as it was "properly" interpreted by slick, conniving lawyers like himself (or by fellow nationalists like John Marshall or Abraham Lincoln). Hamilton’s view has prevailed, as was proven for the millionth time by Chief Justice John Roberts when he declared the Obamacare mandate to be a "tax" and therefore constitutional despite the fact that Obamacare’s proponents argued before the Supreme Court that the mandate was NOT a tax.

Also dead is the notion that there is such a thing as personal liberty – at least in the eyes of the federal government. The government now claims to have a "right" to spy on every citizen without a search warrant, to monitor the mails, bank accounts and emails, to grope and sexually assault each and every citizen passing through an airport, and even to murder American citizens with drones, on American soil, in the name of "security."

 What’s left of America’s market economy is controlled, regulated, regimented, and suffocated by more than two hundred years of accumulated government bureaucracy. American businesses are regulated by more than 80,000 pages of fine print regulations in The Federal Register; by dozens of federal regulatory agencies whose agents often carry firearms to enforce their edicts against the citizens; and by hundreds of other state and local government regulatory bureaucracies that attempt to regulate and tax all aspects of business life. There are even local government taxes on the air above "public" sidewalks if occupied by a commercial enterprise. It is all a part of government’s relentless, never-ending war on capitalism and freedom.

 Almost twenty-five years after the worldwide collapse of socialism the American regime has embraced socialist central planning with tremendous zeal. The primary vehicle for the American version of Soviet central planning is the Federal Reserve Board, which claims "authority" to control, regulate, and regiment all aspects of financial markets. It is devoted to destroying market interest rates, which are a necessary ingredient for real capitalism to exist, and believes in the "fatal conceit" of a centrally-planned economy. Its head, the bearded Ben Bernanke, even looks a lot like Lenin.

Also gone are the days when American politicians would be praised with words like "he kept us out of war" or took seriously Thomas Jefferson’s warnings about "entangling alliances" with foreign countries. The new foreign policy mantra is: "Do As We Say, Or We Will Invade and Occupy Your Country and Murder Your Citizens by the Hundreds of Thousands." "Soldiers" are not defenders of American freedom but paid murderers for the state. Endless military intervention all around the world has made life more dangerous and more insecure for Americans by creating endless enemies who resent it when other countries invade, bomb, and destroy their homelands. Nothing has been more destructive of American freedom than the state itself and its military-industrial-congressional complex. War is the health of the state, and an expanded state is always and everywhere the enemy of personal freedom.

 Governments at all levels have been very busy for a very long time destroying American freedom and prosperity. A single day could never be long enough to memorialize all of our lost freedoms, but I guess one has to start somewhere.

Thomas J. DiLorenzo; professor of economics at Loyola College in Maryland    May 27, 2013

The Debunking: Child Welfare

Every nation in the Western world has one or more "child welfare" departments, and a "family court" system to give them teeth. Here in the United States, there's a minimum of one "child welfare" department per state, and the "family courts" are organized on the county level, resulting in thousands of the things.

CW functionaries can invade your home without a warrant.
They can seize your children without warning, on any pretext.
The police enforce their will without questioning it.
The "family courts" almost never rule against the decisions of a "child welfare" agency.
The combination wields power unlimited by any Constitution or statute law.
Their decisions, except in the case of criminal incarcerations, cannot be appealed.
And they have you, your home, and your children in their sights.

Do you think that system has any child's welfare in mind?

Who could be against "child welfare?" If there's a less assailable concept, in the abstract, I can't think of it at the moment. It would be like condemning "love of country." Yet perhaps the most fiercely fought battle of the day is the one that surrounds the "child welfare" scheme at work in these United States.

I shan't trouble to enumerate the many abuses the "child welfare / family court" scheme has perpetrated. You'd have to be a cave-dwelling hermit not to have read about the truly lurid ones. The lesser sorts -- that is, the ones that merely break up a family solely because of some busybody's suspicion or unsupported accusation -- are so numerous that they escape all attempts at cataloguing them. A fine overview of the matter can be found in Dr. Stephen Baskerville's excellent book Taken Into Custody.

What most Americans don't know, despite the publicity the worst of the abuses have received, is that the destruction of the privacy of the family is not an unintended consequence, but the actual aim of the system.

Family privacy and autonomy have long been among the stoutest barriers to the encroachments of the Omnipotent State. For those who "know better" to have complete control of all persons and all things, those barriers must fall. The "child welfare / family court" scheme is the greatest of their weapons in their quest for unlimited power.

It's possible to debate the extent to which parents have, or should have, rights over their minor children. In the abstract, the subject is susceptible to many approaches. Children are human beings, not property for a parent to do with completely as he wills. However, the notion that parents should have no rights over their minor children -- their upbringing, their education, the overall conditions that prevail within their home, and so on -- is wholly unacceptable, except among the hardest hard-left totalitarians who insist that the State must "form" the bodies and minds of children from their earliest days, to ensure their development into the "right" sort of subjects.

Yet the operating premise of the "child welfare / family court" system is precisely that of the totalitarian Left. There is no aspect of parent-child relations that the CW functionary cannot invoke as a pretext for invading a family and removing the children. Even an offhand statement by one of the parents is sufficient grounds...and the "family courts" back the CW system to the hilt in over 99% of cases. After all, it's "for the children," so who could possibly be opposed?

It doesn't take much to trigger the attentions of the CW system. Children have been removed from their parents' custody for:

  • Being poorly dressed;
  • Looking under-weight;
  • Claiming hunger or thirst;
  • Coming to school with a bruise;
  • A political statement made by a parent;
  • Living in a home where firearms are kept;
  • Enforced medical treatment, against the parents' desires;
  • Being educated against the contrary opinions of a neighbor;

...and for other reasons. Afterward, the CW system can act with amazing speed to place such children in foster homes. The fosterer receives State payments; the CW functionary carves a notch in her gun butt; and the system can agitate for more money, more dedicated personnel -- including armed enforcers -- and more power.

The only victims are the children, their parents, and the American conception of freedom.

The usual objections to my thesis that the "child welfare / family court" system is organized and operated for its own enlargement and aggrandizement are:

  1. Child abuse and child neglect demand that such a system be in place.
  2. The system's abuses are commonly exaggerated by its critics.
  3. Abuses of power will occur in every system designed to exercise authority; that's not a sufficient argument to delegitimize such a system.

My replies:

  • Statute law and the criminal justice system are sufficient to deal with genuine child abuse and neglect.
  • No, they're not; systemic abuse is the rule and not the exception, as plenty of surveys have demonstrated.
  • A system with authority must be subject to a scheme of oversight -- the traditional American concept of checks and balances -- and not be possessed of unlimited power or unreviewable authority.

I claim victory. But who's right doesn't matter in practical terms, for the system is the most prized of all the political possessions of the State. It affords a pretext for visiting unacceptable consequences on anyone with minor children who might be disposed to oppose its decrees.

Viewed thus, we can group the "child welfare / family court" system with two others of immense political value: the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Homeland Security, both of which possess essentially unbounded power. A ruthless ruling regime can use any or all of the three to squelch emergent critics and opponents. When the press is on the regime's side, as it is currently, the potential consequences are terrifying.

This will be the final segment in the "Debunkings" series. As I've already said, the idea is to train you, Gentle Reader, in the tactic of debunking political pieties:

  1. Refuse to be cowed by the piety invoked;
  2. Unpack the connotations and implications of the concept;
  3. Compare them to the effects of the policies and procedures as practiced and demand redress.

There are political shibboleths other than the ones I've covered. If I had infinite time and energy, and no other demands on me, I'd debunk each of them -- few subjects are as important as the "rectification of names" (Confucius) in our public discourse -- but that's hardly the case. I have a day job, a home and family to tend to, four more novels (at least) to write, and so on.

From these failing hands I throw the torch to you. Be yours to hold it high.

If You're Already A Reader Of Dustbury...

...then you might have read this specimen of Charles Hill's quotidian brilliance already. But if you haven't, read it now!

Bravo, Charles.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

If You Really Want To Promote The Institution Of Marriage...

...please, please, please: Don't do it this way:

"Marriage is not a word. It's a sentence: a life sentence." -- Father Lennard Sabio, at Mass this morning.

Perhaps that was a hint about why he opted for the priesthood. Of course, there are a number of equally dubious ways to "promote" marriage. Have a few from assorted unknown sources:

"A man is not complete until he's married. Then, he's finished."
"If a man makes a statement when his wife isn't around to hear it, is he still wrong?"
"They say married men live longer. Maybe it just seems longer."
"I married Miss Right. I didn't know her first name is Always."
"Women are a dime a dozen. It's when you cut the number down to one that it starts costing."
"Marriage is a wonderful institution...but I don't want to live in an institution!"
"The Law of Conservation of Romantic Bliss: Her sweetness before the wedding minus her acidity afterward == zero."

Here are some from commentators perhaps better known than I:

"A second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience." -- Samuel Johnson
"Love is the delusion that one woman differs from another." -- H.L. Mencken
"A good wife always forgives her husband when she's wrong." -- Milton Berle
"There's a way of transferring funds that is even faster than electronic banking. It's called marriage." -- James Holt McGavran
"When a man steals your wife, there is no better revenge than to let him keep her." -- Sacha Guitry
"By all means marry. If you get a good wife, you'll be happy. If you get a bad one, you'll become a philosopher." -- Socrates
“Woman inspires us to great things, and prevents us from achieving them.” -- Alexandre Dumas
"Some people ask the secret of our long marriage. We take time to go to a restaurant two times a week. A little candlelight, dinner, soft music and dancing. She goes Tuesdays, I go Fridays." -- Henry Youngman
"I've had bad luck with both my wives. The first one left me and the second one didn't." -- Patrick Murray
"My husband and I have never considered divorce...murder sometimes, but never divorce." -- Dr. Joyce Brothers
"To keep your marriage brimming / With love in the loving cup / Whenever you're wrong, admit it. / Whenever you're right, shut up." -- Ogden Nash

Of course, not all the great observations about marriage have been made by married men:

"The next time I feel like getting married, I'll just find some woman I can't stand and give her a house." -- Dan Greenburg

And finally, one for the ladies:

"I have a dog that growls, a parrot that swears, a chimney that smokes, and a cat that stays out all night. Why would I need a husband?"

(What's that you say? No, Beth and I get along very well...mostly. Why do you ask?)

Karen Hudes

Holy moly, this lady is the mother of all smoking guns. If half of what she says is true - and from what I heard from her on the radio, she gives every indication of being legit - the mother of all cats is about to come out of the bag.

She really is unbelievable.  She is hopelessly naive, moralistic, and somehow got past the gatekeepers and landed herself right in the middle of the international banking system.   She's been in the middle of 20 years worth of scandals at the highest levels and decided to blow the whistle.

Maybe I'm late to the game on this one, but this is the first I've heard of her.  And she basically confirms all the worst things you might have guessed about places like the IMF,  the World Bank,  the national governments,  etc.

For some reason, she's naive enough to think it's a matter of rooting out corruption,  and she still has faith in state governments,  but anyway, 100% worth listening to if you are into that kind of thing.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Assorted Notes

I don't do this often (for which I hope you're grateful), so please bear with me.

First, my sincerest thanks to those of you who've written to praise Freedom's Scion. Compared to the op-ed pieces I post here, writing fiction is much harder, but because of the pleasure a completed story can bring to others, it's far more satisfying. However, what's more satisfying still are:

  • Favorable reviews at retail outlets,
  • Revenue.

So to those of you who've purchased Freedom's Scion, or any of my other books, at SmashWords: If you have the time and the inclination, would you please post a review? It doesn't have to be long or elaborate; just a few words about what you thought of the book will more than suffice. And don't forget to include a "star rating!" Favorable reviews help to sell books, and the more, the better, as one of SmashWords's sorting techniques for customers perusing its offerings is by average review / number of reviews. You'll have my thanks.

And yes, Freedom's Scion will be made available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other retailers, just as soon as my cover artist can produce the permanent cover art. (She's very good, very modestly priced, and consequently very backed up.)

Second fiction-oriented note: Yes, I'm working on Freedom's Fury -- the sequel to Freedom's Scion and the completion of the Spooner Federation trilogy -- even as we speak. This one will take a while; I expect to have it ready some time in 2014. The confluence of the major threads and themes of the saga will require extremely careful handling. I expect that you'll be surprised by the resolution.

Quite frankly, I've been rather surprised by the passion of the reactions, both to Freedom's Scion and to the first volume, Which Art In Hope. At least, readers who've written to me about them have been quite passionate in their statements. They all but universally celebrate what they see as the core idea of the Spoonerite Hegira and Hope as I've depicted it: the absolute abjuration of the State. The yearnings they've expressed for such a world have been painfully poignant to read.

A goodly number of readers have explicitly asked whether I find the notion of a completely ungoverned world plausible. Up to now I've refrained from answering that question, because the answer is central to the plot of Freedom's Fury as I've conceived and planned it. But perhaps the time has come for a partial answer:

Yes...and no.

Satisfied? Hey, I said it would be a partial answer. If you want the complete, unexpurgated version, with all the necessary elaborations, justifications, exceptions, and footnotes, you'll have to wait for Freedom's Fury. And I expect you'll be surprised by the conclusions: both mine and yours.

Concerning the "Debunkings" series: In the first paragraph of the first segment, I made the following statement of intent:

These "Debunking" pieces will have a common aim: to tell you, in no uncertain terms, what you already know but are unwilling to admit to yourself.

I've received a few emails expressing puzzlement over that statement, so I suppose I should expand on it just a wee bit.

One of the most observant, most penetrating statements about our political lexicon comes from that considerable master of the English language, the great George Orwell:

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, "I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so." Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:
"While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement."

....Political language -- and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists -- is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

I contend that:

  • You know this;
  • You have always known it;
  • You allow it because you don't know how to fight it.

I am trying, most sincerely, to give you the tool you need. It's a simple tool:

Unpack the implications of the evil phrase and hold them up to the light of reality.

This must be done relentlessly, and hurled into the faces of the politicians using the evil, mendacious phrase.

Do you have the courage and the resolve for that? If so, the "Debunkings" series is your training ground. It has one or two more segments to run, but it will by no means complete the task of detoxifying today's political deceits. What I hope it will do is train you in the process involved.

I've done (and am still doing) my part. The rest is up to you.

You're probably aware that until recently, my health was in decline. I was pleased to experience a reversal of that trend, which appears to be holding steady...with one exception. Something has "gone wrong" in my left arm and shoulder. The panjandrums -- panjandra? -- of the medical-industrial complex are baffled by this malady; I've had more different diagnoses than Carter has Little Liver Pills. Whatever it is, it makes many physical chores painful to perform, including typing. Indeed, typing might just be the cause of the affliction; after all, I've done quite a lot of it for a very long time.

So I've begun to lean on a resource I'd previously disdained: voice recognition for text entry, in place of entry from the keyboard. Voice recognition software is better than it's ever been -- given what I remember from its early days, thank God for that -- but it's not perfect by any means. And of course, the same applies to me (though I'm willing to allow that I'm not "better than I've ever been"). So now and then, a mis-recognition by the voice-rec software will combine with an oversight by yours truly to produce...something other than I intended.

If you see the occasional howler in my pieces here, please be generous. Let me know about your discoveries in time to correct them before the men in the white coats decide they've finally got evidence enough, hoist their butterfly nets, and converge on Long Island with posters featuring my aged mug. That is, if Homeland Security and the IRS don't get me first.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Because I'm Feeling A Bit Misogynistic Today...

...and because this video is too brilliant to blush unseen:

It's Not About the Nail from Jason Headley on Vimeo.

Bravo, Mr. Headley!

The Debunking: National Security

It's not generally known how new the phrase "national security" is to our political lexicon. It first made its appearance in the first post-World War II years, when various persons inside and outside the Truman Administration were seeking rationales for retaining the greatly enlarged military that had been mustered and funded to win the war. It was "institutionalized" in the National Security Act of 1947, the very first Act of Congress to define "transnational threats" to the "national security:"

    For purposes of this subsection, the term "transnational threat" means the following:
    (A) Any transnational activity (including international terrorism, narcotics trafficking, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the delivery systems for such weapons, and organized crime) that threatens the national security of the United States.
    (B) Any individual or group that engages in an activity referred to in subparagraph (A).

[Sections 101.i.5 (A), (B)]

Note that the enumerated "transnational threats" are not all the "transnational threats." More strikingly, though the terms "national security" and "national security interests" occur innumerable times in the text of the Act, the "national security" and "national security interests" of the United States are never defined.

Do you think you know what those sonorous phrases mean?

When a word or phrase is without a definition, we must infer its meaning from the applications to which it's put. Looking back over the history of its use, what might we deem the "national security" of the United States to be, solely from the subjects to which it's been applied?

My first observation in this regard is that the sitting president is the de facto authority on the matter. In practice, if the president says that such-and-such is "a matter of national security," then it is -- whether the proclamation comes before or after the fact. Therefore, one cannot be sure one has not trespassed into a "national security" matter even long after the fact, for the president's unprecedented ex post facto power over such things is unbounded and has no time limit.

My second observation, which descends from the first, is that the use of the Act's criminalization provisions:

    (c)Whoever, in the course of a pattern of activities intended to identify and expose covert agents and with reason to believe that such activities would impair or impede the foreign intelligence activities of the United States, discloses any information that identifies an individual as a covert agent to any individual not authorized to receive classified information, knowing that the information disclosed so identifies such individual and that the United States is taking affirmative measures to conceal such individual’s classified intelligence relationship to the United States, shall be fined under title 18, United States Code, or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.
    (d) A term of imprisonment imposed under this section shall be consecutive to any other sentence of imprisonment.

[Sections 601 (c), (d)] thus wholly at the discretion of the sitting president, and therefore an offense not defined in statute law.

A sitting president can criminalize an act as a threat to the "national security" many years after the event.
A sitting president can reverse the decisions of a previous president about threats to the "national security."
The only defense that can be mounted against such a charge:

It is a defense to a prosecution under section 601 that before the commission of the offense with which the defendant is charged, the United States had publicly acknowledged or revealed the intelligence relationship to the United States of the individual the disclosure of whose intelligence relationship to the United States is the basis for the prosecution. [Section 602 (a)]

...requires the cooperation of the prosecuting entity.

Still think you know what "national security" means?

When the Valerie Plame matter broke on the nation's headlines, opponents of the Bush Administration (i.e., the "disloyal opposition") demanded a witch hunt for the person who had revealed Plame's employment by the CIA. At the time, there was much confusion about whether Plame's status at the CIA was "covert" -- a qualifier normally belonging to field agents -- or whether she was merely one more Washington desk jockey. But the National Security Act made no distinctions between the two, so the revelation was within the scope of Section 601 (c).

It wasn't hard to find the leak: it was Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who had disclosed Plame's employment to columnist Robert Novak. But the persons propelling the witch hunt were unsatisfied with that target. They wanted a sacrificial animal more directly connected to the persons they most hated, President George W. Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney...and they found one in Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

The nature of Libby's "offense," inasmuch as he was provably not the leaker, remains obscure to this day. He was convicted on exceedingly tremulous grounds for "perjury," "obstruction of justice," and "making false statements to federal investigators." But the connection of the Plame case to "national security" made it impossible for President Bush to rescue him from what was plainly a politically oriented prosecution: the matter had been too luridly publicized, and Bush was too ethical a man to dismiss the verdict of a federal jury when the facts of the matter were honestly quite disputable.

More recently, President Barack Hussein Obama has used "national security" to deny various materials to Congressional investigators, as in the recent "Operation Fast and Furious" centered contempt hearings against Attorney-General Eric Holder. Indeed, "national security" is the overwhelmingly dominant excuse for refusing to disclose material of all sorts, whether to Congress or to requestors under the Freedom Of Information Act. When released documents are so heavily redacted as to be effectively blank, the reason provided for the excisions is nearly always "national security."

Obama and his henchmen might be the most egregious such manipulators of the fell phrase, but they're not the first. Presidents have wielded "national security" as a shield for their minions in cases reaching all the way back to the Act's passage. The clash between the de facto meaning of "national security" and the misty image of it in the common citizen's mind could not be more stark.

The "national security" shibboleth has been used, in the preponderance of cases, for one of two reasons:

  • Political persecution, as in the Libby affair;
  • The protection of persons within the federal government from exposure of their malefactions.

Concerning objective abridgements of the "national security," such as the disclosure of sensitive weapons and weapons-related technology to enemy regimes, seldom is anything done. We have the occasional conspicuous violator whom the Administration cannot ignore, such as Jonathan Pollard or Bradley Manning, but these are far fewer than the venal uses of "national security" to shield federal officials from the consequences of their actions. Even with the conspicuous violators -- consider Jesse Jackson's and former president Jimmy Carter's representations that they could negotiate with enemy regimes on behalf the United States! -- there's no guarantee that any common conception of justice will be served.

Bluntly, if you read "national security" as having any objective meaning upon which common citizens can expect the federal government to act consistently and reliably, you've been sold a bill of goods.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Telling It Straight

America needs more citizens like the woman in the video below:

Bravo, Madam.


[This piece first appeared at the late, lamented Palace Of Reason in February, 2002. In light of the foofaurauw in progress today over the multiple scandals we've learned about these past few weeks, it seems unusually apposite. Besides, I need time off from the "Debunkings" series. -- FWP]
Wise men see outlines, and therefore draw them.
Mad men see outlines, and therefore draw them.

-- William Blake --

To a certain kind of mind, any sort of pattern is enough to infer a conspiracy. In its most extreme expression, this is the disease of paranoid schizophrenia, most recently depicted in all its poignant horror by the magnificent movie A Beautiful Mind.

This is not to say that conspiracies never exist behind the patterns in events. But to conclude that conscious intention lies beneath every pattern of human behavior that conduces to bad results is a logical error, a failure to distinguish correlation from causation, pattern from design.

Many patterns exist in human life. The great majority of them arise because of the commonalities in our natures: our shared needs and drives. We don't work at our jobs because some grand plot concocted among powerful men has shackled us to them. We don't seek love and commitment because chips in our brains direct us to do so. We don't have children and (attempt to) raise them to be decent and responsible adults because some shadowy agency wants it that way.

On these things, there is general agreement that any designs involved were drawn by God. But let the patterns be slightly less grandiose, and out of the margins of society will spring men with megaphones to tell us that only evil designs can explain them. Among the great ironies of our public discourse is the way such claims have been used to impede the search for the real causes of events. Sometimes those impediments have been the whole point of the conspiracy charges.

Ralph Nader, Michael Moore, and others on the anti-capitalist Left have constantly screeched that the many patterns that run through the automobile industry clearly indicate an anti-competitive, anti-consumer cartel. While the potentates of Detroit have demonstrably maneuvered for market protection from foreign automakers -- and now and then from one another -- the patterns that run through their auto designs reflect consumer preferences, including a preference for the blessings of standardization, rather than a cartel's decision that it will all be one way. Product differentiation is one of the three generic tools a business has for gaining ground on its competitors; no conceivable logic would lead to the forswearing of that tool.

The Dishonorable Hillary Clinton, currently the junior Senator from my home state of New York, once posited "a vast right-wing conspiracy" to smear her husband, then-President Bill Clinton, when the Monica Lewinsky scandal was cresting toward its peak. Mrs. Clinton had not previously spoken in conspiratorial terms, but she was either too eager to deflect the scandal or too unwilling to believe that her capric spouse had dropped his pants in public yet again, and so resorted to the conspiracy explanation.

And now we have Enron.

Be not mistaken: Enron was a shell game for quite a while. Its "creative accounting" methods ranged from dubious to outrightly fraudulent. Its public relations were largely mendacious. When the shell began to crumble, it deceived its own lower-level employees and petitioned powerful government agencies for protection and advantages. Now that the game is over, its top men will do their best to exculpate themselves at others' expense.

That having been said, there is at present no convincing evidence that anyone in either the Bush or the Clinton Administrations offered Enron political assistance with its difficulties.

The Left's pundits point to the fact that Enron is a Texas-based company in the energy-futures field, and that the Bush Administration is populated from the top down with Texans who have backgrounds in the energy business. Aha! A pattern! Surely there is something to be investigated here. Surely, with enough subpoenas and Congressional committee hearings, we'll find evil deeds and the malefactors who did them.

Not surely. Possibly, though as time passes, the likelihood of finding a political conspiracy behind the Enron mess dwindles toward zero.

Given the current popularity of President Bush and his Administration, it's unsurprising that his political foes would search the rubble from Enron's collapse for dirt to fling at him. Aha! A pattern! Men with political ambition and contrasting agendas look for weapons with which to sway public opinion against one another! Surely, with enough subpoenas and Congressional committee hearings... but wait a moment. We're expecting the targets of our suspicions to investigate themselves, and report candidly on their discoveries.

Another great irony, here: the second suspicion of conspiracy is far better founded than the first. It's even got a name. We call it a political party.

I have little trouble believing anything vile about anyone who seeks or wields the powers of the State. The worst do get on top, as Friedrich Hayek told us in The Road To Serfdom, and the right direction to look first when things begin to go badly wrong is toward the corridors of power. That doesn't mean we'll find anything. Because the suspicion of office-holders is so natural, and so frequently correct, we must be especially careful about it. As little as I like the State and its works, some decent people are involved with it. They might disagree with me on policy or principles, but they deserve the presumption of innocence, as do we all.

But the modern version of partisanry remembers this only half the time. Democrats conveniently forget it when Republicans can be made targets, and the reverse is true as well. The pitch of the accusations becomes ever more shrill, ever more strident, and the Man In The Street becomes ever more likely to stop his ears and disinvolve himself from the political process. This trend, along with the blending of the two major parties into a single, principle-free mass committed solely to getting power and thwarting competition, has been in progress for more than a century, during which time citizen participation in elections has fallen from 90% to a bare 50% of eligible voters.

Aha! A pattern!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Debunking: Community Standards

Robert A. Heinlein once noted that the human race can be partitioned into those who seek to control others and those who have no such desire. Granted that that's only one of the possible partitions, nevertheless it's an important one. It bears directly on today's cant phrase, how such things as "community standards" arise, and how they become accepted despite the fraud upon which they're based.

In any group of men, there will be a percentage whose members:

  • Desire to impose certain of their preferences upon the rest; and:
  • Possess the time, energy, scale of priorities, resilience before criticism, and persistence in the face of opposition to have a good chance of making it happen.

Empirically, that percentage in American communities seems to hover in the single digits, usually as low as 1% to 2%. Within that small group there will be a distribution of characteristics, most important among them persuasive power and power of personality. Those at the top of that distribution will tend to dominate the others, and will mobilize them into a cohesive political force. Once that force is in motion, it will normally succeed in its endeavors, despite its small size.

How this comes about has been made a study of its own. It's a variation on special-interest political dynamics: the array of forces and tendencies that allow numerically small interest groups to impose their agendas on a larger population nearly all the time.

In conventional political analysis, we see that the successful interest group always possesses the following attributes:

  • Its agenda is very short -- one to three items -- and perfectly coherent.
  • Its members are passionate about that agenda and willing to contribute heavily toward it.
  • Success in achieving its goals brings direct, personal satisfactions -- sometimes tangible, sometimes not -- to the members of the group.

Interest groups outside government that seek to sway public policy do so by public relations, lobbying, and by bloc voting. The lobbying is, of course, reinforced by the group's ability to sway a substantial number of votes: first and foremost those of the group, second those of the general public who are persuaded by the group's PR efforts. In a region closely divided on "basic" ideology and issues, officials and aspirants must respect the power of such groups; the 1% or 2% of the vote they might sway could be the margin of victory...or defeat.

The one notable difference between the "conventional" interest group and the sort of group that strives to set "community standards" is that the latter isn't necessarily trying to sway the government. About as often as not, it seeks to become the government.

When a group introduces some set of rules as a proposed "community standard," the reactions of the wider community range from essential disinterest ("Doesn't affect me in the slightest") to passionate approval or opposition. A typical distribution of opinion might look like this:

  1. Indifferent: 80%
  2. Mildly interested in either direction: 10%
  3. Passionately in favor: 3% - 7%
  4. Passionately opposed: 3% - 7%

Yes: the indifferent will always the numbers, at least.

The rules in question might pertain to zoning, or to construction regulations, or to what sort of businesses will be permitted in the community, or what goods and services the community's businesses must, may, and must not sell. What matters most to the outcome is how effectively the group can marginalize the passionately opposed. None of the other members of the community matter.

Community segments 1 and 2 are largely immune to the proponents' PR. Their participation in the process that decides the question will be thin and its impact randomly distributed. Segment 3, the passionately-in-favor, are assets to the proponents, and likely to participate at a high percentage. However, their voices and votes could be overwhelmed by the passionately opposed. Minimizing the influence of segment 4 is therefore the proponents' most important task.

The proponents of the "community standard" don't always win the day, of course. Much depends upon the size of that opposed group and just how ardent it is to see the proposal defeated. But the really interesting aspect of the thing lies in the distribution itself:

How can a set of rules to which 80% of the community is indifferent be a true "community standard?"

It's been said, in many contexts, that "20% gets you 80%." Perhaps the most common form is "80% of the results come from 20% of the workers." Indeed, in politics and political interplay, the figures are more likely to be 95% and 5%, owing to the immense importance of public relations and the money that makes such campaigns effective.

At any rate, just as with other special-interest groups that attempt to sway public policy, a group that seeks to make a "community standard" will have influence out of proportion to its actual size, and for the same reasons. It will carry the day against its opposition when it can marshal its supporters and dishearten, delegitimize, or otherwise neutralize its opponents. But when it wins, it will have succeeded in imposing the passionate desires of a numerical minority -- usually a very small minority -- on the far more numerous persons and institutions of the community.

And thus we get everything from curb rules to blue laws.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Debunking: Civilized Society

"Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society." -- Oliver Wendell Holmes, 1904

The above is merely one of a multitude of quotes I could cite that defines some requirement of a "civilized society," or alludes to one or more such. Though such statements are many, and address equally many posited requirements of "civilized society," no one ever gets around to defining this supposedly precious condition for which we pay so much and which demands so much from say nothing of assessing it according to its costs and benefits.

Jonah Goldberg, in his recent blockbuster Liberal Fascism, faced a similar problem. Fascism is a word in torment, twisted this way and that according to the political objectives of those who employ it. To make any sort of defensible case about it that withstands objective scrutiny, Goldberg had to retreat to primitives and bedrock commonalities, and work forward from there. That he succeeded is a testament to the importance of the willingness to "go back to basics," especially on a shibboleth word such as "fascism"...or "civilized."

That obligation now lies upon me.

When commentators have spoken of "civilized societies" or, somewhat more vaguely, "civilizations," they've usually employed a metric of predominant public order:

  • Low levels of violence and predation;
  • General agreement on a set of moral and ethical standards;
  • Overwhelming allegiance to a public authority entrusted with the enforcement of the law.

By those criteria, "civilized" is a relative condition. After all, we can't define "low," "general," or "overwhelming" in any but a relative fashion. Thus, at a given time and in a given region, there will be "more civilized" and "less civilized" societies, when gauged against one another...but unless we're speaking of heaven itself, there will be no absolutely civilized society to assess and admire.

By my lights, that's the only way it can be. Men are fallible, variably educable, and variably susceptible to temptation. There will always be some, in any sufficiently large population, who will shrug off moral, ethical, and legal constraints, whether because they believe they can do so without penalty or because their flaws render them incapable of self-restraint.

Therefore, in discussing how "civilized" our society is, the most important and least objectionable metric is how it compares to earlier times in levels of violence, adherence to acknowledged moral and ethical standards, and the rule of objective law.

By those yardsticks, how does the "civilization" level of the United States of America in the year of Our Lord 2013 compare to that of 1904?

The metric I advocate here will be disputed by persons on the political Left, who would greatly prefer that "compassion" be included as an important, perhaps dominant component. Such persons, whether sincere or otherwise, have not attained the insight of Frederic Bastiat:

The law is justice — simple and clear, precise and bounded. Every eye can see it, and every mind can grasp it; for justice is measurable, immutable, and unchangeable. Justice is neither more than this nor less than this. If you exceed this proper limit — if you attempt to make the law religious, fraternal, equalizing, philanthropic, industrial, literary, or artistic — you will then be lost in an uncharted territory, in vagueness and uncertainty, in a forced utopia or, even worse, in a multitude of utopias, each striving to seize the law and impose it upon you. This is true because fraternity and philanthropy, unlike justice, do not have precise limits. Once started, where will you stop? And where will the law stop itself? [The Law, 1850]

...but then, persons on the Left are seldom satisfied with Bastiat's definition of justice: the condition in which the natural rights of each man to his life, his liberty, and his honestly acquired property are respected and protected:

What, then, is law? It is the collective organization of the individual right to lawful defense.

Each of us has a natural right — from God — to defend his person, his liberty, and his property. These are the three basic requirements of life, and the preservation of any one of them is completely dependent upon the preservation of the other two. For what are our faculties but the extension of our individuality? And what is property but an extension of our faculties? If every person has the right to defend even by force — his person, his liberty, and his property, then it follows that a group of men have the right to organize and support a common force to protect these rights constantly. Thus the principle of collective right — its reason for existing, its lawfulness — is based on individual right. And the common force that protects this collective right cannot logically have any other purpose or any other mission than that for which it acts as a substitute. Thus, since an individual cannot lawfully use force against the person, liberty, or property of another individual, then the common force — for the same reason — cannot lawfully be used to destroy the person, liberty, or property of individuals or groups. [Ibid.]

There is no blending Bastiat's simple, clear conception of justice -- the very essence of civilization as it's been observed, discussed, and assessed by century upon century of analysts and commentators -- with the vague, subjective, wholly illusory notion of the Leftist that "justice" must embrace an obligatory component of "compassion."

By my (and Bastiat's) preferred metric, American society has become ever less civilized over the century past:

  • Levels of violence and predation -- including governmentally approved and administered violence and predation -- have increased steadily;
  • Agreement on moral and ethical standards has waned steadily;
  • The acknowledged legitimacy of (and allegiance to) the "public authorities" entrusted with the enforcement of the law has declined sharply, even as the laws have multiplied without limit.

If America was a very (or acceptably) "civilized society" in 1904, when Holmes made his famous statement, what is it today?

I take no pleasure in observing that few societies anywhere on Earth are "more civilized" than ours at this time. But were I offered a choice between the peace, public order, prevailing courtesy, and general morality and ethics of America in 1904 and that of America in 2013, I would opt for the former without hesitation as by far the "more civilized." That it was far less expensive -- Justice Holmes, call your office! -- should not escape our notice.

What about you, Gentle Reader?

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Debunking: Public Safety

"Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action." -- George Washington, Farewell Address, 1797

The bombing of the Boston Marathon evoked a great deal of fear. Governments, supposedly pledged to the protection of their citizens' rights, actually like fear rampant among the citizenry; it enables them to exercise powers never granted to them, under the pretext of "public safety." And indeed, in the "investigation" that followed the Marathon Bombings, we saw exactly that.

It was not an exception, but the rule in full flight.

During the first days after the bombings, the city of Boston was in "lockdown." This term, usually associated with the confinement of imprisoned felons to their cells, caused no small stir among the more observant commentators on the Web. Popehat provides a trenchant sample:

That said, a large percent of the reaction in Boston has been security theater. "Four victims brutally killed" goes by other names in other cities.

In Detroit, for example, they call it "Tuesday".

…and Detroit does not shut down every time there are a few murders.

"But Clark," I hear you say, "this is different. This was a terrorist attack."

Washington DC, during ongoing sniper terrorist attacks in 2002 that killed twice as many people, was not shut down.

Kileen Texas, after the Fort Hood terrorist attack in 2009 that killed three times as many people, was not shut down.

London, after the bombing terrorist attack in 2005 that killed more than ten times as many people, was not shut down.

"But Clark," I hear you asking, "what about the lives saved?"

There is no evidence that any lives were saved by the Boston shutdown.

"Yeah, but you can't know for sure!"

True. I can't. But in London, Washington, LA after the El Al shootings, and so on and so on and so on, there were not lockdowns, and there were no further fatalities. It's not perfect proof, but it's suggestive.

Commentator Clark Bianco goes on to note the conspicuous exception to the lockdown, made by the police for their own comfort:

But the Boston police didn't shut down an entire city. They shut down an entire city except for the donut shops. Law enforcement asked Dunkin' Donuts to keep restaurants open in locked-down communities to provide… food to police… including in Watertown, the focus of the search for the bombing suspect.

The government and police were willing to shut down parts of the economy like the universities, software, biotech, and manufacturing…but when asked to do an actual risk to reward calculation where a small part of the costs landed on their own shoulders, they had no problem weighing one versus the other and then telling the donut servers "yeah, come to work – no one's going to get shot."

And they were right.

There were reports from the lockdown, some with photographic documentation, of Boston residents being herded out of their homes at gunpoint, and being told to keep away from their own windows or they would be shot. Bob Owens provides a chilling example:

The Daily Mail shows just some of the photos of Watertown citizens being forced from their homes, but missed the cop in a armored vehicle's gun turret pointing a rifle at a citizen that dared photograph their thuggish actions.

None of these goons will be reprimanded for their behavior, and it will happen again.

Police commanders will be given a pep talk before their next armed incursion against the citizenry, telling their rank-and-file officers that pointing guns in the faces of children is protecting them, and most of these cops will chose to believe it, all of whom consider themselves "protectors." It’s easier for them to "go along to get along" than admit they're becoming the execution arm of the state's brute force mentality.

And yes, Bob does include a damning photograph.

Does any Gentle Reader imagine that any of that was done with "public safety" uppermost in mind?

There is absolutely no connection, ever, between the actions of government and true public safety. In the usual case, the "safety" being promoted is that of the State's enforcers, in a minimum of two dimensions:

  • Safety from citizen resistance against violations of their rights;
  • Safety from legal consequences to such violations.

Sometimes the "safety" of the authorities that dispatched these myrmidons is also being protected -- in this case, real protection in contrast to the sort trumpeted about at other times. For the official who dispatches an armed agent of the State to commit a violation of some citizen's rights is just as culpable for the deed as the thug who commits it with his own hands. Such an official will often go to great lengths in the aftermath to silence or buy off anyone willing to testify to such events. The stories, when they finally emerge, are among the most lurid demonstration of Lord Acton's Axiom available to us of the present day.

Thus, as in the other Debunkings presented here, the phrase "public safety" should be a bright red warning flag to freedom lovers. Hunker down or flee upon the instant you hear it, for the State will shortly send out its goons -- and the "safety" they'll be least concerned about is yours.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Debunking: Protections

"I shall say it a hundred times: We really ought to free ourselves from the seductions of words!" -- Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

How many times have we been told that the police department's function is to "protect" us? How many times have we been told that the United States military "protects our freedom?" How many times have we heard, with regard to this or that item, occupation, or practice, that by passing a law Congress has "protected" it?

Those phrasings promulgate some of the worst misconceptions in all of political speech. Yet most Americans let them pass as if there were nothing to be said about them.

To protect a person or thing is to shield him or it from harm. Protection, viewed in this exact sense, is one of the rarest and most difficult of feats. More, it involves practically none of the exercises or accoutrements of the "protections" mentioned in the previous segment.

If Smith, seeing Jones approach Davis with lethal intent, positions himself between the two, such that Jones must first remove Smith before he can strike Davis, Smith has performed a true act of protection, however temporary or effective it might prove to be. But if Smith stands aside, brandishes a pistol and announces to Jones that "if you touch Davis I'll shoot you," Smith isn't protecting anything; he's threatening Jones with vengeance, conditional upon Jones's next actions.

Similarly, when Congress passes a law that criminalizes interference with some tract of land, it isn't "protecting" that land, but rather threatening to visit undesirable consequences upon anyone who dares to use it in a legally disapproved fashion. The land itself might be ravaged to an indefinite extent; what passes for "protection" does nothing to restore it to its former state -- if, indeed, any penalty is thereafter exacted from the violator.

Do you imagine that the residents of high-crime areas feel well "protected" by the local police? How about the residents of Arizonan and Texan border regions where violent Mexican drug cartels range freely, doing what they please? As for lands that have been fully "exploited" by companies or groups granted waivers from "protection" laws, is further comment required?

    "Why, James, I came here to thank you."
    "To thank me?"
    "Of course. You've done me a great favor-you and your boys in Washington and the boys in Santiago. Only I wonder why none of you took the trouble to inform me about it. Those directives that somebody issued here a few months ago are choking off the entire copper industry of this country. And the result is that this country suddenly has to import much larger amounts of copper. And where in the world is there any copper left-unless it's d'Anconia copper? So you see that I have good reason to be grateful."
    "1 assure you I had nothing to do with it," Taggart said hastily, "and besides, the vital economic policies of this country are not determined by any considerations such as you're intimating or--"
    "I know how they're determined, James. I know that the deal started with the boys in Santiago, because they've been on the d'Anconia pay roll for centuries-well, no, 'pay roll' is an honorable word, it would be more exact to say that d'Anconia Copper has been paying them protection money for centuries-isn't that what your gangsters call it? Our boys in Santiago call it taxes."

[From Atlas Shrugged]

"Protection money" is a phrase most often associated with the "protection rackets" of urban organized crime. Yet it has another, quite different application, delineated by Francisco d'Anconia's statement above.

Political "protection" often functions in the exact opposite direction from a gang's "protection." Whereas the gang solicits payment under threat of the destruction of the targeted business, the government offers to impede the targeted business's competitors...for a price. The impediment might be legal, regulatory, or through licensure; the price paid might be directly monetary, indirectly monetary (e.g., campaign contributions), or through the cession of some item the target controls (e.g., land the government covets for its own purposes).

Many a law "protecting" this or that is followed by the issuance of waivers from the terms of the law. Indeed, in quite a number of cases, "protecting" anything is the last concern on the legislators' minds. ObamaCare is merely the latest example.

But how often do Americans reflect on this aspect of aggressive legislation when they learn about the "creation" of a new "national monument," or some regulation supposedly to "protect consumer safety?"

Political language, as George Orwell has told us in his 1946 essay Politics and the English Language, is designed to deflect, distract, and conceal -- to turn the attention and thoughts of the outsider away from the true purpose of whatever is being discussed. This is nowhere more significant than in this business of governmental "protection." Indeed, Americans could hardly gain more from any other debunking than from this: to realize that when politicians speak of the need to "protect" this or that, the time is upon us, in the classic phrase, to "put one hand on your wallet and the other on your gun."