School Choice for Lunch

School is not just for learning any more. Schools now provide breakfast and lunch for students. In the past, students and their parents had the option to either eat lunch at the school cafeteria or else bring their home-made lunch to school. But now, some schools are banning home-made meals. For example, Chicago’s Little Village Academy ruled that children had to eat only a school-provided lunch.

As reported by AOL News on 11 April 2011, Susan Rubin, a nutritionist and founder of the Better School Food program, stated that the lunches offered by the schools’ food providers are not necessarily more nutritious than those made at home.

“It’s rare that I see a school, especially a public school, that actually serves food that’s good,” she told AOL News. “It makes me sick that kids are eating this processed crap.”

A Chicago Tribune newspaper reporter spoke to students and parents who opposed the ban. They told the reporter that some children don’t like the cafeteria food, and much of it gets thrown away.

According to Medical Daily (16 Nov. 2013), a preschool in Richmond, Virginia also banned homemade lunches. The school blamed the Federal Programs Preschool rules on lunches from home, which state that students may bring lunches from home only if there is a medical condition requiring a specific diet, along with a note from a physician.

Such bans have been reported at other schools. The “Healthy Home Economist” reported that a preschooler at the West Hoke Elementary School in North Carolina had to eat a cafeteria lunch containing pink slime chicken nuggets when the school decided that the turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips, and apple juice her mother packed was not nutritious enough.

About 32 million American children eat breakfast and lunch at school under the National School Lunch Program. Of these, 21 million students participate in free or reduced-price meals. Children in poor families that cannot afford to feed their children adequately may well need to be helped, but that does not provide any reason to ban nutritious homemade meals.

Food tyranny is not confined to the USA. Canada has a national Food Guide, and if a student’s homemade lunch does not follow it, the parent is fined. For example, the Manitoba Government’s Early Learning and Child Care lunch regulations require a child’s lunch to be “balanced.” A mother who packed a lunch was slapped with a $10 fine. Her meal was unbalanced because she did not include crackers.

Nutrition is a controversial subject. Some people think cow milk is healthy, while others disagree. Some think that moderate amounts of sugar do not harm, while others think that any artificial sugar is bad. Some believe that meat provides good nutrition, while others believe it is healthier to be vegetarians or vegans. The experts disagree among themselves. Also, of course, children have individual tastes and dietary needs. Government policy forces most of the children to consume the same meal or a narrow range of choices. Much of the food then gets thrown out.

Any decision about school lunches in government-run schools is inevitably political. The federal government is now in charge of what children eat, and policy is influenced by the special interests which finance political campaigns and lobby for legislation.

Thus, the U.S. Department of Agriculture subsidizes poultry production, and then provides schools with free chicken. Many schools do not cook the chicken themselves; they send the chicken to food processors that turn the meat into chicken nuggets and sell them back to the schools. Rather than cook pizza themselves, many schools buy pizzas from food sellers. Schools get potatoes from the government and send them to food makers that sell them back to the school as French Fries.

The cafeteria management companies save money by not having to hire cooks, and they often receive rebates from the food processors. The schools pay the full price for the processed food, which includes rebates that are not disclosed. Since homemade food competes with cafeteria food, it is in the financial interest of the big food producers and cafeteria management firms to stop competition from home production.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has declared that such sending of food out to be processed results in food high in saturated fat and salt. A 2008 study, “Impact of Federal Commodity Programs on School Meal Nutrition,” by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, concluded that what starts as healthy food gets processed into products whose nutritional value is the same as junk food. The study found that California school districts used more than 82 percent of their food commodity funds to buy meat and cheese, spending only 13 percent on fruits and vegetables.

One problem with homemade lunches is that some parents give their children junk food. In that case, the school lunch would be better. But some parents provide a superior lunch, so a ban prevents both better and worse lunches. A sensible approach is to hire a nutritionist who would inform and council parents about better food choices. Few parents seek to deliberately harm their child with unhealthy food. For better nutrition, persuasion is a better policy than force.

Around the Web

  1. An excellent piece by Matt Steinglass in the Economist on John Kerry’s failure in regards to the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
  2. I know Dr Shikida linked to this earlier, but I think it’s worth highlighting again. A university professor at a law school in Brazil was recently assaulted by students for his political views, and Dr Shikida points out that today’s professor-assaulters are tomorrow’s journalist-killers. Disturbing, and in Portuguese.
  3. In response to Dr van de Haar’s explosive and much-welcomed introductory post on the myth of the Commercial Peace, here is a good introductory pdf by MIT’s PR Goldstone on the strengths and weaknesses of the theory.
  4. E Wayne Merry: Why is Moscow now pursuing an economic Eurasian Union? In brief, the Russian derzhava is turning inward on itself, in part for domestic reasons but more broadly because of its inability to compete (on different indices) with the European West, the Chinese East, or the Islamic South.
  5. John Allen Gay: Kirchick: “The Putin regime can tell Ukrainians, ‘you wanna protect Orthodox Christianity, you stay with Moscow.’ And he’s using this all throughout the former Soviet space. So this is a geostrategic issue for him.” Would Western pressure for gay rights in Russia improve their lot, or just turn domestic gays into traitors? I’m pretty sure I know the answer to this one…
  6. How many people does it take to colonize another star system?

Regulation doesn’t have to mean licensure!

In my effort to become more misinformed I’ve started listening to the news. On PBS Newshour I learned that the National Taxpayer Advocate is pushing to restrict who can professionally prepare tax returns. It turns out the Institute for Justice is (so far) successfully beating back these efforts.

So why is anyone concerned? Surely because it’s poor people going to (potentially unqualified) preparers. Why not just go to H.R. Block? They’re cheap and trustworthy, but poor people probably make their decision of where to go the same way they decide how to bank. They want someone local and personal. That’s not going to change. Back to Newshour:

If you have someone who’s– who’s not ethical or doesn’t know what they’re doing, they’d have even more incentive to not sign a tax return and kind of just operate in the shadows.

I think that’s the correct prediction. Create licensure, and poor people will be less protected. Frankly, I doubt that even certification will make a difference; I think Joe Blow’s decision of who to get to prepare his return won’t be likely to change. What I think would help is a simplified tax code, and especially as it treats poor people.

From the Comments: What’s the difference between state-sponsored terrorism and geopolitics?

In a recent thread on the conflict in Crimea, a proposal to use the CIA – the overseas spying agency of the US government – against a small Russian population in the exclave of Kaliningrad was put forth by Professor Amburgey. My response followed as thus:

Suppose that VEVAK – Iran’s intelligence agency – created an industrial accident in regards to Toronto’s water supply. You and I would rightly consider this state-sponsored terrorism, regardless of whether or not Tehran took any sort of official blame.

Now suppose that the CIA created an industrial accident in regards to Kaliningrad’s water supply. I would consider this state-sponsored terrorism. You would consider this ________ (please fill in the blank).

Dr Amburgey responded with a “savvy geopolitcs.” The only thing I noticed here is the double standard in place. Why do we label violence undertaken by certain factions or organizations “terrorism” and the same type of violence undertaken by other factions or organizations as “geopolitics” (or “patriotism” or “war”)?

There is no difference. Categorizing the actions that both you and your enemy undertake as two different things is a good way to ensure that everything remains exactly the same. How utterly conservative!

Quer menos jornalistas assassinados?

Hoje um blogueiro (jornalista) publicou uma estatística aterradora para os brasileiros: o número de jornalistas assassinados no Brasil, em 2014, é comparável ao número de mortes no Iraque.

Infelizmente, ele não explora a notícia em detalhes. Bem, para ajudar no debate, ofereço algumas observações sobre a liberdade de imprensa, a liberdade econômica e outras coisinhas. Aqui.

War Exposure and Suicide, a Scientific Study

Intro Note: Since I posted this short essay, MSNBC and National Public Radio have been atwitter with discussions of Post Combat Stress Disorder because of the new Fort Hood shooting. One commentator on MSBC I took to be some sort of  mental health expect declared with a straight face that  PCSD is hard to “pin down.” Yes, that what happens: When you call everything “door,” it’s difficult to find the door. PCSD is a bunch of vague things grouped together under one heading for transparently political purposes.

The new shooter at Fort Hood was in Iraq for four months, as a truck driver; no combat. After twelve years in the military, he was still at the low rank of Specialist Fourth Class. There a mystery there. It’s almost impossible not to make Sergent after such a long time. Isn’t it possible for a  someone employed by the military to  have private, non-military sources of depression or anger? According to the liberal media, the answer to this obvious question seems to be “No.”

Pacifists, the overt kind, as well as the semi-covert type,* have been taking a new tack: The obvious, real horrors of warfare are not enough anymore so, they are pointing to sequels of warfare less visible than mutilated limbs. The new sequels of war have the advantage of being largely hidden and of being capable of discovery long after the war has ended. The most useful new sequel is post-combat stress disorder (PCSD). It serves its purpose best when it causes suicide, like this:

war → death then or,

war → death now or later.

The generals and admirals have learned to be sensitive, for their own good and that of their service. (Same sensitive Pentagon that told us that 30% of the victims of sexual assault in the armed forces are males.) Correspondingly, the Pentagon commissioned a study on the causes of suicide in the military. The findings were published in a medical journal, JAMA a short time ago. They were summarized in the Wall Street Journal on 3/4/14. Here are the main findings, according to me:

The suicide rates in the military increased greatly between 2004 and 2008. That was more or less the height of the Iraq war while the war in Afghanistan was also going on. Not surprisingly the Army rate of suicide was 17.2 per 100,000 in 2010 while it was 22 for the Marines.

This makes sense, of course. The Marines are more likely, on the average, to find themselves in combat situations, exposed to violence, than are soldiers. Hence he greater incidence of PCSD and then, the higher the suicide rate. Marines are more involved in raw warfare than soldiers, therefore, they tend to kill themselves more often.
Wait a minute, wait a damn minute! I am toying with your mind; I am being deceitful! It’s the Marines suicide rate that is the lower rate, at 17.2 against the Army’s rate of 22; the latter is a full 25 % higher. Three possibilities:

  1. On the average, Marines are less exposed to the violence of war than are soldiers;
  2. The relationship between exposure to the violence of war and suicide is not straightforward;
  3. Exposure to the violence of war somehow preserves from suicide.

I don’t know which of these explanations is correct. What I am sure of however is that if the real findings had been the fakes ones I described above, there would have been no end of commentaries in pacifist circles about war participation and suicide. I am certain there would have been several NPR specials highlighting and commenting incompetently on the causal effect of war on suicide.

Myself, I believe that one should completely forbid oneself the desire to make tiny numbers speak. That’s irrespective of statistical significance. Here is why: Take the real figures. It’s possible that a single heart-breaker, one, on a single base drove two young Marines to love despair. Had they not met her, both would have been alive at the time of the study. Furthermore, it’s possible that a single Marine officer was in a bad mood for one week and that he then gave bad evaluations to three Marines who were desperate for a career in the Corps thereby precipitating their suicide. Had those two people not met those particular five Marines, the Marines score for suicide would have been as high as the Army’s. Or, a bad batch of dope hit three Marine bases the same year. Etc.

In point of fact, the Marines rate was 23 one year earlier, a little higher than the Army rate the same year.

Small number don’t mean much or they mean nothing, except when they are duplicated over time, in which case they are not small numbers. Here is a fictitious but not absurd example to drive this point home:

In the whole US, in 2013 as compared to 2012, the rate of church-going black grandmothers in full charge of their grandchildren who committed suicide jumped by a full 50%. (The raw number went from 2 to 3 nationwide – In fact, the kind of women who correspond to that description hardly ever commit suicide.)

Here is another (real) finding of the same study: During the period of observation, the number of suicides among soldiers deployed in combat zones nearly doubled. The number of suicide of soldiers who had never been so deployed tripled.

In the usual liberal logic, this last finding would dictate that one good way to save soldiers from suicide is to move them to combat zones. I don’t believe this, of course; see above.

Finally, here is the conclusion of the whole study as posted on the on-line article of JAMA. I copied and pasted it from the website to make sure I did not make another mistake:

“Conclusions and Relevance  Predictors of Army suicides were largely similar to those reported elsewhere for civilians, although some predictors distinct to Army service emerged that deserve more in-depth analysis. The existence of a time trend in suicide risk among never-deployed soldiers argues indirectly against the view that exposure to combat-related trauma is the exclusive cause of the increase in Army suicides.” (“exclusive”)

The last phrase of the conclusion is an astonishing understatement: “The more carrots I eat, the thinner I become. Therefore, carrots are not the exclusive cause of my overweight”!

Still missing, perhaps because I was not able to read the whole text of the study: a comparison of suicides over several years between combat-exposed military personnel and a truly comparable civilian cohort. (Basic demographics such as age and sex would not be good enough for me. ) Perhaps, it’s in the body of the study. Somebody, please spring some money to get it out! My own money is on that everyone would be surprised.

* I don’t like pacifism because I think it gave us World War II among other horrors. Ask me.

Let’s leave the fairy tales behind

Freedom-loving people are almost always nice and genial. I count them among my best friends, and in fact, I think of myself as one. Some of them have sharp intellects, publish great stuff, are brilliant discussants and all of them are prepared to take on the left-leaning, social liberal (for American readers: liberal) majority anytime. They never tire of pointing at the mistaken views of others. Yet at the same time, most libertarians (for sake of brevity I shall not go into the possible subdivisions and other definitional options when using this term) fail to recognize their own weird ideas about international relations. To quote Murray Rothbard: ‘thinking about international affairs is a weak point of libertarians’.

While I am not particularly impressed by Rothbard’s own ideas on international relations, he did make a valid point here. When searching for a particular quaint idea among libertarians, what comes up first is the idea that trade fosters peace. There are variations and the related idea that democracies allegedly do not fight each other will be left aside [which is hardly more convincing though, when closely scrutinizing the methodology and data used in this type of research], the basic idea is that international trade relations promote a peaceful world. There are several main mechanisms behind this. First, at the level of the individual, increasing numbers of international contacts lead to more international friendship and understanding, and consequently a diminishing wish to fight the trading partners . Second, businessmen and other citizens benefitting from trade (e.g. everybody) will act as domestic pressure groups, if need be forcing their leaders to refrain from international military action. Third, economic ties between countries mean these countries become interdependent. War between them would destroy this economic entanglement, therefore it is not the interest of leaders of states to initiate or maintain such destructive conflicts. The overall conclusion is: the more trade, the more peaceful the world becomes.

This is a fairy tale. Even though most libertarians do not go as far as to claim that trade has the capacity to eradicate all international conflict, it is nonsensical to claim that it fosters peace in any consistent way. A few objections. At the individual level, trade does not change human nature. While the rationality needed to preserve peace (acknowledging that war making is sometimes perfectly rational from an individual stance) may dominate the emotions once in a while, it cannot do so perpetually. Let alone in all people, everywhere at the globe. At the collective level, history shows that ‘citizen coalitions for peace’ hardly ever make a difference. Public opinion is often war prone, as for example free trade star Richard Cobden, who strongly argued trade would make public opinion more peaceful, painfully found out during the previous Crimea crisis in the 1850’s. At the political level economic interests are just one factor among many others (geopolitical, religious, domestic, personal, et cetera) when considering international military action. So perhaps sometimes a vital economic interest is too important to risk a war, yet at other times it does not count for much. Take the current Crimea crisis, where President Putin clearly prioritized the strategic objective of ensured naval capacity and access in the Black Sea above possible detrimental effects of economic sanctions.

There are also a number of other counter-arguments against the ‘trade-leads-to peace-hypothesis’. As for example David Hume and Adam Smith acknowledged and emphasized, trade also has the side-effect of promoting conflict. After all free trade make people and countries wealthier. Often this leads to increased defense expenditure, which may then lead to international belligerence, because previously poor states can for example make (renewed) territorial claims. Currently, China is a good example of this. Also, there is the completely neglected question of the nature and volume of trade. Does any amount of trade have peaceful effects, or is there some minimum? Also, does it matter what is traded? Does trade in oil and gas have more or less peaceful effects, compared to say textiles or fruit? Just to claim that ‘trade’ has peace enhancing effects is again unconvincing.  

It is perhaps relatively harmless to foster fairy tale ideas in the study, at universities or to write them down in books and blogs. Yet in my mind these kind of ideas seriously hamper the appeal of libertarianism to other people. In a globalized world, people expect the ideas that guide their political behavior to have serious ideas about world politics. As is the case in for example economics or philosophy, libertarian ideas need to offer serious alternatives to make a difference and have the capacity to convince others. The idea that trade fosters peace is not a serious contribution to international relations discourse. It is high time the liberty loving people leave their fairy tale ideas on international affairs behind.

Is the Political Left Today’s Conservative Faction?

I tend to think so. I come across more and more anecdotal evidence to support my thesis with each passing day. For example, in my current research on Dutch colonial responses to Javanese political strategies, I came across the following passage by Dutch historian Eduard JM Schmutzer in his 1977 monograph Dutch Colonial Policy and the Search for Identity in Indonesia 1920-1931:

The abuses in government exploitation under the so-called “Cultuurstelsel” (Cultivation System) and the subsequent criticism by humanitarians [...] made the liberals aware that new methods for the exploitation of the East Indies and for the development of its inhabitants were to be found. In contrast to the conservatives who maintained that the central role of government in economic life was necessary to protect the natives against the overpowering influence of private capital, the liberals argued that the doctrine of free enterprise and its beneficial laws of unrestrained capital and labor market, promised in Indonesia an increase in the sagging production and an improvement in the welfare of the natives. Both conditions [free capital and labor markets - bc], the liberals maintained, would be to the advantage of the population at home and abroad.

However, the channeling of capital into the structure of government monopolies by private investors did not result in the expected increase per capita productivity [Ya don't say? - bc]. (1)

The emphasis is mine. Can anybody name any factions in today’s world that advocate restraining private capital in the name of (condescendingly) protecting those who are too stupid to know what to do with their own money?

Anybody at all?

Needless to say, the liberals lost those important colonial policy battles of the late nineteenth century (probably because they were outnumbered by both the theocrats and socialists who believed private capital was bad for the natives and that therefore authoritarian paternalism was in order).

I can’t help but wonder: Does the anti-globalization Left realize just how conservative its position is?

Around the Web

  1. Ukraine and BRICS from historian Daniel Larison at The American Conservative
  2. The Sympathy Problem: Is Germany a Country of Russia Apologists? By Ralf Neukirch at Spiegel Online
  3. You Don’t Know the Best Way to Deal with Russia from economist Bryan Caplan over at EconLog
  4. The Right to Self-Determination in International Law and Practice by political scientist Jason Sorens (PhD, Yale) over at the PileusBlog

3,278 Americans Are Serving Life Sentences for Nonviolent Crimes, Report Says

Around 79 percent of the nonviolent life sentences without parole are drug-related, according to the ACLU, and around 20 percent are for property crimes. The remaining 1 percent are for traffic and other infractions in Alabama and Florida”

This seems like as good an opportunity as any to talk about libertarian law.  First of all, to the libertarian, there is no such thing as non-violent or “victimless” crime.  There can be no “crime against the state” or “crime against society” since there would be no state and “society” is an abstract concept that cannot be a victim.  Crime can only occur when there is a clear perpetrator and a clear victim.

This is the logic used to deduce that there can be no punishment for consuming or selling drugs for example.

Second, libertarian punishment is confined to the concept of “proportionality”.  Proportionality is described by Murray Rothbard as:

“…the criminal, or invader, loses his own right to the extent that he has deprived another man of his. If a man deprives another man of some of his self-ownership or its extension in physical property, to that extent does he lose his own rights.  From this principle immediately derives the proportionality theory of punishment-best summed up in the old adage: “let the punishment fit the crime.””

Walter Block famously expanded on this concept with his “Two Teeth for a Tooth” rule saying:

“In encapsulated form, it calls for two teeth for a tooth, plus costs of capture and a
premium for scaring. How does this work?

Suppose I steal a TV set from you. Surely, the first thing that should occur when I am captured is that I be forced to return to you my ill-gotten gains.

So, based on the first of two “teeth,” I must return this appliance to you.

But this is hardly enough. Merely returning the TV to you its rightful owner is certainly no punishment to me the criminal.

All I have been forced to do is not give up my
own TV to you, but to return yours to you.

Thus enters the second tooth: what I did (tried to do) to you should instead be done to me. I took your TV set;
therefore, as punishment, you should be able to get mine (or some monetary equivalent). This is the second tooth.2″

The claim is often made that a libertarian society would be less just for the poor and disadvantaged but take this list of crimes that caused human beings to be sent to prison for the rest of their lives and compare it to the logical corresponding punishment called for by the proportionality rule and tell me which is more just.

“Among the most obscure offenses – mostly from Louisiana and Mississippi – documented in the report as the impetus for life sentences:

  • Possessing stolen wrenches
  • Siphoning gasoline from a truck
  • Shoplifting a computer from WalMart
  • Shoplifting three belts from a department store
  • Shoplifting digital cameras from WalMart
  • Shoplifting two jerseys from an athletics store
  • Breaking into a parked car and stealing a bag containing a woman’s lunch
  • Stealing a 16-year-old car’s radio
  • Drunkenly threatening a police officer while handcuffed in a patrol car”

A very illuminating comment over on Reddit.com

User “Three_Letter_Agency” put the current NSA issue in very clear focus today with the following:

We know the NSA and their UK buddy GHCQ can:

  • Collect the domestic meta-data of both parties in a phone-call. Source[1]
  • Set up fake internet cafes to steal data. Source[2]
  • Has intercepted the phone calls of at least 35 world leaders, including allies such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Source[3]
  • Can tap into the underwater fiber-optic cables that carry a majority of the world’s internet traffic. Source[4]
  • Tracks communications within media institutions such as Al Jazeera. Source[5]
  • Has ‘bugged’ the United Nations headquarters. Source[6]
  • Has set up a financial database to track international banking and credit card transactions. Source[7]
  • Collects and stores over 200 million domestic and foreign text messages each day. Source[8]
  • Collects and has real-time access to browsing history, email, and social media activity. To gain access, an analyst simply needs to fill out an on-screen form with a broad justification for the search that is not reviewed by any court or NSA personnel. Source[9]

“I, sitting at my desk, could wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email”. – Edward Snowden

  • Creates maps of the social networks of United States citizens. Source[10]
  • Has access to smartphone app data. Source[11]
  • Uses spies in embassies to collect data, often by setting up ‘listening stations’ on the roofs of buildings.Source[12]
  • Uses fake LinkedIn profiles and other doctored web pages to secretly install surveillance software in unwitting companies and individuals. Source[13]
  • Tracks reservations at upscale hotels. Source[14]
  • Has intercepted the talking-points of world leaders before meetings with Barack Obama. Source[15]
  • Can crack encryption codes on cellphones. Source[16]
  • Has implanted software on over 100,000 computers worldwide allowing them to hack data without internet connection, using radio waves. Source[17]
  • Has access to computers through fake wireless connections. Source[18]
  • Monitors communications in online games such as World of Warcraft. Source[19]
  • Intercepts shipping deliveries and install back-door devices allowing access. Source[20]
  • Has direct access to the data centers of Google, Yahoo and other major companies. Source[21]
  • Covertly and overtly infiltrate United States and foreign IT industries to weaken or gain access to encryption, often by collaborating with software companies and internet service providers themselves. They are also, according to an internal document, “responsible for identifying, recruiting and running covert agents in the global telecommunications industry.” Source[22]
  • The use of “honey traps”, luring targets into compromising positions using sex. Source[23]
  • The sharing of raw intelligence data with Israel. Only official U.S. communications are affected, and there are no legal limits on the use of the data from Israel. Source[24]
  • Spies on porn habits of activists to discredit them. Source[25]

Possibly the most shocking revelation was made on February 24, 2014. Internal documents show that the security state is attempting to manipulate and control online discourse with “extreme tactics of deception and reputation-destruction.” The documents revealed a top-secret unit known as the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Unit, or JTRIG. Two of the core self-identified purposes of JTRIG are to inject all sorts of false material onto the internet in an effort to discredit a target, and to use social sciences such as psychology to manipulate online discourse and activism in order to generate a desirable outcome. The unit posts false information on the internet and falsely attributes it to someone else, pretend to be a ‘victim’ of a target they want to discredit, and posts negative information on various forums. In some instances, to discredit a target, JTRIG sends out ‘false flag’ emails to family and friends.

A revealing slide from the JTRIG presentation.[26]  

Read the whole JTRIG presentation by Greenwald, just do it. Here[27]

Now, consider the words of former NSA employee turned whistleblower Russ Tice:

“Okay. They went after–and I know this because I had my hands literally on the paperwork for these sort of things–they went after high-ranking military officers; they went after members of Congress, both Senate and the House, especially on the intelligence committees and on the armed services committees and some of the–and judicial.

But they went after other ones, too. They went after lawyers and law firms. All kinds of–heaps of lawyers and law firms. They went after judges. One of the judges is now sitting on the Supreme Court that I had his wiretap information in my hand. Two are former FISA court judges. They went after State Department officials.

They went after people in the executive service that were part of the White House–their own people. They went after antiwar groups. They went after U.S. international–U.S. companies that that do international business, you know, business around the world. They went after U.S. banking firms and financial firms that do international business. They went after NGOs that–like the Red Cross, people like that that go overseas and do humanitarian work. They went after a few antiwar civil rights groups.

So, you know, don’t tell me that there’s no abuse, because I’ve had this stuff in my hand and looked at it. And in some cases, I literally was involved in the technology that was going after this stuff. And you know, when I said to [former MSNBC show host Keith] Olbermann, I said, my particular thing is high tech and you know, what’s going on is the other thing, which is the dragnet. The dragnet is what Mark Klein is talking about, the terrestrial dragnet. Well my specialty is outer space. I deal with satellites, and everything that goes in and out of space. I did my spying via space. So that’s how I found out about this… And remember we talked about that before, that I was worried that the intelligence community now has sway over what is going on.

Now here’s the big one. I haven’t given you any names. This was is summer of 2004. One of the papers that I held in my hand was to wiretap a bunch of numbers associated with, with a 40-something-year-old wannabe senator from Illinois. You wouldn’t happen to know where that guy lives right now, would you? It’s a big white house in Washington, DC. That’s who they went after. And that’s the president of the United States now.” Russ Tice, NSA Whistleblower

Chilling.

From the Comments: Power and the Rhymes of History

Over the past couple of days, Notes On Liberty‘s house conservative, Dr Delacroix, has created quite a few waves with his fanciful thoughts about punishing Russia for its bad behavior of late. (Somebody remind me again about George W Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq, and then let me know if that could have possibly set a bad precedent.) Professor Amburgey’s thoughts on power are worth another look:

In general, comparing a nation state to a human being is not useful. However, comparing the leader of a nation state to a human being can be sensible. The utility depends on how much power the leader has. I think there are several nation states where leaders have acquired enough power to assume that, in general, they are the decision maker. Iran springs to mind, as does North Korea. I’m beginning to think that Russia falls into that category.

I can buy this. However, dictators cannot be dictators without also having the broad support of the populace. This is why libertarians argue that it’s better to declare war than to topple a dictator.

Elsewhere, Dr Amburgey observes:

True. However Russia is turning into a dangerous regional power with dangerous territorial ambitions. Pretending otherwise is silly.

Russia only turned dangerous after the United States spread itself too thin. Keeping our own house in order will do more for world peace and prosperity than bombing other countries indiscriminately (or having the world-renowned CIA engage in “secret” terrorism!).

NEO adds his own eloquent thoughts to the mix. In response to my observation that the Cold War is over, NEO writes:

Maybe, Brandon. But the surest way to make sure it does, or something similar in Asia, is to believe it can never happen again.

The comparison for that is the “War to end all wars” leading to the new 30 years war.

That the weakness in libertarianism, actually. The oceans aren’t nearly as effective a barrier as they were in the days of the Royal Navy controlling them for us, and unless we only want free trade in CONUS, we’d best take care of it ourselves.

Will it be the same? Nope. But it will happen. If not Putin, somebody else.

As Mark Twain observed, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.”

Again, I think NEO’s observations tie in well with Dr Amburgey’s about the potential for rising, autocratic powers to do bad things. However, we have only ourselves to blame for their rise.

For instance:

  • Was the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq a good idea?
  • Was bombing, invading, and occupying the Balkans a good idea? (Why don’t you tell me what the Russians think…)
  • Is it smart to still be occupying Afghanistan long after Osama bin Laden’s death?
  • Is it really necessary to have tens of thousands of troops along the 38th Parallel?
  • Does bombing poor countries in the name of liberation (not liberty) solve the underlying structural problems that poor states face?
  • Does supporting dictatorships that actively oppress Islamic fundamentalists help or hurt individual liberty?

In my mind, Russia has not grown to be a mid-major power. The United States has simply been caught with its pants down. This is why you read about ideas like terrorizing Russian citizens in Kaliningrad as a way to counter Moscow’s deft calculations. I cannot think of a better signal to the world that the US is weak then a resort to state-sponsored terrorism. Can you?

May I Present

…the estimable Kyle Dix:

Kyle Dix (personal homepage) was born in Miami and raised in the mountains of North Georgia.  He graduated from the University of Georgia in 2010 with dual degrees in Spanish and Management.  Kyle currently resides in Philadelphia, PA where he works and attends class at University of Pennsylvania, studying history with an eye on entering academia.  Between UGA and Penn he worked in a welfare-to-work NPO in North Philly, teaching job skills, career planning, and basic English.

The historical questions Kyle asks are largely rooted in his experiences: What is the nature of the discourse between individuals and government?  How do ideologies guide institutions as they grow and change?  How do globalization and modernization act as drivers for this discourse?  Kyle seeks to offer answers to these questions from the historical context of US-Latin American relations and via over-eager observations of current events.

Check out his introductory post at Notes On Liberty here. Welcome him accordingly!

Ukraine: The Diplomatic Solution; the Conservative Blessing in ObamaCare!

There is a distinct preference out there, for solving our differences of opinion with the Putin gangster state “through diplomacy.” An elementary explanation is sadly in order here.

Diplomacy refers to one party explaining to the other with polite words how much harm it could do to that other party. And then, the second party takes its turn explaining to the first how much damage it could do to it if it really wanted to.

Once everyone understands concretely the other party’s capacity for evil, the parties get together to arrive at a compromise that minimizes the evil that  either party does to the other. That’s in successful diplomacy. Diplomacy often fails however. In 1939, Hitler and the Brits were talking to each other until the exact eve of the invasion in the west.

So, in this case, diplomacy only has a chance of  succeeding if doing severe harm is on the table in a credible manner. No perceived credible threat, no diplomacy.

Does anyone really believe that you can talk softly, talk sweet reason to Putin and that he will come to his senses and begin acting nice at last?

Another thing: As everyone knows, Obamacare is foundering. I am beginning to believe it’s a blessing in disguise. Whole young generations who really needed it are learning why Big Government is bad even when it’s trying to act nice. One of my young liberal friends is in the process of making a U-turn, I think. I don’t give myself the credit, much as I would like to. Mr Obama did it. My friend has a new bumper sticker on his car that says: “Obama- Dick-Dick.” That’s in Santa Cruz County so, it takes some courage. At least, he does not care a bit if his car is scratched! (My, that’s was evil and sly; I already feel a little ashamed!)

The Obama administration is not releasing figures the citizenry has a legitimate interest in knowing, such as: How many who signed up are also paid up? How many of the new sign-ups were without health insurance before? What is the net gain – if any -in insured  people who did not join publicly supported health insurance?

Refusing to divulge these figures has only one purpose. It’s to impede the opposition. That’s already Fascism. Not gathering these figures when you can and when you know some part of the public wants them is also Fascism. (Fascism is not an epithet, it’s political description. (See:  “Fascism Explained” and others on this blog. )

ObamaCare was a dishonest venture from the first. If it had not been, its first act would have been to make all health insurance available across state lines so as to maximize competition between insurance companies. If any Republican lawmakers had resisted, it would have been a blood feast for the Democratic Party. Large-scale buddy capitalism is also part of a  classical Fascist program.

Another Warm Welcome

I’ve got exciting news: Notes On Liberty is finally going to have an international relations specialist on board. Without further adieu:

Edwin van de Haar is an independent scholar who specializes in the liberal tradition in international political theory. In the recent past he has taught international relations at Leiden University and Ateneo de Manila University. He is the author of Classical Liberalism and International Relations Theory: Hume, Smith, Mises and Hayek (2009) and Beloved Yet Unknown: The Political Philosophy of Liberalism (2011, in Dutch).

His most recent publications are a chapter entitled ‘Adam Smith on Empire and International Relations’ published in the Oxford Handbook on Adam Smith (Oxford University Press, 2013) and a chapter entitled ‘David Hume and Adam Smith on International Ethics and Humanitarian Intervention’ in Just and Unjust Military Intervention: European Thinkers from Vitoria to Mill(Cambridge University Press, 2013). He also published articles and numerous other pieces on Smith, Hume, and the wider liberal tradition in political thought, among others in The Review of International StudiesInternational Relations, and The Independent Review.

Van de Haar works and lives in The Hague, The Netherlands. With Lucas Grassi Freire and a number of other scholars he runs the Facebook group ‘Libertarianism and IR’. He received a M.A. in Political Science from Leiden University, holds a M.Sc in International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science and got his Ph.D in International Political Theory from Maastricht University.

Not too shabby, eh? Dr van de Haar’s article in the libertarian journal The Independent Review can be found here if you want to become more acquainted with his work before he starts blogging.

Dr van de Haar, coupled with Mike, Kyle, and Dave, will give the blog a number of new voices and perspectives on what liberty is and what it means. Stay tuned, and keep those ‘comments’ coming!

This is a humble blog spouting a humble creed

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