BC’s weekend reads

  1. ‘It’s true you have better hair than I do,’ Trump said matter-of-factly. ‘But I get more pussy than you do.’ Click.
  2. French elites have convinced themselves that their social supremacy rests not on their economic might but on their common decency.”
  3. Chelsea Clinton seems to have a more crippling want: fashionability—of the sort embraced by philanthropic high society.”
  4. Iran’s Guardian Council announces presidential candidate list

BC’s weekend reads

  1. Saudi-Iran Conflict Is Not America’s Fault
  2. Gains from trade: China and the United States
  3. How Bad Is Trump’s Brand of Authoritarianism?
  4. How Hiroshima Became A War Crime
  5. Art and Porn in Edo Period Japan
  6. The [True?] Meaning of Marxism

Liberty or “Security”: An Old Debate, A Familiar Straw Man

Ho hum. Jacques wants his government to do three things in the name of fighting Muslim terrorism (not to be confused with other, more numerous kinds of terrorism): 1) allow for an armed, perpetually-on-alert military to be active on US soil, 2) allow for a surveillance state that can do as it pleases in regards to Muslims only, and 3) initiate ideological quotas for Muslim immigrants.

The entire ‘comments’ thread is well worth reading, too. Dr Amburgey, who came from the same doctoral program as Jacques, brings the quantitative fire; Dr Khawaja, the qualitative. Jacques has responded to each of them.

The absurdity of Delacroix’ argument speaks for itself. I will come back to it shortly, but first I want to address a couple of his points that are simply made in bad faith. Observe:

(Yes, Mohammed did behead every man of a vanquished enemy tribe on the battlefield. Incidentally, they were Jews. The Prophet then “married ” their wives, he raped them, in others words. Bad example? Talk about this genuine part of Muslim tradition?)

Murdering and raping Jews is a “Muslim tradition”? I am sure this is news to Uighurs in China and the Javanese of Indonesia. I think there is a good case to be made for a present-day Arab cultural chauvinism that rests in part on what could be called “Muslim tradition,” but this is not a nuance that Jacques – the retired college professor – cares to address. I wonder why. If we’re going to go back to the 7th century to find cultural defects, can anybody think of something nasty that was going on in what is now France at the time? In what is now the US? What an odd historical anecdote to include in an argument.

Here, too, is another whopper:

One article of faith among literalist Muslims is that government must come from God. That’s why the Supreme Leader of the Shiite Islamic Republic is explicitly a cleric, couldn’t be an elected civilian or a general. This belief also explains the search for a Caliphate among Sunni jihadists, a polity where administrative and religious powers are one and the same.

What is a “literalist Muslim”? Nevermind. The government of Iran, its structure, is based on Plato’s Republic, not the Qur’an. The “Supreme Leader” Jacques identifies is based on the notion of a philosopher-king, not a Shiite cleric. This was done to protect the new dictatorship from its many enemies, including those loyal to the old dictatorship (the one supported by the United States; the one that Washington installed after helping to remove a democratically-elected Leftist government during the Cold War). The rhetoric of the Iranian dictatorship is explicitly religious, but in reality it’s just plain, old-fashioned despotism.

In a similar vein, “Sunni jihadists” (to use Jacques’ term) do not search for a Caliphate because of a belief that government should come from God, but instead look to a mythical Caliphate that they believe existed from the 7th to early 20th centuries as inspiration for creating a society that cannot be pushed around by murderous Western governments. Pretending that Arab Sunnis want to create a Caliphate in order to strengthen the link between government and God can only be described as “dishonest” when it comes from the mouth of a sociologist with a doctorate from Stanford.

At best, it could be argued that Jacques is simply making these types of points because they are pervasive throughout American society, and thus we – as libertarians of all stripes – have our work cut out for us. Now that I think about it, Jacques’ argument is so silly that it has to be an exercise in critical thinking. Nobody of his stature could say something so stupid, right?

Those are just two examples of, uh, the misrepresentation of reality by Jacques. There are many more, and I don’t think he got those myths from an academic journal. He got them from Fox News. That’s not good. That means libertarians are not taking advantage of their right to free speech, like conservatives and Leftists do. Why aren’t you blogging more often?

I’d like to turn back to his policy proposals. Here they are again:

  1. an armed, perpetually-on-alert military on US soil,
  2. a surveillance state that can do as it pleases in regards to Muslims only, and
  3. ideological quotas for Muslim immigrants.

The first two proposals look like they were copied directly from the playbook of the Third Reich (I hope you’ll reprimand me in the ‘comments’ section if you think I am being overly dramatic, or strawmanning Jacques’ argument). Just replace “US” with “Germany” and “Muslims” with “Jews” and voila, you have an answer for your Muslim (“Jewish”) problem. (RE Policy #3: National socialists, of course, don’t like anybody immigrating to their territories, whereas Jacques, in his infinite kindness and wisdom, seeks only to allow those who think like him into his territory.)

Again, Jacques’ argument is silly. It is both vulgar and unintelligent. It is misinformed. And yet I have to ask: Who is winning the PR battle here, conservatives on the one side or left-liberals and libertarians on the other?

Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders; no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way out for himself if society is sweeping toward destruction. Therefore, everyone, in his own interests, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle. None can stand aside with unconcern; the interest of everyone hangs on the result. Whether he chooses or not, every man is drawn into the great historical struggle, the decisive battle into which our epoch has plunged us.

That’s from Ludwig von Mises, the libertarian Austrian (and Jewish) economist who had to flee his homeland as the Third Reich took power. Speak your mind!

The Framework Agreement on Iranian Nuclear Everything: Questions

Today, the day after President Obama announced in the Rose Garden a “framework agreement” intended to limit the Islamic Republic of Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, I read the Wall Street Journal account carefully but it did not help. I don’t understand it. It may just be too early for a good analysis. In the meantime several questions loom large in my mind.

  1. If I don’t understand the details, do I believe in an agreement with a hostile country described by a man who promised that “you could keep your doctor”?
  2. Do I believe that this agreement is to the advantage of the United States? The question arises because it was negotiated principally by two men with a track record. The first, Pres. Obama, succeeded in exchanging five terrorist generals for a single American soldiers who is a deserter according to those who were on the battlefield with him. The second, the current Secretary of State, demonstrated that you could leave the Palestinian/Israeli relationship in an even worse state than you found it.
  3. The President and the Secretary of State did not manage, as a part of this supposedly momentous agreement, to get three Americans held by Iran released. One of them is a former Marine. It should have been a tiny footnote to the main text. Ah, well, there is no text, just an oral argument! Frankly, in the bigger picture the freeing of three people is a small, symbolic thing. Symbols matter a lot though when you don’t have access to the hard facts. I don’t, you don’t.
  4. Is the mullahs’ government – that always cheated in the past – going to abstain from lying, this time? If it does not, is this agreement going to be the cause of the death of thousands of innocent Iranians (as collateral damage)? I ask because, the next administration may not have the current administration’s difficult-to-believe indulgence. It may just decide to take care once for all of a sore festering for twenty years. If an American administration does no such thing, what is the likelihood that a future (future) government of Israel will take the chance to see millions of Jews murdered? This is not gratuitous fear mongering. Two days before the announcement, an Iranian general was on TV affirming that Israel has no right to exists.
  5. Do I believe that our European partners will stand firm and renew their sanctions if Iran is caught cheating? The question arises because they were salivating on all their national TV at the prospect of selling, selling anything in Iran once the sanction were lifted.

On the bright side, the lifting of some sanctions will unleash a torrent of Iranian oil on the world market. This will further depress of global oil prices. One more thorn in the foot of the gangster Putin.

What’s up with Oil and the Saudis?

In case you haven’t noticed, the price of oil has dropped dramatically and has not rebounded as yet. As I write, the price of the most common form of crude oil is under $54 per barrel, about half of what it was in mid-2014. What’s going on?

Several factors contributed to the fall. One was increased U.S. production, much of it shale oil. Also, U.S. consumption has not been rising apace with GDP in part because of higher fuel efficiency. Demand in Europe and Japan is muted due to low growth or recession.

Those things did not happen suddenly, however, so the drop would appear to be overdone. Large producers, who have a lot of pricing power, would normally cut production in this circumstance. (Pricing power means a change in their production has a noticeable effect on the world price.) The Saudis have considerable pricing power and their production decisions are controlled by their government. Why have they not cut production? I believe they are engaging in predatory pricing.

Predatory pricing is illegal in the U.S. and elsewhere, under anti-trust law. Predatory pricing occurs when a supplier cuts his prices for the purpose of bankrupting a competitor, or at least driving the competitor out of the market. The predator is willing to suffer losses or reduced profits temporarily, while holding the prices low. Once the competitor is gone, the predator’s pricing power will have increased enough that he can raise prices a lot and make up for losses suffered during the period of predation. Predatory pricing is definitely possible in free markets but is very risky for several reasons: (1) the predator can’t be sure how long it will take to ruin his competitor, (2) he can’t be sure how long he can maintain low prices without sustaining ruinous losses or perhaps face a shareholder rebellion, (3) it’s possible the competitor, or someone who has bought his assets in bankruptcy, will come back to life and start competing as before. For these reasons (and others, such as the difficulty facing regulators who are supposed to distinguish predatory motives from “innocent” business strategy), I believe there is no reason to outlaw predatory pricing.

The situation is a little different in the international oil market because the Saudis and many other major players are government controlled. They are not constrained (much) by the market forces outlined above. They are not accountable to shareholders and are only vaguely responsible to the population of Saudi Arabia. They have substantial latitude to pursue political motives even if their profits suffer.  And anti-trust law does not operate across national borders.

What might the Saudis want to accomplish politically? They hate Russia and Iran, both of which rely heavily on oil exports. They don’t hate the U.S., at least not openly, but they surely wouldn’t mind sticking it to U.S. and Canadian shale oil producers. Those producers are largely market-driven and thus have limited ability to withstand predatory pricing. The Saudis could indeed drive smaller firms out of the market, and also less profitable operations of larger firms.

That might not be such a bad thing. There has been a huge land rush into shale oil and fracking. In any such boom, whether in energy, mining, or computers, many small firms fall by the wayside. If the Saudis ruin some marginal firms or projects, that’s not such a bad thing.

We little guys are sitting pretty. We’re paying a lot less for gasoline. If we hold shares of the major oil firms we’re probably OK, as their share prices have held up and their dividends look solid. The same is true of the pipeline operators. Only if we hold shares of marginal energy firms or oilfield service companies are we in any trouble.

So – go for it, Saudis! Stick it to the evil governments of Russia and Iran and help us clean out some of our marginal energy operations.

Deviant Tendency: An inside look at the politics of Iran

[Editor’s note: the following is a short essay by Payam Ghorbanian. Payam was born in Tehran, Iran. He got his bachelor of science in Engineering from Zanjan University in Zanjan, Iran. He has been participating in liberal political activities and he was involved with some think tanks in Iran. He is doing research in the field of international relations and Iran’s foreign policy as an independent activist. He is now living in San Jose, California.

I am excited to post his thoughts because of their potential as a conduit for intercultural dialogue and exchange. I have left his essay largely intact, but did break up some of his longer paragraphs for clarity’s sake. Thanks to Payam for taking the time to write this, and you can find his other essay at Notes On Liberty here, here, and here]

Last month was kind of exciting for me. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s brother said “… my brother has gotten rid of his deviant friends…”. The term “Deviant Tendency” has been using in Iran for calling Mr. Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei and his followers. Mr. Mashaei had been represented by Ahmadinejad for being the next president of Iran but the Guardian Council of the Constitution turned that willing down. Therefore Ahmadinejad left his office while he was so disappointed and at that time he said that the council has just deprived Iran of having a distinguished president. Although with “Approbation Supervision”, which implies the right for acceptance or rejection of elections legality and candidate’s competency, probably just the supreme leader and his followers can be qualified through the barrier of the Guardian Council.

I do not really care about this rumor whether or not Ahmadinejad and Mashaei are separated, the issue would be what Mr Mashaei’s political and social views are and what it is wrong with that. Also why the supreme leader and his followers do not like him? Why they tried to make him isolated even though he has no official title? As you might know during the second term of Ahmadinejad’s presidency, Mashaei was the chief of staff of the president of Iran. But why are they still scared of him? I should mention this that from my point of view, I am 100 percent sure that they (Ahmadinejad and Mashaei) just made this ending relations story up to have this chance for getting qualified for the next presidency election. But why are the supreme leader’s followers so excited of hearing that rumor? Apparently they still like Ahmadinejad but just him and as they said there would not be another chance for the combination of Ahmadinejad plus Mashaei to survive.

Now pay attention to these quotes:

“The area of Islamism has come to end, we had an Islamic revolution in 1979 but the area of Islamism is finished”

or

“Today, Iran is friend with American and Israeli people, No nation in the world is our enemy.”

These sentences and quotes have been told by the nearest person to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is Mr. Rahim Mashaei. Obviously one could talk about these ideas in the free world and no one is going to be prosecuted because of that. However, talking about ending of Islamism inside a revolutionary country like Iran would be insane. I believe these types of moderation comments about Islam and also talking about people of Israel and United States not to be enemy of the Iranian people were all about politics, and Mr. Mashaei did not believe in what he said. But what were his points at that time?

It was the time that Green Movement and protestors confronted against rigged election. I would say Mashaei did all these things to reduce pressures over Ahmadinejad and in order to deceiving and poisoning the people’s mind, those people of the middle class who desperately believe in the new relations between Iran and the free world. Also I believe Mashaei did all these things to be a target instead of AhmadiNejad, which is literally about what old friends do for each other.

In Iran and especially in Shia beliefs of Islam, an ultimate savior of humankind and the final Imam of the twelve Imams will emerge with Jesus Christ and will set the kingdom of heaven on the earth to bring peace and justice to the world. It is the belief that the twelfth Imam disappeared hundreds of years ago and went into occultation state, but he will definitely re-appear around the end of the world, before the Day of Judgment. Before the Islamic revolution in Iran and probably before uprising of Ayatollah Khomein, there was a common trend that Shia would wait up until its survivor comes back. However, Khomeini argued that government should be run with traditional Islamic rules and for this to happen a leading Islamic jurist must provide “Guardianship” and as he said “Wilayat” over the people. This guardianship would be remained till the Twelfth Imam returns.

At that time this theory was accepted by the revolutionists and as the result of that, the last king of Iran felt down and “Wilayat AL Faqih” (guardianship of the Islamic Jurists) popped up. The terms of your majesty were destroyed and the Imam and the Wilayat was established and then the supreme leader was considered as the twelfth Imam’s deputy, which means that his orders are the lord’s orders and any questions or criticizes would be called as hostility against the twelfth Imam. This chart will help you out to understand more clearly about the hierarchy of Imams in Shia.

When I was living in Iran I always heard some rumors about the distinguished people who they or their followers believe that they are in connection with the twelfth Imam. They claim they can talk to him in person and get orders from him without any problem. Probably in the past they could take advantage of people’s stupidities. However, they had never been accepted by the politicians inside Iran before Ahmadinejad’s presidency started. Now you can tell why they have been called as Deviant Tendency. Mashaei claimed that he could talk to the twelfth Imam in person and he believed that when we can have access to the real source, why we should follow his deputy, who does not have any confirmation from the real lord.

chart of persian imams

Before Mashaei tried to extend his theory, the revolutionary guard crippled all of his ambitions subsequently. His followers were arrested and he was about to get caught too but it seemed that Ahmadinejad was completely in agreement with what he was saying. Ahmadinejad tried to protect Mashaei but as you know he lost the protection of the supreme leader. As a result, his authority dropped considerably. He got teased and he lost his connections and finally he got kicked out of the power circle and all of these were about his friendship with Mashaei, which he truly believed in him.

And now the new game has just started. First it was announced by Ahmadinejad’s brother that there would not be any connection between his brother and the deviant tendency. Then Ahmadinejad had a speech in Mashahd, one of the most religious cities in Iran where the 8th Imam of Shia has been buried, and he said:

“… the only way to overcome the enemies of the nation is standing on the value of our goals in the same way that Khomeini has showed us. I would totally remain on that way to serve the nation and revolution and its values and principles.”

He also tried to imply on revolution principles, the principles that revolutionists believe has been neglected after Rohani became a president.

Iraq: Four Comments

Another debacle with Pres. Obama snoozing at the helm.

Four comments about the debacle in Iraq:

  1. What the US built there did not pass any test except that the the Kurdish north is still peaceful and prosperous. Why this costly state- building endeavor failed is worth thinking about.
  2. There is no reason to treat the borders of Iraq as sacred. Iraq, the state, was cobbled together distractedly by the Brits on the ruins of the Turkish empire. Its dismemberment is long overdue even if it’s on sectarian lines.
  3. The existence of a jihadist, Islamist state in the center of the Mideast is not the worse possible outcome from an American standpoint. After all, in Afghanistan, our armed forces aided by the Brits toppled an Islamist government in 2001 in three months flat. A country, a nation-state makes a good target for conventional forces.
  4. If the US does not intervene militarily on the side of the more or less legitimate government of Maliki, Iran will (and the US will have again looked like a paper tiger inviting attack).