How Falsehoods Take Root

“On the afternoon of January 6, most Americans watched in horror as an armed mob stormed the US Capitol….” (Emphasis mine.)

This is part of the opening sentence of an essay in the Wall Street Journal by Steven B. Smith (weekend edition, Jan 23-24, C5). The piece is entitled: “The Two Enemies of Patriotism.” It’s described as adapted from the author’s forthcoming book to be published soon by Yale University Press. The author is a professor of political science at Yale. Even a superficial survey shows he possesses very good academic credentials. His PhD is from the University of Chicago. He seems to be a specialist in Spinoza, which I find especially disturbing, personally (more on this below).

My question: were the protesters who breached the US Capitol on January 6 “armed,” as Mr Smith asserts? The answer to this question matters because it’s one of the dividing line between two interpretations of the same events. In one interpretation, the notably unmasked protesters went too far and engaged in unlawful entry, small amounts of vandalism (some windows were broken), and in disorderly conduct – that most subjective of all kinds of law breaking – which, together, made the unaccountably thin line of Capitol police feel threatened and forced them to retreat. As I write, a little over one hundred and twenty participants have been charged, almost all with the kinds of crimes mentioned above. No one has been charged with murder or any other crime I would consider serious.

In the alternative interpretation, a real “insurrection” took place with the aim to….Well, no one explained what a credible aim the “insurrectionists” might have had besides what the protesters actually achieved: putting off a ceremonial congressional proceeding of counting electoral vote by several hours without altering its results in any way.

It seems to me that reasonable people should agree that the presence or not of real weapons marks the line dividing somewhat riotous protest from insurrection, which must be armed, it seems to me. Is there any historical example of an event called an “insurrection” when weapons were absent? Or is this a novel use of the word? I say “should agree” because in the two weeks since the event, what I think of as reasonable people seem to have largely vanished recently.

Here are the facts as I am able to gather them from the internet. After the breaching of the Capitol, police found two vehicles nearby (I don’t know how near), each with a varied panoply of weapons. Whether the owners broke any laws by carrying their several weapons, I can’t tell from the media reports. Here, I would like to have a baseline: In an ordinary day when nothing much happens, how many vehicles with weapons inside would be found in a police sweep of the same area? At any rate, none of those weapons were in the possession of the crowd that breached the Capitol’s weak defenses.

In addition, one identified Capitol protester (one) was arrested at his hotel in possession of a Taser. There is no reason to believe he had this weapon in the Capitol. (Burden of proof is on the accuser). Another protester was found with plastic ties in his possession while he was on Capitol grounds. He said he found them there. They might actually have fallen out of a Capitol policeman’s pocket. At any rate, whether plastic ties are “arms” is a real question. If a civilian without a weapon orders me to put my wrists behind my back so that he can secure them with plastic ties, I will just say “No.” Someone else?

The media made much of the news that several pipe bombs were also found on the ground not far from the Capitol. The first one found was at the National Republican Committee. I have to ask, of course: why on the ground, why at a Republican building? (Some really clueless Trump supporter?)

One protester present on the Capitol grounds during the breach did have a pistol; that’s one, one!

So far, as of today, two people died in the Capitol or as a direct result of the breach by Trump supporters. The latter were re-enforced by an unknown number of left wing radicals, or, at least, by one, a young man named Sullivan. I understand that one is one, that this fact may not mean much. Same rules apply against and for the argument I am making.

One Capitol policeman was killed by a heavy object (not precisely an “arm,” a weapon) by a person or by persons unknown. The killer or killers seem to have been present in the invading crowd.

Finally, a Capitol policeman shot to death one avowed Trump supporter from a short distance. The victim was allegedly killed while entering through a broken window. She was unarmed. I did not find a commentary about a Congressional legal policy making breaking-and-entering a capital case punishable by death. The speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, had nothing to say on the topic although Congress is in charge of its own policing.

In brief: Using public sources, I don’t find the armed mob of Prof. Smith’s opening sentence. A “mob”? Maybe that’s a subjective designation, but I understand the impression that particular crowd made and I too think it was disorderly. But, I am pretty sure it takes more than one individual to make up a “mob.” So, either, it was not a mob, or it was not armed.

Why did Prof. Smith begin an essay surely only intended to promote his scholarly book with a reference to an armed mob, specifically, in spite of the shortage of supporting evidence? Four possibilities.

First, he lied shamelessly in the service of his ideological and political preferences, including a hatred of Trump supporters;

Two, Mr Smith displayed an appalling lack of information. It’s only appalling because the man is a scholar, and a political scientist to boot, one who should follow current political events a little carefully. One would reasonably expect him to be attentive when the word “insurrection” is used repeatedly.

Three, Mr Smith was a little distracted when he wrote the above lines, not especially interested, and he just followed passively the narrative prevailing in his faculty club with a care to preserving his dedicated place at the table in the same faculty club’s dining room.

Four, he thinks one protester with a handgun constitutes an “armed mob.”

The later possibility should not be brushed off too easily. We live under constant hysteria.

Mr Smith is a scholar of Spinoza, the 17th century Dutch philosopher. Spinoza was one of the originators of undiluted rationalism and thus, a founding father of Western civilization (thus far). He even paid a high personal price for his courage in renouncing the theological certainties of his age. I suppose you can be an expert on the works of another scholar and remain morally unaffected by his example. If this is uncommon, Mr Smith is showing the way.

Now, for consequences of word choice, just compare two short narratives about the same event;

“About one hundred to two hundred unmasked and mostly unarmed protesters forced their way into the Capitol. ‘Mostly unarmed’ because one protester was found to have a handgun.”

“…an armed mob stormed the Capitol….”

Which of these two narratives would lend implicit support to the view that Trump supporters should be treated as “domestic terrorists” with the expectable outcomes for individual rights?

Whatever the real explanation for Prof. Smith’s departure from the truth, it seems obvious to me that it constitutes one of the roots, a minor one perhaps, that will help grow and help propagate that particular falsehood. The fact that he is an academic operating from a respected university makes the verbal dishonesty worse. The fact that the falsehood appears in a well-esteemed and mostly conservative newspaper makes the breach of truth worse again.

I have been saying for months now that American universities are committing suicide. Professors’ irresponsibility, such as in this case one, are just another one of a thousand cuts. Very sad!

PS I voted for Mr Trump twice. I am a white supremacist, of course.

Global Warming: Take Off My Sweater?

There is a new UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. It contains nothing but bad news, of course. But I am busy with my real life; I have obligations to others; I have to feed myself and shower; I even go to the gym regularly. What to do? Just trust a hysterical sixteen-year-old? (Yes, I mean Greta.)

When someone or something claims that there is, has been, change in something I perceive might be important, I apply the following four quick tests. I do this to decide how much I must attention I should pay to the change news.

1 Source credibility

Not all sources are created equal. Some stink, some have a long record of being reliable. The Wall Street Journal is one of the latter. Almost all anonymous internet sources are not even sources. The National Enquirer will publish anything (although it has had a few remarkable scoops). Normal sixteen-year old girls are only credible when they pronounce on show biz stars or on something related to a skill they have personally acquired, such as piano or gymnastics.

2 Main text: description of process

I scrutinize the description at the heart of the announcement of change though only for a short time. Does the process described make sense? Is it derived in an intelligible way from a study, or studies, that conform to conventional scientific, or other scholarly standards? If no claim is made that they do, they don’t, ever. If there is such a claim, there can still be abuse but there will shortly be a denunciation, in most cases, at least.

3 Narrative around description

Most change descriptions not directly in a scholarly journal come wrapped up inside a narrative. The narrative is often more interesting than the findings to which they are supposed to be linked. That’s intentional but dangerous. Suppose your doctor carefully measures your heartbeat and records his observations. Suppose that then, he gives you a very good lecture on the faults of Social Security. However valid the latter is, it should gain no authority whatsoever from the impeccable measurement of you heartbeat. This is a crude example but people do this sort of things all the time. Do you think climate activist do?

I ask myself how tightly connected the narrative is to the straightforward description of the relevant change? Often the answer is: barely, sometimes: not at all.

4 Gauging critically the order of magnitude of change

Suppose I tell you that I have lost weight. (I could use that.) Courtesy requires that you congratulate me but rationality demands that you ask: How much? If my response is one ounce, you will tend to dismiss my announcement and you will be right. One ounce out of 220 lbs is like nothing. (That’s aside from the fact that it might actually be nothing, a measurement error.)

The mysterious issue of “statistical significance” (that I will resist going into here though I am tempted) is only indirectly related to this matter. A difference between before and after, for example, may be statistically significant but yet, completely unimportant.

The short Wall Street Journal piece (1) covering the publication of the report is rich in narrative and short on figures. (That’s usually the case with climate change announcements, I think.) On rare figure drew my attention:

In the past 140 years -covering most but not quite all of the Industrial Age – global surface temperatures have risen by one (unit) degree Celsius.

To give you a practical idea, that’s not enough of a rise to cause me to take off my cotton sweater, or even to unbutton the top of my shirt. If the temperature rose by only one C between 8 am and noon, I would think something was wrong with the weather! I can easily believe that at this rate, in another 1400 years, it will be ten degree centigrade (Celsius) warmer and, we will still be here. That’s unless something else, something much more likely, like an epidemic. wipes us out. (2) and (3).

As this example illustrates, it may often be wise too reverse the critical sequence described above. Why bother to assess the source credibility associated with an announced change, or the conformity of the description change process to good scientific practice, or check out the attachment of the surrounding narratives to the process in the description, why do all this if the measured change is too small to merit attention?

My more complete ruminations on climate change skepticism are in Liberty Unbound: “Climate Change Denier.”


1   “U.N. Panel Sees Threat to Ocean” – by Robert Lee Hotz, Wall Street Journal 9/26/19, P. A8.

2     I am well aware that this is a sort of arithmetic average. Surface temperature may have gone up more in some areas and less in others. They may have declined in some places. If the subject is dealt with, it will be in: Watts Up with That.

3      The WSJ accounts implies that the UN report is oddly concerned with fisheries. This is odd because fishermen have known forever that there are warm and cool patches at the same latitude in the oceans. They also know that those shift positions and that the positions of such warm and cool patches affect the movements of fish.

BC’s weekend reads

  1. Power, Islam, and Pragmatism in Turkish Strategy
  2. Anthropology, Empire and Modernity
  3. Would New Borders Mean Less Conflict in the Middle East?
  4. Cairo: A Museum of Ghosts
  5. Obama in London
  6. Rand back to being Rand

Percentages that Fairly Scream and, “Catastrophe” is a Greek Word

The WSJ of 7/9/15 shows a comparative table for some European Union countries of spending on pensions as a share of GDP. This comparison denotes roughly the drag effect that payments to retirees has on the whole national economy. To no one’s surprise, Greece tops the list with 14.4%. Germany is at 9.1%. This may seem like a small difference but when it’s turned into actual, absolute figures, the difference becomes downright striking. They scream!

The 5.3 percentage points difference can be applied to both countries’ GDPs (or GDPs per capita, same thing in this case). The International Monetary Fund gives Germany’s GDP per capita for 2014 at about $46,000 and Greece’s at about $26,000*. Pensions cost Germany $4,150 annually for each man, woman and child. Pensions cost Greece $3,400 annually for each Greek. It does not look like the Greeks should be able to afford this kind of disproportionate burden.

Suppose Greece’s pensions took the same bite out of its GDP as Germany ‘s does out of its GDP, 9.1% . In this scenario, today, the Greek economy would have about $1,400 each year unspoken for for each man, woman and child. This money would still be available for spending, as it is through pensions. It would also, however, be available for both public and private investment.  That’s $1,400 each year; that’s a lot by any standard. That’s money needed to rejuvenate the Greek aging economic plant.

How realistic would such a change be, involving raising the legal age of retirement, I mean? The Germans’ and the Greeks’ life expectancies are virtually identical ( 80.44 vs 80.30, in CIA Handbook). There seems to be a little wiggle room to move there. Note that raising the age at which people can claim a pension is doubly beneficial: It reduces the number of pensioners while raising the number of workers who support the pensioners. Some will argue that raising the age of retirement is a pipe-dream in a country such as Greece where there is chronically high unemployment. I think this reasoning is wrong. Many Greeks don’t find a job because investment in Greece is insufficient. People need tools to work. What is certain is that the current dishonest Greek government policies, soundly supported by the exercise of a majority of Greeks’ votes cast, are not going to draw foreign investment. The money to improve both Greeks’ chances of employment and their productivity will have to come from within. One significant source is described above: Close the pension option for one or more years to healthy Greeks. It will provide both ready investment money and confidence abroad.

Note that raising the legal age of retirement is a purely political decision. The Greeks can do it any time they want. They can do it overnight. Perhaps, there will soon arise a political party in Greece that will proclaim the truth: It’s not the mean lenders, it’s us!

This is a fairly simplistic reasoning, I know. The general age of the population places constraints on the practicality of raising the age of legal retirement (but an older population also makes it more desirable; think it through). I have heard leftist demagogues on National Public Radio argue that the big bite that pensions take out of the Greek economy is not the Greeks’ fault, that it results more or less directly from the fact that Greece has an old population. Sounds good but the fact is that the Germans are, on the average, quite a bit older than the Greeks (Median age of 46.5 vs 43.5 according to Wikipedia.) Don’t believe experts on NPR, not even on simple facts!

Alternatively, the Greeks could begin collecting their moderate taxes like the Germans instead of like the Italians. They might also remember that “catastrophe” is a Greek word.

* The figures are “PPP” meaning that they take differences in buying power in the two countries into account.

Senator Rand Paul on Taxes: Chip off the Old Block

Sen. Rand Paul, the nominally Republican presidential candidate, has inherited an uncommon trait from his father. He manages to inspire distrust in his credibility even as he conveys a message I want to hear and believe. On Thursday June 18th 2015, he had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal about his proposed tax reform. Any national tax reform involves fiendishly difficult calculations about complex matters. Sen. Paul wants to junk the whole repulsive, disgusting, oppressive income tax and the IRS in favor of a flat tax. Music to my ears but difficult to believe his assertion that this replacement would be revenue neutral.

I don’t especially want federal revenue neutrality. I want the federal government’s share of GDP to decline. Yet, I understand that Mr Paul wishes to avoid conducting two discussions in one. (Junk the personal income tax; decrease the power of the federal government.) So, he has not done anything wrong there.

My problem is that in the course of a longish piece, he misuses grossly two sets of simple, basic economic terms. In this second paragraph, he refers to “duties and tariffs…” Toward the last third, he states something about “small businesses” and “corporations.” Both statements would be unacceptable in a sophomore basic economics class, even in a introduction to economics in a reasonably good high school.

Here is the first mistake: duties and tariffs are the same object. A “duty” is a tax on imports (or, very rarely, on exports). A tariff is the mechanism used to levy such taxes. It could be 10% of the value of the import or it could be $1 per bottle, for example. (Both methods are common.) That’s it. Referring to “duties and tariffs” proves beyond any doubt that you don’t understand the ordinary and oldest form of taxation. It looks bad in an essay devoted to …taxation.

Contrasting, or building any sort of parallel construction between “small business” and “corporations” is a common mistake but it does not belong under the pen of an elected politician who wants, as his main contribution, to overturn the way we have been financing most government for fifty years. “Small” businesses are in fact small. “Corporations” can be of any size, including two people, such a dentist and his wife. Most American corporations are small. The word corporation refers to a legal arrangement. It has nothing to do with the size of the business.

It’s as if Sen Paul did not know simple stuff when he talks about complex stuff. It’s as if, even more seriously from the standpoint of his credibility, he had no one to proofread his writing for blatant errors. It’s as if he were so convinced of knowing everything that he did not need -ever – anyone looking over his shoulder. If these two mistakes are the product of carelessness, they also imply hubris. That’s worse than simple ignorance because it has no cure in a grown man.

How can I trust someone to unravel the complex relationship between taxes, government revenue, economic growth, and personal liberty when he sounds like one of my indifferent former students?

The GOP as a Homosexual Cabal

Reading the capital letters between the stately lines of today’s Wall Street Journal, I conclude that Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert paid 3.5 million dollars in hush money to a blackmailer with whom he had homosexual relations before he joined Congress. (They may also have been pedophilic relations.) As the WSJ relates, Hastert’s elevation to the Speakership was followed by a period when he was reproached for his limp handling of  the case of Mark Foley, a Florida Republican (GOP) who admitted to sending sexually charged messages to a House page (un page, en Francais). The page was a handsome young man.

All this leads me to wonder whether the GOP – for which I normally vote –  was not for a while simply a homosexual conspiracy. I might not mind but I would have liked to know. And I don’t like this closet business (I don’t mind simple discretion.)

All this wondering leads me to wonder whether gay activists will claim Hastert as one of their own. Of course, it’s disturbing that the politically active element of the gay movement did not claim Foley, as they have failed largely to claim thousands of pedophile priests. Yes, of course, gays are not necessarily pedophile but male pedophiles who specialize entirely in boys are homosexuals, it seems to me. I think a male homosexual is a man or boy who is sexually stimulated by other men or boys. Shoot me!

The Most Embarrassing Factions of the US-Cuba detente

I can only list, in order of magnitude, three: 1) Republican hawks, 2) condescending Leftists, and 3) anti-Americans abroad.

In some ways none of this is surprising. All three of these factions hate each other, mostly because they are the least libertarian factions in the world (familiarity breeds contempt, it is often said).

Republican hawks are first on my list because they are the most dangerous. This is a deeply reactionary faction that does not care one iota about the national interest. It is a vulgar mob that has no need for nuance or depth. One of the state of Florida’s Senators, Marco Rubio, exemplifies this isolationist faction. This is demagoguery at its finest. It also goes a long way toward explaining why I will never, ever be a Republican, despite the honest efforts of courageous statesmen like Ron and Rand Paul.

Condescending Leftists are second because of their reactions to the beginnings of the end of a vicious, self-defeating embargo: Decrying the fact that Starbucks and McDonald’s will soon be forcing poor, naive Cubans into becoming customers with actual choices in an actual marketplace. According to the worldview of these Leftists: the lives of Cubans have been better than those of Westerners because of its simplicity (this simplicity was brought about, of course, by the heavy-handed tactics of the Castro dictatorship, but somehow this always fails to make the final cut of the condescending Leftist’s narrative). Capitalism will put an end to the simple lives of the Cuban people, and this is a bad thing for both the world and the Cubans themselves.

Embarrassing and disgusting.

The last faction on my list, anti-Americans abroad, have taken the Obama administration’s decision to reach out to Cuba as an excuse to lie to domestic factions everywhere. They have seized upon the fact that the US sometimes pursues bad policies, and have turned it into a soapbox preaching session for all of the gullible schoolboys and girls in the world who instinctively hate the world’s liberal hegemon. What is lost (or, more likely, ignored) in these preachers’ message is the fact that the US is changing its bad policy. The same cannot be said for the tired tropes wielded by aging anti-Americans in the name of some variant of socialist (whether national or international) revolution.

Some notes in the margins:

  • Cuba will not become free or (or) democratic overnight.
  • It will not become wealthy overnight, either. In fact, there is bound to be a whole lot of cronyism in the near future, as Castro’s butchers and henchmen gobble up much of the wealth that will inevitably flood Cuba’s markets. Remittances will likely increase as well, which means that the cronysim of Castro’s henchmen will be offset by the influx of cash from the US. This, in turn, means that the Castro dictatorship is likely to be around for a lot longer than anticipated.

Peggy Noonan’s piece in the Wall Street Journal is well-worth reading. Observe:

A closing note: I always thought, life often being unfair, that Fidel Castro would die the death of a happy monster, old, in bed, a cigar jutting out from the pillows, a brandy on the bedside table. My dream the past few years was that this tranquil end would be disturbed by this scene: American tourists jumping up and down outside his window, snapping pictures on their smartphones. American tourists flooding the island, befriending his people, doing business with them, showing in their attitude and through a million conversations which system is, actually, preferable. Castro sees them through the window. He grits his teeth so hard the cigar snaps off. Money and sentiment defeat his life’s work. He leaves the world knowing that in history’s great game, he lost.

Open the doors, let America flood the zone and snap those pictures. “Fidel! Look this way!” Snap. Flash. Gone.

Ed Lazear’s WSJ op-ed on California’s water problems

Ed Lazear had an outstanding op-ed, “Government Dries Up California’s Water Supply,” in the June 26 Wall Street Journal

It brings me back to 1982, when I first moved to California from Texas. Less Antman had the California Libertarian Party hire me as research director, and one of the biggest political issues at the time was water. The fight was over a ballot initiative authorizing construction of a Peripheral Canal around the San Joaquin-Sacramento River delta to divert more water to Central Valley farmers and southern California. It would have been an enormous, expensive boondoggle that united environmentalist and libertarians in opposition. I ended up not only writing but speaking before all sorts of audiences about the issue. My studies made me quite familiar with the socialist bureaucracy, much of unelected with taxing power, which manages California’s feudalistic water system, severely mispricing and misallocating water.

Fortunately, the Peripheral Canal went down to defeat. But little was done to reform California’s water system, and Lazear provides an excellent survey of the myriad drawbacks still plaguing it today. His solution: “Rather than praying for rain, we should get government out of the water-allocation business.” One noteworthy detail he doesn’t mention is that even in non-drought years, because the system encourages overuse of water, the Central Valley’s ground water continues to get depleted. This ensures that each subsequent drought will generate ever more serious problems. Worst of all, one solution being pushed during the current drought is a jazzed up version of the Peripheral Canal.

HT: Corrie Foos

Around the Web

  1. Reading Tocqueville in Qatar and at Georgetown
  2. Colonialism and Anti-Colonialism: Blame Nationalism for Both
  3. The Issue of Selective Prosecution
  4. Eric Prince: Out of Blackwater and into China; The WSJ‘s weekend interview with the founder of Blackwater is particularly good. If you hit a paywall, just copy and paste the title and enter it into your Google search bar. Click on the first link and voila.
  5. A short history of economic anthropology (grab a cup of coffee first)
  6. The market may be colorblind, but politics isn’t: Race, class and economic opportunity

Some quick thoughts about political entrepreneurship

The Wall Street Journal has a weekend interview feature with an entrepreneur who founded Airbnb, a company that has been getting rich by exploiting the so-called “sharing economy.” Overall it’s an interesting read (I think the term “sharing economy” is misleading, but it is a stroke of marketing genius; “I’m not making money: I’m helping people share stuff!”).

However, after reading Rick’s recent thoughts on entrepreneurship and re-reading my own musings on how democracy works, this passage stood out to me like a sore thumb:

By year’s end, Airbnb says it will have booked more overnight stays than the Hilton and InterContinental hotel chains.

As might be expected, hoteliers and hospitality-industry regulators are suspicious of the Airbnb model. In October, New York state sued the company for violating a law passed in 2010—just when Airbnb was picking up steam—barring private citizens from renting an entire apartment for less than 30 days.

Why on earth would New York state undertake such a ridiculous ban? Ostensibly for safety reasons, right? Or maybe to better ensure that labor regulations remain up to par?

The law that hotel chains used to sue its competition strikes me as the perfect example of how cronyism works. The hotel chains are losing some of their market share to innovative competitors, but instead of improving upon their own models they turn to the political process, which (at least in the US) provides guaranteed access to any faction who would like to use it.

Just like in the marketplace, though, guaranteed access does not mean guaranteed results. Enter the entrepreneurial spirit. Except instead of finding ways to make money, the political entrepreneur is finding ways to prevent competition. This second type of entrepreneurship is also driven by self-interest. Libertarians, I think, recognize the dual nature of self-interest (in markets: good; in government: bad), but I cannot think of any literature off the top of my head that deals with this topic.

What I can note is that many people get the nature of self-interest completely wrong. In the minds of many, if not most, people, self-interest is something that only occurs in the marketplace. From this mindset springs many of the fallacies about government regulations and taxes that we often read about in the press. Whether this mindset is a product of genuine or willful ignorance is a topic that I think deserves further scrutiny.

Why is it, for example, that many people do not see that self-interest drives the political process itself? I know that the discipline of ‘political economy’ deals with self-interest in the political process, but even here I see a tendency to treat political entrepreneurs as more noble than the entrepreneur of the marketplace (with a few exceptions, of course). Support for higher taxes on corporations, or support for more stringent government regulations, is often very prominent among the general public and among elites. The general public thinks it is supporting itself against “big corporations” when it supports these policies, as do elites, but in reality these regulations and taxes are driven by an entrepreneurial process that desires to favor one faction over all others.

Am I missing anything? I know I’m missing a bunch of stuff.

A Problem with Political Authority

As a libertarian with deep anarchist leanings, I have plenty of problems with political authority myself. Nevertheless, I find the society in which I live to be libertarian enough, and that any deviation from the rules and procedures in place can be considered to be a threat to my freedom. With this being said, the Wall Street Journal has a great editorial out on the Obama administration’s increasingly authoritarian and cavalier approach to the political process. What I like best about this editorial is that it focuses on one of the Obama administration’s less well-known attempts at consolidating power: that of granting regulators powers that they don’t actually have. Observe:

In re: Aiken County is another episode in the political soap opera about spent-fuel storage at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, an Energy Department project that requires the approval of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission […] Yucca has since been infamously stop-and-go amid opposition from the green lobby and not-in-my-backyard Nevadans and Californians. This particular application was submitted to the NRC in June 2008.

Mr. Obama promised to kill Yucca as a candidate and the Energy Department tried to yank the license application after his election. But an NRC safety board made up of administrative judges ruled unanimously that this was illegal unless Congress passed a law authorizing it. Mr. Obama then teamed up with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada to stack the NRC with anti-Yucca appointees.

Although Congress appropriated money to conduct the review, the NRC flat-out refused, in violation of the three-year statutory deadline.

The explanation continues:

A federal court is stating, overtly, that federal regulators are behaving as if they are a law unto themselves. Judge A. Raymond Randolph notes in a concurrence that former NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko, who has since resigned, “orchestrated a systematic campaign of noncompliance.” If Mr. Jaczko worked on Wall Street he’d be indicted.

Judge Kavanaugh then offers some remedial legal education in “basic constitutional principles” for the President who used to be a constitutional law professor. Under Article II and Supreme Court precedents, the President must enforce mandates when Congress appropriates money, as well as abide by prohibitions. If he objects on constitutional grounds, he may decline to enforce a statute until the case is adjudicated in the courts. “But the President may not decline to follow a statutory mandate or prohibition simply because of policy objections,” writes the court.

That is especially notable given that ObamaCare’s employer-insurance requirement and other provisions are precisely such unambiguous statutory mandates, with hard start dates […] All of this highlights that Mr. Obama is not merely redefining this or that statute as he goes but also the architecture of the U.S. political system.

Indeed. Dr Delacroix has suspected the Obama administration of authoritarianism from the beginning, and it looks as if time has proved him right (which is a good thing for him, given his penchant for missing the mark in foreign affairs). Stay tuned. This blog is just warming up.

Internal Revenue Service Even Handed After All

Liberal commentators in all media and even on this blog have been eager to announce that the IRS was an equal opportunity offender between Left and Conservative groups and that, therefore, there is not much of a (new) scandal attached to the IRS.

Peggy Noonan resets the clock in her column of Wall Street Journal of 6/29/13. (All boldings below come from me.)

According to a House Ways and Means Committee source , only seven (7) cases of the 298 cases flagged by the IRS for extra scrutiny appear to represent progressive causes. Not one of the seven was subjected to harassment and abuse. Of the seven, only two were sent follow-up questionnaires after their application for tax-exempt status was received […] And all seven saw their applications approved […]

The “source” was not identified by name. Want to bet it does not exist?

[…] Russel George, the Treasury Inspector General whose audit broke open the scandal answered Rep. Sander Levin’s charge that the audit had ignored the targeting of progressives (by the IRS, bolding and comment mine) […]

The evidence showed conservative groups were singled out by the IRS, not liberal groups. While some progressive groups may have ended up on a BOLO list, the IRS did not target them. We did not find evidence that the criteria you (Rep. Levin), labeled “Progressive” were used by the IRS to select potential political cases during the 2010 to 2013 time frame we audited. One hundred per cent of the groups with “Tea Party,” “Patriot,” or “9/12″ in their names were given extra scrutiny.

Soon, very soon, the Internal Revenue Service will withdraw its apology for misdeeds it gave about two weeks ago precisely for persecuting, treating unfairly conservative-sounding groups. Right?

I wish the liberal deniers on this matter were cunning and twisted rather than something else. It’s easier to deal with conscious dishonesty than with the alternative. Many 1932 Germans were also not twisted, not consciously dishonest; they just would not see the evidence of their eyes.

Reading Hayek in Beijing

That’s the subject of a fascinating account of life in China through the eyes of a dissident in this last week’s Wall Street Journal. An excerpt:

Put another way, the conventional notion that the modern Chinese system combines political authoritarianism with economic liberalism is mistaken: A more accurate description of the recipe is dictatorship and cronyism, with the results showing up in rampant corruption, environmental degradation and wide inequalities between the politically well-connected and everyone else. “There are two major forms of hatred” in China today, Mr. Yang explains. “Hatred toward the rich; hatred toward the powerful, the officials.” As often as not they are one and the same.

There is more, too: Continue reading

The IRS Crimes: a Gift from Providence to Libertarians

Anyone who has libertarian sentiments, in the Libertarian Party or outside of it, in the Republican Party, or elsewhere; anyone who sees himself as supporting the non-existent, imaginary “Tea Party,” is familiar with the difficulty of explaining even basic libertarian principles. There are three problems:

First, most people are lazy, especially when it comes to re-examining the creeds they absorbed in childhood or youth.

Second, libertarianism is paradoxically too familiar to draw interest. It’s more or less what you learned in high school about the work of the Founding Fathers. (Digression: It’s more interesting for immigrants like me than for the US-born precisely, because we had no superficial exposure to it at the time we had acute testosterone poisoning.)

Third, libertarianism is not sexy. It does not enjoy the emotional ease of access that big words procure: “Revolution,” “Justice,” “Fairness,” “the Future.” In other words, it’s not a cartoon; it ‘s not a reality show; it’s not a vampire movie. It’s an intellectual stance for adults only. Tough call!

Sometimes, though Providence throws us a lifeline. Now is such a time. A libertarian Hollywood scriptwriter, if there were one, could hardly come up with a better script than the current controversy regarding the IRS role in singling out conservative organizations, in persecuting them, in forcing them illegally and immorally to disgorge private information about opponents to the Obama administration. Or about imagined opponents.

The IRS storm happens at the same time as other Obama administration discrediting events:

It is trying to convince America that it did not deny protection to the assassinated Americans in Benghazi, Libya, and that it did not subsequently lie about what happened;

It is imposing on all American universities restrictions on free speech unheard for centuries in the Anglo-American legal tradition. (See Greg Lukianoff in the Wall Street Journal of 5/17/13);

It is attempting to justify spying on journalists on the basis of an unknown national security risk. (It might be justified. There are tried ways to convince the nation that the spying was justified. President Obama shows no intention of using them as I write.)

As far as the IRS persecution of Obama opponents, in my mind, it’s not a question of who is getting fired or of “who is going to jail.” Punishment of the more or less guilty would be low on my agenda. There is a more fundamental problem that is being pushed aside in televised congressional testimonies and in most of the printed press (I think. I welcome corrections.)

Given that the IRS exists as a very powerful, autonomous, large government organization of ordinary but overpaid people, with a proven capacity to hurt large numbers of citizens, it was bound to happen.

That the IRS is a government organization matters a great deal because , in practice, such organizations enjoy immunity from lawsuits. They exist beyond the reach of the arm of the law. But the rule of law is what largely defines civilized societies, of course. Such organizations as the IRS thus tend to pull us back toward a lesser state of civilization. That’s true irrespective of who is president and, to an extent, independent of which party is in power. If you have a famished and crazy dog chained in the backyard, you should not reassure yourself that everything is under control because it’s your house, not that irresponsible, other guy’s house.

It’s true that the IRS crimes now being discussed were somewhat more likely to take place under a Democrat administration. First, the Fascist current runs deep in the middle of the Democratic Party river. It’s the party of Roosevelt, who classically, used war to place as much of the American production apparatus under federal government control as he could reach (even artists). Second, the Democratic Party was the Party of Birmingham’s Bull Connor, of his attack dogs and of his water hoses aimed at peaceful black demonstrators. The Democratic Party is also most closely associated with labor unions, some of which (not all) have a history of thuggery extending a century or more.

The Republican Party, on the other hand, is not sinless but it carries in its veins an instinctive mistrust of government power which serves as some protection though as minimal protection. The rank-and-file Republican is much less likely than his Democrat counterpart to assume that anything is correct just because the government is doing it. Nevertheless, frankly, is there anyone who would assert with a straight face that the currently revealed IRS misdeeds would never happen under a Republican administration?

The truth now staring us in the face is that a free society simply cannot have in its midst a monster such as the IRS (described above). It should not be allowed to arise. If its exists, it should not be allowed to grow (as with the Obama administration giving it big additional responsibilities within Obamacare). Such a government bureaucracy should be given practically no discretion, no power to pass judgment without at least close judiciary monitoring.

How about collecting taxes for freeways, some will say? Supposing it has to be the federal government’s task to build freeways (just supposing) and to perform other necessary functions, it should be done with a simple flat tax allowing no deductions. It should be a low tax of 15% of gross income or less. (I live within my means; so can the government learn to do.) Federal tax collection would look like this.

You would receive a short postcard saying:

“1. Your income last year was___.

2. Send 15% (or less ) of that amount.

Thank you.”

Tax cheaters would have to deal with the local sheriff who would be paid a flat fee for each recovery.

Unrealistic? How about our existing system, is it realistic?

“Europe’s Job Seekers Flock to Germany”

That’s the title of a recent piece on immigration in Europe, as told through a Greek family settling down in Germany, by the Wall Street Journal. Among the gems:

Despite the enmity often directed at Berlin for its insistence on painful austerity as the cure for Europe’s sovereign-debt crisis, Germany has become a new land of opportunity for tens of thousands of people fleeing their recession-racked homelands.

Data released Tuesday by the German statistics agency showed immigration hit a 17-year high last year, with the increase from Europe’s crisis-riddled nations “particularly evident.”

And this:

Germany has long had an uneasy relationship with migrants. Previous generations have often integrated poorly, facing high hurdles to gain citizenship—if they even try. Many Germans also believe that migrants come to live off welfare benefits or criminal activity [but] experts say today’s renewed influx of migrants is good for Germany. As its population declines and ages, the nation badly needs qualified workers to fuel economic growth and support its pension and health-care systems […]

The youngest, Nikos, at 15 years old, told his parents he missed his friends. Don’t worry, Mr. Karoustas replied. He’d see them again.

“I don’t hope for it,” the father told his son, “but all of them will come to Germany too.”

Read the whole thing. You can get around the WSJ‘s subscriber firewall by copying-and-pasting the title of piece and Googling it. Once you do that, just click on the article.

See our past notes on the EU here.