Archive for the ‘Political Philosophy’ Category

Is Libertarianism Done?   1 comment

I’m a latecomer to conscious libertarianism. I think I probably always had libertarian leanings — I supported Alaska succession in the 80s and I was always questioning my fellow liberal students outrageous claims for the efficacy of socialism. It just didn’t seem to be working for the actual socialists in the USSR, China, etc., and I felt the need to point that out, which always pissed off its defenders. I remain a committed nonpartisan, but I no longer see myself as conservative and now don’t flinch at the idea of calling myself a libertarian. In a way, my journey toward libertarianism mirrors the American journey in the same direction.

Related imageHistorically, libertarianism formed as a distinct ideological movement in postwar America from a set of “radical” ideals vastly disrepected by most American politicians and intellecturals. It was nurtured by small think tanks, struggling publications and a handful of economists who concentrated on keeping the ideas alive among their own group.

 

Libertarians understand they are still largely strangers in a strange land when it comes to the American political scene, struggling for impact in a world they didn’t create. Libertarianism is still a minority idea and libertarians are still embroiled in a difficult and long-term fight to influence political ideology and practice in America. The schizophrenia of the Libertarian Party stems from that difficulty, but most libertarians (small “l” deliberate) understand that we’re not taking over the world next week.

Image result for image growth of libertarianismStill Americans have become much more aware and accepting of the overarching principles of libertarianism since the turn of the 21st century. As government continues to grow and become more intrusive, the choice inherent in the libertarian vision of free minds and free markets has found fertile ground throughout American culture.

How do I know that? Politico recently declared the libertarianism is dead, supposedly because Trump won the 2016 election, and Forbes has started suggesting libertarianism could be more successful if only it would narrow its vision a little and become more like the Republican Party.

Politico makes a good point as far as it goes. It did look like the GOP was headed toward a more libertarian-leaning candidate like Sen. Rand Paul before Donald Trump’s bold political entrepreneurship proved so surprisingly successful, but the swiftness with which the electorate picked up the populist rhetoric suggests GOP voters might not really be small-government at heart.

Except ….

Let me suggest that people were so fed up with the Democratic Party that anything to the right of Hillary looked good and the media worked hard to assure the American voters thought Paul couldn’t possibly win.

Image result for image libertarians take over world leave aloneUltimately, though, libertarianism is an outsider political movement of people who reject both major parties, so their failure to elect a libertarian-like candidate in the GOP shouldn’t be viewed as a long-term failure.  Politico‘s article is merely a snapshot of a moment in time, not the final fate of an ideology. Libertarianism has yet to win the White House. Who cares? Who would really want to win the White House when the treasury is $20 trillion in debt and the foundations of the economy has huge cracks in it? Let the GOP preside of the coming crash. Libertarianism has made greater inroads with a greater number of prominent politicians and more acceptance with Americans. The Libertarian Party, despite nominating a statist for vice president, nearly quadrupled its highest previous vote total. If things go the way I think they will go with current leadership, libertarians are going to come out looking like prophets within the next decade.

If libertarians are right that our government is overtaxing, overspending, overregulating, and overextending its reach both into the lives of its citizens and across the globe in ways that make many people’s lives worse and our future more perilous, then American history will eventually reveal that the ideals of libertarianism are neither dead nor needing extensive pruning, despite what Forbes seems to believe.

The purpose of an organized minority ideological movement such as libertarianism is to do the research, education, advocacy, and storytelling that might help Americans see that its ideas have merit. Consider the success of some libertarian ideas:

A large plurality of Americans now believe:

  • the drug war is wrong and unproductive
  • stealing property from citizens without charging them with a crime is unjust
  • market and price mechanisms need to play a role in a sensible and affordable health care market
  • US foreign interventions frequently sow the seeds for the next “necessary” foreign intervention.

 

Yeah, those were all originally libertarian ideas that are now commonly held by ordinary people.

Libertarianism certainly hasn’t become a mainstream political movement yet, but the fact that Forbes and Politico are writing articles about the movement suggests it is not failing or fading, but achieving its own kind of victory in political culture. Where that leads … we don’t know yet, but growth in awareness suggests people might be waking up from the coma of mainstream politics.

Drain the FBI’s Swamp   2 comments

When President Trump fired FBI chief James Comey, I don’t think I was alone in giving a small cheer of support. Comey’s refusal to forward charges against Hillary Clinton almost made me vote for Donald Trump (I didn’t, it was just a momentary flirt with the idea), because I believe firmly that the elite of this country should face the same penalties as the rest of us and there are many ordinary people serving decades for mishandling classified information in less egregious ways than Hillary Clinton. The United States is not Europe where anyone with the right pedigree can buy their way to immunity. Former First Ladies who have bought their way up the political food chain should be held to the same standard as current presidents and low-level Navy operatives. If Hillary Clinton is allowed to skate, then Bradley Manning should be released and Edward Snowden should be given a full pardon … and a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. While we’re at it, we should grant Julian Assange American citizenship and give him the key to Oval Office bathroom.

Image result for image of the fbi in a swampI’m not entirely kidding. Snowden and Assange are personal heroes of mine for telling the American people what our government is doing behind our backs.

Firing Comey looks a bit like a tiny step toward draining the DC swamp and I applaud that. Maybe it will inspire more such forays into therapeutic political land sculpting.

But more than just getting rid of a single swamp critter, the firing of James Comey provides a welcome chance to dethrone the FBI from its catbird’s seat in American politics and life. It’s not a Twitter fantasy. The FBI has a long record of both deceit and incompetence.

Five years ago, Americans learned that the FBI was teaching its agents that the bureau “has the ability to bend or suspend the law to impinge on the freedom of others.” That we didn’t know about it before doesn’t negate the fact that has been the FBI’s underlying culture since its creation.

J. Edgar Hoover ran the FBI from 1924 until his death in 1972. He built a revered agency that utterly intimidated officials in Washington. In 1945, President Truman wrote: “We want no Gestapo or secret police. FBI is tending in that direction. … This must stop.” Apparently, nobody listened to President Truman, because the bureau’s power soared after Congress passed the Internal Security Act of 1950. This authorized massive crackdowns on suspected “subversives”. Hoover compiled a list of more than 20,000 “potentially or actually dangerous” Americans who could be seized and locked away at the president’s command. “Congress secretly financed the creation of six of these (detention) camps in the 1950s,” noted Tim Weiner “Enemies: A History of the FBI” (2012).

From 1956 through 1971, the FBI’s counterintelligence programs (COINTELPRO) conducted thousands of covert operations to incite street warfare between violent groups, to get people fired, to smear innocent people by portraying them as government informants, and to cripple or destroy left-wing, black, communist, white racist and anti-war organizations. FBI agents also busied themselves forging “poison pen” letters to wreck activists’ marriages.

Image result for image of the fbi in a swampCOINTELPRO was exposed only after a handful of activists burglarized an FBI office in a Philadelphia suburb, seized FBI files, and leaked the damning documents to journalists. No FBI agents were jailed and few were fired stemming from this disclosure.

Maybe not surprisingly for a “bulletproof” agency, the FBI haughtiness was on display April 19, 1993, when its agents used armored vehicles to smash into the Branch Davidians’ sprawling compound near Waco, Texas. The tanks intentionally collapsed much of the building on top of the huddled residents. After the FBI pumped the building full of CS gas (banned for use on enemy soldiers by the Chemical Weapons Convention), a fire ignited that left 80 children, women and men dead. You don’t have to be a Branch Davidian supporter to find these actions deplorable.

The FBI swore it was blameless for the conflagration, but six years later, an investigation revealed that the FBI fired incendiary cartridges into the building before the blaze erupted. No FBI agents were penalized or prosecuted for their fatal assault against American civilians.

The FBI also lost track of a key informant at the heart of the cabal that detonated a truck bomb beneath the World Trade Center in 1993.

Before the 9/11 attacks, the FBI dismally failed to connect the dots on suspicious foreigners engaged in domestic aviation training. Though Congress had deluged the FBI with $1.7 billion to upgrade its computers, many FBI agents had old machines incapable of searching the Web or emailing photos. One FBI agent observed that the bureau ethos is that “real men don’t type. …The computer revolution just passed us by.”

The FBI’s pre-9/11 blunders “contributed to the United States becoming, in effect, a sanctuary for radical terrorists,” according to a 2002 congressional investigation.

In the late 1990s, the FBI Academy taught agents that subjects of investigations “have forfeited their right to the truth.” This doctrine helped fuel pervasive entrapment operations after 9/11.

Image result for image of the fbi in a swampTrevor Aaronson (The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism) estimated that only about 1% of the 500 people charged with international terrorism offenses in the decade after 9/11 were bona fide threats. Thirty times as many were induced by the FBI to behave in ways that prompted their arrest.

The bureau’s informant program extends across many facets of American society. It bankrolled an extremist right-wing New Jersey blogger and radio host for five years before his 2009 arrest for threatening federal judges. The FBI crime lab is infamous for its perpetual false testimony. It uses National Security Letters and other surveillance tools to illegally vacuum up Americans’ personal info. It has whitewashed every shooting by an FBI agent between 1993 and 2011.

The FBI’s power has rarely been effectively curbed by either Congress or federal courts. In 1971, House Majority Leader Hale Boggs declared that the bureau’s power terrified Capitol Hill:

Our very fear of speaking out (against the FBI) has watered the roots and hastened the growth of a vine of tyranny. … Our society … cannot survive a planned and programmed fear of its own government bureaus and agencies.

Boggs vindicated a 1924 American Civil Liberties Union report warning that the FBI had become “a secret police system of a political character” — a charge that supporters of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump would have alternatively cheered last year.

If Trump fired Comey to throttle an investigation into Trump administration criminality, that is an impeachable offense. I am not a Trump supporter and I don’t think Mike Pence could do a worse job. That doesn’t negate the fact that Comey’s fall provides an excellent opportunity to take the FBI off its pedestal and place it where it belongs — under the law.

No, I’m not saying disband it … at least not yet, but it is past time to cease venerating a federal agency whose abuses have perennially menaced Americans’ constitutional rights. If the Trump administration is truly serious about draining the swamp, this is a good place to start.

What the Founders Thought   Leave a comment

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Jerk Move: Trump Threw Rosenstein Under the Bus | Jeffrey A. Tucker   Leave a comment

Like many people, I’m not crying that FBI director James Comey was fired from his job before his tenure was up. As Rand Paul has reported, Comey never stopped crawling to Capitol Hill for more money, more spying authority, more power to the government, and all those things I’m against. And like many people, I find the claims of Russian meddling in the election to be a diversion from the more obvious point that voters wanted change and didn’t want Hillary Clinton.

Image result for image of rod rosensteinThe scenario is pretty clear: Trump leaned on a subordinate to provide cover for a decision he wanted to make.

What has struck me more is a particularly telling aspect of the way the firing of Comey was done. This is a human interest story to me. It reveals a facet of human life that is really grim, and serves as a warning for the type of power move all of us need to be on the lookout for. What would you do if your boss muscled you into taking the fall for his or her sketchy decisions?

The Plot

President Trump’s memo firing Comey came with an attachment. It was a letter to him from Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general of the Justice Department and the person who is technically Comey’s boss. The memo to Trump, dated the same day of the firing, carefully built a case against Comey. The implied conclusion of  the memo was that Comey needed to be let go, but it stopped short of demanding it.

Rosenstein’s conclusion was as follows:

“The way the Director handled the conclusion of the email investigation was wrong. As a result, the F.B.I. is unlikely to regain public and congressional trust until it has a Director who understands the gravity of the mistakes and pledges never to repeat them. Having refused to admit his errors, the Director cannot be expected to implement the necessary corrective actions.”

It was this letter that Trump used as cover to fire someone he believed was becoming a personal enemy.

Did Trump ask Rosenstein for the letter? Most certainly.

Presidential spokesman Sarah Huckabee Sanders admits that Rosenstein, with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, came to see Trump in the White House the day before. Rosenstein reported to the president that Comey had come to him asking for more resources to investigate ties between Trump and Russia, a case from which Sessions had already recused himself. That left only Rosenstein to act on Trump’s behalf.

We have no access to what happened then. It was a private meeting. But it seems that Trump asked Rosenstein his opinion of how Comey was doing at his job. According to McClatchy, he rendered a negative judgment, as one is wont to do under the circumstances. Trump then asked Rosenstein to write a memo detailing his criticisms. That memo arrived the next day and Comey was fired.

Fight or Survive?

The scenario is pretty clear: Trump leaned on a subordinate to provide cover for a decision he wanted to make. Trump demanded that an underling surrender his professional integrity so that the President could get his way. I can only imagine the lump that must have appeared in Rosenstein’s throat at that moment. It must have been the worse evening of his life.

Anyone who has faced such a situation in his or her professional life has to wince.

I’m looking at Rosenstein’s education and career. It is a classic case, every decision made to plot the perfect, non-partisan career in the highest reaches of government. He obtained an economics degree from the Wharton School, then moved to Harvard for a law degree. He became a Supreme Court clerk, and easily found a place at the Department of Justice, where he served under five presidents. After 27 years, he is the longest serving U.S. Attorney.

Somehow he managed to do all of this while staying out of the public eye and out of partisan squabbles. To achieve that requires focus. Rosenstein has it. It’s how he earned credibility and a flawless reputation. He must protect it every day, as a matter of habit.

A Bad Night

Then that fateful day arrived. He was nudged and answered the right way to please the president. Then the president told him to own his opinions and go public, as a way of giving the big cheese cover. What was he to do? Yes, he could have quit the job, and he probably should have. Instead, he acquiesced. After all, he built his whole career to achieve this height: Deputy Attorney General! Was he really going to give it all up?

Good leaders are servants of others who bear huge burdens, even to the point of taking the fall for others.

Anyone who has faced such a situation in his or her professional life has to wince. It’s painful –  and seedy. This is classic “bad boss” behavior. It reveals cowardice and a lack of character. The demand that subordinates cough up their professional capital for you is a move completely lacking in integrity. If the boss wants to make an unpopular decision, he should have the guts to bear the full weight of that decision, not devour the reputations of those around them as a fallback.

What’s remarkable here is that this move was unlike Trump. His usual tack is to bear the total responsibility for the success or failure of his project by making them all bear his name: Trump Tower, Trump Golf Course, Trump University, or whatever. People have criticized this about him but I actually admire it. He gets all credit when it works but he risks the whole of his reputation if it fails. This has been his usual way, so far as I know.

But now he has ultimate power. Maybe it has affected him. Has he come to the place in life in which he is totally happy treating those around him solely as a means and not ends in themselves? Will he stop at nothing to exercise, retain, and benefit personally from his power, no matter who it hurts? It is also possible that he always been this way and it is just now becoming public knowledge.

The Captain and the Ship

Regardless, the private sector builds in a check on such bad-boss behavior. They don’t attract people of integrity around them. They get bad reputations. They are widely considered to be toxic personalities. But as president, Trump faces no such market test. He can get away with it because he is at the height of his power and Rosenstein himself is at the height of his profession. So why not?

Sensing that this is a problem, Trump has since tried to walk back his excuse.

The answer to that question is this: it is poor leadership. Good leaders are servants of others who bear huge burdens, even to the point of taking the fall for others. This is why there are traditions that instantiate this ethical idea. The captain is that last to take the lifeboat, even if the shipwreck was not his fault. The head coach gets fired after a losing season. The Japanese military leader falls on his sword after a losing battle.

This is just how we do. We absolutely do not demand that subordinates fall in their swords for us. True, there is nothing illegal about this. It is just revealing of who Trump really is.

Sensing that this is a problem, Trump has since tried to walk back his excuse. “I was going to fire regardless of recommendation,” he now says. Of course this is no help to Rosenstein now. The reputation he worked a lifetime to build is now toast.

Again, I’m crying no tears for anyone in this drama. But there are lessons in it for the rest of us. It shows what kind of leader and boss not to be, and shows workers what kind of people to avoid, if at all possible.

Source: Jerk Move: Trump Threw Rosenstein Under the Bus | Jeffrey A. Tucker

What’s He Really Up To?   6 comments

Have you ever wondered what Julian Assange is trying to do with Wikileaks?

Yes, we know that he releases information that others want to keep private, but why? What would be his reason for this?

Image result for image of Julian Assange

There are all sorts of hackers in this world. The “black hats” seek to embarrass people and disrupt their lives. The “white hats” seek transparency and the uncovering of secrets that shouldn’t be kept from the people they affect. Assange is definitely a “white hat”, coming out of a cyberpunk movement branch in Melbourne, Australia circa 2006. These were some intelligent and technie fellows inspired by Timothy May and Murray Rothbard and others.

 

Assange explains his stragetgy in a series of essays that someone helpfully arranged on a pdf. Follow the link, because it’s really pretty intriguing. Assange started out by describing modern governance as conspiracy.

“Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people.” Theodore Roosevelt, as quoted by Assange.

Assange called these conspirators “neocorporatists,” referring to the entire complex of legislators and bureaucrats, and the corporations who purchase laws from them. It’s all very similar to “crony capitalism”. In fact, the two concepts walk hand-in-hand. They exist in elaborate networks which have been examined by other writers. Here and here are some examples. The public saw Barack Obama as the President, but they didn’t see these “shadow” networks operating in the background, yet these networks are the real power … and WikiLeaks’s actual targets.

This is the most important think to understand about Wikileaks. Assange may seem to be addressing governments, but what he’s really seeking to do is affect communication inside these networks:

[W]e see conspiratorial interactions among the political elite… the primary planning methodology behind maintaining or strengthening authoritarian power… these plans are concealed by successful authoritarian powers.

WikiLeaks was designed to hurt power that hides its intentions by dragging it out into the sunlight. Unmasking those intentions is not the goal. Assange seeks something deeper than that.

 

Not every conspirator trusts or knows every other conspirator even though all are connected. Some are on the fringe of the conspiracy, others… [may] be a bridge between important sections or groupings of the conspiracy.

Assange believes such a network can be disrupted by “distorting or restricting the information available to it,” by “unstructured attacks on [its] links,” by dividing the network by cutting links.

A conspiracy sufficiently engaged in this manner is no longer able to comprehend its environment and plan robust action.

Assange wants to stop the “conspiracy” from trusting itself, so the goal of WikiLeaks is to prevent a network of this type from communicating with itself.

When WikiLeaks published the Democratic National Committee’s dirty secrets, it wasn’t trying to drive public outrage over the content. It was trying to make the conspirators distrust each other, and especially to distrust their communications, because if those links go, networked power goes with them. Public outrage is just a nice side benefit.

It’s a brilliant strategy, actually. Wikileaks isn’t reacting after events as it would be in exposing dirty laundry. They are acting in advance, disrupting their enemy’s ability to function in the future.

How does that work? A network of this type invariably reacts to leaks by closing itself tighter against untrusted links. By closing itself off from intrusion, the network becomes less and less able to engage with anything outside itself. The less it engages with things outside itself, the less it can enact power outside itself.  Eventually, the elite power brokers become so paranoid they can no longer conspire among themselves.

The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie… in a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are nonlinearly hit….

It’s going to require more than this brilliant strategy to bring our world out of its current barbaric age where governments are allowed to spy on their citizens and use what they learn to take away our liberties, but it’s a move in the right direction.

 

The new world of the internet longed for independence. But states and their friends moved to control our new world. They leached into the veins and arteries of our new societies, gobbling up every relationship expressed or communicated, every webpage read, every message sent and every thought googled, and then stored this knowledge, undreamed of power, in top secret warehouses, forever.

And then the state reflected what it had learned back into the physical world, to start wars, to target drones, to manipulate UN committees and trade deals, and to do favors for its vast network of industries, insiders and cronies. (Julian Assange – Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet)

While we’re busy playing on the Internet and tweeting cat photos, Assange is working on our behalf to free us from tyranny that some of us stubbornly refuse to acknowledge. If you would prefer a world where you are actually free to decide things for yourself. you might want to support his efforts and come alongside those of us who do already. At least learn about what it is he’s up to.  

What the Founders Thought   1 comment

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What the Founders Thought   Leave a comment

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