Power & Market
"This is just a truly astonishing moment coming from the White House podium," tweeted MSNBC's Kasie Hunt. Like the rest of the media pack-animals she hunts with, Ms. Hunt had been fuming over President Trump's telephone call to Vladimir Putin, congratulating him on winning another term as president.
Reliably opposed to a truce were party heavies on both sides. Sen. John McCain joined the chorus: "An American president does not lead the Free World by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections," he intoned.
Another Republican, Sen. Chuck Grassley, told a reporter testily that he "wouldn't have a conversation with a criminal. I think Putin's a criminal. What he did in" Iraq, what he did in Libya ... Wait a sec? Remind me; was it Putin or our guys who wrecked those countries? So many evil-doers on the world-stage, it's hard for me to keep track.
"When I look at a Russian election, what I see is a lack of credibility in tallying the results," sermonized Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. "I'm always reminded of the elections they have in almost every communist country."
Actually, what the International Election Observation Mission found in Russia's presidential election of March 18 was far more nuanced. Why, in some ways the Russian elections were very American: In the difficulty dissident candidates have in getting on the ballot, for example.
Ask Ron Paul or all those anonymous, aspiring, independent, third-party candidates about the US's "restrictive ballot access laws and the other barriers erected" by the duopoly to protect their "de facto monopoly in America," to paraphrase Forbes.com.
As for jailing journalists, frequently for life: Not Russia, but an American ally, Turkey, is the world’s biggest offender. But hold on. Isn't Trump turning on the Kurds to pacify the Turks? Maybe it's something the Saudi's said. Go figure.
What doesn't change is the interchangeability—with respect to any peaceful overtures made by President Trump toward Russia—of the Stupid Party (Republicans) and the Evil Party (Democrats). And yet, the same self-interested individuals protest, periodically, that Trump's recklessness risks plunging the country into war.
The president wants to cooperate with the Russians. International confrontation being their stock-in-trade, the UniParty won't countenance it. Politicians in both parties have not stopped egging Mr. Trump on, rejecting the détente he seeks with Russia, and urging American aggression against a potential partner. Yet, incongruously, in October of 2017, a Republican Senator, Bob Corker, saw fit to complain that the president was "reckless enough to stumble [sic] the country into a nuclear war."
To please and curry favor with an establishment that detests him and is vested in the geopolitical status quo—POTUS even signed sanctions into law against Russia.
Cui bono, pray tell? Who benefits from this standoff?
General Barry R. McCaffrey has The Answer. The Trump congratulatory courtesy call to Mr. Putin shows the president's refusal to protect US interests, tweeted the general.
"US interests" or your interests, sir? Who benefits here? Ordinary Americans, or the media-military-industrial-complex; the swamp organism Dwight Eisenhower warned about in his farewell address: "The total influence – economic, political, even spiritual – ... felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government ... [of] an immense military establishment and a large arms industry."
Not to mention the attendant barnacles who suction onto the ship of state: professional TV talkers, think tank sorts, self-anointed intellectuals (who’re not very intelligent). All are vested in an American-led order, so long as they get to dictate what that (martial) order looks like.
The same political flotsam "argues" against President Trump's desired détente with Russia using the following logic: If the "master of the political insult," Donald Trump, "declines to chide Putin," to quote NBC and CNN standard issue "analysts"—something is off. Ergo, Trump is beholden to Putin and to Russia. The Russians must have something on him.
Such a line of "reasoning" fails basic logic, simply because it's inexhaustive. In other words, there are other, highly plausible explanations as to why the president is not warring with Russia, not least that diplomacy is a good thing; that POTUS ran on a promise of peace with Putin; that he had articulated, as a campaigner, an idea entertained by most Deplorables. Namely that Russians are at odds with Islam and ISIS; that Putin is a Russia First, nationalist, whereas our Anglo-Europeans "allies" are Islam-friendly globalists.
Had POTUS kept pressing the positions he ran on, he might have retarded the Russia political wildfire, now raging out of control. Philosophical consistency would've served him well as an antidote to the political opportunism around him.
Instead, President Trump has surrounded himself with appointees who deliver a message discordant to his. What comes out of the White House is an ideological cacophony.
Hiring different perspectives in business could well be a strength. But it’s a weakness when politics and policy are in play. To advance a political agenda, one needs a team that shares the political philosophy underlying that agenda.
MSNBC's Miss Hunt and her political clones were particularly galled by Sarah Sanders. The White House press secretary was asked whether the Russian election was free and fair. She replied: "We don't get to dictate how other countries operate."
What’s outraging our neoconservative-Jacobin establishment is that the White House is practicing, if only fleetingly, what another American president counseled in a bygone Independence-Day speech: detachment and diplomacy in foreign policy.
[America] goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will recommend the general cause, by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself, beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. The frontlet upon her brows would no longer beam with the ineffable splendor of freedom and independence; but in its stead would soon be substituted an imperial diadem, flashing in false and tarnished lustre the murky radiance of dominion and power. She might become the dictatress of the world: she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.
The man who'd be casting pearls before swine today was John Quincy Adams. The sixth president of the United States (1825-1829), son of John Adams, spoke truths eternal on that July 4, 1821.
Ilana Mercer has been writing a weekly, paleolibertarian column since 1999. She is the author of “Into the Cannibal’s Pot: Lessons for America From Post-Apartheid South Africa” (2011) & “The Trump Revolution: The Donald’s Creative Destruction Deconstructed” (June, 2016). She’s on Twitter, Facebook, Gab & YouTube
Today offers the latest reminder that the question of US default is not a matter of "if", but "how."
The House has passed a $1.3 trillion dollar spending bill, thanks to majorities on both sides of the isle. Since Congress had less than 48 hours to pass this 2,232 page bill, we can at least rest comfortably knowing that our wise leaders are fully aware of everything they voted on.
While the rest of the public waits for information to trickle out, here are some of the things we know the bill contains - outside of the gun control measure I mentioned yesterday:
- $4 billion to address the country's opioid crisis
- $380 million for election security grants
- Funding that can be used for the controversial Gateway project, which aims to bolster railway infrastructure between New York and New Jersey
- A technical fix to the tax bill that now will give grain buyers -- regardless of whether they are a co-op or not -- equal footing
- $21 billion for infrastructure projects all around the country
- An increase in Childcare Development Block Grants,
- Expansion of the low-income housing tax credit
- More money for the National Park Service
- More money for veteran hospitals and veterans' homes
- Pay raise for the troops
- $2.3 billion for school safety
- $1.57 billion for border security, including barriers and technology
It's worth noting the opioid money is not the same as the program outlined this week by the Trump Administration. There is expected to be additional legislation coming soon, though it is unlikely to offer a practical approach to the crisis. The bill also does nothing to reduce or eliminate funding to Planned Parenthood.
The 4th Amendment also took another hit today, thanks to the inclusion of the CLOUD Act to the spending bill. The provision eliminates judicial protections to personal electronic data and empowers the executive branch to negotiate with foreign countries on what they can take from private servers and share with one another.
The Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act, or CLOUD Act ,is a bill recently introduced to establish new standards for when governments want to obtain information stored outside their jurisdiction. The Department of Justice and major tech companies are actively supporting the bill, erroneously suggesting it will advance consumer rights. Meanwhile, privacy and human rights organizations that have opposed the bill are rightfully pointing out that it jettisons current human rights protections in favor of vague standards that could gut individual rights.
The bill would strip power away from Congress and the judicial branch, giving Sessions and Pompeo (and future executive branch officials) virtually unchecked authority to negotiate data exchange agreements with foreign nations, regardless of whether they respect human rights or not. That’s a major shift from current law.
Naturally DC shoehorns this into a spending bill the very same week politicians are criticizing Facebook for their handling of private data.
It's also worth noting that Jeff Sessions suffered another blow in his desired war on marijuana. Language in the bill explicitly bars any Department of Justice funding be used to crack down on any state that has legalized "medical marijuana". The language here is worth noting however, because it still leaves the door open for Federal action against recreational cannabis.
We'll see if the Attorney General makes good on his promise to crack down on states rights.
The always provocative Justin Raimondo, longtime editor of Antiwar.com, has a new column in Chronicles Magazine that asks a very simple question: Whatever happened to the libertarian movement?
It's a question worth asking, especially given the multifarious disagreements over what "libertarian" even means at this point. This may be the natural result of growth; more people means more disagreement over principles and terms. But is libertarianism really growing on a per capita basis in the US, outpacing population growth? Depending on the source, libertarian-ish Americans are anywhere from a discouraging 2% to an optimistic 20% of the electorate. If in fact liberty-minded people represent only a single-digit percentage of all Americans, we may face a reality described by Lew Rockwell as "the smaller the movement, the greater the factions within it".
In Raimondo's view, the movement he grew up with was unified in its overarching concern with, and opposition to, state power:
The Three Pillars of the libertarian platform—economic freedom, civil liberties, and a noninterventionist foreign policy—were practically uncontested. While no one could accuse us of avoiding internal debates over abstruse issues that were of interest only to committed ideologues (it often seemed to me as if libertarians did little else!), we basically knew what we believed. Not only that, but we stuck to it. There was talk of “transitional programs,” and debate over which issues to emphasize, but there was a basic unity of vision in that none of us ever sought to justify any extension of state power. We didn’t side with the state. We saw ourselves as radicals, with the Establishment on the other side of the barricades being typically corporate liberal.
This conception of libertarianism gets it right, in my view. War and peace, central banking, and state power (i.e. civil liberties, spying, taxes, regulations, drug war) are the three areas where libertarians should agree. And a focus on these fundamental and timeless issues eliminates many questions about cultural preferences, Left vs. Right, and "thick vs. thin."
It is precisely when we veer away from core concern that libertarians get into trouble, as Raimondo posits. Watering down the non-interventionist message, fretting over RussiaGate or gay marriage, siding with intelligence agencies, and jettisoning the primary focus on coercive statism has left the movement watered-down, listless, and unrecognizable.
In response, Raimondo calls for the "remnant" of "Old Libertarianism" to stand against an ideological degeneration that cedes too much to the Left's cultural precepts and the Right's neoconservative foreign/intelligence policy:
The last remnants of the Old Libertarianism—the wonderful folks at the Mises Institute, the Ron Paul groups—are doing a great job. But I’m afraid that their role, at this point, is to keep the Remnant intact, and hope for better days to come. The ideological degeneration of “official” libertarianism is not only far advanced but a threat to the future of liberty itself. The sheer insanity of a “libertarian” siding with the most unaccountable and coercive sectors of the state apparatus, the “intelligence community,” in their quest to overthrow a sitting President is something I would have thought inconceivable. But that was back when the world made sense. Now, the “libertarians” are either clowns or apologists for power.
It's nice of Mr. Raimondo to praise the Mises Institute. But his thesis, that liberty is in a holding pattern against the dominant political powers of Trumpism, progressivism, SJWism, and neoconservatism, is worthy of consideration. Do we water down the message to grow, do we engage in politics, do we "whisper in the ear of the king," as he puts it?
There are arguments to be made for political educational, and cultural strategies. The late Murray Rothbard certainly advocated a multi-pronged approach. But given recent attacks on the Koch brothers as the source of all evil on campuses, and even against the soft sell of "classical liberalism," it's time to consider what exactly is advanced by steering libertarianism away from a rigorous opposition to state power.
It is common practice in DC for politicians to stuff spending bills with all sorts of additional bad legislation — the policy equivalent of being overcharged for a meal that gives you food poisoning. This week's vote is no exception.
As Axios and others have reported, Congressional leadership has included the “Fix NICS” bill into the package. The legislation gives new funding and power to Federal agencies to add on to the national background check registry. As Thomas Massie and other pro-2nd Amendment advocates have noted, it is precisely these sort of registries that have been used in the past to limit American gun ownership rights without due process. As Jose Niño noted on the Wire this week, this is part of a long time trend of governments using "mental health" designations to disenfranchise citizens. (This week is one of several particularly concerning aspects of recent legislation passed in Florida.)
Of course these concerns pre-date the most recent gun control debate, as I noted when the bill came up last December:
While Republicans and supporters of the NRA may not fear the Trump Administration coming after their guns, it is obviously reckless to grant additional power and resources to future administrative states that may be quite hostile to the right to gun ownership. To put it simply, there is never a good reason to give Federal agencies the power the revoke an individual's ability to lawfully purchase a weapon without due process.
Further, if one needed an example of how dangerous it is to centralize gun legislation in Washington DC, look no further to what gun owners in states like Ohio and Hawaii are currently facing. Both states, having recently legalized the use of medical marijuana, have placed those who need it with the choice of either owning a gun or receiving life-improving medicine.
In 2011, the Federal government sent a letter to licensed gun dealers reiterating that marijuana users were prohibited from owning a gun — even if it they have a medical prescription. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld this decision last year. Hawaii, which requires gun registration, has gone as far as to sending letters to permitted gun owners with marijuana prescriptions requiring they turn over their weapon. While the state is currently asking for “voluntary cooperation,” it could be a matter of time before it turns into compulsory compliance.
At that time the NRA tried to sell this legislation as a way of helping promote a national concealed carry reciprocity law (which is also not a great idea.) That legislation is not included in this spending bill, and yet the NRA continues to oddly find itself promoting legislation sponsored by Diane Feinstein.
Updated: The Vote Failed 55-44
A bipartisan group of senators (Mike Lee, Bernie Sanders, and Chris Murphy) are forcing a vote on the US involvement in the Yemen conflict with a vote expected sometime today. The timing of the vote coincides with a visit by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, whose country has waged war again Yemen since 2015. The Trump Administration, which has a pricey love affair with Saudi Arabia, is working to kill the effort.
The resolution, if successful, would require the US military to cease all support for militarily not targeting al-Qaeda or “associated forces.” While this qualification likely means the US will not stop intervening in the country, it is an attempt for the Senate to clearly recognize that Yemeni forces are not subject to any of the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) vote that Congress have passed since 2001.
While this specific vote is being brought up under the War Powers Act, it is worth mentioning that the necessity of this vote is more an indictment on that legislation than anything else. Without its authorization during the Vietnam War, the ability for the US military to get involved in conflicts like Yemen without first receiving the explicit support of the legislature would be far more limited.
Until the War Powers Resolution, no constitutional or statutory authority could be cited on behalf of such behavior on the part of the president. Now it became fixed law, despite violating the letter and the spirit of the Constitution.
It so happens, moreover, that thanks to a loophole in the resolution, the 60-day clock begins only if and when the president reports to Congress under Section 4(a)(1) of the Resolution. Surprise, surprise: presidents have therefore reported to Congress in a more generic manner rather than expressly under that section. They issue reports "consistent with" rather than "pursuant to" the Resolution.
Even still, in a few cases presidents have acted as if the 60-day limit were in effect, perhaps out of political considerations (even if from a strictly legal point of view it was not). But Bill Clinton’s multi-year military intervention in Bosnia alone, without even so much as a nod in the direction of Congress, made perfectly clear that the resolution, whatever good points may be buried within it, was effectively a dead letter.
The Resolution calls for "consultation" by the President with Congress before committing troops to combat. This consultation, we are told, is to occur "in every possible instance." (Who could possibly find a loophole there?) In practice, presidents have interpreted this provision to mean that they must notify Congress following the initiation of hostilities — not exactly what its drafters probably had in mind.
In New Hampshire today, President Trump announced his plan for tackling the opioid crisis. The main points from the plan, as reported by Axios, are:
- Work with coastal services and shipment services to set up screening technologies to detect illicit substances that are being shipped into the country.
- Support research and development efforts for technologies and additional therapies designed to prevent addiction and decrease the use of opioids in pain management.
- Reduce demand and the overprescription of opioids.
- Allocate funds for initiatives related to opioids to help states transition to a nationally interoperable Prescription Drug Monitoring Program network.
- Increase support for state and local drug courts to provide offenders with access to treatment "as an alternative to or in conjunction with incarceration, or as a condition of supervised release."
- Urge Congress to pass legislation that tightens sentencing penalties for drug dealers trafficking certain illicit opioids.
- Impose appropriate criminal and civil actions to hold opioid manufacturers accountable for any unlawful actions, and also screen federal inmates with opioid addiction and connect them to treatment services.
In short, it appears the Trump Administration's main objective is to ramp up law enforcement, spend taxpayer money on "research", and aim to "reduce demand," likely by increasing restrictions on physicians - which often pushes patients into more dangerous illicit drugs.
Sadly nothing here touches on the largest driver of the opioid crisis which, as Mark Thornton has explained, is a pain epidemic going on in America. Unsurprisingly, given the rhetoric from the administration, the idea of removing Federal restrictions on marijuana - something that appears to help actually address opioid usage - was not suggested.
Of course another much talked about part of the president's proposal is to introduce the death penalty for large scale dealers. This invites the question: should this mean the end of the CIA?
President Trump’s recent cabinet shake-up looks to be a real boost to hard-line militarism and neo-conservatism. If his nominees to head the State Department and CIA are confirmed, we may well have moved closer to war.
Before being chosen by Trump to head up the CIA, Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo was one of the most pro-war Members of Congress. He has been militantly hostile toward Iran, and many times has erroneously claimed that Iran is the world’s number one state sponsor of terror. The truth is, Iran neither attacks nor threatens the United States.
At a time when President Trump appears set to make history by meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong-un face-to-face, Pompeo remains dedicated to a “regime change” policy that leads to war, not diplomacy and peace. He blames Iran – rather than the 2003 US invasion – for the ongoing disaster in Iraq. He enthusiastically embraced the Bush policy of “enhanced interrogation,” which the rest of us call “torture.”
Speaking of torture, even if some of the details of Trump’s CIA nominee Gina Haspel’s involvement in the torture of Abu Zubaydah are disputed, the mere fact that she helped develop an interrogation regimen that our own government admitted was torture, that she oversaw an infamous “black site” where torture took place, and that she covered up the evidence of her crimes should automatically disqualify her for further government service.
In a society that actually valued the rule of law, Haspel may be facing time in a much different kind of federal facility than CIA headquarters.
While it may be disappointing to see people like Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State and Gina Haspel as the head of the CIA, it shouldn’t be all that surprising. The few areas where President Trump’s actions are consistent with candidate Trump’s promises are ripping up the nuclear deal with Iran and embracing the torture policies of President George W. Bush. Candidate Trump in late 2015 promised to bring back waterboarding “and a whole lot worse” if he became president. It seems that is his intention with the elevation of Pompeo and Haspel to the most senior positions in his Administration.
We should be concerned, of course, but the real problem is not really Mike Pompeo or Gina Haspel. It is partly true that “personnel is policy,” but it’s more than just that. It matters less who fills the position of Secretary of State or CIA director when the real issue is that both federal agencies are routinely engaged in activities that are both unconstitutional and anti-American. It is the current Executive Branch over-reach that threatens our republic more than the individuals who fill positions in that Executive Branch. As long as Congress refuses to exercise its Constitutional authority and oversight obligations – especially in matters of war and peace – we will continue our slide toward authoritarianism, where the president becomes a kind of king who takes us to war whenever he wishes.
I am heartened to see some Senators – including Sen. Rand Paul – pledging to oppose President Trump’s nominees for State and CIA. Let’s hope many more join him – and let’s hope the rest of the Congress wakes up to its role as first among equals in our political system!
When sharing Bob Murphy's excellent article today on the Knowledge-Calculation Debate, one of the most common responses has been "Murphy makes a good case, but why does this really matter?"
Beyond the value of grasping intellectual nuance, I think this debate has actually increased in real world importance over time with the rise of "Big Data."
Increasingly we see entrepreneurs, economists, and other thought leaders discuss the possibility of using improved data collection and algorithms to solve the "knowledge problem" Hayek famously outlined.
Now, of course, these big data central planners still suffer from their own fatal conceit, as brilliantly discussed in this article by Per Bylund. Still though, laissez-faire skeptics are able to use Hayek's knowledge critique of socialism as a way of justifying their new tech-backed schemes.
The same can't be said for the Misesian critique of socialism grounded in economic calculation, as Xiong Yue noted last year:
[T]hose who consider the problem of socialism as merely a problem of information failed to understand that the core problem of socialism lies in the absence of prices in a centrally-planned economy. The role of prices in the market economy is unique because money prices offer an indispensable tool in economic calculation. As Mises writes in Human Action,
One cannot add up values or valuations. One can add up prices expressed in terms of money, but not scales of preference.
With prices as a guide, entrepreneurs can potentially pursue profits by examining differences in the market prices of production factors and the expected prices of the final products. He or she can then organize production accordingly.
Therefore, even if we have some excellent data already, without this market-price mechanism, neither the economic calculation nor the efficient allocation of resources is possible; the planned economy is therefore not feasible. Because rationally planning or resource allocation requires the ability to calculate economically, such calculations need the prices which can be determined only in the market by the real-world exchange of owners of private property in the first place. Since the planned economy requires state and collective control of resources — and thus does not allow for these necessary voluntary exchanges between owners — it cannot rationally plan the operation of the modern economic system.
As a result, it's theoretically impossible for a planned economy to determine the prices needed for economic calculation. The cutting-edge technologies may help Jack Ma to optimize his strategies in his private enterprises in a relatively capitalist society. However, for a modern economy, as long as there are no prices available on which to base economic calculation, the failure of a planned economy is inevitable. As Joseph Salerno writes in his postscript to “Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth”:
[I]n the absence of competitively determined money prices for the factors of production, possession of literally all the knowledge in the world would not enable an individual to allocate productive resources economically within the social division of labor.
As someone who has witnessed first hand Barney Frank quote F.A. Hayek in order to justify the creation of new government bureaucracies, I have seen how dangerous people can twist his ideas to justify all sorts of elaborate government schemes. It is much harder to do so with Ludwig von Mises.