Soccer Team Promotes War Criminal, Everyone Laughs

Columbus Crew fans welcome Atlanta to MLS with Civil War trash talk –

I find this one to be utterly fascinating.  Major League Soccer just announced that it would be creating an expansion team in Atlanta.  How did the official Twitter of the Columbus Crew respond?  With this.

In all seriousness here, if William Tecumseh Sherman isn’t a war criminal, then the term really doesn’t have any meaning at all.  He completely terrorized the civilian population of the south, encouraging violent retribution against unarmed citizens as “punishment” for secession.  He carried out a “total war” campaign that was considered barbaric under any legitimate standard of the rules of warfare.  After the war between the states, he would carry on this concept, managing the government’s extermination campaign against the Plains Indians.

Now look, I appreciate a joke as much as the next guy.  I’m not going to claim some ridiculous outrage.  This picture doesn’t “offend” me, and it is clever in a certain way.  I’m just asking for a bit of consistency here.  Can you imagine the German soccer team taunting the French soccer team with a picture of Adolf Hitler?  If you that analogy is entirely inappropriate, then you probably need to do a little more research on Sherman.  In fact, several years ago, it was a minor controversy when Mexican soccer fans chanted “Osama” at the U.S. national team.  Journalists were outraged, and considered this to be highly inappropriate.

The fact that Sherman is treated as a hero rather than a war criminal is just one more piece of evidence that ignorance of the details of the war between the states permeates American culture.  I’m not for publicly shaming an organization for an attempt at humor, and I don’t seek to silence or censor anybody.  I’d just like a little bit of consistency when it comes to these things.

Posted in Sports | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ignorance As Protest

Alien vs Predator (whoever wins, we lose)

I’ve had a few people ask me what I think of the situation in Ukraine.  I’ve read a few articles discussing the “libertarian perspective” on Crimea.  But I haven’t said much about these issues myself, because I honestly just don’t care that much.

Brief disclaimer:  As a libertarian, I do indeed care about the non-aggression principle, and I have genuine sympathy for anyone whose lives and property have been destroyed as the result of a political struggle.  When I say, “I don’t care about the situation in the Ukraine” that should not be taken as callous disregard for the human costs of wars, riots, and uprisings, or a dismissal of potential violations of rights that will likely occur under future political regimes.

I just can’t motivate myself to spend any amount of time and effort doing the amount of research that would be required in order to develop a solid understanding of the events in a region of Eastern Europe that I know nothing about.  The best I can tell, Crimea and Ukraine are both about to get really screwed over, as their region has now become the stage for the latest dick-measuring contest between Russian and American politicians.  I feel bad about that, but I’m in no position to support any one “side” over the other.

Is this laziness?  Apathy?  The expected attitude from an “ignorant American” who would rather watch sports and play videogames than learn about human rights issues across the globe?  No.  In this case, my ignorance isn’t passive, it is active.  I’m avoiding learning about this issue on purpose for a few reasons.  It’s absolutely none of my business, for one.  This dispute involves Ukrainians, Crimeans, and Russians.  Maybe if you were really reaching, you could say it involves the EU.  But it does not involve the United States.  Period.  In the grand scheme of things, this is no different from the civil war in Syria or any other conflict somewhere around the world that most people are happy to ignore.  It’s none of our business, and intervening is sure to backfire and leave everyone worse off.  In other words, even if I did do the necessary research to the point where I was comfortable “supporting one side,” it wouldn’t matter.  The more people know about an issue, the more likely they are to take sides.  The more they take sides, the more they will entertain the prospect of foreign intervention.  And foreign intervention is bad.  In this case, ignorance is essentially one extra buffer that stands in the way of public support of foreign intervention.  Keep in mind – I’m not just talking about ignorance among the average American.  After all, ignorance didn’t prevent intervention in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc.  In this case, I’m referring to ignorance even among the segment of the population that is politically active.  The average Joe Six-Pack might have been ignorant about Iraq, but the people who follow and debate politics weren’t.  They did their research and they took their sides, and look where that got us.

I’m also avoiding this story because of the natural contrarian streak I seem to have in matters of politics and philosophy.  Everyone and their mother are lining up to tell you that what Russia does in the Ukraine is really really important and that you absolutely should be paying attention to it.  The fact that they’re continuing to stress this suggests that people are ignoring them.  The public at large just isn’t buying it.  But that won’t stop the politicians and their media cronies from trying.  Barack Obama, John McCain, Glenn Beck, Harry Reid, and Rachel Maddow all want you to care about this.  They’re all pointing and yelling, “Hey, look over there!”  So my natural reaction is to not look over there.  Instead, my gut instinct is to assume that they’re using this as a distraction, and to look far more closely at domestic and economic matters.  Presumably, they want us focused on Russia so that we’ll be ignoring far more significant developments at home.  Maybe this line of thinking makes me sound like a conspiracy freak, but I’m just not falling for it.  I refuse to let the political elites tell me what I should think about, what I should know about, and what I should care about.

The more I learn about the government, the more convinced I am that one of the best ways to protest it is to ignore it.  So much of the power it holds over us is simply because we allow it to.  And I’m not talking about violently resisting a police officer who attempts to arrest you or anything like that.  I’m talking about much more benign and subtle ways.  By trying to convince us that it’s really important, the government is attempting to steal the very substance of our lives from us.  It wants us to spend our valuable free time obsessing over its power struggles.  It wants us to desperately care about the latest bill, or the next court case, or the most recent “scandal.”  This helps build the façade that the government is incredibly important.

But in the grand scheme of things, these people really aren’t that important at all.  As I’ve said before, politicians just don’t matter that much.  I have better things to do with my life than follow the latest developments in a geopolitical struggle involving people I will never meet that live on the other side of the globe.  And yes, I do count watching hockey and playing video games as “better things to do,” as compared to this.  Our time on Earth is limited.  Our free time is even more limited.  I won’t waste it on this.  I’ll spend it on things I enjoy doing.  I will live my life, and let the talking heads debate amongst themselves whether Mr. Oyamanovich or Mr. Koraysstatiov is the less corrupt authoritarian puppetmaster.  They can have this particular argument without me.  I’m busy saving the galaxy from the imminent reaper invasion and trying to get George McPhee fired, thank you very much.

Posted in News Commentary | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Jon Stewart’s Worst Argument

I waited entirely too long to write this post, and now it’s no longer topical, but I did want to take a few moments to specifically address one of the points Jon Stewart continually brought up during his interview debate with Judge Napolitano.

Throughout the inquisition, Stewart repeatedly feigns utter shock that someone like the Judge, who regularly praises the virtues of individual liberty and is well known to respect and to have written favorably about the American founding fathers could possibly oppose Lincoln’s invasion of the south.  After all, the founding fathers fought a war because they were being denied their freedom.  And Lincoln fought a war because blacks were being denied their freedom.  Same principle, right?  How could a consistent person possibly support the one but not support the other… unless they’re secretly some sort of evil neo-confederate!

Multiple times, the Judge attempted to explain the flaws with this argument, but whenever he tried to respond, Stewart would either resort back to mockery and making jokes, or change the subject entirely.  All things considered, it’s not a very hard argument to shoot down.  First, let’s consider how delicately the argument is framed.  You have to frame things in an incredibly narrow and specific way for this argument to even make the slightest amount of sense.  In the paragraph above, I actually struggled to find the words to frame the argument in a way that was fair to Stewart while not foreshadowing my objections to it.  For the comparison to work, you have to view the war of independence as a bunch of subjugated colonists fighting for the right to self-determination, and you have to view the war between the states as a bunch of noble northerners fighting for the freedom of enslaved blacks in the south.  Any other framing would cause the analogy to collapse.

Consider (as the Judge attempted to point out) that in both cases the wars were fought over the right to secede; and Stewart’s analogy is completely flipped!  The war of independence consisted of the founding fathers declaring that they had a right to break away from a political arrangement that no longer suited their interests.  The war between the states also featured a group declaring that it had a right to break away from a political arrangement that no longer suited its interest – and that group was the south, not the north.  Stewart’s analogy is not only flawed, he essentially has things completely reversed.  The analogy, when expressed in terms of secession, supports the exact opposite conclusion from the one he is attempting to draw.  Someone who supported the American colonists’ right to break away from Britain should also support the south’s right to break away from the Union.

But what about slavery?  Let me be very clear:  Slavery is evil, abhorrent, and runs completely counter to all libertarian values.  No self-respecting libertarian has ever argued that slavery in the south was justified for any reason.  The Judge never attempted to claim that it was.  On this fact, he and Stewart (and me!) are in agreement.  That being said, the notion that the purpose of the war between the states was to guarantee the right of self-determination to all people and bring about the fulfillment of the promises of the declaration of independence is absurd.  Prior to the war, freed blacks could not vote in many northern states.  Women could not vote in any state.  Native Americans were not considered citizens and could not vote.  In some jurisdictions, people of Asian or Irish descent could not vote.  Poll taxes, literacy tests, and property requirements were used to limit voting access to all of these groups, and even to poor, uneducated whites.  I could go into plenty of detail regarding the various evidence that Lincoln, as well as other prominent Union politicians and generals, were racists who didn’t care much about slavery at all, but there are plenty of resources available for anyone who would like to do research on that.  Besides, that was the general issue that The Judge and Stewart were debating in the first place – whether Lincoln really cared about slavery or not.

Stewart’s analogy also fails due to the incredibly obvious fact that the methods in which the two wars were fought are not at all comparable.  Or, to the extent that they are comparable, once again, the south has far more in common with the founding fathers than the north does.  The American founding fathers fought a defensive war.  Their main objective was to chase the British out of America.  They wanted to be left alone.  They had no intention of invading the British Isles and imposing their will on English citizens.  When they obtained victory, the terms of the Treaty of Paris simply required that Britain recognize that the various states (plural) were sovereign and independent entities.

Now consider the war between the states.  Which side fought a defensive war?  The south.  Which side’s main objective was to chase the agents of a foreign government out of their lands?  The south.  Which side simply wanted to be left alone?  The south.  Which side had no intention of invading the other and imposing its will on their citizens?  The south.  While it’s true that the confederate army did “invade” Maryland and Pennsylvania during two separate campaigns, this was not an invasion for the purposes of establishing dominion over the invaded territory.  There is zero evidence that the south had any desire, to impose its system of government on the entire nation.  The purpose of these invasions was to draw the northern army into a vulnerable position, and defeat it.  Had this been accomplished, their demands would have been the same as the demands of the American colonists:  You acknowledge our right to exist as a separate nation and you leave us alone.  That’s it.

As a side-note, that’s why I no longer use the term “civil war.”  I used to think people who referred to the war as anything but “the civil war” were ridiculous cranks who were complicating language for no good reason, until recently when the real justification was explained to me.  A “civil war” is properly defined as a struggle over who gets to wield power in a particular jurisdiction.  Essentially, two sides fighting over control of one nation.  That definition does not apply to this case, precisely because the south had no intention of ruling over the north.  This was a war of secession, not a power-struggle for one centralized crown.

This is a very complex debate and there are plenty more issues to cover.  But I don’t intend to have the whole thing out right here.  For now, I’d just like to highlight how dumb one of Stewart’s analogies was, and to encourage everyone to go do their own research.  Read a “revisionist” history book on the civil war.  You might be surprised what you learn.

Posted in News Commentary | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Article Roundup – 3/22/14

Belgium bans a wide range of sexist speech – The Volokh Consipracy.

Here’s one for you, Belgium has just banned “sexist” speech.  One intrepid blogger points out that this is even more ridiculous than you think, because under Belgian law, it is defamation to accuse someone of having committed a crime without proper proof.  Therefore, it is now technically illegal to call someone a sexist unless you can prove that they actually are.  In any case, file this one away under the “free speech does not exist in Europe” file.


Armarium Magnum: Cartoons and Fables – How Cosmos Got the Story of Bruno Wrong.

I haven’t been watching this “Cosmos” show.  I just kind of assumed it would be full of pop-science propaganda.  And hey, turns out I wasn’t far off.  This is kind of a long read, but worth your time, as it explains exactly how well known historical facts can just be ignored and discarded in pursuit of “telling a good story.”


Uncle Sam Trolls Jihadis on Twitter – Hit & Run :

At this point in my life, I’d like to believe that nothing surprises me anymore when it comes to the ridiculous actions of the federal government.  I never describe allegations of corruption or incompetence or inefficiency as “unbelievable.”  The government being all of those things is incredibly believable.  But this one is just too much.  Even after looking over this article several times, I just about refuse to believe this is a real thing.  Apparently we are now paying millions of dollars for some teenage intern to troll potential terrorists.  U mad, bro?


Comparing the Debt Burdens of Ontario and California – The Fraser Institute

Bob Murphy was one of the writers on this 20-page booklet, but it reads much quicker than you’d think.  Worth your time if you’re interested in this sort of thing.  TLDR version:  The Canadian province of Ontario makes California’s debt load seem easily manageable by comparison.  Their situation is far more dire and out of control than California’s, which is somewhat surprising as recently, I’ve been hearing a lot about how when it comes to fiscal policy, Canada has been much more responsible lately than the U.S.  While this appears to be true for their federal government, their provinces are in all kinds of trouble.  Weird.  In America the situation is about reversed.

Posted in News Roundup | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

With Friends Like These…

Who needs enemies?

Imagine you’re at a party.  The room is full of people, but you’ve managed to find a quiet corner.  Sitting next to you is a professional colleague, one you’ve met several times and know reasonably well.  You even refer to him as a friend.  You’ve found this individual to be very intelligent.  You know him to be well educated.  He has an excellent reputation among your other friends and colleagues.  You might not know many specifics about his personal life, but you’ve always heard he’s a good man of character and integrity.  It just so happens that you’re both really into movies.  You’re both very knowledgeable about the movie industry, and love to discuss it.  But for the most part, you can never agree on anything when movies are the topic of conversation.  You know quite well that his opinions on movies differ from your own, but you still claim to have a vast respect for him and for his knowledge on movie-related topics.

Your friend turns to you and says, “You know, I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and I’ve done a ton of research, and I’ve reached the conclusion that Citizen Kane is a horrible movie.”

How do you react to this startling revelation?  After all, Citizen Kane is one of your favorite movies of all time.  Film industry professionals, critics, and average citizens alike all list it as one of the greatest movies ever made.  Even considering that your friend often states opinions you disagree with, this one just seems shocking.  You can’t even begin to imagine how someone could possibly think Citizen Kane is awful.

So what do you do?  Do you calmly ask the friend to explain his position?  After all, this is a man you supposedly respect, and he claims to have done a lot of thinking and research on this topic.  Even though you can’t imagine what his reasoning could possibly be, surely there has to be some justification for his having taken such a controversial position.  Wouldn’t you have the intellectual curiosity to calmly and politely ask him?  To fully hear him out and give serious consideration to his arguments before attempting to debate him on the issue?  Is this not the proper way to treat a friend, a person you greatly respect, who happens to disagree with you (and with the majority opinion) on one specific issue?

Not if you’re Jon Stewart.  If you’re Jon Stewart, you stand right up, get the attention of everyone at the party and say:  “Hey everybody, get a load of THIS guy!  He thinks Citizen Kane is terrible!  Isn’t that bizarre?  What is he thinking?  I mean I respect him and he’s my friend and all that, but man, this is Citizen Kane we’re talking about here!  What a ridiculous thing to say!”  If you’re Jon Stewart, you do everything in your power to make your “friend” look stupid in front of as wide of an audience as you can muster.  You display no legitimate curiosity.  You give your friend no benefit of the doubt.  You immediately attack and demean and belittle.

That’s exactly what Jon Stewart did last week, when he engaged in a “debate” with Judge Andrew Napolitano regarding whether or not Abraham Lincoln was a great President.  The Judge expressed opinions that, contrary to what the vast majority of people (both the intellectual elite and the general public at large) believe, Lincoln was pretty awful.  Stewart seemed completely taken aback by this.  He didn’t know how to respond to it other than to get really loud and attempt to embarrass The Judge for daring to express such an unpopular opinion.

I’ll discuss the (lack of) merits of some of Stewart’s arguments later.  The point of this post is to draw attention to the tactic that Stewart is using here.  He’s not a dumb guy.  I find it really difficult to believe that he’s not at all familiar with the various anti-Lincoln arguments that are regularly made by libertarian political commentators.  This is all very deliberate and calculated on his part.  The SHOCK he expresses at hearing someone he supposedly likes and respects say something critical of Lincoln is completely and entirely fabricated.  It is a reaction designed to rally the crowd and an attempt to shame and humiliate The Judge.  It is not the way that an intellectually curious person approaches ideas that they haven’t heard before, and it is certainly not the way that any decent person would treat someone they describe as “a friend.”

That’s why I found this segment to be completely and totally disgusting, as opposed to the Peter Schiff segment a month or so ago, which I found to be slightly humorous, even though it was obviously manipulative and dishonest.  What Stewart is doing here is the intellectual equivalent of the Soviet Union putting on show trials in order to prove how fair their justice system is.  Sure, he brings on someone with an opposing viewpoint and “lets them talk.”  The Judge gets plenty of time on the mic.  All the trappings and appearances of a legitimate debate are here.  Everything about this segment is meticulously calculated to trick the audience into thinking that we are watching a completely honest and fair debate, that Jon Stewart just so happens to win because he’s just smarter and morally superior to The Judge.

Once again, this is a common tactic.  Stewart isn’t the first to use it, and he won’t be the last.  Bill O’Reilly does this with his “liberal” guests all the time.  He makes sure to call them his friend and point out that he greatly respects their work and their intellect, all while bullying them around and directing the conversation in such a way as to make them look as stupid and wrong as possible.  You need to remind the audience as often as possible that your opponent is your friend and that you respect them, because that way, the audience will assume that your vehement opposition to their beliefs is based on your firmly held moral values and intellectual study of the issues, rather than on personal animosity or partisan politics.

The fact of the matter is that Jon Stewart intentionally misled his audience for the purpose of delivering pro-government propaganda.  He made a series of terrible arguments, and immediately changed the topic whenever The Judge attempted to refute them.  He took every possible opportunity to express shock that “someone so smart” could possibly believe such ridiculous things.  He exhibited absolutely zero intellectual curiosity as to why The Judge might hold such obscure opinions, and spent the entire interview treating him as a hostile opponent who needs to be “proven wrong.”  He attempted to embarrass and humiliate his so-called “friend” on the most public of all stages.

The Judge is one of the most brilliant political minds of our time.  He can take care of himself.  He doesn’t need my help.  I’m not an expert on Lincoln by any means.  If you’d like to learn more about the anti-Lincoln argument, you should look up Tom DiLorenzo, the man who basically put the anti-Lincoln movement on the map and who is essentially the go-to guy for these sorts of debates.  For me, this issue isn’t about who was right and who was wrong.  It isn’t about Lincoln at all.  It’s about Jon Stewart being a scumbag.  This segment didn’t offend me as a libertarian.  It offended me as someone who enjoys honest and open intellectual debate.  Because I was once in that very position!  It wasn’t that long ago that I was speaking to someone who I knew was a very smart individual and who I highly respected.  This person made many of the anti-Lincoln arguments that The Judge and DiLorenzo have made over the years, and I found them absolutely shocking.  I had never heard them before.  But what I didn’t do was immediately yell and scream at them for daring to advance an unconventional opinion.

Instead, I told myself that this was probably something worth taking a look at.  I was curious.  So I did some research.  I read some books.  I watched YouTube videos.  I spent a long time examining my principles and attempting to reconcile some of my core moral beliefs with many of Lincoln’s actions.  Eventually, I came to the conclusion that my friend was right.  I had been wrong about Lincoln.  It wasn’t the first time I was wrong, and it certainly won’t be the last.  But I never would have found that out if my intellectual curiosity and genuine respect for my friend didn’t kick in.  If I had acted like Jon Stewart on that day, then I would be like Jon Stewart today – a disrespectful and ignorant jerk.

Posted in News Commentary | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Privately Funded Cops – Coming Soon To A Corporate Neighborhood Near You

Facebook cops are a horrible idea – Salon

Our good friends over at Salon are at it again, expressing shock and disbelief over the latest outrage to sweep America (You know, besides the fact that white people are dancing in ways they don’t approve of).  Apparently, the good folks over at Facebook’s corporate headquarters have volunteered to donate funds to the city of Menlo Park so that it can hire a full-time police officer to patrol the city.  How evil of them!  What’s next, private security forces roaming the streets with no government involvement whatsoever?

We can only hope!  Despite Salon (and sometimes-libertarian Glenn Beck, who called this “a really bad idea” on his radio show) expressing deep concern about a potential conflict of interest, privately funded police are almost certain to be more efficient and less prone to abuse than the standard government variety.

First, let’s clarify.  The existing proposal is for Facebook to donate the money necessary to fund a position to the city, so that the city can hire a cop.  This cop will not be a Facebook employee.  For all practical purposes, he will be just like every other cop in the city.  In fact, they can probably structure the budget and the hiring in such a way as to ensure that nobody even knows which cop is being “paid by Facebook” (which would obviously make them more prone towards evil), and which are being paid in the morally upright method of confiscating money from the entire populace against its will.

But just for the sake of argument, let’s go ahead and forget all that.  Let’s entertain Salon (and Beck)’s nightmare scenario of “private cops” roaming our streets, equipped with all the same power and authority of regular police, but answering only to the whims of the board of directors of Facebook.  Would these individuals become a gang of violent thugs, terrorizing the populace and being completely immune from any consequences?

Of course they wouldn’t.  You see, unlike the government, Facebook’s lifeblood depends on its corporate image.  While the government needs you to tolerate them just enough so that a whole lot of you don’t go on a violent rampage and try to overthrow it all at the same time, corporations such as Facebook need people to actually like them in order to thrive.  Facebook’s revenues come from voluntary transactions, not forced confiscation.  Facebook could disappear tomorrow if everyone using it simply decided to not use it anymore, and unlike the government, they wouldn’t be able to murder you for deciding to do just that.

But what about the feared “conflict of interest?”  The author in Salon asks, “How will police departments treat Facebook employees who might be caught in criminal behavior, when their own budget is partially paid for by Facebook?”  Putting aside the notion of whether a bunch of rich software engineers are really the people who are likely to commit violent/property crimes (you know, the crimes people actually care about), I might have to concede this one.  Yes, it’s entirely possible that Officer Facebook might notice Mark Zuckerberg leaving a 7-11 without paying for his Slurpee, and decide to just look the other way rather than making an issue out of it.  Of course, this same logic could be applied to government cops as well.  What if a cop witnesses a member of the city council committing a crime?  Is that not a potential conflict of interest?  Sure, private cops might let their sponsors get away with petty theft, but given the fact that Facebook has a corporate image to care about, I’ve put together a brief list of things that Officer Facebok almost certainly would not do:

Beat a homeless man to death for no good reason

Haul joggers off to jail for jaywalking

Sexually assault random citizens for “suspicious behavior”

Arrest people for carrying weapons in a perfectly legal manner

This list is by no means comprehensive, but you get the point.  Government-funded police departments are by no means comprised uniformly of morally upright paragons of virtue.  Abuses occur constantly.  When criticizing a hypothetical private law enforcement agency, it is not enough to shout, “But abuses might occur!”  Egregious abuses are already a fact of life under the current regime.  Critics must demonstrate why a privately funded cop would be more prone to bad behavior than a publicly funded one.  This article, as is almost always the case with such objections, fails to even address this consideration, much less offer any compelling evidence for it.

I really can’t stress this enough.  Libertarians and Anarcho-Capitalists do not promise a utopia.  We make no guarantee that private law enforcement agencies will never abuse their powers and commit acts of aggression against law-abiding citizens.  All we can do is offer a list of logical reasons as to why this behavior would be less common among private police forces than among public ones.  This is not an all or nothing proposition.  No system of government can provide an absolute guarantee of safety, security, and zero corruption.  But don’t tell that to the fearmongers at Salon.  They want you to believe that a single Facebook-funded policeman represents the end of society as we know it.

Posted in News Commentary | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Article Roundup – 3/8/14

Not safe to display American flag in American high school.

The Volokh Conspiracy has joined the very selective list of blogs I make a point to check every single day.  Sometimes the topics are a bit mundane, sometimes their guest bloggers lean too neocon, and often the writing degenerates into legalese that can put you to sleep, but every so often they stumble upon ridiculous stuff such as this.  In this post, they walk you through the “Heckler’s Veto,” which seems to be a policy America is beginning to embrace with open arms.  Basically, the idea is that if you disapprove of someone’s free speech, you just have to threaten them with violence, and so long as your threat is believable, the government will probably censor the speaker rather than come after you, because it’s easier for them to bully peaceful speakers than it is to control violent thugs.  In this case, high schoolers were forbidden from wearing American flag t-shirts on Cinco de Mayo because the school thought that if they did, Hispanic students would beat them up.  But I’m sure this is just an isolated incident, there’s no way something this ridiculous is actually becoming general policy of the…


“Islamic extremists” put a price on your head? That means you can’t give a speech in this American government building.

Oh.  Well then.


Responding to senator’s bid to ban Bitcoin, congressman calls for cash ban | Ars Technica.

Some idiotic Senator suggested that Bitcoin needs to be banned, because it can be used anonymously, can help people avoid government regulation, and is occasionally used for criminal activity!  A brilliant response was written by a Congressman to show how Federal Reserve Notes also possess all of these qualities.  Although I’d suggest you be careful what you wish for – authoritarian politicians have already discussed placing limitations on cash transactions whenever possible.  They just might actually do this someday.


Juggalos vs. the FBI: Why Insane Clown Posse Fans are Not a Gang –

This is more of a “fun” item.  There aren’t any especially serious libertarian principles in play here other than the general notion that the government shouldn’t discriminate against people based on what music they listen to.  On a non-political note, I find this whole situation to be incredibly entertaining.  Even though it does make it harder for them to book venues, in a certain way, being openly discriminated against by the government probably helps ICP in the long run.  As the video mentions, ICP makes it a point to target the helpless and disenfranchised.  They market themselves as victims of an uncaring society, and they actively seek fans who see themselves in the same light.  It’s one thing to get on a stage wearing ridiculous makeup and rap about society hating you.  It’s another thing to get on a stage wearing ridiculous makeup and factually report that the government has declared your fans to be second-class citizens.


These people don’t have a prayer…

Posted in News Roundup | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Sochi Problems” Are Government Problems

The Winter Olympics came and went, as the world’s best skiers and skaters (yeah, the entire winter Olympics is based on those two unpopular sports, but we try not to talk about that in order to be polite) descended upon the previously unknown town of Sochi, Russia.  They were accompanied by hordes of spoiled, uppity, first-world journalists, a large contingent of whom happened to be relatively young, represent non-traditional media outlets, and armed with camera-phones and thousands of Facebook fans and Twitter followers.

This produced the interesting phenomenon of “Sochi Problems,” where visitors (and let me stress that this is mostly coming from journalists who were assigned to be there, not athletes who are grateful for the opportunity to compete or fans who paid their own money to attend) take to Twitter to highlight and complain about the various deplorable conditions in Sochi.  The complaints are long and varied, and cover just about every problem you might imagine confronts the citizens of developing nations on a day-to-day basis:  there are too many stray dogs, there are power outages, the water looks nasty, manhole covers are missing, light bulbs are a scarce commodity, litter isn’t picked up, etc.

Just about everyone, regardless of political affiliation, seized upon this issue to point and laugh at Russia in general and strongman Vladimir Putin specifically.  After all, it was Putin who personally went to the IOC and guaranteed that he would spend $50 billion to ensure that things would go smoothly:  That the snow would be ready for top-level competition (it wasn’t), that the infrastructure of the city would be upgraded to handle the influx of visitors (it wasn’t), and that generally speaking, Russia would seize the moment to prove that it’s an economic and cultural powerhouse rather than some backwater craphole (it didn’t).  Any and all problems or complaints with the Sochi games land directly in Putin’s lap, and for good reason.  That’s one of the downsides of being an absolute authority figure – everyone knows exactly who to blame when things go wrong (although I’ve heard he received advice from another world leader that whenever anyone criticizes him, he should always blame Republicans in Congress).

But wait just a second here.  While everyone is busy laughing and drawing conclusions about Russia as a country, nobody seems to be asking the important question:  Why didn’t it work?  Why couldn’t a strongman with absolute authority and nearly limitless financial resources deliver the results he promised?  Surely the motivation was sufficiently high; Putin knew quite well this would be his moment in the spotlight.  Some have generally pointed to “corruption” as a catch-all explanation with no real investigation into specific examples or exactly what that means.  There seems to be a hint of cold-war resentment involved with that, as the implication is that corruption is an inherent aspect of the Russian people, and exists in Russia to a much greater extent than it does elsewhere, an implication rarely supported by any serious factual analysis.

The “progressive” movement has always featured a somewhat bizarre and macabre fascination with tyrants, dictators, and autocrats.  Time Magazine infamously named Adolf Hitler as “Man of the Year” in 1938.  Mussolini is famously celebrated for “making the trains run on time.”  In recent years, American leftists in Congress, the Obama administration, and the media have praised communist China for its ability to “get things done.”  There’s a certain sense among a large element of the population that in some ways, absolute unchecked power is a positive feature of government, because it will be able to move quickly and not get bogged down in needless debates and “gridlock.”  The implication seems to be that this is a simple tradeoff.  Sure, autocratic regimes may be prone to tyranny, human rights abuses, and the occasional genocide.  But hey, when you need a highway built in a hurry, they can make it happen!  No debate necessary, no 2000-page stimulus bill required, no compromising with opposition figures.  Dear Leader just says, “Build a highway here!” and within weeks, a highway suddenly exists.  Progress!

So what happened in Sochi?  Putin’s plans weren’t derailed by political opposition – he has no meaningful opposition.  They presumably weren’t derailed by a lack of desire or enthusiasm on his part – after all, what’s more important to dictators than appearing to be powerful and godlike in front of the world?  They seemingly weren’t derailed by a lack of funds – he claims to have spent a ton of money, and surely has the power to allocate it to whatever he sees fit.

I would suggest that the reason Putin’s attempt to “modernize” Sochi has failed is because it is a government project.  It failed for the same reason government projects are always prone to failure.  Because economic calculation is impossible under socialism.  There is no market in play here to properly direct and distribute the resources.  How many hotels should be made?  What material should they be made out of?  Do we need new roads to be built?  If so, to where?  How many lanes should they have?  Basic questions like this are virtually impossible to answer in the absence of market prices.  For a bureaucrat who is not risking his own capital on these projects, accurate predictions are nearly impossible.  Keep in mind, they aren’t just building for one solitary event, all reports are that Putin plans on turning Sochi into a high-profile international resort town.

But a funny thing about resorts – they depend entirely on voluntary trade to exist.  People need to want to go there.  And when people want to go somewhere, no government involvement is necessary.  Why do five-star luxury hotels exist in the Bahamas?  Not because some strongman decreed they must be built.  They exist because the demand existed, businessmen saw an opportunity for profit, and they used market prices to determine which hotels to build, where to build them, how much to charge, etc.  Presumably, the reason Sochi was light on infrastructure prior the Olympics is because nobody wanted to go there.  And, unfortunately for the bureaucrats, just building a lot of hotels won’t really change that.  Most tourists don’t choose where to vacation based on where the best hotels are.  Supply does not “create its own demand.”

The fact of the matter is that “Sochi Problems” are not unique to Sochi.  They are not unique to Russia.  They are not unique to Vladimir Putin.  They are symptoms of the same problems that plague all government intervention into the market.  Sochi is just the latest in a very long line of government-created economic boondoggles.  All the guns and all the money in the world cannot magically create prosperity.  Russian entrepreneurs were smart enough to recognize this, which explains why the government “had” to step in.  The results; while surprising to most Americans, are entirely predictable to those of us who have a sound understanding of free market economics.

Posted in News Commentary | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

The 21st Century Bank Run

As a rule, I don’t generally write about Bitcoin, because I don’t generally know much about it or care passionately either way.  I have a very small “investment” I made in it about a year ago just for fun, but for the most part, I still consider myself a casual observer rather than an interested party.  Libertarians as a whole are sharply divided on this issue, with some considering Bitcoin to be the greatest thing in the history of the world, while others consider it to be a giant scam that the government secretly loves and supports.

You may have heard that Mt. Gox, the biggest and most well-known Bitcoin exchange, has recently shut down, and will almost certainly be stiffing its depositors.  This event is something of a scandal, and opponents of Bitcoin can be seen eagerly sharpening their knives, ready to declare this unholy creature completely and totally dead.

But we might benefit from taking a step back to examine what really happened here.  The problem seems to be isolated to Mt. Gox itself, rather than Bitcoin in general.  From my understanding, Gox had some crappy security, got a bunch of Bitcoins stolen from it, and, as such, was no longer able to make whole their depositors.

This type of activity is hardly unique to digital currencies.  Picture, for a moment, a small bank in a frontier town in 19th century America.  The main purpose of this bank is to keep secure the gold of its various customers.  But the security leaves something to be desired, and the bank is robbed.  A gang of outlaws absconds with the gold, and the bank can no longer return the gold to its customers.  The customers are now essentially screwed – their gold is gone, and although they may be quite angry and have a legitimate complaint with their banker – they can’t get it back from him, because he simply doesn’t have it anymore.  Does this event tell us anything meaningful about gold as a unit of exchange?  Is this proof that gold itself is a scam?  I wouldn’t say so.  I would say the only real conclusion we can draw from this event is, “Gee, that bank had pretty crappy security.”  And so it is with Bitcoin and Mt. Gox.

Now, back to the present day.  Today, banks must be approved by the government in ordered to be allowed to exist.  What happens today when a government-approved bank fails?  Well, as you know, that’s sort of a trick question.  Many government licensed banks aren’t allowed to fail.  They’re bailed out, with taxpayer money!  Even in the case where a bank itself fails and “goes out of business,” depositors are made whole via the FDIC.  The “stolen gold” is returned, via premiums paid by all banks.  Nobody has to suffer any losses at all!

Or, more accurately, the suffering is evenly distributed across the country.  As I mentioned, the FDIC is funded by premiums paid by all banks.  These premiums increase the cost of doing business as a bank generally, which results in higher charges and fees for the average banking customer.  So essentially, we all pay a little bit more for the privilege of doing business with a bank, and some of that money goes into a fund to refund the depositors of any bank that fails.  Like every other example of crony capitalism, the gains are privatized, and the losses are collectivized.  When Bank of America turns a profit, its shareholders reap the rewards.  When it over-leverages itself and is on the verge of collapse, we all have to pay to “save the economy.”

Back in 2008 during BailoutMania, libertarians and supporters of the free market were lining up left and right to oppose the bailouts.  The (correct) logic was that allowing bad banks to fail was essential to the free market system, because otherwise, moral hazard would encourage further risk-taking by other banks in the future.  The same is true in the case of Mt. Gox.  Although it’s very unfortunate for everyone who had money there, the fact of the matter is that Mt. Gox has to fail.  While we can express deep sympathy to everyone who has lost large sums of money due to this failure, it still beats the alternative – which would be everyone having to pay so that those who made the poor decision of trusting their money to Mt. Gox could have it all refunded and that a crappy exchange could continue to operate.  The gold was already stolen, the bandits have already escaped.  Some people made a very conscious decision to avoid Mt. Gox because of questions surrounding its stability.  Should these people be forced to pay to “make whole” Gox depositors?

In a way, the failure of Mt. Gox represents both the best, and the worst, of free market economics.  The worst is the sense that someone can fraudulently run off with money you entrusted to them, and leave you with basically zero recourse to do anything about it whatsoever.  Gox and Bitcoin operate outside the realm of government, and no burdensome regulation also means no big bad monopoly authority figure to run to for protection.  The best is the sense that although the failure of Mt. Gox is tragic for its own depositors, those who had the foresight, or just plain good luck, to avoid Mt. Gox aren’t being punished for the mistakes of others.  There will be no bailout.  Future BTC exchanges will not see an obvious incentive to make risky decisions and be lax on security, because the customers of BTC exchanges will now be very leery of such behavior.  The overall system will improve, because the free market was allowed to properly function.

Posted in News Commentary | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Truth About Arizona SB 1062

Coming soon to a church near you

Full text of the bill

Before you read any of this, PLEASE click the link above and read the text of the bill itself.  Done?  Good.  We are now prepared to engage in an intelligent and constructive dialogue about this issue, which gives you an advantage over CNN, and just about everyone else in the media who is lying to you about what this bill actually says.

The coverage of this bill is remarkably similar just about everywhere, liberal media, conservative media, even a lot of libertarian outlets seem to be parroting the same line:  This is a bill crated by a bunch of hate-filled bigots that unfairly singles out homosexuals for discrimination.  The bill is labeled “anti-gay” as if that’s an objective fact.  That seems somewhat strange to me, because I read the text of the bill, and it doesn’t mention sexuality, homosexuals, sexual preference, gays, or anything of the sort.  Not once.  The only thing this bill does is extend the same protections of free exercise of religion that previously applied to “a religious assembly or institution” to “any individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, religious assembly or institution, estate, trust, foundation, or any other legal entity.”

Is that really so controversial?  Is that the worst thing in the world here?  Worth boycotting the state over?  Is that bigoted and hate-filled?  To simply clarify that you don’t necessarily have to be a church in order to have a valid right to exercise your religion?  The fact that this law may allow discrimination against gays does not make it an anti-gay law any more than a “stand your ground” statute is anti-black law because it may be used to allow unjustified killings against black teenagers.

To be clear – yes, under this bill, it is conceivable that an evangelical Christian baker could refuse to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding.  This law would allow them the right to refuse service to individuals based on religious grounds, in the same way that prior to this law, a church could refuse to rent its space to a same-sex wedding (where’s the outrage over that?).  But this bill doesn’t just protect Christians who want to unfairly discriminate against gays, it would also protect all of the following:

A Jewish electrician who refuses to work on Saturdays, because it violates the Sabbath.

A Muslim caterer who refuses to prepare pork dishes, because the animal is unclean.

An Atheist florist who refuses to prepare a floral arrangement spelling out “JESUS IS LORD” for a church service.

All of these are exercises of religion that are potentially discriminatory in nature, and I would suggest, they should all be protected.  As should the Christian bakers.  In fact, I would go as far as to suggest that the freedom of association is absolute, and that any person should be able to deny service to any other person for any reason at all.  While this bill doesn’t go that far, it does shore up legal protections for those seeking to freely associate based on religious principles, which I see as a step in the right direction.

The fact that a hostile media is spinning this bill as a bigoted attack on gays is unfortunate, but also totally beside the point.  (It might be worth pointing out that virtually zero news articles about this bill actually quote it at all, nor do they provide links to the actual text of the bill.  I’ll leave it to you to speculate as to why this might be the case.)  Refraining from actively taking steps to legally enshrine the freedom of association out of some fear that a hostile press will smear you for doing so is essentially “letting the terrorists win.”  It is allowing yourself to be bullied into silence and submission.  Rather than cowering in a corner out of fear of being called homophobic, I suggest that anyone who supports free association stand up and tackle this issue head on.  It falls to us to explain to people exactly why this is important, even if it bucks recent trends, even if it’s politically unpopular, and even if it contradicts what the Supreme Court happens to believe.

I believe that every individual has the right to freely associate with whomever they please.  I believe that part of this freedom includes the right to not associate with anyone they don’t wish to associate with as well.  I believe that every individual has the right to offer to sell goods and services, including their own personal labor, to the public at large.  I believe that the exercise of one legitimate right cannot automatically be deemed as justification of stripping away other rights.  In other words – if we can freely associate, and if we can sell our labor, then it is morally unjust for the government to claim that selling our labor somehow compels us to waive our rights to free association.  If you disagree with any of these beliefs, I’d be very interested in having a specific conversation as to why.

The freedom of association is absolute.  We cannot simply let it slip away because we’re afraid of being shouted down and called names by the New York Times.  As it stands now, Arizona SB 1062 is far from perfect, but I certainly see it as a step in the right direction.  Most of the attacks against it are incredibly dishonest and misleading.  I stand in firm support of this bill, and I would absolutely urge other states and localities to consider adopting similar legislation.

Posted in News Commentary | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment