Archive for October, 2011

October 30, 2011

Re: The Third End to the War in Iraq

by Eric T. Phillips

We already knew that about 5,000 security contractors would be staying in Iraq after the “withdrawal.” Now, we’re learning that the administration is planning to increase the number of combat forces in Kuwait. These troops will be available both to re-intervene in Iraq and to attack Iran, and will be supported by an increased naval presence in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea.

With the current bipartisan foreign policy consensus, wars never really end. And as long as the United States remains committed to maintaining a world spanning empire, they never will.

October 29, 2011

The “Exploitations” of Capitalism

by bladespode

In one of Michael Moore’s latest posts, entitled “Life Among the 1%“–yes, you read that correctly, he finally admitted to being a member– Michael Moore tells a delightful anecdote about speaking to his community of Flint, Michigan about the sale of his first movie, Roger & Me, to Warner Brothers back in 1989. He lovingly explains how the union men of Flint patted him on the back, as he has “beaten the system.” The system he speaks of is capitalism, and as he sees it, he beat the system by producing a product–a movie– that people have spent their hard earned cash to see.

What needs further analysis is the logic behind his explanation of capitalism, as it is clear that Michael Moore has a radically different interpretation of this system than anyone else.

Moore states that he does “extremely well,” and that this is what drives other people absolutely crazy. He then explains his view of capitalism:

“Capitalism is a system, a pyramid scheme of sorts, that exploits the vast majority so that the few at the top can enrich themselves more. I make my money the old school, honest way by making things.”

Yup, definitely Mr. Moore. Capitalism is merely the system that exploits everybody-because capitalism does not allow people to use their own ideas and products to make themselves rich, to create things that benefit mankind. Nope, the sale of your movie is just the rich exploiting others, as the rich are the only ones that have benefitted from the production of your movie.

What? You say that you made three million dollars as well? Well, that changes everything. So the rich did not exploit your idea, but rather bought your idea and gave you a larger venue where you can be heard, allowing people to freely react to your product, deciding whether they want to expend the capital and time to see your movie. It doesn’t sound like the rich exploiting anyone at all. The “non-rich” who create products definitely cannot become the rich in a capitalistic society, as you said that only the rich get richer-wait, how did you make your money then, Mr. Moore?

Unfortunately, Moore’s logic about capitalism contains many inherent flaws about the understanding of capitalism in America today. People believe that capitalism is the problem, with inflation and unemployment being merely a byproduct of such a system. They believe that this is the rich exploiting the poor for their own gain.

What they don’t see is, as the French economist Claude Frederic Basitat called it, is “that which is not seen.” They do not see that printing your way out of a recession will cause inflation, as the amount of money in circulation increases. They don’t see that every dollar that the government spends is a dollar that could have been spent somewhere else for another purpose. These misconceptions are further propagated by people like Moore, who peddle their ideas that the system and businesses are at fault for the problems we are in, and a socialist system is the way to fix this, without understanding the benefits of a capitalistic system.

And all of this from someone who has used a “corrupt” capitalistic system to become rich beyond his wildest dreams.

October 27, 2011

Congress’s 2012 Workload

by Eric T. Phillips

Nancy Cordes of CBS News is worried. The House of Representatives will only have 109 workdays in 2012. That means recess days (151 weekdays) will outnumber “working” days by a 3:2 margin. The horror.

What will we do? Our ruling class will only have 109 days  next year to come up with new laws to stifle the economy, to create new layers of bureaucracy, and to bury us all in more debt.

Nonetheless, Ms. Cordes should not be concerned. Obama will certainly be busy year-round subverting Congress with new rounds executive orders. Because, as he has informed us, if Congress won’t act, he will. The Constitution be damned.

October 26, 2011

With puppets like these…

by Eric T. Phillips

On Monday, Afghani President Hamid Karzai told a Pakistani television reporter that if war breaks out between Pakistan and Afghanistan, his government would side with the Pakistanis.Unsurprisingly these comments have since come under scrutiny, and Karzai is now trying to back away from his statement. Isn’t it funny that politics is the same everywhere?

A spokesman for Karzai has insisted that Karzai’s comments are being misinterpreted. Well, here they are: “If a war ever breaks [out] between Pakistan and America, we will side [with] Pakistan…Afghanistan would stand with you. Afghanistan is your brother.” Try to misinterpret that.

At least 1,817 American troops have died fighting to keep this man in power. I wonder if he’ll appreciate us more if we stick around for another 10 years and another 1,817 Americans die for his regime. If anyone besides Ron Paul wins the presidency, we may just get to find out.

October 24, 2011

A New Cold War?

by Eric T. Phillips

The United States is an empire. Throughout the world, American troops are defending governments that have either been installed by or bought off by the United States government. At the same time, it’s seeking economic, cultural, and political dominance both inside and outside its frontiers.

As I recently wrote, President Obama’s recent decision to send special operations troops to Uganda was designed to bolster the empire’s clout in East Africa. And now that Gaddafi is dead, politically connected firms from the U.S., Britain, and France will surely cash in on reconstruction and oil contracts in Libya.

These actions are the actions any emperor looking to expand his power would take. They are strategic moves, aimed not just at African enemies, but also at China. Since 2000, Chinese investment in Africa has skyrocketed, and many in the U.S. government have grown concerned at this supposed challenge to American global hegemony. As Paul Craig Roberts argues, “Washington has revived the Great Power Game and is vying with China.” But whereas China “brings Africa investment and gifts of infrastructure, Washington sends troops, bombs and military bases.”

A new cold war with China would be another blow to the cause of liberty, as all wars, cold and hot, lead to debt, inflation, taxes, and the growth of the police state. But most government leaders live in a different world than the average American. Normal people were relieved that communism collapsed on its own and that they no longer had to worry about nuclear annihilation. But not America’s ruling class. They lamented the disappearance of the reliable bogeyman that, for decades, united Americans behind the U.S. government. It hasn’t been hard for them to find new enemies, but none of these new villains have really managed to fill the shoes of the old Soviet Empire. But if the U.S. continues on its current reckless course, the Chinese might have a chance to do just that.

October 24, 2011

Some Thoughts on the Anti-College Movement

by Eric T. Phillips

With hundreds of thousands of college grads unemployed, the skyrocketing cost of tuition, the growth of online education, and the prevalence of dropouts among the super-wealthy (Steve Jobs first among them), an anti-college movement has slowly begun to form. Michael Ellsberg’s article, “Will Dropouts Save America?”, published this weekend in the New York Times, is the latest case in point. Ellsberg, the author of The Education of Millionaires: It’s Not What You Think and It’s Not Too Late, argues that America’s educational system is not geared towards teaching young people how to be good entrepreneurs, who are the real drivers of economic growth. All that most Americans learn about sales and marketing in college, for instance, is that they are part of the capitalistic system and therefore evil.

I have been in school for almost my entire life. I graduated at 22 with degrees in history and economics and, six months later, enrolled in a masters program in American history. Three years later, I’m still there, working part time to pay the bills. And it’s obvious to me that what Ellsberg says is largely true. The only thing I’ve ever learned in school that has helped me in the non-academic world is how to use Microsoft Excel. My accounting teacher in high school, herself a former business woman, taught me this useful skill, which I put to use for my dad’s carpentry business. To this day he uses the proposal and billing templates that I created.

Even now, after twenty years in school, my most marketable skill is my steady hand with a paintbrush. I don’t know where I got this talent for painting straight lines where the ceiling meets the wall, but it certainly wasn’t in school.  I have had some success with tutoring, but this business offers sporadic and unpredictable hours and requires a tremendous amount of prep time. A big painting job pays much better with a lot less hassle than does taking on a new student looking to ace the SAT next month. And even though the material you teach as a tutor is the same stuff you’ve been learning for years in school, the process of actually finding students, of maintaining relationships with customers, and of managing your time and costs are things the average student (including me) have never learned in school.

I can’t say how beneficial business classes are. I’ve never taken one, though I hear bad things. Judging by my friends’ experiences, it seems to me that you don’t need a business degree to get a job in the corporate sector and that your work history is far more important than your college grades are. Plus, you don’t need any degree to start your own business.

But few of the people I’ve met during my long career in school have ever had that ambition. Which makes sense since, even today, going to a good college is seen as the safe route to a good career. After all, the average college grad makes a million more dollars over the course of a lifetime than the average high school grad, as universities and the government that subsidizes them like to remind us. But as Ellsberg points out, this could be just because motivated people tend to go to college, not because of any of the supposed benefits of higher education.

But then, if college is so useless, what should people do after they graduate high school? Ellsberg says they should go to college, but if they decide to drop out and start a business, the government should continue sending them financial aid. James Altucher says 18 year olds should spend the money they would have spent on tuition starting a business or traveling the world. Peter Thiel, the founder of Paypal, has recently set up a fellowship program that provides $100,000 grants for a select group of entrepreneurial-minded students to put their business plans into action. Gary North thinks that young people should earn their BAs from an accredited college by taking CLEP exams while working part time.

For a special type of 18 year old with a special set of parents, these are interesting ideas (except that one about the government giving financial aid to dropouts). But most people aren’t cut out to be full time entrepreneurs, especially when they’re 18.

I know the anti-college response. College is risky too; 46% of college students never even graduate. They’re left with piles of debt and no degree. And even for those who do graduate, many end up with jobs they could have gotten without a degree. But they have the debt and 4-6 year of foregone experience.

All true. But the solution, for the 97% of kids who aren’t ready to start a business at 18, is to work smartly within the system. First of all, if you want to be a doctor, lawyer, engineer, scientist, or college professor, you have to go to college. Because for these careers, you have to go to grad school, and to go to grad school, obviously, you need to go to college. But that doesn’t mean you should spare no expense in selecting a school. Go to a good state school or, if you have the grades, go to a private school where you can get generous scholarships. No one should ever go to an expensive private school if they’re not offered a good scholarship (unless they’re rich). The debt from spending 4 or 5 years without funding at say, NYU, can be financially crippling even if you find a well-paying job after graduation.

Second of all, no one should ever major in subjects like gender studies, art history, or sociology without a very specific plan on how to make use of it. (And the only specific plan I can think of for these subjects would be to become a professor, and this is in itself a very risky plan, given the glut of PhDs on the market.) I was told dozens of times in college that I should pick whatever major held my interest and not to worry about how to find a job with it. While it is true that classics majors do sometimes end up getting jobs in the corporate sector, that’s usually because they had no idea how to utilize their major, desperately needed money to begin paying off their student loan debt, and ended up falling into a job by luck. Career change for these people is difficult, especially as the years go by and their financial and familial responsibilities pile up.

It’s far better an idea to choose a field whose graduates are in demand, and to seek internships that supplement your study. While it might seem like reading novels all day as an English major is a rewarding way to spend a college career, people considering such a course should see the utter bewilderment that strikes English majors after graduation. No other group that I’ve ever observed is more unprepared for the non-academic world. The result: lousy retail jobs, dingy apartments, and crushing debt. Reading Ulysses isn’t that fun.

And finally, there’s always technical school. Students who do poorly in traditional academic subjects are not necessarily unintelligent, and teachers and parents should stop trying to force them to like and do well in things they’re not suited to. Carpenters, plumbers, electricians, mechanics, and IT specialists are all integral to the economy and can make decent money. There’s no good reason for an 18-year-old ‘C’ student to spend two years in college as a history major before dropping out with nothing to show for it but student loan payments. Many of these students have the type of entrepreneurial skills that their more bookish counterparts lack, and we shouldn’t let formal schooling get in the way of that.

I do hope along with Michael Ellsberg, James Altucher, Peter Thiel, and Gary North that that unusually talented and ambitious 3% will not waste any time with college and instead get to work on becoming the next generation’s great innovators, inventors, and capitalists. But for the rest of us, the answer is not to avoid college, but to go to college smartly. Easier said than done, I know. I, myself, have not done perfectly. But I did manage to graduate in a reasonable period of time without racking up an unsustainable amount of debt. My painting abilities might still be my most valuable asset, but, in college, I did meet dozens of new people, learn many things I probably wouldn’t have been exposed to on my own, and gain experience as a writer and researcher. Would I be better off now if I had forgone college and tried to start my own business or tried to make it as a freelance writer? I actually thought about both ideas. I could have had a million dollar business selling war relics on ebay or I might already be a best-selling author. But I doubt it.

October 23, 2011

The Third End to the War in Iraq

by Eric T. Phillips

On Friday, President Obama announced that all remaining U.S. troops in Iraq will be coming home by the end of the year, honoring an agreement the Bush administration entered into with the Iraqi government in 2008.  The war will finally be over, we are told, just as it was supposed to be on May 1, 2003 when President Bush declared “mission accomplished,” and just as it was supposed to be again on August 31, 2010, when President Obama said that “the American combat mission in Iraq has ended.” After this current end to the war, the U.S. will leave behind an embassy about the size of Vatican City and 5000 security contractors.

But even if not all the troops are actually coming home, many thousands are, and that’s a good thing. The irony, nevertheless, remains impossible to ignore. Apparently the winner of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize can only end wars by honoring agreements signed by his predecessor, the universally reviled warmonger George W. Bush. Even more absurd, Obama had been trying to get out of this agreement for months. He and his advisers were actually eager to keep tens of thousands of troops in the country beyond 2011, as long as these soldiers were granted immunity from Iraq’s laws. The Iraqi government refused this demand, however, and a new arrangement that would have extended the U.S. Army’s stay was never worked out.

In other words, it’s not really the case that Obama is withdrawing the troops. More accurately stated, the Iraqis are kicking out a large contingent of the U.S. occupation force, but a sizable group of mercenaries is still going to stick around to guard the giant imperial outpost in Baghdad. But since the media like triumphal narratives and political celebrations better than reality, Obama will get the credit for ending the war.

October 18, 2011

A Progressive in Any Age

by Eric T. Phillips

Thomas Friedman’s latest New York Times column, “A Progressive in the Age of Austerity,” is a paean to Chicago mayor and former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel. Emmanuel, according to Friedman, has found smart ways to trim the city government while “reinvesting” the proceeds into a variety of social programs. (“Investment” is the socialists’ word for government spending.)

In campaigning for his agenda, Emmanuel has warned,

The cost of putting political choices ahead of practical solutions has become too expensive. It is destroying Chicago’s finances and threatening the city’s future. In all of these reforms, we will be guided by principle, pragmatism and progress — not politics.

What are these principled and practical reforms? A lengthened school day, more cops on the street, and subway renovation. There have been a few cuts, but not nearly enough to close the city’s $636 million operating budget. To make that up, Emmanuel is looking to increase the fee for using city water, impose a surcharge on people who park downtown, and up the fine for drunk driving. In other words, he is trying to maximize the visibility of his spending programs while hiding his tax increases (which he calls “fees”). Traditional progressivism. Traditional politics.

Both Obama and Emmanuel would like you to believe that their ideas are pragmatic and nonpolitical solutions, crafted with the help of experts, and aimed at achieving goals that everyone agrees on. This rhetoric, however, is nothing but a political trick. Their “experts” are just as biased as they are, and the programs they support are politically crafted to help ensure their reelection. The stimulus, for example—which Obama called an idea that was “ahead of the old ideological battles”—was in reality a massive payoff to the traditional Democrat constituencies that helped elect him. The green and union lobbies got their cut; funding for Medicaid and food stamps was increased; federal bureaucracies were bolstered.

Obama never intended to bring “hope” and “change” to Washington. Using that soaring language was never anything more than a marketing campaign crafted by David Axelrod. Like Rahm Emmanuel, he intended to govern as a traditional progressive, and that’s what he’s done. He’s increased the power of the state by awarding his political allies (that’s what the “experts” told him to do). And he’s tried to build support for his programs by hiding their cost, marginalizing his opponents, and using misleading language. Traditional progressivism. Traditional politics.

October 16, 2011

Empire Building in Uganda and Beyond

by Eric T. Phillips

If you believe President Obama, he authorized military intervention in Uganda both to save women and children and to “further U.S. national security interests.” This is from a man who is vigorously prosecuting a series of wars—in which at least 100,000 innocent civilians have been killed—on countries that pose no threat to America.

The real reason Obama has sent special operations troops to the East African dictatorship—along with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of aid—is to reward Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni for sending thousands of troops to invade Somalia on the U.S. government’s behalf. In doing so, Obama is continuing a U.S. tradition that dates back decades–bribing third world countries to fight proxy wars and to grant military access to Western troops.

Uganda forms part of the southern border of the vast theater of operations in the War on Terrorism that stretches from Sub-Saharan Africa to Central Asia. For months, the Obama administration has been stepping up operations in this southern region, which encompasses the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. According to the Washington Post, the U.S. is currently constructing “a constellation of secret drone bases” in Ethopia, Djibouti, Saudi Arabia, and the Seychelles to facilitate air attacks on targets in Somalia and Yemen. And now, with this latest move in Uganda, Obama has almost certainly ensured that he will have the Ugandan Army at his disposal in the future. Better for him to have Ugandans dying in Mogadishu than Americans.

Our president is such a humanitarian, isn’t he?

October 14, 2011

Public Bookshelves, Literacy, and Rioting

by Eric T. Phillips

Volunteers in Germany have set up public bookshelves on the streets of Berlin, Hannover, and Cologne where people can pick up or leave books as they please. I’ve seen similar mini-libraries in apartment buildings here in the U.S., and they’re useful little fixtures. If you’re patient, you can eventually find an old gem or two.

Public Bookshelf In Cologne (Credit: AP)

These shelves work because there are usually more people looking to get rid of their old books than there are people looking for “new” old books.

Plus, they typically don’t attract vandals because the type of person who’s in to that type of thing usually isn’t particularly interested in literature. Case in point: during the London riots last summer, the shopping district of Clapham Junction was completely ransacked. The electronics, clothing, jewelry, and beauty stores were all smashed and pillaged. Only one store escaped any damage: Waterstone’s bookstore.

On a side note: one liberal newspaper’s response to this incident is particularly hilarious. “What this free-for-all revealed better than any consumer behaviour poll could,” one of the paper’s writers explained, “is that many young people have no desire for books.” Naturally, therefore,

Something must be done to address illiteracy in London, and the Evening Standard is trying to play a small part in the solution. In a packed, buzzing conference room in Islington library, our first volunteers are being trained as reading helpers.

A bunch of criminals loot all the stores in a shopping district except for the bookstore. The liberal’s solution? Teach them how to read!

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