Archive for November, 2011

November 29, 2011

Newt Gingrich: An American Mussolini?

by Eric T. Phillips

In his recent Antiwar.com piece, Justin Raimondo captures the essence of Newt Gingrich’s fear-based ideology and self-important demeanor. “Newt,” he writes, ” would make the perfect dictator, strutting about the stage and puffing out his chest like a peacock on parade.”

It’s true, Gingrich’s mix of fiery rhetoric and pompous paternalism would make him a great American Mussolini.

I’ve noticed throughout the numerous GOP debates that Newt is by far the most effective fear monger. He raises the prospect of a nuclear attack more than any of the others, and he does it without seeming hysterical. He’s mastered the art of hyperbole without sounding hyperbolic.

This skill was most recently on display during the last debate when, in response to a question about the Patriot Act, Gingrich intoned in a deep and serious voice that “all of us will be in danger for the rest of our lives.” But it’ll be okay because he’s “studied this matter for many years” and if he becomes president–the subtext is–he’ll protect us.

At the same time, Gingrich supplements his stern warnings and fatherly reassurances with unfailing self-confidence and bombastic combativeness. Many political analysts have credited his recent rise in the polls in part to his “war on Republican debate moderators.” For Republicans, members of the media make a great foil, and by picking fights with them he’s been able to, as Raimondo puts it, strut about the stage and puff out his chest like a peacock on parade. Or, in Aaron Blake’s words, to essentially say ‘I’m better than this debate, so I’ll make my own rules.’

It’s just this attitude that would make a Gingrich presidency so dangerous. Under the guise of fighting terrorists, he would undoubtedly make his own rules and push the power of the executive branch to new limits. And as James Madison warned during the Constitutional Convention, “The means of defense against foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home.”

November 28, 2011

Review: Woods on Gingrich

by Eric T. Phillips

With Newt Gingrich’s recent rise in the polls, I figured it would be a good time to revisit my review of Tom Woods’ latest book, Rollback, which exposes Gingrich as the big government ideologue he really is.

Back in February, I wrote:

Conservative Republicans say they want to cut the size of government. But because they largely accept the premises that the American Leviathan is built on, they shy away from radical plans to reign in the power of the state. Thomas Woods clearly wrote his latest book, Rollback, in an attempt to shake self-proclaimed small government conservatives out of their dogmatic slumber where they kid themselves into believing that defense spending is too low, that the Drug War is winnable, and that ending earmarks will actually help balance the budget.

Republicans, of course, are not the only misguided ones. Woods, for example, reproduces the results of a Time/CNN poll taken in December 1995, which found that 47 percent of Americans believed that “the cuts in federal spending proposed by the Republicans in Congress” had “gone too far.” What were these cuts? Republicans proposed increasing federal spending by “only” $350 billion over seven years, as opposed to the Democrats’ plan for a $500 billion increase. And who is one of the Tea Party’s favored presidential candidates for 2012? None other than the architect of the planned $350 billion dollar increase, Newt Gingrich. (The other favorite, Mitt Romney, signed into law a state-level version of Obamacare during his tenure as Massachusetts governor).

In his first chapter, Woods catalogues how this farce of a two party system has left the government with shockingly unsustainable debts and obligations. The rest of the book is dedicated to attacking the sacred cows most responsible for this disastrous situation: the Fed, entitlements, the defense budget, and the entire regulatory apparatus. Building on many of the historical arguments he made in his Politically Incorrect Guide to American History and 33 Questions About American History You’re Not Supposed to Ask, Woods cites legions of studies, little known facts, and neglected conservative, libertarian, and even liberal scholars to bolster his case for dismantling the federal government and building a free society.

Of course, Woods’s prescriptions will be derided as extreme and politically unrealistic by all the usual characters in Congress and the media. These establishment types, however, are not Rollback‘s intended audience. Woods is extremely skeptical of what he calls the “the writing-policy-studies strategy, the voting-for-the-guy-who-gives-a-good-speech strategy, [and] the waiting-for-the-Supreme-Court-to-declare-anything-at-all-unconstitutional strategy.” He suggests instead pursuing state nullification, jury nullification, the Free State Project, agorism, and debt repudiation. All these strategies are decentralized approaches to delegitimizing the state through peaceful noncompliance.

Woods explains that he wrote this book with the following question in mind: “What do I wish I myself had known 20 years ago, so that I wouldn’t have had to come by all this information so laboriously on my own?” In this sense, he has succeeded. The book contains a tremendous amount of useful citations for anyone with an interest in policy beyond partisan talking points. The thirty pages of notes in the back are alone worth the price of the book.

As an addendum, I quote directly from the book:

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has a reputation for being a right-wing ideologue. But it is surely a strange right-wing ideologue who credits Franklin Roosevelt with lifting the country out of the Great Depression, joins with John Kerry on “climate change,” and supports (among many other things) the Medicare prescription drug benefit, federal programs to pay for more teachers, Internet access for every American, and rewards to students who take challenging math and science courses — not to mention his sympathy for federal energy policy and Hillary Clinton’s proposed national health-care database, among other things….

[In 1994,] the GOP leadership made the [election] into a referendum on [Gingrich's] “Contract with America,” a series of proposals the party pledged to champion if elected. Democrats and Republicans alike pretended it was a radical assault on government spending and activity — Democrats in order to frighten their base, and Republicans in order to energize theirs. The Contract was, in fact, a hodgepodge of trivial changes that both kept the basic structure of the American Leviathan intact and neutralized the more ambitious plans and proposals of freshman congressmen who may actually have wanted to change something. The center-left Brookings Institution had it right: “Viewed historically, the Contract represents the final consolidation of the bedrock domestic policies and programs of the New Deal, the Great Society, the post-Second World War defense establishment, and, most importantly, the deeply rooted national political culture that has grown up around them.”

As Lew Rockwell says, you should never trust a man named after a lizard. Or a lizard-like aquatic amphibian.

November 28, 2011

Battlefield America

by Eric T. Phillips

Next week the Senate will be voting on a bill that would define the entire world–including the United States–as a “battlefield.”  Such a move would allow the U.S. Military to arrest American citizens in America without charge or trial, essentially repealing the venerable Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which prohibits the Army from exercising law enforcement powers within the borders of the United States.

Such restrictions on the military’s domestic authority are essential to the survival of a free society; giving the military authority to enforce domestic law is to treat American itself as an occupied territory like Iraq or Afghanistan.

The provision, an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that was drafted in secret by Senators Carl Levin and John McCain, is of course being promoted as a tool to fight terrorists. But given that the Department of Homeland Security has characterized such behavior as buying gold, owning guns, donating to obscure charities, supporting third parties, and using cash for any large transactions as “suspicious activities,” the new law would be wide open to abuse. This means that the federal government would be able to simply declare any American a domestic terrorist and throw him in a military prison where he would have absolutely no legal recourse.

Ten years after 9/11, the federal government is trying harder than ever to destroy what liberty is left in this country. And frighteningly, in this quest, they may succeed. But they’ll never succeed in providing the security they’re promising in return. For their power is in itself the greatest threat to the security of the American people.

UPDATE: Some people are arguing that there’s a protection clause for American citizens in the bill. Chris Anders of the ACLU responds:

Don’t be confused by anyone claiming that the indefinite detention legislation does not apply to American citizens. It does. There is an exemption for American citizens from the mandatory detention requirement (section 1032 of the bill), but no exemption for American citizens from the authorization to use the military to indefinitely detain people without charge or trial (section 1013 of the bill). So, the result is that, under the bill, the military has the power to indefinitely imprison American citizens, but it does not have to use its power unless ordered to do so.

But you don’t have to believe us. Instead, read what one of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Lindsey Graham said about it on the Senate floor: “1031, the statement of authority to detain, does apply to American citizens and it designates the world as the battlefield, including the homeland.”

There you have it — indefinite military detention of American citizens without charge or trial. And the Senate is likely to vote on it Monday or Tuesday.

UPDATE 2: Battlefield America bill passes Senate.

November 27, 2011

“Private Gobbledygook”: The Overmathematization of Science

by Eric T. Phillips

Economics is properly understood as the study of human action. The methods most mainstream economists use, however, have less to do with acting people than with byzantine multivariate regressions and differential equations. The Austrian school eschews this mathematical approach.  Ludwig von Mises, for example, asked, “How can economic action that always consists of preferring and setting aside, that is, of making unequal valuations, be transformed into equal valuations, and the use of equations?”

Classical physicists, unlike economists, can break down the given elements of nature, precisely alter single variables at a time, and observe controlled experiments. At least to a large extent. The use of mathematics is suited to these conditions, none of which are true for the social scientist.

But even in physics, now, mathematics is being overused and abused. As David Lindley, a theoretical physicist, explains in his book, The End of Physics: The Myth of a Unified Theory:

the most recent speculation of the theoretical physicists is that elementary particles are not particles at all but vibrations of tiny loops of quantum-mechanical string, wriggling around in twenty-six-dimensional space. This is the modern equivalent of the classical physicist’s hope that all matter could be understood in terms of atoms that behaved essentially like little billiard balls….

Modern particle physics is, in a literal sense, incomprehensible. It is grounded not in the tangible and testable notions of objects and points and pushes and pulls but in a sophisticated and indirect mathematical language of fields and interactions and wave-functions. The old concepts are in there somewhere, but in heavy disguise. To the outsider, it may seem that the theoretical physicists of today are in the grip of a collective mathematical zaniness, inventing twenty-six-dimensional spaces and filling them with strings out of obfuscatory glee. Their use of language is as esoteric and baffling as that of the literary deconstructionists: they seem to speak in words and sentences, but it is a kind of code….

Each speaks in a private gobbledygook understandable only to those similarly initiated.

….the inexorable progress of physics from the world we can see and touch into a world made accessible only by huge and expensive experimental equipment, and on into a world illuminated by the intellect alone, is a genuine cause for alarm. [When] the trend toward increasing abstraction is turning  theoretical physics into recreational mathematics, endlessly amusing to those who can master the technique and join the game, [it becomes] ultimately meaningless because the objects of mathematical manipulation are forever beyond the access of experiment and measurement…

What is the use of a theory that looks attractive but contains no additional power of prediction, and makes no statement that can be tested? Does physics then become a branch of aesthetics?

The power of mathematics in certain applications makes it a seductive language for many scholars and scientists. But in their enthusiasm, they repeat the errors of Pythagoras. As Aristotle explained, “The so-called Pythagoreans, who were the first to take up mathematics, not only advanced this subject, but saturated with it, they fancied that the principles of mathematics were the principles of all things.”

November 25, 2011

Leaked UN Report: Torture, Lynchings, and Concentration Camps in Post-Gaddafi Libya

by Eric T. Phillips

Obama’s unconstitutional war in Libya has been widely hailed as a foreign policy “success.” Taking just seven months and spending “only” around a billion dollars, the story goes, Obama helped rebels overthrow Muammar Gaddafi, who was about to slaughter an untold number of civilians in the port city of Benghazi. And now that Gaddafi is gone, the rebels are busy forming a transitional government and are well on their way to establishing a stable democracy in Libya.

Except that they aren’t. According to a UN report reviewed by the The Independent, armed militias control the streets of Libya’s major cities and are settling internecine feuds through gangland warfare. Gaddafi’s fate–being beaten, sodomized, and summarily executed–is not unique. It’s been the fate of numerous real and assumed enemies of the various rebel factions, including hundreds of black Africans who were lynched because of unproven accusations that they were mercenaries hired by Gaddafi.

Obama may claim to have saved Benghazi, but you probably won’t hear him mention the city of Tawerga, the former home to a large sub-Saharan population, which was devastated by rebel fighters from neighbouring Misrata. According to the report,

Tawergas are reported to have been targeted in revenge killings, or taken by armed men from their homes, checkpoints and hospitals, and some allegedly later abused or executed in detention. Members of the community have fled to various cities across Libya.

Tawergas and other black Africans form a large part of the new Libya’s population of political prisoners. Thousands of men, women, and children are being illegally detained and tortured by rebel militias. They have no legal recourse.

In the modern American empire, supporting seven months of bombing and bloody civil war to replace one tyrannical regime with another is apparently an example of success. It remains to be seen how many more such successes it will take to completely undue the entire imperial project.

November 22, 2011

Creepy Chanting Occupy Protesters Interrupt Ron Paul

by Eric T. Phillips

On Monday, a group of Occupy Wall Street Protesters interrupted a question and answer session at a Ron Paul town hall gathering in New Hampshire. “Mic check!” their leader yelled, before he rattled off a speech about how the “99%” will be heard. The other Occupy people in the audience collectively re-chanted each line.

After their little spiel was over, Paul asked, “Do you feel better?”  This apparently upset a corpulent man with a pony tail, who jumped out of his seat yelling and gesturing in response. He was drowned out though, and Paul assured the demonstrators that he had opposed the Wall Street bailouts and was a supporter of the 99%.

Here’s the video:

I don’t understand how any independent thinker could participate in these creepy “one voice” human microphone chants. It’s supposedly just a  “non-tech means of public address,” as one commenter who doesn’t like me put it. But it’s much more than that. Any one of those Occupy people at the event could have asked the congressman an intelligent question, just like anyone else in the audience. But instead they chose to be disruptive and chant like zombies.

The Occupy Wall Street movement is by and large based on emotion, and the chanting is an effective means of collectively voicing anger. It’s completely anathema, however, to reasoned discourse. But, as I have explained, that doesn’t matter to radical leftists. Logic is irrelevant to them. As Mises explained, to defend their irrational theories they “attack logic and reason and substitute mystical intuition for ratiocination.” And the chanting is a great way to do that.

November 21, 2011

Ron Paul and the General Election

by Eric T. Phillips

Conrad Black is optimistic about our political future. “As long as there is a candidate that can speak and tie up his shoelaces in the morning,” he writes, “I do not believe Obama can be reelected.” Further, he continues, the election of a Republican will be seen as a mandate for the party’s small government platform and for a tougher stance against Iran.

I’m not nearly as optimistic. If Ron Paul doesn’t win the nomination, there’s no reason to believe that a new Republican administration would govern any differently than any of the Republican presidents have since Eisenhower. And that means deficits, increased spending, and fake tax cuts. And more war, of course.

I do think that Black is correct that a GOP president would be tougher on Iran. Unlike him, I don’t think this is a good thing. Especially not for the cause of small government.

But there’s something else Black is missing–Ron Paul’s power to influence the race. Dr. Paul is emerging as a front runner in Iowa and New Hampshire, and if he wins either state, getting the nomination will be in the realm of possibility for him.

But even if he doesn’t win the nomination, he’ll still have an opportunity to greatly affect the general election. According to recent polls, if Paul runs as a third party candidate, he would garner around 18% of the vote. That would be the death knell for Romney, no matter how unpopular Obama is.

Now, Paul has said that he has no intention of running as a third party candidate. He hasn’t categorically ruled out the possibility, however, and once he considers the benefits of running as a Libertarian or as an Independent (ticking off a lot of the bad guys, getting much more attention, and preventing the  election of a bad Republican), I think it’s very likely he’ll take advantage of the opportunity.

Contra Black, therefore, Obama’s reelection is a very real possibility. And while that is not a cause for optimism, neither would be the election of any of the establishment Republicans.

November 21, 2011

Bob Schieffer Interviews Ron Paul

by Eric T. Phillips

Here’s the Bob Schieffer-Ron Paul interview, if you haven’t seen it yet.

According to Lew Rockwell:

Schieffer promised Ron 20 minutes on Face the Nation, but cut him off after 10, because he was demolishing that establishment shill. Catch Schieffer’s smirk. Also, there was a loud buzzing from Ron’s earpiece during the entire interview. Deliberate? Who knows, but the flaw had been pointed out again and again 15 minutes before airtime.

You can actually hear at least one audio problem if you listen closely. After Schieffer asks his first question about the causes of 9/11, you can hear his voice echo along with some static. The buzzing noise would also explain why Dr. Paul is almost yelling during most of the interview.

Deliberate or not, it’s obvious that even when the mainstream media deign to notice Dr. Paul, they don’t give him any respect and they switch gears to more establishment-friendly topics as soon as possible. It seems as if they realize that they have to cover him at least a little if they are to maintain even the slight appearance of objectivity, but, in trying to get it over with quickly, they treat interviewing him like guzzling a dose of disgusting tasting medicine.

The sooner such establishment mouthpieces are overtaken by internet news sources, the better.

November 20, 2011

Taking the Occupiers at their Word

by Eric T. Phillips

Thanks to The International Libertarian for the following series of interviews with Occupy Philadelphia protesters.

The three stars of the clip–a member of the Philadelphia Socialists, a unionist nurse, and a Karl Marx impersonator–are representative of the nature of the Occupy movement. As William Jasper explains,

The leading activists openly display their Communist, Marxist, Socialist, Anarchist affiliations and orientations. One would have to be willfully blind and totally dishonest not to notice this. In this writer’s visits to Zuccotti Park, it was impossible to take more than a few steps without seeing publications of the Communist Party, Revolutionary Communist Party, Communist Workers Party, Socialist Party, Socialist Workers Party, Working Families Party, etc., as well as prominent posters with the communist hammer and sickle or the communist clenched fist symbol. In fact, the “official” OccupyWallSt.org website has adopted the communist clenched fist as the symbol for its homepage — as have many of the derivative websites.

Unfortunately, there are many across the political spectrum who are willfully blind towards the Occupy crowd. Such a situation is at least understandable, because for the numerous Americans who are upset with the country’s political and economic ruling class there’s a tendency to identify with anyone who’s protesting the status quo. The Occupy movement has played into this tendency by claiming to represent the “99%” and through some effective propaganda efforts (such as those pictures of people holding up letters detailing their economic plight).

In the end, however, you have to take the protesters at their word. They’re socialists, communists, anarchists, and radical progressives, and they’ll tell you that if you listen.

Some, though, are unwilling to listen. The first commenter on Jasper’s piece (quoted above) angrily dismissed the writer’s observations, ranting, “You can slander this as a ‘communism’ front all you want…”

Slander? Ask the member of the Philadelphia Socialists who the International Libertarian interviewed if he thinks that pointing out the salient communist influences on the OWS movement is slander.

Ask the Karl Marx impersonator too.

November 18, 2011

OWS is Not Interested in Free Market Economics

by Eric T. Phillips

One commenter on my recent article posted on Mises.org was very angry with me. He claimed that I was “perpetuating dichotomy,” and that by criticizing some spoiled Harvard kids who couldn’t even stand listening to one of the very few mildly non-leftists at their university, I was “nit-picking the opportunity of a lifetime.”

A second commenter agreed, and decided to start the re-education of Occupy Wall Street himself. He posted:

To any OWS supporter passing through this page: I will send you a free copy of Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson. Over 1m copies sold, only 200 pages long, best little book you’ll read this year.

I have 10 to give away. Just write to me at freehazlitt@hotmail.co.uk, specify whether you want a hard copy or a kindle version, and include a mailing address and I’ll send it to you from amazon.com.

He also posted the offer at occupywallst.org. Some time passed, and after several posters cheered him on and offered him extra books, he replied to one post:

unhappily, martin, I can’t even give them away. I still have 6 left, and even with the Bastiat bonus offered for the first delivery requested to NYC, I’ve had nothing. I even went on to the official occupywallst.org website and repeated the offer, and nothing.

It’s very depressing, and validates the lack of faith in OWS shown in the comments above. I really feel quite deflated.

Well, if any OWS supporter passes through this page, I assume the offer still stands.

But our commenter shouldn’t be so deflated. The vast majority of OWS people were leftists before the protests; they’ll be leftists during the protests, and they’ll still be leftists after the protests end. Their dingy little camps are not fertile recruitment grounds for libertarians, even though they’re mad at some of the same people we’re mad at. The enemy of my enemy is not always my friend.

Unnamed commenter: save those extra books you have, and keep an eye out for any friends or family members of yours that are interested in your ideas. Give them the copies. It might take a while to pass them all out, but be patient. In the meantime, your time will be much better spent supporting the Ron Paul campaign.

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