Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Heroic Bradley Manning

A case can be made that to be a patriotic American in today's world is to defend the U.S. Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic. If that's true, what can be said about Bradley Manning? After allegedly releasing a video to Wikileaks that showed U.S. troops murdering unarmed foreigners, including two small children, Manning was held incommunicado illegally for 900 days by the U.S. government. Do most Americans care? No. Does the lapdog media protest? Of course not.

Paul Craig Roberts writes:

On November 29 Bradley Manning testified in federal court about his illegal confinement and torture by the U.S. government.  Manning's testimony was not covered by the US media.  The New York Times, in Chris Floyd's words, "contented itself with a brief bit of wire copy from AP, tucked away on page 3."

In contrast, the British Guardian covered Manning's testimony in detail in two stories 68 paragraphs long.
Given that most Americans regard the American military as the unflagging and courageous defenders of our "liberties," about our only possible salvation is the financial collapse of the government. When the day comes when it can no longer borrow money to pay the interest on money previously borrowed, a more humane society could emerge.

For more information about Manning's case, see www.bradleymanning.org.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Stop Googling and Duck!

There's a new kid on the search engine block: DuckDuckGo.com

Unlike Google, DuckDuckGo doesn't track you. 
The proprietor of the search engine is Gabriel Weinberg, who is 33. A few years ago, when Weinberg told his wife about his new business idea — pitting him against more established outfits such as Google and Bing — he admits that she briefly thought he was nuts.

“She was like, ‘What are you doing?’ ” Weinberg said. “She thought the idea was crazy.”

Her theory was hard to dispute. A start-up taking on Google in search is much like a raft taking on a cruise ship as a vacation option. But Weinberg is not delusional. With money lining his pockets from selling a start-up for $10 million, Weinberg bet there was a place in the market for a product capitalizing on users’ emerging annoyances with Google — its search results gamed by marketers; its pages cluttered with ads; every query tracked, logged and personalized to the point of creepiness.
 Read the full article here.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

On being proactive

When Hurricane Sandy arrived yesterday, the sugary-drink mayor of New York could not keep the NYU hospital from being evacuated because of a lack of power.

Goldman Sachs, the world's leading crony capitalist institution, did keep its lights on throughout the night, along with a few other firms.


From The Inquisitr:
This image [above] did the rounds on Twitter last night, where it triggered a cynical and occasionally angry reaction; at least one Twitter user compared the illuminated Goldman Sachs building to the plight of the New York University Langone Medical Center, which was forced to evacuate 200 patients due to a power outage caused by Sandy.

Goldman quickly moved into damage limitation mode, with spokesman David Wells telling Daily Intel on Tuesday that many other buildings in the same neighborhood had stayed lit:
“We weren’t the only building with light, but we do have a generator. We’re not drawing power from the grid.”
 And as we read on Daily Political,
In recent years, continuity of business plans have emerged for large firms, and now, they are being put into action ahead of what meteorologists have dubbed ‘Frankenstorm’. One such action is from The Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE: GS), which has dispersed offices across the globe so that in the event of an emergency, the business can maintain close to normal operations. Telecommuting and alternate work sites work for a variety of functions, though front office jobs continue to require secure lines of communication and proper infrastructure. For this, global offices come in handy.
 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Happy Birthday, Fortran!

Freedom has meaning beyond the political or economic interpretation.  In programming, it sometimes refers to release from the drudgery of architecture-specific code. 

A Wired article reminds us that on October 15, 1956 a small team of software engineers at IBM led by John Backus published the first Fortran manual.  As the manual states,

Higher-level languages like Fortran revolutionized computing, making it possible to do in hours or days what took weeks or months to accomplish using only the native language of the hardware.

My first programming job was writing Fortran programs for data reduction of transonic wind tunnel tests.  The target computer was an IBM 1800, sometimes referred to as a mini-computer.  Before the 1800 and before Fortran two sharp programmers in the wind tunnel facility coded on a Burroughs Datatron using that machine's language.  Once the switch to Fortran and the 1800 were made, productivity rose astronomically. 


Sunday, August 26, 2012

The wrong way to energize a crowd

Ron Paul’s speech in the USF Sun Dome in Tampa, Florida today, which was live-streamed over YouTube, became another spellbinding performance for his followers.  The capacity and mostly youthful crowd supported him in now-familiar fashion, interrupting his talk with chants of “End the Fed!” “President Paul!” and “Bring them home!”  In most ways it was like the talks he gave this past winter and spring at 33 college campuses across the country - prepared but not polished speeches given to young people in love with Paul's idea of liberty, who were hanging on his every word.

Ron Paul is not the vetted product of a committee.  He therefore is not an outlaw like most politicians.  He actually believes in the Bill of Rights, free markets, and the rule of law.  People love him for this, and for his inflexible backbone.  And they show it every time he takes the stage.  Whenever he was introduced on his college tour they would greet him as a superstar, even when it became evident he would not get the nomination.  They didn’t care; he was the leader of a surging liberty movement, not simply a candidate for office.  He was their hero, their man.  They had found someone over 30 they could trust and admire.

Given such dedication it would not be an easy task to tarnish one of Paul’s appearances.  His audience would put up with almost anything to hear him speak - bad weather, a poor sound system, lack of available seating.  People have climbed trees to get a view of him.  Even the threat of a hurricane didn’t keep his supporters from Tampa.

But how about this - playing loud music when he is introduced and keep playing it until he settles the audience and begins speaking?  And not just loud, but cheap, wherein a group calls his name out over and over, in the manner of a typical political rally for a slick, finger-in-the wind politician.  This is what happened at the Tampa rally today: a drum riff, followed by “RON! PAUL!” Then the same riff, followed by the same “RON! PAUL!”  On and on it went, overpowering the authentic enthusiasm of the crowd, at least for the people viewing it online.  It was a feat worthy of a Romney henchman.  To complete the crime, the same overbearing noise triumphed when Paul signed off an hour later.

The audience of course did not walk out in protest and in fact from their expressions they seemed to ignore it and focus on the man himself.  So if the irritating sounds were in fact the work of saboteurs, they failed.

Ron Paul does not need gimmicks to get the crowd excited.  All he has to do is show up.

Friday, July 13, 2012

What a liberal (free) society would look like

In Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War, first published in 1944, economist Ludwig von Mises offers an ideological explanation of the causes of the two world wars. 

"All the oratory of the advocates of government omnipotence," Mises writes, "cannot annul the fact that there is but one system that makes for durable peace: a free market economy. Government control leads to economic nationalism and thus results in conflict." [p. 286]

Mises provides a glimpse of what a free market system would look like:

In order to grasp the meaning of this liberal program we need to imagine a world order in which liberalism is supreme. Either all the states in it are liberal, or enough are so that when united they are able to repulse an attack of militarist aggressors. In this liberal world, or liberal part of the world, there is private property in the means of production. The working of the market is not hampered by government interference. There are no trade barriers; men can live and work where they want. Frontiers are drawn on the maps but they do not hinder the migrations of men and shipping of com­modities. Natives do not enjoy rights that are denied to aliens. Gov­ernments and their servants restrict their activities to the protec­tion of life, health, and property against fraudulent or violent ag­gression. They do not discriminate against foreigners. The courts are independent and effectively protect everybody against the en­croachments of officialdom. Everyone is permitted to say, to write, and to print what he likes. Education is not subject to government interference. Governments are like night-watchmen whom the citizens have entrusted with the task of handling the police power. The men in office are regarded as mortal men, not as superhuman beings or as paternal authorities who have the right and duty to hold the people in tutelage. Governments do not have the power to dictate to the citizens what language they must use in their daily speech or in what language they must bring up and educate their children. Administrative organs and tribunals are bound to use each man's language in dealing with him, provided this language is spoken in the district by a reasonable number of residents.

In such a world it makes no difference where the frontiers of a country are drawn. Nobody has a special material interest in en­larging the territory of the state in which he lives; nobody suffers loss if a part of this area is separated from the state. It is also im­material whether all parts of the state's territory are in direct geographical connection, or whether they are separated by a piece of land belonging to another state. It is of no economic importance whether the country has a frontage on the ocean or not. In such a world the people of every village or district could decide by plebi­scite to which state they wanted to belong. There would be no more wars because there would be no incentive for aggression. War would not pay. Armies and navies would be superfluous. Police­men would suffice for the fight against crime. In such a world the state is not a metaphysical entity but simply the producer of secu­rity and peace. It is the night-watchman, as Lassalle contemptuously dubbed it. But it fulfills this task in a satisfactory way. The citizen's sleep is not disturbed, bombs do not destroy his home, and if some­body knocks at his door late at night it is certainly neither the Gestapo nor the O.G.P.U.

The reality in which we have to live differs very much from this perfect world of ideal liberalism. But this is due only to the fact that men have rejected liberalism for etatism. They have burdened the state, which could be a more or less efficient night-watchman, with a multitude of other duties. Neither nature, nor the working of forces beyond human control, nor inevitable necessity has led to etatism, but the acts of men. Entangled by dialectic fallacies and fantastic illusions, blindly believing in erroneous doctrines, biased by envy and insatiable greed, men have derided capitalism and have substituted for it an order engendering conflicts for which no peaceful solution can be found. [pp. 91-92]

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Betting on a lame pony

The true remedy for most evils is none other than liberty, unlimited and complete liberty, liberty in every field of human endeavor. - Gustave de Molinari


What do we know about ObamaCare?

We know it infuses government with more power, including the government's domestic terrorist arm, the IRS.  We know it will be funded by more and higher taxes - some are calling it the largest tax increase in American history.  We know, or should know, that high taxes do not promote prosperity, in spite of the myths about the high tax/high prosperity of the 1950s.  Neither do high taxes promote private sector employment, a small detail the Act's sponsors apparently overlooked.  We know that after years of crushing interventions, the economy is in desperate need of relief, yet ObamaCare plunges another dagger in liberty's back.

If we go back 80 years, we can find an interesting parallel to today's failed policies.  Hoover's massive, across-the-board tax increase in 1932, the last year of his one-term presidency, delivered the knockout blow to the economy following years of government meddling.

So, will the "conservative" Mitt Romney oust the president and repeal ObamaCare?  Will he usher in a conservative renaissance?

There's always that chance, but it's a bet on a thousand-to-one pony.

In 1932 the Democratic Party was fitted for conservative outerwear and promised, among other things, to end the "indefensible expansion and contraction of credit for private profit at the expense of the public."  Students of Mises, Rothbard, and Hayek would like the sound of that.  Many "conservatives" today would eagerly support the party's platform - many at the time probably did.  Here's a sample:
The Democratic Party solemnly promises by appropriate action to put into effect the principles, policies, and reforms herein advocated, and to eradicate the policies, methods, and practices herein condemned. We advocate an immediate and drastic reduction of governmental expenditures by abolishing useless commissions and offices, consolidating departments and bureaus, and eliminating extravagance to accomplish a saving of not less than twenty-five per cent in the cost of the Federal Government. And we call upon the Democratic Party in the states to make a zealous effort to achieve a proportionate result.

We favor maintenance of the national credit by a federal budget annually balanced on the basis of accurate executive estimates within revenues, raised by a system of taxation levied on the principle of ability to pay.

We advocate a sound currency to be preserved at all hazards and an international monetary conference called on the invitation of our government to consider the rehabilitation of silver and related questions.
". . . solemnly promises . . . an immediate and drastic reduction of governmental expenditures . . . a sound currency to be preserved at all hazards."  Are these not the words many free marketers long to hear from their government masters?

Would you have trusted FDR in 1932?  Did anyone really know their campaign would turn out to be the ultimate bait-and-switch?

Do you trust Mitt in 2012?  The Christian Science Monitor reports that many conservatives are "hopping mad" over the decision and are "flooding the Republican presidential candidate’s campaign coffers with cash."
In the 24 hours since the court handed down its decision Thursday, the Romney campaign took in $4.6 million from more than 47,000 donations online, according to campaign spokesman Andrea Saul, who tweeted the news at 10:20 Friday morning.
They're donating millions to the sponsor of Romneycare in the hope he will repeal ObamaCare.  The chief architect of Romneycare, MIT economics professor Jonathan Gruber, also "advised Democrats and the Obama administration on how to build the Affordable Care Act [ObamaCare]."  He's already blasted Romney for criticizing ObamaCare, saying they're the "same f**king bill."

Maybe Mitt will take Gary North's advice and repudiate Romneycare while mounting a relentless attack on Obama's monstrosity.  Politicians are skilled at following the prevailing breeze, so his rhetoric between now and November 6 could sound reassuring.  But after that date, then what?

Do we have reason to trust any politician, except Ron Paul, whose long pro-liberty record matches his words?





Monday, May 28, 2012

Measure 2's Measure of Common Sense

Measure 2 is a proposal to amend the North Dakota constitution to eliminate property taxes.  According to polls, most people oppose Measure 2 because it would require legislators to replace lost revenues from other sources.  K-12 school funding would be heavily impacted.  A vote on June 12, 2012 will decide its fate.

Measure 2 opponents correctly believe if the state collects less tax revenue, there’s less money for the state to hand out.  And that means various state-funded programs, particularly K-12, would lose revenue, which would produce hardships all around.

No argument there.  But what about the state’s property owners who have to pay the tax?  They, too, will have less to spend.  Various businesses who would otherwise benefit from doing business with them will suffer losses.  When businesses lose, their employees lose as well.  There would be hardships all around.

So who’s right?

Let’s ask who owns the money the state currently taxes away.  Obviously, the property owners who pay the tax own the money.  If the state already owned it, no vote would be necessary. 

Our society is still based on the freedom of the individual, and the essential characteristic of a free society is the recognition of property rights.  The money the state expropriates in taxes is the property of its rightful owners, the taxpayers.  It should be left to them, and only them, to decide how to dispose of their money.

Unlike a private business, the state does not acquire revenue through voluntary exchange with others.  It acquires it through force - taxes and fees.  A theory of government says that certain services cannot be provided by people trading with one another - i.e., the free market -- that they must be provided through the state’s mechanism of expropriation by majority vote. Formal education is cited as one such service, since without government control some kids might fall through the cracks and get "left behind."  But as economist Murray Rothbard points out,

What would we think of a proposal for the government, Federal or State, to use the taxpayers’ money to set up a nationwide chain of public newspapers, and compel all people, or all children, to read them? What would we think furthermore of the government’s outlawing all other newspapers, or indeed outlawing all newspapers that do not come up to the “standards” of what a government commission thinks children ought to read? Such a proposal would be generally regarded with horror in America, and yet this is exactly the sort of regime that the government has established in the sphere of scholastic instruction.
It is sometimes argued that public schooling benefits the whole community, and therefore the whole community should be forced to pay for it.  It could be argued that my purchase of a new suit would benefit the whole community because better-dressed people tend to attract more business than people whose appearance is slovenly.  Yet, no politician has been elected on a platform of funding my need for new clothes.  What gives?  Is clothing not as essential as education?

When studies show American students declining in academic skills, the call goes out for more money to fix the problem.  Charging more for subpar performance is usually not an option for schools that depend on customer choice, which is why they tend to outperform public schools.

If people had greater disposable incomes, which Measure 2 would provide, more people could participate in private education, homeschooling included.  With increased demand for private schooling, there would be more suppliers, each competing with the rest.  Competition would drive down costs.  We would also see low-cost innovations in delivering education - see, for example, the Khan Academy.  A good education would be available to anyone who wanted one.  

If this trend sounds like a pipe-dream, consider that it’s the way free markets have always worked.  A decade ago a smartphone was a pipe-dream.  Today, they’re commonplace, not because of government mandates and taxes, but because competition and customer demand have lowered costs of production to make them affordable for almost everyone.  They get cheaper and better each year.  That’s the free market way.  If education were freed from government’s grip, it would get cheaper and better.

Imagine what people could do for their children’s education if they could keep the money they’re now forced to pay for property taxes.  As private schools proliferated, competition for good teachers would reward the better ones according to their merit, and parents would be free to seek out the best instructors.  People without children or whose children are grown would have more money to invest in the local economy.  How is this not a win-win all around?

We used to trust housing to the market.  Then the government decided everyone should own their own home - much like its belief that everyone should get a “free” education.  So it dove head-first into the housing market.  The result was the monumental market collapse we’re still experiencing.  It’s time we returned education to the market, as well.

North Dakota is already the envy of the rest of the country because of its relatively low debt and high prosperity.  Per capita income in North Dakota between 2001 and 2011 was about double the national average.  Voters in the state can show the world they understand what makes prosperity possible by voting “yes” on Measure 2.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Orwellian State Medicine

A brain surgeon called into Mark Levin's radio show to report on a conference he recently attended in D.C. Under Obama's flavor of state-controlled health care, he says, patients will be regarded as "units," and those over 70 needing advanced neurosurgical intervention may be given "comfort care" instead of a needed operation. Here's the point: The decision will not be the doctor's to make. It will be made by an "ethics" committee of administrators, or what Sarah Palin called a Death Panel. All this and much more because people have been convinced that freedom doesn't work.