Wednesday, October 07, 2020

The Danger of Emergency Powers: A History Lesson

Emergency powers, as we have learned in the past six months, are dangerous. Any little tyrant in our local mayoral or gubernatorial office can suspend individual rights at the drop of a hat—or virus—in the name of the emergency.

In 1933 Adolf Hitler became dictator of Germany through “emergency powers.” Let’s briefly review how that happened.

In 1932 in a round of parliamentary voting, the Nazi Party lost to Paul von Hindenburg, World War I hero and president of the Weimar Republic since 1925. The Nazis, however, won a strong second place. After Hitler withdrew support for Hindenburg a third round of voting in November gave the Nazi Party the largest Reichstag share at 33%. Two prominent politicians and a “letter signed by 22 important representatives of industry” urged Hindenburg (1, 2) to appoint Hitler as chancellor. Hitler immediately gave Hermann Göring a cabinet position in charge of the police, which soon became the State Secret Police, or Gestapo.

Emergency powers soon followed. In February 1933 the Reichstag (parliament) building burned, blamed by Göring on the communists, but some historians insist it was started by the Nazis. Hitler then persuaded Hindenburg to issue the Reichstag Fire Decree that eliminated many civil rights, including freedom of speech, press, and assembly, banned the communist party, and allowed detention without trial. (Hindenburg at the time was 85 and said by some to be senile.)

In one fell swoop, Hitler acquired dictatorial power. In March, with dissenters surrounded and intimidated by Nazi brownshirts (SA) and protection squad (SS), the Reichstag passed the Enabling Act to give Hitler “temporary” power to rule by emergency decree.

For the next sixteen or so months, which included book burnings, purges, and other forms of rioting and "cancel culture," Hitler remained deferential in public to Hindenburg. After the latter died in August 1934, the chancellor eliminated the presidency, solidifying his dictatorship through the 1934 referendum, achieved similarly to the Reichstag vote with “widespread intimidation.”

It was in this manner that Adolf Hitler was elected dictator of Germany.

In our present cultural and political atmosphere, news commentator Bill O’Reilly recently wrote that the current Democratic presidential candidate “is Paul von Hindenburg in 1932 Germany. An old guy who is malleable.” In 1933 and ’34, Hindenburg’s shaper readily persuaded him to grant emergency powers, paving the way to full dictatorship.

Are we there yet? Are we heading down that path?

Emergency powers are dangerous and no one, least of all our political leaders, should have them. Individual rights are inviolate and absolute. They should never be suspended, whether the excuse is a pandemic or an insurrection or invasion. There is and can be no justification. This includes the suspension of habeas corpus, which unfortunately is allowed in the US Constitution.

In a free society no one has the right to force you to stay home during a pandemic or to force you to wear a hazmat suit (or mask) if you go out into public places. If you are so afraid of getting infected, you should stay home and avoid other people. If we had a society with a sound and stable legal system and you are infected knowingly and willfully by someone, you will likely have legal standing to sue or press charges—and with such a system you can expect most other people, lest they be sued or have charges pressed against them, to mind their manners when sick. A free society means you are free to choose and exercise in action your best judgment. We are all fully capable of doing just that. We ain’t stupid.

Emergency powers, even if, or especially when, they are declared to be “temporary,” lead inevitably to expansion of those powers. As in the case of Hitler, there seldom is a retraction or reduction of powers.*

Associated sometimes with emergency powers is the notion of martial law. Alan Dershowitz points out that the US Constitution says nothing about either, though, he writes, both were prevalent at the time of the country’s founding. Martial law, he says, is a contradiction in terms, because if the military is brought in, “then it is not law. It is power.” Other definitions have said martial law means the substitution of military for civil law.

No form of martial law, however, in a truly free society is ever appropriate. And I don’t believe it has been used in the United States. Whenever the national guard or military has been called out, their use has been to assist the police, to detain the violators of rights who are attacking person and property. In the process their purpose is to restore peace and order. Once the criminal violators are detained, the police can hold them for prosecution and incarceration.

Curfew? Aside from being a violation of rights, why? As a practical matter, you capture the law breakers, thereby making the streets safe again.

The use of emergency powers, martial law, and curfew are all confessions by politicians that they cannot maintain law and order with their own police.

Or, they are smokescreens for the expansion of power to establish a more authoritarian government. As did Hitler!

Can it happen here? Are the parallels sound? One-party rule, censorship, big business support and encouragement of dictatorial powers??

* See Jeffrey Tucker on “Lockdown: The New Totalitarianism.” Some true believers are already salivating over the pandemic lockdowns as dress rehearsal for total state control to enforce “climate change” decrees. Tucker, pointing out that the essence of “lockdownism” is puritanism, quotes none other than Anthony Fauci on the future of pandemic totalitarianism: “Living in greater harmony with nature will require changes in human behavior.” This simple statement is a double whammy: (1) we in solidarity with the rabidly radical and toxic environmentalists apparently will be expected to sacrifice ourselves to trees and rocks and (2) we must in addition transform ourselves into the utopian New Man (of Karl Marx, though the notion predates Marx).

Friday, September 11, 2020

The Clouded Lenses of a Certain Political Derangement Syndrome

Columnist Roger Simon makes this comment about today’s leftist sympathizers who excuse the burning of America.

So they blame Trump—someone who occasionally does act like a father—for their own failures. And even though those failures have been going on for months.

It’s hard to believe they do this with a straight face, but they do.
Simon is talking about a certain psychological syndrome identified to describe our current president’s opposition.

The political derangement syndrome, says Simon, “has evolved from a neurosis to a psychosis. . . . They [the deranged] disbelieve what is in front of their eyes.” Rioting thus can be described as “mostly peaceful protests” and it’s all the fault of our current president.

To most rational observers today, it is astoundingly incomprehensible why anyone would ignore or tolerate the violence we have seen in the last few months.

Perhaps psychology can help us understand.

A syndrome is a collection of symptoms. What makes it psychological is that the symptoms derive from thinking errors, not physical conditions or environmental events, though both are often asserted as causes.

For example, a depressed young man jilted by his lover may feel anxiety and a profound sense of hopelessness with the underlying thoughts: “I’ll never find another girlfriend or ever be happy again. I can’t go on with life.” The young man then may as a symptom project his plight onto the young woman, blaming her while ignoring any role he may have played in the breakup.

His thoughts, however, are false because, considering the population of the world, a new lover can be found, though the effort likely will require putting himself in a position to meet members of the opposite sex. And as the song says, it “Takes Two to Tango” when it comes to successful relationships (1, 2). The false thoughts nonetheless cause the young man’s symptoms of anxiety, hopelessness, and projection.

Psychological problems, as a result, set up a clouded lens that distorts our perceptions. In worst cases, the lens can prevent us from seeing reality at all.

The clouded lenses with the additional defensive habits of rationalization and projection are what blind many derangement sufferers.

Columnist John Miltimore offers further understanding by citing Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s linking of violence to falsehood, because violence, as Solzenitsyn points out, sooner or later “loses confidence in itself” and must lie to put on a “respectable face.” Says Solzhenitsyn, “Violence can conceal itself with nothing except lies, and the lies can be maintained only by violence.”

The reason, more precisely, that violence requires lies is that initiated coercion, which all forms of non-self-defensive violence are, cannot ever be justified; it must be covered up or rationalized.

To be sure, our postmodern culture of epistemological skepticism and moral relativism is a fundamental cause of the present lack of respect for truth and sincerity—the postmoderns, after all, have brought about the penchant for talking in “narratives” (or fictions, as I prefer to call them), rather than facts and knowledge.

The notion of lying to cover up coercion goes back at least to the “noble lie” recommended in Plato’s (totalitarian) Republic (1, 2) and probably to the first tribal chieftain who called himself master of the tribe.

The defensive habit of rationalization, which can be either subconscious or intentional, is the act of making excuses to justify one’s irrational thoughts and behaviors. This is what explains the otherwise astoundingly incomprehensible events of today.

Leftist sympathizers are the writers and politicians who fail to denounce the violence, whereas the actual rioters are criminal personalities who lie, cheat, and steal as a way of life and enjoy getting away with the forbidden. Leftist ideology justifies the rioting, because any form of socialism requires total coercion and control. (See Trevor Loudon’s columns on the Maoist role in today’s riots: 1, 2.)

Leftist ideology is what allows the sympathizers to excuse and tolerate the rioters, though some sympathizers may secretly be what Yochelson and Samenow (1, chap. 7; 2) call “nonarrestable criminals,” a criminal personality that lies, cheats, and manipulates others but does nothing overtly illegal. Some may want to be on the streets, tossing Molotov cocktails, but other internal psychological conflicts prevent them from doing so—or perhaps a modicum of health prevents them from being that deranged.

And blaming a father figure? Hmm! Without going too Freudian, projection and scapegoating derive from the need to blame someone—anyone—for one’s own insecurities, especially anxiety and anxiety’s source, low self-esteem. Projection is rampant in today’s political context and it comes mostly from one side.

Does this explain the seemingly unexplainable? It’s a start, but just how far down the rathole are we going to go?

Saturday, August 01, 2020

Intellectual Cowardice and Pre-Censorship as the Expressway to Dictatorship

Ayn Rand identified the four characteristics of dictatorship: “one-party rule—executions without trial or with a mock trial, for political offenses—the nationalization or expropriation of private property—and censorship.”*

The United States today is not there—yet. But it has elements of all four characteristics and speculation in some quarters says that a November election loss of our current president could fast-track the path to dictatorship, especially if one-party rule becomes established at the national level.

We have not had executions for political offenses, though we do have and have had considerable prosecutorial misconduct, including threats and actual use of solitary confinement along with pressure on witnesses not just to “sing,” to use Alan Dershowitz’s choice words (1, 2), but also to “compose.” Nationalization and expropriation? Some, but most occurs insidiously through creeping, and in some cases galloping, controls and regulations.

Censorship is the most concerning issue, because, as Rand puts it, “censorship is the tombstone of a free country.” Freedom of speech,” she says, is “the dividing line . . . between a ‘mixed economy’ and dictatorship” (“The Fascist New Frontier,” loc. 1684, The Ayn Rand Column.)

Today, we are working our way through that dividing line with a series of preludes to censorship, or pre-censorship actions, that are strictly speaking not censorship. Freedom of speech presupposes property rights, which means property owners have the right to deny what you may write or say on their property. Censorship is always an action by the government to silence dissent. Though the Federal Communications Commission exercises extensive control over the broadcast media, the print media are still relatively untouched by the government. Yes, exceptions can be found, but we are all still predominantly free to publish and speak freely on our own or as agreed to by a publisher or venue operator.

The most overt form of censorship would be an official bureau of the government, perhaps at the cabinet level and perhaps called “The Department of Truth and Social Justice,” that dictates what can and cannot be written or spoken. The preludes to censorship less overtly involve government and in some cases are performed entirely by private individuals or organizations. Preludes to censorship are more devious, as their goal is to soften citizens up and get them to accept the overt form.

There are several degrees of pre-censorship.

The most glaring, because it involves the legal system, is nonobjective law. An abundance of vague and overly broad laws gives us what I call dictatorship by excessive law. Such laws are what enabled Stalin’s chief of secret police to boast, “Show me the man and I’ll find you the crime” (1, 2). When thousands of such laws are on the books, anyone can be arrested for anything, making it especially easy to silence dissent. (I include judicial gag orders in this category, because of the arbitrariness of many judges.) Nonobjective law plays no small part in today’s federal prosecutorial misconduct.

Nonobjective law in turn supports scapegoating, the ancient practice of blaming one person or one group of people for the flaws and mistakes of ruling elites who thereby can claim moral superiority. Nonobjective law makes it easier then to legalize and justify purges and pogroms.

Both nonobjective law and scapegoating, as Ayn Rand points out, are required to sustain a dictatorship. “In Soviet Russia,” says Rand, “the scapegoat was the bourgeoisie; in Nazi Germany, it was the Jewish people; in America, it is the businessmen.” And it still is business people, though some are promoting and funding the enemies of capitalism and the country’s march to dictatorship. Fools that they are, they don’t seem to believe, or know about, Lenin’s warning: “The capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.”

But today’s scapegoats are also “unwoke” whites, Asians, and, unfortunately, again, Jews (not to mention any black person who rejects “wokeness.”)

Publicly funded educational institutions are a second form of pre-censorship, as they are obligated, but woefully fail, to uphold the First Amendment of the US Constitution. The same applies to private institutions that have “freedom of speech” clauses in their charters. These institutions that fail to protect free speech on their campuses, by default, are performing a role similar to that of government censor. Fortunately, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is waging major legal battles to defend teachers and students and their First Amendment rights.

Other pre-censorship actions silence dissent without any apparent government intervention. They appear to be, and often are, actions of private individuals or organizations to exclude opinions with which they do not agree. Though difficult to find, government interventions may be present in some cases.

Social media exclusion is one such prelude that enjoys a government intervention. Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act labels “interactive computer service[s]” forums for “political discourse” and, at the same time, exempts them from the legal liabilities of publishers. Yet some of these “forums” also perform the functions of publishers by canceling political discourse they do not agree with. This, critics point out, allows social media to be both private forums and de facto government censors.

Two additional preludes to censorship were identified by Philosopher Bertrand Russell. He states that “legal penalties [government censorship] are . . . the least of the obstacles to freedom of thoughts.” The two greater obstacles, though I would dispute Russell’s ranking (government censorship can silence all dissent), are “economic penalties and distortion of evidence.”

Economic penalties restrict or prevent writers, speakers, and teachers from writing, speaking, and teaching—ultimately from earning a living. This includes today’s politically correct cancel culture and disinvitations, not to mention the deliberate refusal to acknowledge alternative points of view, along with character assassinations, that is, guilt by accusation or outright lies to have writers, speakers, and teachers removed from their professions. Character assassination under Marx and Engels, as Ludwig von Mises points out, became literal assassination under Lenin.

Distortion of evidence, Russell’s second obstacle, refers to smears and Goebbelsian propaganda (1, 2). Smears are the first half of the ad hominem fallacy—“Mr. X is immoral,” in infinite variations—with no pretensions to a follow-up argument that Mr. X’s ideas are false. In our postmodern age, reason, logic, and facts and truth are out. Instead, Goebbelsian yelping is all that is left and the yelping, unfortunately, as philosopher Stephen Hicks pointed out (1, p. 200; 2), performs the role of Iago to the Enlightenment’s Othello, namely to inject doubt into modernity’s values and “let that doubt work like a slow poison.”

In a proposed preface to Animal Farm, George Orwell’s 1945 USSR allegory, Orwell described a number of Goebbelsian preludes to censorship that were used in England during World War II. The preface, however, titled “The Freedom of the Press,” was vetoed by his publisher and was not known to exist until 1972.

Libels, double standards, suppression of criticism, and flagrant sins of omission during Orwell’s time all came from the press and intellectuals, not the UK government’s Ministry of Information. Their goal was not to offend Stalinist Russia. “In this country,” Orwell writes, “intellectual cowardice is the worst enemy a writer or journalist has to face.” Fear of public opinion, he says, is motivator of the press’s and intellectuals’ cowardice.

“Hardly anyone will print an attack on Stalin,” continues Orwell, “but it is quite safe to attack Churchill . . . . Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness.” Orwell called it “veiled censorship” when the government was not involved.

Orwell concludes, “These people [the press, intellectuals, and all the other gutless compromisers] don’t see that if you encourage totalitarian methods, the time may come when they will be used against you instead of for you.”

Final word about our current plight: “non-negotiable demands” left over from the 1960s and transported to the present, threats, intimidation, riots, arson, bombings, and other forms of violence, whether performed by private individuals and organizations or with the sanction of government officials, constitute totalitarian attempts to stage a putsch, the result of which would be the end of free speech and the establishment of dictatorship.

* The recent shutdown mania has given us a taste of dictatorship, stemming mostly from our Progressive mayors and governors. “Airtight,” the working title of Ayn Rand’s first novel We the Living, is an apt description of what it feels like under dictatorship. Rand’s main character shouts at her communist antagonist (p. 385): “You've driven us all into an iron cellar and you've closed all doors, and you've locked us airtight, airtight till the blood vessels of our spirits burst!” (“Sensory deprivation” is how prisoners have described their time locked away.)

Monday, July 13, 2020

Systemic White Guilt and Its Groveling, Gutless Conformity

White guilt is an attempt by today’s Progressives to regain the sense of moral authority they once had during the desegregation protests of the 1960s.

This is the gist of Shelby Steele’s psychologically insightful 2006 book White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era.

The guilt, writes Steele, is a secular version of original sin—cloaked variously as structural, systemic, or unconscious racism—that brings out a need for redemption in the eyes of black people.

Such redemption is achieved by apologizing to (including kneeling before) blacks to ask their forgiveness for the racism of white ancestors. More significantly, it has required the implementation of various government programs, such as a “war on poverty,” preferential treatment (affirmative action), diversity, and many other forms of welfare. In return, redemptive actions do not expect or require anything from blacks, particularly hard work and earning one’s own way. That would be racist. Besides, the guilty white gets no moral authority from an accomplished self-made black person.

The formula, says Steele, is simple: “lessening responsibility for minorities equals moral authority; increasing it equals racism” (p. 62).

A further cause and consequence of the guilt and need for redemption is what Steele calls a “white blindness” to black people that does not see blacks as individual human beings, but as a class or group of victims who de facto are also still inferiors.

The blindness, of course, existed under slavery where owners viewed their slaves as fundamentally inferior, giving them only a subsistence living; no freedom, no responsibility. Under segregation, blacks had control over their lives, responsibility, and in some cases thriving free-market communities, but their freedom was severely restricted outside their segregated areas. And they were still marked as inferior.

Today, since the 1960s, the psychological effect of guilty white Progressives has been to expect no responsibility or competence from black people, only entitlement and grievance—a mutual codependence, it would seem. The result has been the near-total collapse of slum neighborhoods into poverty, illiteracy, drugs, crime and gang warfare, fatherless homes, and unwed mothers. But “good intention” is what gives moral authority to the guilty white. That is all that matters because “they’ve tried hard.” (Implied premise: to help those who allegedly cannot help themselves and who are therefore inferior.)

The invisibility caused by white blindness, continues Steele, is what also causes rage in blacks that has given us the militant black power movements of the Black Panthers in the 1960s and today’s Black Lives Matter, both of which organizations are Marxist, segregationist, terrorist, anti-semitic and racist against whites. Rage was present under slavery and segregation but it was only acted out in recent times because of a perceived weakness of the oppressors—the moral vacuum felt by the guilty white (and the permission granted by Marxist premises, I might add).

This is what Steele means when he says “blacks and whites together destroyed the promise of the civil rights era.”

Underlying white guilt, as Steele correctly points out, is Marx’s notion of social or economic determinism. We were born with the sin of racism, so the determinist argument goes, and can do nothing about it. This drives the guilty white in their frantic efforts to assuage guilt by adopting additional notions and behaviors of political correctness, virtue signaling, and identity politics.

Identity politics is collectivism. Its psychology, as I have written before, is dependence.

But racism in America, according to Steele, effectively ended by the mid to late 1960s, achieved largely by the moral authority of Martin Luther King’s peaceful protests and emphasis on seeing black people as individuals, not as a class or group.

Not denying that a minority of people or incidents are still racist, Steele means by this that both then and now, as opposed to the 1950s, he can go to any restaurant or stay in any hotel he can afford, and find a bathroom, which he could not easily do in the years of segregation.

King’s assassination in 1968 was a turning point that brought out not just the rage of black power, but also the guilt of white Progressives. Why? The moral authority used and felt in the marches and protests for desegregation disappeared with integration. Rather than rejecting their underlying Marxist premises and taking up King’s individualism, white Progressives saw their new moral compass in the  march for redemption from “systemic racism.”

What seems transparent (or puzzling) to anyone not suffering such a psychology or holding the Marxist premises is that white Progressives suffer a “structural, systemic, or unconscious guilt” that knocks out and defeats any respect they may have ever held for our country’s founding principles of individualism.

Hence, today’s spectacle of groveling cowardice and conformity combined with blatant intimidation, threats, and violence.

Monday, June 08, 2020

Goebbelsian Propaganda and the Rawlsian Reductio to the Rathole—In Our Current Case, Criminals and Terrorists

In a previous post, I argued that our current culture has become “Goebbelsian,” meaning that a torrent of hyperbole, BS, half-truths, and outright lies, best described as smears, has become the norm in communication. It is a way of life for much of our press and many politicians.

Joseph Goebbels was Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda. His strategy was to tell a big lie, then say it loud and a lot, until the ignorant populace begins to believe it. The contemporary strategy, since rational people often do not believe the first lie, is to switch to a second lie, and then to another, and then another.

Switching generates confusion and a disbelief in the possibility of truth. The postmoderns, of course, have been teaching for many years that reason, logic, and truth are out, leaving each of us with our own “narratives,” which I prefer to call fictions.

Facts, to most of these “thought” leaders, don’t matter.

Yesterday, the “lethality” of a coronavirus was the message of the day. Today, it is “defund the police.” Tomorrow it will be something else. An underlying theme for decades has been “America’s systemic racism to protect white privilege.” As with Goebbels, today’s leftist propaganda is agenda driven—to destroy capitalism and now to remove or defeat our current president (who represents capitalism). But I want to identify a more fundamental point driving the agenda: the ethics of altruism, the doctrine of self-sacrifice.

“Compassion” is the buzzword used to intimidate and silence anyone who may object to this leftist propaganda. “You’re not compassionate toward the poor, the black, women, LGBTQ’s, etc.” Why? “Because you can’t feel what they feel. You enjoy white (rich, male, straight) privilege.”

The problem with this ruse is that too many rational people (non-leftists) don’t buy the alleged discrimination the propagandists say these groups of people (Marxist classes) are still experiencing in the year 2020. Rational people also therefore do not buy the guilt trip that is being laid on them.

The left now has to go further down the rathole to find additional “classes”—criminals and terrorists—to feel compassion for. This goes beyond societal status to blatant immorality and injustice, stretching the rational person’s credulity. (A rathole, according to Merriam-Webster, is “a seemingly bottomless or unfillable hole.” Leftists who wear the  environmentalist hat have moved further down to the unhuman and inanimate: trees and rocks that we must feel compassion for. Have we hit bottom yet?)

If you object? “Well, it’s obvious you have no compassion! We must have compassion for the least well off and that includes illegal aliens and nonviolent criminals.” Looting and burning buildings? “That’s just property. We have to understand the looters’ plight.”*

Where does this come from?? It comes from the epistemological requirement of consistency and the ethical and political “maximin” principle of Harvard philosopher John Rawls.

The doctrine of self-sacrifice means to give up a higher value to a lower or non-value. As I wrote in Independent Judgment and Introspection (pp. 43-44):

Self-sacrifice means, for example, the pursuit of a career to please one’s parents instead of the career one truly loves and wants. It means marrying a person one does not love—again, to please those “significant others” who may disapprove of your choice’s religion, social class, race, or ethnicity. It means doing your job because it’s your duty, not because you enjoy it. It means giving birth to a child you do not want and enslaving yourself to a mistake or accident that occurred when you were young.
According to altruism, all of these actions are moral, making you virtuous. To be consistent, it also means you must care about and give up your values for the sake of those who are less well off, even if the sacrifice drags you down to their level. That is the ultimate goal of altruism and it is the goal and meaning of Rawls’ maximin principle.**

“Maximin” means to maximize the minimum. It does not mean to raise the least well off up to the level of those who are in a better situation. It means, if necessary, according to Rawls, to drag those in the middle and upper social regions down to the level of the lower. This would then make society truly just—socially just—and equal, that is, egalitarian. Rawls states (p. 227):

All inequalities should be arranged for the advantage for the most unfortunate even if some inequalities are not to the advantage of those in the middle positions.
It is not just a redistribution of wealth, but also of social position. The poor are not just to be given some of the wealthy’s money, but also their status.

This is Marxism and Marx’s updated determinism. The fundamental assumption is that all social and economic positions in society are dealt to each of us at birth, but some, those in the higher positions, acquired additional status and wealth by stealing from the poor and downtrodden. Such people, whether bourgeoisie or white, straight males or capitalists must be punished to rightly achieve justice.

In today’s world, the worst off “poor” are not those who live in slums, but those who have been prevented from coming to this country or who loot and destroy property. The least advantaged, when the altruist premise is pushed to its most consistent extreme, are illegals and criminals—and terrorists.

Sacrificing everything we have worked for and earned is the ultimate giving up of higher values for the sake of lesser or non-values.

As I wrote in 2016, the reductio of bureaucracy is the concentration camp. Because, as Victor Frankl wrote about his experience in such a camp, “the list had to be correct.” Totalitarian societies are massive bureaucracies and the camps are just one more bureau.

So similarly, the reductio of altruism is the sacrifice we must all make to criminals and terrorists (and trees and rocks).

Says who? The left. The preaching of sacrifices is how they seek and, if not stopped, gain power.

Ayn Rand warned us: “It stands to reason that where there’s sacrifice, there’s someone collecting sacrificial offerings. Where there’s service, there’s someone being served. The man who speaks to you of sacrifice, speaks of slaves and masters. And intends to be the master.”

Rand also taught us that the smallest minority on earth is the individual, not groups or Marxist classes (or trees or rocks). This means, simply, we should all be advocates and promoters of philosophical individualism! This also means we each can then work hard and strive to lift ourselves up beyond our “original (Rawlsian) positions.”

Our current president, incidentally, is not an altruist, which is why he is so hated. He does not want to sacrifice anyone’s interest, including our national interests, to anyone else. He in fact wants every individual to be able to lift him- or herself up to as high a level as possible!

* One synonym of compassion is pity and one definition of pity is “a somewhat disdainful or contemptuous feeling of regret over the condition of one viewed by the speaker as in some way inferior or reprehensible.” An appropriate description of leftist condescension.

** Rawls apparently did not like the maximin designation, since he saw it as coming from rational choice theory. He does, however, spend several pages discussing it in his major work, A Theory of Justice (chap. III, sec. 26). The words have become associated with his theory.

Monday, May 04, 2020

Sovietization of Federal Law—Part Two

In 2013 I posted “The Sovietization of Federal Law,” featuring a book by Boston criminal defense attorney Harvey Silverglate: Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent. I cited the foreword by Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz who quoted Joseph Stalin’s head of secret police, Levrenti Beria, saying “Show me the man and I’ll find you the crime.”

This in essence is the theme of Silverglate’s book: non-objective federal laws are so vague and overly broad that prosecutors can find any law to use against any of us, perhaps up to three times a day.

Silverglate is back with a new book, coauthored by appellate lawyer Sidney Powell. The book is Conviction Machine: Standing Up to Federal Prosecutorial Abuse. It is a series of horror stories, nine chapters, to be exact. Here is the gist of each one.

Catch 22. Don’t talk to FBI agents unless you can record the interview, which they almost never allow, and your attorney is present. Typically, one agent takes notes (yes! in the age of electronic recording) while the other interviews. Selectively edited summaries are often what are turned over to defense attorneys. Agents may tell you that the interview is informal, so you don’t need counsel, and they may show up at your door unannounced.

There’s Nothing Grand about Grand Juries. Don’t talk to grand juries, if you can help it, even if you are just a witness. The prosecutor controls the entire process with sole aim of getting an indictment, about 95% of the time. It will be just you, the prosecutor, and up to twenty-three jurors. No counsel, especially defense attorneys, are allowed in. (You can pause and request to go outside to consult with your lawyer, but that will be a bad sign to the jury.) If you are a witness and the prosecutor does not like your testimony, you can be upgraded to a subject of interest or even to a target for indictment.

Acts of God. Prosecutors control discovery, which means the release of exculpatory evidence. They determine what is “material” to the defense, often cherry-picking what to hand over. See my March post. Also, see the Bernard Baran and Duke lacrosse cases.

What Does the Law Require of Us? Criminal intent, or mens rea, is often no longer required to be proven in alleged federal crimes. If an act did in fact occur, that’s all the proof needed to secure a conviction. The attitude of many federal prosecutors is that white collar targets are essentially the same as mobster thugs.

Plea Bargaining. Enormous pressure is brought on defendants to encourage pleading to a lesser crime regardless of guilt or innocence. Prosecutors often “concoct” crimes by piecing together vague portions of two statutes. Defendants take the pleas because it gets the horror over with and prosecutors like the deals because it gives them another notch in their six shooters. Losing at trial for the defendant may result in a longer sentence than would result from a plea bargain.

An Offer He Can’t Refuse. Informants and witnesses are offered attractive deals—reduced sentences or none at all—to encourage them not just to sing, in the words of Professor Dershowitz, but also to compose. Such deals would be called extortion, bribery, or obstruction of justice, if offered by a witness or defendant. And often the knowledge of such deals offered by prosecutors are excluded from court testimony.

Prosecutorial Misconduct. The subtitle of this chapter is “Who Will Prosecute the Prosecutor?” Good question. Apparently, no one. Prosecutors pile on the charges, not just one or two, but ten, thirty, seventy, and in some cases over one hundred. That way they know they will get at least one or a few definite judgments. Coauthor Powell says that her bosses, in the Department of Justice (DOJ) during her younger years of training, would urge prosecutors not to pile on the charges, but to select their four or five best and run with those. Prosecutors also don’t hesitate to strong-arm—as in threaten to indict or actually indict—family members. Wives, sons, brothers, elderly parents have all been intimidated by these guardians of the law. And, of course, prosecutors can and have ordered pre-dawn raids complete with SWAT teams and television cameras; they relish “perp walks” (in front of cameras), but get judges to issue gag orders against defendants. Does police state come to mind? And one more thing: prosecutors have absolute immunity, which means they cannot be sued! (See this for Silverglate’s commentary on how in 1990 the then head of the DOJ’s criminal division Robert Mueller tried to entrap Silverglate.)

Where Have All the Judges Gone? In other words, where is judicial oversight, which federal judges have the constitutional power to use. Such as, throwing out frivolous cases, based on vague and overly broad statutes; exercising judicial control over the zealous prosecutors who gleefully use perjury traps and that catch-all, when all else fails, obstruction of justice; and refusing to send defendants to solitary confinement, which the ACLU and United Nations both have declared to be torture. Unfortunately, the judges side more often with prosecutors than Lady Justice. (Many judges are former prosecutors.)

Once Is Not Enough. Habeas corpus, often used as an appeal for retrial after new evidence has been discovered while in prison, and coram nobis, used as an appeal after completion of a sentence to clear the defendant’s name, have both been severely narrowed such that it is extremely difficult to secure an order for retrial or dismissal of the original charges. And retrial, incidentally, must be done in front of the original trial judge, on the assumption that the trial judge will gladly admit his or her mistakes!

The final chapter concludes with an abundance of recommendations, aimed at correcting all of the above, ranging from encouraging judges to become the adults in the room to requiring Congress to be more scrupulous and precise when drafting and passing new laws. Judges, in particular, at the federal and appellate levels, the authors say, should have at least twenty years of experience practicing law before being appointed and that should include several years as criminal defense attorneys. They also recommend term limits for Congress.

Professor Dershowitz, in the foreword to Three Felonies a Day, states that criminal law at the time of the American Revolution was assumed to be so simple that it could be read and understood while running.*

Unfortunately, we are a long way from that simplicity. And we have a long way to go to get back to it.**

*Ayn Rand stated the principle simply: don’t initiate physical force (which includes fraud) against anyone, and that principle is embedded in the Bill of Rights. What we need is precise definition of the laws—but that would require a cultural commitment to reason, logic, and objectivity, which the postmodern academics are not about to return to.

**One issue not covered in Conviction Machine, but is in Professor Dershowitz’s Guilt by Accusation: The Challenge of Proving Innocence in the Age of #MeToo is the notion of “litigation privilege.” It says witnesses who file court papers are protected from defamation lawsuits, which means they can say most anything. Such filings are usually available to the press, which explains why we often see scurrilous headlines about prominent people being prosecuted. The prominent people have no recourse to defend themselves. They are guilty “by accusation.”

Saturday, April 04, 2020

“Rules Are Rules”—the Deep State and Left Are Responsible for Many Coronavirus Deaths

To be sure, many coronavirus deaths in 2020 are due to comorbidities of the elderly in the 80-plus age range. But the failure to test early and abundantly and to rapidly develop and deploy treatments for the virus, not to mention vaccines, falls on the “rules are rules” mentality and seemingly limitless red tape and foot-dragging of the government’s bureaucracy and politicians.

Then, the inherently risk-averse bureaucrats and politicians imposed oppressive measures shutting down the economy and giving leftists, who for decades have wanted and now have gotten, totalitarian control of our entire society.

Economists are too narrow in their description of socialism as “government ownership of the means of production.” The correct description, as we have all experienced recently, is “government ownership and control of us,” of every person, of every person’s desires and behavior.

And to blame our current president for coronavirus deaths is typical leftist, Orwellian propaganda, which by definition and built into their theory is disingenuous.

After enjoying two takeout meals that were in fact as good as their counterparts in the restaurants, I found myself longing for the opening of speakeasy restaurants—in the rebellious spirit Americans have always exhibited, going back to the era of Prohibition and the American Revolution.

I recall a classmate at my university in the late 1960s who stood up in front of a demonstration at the school’s administration building and pumped his fist, shouting leftist slogans for “power to the people” and “it’s time for revolution.” That event made think we were on the verge of a new Bolshevik Revolution.

Well it is time for revolution today—an intellectual revolution to throw off the chains of government and its deep state that enjoys controlling us.

Power to the people—to each one of us as individuals to make our own decisions about how to handle the present situation.

How would a free market in health care have handled this coronavirus “crisis”? John Goodman of the Goodman Institute has answered the question. With no government bureaucracy telling us what we can and cannot do, initial doctor/patient contact would likely be by telephone or internet to rule out serious symptoms.

“In the face of coronavirus indications,” continues Goodman, “a doctor or nurse would arrive at the home (within an hour), take a swab sample and perform a coronavirus test—with results in, say, 10 minutes.”

Patients with serious symptoms would be greeted at the emergency room (no wait, of course) by a team to escort them “to isolated rooms with appropriate equipment and safeguards to protect other patients and hospital personnel.” Personal protection equipment would be abundantly available, if not immediately, then within a matter of days, as entrepreneurs would work around the clock to meet demand, likely including innovative improvements. Panic buying by consumers or providers, assuming there would even be a panic like we are experiencing today, would be discouraged by increased prices.

And, I might add, anyone who wants to know on a regular basis whether or not they have the virus would have access to an inexpensive at-home test. In a free society, anyone who is afraid of being infected would not be prevented from staying home for an extended period.

Fantasy? Only to those who do not understand classical liberalism and laissez-faire capitalism. The projection gives us a goal to strive for and a standard by which to evaluate the present.

Today, we have a “mixed economy,” or rather, as we should more properly call it, a “mixed society of freedom and dictatorship.” The dictatorship part—the massive central planning and price controls—comes from deep state bureaucrats and politicians who mistakenly (or willingly) defer to the medical czars. And the czars think nothing of imprisoning an entire nation because it is, after all, “for our own good” even though the lockdowns impoverish everyone in the process.

Yet we have evidence from other countries—South Korea, Singapore, Honk Kong, and Taiwan—that the shotgun approach to contagion control is not the best path to take. Test and treat precisely, promptly, and extensively (“rifle style,” to complete the metaphor) is what is effective and saves lives. These four countries, it must be admitted, do have severe surveillance techniques in place to make sure the infected don’t wander far from home. Japan, on the other hand, seems to be doing well with face masks, according to Willis Eschenbach. See this on South Korea.

Who is at fault for our pathetic situation today? The deep state Centers for Disease Control and Food and Drug Administration, our alleged protectors, both of whom committed a not-at-all funny comedy of errors for six weeks delaying the development and approval of tests and treatments (1, 2, 3). And the pace now of testing and approval of treatments, in April 2020, is still deplorably slow.

And then there are the statistical models that have done as much as the less-than-honest press to fan the flames of panic and uncertainty.

Such models, like their climate cousins, are bundles of assumptions used for forecasting, and those assumptions may or may not be correct. Forecasting just means extrapolating from the recent past to predict the near future. We do it all the time, whether it’s company sales, the local weather next week, or what our spouse or children might do tomorrow and the day after that.*

Predictions of the future can be highly inaccurate. In the case of virus models, they have huge margins of error, which means their creators will be heroes wherever the final number falls. With coronavirus, we don’t even know the denominator, which will no doubt be extremely large, thus reducing the fatality rate  (deaths divided by total cases) possibly to the level of seasonal flu, or lower. (See interview with Jay Bhattacharya.)

Does the word “irresponsible” come to mind when medical czars and front page headlines blast “millions of deaths ahead”?

So how do we handle uncertainty? We each weigh the risks and decide for ourselves. Some of us may like to skydive three times a week. Others may prefer to stay home during a contagion. That is a decision that should be left to each one of us.

Cass Sunstein speaking as a believer in mixed-economy policy states that he has “long been a critic of the precautionary principle, which calls for potentially expensive precautions against bad outcomes in the face of scientific uncertainty.” The “potentially expensive precautions” that he is referring to? Our current bureaucratic decisions, made in a seemingly unaware and unacknowledged manner, of destroying lives and businesses, which the left, of course, viciously characterizes as “just dollars and cents.”

Sunstein’s “precautionary principle” goes by another name, argumentum ad ignorantiam, the logical fallacy called appeal to ignorance. “We don’t know what’s going to happen and you can’t prove that disaster won’t occur! It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

So what if some people get hurt in the process? It’s all for the good of “society.”

God forbid the bureaucrats and politicians would allow each one of us as individuals to decide for ourselves how to handle the uncertainty.

Power to the people! It is time to man the barricades of freedom.

* NOAA Scijinks, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a government agency, has substantial data on weather predictions: 90% accuracy for five days, 80% for seven, and 50% for ten or more days. How many millions of deaths are now being predicted by the climate models? And how soon will Florida be under water? Wasn’t that supposed to happen five years ago??

A Note about Comments. Due to spam, "anonymous," and "unknown" comments, I have eliminated the ability to post remarks. If you have a comment, email me, signing your first and last name, and I will post it. Paraphrasing advertising man David Ogilvy, "anonymous" and "unknown" are diseases of social media and the internet.

Friday, March 06, 2020

Federal Prosecutor Misconduct—Goodbye Rule of Law, Hello Rule of Men and Women

The 2014 book Licensed to Lie: Exposing Corruption in the Department of Justice by appellate lawyer Sidney Powell is at once a thriller and a detailed presentation of the intricacies—and horrors—of appellate law in the United States today.

The thriller part is the manner in which it is written, with suspense and purposeful progression to the resolution of a climax. It is therefore a page turner that unfortunately does not conclude with a happy ending. The book is a manual of misconduct by federal prosecutors, nearly all of whom have moved on to higher positions in the Department of Justice (DOJ), the White House, and prestigious Washington, DC, law firms.

Powell’s client, James A. Brown, a totally honest and cooperative financial executive at Merrill Lynch, got caught up in the Enron firestorm and collapse of 1999 to 2001. Indicted along with three other Merrill executives in 2003 under the bogus and decidedly non-objective “honest services” statute, Brown had to settle for “time served” (twelve months in the maximum security prison at Fort Dix, New Jersey), after a  nine-year ordeal to clear his name involving multiple motions and appeals to the trial judge, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court.*

Powell became Brown’s appellate lawyer after the initial trial; at sentencing, in 2005, the judge denied bail pending appeal, thus sending Brown to prison to serve his time, originally forty-six months. The Fifth Circuit in 2006 overturned three of the five charges, remanded the remaining two to retrial (for the favorite DOJ charges of “perjury” and “obstruction of justice”), and ordered Brown released from prison instanter, which means immediately (and which meant that Brown was on probation for the next six years of motions and appeals).

Along the way to this less than satisfying resolution, Powell chronicles the Arthur Anderson demise, because of her assistance in Anderson’s appeal to the Supreme Court, and the prosecution and exoneration of Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, because of the case’s relevance to Brown’s. The Supreme Court reversed charges against Arthur Anderson 9-0, unfortunately too late for Anderson’s 85,000 employees, as the company was out of business by 2005.**

In the Stevens case, the jury conveniently declared Stevens guilty eight days before the 2008 election, causing him to lose his 40-year senate seat and giving the opposition party a supermajority of 60 senators. An FBI agent subsequently blew the whistle on prosecutors for withholding exculpatory evidence. Thus, the case was dismissed in 2009—by incoming attorney general Eric Holder who jumped at the opportunity to take credit for doing something right (but doing little else on such misconduct afterwards). Judge Emmet Sullivan excoriated the DOJ and on his own appointed an independent counsel to investigate the department’s behavior. The report was issued in 2012.***

Prosecutor misconduct in the Brown case was legion. Most significant and morally outrageous was the failure to turn over exculpatory evidence to the defense. This included full “302’s,” FBI notes from agent interviews of suspects and witnesses; only summaries were offered. Federal prosecutors and the DOJ itself insist that they have sole discretion to determine “materiality” of evidence for the defense. Thus, as Powell says, prosecutors claim the right to be both judge and jury before handing over evidence. In preparation for retrial, a new prosecution team apparently “slipped up,” as they sent Powell a complete CD of exculpatory information that should have acquitted her client at the initial trial.

Other misconduct: misleadingly encouraging Brown to talk freely in front of the Grand Jury, whether “accurate or not” (words of lead prosecutor Andrew Weissmann), then using the testimony to charge him with perjury; being charged for a perfectly legal business transaction (the vague, overly broad, and alleged “honest services” fraud) that Brown had advised against as not a good business deal; charging Brown for an allegedly damaging phone call that he was not even on but was used against all four defendants; using threats and intimidation against exculpatory witnesses, threatening them with indictment if their testimony was not what the prosecution was looking for; and just plain disgusting gamesmanship on the part of prosecutors, threatening the defendant with more prison time and misleading him by saying they fully intended to retry him, but a few days before the retrial date suddenly dropped the whole thing.

The aim of a trial—of all participants, prosecution, defense, and judge—has historically been to seek facts and truth, whatever the outcome may be. That is no longer the case in our present legal system, especially the Department of Justice. Winning seems to be the only thing and that motivation follows from our postmodern collapse of reason, logic, and objectivity. In philosophy, all three have been questioned for two hundred years. Doubt about them now has made its way to our law schools and courts.

In the Department of Justice, winning seems to be the only way to advance a career. In 2012 a bill was introduced in Congress, the Fairness in Disclosure of Evidence Act, to remove “materiality” from the discretion of prosecutors. It was adamantly opposed by the DOJ and killed by Congress.

What are we left with when reason, logic, and objectivity are removed from the law? Rule by men and women, due to the vague and overly broad statutes, the arbitrary application of procedures, along with delays, and other prosecutorial tricks aimed at wearing a defendant down so he or she will plead to a lesser crime, even though innocent.

When this occurs prosecutors get another notch in their six shooters and opportunities to move up in the organization. What we are left with, as Harvey Silverglate demonstrated in 2013, is the prospect of every innocent person possibly charged with Three Felonies a Day!

*The Merrill executives supposedly failed to provide “honest services” to Enron in the so-called Nigerian Barge deal, but even the Fifth Circuit and Supreme Courts have had trouble understanding what “honest services” is supposed to mean, especially when the Merrill executives and the company itself received no bribes or kickbacks in the deal. Criminal intent—mens rea—was excluded from trial consideration (and continues to be in many federal cases). All four defendants served time in prison, Brown the longest. One was acquitted by the Fifth Circuit and the essential “honest services” charges were dropped. “Honest services” are part of the federal mail and wire fraud statute.

**Six Enron cases, including Arthur Anderson and Brown, were reversed either completely or partially by the Fifth Circuit or Supreme Court. Enron’s former treasurer pleaded guilty but refused to testify against anyone or at the grand jury. He “wised up” after a few weeks in solitary confinement.

***Emmet Sullivan is the current judge presiding over the case of General Mike Flynn. Sidney Powell is Flynn’s defense attorney.

Friday, February 14, 2020

The “Sacred” and “Profane” of the Left—Or Rather, Their Cynicism, Malevolence, and Nihilism

Ayn Rand described religion as a primitive form of philosophy that has “usurped the highest moral concepts of our language,” thereby putting the accompanying emotions and connotational meanings outside of our reach on earth. “Sacred” is one such concept. “Profane” is its opposite.

To Rand, “sacred” means “the best, the highest possible to man,” the “not-to-be-betrayed, the not-to-be-sacrificed for anything or anyone.” The “profane” defiles the sacred by exerting minimal or no effort—or worse, by the desperate, self-doubt-driven effort of destruction that betrays the “highest possible to man” and sacrifices higher, more worthy values to lesser ones or to non-values.

In religion, which preaches the doctrine of self-sacrifice, Rand continues, “‘Sacred’ means superior to and not-to-be-touched-by any concerns of man or of this earth.” That is, the “sacred” is the altar upon which we must dutifully sacrifice ourselves, deriving little or no benefit from our sacrifices. This is the  opposite of Rand’s uplifting and man-worshipping ideal.

Today’s Left is not and has never been religious, but they are altruistic, demanding self-sacrifice, and border on being a religious cult. Philosophy professor Molly Brigid McGrath demonstrates this by analogy to such religious concepts as the sacred and profane, and piety and blasphemy.

The sacred, for example, as McGrath understands the Left, are oppressed victims—blacks, women, and gays—who suffer unjustly, whereas the pious are guilty privileged and mostly white straight males who must cleanse themselves of their (original) sins by sacrificing to the sacred.

The profane are privileged (white straight males) who do not feel guilty and therefore refuse to suffer or sacrifice for the sacred. Blasphemers, though, are the worst. They deny the validity of a “sacred” class, desecrating them and perpetrating injustices and committing crimes, often through speech that is indistinguishable from violence.

“It is difficult, in any sacred system,” says McGrath, “to make room for benevolent and intelligent people who simply disagree.” Blasphemers must be “publicly shamed, deplatformed, ostracized, often slandered and fired.” The punishment is “what justifies, psychologically, for activists and social media mobs, their unmeasured response.”

“Unmeasured response,” of course, is an academic’s polite way of saying hatred, hostility, and aggression, emotions and defensive actions I attributed to the Left in an earlier post.

The analogy indeed applies, but additional emotions identify today’s Left, such as cynicism, malevolence, and nihilism. And it’s not difficult to come up with examples.

Cynically intense pessimism is often expressed as sneering sarcasm at any attempt to hold up approvingly the American values of hard work, accomplishment, and earning one’s own way.

Malevolently desiring evil to others can be seen in the glee with which leftists celebrate the jailing of political opponents, especially in that modern version of the dungeon, solitary confinement, and doing so over trifles that had the same infraction, and in some cases the alleged infraction, been committed by a member of the Left either would have been dismissed or never would have surfaced in the legal system.

Nihilism? It’s everywhere in our culture, or what’s left of it, since the goal of the Left for many years has been to tear down and destroy all remaining remnants of Western civilization, especially reason, logic, objectivity and the notion of an objective reality, art, and, of course, capitalism. Art? Take a look at what the postmoderns have done. But be careful. You might get spit in your eye!

Sacred? To the Left? McGrath is being far too generous, even by granting them the religious version of the concept.

Ayn Rand asks us to look at “a child’s face when he grasps the answer to some problem he has been striving to understand. It is a radiant look of joy, of liberation, almost of triumph, which is unself-conscious, yet self-assertive, and its radiance seems to spread in two directions: outward, as an illumination of the world—inward, as the first spark of what is to become the fire of an earned pride.”

The child’s face is sacred, “the not-to-be-betrayed, the not-to-be-sacrificed for anything or anyone.”

That first spark and eventual fire of earned pride is precisely what the Left is aiming to extinguish.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

On Judging Other People and Moral Agnosticism

A familiar maxim from Jesus (Matthew 7:1, New Living Translation) says, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.”

Ayn Rand’s advice is “Judge, and be prepared to be judged.”

At first, the two prescriptions seem to be contradictory and there are various interpretations and applications of both. Can we reconcile them?

The first is often taken to mean “never judge,” thus leading to a policy of moral agnosticism. As for Rand’s statement, some of her followers have taken it to mean recklessly and often unjustly condemning other people who don’t meet their presumed (and frequently mistaken) interpretation of Rand’s ethics.

In a previous post, I discussed several issues required to judge the character of other people. My conclusion was that it is not easy because it takes time to get to know the other person. Let me sort out the above two prescriptions, both of which are considerably nuanced.

Subsequent verses in Matthew 7 essentially restate the Golden Rule encouraging us to use the same standard of value when judging ourselves as when judging others. No double standards, in other words. The Golden Rule can be ambiguous but it is an early and reasonable attempt to state the virtue of justice.

The last verse of this section in Matthew (7:6) concludes by urging us to be careful when collaborating with other people. “Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you.” As I said in my previous post, don’t hop into bed after one date (or two or three), get married after one month, or sign a business partnership after one meeting.

Divorce in marriage and business (including joint ventures) is far too prevalent. Be absolutely certain you are not dealing with a pig! Good advice from Matthew 7:1-6.*

Many assume “do not judge others” means “No one can determine right from wrong” or “Who am I to judge?” Ayn Rand reacted to that idea by offering her strong statement of always judging and being prepared to be judged, which, when properly understood, also is good advice.

We constantly make judgments—both of fact and value. “This person is pointing a gun at me” is a judgment of fact and “this gun in the hands of a criminal is a threat to me” is a judgment of value. Making value judgments, however, according to Rand, does not mean regarding “oneself as a missionary charged with the responsibility of ‘saving everyone’s soul’” or of offering unsolicited condemnation of others who may appear to be dishonest. Those others may just be committing what Rand calls an error in knowledge and the condemner may not have bothered to get to know the others well.

And judging others, of course, does not mean saying to your supervisor, “Boss, I cannot tell a lie. You’re a jerk.”

“Rationally appropriate” are the key words Rand uses to determine when or when not we should or should not make our value judgments known.

But because epistemological skepticism and moral agnosticism are rampant today and have mired us in a “who am I to judge?” culture, Rand’s further comments warrant attention. We are seeing in real time what she said over fifty years ago.

“Moral neutrality,” Rand said, “necessitates a progressive sympathy for vice and a progressive antagonism to virtue.” The sequence, especially for today’s leftists and their sycophants in the press,** in Rand’s words, has gone from “there is some good in the worst of us” to “there’s got to be some bad in the best of us” to “it’s the best of us who make life difficult—why don’t they keep silent?—who are they to judge?” (The Virtue of Selfishness, pp. 85-86, Rand's italics).

And those who dare to judge the left’s dishonesties and enormously destructive policies are silenced and condemned by the left’s massive smear campaigns.

“Free speech for me, but not for thee” is the left’s unspoken and unacknowledged motto. “Do not judge” refers to us, not them.

Most people speaking out today in defense of ethics seem to be from the religious right. Dennis Prager, as I point out in my 2018 post, argues that the Ten Commandments (or rather, Ten Statements, as he calls them) are what have driven the development of civilization.

Where are the secular ethicists, besides Ayn Rand, to defend the development of civilization?

* There are many additional values besides the ethical ones involved in successful marriages and business relationships. In both, total trust is paramount along with the notion that nothing is off the table for discussion. In marriages and sometimes even in business relationships an emotional connection through a matching sense of life and enjoyment of morally optional values is required. How to raise children or to run a business can involve both ethical and optional values. Lack of total trust in the relationship may at some point reveal a pig!

** “Useful idiots”—propagandizers for a cause they don’t understand—might also be an appropriate term for today’s press. The two words have been attributed to Vladimir Lenin, who supposedly applied them to communist fellow travelers and even ignorant classical liberals. Evidence for Lenin’s use of the words, however, has not been found.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

How to Eliminate Deep State Dictatorship

Why “deep state dictatorship”?

Let me start with the notion that most people would call the middle point between capitalism and socialism a “mixed economy,” which they also continue to say is a “mixture of freedom and controls.”

I’ll grant the “mixed economy” part but add also that the middle point is a “mixed society”—of freedom and dictatorship. When initiated coercion is used against citizens, it is a tactic of the dictator to control not just the economy but every citizen’s behavior. The mixed economy is a mixture of freedom and dictatorship.

The more initiated coercion is instituted by a government, the more that country will move toward a totalitarian society.

Capitalism is a social system in which the government remains completely out of our personal and business lives. It requires a complete separation of church and state, and complete separation of business and state. Individual rights, especially property rights, are its supreme values and are inviolate. The only function of government is to protect those rights and the only justified use of force is self-defensive to retaliate against those who have initiated coercion. This means all businesses, including schools and highways, are privately owned and operated.*

The “deep state” is a relatively new term coming to us apparently from Turkey where it means a secretive, extralegal collection of military, bureaucrats, and politicians who seek to undermine and, in some cases, overthrow a government (1, 2). In the United States, the term refers primarily to the unelected federal bureaucracy, currently estimated to be about three million,** and occasionally to collaborators, such as lobbyists at the federal level (about 12,000), assorted think tanks, military leaders, and corrupt politicians, some (many?) of whom would gladly sell their souls to undermine an administration and, perhaps, overthrow it. The national media, who repeatedly print and broadcast leaked classified information and seem unable to use objective methods of reporting facts and truth, must be added as the deep state’s courtiers.

But what is the origin of the bureaucracy and how necessary is it? In the Roman Empire, there was a large bureaucracy built on patronage, appointed by the emperor in power. The form and purpose of our present system, however, stems from the Han Dynasty in China (206 BC – AD 220)—the “Mandarin system”—and came to us by way of Prussia in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and then, finally, by the 1883 Pendleton Civil Service act in the United States (1, p. 157; 2; 3).

The significance of the Han system is that it established testing to determine who was “qualified” to serve in the government; it is actually a pretense at objectivity and is the system we have today. (See Megan McArdle on “America’s New Mandarins.”) The aim of the Pendleton Act was to eliminate the (unqualified) bureaucrats of the spoils system and give us supposedly highly qualified government workers. The difference between the two systems is that the spoils workers (a very small number in the US) were usually gone when the next president was elected. In modern systems, bureaucrats, which in numbers multiply like rabbits, may and often do spend their entire careers in the nation’s capital, outlasting many presidents.

This is our inheritance from the Progressives of the late nineteenth century, the Progressives who were trained in Germany by their democratic socialist professors. The deep state, encroaching more and more on the private sector and our rights, is rapidly moving us toward the giant post office that Lenin envisioned as the socialist state.

The deep state is dictatorial because nearly all of its rules, regulations, and laws are initiated coercion. The message to citizens is always some variation of “you must do this” or “you cannot do that.” These are not rules, regulations, and laws to protect individual rights against initiated coercion. They are themselves the initiation and are therefore dictatorial.***

How do we eliminate the deep state dictatorship? Going back to the spoils system would be a good start. Managing the police, military, or legal system, which is what bureaucratic management properly is, does not require an Ivy League education. Reducing the bureaucracy’s size to a tiny percentage of what it is today and selling all business-like governmental assets, such as the post office and all of the federally owned land (28% of the total acreage in the US) would go a long way toward reducing the national debt.

Drastically reducing the unelected bureaucracy would quickly reduce or eliminate the need for lobbyists and think tanks and might even send away those courtiers in the national media to look for honest jobs where they must actually report news based on facts and truth.

For about 130 years, the Progressives—in the name of  “democracy,” “helping the poor,” and “protecting competition”—have been marching us closer and closer to that “heaven” on earth they call socialism. Their recent behavior indicates either that they are desperate and on the precipice of failure (one can only hope!) or that they see an opportunity to steamroll their ideas on the rest of the country.

Deep state dictatorship must be defeated and removed.

* And are profit-making. I take laissez-faire capitalism to mean that there would also be no nonprofit organizations, as they are creatures of the state, the tax laws in particular. (All nonprofits today, to remain viable, must show an excess of donations over expenditures. Some are highly “profitable.”)

** Add about 16 million state and local employees, including public school teachers.

*** How many rules, regulations, and laws? Estimates, of course, vary, but I would put the minimum around 200,000. (In 2016, there were 3853 regulatory rules and 214 Congressional bills added to the Federal Register.) See my post on the “administrative state,” as Philip Hamburger calls the deep state.

Monday, November 04, 2019

On the Path to Dictatorship: Why Our Current President Must be Reelected

Democratic socialists have always paved the way for brutal totalitarian dictators, historically and logically. Our current president is the only person standing between us and such a dictatorship. Here are my reasons why.

Democratic socialists, as Hayek taught us (1, p. 158; 2), don’t have the guts to enforce their coercive policies. Dictators do, with blood. “Armed robbery and murder” is how George Reisman (part I) describes the means of establishing and maintaining a socialist society. This is true historically wherever socialism has been implemented and by logical necessity of the initiated coercion the socialists aim to impose on citizens.

“Progressivism” is the Left’s euphemism for democratic socialism (and sometimes communism). It is a specter, to use Marx’s word, that has haunted American culture and political life since the 1890’s. Today, its coercive policies are nakedly explicit.

Socialism is not just government ownership of the means of production, which the Left certainly is seeking, but it is also, more fundamentally and menacingly, government ownership of you, and all of us, the citizens. Taking our guns, so we can’t defend ourselves, and shutting down free speech, so we can’t criticize the dictators and propose radically different ideas, are just the first steps.

Government ownership of you is what total control means and that is what produces the totalitarian state. (And fascism is a form of socialism that only differs superficially.) Here is Ludwig von Mises on the path to socialism and how its acolytes are treated along the way:

As soon as a socialist deviated an inch from the orthodox creed, Marx and Engels attacked him furiously, ridiculed and insulted him, represented him as a scoundrel and a wicked and corrupt monster. After Engels' death the office of supreme arbiter of what is and what is not correct Marxism devolved upon Karl Kautsky [Marxist philosopher and theoretician].

Sound familiar? Just substitute today’s versions of the post-moderns’ political correctness for Marxism. The goal is the same, to silence dissent. Mises continues:

In 1917 it passed into the hands of Lenin and became a function of the chief of the Soviet government. While Marx, Engels, and Kautsky had to content themselves with assassinating the character of their opponents, Lenin and Stalin could assassinate them physically” (Theory and History, pp. 131-32).

Assassinations and gulags are the end—the dead end—of socialism, that is, unless you happen to be one of the elites who lives well, that is, again, unless you offend the wrong person and end up with a bullet between the eyes.

The list of past and present socialist assassins is lengthy: Mussolini, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, Castro, Chavez, and Maduro. For 130 years, Progressives have been moving us ever so inexorably closer to that end.

Our current president, and his constituency, seem to know this, at least implicitly, if not in some respects, explicitly. The Left is attacking and eroding the American sense of life. The president and his constituency represent it.

The dishonest blather—and “blather” is too kind a word to describe the babblingly vicious attacks made on our president—whether about his alleged “rude,” “crude, or “mannerless” words and behavior or his alleged dishonesty, are the Left’s projection of what they have done for 130 years and are doing in spades today. Our president may have rough edges and speak bluntly, which makes him transparent, but the Left talks out of both sides of their mouths and holds hearings in basement star chambers.

The Left, however, does rightly feel legitimate fears that the president is out to destroy their fiefdoms. The “good ‘ol boy” networks of lobbyists, the unelected deep state, and corrupt politicians are what he accurately calls “the swamp.” The mixed economy, after all, is a mixture of freedom and dictatorship. Freedom requires dismantling these Machiavellian strongholds.*

It is absurd to say that our current president would establish a dictatorship. That is the Left’s Goebbelsian smear campaign. So what if he sometimes falls back on ad hominem attacks? The Left’s smears are nonstop and far worse, stemming from their updated Marxian polylogism (1, 2) that celebrates relativism and the collapse of reason, logic, and Enlightenment values.

So what if the president talks nicely to dictators? Seriously? How do you conduct a negotiation by saying to your opposite, “You’re evil! Now, let’s talk.” The essence of good negotiation is sticking to principles, especially the principle of national self-interest, something our president has practiced far more consistently than his predecessors. He refuses to sacrifice himself to others and our nation to other countries.

And so what if the president is not an advocate of laissez-faire capitalism? Seriously again? That is a reason not to vote for him?

He is proud to be an advocate of capitalism as he understands it. He is proudly self-interested—for himself and for both the nation and his constituents. He is proud to be rich and wants everyone else to become rich. He is proudly and vehemently opposed to socialism and any kind of leveling of society to its lowest common denominator.

I did vote libertarian in 2016 because I thought the Republican candidate was “too socialistic” and that my California vote was a useless throwaway, but I immediately changed my mind when I saw the putsch mentality and fervent hatred take over political discussion. I have since written some twenty blog posts touching on political issues and essentially defending our current president. I plan to vote Republican next November!

Would a winning Democratic candidate in 2020 really establish a dictatorship? Probably not, because the American sense of life is still strong enough to provide pushback against the worst trying to rise to the top. But in twenty, forty, or sixty years?

The American sense of life must be articulated explicitly to the electorate. Our current president, with his confident selfishness and equally confident condemnation of the swamp are good starts.

* And then there are the Pravdas and Izvestias that whine and cry when the president describes them as “enemies of the people,” which they are. If they had any guts or integrity, they would be upholding the principles of a free society and writing factual stories about the Left—a Left that would surely shut them down as soon as acquiring power or attach them to the government. On the dead end of an unelected deep state, see my 2016 post, “The Reductio of Bureaucracy,” where I argue that the final product of bureaucratic management is to be found in the gulags of totalitarian dictatorship.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Why I Self-Publish

Today, Independent Judgment and Introspection, my third self-published book, goes on sale. Why do I self-publish?

In 1981, I bought and read a book titled the Self-Publishing Manual by Dan Poynter. I was intrigued but at the time had nothing to publish!

In 1993, I submitted to five publishers a proposal and three chapters of a book I had titled “Advertising: Beacon of Capitalism.” One called me and offered a contract. Flattered beyond belief, I said, “Where do I sign?” In the course of talking to my editor, he said my title was “too flag wavy” and suggested the current one, In Defense of Advertising: Arguments from Reason, Ethical Egoism, and Laissez-Faire Capitalism.

The editor also made a casual remark that made me a little uneasy, but I did not think too much about it. He said, “With the advent of electronic publishing, books may never go out of print.” In later years, I realized the message was, “Good luck getting your rights back!” I did not know about print on demand (today’s technology of printing one book at a time) and I doubt that my editor knew about it. I was aware that I had signed away all rights, which is what all but the highly successful best-selling authors must do to get a book published. Best-selling authors can negotiate with publishers and even receive a lucrative advance against royalties. The rest of us must take what the publisher offers, which may include copyright in the publisher’s name, not yours.

In 1994, In Defense of Advertising was published by Quorum Books, an imprint of the Greenwood Publishing Group in Westport, Connecticut.* Price was $45, hardcover only, and a lot of money in those years with similar books today going for $180-200 plus. Target market was “scholarly/professional,” which meant college libraries and motivated professors or individuals  who might be willing to pay that kind of money. The book did respectably. Sales in the hundreds, not thousands.

By the early 2000s the book’s sales trickled to almost nothing and I was interested in seeing it in paperback, even if I had to publish it myself. I joined the Author’s Guild, an organization mainly for the Stephen King’s of the world, but one benefit is that members can ask questions of the Guild’s lawyers. I asked for, and got, advice on how to ask for my rights back. I also got a stern sermon on why I shouldn’t have signed away all rights! The advice was to offer to buy all books in the warehouse at cost. There weren’t many, so the publisher accepted and I got the rights back in 2006. I self-published the paperback in 2007.

With the ease of print on demand (lack of need to carry inventory) and electronic publishing, I doubt that publishers today would be so generous in returning rights. In 1992 the same publisher (now under the Praeger imprint) published a scholarly collection that included one of my papers. I was asked recently to include the same paper in a new collection, but the 1992 book is still in print in Kindle and print-on-demand versions. The publisher wanted $1500 for the “privilege” of reprinting the paper. I once again joined the Author’s Guild to ask about my rights. The lawyer said I did sign away everything, but he also thought the publisher was unethical in “ransoming” my paper. He also gave me references to a statutory right of termination for papers in collections. It says I can get my rights back in 2026. If the publisher doesn’t play lawyerly games with me! (Permission to reprint academic papers is always free as long as credit is given—except in this case.)

For two or three years, I submitted my second book, Montessori, Dewey, and Capitalism, to about fifteen publishers, getting wonderful peer review comments (from a university press) such as “I don’t consider Ayn Rand to be a reference for anything.” (See my comment on the ethics and epistemology of peer review.) One publisher was willing to publish the book as is, but the copyright was to be in their name and I had to provide my own typeset page proofs (in Microsoft Word), copy editing (which most publishers provide for authors), and an index (which publishers do not provide). And, of course, I had to sign away all rights. I did attempt to negotiate but only got as far as, “I guess you can have the copyright in your name.” At that point, I exclusively became a self-publisher. Here are my reasons why.

The business model of publishers is much like that of the Hollywood movie studios. They make their money on hits, the best sellers, but it is difficult to predict which books will be runaway best sellers. So they accept as many books as they can handle, spend about three months on each one before publication date and three months after, then move on to the next. If the book doesn’t continue to sell well, it is thrown in the back pages of the publisher’s catalog.

Most of the publishing work, which includes production and marketing of the book, falls on the author. Typically, publishers will copy edit and typeset the manuscript, design a cover, list the book with top wholesalers (which gets the books listed online at retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble). They will send the book to some pre- and post-publication reviewers and put the book in their catalog that is mailed or emailed to the “house list,” an amalgam of past buyers and interested readers. If your book looks like it may sell well, you may be offered a book tour and some ads may be placed. There are no guarantees that your book will end up in a retail store. (Retailers require discounts of 40-60%  and if the books don’t move off the shelf, they are returned for refund and shipped at your cost. Refunds and shipping are deducted from royalties.)

The author must do and provide everything else. The author is asked to provide lists of contacts that might buy the book and possible review outlets. The author must provide an index, which if hired by a professional indexer can cost one or two thousand dollars. (This is the reason many books have no index or a poor one. The author does not want to pay for an index or want or know how to do one.) The author must proofread the typeset page proofs and return them in a short turnaround time, usually within two or three days. Advertising? Book tour? Convincing local retailers to carry your book? The publisher won’t stop you from spending your time and money on any of these ventures, though your contract probably has a veto or approval clause about the advertising!

So how many books actually get sold? Nielsen Bookscan in 2004 tracked 1.2 million books. Ten books sold more than a million copies, 500 more than 100,000, and two percent (or 24,000) more than 5000. Ninety-seven percent, however, sold fewer than 1000 and 80% fewer than 99.** The numbers are sobering and I doubt that they would be much different today, perhaps worse considering how many self-published books are on the market now.

The advantage of self-publishing is, in one word, control. I have total control of my books and my heirs can keep them in print after I’m gone. In the old days traditional publishers would just let books go out of print, often with excess copies destroyed (“pulped,” in the publishing lingo). Now they probably will never let them go out of print, making it difficult, if not impossible, to get your rights back. The drawback to self-publishing is that you have to do all the work yourself, although there are many advisors and consultants willing to do the work for you and gladly take your money, which can quickly add up to thousands of dollars that probably cannot be made back in sales. Self-publishing is work and you must enjoy doing it. Otherwise, the traditional path is the way to go, with a membership in the Author’s Guild and/or a good lawyer.

Scholarly books, which mine are, may not make the bestseller lists, but they can be discovered by graduate students and professors while browsing the stacks of a library or by noticing them in the bibliographies and footnotes of other books and papers or just by doing a “books-in-print” search on our modern day books-in-print (and not-in-print) database,

Years ago, I was impressed by the lesson of Hermann Gossen whose book in 1854 was nearly wiped out of existence (most copies destroyed), until discovered in 1878 by a colleague of William Stanley Jevons. Gossen had anticipated the law of marginal utility, as later elaborated by Jevons, Carl Menger, and Leon Walras. (See Mises on Gossen, p. 331.)

In a 2009 post, I expressed optimism about the future of “good—meaning rational—ideas” (though the leftists have challenged this premise a bit in the past two or three years). I related how in the eighth century BC the Greeks came out of their Dark Age and immediately wrote down their entire oral tradition, which led eventually to the Greek Golden Age. And I noted how Europe in the fifteenth century, with the invention of moveable type, published within a hundred years all extant written work, which gave us the Renaissance, Protestant Reformation, Enlightenment, and the standard of living we all enjoy today.

In the twenty-first century, the move is toward digitization of all of the world’s literature. Does this mean there will be a new Renaissance?

“Good—meaning rational—ideas” do eventually seem to be discovered and advanced, if they are available in permanent form.

* “Imprint” is the publishing industry’s substitute for brand name. Most publishers, who likely were English majors in college, prefer not to be associated with the Procter and Gamble’s of the world.

** This and other data from the early 2000s can be found in a thinly disguised business case at
. It is a thin disguise of yours truly’s experiences at self-publishing. More recent data: brick-and-mortar book store sales, now only 39% of total book sales, peaked in 2008 and are declining slowly. The number of Barnes & Noble stores also peaked in 2008 and have also been declining slowly (1, 2). Independent book stores, interestingly, have grown almost 40% since 2009.

(Cross posted on the books' website.)