Liberty & Power: Group Blog
David T. Beito
Well....was Harry Truman a war criminal? In my view, it is not even a close call. He was. If just war theory means anything it is that the intentional mass slaughter of civilians can not be justified. Had Hitler dropped an atomic bomb on London in 1941, judges at a subsequent war crimes trial would have dismissed out of hand any defense (even if it was partially true) that one goal was to"shorten the war and save lives from an invasion." They would have called it mass murder, pure and simple.
As Mark Brady points out, the entire basis of Whittle's argument falls apart once we abandon the premise of unconditional surrender (as first proclaimed by FDR). Truman rebuffed all proposals to let the Japanese keep the emperor in exchange for a surrender. A side benefit, of course, of such a conditional surrender would have been to avoid a bloody American invasion. Ironically, once Truman had dropped the bomb, he shifted course and agreed to this condition anyway. One of the best discussions of this issue is Thomas Fleming's magisterial, The New Dealers War.
But I believe the correct position is that of course torture is uncivilized, and even worse is killing innocent civilians. All wars in the modern era are" criminal." Practically all bombings are war crimes. They are acts of mass murder, and if one has a conditional defense of knowingly killing non-aggressors, then surely there must be an equally valid conditional defense for abusing captive criminals.
O'Reilly is accused of finding a defense of torture. He responds that those who favor war (including him) have found a defense of killing innocent women and children. I contend that once you can find a way to defend war crimes like the nuking of Hiroshima or even lesser acts of mass killing of civilians, you can find a way to defend anything using identical logic.
Here are my earlier thoughts on Stewart's shameful flip-flop on Truman, and see the insightful Justin Raimondo and this article by Dennis Perrin at the Huffington Post.
Jane S. Shaw
The federal government pressured banks to lend money to unqualified homebuyers. The federal government backed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which bought up those home loans, making them essentially risk-free for the original lenders.
The Federal Reserve made money readily available. (On these pages, there has been some dispute about that, but the disagreement reflects the time period under discussion; I don’t think there is any doubt that from 2002 to 2004, under Greenspan, the Federal Reserve increased the money supply, and some would say to an extreme degree.)
The Center for Public Integrity is taking a selective look backward to see who offered subprime mortgages and whether they were the same companies that accepted TARP funds. That's almost tautological.
You will recall that Henry Paulson brought the leading banks into his office and told them that they had to accept funds from the federal government before they could leave the room.
I welcome any improvements on this chronology.
You’ve all seen them. Those ubiquitous TV ads where a simple little pill transforms a man suffering from erectile dysfunction, or ED, into a virile tiger who puts a smile on the face of his now beaming wife.
Well, Representative Jim Moran (D-VA) has seen them too, and you’d be hard pressed to see a smile on his face when he talks about the ads. “A number of people,” he says, “have come up, including colleagues, and said I’m fed up. I don’t want my three or four-year old grandkid asking me what erectile dysfunction is all about. And I don’t blame them.”
Enter H.R. 2175. That’s a bill that Rep. Moran introduced last month that would prohibit any ED ads from airing on broadcast radio and TV between 6AM and 10PM. The bill advises the Federal Communications Commission to treat these ads as “indecent” and instruct stations to restrict their broadcast to late night and overnight hours.
Yes, because parents, of course, cannot be put in to the situation of either monitoring what their kids watch or actually having to explain (or concoct a suitable white lie) what the commercial is about. Better the state should"tsk, tsk" the First Amendment in order to save the children from, gasp!, hearing about penises and sex.
Lots of Lovejoyism on display in the comments at the CNN story on his bill.
(For the Helen Lovejoy reference, go here or here.)
David T. Beito
One of the reasons I like Ron Paul is that he keeps bringing the debate back to foreign policy.
The close relationship between the rule of law and the enforceability of contracts, especially credit contracts, was well understood by the Framers of the U.S. Constitution. A primary reason they wanted it was the desire to escape the economic chaos spawned by debtor-friendly state laws during the period of the Articles of Confederation. Hence the Contracts Clause of Article V of the Constitution, which prohibited states from interfering with the obligation to pay debts. Hence also the Bankruptcy Clause of Article I, Section 8, which delegated to the federal government the sole authority to enact"uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcies."
The Obama administration's behavior in the Chrysler bankruptcy is a profound challenge to the rule of law. Secured creditors -- entitled to first priority payment under the"absolute priority rule" -- have been browbeaten by an American president into accepting only 30 cents on the dollar of their claims. Meanwhile, the United Auto Workers union, holding junior creditor claims, will get about 50 cents on the dollar.
The absolute priority rule is a linchpin of bankruptcy law. By preserving the substantive property and contract rights of creditors, it ensures that bankruptcy is used primarily as a procedural mechanism for the efficient resolution of financial distress. Chapter 11 promotes economic efficiency by reorganizing viable but financially distressed firms, i.e., firms that are worth more alive than dead.
Violating absolute priority undermines this commitment by introducing questions of redistribution into the process. It enables the rights of senior creditors to be plundered in order to benefit the rights of junior creditors.
My question is for those on the left who so rightly and eloquently argued against the Bush Administration's violations of the Rule of Law, and defended the Constitution in the process, with respect to the treatment of prisoners and other elements of the"war on terror":
Where are you now? The crickets are chirping once again from where I sit. If the Constitution and the Rule of Law really mean what you said they meant when Bush was president, why don't they mean the same thing now? If the imperial presidency was wrong then, why isn't it wrong now? Where are you, you passionate defenders of the Rule of Law? Has The One blinded you to your principles, or did you never really have them in the first place?
David T. Beito
Jane S. Shaw
But EJW also points out the establishment's erroneous assumptions and illogic and offers more market-oriented alternatives. For example, David Henderson challenges the
smug assumptions of two economists arguing that smoke-free ordinances raise restaurant profits (May 2008).
And William Davis and Bob Kennedy point out that most establishment economists write as though American democracy is a "wise, reliable, melioristic" process (May 2009). Then they discuss a survey revealing that these same economists are actually quite skeptical of the political process; thus, establishment economists' policy prescriptions tend to be at odds with their personal beliefs (May 2009).
The peer-reviewed journal is sponsored by the American Institute of Economic Research in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. It is not a blog and doesn't accept online comments, but it has good readership for an academic journal (you can see the number of hits under "Archive") and its cites are quite respectable. In spite of its belligerence against the current economic establishment, it's gained quite a bit of traction since it started in 2004. Do historians have such a thing?
Furthermore, sticking to the philosophical root of all his work he adds, “What happened in history cannot be discovered and narrated without referring to the valuations of the acting individuals.” Again, no argument here.
At base all history, to make any sense, must be a history of ideas. The task of the historian is not only to get the facts straight, in addition it is to try his best to deduce from the collection what the motives of the actors were. Yet according to some, including Von Mises, that is where the duty of the historian begins and ends. “It is not the business of the historian to pass judgments of value”, he insists, and whenever a historian should do so he “speaks as an individual judging from the point of view of his personal valuations, not as a historian”. And here Von Mises and I part ways.
This “flaw” of a historian passing judgment on what he has so painstakingly researched is what makes for good reading. It is indispensable to good history writing. Dispassionate history writing is important – they are called encyclopedias. Would you rather sit before a fire ponderously turning the dry, brittle pages of Edward Gibbons' "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire", or would you rather happily dive into Will Cuppy or Leon Wolff?
As long as the historian gets the facts straight, his interpretation and judgment on what his research has uncovered is what brings the book alive, by doing so historians give us an endless variety on the same exact subject. For history to be written with utterly Vulcan-like disinterest would cause every book on Gettysburg to read as all the rest – factual correct, boring, and utterly inhuman.
The line of thought that history must be written with the same professional disinterest as a brain surgeon going about his work, being so inhuman, is thankfully almost unseen. Von Mises himself admits as much, stating, “it is a fact that hardly any historian has fully avoided passing judgments of value”.
For example, in one book on FDR you can read hosannas of praise as to how he was “experimental, took chances, re-interpreted the Constitution”, while in another you may read that he had the moral character and principles of a brothel keeper. As long as both authors got their facts straight, their interpretations of those same facts being so opposite is what keeps history fresh and gives the reader variety.
As long as human beings write about history, such variety will be par for the course in our history books, and thank the Lord for it.
Jane S. Shaw
Often, a long time must pass before we see facts clearly. By the time historians can be objective, most of the relevant people who really knew what happened (and were reluctant to tell it) are dead.
That is also the case with the question of whether FDR withheld knowledge of the pending attack on Pearl Harbor. I have been convinced--by John Toland especially--that Roosevelt and George Marshall knew about the attack and let it happen, but that idea is so offensive to many FDR partisans that it has been mostly ignored. Amazon just informed me that a new book, by George Victor, says somewhat the same thing. I can't wait to read it.
Warning: this slideshow contains graphic and disturbing images to anyone who loves liberty.
Like most Americans, I know little about Turkey or the history of the territories its present government controls. So I consider the way in which I spent the evening of Monday, May 25, as one of my life’s wholly unexpected experiences. On that occasion, my wife Elizabeth and I found ourselves in the village of Şirince, high on a mountainside about nine kilometers from the town of Selçuk, which itself is about three kilometers from the ruins of the fabulous city of Ephesus, one of the greatest metropolises of the ancient world.
By a series of events unlikely to have happened to anyone but a certain lovely, vivacious, and outgoing Louisianan (a.k.a. my wife), Elizabeth, who had gone to Selçuk earlier on Sunday while I was still occupied with business elsewhere in Turkey, had become acquainted with an affable carpet dealer by the name of Aydin. Through him, we met Metin, a young man who works with or for Aydin. (In Turkey it seems that everybody works with or for a great many others, who are described in most cases as brothers, cousins, uncles, or nephews.) Both Aydin and Metin speak good English and have spent time in the United States.
Metin had previously kept a shop in Şirince, and he took us there on Monday evening, when Aydin, who had promised to take us, was diverted by business dealings. The village was nearly deserted when we arrived just after sundown, and almost all of the shops had closed. Metin informed us that the village had been inhabited for many generations by Greeks, whose houses were built in the customary Greek style (the style in which they remain today, at least on the outside). In the early days of Mustafa Kemal’s (Kemal Atatürk’s) reign as modern Turkey’s founding strong man, these Orthodox Christian people had been expelled in the great population exchange and replaced by Muslim Turks who had previously lived in Greece.
With no tourists swarming in the streets, our stroll around the village before dinner was pleasant and unimpeded. We then sat down to have dinner at a restaurant whose menu was extensive and inviting and in which for an hour or more no one else was being served. In response to our questions about present-day relations between Turks and Greeks, Metin indicated that he had nothing against Greeks. “Problem is not people,” he averred. “Problem is always governments.” In reaction to this delightfully unexpected libertarian statement, we expressed our wholehearted agreement.
When Metin inquired as to how we liked President Barack Obama, we replied that we dislike all politicians. He nodded as if he understood and agreed with our sentiment. Then, after a brief pause, he said. “But there is one who is different.” After pausing again, as if he were searching his mind, he said simply: “Ron Paul.” Quickly following up, he declared emphatically: “I love Ron Paul!” Nearly struck dumb by this amazing declaration, we asked how he knew about Dr. Paul. He said that everybody in Turkey knows about him, and many Turks like him better than other politicians. When we informed him that we are personally acquainted with Dr. Paul, it was almost as if we had told him we are personally acquainted with some world-famous celebrity. Elizabeth confessed to him that although she normally steers clear of politics, she had joined a meetup group to promote Dr. Paul’s Republican presidential candidacy and had placed a big Ron Paul sign in front of our house. Instant solidarity!
On Tuesday, we talked about Ron Paul with Aydin, who shares Metin’s enthusiasm for the Texas congressman and expressed a desire to bring him to Turkey to be elected president. I daresay Turkey could use such a leader, under whom there certainly would be no collectivist state atrocities such as the heartrending Greek-Turkish population relocations of 1923. As we left Aydin’s shop for our final departure from Selçuk, we could hear him speaking to another man. Although we could not understand what he was saying in Turkish, we did catch the recurrent words “Ron Paul.”
Cross posted on The Trebach Report
Aeon J. Skoble
"The truth is that the students in the square had only the haziest understanding of western-style democracy. To the extent that the protests were directed at abuses of an existing system by an emerging elite, they were motivated more by outrage at the betrayal of socialist ideals than by aspirations for a new system. The mood in the square was at least as much conservative as it was activist."
I encourage you to read the entire article here. It's well worth the effort.
UPDATE: Brendan O'Neill explains here how both China and the West have distorted the truth about the Tiananmen Square protests and the massacre that followed.
Jeffrey Rogers Hummel
But first we must distinguish between the gross national debt and the outstanding national debt, both of which the government regularly reports. The gross national debt includes the holdings of the various federal trust funds for Social Security, Medicare, and several smaller government programs. These programs have run surpluses that are in essence loaned to cover other government expenditures. Consequently, the figure to which most economists and commentators refer is the outstanding national debt, net of the trust funds (i.e., the debt held by the public, including the Federal Reserve). Changes in neither measure of the national debt match annual deficits or surpluses, nor do the changes in either measure match each other.
Let me start with the debt held by the public. When the U.S. government borrows money to cover ordinary expenditures, the full amount appears in annual outlays, the annual deficit, and the annual increase in the outstanding national debt. But when the U.S. government borrows money to make direct loans to private parties, usually only the net present value of those loans is counted as an outlay and part of the deficit. Under the Federal Credit Reform Act of 1990 (applied retroactively in all official budget statistics), the net present value of each loan (and loan guarantee) is the estimated amount of the subsidy (or cost to the government, exclusive of administrative costs). The subsidy is analogous to the loan loss reserves that banks set aside when they make loans. The outstanding national debt, in contrast, increases by the full amount of the loan. The national debt can therefore increase by more than the deficit when the U.S. government makes direct loans and by less than the deficit when the loans are repaid.
This accounting practice today is affecting how the TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) bailouts are reported. The Congressional Budget Office puts the TARP's contribution to the fiscal year 2009 deficit at $184 billion, even though the TARP is expected to add an additional $461 billion to the outstanding national debt during the same fiscal year. That means President's Obama's reported budget, coming in at nearly 28 percent of GDP (the highest since World War II), significantly understates the increase in federal spending on a pure cash-flow basis.
The same thing happened last September when the Treasury initiated its Supplementary Financing Program, in which it eventually borrowed half a trillion dollars solely for the purpose of reloaning it to the Fed, primarily to finance the Fed's currency swaps with foreign central banks. None of that money was booked as part of federal outlays, and so it could not appear in the annual deficit. Yet however much remains outstanding (currently down to $200 billion) will be included whenever the national debt is reported.
The additional difference between the outstanding national debt, held by the public, and the gross national debt is of course the total amount in the federal trust funds. Since the trust funds can rise or fall independent of the U.S. government's annual outlays, the increase in the gross debt can be more or less than the increase in the outstanding debt. The easiest way to comprehend this relationship is to keep in mind that when all the trust funds are totally exhausted, the two ways of measuring the national debt will perfectly coincide. (Currently, under intermediate assumptions about future variables, the Medicare trust fund will be empty in 2017 and the Social Security trust fund will be empty in 2037).
A technical point: Many mistakenly believe that, when the Johnson Administration moved Social Security from"off-budget" to"on-budget," it made a major difference. But because both"off-budget" and"on-budget" sets of government outlays and receipts are regularly reported and unified, the change was of little significance, even from an accounting perspective. Indeed, in 1983 Social Security was technically moved"off-budget" again. For details about these virtually meaningless convolutions, go here.
In its first report to Congress, the Wartime Contracting Commission presents a bleak assessment of how tens of billions of dollars have been spent since 2001. The 111-page report, obtained by The Associated Press, documents poor management, weak oversight, and a failure to learn from past mistakes as recurring themes in wartime contracting.
. . .
The commission cites concerns with [inter alia] a massive support contract known as “LOGCAP” that provides troops with essential services, including housing, meals, mail delivery and laundry. . . . KBR Inc., the primary LOGCAP contractor in Iraq, has been paid nearly $32 billion since 2001. The commission says billions of dollars of that amount ended up wasted due to poorly defined work orders, inadequate oversight and contractor inefficiencies.
KBR’s chairman William P. Utt responded to the allegations by saying, more or less, “Liar, liar, pants on fire.” According to the AP report, his exact words were: “As we look back on what we’ve done, we’re real proud . . . .” You can bank on his pride in what the company has accomplished, all right. Raking in $32 billion in less than a decade for providing workaday services to the U.S. troops in Iraq is no mean achievement, as contractor rip-offs go.
Many readers will interpret this latest news item as evidence of the government’s"failed policies” for managing the Iraq war, but this interpretation is completely wrong. There are no failed government policies — at least, none that last very long. The government is accomplishing exactly what it seeks to accomplish. If it were not doing so, it would soon change the policies to bring them into accord with its aims.
If you doubt my claim, you may wish to consider that these very “failed policies” in military contracting have remained business as usual ever since World War II, when the modern military-industrial-congressional complex (the MICC) came into being. They have been the subject of countless investigations and several major studies throughout that span of nearly seventy-years. Each study finds basically the same thing; each makes similar proposals to fix the system; but the government never alters the system’s basic workings.
In Arms, Politics, and the Economy, a book edited by me and published by Holmes & Meier in cooperation with The Independent Institute in 1990, William E. Kovacic presents a detailed account of three “blue-ribbon commissions” created to study military contracting and related matters: the 1955 Hoover Commission Task Force, the 1970 Fitzhugh Commission, and the 1986 Packard Commission. Kovacic concludes: “As judged by most who have studied postwar movements to reform the weapons acquisition process, blue ribbon commissions have elicited little basic change in the way the United States buys armaments. . . . Experience with the postwar blue ribbon commissions demonstrates that the inspiration to reform without the commitment to persevere yields little change.”
I am willing to say bluntly what Kovacic never quite concludes in plain language: Nothing changes fundamentally because the investigations are all for show, to give the public the impression that the government is not simply shoveling the taxpayers’ money heedlessly into the contractors’ bank accounts, but none of the leading actors in the MICC—not the military services or the Department of Defense, not the private contractors, not the congressional appropriations and oversight committees—really wants to change the system because, as it now stands, it is serving their interests magnificently.
As the legendary defense analyst Ernest Fitzgerald once said to me, “A defense contract is just a license to steal.” And who wouldn’t want to have such a license? You can bet that KBR enjoys having one, as do Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, Raytheon, and the rest of the major licensees. Indeed, it appears that the U.S. military-contracting system constitutes one of the most successful organized-crime rackets in the history of the world.