Author Archives: Robert Morris

About Robert Morris

Robert Morris Tweets @TheFederalGovt, posts video as the More Freedom Foundation, and has written a quick pamphlet on the drug war that can be found here.

Washington, DC: Our Imperial Capital

Lately we’ve heard a lot about the DC Renaissance. After decades of decline it is now becoming a playground for the rich and over-educated. In the midst of the celebration, it is worth remembering that all of this wealth is built on exploitation and war. This video is our attempt to make this clear…

see more…

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European Expansion is a Good Thing

Over the past half decade or so the United States has invested 2 trillion dollars in state-building efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan without much in the way of success. The Europe has managed to do a much better job, and without making many defense contactors rich. Here’s How…

TRANSCRIPT:

Hey all, let’s talk a bit about Democracy in Europe. Almost Every term you use when you talk about politics can get you in to trouble…

“The Worst Thing about Europe is those damn liberal Socialists!”

“The Worst thing about The US is those heartless liberal Republicans!” see more…

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A half cheer for the European Union!

The European Union is of course a ridiculous, socialist, nanny state contraption. The thing is, Europeans love that sort of thing. It has also done us quite a favor. It’s been almost 70 years since Americans have had to die on European soil in large numbers. The latest in our series of videos on good news tries to tell this rarely told story…

TRANSCRIPT:

Ah, Europe. It has added so much to world culture. Germanic Music, British Humor, the French work ethic. There is one export however that has made more of an impression than any other. And that’s violence. Europeans have killed people for land, they’ve killed people for Religion, they’ve even done it for ideas. see more…

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Real talk about media bias

We hear a lot about media bias. CNN goes one way, Fox news goes the other, but there is a deeper bias that nobody really challenges. This video takes the lessons learned from living through a news event, and blows the lid off of the real media bias.

TRANSCRIPT:

Media bias, people talk about it a lot. Liberal Media Bias. The Conservative Media Empire.

Some see bias as a simple us versus them fight. But it’s not that simple.

In May and June of last year my walk home got a little weird. The events at Gezi park were one of the most extraordinary things I have ever experienced. I found myself getting very angry at the reporting though. Every story failed to capture the experience. It wasn’t just the obvious and shameful failure of the Turkish Media. Everything said internationally made me angry as well. It all seemed infuriatingly incomplete. see more…

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NATO and Ukraine Explained in 4 Minutes…

Over the past few months we have been hearing about that dastardly Vladimir Putin. An important fact is being ignored. He would never have invaded Ukraine without the excuse that US policy has been giving him for 25 years. This video delves into that ignored history, with a fair amount of swearing, and just a dash of assault…

You can find more videos like this by following @robbolaw on twitter.

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Is the last wave of US immigration really unprecedented?

Kind of. It is impossible to really understand immigration to the United States without looking at the history. This video lays out the truth about those who have come to start new lives in the United States.

More on the project can be found here

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What is the More Freedom Foundation?

This video describes a new kind of think tank. The internet has always had the potential to help truly independent voices to be heard. In some cases it certainly has. Too often though it seems to give the established institutions and viewpoints a larger megaphone.

Our theory is that there is an appetite for views that haven’t been approved by those institutions. Subscribe to see if that’s the case.

More on the project can be found here

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Dick Cheney isn’t the problem, we are

The New York Review of Books is currently running a series of articles on the authors of post- 9-11 US foreign policy.

It paints compelling portraits of the careers and the hubris of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. The articles are well written, but they are missing something important.

It is comforting to believe that the excesses of the war on terror are the work of just a few greedy and power-mad men. see more…

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FATCA: Most important law (you’ve never heard of)

FATCA is a crazy law that the United States Congress has decided to impose on the entire world. It comes into force in 2014. Basically we’re building a worldwide empire subject to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). This video cuts through the BS and explains the law in the simplest terms possible.

200 years from now, when people look back and wonder how the US shifted from being a source of hope to being one of history’s shitty little empires, the implementation of this law may be one of the things they point to… just watch the video to learn the truth.

-Robert Morris

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What Russia has to teach the U.S. about foreign policy

Vladimir Putin: Not just a bear-riding dictator

Vladimir Putin: Not just a bear-riding dictator

Back before Edward Snowden kept us from invading Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin famously wrote an op-ed in the New York Times lecturing us on our foreign policy.

It was an amusing piece of propaganda, but it left the most important part of Russian practice out.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russian foreign policy has had one overarching theme, and that is respect for sovereignty.

If it’s not a country in Russia’s “near abroad” like Georgia, Russians are generally opposed to intervention. see more…

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10 Out of 10 Progressives Are 95% Wrong About Inequality

The population of the United States is only 4.4% of the world total.

The population of the United States is only 4.4% of the world total.

We’ve been hearing a lot about inequality lately. From Robert Reich to Russel Brand, our media streams are full of people denouncing its presence in the western world. This video has been particularly effective. The story that all these media are telling is real. There is real pain out there, and it should be documented. We should be grateful for their efforts. The answers these folks are proposing, however, are inadequate. The story seems to be that the one percent, and their foul corporations have banded together to use capitalism and ideology to crush the little guy. Capitalism has stopped working. If we could only go back to the mid 20th century with its vigorous labor movement, and more re-distributive government, we could make things good again. This story is incomplete, however, and therefore the solutions it presents are likely to fail.

Capitalism has not stopped working. Over the past ten years it may not have been working well for the majority of the people in the United States and Western Europe. What Capitalism has done for the rest of the world over the past decade, however, is a miracle. see more…

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The Last Word on Border Security

Some simple data that the Repubs and the Dems would really rather you were not aware of:

-Robert Morris

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Geeks and Hucksters: How we managed to kill innovation in the United States

Who Innovates?
Economist cover
This is a crucial question that more people should be asking. Clever people like Neal Stephenson, Peter Thiel, Tyler Cowen, and the editorial board of the Economist think that innovation is dying. Some of this is motivated by the “We were promised jetpacks!” resentments of baby boomers reaching a certain age, but they do have a point. Between 1900 and 1950 life was transformed. Airplanes, automobiles, electrification, washing machines and other technologies revolutionized home, work, and play. Other than the internet and telecoms, it is hard to point to any comparable changes since 1950. A number of theories have been floated to explain this, from the ridiculous one that there is nothing more to discover, to the more likely one that further discoveries may be harder. The worst suggestion is that the government somehow needs to do more. If only they would start funding more infrastructure, or come up with some grand plan like the moon shot, then we would start innovating again. None of these explanations are particularly satisfactory.

If you ask the question above, however, the problem becomes much simpler. Innovation requires two sorts of people. Politely, scientists and entrepreneurs, more informally geeks and hucksters. It is rare for these traits to be combined in a single person. When they are, that person tends to end up a household name like Edison or Jobs. Geekdom gets the respect it deserves. Scientific inquiry, pure and applied, is what gives us the technology that builds the future. Hucksters are less appreciated, which is a shame. It takes a visionary salesman to bring an innovation to the masses. Henry Ford would be the classic example. Automobiles were invented over a decade before he democratized them. As importantly, there were individual salespeople country-wide who brought this innovation forward. Another example would be VCRs. The technology was important, but the entrepreneurs throughout the country who were willing to set up video rental stores were vital. For innovation to occur you need a novelty, but you also need legions who are willing to take the risk of popularizing these novelties. You need geeks and hucksters.

These two classes of people are just as greedy as anyone else. A select few are really out to change the world, but most are willing to take a smaller degree of success if it is easier to come by. This makes sense, as the effort to truly create something new often ends in failure. Unfortunately, the United States has slowly built a system that increases the possibility of non-innovative success for both Geeks and Hucksters.

We have provided a sure thing to geeks in the state owned enterprise that is our financial industry. The financial and legal sectors have been sucking up our cognitive elites at an ever increasing pace for the past 20 years. A distressing amount of scientists and engineers end up in patent law. Our most promising mathematicians and computer scientists end up getting rich as spread-sheet jockeys in the hedge fund industry. The folks who should be dreaming up the future are making their millions and billions in pursuits with zero social value and a government guarantee.

Far worse, and far more extensive, is the system we have set up for hucksters. From the time of the New Deal forward the federal government slowly constructed a system that made the real estate market more and more secure. The mortgage interest income tax deduction has inflated the price of property, and given everyone an incentive to purchase that inflated asset. Quasi-governmental organizations like Fannie Mae and an alphabet soup of agencies like the FHA have insured, purchased, and guaranteed house loans, further driving up the price of these assets. This system has not guaranteed success, of course, but it has created millions of better bets than, say, funding some bicycle repairmen in their latest attempt at a flying machine. These policies laid out a shortcut to the American dream.

This shortcut has come with costs. There was the 2007-2008 financial crisis we are all still recovering from. There is the truly fantastical notion that 10 grand of drywall should be worth a million dollars. There is the creation of an underclass that cannot afford the inflated costs of housing.

But what if the highest cost is one we can’t see? What if the Henry Ford of the 1980s never appeared because he was too busy building subdivisions? What if all the salespeople who would have been willing to take a risk on the new got realtor’s licenses instead? How many people who could have been angel investors are instead paying mortgages on second homes? What if the woman who should have invented the flying car made all the money she wanted with equity derivatives?

As Robert Heinlein said: “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch”.

Robert Morris thinks he has all the answers. He has written at some length on the Drug War and US foreign policy more of his work can be found here

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Leadership: The Video

I think it puts him in appropriate company…

Rob Morris

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How social media makes us all dumber: Calling bull$*!t on that heartwarming NYPD boots story

Creepy NYPD Flag

The actual, creepy, fascist-looking, official NYPD flag

The culture of social media is changing the world for the better in many ways. There is a flip side though. Established institutions are getting better at manipulating the stories that are told on social networks. Governments and corporations put significant time and money into crafting stories that they hope will go viral. Most of this effort is wasted. When it works though, the benefits for that organization are enormous.

The New York Police Department (NYPD) is the closest thing to a totalitarian organization you can find in the United States. 21st Century New York City is a theme park for the world’s rich. The NYPD is given 3.9 Billion dollars a year to keep the janitorial staff of that theme park in line. It may deserve some credit for the city’s fall in crime, but not as much credit as it is given. Crime is falling throughout the United States and it is doing so without the NYPD’s extreme and racist tactics. The NYPD is currently under fire for many of its practices. Its policy of stopping and frisking law-abiding pedestrians at random is currently being challenged in court because 87% of its victims are black or latino. The NYPD famously spent six years illegally spying on New York City’s Muslim community at the cost of millions of dollars, and failed to produce a single credible accusation of terrorism. Up until recently they were also using the stop and frisk program to arrest 50,000 people a year for marijuana possession, despite the fact that New York City de-criminalized possession in the 1970s (victims were forced to publicly display the marijuana, which is still illegal). The NYPD’s appearance in serious news lately has largely been due to fall out from one of these scandals.

What is it most known for this week though? How are people all over the country hearing about the NYPD for the first time?

The story goes like this: Larry DePrimo, a “handsome” young officer according to People Magazine, noticed a shoeless homeless man in Times Square on the night of November 14th. It was a “cold November” night according to the New York Times, and Officer DePrimo was inspired to go to the local shoe store and buy the man some boots. This spontaneous act of charity was spontaneously recorded by Jennifer Foster of Arizona, who was inspired to email her story to the NYPD. According to her interview on the Today Show, Ms. Foster did this because her father was a police officer who often provided winter boots to homeless people in Phoenix, Arizona.

Every element of this story strains credibility. New York City is a large, progressive Northeastern City with a well developed shelter and social services network. As inspiring as DePrimo’s choice to buy boots for this guy may be, it probably would have made more sense to get him to a shelter. DePrimo’s “heroism” may have wasted an opportunity to get this guy off the streets and into subsidized housing. This officer is also surprisingly sensitive to cold. The Huffington Post: “I had two pairs of wool winter socks and combat boots, and I was cold,” DePrimo said Wednesday”. The weather recorded at Laguardia on November 14th was a high of 59 and low of 39, which this Tri-state area native has always seen as T-shirt weather.

If this story is not the transparent publicity stunt it appears to me to be, allow me to apologize to DePrimo and Foster. If the story is completely true, they are better human beings than I could ever hope to be.

Even if the story proves not to be, its treatment is definitely bull$*!t. This “news” was “reported” on the NYPD Facebook page, which is essentially a 21st century press release. Its details have been repeated verbatim, presumably with little fact checking, by every major news outlet in the country. This would not have been a story before Facebook. The news is the fact that the picture is a viral sensation. That is the story, and the only thing that national outlets really have to verify.

Every story prominently and positively points to the NYPD brand, and most of them do so in the headline, producing more viral brand love for the NYPD. None of these stories point to the institution’s deeply troubling past and present. If nothing else, this story has proved the utility of Facebook pages for large organizations.

Rob Morris is suspicious of a lot of things. He is particularly suspicious of the Drug War and American Foreign Policy.

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The Republicans are the real socialists

Commie Romney

“The Republicans are a bunch of communists.“

For years, this statement has been my way of pointing out to people that my Libertarian beliefs place me to the right of Atilla the Hun. Lately though, I have realized that the statement is true.

With their full throated support of the military industrial and prison industrial complexes, the Republicans are the originators and protectors of all the cushiest government jobs in the country. The Democrats are of course 99% as bad as the Republicans are on these issues, but at least some of them, occasionally, try to find non-lethal ways to waste our tax dollars. You shouldn’t vote for any of them.

The Northrup Grumans and the Corrections Corporation of Americas of this world are the true welfare queens. You can put a Gingrich-ian gloss on it, and claim that these companies are in the private sector because they work for corporate structures, but you would be fooling yourself. If an entity makes all of its money selling things to the government, then it is functionally a branch of government. It might be easier to fire people than it is at the Department of Education, but the folks at the top of the DOE don’t take home tens of millions of dollars a year.

This is socialism in practice. Our defense industry is make-work on a scale that would make FDR blush. At least his Works Progress Administration didn’t do anything. Since 1989, our defense industry has worked tirelessly to make us less secure, and invent reasons to send our soldiers off to die in deserts. What the defense industry does to our soldiers, and Islamic weddings, the prison industry does to the rest of us. It turns poor pot smokers of color into violent criminals, and poor white people into the commandants of rape camps.

These industries have locked whole regions of our country into a culture of dependency. Munitions workers, prison workers and their representatives in congress continue to vote for these depraved policies. Anyone who looks honestly at the results of our war on drugs, and our absurd policy of militarizing the world, can see that their effects are malign, but these policies are too entrenched to stop. Too many good government jobs depend on them.

So yes, when Republicans say that we are in danger of becoming a socialist country, they are absolutely right. This process did not start four years ago, however, it has been going on for a lot longer, and both parties are its authors and (hopefully not) finishers. Let me leave you with a little Abraham Lincoln*

From Whence shall we expect the approach of danger? Shall some transatlantic giant step the earth and crush us at a blow? Never! All the Armies of Europe and Asia could not, by force, take a drink from the Ohio River or set a track on the Blue Ridge in the trial of a thousand years. If destruction be our lot, we ourselves must be its author and finisher. As a nation of free men, we will live forever, or die by suicide.

*Sadly I am not enough of a Lincolnologist to come by that quote honestly, all credit is due to Titus Andronicus, an awesome band, for making me aware of it.

Robert Morris has written at some length on US foreign policy and the drug war. His videos and writings can be found here.

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Time to Wake Up: A Brief History of the 21st Century

So 9-11 happened.

19 losers decided to end their lives in the most pathetic way possible, but they did so in a contemptibly clever way. Rationally speaking, their actions called for one thing. Locks on Airplane cockpit doors. Afghanistan had to happen too. But logic and reason don’t really come into it.

We were hurt and angry. I was certainly angry. Personally and, I think, as a nation we saw the world through a red haze of rage. This Onion Article from September 26, 2001 describes where we were pretty well. We wanted to break something. The mess the first George Bush made of the cold war peace dividend provided an easy option. So we went into Iraq. In its way it was effective. Gaddafi sheepishly handed us his nuclear program years before we killed him. The only state sponsored organization planning terrorist attacks in the United States today is the FBI.

Remember the Washington Metro bombing plot? The New York subway plot? The guys who planned to blow up the Sears Tower? The teenager seeking to bomb a Portland Christmas tree lighting? Each of those plots, and dozens more across the nation, was led by an FBI asset.

We have convincingly demonstrated that anybody who has anything at all to lose should know better than to fuck with us. Is that all we are though? The red haze of rage is dissipating. American Casualties are falling as we outsource the fighting to contractors and robots. We have stopped caring. We shouldn’t.

The past week’s news has been horrifying. The machinery we built up in anger is still working very very hard. We are killing people in countries most of us couldn’t find on a map. We’re killing people for saying things and for listening to ideas we don’t agree with. We are making martyrs out of morons. Is that what we want to be?

The war on Terror is over. We won. Anybody who tells you different is trying to defend an appropriation or a talking point. We have won and it is terrible. What it has cost us is sometimes hard to see, but vast.

There will be real terror attacks in the United States again. We have shown that those who perpetrate them, and all who surround them, will suffer mightily. Who benefits from keeping up a constant level of suffering? Again, we are making martyrs out of discredited fools. Our current policies are making the inevitable next terrorist act more likely rather than less likely. Are we slowly turning into something that should be fought? My country, right or wrong, but I would rather be right.

It is time to wake up, look around and realize that our half-forgotten anger has taken us to some new and nightmarish places. It is time to wake up.

Robert Morris has written in a similarly hopeful fashion about the drug war

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The fundamental truth of American foreign policy

Nobody cares.

Among Americans, that is. The folks world-wide who have to deal with our choices care a great deal. Among Americans though, nobody really cares. Living in Turkey I hear a lot about how US foreign policy is corruptly guided by the “Jewish Lobby”, and the oil companies.* The more sophisticated among those I talk to claim that US foreign policy is owned and run by the defense industry. There are elements of truth to these critiques, but they miss the bigger picture.

American foreign policy is owned and guided by American foreign policy practitioners. This is usually described as a Military-Industrial complex, but that label over-states the importance of the defense industry. Foreign policy practitioners, defined widely, include literally millions of Americans. Yes, this includes defense contractors, the Department of Defense, and Representatives and Senators whose only concern is the amount of military money they can grab for their constituencies. More importantly, however, this also includes tens of thousands of academics, think tank analysts, consultants and journalists. It is their failure of imagination, not just congressional greed, that has gotten us into our many current messes.

The main problem is not corruption but a lack of ideas. Since 1989 this establishment has been casting around for a reason to continue to exist. The modern foreign policy establishment was forged during the Cold War. The all consuming battle with communism, on ideological, sociological, economic and military fronts created a vast infrastructure.

For 23 years this infrastructure has lacked any clear purpose. It has only had a question: “What are we here for?”. So yes, when Halliburton or Northrup Grumman or AIPAC provides an easy answer the foreign policy establishment grabs it with all the vigor and idiocy of a drowning man. These are not the only entities providing easy answers. The half-baked Wilsonianism of the “Duty to Protect” crowd comes to mind. This is not corruption. This is desperation. see more…

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Why Social Media is Better Than the Blogosphere: Gay Marriage, Drug Legalization, and Ron Paul

Courtesy of Jane Q. Social MediaI love me the blogosphere. It is a fantastic thing. Blogs gave us the first chance to get out from under the mainstream media. They provide an incredible opportunity to connect with like minded people and get the information that you want. I am committed to the medium and hope to continue to produce in it. They have a downfall as well though. James Lileks has talked about the concept of “non-contiguous information streams”. Blogs, and the increasingly fragmented cable news market, allowed people to get the information they wanted, and ONLY the information they wanted, to the exclusion of all other information. This made it easier for otherwise smart people to maintain some really silly ideas. On the left, it convinced people that the run up to the 2004 election was a really good time for a gay marriage push. On the right, it tragically maintains the idea that we need a bigger defense budget to deal with a bunch of fanatical Islamist peasants in tents than we needed to deal with Hitler or the Soviet Union.

Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook are now dramatically more important than the blogosphere. Pundits who used to maintain well thought out blogs, are devoting more of their time to these other services. It is a bit of a tragedy for those of us who remember the vibrancy of thought and significance that blogs once had. But, crucially, these systems avoid the problem described above. By expressing yourself on Twitter, and especially on Facebook, you are getting out of the echo chamber. see more…

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The Economist Flubs the Best News of the Year…

The Economist This article documents something pretty incredible. In the face of rising food prices and a global economic crisis, poverty is falling. For the first time in history it is falling world-wide, in every region. It’s a beautiful thing.

This is the internet though, and putting fingers to keyboard for a purely positive purpose wouldn’t be appropriate. This article is also a great example of the massive distortion that infects all journalism and advocacy on this topic. Take this quote for example:

If you exclude China, the numbers are less impressive. Of the roughly 1.3 billion people living on less than $1.25 a day in 2008, 1.1 billion of them were outside China. That number barely budged between 1981 and 2008, an outcome that Martin Ravallion, the director of the bank’s Development Research Group, calls “sobering”.

Hmmm. Sobering. Can you think of any other data points that might be relevant in this comparison? Has anything changed between 1981 and 2008? Anything statistically significant?

How about the fact that in those 27 years world population has increased almost 50 percent, from 4.5 billion in 1980 to 6.8 Billion today? see more…

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Assad vs. The Robots

This video blew up on the internet last week.

A team of engineers at the University of Pennsylvania has built a fleet of flying robots. At first glimpse it is another in a long line of Gee-Whiz/Not too useful Robot designs. This idea is different from the rest however, because it is possible to envision an instant, revolutionary use.

Can we put cameras on them?

Can we send a couple thousand in to Syria?

Any regime that is actively killing its people denies it. They can get away with this because they control the territory and they control the information. Syria’s ruling regime recently accepted observers from the Arab League, to try to smooth over the 5,000-odd civilians it has murdered recently. The observers were supposed to guarantee the safety of the Syrian people, but they had to leave because the country got too violent. By definition, being around state violence is a dangerous pursuit. A flying robot costs less than an international diplomat, and is infinitely braver. These robots don’t look expensive. There is probably a Qatari or Silicon Valley billionaire that would be happy to pay for them. These little flying robots could quickly expose and document in real time any on-going massacres. This would make it harder for President Assad to kill people, and therefore harder for him to retain power. Who knows, perhaps Syria’s impending civil war could be averted, or at least sped up. We could do all this without dropping a single bomb.

What if the spy-bots were crowd-sourced?

Way back in 2002, web-comic artist Patrick Farley imagined an alternate history of the war in Afghanistan. Instead of bombing the Taliban, we sent in millions of spy robots, individually manned by common citizens. This is now a possibility.

What if the next time a Darfur-type situation develops, the UN could pass a resolution and send in a fleet of a million mini-helicopters? The robots could be manned by video-gamers world-wide. Instead of playing Call of Duty, they could follow real armed groups across European plains or African cities. Each potential murder could be documented, making it less likely to happen. Unlike other observation schemes, this one has the benefit of letting the murderers know they are being filmed. Hopefully this would make them less likely to carry out their plans.

Farley’s idea has endless potential. Our “duty to protect” could be satisfied without having to bomb or invade anyone. Another excuse for maintaining our excessive defense budget would be swept away.

This is all a fantasy. The robots are flimsy. The controlled conditions of a Philadelphia lab are not the jungles of the Congo. If they did work, they would be just as likely to be used by governments to spy on their people. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying.

Rob is branching out into sci-fi blogging from his usual drug war stomping grounds.

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Paul Krugman Has No Idea What He’s Talking About; First of a series

Paul Krugman is a very smart man. He has won the Nobel prize in economics for work on impressive sounding stuff like economic geography, and liquidity traps. He is also an opinion journalist for the New York Times. He comments from a proudly progressive perspective, and does so very successfully. The topics he covers include the causes of the financial collapse, inequality, the national debt and much, much more. His arguments are quickly recycled in discussions across the land, both electronic and personal. The problem is, when he weighs in on topics outside of his particular branch of alchemy, he is almost always wrong. This is infuriating because his work is taken as gospel by many otherwise intelligent people. Therefore, I’ve decided to start this series. It is perhaps presumptuous of me to try to take on the Krugster, but hey, if I wasn’t into Quixotic pursuits I wouldn’t be writing opinion pieces on the internet.

Here goes…

Last month Krugman released a column entitled “Nobody Understands Debt“. The column adds nothing to understanding. The message is that the national debt is no big deal, and we should be spending more to deal with unemployment. This is absurd. Thankfully, He provides all the ammunition we need to prove him wrong in the column. He says governments can happily live with high levels of debt pointing out that “Britain, in particular, has had debt exceeding 100 percent of G.D.P. for 81 of the last 170 years.” He links to an older post with a helpful graphic, reproduced above. He “marvels” at how over-blown our current “debt panic” is.

With this particular post Krugman is either entirely ignorant of history, or just lying to his readers. Britain got away with its first period of massive debt because as first movers in the industrial revolution and victors in the Napoleonic wars they had a financial and military hegemony we can’t imagine. The US got closest to that kind of dominance after the second world war, which is the other period of high debt to GDP he references in the opinion piece. In each of their respective periods of victory, Britain and the US moved quickly to pay off their debts. In the second period of massive debt, Britain had to ration food for a full decade after World War II. With the Suez Crisis of 1956, Britain’s debt ended the country’s ability to act independently on the world stage in the most humiliating way possible. Krugman’s “Massive Debt’s just fine!” message is completely disproved by his own example. My sense is that he knows this, but doesn’t care.

Krugman makes much of the fact that we hold a lot of our own debt. This can cut both ways, however. We are not as insulated as he portrays us, but if we were we would have little incentive to clean up our fiscal act. This is not a good thing. Unsurprisingly, Krugman doesn’t bring up the most sterling (yen-ish?) example of an excessive debt-to-GDP ratio maintained by patriotic savers. The current Japanese ratio is over 200%

High savings were sustainable when the population was younger, wealthy, and growing. Instead, Japan is old, stagnant and saving less every year. That investors have repeatedly failed to short Japanese debt since the early 1990s doesn’t mean that Japanese debt is a good bet tomorrow. The country will eventually find itself in a financial catastrophe when the public stops lending money at floor-scraping 1.5 percent rates. Consider this alarming fact: If its interest rates doubled to 3 percent, interest payments would suddenly consume half of government revenue.

Japan may be able to continue like this for a while because 95% of their debt is held by patriotic locals. Nobody else wants it, for obvious reasons. Almost 50% of US debt is held by foreign investors. Ironically, the mess we’ve made of the international economy has been helpful over the past couple years. US government debt is still seen as a slightly better bet than everything else. The problem that Krugman doesn’t acknowledge is that it is an only slightly better bet, and that this won’t last.

Too sum up, Britain and the US were able to withstand excessive debt to GDP ratios after the Napoleonic Wars and after World War II. They were able to do this because they had bombed all their potential financial rivals into rubble. Europe today is in fiscal disarray, but it is not a smoking ruin. If Europe doesn’t fall apart, it will emerge as a tighter, more stable fiscal union, under stronger German influence. It will emerge as a ferocious competitor as a reserve currency and as a destination of international investment. When less people want our debt, the sky-rocketing interest rates Krugman laughs about in the beginning of the opinion piece will be a reality.

Debt matters. With this column Krugman ignores Europe. He ignores Japan. He ignores the history surrounding his own data sets. Either Krugman doesn’t understand debt, or he just doesn’t want you to. Paul Krugman has no idea what he’s talking about.

Rob Morris likes the drug war even less than he likes Paul Krugman’s commentary, and he talks about it here.

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Nobody Understands Poverty or Taxes

Bethesda Mansion

Bethesda Mansions: Your Tax Dollars at Work

Today I read something heart-rending. Melissa Chadburn’s account of how she spent her childhood in poverty, navigating bureaucracies, and abused by everyone, at every turn, is extraordinary. We should all read it. Everyone should be more aware of the plight of the poor in our country. If we leave it to the “experts” it will never improve. Chadburn has made it out of poverty, and her story is important.

She is an admirable person, and a tremendous writer. Unfortunately the entire article is shot through with a standard and misguided understanding of how poverty and tax policy work in the United States. Rather than blame the folks who crafted the systems that failed her, she seems to think it’s GE’s fault. She resents the fact that entities seek to pay the smallest amount of taxes legally possible. Through a literary alchemy I don’t understand they are meant to be exemplars of the spirit of greed. Its got something to do with kindergarten and reality TV.

Chadburn does some angry math in her article. Let’s do some more. The Federal budget in 2010 was 3.456 Trillion dollars on 2.2 trillion in Tax receipts. There are currently 46.2 million people under the poverty line. In tax receipts that’s $54,112 for every poor person in the country. In the budget, that’s $73,593. Many of those in poverty are looking after multiple poor children, so those in Chadburn’s magical anti-greed poverty-curing re-distribution machine should be doing pretty well.

As her article demonstrates, this is not the case. The money that gets funneled to the federal government mostly goes towards bombing things, our half-socialized and absurdly expensive medical system, and rich folks welfare like the social security system. This is where the money goes on paper. In practice, much of the money goes to government workers and contractors. These 14 million professionals use their expertise mostly to feed themselves. The security experts make us less secure, the poverty experts make us poorer. They do so subconsciously, but they do it. It is the only route to job security.

Chadburn movingly thanks the people who got her to where she is today. She thanks the teachers, the social workers, the bus drivers and the firefighters. This is an interesting list. With the exception of the social mobility enhancing military, none of these people got a dime from the federal government. These local officials could have done so much more for Chadburn and her family with another 50 grand per client. The money that could have made all the difference in the lives of Chadburn and millions of others has been building mansions for contractors in Bethesda, Maryland instead. How is that better? Why would we want to send more money to Washington to make more of this happen?

Even the way the federal government’s money is collected has perverse effects. The mortgage income tax deduction, and other policies, have inflated housing prices nation-wide to the point that Chadburn’s mother could never hope to afford decent housing. Viewed in this context, the money that HUD spends on affordable housing is hard to feel good about. The brutal and oppressive war on drugs is the most significant way our national government interacts with the disadvantaged, and it functions mostly to create poverty. All in all, the federal government provides a terrible deal to the poor. You should read more about Chadburn’s struggle. A lack of money going to Washington, DC is not responsible for it.

Prior to this post, Rob had a broader audience because he mostly just talked about the drug war.

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