“Spreading Freedom” and pre-emptive war have fallen out of fashion. That doesn’t mean that the Pentagon has run out of excuses to bomb people though. Under the guise of the “Responsibility to Protect” the Obama administration has toppled one government, and carried out military operations across Africa. Obama’s friendlier sounding interventions are just as dumb as Bush’s. Here’s why…
Author Archives: Robert Morris
Whenever I describe my politics as Libertarian, I get a lot of ugly looks. People instantly make a lot of assumptions about what I believe, and then proceed to ask a lot of dumb questions. The attached video is the attempt of two Istanbul Libertarians to put some of those dumb questions to rest permanently. We believe that the Libertarian perspective is the only sane one to adopt on 21st century America, and we hope to make the case with this series of videos…
You can find a lot more videos from this perspective here
The US and the EU are currently working on the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. There is a lot to question about this trade deal and the negotiation process. What nobody is focusing on, however, is the message that this sends to the rest of the world, much of which has spent decades jumping through hoops to be part of the World Trade Organization. This video attempts to put the focus there…
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…
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…
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…
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…
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…
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.
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…
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.
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
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
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…
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.
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…
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…
Some simple data that the Repubs and the Dems would really rather you were not aware of:
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”.
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.
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
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…
I 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…
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…