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.

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


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


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…


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…


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


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.


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.


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…


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.


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.


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.


An open letter from the US Government to the Republics of France and Turkey

Dearest Frenchmen and Turks,

We here in Washington, DC would like to applaud the French parliament for breaking new ground in the policing of people’s thoughts. If President Sarkozy steps up and signs the legislation it will be a crime to express doubt about the Ottoman Empire’s supposed Genocide of Armenians. The French are making revolutionary progress in the arena of thought crime! Bliss it is to be alive in this dawn, and to be a young bureaucrat is very heaven!

Turkey is already accomplished in this arena. Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code makes it a crime to insult the Turkish Nation. Now that France has weighed in on Turkey’s history, the Turks may want to return the favor. As the descendant of Protestants allow me to propose that Turkey make it a crime to deny the Huguenot Genocide! The Huguenots were French Protestants. France’s Catholic government exiled and exterminated them in the 16th and 17th centuries.

There was all manner of religious cleansing. Huguenots were exiled, sold into slavery, and massacred in great numbers. This century and a half of persecution culminated in the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. The Edict of Nantes was a sensible piece of paper that said that people could worship as they wished. Louis the XIVth revoked it in 1685, making it illegal for a whole class of people to exist. Over the next decade almost a million Huguenots were forced to leave the country.

What’s that you say? This isn’t quite a genocide? Doesn’t matter. That’s the beauty of what the French are doing. If you legislate historical fact you can’t discuss it. We’re not interested in historical truth here, just political gain. If we wanted truth, Turkey could focus on the Vichy regime’s eager participation in the Nazi holocaust, but that would be too close to rational. The truth doesn’t need to be legislated.

Great job guys! Once we deal with this pesky 1st Amendment thing, we’ll be doing the same!

The Federal Government of the United States of America

Satire, Obviously

The Federal Government tweets @TheFederalGovt. More from Robert Morris can be found at the More Freedom Foundation.

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Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales Victory Tour takes him to Turkey

Wales Watches
Fresh off of a (hopefully not temporary) victory over SOPA, Jimmy Wales has a new campaign unrolling in Turkey. He’s selling watches.

This particular “Oh shit, globalization” moment happened on my commute yesterday. American actors have long used their celebrity to hawk goods in foreign markets. It’s odd to see Wales doing the same. When you think about it though, it makes sense. Wales is in that odd class of individuals who have been revolutionary in information technology without making any real money. It is hard to begrudge him some extra cash. Really, there are few items in commerce less morally objectionable than Swiss watches. I could be wrong, but I don’t think there are many sweatshops in Zurich. Now that Wikipedia has taken such a political stance, however, some will try to call him out on it.

This is apparently quite old news. He has been involved in the campaign for over a year. It is new to Turkey and this correspondent, however. Expect the haters to try to make hay of in in the coming weeks.

This correspondent talks about all sorts of old news, especially the drug war, here.

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Is Obama Secretly Awesome on the Drug War?

No. But his policies might have some awesome unintended consequences. You may be aware that the Department of Justice has recently invaded the state of California. The state’s well established medical marijuana community is being destroyed by the DOJ’s enforcement of Federal drug laws. The Obama administration’s choice to prosecute these “crimes”, that are not crimes in the state of California, is a betrayal of his campaign promises, and a reversal of two years of policy. As awful as this is it might have some salutary effects.

In November 2010, California voters rejected Proposition 19, which would have legalized Marijuana (ed- fully legalized and taxed like alcohol). This was a bit surprising. If any state would be pro-legalization, surely hippy-dippy California would be the one? Medical marijuana has been legal in California for years.

Surprisingly, this hurt the legalization vote. Medical marijuana users already had access to marijuana. They were leery of a change in the system that might endanger their supply, or put it in the hands of larger corporations. Many farmers and owners of medical marijuana dispensaries were also reluctant to wholeheartedly support legalization efforts. They did not want the competition. Much of legalization’s natural constituency, users and producers, was at best ambivalent about Proposition 19.

Eric Holder’s Department of Justice put the final nail in the coffin. The DOJ threatened to rigorously enforce the federal drug laws if Proposition 19 passed. This didn’t just mean legalization wouldn’t happen, it meant that California’s medical marijuana system would be crushed as well. Marijuana was already functionally legal in California, why risk what they had?

The DOJ’s invasion of California this past fall shows the folly of that approach. Holder got what he wanted, and then invaded anyway. Small businesses have been destroyed, people are being arrested for providing a service to their community, and patients can no longer access the medicines they need. This is all horrible, but there is a silver lining.

The pro-marijuana community in California will not be fooled again. The DOJ has already done its worst. The next time California decides a marijuana legalization proposition they will be much more likely to vote for it. Proposition 19 lost by a small margin, 46% to 54%. Obama’s heavy-handed approach is likely to have moved that 4% and more. Thanks to the DOJ, we may see individual states legalize marijuana as soon as this year.

Rob has put together a series of videos to advocate legalization that can be found here


Tim Tebow’s Jihad

Jihadis all

Tim Tebow is on a Jihad. No seriously, bear with me. He is showing the power of faith in the same way that Mohammed’s successors did in the 7th and 8th Centuries. Tebow’s presence in pop culture, the only reason I’m aware of him, focuses on his obsessive Jesus talk.

In the beginning of the 21st century it’s weird to have a prominent American figure focus on that topic who isn’t some sort of disgusting bigot. This is a refreshing change, but doesn’t get at what is truly interesting about Tebow.

Whether or not his play is divinely-inspired, it is clear that he is an inspiring leader. His faith is what lets him do this.

In 634 the Caliph Omar began his reign. He was the second person to hold power after the death of Muhammad. When he came to power the Muslims controlled a series of dusty towns in Arabia. The epic battles of Islam’s founding had mostly been tribal squabbles. When his reign ended 10 years later, Islam had conquered most of the known world, and defeated two great empires, absorbing one of them completely. This feat of military expansion was more significant than anything Alexander the Great had done.

We are still feeling the effects almost 1400 years later. The Byzantine and Persian empires had no idea what hit them. Faith powered the conquest. The more sophisticated militaries of the day wanted land and riches, but the Jihadis had something more. They had an idea.

Caliph Omar had these successes with un-inspiring material. The Arabs were the poor inhabitants of the dusty wastes on the periphery of two great empires. The Denver Broncos were a mediocre team at this season’s outset. Tim Tebow himself has many draw-backs as a football player. Both of these phenomena, the Broncos success and the Jihadis conquest of the known world, are due to the power that a unifying idea can have. Every NFL player is well-paid, but you need more than that to reach greatness. Tebow’s religion provides that intangible motivation, much as Caliph Omar’s did.

Will Tebow’s jihad prove powerful enough to carry him through to the Super Bowl, or will the New England Patriots prove to be his own personal walls of Constantinople? I haven’t been this interested in the NFL in years.

When Rob is not doing pretentious sports journalism he is complaining about the drug war and more here.


Fire Them Both: American two-party system has lost legitimacy

Petty Plutocrats

I don’t see why anyone should vote for the Republican or Democratic party ever again. They don’t stand for anything. They work for the interests of the same elites on Wall Street and in Washington. There are slight, temperamental differences between the parties. On all the big issues though, foreign policy, civil liberties, the drug war, financial regulation, they are the same, they are horrible, and they are against the will of the people they haven’t frightened into agreement.

The Republicans will give your money to defense contractors and energy companies. The Democrats will give your money to the same people, and take some more to give to the health insurance companies. Some claim they have meaningful differences on tax policy, but this is largely an illusion.

We all get fooled into voting for these petty plutocrats (Russian Oligarchs at least own and do things). They are very good at convincing us to look for the lesser of two evils. I can’t see the lesser evil anymore. I’m not saying we should all vote for the Libertarians (though I wish we would). Those of you who still believe the federal government has some positive potential can vote Green. This two party system has lasted for 150 years, but it is not immortal. All we have to do is stop voting for it.

The concept of divided government used to be very appealing. As long as two packs of scoundrels were working at cross purposes, the rest of us could get away relatively unscathed. Two recent developments have convinced me that even this last-ditch consolation no longer functions. We are losing rights that used to be sacrosanct. Our government now maintains death lists featuring American citizens. With the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act, Congress has endorsed the executive branch’s past decade of tyrannical over-reach. No one in power is challenging these decisions. Our leaders are so ignorant of our own traditions that they don’t see these developments as problems. Government is no longer divided on anything that matters.

Third party candidates, who have been working at the margins for decades, at least have principles of their own. They have thought about issues, and have ideas. Most of our current leaders think exclusively of campaign donations. It is hard to imagine how a Congress full of Libertarians and Greens could be any worse than the one we have now. So let’s fire the bastards. Its time for a new party system, one that respects the rights that any 19th century subsistence farmer could have taken for granted.

The Democrats are the party for killing Americans (Al-Awlaki, Waco). The Republicans are the party for killing everyone else. I’m voting Libertarian.

More propaganda from Rob Morris can be found at The More Freedom Foundation.


Costa Rica: Another paradise lost to the drug war

Costa Rica is one of the most interesting social experiments of the 20th century. This Central American country of 4.5 million people spent the century’s first half on the same depressing path as the rest of Latin America. The people of Costa Rica had the same succession of military coups, bloodshed, malign US influence, and tin-pot dictators as their neighbors. They figured it out though. The problem was the military. Without it, there was no force to threaten democracy.

Costa Rica abolished the military in 1949. Surprisingly, the US acquiesced in this closing of a market to its defense contractors (The military industrial complex wasn’t as big a deal pre-McNamara). Costa Rica then embarked on a unique development path. It turns out that not having a military frees up a ton of money for other things. While the rest of the hemisphere has begun to catch up, for years Costa Rica was the freest and fairest democracy south of Texas. The people’s human development indicators are among the highest in the hemisphere. Costa Rica is one of the world’s premiere Eco-tourism destinations, and has a reputation as an environmental paragon. At the turn of the century, Costa Ricans could pride themselves on proving what was possible without a military.

Too bad that’s over.

Our drug war has now arrived in Costa Rica, and with it heavy-handed US “support”.

Beefing up Costa Rica’s security forces is a priority for the United States, which has helped build a new police academy, a national intelligence center to eavesdrop on phone communications, and highway checkpoints with cargo-scanning equipment. But many vulnerabilities remain, and Costa Rica didn’t even have a centralized database with the country’s criminal records until this year.

This makes me nauseous. We are offering paradise the same sorts of help that turned Mexico into a war zone. How does nobody see the idiocy of this? We chased these problems into Costa Rica. Our response is to give them the civil liberties trampling military that they benefited so much from not having. The US sponsored “cure” is so much worse than the disease. How many countries do we need to destroy before we grow up and end prohibition?

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