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Avatar at Home? Those pesky Somali pirates have hampered the pillage of East African seas, leading to higher fish catches by locals

January 12th, 2010 1 comment

As a follow-up to my earlier posts (note: link fixed) on how the rape of East African fisheries ($200-300 million per year) & ocean dumping by Western nations led to the rise of Somali piracy, I just ran across this interesting recent report by AP (“Kenya fishermen see upside to pirates: more fish“) on how the presence of the pirates has boosted local fisheries.

Somali piracy flows from the greater and continuing Western theft and abuse of Somali marine resources

January 7th, 2009 3 comments

The January 4 Huffington Post carries a perceptive column by Johann Hari, a writer for the Independent , who explains that Somali piracy (which I have commented on here and here) has roots in the Western theft and abuse of Somali marine resources – in the form of ongoing massive Western and Asian fishing and illegal dumping of toxic waste along the 3300 km Somali coast – and in efforts by Somali fishermen to respond (even as such piracy has now morphed into an industry in its own right, and not closely connected to the suffering fishing industry).

Hari’s post raises difficult questions about the ownership and management of open-access resources, and the obligations (if any) of Western governments to make sure that such resources are not plundered merely because local peoples are unable to defend them.  (A report by a Canadian observer to a 1998 UN mission provides background information and raised these issues here.)

While neocons and others make rousing cries for Western governments to stiffen their spines at the impudent pirates (they’re terrorists, barbarians and “enemies of mankind”, after all) and send in their navies to provide free cover for those poor Western shipping interests who seem incapable of fending off the pirates, no one seems to care much about reining in Western fishermen or toxic waste dumpers.   The St. Augustine quote I referred to in my preceding post begins to seem even more apropos:  “what are kingdoms but great bands of brigands?  Unfortunately, this type of resource exploitation is the rule rather than the exception when markets meet unowned or inadequately defended resources.  I have made a number of blog posts on related issues:  salmontunaother fish and whales.

I quote from Hari’s column (emphasis added):

In 1991, the government of Somalia – in the Horn of Africa – collapsed. Its nine million people have been teetering on starvation ever since – and many of the ugliest forces in the Western world have seen this as a great opportunity to steal the country’s food supply and dump our nuclear waste in their seas.

Yes: nuclear waste.

As soon as the government was gone, mysterious European ships started appearing off the coast of Somalia, dumping vast barrels into the ocean. The coastal population began to sicken. At first they suffered strange rashes, nausea and malformed babies. Then, after the 2005 tsunami, hundreds of the dumped and leaking barrels washed up on shore. People began to suffer from radiation sickness, and more than 300 died. Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the [Mauritanian diplomat who is] UN envoy to Somalia, tells me: “Somebody is dumping nuclear material here. There is also lead, and heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury – you name it.” Much of it can be traced back to European hospitals and factories, who seem to be passing it on to the Italian mafia to “dispose” of cheaply. When I asked Ould-Abdallah what European governments were doing about it, he said with a sigh: “Nothing. There has been no clean-up, no compensation, and no prevention.”

At the same time, other European ships have been looting Somalia’s seas of their greatest resource: seafood. We have destroyed our own fish-stocks by over-exploitation – and now we have moved on to theirs. More than $300m worth of tuna, shrimp, lobster and other sea-life is being stolen every year by vast trawlers illegally sailing into Somalia’s unprotected seas. The local fishermen have suddenly lost their livelihoods, and they are starving. Mohammed Hussein, a fisherman in the town of Marka 100km south of Mogadishu, told Reuters: “If nothing is done, there soon won’t be much fish left in our coastal waters.”

This is the context in which the men we are calling “pirates” have emerged. Everyone agrees they were ordinary Somalian fishermen who at first took speedboats to try to dissuade the dumpers and trawlers, or at least wage a ‘tax’ on them. They call themselves the Volunteer Coastguard of Somalia – and it’s not hard to see why. In a surreal telephone interview, one of the pirate leaders, Sugule Ali, said their motive was “to stop illegal fishing and dumping in our waters… We don’t consider ourselves sea bandits. We consider sea bandits [to be] those who illegally fish and dump in our seas and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas.” William Scott would understand those words.

No, this doesn’t make hostage-taking justifiable, and yes, some are clearly just gangsters – especially those who have held up World Food Programme supplies. But the “pirates” have the overwhelming support of the local population for a reason. The independent Somalian news-site WardherNews conducted the best research we have into what ordinary Somalis are thinking – and it found 70 percent “strongly supported the piracy as a form of national defence of the country’s territorial waters.” During the revolutionary war in America, George Washington and America’s founding fathers paid pirates to protect America’s territorial waters, because they had no navy or coastguard of their own. Most Americans supported them. Is this so different?

Did we expect starving Somalians to stand passively on their beaches, paddling in our nuclear waste, and watch us snatch their fish to eat in restaurants in London and Paris and Rome? We didn’t act on those crimes – but when some of the fishermen responded by disrupting the transit-corridor for 20 percent of the world’s oil supply, we begin to shriek about “evil.” If we really want to deal with piracy, we need to stop its root cause – our crimes – before we send in the gun-boats to root out Somalia’s criminals.

A little digging finds ample credible support for Hari’s piece ( actually, I noticed some in connection with my earlier posts, but declined to refer to it then).

More background is here:

“It’s almost like a resource swap,” said Peter Lehr, a Somalia piracy expert at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and the editor of “Violence at Sea: Piracy in the Age of Global Terrorism.” “Somalis collect up to $100 million a year from pirate ransoms off their coasts. And the Europeans and Asians poach around $300 million a year in fish from Somali waters.”,0,6155016.story,+%22Plundered+Waters%22&source=bl&ots=bYYy-Zz2kU&sig=iLqa6DxqiotxfGNVzmfPnAmUtMo&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=2&ct=result#PPA109,M1,1518,594457,00.html


Barbarians at the gate? The WSJ wrings its hands over Somali pirates but ignores the failure of property owners to defend themselves

November 26th, 2008 No comments

The Wall Street Journal runs a remarkably whiny and unperceptive piece by weekly “Global View” columnist Bret Stephens about the expanding problem of ocean piracy off of Somali waters in and around the Gulf of Aden.   An unvarnished neocon and former editor of the Jerusalem Post, Stephens rather reflexively reviews the outbreak of piracy as an existential threat by barbarians to a civilized, flabby and impotent West, for which the proper response is a wakening resolve to defend civilization via a “muscular” (i.e., violent) response by the US and other civilized Western states, less hampered by a concern for legal niceties.  The editorial is accompanied by a video clip of an interview of Stephens by WSJ assistant editor James Freeman in which Stephens states his views even more strongly.

Under a headline of “Why Don’t We Hang Pirates Anymore?”, Stephens uses his soap box to decry a “legal exquisiteness” that has left the civilized West apparently impotent to deal with “the most primordial” of the various forms of “barbarism” alive today – the growing number of ragtag but surprisingly effective Somali pirates.  (What are the other forms of barbarism that merit mention by Stephens?  The “suicide bombers on Israeli buses, the stonings of Iranian women, and so on.”)  Stephens argues that a move from the halcyon days when captured pirates could be quickly and harshly dealt with – which treatment he argues was responsible for the elimination of piracy in the late 18th century (“a civilizational achievement no less great than the elimination of smallpox a century later”) – to modern civilized justice is responsible for this outbreak of piracy, and calls for a defense of civilization that keeps in mind the lesson for how such barbarism was defeated in the past (viz., quick and harsh treatment of pirates).  Says Stephens,

our collective inability to deal with it says much about how far we’ve regressed in the pursuit of what is mistakenly thought of as a more humane policy. A society that erases the memory of how it overcame barbarism in the past inevitably loses sight of the meaning of civilization, and the means of sustaining it.

Someone a little more skeptical of the benefits of government action might note that not only do the Somali pirates certainly not threaten civilization (and to date have used very little violence), but that the success of the pirates can be laid at the door of the owners of the vessels and cargo and their insurers, who have to date apparently failed utterly to even try to fend off any of the pirates.  The success of a few pirates has simply invited more piracy attempts – crime is contagious, as Ron Bailey notes today on Reason.  No doubt there are plenty of governments that would love to have their military actual provide some useful services, but why should the failure of property owners to take even minimal precautions and self-defense measures not only not be mentioned, but be rewarded with government stepping into the breach?

Given the lack of self-defense by vessels, it is hardly surprising that Somalis and others view ships as equivalent to common property, to be harvested on a first-come, first-served basis, with a resulting rush of entrepreneurial Somalis entering the new profession.  Sure, we could use a little law and order, but there’s a reason why firms that wish to survive and prosper put a little effort of their own into protecting their own assets (and those of their customers).

Stephens’ own failure to consider the responsibility of property owners to protect their own assets is surprising.  And Stephens strikingly and conveniently fails to note the role of the US in hampering the emergence of a Somali state and perpetuating lawlessness.  But to a neocon, so many problems look existential and seem to require the application of violence by states.  In spying “barbarous” actions by others, neocons (i) never seem to consider how barbarous are our states themselves (look at the many innocent deaths that the US is responsible for, directly or indirectly, in Iraq and Afghanistan), (ii) often ignore the role of government in creating problems, and (iii) frequently overlook the much vaster thefts perpetuated by governments and by corporate insiders who line their own pockets while persuading governments to socialize losses.   Neocons seem to form a part of the “Great Theft Machine”, by which every problem looks like a nail for the hammer of state, and whereby those calling for more hammer blows conveniently forget to call attention to those who benefit most from the use or manufacture of hammers.

It is a shame that the Wall Street Journal sees so many problems just crying out for “strong states” to solve, while ignoring the real and much more pressing problems that such states themselves create.  (We have encountered Stephens before, in an intelligence-insulting piece that dissed the leading National Academies of Science, the American Geophysical Union, the American Meteorological Society, Stephen Hawking, Thomas Schelling and now Exxon and AEI as “deluded” believers in the “sick-souled religion” of global warming.)

Thoughts of an envirofacist avatar on "Avatar"; or Resources, Property Rights, Corporations & Government-Enabled Theft

December 22nd, 2009 1 comment

My pal Stephan Kinsella has a remarkably enviro-friendly post (“Avatar Is Great and Libertarian”) up regarding the new movie “Avatar”; his remarks and others on the thread prompted me to leave a few comments, which I copy below (in furtherance of my nefarious and/or insanely misguided agenda .

Many thanks to Stephan for aiding and abetting this. Ive added a bit of emphasis, fixed a typo or two, and a few additional comments, in brackets.

Published: December 22, 2009 2:38 PM


Stephan, I welcome you to the dark, enviro-facist side!

– “you have to fight for and use might to protect your rights”

I see you are starting to buy into my real-world view of property rights, that “principles” and force are just two different ways we seek to protect what we consider ours, with the first being most efficacious within a community [and recourse to the later perhaps being necessary]. As I noted on a previous thread of yours,

“The deep roots of “property” are not in principle but in simple competition, physical defense of assets valuable enough to make the effort worthwhile, and in the grudging recognition by others – more willingly offered by those who share bonds of community – that yielding to others’ claims may be more productive than challenging them. This is as true for rest of creation as it is for man. While we have developed property to a very sophisticated degree, at its core property remains very much about the Darwinian struggle to survive and prosper, violence, theft and calculations as to when challenging control over an asset is not worth the effort.”

Sounds like this struggle over resources is at the core of Avatar, along with a boatload of Western guilt over our historical theft of land and assets from indigenous peoples, whom of course have also been involved for eons in bloody battles for resources with other tribes.

Far from being simply a dead relic of the past, however, the often violent struggle to take resources from indigenous peoples continues in many places, though out of sight from most of us (not simply those who are trying hard not to see) – oil & gas, minerals, timber, ranching, soybeans, oil palms, World Bank-funded dams and roads, fisheries – you name it, a violent conflict that the natives are losing to kleptocratic governments & elites can be found.

Western corporations are often in the thick of such conflicts, but even where not, modern technology (and growing consumer markets) provide the key tools and incentives for such conflicts, in which natives may be more or less hapless. Local governments typically either “nationalize” the resource or turn a blind eye, with the result that resource exploitation frequently takes on the appearance of a tragedy of the commons.

Western liberals sometimes exacerbate these problems – not simply by seeing “greed” and capitalism as the problem, and not kleptocratic regimes (often supported by the West and by aid money) or the lack of enforceable property rights – but also by demanding misguided policies such as “biofuels” incentives, which lie behind tropical forest destruction in much of SE Asia.

Libertarians should be familiar with these problems, which are a large part of the dynamics in petroleum-cursed nations and elsewhere. Such problems are also linked generally to “aid” efforts and to other centrally-directed development schemes. Elinor Ostrom was awarded the Nobel Prize in part for her work in showing that local communities, if their rights are respected, can generally do a good job of managing their own resources [and how government efforts frequently go astray].

I’ve commented on these issues a number of times, but here are a couple of links for those who might care to scratch the surface:

Stephan, if youve made it this far, let me remind you of our conversations about corporations [most recently here], which have very unfortunately been inescapably tainted with statism from the get-go, in ways that play out negatively both abroad and at home. Ive devoted a fair amount of time to examining the entanglement of corporations and government:

  • Our state governments were wrong to get into competition with each other to grant corporate status to investor-owned enterprises, in exchange for fees and later taxes. Corporate status freed owners from down-side risk, by limiting liability to the amount of capital contributed. This incentivized investors to encourage corporations to embark on risky activities that shifted costs to innocent third parties; the concentration of wealth in corporations (that now have unlimited lives and purposes, subject to survival in the market); the corruption of the court system that once protected third parties from damages caused by others (by replacing strict liability with balancing tests); and the ensuing battle over legislatures and courts to check corporate abuses.What happens abroad at the “Avatar” is pretty basic, but the same nonsense, with taxpayers, investors and consumers playing the role of victim, can be seen at home. Has anybody seen the jaw-droppingly appalling report that the WSJ has run on “Fixing Global Finance”, based on their “Future of Finance Initiative”, in which they cheerlead a bunch of financial firms in their efforts to abandon free markets and to structure global regulation and regulators, to be staffed by a revolving door of themselves? [I think Im being fair to see this as posing a threat to markets and freedom at least as great as what others see in the more multi-faceted climate change muddle.] Even Paul Volker was appalled, not at their willingness to create more regulation, but at their unwillingness to confront the moral hazard problems (tied to regulation of public corporations and the financial sector) that lie at the core of the financial meltdown. [Volker seems to overlooked the crucial role of government in driving and feeding the moral hazard problems.]Heres the link, for those of you who missed it:


Property rights, corporations and government-complicit theft? Hmm. [Sounds familiar. Maybe some of those who want to battle corporate excesses might not be so crazy after all, even if they neglect to understand the risks of negative consequences of seeking help from government. And maybe someday libertarians will get a little more serious about addressing the festering concatenation of corporate-linked problems that are generating so much rot at the core of our government and public company/financial company sector.]


Oh, I almost forgot to remind everyone for the need for group holiday cheer (as alternative to productive engagement on a libertarian, Austrian-based climate agenda):


Ron Bailey and the triumph of Reason? Neo-Mathusians and other "charlatans" exposed!

May 19th, 2009 2 comments

Last year around this time I criticized Reason science correspondent Ron Bailey, for a rather empty post trumpteting dark warnings of “green fascism” in the wake of last year`s grain shortages.  This year Ron is back, with a new post out (“Never Right But Never in Doubt“) in which he attempts to make light of the concerns that “Famine-monger Lester Brown” recently outlined in the May 2009 Scientific American Magazine (“Could Food Shortages Bring Down Civilization?“).  While Ron has dressed up his act a bit this time, the old reflexive enviro-bashing remains, along with an inclination to dodge the hard questions that Brown raises.  Instead, we are left to wonder, has Scientific American been taken over by the green fascists?

Disappointingly, Ron`s latest attempt to bring down Lester Brown also disappoints – not because Ron doesn`t have fair criticisms to make, but because he can never bring himself to engage on the fair concerns of Lester Brown and the editors of Scientific American on issues of population, unmanaged commons and the environment.  Instead of throwing light on the areas of institutional failure that underlay the concerns of “green fascists”, “famime-mongers” and neo-Malthusians, Ron likes rhetoric, and closes by calling Brown an “old charlatan”.

Does Brown deserve all of this rhetoric?  No, even while it is perfectly appropriate to disagree with some of his analysis.

Let me set the stage for my review of Ron`s latest piece by citing some of my comments on his prieceding post:

Ron, I’m surprised that you would go to the effort of spreading rather thin hype about “Green fascism” without bothering to explore from a libertarian perspective whether the Green fascists have grounds for concern, what the institutional underpinnings of environmental and “overpopulation” problems might be, or what our own connections to those problems are.

It’s rather simple, really: we see both cleaner environments and the demographic shift in relatively wealthy nations that protect property rights, as families and other economic actors are largely forced to bear their own costs, which provide incentives to keep both pollution and families under control.

Where populations are still growing rapidly – and environmental degradation continues apace – are societies that do not protect property rights, so that economic actors do not internalize all costs, and families to a significant degree face a free-for-all over resources that are not effectively owned or protected.

“Development” thus presents many aspects of a “tragedy of the commons”, a tragedy that we feed with our own consumer, commercial and industrial demand, which is sourced from assets that are not clearly owned, but are simply up for grabs – whether we are talking about the strip-mining of the oceans, the replacement of the Amazon and SE Asian tropical forests with soybeans and palm oil/biofuel plantations, or industrial and commercial enterprises that don’t bear the costs of their pollution (or of the power plants supplying their electricity).

The “Green fascists” see the destruction at the end of the chains of demand that we in the West pull and the destruction resulting from population growth that is unchecked by the pricing signals from effective ownership, and they are rightly concerned. That they fail to understand the institutional underpinnings is of course to be regretted, but it is a failure that can be remedied by a little education.

That you chose not to use your knowledge of the dynamics of “tragedy of the commons” to educate but instead to decry “Green fascists” is a similar failure, and one that I hope you will regret and try to remedy.

As it is, it seems as if you enjoy the emotional rewards of partisan struggle more than really exercising your noggin or making a contribution to directing attention to where solutions to where real problems might lie – in improved property tights protection and governance in the developing world.

Care to contribute, or just to raise an alarum about the evil greenies?



In his latest post, Ron summarizes Brown as “argu[ing] that the world’s food economy is being undermined by a troika of growing environmental calamities: falling water tables, eroding soils, and rising temperatures.”  But even this miscasts Brown, who except for concerns about the over-pumping of the Ogallala aquifer in the high plains of the US Midwest, is clearly focussed mainly not on threats to agriculture in the developed nations, but in the developing ones.  Puzzlingly, Bailey largely agrees with some of the principal areas that Brown points to as reasons for concern, but brushes them off without real discussion or apparent justitication, mainly by telling us how things are no so bad in the developed nations.

First, regarding water, Brown mentions both obvious unstatainability of agriculture as is in places with rapidly falling water tables (particularly China and India) and where the melting of mountain glaciers means lower water supplies during the summer (including China).  Bailey shows off his understanding of the underlying dynamic of an unowned aquifer and the failure to price water correctly, but assumes, without aparent foundation, that water pricing policies will be adjusted without before any agricultural disruptions occur:

“It is true that water tables are falling in many parts of the world as farmers drain aquifers in India, China, and the United States. Part of the problem is that water for irrigation is often subsidized by governments who encourage farmers to waste it. However, the proper pricing of water will rectify that by encouraging farmers to transition to drip irrigation, switch from thirsty crops like rice to dryland ones like wheat, and help crop breeders to develop more drought-tolerant crop varieties.”

Who`s going to make sure that water subsidies will be ended and that water will be “properly priced”?  It doesn`t happen by magic, Ron.

Next, Ron attacks Brown on soil erosion – by conceding the point in developing nations but then presenting a red herring by switching focus to developed nations:

“To be sure, soil erosion is a problem for poor countries whose subsistence farmers have no secure property rights. However, one 1995 study concluded that soil erosion would reduce U.S. agriculture production by 3 percent over the next 100 years. “

The developing world is rife with problems of unsecure land tenure – heck, Zimbabwe is crashing as we speak for that very reason – but instead of enaging on this, we hear that everything is peachy in the US.

Finally, we turn to Brown`s fear of the effects of man-made global warming on agriculture.  Here, too, Bailey completely ignores the developing world in favor of looking only at the US.  Even in our case, Ron first notes that there is “an ongoing debate among experts”, but concedes that  some researchers have concluded that the impact of global warming on U.S. agriculture is “likely to be strongly negative.”  But by pointing to biotechnology research in making crops more heat and drought tolerant as a basis for optimism at home, Ron has essentially conceded that Brown (and the scientists and those funding them) have a basis for concern.

Further, Bailey notes that he agrees with Brown on two points:

“Brown is right about two things in his Scientific American article: the U.S. should stop subsidizing bioethanol production (turning food into fuel) and countries everywhere should stop banning food exports in a misguided effort to lower local prices.”

But rather welcoming Brown`s correct analysis on these points – notwithstanding Bailey`s prior warning that Brown and others were sure to call not for freer agricultural markets but for “green fascism”  –  Bailey can`t resist dissing Brown:  “Of course these policy prescriptions have been made by far more knowledgeable and trustworthy commentators than Brown.”

But despite this evidently weak dismissal of Brown`s concerns on the merits raised in the Scientific American article, Bailey somehow feels justified in completely dissing Brown.  Why?  While it is true that (1) advances in agronomy to date have expanded food supplies to meet the demands of a burgeoning world population (so Brown`s population “bomb” has yet to explode) and (2) Brown lost a famous bet with economist Julian Simon over future commodity prices, how are we doing on the institutional and environmental front in the developing world?  

– are we continuing to wipe out the ocean`s fisheries (which lies behind the Somali shift to piracy), to change ocean chemistry, and to replace important estuaries with shrimp farms?

– are we destroying “public” tropical forests (wrested from natives) and convert them to soybeans and oil palms, despite a long desire by the West to protect their inhabitants and wildlife?

– how sustainable is agriculture in China?

– aren`t we facing continued pressures from population in the developing world to convert wild lands to marginal agriculture?

– how are we doing with water supplies, water tenure and water pricing?

– aren`t we facing continued problems with insecure land tenure?

As I noted recently in comments on the Real Climate thread on tragedies of the common, where markets are unchecked by property rights (and consumer pressure, regulation, trade agreements), they are very effective machines of destruction.

It`s a lack of understanding of this that makes market conservatives right / enviros wrong on SMALL issues (such as Brown`s bet with Julian Simon on commodity prices), but wrong on the BIG ones. Those ranting about “neo-Malthusians seeking to destroy civilization” are simply ignoring or are blind to how consumer and other markets are destroying unowned, unmanaged Nature around the world.

These are the types of problems that have long troubled Lester Brown – and I think Ron Bailey as well.  In any case, Bailey should recognize all of them as problems that stem from a lack of clear and enforceable property rights, in some cases driven by government theft or incompetence.  So why does Bailey feel that the most constructive approach to persuasion is to abjure the elucidation of underlying problems, facilely dismiss concerns and to attack Brown`s motives, by calling him an “old charlatan”?


But this is the type of engagement that we continue to see from “libertarians” and conservatives (such as Robert Bradley and George Will), who seem to reflexively regard enviros as the “enemy”, as opposed to the lack of property rights or the underlying statism that gives rise to the problems that bother the enviros.  Thus we see not a triumph of reason, but of partisan hostility and mudflinging, sometimes as a mask for support for status quo rent-seekers.

It`s all enough to make an inquiring mind ask, will the real charlatans please stand up?  Or sit down?  Or start living up to the principles they say they espouse?

A note to the American Conservative Union on "Obama’s Political Prosecutions of Opponents"

April 25th, 2009 No comments

Although Pres. Obama had earlier indicated he had no intention or interest in pursuing criminal or other public investigations into possible criminal wrong-doing in connection with acts of torture auuthorized by the Bush administration, Obama is now (as the NYT and GlennGreenwald report), after being forced by a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act to release four “top secret” torture memos, finding himself under pressure from public opinion and some Congressional Democrats to allow such investigations to proceed.

As I found out in my email Inbox, this is producing conniptions from the so-called American Conservative Union, which, in an unashamedly breathless, hyperbolic and truthless missive, alleges that (1) Obama has condoned show trials against heroes who have safeguarded us from terroism and (2) in the process has undermined our national security by telling the terrorists and the world that America is weak.

Who knew that considering whether the people serving within U.S. government are subject to the rule of law could itself threaten our national security?

The email from the ACU is quoted further below; here is a copy of my direct reply [caution: obvious snark ahead]:

from TokyoTom <[email protected]>
to Dennis Whitfield <[email protected]>
date Sat, Apr 25, 2009 at 1:45 PM
subject Re: Tokyo Obama’s Political Prosecutions of Opponents
Dennis, I’m with you in insisting that we are a country of men, not laws.

Heaven forbid Congress should ever review the legality of actions by the executive branch, much prosecutors seek to try to get a jury to convict for actual violations.
At least, that`s what “conservatives” these days think, right?  Have you gotten Bob Barr and Bruce Fein to sign on?
Tom“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.”
Richard Feynman

For those who can stomach it, here`s the actual email I received from the ACU (emphasis in original):
from Dennis Whitfield <[email protected]>
reply-to Dennis Whitfield <[email protected]>
to Tokyo Tom <[email protected]>
date Sat, Apr 25, 2009 at 12:31 AM
subject Tokyo Obama’s Political Prosecutions of Opponents
Dear Tokyo,

President Obama wants to prosecute the Bush administration… or at least leave the door open to prosecuting Bush White House attorneys.This is what we have come to: an elected President of the United States hinting that he will criminally prosecute the previous occupants of the White House for working to protect the United States from terrorists.

You would think we were in a third-world country.

However, this is the United States of America and we now have a President who believes he can spread his ideas of weakness and appeasement toward America’s enemies back into a political prosecution of a previous administration to further increase his standing among liberals in the United States and in the world.

President Obama wants to prosecute the Bush administration for prosecuting the fight against terrorism.

We need to stand up and say it is wrong.

Sign the new ACU petition against Obama’s political prosecutions here.

Obama bowed in front of a Saudi King.  Obama stood on French soil and called United States actions arrogant.  He has smiled while shaking hands with Hugo Chavez.

Now Obama wants to send another message to liberals around the world by opening up to the political prosecution of Bush administration officials.

The prosecution would be based on his administration re-defining the terms of terrorist interrogations.  He wants to re-define the questioning of terrorists who come from a tradition of blowing up buildings, suicide bombings and unbridled attacks on civilians.

Obama wants to re-define the interrogations of terrorists whose goal is to eliminate our society and replace it with one like the Taliban where “honor killings” are conducted against women who do not ascribe to pre-arranged marriages, where public expression is banned, television is outlawed and we told what clothing to wear.

The Obama administration would re-define the interrogations that took place of terrorists who wanted us to die just because of our basic traditions and beliefs so they can politically prosecute their predecessors.

Sign the new ACU petition against Obama’s political prosecutions here.

When did Obama decide to open up to prosecutions of the Bush – Cheney administration?

As ABC News reported, “President Barack Obama has opened the possibility of prosecuting Bush-era lawyers who authorized torturing terror suspects and suggested Congress might order a full investigation. Less than a week after declaring it was time to move on, the President is now describing what might be done next to investigate.”

But did Obama plan to prosecute Bush officials all along?

During the campaign Newsweek noted in an article last November that Obama advisor Eric Holder who is now our Attorney General called the Bush policies “unlawful.”

Holder said in testimony just this week that he will provide more “transparency” in releasing more previously held military top secret documents on interrogations… building a liberal public cause toward prosecution.

So when the President’s Press Secretary and his Chief of Staff told the press that the President was looking forward and not looking back – that he wasn’t looking to prosecute – one has to wonder if it was a ploy to get members of the liberal media and the far left to call on him to prosecute – to raise their voices to call for the prosecutions.

Sign the new ACU petition against Obama’s political prosecutions here.

Obama said as early as October 2007, during the campaign that, “We won’t work in secret to avoid honoring our laws and Constitution.” … hinting at his political prosecutions to come.

It was then-Senator Barack Obama who was one of the first to start the effort toward defining violent terrorist’s interrogations as so-called torture.  

In that same October 2007 campaign statement Obama alternated between the terms, “interrogation techniques,” “brutal interrogations,” and then “torture.”  He said, “No more … methods like simulated drowning.”

Simulated actions – i.e. fake actions – became torture to the media and the far left under the tutelage of Barack Obama.

Fake activities that Vice President Cheney said gave us valuable intelligence to protect American lives.

These fake tactics were allegedly used against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed the mastermind behind the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that produced the killings of thousands of United States citizens.  The killings were real.


We have seen the real torture of American citizens – beatings and even beheading.  In 1993 Americans saw images of U.S. Soldiers bodies being dragged through the streets of Somalia after a fight with militants.  A British government document, PBS reported, said that Al Qaeda trained militants there.  Osama Bin Laden later praised the fighters.The Obama administration is seeking to find a legal justification to prosecute Bush administration officials by making the case that fake drowning is equal to real torture.

If they succeed they might even seek to prosecute Vice President Cheney himself, a political prosecution like those seen in third-world countries.

Sign the new ACU petition against Obama’s political prosecutions here.

Obama’s supposed push toward prosecutions is coming from liberals like Senator Diane Feinstein.

You may have seen Senator Feinstein on TV this week calling for the possibility of prosecutions. This is the same Diane Feinstein who served as a leader in bringing Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton together after the Democrat primary last year.

This is the same Senator Feinstein who found herself at the center of an ethics controversy this week when it was disclosed her husband’s real estate firm received a lucrative federal government contract to sell foreclosed properties – after she asked for $25 billion in federal money for the agency that gave him the contract.

So while Feinstein was deflecting questions on her ethical problems, she was promoting the torture debate.

Feinstein led the call to urge Obama to “reserve judgment” about prosecutions.

She was joined by other liberals including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who is trying to deflect criticism from the left that she knew about and approved the techniques before she started calling them torture.  In fact she was even given a personal tour of the interrogation facilities when she was briefed before the questioning took place.

Sign the new ACU petition against Obama’s political prosecutions here.

This is a dangerous precedent for the President of the United States.

Even in the days following Watergate, where an illegal break-in became the impetus for bringing down a Presidency, then President Ford took the politically painful step of pardoning the former President.  This new President seems to be tearing out that page from history and trashing it to look for a justification to prosecute the previous staff and potentially the Vice President or President themselves.

These actions might leave the door open to prosecutions against those who were working to keep our nation safe from brutal terrorists.

We need to stand up against Mr. Obama’s actions.  They are not only dangerous in the political precedent but dangerous in sending the message to our enemies that we are weakening in our efforts to protect our homeland.

Sign the new ACU petition against Obama’s political prosecutions here.

Just today we awoke to stories that another suicide bomber killed scores of people in Iraq.  These terrorists know no bounds.  They are brutal and vicious in killing innocent people.

The men and women who went to work at the World Trade Center on September 1, 2001 and the men and women who put on their fire, police or EMS uniforms were not suiting up for war; they were going to work to feed their families.

The terrorists are brutal.  They know no bounds and they will do whatever it takes to promote their warped ideology and end our freedoms and way of life.

Let’s not send a message that our nation is weak or that our leaders will criminally prosecute their predecessors for political disagreements.  That is not democracy… and it is allowing the terrorists to win in destroying our democracy and therefore our way of life.

Sign the new ACU petition against Obama’s political prosecutions here.

Thank you for all you do for ACU and for America.

Dennis Whitfield
Executive Vice President

P.S.  We should not allow only the voices of the left to be heard in the White House or in the media.  We must speak up and fight back.  Thank you for signing the petition and supporting ACU’s efforts here.

The American Conservative Union

Stop those pirates/terrorists! (But ignore those “great bands of brigands” whose navies and prosecutors are needed.)

December 8th, 2008 No comments

Jonathan Adler at The Volokh Conspiracy refers us to yet another editorialist (this time not Bret Stephens of the WSJ but Douglas Burgess Jr. at the Washington Post) saying that the Somali “pirates are terrorists” and calling for changes in US to treat pirates as “enemies of mankind”, greater use of the US navy, and for an expansion of the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice (which the US has rejected as a threat to the freedom of the US and its officials to torture people).

But the shippers, the cargo owners and insurers seem to be doing little to protect their assets, so why should we do it for them?  How much easier it is to find threats that supposedly warrant government action than to analyze the justice, efficiency or possible blowback in having the government act in place of the private interests whose assets are at risk.

Here are my comments to Jon:

Jon, can you see how the “war on terror” continues to morph into a long-term war on common sense and taxpayers’ pocketbooks? Not every problem requires a hue and cry about “terrorists!”, much less a government “solution” that further socializes risks and begs any analysis of the problem and of the role of government in it. Let the shippers defend their own cargoes.

We saw a similarly unperceptive and even more breathless op-ed by WSJ’s neocon Bret Stephens two weeks ago.

In the context of the US’s counterproductive engagement with nascent Somali regimes, and calls by shippers (and other lovers of the state) for governments to provide protection, let us not forget the ironies that St. Augustine pointed to centuries ago, about states (the biggest pirates) hypocritically talking up the outrages of much smaller brigands:

Set aside justice, then, and what are kingdoms but great bands of brigands? For what are brigands’ bands but little kingdoms? For in brigandage the hands of the underlings are directed by the commander, the confederacy of them is sworn together, and the pillage is shared by law among them. And if those ragamuffins grow up to be able enough to keep forts, build habitations, possess cities, and conquer adjoining nations, then their government is no longer called brigandage, but graced with the eminent name of a kingdom, given and gotten not because they have left their practices but because they use them without danger of law. Elegant and excellent was that pirate’s answer to the great Macedonian Alexander, who had taken him; the king asking him how he durst molest the seas so, he replied with a free spirit: “How darest thou molest the whole earth? But because I do it only with a little ship, I am called brigand: thou doing it with a great navy art called emperor.”

St. Augustine, City of God, Book IV (410 A.D.)

A physicist cogitates on solving the fiat currency problem

November 29th, 2008 No comments

Lubos Motl, a bright young Czech physicist with a winning way with those he considers idiots*, has decided to cogitate on fiat money and the US`s screwed up monetary system, and proposes to peg the dollar to the Dow:

You might think that I am going to defend the gold standard or something of this sort. Well, you are not infinitely far from the truth. But gold is obsolete, arbitrary, and dangerous. Someone can find a lot of gold in the future and we don’t want the world’s economy die at that moment. Gold doesn’t represent the overall economy – what people actually want to pay for – well. And if you think that all the commodities have fixed price ratios and only the “money” is fluctuating, note that the gold/silver price ratio has been oscillating frantically, by orders of magnitude in both directions. Pretty much everything can oscillate and does oscillate. 

The gold standard brings some advantages but now we have a more comprehensive framework to adjust the advantages: we want to suppress the most unstable and harmful degrees of freedom by redefining the money. There is one more general advantage of the gold: you know what you own. With money, you own pieces of paper whose value can be manipulated by arbitrary decisions of the government. And an uncertainty about the value of things – their ill-definedness – is creating havoc. The only reason why prices expressed in the fiat money don’t fluctuate wildly is that the other sellers don’t know any definition of the money, either. 😉 So we want to peg the money to something more well-defined: to redefine them. What is it? It’s the stocks.

I think Motl is hopelessly self-deceived on his proposal, but it`s one made in good faith and presents an opportunity to educate Motl and his audience on Austrian views of money, government and markets.  Any takers?

* Idiots of various stripes, but particularly envirofacist/commies, climate alarmists and yours truly; we have discussed Motl here in connection with Bret Stephens, my favorite befuddled neocon at the WSJ ).

Jared Diamond: Those in stateless societies "enjoy" lives that are murderous and short

April 30th, 2008 2 comments

Jared Diamond has an interesting essay at the current issue of New Yorker, “Vengeance Is Ours“, that is worth considering.  

In the essay, Diamond not only describes the moral and political economy of cycles of personal and inter-tribal vengeance in one of the relatively stateless area of the Papua New Guinean Highlands – cycles of violence that very likely represent typical human dynamics throughout the course of our evolution –  but also, via a contrast with a family story regarding personal vengeance not taken, he presents various thoughts on:

• the evolution of the state,
• the mechanisms by which those who live in states repress and channel our latent tendencies towards violence, and
• the personal satisfactions of taking vengeance, and the personal costs incurred when the right to seek vengeance is surrendered to the state.

Diamond appears to assume the legitimacy of the state, and focusses in the latter part of his essay on the personal costs that each of us incurs by being forced to surrender our “thirst for vengeance” when we are injured or offended and to rely on an impersonal state for “justice”. 

This is interesting, but rather shallow, as it fails to discuss how our state-run justice systems themselves seem to be rather out of control, especially in the US.

Further, Diamond skates too quickly past important issues when he concludes that the evolution of states has been a good deal generally for those who find themselves in them.  Here are a few key quotes:

“State government is now so nearly universal around the globe that we forget how recent an innovation it is; the first states are thought to have arisen only about fifty-five hundred years ago, in the Fertile Crescent. Before there were states, Daniel’s method of resolving major disputes—either violently or by payment of compensation—was the worldwide norm. Papua New Guinea is not the only place where those traditional methods of dispute resolution still coexist uneasily with the methods of state government. For example, Daniel’s methods might seem quite familiar to members of urban gangs in America, and also to Somalis, Afghans, Kenyans, and peoples of other countries where tribal ties remain strong and state control weak. As I eventually came to realize, Daniel’s thirst for vengeance and his hostility to rival clans are really not so far from our own habits of mind as we might like to think.  …

Nearly all human societies today have given up the personal pursuit of justice in favor of impersonal systems operated by state governments—at least, on paper. Without state government, war between local groups is chronic; coöperation between local groups on projects bringing benefits to everyone—such as large-scale irrigation systems, free rights of travel, and long-distance trade—becomes much more difficult; and even the frequency of murder within a local group is higher. It’s true, of course, that twentieth-century state societies, having developed potent technologies of mass killing, have broken all historical records for violent deaths. But this is because they enjoy the advantage of having by far the largest populations of potential victims in human history; the actual percentage of the population that died violently was on the average higher in traditional pre-state societies than it was even in Poland during the Second World War or Cambodia under Pol Pot.

While I think Diamond’s observations here are largely fair, Diamond makes no effort to analyze the failings of modern states, and these failures are significant and cannot be ignored.  Neither, however, can the implications of Diamond’s observations for those who think we would be better off in stateless societies.  However, Diamond is primarily an ornithologist and anthropologist, so perhaps he can be forgiven for not examining more closely the problems of states in a rather short essay that is more concerned about cycles of violence and our modern repression of personal vengeance.

Further, Diamond’s essay only tangentially addresses, but is nonetheless seems a good jumping-off point for considering further, our evolved human nature and the heritage that such evolution has left us in terms of a cognitive system that is prone to suspicion of others, black and white views, self-justification and other characteristics that tended to reinforce our important tribal identities.  These are matters that I think affect each of us and are very much in evidence in the modern, “civilized” world – the world of impassioned disagreements between factions, racial divides, hostility towards “others” (those evil “Islamofascists,” gays, immigrants, liberals, envirofascists, etc.) and our fabulous ability to identify the mistakes and inconsistencies of others while ignoring our own.  As hjmaiere pointed out in a recent forum post (“Hermann Goering on Anthropogenic Global Warming” – naturally I disagreed with him in relevant parts), it is the powerful effects of our tribal nature that rent-seekers (and their political handlers) are so good at identifying and manipulating.