One of Them Got It Right

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Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Representative Tulsi Gabbard have both said they would get US troops out of Afghanistan, but their clash during the October 15 debate shows only one of them really means it.

Tulsi Gabbard.

Gabbard has been smeared as an “agent of Russia” for her call to bring American soldiers home. Buttigieg didn’t call her that, but he did say pulling out from Syria was a “betrayal.” He described a Kurdish woman with a dead child in her arms, implying it was America’s fault. The issue in Syria — and also in Afghanistan — he said, was “keeping our word.”

The bottom line, he said, was that withdrawal “undermines the honor of our soldiers.”

Better to attack Hawaii, even though the odds were that Japan would last only three years and be defeated by the United States.

I recall reviewing a book in 2013 about Japan’s decision to attack Pearl Harbor in 1941: Eri Hotta’s Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy.

In the fall of 1941, President Roosevelt gave Japan an ultimatum: remove your invasion troops from China or else. A few in Japan, fearing a war with the United States, were willing to consider it. But the argument against it, which prevailed, was that any withdrawal from China would dishonor the Japanese soldiers who died there. It would be a betrayal. Better to attack Hawaii, even though the odds were (as Japan’s generals were told by its war-college war gamers) that Japan would last only three years and be defeated by the United States.

I remember the don’t-betray-the-troops argument and the maintain-our-credibility argument during the war in Vietnam. These arguments did not prevent the loss of the war, but they did lengthen the casualty lists.

In Afghanistan and Syria, the United States is not going to win.

Buttigieg, who served in Afghanistan, is right that getting out would mean the government’s breaking its word, and doing that would undermine its credibility. And no matter where US troops are committed for any length of time, they have helpers and allies, and pulling out would leave allies in the lurch. Is that dishonorable? Yes, it is. But in Afghanistan and Syria, the United States is not going to win. Why not accept dishonor now, before it grows any bigger? The cost of postponing defeat is more killing, wreckage, and debt.

Gabbard will not be elected president. She’s right, though.




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Hunter Biden, Universal Genius

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“In retrospect, look, I think that it was poor judgment on my part. Is that I think that it was poor judgment because I don't believe now, when I look back on it — I know that there was — did nothing wrong at all. However, was it poor judgment to be in the middle of something that is ... a swamp in — in — in many ways? Yeah.”

Thus Hunter Biden, in a snuggy interview granted to ABC on October 15. Biden, the 49-year-old “kid” (as he calls himself) of a former vice president, was defending his choice by a Chinese state bank to receive more than a billion dollars in investments, and by a Ukrainian energy company to do some unspecifiable work for a salary of $600,000 a year. At the time, his “dad” was conducting diplomacy with China and bragging about how he got the Ukrainian government to fire a prosecutor by threatening to withhold a billion dollars of US aid.

Hunter Biden must be a universal genius. That’s why he’s not embarrassed to rattle so frankly through his list of jobs.

I’ve quoted a representative part of Hunter’s eloquent self-defense. But to me the most interesting part was his proof that he was overqualified to serve on the board of the Ukrainian natural gas company.

I was vice chairman of the board of Amtrak for five years. I was the chairman of the board of the U.N. World Food Program. I was a lawyer for Boies Schiller Flexner, one of the most prestigious law firms in — in the world. . . .

I think that I had as much knowledge as anybody else that was on the board — if not more.

So. There are two alternatives.

One: Hunter Biden is a universal genius. He knows more about law, investment banking, natural gas, worldwide food distribution, and the way to run a railroad than anyone else in — in — in the world. That’s why he’s not embarrassed to rattle so frankly through his list of jobs. (Which is, becomingly, only partial.)

Two: Hunter Biden is so stupid as to think he deserved those “jobs” — so stupid, indeed, as to be disqualified from any normal employment.

I’m betting on Two. And I have the strange idea that at least 50% of our ruling class has the same kind of CV that Hunter has, and the same unembarrassed attitude about it. They’re just too stupid to know they’re stupid.




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Who Will Police the Secret Police?

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The most famous remark about the American “intelligence [sic] community” was made by none other than Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer: “Let me tell you: You take on the intelligence community — they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you."

One would have expected those words to have been uttered as a challenge to the activities of the FBI, CIA, NSA, and the rest of them. One would have expected them to set all Washington atwitter about the arrogance and vindictiveness of the Men in Suits. But no such thing. The words were cynically spoken, as a rebuke to President Trump for being “dumb” enough to quarrel with the intelligencers; and they were cynically received by the general populace. The secret police are now regarded as a grim inevitability, the subject of helpless humor, like death and taxes.

The words were cynically spoken, as a rebuke to President Trump for being “dumb” enough to quarrel with the intelligencers.

If you’re in the intelligence community, this is very good news for you. You can now do whatever you please. For instance:

1. You can collude with a presidential campaign to produce false evidence against associates of a rival presidential campaign.

2. You can leak the purported evidence to the press, then use the resulting press statements to justify secret judicial proceedings, secret surveillance, the planting of spies, and the smear of “treason” against the candidate and party you covertly oppose.

3. You can arrest and imprison the people you are investigating, claiming that they lied to you.

4. When the person you oppose manages to win, you can immediately start trying to get rid of him: you can entrap him into damaging statements; you can leak truths and falsehoods promiscuously to the press; and you can lean with so much gravitas on co-dependent “investigators” that they reprimand you, at most, for being “less than candid.”

You can arrest and imprison the people you are investigating, claiming that they lied to you.

5. When you fail in your attempt to convict the duly elected president of colluding with a foreign power, you can try to convict him of colluding with another foreign power, itself the enemy of the first foreign power.

6. You can decline to investigate, and scoff at the idea of investigating, the leaders of the political party you favor whenever there is prima facie evidence that they or their associates have colluded with or intimidated foreign powers, to the vast enrichment of themselves.

7. When the president suggests to the leader of a foreign country that such apparent misdeeds be investigated, you can leak his conversation in such a way as to engineer impeachment by his political enemies, who are eager to use the force of law to ransack the private papers and conversations of him and his associates, hoping to discover additional and unrelated “crimes.”

8. You can employ every imaginable tactic of obstruction to prevent the publication of your own proceedings, declaring that national security would be irrevocably damaged if anyone but your own “community” were permitted to decide what should be known about themselves.

The much more obvious, much more urgent question is “Who the hell empowered the CIA to spy on the president and try to remove him from office?”

9. You can go on social media and try to obstruct the president and the justice system by encouraging unlimited numbers of government employees to make damaging accusations, regardless of their truth or falsehood (see for instance this, from September 28).

Those are a few examples of what you are free to do; readers can continue the list for themselves, relying on their own knowledge — because anyone who cares to read knows all these things, and more.

Yet the current subject of dispute is, “What exactly may have been the subtext of President Trump’s conversation with the president of Ukraine?”, and not the much more obvious, much more urgent question: “Who the hell empowered the CIA to spy on the president and try to remove him from office?”

There are many reasons why that second question should be important and urgent to everyone, including people who don’t like the current president. The most significant reason is the most obvious: if the secret police can do these things to the president, they can, and they will, very happily and self-righteously do them to you. The fact that this idea seems to have registered on so few people is a truly terrifying indictment of today’s political mentality.




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The Face of NPR

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Last week I had the opportunity to attend a meet-greet-and-discuss with Stewart Vanderwilt, the new CEO of Colorado Public Radio (CPR), the state’s NPR franchise. Ambivalent about attending, I almost passed it up, preferring to relax with a cold beer after climbing one of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks (there are 54) and suffering from leg cramps.

I’m almost glad I didn’t.

Vanderwilt’s audience was old, and about evenly divided between righties and lefties (or so I perceived . . . with at least two libertarians). One lady, the head of the organization sponsoring the meeting, opined sotto voce to her immediate neighbors that she no longer listened to NPR: “It’s too biased and too boring.” Hear, hear! I thought.

Overall listenership was dropping. To remedy this, he announced, NPR was adding new, more interesting programing.

Still, I tried to keep an open mind. After all, this was NPR’s CEO in Colorado (after stints in Indiana and Texas), and he trod gently, wanting to explain NPR’s raison d’être and knowing full well that he faced a mixed ideological audience.

Vanderwilt, a very ordinary looking and sounding fellow of average height and girth, began by stating that most people assume NPR gets its lion’s share of funding from the government — a useful straw-man gambit. “No”, he stated, “only about 2%,” further going into detail as to its funding sources.

He went on to acknowledge how polarized the public had become regarding the media, but insisted that NPR adhered to very objective standards. Noting, as a curious aside, that NPR franchises are divided into two formats — one consisting of mostly classical music stations and the other a talk show format — he said that during the Kavanaugh-Ford confirmation hearings many regular talk show listeners switched to the classical music format. It seemed to puzzle him. Notwithstanding that blip, overall listenership was dropping. To remedy this, he announced, the network was adding new, more interesting programing.

The New Yorker Radio Hour, added in late 2015, immediately came to mind. But to this mind that program is just more of the same old NPR pap (however well crafted). He enthused about a few other ideas, but none lit my kindling — I didn’t note them down and have since forgotten them.

Johnson surely pops a couple of “earnestness” pills every morning to help him seem engaged, objective, and authoritative.

What passes for groundbreaking, investigative, and — in NPR’s mind — controversial and edgy current events radio is shouldered by Joshua Johnson of the program 1-A, the inheritor of the timeslot inhabited by the late Diane Rehm show.

Johnson surely pops a couple of “earnestness” pills every morning to help him seem engaged — which he undoubtedly is — objective, and authoritative, while periodically reminding his audience that he’s both a person of color and gay. He prides himself in chairing debates so civilized that neither Bill Buckley nor Joe Pyne would recognize them as such. And his questions are so subtly stilted that the answers are boringly predictable; people are supposed not to be able to tell whether he’s a liberal or a conservative.

But back to Vanderwilt. He defended the existence of NPR by saying that the content of other media is driven by their owners, management, advertising clients, and ratings. What? NPR isn’t? Although there is some truth in those assertions, I disagreed strongly. Audiences have demanded that the media they read, watch, or listen to mirror their views . . . and the market has complied. Today nearly all media can be classified as having an identifiable political bent.

The questions are so subtly stilted that the answers are boringly predictable; people are supposed not to be able to tell whether he’s a liberal or a conservative.

Not so long ago — 30? 40? years — KFYI, a major Phoenix radio station (and anchor to the nationally syndicated Kim Commando Show), hosted conservative, liberal, libertarian, and “non-ideological, common sense” talk show hosts. Today it carries Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity throughout the day. KYCA, my hometown radio station, once tilted libertarian, carrying the Leonard Peikoff show and an agony call-in show based on the “rational basis of happiness,” a concept originally promulgated by Nathaniel Branden, a psychologist and Ayn Rand’s longtime lover.

Today there are no (to my limited knowledge) media that combine the likes of Joshua Johnson followed by, say, Tucker Carlson; or Rachel Maddow along with John Stossel; or Mark Levin and Chris Cuomo. Now those would be fun formats for NPR. Instead, the point-counterpoint (what little there is) is engineered by a process that includes a job my nephew once held before becoming an attorney. He was hired by cohost Janeane Garofalo for Air America’s The Majority Report to listen to Rush Limbaugh (yes, every day for three hours) and come up with opposing talking points. The show only lasted two years, while Air America, a left-wing, progressive enterprise, only lasted six.

Vanderwilt’s talk ended after a mere 20 minutes, at which point he opened the floor to questions and comments. My buddy Tom, a libertarian-leaning sometime listener, very diplomatically — even indirectly — said that NPR was both liberal (in the American sense) and boring; and that to admit it would at least slightly temper the boring part.

Audiences have demanded that the media they read, watch, or listen to mirror their views . . . and the market has complied.

Vanderwilt would have none of it. Like a seasoned pol deflecting an asked question with an answer to an unasked question, he glossed over the comment and artfully manipulated the word “liberal” into an interpretation akin to “inoffensive objectivity.”

This guy was good. So, building on Tom’s effort, I gave it a shot, using a dose of literary deconstruction (or what I thought might pass for it, the “discipline” being largely unintelligible to me) that might strike a chord with him. I said that I got most of my news from The Economist, which calls itself “a liberal publication” (in the European sense); and they’re of the opinion (as I’ve written before) that

Writing is seldom objective; reportage never is. Putting an idea into prose requires choosing words to convey the thought, while even selecting what constitutes a news story, deciding how to report it, or how much context to include, invariably slants it.

[But] ironically, the journal’s editorial stance results in much more objective reporting than that of an “objective” source such as NPR — for one thing, because a reader knows up front where The Economist is coming from.

Vanderwilt misconstrued my meaning, explaining that NPR’s editorial process strives very carefully to choose its words so as not to offend anyone. He added an apology in case that had ever occurred (being offensive, that is).

In that July 2012 article, “Check Your Premises,” I attempted a balanced analysis of NPR’s biases. This time I just surrendered to exasperated resignation. While driving in my car running errands I’ll just keep switching between NPR and what I jokingly call “right-wing hate radio.”




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Menus for a Free Lunch

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I wonder at the appeal of the progressives. I suffered through two and a half hours of the September 12 debate of the ten Democratic presidential candidates. These talkers inhabit a different world from the one that I do — not that my world is the only one, but it is mine and they are not of it.

Consider medical care. All of the candidates accept that medical care is a human right. I don’t, but even if I did, I would have to admit there are problems with it. Some medical care is necessary for life and health, some is good but not necessary, some is questionable, some is useless, and some is positively harmful. It would seem obvious that whoever is paying for the care would make these distinctions before signing the check. Certainly a prudent individual would, if he were paying with his own money.

Well, we mostly don’t do that anymore. We have health insurance, in which the insurer pays. Are we to assume that a good and proper insurer should never say no? Listening to the Democratic candidates, you’d think so.

All of the candidates accept that medical care is a human right. I don’t.

In the September 12 debate, Senator Elizabeth Warren said the health insurance companies, which she wants to run out of business, make their profits “by saying no.” I’ll stipulate that when they say no, they are trying to save money, and even the not-for-profits among them try to do that. But does America suffer from a systemic problem of insurance companies saying no to necessary claims?

Not in my world. I’m 68, and I’ve had a medical condition that put me in the hospital for 23 days and that cost several hundred thousand dollars. My private-sector insurer never said no to any of it. At the end of my hospital stay, I paid about one cent on the dollar of what it cost. I know others of my age who have had expensive procedures, and not one of them bellyached about his coverage. On the contrary — all of them were glad to have it. Elizabeth Warren said in the debate, “I have not met anybody who likes her health insurance company.” Hm. Have you asked?

I’ve argued with progressives for years about medical coverage. American progressives believe deep in their bones that covering everyone for everything will cost less than people pay to cover some people for some things. Sanders and Warren both said this. Sanders was vehement about it. “I wrote the bill,” he insisted. (It must be true!) Under his bill, the Vermont socialist said, Americans would get medical care, including prescription drugs, and would pay nothing out of pocket. And the taxes to bankroll this, which Joe Biden claimed would cost $3.5 trillion a year? Warren addressed that. Taxes would go up for the corporations and the rich, she said, adding, “Middle-class families are going to pay less.”

When insurance companies say no, they are trying to save money, and even the not-for-profits among them try to do that.

Really? Do people believe this? Do middle-class families pay less in taxes in Canada? The UK? France? Germany? Sweden?

It’s true that Americans pay in ways other than taxes, so that medical care takes a smaller share of gross domestic product in those countries than it does in the United States. But is their care as good? Canada spends 6.6% of GDP less than the US and gets mostly good outcomes, but it falls short of US standards in some ways. I live a hundred miles from British Columbia, and I’ve heard the stories about hospital stays there. The B.C. system is notorious for making people wait months for elective surgeries such as hip replacements, which can be scheduled in Seattle in a few days. It has few of the robot-arm da Vinci Surgical Systems for prostate removal, which are routine across the US border. Hospitals in British Columbia also have mixed-gender four-bed wards instead of private rooms.

Canadians do pay considerably less for drugs by having the provincial health authorities act as the sole buyers. This comes at a price: Canadians get fancy new drugs several years later than Americans do.

I live in Seattle. In my career in newspapers, I used to cover the biotech industry here. Back in the ’80s and ’90s Seattle had a gaggle of little biotechs fed by money from floating shares on the NASDAQ. The biotechs were trying to develop new drugs, non-drug treatments (a blood filter to treat cancer was one), and medical devices. Everybody in liberal Seattle was in favor of biotech. The local economic development gurus promoted biotech as the city’s industrial future. Twenty years later, it has been a disappointment. Most of the ventures failed, though one of them, ICOS, failed to hit the target it aimed at, cancer, and developed something else, the ED drug Cialis. The bottom line is that drug development is risky, unpredictable, and high-cost. The critics don’t understand that. I remember the Seattle elite praising the biotech industry, then turning around and saying that the high cost of drugs was scandalous.

The B.C. system is notorious for making people wait months for elective surgeries such as hip replacements, which can be scheduled in Seattle in a few days.

Canada and the rest of the world rely heavily on US companies to develop new drugs. Being second-order users does save them money, but there are tradeoffs that the progressives don’t want to talk about. Somebody has to pay the costs of drug research.

I am wary of the promised cheapness of “single payer.” In the American cultural setting it’s not going to be easy to make medicine cheap, but if the socialists, such as Bernie Sanders, do make it cheap, Americans won’t like what they get. In my case, my medical condition was detected in a CT scan and diagnosed after an MRI. Later, when I had a blood clot and reacted against the usual drug for it — heparin — the doctors gave me a newer biotech drug, argatroban. The whole experience made me very appreciative of my surgeon (a hot-shot 32-year-old from New Zealand) and of high-tech medical equipment, high-tech drugs, and the private insurance company (Group Health, since then absorbed by Kaiser Permanente) that paid for it.

The progressives want Medicare for All. Since my operation I’ve gone on Medicare, and it has cut my cost of health insurance by at least two-thirds. But Medicare is a forced subsidy paid by taxpayers younger than I. If everyone is to be offered the same deal, there will be no group left to plunder. Furthermore, Medicare pays doctors and hospitals less than market rates. In the state of Washington, a Rand Corp. survey https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR3033.html in 2017 found that Medicare pays 42 cents for each dollar private insurers pay for similar procedures. Hospitals make up the shortfall by charging private-coverage patients more. That’s a cross-subsidy in addition to the taxpayer subsidy — and the progressives don’t want to talk about that, either.

Canada and the rest of the world rely heavily on US companies to develop new drugs. Somebody has to pay the costs of drug research.

None of the candidates at the September 12 debate addressed any of the drawbacks of Medicare for All. They don’t mention drawbacks or tradeoffs — only problems of the current system, such as all the paperwork (actually computer work) that health insurers require providers to fill out. Does Medicare not have forms to fill out? Are we really going to have an insurer that doesn’t ask questions and always says yes? You’d think so, listening to Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. But do Americans really believe that a monopoly run by federal employees will cost less and always give them what they want?

Yes, some of them do believe it.




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Are You Joking?

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On July 23, Jeffrey Epstein, the world’s highest profile prisoner, attempted to commit suicide while in federal custody in New York. Or somebody tried to kill him while he was in federal custody in New York. No one knows. On August 10 Epstein killed himself while in federal custody. Or he didn’t. No one knows.

Likewise, no one knows what happened to President Trump’s several orders, during the past year, for the declassification of all documents bearing on the attempt by our secret police to prevent him from becoming president, or continuing to be president. Or was it all documents? Or was it all documents about the FBI, the CIA, and the DOJ? Or was it . . . ?

This is the behavior of the federal government, at its highest and most visible ranks, regarding matters that are known by all.

In addition, no one knows what is happening with the current innumerable investigations of this and similar events, events that are so well attested as to have become, at this point, crashing bores. When, or if, the investigations are completed, will we hear again that Such and Such Grand Inquisitor “lacked candor” and might be prosecuted, except that he or she will not be prosecuted?

This is the behavior of the federal government, at its highest and most visible ranks, regarding matters that are known by all. Yet leading members of one of our great political parties are demanding that still more power be given to the state — power over healthcare, over incomes, over guns, over history itself — while leading members of the other great party, having promised to drain the swamp, demand that the state take unto itself the role of policing speech on the internet, targeting “unstable” speech with red flags, and so on.

Our descendants, should they still be able to read, and allowed to do so, will marvel at this childlike faith in the great god of government.




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Hurricane Ahead!

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I live in Orlando. If you’ve been listening to the glamour girls and breathless boys of the curvy couches in the newsrooms of New York, you would think that I live in a Death Zone. A hurricane is coming! A hurricane is coming! Shortages! Mayhem! Break out the plywood. Buy up all the water, bread, and peanut butter within a 500-mile radius. And get the hell out of there!

Well, let me tell you what it’s really like. Yes, the shelves were pretty bare on Wednesday, a full week before the hurricane is supposed to make landfall. (Some have said that preparing for a hurricane is like waiting to be attacked by a turtle.) For one evening, bread was gone, water was gone, and batteries were gone from many stores. But that was the first day of the hype. “Hurry! Hurry! You need seven days of water per person in order to survive the devastation! Get it all before someone else does!”

Shortages! Mayhem! Break out the plywood and get the hell out of there!

So how did I prepare? Well, yesterday I went to the beach. (Hurricane warnings make for perfect beach conditions: blue skies, warm water, strong waves, and nearly empty shorelines.) Meanwhile, my daughter took my grandson to Universal Studios (light breeze and five-minute wait lines.)

Today I went shopping. As I expected, based on last year’s hurricane preparations, pallets of bottled water encircled the entire perimeter of my local Publix. An employee stood at the front door, prepared to load a couple of cases into each customer’s cart so the heavy water would be conveniently located at the bottom while the customer continued shopping. So thoughtful! (It was also a gentle reminder that two cases would be plenty — no need to hoard.) The bread shelves were full as well, and stockers were busily replenishing other staples. There will be additional deliveries tomorrow and every day until the storm hits. There is simply no reason to panic about running out of food and water, despite Wednesday’s initially empty shelves.

Hurricane warnings make for perfect beach conditions: blue skies, warm water, strong waves, and nearly empty shorelines.

Home Depot is doing the same thing with plywood, batteries, generators, and flashlights, bringing in more supplies daily. Instead of raising prices to reduce demand, as store managers did in years past, they are planning ahead to satisfy rising demand with rising supply. We don’t need to get into a fight over who saw that last sheet of plywood first — there will be a whole pallet of plywood unloaded from the delivery truck any minute.

How is this possible? As demand quadruples with every frantic news report, why aren’t we experiencing severe shortages?

It’s simple: businesspeople are smart. They can read a weather report, review previous sales trends, anticipate demand, and adjust supply. Trucking companies can respond in advance too, diverting transportation where it is needed now, not where it might have been scheduled to go a few weeks ago. And because hurricanes move so slowly, business people have a couple of weeks to adjust their orders, assign overtime duties to stockers and checkers, and reassure their customers that the doors will be open and the shelves stocked throughout the run-up to the storm. And they’ll be open for business again just as quickly as they can after the storm. We aren’t going to starve. I promise you.

We don’t need to get into a fight over who saw that last sheet of plywood first — there will be a whole pallet of plywood unloaded from the delivery truck any minute.

Meanwhile, FEMA and the National Guard are on their way to Florida. They might be needed, if damage is severe. Also on their way are hordes of weather reporters, seeking out the highest water, the windiest corner, and the dangliest signs to show us just how desperate we are in Florida. (Remember last year’s phony photos of reporters hunkered down in raincoats and boots while residents strolled by in the background wearing t-shirts, shorts and flip-flops?)

Some folks may experience severe damage and loss, especially those who live near the coast, and I feel compassion for them. They’ll need emergency help (and should receive it from their insurance companies). But for most of us, the local Publix and Home Depot have us covered. There’s no need to panic, and no need to break our budgets by purchasing more food than we actually need. And that, my friends, is how capitalism makes life better for everyone.




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Judicial Conscription

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"United States District Court" reads the return address on an envelope I received today.

It is a summons for jury duty.

My honest attitude is, "I'd love to be on a jury," but it is genuinely impossible for me to do so: I have absolutely no transportation, especially to go all the way to Tucson, 65 miles from this front door to the courthouse. Plus, my health is such that, truly, I have trouble walking across a room.

Plus, according to the rules . . . well, let me put it this way: it's easy to see that the government is run by the government.

If one must travel 60 or more miles to answer this summons, one will be allowed to check into certain approved hotels; but one must pay for the room, then present a receipt next day to the PIGs, the Persons In Government, and hope to be reimbursed. Theoretically, one does get reimbursed at a certain rate per mile, but nowhere is there provision for destitute people. And there’s no way that I could pay up to $90, or more, for a hotel room, even if I were able to get there.

It's easy to see that the government is run by the government.

One is "allowed" and in fact urged to respond to the summons via the internet; it's spelled out very pointedly that a mere letter-on-paper asking to be excused will go unheeded. Again no provision for destitute citizens.

So, I'm wondering if my best bet is to ignore the summons completely. To treat it as, 50 years ago, I treated notices from my draft board: chuck it into the barrel.

Then, if some federal PIG, Person In Government, comes to arrest me, I could perhaps expect medical care while in custody.

I'm wondering if my best bet is to treat it as, 50 years ago, I treated notices from my draft board: chuck it into the barrel.

Well, a friend who used to be a nurse in a hospital told me that when police brought a prisoner to the hospital for treatment, they often released him . . . so that the prisoner-patient became responsible for the treatment!

For now, I’m going to look at the "ejuror" site and see just what questions there are and what answers I will be able to give — if, that is, there’s a place for an explanation. Usually, in my experience, one must jump through a bunch of hoops, and over a bunch of hurdles, before getting to a place to explain.

But isn't it wonderful to live in a free country?




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Tiananmen Revisited?

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I fear that China is about to crack down on Hong Kong and retake the airport by military force. A crackdown is what it did in June 1989 when the tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square, which they did after a long period of protests during which the government did nothing. China’s leaders finally lost patience and crushed the protests by force. Their descendants show signs of doing the same thing again, particularly when they brand the occupiers of Hong Kong Airport as “terrorists.”

I have just read a piece by Minxin Pei in which he argues that a Tiananmen-type crackdown would cost the government of China too much.

“Hong Kong’s residents would almost certainly treat Chinese government forces as invaders, and mount the fiercest possible resistance,” Pei writes. “The resulting clashes — which would likely produce high numbers of civilian casualties — would mark the official end of the ‘one country, two systems’ arrangement, with China’s government forced to assert direct and full control over Hong Kong’s administration.”

Tiananmen's descendants show signs of doing the same thing again, particularly when they brand the occupiers of Hong Kong Airport as “terrorists.”

And that, Pei writes, would cause “an immediate exodus of expats and elites with foreign passports” and of Western businesses, with a “collapse” of Hong Kong’s economy.

I lived in Hong Kong for three years. It was a long time ago, and I may be on shaky ground when I argue with Minxin Pei, but it’s difficult for me to picture the Hong Kong people putting up “the fiercest possible resistance” to the Chinese army. The Hong Kongers are not a military people; they are an unarmed, commercial people. When I was there, they were much less ideological than Americans. Obviously, that’s changed, but by how much? And if Hong Kong’s youth have embraced ideology and activism, what difference can it make now?

Hong Kong was a British colony during most of the 20th century. It had an odd mixture of freedom and capitalism under British common law but with no democracy. The time to have taken to the streets and occupied the airport was in the early 1980s, when the deal to give Hong Kong 50 years of a separate system under China’s sovereignty was being negotiated between Margaret Thatcher and Deng Xiaoping. If the Hong Kong people had shut down the airport and demanded independence, they might have got it from Britain, though it’s doubtful that China would have let them keep it. There is no chance of getting independence from China now.

When I was there, the Hong Kongers were much less ideological than Americans. Obviously, that’s changed, but by how much?

The protesters in Hong Kong want control of Hong Kong by the Hong Kong people. China’s leaders cannot afford to give them that, and they won’t.

Either the protesters give up and leave the airport, or the Chinese Army forcibly evicts them. Either way, they lose.

What, then? If the Chinese army takes the Hong Kong airport and says, “Order is restored, back to work!”, will the Western businesses leave? Maybe a few. The crackdown in Beijing in 1989 created bad publicity all over the world; it caused tens of thousands of Chinese students to stay in the United States, and it kept tourists away from China for a while. It cost China billions of dollars. But look what it bought: no domestic opposition for 30 years. For China’s leaders, it was worth the cost. My bet is that they’ll do it again.

If the Hong Kong people had shut down the airport and demanded independence, they might have got it from Britain. There is no chance of getting independence from China now.

Long term, the biggest question about Hong Kong has been whether its system will remain distinct from China’s or whether the two systems will begin to merge. If China cracks down, an answer to that question will begin to take shape — and it won’t be one the Hong Kong people want.

And what of the United States? Will Donald Trump impose economic sanctions on China? That bolt has already been shot, for all the good it’s done.

I fear the Hong Kong people are on their own.




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Take Me to Your Libertarians

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Just when I was in despair about the world’s declining interest in libertarianism, my hopes have been revived.

Patrick Byrne, a libertarian billionaire, has made news by announcing that he developed a relationship with a woman named Maria Butina, a Russian who is now in an American prison for having failed to register as a foreign agent. According to journalist Sara Carter,

Butina . . . told Byrne, that [Alexander] Torshin, the Russian politician who [sic] she had been assisting while she was in the U.S., had sent her to the United States to meet other libertarians and build relations with political figures. She repeated to him numerous times that she was not a spy, even when he directly asked her.

Whether she was a spy or not, the idea is flattering to libertarians, as is the interest purportedly taken by the American government in such doings. According to Butina’s lawyer, Robert Driscoll,

At some point prior to the 2016 election, when Byrne’s contact with Maria diminished or ceased, the government asked and encouraged him to renew contact with her and he did so, continuing to inform the government of her activities. Byrne states he was informed by government agents that his pursuit and involvement with Maria (and concomitant surveillance of her) was requested and directed from the highest levels of the FBI and intelligence community.

Well, there you have it. Libertarians are more interesting than they think. Do you know who your friends really are?




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