They Don’t Know What Everyone Else Knows

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According to an AP report of July 17, the FBI is feverishly hunting for a motive for the terrorist massacre committed in Chattanooga by a radical Muslim named Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez:

Authorities “have not determined whether it was an act of terrorism or whether it was a criminal act,” Ed Reinhold, an FBI special agent in charge, told reporters. “We are looking at every possible avenue, whether it was terrorism — whether it was domestic, international — or whether it was a simple, criminal act.”

“We have no idea what his motivation was behind this shooting,” Reinhold said.

A leading Muslim imam did better, lots better. Suhaib Webb, who leads an Islamic institute in Washington DC, said, “It will probably be that he’s done this in the name of some radical Muslim group. . . . No official motive has been established, but sadly, I've seen this too many times. While millions are excited to celebrate Eid [the Muslim holiday], groups like ISIS, al-Qāidah and others continue to show that they have no regard for life or traditions, Muslim or not, young or old.”

But back to the FBI agent. For what reason would he possibly say such a preposterous thing? For what reason should anyone be paid for suggesting that he and his colleagues had “no idea” what they were doing? It used to be that we paid cops less, and they had more brains.




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Compassion Fatigue

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We are a compassionate society. Or at any rate, so we keep being told. Why is it, then, that as the list of those deemed worthy of our compassion grows — ever longer — we find it more difficult to overflow with it? Our human kindness comes forth, much of the time, at no more than a trickle.

I keep hearing that libertarians are unkind. That we’d starve our grandmas for a tax break, or something to that effect. But the people most inclined to exalt themselves as paragons of compassion often behave the most hard-heartedly. They say they are compassionate, so we’re supposed to believe them. Yet in their interactions with their fellow human beings, they show precious little evidence of it.

Most of us have had the bizarre experience of being informed what we believe, even before we can tell others what we think.

The genius of libertarian philosophy is that it honors the individual, even as it acknowledges the universal. We can — at least theoretically — empathize with any other person because we share a common humanity. Yet even though each of us shares in the human condition, every one of us is unique. You and I can appreciate, in those we love, that each of them is distinct from every other human being who ever has been or will be born.

It’s a privilege for me to know the people I love, and even the ones I merely like. My life would be far less meaningful if it lacked a single one of them. None of them is enough like another that I could lump them together and sum them up. Each is a beautiful stone in the mosaic of my personal world. If I saw all of them as alike, instead of seeing each of them as a unique part of a mosaic, I’d be looking at nothing but the antiseptic wall of a public bathroom.

Compassion fatigue sets in not because we’re lacking in that particular quality, but because it gets exhausted. We’re shamed into genuflecting before a political altar, but that is hardly the same as feeling solidarity with our fellow human beings. This is the bitter fruit of statism. As individuals, the state considers us useless. We matter to it only as a herd, so we’re conditioned to behave, and to treat each other, like livestock.

I happen to be something called a white Christian gay female middle-class American. That’s quite a lot to wrap my mind around. I very much prefer to think of myself as me. In any interaction that I have with each of you, I prefer to think of you as you.

When I started living as openly gay, I began to notice that instead of being recognized more fully as an individual, I’d merely joined another herd. I wasn’t even expected to have opinions or preferences of my own; they were all assigned to me by others. People with fixed opinions about gay issues are always telling me what I should believe, what I can’t believe, or what I do believe — whether I actually believe those things or not. To those who care only about power, our individuality is nothing but a nuisance.

The latter treatment is given tolibertarians in general. Most of us have had the bizarre experience of being informed what we believe, even before we can tell others what we think. Even though many of the things we’re told that “all libertarians believe” bear little or no relation to our actual convictions.

On the libertarian spectrum, I’m left of center, but center-left. I used to be much more of a statist progressive. I still care about the same issues, my concerns having changed very little. I simply no longer believe that government action is capable of making the world a better place. All I’ve seen it do is create one gigantic mess after another, and make life even worse for those it endeavors to “help.”

Were we able to give of ourselves voluntarily, without the guns of government compassion pointed at our heads, I suspect that we would prove ourselves as generous as anyone.

I’ve become something of a gadfly for better treatment of the mentally or emotionally ill. I’m also involved in work on behalf of alcoholics, drug addicts, and the homeless. Of course I care about women’s issues and gay rights. But I no longer trust in politicians to save anyone. All they do is say pretty things, while doing whatever serves their own, petty interests.

The “compassionate” left hasn’t yet figured out how to exploit people suffering from psychological disorders — beyond offering them Obamacare, which is to say, offering them no help at all. Women and gays are of interest to social justice warriors only so long as we obediently march in their army. Alcoholics, drug addicts, and the homeless tend to vote only when they’ve succeeded in freeing themselves from the curse of perceived helplessness foisted upon them by “progressive” politics. And then, they’re dangerously likely to vote for those who tell them they’re capable of running their own lives. Truth be told, no one’s plight is of much interest to the ostentatiously compassionate unless it can be exploited in one way or another.

My progressive friends fear that I’ve gone over to the dark side. I’m frequently accused of having lost my “compassion.” But when I try to interest them in actually getting off their bums and doing things to help those for whom their hearts bleed, I often get blank stares or even anger. They are afflicted with compassion fatigue.

All thatmany of them think they need to do, for those they’re officially informed they should care about, is vote for the potentates who claim they’ll accomplish what needs to be done. Thus assured, they’re likely to sit back passively and do what they’re told — to give whatever is demanded of them, without asking what’s done with it. They are always admonished to obey their self-appointed superiors — those who insist that they know best.

Given the limited view they have of the world, I can hardly blame them. They are perpetually being told to feel for this gripe-group or that one. Never are they encouraged to recognize anyone in these groups as actual, flesh-and-blood people, with names, and faces, and stories of their own. But on behalf of separate and disparate groups, victimized by the disembodied forces of evil, their compassion is milked daily. We can only take so much of that before we are milked dry.

Libertarians like to save our milk for the nourishment of those we truly care about. We recognize that it belongs to us, and that no one else has any automatic claim on it. Certainly, we know that no one else’s claim on our milk supersedes our own, or that of those to whom we choose to give it.

Were we able to give of ourselves voluntarily, without the guns of government compassion pointed at our heads, I suspect that we would prove ourselves as generous as anyone. Maybe more than most. Those who truly need our help would likely never find it lacking. What a shame it is that because it is so often squandered, when it’s actually needed and deserved we may have nothing to offer but an empty pail.




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The Greek Deceit

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It’s remarkable to me, the degree to which reporting on the continuing Greek crisis is sympathetic to the Greek government, whose intention is to continue stiffing its creditors, and hostile to the “hardline” states (such oppressors as Germany, Finland, Slovakia, and Slovenia), who want to obtain some assurances that if they increase their subsidies to spendthrift Greece, the Greek government won’t continue to lie to them.

The extent of the lying is indicated by a stray passage of pro-Greek rhetoric appearing in the Washington Post on Sunday:

Some [creditors’] requirements encompass such dramatic social and political reforms — such as ending government cronyism and safeguarding the integrity of economic statistics — that it’s unclear when or even if they could ever be achieved.

“We don’t agree on many points,” a member of the Greek delegation said as negotiations dragged on. “It’s problematic.”

Interesting. It’s dramatic to want accurate economic statistics. How could this ever be achieved? And notice the Orwellian synonym for ending deceit: “safeguarding the integrity of economic statistics.”

In the same report, we learn that Greece is experiencing “the deepest recession of any developed nation since World War II.” I guess the total wipeout of the central European economies in the late 1940s didn’t hold a candle to the torture now experienced by bankrupt Greece. I guess that communist Europe was doing swell, compared with contemporary Greece. I guess that Franco’s Spain was sitting pretty, compared with poor little Greece.

Is there anyone who believes this stuff? I don’t know. “It’s problematic.”




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The Greek Mystique

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I’m not an economist. I may have gotten my figures wrong. I may have gotten my economic history wrong. But it seems to me that Greece, population 11 million, has defaulted on about $100 billion worth of emergency loans that were made to cover its inability to pay off even larger loans. It also seems to me that the money that was loaned went to sustain a pension system that enabled people — almost half of them government employees — to retire at an absurdly early age, and at a still more absurd age if they worked at hundreds of “hazardous” occupations, such as beautician and radio announcer. And it now appears that while taking emergency loans to enable it to get through a “tough” period of “austerity” mandated by its fiendish creditors, Greece actually added 70,000 workers to the government payroll.

In response to the awful suffering imposed on them from beyond, Greeks went to the polls on Sunday and passed a referendum encouraging their government to demand yet more money from their creditors, with the stipulation that Greeks themselves would do nothing “further” to economize. The referendum won by a landslide. The human pebbles who slid down the electoral hill apparently believed that the people who loaned them money were exploiting them by expecting them to honor some part of their agreements.

The Greek government will now demand that a large portion of its debt be “written down”; in other words, that Greece be licensed simply to keep the money it was loaned and now refuses to pay back. In support of this idealistic notion, many of the pebbles took to the streets, indignantly proclaiming that “Greeks are not beggars!” They are right; there are other words for what they are — or, more properly, for how they’re acting. It’s a fine illustration of the way in which normal, decent people turn into ne’er-do-wells and conmen at the polls. The first victims of the conmen are themselves. They convince themselves that they are acting decently — indeed, that they are impelled by a righteous cause.

hile taking emergency loans to enable it to get through a “tough” period of “austerity” mandated by its fiendish creditors, Greece actually added 70,000 workers to the government payroll.

We’ll see whether Greece will continue to find European financial agencies that are silly enough to provide more money, on the Greeks’ own terms. Maybe it will. In Europe, there are two suckers born every minute.

Others besides me have commented on these matters, and I’ve read a lot of their comments. But so far I haven’t encountered a certain kind of comment. It seems to me an obvious one to make, but it isn’t being made. So I’ll make it.

When we talk about “European” loans to “Greece,” we must remember that we are talking about money that governments and government-sponsored banks have arranged to cover the debts of Greek official institutions. No private individual would make loans like this, unless he was figuring on some government covering his ass. In Greece itself, no private individual would do that.It’s like the California “bullet train”: it’s supposed to be a wonderful investment, but somehow, not a penny of private money has ever been invested in it.

If there is a better argument against centralized economic decisions, I can’t think of one. Here we have enormously ridiculous, enormously expensive losses, engendered by a class of government-sponsored experts who thought they knew better than every other individual on the planet. And by the way, these experts were working with other people’s money, with money that is taken, not requested. That kind of money is always easy to spend. And here is the financial system that is supposed to give the world security.

No private individual would make loans like this, unless he was figuring on some government covering his ass.

The Greeks aren’t the only people who think that “investment” means extracting money from productive individuals and giving it to the government to spend on projects that can’t possibly turn a profit. That’s the modern system of political economy. As for the ability of the United States, or the now-sainted China, to stimulate its economy by increasing its debts, the comment of Ray Gaines in Monday’s Wall Street Journal says it all: the system is not working. Meanwhile, the culture of entitlement that is inseparably linked to borrowing without repaying spreads inexorably from the seminar room to the legislative chamber to the chamber of commerce and the welfare mob. Too confused to argue, it asserts its positions; too proud to beg, it demands.




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July 4, 2015

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As we approached the Fourth of July weekend, I found myself in a pessimistic mood, and cursing myself for my pessimism. But I learned to enjoy it.

Of course, the mood itself isn’t hard to explain. Probably you feel it too. The presidential campaign has produced candidates ranging from the dismal to the palpably evil. The Supreme Court, in its Obamacare decisions, has reached new depths of sophistry. The current president is one of the worst in history, and would be still worse if not for his fecklessness. Virtually all members of Congress appear to have abandoned, or never to have entertained, the idea that there could be any just or even natural limits to their power to decide things for other people.

So are there grounds for pessimism? Yes, plenty. Yet pessimism per se is always suspect. Pure pessimism deters any form of action. Yeats was thinking in this way when he wrote his poem “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen,” a meditation on the violent end of a relatively sane, modern, and progressive world, in the catastrophe of the Great War. The poem embodies a critique of optimists and their complacency:

Come let us mock at the good
That fancied goodness might be gay,
And sick of solitude
Might proclaim a holiday:
Wind shrieked — and where are they?

Yet in the next stanza Yeats turns with greater disgust to the pessimists and cynics:

Mock mockers after that
That would not lift a hand maybe
To help good, wise or great
To bar that foul storm out, for we
Traffic in mockery.

I thought of Yeats’ poem, and then I thought of the pessimism — the vigorous and mordant pessimism — of the tenth Federalist paper, where Madison discovers the foundation of constitutional government not in optimistic feelings about the people’s wisdom but in an awareness of their vanity and stupidity:

A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good. So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts.. . .

It is in vain to say that enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust these clashing interests, and render them all subservient to the public good. Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm. Nor, in many cases, can such an adjustment be made at all without taking into view indirect and remote considerations, which will rarely prevail over the immediate interest which one party may find in disregarding the rights of another or the good of the whole.

As you know, Madison’s argument is that in a government with many organs continually checking one another, the contest between various kinds of wickedness and stupidity will prevent the ruin of the whole.

No one ever expected this to work perfectly, or to work all the time. It’s working pretty badly now, although it’s working well enough for me to write this reflection, and for you to read it — and that’s something. That’s a lot; and if you don’t think so, you can make the comparison with about 150 other countries. This business of distrusting human nature can produce a lot of limited government, and a lot of liberty, too.

Are there grounds for pessimism? Yes, plenty. Yet pessimism per se is always suspect.

I’m sorry to say that we libertarians often see just one side of the matter. Chronic pessimists forecast the imminent destruction of freedom and its pleasant companion, material well-being. Chronic optimists insist that if people were only free from the trammels of the state, all would be well, forgetting that the state results, in very large part, from people’s inherent desire “to vex and oppress each other.”

So this may be a time when optimism and pessimism can show due regard for one another, and for all to appreciate the clear-eyed pessimism about ourselves on which any polity dedicated to the optimistic idea of liberty depends. In this peculiar sense, I agree with old Stephen Decatur, and with the reviser of his famous statement, Carl Schurz, in saying: “My country, right or wrong.” I say this because my country, the United States, was founded on the right and true idea that its people will usually, jointly and severally, be in the wrong.




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The Ron Paul Un-Revolution

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A mere ten years back, if I told Americans and Canadians that I held libertarian views, many responded — recognizing that I was not a native English speaker — that “libertarian” was not a word. They thought I wanted to say “liberal.”

Today, “Don’t tread on me” flags, Ron Paul posters, and other advertisements for libertarian ideas grace houses and yards, even in remote places of the USA. Libertarianism is no longer an obscure concept. And a huge credit for making libertarianism mainstream goes to Ron Paul.

I am a big fan of Ron. He is, in my view, one of the finest human beings alive, despite the fact that I could never understand how, as a congressman, he could interact on a daily basis with sociopathic politicians and their sepoys. How could he not feel repulsion and frustration, operating in such an environment?

Politics by its very nature establishes a mindset of expediency and political activism, which are always in direct conflict with deeper understanding of principles.

Ron fought for a paradigm shift in the way the US government works. He voted against new laws. He wanted the US military for defense only, wanted removal of American forces from hundreds of bases around the world, and saw no reason why the US should be involved in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, etc. Quite rightly he saw no reason for the US to be still in Japan, Korea, and Europe, even if the bases there were maintained by invitation. He asked why the US should be supporting the dictatorial regime in Saudi Arabia. He wanted a significant reduction in welfare payments. He wanted to audit and end the Federal Reserve. He wanted an end to the War on Drugs. He wanted the US to be out of the UN and NATO. He fought vehemently against NSA surveillance, and for the right to bear arms. He wanted government to be out of the medical business.

In short, he wanted the government to govern — to provide law and order, and defense — and to get out of virtually everything else. He wanted the US to follow its Constitution.

What Ron said was well-reasoned and extremely well-conveyed in his speeches, with passion and a breath of fresh air for those who had grown tired of the political process. Most libertarian organizations promoted him, and Ron got a massive reception at many university campuses around the US. He set records of sorts for money raised in his canvassing for the US Presidential elections of 2012. Earlier seen, by some, as convocations of old white men, libertarian meetings started getting more people of other races, more young people, and an increased number of women. I cannot remember how many times I have been told by people that they saw the reason and value of liberty after listening to Ron.

Many libertarians saw this as the start of a snowballing of the libertarian movement. After a few beers, the dreamy ones, those with a passion for spreading their message, could imagine an exponential increase in libertarian views. In their opinion, it was only a matter of time before the whole world would accept liberty. “Truth and reason win in the end,” they would say.

Alas, this was not the sign that the movement was gaining speed, but a sign of its sickness. Ron, having chosen a wrong means to spread his message — politics — had implanted a virus among his audience. Ron’s charisma glorified the political process. Unfortunately, politics by its very nature establishes a mindset of expediency and political activism, which are always in direct conflict with deeper understanding of principles.

The golden ring of politics corrupts everyone, slowly and subtly, without their recognizing it, corrupting their souls, ossifying their principles into facades that fall apart at the slightest pressure.

The virus of politicized libertarianism eventually mutated. In libertarian circles, it became very important to increase the number of one’s adherents. Many libertarian organizations got very well-funded. Students were flying around the world, attending conferences, one after another. Free-market organizations were being set up everywhere, all well-financed.

Many of the politicized libertarians ran to the lap of the government, determined to join the fight against the real or imagined enemy. In one strike they had forgotten that war is the health of the state.

Given the financial encouragement, all sorts of people, even if they were not principally libertarian, joined. My guess is that some who in the course of time would have become principled libertarians accepted and repeated libertarian mantras, as beliefs taken on faith, without fully understanding the reasoning behind them. This had to lead to ossification of the mental process.

There was an emphasis on getting more women into the movement. Some, who were market savvy, realized that it was going to be far easier to get attention in a women-deficit environment. It was ignored that the sexual objectification of women was demeaning to them and a huge step back for the libertarian philosophy. There was also an emphasis on ideological inclusiveness. Boundaries should be made a bit fuzzy, to allow a bit of compromise, to make libertarianism more inviting, less radical. One well-known anarchist, in an attempt to be inclusive, started calling the core values of libertarianism “brutalism.” Soon there were left-libertarians, thick-libertarians, thin-libertarians, bleeding-heart-libertarians, etc.

Last year, I went to a speech by a bleeding-heart-libertarian in Delhi and could not hold myself back from asking in what way the things he advocated were any different from radical socialism.

When two small terrorist incidents happened in Ottawa, many of the politicized libertarians ran to the lap of the government, determined to join the fight against the real or imagined enemy. In one strike they had forgotten that war is the health of the state. They suddenly had no problem imposing restrictions on certain people who lived and dressed differently. Uninterested in collateral damage, they had no problems blowing the Middle East out of existence. They had forgotten that the state is a much worse enemy. Islam and all its flaws would have been better controlled in a stateless environment. They lost their sense of balance — better the enemy they knew than the one they didn’t — for they were not moored in principles.

Libertarians of East European heritage — unconsciously driven by indoctrinated hatred for Russia, not by philosophy — wanted the US to embargo Russia. Coming full circle, this mutant movement even opposed Ron Paul, for he opposes US involvement in foreign lands. Meanwhile, drug-peddlers and prostitutes were seen as embodying libertarianism. Many young people were encouraged to look for issues with the police. Going over the speed limit, driving under influence, or jumping red lights were not only condoned but seen as expressions of liberty.

Libertarianism does not try to prevent people from selling their bodies or consuming drugs, but it is a logical fallacy to assume that this means that libertarianism encourages these activities. Even in an anarchist world, to stay civilized, there would still be rules against driving under the influence or jumping red lights.

Politics is a virus that implants in the brain the top-down approach to social change. A real change can only happen from the bottom up.

The meaning of libertarianism was being removed from its principles. Once you lose your moorings, you lose direction. It is an error to think that libertarianism means no rules or system, something that a superficial understanding of the philosophy might make one think.

Politics is a virus that implants in the brain the top-down approach to social change. A real change can only happen from the bottom up. The thinking of the politically minded is not based on principles but on political organization. It is doomed to fail. Did Ron not see this?

Principles are principles and hence unchangeable. Any philosophy must be radically based on principles, if it is not to lose its moorings. Do I foresee a world where there will be no dishonesty or violence? No. But that does not mean I should become more inclusive, to bring in more people by starting to practise partial honesty or partial violence. Just because the state might never cease to exist does not mean that I accept its legitimacy to make my values more inclusive.

Radicalism gives meaning and passion to carry on when the seas are frothy and uncertain. There is something, indeed a lot, behind the Christian concept of the remnant. The remnant stay on their course even in a turbulent world.

Without radicalism, without a solid grasp of principles, the superstructure has nothing to hold itself in place and must fall apart eventually.

But hasn’t the libertarian movement grown by leaps and bounds? Alas, this is a myth of those who hold irrational, romantic opinions, living secluded lives among others with similar ideas. In reality it is statism that is in the ascendant, not only in the West but even more in the non-Western countries.

Despite the fact that Ron made a huge contribution in making “libertarianism” known to the mainstream, by being in politics — which might at surface look like a small issue — he made a major compromise with his principles. He politicized libertarianism. This seemingly simple compromise will end as his legacy and possibly as a permanent confusion of the concept of libertarianism, not unlike the way in which the meaning of “liberal” mutated in North America.

You cannot make someone a libertarian. It cannot be a result of groupthink or politics. The change can only happen through self-reflection, meditation, contemplation, reason, and a passion for the truth. A libertarian society can emerge only as the end result of character-building, mostly through working on the self, from the bottom up.




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Escape from Dannemora

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I’m going to say something that many libertarians don’t want to hear: prisons need discipline, and plenty of it.

I’m reflecting on the big news item of the past three weeks, the escape of two convicts from the maximum-security prison in Dannemora, New York, an institution that used to be feared as “Siberia.” They escaped because they were allowed to live in an “honor” block, work with and have sex with civilians, cook their own meals, wear civilian clothes, and enjoy a level of control and discipline that permitted them to acquire power tools and use them to cut holes in their cells and escape. Power tools. Used by men sent to prison for vicious murders, including, in one instance, the dismemberment of the murder victim. Tools freely used, and undetected.

What’s that noise? Is that a guy cutting his way out of prison, or is that just a guy cutting up some other prisoner? Whatever. Have a nice night.

It is one thing to debate about whom to send to prison. It is another thing to screw around with the lives of the people we decide to send there. Because, make no mistake about it, the first victims of convicts who are not controlled are other convicts. If you want the rapes, murders, tortures, and gang aggressions that happen routinely in American prisons to continue to happen, all you need to do is let the bad guys act in whatever way they want. If that’s your “libertarian” philosophy, it will have a big impact, because just one of those bad guys in a prison unit can be enough to ensure the victimization of everybody else.

When there’s a good reason to send somebody to prison — and sometimes there is — you don’t have to give him a life sentence, but you do have to keep him safely inside.

The late Nathan Kantrowitz made this point very powerfully in his exacting study of prison life, Close Control. I followed Nathan’s lead in my own book, The Big House: Image and Reality of the American Prison. I added that, in my judgment, the sorry state of American penology is the result of a vicious convergence of modern liberal and modern conservative ideas. The conservatives want to lock people up, and do it on the cheap. And it’s true, you can get a lot of non-discipline and non-control, very cheaply indeed. The liberals believe that convicts are somehow rehabilitated by being allowed to wear their own clothes, cook their own meals, and wander about the joint, victimizing anyone who’s weaker than they are. (Unnoticed by the conservatives, the liberals also ordained that those who run the prison system would get paid enough to give them 15 degrees at Harvard. They’re unionized, after all, and they’re the biggest sinkhole in many state budgets.)

Libertarians ought to be smarter. When there’s a good reason to send somebody to prison — and sometimes there is — you don’t have to give him a life sentence, but you do have to keep him safely inside, and safe from victimizing or being victimized by other prisoners.

In the short run, whoever is running the New York prison system needs to be fired, immediately. (I’m afraid that the fix is already in, and this will never happen.) In the middle run, real investigations of penology — not ideological declarations about penology, from any vantage point — need to be conducted, so that people can learn what the few good scholars, such as Nathan Kantrowitz, have already established. In the long run, Americans should stop making savage jokes about rape in prison and start considering the steps that are necessary to keep rape and murder, and by the same token, escape, from happening in their supposedly secure institutions.




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The New Solar Isn’t Shining Bright

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While the fracking revolution chugs along nicely, the so-called renewable energy continues to disappoint everyone but the environmentalist ideologues who spawned it. A recent article brings the whole, sorry green energy mess to mind.

I refer to the “new, improved” high-tech design for solar power, the “solar-thermal” technology. Unlike the traditional solar power facility, which involves enormous numbers of solar panels converting sunlight directly into electricity, a solar-thermal facility uses a huge array of mirrors to focus sunlight on the top of a tower, which holds a boiler. The focused sunlight makes the water in the boiler turn to steam, which then turns a turbine to create power. That is, it uses the usual boiler-turbine arrangement, but the heat is supplied by sunlight, rather than coal, natural gas, or nuclear fission.

This “exciting” new technology — as new as maybe Archimedes — attracted the interest of Google, which invested with NRG Energy to have BrightSource Energy build a large solar-thermal plant in the California part of the Mojave Desert. This plant (the Ivanpah plant) cost $2.2 billion to construct and was projected to produce more than a million megawatt-hours of power annually.

You couldn’t dream this up — a non-fossil fuel technology that requires four hours of fossil-fuel burning, every day, just to get started.

Well, it was completed well over a year ago, and it produces only 40% of the promised power. Yes, 170,000 mirrors targeting solar rays at a boiler are nowhere near as efficient as they were planned to be. Welcome to the world of unintended consequences!

There have been several unforeseen problems with the new wonder technology. First, there are equipment maintenance issues, from leaking tubes to excessive turbine vibrations, which nobody suspected ahead of time.

Second, the turbines require far more steam to run efficiently than was initially calculated. The original idea was that getting the plant ramped up in the morning — remember, the sun doesn’t shine at night! — would require running a natural-gas heater for about an hour. But turns out that they have to run the heater for four hours! Yes, you couldn’t dream this up — a non-fossil fuel technology that requires four hours of fossil-fuel burning, every day, just to get started. A wonder technology, indeed.

Third — and it is astounding that the Google Wunda-Boys never google-searched this — there is less sunlight onsite than was originally guesstimated. Amazingly, there are many cloudy days, even in the desert!

The article goes on to report that the Ivanpah facility is not the only one to prove a disappointment. A similar plant built in Arizona by the Spanish firm Abengoa is delivering only half the original estimated amount of power.

No doubt these projects had some kind of direct or indirect federal subsidies — “brilliant” projects guaranteed by your tax money. Solar sucks up huge tax resources, even though it produces less than 1% of American electric power. What a colossal and pathetic joke on all of us.

The article ends by noting something I pointed out in these pages a year and a half ago: this new google-icious power technology kills birds by literally scorching them. The air around the tower is heated to about 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, so when a hapless bird flies by, the bird is burned to death. The plant kills about 3,500 birds a year in this way.

There have been fracking plants shut down by the federal government under the suspicion of killing one lousy bird. But then, you see, fracking — economically and geopolitically a godsend to this country — isn’t considered a “Green” technology.




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The Lady and the Tigers

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Tippi Hedren is the actress whose intelligence illuminated Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. Now, 52 years later, Hedren is still an illuminating person — as shown by her powerful performance at a hearing managed by the board of asses who are in charge of California’s “bullet train.”

The train — which does not exist and may never exist — is the biggest (putative) construction project in American history, and perhaps the biggest boondoggle, a reduction ad absurdum of “planning for the environment,” “planning for energy conservation,” and all the rest of it. Its cost estimates are 600% higher than the voters thought they were mandating, and this is one reason the majority of voters now wish they hadn’t listened to propaganda for the project. They agreed to build a railroad that would deliver passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in a time substantially less than three hours. It’s now clear that there’s no possibility this can happen, or anything close to it, no matter where the rail line is put. But no one knows where it will be put. The managers of the project, the California High Speed Rail Authority, insensately determined to carry on despite the many kinds of fools they are making of themselves, are still deciding which communities they’re going to unleash their bulldozers on.

Another assumption is that it’s efficient to destroy a series of towns in the pursuit of what is in fact slow-speed rail.

They have to hold public hearings about this. Unfortunately, they don’t have to listen to what they hear at them, and they don’t. The latest hearing involved outraged residents of several Southern California towns that may be devastated by the train. One of them is Acton, where Hedren operates an animal-rescue preserve that caters to big cats. So Hedren showed up at the hearing.

Dan Richard, chairman of the Authority, used the occasion to pontificate: “What we’re building here, by the way, in high-speed rail, is the most efficient way to deal with our transportation needs of the future." “By the way?” The rhetoric is almost as condescending as the statement itself, which assumes that its audience is stupid enough to believe it’s efficient to spend at least $100 billion to propel a few hundred people a day to a destination they could have reached more quickly and cheaply by air. Another assumption is that it’s efficient to destroy a series of towns in the pursuit of what is in fact slow-speed rail.

Hedren, 85, identified the problem with people who make statements like that: "You don't listen, you don't care. . . . You are going to take this beautiful little town of Acton . . . and you are going to destroy it with this train." Then she mentioned the lions and tigers she cares for (but has no illusions about). "I am more afraid of you," she told the planners.




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Vanishing Volk

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As readers of this journal may recall, I have argued that immigration has historically been a great net benefit to this country, and continues to be. Two recent articles give me occasion to reflect upon this topic anew.

The first is a piece from the Telegraph of London. It reports that Germany’s birth rate has now dropped to the lowest level in the world, and its workforce will shrink even faster than Japan’s in a few years. Germany’s rate averaged 8.2 births per 1,000 population (or about 1.38 births per woman on average) over the years 2008 to 2013, even lower than that of demographically depressing Japan (with its 8.4 births per 1,000, or an average of 1.41 children per woman) over the same period.

At this rate, Germany’s population will drop from its present 81 million down to 67 million in 45 years. This decline is in spite of the large influx of migrant (i.e., temporary) workers. The prospect of such a heavy drop in population — nearly 20% — has led some small towns in Brandenburg, Pomerania and Saxony to begin formulating plans for eventual closure.

Germany and Japan are likely to drop almost 20% in per capita GDP by 2060, compared to about 10% in Britain and the US.

The report notes that Britain and France are both doing better demographically. Both countries averaged 12.5 births per 1,000 population (or an average 2.01 children per woman), again over the same period. (The US has dropped to an average of 1.88 children per woman, which is below replacement rate. We continue to grow in population only because of our relatively welcoming immigration policy.)

In the crucial working age group (20–65), the percentage of Germany’s population will drop from the current 61% down to 54% by 2030. At that point, there will be only 1.1 workers per retiree, which will likely make the pension system insolvent.

The economic and geopolitical impact of such shrinkages will be profound, to say the least.

Economically, from the young come the gales of creative destruction that cause economic progress. As the author of the piece out it, “While aging societies can enjoy a rise in per capita income for a while, they tend to do so by living off past productivity and intellectual capital. This reserve is exhausted over time. It becomes progressively harder for older countries to remain at the technology frontier.” From the young come also the gales of new purchases — of homes, for growing families, of cars, of diapers, of the newest electronic devices…

This shows up in GDP per capita. Germany (and Japan) are likely to drop almost 20% by 2060, compared to about 10% in Britain and the US. In fact, the IMF calculates that both Britain and France will overtake Germany in total GDP by 2040.

Geopolitically, this means that Germany and Japan will lose their regional dominance.

The cause of all this is compound, that is, has more than one contributory factor. The first factor is one common to all developed nations, including ours: a baby boom followed by a baby bust. After WWII, Canada, Japan, the US, and Western Europe all saw rapid explosions in population, as soldiers returned and started families. But the “baby boomers” had lower rates of childbirth, and their children have lower rates of childbirth. Birth-dearth squared, so to say.

As I mentioned earlier, all developed nations are facing this demographic challenge. But there is a second factor at play, one that I will call “Volkische communitarianism,” folkish communitarianism. This term refers to statist politico-economics wedded to ethnic or racial tribalism. This, I would suggest, is the real problem Germany and Japan face, one that does not afflict — at least to the same degree — Britain, France, Canada, or the US. The fact that Germany and Japan identify national identity in terms of ethnicity, shared blood, rather than shared culture and norms means that while Britain, France, Canada and the US have been able to assimilate immigrants more or less successfully (the Muslims in France and Britain rather more slowly than our immigrants), the Germans and Japanese find that very hard. Their immigrants (and Germany has a fair number of them — 800,000 migrants came in last year) have historically tended to remain apart from the rest of the community.

But another report suggests that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is trying to change the national mentality. In a recent talk at a conference on Germany’s current quality of life, she urged her fellow Germans to welcome the diversity of the new migrants, saying Germany is a “country of immigration.” She added, “There is something enriching if someone wants to come to us.” She added that these recent migrants need to feel at home.

At that point, there will be only 1.1 workers per retiree, which will likely make the pension system insolvent.

She is wrestling with some real problems. Past waves of migrant workers — such as the Turkish workers who came years ago — have faced difficulty in getting citizenship. Whether she will succeed in persuading her fellow citizens remains to be seen, of course. The anti-immigrant party Alternative für Deutschland party has been growing lately, as the number of immigrants has grown.

But one has to admire her attempt to deal with the issues, especially given Germany’s not too distant past of tribalist politics.




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