Showing posts with label America. Show all posts
Showing posts with label America. Show all posts

5/08/2016

Prop 1 Failed and Everybody Lost

In an unfortunate confirmation that nothing is sacred, last night's election results brought devastating news to thousands of would-be Mother's Day celebrators in Austin, Texas: the failure of Proposition 1.  How could this be?  Elections are generally neither noteworthy nor meaningful in the sense that they impact our day-to-day lives, and they certainly shouldn't ruin an event as hallowed as Mother's Day.  Get together with family, share a meal, and leave your politics at the door.  Regardless of what day it is, consider that it is almost statistically impossible to be the deciding vote that tips the scales one way or the other, and you are left with the conclusion that it is generally best to stay out of the sticky mess of politics altogether... but this time it's different.

The sole item up for vote was Proposition 1, a confusingly-worded ballot initiative that sought to overturn a recent City Council ordinance regulating ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft in several ways, most notably requiring fingerprint background checks on all drivers.  Both companies have warned that they will be forced to leave the city of Austin if these regulations are enforced, and as of today they have proven good on their word.  Uber and Lyft have shut down their service to the detriment of the 10,000-15,000 full and part-time drivers and the hundreds of thousands of their satisfied customers.

In the grand scheme of things, the City Council’s regulation on ride-sharing companies is a small crime of the State.  Compare it to 1,000,000 dead Iraqis or dropping atomic bombs on civilian cities and it's easy to dismiss this event as a first world problem.  However, just as some of my favorite pieces by Jeffrey Tucker concern the little ways the State screws us every day, like why our toilets require plungers or why our clothes aren't clean, the sorry tale of Prop 1 is a microcosm for why every day, in a million different ways both seen and unseen, the State makes our lives worse.

So on this celebration of Motherhood, when thousands of Austinites are going to open their iPhones expecting to effortlessly catch a ride to their favorite trendy brunch-spot and realize that 56% out of the 17% of eligible Travis County voters have made one of their most important apps stop working overnight, we should use this opportunity to restate the case that can never be made enough: that the State is the common enemy of mankind.

The Losers of Prop 1

To take the representatives of Lyft and Uber at their word, the decision to pack up and leave Austin is no small decision.  Obviously, they wouldn't have launched in Austin to begin with unless it were profitable to do so, so shutting down implies a reduction of those same profits.  When a new law or tax is passed, sometimes the additional cost can be passed onto the consumer, but many times it can be the breaking point between a company staying open or moving on to greener pastures.  So in this sense, the corporate employees and owners are the direct losers of Prop 1, but these individuals are not likely to draw sympathy from the selfish voter.  Instead, let's consider how the users, the drivers, and the average Austinite who doesn't use a ride-sharing service will suffer due to this action by the State.

To relay a personal story, I recall my weekly trips to the airport being an anxious crapshoot.  Every Sunday I would pre-order my taxi for the following morning, and it seemed half the time there would be some kind of problem.  Maybe the taxi would arrive late, or maybe the order would get lost and no one would show up at all.  This unpleasant game went on for years, and I had resigned myself to accept it, thinking that I would never see a higher level of service in this lifetime.

But then the skies parted, I rubbed my tired eyes and found Uber and Lyft.  Imagine my delight at opening the app and immediately seeing how many mere minutes away the nearest driver was from my location.  I could track, in real time, the driver approaching my home.  When my driver arrived I was often welcomed with complimentary water, and this stellar level of service was achieved for nearly half the cost of my previous taxi trips.  In other words, Uber and Lyft achieved both a higher quality of service and a lower cost, the holy grail of market competition.  And now, due to the actions of the State, hundreds of thousands of ride-sharing users like me are forced back into barbarism.

Now let's consider the drivers.  Whenever I used a ride-sharing service I always asked my drivers how long they had been pursuing their occupation and how the liked it.  I met single mothers who drove 1 day a week for supplemental income.  I met an Uber driver who started out part-time, but switched to full-time after repeatedly calling in sick to a dead-end job to drive instead.  I met the newly retired, driving for Lyft because they found their social-security benefits lacking or just because they enjoyed meeting new people and finding exciting things about the city.  All of them loved their job and the freedom to make their own hours and be their own bosses.  What awaits these former ride-sharing drivers now, Wal-Mart greeters?  The taxi-medallion mafia?  Destitution?  What kind of government "protection" is this?

Both users and drivers of apps like Uber and Lyft are examples of what is seen.  Now, let us consider the consequences that are not seen.  The first example is the user of Uber whose primary draw isn't its higher quality service but its lower cost.  Perhaps this individual will only pay for a ride if it can cost $10, but will not purchase the same ride from a taxi for $20.  Now the entire economic transaction is lost.  On the flip side, consider the aforementioned single mother who can only get a part-time job if it can be on her terms and her hours.  Without this option, all the economic transactions that would have taken place with her extra income as a ride-sharing driver will no longer happen.  And it is these innumerable mutually beneficial transactions that will now never take place that make our society inexorably poorer as a result.

Finally, to end with a sobering note, remember the people that may die as a result of this decision.  Given our Sovietized road system and the high cost and unreliable service from the government-monopolized taxi industry, it is plain that the removal of the ride-sharing option will result in more drunk drivers on the roads.  Whether it is a factor of cost or convenience, inebriated individuals who would otherwise have ordered an Uber or Lyft driver with the swipe of the finger will instead get behind the wheel.  This is an ironic but expected result of a government mandate purported to increase safety.  Like the anti-Midas touch, everything the government attempts to do fails miserably and generally produces the exact opposite of what they were hoping to achieve.

Ride-Sharing Apps: Benefactors of Mankind

Now that ride-sharing regulations have driven this service out of the market, let's review the actual function that companies like Uber and Lyft brought to Austin.  To do this, we first imagine a truly free market society where caveat emptor ruled the day.  In this world, anyone would be at liberty to start driving their car as a service with nothing more than slapping on a hand-drawn sign that says "Bob's Ride-Sharing".  Even ignoring the real-world regulatory perils of the taxi-monopoly, Bob would face major obstacles from earning any kind of meaningful income from his enterprise.

First, Bob would have to get his message out to his potential customers.  Without the capital of a company that can invest in market analytics and an advertising budget, Bob will have a hard time finding all the people that need a ride at a particular time and place, and letting them know that "Bob's Ride-Sharing Co." can meet their needs.

Second, even if Bob could solve this Herculean task before him, he will have a hard time convincing his potential customers to accept his business.  The average person does not know Bob, they don't know the quality of service he will provide, the cost he will charge, or the recourse they will have if they are unsatisfied with the experience.  Perhaps a determined person could spend all their time overcoming these obstacles through word of mouth, but if we consider the "part-time Bob" who is just looking to make money on the side a few hours a week, there is no feasible way for the transfer of knowledge to be facilitated between the "Bobs" of the world and their potential customers.  Those mutually beneficial transactions have no chance of taking place.

But then, mirable dictu, in comes Uber and Lyft, companies that leverage the latest technology to swiftly and simply solve all the problems for Bob and his potential customers.  First, they create the platform for people like Bob to get knowledge of his service out to everyone that seeks it.  Second, they agree on a price point that is satisfactory to both Bob and his customers.  And third, they are in the business of ensuring a safe and reliable product, bringing confidence and value to their brand.  This is the indispensable element of ride-sharing apps that gets to the heart of Prop 1.  It is the brand which allows ride-sharing customers to put faith in their drivers, men and women whom they have never met.

Ride-sharing companies have a financially-driven vested interest in making sure "Bob", "Tom", "Sally" and the thousands of other drivers are worthy of representing the Uber or Lyft brand.  While taxi companies don't need to focus on quality of service when they’re the only game in town through government-enforced monopoly, a private company sinks or swims depending on the whims of the consumer.  Given these natural incentives of the market, it should be no surprise that you actually see Uber having more stringent background checks then those enforced by the State for taxi cartels.

To drive the point home I'll end with a personal example.  One of my Uber drivers relayed a story of how he was working a Saturday night and accepted two rides for a "pool" trip, where different people accept the same driver at a reduced cost. His first passenger was a female and the second was male.  The driver became alert to the male passenger's intoxication after he made an inappropriate comment, and then immediately stopped the car when the female yelled, "DON'T TOUCH ME".  This entire scene was caught on video, and the driver demanded that the male passenger get out immediately or he would be arrested. When this was reported to Uber, the company responded by banning the male passenger for life, refunding the female passenger's money, and offering to pay the full cost of litigation to prosecute the male passenger.

Uber's response was commendable, but ultimately makes common sense in a voluntary, market-based context.  If Uber allowed this kind of behavior then passengers would stop using their service and go to a competitor like Lyft.  Compare this response to what you'd expect from the government-monopoly alternative, and not only would nothing of the sort have been done to compensate the female passenger for her trouble, but at best, she would be taxed for the prosecution!

Not Yours to Regulate


Many of the anti-Prop 1 commentators have focused on reasoning like "they should follow the same rules as taxi companies" or "the government can regulate commerce, so just like we license doctors, we can create safety rules for any company".  However, these assertions confuse the concept of something being promoted because it is right in itself, versus promoted because it is merely a precedent of how things have been done in the past - which speaks to neither the thing's rightness nor wrongness.

To absolutely prevent the charge of hypocrisy or false comparisons, let's be clear - the way to reach "fairness" is not to bring new regulation against companies that currently avoid it via loophole, but to de-regulate all industries.  In the examples above, a true sense of "fairness" makes it plain that any customer of "Bob" has the absolute right to accept or reject his service, just like any passenger can request or reject a private ride versus a pool-ride from Uber.  If an individual dares to assume the inherent risks of an uncertain world by merely getting out of bed in the morning, they should be free to engage in any transaction with anyone else that does not violate the right of another.  So when the question is posed to Austin City Council of whether or not to regulate ride-sharing services, it should not be answered by an analysis of whether the benefits for or against regulation outweigh one another, but to modify a famous speech by Congressman Davy Crockett, the sacred domain of voluntary transactions should simply be not yours to regulate.

Why do we need to continually restate this maxim that everyone follows in their personal lives and follows directly from the golden rule?  When put simply, it is absurd to argue the opposite.  I can't run into a grocery store and forcibly stop someone from buying produce that I think is too expensive or less healthy than some alternative.  I can't force my "protection" on them no matter how right I think I am, nor should I even if 98 out of 100 other people agree with me.  And yet, with the failure of Prop 1 we're not looking at the Tyranny of 98 over 2, but the Tyranny of 56% out of 17% of eligible voters.  With 49,158 voting for Prop 1 in a county with over 1.1 million people, that is the Tyranny of 4 over 96!  Remember this sham when Austin Mayor Steve Adler says "The people have spoken tonight loud and clear."  Rid yourself of the glib expressions and you're left with the shocking fact that our "representative democracy" has just ratified that 4% of the people can enforce their beliefs with the all-powerful violence of the State regarding with whom one can or cannot get a ride from down to the grocery store!

Conclusion

If the myths of "we are the government" or "the government serves the people" had any merit whatsoever, the draconian regulations regarding ride-sharing companies should put an end to such nonsense.  If I have no business inserting myself between two consenting adults regarding a voluntary transaction as innocent as getting a ride in a car, then putting on a costume and calling myself the government does not change that.  Put simply, if I do not have the power to do something, and the government serves me, then how could the government do that very thing in my name?  How can the servant have more power than the master?  How do multiple people acquire the moral authority to do something that a single person cannot?

The only logical answer is to accept the myth of government answering to the people as an outrageous lie.  The government does not serve the people in the way that a servant obeys the commands of his master, but as a chef serves chicken for dinner.  We are the dinner.  We are fed on by those that presume to rule over us like chattel.  The only good thing that has come from Proposition 1 is the hope that some politically apathetic souls will panic when they realize their Uber and Lyft apps no longer work, and they will begin to question just what happened to their "free country".

10/09/2015

In Defense of Common Sense Gun Control


In the wake of the latest mass shooting tragedy in a gun-free zone by yet another anti-depressant popping psychopath, we see two responses that have become just as linked as night following day.  First comes grand-standing by the politicians and media to push the idea of "common sense" gun laws, a.k.a. total confiscation through the Australian model, despite the inconvenient fact that gun violence has been cut in half in the last 20 years.  This action, designed to lower the number of guns in America, instead provides a delightful Newtonian equal and opposite reaction that makes September, 2015 the 5th month in a row to set all-time record-high gun sales.

Whether these new guns are purchased for stock-piling, profit-making, or preparing for the 5th "easy" step to create a Gun Free America, there is one form of gun control that even the most radical supporter of the 2nd amendment can and should get behind, and that is self-control.

This is not a push for state-mandated licensing, education, or any other type of governmental restriction on the natural right to protect oneself.  Instead, this is an example of the radical libertarian tactic of persuasion, a plea for a voluntary application of common sense.  If you're going to take on the awesome responsibility of gun ownership, it is in your own best interest that you train both mind and body to prevent a senseless tragedy, whether through a negligent discharge or by having the mental acumen and tactical skills required to respond to an active shooter.

Having not grown up with guns, taking a basic firearms safety class was the first step I took before assuming the responsibility of firearms ownership.  Since then, I have taken multiple safety and training classes for both the handgun and the rifle.  For those that have not expended the time or money in such training, this post will review the key mental and tactical concepts that I have learned, not at all meant to serve as a substitute for such training, but to pique your interest and convincingly prove it to be a worthwhile investment, one that could even save your life.

The Mindset

All the background checks, mandatory classes, and child safety locks in the world will not prevent an accidental injury or death from a firearm from a reckless and indifferent gun owner.  On the flip side, every conceivable disaster that resulted from a negligent discharge of a firearm could have been prevented if the participants had adopted a religious adherence to the principles of gun safety.

While different organizations have their own flavor of gun safety rules, by far the most adopted, simple, and comprehensive are Jeff Cooper's four rules:
  1. All guns are always loaded. Even if they are not, treat them as if they are.
  2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy. (For those who insist that this particular gun is unloaded, see Rule 1.)
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger till your sights are on the target. This is the Golden Rule. Its violation is directly responsible for about 60 percent of inadvertent discharges.
  4. Identify your target, and what is behind it. Never shoot at anything that you have not positively identified.
These rules should not merely be read over once, reflected on for a moment, and then discarded in the excitement of gun ownership.  Every member of the family in a gun-owning household should know these rules backwards and forwards.  While rule #1 may be the hardest to adopt for the uninitiated, it is by far the most important.  Just like mindful repetition is practiced so that the desired behavior becomes automatic, rule #1 should be so ingrained that one would cringe upon seeing a child's brightly-painted toy gun pointed in an unsafe direction.  A dedication to rule #1 should provoke a sense of unease when looking at a mere picture of the muzzle of the gun as evidence that the cameraman practiced unsafe behavior.  With this level of determination to consistently follow the four gun safety rules, even to the point of these extreme measures for safety, you greatly reduce the likelihood of you or your family befalling an avoidable firearms accident.

You - or your family - those additional three words add another level of sobriety to the equation that need to be considered.  While most states have passed legislation to make it illegal to have firearms unlocked or otherwise accessible to children, we need to remember the determination each child has when searching for birthday or Christmas presents when the parents are out of the home.  Merely hiding and locking the guns aren't enough, all members of the family, including children, should be inducted into the seriousness and responsibility of firearms ownership.

Consider two homes that contain firearms and children.  In the first house, the child is taught the rules of firearms safety and made to memorize them before they are allowed to use a gun under adult supervision.  In turn, they are taught how to shoot as early as the parents think their maturity allows, perhaps starting with a BB or pellet gun first, but moving to the 22 LR caliber as quickly as possible.  After all, a BB or pellet gun may not even break the skin, and you risk setting an example counter to the rules of gun safety to teach a child that some guns can be shot without serious consequences.  The children will feel the pride and maturity that comes with the trust and responsibility expected by the parents, and while the guns are locked up, the parents are more than happy to take the children out shooting to reinforce their skills as often as possible.  These children don't have an interest in toy guns, they have the real thing.

In our second house, all state and local laws are followed to a T, and that's about it.  The guns are stored behind child safety locks, and all the children know about guns are what they see in movies and video games - point it and go bang!  This ostrich with his head in the sand approach may work fine, that is, until the day the child is rummaging through the closet, looking for Christmas presents.  Maybe that day passes without incident, but what about when a friend is over, and the child wants to show off what he found?  In which house is a tragedy more likely to occur?  The question should answer itself.  To reemphasize the point, if you're going to own firearms, it's not just you that needs to be educated and responsible - everyone in the house needs to take on the same mentality.  Firearms ownership is truly a family affair.

The Art of the Handgun

Between firearms introduction & safety classes, basic & advanced handgun classes, and the legally required concealed carry course, I'd probably gone through six separate 1-2 day training sessions before going to the Front Sight Firearms Training Institute's 4-day defensive handgun course.  While the four stages of competence is generically used to describe the progress that a student makes through any discipline, the trainers at Front Sight described a fifth stage applicable to firearms, which is that of the student who is "Intentionally Incompetent".  This type of firearms owner knows he is incompetent, but chooses not to do anything about it either through laziness or fear.  From there we move on to the traditional categories of the Unconsciously Incompetent, the Consciously Incompetent, The Consciously Competent, and the Unconsciously Competent student.

Going into Front Sight, I knew I didn't fall into the Intentionally Incompetent, as by definition, I was trying to do something about my skill level.  I thought I'd humbly rank in the "Consciously Incompetent" category, so I was very surprised to hear the Front Sight instructors claim that 95% of all gun owners, including those in the police and military, should be regarded as Unconsciously Incompetent.  How could that be?  After all, I competed monthly in IDPA matches and had earned the rank of "marksman" - how could I simultaneously be unconsciously incompetent with my firearm?  Needless to say, I was very skeptical of the claim, but amazingly, by the end of the training I became a believer.

The former training had been given by state-licensed professionals that included former police and military, and while I had been taught how to load the weapon, how to hold it, how to align the sights, and how to fire - I came to find that just about every technique I had learned was either incomplete or inadequate for a truly tactical situation.  It's one thing to shoot paper targets with all the time in the world, but not only will a "bad guy" not bless you with that luxury, but your own skills seriously degrade when your heart beat is accelerating, your palms are sweaty, and your mind is racing with adrenaline and fear.

HARD focus on the front sight… Pressssssss

So while I learned many new techniques, such as changing my stance to use isometric pressure to "push" my firearm with my trigger hand while "pulling" the firearm with my secondary hand, how to apply a consistent squeeze for a surprise break and slowly releasing the trigger until it resets, a 7 step draw from concealment, and to always aim for a fist sized pattern from any distance (if your pattern is larger, slow down, but if you're too accurate, speed up!); the most valuable lesson I gained from Front Sight is the realization of how much I didn't know.

While it was rewarding to learn how to consistently put two shots to the thoracic cavity from concealment in 2 seconds, the most impactful lesson is to find out what it's like to be in a life or death scenario, both from the perspective of staying alive, and the consequences of having to take a life in defense of your own.  Through discussions you play through several scenarios: if you hear a window crashing in your house at 2:00 A.M., what do you do?  Perhaps some would say to lock n' load and search the house, but after going through a live-fire drill in a Front Sight house, you come to a different perspective after you see how your hands shake, your heart beats through your chest and your accuracy degrades.  Now the option of barricading yourself in your room and call 9-1-1 seems a little more appealing.  That is, unless you hear the cry of a loved one somewhere in the house and you have no other choice - at that point the police are minutes away and seconds count.  In this case the house scenario provides the jolt of reality of how little prepared you really are to deal with such a scenario, and just how critical it is to regularly partake in serious tactical training.

The Rifleman: an American tradition

While I have not yet had the opportunity to attend Front Sight's practical or precision rifle course, and therefore recognizing that I am likely an "Unconscious Incompetent" in the rifle in the same way that I was for the handgun, nevertheless I highly recommend the training I received from the Appleseed Project.  Volunteer run, only charging $30 a day or less for ladies and minors, the Appleseed Project seeks to pass on the heritage of the American rifleman by teaching 1-3 day classes on the fundamentals of precision rifle shooting while mixing in stories of the revolutionary war and Paul Revere's ride.  By teaching the techniques necessary to match the Revolutionary War rifleman's precision of head shots at 250 yards, the Appleseed Project scales back the size of the targets in order to shoot at 25 yards, making it an accessible class that can be offered everywhere in the country.

Going into that class my groups were the size of a basketball, and by the time I left I was overjoyed to hit the 1 inch square / 250 yard "head shot" in a timed shooting drill.  In order to achieve this feat in just 3 days of training, we focused on proper shoulder and cheek placement, trigger control, the rifleman's cadence, and the natural point of aim, all the while learning how to properly use the sling to stabilize the prone, sitting, and standing positions.

The Sling: Who knew it wasn't just for carrying your rifle?

However, it wasn't until taking a Barrett long range rifle class that I saw how these techniques that can accomplish a great deal at 25 yards require some refining at long distances.  While short distances can be forgiving of the occasional slip-up, those little things add up in a big way when going out to distances of 600, 800, and 1,000 yards.  If every component of every shot isn't perfect, then it's immediately obvious at those distances.

For instance, rifles with a pistol grip stock are generally held with the trigger finger wrapping the thumb around the stock.  The Barrett instructors suggested that we defy common sense and instead keep our thumb aligned with the rest of our hand, such that the rest of our hand is pushing the stock into our shoulder, and avoiding the slightest pressure from the thumb to squeeze the opposite side of the stock as the trigger finger executes it's slow squeeze.  Sure enough, we saw one shooter was able to adjust his grouping by a few inches from right to left merely by making this adjustment.

In another case, we saw how the prone position traditionally taught needed some adjustment as well.  Instead of adopting an off-center relationship between the body and the rifle, they recommended that we ensure our body is center of mass is perfectly perpendicular to the plane of the rifle.  In other words, as you watch the reticle of your scope rhythmically move to your breathing when timing your rifleman's cadence, you must ensure that the path of the reticle is exactly up and down.  If there is any left-to-right movement, then your body needs to be adjusted to correct this, as otherwise it is going to show up down range.

Speaking of the scope reticle, a proper understanding of the scope was the biggest lesson learned from long range rifle training.  While we were taught the calculations for target size, distance, and adjustments for both the MIL and MOA style reticle and adjustments knobs, the lesson begged the question, why on earth do nearly all scopes have MIL style reticles but MOA adjustment knobs!  Ok, it's good to know that 1 MIL is roughly 0.3 MOA, but why force these rough calculations, especially if you actually had to make that determination when it counts.  Instead, wouldn't it make sense to be consistent and get a MIL-MIL or a MOA-MOA scope, where the dots on the reticle perfectly align with the adjustment knobs, removing the need for rough math and rounding errors?

However, even this solution isn't complete for variable power scopes.  Again, most traditional scopes are "Second focal plane", meaning that the reticle stays the same size as the sight picture shrinks and grows according to the power setting.  The problem then, is that the MOA or MIL reticles are only accurate at one particular setting, usually the highest magnification.  If you are at a lower setting to acquire your target, you'd have to again resort to quick math to make a shooting opportunity.  Instead, one could look into "First Focal Plane" scopes, where the reticle grows and shrinks in relation to the target, such that the markings of the reticle are always constant.  With 1 MIL always equaling 1 MIL, the shooter can make distance adjustments or hold-over at any magnification on the fly.  While these scopes are generally more expensive, the price might just be worth it.

The final lesson was the importance of data sheets.  The combination of a unique gun, a precise brand of ammunition, as well as the elevation, pressure, and temperature all come into play for long distance shooting.  On the one hand, trial and error could slowly but surely achieve precise data sheets that can be collected and used in the future.  On the other hand, spending $15 on the "Ballistics AE" smart phone app paid for itself many times over within an hour of shooting match grade ammunition.  After entering the temperature, elevation, pressure, information on my rifle, and selecting my ammunition, it presented a data sheet that made me feel like I was cheating.  All the way out to 900 yards I could rely on the elevation adjustments to be perfectly spot on, allowing me to focus only on wind adjustments.  Never having shot farther than 200 yards prior to this experience, it was incredibly rewarding to learn the techniques required to hit a 12" target at 700 yards and a 24" target at 1,000 yards.  It may not be a skill likely to come into play in a life or death situation, but it's definitely rewarding in it's own right!

Who cares if it's practical?  Long range shooting is just plain cool.

Conclusion

For the principled libertarian, the right to firearms is absolute.  There are no misguided arguments of practicality, history, or statistics that can override my right to life and property, with the logical implication that I can protect them from deadly force, with deadly force.  Anything less denies my self-ownership and makes me a slave to those who would disarm me - but all that aside - these principles, admirable as they are, will not prevent a negligent discharge or win a single gun fight.

Yet, as important as it is to have a quality weapon and be properly trained in its use, we must conclude by going back to the great Jeff Cooper, who argued that the most important tool for surviving a lethal confrontation is not the weapon or the martial skills, but the combat mindset.

Especially with the introduction of smart phones and the walking-zombie effect it brings, nearly the entire nation spends its time in condition "White", completely unaware and unprepared.  By taking on the responsibility of firearms ownership, and especially for those that decide to conceal carry, you must be willing to make the conscious effort to live in condition "Yellow".  To be "Yellow" is to be relaxed but alert, aware of the world around you.  From condition "Yellow" you are capable of identifying a specific threat and moving into condition "Orange", and if need be, to condition "Red".  Hopefully, if you are ever faced with a harrowing situation that requires a fight to save your own life or the life of another, you will be able to rely on a solid investment of mental and tactical training.  It may not be the "law" to take such training, but ultimately, it's just common sense gun control.

6/29/2015

Should Libertarians Celebrate the SCOTUS Ruling on Same-Sex Marriage?

The Supreme Court of the United States has made several headline-generating decisions in the last week.  In a 5-4 ruling, this august body of the country's premiere jurists issued an irrevocable command to 13 states that banned same-sex marriage.  Going forward, all states will be required to license same-sex marriages and recognize those marriages entered into from other states.

The Libertarian Party has used this opportunity to showcase how forward-thinking and ahead of the times they are, publishing the headline "Libertarian Party's 40-yr marriage equality advocacy pays off with US Supreme Court decision".  Nicholas Sarwark, Chair of the Libertarian National Committee, said "we applaud and celebrate this victory" and that he's "glad to see the Supreme Court has upheld the equal rights of all Americans."

Certainly, libertarians can be happy at the outcome of the SCOTUS decision.  Unjust laws that forcibly prevented consenting adults from engaging in voluntary contracts have been reversed.  What's not to like?  Perhaps the optimum libertarian solution would have been to remove the violence of government from the marriage business completely, leaving it to churches and individuals to create their own contracts as they see fit.  Nevertheless, individuals are freer than they were before.  How could this not be a clear-cut win for liberty?

Libertarian Means and Ends

This question brings us to examine the means and ends of this event.  We might be happy with the outcome, but should we be wary of how it came about?  For the constitutionalist, this is likely to be no time for celebration.  Under an intellectually honest view of the constitution, there is no language that gives the federal government the power to infringe on state legislation in this way.  As one dissenting judge wrote,
“If you are among the many Americans — of whatever sexual orientation — who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision…  Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal.  Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner.  Celebrate the availability of new benefits.  But do not celebrate the Constitution.  It had nothing to do with it.”
But of course, being a libertarian does not make one a constitutionalist.  We have a much brighter lantern to guide our way than our weak and powerless constitution.  Using the dual lens of self-ownership and the non-aggression principle, it is clear that consenting individuals have the right to enter into whatever sort of contract among themselves that they'd like.  On the flip side, individuals do not have the right to force their contract onto others, which is why getting government out of the marriage businesses would be the ideal solution.

In a free market of marriage that respected the property rights of everyone, perhaps some religions would offer same-sex marriage contracts while others would not.  Maybe new institutions would offer this service completely outside the religious temple.  From there, various voluntary solutions and market-based incentives would meet everyone's preference accordingly.  If some don't like it, there are plenty of non-violent options available that don't infringe on the rights of others.  Certainly this would be the outcome most aligned with each individual's rights being respected.  "Live and let live", it's a beautiful mantra.

In lieu of this optimum scenario, the question is again asked, should libertarians celebrate a ruling from the Supreme Court of the federal government that forces the states to license and recognize same sex marriage?  Without any regard to the merits of the constitution, the answer would be a qualified no.  The SCOTUS ruling brings about a libertarian end, but the means involved is quite counter to our long term goals.  Ultimately, this deference to 9 black-robed individuals governing 318 million people from D.C. is just one more precedent that is sure to be harmful to the long-run prospects of a free society.

Beware the Hand that Feeds You

Despite the LP's celebratory announcement, we should be hesitant to shout hosannas when a Supreme Court ruling dictates law to the states.  Every decision from that unelected and virtually unaccountable group that gives the federal government greater power is a net loss for liberty - even when libertarians are happy at the particular outcome.

Today, the SCOTUS issues a decree that happens to be consistent with libertarian principles, but literally the day before it issued a ruling that the federal government can pass laws requiring citizens of the 50 states to purchase a product from a private company.  How can we celebrate any decision passed down from such a bold and audacious body?  Why give any respectability to their decisions?  We are just shooting ourselves in the foot.  What happens to our credibility if we say that a supreme court decision "paid off" when they will not doubt issue 99 rulings that violate libertarian principles to every 1 decision that goes in our favor?

We can't just celebrate the outcome of this decision in a vacuum; all the factors must be examined before popping the champagne.  In a world where virtually every square inch is claimed to be the domain of one evil government or the other, in most territorial battles between rival gangs of costumed officials we are safe to say "a pox on both their houses".  But when one of those gangs is infinitely more powerful, more ruthless, and more arrogant than the other, we should seriously consider rooting for the underdog.  In other words, if we are stuck in a world of governments, the greater good is federalism.  I would rather have 50 separate rulers that each have a kingdom of 500 thousand to 38 million people than one supreme ruler that dictates the lives of 318 million people.

As much as I'd like to just ignore the evil doings of the criminals who presume to rule over me, I do so at my own peril.  If we want to fight back in the political arena, let's choose our battles wisely.  Individual libertarians can actually do something at the local level, whereas we have virtually zero control over what happens in the district of criminals.  So if we want to fight for marriage equality, or more precisely, the right of individuals to enter into voluntary contracts, then let's fight those laws where they exist.  If we find them at the city level, fight them there.  If they are at the county or state level, then bravely go forward into battle.  But if the struggle seems insurmountable, don't be so foolish as to celebrate when an even greater threat to liberty takes on your foe.  That hand may feed you today, but it will certainly strike you tomorrow.

A Dream for Soundbites

Do things have to always be so damn complicated?  It seems the prudent and principled libertarian is doomed to never accept simple, one word answers.  We can never say just "yes" or "no", it's always followed by a "but".  This isn't the result of a complex philosophy - what could be simpler than the self-evident proposition that individuals should control their own lives as long as they respect the rights of others?  Unfortunately, it's a result of the statist climate we live in, where every question seems to presuppose a government answer.  We're constantly asked the no-win question, "have you stopped beating your wife?"  While we carefully explain our position with logic and attention to detail, our opponents keep things simple by playing on the ignorance and desire for immediate gratification of the American boobousie.

As the nation collectively knee-jerks into total insanity by banning the confederate flag, even at relevant historic sites, we find ourselves in the same nuanced situation.  Libertarianism is the foremost philosophy against the evils of slavery and we obviously condemn the Confederacy for their crimes.  But the Civil War wasn't a fight over slavery, it was about secession.  The North invaded the South to prevent their independence, and we can only speculate into the realms of alternative history as to how things would have turned out if the slaves were freed at a different time and under different circumstances with the noble right of secession left unscathed.  Instead of an easy question such as, "are you against slavery", we ask the more complex question, "did the happy outcome of freeing the slaves outweigh losing the right to secession?"

There was a day when the phrase "I may disagree with what you say, but I will fight for your right to say it" was pure Americana.  Now things aren't so clear.  Rather than wanting to be free to exercise one's rights while respecting the rights of others, now serious talk is made of putting limitations on our rights to prevent hurt feelings of self-worth or entitlement.  In the era of victimhood, the desire for privileges to remedy some real or imagined inequity trumps all.

How ironic that during these side-show events with the SCOTUS ruling for same-sex marriage and the extreme PC battle against the confederate flag, the main event is getting the faintest attention.  Of course the Trans-Pacific Partnership would be passed by the Senate while the legacy media covers such critical news as the defacement of statues and changing the names of lakes.  After all, it's just a secret treaty that that will create an international governing body that, once created, will be a living thing - dictating laws to contracting nations just as the European Union forces policy on the nations of Europe.

Just as there was once a day long past when state sovereignty was respected and the constitution was a real barrier to the inclination to power in Washington, we may quickly be coming to a time when we will fondly remember the days when the Supreme Court made the laws for our nation - at least they claim to be American!  If our cries of righteous indignation barely register a whisper to our elected representatives at the federal level, what hope do we have as we transition to a regional government, let alone a world government?

Conclusion

As much as I'd be delighted to celebrate a victory without reservation, we need to keep our eyes on the bigger picture.  It's not enough to simply support every event that claims to be a win for liberty, we must ensure that the means by which it is achieved is also aligned with our best interest.  If given a devil's choice between a world government with a "libertarian" dictator and what we have today, I'd begrudgingly but wisely side with the latter.  Hayek showed us why "the worst get on top", and once a governmental mechanism is created it is nearly impossible to dismantle.  Like some suicidal robot programmed for destruction, the benevolent dictatorship will attract every form of sociopath who will attempt to seize those reigns of power.  If history is to be our guide, whenever this happens hundreds of millions die as a result.

Let's be smarter than that.  We cannot accept the easy victory on a minor battle when it ensures that we will lose the war.  In a world full of competing states, the crafty libertarian learns to pit his enemies against each other.  While we unambiguously denounce all forms of force and violence against the innocent, we learn to make unlikely alliances to fight the greatest evil: the nation over the world government, the state over the nation, the city over the state, and most importantly, the individual over them all.

2/02/2015

Secession, Slavery and the Civil War: Causation, Correlation or Mass Confusion?


The Ludwig von Mises Institute recently hosted their annual get together in Houston on the heroically controversial theme of secession.  Mises Institute President Jeff Deist opened the morning with a speech advising us to secede in our local capacity, starting at the individual level.  Dr. Brian McClanahan detailed America's rich history of secession, from the 13 colonies' war of secession from Great Britain to Texas' war of secession against Mexico.  Lew Rockwell contrasted the rich libertarian history of secession to the regime libertarians' knee-jerk reaction to such an unapproved opinion.  After lunch, New York Times best-selling author Tom Woods highlighted the absurdity of viewing secession as blasphemous while the decision to kill half a million children is a matter of public policy.  Finally, Dr. Ron Paul closed out the afternoon by speaking of secession as just one tool to be used in the greater contest for liberty.

It was a wonderful opportunity to meet with so many like-minded people from all over the country that chose to travel long distances for a one-day seminar on a topic that is viewed by the mainstream as antiquated and unorthodox at best.  In retrospect, the most amazing part of the event is how we were able to have a rational, thoughtful dialogue on this topic without ever bringing up the elephant in the room: slavery and the civil war.  It's like we all took it for granted that everyone was familiar with the works of authors like DiLorenzo and didn't need to rehash the history taught in public schools that Lincoln heroically fought the civil war to free the slaves and save the Union against the traitorous secessionists of the South.  We didn't need to waste time analyzing that myth; we could immediately jump to more productive and enlightening dialogue.

However, the sad reality many of us faced traveling home was that it is nearly impossible to continue that rational conversation on the merits and challenges of secession with most of our coworkers, friends and family.  Raise the specter of secession and the Pavlovian responses of "racism", "slavery" and even "neo-confederate" predictably follow.  But what else should we expect in a society with 12+ years of government indoctrination and a mainstream media that foams at the mouth and is undeniably dishonest when someone has the gall to question the necessity of the war considering that slavery was peaceably ended in every other country without requiring the loss of 620,000 lives and billions in damages and debt.

The civil war was fought to free the slaves.  The secessionists were traitors.  These are the commonly held myths we must dismantle before the rest of society can join us in a reasonable and common-sense discussion on the right of secession.

Why was the Civil War fought?

The government-approved history of the Civil War goes something like this: the Southern states illegally seceded from the United States to protect their institution of slavery.  This prompted a Civil War, causing a tremendous loss of life and property on both sides, but ultimately ending with Lincoln fulfilling his quest by preserving the Union and freeing the slaves.

This narrative may seem undisputable but it suffers from fatal errors once you scratch the surface.  On the first point concerning the cause of secession there is no major disagreement.  While the Southern states did have grievances against the Federal Government like protective tariffs that unfairly benefited the North at the expense of the South, the major reason cited in the state's secession documents was the issue of slavery.  Thomas Fleming's A Disease in the Public Mind points to the colliding forces of unrelenting abolitionism in the North and the South's fear of a race war which made it impossible to find an agreeable end to the system of slavery.

So while seven of the Southern states seceded over the slavery issue, the reason for the war given by Lincoln himself was not slavery, but to prevent secession.  As Lincoln repeatedly said,
"My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery.  If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.  What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union."
Lincoln made this point numerous times such that it cannot be directly challenged by regime historians, but what happens instead is a logical fallacy built under the guise of the familiar mathematical axiom that if a = b and b = c, then a = c.  In other words, "if the cause of secession was slavery, and to prevent secession was the reason for the war, then the reason for the war was slavery".  This may seem a trivial point, but it is imperative that the undisputed good of ending slavery is not used to cloud our judgment when considering the true motivations for the ugly and brutal war that preceded it.  Any fantasy that the North was fighting a war of racial justice must be dismantled so that we can objectively look at the agreed upon reason for the war, secession, in an unbiased light.

First of all, if the Civil War was about slavery, why would there have been 7 slave states that stayed loyal to the Union while the Confederacy was formed?  The fact is, the people of the North were largely no better or even worse than the southerners when it came to racial equality.  The Northerners enforced fugitive slave laws, kept child slaves for 25+ years during manumission, denied free blacks suffrage, and generally did all they could to make their states white only.  Conversely, Fleming noted that only a small minority of Southern men owned slaves or otherwise had a direct financial incentive in the practice - so why would they fight over it and risk their lives and everything they owned?  The simple answer is they wouldn't.  So what would they fight for?  Of the seven slave states that originally stayed in the Union, four of those states only seceded after Lincoln had put out calls to raise an army of invasion and the first shots were fired at Ft. Sumter.  If it war was over slavery, can we imagine that Lincoln would have called it quits if the seceded states had freed their slaves?  Of course not!  It wasn't slavery that drove Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee out; Lincoln made it clear he had no quarrel with that institution in any loyal state.  They joined the confederacy and fought out of disbelief that Lincoln would declare war and invade the southern states which they believed had every right to peaceably withdraw from their government, just as their great-grandfathers had done 90 years earlier from King George III.  It might have been slavery that prompted the first 7 states to leave, but that's not why 11 states fought a long and brutal war - they fought for self-government.

Unbelievably, it is the fine print of the Emancipation Proclamation itself that best shines a light on the dubious claim that Lincoln freed the slaves.  Proving Lincoln to be the master politician, that document only applied to the states in rebellion, specifically exempting the states that had stayed loyal! So the slaves that Lincoln had the power to free were to remain slaves, but he supposedly freed the slaves in states that had already left the Union and formed their own country.  H.L. Mencken said it best,
"Even his handling of the slavery question was that of a politician, not that of a messiah... An Abolitionist would have published the Emancipation Proclamation the day after the first battle of Bull Run.  But Lincoln waited until the time was more favorable - until Lee had been hurled out of Pennsylvania, and more important still, until the political currents were safely running his way.  Even so, he freed the slaves in only a part of the country: all the rest continued to clank their chains until he himself was an angel in Heaven."
Ultimately, there are many contending theories of precisely why the Federal government invaded the Confederacy.  While Thomas Fleming discusses the "diseases in the public mind" that fueled the Civil War, Thomas DiLorenzo unmasks the real Lincoln, showing how his ideology favoring a strong central state led him to launch an unnecessary and illegal war to destroy the doctrine of state's rights.  John Avery Emison takes just about everything we were taught about the Civil War and turns it on its head, first showing us that it would be more accurate to call it America's second war of secession, and from there demonstrating how our first "total war" paved the way for the horrors of the 20th century's world wars and set the precedent for the most egregious violations of federal power today.  As if it couldn't get any worse, John Graham makes the case that it wasn't historical accidents that caused the War for Southern Independence, but "antagonisms… deliberately agitated during the 1850s by great international banking houses with a preconceived motive of provoking secession" to generate unpayable debts and establish the financial empire that still rules this country.  Regardless of these various theories, we should all be able to agree with Walter Williams when he unequivocally states, the Civil War wasn't about slavery.

Were the Secessionists traitors?


With the end of slavery properly understood as a happy by-product of the Civil War, but not at all the reason that 620,000 fought and died, we can examine the legitimacy of the war through fresh eyes.  Was Lincoln justified in waging a war against the Confederacy to preserve the Union, and just what did he preserve?

First, it might be instructive to take a step back and examine the points made by Emison concerning just what we should call this decisive event in American history.  Unlike the civil war in Spain, the American Civil War was not a battle of two competing factions fighting for control over a common central government.  The Southern states had no dictates to the North, no terms other than to be left alone.  Jefferson Davis even sent a peace delegation to promote friendly ties between the two countries, which Lincoln refused to see.  So what do we call a war when one side has formally withdrawn and entered into a state of self-government and the other side invades that country to bring it into submission?  A war of independence or a war for secession certainly fits the historical circumstances better than a civil war.

At this point our government indoctrination might be kicking in - am I possibly making the argument that the traitorous South had the moral high ground in this war, the exact opposite of what the victorious Federal Government has led us to believe?  Indeed, Murray Rothbard concluded that there are only two American wars that have met the criteria for a "just war", that being the first war of secession against Great Britain, and the second war of secession of the Southern states.

But how could this be?  The Southern states seceded for slavery, the act of depriving individuals from exercising their free will, one of the greatest crimes that man can commit.  Doesn't this fact tarnish secession?  But consider the reverse scenario.  If secession is to be judged by the worst vices of those that endorsed it, shouldn’t we also look at the crimes of those that did not believe in secession but instead in an all-powerful central government?  Adolf Hitler himself wrote in Mein Kampf that secession was illegal because "it was the Union which formed a great part of such so-called states."  Similarly, the violence wrecked by omnipotent central governments that were no fans of secession counts some 200 million dead in the 20th century alone.


Rather than only focusing on the worst qualities of those that believed in secession, let's recall that one of our most famous founding fathers was explicitly in favor of secession and nullification to combat the growth of centralized government in the Principles of '98.  Thomas Jefferson postulated that it was "not very important to the happiness of either part" of the country if the United States broke up.  In a live and let live fashion, he said that in separation "God bless them both, and keep them in the union if it be for their good, but separate them, if it be better".

At the time Lincoln invaded the South there were five living ex-presidents, every one of which opposed the war in one way or another.  Some did not agree with the decision to secede and did their best to convince the Southern states to remain in the Union, but they ultimately believed in the right of secession.  After all, Vermont seceded from New York, Texas seceded from Mexico, and West Virginia seceded from Virginia during the Civil War itself.  And as previously mentioned, the United States itself seceded from Great Britain in the Revolutionary War.  You'd think that would count for something.

Historical precedents aside, we can also look at this logically and constitutionally.  An established precedent of law is known as legislative entrenchment, meaning that what one legislative body has the power to do, another can do or undo.  A prior legislative body cannot rule from the grave and if the state legislature of 1787 has the power to ratify the constitution, so then can the state legislature of 1861 choose to repeal that ratification.  Indeed, Virginia's secession document explicitly stated it was a lawful repeal of the ratification of the Constitution.  Can we imagine that the 13 colonies, having just had their full sovereign nature individually acknowledged by Great Britain, really joined a union that they could never leave?  Every historical precedent from the federalist papers to the state ratifying conventions says otherwise.

The Southern states were not traitorous when they seceded; they had every right to do so.  The only traitor was Lincoln, who declared war without congressional approval and violated a hundred other constitutional provisions and laws of human decency in his battle to "preserve the Union".  He may have reclaimed the Southern states as captured provinces, but he certainly didn't preserve our republic.  What we had was a voluntary association of independent states united under the contract of the Constitution.  Lincoln's war of aggression most assuredly killed that system of government for all the states, replacing it with the federal leviathan that knows no boundaries and gives no thought to the consent of the governed.  He won the war and we still suffer the losses.

What is Secession?

Secession - it was the foundation of the American Revolution against King George III.  Even today, it is the most radical concept of the last 500 years.  As stated in Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, when a government is destructive to the ends of the people that created it, it is their duty to institute a new government.  That wasn't an idle threat; secession is the means to do so.  It is the true enforcement mechanism to ensure that we have government by consent.

Just think of what a glorious preventative check the threat of secession is to the limitless goals of our federal masters.  Imagine the contrast with a "marriage union".  Even though it is a document signed "till death do us part", all modern states recognize the right of divorce, the equivalent of secession.  As Emison questioned, would an abusive husband treat his wife better or worse in a society where divorce was legal or illegal?  The question answers itself, and it also explains why the federal government is able to propose increasingly egregious legislation on battered, defenseless states that have nowhere to run and no hope of retaliation.

How bizarre that in a country founded on the principle of secession time has allowed this cornerstone of liberty and bedrock of freedom to be marginalized and disgraced.  After all, as Tom Woods noted in his speech at the Mises Circle, its practical effect is nothing more than to say, "maybe this imaginary line should be drawn up here instead of over there."

Lew Rockwell defined secession in more human terms, reminding us of the moral obligation we have to our fellow men and the responsibility we carry when we endorse our political agents to carry out violence in our name.  He summed up the the libertarian perspective this way:
"It is morally illegitimate to employ state violence against individuals who choose to group themselves differently from how the existing regime chooses to group them. They prefer to live under a different jurisdiction. Libertarians consider it unacceptable to aggress against them for this."
View the right of secession as a moral imperative to not aggress against others that want to go in peace.  Recognize the arbitrary nature of all government boundaries and the absurdity in going into hysterics if one of those lines should change.  Acknowledge secession as the foundation of this very country and think of how it could be a very realistic solution to the issues we face today.  But above all, rescue secession from the dustbin of history that ignorance has placed it.  Secession is a noble, practical and moral idea that deserves our attention and respect.

Conclusion


Around the world people want freedom and if they can't have that, a more representative government will do.  The CIA and military industrial complex provides us with all kinds of "approved" secessions and revolutions around the world from despots who have inexplicably leaped from the ally to the enemy category - but dare suggest that Texas may be better of seceding if the federal government continues its unsustainable path, or that the citizens of California would be better represented if certain counties seceded to create new states - well you must be a closet racist!  This hypocrisy and doublethink can’t go on forever.

As Thomas DiLorenzo recently documented, secession is a global phenomenon that isn't going away:
"There are 32 secessionist movements in Africa; 114 secessionist movements in Europe; 20 secessionist movements in North America; 83 secessionist movements in Asia; 11 secessionist movements in South America; and 26 secessionist movements in Oceania.  Neo-Confederates are everywhere!"
However, the most exciting thing about secession isn't just the prospect of replacing one government with another one, but the larger philosophical impact for the libertarian movement.  Followed to its logical conclusion, when the state can secede from the country, and the county from the state, and the town from the county, we can envision a practical path to our anarcho-capitalist utopia.  But ultimately, if the right of secession is accepted and respected, we could imagine a government that has an actual incentive to stay within its delegated boundaries, a government that actually serves its supposed purpose of contributing to the happiness of the people instead of to their destruction.  It may be impossible to keep the state with its monopoly on violence within the boundaries set by those that consented to its jurisdiction, but if it were to be possible, it is certainly only so in a society where the right of secession is alive and well.  Let us fight to create such a society, not through violence - that is the government’s specialty, but in the war of ideas.

1/06/2015

Punishment Park, U.S.A.


They have been branded enemies of the state: thought criminals, anti-American propagandists, political extremists and even the occasional violent agitator.  Stripped of their rights, hustled through kangaroo courts and abused by indifferent captors; many who considered themselves peaceful dissidents learn to channel their righteous indignation into a brutality equal to what was inflicted upon them.  In this way violence begets violence.  But something else occurs.  The agents of the state were taught to see political protesters as cop killers and nonconformists as lethal threats; now their training is vindicated.  When a brother in blue falls in the line of duty vengeance inevitably takes priority over the rule of law.  The killers and their allies must get what they deserve; after all, they’re criminals.  The cycle of hate, violence and toughness escalates and continues.

This scenario is being played out in cities and states across the country as racial tensions, economic recession and police militarization collide in a snowballing eruption.  For anyone familiar with Peter Watkin's 44-year-old film Punishment Park it may bring about a sense of déjà vu.  Unfortunately, we've seen this movie before.

In Watkin's alternative history President Nixon declares a state of emergency to deal with the growing anti-war movement and other dissenters of the American regime.  These emergency powers give federal authorities the ability to abduct and imprison those deemed "risks to internal security"; people like subversive poets, student group leaders and pacifists fleeing the draft.  After each of the accused is summarily sentenced to 10-30 years in federal prison they are given a perverse choice: serve your sentence or take your chances with three days in Punishment Park.  If you survive a 53 mile hike through the Arizona desert and reach the coveted American flag you are set free.  However, if you are apprehended by the police and National Guard members that hunt you as part of their training then you carry out your sentence as before.  Resist their capture in any way and the full force of the state is ready to meet violence with violence.  Film crews from around the world document America's experimental legal system and the result is the mockumentary Punishment Park.

In 1971 this film was met with shock and anger, with Hollywood studios refusing to distribute it.  Innocent Americans branded communist sympathizers, a citizen tribunal consisting of "America take it or leave it" automatons and police enforcers indifferent to the violence they deliver because "they're just doing their jobs"; perhaps these elements combined with the documentary style of the film hit too close to home.  But if the parallels were ominous then, what can we say in a world with legalized indefinite detention, presidential kill lists of American citizens and CIA torture camps across the globe?  Watched through today's lens it's equally valid to call this film prophetic and passé.  Which is worse, that a film that "couldn't happen here" and was viewed as heretically outrageous has indeed come to pass or that we've already moved beyond Punishment Park's quaint limitations such that it doesn't elicit much of a reaction at all?

Pawns in the Game


44 years ago Punishment Park was called disturbing, unpatriotic and possibly even communist propaganda - whatever it took to see it censored and banned in country after country.  When this forgotten film found a new life on the internet a new generation saw it in a much different light.  Instead of condemning Watkins they asked what he would think of his film in the era of the Patriot Act, the NDAA and the invasion of Iraq.  The question was asked, could this movie even be made today?  Many saw parallels between the behavior and attitudes of Punishment Park's police and civilian tribunal with what you now find in the neo-cons of both parties.  As James Allen Wilkins noted in his review, "You can almost interchange the word "communist" with "terrorist" throughout the film and the movie might as well have been made last week."

However, it's important to remember that no one watches this film in a vacuum; everyone brings their own bias to Punishment Park.  In 1971 54% of the public "almost always" trusted the government but now that number has been cut in half, with the millennial generation showing all-time low levels of trust in government.  Hence, one generation relates to the enforcer class and model Americans of the film while another generation mostly sides with the rebels and victims of the state.  This is where I see the brilliance and timelessness of the film.  All the characters give such an honest portrayal of both perspectives that there is no obvious group of good guys / bad guys but rather viewers will walk away with their own narrative based on which group they instinctively relate to in the story.  It's similar to the "libertarian test" of watching a video of a police beating.  Is your first reaction to defend the cop who is "just doing his job" or to side with the person guilty of some heinous crime like selling untaxed cigarettes?


Recognizing that a shift in perspective can lead one to have a totally different reaction to the film, this is where we have a real opportunity to use it as a lesson for exploring the bigger picture.  Instead of automatically siding with either the protesters or the police, it is more interesting to take a step back and look at the system that was erected around them; look at the chess board instead of the individual pawns in the game.

On one side the police and military are saying "I'm just doing my job", "I wouldn't have killed him if he would have obeyed my orders" and "they attacked us, we were just defending ourselves".  Perhaps if the prisoners of Punishment Park had meekly submitted to their arrest no harm would have come to them, so shouldn't they bear some of the responsibility for what happened?  From the perspective of the prisoners recall that they are running for their freedom; they are desperate, starving, dehydrated and being chased 24/7 by the cops and military.  With that waving American flag within arm’s reach, so delirious with the prospect of freedom that they can taste it, of course some of them will resist going back into bondage.  Hence, a peace-seeking and naïve enforcer or prisoner may enter Punishment Park with the best intention of following the rules, but the system itself is rigged to ensure only one outcome is possible: anger, rage and bloodshed.


When we understand that this game always ends in an escalation of violence so that there are no winners, this prompts us to look outside of our own team's interest.  It's memorable of the mock-interview with one of the members of the citizen tribunal, where she is asked how she'd feel if her own child was brought before the court at Punishment Park.  She gasped in horror at the thought, "well that is impossible, my kids would never do that.  They were trained different."  What she failed to consider was that the same unilateral / dictatorial powers that a right-wing president welds against "leftists", "communist sympathizers" and "revolutionaries" could be used by a future left-wing president against "right-wing extremists", "constitutionalists" and "tax-protesters".  The baton of power goes from the right hand to the left and back again but it keeps getting bigger and bigger, perpetually preparing for the next chance to swing an even deadlier blow.

So why even play this game?  The people certainly don't gain anything when a police officer is murdered; all that does is solidify the cops into a gang mentality and prepares them to use their military training against the protesters who are committed to peaceful civil disobedience.  Ultimately the police will not win either.  The economy will be destroyed in a police state and the enforcer class is traditionally liquidated by its own government when it goes down this path.  When we finally see that our self-interest isn't linked to our enforcer/protester costume but to the system we all share then we finally have the opportunity to transcend this game and create something better.  But first we need to understand the game we're playing so that we don't unintentionally duplicate it.  That begs the question, who created it and why?

The Power of Prediction


This scene is currently unfolding: cops follow orders to enforce malum prohibitum laws like a tax on cigarettes and murder a man on video.  The secret proceedings of the grand jury result in no charges being pressed against the police.  Protests turn violent as someone randomly murders two police officers, not because of their acts but because of their uniform.  Now the state can ratchet things up and it will go back and forth like this across the country.  Will the final escalation result in the logical consequence of the state's monopoly on violence - a complete gun ban? If so, this would be the story of America's second civil war.

This is the scenario that Alex Jones has been warning about for years.  While he's known as the king of conspiracy for seriously investigating the "inside job" angle of events from the Oklahoma City bombing and 9/11 to Sandy Hook, this aspect of his work often distracts from his record of accurate predictions.  Credit must be given where credit is due.  Regardless of what someone thinks concerning the origin of these events one cannot deny that Alex Jones has been incredibly accurate on the state's reaction to them.  Whether it is an Illuminati plot using the tried and tested formula of problem-reaction-solution or a more modest criminal enterprise that is prepared to heed Rahm Emanuel's advice to "never let a serious crisis go to waste", Jones has been chillingly prophetic when it comes to how our world would change in response to terrorism, mass-shooting attacks and economic crises.

As someone who has been a listener to his show for 8+ years, his consistent message has warned of an American police state, economic collapse and a resulting civil war.  When it came to 9/11 he always said that the specter of Muslim extremists were always the necessary excuse to pass laws like the Patriot Act and the NDAA, but that the Homeland Security apparatus was always designed for the American people.  For Jones, foreign wars not only made the military industrial complex billions but also hardened our troops for what would be required of them when they'd return to police American streets as if they were in Fallujah, Iraq.  Derivative bubbles, "too big to fail" banks, Wall-Street bail-outs and legislation that is conveniently passed or repealed paves the way for one economic crisis after another, making the average American increasingly desperate and willing to trade liberty for security.  Watch one of Jones' first films from the '90s and recognize with disappointment how right he's been.

But it always goes back to the same question that's harder to answer with satisfaction: Why?  How was Jones able to predict these events and how America would increasingly be turned into a Police State?  Whose master plan is this?  As George H.W. Bush said 10 years to the day before 9/11, "it's a big idea... a New World Order".  You cannot have world government with any sovereign nation, so “order out of chaos" techniques are used to destabilize one nation after the next, with America being the last shining jewel to take down.  As America's wealth is used to run the engine of global police it has the dual effect of discrediting America and destroying it from within.  If we can't wake up to this trap we'll play out the scenario Jones warns of the most: a civil war brought on by economic depression and gun control with the military and police against the American people, all the pawns senselessly killing each other while the globalists laugh in their offshore fortresses.

Austrian Economics meets Conspiracy Theory


The Jonesian picture may be hard to swallow: New World Order, Skull and Bones, and Illuminati secret societies pushing civilization off a cliff to establish world government.  Many libertarians will decry these types of theories as discrediting to their movement.  However, one can ignore this angle of a sinister agenda and still find events like 9/11 completely predictable and even logical using only Austrian business cycle theory and libertarian class analysis.

For just over 100 years, since the beginning of the Federal Reserve, the eventual collapse of the dollar was predictable.  Power corrupts and the power to print money out of thin air is such an awesome force that few could withstand the temptation for abuse.  Like the ring of Sauron it pollutes and defiles all who weld it.  Indeed, the reason Dr. Ron Paul first ran for Congress was because of the end of Bretton Woods, when the dollar lost its last remnant backing to gold.  Dr. Paul was trained in the school of Austrian Economics and he knew that a pure fiat dollar could not last, such that he's been giving the same warning speech for 40+ years.  Some thought he was a prophet, but what's more amazing than clairvoyance was his consistency and integrity to never sell out and never back down from what he knew would be true.

Thus, one can assume that those of us familiar with the Austrian School of Economics are the only ones that understand the inherent problems of fiat currency: how it fuels business cycles and pumps up bubbles that must end in busts.  Under this theory our global government, banking and finance leaders have swallowed their own Kool-aide and actually believe that Keynesianism solutions are solutions, regardless of the logical and historical evidence to the contrary.

But let's explore another option: assume that at least a few people in power are completely aware of the long-run futility of money printing as a panacea.  A few insiders know that the inherent instability of the petro-dollar, the 100+ trillion in unfunded liabilities, etc. will eventually bring economic collapse, with that collapse most likely followed by one last heroic attempt at money printing to result in hyper-inflation.  For those in power, who most certainly want to maintain their power, what should be done with this knowledge?

Knowing that time is running out for the American empire, and perhaps even holding to some bizarre ends-justify-the-means logic of preventing a new uprising of the communist system, those in power would have a very real incentive to institute a police state to ensure that they can maintain their power during a time of economic hysteria.  Dissidents would have to be silenced; revolutionaries would have to be disappeared.  Maybe they got some of their ideas from Punishment Park.  The point is that these police state powers would be unthinkable under the American system of 100 years ago, 50 years ago, or even pre-9/11.  The American people would rebel if these changes were instituted overnight.  But instead, do it slowly, year by year, right-wing administration followed by a left-wing administration, and blame it all on an external threat, the shadowy Muslim extremists in faraway lands.  They will never see it coming.  You can even imagine how a "patriotic American" could be persuaded to assist in such a diabolical plan; after all, the future of "America" depends on it.  A few billion dollars in pay-off and hush-up money wouldn't hurt either.

Conclusion

Whether this was all planned 100 years ago by Cecil Rhodes and Satan or if we're all in the back seat of a car being driven recklessly off a cliff by drunkards who know not what they do, the question remains: what should we do about it?  How do we stop this tragedy of errors where innocent people are murdered by police with official immunity and random cops are in turn murdered by desperate people who see no other way to achieve justice?  Are we destined to stupidly kill each other while the people that put this system in motion, the ones that constructed our Punishment Park, sit back and laugh?

What must be done is education and peaceful non-compliance.  This is not the fast and easy answer, but it is the only chance we have at true success.  We need to reach out to those in uniform and those without state issued costumes.  The nosy neighbor or the parent that calls the cops to deal with an unruly child will certainly learn the folly of their ways when their baby is summarily murdered, but surely this isn't the best or only way to learn this lesson.  Don't call the police unless you absolutely need men with guns - because that's all they are good for.  Similarly, we must reach out to those in uniform and wake them up to the role they are playing in this lose-lose game.

The common thread connecting the 9-1-1-calling-boob and the license-to-kill-carrying meter maid, the root of the problem we face, is the belief in authority.  As demonstrated in Punishment Park, the police and military do not hold themselves accountable for the murders and other crimes they commit while they are in uniform, nor do the member of the citizen tribunal who sentence the innocents to their fate.  As Larkin Rose says, their actions are no longer their own, they have become a part of "authority" such that they are free from the moral responsibility and consequences of their actions.  This myth must be overcome.  It won't be easy, 12-20 years of government school indoctrination has made sure of that, but it is the only possibility of success we have.

The last and most important point that cannot be overstated enough is this: aggressive violence is not the solution.  The state, as defined as the holder of a monopoly on violence, has gotten very good at violence, just as anyone becomes excellent at a particular trade through specialization and practice.  We shouldn't challenge Michael Jordan to a game of basketball or Tiger Woods to a game of golf, not when our lives depend on it.  We cannot win a game of offensive violence with the government, we cannot out-state the state.  The state is the problem; anarcho-capitalism is the answer.
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