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What will Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, and Barack Obama have in common?

Obama must be hurting. Still reeling from everyone knowing he didn't deserve the Nobel Peace Prize, he's decided to start shit with Fox News. So it's not a real news organization? Everybody knows that, except the people who won't be convinced by anything Obama says anyway.

Earlier this year Obama was untouchable. He neutered the anti-war movement, the anti-drug-war movement, and the civil liberties movement in one fell swoop, and people who'd been apoplectic about these issues a year before now totally forgot, and justified it in various, inevitably lame ways. He was riding high on support, even as the economy limped along. Even this issue took a while to dent his credibility.

And now, with America catching on to the horror that is the Democrats' health care "reform" package, his armor is cracking. Iraq is still a mess, and Afghanistan is a ticking time bomb. Even a few naïve "progressives" have started to notice that, wait, he tricked us! The economy is recovering, maybe, but not soon enough for him to get out unscathed.

So he takes on Fox News? Even Fox News knows this is great for them. I thought a few years ago, when Obama was just beginning to make headlines in the Senate, that he'd be a two-term president one day. Now it's starting to look like the Republicans will have a walk in the park in 2012, assuming they can find somebody even mildly less repugnant than Emperor Palpatine.

Of course, I'm not holding my breath on that.

Comparing centralized defense and distributed defense

We've discussed the success of the passengers of United 93 at thwarting the 9/11 attacks before. I was reminded of it recently when I heard this quote from Ralph Raico's 2009 Mises University lecture "On War and Liberty" (at 27:09):

Some Defense Department! When 9/11 came, after having spent trillions of dollars, the Pentagon was not even able to defend its own headquarters from attack.

Must Read -- The American Story by Garet Garrett

Available from the Mises Institute in either pdf or printed paperback -

"He was a defender of free enterprise who adored the magnificence of the American genius for progress.

He was a champion of business who believed in profiting the old fashioned way.

He was a libertarian who deplored the rise of big government.

He was a constitutionalist who was aghast at how presidents and congresses shredded the document in times of economic crisis and war.

He was the last of the great old-time liberals who opposed FDR's welfare-warfare state.

Above all else, he was a brilliant student of the American experience who could tell a story like no one else of his generation.

Garet Garrett's last book was his own retelling of American history, with a special focus on the technologies and people behind them that transformed life for average people, along with a relentless and truth-telling story about the rise of the state.

These had been a theme of all of his work, from his novels of the 1920s to his case against the New Deal in the 1930s. His final work tells the story of the American people as its never been told, from an early experiment in freedom, and the fight against the powers in Washington that sought to suppress that freedom, all the way through the beginnings of a preventable Cold War.

The images that the author presses on the mind in The American Story--a complete biography of a country--are vivid and telling, the product of a lifetime of study and the wisdom of age.

The Wall Street Journal called this book "probably the most brilliant long historical essay on America that has ever been written."

A book this great should have been read by all high school students in this country, but instead it died an early death. The political culture of the time found it inadmissible with too many unthinkable thoughts. Garrett struck the budding conservative movement as too erudite and too principled to fit in with the organizing plan of new times. He was left to write for the ages.

Thus does the Mises Institute release this masterpiece more than 50 years after it quickly came and went. It is the sort of book that changes the way we think about our own history, and to celebrate the wisdom of a great American essayist and novelist.

He begins in Colonial times to illustrate the culture that shaped the country: "If the Americans were going to grapple this continent to themselves, do it with their bare hands, and do it before a land-hungry world could see too much, they would have to be in a hurry.

"Yet after they had performed this incredible feat, after they had bound their continent together with bands of steel and it was entirely safe, still their feud with time went on. When they were fifty million, then one hundred million, and already the richest people in the world, still their minds were obsessed with time saving inventions of method, device and machine, as if they knew how much more there was to do and were fearful that they could not get it done in time."

On the American industrial genius: This is what made American industry supreme in all the later phenomena of mass production. Other people had machines that were just as good, and had them first, other people knew the methods too, and were welcome to come and look, but they worked in another dimension of time. Here the machine was not to save labor; it was to save time.

On how the U.S. triumphant over British manufacturing: Thus it was that at the onset of a Scythian struggle for economic supremacy American industry began with all young and new machines and a ruthless way of killing them as fast as they became obsolete-and this against the older machines of Europe and against the reluctance of the European industrialist to destroy capital which until then had been very profitable. The old mare was still what she used to be; the trouble was that better mares were getting born. Moreover, American industry had no complacency of laurels, no traditions, no habits. It was rash and experimental; it could embrace a new method with amazing ease, and no one to say, "But we have always done it this way."

On agricultural technology: Now the wooden plow, the hoe, the scythe and cradle were gone; and that was only the beginning. Came the harvester-a machine that cut the grain like the reaper but at the same time gathered it up in sheaves and tied a string around the sheave with its own steel fingers. "Behind the harvester lay the sheaves, in rows as neat as dominoes, needing only to be picked up. And• then the threshing machine: first a stationary one to which the sheaves were brought from the field by wagons, the grain passing back to be sacked and the straw piling up in mountains; and then one that by its own power moved over the standing wheat, reaping it into its maw with one stroke, threshing it by internal commotion, spilling the straw back to the ground as it passed, sending the winnowed grain through a pipe to a tank tender.

On industrial transformation: One generation of Americans, with their fierce jealousy for freedom of enterprise and their philosophy of laissez faire, had created here the most powerful industrial nation on earth. It was not what they possessed in land and treasure and knowledge; other people had as much of these or more. It was what they did with what they had; and they were bound to go on until they should have in their hands, of their own making, half the industrial power of the whole world and no rational idea of what to do with it.

On World War I: In World War I the Americans exerted their strength to make the world safe for democracy. That was an unattainable object because, first, democracy was something nobody could define, and, secondly, half the world did not want it. However you define it, the life of democracy in the world was much less safe afterward than before.

The Great Depression: During the Great Depression the imperious tradition of limited government was sacrificed, and the ground principles of free, competitive enterprise were compromised beyond redemption.

Gold confiscation: The government took it and buried it at Fort Knox. That was confiscation, and bad enough; but there was one more trick. The government said: "When the Federal Reserve Banks took possession of this gold it was worth only $26.67 an ounce. Now it is: worth $35 an ounce. The difference is profit and it belongs to the United States Treasury." It was not profit; it was bookkeeping. Nevertheless, the Treasury set it up in its books as profit, converted it into paper dollars, and spent the money. It was a sum of nearly $2 billion. To reduce the gold dollar to a piece of irredeemable piece of paper took fourteen months. In the process the President got physical possession of the public purse.

On the AAA: It was already the middle of Spring; too late to stop planting and breeding. The alternative was to destroy growing crops. The AAA paid farmers to plow down as much as one-fourth of their cotton, wheat, corn and tobacco and to slaughter millions of little pigs before they could grow into pork-provided they would sign up to take orders from the government next year.

On the NRA's Blue Eagle: "Its significance was that of the brass serpent held aloft by Moses. If you looked upon it and believed you were saved from the fiery serpents sent by God to scourge a willful people. The fiery serpents in this case were little bands of NRA workers, with NRA pencils and paper in their hands, going to and fro in the streets and through public places, aggressively demanding that people stop in their tracks and sign a pledge to boycott any place of business that did not display the Blue Eagle. That was Johnson at his worst and best.

On Pearl Harbor: An attack was expected. It was the wished-for solution. That the Japanese would cross the Pacific to commit their first overt act at Pearl Harbor was unexpected. And the loss of a mighty fleet and more than three thousand lives in one hour was perhaps much more than the war party would have been willing to pay for a declaration of war by Congress.

On World War II: In World War II they exerted their strength again to put down aggression in the world and to confer upon mankind the four freedoms, especially freedom from want and freedom from fear. What was the result? They put down one aggressor and raised up a worse one, the old spectre of famine returned and fear became the controlling emotion of the whole world, even the fear that civilization might perish.

On Yalta: And still the story of Yalta cannot be understood without reference again to the strange infatuation of the Roosevelt regime for Russia. It was as if Mr. Roosevelt had taken it upon himself personally to overcome the Russian Dictator's distrust of the Western World and convert him to the cause of freedom. To do this he thought it necessary to placate Stalin, to give him, or seem to give him, everything he wanted, thereby to engage him in bonds of gratitude and win his collaboration.

On Korea: It was an absurd war. American power became imprisoned in it. The Americans could not afford to lose it; neither could they afford to win it. If they lost it, or abandoned it, they would lose face forever in Asia. On the other hand, to win it they might have had to conquer China, which was an appalling task to contemplate, besides at the same time alienating their United Nations allies, most of whom, and especially Great Britain and India, were for confining the war to Korea and coming to terms ultimately with Communist China."

413 page, paperback, 2009

Obama and the 2008 economy described before he was born.

Regards, Don

Storm-chasing, Wife-swapping, Self-promoting, Media-hoaxing

It now appears that criminal charges are going to be filed against the Heene family.

After I posted on Thursday about the missing boy, Falcon Heene, I ran into the following video on a message board.

I edited my original post to include the video with the added speculation that a father who makes a video like this with his sons is more likely to plan a publicity stunt, and that the whole incident might be a hoax. I quickly re-edited my post and removed the video and added commentary for fear of appearing in bad taste should the boy be found dead.

The most suspicious aspect of the aftermath was when Falcon said, "We did it for the show," when asked why he didn't answer his parents' screams while hiding.

The Heene family released a video of the launch which incriminates more than absolves: there's no box, no Falcon in sight, and plenty of bad acting.

Criminal masterminds, these people are not. My unscientific polling of friends reveals a near-universal belief that the incident was a hoax.

Where's Waldo?

In case you haven't heard yet, an experimental hot-air balloon got free and was initially thought to have a 6-year old boy inside. The balloon landed but the boy didn't turn up inside. Nobody knows where the boy is, whether he's alive somewhere or dead. And all this is unfolding live on TV.

If it's not a right--and it isn't--treating it like one has bad consequences

William Easterly has a great article in the Financial Times about how treating health care as a right has led to more unequal health care globally. No surprise there.

Paul: The Prize is about Internationalism, not Peace

Ron Paul gets it right:

I support not pissing off our European allies when it's in the long term interests of Americans. At the same time, I'm wary of multi-nation coalitions becoming too powerful in the future.

For the first time ever (and probably the last time), I saw an interesting comment on Youtube. It's the one which states that if the US pulled its troops from around the world, it would be difficult for European countries to have large welfare states since they would have to spend their own money on defense.

Is this true? Seems unlikely to me because the US spends a relatively small percentage of government revenues on the military, only a fraction of which would go toward maintaining presence in other countries. In other words, my conjecture is that, for European countries, defense is probably much cheaper than welfare.

Why the U.S. Constitution Works

Mencius Moldbug decries democracy and points to its many failures. Meanwhile the United States struggles to deploy democracy in Iraq, displacing millions in the process. The Ottoman Empire ruled the region with more success. Latin America continues to oscillate between revolution and reaction. Africa went rapidly from post colonial democracy to corrupt despotism and or civil war in most countries.

Cherry pick the right examples and Moldbug’s case seems ironclad. But then there are those notable exceptions, such as the United States, the richest, most powerful nation on earth, and surprisingly, one of the oldest governments. Our democratic republic is more stable than most modern monarchies.

Sure, we have our problems. Our crime is excessive, our prisons overflowing, and or debts piling high. We could be near the end of our golden age, but not if I can help it. Our problems have solutions, no reboot necessary.

The important question is: why are we so successful where so many other countries have failed in short order? Why do we merely get Roosevelts where others get juntas and Hitlers? Why is our Constitution so successful? Can we export this success elsewhere instead of wallowing in bloody and futile nation building exercises?

True, it may have nothing to do with our Constitution. It may be our Northern European heritage. The Scandinavians and Germanic tribes practiced democracy back in ancient times, when much of the civilized world worshipped god emperors. We may be carrying over habits from those times, and have institutions which survived the feudal era making democracy natural for us even as it is unnatural for many other cultures. But then again, Germany sure had a bumpy ride returning to democracy in the 20th Century. The Weimar Republic and the Nazi eras were none too pleasant.

Maybe it’s our extremely Christian roots. Many of the early colonists came to escape persecution and/or establish religious utopias. The Bible contains a law code suitable for anarchy, and America’s Founders were well-versed in the Bible – even those who were not Christians. With a culture well-versed and amenable to in an anarchy-friendly legal code, citizen policing, trials by jury, and amateur legislatures worked well. And when people get their public morals from an ancient book, leaders become accountable to outside powers. No more god emperors. That said, the Puritans had a few mishaps on the way to establishing successful democracy; the early Pilgrims were communists, after all.

Perhaps it was our frontier. With cheap land available out west to all brave enough to fight for it, ambitious members of the working class went west instead of becoming union rabble rousers or socialist revolutionaries. To this day, our more frontier oriented states feature major party politicians which more resemble libertarians; note Mike Gravel and Sarah Palin of Alaska. But I don’t think this is the whole story. Our settled states have most of the population, and our republic has yet to collapse.

Most democracies outside the U.S. are parliamentary democracies. Parliamentary democracies are intentionally unstable. Power flips over radically to whichever coalition musters a majority. Our constitution provides for more stable government. We have the benefits of gridlock: presidents and congresses of different parties. We have powerful courts which reflect the views of multiple past administrations; this filters the effects of political victories over time. We also have a strong civil service system – a stabilizing feature in addition to our constitution – which provides a check on the current chief executive.

The features above are appreciated by many, but they too are not the whole story. Part of the magic of our Constitution lies in the ugly bits: the bits leading to pork, gerrymandering, constituent service, and the two-party system. We have district based elections.

District based elections are the bane of third party politicians. Duverger’s Law states that with plurality-take-all district elections, only the top two candidates are worthy of consideration. Third parties thus get squeezed out. Libertarian Party chairman Bill Redpath has long called for proportional representation. This would allow the Libertarian Party some seats at the legislative tables. It would also give seats to socialists, communists and racists. Proportional representation is a dangerous idea. Adolph Hitler gained his foothold using proportional representation.

District elections keep our elections a bit dumb and uninteresting. They keep principled libertarians out of government. They are also a key to the success of our republic. District based plurality-take-all elections provide the following stabilizing features:

  1. They keep the wacky radicals out of Congress and the state houses. You have to be middle of the road enough to be in the mainstream of your district to get elected.
  2. They weaken the importance of political parties. “All politics is local” is a U.S. mantra. Politicians are more accountable to the people in their districts than the party machines.
  3. Gerrymandering produces safe districts. The resulting perpetual incumbents are relatively immune to the political tides of the moment. Each chamber of Congress has both its commons and its lords.
  4. Local accountability turns legislatures into ombudsmen as much as they are lawmakers. “Constituent service” keeps the civil service on its toes.

This combination of features produces legislatures which are reasonably stable from term to term and are able to function. A legislature fractured by radical factions can be so divided that its members refuse to work together productively. Increased executive power, by dictatorship or junta, is a frequent solution under these circumstances. The constraints of district elections tend to tame radical factions and make them more humane. To have influence, radicals must package their programs into manageable bites, no Great Leap Forwards allowed. They must learn to play nice with others, including moderates and remoras, and work within the squishy two-party infrastructure.

And so, when top-down technocracy was all the rage, and the Great Depression provided a convenient crisis, we suffered the Roosevelt Years. Bad, and borderline dictatorial, but the Constitution survived, albeit bruised and battered. Alas, the same factors which saved us from socialism during those dark years also prevent rapid recovery. The journey back to a limited government republic must be a long one. The debt is high and the entitlement obligations higher. There are no real tax cuts in our near future. Libertarians must embrace this reality and behave like grownups if they want to govern and get us out of this morass.

Our system is stable, but by no means perfect. While moderate parties are good, having only two parties is not. Neither existing party embraces the solutions we need, even in mushy moderate form. The system is now biased to badness, and some reform is called for. Either a new coalition needs to take over an existing major party, or we need a new major party. The latter is extremely difficult, but perhaps not impossible; two possible loopholes in Duverger’s Law present themselves.

But it may be even easier to fix the system than it is to get good people elected under the current system. The reform needed is very mainstream and understandable to the masses. It could be presented to service clubs and civics classes. Moreover, it could be embraced by peaceniks. The reform I contemplate may be effective elsewhere, even in those lands now resistant to stable democracy. Fix the flaws in democracy and nation-building works faster, and our troops can come home.

I’ll detail this important reform in my next post. For now, appreciate what we have and realize we can do better.

Is This What the PUA Types Call a 'Neg'?

Everyone's favorite crazy politician, Silvio Berlusconi, strikes again:

An indignant wave of political opponents, women’s groups and online activists are clamouring for the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to apologise for a sexist insult that he made to a female politician during a live television show.

Mr Berlusconi appeared on the late-night talk show Porta a Porta hours after the country’s highest court stripped him of his immunity to prosecution, reactivating a series of criminal court cases against him.

When he was interrupted by Rosy Bindi, a politician in the Democratic Party, he told her: “I recognise you are increasingly more beautiful than you are intelligent.”

What a charmer!

Well, they gave it to Yasser Arafat too

What a joke.