We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

A good day in Iowa

There were six coin tosses in Iowa last night – to determine contested delegates in various parts of Iowa.

And Hillary Clinton’s people won all of them. Against the rather stupid socialist from Vermont – and his innocent-minded helpers (who do not seem to understand what sort of people they are dealing with).

Hillary Clinton reminds me of David Hume’s picture of a human being – a creature (according to Hume) whose passions always reduce reason to a “slave” (Hume’s fellow determinist Martin Luther used the word “whore” rather than “slave”). Mrs Clinton appears to have no conscience – no “moral sense” or “moral reason”. And neither do her servants. At least not about big things – such as, when Secretary of State, selling American influence (and secrets – who cares about dead intelligence officers?) for cash for the Clinton Foundation – a “charity” piggy bank for the family and associates of Mrs Clinton. And not about small things – such as Iowa Caucus coin tosses.

There is a seamless vileness about Hillary Clinton – if there is a straight way of doing something (big or small) and a crooked way Mr Clinton will always choose the crooked way – on principle.

“What do you mean I wiped the e-mails on my sever? Do you mean with a cloth or something?”

On the Republican side the three leading candidate were as follows:

The person who came third (Marco “Fox News” Rubio) basically argued that government had only got too big in the “last seven years” – and that taxation and government spending levels were about right under President Bush.

The person who came second (Donald “Juan Peron” Trump) argued that a “better manager” was needed for an even bigger government.

And the person who actually won the Iowa Caucus argued that government was much too big, and had been for a very long time. And that, for a start, 5 Federal Government Departments and 25 Federal Government Agencies should be abolished.

For example all energy subsidies should be abolished – including “mandates” for ethanol. To argue this in IOWA was supposed to be the kiss of death.

However, Senator Ted Cruz won anyway – which I did not expect.

Senator Cruz refused to give in or to sell out.

No doubt the establishment will continue to try and undermine Ted Cruz – seeking a return to the big government “Compassionate Conservatism” of President Bush.

But Iowa was a victory – whatever comes after.

A good day.

Ted Cruz wins in Iowa

Ted Cruz has won in Iowa. How happy should I be? How significant is it? Will he really abolish the IRS and “do away with the departments of energy, commerce, education, and housing and urban development.” For all those things I could forgive him an awful lot of anything else I might disagree with him about, and many other issues become non-issues anyway, given a strong enough economy.

Charles Murray on how facts don’t change minds (and some related thoughts of the sort he would probably approve of)

I have been reading Charles Murray’s book, Coming Apart.

I recommend this book, but I doubt that I myself will be reading every word of it, and certainly not every number. This is because I am already convinced by Murray’s basic thesis, which is that that America is becoming increasing divided along class lines. The temptations of government welfare, just as you would expect, have enticed the poor into self-destructive habits far more than the rich, because the rich, being rich, are insulated by their riches from these temptations. The rich have also resisted the temptation to smash up their families and raise their children out of wedlock, even as they mock those who still proclaim such notions in public. When it comes to family values, says Murray, the rich ought to be more ready to preach what they practice. All this strikes me as very true.

I was particularly struck by this, which is how Part III (“Why It Matters”) begins (p. 238 of my Penguin paperback edition):

The economist Maynard Keynes, accused of changing his mind about monetary policy, famously replied, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” The honest answer to Keynes’s question is “Often, nothing.” Data can bear on policy issues, but many of our opinions about policy are grounded in premises about the nature of human life and human society that are beyond the reach of data. Try to think of any new data that would change your position on abortion, the death penalty, legalization of marijuana, same-sex marriage, or the inheritance tax. If you cannot, you are not necessarily being unreasonable.

So it has been with the evidence I have presented. A social democrat may see in parts 1 and 2 a compelling case for the redistribution of wealth. A social conservative may see a compelling case for government polices that support marriage, religion, and traditional values. I am a libertarian, and I see a compelling case for returning to the founders’ conception of limited government.

In other words, as Perry de Havilland never tires of saying: metacontext, metacontext, metacontext.

Keynes himself changed his mind a lot less than he said he did, I think.

Like Charles Murray, I am a libertarian. But like Murray, and unlike many libertarians, I also believe that old school married parenthood is the best setting in which to raise children, even if, like all other libertarians, I absolutely do not believe that old school married parenthood should be legally compulsory or that any alternatives to it should be legally forbidden. I am not myself married, but a lot of my best friends are libertarians who are married and who are now raising children. They are my friends not just because I like them, but because I admire what they are doing. I love to attend weddings, and have become good at photographing them. Partly this is because I just have, and because I especially like to photograph the many other amateur photographers also present. But I also love weddings because I strongly believe in what is promised at and accomplished by such ceremonies. So, I like Charles Murray’s general ideological attitude to life.

But, I also strongly agree with Murray about how hard it can be to change such ideological attitudes. In particular, merely spraying facts around the political landscape does not necessarily change it very much. Rather does it merely, as Murray says, confirm in the minds of all who hear these facts that they have been right all along about what needs to be done about them.

But this does not mean that minds cannot be changed. Facts, if they are overwhelming enough, can make a difference, especially to people who are young enough still to be making up their minds. But when communicating with such people it is essential not to confine yourself only to facts, however overwhelming they may seem to you. You should also engage at the ideological level. You should state the metacontextual conclusions that you want people to arrive at.

If this does nothing else, it at least enables people to realise that they are in this or that metacontextual team, and to help to make that team a little bit stronger.

It is one thing merely to be a libertarian. You will make a lot more difference to the world if you also realise that a libertarian is what you are. Being a libertarian means have a much more restricted idea of what governments should compel and forbid than tends to prevail nowadays. But it does not mean refraining from having and expressing opinions about how to live wisely.

Is Donald Trump destroying Hillary Clinton?

Having here, as we do, lots of American commenters who are knowledgeable about the details of American politics means that it makes little sense for us Samizdatan Brits to be telling Americans about American politics. But it makes perfect sense for the likes of me to ask questions about American politics. And my question to all American readers who choose to care about it is: Is this true?

This being a Breitbart piece by John Nolte in which he claims that Donald Trump has, pretty much instantaneously and single-handedly, destroyed Hillary Clinton, by flinging at her the accusation that she is an enabler and political ally of a serial woman-destroyer. This mud has been floating around for decades. Everyone has known it. But thanks to Trump and his mastery of the social media, this mud has now, finally, been made to stick. For a quarter of a century the corrupt American mass media have been protecting the Clintons from all this. Now, that protection has been obliterated, by Donald Trump.

If that’s true, then good – very good – for Donald Trump. I have all the obvious doubts about this bizarre man that others have expressed, here and elsewhere. But, one of the basic rules of civilisation is that the rules made by big people, and indeed the basic rules of behaving decently, should apply to big people as well as to little people. The idea that the king is above the law is the very essence of lawlessness. And in the person of “The Donald”, says Nolte, this idea – that the rules apply to the big person that is Hillary Clinton – has finally being applied to and is having serious consequences for this appalling woman, if not in an actual court of law, then at least in the court of public opinion.

Nolte further argues – his piece is entitled “Bernie Sanders Rising Because Trump Annihilating Hillary Clinton” – that the rise of Bernie Sanders is not really a rise; it is merely the collapse of Sanders’s rival for the Democrat nomination, Hillary Clinton.

But: Is all or any of this true? I really look forward to hearing what our commentariat has to say.

Samizdata quote of the day

In a way, then, Palin’s speech was the perfect endorsement for Donald Trump’s campaign: an incoherent mess of angry, resentful sentiment, delivered in a way designed to provide the maximum in media spectacle. Palin effectively—and, okay, somewhat poetically—captured and amplified the identity-politics-driven nonsense that feeds both the candidate and his supporters.

Peter Suderman

In the interests of balance…..

The other day I linked to an item about Donald Trump’s economic illiteracy. Today, there is an item in the Daily Telegraph by Emma Barnett (whoever she is). She piles on Trump for the endorsement he has received from Sarah Palin. Her article is about how deranged most American voters, and by extension, much of the political class, are and is. But the article itself is an example of a different kind of stupidity, mixed up with a generous loading of condescension and superciliousness. And I just loved this about the approach Brits are supposed to take to what is going on Stateside:

If the US political stage were solely split between the reasonable wings of the Democrat Party, a socialist Bernie Sanders and hawkish Hillary Clinton, we’d probably be better able to relate.

So let me get this straight: the UK would be fine with an election between an economically illiterate fool (Sanders) and a probable criminal (Clinton). OK, we currently have an official opposition led by a terrorist-supporting sub-Marxist (Corbyn) and a government led by a patrician Tory of mixed accomplishments (Cameron), although “call me Dave” is probably not as venal, or as congenital a liar, as H. Clinton (we are talking in relative terms, in case people object that DC isn’t particularly honest). So yes, there is much about American politics that a lot of Brits, marinated in mixed economy juice and decades of socialism, cannot relate to, but please, don’t let’s assume that we’d all be quite content with a race between Sanders and Clinton for ultimate power any more than most Americans would.

Oh and by the way, if H Clinton is “hawkish”, I am not sure how that assessment fits with the running sore that is the siege on the Benghazi Embassy, and her behaviour over said.

 

How Hollywood portrays the 2008 financial crash, ctd

As The Big Short unfolds its racing narrative and the protagonists come to curse the authors of the disaster, and as the movie ends with the epilogue text running up the dark screen, we hear investment bankers, stockbrokers, and rating agencies condemned as pure frauds—criminals who should not have escaped jail. We never once—I know that this defies belief, given what has been published about the crisis—we never once hear government mentioned. Not the Federal Reserve, not the government-created, government-backed Federal National Mortgage Association or the Federal National Mortgage Association [Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac], not the legislation pressuring banks to make subprime loans. Not one word. A Martian somehow hearing and understanding this movie would not know that government existed—except for a few mentions of how government regulatory agencies were asleep at the switch. Capitalism, the private sector, through greed, stupidity, and sheer denial, brought on this epic collapse of the U.S. economy and endangered the world financial system, which had to be saved by governments.

It is impossible to see this as an innocent error. Perhaps in 2010, when Michael Lewis published his book—possibly, and I am stretching, here—a writer might have focused on the direct, immediate locus of the tragedy and missed its essential cause. But by 2015, when this film was completed and released, dozens of books and articles had laid out explicitly, irrefutably the role of government as enabler of the crisis. I might mention the account by a leading banker, John A. Allison, who went through the entire experience, managed his bank to save its depositors from the disaster, and then told the story in The Financial Crisis and the Free Market Cure [McGraw-Hill Education, 2012]. There are many other accounts, such as “Who Really Created the Global Financial Crisis”? The Big Short is told as though they do not exist.

Walter Donway, writing in the Savvy Street website (which I heartily recommend).

It is worth noting that portrayals of how financiers operate are not always bad or glaringly lacking in context. As mentioned on this blog before by Brian Micklethwait, one of the best movies made about the crisis has been Margin Call, starring the likes of Kevin Spacey and Jeremy Irons. That film does not seek to claim that bankers are all evil bastards masterminding, well, evil, like a lot of jumped up Bond villains who are evil because that is what they are. Rather, it shows a lot of flawed, not always admirable but very human, well, humans dealing with a fuck up as well as they can. Even Wall Street, the Oliver Stone movie of the 1980s, is pretty good to the extent that the “Greed is good speech” contains some pretty serious truths (alas, undermined by what Gordon Gekko says later about how business is about a zero-sum game, which it isn’t). It seems the fundamental failing of The Big Short (written by Michael Lewis), both in the book, and the film made about it, is what it leaves out, as Walter Donway correctly notes. There is no fundamental explanation of why the crisis happened. Ask someone why the crisis happened and they blather on about “bankers” or “greed” gives us as much information about developments as when a person tries to explain the origins of the First World War by saying “warmongering”, “Kaiser Bill” or “bayonets”.

I might see the Big Short, but given my own Scrooge-like approach, will buy the DVD when it comes out cheap, or via that capitalist marvel Amazon Prime, to which I now have access. (Woot!)

QSD?

So, as I regularly do, I read a recent posting at Mick Hartley, which is about what nutters the rulers of Saudi Arabians are, spreading the theology of bedlam and then griping when people do what the theology says, and all the while blaming the Jews for their own ridiculousness.

And then I read this comment underneath that posting, from someone called “Graham”:

Ironically, it’s the Israeli-Saudi alliance behind the QSD that’s defeating ISIS.

QSD? Quesque c’est?

I found my way to this piece (I love the internet):

These are Kurds, Muslim Arabs, Turkmens, and Syriac Christians. …

… which, to me: sounds good, sounds bad, sounds don’t-know, and sounds good …

… About two weeks after this EXTREMELY disparate group was created, it launched the most successful series of offensives in the entire five-year Syrian civil war. The US immediately began arming the QSD, and the Turks suddenly stopped complaining that the Kurds in this new army were up to no good.

This guy goes on to say (I think) that the “Muslim Arabs” are Tunisian special forces, the Tunisians having become very pissed off with ISIS for having recently destroyed their tourist industry. So those Muslim Arabs sound semi-sane, or as semi-sane as Arabs ever are.

And I also found my way to this piece of Kurdish Daily News (Kurdish Daily News, to me, sounds good) which says:

Syrian Democratic Forces (QSD) has released a six-day balance sheet of the operation they launched against ISIS gangs in the rural areas of south Hesekê on October 31.

During the first six days of the operation, an area of 350 square kilometers has been cleared of ISIS gangs; which involves 36 villages, 10 hamlets, 2 gas factories, 3 quarry areas and some guard posts near the borderline.

The operation has thus far left 196 members of the gangs dead, 99 of whom were killed by QSD forces and 79 as a result of airstrikes by jets of the international coalition.

Part of my daily reading these days consists of Instapundit, and people linked to by Instapundit, telling me that the Middle East is going totally to hell, and that US Middle East policy now has no redeeming features at all. But I am unpersuaded that the answer to the Middle East’s many problems is for the Middle East to be totally conquered and then micro-managed by the USA, with everyone else just standing around and either waiting for their chance and getting it, or else hoping for the best and not getting it. US policy now seems to have been to back off, wait for some Good Guys to emerge out of the mess, and then when they eventually did, to back them with a few guns and a few missiles and a few airstrikes, but not with a huge US army stomping about making friends-that-are (and then abandoning them following an election) or friends-that-aren’t and enemies-that-are, and generally crowding out the best local answers. Is that – “leading from behind” (i.e. not actually leading at all) – such a very terrible idea? It sounds like a rather better idea than earlier ideas have been. Whether President Obama started out wanted that policy, I really do not know, but that now seems to be what is happening.

This more recent posting at Mick Hartley says that if QSD beats ISIL, the big winner could end up being al-Qaida. But might not QSD first defeat ISIL, and then might not QSD, or something closely related to or descended from QSD, then turn on al-Qaida and defeat al-Qaida also?

But what the hell do I know? Comments anyone?

Samizdata quote of the day

In my book, Everything Has Two Handles: The Stoic’s Guide to the Art of Living, I argue that the values of the ancient Stoics can help us achieve personal happiness. I believe that these same values can help our children grow into strong, responsible, and resilient citizens. And what are Stoic values? It’s not just a matter of keeping a stiff upper lip, nor does Stoicism hold that you should tamp down all your feelings. Rather, Stoics believed that the good life is one characterized by virtuous beliefs and actions—in brief, a life based on duty, discipline, and moderation. The Stoics also believed in the importance of taking life on its own terms–what they would have described as “living in harmony with nature.” Stoics did not whine when they were passed over for an award, nor did they throw a hissy fit when they didn’t get their way. As the Stoic philosopher, Seneca (106-43 BCE) put it, “All ferocity is born of weakness.” Perhaps most important, Stoics understood the tremendous value of gratitude — not only for the gifts we have received, but also for the grief we have been spared. Maybe if more children were inculcated with these teachings, we would find our celebrities showing more gratitude and less “attitude.”

Ronald Pies.

In another article, the author of this item argues that narcissism may explain the recent spate of mass shootings in the US; he seems to acknowledge, which is to his credit, that overall violent crime in the US has actually fallen in recent years, however.

 

Samizdata quote of the day

There can only be one explanation for the disgrace that is Donald Trump: he must have failed to realise that the film industry’s demonic portrayals of conservative politicians are politically motivated caricatures, not role models to be emulated. In Love Actually, the villain is a crude, lecherous redneck Republican president on a visit to London. He is keen not just to bully Britain but also to force himself upon Martine McCutcheon’s character. Prime Minister Hugh Grant – an anti-war version of Tony Blair – tells him to get lost, tearing up the “one-sided” special relationship in the process, to the cheers of a grateful nation. As an insight into the Left-liberal mind, this scene takes some beating; the US president at the time was George W Bush and the invasion of Iraq had just been completed. But Trump, who unfortunately remains in the lead for the 2016 Republican nomination, seems to be auditioning for the remake.

Allister Heath. 

Read it all. By the way, I have noticed in some other online forums that Trump fans get very annoyed at we Brits opining about his views. Well, he chose to refer to the UK as part of his recent remarks about Muslims, so he puts himself in the frame for criticism. If you cannot take the heat, etc. The same would apply if a Brit, such as the broadcaster Piers Morgan, chooses to bash America for its 2nd Amendment.

Joseph McCarthy was right

Let’s do some word association.

McCarthyism: Senator Joseph McCarthy, witch-hunts, reds under the bed, blacklists, Hollywood, the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Or to put it another way: it was a Jolly Bad Thing. Hey, the term “McCarthyism” still gets used to this day, so it must be true.

Not so fast. We can dismiss a few of those things straight away. McCarthy had nothing to do with either Hollywood or blacklists. His focus was Soviet sympathisers in the Federal Government, initially the State Department (the US Foreign Office) and, later on, the Army Signals Corps. And as a Senator he could have had nothing to do with a House committee, un-American or otherwise.

But what about the rest? Is it true? Did he hound entirely innocent people or was he on to something? The vast majority of books and articles written on the subject claim that he made it all up. M. Stanton Evans begs to differ. In Blacklisted by History: the Untold Story of Senator Joseph McCarthy and his Fight Against America’s Enemies he argues that in the vast majority of cases those accused by McCarthy of being communists were exactly that. Some were out and out spies. Some were agents of influence. Some were happy to help in the running of communist front groups. But the argument still stands: they were aiding a power that was hostile to the United States.

Evans comes to this judgement mainly by leafing through the files that have become available. These include the FBI files and what have become known as the Venona transcripts: Soviet messages de-crypted by the US military in the 1940s.

It is important to realise that these weren’t just spy games. Communist activity had a real impact. In the early 1940s, for instance, John Stewart Service, the State Department’s man in China produced a string of reports. In them he praised Mao’s Communists to the hilt claiming that they were democrats and successfully fighting the Japanese while condemning Chiang Kai Shek’s Kuomintang (KMT) for being incompetent, corrupt and uninterested in prosecuting the war. This was a travesty of the truth. Reports like this led to the KMT being starved of money and weapons which may well have tipped the balance in the Civil War leading, in turn, to the misery that was subsequently inflicted on the people of mainland China.

So, if he was right why has he been condemned and why does he continue to be condemned by history? Some of it appears to have been McCarthy’s own fault. He puffed up his war record. He over-stated his case. He bullied witnesses. He made the odd mistake. He criticised revered war heroes. Some if it was snobbery. McCarthy was from the wrong side of the tracks. There was no Ivy League education for him. He left school early but through hard work still managed to become a lawyer. He was also a Catholic. But most of it was because he was up against the combined forces of the communists and the establishment.

McCarthy3

The Tydings Committee – a special sub-committee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – was established to get to the bottom of his initial 1950 claim that there were 57 communist agents working in the State Department. It did no such thing. In fact it didn’t even try.

According to Evans it was a cover up from start to finish. There was almost no attempt to get at the facts. Often a denial from the accused was sufficient. At one point they even asked the leader of the US Communist Party if certain people were members. He had to be prompted to say “no”. Most of the hostile questioning was not aimed at the accused – who were often evasive – but McCarthy himself. An inordinate amount of time was given over to attempting to prove that McCarthy had initially claimed a figure of 205 rather than 57 – as if it mattered. There was a definite suggestion that State Department personnel files had been tampered with. It was no great surprise when the official report concluded that McCarthy had made it all up.

You would have thought that even Democrats might have been interested in whether the State Department was full of communist moles. But no. Were they communist sympathisers themselves, or attempting to save the reputation of their side (in Truman, they had their man in the Whitehouse)? Probably the latter but you do wonder.

The Tydings Committee established a pattern for the McCarthy era. McCarthy would make a claim and then the establishment would investigate McCarthy while obstructing the investigation of his claims at every turn.

One of the surprising things for me is how poor Congress was (and probably still is) at holding the Executive to account. More than once the Executive showed utter contempt for Congress’s attempts to get at the truth. This included, as mentioned earlier, tampering with files but also making witnesses unavailable. But this never led to any consequences. Whenever, a confrontation got serious, Congress backed down.

There is a tendency amongst libertarians to imagine that there was some golden age when politicians were decent and honest. If there was, early 1950s America wasn’t it.

If there is one organisation that does come out well out of this it is the FBI. They were onto communist subversion at a very early stage and were responsible for producing most of the evidence that McCarthy later used. This may explain the extraordinary lengths communists and others have gone to over the years to tarnish the reputation of J. Edgar Hoover.

You’d would have thought that with the election in 1952 of Eisenhower as President things would have been different. After all why should a Republican Cold Warrior have any qualms about removing communists from the government especially when he had no need to defend the decisions and practices of a previous administration? Sadly, as it turned out, Eisenhower was every bit as bad as Truman. With Republicans divided between McCarthy and Eisenhower and the Democrats an anti-McCarthy bloc, the Senate voted to censure McCarthy. That was the end of the McCarthy era. He died a few years later, ignored, if not forgotten. He was 48.

Blacklisted by History is an extraordinary achievement but it is not without its faults. One gripe is that it is not particularly well-written – frequently I’d find that I had read several paragraphs without really understanding what was going on. I it is also not particularly well-organised. The same topics seem to crop up again and again often many hundreds of pages apart. And it is also worth bearing in mind that this is not a biography: it is an examination of McCarthy’s claims. McCarthy, himself, doesn’t really appear until 200 pages in and we get very little sense about what he was like. But it makes its case: Joseph McCarthy was a hero.

Samizdata quote of the day

The whole system is clearly a tax-collection scheme masked as justice. In the end, what this court wanted was money, and the people it squeezed were the least able to pay. What I saw rivaled the worst forms of petty tyrannies I’ve read about in history books: how tyrannical kings would use every trick to pillage the population of their meager resources. I very much doubt that there is anything unusual about what I saw. It probably goes on every day in your town, too.

Jeffrey Tucker