Farewell, Justin Raimondo

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Justin Raimondo, author and co-founder and longtime editor-in-chief of Antiwar.com, recently lost his battle with cancer at the age of 67.

Raimondo was not exactly a household name. He made an occasional appearance on television and radio, but most people have no idea who he was. And yet he and Antiwar.com have had a profound impact on the popular perception of the many U.S. wars that have been initiated since 9/11/01. His frequent critiques of the American war machine were devoured by a relatively small but dedicated niche audience, whose political views ranged across the entire spectrum from left to right, and who all shared his contempt and disdain for systematic mass murder by the state, and all the deception and convoluted moral gymnastics that go with it.

Those dedicated readers learned much from Raimondo over the years about that small but powerful clique of court intellectuals known as the “neoconservatives,” who acted as the bodyguards of lies to justify the criminal U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and the endless U.S. war in Afghanistan, the destruction of Libya and much of Syria, and many other areas of the U.S. government’s lawless foreign policy. Many of those readers then distributed what they learned from Justin far and wide, which undoubtedly helped shape the skepticism of U.S. war and empire that is broadly shared by so many ordinary Americans at the present moment.

I only exchanged the occasional tweet with Raimondo; I never got to meet him, unfortunately. But I always detected a delightfully cantankerous and crotchety personality throughout his voluminous writing. As you read his razor-sharp broadsides at Antiwar.com, you couldn’t help but imagine that he was sitting right there next to you, chain smoking as he explained everything.

Looking at Antiwar.com’s obituary, to say that he was a complicated man containing multitudes would be an understatement.

Born into a Catholic family in Yorktown Heights, NY, he led a childhood so rebellious that he nearly got incarcerated in a mental institution by a prominent psychiatrist who later turned out to be a Soviet spy.

He decided that he was an Objectivist and libertarian at the age of fourteen; he even deigned to pen an article on Objectivism at that tender age, which was published by a New York newspaper. He was thanked for his efforts with a cease-and-desist letter from Ayn Rand’s attorney, which eventually led to him meeting Rand herself. Struck by his youth, she ended up encouraging his passion for writing and urged him to never compromise his vision.

He was a gay libertarian who was a fierce advocate of gay liberation in his youth but then developed some conservative sympathies as he got older, a man who alternatively participated in the presidential campaigns of Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan. To his many critics, those elements didn’t seem to go together. But those seemingly incongruous pieces do in fact fit when you grasp the strategically evolving nature of how he developed his views. Dismantling the U.S. war machine and achieving liberty were always the foremost goals of his writing, which he largely learned how to do from his early mentor, the late Austrian school libertarian economist Murray Rothbard, who was also a persistent and intransigent opponent of American militarism.

Like Rothbard, Raimondo came to realize that in order to mount an effective challenge to U.S. militarism in the court of public opinion, you’re going to have to make an appeal to the ordinary working class Americans who have been sending their kids into the U.S. armed forces, only to see them return in flag-draped coffins or physically and/or psychologically crippled. In Raimondo’s view, too much of the antiwar movement, historically dominated by the political left since the Vietnam War, had become distracted with lifestyle and group identity politics to the detriment of their antiwar activism. And though politically divergent on many other issues, Nader and Buchanan were both aggressively critical of Uncle Sam’s globally interventionist foreign policy, Buchanan particularly so following the collapse of the USSR and Bush Sr.’s war to save the financial behinds of the emirs and sheiks of Kuwait from Saddam Hussein.

Raimondo’s reasoning also escaped the comprehension of his critics when it came to his treatment of Donald Trump. Though at first extremely hostile to Trump’s candidacy early in the 2016 election cycle, Raimondo recognized a new opportunity to strike a blow against the U.S. foreign policy establishment after Trump denounced the pretext for the Iraq war as a pack of lies at the GOP South Carolina primary debate in February 2016. He began writing more and more in defense of Trump’s campaign and then his administration, especially when it came to any apparent resistance by Trump to the mandarins of the U.S State Department and the Pentagon.

But it’s not my job or place to offer any apologetics on Raimondo’s behalf, nor do I have any desire to. I didn’t always agree with his observations and interpretations of certain events. In any case, the man wrote quite clearly and articulately on behalf of his own views. My point is only that there was one very important reason for Raimondo’s sympathies with the Trump phenomenon: He saw it as, potentially, a means to an end, that end being a rollback of the U.S. government’s sprawling, globe-spanning machinery of endless war. How correct Raimondo was about that is, in my own humble opinion, debatable. But the fact remains that Trump, though he did ratchet up Barack Obama’s intervention in Yemen, has not exactly turned out to be quite the warmonger that so many of his critics claimed he would be. Despite preceding press coverage to the contrary, it does not look as though there will be any U.S. war on Venezuela anytime soon, and when the hour arrived to strike Iran, Trump called it off at the last minute.

One could easily imagine Raimondo writing similarly in support of Democratic U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard right now due to her own opposition to the U.S. government’s idiotic and pointless regime-change wars.

That’s because ending U.S. foreign wars was always his number one political priority, and he happily took what he could get wherever he could find it, on whatever point of the political spectrum it could be found.

Justin Raimondo spent virtually his entire life fighting for one of the worthiest causes that any American could ever dedicate himself to: the rollback of, with an eye to someday entirely dismantling, Uncle Sam’s massive war machine.

And for that, there is no doubt that St. Peter embraced him upon his arrival at the pearly gates with the following words: “You did good, son. You did real good. Welcome, and enjoy your rest.”

ADDENDUM:

Aside from Anitwar.com’s wonderful obituary (and do read the whole piece to the very end), here are some other tributes to Justin Raimondo from people who knew and worked with him:

“How Justin Raimondo Made Me A Braver Writer” by Kelley Beaucar Vlahos at the American Conservative.

“In Memoriam: Justin Raimondo, 1951-2019” by Edward Welsch at Chronicles, to which Raimondo was a regular contributor for many years.

Scott Horton discusses Justin Raimondo’s legacy with Pete Raymond.

Horton also discusses Raimondo’s legacy with Tom Woods here and the future of Antiwar.com here.

A Disappointing ‘Vice’

I finally got around to watching writer-director Adam McKay’s Vice on Amazon Prime. I’d been eagerly anticipating a viewing ever since the first trailer came out but just never had the chance to catch it at the theater. I was overjoyed when my wife and I had a couple of hours to spare for a movie at home and she suggested watching it. And so we watched it.

And what a massive disappointment.

Vice is a rambling, chaotic mess. It can’t seem to decide what kind of story it wants to tell about Dick Cheney. There isn’t anything revealed about him that is particularly surprising or insightful, other than perhaps his wayward youth. (Something he has in common with George W. Bush.) Cheney was apparently something of a ne’er-do-well who lived under constant threat of abandonment by his wife, Lynne. It all changed, at least according to the film, when he went to work as an intern in Washington, D.C., and he happened to hear a welcome speech by a U.S. congressman from Illinois named Donald Rumsfeld. That was when Cheney decided that he was a Republican and wanted to spend the rest of his life in politics.

Some of the episodes of Cheney’s life that the film chooses to delve into seem a bit odd to me. Yes, it goes into the 9/11 attacks and his immediate push to at least partially blame it on Iraq, but it barely touches at all on his time as secretary of Defense under Bush Sr. Cheney was instrumental in pushing the U.S. into war against Iraq the first time as well, and under just as patently false pretenses as those that were offered for the second Iraq war. One of the most egregious humdingers was the claim that classified U.S. intelligence surveillance photos revealed that hundreds of thousands of Saddam’s forces were amassed along the Saudi border. That’s what convinced the Saudis to allow their country to serve as a base for the U.S. and its allies, from which they would launch their “Operation: Desert Storm.” (Osama bin Laden later cited the continued U.S. military presence on Saudi soil after the war’s end as one of his main beefs against America.) No such surveillance imagery has been confirmed to this day. It was simply a lie.

It goes completely unmentioned in McKay’s film, however. Instead, he spends time on Cheney’s efforts, in collaboration with anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, to roll back the estate tax. I don’t know, if I were making a movie about Dick Cheney, I would find Cheney’s manipulating the country into a war far more dramatically compelling than a subplot about tax policy, but maybe that’s just me.

McKay deserves some credit for at least making some attempt to humanize his subject, such as Cheney and his family grappling with his daughter Mary coming out as a lesbian at a time when social acceptance of homosexuals was not nearly as common as it is today, not to mention the political implications for Cheney in light of his conservative constituency. The film depicts him as being rather forward-thinking and unconditionally accepting of Mary as she is, and McKay understandably sees this as one of his subject’s redeeming qualities. But it seems almost tacked onto the film as an afterthought, as though somebody forced McKay to mention at least one thing about Dick Cheney that he found positive.

As far as Christian Bale’s performance is concerned, it looks like he got an Oscar nomination for doing an excellent Dick Cheney impression. 

Any good biographical film should seek to understand its subject, to try to find out what makes him tick, how he sees the world and his place in it. I can’t say that I gleaned anything of the sort from Vice.

The Entrepreneurial Immigrant

I recently took an Uber driven by a gentleman who informed me that he had recently arrived from Turkey. He said that he had followed his son over, who was attending medical school here in Chicago.  The fellow looked like he was nearing sixty years of age. I thought it quite impressive for a man to migrate to an entirely different country at that stage of life.

My mother had come over from Belfast, Northern Ireland at the tender age of nineteen. I’ve always imagined how overwhelmed she must have felt coming to a strange country at such a young age, but at least she had many years ahead of her if things didn’t work out. That was one advantage my new Turkish acquaintance lacked. But as if merely immigrating to a strange country wasn’t courageous enough, this guy informed me that he was also starting his own business here. His willingness to undertake such a risk in his newly adopted country is truly impressive.

I have to wonder: Do immigrants tend to be more naturally entrepreneurial than the rest of us? And do those of us who are U.S.-born and bred have a prevailing tendency to avoid risk and play it safe?

Did something change over the past generation? Did native-born Americans transform from risk-takers to risk-avoiders as the country got considerably richer during that time?

Anyone who dares to migrate to a new and strange country is certainly a huge risk-taker. That would certainly indicate a personality prone to entrepreneurship. And perhaps the regulatory climate of the countries immigrants come from have a lot to do with that, too. A country whose government imposes all sorts of needlessly intrusive regulations and licensing requirements for every little transaction–state-sanctioned extortion, essentially–is most likely to spur an underground economy of black market business people.

Perhaps I’ll get off my lazy butt and see if there’s been any solid research on this.

“Space Force Are GO!”

The U.S. Space Force concept that has been so embraced and hyped by the Trump administration of late appears to have attracted a strange bedfellow–albeit ambivalently–in celebrity astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse-Tyson:

“Although a segment of the scientific community has been vocally opposed to a Space Force, the sentiment is not universal. Neil deGrasse Tyson, host of Cosmos and an outspoken science advocate, explained to Yahoo Entertainment why the idea of a Space Force shouldn’t immediately be mocked.

………..

“Just because an idea came out of Trump’s mouth does not have to mean it’s crazy,” Tyson cautioned. “A Space Force is an idea that’s been around, actually, for several decades as our space assets have grown. And the assets we, as Americans, have in space is almost incalculable at this point. Not so much the value of the satellites themselves but the value of the commerce that they enable.

“Look at GPS, for example,” he continued. “Hundreds of billions of dollars of industry relies on this now. So as any good military, wisely constructed military would have as its mission, it is to protect your assets. A Space Force is not a crazy idea with regard to that. What would they do? They would protect us from asteroids that might want to render us extinct. I can guarantee you if the dinosaurs had a Space Force, they’d still be here today.”

The whole “U.S. Space Force” concept, which was recently announced by Vice President Mike Pence as possibly being organized by 2020, appears to be far more driven by concerns that Russia and China are advancing more rapidly toward a hypersonic missile than is the United States, than it is by an eagerness to play a real life game of “Asteroids”, even though Russia’s entire economy is but a small fraction of that of the U.S. And for all the breathless media coverage of China’s alleged ambitions for global military conquest, a lot of experts have a far more tempered view that the Chinese are far more interested in simply securing a hegemony over their own immediate region than they are in going head-to-head with the United States, a confrontation that the Chinese would be sure to lose.

But a never-ending parade of hobgoblins must be trotted out, as always, to keep the American public in a perpetual state of paranoia and fear that the United States, the most militarily powerful country on the planet–perhaps even in the entire history of the planet–is in mortal danger of being utterly destroyed in a single blow.

A saving grace of having a president as divisive and widely reviled as Donald Trump is that few fear to mock and heap derision on his administration’s proposal to expand the U.S. war machine into space. However, I have this nagging feeling that all of this mockery and derision is simply #BecauseItsTrump–if it were President Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton pushing the idea, everyone who is now so contemptuous of it would be applauding and cheering it.

I’d like to close by suggesting a slogan with which to adorn the U.S. Space Force logo–as wittily coined by a friend of mine–that I think is far more poetic than Trump’s:

“SPACE FORCE ARE GO!”

Peace May Be Breaking Out in Afghanistan

By way of Justin Raimondo’s latest editorial at Antiwar.com (which I strongly urge you to read, and with an open mind), I’ve come across this latest development in the long and bloody war in Afghanistan, as recently reported by the Washington Post:

A first possible breakthrough in the 17-year Afghan conflict came in June, when a brief cease-fire during a Muslim holiday produced a spontaneous celebration by Afghan troops, civilians and Taliban fighters. The nationwide yearning for peace became palpable.

Now, in a development that could build on that extraordinary moment, a senior American diplomat and Taliban insurgent officials have reportedly held talks for the first time, meeting in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar and agreeing to hold further sessions. According to Taliban officials, they discussed reprising the truce in August.

Officials in Washington have not acknowledged the meeting, but the State Department confirmed that its senior official dealing with the Afghan region, Alice Wells, traveled last week to Doha, the Qatari capital, partly to “commend the government” for its “ongoing support for peace in Afghanistan.” Qatar has long hosted a Taliban political office.

This is quite significant, and hopefully bodes well for an eventual end to the endless war in Afghanistan, which dates back to at least 1978, when the Afghan army, sympathetic to the country’s Marxist party, overthrew the government of Mohammed Daoud Khan and executed his family. Daoud himself had seized power by means of a military coup several years earlier and ended the Afghan monarchy. After a subsequent series of Marxist-Leninist reforms that were despised by much of the country’s traditionally Islamic population, an Islamist uprising ensued, followed by a complicated power struggle. Soviet Russia then eventually moved in to support the country’s struggling government in late 1979, and the country has suffered a long, torturous, tragic series of wars ever since, of which the U.S. intervention that began in October of 2001, following the 9/11 attacks, is but the latest bloody chapter. Now going on 17 years, it’s been the single longest war that the U.S. government has ever prosecuted.

Even though Afhgan President Ashraf Ghani successfully mediated a cease-fire in June at the close of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, outright peace talks have always been elusive. The Taliban has insisted that they will negotiate only with the U.S., contrary to the U.S. government’s prior insistence that any peace talks consist exclusively of the warring Afghan parties. The Taliban makes no bones about who is the real sheriff in that country.  And even the hawkish Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has indicated a willingness to enter into serious talks with the Taliban.

There are no guarantees, of course, but this latest development seems a promising sign. It seems unlikely that the U.S. would accept any peace agreement that didn’t include at least some American military presence in the country, and whether that would ever be acceptable to the Taliban remains to be seen.

But let’s hope that we’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

James Gunn Sacked for Sick Tweets

The newest tweet-based outrage involves the sick and twisted tweets of movie director James Gunn–best known for the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise–posted way back in 2008-09 or so.

Mr. Gunn’s defense:

1. Many people who have followed my career know when I started, I viewed myself as a provocateur, making movies and telling jokes that were outrageous and taboo. As I have discussed publicly many times, as I’ve developed as a person, so has my work and my humor. — James Gunn (@JamesGunn) July 20, 2018

2. It’s not to say I’m better, but I am very, very different than I was a few years ago; today I try to root my work in love and connection and less in anger. My days saying something just because it’s shocking and trying to get a reaction are over. — James Gunn (@JamesGunn) July 20, 2018

4. For the record, when I made these shocking jokes, I wasn’t living them out. I know this is a weird statement to make, and seems obvious, but, still, here I am, saying it. — James Gunn (@JamesGunn) July 20, 2018

5. Anyway, that’s the completely honest truth: I used to make a lot of offensive jokes. I don’t anymore. I don’t blame my past self for this, but I like myself more and feel like a more full human being and creator today. Love you to you all. — James Gunn (@JamesGunn) July 20, 2018

Here’s a sampling of some of Mr. Gunn’s harmless, erm, “jokes”:

Gunn Tweets

“RT @peteralton I like it when little boys touch me in my silly place–shhh!”

“The Expendables was so manly I fucked the shit out of the little pussy boy next to me! The boys ARE back in town!”

“‘Eagle Snatches Kid'” is what I call it when I get lucky.”

“Three Men and a Baby They had Sex With. #unromanticmovies”

“I’m doing a big Hollywood film adaptation of The Giving Tree with a happy ending – the tree grows back and gives the kid a blowjob.”

“RT @blackehart ‘I remember my first NAMBLA meeting. It was the first time I felt OK being who I am. Some of those guys are still my BFFs.”

Good Lord.

Gunn posted these incredibly sick, vile, and disgusting tweets about a decade ago, when he was just starting out as a filmmaker. He says that he was deliberately acting out as a provocateur, going for the obviously outrageous. In other words, he did what most people insecure in their own talents and abilities do when they feel so strongly that the rest of the world isn’t giving them their due: they scream out for attention like a spoiled little child.

People can certainly give him the benefit of the doubt that that’s all he was doing–vying for attention to jump start a career. It’s ironic that Gunn appeared to have torn a page right out of Donald Trump’s Art of the Deal. If you really want the attention of the media, Trump recommends in his seminal work that you very publicly state something as shocking and outrageous as possible, and then you will certainly get what you wish for. For all of his heated criticism of Trump, Gunn appears to share his outlook in at least this one respect.

I see no reason to believe that Gunn is an actual, practicing pedophile–one should take his denial at his word in the absence of evidence–but the material which Gunn chose for shock value certainly demonstrates some pretty severe callousness. And the fact that he left those tweets up for years, even after striking success in Hollywood, reveals not only something about Gunn’s own casual attitudes toward the abuse of children, it likely says something about much of the film industry’s culture as well: Gunn probably never felt compelled to delete the offensive tweets because his own experience informed him that his colleagues and co-workers wouldn’t much care. Millions of other people, however, who do not inhabit the Hollywood universe, see it differently. They would most likely stop associating with anyone who saw nothing wrong with posting child-rape jokes on social media.

So there’s an obvious question to be asked here: Did anyone at Disney/Marvel find out about Gunn’s sick joke-tweets at anytime during the preceding decade that they were out there, but simply dismiss them out of hand?

What did Disney and Marvel know, and when did they know it?

UPDATE: I had not caught this before, but one of the people most outspoken against Disney severing all ties with Gunn has been none other than conservative pundit Ben Shapiro. Interesting and ironic, considering that Shapiro had just recently been tangling with Gunn on Twitter.

Says Shapiro,

Screen Shot 2018-07-22 at 4.36.21 PMInteresting.

Let’s recap what Gunn found so funny in an “outrageous” and “provocative” way: Sexually assaulting children.

“There is no limiting principle to the outrage mob”????

He made jokes about raping children. 

What an odd thing for a conservative pundit to say when a major corporation–who’s bread and butter has long been children’s entertainment–sacks someone for posting jokes about raping children on social media, and then leaves them up for an entire decade.

Maybe there’s no limiting principle to Shapiro’s tolerance, or perhaps it’s more accurate to observe that there’s no consistently defining principle to what Shapiro finds tolerable or intolerable.

What a confused little man.

UPDATE #2: Good Lord, a veritable mine of Hollywood pedo-joke tweets appears to have been discovered following the James Gunn childrapejokegate. What is the deal with these people? This is getting disturbing.

Just as a side note before I proceed, no, it doesn’t really matter that it’s mainly right-wing outlets like Breitbart who are highlighting all of these disgusting tweets from left-wing celebrities joking about molesting children. The tweets speak for themselves, no matter who is shining a spotlight on them. And it’s just mind-boggling that these people left this stuff up for years, apparently without a single thought ever entering their heads at any point in time that, gee, somebody might be a little disturbed by child-rape humor, such as, say, the millions of people who take their kids to their movies. As I stated in my initial post, that’s likely because the people they work with in their industry, including those responsible for the hiring and firing, have absolutely no problem with it, either. The sensibilities of all the bourgeois rubes who pack the movie theaters for the latest blockbuster are to be acknowledged only for mockery and ridicule.

Speaking of Breitbart, they’ve recently published a couple of columns by John Nolte that get to the root of why this is something to give at least a half a damn about:

First,

“As I have expressed countless times, nothing would make me happier than to live in a world where dumb jokes, stupid comments, tasteless humor, moments of weakness, and legitimate mistakes, both big and small, could be forgiven for those expressing true remorse. I believe in second chances, most especially for myself, and despise our current culture that allows social media mobs to dismantle lives and careers over bad words.

“But guess who disagrees with me?

“That would be James Gunn himself, who called for Roseanne Barr to be fired over a single terrible tweet.

“He has since deleted the tweet (Gee, I wonder why?), but on May 29, Gunn wrote, ‘I wish some of these so-called defenders of liberty would start to understand what freedom of speech is AND isn’t. Roseanne is allowed to say whatever she wants. It doesn’t mean @ABCNetwork needs to continue funding her TV show if her words are considered abhorrent.’”

“And…

“On March 29, and only because she called someone a ‘whiner,’ Gunn publicly called for the destruction of Laura Ingraham’s career via a boycott.

“’I hope @hulu stops advertising …  on the Laura Ingraham show, so I can watch [‘The Handmaid’s Tale’]. Online bullying & shaming of teenagers should not be supported by Hulu. Let them know,’ he tweeted to his half-million followers.”

Screen Shot 2018-07-24 at 10.38.05 AM.png“Gunn might have stopped joking about raping children, stopped joking about ass-raping his friends, about Mexicans, the Holocaust, AIDS, and how kiddie porn gives him an orgasm, but he only set aside those words in order to use the new words that built the petard he just hoisted himself with.” [Emphasis mine.]

Exactly.

Next,

What the hell is up with this fetish for joking about sexually assaulting children???

“Hollywood might be all kinds of ‘woke’ and hyper-sensitive and crippled by a censorious political correctness that declares countless topics and left-wing sacred cows verboten, but ‘joking’ about raping children is totally cool.”

……….

“[W]hat we have on our hands is an entertainment industry that will ex-communicate you for being ‘insensitive’ (toward anyone other than a conservative), that will blacklist you for voting in an ‘unapproved’ way, that will publicly humiliate and ‘re-educate’ you for telling ‘inappropriate’ jokes, but has absolutely no problem with you telling countless jokes about raping a child, even a baby.”

A smattering of the sick jokes highlighted by Nolte:

Screen Shot 2018-07-24 at 10.56.34 AM

Screen Shot 2018-07-24 at 11.00.45 AM

These…”comedians”…seem so desperate for material that they have to dig into the gutter for jokes about molesting kids. And when they’re called out for their tastelessness, all they can do is sputter, “oh, I said that years ago,” or whatever ad hoc rationalization that enters their heads.

That’s the thing about self-appointed arbiters of public morals and taste, especially those who dwell atop the loftiest of castle towers. They’re entitled to form a social media mob and ruin other people’s careers for merely uttering or typing words, but when they’re called out on their own violations of public morality and taste, they simply brush it off with a wave of the hand. In their minds, they alone fashion the rules, and those rules always convict those with whom they differ in politics and worldviews, while at the same time everyone’s to just assume that they’re to be automatically exonerated.

If there are people who can’t see the obvious self-serving, double-standard hypocrisy at work here, then this country just may be at a point where it’s best for the conflicting factions to simply each go their own way. I suspect that we’ll be seeing such a development in the years to come.

Will the Yield Curve Be Inverted?

There has been a bit of buzz of late about the notorious yield curve, that seemingly prophetic differential between the yields of long- and short-term debt instruments of what we are to assume to be of equal credit quality. It looks like it’s flattening–the yields on long-term bonds are lowering relative to those of short-term bonds. One would ordinarily expect the interest rates on long-term debt to be higher than those of short-term debt as they compensate investors for putting their money at risk over a longer time horizon, thus subjecting their investments to the market and economic

antique bills business cash
Here’s the obligatory stock photo of some coins for a blog post about the economy and such. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

conditions of a future too distant to assess at the present time. If long-term yields are falling, it’s because investors are buying up more long-term bonds, thus bidding up the prices of those bonds and decreasing those yields. A big reason why investors would start increasing their purchases of long-term debt would be that they are attempting to lock in today’s rates for the long haul, as they assume that interest rates will soon be falling.

And why would they assume a decrease in interest rates at a time when the Fed has been incrementally raising them? One reason would be that they fear a seismically disruptive downturn in the markets. The times that those long-term yields have dipped below those of the short-term bonds in the past–when the yield curve has inverted–have been followed by severe market downturns and recessions. In fact, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco says that an inverted yield curve has preceded every major recession of the past sixty years.

But now you may be asking why these investors are being so pessimistic, even with all this talk that the economy is going great guns like it hasn’t in over a decade or so. (Which is not to say that there haven’t been any naysayers.)

I’ve already mentioned the reason, about two paragraphs up–the Fed is raising interest rates.

You may recall–or maybe you don’t, it all seems like such a distant lifetime ago already–when everything melted down in September of 2008, what I like to call the Great Financial Sh*t-Show of 2008. There was this steep sell-off in the markets that folded companies and financial institutions like houses of cards, the sell-off being largely of debt securities creatively collateralized by mortgage obligations. The U.S. Congress passed a major bail-out package, the “Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008,” which President George W. Bush signed within hours of its passage. The legislation had already been in the works for several months prior to the September ’08 crash, largely under the direction of then Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, a former chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs. Both major party presidential nominees at the time–then Senators Barack Obama and John McCain–bolted from the campaign trail and pretty much raced each other back to D.C. to vote for the bill, which created the $700 billion Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) to purchase the newly devalued assets clogging up Wall Street’s balance sheets. Of that $700 billion, $250 billion was spent on purchases of the preferred stock of financial institutions through what was called the Capital Purchase Program (CPP). But even before the passage of the bail-out bill, the Fed was already pumping liquidity into the markets through low-interest loans made through its discount window, and had put out more than $7.5 trillion by the spring of 2009.

To put it more succinctly, the Congress and the Fed created just about the greatest corporate welfare program in U.S. history. The American people were told that if they were not compelled to compensate for Wall Street’s losses, the Great Depression 2.0 would overcome the land, followed by a plague of locusts and a thousand years of darkness, turning us all into beggars thrust into tent cities on the streets for the rest of our lives.

What preceded that crash was a raising of interest rates by the Federal Reserve, after a considerable period of time during which they had kept interest rates pushed down. Take a step backwards from the inversion of the yield curve, and you notice this rather curious pattern:

True-Money-Supply-01-01-78-12-31-17
I lifted this snazzy little infographic from RealForecasts.com

The above charts the growth and reduction in the “True Money Supply” against periods of economic recession. This approach to getting a grip on the actual supply of money was formulated by the economists Joseph Salerno and the late Murray Rothbard, which in turn is largely based on the concept of “money in the broader sense” as it was developed by the Austrian school economist Ludwig von Mises.

It’s positively eerie how the Fed’s expansion and contraction of the money supply coincides with the periodic booms and busts of the economy. It almost makes you wonder if there’s some kind of inherent causal relationship.

America’s central bank has of late been selling off assets that it has been carrying on its balance sheet since the ’08 crisis. In selling off assets, they are therefore reducing the money supply, which is how they effectively implement interest rate hikes. So if the pattern I identified above continues to hold, what does this portend? Another massive sell-off and a crash, perhaps?

So, to sum up: Step 1), The Federal Reserve massively expands the money supply with asset purchases, lowering interest rates, and then, Step 2), eventually sells off those assets to raise interest rates again, which is usually followed by a crash, or a panic, or whatever you want to call it.

And in an attempt to remedy the crash, they then go back to step 1 and repeat the process all over again, leading to the same kinds of results as before.

It almost seems as if the very basis of our entire banking and financial system is inherently flawed, as though it naturally leads to unsustainable booms and busts. Who knows how much real wealth it destroys in such a process?

Nah, that can’t be right.

That’s crazy talk.

William Stephenson’s Role on the Devil’s Chessboard

I’ve just recently started reading David Talbot’s 2015 book The Devil’s Chessboard, his narrative of the shadowy CIA Director Allen W. Dulles. I’ve only just got through the first chapter, but as I understand it from the reviews that were written when the book was first published, Talbot builds a thesis that Dulles was the man behind the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

While I’m deeply skeptical of that theory (I’m fully aware that Dulles was up to all sorts of dark and twisted skullduggery in his long and murky career, but that doesn’t mean he was responsible for one of the most notorious events of 20th century American history), Talbot offers some very educational information so far.

For example, I knew virtually nothing of the Canadian agent for British intelligence, Sir William Stephenson. Stephenson was the man who was code named “Intrepid” by his friend Winston Churchill. He was also the inspiration for Ian Fleming’s James Bond character. Fleming worked with Stephenson during his stint in British naval intelligence.

What’s interesting, and what I just never knew, was that, at least according to Talbot, Churchill, not long after the British evacuation at Dunkirk, dispatched Stephenson to the United States in 1940 for the express purpose of swaying a wary and isolationist American public to support U.S. entry into the war in support of the British cause, with President Franklin Roosevelt’s full support. Stephenson’s “British Security Coordination,” which was headquartered at Rockefeller Center, eventually  employed as many as 3,000 people.

“It was a remarkably ambitious covert enterprise,” notes Talbot, “particularly considering that England was operating on friendly soil.”

But then here’s what’s really interesting: Talbot claims that Stephenson was authorized to kill (“licensed to kill,” just like the fictional hero for whom he was supposedly the inspiration), not only German intelligence agents and members of a network of Nazi spies, but also “pro-Hitler American businessmen” as well. Stephenson had British assassination teams at his disposal to accomplish this. At one point Stephenson considered killing Dulles’ German business associate Gerhard Wetrick because of his activities lobbying for Hitler’s regime in the U.S., though Wetrick was eventually deported instead.

Talbot cites as his source an interview he conducted of John Loftus, who investigated Nazi war crimes for the U.S. Justice Department. Loftus also supposedly cites Stephenson’s authorization to kill in his 2010 book, America’s Nazi Secret.

The Universe According to Thanos

If you’re a fan of the superhero comic book genre of cinema, then you should run as fast as you can, not merely walk, to the latest installment of the Marvel Comics franchise, The Avengers: Infinity War. If these loud, action-packed movies are not your cup of tea, then you should probably take a pass. But if you don’t care what the film snobs think and you enjoy them immensely, then go for it. You’ll be glad you did. The directing brothers Anthony and Joseph Russo have pulled off no small feat here. While the movie is not without its flaws, they successfully juggled a long parade of characters and intertwining plot lines to pull off one highly entertaining thrill ride of a flick.

But that’s not what I want to talk about.

At the center of this movie–it is in fact, his story, told mostly from his perspective–is its formidable villain, Thanos. Thanos is a “titan,” or he’s from Titan–I forget which. He is a mighty big badass, but he fancies himself a thinking badass. He has reached the conclusion that the universe is out of balance, which is to say it’s becoming much too populous. He’s certain that he sees the future, and that future consists of many worlds becoming so crowded that their inhabitants are on the verge of overconsuming precious scarce resources, causing much famine, suffering, and misery. He seeks out the complete set of magical “infinity stones” that, once collected in full by his big fisted metal gauntlet, will grant him immense power to do whatever the hell he wants–so he wants to  wipe out half the population of the universe in order to avoid all that suffering and death and misery. It’s kind of funny, though–in the peculiar sense, anyways–that he doesn’t think to use those magic rocks to create a superabundance of resources on all the worlds whose populations he seeks to halve, so that the halving wouldn’t be so necessary. Thanos seems a bit too eager to employ genocide as a solution.

Thanos’ zero-sum theory of humanity isn’t just a comic book trope, however. It is widely shared by people who actually have some influence on public policy, as frightening as that sounds.

Thanos’ rather stark and brutal perspective is somewhat reminiscent of the Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus, the 18th century English economist. While the majority of middle-class Europeans rejoiced at the terrific gains being made at the time by the proliferation of new technology that brought on the Industrial Revolution, Malthus preferred to rain all over their prosperity parade with a lot of gloom-and-doom predictions. He claimed that all that newly created wealth was merely subsidizing the increased reproduction of the poor, who would eventually become so numerous that they would be confronted with famine and disease, what has since become known in the popular usage as a “Malthusian trap.” Such crises would inevitably kill off a great many people, thus regressing society back to the preceding economic state.

“It is an evident truth that, whatever may be the rate of increase in the means of subsistence, the increase of population must be limited by it, at least after the food has once been divided into the smallest shares that will support life,” wrote the rather grim and pessimistic Malthus in his Essay on the Principle of Population. “All the children born, beyond what would be required to keep up the population to this level, must necessarily perish, unless room be made for them by the deaths of grown persons.”

Malthus supplied absolutely no evidence for his stark thesis; he simply stated it as a given fact. But his theory was spectacularly wrong. Contrary to what it implied, the food supply at any given time isn’t fixed. The more people come into existence, the more people do continue, thank goodness, to develop methods for increasing the available sustenance as the population grows. The entire population of Europe was approximately 127 million in 1700. It steadily increased to 224 million by 1820 when Malthus was in his mid-fifties, and then eventually reached 498 million by 1913. And yet the massive crises of starvation and want that Malthus predicted never came to pass. Europe’s biggest disasters occurred during the first half of the 20th century, and they were caused not by overpopulation, but by blundering statesmen who condemned the continent to two horrific wars that slaughtered millions.

Indeed, paleoanthropologists estimate that there was all of 10,000-30,000 homo sapiens around 200,000 years ago, and everything we know about human life in that period indicates that it was pretty nasty, brutish, and short. The “Toba catastrophe,” a massive volcanic eruption that occurred in Indonesia about 70,000 years ago, is believed to have caused a “population bottleneck,” that is, a sudden and sharp reduction in the human population to as few as 1,000 -10,000 people. Today, there are billions of people walking the planet. By Malthus’ logic, we should never have become so numerous and prosperous at the same time. Living standards and quality of life today are not worse than they were during the paleolithic era, but far, far better. Malthus had it exactly backwards.

His skewed theory that a growing population inevitably meant greater scarcity of food and resources led him and those who believed in his expertise on the matter to some deeply flawed preferences in public policy. He was intensely supportive of England’s Corn Laws, for example, which imposed steep tariffs on imported grain. His reasoning was that this would incentivize greater self-sufficiency for food in England at a time when other countries taxed their own grain exports whenever they experienced economic hardship. But the increased food prices caused by the Corn Laws simply ended up increasing the wealth of England’s landowners at the expense of everyone else. The higher food prices imposed on the general population reduced their ability to purchase manufactured goods, thus hampering the country’s industry. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in economics to understand how much the increased prices of food and other goods, along with the reduction in employment opportunities, arrested the living standards of anyone who wasn’t an aristocrat.

But the Malthusian delusion persists–among highly learned scholars, no less–no matter how many times it’s discredited by both logic and experience.

The American biologist Paul Ehrlich provides one example of the stubborn persistence of this thesis. In his 1968 book, The Population Bomb, Ehrlich predicted that due to the growing population, the 1970s would be a decade of mass starvation, misery, and death…hundreds of millions would perish as the result of food shortages, stated Ehrlich.

Obviously, this had not come to pass. (At one point in 1980, Ehrlich even predicted that England would cease to exist by the year 2000.) Some famines had occurred subsequent to Ehrlich’s predictions, such as Ethiopia’s catastrophic famine of the early 1980s, but they were the result of deeply misguided government policies that prevented the populations of those countries from accessing food supplies when they needed them most, not global overpopulation.

Of course, that’s not to say that there’s an eternally guaranteed progression of advancing technology and growing prosperity. If one were to chart the evolution of man’s quality of life throughout the ages on a graph, the line would look like more like a zig-zag, sometimes inclining upwards, at other times declining downwards, and then back up again, down yet again, and so forth.

It’s knowledge and what man does with it that is the real determining factor of progress or regression, not population growth. It’s certainly true that it’s not necessarily a given that human knowledge will always advance to the overall improvement of living conditions indefinitely, but it’s been pretty much on a roll for quite awhile now.

Incredibly, Ehrlich’s erroneous prophecies of mass starvation hasn’t kept academia and policy makers from falling into the Malthusian trap any more than Malthus’ own errors have. The British journalist Brendan O’Neill has been tracking this trend among the world’s intelligentsia for some years now. In this 2012 piece he reports that at that year’s UN Rio+20 Earth summit, over a hundred venerable institutions, including England’s own Royal Society, chillingly urged those in power throughout the world to look past “ethical sensitivities” and “confront rising global population.”

I’m not quite sure what they meant by that, but something tells me that the rest of us should make sure they don’t get their hands on any infinity stones.