Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Silk Roads of Revolution



When we last left Frankopan’s history of the Silk Roads at the time of the middle of the seventh century, Christianity was on the eastward march.  There was soon to be a new sheriff (or is that Sharīf) in town.

But first, the bubonic plague.  The year is 541:

It moved like lightning, so fast that by the time panic set in, it was already too late.  No one was spared.  The scale of death was barely imaginable.

This is known today as the Plague of Justinian:

The Plague of Justinian (541–542) was a pandemic that afflicted the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, especially its capital Constantinople, the Sassanid Empire, and port cities around the entire Mediterranean Sea. One of the deadliest plagues in history, this devastating pandemic resulted in the deaths of an estimated 25 million (at the time of the initial outbreak that was at least 13% of the world's population) to 50 million people (in two centuries of recurrence).

The plague is believed to have begun in China; it was brought west through trade – grain ships carrying rats, etc.  (And Americans complain about the devastation brought on by NAFTA!)  In addition to death, the plague brought chronic economic depression; returning to Frankopan:

…fields denuded of farmers, towns stripped of consumers and a generation scythed down in their youth naturally altered the demography of late antiquity, and caused a severe contraction of the economy.

A Byzantine treasury already depleted before the plague could not withstand the demands after the plague.  Justinian was left with the option of buying off his neighbors, as he did not have the means to fight them off.  His successors decided on a different approach. The new Emperor, Justin II, sent the Avars – who were looking for their customary payment of tribute – away with a message:

“Never again shall you be loaded at the expense of this empire, and go on your way without doing us any service; for from me you shall receive nothing.”

A powerful alliance of Türk nomads felt Constantinople could be a worthwhile partner in support of their ambition to destroy Persia.  The Roman attack failed, and the Türks felt that they chose an unreliable partner.  This episode, however, brought on a period of two decades of fighting between the Romans and Persians. 

The result would be devastating for both sides, especially for the Persians; further, the fighting would make the soil fertile for a new enemy, one to arise from the deserts of the south.

At one point, after the Persians successfully penetrated deep into Asia Minor, the Romans successfully ambushed the Persian army.  The queen was taken prisoner along with the royal golden carriage; the Persian sacred fire – considered greater than any other fire – was captured and thrown into a river; the Zoroastrian high priest and a “multitude of the most senior people” were drowned.

These were seen, as you might imagine, as aggressive and provocative acts, meant to belittle the Persians and their religion.  At the same time, the Roman army embraced an ever more religious tone.

The details of the battles, the ebbs and flows, the intrigue, the diplomacy…too much for this post.  By 626, the Persian army was camped within site of the walls of Constantinople.  Heraclius, the Roman Emperor of Armenian descent, felt this would be a fight to defend the Christian faith.

Just as all seemed lost, the walls held and the assaults were beaten away.  The Avars – allied in this battle alongside the Persians – gave up first; the Persians soon had to follow, given reports of attacks in the Caucasus by the Türks. 

Heraclius did not leave it at this; he organized a swift counter-attack, making an alliance with the Türks.  After crushing a large Persian army, the Persian leadership cracked under the pressure.  Heraclius led a ceremonial entry into Jerusalem.  Jews in the city were forcibly baptized; Eastern Christians, whose doctrinal positions did not match those of the Orthodox Church, were forced into conforming.

In the meantime, a new threat to both Romans and Persians was rising up from the south…

It was in this region, as war raged to the north, that a trader named Muḥammad, a member of the Banū Hāshim clan of the Quraysh tribe, retreated to a cave not far from the city of Mecca to contemplate.

Muḥammad was not alone in this region with a new preaching about a single god; there were others who rose in this region during this time, a region experiencing acute economic contraction as a result of the Perso-Roman Wars.  Yet, it is Muḥammad who advanced.

Those who followed his teachings were promised fruitful land, economic rewards, paradise, and receipt of the lord’s forgiveness; those who did not would see their crops fail, face doom, disaster and damnation. 

Anyone who waged war on his followers would suffer terribly and receive no mercy.  They were to be executed or crucified, lose limbs or be exiled: the enemies of Muḥammad were the enemies of God; truly they would suffer an awful fate.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Hornberger and Immigration…


…again….

I would be nice if Jacob Hornberger would stick to foreign intervention, the drug war, and the like.

Two articles from yesterday’s daily.  First, his own: Immigration Socialism Produces More Death and Suffering:

A few days ago, eight undocumented immigrants died from heat exhaustion while being illegally transported in the back of a tractor-trailer in South Texas. Dozens were severely injured, with some expected to have permanent brain damage.

It is a tragic incident, no doubt.

In a free-market system, immigrants would be free to cross borders back and forth using the normal means of transportation — cars, busses, planes, and trains.

I agree…like one million percent. 

But we don’t have a free market system; in a free market system, for one thing we would have borders – not the kind to which Hornberger refers. 

The basis of the free market is private property; without private property there is no free market.  As even Walter Block now recognizes, without private property, you cannot have open borders consistent with libertarian theory (at least he recognizes it for now; he offered a future reply and I will not conclude anything further regarding his view until then).

I will come back to the idea of free markets once I deal with Hornberger’s second offering from yesterday.  It is from The New York Times, entitled Without Visas, Carnival Workers Are Trapped at Home in Mexico.

Now…just think for a minute about that title.  Think about a libertarian world.  Think about the point made above, regarding private property. 

Let me state this bluntly: in a free market, without permission from the neighboring landowner EVERYONE is trapped at home.  Home is the only place where we have free movement; home is the only place where one can have open borders – if one chooses to be so foolish.

In case you think I am being too harsh or hard-headed, I offer something further, from The New York Times piece (apparently the trendsetter in libertarian theory now):

“They say we are taking jobs from the Americans,” said Mr. Trujillo, who has worked the last four carnival seasons in New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Carnival work is “really hard,” he said, adding, “Americans don’t want to do it.”

Of course Americans don’t want to do this work – shoveling animal dung and bucketing vomit.  Americans get paid well to stay at home and do nothing.  Absent this non-free-market income, there would be plenty of Americans willing to shovel sh!7.

There are no free markets.  Absent free markets, there is no possibility to conclude a libertarian position regarding state borders – and certainly not that the only libertarian position is open borders.

Conclusion

Jacob Hornberger is great on foreign intervention, the drug war, and other such topics.  Enough said.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Judge Napolitano and Robert Murphy


If you aren’t watching the lectures from Mises University this week, you are missing out.  Then again, you may have something more important to do this week – like making a million bucks or curing cancer or something.

I would like to offer two highlights…so far.  Judge Napolitano gave a presentation on Monday evening; it was the introduction to his week-long course on the Constitution and the Free Market.  The audio is here.  If you don’t want to listen to the whole thing, please share some portion of that million bucks you are making this week…and also at least listen to the last few minutes.  Do so while sitting next to your young child or grandchild.  You will not remain tearless, because you know it is likely true…for them, not you.

Second, Robert Murphy.  He gave a lecture entitled The Economics of the Stateless Society.  In it, he spoke of the libertarian position on immigration. 

Now…before I get to the punchline…there are a handful of libertarians who understand that open borders is NOT “the only position for libertarians.”  In fact, it is not a libertarian position at all.  Such as these (Hans Hoppe being, perhaps, the most prominent) come at it from different angles, but conclude this point.

I have made this argument from several angles.  I have now found the second person ever (to my knowledge) who has come at it from one of the more unique of my many angles (and I do not claim to be the original or unique; as many of you know, I come to my positions while almost purposely avoiding the views of others who may be ahead of me on various such topics).

I cite Murphy:

As with something like “prayer in school,” there is no good answer when we give monopoly power to coercive State.

Precisely!  The question of borders CANNOT be resolved in a pure manner via the non-aggression principle as long as there are state borders.  It is an especially impossible position for those libertarians who claim to be for a minarchist state.

No such thing as a “right to travel freely.” E.g. malls – fancy restaurant – country club – house.

In a free society, private landowners set whatever policies they want on their property.

Precisely… again.  In a world of private property, there are NO OPEN BORDERS.  So how does libertarian theory lead to a conclusion that open borders is the only possible libertarian position? 

It cannot.

Conclusion

Find time to watch or listen to the lectures from this conference.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Libertarian Neocons for McCain



The headline at Reason.com says enough:

John McCain’s Flawed, Important Example in the Age of Trump: The cancer-stricken senator’s eternal pursuit of honor and integrity are a welcome tonic in a tawdry age, even while his policy misjudgments helped pave the way for the new Republican politics he abhors.

The essay is written by Matt Welch:

Matt Welch is editor at large of Reason, the libertarian magazine of "Free Minds and Free Markets." He served as Reason's editor in chief from 2008-2016.

No lightweight within the four (virtual and real) walls of Reason.  So what does Matt have to say about this senator?

Welch does not shy away from some of the minor issues of McCain.  But the ones he offers truly are McCain’s minor issues.  Instead, Welch focuses on McCain’s character, describing McCain with terms such as honor, integrity, decency, and virtue.

I don’t get it.  McCain is perhaps the most warmongering, murdering, destructive individual in the senate today – this saying nothing about the immense flaws in his personal life.   Welch, from Reason describes him as having decency and integrity.  I happen to hold an entirely different view.

How is a man who has never met a war he didn’t like deserving of such words?

On what planet, one with individuals who viewed “free minds and free markets” as important, could these words be used to describe this man?  How does an organization whose purpose is to make a “principled case for liberty and individual choice in all areas of human activity” come to such a demented state?

It goes beyond all reason.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Libertarian Neo-cons


Reason has gone full-blown neocon.  Recently I commented on a call to war with Russia by Cathy Young, published at Reason.com.  Now it is another piece at Reason, written by Steve Chapman and entitled “Trump Forces a GOP Retreat On Russia.”  Chapman doesn’t consider the so-called retreat to be a good thing.

He begins by favorably citing Mitt Romney from three years ago, calling out Obama for his naiveté regarding Russia:

“…the president wasn't able to shape the kinds of events that may have been able to prevent the kinds of circumstances that you're seeing in the Ukraine, as well as the things that you're seeing in Syria.”

Ukraine being right next to Russia; Syria, where Russia was legally invited by the president of the country to help put down a terrorist revolution.  These are, somehow, the business of the United States government, according to beltway libertarians.

Romney continues:

“This is not Fantasyland. This is reality where they are a geopolitical adversary.”

Because libertarians think in terms of geopolitical adversaries?  On what planet?  Apparently, on planet beltway.

Republican voters are dolts according to Chapman, after all…

One recent poll found that only one in four thinks Russia should be treated mainly as a threat—with the rest preferring warmer ties.

Warmer ties with a nuclear armed country.  Why talk when you can bludgeon?  This is what the beltway libertarians have come to.

And republicans in congress have had to become apologists for Trump:

…most of the party's members of Congress have done their best to downplay or excuse Trump's strange fondness for Vladimir Putin.

Maybe it’s just fondness for not starting a war that has the potential to destroy life on earth.

Citing the “collusion” by Trump, Jr., with a Russian lawyer who claimed to have damaging information on Hillary (who doesn’t?), Chapman suggests that only two republican senators got it right:

Only a few longtime Trump critics, notably John McCain and Lindsey Graham, were vocally disgusted by what they had learned.

Yes, the two warmongers who never saw a country that they didn’t want destroyed.  The beltway libertarians at Reason are pleased with their “disgust.”

Life was better when presidents talked tough toward Russians (and the Soviet Union, which, it seems, never went away in the minds of the infantile):

The standard for presidents used to be higher.

In the past, the GOP demanded that presidents recognize the threat posed by the Russian government, understand the policies needed to counter it and have the backbone to stand up to any challenge. Trump, by their own criteria, has failed each of these tests.

The president must stand up to any challenge, because it is libertarian to think in terms of geopolitical adversaries and search out ways to foment war – even better if it is nuclear war. 

Just ask Reason.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Redeemer Nation



Matthew 5:14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.


Just one verse of perhaps the most stream-of-consciousness-what-it-means-to-follow-Christ passages offered straight from the-Son-of-God’s lips to man’s ears.

This thought was foundational to the birth of the American colonies (I have edited the text for easier reading):

…for we must Consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us; so that if we shall deal falsely with our god in this work we have undertaken and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword through the world, we shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God and all professors for God’s sake; we shall shame the faces of many of God’s worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into Curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whether we are going…


Unfortunately, America has taken to the form of only one tidbit from Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, and none of the substance.  In any case, who is John Winthrop?

John Winthrop (12 January 1587/88 – 26 March 1649) was an English Puritan lawyer and one of the leading figures in founding the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the second major settlement in New England, following Plymouth Colony. Winthrop led the first large wave of immigrants from England in 1630 and served as governor for 12 of the colony's first 20 years. His writings and vision of the colony as a Puritan "city upon a hill" dominated New England colonial development, influencing the governments and religions of neighboring colonies.

Over the course of several months, I have listened to a series of interviews of Michael Vlahos by John Batchelor; Vlahos speaks of this idea of the United States as the redeemer nation.  Who is Michael Vlahos?

Michael Vlahos, PhD, has taught in the Global Security Studies program at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Arts and Sciences since 2011. He is a professor in the Strategy and Policy Department at the US Naval War College, a position he has held since 2010.

A recent interview of Vlahos by Batchelor offers an excellent summary of Vlahos’ view.  I find his arguments to be compelling.  I will offer only a few brief snippets here.  As there is no transcript, what I offer is not an attempt to capture his words – more like a summary; I suggest listening to the entire interview, it will take less than 20 minutes of your time.

Key points include:

The United States has always held onto the narrative of the redeemer nation; the story Americans tell themselves about the purpose of their nation.

Certainly since the end of World War Two it has taken on this role internationally – after a failed attempt by Woodrow Wilson to do the same after the Great War.  Harry Truman is the one who successfully implemented this global role, as the indispensable nation.  He successfully turned the religious mission of World War Two into a narrative that continued through the Cold War.

The narrative has existed from the beginning; it has only evolved and increased, but it has never changed.  America is God’s hand in world affairs.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States has gradually been losing this narrative.  America’s narrative of completing God’s mission was achieved.  George H.W. Bush offered a coda, a ceremonial war against Iraq, as demonstrating America’s achievement.

There are now competing narratives – both within and outside of the United States.  Actual people in actual places have become restless.

The narrative power has been lost; the narrative is being pushed by others: China, Russia, Muslims, even Europeans…but not Americans.

Does America drift for a while, or do we accept that we are no longer exceptional?  For the US to cease to see itself as something exceptional will take something like what Japan and Germany realized in World War Two.

A concrete example is happening now in the South China Sea: as America is challenged, there is no story about what the US needs to do.  There is no longer a narrative that allows the US to intervene.

As an aside, Vlahos points to Japan’s aggressions in China in the early 1930s; Japan acted with US support to have an army in China.  (I have commented on this history in the past.)

Conclusion

Let’s hope Vlahos is wrong about America not going down quietly.  Observation tells me, unfortunately, that my hope is misplaced.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Safety of the Cold War



Ahhh…the good old days: the Soviet Union and the United States; the Warsaw Pact and NATO; East and West.  And nukes…tens of thousands of nukes.  I look back fondly at the relative safety of the time.

Sure, tensions were high.  Cuban missile Crisis, proxy wars, Iron Curtains, Checkpoint Charlie.  But at least then the two sides would talk; at least then the two sides took steps to ensure some level of openness and cooperation; at least then one could suggest calls for diplomacy with the Soviet Union.

I recently came across the history of one such example, the history of military liaison missions in Germany:

The military liaison missions arose from reciprocal agreements formed between the Western allied nations (the US, the UK and France) and the USSR shortly after the end of the Second World War. The missions were active from 1946 until 1990.

Basically the four Allied Powers, victorious in the war, openly allowed spying on the other side of the curtain.  Those assigned in these missions held something approaching diplomatic status; this did not prevent high speed car chases, shootings, and a couple of deaths.


The Military Liaison Missions arose from reciprocal agreements formed immediately after the Second World War between the Western allied nations (U.S., UK and France) and the USSR. The missions were active from 1946 until 1990.

The agreements between the allied nations and the Soviet Union permitted the deployment of small numbers of military intelligence personnel — together with associated support staff — in each other's territory in Germany, ostensibly for the purposes of monitoring and furthering better relationships between the Soviet and Western occupation forces….The MLMs also played an intelligence-gathering role.

Each of the three western powers had access to East Germany; the Soviets had access to all western zones of Germany.

The missions' initial tasks were genuine liaison tasks. These included repatriation of Prisoners of War (PoW), location of allied service personnel graves, looking for Nazi war criminals and witnesses to Nazi atrocities as well as monitoring the distribution of food and fuel etc. In BRIXMIS' [The British Commanders'-in-Chief Mission] case, the intelligence gathering role was only authorised by the UK Government in 1948 during the period of the buildup of the Berlin Blockade.

The MLMs were granted access to large areas of the Soviet Zone of Occupation. PRAs (Permanent Restricted Areas) around military installations and TRAs (Temporary Restricted Areas) during military exercises were marked on special maps issued to the MLMs. The primary task of the MLMs became surveillance and reconnaissance of the Soviet Forces on the ground and by air. The estimation of Soviet troop strength, observation of new equipment and military exercises became the daily routine. The Mission's role can't be overestimated as they were the first to tell a large maneuver from a buildup of troops which even could have resulted in a nuclear conflict.

On every single day of the Cold War, several teams of the US mission were active.  Each team was comprised of two members, travelling in a nondescript four-wheel-drive vehicle.  The teams carried items such as notebooks, binoculars, night vision goggles, and tape recorders, but no weapons.

The targets included Soviet or East German garrisons, temporary deployment areas, field training areas, air-ground gunnery ranges, communications sites, river crossing areas, railroad sidings, and virtually anything else of military value in the country.

The enemy's capabilities were only part of the problem; the MLM was also tasked to look for indications of intent to use those capabilities. [Major General Roland La Joie, a former commander of the USMLM] writes: "On every single day throughout the Cold War, eight or more Allied tours were roaming the countryside of East Germany. Every day, all night, each tour looking exactly for signs of imminence of hostilities."

Conclusion

Like I said, the safety of the Cold War.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Thank You



From an email, offered in the middle of the Gary North attack:

…as I have often thought, you can be proud of your commenters, and of the whole Bionic community you've created.

My reply:

The best group of commenters that I regularly read was at the Daily Bell in the first couple of years – seven or eight years ago – even better than the comments behind any paywall.

As Anthony Wile started flopping around both in the site's focus and its interaction with commenters, that changed for me.

I keep that early community in mind when I write and how I deal with comments. I don't want to lose that.

A few of you have been around since those days at The Daily Bell; those that were there would understand my sentiment about that site at that time.

I have mentioned before that one of the main reasons I write is that it forces me to think critically, to organize my thoughts in a manner that is reasonable and logical.  In other words, I write to better myself.

The reason I write publicly is to learn.  As those of you who have been around for more than a few months recognize, I have grown since the time bionic was born – at least I sure hope I have.  To the extent this is true, it is because of your feedback.  I truly enjoy and welcome the feedback, but only if I can keep the community that I hope to keep.

And I thank you all for your contributions and support during this journey.