Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Incredible Bread Machine

I stumbled upon this film as I was searching for something to write about and I decided that I would do a review about it. The link above however, also includes an introduction and interviews at the end which talk about the film, which is itself is about 30 minutes. First, this film was made in the seventies, but it and the additional material at the beginning and end are in black and white, so it has the feel of a film from the fifties or sixties. Second, the film contains multiple segments which demonstrate the points that they are putting forward and in between them there are conversations that were filmed. These "conversations" are clearly scripted before filming as they hit exactly the points the film is about, but they are filmed as if they are part of some kind of "behind the scenes" feature. Third, much of the dialog, particularly the parts with "men of street" speaking, is rather cheesy (maybe in the seventies it was not, though I doubt it).

That said, it lays out the libertarian case against government intervention in a comprehensive way, as opposed to rather occasional paeans that one hears or reads from Republican party or otherwise right-wing hacks. On that note, it critiques the very concept of government regulation, that Republicans favor if it is "reasonable", by showing that the ability of the government to set the rules of the market means that lobbyists will simply use legislation to remove their competition. The movie does not get to the bread machine until the end and that parable is about the irrationality that is involved in monopoly regulation. The inventor of the bread machine is caught in a hopeless situation by the trust busters as high prices will be considered gouging, low prices will be deemed predatory and similar prices to that of competitors will be taken as proof of collusion. Murray Rothbard even appears near the beginning to talk about housing policy and states how more buildings have been destroyed than replaced and that the replacements are upper income, so the poorer former residents are out of luck.

Secretary of the Treasury, William E. Simon appears at the beginning segment to heartily praise the film and espouse his wholehearted belief in free markets. Simon however, also served as the "Energy Czar" for President Ford; apparently he did not seem to believe the free market could handle the important task of what and how much energy people used. At the end of the film there are two interviews, the first one was with Walter Heller who served as the defender of government intervention. He defended intervention by stating that though there are bad policies, overall government regulation works fine. The interview speaks for itself, but noteworthy is that his first example he uses as excesses of the market is the use of kickbacks and bribes. The power of government to intervene in the first places means there is even a reason for bribes and kickbacks. One point I wish that had brought up in the interview is how government intervention leads to unforeseen consequences that demand more intervention.

Finally, the last part of the video is the interview with Milton Friedman who is touted as the great defender of the free market. Friedman had a number of beliefs and helped enact a number of policies that were supportive of government connected businesses that I should get into in other postings. For this interview however, he was on target in attacking government intervention. I had not seen much of Friedman on film before so I was surprised at how entertaining he actually was. So, while showing this to a group of school children will likely get rolled eyes and sarcastic comments because of the cheesiness, if one is able to get passed that it could be a decent film getting the untutored interested in libertarianism.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Holiest of Holy Wars

I know it's been forever and a day since I've posted anything, but I've just been busy or had writer's block most of the time. For a while I've been searching for something that will peak my interest enough to write about and the Buchanan as Hitler Apologist posts throughout the blogosphere recently has. This isn't about Buchanan though, it's more about how passionately bloggers love World War II. Of course, it's always described as absolutely necessary because of Hitler's and Japan's evil. Usually any heretic from this belief system is denounced immediately as lover of Hitler, Holocaust denier, apologist for Japanese imperialism, fascist, or something similar. If one can somehow avoid such classifications, they graduate to become: an "ISOLATIONIST". These isolationist are either totally callous and without any empathy for the suffering of those under Axis domination or irredeemably, hopelessly naive about the true threat that they posed.

Totally unmentioned or dismissed as water under bridge are the interventions that led to the U.S. being in the position where the Japanese could attack American possessions and the destruction of the Second Reich so that Hitler had a chance to gain power in the first place. Those interventions were for ostensibly for good and true motives as well, such as "saving the world for democracy". Obviously there were those who had selfish motivations behind the previous interventions, but there were such people before World War II as well. The interventionists don't grasp the gravity of how the unintended consequences of armed intervention lead to Hitler and Imperial Japan to begin with. Also the focus on Munich 1938 (as in the "Lesson of Munich") or the Japanese invasion of China or some other moment of World War II focuses the debate such to make it seem that intervention is the most palatable option. This is a particularly nefarious tactic given how many "New Hitlers" have been designated as to enemies of the U.S., using the supposed inherent righteousness of World War II as justification.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Sound and Fury; Signifying Nothing

The cable news and other main stream media outlets are and will continue to be filled with hosannas praising the supposedly uplifting inaugural speech by Hopey. I listened to the whole thing live, against my will, and I was not particularly impressed by it all. It was filled with much of what Hopey has said throughout the campaign: "America is great, moral and just and so all that is done in its name is thus"; "There are real challenges but if we all come together (with me) government and the private sector can fix it all"; and "Divisiveness, or any dissent, is dangerous and so cannot be tolerated". As despicable as most of the right wingers and others of that general leaning are who shout about Hopey's "socialism", the contention that this leader worship of him is dangerous is more than sound. This danger can be seen in recent memory with George W. Bush, when he had his highest popularity after 9/11 he was able to achieve the worst and most long lasting disasters of his presidency: the war in Iraq and the secret prison network.

More to the point of this post, Hopey's paeans about the greatness of America were both hollow and false. Hollow in the sense that he didn't describe how past and future challenges were and will be solved other than by some vague American greatness or through "uniting for a common purpose" (the lack of dissent idea again). False in the most obvious sense that his claims about how problems were overcome were either plainly wrong or misleading. His whole approach follows the same model that nearly all mainstream political thinkers ascribe to: Capitalism is generally alright except when it doesn't lead to the consequences "our democracy" wants and then it needs to be put back in line by the the even hand of government (even while there may be a few people in government who are disreputable, as an institution it's quite moral). Leaving aside what one thinks about capitalism for a moment, this faith in government to be the steady hand in steering the nation to a brighter tomorrow can be seen whether one is a Leftist or Right-Winger or anywhere in between if they think about it carefully and look at the government practices historically.

One can find scandals of graft and corruption in governments from local municipalities up to the White House, even going back a few years. But what's even worse, one can find that the "legal" practices of governments in relation to the rich and powerful, those connected to politicians anyway, are almost always mutually beneficial. Minimum wages, for example, long touted as the example of democracy triumphing over the "greed" of capitalism to ensure the downtrodden will earn a wage that they can live on. However, they also have the effect of making the cost to employers rise so that competition with existing employers is more limited and the decrease in potential employers further reduces opportunities for the unemployed to find work. In short, Hopey is offering more of the same sentimental, meaningless American (Government, in particular) Exceptionalism that has been offered over and over again, but with more palatable rhetoric than Bush could muster. One can only hope that his honeymoon will be short and there won't be another event which he can use to rally support like his predecessor did.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Relief in Somalia

For some good news, the Ethiopian army has finally withdrawn from Somalia, though not all (The stationing of the Ethiopian army, which has been so violent in Somalia, in the Jubba Valley has a special serendipity). Of course, even this relative improvement in the situation is mitigated by the fact that the fighting continues and that the Islamist that the Ethiopians, backed by America, were ostensibly trying to eliminate are now the among the main groups seizing control of the country. The Transitional Federal Government (TFG) placed in power by the Ethiopian invaders is of course collapsing without the Ethiopian army to prop them up. What dampens this occasion even more is that the UN has already passed a resolution granting permission to for any nation to strike Somalia at any time.

But despite all that, this a victory for the Somalis, they have pushed out their occupiers and have achieved the freedom to at least squabble amongst themselves over who will rule their home rather than have foreigners or Quisling locals imposing rule upon them. Once again, people the world over are not interested in being dictated to by foreigners, least of all to be ruled by them. This whole catastrophe in Somalia, recently upstaged by the events in Gaza, provides yet another example of how aspects of conflicts the U.S. gets involved in are viewed through the wrong paradigms. First, the Union of Islamic Courts was viewed as synonymous with al Qaeda when there was no particular reason to believe that. While the Union was explicitly Islamic, nearly all Somalis are Muslim and see that place as an Islamic land so that evidence for such a conclusion isn't particularly strong. Yet, the U.S. continued to act as if that was true and so made it into a self-fulfilling prophesy, the Islamists are in a position to potentially take over Somalia. The other paradigm was that Somalis wanted a Western created government to rule them. It may seem that I'm simply repeating myself, but if one looks at all the attempts by the UN to "achieve peace" in Somalia all have involved a coalition government organized and "recognized" by the "international community". "International community" is the euphemism typically used for the Western governments and others who generally agree with them and all these coalitions have been made outside of Somalia. Little wonder then that these peace plans were seen as attempts for outsiders to dominate them.

With luck, there will be some sort of reconciliation between the different groups and the war can end. But given that the U.S. was willing to come back after the whole Black Hawk Down debacle I wouldn't bet on that. Congratulations just the same to the Somalis who kicked out the Ethiopians though, for whatever it's worth.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Gaza Disaster

It's been months since I've posted anything, mostly due to personal troubles and the struggle to collect my thoughts. I've finally decided to make this post about the unfolding disaster in Gaza. One of the key misconceptions of this incident in particular and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in general has been the whole "human shield" myth. Uri Avnery wrote about this (beginning of the article) and how this whole perception of Hamas as "hiding" among civilians is the wrong paradigm with which to see the events on the ground. Hamas is the duly elected and generally supported government of Gaza and as such they are the ones who are supposed to defend the territory of Gaza in the case of military attack. Whatever one may feel about Hamas's political views, they are as much the government of Gaza as George W. Bush and his team still are, and Hopey McChangington will soon be, of the U.S. and so should be described as such rather than as some foreign force holding Gaza hostage.

In fact, if anyone is holding Gaza hostage it is Israel. The IDF maintains checkpoints and restricts travel for Palestinians throughout Gaza and the West Bank. These checkpoints and other draconian measures have been criticized throughout the world, even in Israel. The IDF attack on Gaza has just been a more nakedly aggressive action that what the Israelis had already been doing. Israel rules over Gaza and the West Bank for intents and purposes as the authority of the Palestinian governments is limited. All the necessities of life for Gazans and most of the functions of a sovereign government are in the realm of the Israeli government to provide. What's worse is that this recent IDF attack on Gaza was planned even before the last ceasefire went into effect.

Clearly this conflict is more than just the evil, would-be Holocaust-repeating-Nazi-esque Arabs versus the plucky democratic Israelis struggling just to exist as a nation and a people. Analysis of the situation by someone other than an Israeli propagandist would conclude that the reality is practically the opposite. Gazans, despite all efforts at resistance (to the dismay of the IDF), are more or less defenseless from the attacks of the Israelis and cannot force the Israelis out through military means, much less annihilate Israel. Much of this problem relates to another issue: all criticism of Israel is regarded as antisemitic. One might not always be specifically called a Nazi or the like for criticizing Israel and specific conduct of IDF may be critiqued, but calling into question the basic premises of the Israeli government is seen as racist. More often than not it's either expressed as "Well that might not have been the best move for Israel to have done, but to harp on it means that guy is fixated on Israelis and how evil they are" or "Sure it might be bad, but what about the other terrible actions by soldiers throughout the world you have said nothing about. Since you didn't mention those you're holding Israelis to a higher standard because you think the Jews are evil and the Holocaust wasn't such a bad idea after all".

Again, this paradigm of viewing criticism of Israel is flawed as well. While one can find many who are antisemitic that oppose Israel, the reality of the situation is that the Israelis are the dominant force in Gaza and the West Bank and brutally occupy those lands. In the end, the vision of Israel as plucky democracy against the Brown Peril of Palestinian hordes is fantasy and in total conflict with reality. However, unless and until the political classes of the U.S. finally accept this or at least act as if this should change, Israeli oppression will continue.