Afghanistan: In Search of Monsters to Not Destroy

America, John Quincy Adams said in 1821, “goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.” That’s as good a summary ever spoken of the non-interventionist position.

US Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) disagrees. He opposes President Trump’s quest for a peace agreement with the Taliban in Afghanistan as “reckless and dangerous,” entailing “severe risk to the homeland.”

Nearly 18 years  into the US occupation of Afghanistan, at a cost of  trillions of dollars, more than 4,000 Americans dead and more than 20,000 wounded, Graham and his fellow hawks clearly aren’t really looking for monsters to destroy.  They want those monsters alive and at large, to justify both their own general misrule and the perpetual flow of American blood and treasure into foreign soil (read: into the bank accounts of US “defense” contractors).

The US invasion of Afghanistan was never militarily necessary. The Taliban offered to hand over Osama bin Laden upon presentation of evidence that he was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, an offer President George W. Bush arrogantly declined in favor of war.

The extended US occupation of, and “nation-building” project in, Afghanistan, was even less justifiable. Instead of relentlessly pursuing the supposed mission of apprehending bin Laden and liquidating al Qaeda, US forces focused on toppling the Taliban, installing a puppet regime, and setting themselves to the impossible task of turning Kabul into Kokomo.

It hasn’t worked. It’s not working now. It’s not going to start working.  Ever. It should never have been attempted. Afghans don’t want Lindsey Graham running their affairs any more than you want him running yours. Can you blame them after as many as 360,000 Afghan civilian deaths?

Afghanistan is not and never has been a military threat to the United States, let alone the kind of existential threat that would justify 18 years of war. Yesterday isn’t soon enough to bring this fiasco to an end. But Graham and company would, given their way, drag it out forever.

They’re  the kind of grifters H.L. Mencken had in mind when he noted that “[t]he whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” But they’d rather keep old hobgoblins alive than have to manufacture new ones.

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If the University of Alabama Doesn’t Need Hugh Culverhouse, Jr.’s Money, it Doesn’t Need Yours

Last year, Florida attorney and philanthropist Hugh Culverhouse, Jr. donated $26.5 million to the University of Alabama. The university, grateful for its largest private contribution ever, reciprocated by naming its law school after him. Hugh and UA, sittin’ in a tree …

On June 7, the UA’s board of trustees voted to return his donation (and presumably rename the school). Love-hate relationship, I guess.

Why?  They claim it’s over an argument as to how they spend the money,  but he says they’re lying and the reason he offers is a lot more believable given the timing.

His discussions with the school over the uses his donation are put to are ongoing. But last week, he said something they didn’t like. Specifically, he publicly urged students to boycott the school in protest of Alabama’s new abortion law.

Agree with him or not — on abortion, on the specific law, or on how students should respond to that law — Hugh Culverhouse, Jr. is a private citizen with a right to say anything he pleases.

Agree with the board of trustees or not on what Hugh Culverhouse, Jr. should say, the University of Alabama is a “public” institution that expects taxpayers nationwide to pick up a substantial portion of its operating costs.

The university’s financial report for 2017-18 notes nearly $45 million in federal grants and contracts and another $213 million in student loans funded by the US Department of Education through the Federal Direct Student Loan Program.

Check your voicemail. Any calls from the board of trustees asking whether it’s OK for them to keep taking your money while refusing Hugh Culverhouse, Jr.’s? I didn’t think so.

If you call up the university and start trying to tell them how to spend your money, or put out a press release urging students to cheer for Tennessee at the next Crimson Tide – Volunteers game, do you think they’ll send you a refund check? Feel free to try it and see what happens, but don’t hold your breath.

If the University of Alabama is so flush that it doesn’t need Hugh Culverhouse, Jr.’s money, they’re getting way too much of yours.

A federally funded university which turns down a private donation over the donor’s constitutionally protected speech should have the full amount of that donation subtracted from its federal funding for the following year.

And by the way, remember to cheer for Tennessee at the next Crimson Tide – Volunteers game.

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America Proved Minarchism is a Myth

It is beyond any measure of denial to assert that the American experiment in “limited government” – “constitutional” or otherwise – has proven itself an abject failure. The US government is the largest, most expensive, and most powerful cabal on the planet. And it shows no signs of reversing course.

But for the true believers in minarchism, it gets even worse. Consider the original idea behind the “United States”: A loosely confederated group of smaller sovereign governmental entities – all more or less modelled after the overarching federal one, each with a constitution and bill of rights. There are currently 50 of them, in addition to the special federal District of Columbia. Plus two overseas commonwealths, and three semi-autonomous territories.

Notwithstanding a few uninhabited islands and sandbars dotting the Caribbean and Pacific Ocean that the US federal government lays claim to, that equals not just one, but 57 separate experiments in “limited government.” We could also include all various municipalities contained therein too – counties, cities, towns – and then we’d be talking “limited” governmental experiments almost beyond number.

In zero of these cases have governments remained constrained by the pieces of paper ostensibly designed to do so. This is not to say that residing within one of the more egregious cases – such as Commiefornia, New York, or Marxachusetts – is entirely equivalent to living in South Dakota, Alaska, or Wyoming. Only that none of them have refrained from or been immune to their endemic nature: Growth. They have each of them expanded in scope and power over time – and continue to do so. Never contracting or downsizing. And ever at the expense of the individual.

You might, as a dedicated government apologist, try to excuse one, or two, or even half a dozen such failures as unfortunate anomalies plagued by corrupt politicians and judges. Maybe. If you wanted to be charitable. If you were stretching to clutch at straws in a desperate defense of the idea known as political governance.

But 57? Or the countless thousands and thousands of lesser subdivisions within those examples?

If the greater federal historical example of America does not dispel the minarchist “limited government” myth for the fantasy that it is, then all of the smaller examples under its very own rubric surely do.

“Small government” has never worked out. And it never will.

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Words Poorly Used #141 — Leviathan

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, “leviathan” is described and historically accounted for:

leviathan (n.)
late 14c., “sea monster, sea serpent,” sometimes regarded as a form of Satan, from Late Latin leviathan, from Hebrew livyathan “dragon, serpent, huge sea animal,” of unknown origin, perhaps from root l-w-h- “to wind, turn, twist,” on the notion of a serpent’s coils. If so, related to Hebrew liwyah “wreath,” Arabic lawa “to bend, twist.” Of powerful persons or things from c. 1600. Hobbes’s use is from 1651.

An aquatic animal mentioned in the Old Testament. It is described in Job xli. apparently as a crocodile; in Isa. xxvii 1 it is called a piercing and a crooked serpent; and it is mentioned indefinitely in Ps. lxxiv. 14 as food and Ps. civ. 26. [Century Dictionary]

Both Higgs and Hobbes use the leviathan as metaphor to discuss government, the former as an anarchist, the latter as a statist — first as a bad thing, second as a boon to civilization.  Consulting the above Biography WWW site, its authors contend that “Hobbes argues for the necessity and natural evolution of the social contract … .”  While Goodreads.com quotes Higgs as follows:

In debates between anarchists and statists, the burden of proof clearly should rest on those who place their trust in the state. Anarchy’s mayhem is wholly conjectural; the state’s mayhem is undeniably, factually horrendous.

What images come to your mind when you encounter the word, “leviathan?”

— Kilgore Forelle

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The Business Models of Sports Leagues

Most pro sports in the US are built around business models that make no market sense. They are quasi-monopolistic guilds classified as non-profits but run for profit.

The incumbent advantages and tribal fandom means they aren’t going anywhere soon. Still, there’s so much room for innovation, and I love thinking about changes to existing leagues, or brand new leagues, or even brand new sports.

The first thing I like to think about is more market mechanisms and fewer central plans. Price floors and ceilings and collective bargaining could get scrapped. The draft order being pre-ordained for losing teams could be scrapped. Imagine if draft picks had a true open market, and rookie contracts too. Teams would be forced to choose whether to keep a player or sign a new one. Picks would be weighed against free agents equally, with no bargain deals for new draft picks. This would be great for sports fans and media, because we’d get to have endless debate about whether a guy coming out of college was really worth picking up at the same price as an aging star. Comparison is the cash crop of sports talk.

I think about college sports a lot too. They’re a total corrupt racket top to bottom, and the players get the rawest end of the deal. Not getting paid by the school is one thing, but being banned from accepting pay to do commercials or other off-field/court activity while the college forces you to shill for their fundraisers? Sheesh. More talent will and should opt out of this high risk low reward charade if they have an alternate way to develop skills and transition to the pros.

Obviously, competing with college by creating a minor league is an uphill slog. Few things run deeper than college fan loyalty. I’d love to see some enterprising university sell their sports team. Split if off. Privatize it. Let it run as an independent business, paying the players, negotiating TV deals, etc. Let them keep the records, tradition, history, and mascot. Let them play in the on-campus stadium. Let students get discounted admission, and pay the university some fee every year.

You could turn pre-pro sports into something far more rational. Pro teams and scouts could get involved without scandal. Shoe deals could be made. Players could be traded. Players would do so much better for themselves, and fans would get to keep the same loyalties and colors and rivalries. Colleges would lose their stranglehold of control over the team, it is true. But they’d get great PR, avoid dirtiness of dealing with scandal, exploitation, fake-passing athletes in classes, coaches high salaries making professors envious, etc.

That’s just scratching the surface. I have a whole mental folder of ideas for leagues and sports, including some far-future ideas about gravity-free environments and what kind of sport works best with an extra degree of movement freedom.

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Aircraft Carriers: Give Truman and Ford a Burial at Sea

The US Department of Defense wants to retire an old aircraft carrier early while building two new ones (and adding other goodies to their shopping list).

Surprise, surprise — politicians from states with the shipyards and naval bases that employ their constituents want to keep the old carrier AND build the new ones.

America and Americans would be better off if Congress retired the USS Harry S. Truman,  nixed the DoD request for two new Ford-class carriers, and worked up plans for an orderly retirement of several more carriers too. The US Navy’s surface warfare ship complement is too large, too expensive, and too “fighting previous wars”-oriented to serve any rational “defense” purpose.

The US Navy operates 20 of the world’s 41 active aircraft carriers, including 11 flat-top “super-carriers,” each Carrier Strike Group disposing of more firepower than most countries’ entire militaries.  There’s precisely zero danger of the US falling into a flat-top “carrier gap,” even if that was something to be avoided. And it isn’t.

World War Two, in which  carriers replaced battleships as the central factor in naval warfare, ended three quarters of a century ago.  Carriers as such may not be entirely passe, but 1,000-foot “super-carriers” like the existing Nimitz-class and the forthcoming Ford-class are. If carriers have a future, it’s in STOBAR (“Short Take-Off But Arrested Recovery”) ships. They’re smaller, cheaper, less vulnerable, and over the last 75 years aircraft have been developed that don’t need a thousand feet of deck to take off  from or land on.

The notional lifespan of a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier is 50 years,  but none are quite that old.  The USS Nimitz‘s keel was laid 50 years ago last June, but the ship wasn’t finished, commissioned, and deployed until the mid-1970s ( it’s undergone 19 reduced availability periods, including two “complex” overhauls, since then; it’s in the middle of a state of “planned incremental availability” at the moment).

The reasons these old ships remain in service (and new ones designed on the same general concept are under construction)  aren’t defensive, or even military, in nature. They’re about money. Money for “defense” contractors, money for the politicians they contribute to, and paychecks for the employees who vote for those politicians.

Unfortunately, once that money’s spent and the ships and weapons make it into active service, the temptation to use them tends to overwhelm good sense, dragging America into non-defensive wars neither it nor the world around it needs.

The US government’s “defense” budget is the single largest discretionary area of federal spending. It’s an aging hippie in dire need of a clean shave and a buzz cut. There’s no better place to start trimming than the US Navy’s carriers and their supporting ships and infrastructure.

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