Jason Brennan: Is Democracy Just? (46m)

This episode features a lecture by philosopher and political scientist Jason Brennan from 2017. Brennan looks at justice and democratic government. Purchase books by Jason Brennan on Amazon here.

Listen To This Episode (46m, mp3, 64kbps)

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Right to Know: A Historical Guide to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

Right to Know Day

Information has taken on a whole new meaning in the digital age, a time when sensitive data is either too easily accessible or not accessible enough. This issue of access to information encompasses fundamental human rights – specifically the freedom of speech as well as the right to privacy. Because it’s a primary means of maintaining transparency and accountability within government policies and decision-making in both the United States and around the globe, information is more valuable than ever to both government agencies and our individual lives. This guide takes an in-depth look at FOIA history and the importance of exercising your right to know.

International Right to Know Day: September 28th

September 28th marks International Right to Know Day. What began as a meeting between freedom of information organizations from 15 countries in 2002, has expanded to a global observance supported by more than 200 organizations worldwide. Each year, International Right to Know Day seeks to make people aware of the distinct rights they have to access government information that is essential to “open, democratic societies in which there is full citizen empowerment and participation in government.” Within the United States, those rights come in the form of the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA.

Freedom of Information Act

July 2016, marked not only FOIA’s golden 50-year anniversary, a milestone in Americans’ rights to scrutinize government agency records, but also the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016. Together, they remind us that FOIA’s guarantee of access to information was not easily acquired – nor was it a legally binding right. In fact, FOIA’s very creation was highly controversial. And since it has passed, its implementation and execution have continued to present challenges of their own.

1789 Housekeeping Statute

For more than 175 years, the United States relied on what was known as the 1789 Housekeeping Statute. As the U.S. Constitution does not specify policy or procedure for information sharing either among federal bodies or with the public, Congress’ 1789 statute authorized heads of departments to maintain records and to determine how those records would be used.

Although the legislation was considered simply a “housekeeping” measure for a growing nation, opponents of free access even today continue to invoke it in arguments to withhold information – even though a one-line 1959 amendment to the statute specifically states, “This section does not authorize withholding information from the public or limiting the availability of records to the public.”

Administrative Procedure Act of 1946

As the growing nation continued to create agencies and departments, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt saw the need to once again establish some additional housekeeping rules through the Administrative Procedure Act. According to the act, federal agencies had to maintain records and make them “available to public inspection” – except for “information held confidential for good cause.” Fraught with loopholes, the act gave more cause to withhold information than to share it. However, it did require that agencies:

  • Establish offices where the public could “secure information or make submittals or requests.”
  • Publish formal and informal procedures for information sharing.
  • Make available “instructions as to the scope and contents of all papers, reports, or examinations.”

FOIA Reaction to Cold War Secrecy

Post-World War II, however, conflict assumed new dimensions in the Cold War. Governmental secrecy increasingly frustrated journalists and the public alike. Open demand for information grew, spurred on by Harold Cross’ 1953 publication of The People’s Right To Know and ensuing congressional initiatives led by California’s Democratic Representative John Moss.

On July 4, 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued a signing statement to edify Congress’ fresh, new Freedom of Information Act with limitations. Although his statement asserted that “a democracy works best when the people have all the information that the security of the nation will provide,” it focused heavily on the fact that “the welfare of the nation or the rights of individuals may require that some documents not be made available.” While reluctantly conceding the act as necessary, Johnson removed many of the act’s teeth exception by exemption. Even so, for the first time, a law had been written with the sole purpose of ensuring public access to federal agency records.

Continue reading Right to Know: A Historical Guide to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) at Ammo.com.

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Hidden Agenda


Nobody asked but …

This is a book report on The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis.  A very good friend, but a liberal intervener, recommended the book to me, and I’m sure that she recommended it because its main theme is that the current White House is grossly negligent.  But I got a far different message from the book.  I already knew that administering the cancer, aka the federal government, was impossible.  I already knew that, even if the feds were manageable, that this White House is deeply incompetent, having a snowball’s chance in Hell of draining the swamp.  I already knew that this monarchy-disguised-as-democracy was never intended to work for the person-in-the-street.

I recommend the book because it seems to offer a far more accurate picture of the bureaucracy than offered by the MSM, and how the bureaucracy are just silos of self-serving, making things up as they go.

Lewis covers several agencies of the USA’s official face of the oligarchy. And he also covers the pre-election WH wannabees, how Chris Christie was sandbagged as head of the “transition team,” having the rug pulled out from under him when the slapstick operation realized they were headed to the West Wing.  There was no transition.  The agencies were left in the dark.

How much do you know about the ongoing project list at any bureaucracy?  How is it that the feds can find a specific cow, but not an individual terrorist?  Why did it take nearly a decade to deal with Osama bin laden?  Why have we never found the WMD?  It’s because the unfinishable project is the dream of every tax thief.

— Kilgore Forelle

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Terrorism vs. Just War Theory

I was planning to write an original piece on this topic, but soon discovered that better work already existed.  Most notably, here’s a summary of a talk Michael Walzer delivered in 2007.  It starts with some boilerplate:

Whether terrorism is wrong is a question that is often answered badly or at least inadequately, according to Walzer, who defines terrorism as the random killing of innocent people, in the hope of creating pervasive fear. “Randomness and innocence are the crucial elements in the definition,” said Walzer. “The critique of this kind of killing hangs especially on the idea of innocence, which is borrowed from ‘just war’ theory.”

By “innocence” Walzer means those noncombatants who are not materially engaged in the war effort. “These people are ‘innocent’ whatever their government and country are doing and whether or not they are in favor of what is being done,” Walzer explained. “The opposite of ‘innocent’ is not ‘guilty,’ but ‘engaged.’ Disengaged civilians are innocent without regard to their personal morality or politics.”

Terrorism attacks this notion of innocence and treats civilians as legitimate targets. The long-term purpose of the fear that terrorists inspire is the collective destruction, removal, or radical subordination of individuals as an associated group. “It is who you are, not what you are doing that makes you vulnerable; identity is liability,” said Walzer. “And that’s a connection that we are morally bound to resist.”

Implicit in the theory of just war is a theory of just peace, Walzer said, meaning noncombatant immunity protects not only individual noncombatants but also the group to which they belong. “Just as the destruction of the group cannot be a legitimate purpose of war,” observed Walzer, “so it cannot be a legitimate practice in war.”

But then it gets good:

Terrorism is a strategy that is chosen from a wide range of possible strategies, according to Walzer. “For many years, I have been insisting that when we think about terrorism we have to imagine a group of people sitting around a table, arguing about what ought to be done,” said Walzer. “When terrorists tell us that they had no choice, there was nothing else to do, terror was their last resort, we have to remind ourselves that there were people around the table arguing against each of those propositions.”

More importantly, I would add, even the best minds just aren’t very good at predicting outcomes controversial among experts.  So as a practical matter, anyone claiming to know with confidence that terrorism is a last resort when many experts disagree is negligent at best.

Once terrorists choose terrorism, the answer as to how we should fight them, said Walzer, “is simple in principle, though often difficult in practice: not terroristically. That means, without targeting innocent men and women.” The second answer, according to Walzer, is within the constraints of constitutional democracy. “Right-wing politicians often insist that it isn’t possible to live with either of these limits: they sit around the table and argue for prison camps like Guantanamo or the use of ‘harsh’ interrogation methods,” said Walzer. “We must be the people at the table who say ‘no.’”

In particular, said Walzer, we must “insist at the outset that the people the terrorists claim to represent are not themselves complicit in the terror.” Just as the “terrorists collectivize the guilt of the other side, insisting that every single person is implicated in the wrongful policies of the government,” Walzer explained, “the anti-terrorists must collectivize in the opposite way, insisting on the innocence of the people generally.” Likewise, where terrorists dismiss the notion of collateral or secondary damage, setting out instead to inflict as much primary damage as possible, anti-terrorists have to “distinguish themselves by insisting on the category of collateral damage, and doing as little of it as they can. The rules of jus in bello apply: soldiers must aim only at military targets and they must minimize the harm they do to civilians.”

Walzer then echoes one of my earlier pacifistic analogies between waging war and fighting crime:

Once governments learn to kill, according to Walzer, they are likely to kill too much and too often so moral and political limits must be imposed. “The hard question in war is what degree of risk we are willing to accept for our own soldiers in order to reduce the risks we impose on enemy civilians,” said Walzer. “When the police are chasing criminals in a zone of peace, we rightly give them no latitude for collateral damage. In the strongest sense, they must intend not to injure civilians—even if that makes their operation more difficult and even if the criminals get away. That seems to me roughly the right rule for people planning targeted killings.”

If terrorists use other people as shields, then anti-terrorists have to try to find their way around the shields, Walzer said, just as we would want the police to do.

I severely doubt Walzer would buy my case for pacifism, but after reading this, I really wonder why.

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Will the DNC Snatch Defeat from the Jaws of Victory Yet Again?

President Donald Trump faces an exceedingly narrow path to re-election in 2020. In order to beat him, the Democratic nominee only needs to pick up 38 electoral votes. With more than 100 electoral votes in play in states that Trump won narrowly in 2016 — especially Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Florida — all the Democrats have to do is pick a nominee ever so slightly more popular than Hillary Clinton.

That’s a low bar that the Democratic National Committee seems determined, once again, to not get over.  As in 2016, the DNC is putting its finger on the scale in favor of “establishment” candidates, the sentiments of the rank and file be damned.

Last time, the main victim was Bernie Sanders. This time, it’s Tulsi Gabbard.

Michael Tracey delivers the gory details in a column at RealClearPolitics. Here’s the short version:

By selectively disqualifying polls in which Gabbard (a US Representative from Hawaii) performs above the 2% threshold for inclusion in the next round of primary debates, the DNC is trying to exclude her while including candidates with much lower polling and fundraising numbers.

Why doesn’t the DNC want Gabbard in the debates? Two reasons come to mind.

Firstly, her marquee issue is foreign policy. She thinks the US should be less militarily adventurous abroad, and as an army veteran of the post-9/11 round of American military interventions in the Middle East and Central Asia, she’s got the credentials to make her points stick.

Foreign policy is a weak spot for the increasingly hawkish Democratic establishment in general and the front-runner and current establishment pick, former vice-president Joe Biden, in particular. As a Senator, Biden voted to approve the ill-fated US invasion of Iraq. As vice-president, he supported President Barack Obama’s extension of the war in Afghanistan and Obama’s ham-handed interventions in Libya, Syria, and other countries where the US had no business meddling. The party’s leaders would rather not talk about foreign policy at all and if they have to talk about it they don’t want candidates coloring outside simplistic “Russia and China bad” lines.

Secondly, Gabbard damaged — probably fatally — the establishment’s pre-Biden pick, US Senator Kamala Harris, by pointing out Harris’s disgusting authoritarian record as California’s attorney general. Gabbard knows how to land a punch, and the DNC doesn’t want any more surprises. They’re looking for a coronation, not a contest.

If the DNC has its way,  next year’s primaries will simply ratify the establishment pick, probably a Joe Biden / Elizabeth Warren ticket, without a bunch of fuss and argument.

And if that happens, the Democratic Party will face the same problem it faced in 2016: The rank and file may not be very motivated to turn off their televisions and go vote.

Whatever their failings, rank and file Democrats seem to like … well, democracy. They want to pick their party’s nominees, not have those nominees picked for them in advance. Can’t say I blame them.

Nor will I blame them for not voting — or voting Libertarian — if the DNC ignores them and limits their choices yet again.

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Word, Action, and Entrepreneurship

The Mengerian-Misesian tradition in economics is also known as the causal-realist approach – in other words, it studies the causal structure of economic phenomena conceived of as outgrowths of real human actions. Thus, it finds verbal descriptions and declarations economically meaningful only insofar as they can be linked with demonstrated preferences and their causal interactions. In this paper, I investigate how the approach in question bears on topics such as the economic calculation debate, deliberative democracy, and the provision of public goods. In particular, in the context of discussing the above topics I focus on market entrepreneurship understood as a crucial instance of “practicing what one preaches” in the ambit of large-scale social cooperation. In sum, I attempt to demonstrate that the Mengerian-Misesian tradition offers unique insights into the logic of communicative rationality by emphasizing and exploring its indispensable associations with the logic of action.

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