Meet Virgil Griffith: America’s Newest Political Prisoner

On November 29, FBI agents arrested hacker and cryptocurrency developer Virgil Griffith. His alleged crime: Talking.

Yes, really.

The FBI alleges that Griffith “participated in discussions regarding using cryptocurrency technologies to evade sanctions and launder money.”

Griffith, a US citizen who lives in Singapore, gave a talk at conference on blockchain technology in April. Because that conference took place in North Korea, the US government deems him guilty of violating US sanctions on Kim Jong-un’s regime.

But last time I checked, the First Amendment protected Virgil Griffith’s right to speak, without exceptions regarding where or to whom.

And last time I checked,  the US Department of Justice’s jurisdiction didn’t encompass Singapore (where Griffith lives), China (which Griffith traveled through), or North Korea (where Griffith spoke). The charges against him include traveling, while outside US jurisdiction, to places the US government doesn’t like.

In what universe is it the US government’s business where an individual travels to or what that individual says while he’s there, inside or outside the US itself? Certainly not any kind of universe in which America remains a free society.

What kind of state arrests people for going where they please and saying what they choose without that state’s permission? A police state.

Griffith’s arrest is wholly illegal under the US Constitution and wholly unacceptable to anyone who holds freedom as a cardinal value.

Virgil Griffith is just the latest political prisoner of the US government to come to public notice.

The US government imprisoned US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, journalist Barrett Brown, and others for telling us the truth about that government’s conduct, and would love to do the same to Julian Assange,  Edward Snowden, and others for the same reason.

The US government imprisoned Ross Ulbricht for running a web site on which people bought and sold things that government didn’t want them to buy and sell.

The US government has held, and continues to hold, too many political prisoners to name in a single column.

The US government increasingly attempts to dictate where all of us may go, and what we may say while there, on pain of arrest and imprisonment.

That’s not right. That’s not freedom. That’s not America.

Virgil Griffith and the others I mention aren’t the criminals — their persecutors are. At some point, we must bring them to justice if human freedom is to survive. Until then, resist much, obey little.

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Tom Woods: Economics Is About Social Cooperation, Not Money or Greed (31m)

This episode features a lecture by historian and Austro-libertarian Tom Woods from 2015. What is it, fundamentally, that fascinates us about economics? Some people hear economics and think greed. But to the contrary, what fascinates us about economics is the phenomenon of social cooperation, which takes place on a global scale despite the lack of any global authority directing it. Purchase books by Tom Woods on Amazon here.

Listen To This Episode (31m, mp3, 64kbps)

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NATO is a Brain Dead, Obsolete, Rabid Dog; Euthanize It

In early November, French president Emmanuel Macron complained that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization  (NATO) is experiencing “brain death” as its member states go their own ways, with “no coordination whatsoever of strategic decision-making.” US president Donald Trump’s reply: “Nobody needs NATO more than France.” The two continued their duel over NATO’s future at an early December meeting of the alliance’s members in London.

Unfortunately, 2019 Trump isn’t nearly as smart as 2016 Trump, who noted that “NATO is obsolete.” In fact, it became obsolete 25 years before Trump called the fact to our attention. The Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact — the two enemies NATO was supposedly formed to protect Europe from — dissolved in 1991.

Wars of offensive choice, rather than defensive necessity, followed in the Balkans and Libya. NATO participated for more than a decade in the  US occupation of Afghanistan. Its current direction includes dangerous membership overtures to Ukraine and Georgia — countries bordering, and overtly hostile to, Russia.  NATO’s claim to be a “defensive” alliance of any kind has long ceased to pass the laugh test.

If the organization was merely brain dead or obsolete, that would still be good reason to dissolve it. But it’s actually far worse than that.

If there’s any real logic to NATO’s continued existence, that logic probably centers around its $1 trillion annual expenses. That’s a lot of money fed into the maws of various military industrial complexes by an entrenched multi-national bureaucracy who love their own paychecks, pensions, and prerogatives.

Maintaining those two welfare programs requires NATO to operate as an active and perpetual threat to world peace, a rabid dog wandering the globe in foaming-mouthed search of opportunities to “defend itself” against opponents who represent no threat whatsoever to it or to its member states.

Even if it attempted to maintain a truly defensive posture, NATO would still be too dangerous to keep around. Its 29 member states, stretching as far east as Turkey, each have their own grudges among each other and with external parties. Sooner or later, an otherwise insignificant spark is bound to set the whole book of matches alight.

When a person is brain dead, we mercifully turn off the ventilator. When an organization is obsolete, we shut it down and move on. And when a rabid dog threatens the neighborhood, we shoot it before it can bite us or our neighbors.

Nearly 30 years late is better than never. Let’s euthanize NATO.

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Find Out How To Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

It’s a dangerous thing to have too many convictions and too few actions to support those convictions.

It’s dangerous for all the obvious reasons: you tend to become a hypocrite, you tend not to actually help, etc. But it’s also dangerous for your ability to form new convictions. I’ve noticed it in myself: a growing feeling of being jaded at the problems I hear about in the news.

I could certainly be “aware” or “raise awareness” about the new issues of the day in community relations, environment, education, government, etc. But what would I really be adding? There are millions of people who make “awareness” their job.

And so I’ve tended in the past few years to focus my efforts on a few localized initiatives (church and community) and a handful of bigger ones (clean water, monetary freedom, education alternatives) while ignoring most of the “hot issues.”

But then there are things like the protests in Hong Kong.

From when I first heard about the large-scale resistance happening there in reaction against overreaching Chinese surveillance, it had been on the edge of my mind. I was opposed to the Chinese state, I was supportive of the cause of a free Hong Kong, but I was afraid to form much of an opinion partly for fear of becoming another “awareness raiser.” How could I really help that situation? The feeling of helplessness made me feel less like learning about the plight of the city, and I admit I buried my head in the sand about it.

Then I realized it was actually fairly easy to start putting my money where my heart was. There have been multiple GoFundMe’s started to fund supplies for the protestors (many of whom are just teenagers). Someone on Reddit put together a whole list of ways to support the city and its protestors.

I’ve started with just a small donation to the Hong Kong Free Press. I mean to do more. It will be small, but it will be something. And because I know how to help now, I expect I’ll be following these developments with a clearer eye now.

Aligning action with convictions has that clarifying effect. And the actions don’t have to be great.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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Holiday Consumerism: Who Decides What “Nobody Really Needs?”

“Wasting resources, capital and income on stuff nobody really needs,” Charles Hugh Smith wrote in 2017, “is a monumental disaster on multiple fronts. Rather than establish incentives to conserve and invest wisely, our system glorifies waste and the destruction of income and capital, as if burning time, capital, resources and wealth on stuff nobody needs is strengthening the economy.”

I come across the “stuff nobody needs” argument frequently, from voices all across the political spectrum, for reasons ranging from economic to environmental to spiritual.

I also notice that in the featured portrait on Smith’s blog, he’s holding what appears to be a pretty sweet Gibson Les Paul electric guitar.

Does anyone “really need” an electric guitar?

Presumably Smith believes he needs one. Maybe even an authentic Les Paul. Maybe even more than one guitar (like the Fender Stratocaster or clone thereof pictured elsewhere on his site).

And who has the right to veto his judgment on the issue, so long as the “resources, capital and income” he’s “wasting” on it are his own?

I settled for an inexpensive Epiphone model of the Les Paul for my own, perhaps larger than justifiable, guitar collection (my wife frowned at the price tag of the genuine Gibson).

I wouldn’t dream of claiming that my “need” for a Les Paul is more urgent than, say, a starving child’s need for a hot meal or a homeless person’s need for shelter.

On the other hand, my purchase of that guitar helped create paychecks that put meals in bellies and roofs over heads.

Economic demands are mutually self-fulfilling. Your purchase of a cup of fancy coffee puts caffeine in your bloodstream and money in the pockets of those who brought it to you — money they can spend fulfilling THEIR needs.

The same thing goes for planes, trains, automobiles, electric guitars, and the latest slice-it, dice-it, cook-it contraptions you (yes, I know it’s you) buy after watching those cheesy infomercials.

Yes, large-scale consumer economies produce negative “externalities” such as environmental damage.

Yes, those externalities are bad things which a more just economic system would build back into prices so as to discourage “over-consumption” and/or encourage more efficient and less damaging production techniques.

Current economic systems, including all state regulatory schemes, be they called “capitalist,” or “socialist,” or some hybrid, tend to subsidize those externalities. You pay for them with your taxes, whether you actually buy the subsidized goods or not.

That being the case, there’s no reason to feel guilty for buying this year’s “frivolous” holiday gifts that “nobody really needs.” Not because holiday shopping “strengthens the economy,” but because you want to give them and the recipients want to get them.

PS: Santa, bring me a Gretsch, please.

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The One Big Fact that Overawes All Doubts

How do I pick book topics?  On reflection, I usually start with what appears to be a big blatant neglected fact.  Then I try to discover whether anything in the universe is big enough to explain this alleged fact away.  If a laborious search uncovers nothing sufficient, I am left with the seed of a book: One Big Fact that Overawes All Doubts.

Thus, my Myth of the Rational Voter starts with what appears to be a big blatant neglected fact: the typical voter seems highly irrational.  He uses deeply flawed intellectual methods, and holds a wide range of absurd views.  Twist and turn the issue as you please, and this big blatant neglected fact remains.

Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, similarly, begins with a rather different big blatant neglected alleged fact: Modern parenting is obsessed with “investing” in kids’ long-run outcomes, yet twin and adoption researchers consistently conclude that the long-run effect of nurture is grossly overrated.  Yes, the latter fact is only “blatant” after you read the research, but once you read it, you can’t unread it.

What’s the One Big Fact that Overawes All Doubts in The Case Against Education?  This: education is highly lucrative even though the curriculum is highly irrelevant in the real world.  Yes, it takes a book to investigate the many efforts to explain this One Big Fact away (“learning how to learn,” anyone?).  But without One Big Fact, there’d be no book.

Finally, the big motivated fact behind Open Borders is that simply letting a foreigner move to the First World vastly multiplies his labor earnings overnight.  A Haitian really can make twenty times as much money in Miami the week after he leaves Port-au-Prince – and the reason is clearly that the Haitian is vastly more productive in the U.S.  Which really makes you wonder: Why would anyone want to stop another human being from escaping poverty by enriching the world?  Giving this starting point, anti-immigration arguments are largely attempts to explain this big blatant neglected fact away.  Given what restrictionist arguments are up against, it’s hardly surprising that they don’t measure up.

On reflection, my current book project, Poverty: Who To Blame doesn’t seem to fit this formula.  The book will rest on three or four big blatant neglected facts rather than one.  Yet perhaps as I write, One Big Fact that Overawes All Doubts will come into focus…

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