The Independent Institute


Russia’s Election Hacks Are Child’s Play

64568139_mlThe FBI and CIA are in agreement that Russia in some way interfered in the U.S. election. What is known so far is that Russian hackers were able to access the emails of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta. Hackers also breached the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

According to sources, the Russian government sought to hinder the Clinton campaign and work to assist Trump in winning the presidency. In his last press conference for 2016, President Obama discussed the hacks, but carefully avoided questions on whether or not Russian president Vladimir Putin was involved. He did, however, say that “not much happens in Russia without Putin.” President Obama said he saw Putin in September while abroad in China and told him to “cut it out” with regard to the election hacking. He continued, “there would be some serious consequences if he (Putin) didn’t [put an end to the cyber hacks].”

People seem floored by these revelations. How could Russia interfere in the workings of the U.S. political process? How dare they try to manipulate the outcome of a presidential election?!

I’m reminded of a Biblical passage.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own?

Geert Wilders Convicted of Hate Speech: Will It Happen Here?

11044587_mlLast week, Dutch politician Geert Wilders was convicted of inciting discrimination and of insulting a group. The offending remarks came at a political rally when Wilders suggested that his country would be better off without any more Moroccan immigration. The New York Times has this news story here.

Many folks who read this website are likely in favor of open borders and profoundly disagree with Wilders’ position on immigration. That’s a fine and reasonable position to hold. But it is also within the bounds of human reason to hold a contrary position—especially in a western welfare state where Third World immigration has the potential to adversely impact the national budget, debt, and sundry other matters.

My point is this: We should shudder when the expression of a widely held political opinion, in a western nation with a history of freedom, is criminalized.

Articles 137(c) and 137(d) of the Dutch Criminal Code (starts on page 81) operate to prohibit making public intentional insults, as well as engaging in verbal, written, or illustrated incitement to hatred, on account of one’s race, religion, sexual orientation, or personal convictions. In essence, this law makes it a crime to honestly discuss political matters such as gay marriage, Islam, and immigration.

If You Have Nothing to Hide . . .

61032837 - what difference dose it make with top secret sign.For years, the national security establishment has been telling us, “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.” Ergo, the feds ought to be provided complete access to all of our emails, cell calls, internet browsing records, location, private in-home conversations, banking records, credit card transactions, etc., etc., etc., held forever, without question.

Yet suddenly, this same apparatus is aggressively promoting its findings that Russia “hacked” emails that negatively influenced the recent election outcome—with the DNC, Obama, Hillary, et al. screaming outrage at this foreign interference with our free and fair electoral process.

Others say the email releases were an inside job, including a former NSA official, who says they were leaked by an individual within the NSA concerned with the prospect of someone as demonstrably cavalier with national secrets as Hillary achieving the presidency; and Craig Murray, a former British ambassador to Uzbekistan and a close associate of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who said:

Neither of [the leaks] came from the Russians. The source had legal access to the information. The documents came from inside leaks, not hacks.

Mr. Murray said the leakers were motivated by “disgust at the corruption of the Clinton Foundation and the tilting of the primary election playing field against Bernie Sanders.”

So, why the loud insistence it was the Russians; and, if the Clinton insiders had nothing to hide, why do they care?

Could it be because the information made public against their wishes included the following? (Sources provided lest this be judged fake news):

The DNC’s lying, cheating, and dirty tricks to derail the Sanders campaign (compared to which Nixon’s plumbers were amateurs), as reported in the New York Times, New York Post, Chicago Tribune, and others.

Multiple violations of even the most basic propriety by the Clintons and their use of their tax-exempt Clinton Foundation, including pay-to-play access to Hillary as Secretary of State to large Clinton Foundation foreign donors, and what has been dubbed “Bill Clinton, Inc.” (As reported in The Atlantic, Fox News, New York Times, and others.)

Media collusion with the Clinton campaign, including CNN’s providing the Clinton team Town Hall questions in advance, Clinton’s team receiving a New York Times article in advance of publication, and providing edits that were accepted on another.

And more.

To date, Democrats have tried to blame Hillary’s loss of the election on racism, homophobia, xenophobia, James Comey and the FBI, an incompetent campaign staff, “fake news,” social media, a pro-Trump mainstream media, the electoral college, and Millennials.

Now, it’s the Russians.

In the end, does it matter who provided the emails to WikiLeaks? After all, if the Clinton campaign had nothing to hide, why should they mind?

* * *

Please see the Independent Institute’s widely acclaimed, new book on the rise of government surveillance in the U.S.: American Surveillance: Intelligence, Privacy, and the Fourth Amendment, by Anthony Gregory.

The Anniversary of the Boston Tea Party and the Importance of Precedent

18798830_mlDecember 16 is the 243rd Anniversary of the Boston Tea Party. The British taxed tea, the colonists got mad, dressed up like Indians, and tossed the tea into the ocean—that’s a fair summary of what most Americans know about the Boston Tea Party. It was, we are told, a mere tax protest that shows how Americans like to hang on to their hard-earned money.

If this is the extent of our knowledge of the Tea Party, we are missing the key point of this protest and its lessons for today.

Although the Tea Act of 1773 actually reduced the price of tea, the colonists felt compelled to take action to prevent Parliament from setting a revenue precedent. Under commercial rules, a ship entering a colonial harbor was not permitted to leave without offloading its cargo. If the tea was offloaded, a duty would be paid; if it was not offloaded within twenty days, the cargo would be seized by customs officials who would retain a portion of the merchandise to satisfy the duty. The Tea Party occurred on the nineteenth day that the ships bearing tea had been in the harbor. The colonists destroyed the tea so it could not be seized by the customs officials and the duty technically “paid” to form the basis of a precedent.

Bill of Rights Day: Opportunities Missed

9670599 - closeup of a replica of u.s. constitution documentThursday, December 15, is Bill of Rights Day, a time when citizens are told to celebrate the first ten amendments to the Constitution. Scholars such as Yale’s Akhil Amar describe the Bill of Rights as “the high temple of our constitutional order—America’s Parthenon.” Most of the public buys into this and believes that the Bill of Rights was a great gift from the Founders to posterity.

What we know as the Bill of Rights was nothing but window dressing meant to quiet critics of the Constitution without altering the structure of the document. Writing to Edmund Randolph, James Madison, the main architect of the Bill of Rights, indicated that his goal was to leave “[t]he structure & stamina of the Govt. . . . as little touched as possible.” George Clymer, a member of the first Congress elected from Pennsylvania, described Madison as “a sensible physician” giving his “malades imaginaires bread pills powder of paste & neutral mixtures to keep them in play.”

The state conventions that ratified the Constitution suggested over 200 amendments to the Constitution to cure structural problems. For example, Virginia offered a lengthy amendment on the judicial power. The proposal, in the main, would have limited the federal judiciary to the Supreme Court and various admiralty courts established by Congress. State courts would serve as the trial courts of the Union with the possibility of appeal to the Supreme Court. Virginians rightly feared that the federal judiciary would become an engine of consolidated government and sought to limit its power.

More Good News for Health Reform: HSAs Continue to Grow

60527092 - paper with words weekly health savings account (hsa) on a table.One of Donald Trump’s campaign promises was to make Health Savings Accounts more widely used. The purpose of HSAs is to give patients greater control over health spending and to reduce the share of spending controlled by insurers. Unfortunately, the 2003 law that established HSAs requires they be linked with a highly regulated type of health insurance policy.

These policies, like all health insurance today, give insurers power to dictate prices instead of allowing prices to be formed through interactions between patients and providers (that is, a normal market process). Consequently, these health insurance policies are not as popular as truly consumer-driven plans should be.

Nevertheless, HSAs (which are bank accounts, not health insurance policies) are growing like gangbusters, according to new research from the Employee Benefits Research Institute (EBRI). As I wrote previously, EBRI is a rock-solid member of the health-benefits establishment.

If Trump wants to expand the use of HSAs, EBRI’s evidence suggests he is pushing on an open door. EBRI indicates that at the end of 2015 there were 20 million HSAs, with assets totaling about $30 billion. Over four in five HSAs were opened since the beginning of 2011. Indeed, over half of HSAs were opened in just 2014 and 2015.

The Season of Giving and the Economic System that Fosters Great Generosity

50646104_mlChristmas will soon be here, and preparations for this holiday are proceeding apace. People are buying gifts for family members and friends and making preparations for great feasts at which family, friends, and other loved ones will gather to share the joy and love of the occasion. Notice how much effort and expense are going into giving to and bringing joy to others. Notice, too, how much of the spending people do during this season would be impossible except for the affluence made possible by the remaining elements of the market society that the government, to date, has failed to destroy completely.

The free-market society is often criticized or condemned root and branch for its alleged dependence on the unsavory human trait of greed. Socialists have always claimed that their system would replace one dependent on greed with one based on compassion and caring for the unfortunate. Both theory and history have shown, however, that socialism cannot produce the wealth that makes possible the highly effective expression of compassion and caring. Before one can be very generous, one must have. something to be very generous with.

In any event, the idea that the free-market system rests on greed has always been mistaken, if not an outright lie. The system rests on allowing people to pursue their self-interest, to be sure, but self-interest is quite different from greed and indeed often consists of the very opposite. People in general have an interest in, for example, earning more income, and a major reason for this desire is that they wish to have the wherewithal to give to or take care of others more effectively—their own families first of all in most cases, but hardly their own families exclusively. The amounts of money, time, and effort that people devote to making others happier or better off—amounts vividly on display during the holiday season—belie the slander of a free market’s dependence on greed. But such transfers also occur throughout the year and amount to an enormous proportion of all the uses to which people in free-market societies put their wealth.

Trump’s Pick for Labor Secretary Another Win for Health Reform

34778261_mlSoon after announcing his intention to nominate Rep. Tom Price, MD, for Secretary of Health & Human Services, Donald Trump announced his intention to nominate Andrew Puzder for Secretary of Labor. This is yet another good sign for the repeal of Obamacare.

Since the election, the media have asserted that repealing Obamacare will yank health insurance from over 20 million people. This estimate refers to Obamacare’s having increased welfare dependency (via expanding Medicaid) and insurance coverage via the expensive individual policies offered in its exchanges, subsidized by tax credits.

This claim has sucked oxygen out of another important part of the debate, which is Obamacare’s effects on employment. The Congressional Budget Office projects that Obamacare will shrink the workforce by 2 million full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs in 2025.

Loving Exposes Dark Side of Legislating Morality

loving_2016_film-1A small but important film is making its way through U.S. theaters this season, and its message will resonate powerfully with those favoring individual liberty and freedom. Loving has earned just $6.5 million at the box office, but the film tells a poignant story about an all too recent dark period in American history. The dangers inherent in giving government the authority to enforce moral codes like the ones addressed in this film are relevant today.

Loving follows the persecution and legal odyssey of Richard and Mildred Loving, the mixed-race couple that challenged Virginia’s miscegenation laws preventing whites and non-whites from marrying. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June 1967 that Virginia’s laws prohibiting marriage between races, and by extension all state laws, were unconstitutional. The state courts upheld the law on moral and religious grounds, claiming in its written judgement against the Lovings, “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents.... The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.” The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law, arguing marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to human existence, and no government should prevent a man or woman from exercising this basic right.

Most U.S. states adopted laws banning interracial marriage at some point in our nation’s sordid history of race relations. Just nine states never adopted prohibitions: New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Alaska and Hawai’i. Pennsylvania was the first state to repeal its miscegenation laws, in 1780. The eugenics movement—the idea that public policy should be used to promote “superior” human characteristics—gave the movement a powerful boost in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, prompting states like Virginia to adopt even stricter laws. One legacy of these laws, of course, is the continued popular resistance to legal marriage by members of the LGBTQ communities. (Notably, 40 percent of Alabama citizens voted against taking the state’s miscegenation laws out of its state constitution when it went to a general vote in 2000, even though the U.S. Supreme Court made the provision unenforceable.)

Artistically, Loving represents a few interesting choices. Writer-director Jeff Nichols and the producers chose to make a small, intimate movie that eschews moralizing and platitudes to focus on the dignity of the relationship between the Lovings and their close relatives and friends. Even the attorneys that took their case to the Supreme Court are outsiders, in temperament as well as social acceptance. The film could easily have become a courtroom drama, a legal procedural, or at least courtroom centered. Instead, Nichols focuses almost exclusively on the courtship and then marriage of Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred (Ruth Negga), using their innate stoicism and quite resolve as a dramatic foil to aggressive law enforcement and patently unjust state and local laws.


Mildred Jeter Loving and Richard Loving

The movie’s pace is slow and its soap boxes small and narrow, much in keeping with the humility of the Lovings and the rural areas in which they grew up and fell in love. The tone and aesthetic reinforces the point that the Lovings were ordinary people. They were not revolutionaries or rabble-rousers. Richard was a mason, laying bricks and concrete blocks on construction jobs during the day and tinkering with his cars in the back shed at night. Mildred stayed home and raised their three children. The dialogue is minimal, allowing their relationship to be shown through subtle, intimate action and expression. Richard and Mildred are a couple of few words despite an obvious commitment to each other. They internalize their sadness, anger, frustration and resentment; they don’t act out, allowing the setting and context to tell the story.

The film picks up in 1958. Richard and Mildred are already in love despite the disdain of local whites and the trepidation of relatives and friends. Knowing that interracial marriage was illegal in Virginia, Richard and Mildred elope to the District of Columbia. But they return to Virginia to live near friends and family. Mildred is pregnant with their first child when their home is raided by the local sheriff, tipped off by a local snitch. Both are jailed for cohabitation, although Richard is bailed out within hours because he is white while the pregnant Mildred is forced to wait until a judge is available the next week. At trial, the judge finds them guilty, sentencing them to a year in jail, but suspends their sentence if they agree to live outside of Virginia for 25 years. They agree, and move to Washington, D.C.

Nichols artfully orchestrates a series of scenes that highlight the catch-22 faced by families running afoul of these laws. When the Lovings are arrested, the local sheriff (Marton Csokas) challenges Richard about why he is sleeping with a black woman. Richard points to his Washington, D.C. marriage certificate, prompting the law enforcement officer to remind him that Virginia doesn’t recognize the license. Thus, they are not legally married, and therefore are cohabitating, breaking state law. Later in the film, their attorney reminds them that their children are legally considered bastards because their marriage is not recognized by the state. Since their children were born out of wedlock under Virginia law, the specter of the the state removing the Lovings’ children for morals justifications becomes all too real.

The Lovings’ case started to move forward after Mildred wrote a letter to Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who forwarded their case to the ACLU. The ACLU assigned Bernard Cohen (Nick Kroll) and Philip Hirschkop (Jon Bass) to the case. While the film suggests that the ACLU single-handedly pursued the case to the Supreme Court, the Lovings were also supported by NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Japanese American Citizen League, and a coalition of Catholic bishops.

Loving is an artistic and cinematic tribute to the quiet heroism, faith, and virtue of the Lovings and common resistance to injustice. When Bernie Cohen asks if he would like to say anything to the U.S. Supreme Court justices hearing his case, Richard turns to him and uses a simple line that conveys the essence of the story and the fundamental injustice of their situation: “Tell the judge that I love my wife.”

Loving is also a welcome respite from the hard-driving action films that fill up the Holiday Season, and a fitting tribute to the importance of human dignity. The film, however, has a current relevance that should not be dismissed. Loving drives home the dangers of ceding moral authority to the state. Virginia’s legislators, law enforcement personnel, and judiciary justified the ban on interracial marriage on a misreading of Christianity that justified the prejudices of the times. Once these prejudices were ensconced in law, the police, courts and others could and did use these laws to terrorize citizens and further limit the rights and property of minorities.

Even now, most people in the United States don’t need to travel deep into their social circles to find friends and family who have been impacted by similar laws more recently. Members of the LGBTQ communities can testify to the indignity these laws reap, and how the fear of legal retrogression continues to cast shadows over their relationships, families, and hopes. This film serves as a stark reminder that these fears may not be irrational and, in fact, are grounded in reality and history.

Try Parental Choice to Reverse Poor Global Rankings

43145979 - father walking to school with childrenBy the year 2000, American “students must be first in the world in math and science achievement.” That’s what President George H. W. Bush insisted in his 1990 State of the Union address.

Two leading international exams confirm we’re still not even close.

Results from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) show that eighth grade math performance has improved slightly from 2011 (p. 8). However, there has been no statistical improvement in average fourth grade math and science performance or average eighth grade science performance since 2011 (pp. 7, 16 and 17).

That’s the good news. By the time American students approach the end of high school, they rank in the lower half of developed countries.